Friday, March 24, 2017

Try Now for Single Payer

A movement is afoot for Democrats to seize the day, to follow up the Republican defeat on Trumpcare with a single-payer health care bill.

The Democratic leadership in Congress should do exactly that.

The late Sen. George McGovern said such a bill could be written in a single sentence: "Henceforth, everyone in the United States is eligible for Medicare."

Of course the Republicans control both houses of Congress and have enough votes to defeat such a bill.  It's doubtful if enough Republicans have been singed by the fight they just lost to cross over and support single payer..  Even if that miraculously happened, Donald of course would veto the legislation.

But if the Democrats really want to serve their constituency, which, remember, is larger by three million voters than Donald's, they should make the most of this opportunity.

Donald's code after his defeat is easy enough to crack.  He said the Republicans should wait for the Affordable Care Act to "explode" and then act to create a "really great" health care plan.  After seven years of failure, there is no reason to think that they're capable of doing so. But what Donald was saying is that Secretary Tom Price will devote the entire resources of his Department of Health and Human Services to sabotaging the ACA in every way it legally can -- as well, probably, as a few ways that are not legal.  Donald will contribute nefarious executive orders to help with the sabotage.

The ACA is far from perfect.  In fact, it is loaded with flaws. These will make it even easier for the Trump/Ryan sabotage of the ACA to succeed.

It would be well for the American people to have a clear record of the Trump Republicans  having rejected a real solution -- Medicare for all -- before their sabotage succeeds in destroying affordable health care for millions of Americans.

If a vigilant press catches and exposes some of the dirty tricks, and the Democrats try to get single payer now, but are thwarted by the Trumpistas, there will be a genuine opportunity for a change of power in Congress in the 2018 mid-term elections.

And that would be at least a start toward heading off fascist despotism in this country.

Take THAT, Stupid Newbie!

The fat fraud who conned his way into the White House received a hard lesson today in how Washington, DC, works, and does not work.

Muscling congressmen, even of his own party, is a lot different than muscling the subcontractors, workers, lenders and TV whores he rolled over on his way to wealth and celebrity.

The House of Representatives said “No” to the deal he tried to fashion on a so-called health care bill.  Even though Donald had demanded a vote today, Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the bill off the floor rather than calling a vote and suffering humiliating defeat.

The alleged president’s first reaction was to blame Democrats.  Surely Alt-Pres. Bannon will come up with something better.

Meanwhile, the ruling party is in chaos.  Hard-line right wingers in congress say the Ryan-Trump bill was too much like what they like to call Obamacare.  Less extreme Republicans, sensitive to the health care needs of their constituents, realize that Trumpcare took away too many of the good things from Obamacare and offered nothing to replace them.  Where can they go from here?

Republicans have had seven years to come up with a form of health care that can replace the Affordable Care Act without harming many millions of people. Even working with the self-styled great deal-maker himself, they were unable to accomplish that.

I remember being startled when an acquaintance, a practicing physician, told me he was going to vote for Trump.  “Well,” he said, “I simply cannot stand the other candidate.  And maybe the guy will do something.  If he does ONE THING, it will be an improvement.  And if that one thing is a better health care plan, it would really be great.”

Sorry, Doc.  You wasted your vote.

Another friend, a retired physician, wondered about the effect on the 2018 congressional elections if Trump/Ryan succeeded in repealing the ACA.  That was unlikely this time around.  Even if there had been enough votes in the House to move the bill forward, it almost certainly would not have passed the Senate.

But that’s all irrelevant now.  Trumpcare is dead and the so-called president has said he wants to move on to other issues.  But, like everything he says, that may have been just blue smoke, a negotiating posture, an outright lie.

The next step remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Donald had better find someone, anyone, willing to join his team who knows at least a little bit about how Washington works.  Or doesn’t work.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What Are They Hiding?

One of the TV talky-talks unearthed John Dean the other day.

Dean, White House counsel to President Nixon, was asked about parallels between Watergate and what’s going on in Trumpistan.

Watergate brought an inglorious end to the Nixon presidency.  Unless Donald is impeached or removed from office via Article 25, any such parallels are specious at best.

Although his death scandal was named for a  break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters, it wasn’t the original crime that brought down Tricky Dick, it was his involvement in the cover-up. The central question of the impeachment process was, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

The central question in today’s investigative process is, “What is the president hiding and why is he hiding it?”  We don’t even have an original crime — yet.  All we’ve got is what appears to be a cover-up. 

Cover a fire and you get smoke.  The joint report of our intelligence agencies found smoke, reason to believe that the Russian government not only spied on the inner workings of our presidential politics, but tried to influence the election on behalf of Donald.  They offered no real evidence.  One might be inclined to dismiss their conclusions, except . . . .

. . .why did Gen. Flynn lie about his contacts with the Russian ambassador?  If they were innocent and proper, as the regime insists, why did he feel compelled to dissemble?  What was he hiding?  Whom was he shielding?

. . .why was Jeff Sessions less than forthcoming about his contacts with foreign agents?  If the contacts were lawful and proper, why did he not disclose them fully when asked about them? What was he hiding, whom was he shielding?

. . . and most obviously, why will Donald not make public those damned tax returns?  Given his massive ego, his reluctance was ascribed by some critics to fear of having it revealed that he’s not as rich as he says he is. That theory seems to have been dispelled by the recent leak of two pages of his 2005 tax returns.  He paid taxes that year on more than $150 million of income.

Others have suggested that he is suppressing the returns because they would show that he paid no taxes at all over several years.  But that doesn’t hold water, either.  Donald boasted during the campaign that if he paid no taxes, it simply shows “how smart I am.”  If the returns merely proved how smart he is, he’d release them yesterday.  What is he hiding?

The extraordinary testimony Monday of the FBI director and the national intelligence director, confirming that a sitting president is under investigation for possible illegal dealings with a foreign power, plows new ground for presidential scandal.  Watergate and Teapot Dome, for example, involved wrong-doing by presidential henchmen, not the chief executives themselves.  

Donald says he has no business deals in Russia, that his real estate deals with individual Russians have been perfectly legal, and that neither Flynn nor Sessions nor Paul Manafort nor Jared Kushner nor Rex Tillerson nor anyone else in his coterie  has colluded in any criminal way with Russia or Russians.

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Our New National Priorities

It’s costing the taxpayers about $183 million a year for security for the  First Lady to live in in New York rather than the White House so that the First Brat can continue to attend his fancy private school in Manhattan.

But the government can’t afford $142 million a year to support the National Endowment for the Arts.

Providing security for the First Family’s lavish lifestyle, including frequent trips to the gilded digs in Palm Beach, will cost the taxpayers a billion dollars over the next four years— eight times what it cost to provide such security for the Obamas.

But the government can’t afford $200 million in grants to states to provide Meals on Wheels for senior citizens.

Trumpcare will leave 24 million of the neediest Americans without access to health care.  

Soon there will be no public schools in Amerika.  Your kids will be given vouchers to pay to attend charter schools where they’ll be given daily doses of religious brainwashing, but no exposure to the work of Howard Zinn, Caesar Chavez or Sinclair Lewis.

This is a country that can afford an extra $58 billion for superfluous weapons of war and mass destruction . . .

. . . by cutting $6.2 billion from funding for housing and urban development . . .

. . .$2.4 billion from public transportation (while allowing private cars to spew more harmful emissions into the atmosphere). . .

. . .$12.6 billion from health and human services, eliminating federal aid to the largest provider of health care for the nation’s poor women. . .

. . .$9 billion from education . . . .

. . .and totally eliminating the agency that sees to it that we have safe water to drink, clean air to breathe and won’t be poisoned by the food we eat.

Besides the National Endowment for the Arts, the following programs will be eliminated:

• The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which supports before- and after-school programs and summer programs
• Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which funds research including clean energy
• African Development Foundation
• Appalachian Regional Commission
• Chemical Safety Board
• Community Development Block Grant, which in part funds Meals on Wheels
• Community Development Financial Institutions Fund grants, under Treasury
• Community Services Block Grant, under HHS
• Corporation for National and Community Service
• Corporation for Public Broadcasting
• Delta Regional Authority
• Denali Commission
• Economic Development Administration
• Essential Air Service program
• Global Climate Change Initiative
• Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Chesapeake Bay funding, and other regional programs under EPA.
• HOME Investment Partnerships Program, Choice Neighborhoods, and the Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program, all under HUD
• Institute of Museum and Library Services
• Inter-American Foundation
• US Trade and Development Agency
• Legal Services Corporation
• Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
• McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program
• Minority Business Development Agency, under Commerce
• National Endowment for the Humanities
• NASA's Office of Education
• Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation
• Northern Border Regional Commission
• Overseas Private Investment Corporation
• State Energy Program
• Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program, the second-largest program feds have used to influence local education
• TIGER transportation grants
• United States Institute of Peace
• United States Interagency Council on Homelessness
• Weatherization Assistance Program
• Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

These are programs that actually help people.  They don’t make oligarchs richer, corporations more profitable or remove natural resources leaving only pollution behind.  They actually help people.

No wonder there’s no place for them in Trumpistan. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Bad Day at The Forum

Right-wing congressmen here in the west are getting an earful at their public forums for constituents.

Yesterday it was the turn of Stevan Pearce, a Tea Party darling who has won several terms to represent New Mexico’s conservative Second (southern) Congressional district.  

A crowd estimated at between 1,500 and 3,000 people turned out at the Farm and Ranch Museum in Las Cruces for Pearce’s “town hall” event.  Every legal parking spot was taken and dozens more vehicles were parked illegally; the auditorium was jammed to the walls, standing room only.  It was a hostile crowd.

This was a new experience for Pearce, whose public forums back in the district are usually dominated by his supporters.  Once, for a forum in rural Dona Ana County, his supporters surrounded the parking lot with ATV’s and packed loaded firearms.  Needless to say, few if any opponents even tried to park there.

Saturday’s event was entirely different.  Pearce always comes to these town halls well prepared with alternative facts and/or cherry picked data to support standard positions of the far right.  His language is directly from the American Heritage Foundation, the Heartland Institute and the American Petroleum Institute.  He became a multi-millionaire selling and leasing oil and gas-drilling machinery, and friendly oligarchs of the extraction industry bought him his seat in congress, where he is careful to serve their interests 100 per cent.  He does a passable job of making the right-wing think-tank language sound like his own, and usually that’s enough to get him by. At one forum a few years ago, for example, a member of a scientific team that had done an exhaustive study of the energy needs of the southwest, citing detailed economic evidence from the study, asked why he did not support development of wind power in an area that “has lots of wind.”  Well, Pearce replied, “those wind farms are unsightly.”

The old tactics didn’t fly Saturday.  Even though he wandered to every corner of the auditorium, randomly selecting questioners, virtually no friendly softballs were tossed.  Questioners came prepared, with carefully thought-out, usually written questions that cut to the chase of issues they care about: health care, immigration, public education, public land, climate change.  More than once he was asked when if ever he would “stand up” to Donald Trump.  When  his evasive answers were greeted by jeers and catcalls, he turned his back on the questioner and walked away.

Asked about the mountain of scientific data on anthropologic climate change, Pearce retreated to the long-since discredited argument (launched in 2009) about e-mails sent by certain scientists in an international climatic research council.  When the questioner interrupted to point out that newer data refute all the attacks triggered by those e-mails, he turned and walked away.

When a questioner pressed him about whether Republicans in congress should demand that Trump release his tax returns, Pearce said that will not happen, turned and walked away.

Most of the hostile questions drew loud applause; most of his evasions drew contempt.  A few supporters in the crowd shouted barnyard epithets about Hillary.  Deputy sheriffs asked one of the loudest to please tone it it down.  He stalked out of the auditorium.

For almost a decade, Pearce defied prevailing public opinion in his district and opposed the creation of new national monuments to protect archeological, cultural, historical and scenic areas.  With the support of New Mexico’s two U.S. Senators, the monuments were created by President Obama.  Subsequent studies have shown an uptick in business related to tourism, with a potential for much greater economic impact when the development of the monuments is completed (Republicans, led by Pearce, have slowed the development by withholding funding).  Pearce says the monuments have cost the area money.  A questioner asked where he got his information.  “From the people who ran the Chili Challenge,” he said.  (The Chili Challenge was an annual assemblage of off-road vehicle operators who tore up the fragile desert around the Robledo Mountains with racing and climbing competitions.  The only local businesses they ever patronized were two convenience stores that sold gas, beer, liquor and fast food.  The monument boundaries adjoin the desert area where the ATV people partied.  When the monument was approved, sponsors moved the “challenge” to another location.  Pearce receives large campaign contributions from sellers of ATVs and associations of ATV users.) When the questioner pressed for hard economic data, Pearce walked away, angrily repeating, “The Chili Challenge is gone.  The Chili Challenge is gone.”

Twice the microphone the congressman carried around the auditorium malfunctioned. The second time it happened, staffers hastily assembled a new microphone extension.  While he waited for it, someone shouted, “Use the microwave.”

It was that kind of day for Stevan Pearce, Tea Party darling. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Man, the Killer

Every day I receive several alarms about the plight of wildlife: nearly a hundred species are in real danger of vanishing from earth by 2050.

What with climate change, wars and the election of people like Trump to high office, the danger only worsens.  The state of Colorado, for example, emboldened by the new regime’s selection of an environmental criminal to head the EPA,  has just authorized massive trapping and snaring of cougars and black bears.  The reason given is to enlarge the mule deer population for the benefit of hunters.  This is backward thinking and false game management.  Oil rigs,  fracking facilities and trophy homes that diminish deer habitat kill far more of the animals than cougars or bears.

In the words of Immanuel Kant,  “He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”

Colorado’s neighbor, Wyoming, is renewing the slaughter of wolves.  In 2012 the state withdrew endangered species protection for its wolves, declaring a “free fire zone” over 85 per cent of the state.  A federal court halted the slaughter.  Now an appeals court has reinstated the free-fire zones.

All over the world, hunters, poachers, habitat despoilers and land-grabbers are decimating wildlife populations.

In my state of New Mexico, cynical ranchers are slaughtering Mexican gray wolves faster than they can be bred and reintroduced to the wild.  More than once I have gone into the surrounding desert to romp with my dog and found mounds of coyote carcasses.  ATV-mounted gunners hold contests to see how many of the animals they can kill and award prizes to the best killers.  Coyotes, of course, are not endangered, but the ugly slaughter typifies the depraved attitude that allows poachers and other illegal killers to prosper.

Official tallies now list 45 “critically endangered” or “endangered” species, including leopards, hippos, dolphins, rhinos, great apes, turtles, sharks, porpoises, monkeys and elephants.  Desperate to halt the slaughter of its elephants, Namibia has established fines of up to two million dollars and sentences of up to 25 years in jail for poaching.  The penalties will be difficult to enforce because poachers outgun and outnumber the wildlife rangers, who work in fear of their own lives. One conservation organization claims an elephant is slain every 15 minutes.

Why should we care?

Five centuries before Christ, the Greek philosopher Pythagoras told us why.  

“As long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings,” he wrote, “he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other.”

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

But Wait! There's More! Order Now and . .

Give the guy credit: he sold one helluva lot of snake oil last night.

Talk about job creation! The responsible media had to hire extra fact=checkers to keep up with all the lies, half-truths, misleading innuendo and downright wishful thinking in his speech to a joint session of Congress.  It was an audience of willing believers.

Quickie polls showed that up to 78% of the TV watchers, mostly Republicans, approved of the performance.  Even the failing New York Times called the speech “presidential.”  Compared to what?  Bush II?

Ronnie Reagan won the descriptor “presidential” because he was a gifted B-movie actor.  He spent eight years playing a Hollywood version of a president and his worshippers loved it.  This new guy attained his celebrity by playing the role of a powerful executive on something called “reality TV,” which, of course, is as real as the “landslide” victory he claims to have won in the Electoral College.  But when his string-puller, Alt-Pres. Bannon, tones down the language — as he did last night — the titular president can play it fairly straight.

But if his style was vaguely presidential, his substance was pure snake oil.  He promised big tax cuts, but offered no numbers, no details on how he intended to accomplish this.  Meanwhile, he promised to make America great again by beefing up its military spending bigly.  The increase in the military budget is greater than the total military budgets of the next-biggest spenders on war toys among the nations of the world. This is madness.

It’s clear that interest rates are about to rise.  So we’re going to throw tons of new money into the military hog sty, cut everybody’s taxes and pay more interest on the federal debt.  And in the very next breath he criticizes the guy who came before him for increasing the national debt.  Debt is a vile four-letter word to congressional Republicans.  Will they stomach this guy’s pipe dream?

Who’s going to pay for his craziness?  Not corporate America.  He wants to cut their taxes, claiming that they pay the highest rate in the world. False.  It’s not even in the top 30. Our multinational corporations, many of which pay zero taxes most years, have dozens of cute accounting tricks and loopholes that assure the greatest tax burden for the operation of the country will be borne by the wage-earners, not the corporations. The system enables them to defer payment of taxes so that they can, in effect, make money off their unpaid taxes by investing them and earning interest on them.  

He boasted about jobs.  Despite his wild claims,  his actions have accounted for about 1,300 jobs — and that’s being generous.  He said he “saved” the jobs at the air=conditioner plant in the midwest, but in fact only about half the positions remained in place.  The Michigan auto plant will account for perhaps 700 more.  The “new jobs” at other companies he named were, in fact, in the pipeline long before the election last November.

Speaking of pipelines, he boasted that the environmentally-destructive Keystone and Dakota pipelines he’s pushing will create thousands of new jobs,  In fact, they will create 35 permanent new jobs.  All the rest are temporary jobs associated with the actual construction work, jobs that actually cost the affected communities money.  They have to tap the tax dollars of local residents and businesses to pay for expanded services — police, fire, education, sanitation — for the temporary workers who lay their pipe and then move on. Inevitably the pipes they’ve laid will rupture, sending thousands of gallons of highly toxic tar sands crude into the drinking water of the permanent residents. More snake oil: he boasted that he has “ordered” that only U.S.-made steel be used for the pipelines.  This, if it actually happens, would be a departure from his own practices in building his towers and sprawling resorts.  All of them were built with foreign-made steel.

Consider immigration.  He hinted that he’d be open to some sort of compromise that might offer somewhat more humane treatment for some of the people of color he’s been targeting.  Or maybe he didn’t.  Not even his cronies in Congress are sure, but many of them felt blind-sided and said so when they emerged from meetings to learn what he said a few hours before his speech. He salved them, though, in the speech itself when he promised unprecedented police brutality in ferreting out the potential criminals among those illegal people of color. 

But never mind the facts. His performance fooled a lot of people.  What can you expect from an audience that thinks “reality TV” has something to do with reality?