Congressional Budget Office Scores House Health Bill with an “F”

Oakland    The Congressional Budget Office finished its nonpartisan, objective evaluation of the costs and impacts of their recently passed bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, and channeling Gertrude Stein found that there was “no there, there,” at least if any of us were looking for health insurance, especially when we have health problems.

Begin with the fact that they estimate that 23 million Americans will lose health insurance. I say “begin,” because there is no way to get an accurate view on how high that number could rise. The Republican bill, as written, gives states the ability to ask for waivers from an anti-healthcare Department of Human Services, which would rubber stamp the ability of states to eviscerate care for the individuals with preexisting conditions, women’s health needs, and allow skinnier and skinnier requirements from the plans, thereby eliminating the minimum health provisions of Obamacare for everyone on the program. Analysts report that the CBO usually consults with states in making its estimates, so the 23 million may include some, but this number would likely swell in the red states with “red” now not referring to the color of a map on election night, but instead standing for the blood draining out of these states’ dying people.

Furthermore in the CBO score, they reject the argument that Republicans have made that such miserly benefits will bring happy days with lower premiums and therefore more participation. The CBO flatly argues that the Republican House plan will end up with higher prices, especially because of the Medicaid cuts, and will collapse insurance markets because of the reduction of subsidies. Young people will get cheaper insurance though that will only be good news in the flower of youth, because if, and when, faced with any healthcare needs, young people will be as screwed as everyone else.

The CBO also totally dismissed the Republicans’ argument that “risk pools” would cover take care of Americans with preexisting conditions. If you read between the lines the CBO believes they will pretty much die as soon as they run out of money, and it won’t take long. The “risk pools” are inadequately funded in their view, and they have never worked. The dustbin of history is calling, but the House Republicans are determined to sell the scam. At least they are if they can keep their tempers when asked to defend their votes in favor of this trash, which wasn’t the case for the Montana Republican Congressional candidate facing a tough contest, who decided to body slam a British reporter for the nerve of asking him about his vote.

Some Senate Republicans might notice that one of the groups being slammed the hardest is older people. The New York Times analysis noted that “The cost of insurance for a 64-year-old earning about $27,000 would increase to more than $13,000, from $1,700 under the Affordable Care Act, even for states that pared back insurance rules.” Bad news, these folks actually vote and even with diminishing basic math skills, all of them will figure out that their bill would be almost half of their income.

There are some winners though, but in the Republican plan that’s the folks with the fatter wallets, especially if they are neither old nor poor. The Times reports, that “The bill makes big cuts to taxes on payroll and investment income for those earning more than $200,000, and provides more subsidies to buy insurance for people earning between about $50,000 and $150,000.”

There is no irony here, though their could be. Fewer subsidies for the poor, but more for wealthier families? How can anyone rationalize that? There’s a clue to their thinking though. Perhaps they are channeling HUD Secretary Ben Carson, and want us all to believe that health insurance is like poverty, “just a state of mind.”

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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.

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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!

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

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Bungled Comey Firing Ignites Firestorm and Fear

New Orleans  Make a note: running a television reality show where you get to fire people abruptly is NOT good training for how to fire big-time government officials! Make a couple of notes that when your administration is being investigated by the top cop in the government, it’s going to look bad, very, very bad if you fire him abruptly in the middle of his investigation, with or without cause.

I don’t want to write anything about this. I don’t even want to think about it. In fact I can’t believe it’s really happening.

How is it even possible that the White House was so inept and tone deaf. Reports, though possibly self-serving indicate that Vice-President Pence, son-in-law and confident Jared Kushner, and press czar Sean Spicer, all green-lit this calamitous move, although Spicer to small credit did so after raising some cautions. Stephen Bannon, chief strategist and resident flamethrower, seems to have been the only one consulted in his small circle who advised waiting before firing. How could that not have been a clue? If it’s too hot for former Breitbart Bannon, it’s a scalding firestorm coming.

What do we really know in average Joe Citizen land, but James Comey as head of the FBI seems to have been moving from one bad judgment to another. The fact that he indicated in recent Congressional testimony that thinking he may have thrown the election to Trump through his various inexplicable actions about emails and investigations had made him “slightly nauseous,” pales in comparison to the life-support level of illness much of the country still feels over the election.

There is just so much smoke flying around all of this, especially with these latest shenanigans, that, it is becoming harder and harder not to believe there’s a smoldering fire that could burst out at any time. The cover story is one that would embarrass young children caught with their hands in the cookie jar, especially given that the letter seems undoubtedly written by the President himself to claim that he had been assured on three occasions by his former employee that he was not personally under investigation. Who in their right mind would write that? Who would see the draft and not raise a flag that this was the trigger to a bomb that would blow up in the White House’s face.

This to will pass. There will be peace in the valley some day. There will be happy days again in the future.

In the meantime it’s clear Trump and his hapless crew have now guaranteed that there will have to be an even more serious investigation of the Russian ties to the campaign and his staff, whether through a special prosecutor or some other mechanism. Sadly, that’s little comfort. Even as we might disagree, we desperately need to believe that competent, sober souls have their hands on the wheel of the US government, and sadly the lack of any continuing evidence that that exists has all of us walking with the dread of total panic ever present.

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Please enjoy Santiago by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Thanks to KABF.

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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.

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FCC Fork Tongues on Net Neutrality

Little Rock   It wasn’t so long ago that we don’t remember, but in a fierce fight that logged more citizen comments that ever before recorded on a Federal Communications Commission matter, the FCC essentially declared the internet equivalent to a public utility assuring net neutrality, meaning that all providers have equal access to users. Everyone from consumers and citizens to Silicon Valley were happy to have won this one. The telecommunications monopolies sued and are still in court, but in a disappointment to them and the politicians they fund with their huge contributions, they have most recently lost their efforts to overturn the Obama FCC order, and are appealing to the Supreme Court.

In the wave of the Trump Administration rollbacks of Obama era regulations and initiatives, the new FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, has immediately sought to unravel the internet’s classification as a utility, assure net neutrality, and pretty much have the FCC play any role in regulating any of this. Chairman Pai is a slick one. He claims he is totally committed to what he calls an “open” internet. He swears he is a big “streamer” himself and that he’s a bannerman for “Game of Thrones” as a binge watcher.

Listening to an interview with him on the radio was a very scary thing, because not only is he a fast and smooth talker, but he’s duplicitous and evasive on the issues. He had two key talking points in trying to muddy the waters.

First, he harps on the fact that the regulation defining public utilities goes back to 1934 and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He made that points several times in different ways in order to try and embed the notion that this is antiquated and out of date and the internet is modern, so how could one possibly be adequate for the other. He slightly slips up by mentioning that the 1934 regulations were dealing with monopolistic tendencies of AT&T, forgetting for a minute that it might be worth still looking at what’s up with AT&T and its buddies now, since it’s a longway from small potatoes.

Secondly, he tried a curve ball, trying to argue that he was trying to take the FCC back to what he called the Clinton era regulatory philosophy which prevailed from what he claimed was 1990 to 2015, meaning until the Obama FCC majority put the internet under protective custody, so to speak. No question, President Clinton was a deregulator supreme, but what Pai was trying to plant here in unsuspecting minds was the idea that he is mainstream and that Obama and his FCC majority were outliers.

The game was up when the interviewer pressed him for how he thought under his proposal that telecoms speeding up their own content and slowing up their competitors would be handled. This was a forked-tongue masterpiece. He answered quickly saying that if they did that and it hurt consumers then the Federal Trade Commission could investigate and so could the Justice Department, along with state agencies around the country. Huh? Yes, he was careful to push any and all responsibility for telecom miscreants to everyone and anyone other than the FCC. Under his watch, they are clearly planning to wash their hands of any supervision or regulation. Essentially, he was saying, hey, if you have a problem, catch them if you can, and good luck with that.

In these days this passive, reactive approach to anything involving the internet and consumers just doesn’t work, and he knows it though he doesn’t want to upset his patrons and paymaster. Case in point, we have Uber creating software in order to deliberately trick states and cities where it was committed to avoiding and breaking regulations barring or limiting its participation. Another case in point, we also have is the huge scandal where Volkswagen created software to trick regulators on how many miles per gallon its diesel engines were getting.

The internet and software both giveth and taketh away. It’s not easy finding the tricksters, because this is wildly sophisticated lawbreaking. The FCC wants to go back to 1934 and snooze their way through the Trump-era, but citizens and consumers depend on the internet, and the FCC needs to do their jobs of protecting us and it, and not just spin their way around their duty.

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