And Now For Some Adult Supervision In Washington

Adult supervision was on the ballot in November 2018, and it won big.  Now some are predicting that 2019 will be an even wilder ride–but it doesn’t have to be that at all.  Why should we accept the soft bigotry of low expectations for our president?  Nancy Pelosi is not likely to do anything radically disruptive.  It’s up to the president to become presidential, if he is able.  Shouldn’t we expect our president to be not a toddler?  Not an enabler of Russian disinformation?  Not a thug but rather a president for all Americans?  So if 2019 is an even wilder ride than the last two years, it probably won’t be because “both sides” are lacking in civility.  A few Democrats can and will act foolish, but the leadership in the House of Representatives has an opportunity to pass bills that–if the president and the Senate cooperate–make America a better and greater place.  Will Senator McConnell and President Trump persist in serving the interests of the 1% of the 1%? Will they persist in overfilling the swamp with even more special-interest lobbyists in charge of our health care and our environment and our public lands and our military?

This year does not need to be a wild ride at all.  It can be a year of draining the swamp of self-dealing politicians, starting at the top.  The president is perfectly capable of respecting the rule of law and going quietly. If he is rude and corrupt and unhinged, we need not make a big drama out of marginalizing him and, if warranted, removing him. Democrats have the opportunity to do the people’s work calmly and professionally.  They can legislate and investigate, no need to choose.  They can pass a minimum wage increase, and fixes for the Affordable Care Act, voting rights legislation, clean air laws to counteract the EPA’s disgraceful abdications to polluters, renew the Violence Against Women Act (which Paul Ryan allowed to lapse), and much more–and if the Republican Senate and the president refuse to make these bills into law, so much the worse for them in November 2020.


Lowlife Says What?

Why on earth is President Trump bothering to tell us that he condemns “all types of racism”?  Why is signifying worse than lying? Why doesn’t he just admit that Christmas this year is going to be whiter than ever in his White House? Why, that is, is he insisting on being so pseudo-correct?  We know that he is pretending to believe that discrimination against forgotten white people is a greater threat than any other form of discrimination.  We do not need Omarosa telling tales about the bad words he supposedly spews to know that he is playing his base of the “poorly educated” (his words) white non-college graduates for fools.  Why do I say “for fools”? Because he is trying to sell them junk streetsurance, trying to get them to accept the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act by insinuating that it benefits the wrong people, trying to distract them with trash-talking black athletes, trying to bamboozle them with tough talk about brown people in Iran and Chicago and on the border and in the bushes of their neighborhoods, that’s why.  Trump is trying to get his base riled up so they put aside his attacks on collective bargaining and safety net programs and environmental laws (that hurt the “forgotten men and women” sooner and more than they do the wealthy).

But I believe that the mask has slipped a little when the president of the US is calling a woman he knew for many years before his election, and hired for a White House job–which cost taxpayers like you and me hundreds of thousands of dollars–when he calls her names like “lowlife,” you have to wonder, who is really the lowlife?  You have to wonder whether and hope that voters will take the time to show up in November and put a check on the power of our lowlife president.  Sorry if that’s not politically correct, but let’s call it what it obviously is.  Let the president whistle his fake-PC condemnation of “all types of racism,” and let voters condemn all types of Trumpism.

Are “Consumers” Really “Defying” President By Signing Up For ACA Coverage? Think Again, NYT

Today’s NY Times includes a story by Robert Pear, “Pace of Sign-Ups Under Affordable Care Act Blows Past Prior Years.”  So far so good.  But the first paragraph imputes motives that may not exist: “More than 600,000 people signed up last week for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, significantly beating the pace of prior years as consumers defied President Trump’s assertion that the marketplace was collapsing.”

Begging your pardon, but I did not sign up for ACA coverage this year (or ever) in order to defy the president.  I am simply hoping to get the best healthcare coverage I can afford.  I can’t speak for the other six hundred thousand plus people, but I suspect that many if not most are just doing what needs to be done.

I am happy to disagree with Trump, protest against Trump, maybe even agree with something he says or does, but “defy”?  Does this mean that Trump is the royal and we “consumers” are the subjects?  The last king my people defied was King George III.  Does the NY Times have any better idea than President Trump that the national executive is a public servant and that our national greatness, such as it is, does not depend on royal prerogative?  And furthermore, that dissent and disagreement are prerogatives of citizens in a constitutional democratic republic?  And by the way, do we speak of giant corporations and billionaires as “defying” the president when they clamor for more loopholes, lower tax rates, more squiggly wriggly “pass-throughs”?

Americans To Thug President Trump: Drop Dead, We Don’t Negotiate With Terrorists Like You

Even if we are in pretty good health and have some money saved up, Trump acts as if he can take our friends, cousins, and our children hostage to his whims, and then we’ll give him what he wants.  What he wants is always the same: we bow down to his royal self and praise his wisdom and benevolence.

We really can’t afford to do what he wants, or treat him as if he is a serious person, let alone an honorable and authoritative figure.  I don’t expect him to be an expert on health care policy, but is it too much to ask that a president not act first and foremost out of obvious malice?  I don’t expect him to know that there is no president of the Virgin Islands other than him, but it would be great if he didn’t treat American citizens as disposable losers less than a month after they got flattened by two hurricanes.  But it looks like anything that gets in the way of Trump indulging himself in the pleasures of the thug life is going to fall by the wayside.

Why Did President Trump Just Declare That President George Washington Was A Crazy Loser?

Donald Trump tweeted this morning that “the Senate must go to a 51 vote majority instead of current 60 votes.  Even parts of full Repeal need 60.  8 Dems control Senate.  Crazy!”

He may be right that our system of checks and balances, and our tradition of separation of powers, is crazy.  It is certainly inconvenient right this minute for a Republican president and a Republican House and a Republican Senate.  The Republicans control the Supreme Court too.  But their control is apparently not yet solid enough to erase “Obamacare.”  (Their control over the hearts and minds of Americans is also apparently not solid enough for them to take a real stand against foreign hostile powers such as Russia hacking our next election.)  So Mr. Trump in effect calls George Washington a loser and a fool.  Really, you may say.  Yes, really: according to Moncure Conway, writing in 1872, “there is a tradition that Jefferson, coming home from France (after the Constitution had been drafted), called Washington to account at the breakfast table for having agreed to a second, and, as Jefferson thought, unnecessary legislative chamber.  ‘Why,’ asked Washington, ‘did you just now pour that coffee into your saucer, before drinking?’  ‘To cool it,’ answered Jefferson, ‘my throat is not made of brass.’  ‘Even so,’ rejoined Washington, ‘we pour our legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.'”

The Senate was not designed to achieve the rapid resolution of conflicts possible in a parliamentary system.  Our second legislative chamber’s “cooling saucer” has blockaded and obstructed plenty of social progress (civil rights being Exhibit A) but it has also slowed or stalled plenty of horrible ideas, as 2017 (so far) shows.

If the president is fed up with all the obstacles to absolute rule, and wants to toss the Resolute desk over and go home to Manhattan, I say let him go .  If, however, he can overcome his snowflake personality and offer any ideas whatsoever that would improve upon the many flaws in the delivery of health care in this country,  let him speak now.  Let him spell out in detail just how he proposes to reshape the American healthcare system, or else be judged as the shallow and vindictive blowhard he now appears to be.  George Washington is watching him–and the rest of us too.

P.S. Donald Trump on Twitter, September 26, 2012: “Obama’s complaints about Republicans stopping his agenda are BS since he had full control for two years.  He can never take responsibility.”

Republicans Glowing Over Glorious Repeal Victory–Glowing In The Dark, That Is

Hat tip to Nancy Pelosi for naming the fate of Republicans who voted to trash, not repair, Obamacare today.  Now it is up to friends of actual affordable healthcare for Americans to reject rightwing “framing” and “narratives” and tell the American people plainly what just happened.  Republicans voted for this bill without any clear idea of its cost, without any budget estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, but when those numbers are released the ugly realities will become clearer.  “Framing” or no framing the nasty impact of this bill, if it becomes law, will hit many millions of citizens who have benefited from coverage through the Affordable Care Act, and many more millions of their family and friends.

Regarding the “freedom” Paul Ryan and his fellow zombies say we are about to enjoy, I would ask them to let go of their childish libertarian dreams and acknowledge that they are leaders of a government that got involved in the provision of health insurance because the human toll of destitution and premature death became unacceptable.

Of course there are sometimes tradeoffs between security and liberty.  In the case of health, however, most people experience health, security, and freedom as mutually reinforcing.  There is a loss of freedom, perhaps, if you are forced to acknowledge that you are part of a giant risk pool when you feel fine, or that you may face a day when, if you opt out of acknowledging your membership in that risk pool otherwise known as “society,” you are going to need healthcare at any price right now, and you might not have $150,000 on hand.  Oh, well, that’ll surely never happen.

Healthcare is not a “good” that can be subjected to simple free-market logic without causing massive unnecessary suffering, partly because the market for healthcare does not and cannot operate with the benefit of an essential precondition of efficient Pareto-optimal “perfect competition,” which is “perfect information.”  Perfect information is sometimes almost the opposite of how the healthcare market works.  Think of the market for used cars.  Think of all the very imperfect information,  not to say unrepentant lying, that occur during the sale of a used car.  Now think of yourself as a used car and of trying to “sell” yourself to an insurance company.  You tell them that you have very low mileage, excellent maintenance record, and all kinds of fibs.  They squint at you and want you to pay more than you can afford.  Depressing scenario, isn’t it?  But it gives some idea of what the rightwing framers and narrative-spinners are going to be up against and why the majority of Americans, if polls be believed, are feeling warmer and warmer about Obamacare as they realize their safety net or plan B, or maybe just plan C, could actually be taken away.

Now it is time for Democrats and others sickened by the new regime to make those who voted to mess with the Affordable Care Act pay the price and glow in the dark next year.

Did God Punish Poor White Trump Voters By Leaving Their Healthcare Untouched?

Could the Almighty have such a refined sense of irony that poor white Trump voters were punished this week by G-d leaving their health benefits intact?  Maybe G-d does not really believe in karma?  It was real problematic for a lot of folks to have to take healthcare entitlements and handouts from a skinny black dude.  But times change, and now we have a really rich, old, large, obnoxious white man in the White House.  It would be awful if everybody who needed to get low-cost care got cut off now.  Thank goodness the Freedom Caucus understood all this and preserved our Obamacare just when we were starting to think of it as the Affordable Care Act (surprise!).  Just hoping the

The Buck Never Stops With Me And I Will Not Have Your Back

Does Donald J. Trump realize that he is president?  Is he saying he is going to actively sabotage the Affordable Care Act so that we the people will be reduced to begging for relief?  Does he realize that one of the men standing next to him today, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, has plenty of regulatory discretion over the health exchanges.  Price can undermine the health of Americans in many ways.  Or help make things easier for people trying to get health care via sensible and flexible administrative rules and regulations.  Trump is never willing to be blamed, for anything, but from today forward controlling the “narrative” and deflecting accountability is going to get harder.

Easing The Burdens? Really? For Whom?

New President Trump’s first day included an executive order to “ease the…burdens” of the Affordable Care Act.  I hope journalists will ask “for whom.”  The reality is, easing a burden somewhere probably places a burden on some “forgotten men and women” without lobbyists to smooth their path.  Easing regulatory burdens sounds great if you do not weigh the costs and benefits.  Journalists, could you ease up on rehashing every tweet and every impediment to your access.  The real issue is, where will the burdens shift with the new regime.  None of us really knows yet where they will shift, but let’s focus on explaining real issues that are going to help or hurt real people.  Trump’s first executive order is about “incidence,” which in economics refers to where burdens lie–who pays?  “Cutting red tape”–that’s gaslighting.  Let’s dig deeper.  Trump is getting ready to rebrand the health care system.  Real journalism will not take any of it at face value, in fact really real journalism will cut out Trump’s propagandizing middlemen/salespeople/gaslighters and go straight to explaining who benefits (Cui Bono) and who gets it on the nose.

Why Paul Ryan Is Right That Obamacare “Is Collapsing As We Speak”

Speaker Ryan is right that “Obamacare is collapsing as we speak.”  That’s because his Republicans are voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  Thus it is collapsing.  Platitude solved.

Personally, I am happy to see that horrible Obamacare law go down.  That’s because my coverage, which is great so far, is with the ACA.  Oh, really?  You don’t say.  Hmmm… where did you say that protest march is next week?

No Opting Out Of The Trump Risk Pool

Repeal or no repeal of the Affordable Care Act, we are all captives in the Trump America Risk Pool.   Sure, there are problems with Obamacare’s risk pool dos and don’ts, but they are pretty much limited to health care.  The Trump risk pool is a wider, deeper problem.  For example, the news that we may well have a suborned and blackmailed president next week: that puts all Americans in a scary risk pool, even if it is of our own devising.  (Scary enough that Trump is almost halfway right that his tax returns are a minor concern now.)  As Charlie Pierce put it today, “everybody is waiting for somebody else to do something.  It’s like we’re all the crew of the Pequod, waiting for the mad captain to emerge from his cabin for the first time to explain how his obsessions should be ours as well….the president-elect may, in the words of Bruce Springsteen, have debts no honest man can pay.”

P.S. if you are ready to see Obamacare go down the tubes, because your own terrific health care is the Affordable Care Act, I have some bad news for you.

How’s That Swampy Drainy Thing Workin’ Out For Ya, Trump?

It is early days in Donald J. Trump’s new swamp-draining reality adventure. Let’s chill just a little bit and give him enough running room–I mean rope–and see what happens. I think the best protesting is likely to happen if and when Trump starts pissing people off. And in fairness to Trump or any president (missing you already, Obama, despite your mandarin tendencies) there are not too many easy win-win decisions that a president gets to make. If Trump increases the swamp gas fumes by hiring the oiliest of the lobbyist crowd, and shafts the “forgotten men and women,” the disgruntled “Carrier voters” of the rust belt who put him over the top, then the opportunity for successful protest will ripen. If Trump follows Paul Ryan’s lead and proposes privatizing Medicare and cutting off Trumpcare health exchange subsidies, solidarity against Republicans will be a much easier lift than if people disrupt highway traffic now and piss off ordinary people. Trump and the Republicans are about to take control of all three branches, and they will own the economy. They will either own the Affordable Care Act, or try to displace and dismember it. The hard choices are theirs, let them stew over it.

Exercise Freely All You Like, But Bearing False Witness Does Not Count As Free Exercise Of Religion

Re-reading my January 2 post on “Free Exercise,” I wondered if I should adjust my spectacles more toward the fine details or the bigger picture.

First, into the weeds: on Friday, January 3, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli presented the U.S. government’s response to Justice Sotomayor’s temporary injunction against enforcement of the contraceptive mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act in the case brought by Little Sisters of the Poor in Denver (by their legal team at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty).  When you get down to details, as Verrilli pointed out, accepting the nuns’ objection to filling out form EBSA 700 leads to absurd results (hat tip once again to Marty Lederman of Balkinization.)  Signing the form in their particular case would ensure that their female employees do not receive contraceptive coverage, in part because their health insurer, Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, prefers not to provide it and is not subject to any government regulation under provisions of the ERISA law of 1974 exempting churches.  Obamacare regulations also give the Little Sisters a simple way out of any possible taint, again because the Christian Brothers entity is considered a church group, not merely a religious nonprofit.  (I can see an objection to the clericalist bias of the federal regulations, but that is a separate issue.)  So the Little Sisters and their lawyers are refusing to take yes for an answer.  Moreover, as Verrilli notes, they “draw flawed analogies when they say that under the court of appeals’ reasoning [which went against the Little Sisters’ position] ‘Quaker conscientious objectors would suffer no penalties if they would just join the military; Jewish prisoners would suffer no burden if they would just eat the pork…’  To mirror the situation here, the question in all of these cases would be whether the religious objector could be required to sign a certification form in order to secure the religion-based exemption he sought…. [the Little Sisters/Becket Fund position] would seemingly mean that the…Jewish prisoner could not be required to fill out a form saying he had a religious objection to the consumption of pork before he was provided an alternative meal… When extending religious accommodations, the government must be allowed to provide for regularized, orderly means of permitting eligible individuals or entities to declare that they intend to take advantage of them.”

Amen.  Anybody who has a problem with that is just itching for a lost cause to fight.  The Notre Dame case and other similar cases are different in detail, but not in kind, in my opinion, as I discussed the other day.  And when Kyle Duncan of the Becket Fund argued on EWTN’s “The World Over” TV show the other day that the Little Sisters were being coerced to sign a “permission slip” for their insurer or administrator to provide birth control coverage, Michael Sean Winters of National Catholic Reporter rightly called him out for bearing false witness against the truth.

And what about the bigger picture?  I still do not wish to seem rude to the Little Sisters of the Poor or Notre Dame, but a distinction should be made between the official position of the Roman Catholic Church and the lives of an overwhelming majority of American Catholic women–98% or so of whom have used contraceptives, obviously not continuously, but at some point.  That number tracks comparably with the general population of American women.  Morality and righteousness may not always lie in numbers, but it is relevant that many if not most American Catholics, including theologians and even clerics, are dubious about the rationale of the papal encyclical from the 1960s against contraception.  Government policy on abortion is obviously strongly contested, but the Supreme Court’s Griswold decision legitimizing birth control is pretty unlikely to be overturned.  Public health policy is, or ought to be, nonsectarian and detached from particular creeds and confessions.  The health law is a neutral law of general applicability, which was the test the Supreme Court used in a 1990 free exercise case involving peyote rituals, the upshot of which was that states may but do not have to accommodate claims of religiously-based exemption from such neutral laws.  Nobody is force-feeding birth control pills to anybody, least of all the Little Sisters of the Poor. The cases against the contraceptive mandate, as revised by the Obama administration, are essentially aimed, seems to me, at reasserting control over (especially poorer) women’s access to birth control, with the usually unstated aim (depending on the audience) of restricting female autonomy more generally.  Does the free exercise of religious belief really depend on that?  Any lawyer, or woman religious for that matter, who has thought it through and still says “yes” should have their knuckles rapped.

Heaven Forbid The American People Should Get Any Rising Expectations

How much chance is there that the federal government will shut down in October? The threat of intraparty challenges to Republicans who do not show bona fides of intransigence tilts the odds toward shutdown, though it’ll become a right-wing dead end real quick unless they can frame interruption of Social Security checks as the fault of the illegitimate usurper Obama. Which they will try to do. This may even be absurd enough to challenge the convention of equivalence in blaming Democrats and Republicans–or not, given how entrenched false equivalence is and how well Republican politicians and special interest lobbyists have exploited the unwillingness of mainstream news to take note of obvious asymmetries in extremism.

Shutdown is likely because no shutdown would mean climbdown and capitulation to an illegitimate President, an unconstitutional health care law, and an unacceptable status quo, according to Tea Party thinking. It is up to the Democrats, starting at the top, not to sigh, not to become visibly agitated or annoyed, but to explain again why standing firm on implementation of the Affordable Care Act is in the best interests of the country. There is no reason to give Republicans an easy target by pretending extending health coverage is in all ways a free lunch, but there is good reason to explain the great benefit in moving toward a universal risk pool. And there is every reason to remind the public in a cheerful, upbeat way of the gains in security and quality of life that the Affordable Care Act will promote. It would be great if Democrats and perhaps even some Republicans would point out, again, the benefit of things like health care portability and ensuring coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Countering right-wing scare tactics will work best, though, only after the law’s provisions start to spread by word of mouth.

That is what really scares right-wing elites: that the tens of millions of people who have suffered becoming more and more insecure and economically marginal in the last few decades will discover that the Affordable Care Act makes a positive difference to them. Heaven forbid we should allow, or worse encourage, rising expectations among the 21st-century proletariat and lumpenproletariat.

Oppugnancy In The Defense of Oppugnancy Is In Fact A Vice

How far will the Republican majority in the House continue their oppugnant ways in the face of polls that show a majority of Americans likely to vote getting fed up with them? Yes, gerrymandering and redistricting have done quite a bit to insulate them, and fear of facing a righter-than-thou primary opponent makes deal-cutting complicated. But Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK) and Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) are neither fools nor anything other than conservatives. Burr said today that it is nuts to threaten to shut down the government unless the health care law is defunded, and Cole called the shutdown threat a “temper tantrum.” Their frank critiques of Republican extremism are significant signals, I think, of the beginnings of a climbdown. Norman Ornstein and Bruce Bartlett, among others, are sensible, nonliberal, and fair-minded critics of GOP oppugnancy (hat tip re this rare word to Charles H. Long, history of religions scholar) and of the rampant and whorish conventional wisdom of false equivalence–but the real action is when deeply right-wing elected Republicans point to an exit strategy from lunacy.