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May 6, 2018

Rudy's mission; Stormy's cameo; a problematic poll; the view from Kabul; $1 billion in 11 days; week ahead calendar | CNN Money

 Exec summary: A brand new Ronan Farrow story... Plus Amanda Carpenter on Trump's lies, Warren Buffett on the future of newspapers, and the week ahead calendar...

What is Rudy doing?

Since Rudy Giuliani's name is at the tip of everyone's tongues right now -- remember when he said "we got Kim Jong Un impressed enough to be releasing three prisoners today?"

That was last Thursday morning on "Fox & Friends." Almost four days ago. By then, #MAGA Twitter was already celebrating the "release of the 3 Americans" -- a premature celebration, it turns out, spurred by sketchy news reports and an echo chamber effect. Rudy added to it.

There's still been no U.S. government confirmation that the men have been released. Hopefully by the time you're reading this, there will be confirmation. But I have to ask: What was Rudy doing? Why was the president's personal lawyer talking about sensitive diplomacy on TV? Don't these mistakes dent his credibility?

Trump's new TV defender

I can't explain his North Korea screwup. But it seems to me that Rudy is playing "surrogate" more than "lawyer" right now.

Trump wants people on TV defending him... That's why Giuliani was added sorta-last minute to the line-ups of Saturday's "Justice" and Sunday's "This Week." Trump can't really give these interviews himself, so Rudy is filling in, saying what Trump would say. (But seemingly making things worse!)

After "This Week," Rudy rendezvoused with Trump... Then he gave even more interviews... He told the WashPost's Robert Costa that "we're setting the agenda." Hmmm. Key quote: "Everybody's reacting to us now, and I feel good about that because that’s what I came in to do..."

 --> Don't look now, but... POTUS has only tweeted once since Friday night... It was a generic "thank you Cleveland" video...

"Almost a grifter"

Carl Bernstein, speaking with me on "Reliable Sources," said that Giuliani has been portraying Trump "as almost a grifter with no interest in anything but conning the American people..." Presenting Trump as "totally unconcerned with truth, especially about this question of whether the Russians have interfered in our electoral campaigns and [whether] he was a knowing or unknowing participant in what they were doing..."

 --> Recommended: Jay Rosen wrote this reaction to Bernstein + other Sunday show commentary...

Monday's papers...

Quoting from Monday's NYT: Rudy "tried again on Sunday to straighten out his client’s story," but "raised new questions about whether Mr. Trump had paid hush money to other women and suggested the president might invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying in the special counsel’s Russia investigation." Meantime, here's the NY Daily News cover:

Enough is enough with the president's lies

The "White House credibility crisis" was a topic all across TV on Sunday. Jake Tapper pressed Kellyanne Conway and other guests about the problem. "I would like him to stop lying, quite frankly," Tapper said at one point. Conway denied that there's a credibility crisis at all, which just testifies to her own credibility issues.

On "Reliable," I said reporters are increasingly feeling empowered to call out the Trump White House's lies because the evidence is right on tape. Enough is enough... Here's video of the opening essay...

Where Trump got this (false) idea

Later in the hour, I unpacked the president's claim that his support among African Americans has recently "doubled." It hasn't. But the way this idea spread... from The Daily Caller to social media to other sites to the president's lips... is really something to behold. It's still being shared right now.

And all of this was based on a tiny sliver of an online survey -- that even the pollster says was misinterpreted. Really. Reuters told me "the sample sizes for those two measurements were too small to reliably suggest any shift in public opinion." Here's my column all about it...

Week ahead calendar

Monday afternoon: Melania Trump announces her initiatives at a Rose Garden event...

Tuesday: The Cannes Film Festival gets underway...

Tuesday: Disney and Discovery report Q1 earnings...

Tuesday: Key primary races in WV, OH, NC, and other states...

Wednesday: Senate confirmation hearing for embattled CIA director nominee Gina Haspel...

Wednesday: The one-year anniversary of Trump firing James Comey...

Wednesday: 21st Century Fox earnings...

Thursday: POTUS holds a campaign rally in Indiana...

Sunday: Mother's Day! 

Gotta make more time for TV watching...

If you're like me, you already have way too much to watch right now. Jamie and I are behind on "Billions" and "The Looming Tower" and we haven't even started this season's "The Americans." And there's MORE coming!

Brian Lowry emails with a heads up: May is a month for Emmy bait, coming near the end of the annual eligibility window. Showtime leads the charge May 12 with "Patrick Melrose," a miniseries starring Benedict Cumberbatch, followed over successive Saturdays by the HBO original movies "Fahrenheit 451" and "The Tale," the latter acquired out of Sundance...

Picture of the weekend

The "fake" Donald Trump with the real Stormy Daniels...
Scroll down for more "SNL" highlights...
For the record, part one
 -- BREAKING: The Observer first broke the news about this operation on Saturday. Now Ronan Farrow has the details. He says the same intel firm that aided Harvey Weinstein also "used false identities to track and dig up dirt -- even sexual blackmail material -- on Obama officials behind the Iran deal..." (The New Yorker)

 -- Nick Kristof's latest: "I'm not arguing that we avert our eyes from Trump or mute our criticism. Far from it. But we have to figure out how to spare bandwidth for genocide in Myanmar, opioids in America and so on..." (NYT)

 -- ­čöî: It's bedtime now because I'll be on CNN's "New Day" in the 6am hour..

SAA seizes heavy arms from militant groups in Homs May 6, 2018. | RT

ACTION NEWS | ABC Action News on Demand - May 6th 6:30

PETER SCHIFF Fed Minutes Reveal The Easing Cycle Has Already Begun | Financial Services -May 6, 2018.

Dutton accuses Shorten of 'speaking out of both sides of his mouth' on border policy – politics live | Australia news | The Guardian - May 7, 2018.

Dutton accuses Shorten of 'speaking out of both sides of his mouth' on border policy – politics live | Australia news

Amy Remeikis

From Mike Bowers this morning:
Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton at a press conference with Commander of Operation Sovereign borders Air Vice-Marshall Stephen Osborne in the blue room of parliament house, Canberra this morning,
Home affairs minister Peter Dutton at a press conference with the commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, Air Vice-Marshall Stephen Osborne, in the blue room of Parliament House on Monday morning. Photograph: Mike Bowers for the Guardian

The cabinet has come together just before the budget is handed down – and as they chat, Chris Bowen had a few things to say about Scott Morrison’s tax-to-GDP ratio:
The greatest failure of the government’s official “fiscal strategy” has been the persistent watering down of its 2013 commitment to get to a surplus of 1% of GDP by 2023-24.
From his statement:
Over the years [the government] stated:
  • “… returning the budget to sustainable surpluses that build to at least 1% of GDP by 2023-24” (2013-14 MYEFO)
  • “… deliver budget surpluses building to at least 1% of GDP by 2023-24” (2014-15 MYEFO)
  • “… deliver budget surpluses building to at least 1% of GDP as soon as possible” (2015-16 MYEFO)
Now it seems the government is on the verge of breaking another one of the key planks of its fiscal strategy – that improvements to revenue due to improved economic conditions should be “banked as an improvement to the budget bottom line” and not spent.
***End statement***

Also in the budget – $100m for something which will be announced in September.
From Paul Karp’s story:
Kelly O’Dwyer has confirmed that Tuesday’s budget will set aside funding for a women’s economic security statement to be delivered in September.
On Monday the minister for revenue and women said there would be “a lot in the budget for millions of Australian women” but the Coalition would further address issues including workforce participation, pay equity and superannuation with a separate package.
The Australian Financial Review reported that “significant” funding of more than $100m would be set aside in the contingency reserves of Tuesday’s budget for the economic security statement.

Just having a look at the Peter Dutton press conference from earlier, and it seems like Air Vice-Marshall Stephen Osborne had something interesting to say about Operation: Sovereign Borders – in that he appeared to endorse it, while questioning attempts to change it (which is unusual for a public servant).
It’s built on a very particular structure and if we make any changes to that structure, I would have some concerns and we will leave it at that.
Dutton cut off any further questions to Osborne on the issue, and took them himself.

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Mike Bowers is heading out to get a picture of the Budget Tree for you, because, horror of all horrors – it is not ready yet.
For those unfamiliar with the Budget Tree, it’s the one which stands in the background of all the broadcasts on budget day. Usually it is a glorious flame red by this time of year.
Today, it’s less Rita Hayworth and more Miss Havisham.
But it’s failure to launch was predicted:
Tom Connell (@tomwconnell)
Bold prediction for those on the insider beltway - budget tree will be late this year
April 17, 2018

This was the crux of Dutton’s final statement:
By Bill Shorten being out there saying that New Zealand is on the table, people realise that New Zealand is a back doorway into Australia. They realise New Zealand is a comparable society to Australia. It has a similar welfare system, similar health, education offerings, housing, etc. It is marketed in the same way that Australia is as a positive destination. If Labor thinks that this problem has gone away, that they can now water Operation Sovereign Borders down, Bill Shorten is making the same mistake that Kevin Rudd made when he undid John Howard’s policies and if Bill Shorten thinks he can give a nudge and a wink to the left of the Labor party before an election and he believes he is going to win that election and water these policies down, that is exactly what Kevin Rudd did and it resulted in 1,200 people drowning, 8,000 kids in detention, 17 detention centres were opened and the Australian public rightly was angry because there were billions of dollars wasted and we are still cleaning up that mess today.

Some context for those comments:
Labor’s policy platform is to ensure processing for onshore arrivals is done within 90 days.
As for offshore processing, well, there isn’t a time period on that as yet. Just that it is done “as quickly as possible”. There has been some conflating of the onshore and offshore processing platforms – but at this stage, there is no time limit placed on offshore arrivals.

Peter Dutton cautions Labor on changing border protection policies

Peter Dutton is using his press conference to slam Labor’s border protection policy:
Just because Australians don’t see on their television set every night the boats coming as they did under the Labor party, it has meant the problem has gone away. The Australian public understand that the government needs to assert a sovereign right in relation to border protection and border security matters. This government has been able to clean up the mess that we inherited from the Labor party.
The problem has not gone away. One of the most puzzling aspects to the Labor party’s approach at the moment is Bill Shorten speaking out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to border protection policy. He says one thing to the press and that is that he has got a tough stand on border protection matters and yet when he is in the Labor party conference, he is telling people there will be a softly, softly approach to border protection policy if the Labor party is to win government. It is a complete outrage.”

Peter Dutton is about to hold a press conference on this: (from the AAP report)
More than 130 Sri Lankans believed to be heading for Australia and New Zealand were intercepted when authorities halted the modified tanker on Tuesday off the coast of southern Johor state, national police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement.
He said the immigrants included 98 men, 24 women, four boys and five girls.
Dutton said it was clear the threat of people-smuggling syndicates remained and it was important to keep Australia’s borders strong.
Police also raided a fishing boat used to transport the migrants to the vessel and detained three Indonesians and four Malaysians on board, he said. Another five Malaysians were nabbed for suspected involving in the smuggling syndicate.
A total of 127 Sri Lankans will be charged for entering Malaysia illegally while nine Malaysians, four Indonesians and four Sri Lankans will be investigated for human smuggling, Fuzi added.

Fun bit of trivia for you: this is Mike Bower’s 29th budget lock-up.
Twenty-nine. They grow up so quickly.

Labor is also promising a lot of rail spending. Anthony Albanese outlined the opposition’s plans:
In coming years, states will roll out projects including the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, the Perth METRONET, the Western Sydney Rail and the Melbourne Airport Rail. Then there is the Inland Rail freight link from Brisbane to Melbourne, and, potentially, the High Speed Rail Link from Brisbane to Melbourne via Canberra and Sydney.
Which of course means we are now virtue signalling over public transport:
Katharine Murphy (@murpharoo)
Why do you have to "believe" in rail? Can't you just build it? #auspol
May 6, 2018

Malcolm Turnbull snuck in a hi-vis press conference this morning.
He was announcing Sydney rail network upgrades – “a $400m project to duplicate the remaining single-track section of Sydney’s Port Botany rail line”.
I only mention it because of this gem from Paul Fletcher:
Malcolm Turnbull is a city-shaping prime minister.

Side note away from the budget for just a moment:
Rob Harris from the Herald Sun has done quite a bit of work on Lottoland – one of the foreign gambling sites which allow punters to bet on the outcome of state sanctioned lotto games.
The government followed an international trend and moved to ban it.
But Lottoland has not given up:
Jackson Gothe-Snape (@jacksongs)
Lottoland hires Hawker Britton. Next week...
The CEO of Lottoland Australia, Luke Brill, is holding a press conference at Parliament House today to oppose a Bill banning bets on lotteries and keno.
Time: 11.40am TODAY

Place: Senate Courtyard (Federal Parliament)#auspol May 6, 2018

Right. Now that all the technical problems have been sorted (my computer is as reluctant as me on Mondays), let’s get back to it.
Andrew Leigh was on Sky this morning, with a few things to say in response to Scott Morrison’s tax-to-GDP ratio:
The Coalition’s tax-to-GDP ratio is effectively going to be used as their excuse for not cracking down on multinational tax loopholes and giving massive handouts to banks. It’ll be their excuse for running razor-thin surpluses rather than the strong budget surpluses they were promising just a couple of years ago.
Labor supports taxes being as low as possible in order to fund the services we need and pay down debt, but let’s also focus on how we raise the revenue – close the multinational tax loopholes, don’t give massive handouts to the big end of town and that allows you then to fund our schools and hospitals the way Australians demand.
The economics of the company tax cut simply don’t stack up. We see in the government’s own figures, 0.1% increase in household income in the 2030s. You look now at the United States where the promised wage rises simply aren’t eventuating. You look at the argument for the link between productivity and company taxes and it’s just not there. This is not a good way of spending Australians’ resources. It’s no way to invest in the future, to rip money out of our schools and give it to the big end of town.

The government appears quite focused on the “don’t get your hopes up too high about tax cuts” message.
Kelly O’Dwyer, speaking to the ABC this morning, hints tax cuts will be there, but adds the “affordable” message again:
Any decision taken by the government does need to be affordable. The government does need to be able to live within its means, but we also have to understand that in providing tax cuts, you are simply allowing people to keep more of their hard-earned income.

It’s not all budget though.
The energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, has just announced a review into the nation’s fuel stocks. From the release:
The Turnbull government will assess Australia’s liquid fuel security to help deliver affordable and reliable energy.
Liquid fuel, such as petrol, diesel and jet fuel, accounts for 37% of Australia’s energy use, including 98% of transport needs.
Over the past two years, we have been focused on securing reliable and affordable electricity and gas. It is time now to consider Australia’s liquid fuel security.
The assessment is the prudent and proper thing to do to make sure we aren’t complacent. It should not be construed as Australia having a fuel security problem.
The comprehensive assessment will look at how fuel is supplied and used in Australia, including our resilience to withstand disruptions both overseas and in Australia.
We have not experienced a significant disruption to fuels supplies since the Opec oil crises in the 1970s, but there is no room to be complacent.
Australia’s liquid fuel supply increasingly depends on overseas sources and relies on market forces to maintain reliability and affordability. The assessment will identify whether the government should take further steps to ensure Australia’s domestic fuel supply is reliable.
The assessment will also help inform Australia’s plan to return to compliance with the International Energy Agency’s emergency stockholding obligations by 2026.
The assessment of liquid fuels will be completed by the end of 2018 and contribute to a broader consideration of energy security across liquid fuel, electricity and gas supplies in the National Energy Security Assessment by mid-2019.
***end statement****
tl;dr We haven’t had a big disruption to our fuel stocks for decades, but if we did, we could be screwed, so we should probably check on that.

The chatter around tax cuts has been loud and impossible to ignore.
Scott Morrison has warned they won’t be “mammoth” – that’s in relation to low and middle-income workers.
However, he says they will be “affordable”.
From Paul Karp’s story yesterday:
On Sunday the treasurer told Channel Nine’s Today Show that the Turnbull government had flagged for months that its priority is “delivering tax relief for low to middle-income earners”.
“They have been doing it tough, it’s been some time since they have had a decent pay rise,” he said.
Morrison said that low and middle-income earners “should be the first to whom we seek to provide tax relief”, leaving open the possibility that higher-income earners will benefit from the income tax cut plan later on.

Good morning and welcome to budget eve

I hope everyone had a great break and snuck in some relaxation time, because you are going to need your wits about you this week.
It’s budget time, and while Scott Morrison has made it clear he is most definitely not Santa Claus, in what was quite possibly the most ridiculous own-goal in some time, the government is also looking to the next election. Which means budget goodies, in some form or other.
So far, it is all of the tax and infrastructure kind. Big spending infrastructure announcements have been dripping out over the last couple of weeks – the Melbourne airport rail line and $3.2bn in WA among them – but really, tax has been what has been dominating the agenda.
This morning, Morrison unveiled his plan to try and bring Labor to heel on taxes, through this story in the Oz.
He has described it as a “speed limit” on taxes, and by enshrining a 23.9 % tax-to-GDP ratio in legislation, it either makes Labor have to repeal it or maintain it.
Paul Karp has this follow:
The treasurer, Scott Morrison, describes it as the “speed limit” on taxes but a new paper says the Coalition’s 23.9% tax-to-GDP cap is an “arbitrary” limit that will push the government to make austerity cuts to fund new programs.
While a dramatic improvement in revenues has given the Coalition room to ditch the planned $8bn Medicare levy increase and offer income-tax cuts, the Australia Institute has warned in a briefing note that the combination of a limit on tax and a surplus target will necessitate spending cuts in future.
The paper echoes concerns from the shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, about eroding the revenue base, as Labor prepares to match “targeted tax relief” and promise larger surpluses by raising revenue in other areas.
But along with tax and infrastructure, “surplus” has returned to the buzzword pool. Labor’s promise to bring the budget to surplus earlier, while increasing spending and cutting taxes, thanks to its $68bn franking credits overhaul, seems to have sent the government hunting for ways it too can bring on a surplus earlier.
It looks like better than expected revenue may help with that. But only just.
All will be revealed tomorrow evening. But first, strap in for a day of speculation and snark, as both sides prepare to line the budget battlefield.
Burning comments can find their way to me @amyremeikis on Twitter, or you’ll find updates in the story section of @pyjamapolitics on Instagram. You’ll find the amazing Mike Bowers on Twitter at @mpbowers or his gram, @mikepbowers. I’ll be lurking in the comment section when I have time, so play nicely.
I hope, as always, that you have had your coffee.
Ready? Let’s get started!