What We're Reading

Daily Reads: Secret Obamacare Repeal Ripe for Insider Trading; Torture and the War on Terror — Then and Now

A roundup of stories we're reading at BillMoyers.com HQ...

Daily Reads: Secret Obamacare Repeal Ripe for Insider Trading

US Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) walks towards the Senate Chamber at the Capitol April 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

We produce this news digest every weekday. You can sign up to receive these updates as an email newsletter each morning.



If this sounds like insider trading, that’s because it basically is” –> Thirteen Republicans are crafting a health care bill behind closed doors that will have major ramifications on a huge sector of the economy. At The Nation, George Zornick reports that this situation has created the “conditions for a spate of smaller, more specific scandals. There is a huge gap between what a very small number of people know about the fate of US health care, and what the public — and particularly the investing public — knows.” A good government advocate tells Zornick, “these guys — not only the members of Congress, but the staff who are working on it — have an ideal opportunity to cash in themselves, or even provide information [to] others to handle stock-trading activity.”

Sen Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) wonders what we can “logically deduce” from all the secrecy…

But on Wednesday evening, we finally got a sneak peek at what may be in the bill as a “discussion draft” circulated on the Hill. Paige Winfield Cunningham reports for The Washington Post that the bill largely mirrors the House version, but with a few key differences. According to Cunningham, it “would roll back the ACA’s taxes, phase down its Medicaid expansion, rejigger its subsidies, give states wider latitude in opting out of its regulations and eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood.”

As you probably know, Republicans are trying to repeal Obamacare through a process called reconciliation, which can’t be filibustered in the Senate. But it requires that the legislation meet certain criteria, first and foremost among them that the measure is mostly budgetary. Ultimately whether it passes muster is supposed to be up to the Senate parliamentarian, and Robert King reports for The Washington Examiner that two Republican senators say the parliamentarian will rule against an anti-abortion provision intended to entice social conservatives to support the legislation.

Now theoretically, the parliamentarian can be overruled, but that would violate a long-standing norm. But Joe Williams reports for Roll Call that Republicans are at least considering pulling that trigger. “Such a decision,” writes Williams, “would have ripple effects far beyond the tenure of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a careful practitioner of the chamber’s procedural rules, and open the door for future leaders to more easily advance legislation under a 51-vote threshold.”

Torture –> Maggie Michael reports for the AP that “hundreds of men swept up in the hunt for al-Qaida militants have disappeared into a secret network of prisons in southern Yemen where abuse is routine and torture extreme,” and “US forces have been involved in interrogations of detainees in Yemen but denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses.” The AP found 18 black detention sites in the south of the country. According to Michael, “US senior military leaders were aware of allegations of torture at the prisons in Yemen, looked into them, but were satisfied that there had not been any abuse when US forces were present.”

Meanwhile, an ACLU lawsuit on behalf of several former prisoners of the CIA is giving us a new window into the mindset of the agency, and the two psychologists who designed its torture “harsh interrogation” program, according to The New York Times’ Sheri Fink and James Risen. They write that the psychologists’ depositions “provided new details about the interrogation effort, their roles in it and their rationales. Their accounts were sometimes at odds with their own correspondence at the time, as well as previous portrayals of them by officials and other interrogators as eager participants in the program.”

Back on the campaign trail –> Donald Trump held a rally last night in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Josh Voorhees writes for Slate that “he ignored his teleprompter for long stretches, and yet remained on message, at least by his standards — the message being that everything is going absolutely according to his plan. He offered up his usual blend of misinformation, tangents, and braggadocio, but avoided the type of sound bite that can hijack a news cycle.”

Many outlets are reporting that Trump unveiled a proposal to bar new immigrants from receiving welfare benefits for five years after their arrival, but only some of them pointed out that this has in fact been the law of the land since 1996. The Hill was one of them.

And Trump will hold his first fundraiser for his 2020 re-election campaign before passing a significant piece of legislation. Naturally, for this regime, the event will be held at The Trump International Hotel. The AP reports that “ethics experts say his continued appearances at his own for-profit properties — he’s visited such locations 37 times as president, according to an Associated Press tally — double as a form of advertising that inappropriately enriches him.”

Speaking of draining the swamp, Carrie Levine reports for The Center for Public Integrity that “one of President Donald Trump’s newest appointees is a registered agent of Saudi Arabia earning hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby on the kingdom’s behalf.” According to Levine, “the Saudi Arabian foreign ministry has paid longtime Republican lobbyist Richard Hohlt about $430,000 [since January] in exchange for ‘advice on legislative and public affairs strategies.’”

Twitter is no place to formulate foreign policy –> On Tuesday, the president of the United States issued an official statement via his Twitter account: “While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!” Slate’s Fred Kaplan explains why the tweet “typifies his cluelessness about international politics, in ways both subtler and more alarming than usual.”

Worst freakout ever –> That’s how Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine characterizes the hand wringing among Dems following John Ossoff’s narrow loss to Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th CD on Tuesday. Chait writes of that contest, and three previous near-misses: “The reason the party has lost all four special elections is glaringly simple. It is not some deep and fatal malady afflicting its messaging, platform, consultants, or ad spending allocation methods. Republicans have won the special elections because they’ve all been held in heavily Republican districts.”

Loose lips –> Matthew Mosk and James Gordon Meek report for ABC News that Democratic lawmakers are “raising concerns about the security clearance held by President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, saying suspicions about his contacts with Russian officials should be enough to suspend his access to sensitive information.”

Prejudicial –> During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly referred to Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier who wandered away from his unit only to be captured by the Taliban, as a “rotten traitor.” Lawyers defending Bergdahl against charges that he abandoned his post “said Wednesday they want to ask prospective jurors in the soldier’s court martial about their opinions on President Donald Trump to ensure their client receives a fair trial,” according to Corey Dickstein at Stars and Stripes. One of his lawyers said that there’s a whole “set of issues surrounding President Trump’s outrageous comments throughout the course of his successful campaign for the White House.”

What about the terrorism of the far-right?” –> That’s the headline on a New York Times piece by Amarnath Amarasingam and Jacob Davey, who write that “white supremacist, anti-government and neo-Nazi extremists have been responsible for 73 percent of deadly terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Government Accountability Office.”

Obsessing over the white working-class –> At The American Prospect, William E. Spriggs argues that the political class’s fixation on white working-class voters is dangerous. “Under Trump,” he writes, “the gap between the experience of black and white workers will grow. Trump has already changed the political discourse.” As for Democrats, “the problem with language that emphasizes the white working class as a separate problem from rising inequality of income and wealth is that it will racialize the debate rather than emphasizing the common assault on all who are not rich.”

Tensions are ratcheting up –> Nick Wadhams and Ilya Arkhipov report for Bloomberg that “Russia canceled talks with a top US official to protest the latest sanctions punishing Russian companies and individuals over the conflict in Ukraine, in a fresh setback for President Donald Trump’s bid to improve ties with President Vladimir Putin’s government.”

And after a number of Russian incursions in US airspace — and the skies above a number of other NATO countries — a NATO F-16 fighter intercepted a Russian military aircraft carrying Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu over the Baltic Sea on Wednesday. After a show of force by Russian fighters accompanying the minister’s aircraft, the NATO jet broke off. Zachary Cohen and Pamela Boykoff have that story at CNN.

Free at last –> In the 1980s and early 1990s, the US was seized with what’s come to be known as “the Satanic Panic,” when, as Jordan Smith describes it at The Intercept, “accusations flew that the child care industry had been infiltrated by bands of Satanists hell-bent on brainwashing and sexually abusing young children.” Smith reports that a Texas couple who were convicted in 1992 “for lurid crimes that never happened” were formally exonerated on Tuesday after 25 years in prison.

Greenwashing or progress? –> “Oil giants ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Total are among a group of large corporations supporting a plan to tax carbon dioxide emissions in order to address climate change,” reports Oliver Milman for The Guardian. But some green groups “dismissed the plan as a stunt designed to insulate fossil fuel companies that have sought to undermine or dismiss the science of global warming.”

WONDER WOMAN! –> At Pacific Standard magazine, Katie Kilkenny writes about how an appearance by Wonder Woman on Ms. Magazine’s first cover back in 1972 — under the banner “Wonder Woman for President” — “helped secure the hero’s place as an icon for liberal second-wave feminism.”

Daily Reads was compiled by BillMoyers.com staff and edited by Kristin Miller.