Wednesday, June 28, 2017

What happened to "win-win"?

Nitsuh Abebe, in a major essay in the June 25th issue of The New York Times Magazine, explores the current absence in our political life of the concept of win-win, a solution to a problem in which all parties benefit.   Surely, if any issue deserved that approach, it would be health care.  If both sides could have come together in a win-win situation to make the easy adjustments that would have improved the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), it would have been the rational and the humane thing to do.

Instead, our politics has sunk to the crass level of "pure winning," and Republicans had to have their "win."   After trying, and failing, dozens of times to repeal Obamacare while Obama still held the veto pen, now was their chance, with control of both houses of Congress and the White House.

As Abebe writes, we have a climate now where "all promises of balance and mutual gain are actually humiliating traps, set by exploitative people still snickering in secret over how easily you fell for the last one.  And so we have barreled instead into the realm of pure 'winning,' where there is no such harmony of interest.  Either exert your power or slink home ashamed."

Remember when Mitch McConnell declared, on day one of the Obama administration, that their first agenda item would be to ensure that Obama was a one-term president.   And his passage of the Affordable Care Act without a single Republican vote must have felt like a humiliation -- one that McConnell and his other Republican leaders have been determined to avenge ever since.

But, even controlling the White House and Congress, they can't do it.  Here's where Abebe's article is especially relevant.  He writes that winning is "often used in contexts that are not competitions."  Stop and think about that.   Why should providing health care for our people be a competition between representatives of the people themselves?   Do we send our representatives to Washington to fight?

It's long bothered me how often the word "fight" comes up in political rhetoric, in both parties, used by both men and women.   "If you vote for me, I will fight for you every day."  The word rings in my ears as much in the voices of Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton as it does in the voices of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.   Why?

Abebe writes:  "One obvious drawback of this [scoring points] mind-set -- a gut-level inclination toward the hyperbolic exercise of power -- is that it makes winning purely about imposing your will on reality, rather than, say, reaching an outcome that's actually desirable or defensible. . . ."

Obama knew this.   He preferred to get solutions with broad support.  That's how we got the Iran nuclear agreement.   Compare that to Donald Trump's rhetoric about "winning."   "We going to win so much you'll get tired of winning."   Yet he scorned and demeaned Obama as "weak" because he was not basically a fighter.   Trump thinks of himself as a "deal maker," meaning imposing his power or his tricksterism on the other to win, win, win.   Right now, he's edging us dangerously toward a ground war in Syria.   And he seems itching for a fight with Iran.

Winning should be a measure of accomplishing something for the good of the people, not scoring points.  At least we have a short breathing spell, now that McConnell doesn't have enough votes to pass the senate health bill.  He announced late Tuesday that he will delay the vote on the Senate bill until after the July 4th recess.  He hopes to be able to twists arms, "bribe" senators with money from his $2 billion slush fund for pet projects the hold-out senators favor.   It also gives more time for people to actually learn what this terrible piece of legislation would actually do -- starting with reducing the number covered by it by 22 million people by 2026.

Can you imagine the fantasy that Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump would come to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and say:   "Look folks, we can't do this the way we wanted to.   So let's work together.  Let's see how we can improve the Affordable Care Act so that it works better for the American people.

Now what would be so hard about that?

Ralph

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

SCOTUS gives Trump a partial win on his (revised) travel ban

The Supreme Court handed down a decision on the Trump administration's appeal to restore its ban on travel from six countries.   So what does the decision mean?

To review:   Trump's first travel ban that created such airport chaos a few months back was blocked by two different appellate courts.   So they withdrew that version and rewrote a second version, based on some of the criticisms of the court.

Lawsuits were filed to put a stay on the new version, and two more appellate court decisions blocked this version too.   So the Trump administration appealed to the Supreme Court.

The decision yesterday was on whether to lift the stay, which the lower courts had imposed, pending the decision on the constitutionality of the ban itself.   Arguments on that will be heard by SCOTUS in October.

The decision was 6 to 3 to partially lift the ban in the meantime.   The four liberal justices, plus Roberts and Kennedy were the majority for a partial lifting of the ban.   Thomas, Alito, and Korsuch wanted to lift the stay completely, pending the hearing -- i.e. to allow the full ban to take effect now.

So, what exactly will this do?   The government will now be able to bar citizens from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the US for a period of 90 days (120 days for refugees) -- unless they already have a valid visa.  The court further said that visas should be issued to those who have a "bona fide relationship" with a person or organization in the US.   This means people visiting family, students coming to school in the US, or someone with a job,   About the only ones who will be barred are tourists -- or, possibly, terrorists.   But what about an academic coming for a conference?   A businessman coming to negotiate a deal?

The written decision also prodded the Trump administration to get on with doing the evaluation of the vetting process, which was supposedly the reason for asking for the temporary ban in the first place.   It further suggested that -- given that they originally asked for 90 days to accomplish that -- it's quite likely that, by the time of the court hearing in October, the whole matter of the temporary ban will be moot.

One problem with this, as pointed out by the dissent written by Justice Thomas, is that what counts as a bona fide relationship is likely to be disputed and lead to multiple lawsuits to settle the question.   This is even more likely when it comes to refugees.   They are less likely to have established relationships or jobs in this country.   And the decision specifically ruled out the sponsoring refugee agency as filling that requirement.

This constitutes some vindication for President Trump, although the real ruling will come after the substantive hearing in October.   That isn't stopping Trump from trumpeting his victory.  However, the lawyer who argued the case before the 9th circuit appeals court saw it differently.  He said that the court's exemption of those with visas and those with a bona fide connection really takes care of the ones they were mostly concerned about in the appeal.   So he saw it as a positive outcome.

Remember, however, that this is all about a temporary, 90/120 day delay.  The real decision in this case has to do with the constitutionality of setting up the ban to start with.   The question is whether it was based on religious discrimination.

Ralph
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In writing this, I relied for information on a Washington Post article by Matt Zopotosky and one on vox.com by Dara Lind.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Catching up on the weekend's outrages

We don't even get a rest on the weekends anymore.    Donald Trump makes news every day during the week;  and then his aides and surrogates go on the Sunday morning talk shows and make more outrageous statements.   Here is a sampling.

1.  A large percentage of Trump voters get their news only from Fox News.  So, as reported on vox.com, 'There's a real chance Trump voters won't understand anything about [the health care bill] until it's too late."    It seems that on Fox News, the rule about the Senate bill is not to talk about it.  Reporter Jeff Guo then ran through a list of their news shows to prove the point.   Both Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson barely mentioned it.

Carlson did have as a guest HHS Secretary Tom Price, who described the bill as offering "greater choices" for patients -- and then they both turned to citing what they saw as wrong about Obamacare.   There was no discussion about what the Senate bill actually does.

The roundtable discussion show, "The Five," did spend 10 minutes on the Senate bill -- or, rather, not on the substance of the bill itself, but the politics of whether it will pass.  And to blame the Democrats for "refusing to cooperate in drafting the bill."   Yes, you got it.   They're talking about the secret bill that Mitch McConnell didn't even let his fellow Republicans know about;  even some of the 13 white men who were supposedly writing the bill in secret, didn't seem to know what was in it.

2.  White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway (better known as the blond woman who spins the news by talking so fast, and telling so many lies, that it's hard to keep up with what she's saying) -- was on the Sunday morning talk shows.   Spinning like a top.   She said that taking Medicaid away from able-bodied adults is no big deal, because they can just go out and get jobs that provide health insurance.

Now the facts are a  little different.  The "able-bodied adults" that she's talking about -- i.e. non-elderly adults who don't qualify for disability -- 59% of them already have jobs.   The problem is that most are low-paying, temporary, or part-time and don't include health insurance.

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine followed Conway on "This Week With George Stephanopolis."   Sen. Collins, always polite, said:  "I respectfully disagree with her analysis."    Sen. Collins is one of the more moderate senators who might vote against the bill, although she has not yet said more than that she "has concerns" about it.

3.  USA Today printed an opinion piece from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the mastermind behind the "behind closed doors" plan to force a vote on a bill that neither the public nor the senators have time to understand.   He begins with the outrageous statement that "Democrats imposed Obamacare on our country." 

Compare the year-long, open process of crafting the bill, the scores of hearings, the  more than 100 amendments from Republican senators adopted into the bill, and the many many hours of debate before it was passed.    The fact that no Republican voted for it does not mean the process was done covertly, as McConnell claims and as he is now trying to do with his bill.

His essay tries to portray Republicans and their process as trying to find consensus on what they and the Democrats agree on, including this:  "We also agree on the need to strengthen Medicaid."   He concludes by saying:  "It's time to act because Obamacare is a direct attack on the middle class, and American families deserve better than its failing status quo.  They deserve better care.   That's just what we're going to continue to work to bring them."

To anyone who has followed this process even minimally (excluding Fox News viewers who have not heard the truth), this is outrageous in its deviousness and untruths.   In his plan, reductions in Medicaid are estimated to be about $800 billion over 10 years;   almost exactly the amount of tax cuts, mostly for the wealthy, that are projected in the Republican plan.

And that's just a sample of the weekend's outrages -- on one subject.  I didn't even mention the Russia investigation and Trump's bald-faced inconsistencies.  On the one hand, he denies that Russia had anything to do with the hacking;  on the other, he blames Obama for not having retaliated against Russia last year when he found out about the hacking.   And, if you have three hands, there's another "other hand."   Trump is resisting Congress's attempt to pass a bill imposing more sanctions on Russia and -- most importantly -- making it harder for the president to reduce the sanctions without congressional approval.

Ralph

Sunday, June 25, 2017

"Our Fake Democracy" -- Timothy Egan

Timothy Egan, op-ed columnist for the New York Times, wrote what I think is an essential commentary on the current state of our "fake democracy."   Here are excerpts.
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". . . . For the United States, the biggest institutional lie of the moment is that we have a government of the people, responding to majority will.  On almost every single concern, Congress . . . is going against what most of the country wants. And Congress is doing this because there will be no consequences.

"We have a fake democracy, growing less responsive and less representative by the day.

"The biggest example of this is the monstrosity of a health care bill, which a cartel of Republicans finally allowed us to peek at on Thursday. . . .  a radical overhaul of one-sixth of the economy, something that touches every American, comes too late to make our voices heard.

"Crafted in total darkness, the bill may pass by a slim majority of people who have not read it. Inevitably, with something that deprives upward of 23 million Americans of health care, people will die because of this bill. . . .

"It would be understandable if Republicans were doing this because it’s what most Americans want them to do. But it’s not. Only about 25 percent of Americans approved of a similar version of this bill, the one passed by the House. . . .

"Why would the people’s representatives choose to hurt their own people? The answer is further evidence of our failed democracy. About 75 million Americans depend on Medicaid. This bill will make their lives more miserable and perilous in order to give the top 2 percent of wealthiest Americans a tax cut.

"And where are the 75 million now? . . .  The sad fact is, the poor don’t vote. Up to 80 percent of low earners do not show up at the polls. . . .  So, little surprise that Republicans are also working to make it even harder for the poor to vote. . . . 

"The symptoms of democratic collapse . . . cry for immediate action. . . .   The United States, once known for our American Dream, now has the lowest class mobility of any Western democracy . . . .

"What is Congress doing? Nothing on wages. Nothing on college tuition. And the health care bill will most surely force many people to choose between buying groceries and being able to visit a doctor.

"Our fake democracy reveals itself daily. Less than a third of Americans support President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. In a truly representative government, you would see the other two-thirds, the common-sense majority, howling from the halls of Congress.

"Most Americans are also against building a wall along the Mexican border. They would prefer putting taxpayers’ billions into roads, bridges, schools and airports. But the wall remains a key part of President Trump’s agenda.

"Trump is president, of course, despite losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million people. Almost 60 percent of the public is against him now. In a parliamentary system, he’d be thrown out in a no-confidence vote. In our system, he’s primed to change life for every citizen, against the wishes of a majority of Americans. Try calling that a democracy while keeping a straight face."
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But it's not just the president.   Republicans control both houses of congress.   And gerrymandering, voter suppression, and big money control Congress.   Egan fails to mention the effect of Big Money in our elections.   Campaign finance reform hasn't been mentioned since the election.

The weak spot in their power right now is the Senate.    They can afford to lose only two votes on a partisan divided vote, like the health care bill.   Surely there are three senators with spine enough to stand up and say No.   Right now, five are saying they can't vote for it as is.   But some of them will cave in to party pressure.   We only need three.   Who?

Ralph

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Ramadan and religious pluralism in U.S.

In the Islamic religion, observance of the holy month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam.  During this time, Muslims avoid eating or drinking from dawn to sunset each day as a way to cleanse the soul and to have empathy with those who are less fortunate.

Ramadan is a time of self-reflection and prayer, a time of self-restraint, as well as a time to focus on helping others.   Each day's fast ends with a special meal, called "iftar," a time of joyful sharing with family and friends.

The end of the Ramadan month is a major celebration, Eid al-Fitr, meaning the Feast of Fast-Breaking.  It lasts for three days, during which special foods are prepared, feasts are shared with family and friends, and gifts are exchanged.  For those one cannot visit in person, contact is made through phone calls.   A friend of mine, whose family all live in another country, will make 25 or 30 phone calls.   The Ramadan month of fasting ends today, June 24th, at sundown.   Then the celebration of Eid al Fitr begins.

For those who doubt that our Founding Fathers intended for this country to be welcoming of all religions, it should be noted that President Thomas Jefferson held a White House dinner for a visiting Tunisian envoy that happened to be during Ramadan.  The invitation specified that "dinner will be on the table precisely at sun-set" to accommodate the visiting Muslim's observance of Ramadan.

When Bill Clinton was president, the First Lady began a tradition by hosting an Eid al-Fitr reception for 150 people.  She told her guests that:  “A greater understanding of the tenets of Islam in our national consciousness will help us build strength and resilience as a nation. . . .  The values that lie at the heart of Ramadan — faith, family, community and responsibility to the less fortunateresonate with all the peoples of this earth.”

George W. Bush and Barack Obama both continued hosting either an iftar or an Eid al-Fitr dinner each year they were in office.  Bush, notably, spoke at the prayer service following 9/11 where he declared that we were fighting against terrorism, not Islam.   Charlotte Beers, who had served as Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy in the Bush administration, still remembers the first White House iftar following 9/11:  “That dinner was extremely important and heard around the world. . . .  [It] speaks to . . . freedom of religion. It was extremely timely, we felt.”

President Obama spoke at the 2010 iftar dinner, saying:  “Ramadan is a reminder that Islam has always been a part of America.”   At the 2012 iftar, the White House had a special display from the Library of Congress that included Thomas Jefferson's copy of the Quran.   Obama called it "a reminder, along with the generations of patriotic Muslims in America, that Islamlike so many faiths — is part of our national story.”   Obama has also hosted Jewish Passover Seders in the White House, as well as the annual Easter Egg Hunt.

This year will be an exception.   There won't be any gathering in connection with Ramadan at the White House, although Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did put out a statement with "best wishes to all Muslims celebrating Ed al-Fitr. . .  This day offers an opportunity to reflects on our shared commitment to building peaceful and prosperous communities."

The White House was silent.    Officials did not respond to a request from the Washington Post for comment, although some long-time staff members told them that planning for such an event begins "months in advance;" they didn't believe the Trump White House could organize it in time.

One might note, however, that they managed to have a pretty successful Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn this year, with far less time to prepare.

To my Muslim friends, I apologize for the ignorance and bigotry of our current president.   He does not represent most Americans.

But I would like to wish them Eid Mubarak.

Ralph

The truth about the alleged "collapsing" Obamacare markets

A week ago (6/16/17) on "The Daily Intelligenser," Jonathan Chait tackled this false mantra that Republicans use to try to justify their tax-cut-for-the-rich-disguised-as-health-care-reform.
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"Right-wing critics of Obamacare have been predicting for years that the law would enter an actuarial 'death spiral,' in which healthy customers flee and insurers raise rates to unsustainably high levels as only the most sick and expensive patients remain. . . .When President Trump repeatedly insists Obamacare is 'collapsing,' 'dead,' or 'gone,' he is popularizing in vulgar form an analysis that people like Paul Ryan have been spreading for years.

"The most obvious sleight of hand in this argument is that, even if it were true that the Obamacare exchanges were entering a death spiral and collapsing, it would hardly justify the Republican health-care bill. The exchanges account for a bit less than half the coverage gains in Obamacare. The rest of the newly insured come from expanded children’s health insurance and, especially, Medicaid.

"Remember, Medicaid expansion is how Obamacare provides insurance to the poorest Americans (those with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty level). The allegedly collapsing exchanges only insure people with incomes above that level. And the spine of the GOP plan is hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid. There’s not even a patina of an argument that Medicaid is collapsing. The supposed 'death spiral' in the exchanges is the Republican pretext for cutting a completely different program.

"In any case, the 'death spiral' is a fiction.  [A study found]. . . that health costs of people buying insurance on the exchanges have converged with health costs of people who get insurance through their employer.

"So why are we reading all these stories about insurers pulling out of markets and premiums going way up?   Oliver Wyman, an actuarial firm, examines the markets and concludes . . . two-thirds of the higher premiums next year are due to political uncertainty created by the Trump administration and Congress. The administration is threatening to withhold payments insurers are owed under the law, and also not to enforce the individual mandate. These deliberate efforts to subvert the exchanges are having their intended effect. But the underlying expected cost of insuring patients is lowwithout a government engaged in deliberate sabotage, the firm estimates premiums would only rise 5–8 percent, a very modest level by the historic standards of health insurance costs.

"Obamacare can be improved, especially in rural markets where hospitals and doctors are spread far apart and competition has always been difficult to produce. But the threat to the exchanges is the same as the threat to Medicaid: not any inherent flaw in the operation of the programs, but a governing party that ideologically opposes the transfer of resources that is needed to make health care available to the poor and sick."
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"In a separate article, vos.com reporters asked a number of Republican senators what they were trying to accomplish with their health care bill.   None really had a satisfactory answer -- except perhaps John McCain.   The old maverick just said it:  "They're trying to get to 51 votes."

And both of those were written before anyone saw the actual, awful secret bill that they've produced.   This vote is going to be a test for those senators who have any integrity or human decency left.

Yes, Sen. Schumer is right.   The Republicans were trying to keep the damned thing secret because:
 "They . . . are . . . ashamed . . . of it."

Ralph

Friday, June 23, 2017

Correction on Planned Parenthood funds in senate health care bill

Yesterday, my understanding was faulty when I wrote about the just released senate version of the Republicans' health care bill.  I stated that payment to Planned Parenthood for (non-abortion) medical services would be extended but for only one year.  Instead, according to a news story in the AJC, there is a one-year freeze on payments to Planned Parenthood.

Ralph

Obama's reaction to new Trumpcare bill

President Obama had some choice words for the Senate Republicans' so-called health care bill that was finally released Thursday.
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"The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill.  It's a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America.

"It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting health care for everybody else.   Those with private insurance will experience higher premiums and higher deductibles, with lower tax credits to help working families cover the costs, even as their plans might no longer cover pregnancy, mental health care, or expensive prescriptions.   Discrimination based on pre-existing conditions could become the norm again.   Millions of families will lose coverage entirely.

"Simply put, if there's a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family -- this bill will do you harm.  And small tweaks over the course of the next couple of weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation."
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Four members of the Republican caucus have signed a letter saying they cannot support it in its present form.   Because those four include libertarian Rand Paul and superconvservatives Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson, and Mike Lee, the objection is not that it is too mean.  Their objections are that is it not clearly enough a "repeal of Obamacare," and it does not do enough to lower costs.  Changing it to suit them might risk losing more moderate senators like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and Rob Portman.   McConnell's going to have trouble getting to 50.   He can't lose more than two of his caucus of 52.

Some of the effects of the bill:

1.  It rolls back most of the tax on the wealthy that offsets much of the cost of lower premiums for lower income groups.
2.  Like the House bill, it reduces the Medicare payments;  it just does it more slowly but eventually cuts more deeply.  It puts the burden on the states for anything above the block grants it gives them.
3.  It eliminates the individual mandate to carry insurance, which will greatly reduce the number of younger and healthy people from enrolling, resulting in higher premiums for the older and the sicker people.
4.  It doesn't outright eliminate a requirement to cover pre-existing condition.  But it gives states the option to charge higher premiums through "high risk pools."  Thus, people with pre-existing conditions may simply be priced out of the market.
5.  It allows states more options to allow insurance carriers to eliminate coverage for "essential services," like maternity, mental health, etc.
6.  It allows funds to be paid to Planned Parenthood, but only for the first year.
7.  The OMB has not yet scored the bill, but it's obvious that many millions will lose coverage -- from lack of affordability and less generous subsidies.

There's more;   but this is enough (for me) to absorb for now.   President Trump, just a few weeks following his Rose Garden Party to celebrate the House bill, now calls that one "mean."   Now he says that the Senate bill is going to be "fantastic."

Yeah?   Meaning:   anything good about it is imaginary?   That kind of fantastic?

Ralph

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Gunshot Rep. Scalise progresses to rehab

The most seriously injured person in the mass shooting of congressmen, staff, and their guards at baseball practice was Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA).  His condition has been upgraded to "fair," and he has started rehabilitation.

Thanks to excellent trauma surgeons and four reparative surgeries so far, it looks like Scalise will likely survive his extensive wounds, which were caused by an exploding type bullet used in semi-automatic rifles.  It does far more damage than a straight-through bullet.  Shattered bones became weapons themselves;  vital organs were torn open, and major blood vessels pierced.

If only our politically divisive wounds could be comparably repaired.  If only our lawmakers could divorce themselves from the NRA and outlaw weapons whose only purpose is to quickly kill as many as possible.  As some have so wistfully said:  "You'd think, when it's one of their own . . . "

Ralph

Educating Trump's Energy Secretary

[I plan to discuss some thoughts about the 6th District election loss;  but I need another day to digest what it all means.  Meanwhile, another problem.   Thanks to HuffPost's Chris D'Angelo for the background article.]

Trump's cabinet Secretary of Energy, former Texas governor Rick Perry, was interviewed on CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Monday.  He was asked whether he believes that carbon dioxide "is the primary control knob for the temperature of the Earth and the climate."

Perry responded, "No, most likely the primary control knob is the ocean waters and this environment that we live in."  He went on to say that those who question the scientific community's findings are more intelligent.  “I think if you’re going to be a wise, intellectually engaged person, being a skeptic about some of these issues is quite all right,” Perry said. 

This prompted a letter to the Secretary from Keith L. Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society, who emphasized the importance for those setting energy policy to understand that human activity, as the primary cause of climate change, is well established by scientific evidence.   Here are some excerpts from Seitter's letter:

“This is a conclusion based on . . . multiple independent lines of evidence that have been affirmed by thousands of independent scientists and numerous scientific institutions around the world. We are not familiar with any scientific institution with relevant subject matter expertise that has reached a different conclusion. . . .  [W]ithout this fundamental understanding of the science, it is impossible to discuss potential policy changes in meaningful ways."
Seitter also wrote that:  “skepticism and debate are always welcome and are critically important to the advancement of science."   But he added that, when it comes to the role of CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions in driving global warming, the science is “extremely well established. . . . based on decades of research and multiple lines of evidence.”
If there was any doubt about the pointedness of his letter, he added this adapted aphorism:  Skepticism that fails to account for evidence is no virtue.”
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Ok, Mr. Climate-denying Secretary of Energy, isn't it time for you to take another look?   Or, if it be the case, a first look.
Ralph

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Jon Ossoff has lost

With 100% of precincts reporting, Jon Ossoff has lost the runoff election to Karen Handel by 52.1% to 47.9%.

This is a heartbreaking loss for Democrats, for women, for young people, and for so many people who were inspired by intelligence, enthusiasm, decency, and solid democratic policies.

Kerwin Swint, chair of the political science department at Kennesaw State University, said "It was really all about the Republican candidate Karen Handel getting her Republican base to show up in force.   That's what made the difference.  Jon Ossoff was successful in eating into that base but obviously not quite enough to put him over the top."

It would have been a different story if the runoff election had not been so far removed from the primary.   I'm convinced that Ossoff would have won if it had been held a month ago.   Seven weeks is just too long, even though the law was changed to require it so that military service people stationed abroad would have time to send in ballots.    With today's digital technology, there is another solution.

Jon had the momentum and the excitement, but the negative ads from outside superpacs that smeared Jon with lies and misinformation just wore everyone down over time.

I want to thank Jon and all his loyal and dedicated campaign staff.   They did one hell of a job, restoring belief that a political campaign can be upbeat and good.   That's why it hurts so much not to have that reinforced with a win.

But, you know what?    The primary for the next election for this seat is only about nine months away.

Ralph


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

GA-06 Congressional race finally here

Polls will close in the north metro Atlanta suburbs in just over an hour from now (at 7 pm).   This is the special election to fill the House seat long-held by Tom Price, whom the president appointed to be Secretary of Health and Human Services.

As you've no doubt heard on national television news, this is the most expensive (at $50 million), and the most closely watched congressional race, ever.    And pollsters say its too close to call.   Early voting has been record-breaking for a special election.

The "why" of all that is that the race is being seen as a referendum on President Trump, with pressure on the reluctant Trump voters.   However, I think it's a bit more than that.   We could be seeing a new political star in his first-ever political race.

Jon Ossoff is a 30 year old documentary film maker whose works has mostly been on exposing corruption in international governments.   With a degree in foreign service from Georgetown University, he also went on to get a masters in global economics from the London School of Economics.   He got his start during college working part time as an aide in the Washington office of Rep. John Lewis;   then after graduation, worked full time as a staffer for Rep. Hank Johnson.  Both have enthusiastically endorsed him.

Jon also happens to be a friend of my grandson from elementary school days, so I take a special interest in this race, in addition to the fact that I live and cast my vote in this district.

Jon came in first in the "jungle primary," that started with 18 contestants.   This is the runoff between him and second place winner, Republican Karen Handel.   Ossoff got 48%, Handel 20%.   But she had four fairly strong Republicans to divide the votes with, while the few other Democrats in the race had token support.

Handel has been endorsed and tweeted about by President Trump, as well as attending a fund-raiser for her when he was in Atlanta.   She's also had help from congressional Republicans coming for rallies (Pence, Ryan and others).   Plus lots of money pouring in from super pacs.

On the other side, Jon has raised a good bit more money than Handel.   The progressive-activist website Daily Kos early on did online fund-raising for him, which yielded millions in small donations from large numbers of people.  He's also had some support from the other liberal groups.   However, he has kept the Washington Democrats away from coming to Atlanta, because this is a Republican district he's trying to win.   Too many smear ads have very derisively referred to him as "a Nancy Pelosi Democrat."

Jon has appealed to those who are dissatisfied with President Trump, as well as to the growing diversity of the area.  At the same time, he has portrayed himself as more of a centrist willing to work with anyone to improve out government, eliminate waste.   He does support keeping and improving the Affordable Care Act, while Handel can't very well run away from the debacle the Republicans are concocting as a replacement.

In polls, Ossoff consistently holds a small lead, but usually within margin of error.   But the web site 538 suggested an advantage for him.  In the primary, he outperformed the polls by a few points.  So, their reasoning is that if the polls are deadlocked now, he might win.   Another winning factor is that some 8,000 new voters have been registered since the primary.   There's reason to believe more of them may vote for him.

But really, it will come down to turnout.   The Ossoff campaign has had as many as 10,000 people volunteering, over 1,000 of them really dedicated neighborhood canvassers.   They're well organized for a get out the vote campaign.   But the Republican National Committee also sent organizers in from outside to help Handel's campaign.

So we'll know soon -- maybe by the time you read this.

Ralph

Trump's business interests come first - II

President Trump's new personal lawyer declared over the weekend that the president is not under investigation by the special counsel.  He based that on the fact that the president has not been notified that he is under investigation.

But that means nothing.   It is not the usual practice of the FBI and special prosecutors to notify someone that they are under investigation until it gets to the point of directly seeking documents or a personal interview.

It is true, however, that several top ranking security officials are being interviewed about their conversations with the president, in which he reportedly asked them to intervene with the FBI Director to stop the Russia investigation.   So call it what you want, but there is reason for worry in the Trump administration -- and hope for those of us who see great damage being done to our democracy.

Even if there is no provable obstruction of justice (and it's hard to read what is known other than just that), there is still the multi-pronged investigation going on about Trump's business dealings, especially those that involve foreign oligarchs or rulers of foreign states.    Which brings me back to an article by Brian Klaus in USA Today that I have saved.   It's quite relevant today.
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"President Trump makes more money when he embraces regimes that violate human rights. From the Philippines to China and Turkey to Saudi Arabia, the president’s adoration for authoritarian abusers is bad for those being oppressed but good for his wallet.

"Staggering conflicts of interest that directly link Trump’s bank account to despots around the world are already transforming U.S. foreign policy. . . .

"Last week, a transcript leaked of a call between Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Trump praised Duterte for theunbelievable jobon dealing withthe drug problem.” He was referring to a state-sponsored murder campaign dressed up as an anti-drug initiative. Duterte’s goverment uses death squads to kill people in cold blood in the streets. . . .  There is substantial evidence that the police often kill first, plant drugs on the victim second, and then falsely claim self-defense third.

"Trump explicitly endorsed this barbarism. Then, as icing on the cake, he invited Duterte to the White House — even though he’s a bloodthirsty despot who bragged about personally killing people and likened himself to Hitler. . . . 

". . . .  if you look at Trump’s business ties, his praise for despots like Duterte who abuse their own people makes perfect, self-serving sense.  Trump Tower Manila opens this year. That gives Duterte lucrative leverage over Trump. But it’s worse than that. As Duterte’s crackdown intensifies, his regime is touting dubious stats showing an urban crime reductionintended to boost investor confidence. If it succeeds, property values in Manila are likely to increase. . .

"To make matters even shadier, Duterte appointed Trump’s business partner [in the Manila development] as an official envoy to the United States [who is] now an official representative of the Philippine government to Washington. Trump’s sons are still working with [him] on the [hotel] project, while [he] works with their dad’s administration on U.S. foreign policy toward the Philippines.

"As if it couldn’t be any more of an ethical quagmire, according to the New York Daily News, there are patents pending in the Philippines for the clothing line of Ivanka Trump Marks LLC and others for Trump Marks LLC.

". . . [Similar business profit advantages are occurring with China, and at the same time] President Trump has since backed off his fiery campaign rhetoric toward China and reversed course on his pledge to label China a currency manipulator. He has also ended the longstanding bipartisan consensus of chastising Beijing for its poor human rights record.   [And remember that Ivanka Trump had several patents pending in China, while she sat with President Xi at dinner on his visit to Mar-a-Lago a couple of months back.]

"In Turkey, President Trump was the first foreign head of state to call and congratulate the autocrat of Ankara . . . on rigging a referendum that demolished democracy. . . . But of course, Trump’s embrace of Erdogan couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with what Trump previously called “a little conflict of interest,” embedded in the steel and concrete of not one but two Trump buildings in Istanbul.

"Finally, Trump’s first foreign visit as president was to Saudi Arabia, one of the worst regimes for human rights on the planet. . . .  Again, it makes sense. In 2015, Trump registered eight companies that are each possibly linked to a development project . . .  [A] Saudi Prince . . . bailed Trump out twice in the past, including buying one of Trump’s yachts when his Atlantic City casinos were going bust. . . . 
 Conversely, if he does the right thing and publicly criticizes them for beheading dissidents or treating women as second-class citizens, future business deals would be jeopardized. . .

"Trump, to his credit, took limited action in Syria, where he has no business interests. But when he must choose between his wallet and a just foreign policy that advances America’s interests, his choices are already clear for all to see."
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And then there's Russia, with the autocratic, murderous Putin who pulls the strings on a stable of oligarchs, whom he made and controls.  Some of them have been big investors in Trump's U.S. properties.   And then there's the Russian state-controlled bank, whose president had a meeting with Jared Kushner, for what purpose, we don't yet know.

I believe, ultimately, it will be the old saw "follow the money" that brings down the presidency of Donald J. Trump.

Ralph

Monday, June 19, 2017

U.S. interests vs Trump's businesses in Middle East decisions

Thanks to David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times for the background;  unless otherwise stated, the quotations are from his June 17th article in the Times.

Not long after President Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia, where a gathering of top representatives of regional Arab governments met, a conflict burst forth in the Persian Gulf area that centered on the very small, but very wealthy, nation of Qatar.  This is a problem for the U.S., because it involves three of our crucial allies in conflict with each other:   Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates vs Qatar.

Kirkpatrick writes:  "The feud in the Persian Gulf flared up on June 5, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Arab allies all broke off trade, travel and diplomatic relations with Qatar as punishment for what they said was its support of terrorism. Scholars of the region and American diplomats, however, said the dispute appeared to have more to do with jostling over power and autonomy."

Background for Trump's involvement is this, according to Kirkpatrick:  "President Trump has done business with royals from Saudi Arabia for at least 20 years, since he sold the Plaza Hotel to a partnership formed by a Saudi prince.  Mr. Trump has earned millions of dollars from the United Arab Emirates for putting his name on a golf course, with a second soon to open.  He has never entered the booming market in neighboring Qatar, however, despite years of trying. . . .  


"Now a feud has broken out among these three crucial American allies, and Mr. Trum
p has thrown his weight firmly behind the two countries where he has business ties, raising new concerns about the appearance of a conflict between his public role and his financial incentives."

This is complicated by the fact that Qatar is the location of the largest American air base in the Middle East, with some 11,000 military personnel.   Qatar also has the largest natural gas reserves in the world, and it is the home of Al Jazeera, the media empire that publishes and broadcasts for Westerners.  A number of major U.S. universities have established joint programs in Qatar, raising its educational level to one of the highest in the region.


Trump's position of frankly and openly siding with those who are trying to blockade Qatar has made it difficult for the Pentagon and State Department, whose leaders are trying to stay neutral, while "urging unity against the common enemy of the Islamic State."   Secretary of State Tillerson has called on Qatar to "be responsive to the concerns of its neighbors," while also calling for the Saudis, the Emirate, Bahrain, and Egypt to ease the blockade of Qatar, which he notes is "impairing international trade and hindering the military campaign against the Islamic State."

Trump, on the other hand, "endorsed the blockade as soon as it started."  It occurred just days after his royal treatment on his trip to Riyadh -- so he declared on Twitter that his visit was "already paying off."   He defended the blockade again -- just hours after Tillerson's call to end it.

I will not include all the details in Kirkpatrick's article about Trump's business dealings in this area.   Suffice it to say that they go back at least to 1995, when the sale of the Plaza Hotel to the Saudi prince saved Trump from defaulting on a loan.  He has bragged:  "The Saudis buy apartments from me. . . . They spend $40 million, $50 million.   Am I supposed to dislike them?"   And that only scratches the surface of the Trump financial dealings on golf courses and other developments.

So, one wonders . . . quite seriously:    Who's side is Donald Trump on?  It matters . . . a lot.

Ralph

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Partisan division, rage, and violence

We know that James Hodgkinson left his home in Illinois about two months ago and came to Alexandria, VA, where he took a membership in a YMCA and had been living out of his van parked in their parking lot -- which overlooks the baseball field where the Republican congressmen were practicing for their annual charity baseball game with the Democrats.

Hodgkinson was the gunman who shot and gravely injured Rep. Steve Scalise, as well as inflicting less serious injuries to several other staffers and guards.  He was killed in a shootout with security officers at the scene.

Why he did it seems to have arisen in a disturbed mind that manifest in rage at President Trump and the Republicans.   This appeared mostly from his writings on social media.   His wife, who stayed in Illinois, says she had no idea he intended to do this, although I would want to question her further, given that her husband had apparently stopped working as a home inspector.

Three months ago, he legally bought a semi-automatic rifle and a hand gun and had been doing practice shooting in his yard, enough that a neighbor called the police.   They just warned him against shooting in the area.   Then he gave, as his reason for going to Washington, that he wanted to get involved in politics.  Oh, and he had been arrested years ago for domestic abuse, but charges were dropped.

Although those seem like warning signs -- at least in retrospect -- local YMCA members, who have chatted with Hodgkinson over the past few weeks at the Y, found him to be friendly, often absorbed in his laptop, and not given to discussing politics as they encountered him at the gym or having coffee.  Police now have his laptop, phone and other materials that they are exploring to understand better what motivated him to finally start shooting at the Republicans on the field.

So, although in retrospect it's easy to point to red flags, if you put surveillance on everyone meeting those criteria, it would be too large a task for our resources.

But it's the larger context of our increasingly divided, and rage-filled public discourse that this post focuses on.   I want to share some of an essay I just read from Bill Press, "It's Not the Rhetoric, It's the Guns," distributed by the Tribune Media Content Agency.  He hosts a nationally syndicated radio show and is a CNN political analyst.

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"No words can adequately describe the tragedy we experienced this week when a lone gunman opened fire on a group of congressmen doing nothing more than playing baseball -- getting in one last practice in Alexandria, Virginia, before this year's version of the last occasion left in Washington where members of both parties actually have a good time together: the annual Congressional Baseball Game.

"Within minutes, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA.) was down and one staffer and one former staffer were wounded, as were two brave Capitol Police officers who rushed the shooter and returned fire. Without a doubt, had those two officers not been present, the ballfield would have turned into a slaughterhouse.

"In the wake of the shooting, there were those who seized the moment to unite the country in the right mix of outrage and sorrow, led by Speaker Paul Ryan, who told House Members: "An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us."

". . . . Sadly, there were also dunderheads who seized the moment to divide the country by scoring political points, led by former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who called the shooting "part of a pattern" and told Fox News: 'You've had an increasing intensity of hostility on the left.'  While Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) rushed to blame Democrats: 'I can only hope that the Democrats do tone down the rhetoric.'

"Turning an attempted assassination into cheap partisan sniping is not only disgusting, it's dead wrong. Just because the gunman happened to be a Bernie Sanders supporter who hated Republicans doesn't mean he represents all Democrats, any more than a mass murderer who happens to be a Christian represents Jesus Christ.

"Moreover, while it's true there's too much hate-filled language in today's politics and everybody needs to tone down the rhetoric, the most inflammatory language is not coming from the left. It's from the right. And nobody's guiltier of it than Donald Trump, who has called James Comey a 'nut job,' Barack Obama a 'sick man,' Hillary Clinton a 'nasty woman,' and journalists 'the enemy of the American people'. . . . 

"More importantly, the whole discussion about political rhetoric misses the point. It doesn't matter whether the gunman was a Democrat, Republican, independent, socialist, communist, or Green Party member. The point is: He had no business being able to buy, own, and tote around an assault rifle and an automatic pistol.

"Where's the outrage about gun violence? In 2016, according to the Gun Violence Archive, there were 384 mass shootings -- defined as four or more killed or wounded by gunfire -- in the United States. More than one a day! So far in 2017, there have been 154. . . .

"What happened in Alexandria, in fact, wasn't the only shooting on June 14. Three people were also gunned down at a UPS facility in San Francisco. Six people were killed and 37 wounded by gunfire on the streets of Chicago last weekend. . . .

"What will it take for Congress to act? What will it take before Congress stops protecting the gun manufacturers and starts protecting the American people?
Even though they failed to act after Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Charleston, or Orlando, you might think they'd consider some common-sense gun safety measures after one of their own is struck.

"Think again. Six years ago, Congress did nothing after Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot. They'll do nothing this year after Congressman Steve Scalise was shot. The NRA still rules the U.S. Congress.  Shame!

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Yes, I'm in full agreement that there are too many guns, and they are too readily obtainable;  and guns designed to kill many people as quickly as possible, shouldn't be available at all.  But they are.  Hodgkinson bought his guns legally and would probably have passed background checks in any state.

This one is not a problem for tinkering with gun control legislation, which will fail to even be brought up for vote.  We need a deeper examination of our rage-filled culture -- not focused on assigning blame but on a mutual concern for what is happening to our country.

Ralph