Here we go again with the Republicans on Health Care

Here we go again on health care. Today the Republicans will try again to engross a ‘repeal and replace’ of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).  Not because there is anything seriously wrong with Obamacare. Certainly nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a little cooperation. No, they want so desperately to repeal and replace because – after having demonized Obamacare since the day it was enacted – because they said that they would.

Many of you probably saw the emotional opening monologue that Jimmy Kimmel gave after he came back to his show shortly after his son was born, needing open heart surgery almost immediately because of the heart defect he was born with.

Kimmel is not a political comedian, but he actually made an appeal around ‘pre-existing conditions,’ noting that one shouldn’t have to be rich (as he is) in order to have the possibility of saving your child.


At least shocking if you’re a conservative Republican, apparently. Oh my God!, he made an argument for covering pre-existing conditions!

Of course, pre-existing conditions are already covered under Obamacare. That’s one of its most popular provisions, if not the most popular provision.

The only way that Republicans can get the support of their Tea Party wing is by fucking with the requirement of coverage of pre-existing conditions.[1] They want to allow states to opt out of the requirement, as well as opting out of many other requirements. In order not to lose the moderate wing of their party, the Republicans have added a $8 billion sweetener to high risk pools which may (or may not) get funded in future fiscal years.

The measure faces a “wall of opposition from health care providers, patient advocates and retirees.” It’s almost certain to die in the Senate[2]. But who cares? The Republicans just want to be able to say to their constituents that they ‘voted to repeal and replace’ before their members have to go back to town hall meetings.

Although I don’t know. If they do vote to screw the protections around pre-existing conditions, they might really get to hear a handful at their town hall meetings.

[1] Republicans have in the past try to fudge the issue by requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions but allowing them to charge however much they want in order to cover them. For anybody but the super-wealthy, that effectively means no coverage, of course.

[2] Remarkably enough, the Senate will almost certainly not abolish the filibuster for legislation – they’ve already abolished it for judicial appointments – so Republicans would need to swing about eight Democrats for any health care legislation they want to pass.

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WTF, Government shut-down avoided for one week?

Some of you may have noticed that on Friday the United Congress voted to avoid a government shut-down by passing a resolution that keeps the Government funded for one more week, so that they can do it again this week.[1]

Which prompted me to think: what the fuck?

In recent years we’ve had essentially two government shut-down fights, that in each case involved a Democratic President (Bill Clinton, Barack Obama) and a Republican Congress. In both cases it was a Republican Congress throwing down ultimatums (and having a temper tantrum), and in both cases it hurt the Republican party more politically than it did the Democrats.

Now, however, the Republicans own the whole government, and yet they’re still trying to blame the Democrats. President Trump – and yes, I follow him on Twitter because in a certain way I have to[2] – has been tweeting about how “bad” or “sad” (doesn’t he know any other adjectives?) the Democrats are because they’re threatening to shut down the government (which they’re not). So, let’s review the history of government shut-downs.[3]

  • In 1995-96 the Newt Gingrich-led Congress was in a budget fight with then-President Clinton. The government was actually shut down twice, from November 14 through November 19, 1995, and from December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996, for a total of 27 days. In many ways this was a mano-a-mano between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich – although technically a dispute over Medicare Part B may have been the actual sticking point – and highlighted by a report that Gingrich initiated the shutdown because Clinton made him exit from the back of Air Force One to Yitzhak Rabin‘s funeral in Israel.
  • More recently, in 2013, the Republican Congress shut down the government for 16 days from September 30 through October 17, 2013. This fight was primarily over the wishes of the Republican Congress to defund the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).

In both cases, it was the Republican-led Congress trying to get a Democratic President to capitulate. This time the Republicans own all of the branches of the federal government, and they can still barely avoid a government shut-down. Republicans are annoyed that the Democrats don’t want to rubber stamp all of their budget proposals, to which I say so what? When does the opposition party rubber-stamp the majority party’s budget proposals? The answer is never.

So, what’s going on here? It seems that this fight is mostly about the Republican party’s own fractiousness, where their (barely remaining) moderate wing cannot come to agreement with the radical right Tea Party wing (especially on, health care) and with the Trump administration on their “fairyland” tax proposals.

For those people who are trying to sell you on the notion that the Democrats are to blame here, don’t you buy into it. The Democrats have made no ultimatums, they are not in the majority in either the House or the Senate. It’s the Trump administration and their Republican Congress that can’t get their act together this time around.

[1] In what has to be described a minor miracle, the Republicans and Democrats were actually able to compromise on a budget deal yesterday which will keep the government running through the end of September.

[2] These days I’m mostly using Twitter to send sarcastic tweets to Trump, and occasionally Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell, in response to the latest propaganda nonsense that they’ve been trying to get past the American people. I’d love for one of my tweets to go viral, but unfortunately, I’m not nearly clever enough.

[3] I’m focusing here on government shut-downs in recent history. There have been other government shut-downs, but most of them involved just a few days, and most of them did not require the government to furlough employees.

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Trump’s first 100 Days

One of the very few things I agree with Donald Trump on is the notion that the “first 100 days” standard is essentially a meaningless standard. As National Public Radio pointed out in a recent story, the first 100 day standard goes back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and although he accomplished a remarkable number of things in his first 100 days – abated by historical circumstances related to the Great Depression – even his accomplishments have been somewhat exaggerated.

The idea of measuring an American president by the accomplishments of his first 100 days in office goes back to 1933 and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s dash to staunch a banking crisis and pull America out of the Great Depression.

In a July 24, 1933, fireside chat, he assessed the early months of his administration.

“I think that we all wanted the opportunity of a little quiet thought to examine and assimilate in a mental picture the crowding events of the hundred days which had been devoted to the starting of the wheels of the New Deal,” Roosevelt said.

He had signed a record 15 major pieces of legislation in those first 100 days. But it’s not as simple as the legend would make it seem.

So what has Trump achieved in his first 100 days? The short answer is nothing on the legislative front, and a bunch of stuff (of uncertain efficacy and questionable legality) on the executive front.

On the Legislative front

In brief, on the legislative front, Trump promised on the campaign trail to enact all of the legislation set forth below in his first 100 days. He has accomplished none of these, with the repeal and replacement of Obamacare heading that list. To be fair, the Trump administration does require some cooperation from the Congress, and they haven’t gotten much. That’s because the Republicans in Congress have no idea how to govern and are themselves hopelessly divided between the Tea Party, traditional pro-business and (barely alive) moderate factions. On the legislative side the Trump administration has not:

  • Repealed and replaced the Affordable care (That attempt was a clusterfuck of gigantic proportions)
  • Enacted middle class tax relief or provided for tax simplification. (The did propose a 1 page outline of a tax plan which would have been a gigantic give-away to corporations and the rich.)
  • Enacted the End Illegal Immigration Act. (This act would fund the Mexican border wall, and establish a 2-year mandatory minimum federal prison sentence for illegally re-entering the U.S. after a previous deportation, among other things.)
  • Enacted the End the Offshoring (This act would have established tariffs to discourage companies from laying off their workers while relocating in other countries and shipping their products back to the U.S. tax-free.)
  • Enacted the American Energy & Infrastructure Act. (This act would have leveraged public-private partnerships to spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over 10 years.)
  • Enacted the School Choice and Education Opportunity Act. (This act would have given parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice.)
  • Enacted the Affordable Childcare and Eldercare (This act would allow Americans to deduct childcare and elder care from their taxes and incentivizes employers to provide on-site childcare services, among other things.)
  • Enacted the Restoring Community Safety Act. (This act would increase funding for programs that train and assist local police, increase resources for federal law enforcement agencies and federal prosecutors, and create a Task Force On Violent Crime).
  • Enacted the Restoring National Security Act. (This act would expand the military by eliminating the defense sequester and expanding military investment.)

Now I’m not personally disappointed that so much of this legislation seems to be nowhere in sight, as I disagree with almost all of it. But for Trump supporters, this should be a major disappointment. Of course, their cognitive dissonance will not allow them to see that.

On the Executive font

Trump has fared better on the executive front, although (as we know) a number of his executive orders have been found to be unconstitutional. Some of what Trump has accomplished include:

  • He did impose a short hiring freeze on all federal employees (to reduce federal workforce through attrition) but lifted it in April. Military positions had been excluded all along.
  • He did issue an executive order requiring that for every new federal regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated.
  • He did sign an executive order which, among other things, required new executive branch employees to pledge that they would not lobby the particular agency they worked at within five years of the end of their employment there.[1] That order also imposed a lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government.
  • He did withdraw the United States from the proposed Pacific trade agreement, fulfilling one of his longtime campaign pledges.
  • He did fulfill part of his campaign promise to lift the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion dollars’ worth of American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal. Trump got things started with an executive order last month that eliminated smaller restrictions on coal and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • He did sign memorandums that cleared the way for construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.
  • He did issue two executive orders banning visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the United States. Both of those orders were overturned as being unconstitutional.
  • He did issue an order withholding funding from sanctuary cities. That order has also been held unconstitutional.
  • He also got Judge Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court, although in order to do so the Senate had to blow up their own rules around the Filibuster, a decision that may well yet come to haunt them (and especially the Republican party).

Some of what he has not accomplished on the executive front include:

  • He has not proposed a Constitutional Amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress, as he had promised to do.
  • He promised a complete ban on foreign lobbyists raising money for American elections, a promise on which he has not kept.
  • He promised to renegotiate NAFTA or withdraw from the deal under Article 2205, a promise which he has not kept.
  • He promised to begin removing the more than 2 million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back, a promise which has not kept.
  • He is far behind in staffing his administration, as he has made a mere 50 nominations to fill the top 553 positions of the executive branch.

It’s not that Trump has not been active as President, his every-weekend excursions to Mar-a-Lago notwithstanding. It’s just that he has been very ineffective.

To which I say, Thank God!

But his partisans may not be so kind. His delusional core will stay with him, of course, but many of the swing voters who were willing to “give him a chance” are going to want to see some real progress on issues pretty soon. And Trump is not going to be able to talk his way out of that lack of delivery forever.

[1] However, this order does not apply to Congress, and on the campaign trail he had also promised that Congressional employees would be subject to a similar ban.

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The Trump Tax ‘Plan’: here we go again

Yesterday the Trump administration announced its new tax ‘plan’ in order to beat the ‘100 day’ deadline[1], by all appearances.

Trump has – and I know this will come as a shock to those of you keeping score – been on both sides of that issue. On the campaign trail he promised to do more in 100 days than any President before him, and if you ask him now, he will claim that his administration has done more than any President before him. On the other hand, just days ago he called the 100 day deadline meaningless and arbitrary, in implicit acknowledgement that his administration has accomplished almost nothing in its first 100 days, the blizzard of (mostly meaningless) executive orders notwithstanding.[2]

That may be the most truthful thing he has said during his entire reign as President.

But back to the tax ‘plan,’ if one can call it that. It was really just a double-spaced one-page outline of a tax plan, not an actual plan.[3] Calling it a ‘plan’ is being extremely charitable. Even so, let’s look at what is supposedly in it.

For individuals the tax plan would apparently

  • Reduce personal income tax rates and reduce the number of brackets from seven to three: 10%, 25%, and 35%.
  • Repeal the estate (or ‘death’) tax altogether
  • Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax (designed to ensure that high earners can’t bring their tax bill down to zero by invoking all manner of deductions and loopholes).
  • Repeal the surcharge on capital gains.
  • Eliminate certain unspecified loopholes (but apparently including the popular deduction for state and local taxes).
  • Double the standard deduction.
  • Increased child-care tax credits.

For businesses the tax plan would apparently

  • Cut business income tax rates from 35% to 15%.
  • Cut rates for ‘pass-through’ companies.[4]
  • Tax foreign-held profits.
  • Introduce a territorial tax system. [5]

Loyal readers of the blog may be surprised to hear me say this, but not every one of these ideas is bad. For example, bringing down the corporate tax rate – which conservatives are very fond of reminding everyone is the ‘highest in the world’ – isn’t a bad idea as long as it’s married to closing a large number of corporate loopholes. Because currently the ‘effective’ (i.e. actual) tax rate that many clever companies (like Apple, for example) is closer to zero.

Taxing foreign-held profits is another very reasonable idea.

Simplifying the number of personal rates and eliminating some deductions isn’t such a bad idea either.

But the basic problem with this tax plan is how much it would add to the federal deficit. Trump’s economists are assuming that the tax plan would generate 4.5% of annual sustained growth, which assumption more sober economists have dubbed as residing in ‘fairyland.’ Those are the kind of numbers even China hasn’t been able to sustain.

The last time we had ‘trickle down’ economics was, of course, during the Reagan administration. David Stockman, the Budget Director at the time (and chief architect of ‘trickle down’) proposal has long ago rebuked it, and admitted that it doesn’t work.  At all. The federal deficit grew like a baby cow on steroids during Reagan’s years in office.

So, here we go again.

Once Trump puts some meat on those bones, it’s going to smell just like the Republican replacement to the Affordable Care Act. In other words, not so good.[6]

[1] There is no real 100 day deadline. It’s a marker that was first set up when Franklin Delano Roosevelt, coming into office to combat the Great Depression, enacted a remarkable number of measures in his first 100 days, setting a high water mark which successor Presidents have been trying to match ever since.

[2] He did get Neil Gorsuch appointed to the Supreme Court, but needed the Senate to blow up its filibuster rule in order to get there. It was mostly an ‘accomplishment’ (if you will) by the Senate.

[3] This is the same approach that the Republicans used when releasing their alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Once they put meat on those bones, things suddenly went downhill in a hurry.

[4] Small partnerships, independent contractors, and some larger firms don’t pay corporate taxes. Instead they treat their business income more like a salary and include it with their individual income tax filings.

[5] While this aspect of the plan is particularly vague, the basic idea is to somehow stop taxing companies’ overseas earnings and focus just on their domestic operations.

[6] Since Trump has not released his own tax returns, it’s hard to know how these proposals would effect him personally, and his business as a whole. But since Trump’s business is closely held (so a private person can’t buy stock in the Trump organization), it is likely that income from the Trump organization would be treated as ‘pass through’ income, and he and his people would be entitled to report at the lower personal rates than the corporate rates.

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The Fairytale Prisoner that is Melania Trump

I came across this the other day, and have to admit that I found it really interesting. It was an article entitled “Fairytale Prisoner by Choice: The Photographic Eye of Melania Trump,”  and it was an attempt to gain a little bit of psychological insight by observing what the photographs that Melania Trump posts on Twitter. Or specifically, the 470 photos she posted in the three-year period between June 3, 2012 and June 11, 2015.

What was so interesting is how many pictures were from behind her husband and even her son.

How many pictures were of the same space, just in different weather and different parts of the day.

How many pictures were taken from inside of cars.

How many were taken from up high of scenes down below.

I’m sure Melania Trump never expected to become the First Lady of the United States. I think she’s smart enough to know that she was signing up to be a Trophy Wife, and she clearly was willing to make that bargain.

I posted something about this on Facebook and it was interesting to see some of the comments. They included comments like:

  • A) who cares? and b) utter speculation of the state of mind of a questionable human
  • My thought is that she is now a higher priced hooker.

On the other hand, other friends wrote:

  • I really hope no one judges my marriage, life choices, and emotional well-being by the photos I take.
  • I thought this was a very interesting spin on pics, seen as a body of work that tell us something about the one taking the pic. It is kind of obvious now, but I had not thought about it before. She seems very lonely.

Ah yes, she does seem very lonely. Fuastian bargain, that’s what she made. Like many of my friends, I seem to reflect the bifurcated feelings: I feel sorry for her and I don’t feel sorry for her. She married the Obergropenführer, so that’s entirely on her. Still, I doubt that she really understood what she was getting in to.

I hope she has some kind of epiphany some day. It can’t be much fun for her to watch her husband screw up everything he touches. But then, we’re all getting tired of so much winning, aren’t we?

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It’s 2017, and we really have to March for Science?

It’s 2017, and apparently we have to have a ‘March for Science.’ In 2017. I thought we had validated science back in the 1600s, when people like Copernicus and Galileo were making their discoveries.

The ‘science deniers,’ I should note, don’t mind taking advantage of the benefits of science. They use the Internet, and take anti-biotics, and go in for robot-assisted surgeries. It’s just when scientific conclusions (climate change, for example) conflict with their desires (more fossil fuels!) that they get all anti-science on us.

And for the people who think that the Earth was created 6000 years ago because that’s what it says in the Bible I ask, have you ever heard of the term ‘creation myth?’ Not everything was intended to be taken literally.

I’m tempted to go into Boston and march for science with the others who will be there. But I think I’ll skip it. I did the million women march with my sister and niece and friends, and that was a lot of fun. Felt energised. But on this dank rainy day, to have to march for the proposition that science is something which should be part of the consideration of public policy, or that science research should receive a federal funding assist? I don’t know, that feels like that should be beyond debate.

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This should be disturbing to anyone who cares about Justice even a little bit

I saw this last Sunday on 60 Minutes, and it should be of concern to anyone who cares even just a little bit about justice. Oh I know, a lot of the victims here are criminals. If they didn’t do this, they did something else, or so the thinking goes.

It’s a nice conceit that we’re different from ‘criminals,’ and that they deserve what they got. In some cases it’s even true. Yesterday Aaron Hernandez, the former Patriots tight end committed suicide at the Souza-Baranowski maximum security facility in Massachusetts. And really, I don’t care. Good riddance I thought. This is a guy who shot his former best friend in the eye — miracle of miracles the guy survived to testify against Hernandez in another murder trial — and later he shot two guys in a drive-by because one of them spilled a drink (by all accounts accidentally) on him in a club. Right after he signed a $34 million contract for four years with the Patriots.

So Aaron Hernandez is not like the rest of us, in almost any way. But oh so many so-called ‘criminals’ are. They may be a little less educated, a little more desperate, a little more inured to the violence all around them. But they don’t deserve this form of ‘justice’ depicted here.

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