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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Wants to Starve the ACA but the Courts May Say No
      •  Trump Should Pay Attention to The Ratio
      •  U.S. Escalates the Confrontation with North Korea
      •  Biden 2020?
      •  Hackers Broke into Voting Machines in 90 Minutes
      •  Flake Sets His Strategy
      •  Secret Donations from Outside Groups Are Boosting Trump's Agenda
      •  Christie Barks at Cubs Fan

Trump Wants to Starve the ACA but the Courts May Say No

Having lost the battle to formally repeal the ACA, President Donald Trump is looking for other ways to kill it. There are a number of choices available to him. First, the ACA law recognized that some insurance companies might get a disproportionate number of sick people, so it provides federal subsidies to compensate them for the fact that they must enroll everyone who comes along. Trump has withheld some of these subsidies, and the insurance companies have sued the government, claiming they are owed $8 billion under the law. Trump has threatened to stop the subsidies altogether.

Two cases have been heard in district court. In Illinois, a now-defunct startup sued for $70 million and lost. In Oregon, a company sued for $200 million and won. Both cases have been appealed. If these insurers win, virtually every company in the health-insurance business will sue the government. If they all win, it will cost the government a lot of money. Worse yet, if Trump simply ignores the courts and refuses to pay up, we will have a first-class constitutional crisis.

Trump also has another way to sabotage the ACA: order the IRS not to bother anyone who doesn't have insurance and who hasn't paid the penalty for not having it. Millions of (young, healthy) people would no doubt drop their insurance, causing the insurance markets to collapse. Trump would then tweet: "See, I told you Obamacare doesn't work." If he did that, it is not clear who, if anyone, would have standing to sue him.

As with everything, it is hard to predict what Trump will do. Even those in a position to know don't seem to actually know. Kellyanne Conway has been making the rounds and insisting that Obamacare will soon be dead. HHS Sec. Tom Price, on the other hand, appeared on ABC News' "This Week" on Sunday, and declared unequivocally that Trump would not allow Obamacare to implode. Perhaps we can ask Jared Kushner or the Mooch to weigh in and break the tie, so we know what's going on. (V)

Trump Should Pay Attention to The Ratio

If Donald Trump does try to kill Obamacare, he's gambling that the people who voted for him will blame the Democrats and will not hold it against him. In general, this is a very unwise strategy—they call baseball the "national pastime," but the real national pastime is pointing the finger at whoever is in the White House. Further, we have one subtle, but suggestive piece of evidence that this approach could blow up in Trump's face. To start, recall his Twitter response immediately after the skinny repeal failed:

Let's compare this to two other tweets, one that he sent right before the vote, and another announcing new chief of staff John Kelly:

These two tweets were chosen because they were among the more notable ones from last week, but the comparison we will do here works with any Trump tweet. In any case, take a quick look at the first tweet and try to discern how it's different from the other two...

The key to answering this question is something known colloquially as "The Ratio." Direct your attention to the three icons that appear below each tweet; respectively, they represent responses (the speech bubble), retweets (the two arrows), and likes (the heart). As a general (though not universal) rule, responses tend to indicate objections to the tweet, while retweets and likes indicate agreement. The Ratio refers to the relationship between the two, specifically, responses : retweets + likes. The lower the number on the right side of the colon, the more objectionable the tweet.

Using this technique, we see that the Kelly tweet has a ratio of 19:113, which is about 1:6. That's very good by Twitter standards. The pre-vote tweet has a radio of 36:84, which is about 1:2.33. Still good. And if we go through Donald Trump's tweet history since becoming a politician, he performs consistently at this basic level; almost always tallying a ratio somewhere between 1:2 and 1:8.

But then we look at the "let Obamacare implode" tweet. That one has a ratio of 94:118, or about 1:1.2. That's not truly ghastly (the general rule of thumb is that 1:0.5 is "uh, oh" time). However, it is a considerably worse ratio than for any tweet he's produced since becoming president. Donald Trump is not a man given to noticing subtleties, but if he's got someone on his communications staff who is, they would do well to note this one. (Z)

U.S. Escalates the Confrontation with North Korea

So far, Donald Trump has had it easy. He tweets, he fires people (or gets them to resign), he visits his golf courses, and he holds rallies. What could go wrong? Well, North Korea has demonstrated that it has an ICBM that could hit U.S. cities as far east as Chicago. The U.S. responded to that demo by flying a couple of B-1 supersonic bombers over the Korean Peninsula. It also conducted a successful missile interception test, although shooting down your own missile is a lot easier than shooting down someone else's missile, since you know when and where to expect your own missile.

If North Korea responds to the B-1 bombers, then the U.S. would no doubt respond again. Before long, all the generals in the White House and cabinet are going to call Trump into a meeting and give him a menu of options, all of which are extremely bad. He could just let North Korea become a nuclear power and hope it doesn't blackmail South Korea. He could order a nuclear strike on North Korea, but since the North Koreans can basically destroy Seoul using thousands of conventional bombs they already have in place, he would have to accept the deaths of millions of South Koreans. Worse yet, millions of refugees would then stream into China, so China would get into the act. Hello, WW III.

Another option would be to get China to pressure North Korea into giving up its nuclear program, but the Chinese would surely demand an enormous concession from Trump as the price. The generals would explain all of this to Trump, but they are trained to carry out orders from the commander-in-chief, not make political decisions. It would be Trump's call and he couldn't outsource it to Jared Kushner or the Mooch. (V)

Biden 2020?

Joe Biden is itching to be president. He has been extremely active since leaving the Naval Observatory in January and seems raring to go in 2020. The fact that he will be 79 years old on Inauguration Day 2021 doesn't seem to faze him. He comes from a simple, working-class background and could probably win back Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—if he were 20 years younger.

Biden has never had any major scandals (he was caught plagiarizing a speech when he ran for president in 1988), and has been clean as a hound dog's tooth for the last two decades. The same can't be said for his family, though. His second son, Hunter, had an affair with his oldest son's wife. Hunter was certainly married at the time and his late brother may even have been alive when the affair started. While this doesn't rub off on Joe, the idea of his second son having an affair with his sister-in-law does disrupt the picture-perfect Biden family image a little bit. Though secretly consorting with one's sister-in-law is probably better than secretly consorting with the Russians. (V)

Hackers Broke into Voting Machines in 90 Minutes

At the annual DEFCON conference in Las Vegas, there was a contest to break into U.S. voting machines. The hackers succeeded in 90 minutes, and exposed numerous vulnerabilities that might have been exploited in the past or could be exploited in the future. Some machines allowed hackers to attach physical devices to them. Others had unprotected WiFi connections. Still others were running Windows XP, which is extremely vulnerable because Microsoft ended support more than 3 years ago. No one should be running XP under any conditions now. The machines were made by Diebold Nixdorf, Sequoia Voting Systems, and Winvote.

What is obvious from the test is that if a bunch of students could break in within 2 hours, then expert teams from Russia, Iran, North Korea, or other countries could obviously do so as well, maybe even faster. In January, Donald Trump established a commission to examine voter fraud, which is known to be completely negligible. However, no commission is examining the possibility of political parties or foreign powers hacking voting machines, which has now been shown to be easy. The only solution is to decommission all voting machines immediately and return to paper ballots. These can be optically scanned for a quick unofficial tally on Election Night, but the official result can be made by counting them by hand later.

As an aside, voting machines aren't the only devices that can be hacked. Cars can be, too. There was a part of DEFCON devoted to car hacking, supported by Fiat Chrysler, Volkswagen, and Delphi Automotive, all of which have been hacked. One conclusion they drew is that there aren't enough cybersecurity experts available to meet the growing demand, so things are only going to get much worse. (V)

Flake Sets His Strategy

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is up for re-election in 2018, and he's got a number of issues to worry about. To start, he's terribly unpopular in his home state. Over the last year, his approval rating has dropped by 12 points, leaving him at 37% approval, 45% disapproval. The only senators with a higher disapproval rating are John McCain (R-AZ), at 47%, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), at 48%. Beyond that, he's going to face a serious challenge from the right in primary season, in the form of tea partier Kelli Ward. There's also a good chance that McCain will have to step down due to poor health, which would mean two senate races in Arizona in 2018. The Democrats would absolutely drown the Grand Canyon State in money and manpower, in an effort to score a twofer. In view of these challenges, Flake has to decide on a course of action for his re-election campaign. If he embraces Donald Trump in order to shore up his right flank, he could get slaughtered in the general election, assuming Democratic and Independent turnout is up, as expected. If he veers toward the center, he might not even make it to the general election.

We're 15 months from Election Day, but Flake appears to have made his decision. Already publicly lukewarm on Trump, he has sharpened his criticism of the President, going so far as to say that Republicans who do not call Trump out for his bad behavior are "complicit." He's also written a book entitled "Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle." Appearing on "Face the Nation" to discuss the book, Flake declared that, "We've given in to nativism and protectionism. And I think that if we're going to be a governing party in the future and a majority party we've got to go back to traditional conservatism." The book also outlines his differences with Donald Trump in great detail. Its title is an obvious reference to another Arizona senator; Barry Goldwater penned a book with the same name in 1964. Presumably, "Mr. Conservative" still engenders warm feelings among older Republicans in his home state.

In short, then, Flake has chosen option two: He's going to abandon the far right, much like Lisa Murkowski did in 2016, and run as a traditional, fairly centrist, anti-Trump Republican. It's the smart move. There's no way he's going to outdo Ward when it comes to singing Trump's praises. Even if he tried, nobody would believe it. And if we're investing in political futures, betting against The Donald is smarter than betting on him, given Russiagate and all the other setbacks. So, this approach seems like a no-brainer, especially given the blueward trend of Arizona. (Z)

Secret Donations from Outside Groups Are Boosting Trump's Agenda

USA Today is reporting that outside groups are secretly spending large sums of money to sell Donald Trump's agenda to Congress. One example cited is the $2 million the Koch brothers network has spent advocating Trump's tax-cut plans, a subject dear to the Kochs. A second group, the Great America Alliance, is spending $450,000 to attack special counsel Robert Mueller, presumably to justify his eventual firing. The group has already spent $3 million to support Trump's policies and is about to spend another $8 million.

Another group, Judicial Watch, spent $7 million to encourage the Senate to approve Justice Neil Gorsuch and is prepared to spend "whatever it takes" to get more conservative judges appointed to fill the 100 vacancies in the lower coourts.

Still another group. America First Policies, has spent $5 million in support of Trump. All of these groups operate as nonprofits. They can take unlimited donations from any source and not required to disclose their donors or anything about their operations. Whether groups like these are part of the swamp Trump promised to drain is a matter of some contention. (V)

Christie Barks at Cubs Fan

Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) is a short timer in the New Jersey governor's mansion. Even if he wasn't term-limited, he'd be unpopularity-limited. And so, he's trying to figure out what's next for him. One possibility is becoming a sports talk radio host. Another is taking a job in the Trump White House if, say, the Attorney Generalship happens to open up. You know, the usual range of options people face when looking for a new job.

As part of Christie's ongoing quest to spend as little time in his home state as is possible, he attended the Cubs-Brewers game in Milwaukee on Sunday. He was ostensibly there to see his son, who works for the Brewers, though it may also have been prep for the sports talk gig. The problem is that Christie is not a popular fellow. In case he had forgotten that, the crowd was happy to remind him, heckling him throughout the baseball game. Eventually, he got so aggravated that, on his return from a trip to buy some nachos, he got up in a Cubs fan's face and gave him a chewing out. The video's a little hard to hear, but the Governor apparently asked the fan if he "wanted to act like a big shot."

The story is worth noting because, as noted, Christie's name is still being floated as a possible appointee for the Trump administration. The White House may be the most stressful place in the world to work these days, and Trump is known for abusing his underlings. That particularly applies to career politicians, and applies even more particularly to Christie, who's already been shown up by The Donald on numerous occasions. The point is, if he can't take some razzing at a baseball game, there is simply no way he can handle working for Trump. And if he tries, it is not going to end well. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jul30 Fall Out from the Health-Care Debacle May Hurt Republicans Next Year
Jul30 Tax Breaks May Break Tax Reform
Jul30 Police Unhappy With Trump
Jul30 Trump Unleashed?
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Jul29 Score: Mooch 1, Reince 0
Jul29 Trump's Staffing Woes Can Only Get Worse
Jul29 Republican Blame Game Begins
Jul29 Takeaways from the Health-Care Fiasco
Jul29 LePage: Collins Is Running for Governor
Jul29 Can a Pardon Be Questioned?
Jul29 Congress Passes Bill to Sanction Russia; Trump Will Sign It
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Jul28 Tax Reform Just Got Harder
Jul28 Paul Ryan Has Another New Problem: Moderates
Jul28 What Is Going on with Anthony Scaramucci?
Jul28 Lewinsky Prosecutor Tells Trump to Cut it Out
Jul28 Attorney General Cruz?
Jul28 Murkowski Fights Back
Jul28 Record Number of Democrats Challenging Republican Incumbents in the House
Jul27 Senate Votes Down a Repeal-Only Bill
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Jul26 Trump Continues to Bash Sessions
Jul26 Senate Won't Formally Recess in August
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Jul26 Scaramucci Threatens to Fire Everyone
Jul26 Senate Judiciary Committee Has Subpoenaed Paul Manafort to Appear Today
Jul26 Beware the Open Mic
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Jul25 Senate May Vote on Health Care Today
Jul25 Trump Floats the Idea of Giuliani as Sessions' Replacement
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Jul25 Trump Approval Is 50% or More in 17 States
Jul25 Judge Approves Collection of Voter Data
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