McConnell’s test: Can he do more than obstruct?

(CNN)Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is facing a major test this week. Since revealing the details of the Republican health care plan, McConnell has watched as a number of important senators in his own party announced their concerns or opposition. Some, such as Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, have urged him to postpone the vote based on the assumption that, at this moment, it would not pass the upper chamber where the majority only has a slim 52 seats.

Meanwhile, on Monday, the Congressional Budget Office announced that under the Senate bill there would be 22 million more uninsured Americans by 2026, making McConnell’s efforts to pass the bill that much more difficult.
But McConnell’s supporters believe he can make this happen. They see McConnell as a modern-day Lyndon Johnson, who has served as both Senate minority and majority leader, an old-school legislator who can twist arms and cut deals to bring his party together. They are confident that despite all the potential problems with this bill, McConnell must have enough tricks up his sleeve to defy conventional wisdom.
    But the truth is it’s nearly impossible to predict if McConnell will succeed. To many, he has defined his career as an obstructionist rather than as someone who creates new policies. The challenge he faces this week is fundamentally different than much of what he has confronted in his time as a party leader.
    Most of McConnell’s skills have come as a member of the congressional minority or as a majority leader facing a president from the other party. Under those conditions, McConnell could be brilliant and devastating. Shortly after President Obama’s inauguration, Utah Republican Bob Bennett recalled McConnell telling a retreat of Republicans: “We have a new president with an approval rating in the 70% area. We do not take him on frontally. We find issues where we can win, and we begin to take him down, one issue at a time.”
    His track record as an agent of obstruction is legendary. Throughout the Obama presidency, McConnell proved to be extremely effective at blocking many key legislative initiatives, from immigration reform to climate change regulations to criminal justice reform, that sometimes even commanded bipartisan support. The senator proved he knew how to whip up a no vote and to stand firm against intense political pressure to act.
    He demonstrated the same savvy with judicial and executive branch appointments. McConnell was more than willing to let seats remain empty. Never was his ability to hold the party together as clear as when Justice Antonin Scalia died during President Obama’s term. The Senate majority leader refused to even hold hearings on the nomination of Merrick Garland, based on the spurious argument that the next president should have the right to decide on the appointment. The seat remained vacant until a Republican controlled the White House.
    As an obstructionist, McConnell demonstrated he was able to ignore the scrutiny of the media no matter how hot it became. When pundits and policymakers took to the airwaves to lambast the Republicans for failing to govern or for creating a constitutional crisis, McConnell didn’t flinch. The breaking news cycle didn’t faze him. He plays, as he titled his memoir, the “Long Game” with an eye on the needs of his party. Between 2009 and 2017, he kept up the pressure on his colleagues in the Senate to stick to their guns, and it worked.
    Now the situation is different. For the first time in his career as a party leader (other than the brief moment he was selected as Senate majority leader in 2006), the public will see just how well he can perform in making things happen rather than blocking progress.
    But the skills are different on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
    Part of the job of the majority leader in times of united government is to bring disparate parts of the party together around proposals to change the status quo. “Trumpcare” would do just that. This is legislation that will strip away the health care benefits for millions of Americans and create a period of great uncertainty for health care markets.
    Some conservatives want Congress to do much more in dismantling government. To them, the government would still be spending too much money subsidizing markets and leaving too many regulations in place. Others in the GOP are not willing to make such grandiose changes, realizing the effects it will have on their electorate. In particular, they fear the effects of the rollback of Medicaid on their populations as well as the higher deductibles that people with more illnesses will face.
    Can McConnell bring these sides together, and work with the intransigent Freedom Caucus in the House, around legislation that will change the status quo and where Republicans will likely be blamed for any negative outcome?
    In the modern era, part of the job of the majority leader has also been to sell ideas to the public. This is where the job of the obstructionist is very different than the job of the policy creator. Unlike some recent Senate majority leaders, McConnell doesn’t really like to be on television and he tends to avoid reporters whenever possible. In this case, that comes at a cost since the natural face of the party is not out there convincing Americans why this is a good idea. That task is left to others, and right now his fellow salesmen, as reflected in public opinion polls about the health care bills, are doing a poor job.
    Until now, President Trump has not tested McConnell, since he has focused almost exclusively on executive actions and avoided the legislative front on large-scale issues.
    It is worth noting that McConnell does not really have many legislative issues that he is known for, other than his fierce opposition in the 1990s to campaign finance reform. This week he is dealing with a major issue that would have his signature in the history books.

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    Can McConnell deliver on this controversial legislation? Can he play the part of leaders like Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, who delivered when Democrats controlled the White House and Congress in the mid-1960s? Or, is this problematic bill something that is just too hot for this legislative leader to deliver?
    This is a question that will be answered as the week unfolds.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/26/opinions/mcconnell-health-care-opinion-zelizer/index.html

    The Salad Oil King–by author M.G. Crisci (10th book)

    Story Summary:

    THE SALAD OIL KING¬† is a uniquely American tale of Greed-Gone-Mad. Inspired by real events that took place in the 1940-60’s. An unpretentious, diminutive Manhattan-born high school drop-out named Alfonso Gravenese morphs into one of the great scam artists in American financial history.

    Watch “Fonso” graduate from a modest childhood scam into an executive who initially steals hundreds of millions of dollars from Federal domestic and international aid programs. And ultimately becomes a cunning entrepreneur who creates a $14 billion Wall Street scam that halts NYSE trading and destroys two venerable brokerage firms.

    Along the way, you meet an unforgettable collection of friends, enemies and accomplices. Notably benevolent Mobsters, a jealous and compliant wife, a vicious yet oddly romantic right-hand man, and a collection of opportunistic Government and Church officials.

    And a surprising ending that will leave you wondering.

    Reviewer called it “A Classic American Crime Story by a Master Story Teller.”¬† The author says it’s based on real events and the research and interviews took him about 5 years to complete.

    Amazon Link

    http://amzn.to/2oPX6Sb

    5 Stars San Francisco Book Review

    http://sanfranciscobookreview.com/product/salad-oil-king/

    12-year-old girl comes out to her Mormon congregation

    (CNN)Savannah, 12, made a decision this January; she was going to come out as lesbian at her Mormon Church. Nothing was going to stop her.

    On June 22, 2016, one day after her birthday, Savannah came out to her parents as lesbian.
    Mom had suspicions and knew that day might come.
    “I looked at her and said, ‘OK, I love you. And I’ll support you no matter what you do,'” said Heather, her mother.
    The family felt strongly that they didn’t have the right to prevent Savannah from telling her story publicly, including sharing it with CNN, but asked that their hometown and last names be withheld to give them a measure of privacy.
    After coming out to her parents, Savannah began the process of coming out to her friends and extended family.
      Six months later, she felt a calling.
      “I had a feeling like I should come out to the church,” Savannah said shyly. “I came out to all of my family and I just wanted to do something more.”
      Both her parents were taken aback by their daughter’s desire to come out in front of her church.
      “I was mostly nervous for her and where this would take her as a 12-year-old girl,” said Josh, her father. Josh and Savannah are still members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the official name of the church.
      Heather left the church a year and a half ago after official church policy documents were leaked online in 2015.
      Those documents, confirmed by the church to CNN to be authentic, apostatize same-sex couples who marry and bar any of their children from blessings or baptism until they themselves reach legal age. They remain church policy.
        Official church policy welcomes members of the Mormon faith that have same-sex attractions. They say it’s possible to be “Mormon and gay.
        Church teaching, however, mandates that members with same-sex attractions cannot act on those feelings. They must remain celibate and they cannot get married to members of the same sex.
        “It resonated in my heart that it felt wrong,” said Heather, speaking about those policies. Her “inklings” about Savannah’s sexuality kept running through her mind.
        The family gathered, walking Savannah through the good and the bad that could come from her speech. They walked through what the Mormon Church teaches about same-sex attraction.
        “We let her make that decision, not us,” Josh said pointedly. “I had nothing to do with … coercing her or anything.”
        Heather remembers Savannah’s rationale. “I want to be a voice for those that might be positive,” she recalls Savannah saying. “I want them to know that I’m an ally. That they’re safe with me. I want them to know that it’s OK to be Mormon and be gay.”
          She also wanted to garner more respect for gays in her church, something she feels is lacking.
          “We came to the conclusion it wasn’t our place; we couldn’t silence her,” said Heather. “It would be giving her a bigger message that she wasn’t allowed to speak or there was something wrong with her.”
          So, Savannah went to work writing. Draft after draft, she began crafting her message.
          She decided on giving testimony on Fast Sunday, which is traditionally when Mormons hold testimony meetings.
          “It’s sort of what you believe in,” Savannah says of testimony. “It’s your spiritual talk.”
          An emailed statement to CNN from the local bishop, Judd Law, said, “It is common for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to stand before a congregation of families and share feelings and beliefs — a testimony — during a worship service.”
          The day had arrived. Savannah put on a tie and battled her anxiety, making her way to the rostrum.
            Friends of her’s began quietly recording videos as a “keepsake,” which they later gave to the family. The family then provided that unedited, raw video to CNN.
            Edited versions of the video have since been published on social media; Savannah first told her story on an LGBT Mormon podcast, “I Like to Look for Rainbows.
            She began speaking. “Hi, my name is Savannah and I want to share my testimony with you.”
            Her voice didn’t betray her nerves. Savannah read slowly, focused on getting her testimony out. She was scared to see people’s faces and their reaction to her testimony so she did not look up once to see their reactions.
            Then Savannah said it; she came out as gay in front of her congregation.
            “God loves me just this way, because he loves all his creations,” she said in the speech. “I do believe he made me this way on purpose.”
            She didn’t stop with theology. Savannah wanted her congregation to know about her hopes and dreams, too.
            For Savannah, even at 12, it’s simple. She wants to love herself and not feel shame for being who she is.
            “I hope to find a partner and have a great job. I hope to get married and have a family,” she said. “I know these dreams and wishes are good and right. I know I can have all of these things as a lesbian and be happy.”
            Shortly after that, the mic suddenly cut out. It’s unclear what exactly happened, but one of the church leaders leaned over and began speaking to Savannah.
            “I thought it was broken at first. So, I turned around to talk to him,” she said. “And then he told me to sit down.”
            Despite repeated requests to church headquarters and Law, the bishop, they did not explain why Savannah’s mic ceased to work.
            On a Mormon Church website titled “Mormon and Gay,” it offers the following advice on Mormons who want to come out: “If you decide to share your experiences of feeling same-sex attraction or to openly identify as gay, you should be supported and treated with kindness and respect, both at home and in church.”
            In the video, Savannah returns to her seat as murmured chatter continues around her.
            “I was telling her that she was perfect and beautiful,” says Heather.
            A church leader stood up and made a small speech as Savannah was sitting down, in part saying, “I also want to recognize that we are all children of God. And that we are loved by our heavenly Father. And I have no doubt that heavenly Father has made us all unique in different ways. For that, I am grateful.”
            In the emailed statement to CNN, Law took issue with the recorded video, saying it was unauthorized.
            Additionally, he said that a “group of visitors jubilantly left the service. … Everyone is welcome and understands the standards of decorum and behavior if they decide to participate. It is unfortunate that this group of adults chose to violate them.”
            Law said the video was being exploited for “political purposes.”
            But Savannah’s parents don’t see it that way. They say they didn’t witness anyone being disruptive. They also say there was no “group” present.
            “Savannah invited a few close friends as allies,” Heather tells CNN, responding to the statement from the local bishop. “There was no group.”
            The family did leave shortly after. Heather says Savannah was distraught and crying.
            Savannah says she was feeling a mixture of emotions. She was confused because she didn’t know what was going on, she was happy because she finally came out at church and “felt accepted.”
            But she was sad because she couldn’t finish her speech.
            Her parents, though, are proud. Josh responds, “absolutely,” when asked.
            “She has more courage than I’ve ever seen in anybody,” Heather says. “To be able to share something so personal with everybody. That made my heart soar as a parent.”
            “This incident has created some tender emotions, first and foremost for a brave young girl,” said Law in his emailed statement to CNN. “As a congregation, we continue to reach out, and do all that we can to make sure she knows that we love her and her family.”

            Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/19/us/coming-out-as-mormon-and-gay-trnd/index.html

            Amazon Books’ new IRL stores misses everything that makes a bookstore special

            People enter the newly opened Amazon Books on May 25, 2017 in New York City.
            Image: Getty Images

            There is an open secret in the book world: Booksellers give the best book recommendations.

            I can trace my favorite New York City bookstores by the book recommendations I’ve been given at various bookstoresDelicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff (one of my favorites that I read in 2016), recommended at Three Lives and Company; Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit, recommended at Community Bookstore in Brooklyn;rediscovering Harry Potter and The Lord of The Rings at Books of Wonder.

            A good bookstore isn’t just a retail outlet it’s a community space designed to celebrate literature.

            “[Bookstores] provide a sense of community for those who love reading, discussing, and sharing thoughts, experiences, and ideas both their own and those theyve read about,” says Peter Glassman, owner of Books of Wonder, an independent bookstore in New York City (that also served as the inspiration for You’ve Got Mail). “They provide a refuge a place to escape from the unrelenting pace of the world around us and allows a person to pause, reflect, examine, and even just read.”

            In other words, a good bookstore isn’t just a retail outletit’s a community space designed to celebrate literature.

            Amazon seemed to missed the memo.

            At the end of May, the online retailer opened its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in New York City, the seventh of many such stores the online retailer plans to open throughout the country.

            Heralded for years as the mighty destroyer of bookstores, Amazon’s efforts to double down on physical books was inevitable when viewed in the context of recent consumer reading habits. The rise of the ebook was impressiveTime reported in 2010 that ebook sales rose 1,274 percent between 2008 and 2010but has just about stalled more recently. Print book sales grew 3.3 percent in 2016, a third-straight year for print growth, according to Publisher’s Weekly, while ebook sales have seen some declines.

            The ebook ethos, however, still remains. As a physical extension of Amazon.com, Amazon Books IRL promises to be “a store without walls there are thousands of books available in store and millions more available at Amazon.com.”

            Inside Amazon’s New York City bookstore.

            Image: HALEY HAMBLIN/MASHABLE

            To do this, Amazon Books comes equipped with a few modern touches that tend to enhance the overall experience. First, shoppers can learn more about each book in the store by scanning books or barcodes with the Amazon app’s camera function. The second feature is the ability to pay for your books with your Amazon account, either through your phone (if you’ve already scanned a book) or the card associated with your Amazon account. And if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can get Prime discounts on titles.

            But the lastand most distinguishingfeature is Amazon Books’ showcase design. Rather than stocking its shelves like typical bookstores, stuffed with books to browse, Amazon features a showcase layout. Every book in the store faces outward, displaying its cover.

            Don’t be fooled. With its new brick and mortar bookstores, Amazon puts Amazon first.

            These features are designed to give Amazon customers the most convenient shopping experience possible.

            “Amazon puts customers first,” I overheard one bookseller tell two shoppers. But don’t be fooled. With its new brick and mortar bookstores, Amazon puts Amazon first. If you’re a reader, you’re probably going to hate Amazon’s new bookstore.

            First, the obvious: by featuring a showcase layout, Amazon Books carries fewer titles than a typical bookstore would, which, like:

            Where the books at, Amazon??

            Amazon anticipated this problem. To make up for its lack of shelf space, Amazon Books plans to rotate out its book selection every week.

            This is a great idea in theoryswapping books in and out means you keep the selection in your store diverse and fresh… except Amazon Books is curating books based on Amazon data and ratings. “Most have been rated 4 stars or above and many are award winners,” writes Amazon.

            What that means in reality is that, in addition to the typical shelves like “New Hardcover Fiction,” Amazon Books is filled with shelves like “Hot On Amazon Books” (cool) and “Books with More Than 10,000 Reviews on Amazon.com” (why is this a useful metric?) that leave you thinking, “Okay, we get it, you’re Amazon.com.”

            When you compare Amazon’s efforts to even a large chain bookstore like Barnes and Noble, which has curated book tables like “Curious, Odd, Cool” to gamified book tables like “blind date with a book,” Amazon Books’ data-based recommendations feels sterile. After all, a good bookstore isn’t just a place to run in and pick up a bookit’s a place to discover something new.

            “You cant help but wonder [in a bookstore], ‘What am I going to find this time that I never expected to find?'” explains Glassman. “[Bookstores] provide a safe space where ideas and differing opinions are welcome and frequently embraced.”

            That’s not to say that using data to curate books is a bad idea. One of the most interesting and engaging parts of Amazon Books is the, “If you like, you’ll love” shelf.

            Image: MJ Franklin/ Mashable

            This shelf is Amazon Books at its best, and honestly, the most exciting part of about the idea of Amazon launching an IRL space. The best book recommendations are contextual and with this shelf, Amazon compiles some of the most popular books on Amazon, and uses them as a launching point for recommendations for books you may not have heard of.

            Buuuttt… at the end of the day, it’s one shelf out of a whole store. And one shelf does not an innovative bookstore experience make.

            Amazon’s choice to use the showcase style of presentation for its books is the most superficial and obvious departure from a traditional bookstore, but also belies perhaps the biggest flaw of my experience in the store.

            In an effort to spotlight Amazon’s online features, Amazon has crafted a brick and mortar store that seemingly erases booksellers, who are the beating heart of bookstores.

            One of the best parts of Amazon Books is that every single book in the store comes with a plaque that has a brief description or recommendation of the book. But seemingly all of those come from an Amazon.com user or sometimes simply the amorphous “Amazon Books.” If a bookseller does add a recommendation, its an impersonal “Staff Favorite: [blank] loves this book,” card tacked onto one of the plaques.

            The question that I have is: why would I ever trust “Amazon17” over one of the staff at a bookstore? What I would much rather learn, and what is a much better recommendation, is what about this book struck Alisha so much that she has pulled it out of the hundreds or thousands of books she works with as staff at a bookstore.

            This ethosAmazon.com recommendations firstisn’t just in the plaques dotting the entire store.

            Inspired by the great book recommendations that I’ve gotten from various bookstores, I asked one of the staff at Amazon Books for a recommendation, noting that I especially love short stories … and she referred me to Amazon.com, saying she didn’t want to give me a bad recommendation.

            I eventually went to another member of Amazon Books’ staff and asked for another recommendation, this time noting that I had just finished a YA novel The Hate U Give. After thinking about it, she walked me to the YA section and picked up Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You The Sun. She told me that she liked the book because of the sibling dynamic in the book and then we talked about our own siblings.

            It was a small, brief exchange but the first time that Amazon Books stopped feeling like a showroom for Amazon, and felt more like a bookstore.

            At the end of the day, Amazon Books tries to toe a tricky line: being a traditional bookstore for readers while also being an IRL convenience-oriented online shopping experience. But sadly for readers, while trying to juggle these competing demands, Amazon fails at both.

            Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/06/12/amazon-books-irl-ugh/

            World’s most prolific Star Wars collector appeals to fans after ‘devastating’ theft

            Steve Sansweet, owner of Rancho Obi-Wan in California, asks collectors and fans to help recover items allegedly stolen by his friend of 20 years

            The owner of the worlds largest Star Wars memorabilia collection has learned a hard lesson about trust. On Monday, he told his own saga in which $200,000 in collectibles were allegedly stolen from his California museum by a man he once considered a friend and asked fellow movie fans for help in recovering them.

            Steve Sansweet, the owner of Rancho Obi-Wan in Petaluma, California, said in a release to Star Wars fans and collectors that 100 items, which he referred to as vintage US and foreign carded action figures, many of them rare and important pieces, were pilfered from his collection between late 2015 through 2016, many of them resold.

            He posted details of the crime on his website and asked fellow collectors and fans to email tips@ranchoobiwan.org with information.

            The alleged culprit: Carl Edward Cunningham, 45 of Marietta, Georgia, a fellow Star Wars collector whom Sansweet has known for 20 years. Cunningham was arrested in March in Sonoma County, California, and charged with felony grand theft. He is free on $25,000 bail and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for 27 June.

            Its devastating, Sansweet told the Guardian on Monday about when he learned a friend was charged with the thefts. Its a feeling of utter betrayal that someone could stoop to this level, an alleged friend and confidant, someone I had invited to my house and shared meals with.

            Sansweet said he met Cunningham in 1996, while the museum proprietor was head of fan relations at Lucasfilm.

            Since 1977, Sansweet has accumulated at least 350,000 franchise artifacts, stored inside a 9,000-sq-ft warehouse he calls Rancho Obi-Wan, located on a idyllic country lane an hour north of San Francisco. He has also written 18 Star Wars books and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as owning the worlds largest collection of Star Wars paraphernalia.

            The theft came to light in February when Philip Wise, a major Star Wars collector, posted news of the theft of a rare action figure from his Texas warehouse. Another dealer from southern California informed Wise that he had purchased the figure from Cunningham, a Georgia collector, Sansweet wrote in his release to movie fans Monday.

            The California dealer, Zach Tann, told Wise that he had bought many other Star Wars collectibles from Cunningham and sent a detailed list. Wise concluded that the quantity and quality of the items suggested they had been taken from Sansweets sprawling Ranch Obi-Wan museum.

            He contacted Sansweet who confirmed that the items were missing, including a rare three-pack of figures and a store display worth $20,000.

            When I saw the items missing, and considering the circumstances of the theft, my stomach physically sank, Sansweet said. I was queasy. I was dumbfounded,

            Sansweet said authorities were trying to retrieve items that had been resold and implored Star Wars fans to report anything they knew about the thefts or sightings of the items. He said two fans have contacted authorities to say they bought some of the items from a legitimate dealer and have offered to return them, even if they do not get their money back.

            Actor Mark Hamill, who played the character Luke Skywalker in the film franchise, tweeted Monday about the theft, saying: Maybe publish a list of stolen items to protect potential victims from purchasing hot merchandise.

            Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself)

            Maybe publish a list of stolen items to protect potential victims from purchasing “hot” merchandise. #TheFraudIsStrongInThisOne #SithHappens https://t.co/coFv1P6HL7

            June 5, 2017

            Sansweet said the thefts ran contrary to the collegial spirit of Star Wars fans.

            Weve had thousands of visitors since we became a nonprofit museum in 2011, he said. And never once to our knowledge have we had a single item stolen.

            Sansweet said the museum had already upgraded security, but he refused to say that his trust in friendship had been ruined.

            The message here is not to start mistrusting your friends, he said. Or youd be the most miserable person in the world.

            Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jun/05/star-wars-biggest-collector-steve-sansweet-theft