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Why I’m Not a Democrat

Mon, 2017-06-26 16:58

Editor’s Note:

Economist Bruce Bartlett is a man of fierce intellectual independence — and courage, too. Telling the truth about Republican economic policies during the George W. Bush presidency got him fired as a senior fellow at a conservative think tank and brought to an end his long career as an esteemed GOP “insider.”

On the right he could boast a gold-standard resume as an architect of supply-side economics and “trickle-down” taxes with Rep. Jack Kemp (R-NY), a central figure in the “Reagan Revolution” as a White House aide, a director of the Joint Economic Committee and a senior Treasury Department official in the days of George H.W. Bush. But then he rocked Republican elites and movement conservatives alike with a book that went, in their eyes, beyond truancy to treason: Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. You would have thought Bartlett had been convicted of blasphemy in Saudi Arabia, where atheists can be punished with a thousand lashes, jail sentence, or worse. He next revised his own earlier ideas with some second opinions in The New American Economy: The Failure of Reaganomics and a New Way Forward. Cast now into outer darkness beyond the Beltway, Bartlett became become a prolific writer and commentator. He produced a third book on The Benefit and the Burden: Tax Reform — Why We Need It and What It Will Take. His fourth will appear in October: The Truth Matters: A Citizen’s Guide to Separating Facts from Lies and Stopping Fake News in Its Tracks. If you have the stomach for it, watch him get pilloried by the “alt-right” media and Fox News.

Just last weekend Bruce Bartlett rattled the cages again with an essay in Politico under the headline, “Trump Is What Happens When a Political Party Abandons Ideas.” In his latest contribution to, he takes on the Democrats.

— Bill Moyers


How I Became a Man Without a Party

By Bruce Bartlett

I am part of the reason why Democrats have not been successful in the Trump era. I am someone who should be a Democrat, but I’m not. Let me explain.

I was a Republican most of my life — I even worked in the White House for Ronald Reagan. I was very comfortable with the Reagan-era GOP. It was conservative, but not obsessively so, and not at the expense of proper governance. Republicans today easily forget all the “liberal” things Reagan did, such as raising taxes 11 times, giving amnesty to illegal aliens, pulling US troops out of Lebanon, negotiating nuclear disarmament and many other heresies to conservative dogma.

At first, I cheered the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 and even contemplated going back to work on Capitol Hill. I remember being invited to many meetings with Newt Gingrich and other Republican leaders to help them shape their agenda.

The simplest way to explain my intellectual and political evolution is that I had previously seen the Republican glass as half-full, now I saw it as half-empty.

But soon, I was disturbed by things I saw the new majority doing in Congress. One of the first was slashing some 3,000 staff slots from the congressional committees. I thought this was very unwise because committee staff were the primary source of policy expertise. “Without staff to do the work, how were Republicans going to implement their agenda competently?” I thought.

It turned out that Gingrich was only interested in centralizing all policy on every issue in his own office. I soon found myself dealing with young staffers in the speaker’s office with no experience or expertise on the issues they were working on. Their only job was to get the Contract With America enacted; they weren’t interested in fixing it or improving it or coming up with new ideas. They had all the policy ideas they needed, thank you.

I was further dismayed when Republicans became obsessed with bringing down Bill Clinton pretty much to the exclusion of everything else. With budget surpluses building up there were plenty of opportunities for Republicans and Democrats to work together on issues such as tax reform and entitlement reform that were simply lost to political rancor.

The incompetence of the George W. Bush administration finally drove me over the edge. The final straw for me was enactment of the budget-busting Medicare Part D program. As a conservative, I thought we needed to be reigning in such open-ended spending programs, not creating new ones.

MORE ON History The Economic Fight That Links Ronald Reagan and Bernie Sanders

BY Bruce Bartlett and James Galbraith | February 29, 2016

In 2005, I wrote a book attacking Bush from the right called Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. No Republican today would disagree with a word that I wrote, but, at the time, criticizing a Republican president was grounds for defenestration. I was fired from my job at a conservative think tank and banished from polite Republican company.

For a few years, I still considered myself to be a Republican, hoping that some degree of sanity would be restored. But it only got much worse. The election of Obama seemed to drive even moderate Republicans over the edge into hysterical hatred and opposition, egged on by the so-called tea party, which consisted entirely of people who knew absolutely nothing about government or policy except that they were mad as hell.

This dictatorship of the idiocracy drove me out of the GOP. I began referring to myself as an independent.

Once freed from needing to feign party loyalty, I found myself receptive to ideas I had once rejected out of hand. I wrote a book that was skeptical of supply-side economics — the Republican theory that tax cuts are the cure for every economic problem. I wrote columns sympathetic to the welfare state and other heresies. I lost the last few Republican friends I had.

The simplest way to explain my intellectual and political evolution is that I had previously seen the Republican glass as half-full, now I saw it as half-empty. (These days, it is completely empty.)

The Trump phenomenon is the culmination of everything I hated about the Bush-Gingrich era Republican Party that drove me out, especially the anti-intellectualism. The sum total of Trump’s agenda appears to begin and end with reversing whatever Obama did; I see no sign of a positive agenda even from a conservative point of view. The Republican Party appears to exist for the sole purpose of acquiring power in order to shower rewards on those who support the party, especially those who support it financially.

I’ve grown to hate my former party. You’d think this would make me a prime candidate for recruitment by the Democrats. But I’m not. First, no Democrat has ever reached out to me. I am not insulted by this, only surprised. And my efforts to suggest ideas to Democrats have been uniformly rebuffed. Like the Republicans, Democrats are wary of apostates and are only receptive to those born into their church, it seems.

Of much more importance in terms of my reluctance to join the Democratic Party is that the party doesn’t really seem to stand for anything other than opposition to the GOP. Admittedly, just about everything the Republicans are doing deserves to be opposed. But the Democrats also need a positive agenda of their own. I remember thinking late in the 2016 campaign that I could not name a single policy proposal Hillary Clinton had put forward. I knew they existed — 10 point plans to fix various problems that were probably well thought through, but all of the points were small-bore and impossible to summarize easily. You had to go to her website and dig them out because they never appeared in any of her commercials or interviews.

What ultimately won the day for the right was its long-term focus. The left seems to me to be totally focused on the short-term — stopping whatever the Republicans are doing today.

As much as I hate what the conservative movement has become, it rose to power through some strategies that are easily duplicable by progressives. One is putting as much effort into marketing ideas as originating them. Another is coordinating efforts among disparate groups on the right — you support my cause and in return I’ll support yours. And all these efforts are continuously repeated throughout the right-wing echo chamber.

It took decades for conservatives to set up the institutional infrastructure that supports and nourishes the GOP today. And fundraising was a big part of it. One thing conservatives learned is to share donors with each other through groups such as the Council for National Policy. I don’t know of any similar group on the left.

Progressives always complain about a lack of funds, but clearly there is plenty of money available. Hillary Clinton did not lose because she had less money than Trump; she had considerably more. The congressional race Georgia’s 6th District attracted tens of millions of dollars for the Democratic candidate. He lost, but not because he was underfunded.

What ultimately won the day for the right was its long-term focus. The left seems to me to be totally focused on the short-term — stopping whatever the Republicans are doing today. They’ll worry about building institutions and developing a positive agenda when the crisis is past. But tomorrow is another crisis and no Republican idea ever stays dead no matter how badly it was defeated; it will arise again like a phoenix the next time an opportunity presents itself. This puts Democrats permanently on defense. But as my old boss Jack Kemp, a former pro football player, always told me, “You don’t win games on defense.”

Another strength of the right that the left could learn is its self-confidence and aggressiveness. Turn on cable news at any hour and you will hear a right-winger expounding with bravado on some subject they have no clue about. If there is a liberal on for “balance,” he or she will waste all their air time futilely trying to explain why what their opponent said was complete nonsense. As a consequence, progressives never get their points across and appear feckless. I often joke that a Democrat is someone who won’t take their own side in a debate.

There are many other ways as well that Democrats handicap themselves that make me reluctant to join them. Sure, I’ll vote for their candidates — in a choice between crazy and sane, I’ll vote sane every time. But joining a party, even if it’s only in my own mind, implies a higher level of commitment, one that I am not yet ready to make.

I suppose the easiest way to get me to join is to find a decent leader and at least one tent-pole big issue — like tax cuts were for the Republicans — around which intellectual-types like me can help build a tent that would include us. New publications need to be established where thinkers can throw out ideas, build support, answer critics and all the other things the right-wing echo chamber does so well for the GOP. A few million dollars a year would go a long way. But no one on the left with money seems to want to do anything except make contributions to Democratic candidates that go into worthless TV ads that only make Democratic consultants rich.

Anyway, for the time being, I will remain an independent who is waiting for a tough, muscular Democrat with the courage of their convictions and no fear of Republicans to arise, as French President Emmanuel Macron did. He showed that being a moderate does not mean being weak, and that fear of the right is the right’s greatest strength, but one that is easily punctured. If I were a Democrat I would study Bobby Kennedy’s race in 1968, the Bill Clinton of 1992, Sen. Pat Moynihan and other Democrats who could project strength and leadership and had new ideas to back them up. When one such Democrat emerges, I will be ready to join.

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How Union-Busting Bosses Propel the Right Wing to Power

Mon, 2017-06-26 14:13

This post originally appeared at In These Times.

US bosses fight unions with a ferocity that is unmatched in the so-called free world. In the early days of the republic, master craftsmen prosecuted fledgling unions as criminal conspiracies that aimed to block their consolidation of wealth and property. During modern times, corporations threaten the jobs of pro-union workers in over half of all union elections — and follow through on the threat one-third of the time. In between, bosses have resorted to spies and frame-ups, physical violence, court injunctions, private armies of strikebreakers, racist appeals and immigrant exploitation.

The labor question has never been a genteel debate about power and fairness in America.

A new book from the University of Illinois Press’ “The Working Class History in American History” series offers a broad survey of how bosses have historically engaged in union-busting. Against Labor: How US Employers Organized to Defeat Union Activism is a collection of scholarly essays edited by Rosemary Feurer and Chad Pearson.

Sure, there were employers who talked a good game about their (junior) “partners” in labor, kept their pensions and health care plans funded and mostly avoided knock-down, drag-out contract fights. But, clearly in retrospect, they were ready to beat down and bust their own unions just as soon as the advance guard of reactionaries created a political environment where it was possible.

The essays that comprise Against Labor cover a period that stretches from the late 1880s to the Clinton era. Elizabeth Esch and David Roediger explore the racist assumptions that were built into so-called “scientific management.” The men with the stopwatches who broke production down into ever smaller tasks had ethnic preferences for each: Lithuanians for grinding steel, “American Poles” for forging, never Mexicans for the night shift and so on. A happy (for management) side effect of this speed up was the simmering resentment between different nationalities that hindered workplace solidarity.

Chad Pearson shines a light on Progressive-era worker organizations that were created and propped up by employers to help workers resist “union monopolies.” In other words, they created unions for scabs to break strikes and open up closed union shops.

Robert H. Woodrum looks at the use of the Ku Klux Klan and employer-sponsored vigilantism to run union organizers out of the Alabama docks and reverse the modest gains southern workers made during World War I. Michael Dennis updates the Southern picture by documenting the UFCW’s sustained, large-scale organizing drive in non-union Virginia supermarkets in the early 1990s. Already facing enormous competitive pressure from Walmart, the supermarkets dug in for a years-long fight with little concern for the law. The story is a perfectly concise example of just how broken the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was as a venue for protecting workers by the time Bill Clinton took office.

None of these stories are particularly earth-shattering revelations to people who study unions and union-busting. What’s most notable is how employer tactics get recycled and adapted from era to era, and that no era was free from union-busting. That’s a key point of Against Labor. Editors Feurer and Pearson place their collection squarely within the new body of scholarship on the “rise of the right.”

Contrary to a popular narrative that has an activist right wing resurging in the years between Nixon’s 1968 election and Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers in 1981, the modern right wing began rising in reaction to the New Deal. Many employers simply never accepted the legitimacy of state intervention on behalf of union rights that was enshrined in the original National Labor Relations Act. These employers — mostly small and mid-sized firms — acted as an advance guard against union rights.

MORE ON Economy & Work Trumping Labor: The Republican Plan to Gut Workers’ Rights

BY Christopher D. Cook | March 2, 2017

They pressed against the edges of the law, testing their ability to fire union activists for cause, replace strikers, lockout recalcitrant unions and restrict organizers’ access to the job site. They learned to love making the NLRB go to court to enforce orders against bosses’ union busting, for in the courts they found far more sympathetic arbiters of management’s rights. The biggest holes in labor law’s protections of workers rights, exploited in the anti-union drives of the 1980s, mostly come from bad court decisions in the postwar years that some people like to kid themselves were a golden age of labor-management cooperation.

Sure, there were employers who talked a good game about their (junior) “partners” in labor, kept their pensions and health care plans funded and mostly avoided knock-down, drag-out contract fights. But, clearly in retrospect, they were ready to beat down and bust their own unions just as soon as the advance guard of reactionaries created a political environment where it was possible.

The most fascinating story in the collection, “The Strange Career of A.A. Ahner: Reconsidering Blackjacks and Briefcases,” comes from Feurer. It tells of a hired gun whose career bridged two very different eras of labor-management relations in the Kansas City area. Scholars have referred to the advent of the NLRB as a kind of transition from blackjacks to briefcases for anti-union employers. It’s commonly assumed that the Pinkertons, thugs and company “unions,” employers’ first line of defense against unions in the 1920s, were muscled out of the way by a new generation of lawyers who promised to “work the system” to represent their clients’ interests at the NLRB. But in Ahner we find a direct, lineal connection between the two approaches.

Ahner ran his own detective agency beginning during World War I. For the right price, he would spy on workers, plant bombs and frame union activists (he had lots of friends in law enforcement at a time when there weren’t terribly rigid boundaries between local business and police). This work continued into the 1930s, when he was investigated by a Senate committee probing how employers were violating the new labor act.

Recognizing that times had changed, Ahner improved his image, if not his underlying philosophy. Working with a local priest, he became co-chair of the St. Louis Labor-Management Committee, which counseled conciliation and arbitration. Through this “volunteer” work, he lined up consulting gigs with unionized employers. Mostly this was for bargaining and grievances, where union representatives who knew his history would be aghast to find him sitting across the table with an air of respectability. But occasionally — even in the 1950s — he was called on for union avoidance work, where he pressed the limits of employers’ rights to their own free speech and to squelch their workers’.

Ahner’s story enriches our understanding of the real roots of today’s anti-unionism. One wishes Rosemary Feurer had expanded her research on Ahner and others like him and made that the subject of her book.

It also serves as a warning that today’s union-buster will claim to have “always” had a “productive working relationship” with unions when we begin to win again. But the only “always” that applies to American capitalists is that they are always against labor.

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Of Caesar, Guns and Trolls: The Evil that Men Do

Mon, 2017-06-26 13:40

Over in New York’s Central Park, just a short distance from our offices, the curtain came down last week on The Public Theater’s controversial production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Controversial because the actor playing the assassinated Caesar looked and sounded like Donald Trump, right down to the overlong red necktie and clownish orange-blond nimbus of hair.

But the curtain didn’t fall because of the outrage that came tumbling from the right — including protesters heckling at a couple of the performances and death threats directed at the production’s director (not to mention feverish tweets and emails from confused trolls hurled at any theatre company with the word “Shakespeare” in its name).

Nor did it occur because two of The Public Theatre’s corporate donors, Bank of America and Delta Air Lines, pulled their sponsorship of the show, a gutless move of appeasement from two businesses, banking and air travel, so well known these days for their dazzling records of customer satisfaction. (Another company, American Express, didn’t yank its cash from The Public but tweeted that its money doesn’t fund Shakespeare in the Park “nor do we condone the interpretation of the Julius Caesar play.”)

No, the fact is, Julius Caesar always was scheduled to end the night that it did. That was to make way for the summer’s second Shakespeare in the Park production — A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Gentle readers will recall that this is the Shakespeare play in which, among a great many other things, a knavish sprite named Puck turns a man into an ass. Such an act once seemed like magic, but given today’s political climate, the turning of men into asses has become the rule rather than the exception.

Witness the aforementioned kneejerk reaction of the right, so quick to accuse the left of behaving like snowflakes but themselves so hypersensitive to even the mildest heat that they melt as fast as Frosty the Snowman — that is, if he was a whiny Fox or talk radio host instead of a jolly happy soul.

We’ve established before that this is not a crowd that embraces a thoroughgoing knowledge of history in general, and it’s probably fair to assume a knowledge of theatrical history not at all. Elsewise they might realize that Julius Caesar is not a play that celebrates political violence but loudly condemns it.

In an email, The Public’s artistic director (and director of Julius Caesar) Oskar Eustis wrote:

“Those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic means pay a terrible price and destroy the very thing they are fighting to save. For over 400 years, Shakespeare’s play has told this story and we are proud to be telling it again in Central Park.”

Back in the day, Queen Elizabeth I herself recognized that the playwright’s scripts often were thinly veiled depictions of the current political scene in Britain and even of herself. Apparently, she had a thicker skin than the gang at Delta Air Lines or Bank of America — she kept encouraging Shakespeare with money from the royal purse.

Julius Caesar in particular has always been a play lending itself to parallels with contemporary politics. George Washington hosted an amateur production in Philadelphia during the first full year of his presidency. He didn’t seem to take offense. Orson Welles directed and played Brutus in a 1937 staging that drew parallels with the rise of fascism in Europe, even recreating the infamous “Cathedral of Light” at Hitler’s Nuremburg rallies.

For the last few years, The Acting Company has been touring the country with a version in which Caesar bears a close resemblance to Barack Obama — no one has protested. And ever since Trump started to dominate the electoral landscape, several productions have used Julius Caesar as a metaphor for the debilitating illness that pervades our body politic.

Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro recently wrote:

“As long as politicians resemble Caesar and as long as their opponents seek to justify their overthrow, ‘Julius Caesar’ will continue to matter…

“It is the mark of a tolerant society that we don’t try to shut down the expression of words or viewpoints that some might find disagreeable, least of all Shakespeare’s, whose works we all share.

“We rely on newspapers to learn what is happening in the world. But we turn to productions of Shakespeare to make sense of it.”

But none of this stopped the trolls of the right from throwing a major-league hissy about the show, even if very few of them actually attended a performance. Much of the consternation was based on a video of the play’s assassination scene that went viral.

Some, Sean Hannity among them, even suggested that the recent wounding of House majority whip Steve Scalise and four others at a baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, somehow was linked to the production of Julius Caesar. “The blood of Steve Scalise is on your hands!” screamed one of those who disrupted a performance. And the president’s son, Donald Jr., retweeted conservative commentator Harlan Hill’s comment that the shootings were “EXACTLY why we took issue with NY elites glorifying the assassination of our president.”

This was and is opportunistic sophistry, an attempt to use tragedy to distract by aiming a fallacious attack at “elites” and the left. The production of Julius Caesar should no more be condemned for its alleged connection to an act of senseless violence than The Catcher in the Rye should be banned because John Lennon’s assassin Mark David Chapman was obsessed with the book.

The attack on Scalise and the others was the act of a deeply disturbed man who had made anti-Trump statements on Facebook and elsewhere. And there’s no denying that it took place in an atmosphere of elevated hate speech from right and left — but face it, mostly from the right — and violence that has only gotten worse since the election, aggravated by the man now president who egged on his supporters at splenetic campaign rallies.

But let’s talk about what also really needs discussing. Not just a production of a classic play that offended some, or the unreasoned words and actions of far too many, including men and women in Congress and the White House.

Since we’re talking about the freedom to speak out, let’s speak out about guns.

For one, given the mental state of the man accused with the Scalise shooting why was he allowed to have weapons? As my colleague Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times wrote:

“In a country with sensible and intelligent firearms laws, there’s no way a person with the history of domestic violence of James Hodgkinson, who has been identified as the shooter, would be permitted anywhere near the weapons he was carrying on June 14 — and which reportedly he obtained legally.”

Too soon? Let’s pray for Steve Scalise’s continued recovery but not forget his A+ rating from the National Rifle Association or, say, his opposition to stricter gun laws after 26 died in the Sandy Hook shootings of 2014. Hiltzik noted:

“To say Scalise deserves to share blame for this situation is not to say that he deserves the punishment of a grave injury. But nor is this an occasion to ignore the policies he espouses and their relationship to the June 14 event and its aftermath…

“Among the bills he has cosponsored is the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act, a 2011 measure that would have allowed anyone with a valid state-issued concealed firearm permit to carry a concealed firearm in any other state that issues concealed firearm permits, regardless of the other states’ standards for issuing those permits. On Jan. 6, 2016, Scalise could be seen on CNN misrepresenting, and then assailing, President Obama’s day-old executive order designed to tighten the rules on background checks of gun buyers.”

Counting the Scalise incident, according to the website Mass Shooting Tracker, as of June 25, 2017, so far this year there have been 211 mass shootings in the United States. Guns have killed more than 6,800 in America this year; 13,500 have been wounded, according to Chelsea Parsons, vice president of guns and crime policy at the Center for American Progress. In a recent op-ed, Parsons pointed out out the gun fatality rate in this country is 25 times greater than in other high-income countries.

And yes, as the argument goes, more people might have died in Alexandria if Scalise had not had armed police protection with him, but they were trained professionals, not the amateurs — including members of Congress — who want to run around with concealed carry permits and handguns wherever they choose.

But that’s what the GOP wants. Jonathan Martin reported at The New York Times:

“The Republican majorities on Capitol Hill have blocked every attempt to enact significant gun control legislation, most recently after the massacre of 49 people in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub last June. Measures to block people on the federal terrorism watch list from buying weapons and to close background-check loopholes failed in the Senate.

“And that was before President Trump was elected with far more help from the National Rifle Association than Mitt Romney got in 2012. Mr. Trump received more money from the NRA than any other outside group.”

The counterintuitive argument that the answer to guns is more guns is madness. As Marc Antony says in Julius Caesar, during his famous oration at the funeral of the murdered leader, “O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason.”

Too soon?

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All of Donald Trump’s Lies

Mon, 2017-06-26 12:13

This weekend, The New York Times performed a noble public service by publishing nearly every lie Donald Trump has told since taking the oath of office (just four months and a few days ago, but it seems like an eternity, no?). The op-ed chart of tiny but readable font fills the entire page, until at one point, in the mind’s eye, they appear to morph into termites burrowing deep into the foundation of democracy, leaving sawdust in their wake.

One subtitle reads: “Trump Told Public Lies or Falsehoods Every Day for His First 40 Days.” Another reminds us: “Trump’s Lies Repeat — and Shift With Repetition.” David Leonhardt and Stuart A. Thompson, the journalists in charge of the project, wrote:

“We are using the word ‘lie’ deliberately. Not every falsehood is deliberate on Trump’s part. But it would be the height of naivete to imagine he is merely making honest mistakes. He is lying.”

Their effort deserves the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. We also hope that once they finished the task, they rushed right home to a long and cleansing shower.

Meanwhile, you may want to remind yourselves of the Big Lie that Donald Trump rode to power — the Birther Lie. It was never true when the right wing media — talk radio, internet trolls and Fox News — began to spread the story that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and was therefore an illegitimate president.

Yet Trump shamelessly championed the lie and made it central to his campaign. “I’m starting to think that he was not born here,” he told gullible television hosts as early as 20ll. A year later he tweeted that “an extremely credible source” had called his office to inform him that Obama’s birth certificate was “a fraud.” Then he urged hackers to “please hack Obama’s college records (destroyed?) and check ‘place of birth.’”

The Big Lie worked for Trump because it had been sown in the fertile soil of slavery and segregation, and he knew that after eight years of a black president, white supremacy was ripe for harvesting. I talked about the Birther Lie with four noted historians in this video, which we posted on Jan. 20 — the day Trump was inaugurated as Barack Obama’s successor.

Watch ‘The Big Lie’

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GOP ‘Health’ Bill: Death, Disaster and Gilded Age Greed

Mon, 2017-06-26 11:38

This post originally appeared at Common Dreams.

The Republican Senate’s draft health bill differs from the House version, but its basic purpose is the same: Give millionaires and billionaires a massive new tax cut by slashing health benefits for millions of Americans, and take care away altogether from millions more.

People will die if this bill becomes law, but that doesn’t seem to trouble the Republicans’ conscience. The only thing they seem to fear is losing their jobs. That’s why this bill was written in unprecedented secrecy. That’s why it, like the House version, obfuscates and misdirects to conceal its true goals.

Make Them Think It’s More

Once, as a young health financing consultant, I met with the CEO of one of Wall Street’s most powerful firms. He had a reputation for both brilliance and meanness, and he was proposing some complicated changes to his company’s health plan. His own staff seemed reluctant to question him, so I asked him instead: “What are you trying to accomplish?”

“It’s my employees,” he answered. “I want to give them less and make them think it’s more.”

Give them less and make them think it’s more. That’s the Republican Party’s goal with “Trumpcare.”

Why? They’re doing it to provide enormous tax breaks to the wealthiest among us, after we have already achieved levels of inequality not seen since the Roaring ’20s or the Gilded Age of the 19th century.

We did the math when the House bill came out: Ten Americans would die each year, according to the best available data, to give each of the 400 richest households in America a new tax cut. An estimated 43,000 people would die each year under the House plan, and there’s no reason to believe the Senate bill would be any better.

MORE ON Health & Science Senate Health Bill Would Revamp Medicaid, Alter ACA Guarantees, Cut Premium Support

BY Julie Rovner | June 22, 2017

Breaking It Down

Here are some more details:

It’s going to be hell to get older if this bill passes. People who are nearing or past 60, but are not yet eligible for Medicare, will be forced to pay as much as 16.2 percent of their income on premiums. Worse, that would only cover a high deductible plan that could render routine medical care unaffordable — and at a time of life when people should be preparing for retirement.

The Senate bill imposes even harsher cuts to Medicaid than the House version does. Both bills limit the Medicaid budget’s ability to keep pace with inflation without doing anything to control health care costs. While the Congressional Budget Office has not yet analyzed the Senate bill, it found that the House bill would deprive 14 million people of coverage over a 10-year period. The Senate bill is even more draconian, meaning that even more will lose coverage if it becomes law.

The Senate bill, like its House equivalent, guts the Affordable Care Act’s “essential benefits” provision. That means insurance companies could charge you for coverage, but could arbitrarily decide not to cover vital and life-saving treatments — something you might not know until it was too late.

It does keep one piece of the ACA. Unfortunately, it’s that law’s worst provision: The so-called “Cadillac tax” provision lays an additional tax burden on employer health plans with higher-than-expected costs, even if the plan provides substantially less coverage than citizens receive in other developed countries through their government’s healthcare program.

The omissions are still there: There’s nothing in either the House or Senate bills that would control runaway drug costs or challenge Big Pharma’s greed and patent monopolies. There is no expansion of Medicare coverage to under-65 Americans, even though Medicare is much more cost-effective than private health insurance.

NPR has drawn up a useful chart that compares the House and Senate Republican bills with each other and the ACA. The New York Times also compared the bills, concluding that the Senate draft is somewhat less terrible in some ways and somewhat more terrible in others.

Bottom line: They’re both disastrous.

Where Is Your Conscience?

The Democrats can’t stop the Republicans from gutting Obamacare, because they don’t have the votes. Will Republicans of good conscience block the bill? Right now, four GOP senators have publicly withheld their support for the bill. But they’re objecting to it from the right, presumably because it’s not terrible enough.Ted Cruz and his friends won’t be riding to the rescue anytime soon.

If the Democrats can’t help, and the Republicans won’t, that leaves the rest of us. The one thing every politician understands is an angry electorate. Senators need to hear about this bill. They can be reached at 202-224-3121 — or through visits, calls and demonstrations at their offices.

The Republicans want to give us less and make us think it’s more. It’s time to tell them we’ve had enough.

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Daily Reads: Trump’s DHS Is Defunding Groups That Fight Right-Wing Extremism; Russia Recalls Kislyak

Mon, 2017-06-26 10:14

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Still the big story –> Happy Monday. We’re still watching the GOP’s push to pass a huge package of high-end tax cuts financed by stripping health insurance from millions of Americans. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent writes that “Republicans have gone to enormous lengths to obscure the plan’s profoundly regressive features,” and perhaps as a result, a new “Kaiser poll finds that only 38 percent of Americans know that the GOP plan makes ‘major reductions’ in Medicaid spending.” But even if much of the public doesn’t have a grasp of the details, the poll found that only 35 percent approve of it.

Speaking of Medicaid, The New York Times’ Jordan Rau notes that deep cuts to the program “may force retirees out of nursing homes.” Donald Trump won among voters aged 65 and over by 7 points.

The Kaiser Family Foundation offers a tool that allows you to determine how your own premiums and subsidies might change under the Senate bill.

Last week, we noted that the health care industry wasn’t putting up much fight, in part because they feared retribution and in part because they wanted a seat at the table when the time comes to craft changes in the tax code and on regulatory issues. But Vox’s Sarah Kliff obtained an email that shows that at least one large insurer is quietly expressing concern over a provision in the bill that would, according to the email, “cause most small employers’ premiums to go up” and “leave consumers at risk.”

Robert Pear and Thomas Kaplan report for The Washington Post that “Senate Republican leaders scrambled Sunday to rally support for their health care bill even as opposition continued to build outside Congress and two Republican senators questioned whether the bill would be approved this week.” According to Steve Peoples at AP, “Chief lieutenants in the Koch brothers’ political network lashed out at the Senate Republican health care bill on Saturday as not conservative enough,” but Kyle Cheney and Rachel Bade report for Politico that the House’s ultra-right “Freedom Caucus” has been unusually reserved, and “may be open to compromise if it means gutting the health law.” And Norm Ornstein writes at The Atlantic that he fears it’s all a bit of Kabuki theater: “Normally, a bill this unpopular wouldn’t stand a chance. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s health-care bill seems designed to let reluctant senators amend it, and claim victory.”

Meanwhile, Axios’ Jonathan Swan reports that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the bill should be out today. He also writes that Mitch McConnell “needs to pass the bill before the July 4 recess. No senator I’ve spoken to thinks a bit of extra time spent with angry voters will make them more likely to support this bill.”

And on Sunday, Sarah Kliff lamented the media’s focus on process rather than coverage of what the bill actually does in an interview with Brian Stelter…

Brutal –> We hope all of our LGBT friends and allies had a great Pride weekend. The fight for equality in this country is by no means won, but we’ve come a long way when one considers the kind of state-sponsored oppression that the community faces elsewhere; Buzzfeed’s Nidhi Prakash reported yesterday that “police in Istanbul, Turkey, are using plastic bullets, dogs, and some type of smoke to disperse people trying to gather for the city’s annual pride parade.”

Washington’s most radioactive diplomat is headed home” –> John Hudson reports for Buzzfeed that “the Kremlin has decided to recall its ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak,” thus “ending one the most turbulent tenures of a Washington-based ambassador in recent memory.”

And Dana Priest and Michael Birnbaum write at The Washington Post that “as the United States grapples with the implications of Kremlin interference in American politics, European countries are deploying a variety of bold tactics and tools to expose Russian attempts to sway voters and weaken European unity.”

And in a very ‘THIS IS NOT NORMAL’ move, The Great America Alliance, a PAC co-chaired by Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani, are running ads attacking Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Kremlingate. Lisa Mascaro has more at the Los Angeles Times.

Meanwhile, Jared Kushner’s real estate company received a $285 million loan from Deutsche Bank a month before the election that he didn’t list in his financial disclosure. Michael Kranish reports for The Washington Post that at the time of the loan, Deutsche Bank “was negotiating to settle a federal mortgage fraud case and charges from New York state regulators that it aided a possible Russian money-laundering scheme. The cases were settled in December and January.” He adds that “Kushner’s association with Deutsche Bank is among a number of financial matters that could come under focus as his business activities are reviewed by” Mueller.

Right-wing terror –> Josh Harkinson reports for Mother Jones that Trump’s DHS released a list of homeland security grantees last week “that includes groups that combat al-Qaida and ISIS and leaves out organizations primarily focused on countering white supremacists and other far-right hate groups. Perhaps this should come as no surprise because, as Reuters reported in February, Trump transition officials as far back as December were debating changing the focus and name of the program from ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ to ‘Countering Islamic Extremism’ or ‘Countering Radical Islamic Extremism.’”

“The defendant’s deceptive conduct and lack of candor warrant the imposition of sanctions” –> Kris Kobach, the architect of multiple states’ voter suppression laws and vice-chair of Donald Trump’s “election integrity”commission, was fined $1,000 by a federal magistrate, along with his attorneys, “for presenting misleading arguments in a voting-related lawsuit.” Josh Gerstein reports for Politico.

Authoritarianism and anti-intellectualism go hand-in-hand –> Kareem Shaheen and Gözde Hatunoğlu report for The Guardian that “Evolution will no longer be taught in Turkish schools, a senior education official has said, in a move likely to raise the ire of the country’s secular opposition. Alpaslan Durmuş, who chairs the board of education, said evolution was debatable, controversial and too complicated for students.”

Always during dinner –> In 2014, Mike Huckabee recorded robocalls that promoted “‘Last Ounce of Courage,’ a movie about the ‘War on Christmas’ that has a zero percent on Rotten Tomatoes” to 4 million people, and according to Ben Collins and Gideon Resnick at The Daily Beast, they’re now eligible to take part in a class action suit alleging that the film’s producers violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, “which stipulates that unsolicited messages with commercial content via telephone is unlawful.”

Scarcity –> Canada is poised to become the first country to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. But Josh Wingrove and Jen Skerritt report for Bloomberg that “the biggest challenge for Justin Trudeau’s forthcoming legal recreational marijuana market is a shortage of pot.” The goal of the law is to wipe out the black market and deprive criminals of revenues from selling weed, and officials worry that inadequate supplies of pot through legal channels will keep at least a portion of that black market alive.

Little kids are a tough audience –> Last year, This Week in Blackness host Elon James White and his wife had an adorable little baby girl. He writes at HuffPost that despite plenty of “unsolicited advice offered to me since my wife and I announced she was with child,” nobody told him that small children can accidentally cause some serious damage to unwary parents. “My amazing and adorable 13.5-month-old child has at this point punched me in the face no less than 30 times,” writes White.

Daily Reads was compiled by staff and edited by Kristin Miller.

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Sorry, But It’s Entirely the Right’s Fault

Fri, 2017-06-23 15:00

This post originally appeared at CounterPunch.

Many commentators are suggesting that both right and left are equally to blame for all the polarization between them. They’re wrong. The reason for all the bitterness between left and right is entirely the right’s fault. Right-wingers who suggest otherwise are self-deluded — and usually projecting.

Exhibit A: Newt Gingrich. On June 18, Gingrich capped off a week in which he once again blamed the left for a mass shooting by suggesting on ABC’s This Week that the Russiagate investigation is “baloney” because there is no evidence that Trump colluded with the Russians. When anchor Martha Raddatz suggested that an investigation is needed to reach this conclusion in the first place, Gingrich responded with the non-sequitur that Bill Clinton, John Podesta’s brother and the “Iranian deal” should be investigated.

When Raddatz suggested that the investigation is not just about Trump, Gingrich responded with another non-sequitur: Trump did not commit obstruction of justice by firing Comey.

The reason for all the bitterness between left and right is entirely the right’s fault. Right-wingers who suggest otherwise are self-deluded — and usually projecting.

And when Raddatz questioned Gingrich’s false statement earlier in the week that the president cannot in principle commit obstruction and reminded him that he himself tried impeaching President Clinton for this crime, Gingrich dodged with the same non-sequitur: “[T]here’s no evidence” that Trump committed obstruction.

What Gingrich exhibited in just this one interview is a problem that is rampant throughout not only the Trump administration but also the modern Republican Party: bad reasoning. Like the rest of them, Gingrich is marvelously inept at persuading. His points don’t even qualify as sophistry because sophistry at least has the form and appearance of valid, cogent argumentation.

In 2008, Susan Jacoby wrote in her book The Age of American Unreason that the American right has “been so effective at turning the once honorable word [“intellectual”] into a political pejorative. The right wing has been able to get away with this disingenuous logic — and with putting it in the mouths of genuinely anti-intellectual right-wing politicians — because nonreading Americans know less and less about their nation’s political and intellectual history.” Similarly, five years later, then-Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal urged his fellow Republicans to “stop being the stupid party.”

Unfortunately, the GOP never heeded Gov. Jindal’s uncharacteristically sage advice. Instead, they continued in precisely the reverse direction and chose Trump to be their standard-bearer.

Reactionary demagogues have effectively programmed millions in their audiences to argue in this willfully — indeed, proudly — ignorant manner.

Despite his boasts, Trump is hardly a trendsetter. He is merely following the lead of the right’s most prominent propagandists on Fox News and hate/outrage/grievance radio: Newt, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, the formerly influential Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, etc. None of them can reason well. When challenged, they don’t act like good thinkers would — by listening carefully and then responding with careful, effective, fact-based arguments. Instead, they interrupt and shout down their opponents, belittle them with some pejorative term (“feminazi,” “libtard,” “snowflake,” “elitist”), attack their character or motives, and then avoid further challenge of their vapid rants by escaping to advertisements.

Reactionary demagogues have effectively programmed millions in their audiences to argue in this willfully — indeed, proudly — ignorant manner. Hence the demonic, furious, malicious, sneering comments that routinely populate right-wing blogs and comments sections, not to mention social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Based on their language, often incoherent and always full of rage and indignation, one would think that President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi march into their homes every day, steal their money and food, and then — on the way out — ridicule them for all their adversity.

Needless to say, such baseless, inflammatory comments do not measure up to the kind of rational political dialogue envisioned by our Founding Fathers and encouraged by academic institutions. Just the opposite, they are the odious residue of minds poisoned by exposure to thousands of hours of manipulative, deceptive, McCarthyist filth. This kind of cynical indoctrination and the divisions it has caused not only among citizens but also among family members are vividly captured in Jen Senko’s brilliant but tragic movie, The Brainwashing of My Dad.

All of this toxic irrationality is very frustrating for the left, who, unlike the right, don’t have it all figured out. Quite the contrary, they always want to learn more, to make intellectual and moral progress, to pursue difficult questions and try to solve difficult problems. They are not afraid of different perspectives, which is why only they, not the right, value multiculturalism, immigration, diversity and scientific exploration.

Of course, the right will deny this self-proclaimed open-mindedness and point to students’ suppression of free speech at some colleges and universities. But while intolerance is generally wrong, one big exception to this rule is intolerance of intolerance (bigotry) itself. All that people like Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer have to offer is demonization — demonization of non-whites, of Muslims and of the left.

MORE ON For the Record Lest We Forget: the Birther Lie

BY Bill Moyers | January 20, 2017

In a recent New York Times column, David Brooks stated that “the desire for cooperation is the primary human evolutionary advantage we have over the other animals.” Brooks is a very smart man, but he got this one wrong; many nonhuman animals desire cooperation as well. Instead, humans’ distinct evolutionary advantage is their degree of cognitive intelligence. It is this superior capacity that lies at the root of all civilization, including language, entertainment, art, architecture, medicine and technology.

As Henry Drummond eloquently proclaims in Inherit the Wind, “Yes — the individual human mind. In a child’s power to master the multiplication table, there is more sanctity than in all your shouted ‘Amens’ and ‘Holy holies’ and ‘Hosannas’! An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral, and the advance of man’s knowledge is a greater miracle than all the sticks turned to snakes or the parting of the waters.” Similarly, the core tenet of Hannah Arendt’s philosophy was that thinking for oneself is essential to both morality and humanity.

Unfortunately, this singular, sublime capacity is entirely squandered by the right. Instead of exercising it — whether by reading books, pursuing higher education, seeking job retraining, figuring out ways to help needy communities or just trying to discover more about the vast, mysterious universe we inhabit — they prefer to immerse themselves in a mindlessly repetitive echo chamber; pompously regurgitate its vacuous, often false, talking points whenever the opportunity arises; and eagerly create such opportunities when they don’t arise.

This unenlightened, know-it-all mindset, completely impervious to conflicting facts and theories, is just not the stuff of rationality, progress and constitutional democracy. It is, rather, the stuff of superstition, cults and fascism. Fortunately, the brainwashed right constitute a minority — only 35 to 40 percent — of the American population. This is why Republicans have to cheat to win local, state and national elections. Because they can’t be honest about their self-serving, oligarchical motives, they have to resort instead to the most ruthless, unscrupulous, anti-democratic tactics: voter suppression (including voter purges), unconstitutional gerrymandering and dissemination of fake news.

The right would argue that an article like this is “divisive.” Indeed, for eight years, they accused President Obama of dividing America. But they’ve got it entirely backward. The election of the first black president alienated the right, but the fault for this alienation lies entirely with the latter. The same is true today, in Trump’s America; the right, not the left, are the real haters.

To borrow from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (April 16, 1963), we on the left are “not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”

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What Life Is Like After a Life Sentence

Fri, 2017-06-23 14:00

This post originally appeared at Mother Jones.

Holed up in a maximum-security prison, Ronald Elston felt a pang of regret: He’d missed the high school graduation of his daughter, Shamica. She’d been a young girl when Elston was sent to St. Clair Correctional Facility in Alabama’s Appalachian foothills, a lockup known for aggressive inmates who fashion knives from fan blades. About 14 years into his stay, Elston, a former soldier with a thin build and a soft, Southern drawl, was desperate to get out and see his family again. After leaving the military in his early 20s, he’d struggled with a heroin addiction and been convicted of robbery. A three-strikes law meant he was sentenced to life without parole. “I didn’t hurt or kill anyone,” he wrote to a lawmaker in 1997. “For 13 years I told my daughter I would be there for her graduation…Please help me.”

Years later, Elston’s plea was finally answered. Alabama amended its three-strikes law in 2001, allowing lifers like Elston to retroactively file appeals for a reduced sentence of life with parole. Inmates rushed to take advantage of the change — about a third of prisoners in Alabama had been serving enhanced sentences under the three-strikes law during that time. But the state couldn’t keep up with the flood of petitions for reduced sentences, and eventually the Legislature repealed its amendment in 2014. Elston was one of the last three-strikes lifers to be released under the more lenient version of the law. “When I went to the telephone to call my mama and tell her, I couldn’t even dial the phone number,” he told photographer Jessica Earnshaw. “I was numb.”

Ronald Elston sits at his gate at the Atlanta airport waiting for his flight to Philadelphia with his social worker.

Seconds after ringing the doorbell at the home of his mother, Willie Mae Dickerson. Elston had not seen his mother for 11 years in person and hadn’t been inside this house since he was a teenager in Philadelphia back in the mid-’70s.

In a light-green polo and oversize eyeglasses he’d kept from the 1980s, he drove away from the prison with his lawyer on a warm October day in 2015, rubbing his hands together as he listened to a GPS for the first time in his life. He’d decided to move from Alabama to Pennsylvania so he could live with his mother, who’d written him weekly during his incarceration. Philadelphia felt a world away from the tiny Alabama town where he’d grown up. He didn’t know how to navigate the subway or the bus system — he’d never even used a cellphone or a computer — so he could only look for jobs within walking distance. He got one, briefly, at a Dunkin’ Donuts, but he struggled to keep up with the computer system. He says he was asked to give more detail about his criminal record and was soon fired.

In November, 13 months after he moved to Philadelphia, his parole officer connected him with a Department of Corrections program to help him look for work. But even after applying to dozens of jobs, he hasn’t found one. “It don’t matter how hard I try — 9 times out of 10 I’m gonna be turned down because I don’t have a GED, I’m an ex-felon and I’m 59 years of age,” Elston says. His time in prison did little to prepare him for a career. While he was locked up, Alabama spent less on inmates than almost any other state, and though the understaffed prison had computer classes and trade programs, Elston wasn’t eligible because of his life sentence. “I really don’t actually feel free,” he says. “It seems like everything that I try to do, you know, I run into a brick wall, because I’m not advanced with the way things is today. ”

Elston’s a great-grandfather now, but he still hasn’t met one of his grandkids or spent much time with his daughter, who lives in Alabama. “I feel like my time on the outside won’t really be complete until I see them.” He’s hoping to get a job so he can save up enough money to fly to his granddaughter’s high school graduation next year.

Dickerson and Elston reunite in Philadelphia after his release. Dickerson said that when she found out he was coming home, only a week prior to this moment, she thanked the Lord for answering her prayers. Her greatest fear was she’d pass away and not get to spend time with her son.

Elston cooks breakfast for his mother every morning. “I still wake up like I do in prison. I have my watch, which goes off at 7 o’clock — see in there, 7 o’clock is wake-up call, 7:30 is room inspection — so when I get up, I get up just like I do in there. All the things about prison haven’t left me yet.”

Elston, also known as “Donnie” to his family, cuts into his 59th birthday cake with his great-nephew on his left, on Jan. 10, 2016. This birthday marked his first birthday out of prison; the last birthday he remembers as a free man, he was the age of the picture on his cake.

Elston and his nieces look at a family album at Dickerson’s house.

Elston and his mother go grocery shopping for the week in Philadelphia, a day after Elston’s release from St. Clair Correctional Facility in Alabama. “I’m so tired of chicken and hot dogs, baloney,” Elston says, as he speaks about what he’s most excited to eat out of prison. “What I’d really like to eat is some glazed donuts. It’s been so long — I love glazed donuts.”

Elston on the phone with his daughter, who lives in Anniston, Alabama. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole when she was 3 years old; she’s now in her late 30s. Elston has never met one of his grandchildren.

Elston and his niece, at one of many family get-togethers since his release from prison. Elston’s sister and two nieces live in New Jersey, an hour and a half from Dickerson’s house in Philadelphia.

Dickerson takes Elston shopping in Philadelphia, a day after his release from St. Clair Correctional Facility in Alabama.

Elston with his great nephews in the living room of Dickerson’s house in Philadelphia. This was the first time the three of them had met.



This story was published in partnership with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit newsroom covering the US criminal justice system.

Photographer Jessica Earnshaw has been following Ronald Elston’s reentry story since his release from prison. This work was funded through the Rita and Alex Hillman Foundation. Further images, audio, and video can be seen on the project’s Instagram account, Aging In Prison.

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Nevada Senator Avoids Constituents on Health Care but Voters Are Having None of It

Fri, 2017-06-23 13:59

This Q&A is part of Sarah Jaffe’s series Interviews for Resistance, in which she speaks with organizers, troublemakers and thinkers who are doing the hard work of fighting back against America’s corporate and political powers.

Update: On Friday, June 23, Sen. Dean Heller said he would not support the newly released Senate health care overhaul bill in its current form. Heller is seen as a pivotal swing vote in Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, according to The New York Times.

Sarah Jaffe speaks with Autumn Zemke, co-chair of Northern Nevada Working Families Party in Carson City, about fighting against the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) repeal in her state. Nevada is an interesting case study in the Obamacare rollout. Gov. Brian Sandoval was one of the few Republican governors to endorse Obamacare and run with it in his state. He instituted a state exchange and expanded Medicaid, which extended insurance to more than 300,000 Nevadans. The percentage of uninsured in the state dropped from 23 percent, one of the worst in the nation, to 11 percent.

Last Friday, Gov. Sandoval vetoed a bill put on his desk by the state legislature proposing to expand Medicaid to all Nevada residents. Zemke talks about the state bill and her concerns about the US Senate bill repealing and replacing Obamacare released today. This interview has been edited for clarity.



Sarah Jaffe: You visited [Nevada Republican] Sen. Dean Heller’s office about the health care bill over the weekend. Tell us about it.

Heller really does limit access. He has had only one town hall in six years. He is not very interested in what we have to say here in Nevada.

Autumn Zemke: We were planning on doing a sit-in at the federal building in Reno but were only allowed to enter the building one person at a time. I went in with a group of three and we asked if we could go up together but were told: no, only one at a time. I said, “Well, what if we were men, lobbyists in nice suits? Then, would you say only one of us at a time?” The response from security was that they couldn’t answer my question. I was actually filming and was told that I was rude for trying to get an answer.

Heller really does limit access. He has had only one town hall in six years. He is not very interested in what we have to say here in Nevada.

SJ: Six years — that means he is coming up for re-election very soon.

AZ: Yes, in November 2018. His approval rating has really plummeted and I’ll be very surprised if he wins the election. Nevada is purplish/reddish/bluish. It is full of people who really are not partisan. People are increasingly noticing that Heller will be at a meeting and say one thing to one group of people and then within hours tell another group something else entirely. What I always find interesting is that in this day of technology, how can you still think you can get away with that and that it won’t be publicized?

Then, with the Obamacare repeal, Heller has been saying he was against it. A tweet from Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval basically said, “Dean Heller and I are working to stop the repeal.”

When we were down at Heller’s office Friday night, one of the things that we were discussing is the fact that the Medicaid-for-all bill was still sitting on the governor’s desk. He had until midnight to veto it. If he didn’t, it would have become law. Then, shortly after we had left the senator’s office, we got word that the governor had vetoed it. Now we are really in this place that saving the ACA is even more important.

I supported the Medicaid-for-all bill. I personally don’t have insurance, so Friday night was a devastating blow for me.

Just because I don’t have insurance right now doesn’t mean that I’m going to say [about Obamacare], “Well, just let it be repealed. Let’s just let 24 million people suffer [and] the 600,000 people on expanded Medicaid in Nevada, we don’t care about them because I personally don’t have insurance under that system.” That is not right. We really have to fight against the repeal, but we also have to talk about ideas like expanded Medicaid, like Medicare for all and what that truly would mean for this country.

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SJ: Tell us more about the Medicaid-for-all proposal in Nevada for people who don’t know about it.

AZ: I’m not an expert, but the way that I understood the bill is that it would have meant that all 2.9 million Nevadans would have been able to have the option to buy into the Medicaid system. You wouldn’t be forced into the system and private insurance would still exist. Medicaid would just be on the exchange so anyone could buy into it. For those people who still qualify for Medicaid, they would get their Medicaid.

SJ: Tell us a little bit more about what has been going on in Nevada since November, the work that you have been doing building the organization out there.

AZ: I really want to focus on some positives right now. Nevada is an interesting state in terms of politics. Nevada went for Hillary Clinton and we formed Working Families thinking that Clinton would win. Then she didn’t.

Now we have this new coalition of organizations working together that we didn’t necessarily think we were going to have. We meet regularly and do actions together. It is Indivisible and Northern Nevada Marches Forward, Planned Parenthood and Progressive Democrats of America. We are all at the table together and we are holding strong. We support each other’s actions and we really push our members. Because we are such a strong coalition, that means something different than if we were all each doing our own thing. I used to think that there weren’t a lot of truly progressive people in Nevada, but because of this [coalition], we have found each other.

I think that people are really angry and scared. Health care, being able to go to the doctor — it’s our lives.

One of the first things we did is attend an event at the Carson City Chamber of Commerce where both Sen. Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) were speaking. I think there were close to 500 people there. We were able to turn people out and there were people who purchased tickets to be in the luncheon, people who had voted for Amodei and Heller, too. They were holding them accountable.

That was the first time where they said, “No, we aren’t going to vote for the repeal [of the Affordable Care Act].” Then, we know what happened with Amodei. [Amodei changed his mind and voted for the bill in the House.] They also addressed our joint legislature. They only meet every two years. We showed up to hold Amodei and Heller accountable.

Then, every Tuesday since Jan. 10, people show up at the federal building in Reno where Heller’s office is for our Resist Trump Tuesdays. We don’t even have to advertise it anymore. People just know to show up and individually want to hold him accountable. I think that people are really angry and scared. Health care, being able to go to the doctor — it’s our lives. This is how we continue to live. It can be really discouraging, but having the coalition does help because we can stand together.

SJ: I have been talking to a lot of people who have been organizing around health care and it seems like an issue that breaks down a lot of walls for people. People find it easier to come together and talk about health care than maybe some other issues.

AZ: When we really start talking about issues, I think people are more closely aligned than not. When we get into cult of personality and politicians, that is where the breakdown really happens. But on an individual level — in my Republican family, if we talk about issues we can come together more easily than if we bring up a specific name.

Until my husband started working for Medicaid, I didn’t realize that people died because they didn’t have health care.

My husband works for Medicaid in Nevada. Until he started working for Medicaid, I didn’t realize that people died because they didn’t have health care. There was such a disconnect [with] that reality. I’m from Nevada and my family has lived in Nevada for 150 years. There is this narrative that “These progressive people are coming into our state from California or other places.” No, I’m Nevadan and I’m changing my state because it’s my state.

We lived in Seattle and I never understood that people died because they didn’t have health care. Seattle is a pretty progressive place and there’s a medical school there that is really good. People get taken care of — not always, but more so than here. In Nevada, people are denied Medicaid for not meeting certain financial criteria. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have cancer or if you have diabetes or if you have any condition that is going to kill you. If you don’t fit those parameters, you find the cash or you die.

Then there is this other assumption: “Well, if people need treatment, they just go to the emergency room.” That is not accurate. People who go to the emergency room, if you are having a heart attack for example, they perform life-saving measures and then you are in medical debt for the rest of your life. But if you have a condition like diabetes or cancer or anything that needs treatment over a long period of time, you don’t live. They don’t treat you. They will stabilize you, but they are not going to give you chemotherapy.

I think the American public needs that kind of realization, the kind of wake-up that I had. I think it is important for us to tell that story, “This person died.” There is this gentleman who I just came across on Twitter and he was trying to crowdfund his insulin. He was big in the arts scene and comic book scene. This man actually died because he couldn’t raise the money.

We shouldn’t be crowdfunding health care. Not in the world’s wealthiest country. It is insanity. Plus, it just doesn’t make financial sense. The reality is we have to hold Heller accountable: Why would you do this? Why would you take health care away from us? And hold them accountable to the fact that there is no financial reason for it either.

We shouldn’t be crowdfunding health care. Not in the world’s wealthiest country. It is insanity.

The reality is, the people who are in the 1 percent are there off the backs of our labor. It is not like we are trying to take something from them. They have that wealth because they have workers, they have employees and they have people who have lifted them up. They got there because they have companies where they have people working for them. That is our wealth. We helped make that wealth. Asking for health care shouldn’t be that big of a deal when we create the wealth as employees, as workers.

SJ: Did you successfully get to say any of this to Heller or his aide, or did they just completely block you all out?

AZ: People did go up. I always bring comment sheets with me. People brought those up. It was kind of interesting because the staff lingered, like not really engaged I would say, but lingering. It’s just not how you should treat your constituents. You should engage them. It just wasn’t a dialogue. It was interesting, the security guard had a sheet with the law of why we weren’t being allowed to be let in, because we would disrupt or block the egress. The thing is, like my co-chair Drew List of the Carson City Chapter of the Working Families Party said, we had no plans of disrupting in that way. We just wanted to come in as a group, as a united front and speak with our senator’s staff. That shouldn’t be a big deal. If we were a group of lobbyists, we would have been let in.

SJ: What are you guys planning for next steps?

AZ: This week we have just a week of actions. I think there is almost something going on every day between now and next weekend. We are going to continue our push trying to get Heller on the phone. A lot of us use Resistbot, where you text and it faxes your written comments, and then, continue to go in person. Then we will see what he does.

But, even now, especially with Medicaid-for-all being vetoed, we just have to continue to hold him accountable, and long-term. Because if you vote to repeal our health care, there is so much going on that people kind of forget. We have a year and a half to get out the vote, to get Heller out of office if he is not listening to us. We need to continue to hold him accountable regardless of what happens with health care, because there are so many other things, but this is our focus right now.

I honestly think Heller will probably vote with his party. Statistically, he used to be a little bit more independent, but he now just votes along party line. He did for all of Trump’s appointees. He has just gone along. But I was really shocked about Amodei, I really was. I was because he was so on the record as being against the American Health Care Act bill. Then, long-term, we will continue to hold Heller accountable, especially as the August recess comes up and he will be in the state of Nevada. He has yet to have a town hall in southern Nevada. He is from where I live [Carson City] and owns a ranch out where my family has lived for over a hundred years.

I think he needs to look his constituents in the eyes. We want to force him in the north to really get down to Las Vegas and have a town hall down there, too. I think he is really scared to. We are just going to keep pushing. You see people kind of getting tired, but when it comes to the issues, I think some people are getting tired of the Trump/Russia stuff and really just want to focus on the issues that impact everybody’s daily individual life. Health care is that.

SJ: How can people keep up with you and with Working Families in Nevada?

AZ: We are on Facebook. Right now we’re the Carson City Working Families Party, but we’re merging into Northern Nevada. Then, on Twitter it is @CCWFP. I also recommend going to the Working Families Party national organization and seeing what we as a national organization have to offer.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.

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A Lesson From My Hospital Bed: For-Profit Health Care Is a Merciless Sham

Fri, 2017-06-23 11:00

This post originally appeared at

I came out of it for the first time in near darkness, couldn’t lift my arms, couldn’t lift my legs, couldn’t rise to a sitting position, and there was a breathing mask over my nose and mouth methodically forcing air down my throat. I quickly learned to inhale with its rhythm. I had no idea where or when I was. Suddenly there was a bright light in my eyes and then faces, faces, barely visible, hands touching and voices murmuring too low to comprehend. Someone fiddled with the IV in my left hand and I floated away again.

I had been sick for weeks — months, actually, if you include the pernicious insomnia — and had finally grown tired of waiting for the thing to clear itself up. My respiration sounded like a gravel truck in low gear, I had no wind, and I was falling asleep standing up multiple times a day. You know the old joke about passing out at your keyboard and typing “qqqqqqqqqqqqq” with your face? I did that twice. I took myself to the emergency room, waited the requisite number of hours, was checked out in preliminary fashion, and was finally given an IV bag of orange fluid, basically Pedialyte for adults taken intravenously. That is the last thing I remember before waking up in that delirious near-dark last month.

MORE ON Health & Science Senate Health Bill Would Revamp Medicaid, Alter ACA Guarantees, Cut Premium Support

BY Julie Rovner | June 22, 2017

When I came out of it again, it was daytime and my head was slightly less muddy. I was in the ICU wing of my local hospital and had been there for several days. The doctors told me I had acute pneumonia in both lungs which had spawned an infection that had raced through my body like a wildfire. My legs had swelled up like tree trunks until the skin split and started seeping yellow fluid. The morning after I showed up, I went into full respiratory failure and they had to put a tube down my throat to help me breathe. Apparently, I fought them to keep the tube out and wound up doped to the gills and tied to the table so I wouldn’t rip the tube out and maybe kill myself in the process.

That was Wednesday. It was now Monday. I would remain in the ICU for another five days wired up to every machine in the world. The blood pressure cuff on my left arm was a permanent fixture that would tighten and release every four hours; I came to call it “The Midnight Rambler” because it always woke me up in the middle of the night. I drank warm chicken broth and cold water, ate chocolate pudding and Jello before finally transitioning back to solid food, and marveled at how these simple things could bring such a rushed return of vigor and strength. One grilled cheese sandwich literally made the difference between being bedridden and having the strength to sit up and swing my feet to the floor.

They took blood by the ounce, fed me medicine via IV, mouth and nebulizer, and very slowly got me back on my feet. My lungs, which had been filled with pus only days earlier, began to clear. I did absolutely everything I was told, yes ma’am, yes sir, and was walking very gingerly by Wednesday. I knocked the socks off the physical therapy nurses on Thursday when they came to look me over, my oxygen level was nice and high, and on Friday I got to punch my ticket out. After 11 days in a room with no view, they wheeled me out the front door. It was pouring rain, but I couldn’t have cared less. The leaves that had only been a fuzzy rumor when I went in had become a lush green explosion, the air was honeydew melon, and I was going home to see my wife and little girl.

The full tally for my 11-day ICU adventure hasn’t come in yet, but what would have been enough to financially annihilate my family is instead going to be entirely manageable, thanks to the little card in my wallet.

… and all of it, from that first emergency room IV to that last wheelchair ride out the door, was unbelievably expensive. Astonishingly expensive. Expensive in a way that destroys lives forever. In this, I am among the fortunate ones. My wife works full-time for a very large company, and the health insurance they offer is probably as good as what my senators enjoy. My daughter and I are on that insurance plan thanks to my wife’s job, and we are covered six ways from Sunday. The full tally for my 11-day ICU adventure hasn’t come in yet, but what would have been enough to financially annihilate my family is instead going to be entirely manageable, thanks to the little card in my wallet.

That, right there, is some towering bullshit.

During that week in the hospital, I would lie in my bed and listen as they wheeled in new patients, some moaning, some screaming, some vomiting helplessly, some coughing so hard it sounded like their ribs might shatter. There was the soft swishing of many feet as the ICU nurses swarmed in to treat and to soothe, the beeping of machines newly tasked. I lay there swaddled in the warm embrace of my health insurance and wondered if the sound of distress and agony bouncing off the tiled walls like rocks was also the sound of insolvency, bankruptcy, financial catastrophe. Does that man have the little card in his wallet like I do? Is it enough? Should someone staring death in the face have to think about such things?

That brings us to the current moment, when the GOP is attempting in total secrecy to push some form of its “health care plan” — basically a giant tax heist for the wealthy — through the Senate.

The Affordable Care Act has a number of excellent aspects to it, including protection for people with pre-existing conditions and support for Medicaid without which many, many more people would be sick or dead today. The ACA is under attack, and we need to save it in the immediate term.

Still, while we fight as hard as we can to preserve the ACA, we must remember it is not the solution; we can and must do better.

MORE ON Democracy & Government Hunk Hawks Hideous Health Bill

BY Marty Kaplan | June 22, 2017

Before my wife secured our insurance through her job, our family was on the ACA for a little less than a thousand dollars a month. I had the option of getting insurance through my own employer, Truthout, but the available plans were not sufficient to meet my needs. Despite the best efforts of the Truthout crew and our union, the United Media Guild, the fact of the matter is almost no insurance agencies will provide coverage to a small organization with employees spread out over multiple states, which is exactly what we are. The one company that does offer such a plan can get away with charging a lot for less-than-ideal coverage. Call it another fly in the ointment of the current system. Given that I have a young daughter and a wife with multiple sclerosis, I was in need of a pretty stout plan. I had to look elsewhere.

The Republican governor of my state had refused to set up the ACA insurance exchange because he, like most of his comrades, wanted the legislation to fail. When the new Democratic governor came into office, she rushed to set the exchange up, but was only able to get one insurance company to join before the program went live, and that company is among the most atrocious organizations to stain the skin of this world. They took my money and lied to my face about providing coverage for my wife’s MS medication, even with the aggravated intervention of her neurologist, but I had to stay with them because they were all I could afford, and were the only game in town.

The health insurance industry, for the most part, is the Mob painted over with a veneer of legitimacy. They’re a protection racket. The Mob got people to pay by offering “protection” for your restaurant or store, and would burn it down if you didn’t pay up. With the insurance industry, your body is the store, and as all flesh is inevitably weak, your store will eventually burn down, taking your financial stability with it unless you pay the insurance middleman in full. Nice health you got there, be a shame if something happened to it. That’s only if they don’t turn down your claim because of a typo on your claim form, which is hardly rare. I had ICU nurses telling me insurance horror stories that made one wistful for the ringing sound of guillotines in the town square.

The problem is the fact that health care in the United States is a for-profit industry, like petroleum speculation or automobile manufacture. It’s a few people making a lot of money off of sick people, and after so many years of this being the status quo, they have the political system wired to keep it that way.

The core issue, as usual, is the loot. They’re after the loot, period, end of file, and if your health suffers as a consequence, well, that’s what they call in Wisconsin “hard cheese.”

MORE ON Democracy & Government If the Media Keeps Ignoring Health Care, We’ll Lose It

BY Jeremy Slevin | June 19, 2017

Of course, a justification for genuine change and true reform is not difficult to find. You probably heard it first while in grammar school, right there in the Declaration of Independence, the hood ornament of our national idea. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” it reads, “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Life. Liberty. The pursuit of happiness.

There is no life without health.

There is no liberty without health.

There is no pursuit of happiness without health.

Health care is an unalienable right, up there with freedom of speech, and it is front and center in our founding document. Treating it as anything else, and especially treating it as a cash machine fed by illness and injury, should be considered a criminal act. Ultimately, the solution is not to be found by expanding the reach of the insurance industry, or by any other “reform” that keeps health care a for-profit phenomenon. The solution, as it turns out, is simplicity itself, and has been adopted by a vast majority of the world’s developed nations to excellent effect.

According to the organization Physicians for a National Health Care Program:

Single-payer national health insurance, also known as “Medicare for all,” is a system in which a single public or quasi-public agency organizes health care financing, but the delivery of care remains largely in private hands. Under a single-payer system, all residents of the US would be covered for all medically necessary services, including doctor, hospital, preventive, long-term care, mental health, reproductive health care, dental, vision, prescription drug and medical supply costs.

The program would be funded by the savings obtained from replacing today’s inefficient, profit-oriented, multiple insurance payers with a single streamlined, nonprofit, public payer, and by modest new taxes based on ability to pay. Premiums would disappear; 95 percent of all households would save money. Patients would no longer face financial barriers to care such as co-pays and deductibles, and would regain free choice of doctor and hospital. Doctors would regain autonomy over patient care.

The main ingredient that is required to see this happen is courage. Courage to face down the insurance industry and their formidable lobby. Courage to convince, or vote out, politicians who are financially invested in the current system by way of campaign contributions from the industry they have spent so long protecting. Courage to embark upon a sea change that would alter the very face of the nation forever, and for the better.

Politicians trying to sell you on the idea that ours is the greatest health care system in the world have at least one part right: Our doctors, nurses and hospitals rank with the best on the planet. If you want to see the very face of compassionate determination and professional excellence, find an ICU nurse and thank them for me, because ICU nurses did nothing less than save my life. Our health care system is a tangled, inefficient, hyper-expensive mess, but many of our health professionals are stars. To free us from the for-profit system is to turn them loose, and believe me, we will all be the better for it.

Do you have that little card in your wallet? Will you have it tomorrow, or next year? You will get sick, as I did, if you have not already. It will likely be amazingly expensive. We are all breathing pre-existing conditions who will get sick or hurt at some point; there is no avoiding this axiomatic truth. Health care is a right, not a privilege, and it is time to claim it as such. Let us relegate the for-profit health care industry to the dustbin of history and seize our right to health — without which we can never wholly claim our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Let’s make it a reality for everyone.

This piece is part of Fighting for Our Lives: The Movement for Medicare for All, a Truthout original series.

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Zephyr Teachout — The American Dream

Fri, 2017-06-23 10:59

Back in 2009 at Bill Moyers Journal we asked all our guests to share with us their vision of the future of the American Dream. We’ve followed up with some of those guests and they’ve shared their thoughts with us on where the American Dream stands today. Tell us what is your vision for the American Dream on Facebook, Twitter, email or at (347) 974-4181.


We are at a precipice moment in our country, between freedom and two kinds of tyranny.

One kind of tyranny is the authoritarianism and abuse of truth and power represented by Donald Trump. The other is the despotism of large corporations that are taking over every aspect of our lives. 

The most basic dream of America is a dream of freedom, and because both threaten our freedom in different ways, we must fight tooth and nail against both of these imposters. 

But when we get there, it looks like this: the freedom of representatives to represent people, not donors; union power, the freedom to unionize; the freedom to drink clean water and breath clean air; the freedom of small businesses everywhere to thrive, the freedom of all to know they cannot be bullied, either by executives in power or by multinational corporations. And we absolutely need to hold firm to the dream that the degree of freedom cannot depend upon race or religion. 


I want to take what’s best from every different era. So, I’d like to take the best part of the earliest 20th century to me was the civic involvement. Five percent of all Americans were presidents of their local volunteer association. That’s enough involvement to allow for real responsiveness. So, I’d like that part in the future. Five percent. You know, some active involvement.

I’d love the second half of the 20th century, you have this extraordinary recognition of the rights of minorities. Both in terms of initially, and most importantly in terms of racial minorities and then second as we’ve moved towards recognizing the rights of gays and others.

And then I would love to bring back the best of the 19th century, which I see as, you know, the real culture of independence. So, for all these things to happen, we need to have a much more decentralized model. So, it’s — progressive decentralized progressive federalism. Where more powers in the state governments. More powers in the in the city governments. And we have a much greater level of involvement while retaining the best parts of the legal — victories of the second half of the 20th century.

Send Us Your American Dream
Contact us on Facebook, Twitter, email or at (347) 974-4181.

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Daily Reads: A “Kremlingate” Blockbuster; Senate Health Bill Called a “Moral Abomination”

Fri, 2017-06-23 10:23

We produce this news digest every weekday. You can sign up to receive these updates as an email newsletter each morning.



A moral abomination –> That’s how Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) described the draft of the Senate tax cut bill health care bill released on Thursday. Vox’s Sarah Kliff writes that if this bill were to become law, it would almost certainly lead to a “death spiral” for the individual market. (Donald Trump and other Republicans say that’s already happening, but according to the Congressional Budget Office those claims are false.)

A new study by researchers at Harvard and the Center for American Progress estimates that losses in insurance coverage would result in between 18,100 and 27,700 additional deaths in 2026.

Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News offers a rundown of the rest of the bill’s measures. And Audi McCullough, a single mother raising a young boy with a serious cardiac condition, writes at The Washington Post that for her and her son, “Medicaid cuts don’t mean hard choices. They mean life or death.”

Here’s a poignant moment in which one woman with a daughter struggling to fight cancer tries to explain that reality to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)…

This woman’s daughter with cancer would lose her insurance under Trumpcare — and she just confronted her senator over it

— NowThis (@nowthisnews) June 22, 2017

Protesters, many with severe health problems, gathered outside of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office on Capitol Hill. Or they did until “US Capitol Police forcibly removed demonstrators and disability advocates — some of whom were in wheelchairs,” according to TIME’s Jennifer Calfas.

A horrific metaphor for Trumpcare: this disabled woman literally being ripped from her wheelchair. #StopTrumpcare

— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) June 22, 2017

A group of four ultra-conservative senators said they can’t support the bill as it’s currently written because it leaves too much of the ACA in place. Meanwhile, Caitlin Owens reports for Axios that, “as of now, moderates have held their fire, saying they need to finish reading and analyzing the bill.” But a senior GOP aide told Owens, “moderates always cave… I don’t know if conservatives will cave. That’s the pickle.”

Senate GOP Bill cuts health care for poor, but adds obscure provision to give Insurance Co’s a tax break for CEO pay over $500,000.

— Ronald Klain (@RonaldKlain) June 22, 2017

Must-read –> The Washington Post dropped a blockbuster report by Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima and Adam Entous this morning. It details Obama’s behind-the-scenes efforts to “punish” the Russians for intervening in the 2016 election after the White House received “a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the US presidential race.” The intelligence also “captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.”

And Massimo Calabresi reports for TIME that Russian “hacking of state and local election databases in 2016 was more extensive than previously reported, including at least one successful attempt to alter voter information, and the theft of thousands of voter records that contain private information like partial Social Security numbers.” According to Calabresi, “Congressional investigators are probing whether any of this stolen private information made its way to the Trump campaign.”

Getting hot in here –> A fascinating but deeply troubling visualization accompanies Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich’s New York Times piece about how we’re in for a lot more extreme heat in the coming years, even if countries uphold their commitments to the Paris accord. They also look at what might happen if the international community falls short of those pledges.

Parts of the complaint read like it had been written by President Donald Trump” –> Republican “Coal King” Robert Murray, head of Murray Energy, has sued HBO’s John Oliver for defamation after a show highlighted Murray’s less-than-stellar safety record. But one lawyer told The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff that the suit “appears frivolous and vexatious” and “any core of merit is buried in nonsense.” Ouch.

Managing a Rogue State –> Max Fisher reports for The New York Times that “as President Trump disrupts alliances across the map, nearly every level of government in Canada has taken on new duties in a quietly audacious campaign to cajole, contain and if necessary coerce the Americans.” This is central to Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s strategy for dealing with Trump, which Fisher describes as “courting every other level of government, forming something like a doughnut around a White House-shaped hole. Canadian officials have fanned out across the United States, meeting with mayors, governors, members of Congress and business leaders on matters from trade to the environment.”

Those scary Muslims –> Meighan Stone, a fellow at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, has a new study which finds that the mainstream media’s depictions of Islam are overwhelmingly negative, and feed into false stereotypes about Muslims. Among other findings: In stories about the Islamic community, Muslims “spoke a mere 3 percent of the time. Donald Trump was afforded seven times that amount of exposure, accounting for 21 percent of the words spoken about Muslims.”

Dangerous Driving? –> The ACLU accuses police in the small town of Worthington, Minnesota, of brutally beating a 21-year-old Laotian-American man named Anthony Promvongsa during a traffic stop. Police say Promvongsa drove erratically and then evaded police, and they charged him with a number of felonies. But Promvongsa’s attorney told Citypages’ Susan Du, “while I believe there are definitely a number of honorable police officers in the community who are highly respected, we are seeing increasing, systemic problems of excessive force in the Worthington Police Department, Nobles County Sheriff’s Office, and Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force that we don’t believe should ever be allowed or tolerated in a civilized society.” The officers have so far faced no disciplinary actions.

NOTE: the video below contains obscenities, but we think it’s important for the public to see what transpired after Promvongsa was pulled over…

Minnesota motorist was pulled over and brutally assaulted by an officer while still buckled in his seat. Now he’s facing jail time for it.

— ACLU National (@ACLU) June 22, 2017

44 percent –> That’s the share of the adult population in the US who say they personally know someone who has been shot. It’s just one of many fascinating findings from a new Pew study on “America’s complex relationship with guns.”

The Conservative Con That Gave Us Trumpcare” –> That’s the headline on a fascinating essay in The Boston Review by Lawrence Glickman. Glickman argues that the rhetoric conservatives are employing to attack Obamacare was developed by opponents of FDR’s New Deal, and have since “become free-floating signifiers in our political culture, detached from political argument.” The constant repetition of these tropes, writes Glickman, “suggest[s] that conservatives have succeeded in crafting a popular narrative of freedom and its enemies. Critics of reform have been able to draw at will on this formula. By employing this vocabulary and narrative, they have been able to frame their opposition to reform as based on a desire to maintain and expand a liberty that is both central and precarious, always threatening to collapse under the weight of well-meaning but (in their account) deadly expansions of the welfare state.” The whole piece is worth a read.

What could possibly go wrong? –> New Hampshire has a part-time legislature. Lawmakers earn $100 per session — they’re basically volunteers — and have limited staff. And it’s possible that the more severe conservatives are not the sharpest pencils in the drawer. With all that in mind, perhaps it shouldn’t come as that great of a surprise that while drafting a piece of anti-abortion legislation, they accidentally made it legal for pregnant women to murder people. Fortunately, writes Slate’s Ruth Graham, they fixed the text “mere weeks away from having an army of Kill Bill–style avenging mothers-to-be roaming the state with Uzis propped on top of their bulging bellies.”

Daily Reads was compiled by staff and edited by Kristin Miller.

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Mueller v. Trump: The Ultimate Lawsuit

Thu, 2017-06-22 18:32

Eventually, Trump is likely to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump’s repeated statements about the Russia “hoax” — along with his apparent attempts to influence the FBI’s investigation — warrant a close look at the process by which he could do so. Equally important are the limited ways to stop him. Whether by design, inadvertence or a combination of both, Trump and his minions — including Newt Gingrich and Trump’s lawyers — have been laying the groundwork for what could become America’s defining moment.

The Rules and the Players

MORE ON Democracy & Government A Timeline: Russia and President Trump

BY Steven Harper | June 19, 2017

To stop the investigation, Trump’s cleanest path requires that one of his loyalists occupy a Senate-confirmed position in the Justice Department’s chain of command. With Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal, the power to end the inquiry has now landed in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s lap. But Sessions’ recusal also gave Rosenstein the authority to appoint a special counsel. When he tapped Robert Mueller for the job, it was a game-changer.

Under the Justice Department’s special counsel regulations, Trump can’t fire Mueller directly. Only the attorney general can pull the trigger for “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest or for other good cause, including violation of departmental policies.” For now, that determination rests with Rosenstein. If he drops out, next in line are Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand and US Attorney Dana Boente. After that, things get murky, because the Senate has not confirmed any other Justice Department official. That’s important because without Senate confirmation, even temporary advancement to departmental leadership is problematic.

Step 1: Clearing the Board

As the FBI’s Russia investigation intensified, so would have Trump’s desire for DOJ loyalists whom he could direct to end it. That might explain Trump’s curious about-face involving Manhattan’s US Attorney Preet Bharara. In November, Trump had personally asked Bharara to remain on the job during his administration. But on March 10 — a week after Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation — Trump made a stunning reversal: He fired Bharara, along with every remaining US attorney in the country, except for Rod Rosenstein and Dana Boente. Overnight, the Justice Department was without any Senate-confirmed officials, except for the three who now remain: Sessions, Rosenstein and Boente.

Step 2: Removing Rosenstein

After Trump cleared the board, Rosenstein became a problem for the president, starting with his appointment of special counsel Mueller. Then Rosenstein testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 13 that he would not fire Mueller without the necessary “good cause” — and that he hadn’t seen any yet. After that performance, Trump couldn’t count on Rosenstein to fire Mueller, and the process for moving Rosenstein out began swiftly. Once reports surfaced that Mueller was investigating the possibility that Trump had obstructed justice by firing FBI Director Comey, it took only a tweet to put Rosenstein in the hot seat:

I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2017

Then Trump’s personal attorney followed up on the Sunday morning talk show circuit — Face the Nation, Fox News Sunday, Meet the Press — reviving the false story that Rosenstein’s May 9 memo led Trump to fire Comey. Bottom line: If Mueller’s investigation includes the circumstances surrounding Comey’s firing, Rosenstein will likely become a witness and may feel compelled to recuse himself from supervising Mueller.

Step 3: But Trump Can’t Count on Brand or Boente

If Rosenstein drops out, Rachel Brand takes the stage. The Senate confirmed her as associate attorney general on May 18. A longtime Republican, she worked on Elizabeth Dole’s presidential campaign and in the office of legal policy for President George W. Bush’s Justice Department. But Brand’s solid Republican credentials are irrelevant to her personal and professional integrity. Benjamin Wittes, a friend in whom then-FBI Director James Comey confided some of his concerns about Trump, tweeted on June 16:

I think very highly of Rachel, who is a friend, a patriot, and a person in whom I have confidence.

— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) June 16, 2017

If Wittes’ assessment is correct, Brand would balk at executing an unlawful Trump order. At a minimum, Trump’s advisers gaming out the “fire Mueller” scenario have to assume that she would not fall in line.

Next up, Dana Boente, would be no sure thing for Trump, either. Regarded as tough but evenhanded, he’s a career prosecutor who has spent 33 years in the Justice Department.

Step 4: Find Allies

MORE ON Democracy & Government A Timeline: Everything We Know So Far About the Comey Firing (in One Place)

BY Steven Harper | June 19, 2017

For three months after he fired every incumbent US attorney, Trump didn’t nominate any replacements. But on June 12 — the same day Trump’s longtime friend and chief executive of Newsmax Media, Chris Ruddy, visited the White House and then said on the PBS NewsHour that Trump was “considering, perhaps, terminating the special counsel” — Trump announced his first wave of nominees:

  • Alabama (Southern District): Richard W. Moore
  • Alabama (Northern District): Jay E. Town
  • Alabama (Middle District): Louis V. Franklin Sr.
  • District of Columbia: Jessie K. Liu
  • Ohio (Northern District): Justin E. Herdman
  • Oklahoma (Eastern District): Brian J. Kuester
  • Tennessee (Western District): D. Michael Dunavant
  • Utah: John W. Huber

Once confirmed, each of these US attorneys becomes eligible for the Justice Department’s line of succession. The next step would be for Trump to issue another executive order. (It would be his third one resetting the departmental lineup.) He could list new US attorneys based on their fealty to him. When the time came to fire Mueller without satisfying the “cause” requirements of the governing regulations, Trump could proceed down that list until he got compliance.

Step 5: Move ‘Em Through the Senate

Regardless of Trump’s underlying motivations, the prior sequence of events raises the stakes in the otherwise routine task of confirming a president’s selections for US attorney. Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but three nominees hail from Jeff Sessions’ home state of Alabama. And Trump’s Ohio pick comes from White House counsel Don McGahn’s former law firm, Jones Day — which has supplied a dozen lawyers to the Trump administration. All eight nominees merit close scrutiny.

What Can Stop Trump?

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) could halt the confirmation hearing on Trump’s Ohio nominee by using the Senate’s traditional “blue slip” process to express disapproval. But except for the District of Columbia, which has only “shadow senators” who can’t vote, all other Trump nominees are from states with two Republican senators (Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah). Unless they break ranks, there’s no “blue slip” obstacle to Senate hearings on those nominees.

In the upcoming confirmation hearings, senators should ask each candidate a critical question that transcends party politics: Will you defy a presidential order to fire Robert Mueller?

The answer will reveal everything the country needs to know about the nominee’s respect for democracy and the rule of law. To assist concerned citizens who want to prod members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to do the right thing, here’s a list with links to individual contact information:




It’s possible that Trump won’t fire Mueller and precipitate a constitutional crisis. But that would require unprecedented Trump behavior: placing the country ahead of his personal self-interest.

Firing Mueller will mark a new low in Trump’s scorched-earth attack on established norms and the rule of law. When Mueller files suit to keep his job, it will become the most important litigation in American history. Every patriot should pray that he wins.

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Trump EPA Dismisses the People in Charge of Scientific Integrity

Thu, 2017-06-22 17:03

In the latest blow to the integrity of the science used by government agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dismissed nearly all of the members of its Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) this week. The board, which reviews and advises EPA’s internal research departments on their scientific methodology, was already understaffed.

On Tuesday, E&E News, an environmental news outlet, obtained an email from Robert Kavlock, acting head of EPA’s Office of Research and Development, saying that BOSC members whose three-year appointments expire in August will not get renewed.

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Environmental advocates had been concerned about the fate of the BOSC for some time. This week’s highly unusual action comes on the heels of EPA’s decision in May not to renew the appointments of nine of the BOSC executive committee’s 18 members. (Historically, BOSC members have been renewed for a second three-year term as a matter of course, and Kavlock had already told the nine members they would be reappointed.) When the May announcement came out, there were already several vacancies on the executive board. May’s dismissals left just five committee members.

Now, the  the BOSC executive committee will be further reduced to just three members. Thirty-eight scientists on the subcommittees the board oversees will also receive pink slips, leaving only 11.

The scientific community was deeply concerned by the EPA’s first round of BOSC dismissals, especially in light of President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s climate science denial and large proposed cuts to scientific research in Trump’s budget proposal. An EPA spokesperson told The New York Times that they hoped to replace BOSC members with more scientists from regulated industries, which many interpreted as an effort to politicize the scientific research that informs regulations. Two members of the BOSC Sustainable and Healthy Communities Subcommittee resigned in protest of the May dismissals, noting that their subcommittee chairs, who had not been renewed, had performed their jobs flawlessly.

“My concern is having rigorous scientists, engineers and researchers who are in a good position to advise other researchers,” Carlos Martin, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute’ and one of the two subcommittee members to resign, told last month.

“That methodological quality may not be secure,” he added.

It certainly isn’t secure now. To not renew the carefully vetted members leaves vacancies that will take months or years to fill. This latest move leaves the BOSC completely unable to function.

BOSC Chairperson Deb Swackhamer, a professor of science, technology and public policy at the University of Minnesota, told last month that she hoped the empty positions would be filled quickly. Instead, she and nearly all her colleagues will be let go.

She responded to the latest news in an email to, writing:

This was not unexpected, given the non-renewals of the nine executive committee members of BOSC that was covered in the news in early May. But I was hoping that they would not proceed with such a sweeping dismissal of the subcommittees, because now the work that BOSC does will come to a complete halt.

Given the time it takes to vet and appoint new members and bring them up to speed, and schedule meetings, I don’t think there will be any activity by BOSC for a good six months to a year. And that is assuming the structure of BOSC remains the same. It is a shame, as this coming year will be a crucial time for [EPA Office of Research and Development, which the BOSC advises], as it faces hard choices in the case of proposed budget cuts, and BOSC could have been useful to help guide those choices.

I also worry that should EPA continue to move in the direction of being industry friendly, and put pro-industry people (rather than independent scientists) on the BOSC, it will damage science integrity at the agency overall, and politicize the appointment of science advisers to a degree not seen in my experience.

Science is the bedrock of EPA policy, and external independent advice by BOSC to guide and continually improve the research at EPA is critical to its mission. I am concerned that this will also impact the competitiveness of EPA science and the high regard it has in the world.

But while some of the previously dismissed BOSC executive committee members said they would not apply for reappointment, Swackhamer said she will. Her fate, like the BOSC itself and much else, is now in Pruitt’s hands.

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So Jon Ossoff Lost: Is That a Left Swipe From Millennial Voters?

Thu, 2017-06-22 16:34

Tuesday night, 55-year-old Republican candidate Karen Handel defeated 30-year-old Democratic hopeful Jon Ossoff and secured the seat in Georgia’s 6th District in the most expensive congressional race in US history. The $28 million raised by the candidates drew national attention, but the contest was also viewed as an early test of each political party’s strength since Trump’s election.

Handel dimmed, if not doused, Democratic hopes that younger candidates will bring younger voters to polls. As both parties’ strategists evaluate the lessons of the race, their attention will turn to the role that Ossoff’s age played in his initial pre-runoff success and eventual failure. From a political perspective, youth has its appeal. Ossoff’s age created a buzz and a political story of promise, which helped propel him into the runoff but didn’t deliver him the big finish.

From a political perspective, youth has its appeal. [Jon] Ossoff’s age created a buzz and a political story of promise, which helped propel him into the runoff but didn’t deliver him the big finish.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, several progressive Democratic groups formed to support millennial-aged candidates running for public offices across the country. Among those groups: the Alliance for Youth Action, the Arena and Run For Something. “We entice millions of young voters into our sweet democracy,” the Alliance’s website declares.

Will the numerous-yet-elusive millennial voters go to the polls for candidates who are their own age, as strategists presume? Arguably, they should. Many issues under debate in Congress concern the long-term direction of the country — policies about which those youthful voters share the longest-term stakes like health care, Social Security and climate change.

Young progressive candidates have other advantages. For Democrats in their 20s and 30s, the 2016 election was a cycle in which winning candidates in both parties and those leading Congress were several generations older. When the presidential race ended in a historic upset, resulting in the election of a president who stands in opposition to the values they view as most important, they lost faith in the predictions and assumptions of those party leaders. The 2016 election created a kind of moral directive for these young Democrats, which is why so many hundreds have expressed interest in running, according to groups like Run for Something.

Young candidates also benefit from the explosion of social media, since its pervasiveness and accessibility make name recognition a more realistic possibility for political newcomers, the category into which younger candidates invariably fit.

Youthful candidates, however, face obstacles; Ossoff faced many.

Being young is more a matter of fact than an individual accomplishment, and Handel used Ossoff’s relative youth in her attack ads against him. One Republican strategist in charge of a wealthy super PAC said of Ossoff, “He wants to play dress-up and pretend to be a grownup and say, for five years he was a national security adviser when, in fact, he’s just a spoiled frat boy, playing dress-up and advocating for underage drinking.”

Other young candidates haven’t managed to tap into the millennial voting bloc promise either.

In May, Alexis Frank, a 26-year-old Democrat, lost a primary race for South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District. “The greatest thing I have received from this election is the realization that I care about this country way more than I ever thought I did,” she told supporters on Facebook.

In mid-June, Hannah Risheq, a 25-year-old Democrat from Virginia, lost a primary race for Virginia’s 67th Legislative District. As the daughter of a Muslim Palestinian immigrant father and a Jewish-American mother, she cast herself as a candidate informed by her age and background and focused on grass-roots support. She said, “They say they want young people to get involved. And then when you show up after getting an education and getting life experience, and you come back to your hometown and you are ready to make the difference, they’re like. ‘Well, you’ve been gone too long.’ …Well? I’m 25. When did you want me to get involved? So, I’m here.”

Those defeats have not stopped Lindsay Brown, a 28-year-old progressive millennial, from running in a primary for New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District. Notably though, Brown whose campaign platform calls for addressing man-made global warming, raising the minimum wage and welcoming Syrian refugees, is running in the Republican primary. Why? The New Jersey Democratic party “is not supportive of young people who don’t have deep, deep, deep political experience or a lot of money to fund their own race,” she said.

Ossoff’s loss shows Democrats cannot alone pin their hopes on the appeal of young candidates who often face longer odds than more established candidates. But losses don’t indicate the strategy’s failure. Millennial turnout in the 2016 presidential election was only slightly less than in 2012, and skewed more heavily for Clinton it did for than Obama. Millennial voters prevented more devastating losses in swing states like Michigan. As for Ossoff’s runoff in Georgia, the 2016 election was not determined by strikingly low millennial turnout so much as strikingly high Republican turnout. If candidates like Ossoff, Frank, Risheq and Brown lead more Democrats to become lifelong voters in midterm and local elections, they are fighting one of the party’s biggest weaknesses.

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Poor People Aren’t Involved in Politics. Can Activists Change That?

Thu, 2017-06-22 15:57

It’s rarely clear what exactly Donald Trump means when he makes promises.

So when he promised that the “forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” perhaps it was wrong to assume that he meant struggling Americans, including the 45 million who live below the poverty line.

At this point, it’s well documented that the poor will in fact bear the brunt of much of what he and his administration hope to accomplish in the next few years. From defunding federal agencies to repealing Obamacare to loosening regulations on polluters and the financial industry, the agenda shared by the White House and Republicans in Congress puts those who are already living on the edge in an even more precarious situation.

This is convenient for the administration, because poor people tend not to be engaged politically. It’s not that they are voting against their own interests — they’re not voting at all.

But activists rallying to oppose Trump’s agenda are trying to change that.

Talking issues, not politics

Most people are registered to vote but you’ll find that they’re not turning out to vote. They don’t feel that it matters or that it’s going to make a difference, or they don’t want to vote for the lesser of two evils.— Alexandra Gallo

The question of how to amplify the voices of poor Americans was front and center at The People’s Summit, a conference held earlier this month in Chicago and organized by National Nurses United, a union that has emerged as a major force in progressive politics. The summit featured keynote speakers including Bernie Sanders, Van Jones and newly elected Jackson, Mississippi Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, as well as a host of organizers, politicians and activists working on issues ranging from immigration to poverty to climate change.

“Most people are registered to vote but you’ll find that they’re not turning out to vote,” says Alexandra Gallo, an organizer with West Virginia Citizen Action Group who participated in a panel on rural organizing. “They don’t feel that it matters or that it’s going to make a difference, or they don’t want to vote for the lesser of two evils.”

Gallo’s group is currently focused on bringing jobs to coal country and protecting health care for West Virginians. In 2013, the state’s Democratic governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. If Republicans make good on their promise to repeal the law, 173,000 West Virginians covered by the Medicaid expansion could lose their health care. That’s about 9 percent of the state’s population.

                                                         Chart courtesy of Politifact

“We’ve been canvassing around ‘Medicare for All’ and it’s resonating very deeply with folks here,” Gallo tells

After Bernie Sanders made it one of the key issues in his campaign, some of the Democratic Party’s more left-leaning members have endorsed a single-payer health care system. But the party has fallen out of favor with West Virginia’s voters. The state is, increasingly, electing Republicans, and those West Virginians who showed up at the polls voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016.

So Gallo avoids talking about politicians and instead talks about specific issues — in this case, the health care that many West Virginians stand to lose if Republican senators manage to repeal Obamacare.

“Oftentimes I’ll lead with ‘there’s no political party, there’s no elected official that’s going to get us out of this mess. We have to be diligent in taking action when it comes to the issues we care about,’” she says. “And we realize that not everyone has the time or capacity to take action. And that’s why giving folks the truth and real information — and following up with these people — is so critical.”

The feedback loop of economic and political inequality

Data collected by the Pew Research Center in 2014 found that only half of the least financially secure Americans are registered to vote, and only one-fifth planned to cast a ballot in that year’s midterm election. These voters also didn’t follow politics very closely — only a quarter knew which party controlled Congress, and only 14 percent had gotten in touch with an elected official in the last two years.

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Across the board, Pew found that wealthier Americans were more politically knowledgeable and more engaged. And so, unsurprisingly, in study after study, researchers have found that the policies that make it through Congress and are signed into law tend to favor the wealthy — often at the expense of the poor.

It creates a cycle that reinforces itself. The poorer people are, the harder it is for them to fight back by advocating for policies that will help them. And people who so often have had the political system used against them tend to be suspicious when outsiders show up offering politics-based solutions.

“The issue that I have with people who are not from the community is that they tend to bring their knowledge of the way it was where they’re from, and not understand what it’s like to work and organize in a rural community,” says Catherine Flowers, an organizer in Lowndes County, Alabama, where the median household income is around $26,000. Flowers also attended the People’s Summit this month.

“You don’t just show up and knock on people’s doors,” she continues. “You have to develop trust. They want to know why you’re there. How long you plan to stay. And usually, when people are showing up, they assume that they have some money associated with their being there that probably will never get to the community.”

Flowers started her work in the county in 2001, advocating for rural people who were not connected to municipal sewer systems — which often meant raw sewage leaked into yards where children played, making them sick. She founded the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise, a group that works on environmental justice issues; she also works with the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit run by New York University law professor Bryan Stevenson that works to help America confront its racist past. Because Flowers grew up in the community, and because she has been working on environmental justice issues there for more than a decade, many in Lowndes County listen when Flowers talks about how climate change will affect rural people — and how government inaction could make it worse.

“We’re starting to have a conversation”

“I think sometimes we talk on such a high level that people don’t understand,” she says. “We have to talk to them in a way that’s relevant to them.”

Flowers elaborated that many in her community grew up close to the land. “I talk about, ‘Have you noticed that there’s a change in the weather? Have you noticed that we’re seeing animals here that we’ve never seen before?’ Most people have noticed some changes. I ask, ‘What have you noticed?’”

People point out that it’s warmer than it used to be, that we don’t have two seasons now, and that trees are blooming sooner than they used to, Flowers says. “I ask, ‘What do you think is causing that? Have you considered…’ — that’s a way to do it. You have to first validate what they already know and then offer some possibilities.”

As climate change advances, it will bring new challenges to Lowndes County and to other poor communities across the US, including parasites and disease. “A lot of frontline communities are being impacted already,” Flowers says. She is hoping to convince the federal government to provide funds to help poor communities brace for climate change.

And, perhaps surprisingly, she is hopeful about the direction America is moving in.

“I’ve met Trump supporters who are good people. All of them aren’t racist,” says Flowers, who is black, and whose activism has sometimes made her a target of white supremacists online. “They voted for him because they thought their interests were not being met. It’s the same thing with people who voted for Bernie Sanders — they felt the status quo Democratic Party was ignoring them.”

She sees the election as an important indicator of dissatisfaction with a political order that has made so many of the people she works with feel powerless. And she finds hope in protest movements, including Standing Rock, which saw Native Americans, environmental activists and military veterans standing up against the government and a corporation for environmental justice.

“We’re starting to have a conversation that we should have had a long time ago, and out of this is going to come something better than what we had before,” Flowers says. “I believe that.”

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Senate Health Bill Would Revamp Medicaid, Alter ACA Guarantees, Cut Premium Support

Thu, 2017-06-22 15:16

This post originally appeared at Kaiser Health News.

Republicans in the Senate on Thursday unveiled a bill that would dramatically transform the nation’s Medicaid program, make significant changes to the federal health law’s tax credits that help lower-income people buy insurance and allow states to water down changes to some of the law’s coverage guarantees.

The bill also repeals the tax mechanism that funded the Affordable Care Act’s benefits, resulting in hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy and health care industry.

Most senators got their first look at the bill as it was released Thursday morning. It had been crafted in secret over the past several weeks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is seeking a vote on the bill before Congress leaves next week for its 4th of July recess.

Senators had promised that their ACA replacement would be very different than the version that passed the House in May, but the bill instead follows the House’s lead in many ways.

At lightning speed and with a little over a week for wider review, the Republicans’ bill could influence health care and health insurance of every American.

Reversing course on some of the more popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act, it threatens to leave tens of millions of lower-income Americans without insurance and those with chronic or expensive medical conditions once again financially vulnerable.

Like the House measure, the Senate bill, which is being called a “discussion draft,” would not completely repeal the ACA but would roll back many of the law’s key provisions. Both bills would also — for the first time — cap federal funding for the Medicaid program, which covers more than 70 million low-income Americans. Since its inception in 1965, the federal government has matched state spending for Medicaid. The new bill would shift much of that burden back to states.

The bill would also reconfigure how Americans with slightly higher incomes who don’t qualify for Medicaid would get tax credits to help pay insurance premiums and eliminate penalties for those who fail to obtain insurance and employers who fail to provide it. It also would make it easier for states to waive consumer protections in the ACA that require insurance companies to charge the same premiums to sick and healthy people and to provide a specific set of benefits.

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“We agreed on the need to free Americans from Obamacare’s mandates, and policies contained in the discussion draft will repeal the individual mandate so Americans are no longer forced to buy insurance they don’t need or can’t afford; will repeal the employer mandate so Americans no longer see their hours and take-home pay cut by employers because of it,” McConnell said on the floor of the Senate after releasing the bill. He also noted that the bill would help “stabilize the insurance markets that are collapsing under Obamacare as well.”

As expected, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) assailed the bill, saying it would “strip away health care benefits and protections from Americans who need it most” through changes in Medicaid and the ACA’s essential health benefits. “Even though much of the early reporting says the bill will keep certain protections for Americans with preexisting conditions,” he added, “the truth is it may well not guarantee them the coverage they need. By allowing states to waive essential health benefits, what the bill is saying to those Americans is: Insurance still has to cover you, but it doesn’t have to cover what you may actually need; it doesn’t have to cover all or even most of your costs.”

The White House had no immediate comment, but President Donald Trump has been pressuring Congress to pass a health bill quickly.

It is not clear that the bill will make it through the Senate, or that all of it will even make it to the Senate floor. The Senate (like the House) is operating under a special set of budget rules that allow it to pass this measure with only a simple majority vote and block Democrats from dragging out the debate by using a filibuster. But the “budget reconciliation” process comes with strict rules, including the requirement that every provision of the bill primarily impact the federal budget, either adding to or subtracting from federal spending.

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For example, the legislation as released includes a one-year ban on Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood. That is a key demand of anti-abortion groups and some congressional conservatives, because Planned Parenthood performs abortions with non-federal funding. But it is not yet clear that the Senate parliamentarian will allow that provision to be included in the bill.

Also still in question is a provision of the Senate bill that would allow states to waive insurance regulations in the Affordable Care Act. Many budget experts say that runs afoul of Senate budget rules because the federal funding impact is “merely incidental” to the policy.

Drafting the Senate bill has been a delicate dance for McConnell. With only 52 Republicans in the chamber and Democrats united in opposition to the unraveling of the health law, McConnell can afford to lose only two votes and still pass the bill with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. McConnell has been leading a small working group of senators — all men — but even some of those have complained they were not able to take part in much of the shaping of the measure, which seems to have been largely written by McConnell’s own staff.

So far, McConnell has been fielding complaints from the more moderate and more conservative wings of his party. And the draft that has emerged appears to try to placate both.

For example, as sought by moderates, the bill would phase down the Medicaid expansion from 2020 to 2024, somewhat more slowly than the House bill does. But it would still end eventually. The Senate bill also departs from the House bill’s flat tax credits to help pay for insurance, which would have added thousands of dollars to the premiums of poorer and older people not yet eligible for Medicare.

A Congressional Budget Office report estimating the Senate bill’s impact on individuals and the federal budget is expected early next week. The House bill, according to the CBO, would result in 23 million fewer Americans having health insurance over 10 years.

For conservatives, however, the Senate bill would clamp down even harder on Medicaid in later years. The cap imposed by the House would grow more slowly than Medicaid spending has, but the Senate’s cap would grow even more slowly than the House’s. That would leave states with few options other than raising taxes, cutting eligibility or cutting benefits in order to maintain their programs.

Defenders of the health law were quick to react.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) complained about changes to coverage guarantees in the ACA.

“I also want to make special note of the state waiver provision. Republicans have twisted and abused a part of the Affordable Care Act I wrote to promote state innovation, and they’re using it to give insurance companies the power to run roughshod over individuals,” he said in a statement issued shortly after the bill was released. “This amounts to hiding an attack on basic health care guarantees behind state waivers, and I will fight it at every turn.”

“The heartless Senate health care repeal bill makes health care worse for everyone — it raises costs, cuts coverage, weakens protections and cuts even more from Medicaid than the mean House bill,” said a statement from Protect Our Care, an umbrella advocacy group opposing GOP changes to the health law. “They wrote their plan in secret and are rushing forward with a vote next week because they know how much harm their bill does to millions of people.”

Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit health newsroom whose stories appear in news outlets nationwide, is an editorially independent part of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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Kissing White Male Supremacy Goodbye

Thu, 2017-06-22 15:00

This post originally appeared at TomDispatch.

Forgive me for complaining, but recent decades have not been easy ones for my peeps. I am from birth a member of the WHAM tribe, that once proud, but now embattled conglomeration of white, heterosexual American males. We have long been — there’s no denying it — a privileged group. When the blessings of American freedom get parceled out, WHAMs are accustomed to standing at the head of the line. Those not enjoying the trifecta of being white, heterosexual and male get what’s left.

Fair? No, but from time immemorial those have been the rules. Anyway, no real American would carp. After all, the whole idea of America derives from the conviction that some people (us) deserve more than others (all those who are not us). It’s God’s will — so at least the great majority of Americans have believed since the Pilgrims set up shop just about 400 years ago.

Lately, however, the rules have been changing in ways that many WHAMs find disconcerting. True, some of my brethren — let’s call them 1 percenters — have adapted to those changes and continue to do very well indeed. Wherever corporate CEOs, hedge fund managers, investment bankers, tech gurus, university presidents, publishers, politicians and generals congregate to pat each other on the back, you can count on WHAMs — reciting bromides about the importance of diversity! — being amply represented.

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Yet beneath this upper crust, a different picture emerges. Further down the socioeconomic ladder, being a WHAM carries with it disadvantages. The good, steady jobs once implicitly reserved for us — lunch-pail stuff, yes, but enough to keep food in the family larder — are increasingly hard to come by. As those jobs have disappeared, so too have the ancillary benefits they conferred, self-respect not least among them. Especially galling to some WHAMs is being exiled to the back of the cultural bus. When it comes to art, music, literature and fashion, the doings of blacks, Hispanics, Asians, gays and women generate buzz. By comparison, white heterosexual males seem bland, uncool and passé, or worst of all, simply boring.

The mandate of Heaven, which members of my tribe once took as theirs by right, has been cruelly withdrawn. History itself has betrayed us.

All of which is nonsense, of course, except perhaps as a reason to reflect on whether history can help explain why, today, WHAMs have worked themselves into such a funk in Donald Trump’s America. Can history provide answers? Or has history itself become part of the problem?

Paging Professor Becker

“For all practical purposes history is, for us and for the time being, what we know it to be.” So remarked Carl Becker in 1931 at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. Professor Becker, a towering figure among historians of his day, was president of the AHA that year. His message to his colleagues amounted to a warning of sorts: Don’t think you’re so smart. The study of the past may reveal truths, he allowed, but those truths are contingent, incomplete and valid only “for the time being.”

Put another way, historical perspectives conceived in what Becker termed “the specious present” have a sell-by date. Beyond their time, they become stale and outmoded, and so should be revised or discarded. This process of rejecting truths previously treated as authoritative is inexorable and essential. Yet it also tends to be fiercely contentious. The present may be specious, but it confers real privileges, which a particular reading of the past can sustain or undermine. Becker believed it inevitable that “our now valid versions” of history “will in due course be relegated to the category of discarded myths.” It was no less inevitable that beneficiaries of the prevailing version of truth should fight to preserve it.

Who exercises the authority to relegate? Who gets to decide when a historical truth no longer qualifies as true? Here, Becker insisted that “Mr. Everyman” plays a crucial role. For Becker, Mr. Everyman was Joe Doakes, John Q. Public, or the man in the street. He was “every normal person,” a phrase broad enough to include all manner of people. Yet nothing in Becker’s presentation suggested that he had the slightest interest in race, sexuality or gender. His Mr. Everyman belonged to the tribe of WHAM.

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In order to “live in a world of semblance more spacious and satisfying than is to be found within the narrow confines of the fleeting present moment,” Becker emphasized, Mr. Everyman needs a past larger than his own individual past. An awareness of things said and done long ago provides him with an “artificial extension of memory” and a direction.

Memories, whether directly or vicariously acquired, are “necessary to orient us in our little world of endeavor.” Yet the specious present that we inhabit is inherently unstable and constantly in flux, which means that history itself must be pliable. Crafting history necessarily becomes an exercise in “imaginative creation” in which all participate. However unconsciously, Everyman adapts the past to serve his most pressing needs, thereby functioning as “his own historian.”

Yet he does so in collaboration with others. Since time immemorial, purveyors of the past — the “ancient and honorable company of wise men of the tribe, of bards and storytellers and minstrels, of soothsayers and priests, to whom in successive ages has been entrusted the keeping of the useful myths” — have enabled him to “hold in memory… those things only which can be related with some reasonable degree of relevance” to his own experience and aspirations. In Becker’s lifetime it had become incumbent upon members of the professoriate, successors to the bards and minstrels of yesteryear, “to enlarge and enrich the specious present common to us all to the end that ‘society’ (the tribe, the nation, or all mankind) may judge of what it is doing in the light of what it has done and what it hopes to do.”

Yet Becker took pains to emphasize that professional historians disdained Mr. Everyman at their peril:

“Berate him as we will for not reading our books, Mr. Everyman is stronger than we are, and sooner or later we must adapt our knowledge to his necessities. Otherwise he will leave us to our own devices… The history that does work in the world, the history that influences the course of history, is living history… It is for this reason that the history of history is a record of the ‘new history’ that in every age rises to confound and supplant the old.”

Becker stressed that the process of formulating new history to supplant the old is organic rather than contrived; it comes from the bottom up, not the top down. “We, historians by profession, share in this necessary effort,” he concluded. “But we do not impose our version of the human story on Mr. Everyman; in the end it is rather Mr. Everyman who imposes his version on us.”

Donald Trump as Everyman’s Champion?

Becker offered his reflections on “Everyman His Own Historian” in the midst of the Great Depression. Perhaps because that economic crisis found so many Americans burdened with deprivation and uncertainty, he implicitly attributed to his everyman a unitary perspective, as if shared distress imbued members of the public with a common outlook. That was not, in fact, the case in 1931 and is, if anything, even less so in our own day.

Still, Becker’s construct retains considerable utility. Today finds more than a few white heterosexual American males, our own equivalent of Mr. Everyman, in a state of high dudgeon. From their perspective, the specious present has not panned out as it was supposed to. As a consequence, they are pissed. In November 2016, to make clear just how pissed they were, they elected Donald Trump as president of the United States.

Both sides agree on one point only: that history began anew last Nov. 8, when (take your pick) America either took leave of its senses or chose greatness. …It’s almost as if the years and decades that had preceded Trump’s election had all disappeared into some vast sinkhole.

This was, to put it mildly, not supposed to happen. For months prior to the election, the custodians of the past in its “now valid version” had judged the prospect all but inconceivable. Yet WHAMs (with shocking support from other tribes) intervened to decide otherwise. Rarely has a single event so thoroughly confounded history’s self-assigned proctors. One can imagine the shade of Professor Becker whispering, “I warned you, didn’t I?”

Those deeply invested in drawing a straight line from the specious present into the indefinite future blame Trump himself for having knocked history off its prescribed course. Remove Trump from the scene, they appear to believe, and all will once again be well. The urgent imperative of doing just that — immediately, now, no later than this afternoon — has produced what New York Times columnist Charles Blow aptly calls a “throbbing anxiety” among those who (like Blow himself) find “the relentless onslaught of awfulness erupting from this White House” intolerable. They will not rest until Trump is gone.

This idée fixe, reinforced on a daily basis by ever more preposterous presidential antics, finds the nation trapped in a sort of bizarre do-loop. The media’s obsession with Trump reinforces his obsession with the media and between them they simply crowd out all possibility of thoughtful reflection. Their fetish is his and his theirs. The result is a cycle of mutual contempt that only deepens the longer it persists.

Both sides agree on one point only: that history began anew last Nov. 8, when (take your pick) America either took leave of its senses or chose greatness. How the United States got to Nov. 8 qualifies, at best, as an afterthought or curiosity. It’s almost as if the years and decades that had preceded Trump’s election had all disappeared into some vast sinkhole.

Where, then, are we to turn for counsel? For my money, Charles Blow is no more reliable as a guide to the past or the future than is Donald Trump himself. Much the same could be said of most other newspaper columnists, talking heads and online commentators (contributors to TomDispatch notably excepted, of course). As for politicians of either party, they have as a class long since forfeited any right to expect a respectful hearing.

God knows Americans today do not lack for information or opinion. On screens, over the airways and in print, the voices competing for our attention create a relentless cacophony. Yet the correlation between insight and noise is discouragingly low.

What would Carl Becker make of our predicament? He would, I think, see it as an opportunity to “enlarge and enrich the specious present” by recasting and reinvigorating history. Yet doing so, he would insist, requires taking seriously the complaints that led our latter day Everyman to throw himself into the arms of Donald Trump in the first place. Doing that implies a willingness to engage with ordinary Americans on a respectful basis.

Unlike President Trump, I do not pretend to speak for Everyman or for his female counterpart. Yet my sense is that many Americans have an inkling that history of late has played them for suckers. This is notably true with respect to the post-Cold War era, in which the glories of openness, diversity and neoliberal economics, of advanced technology and unparalleled US military power all promised in combination to produce something like a new utopia in which Americans would indisputably enjoy a privileged status globally.

In almost every respect, those expectations remain painfully unfulfilled. The history that “served for the time being” and was endlessly reiterated during the presidencies of Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama no longer serves. It has yielded a mess of pottage: grotesque inequality, worrisome insecurity, moral confusion, an epidemic of self-destructive behavior, endless wars and basic institutions that work poorly if at all. Nor is it just WHAMs who have suffered the consequences. The history with which Americans are familiar cannot explain this outcome.

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Alas, little reason exists to expect Becker’s successors in the guild of professional historians to join with ordinary Americans in formulating an explanation. Few academic historians today see Everyman as a worthy interlocutor. Rather than berating him for not reading their books, they ignore him. Their preference is to address one another.

By and large, he returns the favor, endorsing the self-marginalization of the contemporary historical profession. Contrast the influence wielded by prominent historians in Becker’s day — during the first third of the 20th century, they included, along with Becker, such formidables as Henry Adams, Charles and Mary Beard, Alfred Thayer Mahan and Frederick Jackson Turner — with the role played by historians today. The issue here is not erudition, which today’s scholars possess in abundance, but impact. On that score, the disparity between then and now is immense.

In effect, professional historians have ceded the field to a new group of bards and minstrels. So the bestselling “historian” in the United States today is Bill O’Reilly, whose books routinely sell more than a million copies each. Were Donald Trump given to reading books, he would likely find O’Reilly’s both accessible and agreeable. But O’Reilly is in the entertainment business. He has neither any interest nor the genuine ability to create what Becker called “history that does work in the world.”

Still, history itself works in mysterious ways known only to God or to providence. Only after the fact do its purposes become evident. It may yet surprise us.

Owing his election in large part to my fellow WHAMs, Donald Trump is now expected to repay that support by putting things right. Yet as events make it apparent that Trump is no more able to run a government than Bill O’Reilly is able to write history, they may well decide that he is not their friend after all. With that, their patience is likely to run short. It is hardly implausible that Trump’s assigned role in history will be once and for all to bring down the curtain on our specious present, demonstrating definitively just how bankrupt all the triumphalist hokum of the past quarter-century — the history that served “for the time being” — has become.

When that happens, when promises of American greatness restored prove empty, there will be hell to pay. Joe Doakes, John Q. Public and the man in the street will be even more pissed. Should that moment arrive, historians would do well to listen seriously to what Everyman has to say.

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The Case for Obstruction of Justice

Thu, 2017-06-22 14:00

This post originally appeared at Robert Reich’s blog.

There’s already more than enough evidence of probable cause to begin that impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump.

Obstruction of justice was among the articles of impeachment drafted against both Presidents Nixon and Clinton. The parallel between Nixon and Trump is almost exact. White House tapes revealed Nixon giving instructions to pressure the acting FBI director into halting the Watergate investigation.

Two weeks after Trump told Comey privately, “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty,” he had another private meeting with Comey in the Oval Office. After shooing out his advisers — all of whom had top security clearance — Trump said to Comey, according to Comey’s memo written shortly after the meeting, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”

Then on May 9, Trump fired Comey. In a subsequent interview with NBC, Trump said he planned to fire Comey “regardless of [the] recommendation” of the attorney and deputy attorney general, partly because of “this Russia thing.” Trump also revealed in the interview that he had had several conversations with Comey about the Russia investigation, and had asked Comey if he was under investigation.

The federal crime of obstruction of justice applies to “[w]hoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication influences, obstructs or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct or impede the due and proper administration of the law” in a proceeding or investigation by a government department or agency or Congress.

As in Nixon’s case, a decision to support an “inquiry of impeachment” resolution in the House — to start an impeachment investigation — doesn’t depend on sufficient evidence to convict a person of obstruction of justice, but simply probable cause to believe a president may have obstructed justice.

There’s already more than enough evidence of probable cause to begin that impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump.

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Hunk Hawks Hideous Health Bill

Thu, 2017-06-22 11:55

This post originally appeared at Jewish Journal.

John Thune is the most handsome man in the US Senate. Square jawed, gleaming smile, cowboy tan, the 6’4” South Dakota Republican’s rugged good looks are antipodal to the mien of majority leader Mitch McConnell, whom Jon Stewart has definitively established is Yertle the Turtle’s doppelgänger. If the human brain’s positive bias toward attractive people didn’t cue me to infer that Thune is a great guy, a real straight shooter, I’d be as outraged by the assault on Americans’ health that Thune and his co-conspirators are currently waging, and by the subversion of American democracy they’re using to ram it through, as I am when its public face is McConnell’s.

Thune is a member of the all-white, all-male “gang of 13” staunchly conservative Republicans whom McConnell tasked two months ago with secretly writing a new GOP health bill in the Senate.

This is not normal. It’s not how a bill affecting one-fifth of our economy is supposed to be considered.

Because a parliamentary tactic will embed this Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal — and alleged replacement — into a budget reconciliation bill, it’s exempt from being filibustered by Democrats. That means the bill will need only 50 of the 52 Republican senators, along with Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote, in order to pass, instead of the 60 votes it takes to shut down a filibuster, which would require at least eight Democrats to defect.

Because the House also must pass the bill with only Republican votes, it needs to be mean enough to win over the House’s far-right Freedom Caucus, “mean” being President Donald Trump’s new description of the formerly “beautiful” House health bill he fêted in the Rose Garden in May. That’s why the American Health Care Act (AHCA) that McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan want Trump’s signature on before July 4 likely will deprive 23 million Americans of health insurance; end Obamacare’s minimum benefits, like mental health services and maternity care; deny coverage for pre-existing conditions; permit lifetime benefit caps; cut $800 billion from Medicare and turn it into block grants to states, effectively killing the program — oh, and give the top 0.1 percent of households an average tax cut of nearly $200,000.

I say “likely,” since the actual content of the bill has been shrouded in secrecy. Because a majority of Americans oppose those changes to a law that a majority of Americans support, McConnell knows that his only chance to pass it before the public catches on and rises up is a total blackout of information as they write the bill, which is what’s happening now, and once they reveal it, a blitzkrieg without committee hearings or time for town halls, hurtling toward a final vote within a matter of hours.

This is not normal. It’s not how a bill affecting one-fifth of our economy is supposed to be considered. McConnell’s plan is to make it seem normal, which is why they’re deploying the credibility of John Thune’s chiseled cheekbones: to sell a coup d’état as if it were a Schoolhouse Rock! civics lesson.

Thune’s answer made me marvel that a man with such good hair could deceive so baldly.

The day after a gunman opened fire on a Republican congressional baseball practice, prompting calls to for a return to civil discourse in our politics, Thune was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe saying we all must do our part to achieve the unity that this moment requires. Speaking of unity, journalist Mike Barnicle piped up, what about the health care bill being written in secret? “Nobody knows what’s in this bill,” Barnicle said. As a starter, he asked, in the spirit of reaching across the aisle, of bipartisanship and openness, “How about … telling us what’s in this bill?”

Thune’s answer made me marvel that a man with such good hair could deceive so baldly.

There’s really no bill to share, he said. What’s going on now is just discussions, just policy options. It will be openly shared when it’s reduced to legislative language, he said, as though that’s just how the lawmaking process works.

It’s not. Drafts of bills are routinely made public long before legislative language is locked in. They’re distributed as outlines, memos, letters, emails, talking points, PowerPoints, lists, charts, conference calls, cut-and-pastes, works in progress, principles, summaries, overviews, abstracts. They’re the basis for innumerable meetings with constituents, stakeholders, interest groups, media, members of both parties, think tanks, analysts and experts. That’s American democracy in action. What’s happening now is not.

Besides, Thune added, there’s been so much discussion of health care over the past decade, “it’s like any of us are unfamiliar with what the issues are.” We’ve already discussed them.

The ACA was the subject of hundreds of committee hearings and markups, hundreds of hours of congressional debate, hundreds of town halls and public forums and two years of news coverage. But that discussion was about expanding Medicare, not eliminating it; about increasing benefits, not cutting them; about providing health insurance to millions, not giving tax cuts to millionaires. If the media were to give the AHCA’s issues the kind of scrutiny and airtime it gave Obamacare, Republicans would now be running from it like a dumpster fire.

To be sure, John Thune would make one handsome fireman. But I doubt even he could convince his colleagues in Congress to bunk in a burning building.

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