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

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.