The view from Shawnee National Forest. (Thanks, Tom)
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Musings on politics, economics, and political economy
Are you in favor of taking health insurance from 20 million Americans? If so, you’re in a distinct minority: the Senate healthcare plan — what little we know of it — is supported by a mere 15% of Americans.
So why did it even come to a vote in the Senate? Distressingly, it appears that the answer is that Mitch McConnell and his GOP colleagues really don’t care what Americans think.
Leaving aside the irresponsibility of voting for a bill without knowing its contents contents — would you buy a house without going inside? — there’s the question of repealing a healthcare bill without properly replacing it, which Americans clearly oppose.
This is part of a larger assault on American political institutions by Republicans. Consider the outrage of denying a sitting president the opportunity to have his Supreme Court nominee considered. Or the outrageous gerrymandering that has effectively given Wisconsin Republicans 10% more voting power than their fellow citizens who are Democrats.
Sure, I’m partisan. But I’m also an American, and I am outraged by the disregard of our democratic institutions and traditions by leaders of the GOP.
You should be, too.
Another U.S. representative has been shot. (Note to right-wing haters: Gabby Gifford, a Democrat, was the first.)
Don’t expect this to be the last time. We have to recognize that people who buy guns are going to use them. And we have to expect that the mounting frustration of American voters is going to find expression in gun violence.
Between gerrymandering, voter suppression and the outrageous role of big money in our elections, our representatives — and I would submit GOP representatives in particular — are effectively insulated from the wishes of their constitutional constituents (not to be confused with their financial constituents).
We can, for example, expect the U.S. Senate to follow the House of Representatives to pass a healthcare bill the the American public does not want, effectively depriving tens of millions of American of health insurance, either directly through cuts in Medicaid, or indirectly through skyrocketing premiums for the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.
And ironically, the GOP at the state and federal level continues to countenance the inundation of our society with instruments of designed to kill human beings, despite the disapproval of the citizenry.
And of course, Mitch McConnell’s ingenius, evil obstructionism stymied a president twice elected by the people.
When the people who have bought into the GOP and Trumps message realize they’ve been duped, some of the disproportional number of gun owners among them may well react violently. The politics of naked power may face the power of violence.
This is not the sign of a healthy democracy. Frankly, I blame GOP leadership and its plutocratic supporters for that.
So people are frustrated, and too, too many have guns. As a practical matter, it would be technically easier to get the GOP to start listening to the American people, than to get hundreds of millions of handguns and assault weapons out of the hands of the declining number of people who own them.
We need more democracy and fewer guns. But if we don’t get at least one of these, expect more appalling events like the one that took place last Wednesday.
The Wisconsin State Assembly’s call for a constitutional convention – supposedly to pass a balanced budget amendment – may be a chance for the public to finally declare total war on ALEC, the right wing organization responsible for some of the most reprehensible legislation coming out of GOP-held state legislatures across the country.
Leaving aside questions about the wisdom of enforcing balanced federal budgets (spoiler alert: it’s foolish), the question we need to ask is why a constitutional convention, when an amendment would do.
The answer of course, is that the real aim of the convention would be to rewrite the constitution in ways that serve the ALEC agenda, and upend much of the social progress of the 20th century –indeed, the last 200. In the crosshairs would be:
Our country has not had a constitutional convention since the first one – not even after the Civil War. One reason is that a convention would open a pandora’s box and threaten our American government in ways most of us can’t even contemplate.
The argument for a balanced budget is a Trojan Horse: The call for a constitutional convention is an attempt to enshrine government by the wealthiest in our Constitution.
While the GOP has been shedding crocodile tears about election fraud — a demonstrably vain concern — others have for years* been warning about the dangers of electronic, web-enabled, non-auditable (or unaudited) voting machines.
Now comes a report that Russian hackers have at minimum probed the vulnerabilities of these machines.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that these machines have already been hacked by political operatives within the U.S. The CEO of Diebold, one of the largest developers of voting machines, famously said that electing George W. Bush was one of his top priorities.
And it must be said: The people who have for years been attacking the integrity of elections — by egregious gerrymandering and suppressing the votes of minorities should not be considered above more direct tampering with elections.
So the vulnerabilty of our election infrastructure has finally made it to the front pages of our newspapers, and that’s a good thing.
Now that the mainstream media is finally paying attention, let’s hope the voting public applies pressure to their elected officials to restore integrity to the heart of democracy, the popular vote.
I’m grateful to Nicole Tieman for her effort to delegitimize the complaints of people who have attended the Sensenbrenner town hall meetings (“Sensenbrenner aide: Town hall ‘uprising’ is scripted and doesn’t reflect the people,” March 30 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
She’s shown that the dissent has clearly touched a nerve.
I’ve been engaged in political activity of various kinds for years, and I’m meeting many new people, newly engaged in the governance of their country — far too many to be accounted for by “scripts.”
The Indivisible movement has offered legitimate — and apparently effective — ways for people to channel their worry, and occasional outrage, over affairs in Trump’s Washington. It’s true that people — including, presumably, people in Sensenbrenner’s offices — frequently use “talking points” to help clarify their own thinking. But the surge in citizens’ concern over bad policies and frustration over ineffective governance is unlike anything I’ve seen. If spontaneous does indeed mean “coming or resulting from a natural impulse or tendency,” the word fits perfectly.
(By the way, among the tips from Indivisible is an admonition to behave in a cordial and dignified way; There are no “scripts” calling for disruption. Indeed, it’s in the dissenters’ interest to have as many of their voices heard as possible, and they know it. Note also that disruptions, while unfortunate, pre-date the Indivisible movement, as those who regularly town halls can tell you.)
If Ms. Tieman is hoping to provide excuses for Rep. Sensenbrenner to forego future town halls, she’d better come up with a better reason than legitimate dissent that she finds disagreeable, instead of ginning up tall tales about torches and pitchforks.
I applaud the congressman’s longstanding willingness to attend town halls, and, while I don’t expect it, I would view it as an act of cowardly disservice to his constituents if he hid behind such flimsy excuses such as Ms. Tieman has offered.
If you, like so many others, are concerned about the turn things have taken since November, join us! You won’t be scripted or incited to riot.
But you will be heard.
What have we learned from the failure of the AHCA, the GOP’s attempt to supposedly “repeal and replace” Obama’s ACA?
The most obvious takeaway is that Trump doesn’t care about his campaign promises. He promised something better than Obamacare, but instead supported a bill that would result in fewer Americans having healthcare and higher costs for those who did have it under the ACA.
We learned that Paul Ryan is not a serious policy wonk who can create acceptable policy; he cobbled together a bill so wretched that he couldn’t even bring it to a vote, for fear of an even greater humiliation than he did endure.
We learned that, in fact, most people do want Obamacare, which is why so many congressional Republicans opposed the so-called “repeal and replace” bill they were offered by Ryan. That’s not to say Americans don’t see problems with the the current law, but they want it improved, not destroyed. Everyone saw that Ryan’s bill was no improvement.
We learned that Republicans are good at getting elected, but very, very bad at governing. Trump showed little sign of knowing what was in the bill. Ryan seemed to have no idea what his own party members would accept. The Republican Congress as a whole – which was great at stopping Obama – can’t agree among themselves how to actually replace something they spent 7 years trying to destroy.
Finally, we saw that the GOP leadership was willing to sell out Americans – 24 to 56 million Americans – to give tax breaks to the wealthy. Remember that as you watch the coming debate on tax reform – or should I say “tax reform.”
The Congressional Budget Office has weighed in with their assessment of the GOP’s America Health Care Act: Savings of $378 billion over 10 years, 24 million losing health care, and increased costs.
Let’s start with the savings, $378 billion over 10 years. That’s less than the $597 billion we spent on the military in 2015 alone. We can argue about the magnitude of our military spending, but it seems fair to say that the health of our citizens is at least 6% as important as the security afforded by our military. (And by the way, Trump want to increase military spending as we cut health care spending.)
The annual federal budget is roughly $3.8 trillion dollars. If, for simplicity’s sake, we say the annual savings of ACHA is $38 billion, that’s about 1% of the budget. The median income in the U.S. is $52,000. What American would throw one of their family members off of their health care to save $520 a year?
And, in fact it makes more sense to compare the family income with the national economy, which generates about $18 trillion. The savings amount from AHCA amount to less than 0.25% of our gross domestic product ($130 of the income of our hypothetical family above).
Bottom line: Should we throw 24 million people off of health care to save 1% of our budget? Or a quarter of a percent of our GDP?
And by the way, along with the $378 billion in savings, there’s $600 million tax break for the very wealthy, who, lets face it, don’t need a tax break nearly as much as people need healthcare.
“Whatsoever you do…”
ACA (or Obamacare), the plan the GOP is rushing headlong to replace, admittedly could be improved. But it has made more Americans secure, probably slowed the rate of the growth of healthcare in the country, and made a modest step toward providing the sort of care that our economic peers around the world take for granted. It’s not a “nightmare.” The GOP’s AHCA is.
And it’s a lousy deal for America.
It’s getting to be hard to see how Donald Trump will complete his term as president.
Leaving aside the potential for impeachable offenses, past, present, or future, I think there’s a fundamental hurdle that Trump may find insurmountable.
America isn’t his personal businesses. He doesn’t run it. It’s not his creation, something he can use any way he likes.
In particular, the American system of government has a baked-in balance of power that is unlike anything Trump has dealt with as an adult.
He cannot act by fiat. He cannot define a reality and expect everyone to conform to it.
He’s the president, he’s not the boss. The citizenry is the boss, and the wisdom of the constitution is that the system of checks and balances ultimately leaves control to the voters.
Throw in the “fourth estate,” the news media, and the system of checks and balances becomes even more robust. Trump has made a living manipulating the media, but we’re seeing the limits of his mastery of the media’s journalists.
Many times the system has faltered, but it has recovered and maintained its dominating role in the way America works.
All this is likely to lead to unbearable frustration for Trump, who has spent a lifetime making his own rules, and by and large getting away with it. But now he’s up against one of the things that makes America great, something that has stood up for more than two centuries, through wars — even a cataclysmic civil war — economic panics and depressions, even existential threats like the Cuban Missile Crisis.
I think it’s safe to say that Trump doesn’t really understand this, but its bigger than he is, and I don’t think he can abide that.
His way of re-establishing control over his reality will be to abandon the system that imposes reality on him.
And, disruptive as may that prove to be, it will be another triumph of the American way of government.
Conservatives are famous for saying they want “to starve the beast,” by which they mean the federal government (and more recently, state governments).
Let’s stick with the beast metaphor, but try this on for size: The beast is actually a guard dog, protecting us from rampant capitalism — the real beast we need to worry about.
Our government may be a beast, but we hold the leash, which is our vote. Not so the corporate beast, which is a ravenous predator whose only limit is the occasional collapse of the ecosystem it exploits to extremes, if left unchecked.
Of course, a guard dog can get fat and lazy. It can be tamed by treats, offered by people seeking to gain its trust — or at least acquiescence. But that can be avoided by the vigilance of those holding the leash.
In our metaphor, of course, we see our elected officials — collectively, our guard dog — being tamed by corporate money, which they begin to seek immediately after election.
We need our guard dog, but it must be brought to heel, not by corporate millions, but by millions of our votes.
Trump’s debate remark about the “corrupt media” poisoning the mid of the voters is laughable at first. Whatever our complaints about the media, we have a fairly wide ranging array of views on offer, from Fox News to MSNBC — not to mention the internet outlets.
But does appear that the right end of the political spectrum has united with Democrats, Greens and Libertarians in their contempt of Donald Trump.
Leaving aside the GOP catastrophe that is Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s impact on democracy has been distressingly corrosive.
Trumps ascension is really the result of twin Republican stratagems, and they have finally lost control of the monster they’ve created.
The first tool they employed was Gingrich’s notion that the GOP had to demonize its opponents. The mad rampage of Kenneth Starr is probably the worst example of this, but the email and Benghazi “investigations” are very much related.
The second was the establishment of the right-wing echo chamber that has served its audience a steady diet of fabrications and hyperbole for 20 years or more. Much of the distrust of Hillary Clinton is a product of the right-wing media smear machine.
Now we have a sizable portion of the electorate that doesn’t merely have different ideas of government’s role in society, but believes that a Clinton presidency would be a true catastrophe for the country. They are angry and heavily armed zealots for a weird Randian world view that probably regards them as worthy only to be serfs. They subscribe to the notion that the Obama presidency is the worst thing that has ever happened to the country, despite the (pre-2010) fiscal and economic policies that have put the country in vastly better shape that it was when Obama was elected. They blame Obama for the failures of an obstructionist Congress that has accomplished next to nothing since 2010.
Paul Krugman recently pointed out that Trump supporters don’t believe government data that the economy is better, yet report that they personally are doing better economically, which would seem to corroborate the government data, ain’a?
But, returning to the GOP’s assault on democracy, we should not forget the egregious gerrymandering that has been conducted by GOP state legislatures. The GOP has lost 4 of the last six presidential elections, yet has won control of Congress, suggesting either that Americans are schizoid voters, or that Democratic votes count for less at the congressional district level due to gerrymandering.
An important consequence of this gerrymandering is that Congressional incumbents are unassailable, and hence less accountable to their constituents. This is a large source of the contempt Americans have for Congress.
If the Democrats win the White House and the Senate, it will be a confirmation of the impact of gerrymandering, whose effect is primarily on the House of Representatives and state houses
It isn’t yet clear what impact the Trump candidacy will have on this state of affairs, but I’d guess that Paul Ryan’s career as Speaker of the House is doomed, and just maybe GOP control of state legislatures will be eroded in both the 2016 and 2018 elections. This could mean the reversal of gerrymandering and a return to a much more competitive political environment, which will force some honesty on the GOP.
Do you remember the election in which a draft dodger was running against a decorated Vietnam veteran, and the veteran was slammed with allegations of cowardice?
If not, maybe the term Swiftboating will jog your memory.
I bring this up 12 years after the event to illustrate a fundamental element in the right-wing playbook: Attack your opponent’s strengths to obscure your own weaknesses.
Which brings us to the Clinton Foundation. The foundation, which has helped millions and is highly regarded by objective charity raters, has magically been transformed into a political millstone around Hillary Clinton’s neck, just as John Kerry’s military service became a dishonorable misadventure.
Media coverage of this “scandal” and the so-called email “scandal” — despite the FBI’s dismissal of the issue and former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s similar use of non-governmental communications channels — has contributed to the public perception of Clinton as an outrageous abuser of power. (The news media’s complicity in this remains something of a mystery to me, perhaps they regard it viewed as sufficient to report a lie told by someone, but not that it IS a lie.)
Clinton, who has devoted her life to public service, is somehow viewed as less trustworthy than Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, Trump a serial cheater of workers, a racist, a bully, a misogynist, who has demonstrably been only in it for himself all his life, gets a pass on his bankruptcies that stiffed ordinary Americans, his scams that bilked thousands (Trump “University”), his incoherent statements about everything from trade to foreign policy (no one is paying for The Wall because no one is building it).
So, you get to choose between a devoted public servant who has worked to help literally millions, and a venal, greedy tyrant-in-waiting.
Here’s a tip: If you want to know who Donald Trump is, listen what he says about Hillary Clinton and apply it to him.
The first thing that must be said is that, as appalling as the “groping tape” shows Trump to be, it’s disappointing that this election could turn on sexual offensiveness, rather than on the substantive threat a Trump presidency poses to the nation and the world.
Trump was always easily identifiable as a person intellectually and temperamentally unsuited for the presidency. Yet the GOP leadership lined up behind him – Paul Ryan and Rance Priebus are still lined up behind him.
Now, as the GOP tries to distance itself from Trump, it’s worth emphasizing that the GOP is running for cover not for what Trump would do to country, but because of what he’d do to the Republican Party.
But what has Trump already done? He has exposed the GOP’s dog-whistle appeals to hate and fear , promoting policies that are demonstrably bad for most Republican voters and for the nation as a whole. Trump’s divisive, outrageous rhetoric has garnered support from people who were tired of the GOP whispering the same things Trump has bellowed.
The base supported a catastrophic war in Iraq. The base supports a Congress that is devoted to the interests of the 1%. The base supported Paul Ryan, a counterfeit “policy wonk” who sprinkles magic dust over budget plans that would gut Social Security and Medicare – for ideological reasons, not out of fiscal necessity.
I doubt that Rance Priebus and Paul Ryan share Trump’s contempt for women (unless they are poor women), but it is a serious mistake to suppose that they not complicit in the GOP ideology and tactics that have made Trump’s presidential candidacy a reality.
After the Newtown shootings, a British journalist was heard to observe that if the killing of children was tolerable, the gun debate in the U.S. was over.
That may have changed. The killing of 5 police officers in Dallas might finally galvanize public opinion on gun control in a way that nothing has — at least for 50 years.
Dallas, of course has a fraught history with firearms. Because Lee Harvey Oswald used a mail-order rifle to kill President Kennedy, the NRA supported both banning mail-order sales of rifles and the 1968 Gun Control Act.
An illuminating article in the Atlantic Monthly, “The Secret History of Guns,” notes that the Black Panthers’ exercise of their right to bear arms is what led to the passage of the Mulford Act in California, which repealed a law allowing public carrying of loaded firearms.
But as Mike Weisser, AKA Mike the Gun Guy, observed in an interview with The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos, the spectacle of a white motorist being beaten in L.A. following the Rodney King verdict was a defining moment in the NRA’s campaign to use fear — and racial fear — as a way to promote gun ownership.
Now a black gun owner professing to want to kill white police officers is implicated in the shooting of 12 Dallas cops, five fatally. It must finally appear to its members that the NRA has opened a Pandora’s Box in much the same way the the GOP’s messaging has ultimately led to the nomination of Donald Trump. Crazy talk leads to crazy actions.
One of the painful ironies is that the Dallas Police Department appears to be one of country’s most respectful and respected. (Listen to Rev. Michael Waters speak to NPR.) And as the Falcon Heights shooting suggests, the proliferation of guns in black communities is unnerving to police.
Another irony is that the extra-judicial killing of the Dallas suspect, Micah Xavier Johnson, will likely be viewed by many as further proof that black lives don’t matter to police. I’ll personally suspend judgment as to whether the robot-delivered bomb was the only solution to the standoff, but I’m sure others won’t.
The killings in Dallas are shocking and horrifying, but aren’t we all, somewhere deep inside, a little surprised that it didn’t happen sooner?
We can expect the killings by police and of police — and vastly more frequently of American citizens by other citizens — to continue until we recognize that the proliferation of instruments designed to kill human beings — designed to kill human beings — is morally unacceptable, and must not only be halted, but reversed.
Hearing Donald Trump’s ludicrous response to the mass murder in Orlando takes one’s breath away.
It’s not so much that Trump says what he says, but that, knowing he is capable of saying such things – can be expected to say such things – the GOP has embraced him as their candidate. Surely this is a party that has completely lost any claims to credibility.
Rather than pretending that the U.S. under President Obama has been working steadily and vigorously to defeated ISIS and other forms of Islamicist terror, Trump should be asking – as we all should – how is it that a person in the U.S. can legally obtain the capacity to kill 50 people.
Bernie Sanders needs to do the right thing.
If he wants to continue to run, God bless him.
But if he wants to run on the trope that there’s no difference between Hillary Clinton and any of her possible GOP opponents, then he’s doing the country and his supporters a grave injustice.
As to his complaints about independents being unable to vote for him in New York, that’s really a self-indictment of his own incompetence. The rules were there for all to see; he should have warned his supporters months ago about the voting rules in New York. That his campaign failed to do so doesn’t speak to his ability to assemble a competent economic team, a competent foreign policy team, or a competent cabinet.
One has to wonder whether a President Sanders response to other unnoticed realities — in the Middle East, in Russia, or in Congress — would be more whining about fairness.
It’s no secret that this country has serious problems — and that the future of our youth is imperiled by the income inequality that Sanders has so effectively brought to the public conversation.
But Sanders had better let his youthful supporters know that he isn’t the only answer to their problems, that there are other people — lots of them — with opposing views that must be taken into consideration, and that politics is the art of dealmaking between opponents, or it’s about pure power, which history tells us always ends badly.
“I think what [Trump]’ll do to the Republican Party is really make us question who we are and what we’re about. And that’s something we don’t want to see happen.”
— Nikki Haley
It’s hard to think of a better summary of the ossification of the GOP’s intellectual foundations than this observation by the South Carolina governor.
The GOP has become the party of naked power. That’s the only way to make sense of the so-called policies they propose — destruction of the safety net, of the environment, the ludicrous denial of climate change, and the even more ludicrous defense of the proliferation of handguns and assault weapons in the hands of the untrained masses.
Of course they don’t want to engage in a little honest self-examination: They are intellectually – and to a large extent morally – bankrupt.
Who wants to see that in themselves?