Saturday, September 30, 2017

Empathy: Some leaders have it and some don 't

Mayor
Empathy: "Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz of San Juan, left,
visited a home for elderly people in the city last week."

San Juan Mayor Rebukes White House Over Response in Puerto Rico.

Elaine Duke, the acting head of Homeland Security, said on Thursday that she was “very satisfied” with the government’s response so far and the progress that has been made.

“I know it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane,” she said.

After CNN played Ms. Duke’s comments for the mayor, Ms. Cruz called them “an irresponsible statement.”

Well, maybe from where she’s standing it’s a good news story. When you’re drinking from a creek, it’s not a good news story. When you don’t have food for a baby, it’s not a good news story. When you have to pull people down from their buildings, because — I’m sorry, but that really upsets me and frustrates me.

I would ask her to come down here and visit the towns and then make a statement like that, which frankly, it is an irresponsible statement. And it contrasts with the statements of support that I have been getting since yesterday when I got that call from the White House.

This is, dammit, this is not a good news story. This is a ‘people are dying’ story. This is a ‘life or death’ story. This is ‘there’s a truckload of stuff that cannot be taken to people’ story. This is a story of a devastation that continues to worsen.

Puerto Ricans suffer while Trump plays golf

One thing in life is perfectly predictable. When threatened by facts, criticism, or other points of view, Trump lashes out. He has to. He has to protect his self image. Because everything is about Trump. Even the Puerto Rico disaster.

For the most part, I’m going to let the various broadcast interviews tell the story.

The mayor of Puerto Rico’s largest city, San Juan, pulls no punches when she describes what is needed but has been slow in coming. And she is sharply critical of those in Washington who are touting “good news.” San Juan Mayor EXPLODES at Homeland Security Sec. over Puerto Rico ‘Good News Story’ Relief.

At times she has been almost in tears from frustration with the slow response and inefficiencies in getting aid to people in the smaller towns. San Juan Mayor Cruz: ‘This Is A Big S.O.S. For Anybody Out There’ | Rachel Maddow | MSNBC.

Joy Reid, subbing for Lawrence O’Donnell on The Last Word, contrasts Trump’s view from his golf course with that of the San Juan mayor. President Donald Trump Touts Puerto Rico Response As Mayor Begs For Help | The Last Word | MSNBC

Anderson Cooper interviews the army general who was in command of the Katrina response and who knows what has to be done and fires at the administration for not doing it. Retired General Gets Fired Up Over Puerto Rico Response, Curses Live on CNN: ‘That’s Bullsh*t!’

Of course, the story would not be complete without pushback from the administration. At Fox News, KellyAnn Conway pushes back at criticism of Puerto Rico response, and President Trump slams San Juan mayor, other Puerto Rico leaders: ‘They want everything to be done for them’. Following are snippets from that NY Daily News report.

As Puerto Rico continues to suffer, President Donald Trump criticized the mayor of San Juan and other leaders of the island ravaged by Hurricane Maria

Following a heart-felt plea for aid from officials in Puerto Rico, Trump slammed the “poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan and others in Puerto Rico” from his golf course in New Jersey.

WTF? “From his golf course”?

“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” He wrote.

At least 16 people have died in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the Category 4 storm, and residents are still desperately searching for food, water and other supplies 10 days after Maria came ashore.

Lin-Manuel Miranda (star of Hamilton) responded to the President with string of fiery tweets all his own.

“You’re going straight to hell @realDonaldTrump,” he wrote. “No long lines for you. Someone will say, ‘Right this way sir.’ They’ll clear a path.”

The “Hamilton” creator, who has been open with his family’s struggles in Puerto Rico since the storm, defended the the island’s leadership and slammed Trump for golfing instead sorting out additional aid.

“Did you tweet this one from the first hole, 18th hole, or the club?” Miranda tweeted. “Anyway, it’s alie. You’re a congenital liar.”

Trump’s response is easy to understand if you know about his narcissism. If it’s always about him, then he has little use for other people and their plights. Last October, before America f#8ked up and elected him, I posted this report: Donald Trump: “you can’t respect people because most people aren’t worthy of respect”.

And then you can understand what trickles down and infects the entire administration: no respect for the people it is sworn to serve.

HHS Secretary resigns: The price of Price

The NY Times reported on Friday that Health Secretary Tom Price Resigns After Drawing Ire for Chartered Flights

Tom Price, the health and human services secretary, resigned under pressure on Friday after racking up at least $400,000 in travel bills for chartered flights and undermining President Trump’s promise to drain the swamp of a corrupt and entitled capital.

Mr. Price’s job was on the line ever since the first of a string of reports by Politico on Sept. 19 about his extensive use of charter aircraft. Mr. Trump has fumed privately and publicly about Mr. Price’s actions, fearing that they undercut his promise to rid Washington of the sort of abuses that have soured the public on its political class. The president made clear on Friday that he also saw it as undermining his promise to save the government money, citing efforts to renegotiate contracts.

In a bid to assuage Mr. Trump, the secretary offered on Thursday to reimburse the government $51,887 of the $400,000 spent, which he said represented the cost of his own seat on the trips. But it was clear that was not enough to save his job.

That offer, in itself, is evidence that Price was still scamming the tax payers. He didn’t cost us just the cost of his seat, he cost us all the things that make an airplane fly worth thousands of dollars per hour.

Moreover, the latest word covered by Rachel Maddow last night is that he chartered US military aircraft for overseas junkets estimated to cost around $500,000. All told, Price’s air expenses cost the tax payer about a million dollars. So Price has offered compensation worth about 5 cents on the dollar.

That’s not enough. Price owes America a million bucks. Will Jeff Sessions go after it?

Steve Benen comments on what led to the resignation The Price is Wrong: Scandal-plagued HHS secretary resigns. Politico.com first reported on Price’s jet travels and has covered the unfolding parts of the story, for example, about Price’s private-jet travels included visits with colleagues, lunch with son.
The HHS secretary sometimes combined official travel and meetings with friends and family.

Huffington Post also reports Tom Price Resigns As Health And Human Services Secretary.
He cost taxpayers over $1 million by using private planes for official travel.

Politico first reported that Price had frequently chartered private jets to travel around the country, breaking a long-standing precedent from his predecessors who often flew commercial. The outlet identified dozens of private flights, costing more than $400,000, since May. Just days later, Politico also reported that Price had flown to Africa, Europe and Asia this spring on military aircraft at a cost of more than $500,000.

Price’s wife, Betty, traveled with him on the military plane while other people in his delegation flew commercial, according to the latest report. A HHS spokeswoman said Price had reimbursed the agency for his wife’s travel.

… [Price[ said he would write a check for nearly $52,000, noting taxpayers “won’t pay a dime for my seat on those planes.” However, those claims came under fire after they seemed to imply that Price wouldn’t reimburse taxpayers for the total costs of the flights, which included charges for fuel, taxes and additional fees.

Price’s tenure in the Trump administration began much as it ended: mired in controversy.

The former congressman’s personal financial activity came under scrutiny during his January confirmation process, amid reports that he had regularly traded health industry stocks while sitting on the House Ways and Means Committee, in potential violation of a 2012 law banning insider trading in Congress. Price was specifically accused of lying to senators in sworn testimony about buying discounted stock in an Australian biotech company in 2016, after receiving a tip from a colleague who sat on the company’s board. Price then backed legislation that could have sped up the approval process for the company’s medical device technology.

Price’s departure comes as several other members of the Trump administration are under fire for their proclivity for using private jets. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have all used such aircraft at taxpayer’s expense.

Trump promised to “drain the swamp.” Actually, he hired the swamp.

Rachel Maddow summarized the scandal in her show Thursday night. Here’s the video clip.

Friday, September 29, 2017

What Puerto Rico disaster and ACA sabotage have in common: Trump's noxious narcissism

Paul Krugman connects those dots in Trump’s Deadly Narcissism.

According to a new Quinnipiac poll, a majority of Americans believe that Donald Trump is unfit to be president. That’s pretty remarkable. But you have to wonder how much higher the number would be if people really knew what’s going on.

For the trouble with Trump isn’t just what he’s doing, but what he isn’t. In his mind, it’s all about him — and while he’s stroking his fragile ego, basic functions of government are being neglected or worse.

Let’s talk about two stories that might seem separate: the deadly neglect of Puerto Rico, and the ongoing sabotage of American health care. What these stories have in common is that millions of Americans are going to suffer, and hundreds if not thousands die, because Trump and his officials are too self-centered to do their jobs.

Start with the disaster in Puerto Rico and the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands.

When Hurricane Maria struck, more than a week ago, it knocked out power to the whole of Puerto Rico, and it will be months before the electricity comes back. Lack of power can be deadly in itself, but what’s even worse is that, thanks largely to the blackout, much of the population still lacks access to drinkable water. How many will die because hospitals can’t function, or because of diseases spread by unsafe water? Nobody knows.

But the situation is terrible, and time is not on Puerto Rico’s side: The longer this goes on, the worse the humanitarian crisis will get. Surely, then, you’d expect bringing in and distributing aid to be the U.S. government’s top priority. After all, we’re talking about the lives of three and a half million of our fellow citizens — more than the population of Iowa or metro San Diego.

So have we seen the kind of full-court, all-out relief effort such a catastrophe demands? No.

And then there’s health care.

Obamacare repeal has failed again, for the simple reason that Graham-Cassidy, like all the other G.O.P. proposals, was a piece of meanspirited junk. But while the Affordable Care Act survives, the Trump administration is openly trying to sabotage the law’s functioning.

This sabotage is taking place on multiple levels. The administration has refused to confirm whether it will pay crucial subsidies to insurers that cover low-income customers. It has refused to clarify whether the requirement that healthy people buy insurance will be enforced. It has canceled or suspended outreach designed to get more people to sign up.

Joan McCarter (at Daily Kos) documents the sabotage in her report that Trumpcare is dead for now, but Trump’s Obamacare sabotage is going full steam

Trump doesn’t really need Obamacare repeal, not when he has so much power to destroy it from the inside. He’s doing that with a vengeance ahead of this year’s open enrollment, set to begin November 1 and run through mid-December, already a shortened enrollment period. The administration has informed Mississippi that it will not be participating in enrollment preparation events in the region. Every year before enrollments began, Obama administration officials would go to the states and meet with groups that sign people up. That’s a thing of the past reports Vox’s Dylan Scott.

Up until Monday, Roy Mitchell, executive director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, thought these events were going forward in the coming weeks as planned. He had even asked HHS just last week for biographies of the officials they’d be sending.

But then two days ago, he received a short message from an agency official, which Mitchell shared with Vox: HHS wouldn’t be doing any Obamacare marketplace events in the South this year. No further explanation was provided.

“HHS bailing out was the last straw for us,” Mitchell told me by phone Wednesday. “It’s clearly sabotage.” […]

HHS’s abrupt withdrawal from the events is part of a bigger story. The Trump administration has already cut this year’s open enrollment period in half. It slashed spending on advertising by 90 percent. Funding for the navigators program, which went to groups that helped people sign up for insurance, was reduced by 40 percent and then allowed to lapse entirely.

That’s just what’s happening around enrollments. Trump’s ongoing threats to end cost-sharing reduction payments, federal government reimbursements to insurance companies for subsidizing costs to lower-income customers as required by the law, is creating havoc for the insurers. The uncertainty is causing insurers to leave the markets altogether, and to jack up premiums to compensate for what they assume will be the end of those CSR payments.

What that means is a 45 percent increase in premiums in Florida, for example. More than 1 million of the 1.43 million Floridians with an ACA plan in 2017 received those CSR subsidies from insurers. That’s a major financial commitment on the part of insurers, again required by law, to make healthcare affordable.

With Trump continuing to insist that repeal is going to happen, and working hard to sabotage the law at every possible turn in the meantime, expect those kinds of premium hikes around the country. Most Obamacare enrollees won’t feel the brunt of those increases—somewhere around 80 percent of them have incomes that qualify them for premium subsidies from the federal government. So it will be all of us—the taxpayers—who pay those costs in the long run.

And all the blame for that is going to be on Trump.

Krugman winds up.

Why are the Trumpists doing this? Is it a cynical calculation — make the A.C.A. fail, then claim that it was already doomed? I doubt it. For one thing, we’re not talking about people known for deep strategic calculations. For another, the A.C.A. won’t actually collapse; it will just become a program more focused on sicker, poorer Americans — and the political opposition to repeal won’t go away. Finally, when the bad news comes in, everyone will know whom to blame.

No, A.C.A. sabotage is best seen not as a strategy, but as a tantrum. We can’t repeal Obamacare? Well, then, we’ll screw it up. It’s not about achieving any clear goal, but about salving the president’s damaged self-esteem.

The impression one gets is of a massively self-centered individual who can’t bring himself to focus on other people’s needs, even when that’s the core of his job.

In short, Trump truly is unfit for this or any high office. And the damage caused by his unfitness will just keep growing.

10 days of Jones Act waiver not enough for Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico devastated
Devastation in Puerto Rico

“Last week, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico with winds of 155 miles an hour, leaving the United States commonwealth on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. The storm left 80 percent of crop value destroyed, 60 percent of the island without water and almost the entire island without power, as seen in the nighttime satellite images” in the New York Times story, The Devastation in Puerto Rico, as Seen From Above.

The photos shows that “Though Hurricane Maria had dropped from a Category 5 to a Category 4 storm by the time it reached Puerto Rico, it was more than powerful enough to rip apart roads and strip trees as it cut a path across the island.”

That island, populated by US citizens, needs the equivalent of the post-WW II Marshall plan.

Jones Act update: 10 days not enough

Daniella Diaz updated her report at CNN: Trump authorizes waiver to loosen shipping regulations for Puerto Rico.

Washington (CNN)The White House has authorized a waiver to loosen shipping rules regarding Puerto Rico that island officials say would be a significant help for recovery efforts from Hurricane Maria.

“At @ricardorossello request, @POTUS has authorized the Jones Act be waived for Puerto Rico. It will go into effect immediately,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted Thursday morning.

However, the waiver is in effect for just 10 days.

Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said the waiver will be in effect for 10 days and will cover all products being shipped to Puerto Rico, according to a release from the department.

The waiver will guarantee the needed equipment to repair infrastructure damaged by the storm and restore emergency services, Duke said in a news release.

After the 10-day period, the waiver can be extended if needed, DHS spokesman David Lapan told CNN. He said the waiver was approved after it was determined that doing so was in the interest of national defense.

What the Jones Act is really about

Earlier Trump mentioned the shipping industry being opposed to lifting that outdated, onerous law.

A report at money.cnn.com explains: Puerto Rico crisis: What the Jones Act controversy is all about.

The Jones Act is an obscure, century-old law that requires all goods ferried between U.S. ports to be carried on ships built, owned and operated by Americans.

Now critics say it’s making it difficult to get critical supplies into Puerto Rico.

[Arizona Senator John] McCain and Democratic Representative Nydia M. Velázquez, as well as the governor of Puerto Rico and mayor of San Juan, have urged Trump to suspend the Jones Act to get supplies to Puerto Rico faster.

President Trump has not waived the rule, though he said Wednesday that he is “thinking about” it. He noted the shipping industry opposes a waiver.

“We have a lot of shippers and a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted,” he told reporters.

As noted above, Trump finally did suspend the Jones Act but only for 10 days.

Critics say the Jones Act costs American jobs by encouraging residents in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Hawaii to buy foreign-made goods that are shipped on foreign flagged vessels, rather than goods made in America.

That’s what happens when it comes to gasoline and other fuels, said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for Oil Price Information Service.

“Puerto Rico typically gets most of its gas from foreign sources – Canada and Europe,” he said. “Jones Act ships are so expensive that it doesn’t make sense to buy gasoline from U.S. refineries.” So, Kloza said, a waiver of the Jones act won’t bring much more fuel to the island since Puerto Rico gets what it needs from other countries.

To be sure, suspension of the Jones Act would have limited impact on fuel in Puerto Rico. The huge problem, reported by Rachel Maddow last night, is that hundreds of containers of food and water and other necessities are sitting dockside as the bureaucracy struggles with the administrative problems of moving those supplies to the people.

So owhen you think about the Jones Act, you should be thinking of how to help Puerto Ricans in the long term. Here’s why.

… plenty of other things are much more expensive in Puerto Rico because of the Jones Act. Cars, for example, cost about 40% more in Puerto Rico than on U.S. mainland, partly because of the law. It also affects other necessities.

A 2010 study by the University of Puerto Rico found that the Jones Act cost the island $537 million per year. The territory has been in a recession for 11 years and is suffering from a crippling debt crisis.

Still, the American Maritime Partnership, a coalition representing the domestic shipping industry, argues that the act supports national defense needs and ensures a vibrant maritime industry.

So in the end it comes down to profits (for the shipping industry) taken at the expense of people (the economic hardship imposed by the Jones Act).

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Puerto Rican apocalypse reveals an American analogy: Profits are to people as Trump is to McCain

The Trump administration’s response to the suffering of 3.4 million US citizens in Puerto Rico after the ravaging of that island by Hurricane Maria is anemic and appalling. The benchmark is how quickly and massively the administration responded to similar damage inflicted by other recent hurricanes on the southern US mainland. And while the administration ignored the Puerto Rican catastrophe, Trump went to war against the NFL. Why the difference? Why the indifference? Read on.

Dana Milbank at the Washington Post details evidence favoring The sad suspicion about Trump’s shameful treatment of Puerto Rico.

Suppose that the entire San Diego metropolitan area had lost electrical power, and it wouldn’t be restored for months.

Or, suppose that most of the ports, roads and cellular towers in the Seattle metropolitan area had been destroyed, and a major dam had failed.

Or, that most of the homes in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota were either damaged or destroyed in one day.

Or, that the combined populations of New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont had seen much of their forests and agricultural land wiped out.

Or, that the residents of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming — combined — had lost access to food and clean water, leaving them vulnerable to cholera. And imagine that overflowing hospitals, without power, had no capacity to deal with an outbreak.

Now, imagine that in response to any of these scenarios, the president of the United States variously ignored the plight of the affected Americans (in all of the above cases about 3.4 million people, give or take), blamed them for their own troubles and provided inadequate help. This is precisely what is happening right now to the 3.4 million U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico, an island territory more populous than about 20 states. Hurricane Maria essentially wiped out these Americans’ ports, roads, electricity, communications, water supply and crops and many homes. Yet, a week after the storm, the response from the American mainland has been paltry.

There is no rush, as there was after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, to approve the emergency funds that Puerto Rico will surely need. There has been no massive movement of military personnel and equipment to Puerto Rico: no aircraft carrier (one was sent to the Florida Keys in response to Hurricane Irma), no hospital ship (finally on Tuesday afternoon the Navy said it was sending one). The Post’s Joel Achenbach, Dan Lamothe and Alex Horton called the three Navy amphibious ships dispatched to Puerto Rico “a modest fleet given the scale of the crisis.”

President Trump, so visible when Harvey and Irma hit, all but ignored the devastation that Maria brought to Puerto Rico, devoting more attention to respect for the flag at NFL games. When he did turn his focus to Puerto Rico on Monday, it was to say that the island “was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt” and that its “old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars . . . owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with.”

And the Trump administration said it would not assist Puerto Rico by waiving the Jones Act, which restricts the use of foreign cargo ships, after waiving the act in response to Harvey and Irma.

… Phillip Carter, a military specialist with the Center for a New American Security, wrote a piece for Slate likening Trump’s “anemic” response in Puerto Rico to President George W. Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina. Carter told me Puerto Rico conservatively needs a response of 50,000 U.S. troops. Even Haiti — a foreign country — got the help of more than 20,000 troops after its 2010 earthquake.

“The response to Harvey and Irma and previous disasters has been much more substantial,” Carter said. Trump, he said, “is more interested in the NFL than Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.”

No question the logistics are harder in Puerto Rico. But the 3.4 million U.S. citizens there have long endured second-class status: no voting members of Congress, no presidential vote, unequal benefits and high poverty. Now, the Trump administration’s failure to help Americans in Puerto Rico with the same urgency it gave those in Texas and Florida furthers a sad suspicion that the disparate treatment has less to do with logistics than language and skin color.

Waiving the Jones Act

There is one person whose voice might help change some of this shameful foot-dragging. Senator John McCain renewed his push for waiving the Jones Act, but, as of this writing yesterday, the US won’t waive shipping restrictions for Puerto Rico relief. Here is that story from The Hill.

The Trump administration on Tuesday denied a request from several members of Congress to waive shipping restrictions to help get gasoline and other supplies to Puerto Rico as the island recovers from Hurricane Maria.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it would not be temporarily waiving the Jones Act, which limits shipping between coasts to U.S.-flagged vessels, according to Reuters. DHS waived the act following hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which hit the mainland U.S.

Following outcry over the move, however, Trump said Wednesday that the White House is considering issuing a waiver for Puerto Rico.

The DHS has in the past waived the rule to allow cheaper and more readily-available foreign vessels to supply goods to devastated areas. But DHS officials maintain that waiving the act for Puerto Rico would not help the U.S. island territory due to damaged ports preventing ships from docking.

“The limitation is going to be port capacity to offload and transit, not vessel availability,” a spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection told Reuters.

In a letter to the department on Tuesday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) urged DHS to rethink the decision, citing the agency’s willingness to waive the Jones Act for relief efforts in the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“The Department of Homeland Security has been given the ability to waive the Jones Act to accommodate national security concerns, and has done so twice in the last month,” McCain wrote. “These emergency waivers have been valuable to speed up recovery efforts in the impacted regions. However, I am very concerned by the Department’s decision not to waive the Jones Act for current relief efforts in Puerto Rico, which is facing a worsening humanitarian crisis following Hurricane Maria."

McCain called the department’s decision “unacceptable” and warned that Puerto Rico faces a humanitarian crisis as the island’s 3.4 million people struggle to survive without power or clean water.

Officials estimate the island could be without power for up to six months.

“It is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies and infrastructure due to Jones Act requirements as they work to recover from this disaster,” McCain wrote.

"Now, more than ever, it is time to realize the devastating effect of this policy and implement a full repeal of this archaic and burdensome Act,” he wrote.

UPDATE: Trump authorizes waiver to loosen shipping regulations for Puerto Rico reports Daniella Diaz at CNN.

The White House has authorized a waiver to loosen shipping rules regarding Puerto Rico that island officials say would be a significant help for recovery efforts from Hurricane Maria.

“At @ricardorossello request, @POTUS has authorized the Jones Act be waived for Puerto Rico. It will go into effect immediately,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted Thursday morning.

Her tweet comes after Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said he asked the White House to loosen the regulations Wednesday night.

He joined the growing list of officials who argued that lifting the the Jones Act – a federal law designed to protect the financial interests of US shipbuilders by limiting shipping by foreign vessels – would help expedite supplies to the ravaged island. The act has had the unintended consequence of making it twice as expensive to ship things from the US mainland to Puerto Rico as it is to ship from any other foreign port in the world, according to Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain’s office.

The act was quickly lifted to help Texas and Florida in the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The Department of Homeland Security said it was able to lift the restrictions quickly because the Department of Defense requested a waiver for those states and the department hadn’t yet done so for Puerto Rico.

Trump told reporters on Wednesday that “we’re thinking” about lifting the law, but added that a “lot of shippers” didn’t want it lifted.

Of course they didn’t. And, in the absence of public shaming, neither did our (gag) president. Given the choice between saving lives of brown-skinned, Spanish speaking foreigners and profits for the shippers, big bidnesss will win every time. Oops. Did I need reminding that those foreigners are actually US citizens?

My guess is that at least 3.4 million of Trump’s supporters are just OK with the laggardly, niggardly response by Trump and his administration to the devastation of Puerto Rico. That is the answer to my question: Why the indifference? And that says very bad things about America, much deeper things, than the dude with orange hair.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Assigning blame: To the Jones Act, not to Puerto Ricans

Here’s a timely notice from the FiveThirtyEight Significant Digits email.

13 percent
Puerto Rico is in crisis, and the Jones Act, a law that costs an estimated billions of dollars annually to Puerto Rico, is not helping. The Jones Act requires foreign vessels bringing goods to the island to either pay high taxes and tariffs to unload there, or to take a detour to the mainland before an American ship takes the goods to Puerto Rico. This ensures Puerto Rican cost of living is 13 percent higher than other urban areas in the U.S. [The New York Times]

Nelson Denis writes about The Law Strangling Puerto Rico in the referenced NY Times op-ed. It’s a good lesson in history with a message about legislative inertia.

After World War I, America was worried about German U-boats, which had sunk nearly 5,000 ships during the war. Congress enacted the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, a.k.a. the Jones Act, to ensure that the country maintained a shipbuilding industry and seafaring labor force. Section 27 of this law decreed that only American ships could carry goods and passengers from one United States port to another. In addition, every ship must be built, crewed and owned by American citizens.

Almost a century later, there are no U-boats lurking off the coast of Puerto Rico. The Jones Act has outlived its original intent, yet it is strangling the island’s economy.

Under the law, any foreign registry vessel that enters Puerto Rico must pay punitive tariffs, fees and taxes, which are passed on to the Puerto Rican consumer.

The foreign vessel has one other option: It can reroute to Jacksonville, Fla., where all the goods will be transferred to an American vessel, then shipped to Puerto Rico where — again — all the rerouting costs are passed through to the consumer.

Thanks to the law, the price of goods from the United States mainland is at least double that in neighboring islands, including the United States Virgin Islands, which are not covered by the Jones Act. Moreover, the cost of living in Puerto Rico is 13 percent higher than in 325 urban areas elsewhere in the United States, even though per capita income in Puerto Rico is about $18,000, close to half that of Mississippi, the poorest of all 50 states.

A 2012 report by two University of Puerto Rico economists found that the Jones Act caused a $17 billion loss to the island’s economy from 1990 through 2010. Other studies have estimated the Jones Act’s damage to Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Alaska to be $2.8 billion to $9.8 billion per year. According to all these reports, if the Jones Act did not exist, then neither would the public debt of Puerto Rico.

Recovering from the disaster will be difficult no matter what, but the Jones Act will make it that much harder.

Food costs twice as much in Puerto Rico as in Florida. Jones Act relief will save many Puerto Ricans — especially children and seniors — from potential starvation. Jones Act relief will also enable islanders to find medicine, especially Canadian pharmaceuticals, at lifesaving rates. And it will give islanders access to international oil markets — crucial for running its electric grid — devoid of a 30 percent Jones Act markup.

This is not just about recovering from Hurricane Maria. It is also about Puerto Rico’s long-term future. If the Jones Act were suspended, consumer prices would drop by 15 percent to 20 percent and energy costs would plummet. A post-Jones Puerto Rico could modernize its infrastructure and develop its own island-based shipping industry. Indeed, the island could become a shipping hub between South America, the Caribbean and the rest of the world. This industry would generate thousands of jobs and opportunities for skilled laborers and small businesses. On an island with official unemployment over 10 percent (but actually closer to 25 percent), this would energize their entire work force.

So what will the response be? Unfortunately, our President blames the Puerto Ricans for their plight. He prefers bashing athletes for exercising their first amendment rights to requesting disaster aid from Congress.

Paul Reyes charges that Trump’s lack of empathy about Puerto Rico is staggering:

… it wasn’t until Tuesday, six days after Maria hit Puerto Rico, that Trump made a substantive late-to-the-disaster statement during a press conference with the Spanish foreign minister at the White House. … As of Monday, according to an article in New York magazine, party leaders “were waiting for a formal disaster request from the Trump administration.”

But Trump tweeted on: “Much of the island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with.”

These comments are unconscionable given that Puerto Rico – right now – has limited communication and is on the verge of a massive humanitarian crisis. The island may be without power for months. The devastation there has been described as “apocalyptic” – and Trump is concerned about what the territory owes to Wall Street and the banks? The lack of empathy is staggering.

About that debt? It’s the Jones Act!

Denis concludes:

A humanitarian crisis is about to explode in Puerto Rico. But the consequences of Jones Act relief would be immediate and powerful. This is not the time to price-gouge the entire population. It is time for Congress to act ethically and responsibly and suspend the Jones Act in Puerto Rico.

What we can do to help Puerto Rico

Often, as in this case, average blokes like you and I feel helpless to influence the course of events. But here is something we all can do now.

Denis observes that "… Outright repeal of the [Jones Act] has already been backed by the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Manhattan Institute and several major publications. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that the Jones Act hurts the Puerto Rican economy, and two Republicans, Senator John McCain of Arizona and Representative Gary Palmer of Alabama, have submitted bills to repeal or suspend the law. (The shipbuilding industry supports the law.) [Scriber: of course they do.]

We can write to our Senator McCain and ask that he pushes for a repeal of the Jones Act and thus unburden the millions of Puerto Ricans. If that’s too heavy of a lift, then at least Congress can exempt Puerto Rico from that onerous law just as they have done for the three “American territories [that] are exempt from the Jones Act, including the United States Virgin Islands” - which were exempted in 1992 according to the report on Gary Palmer’s ammendment to the 2016 Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA).

Ironically, “PROMESA” is “promise” in Spanish. To this observer, PROMESA treats the symptom (managing debt default) while ignoring the systemic problem (the Jones Act). We need to get Rep. Palmer’s amendment reactivated and get Puerto Rico exempted from Jones. Otherwise, PROMESA is just an empty promise blighting Puerto Rico’s future. Write to McCain.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

After the Caribbean hurricanes in pictures

A Caribbean Leader Calls for Action on Climate Change

Puerto Rico’s Agriculture and Farmers Decimated by Maria

Eden is lost
"Eden is Broken": Destruction of Dominica
Crop loss in Puerto Rico
80% of crop value gone after hurricane hit on Puerto Rico

If the Republicans can't have repeal-and-replace, Trump will make sure that you can't have health care

I’ll take each part of that in turn.

Worst of the GOP anti-health bills about to fail - we hope!

Sen. Cassidy
Why Sen. Cassidy should be worried

First, it does look like the Graham-Cassidy bill is in its death throes.

Arizona Sen. John McCain came out against it promising another, unwavering “no” vote. McCain Announces Opposition to Republican Health Bill, Likely Dooming It.

Then Maine Sen. Susan Collins promised in equally strong terms a negative vote: Health Bill Appears Dead as Pivotal G.O.P. Senator Declares Opposition.

Two other Senators - Rand Paul and Ted Cruz - are tentative “no” votes. However, both have wheedled concessions in the past and then voted for previous versions of the repeal/replace bill.

That leaves Alaska Lisa Murkowski who now is under increasing pressure to vote in favor. Politicususa.com reports that Desperate Republicans Sweeten Their Bribe To Get Lisa Murkowski’s Vote To Kill Obamacare. Senate Republicans have rewritten their unpopular Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill to increase their bribe to Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

NBC News reported, “An updated version of the Graham-Cassidy health care bill circulating among lobbyists and on Capitol Hill on Sunday night has changed to provide more benefits to Alaska, a move to appeal to Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who has been highly skeptical of efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The new version would grandfather Native Alaskans into Medicaid so they wouldn’t lose coverage after the expanded Medicaid program is rolled back in 2020, according to a section-by-section summary of the new legislation obtained by an industry lobbyist (PDF).”

Republicans are trying to get Murkowski to vote to kill Obamacare by offering her state more Obamacare. If Obamacare is so bad, and such a destructive force to the healthcare system, why are Senate Republicans trying to pass their bill by offering on the fence senators the ability to keep Obamacare?

The answer is obvious. Obamacare isn’t bad. The ACA is so worth keeping that Republicans are offering more of it as a prize to Sen. Murkowski. Until all the votes are cast, and this bill is defeated, opponents of this legislation can’t let up. Senate Republicans are going to keep wheeling and dealing to get this abomination passed.

This is a test of character for Lisa Murkowski. It will be interesting to see if she caves to GOP pressure.

Trump’s sabotage: The President’s attack on health care

It gets worse. President Trump, on January 20th, said this: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The Constitution begins by saying “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Trump cannot be simultaneously faithful to his oath and be undermining our national health care. He has violated his oath by now overtly sabotaging the ACA as Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports: Trump administration abandons subtlety in ACA sabotage campaign.

To the great annoyance of its detractors, the Affordable Care Act is doing pretty well, but that doesn’t mean the system is immune to sabotage. The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend:

The Trump administration plans to shut down healthcare.gov, a website consumers use to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, for 12 hours on nearly every Sunday of the coming ACA enrollment season.

The outages, which the administration says are for maintenance, will occur from midnight through noon on every Sunday other than Dec. 10.

Just so we’re clear, the Republican administration has already shrunk the open-enrollment period, cutting it in half. On top of that, consumers will now have even less access to the federal exchange marketplace on Sundays, with Trump’s HHS shutting down the website for 12-hour increments.

Frank Baitman, a former chief information officer for HHS, made the case on Friday that there’s no credible technological reason for this kind of decision. He added that the move reflects a “lack of will and respect” for the American people.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) was even more direct on this point, arguing, “This is not normal maintenance. This is sabotage. Cold blooded. Clear. Out in the open.”

Of course, if this were an isolated incident, it might be easier to give Team Trump the benefit of the doubt, but therein lies the point: this administration has abandoned all subtlety in its ACA sabotage campaign.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently published a list tracking each of the actions Trump World has taken to “sabotage the ACA by destabilizing private insurance markets or reversing the law’s historic gains in health coverage.” It’s not a short list.

On the contrary, it includes everything from scrapping ad campaigns to eliminating navigators, narrowing the enrollment window to threatening to cut off CSR payments. The evidence suggests the executive branch, responsible for helping administer the nation’s health care system, isn’t especially interested in making the system work as it should.

Here is the link to that list. Sabotage Watch: Tracking Efforts to Undermine the ACA.

President Trump has said that, politically, the best thing to do would be to let the Affordable Care Act (ACA) “explode.” This timeline tracks Administration actions that would sabotage the ACA by destabilizing private insurance markets or reversing the law’s historic gains in health coverage.

Benen concludes by asking a pointed question.

Taken together, there’s every reason to believe the Trump administration is doing all of this deliberately in order to make the health care system worse so that the president and his allies can run around saying, “See? Obamacare doesn’t work.” Instead of focusing on helping people, the emphasis is on creating partisan talking points.

If the Affordable Care Act were as dreadful as the right claims, shouldn’t the sabotage campaign be unnecessary?

In the end, the most important thing in this for the GOP and Trump is that they promised their base that they would get rid of the black man’s signature accomplishment - “Obamacare.” If they cannot do it via the Senate, Trump will do it by administrative sabotage. Either way, the American people lose.

Handsome Donald marches off to the new Korean war

Hey, look yonder, tell me what you see
Marching to the fields of Korea?
It looks like Handsome Johnny with an M1 in his hand,
Marching to the Korean war, hey marching to the Korean war.

Hey, what’s the use of singing this song, some of you are not even listening.
Tell me what it is we’ve got to do: wait for our fields to start glistening,
Wait for the bullets to start whistling.
Here comes a hydrogen bomb, here comes a guided missile,
Here comes a hydrogen bomb: I can almost hear its whistle.

Lyrics from Richie Havens’ singing Handsome Johnny.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) writes that Trump reportedly ignored White House aides ahead of U.N. speech. The more reasonable members of his administration tried to get him to say reasonable things in Trump’s UN speech. But they failed. Trump axed their language and inserted his own epithets and threats in what amounted to an egotistical rant. His speech was taken by the North Korean foreign minister as a declaration of war.. The minister threatened an atmospheric test of a hydrogen bomb.

For all of those hoping that the grown-ups in Trump’s orbit will help prevent the president from doing anything too outrageously dangerous, stories like these are more than a little discouraging.

What next? AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona describes How to stumble into a nuclear war in North Korea. The NK foreign minister said this:

“The whole world should clearly remember it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country,” he said. “Since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to make countermeasures, including the right to shoot down United States strategic bombers even when they are not inside the airspace border of our country.”

Blue Meanie offers this depressing prediction.

Someday soon we are going to wake up to a news alert that the Korean war has been renewed and that combat operations are underway. It is only a matter of time, and it is inevitable.

Various sources cited in Blue Meanie’s post believe that a war with NK would end in NK’s defeat. But the price would be horrific for our allies and the consequence for the Korean peninsula is not certain. Neither is it certain what China would do to prevent chaos on its border should war break out between NK and the US. China has said that it will take action to prevent that chaos.

And all this to come because of Trump’s narcissism.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Health care action this week: Following the money and votes in the Senate

Back in August CNN reported that GOP donors withhold $2 million amid Senate failure on health plan, sources say. That was then. This is now reports the NY Times: Behind New Obamacare Repeal Vote: ‘Furious’ G.O.P. Donors

The backlash from big donors as well as the grass roots panicked Senate Republicans and was part of the motivation behind the sudden zeal to take one last crack at repealing the health care law before the end of the month. That effort faltered Friday with new opposition from Senator John McCain of Arizona, the perennial maverick who had scuttled the Senate’s first repeal effort. Now Republicans must confront the possibility that they will once again let down their backers with no big win in sight.

The latest unsightly pileup over health care was exactly what some Republicans had wanted to avoid by abandoning the repeal effort and skipping straight to tax cuts after the previous embarrassing health care collapse about eight weeks ago. Instead, Senate Republicans got caught up in a rushed, last-ditch repeal attempt that not only seems unlikely to prevail, but will only serve to remind disillusioned donors about the party’s governing difficulties.

Republicans say the fund-raising drop-off has been steep and across the board, from big donations to the small ones the party solicits online from the grass roots. They say the hostile views of both large and small donors are in unusual alignment and that the negative sentiment is crystallized in the fund-raising decline.

The totals have left Republicans increasingly worried about having the funds they need next year. Mr. Gardner told his colleagues that a major Colorado contributor who played a role in his own campaign says party donors are reluctant to give any more money until congressional Republicans demonstrate results.

And it appears unlikely that such results will be coming this week as Republicans make desperate bid to save health care bill.

Republican opposition to the GOP health care bill swelled to near-fatal numbers Sunday as Sen. Susan Collins all but closed the door on supporting the last-ditch effort to scrap the Obama health care law and Sen. Ted Cruz said that “right now” he doesn’t back it.

White House legislative liaison Marc Short and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of the measure’s sponsors, said Republicans would press ahead with a vote this week. But the comments by Collins and Cruz left the Republican drive to uproot President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act dangling by an increasingly fraying thread.

A vote must occur this week for Republicans to prevail with their narrow Senate majority. Next Sunday, protections expire against a Democratic filibuster, bill-killing delays that Republicans lack the votes to overcome.

President Donald Trump seemed to distance himself from the showdown, saying his “primary focus” was his party’s drive to cut taxes.

One of the ploys the Republican Senators are trying is out-and-out bribery in order to win over the known “no” votes on the Graham-Cassidy bill: Health care bill teeters, GOP adds money to woo dissidents.

In a late stab at attracting votes, Republicans were adding $14.5 billion to the measure including extra funds for states of dissenting GOP senators, according to documents obtained late Sunday by The Associated Press.

A chart Republicans circulated said the legislation’s grants would provide 14 percent more money for Arizona than under Obama’s law; 4 percent more for Kentucky; 49 percent more for Texas; 3 percent more for Alaska, home to undecided GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski; and 43 percent more for Maine, home to Collins. Some extra money is specifically directed at sparsely populated states.

I don’t see that working. I doubt that McCain will reverse course on his principles (“regular order”), the pot is not all that sweet for Alaska’s Murkowski, and Rand Paul has already asserted he is not open to bribery and bullying. Moreover:

The numbers are misleading, partly because they omit GOP Medicaid cuts from clamping per-person spending caps on the program, said Matt House, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. In a statement, Schumer said the measure would “throw our health insurance system into chaos.”

We’re in for another interesting week.

What a difference an "i" makes

Republicans said they want to run the country. They had their chance. It is now clear that Republicans want to ruin the country.

Read about that and more Monday Mourning illustrated news from AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona.

Road to ruin
The road to from run to ruin

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sarah Palin appointed ambassador to Nambia: But where in the world is Nambia?

Satire from The Borowitz Report (New Yorker)
Andy Borowitz reports that Trump Names Sarah Palin Ambassador to Nambia.

Palin goes to Nambia
Palin heads to Nambia

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Donald J. Trump on Friday capped a busy week of diplomatic activity by naming the former Alaska governor Sarah Palin the United States Ambassador to Nambia.

By naming Palin to this diplomatic post, the United States has become the first nation in the world to formally recognize Nambia’s existence.

In a joint appearance with Trump at the White House, Palin acknowledged that she “didn’t know a lot about Nambia” but said that she was looking forward to receiving a comprehensive briefing on the nation’s history, culture, and customs from the Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos.

“Then it’s Nambia, here I come!” Palin exclaimed.

In a sign that Palin’s appointment was a popular move, a new poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans support her permanent relocation to Nambia.

But where is she going?

End satire

BBC asks: Where is ‘Nambia’? President Trump ‘invents’ African country

“Nambia’s health system is increasingly self-sufficient,” said US President Donald Trump at a lunch with African leaders in New York on Wednesday, reeling off a list of their nations’ achievements.

But no such country exists.

Could the US leader have been referring to Namibia? Zambia? Or perhaps, The Gambia?

Social media users wasted no time in offering their own explanations.

For example, OkayAfrica tweeted “According to researchers, Nambia’s #1 export is Covfefe. Huge deal in the works to increase trade. Very, very big deal.”

But where is Nambia?

More satire here

Scriber knows a possible location for Nambia

First locate Namibia on the map below - it is on the southwestern side of Africa. Then travel northeast and locate Zambia. Between the two countries find a small strip of land that extends from the top of Namibia to the bottom of Zambia. As far as I can tell, this small piece of real estate might be the location of the country referred to as “Nambia” by President Trump. Its name thus derives from the geographical junction of Nam ibia and Zam bia. Its relative size is commensurate with the combined geographical knowledge of Palin and Trump - known as Trumlin or Palump.

Africa map
Nambia is between Namibia and Zambia

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Constitution Applies to All

I was honored to do the coin toss for Military Appreciation Night at a high school football game recently. Thankfully, the loss of the toss didn’t determine the outcome of the game for the home team. They went on to win the game and I enjoyed the opportunity to talk to many of the other veterans who had attended the game.

One Air Force vet thanked me for my service and after some small talk, he told me how horrible he thought it was for NFL players to “take a knee” during the National Anthem. I told him I had a different take that I’d like to share with him.

I said my perspective was that I had served to ensure those players had the freedom to exercise their First Amendment rights. He hesitated a second and then said “well, I just don’t think it’s right”. I told him that I didn’t think the Ku Klux Klan’s views are “right” nor do I like how they express them. But, to paraphrase what Michael Douglas’ character said in The American President, “I may hate to the core what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it”.

I believe those football players who “take a knee” have as much right to make a statement in any legal way they see fit, as the Neo-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville had to express their displeasure with the statute removal. But…when such expressions turn dangerous and deadly, that’s another matter entirely.

To all those who claim they love our country and support our Constitution, I say you can’t pick and choose who gets to enjoy the rights bestowed on citizens of these United States. Millions of servicemembers paid the ultimate price because they believed in our ideals. We best honor their sacrifice by continuing to live by, and protecting, those ideals.

Quotes of the Day: Kimmel takes on Trump over Graham-Cassidy bill and Kim labels Trump a "dotard"

Quote #1: “He doesn’t know the difference between Medicare and Medicaid. He barely knows the difference between Melania and Ivanka.”

The first quote is from Jimmy Kimmel’s continuing battle against the Graham-Cassidy anti-health bill reported by the Huffington Post in Kimmel, Atop Scorched Earth, Takes Aim At Trump Over Health Care Bill.

Quote #2: “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire”

Do tell. Dotard? The Washington Post did some digging to explain “dotard” reported in A short history of ‘dotard,’ the arcane insult Kim Jong Un used in his threat against Trump.

The Post’s reporters traced the word from the 1600s to present. Excerpts follow.

According to Google’s Ngram Viewer, which can search for words printed between 1500 and 2008, use of “dotard” spiked in Shakespeare’s time, then surged again in the 1800s before falling out of favor.

An Associated Press reporter who was once based in Pyongyang noted on Twitter that she’d been inside the Korean Central News Agency newsroom, where “they’re using very old Korean-English dictionaries,” which might explain how the arcane word wound up back in the news.

While the English version of Kim’s statement calls Trump a “dotard,” the Korean version actually calls him a “lunatic old man,” according to Anna Fifield, The Washington Post’s Tokyo bureau chief who covers North Korea.

It’s worth noting that Thursday wasn’t the first time anybody had referred to Trump as a dotard.

In May, writing in Esquire, Charles P. Pierce described the president as “a blundering dotard.”

… Twitter users, predictably, had some fun with the suddenly trending term. [For example:] “Kim Jong Un calling Trump a #dotard means he’s used an English dictionary at least one more time than Trump.”

So it seems to Scriber that Quote #1, if accurate, would be evidence supporting the label in Quote #2. And let’s hope all this name-calling stops short of the “fire” threatened by both Kim and Trump.

Friday, September 22, 2017

What's in your water?

Here’s a startling number from FiveThirtyEight’s significant digits email this morning.

58 percent
The full consequences of the Flint water crisis are still coming to light: Fertility rates dropped 12 percent while women in the city were exposed to increased lead in their drinking water, according to a new study. Fetal death rates rose by 58 percent. [Detroit Free Press]

Here is more from the Detroit Free Press article.

Fertility rates decreased by 12% among Flint women, and fetal death rates increased by 58%, after April 2014, according to research by assistant professors and health economists David Slusky at Kansas University and Daniel Grossman at West Virginia University. The pair examined vital statistics data for Flint and the rest of the state of Michigan from 2008 to 2015, zoomed down to the census-tract level.

That post-April 2014 time period is significant, because that’s when — in an effort to save money — the city of Flint switched from water supplied by the city of Detroit to using the Flint River as a drinking water source, without adding needed anti-corrosives to the water. Lead levels in drinking water supplies spiked as a result.

The problem, however, wasn’t acknowledged by Gov. Rick Snyder and state health and environmental officials until late September 2015 — months after Virginia Tech researcher Marc Edwards and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency manager Miguel Del Toral alerted state and federal officials of their concerns, and weeks after Flint pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha’s own research showed children’s lead blood levels were rising in Flint.

Slusky said he hopes his findings inform policy-makers.

“Flint was a government failure — enough people have been indicted that there’s a reasonable consensus around that,” he said.

“We know monitoring the water, and putting the right types of anti-corrosives in it, is not free, is not cheap. Now I’ve told you what the cost of not doing something is, and what the benefit is. That’s the hope of this kind of research; quantify the benefit.”

For more details on the research study and the politics of lead in Flint’s water, see the Detroit Free Press article Flint water killed unborn babies; many moms who drank it couldn’t get pregnant and the reporting by FiveThirtyEight in What Went Wrong In Flint. There you will find that the effects of lead, a neurotoxin, extend beyond fertility and fetal deaths to biology and behavior of adults and children.

Now, with cuts to the EPA by the Trump administration (including Trump and Scott Pruitt as the stand-ins for Rick Snyder), we have a chance to replicate the Flint disaster on a national scale. Then you will discover the answer to my title question.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Hallelujah: Graham and Cassidy are trying to fool ya - and so is Arizona's Governor Clueless!

One of the authors of the latest Senate bill aimed at the Affordable Care Act, Bill Cassidy, lied to Jimmy Kimmel about what he intended and supported. Cassidy and the other author, Lindsey Graham, are lying to the American people (no surprise) and even lying to their fellow senators.

Here’s a readable analysis of what their bill does and does not do from the Huuffington Post. The Sponsors Of Obamacare Repeal Are Trying To Fool America — And Fellow Republicans.
Here’s what they’re not telling you, or their colleagues, about the bill.

The story Graham and Cassidy are telling the public is a vast over-simplification, one that leaves out the bill’s most important elements. And the story they are peddling to colleagues? That’s even more misleading.

The bottom line is that the Graham-Cassidy bill is like every other repeal proposal that’s come before Congress this year. It would mean millions more people struggling to get care or being exposed to financial hardship. And it’d most certainly hit some Republican-leaning states hard.

… the proposal actually does a great deal more than simply give states more control over how to spend dollars now going to health care. It also gives them less of that money to spend.

Ini effect the bill takes the money now given to the 30-odd states which expanded Medicaid and redistributes it to all 50 states. Thus there will be less money per state and it will have large negative effects on those states that did expand Medicaid.

[For example,]the bill calls for redistributing funds among the states ― in general, taking from those, like California, where officials have tried diligently to expand coverage and giving to those, like Texas, where officials have done nothing or even tried to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

And then, on top of all that, the bill would cut Medicaid by introducing a “per capita cap,” reducing projected spending on the program by roughly $179 billion in the first 10 years, based on Congressional Budget Office assessments of previous legislation. This is a change that would affect the entire Medicaid program, including the parts that existed before the Affordable Care Act came along, which would mean less coverage for groups like poor children and the disabled that Republicans have frequently promised to protect.

In general, the bill would move money from Democratic to Republican states. Graham and Cassidy have generally acknowledged this, when pressed, and sometimes justified it in the name of fairness.

But when the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities looked at the effect of Graham-Cassidy on a state-by-state basis, it found that plenty of GOP states would end up losing out in the first decade. Among them are Alaska, Arizona and Maine, which are home to Sens. Lisa Murkowski, John McCain and Susan Collins ― the GOP trio that famously voted against the last repeal bill in late July, preventing it from passing. Because Republicans need 50 votes to pass repeal and have only 52 members, Graham-Cassidy can’t pass without the support of at least one of those senators.

Lies, damned lies, and GOP statistics

To assuage such concerns, Cassidy has put out his own numbers, via a spreadsheet available on his website and, presumably, in wide circulation on Capitol Hill. It purports to show that the vast majority of states, including all of those states with key Republican senators, end up with more money, not less.

If these are the numbers Republicans like Capito are considering, they are falling for a ruse.

In short, the cuts are much deeper than Cassidy’s spreadsheet shows, and the bill would hurt many more states than the document acknowledges.

In a normal legislative debate, such propaganda wouldn’t really matter. Multiple independent experts, including those at the Congressional Budget Office, would have plenty of time to analyze the proposal. Lawmakers, in turn, would have plenty of time to study those results ― and reach their own conclusions about which projections were the most reliable and which raised issues that mattered most to them.

But with the debate suddenly moving at breakneck speed, and a possible vote next week, that won’t happen. Already the CBO has said it doesn’t have time to provide a full analysis, including effects on coverage and premiums, as it did for previous bills. As a result, Cassidy’s misleading numbers could sway one or two key senators, potentially making the difference in whether millions of Americans lose access to health care.

Arizona’s Governor is Clueless about Graham-Cassidy

This is jaw dropping.

Duceyis Gov. Clueless
Arizona's Governor Clueless

Howard Fischer reports In the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required, reprinted on the front page of this morning’s Daily Star). Ducey defends support of Graham-Cassidy even though Ducey has no freaking idea about what that bill will do to Arizona citizens. Or, worse, maybe he knows exactly what is headed our way and does not give a sh!t.

Here are a few gems.

Gov. Doug Ducey is defending his support for the latest bid to repeal the Affordable Care Act even though he has no idea how much federal aid that would cost the state and how many Arizonans would lose health care.

“The numbers are important,” the governor said Wednesday. Ducey said his staff is analyzing the elements of the Graham-Cassidy bill on the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid program, which U.S. Senate Republican leaders are trying to get voted on before the end of the month.

But the governor said he remains convinced that what comes next will be better than what exists now, even without yet knowing the effect on the state and its residents.

“Obamacare is a failure,” he said. “It’s time for it to go.”

Yet Ducey sidestepped a question of whether he could guarantee that none of the 400,000 people who have been added to the rolls of the state’s Medicaid program because of the Affordable Care Act would again find themselves without health insurance.

“Well, I haven’t seen the final bill,” the governor said of the legislation he has endorsed. Anyway, Ducey said he believes the measure will provide Arizona with “the longest possible transition so that we can move people from Medicaid into a superior insurance product.”

He did not say what that would be.

Scriber’s usually unreliable sources tell us that Ducey was overheard to mutter “What, me worry?”

Ducey also acknowledged that the proposal by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana would financially penalize states like Arizona, which expanded Medicaid eligibility long before there was an Affordable Care Act. That’s the result of voter approval in 2000 of Proposition 204 which guaranteed care for everyone up to the federal poverty level at a time when Medicaid eligibility was far less.

Significant Digit: $1.6 billion

Well, Governor Clueless, try this.

One study from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities puts the annual loss to Arizona at $1.6 billion by 2026.

… Ducey provided no specifics on how Arizona will be able provide care to as many people who are in the Medicaid program now with fewer federal dollars. In essence, the governor said he’s just convinced it would be better and more efficient.

Like I said: that’s our Governor Clueless.

One vote will determine health care in America

That’s my prediction.

The really ugly bottom line is that health care in America might very well depend on whether our Senator McCain will suck up to his BFF Lindsey Graham and the extent to which he is influenced by Gov. Clueless.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

China's mantra about North Korea: No war, no chaos, no nukes.

But American officials only hear the last part as Evan Osnos reports in the New Yorker on his recent trip to China: Why China Won’t Pressure North Korea as Much as Trump Wants.

Read more about Osnos’ interviews with Chinese scholars about the confrontation between North Korea and the United States. Below are the closing excerpts.

In recent years, overly hopeful U.S. politicians and commentators have repeatedly misunderstood China’s views of North Korea and assumed that Beijing was, at last, turning against its irksome ally. In private meetings with President Obama, and later with President Trump, Xi has repeated a bottom-line principle about North Korea: “No war. No chaos. No nukes.” A former U.S. official, who was at several of those meetings, told me, “Every American senior official that I know hears, ‘Blah, blah, blah—no nuclear weapons.’ And thinks, ‘Oh, we agree! Excellent!’ So the Chinese ought to be willing to limbo under this bar for us. But, no, that’s third in the list of three strategic priorities. The first two are avoiding war on the Korean Peninsula, and avoiding chaos and collapse.” In that spirit, China has sought to limit the scope of U.S.-backed sanctions in the U.N. Security Council. In the latest round, earlier this month, China succeeded in forcing the U.S. to drop its pursuit of a full oil blockade, which China fears would drive North Korea to collapse.

Nothing worries Chinese officials more than the following scenario: the U.S. uses harsh sanctions and covert action—and possibly military strikes—to drive North Korea close to the point of regime collapse. In turn, Pyongyang lashes out with violence against America or its allies, sparking a full-blown war on China’s border, just as China is trying to maintain delicate economic growth and social stability. Xi, in separate sessions, has offered Obama and Trump the same Chinese adage in reference to North Korea: “When a man is barefoot, he doesn’t fear a man with shoes.” In other words, even if attacking America would be suicide for North Korea, if it sees nothing left to lose, it just might do the unthinkable. For that reason, China, above all, wants the U.S. to avoid backing Kim into a corner from which he has no exit.

Trump is fervently seeking China’s coöperation, but, ironically, his rhetoric and aggression may be putting that further out of reach. On Sunday, Trump mocked Kim as the “Rocket Man.” Members of his Administration have repeated their openness to “military options,” despite projections that air strikes, or other attempts at targeted attacks, could spark a wider war. Chinese intellectuals have taken to joking that “Telangpu”—which is one of the Chinese pronunciations of Trump’s name—sounds like “te meipu,” which means clueless or lacking a plan. In recent months, Trump has alternately praised China and threatened it with a trade war. “I don’t understand Trump,” Shen, the historian, told me. “One day he is saying something good about Xi Jinping and the next he is criticizing him. *Trump is becoming more and more of a problem. China is becoming more and more stable.*”

Trump’s unhinged rant at the United Nations - covered by AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona: Donald Trump beats the drums of war at the United Nations - is an example of the “problem.”

DCCC priority list needs an economic message. RNC's top priority is paying Trump's legal bills.

Larry Bodine at Blog for Arizona asks How Would You Answer Nancy Pelosi’s Letter?

He’s responding to a letter from Nancy Pelosi.

… I wonder which of the 10 identified issues YOU think Democratic House candidates should focus on to win the 24 seats needed to take the majority back in the House. What would you add?

[To add] You can … go to www.dccc.org/unite2018.

▢ Access to health care for all Americans.
▢ Keeping America’s promise to our seniors.
▢ Wall Street reforms and fighting corporate greed.
▢ Challenge Trump policies that threaten the human and civil rights of refugees and immigrants.
▢ Climate change and protecting our planet.
▢ Defending a woman’s right to choose.
▢ Protect and defend the rights of the LGBTQ community.
▢ Exposing and blocking attacks on voting rights.
▢ Increasing the minimum wage and reviving the American Dream.
▢ Investigating the Trump Administration.

Frankly, I was disappointed to see that the economy was not spelled out as an issue. It’s the one issue that will win elections. Remember Bill Clinton saying, “It’s the economy, stupid“?

Raising the minimum wage is part of that. You can disagree with me, but I think the Democrats need to spend less time on hot-button social issues, and more on economic development.

Scriber thinks Bodine is right. We are now into our 5th decade of stagnant wages and hyper-inequality. I can’t help feeling that that had something to do with electing Trump. It’s not that I dismiss the importance of any of the above issues. What I miss in the list is a stronger, Roosevelt-ian economic message.

RNC priority: Pay Trump’s legal bills

Speaking of priorities, here’s one from FiveThirtyEight’s Significant Digits email this morning.

$231,250
The Republican National Committee is helping to pay President Trump’s legal bills in relation to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the potential involvement of Trump associates. The RNC confirmed that it paid $100,000 to Trump’s lead lawyer, John Dowd, and $131,250 to the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, where another Trump lawyer, Jay Sekulow, is a partner. [Reuters]

Rachel Maddow reported on this last night in “Trump paying Russia scandal legal bills with RNC donor money.”
Rachel Maddow shares new reports that Donald Trump is using money donated to the Republican National Committee to pay for lawyers for himself, family and staffers in the Trump Russia investigation. Duration: 6:46

At least the DCCC does not have “pay legal bills” on their list.

Tucson competes for second giant warehouse to store Russia investigation evidence

Satire from The Borowitz Report in the New Yorker:
Mueller Rents Giant Warehouse to Store Evidence Against Trump
By Andy Borowitz, September 18, 2017

Warehouse
Is Mueller building second warehouse for Trump files?

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Robert Mueller is renting a massive warehouse facility in suburban Virginia to accommodate the approximately forty cubic tons of evidence against Donald Trump that the independent counsel’s investigation is generating on a daily basis.

Employing over two thousand workers in a warehouse the size of seven football fields, the Mueller investigation has become the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. economy, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Working twelve-hour shifts, the members of Mueller’s evidence-storage team rarely leave the warehouse, where the punishing task of filing mountains of evidence against Trump proceeds around the clock.

“It’s like a city all its own,” one warehouse worker said. “There are people working in the Michael Flynn section who’ve never met the people working in the Paul Manafort section.”

While the warehouse workers are well paid, there have been issues with burnout. “The team in charge of filing all of Donald Trump, Jr.,’s different explanations of his meeting with the Russians had to take time off,” one worker said.

As gargantuan as the storage space appears to be, an aide to Mueller said that the investigation would soon be seeking a second, even larger warehouse. “We need a place to put all the Jared stuff,” the aide said.

Scriber’s usually unreliable sources add more about Mueller’s WH2

Several cities have volunteered to host the new facility which is reputed to be even larger than Amazon’s planned second headquarters. The Tucson city council and most of the Pima County Board of Supervisors are said by people familiar with the discussions to be supportive of bringing Mueller’s WH2, as it’s called, to the Tucson metro area. The sole dissenter is supervisor Ally Miller. She went on record saying that the time and money would be better spent on fixing streets that she identifies, such as the one on which she lives.

A local business association (ARONOS) says that Tucson needs to do something spectacular to get noticed by Mueller’s team that will decide on the location for WH2. They initially considered a 21 foot Sahuaro cactus but another group was sending one of those to Jeff Bezos in a run for the new Amazon facility. Instead, ARONOS plans to send the Titan missile now at the museum in Sahuarita to Mueller’s DC office. The ARONOS CEO said “That would show that we in Tucson are supportive of the next phase of Mueller’s investigation which we hear is ready for lift off.”

End satire.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

UPDATE on Senate's ACA death threat: How will AZ Sen. John McCain vote?

In my earlier post today I noted that AZ Gov. Ducey has now said he will support the latest attempt in the U. S. Senate to repeal and replace the ACA (“Obamacare”) - and that might be a tipping point in the vote count because Sen. John McCain has signaled that his vote would be influenced by what Ducey supports. Here are two more looks at the threat to ACA in the Senate.

AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona hits the panic button over the Cassidy-Graham bill - which is the latest version of Trumpcare that would throw millions off of health insurance: (Update) Action Alert: you have until September 30 to kill this zombie ‘Trumpcare’ bill.

Yesterday I posted an Action Alert: you have until September 30 to kill this zombie ‘Trumpcare’ bill.

Steve Benen doubles down on this action alert today. Senate Dems issue a ‘red alert’ on Republican repeal efforts:

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a “red alert” to health care advocates late Friday, and we’ve seen similar sentiments from Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand‏ (D-N.Y.), and Al Franken (D-Minn.). Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told health care proponents, “Drop what you are doing to start calling, start showing up, start descending on DC.” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been focused on his single-payer proposal, but he added yesterday, “Our immediate concern is to beat back yet another disastrous Republican proposal to throw millions of people off health insurance.”

Among opinion leaders, progressive voices like the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne and the New York Times’ Paul Krugman both devoted their columns today to warning the public that the threat to the existing health care system is quite real.

See the Blue Meanie’s post for the citations and lots more.

McCain
McCain after his"no" vote on skinny repeal.
But what will he do this time?

FiveThirtyEight.com, in this morning’s Significant Digits email, runs the numbers and concludes that Republicans Really Could Repeal Obamacare This Time.

But then they add: Of course, that’s been true every time.

Republicans are only a handful of votes short in the party’s latest attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And one of the key “no” votes from July, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, could flip to “yes,” since Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has endorsed this latest repeal legislation. (McCain has suggested he would be more likely to vote for a Ducey-backed bill.)

But there are not yet 50 Republicans publicly backing the newest Obamacare repeal bill, known as Graham-Cassidy. And the GOP has always been a handful of votes short. Those final few votes are the hardest, and it’s not clear Republicans can get them before Sept. 30, the day of an important deadline that will limit GOP options to repeal Obamacare afterward.

What’s surprising about the potential passage of this legislation is that it is in some ways more conservative than the bill that almost passed in July. Written by Sens. Bill Cassidy (Louisiana), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Dean Heller (Nevada) and Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), the legislation — unlike previous Obamacare repeal proposals — gives a lot of power to states to set their own health care policies. Before we get to how likely it is to pass, here are some of its policy highlights (I borrowed from analyses from the website Health Affairs by Washington and Lee University’s Timothy Jost and George Washington University’s Sara Rosenbaum):

  • Obamacare’s tax revenue — instead of paying for subsidies and tax credits to individuals and extra Medicaid funding — would go toward block grants for each state.
  • The total amount of money going to states will likely be less than if Obamacare stayed in place, according to an analysis by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
  • In effect, this legislation would take the money that goes to the 31 states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare and spread it to 50.1 So California would likely end up with tens of billions of dollars less, but Texas (which did not expand Medicaid) much more.
  • A state could require everyone to have health insurance and subsidize private insurance targeted at low-income people, like Obamacare. But a conservative state could create a system with few regulations, even allowing insurance companies to set higher prices for people with pre-existing conditions. (Graham-Cassidy only explicitly bars setting higher rates based on gender or race.)
  • There would be a cap on national spending on Medicaid outside of Obamacare, likely leading to the kind of cuts to the program that were estimated under previous GOP efforts at Obamacare repeal.

Here’s 538’s tally of Senate Republicans. 41 certain to vote for it, five likely to vote for it, one certain to vote no, one likely to vote no, and four wild cards. McCain is one of those wild cards.

What could switch McCain to a “yes”? Graham and McCain are extremely close friends, perhaps the tightest relationship of any two members of the Senate. I have some doubt that McCain would vote down a bill that Graham has advocated so strongly for. And the Ducey endorsement of this legislation could also move the Arizona senator towards supporting it.

So, yes, the Republicans are close to having the votes to repeal Obamacare. But, as Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn wrote recently, “Any Obamacare repeal bill has 45–46–47 votes in the Senate. The issue for the GOP has always been the last few to get to 50.”

By the time this legislation gets a CBO score (which is likely to predict that it would leave millions of additional people uninsured), Democrats and activists whip up opposition to it, and the press writes a bunch of stories about who will not be covered under its provisions — three things that have happened each time Republicans have neared Obamacare repeal this year — a “yes” vote will be harder for wavering GOP senators than it seems today.

Also, this bill — even if it passes the Senate — must still be approved by the House. So Republicans seem close to repealing Obamacare. But that’s what everyone has been saying for months. Will they finally do it? Stay tuned.

It bears repeating. America’s health care system is in the balance. Our own Sen. John McCain could be the deciding factor by voting along with his BFF Lindsey Graham for the arguably worst repeal/replace bill yet. Should he do so his action - against his own self-declared “regular order” principles - would be the worst vote of his career. Call him and tell him.

Ducey's support for killing ACA will bust the budget and hurt Arizonans

In the Daily Star (and Arizona Capitol Times), Howard Fischer reports that Arizona Gov. Ducey throws his support behind latest plan to kill Obamacare.

Gov. Doug Ducey has thrown his support behind the latest plan to kill the Affordable Care Act, despite estimates showing it will cost the state billions in lost federal dollars.

In a brief statement Monday, the governor called the Graham-Cassidy bill “the best path forward to repeal and replace Obamacare.”

The governor provided no details on why he supports the plan. Nor was he available for comment, having gone to Illinois for the Republican Governors Association conference.

No details? No problem.

Will Senator McCain once again ride to the rescue?

(He might, but Sen. Jeff Flake will not.)

What makes Ducey’s support significant is not the governor himself, who has no vote on Capitol Hill.

Instead, it is his influence on John McCain, the state’s senior senator. And McCain, who refused to support earlier repeal-and-replace efforts, has said repeatedly that his backing for any plan is contingent on the views of his home-state governor.

But even that may not be enough.

McCain spokeswoman Julie Tarallo told Capitol Media Services on Monday that her boss is reviewing the bill “to assess its impact on the people of Arizona.” But she said he is wary of these kinds of last-minute maneuvers with the details hammered out in offices and sent to the floor in a rush.

“As he has said before, Sen. McCain believes health-care reform should go through the regular order of hearings, open debate, and amendments from both sides of the aisle,” Tarallo said.

Arizona’s other senator, Jeff Flake, said in a Twitter post the plan “has my support” and “ought to be brought to the Senate floor.” But that is little surprise, as Flake as backed prior efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

So we are left to hope that McCain’s mercurial tendencies can be suppressed and to give up any hope that Flake might be a moderate.

Marvelous.

Gubernatorial candidate Steve Farley responds

While the Ducey administration would provide nothing more than the governor’s statement of support, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Steve Farley was more vocal.

“Endorsement of a bill that could hurt our state badly without knowing the facts of the bill amounts to governmental malpractice,” said Farley in a prepared statement.

“This loss of funding will cause real harm to our state,” he said. “For those with serious health issues, the consequences could be dire.”