Saturday, April 22, 2017

Why are Republicans going down the repeal/replace blind alley again?

A coalition of Freedom Caucus and moderate Republicans has been working on a compromise [Republican] health care bill that they say they will introduce and try to pass before the 100 day marker.   Why?

The answer seems to be in the previous phrase:   100 day marker.   The Trump administration is desperate to be able to claim some legislative success -- and it has none.    Here's the way Huffington Post's political editors, Sam Stein and Ryan Grim, explain it:
*     *     *
"The House Republicans' zombie health care overhaul bill rose from the dead once more Wednesday night, with moderates and conservatives coming to a tentative agreement on draft language. Immediately, though, it became clear that the new bill faces even tougher odds than the one that was already laid low in the House and that caused no shortage of political damage to Republicans.
"All of which raises a vexing question: Why are they doing this to themselves again?
"After all, their first effort . . . rais[ed] questions about Speaker Paul Ryan's ability to manage his caucus,  President Donald Trump's ability to inspire votes, and the viability of the rest of the GOP agenda. It left the Freedom Caucus wounded and at war with the president, while moderates had to suffer an outpouring of intense opposition back home.
"Since then, Obamacare has only grown more popular and the pathway to its demise more narrow in the Senate. . . . " 
[There follows a discussion of the likelihood and the politics of trying to pass another version.   Some seem to feel that they have to introduce something -- even knowing it won't pass -- because they raised expectations so high that they would "repeal Obamacare."  They can't just give up on one try.]
". . . . To abandon it after one attempt at passage (and a meek three-week effort at that, without even a vote) would be to risk alienating their core voters.  At that point, your base collapses . . . .
"And so, the party is pursuing the repeal of Obamacare out of a desire to ― at a minimum ― show it is still in pursuit. . . .  The actual vote-getting part is not their problem. It’s good PR. Neither side [conservatives nor moderates] actually speak for any significant bloc of votes.
"As long as the bill appears to still be alive, it gives Republicans running for re-election something to point to, the thinking goes. This has been the GOP’s electoral formula for seven years already, so perhaps it can be played on the base through the next election, too. . . ."
[That's one view.  Other Republicans still believe that the ACA is failing in many areas, especially rural areas where much of Trump's base voters live.   They're banking on them still blaming Democrats when it fails.]
. . . . "The problem, though, is that the kind of help needed in rural communities ― greater subsidies, a more generous Medicaid expansion ― are the opposite of what the GOP plan would do. . . . [So] many believe the 'let-it-collapse' approach would backfire dramatically.
“'When I hear people say ‘let it fall apart and implode,’ do they really think they will have the political willpower to let that happen?' asked former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.). 'Imagine the news stories. It will focus on how the callous, mean, son-of-a-bitch Republicans aren’t willing to fund whatever. And so and so will be without health care. There is no way Republicans are going to sit back and let this fall apart.' 
". . . .  And so, Kingston predicts, they might just do the most congressional thing possible: pass something ― anything ― and let it collapse in the Senate.  'I think the way to get it out of the way is to get something to the floor and then blame it on the Senate,' he said. 'They just have to.  Any piece of paper will do.'"
*     *     *
There you have it.  To be fair, Kingston's words were taken out of context, and this may not be representative of his overall views about health care.    But, sadly, it does seem to match with their actions:   Not how can we make people's lives better?  But how can we manipulate this bad news and fool the people so they keep voting for us?  It's all about the politics of it, not about people's needs and the good of the country.
Republicans have painted themselves into a corner by promising something they can't deliver.   Yes, Mr. Trump, health care is complicated.  It's good that you know that now, and it would be better if you really understood a little more about why it is so complex.   Then you would learn that the Republicans have been lying to you too, as they have been lying to their constituents.
You see, there is just no way to keep the good stuff (like no pre-condition limitations), get rid of the stuff you don't like (like mandatory enrollment) -- and also get rid of the tax increase on the wealthy to help pay for it, without losing coverage for millions.  It's just mathematically impossible.   So something in that equation has to go.
That "most beautiful chocolate cake anyone's ever seen" comes with a price tag.  Didn't they tell you that, Mr. President?

Friday, April 21, 2017

A new slant to the GA-06 runoff -- women

In my previous writings about Jon Ossoff's campaign, I had emphasized the young people that he had attracted, with all their enthusiasm.   In a post-primary summing up, however, Jon is emphasizing the women who worked tirelessly on the campaign.

"This is a story about women in this community," Ossaff told MSNBC on Wednesday.   "This comes down to grassroots intensity. . . .  The thousands of volunteers and organizers, so much of it led by women who have been pounding the pavement and knocking on doors for months here in Georgia.  It's that kind of grassroots momentum that will carry us to victory on June 20."

How ironic, then, that their opponent in the runoff will be Karen Handel, who is not just any woman.   As Laura Bassett describes it for the Huffington Post:

"Handel gained notoriety in 2012, when she took aim at women's health care as an executive at Susan G. Komen for the Cure. . . .  [She] quietly drove the charity's controversial decision to cut off grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings because of her own opposition to abortion rights.  The Komen organization insisted its decision had nothing to do with abortion politics, but internal emails showed Handel instigated the move and strategized how to spin it because [she] wanted to break ties with Planned Parenthood.

"The Komen charity faced a huge backlash over the move:  A drop in donations cost the oganization $77 million, or 22 percent of its income, and Handel was forced to resign after several members of Congress and some of Komen's own affiliates demanded that she be fired.  Komen quickly restored the grants to Planned Parenthood after Handel left.

"Handel went on to publish a book about the incident, called Planned Bullyhood, in which she insisted that the decision to cut off grants to the family planning provider was 'nonpolitical' and ripped on the organization for fueling such a strong public backlash against Komen.

"'It's clear that Planned Parenthood went out of its way to paint me as some sort of zealot -- a Trojan-horse zealot who came into Komen, and within 10 to 11 months had completely turned the place upside down,' Handel wrote in the memoir.  'That's clearly not who I am and it's not what happened.'

*     *     *
This issue will likely become a key controversy in the next two months leading up to the runoff.   Handel has been endorsed by several anti-abortion groups, while Ossoff has the backing of Planned Parenthood, which has already launched a six-figure campaign to support him.

For me, Handel has a right to oppose abortion and to campaign on it.   What I find objectionable is her tactics at Komen.   I very well remember the incident at the time.   At least the way it was widely reported in the media, she sought the job with Komen primarily for the purpose of doing just what she did.   She's right about one thing:   she was a Trojan horse zealot.  And she had the deviousness to keep quiet about what she was trying to do until she had accomplished her task.   She didn't go in and try to convert the folks at Komen to being anti-abortion.   That would not have worked.  Apparently no one caught on to what she was doing.  It all just blew up afterwards.

It needs to be clarified that these Komen grants were not going for abortions at all but were to pay for breast cancer screenings, which is one of the main services that Planned Parenthood provides.   But it's like some conservatives in congress, who refuse to let any money go to any group that also provides abortions, even if the grant money is sequestered and not used for abortions.

Karen Handel is not someone I want to represent me in Congress.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Town Hall meeting: crowd's perfect retort

California's Rep. Doug LaMalfa was holding a town hall meeting in his home district.  As he defended his support of Trump and the House's attempt to repeal Obamacare, the crowd's angry response grew loud and raucus.  Finally, LaMalfa scolded them for continuing to shout him down:   "Do you yell in church?" he asked.

Some in the crowd yelled back:  "Do you lie in church?"

Erdogan authoritarian power in Turkey

Reuters news was the source of background for this blog.   In a referendum called by Turkey's president Tayyip Erdogan (pronounced erd-o-wan) a few days ago, Erdogan has claimed victory by a narrow margin of 51.4%, although serious charges of irregularities and outright fraud have been brought both by local groups and by international election monitor groups.

Nevertheless, Erdogan seems to be moving ahead as though these will not be taken seriously.  And they probably won't.   Erdogan sought and, if the referendum is not overturned, he will have powers making him more of a dictator than a leader of a democratic republic.

Turkey has had a democratic parliamentary system, with a prime minister as the chief executive.  They also have a president with more limited powers.   The referendum abolishes the position of prime minister and concentrates all executive power in a president.  It essentially eliminates any checks on his power, since he gets to appoint judges, the cabinet, an undefined number of vice presidents, and can select and remove senior civil servants -- all without parliamentary approval.   It essentially means the government answers to him.

Further, the referendum extends the term which Erdogan could be president to 2029, which would be a total of 26 years from when he first gained power in 2003 as prime minister.  That lasted until 2014, when he became president.

Complaints about the referendum process begin with the fact that it was conducted during a state of emergency, which Erdogan had declared and which allowed him to impose restrictions that limited campaigning by opponents, restricted press coverage, and asked only one question on the ballot:   without even listing the changes, people were required to vote "yes" or "no."   No other options.

This was the context -- along with serious questions about the validity of the referendum, and the implications of turning their president into a "strong-man" ruler -- when President Donald Trump of the United States called Mr. Erdogan after the referendum to congratulate him on his "victory."

Yes, on the positive side, Turkey is a member of NATO, has the second largest military in the Middle East war zones, and has taken in millions of Syrian refugees.  But Erdogan survived an unsuccessful coup by a group of his military and citizens last year.    Following that, he jailed 47,000 people, suspended 120,000 people from government jobs such as school teachers, soldiers, police, judges, etc. whom he suspected had sympathies toward the attempt to overthrow him.

This referendum is seen as a further attempt to consolidate and ensure his power.  It's not surprising that appeals to Donald Trump, much in line with his stated admiration and his praise for Vladimir Putin as "a strong leader."

Last night, MSNBC showed a film clip of Donald Trump from 2015 talking about Turkey.   The lead-in to his comment is not included, so the context is not clear;  but Trump is saying:   "It's true I have a slight conflict of interest [when it comes to Turkey].   I have a beautiful, huge building -- actually it's two buildings;  I have two huge, beautiful buildings in Istanbul. . . .(wistfully) . . . Is-stan-bu-uul."

Yes, let's not forget our president's business interests do color his decisions about what's best for this country, whether it's international relations or our own tax reform.

Fortunately, our U.S. Constitution cannot so easily be changed as this, with a 50% plus one majority.   And ours does have that pesky "Emoluments Clause," that makes it illegal for an elected official to receive gifts or payments from foreign governments or individuals.   So what about those beautiful, huge buildings in Istanbul, Donald?  If you're getting money from them, you're violating the US Constitution, and you can't change it with a 51.4% referendum.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Runoff June 20: Ossoff vs Handel

Jon's final tally was 48.1%, so there will be a runoff on June 20th.

Karen Handel came in second without about 20%.   This is interesting, because she was not the self-proclaimed pro-Trump candidate among the top three Republican vote-getters.   And yet Trump tweeted out this morning, after congratulating Handel, "Glad to be of help."

So . . . on to the runoff.   Let's see if Republications can stop fighting among themselves to unite behind Handel, who has some baggage herself which we'll explore later.

For now, let's take a day to realize what a victory this was for Jon and his campaign:   48.1% in a district that hasn't been won by a Democrat since the 1970s.

Jon Ossoff scores big win in GA-06

There was nothing close about this election to fill an empty congressional seat vacated by President Trump's appointee to be in his cabinet.   Noting, that is, except whether Jon Ossoff would win it outright tonight, or whether there will be a runoff in June.   Meaning whether Jon got over 50% in a crowded field of 18 candidates.

Pretty amazing, given that the last time a Democrat held the office, Jimmy Carter was president.  So here comes a 30 year old Wunderkind who has never run for office before -- encouraged to run by none other than John Lewis.

As I'm writing this just before midnight, here's the tally:   Jon Ossoff (D) 50%, Karen Handel (R) 18%, followed by two other Republicans with 10% each.

But here's the thing.   Only 54% of the precincts have reported.  GA-06 is made up of parts of three counties.   Cobb is the more conservative, DeKalb more liberal, and Fulton more mixed but not as conservative as Cobb.

All the precincts in Cobb and in DeKalb have reported.  All the outstanding ones are in Fulton.  As of midnight, only 19 of 116 have given results, according to the Associated Press reporting.   Fulton County is traditionally slow in counting and reporting.

According to my reading, then, Jon's results should improve as the remaining votes come in -- and it's almost half.   The whole of Fulton County would be reliably liberal, but District 06 cuts across the northern suburbs.  So it's hard to predict -- except that if he keeps above 50% in Fulton, he should win it.   From the 19 precincts so far, he's getting 55%.

At the least, Jon Ossoff goes into a runoff with a decisive lead -- and the question will be whether the Republicans can unite behind Karen Handel.


Pew survey: Dems better represent views

Pew Research reported on Monday the results of a survey on how Americans view their government.   The generalization that can be taken from this is that they feel that Democrats better represent their views on a number of key issues than do Republicans .

On foreign policy, for example, Democrats are favored 49% to 36% -- a reversal from last year when Republicans were preferred 46% to 38%.

Despite Trump's tough talk and brutal actions on immigration and deportation, by 50% to 39% they prefer Democrats' handling of immigration.

On the environment, it's Democrats 59% to 28%.
Abortion and contraception, Democrats 53% to 33%.
Health care, Democrats 54% to 35%.
Government spending, again Democrats 48% to 40%.

Republicans do get the approval on:
Terrorism 48% to 36%.
Gun policy 46% to 41%.

As to individuals:
Paul Ryan -- job approval 29%
President Trump -- job approval 39%

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tax Day and Election Day (in GA-06)

This is an important day.
1.  Pay your taxes.

2  Go to the poll and vote for Jon Ossoff if you live in the 6th District and haven't already voted.   You can read my extensive case for him on ShrinkRap, Saturday, April 15th.


US at bottom in investing in its people

David Akadjian wrote about this for the Daily Kos blog site.  He is the author of The Little Book of Revolution:   The Distributive Strategy for Democracy.

On "Tax Day," it's interesting to look again at conservatives' claim that we are "over-taxed" in light of what we actually do with that tax money.   Akadjian says:

"The average developed country reinvests 34% of its gross domestic product (GDP) back into the country and its people.   As of 2014, America only invests 26%, which puts it ahead of Korea, Chile, Mexico, and exactly zero other developed countries."

 If we look at what we do with our taxes, most of the money goes to the military and to Medicare and Social Security.   If those are off limits for cuts -- and Republican budgets insist on big spending cuts to offset the tax cuts they're proposing, then the cuts have to come from the small slice of the pie that ordinarily goes to what we think of as investments in our people and our country.

This includes things like:   infrastructure improvements, job training, small business and agriculture subsidies, student loans, health care, medical research, the arts.   Then throw in cutting corporate taxes and income taxes for the top 1%.

We already were near the bottom.   Add all this in, and we'll be nudging Mexico out of last place.   This chart shows where the developed countries were in 2014 as to percent of taxes as a share of GDP, as compiled by the Tax Policy Center:
Taxes as a share of gross domestic product in 2014.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Donald J. Trump wants to be Cinderfella?

Remember a few weeks back, when British Prime Minister Theresa May visited President Trump at the White House?  This was in the early days when there was still hope that the new president would somehow be transformed by the magic of the office and "become presidential."

Who knew health care was so complicated?   Who knew that China and North Korea had a history that made it not just story-book easy for the Chinese to make the boy president behave.   No, I mean the other one;  the one in North Korea.

Back to PM May.   While here, she invited President Trump to visit her in London.  As things unfolded, there was hope that it would just be postponed, if not forgotten . . . especially after the British Parliament actually spent several hours debating whether to disinvite him.  (They had earlier defeated an attempt to ban him from entry into the U.K.)   In the end, they couldn't be that rude;  but there was hope that he would take the hint, since no date had been set.

Honestly, I thought the invitation was never meant to be a state visit, which would include an audience with the Queen.  But news reports today claim that the White House wants the full treatment, including a procession down the Mall in the Queen's horse-drawn, gilt carriage.  Of course, The Donald wants that -- all that gold (see photo above).

President Obama politely declined the gold carriage treatment when it was offered to him as a guest for a state visit.   The fact is that the exposure to terrorist attack on an American president makes the carriage a security nightmare.

I don't have independent confirmation of this, but the news report says that Trump wants his ride in the gold carriage . .  . anyway.

Maybe we can handle it this way:   "Mr. President, the Queen's royal carriage is an extraordinary relic of a time past.   Frankly, it just doesn't seem manly in the 21st century.  It looks more fitting for a young princess than for the world's most powerful alpha male leader . . . , Sir."

"What?   You've been practicing "the wave?   Well, Sir, perhaps you could wave from the fortified, security-linked, black limo, which we will transport by jet to London, just for your protection, Sir. . . .  No, Sir.  We're advising against having you address Parliament. . . .  No, Sir.   It's not a good idea.   They don't observe the same decorum as our Congress does.    They get into shouting matches, and they might ask awkward questions . . . and demand answers that . . er. . uh . . . make sense.    Sir, in our best judgment, it could prove embarrassing . . .  for who?   uh . . . for you, Sir."

"The Queen?   An audience?   Well, uh . . . we're still working on that, Sir."


Sunday, April 16, 2017

NEWS: North Korea's missile launch failed

A day after the massive military parade on Friday, North Korea attempted to launch a ballistic missile from a land base near it's northeast coast.   The U.S. Southern Command says evidence shows that it likely spun out of control almost immediately after launch, flying for about 40 miles.

This may de-escalate the tension between President Trump and Korea's Leader Kim Jong-un -- unless Kim does something provocative to save face.    This was breaking news Saturday night.   Stay tuned.

Nightmare scenario: Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump playing "I dare you" with nuclear weapons?

That heading is not much of an over-statement.   Kim and Trump both have nuclear weapons;   they both have final say over whether they're used.   They're both erratic, unpredictable, inexperienced rulers with enormous power that could be unleashed within minutes.  They both like to bluster and brag and taunt.

In Trump's case, he's woefully ignorant of the history, culture, internal politics, and military options and implications.   He thought he could easily make a deal:  get China to put pressure on North Korea in exchange for a slightly sweeter trade deal.  After meeting with China's President Xi, he shocked the world by saying that Xi explained to him the history of Chinese-North Korean relations;   and, "after about 10 minutes, I realized it's not so easy as I thought."    Shocked in the sense that:  (1) he didn't know that already (just as he didn't know health care policy was "so complicated");  and  that (2) if it so easy to learn in 10 minutes, why hadn't he allowed his own people to brief him before meeting with President Xi?

Yes, keeping North Koresa in check is difficult.  At the same time, because of their trade relations, China is in the best position to influence Kim's decisions.   Perhaps he will;  but, right now, the government controlled press in China is busy ridiculing Donald Trump as an ignorant buffoon.  Why would Xi want to appear to be going along with him?

Now that the Founder's birthday celebration is over and Kim did not set off another nuclear test, as he had hinted, tensions have eased a little.  At least thus far, Kim seemed content simply to parade some new-looking, perhaps more advanced, ICBMs.   The birthday celebration, in grand communist style, was an elaborate display of heavy weapons and tightly disciplined parading of hordes of soldiers in perfectly matched movements  (symbolizing mighty power and perfect control?).  The Founder being celebrated was Kim Jong-un's grandfather, who established North Korea in 1953 following the end of the Korean War.  It was a fine display.

Meanwhile, Trump was spending yet another weekend at Mar-a-Lago, golfing and relaxing in his lavish monument to excess and to Himself.  (Taxpayers paid $3 million for that little indulgence.)   Not exactly our image of a war-time commander-in-chief, is it?    Maybe it's for the best.   I'm a strong supporter of the idea of having the military under the ultimate control of civilians -- the Secretary of Defense and the President, along with his National Security Adviser. But Trump has appointed generals in both those positions;   and he, himself, is probably worse than no help.   Maybe he should just play golf.

No, actually, that is not a good long-term resolution.   We should have ultimate civilian authority over the military.  Congress should debate and approve policy for our role in both the Middle East and North Korea.   If Trump can't do the job, he should resign.

Short of that unlikely scenario, I'd settle for a wise, experienced, benevolent counselor who would whisper in Trump's ear;  someone who would be more committed to principles of democracy (freedom, equality, brotherhood, and social justice) than to political advantage.   Someone other than Stephen Bannon and Steve Miller and Jeff Sessions -- and someone with more government experience than Jared and Ivanka Kushner.  There is no such desired counselor currently in the White House.

Actually, with anyone else who is so unprepared, I would say the president should spend his time studying briefing books and having long tutorials with his learned advisers.    That's probably not going to work with Trump.  He cannot focus and does not learn that way.   The best we can hope is that he gets good advice and that he listens and acts accordingly -- until the FBI revelations about Russia -- and other assorted "crimes and misdemeanors" -- rise to the impeachable level.


PS:   The 2018 Winter Olympic Games open in less than a year in PyeongChang, South Korea -- not to be confused with Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.   PyeongChang, however, is only 60 miles from the border.   Worrisome?   Or perhaps an impetus to stabilize relations?