Saturday, October 14, 2017

Tales From the Book of Moron

Perhaps I should say Fucking Moron, as a certain Secretary of State is alleged to have called President Shit-for-Brains. You say tomato, I say tomahto. Either way, it's the same thing.

The shenanigans of this would-be dictator during his first nine months in office have been, by far, the most embarrassing period in our nation's history. And that's saying something considering that over the last two centuries we confiscated millions of acres of land from the indigenous population, fought a Civil War to free millions of African Americans from slavery only to subject them to decades of segregation under Jim Crow, interred Japanese Americans in camps during World War II, got involved in a land war in Southeast Asia in which we killed tens of thousands of Vietnamese civilians, endured the assassinations of a sitting president, a potential future president and the most transformative spiritual figure since Gandhi in the span of five years, saw a corrupt president forced to resign from office to avoid impeachment, and witnessed an unholy alliance between conservative Christians and a major political party.

To beat out those "illustrious" moments would be quite a fait ac·com·pli for anyone. And yet, in just the last 48 hours, Donald Trump has outdone even himself.  He signed two executive orders aimed at decapitating the Affordable Care Act, and then he announced he would not be certifying the Iran deal. Let's look at the executive orders first.

Executive order one allows for younger, healthier people to purchase health insurance with far less benefits at considerably cheaper rates. On the surface, this may seem like a good idea. As Jake Novak writes, one of Obamacare's biggest flaws was the belief by the Administration that if these cheaper plans were eliminated, young people would naturally sign up for the more comprehensive (e.g., expensive) plans. As it turns out, that didn't happen, at least not to the extent that the law's supporters were hoping for.

Trump's order would ostensibly reinstate those plans, thus allowing for potentially millions of people to gain access to affordable insurance. However, fixing one problem will create another, far worse one. Like it or not, it was those very same young, healthy people that helped defer the costs of the older, sicker ones. As Novak adroitly points out, "the sickest 5 percent of Americans are responsible for 50 percent of our annual healthcare spending." Giving this segment of the population an escape plan will eventually "destroy what's left of the private insurance market." When that happens, millions will be unable to afford to buy insurance.

As if that executive order wasn't bad enough, Trump's next one removed all doubt about what his intentions were. He decided to end all subsidies to healthcare providers as compensation for covering people with pre-existing conditions and no lifetime caps. His rationale - if you could use a word like that with Trump - was that these payments weren't necessary; they were just increasing the industry's bottom line. That simply isn't true. These subsidies were a vital cog in the law; without them, not only would people with pre-existing conditions have to pay more for insurance, but even those without such issues would see higher costs.

The irony here is that eliminating the subsidies will not affect those who qualify for discounts under the exchanges. They continue to get those reduced rates. The people who will be affected are those who are more than 400 percent above the poverty line and who buy their insurance through the private market providers. They will be required to make up for the loss of those government  subsidies, to the tune of, in some cases, a 20 percent hike in their rates. There's also the very real possibility that if these providers cannot make up the difference through the individual plans, they may be forced to raise their rates on employer-insurance plans. In other words, tens of millions of people would see their rates go up as a result of this executive order. How's that for spite?

As we speak, dozens of states are planning on filing a lawsuit to overturn Trump's second executive order. However, the prognosis looks bleak. You'll recall it was a federal court that initially ruled that the subsides were unconstitutional in the first place. The payments continued to be made pending an appeal by the Obama Administration. With Trump's order, the appeal is rendered academic, thus the lower court ruling will stand. A plaintiff would first have to sue to reverse the lower court decision; then, assuming it won, sue to compel the new administration to resume paying the subsidies. I'm not a lawyer and even I know that would be a herculean task.

But as cruel as Trump's executive orders on Obamacare were, his decision to not certify the Iran deal could be the dumbest move of his presidency, which is quite a statement given that only a few months ago he decided to pull out of the Paris-Climate Accord, another Obama legacy initiative. Sensing a pattern here, are we?

I didn't think it possible that Iran could ever hold the moral high ground in any dispute with the United States, but Doctor Fuckenstein allowed them to claim it by threatening not to honor the terms of the deal. And make no mistake about it, if we pull out of this deal - in other words, if we violate the terms of the pact - we will do so on our own. There is zero chance that Iran will agree to go back to the bargaining table, and even less than zero chance that the other nations which signed the deal would want to negotiate a new one. Even Congressional opponents of the deal from both parties have conceded that we are stuck with it.

Try telling that to Trump. He has given Congress just two months to come up with a deal he can live with - which I suppose means a deal where he gets everything he wants and everyone else gets bupkis - or else he will scrap it altogether. Given that any bill to amend the deal would require 60 votes in the Senate, that means Donnie boy will be disappointed. My God, this is the sort of behavior one expects out of toddlers; not a sitting president. Unfortunately for us, this is standard operating procedure at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue these days.

We have in Donald Trump, a man who is uninformed and unwilling to learn. Indeed, he shows contempt for anyone or anything that challenges his preconceived notions. Only a few days ago, in a continuing feud with Rex Tillerson over how to handle North Korea, he said "I have a little bit different attitude than other people might have, but, ultimately, my attitude is the one that matters, isn't it?"

Sadly, in this instance, Trump is right, insofar as the Constitution is concerned. No matter what the adults in the room may want, in the end this man child of a president still has authority to start World War III if he feels like it. And that makes him the single greatest threat to humanity since the bubonic plague.

Come to think of it, calling Trump a fucking moron is a compliment when you consider all the alternatives.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough!

As a Christian, I am well aware of the power of prayer. It is referenced in scripture over and over. In one particular passage in Matthew 17, Jesus says to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it would move. Nothing would be impossible." Even on the night of his arrest, Jesus knelt in the garden and prayed for the strength he would need to carry out his father's will. If the Son of God felt the need to pray, we certainly have no excuse for failing to do so.

But prayer alone is not enough. It must be followed up with action. James, in his Epistle, makes the best case for this argument.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
James was not discounting the importance of prayer; nor was he saying that our salvation had to be earned. What he was saying is that we must live out our faith through our actions. Indeed, it is those very actions that define the quality of our faith in the eyes of God. In Matthew 25, Jesus admonishes those who are miserly with their inheritance when he says, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

Ever since the mass shooting in Las Vegas, I have heard Republican after Republican utter the following phrase: "My thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by this senseless tragedy." Sometimes they write "our thoughts and prayers," as if somehow turning it into a plural statement gives it more authority.

But to those who were affected by this "senseless" tragedy, parsing the difference is academic. A loved one has been violently taken from them, never to return. There is one less father, mother, uncle, aunt, sibling, child, or friend to love and grow old with. Thoughts and prayers do little to alleviate the pain and suffering that will take months, if not years, to heal. To pay lip service, as these politicians do, only adds insult to injury.

I have heard every single rationalization from opponents of gun-control from the sublime to the ridiculous. My favorite is that knives can kill people too, so why don't we have knife control. I have two comebacks to that convoluted logic: One, I can still use a knife for cutting the food on my plate; there is only one purpose for owning a gun, and that is to kill people. Two, "When a 64-year old white man kills 58 people and wounds 500 more in 15 minutes from 1200 feet with a knife, I will absolutely call for knife control. Until then, you've made the world's shittiest point." I lifted the latter from someone on Facebook, hence the quotations.

But shitty or not, that, and other arguments just like it, are what lobbyists like the NRA and the vast majority of Republicans continue to dish out. Here's one of my favorites: Guns don't kill people, people kill people. I agree, so let's at least keep guns out of the reach of those people who might use them to kill, like the mentally ill. Sorry, we can't do that. That would go against the Second Amendment.

So obsessed are they with protecting the rights of gun owners, the GOP is currently considering a bill that would allow the sale of silencers. Can you imagine how many more rounds of ammunition Stephen Paddock could've gotten off if no one had been able to hear where the shots were coming from? The death toll that night might well have been twice as high as it was.

I keep coming back to a piece I wrote shortly after the Newtown massacre. The problem, as I saw it, wasn't just a lack of regulation, it was the Second Amendment itself.
How many more must needlessly die to defend a strict interpretation of an amendment that, if you read it closely and honestly, seems to be referring to a "well regulated militia" not an absolute right?
Throughout most of the country's history, gun ownership was NOT considered an absolute right. In 1939, the Supreme Court in United States v. Miller ruled unanimously that "the Second Amendment guarantees no right to keep and bear a firearm that does not have 'some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia.'" That decision was upheld in 1980 in Lewis v. United States, and until the Heller decision in 2008 it was the law of the land.

For the last nine years, the gun nuts have had their way: first, by successfully framing the question of gun safety as an attack on the Constitution; secondly, by effectively killing any attempt at imposing restrictions on the sale of guns. When the mentally ill can legally buy firearms and silencers may soon become available to the public, the train has jumped the track.

So what are we to do? Well, first off, we should get up off our knees. We've prayed and prayed and nothing has changed. The problem here is not a lack of will on the part of God, but a lack of will on ours. Divine intervention isn't likely to occur, so it is up to us.

Secondly, we need to reframe the whole debate on guns by exposing the plot of a small, but powerful, group of men who are perfectly fine with allowing this country to be turned into a shooting gallery for their own political and monetary gains. They have subverted the original intent of the Second Amendment. The only way to defeat them is by going back to what the framers intended. Simply calling for tougher, more "reasonable" restrictions on gun sales will not solve the problem; indeed it plays right into the NRA's hands.

Let's look at two "reasonable" restrictions that some on the Left would like to see implemented: keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and outlawing the bump stock, which allowed Paddock to turn his semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic ones. The former would not have stopped him from legally purchasing guns because he was not mentally ill, or at least he was never treated for any mental illness that we know of; and even if the latter had been law, he still could've killed a lot of people that night. All the bump stock did was make it easier for him to keep firing his weapons.

And therein lies the stumbling block for gun-control advocates. Reasonable measures, as it turns out, not only don't prevent these tragedies from happening, they help opponents of gun control by making the case for them that the Left's real agenda isn't about safety, it's about the taking away of personal liberty. It's an argument they consistently keep winning over and over again.

Look, I have been critical of the Left's unwillingness to compromise on a wide range of issues from healthcare to tax reform to college tuition. In my opinion, it's cost Democrats chances at building support with moderate voters. But there are some causes - like global warming - which couldn't be more black and white. Our future as a species depends on us drastically reducing CO2 emissions, and quickly. Trust me, it doesn't get any more black and white than extinction.

Gun control is every bit the black and white issue that global warming is, and it demands the same all-out war that climate scientists have waged on behalf of the environment. Half measures will not work. The Left must pull out all the stops and educate the public on what the Second Amendment actually says, not what the NRA would like people to think it says.

For instance, most people, when you bring up the Amendment, don't even know that the first part of it deals directly with a "well-regulated militia." Any objective reading of it must conclude that the intent of the Founders was to protect the rights of those militia men to own and possess guns for the "security" of the nation. If, as the NRA maintains, the Amendment was intended to guarantee the right of all people to own and possess guns, why bother to include the militias at all? We are, after all, talking about learned men who were brilliant and light years ahead of their time. They chose their words carefully. It is inconceivable to me that they would leave something this important to chance.

The thing is, I don't believe they did. I think they fully expected us to use our common sense and arrive at the same conclusion they made over 200 years ago. We haven't had any need for militias since the formation of a free-standing army, so basically, we don't really need the Second Amendment. It's about as relevant now as the Eighteenth was when it was finally repealed in 1933.

Now I fully realize this will be a difficult case to make, especially in a country that is as in love with its guns as ours. No other nation on Earth has a history that celebrates gun ownership in such a manner. Even among people who support "common-sense" gun regulation, a majority still believe that the right to own a gun is sacrosanct. If the specter of 20 children being shot to death in a school hasn't changed their minds, it is doubtful anything can.

But that is no excuse for not trying. As a Christian, my faith teaches me that God is far more interested with our character than our comfort. It's high time we started doing some character building, good people. To simply throw up our hands in disgust while so many of our brothers and sisters pay the ultimate price betrays the very scripture we claim to hold dear. At the one-year anniversary of Newtown, I wrote the following in a letter to the children who were slaughtered:
It is not enough just to honor your memory with a moment of silence. Silence has been our problem all along. If we are truly interested in honoring your memory, we must shout out at the tops of our lungs that we are tired of burying our children like this. This madness must end.
Another word for madness is insanity. And the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Let Them Eat Bounty

The events of the last few days have strained the bounds of credibility. I dare say Ripley's would have a hard time finding room for them in its Believe It Or Not museum. I'd say I was shocked, but to tell you the truth, I stopped being shocked a long time ago. Seriously, if there is anyone left in this country that can honestly say they are shocked by what is happening I have only one question for you: what are you smoking?

Consider that in just the last week, Donald Trump decided to pick a fight with the people of Puerto Rico for, I suppose, the crime of not being able to move their island out of the way of a cat 5 hurricane. Then, while visiting the island, he tossed out some paper towels to the crowd like they were fans at a baseball game and he was Mr. Met.

At a press conference he actually had the gall to blame the inhabitants of Puerto Rico for "throwing our budget a little out of whack." This from a man who has spent half his presidency either at Mar-a-Lago or his other golf resort in Jersey and actually charges the Secret Service rent to stay at Trump Tower. I should also point out that only a couple of days earlier this same president discovered that Puerto Rico apparently is an island surrounded by water. "Big water, ocean water." Gee, who knew?

To add insult to injury, he told everyone at the conference that, and I swear I'm not making this up, they should be "very proud" that only 16 people died compared to the hundreds who died in Katrina, which he called a "real" hurricane. He did all this, by the way, with the governor of Puerto Rico and the mayor of San Juan present.

The following day he visited Las Vegas, which on Sunday was the scene of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. More than fifty people were killed and hundreds more wounded by a gunman who sprayed thousands of rounds of ammunition into a crowd of people who were attending a country music festival. After news of the slaughter had spread, old blood and guts tweeted his "warmest condolences" to the families. Warmest condolences? Really? Warmest? No other word comes to mind, like maybe deepest? The only thing that surprises me about that tweet is that it didn't come with a Hallmark label and a heart emoji.

And of course anyone who had the nerve to bring up gun control was shot down, no pun intended. This is not the time to politicize this issue, we're told. Of course that didn't stop Trump from politicizing the Orlando mass shooting back in 2016. He had no problem shooting his mouth off - again no pun intended - when he thought it could help his campaign. But, you see, that shooting was done by a Muslim. Apparently, it's not politicizing when you go after people of color with religious views that you claim pose a threat to our way of life. The Las Vegas shooter, on the other hand, was just your run of the mill "white" lunatic who "legally" can purchase all the guns and ammo he wants. I mention white because, as we all know, if black men started arming themselves at the rate that white men are, Congress would pass a law confiscating every gun in the country by the end of the week.

And then there's the revelation, courtesy of NBC, that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a moron back in July and had to be convinced to stay on by VP Mike Pence. Trump naturally denied the story and called it fake news, just as he calls any story he doesn't like fake news. The only surprise here is that it took Tillerson so long to arrive at his conclusion. We've know it ever since Trump declared his candidacy. If Tillerson had any pride at all, he would've quit by now, especially since it seems nothing he does will have any influence over this president. Seriously, what part of the tweet about not wasting your time negotiating with little Rocket Man didn't you get? Face it, Rex, your boss is a lune.

And therein lies the problem; our problem. Trump IS a lune. There's no getting around this. Of all his shortcomings, none stands out more than this. Normal people simply do not behave in this manner. They do not visit communities ravaged by natural disasters and blame the victims. They do not tweet at all hours of the day and night the most inane and offensive rhetoric. They do not attack the media and their political opponents like some third-world despot. They do not issue threats towards a nuclear power that can only result in the possible death and destruction of millions of innocent lives. They do not spend every waking hour of their lives thinking only of how a situation makes them look. They have the capacity to be empathetic and supportive of those who have been touched by tragedy. They behave like an adult for more than just a few minutes per week.

Donald Trump isn't in over his head; he's out of his mind. Forget the Mueller investigation. By the time it reaches its conclusion we may all be dead. What we need is someone, anyone, with the courage and the influence in the GOP to come out and do the right thing: call for the 25th Amendment to be invoked. It just takes one brave soul to put country before party. One you get one, like dominos, they will all start falling.

We know two things: One, Republicans do not like this president. The contempt he has shown for them is starting to take its toll. There are now, by my estimate, some eight or nine GOP senators who've just about had it with his nonsense. Did you hear what Bob Corker had to say recently. Trust me, in private rooms, they are giving this issue serious consideration. I wouldn't be at all surprised if similar conversations aren't also taking place among House Republicans.

Two, the GOP has Mike Pence in the bullpen, so it's not as if removing Trump means Hillary gets in. Invoking the 25th simply replaces an unstable megalomaniac with a dyed in the wool conservative. Pence is ostensibly Ted Cruz only far less contemptible. It changes nothing with respect to policy, so Dems should not get their hopes up.

I called for the 25th Amendment to be invoked months ago. I call for it again. We don't have much time. Donald Trump isn't just some man child occupying the Oval Office; he's a man child occupying the Oval Office with access to the nuclear launch codes. He had no business running for the office of president in the first place, much less winning it. And, based on his conduct to date, he certainly has no business remaining in it any longer.

My question to Republicans is simple: if not now, when?

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Why the GOP Still Hasn't Been Able To Repeal Obamacare

For seven years now, all we've heard from Republicans was how horrible the Affordable Care Act was and how they would do everything possible to repeal it. Occasionally, they would insert the word replace at the end to assuage concerns and to fool people into believing they were desirous of coming up with a genuine replacement. The fact is they never had any interest in a real replacement for the ACA and here's why: there isn't one and they know it.

Think about it: the entire thrust of the GOP argument is that Obamacare was a government takeover of the healthcare system; socialized medicine incarnate. The truth was anything but that. Though flawed, the law requires people who do not get their insurance through their employers to purchase insurance from private providers. If they cannot afford that insurance, they can either qualify for subsidies on exchanges or face a fine for non-compliance.

The winners are people on fixed incomes who have historically been priced out of the insurance market and were therefore relegated to hospital emergency rooms and overcrowded clinics for their healthcare; lower income people who now qualify for the Medicaid expansion provision in the law; and people who had pre-existing conditions that barred them from coverage or had policies with lifetime caps for the treatment of illnesses. The losers are small business owners and people who purchase their insurance on their own. Both saw their rates skyrocket since the law was enacted.

The biggest problem the ACA faces at the moment is stabilizing the exchanges, which everyone agrees are in jeopardy of collapsing altogether. Many insurers are pulling out of markets, leaving people with only one choice for health insurance. The reason for this is because the GOP blocked the funding that was going to insurance providers to compensate them for having to cover people with pre-existing conditions and debilitating diseases. That forced those providers to hike their rates to recover their losses. Simply restoring this funding would go a long way towards stabilizing these exchanges and incentivizing providers to go back into markets they had fled only a couple of years ago.

As for the rest of the problems the law has, a bipartisan approach, like the one Democrat Patty Murray and Republican Lamar Alexander were working on, could've begun to address them and deliver on the promise of affordable healthcare for all. But that effort was put on hold to allow yet another GOP hair-brained scheme to repeal the law; this one coming courtesy of Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham. John McCain's decision to vote no on the bill, along with Susan Collins and Rand Paul, who when he watches The Grinch Who Stole Christmas roots for the Grinch, means that this attempt, like the others, will likely fail.

But this failure will not deter the GOP. When you spend the better part of a decade demonizing the signature legislative achievement of your political rival, you've kinda boxed yourself into a corner. In essence, Republicans made a pledge to their base - a pledge that deep down they knew they couldn't fulfill - and now that base is holding them accountable for it.

But here's the thing: that pledge was based on a huge lie. As I started to write above, not only wasn't the Affordable Care Act a socialized takeover of the insurance industry, it was straight out of the conservative playbook, at least according to The Heritage Foundation, which in 1989 wrote a paper on what a healthcare law should look like. That paper became the boiler plate for two landmark pieces of legislation: one in Massachusetts, dubbed Romneycare after Republican governor Mitt Romney, who signed it into law in 2006, and the Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare after Democratic president Barack Obama, who did likewise in 2010.

Both men sought a middle-ground solution to growing healthcare costs that ostensibly kept the private insurance market intact, while mandating that everyone purchase health insurance. The thought was that if everyone bought in, overall rates would go down or at least the rate of increase would slow a bit. It turned out to be the latter, though that slow down only applied to some. Others, as I mentioned before, saw their rates go through the roof.

How and why that happened should concern members of Congress at the moment, not spinning phony propaganda about a law that, had it been proposed by a Republican president, would've been enshrined in the annals of great legislative accomplishments. For those not familiar with the Heritage paper, I encourage you to read it for yourself. While there are some differences between the proposal laid out in the Heritage paper and the ACA, both have enough in common to conclude that far from being a revolutionary hellbent on the destruction of the free enterprise system, Obama was, as his progressive critics have been saying for years, a centrist president who when push came to shove tended to lean more to the right than his Democratic predecessors did.

And yet to listen to most Republicans, Obama was the second coming of Mao Tse Tung. It's sad how far to the right the GOP has drifted over the last twenty-five years. I remember a time when the Grand Old Party had enough room in its ranks for people like Bob Dole and Jacob Javits. Now anyone to the left of Ted Cruz is considered a traitor. I seriously doubt if even Ronald Reagan would be welcomed in today's Republican Party.

And that's why, for all their bombast, Republicans still can't repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. It's not for lack of trying; it's that every time they come up with a plan, it's so far off the reservation that even governors from Red states end up rejecting it. They all agree they want a healthcare plan that gives people access to affordable insurance; they all agree - or at least most of them do - that those who can't afford to buy insurance, should be given some assistance, be it through tax credits or subsidies; they all agree that the poor or indigent should not have to rely on hospital emergency rooms as a last resort. What they can't wrap their heads around is that they already have a law in place that provides for that, and that law is the by-product of conservative ideals that are decades old.

The Affordable Care Act is not a progressive law, as evidenced by the fact that progressives dislike it almost as much as conservatives. Barack Obama knew that when it passed in 2010. His hope was that the GOP would be reasonable and work with him to improve it. In retrospect, his hope proved to be in vain. And now that he is gone, that same GOP, which had fought so long and hard to undo it, is stuck with it, warts and all.

There is ultimately only one thing they can do if they want to extricate themselves from this nightmare: work with their Democratic counterparts to fix the ACA's flaws. But to do that, they will have to admit to their constituents that they lied to them. Obamacare isn't socialized medicine after all; in fact, it's as conservative as apple pie and Chevrolet. And with a little help from both sides of the political aisle, it could become not only a serviceable law, but one which brings genuine relief to millions without being an undo burden on others.

And that's a goal worth fighting for.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Difference Between A Pipe Dream and A Strategy

Throughout the entire 2016 campaign I was very rough on Bernie Sanders, and with good reason. I thought many of his proposals, while laudable and perhaps even morally right, were completely impractical and politically unworkable. From Medicare for all to free college tuition, I never saw any path forward for any of them to see the light of day. The base may have loved his proposals, but love doesn't produce legislation, much less laws.

So it wasn't all that much of a shock that Sanders has once again dipped his big toe into the healthcare debate by introducing a single-payer bill that, not surprisingly, has the support of only one senator - Sherrod Brown of Ohio - from a swing state. The other 15 senators who stood up on that podium with him, from Kirtsen Gillibarnd to Kamala Harris, are about as safe as a new-born baby in her mother's arms.

This stunt - and it is a stunt - is eerily reminiscent of Republican attempts at repealing the Affordable Care Act during the Obama years. The GOP knew full well that so long as Barack Obama was in the White House he would veto any repeal bill that reached his desk, so they were basically free to shoot for the moon as it were. The nuttier and crueler the bill, the more the base lapped it up. But when Trump won the 2016 election, Republicans had a real problem on their hands. They had to actually govern. Repeal and replace wasn't just a rallying cry anymore; it was a sobering moment in which they found out that the majority of the country really didn't support their vision for healthcare.

Now before I go any further, I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not conflating what the GOP tried to do for eight years with what Bernie is attempting to do now. What Republicans are proposing is not only morally reprehensible, it's fiscally irresponsible. If any of their hair-brained schemes had become law this year, healthcare costs for a majority of Americans would've gone through the roof. Even if you don't give a shit about the working poor - and there's little evidence that Republicans do - sending insurance markets into that kind of chaos just to make a political point is about as dumb as it gets.

No, what Bernie and his supporters are proposing is not cruel and irresponsible: it's simply a pipe dream, pure and simple. And this is where the parallels exist. Neither the GOP bills to repeal the ACA or Bernie's single-payer bill have an ice-cube's chance in hell of becoming law. And furthermore, both sides know it. Oh, you'll never get them to admit it, but what we are really seeing play out in Washington is a tug of war between the respective bases.

We know what the Right has wanted for years. Indeed, we have more than 50 examples by the Republican-controlled House attempting to mollify that constituency, to no avail. Why? Because, as it turns out, real policy is a lot more complicated than giving speeches at rallies. It involves a little bending and - dare I say it - compromise. And both are four-letter words in today's GOP.

So now it's the Left's turn to huff and puff and throw down the gauntlet. And what better champion to lead the way than the man who progressives still insist would've beaten Dr. Strangelove last November. Bernie Care is their opening salvo in an all-out offensive to remake and reshape the Democratic Party into their own image, and I have no doubt that, just like their Tea Party counterparts did in the 2010 midterms - they will make this issue a litmus test for all Democratic candidates in 2018. Their threat will be simple: support our positions or face a primary challenge.

But in the majority of states that Trump won that actually have Democratic senators running for reelection next year, things are a lot more complicated than that. If you're Joe Manchin or Claire McCaskill or Heidi Heitkamp or Jon Tester, it is a matter of flat out survival. All four of these Democrats, along with a few others, are in for the race of their political lives. At stake is the survival of the Democratic Party. At present, Republicans hold a 52 - 48 seat majority. It is quite conceivable that after next year's midterms that majority could increase by as much as five or six. Of course, it could also stay right where it is or perhaps even shrink a bit. Most political pundits, however, feel that it will be a good day for Democrats if things stay as they are after next November.

So, while Bernie was having his little shindig over in the Senate, at the White House, the two actual leaders of the Democratic Party were busy trying to secure a deal with President Shit-for-brains on DACA. There's no beating around the bush. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have now schooled Donald Trump twice in as many weeks. Last week it was raising the debt ceiling with no offsets or funding for his stupid wall; this week, a deal to rescue eight hundred thousand Dreamers from almost certain deportation next March, again with no funding for the wall.

This is how you make policy, not by pining to your base, but by going into the Lion's den without so much as a chair or a whip. We don't yet know all the details, as they are still fluid. But so far what we do know is this: Trump has apparently acquiesced to allowing the Dreamers to stay in the country in exchange for increased border security. What the hell that means is anyone's guess. But there doesn't appear to be any funding - at least not in this go around - for a border wall.

If Schumer and Pelosi manage to pull this one off, it will be the master stroke of genius for the ages, and for three reasons. One, it will give Democrats something they can actually run on in 2018: a political win. For all his lofty expectations, Sanders has never been a terribly accomplished senator when it comes to passing legislation. Virtually none of his bills have ever become law.

Secondly, this deal, if it goes through, will be yet another thorn in the side of Republican leadership. Any time you can get your bill passed and embarrass Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell in the process, it isn't just a good day; it's fucking Christmas in July.

But lastly, and perhaps most importantly, what this deal does is send the alt-right into a hissy fit. I have written at great length about the racist element that was critical to Trump's success last year, and while I'm still not prepared to say it was the ultimate deciding factor in the outcome, it would be naive to believe it played no role at all. As soon as word leaked out of a pending deal, they all lost their shit like never before. Ann Coulter tweeted, "At this point who doesn't want Trump impeached?" Breitbart referred to him as "Amnesty Don." And Steve (drug mule) King went so far as to say that Trump's base is "blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair."

All throughout the country Trump supporters are burning their Make America Great caps and denouncing Trump as a traitor. Sean Hannity, who if Trump ever stopped short would be wedged in his ass for a week, got his panties in a bunch. And even Rush Limbaugh is thinking about going back to Oxycontin. It all kinda brings a lump to your throat and a tear to your eye, doesn't it?

Seriously, though, we're getting ahead of ourselves. Who knows, maybe Trump gets a call from Steve Bannon and has second thoughts, or thoughts period. As I wrote in an earlier piece his attention span is measured in seconds. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Trump did a one eighty. In fact, nothing this president has done since taking office has surprised me. Appalled, yes; surprised, no.

But that's not the point. What Schumer and Pelosi did was extraordinary, regardless of how it turns out. Both understand that simply opposing Trump won't work, anymore than opposing him in 2016 worked. They clearly have settled on a strategy that, if properly executed, could prove to be a winning formula for Democrats in purple and red states. After all, you don't get to pass legislation if you don't have the majority, a fact Bernie supporters seem unable to grasp.

Look, there's little doubt that Sanders tapped into something big in 2016. And I give him full props for sounding the alarm regrading the Rust Belt states. Perhaps if Democrats hadn't so arrogantly dismissed his warnings, things might've turned out a bit differently last November. But there's a big difference between a pipe dream and a strategy. For all his positive attributes, Bernie would never have struck that deal with Trump. It would've been beneath him.

And that's why his movement is so dangerous, not just to the Democratic Party but to the country as a whole. Their insistence on instituting a purity test for all their candidates is suicidal. Bill Maher was correct when he said the Left has to learn the difference between an "imperfect friend and a deadly enemy."

Over the last eight years we've seen what happens when one major political party is taken over by a group of extremists hell bent on sterilizing it of all imperfections. The last thing the country needs is for the remaining major political party to have the same thing done to it by another group of extremists. One hundred eighty degrees from wrong is still wrong.

Again, I'm not conflating the Left with the Right; it's clear there are substantive differences. But when both sides employ the same methods to achieve their objectives, what you are left with are two competing visions of America that are totally incompatible with each other.

The ends justifying the means, if I'm not mistaken, is how we got stuck with Trump.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Mother Nature Has the Last Laugh

How fitting that on the 16th anniversary of 9/11, the state of Florida was just beginning to dig out from the worst environmental disaster to strike its shores in 25 years. Hurricane Irma swept trough the Keys before making landfall in Naples. The category 4 storm was so wide that the entire peninsula was subjected to hurricane-force winds.

On the east coast, every city from Miami to Charleston, South Carolina was inundated with a storm surge unlike any that has ever been seen. On the west coast, Marco Island was devastated, and in Tampa, owing to the tremendous counter-clockwise winds of Irma, the entire bay was sucked out into the Gulf of Mexico, only to return with a vengeance when the eye passed through. It was surreal to watch.

More than six million Floridians lost power; it might well be weeks before all of them get it back. The damage, particularly to the Keys, will likely cost tens of billions of dollars to repair. From the images we've seen, it will be months, if not years, before the state fully recovers.

Only two weeks earlier, another category 4 hurricane, Harvey, ravaged the state of Texas. The coastal city of Rockport was all but wiped off the map. Houston, the nation's fourth largest city, suffered apocalyptic flooding. Pictures of interstate highways with water up to the overhead signs looked like something out of a sci-fi movie. Congress has already approved $15 billion in relief aid, but it will take many times more that amount before Southeast Texas is made whole. Additionally, it should be noted that Harvey was responsible for Houston's third "500-year" flood in the last three years.

This is the first time in history that two category four hurricanes have made landfall in the U.S. in the same year, and keep in mind we still have three months left in the season. Had it not made contact with the northern coast of Cuba, Irma would most certainly have been the fourth category five hurricane to hit the U.S.; the other three being Andrew in 1992, Camille in 1969 and the infamous unnamed Labor Day hurricane of 1935 which killed over 400 people in the Keys. If you want to know what the fury of a category five hurricane can do, take a look at the pictures of St. Maarten and St. Thomas. Both islands were virtually destroyed.

It is poor science, indeed, to attribute a single weather event to global warming, but we are not talking about a single weather event here. We are talking about two extraordinary weather events within a month of each other that collectively have destroyed thousands of structures, displaced just as many homeowners and, when all is said and done, will end up costing taxpayers over $100 billion in damages. When climate science deniers talk about the costs of oppressive environmental regulations, consider this: that above figure is nothing compared to the price tag that awaits us in the decades to come.

This is no longer an issue that we can put off for another day or a future generation. It is upon us now. We are fast approaching a point of no return. As we speak, both the Antarctic and the Greenland ice sheets are melting. When they are gone, the oceans will rise, not inches, but feet. Low-lying cities like Miami, New Orleans, Chicago and New York will be under water, forcing millions of people to relocate inland. The environment as we know it will be permanently altered and more unpredictable; storms will grow in intensity; droughts will last longer; and forest fires will be far more frequent and considerably more difficult to contain. The cost to the American taxpayer will be measured in the trillions, not billions, of dollars.

Republicans insist that talking about global warming in the aftermath of a major hurricane is akin to ambulance chasing. Yet talking about it before a hurricane apparently is alarmist. For them, there is never an appropriate time to talk about the single greatest threat to our way of life. Even with 98 percent of climate scientists in agreement that global warming is real and caused by man, they still insist the science is unsettled.

I submit it will never be settled for them. And that is the real tragedy here. Almost the entire Republican Party refuses to acknowledge a simple and basic fact: that we are slowly, but surely, cooking the planet and if we don't do something about it, our grandchildren will curse us.

If this is indeed about the economics of global warming rather than merely the science of it, then Harvey and Irma have presented us with the tab of a lifetime. And like the proverbial American Express card bill, we have no choice but to pay it. But we DO have a choice as to how much we pay going forward. Being penny wise and dollar foolish is not an effective strategy for dealing with this issue. It all but guarantees that we will bankrupt our economy and consign future generations to a world that will be increasingly inhospitable and largely uninhabitable.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Art of the Steal

It's a good thing Donald Trump doesn't play poker or he would've had five bankruptcies instead of four. Or is that seven bankruptcies instead of six? I lose track sometimes. At any rate, that hideous tower in midtown Manhattan that bares his name would would have Chuck Schumer's name on it instead.

That's because Chuck Schumer, with the assistance of Nancy Pelosi, not only outsmarted the guy who wrote "The Art of the Deal," he also managed to get him to screw over his own party leaders in the process. To paraphrase Robin, "Holy betrayal, Batman!" The Washington Post said it best: Trump got "suckered." What I wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan's office. Talk about a turn of events.

Now don't get me wrong. I don't for a moment believe that this deal is a harbinger of better things to come. Even if Trump were rational, it would be a stretch to see this as anything other than what it is: a one-off. But it's a one-off both Schumer and Pelosi had to take, and take it they did. And who knows, maybe it does lead to bigger fish.

Consider what just went down: Trump signed off on $15 billion in Harvey relief aid without a single dollar in offsets, which many Republicans were insisting on; he agreed to both a debt-ceiling increase AND a continuing budget resolution without any funding for his ridiculous wall; and, because this debt-ceiling deal lasts only 90 days, Trump will have no alternative but to come back to the table and negotiate with Democrats again. Can you say DACA, boys and girls? I knew you could.

And the pièce de ré·sis·tance of this whole deal came the following day when Trump called Pelosi to say how pleased he was with all the good press he was getting. That was when Pelosi told him to tweet that the Dreamers had nothing to worry about. Yes, Pelosi actually told Trump to do something and, yes, he actually did it. I damn near wet myself when I read about it. Cesar Millan doesn't have that kind of success with dogs.

Frankly, I'm fucking impressed. I didn't think Schumer and Pelosi had it in them to pull something like this off. But then I have to remember they were dealing with a man whose attention span is measured in seconds, and who has an ego the size of Texas. Based on the picture we saw of Schumer and Trump in the Oval Office, I'll bet my bottom dollar the former was in schmooze overdrive and the latter was eating it up like a love-starved puppy.

And just in case you were wondering why Schumer and Pelosi would agree to any deal with this president, there's a very good reason. Forget the debt-ceiling increase for a moment. I'll grant you that sooner or later, even the GOP would've come to their senses and realized that now that they have the reins of power, playing chicken with the nation's debt was suicidal. Inevitably they would've caved and increased it. And I'll even grant you that the Harvey relief aid would've passed, especially since the state that was devastated just happens to be the largest GOP stronghold in the country. You don't mess with Texas if you're a Republican. Period.

But here's why this deal was so huge: it pissed off the Republicans big time; in fact it was nothing short of total humiliation. What Trump did to McConnell and Ryan in front of the entire country was about as stupid a stunt as he has ever pulled, and that's saying something. With Robert Mueller breathing down his neck and three Congressional committees investigating the "Rusher" thing, the only person standing between him and a possible conviction in the Senate is, you guessed it, ole Turtle face. And Trump, by throwing down with the Dems, just told him to go fuck himself.

Do not think for even a moment that McConnell is going to forget what happened. Ryan might, but McConnell has been in Washington long enough to know where the bodies are buried. And you can take this much to the bank: he will get even. Like Michael Corelone with his brother Fredo, McConnell will bide his time and when the opportunity presents itself he will strike.

For instance, let's say Mueller sometime next Spring - perhaps sooner - starts handing down indictments of Trump officials and then recommends to Congress that there is sufficient evidence to warrant an impeachment trial of Trump himself. Maybe Ryan can delay things in the House, but what if he can't. What if by that time, the GOP decides to cut its losses. The House votes to impeach and it proceeds to the Senate, where 67 votes will be needed to boot Trump from office. You seriously think McConnell is going to stick his neck out to protect the man who screwed him, especially with Mike Pence warming up in the bullpen? The Russians are right: revenge is a dish best served cold.

It's obvious what Schumer is doing here, and McConnell knows it, even if shit-for-brains doesn't. He's capitalizing on a growing rift between the Administration and the GOP; he's also making it more and more difficult for both Ryan and McConnell to get their agenda passed. Tax reform? You can toss that into the same scrap heap with Obamacare repeal. Both are ostensibly DOA.

Look for Schumer to dangle some treats in front of Trump's nose, like maybe a couple of billion dollars for more border patrol agents in exchange for DACA. Then maybe a middle-class tax package, with a slightly less ambitious corporate tax rate reduction than the one Republicans initially wanted, and a promise to back him on his infrastructure plan. Even Bernie might be on board with that.

And while Congressional Republicans seethe over the Turncoat in Chief in the White House, Schumer, Pelosi, et al, can finally run on something positive in the 2018 midterms besides their hatred for this president. That's called leading with your head instead of your chin, which is something Democrats have had great difficulty understanding for quite some time.

Voters want action, not rhetoric. Trump may be the most polarizing figure in American politics, but Democrats are not going to beat him by simply calling him names or staying on the sidelines. To win they must become a relevant force in Washington. Chuck Schumer understands this.

And if his party has any sense left at all, they will follow his lead.