Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Nuns oppose Republican health plan

More than 7,000 Roman Catholic nuns have signed a letter urging senators to vote "no" on the Republican health care bill, or any bill that would repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid.  The letter calls this bill "the most harmful legislation to American families in our lifetime."   It also states:  "The mission of Catholic sisters has always been to serve our nation's most vulnerable people.  As such, we are united in opposition to the current Republican health care proposals  . . . [and we] stand by our belief that health is a universal right."

Another surreal day in Washington

Today, Tuesday, is set to be another surreal day in our nation's capital in the Age of Trump and his Republican majority that can't shoot straight.  Here's what's on tap:

1.  Crown Prince Jared Kushner will go behind closed doors for another day of non-disclosure and not under oath, this time with the House Intelligence Committee.  Then afterward he will, presumably, again speak to reporters to declare his innocence and to assure them that there's nothing to see here.   He is completely innocent, and furthermore he saw nothing but innocent behavior by anyone in what he called a "very unique" campaign.

2.  Don Trump, Jr. and Paul Manafort will also be talking to staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in closed session and not under oath.   So, of course, they will both tell reporters later that they completely shut it down by proving their innocence.

It's all just too surreal.    When are we going to get some real, tough, under-oath and in-public testimony about this scandal?    Democrats keep saying this is just preliminary questioning by their staff and that open hearings will come later.

I'm concerned about letting them sway public opinion,with their public statements about their testimony, without challenge, and giving Trump more backing to claim the whole Russia thing is fake and a charade -- and then use that as justification to shut the investigation down.  And what's the game he's playing with AG Jeff Sessions?   Trump keeps demeaning him in public, and it seems he's trying to get him to resign, which many people assume is a step in moving to fire Robert Mueller.   But meanwhile his press secretary says Trump has full confidence in Sessions.

3.  The Senate will vote on . . . something.  It's a vote to proceed to debate.   But they're not being told what is up for debate. It has something to do with repealing Obamacare and maybe replacing it . . . but with what?

One news story suggested that this is really Mitch McConnell's trial balloon.   See, they all promised to repeal Obamacare, period.   But then they diverge on what to replace it with.   Repeal without a replacement plan is a non-starter, even among Senate Republicans.  But so are all the plans they've considered.

So maybe what McConnell is doing is trying to lead people blindfolded into a vote to debate repeal and replace, but the replace part is to emerge during the debate.  In other words, it's a variation on repeal and replace later.   It's more like:  vote to debate repeal and replace now, but the "replace plan" is to be decided in the debate.   Get it?

Or maybe that's wrong, and McConnell just wants to have a vote, let it fail, and then move on to other things.   [Added from a later report:  The vote will be whether to proceed with debate on the repeal/replace health plan that was passed by the House last May.]

This is madness.  Trump poured gasoline on it, but Republicans have been fanning at these flames long before His Orangeness ascended to the Oval.  It's the Republicans who will own whatever it is they do.   What Trump will have to own is his failure to provide any leadership.

Hold on to your sanity.   You'll need it.   It's going to get worse before it gets better.


PS:  This happened yesterday, but it adds to the surreal miasma hanging over today.   A federal district judge has ruled that the president's voter fraud investigation commission:  (a) may request voter data from the states, noting that there are not grounds for the injunction sought by the privacy watchdog group because the commission is not technically a government agency and thus not bound by laws governing such entities.   However, the judge also ruled (b) that the states are not compelled to comply.    Duh.   I hope this gets appealed.   I'd like a better defense of the privacy of voting records than this "not compelled to comply" statement.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Trump explains it all -- and, believe me, everything is o-kay.

According to New York Times op-ed journalist Andrew Rosenthal's tongue-in-cheek summary, Donald Trump's recent interview with his newspaper staff explains all the muddled issues we've been grappling with about this administration's mysterious connections to the Russians.

"First, everything is fine because nothing happened between Trump and the Kremlin. And if anything did happen, no one should care and the only people who do are liberals whining about the election results. . . . 

"Trump and his people never spoke to any Russians, and if they did, they either forgot about it or innocently failed to mention it because it was just normal socializing. And if it wasn’t just socializing, then there was no discussion of the campaign, and if there was discussion of the campaign, it was perfectly appropriate."
Well, now that's all cleared up, don't we feel a whole lot better?

A test for Trump -- to veto or not to veto?

With President Trump's obvious preference for Vladimir Putin and his leadership style in Russia -- and in the wake of the debacle of Don Jr's meeting with the Russian lawyer offering collusion, which he was eager to take, as shown in his self-released emails --  and with special counsel Robert Mueller delving into Trump businesses -- and now in the midst of his son, son-in-law, and former campaign manager all set to testify to congressional committees this week --

-- With all of that swirling inside the White House, a bipartisan group of both House and Senate members announced yesterday that they had reached an agreement on a legislation that imposes sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea.  These additional sanctions against Russia are retaliation for its interference in the 2016 presidential election, as well as its aggression toward its neighbors.

The legislation -- very importantly -- also introduces new requirements that make it very difficult for the president to lift these sanctions without congressional approval.

This legislation originated in a bill passed by the Senate by a vote of 97 to 2.  The House is expected to vote on it Tuesday, but both parties are backing the bill and expect a similar, overwhelming support.   In short, it is probably going to be a veto-proof piece of legislation.

Trump's public complaint about the bill is that it would take away his flexibility in conducting foreign policy.   That might be an acceptable argument with a president you respect and trust.   But Trump has proven he cannot be trusted, even by his own party.

The question then becomes:   will Trump veto it?   He had been critical of the Senate version, and this new version made a few minor changes, without weakening any of the basic parts of the bill.   But it does give him a face-saving claim to support it -- if he wants to take it.

Of course, he's torn between whatever he owes Putin and the price he would pay politically for a veto.   It seems clear that there is nothing Putin wants from Trump more than lifting sanctions that already are hurting him, and not have more imposed.  So who knows what price Trump would pay with Putin if he doesn't veto it.  But with such bipartisan, veto-proof support for sanctions, it would be an empty gesture -- and at great domestic political cost when he can ill afford it.

So, I think we can conclude that, if he does veto the bill, it must indicate that his debt to Putin and the consequences must be enormous.

The truth is that Donald Trump likes to keep people guessing, and only he (if anyone) knows what he will do . . . until he does it.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Trump team sabotages Obamacaare

Sam Stein reporting for "The Daily Beast," says that the Trump administration "has spent money meant to encourage enrollment in the Affordable Care Act on a public relations campaign aimed at methodically strangling it."

This campaign to sabotage the success of the ACA is broader than originally suspected, Stein reports.   They have commissioned a multi-pronged social media campaign that includes video testimonials designed to portray the worst cases of people claiming to having been hurt by the health care plan -- and omitting any of the great success stories that are heard at political rallies, town hall meetings, etc.

Tom Price is today's Republican counterpart to Kathleen Sebelius, who was the Democratic Secretary of Health and Human Services when the ACA was designed.  She recently told "The Daily Beast" that, on a daily basis, she is "horrified by leaders at HHS who seem intent on taking healthcare away from the constituents they are supposed to serve.  We always believed that delivering health and human services was the mission of the department.  That seems to not be the mission of the current leadership."

Paul Krugman also wrote about this sabotage.  He says:
"Obamacare survived because it has worked. . . .  Unfortunately, some of those gains will probably be lost . . . .  So it's important to say clearly, in advance, why this is about to happen.  It won't be because the Affordable Care Act is failing;  it will be the result of Trump administration sabotage. . . .

"Notably, people aren't automatically signed up for coverage, so it matters a lot whether the officials running the system try to make it work, reaching out to potential beneficiaries to ensure that they know what's available, while reminding currently healthy Americans that they are still legally required to sign up for coverage."

Krugman outlined three ways that the system is being sabotaged:  (1)  weakening enforcement of the sign-up requirement;  (2)  letting states impose onerous work requirements on those who seek Medicaid coverage;  and (3) backing off the outreach program for enrollment and even putting out negative propaganda to discourage it.

Krugman concludes:  "The truly amazing thing about these sabotage efforts is that they don't serve any obvious purpose. . .  They don't save money . . .  It isn't about policy, or even politics in the normal sense.   It is basically about spite."

If they can't win -- and have been humiliated by seven years of promising "repeal" that they can't manage to actually bring about -- at least they can make millions of others suffer too.

More and more Americans are catching on to the fact that they have been conned . . . again.   One man was quoted a few days ago saying about Obamacare, which he now suspports:   "I can't remember why I was against it."


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Fineman on "Why the Right Hasn't Left"

Howard Fineman is a wise, experienced political commentator who writes for HuffPost.   His latest incisive piece is titled "Why the Right Hasn't Left," meaning why are the Republicans sticking with Trump "despite his rude, bullying personality, administrative incompetence and penchant for hiring former big shots from Goldman Sachs?"

Fineman says that, from their point of view, Trump's regime, "no matter how chaotic or personality-based, is the best chance they have ever had to push their fiercely tribal and anti-government agenda."

Fineman is not talking so much about major, signature legislation or advancing a doctrine.   What Trump's chaos provides is "unprecedented room to maneuver in the executive and judicial branches."    Room and distracting cover to undo all those regulations, climate initiatives, maybe even sneak in changes in voting regulations that favor conservative voters.  As Trump's resident alt-right Svengali, Steve Bannon, puts it:  "Political chaos is the perfect environment in which they can deconstruct the administrative state."

Fineman expects the Republicans to "press ahead without interference," on:

1.  "Nominating young, aggressively conservative judges . .

2.  "Dismantling the structures of business regulation as much as they can . . .

3.  "Removing civil rights-based procedural protections built up over the years to guard against racism, overzealous prosecutions and incarceration.

4.  "Undermining the role of science and environmental concerns in the oversight of energy, manufacturing and transportation industries.

5.  "Clamping down administratively on immigration . . . [and] abolish the idea that immigrants have any kind of moral purchase on the American conscience.

6.  "Restricting, if not strangling, hard-won protections for voting rights . . ."

Fineman then says that Trump is on pace to more than double the number of federal judges nominated by any president in his first year, that he has essentially outsourced the choices for nomination to the conservative Federalist Society.  "The new judges . . . will be called on to accept -- or reject -- the wholesale dismantling of government regulation or to consider legal challenges from the outside," he says.

"This is the unglamorous and largely unseen part of what the hard right sees as a war for the soul of America.   Trump has little interest in the details, and in any case is otherwise occupied with the theatrics of his presidency."

Fineman concludes:  "But people such as Sessions care.  They cared before Trump arrived and will care after he is gone:  about ripping whatever wire they can out of the dashboard.  This is their time, and they are not going to let a little thing like a president bother them."

I think Fineman is right.   Protests and rallies and phone calls may galvanize public rejection of their big legislation like health care or tax reform.   But it's all these myriad, small dismantlings of what has been achieved that are already sailing under the radar.

And Trump has put people in charge -- Sessions at Justice, Price at Health, Mnuchin at Treasury, Tillerson at State, Ross at Commerce, DeVox at Education, and Pruit at EPA -- who are dedicated to decimating their parts of the "administrative state." 

Much of it is happening in the Justice Department.  Trump may think that Sessions' job is only to protect him;   but Sessions knows, and is pressing his advantage, to turn back sharply on the hard won civil rights, criminal justice, and voting rights.    So I'm not surprised that Sessions swallowed his pride and did not resign when the president excoriated and humiliated him in his New York Times interview.   No, Sessions has a lot more work to get done . . . before he's done.

Think how hard it's going to be to reinstate those regulations.   And Pence may not be any better at this level of "war for the soul of America."


Friday, July 21, 2017

Late news breaking Thursday night

About 8:30 last night, I finished writing the overly long blog about Trump's explosive interview with the New York Times, and went to watch the Rachel Maddow news show.

And then all the news breaks started breaking.   As an alternate to staying up all night to analyze these things, I'll just list them.  We'll be following them along and have much more to say.  If you want to read a lot about Trump's interview, it's below.

1.  The New York Times reported that the Trump legal team is trying to undermine and curtail the Mueller investigative team, claiming multiple conflicts of interest. They're also charging that Mueller is far exceeding his mandate in the investigation.  This is the result of Mueller getting deep into Trump's financial world.

2.  There is indication that Mueller's investigation is looking into several areas of Trump's past financial dealings that involve Russians, including the 2008 sale of a luxury estate in Palm Beach, FL that Trump bought two years earlier for $50 million and then sold to a Russian oligarch for twice the amount -- without either of them ever living in the mansion.   This smacks of money laundering, a common practice of the Russian oligarchs.   They are also looking into his financial dealings connected with the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow in 2013, and the financing and sale of condo units in Trump Soho tower in New York, which also involved a lot of Russian money.   They have subpoened records from Deutchebank that has been Trump's largest source of loans in recent years when no New York bank would lend him money.   He supposedly has a very large debt to them currently.   The subpoena will compel copies of Trump's financial records that the bank has.  Deutchebank recently had to pay a huge fine for money laundering.

3.  There is also new and damaging financial information about Paul Manafort coming out, including the fact that he was apparently in serious financial debt to a Ukrainian oligarch over some money laundering scheme that went sour at the beginning of 2016 -- a few months before he became chairman of the Trump Campaign.   And about the same time, the Ukrainian oligarch stopped trying to collect the $17 million that Manafort supposedly owed him.   Any connection with that and the Trump campaign?

4,  The Washington Post reported this news break:   Trump has asked his lawyers to look into his authority to issue pardons -- to his staff, his family, and even to himself.   In another development, the spokesman for Trump's legal team for the Russia investigation, Mark Corallo, has resigned.   Additionally, the head of the Trump legal team handling Russia, Mark Kasowitz has announced he is cutting back on his involvement.   Trump has recently hired at least two other, high profile lawyers who are more adept in this world of Washington politics.

Not exactly a slow news night.  Here's the obvious question underlying all this, including Trump's anger at Jeff Sessions for recusing himself:    Why all this, unless Trump has a lot to hide?   An awful lot that could potentially send him and some family members to jail.