Trump Team Sought Israeli Firm’s Help to Defeat ‘Bear’

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Robert Mueller is looking into the Trump campaign’s discussions with an Israeli intelligence firm to go after opponents in the 2016 election campaign, reports the New York Times. Specifically, campaign official Rick Gates asked a company called Psy-Group—made up mostly of former Israeli intelligence agents—for proposals on ways to attack Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton and to generally turn GOP voters toward Trump. Psy-Group worked up at least three proposals under the code name “Project Rome” to help Trump (“Lion”) defeat Cruz (“Bear”) and Hillary Clinton (“Forest”). For example, one proposal suggested creating fake online personas to bombard delegates to the GOP nominating convention with narratives about Cruz’s “ulterior motives or hidden plans.“ One caveat: It appears that the Trump campaign did not use any of the proposals.

This outreach wasn’t connected to any Russian interference in the campaign, though Mueller’s team is reportedly looking at all of the pitched proposals as part of their larger investigation. The interest apparently went beyond Gates: Donald Trump Jr. met with Psy-Group owner Joel Zamel in August 2016. The Times describes the Psy-Group pitch as “a broad effort to sow disinformation among Republican delegates and general election voters,“ adding that “the proposal to gather information about Mrs. Clinton and her aides has elements of traditional opposition research, but it also contains cryptic language that suggests using clandestine means to build ‘intelligence dossiers.‘“ Read the full story HERE. Gates is cooperating with Mueller after being indicted on fraud and tax evasion charges unrelated to the campaign last year.

Kavanaugh, a “hardliner” during oral argument on immigration detention

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The two newest justices, both Trump appointees, seemed divided over the scope of a federal law that governs detention procedures for undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes.

Justice Neil Gorsuch seemed concerned about the expansive use of government power to detain people.

Justice Kavanaugh did not.    The New York Times

Once again the justices ponder the scope of mandatory detention in immigration laws.      Scotusblog

FACT CHECK: Trump’s view of ‘Medicare for All’ simplistic

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Donald Trump took a big step into the debate over the future of America’s health care system with an op-ed column in USA Today that presented a bleak vision of what would happen under plans backed by many Democrats to institute government insurance for everyone.

Trump on Wednesday cast the idea as a dangerous scheme by “radical socialists” as he played up potential pitfalls of a government-paid system without citing any of the benefits, such as the disappearance of most medical bills.

TRUMP: “The Democrats’ plan means that after a life of hard work and sacrifice, seniors would no longer be able to depend on the benefits they were promised. By eliminating Medicare as a program for seniors, and outlawing the ability of Americans to enroll in private and employer-based plans, the Democratic plan would inevitably lead to the massive rationing of health care. Doctors and hospitals would be put out of business. Seniors would lose access to their favorite doctors. There would be long wait lines for appointments and procedures. Previously covered care would effectively be denied.”

THE FACTS: Some experts indeed foresee at least a possibility of such negative consequences, even if Trump’s account is overdrawn. He omits the intended upside, though, just as proponents of a government-run system gloss over factors such as the steep cost to taxpayers.

America’s health care system is currently a hybrid, with employers, federal, state, and local governments, and individuals sharing the cost. Under “Medicare for All,” the federal government would take the reins. Seniors are being promised more health care from the government, not less.

The plan by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, includes benefits not now covered by Medicare such as dental, vision, and hearing aids. A House bill would also cover long-term care.

The idea is also known as “single-payer,” because the government would pay nearly all the bills and set rates for hospitals and doctors — and for all patients, not just the elderly.

“Medicare for All” would also eliminate or reduce costs now directly paid by seniors themselves.

Retirees would no longer have to fork over premiums for supplemental private insurance to cover gaps in Medicare. There would be no deductibles. Copayments for most care would be eliminated. The same benefits would accrue to privately insured people.

With almost no out-of-pocket costs, people would probably seek more health care services. There lies a potential problem.

Single-payer would also dial back what hospitals and doctors now get paid for their privately insured patients, to a level based on Medicare rates. Medicare generally pays less than private insurance. The combination of greater demand for services and new limits on reimbursement would put a squeeze on the health care system.

But would it “inevitably lead” to “massive rationing” as described by Trump?

Academic experts critical of single-payer have been much more guarded.

“It is impossible to say precisely how much the confluence of these factors would reduce individuals’ timely access to health care services, but some such access problems almost certainly must arise,” wrote Charles Blahous of the libertarian Mercatus Center in a recent analysis that pointed out cost problems with Sanders’ plan.

Other experts and Sanders himself say that would not happen because single-payer would take costs out of the system by eliminating insurers as the middlemen and using government’s clout to bring down drug prices.

“Our current dysfunctional health care system is designed to make huge profits for insurance companies and drug companies, rather than provide quality care for every man, woman and child,” Sanders said Wednesday in response to Trump.

It’s early in the debate, and so far Americans seem willing to entertain the idea of a government health care plan.

A survey in the spring by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that 59 percent of Americans would support getting coverage from a single government plan, with 38 percent opposed.

Age made no difference in support for “Medicare for All.” Party affiliation was a factor, with Republicans opposed, Democrats strongly in favor and independents generally in favor.

Pollsters say that support for single-payer is notoriously soft, and people can quickly change their minds once they start hearing about potential downsides.

That might be why Democrats are also pitching another version of “Medicare for All.” This one would create a government-run plan that anyone in the country could join by buying into it, with taxpayer subsidies available. Private insurance and the current Medicare program would continue.

The president’s op-ed column flubbed some facts and omitted some key context:

—Trump put the cost of “Medicare for All” at $32.6 trillion over 10 years, calling it an “astonishing” figure. He actually underestimated the expected cost. He cited the added cost to the federal government of taking over private insurance, as estimated by Blahous. The total cost of the new system would be even higher.

—Trump said Democrats have already “harmed seniors by slashing Medicare” to pay for President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. He neglected to mention that when Republicans later won control of Congress, they kept in their own budgets the Obama Medicare cuts that they had campaigned against.

Checkpoint Nation

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The definition of the nation’s “border” has grown exponentially.

Today roughly 200 million Americans live in what the law now considers a “border zone.”

That designation allows U.S. Custom and Border Protection agents to conduct sweeping searches, including body cavity searches, without a warrant.    The Texas Observer

The day ICE agents posed as good Samaritans to trick a man who has lived here for 18 years and was applying for a marriage-based green card.      Splinter News

Trump’s war on drugs suffered because of his war on child migrants

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Federal drug trafficking prosecutions along the Mexican border plummeted to their lowest levels in two decades this summer because federal agents were focused on arresting and detaining migrant children and their parents.

Federal drug charges dropped 30 percent in June and July.

This after the President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions this spring repeatedly identified drug smuggling as a key factor in priming the nation’s opioid epidemic.    USA Today

Immigration enforcement is busting agency budgets.    Huffington Post

FACT CHECK: Trump distorts Democrats’ health care ideas

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Forget “Obamacare.” Donald Trump has found a new target when it comes to ideas from the Democrats for the nation’s health care system.

Trying to fire up his base for the November midterm elections, Trump is going after “Medicare for All,” the rallying cry of Sen. Bernie Sanders. Trump is trying out attack lines echoed by other Republicans that a government-run system would wreck the existing and enormously popular Medicare program for seniors and disabled people.

There definitely are serious questions about “Medicare for All,” including the massive tax increases that would be needed to pay for it and longstanding differences in society about the proper function of government. But Trump omits any mention of improved benefits for seniors that Sanders and other Democrats promise. And he implies that Democrats are all lined up behind the idea, when they are not. A few recent examples:

TRUMP: “You know what they’re doing with Medicare? They’ll destroy it. The majority of House Democrats have co-sponsored a socialist takeover of health care that would obliterate Medicare. Their plan is called Medicare for All, except they have no money. But it’s really Medicare for none. Their plan would rob American seniors of the benefits they have paid — and they’ve paid these benefits and they’ve paid so much money for their entire lives and you take it away.” — Minnesota rally Thursday.

TRUMP: “Robbing our seniors of the benefits they paid into for their entire lives, giving it to people that don’t deserve it. Giving it, by the way, to illegal aliens who come in to our country. OK?” — West Virginia rally on Sept. 29.

THE FACTS: “Medicare for All” means different things to different Democrats. For Sanders, the Vermont independent, it’s a “single-payer” system in which the government substitutes for private insurers and employers, paying for almost all medical care with tax money instead of premiums.

But for others, “Medicare for All” means allowing people to buy into a new government plan modeled on Medicare. That would move toward the Democratic goal of coverage for all, while leaving private insurance in place.

Democrats are campaigning on health care in the midterms, but beyond defending legal protections for people with pre-existing conditions, they’re far from united. It’s expected the 2020 Democratic primaries will decide whether the party sets single-payer as its goal or steers another course toward coverage for all.

Trump is also wrong to say that Democrats would “obliterate” Medicare.

The options that allow younger people to buy into a Medicare-like plan don’t involve overhauling the current program,

The Sanders plan would be a fundamental change, expanding Medicare to cover almost everyone in the country. But current Medicare recipients would get improved benefits. Sanders would eliminate Medicare deductibles, limit copays, and provide coverage for dental and vision care, as well as hearing aids. A House single-payer bill calls for covering long-term care.

The issue is whether the U.S. can afford to convert to a new government-run health care system, not that older Americans would be left uncovered.

Trump is also stretching the facts when he implies that seniors’ taxes from their working years have paid for their Medicare benefits. While inpatient care is financed with dedicated payroll taxes, about 75 percent of the cost of outpatient (Medicare Part B) and prescription drug coverage (Medicare Part D) is paid for by general tax revenues.

Finally, it’s unclear where Trump gets his assertion that Democrats would give Medicare to “illegal aliens.”

The single-payer bills in Congress call for covering all U.S. “residents.” However, what qualifies as residency is not defined in the text but left to be worked out in regulations.

Sanders’ legislation calls for “inhibiting travel and immigration to the United States for the sole purpose of obtaining health care services.” The House bill calls for reimbursement arrangements with other countries or self-pay for foreigners scheduling surgeries at U.S. hospitals.

Trump demands answers from Saudi ally about missing writer

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Donald Trump said Wednesday the U.S. is “demanding” answers from Saudi Arabia about the disappearance of a well-known Saudi writer and government critic Turkish authorities say was slain inside his country’s diplomatic mission in Istanbul.

Trump said he plans to invite to the White House the fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi, a writer for The Washington Post who has not been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate on Oct. 2 to get paperwork for his marriage.

Members of Congress have grown increasingly insistent in recent days that the Trump administration get to the bottom of the disappearance. Khashoggi had apparently drawn the wrath of the Saudi government, which has become an ever-closer U.S. ally under Trump, now leaving the U.S. administration in a delicate position.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that he has a call in to the fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. He said nobody knows exactly what happened and expressed hope that Khashoggi is not dead. Trump also said he had spoken with the Saudis about what he called a “bad situation,” but he did not disclose details of his conversations.

Saudi Arabia denies involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Angry U.S. lawmakers likely won’t cause the administration to turn away from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. But they could throw a wrench into arms sales requiring their approval and demand the U.S. scale back support for the Saudi military campaign against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

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