Playbuzz unveils a new editor for writing articles chock full of interactive content

Playbuzzhelps online publishers make their content more interactive by adding elements like polls and galleries.

Until recently, those elements have taken the form of widgets that publishers can embed into their stories, but thats changing with the launch of Playbuzzs new Storytelling platform, where writers are creating entire articles, not just one-off widgets.

While it doesnt look all that different from other blogging tools (including the WordPress editor that Im using to write this post), theres an emphasis on the kinds of interactivity that have been Playbuzzs bread and butter.This includes existing Playbuzz features like polls, as well as new capabilities like integration with Getty Images and Giphy.Theres also a new editor thats supposed to make it quick and easy for publishers to build their own videos.

Then the entire article can be embedded on WordPress, thanks to Playbuzzs WordPress plugin.

When the companys chief storyteller Shachar Orren demonstrated the new platform for me, she said the goal is for your whole article to be engaging and interactive, rather than just creating a regular article and adding one or two interactive pieces.

And while polls and quizzes are often conflated with clickbait and fluff, Orren said they can be used to illustrate more serious news, too.

TheHuffington Post is using this every week to make the hardcore news topics of that week accessible to a millennial audience, she said.

For example, HuffPost (which, like TechCrunch, is owned by Verizon/Oath) used the Storytelling platform to publish a humor piece around back-and-forth messages between President Trump and the House GOP, and it combined a variety of formats to try to explain the U.K. election to Americans.

Eventually, Playbuzz hopes to move all publishers to the Storytelling platform, though Oren said theyll still be able to create individual widgets if they want.

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I read about Bannon and Clinton so you don’t have to

(CNN)“Devil’s Bargain” — Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Joshua Green’s in-depth exploration of the mind and machinations of former Breitbart News boss and Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon — and “Shattered” — a painstaking account of Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful campaign by Jonathan Allen, also of Bloomberg, and Amie Parnes of The Hill — have both climbed the bestseller lists and monopolized the attention of the chattering classes since their releases. (“Shattered” was published in April; “Devil’s Bargain” hit shelves this past week.)

They’re both absorbing reading for anyone interested in better understanding the unlikely and unprecedented set of circumstances that put reality show multimillionaire Donald Trump into the White House. Both offer fascinating (and juicy) revelations; neither should be read on its own, since their access journalism roots make each a half-book at best, covering just one of the two campaigns, and always from the perspective of sources whose personal agendas make them eager to talk.
Here’s my scorecard of how they stack up.

    “Devil’s Bargain:” Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency

    Most compelling character:
    Given that the book reads like an odd hagiography of Steve Bannon, it’s impossible for him not to be its most compelling character: Brilliant, slovenly, gleefully opportunistic and given to profane eruptions and weird turns of phrase, proudly referring to Trump supporters as fellow “hobbits” and “grundoons,” and dismissing dumb and useless people as “schmendricks” and “mooks” (ironic, since Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager was, of course, Robby Mook). A close second: Robert Mercer, the eccentric right-wing billionaire who backed the Trump insurgency. Prior to backing Donald Trump, Mercer’s primary electoral investment had been in the unsuccessful congressional campaign of a quack scientist with an obsessive fixation on human urine.

      What you need to know about Steve Bannon

    Biggest revelation:
    Bannon conceived of activating the internet’s legions of disaffected, meme-addicted young males after investing (and losing his shirt) in IGE, a Hong Kong-based business that “farmed” gold and virtual items for resale to online gamers. Bannon realized that these underemployed and overeducated denizens of message boards like 4chan and Reddit were susceptible to misogynist and racist symbolism (when disguised with snark) and highly adept in launching viral campaigns. They became the digital shock troops for the booming growth of Breitbart News and, later, the Trump campaign.
    Most memorable quote:
    From Steve Bannon: “(House Speaker Paul Ryan is) a limp-d*** m***rf***er who was born in a petri dish at the Heritage Foundation.”
    Best anecdote:
    All the anecdotes that paint Bannon as larger-than-life even in his own mind, like the one about an oil painting of Bannon reimagined as Napoleon Bonaparte that hangs in his personal office — a gift from British ultranationalist and Brexit proponent Nigel Farage. Or the one about how Bannon recruited a strikeforce of “beautiful young women” to Breitbart News, whom he proudly referred to as his “Valkyries.”
    Best anecdote about Chris Christie:
    According to Green’s sources (or conjecture), Chris Christie’s exile from the Trump inner circle began when he dared to tell The Donald that when Clinton was ready to concede, President Obama would call the governor and Christie would hand his phone to Trump. Trump, a fanatical germophobe, was reportedly repulsed at the thought of having Christie’s mobile against his face and barked back, “Hey, Chris, you know my f***ing number. Just give it to the President. I don’t want your f***ing phone.”
    Key takeaway:
    Steve Bannon is a fascinating and monstrous character, who undoubtedly bears great responsibility for Donald Trump’s shocking victory. But the interesting revelations about Bannon are primarily constrained to the first half of the book, and focused mostly on his rise to power; by the book’s midpoint — when it begins to cover the campaign in earnest — Bannon feels oddly sidelined, and the narrative becomes much more of a by-the-numbers diary of Donald Trump’s slouch toward the Oval Office.

    “shattered:” Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign

      Authors: Hillary Clinton didn’t grasp populism

    Most compelling character:
    Not Hillary Clinton — but that’s by design, as Allen and Parnes’ thesis about the campaign’s failure depends on Clinton’s being framed as simultaneously world-weary and naive, controlling and remote, distracted and obsessive, but most of all, incredibly boring. Bernie Sanders comes off as far more interesting, though he’s also firmly presented as unelectable. Though a minor character, the most memorably described figure in the book comes early: Clinton true-believer Adam Parkhomenko, whose desire to see her elected president was so passionate that it led him to found the scrappy grassroots movement Ready for Hillary and spend a full decade tirelessly fighting to make her POTUS.
    Biggest revelation:
    Hillary Clinton was far closer to picking Elizabeth Warren as her running mate than anyone suspected — in part because they connected so deeply on the girl-wonk level. Would making the surprise pick of the popular — and populist — Warren have turned things around for Clinton? Quite possibly. The roadblock to Warren’s selection? She’d run afoul of President Obama, calling him out for nominating a banker to a key Treasury Department role. “It’s safe to say she’s not a favorite person in this building,” one White House official observed.
    Most memorable quote:
    “When you’re done with a condom, you throw it out.” — unnamed Democratic insider, whom Green describes as “familiar with Mook’s thinking,” discussing Robby Mook’s attitude toward the grass-roots zealots of Ready for Hillary.
    Best anecdote:
    In May 2016, when Hillary Clinton was being pressured to give a high-profile public interview in the face of the rise of Bernie Sanders and the relentless drip-drip-drip story of her private email server, she was asked by her communications chief what journalist she’d most prefer for a one-on-one TV conversation. Her team thought she said “Brianna,” and reached out to CNN’s Brianna Keilar as a result; Clinton had actually said “Bianna,” referring to Bianna Golodryga of Yahoo! News, the wife of former Clinton administration economic aide Peter Orszag. The interview — brutally intense, rather than softball — turned out to be “a disaster” for Clinton.
    Best anecdote about Bernie Sanders:
    Sanders was asked to film a TV ad to seal the deal of his endorsement of Clinton. He was fine with everything that the Clinton campaign asked him to say — putting a stamp of approval on her positions regarding education, health care and the minimum wage — but refused to say the script’s final words, “I’m with her.” “It’s so phony!” he griped. “I don’t want to say that.” He didn’t. The ad ultimately never ran.

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    Key takeaway:
    “Shattered” appears to have been written with a key assumption in mind: that Hillary Clinton was almost entirely responsible for her own defeat, and that this defeat was predestined because of her personal history and prior political choices she’d made. That makes it a strangely off-key read in an era where new revelations about Russian interference in the campaign and potential collusion (perhaps the true “devil’s bargain”) are erupting on a daily basis. But it also seems to put a capstone on Clinton’s political career, having her declare to her “Hillaryland” team after her loss that 2016 is the “last campaign” of her life. Fact, or wishful thinking on the part of the authors? We’ll undoubtedly see as the gears of 2020’s campaign begin to grind.

    Read more:

    Spicer’s exit will not lift White House siege as walls close in

    Washington (CNN)In a White House under siege, something had to change.

    Press secretary Sean Spicer’s resignation Friday let off a pressure valve, allowing an administration that is being pummeled on multiple and multiplying fronts the chance, at least for once, to dictate its own story.
    But Spicer’s departure after the most fraught six months of antagonism between the press and a West Wing that anyone can remember, is just one move in a shuffle of personnel and tactics that augurs an aggressive White House fightback that is likely to intensify the current discord in Washington.
      Trump has beefed up his legal team and escalated his rhetoric in an apparent attempt to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller, and any results of his probe into alleged collusion between his campaign team and Russian officials.
      Trump appears to be trying to revive his organization in an attempt to break out of a prolonged funk that has to a great extent wasted the first six months of his term — a time when presidents are usually at the apex of their power.
      But the reshuffle will not address what many critics see as the root of the crises that are assailing the White House the behavior and political conduct of the President himself. Scaramucci made that much clear.
      “The President himself is always going to be the President. I was in the Oval Office with him earlier today, and we were talking about letting him be himself, letting him express his full identity,” he said.
      “I think he’s got some of the best political instincts in the world, and perhaps in history.”
      Trump’s own behavior in recent days, in which he has all but declared war on both Mueller and his own Attorney General Jeff Sessions as well as revived questions over the Russia investigation in an astonishing interview with the New York Times, appeared at the least to call Scaramucci’s assessment of his political sense into question.
      His heated interventions also appear to be betraying the rising pressure inside the White House at the expanding allegations and investigations marching inexorably closer to the administration and the Trump family.
      News broken by CNN Friday that Mueller’s investigators asked the West Wing staff to preserve documents relevant to a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer last year confirmed that the White House itself is now in Mueller’s crosshairs.
      Mueller is also moving inexorably closer to the thing Trump cares about most — his family — with both his son-in-law Jared Kushner and Donald Jr. under scrutiny over their past history of meetings with Russian intermediaries.
      Trump’s warning in the Times interview that it would be a “violation” if Mueller probed his personal finances, could indicate that he believes the special counsel is targeting tax returns he has refused to release.
      Trump’s position is that his and his family’s financial dealings are off limits, even though Mueller might view them as a possible tool to see whether his business history poses any conflicts of interests to the President’s current role.
      “The President’s point is that he doesn’t want the special counsel to move beyond the scope and outside of its mission,” Sanders told reporters after Scaramucci had vacated the podium. “And the President’s been very clear, as have his accountants and team, that he has no financial dealings with Russia.”
      The Russia pressure is not going to relent next week either.
      Key members of the Trump campaign team, including Donald Jr., Kushner and former campaign chair Paul Manafort have been asked to give testimony on Capitol Hill that would send Russia fever into overdrive.
      Meanwhile, the White House is still struggling for the kind of “wins” that Trump promised. Despite introducing new measures to curtail illegal immigration, there are few other obvious successes for the new communications team to trumpet. While jobs creation has remained steady and strong, the economy has not yet exploded into growth. And though the stock market has been on a bull run, many presidents find that tying their performance to the markets is a perilous practice.
      Scaramucci’s first job, in his first appearance at the podium in the White House Briefing Room on Friday, was to insist that the walls are not closing in around Trump. And he appeared to be performing as much for the President as the journalists in front of him and the audience watching at home.
      “I’ve seen this guy throw a dead spiral through a tire, I’ve seen him at Madison Square Garden with a topcoat on, standing in the key and hitting foul shots and swishing them — he sinks three-foot putts,” Scaramucci said.
      “I don’t see this as a guy who’s ever under siege. This is a very, very competitive person. Obviously there’s a lot of incoming that comes into the White House. But the President’s a winner and what we’re going to do is we’re going to do a lot of winning.”
      Scaramucci’s attitude to his new job appears, for public consumption at least to be that Trump is actually doing a great job as president, but that his successes have simply not been properly communicated to the nation.
      “When you look at the individual state by state polls, you can see the guy’s doing phenomenally well,” Scaramucci said. “It’s indicating to me that the president is really well loved. There seems to be a disconnect in terms of some of the things that are going on and we want to connect that.”
      Scaramucci’s smooth, urbane performance was in contrast to the antagonistic and defensive performances from the podium that characterized much of Spicer’s tumultuous tenure as White House spokesman.
      But it was a contrast in style more than it was a contrast in substance.
      He punted on the question of Trump’s unproven assertion that millions of illegal votes cost him victory in the popular vote against Hillary Clinton in last year’s election. But he was careful not to contradict the President in one of his most infamous falsehoods, suggesting that questions of credibility and truthfulness will continue to be an issue once he is running the show.
      “If the president says it, … let me do more research on it, My guess is that there’s probably some level of truth to that,” Scaramucci said.

      Read more:

      Boots apologises for morning-after pill response – BBC News

      Image copyright Getty Images

      Boots has said it is “truly sorry” for its response to calls to cut the cost of one of its morning-after pills.

      The pharmaceutical company was criticised after telling the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) it was avoiding “incentivising inappropriate use”.

      It now says it is looking for cheaper alternatives to the Levonelle brand.

      The firm said it “sincerely” apologised for its “poor choice of words” over the emergency contraception pricing.

      The progestogen-based drug Levonelle costs 28.25 in Boots, with a non-branded equivalent priced at 26.75.

      The branded drug costs 13.50 at Tesco and a generic version is 13.49 in Superdrug.

      However, Superdrug charges 27 for Levonelle and 35 for an alternative emergency contraceptive pill, EllaOne.

      European comparison

      BPAS has lobbied Boots to reduce the cost of the pill to make it more accessible for women having difficulty getting the drug quickly on the NHS.

      The service also found the pills can cost up to five times more in the UK than in some parts of Europe.

      Previously, Boots had defended its pricing plan for the pill, saying it was often contacted by individuals who criticise the company for providing the service.

      It also said it “would not want to be accused of incentivising inappropriate use, and provoking complaints, by significantly reducing the price of this product”.

      Image copyright Science Photo Library

      The response led to some Labour MPs saying Boots had taken an “unacceptable” moral position, while health campaigners talked of a “sexist surcharge”.

      The company later issued another statement, stating regret that its previous response had “caused offence and misunderstanding”.

      It added: “The pricing of [emergency hormonal contraception] is determined by the cost of the medicine and the cost of the pharmacy consultation.

      “We are committed to looking at the sourcing of less expensive EHC medicines, for example generics, to enable us to continue to make a privately funded EHC service even more accessible in the future.

      “In addition the NHS EHC service where it is locally commissioned, is provided for free in over 1,700 of our pharmacies, and we continue to urge the NHS to extend this free service more widely.”

      The morning-after pill can be taken in the days after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy.

      In England, Levonelle and EllaOne are free of charge from most sexual health clinics, most GP surgeries and most NHS walk-in centres or urgent care centres, but they are free only to women in certain age groups from pharmacies in some parts of the country.

      In Scotland and Wales, the emergency contraceptive pill is available free of charge on the NHS from pharmacies, GPs and sexual health clinics.

      In Northern Ireland, some pharmacies allow it to be bought on the NHS, and it is available free of charge from sexual health clinics and GPs.

      Read more:

      Eight former CBO directors defend the agency amid Republican criticism

      (CNN)Eight former directors of the Congressional Budget Office sent a letter to congressional leadership Friday to underscore the agency’s importance and respond to criticism from Republican lawmakers and the White House.

      “We write to express our strong objection to recent attacks on the integrity and professionalism of the agency and on the agency’s role in the legislative process,” the letter said.
      The nonpartisan agency has come under fire in recent months for its analyses of several versions of the Republican House and Senate health care bills.
        Most recently, the CBO estimated Wednesday that the Senate bill to repeal but not replace the Affordable Care Act would leave 32 million more people uninsured by 2026 than under current law. A report Thursday estimated 22 million more would be uninsured under a full repeal and replace bill.
        Republicans have been openly critical of the CBO’s numbers. House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday called the CBO’s estimate “bogus” and “not credible.” Marc Short, the White House’s director of legislative affairs, and National Economic Council aide Brian Blase published an op-ed in The Washington Post on Sunday calling the CBO’s methodology “fundamentally flawed.”
        The White House even tweeted a video last week criticizing the CBO for inaccurately estimating ACA enrollment numbers. In May, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney questioned the agency’s very existence, asking the Washington Examiner, “Has the day of the CBO come and gone?”
        According to the signers of the letter to congressional leaders, the answer to Mulvaney’s question is no: The CBO has served the American people well for 42 years, the former directors contend.
        “As the House and Senate consider potential policy changes this year and in the years ahead, we urge you to maintain and respect the Congress’s decades-long reliance on CBO’s estimates in developing and scoring bills,” the letter said.
        Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
        The former directors include a number of scholars and executives of both conservative and liberal leanings: Dan Crippen, former executive director of the National Governors Association; Douglas Elmendorf, dean of the Kennedy school of Government at Harvard University; Douglas Holtz-Eakin, American Action Forum president; June O’Neill, Baruch College economics professor; Peter Orszag, managing director of Lazard; Rudolph Penner, Urban Institute fellow; Robert Reischauer, Urban Institute president emeritus; and Alice Rivlin, Brookings Institution senior fellow.
        Current CBO Director Keith Hall, a former staff economist for President George W. Bush, was chosen by GOP leaders in 2015. He did not sign the letter.
        While the signers acknowledged that not every CBO estimate is accurate, they argued that “such analysis does generate estimates that are more accurate, on average, than estimates or guesses by people who are not objective and not as well informed as CBO’s analysts.”
        The letter comes as McConnell plans to hold at least one vote on a Republican health care plan next week.

        Read more:

        The week in patriarchy: Trump clearly doesn’t understand health insurance

        If you dont realize by now that a total clown is in charge, nothing is going to change that. At least its Friday

        If you want to be able to sleep this weekend, do yourself a favor and dont read the New York Times expansive interview with Donald Trump. The president makes little sense as he answers questions about everything from Russia to Jeff Sessions and healthcare and if you were already worried about whose hands the country is in, this piece will not put your mind at ease. For example, it seems pretty evident that the president of the United States has no idea how health insurance works.

        I used to see interviews like this and be a bit pleased because the more coverage of Trumps stupidity the better. But if you dont realize by now that a total clown is in charge, theres no interview or expose thats going to change that. So join me this week in a good old fashion wallow: things are bad, the president is bad. At least its Friday.

        Glass half full

        Scotland just became the first nation to offer free sanitary products to low-income women. Access to tampons and pads arent just a hygiene issue but a health and rights issue. At least one country is getting it right.

        What Im RTing

        Amir Talai (@AmirTalai)

        I read this brilliance on race and couldnt help thinking the world could really use Fran Lebowitz blogging or tweeting or something.

        July 18, 2017

        Laurie Penny (@PennyRed)

        Most of the interesting women you know are far, far angrier than you’d imagine.

        July 18, 2017

        Renee Bracey Sherman (@RBraceySherman)

        Home care workers care for families, and sometimes deal with abuse, sexual assault, and only get paid $10 an hour.

        July 20, 2017

        Planned Parenthood (@PPact)

        .@ppfa & @ReproRights are suing Texas over its latest abortion ban. Politicians make bad doctors #WeWontGoBack

        July 20, 2017

        Who Im reading

        Soraya Nadia Mcdonald on R Kelly and the truth behind why he hasnt been held accountable for his abuse we just dont care about black women; Daniel Kibblesmith with a humourous but way too real take on the expectation that Hillary Clinton disappear from public life; and ProPublicas incredible investigation into maternal deaths in the United States.

        What Im watching

        How Fox News is trying to normalize collusion. Oh good.

        How outraged I am

        I was already at a ni ne out of 10 over Betsy Devos listening to anti-women rape deniers, and this first person account at Vox from a sexual assault survivor put me at a full 10.

        How Im making it through this week

        A golden retriever in Long Island rescued a baby deer from drowning and Ive watched it at least 15 times.

        Sign up for Jessica Valentis weekly newsletter on feminism and sexism

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        Trumps Modest Proposal for a Nafta Revamp

        Donald Trump has gone squishy by stages on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he once called “the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere.” In April, aides persuaded him not to abrogate the 23-year-old trade pact with Canada and Mexico. On July 17, moderates scored another victory: The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative released objectives for renegotiating Nafta that aim to tune it up, not gut it. “Overall this looks like a Nafta modernization. It’s not like the whole of Nafta is up for grabs,” says Antonio Ortiz-Mena, a senior adviser at Albright Stonebridge Group, a Washington ­diplomacy advisory firm, who ­previously headed the economic affairs section of the Mexican Embassy.

        Even after Trump relented last spring on killing the three-way pact, some analysts expected he would direct U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to take a hard, nationalistic line in talks on updating it. After all, in January the president had threatened a 20 percent tariff on Mexican goods to pay for the border wall. There are no such threats in the trade rep’s letter to Congress spelling out the administration’s objectives. The administration is OK with maintaining tariff-free, quota-free trade among the three countries.

        True, there’s some harsh language about Nafta in the 18-page document. “Since the deal came into force in 1994, trade deficits have exploded,” it says. “For years, politicians promising to ­renegotiate the deal gave American workers hope that they would stop the bleeding. But none followed up.” Trump, it says, is finally doing what others only promised.

        But that campaign-style language is confined to the introduction. What follows are mostly mainstream ideas for furthering trade liberalization, such as speeding goods through customs and ensuring that health and safety regulations aren’t ­manipulated to block imports.

        In fact, many provisions the administration is seeking in a new Nafta were negotiated into the Trans-Pacific Partnership—ironic, since one of Trump’s first acts was to pull the U.S. out of it. Among those provisions: unfettered cross-border data flows; regulatory harmonization; stronger labor and environmental standards; and a ban on currency manipulation (which Canada and Mexico don’t do anyway). “He’s taking Nafta and making it look more like the TPP but with fewer countries,” says Todd Tucker, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a think tank in New York.

        Canada and Mexico responded positively, with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland saying her country welcomed the opportunity to ­modernize the treaty to “reflect new realities” and Mexico’s economy ministry saying in a statement it “will contribute to defining with greater clarity the subjects to negotiate and the timing for the modernization process.” Congress now has a chance to shape the administration’s negotiating strategy before the talks, which will begin on Aug. 16.

        Trump has frequently expressed annoyance that the U.S. runs deficits in merchandise trade with Canada and Mexico, viewing it as evidence that the countries aren’t playing fair. That ­perspective surfaces in the trade rep’s letter. The first ­objective listed in the document is: “Improve the U.S. trade balance and reduce the trade deficit with the NAFTA countries.”

        That anti-deficit language worries ­free-traders, who say it’s not reasonable to expect balanced trade with each trade partner. To put it in individual terms, the average person runs a trade deficit with her auto mechanic but a trade surplus with her employer. Countries are the same: Mexico logs a trade surplus with the U.S. and a deficit with the rest of the world. Shrinking trade gaps with Canada and Mexico is “not something achievable through trade policy,” says Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington and a staff member of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Obama. “You’re inevitably setting yourself up for failure if that’s your goal.” The document, however, gives no indication that Trump is prepared to punish Canada or Mexico if bilateral deficits fail to narrow. “There is nothing that could be ­considered radical,” says Eric Miller, president of Rideau Potomac Strategy Group, a Washington advisory and lobbying firm.

        In a nod to a key priority of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the document seeks to ensure that goods don’t qualify for zero tariffs unless they really do come from one of the three signatory countries. Ross has expressed concern that some products said to be made in Mexico are actually largely Chinese in content. Nafta’s rules of origin refer generally to North American content, while the letter seeks more sourcing from “the United States and North America.” The insertion of the United States into the phrase could be a way to placate nationalists in the administration.

        Negotiators from all three countries are aiming to button up the treaty revisions before 2018 ­elections in Mexico and the U.S. That “may be achievable” because the countries already agreed to big chunks of the new agenda during the TPP talks, says Robert Holleyman, who was a deputy U.S. trade representative under Obama. On the other hand, he says, “this is something you could imagine being a ­multiyear exercise.”

          BOTTOM LINE – Trump nixed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but many of the Nafta modifications his administration is seeking are straight out of the 12-nation trade pact.

          Read more:

          Trump America-First Pipeline Plan Draws Ire of American Oil

          Donald Trump’s allies in the oil industry are warning the president that his bid to boost U.S. steelmakers could backfire against their efforts to achieve his goal of "American energy dominance." 

          The intense lobbying effort comes as the Commerce Department faces a Sunday deadline to give the president a plan to require oil and gas pipelines use American-made steel, an idea Trump embraced in the initial days of his presidency. While the U.S. has imposed "Buy American" rules on government purchases for decades, it would be unprecedented to force those obligations on privately funded, commercial projects.

          The blueprint from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will set the stage for further protests from the oil industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and developers, including The Williams Companies Inc. and Energy Transfer Partners

          "A core feature of the U.S. free enterprise system" is that "private businesses should be free to make purchasing decisions on their own," the Chamber of Commerce, the biggest-spending business lobby in Washington, said in its comments to Ross.

          The effort illustrates how Trump’s "America-first" agenda pits his allies against one another and underscores the challenges of fulfilling the president’s protectionist stance. As with Trump’s promises to restrict immigration from Muslim-majority nations, rework former President Barack Obama’s health care law and overhaul the tax code, the reality of implementing this idea has been more difficult than the president initially posited. 

          Read More: Trump Pins Keystone, Dakota Pipeline Fate on Renegotiation

          Trump kicked off the pipeline-focused effort during his fourth day in office, issuing a presidential memorandum compelling the Commerce Department to determine how to require American material in all, retrofitted, repaired or expanded U.S. pipelines "to the extent permitted by law." Under Trump’s directive, iron and steel only qualifies as American-made if it is fully produced in the U.S., from its initial melting to the later application of coatings.
          The idea originated when union leaders suggested it during a meeting with the president; Trump ordered an aide to make it happen, sending advisers scrambling to draw up the directive before it was signed the next day.

          Separately, the Trump administration is investigating whether foreign steel threatens U.S. national security — a probe that could lead to tariffs or quotas on those imports.

          While pipeline developers have praised Trump’s approval of projects that stalled under Obama, including TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL and Energy Transfer’s Dakota Access, they warn America-made requirements could undercut that progress. More than three quarters of pipe used in oil and gas projects begins as imported steel, according to one industry study.

          Read more: Under Trump, It’s Make a Deal With the President — or Else

          "Fewer new pipeline projects would run counter to the Trump administration’s goal of expanding U.S. energy production and infrastructure to support the economy, job growth and national security," said a coalition of oil industry trade groups, including the American Petroleum Institute and the American Gas Association. Relying solely on U.S.-produced pipeline-quality steel and components "could lead to long construction delays and higher costs, potentially canceling planned pipeline projects or blocking new pipeline projects."

          Energy Transfer said that when it purchased pipe for three U.S. projects simultaneously, it effectively consumed the entire domestic capacity.

          It’s not clear how the U.S. government could enforce the mandate, though multiple federal agencies can play a role permitting pipeline projects and scrutinizing their operations.

          Steel Dynamics Inc., one of the largest domestic steel producers, recommended the Trump administration impose an American-made requirement through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which reviews proposals to build interstate pipelines to ensure they comply with safety, security and environmental standards.

          "Pipeline applications not using domestic pipe from domestic steel should be rejected unless an applicant proves that there is no available domestic pipe made from domestic steel that meets the pipeline’s specifications," Steel Dynamics told the Commerce Department in written comments.

          Many steel producers, including ArcelorMittal USA LLC, Nucor Corp., and U.S. Steel Corp., say Trump’s plans could help revive the industry, which is struggling to compete amid a worldwide glut of the product.  

          "At a time when the domestic steel industry faces unprecedented challenges resulting from massive global overcapacity and surges of unfairly traded imports, domestic preference provisions are even more critical to stimulating domestic production and employment throughout the steelmaking supply chain," Nucor said in comments to Commerce.

          But pipeline builders argue many steel mills have elected not to invest in producing a specialized pipe that meets industry standards for integrity and strength that make it usable in oil and gas pipelines. Fewer still produce large pipe with very thick walls — the kind typically used for long-distance projects. About 77 percent of steel used in U.S. pipelines today begins abroad — with roughly half of the pipe foreign sourced and the remaining half made in the U.S., using imported steel, according to a study from ICF International Inc. cited by the American Petroleum Institute.

          Steve Crookshank, a senior economist at API, said it could take two to 10 years for the U.S. to ramp up its capacity to satisfy the oil and gas industry’s needs and even then, "there’s no guarantee that domestic manufacturers are going to commit the capital" to serving a cyclical, niche market.

          Buy America

          The Alliance for American Manufacturing told the Trump administration it shouldn’t be swayed by arguments there isn’t enough capacity to churn out the steel pipe the oil and gas industry requires. Supporters point to Philadelphia-based Sunoco Logistics’ plans to fully source its 350-mile Mariner East 2 pipeline with 75,000 tons of domestically produced steel. That project is evidence that U.S. companies can meet the oil industry’s needs, the manufacturing alliance said.

          "Buy America" preferences are now set for government-funded projects, such as highways and passenger-rail systems. But trade lawyers say putting similar requirements on commercial endeavors would be difficult — and might be illegal.

          "Current law does not authorize the U.S. government to impose domestic-origin requirements on privately owned, operated and funded pipelines," said Scott Lincicome, a trade attorney with White & Case LLP. It also is inconsistent with the rules of the World Trade Organization — the same forum the U.S. has used to object to other countries’ local-content requirements.

          "The United States is one of the top complainants when it comes to local-content requirements around the world, so it would be quite a reversal of policy for the United States itself to institute such measures for pipelines," Lincicome said.

            Read more:

            Why I finally deleted the Facebook app from my phone

            Just do it.
            Image: bob al-greene/mashable

            A few weeks ago, I did the unthinkable: I deleted the Facebook app from my phone.

            It started off as more of an experiment. I was curious if not having the app would help extend the dismal battery life of my iPhone 6S. But I was also starting to wonder if there might be other, less obvious, benefits too.

            I’m happy to report that I’ve been living (mostly) Facebook free for more than a month, and I don’t miss it at all. In fact, I think it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time.

            I’ll be the first to admit that I’m as much of a social media addict as any other digital media reporter. And while I’ve long preferred Snapchat and Instagram to Big Blue, that never stopped me from compulsively checking Facebook multiple times a day pretty much as long as I’ve had a smartphone.

            I hit delete, and I haven’t looked back

            But the more I thought about it, the more I hated it. I rarely saw anything I cared about in my News Feed, and I rarely posted anything at all. Instead, I would be treated to a barrage of memes, annoying advertisements, and yes, the toxic political posts from people I otherwise cared about IRL, but whose posts would make my blood pressure spike.

            So I hit delete, and I haven’t looked back.

            I should note that, unlike some of my colleagues, I haven’t purged Facebook from my life entirely. After all, a big part of my job is writing about Facebook, both the company and the product, and I can’t very well do that if I eliminate my profile from the social network entirely.

            Yes, please.

            Image: screenshot

            I still log in from my laptop about once a day to quickly scan my News Feed and keep tabs on where Mark Zuckerberg is visiting now. But I don’t use the app on my phone anymore, and I don’t keep myself logged in on my mobile browser either. (Full disclosure: I do have a secondary phone I use for work-related app testing that has Facebook installed, but I rarely use the app on that phone too.)

            When I first deleted Facebook, I figured my little experiment wouldn’t last. But I was happy to find that not only do I not miss it at all, I actually feel happier without it. It turns out it’s very liberating to know that there isn’t a pit of anxiety, FOMO, and time-wasting one tap away at all times.

            I’m not alone either. A recent study found that increased Facebook use was a predictor for declining physical and mental health Facebook is literally making us more unhealthy and unhappy.

            Now, I’m not saying we should give up on social media entirely. I still use Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp to keep up with friends. And, my work obligations aside, I’m perfectly happy to spend a few minutes looking at my News Feed every once in awhile.

            But I no longer feel the urge to open Facebook just for the sake of something to do. My addiction has been broken and it’s all because I deleted the app. I suggest you try it sometime, too.

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            Overdose Victim’s Dad Rallies Teamsters in Fight With McKesson

            Travis Bornstein took to the stage last summer at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ annual convention in Las Vegas to talk about his son Tyler, who died of an overdose at 23.

            The father, a former Marine and president of a union chapter in Akron, Ohio, told the audience at the Paris Hotel how Tyler got hooked on painkillers after multiple elbow surgeries. It eventually led to a heroin addiction.

            Travis Bornstein

            Source: Teamsters

            Bornstein’s speech rallied the union’s 1.4 million members and its more than $100 billion of pension and benefit assets around one goal: Demand accountability from firms that it deems to be responsible for helping fuel America’s opioid crisis and the executives who profited from it. First on the list: McKesson Corp., the nation’s largest drug distributor, whose $198.5 billion in annual revenue last fiscal year was fourth-highest among U.S. companies and more than Exxon Mobil Corp.’s, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

            “We’re trying to hold these big companies responsible and accountable for what’s going on in America,” Bornstein said Friday in a telephone interview. McKesson’s board “needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror, a deep breath and a step back on what they’re doing to our country. Everything isn’t about money.”

            John Hammergren

            Photographer: David Maxwell/Bloomberg

            When McKesson’s board and executives gather near Dallas for their annual shareholders meeting on July 26, they’ll be greeted by a throng of picketing Teamsters. Representatives of the union, which owns more than $30 million of McKesson shares, will call on investors to reject the company’s executive-pay plan and for the board to claw back some of Chief Executive Officer John Hammergren’s compensation.

            “We take our responsibility to help manage the safety and integrity of the pharmaceutical supply chain extremely seriously and are committed to maintaining — and continuously improving — strong programs designed to detect and prevent opioid diversion,” McKesson spokeswoman Kristin Chasen said in an emailed statement. “We are doing everything we can to help address this crisis in close partnership with doctors, pharmacists, government and other organizations.”

            Millions Affected

            The opioid epidemic has emerged as one of the nation’s most pressing health crises, claiming a life every 19 minutes, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. An estimated 2.7 million people over age 26 abused painkillers in 2015, resulting in 33,000 deaths that year. More than 20 states, counties and cities have sued drugmakers, such as Purdue Pharma Inc. and Johnson & Johnson, and distributors including McKesson and AmerisourceBergen Corp., claiming they aggravated the crisis with misleading marketing and aggressive distribution.

            Read more: Opioid costs push struggling states to dust off tobacco strategy

            As the Teamsters see it, McKesson played a central role. The company, a middleman between drugmakers and pharmacies, ships millions of doses of opioids each year. It’s required to monitor those distributions and report suspicious orders to federal authorities. Still, the company delivered so many painkillers to West Virginia’s Barbour County over a five-year period that it equaled 15,445 doses per anticipated patient, or 210 doses per citizen, the union said in a Nov. 15 letter to McKesson’s board.

            The drug distributor has said it doesn’t manufacture or prescribe opioids. The company has spent millions of dollars building a monitoring program for controlled substances to oversee ordering, report dubious cases to the Drug Enforcement Administration and educate customers on how to identify abuse, Edward Mueller, McKesson’s lead independent director, wrote in a July 14 letter to shareholders.

            Still, in the past decade, McKesson has twice settled DEA allegations that it failed to report suspicious orders of controlled substances. As a result, the company can’t sell such products from distribution centers in four states for several years, and it has paid a combined $163 million in civil penalties.

            This shows “a dearth of accountability and visible action” by directors and executives, the Teamsters said, urging the board to appoint an independent committee to investigate allegations raised in lawsuits and tweak pay for senior managers to include metrics tied to compliance.

            Bonus Payouts

            The union also called on McKesson investors to vote against the executive pay program and support its shareholder proposal to appoint an independent chairman, stripping the CEO of that role. The union noted that Hammergren, 58, has received above-target bonus payouts for years, partly because of the board’s favorable assessment of his performance in meeting the company’s ethical standards.

            Hammergren has taken home $781 million since becoming sole CEO in 2001, according to a Bloomberg Pay Index tally of his salary, bonuses, perks, vested stock and exercised options.

            Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. and Glass Lewis & Co., the nation’s largest proxy advisers, joined the Teamsters this month in recommending that investors reject McKesson’s compensation plan. ISS criticized the board for repeatedly boosting executive bonuses on the premise of strong individual performance while failing to mention how the company’s role in the opioid controversy has impacted pay decisions. Both proxy advisers urged shareholders to support the Teamsters’ proposal to split the CEO and chairman roles.

            See also: Here’s why Yellen’s Fed cares about America’s opioid epidemic

            In his letter, Mueller defended the board’s work, arguing that Hammergren’s total direct compensation had decreased by 27 percent in the past five years even as McKesson shares returned more than 75 percent.

            The recent campaign by the Teamsters doesn’t help to “address the root causes of this tragic epidemic,” and the union’s beef is tied to a long-running contract dispute with McKesson involving workers at a Florida distribution center, Mueller wrote. He asked shareholders to approve the pay program and reject the union’s proposal to split the CEO and chairman roles. “I can assure you that McKesson’s board of directors takes its independent oversight responsibilities seriously.”

            The Teamsters, meanwhile, are playing the long game.

            “I don’t claim to be the smartest person in the room,” Bornstein said in his speech last summer. But, reminding the audience of his service as a Marine, “I do know how to stand up and fight like hell until the mission’s accomplished.”

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