Friday, March 31, 2017

The swampish scandal at the National Security Council

The NSC scandal goes like this. A gives information to B who then relays it to C who gives it to X who tells D who might have known it from C but then X reports it to everyone, and the reason why A is involved at all is that A was going to be fired by M but A griped to Y and Z who then got D to tell M that A was to be retained so A got his job back and then fired his employee from the CIA. Got that? If not, read on.

The New York Times reports that 2 White House Officials Helped Give Nunes Intelligence Reports.

… Several current American officials identified the White House officials as Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues at the White House Counsel’s Office and was previously counsel to Mr. Nunes’s committee. Though neither has been accused of breaking any laws, they do appear to have sought to use intelligence to advance the political goals of the Trump administration.

Mr. Cohen-Watnick, 30, is a former Defense Intelligence Agency official who served on the Trump transition team and was originally brought to the White House by Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser.

He was nearly pushed out of his job this month by Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who replaced Mr. Flynn as national security adviser, …

Cohen-Watnick might have been caught up in an NSC house-cleaning by McMaster. Politico reports McMaster rolls back Flynn’s changes at NSC. Trump’s new national security adviser is eliminating positions created by his ousted predecessor. But “nearly”? What’s with that?

The Daily Beast reported that Trump Overrules McMaster on NSC Aide’s Ouster.

President Trump has reportedly overturned a personnel decision made by his national security adviser at the behest of Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster had informed Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence programs, that he’d be moving to another position on Friday, Politico reported. McMaster reportedly made the decision after receiving complaints from several career officials about the 30-year-old intelligence operative. But Cohen-Watnick went to Bannon and Kushner—with whom he’d apparently formed an alliance while working on the president’s transition team—and fought the move, two sources close to the matter told Politico. After they informed Trump of the situation Sunday, he overruled McMaster and told Cohen-Watnick he could stay put.

And that is why Cohen-Watnick “survived after the intervention of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist.”

So who is this guy? Forward.com invites you to Meet Ezra Cohen-Watnick, The Secret Source At The Center Of Trump Russia Probe “Young Mr. Cohen-Watnick”, out of college, started working at DIA under Michael Flynn who then brought him to the Trump transition team and then to the NSC.

Flynn’s successor Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster sought to remove Cohen-Watnick from the team, following input from the CIA director who pointed to problems intelligence officers had when dealing with Cohen-Watnick. Questions were raised about his ability to carry out the position of senior NSC director for intelligence programs, who oversees ties with intelligence agencies and vets information that should reach the president’s desk.

But qualifications and experience, as we keep learning, do not count for much in the Trumpiverse. So …

The [NY] Times said that Cohen-Watnick became swept up in the Russia probe this month, shortly after Trump wrote on Twitter about unsubstantiated claims of being wiretapped on the orders of former President Barack Obama.

Cohen-Watnick apparently was reviewing highly classified reports detailing the intercepted communications of foreign officials that consisted primarily of ambassadors and other foreign officials talking about how they were trying to curry favor with Trump’s family and inner circle in advance of his inauguration.

And that information was given to Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, who then relayed that to the president and gave the weird statements to the press and thereby sabotaged his own committee’s investigation.

Addenda

Expect more personnel changes at NSC. For background on NSC Director H. R. McMaster, check out this other Daily Beast report, Trump Taps General Who Doesn’t Back Down. New National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster is famous in military circles for calling out big egos. How long can he make it in a White House packed with them?. Want to place a bet?

The Washington Post reported a 3rd source for the information given to Nunes: Three White House officials tied to files shared with House intelligence chairman.

The third White House official involved was identified as Michael Ellis, a lawyer who previously worked with Nunes on the House Intelligence Committee but joined the Trump administration as an attorney who reports to Eisenberg. Ellis and Eisenberg report to the White House counsel, Donald McGahn.

The Post has more on how McMaster tried to replace Cohen-Watnick and was over-ruled by Trump.

Flynn frequently battled with the CIA, which mounted a failed effort to have Cohen removed from his job.

After Flynn was replaced by H.R. McMaster, some in the CIA made it known to him that the agency would prefer someone else in Cohen’s job. Early this month, McMaster interviewed the agency’s suggested candidate, senior CIA analyst Linda Weissgold, and informed Cohen that he was being moved to another position.

Cohen consulted Kushner and Bannon, Trump’s chief White House strategist. After Kushner and Bannon spoke with Trump over the March 11–12 weekend, Cohen was back in place.

Within days, a CIA detailee to the NSC working under Cohen was told without explanation to clear out his desk and return to the agency. The agent, a former and future covert operative whose name is being withheld by The Washington Post at the request of the CIA, was on a standard two-year rotation to the White House.

So the “swamp” now includes the NSC. As AZBlueMeanie put it (in a comprehensive review of all this, Nunes’ leakers revealed – he coordinated with the White House (Updated), “We now have a National Security Council (NSC) scandal as well.” AZBlueMeanie concludes:

Rep. Devin Nunes has compromised the integrity of the House Intelligence Committee by coordinating with the White House to undermine the investigation of his own committee. He needs to recuse himself or to be replaced by House Speaker Paul Ryan immediately.

Nunes should also be referred to the FBI for publicly exposing classified information that he received from leakers — the very same thing of which he complained with respect to the news media. He did so for a partisan political motivation.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Nobody can beat McSally ... until we find the right Nobody

Blake Morlock writes a column “What the Devil won’t tell you” for the Tucson Sentinel. His latest is an argument that the Dems’ best hope to beat McSally could be a complete nobody. However, goes the subtitle, Harnassing midterm anger isn’t in establishment Democrat DNA.

So. Let’s do some genetic engineering. Here are snippets.

[Republicans] whiffed on doing something — anything — to Obamacare because apparently drafting a ready-to-go bill was too much work for Republicans during the seven years they railed against the Affordable Care Act as a freedom-destroying, job-killing socialism. I guess they had other things to do.

It’s going to take more than a golden retriever in a pickup truck to get U.S. Rep. Martha McSally out of this one. We can all agree that Boomer is, in fact, “a good boy,” but Obamacare was supposed to be the easy victory.

Republicans run the risk of failing to get any real changes through Congress before the 2018 midterms as President Donald Trump seems to prefer pissing off the losers across the country who don’t see his genius.

They would be smarter to move the goal posts to the 45 than try to deliver “comprehensive tax reform.” The idea of border adjustment tax is likely political hokum at best and the trigger of a trade war at worst. They gotta win something so they might just pass a standard-issue tax cut and call it The New Deal.

If they don’t, then they’re looking at an 0-Fer and they can’t be (deep breath) that stupid. The 2018 midterm was going to be hard for McSally when it looked like the GOP could run the legislative table. Political failures only make her prospects worse.

McSally is in trouble but to do something about it, the Democrats – the national Democratic establishment – may have to break form and follow their base. By national Democrats, I mean the big Washington money and shiney-shoed consultants who decide what’s what out here where plants bite.

The obvious candidates don’t yet inspire much fear in the GOP. Former state Rep. Matt Heinz suffered a double-digit loss to McSally and former state Rep. Victoria Steele couldn’t raise any money or beat Heinz in the primary. State Rep. Randall Friese might be an interesting choice but he’s just in his second term.

Why does it have to be a state lawmaker? Because that’s a safe bet and national Democrats will only dance with a safe bet.

I guarantee you that D.C. establishment looks at Martha McSally and doesn’t see a woman who won her seat in 2014 by a few hundred votes. They don’t see her serving a district Hillary Clinton won by five points. They see a congresswoman who raised a stupefying $7 million in 2016.

Then they look at the Democratic landscape and see no obvious candidate who can raise enough money to match because all the obvious candidates can be “called a liberal.”

They may try to coax Green Valley pecan grower Nan Walden to run for office (again). She’ll probably play coy and then say no (again). They may even try to get Ann Kirkpatrick to move from Flagstaff to Tucson to take on McSally (a lot of Dems seem giddy about this possibility). In which case, McSally may just be able to land this thing on autopilot.

A nobody may be their best bet but “nobody” will be a tough candidate for the D.C. types to swallow.

If that does not kickstart your depression, then you are the emotional equivalent of a cinder block. So let’s get over the get-mad and do the get-even.

The first step out of the downer mode, Morlock continues, is to understand mid-term elections.

Midterm elections with an unpopular president turn on one message: Wrath.

Voters don’t want to hear about a 10-point plan for inter-modal transit that moves Southern Arizona forward again. They want to hear “I’m pissed too and I’ll stand up to Donald Trump in Congress.”

Democrats have long preferred the resume to the voice and that has cost them.

So we need a candidate who will broadcast the Greats of Wrath.

An improving economy would improve the 2018 climate for the GOP, if Trump could stop creating his own weather. Yet all he seems to know is how to be a one-man pressure front happiest in storm and squall.

Those are the elements McSally is left to and her tenure in Congress could fall victim to the exposure.

Democrats don’t need a Latina, business-owning combat veteran who “can’t be called a liberal” who will drive out the base on identity alone. What they need is The Voice promising to be The Wrath. See: Sanders, Bernie.

Who can beat McSally? It may be a nobody out there thinking “I’m sick of this … I’m gonna run without apology" because no Democrat will beat McSally.

Donald Trump might.

[Especially] … If [McSally] keeps supporting him 100 percent of the time …

The obvious candidate? Sure, maybe a guy like Randy Friese could make a go of it. But anyone who says a loudmouth outsider channeling voter anger can’t win federal office against an establishment type has been living in a glass jar the last two years.

And voters have a lot to be angry about. All the BS spouted by Trump and defended by McSally’s 100% votes just got proven to be empty promises by the failure of the GOPlins to pass their own health care bill. That hurts. Health care is a very personal thing. McSally was poised to vote for that atrocity. Will she vote to support a budget that cuts cancer research in favor of a not-so-beautiful wall that will screw things up with Arizona’s southern trading partner? And, BTW, said research is the hope that Uncle Joe will get some life-saving treatment. Not to mention the economic injustice of Trumpcare being a transfer of working class wealth to Trump’s billionaire BFFs. Voting for this stuff is a slap in the face of CD2 voters. Take that, McSally.

And, let’s not forget that there is a scandal dominating the nightly news that is not going away - the Trump connection to Russia. For example, check out AZBlueMeanie’s report today Follow the money: USA Today’s investigation into Donald Trump’s Russian mob money connections. Will McSally vote against our national security?

Probably. Check out this Letter to the Editor by Kathy Krucker in this morning’s Daily Star.

Re: the March 26 letter “Where is McSally on Trump’s Misbehavior”

Excellent point about Rep. Martha McSally ignoring our Commander-in-Chief’s shameless history of denigrating women! McSally is an Air Force Academy graduate and served our country with honor. Hopefully, her Academy oath would carry over into Congressional governance: not tolerating those who lie and cheat.

Why won’t McSally call out the President on his denial of facts reported by our intelligence agencies and reputable news outlets? McSally is silent on the tweets of a president who accepts as true what he learns from Brietbart, Fox News and conspiracy outlets. She is silent about the ethical violations of her own chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (Devin Nunes), who seems more interested in protecting the president than conducting a bipartisan investigation into Russia’s interference in our democracy and elections. She is silent about a president, White House, and a cabinet with significant financial and ethical conflicts of interest.

The questions raised in the letter may not in themselves be enough to win the midterm but it might not hurt to pile on.

Below is a copy of a comment in response to Morlock’s column by “bettsph.” I edited it to flip the gender. Assume that the “I” in this comment is me.

I know of a “nobody” that I think would be perfect for the job, frankly… She is an ex military person (such an obviously better choice for rural arizona than an anti-gun female or a gay guy: apologies for stereotypes here but the margins seem to indicate that at least SOME thought needs to head in that direction….) with good solid values that are accessible to both sides, and is unabashedly AGAINST TRUMP. She has run a political campaign before and lost, despite being a fantastic communicator. She has a little more recognition than nobody, but a) she could do the job and b) she could win the district if she had some money and professional campaign consultants who wouldn’t try to get her to sell herself down the river in order to win. She is authentic. I am not interested in outing her if she doesn’t choose to run, I’m just saying’, keep your eyes open for Nobody. She’s out there!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

US House joins US Senate in selling out your internet privacy

Here’s one from the FiveThirtyEight morning email (“Significant Digits”).

215–205
The GOP-led House of Representatives voted 215–205 to allow internet service providers to sell data about customers without their permission. This includes medical, personal and financial data. Privacy advocates are furious. [NPR]

Among those voting to sell out your privacy was your Representative Martha McSally (R-AZ, CD2). McSally, aka Colonel Compliant, thereby maintains a perfect score of 100% voting on what Trump supports (according to the 538’s [Tracking Congress In The Age Of Trump][58]. She voted “Yes” on Senate Joint Resolution 34. Here is the bill’s summary from congress.gov.

This joint resolution nullifies the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission entitled “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services.” The rule published on December 2, 2016: (1) applies the customer privacy requirements of the Communications Act of 1934 to broadband Internet access service and other telecommunications services, (2) requires telecommunications carriers to inform customers about rights to opt in or opt out of the use or the sharing of their confidential information, (3) adopts data security and breach notification requirements, (4) prohibits broadband service offerings that are contingent on surrendering privacy rights, and (5) requires disclosures and affirmative consent when a broadband provider offers customers financial incentives in exchange for the provider’s right to use a customer’s confidential information.

Really a bad reg, right? I guess our representatives thought that the ISPs have more say in the disposition of your personal information than you do. This is how the party of personal liberty has just screwed us once again.

You should be asking: who brought up this piece of crap. The answer is our own Senator Jeff Flake. Again from the congress.gov information:

Sponsor: Sen. Flake, Jeff [R-AZ] (Introduced 03/07/2017)
Committees: Senate - Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Latest Action: 03/27/2017 Rules Committee Resolution H. Res. 230 Reported to House. Rule provides for consideration of S.J. Res. 34 with 1 hour of general debate. Previous question shall be considered as ordered without intervening motions except motion to recommit with or without instructions. Measure will be considered read. Bill is closed to amendments. (All Actions)
Roll Call Votes: There has been 1 roll call vote

And, of course, both Flake and McCain, our ardent defenders of personal liberty, voted for it.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Jared Kushner might benefit from Trumponage but the nation certainly will not

Let’s start with a definition:
trump·on·age
ˈtrumpənəjˈ/
noun
the power to control appointments to office or the right to privileges.
“recruits are selected through political patronage, not on merit”
synonyms: power of appointment, favoritism, nepotism, preferential treatment, cronyism, pork-barreling “political patronage”

Robert Reich blogs about Trump’s Business of Government.

The White House has announced that Trump will name his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to run a new Office of American Innovation – described as a SWAT team of strategic consultants staffed by former business executives, designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington and help make government work more like a business.

He already installed his daughter in the west wing.

That’s Trumponage. It may be good for Trump but it is not good for the nation.

It’s good to have fresh thinking about how government might function more efficiently. But it’s important to remember that government is not a business. The purpose of government is not to show a profit. It is to achieve the common good.

Precisely because there are many different views about the common good, government leaders must be capable of listening and responding to many different opinions and perspectives.

They must also be public educators – telling the public the truth, explaining the consequences of different options, and conducting public deliberation about what is best for society.

Above all, presidents should enrich and strengthen democracy – building trust in democratic institutions, avoiding conflicts of interests, and promoting tolerance and social cohesion.

So far, Donald Trump has done the opposite. He doesn’t need more business advice. He needs more advice about how to lead a democracy.

This is a lesson that picks up no orange hair as it flies over Trump’s head. He shows no respect of our democratic institutions and is on record saying that most people do not deserve his respect.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) weighs in on Trump giving broad new powers to his inexperienced son-in-law.

Jared Kushner has long been a curious choice to serve as a senior adviser to the president, but his apparent promotion within the White House is even tougher to explain.

Donald Trump relied on his son-in-law as a confidant during last year’s campaign, so it stood to reason that Kushner would have a role in the White House, but he’s a 36-year-old lawyer with a background running his father’s real estate business. Kushner’s background in government and/or politics is effectively non-existent, and there have long been questions about whether his job is at odds with existing anti-nepotism laws.

But in a striking new piece, the Washington Post reports that Kushner’s power and portfolio are poised to expand.

President Trump plans to unveil a new White House office on Monday with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises – such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction – by harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions.

The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements.

Kushner told the Washington Post yesterday, in reference to the office he’ll apparently lead, “The government should be run like a great American company.” Anyone who actually believes this nearly always fails to understand why the two are very different, which in turn creates regrettable results.

… perhaps most important is the fact that Trump seems to be positioning his 36-year-old son-in-law as a sort of Shadow Vice President. Kushner was already playing the role of trusted White House consigliere, while also playing the role of diplomat and adviser on international affairs.

Here’s an example of why this is dangerous: Benen reports ‘a State Department official told The Atlantic that Trump insiders are ignoring the department because “they think Jared can do everything.”’

Now, Kushner, just two months into his career in public service, will add control over the White House Office of American Innovation to his expansive to-do list.

My suspicion is that Trump, increasingly paranoid and frustrated, is tightening his circle of trust, which in turn limits the number of loyalists who’ll have real authority in the administration.

And that paranoia would lead to Trumponage, a practice that admits no qualifications or experience.

… the truth is, no White House can expect to succeed if the president’s inexperienced son-in-law has a portfolio that includes domestic and foreign policy

Monday, March 27, 2017

Medication for your Monday Morning Moods

Here are your Monday Morning Meds … in the form of the weekly toons from AZBlueMeanie (aka illustrated news).

My addition to the haw-haws is this quote from White House spokesperson Hope Hicks about Jared Kushner being interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee. He met, you see, with a Russian banking overlord during the transition in December. The topic I leave to your imagination. Here’s the quote from the New York Times’ Senate Committee to Question Jared Kushner Over Meetings With Russians.

Members of presidential transition teams routinely meet with foreign officials, and there is nothing inherently improper about sitting down with the Russian ambassador. Part of Mr. Kushner’s role during the campaign and the transition was to serve as a chief conduit to foreign governments and officials, and Ms. Hicks said he met with dozens of officials from a wide range of countries.

How many of those countries were/are actively engaged in a disinformation campaign against the United States? Which of those countries intervened in the 2o16 election in order to help Donald Trump?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Why Trumpcare died, Rep. McSally's warped view of healthcare, and more

Those of us, those Americans, who walked, sat-in, called, wrote letters, and otherwise pressured our legislators can take some credit for the outcome, Republicans give up on controversial, unpopular health plan, reports Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog).

… The American Health Care Act, a.k.a. “Trumpcare,” has apparently died, but it’s unrealistic to think Republicans will simply give up on this issue and accept the Affordable Care Act as the law of the land. Health care proponents and their allies should remain vigilant, knowing that there are additional rounds to come.

But in the meantime, progressive activists and their allies can take a bow. They helped derail a dreadful and dangerous piece of legislation.

After Trump was elected, many assumed it was a foregone conclusion that the ACA would be destroyed by the new, dominant Republican majority. But as it turned out, the only thing GOP policymakers agreed on was that they hated “Obamacare” – and they had absolutely no idea what to put in its place.

There was some talk today about the White House demanding a vote anyway, getting members on the record about the bill Trump wanted, but there was ultimately no point to the exercise. Holding a vote on a GOP bill that would be killed by GOP votes would’ve needlessly put House Republicans in an awful position.

There’s no single explanation that captures why this fiasco ended this way, and a variety of factors contributed to this humiliating failure. Paul Ryan, for example, wrote a ridiculous piece of legislation behind closed doors, failed spectacularly to get any buy-in from stakeholders, couldn’t think of any substantive defenses, and had even more trouble leading his party’s factions.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, couldn’t be bothered to learn the basics of the debate, made no real effort to sell the plan’s purported merits to the public, and proved to be an abysmal deal-maker.

Republican divisions – there were never any core agreements within the party about why they were even pursuing a health care bill or the purpose of their legislation – are deeper than GOP leaders understood, and there’s been no meaningful effort to resolve them.

But let’s not overlook one of the more important factors: regular ol’ Americans stepped up in a big way, pressured lawmakers not to take their families’ health benefits away, and it made an enormous difference.

I’ll take these four factors in reverse order.

Republican divisions

One of the effects of the wrangling over Ryan’s Ripoff (aka Trumpcare) was to expose the deep rifts within the House Republicans. A new dynamic may be emerging in the House: A right and left flank within the GOP willing to buck leadership, the Washington Post reports. The net effect in the end was to position Reps, both conservative and moderate, against the bill. For example:

[Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio)] made a simple, binary choice about Obamacare: “The American Health Care Act was not a better solution.”

And it was not as bad as some wanted it to be.

[Trent Franks (R-AZ)] remained upset that conservative proposals were left out of the bill because they would have violated Senate budget rules, meaning that the proposal to replace the ACA was nowhere near to his liking.

The president and his negotiations

Riddle: What’s the difference between a closer and a loser?
Answer: the letter C.

Robert Costa, Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker write ‘The closer’? The inside story of how Trump tried — and failed — to make a deal on health care in the Washington Post.

Shortly after House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) unveiled the Republican health-care plan on March 6, President Trump sat in the Oval Office and queried his advisers: “Is this really a good bill?”

And over the next 18 days, until the bill collapsed in the House on Friday afternoon in a humiliating defeat — the sharpest rebuke yet of Trump’s young presidency and his negotiating skills — the question continued to nag at the president.

Even as he thrust himself and the trappings of his office into selling the health-care bill, Trump peppered his aides again and again with the same concern, usually after watching cable news reports chronicling the setbacks, according to two of his advisers: “Is this really a good bill?”

In the end, the answer was no — in part because the president himself seemed to doubt it.

But Trump’s effort was plagued from the beginning. The bill itself would have violated a number of Trump’s campaign promises, driving up premiums for millions of citizens and throwing millions more off health insurance — including many of the working-class voters who gravitated to his call to “make America great again.” Trump was unsure about the American Health Care Act, though he ultimately dug in for the win, as he put it.

But the closer lost.

Von Ryan’s Express

From Wiki: “Von Ryan’s Express is a World War II adventure film, released in 1965, about a group of Allied prisoners of war who conduct a daring escape by hijacking a freight train and fleeing through German-occupied Italy to Switzerland. It stars Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard, and is based on the novel by David Westheimer. It was directed by Mark Robson. The film changes several aspects of the novel, most notably the ending, which is considerably more upbeat in the book. It became one of Frank Sinatra’s most successful films.”

The film ends with Ryan (Sinatra) being gunned down by the Germans as he is running in an attempt to reach the departing train that is full of the soldiers Ryan helped liberate.

I mean this little story to elicit metaphors in each of your imaginations. You can imagine that the train is a stand-in for the House and neither Ryan ended up in control. (There was quarreling between the Brits and Americans in the movie.) Or you can imagine that the departing train represents a set of policies that Ryan never mastered. In either, Ryan was brought down by forces beyond his control. Play with it. Have fun. And then go get and watch the movie.

But the most important thing underlying the failure of Ryan’s AHCA was not the divisions in the House or Trump’s naiveté. It was the failure of the underlying philosophy writes New Yorker’s John Cassidy in The health-care debacle was a failure of conservatism that Ryan has for so long embraced.

In the coming days and weeks, there will be more … blame shifting, and, in truth, there is plenty of blame to go around. Ryan failed to unify the House Republican caucus. Trump’s staff allowed him to endorse a bill that made a mockery of his campaign pledge to provide health insurance for everybody. And Trump himself blundered into a political fiasco, apparently believing he could win over recalcitrant Republican members of Congress simply by popping over to Capitol Hill.

But this is just politics. The larger lesson here is that conservatism failed and social democracy won. After seven years of fulminating against the Affordable Care Act and promising to replace it with a more free-market-oriented alternative, the House Republicans—who are in the vanguard of the modern conservative movement—failed to come up with a workable and politically viable proposal. Obamacare survived, and that shouldn’t be so surprising. When it comes to health-care policy, there is no workable or politically viable conservative alternative.

Massive resistance derailed the Republican plan

We have not seen anything like it says Rachel Maddow. If you missed her program check it out at the link below.

Massive, nationwide protest changed course of GOP anti-ACA plan. Rachel Maddow looks at how massive, nationwide protest and resistance attached human stories to the consequences of repealing Obamacare and made the Republican legislative plan much more difficult. Duration: 12:50

Remember in November: A last word about Mean Martha

GV News reprinted this Cronkite News story this morning: Obamacare replacement fails; Arizona lawmakers say fight goes on. CD2 Rep. Martha McSally was on record saying she would vote for Ryan’s Ripoff. She has not changed. The ugliness of the so-called replacement has totally escaped her notice, perhaps because it is so over her head. Here is what she had to say.

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, who had voiced her support for the American Health Care Act after extracting concessions from Republican leaders on tax credits for the elderly and other issues, said that Obamacare “is still failing families in Arizona, and so the mission has not changed.”

“Whatever the legislative vehicle going forward, I will continue to strive towards better healthcare for my constituents,” McSally said in a statement released by her office.

This last Friday I posted The rich get richer and the poor get poorer under GOP’s unhealthy plan in which I quoted the impact stats should Ryan’s bill pass.

A memo from Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry dated March 22 says that if the American Health Care Act is enacted as drafted, it would end Medicaid for 380,000 Arizonans, including 57,000 people in Pima County.

Somehow, I guess, Mean Martha figures that ending health care for 57,000 of her constituents is “better healthcare.”

Remember in November.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Ryan's health care bill fails, Trump loses face, and the Freedom Caucus is just as nasty as ever

Here are two converging stories - one about the media’s role in Ryan’s rise (for sure) and fall (maybe). The other is about the failure of Ryan’s Ripoff and why the causes of it may not change much.

On Friday, Paul Krugman exposed The Scammers, the Scammed and America’s Fate in what Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) termed a “withering column.” Scriber thinks Krugman raises a issue bigger than even Ryan’s American Health Freedom from Care Act, namely false symmetry (what we’ve been calling false equivalence). Krugman winds up as follows.

So how did Mr. Ryan reach a position where his actions may reshape the lives of so many of his fellow citizens, in most cases very much for the worse? The answer lies in the impenetrable gullibility of his base. No, not his constituents: the news media, who made him what he is.

You see, until very recently both news coverage and political punditry were dominated by the convention of “balance.” This meant, in particular, that when it came to policy debates one was always supposed to present both sides as having equally well-founded arguments. And this in turn meant that it was necessary to point to serious, honest, knowledgeable proponents of conservative positions.

Enter Mr. Ryan, who isn’t actually a serious, honest policy expert, but plays one on TV. He rolls up his sleeves! He uses PowerPoint! He must be the real deal! So that became the media’s narrative. And media adulation, more than anything else, propelled him to his current position.

Now, however, the flimflam has hit a wall. Mr. Ryan used to be able to game the Congressional Budget Office, getting it to produce reports that looked to the unwary like proper scores of his plans, but weren’t. This time, however, he couldn’t pull it off: The C.B.O. told the devastating truth about his plan, and his evasions and lies were too obvious to ignore.

There’s an important lesson here, and it’s not just about health care or Mr. Ryan; it’s about the destructive effects of false symmetry in reporting at a time of vast asymmetry in reality.

This false symmetry — downplaying the awfulness of some candidates, vastly exaggerating the flaws of their opponents — isn’t the only reason America is in the mess it’s in. But it’s an important part of the story. And now we’re all about to pay the price.

Perhaps not so much. Ryan and Trump lost face, lots of it, with yesterday’s crash and burn of Ryan’s Ripoff. See for example In Major Defeat for Trump, Push to Repeal Health Law Fails. There’s blame to go around. To Ryan certainly, a good deal to Trump’s political naivety, and some portion to the recalcitrant “Freedom Caucus.” Here’s what the Times writer thinks should happen.

Defeat of the bill could be a catalyst if it forces Republicans and Democrats to work together to improve the Affordable Care Act, which members of both parties say needs repair. Democrats have been saying for weeks that they want to work with Republicans on such changes, but first, they said, Republicans must abandon their drive to repeal the law.

But it probably won’t. The free marketeers will go to the political grave insisting that Obama’s ACA must die. Here are some observations from Tim Alberta writing at politico.com: Inside the GOP’s Health Care Debacle. Eighteen days that shook the Republican Party—and humbled a president.

… Trump’s first attempt to corral the Republican-controlled Congress—and particularly the Freedom Caucus, a rambunctious, ideologically charged collection of GOP legislators who have long refused to fall in line behind the party’s leadership—failed miserably. That failure played a major role in the collapse of the American Health Care Act almost exactly 24 hours after their meeting at the White House, and now, as Trump warned, threatens to paralyze the president’s first-year policy agenda and send Republicans into a damaging cycle of intra-party recrimination.

Remember: these guys do not see compromise as a virtue.

Walking toward the tunnel that connects the House office buildings to the Capitol itself, I ran into Mark Walker, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a large caucus that was once home to the conservative movement in Congress before being eclipsed in recent years by the more ideologically pure Freedom Caucus. Walker had initially been against the bill, but came on board quickly after some changes, and in doing so validated the critiques of his group by those further to the right. A former minister, Walker is by nature relaxed and genteel, but his face was burning red and his voice trembled as we discussed the bill’s defeat.

“I’m very bothered. I’m disappointed,” he said, measuring his words. “This was a chance to repeal all the Obamacare taxes. It was a chance to take off the burdensome mandate we’ve stuck on our employers and individuals who have begged for help. It [has] additional pro-life provisions. It destroys the chance to do the biggest Medicaid revision that we’ve had in what, 51, 52 years? Yeah, I’m bothered by it.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum were Meadows, Jordan, Labrador and Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, arguably the four core members of the Freedom Caucus. Moments before I talked to Walker, I had intercepted the four of them walking toward the meeting room. They hadn’t heard the news; when I told them Ryan had pulled the bill, they exchanged glances and tried to suppress grins. Only Meadows looked upset; a southern gentleman and successful businessman, he wants to be liked by everyone, and the episode clearly took an emotional toll on him. He declined to provide a comment. So did Labrador and Amash. But Jordan, the godfather of the House conservatives—he arrived four years prior to the tea party wave of 2010—made clear that he wouldn’t go along with Trump’s decree that Republicans would abandon health care and move on to tax reform.

“We want to see Obamacare repealed,” Jordan told me. “That hasn’t changed.”

And that is why Democrats and Republicans cannot come to the same table on health care.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer under GOP's unhealthy plan

Here’s the graphical summary of the analysis from the NY Times showing How the Rich Gain and the Poor Lose Under the Republican Health Care Plan. Of course, the details shift depending on which plan you look at - AHCA 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, …

Arizonans will lose under Ryan’s Ripoff

The numbers are event worse for Arizonans. Stephanie Innes reports in the Daily Star that Health care overhaul bill would cost Arizonans more, report says.

On Wednesday the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a D.C.-based think tank, released a report that said Arizonans, particularly older residents, would pay more under the House bill.

The nonpartisan center says it pursues policies designed to reduce poverty and inequality and to restore fiscal responsibility. Its report says the House Republican Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal bill would increase total out-of-pocket health costs. Those costs — premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and coinsurance — would go up by an average of $3,600 for HealthCare.gov marketplace consumers across the country, the report says.

But in Arizona, costs would increase by more, an average of $4,927, it says.

It gets even worse when Medicaid is considered.

A memo from Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry dated March 22 says that if the American Health Care Act is enacted as drafted, it would end Medicaid for 380,000 Arizonans, including 57,000 people in Pima County.

In Arizona, Medicaid is called the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS). It is a government insurance program for low-income people.

Citing state analysis from March 15, Huckelberry’s memo says the pending legislation would cut $2.5 billion per year in federal funds received in the Arizona economy.

“Unfortunately, this appears to be a major step backward in providing reasonable healthcare and medical services,” he wrote.

The analysis says if the state wanted to continue paying for childless adults in Arizona to be covered by Medicaid, that would increase state costs by $478 million.

Mean Martha McSally will vote for Ryan’s Ripoff

So why, you should ask, is our CD2 congresswoman Martha McSally going to vote for this travesty when thousands of her own constituents will be negatively affected.

Here’s how to contact Mean Martha.

For Email: https://mcsally.house.gov/contact/email
DC office phone: 202–225–2542
DC office fax: 202–225–0378
Tucson office phone: 520–881–3588
Tucson office fax: 520–322–9490

7 ½ years: Ryan spins alternative fact about “repeal and replace”

An AP report featured in the Daily Star this morning says that the White House, in gamble, demands make-or-break health vote

Ryan’s reaction:

“For 7 ½ years we have been promising the American people that we will repeal and replace this broken law because it’s collapsing and it’s failing families, and tomorrow we’re proceeding,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said, then walked off without answering as reporters demanded to know whether the bill had the votes to pass.

I saw the video of that last night on the Rachel Maddow show in a jaw-dropping moment. As I recall, the GOP has spent 7 ½ years voting for repeal of Obamacare - no replacement, just repeal.

Will they now come up with a replacement that first does no harm in 7 ½ hours?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Update: 3 Rs, 3 Ts, and now 3 Ks

That would be Kochs’ Konsiderable Kash.

TalkingPointsMemo relays reports on the Koch brothers’ network promising lots of cash to defend those Reps defying Trump and voting against Ryan’s bill: Reports: Koch Groups Promise Money In Exchange For Vote Against GOP Bill.

Today the House chooses between 3 Rs vs. 3 Ts.

The 3 Rs being Ryan’s Repeal and Replace, and the 3 Ts being Trump’s Terrible Tantrums.

In the Wednesday Evening Briefing the NY Times observes “House Republicans face an excruciating choice tomorrow today.”

A yea vote on the bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act risks havoc for voters in their districts. Voting nay risks the vengeance of the president.

Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post speculates about Trump’s tantrums if the Ryan un-health care bill fails today: Donald Trump is going to be livid if his health-care bill fails in the House.

We’re keeping tabs on the expected votes here.

Among those House Republicans expected to vote for the Ryan bill is our own CD2 Martha McSally who has opted for the “havoc for voters in [her] district”. I would remind her that many of her constituents stand to be harmed by that bill. Not surprisingly, AZBlueMeanie says a lot more in Rep. Martha McSally will vote to take health care away from thousands of her constituents.

If the bill goes to the Senate, negotiations could last months.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

ACTION ALERT: Ryan's war on the safety net condemns the non-rich to poverty and sickness - and McSally is fine with that

Here’s the call to action in case you are strapped for time. The House vote is scheduled tomorrow (Thursday) after a blitz from President Bully and the Grim Speaker. McSally is on record as voting for ACA repeal and against Planned Parenthood. She is a woman waging war on women. Go figure. So give her a piece of your mind.

For Email: https://mcsally.house.gov/contact/email
DC office phone: 202–225–2542
DC office fax: 202–225–0378
Tucson office phone: 520–881–3588
Tucson office fax: 520–322–9490

The New York Times economist explains What’s at Stake in a Health Bill That Slashes the Safety Net

Voters, pay attention. The House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, will try to sell his plan by leveraging Americans’ atavistic fear of Big Government, offering people the freedom to choose whether to have health insurance. You may want to focus instead on what the United States stands to lose.

The list is long. Examples follow.

The American Health Care Act … is decidedly about cutting people off. David M. Cutler, an expert on the economics of health care at Harvard University, put it like this: “No other Congress or administration has ever put forward a plan with the intention of having fewer people covered.”

Under the House Republican plan, 24 million more Americans will lack health insurance by 2026, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Of those, 14 million will lose access to Medicaid and “choose” not to spend money — money they don’t have — on health insurance. Millions more near-poor people in their 50s and early 60s will likewise be left without a policy they can afford.

What will happen? Millions of Americans — poor ones, mainly — will use much less health care. They will make fewer outpatient visits, have fewer mammograms and cholesterol checks. Access to Medicaid in Oregon increased use of health care services by some 25 percent. Losing Medicaid is likely to reduce use by a similar amount.

I realize this sort of speculation can sound excessively dramatic for what is ultimately a change in health insurance. Yet it is worth remembering that among advanced nations, the United States is a laggard in life expectancy and has one of the highest infant mortality rates. Men and women in the United States die younger than those in other rich countries for all sorts of causes. American teenagers have more babies. American men go to jail more often.

Better health insurance will not solve all of this, of course. But it will help some of it. As noted in a recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Americans are more likely than those in other high-income countries “to find their health care inaccessible or unaffordable and to report lapses in the quality and safety of care outside of hospitals.”

So why would our representatives vote to make matters even worse? Here’s a clue. “They might pause to consider the consequences of a strategy that so openly redistributes money from the poor to the rich.”

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Will Trump say "You're Fired" to FBI director?

Yesterday directors James Comey (FBI) and Admiral Michael Rogers (NSA) were questioned by the House Intelligence Committee.

AZBlueMeanie has a lengthy summary of the hearing. The Blue Meanie headlines four Takeaways from the House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian interference in U.S. election

  1. There is no evidence to support Donald Trump’s false tweets … that President Obama “wire tapped” Trump Tower. Period. Full stop.

  2. There is no evidence to support White House pres secretary “Baghdad Sean” Spicer’s and Trump’s false claim … that British intelligence GCHQ “wire tapped” Trump and his campaign. Period. Full stop.

  3. The FBI and intelligence agencies are conducting an investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election. …

  4. The FBI is conducting an investigation into possible “coordination” between Russia and individuals associated with the Trump campaign. Until today, the FBI had refused to privately acknowledge the existence of an investigation, let alone what it is looking into. This is the “big news” of the day from the hearing.

In a way the hearing was ho-hum because the testimony was expected, having already been reported albeit speculatively in the press. But the certainty of the testimony was nevertheless stunning. What we witnessed was senior law enforcement and intelligence officials calling the president a liar in real time on national television. As ABC’s George Stephanopolous put it just now (7:03 AM, Mar. 21) a gray cloud is hanging over the White House. And that cloud will not go away any time soon.

Some of Comey’s testimony was seriously bad news for the White House. John Cassidy reports on some of the exchanges between Comey and committee members on both sides of the aisle in James Comey’s remarkable five hours on Capitol Hill.

At one point, Michael Turner, a Republican congressman, quizzed Comey on this very question: What does it take for the F.B.I. to open a counterintelligence investigation? He only succeeded in getting Comey to confirm that the agency doesn’t act lightly.

“What is the tipping point?” Turner asked. “Don’t you need some action or some information besides just attending a meeting, having been paid to attend a conference, that a picture was taken or that you travelled to a country, before you open an investigation for counterintelligence by the F.B.I.?” Comey said that a couple of things could come into play: “a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe that an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.”

Comey went on to highlight the reason for the FBI’s investigation.

… he spelled it out to Denny Heck, a Democrat from Washington State, who asked Comey to explain to the American people “why we should care about Russia’s use of U.S. persons, of Americans, helping Russia destabilize our democracy.” Comey, who earned his reputation for independence when he worked in George W. Bush’s Justice Department, began by saying that he “truly believed” that America is a “shining city on a hill,” in the words of Ronald Reagan.

He went on, “One of the things we radiate to the world is the importance of our wonderful, often messy, but free and fair democratic system, and the elections that undergird it. So when there is an effort by a foreign nation-state to mess with that, to destroy that, to corrupt that, it is very, very serious. It threatens what is America. And if any Americans are part of that effort it’s a very serious matter. And so you would expect the F.B.I. to want to want to understand, is that so? And, if so, who did what?”

It was for these reasons, Comey said, that he had decided it was important to share at least some information about the investigation with the committee and the American people. “And now we are going to close our mouths and do our work to see if we can answer those questions,” he continued. “Because the answers matter.”

Will Trump retaliate with “You’re Fired?”

My focus here is on the president’s options. (1) He could just go on being Donald the Blusterous Bullshitter. (2) He could continue in his campaign to discredit the media and intelligence agencies. (3) He could fire Comey.

Yes, he could fire Comey, according to this piece in Lawnewz.com Next Words Director Comey May Hear From President Trump? ‘You’re Fired!’.

Monday’s hearing may have been the ultimate full-circle. Or perhaps the ultimate penance. James Comey, intentionally or not, almost certainly helped Trump secure his win in November. And now, his statements suggest Trump to be a liar at best and a traitor at worse. While Trump may have amused himself with tweeting in real-time today, as if the Congressional Hearing was some kind of reality show finale, I’d bet a search of his Google history would show, “can the president fire the FBI director?”

… Comey’s calling Trump out for lying about President Obama, while simultaneously confirming that the FBI is amidst an investigation over collusion with Russia is a one-two punch … Trump, a compulsively reactive person when publicly embarrassed, is likely doing far more than licking his wounds right now. But could Trump really fire James Comey?

He sure can. Under federal law, the F.B.I. director is appointed to one 10-year term – a term length purposely created such that it overlaps presidential administrations. Presidents may fire the FBI director (and Congress can impeach one) – and according to a 2014 report by the Congressional Research Service, “there are no statutory conditions on the President’s authority to remove the FBI Director.” While some FBI directors have resigned prior to the end of their terms, only one – William S. Sessions (appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987) – was ever fired. Sessions was fired by President Bill Clinton in the wake of allegations of ethics violations, such as misuse of public funds for his private benefit.

But if Trump does retaliate against Comey, it might create a firestorm similar to that ignited by the Saturday Night Massacre of Watergate and Nixon. It’s hard to see how Congress could ignore that one.

Trump's commissariat

Snoops

The network of political appointees reports to Rick Dearborn, left, the White House deputy chief of staff for policy, according to administration officials. At center is Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The Washington Post reports that the White House installs political aides at Cabinet agencies to be Trump’s eyes and ears. Just like Stalin? I didn’t know that our president was such a student of Soviet-style control.

At the Pentagon, they’re privately calling the former Marine officer and fighter pilot who’s supposed to keep his eye on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “the commissar,” according to a high-ranking defense official with knowledge of the situation. It’s a reference to Soviet-era Communist Party officials who were assigned to military units to ensure their commanders remained loyal.

Most members of President Trump’s Cabinet do not yet have leadership teams in place or even nominees for top deputies. But they do have an influential coterie of senior aides installed by the White House who are charged — above all — with monitoring the secretaries’ loyalty, according to eight officials in and outside the administration.

This shadow government of political appointees with the title of senior White House adviser is embedded at every Cabinet agency, with offices in or just outside the secretary’s suite. The White House has installed at least 16 of the advisers at departments including Energy and Health and Human Services and at some smaller agencies such as NASA, according to records first obtained by ProPublica through a Freedom of Information Act request.

These aides report not to the secretary, but to the Office of Cabinet Affairs, which is overseen by Rick Dearborn, a White House deputy chief of staff, according to administration officials. A top Dearborn aide, John Mashburn, leads a weekly conference call with the advisers, who are in constant contact with the White House.

The aides act as a go-between on policy matters for the agencies and the White House. Behind the scenes, though, they’re on another mission: to monitor Cabinet leaders and their top staffs to make sure they carry out the president’s agenda and don’t stray too far from the White House’s talking points, said several officials with knowledge of the arrangement.

The cabinet members and other heads of agencies might not all be happy with this surveillance, this political meddling in their domains.

The political appointee charged with keeping watch over Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and his aides has offered unsolicited advice so often that after just four weeks on the job, Pruitt has shut him out of many staff meetings, according to two senior administration officials.

Now will the rest of the cabinet have the courage to respond to Trump’s commissars like that?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Americans should want to know: "Why is my doctor a Republican?"

Back in 1997 the Drs. Scriber moved to another city having accepted faculty appointments at another university. I selected a physician who was in my insurer’s network. I was most happy with my care: my plan, my doctor, his staff. After a couple of years, however, he announced that he was going back to school. He said medicine was increasingly becoming a business and he needed to retrain as an MBA! A couple of years after that, I observed that he had opened a new private practice. I inquired: could I sign up and have him be my doctor again? No, was the answer. He was not accepting medical insurance. In short, if you had the money, you could buy his services.

My doctor’s business decision was a sad commentary on the state of health care in America. It was also a harbinger of what is increasingly coming our way. Below I cover a report on that trend and then cover another op-ed making the case for a better way.

Mayo Clinic prefers patients with private insurance

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported a few days ago that Mayo to give preference to privately insured patients over Medicaid patients. This morning the Daily Star reprinted part of the report, subtitled Pushback on Medicaid, Medicare part of a trend. Here are selected snippets.

Mayo Clinic’s chief executive made a startling announcement in a recent speech to employees: The Rochester-based health system will give preference to patients with private insurance over those with lower-paying Medicaid or Medicare coverage, if they seek care at the same time and have comparable conditions.

The number of patients affected would probably be small, but the selective strategy reveals the financial pressures that Mayo is facing in part due to federal health reforms. For while the Affordable Care Act has reduced the number of uninsured patients, it has increased the share covered by Medicaid, which pays around 50 to 85 cents on the dollar of the actual cost of medical care.

Mayo will always take patients, regardless of payer source, when it has medical expertise that they can’t find elsewhere, said Dr. John Noseworthy, Mayo’s CEO. But when two patients are referred with equivalent conditions, he said the health system should “prioritize” those with private insurance.

More than 300,000 Minnesotans have gained coverage in the last three years from Medicaid and the related MinnesotaCare program for low-income households, a result of federal health reforms under the ACA and shifts in the U.S. economy. That means hospitals now get paid for patients who might previously have received charity care — but at Medicaid’s mandated rates.

In his speech, Noseworthy said a recent 3.7 percent surge in Medicaid patients was a “tipping point” for Mayo.

“If we don’t grow the commercially insured patients, we won’t have income at the end of the year to pay our staff, pay the pensions, and so on,” he said, “so we’re looking for a really mild or modest change of a couple percentage points to shift that balance.”

Mayo reported a sharp increase in the amount of unreimbursed costs related to Medicaid patients, from $321 million in 2012 to $548 million in 2016. The figures include its campuses in Arizona and Florida. Mayo nonetheless remained profitable in 2016, with income of $475 million.

Mayo CEO meets with Trump

The accompanying photo shows “Mayo Clinic CEO John Noseworthy, right, left a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump, his transition team and Johns Hopkins Medicine CEO Dr. Paul Rothman, left, in December in Florida.” That would be the now president who is siding with the Republican effort to kick 24 million people off of health insurance.

So what should we do?

The case for universal health care

The GOP is fond of spreading fake news about how awful is the health care in other developed countries. However, the truth is far different. What is true of American health care, then, now, and in the GOP’s version of the future is that we are all subject to The Fake Freedom of American Health Care. Here are snippets from the New York Times op-ed by a now American citizen who, originally from Finland, is quite familiar with health care Scandinavian countries. The simple fact is that our spending more does not get us better outcomes than those in other countries. Here are essential snippets.

Eight years ago I moved to the United States from Finland, which like all the Nordic nations is a wealthy capitalist economy, despite the stereotypes you may have heard. And like all those countries, Finland has invested in a universal, taxpayer-funded and publicly managed health care system. Finns constantly debate the shortcomings of their system and are working to improve it, but in Finland I never worried about where my medical care came from or whether I could afford it. I paid my income taxes — which, again despite the stereotypes, were about the same as what I pay in federal, state and local income taxes in New York City — and if I needed to see a doctor, I had several options.

For minor medical matters, I could visit a private physician who was provided as a perk by my employer. Or I could call the public clinic closest to my home. If I saw the private doctor, my employer picked up the tab, with the help of public subsidies. If I went to the public clinic, it might cost me a small co-payment, usually around $20. Had I been pregnant, most care would have been free.

If I had wanted to, I also could have easily paid to see a private doctor on my own, again with the help of public subsidies. All of this works without anyone ever having to sign up for or buy health insurance unless he wants additional coverage. I never had to worry whether I was covered. All Finns are covered for all essential medical care automatically, regardless of employment or income.

Republicans are fond of criticizing this sort of European-style health care. President Trump has called Canada’s national health care system “catastrophic.” On CNN recently, Senator Ted Cruz gave multiple examples of how patients in countries with universal, government-managed health care get less care than Americans.

In Europe, he said, elderly people facing life-threatening diseases are often placed in palliative care and essentially told it’s their time to go. According to the Republican orthodoxy, government always takes away not only people’s freedom to choose their doctor, but also their doctor’s ability to choose the correct care for patients. People are at the mercy of bureaucrats. Waiting times are long. Quality of care is dismal.

But are Republicans right about this? Practically every wealthy capitalist democracy in the world has decided that some form of government-managed universal health care is the most sensible and effective option. According to the latest report of the O.E.C.D. — an organization of mostly wealthy nations — the United States as a whole does not actually outshine other countries in the quality of care.

I’m skipping the outcomes cited that show that American health care is not #1, among them survival rates following some diseases, for example, breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers. You should read the op-ed for the rest of the evidence.

What passes for an American health care system today certainly has not made me feel freer. Having to arrange so many aspects of care myself, while also having to navigate the ever-changing maze of plans, prices and the scarcity of appointments available with good doctors in my network, has thrown me, along with huge numbers of Americans, into a state of constant stress. And I haven’t even been seriously sick or injured yet.

As a United States citizen now, I wish Americans could experience the freedom of knowing that the health care system will always be there for us regardless of our employment status. I wish we were free to assume that our doctors get paid a salary to look after our best interests, not to profit by generating billable tests and procedures. I want the freedom to know that the system will automatically take me and my family in, without my having to battle for care in my moment of weakness and need. That is real freedom.

So is the freedom of knowing that none of it will bankrupt us. That is the freedom I had back in Finland.

Here is my appeal to Republicans: If you really want to free Americans and unburden American employers, why not try, or at least seriously consider, some form of government-managed health care, like almost every other capitalist democracy? There are many ways of giving people choice and excellent care under government management. Universal publicly managed health coverage would even free America’s corporations and businesses to streamline their operations, releasing them from bureaucratic obligations that to me, coming from Finland, I have to say look weirdly socialist. …

In wealthy capitalist democracies all around the world the government itself also has an essential kind of freedom. It’s a freedom that enables the government to do work on behalf of the citizens who elect it, including negotiating the prices of health care with providers and pharmaceutical companies — a policy that has led to lower drug prices in those countries.

But here is the thing. As long as Republicans believe that health care is a commodity, subject to the so-called “free market”, then all they have to offer America is the fake freedom of health care for profit.

The trouble with a free-market approach is that health care is an immensely complicated and expensive industry, in which the individual rarely has much actual market power. It is not like buying a consumer product, where choosing not to buy will not endanger one’s life. It’s also not like buying some other service tailored to individual demands, because for the most part we can’t predict our future health care needs.

So I return to my headline question. Given that we can manage health care better - as the Nordic countries do - why would any doctor be a Republican?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Trump's budget will make America rough and tough again. Strongly.

Given the accompanying graphic (from Washington Post), you might side with those who regard it as policy-wise so very wrong-headed, so anti-humanitarian that it is appropriately called “evil.”

But keep an open mind as you read Alexandra Petri’s Washington Post/ComPost column Trump’s budget makes perfect sense and will fix America, and I will tell you why - and boy does she ever!
Some people are complaining that the budget proffered by the Trump administration, despite its wonderful macho-sounding name, is too vague and makes all sorts of cuts to needed programs in favor of increasing military spending by leaps and bounds. These people are wimps. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has called it a “hard power budget” which is, I think, the name of an exercise program where you eat only what you can catch, pump up your guns and then punch the impoverished in the face. This, conveniently, is also what the budget does. 
This budget will make America a lean, mean fighting machine with bulging, rippling muscles and not an ounce of fat. America has been weak and soft for too long. BUT HOW WILL I SURVIVE ON THIS BUDGET? you may be wondering. I AM A HUMAN CHILD, NOT A COSTLY FIGHTER JET. You may not survive, but that is because you are SOFT and WEAK, something this budget is designed to eliminate.
And so it will if it passes. The four horsemen of the Trumpocalypse have something for you.

The brightest shiniest object is an excuse to go to war

The Daily Beast explores the consequences of the continuing assault on the truth in The Liar-In-Chief & The Dangers of Post-Truth Politics. Here are excerpts.

It’s hard to live with a leader you don’t trust. It makes you anxious. Makes you fearful. It’s not really a partisan issue. This president lies as constantly and as brazenly as a used car salesman trying to close at the end of the month.

Every president is supposed to be a paragon of integrity—the world hangs on his every word. The world needs to be able to trust him to understand which way the world’s greatest power will move. But Trump sows chaos by being the opposite of honest—by design.

It’s part of a much larger game that Trumpworld is playing. Trumpworld—by which I mean the major players in the administration: Bannon, Conway, Spicer, Miller, Preibus, etc.—they seem to be constantly telling lies, challenging accepted reality, gaslighting, giving us alternative facts, and spreading fake news.

Make no mistake: Their goal is to delegitimize media. If there’s no trust in media then there’s no objective broker of facts and then you’ve successfully destabilized the truth. You’ve created a climate where there are no agreed upon facts and no objective truth.

This week on CNN Kayleigh McEnany said, “If he said it happened, it did.” That’s an absurd suspension of disbelief. But that’s exactly the posture Trumpworld wants—believe Comrade Trump and do not question him no matter what media says.

… Limbaugh, Levin, and the Fox prime time crew are out there doggedly disinforming people. And at a time when it seems like so many Americans believe so many fake stories and alternative facts, it’s easy to see how dangerous this game is for the country. It’s tearing us apart.

For Sean Hannity to attack objective media (or perhaps I should say for Hannity to figuratively point a laser-sight gun at them) this is not unlike a product knocking its competitor—Coke saying we taste better than Pepsi. Except Hannity is usually undermining the sense of integrity that journalism requires and thus undermining part of what’s needed to maintain a strong democracy.

So maybe it’s not really like Coke saying we taste better. It’s more akin to Delta saying if you fly American you might die. That might make you loyal to Delta in the short term [until AA responds in kind] but in the long run it would kill the airline industry.

This is the game Trump is now playing on the highest political stage. He hasn’t yet accomplished anything legislatively and his Gallup approval rating is hovering around 39 percent, far lower than any president at this point since polling began. What happens when this leader we can’t trust goes lower and lower in the polls? He’s going to need increasingly bigger lies to distract us from the self-inflicted mess he’s in.

And what is the biggest lie of all? What is the brightest shiniest object Trump can toss to the media and the rest of us?

Trump may be ignorant of history, but men like Bannon are not. They know that nothing unites a nation around a President like a war. So what happens when the President we can’t trust says something horrible has happened in another country. We may have a limited way of independently verifying what he’s saying. We won’t know if he’s telling the truth when he says we need to go to war now. What then?

We’re still paying for our mistakes in Iraq. What happens when we lose more American lives over a lie?

h/t Paul McCreary

How might Trump's presidency end?

David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, engages a panel on the question of how Trump’s presidency will end. The video linked here is about 7 minutes of interesting speculation by Salman Rushdie, Tony Kushner, and Claudia Rankine.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Trump's budget cuts: Anti-science, anti-America, anti-human

Here is a sample of headlines from the March 17th Daily Kos Recommended
* Another Trumpian monster: Tom Price blows off a cancer patient’s concern about losing Medicaid
* Trump budget director: Feeding elderly and children has to end, it’s not ‘showing any results’
* Trump’s budget director: Coal miners’ kids need bombs, not Sesame Street
* Ignorant, unskilled, sick, hungry, cruel and violent—what Trump’s budget would do for America
* Trump’s reward to ’coal country’—kill jobs, training, communities, and education—you’re welcome
* Trump budget slashes heat assistance for struggling families, saying it’s a ‘lower-impact program’
* Gutting the Meals on Wheels program would devastate millions, including 500,000 vets who rely on it
* Trump, Ryan budgets will kill more Americans per year than all Muslim extremist attacks combined

So much for humanism in the Trump administration. But as bad as all those headlines are, my Trumpism4Today is the wholesale slaughter of our agencies that do science and engineering.

The Trump administration thinks research on climate change is a waste of taxpayers’ money. The NY Times reports that Scientists Bristle at Trump Budget’s Cuts to Research and lists the other cuts to basic and applied research and development in medicine and other areas. It is impossible for any reasonable person to view these cuts as reflecting anything but a profound ignorance of the importance of research - or a malicious antipathy toward anything factual.

Wired.com, today, is even more blunt in its assessment: Trump’s budget would break American science, today and tomorrow.

YOU CAN GO ahead and assume President Trump’s proposed federal budget will never be the actual federal budget. Members of Congress from every political persuasion will find a lot to hate about it, and they’re the ones who have to approve it—assuming they can sort out the arcane, procrustean rules for getting any budget passed in Washington.

It’s still worth looking at the budget, though—not as a blueprint for governing but as a map of a government, a philosophy of a state. From that angle it’s a singularly terrifying document, fundamentally nihilistic, that assumes a violent present instead of attempting to build a future of peace, security, and absence of want. By eviscerating federal funding of science, this budget pays for a world where the only infrastructure is megacities connected by Fury Roads.

Here is a short list of some things on the block from the Times.

Climate science

The White House is also proposing to eliminate climate science programs throughout the federal government, including at the Environmental Protection Agency.

“As to climate change, I think the president was fairly straightforward: We’re not spending money on that anymore,” Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said at a White House briefing on Thursday. “We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that.”

Cancer research

The American Society of Clinical Oncology, the leading professional society for cancer specialists, issued a statement warning that the proposed budget “will devastate our nation’s already fragile federal research infrastructure.”

“Now is not the time to slow progress in finding new treatments and cures for patients with cancer,” the group said.

Global health

… The proposed budget would eliminate the Fogarty International Center, an N.I.H. program focused on global health. The center, founded in the 1960s, has worked on H.I.V./AIDS, Ebola, diabetes, dengue, maternal mortality and numerous other health problems, and trains American and foreign doctors and researchers in developing countries.

“The Fogarty Center advances United States national interests in a multitude of ways, and it would be terribly unfortunate for the institution to cease to exist,” said J. Stephen Morrison, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a member of the Fogarty Center’s advisory board.

“It has a high reputation outside our borders,” Dr. Morrison said of the center, which has had annual appropriations of about $70 million. “It’s a very tiny institution,” he added, in terms of the overall budget.

Energy technologies

The budget also calls for eliminating some programs that help bridge the divide between basic research and commercialization. Among the most prominent of these is the Advanced Research Projects Agency — Energy, known as ARPA-E, the Energy Department office that funds research in innovative energy technologies with a goal of getting products to market. Its annual appropriation of about $300 million would be eliminated.

James J. Greenberger, the executive director of NAATBatt International, a trade group for the advanced battery industry, said ARPA-E had been of enormous benefit to the industry.

“We’re absolutely stunned by it,” Mr. Greenberger said of the agency’s potential elimination, which he announced to industry leaders gathered at his group’s annual conference in Arizona. “I don’t know what’s going through the administration’s head. It’s almost surreal.”

The head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) said this:

“Do they not think that there are advances to be made, improvements to be made, in the human condition?” said Rush D. Holt, a physicist and the chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “The record of scientific research is so good, for so many years — who would want to sell it short? What are they thinking?”

As best as I can determine, they [the crafters of the budget] are following their leader’s know-nothing approach to everything. (Back to the wired.com article …)

By radically reducing the amount of scientific research US scientists can do, the president’s budget willfully ignores 400 years of thinking about innovation and knowledge—and seven decades of the US’ advantage in the world. “It’s like we’ve forgotten we went through a scientific revolution,” says Robbert Dijkgraaf, director of the Institute for Advanced Study. “Facts can be shown with experiments. There’s a systematic way you can learn about the world.”

And that does not square with what Donald the Destroyer has in store for America. For example, again from the Times: ‘Before he became president, Donald J. Trump called climate change a hoax, questioned the safety of vaccines and mocked renewable energy as a plaything of “tree-huggers.”’ In the world dominated by Trumpiness, facts are “so called”, the reports of them are “dishonest”, and we are left to answer the call to enter a realm in which reality is what Donald Trump says it is. You see, facts are a perceived threat to Donald Trump because they show the volumes of falsehoods he speaks. Therefore, in Trump’s scheme eliminating the experiments stops the flow of those inconvenient facts.

If we want to make America truly great again, we would invest more on scientific research, not less.

Wired.com will have the last word for now.

… In 1945 Vannevar Bush wrote a report for President Franklin Roosevelt called Science: The Endless Frontier. In it, Bush laid out the logic and structure for the modern National Science Foundation, and justified the need for federal funding of science. Bush understood that it was science that won World War II—not just atomic bombs but radar and penicillin and synthetic textiles. And he understood that new science meant new technology, which meant new jobs and a bigger economy. “Without scientific progress no amount of achievement in other directions can insure our health, prosperity, and security as a nation in the modern world,” Bush wrote.

[But] Instead of propelling the country toward that gleaming tomorrow, this budget invests in the grimmest possible present. Pollution? Double down; corporations gonna corporation. Climate change? If it was real, the market would be taking care of it. Same for cancer. But guns? Yeah, we only spend as much on that as the next seven countries on the list combined; we better goose that a little because, oh yeah I forgot to mention, we’re cutting diplomacy by 29 percent, too.

Federal spending on research and development has never beat its Cold War peak. In 1976 Federal R&D was just over 1 percent of GDP; today it’s under 0.8 percent, and most of that is defense spending. Cuts of the kind the president is proposing go past the bone and into marrow. Broad research cuts will narrow the pipeline of trained scientists who depend on grants to fund their graduate work. They’ll terminate multi-year studies, reduce the output of university labs with fewer incoming students. You don’t come back from that for a generation. And the worst part is, that’s the only future anyone can predict with confidence. The country won’t be ready for anything—except war.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Plenty of blame to go around

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

Let me first say that I have much respect for Richard Gilman of “Bringing Up Arizona” and the work he has done on behalf of public education. I also very much appreciate his gracious support of my work and wish him well as he moves on to a new chapter of his life.

I did find much though, in his last blog post, to disagree with. It shouldn’t have surprised me, as the last time he and I had lunch, it was pretty clear he was frustrated. I tried to allay his concerns, but obviously, failed. It’s not that I don’t agree with his position that “the status quo in K–12 education is not acceptable. Of course I do. We have the lowest paid teachers in the nation, our per-pupil funding ranks 48th, and our education performance ranking isn’t much better. I do not agree though, that ”the onus belongs as much or more on public school administrators." School administrators are after all, busy managing their schools and school districts. They are busy focusing on their students and the teachers educating them. That’s where their focus should be.

The good news is, they aren’t in this fight alone. Organizations like the Arizona School Boards Association, Arizona Education Association, Arizona School Administrators, Arizona School Business Officials Association, and Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association, offer training and professional development to their membership, engage their members in advocacy, do outreach to the public, lobby legislators and collaborate with each other to improve Arizona’s educational outcomes. They are aided by organizations like Support Our Schools Az, the Arizona PTA, Voices for Education, Expect More Arizona, the Children’s Action Alliance Arizona, and the Helios Education Foundation, who tirelessly engage both their members and supporters on behalf of public education and encourage others to do the same. All these parents, community members, business leaders and voters are groups of people both our legislators and the general public are unfortunately often more apt to “hear” than our school administrators.

None of these organizations operate in a vacuum. They know there is strength in numbers and that together, they can come up with the best solutions. One example of this collaboration is AZ Schools Now, a coalition of parent, educator, business, and community leaders fighting to reverse the destructive politics of the last 30 years and see Arizona schools adequately funded. It isn’t just these education advocacy groups or school administrators though, who recognize our schools need more funding. Even Governor Ducey’s Classrooms First Council, charged with revising the school finance formula, determined after a year of study that simply revising the formula won’t help if there isn’t more money to push through that formula.

Neither “the Legislature nor the public is going to write a check without getting a promise of improved results" he writes. Really Richard? Come on now, you’ve been around long enough to know that promises are easy to make, politicians do it every day. What is hard, is delivering on those promises. I learned a long time ago that if something was easy to fix, someone probably would have already fixed it. As for that blank check, isn’t that exactly what the Legislature is trying to do by pushing for a full expansion of vouchers? They don’t know how many students will leave districts via vouchers, but they do know each one will cost about $1,000 more than if that student were to stay. Sounds like a blank check to me and not only is it one without any promise of improved results, but by law, without any requirement to deliver and report those results.

I also agree with Richard’s recommendation “they need to speak with a unified voice.” If all the public education advocacy groups would agree on the top 1–3 legislative priorities for each year, it would make their voices much more powerful and harder for legislators to ignore. That is though, a big ask. Even in the Air Force, where teamwork was paramount and everyone was focused on the same mission, leaders had the natural tendency to protect their areas of influence. It was common to reflect that “it would be amazing what we could get done if no one cared who got the credit.” Yes, public education advocates all have the same basic mission, but they are not one cohesive organization and they all have different stakeholders. Nonetheless, I believe they can do it. They are dedicated professionals who all, in the end, just want to see every student have every opportunity to succeed. Agreeing on a few key priorities such as teacher recruitment and retention, funding for full-day kindergarten and renewing and expanding Proposition 301 for example, and absolutely standing together in demanding solutions would likely make a real difference.

That brings me to who is really responsible for the challenges faced by Arizona’s district schools. As long as Arizonans continue to vote for candidates committed to privatizing our district schools, we will continue to see funding and support get siphoned away. To really affect change, we must elect more pro-public (district) education candidates and voters must hold all elected officials (including governing board members) responsible for moving the needle for our students. Otherwise, we will continue to spin our wheels, the advocacy efforts will continue to be frustrating and yes, the results will get ever more sad.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely” and “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.” Ultimately you see, it is up to each of us to ensure the students of Arizona have what they need to succeed. Ultimately, it is up to each of us to make the world a better place to be. Dramatist Edward Albee said it well, “Remember one thing about democracy. We can have anything we want and at the same time, we always end up with exactly what we deserve.”