Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Getting An Earful

Via the Washington Post, GOP senators heard from the folks back home about one issue over the break.

For the 15th year, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) spent July 4 marching through this town of 1,331, a short boat ride away from Canada. She walked and waved, next to marching bands and Shriner-driven lobster boats. Her constituents cheered — and then asked whether she would vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act.

“There was only one issue. That’s unusual. It’s usually a wide range of issues,” Collins said in an interview after the parade. “I heard, over and over again, encouragement for my stand against the current version of the Senate and House health-care bills. People were thanking me, over and over again. ‘Thank you, Susan!’ ‘Stay strong, Susan!’ ”

Collins, whose opposition to the Better Care Reconciliation Act helped derail last week’s plans for a quick vote, is being lobbied to smother it and make Congress start over. Republicans, who skipped the usual committee process in the hopes of passing a bill quickly, are spending the Fourth of July recess fending off protesters, low poll numbers and newspaper front pages that warn of shuttered hospitals and 22 million people being shunted off their insurance. It was a bill, Collins said, that she just couldn’t vote for.

“If you took a blank sheet of paper and said, ‘How could we get a bill that would really hammer Maine,’ this would be it,” said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who walked ahead of Collins in the parade.

Few Republicans have responded like Collins, who let voters know where to find her. Last month, when Congress broke for the long holiday, just four of the Senate’s 52 Republicans — Collins, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — announced appearances at Fourth of July parades. Just three — Cruz, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) — said they would hold public town hall meetings. All have criticized the bill; three “no” votes would sink it.

Gee, I wonder why they’re holding so few town hall meetings?

Cruz faced something else in McAllen, Tex., a city on the Mexican border that had voted heavily for Hillary Clinton last year. Early Tuesday morning, as Cruz grabbed a microphone, protesters behind a short fence waved signs reading “No Transfer of Wealth 4 Our Health” and “No Repeal, No Medicaid Cuts.” Supporters with Cruz gear tried, in vain, to drown them out.

What’s ironic about this is that most of the Republicans who are making themselves available are facing crowds who are echoing the sentiments and questions that these very Republicans whipped up back in 2009 and 2010 against Obamacare and President Obama.  Then it was “democracy in action”; now it’s just a bunch of “left-wing activists and media.”

As for the bill itself, never underestimate the ability of the GOP leadership to come up with something truly awful that is meant to only attract the “moderates.”

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Keep It Up

Apparently the word is getting out that Trumpcare sucks.

Just 12% of Americans support the Senate Republican health care plan, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds, amid a roiling debate over whether the GOP will deliver on its signature promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

In the survey, taken Saturday through Tuesday, a 53% majority say Congress should either leave the law known as Obamacare alone or work to fix its problems while keeping its framework intact.

The Senate is getting the word from constituents and will hear a lot more this holiday weekend when they go to the 4th of July picnics and parades and are greeted by people like you who will make their feelings known.

Short Takes

Italy may stop ship unloading migrants.

Forty arrested for protesting healthcare bill on Capitol Hill.

U.S. to hold off on further airline laptop bans.

Miami-Dade public schools achieve no “F” schools status.

Arkansas Ten Commandments monument run over.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Going After Their Own

Politico reports that Trumpists have formed a group to attack Republicans who don’t fall in line with the White House policies.

A new campaign by top White House allies targeting the GOP’s most vulnerable senator over health care sends a loud message to those resistant to the Trump agenda: We’re coming after you.

America First Policies, a White House-backed outside group led by the president’s top campaign advisers, has launched a $1 million attack against Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who on Friday announced that he opposed the Senate’s recently unveiled Obamacare repeal plan.

That included a Twitter and digital ad campaign targeting the senator, including a video that accuses him of “standing with” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a reviled figure in conservative circles.

“Unacceptable,” the video says. “If you’re opposed to this bill, we’re opposed to you.”

America First Policies is set to expand its campaign early this week with TV ads that will go after the Nevada senator.

Oh, goodie.  In-fighting among factions in a political party always works well.  Just ask the Democrats.  Or Leon Trotsky.

The problem is that so far Sen. Heller is disinclined to punch back, which indicates that he’s either afraid of further alienating the White House or he somehow thinks there are more like him who will oppose stupid and evil bills because they’re stupid and evil instead of supporting them so his party can win.  That indicates evidence of conscience, and that’s not allowed in the GOP.

For what it’s worth, my guess is the former rather than the latter.

It’s Worse

It’s even worse than you thought it would be.

Senate Republicans’ bill to erase major parts of the Affordable Care Act would cause an estimated 22 million more Americans to be uninsured by the end of the coming decade — only about a million fewer than similar legislation recently passed by the House, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The forecast issued Monday by Congress’s nonpartisan budget scorekeepers also estimates that the Senate measure, drafted in secret mainly by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and aides, would reduce federal spending by $321 billion by 2026 — compared with $119 billion for the House’s version.

The CBO estimates that two-thirds of the drop in health coverage a decade from now would fall on low-income people who rely on Medicaid. And among the millions now buying private health plans through ACA marketplaces, the biggest losers would roughly parallel the ones under the House’s legislation: The sharpest spike in insurance premiums would fall on middle-aged and somewhat older Americans.

In short: You’re screwed unless you can pay for your health care without insurance thanks to the huge tax cut you’re going to get.  And if you think that’s a great idea, you’re an idiot.

Over to you, Charlie Pierce.

Here’s how to know how much of a sucker you are. If you believe anyone on TV who says this bill is an “improvement” over the House bill, sign over all your property to your nearest sane relative.

If you put credence into the notion that the Senate bill has an upside because of its effect on The Deficit, hire someone to cut your meat for you for the rest of your life. Try to keep in mind the Blog’s First Law of Economics: Fck the deficit. People got no jobs, people got no money.

The only lightheartedness that I’ve gotten out of this is watching Republicans try to explain this clusterfuck on TV.  It’s like they know they’ve strapped a cancer on their genitals and trying to explain that it’s just awesome.  I’m also looking forward to seeing how they get by when they’re voted out of office, lose their employer-paid insurance, and have to find it on their own.  Good luck, sucker.

Monday, June 26, 2017

People Will Die From It

The Republican attempt at a healthcare bill, which is basically a transfer of wealth and service from the poor and sick to the rich will kill people.  That’s not just me saying that.  That’s people who actually study that sort of thing.

The Republican healthcare bill announced on Thursday would cause thousands of Americans to die each year, according to physicians who study government data.

Using national health surveys, doctors and academics have tested whether a lack of health insurance increases the probability of death. Most have concluded that it does.

Of course the Republicans are outraged that they’re being called out on this and are pearl-clutching at the meanness of the people who are speaking the truth. But then you have to remember that these were the people who were silent when their supporters were calling Barack Obama all sorts of things that I won’t repeat because you can Google it.  It’s also nothing new that the Republican hypocrisy and lying is in full flower; it would be a huge event if it wasn’t.

Ironically, the people most likely to be harmed by this bill are the ones who voted for the Republicans, who chanted “Repeal!” at all those rallies, and who got their Rascal scooter for free because of Medicare.  I don’t wish anyone ill or harm, but like the old joke goes, if you mow the lawn in your bare feet and cut off your foot in the lawn mower, don’t come running to me.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

They Don’t Know, Either

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says he will release a “discussion draft” of the GOP “healthcare” bill today.  So far not even people in his party and who were helping write it don’t know what’s in it.

Via Bloomberg:

One of the Senate Republicans charged with negotiating an Obamacare replacement expressed frustration Tuesday with the secret process, saying that even he hasn’t seen the proposal set to be released in two days for a possible floor vote next week.

“I haven’t seen it yet, either,” said Senator Mike Lee of Utah amid complaints by other Republicans that they don’t know what’s in the health-care measure being drafted by their own party’s leaders.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he plans to release a “discussion draft” Thursday and that it will go to the Senate floor for a vote “likely next week.”

A week or so to examine the bill isn’t enough, said Lee in a video posted on his Facebook page. As one of about a dozen members of a health-care working group, he criticized the closely held process of drafting the measure.

“Even though we thought we were going to be in charge of writing a bill within this working group, it’s not being written by us,” Lee said. “It’s apparently being written by a small handful of staffers for members of the Republican leadership in the Senate. So if you’re frustrated by the lack of transparency in this process, I share your frustration. I share it wholeheartedly.”

Mr. Lee isn’t the only one.  At least six other Republicans have publicly stated they have issues with both the bill and the methodology of its creation.  Of course that never stopped them from voting in lockstep.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Monday, June 19, 2017

Short Takes

Victims identified in deadly USS Fitzgerald collision.

Voters in France elect pro-Macron parliament.

Another traffic attack in London.

Casualties and deaths in forest fires in Portugal.

History: Memos show Watergate prosecutors had evidence Nixon plotted violence.

Six experts resign from White House HIV/AIDS panel.

Not a good week as the Tigers sink below .500.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Corrupt Bargain

We know what the Republicans are trying to do with the repeal of Obamacare, and we know they’re going to try to do it while everyone else is distracted by Russia and how and why James Comey was fired.  The newest shiny object is Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III and his toad-like denials of knowledge and complete lack of interest in what went on.

It may be too late to save Obamacare, and Josh Marshall says standing on the rooftops and screaming about it won’t make any difference.  They will do it no matter what.

Rhetorically, politically and in the simplest terms of reality, Republicans know there is no justifying this legislation. The public has already spoken. It is overwhelmingly unpopular. They are trying to do it in the dead of night because they know that. They convict themselves by their actions. Not because those actions violate norms but because they are evidence of knowledge of the underlying wrong. They are trying to slip it past everyone, do it by stealth and have all the details secret until it’s too late. That’s a political crime, a corrupt bargain. That’s the message, with all the rhetorical color that can be added to it. Don’t say that Republicans shouldn’t feel the license to act this way. They can do it if they want and it is entirely in character. Accept their freedom do it and label it for what it is. Adjudicate it at the next election. Make that clear.

Which is his way of saying, “Go ahead, make my day.”  The only thing to do is to repeal and replace every senator and representative who voted to remove twenty-plus million people from healthcare insurance, to bring back the ban on preexisting conditions, to make contraception and women’s health issues a test of religious liberty, and hasten the death of the elderly by essentially removing them from life support or making it so expensive that they just give up.

If the Republicans were proud of this bill, they would be the ones shouting it from the rooftops, not sneaking it through like a hooker into their hotel room.  There would be advocates for it on cable TV with soothing messages of freedom and the sanctity of life.  But they know they’re doing it on the sly because not only is it evil legislation, they know their motives are pure spite: we’ll show that uppity Ni-clang what his legacy really is.

I still think you should call your senator or representative.  But the message should include “we’re on to you.”  Go ahead and vote to repeal.  But while you’re at it, tell your staff to start polishing up their resumes and make plans to spend more time with your family, because you’re going to find out what it’s like to lose your employer-paid healthcare coverage.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Getting Away With Trumpcare

So while we’ve all been watching James Comey and placing bets on who’s going to rat out whom on various Trump doings, the Republicans in the Senate have been quietly working on repealing Obamacare and replacing it with You’re Screwed.

Jonathan Chait:

It’s conventional wisdom that the Russia scandal is a “distraction” from Donald Trump’s agenda, and that what the president and his party really need is to change the subject back to health care and taxes. But their behavior indicates just the opposite. The Russia scandal may be unwelcome, but the distraction happens to be a useful opportunity. Senate Republicans hope to rush their health-care bill into law with the absolute minimum of public scrutiny. Caitlin Owens reports that the bill is likely to be finalized tonight, but will not be made public anytime soon.

“We aren’t stupid,” one GOP aide tells Owens. (Follow-up question: What about evil?)

It is difficult to think of an example of a law in the history of the United States that would have such a deep impact on so many people — millions would find insurance no longer affordable — drafted with so little public input. No hearings, no public examination of the details. Republican senators can claim the secret law is better than the deeply hated House version, but without laying out the trade-offs that allegedly make it so.

In a normal political environment, a scandal is a distraction from a major bill, because major bills get passed by building public consensus. In this case, avoiding the public is the entire strategy. And the crafting of the bill is itself a scandal.

Sen Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is on to them.

Call your senators, regardless of party. Please do it now.

Friday, June 9, 2017

In Other News…

While we’ve all been watching what’s coming out of the Comey hearing and who’s playing slap-and-tickle with the Russians, the GOP has been trying to sneak their stinko healthcare bill through the Senate.

For a day at least, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has his party’s beleaguered efforts to repeal Obamacare back on track.

After two weeks of increasingly dour assessments from Republicans on the party’s stalled health care efforts, Senate Republicans emerged from more than two hours of meeting with a fresh burst of optimism that they could actually pass a bill to repeal and replace the health law.

Sen. Lindsey Graham went into Tuesday’s party lunch predicting that the Republican effort to gut Obamacare was “more likely to fail than not.”

He emerged singing a different tune: The health care overhaul he heard about contains “promising proposals” and he was for holding a vote this month after the Congressional Budget Office weighs in and the party’s idea are put into legislative form.

“Now I say promising, but I don’t know what it looks like legislatively … the key word is promising,” Graham said. “There better be [a vote this month], because this is not like fine wine, it does not get better with age.”

Don’t let them.  Call, write, holler, raise hell, and pass the word along.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

CBO On Trumpcare: 23 Million More SOL

No wonder the Republicans in the House wanted to whoop Trumpcare 2.0 through and send it on to the Senate without waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to tally up the numbers.  They knew what was coming.

Health-care legislation adopted by House Republicans earlier this month would leave 23 million more Americans uninsured by 2026 than under current law, the Congressional Budget Office projected Wednesday — only a million fewer than the estimate for the House’s previous bill.

The nonpartisan agency’s finding, which drew immediate fire from Democrats, patient advocates, health industry officials and some business groups, is likely to complicate Republicans’ push to pass a companion bill in the Senate.

The new score, which reflects last-minute revisions that Republicans made to win over several conservative lawmakers and a handful of moderates, calculates that the American Health Care Act would reduce the federal deficit by $119 billion between 2017 and 2026. That represents a smaller reduction than the $150 billion CBO estimated in late March, largely because House leaders provided more money in their final bill to offset costs for consumers with expensive medical conditions and included language that could translate to greater federal spending on health insurance subsidies.

As GOP senators quickly distanced themselves from the updated numbers, what became apparent is the difficult balancing act congressional leaders face as they seek to rewrite large portions of the Affordable Care Act. Some senators are eager to soften portions of the House bill, including cuts to entitlement programs and provisions that would allow insurers in individual states to offer fewer benefits in their health plans or to charge consumers with costly medical conditions higher premiums.

To give you an idea of just how desperate the GOP is to try to foist this monstrous turd of a bill before the Democrats start running ads hanging the “23 MILLION” number around the neck of every member of Congress with an (R) after their name, they’ve got minions running ads on cable TV here in Florida telling voters to call Congress to support this bomb.

I will be interested — and more than just casually — to see how the Republicans in South Florida explain why it’s good that premiums for the low-income elderly will rise 800%.  No, that’s not a typo.  That’s an 8 followed by two zeros.

The DNC should send Paul Ryan and his gang of granny-starvers a dozen roses and a box of candy.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Annals of Irony Part Infinity

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) on repealing Obamacare and how the public might react to losing subsidies:

The public wants every dime they can be given. Let’s face it, once you get them on the dole, they’ll take every dime they can.

This from a man who has been collecting a taxpayer-funded paycheck and government-subsidized health insurance for forty years.

Along with dancing and being gay, the Mormons have outlawed irony.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Endangered Species

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) has a target on his back for voting for Trumpcare while representing a district in South Florida that is overwhelmingly Democratic and that loves Obamacare.

MIAMI — If Democrats are going to take back the House, they’re going to have to start here.

Almost two dozen interviews with voters this weekend from across GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s sprawling district — which stretches from southwest Miami down all the way to Key West and out across the Everglades to the Gulf Coast — reveal a mix of opinions on his vote last week in favor of the House health care bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act and its impact on his reelection next year.

But the voters with the most passionate responses were generally those who opposed the Republican plan and their representative’s support for it.

Judith Casale said she is going to do everything in her power to stop Curbelo, one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the country in the 2018 midterms.

“I have never canvassed before, but I will f—ing crawl door to door to make sure you lose,” the otherwise mild-mannered 60-year-old recalled that she tweeted at Curbelo as she sat in her living room on Saturday afternoon.

Casale, a Miami native who runs a small brokerage company with her husband Dan, said the couple depends on Obamacare after both developed preexisting conditions that made it almost impossible for them to find health insurance.

Though registered as a Democrat, Casale said she was not very politically active before Donald Trump’s election, and had voted for Ronald Reagan.

“I have called him pretty much every day. I have faxed. I have tweeted. I have Facebooked,” she said of Curbelo. “I have told him, fix it, don’t repeal it.”

Curbelo has a target on his back and he knows it.

On the day of the healthcare vote last week, activists staged a “die in” outside his district office in Miami, lying on their backs on the sidewalk with faux gravestones.

“He should know he wrote his political death certificate with that vote last week. Because we are hell-bent on turning that district blue in 2018,” said Mike Williams, the founder of Indivisible Miami, the local chapter of a new group that sprung up since the election as the left’s answer to the Tea Party.

Curbelo’s office said he was not available for an interview, but pointed to a statement in which he said the GOP health care bill was not perfect, but that it was important for him to be a part of negotiations. The vote “is just a step in the legislative process for this bill — not the end of it. We have worked hard to improve the legislation, but we have a long way to go,” he said.

What are the odds that Mr. Curbelo — like just about everyone who voted Yes — never read the bill in the first place?  And even if he did, it makes no sense to vote for a piece of shit so that it can be “improved” later on.

The only thing worse than being a hard-core ideologue is being a wishy-washy weathervane who relies on his ethnic roots and the prejudices of his constituents to keep him in office.

Bonus Track: An advocacy group is already running ads targeting vulnerable representatives, including Mr. Curbelo, in his district.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sunday Reading

Lessons Not Learned — Russell Berman in The Atlantic on what the Republicans should have learned from the Democrats.

Appearing on “Morning Joe” on Friday morning, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana didn’t flinch when host Willie Geist asked him a direct question about what would happen if the American Health Care Act—which the House narrowly approved a day earlier—became law.

“So everyone with a pre-existing condition right now who is covered under Obamacare will continue to have coverage?” he asked the congressman, who as House majority whip is the third-ranking Republican in the chamber.

“Absolutely,” Scalise replied.

“Everyone?” Geist pressed him.

“Everyone,” Scalise confirmed.

From off camera, Mika Brzezinski let out a sound that was somewhere between a groan and a gasp. In the interest of reassuring the public about the GOP’s plan, Scalise had made the kind of blanket commitment that could come back to haunt the party in the future. While Republican leaders were careful to maintain the federal requirement under Obamacare that insurers offer coverage to anyone, including those with pre-existing conditions, their bill would allow states to wriggle out of the mandate that insurers charge those customers the same price. As a result, people with pre-existing conditions could find insurance unaffordable in states that get a waiver to opt out of the federal law.

Did Republicans learn nothing in the last eight years?From making unrealistic promises to cutting back-room deals, Republicans are ignoring many of the lessons they should have taken from the Democrats’ experience selling a complicated health-care plan to the public.

Don’t Over-Promise

“If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” That one concrete pledge repeated dozens of times by former President Barack Obama—and many other Democrats at the time—became an albatross for his party once the Affordable Care Act took effect in 2013. They had made the commitment to try to sell the public on the plan and get it passed initially, having seen how the fear of change illustrated in ads by the fictional couple “Harry and Louise” torpedoed the Clinton health-care bill 20 years earlier. But although Obamacare did not directly force people off their insurance, many had to change their plans because insurers stopped selling due to the new coverage requirements under the law. That broken promise helped the GOP expand its House majority and retake the Senate in the 2014 elections.

Republicans, however, have ignored that lesson repeatedly in 2017, making all kinds of assurances about their health-care bill that will be all but impossible to keep. Most egregiously, President Trump told The Washington Post in January that his Obamacare replacement plan would provide “insurance for everybody.” In fact, Republicans made no attempt at universal coverage; their bill cuts Medicaid deeply, and the Congressional Budget Office projected that it would result in 24 million fewer people having insurance after a decade.

In recent days, House Republicans like Scalise have made claims about people with pre-existing conditions that are unlikely to stand up over time. Like Democrats before them, GOP lawmakers may genuinely want their assurances to bear out, but they are putting themselves at political risk by not being forthright about the tradeoffs involved in health policy and the potential consequences of a sweeping new law. If the American Health Care Act never gets enacted, it’ll be a moot point. But if it does, Republicans better watch out.

Read the Bill

Or at least don’t admit publicly that you didn’t.

After Democrats enacted the Affordable Care Act in 2010, Republicans succeeded in making a couple of key quotes infamous as they rallied opposition to the law. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi uttered one of them just two weeks before final passage: “We have to pass the bill,” she said during a speech, “so that you can find out what’s in it.”

No matter the context, the comment perfectly encapsulated the GOP’s criticism of the bill—that at nearly 1,000 pages, it was too long for members of Congress to read and understand, much less the general public, and that Democrats were intent on jamming it into law before people found out what it would actually do. (Just watch then-House Minority Leader John Boehner make the case right before the final vote.)Republicans did take heed of Obamacare’s length when they wrote its replacement. As Sean Spicer passionately demonstrated, the American Health Care Act is just 124 pages, and even after the amendments Republicans added, it comes in at less than 200 as passed by the House.

But even that was too long for some GOP lawmakers. “I fully admit, Wolf, I did not,” Representative Chris Collins of New York told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer when he was asked if he had read the complete and final text of the AHCA. Two other Republicans admitted as much to CNN, although they noted that their staff read the bill and briefed them on its content.

The lawmakers have a point when they say they rely on policy experts on their staff to fully read and summarize to them the legislative text of legislation, particularly when it comes to massive spending bills that the House and Senate vote on just days after they are unveiled. But it seems that Collins’s team didn’t even fully explain the impact of the GOP health-care bill to him. As the Buffalo Newsreported, the congressman was unfamiliar with a provision that could decimate a state health plan that serves 635,000 New Yorkers.

Unlike staff, it’s the members of Congress themselves who are elected by the public and accountable to their constituents, and it’s not too much to ask that they personally read bills that could affect health care for the entire country. Failure to do so just feeds the perception that Republicans rushed the AHCA to passage without sufficient scrutiny, especially after the House adopted late changes that had only been public for a few hours before the vote and after the GOP spent years accusing Democrats of doing the same thing.

Avoid Back-Room Deals

The Cornhusker Kickback.

The Louisiana Purchase.

Democrats relied on these side agreements benefiting individual states to secure the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate’s version of Obamacare in late 2009. The additional Medicaid money for Nebraska wasn’t even included in the final bill, but the back-room deals helped sour the public on the new law. Republicans seized on them to argue that Democrats were buying off senators in secret, undermining a bill that actually went through months of public scrutiny and debate.Eight years later, the GOP resorted to the same kind of tactic in the “Buffalo Bribe” (or, if you prefer, the “Tammany Haul”)—a provision the House leadership added to the AHCA at the urging of five members of the New York delegation that would shift the Medicaid tax burden away from upstate counties.

But there’s a reason this kind of horse-trading is a time-honored, if unsavory, part of legislative politics: It helps to win votes, and members of Congress have a legitimate responsibility to look out for their constituents. The New York lawmakers publicized their victory, so it wasn’t a secret, but the provision’s inclusion after Republicans reported their bill out of committee underscored the legislation’s relative lack of public hearings or lengthy formal debate.

Just Stay Away From Health Care Entirely (Or Don’t Tackle It Alone)

Maybe Republicans were doomed from the start. “The mover on health care loses; to do something is to lose,” the always-blunt Democratic strategist James Carville reportedly told party donors earlier this year. Twice now, Democrats have lost their House majority in the next election after pursuing a major overhaul of the health insurance system. With their vote on Thursday, Republicans could be at the same risk next year.

As the president recently discovered, health care is incredibly complicated. But more than that, it is intensely personal. The trade-offs between cost and coverage will always cause controversy. The economics of private insurance necessarily require younger, healthier people to subsidize the care of those who are older and needier. And changes in policies will almost always mean some will pay more so others can pay less.

Republicans may be missing a lesson the Democrats learned in another way. The party that controls government might not be able to avoid touching health-care policy entire, but it doesn’t have to do so alone. Bipartisanship doesn’t guarantee a better result, and it can’t happen if both parties don’t agree to cooperate. But like insurance itself, it’s at least a way to share the risk.

Equal Rights Under The Law — Michelle Chen in The Nation on why the Equality Act is essential.

Segregated schools were outlawed long ago, so why are trans students still shut out of the bathroom? And why, if sex discrimination is illegal, are workers fired because their spouses are the “wrong” gender? The language of the Constitution in many cases fails to contemplate gay, trans, and queer identities, and rights advocates say an update is way overdue.

So a much-needed addendum to the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act has been reintroduced in Congress, providing explicit protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, in line with the framework that has applied to categories of sex and race for decades.

The Equality Act would leave no ambiguity that the fundamental foundation of equality under the Constitution applies equally to LGBTQ communities as it does to women, people of color, immigrants, and religious groups. Moreover, the legislation would amend the existing 1995 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which rolled back civil-rights mandates for individuals and institutions claiming religiously based exemptions, so that the new law could prevent religion from being used as a pretext for discrimination “on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.” While the RFRA remains on the books, the Equality Act would at least shift the burden of proof onto the employer or institution claiming a religious exemption rather than on the individual to prove they’re entitled to full constitutional protection.

The amendment would effectively change the Civil Rights Act, along with the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Jury Selection and Services Act, and other anti-discrimination laws related to public-sector employment and access to public facilities, to cover “sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics.” It would officially expand protections for public spaces and ensure equal access to federally funded programs, including health and social benefits.

It would both simplify and complicate our current legal crisis surrounding the rights of, for example, trans teens shut out of the locker room that fits their gender, or same-sex couples barred from insurance coverage, under an administration that has shown unprecedented hostility to the idea of equal justice.

The struggle for equal protection is more acute than ever because Trump has just signed a major executive order on “religious freedom” aimed at expanding the power of the religious right to influence federal politics. A more sweeping leaked draft version that The Nation published earlier this year had aimed to grant broad legal exemptions for legal and workplace discrimination under the pretext of acting on religious belief. Though the version signed by Trump today does not include those most severely discriminatory provisions, it would enable religious institutions to participate more directly in electoral campaigns, potentially opening the path to further rollbacks on LGBTQ rights, driven by religious hard-liners fueling Trump’s Christian, right-wing support base.

The Equality Act would not, of course, remedy the worst violations that disproportionately impact the poor, people of color, and youth and the elderly within the LGBTQ community. It would, however, provide basic legal recourse for the estimated half of LGBTQ individuals who reside in states without any civil-rights protections that include their gender or sexual identity categories.

Currently, fewer than half of states explicitly protect people against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and just 19 maintain explicit anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

So in most states it’s often perfectly legal to get fired for insisting that your boss identify you by the right gender at work, or facing unequal access to medical care for a gender transition, or being denied equal rights as a married couple or adoptive parents in a same-sex relationship. For youth facing abuse at school, only 14 states protect their rights explicitly in the education system. Trump’s anticipated executive order, if fully implemented, would pose an even more direct threat to the hard-won but limited rights LGBTQ communities have fought for through civil litigation and public advocacy.

The act would also underscore the ongoing legal resistance to discrimination laws and practices targeting the LGBTQ community. While the courts have in recent years upheld LGBTQ protections under existing laws—most recently with a landmark Appeals Court ruling affirming that anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination against an Illinois college professor is a form of sex discrimination under federal law—Lambda Legal says it is “ready to take the fight to the courts” for further legal challenges to Trump’s “religious refusal” decree.

According to Sharon MacGowan, director of strategy with Lambda Legal’s DC office, the Equality Act, previous versions of which have won bipartisan support, “makes clear that Congress agrees that these terms should really be understood as just a subset of what sex discrimination already covers.”

While Trump purports to champion a silent majority of cultural conservatives, the Equality Act articulates what rights advocates see as a generational culture shift toward embracing LGBTQ identities. That, MacGowan argues, is undeniable, regardless of Washington’s current political clashes:

To stand in the way of this clarification and development in the law is symptomatic of the fact that there is a small, really ideologically driven group of people who are getting in the way of progress that this country as a whole is squarely behind.

While other marginalized groups, including women, Muslims, and immigrants, have been more blatantly targeted through Trump’s demonizing rhetoric, MacGowan warns that the Trump administration is imposing a kind of “death by a thousand cuts” through subtler policy changes—for example, cutting back on demographic data collection for LGBTQ groups. So rights advocates seek to affirm both within and outside the LGBTQ community that defending their rights remains as crucial as ever to defending the basic tenets of equal protection. While bracing for an attack parallel to those Trump has waged against other marginalized groups, MacGowan warns that activists need to affirm their allies and know their common enemy.

Whether or not the legislation advances, “now more than ever it’s important for those who stand on the side of equality to plant the flag, to make sure that everybody knows who’s on the side of this issue,” MacGowan says, and in Washington and beyond, “keep up the conversation about…how the values that are embodied in the Equality Act are really who we are as a country and not what we hear coming out of the White House.”

Don’t Let Facebook Make You Miserable — Seth Stephens-Davidowitz writes about the social media grip.

IT is now official. Scholars have analyzed the data and confirmed what we already knew in our hearts. Social media is making us miserable.

We are all dimly aware that everybody else can’t possibly be as successful, rich, attractive, relaxed, intellectual and joyous as they appear to be on Facebook. Yet we can’t help comparing our inner lives with the curated lives of our friends.

Just how different is the real world from the world on social media? In the real world, The National Enquirer, a weekly, sells nearly three times as many copies as The Atlantic, a monthly, every year. On Facebook, The Atlantic is 45 times more popular.

Americans spend about six times as much of their time cleaning dishes as they do golfing. But there are roughly twice as many tweets reporting golfing as there are tweets reporting doing the dishes.

The Las Vegas budget hotel Circus Circus and the luxurious hotel Bellagio each holds about the same number of people. But the Bellagio gets about three times as many check-ins on Facebook.

The search for online status takes some peculiar twists. Facebook works with an outside company to gather data on the cars people actually own. Facebook also has data on the cars people associate with by posting about them or by liking them.

Owners of luxury cars like BMWs and Mercedeses are about two and a half times as likely to announce their affiliation on Facebook as are owners of ordinary makes and models.

In the United States, the desire to show off and exaggerate wealth is universal. Caucasians, Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans are all two to three times as likely to associate on Facebook with a luxury car they own than with a non-luxury car they own.

But different people in different places can have different notions of what is cool and what is embarrassing. Take musical taste. According to 2014 data from Spotify Insights on what people actually listen to, men and women have similar tastes; 29 of the 40 musicians women listened to most frequently were also the artists most frequently listened to by men.

On Facebook, though, men seem to underplay their interest in artists considered more feminine. For example, on Spotify, Katy Perry was the 10th most listened to artist among men, beating Bob Marley, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Wiz Khalifa. But those other artists all have more male likes on Facebook.

The pressure to look a certain way on social media can do much more than distort our image of the musicians other people actually listen to.

Sufferers of various illnesses are increasingly using social media to connect with others and to raise awareness about their diseases. But if a condition is considered embarrassing, people are less likely to publicly associate themselves with it.

Irritable bowel syndrome and migraines are similarly prevalent, each affecting around 10 percent of the American population. But migraine sufferers have built Facebook awareness and support groups two and a half times larger than I.B.S. sufferers have.

None of this behavior is all that new, although the form it takes is. Friends have always showed off to friends. People have always struggled to remind themselves that other people don’t have it as easy as they claim.

Think of the aphorism quoted by members of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.” Of course, this advice is difficult to follow. We never see other people’s insides.

I have actually spent the past five years peeking into people’s insides. I have been studying aggregate Google search data. Alone with a screen and anonymous, people tend to tell Google things they don’t reveal to social media; they even tell Google things they don’t tell to anybody else. Google offers digital truth serum. The words we type there are more honest than the pictures we present on Facebook or Instagram.

Sometimes the contrasts in different data sources are amusing. Consider how wives speak about their husbands.

On social media, the top descriptors to complete the phrase “My husband is …” are “the best,” “my best friend,” “amazing,” “the greatest” and “so cute.” On Google, one of the top five ways to complete that phrase is also “amazing.” So that checks out. The other four: “a jerk,” “annoying,” “gay” and “mean.”

While spending five years staring at a computer screen learning about some of human beings’ strangest and darkest thoughts may not strike most people as a good time, I have found the honest data surprisingly comforting. I have consistently felt less alone in my insecurities, anxieties, struggles and desires.

Once you’ve looked at enough aggregate search data, it’s hard to take the curated selves we see on social media too seriously. Or, as I like to sum up what Google data has taught me: We’re all a mess.

Now, you may not be a data scientist. You may not know how to code in R or calculate a confidence interval. But you can still take advantage of big data and digital truth serum to put an end to envy — or at least take some of the bite out of it.

Any time you are feeling down about your life after lurking on Facebook, go to Google and start typing stuff into the search box. Google’s autocomplete will tell you the searches other people are making. Type in “I always …” and you may see the suggestion, based on other people’s searches, “I always feel tired” or “I always have diarrhea.” This can offer a stark contrast to social media, where everybody “always” seems to be on a Caribbean vacation.

As our lives increasingly move online, I propose a new self-help mantra for the 21st century, courtesy of big data: Don’t compare your Google searches with other people’s Facebook posts.

 Doonesbury — Nice tweet.