Saturday, March 11, 2017

Listen carefully to Paul Ryan about health care bill. Beneath that squeeky clean, good guy image is the soul of Ayn Rand.

Sometimes it's important to listen carefully and literally to what people say to hear the underlying message that sneaks in between the lines.   A clip of Paul Ryan trying to sell the American Health Care Act to his Republican colleagues has been played repeatedly on TV.  Here it is:

"This is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing Obamacare."

He doesn't say "this is how we will do it."   He says it's the closest we'll ever get.  At first, I read that to mean he doesn't expect that it will pass.  Then after hearing more from Paul Ryan in an interview -- hearing his excitement about the historic moment this would be if it does pass -- here is what I think:

Ryan is saying that this is huge and will be historic if we can pass it.   But, if we let this moment pass and don't, we'll  never get the chance to pass it.   Because if people really understand what we're doing, they'll never stand for it.

And that was borne out last night, when Rep. Joe Kennedy III was on Chris Hayes MSNBC show.   Kennedy is on one of the committees that had to sign off on this bill.   They stayed in session for 37 hours -- throughout the night, doing the process that's called "marking up" the bill.   Kennedy finally did understand what it does, but it took his aggressive questioning of the lawyer representing Ryan to the committee.

First, listen to Ryan in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.  He seemed jubilant at what they are about to do, saying that:   "We're talking about hundreds of billions of dollars a year. . . .  This is so much bigger, by orders of magnitude, than [the 1993] welfare reform."   He sees it as "a historic opportunity to reduce the welfare rolls. . . .  Welfare reform is a $16 billion program. . . [but] this will be trillions in the end.   Let me just describe what this does for conservatives. . . .  This is why I am so excited about it and why I think people need to see the forest for the trees.  We are de-federalizing an entire entitlement, block-granting it back to the states, and capping its growth rate.  That's never been done before."

Ryan was asked if he was concerned about the predictions that it will knock 15 million people off Medicaid [and therefore off their health care].  Here's Ryan's response:  "You're never going to win a coverage beauty contest when it's free market versus government mandates. . . .Our goal is not to show a pretty piece of paper that says we're mandating great things for Americans."

In fairness to Ryan, he went on to state what their goals are:   to shift to free market health care, to give people more choices, first about whether to buy insurance, and second a market that will offer more choices -- plus small government, reduce regulations, and lower taxes.

What's not answered is:   what if the market doesn't offer affordable choices for millions of people?   What about them?  Does government have any obligation to help them?   Apparently not, in the Ryan view.  For him, it's about his conservative ideology, not about what people need.   Which is why, in my headline, I mentioned the "soul of Ayn Rand," who was the proponent of a hard-nosed, free market materialism.

Let me state this more starkly.   Ryan avoids even addressing the human aspect of this -- the real humans who will suffer and, some, who will die.   He's saying, well, the free market can never match a government mandate -- if what you're measuring is how many people get health care.  But what we really care about is cutting government programs and letting the free market operate, even if it can't cover as many people.

Chris Hayes then turned to Joe Kennedy, who was in his studio, who was shaking his head, as if in disbelief, who said:   "That's not who we are as a nation.  It's not what health care is about.  Health care at its most basic is about taking care of those among us in their time of need.   That's what health care is.  That's what health care does.

"And why so many of us are so upset is we've got what is essentially a massive tax cut to the wealthy on the backs of hard-working families that are living paycheck to paycheck, and costing 15 million people their health care.    And all in the service of health care reform.  It's outrageous.  It's not who we are as a country."

In discussion Chris and Joe clarified that this will represent a huge cut in Medicare over time.  It will phase in gradually so that it won't be so obvious at first -- and won't be fully phased in until after the 2020 election.   But it will be the people who need it most and can't afford it who are going to "take it on the nose so the wealthy can have their tax cut."

Kennedy further said that it was very apparent to him, during those 30 plus hours in the committee, that most of his Republican colleagues didn't really understand what this does, even though they voted for it.  That is, it passes off a tax cut as health care reform, and it takes away needed benefits from those who can least afford them to give the tax cut to those who least need them.

Now I'm even more outraged than I was before I heard what it was like for Joe Kennedy, being there in the middle of this debacle.    Paul Ryan doesn't seem to give a thought to what effect it's going to have on those who lose their Medicaid.   He's excited at the prospect of being the one who does something historic.   He's assuaged his conscience by turning the money into bloc grants to the states.   So now it's not his problem.  Let the states handle it.   He's got the tax cut he promised his wealthy donors.

This is not an abstract argument about theory of government, although that is at the base of this.   This is about life and death for millions of people.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Trump threatens to kill people's health care; then says something completely different.

Jim Acosta, senior White House correspondent for CNN, sent out this:

"Trump told Tea Party groups at WH if GOP health care plan dies, he will let Obamacare fail and let Dems take the blame, I'm told."

Pause a moment to take in what that means.   We have a president who would be vindictive enough, if his plan fails, to kill the other plan -- resulting in the deaths of thousands of people -- out of malice and spite in retribution for his losing.

Believable?   Yes.

On the other hand, a few hours after that notice was published, this came on in a big HuffPost story.   It seems that the Freedom Caucus (the Tea Party members in Congress) are unhappy with the bill presented by Paul Ryan, who refused to consider some changes they wanted.    So two Freedom Caucus members met directly with President Trump and worked with his budget staff several hours yesterday afternoon, drawing up amendments to the bill.  Their chief goal, agreed to by Trump, is to keep premiums from going up.

So . . . . who knows where it will stand by the time you're reading this on Friday.   And what position will the president take when the CBO comes out with its analysis that 15 million people will lose their insurance under the Republican plan?   One hint is that Sean Spicer has already begun the campaign to discredit the CBO.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

It just gets worse for Trump and the Republicans

1.  The American Health Care Act (AHCA) rolled out by Republicans this week has run into a buzzsaw of opposition -- from Republicans in Congress. Democrats were already opposed, sight unseen.  On top of that, the AARP, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, as well as numerous patient advocacy and health industry groups are rejecting it.  I haven't heard anyone, except GOP leaders and committee members who put this together, who speak favorably about it.  And we haven't even had an analysis yet by the Congressional Budget Office to show how many will lose coverage and how much it will cost.    It is a disaster, as predicted.

2.  The International Women's Day was yesterday, and President Trump chose to send out a message about it on twitter, instead of the usual dignified presidential proclamation.  Here's what he sent:
   "I have tremendous respect for women and the many roles they serve that are vital to the fabric of our society and our economy.   On International Women's Day, join me in honoring the critical role of women here in America and around the world."

Nothing wrong with that, except that . . . well, he's Donald Trump, with all of his misogynistic baggage.   So he got hundreds of angry responses, with references to his many failures to actually show respect for women.   They ranged from his anti-abortion executive order and defunding Planned Parenthood, to his "grab 'em by the p---y" comment, to the mostly male makeup of his cabinet, to the threat to separate mothers and children in the immigration crackdown, to the fact that he began this presidential statement on this day honoring women with "I," as in "I have tremendous . . . ."

3.  The new Muslim Travel Ban issued as a new executive order this week is responsive to most of the issues that were criticized by the court in the first ban, according to Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson who won the case.   However, other opponents to the ban think there is still a court case against the new ban, now based on the evidence suggesting it is really a Muslim ban in disguise.   They can base their argument on (1) statements by Trump and Guiliani about intent to impose a Muslim ban and (2) the lack of evidence that there is any need for the ban from these specific countries, which are alike only in that they have Muslim-majority populations.  The state of Hawaii has already filed a court challenge, claiming that it is unconstitutional on those grounds.

The argument about a lack of need for the ban is especially stark since those draft reports from Homeland Security analysts got leaked, showing that young men living in the US who commit terrorist acts become radicalized after they have been living here for several years.   They do not come in as radicals, so the ban would not have any basis for denying them.   The solution to that problem is not a ban, but community approach to working with young immigrant men so that they do not turn to radical recruiters for a meaningful life.   It's their experience living as immigrants in the U.S. that is the problem to be addressed.    All the anti-Muslim talk and things like the ban will only make that worse.   [I'll expand on this in a later post.]

4.  The Trump-Russia connection continues to evolve, with new leaks dribbling out.   The New Yorker article, featured by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, explores Trump's business dealings with oligarchs in Azerbaijan, some of whom are connected to bribery, corruption, and money laundering.   It is against the law for American investors to have business dealings with foreign businesses that engage in such practices.   One such American is currently serving time in federal prison for not much more than is alleged that Trump and his company have done.

5.  AG Jeff Sessions is still in hot water (1) with the Judiciary Committee because his "clartification" letter to explain why he didn't mention his two meetings with the Russian ambassador was unsatisfactory;  and (2) with Trump, who didn't want him to recuse himself from overseeing any Justice Department investigation of Russia, wiretapping, meetings with the Trump team, etc.    There's just too much smoke not to have a fire underneath -- too many Trump team people (at least 8) who have met with Russians, along with Trump's own, singularly positive attitude toward Putin/Russia -- moreso than with even our close allies.   He's insulted or fought with everyone but Putin.

6.  In England, there is an online betting site that is giving 2 to 1 odds that Trump will not last out the year as president.   The article didn't say, but I wonder if they're also taking bets on whether Melania will ever move to the White House.   She's made a few appearances for social occasions, but there seems to be nothing there between her and her husband.   And reports are that she's not taken any steps to set up a First Lady office, which is customary and usually includes a whole staff of aides, planners, etc.

That's enough for now of White House woes.   It's only Wednesday.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Republicans can't decide what to call their health plan. It doesn't matter; it will never become law.

The Republican's long-anticipated "replacement" for Obamacare has finally been released;  and, frankly, they needn't have bothered.   It will never become law.

There are various Republican factions who hate it, for different reasons.   No one praises it or even sorta, maybe likes it a little bit.

It does keep the pre-existing conditions rule, and it lets kids stay on their parents' plan until 26.   On the other hand, it ends subsidies in favor of tax credits.   That's not gonna work.

It includes billions in tax cuts for the wealthy, partly offset by increasing premiums for those 50 and over.   It gives a tip of the hat to ending Medicaid expansion, but it's not clear exactly how bad that is.

Here's the biggest reason it will never pass:    the Congressional Budget Office has not yet analyzed the plan to estimate (1) how many people will lose coverage (a lot) and (2) how much it will cost.

Those are the most critical issues, and everything suggests that each will be enough to make the bill untenable -- and both together will make it political suicide.

That's what I think.


HUD Sec. Ben Carson says slaves were immigrants

In his debut address to employees of HUD, which he now heads, Ben Carson spoke about the "can-do" spirit of the immigrants that built American society.   He spoke about the value system of the immigrants who helped build our nation.    Then he said that value system was also exemplified by "other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder, for less."

What Carson was trying to portray was that even slaves had a "can-do" attitude to overcome hardships and realize their dreams.  Yes, this African-American famed neurosurgeon, inspirational lecturer and author actually talked about slaves realizing their dreams here in America.

Not surprisingly, like many of Carson's sayings, it did not go over well.   He has a way of taking a good idea and presenting it in a ludicrous way that distracts from the meaning he's intending.

He later tried to clarify, differentiating between "voluntary immigrants" and "involuntary immigrants."    The "slave narrative and the immigrant narrative are two entirely different experiences," he declared.    Well, duh.  Ya think?

It's good to get that cleared up.    Some Africans were kidnapped and brought involuntarily to America.   Two hundred years, and multiple generations later, some of their descendants achieved great things.  Is that what he meant?   Not the slaves themselves, but their great-great-great-grandchildren -- like Carson, himself -- living in our time could realize their dreams.

For example, as Michelle Obama so much more elegantly put it, upon moving into the White House:   Her ancestors built this house, as slaves.  And now she was to preside over it as First Lady.

Carson would like us to think of this as a cheery success story -- instead of the crime against humanity that it really is.    No amount of success by their descendants can, or should be allowed to, erase the shameful fact of slavery carried out by our white ancestors.

Yes, we've come a long way from slavery;   but we do not yet have full equality in fact -- or even in spirit.   Our last election seems to be a big step backward in achieving that goal.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

"He has information that the rest of us don't have."

President Trump's counselor/spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway repeated the claims of a wire tap on Trump Tower, telling Fox News that Mr. Trump "has information and intelligence" to back up his claims.  "He's the president of the United States.  He has information and intelligence that the rest of us do not, and that's the way it should be."

Yes but, Kellyanne, if the Director of National Intelligence (Clapper) and the Director of the FBI (Comey) both say there was no wire tap, please tell us where the president gets such secret information.

Breitbart News?   The Russians?

But here's another question:   What is the president so afraid of having revealed?  Why such a hissy fit if there's no there, there?


"Ne-ve-r mind." . . . Trump's humiliating defeat.

Donald Trump pinned his hope for early success in his presidency on the Blitzkreig of his hastily and clumsily imposed travel ban from seven mostly-Muslim countries -- a Muslim ban in all but name.

Shot down by the courts and proven to have no rational basis in actual data, Trump's advisers convinced him to withdraw the original ban, which was still tied up in multiple court cases, and go back to the drawing board.

Announced dates for release of the new plan came and went.  Rumors of the terms kept getting narrower.   Yesterday it was finally released, in all of its inglorious, watered-down, almost meaningless version.

It's been described by some as a "backdown of monumental proportions" and "a major political defeat for the Trump administration."

Uncharacteristically, its signing had little fanfare;  no cameras were even present.   Here's what this new version does:

1.   The only travelers now banned are those without visas from six nations -- Iraq has been removed from the list.   The order does not apply to green card holders or permanent, legal U.S. residents.    No big deal:   people from those countries already are required to have a visa.

2.  Inflammatory language, like "extreme vetting" and "radical Islamic terrorists," has been removed.

3.  There is a 10 day period before it goes into effect, unlike the first version which was imposed without warning or preparation and rationalized by supposedly dire risk of terrorist ready to stream into our country.

4.  There is no singling out of refugees from Syria for different treatment, although the numbers of refugees accepted in the U.S. is still reduced from 110,000 to 50,000 per year.

5.  Any exceptions that apply to a particular religious group have been removed.

6.  Iraqis who worked with the U.S. military in Iraq are eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa.

That's about it.   All in all, this whole thing now looks like it does very little and could have been just avoided altogether.   Of course, it was primarily a political stunt -- but it hurt a lot of people.  And it still carries the taint that it originated in anti-Muslim rhetoric of the Trump campaign.

I suppose this "revised" ban does provide a little bit of face-saving for Trump in a humiliating defeat.   But, truth be told, they could have just shelved the whole thing and said the line made famous by Saturday Night Live's late, great Gilda Radner:

"Ne-ve-r mind."

Monday, March 6, 2017

Reagan adviser compares Trump to Nixon . . . . unfavorably

Bruce Bartlett, who was an adviser to President Ronald Reagan, sent out this tweet, comparing Trump and Nixon:

"Take Nixon in the deepest days of his Watergate paranoia, subtract 50 IQ points, add Twitter, and you have Trump today."

Trump accuses Obama of wire tapping him; goes into rage with staff; crisis heating up . . . bigly.

Our Tweeter-in-Chief got itchy fingers early Saturday morning and sent this out at 6:35am:
"Terrible.   Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower before the victory.  Nothing found.   This is McCarthyism!"
Trump kept it up;  and by 7:02 am his fifth twitter message on the subject said this:
"How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process.   This is Nixon/Watergate.  Bad (or sick) guy!"
According to Washington Post investigative journalist Robert Costa, this originated with a reporter for Breitbart News and has been circulating among White House staff.   Former Obama staff member Ben Rhodes shot back a statement:
"No President can order a wiretap.  Those restrictions put in place to protect citizens from people like you."
Yes, that is true.   But the FBI can petition a special court for a warrant to tap a phone.  The Foreign Intelligence Surveillence Act set up this special court following 9/11, and in fact, the Guardian reported back in January that the FBI did seek such a warrant in the summer of 2016 (during the campaign) -- and was turned down.

Here's a thought, however, about what may be going on.   Rep. Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, revealed that the FBI had listened in on conversations between the Russian Ambassador Kislyev and "a top Trump official."   It is well known that our government spies on the Russian diplomats in the U.S., as they do ours in Russia.

So, if the FBI had a tap on the Russian ambassador's phone, and if he  had a phone call with a Trump official, then the FBI would have heard (and recorded) it.   That may be what this is all about.   Not political spying on one U.S. presidential candidate by the president, but an FBI wire tap on the Russian diplomat.

That was what I wrote on Saturday night and set it to post as my blog for Monday (so I could take the day off from politics.)    However, Donald Trump just keeps stirring the pot.  Here's what's happened on Sunday.

1.  Trump demanded that Congress investigate what he insists was Obama's tapping of his phone, even though he has presented no evidence that his phone was tapped.   It seems he got it from a Breitbart reporter.

2.  Through a spokeman, Obama said neither he nor anyone in his White House had ordered a tap of Trump's or his campaign's phone.

3.  Later Saturday morning, before leaving for Mar a Lago for the weekend, Trump called his senior staff in for a tongue lashing of Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon for not controlling the story about AG Sessions' recusing himself from any investigations of the Trump campaign and Russia.  Apparently Sessions' announcement took Trump by surprise;  he did not agree that Sessions needed to recuse himself;  and mainly he was enraged that this story had eclipsed the positive coverage of his speech to Congress on Tuesday night.

Reporters looking through the windows said he seemed to be in a rage.  Senior staff referred to the president as "going ballistic."   Because of this, apparently, Preibus and Bannon were to stay behind in Washington rather than accompany the president to Florida.  Sessions did go to Florida with him.

4.  Spicer announced on Sunday that neither the White House or the president will comment further on the matter until Congress investigates the explosive accusation that President Obama ordered his "wires to be tapped."   Of course, it was Trump himself who made the accusation.  But this "no comment" suggests that they don't have -- or at least don't plan to offer -- any evidence to back up the claim.

5.  James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence from 2010-2017 told "Meet the Press" on Sunday that, during his tenure, there was no wire tap of Trump or his campaign.  He says that he would have known if someone else applied to the FISA court for a warrant to tap, and he said "I can deny" that the FBI had done so.  He cannot, of course, speak for what may have happened after Jan. 20th, but Trump's accusation refers to October, before the election.

6.  FBI Director James Comey took the highly unusual step Sunday of asking the Department of Justice to "publicly reject" Trump's allegation.   Comey said that Trump's claim, without any evidence presented, "is false and must be corrected."

But then here's the problem.    Attorney General Sessions has recused himself, so he cannot do what Comey asks.   And the Deputy Attorney General, who will oversee the investigation, has not yet been confirmed.   And apparently the Acting Deputy AG does not feel that he has the standing to issue such a declaration.

But here's the serious message in all this.   This president is out of control, making wild, unsubstantiated accusations against his predecessor -- without evidence -- and lashing out at his own staff with petty punishments and tongue lashing.   The president of the United States accusing his predecessor of tapping his phone is a serious charge.  It is beyond ludicrous that he made it via Twitter at 6:35 am, gave no evidence to back it up, and then threw a temper tantrum at his own staff.

It's true that this government is leaking information like a sieve.   But we have to ask why?   The most likely answer is that the careernon-political staff working in government, especially in our intelligence and security apparatus, think that the only way to prevent a disaster is to leak the information that they fear will never see the light of day in a Trump administration.   I believe they fear, as I do, for the future of our country and our democracy as long as Donald Trump holds the reins of power.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

#March 4 Trump rallies draw dozens of people

Organizers encouraged people to participate in "#March4Trump" rallies across the nation on Saturday to show support for the president.  In a few places, there were pretty good crowds.   Like Nashville, where it was probably fair to say there were "thousands," and also in Florida.

But even the president probably won't claim they were "the biggest crowds ever."   For example, the Denver 7 News sent out this:  "March4Trump rally brings dozens of supporters to Colorado State Capitol."  In pictures from other capitols, the crowds are best described as "sparse."  The Huffington Post rather cruelly headlined its article about it as:  "Tens of people rally across the country for March4Trump."


The hypocrisy of the pious -- Mike Pence's phone

Ah . . . another example of the hypocrisy of the pious.  The Indianapolis Star newspaper has reported that then governor Mike Pence used a personal AOL phone account for official state business, including the discussion of sensitive topics like the state's response to terrorist attacks.

I call this hypocrisy because Vice Presidential candidate Pence was scathing and sanctimonious in his criticism of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server when she was Secretary of State.   It was one of the main attack topics that the Republicans tried to make into a scandal to sink her candidacy for president.

During the campaign, Pence said on "Meet the Press,"  that Clinton "either knew or should have known that she was placing classified information in a way that exposed it to being hacked and being made available in the public domain, even to enemies of this country."

Pence's AOL phone use came to light when a hacker got into his account over the summer.   It's true that there is no legal obligation for the Indiana governor to use a secure phone.  However, the current governor's office, in releasing copies of Pence's emails, withheld an unspecified number of them because they were considered "too sensitive" to be made public.

For all the political heat Clinton took later about the phone server, the fact is that there was never any evidence that her phone system was hacked.   In contrast, the phones were hacked at the State Department, the Pentagon, the DNC -- and the one used by the governor of Indiana, a guy named Pence.

What is it with these outwardly pious people who have such a propensity for shading the truth, outright lying in many instances, and hiding their own mendacity behind a screen of hypocrisy?    The old derogatory phrase "holier than thou" comes to mind.