Thursday, April 27, 2017

Editorial: 100 Days in the Hole

As Donald Trump neared his 100th day in the White House, he began to downplay the importance of legislative achievements scored by that arbitrary milestone.

In a rambling and sometimes unintelligible interview with the Associated Press published April 23, Trump said the 100-day mark “is an important story. I’ve done a lot. I’ve done more than any other president in the first 100 days and I think the first 100 days is an artificial barrier.”

Of course, Trump’s claim that he had done more than any other president is preposterous. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first 100 days are the score by which all others are judged. Taking office March 4, 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, with unemployment estimated at one-quarter of the nation’s work force, FDR focused on the nation’s economic plight and the Democratic Congress approved 76 bills, including 15 landmark acts that formed the basis of FDR’s New Deal. One of Roosevelt’s first acts on March 6 was to order the entire American banking system shut down to restore order. Congress on March 9 passed the Emergency Banking Act, which authorized federal deposit insurance and restored depositors’ confidence in banks. Congress also created the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the the National Industrial Recovery Act, which set up the Public Works Administration and the National Recovery Administration. Congress also gave federal agencies broad new regulatory authority. FDR was credited with saving capitalism with government regulation, for which some socialists and free-market ideologues never forgave him.

When Barack Obama took office in January 2009, the economy was in a freefall after deregulation of financial markets during the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Abuses of mortgage securities created a housing bubble whose bust in 2008 threatened Wall Street banks that were judged “too big to fail.” The unemployment rate was 7.8% and rising when Obama was sworn in. Obama and the Democratic Congress passed an $800 billion economic stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Over the next year, it pulled the economy out of the dive and put it back on a course toward recovery. Obama also ordered restructuring of General Moters and Chrysler in bankruptcy, starting in March 2009, in a bailout that saved an estimated one million jobs at the automakers and suppliers.

The stimulus primed the economy, which created 11.3 million jobs, including private job gains for the last 75 months, resulting ultimately in 4.7% unemployment when Obama left office.

During his first 100 days, Obama also signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which relaxed the statute of limitations for equal-pay lawsuits; he signed the expanded State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), which helped four million additional working families; he got Congress to approve a budget resolution that put it on course to tackle major health care reform; he implemented new ethics guidelines designed to significantly curtail the influence of lobbyists on the executive branch; he followed through on George W. Bush’s plan to withdraw US troops from Iraq; and lifted the 7½-year ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

During his election campaign, Trump claimed that he would enact many of his promises during the first few days after his inauguration. Then he discovered that getting Congress to defer to his commands was harder than he thought, even when both chambers are controlled by fellow Republicans. Federal judges also proved pesky. Trump was able to reverse some of the executive orders that were issued in the closing months of Obama’s administration. Trump’s own executive order revived the controversial Keystone and Dakota Access oil pipelines; he signed a congressional resolution that repealed an Obama-era regulation that protected US waterways from coal mining pollution. He reversed an Obama-era rule that required financial advisers to act in the best interests of their clients.

Trump struck out in his first major legislative effort, to repeal and replace Obama’s Affordable Care Act. House Republicans split over whether House Speaker Paul Ryan’s replacement bill, which would have caused an estimated 24 million Americans to lose their health coverage, was stingy enough to the working poor. Democrats wanted no part of the deal to dismantle the ACA, which helped 20 million Americans get health coverage and reduced the uninsured rate to an all-time low of 8.8% in 2016.

Trump said in a Wall Street Journal interview on April 12 that insurers might end up losing a key subsidy they now receive unless Democrats sit down with him to negotiate over repeal. “I don’t want people to get hurt,” Trump said. “What I think should happen and will happen is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating.”

Democrats appear willing to call Trump’s bluff. But merely by making statements like these, Jonathan Cohn noted at (April 17), Trump is rattling insurers. It increases the chances that they’ll raise premiums a lot more than they would have otherwise, or abandon the markets altogether. Which suits the “GOP.”

Trump’s one major legislative “victory” was the Senate confirmation of of right-wing judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, on a 54-45 vote, but that required the Republican majority to change the rules, doing away with the filibuster in cases of judicial nominations, which would have required 60 votes to pass.

Trump hoped to start working on a “massive” tax cut, mainly to benefit rich people like him. But Democrats have indicated they won’t play ball on tax “reforms” until Trump finally releases his long-awaited tax returns. “Until President Trump releases his full tax returns, a cloud of suspicion will remain and make it much more difficult to get tax reform legislation through the Congress,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Gallup has been tracking presidential approval ratings after the first quarter since Eisenhower in 1953. President Kennedy received the highest in April 1961 with a 74% rating. Obama’s 63% approval after three months is the fourth highest and the highest since President Carter with a 69%. President Reagan’s first quarter had 60% approval in 1981, President George.H.W. Bush with 57% in 1989, President Clinton with 55% in 1993, and President George W. Bush with 58% in 2001. Gallup on April 23 reported Trump’s approval at 40% while 54% disapproved.

Lack of productivity isn’t the only thing that has hurt Trump. He also is exposed as the most reckless and unfounded liar ever to inhabit the White House, along with reports that the FBI is investigating ties of campaign aides to Russian officials before his election.

As of Jan. 22, PolitiFact had examined 394 statements by Trump dating back to 2011 and found 64, or 16%, were “Pants on Fire” lies; 130, or 33%, were false (making 49% entirely unfounded); 78, (205) mostly false; 57 (20%) half true; 49 (12%) were mostly true and just 16 (4%) were true.

As of April 20, the Washington Post Fact Checker had counted 417 false or misleading claims by Trump as president.

Trump also has threatened not to sign a resolution to keep the government running past the end of April if it did not provide funding for the wall across the Southern border that he had promised Mexico would pay for. Sahil Kapur, national political reporter for Bloomberg News, noted on April 23 that if Congress fails to pass a continuing resolution on April 29, it would be the first time in the modern era that a party in control of the White House and Congress shut down its own government.

Maybe we should celebrate that Trump and his minions aren’t better at passing laws. Barring impeachment, which could find a groundswell of support among Republicans in Congress if Democrats continue to perform well in special elections — and perhaps win a few districts that previously were considered to be reliably Republican — we have 15 quarters remaining under the misrule of Trump. Continue to build the resistance! — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2017

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Selections from the May 15, 2017 issue

COVER/Sophia A. McClennen
Trump’s millenium problem: Snowflakes are becoming a blizzard.

100 days in the hole


Are we witnessing remaking of religion in America?

Small-scale farming is our best hope for restoring rural America

Under Trump, coal communities stuck between rock and hard place;
Illinois Dems unseat R’s in local races;
Ky. working poor to lose Medicaid coverage;
Cllimate change poses ‘nightmare scenario’ for Fla. coast;
Anti-semitism soars;
Medicare for All need not increase taxes;
US taunted over aircraft carrier tale;
Lack of US attorneys hampers 'tough on crime' efforts ...

Crusading for everyday Americans 

A great clucking idea

You pay your fair share. Shouldn’t Wall Street?

Real solutions for tax day, not bogus tax reforms

Trump’s budget director declares class war on the American people

He told me to get a job

While the media slept

If I had a hammer

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Making America sick again: A swarm of midges

Superbugs at the gate

The originalist

Who’s the crazy here?

The war president

Fox News: the official state propaganda arm

War no more

Printed matter will survive

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Strong women and new paradigms highlight native women in film festival

Trump acts to reform employment visa program

and more ...

Trump Kong

Graphic by Kevin Kreneck

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Populist Managing Editor Wins Pulitzer Prize

Art Cullen, managing editor of The Progressive Populist, won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing at his day job, as editor of The Storm Lake (Iowa) Times (4/10). Art won for “editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa,” which include the Koch organization, Cargill, Monsanto and the Farm Bureau and their secret funding of local governments’ defense in a major environmental lawsuit by the Des Moines Water Works. The municipal water utility sued three counties in northwest Iowa over nitrate runoff from farms that pollutes the Raccoon River, which is a source for Des Moines’ water supplies. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled in favor of the defendant counties that the utility can’t win damages in the lawsuit and a federal judge in Sioux City in March dismissed a similar federal lawsuit.

“Art has attacked local farmers, lawyers, county supervisors, Monsanto, the Koch Brothers, agribusiness and the Republican Party — all icons in northwest Iowa,” Richard Longworth, a retired Chicago Tribune reporter and foreign correspondent who has chronicled the changing Midwest economy in recent years for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, told James Warren of the Poynter Institute.

“He called Sen. (Charles) Grassley, an Iowa institution, ‘nothing more than a lapdog for the Republican establishment,’ and the other Iowa senator, Joni Ernst, ‘the only woman as vulgar as Donald Trump,’

“Art’s Pulitzer is virtue rewarded,” Longworth said. “Sometimes the good guys really do win.”

The twice-weekly Times, whose circulation is approximately 3,000, has been published since June 1990 in Storm Lake, Iowa, population 10,000. The Times also handles circulation, printing and mailing of The Progressive Populist, which has been published since November 1995. John Cullen is publisher of both publications.

See the 10 editorials that were cited in the award.

See also, "In a small Iowa town, a Pulitzer-winning editor defends immigrants and tries to bring a community together" from the Los Angeles Times.

See a report from a nearby daily newspaper. the Carroll Daily Times Herald.

See another report from James Warren of the Poynter Institute.

Editorial: Stupid Makes a Comeback

Former President Barack Obama’s prime directive on foreign policy, “Don’t do stupid stuff,” is looking better every day Donald Trump inhabits the White House.

In the summer of 2013, Trump warned then-President Obama in dozens of tweets to “stay out” of Syria and focus on problems at home. Intervention, he said, would only risk hurting civilians and empowering would-be terrorists. “We should stay the hell out of Syria,” he tweeted in June 2013, after Obama directed American forces to increase support to Syrian rebels in the wake of chemical attacks by government forces.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly said he would not intervene militarily in Syria and promised to stop Syrian refugees from entering the United States. In February 2016, he told supporters that he could look Syrian children in the face and say, “You can’t come,” because their parents might be terrorists. “They may be ISIL, they may be ISIL-related. It could be a Trojan horse. If 2% of those people are bad, the trouble is unbelievable.”

And despite his opposition to intervention, Trump repeatedly urged Obama to seek congressional approval to carry out punitive strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, warning that Obama would be making a “big mistake” if he failed to do so.

So it’s ironic, to say the least, that Trump said he was deeply shaken by images of dead and dying children, apparently stricken by chemical weapons, so he abruptly ordered a missile attack on a Syrian airfield April 6. Coincidentally, Trump has been trying to distract the public from news of the FBI probe of his campaign’s possible ties with Russian hackers, oligarchs and spies.

Trump told Russians he was attacking Syria’s Shayrat air base before he told Congress, and the Russians passed the word to their Syrian allies, who apparently cleared the airfield of forces and working aircraft before the Tomahawk missiles arrived.

The missile strike apparently did limited damage to the Syrian air force, which was back to launching warplanes from the same airfield the next day to bomb the same town, albeit apparently with conventional weapons.

The attack, with 59 Tomahawk guided missiles, occurred on the night of April 6, as Trump was hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Trump hoped to convince the Chinese president to influence North Korea to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons, but after the Chinese leader left the US, Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, called the Syria strike the act of a weakened politician who needed to flex his muscles. In an analysis, Xinhua also said Trump had ordered the strike to distance himself from Syria’s backers in Moscow, to overcome accusations that he was “pro-Russia.”

The official Chinese account of the talks did not mention North Korea, an omission that was probably an intentional rsponse to the attack on Syria, Jane Perlez reported in the New York Times.
Xinhua’s commentary mentioned American missile attacks on Libya in 1986 and Sudan in 1998, and scolded the United States for not achieving its “political goals” in those instances.

“It has been a typical tactic of the US to send a strong political message by attacking other countries using advanced warplanes and cruise missiles,” the article said.

Trump also blamed Obama for failing to use force against Assad after the dictator first used chemical weapons in 2013.

“I think the Obama administration had a great opportunity to solve this crisis a long time ago when he said the red line in the sand,” Trump said April 5 at the White House. “And when he didn’t cross that line after making the threat, I think that set us back a long ways, not only in Syria, but in many other parts of the world, because it was a blank threat. I think it was something that was not one of our better days as a country.”

In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic in March 2016, Obama said he was “very proud” of his decision in August 2013 not to follow up on his threat to attack the Assad regime in Syria if it crossed the “red line” and deployed chemical weapons.

“The overwhelming weight of conventional wisdom and the machinery of our national-security apparatus had gone fairly far. The perception was that my credibility was at stake, that America’s credibility was at stake. And so for me to press the pause button at that moment, I knew, would cost me politically. And the fact that I was able to pull back from the immediate pressures and think through in my own mind what was in America’s interest, not only with respect to Syria but also with respect to our democracy, was as tough a decision as I’ve made—and I believe ultimately it was the right decision to make.”

This was the moment the president believes he finally broke with what he calls, derisively, the “Washington playbook,” Goldberg wrote.

“Where am I controversial? When it comes to the use of military power,” Obama said. “That is the source of the controversy. There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.”

Instead, Obama got Assad to agree to have his chemical weapons removed, with Assad’s Russian sponsors guaranteeing the removal. Now it appears that Russia may not have been a reliable guarantor, but in the meantime Obama and allies in the Mideast were able to concentrate on providing support for attacks on “Islamic State” jihadists that have constricted their operations in Syria and Iraq.

Juan Cole has noted the Assad regime probably has 80% of the Syrian population under its authority now — “all the major cities plus some of the countryside, whereas the rebels have only a couple urban enclaves and then mostly rural villages. Moreover, populations like those in Aleppo, Latakia and Damascus are grateful to be living under even a brutal one-party state rather than under the mostly fundamentalist rebels, some of whom are openly allied with the al-Qaeda-linked Syrian Conquest Front (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra or the Support Front).”

Syria is probably about 6% Christian, 3% Druze, 14% Allawi, 2% Shiite, 10% Kurdish– i.e. about 35% minorities, Cole wrote. “Then, of the 65% that are Sunni Arabs, a majority are secular-minded and, as in West Aleppo, are just as afraid of al-Qaeda and ISIL as are the minorities. So al-Assad would almost certainly get a majority of the votes in any free and fair election at the moment. That doesn’t mean people like living under a one-party state or one that tortures. It just means that the rebel opposition turned to an extremist Sunni discourse that scared the minorities and secularists. The Saudi-backed Army of Islam, tagged as ‘moderate’ by Obama’s CIA, thundered against the wretched Allawi heretics, as they called them, and no state erected by this Saudi candidate would offer a decent life to Syria’s minorities.”

There are few good choices in Syria. The US might be able to topple Assad, but that would just create another crisis over who would take over, and it would leave other rival factions killing innocent children and sectarians. Obama was right to forget the red line. Trump should remember his own counsel. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2017

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Copyright © 2017 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the May 1, 2017 issue

COVER/Richard Eskow
Koch caucus continues assault on healthcare

Stupid makes a comeback


Dorothy Day: the making of a reluctant saint

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen 
Time for yet another debate on health care

TPP managing editor wins Pulitzer Prize;
Gorsuch could prove double-edged ‘win’ for Trump;
Trump’s national security adviser says ‘we’re prepared to do more’ in Syria;
Trump administration isn’t finished rolling back environmental regs; renewable energy shatters records;
Drops in solar, wind costs flip global power market;
China grants trademarks for Trump massage parlors, bars and escort services;
Farmes protest Trump's reversal of climate change progress;
EPA staff 'openly mocking' Trump enviro policies, says retiree ...

Nine-tenths of coal miners are gone 

Feeding one kid, starving the family

Launching missiles from ‘Oppositeville’

Building on a healthcare win

Trade is Trump’s biggest broken promise

12 things Trump should know about trade

Who will decide for whom fresh water flows?

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas 
Escaping Mephistopheles

Research cuts hurt

Republicans just don’t care

The politics of full employment

California post-ACA considers single-payer

Will Trump’s climate policies retard Asia?

Grief over celebrity deaths

Twister, anyone?

and more ...

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Editorial: Time to Expand Medicare

Republicans have been working to undermine the Affordable Care Act for the past seven years, and the campaign has taken its toll. But Paul Ryan and Donald Trump failed to strike the fatal blow this past week, as Republicans split over the replacement for "Obamacare." They might try again, after Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price gets a shot at undermining the health exchanges, but if Price succeeds in wrecking the Affordable Care Act through maladministration, the answer should not be another look at the Ryan-Trump proposal to give the insurance companies more flexibility and rely on the “free market” to set things right. Insurance companies had their shot at providing universal coverage, and they failed.

President Obama determined in 2009 that insurance companies had too much clout in Washington to make any headway with a universal health care initiative that did not get the insurance companies to sign on.

Obama managed to get the insurance trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, to publicly back the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2009, but Wendell Potter, a former insurance executive who became a critic of the private insurance system, noted that the insurance lobby secretly funneled tens of millions of dollars to allies like the US Chamber of Commerce to finance anti-Obamacare PR and ad campaigns.“The big for-profit insurers, which gave AHIP the lion’s share of the secret money, arguably are more responsible than any other special interest in turning the public’s attitudes against reform,” Potter wrote for the Center for Public Integrity in April 2015.

The anti-reform advertising blitz in late 2009 and early 2010 helped convince Democrats in Congress to give up on the “public option,” which would have allowed people under 65 to buy Medicare coverage, Potter wrote. Lawmakers also agreed to make the penalty for not buying insurance more painful with every passing year, which would send more customers to the insurance companies.

But Republicans tried to undermine Obama’s assurances to insurance companies that they would not lose money on these new customers, many of whom had been uninsurable because of pre-existing medical conditions. The law provided fodr insurance companies to be made whole, but in 2014 Republicans slipped a “rider” into a spending bill to stop federal funds from being spent to cover “risk corridor” shortfalls for insurance companies during the first three years of the ACA’s rollout. Because of the rider, the government was able to pay only 13% of what insurance companies were expecting to receive from the risk corridors in 2015.

The monkey wrench didn’t kill Obamacare, which was Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s goal, but it did force premium increases that were announced in the weeks before the 2016 election. Also, Michael Hiltzig of the Los Angeles Times noted, “The lack of full reimbursement contributed to the collapse of a dozen healthcare co-ops that had been created to provide coverage to individuals and families, interfering with coverage of some 800,000 Americans. Many, if not most, of these co-ops likely would have survived if the promised financial cushion was there for them when expected.”

The major insurance companies still made out OK under the new law, with revenue increases from Medicaid and Medicare Advantage customers more than offsetting losses from the exchanges.

UnitedHealth, the nation’s largest health insurer, dropped out of the exchanges effective this year, claiming that Obamacare reduced its 2016 earnings by $850 million. But UnitedHealth had record-breaking profits in 2015, and an even better year in 2016, when UnitedHealth saw total company revenue jump 18% to $185 billion.

Aetna has also celebrated sky-high profits, reporting a record annual operating revenue of over $63.15 billion for 2016, an increase of 5% from 2015, though Aetna said it lost money in its individual products, on and off the health exchanges. But Aetna’s departure from health insurance exchanges in 11 states may also have been motivated by CEO Mark Bertolini’s anger at being denied a merger with Humana, which also scaled back its participation in the exchanges but reported a record $54.38 billion in revenue for 2016. Obama’s Justice Department blocked the $37 billion deal on the grounds that merging two of the nation’s five largest insurance providers was an antitrust violation that would strangle competition in the marketplace.

The Congressional Budget Office on March 13 reported that the Republican health plan would cause 24 million people to lose insurance and increase insurance costs dramatically for older Americans.

Under the current law, in 2026, a 64-year-old earning $26,500 with an insurance policy that costs $15,300 a year would get a tax credit of $13,600, leaving the consumer responsible for $1,700. Under the Republican plan, health insurers could charge older people up to five times more than they charge younger people (compared with three times more under the current law), raising the older person’s premium to $19,500. But the tax credit would be only $4,900, and that older person’s share of the premium would then be $14,600.

By contrast, a single 21-year-old earning $26,500 with an insurance policy that costs $5,100 a year would get a tax credit of $3,400 and would have to pay $1,700 of the premium. Under the Republican bill, that person’s share of the cost would drop to $1,450.

Republicans, who have disputed the success of the Affordable Care Act, played down the CBO analysis. They note that the agency predicted that the ACA, also known as Obamacare, would put eight million more people under insurance than actually signed up. But the number of people who signed up for insurance through the government-sponsored health exchanges was lower than expected, in part, because employers did not drop coverage to the extent that had been anticipated, and many Republican-led states opted not to accept the federal funds to expand Medicaid to provide coverage for the working poor.

The Republican plan also would sharply cut Medicaid and give states more leeway in developing and administering their own program for low-income health coverage. Most savings would go to tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

The Affordable Care Act was a good try, but it should be replaced by Medicare for All. Four principals of Physicians for a National Health Program made the case for a single-payer national health program in an op-ed in the American Journal of Public Health in June 2016. They noted that employers have tripled deductibles on insurance policies since 2006 in an effort to restrain their health benefit costs and many of the estimated 11 million Americans who have purchased plans on ACA exchanges face punishingly high copayments and deductibles, which average more than $5,300 in “bronze” plans. That can compromise access to health care and financial well-being. In 2014, 36% of non-elderly adults skipped needed care because of cost (that’s down from 41% in 2010), and more than half of all overdue debts on credit reports were medical.

A single-payer plan, expanding Medicare to cover everybody, could provide comprehensive coverage without copayments or deductibles, replacing the current wasteful patchwork of coverage, and a February 2016 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that two-thirds of Americans support such a move. Cutting administrative spending to Canadian levels would save 15% off what we now spend on health care, freeing nearly $500 billion annually for expanded and improved coverage. And allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies over prices, as do universal health programs in other advanced nations, would result in significant savings. “The greater efficiency and simplicity of the [national health program] would curb inflation in health costs, so that cost savings would grow with time,” the physicians note.

Insurance companies had their chance and they failed. Medicare has been providing efficient health coverage for the most expensive patients in the nation for 50 years and it’s time to give it a shot at covering the rest of us. — JMC

(This editorial has been updated from the version in the printed edition, to reflect the decision of Trump and Ryan to pull their bill on March 24.)

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2017

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