Friday, January 13, 2017

Wait, You Were Serious About That?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017

In The Dead Of The Night

Via the Washington Post:

The Senate voted 51 to 48 early Thursday morning to approve a budget resolution instructing House and Senate committees to begin work on legislation to repeal major portions of the Affordable Care Act. The House is expected to take up the legislation Friday.

Senate Democrats made a late-night show of resistance against gutting the Affordable Care Act by forcing Republicans to take politically charged votes against protecting Medicare, Medicaid and other health-care programs. The measure narrowly passed without the support of any Democrats.

The hours-long act of protest culminated in the early hours of Thursday when Democrats made a dramatic display of rising to speak out against the repeal measure as they cast their votes. The Democrats continued to record their opposition over their objections of Senate Republicans.

“Because there is no replace, I vote no,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) as she delivered her vote.

Here’s the nightmare scenario I see playing out: The Republicans whoop through a repeal of Obamacare much to the delight of their constituents who have railed against “socialism” for the last eight years.  Then they can’t figure out how to replace it because, well, the only way to do that is to put in place what they took out and just call it something else.  Fine.  But in the meantime you will have several million people who once had insurance going without and then people start to get sick without it or have no way to pay for the medical care they need and then the bills — and the bodies — start to pile up.

But hey, they got a cool hat that says Make America Great Again.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Deeply Broken

John Podesta, who ran Hillary Clinton’s campaign, wonders why the FBI was so obsessed with tracking down the ghosts of e-mail servers past but basically left a voicemail for the DNC warning them about Russian hacking.

but-her-emails-12-14-16Comparing the FBI’s massive response to the overblown email scandal with the seemingly lackadaisical response to the very real Russian plot to subvert a national election shows that something is deeply broken at the FBI.

Comey justified his handling of the email case by citing “intense public interest.” He felt so strongly that he broke long-established precedent and disregarded strong guidance from the Justice Department with his infamous letter just 11 days before the election. Yet he refused to join the rest of the intelligence community in a statement about the Russian cyberattack because he reportedly didn’t want to appear “political.” And both before and after the election, the FBI has refused to say whether it is investigating Trump’s ties to Russia.


Meanwhile, House Republicans who had an insatiable appetite for investigating Clinton have been resistant to probing deeply into Russia’s efforts to swing the election to Trump. The media, by gleefully publishing the gossipy fruits of Russian hacks, became what the Times itself calls “a de facto instrument of Russian intelligence.”

You can call Mr. Podesta a sore loser if you want, but he’s not wrong about the FBI basically acting like the cop writing a ticket for a double-parked car outside the bank while the burglars are inside raiding the vault.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Change Your E-mail Address

Hey, remember when the Republicans wanted to “lock her up” because of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server?  Yeah, those were the days.  But now they’re over it.  Why?  Well…

Retired Army Gen. Michael T. Flynn — Trump’s nominee for national security adviser — condemned Clinton’s “careless use of a private e-mail server” and said there was “nothing wrong” with those chants.

“We’re saying that because if I, a guy who knows this business, if I did a tenth, a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today,” Flynn said at the Republican National Convention in July, while encouraging supporters to continue chanting. “So — so, Crooked Hillary Clinton, leave this race now!”

But Flynn himself “inappropriately shared” classified information with foreign military officers and officials in Afghanistan in 2010, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. The publication revealed that Flynn was not authorized to share the classified information and “particular secrets he divulged.”

Army records obtained by the publication under the Freedom of Information Act found that “there was no actual or potential damage to national security as a result” of his sharing.

Flynn has dismissed the investigation as insignificant, yet “former U.S. officials familiar with the matter said that Flynn was accused of telling allies about the activities of other agencies in Afghanistan, including the CIA,” the Washington Post reported. The information shared included slides and materials about CIA operations in Afghanistan. The U.S. military does share intelligence with NATO allies, but he did not follow the established channels to share information.

Flynn’s harsh call for Clinton to be locked up for sharing information over a private e-mail server at home may hit close to home, however. A New Yorker profile by Dana Priest pointed out Flynn “had technicians secretly install an Internet connection in his Pentagon office, even though it was forbidden.” Flynn also “broke rules he thought were stupid. He once told [Priest] about a period he spent assigned to a C.I.A. station in Iraq, when he would sometimes sneak out of the compound without the ‘insane’ required approval from C.I.A. headquarters, in Langley, Virginia.”

During one of the debates Trump told the world he would appoint a special prosecutor to look into the e-mail issue but now he’s dropped that idea — much to the dismay of his spittle-flecked followers.

It’s not because that would be skating a little too close to his bug-eyed national security adviser but because hypocrisy and bullshit is the new normal.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Someone’s Going To Emergency

I wrote earlier about people who willingly vote against their own self-interest because of their fear of “something out there” such as affordable health care is going to ruin their lives.  Here’s a perfect example via Vox:

CORBIN, Kentucky — Kathy Oller is so committed to her job signing up fellow Kentuckians for Obamacare that last Halloween, she dressed up as a cat, set up a booth at a trick-or-treat event, and urged people to get on the rolls. She’s enrolled so many people in the past three years that she long ago lost count.

“Must be somewhere in the thousands,” she said to me one morning at a local buffet restaurant where she’d just finished an enrollment event with the staff.

The health care law has helped lots of people in Whitley County, where Oller works. The uninsured rate has fallen from 25 percent in 2013 to 10 percent today, according to data from the nonprofit Enroll America. Overall, Kentucky is now tied with West Virginia for the biggest increase in health coverage.

But Obamacare’s success in Whitley County and across Kentucky hasn’t translated into political support for the law. In fact, 82 percent of Whitley voters supported Donald Trump in the presidential election, even though he promised to repeal it.

Oller voted for Trump too.

“I found with Trump, he says a lot of stuff,” she said. “I just think all politicians promise you everything and then we’ll see. It’s like when you get married — ‘Oh, honey, I won’t do this, oh, honey, I won’t do that.’”

I spent last week in southeastern Kentucky talking to Obamacare enrollees, all of whom supported Trump in the election, trying to understand how the health care law factored into their decisions.

Many expressed frustration that Obamacare plans cost way too much, that premiums and deductibles had spiraled out of control. And part of their anger was wrapped up in the idea that other people were getting even better, even cheaper benefits — and those other people did not deserve the help.

There was a persistent belief that Trump would fix these problems and make Obamacare work better. I kept hearing informed voters, who had watched the election closely, say they did hear the promise of repeal but simply felt Trump couldn’t repeal a law that had done so much good for them. In fact, some of the people I talked to hope that one of the more divisive pieces of the law — Medicaid expansion — might become even more robust, offering more of the working poor a chance at the same coverage the very poor receive.

So these people who have been presented with irrefutable evidence that Trump lies about everything from the size of his hands to the size of his fortunes; who can’t keep a story straight sometimes within one sentence and who has promised them the moon and everything else are sure that he won’t follow through on his promise to repeal Obamacare and might even make it better while at the same time kicking the “welfare queens” to the curb.

It’s really hard to muster up any sympathy for these people.  Yes, of course it will be very tough on them when the Republicans knock them off their insurance and privatize Medicare so that they’re left holding the bag on everything from routine tests like mammograms to emergency care.  But they had a good thing going and they willingly voted for the guy who said he’ll take it away because he’s white and he’s not really gonna do it, right?

Here’s a lesson they teach you at the poker table: If you can’t spot the mark at the table, you’re the mark.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Another Fox Guarding The Chicken Coop

Via the New York Times:

President-elect Donald J. Trump has selected Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general and a close ally of the fossil fuel industry, to run the Environmental Protection Agency, signaling Mr. Trump’s determination to dismantle President Obama’s efforts to counter climate change — and much of the E.P.A. itself.

Mr. Pruitt, a Republican, has been a key architect of the legal battle against Mr. Obama’s climate change policies, actions that fit with the president-elect’s comments during the campaign. Mr. Trump has criticized the established science of human-caused global warming as a hoax, vowed to “cancel” the Paris accord committing nearly every nation to taking action to fight climate change, and attacked Mr. Obama’s signature global warming policy, the Clean Power Plan, as a “war on coal.”

Mr. Pruitt has been in lock step with those views.

“Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” he wrote in National Review earlier this year. “That debate should be encouraged — in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress. It should not be silenced with threats of prosecution. Dissent is not a crime.”

No, dissent is not a crime.  But poisoning our air, water, and soil is and there will be generational consequences when the Everglades turn into strip mines, the Great Lakes become a sewer, and the earth literally trembles in Oklahoma — his home state — from fracking.

So far Trump has nominated an attorney general who is against equal rights, a Secretary of Education who is opposed to public schools, a HUD secretary who is against fair housing, and now this.

Well, maybe this is part of his genius plan to fix immigration: make the country so uninhabitable that no one wants to come here.

Fake News and Real Consequences

I can’t think of anything crueler than this.

A Florida woman who believes the Sandy Hook massacre of 26 children was a hoax was indicted for making death threats to a parent of the one of the victims killed in the shooting, the Department of Justice said in a statement Wednesday, in another example of fake news potentially leading to real violence.

Lucy Richards, 57, was indicted on four counts of transmitting threats in interstate commerce, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday. Each count carries a maximum of five years in prison.

Richards, of Tampa, Florida, was arrested Monday, the DOJ said.

Richards is accused of making a series of death threats to a parent of one of the children killed in the mass shooting on or around Jan. 10 of this year, according to the DOJ statement.

Richards’ arrest came just one week before the fourth anniversary of the Dec. 14, 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Authorities allege Richards sent the individual messages saying “you gonna die, death is coming to you real soon” and “LOOK BEHIND YOU IT IS DEATH,” according to the indictment.

The DOJ did not release the name of the parent, but said the individual lives in South Florida.

The father of the child has spoken up.

TAMPA — Lenny Pozner knew how cruel Internet trolls could be. That became clear to him after he lost his 6-year-old son, Noah, to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, only to have strangers spread conspiracy theories claiming no children died.

But the death threats in mid January were personal. They came by voice mail, spilling into his ear while his two young daughters were nearby.

He remembers feeling chills. He had to stop listening.

“It was hard knowing this darkness is out there,” he said.

Pozner’s initials appeared this week in a federal grand jury indictment charging a Tampa woman, 57-year-old Lucy Richards, with making death threats against him through the phone and Internet. Court records don’t identify Pozner, but he told the Tampa Bay Times he received the threats.

This is just the beginning.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

“Authoritarian Tendencies”

Evan McMullin ran as a conservative independent in the election and ran up some pretty respectable numbers in places such as Utah.  Unlike Dr. Jill Stein, he was not a threat to Hillary Clinton.  But speaking of threats, he’s not enamored of Trump’s awkward acquaintance with both the Constitution and the rule of law.

On July 7, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, met privately with House Republicans near the Capitol. I was present as chief policy director of the House Republican Conference. Mr. Trump’s purpose was to persuade the representatives to unite around him, a pitch he delivered in a subdued version of his stream-of-consciousness style. A congresswoman asked him about his plans to protect Article I of the Constitution, which assigns all federal lawmaking power to Congress.

Mr. Trump interrupted her to declare his commitment to the Constitution — even to parts of it that do not exist, such as “Article XII.” Shock swept through the room as Mr. Trump confirmed one of our chief concerns about him: He lacked a basic knowledge of the Constitution.

There is still deeper cause for concern. Mr. Trump’s erroneous proclamation also suggested that he lacked even an interest in the Constitution. Worse, his campaign rhetoric had demonstrated authoritarian tendencies.

He had questioned judicial independence, threatened the freedom of the press, called for violating Muslims’ equal protection under the law, promised the use of torture and attacked Americans based on their gender, race and religion. He had also undermined critical democratic norms including peaceful debate and transitions of power, commitment to truth, freedom from foreign interference and abstention from the use of executive power for political retribution.

There is little indication that anything has changed since Election Day. Last week, Mr. Trump commented on Twitter that flag-burning should be punished by jailing and revocation of citizenship. As someone who has served this country, I carry no brief for flag-burners, but I defend their free-speech right to protest — a right guaranteed under the First Amendment. Although I suspect that Mr. Trump’s chief purpose was to provoke his opponents, his action was consistent with the authoritarian playbook he uses.

Mr. McMullin is not telling us anything we didn’t already know or suspect.  What is most troublesome is that Trump enables the people whose knowledge or understanding of the Constitution is limited to a bumper-sticker level of the Bill of Rights: invoking the First Amendment when “Duck Dynasty” gets banned for racism and not grasping the fact that cable TV shows aren’t run by Congress and therefore immune to the prohibition against telling bearded wingnuts to shut up, or skipping the First altogether and landing square on the Second Amendment and staying there.

To paraphrase Edward R. Murrow, Trump did not create this climate, he merely exploited it, and he’s hiring people who enable it.

Michael Flynn Jr. — the son of Trump’s pick for national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — has used his social media platform to amplify unfounded conspiracy theories ranging from President Obama’s purported hatred of Christians to Sen. Marco Rubio’s alleged cocaine habit.

He made headlines Sunday for tweeting that PizzaGate — an unfounded conspiracy theory that Clinton aides are operating a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor — “remains a story” until it’s “proven to be false.”

Flynn Jr.’s unabashed conspiracy mongering — something his dad has also engaged in recently — hasn’t prevented him from forging close ties with President-elect Trump. On Monday, CNN reported that Flynn Jr. “has an official government transition email address,” which indicates he has a role on Trump’s transition team.

Foreign Policy reports that Flynn Jr. “has assisted in personnel vetting, managing his father’s schedule, and fielding transition-related emails for the general, according to a person close to the Trump transition team.” The unnamed source told Foreign Policy that Flynn Jr. also “accompanies his dad to a ton of meetings.”

On Twitter, Flynn Jr. has posted images of himself with his dad at Trump Tower and walking with Trump. His bio links to the Trump transition team’s official webpage.

Now what?

They Go Together

Here’s a couple of headlines from this morning’s New York Times:

new-york-times-conspiracy-headlines-12-06-16The guy in the story on the pizzeria shoot-up got his inspiration from the fake news peddled by the incoming National Security Adviser.

This is what we’re in for.

The other day I compared this mindset to a cross between “Dr. Strangelove” and “Duck Soup” but that was too light-hearted.  This is more along the lines of Franz Kafka on bad acid.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Why Bring It Up?

Trump got on his Twitter machine the other morning and posited that people who burn the American flag — assuming he’s not talking about the Boy Scouts who respectfully burn them ceremoniously when the flags have outlived their usefulness — should either lose their citizenship or go to jail.

As bizarre as those choices are, and as infuriating both the act and Trump’s reaction to it may be, it is settled law via the U.S. Supreme Court that burning the American flag as an act of protest is protected by the First Amendment.

In a 5-4 decision in 1989, the Supreme Court upheld the right of protesters to burn the flag, with the late Justice Antonin Scalia siding with the protesters. He later said he based his ruling on a “textual” reading of the Constitution.

“If it were up to me, I would put in jail every sandal-wearing, scruffy-bearded weirdo who burns the American flag,” Scalia said in 2015 in Philadelphia. “But I am not king.”

The larger question is why did Trump bring it up?  As President Jed Bartlet once noted, is there an epidemic of flag burning going on that we’re unaware of?  Anyone?  Bueller?

It’s more likely that Trump is trying to distract our attention from the current mishigos that is going on during his transition including the hiring of neo-Nazi ideologues and appointing unqualified but rich donors to cabinet posts.  This flag-burning tweet is designed, pun intended, to inflame his white GOP base and deflect their attention from his once-vaunted promises to drain the swamp while he brings in fresh alligators.

In short, by bringing up the occasional act of a scruffy-bearded weirdo burning a flag, he hopes we will ignore the metaphorical destruction he’s doing to the Constitution.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Short Takes

South Korean president offers to resign.

Charter plane crashes in Colombia with 81 aboard; there are survivors.

Suspect at Ohio State posted rant before attack.

Trump said to pick Obamacare opponent to run HHS.

North Dakota governor orders pipeline protestors to leave in advance of winter.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Job Qualifications

I’ve taught in middle and high school and college. I have two advanced degrees, including a PhD. I’ve spent the last fourteen years as a mid-level administrator in the grants department of the fourth-largest school district in the country. So how come I’m not the new Secretary of Education? Because I didn’t donate a shitload of money to the GOP, that’s why.


Short Takes

Trump says he would have won the popular vote if millions hadn’t voted “illegally.”

Bernie Sanders tells GOP to can it about the recount objections.

Gun sales to blacks, minorities soar after Trump’s election.

South Korean leader digs in amid calls for impeachment.

R.I.P. Ron Glass, 71, Detective Harris on Barney Miller; Florence Henderson, Mrs. Brady of The Brady Bunch.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

That’s Not How It Works

It’s supposed to sound magnanimous and forgiving that Trump has decided not to prosecute Hillary Clinton, but all it does is show that he doesn’t understand how our government works.  Presidents don’t get to decide who the Justice Department goes after, and it was one of the reasons Richard Nixon was in the running for impeachment in 1974 when he took it upon himself to try.

The only saving grace is that now all those folks in the GOP base who got their jollies chanting “Lock her up!” are now left holding the flaming bag of dog turds.  The guy isn’t even president yet and he’s already conned them.

By the way, one of the annoyances — of many — about the election of Mr. Trump is that we’re going to have to put up with the simpering and galling appearance of Kellyanne Conway as his spokesdroid.  Both her personality and her manner of speaking are better suited for selling bladder-control products on late-night television.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Normalizing Nazis

This is how the descent begins.

WASHINGTON — By the time Richard B. Spencer, the leading ideologue of the alt-right movement and the final speaker of the night, rose to address a gathering of his followers on Saturday, the crowd was restless.

In 11 hours of speeches and panel discussions in a federal building named after Ronald Reagan a few blocks from the White House, a succession of speakers had laid out a harsh vision for the future, but had denounced violence and said that Hispanic citizens and black Americans had nothing to fear. Earlier in the day, Mr. Spencer himself had urged the group to start acting less like an underground organization and more like the establishment.

But now his tone changed as he began to tell the audience of more than 200 people, mostly young men, what they had been waiting to hear. He railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people, whom he called the “children of the sun,” a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized but now, in the era of President-elect Donald J. Trump, were “awakening to their own identity.”

These are exultant times for the alt-right movement, which was little known until this year, when it embraced Mr. Trump’s campaign and he appeared to embrace it back. He chose as his campaign chairman Stephen K. Bannon, the media executive who ran the alt-right’s most prominent platform, Breitbart News, and then named him as a senior adviser and chief strategist.

Now the movement’s leaders hope to have, if not a seat at the table, at least the ear of the Trump White House.

While many of its racist views are well known — that President Obama is, or may as well be, of foreign birth; that the Black Lives Matter movement is another name for black race rioters; that even the American-born children of undocumented Hispanic immigrants should be deported — the alt-right has been difficult to define. Is it a name for right-wing political provocateurs in the internet era? Or is it a political movement defined by xenophobia and a dislike for political correctness?

Well, first of all, you stop calling them by euphemisms such as “alt-right.”  They are fascists and racists, and the generally accepted term for them is Nazi.  Not because they are currently members of the National Socialist German Workers Party, but because they adhere to everything that movement once used to take over Europe and kill more than 10 million people purely for their racial or ethnic heritage, their sexual orientation, or that they didn’t meet some perverted standard of purity.  (Ironically, based on the photos from this meeting, many of the participants would have been shipped off to camps for their non-Aryan-ness.)

The more we try to put Twitter-length handles on them and make them sound like some kind of offshoot of a normal political or social movement, the more they will be normalized into our society and the more the news outlets like CNN will treat them as legitimate.

They are Nazis, and the press should call them that.