Saturday, May 27, 2017

Editorial: Fire Red Don / Support Reform in Iran

The aftermath of Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey exposed a paranoid Grifter in Chief and a White House in disarray.

Trump sacked Comey on May 9, 110 days into his presidency, and one day after former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified to a Senate Judiciary subcommittee about the White House’s ongoing entanglement with Russian officials.

Yates on Jan. 26 had warned the White House counsel that Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, misled administration officials about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Flynn was potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians. Yates was fired on Jan. 30 for refusing to support Trump’s flawed travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US. Flynn kept his job as national security adviser until Feb. 13, when news reports finally surfaced that the White House had been warned about Flynn’s security problems.

White House officials first claimed Comey was fired because Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recommended the termination. In his termination letter to Comey, Trump also wrote, “I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.”

On May 10 Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak — whose presence at the meeting was unannounced — in the Oval Office. American media were not allowed a photo session, but the Russian news service TASS published pictures fom a Russian photographer of Trump laughing with Kislyak and Lavrov in the Oval Office. Trump later told reporters he fired Comey “because he was not doing a good job.”

On May 11 Trump admitted to NBC’s Lester Holt that he decided to fire Comey before he met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein. “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story …”

Trump also said that on three different occasions — once in person and twice over the phone — he’d asked Comey if he was under investigation for alleged ties to Russia, and Comey told him he wasn’t.

That same day, the New York Times reported that, in a dinner with Comey on Jan. 27, Trump asked him for a personal loyalty pledge that Comey refused to provide. After that report, Trump tweeted, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” It was later reported that Comey had written a memo immediately after the meeting and told other FBI officials about it — one of possibly many memos he had filed for his own protection.

On May 17, Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

On May 18, the Times reported that Comey had been uncomfortable with Trump’s inquiries to him about the investigation. When Trump called him, weeks after he took office, and asked Comey when federal authorities were going to put out the word that he was not personally under investigation, Comey told the president that if he wanted to know details about the bureau’s investigations, he should not contact Comey directly but instead follow the proper procedures and have the White House counsel send any inquiries to the Justice Department, according to two people briefed on the call.

On May 19, the Times reported that not only did Trump disclose classified information to the Russians in the May 10 meeting in the Oval Office, but he told Lavrov and Kislyak: “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said, according to the Times. That’s taken off,” Trump said. He added, “I’m not under investigation.”

If Trump isn’t under investigation, he might be the only one in his campaign who isn’t — and it wouldn’t speak well of the competence of the FBI agents conducting the investigation.

Comey’s activities as FBI director supervising the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails may have warranted his replacement, but that obviously was not the reason Trump fired Comey. Smart Democrats held back on calling for Comey’s ouster, not wanting to risk Trump and Sessions picking Comey’s replacement.

Trump’s attempts to interfere in the FBI investigation of his campaign warrant not only the appointment of Mueller as a special prosecutor; the House and Senate should name an independent commission to take over the investigation from the congressional committees whose partisan leadership has compromised faith in their abilities to get to the bottom of the scandal.

Impeachment is a strong possibility — and not just of Trump. Vice President Mike Pence also should answer for his role in the campaign and his questionable leadership of the transition team. If Republicans prove unwilling or unable to investigate their president and vice president to see how far the rot goes, voters will have a remedy in 2018: elect a Democratic Congress to do the job that the Grand Oligarch Party refuses to do.

Support Reform in Iran


As the scoops piled up in Washington, Trump fled the jurisdiction, embarking on his first foreign trip as president. In his first stop, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Trump was bowing and curtsying to Arab potentates and signaling that disregard for human rights would not disrupt relations with the Trump Administration. Meanwhile, across the Persian Gulf, Iran was celebrating the re-election of relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who won with 57% of the nationwide vote over a hardline cleric, Ebrahim Raisi, who promised more confrontation with the the West.

Some US right wingers might hope a war with Iran will help Trump, as well as American oil producers by cutting Iranian oil supplies, but crowds of Iranians in Tehran were hopeful that Rouhani’s second term will bring better relations with the West and foreign investment to lift Iran’s ailing economy, as well as the release of Iranian political prisoners, more freedom of speech and fewer restrictions on daily life.

Rouhani’s signal accomplishment during his first term was the deal with the UN Security Council to abandon pursuit of a nuclear weapon. But Trump appeared to rule out any reconciliation with Iran. Instead, he sided with the rival Saudi monarchy, which has used its oil wealth to export a fundamentalist Wahabbi version of Sunni Islam.

In his speech to Muslim heads of state in Riyadh, Trump spoke of a stronger alliance with mostly Sunni Muslim nations to fight terrorism and extremist ideology and to push back against Shiite Iran. In fact, al Qaeda and the Islamic State are Sunni groups against which Iran-sponsored Shiite militias have battled in Iraq.

Iran also backed creation of Hezbollah, the Shiite militia and political party that has Lebanon’s strongest military force and fought to push the Israeli army out of occupied south Lebanon. Hezbollah is now fighting al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Syria, Juan Cole noted.

Cole added, “Iranian centrists nowadays have much more power, through the president and parliament, than do any Saudi centrists that might exist.” While the Saudi king has allowed municipal elections since 2005, the king still appoints one-third of city councillors as well as mayors, provincial governors and members of the national Consultative Council, so any groundswell for reform can be squashed by the king’s men. And there is no freedom of speech, or of the press, or of women.

We agree with Cole, who noted that with a population of 80 million, Iran is a substantial country and a huge market, with a GDP similar to Poland’s. “The US and Iran could do a lot of business with another,” he noted. And with the UN sanctions set aside, if we don’t do business with Iran, other economic rivals, including Russia and China, as well as Germany, France and other NATO allies, will be free to set up shop there. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2017

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


Selections from the June 15, 2017 issue

COVER/Conor Lynch
Future of the resistance: Where does anti-Trump movement go from here?


EDITORIAL
Fire Red Don; Support reform in Iran


LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

DON ROLLINS
FFA finds its way but at what cost? 


RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Climate change still in early innings


DISPATCHES
Supreme Court strikes down racially gerrymandered NC congressional districts;
Trump’s common curtsy;
House Dems raking in small-dollar donations;
White House keeps ‘Obamacare’ payments in place another 90 days;
O'Donnell may be outin MSNBC rightward revamp;
White House having H.R. problems;
Days after promise to save food stamps, Trump budget targets them, as safety net is slashed;
Airport lawyers who stood up to Trump under attack
'Essential' toxic waste cleanup program to be slashed;
First rule of pipelines: They leak;
Gingrich pushes discredited conspiracy theory about death of DNC staffer;
Right-wing attacks on Planned Parenthood are working ...


ART CULLEN
The problem with Iowa


JILL RICHARDSON
The coming crisis for the world’s farmers


JOHN YOUNG
Two impeachable obstructions at play here


MICHAEL BOLAND
Fight back with voting and election reform


RICHARD ESKOW
What progressives should demand from the FBI


ROBERT BOROSAGE
Donald Trump is waging a war on workers


LIBERO DELLA PIANA
When protests are powerful, the powerful punish protest


BOB BURNETT
Explaining Trump’s base support


HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Nostalgia, or careening back to the future


SAM URETSKY
Penny pinching Texas legislators slam family planning


WAYNE O’LEARY
A tinge of fascism


JOHN BUELL
Is Trump’s infrastructure plan an attack on democracy?


N. GUNASEKARAN
Hazards of ‘petty trade’ in Asia


SETH SANDRONSKY
ALEC and the minimum wage


SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Punctuate this!


ROB PATTERSON
Watchlists


MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Josh Fox’s latest film captures the struggle at Standing Rock


and more ...

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Editorial: Trumpcare: The Lies Have It

Republicans have wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the worst way, as they seek to dismantle the legacy of former President Barack Obama. On May 4, after President Donald Trump browbeat reluctant Republican House members, they took their first stop with the narrow 217-213 passage of the American Health Care Act (Trumpcare).

The Republican health deform, drafted by House Speaker Paul Ryan with Trump’s blessing, would drain $1.2 trillion from federal health programs over the next decade. Most of the money comes from programs helping the working poor who need financial assistance to get health care. The money would go back to the rich who were taxed to provide many of those benefits.

Some $880 billion comes out of Medicaid, the federal program that provides comprehensive insurance that provides people with income up to 133% of the poverty line, or $27,159 a year for a family of three. Trumpcare also turns Medicaid into a block grant in which states are turned loose to use the remaining money with reduced federal oversight. So much for Trump’s repeated promises during the campaign that he would protect Medicaid (as well as Medicare and Social Security — watch out seniors: They’re coming for you next).

Other “savings” from the Trumpcare health bill come from the subsidies for people with relatively low incomes buying health insurance on their own, who for the past three years have been eligible for tax credits that discount premiums. The Republicans would shift assistance from the people with lower incomes to people based on their age, but it also lets insurance companies dramatically increase premiums on older Americans. It also repeals tax credits for small businesses that provide insurance for workers.

For example, Nancy Altman of Social Security Works noted, a 64-year-old who earns $26,500 now pays $1,700 annually for health insurance. Trumpcare would force the senior to pay $14,600 for the same coverage. “That is more than half of her income! And that is just the cost of the annual premium. It doesn’t include the cost of medication, co-pays, deductibles, or non-covered items like glasses. That doesn’t leave a whole lot left over for housing and food,” Altman said.

The Republican bill also would let insurance companies dramatically hike premiums for people with “pre-existing conditions,” including everything from mental health problems to cancer. Republicans point out that people with chronic health problems would not face those premium hikes unless they let their current coverage lapse, but Jonathan Cohn noted at HuffingtonPost.com, with the changes in tax credits, lapses in coverage would become much more common. Republicans promised a safety net, in the form of high-risk pools, even though they have been tried before, never proved adequate, and under the AHCA would have inadequate funding.

The Congressional Budget Office, after reviewing an earlier version of Trumpcare, predicted that it would cause 24 million Americans to lose their coverage. Ryan rushed the vote on Trumpcare 1.1 before the CBO could analyze the amended version, so Republicans didn’t know the fiscal impact before they voted on it.

The savings mainly go to cut taxes on America’s wealthiest people. For individuals earning more than $200,000 or couples earning more than $250,000, it eliminates a 0.9% increase in the Medicare payroll tax and a 3.8% tax on investment income. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that the wealthiest 400 households in America would get an average of $7 million in tax breaks.

As the public backlash grew to the apparent gutting of healthcare protections, Republicans resorted to lying about Trumpcare’s potential effects at the Sunday morning political talk shows May 7, Zack Ford noted at ThinkProgress.org.

House Speaker Paul Ryan on ABC This Week called any concern that the bill was passed without a final CBO score a “bogus attack from the left,” insisting that the final amendment “was only three pages long.”

But those three pages were significant enough to sway the Freedom Caucus to change their votes from their previous opposition to what they termed “Obamacare Lite.”  Ryan claimed it didn’t matter that Trumpcare passed without a new assessment. (Some reporters recalled that Ryan loudly attacked Democrats in 2010 for passing Obamacare without a final CBO score.)

Ryan also insisted, “under this bill, no matter what, you cannot be denied coverage if you have a preexisting condition.” In reality, the latest version of Trumpcare has even weaker preexisting condition protections than the version that the CBO scored.

The new version allows states to opt out of Obamacare’s prohibition against insurers charging people with preexisting conditions higher rates, and to shuffle these people into “high-risk pools.” In the past, high-risk pools often offered skimpy coverage at exorbitant rates  —  if coverage was available at all. Ryan ignored this concern, insisting people will be fine so long as they have continuous coverage.

On Fox News, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was spreading the same misinformation about pre-existing conditions. Like Ryan, Priebus downplayed the number of people who would be impacted, pointing out it wouldn’t affect pre-existing conditions for employer-based insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, or anyone with continuous coverage. “Let’s assume that there are some people who might not have continuous coverage,” Priebus said, before host Chris Wallace interrupted to highlight that it’s not just “some people,” but in fact millions of people.

Priebus insisted that the $8 billion for high-risk pools will help keep down costs for people with preexisting conditions, but the Center for American Progress found that $8 billion over 10 years will only subsidize 76,000 more people. In reality, the bill would need about $200 billion in subsidies for the risk pools, meaning $8 billion is just a drop in the bucket and the high-risk pools are likely to be overburdened and underfunded as they were before.

In interviews on both NBC’s Meet The Press and CNN’s State of the Union, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price defended the way Trumpcare cuts $880 billion from Medicaid. This cut was one of the primary reasons the CBO concluded that 24 million people would lose their coverage by next year. Price tried to downplay the cut by suggesting it was somehow not a cut, adding that he believes it will correct the problem of many doctors not accepting Medicaid. On CNN, Jake Tapper countered that the primary reason some doctors don’t accept Medicaid is because it doesn’t reimburse them enough, asking Price how less money will help reimburse doctors more.

When a constituent at a town hall May 5 in Lewiston, Idaho, told Rep. Raul Labrador (R), “You are mandating people on Medicaid accept dying,” Labrador replied,“No one wants anybody to die. That line is so indefensible. Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care,” he continued, drawing loud jeers from the audience.

Why do they lie about what the health deform does? Because solid majorities of the American people oppose the changes (55% told Gallup Congress should not repeal the ACA and 87% in a March CNN poll opposed lifting the requirement that insurers cover people with pre-existing conditions).

The bill goes on to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hopes to pass the health deform as part of budget reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority and cannot be filibustered. But the rules require that the bill’s provisions be limited to tax and spending changes.

Republicans cannot afford to lose more than two senators from their side, if they try to railroad the bill through budget reconciliation. Contact your senators (the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 will put you through) and let them know that voting to repeal the ACA will be hazardous to their continued public service. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2017

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



Selections from the June 1, 2017 issue

COVER/Paul Rosenberg
Trump’s tax cuts revive ‘Voodoo Economics’


EDITORIAL 
Trumpcare: the lies have it

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

DON ROLLINS
One church’s struggle with white supremacy


RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Trump manages to unite progressives


DISPATCHES
After Medicaid, they’re coming for Medicare and Social Security;
McConnell names Senate ‘death panel’;
Trumpcare threatens vets’ health care;
Trump's DoJ cites segregation argument in federal appeal;
Woman faces prison for laughing at Sessions regrets nothing;
FCC chair starts probe of Stephen Colbert’s bleeped joke;
Offshore wind farm shutters island's diesel power plant ...


ART CULLEN
Trump is reminded by NAFTA who elected him


JILL RICHARDSON
Running the country not like running a business


BOB BURNETT
Berkeley gets trolled


JOEL D. JOSEPH  
Tax reform should not allow corporations to pay a lower tax than individuals, except manufacturers

JASON SIBERT
Trump puts power in the hands of polluters


RICHARD ESKOW 
How many will die for rich Americans’ tax cut under Trumpcare bill?


ISAIAH J. POOLE 
Progressive caucus budget turns resistance into policy, rebukes Trump


JOHN YOUNG
Here come the clowns with ‘tax reform’ balloons


HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas 
Medicaid-speak: Words as bullets


SAM URETSKY
Trump voters might yet blink


WAYNE O’LEARY
Ending corporate taxation


JOHN BUELL
Rural consciousness and Democratic politics


JIM GOODMAN
NAFTA needs to be replaced, not renegotiated


SETH SANDRONSKY
Temping now


ROB PATTERSON
Trump music


MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Risk-y business: Laura Poitras’s new documentary on Julian Assange


and more ...