March 7, 2017 Last Updated 8:09 am

Despite new ban, revised ACA, The New Yorker’s Azerbaijan story may be more consequential

Morning Brief: North Korea, following murder of the leader’s half-brother, and several missile launches, now accused of taking Malaysian citizens hostage

The weather here in Chicagoland perfectly mimicked the president’s first few weeks in office: a lot of bluster, the looks of a storm, but really nothing. Then, the storm hit.

Uncredited photo from Ivanka Trump website

That was yesterday when the president signed a new executive order in another attempt at a Muslim ban, then Congress unveiled its Obamacare.

But it may have been the Sunday’s publication of Adam Davidson’s expose on Trump’s dealings in Azerbaijan that we will be talking about in the weeks to come… or maybe not. It all depends on whether members of Congress can deal with complex business dealings, and possible criminality that goes beyond impeachment to something that the president might find even more objectionable: prison time.

The article, Donald Trump’s Worst Deal, is not a neat, tight news story, but a lengthy, gently winding feature story. One that tells of the Trump Organization’s dealings in the nation by the Caspian Sea, considered to be one of the most corrupt on the planet.

The New Yorker, Adam Davidson:

Donald Trump’s Worst Deal

By 2014, when the Trump Organization publicly announced that it was helping to turn the tower into a hotel, a construction boom in Baku had ended, and the occupancy rate for luxury hotels in the city hovered around thirty-five per cent. Jan deRoos, of Cornell University, who is an expert in hotel finance, told me that the developer of a five-star hotel typically must demonstrate that the project will maintain an average occupancy rate of at least sixty per cent for ten years. There is a long-term master plan to develop the area around the Trump Tower Baku, but if it is implemented the hotel will be surrounded for years by noisy construction projects, making it even less appealing to travellers desiring a luxurious experience—especially considering that there are many established hotels on the city’s seaside promenade. There, an executive from ExxonMobil or the Israeli cell-phone industry can stay at the Four Seasons, which occupies a limestone building that evokes a French colonial palace, or at the J. W. Marriott Abershon Baku, which has an outdoor terrace overlooking the water. Tiffany, Ralph Lauren, and Armani are among the dozens of companies that have boutiques along the promenade.

A former top official in Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Tourism says that, when he learned of the Trump hotel project, he asked himself, “Why would someone put a luxury hotel there? Nobody who can afford to stay there would want to be in that neighborhood.”

Foreign Policy, Robbie Gramer:

Trump Hotel in Baku Partnered With ‘Notoriously Corrupt’ Oligarch Family With Ties to Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps

To build the Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku — a project conceived in 2008, and nearly finished, but never opened to the public — the Trump Organization worked with the family of Azerbaijan’s transportation minister and a powerful oligarch, Ziya Mammadov. The project has plenty of problems — it’s in the wrong part of town, and can’t compete with existing high-end hotels there — but seems likely to have fallen prey to the notoriously lax local ethics for business dealings…

…With the Baku hotel deal, the Trump Organization may have violated federal corruption laws, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), the New Yorker notes. The heart of the problem seems to be little due diligence before Trump jumped into the project, even though the country is known for being corrupt, his partners were billionaires on a $12,000-a-year-government salary, and corrupt practices were so commonly talked about they litter the State Department cables released by WikiLeaks and featured prominently in a 2014 Foreign Policy piece, “The Corleones of the Caspian.”



Explaining a new national health system is never going to be easy, there are a lot of messy details. It is even harder when you consider that in today’s media world, a newspaper has only a few hours to get things together.

Though some have criticized the NYT’s lead story on the plan unveiled yesterday by the GOP, I think it is still an impressive package.

The new plan, for the most part, kicks the can down the road, by taking away some of the benefits only later, after the 2018 election (or 2020), while doing as much damage to the funding portion (the mandate) as can be done, thus guaranteeing the eventual collapse of the system.

I, unlike many of my liberal friends, did not support the ACA’s passage as I felt that the individual mandate would be an albatross around the Democrats supporting the plan once the Public Option was eliminated. The PO was dropped because felt it was a slippery slope towards Single Payer – the exact reason I thought it essential.

The New York Times, Robert Pear and Thomas Kaplan:

House Republicans Unveil Plan to Replace Health Law

The bill sets the stage for a bitter debate over the possible dismantling of the most significant health care law in a half-century. In its place would be a health law that would be far more oriented to the free market and would make far-reaching changes to a vast part of the American economy.

The House Republican bill would roll back the expansion of Medicaid that has provided coverage to more than 10 million people in 31 states, reducing federal payments for many new beneficiaries. It also would effectively scrap the unpopular requirement that people have insurance and eliminate tax penalties for those who go without. The requirement for larger employers to offer coverage to their full-time employees would also be eliminated.

People who let their insurance coverage lapse, however, would face a significant penalty. Insurers could increase their premiums by 30 percent, and in that sense, Republicans would replace a penalty for not having insurance with a new penalty for allowing insurance to lapse.

The Washington Post, Amy Goldstein, Mike DeBonis and Kelsey Snell:

House Republicans release long-awaited plan to replace Obamacare

The Republican plan would offer tax credits ranging from $2,000 per year for those under 30 to $4,000 per year for those over 60. The full credit would be available for individuals earning up to $75,000 a year and up to $150,000 for married couples filing jointly. The credits would phase out for individuals earning more — for each $1,000 in additional income, a person would be entitled to $100 less in credit, meaning a 61-year old could make up to $115,000 and still receive some credit…

…Estimates from congressional budget analysts and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget kept showing that the credits would be both too small to provide enough help to lower-income people and too expensive overall for a GOP determined to slash federal spending that the ACA has required.



While North Korea is in the news because of several missile launches, the aftermath of the poison killing of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother is becoming interesting.

North Korea, unhappy with Malaysia’s exposure of the murder are now preventing Malaysian citizens from leaving the country. How many, and why they may be there is unanswered, but the Malaysian government has responded by doing the same with North Koreans that may be in the country.

Of course, while all this is going on, the White House has been mum on everything to do with North Korea, and the State Department, understaffed and marginalized, has not much to say, either.

Reuters, Rozanna Latiff and Ju-min Park:

North Korea bars Malaysians from leaving, in ‘diplomatic meltdown’

North Korea barred Malaysians from leaving the country on Tuesday, sparking tit-for-tat action by Malaysia, as police investigating the murder of Kim Jong Nam in Kuala Lumpur sought to question three men hiding in the North Korean embassy.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak accused North Korea of “effectively holding our citizens hostage” and held an emergency meeting of his National Security Council…

…Najib denounced the travel ban in a statement as an “abhorrent act” that was in “total disregard of all international law and diplomatic norms”.

He said he had instructed the police “to prevent all North Korean citizens in Malaysia from leaving the country until we are assured of the safety and security of all Malaysians in North Korea”.



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