Thursday, April 6, 2017

Now They Like It

Having seen what the Republicans think of when they think of “healthcare reform,” Gallup finds that a majority of Americans like Obamacare.

More than half of Americans approve of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), according to a Gallup poll out Tuesday, marking the first time the law has gained majority support since Gallup began tracking public opinion on it in 2012.

Fifty-five percent of Americans say that former President Barack Obama‘s signature healthcare reform law should remain in place, though 40 percent say it needs significant changes. Still, the new rate is up significantly from November, when only 42 percent said they approved of the law.

ObamaCare seems have grown on independents the most in recent months. In November, right after the 2016 election, only 40 percent of independents said they approved of the law. But in Gallup’s most recent poll, that number has jumped to 57 percent — a 17-point increase in five months.

The apparent wave of approval for ObamaCare comes less than two weeks after the failure of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the GOP’s plan to repeal and replace the ACA. The measure was backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and the White House early on, but was ultimately withdrawn amid weak Republican support.

Yet the Republicans keep trying to repeal it, although they’re not getting very far, so their next plan is to sabotage it.  Let’s see how that goes over.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Short Takes

U.S. blames Assad for chemical attack in Syria; Trump blames Obama.

North Korea launches missile into the sea.

ISIS calls Trump “idiot” in its first message acknowledging him.

New GOP healthcare plan undercuts popular provisions of Obamacare.

Russia to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremist” group.

The Tigers opened the season by beating the White Sox 6-3.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Poor People of Kansas

I’m not just talking about those folks in that nice state who don’t have enough money to pay for medical care on their own and are now being denied expanded Medicaid because their governor is a religious fanatic.

I mean everybody, rich or poor, who has to live with this kook who drove the state’s economy into the ground on purpose, decimating the public school system in the process, and tried to tell the world it was actually an improvement.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Pulled Out By The Grassroots

Over the past few weeks I’ve been inundated on social media and e-mail by lots of groups asking me to call my local representative in Congress to vote against the Trump attempt to repeal Obamacare.  I did my bit; I had a very nice albeit brief chat with whom I assume was an intern who recorded my concerns (and noted my ZIP code).  I also responded to various requests for letters and e-mails with my usual pithiness, and of course there was this effort in the blogosphere.  Throughout it all I was pretty sure that while we’d make a strong effort, it would be for naught.  I was, like everyone, stunned when the bill failed to even get a vote in the GOP-controlled House.

So how did we do it?  Dave Weigel at the Washington Post looks at what killed it.

On Friday afternoon, as congressional Democrats learned that the GOP had essentially given up on repealing the Affordable Care Act, none of them took the credit. They had never really cohered around an anti-AHCA message. (As recently as Wednesday, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was still using the phrase “make America sick again,” which most Democrats had abandoned.) They’d been sidelined legislatively, as Republicans tried to pass a bill on party lines. They’d never called supporters to the Capitol for a show of force, as Republicans had done, several times, during the 2009-2010 fight to pass the Affordable Care Act.

Instead, Democrats watched as a roiling, well-organized “resistance” bombarded Republicans with calls and filled their town hall meetings with skeptics. The Indivisible coalition, founded after the 2016 election by former congressional aides who knew how to lobby their old bosses, was the newest and flashiest. But it was joined by MoveOn, which reported 40,000 calls to congressional offices from its members; by Planned Parenthood, directly under the AHCA’s gun; by the Democratic National Committee, fresh off a divisive leadership race; and by the AARP, which branded the bill as an “age tax” before Democrats had come up with a counterattack.

Congressional Democrats did prime the pump. After their surprise 2016 defeat, they made Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) the outreach director of the Senate caucus. Sanders’s first project was “Our First Stand,” a series of rallies around the country, organized by local Democrats and following a simple format. Elected officials would speak; they would then pass the microphone to constituents who had positive stories to tell about the ACA.

[…]

The turnout for the rallies exceeded expectations, though their aggregate total, over 70-odd cities, would be dwarfed by the Women’s March one week later. More importantly, they proved that there was a previously untapped well of goodwill for the ACA — which had polled negatively for seven years — and it smoothed over divisions inside the party. Days after Barack Obama had blamed “Bernie Sanders supporters” for undermining support for the ACA, Sanders was using his campaign mailing list to save the law.

“It was the town halls, and the stories, that convinced me that people might actually stop this bill,” said Tom Perriello, a former Democratic congressman now running an insurgent campaign for governor of Virginia, with his career-ending vote for the ACA front and center.

My surprise comes not from the fact that it worked — we saw what that misshapen band of misspellers that made up the Tea Party could do — but that the Democrats actually pulled it off in a way that prior to this has not been all that effective.  Yes, of course we’ve seen Facebook and Twitter and e-mail blasts urging support for this or that cause, but they have always come up short on substance because, frankly, a lot of people pay lip service to the effort but when it comes to getting out the vote or the voice, it was always more Astroturf than the real thing.  But this time the real stuff showed up.

Beltway groups were helping organize the opposition, and did not pretend otherwise. But they were effective because they had actual grass-roots buy-in. Elizabeth Juviler co-founded an Indivisible group in the district of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.). “He’d never taken a position against the party,” Juviler said in an interview. “By all accounts, he’s an affable person, but he wasn’t accessible.”

The group, NJ11th for Change, birddogged the Republican congressman with two tactics. First, it held mock town hall events in all four of the counties he represented. “Thousands” of people showed, according to Juviler; all were informed of how to call his office. When the health-care bill was dropped, Frelinghuysen was besieged with calls. And on Friday, he announced that he would oppose AHCA. According to Joe Dinkin, a spokesman for the Working Families Party, there were dozens of stories like that.

“For the first time in a long time, a pretty sizable number of Republicans were more scared of grass-roots energy of the left than of primaries on the right,” said Dinkin.

It also didn’t hurt that a number of Republicans were against the bill not because they loved Obamacare but because they didn’t think the Trump/Ryan bill went far enough; there wasn’t a provision in it for pushing Granny off the end of the dock to reduce the cost of healthcare.  Be that as it may; the bill died and now Trump has moved on to some other squirrel to chase.

The only downside is that we’re all going to be getting tons of e-mails from the DCCC and the state parties to send in money before midnight tonight to keep on fighting.  It’s a small annoyance to pay for a very big win.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sunday Reading

For The Foreseeable Future — Charles P. Pierce on how Obamacare became a preexisting condition.

You knew things had gone sideways when they locked up the House. The corridors that lead through the heart of the Capitol, from Senate chamber to House chamber, were still an unnavigable mass of tourists and staffers and journalists, all clustered by the walls and in unruly knots below the various graven images in Statuary Hall. The echoes were an impossible gabble of crying children, overmatched tour guides, angry parents, and television stand-ups from many lands. At about 3:30, when the voting was supposed to start, a small, tough-looking woman from the Capitol Police turned out the lights in one of the small foyers leading to the chamber. She swung the big doors shut and slammed the locks down into the floor. And that was pretty much it. Until, of course, Speaker Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin, took to a podium in the bowels of the Capitol and said the following.

“Obamacare is the law of the land for the foreseeable future.”

That statement should have come with a sword for Ryan to hand over to Nancy Pelosi who, let it be said, is one legislative badass. She somehow kept her caucus united. There wasn’t even a hint of blue-doggery from her caucus as it sat back and let the Republicans rip each other to shreds, let the president* get exposed as a rookie who should be sent back to A-ball, and let the conservative movement expose itself as graphically as it ever has as the soulless creature of the money power that it’s been for 40 years. Usually, there are some Democrats who either want to make a deal so that Fred Hiatt will send them a Christmas card, or simply because Democrats occasionally can’t help themselves from trying to make the government, you know, actually work. (That nervous tic already is at work concerning the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.)

There was none of that over the past month, while Ryan was trying to formulate what he gamely referred to as a “member-driven” process. That’s precisely what it was. The Freedom Caucus cultist had Ryan by the member and they drove the process over a cliff. Watching in that great Caucus Room In The Sky, Sam Rayburn, Lyndon Johnson, and Tip O’Neill poured out another round and hoisted their glasses at what Pelosi and her team accomplished.

“Today is a great day for our country,” Pelosi said during a news conference. “It’s a victory. What happened on the floor is a victory for the American people—for our seniors, for people with disabilities, for our children, for our veterans.”

A strange week came to a bizarre conclusion. The way word first got around that the healthcare bill was dead was that the president* called Robert Costa of The Washington Post, told him “We pulled the bill,” and Costa then tweeted it out into the great maw of the universe, most notably, those precincts of it that had gathered in the halls of the Capitol. It is a remarkable political defeat suffered by a Republican president at the hands of a Congress controlled by his own party. George W. Bush got bipartisan support for his massive tax cut, Ronald Reagan for his radical 1981 budget. For a historical precedent for what happened Friday, you have to go back to the rocky relationship between Democratic President Jimmy Carter and Democratic Speaker O’Neill in the mid-1970s. Carter walked into the White House with a 149-seat majority in the House and an equally massive advantage in the Senate. Then, as essayist Walter Karp pointed out:

The Speaker’s knife has been busy since the Inaugural. Hamilton Jordan sent him, he claims, some inferior back-row seats for an Inaugural celebration, which may or may not be so; Jordan himself adamantly denies it. “I said to Jordan,” the Speaker tells reporters, “‘when a guy is Speaker of the House and gets tickets like this, he figures there’s a reason behind it.’ ” According to the Speaker, the President’s chief political adviser then replied: “‘If you don’t like it I’ll send back the dollars.’ ” To which incredible insult to the most powerful man on Capitol Hill the Speaker tells the press he replied: ” ‘I’ll ream you out, you son-of-a-bitch.'” Such is bonhomous Tip’s story, word for word, as it appears in the New York Times Magazine on July 24, 1977, by which time it is a twice-told tale destined for a not-insignificant place in the history books.

That was a simple institutional, insider-outsider brawl. What happened to the Republicans this week was different by an order of magnitude. They cored themselves out as a party. They allowed the most extreme element in their caucus to set rules that became untenable and would have been even if Paul Ryan was as good a Speaker as Nancy Pelosi once was. By the middle of the week, the bill was caught in an impossible whipsaw of political imperatives. To get the Freedom Caucus cultists on board, the president* and Speaker Ryan had to make the bill even more cruel and punitive—Work requirements for Medicaid? Men asking why they had to pay for some woman’s maternity care?—and, having done so, it scared the daylights over what passes for a moderate faction in the House Republican caucus. The negotiations bounced impotently back and forth for three days, going absolutely nowhere. On Friday, the White House took its ball and went home.

On Friday, the White House took its ball and went home.

“We were a 10-year opposition party where being against things was easy to do,” Ryan said. “And now, in three months’ time, we’ve tried to go to a governing party, where we have to actually get … people to agree with each other in how we do things.” Of course, since 2010, the House has had a Republican majority and a Republican speaker. There have been two of them—John Boehner and Ryan. The crazy caucus ran Boehner out of office and now, they’ve handed Ryan his head. Pro Tip: it’s not you, boys. It’s your party.

“I always thought the House was going to be the easier part,” said Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania. “I thought they’d run into tremendous difficulties in the Senate but I always assumed, given their pretty big majority in the House, that they’d be able to get this through. I also think all the people who showed up at the town halls, and flooded our congressional offices with phone calls, or in person, made a big difference. These were people who wanted to save their healthcare.”

So, it turns out that Butcher’s Bill Kristol was right, all those years ago, when he wrote his famous strategy memo advising the Republicans in Congress to do everything they could to derail President Bill Clinton’s try at reforming healthcare. Kristol warned that, if Clinton succeeded, then people would find they enjoyed having good health insurance and it would be impossible to dislodge them from it, and the Democrats would have a generational advantage the way they built one with Social Security and Medicare. At least Kristol made more sense than Ryan, who went on the radio and bragged that getting rid of a federal entitlement was a epochal political triumph of the same order as, say, the Louisiana Purchase.

There are still several ways for the Republicans to sabotage further the ACA. They’re still talking like automatons about buying insurance across state lines and about tort reform, as if either of those will expand coverage or bring down costs in such a way as to maintain a decent quality of care. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price is as extreme as anyone in the Freedom Caucus, and he’s in charge of the second and third prongs of the Republican healthcare strategy. Of course, it’s possible that the president* simply will blame Ryan or the Democrats and then move on to something else. The man has the attention span of a flea.

To be fair, the president* took the defeat rather better than I thought he would, which is to say he blamed the Democrats, repeated claim that the Affordable Care Act is gasping its last breath, and was so fulsome in his sympathy for Paul Ryan that, were I Ryan, I’d hire a food taster. Somebody’s going to pay for this. You can be sure of that. Meanwhile, as Paul Ryan said, Obamacare remains the law of the land. The Rotunda was still packed with tourists when the news came down and you wondered how many people there had somehow been helped by the Affordable Care Act. Maybe it’s that elderly gent looking up at the statue of Huey Long, or that kid in the wheelchair paused beneath Norman Borlaug. Obamacare is now a pre-existing condition, and a damned stubborn one at that.

Blameless — David A. Graham in The Atlantic on how it’s never Trump’s fault.

Speaking in the Oval Office Friday afternoon, President Trump surveyed the wreckage of the Obamacare repeal effort and issued a crisp, definitive verdict: I didn’t do it.The president said he didn’t blame Speaker Paul Ryan, though he had plenty of implied criticism for the speaker. “I like Speaker Ryan. He worked very hard,” Trump said, but he added: “I’m not going to speak badly about anybody within the Republican Party. Certainly there’s a big history. I really think Paul worked hard.” He added ruefully that the GOP could have taken up tax-reform first, instead of Obamacare—the reverse of Ryan’s desired sequence. “Now we’re going to go for tax reform, which I’ve always liked,” he said.As for the House Freedom Caucus, the bloc of conservatives from which many of the apparent “no” votes on the Republican plan were to come, Trump said, “I’m not betrayed. They’re friends of mine. I’m disappointed because we could’ve had it. So I’m disappointed. I’m a little surprised, I could tell you.”The greatest blame for the bill’s failure fell on Democrats, Trump said.

“This really would’ve worked out better if we could’ve had Democrat support. Remember we had no Democrat support,” Trump said. Later, he added, “But when you get no votes from the other side, meaning the Democrats, it’s really a difficult situation.”He said Democrats should come up with their own bill. “I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, because they own Obamacare,” he said, referring to the House and Senate Democratic leaders. “They 100 percent own it.”Trump was very clear about who was not to blame: himself. “I worked as a team player,” the president of the United States said, demoting himself to bit-player status. He wanted to do tax reform first, after all, and it was still early. “I’ve been in office, what, 64 days? I’ve never said repeal and replace Obamacare within 64 days. I have a long time. I want to have a great health-care bill and plan and we will.”Strictly speaking, it is true that Trump didn’t promise to repeal Obamacare on day 64 of his administration. What he told voters, over and over during the campaign, was that he’d do it immediately. On some occasions he or top allies even promised to do it on day 1. Now he and his allies are planning to drop the bill for the foreseeable future.

It is surely not wrong that there is lots of blame to go around. Congressional Republicans had years to devise a plan, and couldn’t come up with one that would win a majority in the House, despite a 44-seat advantage. The House bill was an unpopular one, disliked by conservatives and moderates in that chamber; almost certainly dead on arrival in the Senate; and deeply unpopular with voters. Even before the vote was canceled, unnamed White House officials were telling reporters that the plan was to pin the blame on Ryan.

But aside from their role in passing the Affordable Care Act seven years ago, Democrats are perhaps the one faction with the least blame for Friday’s fiasco. As much as they might have wished to claim credit, the opposition party was nearly a non-factor in the wrangling. There was never any intention to design a replacement plan that would attract Democratic votes, in part because of the huge Republican margin in the chamber. The Democrats surely owned Obamacare before, but given GOP control of the House, Senate, and White House, Friday seems to mark the day that Republicans came into ownership.Trump’s quick disavowal of any role in the collapse fits with an emerging pattern: The president never takes the blame for anything that goes wrong. What about his claim that President Obama “wiretapped” him?  “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it,” Trump said during a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week. “That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox. And so you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”How about his claim, during the presidential campaign, that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination?

“Well, that was in a newspaper,” he told Time’s Michael Scherer this week. (The National Enquirer, to be specific.) “No, no, I like Ted Cruz, he’s a friend of mine. But that was in the newspaper. I wasn’t, I didn’t say that. I was referring to a newspaper.”

The ruling by a federal court in Washington state against Trump’s Muslim travel ban? The work of a “so-called judge,” Trump tweeted, and even he preemptively dumped the blame for any future terror attack on the courts for a decision that “essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country.”

Trump’s approach to the presidency thus far has rejected the mantra of his predecessor Harry S Truman, who famously placed a sign on his desk indicating that he was the final decisionmaker: “The buck stops here.” Trump, by contrast, is quick to pass the buck.

Assuming the public accepts it, this choice has both upsides and downsides. On the one hand, it means that Trump is never to blame for anything. On the other, if he’s so irrelevant, why should anyone pay attention to him or take his proposals and ideas seriously?

The True Meaning of Nostalgia — Michael Chabon in The New Yorker.

I recently had a brief chat with a hundred-year-old Jew. His name is Manuel Bromberg, and he’s a resident of Woodstock, New York. Mr. Bromberg had written me a letter, to tell me that he had read and liked my latest book, and in the letter he mentioned that in a few days he would be hitting the century mark, so I thought I’d call him up and wish him a happy hundredth.

An accomplished artist and professor for most of his very long life, Mr. Bromberg painted murals for the W.P.A. and served as an official war artist for the U.S. Army during the Second World War, accompanying the Allied invasion of Europe with paints, pencils, and sketch pad, his path smoothed and ways opened to him by the presence in his pocket of a pass signed by General Dwight D. Eisenhower himself, just like the Eisenhower pass carried by “my grandfather,” the nameless protagonist of my novel. After the war, this working-class boy from Cleveland rode the G.I. Bill to a distinguished career as a serious painter, sculptor, and university professor.

Mr. Bromberg sounded strong and thoughtful and sharp as a tack on the other end of the line, his voice in my ear a vibrant connection not just to the man himself but to the times he had lived through, to the world he was born into, a world in which the greater part of Jewry lived under the Czar, the Kaiser, and the Hapsburg Emperor, in whose army Adolf Hitler was a corporal. As we chatted, I realized that I was talking to a man almost exactly the same age as my grandfather, were he still alive—I mean my real grandfather, Ernest Cohen, some of whose traits, behaviors, and experiences, along with those of his brothers, brothers-in-law, and other men of their generation in my family, of Mr. Bromberg’s generation, helped me to shape the life and adventures of the hero of that book, as my memories of my grandmothers and their sisters and sisters-in-law helped shape my understanding of that book’s “my grandmother.”

Then Mr. Bromberg mentioned that he had now moved on to another novel of mine, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” and he wanted to tell me about another connection between his life and the world of my books: when he was in junior high, in Cleveland, Ohio, his chief rival for the title of School’s Most Talented Artist was a four-eyed, acne-faced wunderkind named Joe Shuster. One day in the mid-nineteen-thirties, in the school locker room, Mr. Bromberg told me, Joe Shuster came to him looking for his opinion on some new drawings: pencil sketches of a stylized cartoon strongman cavorting in a pair of circus tights, with a big letter-S insignia on his chest. To the young Mr. Bromberg, they seemed to be nothing more than competent figure drawings, but Shuster seemed to be very excited about this “Superman” character that he and a friend had come up with. “I have to be honest with you, Michael,” Mr. Bromberg told me, in a confidential tone. “I was not impressed.”

After we talked, I found myself reflecting on the way that, with his Eisenhower pass and his connection to the golden age of comic books, with his creative aspirations rooted equally in hard work and the highbrow, in blue collar and the avant-garde, Mr. Bromberg had been able to find so much of himself in my writing, as so many Mr. Brombergs, in various guises, can be found in the pages of my books. I think there are a few reasons that the lives of that generation of American Jews have formed my fiction. The first is that I have always been—to a fault, it has at times seemed—a good boy. At family gatherings, at weddings and bar mitzvahs, from the time I was small, among all my siblings and cousins, I always felt a sense of dutifulness about hanging out with the old people, enduring their interrogations, remedying their ignorance of baffling modern phenomena, such as Wacky Packages or David Bowie, and, above all, listening to their reminiscences. As the extent of my sense of obligation about serving this function became apparent, I was routinely left behind with the Aunt Ruths and the Uncle Jacks and the Cousin Tobys, not just by my peers and coevals but by our parents, too. Even to this day, at the weddings and bar mitzvahs of other families, you will often find me sitting alone at a table with an Uncle Jack completely unrelated to me, patiently listening to the story of the plastic-folding-rain-bonnet business he started in Rochester in 1948 with a three-hundred-dollar loan from somebody else’s Aunt Ruth, a story that all of his own relatives tired of hearing years ago, if they ever paid attention at all.

The dutifulness of a good boy is not, of course, the whole explanation. I’m not that good. The thing is, I have always wanted to hear the stories, the memories, the remembrances of vanished Brooklyn, or vanished South Philly, or even, dim and sepia-toned and far away, vanished Elizavetgrad, vanished Vilna. I have always wanted to hear the stories of lost wonders, of how noon was turned dark as night by vast flocks of the now-extinct passenger pigeon, of Ebbets Field and five-cent all-day Saturday matinées and Horn & Hardart automats, and I have always been drawn to those rare surviving things—a gaudy Garcia y Vega cigar box, a lady swimming in a rubber bathing cap covered in big rubber flowers, Mr. Bromberg—that speak, mutely or eloquently, of a time and a place and a generation that will soon be gone from the face of the earth.

My work has at times been criticized for being overly nostalgic, or too much about nostalgia. That is partly my fault, because I actually have written a lot about the theme of nostalgia; and partly the fault of political and economic systems that abuse nostalgia to foment violence and to move units. But it is not nostalgia’s fault, if fault is to be found. Nostalgia is a valid, honorable, ancient human emotion, so nuanced that its sub-variants have names in other languages—German’s sehnsucht, Portuguese’s saudade—that are generally held to be untranslatable. The nostalgia that arouses such scorn and contempt in American culture—predicated on some imagined greatness of the past or inability to accept the present—is the one that interests me least. The nostalgia that I write about, that I study, that I feel, is the ache that arises from the consciousness of lost connection.

More than ten years ago now, my cousin Susan, a daughter of my mother’s Uncle Stanley, forwarded me some reminiscences of Stanley’s childhood that he had set down just as his health was failing. Besides my grandfather, Uncle Stan was always my favorite among the male relatives of that generation: witty, charming, and refined, with a deceptively sweet and gentle way of being sardonic and even, on occasion, sharp-tongued. He was a professor, a scholar of medieval German who for many years was also the dean of humanities at the University of Texas. A Guggenheim fellow and Fulbright scholar, Stan was fluent in a number of languages, not least among them Yiddish; during his tenure as dean he created a Yiddish-studies program at U.T. He had been an intelligence officer in Italy during the Second World War, and was decorated for his service during the fierce battle of Monte Cassino.

His reminiscences—or fragmentary memoir, as I came to think of it—ignored all that. It was a delightful document, all too brief, a shaggy and rambling but vivid account of his early life as the son of typical Jewish-immigrant parents, in Philadelphia and Richmond. It featured memories of the godlike lifeguards and the Million-Dollar Pier, at Atlantic City; of stealing turnips and playing Civil War, in Richmond, with boys who were the grandsons of Confederate soldiers; of neighbors who brewed their own beer during Prohibition; of his father’s numerous unlucky business ventures; of his mother hauling wet laundry up from the basement to hang it out on the line, where, in the wintertime, it froze solid.

But what stood out for me most vividly in Uncle Stanley’s memories was the omnipresence and the warmth of his memories of his many aunts, uncles, and cousins, who seemed to take up as much room in his little memoir as his siblings and parents. In the geographically and emotionally close world they lived in, Stan’s extended family of parents’ siblings, their spouses and their siblings and their spouses, and, apparently, huge numbers of first, second, third, and more distant cousins, was just that—an all but seamless extension of the family he lived in. That’s how it was in those days. Somebody came to Philadelphia from Russia, and then his brother came, and then another brother, and pretty soon there were fifty people living in the same couple of neighborhoods in Philly, a kind of community within the community, connected not merely by blood or ties of affection but also by the everyday commitments, debts, responsibilities, disputes, tensions, and small pleasures that make up the daily life of a family.

When I was growing up, it wasn’t like that anymore. My parents moved seven times before I was seven years old, back and forth across the country. I had a lot of second cousins and great-aunts and great-uncles, and I used to see them—and be abandoned to their company—at weddings, bar mitzvahs, et cetera. Listening to those stories, I always felt a kind of a lack, a wistfulness, a sense of having missed something. Reading Stan’s memoir, looping and wandering as his thoughts were as he lay contending with his illness, seemed to connect me, briefly but powerfully, to all that vanished web of connections.

Nostalgia, to me, is not the emotion that follows a longing for something you lost, or for something you never had to begin with, or that never really existed at all. It’s not even, not really, the feeling that arises when you realize that you missed out on a chance to see something, to know someone, to be a part of some adventure or enterprise or milieu that will never come again. Nostalgia, most truly and most meaningfully, is the emotional experience—always momentary, always fragile—of having what you lost or never had, of seeing what you missed seeing, of meeting the people you missed knowing, of sipping coffee in the storied cafés that are now hot-yoga studios. It’s the feeling that overcomes you when some minor vanished beauty of the world is momentarily restored, whether summoned by art or by the accidental enchantment of a painted advertisement for Sen-Sen, say, or Bromo-Seltzer, hidden for decades, then suddenly revealed on a brick wall when a neighboring building is torn down. In that moment, you are connected; you have placed a phone call directly into the past and heard an answering voice.

“Thank you, Mr. Bromberg,” I said, just before I hung up, not sure what I was thanking him for, exactly, but overcome with gratitude all the same, both of us aware, I suppose, as we made tentative plans to meet sometime soon, or at least to talk again, that the next time I called there might be no one on the other end of the line.

 Doonesbury — Black privilege.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Art Of The Dud

Heh.

They blinked.

In a major setback for the Republicans’ years-long effort to repeal Obamacare, GOP leaders were forced to delay a House vote planned for Thursday as negotiations continued around the legislation. The delay comes after the conservative hardliners who have been resisting the legislation emerged from a meeting with President Donald Trump with no clear deal to win over their votes.

According to various reports, the floor vote on the American Health Care Act will be pushed until at least Friday, with a meeting with the full House GOP conference slated for Thursday evening, followed by a procedural vote to make way for the final bill.

As the White House negotiated Thursday with members of the conservative hardline House Freedom Caucus, more and more members of Republicans’ moderate flank came out of the woodwork to say they oppose the repeal bill due to the rightward direction in which it was heading.

The Republicans have the House, they have the Senate, they have the White House, and according to Himself, he’s the greatest deal-maker in history.  They have been talking about repealing Obamacare for exactly seven years since the day it was signed into law and they can’t even get their own right-wing to fall in line.

And when they do, the Senate will take one look at it, hear the hoofbeats of ten thousand Democrats ready to run against each and every one of them who voted to take back everything that everyone — even Trump voters — like about Obamacare and say Are You Fucking Kidding Me and run away from it like it was a toddler with a paint gun.

Oh, and when this miserable excuse for legislation finally screws itself into the ground, guess who they’re going to blame: Yep, you got it.  Obama.

Go on, have an extra helping of schadenfreude.  They’ll make more.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lies And Punishment

The House is going to vote today on the GOP’s attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, but chances are pretty good that the bill will fail to get enough votes to pass.  If it does pass, it will be a watered-down mish-mosh of a fustercluck that will leave millions of people without insurance and those that have it will have to pay more while the rich get a nice tax cut.

Aside from the damage it will do to the American people, it will also be a really bad thing for the Republicans.  And it doesn’t pass, it will be a really bad thing for the Republicans.

Josh Barro explains:

For years, Republicans promised lower premiums, lower deductibles, lower co-payments, lower taxes, lower government expenditure, more choice, the restoration of the $700 billion that President Barack Obama heartlessly cut out of Medicare because he hated old people, and (in the particular case of the Republican who recently became president) “insurance for everybody” that is “much less expensive and much better” than what they have today.

They were lying. Over and over and over and over, Republicans lied to the American public about healthcare.

It was impossible to do all of the things they were promising together, and they knew it.

Then they unexpectedly won an election and had to face the question of whether they would break all of their promises — or only some of them.

If the AHCA passes, Republicans will have delivered on a couple of promises: lower taxes (mostly for people who make over $200,000 a year) and lower public expenditure (mostly because of Medicaid cuts, the main reason the bill could leave 24 million more Americans uninsured). All the rest of the promises will be broken.

And if they don’t pass the AHCA, well, then they’ll have broken all of the promises.

Either way, Republicans will have to face an angry electorate in 2018 and 2020 that did not get what it was promised. The exposure of Republican healthcare lies will do grave damage to the party, and that damage will be richly deserved.

The one thing that the GOP has going for them is short-term memory loss on the part of the electorate.  If the bill fails to pass, Obamacare will still be in place, people will not lose their health insurance, and the Republicans will move on to something else.  They will find another distraction or two — hey, what about Benghazi!? — and by the time the 2018 mid-terms come around they’re going to campaign on — wait for it — if you like your healthcare, you can keep it, assuming they bring it up at all.

The reason the Republicans can get away with lying about so many things is not because they are good at it or that the voters are so forgiving.  It’s because it’s what is expected of them and it’s no big deal when they do it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Either Way You Look At It, You Lose

Trump told recalcitrant Republicans that if they don’t vote for the yet-again revised version of their healthcare bill, they will lose their seats in 2018.

Trump spent Tuesday selling the Republican health-care overhaul to skeptical House members, warning his party that failure would endanger his legislative agenda and their own political careers.

But more than two dozen GOP lawmakers remained firmly opposed to the legislation amid the high-stakes persuasion campaign led by Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) — more than enough to block the bill ahead of a planned Thursday vote.

[…]

In a morning address to a closed-door meeting of House Republicans, Trump used both charm and admonishment as he made his case, reassuring skittish members that they would gain seats in Congress if the bill passed.

He singled out Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, which has led the right-wing opposition to the bill.

“I’m gonna come after you, but I know I won’t have to, because I know you’ll vote ‘yes,’ ” Trump said, according to several lawmakers who attended the meeting. “Honestly, a loss is not acceptable, folks.”

I’ve got news for you: if you vote to pass this turd of a repeal/replace bill and if 26 million people, a lot of them who are poor and who voted for Trump, lose their health insurance or find out that they got screwed, you’re going to lose, too.

And you right-wingers who are holding out because any kind of help from anyone is a violation of God’s will — don’t you be getting healthcare if Jesus means for you to die — will also find out that there are a lot more people who would rather live than take their chances with Bible-lotto.

I suppose it doesn’t occur to Trump that having him campaign against a GOP candidate in 2018 might actually help them.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Insurance Won’t Cover Stupid

Via LGM and the Atlanta Journal Constitution we meet a young Republican who disdains any idea of help from the guvamint.

Blake Yelverton is taking a break with a burger that doesn’t cut any corners. Cheese and bacon and everything. He’s 23, a burly young man with a big red beard, and he works on his father’s cow farm.

“I don’t believe it’s the federal government’s job to provide health care,” he said. “It’s communism, socialism anyway.”

Yelverton hopes Trump trashes the whole thing, and he’s not too fond of the GOP plan being discussed in Congress either. “They’re doing a lesser evil of Obamacare,” he said.

His insurance?

“I’m on my parents’ plan,” he said.

So, Yelverton, it turns out, benefits from Obamacare. That’s because the law allows parents to keep kids on their insurance until age 26 — a widely-popular element of Barack Obama’s signature health law that Republicans intend to keep in their replacement plan.

Confronted with that information, he pauses for a moment.

“I haven’t been to the doctor in four or five years,” he said.

Unfortunately for this guy, even Obamacare won’t cover an extreme case of a lack of self-awareness.  But we’ll be sure to send flowers.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

24 Million

That’s a big number no matter how you slice it.  It’s about 90% of the population of Canada.  It’s also the number of people who are estimated to lose healthcare coverage if the GOP has their way.  (Not to worry, Canada; you have a real healthcare system that works.)

The Congressional Budget Office on Monday released its long-awaited analysis of the Republican plan to replace Obamacare — and it contains some very bad news for supporters of the American Health Care Act.

CBO projects that the Republican plan would cause 24 million Americans to lose coverage by 2026. This is a much bigger drop in coverage than experts had expected. Republican legislators will now be forced to answer questions about why tens of millions of Americans will lose coverage and how those people will fare under the new system.

The CBO projections also show that a promise President Trump and his advisers have made multiple times — that Trump would draft a bill that covered everyone, or that no one would lose coverage under his plan — to be flatly false.

Just this weekend, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said, “We don’t believe that individuals will lose coverage at all.” CBO says this is not the case whatsoever.

The Republican bill offers less help to people who buy their own insurance than Obamacare currently does. It also hugely pares back the Medicaid expansion, which covers millions of low-income Americans.

The CBO report lays bare that, taken together, those changes mean million fewer Americans would have coverage.

Or, to paint a picture of it:

The initial response to this news from the GOP is “well, everybody knows that the CBO is partisan.”  Except it’s not; and the head of the CBO is a Republican appointed by Tom Price, the Secretary of HHS.

The next thing that will happen is that the Republicans will come out and tell us how much money this will save the country by getting rid of Obamacare, especially by giving tax cuts to rich people because we all know that they will invest it in jobs to hire people.  Except they never do, and the people that they say they’re going to hire will either be too sick to get a job or dead.

I thoroughly expect Trump to go around the country saying how wonderful this new plan is and telling his base that this is why they voted for him; to free them from the tyranny of having affordable healthcare and that no one within the sound of his voice will be burdened with freedom-crushing Obamacare, and only the other guy will be sick, but then he deserves it because he voted for Hillary.

The sad part — aside from the 24 million people who will lose their healthcare insurance — is that no matter what happens, the Republican base will still keep churning out the votes for the Republicans.  Because that is the most important thing to them.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

They Have Had Seven Years

The Republicans have been talking about and voting on repealing and replacing Obamacare for almost seven years now.  They’ve held news conferences and election campaigns to demonize it and then promise to replace it.  Now they’ve come out with their plan, hoping to unite their base and the country and show the world that they can really govern.

Well, to be fair, they did bring a lot of people from all over the political spectrum, but not in the way they hoped.

Republican efforts to revise the Affordable Care Act met with widespread resistance Tuesday from conservatives in and out of Congress, moderates in the Senate and key industry stakeholders, casting doubt on the plan’s chances just one day after House GOP leaders released it.

The most imminent and serious threat to the plan crafted by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) was the growing backlash from conservative lawmakers and powerful outside groups who argue that the draft is nothing more than “Obamacare Lite,” a disparaging reference to the former president’s signature 2010 domestic achievement.

In short, they have had seven years to come up with something, and this is the best that they could come up with?  It reads like some kid who tried to write a ten-page history paper on the school bus the morning the assignment is due.

The best part is that the right-wingers are in complete revolt against it.  Which means that it’s not going anywhere.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

As Planned

Getting screwed by the rich is a pre-existing condition for the poor.

An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation published Wednesday of a GOP proposal to rework the Affordable Care Acts subsidies into tax credits available to everyone illustrates how the plan, which was leaked last week, would represent a major loss for lower-income people and older Americans. Those higher on the income scale stand to gain under such a plan.

That’s why the Republicans hated Obamacare; it treated poor people equally.  (Well, yeah, there was that other reason, too.)

Monday, February 27, 2017

No Shit, Sherlock

Via TPM:

Trump told a bipartisan group of governors at a White House reception Monday morning that GOP tax reform would have to wait for lawmakers to move on repealing Obamacare, cautioning that, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

“I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject,” Trump said.

For health policy experts and Democrats who spent the last eight years overhauling the nation’s health care system in the face of GOP intransigence, Trump’s admission that health care is hard dripped with irony. Republicans, in the mean time, voted repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but made little progress on settling on what their replacement would look like, a conundrum that is haunting them now.

You mean a 3,000 page law that the Republicans said in 2010 was unbelievably complex can’t be repealed by passing a law that says “The Affordable Care Act is hereby repealed”?  Who could have known, besides everybody?

Making It Up As They Go

The Washington Post reports on the confusion and division in the White House over Obamacare.

A meeting Friday afternoon between President Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, his former rival in the GOP primaries, had no set agenda. But Kasich came armed with one anyway: his hope to blunt drastic changes to the nation’s health-care system envisioned by some conservatives in Washington.

Over the next 45 minutes, according to Kasich and others briefed on the session, the governor made his pitch while the president eagerly called in several top aides and then got Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on the phone. At one point, senior adviser Jared Kushner reminded his father-in-law that House Republicans are sketching out a different approach to providing access to coverage. “Well, I like this better,” Trump replied, according to a Kasich adviser.

[…]

While leaving most of the detail work to lawmakers, top White House aides are divided on how dramatic an overhaul effort the party should pursue. And the biggest wild card remains the president himself, who has devoted only a modest amount of time to the grinding task of mastering health-care policy but has repeatedly suggested that his sweeping new plan is nearly complete.

This conundrum will be on full display Monday, when Trump meets at the White House with some of the nation’s largest health insurers. The session, which will include top executives from Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Cigna and Humana, is not expected to produce a major policy announcement. But it will provide an opportunity for one more important constituency to lobby the nation’s leader on an issue he has said is at the top of his agenda.

Democrats and their allies are already mobilizing supporters to hammer lawmakers about the possible impact of rolling back the ACA, holding more than 100 rallies across the country Saturday. And a new analysis for the National Governors Association that modeled the effect of imposing a cap on Medicaid spending — a key component of House Republicans’ strategy — provided Democrats with fresh ammunition because of its finding that the number of insured Americans could fall significantly.

They have no idea what the hell they’re doing.  All they know is that they hate Obamacare because it’s Obamacare but they haven’t any clue as to what they’re going to do about it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

18 Million Losers

From the New York Times:

Eighteen million people could lose their insurance within a year and individual insurance premiums would shoot upward if Congress repealed major provisions of the Affordable Care Act while leaving other parts in place, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said on Tuesday.

A report by the office sharply increases pressure on Republicans to come up with a comprehensive plan to replace the health care law. It is likely to doom the idea of voting to dismantle the 2010 health law almost immediately, with an effective date set sometime in the future while Congress works toward a replacement.

If nothing followed the gutting of President Obama’s signature domestic achievement, the budget office said, 32 million people could lose their health insurance by 2026, and premiums in the individual insurance market could double. Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, showed the unease of some in her party when she said that repealing the health care law and delaying a replacement could send insurance markets into “a death spiral.”

As far as the Republicans in Congress are concerned, 18 million people losing their health insurance is very small price to pay in order to be able to give Barack Obama the finger.  Besides, most of those people are takers, anyway, and they don’t deserve to have the same kind of health insurance that they enjoy.  So there.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sunday Reading

Obama’s Parting Words — George Packer in The New Yorker.

After eight years, few lines from Barack Obama’s Presidential speeches stay in mind. For all his literary and oratorical gifts, he didn’t coin the kinds of phrases that stick with repetition, as if his distaste for politics generally—the schmoozing, the fakery—extended to the fashioning of slogans. He rarely turned to figurative language, and he never stooped to “Read my lips,” or even “Ask not what your country can do for you.” His most memorable phrase, “Yes we can,” spoke to the audacious odds of his own run for the Presidency, not a clear political vision. He sought to persuade by explaining and reasoning, not by simplifying or dramatizing—a form of respect that the citizenry didn’t always deserve.

This aversion to rhetoric, like Obama’s aloofness from Congress, is a personal virtue that hurt him politically. It’s connected to his difficulty in sustaining public support for his program and his party. Even the President’s hero, Abraham Lincoln, was a master of the poetic sound bite.

Obama’s farewell address from Chicago last week was one of the very best speeches of his Presidency. He had one overriding message: that American democracy is threatened—by economic inequality, by racial division, and, above all, by the erosion of democratic habits and institutions. Its urgency gave the speech an unusual rhetorical punch: “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life”; “If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves”; “We sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.” Lines like these might not prove deathless, but because of their bluntness, and because the times are desperate, they hit hard.

Politicians are always letting the public off the hook—it might be the most unforgivably dishonest thing they do. Obama was more candid than most, reminding Americans that the quality of our democracy depends on us—on our capacity to reason and to empathize, our attachment to facts, our willingness to get our hands dirty even when the political game seems sordid or futile. The key word of the speech was “citizen,” which Obama called “the most important office in a democracy,” one that he’ll embrace in his post-Presidency. His exhortations and implications of blame were nonpartisan: conservatives might have heard their denial of science called out, while liberals might have been stung by the allusion to fair-weather activism. Whites and non-whites alike were urged to imagine inhabiting a different person’s skin.

Perhaps there was a degree of self-blame, too. For all the achievements that Obama is able to claim—from bringing health insurance to twenty million Americans to building a framework for slowing climate change—he couldn’t deliver a healthy democracy. He didn’t have the political skill to advance his abiding vision of a United States of America. Maybe no leader could have, but Obama’s opponents made sure of his failure.

Most Presidential farewell addresses are quickly forgotten. Hardly anyone knows that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both gave one, as did Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Those which endure are memorable for their warnings. When the new republic was still taking shape, in 1796, George Washington cautioned against domestic factionalism and foreign entanglements. At the height of the Cold War, in 1961, Dwight Eisenhower described a new “military-industrial complex” and a “scientific-technological élite” that were taking over public policy. Obama’s warning in Chicago—owing to its context, ten days before the Inauguration of President Donald Trump—felt even more dire. He quoted from Washington’s address, but not its most obviously relevant passage, on the danger of partisan demagoguery: “It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.”

If the President had quoted these words, he would have come close to naming the greatest threat to American democracy: his successor. Obama mentioned Trump only once, in passing. His aim was broader than one man, and his respect for the office kept the President from making it personal. (His chief speechwriter, Cody Keenan, said, “If there’s one democratic norm that he can protect even as all others are shredded, it’s the peaceful transfer of power.”) Instead, the President-elect haunted the farewell address like a spirit too malevolent to be named.

The following day, Trump materialized in the flesh, in Trump Tower, for his first press conference in nearly six months. He was even looser and cockier than usual. He insulted media organizations by name. He reversed his avowed position on Russian interference in the American election, as casually and as brazenly as he had once reversed himself on President Obama’s citizenship. He relived the night of his victory, one more time. He revelled in his immunity from conflict-of-interest law. (“I didn’t know about that until three months ago, but it’s a nice thing to have.”) He disparaged his Vice-President, who was in attendance, for not being rich enough to benefit from the same immunity. He congratulated himself for turning down a two-billion-dollar deal, which looked like a cartoonish bribe, from an Emirati businessman. He pretended to disentangle himself from the prospect of non-stop corruption during his Presidency. He told his sons to take care of the family business while he’s away, or else.

All the while, a retinue of aides cheered and laughed like the nervous flunkies of a Mob capo. It was impossible not to feel that, for Trump, the Presidency means a supreme chance for payback, revenge for the humiliation that seems to be his constant fear.

This is the last week of the Obama Presidency. Historians will argue over its meaning and its merits. But, for democratic integrity, there’s no argument, no contest. Obama’s final speech wasn’t just a warning—it will stand as an emblem of what we have been and perhaps can be.

The Illegitimate President — Joan Walsh on John Lewis.

On the day more unconfirmed, and maybe unconfirmable, details came out about the intelligence community’s intensifying investigation into ties between the Donald Trump campaign and the Russian government, tensions in Washington, DC, spiked. Dozens of House Democrats poured out of a briefing by FBI director James Comey and other intelligence agency leaders obviously furious, though they couldn’t disclose what they heard in the classified briefing. Representative Maxine Waters of California walked out to reporters and spit fire: “It’s classified and I can’t tell you anything. But the FBI director has no credibility!”

A short time later, Chuck Todd of NBC’s Meet the Press released a remarkable clip of his recent interview with Representative John Lewis, which will air on his show Sunday. In his calm, thoughtful, deliberate way, Lewis channeled Waters’s rage—and opened a new front in the campaign against Trump.

Would Lewis look for ways to cooperate with Trump, Todd asked? “It’s going to be very difficult. I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president. I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton,” Lewis told Todd. “I don’t plan to attend the inauguration. It will be the first one that I miss since I’ve been in Congress. You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong, is not right.”

Todd seemed shocked. “That’s gonna send a big message to a lot of people in this country,” the Meet the Press moderator said.

“I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians and others,” Lewis replied calmly. “That’s not right. That’s not fair, that’s not the open Democratic process.”

Mic drop.

I’m not in the habit of trusting US intelligence agencies. I am in the habit of trusting Lewis. Right now progressive Democrats, including Senator Bernie Sanders, are hearing things from the intelligence agencies they are overwhemingly inclined to doubt, and yet they are reacting by at least demanding a bipartisan investigation into Russian interference with the election—and at most, like only Lewis so far, to say that Trump is not the “legitimate president.”

Will others follow? Representative Barbara Lee, another progressive stalwart, told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that she agrees with Lewis. The sole opponent of the Afghanistan intervention, a stalwart foe of the Iraq war, Lee had already said she would boycott Trump’s inauguration, but she acknowledged that Lewis went beyond where she did. And then she went there.

One Democrat who stepped out to kneecap Lewis is President Obama’s former campaign manager David Axelrod. The CNN contributor told the network Friday night that “I’m not comfortable” with Lewis’s calling Trump “illegitimate,” adding, “The greatest triumph for Russia would be to legitimate their charges about our democracy. I worry about our institutions. I worry that we’re in this mad cycle of destruction. I understand the outrage. But where is this all going?”

Axelrod acknowledged that Trump was the number-one peddler of birtherism—but insisted that this bolstered his argument. “One of my great concerns about the president-elect is that I think sometimes he has disregard for our institutions and norms and that contributes to a weakening of our democracy,” he continued. “So, I just don’t want to see this constant churning that leads to kind of a reflexive reaction every time a president gets elected who we don’t like.”

Let me break this down for Axelrod, though he knows everything that I do about American politics, and then some. Republicans are the ones who have a “reflexive reaction” to Democratic presidents they don’t like: peddling birther garbage and obstructing Barack Obama, after obstructing, then impeaching, Bill Clinton. The last GOP president, George W. Bush, although he lost the popular vote (like Trump) and owed his presidency to the Supreme Court, nonetheless got Democratic backing for his education-reform push, his Medicare-drug legislation, his tax cuts, and even his Iraq War authorization. There was no “reflexive” attempt to undermine Bush. He brought greater opposition on himself, including GOP opposition, with his disastrous war of choice in Iraq, his bungling of the occupation, his shameful neglect of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and his passivity in the face of evidence that shady banking practices were going to crash the economy.

So I’m going to go with Lewis, Lee, and Waters over David Axelrod on this one. I don’t want to bring race into anything where it doesn’t matter, but I did happen to notice all three leaders are African-American. Maybe that’s a coincidence. Or maybe it means that people who’ve seen the worst of American injustice are trying to warn the rest of us when it’s coming for us again.

Charlie Pierce:

Well, they did it as quickly as their Senate colleagues did, but at least the House of Representatives drove in the coffin nails during the daylight hours. After a morning of debate that was little more than two sides talking out loud past each other, the House voted 227-198 in favor of the kabuki budget resolution shipped across the Capitol from the Senate, a document that exists primarily as a mechanism for killing the Affordable Care Act through the budget reconciliation process. They want what they want and have the votes to get what they want, and that’s the way it’s going to be down here for a while.

On Thursday night, Speaker Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin, appeared at a televised town hall with Jake Tapper, and Ryan gave us all a preview of the various mendacities and inadequacies out of which his “bridge” from what we have now to whatever the Republicans finally devise will be built. It’s been seven years, and the answers are still fantastical (buy insurance across state lines), implausible (health-savings accounts!), total fakeouts (high-risk pools) and downright cruel (block-granting Medicaid back to the states).

As to the first, welcome to the Visa-MasterCard model of health insurance. As to the second, you, there, 52-year old unemployed steelworker, hope you put 200K away for chemotherapy instead of, you know, buying a house or eating dinner for your entire adult life. As to the third, high-risk pools will effectively bring back the pre-existing conditions nightmare, because no Republican legislator is going to vote to fund them at anywhere near the level at which they’ll need to be funded. (h/t Harold Pollack for pointing out the Tumulty piece.) And as to the last, all that’s going to get the country is some lovely paved roads leading to some Texas legislator’s fishing cabin.

The only real highlight came when a cancer survivor told Ryan that the ACA had saved his life and Ryan responded as though the guy were a waiter who’d mixed up his wine order.

But the cause of unspooling not merely the ACA, but a good part of the overall American healthcare system, went rolling along. The debate in the House Friday afternoon was instructive: There seems little doubt that a lot of energy being thrown into demolishing the ACA is pure, unresolved spite aimed at the president who signed it. Republican after Republican came to the podium to rail against Obamacare.

The rookie Republicans by far were the most entertaining. Jodey Arrington of Texas began by calling the ACA “Soviet-style central planning of our healthcare system,” which is hilariously wrong, but which must dazzle ’em back in Lubbock. Meanwhile, Matt Gaetz from Florida began his one-minute oration with a Shakespearean flourish, which brought to the proceedings all the gravitas of the average middle-school book report.

“Mr. Speaker, I come to bury Obamacare, not to praise it. The evil that men do lives on after them…”

Oh, just shut up, Fenwick. Honest to god.

The debate broke down along some easily distinguishable lines, although noted bag of hammers, Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin, spent a lot of time talking about how the ACA was part of a plot against marriage. The Republicans threw around numbers and the Democrats told stories about people from their districts who’d been helped by the ACA. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, who was managing the floor for the Democrats, and whose amendment to repurpose the budget gimmick to pay for infrastructure improvements sank like a stone later in the afternoon, responded to the numbers by reading off how many people in the states represented by Republican speakers would lose their health care and their jobs, and how much money each state would lose over the next five years.

When the Republicans ventured onto the narrative turf of the Democrats, they mostly spoke about small businesses that they claimed had collapsed under the weight of the new law. But Lloyd Smucker, who represents a district in and around Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, had a different tale to tell.

Smucker talked about the case of two of his constituents, Tim and Phyllis Hollinger. Tim’s on Medicare. (Good luck, Tim! Paul Ryan’s got just the scam for you!) Meanwhile, Phyllis got her insurance through one of the exchanges. She makes, according to Smucker, $53,000 a year. Her policy costs more than $1000 a month and her deductible is $2700. Luckily, though, through the provisions of the ACA, Phyllis gets a subsidy that covers 35 percent of the cost. Good for you, Phyllis. That’s the way the law is supposed to work. That’s the Affordable part of the Affordable Care Act at work.

However, according to Congressman Smucker, the subsidy is the problem.

Phyllis receives a federal subsidy that covers 35% of that monthly cost. She takes pride in the fact that she’s never taken a government handout in her life. Now that she’s on Obamacare, the American taxpayers have to subsidize her healthcare. (Ed. Note: also yours, Congressman.) To Phyllis, that’s not right. To Phyllis, this is about her pride and she’s not asking for a lot. She’s simply asking that she have access to affordable healthcare that doesn’t require the American taxpayers to help her pay for it.

And that, not Meryl Streep, is how Donald Trump became president.

I have no idea whether or not Smucker is making this whole thing up, but I do know that, if and when the ACA is finally chloroformed, Phyllis’ pride better be convertible into gold or hard cash money because she’s going to need it. And, as an American taxpayer, I’d like to tell Phyllis not to worry. She’s good for it.

I mean, Jesus, who thinks like this—besides approximately 45 percent of American voters, that is? It’s one thing to make a political career out of calling people moochers, but it’s a vast distance from that to convincing people that they are somehow moochers themselves. You have to admit, the messaging against the ACA has had a remarkable market penetration among the people who need it the most. Let me get sick and die rather than have your help.

Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin watched how that messaging played out in the last campaign.

“They were very effective with a political message saying ‘We’re going to repeal and replace it.’ And then they won! They won the White House, the Supreme Court arguably, both chambers of the Congress, and now it appears to have been a fig leaf because now it looks like they’re going to unravel the whole health care system, not just the 20 million who benefitted directly from the Affordable Care Act, but those people with the private plans who are going to be facing lifetime caps, facing the pre-existing conditions. It’s confounding to me. They now have the message—we’re gonna repeal it and then we’ll replace it once you guys give us another kick at the can two years from now. They’re hoping the people are stupid.”

The project continues apace, however, and sometime in the next few months, Phyllis Hollinger and millions like her will be free of the guilt that comes from being healthy at the public expense. The cool breeze of freedom once again will blow across the fields and prairies, across the rivers and mountains, and through the doors of overcrowded emergency rooms. Feel the cool breeze.

Unless, of course, you have chronic asthma. Then you’re on your own, pal.

Doonesbury — Survival of the twittest.

Rest in peace, SLW.

SLW Resting Place 01-15-17

Friday, January 13, 2017

Wait, You Were Serious About That?

The Republicans have voted over 60 times to repeal Obamacare, knowing full well that it wouldn’t happen, but what would the Republicans be if they couldn’t fill the air with empty gestures?  But now that there’s the real possibility that it might happen…

House Republican leaders attempted to quell concerns of a skittish rank and file before a key vote Friday to begin unwinding the Affordable Care Act.

The assurances came after lawmakers across the GOP’s ideological divides sounded anxious notes this week about advancing legislation that would repeal Obamacare without firm plans for its replacement.

“We just want more specifics,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said Wednesday. “We need to know what we’re going to replace it with.” Meadows said he was personally undecided on his vote Friday and that other caucus members were leaning toward no.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group, said members of that caucus have “serious reservations” about starting the process without replacement plans spelled out. “We’d like to have this conversation prior to the repeal vote,” he said.

Those jitters hint at a rocky road ahead as Republicans start trying to fulfill a long-standing campaign promise. They have forced GOP leaders to reassure lawmakers that they will not move precipitously and open Republicans to charges they threw the health-care system into chaos.

So upwards of 15 million people could lose their health insurance without any plan in place to replace it with something better as promised by Trump.  (Note that he did not detail what that would entail; just that it would be “better.”)  If they don’t, then what?

All of a sudden “Repeal and Replace” is a lot harder to pull off than just some chant at a political rally.

And five will get you ten if the Republicans aren’t racking their brains to figure out how to blame all of this on Barack Obama.