Friday, March 24, 2017

Loads Of Power Players Don’t Want You To Tune Into A Conference On The Israel Lobby And American Policy, But Ignorance Ain’t Bliss

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-by Skip Kaltenheuser

In what amounts to bewildering media malpractice, mainstream media always gives massive coverage to the annual AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) policy conference at the end of this month, while basically ignoring a humble but critical counterweight, taking place this year on Friday the 24th. That counterweight may seem a knight-errant’s tilt at a windmill, but it’s the fourth annual conference examining the Israel lobby’s outsized influence on US Foreign policy, and it’s intellectual depth has always proved impressive. No coverage the first two years, despite famed intellectuals, former Congressmen, former diplomats, intelligence agency analysts, military careerists, international journalists, and other knowledgeables who spoke on a wide range of relevant panel topics or delivered keynotes. This is an event held couple blocks from the White House in a packed ballroom at the National Press Club. Last year the Washington Post finally allowed a short article as coverage of the meaty all-day conference, again nothing from the NY Times. A quick shout-out to Salon for practicing journalism with its coverage last year, an exception to the rule of media indifference. But you can view the conference streaming online at its site, and afterwards you can take it in smaller bites reading transcripts and watching videos that will go online. Thus, you can diminish the power of the power-players who’d rather you didn’t take notice.

Meanwhile, Vice President Pence and a bipartisan team from Congress, one of them now the Representative to the UN, will be preparing their AIPAC conference group genuflection to Nut’nyahoo, who will appear from the heavens via satellite. Among them are Republicans Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Joni Ernst, and Nikki Haley, now US Permanent Ambassador to the UN. Democrats include Chuck Schumer, Steny Hoyer, Ted Deutch, Kamala Harris, Robert Melendez, Tom Perez and Nancy Pelosi. Nut’nyahoo-- I’ll try not to wear out my term of endearment-- appeared before Congress to diss President Obama and undermine his foreign policy efforts with Iran, but that’s no problem for these Democrats. The conference says two thirds of Congress will attend. Look over the speakers to see how the skeleton of the Israel propaganda machinery is put together. You’ll recognize many of the usual suspects whose talking points saturate media and Sabbath Gasbag shows, not to mention political fundraisers. Now consider that the day before the first Presidential debate both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump met with Netanyahu. That still astounds me.

In 1999 I had my enlightenment on the machinery of influence while doing an adventure travel feature on Israel for Canadian newspapers. I’ve been reluctant to write on it because I didn’t want to embarrass my hosts and-- my own malpractice-- because I didn’t want to deal with the inevitable blowback. But the mayhem that has ensued since-- from the invasion of Iraq cheer-leaded by Netanyahu and his Bush administration neocon compadres to the horrors of Gaza-- belittle such concerns. Consider the alarm expressed in this letter by five former US Ambassadors to Israel regarding Trump’s pick for U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, confirmed by the Senate yesterday.




I relished the rich adventure travel experiences. Not so much the full-throttle propaganda I encountered, of which many travel writers complain in private. During my trip came a ray of hope for reform. Election results came in while I was with a group riding camels at night under a spectacular sky, heading to a Bedouin desert camp. The Bedouin guides were ecstatic at Netanyahu’s defeat by Ehud Barak, chattering on their cell phones, hopeful for reforms that would give them a fair shake.

Later I was at a luncheon when the outgoing Minister of Tourism under Netanyahu, Moshe Katsav, sat next to me. Let me stress that tourism minister is a cabinet position, and not a backwater one. It’s a key instrument of propaganda and, particularly then, of national income. For awhile, Barak even served as both Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism simultaneously.

I asked Katsav why, instead of arguing with Jordan which side of the Jordan River Christ was baptized on, why the countries didn’t join together in joint tourism projects to enlarge the tourism pie. Even better, why not include the Palestinians, giving them more skin in the game and a stake in stability? Katsav’s sneering answer had me nearly drop my fork.

“The Palestinians, they are our N-words.”

He didn’t say N-words. He said the word. He didn’t say it ironically He wasn’t expressing disgust at the treatment and plight of Palestinians. He was doing his level best to express his disgust with Palestinians, and the absurdity of my question. He assumed I would grasp it if put in terms a white American would understand. He had no concern of insulting me or African-Americans any more than he had about insulting Palestinians.

It was then I realized not just the inherent racism underlying the plight of Palestinians, but the longstanding lie behind government rhetoric, particularly but not solely from the Likud, about a two-state solution.

Katsav went on to become President of Israel. He later resigned in a plea bargain. After reneging, he was convicted of rape and obstruction of justice and went to prison, from which he was recently paroled after five years of a seven year sentence. Consider this was the man Netanyahu chose for a vital position, and what that says of Netanyahu’s real views of the peace process.

Katsav fared better than a subsequent tourism minister, Rehavamd Ze’evi, who Ehud Olmert accused of protecting organized crime figures. Ze’evi wanted to make Palestinians so miserable they’d leave, calling those not Israeli citizens a “cancer” that should be gotten rid of "the same way you get rid of lice." He was eventually assassinated. Big fan of Netanyahu. Not all tourism ministers were ethical cretins, Amnon Lipkibn-Shahak, for example, backed the creation of J Street, an American Jewish pro-peace lobby group. But you won’t find much progressive thinking in proximity to Netanyahu.

What I’m getting at is the dehumanization systematically done to justify the treatment in what many observers view as an aparteid regime in the West Bank and Gaza, and to drive Palestinians to despair. The Intercept recently took note of a UN report on apartheid conditions and on the Trump administrations effort to quash it. US Secretary of Defense James Mattis knows the peril to the US reputation and it will be intriguing to see how he navigates the path Trump is laying down for him between a rock and a hard place. I’ll be surprised if he ignores his instincts for long.

At the 2015 conference on the Israel Lobby, one of Israel’s leading journalists, Gideon Levy of the daily Haaretz, gave a stunner of a speech on how this dehumanization of Palestinians was destroying universal values in Israel, and how unconditional US support for Israel endangers Israeli voices. You couldn’t spend a better, more enlightening twenty minutes. Here’s the audio, the transcript, and the video. Throughout, I wished we had more US politicians, and for that matter journalists, with Levy’s salt.

Levy recounts waiting at a checkpoint at the city of Jenin, behind a Palestinian ambulance with its emergency red lights. After forty minutes, during which the soldiers played backgammon in their tent “...I went out from the car. I went first to the Palestinian ambulance driver. I asked him, what’s going on? He told me that’s the routine, they let me wait one hour until they come and check the ambulance. And I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to the soldiers. It became a confrontation, but the question that I asked them which really brought them to direct their weapons toward me was one: what would happen if your father was lying in this ambulance? This freaked them out. They lost control. How can I dare to compare between their father and the Palestinian in the ambulance? This set of beliefs, that they are not human beings like us, enable us Israelis to live in so much peace with those crimes, ongoing crimes for so many years, without losing any kind of humanity...”



Return to Gideon Levy for his keynote at the 2016 conference (above). It’s built around the striking contrast American congressional delegations touring Israel are treated to and the tour that Levy would give them should he get the chance.

A conference sponsor, The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, has an interesting offering of short video samplings of last year’s speakers. You can get the full videos here, and transcripts here. You might not agree entirely with every speaker’s perspective, but you’ll find every perspective challenging and thought-provoking.

Among those who stick in my mind are Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Secretary of state Colin Powell's former chief of staff, speaking on Israeli influence on US foreign policy.



Another, from 2015, is journalist Gareth Porter, speaking on the manufacturing of the Iran crisis and the push for war, transcript here. You can view all the videos from that conference here and read about the conference here.

If you’re on a historical roll, video, transcripts and audio from the 2014 conference is here.

Not from the conference, but one of the better appraisals of how we got where we are can be had in a 2014 two-part interview at Democracy Now! with Rabbi Henry Siegman, the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress.

More recently, in the March 30th, 2017 issue of the London Review of Books, in “The Ultimate Deal,” Siegman takes a wrench to the Trump and Netanyahu's joint press conference in February, explaining both Trumps naïveté and Netanyahu's duplicity regarding a viable two-state solution.

Another round of insight can be gained from this two-part interview with Noam Chomsky from Democracy Now! It imparts a historical perspective on the horrors of Gaza.

Keynote speakers and presenters at the 2017 conference on the Israel Lobby and American Policy can be seen here.

I’m not going to waste words pointing out the difference between being critical of Israeli extremists-- claim jumpers brandishing real estate deeds from God-- and being anti-Semitic. Those that inevitably try to equate the two aren’t worth the bother. Like everyone else whose great-great grandchildren will still be paying all manner of dues for the invasion of Iraq and for other Middle East blunders, we have all the qualifications we need to be critics.

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Will Ryan Postpone The TrumpCare Vote Again Today?

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Would it change your negative feelings towards Trump voters-- not the racists, the others-- if you understood the "sea of despair" their lives have become? That's how the Washington Post described their state of mind yesterday, based largely on a new report from the Brookings Institution, Mortality and Morbidity in the 21st Century. The researchers found that "deaths of despair"-- deaths from suicide, from drug overdose, from alcohol-related liver diseases-- are on the upswing among non-Hispanic whites, the American working class. They make the point that it isn't just an Appalachian problem or a rural problem, but something that is happening across the U.S. Mortality rates are going up everywhere in the country, New York, New Jersey and California being the only exceptions. In the video above, Princeton Professor Anne Case explained that "The people who are really getting hammered are people with less education."
While midlife mortality rates continue to fall among all education classes in most of the rich world, middle-aged non-Hispanic whites in the U.S. with a high school diploma or less have experienced increasing midlife mortality since the late 1990s... [M]ortality rates of whites with no more than a high school degree, which were around 30 percent lower than mortality rates of blacks in 1999, grew to be 30 percent higher than blacks by 2015.
Case and her colleague, Professor Angus Deaton suggest that the increases in deaths of despair are accompanied by a measurable deterioration in economic and social wellbeing, which has become more pronounced for each successive birth cohort. Marriage rates and labor force participation rates fall between successive birth cohorts, while reports of physical pain, and poor health and mental health rise. They documented an accumulation of pain, distress, and social dysfunction in the lives of working class whites that took hold as the blue-collar economic heyday of the early 1970s ended, and continued through the 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent slow recovery.

Unable to round up enough votes to pass it, Ryan and McCarthy pulled the TrumpCare vote off the congressional schedule for yesterday and claim there'll be a vote today-- a vote on a bill that, if ever signed into law, will exacerbate every single thing that Case and Deaton are talking about. Of course, when you demonize science and scientists... you become immune to hearing their warnings. As Matt Taibbi emphasized in his new Rolling Stone piece this week, Trump The Destroyer, "One of the brilliant innovations of the Trump phenomenon has been the turning of expertise into a class issue. Formerly, scientists were political liabilities only insofar as their work clashed with the teachings of TV Bible-thumpers. Now, any person who in any way disputes popular misconceptions-- that balancing a budget is just like balancing a checkbook, that two snowfalls in a week prove global warming isn't real, that handguns would have saved Jews from the Holocaust or little kids from the Sandy Hook massacre-- is part of an elitist conspiracy to deny the selfhood of the Google-educated American. The Republicans understand this axiom: No politician in the Trump era is going to dive in a foxhole to save scientific research. Scientists, like reporters, Muslims and the French, are out." Oh, and by the way, Trump announced that if Ryan can't pull this off today, he's moving on to his own priorities and that Ryan will be on his own with this mess. No one ever thought Trump had much of an attention span for anything that doesn't include enriching himself.

Late last night, Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman reported for the NY Times that Trump, who they wrote has appeared "impatient and jittery" all week "has told four people close to him that he regrets going along with" Ryan's anti-healthcare jihad right out of the box, although that doesn't line up with the million and one statements Trump made on the campaign trail promising to repeal Obamacare on his first day in office. "Trump," they reported "was slow to recognize the high stakes of the fight, or the implications of losing." He wants to win so badly that he doesn't seem to care how bad of a betrayal to his voters TrumpCare has become-- scrapping mandatory essential benefits like outpatient visits, mental health services (such as opioid addiction, which he specifically campaigned on) and maternity care.

Yesterday, Ryan's SuperPAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, was instructed to put a scare into Republicans opposing Ryan's TrumpCare bill by pulling financial support from David Young's 2018 reelection efforts-- in an Iowa swing district Obama won both times and Trump won 48.5% to 45.0%. That's hard ball. I bet Ryan wasn't excited yesterday to get a letter from the new CBO director he appointed, Keith Hall, with the latest estimates on the latest version of TrumpCare, after the changes that Ryan and his cronies made to the bill to make it more attractive to far right extremists who generally just oppose government activities in health care. The new estimates incorporate the manager's amendments from Wednesday night when Pete Sessions kept the Rules Committee up all night coming up with something ever more horrible than the first version. "As a result of those amendments," he wrote, "this estimate shows smaller savings over the next 10 years than the estimate that CBO issued on March 13 for the reconciliation recommendations of the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce." That's $186 billion over the 10 year period. But that isn't the worst of it:
CBO and JCT estimate that, in 2018, 14 million more people would be uninsured under the legislation than under current law. The increase in the number of uninsured people relative to the number under current law would reach 21 million in 2020 and 24 million in 2026. In 2026, an estimated 52 million people under age 65 would be uninsured, compared with 28 million who would lack insurance that year under current law.

...Compared with the previous version of the legislation, H.R. 1628, with the proposed amendments, would have similar effects on health insurance coverage: Estimates differ by no more than half a million people in any category in any year over the next decade. (Some differences may appear larger because of rounding.) For example, the decline in Medicaid coverage after 2020 would be smaller than in the previous estimate, mainly because of states’ responses to the faster growth in the per capita allotments for aged, blind, and disabled enrollees-- but other changes in Medicaid would offset some of those effects.
Pramila Jayapal took one look at the new CBO report and told her Seattle constituents that "the revised TrumpCare bill is worse than the original. In addition to stripping 24 million people of health care, raising costs for low and middle income families, and subjecting middle-aged Americans to an age tax, TrumpCare will now give a $1 trillion tax cut to the rich. Despite all this, Republicans are still ratcheting up this tax bill disguised as a health care plan and offering backroom deals to drum up support. The American people want nothing to do with TrumpCare. I hope the majority in Congress listens to them, and gives up on their ideological quest that would leave millions without health care. As much as Republicans talk about moral values, this bill makes a mockery of every one of those American ideals. Instead of getting more people health care, they just increased tax cuts for the rich by $400 billion."

When she said that "the American people want nothing to do with TrumpCare," she wasn't just speaking rhetorically. Just before the new CBO report came out, Quinnipiac released a new poll showing already very low support for TrumpCare plummeting further. Voters overwhelmingly disapprove 56% to 17%, with 26% undecided. Even support among Republicans is a very tepid 41%. Quinnipiac reported that "if their U.S. Senator or member of Congress votes to replace Obamacare with the Republican health care plan, 46 percent of voters say they will be less likely to vote for that person, while 19 percent say they will be more likely and 29 percent say this vote won't matter... 'Replacing Obamacare will come with a price for elected representatives who vote to scrap it, say many Americans, who clearly feel their health is in peril under the Republican alternative,' said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

John Yarmuth (D-KY), ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, pointed out that the "CBO has reconfirmed tonight that the Republican plan will cause millions of Americans to lose their coverage and out-of-pocket costs to skyrocket, while subjecting middle-aged Americans to an age tax. They do all this to give $1 trillion in tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy, but they may not stop there. It is astounding and appalling that Republicans in Congress are negotiating with the health and well-being of American families. They have no moral compass."

It had been widely predicted that if Ryan moved the bill in an uglier direction-- which he very much did with the manager's amendments-- mainstream conservatives would bail... and they did, while Freedom Caucus extremists, who want repeal without replace, are still not on-board. In the last few days many swing state Republicans, sensing the betrayal, ran for the exits. Undecided congressmembers in districts where Democrats have the best chances of beating them are no longer undecided. Among the NO votes now are Charlie Dent (PA), Leonard Lance (NJ), who voted for the first version in committee, John Katko (NY), Dan Donovan (NY), David Young (IA), Chris Smith (NJ), Frank LoBiondo (NJ) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA). John Faso (NY) who bought into one of Ryan's promises a couple of days ago is wavering again.

"Sad," wrote Charles Pierce in Esquire referring specifically to Paul Ryan, "the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin, [who] took one in the chops when a vote of his well-camouflaged tax-cut bill was postponed until Friday morning. This came after a frenzied 48 hours in which Ryan and the president were pulled around by the nose by the more lunatic members of their party who thought the dead-fish Ryan had sent to the House wasn't tough enough on poor people. Finally, rather than face the revolt of the wingnuts, Ryan and the Republican leadership pulled the vote, opting for a meeting of the Republican conference and a possible vote on Friday. This sent the House side of the Capitol into a positive whirlwind of rumor, speculation, and undeniable flopsweat."

Goal Thermometer Carol Shea-Porter represents a very swingy New Hampshire district. She won in a 3-way race 44.3%-42.9%-9.4%, while Trump beat Hillary 48.2% to 46.6%. In her report to her constituents-- 40,049 of whom would lose health care under the less terrible first TrumpCare proposal-- yesterday she put it like this: "“There are proposed last-minute changes to the bill that would make a cruel bill even meaner. Republicans now want to take away requirements that insurance plans cover essential services like hospitalization, pregnancy care, prescription drugs, and mental health and addiction treatment. These changes would make a terrible bill-- one that would kick 24 million Americans off their coverage-- even worse. The American people don’t want this bill, and neither does New Hampshire: we have a large volume of calls coming in to my office. House Republicans are ignoring their own hardworking constituents, who are pleading to keep their insurance. Health care organizations are attacking this bill. The only people who benefit are the wealthiest, who would get huge tax breaks. Republican leadership is rushing this unpopular, destructive bill to a vote this week because today is the 7-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. Clearly, this rushed process is about spite, scoring political points, and helping wealthy supporters, rather than about doing what’s best for the American people.” See that thermometer on the right? Tap it and help slow down Trump and help end Paul Ryan's tenure as Speaker.



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Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Republican War On Immigrants Melds Perfectly Into Their War On Science

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And a delightful dining companion

One of the brilliant innovations of the Trump phenomenon has been the turning of expertise into a class issue. Formerly, scientists were political liabilities only insofar as their work clashed with the teachings of TV Bible-thumpers. Now, any person who in any way disputes popular misconceptions-- that balancing a budget is just like balancing a checkbook, that two snowfalls in a week prove global warming isn't real, that handguns would have saved Jews from the Holocaust or little kids from the Sandy Hook massacre-- is part of an elitist conspiracy to deny the selfhood of the Google-educated American. The Republicans understand this axiom: No politician in the Trump era is going to dive in a foxhole to save scientific research. Scientists, like reporters, Muslims and the French, are out.
That was from Matt Taibbi's essay in Rolling Stone this week, Trump The Destroyer, which we discussed in some depth earlier. When I read it I thought of a guy I only met a couple of times, a medical researcher in the field of molecular microbiology, Samuel Stanley, Jr., who I met a couple years ago, after he had been appointed president of SUNY, Stony Brook, where decades ago I was an undergraduate. In recent posts I've mentioned how pretty recently Stony Brook had decided to honor two donors with a dinner, myself and... a reclusive local man now known throughout the world as the financier behind the Trump Regime curtain, Robert Mercer. It always a cute little story about how I suggested it would be an uncomfortable match and how Stony Brook had decided to have two separate dinners instead. This morning I noticed that Dr. Stanley had penned a guest post for Scientific American, one I'm going to guess isn't going to endear him to the Mercers or any other Trumpists.


Anti-Immigration Rhetoric Is a Threat to American Leadership
-by Dr. Samuel Stanley, Jr.,
President, State University of New York, Stony Brook


Our embrace of international students and faculty has given the U.S. a leg up on all other countries in the race to lead in innovation and discovery.


Iranian-American engineer and entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari was a co-sponsor of the Ansari X-Prize for private spaceflight


America’s universities are the best in the world. The quality of the students, faculty, teaching, infrastructure, the commitment to academic freedom, and the extraordinary research opportunities attract the best and brightest people from around the globe to the United States. And our nation is far better for it.

Last year six recipients of the Nobel Prize were working at American universities: the three winners of the prize in physics, the two winners in economics, and one of the three winners in chemistry. All six were foreign born. Bob Dylan was the only Nobel laureate last year born in the United States. And 2016 was no fluke. In all, 42 percent of the Nobel Prizes awarded between 1901 and 2015 went to individuals working/living in the United States, and nearly one third of those recipients were born outside the U.S. Our ability to attract the world’s leading scientists to our universities has helped us maintain global leadership in innovation and discovery, a tremendous component of our economic strength and national security.

But it is not just faculty that have come to U.S. universities to pursue their research. We also have been the destination of choice for outstanding graduate and undergraduate students from around the world. At Stony Brook University and many other top research universities, the majority of our graduate students in STEM fields are international students. Many of these talented students stay on after their education and become contributors to innovation and economic development in our country. The economic impact of international students on the U.S. economy was nearly $36 billion dollars in 2015, with $4 billion in New York State alone. Just on my campus, roughly 10 percent of the startup companies at our business incubator are led by foreign born scientists with much of the workforce coming from recent international doctoral students. And the impact of international students on our campus is not just economic, they add to the diversity of culture and ideas on our campus, broadening the experience of every student at Stony Brook University and better preparing them for the 21st century world.

But now this is all at risk. New immigration policies, coupled with xenophobic rhetoric and actions both before and after the election, are undoing the compact between the United States and those seeking opportunity from around the world. The first executive order nearly resulted in the deportation of the President of Stony Brook’s Graduate Student Organization, a former Fulbright Scholar, who had been studying in the United States for 10 years. The campus was dramatically unsettled, with an initial loss of the sense of security and welcoming inclusive environment that we have worked so hard to establish.


Lamar Smith & Darrell Issa, worst of both worlds
And the impact is not just local. Research uni-versities are seeing an immediate effect on the recruitment of international faculty and students. Stony Brook University has seen a decline of roughly 10 percent in international applications for graduate school this year, a figure that seems to be on a par with the decline seen at other institutions. The reasons for these declines may not be solely based on anti-immigration policies and rhetoric, but some accepted applicants to Stony Brook, especially from countries targeted by the first Executive Order, have stated explicitly that they will choose a Canadian or Australian university instead, based on the uncertainty of U.S. immigration policy and the fact that they are being singled out based on their country of origin, not on their academic credentials. And the recent suspension of expedited processing of H1-B visas, which is of significant concern to the Technology Sector, could also have a chilling effect on the ability of Universities to attract outstanding international faculty and scientists to help sustain our research and educational missions.

Rather than creating pathways to citizenship like DACA, the anti-immigration rhetoric, and now acts of violence against immigrants to the United States, is sending a message to the world that the United States, and by implication, our universities, no longer will be a welcoming and safe environment for international students and faculty. “They” should look elsewhere, and, unfortunately for us, they will.

It may not be too late to make this right. Policy needs to be based on facts, not fear. Recent data from Homeland Security on the relative risks posed by recent immigrants to the U.S. vs those who have been residents for years should be incorporated into our approach to security. Continuing DACA and moving to a policy that “staples a Green Card” on to the diploma of graduates of U.S. universities would go a long way to helping address our workforce issues in technology and reassuring the world that we do still want best and the brightest to study and work in the United States of America.

Our embrace of international students and faculty has given the U.S. a leg up on all other countries in the race to lead in innovation and discovery. We augment our extraordinary homegrown talent with future leaders from around the world. But time is short, the new policies and rhetoric are taking their toll, significant damage is being done, and if we surrender our global edge in innovation and discovery, we may never get it back.

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America’s Political System Thrives on Corruption

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-by Bruce Berlin

Big Money has a stranglehold on our country’s political system that is destroying our democracy. Today in Washington and in our state capitals too often Big Money calls the shots. Moreover, this problem is not a partisan issue. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle as well as presidential administrations of both parties are frequently guilty of unduly favoring the desires of their Big Money donors over the needs of their constituents. The truth is, we have a system that thrives on corruption, and it’s getting worse all the time.

While Donald Trump appears to have taken public corruption to a whole new level, by no means did it begin with him. Recent American history is full of examples. For instance, in 2002 Rep. Billy Tauzin, a Republican from Louisiana and then Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, drafted the Medicare prescription drug bill, which created Medicare’s prescription drug benefit. In his final Congressional election for Congress that same year, Tauzin received close to $300,000 in campaign contributions from health professionals, drug makers and other health products companies. The bill Tauzin drafted in 2003 followed the industry’s desires. It steered clear of price controls and forbade our government, the largest purchaser of prescription drugs, from negotiating with drug manufacturers to secure lower prices for Medicare beneficiaries, which is why today we still pay the highest prices in the world for our prescription medicines.

But, that’s not all. The year after Tauzin drafted the Medicare drug benefit act, he left Congress and went through the revolving door between government and K Street, where a great many lobbyists work, and was hired by the drug industry. PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying arm, rewarded Tauzin for writing the drug bill to its liking by hiring him as its president with a salary of approximately $2 million a year.

Tauzin’s payoff would be unbelievable except for the fact that that is the way Washington actually functions. Retiring from Congress and becoming a lobbyist for a much heftier salary is a fairly common practice. According to one study, 42% of House members and 50% of senators become lobbyists when they leave office. Not only do they make a lot more money when they “retire,” so to speak, but also they automatically have built-in access to members of Congress, having worked with many of them when they themselves were in office. You might say many of our representatives, with the help of corporate America, have made corrupting their public service standard operating procedure.

A few years later, the Great Recession of 2008 struck our nation. Millions of innocent people lost their homes and/or jobs when the economy crashed. Though the economic disaster was mostly due to the unscrupulous and fraudulent practices of Wall Street’s big banks, the Obama administration allowed practically all of those bankers to get off scot-free. Could the facts that some of Obama’s biggest donors during his 2008 campaign were Wall Street banks, and that he appointed a number of Goldman Sachs people, like Larry Summers, Gene Sperling and Rahm Emanuel, to important positions in his administration have had something to do with his failure to hold the bankers accountable?

In addition, despite the fact that the TARP legislation (Troubled Asset Relief Program) included instructions to use a portion of the funds to prevent the foreclosure of people’s homes, President Obama not only used little or none of it to assist those distressed homeowners, but he also refused to extract foreclosure relief measures from our nation’s biggest banks in return for the huge bailout they received. Was neither prosecuting the big bankers nor extracting foreclosure relief from them Obama’s way of paying back Wall Street for their helping him win the White House?

Of course, Obama’s was not the first Democratic administration to look out for Wall Street at the expense of the American people. In the 1990s, Robert Rubin served as Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration. A former Goldman Sachs co-chairman, Rubin used his influential position to gain repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which had separated investment banking from commercial banking since the days of FDR, and had thus protected ordinary Americans’ bank deposits from being wagered by investment bankers in the risky trading of future derivative swaps and other exotic, often fraudulent securities. Rather than protecting the interests of average American investors and homeowners, Secretary Rubin’s efforts supported his Wall Street friends. Repealing Glass-Steagall allowed the Big Banks to gamble with depositors’ money. Consequently, to a great degree, we have Pres. Clinton, Rubin and his bank buddies to thank for the crash of the housing market and the Great Recession of 2008. Even today, many Americans are still struggling to recover while the big bankers are doing better than ever.

Now President Trump and his billionaire Republican friends are running our government. Given all the prior corrupting influence of Big Money in Washington, it’s quite likely that their financial interests will also play a significant role in how our nation’s policies are determined. Rex Tillerson, the new Secretary of State and former head of Exxon Mobil, and Steve Mnuchin, the recently appointed Secretary of the Treasury who previously worked for Goldman Sachs, are just two members of Trump’s cabinet whose policy decisions may very well be swayed by their private financial affairs.

As for Trump himself, it’s all about the money. He reportedly was offered up to a 19% stake in Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil company, in return for his lifting the sanctions imposed on Russia by Pres. Obama. Subsequently, a similar portion of Rosneft was sold to a mysterious partnership partly owned by a shadowy company in the Cayman Islands, the ownership of which is unknown, according to Reuters. And then the sanctions were, in fact, relaxed.

Moreover, last month the Chinese government granted President Trump and his business valuable trademark protection for the use of the Trump name in the construction industry, something he had been seeking for more than a decade. While Trump had fought unsuccessfully in Chinese courts for years for control of the trademark, in November, soon after the election, China awarded the trademark to the Trump Organization.

And, yet another example of Trump’s corruption of the presidency is his pay-to-play scheme at his private, Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach resort. Soon after he became president, Trump doubled its initiation fee to $200,000. For Trump, the presidency is all about using it for his personal gain. The question is: How long will the American people put up with all this corruption?

Bruce Berlin is the state coordinator of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics and the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America. See his website at BreakingBigMoneysGrip.com.


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Matt Taibbi On The Anatomy Of An American Kakistocracy

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I hope everyone's already read Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone piece this week, Trump The Destroyer, more a story on the ugliness of the Regime he's assembled around himself-- "Trump managed to stuff the top of his Cabinet with a jaw-dropping collection of perverts, tyrants and imbeciles, the likes of which Washington has never seen"-- than something on the level of Vlad the Impaler, although he did mention that the usual DC GOP gatekeepers had all "abandoned Trump during the 'grab them by the pussy' episode [and that] in a true autocracy, theirs would be the first heads gored on stakes as a warning to the others. Many D.C. bureaucrats had no idea what to expect. They were like shopkeepers awaiting the arrival of a notorious biker gang" has Trump prepared to descend from The Tower to decamp for Washington.

"The first and most notable consequence of Trump's administration," wrote Taibbi, "is that his ability to generate celebrity has massively increased, his persona now turbocharged by the vast powers of the presidency. Trump has always been a reality star without peer, but now the most powerful man on Earth is prisoner to his talents as an attention-generation machine. Worse, he is leader of a society incapable of discouraging him... On the campaign trail, ballooning celebrity equaled victory. But as the country is finding out, fame and governance have nothing to do with one another. Trump! is bigger than ever. But the Trump presidency is fast withering on the vine in a bizarre, Dorian Gray-style inverse correlation. Which would be a problem for Trump, if he cared."





But he doesn't, instead he does his thing: stokes chaos, creates hurricanes of misdirection, ignores rules and dares the system of checks and balances to stop him, "transforming not our laws but our consciousness, one shriveling brain cell at a time."

The horrific cabinet that Bannon-- on behalf of his masters in Mercerville-- oversaw Trump and Pence putting in place has one thread tying it together: "deconstruction of the administrative state... a state-smashing revolution disguised as populist political theater."
A president like Trump can have an impact even if he never manages to get a single law passed, simply by unleashing stupidity as a revolutionary force. Of course, no one can draw a direct line from Trump to incidents like the one in Kansas, where one of those "normal people" shot two immigrants from India, killing one, after accosting them about their visa status. Nor can anyone say that the Trump effect caused a Sikh man with American citizenship to be shot outside Seattle by a man yelling, "Go back to your own country!"

If Trump and his supporters don't want to take credit for this exciting new era of not knowing what a Muslim is, but shooting people for being one anyway, that's OK. But Trump's executive orders were the hallmark of his first days in office, as he signed the travel ban, pledged to overturn the Dodd-Frank financial rules and ordered the construction of the so-called "Great Wall of Trump," among other things.

But in most cases these orders only announced the start of long legal battles with highly ambiguous chances for success. Take away the impact they had as symbols of action, and most of what Trump has actually done so far, concretely, is pick a team. He soon enough stopped bothering with that, too.

...All of Trump's opponents sooner or later fall victim to the same pattern. He is so voluminously offensive that Christ himself would abandon a positive message to chase his negatives. His election so completely devastated Democratic voters that many cannot think of him except in the context of removing him as soon as possible.

A scenario under which he is impeached somehow for colluding with Vladimir Putin to disrupt last year's election seems like the needed shortcut. Unfortunately, despite a lot of lies about meetings and conversations and other curious behavior, there's no actual proof of conspiracy. The former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said there was "no evidence" of such collusion as of his last day in office.

That has put congressional Democrats in the perilous position of having to litter their Russia speeches with caveats like, "We do not know all the facts" and "More information may well surface." They're often stuck using the conspiracy-theory technique of referring to what they don't know as a way of talking about what they hope to find out.

Trump has responded to all this in a predictable manner, leveling wild counter-accusations, saying Obama had been "tapping my phones" and was a "bad (or sick) guy." Trump's senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, who will either be ambassador to Mars or in a straitjacket by the end of this presidency, followed up by suggesting the government may have used a microwave oven to surveil Trump Tower during the election.


Maybe Trump didn't plan this, and it's just coincidence that where we are now-- dueling accusations of criminality, investig-ations instead of debates, jail promised to the loser-- is what politics would look like in a WWE future where government is a for-profit television program. And maybe it's not the Trump effect that has Democrats so completely focused on him instead of talking to their voters, a mistake they also made last election season.

Still, the Russia story is the ultimate in high-stakes politics. If proof emerges that Trump and Putin colluded, it could topple this presidency. But if no such evidence comes out, the gambit could massively backfire, validating Trump's accusations of establishment bias and media overreach.

In the short term, however, there's no question that Russia is bloodying Trump politically.

..."At some point, he just stopped appointing people," says an incredulous Hauser, the capital watchdog, at the end of February. "He's only made 30 appointments. That means he's still got over 1,000 empty posts. Nearly 200 ambassador posts are in limbo. He named Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, but not a single judge beyond that-- with over 100 empty federal seats to be filled. Nobody knows what the hell is going on."

Sources theorize that Trump's appointments slowed thanks to a combination of factors. Those include a fear of more DeVos-style blowback and an inability to find people capable of passing security clearances (at least six White House staffers reportedly had to be dismissed for this reason).

A darker explanation was offered by a ProPublica story revealing that Trump sent waves of nonpolitical appointees to the agencies in so-called beachhead teams, i.e., people sent in groups under temporary appointments of four to eight months.

These appointees did not have to be confirmed by Congress. Some are freaks and fringe weirdos on a level below even the goofballs in Trump's Cabinet. A fair number carry amorphous "special assistant" titles, making it difficult to know what their duties are.

More unnerving is the presence in the Cabinet-level agencies of a seemingly new position, "senior White House adviser."

Some Hill sources believe these new officials are reporting directly to Steve Bannon, who is fast achieving mythical status as the empire's supreme villain. On the surface, Bannon is just another vicious ex-hippie of the David Horowitz/Michael Savage school, a former Grateful Dead fan who overswung the other way to embrace a Nazistic "culture first" alt-right movement. Everyone from Time magazine (which called him "the great manipulator") to the New York Times (which called him a "de facto president") is rushing to make him into a superempowered henchman of the extreme right, a new Roy Cohn-- fitting, since Cohn himself was one of Trump's first mentors. But whether he's Cohn or just a fourth-rate imitator with a fat neck is still unclear.

Rosenberg believes the anemic pace of Senate-track political nominations, coupled with this flood of unconfirmed political hires, may be at least in part a conscious strategy to try to decrease the autonomy of the agencies and increase the control of the White House, in particular the Bannon camp.

...We always assumed there was a goal behind it all: cattle cars, race war, autocracy. But those were last century's versions of tyranny. It would make perfect sense if modern America's contribution to the genre were far dumber. Trump in the White House may just be a monkey clutching history's biggest hand grenade. Yes, he's always one step ahead of us, and more dangerous than any smart person, and we can never for a minute take our eyes off him.

But while we keep looking for his hidden agenda, it's our growing addiction to the spectacle of his car-wreck presidency that is the real threat. He is already making idiots and accomplices of us all, bringing out the worst in each of us, making us dumber just by watching. Even if Trump never learns to govern, after four years of this we will forget what civilization ever looked like-- and it will be programming, not policy, that will have changed the world.
Goal Thermometer Yesterday Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren riffed off Trevor Noah's little song about how Trump is screwing over "the forgotten man" in regard to-- among other things, lots and lots of other things-- internet privacy. "If," asked Bernie, "Republicans are committed to protecting privacy, why are they letting corporations sell our personal information?" Warren postulates that Senate Republicans are so obsessed with using the Congressional Review Act to kill every consumer protection rule in sight, like the FCC rules that protected consumers by adopting Broadband Privacy rules on how companies collect/use/share/sell our data. Now the GOP wants to allow internet service providers sell private info without telling customers. When we talk about slowing Trump down in the 2017 special elections and in the 2018 midterms, this is the kind of stuff we're talking about. Today the Senate passed-- 50-48 in a party-line vote-- a resolution by Jeff Flake to dismantle the internet privacy rules. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, pointed out that "passing [the resolution] will take consumers out of this driver’s seat and place the collection and use of their information behind a veil of secrecy, despite rhetoric surrounding our debate today suggesting that eliminating these common-sense rules will better protect consumers’ privacy online or will eliminate consumer confusion." If you want to help that whole slowing Trump down thing, please tap the thermometer on the right and contribute what you can.


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The State of the Climate in 2017: "Truly Uncharted Territory"

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Global average temperature during the Holocene. Blue curve: Global temperature reconstruction from proxy data of Marcott et al, Science 2013. Recent instrumental measurements shown in red. Note that the instrument reading (red line) is four years out of date and therefore ends at a lower point than if it reflected today's reading. Graph: Klaus Bitterman. (Source; my annotation; click to enlarge)

by Gaius Publius

Bottom line first — We now have one more source saying that global warming is well above +1°C and headed higher at unanticipated rates. Key quote: We're in "truly uncharted territory." To jump to that news, click here.

Not long ago in these pages I took a look at the actual state of global warming as compared to "pre-Industrial global temperature" — the average global temperature prior to the warming caused by the Industrial Revolution — and discovered that the global warming "headline number" was too low, a fact that's causing a dangerous complacency.

The Industrial Revolution and the Watt Steam Engine

Some context: The Industrial Revolution can be said to have started with the invention of the steam engine, though obviously many other inventions, like the cotton gin, played a big part. The reason for choosing the steam engine, though, should be obvious — its ability to convert carbon emissions into work with much greater efficiency and on a much larger scale than ever before.

Though there were previous versions of a steam engine, some going back a great many years, the one designed by James Watt in 1781 is considered critical:
In 1781 James Watt patented a steam engine that produced continuous rotary motion.[3] Watt's ten-horsepower engines enabled a wide range of manufacturing machinery to be powered. The engines could be sited anywhere that water and coal or wood fuel could be obtained. By 1883, engines that could provide 10,000 hp had become feasible.[4] The stationary steam engine was a key component of the Industrial Revolution, allowing factories to locate where water power was unavailable. The atmospheric engines of Newcomen and Watt were large compared to the amount of power they produced, but high-pressure steam engines were light enough to be applied to vehicles such as traction engines and the railway locomotives.
Anthony Anderson wrote in New Scientist that Watt's improvements to the steam engine "converted it from a prime mover of marginal efficiency into the mechanical workhorse of the Industrial Revolution." Wikipedia adds that the "availability of efficient, reliable motive power made whole new classes of industry economically viable, and altered the economies of continents.[47]"

Pre-Industrial Global Temperature and Pre-Industrial Atmospheric CO2

So the question becomes, not what was the global average temperature in 1900 or the mean of the years 1850–1900, as is usually done, with an implied base year of 1875 — but what was it in, say, 1800, or perhaps, in the mean of the years 1750–1850? In my piece, I argued, along with Michael Mann and others, that the baseline for "pre-Industrial global temperature" was set too high.

That actually matters. Put simply, when people read about global warming, they often see headlines that state "global warming is now +0.6°C above the 1950—1980 mean," or "+0.9°C above 'pre-Industrial temperatures" — statements that lend a kind of comfort to the conversation and strip the problem of its urgency. After all, if the U.N. would like to keep warming to less than +2°C above pre-Industrial temperatures, warming numbers like +0.9°C imply we have a way to go. Even the aspirational warming goal of nor more than +1.5°C imply quite a bit of headroom.

My earlier piece argued that the mark "pre-Industrial baseline temperature" was set far too high. (That piece is here: "Global Warming Has Reached Nearly +1.5°C Already.") Briefly, my layman's logic put the actual current global warming at about +1.4°C, and Dr. Mann, using similar but not identical logic, put it at a little more than a tenth of a degree lower. Mann (my bolded emphasis):
It has been widely reported that 2015 will be the first year where temperatures climbed to 1C above the pre-industrial. That might make it seem like we’ve got quite a ways to go until we breach the 2C limit. But the claim is wrong. We exceeded 1C warming more than a decade ago. The problem is that here, and elsewhere, an inappropriate baseline has been invoked for defining the “pre-industrial.” The warming was measured relative to the average over the latter half of the 19th century (1850-1900). In other words, the base year implicitly used to define “pre-industrial” conditions is 1875, the mid-point of that interval. Yet the industrial revolution and the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations associated with it, began more than a century earlier. ...

[U]sing the more appropriate 1750-1850 pre-industrial baseline, we see that the Northern Hemisphere average temperature (gray squiggly curve [in Figure 3 at the link]) has already warmed nearly 1.2C. Temperatures have exceeded 1C above pre-industrial levels for most of the past decade.
Mann's Figure 1 at the link shows global warming, not just North American warming, to be greater than what was modeled by the IPCC, closer to +1.3°C or more, using his new baseline.

By either measure, though, Dr. Mann's or mine, global warming has blown well past the +1°C mark, never to return below it without heroic, and hopefully, panic-driven efforts (because at this point, it will take panic to drive a real solution). Frankly, I think we'll blow past the +1.5°C warming mark in just a few years, and I suspect Dr. Mann — and quite a few other scientists, if you asked them privately — would agree. That could be "game over," since with +1.5°C warming present on the ground, +2°C or more would certainly be "in the pipeline," with all the social and political chaos it would bring.

As for global pre-Industrial CO2, the answer is more straightforward and agreed upon. Pre-Industrial atmospheric CO2 is widely considered to have been 280 ppm (parts per million by volume), at the low end of the stable Holocene era range.

Pre-Industrial CO2 is the broad flat blue line above at roughly 280 ppm that starts around 10,000 years B.P. (before the present era) and doesn't begin to rise appreciably until about the year 1800, at which point it shoots up (source; click to enlarge).

We've now reached nearly 410 ppm at this year's monthly peak (up-to-date, interactive NOAA chart here). Not good.

"Truly Uncharted Territory"

From Sabrina Shankman at Inside Climate News, we find this confirmation via a new study (my emphasis):
State of the Warming Climate in 2016: 'Truly Uncharted Territory'

World Meteorological Organization reveals extent of global warming's impacts last year, including epic Arctic melting, drought and extreme weather

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released its annual State of Global Climate report on Tuesday, noting a year of broken records and extreme weather events—climate change trends that are continuing into 2017.

"This report confirms that the year 2016 was the warmest on record—a remarkable 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. That temperature rise marks a 0.06 degrees Celsius increase over the record set in 2015. The Paris climate agreement commits the world's nations to holding the atmospheric temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius, to try to stave off potentially catastrophic global warming.

Average atmospheric carbon dioxide levels hit a record high, at 400 parts per million, and projections for 2017 are even higher. The U.K. Met office recently forecast that this year's monthly CO2 level at Mauna Loa could reach nearly 410 parts per million in May, and the 2017 average could be 2-3 parts per million higher than last year.

"The influence of human activities on the climate system has become more and more evident," wrote Taalas in the report's foreword. "This influence is increasingly being demonstrated by attribution studies for some of the most critical weather and climate extremes, in particular extremes related to heat."
David Carlson, the director of the WMO-sponsored World Climate Research Program adds, "We are now in truly uncharted territory."

But the news is worse than they say. If you click through to the study itself (pdf here), look at Figure 1 (global temperature), and count from the early low (roughly the year 1860) to the present high, the difference is clearly more than 1.3°C, or where Dr. Mann (and yours truly) place it. In other words, they have not adjusted their definition of "pre-Industrial" temperature, as Mann and I have done. Making that adjustment, their measured data confirms our own.

As I said in the first piece I linked to above (here), "The Paris climate agreement had hoped to hold global warming to no more than +1.5°C above the pre-Industrial temperature. This is not going to happen. We're almost at that point now, and we'll breach that goal in just a few years." Global warming of +1.5°C is dead ahead.

Your next bottom line is my oft-repeated one — it's going to take a revolution or a national panic to get us out of this mess. Or both. An odd set of things to hope for, but the alternative is very much worse.

So here's hoping.

GP

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Will TrumpCare Signal The End Of The Republican Party In California's Federal Politics?

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Whip counts change. The most worthless ones-- aside from Steve Scalise's-- come from the clueless Beltway media clods. I laughed when I saw Lou Barletta (R-PA) start turning up on lists of NO votes. There's no one in the House more easily bought-off by a thug like Trump than Barletta. So I wasn't quite as breathlessly in shock as the little children at The Hill when Barletta took his bribe and switched his vote:




Mark Meadows, head of the Freedom Caucus, said a few days ago his own whip count shows 40 NO votes in the House. That's the highest I've seen and I wouldn't count on that big a fuck you to Ryan, who has been busy showing Republicans he knows how to get even with expensive TV ads and cheap rob calls in their own districts. As late as yesterday-- after arm-twisting and some pretty massive bribe promises that netted Trump-- besides Barletta-- John Faso (R-NY), John Katko (R-NY), Tom Reed (R-NY), Martha McSally (R-AZ), paper tiger Steve King (R-IA), Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Meadows said he had firm NOs from 25 Freedom Caucus members alone. They only need 22 to kill TrumpCare so that it never even goes to the Senate at all.

Last night many of our Senate contacts were telling us they expected Ryan to have a heart to heart with Scalise, realize he doesn't have the votes, and postpone today's do-or-die attempt. Yesterday Trump set Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway and #PresidentBannon loose on a dozen or so Freedom Caucus members he lured over to the White House. A staffer for one member told me that after the meeting, his boss was more sure than every he would be a NO vote. Several members complained that there is no talk about substantive poilicy-- just politics, crude bribes and usually subtle threats.




One firm NO vote is Thomas Massey, a Libertarian-leaning independent thinker from Kentucky. He says he knows over 35 Republicans against it and he feels they can force Ryan to raise the white flag and repeal ObamaCare without replacing it. "This is worse than Obamacare," he told the media, "and we’re going to own it. We’re going to own it lock, stock and barrel." He tweeted jokingly that he had changed his vote late yesterday, sending out this as a tweet:




Ryan and Trump, though, aren't the only ones holding cash under Republicans' noses to get them to vote on TrumpCare. The Kochs want to see it defeated and CNN reported late yesterday that the Koch network is creating a new multimillion dollar fund for Republican candidates in the 2018 reelection races-- but only for the ones who vote against TrumpCare today.
The Koch-aligned networks oppose the bill because they think it does not do enough to scale back former President Barack Obama's health care policies.

"We want to make certain that lawmakers understand the policy consequences of voting for a law that keeps Obamacare intact," Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips said. "We have a history of following up and holding politicians accountable, but we will also be there to support and thank the champions who stand strong and keep their promise."
Ted Lieu addressed a statement directly to the California Republicans in Congress: "Today’s revelation by Governor Jerry Brown of a $6 billion a year tax bill for California under President Trump’s health care plan is astounding.  I triple-dog-dare moderate House Republicans from California to vote for TrumpCare." What he's talking about is that any Republican who votes for TrumpCare is voting to deny their own constituents federal support for health insurance for a simple reason: in California state law mandates abortion coverage in health insurance, while Ryan specifically wrote TrumpCare to deny tax credits for any policy that does that. The consequences would be calamitous for the state's insurance markets and probably signal-- if (and it's a BIG if) the DCCC could find good candidates-- the end of the careers of at least half a dozen California Republicans, namely Steve Knight, David Valadao, Darrell Issa-- regardless of which was he flip-flops today-- Jeff Denham, Mimi Walters, Dana Rohrabacher, Ed Royce maybe even Paul Cook, Ken Calvert and Tom McClintock. The losses of health care under these circumstances go way beyond what was implied by the CBO because they didn't take the abortion inclusion statute into consideration.


If the DCCC is smart they'll nudge their losing import/invention from last cycle, Brian Caforio, aside and get behind local progressive Katie Hill in CA-25 and retire Steve Knight, the right-wing Republican incumbent. Last night, Hill reiterated that she's far from being a fan of TrumpCare while Knight runs around like a chicken without a head trying too decide which position on TrumpCare hurts him more, backing it or opposing it. Katie Hill:
Representative Knight has been non-committal regarding how he will vote on Ryan's repeal bill. At this point, we have no idea if he will vote in favor of a bill that will result in more than 60,000 of his own constituents losing health coverage, and ultimately decimate the entire insurance market here in California. However, given the tremendous pressure he and other Republican members of congress are receiving from GOP leadership and President Trump, it is likely that he will end up voting yes tomorrow.

Health care is a basic human right. If I am elected to congress, I will fight each day to ensure that every single person is able to receive health care that they can afford. It's common sense-- if our people aren't healthy, our society isn't healthy. If anyone gets sick or dies because they can't afford insurance or the care they need, then we are failing as a country and as a community. I won't rest until we know that that won't happen anymore.

Congressman Knight, it's time to put people over party. I know I will.


UPDATE: What Ryan Did To TrumpCare Overnight-- Aromatherapy Is Nice, But Who Will Cover Chemotherapy?

Looks like the GOP Establishment still doesn't have enough votes to pass this Frankenstein's monster of a bill and that it will be postponed 4 or 5 days while they threaten and bribe more Republican members. The changes they made to the bill last night actually turned off even more members! Margot Singer-Katz covered the sausage-making for the NY Times this morning.
There are two main problems with stripping away minimum benefit rules. One is that the meaning of “health insurance” can start to become a little murky. The second is that, in a world in which no one has to offer maternity coverage, no insurance company wants to be the only one that offers it.

Here is the list of Essential Health Benefits that are required under the Affordable Care Act:

Ambulatory patient services (doctor’s visits)
Emergency services
Hospitalization
Maternity and newborn care
Mental health and substance abuse disorder services, including behavioral health treatment
Prescription drugs
Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices
Laboratory services
Preventive and wellness services, and chronic disease management
Pediatric services, including oral and vision care

The list reflects some lobbying of the members of Congress who wrote it. You may notice that dental services are required for children, but not adults, for example. But over all, the list was developed to make insurance for people who buy their own coverage look, roughly, like the kind of coverage people get through their employer. A plan without prescription drug coverage would probably be cheaper than one that covers it, but most people wouldn’t think of that plan as very good insurance for people who have health care needs.


Under the Republican plan, the government would give people who buy their own insurance money to help them pay for it. A 20-year-old who doesn’t get coverage from work or the government, for example, would get $2,000. If the essential health benefits go away, insurance companies would be allowed to sell health plans that don’t cover, say, hospital care. Federal money would help buy these plans.

But history illustrates a potential problem.

In the 1990s, Congress created a tax credit that helped low-income people buy insurance for their children. Quickly, it became clear that unscrupulous entrepreneurs were creating cheap products that weren’t very useful, and marketing them to people eligible for the credit. Congress quickly repealed the provision after investigations from the Government Accountability Office and the Ways and Means Committee uncovered fraud.

Mark Pauly, a professor of health care management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, who tends to favor market solutions in health care, said that while the Obamacare rules are “paternalistic,” it would be problematic to offer subsidies without standards. “If they’re going to offer a tax credit for people who are buying insurance, well, what is insurance?” he said, noting that you might end up with the government paying for plans that covered aromatherapy but not hospital care. “You have to specify what’s included.”

A proliferation of $1,995 plans that covered mostly aromatherapy could end up costing the federal government a lot more money than the current G.O.P. plan, since far more people would take advantage of tax credits to buy cheap products, even if they weren’t very valuable.

There’s another reason, besides avoiding fraud, that health economists say benefit rules are important. Obamacare requires insurers to offer health insurance to people who have pre-existing illnesses at the same price as they sell them to healthy people, and the Republican bill would keep this rule. But if an insurance company designs a plan that attracts a lot of sick people, it will be very expensive to cover them, and the insurance company will either lose money or end up charging extremely high prices that would drive away any healthy customers.

...Before Obamacare passed, there were few federal standards for health insurance bought by individuals, and it was not uncommon to find plans that didn’t include prescription drug coverage, mental health services or maternity care. But plans tended to cover most of the other benefits. That was in a world where health insurers could discriminate against sick people. In that era, insurers in most states could simply tell the mother of a mentally ill child that she couldn’t buy insurance. That made it less risky for insurers to offer mental health benefits to everyone else.

David Cutler, a professor at Harvard who helped advise the Obama administration on the Affordable Care Act, said he thinks the kind of insurance products that would be offered under the proposed mix of policies could become much more bare-bones than plans before Obamacare. He envisioned an environment in which a typical plan might cover only emergency care and basic preventive services, with everything else as an add-on product, costing almost exactly as much as it would cost to pay for a service out-of-pocket.

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