Saturday, August 12, 2017

Editorial: Keep the Heat on GOP

Now that Republicans have failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act — albeit by a one-vote margin in the Senate — Donald Trump wants to hurry the collapse of the nation’s health care program by shortchanging insurance companies who were promised subsidies for keeping costs low. Trump also has sent mixed signals on whether penalties will be enforced on people who don’t buy health insurance, as the law requires.

If enough insurance companies withdraw from the program and/or premiums soar because of sabotage, Trump thinks, ObamaCare will fail, and then Democrats will be forced to accept his terms on a replacement. But some Republican senators, looking at polls that show Americans are blaming Trump and the GOP for the cracks in the ACA, are in the mood to try to fix the program and Democrats should be ready with progressive options.

While we think Medicare for All is the ultimate solution, bills by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) to implement that are unlikely to get a serious hearing in the Republican-controlled House or Senate this year. Democrats might be able to build a groundswell of support for a proposal to let people buy Medicare and/or Medicaid coverage if private insurance companies fail to offer adequate coverage.

Toward that end, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) on Aug. 3 introduced the Medicare at 55 Act, which would allow people 55 and older to buy in to Medicare. Co-sponsors include Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and Al Franken (Minn.).

Stabenow’s office suggests the new bill would likely generate cost savings for those between the ages of 55 and 64, since private insurers are permitted to charge that cohort three times the rates of their younger people due to the generally higher cost of providing them coverage. Americans aged 55 to 64, on average, pay more than $1,200 a year in out-of-pocket medical costs that Medicare would alleviate, according to the Health Care Cost Institute, Daniel Marans reported at

House Democrats, including Reps. Jon Larson (Conn.), Brian Higgins (N.Y.) and Joe Courtney (Conn.) plan to introduce a similar Medicare Buy-In and Health Care Stabilization Act. The bill would let Americans aged 50 or older buy into Medicare for as little as $8,212 a year — a significant savings for a 60-year-old currently purchasing a high-ranking “gold” plan on the exchange for an estimated $13,308, according to the congressmen’s offices.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and John McCain get full credit for voting against Mitch McConnell’s repeal of the Affordable Care Act — but so do the 48 senators in the Democratic Caucus (including independent Sens. Angus King of Maine and Sanders) who stuck together in defense of the ACA. And the progressive Resistance made sure the Democrats stayed in the corral as well as rounding up the three maverick Republicans who were willing to vote for the interests of their constituents, instead of the billionaire funders of the GOP who were demanding repeal of the capital gains surcharge and other taxes that pay for much of the ACA.

That leaves flaky Republican senators such as Dean Heller of Nevada, who pledged at the end of June that not only would be oppose the Republican plan to repeal and replace the ACA, he would oppose the procedural motion that would allow the Senate to proceed to debate on the bill. A month later, he voted for the “motion to proceed” and he also voted for the “skinny repeal” bill, which would cause an estimated 328,000 Nevadans to lose health care. Heller also voted with 49 other Republicans in March for a bill that would allow states to block more than $200 million in Title X funding from going to Planned Parenthood or any other organization that provides abortions — even if the medical service had nothing to do with abortions. Four million Americans rely on Title X family planning services, but many might have trouble finding a family planning clinic.

In the Senate, where Republicans have a 52-48 majority, Democrats face a daunting challenge in the 2018 election, as 23 Dems and two independents who caucus with them are up for re-election. Republicans have eight seats up for re-election.

The conventional wisdom is that Democrats might be able to pick up two seats — those now held by Dean Heller in Nevada and Jeff Flake in Arizona. But if Democrats win those races and hold onto the 25 seats already in the Democratic Caucus, the GOP would still control the Senate with Vice President Pence casting the tie-breaking vote. That’s why Democrats also need to target Ted Cruz in Texas, where US Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) is challenging Cruz in a Bernie Sanders-style insurgent campaign. Otherwise, Dems can take on Roger Wicker in Mississippi, Deb Fischer in Nebraska, Bob Corker in Tennessee, Orrin Hatch in Utah or John Barrasso in Wyoming, at even longer odds.

Republicans are expected to target Democratic senators in Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia, all of which states voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and Trump in 2016. The GOP also covet seats from Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, states which voted for Trump in 2016. Republicans also might target Democrats in New Mexico, Virginia, Maine and New Jersey. And they likely will fund a challenger for Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts in an attempt to take her down a peg.

If Democrats manage to gain control of the Senate, they could jam the plutocrats’ hopes to pack the federal judiciary with right-wing judges appointed to lifetime terms. There are currently 138 vacancies, including 19 on appeals courts. Trump is getting his nominees directly from the right-wing Heritage Foundation and, frankly, they’re not sending America’s best lawyers. The oligarchs also hope to steal another Supreme Court seat that might solidify a right-wing majority on the high court for the foreseeable future.

To gain three seats and the Senate majority for the Dems will require a “wave” election, and with Trump’s approval ratings at record lows (36.6% at 200 days into Trump’s Administration) and congressional approval even lower (20% in a July Gallup poll), it is time for Democrats to go on the offensive with a populist economic agenda that promises Democrats will look out for the working Americans who are targeted by Trump’s proposed budget cuts and administrative policy betrayals.

Congressional Democratic leaders have taken a good first step with their “Better Deal” agenda, which promises a crackdown on corporate monopolies, infrastructure projects to create 10 million jobs, an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, guaranteeing paid sick and family leave and lowering the costs of prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies.

Even better is the “People’s Budget: A Roadmap for the Resistance,” drafted by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which revives Franklin Roosevelt’s promise of an economic bill of rights—to decent work, affordable housing, world-class public education, guaranteed health care and retirement security. The People’s Budget lays out an ambitious jobs and public-investment agenda — $2 trillion to rebuild America over 10 years, debt-free college, seeding a green industrial revolution and more — and pays for it by increasing taxes on the wealthy and corporations to make them pay their fair share.

If Republicans hold onto their Senate majority, and perhaps even add a few next year, they can take another swipe at replacing the Affordable Care Act with one of those monstrosities that were narrowly defeated in the Senate. That means the health care of millions of working families is still threatened. Make every Republican candidate defend their support for Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell’s craven health deforms in the next election year. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2017

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

Selections from the September 1, 2017 issue

COVER/Amanda Marcotte
Trump’s pileup of fake conspiracies conceals the real one

Keep the heat on the GOP


Donald Trump and Captain Ahab

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Republicans inaction leaves rural hospitals endangered

Trump failing rural Americans by erasing climate change from USDA;
Union promises to fight defeat at Nissan Mississippi plant;
Senate confirms anti-labor pick to labor board;
Trump’s new appeals court judge compared abortion to slavery;
Trump may shut down government over border wall;
Trump urged Fox News to air bogus story;
Trolls celebrate mosque bombing while Trump stays silent;
Vatican shot across the bow for hard-line US Catholics ...

The noise machine never quiets down

A tale of two beaches

Trump: Bring back the 1950s

Saving America from the wrongs of the right: A six point plan

Now playing in Washington: ‘The Unconscionables’

Give me something new

Progressive health care advances in the Golden State

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Willie Sutton for a new age

Trump’s pox Americana

Distractions keep Congress from addressing infrastructure

The single-payer imperative

Moving beyond resistance

Trump administration fails to buy American

What if Trump did that?

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
The complete idiot’s guide to pardoning a turkey

Terry Gross still sets the standard on interviews

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
‘An Inconvenient Sequel’ raises some inconvenient truths about Gore

and more ...

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Editorial: Stop GOP Genocide

Republican failure to repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) is a testament to the staying power of a federal entitlement: once granted, it is extremely difficult to take it away.

The ACA offered to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income families whose income is less than 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL), starting in January 2014. People making up to four times the poverty level, which is $20,420 for a family of three in 2017, could qualify for subsidies to help them buy insurance through the state exchanges. But when the Supreme Court in June 2012 ruled that the federal government couldn’t force the states to expand Medicaid, 25 states where Republicans were in charge took advantage of the court’s permission to refuse the federally-funded expansion. They didn’t care that the rejection of Medicaid expansion would result in 7.78 million people who would have gained coverage remaining uninsured and between 7,115 and 17,104 more people would die annually from treatable illnesses.

Texas was the largest state to opt out of Medicaid expansion, as Republicans blocked more than two million working Texans from getting federally financed health care. The Harvard/CUNY study estimated that between 1,840 and 3,035 Texans’ lives would be lost annually, or as many as 12,000 so far. In Florida, Republicans kept 1.2 million working poor Floridians from getting insurance, which has resulted in between 1,158 and 2,221 deaths annually since then. That puts the lie to the Republican claim to be “pro-life.”

As of 2017, six more states had accepted the expansion, leaving 31 states and D.C. expanding Medicaid while 19 states continue to withhold federally financed health care from the working poor.

The Senate Republican bill would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 14 million in 2018 and 22 million by 2026, the Congressional Budget Office projected. The increase in the number of uninsured would result in 18,100 excess deaths in 2018, 22,900 excess deaths in 2020, and 26,500 extra deaths in 2026, researchers from Harvard’s School of Public Health found, estimating a total of 208,500 unnecessary deaths over the next decade.

A few Republican senators whose states have gotten used to the Medicaid expansion have kept the bill from advancing so far, but if bringing back John McCain in the midst of cancer treatment to cast a vote to throw millions of working stiffs off Medicaid doesn’t do the trick to free up tax cuts for billionaires (as McCain ended up disappointing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and siding with the Democrats, along with Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska), Donald Trump has said he favors letting “Obamacare” fail — and in Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, Trump has the right man in place to make sure it fails!

At least Republican fumbling of health care schemes has increased the popularity of Obamacare as well as acceptance of a federal role in making sure all Americans get health care. An Associated Press/NORC poll in July found that 62% of respondents said it was the responsibility of the federal government to make sure that all Americans have health coverage. That was up from 52% in March.

The same poll found a clear majority of 59% wants to keep Obamacare, but 73% of those who want to keep the ACA said it should be changed to work better.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in June found 53% supporting all Americans getting their coverage through a single government plan, such as Medicare for All, while 43% were opposed. But a similar poll by Pew Research Center in June found that 33% support a single national government health program, while 25% support a mix of government programs and private insurance.

Democratic leaders appear to be slow to adopt the Medicare for All solution, but HR 676, the bill which Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) has filed to expand and improve Medicare for all, has 115 co-sponsors, which is more than one-half of the Democratic caucus and is the highest level of support the bill has received since Conyers started filing the bill in 2003. Among the Medicare for All co-sponsors in the House are Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), vice chair of the Democratic National Committee. “We can fight fiercely to protect the Affordable Care Act and also look a little bit farther in terms of establishing Medicare for All,” Ellison said in a May press conference.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is expected to file his own Medicare for All bill, which will put Democratic senators on the spot.

DNC Chairman Tom Perez has said he supports universal health coverage but he doubts Medicare for All is achievable. “I would love, if I were king for the day, to do something akin to Medicare for all. Because Medicare has been a very good program, and it’s helped a lot of people,” he told NBC’s Seth Myers in May.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said the time has not yet come for a push for single-payer on the national level. “The comfort level with a broader base of the American people is not there yet,” Pelosi said in May. Instead, she suggested that Democrats push for a state-level public option for health insurance. “We must defeat the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. But that is not our only fight,” she said. “We must go further! The Affordable Care Act enables every state to create a public option. I believe California can lead the way for America by creating a strong public option.”

Ellison said he thought it would be good politics for Democrats to run on single payer in 2018. “It’s not the proper role of me at the DNC to tell people what they’re going to stand for, that’s a choice the candidates make for themselves, but I recommend that you win your election and I think a good way to do it is to support Conyers’ bill,” Ellison said.

Defenders of the current private insurance system raise fears that Medicare for All would increase taxes, but putting the US on a single-payer system actually could — and should — cut health care costs. We spend more on health per capita than any other nation ($9,403 in 2014), but still left 33 million uninsured. Canada gives everybody up north equal access to medical facilities, practitioners and procedures at a cost of $4,641 per capita. Still, Canada spent far less of its GDP on health care than did the US — 10.4% compared with 17.8% in the US — which, again. was the highest share of any nation, according to the World Health Organization.

Physicians for a National Health Program proposes to expand Medicare to cover all Americans for all medical care, including mental health, dental care and prescription drugs, without deductibles or copays. The system would be publicly financed, but would rely on existing private hospitals, clinics and practitioners to provide care, much like Medicare does. During a transition period, all public funds currently spent on health care – including Medicare, Medicaid and state and local health care programs – would be redirected to the unified National Health Plan budget. Such public spending – together with tax subsidies for employer-paid insurance and government expenditures for public workers’ health benefits – already accounts for 60% of total US health expenditures. Additional funds would be raised through taxes, though PNHP notes that these would be fully offset by a decrease in out-of-pocket spending and private insurance premiums. Also, doing away with private insurance, which averages 12% overhead, and simplifying administrative costs for doctors and hospitals would save more than $400 billion annually.

Medicare for All won’t go anywhere in this current Congress, but Democrats should promote it to give voters a choice that would work for 2018. At least it might motivate Republicans to work with Democrats to fix the Affordable Care Act and stop letting tens of thousands of working people die for lack of medical care.

By the way, when conservatives demand to know where in the Constitution is the authority for the federal government to provide health insurance, the answer is right up front, in the Preamble, where it says one of the reasons to establish the Constitution is to “promote the general Welfare.” Let’s get after it. — JMC

Editor's note: This has been updated from the print version since the 51-49 Senate vote that defeated the "skinny repeal" bill on July 28, which apparently has stalled the Republican "repeal and replace" effort, at least for the time being.

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2017

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Copyright © 2017 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652
Art by Kevin Kreneck

Selections from the August 15, 2017 issue

COVER/Jefferson Morley
A cornered Trump is more dangerous

Stop GOP genocide


Coming to terms with Big Religion 

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Woe be to WOTUS if POTUS has his way

Dems seek to reclaim populist mantle;
Dems continue to flip statehouse seats;
Republican congressmen seek revenge on CBO for Trumpcare report;
South Texas border wall will ‘essentially destroy’ Rio Grande wildlife refuge;
First Amendment faces bipartisan assault;
Medicaid expansion had huge impact on finances of poor;
Energy efficiency is a huge money saver -- but Trump is against it;
Trump warning to Mueller proves, again, it's all about the money;
Trump's new judge compared abortion to slavery ...

Heir to Ignoramus

Is this how the world sees America now?

The gang that couldn’t lie straight

Republicans working against workers

The resistance bookshelf

Take back the narrative

Trump targets Peace Corps

Endgame: How President Trump will go down

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas 
Loving the land of make believe

AIDS advisors quit Trump administration

The worst administration of all time?

Trump, North Korea and historical amnesia

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Son of a gun

California’s capital then and now

There’s plenty of real news on the web, too

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
New documentary goes beneath the waves to see coral bleaching crisis

and more ...

Saturday, July 15, 2017

GOP Donors Demand Return on Investment

One measure of how Congress is controlled by plutocrats is that Republicans are still trying to peddle a “health” bill that has just 17% support nationwide. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll in late June also found 59% disapprove of the Grand Oligarch Party’s bill to replace the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare). The House’s version, which was passed in March on a near-party-line vote, faces similar levels of opposition from the public.

The main reason Republicans are proceeding with their health deform bill is they need that money they’re taking from Medicare and Medicaid to pay for tax cuts for their billionaire donors — in fact, one influential Texas donor told congressional Republicans that his “Dallas piggy bank” is closed until he sees major action on health care and taxes.

“Get ObamaCare repealed and replaced, get tax reform passed,” Doug Deason said June 26 in a pointed message to GOP leaders. “You control the Senate. You control the House. You have the presidency. There’s no reason you can’t get this done. Get it done and we’ll open it back up.”

Both the House and Senate bills originally proposed to repeal a 3.8% surtax on investment income such as dividends, interest and capital gains that exceed $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples and a 0.9% payroll tax on income over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 that goes into the Medicare trust fund.

Mitch McConnell is trying to secure the 50 votes he needs, along with Vice President Mike Pence’s potential tie-breaking vote, to pass the plan his henchmen have cobbled together, which would cut $772 billion from Medicaid and $117 billion from Medicare to pay for tax cuts for millionaires and cause 22 million Americans to lose their insurance, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine estimates the bill could cause 28,600 people to die annually from lack of medical care due to loss of insurance.

On Thursday, McConnell unveiled a new version of the bill that keeps the taxes on the wealthy but still cuts Medicaid funding by more than 30%, eliminates expansion of the program to cover the working poor and replaces ObamaCare's tax credit subsidies with smaller ones that would be available to fewer people.

To appease Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and other conservatives, McConnell included new provisions that would create a two-tiered health insurance market. Insurers would be able to offer plans that exclude people with pre-existing conditions or charge them higher rates ― or to market plans without comprehensive benefits ― just as long as they sell at least one plan with more comprehensive coverage that is available to everybody at a uniform price, Jeffrey Young reported at

Ironically, Republicans have spent the last seven years undermining a health plan that was based on a proposal of the conservative Heritage Foundation in 1989, which was first written into a bill by Senate Republicans in 1993 and passed into law by Republican Gov. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts in 2005. But when Democrats in 2009 proposed the Affordable Care Act, which relies on federal subsidies of private health insurers and an individual mandate to produce universal coverage, Republicans decided they could not support it because it would be part of President Barack Obama’s legacy.

The good news is, if Democrats regain the White House and a majority in Congress they can expand Medicare to cover everybody through the same budget reconciliation process that Republicans are now using to try to repeal ObamaCare.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who promoted universal healthcare during his Democratic presidential campaign, plans to introduce a single-payer plan. Supporters include Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). In the House, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) has already gotten 113 co-sponsors for his Medicare For All bill. That’s nearly double the number of co-sponsors the legislation garnered last congressional session. Co-sponsors include Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.).

Neither bill will make much headway in the current Congress, but Democrats will have popular opinion on their side if they campaign on expanding Medicare in 2018. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in June found 53% of the public supporting all Americans getting their coverage through a single government plan, while 43% are opposed. This is up from the level of support for single-payer in Kaiser polls since 1998. From 1998 through 2004, roughly four in ten supported a national health plan, while about half were opposed. From 2008-2009, the period leading up to passage of the ACA, the public was more evenly divided, with about half in favor of a single-payer plan and half opposed. The recent increase in support for single-payer has largely been driven by independents, who increased from 42% support in 2008-09 to 55% in the new poll.

The public also continues to show more support for “Medicare For All” than “single-payer health insurance,” though the gap is narrowing. The February 2016 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found the public was 20-points more likely to react favorably to the term “Medicare For all” (64% favorable) than “single-payer health insurance system” (44% favorable). The current poll finds 55% support for “Medicare For All” and 53% for “single payer.”

In the meantime, if Republicans fail in their attempt to replace ObamaCare, McConnell has said his party might have to work with Democrats to stabilize the current law.

If that happens, Kevin Drum of has proposed a three-step plan to fix ObamaCare.

1) Enforce the individual mandate and increase the penalty to 3.5% of income. Drum noted that the point is not to penalize poor people; it’s to get more healthy people into the system.

2) Increase subsidies by 20% and extend them to six times the poverty level, to make insurance more affordable for everyone. (The current law provides subsidies to people making up to four times the poverty level.)

3) In areas where there are fewer than two insurers participating in the exchanges, states should make Medicaid available for the price of an average Bronze plan.
Finally, for-profit insurance companies should be put on notice that they need to prove there is a constructive role for them in providing universal health coverage. So far, they have failed the test and Medicare For All is an increasingly attractive solution.

Vote Purger Leads Election Probe

The FBI is properly investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials who apparently meddled in the US presidential election. But if there was a conspiracy to hack the election, Republican officials did more damage with their systematic measures to suppress voter participation.

Donald Trump has claimed that millions of illegal voters were responsible for Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote by almost 2.9 million votes last November. So the minority president created the ironically named “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity,” to be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and vice chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is one of the leaders of the GOP’s systematic disenfranchisement of students, the poor, people of color and other likely Democratic voters. Kobach was a developer of Interstate Crosscheck, which aimed to identify Americans registered in more than one state and purge them from voter lists. Greg Palast has noted that Crosscheck merely matched first and last names of voters in 28 participating states, and it resulted in the purging of 1.1 million names from voter rolls before the 2016 election.

In Michigan, where 450,000 names were purged by Crosscheck, Donald Trump officially won by 10,704 votes. But Palast noted that a record 75,335 votes were never counted, on orders of the Republican attorney general — with most of the missing votes in heavily Democratic Detroit and Flint. There are unanswered questions about voting irregularites in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

Trump may have illegally conspired with Russians who hacked Democratic computers and turned up embarrasing emails. But law enforcement authorities need to discover whether Kris Kobach and Republican election officials on the ground in those battleground states helped to fix the election for Trump. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2017

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

Art by Kevin Kreneck

Selections from the August 1, 2017 issue

COVER/Hal Crowther
A whiter shade of pale?

GOP donors demand return on investment


Soft power, hard hearts and the bottom line 

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
12 Steps for democracy

Donald Jr. admits Russian lawyer offered dirt on Hillary during campaign;
Trump follows Fox News in faulty attack against Comey;
Trump continues record pace for lying;
Likely EPA pick not conservative enough for climate deniers;
G19 outmaneuvers climate rogue Trump;
Republicans in several states reduce minimum wages;
Corporate media celebrate job loss;
TrumpCare will save Social Security $3B because of the people it kills;
Hobby Lobby's stolen art may have financed Mideast terrorism ...

Where did all the cattle, and people, go?

America needs service workers — and they need health care

Mr. Fraud is on the trail of — voter fraud?

GOP ‘health’ bill: Death, disaster and gilded age greed

Showdown in the battle for El Paso

BOOKS/Seth Sandronsky 
Workplace democracy and its discontents

Don’t be fooled by rosy renewables projections

Searching for the soul of the Democratic Party

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Send in the wedding planners: Health care

Billionaires have their uses in protecting democracy

Donkey in the doldrums and other tales

The many faces of climate science denial

How to fix NAFTA

Defense establishment needs rent control

Congress stonewalls bill to stop funding terrorists

Maher wears thin on ‘Real Time’

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Dear poor people: God is so not into you

and more ...

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Editorial: Bad Bills Rising

While most of the nation was distracted by former FBI Director James Comey testifying to the Senate Intelligence Committee about Donald Trump’s attempt to obstruct justice in the FBI probe of the Trump campaign’s ties with Russian officials and computer hackers in the 2016 election, House Republicans passed a bill to repeal most of the Dodd-Frank regulations of the finance industry, and Senate Republicans plan to move on their bill to gut Obamacare before the public finds out what’s in it.

The House on June 8 along partisan lines approved the deregulatory Financial CHOICE Act 233-186. It does away with many of the “onerous regulations” that Democrats passed in 2010 to prevent a repeat of the excesses that led to the financial crisis of 2007-08. Republicans would reduce federal scrutiny of big banks, such as Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, as well as other large financial institutions, such as Insurance companies.

Republicans have targeted the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a consumer watchdog agency created in the Dodd-Frank Act. The new bill would let the president hire and fire the head of the CFPB and it gives Congress authority over the CFPB’s budget, which is now funded by the Federal Reserve. It strips the CFPB’s authority to regulate “small-dollar credit,” including “payday loans, vehicle title loans, or other similar loans” that saddle borrowers with extremely high interest rates. The CFPB in 2016 proposed rules to curb abuses by predatory lenders, requiring them to ensure a borrower will be able to make payments on time, and making repeat lending to the same people more difficult.

The GOP bill also reduces the CFPB’s ability to levy hefty fines against financial institutions for “unfair” or “deceptive” practices, as it did last year when Wells Fargo was fined $100 million for opening two million accounts customers did not ask for or know about. And it reverses efforts by the CFPB to limit forced-arbitration clauses, which prohibit consumers from bringing traditional lawsuits against financial institutions, requiring them to participate in private, often expensive, proceedings to resolve disputes outside the regular court system.

The bill also repeals the Volcker Rule, which prohibits big banks from using depositors’ funds to participate in certain risky investment activities. It also eases annual “stress tests” measuring the ability of the largest banks that are considered “too big to fail” to withstand financial shock. It removes the government’s ability to restructure a failing financial institution and it repeals the limits set by the Fed on how much banks can charge consumers and retailers for using debit and credit cards.

The bill also would eliminate the Labor Department’s “fiduciary rule,” which requires brokers to act in the best interest of their clients when providing investment advice about retirement plans. After years of development the rule was completed last spring under the Obama administration and the first parts of the rule went into effect June 9. The Trump Labor Department could try to weaken the fiduciary rule before it takes full effect next January.

The CHOICE bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, has argued that the bill will protect consumers and smaller community banks that are burdened by the cost of complying with Dodd-Frank’s regulatory structure. But Hannah Levintova noted at that FDIC data on community banks contradicts Hensarling’s point: In 2016, community bank earnings grew by $507.9 million from the previous year, and they gave out small business loans at more than twice the rate of noncommunity banks.

“This is a dangerous piece of legislation,” Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip, said on the House floor.

Republicans, who have a 52-48 Senate majority, will need Democratic support to get the Financial CHOICE Act through the Senate, where 60 votes are needed under regular rules, unless Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decides to nuke the filibuster for legislation the way he did in April to confirm right-wing Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Republicans could try to pass a more limited version of the bill with a simple majority through the same reconciliation process they intend to use for the health care repeal bill. Senate Banking Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) has made overtures to ranking member Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), but Brown is holding the line. “Democrats have shown we’re willing to work with Republicans to tailor the rules where it makes sense, but not if it means killing the reforms that have made the financial system safer and fairer,” Brown said before the House vote. Democrats and other progressive groups argue that banks need more oversight, not less. They noted that banks reported record profits last year, despite the Dodd-Frank rules, and Wall Street bonuses rose for the first time in three years.

Trump backed the deregulatory bill, but he has said he would “look at” a return to some of the features the old system under the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which prohibited traditional banks from doing the riskier work of investment banks. Nobody seems to know what he means. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have introduced a “21st Century Glass-Steagall” bill that would prevent banks from acting as both commercial lenders and investment banks, but Trump has brought in five former Goldman Sachs executives to look after his economic policies. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive, has told the Senate that a “bright line” between commercial and investment banking could hurt lending and capital markets activity that “support a robust economy.”

Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs president who is now Trump’s top economic adviser, recently told Bloomberg that a “21st Century modern Glass-Steagall” could allow the US to better “tailor regulation” in a way that increases lending.

On the Republican effort to replace Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Senate Majority Leader McConnell has started the process to rush Trumpcare 2.1 through the Senate on a fast track with very little transparency. Republican senators have been working behind closed doors to craft a deal that could secure 50 votes they need to pass the bill under the budget reconciliation process. But the Senate bill apparently won’t be much improved from the House bill, which the Congressional Budget Office said would cut $834 billion from Medicaid and cause 23 million Americans to lose health coverage. Republicans need that $834 billion to pay for tax cuts for the rich, so you can expect those savage cuts to remain in the bill. Also look for provisions allowing states to waive essential health benefits, including coverage for pre-existing conditions at standard rates, and allowing insurance companies to charge older people — aged 50-64 —up to five times what they charge younger people.

Under Rule 14, McConnell can bypass committees and send the bill directly to the Senate floor as soon as he thinks he has the votes. Senate Republicans have no plans to publicly release the bill before it goes to the floor, because they know the public won’t like it.

Topher Spiro, health policy expert at the Center for American Progress, has been keeping whip counts in both the House and Senate on Trumpcare. He hears that McConnell has written off Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) as no’s, and he’s ready to bring in Vice President Mike Pence for the tiebreaker. So call your own senators to urge a no vote on Trumpcare, and focus not only on firming up Collins’ and Murkowski’s opposition, but also work on vulnerable Sens. Jeff Flake (Arizona) and particularly Dean Heller (Nevada). And potential wild cards such as Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Rand Paul could derail the bill because they think it’s still not harsh enough on the working poor.

Call your senators at 202-224-3121 and tell them the only replacement for Obamacare should be Medicare For All. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2017

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

Selections from the July 1-15, 2017 issue

COVER/Gary Legum
Trump family grift is getting worse

Bad bills rising


Liberals learning to redefine good news 

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Raise hell to keep dreams alive

GOP to squeeze unpopular Obamacare repeal into budget reconciliation;
Cal takes step toward single-oayer health plan;
‘Infrastructure Week’ didn’t show much;
US refuses to endorse G7 statement on climate change;
Electric car sales doubled last year;
EPA chief way off about new coal jobs;
Trump has a record as a liar;
Trump says Qatar funds terror. Qataris wonder if Trump is mad they didn't fund him ...

Workers want a green economy, not a dirty environment

Saving America’s great places

The Republican party’s sickness of the soul

Donald Trump vs. (most of) the planet

Trump’s revealing budget for rural America

The four faces of Trump

Election to head CA’s Democratic Party is disputed

Trump’s reputation as a dealmaker is a sham, walking away from Paris proves it

Trump’s water infrastructure plans in two words: higher rates

Foreclosures lead to flippers’ profits

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Congress flunks the Jimmy Kimmel test, or the deserving sick

Evolving understanding of evolution

Rural communities lose most with health repeal

Divvying up the loot

Neoliberalism and deaths of despair

Dangerous discourse: when progressives sound like demagogues

Burying Aldo Leopold

Who’s the next Dylan?

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Bill Moyers and Tim Robbins: “We are the Jailhouse Nation of the World”

and more ...

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?

Fire Red Don; Support reform in Iran


FFA finds its way but at what cost? 

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Climate change still in early innings

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 ...

The problem with Iowa

The coming crisis for the world’s farmers

Two impeachable obstructions at play here

Fight back with voting and election reform

What progressives should demand from the FBI

Donald Trump is waging a war on workers

When protests are powerful, the powerful punish protest

Explaining Trump’s base support

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

Penny pinching Texas legislators slam family planning

A tinge of fascism

Is Trump’s infrastructure plan an attack on democracy?

Hazards of ‘petty trade’ in Asia

ALEC and the minimum wage

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Punctuate this!


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, 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

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’

Trumpcare: the lies have it


One church’s struggle with white supremacy

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Trump manages to unite progressives

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 ...

Trump is reminded by NAFTA who elected him

Running the country not like running a business

Berkeley gets trolled

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

Trump puts power in the hands of polluters

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

Progressive caucus budget turns resistance into policy, rebukes Trump

Here come the clowns with ‘tax reform’ balloons

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

Trump voters might yet blink

Ending corporate taxation

Rural consciousness and Democratic politics

NAFTA needs to be replaced, not renegotiated

Temping now

Trump music

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

and more ...

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