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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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Selections from the April 15, 2017 issue

COVER/Sophia A. McClennen
Beware the Trump brain rot

Time to expand Medicare


Dakota pipeline just another Trump deal

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Guns and politics don’t mix

Trump sets pace on lies, FBI probes Russian ties;
Trump budget hurts his voters;
Trump budget devastates rural communities;
Repubs seek to bridge impasse on health plan;
White House installs political minders at key agencies;
Trump plan to zero out public broadcasting would hurt 'Trump Country';
Economy grows as CO2 emissions drop, mocking Trump climate policy;
GOP senator thinks EPA cuts will keep agency from 'brainwashing our kids';
Faith leaders aren't happy with Trump budget;
Longtime cop detained by CBP ...

Indivisible: Social action startup 

The press is essential, whether presidents like it or not

From the mind of Steve Bannon? No, Mel Brooks

Let’s give the CIA the credit it deserves

Crikey! Trump grabs attention of British Parliament

Hands off Medicaid!

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Proposed: A health-to-income ratio

Regulation isn’t what threatens economy

BOOKS/Seth Sandronsky
Community empowerment

Welcome to conservative health reform

Enemy of your enemy is not your friend: Russia, CIA, and American Democracy 

The power of fame

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
‘Hidden Figures,’ ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Neruda’ all top 2016 Progie Film Award winners

and more ...

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Beware Trump Distractions

Donald Trump was supposed to be basking in the good reviews of his speech to the joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, which included a dozen false or misleading statements (see Dispatches), but he impressed many commentators by sticking to the script better then he has in the past.

However, continuing questions about Russia’s involvement on Trump’s behalf before the election keeps roiling the administration. Before Trump’s big speech, Michael Flynn was forced to step down as his national security adviser when it became clear that Flynn had lied about talking to the Russian ambassador after the election to undermine President Obama’s sanctions on Russia. Then, the day after the speech, Trump’s choice for attorney general, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, chairman of the Trump campaign’s National Security Advisory Committee, who had denied during his Senate confirmation hearing that he had talked to Russians before the election, was forced to recuse himself from the investigation of Russian interference in the election because, it turned out, he actually had talked to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican National Convention in July, and again in his Senate office in September. Sessions still insists he did nothing wrong.

Trump has had success in using the con-man’s trick of misdirection to distract the public from damaging news, as he creates his own alternative reality.

Still, Trump’s bizarre pre-dawn tweets on March 4 accusing then-President Obama of ordering Trump’s phones tapped before the election had many observers scratching their heads. Trump produced no evidence of such a wiretap; he apparently was relying on claims made by right-wing radio talker Mark Levin and that Obama and his administration used “police state” tactics last fall to monitor the Trump team. Obama’s spokesmen categorically denied that the president had ordered the wiretap, which he could not do on his own, nor did he seek a court order for such a wiretap, as the law would require.

If anything, Trump’s tweets reinforced reports that the FBI in October had obtained a court order authorizing a wiretap of Trump campaign officials, which would have required the investigators to convince a judge there was evidence of illegal activity by the Trump campaign -- if not Trump individually.

Despite the widespread doubt cast on Trump’s claims, he was pleased March 5 that his allegations against Obama were the dominant story in the Sunday newspapers, instead of the Sessions story, the Washington Post reported. Trump was angered later in the day as few Republicans were defending him on the Sunday talk shows.

“The president knows the media cannot ignore him when he says something so inflammatory, and he believes there will be no real consequences for him if it turns out that everything he said was nonsense. After all, there haven’t been up until now,” James Hohmann wrote for the Post.

“Moreover, Trump’s core supporters also got a new talking point. Whenever they’re confronted with the links between Trump associates and Russia, millions of people are now going to reply that the real story is Obama’s wiretapping — even if that claim is shown definitively to have no basis in reality.”

Trump had some success with his controversial executive order on Jan. 27 that effectively barred people from seven Muslim-majority nations and all refugees from entering the US, even if they had visas or “green cards.” A Morning Consult/Politico poll in early February found 55% approval of the travel ban, though other polls showed majorities opposing the ban, but most polls show an overwhelming majority of Trump’s Republican base supports him, many of whom say he is following through on his campaign promises.

After federal courts, including the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Feb. 9, blocked enforcement of the travel ban, Trump privately signed a new ban on March 6 that imposes a 90-day ban on the issuance of new visas for citizens of six majority-Muslim nations (letting Iraq citizens in this time). He is also suspending the admission of refugees for at least 120 days and set a cap on 50,000 refugees in a year, down from the 110,000 cap set by the Obama administration. But the order remains a thinly veiled Muslim ban — and it still doesn’t target nations whose citizens participated in the 9/11 attacks.

There is less support for Trump’s order that immigration agents start rounding up undocumented immigrants. A CBS News Poll Feb. 23 found that a majority think not enough is being done to ensure that foreigners who enter the US from other countries are not a risk to security, but 60% think that undocumented immigrants currently living in the US should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship, while 23% would require them to leave the US. Only 43% of Republicans support deporting all illegal immigrants, but that likely comprises Trump’s base.

A more equitable solution to the immigration problem would be to go after the businesses that employ undocumented people — particularly those who then don’t deduct or pay their share of payroll taxes for the undocumented.

Meanwhile, David Johnson of Campaign for America’s Future noted, the pro-corporate and anti-worker agenda unfolds:

The new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, scrapped a crucial greenhouse gas rule requiring oil and gas companies to report methane pollution, which was part of the Paris climate deal, which Trump wants to scrap. Trump’s budget proposes to pay for a $54 billion increase in military spending with deep cuts to other agencies. A proposed 25% cut to the EPA budget would dramatically cut climate-change programs and those designed to prevent air and water pollution as well as lead contamination.

Trump’s budget would slash the EPA program that pays for Great Lakes pollution cleanup by 97%, from $300 million to $10 million. Trump is reportedly proposing cuts of 90% for programs to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the Puget Sound and San Francisco Bay. Grants to states for lead cleanup would be cut by 30%, to $9.8 mln, Reuters reported. Spending for enforcement of environmental protections would be cut 11% to $153 million..

The Trump administration also proposes a 17% cut in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which would require steep cuts to research funding and satellite programs.

The proposed cuts to NOAA, the nation’s premier climate science agency, would eliminate funding for a variety of smaller programs, including external research, coastal management, estuary reserves and “coastal resilience,” which seeks to bolster the ability of coastal areas to withstand major storms and rising seas.

Trump’s FCC chairman plans to undo “net neutrality,” which will help four giant companies consolidate control of the Internet. By undoing the rules that create a level playing field online, Trump’s FCC will empower companies like Comcast to decide who gets Internet access, and at what price. This could have an impact on people’s ability to organize online.

Republicans have introduced the National Right-to-Work Act in Congress. This would defund labor unions by removing requirements that workers benefitting from union contracts pay dues to cover the union’s costs of negotiating, administering and meeting the union’s obligations under the contract.

Populist activists also have reservations about Trump’s commitment to negotiate trade deals that protect worker rights and the environment. “Trump promised to ‘drain the swamp,’ but right now, he seems poised to allow the same corporate leaches that created NAFTA and subsequent pacts to rewrite the new ones,” said Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign.

So look beyond the tweets and Trump’s alt-reality to the rest of the damage the Grifter in Chief is planning for America. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2017

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Selections from the April 1, 2017 issue

COVER/Amanda Marcotte
West Texas says no to wall

Beware Trump distractions


Wisconsin’s image has turned upside down

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Homeschoolers want fed check, no balance

‘Trumpcare’ plan would leave millions uninsured;
Trump’s way: always attack, attack, never apologize;
Recess actions spur health care accountability;
Trump’s disregard for truth;
Trump tosses more than 90 regs ...

Putin’s aggression ringing alarm bells 

It’s only my health

The big faker and his big date with big data

The border game

CBP demands ID to get off domestic flight

Is Trump a Populist? 

Coping with Trump stress disorder

Policing America’s plutocracy

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Lunchtime for the president

Billions for defense, not one cent for arts

That’s a fact, Jack

Labor loses its way

Trump and his corporate media accomplices 

Oh Canada! Get off our back!

BOOKS/Seth Sandronsky
Cooperators then and now

The cowardly states of America

Bob Dylan finally gets some recognition

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Life of a Salesman: Is this the enemy?

and more ...

Thursday, March 2, 2017

If election proves country not ready for woman prez, we’re lucky to get Trump instead of someone on same page as Ryan & McConnell

By Marc Jampole

I had the strangest dream last night.  

I was sitting on a bench against the wall in a large ballroom filled with people dressed in formal wear. I was watching the glitterati and listening to the band play swing music when Donald Trump sits down beside me, shakes my hand and starts to brag about what a great job he is doing to make the country safe. He stands erect, looking strong and in control in his blue silk suit, power red tie, large gold cufflinks and spit-polished black wing-tips. He’s friendly and self-assured. His eyes cast the kind of look people give to those with whom they have reached a complete understanding. 

I start to rip him a new one. I tell him the country is already safe and that he is threatening the economy with his immigration policy, his threat of tariffs, his meddling in the Affordable Care Act and his desire to lower taxes on the wealthy.  

Trumpty-Dumpty looks shocked and embarrassed that someone disagrees with him. He winces at every fact I cite as if they were darts piercing his flesh. He tries to respond to me after I spout that all crime, violent crime, and terrorist acts have declined, but he can only manage to sputter weakly the words “carnage” and “Chicago,” then falls silent. His body, once projecting power, seems to soften and sink into itself. 

I’m reciting a list of studies that prove public schools outperform private ones when suddenly he jumps on my lap and starts to cry. He bawls like a toddler, furiously kicking out his hands and feet, now suddenly short and stubby, and shaking his head. He turns to me, his lower lip protruding like a pregnant abdomen, his cheeks wet with running tears.  

That’s when I wake up.  

That’s the dream, exactly as I experienced it.  

The background to my nocturnal encounter with a Trumpian incubus was an epiphany I had earlier in the evening: that the country might be lucky that Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote. Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Mario Rubio or any other Republican would have been worse, because unlike Trump, all are vocal supporters of cutting back Social Security and Medicare benefits and all would have been happy to throw people off healthcare insurance or give them significantly worse coverage. Trump has said he is against cutting Social Security and Medicare and that his healthcare plan will give universal coverage at lower costs. Moreover, we already see that Trump’s unprofessional and chaotic style of leadership impedes legislative action. I imagine that Cruz or Bush would have taken a much more organized approach. 

Trump has done many terrible things, to be sure, and is promising more. But other than immigration, we can be fairly certain that other Republicans would have done much of the same. Dismantling environmental and financial regulations, denying rights to transgender people, stopping investigations of police misconduct, building up the military, cutting social welfare programs—all the Republicans wanted these things. The difference is they were competently knowledgeable about how to get things done in government. They also seemed sane and therefore commanded more intellectual respect.  

The premise upon which I build my (completely facetious) case that Trump may be a blessing in disguise is that the United States is not ready for a female president and that any Republican—the oily Cruz, the mealy Bush, the self-righteous Kasich, the dim-witted Rubio—would have beat Hillary Clinton by virtue of the fact that they are men and she is a women. It’s a dismaying and horrifying thought—that so many men and women would refuse to vote for a woman, or would hold a woman to a much higher standard of conduct and achievement than they would a man. But how else to explain how someone with Hillary Clinton’s track record, beliefs, record of ethical conduct and obvious skills could lose in the Electoral College to an ignorant, inexperienced, erratic, racist, misogynistic and self-centered buffoon? 

Large numbers of people voted against their best interest. They voted for their worst instincts. They voted for lies. All, so they could vote for a man. 

Very depressing. 

I think I’ll go back to sleep and verbally slap The Donald around a bit.                                                                                                                  

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Want to improve your children’s chance of academic success? Research says send them to public schools

By Marc Jampole

I’m not sure whether it was the author or the headline writer, but someone in the New York Times produced a headline that certainly constitutes false news: “Dismal Results from Vouchers Surprise Researchers.” The problem with it is that those researchers who have been paying attention already know that public policy driving families to put their children into private schools will achieve dismal results. Objective researchers in the pursuit of knowledge aren’t, or shouldn’t be surprised that kids using vouchers to attend private schools experience declines in academic performance. Perhaps Kevin Carey, who wrote the article, or the unknown specialist who composed the headline, meant to say that it surprised right-wing policy wonks and political pundits, who for the better part of a quarter of a century have been pushing vouchers, charter and private schools as a means to destroy teachers’ unions and produce new income streams for businesses. 

Certainly Carey, who directs the education policy program for the ostensibly non-partisan think tank New America, must have read The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools, a 2013 study by Sarah Theule Lubienski and Christopher A. Lubienski that demonstrates without a doubt that public schools outperform private schools when we correct raw data to account for wealth, per student spending, disabilities and other factors. I wouldn’t expect the Times headline writer to know of this important book, as a Google search at the time it came but revealed just one review in the mainstream media. The media doesn’t like to review books that disprove the current political nonsense, whatever it is.   

Using two recently generated large-scale national databases, the Lubienskis show that demographic factors such as wealth and disabilities explain any advantage seen in private school performance in the 21st century. Private schools have higher scores not because they are better at educating children but because their students come mostly from wealthy backgrounds. After correcting for demographics, the Lubienskis demonstrate conclusively that gains in student achievement at public schools are great and greater than those made at private ones. The Lubienskis take on the critics of real educational reform, the politicians and other factotums of the rich who don’t want to do anything that requires greater spending on students, such as teacher certification programs and curriculum and instruction advances. The Lubienskis show that these reforms do work.  

The latest research reported by Carey in his Times article concerns the results on standardized tests of students who have used voucher programs to enroll in private schools. Vouchers, which right-wingers and Republicans have been pushing for years, give money earmarked for public education to families, which they pay to private schools to educate their children. The never-proved principle underlying vouchers, first proposed by right-wing economic mountebank Milton Friedman, is that giving parents choice will improve public education by forcing it to compete with other schools.  

Over the past few years, Republican legislatures have implemented widespread voucher programs in a number of states such as Indiana, Louisiana and Ohio. As Carey reports, vouchers have largely failed to improve school performance, and in fact, have harmed the performance of many children:

·         Indiana children who transferred to private schools using vouchers “experienced significant losses in achievement” in math and saw no improvement in reading.

·         Children, primarily poor and black, who used vouchers to switch to private schools in Louisiana, achieved negative results in both reading and math; elementary school children who started at the 50th percentile in math and then transferred via voucher to a private school dropped to 26th percentile in one year.

·         A study financed by the right-wing, anti-union Walton family and conducted by a conservative think tank found that Ohio students using vouchers to attend private schools fared much worse when compared to their peers in public school, especially in math.

·         It turns out that the best charter schools, another variation on school choice liked by the right wing, are those that are nonprofit public schools open to everyone and accountable to public authorities. The more “private” a charter school, the worse its student perform. 

There could be many explanations for the lousy performance voucher students in private schools achieved compared to public schools, but I think it comes down to the simple fact that the teachers tend to be more experienced, more educated and more professional in public schools. Why is that? Because they are better paid.  

In the real world, the best get paid the most. The best lawyers tend to make the most money. The best accountants tend to make the most money. The best writers—business and entertainment—tend to make the most money. The best musicians tend to make the most money. Forget the obscene fact that Beyoncé makes about 200 times what the concertmaster for the New York Philharmonic and the masterful jazz pianist Orrin Evans do. They both do quite well when compared to the average piano teacher who gives lessons at the Jewish Community Center or YMCA.  

Public school teachers make more money than private school teachers. Doesn’t it make sense that they would therefore do a better job and that public schools would therefore do better in quantitative comparisons?  I know that there are some very competent and dedicated private school teachers, but in general, how could the aggregate of private school teachers keep up with public school teachers, who make so much more money? 

The reason that public school teachers make more money is one of the primary reasons right-wingers want to dismantle public schools: unions. Right-wingers hate unions because they force employers to pay better wages to employees, leaving less profit for the company’s owners and operators. In unionized workplaces, employees make a far larger share of the pie than in nonunionized ones. Thus by leaving public schools and going into private ones, children leave an environment in which their teachers are highly paid but administrators make less than they would in the private sector for an environment in which teachers are paid less and administrators more, and if the school is for-profit, money is siphoned off as profit for investors. By definition, less money is spent on education in private schools.  That is, unless the tuition is so high that the voucher covers only a small part of it, in which case the voucher is merely a subsidy to the wealthy, who likely would have sent their children to the chichi expensive private school no matter what. 

The reason companies bust unions is greed. Greed also plays a major role in the insistence against all facts and reasoning that school choice will solve every educational challenge. Choice is the preferred answer because it doesn’t involve spending more money and raising taxes.  In fact, over time, vouchers can be used to cut educational budgets if the stipulated voucher amounts do not keep up with inflation.  

Despite the fact that taxes on the wealthy are still at an historic low for a western industrial democracy, rich folk and their political and policy factotums do not want to raise the taxes needed to create an educational system that works for everyone. Here are some of the things that we could do with added tax revenues earmarked to public education:

·         Smaller classroom sizes for elementary and middle school children.

·         Computers for every student in every class.

·         A return to the days of art, music and other enrichment programs.

·         New textbooks that reflect the latest findings in science and social science.

·         More special programs for both the disabled and the gifted and talented.

·         True school choice, which involves vocational programs in the technology, hospitality and healthcare industries for high school students. 

Keeping their taxes low and busting unions are not the only reasons well-heeled ultra conservatives advocate for vouchers. Some, like our current Secretary of Education, hope to profit by investing in for-profit schools. Others, and again Secretary DeVos is among them, want to use public funds to finance the teaching of religion in private religious schools. Perhaps not ironically, moral education of the masses and suppression of unions seem always to go hand-in-hand since the industrial revolution of the 19th century. In this sense, religion is a form of social control and a social solvent that dissolves the perception of class differences. 

Thus, when you hear Trumpty-Dumpty, DeVos and other supporters of voucher programs for education spout their pious homilies, remember that they have absolutely no interest in providing our children with a high-quality education that prepares for a meaningful life and rewarding career. Nor are they dedicated to a higher principle they call freedom that trumps all other concerns in a free society. Remember, there are all kinds of freedoms, such as freedom from hunger, from ignorance, from illness, from pain. Be it education or healthcare, when they cry freedom, they only mean freedom of choice or freedom to make money unencumbered by social concerns. 

No, it’s neither an interest in America’s children nor dedication to principle that motivates the rich folk behind the school choice movement. It’s simple greed.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Editorial: Trump: Evil or Incompetent?

Supporters of Donald Trump object to comparisons of the so-called President of the United States with Adolph Hitler, but Trump does appear to have taken a page or two from Hitler’s playbook as he seeks to exert power and undermine the press’s role as a check on his demagoguery. Trump’s frequent dismissal of the mainstream press as “fake news” and the new charge, “enemy of the American people,” is reminiscent of the Nazi Party’s use of “Lügenpresse” (lying press) to defame the anti-Hitler press in Germany in the 1930s, claiming they were opposing the “will of the people” — and some Trump supporters actually shouted “Lügenpresse” at the journalists traveling with Trump during the campaign in October.

In an article for the Los Angeles Review of Books (Feb. 5), Hitler biographer Ron Rosenbaum, who wrote Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil, said that during the campaign he declined requests to draw comparison’s between Hitler and Trump. “While Trump’s crusade had at times been malign, as had his vociferous supporters, he and they did not seem bent on genocide,” Rosenbaum wrote, but after the election things changed. “Now Trump and his minions are in the driver’s seat, attempting to pose as respectable participants in American politics, when their views come out of a playbook written in German.” The playbook, he noted, is Mein Kampf, and “Hitler’s method was to lie until he got what he wanted, by which point it was too late.”

“There is, of course, no comparison with Trump in terms of scale,” Rosenbaum wrote. “His biggest policy decisions so far have been to name reprehensible figures to various cabinet posts and to enact dreadful executive orders. But this, too, is a form of destruction. While marchers and the courts have put up a fight after the Muslim ban, each new act, each new lie, accepted by default, seems less outrageous. Let’s call it what it is: defining mendacity down.”

We hope we’re not alarmist in comparing Trump to Hitler. Maybe Benito Mussolini is a better model for Trump’s ambitions.

There also is the argument that his administration isn’t competent enough to work the levers of power. Trump recklessly imposed a ban on entry into the United States of travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations, including those who had visas or held green cards as permanent residents of the US, without consulting professionals at the departments of State, Homeland Security or Justice. He fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she said she wouldn’t defend the travel ban because she was not convinced it was lawful. (Trump got someone else to handle the appeal, but the 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals panel apparently agreed with Yates.)

Then Trump let retired Gen. Michael Flynn remain as national security adviser for two weeks after acting AG Yates had warned the White House that Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the US. Flynn apparently was recorded discussing with the ambassador the lifting of sanctions against Russia, while Flynn was still a private citizen, which would be a violation of federal law. Trump only took action to oust Flynn after reports of the FBI’s investigation of Flynn were leaked to the Washington Post — and Trump and other White House officials later blamed the leakers more than Flynn.

Trump’s performance at his 77-minute press conference on Feb. 16 was remarkable for his hostility to the press as well as what has been his reckless disregard, if not outright contempt, for the truth.

The Grifter in Chief wants his supporters to believe they can’t trust anything they read in mainstream newspapers or TV, but reputable newspapers and TV news programs admit their errors. Trump rarely acknowledges his misstatements, even after they are pointed out. And there are plenty. Of 370 Trump statements examined by PolitiFact, the independent fact checker run by the Tampa Bay Times , it found that only 4% were true and 12% were mostly true, while 50% were rated either “false (33%) or “Pants on Fire” lies (17%). Trump was the biggest liar among presidential candidates from either party in the past election cycle.

Trump claimed that a new Rasmussen poll showed his approval rating at 55% and going up, but other polls show Trump with significantly lower approval ratings, such as Gallup (40%) and Pew Research Center (39%). “Trump’s overall job approval is much lower than those of prior presidents in their first weeks in office,” Pew said. “Nearly half (46%) strongly disapprove of his job performance, while 29% strongly approve.”

Trump dismissed those findings, tweeting, “Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting.”

So the good news is that less than 40% of Americans may be falling for Trump’s con. The bad news is that 26.7% of eligible voters can swing an election, as happened on Nov. 8, because only 60.2% of the voting-eligible population actually cast a ballot. And Trump supporters appear to be happy with his job performance so far, as a CNN/ORC poll released Feb. 7 showed 90% support among Republicans. The same poll showed his job approval was 44% overall, and 53% of the general public disapproved of the way Trump is handling his job.

Trump isn’t helped by gaffes such as occurred during a Feb. 18 rally in Melbourne, Fla. when he referred to a supposed tragedy in Sweden. “We’ve got to keep our country safe,” he told his supporters. “You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?”

Swedes were baffled. Nothing particularly bad happened on Feb. 17 and there were no terrorist attacks in the recent past. “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound,” Carl Bildt, a former prime minister and foreign minister, wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday, Feb. 19, Trump offered his own clarification, writing on Twitter, “My statement as to what’s happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.”

In that story, Fox News host Tucker Carlson interviewed Ami Horowitz, a filmmaker who asserts that migrants in Sweden have been associated with a crime wave. “Sweden had its first terrorist Islamic attack not that long ago, so they’re now getting a taste of what we’ve been seeing across Europe already,” Horowitz said.

It was not clear what Horowitz was referring to, but the New York Times noted that in 2010, a suicide bomber struck central Stockholm, injuring two people. The bomber was an Iraqi-born Swede who had developed an affinity for Al Qaeda. But that attack occurred long before the current wave of migrants to Sweden.

Part of the problem may be that Trump doesn’t like to read or sit still for intelligence briefings; he reportedly gets most of his information from watching cable TV news, particularly Fox News and Morning Joe on MSNBC. So he is one of those Fox News viewers who are more likely to be misinformed about public policy issues than other news consumers, as several studies have found.

In the most recent such study, in May 2012, Farleigh Dickinson University, in its PublicMind survey of 1,185 nationwide respondents, found that someone who watched only Fox News would be less informed on domestic issues than all other news consumers, including those who didn’t watch any news broadcasts. On international questions, Fox News viewers were also least informed, behind MSNBC and people who didn’t watch broadcast news.

But Trump apparently still trusts Fox News more than the Central Intelligence Agency. Maybe he’s modeling Rufus T. Firefly.

Democrats and Republican congressional leaders should set up an independent commission to find out what communications occurred between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s financial dealings in Russia and other nations amount to a conflict of interest. Republicans who don’t stand up to Trump now will end up handcuffed to him in the next election. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2017

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Selections from the March 15, 2017 issue

COVER/Joseph Erbentraut
Farmers rethink support for Trump

Trump: evil or incompetent?


Medicare ‘reform’ versus Populist tradition

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Profits in prison

California weighs single-payer health bill;
Trump truth found wanting at Florida rally;
Newt’s time bomb claims Obama’s regs;
Reality setting in on Obamacare;
Trump’s first-month travel expenses cost more than Obama’s annual costs ...

American Hellscape

Subpoena Trump; Put him under oath

To save Main Street, tax Wall Street

Mexico’s stormy winter of 2017

Steve Mnuchin is no Joe Kennedy and he’s unfit for his new gig

An inoperable tumor

Trump’s immigration policy leads to war

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Deflecting the Trumpercar

Does intelligence have a future?

Is Judge Neil Gorsuch a closet liberal?

Jingoism as foreign policy

Courts and Constitution as saviors? 

Rethinking infrastructure

That’s a fact, Jack

Police stories

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
‘Do not resist’: the post-9/11 iron heel of the state

and more ...

Thursday, February 23, 2017

At emotional heart of transgender bathroom issue is dignity versus anger. In Trump’s world, anger wins out

The latest Trump-GOP assault on human and civil rights has arrived: the rollback of Obama administration rules that have allowed transgendered students to use the schools’ public bathrooms of the sex with which they identify. 

Legal arguments on the issue seem always to reduce to the question of whose rights are more important—the transgendered person’s right to use the bathroom of choice or the rights of those offended to they think that a person of another sex might be in the bathroom with them. I was originally on the wrong side of this issue, believing that  bathroom use should follow the genitals. A close gay friend of mine pointed out the danger to transgenders who want to appear in public looking like the sex with which they identify and thus risk a beat-down if they use a bathroom that corresponded to the sex on their birth certificate.  Moreover, when we consider that all pertinent female business is conducted in stalls and that a transgender with female genitals would have to use a stall in a men’s room, we realize that the harm caused to others is imaginary in all senses of the word, whereas the harm suffered potentially by all transgendered people is very real.  

Making the trangendered use the bathroom of the sex on their birth certificates thrusts on them a decision between four terrible choices, all informed by rejection and fear: 1) Appear in public as what you are and do not use the bathroom, no matter how badly you have to go; 2) Appear in public as what you are, use the bathroom and risk harm; 3) Appear in public “in hiding” by dressing like the sex on your birth certificate; 4) Don’t go out in public. By contrast, no such terrible decision is thrust upon those who object to the transgendered using the bathroom of the sex with which they identify. First of all, it is extremely unlikely they will encounter a transgendered individual, since so few exist. Secondly, if they do encounter one wherever the location, they won’t know the person is transgendered for certain, even if they suspect or think they know. For the most part, the offended party has to be consciously looking to be offended and consciously inferring something offensive. 

A “who’s harmed” analysis thus falls heavily on the side of protecting the rights of the transgendered. 

At the heart of the transgender bathroom issue, however, is the basic meaning of human dignity in our society. The dictionary meaning of dignity is the quality of being worth something, of being honored and esteemed. In other words, dignity is intricately tied to society and to interactions between people. Dignity is the feeling we have that others respect us as free and individual, consider our feelings, think we are law-abiding, are not laughing at us and do not think we have committed a social mistake. 

All dignity, in the bathroom and elsewhere, is mostly a social construct. In some societies, people have no problem doing their business in the open in front of others. And even in our society, we have a sliding scale of what we’ll do and who we’ll do it in front of. Things that are okay in front of a sibling or lover might not be okay in front of strangers. What’s okay at age five may be taboo at age 15.  We may temporarily suspend our definition of bathroom dignity when in the armed forces or on a camping trip. Lyndon Johnson sat on the can with the door open talking to aides as a sign of his power over others.   

As a society, Americans put a price tag on bathroom dignity when we decided not to make public bathrooms a series of small water closets or a big room with a number of completely closed off stalls. These private rooms would enable public facilities to become unisex.  In both Spain and the Netherlands, I found that the stalls in public bathrooms were almost everywhere individual rooms with real locks and even door knobs; and when they were mere stalls, the walls and doors extended from floor to ceiling.  Even in the one or two public bathrooms in which there was space at the top or the bottom of stalls, it was never more than an inch or so. And in both countries, the toilets were always well stocked and clean—even in bus and train stations. Spanish and Dutch societies display respect for the individual reflected in the privacy they give everyone to do what is a very private action for most people. Contrast with America, where high school students in many public urban high schools today have to sit on the porcelain throne in a low-walled, doorless stall. 

In America, we would rather cut corners, save a little money and provide less private public bathroom facilities. If Americans valued dignity in the bathroom as much as the Spanish and Dutch do, the challenge of accommodating the bathroom needs of the transgendered in public places wouldn’t exist.  

A failure to value individual human dignity results in placing the hypothetical rights of those offended by the thought of seeing a transgendered person in the bathroom over the real rights of the transgendered, who will certainly lose dignity by looking like a woman in the men’s room, or like a man in the women’s room. They may also lose a pound of flesh or a few teeth, as well. Safety issues aside, a thirst for dignity is at the heart of the desire of the transgendered to use the bathroom of the sex with which they identify.

By contrast, the emotional component of being offended by a transgendered person in the bathroom is anger, which may be caused by a variety of factors: because the transgendered person is different, because the viewer’s religious sensitivities have been offended, perhaps as a reaction to her-his own confused sexual feelings that contradict what her-his role models say is morally right.   

Thus, by not allowing the transgendered to use the bathroom they want to use, the Trump administration has said it values the anger of some over the dignity of others, which is par for the course for Trumpty-Dumpty. It’s worth noting that lots of thinkers have proposed the idea that if one group is denied dignity or the concepts associated with dignity by a society, everyone in effect is denied it. No one has ever said that about being denied the right to be angry, although the right to express anger in legal, nonviolent ways is protected under the First Amendment. It’s in the nature of a free society to favor the rights of those who offend more those who take offense. 

Let’s speak truth to power. Those who want to overturn the Obama transgender rule are doing so for religious or moral reasons. They want to impose their religious value system on the rest of the country. At heart, they oppose all forms of sexuality except heterosexual relations, and those should preferably be between a man and woman who are married to each other. If they can’t outlaw the transgendered, they want to chase them into dark corners, not only so they won’t have to see them, but also to make the lives of the transgendered harder than they already are.  Moreover, opposition to transgender rights serves as wedge for a slew of other prejudices - against gay marriage, other LGBTQ rights, abortion, birth control.