Humpty Dumpty Health Care

Paris   Nothing like a couple of weeks on the road, three countries, a half-dozen or so cities, and the siren song of home, heat, and humidity all sounds better and better. Of course there’s no escaping the headlines or the occasional questions from random people from all walks of life about what thoughts we might have on Trump. As excited as people around the world were about Obama as president, they are mystified by Trump. They are not alone.

The Republican Senate’s efforts to not just repeal-and-replace Obamacare, but to cap entitlements for Medicaid and pretty much kick the teeth out of the poor, elderly, disabled, and others seems to have alienated a couple of senators, while others wanted a chance to run up and kick harder and go for the kill. The New York Times reported that Senator Portman from Ohio has been a huge problem behind-the-scenes for the Republican majority leader and his efforts to pull together the votes. Seems he was concerned about what might happen to 700,000 people in Ohio that had gained coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Wow! That’s a good question for a lot of politicians from a lot of states it would seem. Turns out that when you push Humpty Dumpty off the wall, it really is hard to put the pieces back again.

And, in fact as the votes collapsed on the latest Senate version, there was an even greater implosion on the latest Trump twitter tantrum urging just repeal and deal a couple of years down the road. Seems immediately three Republican women in the Senate from West Virginia, Maine, and Alaska said the equivalent of “what are you pulling my leg,” saying that it would be reckless and irresponsible to simply repeal and blow the Act up.

Many of the Republican governors with shorter terms and quicker elections who are forced to be closer to their constituents also got their back up on these draconian cuts and caps in Nevada, Ohio, and elsewhere. They have earned some thanks as well.

I wish there were a lesson learned on the order of “don’t mess with entitlements,” but we know better. Like a bad dream, they’ll be back with more mischief and other attempts, and one way or another, they will have to do something now, we might hope, to fix some of the pieces of Obamacare that are broken.

Will they reach out to Democrats? Do they really have a choice?

Maybe this will be a twist on the old story, that if you break it, you own it. In this case, the message to the Senate might be, if you can’t break it, then do your job, and fix it.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Loose Cannon Goes Off Again, Blows Up Part of White House

James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing this month. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

Detroit  What’s that famous Hunter Thompson line? Something like, “when the going gets weird, the weird turn profession,” I think. But, there I was, like much of the rest of America, with a 3 AM wake-up for a 515 AM flight, but unable to not read one article on-line after another in the Times, Wash Post, and Journal about the latest meltdown of government, as we have come to know it in good times and even bad, as we watch with our mouths open, the devaluation of the United States to the level of a banana republic except with bombs and one of the largest armies in the world. OMG!

In one day, still reeling from the political obtuseness and self-delusion that Democrats and the country would applaud his firing of FBI Director James Comey in the middle of the FBI’s investigation of his own political campaign, which has been a story spinning around in one version or another so much we’re all dizzy, we find out that President Trump in his braggadocio has blurted out secret intelligence about ISIS. Boom, the loose cannon fires at the White House!

And, he doesn’t blurt this out to the White House custodial staff or in the White House kitchen where the chef is frying him up a big, fat burger to go. Oh, no, he does this foolish chest thumping to the Russian Foreign Secretary and the Russia’s US Ambassador in the Oval Office in an oval office meeting where he had even barred any photos from US-based media, but did allow the Russian foreign office to broadcast video and pictures far and wide. Why, was he meeting with them now, well, as he curiously explained, he was doing it at the bidding of Russian president Putin. Let’s hope Putin at least said “pretty please.” Of course this intel was given to us by a Mid-Eastern ally, that turned out to be Israel, and we hadn’t bothered to tell them we no longer could be trusted to keep secrets, and it involved ISIS, and it just goes down hill from there. Boom, another cannonball hits the West Wing!

And, of course President Trump also intimates that he may be taping conversations and phone calls, and it turns out, and according to Trump Organization sources, that has been his m.o. for years and standard operating procedure in his business. But, oh no, of course Comey had done a contemporaneous memorandum and shared it with other senior FBI staff after his early February meeting with Trump, on what he saw as an effort by Trump to try to persuade him to terminate the FBI investigation of former General and ex-NSA chief Mike Flynn and his extralegal contacts with the Russians before and after the election. Whoops, someone opened a big can of whip-ass there! The President must have confused Comey and the FBI with some small-time contractor desperate for work on one of his old Atlantic City casino dream machines. And, the bombs were bursting in air, but our flag is still standing…hopefully.

But, what else would we have expected? Bizarrely, I’m minding my own business and reading The Economist as a diversion flying between Houston and Detroit and there’s a small box on one page distilling some points from an audience they were given with the President. Trump is talking about the economy and his so-called plans. He mentions that he wants to “prime the pump,” and then goes off of a riff about how much he likes that expression, asks whether the reporters have heard it before, and then in his profound ignorance he takes credit for coining the expression, “priming the pump.” Why not, it’s only been in common use since 1932. Who’s to know? Who’s to care? Another bomb. Not even funny, just a huge dud.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Trump Empowering Kris Kobach to Suppress More Votes and Cover His Tweets

New Orleans   President Trump named five people to a special election commission to supposedly review federal election procedures. Vice-President Pence is the titular chair. There will be more than a dozen members and the bipartisan claim arises from four active and former Secretary of State, two Democrats from Maine and New Hampshire and a current Republican Secretary of State from Indiana. Disturbingly, he appointed the notorious former Republican Secretary of State from Ohio, Ken Blackwell, who became infamous in the 2008 election when Ohio was a key battleground state then for his ham-handed efforts at voter suppression.

None of this would be that worrisome, if we were able to see this commission as simply a DC-boondoggle of a snipe hunt looking for evidence wherever they can find it to provide cover for Trump’s post-election tweets and continuing efforts to claim he really didn’t lose the vote total by millions because there were all of these undocumented illegals voting. Unable to find any proof of these claims or to convince the FBI or Justice Department to join the ghost hunt, this commission is his smoke bomb to cover his claims. We could almost live with this except for the fact that he has appointed Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State, author of countless pieces of immigrant bashing, and master of voter suppression in Kansas and nationally. It was small comfort that despite Kobach’s post-election Trump Tower meetings with Trump as president-elect, cooler heads prevailed preventing him from taking a faster train than this one to Washington.

Kobach is a danger to democracy, plain and simple. His previous efforts to reshape the national voting system had to be scrapped for clear racial bias. I have often cited his initial election campaign claims that he was running to stop ACORN from stealing the election in Kansas, despite the fact that we didn’t have any staff, office, or operation in the state. He started bad, but he keeps getting worse.

Of huge concern for this fake-fact finding commission will be Kobach’s claims for more voter identification systems based on his Interstate Voter Crosscheck Program, now enjoying the participation of thirty states, most of them Republican, which supposedly finds duplicate registrations. Most experts defame Walt Disney by calling the program Mickey Mouse.

One report said that following about its methodology:

The program, for instance, appears to count every instance in which someone has moved out of a state, registered to vote in their new state, but has not yet been removed from the old voter rolls, a process that can take several election cycles to happen automatically.

And while the program asks member states to submit 13 items of data for each voter, including the last four digits of his/her social security number and middle name, Kansas state department officials acknowledged in an email that all that’s required for the crosscheck program to generate a “possible duplicate entry,” is for the last name, first name, and date of birth to match.

A Rolling Stone report from before the 2016 election was more specific:

We had Mark Swedlund, a database expert whose clients include eBay and American Express, look at the data from Georgia and Virginia, and he was shocked by Crosscheck’s “childish methodology.” He added, “God forbid your name is Garcia, of which there are 858,000 in the U.S., and your first name is Joseph or Jose. You’re probably suspected of voting in 27 states.”

The reporter later underlined the issue, writing:

Every voter that the state marks as a legitimate match receives a postcard that is colorless and covered with minuscule text. The voter must verify his or her address and mail it back to their secretary of state. Fail to return the postcard and the process of taking your name off the voter rolls begins.

This commission has a fake mission to solve a problem that doesn’t exist and is likely to use a fake computer program that produces exaggerated and inaccurate data to provide high-level justification for the ongoing conservative political project of reducing the number of lower income, elderly, and minority voters in US elections.

Bad and sad!

***

Please enjoy Alright Caroline by Third Eye Blind. Thanks to KABF.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Church Exemption: Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander

New Orleans   The membership of legacy religious institutions may be falling like a rock, but their privileges are increasing. President Trump last week signed an executive order that sought to do a couple of things for churches. On one hand he wanted to give them some more flexibility in opposing abortion for their workers and institutions, but most of that had already been done by the courts in the Hobby Lobby case. The other penance he offered was protection for political endorsements being made by pastors right from the pulpit, and that’s interesting.

The Internal Revenue Service provides a tax exemption under its 501c3 classification for religious institutions and other nonprofits providing charitable, educational, and other benefits. In exchange for such a tax exemption there are some restrictions including the level of profit-making enterprises escaping taxation, unless they are directly related to the mission and purpose of the exempt nonprofit. There is also a ban on political activity and endorsements.

Trump’s executive order was a promise to the evangelical and religious community that he would get them around the Johnson Amendment and its restriction on religious endorsements. In some ways this was a bit of a straw man. Priests and pastors have been making political endorsements from the pulpit for years without provoking any investigations from the IRS, so they have been able to do so with impunity. Evangelical preachers have hardly been quaking in their brogans as they have embraced and endorsed conservative politicians from right to far-righter for fear of losing their tax privileges. Archbishops and Cardinals in heavily Catholic cities and states have sometimes jumped into the middle of political campaigns, including threatening excommunication of parishioners for voting for governors, senators, and representatives bold enough to support abortions. Trump’s claim was that his order would now protect them and give them license to jump into politics at their will and whim.

Talking to the director and organizer of an environmental group the other day who was debating whether his tax exempt group needed to form an entity that could be more aggressively active in pushing climate change into the political agenda, I had jokingly suggested that since a lot of environmentalists already talked about nature as their church, a simple fix for this problem would be to just say his outfit was now religious, and say whatever they wanted to say. Now in truth Trump’s order doesn’t mean much. The IRS will likely just ignore it and given the way they’ve ignored such blatant politics in the pulpit in the past and their depleted ranks in the exemption debate, it doesn’t add up to much.

But, what’s good for the goose, should be good for the gander. If the IRS lightened up on one group of nonprofits, they would have to lighten up on the whole bunch, equal protection being what it is once the matter finds its way to the courts. Nonprofit staff and leadership wouldn’t have to dance around whether they were speaking and acting personally and not as representatives of their organizations as they jumped into politics any more than pastors and priests. The President may not care that if he opens the door for one, everybody can walk in, but if this order has any weight, that’s what it should end up meaning. What’s good for one is good for all.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

ACORN Makes the Federal Budget Extension Bill Yet Again

Little Rock   In a story headlined, “I Can’t Do This Anymore, Congress. I Can’t: Republicans are blocking funds for the long-shuttered ACORN again,” Zach Carter, the senior economy reporter for the Huffington Post tries to retire from the ACORN-Is-Dead piece after years on the beat. Since I’ve counted on Zach to scour the budget to find out if ACORN is still high on the hater list for the Republicans, I’ll miss him, but I do what to honor his toil by sharing his report from the HuffPost today, so here is what Zach Carter has to say:

WASHINGTON ― One morning in early March of 2013, I received a reporting tip for what I thought would be the single dumbest story I would ever write. When I answered the phone, the Capitol Hill staffer on the other end could barely contain his laughter. House Republicans had slipped detailed language into a must-pass government funding bill that would prevent federal cash from flowing to an anti-poverty group called ACORN.

My source wasn’t a cold-hearted bureaucrat.

The GOP had grown accustomed to demanding concessions from Democrats on critical legislation since winning control of the House in 2010. Some of these maneuvers ― including a failed attempt to repeal Obamacare ― carried serious policy implications. But this particular case of legislative hostage-taking came with a punchline: ACORN didn’t exist. The organization had disbanded nearly three years prior. Congress was about to do something thoroughly futile, for no reason.

There was a certain aesthetic harmony between the emptiness of this looming legislative assault and the attack that caused ACORN’s demise. In 2009, conservative provocateur James O’Keefe had stitched together undercover footage that appeared to show ACORN staffers offering financial advice to a pimp who declared he was prostituting underage girls. Multiple government investigations would eventually clear ACORN of legal wrongdoing, and O’Keefe’s career would descend into a series of bizarre self-owns. But the damage to ACORN was done. Congress voted to cut off federal funding and the group closed its doors, humiliated.

Years later, ACORN’s enemies were apparently still not satisfied. I called the GOP spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee, who told me the anti-ACORN language was “a typical provision that is included in most appropriations bills.” This explanation, of course, only made everything weirder. Why would Congress routinely bar federal funding for an organization that doesn’t exist?

The ultimate answer turned out to be that Congress was barely functional. And it remains all-but-broken today. Four years later, here I am, sitting at my desk, writing another story about a budget bill attacking funds for ACORN. It’s right there on page 1,060 of the latest government funding legislation:

None of the funds made available under this or any other Act, or any prior Appropriations Act, may be provided to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, allied organizations, or successors.Since ACORN does not exist, it has no affiliates or subsidiaries. “Allied organizations” and “successors” are not legally defined terms. I know because I have written different versions of this story over and over and over again. Every time Congress unveils a new bill to fund the federal government, I do a quick search through the text for “ACORN,” and Congress rarely lets me down.

Sometimes liberal publications or nerdy blogs boost the stories, but they always click well, because this tale is always so breathtakingly stupid. In August 2014, in a fit of foolishness, I declared the crusade against ACORN over because the language attacking funds for the nonexistent organization had disappeared from the budget bill. It reappeared in December of that year, prompting HuffPost’s publication of what I still believe to be the masterwork of this mini-genre, which we headlined “Tears of Sisyphus: Republicans Resurrect ACORN, Only To Murder It. Again.”

Once upon a time, lawmakers determined the federal budget by debating policy priorities and holding hearings about what the appropriate funding levels for different programs ought to be. This would be a series of negotiations over final appropriations and, ultimately, a relatively reliable stream of funds would emerge for social services, scientific research and other federal programs.

Congressional leaders abandoned that process some years ago, after a calamitous effort to extract ideological concessions tied to a bill to raise the debt ceiling nearly resulted in the U.S. government defaulting on the federal debt. In place of the old system, party leaders now copy and paste language from prior bills, seeking to avoid controversy, and hash out any disputes in private meetings. That’s how the ACORN phrasing makes it into law again and again. Somebody just pulls up whatever the old language was on Department of Health and Human Services funding, correctly assessing that whatever passed last time around won’t cause too much trouble today.

I used to get a kick out of the ACORN story. Most of my writing for HuffPost involves financial regulation, international bribery or some other technical issue involving money and numbers with high stakes. ACORN was a nice break ― something fun, stupid and essentially harmless.

But I can’t do it anymore. I’ve been writing about this foolishness for more than four years, and I’m not getting the same sense of joy or relief I used to get from seeing those five magic letters. The truth is that I’m starting to resent this beat, and I don’t want to remember it as something frustrating or annoying. I want to remember ACORN the way it deserves to be remembered. It’s not you, ACORN. It’s me.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Peoples’ Climate March Demonstrates the Danger of the Numbers Game

New Orleans  There are many iron laws in organizing, and one of them has to be that the more any tactic is repeated, the less effective it becomes.

The so-called resistance may be on the verge of painful reality, as the triumphant numbers of the Women’s March in late January was followed by disappointing numbers in the Women’s followup, and even smaller numbers in the parade-like, rather than protest-like, recent Science March. The related Peoples’ Climate March was this week’s march story with a march on immigrant rights and protections scheduled for the next week.

The Peoples’ Climate March was met by news that a federal judge may have approved the Trump Administration’s executive orders to delay and likely dismiss the last of President Obama’s climate protection orders. They did stumble on a small piece of luck as reportedly “tens of thousands” surrounded the White House. For a change President Trump was not enjoying another taxpayer funded golfing weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, but was actually at the White House trying to establish that he was hard at it on the 100th day of his presidency. We can hope he looked out the window and that he heard the voices still trying to convince him not to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord.

Organizers claimed that there were “300 sister marches” around the country, and that’s a good thing for sure, but coverage was spotting and targets were thin. Organizers have to be concerned though. The Peoples’ Climate March in September of 2014 was in New York City and the estimated crowd was 310,000 and touted as the largest climate march in history and was joined by global action largely initiated by 350.org, but also enjoying the sponsorship of 1500 organizations. The “tens of thousands” the Associated Press and New York Times reported in Washington, DC on this second march is a long, long way from 310,000 in New York City only 2 ½ years ago, especially in light of the fact that the recognition of the potential catastrophe inherent in unchecked climate change has grown exponentially everywhere in the world perhaps except in the antediluvian and atavistic crew bunkered down in the White House with the President.

Like it or not, marches are a numbers game. If organizers don’t want to take the risk of discounting the anger of their base and the urgency of their issue, they either have to prove their mass support with the tactic or risk inadvertently diminishing the perception of their base and its willingness to fight and take action. The Peoples’ Climate March did showcase a nice, creative tactic by pausing as they encircled the White House and letting out one sustained roar that was symbolically intended to “drown out” the voices of climate deniers ensconced in behind the columns.

If we’re going to sustain the energy and momentum of this moment, maybe we need more unexpected twists and turns like that roar and fewer times where the targets will be counting our boots on the ground, until we’re ready to rise up and swell the numbers to new heights again?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail