Wednesday, June 28, 2017

June 28, 2017
I must be naïve. After decades of observing American politics, it still amazes me that many of those elected by the people to do the people’s business go to such lengths to harm them. The Senate "health care" bill, following a similar effort by the House, was designed to do just that. It was, however, not bad enough for some.
One of those is Ron Johnson, whose election in 2010 and re-election last year add to the puzzlement over what has happened to Wisconsin. During the 2010 campaign, George Will, in an approving column, quoted Johnson’s philosophy: "First of all, freedom." Like many conservatives, freedom to Johnson means property and the right to keep it, especially the right to avoid having it taxed: "The most basic right is the right to keep your property." Once that was possible: "For a brief moment" (when, under Reagan, the top income tax rate was 28 percent), "we were 72 percent free."
Senator Johnson wrote a column for The New York Times on June 26 setting forth his views on the ACA (Obamacare), which levied some taxes, and the Senate’s proposal to terminate its evil effects. His argument consisted of a string of conservative clichés, along with some inconsistencies.
"Washington believes that the solution to every problem is more money." Apparently he is, after six years, not part of Washington, which consists only of irresponsible liberals. Do conservatives not throw money at the Pentagon? Never mind.
"Like Obamacare, [the Senate bill] relies too heavily on government spending, and ignores the role that the private sector can and should play." Ah, yes, the private sector, in which no waste occurs, and every action results in the public good.
"[P]ursuing continuous improvement and root-cause analysis are core ideas in private-sector problem-solving. From what I’ve seen in six years in office, these concepts are foreign to government." This is nonsense; the core concept, the principle aim, of private business is making a profit. Medicare, not burdened with shareholders, overpaid executives or lobbyists, applies a far greater percentage of its revenue to patient care than do insurance companies.
The health care system has "virtually eliminated the power of consumer-driven, free-market discipline from one-sixth of our economy." How, pray, would that discipline work out in health care? Does he think that patients will be inclined, or able, to shop for care, comparing fees (if disclosed) between providers? Would insurance companies, with their network model, even allow that? The Senator really can’t make up his mind as to the system he wants. He complains that our health care system results in "separating patients from direct payment for health care," but contemplates reliance on private insurance, which largely accomplishes that separation.
Apparently, though, I’m making this too complex: "[A] simple solution is obvious. Loosen up regulations and mandates, so that Americans can choose to purchase insurance that suits their needs and that they can afford." The Senate Republican bill, to Senator Johnson isn’t drastic enough: it "turns its back on this simple solution and goes with something far too familiar: throwing money at the problem."
These are not unique beliefs, nor are they new for Johnson. When he decided in 2010 to run for the Senate, he claimed: "The Health Care Bill is the greatest assault on our freedom in my lifetime. It will do great harm to the finest health care system in the world."[30]  Our health care system is more accurately described as an embarrassment, a term used in one review of international results. Every study in recent years has shown that we spend more for poorer results than other developed countries. The ACA has reduced the number of uninsured, but our system is far from the finest, measured before or after that law’s enactment.
Would the Senator’s solution, removing government help, make health insurance affordable for all? Hardly, and that isn’t his aim. The result would be, he says, that people "can choose to purchase insurance that suits their needs and that they can afford." For many people, what they can afford won’t be much, if anything, and therefore won’t suit their needs.
His philosophy is aptly summarized in an article in The Nation: "The [Senate] bill makes an equivalence between affording care and deserving care." In other words, according to the foes of government, everyone deserves the level of care he can afford, and no more: health care is a privilege, not a right.


30. r=0

Saturday, June 24, 2017

June 22, 2017

A number of reports have noted that Trump’s approval ratings are unusually low, especially for a point so early in a term. The mystery to me is why they are so high, considering his obvious incompetence. The Gallup tracking poll, asking how Trump is handling his job as President, has showed an approval rating of as much as 45, holding steady in the high thirties since late May. His disapproval rating has been above 50 almost from the start, but there is no evidence of impending desertion, and continuing support from more than a third.
When asked by Gallup, between June 7 and 11, about Trump’s handling of specific issues, responses were as follows:
The economy45532
Foreign affairs35623
Health care policy28675
Relations with Russia30665
The environment32635
Federal budget36576
Relations with news media34642
That produces a comparable result, an average of 36.1.[29] He dropped below one-third approval on issues which have received the most attention, which is some reason for hope.
 However, polls — even assuming that they accurately measure opinion — and votes are two very different things. Republicans have won the four special elections for the House held thus far, including the contest in Georgia which has drawn so much attention. Granted, these are Republican districts, but the results do not show abandonment of Trump. They may, however, demonstrate a movement away from him or from Republicans. All four districts were held by Republicans previously and all voted for Trump last year. Here are the GOP margins:

House, 2017House, 2016 Trump, 2016
South Carolina3.22019
In each case, there was a sharp drop off from the previous House election, and in three, a sharp drop from Trump’s margin. In Georgia, the Republican House candidate in this year’s election did better than Trump, but by a relatively small amount. Perhaps there is cause for optimism.
Whatever the message from those contests, Democrats need to do two things between now and November, 2018: decide on a message (and get it right), and work for greater turnout.
29. All poll results from


Monday, June 5, 2017

June 4, 2017

Are Donald Trump and his administration so bad that he should be removed from office? Yes.
An article in The New York Times on Tuesday asked "Can a Sitting President Be Indicted?" Even if there were grounds, the answer, probably, is no; impeachment is the appropriate remedy. Although the odds of impeachment of President Trump by this Congress are slight, it is necessary to begin making the case for removal now.
It is barely possible that Republicans in Congress will see the light on their own. The reputation of Republicans in Congress for clear thinking or serving the public interest is not impressive, and they think that Trump will useful to them in repealing the Affordable Care Act, cutting taxes on the rich and letting business do whatever it wants. However, they might be prodded to move if their constituents turn against Trump and, by extension, against them; if there are enough angry confrontations at town halls, ideology may give way to desire for re-election. Thus far, however, Trump’s supporters among the public haven’t deserted him despite his showing as clearly as possible that he’s a bad joke and the unlikelihood that he will look out for their interests.
Election of a Democratic Congress in 2018 would improve the odds of impeachment. There also is the possibility of removal under the Twenty-fifth Amendment, but that seems even less likely than impeachment. As a last resort, Trump could be rejected in 2020. Any of these happy outcomes depends on showing the country what Trump and his cohort are.

1. Trump’s personal failings.
He is undoubtedly one of the worst choices for the presidency ever, and the worst since Harding, who faced a less complicated, less dangerous world. Trump’s ignorance, foolishness, self-absorption and dishonestly damage America’s reputation abroad and impair its ability to positively influence events. They ensure that domestic policies will be a muddle, at best. His rudeness helped to turn the European part of his recent tour into a disaster. He blurted out, in Israel, that he hadn’t given away that Israel was the source of the intelligence he gave away to the Russians. (See 6.a. below).
His fragile ego has led him to exaggerate the size of the crowd at his inauguration, to concoct a story about illegal voting which denied him a majority, and now to appoint a commission to investigate "improper voter registrations and improper voting." The likely outcome will be vote suppression. A skin too thin for politics has led him to label the news media as enemies of the people, and to dismiss all negative reports as "fake news." Having something to hide would produce the same reaction. His refusal to release his tax returns supports that view.
His inane comments are not limited to oral statements, so the problem is not merely talking without thinking. Presumably there is no time pressure on his tweets, and they are just as foolish.
2. Conflicts of interest.
His tax proposal would lower the tax rate on "pass-through" income, such as that from partnerships or limited-liability companies. Trump reportedly receives income from 500 such organizations. It would eliminate the alternative minimum tax, which affects him, among other high-earners. Eliminating the estate tax would benefit his heirs. The presence of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump on his staff, both with extensive business interests, increases the scope of the conflict. His nepotism and conflicts of interest will taint any policy proposal.
3. Administrative incompetence.
Trump is so unaware and undisciplined that he conducted a national security conference with the Japanese premier, Michael Flynn and Stephen Bannon in a restaurant, in view and earshot of other diners. It was at his Mar-a-Lago resort, thereby also raising the conflict of interest issue. His constant flow of tweets, in addition to revealing his intellectual and emotional failings, create a risk of damage to the country by disclosure of sensitive information.
About 1,200 positions in the federal government require Senate confirmation. Of 559 "key positions," according to The Washington Post, nominees to 39 positions have been confirmed, 63 others have been nominated, 14 are "awaiting nomination," i.e., announced (floated?) but not actually submitted, and 443 positions have no nominee. [26] The positions for which there is no nominee include the following:
State Department: Under secretary for arms control and international security affairs; 41 Ambassadors, including those to Canada, France and Germany; and the Representative of the United States to the European Union.
Defense Department: Under secretary for intelligence; Secretary of the Army; Secretary of the Navy.
Justice Department: Assistant attorney general for the national security division; Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation.
National Intelligence Agency: Principal deputy director; Director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
For an administration fixated on national security, these are odd lapses. No legislation of significance has been adopted, partly due to the regressive nature of the proposals, partly to administration clumsiness, partly to disarray in Congressional Republican ranks. The attempt to overturn the ACA was a fiasco, fortunately.
Despite Trump’s description of his administration as a well-oiled machine, it is dysfunctional. The communications director is gone and press secretary Sean Spicer seems to be in the dog house. The flow of leaks from the White House demonstrates a high level of discontent and confusion.
4. Reactionary policies.
His budget would be a joke if it weren’t a threat. It favors the very wealthy, already insulated from real life. It cuts Medicaid, Social Security disability coverage and food stamps. It cuts funding for the State Department, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, environmental protection and food safety and inspection. It wastes over a billion dollars on the border wall, a symbol of Trump’s fear of immigrants. It throws even more money at the military, even though we spend more on "defense" than the next eight countries combined.
The budget doesn’t even make sense on the surface. It assumes 3% annual growth, not seen since 2005. It cuts taxes by $2 trillion, assumes (contrary to any evidence) that growth triggered by those cuts will produce $2 trillion in tax receipts to cover that loss, and then counts the $2 trillion again as a revenue increase.
The budget and the health care proposals would reverse progress made toward a responsible federal health care law, something finally achieved in part after a century of trying. The United States does not rank high internationally in health care; becoming even more backward hardly is a way to make America great.
Trump has tried, twice, to restrict entry by residents of Muslim countries, only to be slapped down by the courts. Any argument that the bans were not religiously motivated is belied by Trump’s anti-Muslim speeches during the campaign. Trump fired the acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, for instructing Justice Department lawyers not to defend the ban.
5. Diplomatic blunders
In Trump’s hands, we will be isolated, less powerful and potentially less secure. He has insulted allies — "The Germans are bad, very bad" because they sell cars in the U.S. — and praised dictators. He avoided promising to adhere to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which stipulates that other NATO allies must come to the aid of a member country under attack, even though the only time it was invoked was following 9-11, and even though his evasion came as he was dedicating a memorial to the attacks of that day. He declined to endorse the Paris accords on climate change.
Those exercises in self-injuring stupidity have led Angela Merkel to announce that, lacking American support, Europe must look to its own resources. Another effect may be to push some European countries toward Russia or China. On Thursday, Trump confirmed his withdrawal from the Paris agreement, leaving us in a state of denial joined only by Nicaragua and Syria.
6. Legal issues.
a. Russia. As reported by The New York Times on May 23, "intelligence agencies are unanimous in their belief that Russia directly interfered in the election." The FBI is, or was, pursuing that issue. Director Comey testified on March 20 that the FBI "is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed."[27] According to The Washington Post, following Comey’s testimony Trump "made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion . . . ." On May 9, Trump fired Comey, offering the laughable reason that he had mishandled the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
There is evidence that Trump fired FBI Director James Comey to impede the investigation into Russian ties to his transition team and administration. (Trump has admitted that he was thinking about the Russian issue when he fired Comey). If so, he may be guilty of obstruction of justice. This could be a rerun of Watergate, an attempted coverup becoming the trigger for impeachment. Trump’s hiring of outside counsel and the recent appointment of special prosecutor provide further echoes.
In January, Trump was warned by Acting Attorney General Sally Yates that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had lied to the vice president about his contacts with Russians during the transition. "To state the obvious," she told a Congressional committee, " You don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians." Despite the warning, Flynn hung around until February 13, eighteen days later
On May 10, Trump, in a meeting with the Russian Ambassador and Foreign Minister, disclosed intelligence information. Trump admitted that, on Twitter: "As President I wanted to share with Russia . . . which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety." Israel apparently was the source of the intelligence.
b. Business. Trump has many trademarks in China. He and daughter Ivanka have been awarded new ones recently; perhaps entirely by coincidence, that happened after Trump abandoned his challenge to China’s stance on Taiwan. Trump has business ties to numerous countries or their citizens; visitors from abroad curry favor by staying at Trump’s Washington hotel. All of this may implicate the Emoluments clause of the Constitution, which provides that "no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States] shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State."
An emolument, according to Black’s Law Dictionary, is "any advantage, profit, or gain received as a result of one’s employment or one’s holding of office." Whether Trump has violated the Clause is far from clear, but his foreign financial connections, and possible vulnerabilities, add another issue regarding his fitness to serve.
7. Impeachment.
If matters ever reach this point, any of the above may enter into the discussion. However, Trump needn’t be found guilty of a crime or even be indictable in order to be removed by impeachment. "The Framers . . . completely separated the impeachment-removal proceedings from a subsequent indictment and criminal trial. . . . History, in short, does not require indictability as the basis for impeachment."[28]
8. Harmful policies.
Several of these issues, such as self-serving tax cuts for the wealthy, opposition to environmental protection, cuts to the social safety net and possible collusion with Russia, have been mentioned above in other contexts. Their greatest significance, however, is not in their violation of some specific norm. They are harmful to the nation he purports to lead. That is the most direct and meaningful, if not the legally neatest, reason to remove him. He is dangerous to the welfare of the nation.


26. appointee-tracker/database/
27. Transcript of hearing, House Intelligence Committee, March 20, 2017.

28. Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, 1973, p. 661.

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