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.

Friday, May 5, 2017

You’re Next

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has already decided to retire, but these guys need to be encouraged to follow suit, voluntarily or not.

Miami Herald:

Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart voted Thursday for the American Health Care Act, the House GOP’s controversial proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Both congressmen had refused to divulge their positions on the legislation ahead of the high-profile vote. Their districts have among the highest Obamacare enrollment rates in the country; Curbelo in particular is politically vulnerable in the Democratic-leaning 26th district.

[…]

His spokeswoman said Curbelo was making a “game-time decision” on the vote. But moments after he voted yes, his office released pre-taped video statements in English and Spanish explaining his decision. His staff later said Curbelo prepared two sets of statements to be able to provide an immediate explanation of his decision once he made it.

If you have to explain it — and hedge your bet — you’re doing it wrong.  With a good opponent and righteous anger at him for being a sell-out to the rich and Cheeto’d, he’ll be selling cars in January 2019.

Curbelo and Diaz-Balart’s local colleague, Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who announced her retirement from Congress earlier this week, voted no, as she had promised. She was the only Florida Republican to do so, along with all Florida Democrats.

Good for her.

It’s Party Time

Charles P. Pierce, fresh from recovering from gall bladder surgery (and thinking about healthcare insurance), looks at the GOP celebration yesterday.

This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince’s own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress nor egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure.

—The Masque of the Red Death, Edgar Allan Poe

They had a party in Washington on Thursday. They had a party in the Capitol and then they all got into nice shiny buses to roll through the tall gates of the White House to have a party there. This was an afternoon to celebrate, and these folks were going to celebrate with their President* of the United States.

They had a party in Washington on Thursday to celebrate the fact 24 million people would be made free by losing the healthcare that has made their lives easier since 2009. This was a thing to celebrate.

They had a party in Washington to celebrate that people with diabetes, or a genetic disposition to Parkinson’s, or a congenital heart defect, would be made free because their insurance rates would be subject to the kind ministrations of Republican governors like Sam Brownback, or Republican state legislatures like the one presently sitting in the newly insane state of North Carolina. This was a thing to celebrate.

They had a party in Washington to celebrate that an $8 billion risk-pool fig leaf was enough to drain the guts out of Republican “moderates” in the House and get them on board. This was a thing to celebrate.

They had a party in Washington to celebrate that freedom was served because Medicaid took a serious shot below the waterline. This was a thing to celebrate.

They had a party in Washington to celebrate that one state—Mississippi? Kansas?—could bring freedom by restoring lifetime limits on employer-based healthcare coverage for 129 million Americans. This was a thing to celebrate.

They had a party in Washington to celebrate the fact that taking healthcare from poor people was enough to give the top two percent of Americans a trillion-dollar tax cut. This was a thing to celebrate.

They had a party in Washington to celebrate the fact that sexual assault can now be considered a preexisting condition. This was a thing to celebrate.

Goddamn them all. Goddamn the political movement that spawned them and goddamn the political party in which that movement found a home, and goddamn the infrastructure in which their pus-bag of an ideology was allowed to fester until it splattered the plague all over the government. Goddamn anyone who believes that blind, genetic luck is a demonstration of divine design. Goddamn anyone who believes in a god who hands out disease as punishment. Goddamn anyone who stays behind the walls and dances while the plague comes back again.

And if the Democratic Party can’t reduce these idiots to smoking ash through the stunning visuals that greeted this atrocious vote, then goddamn the Democratic Party, too.

I can’t deal with the politics now, though. This was a bill constructed to be as cruel as possible to as many people as possible for the benefit of the wealthiest Americans and to give a “win” to an incompetent and vulgar talking yam that flukes and circumstance have placed at the head of a once-great republic. It is an altogether remarkable piece of American political history that should follow the people celebrating it to their graves, to which they will be proceeded by thousands of their fellow citizens, who might not have, had there not been so much to celebrate on Thursday, in Washington, among all the tomb-white monuments.

We will remember who voted for this.  We will make them remember.  Even if it goes down in defeat in the Senate, we will remember.  And we will come after them.

Bonus track: Bette Davis in The Little Foxes.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

It’s Worse

The new version of Trumpcare, which is expected to be voted on by the House — and this time they say the have the votes… really! — is still garbage.  In fact, it’s worse than the turd of a bill that the House couldn’t pass in March.

Josh Marshall:

Critically, this version, in a bow to the House Freedom Caucus, guts the so-called essential benefits requirement under Obamacare. That’s the part that makes ‘coverage’ more than a word.

This version isn’t a bit more generous, as some of the coverage might seem to suggest. It’s considerably worse. The same 24 more million Americans are on the chopping block. Indeed, according to a Brookings study, the change in essential benefits could remove protections from people who get employer based coverage.

If you were worried about the fate of those 24 millions, worry more about this. If you’re worried about your own coverage, now would be the time to speak up. If you were going to town halls to ask your representatives or senators what they were thinking, they have more to answer for now.

You know what do to, don’t you?  Call 866-426-2631.  You will be asked at some point to enter your five-digit ZIP code, and then you will be connected to your local Republican.

When I called and was connected to Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen’s office, her voicemail box was full.  If that happens to you, keep trying.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

To The Good Life

Wow, we are sure raising a bumper crop of ignorant and cruel douchebags in Congress this year.

Today’s example is one Mo Brooks (R-AL) who says the key to an affordable healthcare system is to not cover pre-existing conditions and just lead a good life so you won’t be a burden on the rest of us.

My understanding is that it will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool.  That helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now those are the people—who’ve done things the right way—that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.

Which means if you’re born with spina bifida, diabetes, or become pregnant, well, that’s your problem and why should the rest of us have to pay for it?

I have a suggestion for what Mr. Brooks can do with his idea.  He should be able to accomplish without insurance because he was already born as a huge asshole.

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.