March 29, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v83)

I don't have a lot to offer on the wondering front, this Wednesday.

I do wonder, though, what Ivanka will really be doing.

I thought she was to have been her father's eyes and ears in the White House, his personal wire-tapper, to pay attention to things, to tell him what she heard and what she saw, a la Big Brother, or Big Sister, or maybe as Big Daughter for Big Daddy.

But no, that's not it at all.

She is to have a transparently ethical and "unprecedented" role, the likes of which we have not seen  and may never see again. Unless, of course, our next President is also a business man charlatan con man family man ad man rally man clueless man governing man, with a boatload of children who could serve as ambassadors.

This is a man who represents the faction of our country that rails against 'unelected bureaucrats' as the downfall of our democracy, and who fills his administration with unelected family members and unelected spouses of family members to act in official roles like, oh I don't know, SWATing the government to make improvements in agencies run by those dreaded unelected bureaucrats, for example. Is there no irony there, I wonder?

At least the unelected bureaucrats are doing the business of the people by putting into effect the regulations that our elected officials have passed (unilaterally or in some bipartisan manner). The unelected children of the president are doing the bidding of... whom? Are implementing the regulations approved by what act of... which Congress?  Who elected... them?

I also have to wonder, how long before we see Tiffany Trump make her mark on the White House? Perhaps not an office in the West Wing - that may be a little much for her, since she's not been involved all that much with the other three elder Trumps. But maybe there's an East Wing spot for her? Maybe something in the basement like that poor girl on Aaron Sorkin's West Wing TV show?

And Barron. Don't forget the Fifth Child, the First Child of the First Family. What will his official unpaid role be? Maybe he will be able to consult on stuff like recess and what not for Betsy DeVos?

I supposed we can be happy that he only has these kids. Well, the five -- and Omarosa.

And I wonder, what will become of Take Your Daughter to Work day, now that (as I saw on Twitter), every day is Take Your Daughter to Work Day?.

And did any of his supporters wonder whether the greatest jobs president God ever created was going to become a family employment agency?

And, I wonder, are they REALLY good with that?  Judging by his 35% approval rate, can we surmise the answer is no? Or are they the ones who do approve?

I wonder.

March 27, 2017

OrangeVerse VII: Keep on Trucking

Truckers came to Washington, they did indeed. Talking about health care, or deregulation, or something. They did let the big guy blow the horn, and toot some verse.

Leaders
And I must say, really,
you are the leaders.
You are the big ones.
I'm very impressed I was able to get you.

No one knows
America
like truckers know
America.

You see it every day, and
you see every hill and
you see every valley and
you see every pothole in
our roads that have to be redone.

Every town, 
every forest, 
from border to border
to ocean to ocean
-- it's true.
It's true.

And you love America, and
you love the spirit, and
we love your spirit. 

And we want to thank you
very much, because - 
very special
people.

But you
take care of
yourselves,
you look out
for your friends

and you 
don't stop

until the job is done.

That's true.



March 26, 2017

Sunday School 3/26/17


Lots going on in Sunday School today.

Intelligence. Russia. Healthcare and health insurance. Trump. Ryan. Gorsuch. Let's see what's going on in a few classrooms, shall we?

On Face the Nation (CBS), for me, the highlight of the show was the commentary by John Dickerson at the end of the first half hour. They had talked about the health care debacle, and about the actions of the House Intelligence Committee, and about president Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan. I didn't see any really new ground broken there.

Talking about the president and the office of the presidency, Dickerson noted that Trump said President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower; we know now that the FBI has no evidence of that (which means that Trump lied, even though Dickerson didn't use those words); he talked about the difference between the president and the office of the presidency, and then he quoted one of Trump's favorite presidents, Andrew Jackson.
"I shall keep steadily in view the limitations of my office," said Andrew Jackson. Break the limits and you break the office. 
Nevertheless, President Trump compared his predecessor to Nixon and McCarthy, called him sick and bad. To break glass like that, a president must have a good reason and proof. President Trump had no evidence and no higher purpose. Tending the presidency is important for a disruptive president like Donald Trump, because it shows people he knows the line between renovating the office and demolishing it.
You measure twice and cut once. You don't cut without measuring at all.
On NBC's Meet the Press, Director of the Office of Management Budget Mick Mulvaney, a former member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, talked about the failure of the Rs to repeal and replace Obamacare. Chuck Todd asked Mulvaney about Trump pinning the failure on Mulvaney's caucus and on prominent conservative groups the Club for Growth and the Heritage Foundation. Here's Mulvaney's response.
Yeah, and I think there's plenty of blame to go around. As we sat over the last two days and tried to figure out what happened, I think what happened is that Washington won. I think the one thing we learned this week is that Washington was a lot more broken than President Trump thought it was. So what you have is the status quo wins, and unfortunately the folks back home lost...
Todd pressed on:
So, the Republican party has not changed Washington after taking over the House in '10, taking over the Senate in '14, and taking over the White House now?
Mulvaney:
I think more importantly, we haven't been able to change Washington in the first 65 days. And I think if there's anything that's disappointing and sort of an educational process to the Trump Administration was that this place was a lot more rotten than we thought that it was, and than I thought it was, because I've been here for six years. I know the Freedom Caucus, I helped found it. I never thought it would come to this. 
Interestingly, Mulvaney is not the only one who thinks that way. Texas Representative Ted Poe announced today he is leaving the Freedom Caucus.
I have resigned from the House Freedom Caucus. In order to deliver on the conservative agenda we have promised the American people for eight years, we must come together to find solutions to move this country forward. Saying no is easy, leading is hard, but that is what we were elected to do. Leaving this caucus will allow me to be a more effective member of Congress and advocate for the people of Texas. It is time to lead.
CNN's State of the Union had the man who probably should have been President on, talking about the health care debacle. Yep, I'm talking about Ohio Governor John Kasich. Today's host Dana Bash asked about extreme partisanship, Republicans saying the old days are over and Dems being determined not to work with the Reps.
Well, that's pathetic. That's pathetic. First of all, it's not the old days anymore. If you don't have the old days back from the standpoint of people being Americans before they are Republicans and Democrats, nothing will get done. And if the Democrats don't want to reach out and be constructive, then call them on it. Talk about the fact that they won't help, because many of them will, if it's put the them...
And I understand that Donald Trump has said, maybe we should have done this more with Democrats. Right now, off the get-go, it's all partisan. The Democrats did it with Obamacare, and it's not sustainable. And the Republicans tried to do this with just Republicans. It doesn't work like that in our country. We're not a parliamentary system. And whenever you continue to operate like that what you pass will never be sustainable. And it will -- the people of this country, particularly the vulnerable, the mentally ill, the drug-addicted, the chronically ill, who will pay the price for politics. It needs to stop. 
Kasich took it one step further, when Bash suggested he was talking about a utopia that simply doesn't exist in DC.
Well, there's a way to improve all of this and to save money and to transform the system. And look, if you're on the extreme, whether you're on the right of whether you're on the left, you ought to be marginalized. And that's what happens when you bring reasonable Republicans with reasonable Democrats together, and then you see the extremes start to move a little bit to be more constructive. Right now, when you start with a deck that's only a limited number of cards, then you don't have a big hand to play. Frankly, if Republicans quietly over time will reach out to Democrats, find the constructive ones, you will begin to marginalize the extremes. 
He didn't win the Republican primary, but he won this argument hands down. Extremism is killing us, and both parties own that. 

And our last look into the classrooms today, This Week with George Stephanopoulos on ABC talked about the Gorsuch SCOTUS nomination, and a potential filibuster with NY's Chuck Schumer. They also talked about another comment Schumer had made regarding delaying consideration of Gorsuch, in light of the Russia investigations. Here's how George posed it:
But you also said this week that it would be unseemly to approve Judge Gorsuch as long as this FBI investigation is going on into the Russian interference in our election. That could take years.
Schumer's response?
Yeah, but we didn't say years. What we said is for months. Let's see where -- look, this is a very important appointment - lifetime, affects America in huge ways. Judge Roberts came on the court, now Justice Roberts. Citizens United dramatically changed America. Taking away voting rights changed America. Trying to get rid of unions... So, let's see where this investigation goes for a few months and delay. It's up to our Republican colleagues. I hope they'll accept that argument. If the investigation looks like it's (going) nowhere, fine. If it looks like it's really serious, yeah, we ought to consider what I said. 
Interesting, using the 'fruit of the poisoned tree' argument to oppose Trump's nomination of Gorsuch. And it seems Schumer is not the first to make it -- Charles M. Blow made it back in February.

See you around campus.

March 24, 2017

Trump in Transition (v14)

It's been a tough week for the president, don't you think?

President Trump, who famously told us "healthcare is an unbelievably complex subject, nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated."

Who knew?  We all knew it could be "so complicated" -- we've been hearing about it for seven years now, as of yesterday. It went all the way to the Supreme Court, for heaven's sake. Where was the president when all of that was going on?

Heck, the only thing that's not uncomplicated about it is all of the votes the Republicans took during the Obama administration to repeal it.

Who knew health care could be so complicated? Well, now he knows for sure.
We were very close, and it was a very, very tight margin.
Oh boy. The president probably lied again. According to many estimates I've seen, there were more than 30 Republicans who were going to vote against the American Healthcare Act, and that number was growing, not shrinking, as the day went on Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan needed all but maybe a dozen of their own party to pass the bill, so they probably missed by more than a "very, very tight" margin.
We had no Democrat support. We had no votes from the Democrats. They weren't going to give us a single vote, so it's a very difficult thing to do.
Yes, it is a very difficult thing to do, trying to pass something with little or no support from the opposition. It shouldn't be so hard, thought, when your party holds the White House and the House of Representatives and the Senate.
A lot of people don't realize how good our bill was because they were viewing phase one. But when you add phase two -- which was mostly the signings of Secretary Price...and you add phase three, which I think we would have gotten - it became a great bill. Premiums would have gone down and it would have been very stable, it would have been very strong. But that's OK. 
Governing is not like the business world, where a billionaire developer can get people to give him something, phase one of something, because the full package is so great, even though people often know that when a wheeler-dealer developer makes a promise for phase one, phase two, phase three, they'll be lucky if phase one even gets finished.
So what would be really good, with no Democrat support, is if the Democrats, when it explodes -- which it will soon -- if they got together with us and got a real healthcare bill. I would be totally up to do it. And I think that's going to happen. I think the loser are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, because now they own Obamacare.  They own it -- 100 percent own it.
And this is not a Republican healthcare, this is not anything but a Democrat healthcare. And they have Obamacare for a little while longer, until it ceases to exist, which it will at some point in the near future. And just remember this is not our bill, this is their bill.
Um, not sure how the American Health Care Act, the Paul Ryan Health Care Act, the one that Ryan said the president helped write, is the Pelosi-Schumer bill?
I want to thank the Republican Party. I want to thank Paul Ryan -- he worked very, very hard, I will tell you that. Tom Price and Mike Pence - who's right here, our Vice President, our great Vice President. Everybody worked hard. I worked as a team player and would have loved to have seen it passed.
But you're not going to pin this sucker on me, oh no you're not! This was Ryan's bill, I was just a team player, I was not the ringleader (Paul Ryan), I was not the guy who worked very, very hard (Paul Ryan), I would have loved to have seen it passed but I'm not the one who failed (Paul Ryan).
So I want to thank everybody for being here. It will go very smoothly, I really believe. I think this is something -- it certainly was an interesting period of time. We all learned a lot. We learned a lot about loyalty.
And we learned a lot about the people in my party, the Freedom Caucus, who are not loyal at all to me.
We learned a lot about the vote-getting process.
Because all this time, I thought the party whip was just a whip, and I don't think people know that's not the case. Did you know the whip was a person? Did you know Abraham Lincoln was a Republican? I don't think most people know that either, do you?
We learned a lot about some very arcane rules in, obviously, both the Senate and in the House. So it's been -- certainly for me, it's been a very interesting experience. But in the end, I think it's going to be an experience that leads to an even better healthcare plan.
So thank you all very much. And I'll see you soon.

March 22, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v82)

What's there to wonder about, this Wednesday?  Plenty, it seems.

Seven years of voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, at least 87 million bucks wasted in the process, and now, finally, the Republicans are going to vote on a replacement product, the American Health Care Act, something that seems to have much less 'care' than its predecessor.  It's almost hard to believe that, with all of that practice, this AHCA actually has a chance of not even making it out of the House. Speaker Paul Ryan has solidly connected the bill to the White House, and engaged the Deal Maker to twist arms, even as Republicans in his shop and in the Senate are dropping this entirely in Ryan's lap. I wonder, will Ryan and Trump be able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat tomorrow? And if they do, how will the darn bill ever get through the Senate?

Trump's 'skinny budget', the little one presidents release in advance of the big one that comes out in May, dropped last Thursday. The budget, we were told by Mick Mulvaney, was an #AmericaFirst budget, representing the priorities of the #AmericaFirst candidate who became the #AmericaFirst president. Trump's priorities, like his true beliefs, have been in question all along, but the budget is based on what he said on the campaign trail, so maybe this is what he believes. Even better, his budget outline is dollar neutral: what new spending he adds, his new take-aways negate - and that should make some people happy, at least, What I'm wondering about, though, is why Trump is negating his own budget?

That's right. Trump, who cut $200M from NASA's budget, signed a bill that would increase NASA's budget by that exact same amount, because it's all about jobs, I guess. But is that really our goal with NASA? Is that really why we want to go to Mars, to create jobs in Florida and Texas?  I really have to wonder about that.

Speaking of Trump and jobs, Ivanka Trump has a new job. Well, not a job, per se; it's something unofficial that has her working, for free we're told, in the West Wing, with a security clearance and 'government devices' which I think means she won't need to use her own personal phone for Instagram and Twitter. (Is that really what it means, I wonder?)

She's turning over her personal business to family members of her husband, who does have an official job in the White House, just as she and her father 'turned over' the family business to Don Jr. and Eric. It's all very conflicting and confusing, but I wonder what she's actually going to be doing? Is she Daughter-in-Chief? Wife-of-the-Special-Advisor? Is she supposed to be helping with policy? Helping her father look presidential? Or maybe she's helping save tax dollars?

That's right -- maybe her new role in the White House is a way to cut costs for the Secret Service! You see, the Secret Service asked for an extra $60,000,000 to cover costs of protecting the Trump family, Trump Tower, Trump himself, President in waiting Mike Pence, and "other visiting heads of state" which appears to be a reference to Trump's propensity for hanging out at places other than the White House when he's entertaining foreigners. If Ivanka is in the White House, we won't have to pay separately to keep her secure, right?

Interestingly, the #AmericaFirst Office of Management and Budget turned down the Secret Service request for funding. So here I am, back to wondering what Trump really believes in, and what his priorities are, if protecting his own family isn't among them?

March 20, 2017

Red Rover, Send James Comey On Over

Here are some of the takes on The Tall One's testimony today.

From NBC
At the outset of a pivotal week in Washington, FBI director James Comey delivered a political gut-punch to President Donald Trump Monday - and the news possibly could get worse for the president in the days and weeks ahead. 
In sworn testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Comey said there was no evidence to Trump's claims that Barack Obama wiretapped him and Trump Tower, as the current president alleged in a series of tweets earlier this month. And he conformed that his agency was investigating the 2016 Trump campaign's links with Russia's effort to intervene in the presidential election bid.  
From CNN
FBI Director James Comey said for the first time Monday that the bureau is investigating whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow while Russia was interfering in the presidential election.
Comey also delivered an implicit rebuke to President Donald Trump, saying that he had "no information" to support claims by the President that he was wiretapped on the orders of predecessor Barack Obama.
From the Associated Press
President Donald Trump produced a running commentary Monday on FBI Director James Comey's testimony to Congress. Thanks to the length of the hearing an the immediacy of Twitter, Comey was able to comment on the president's commentary without leaving his seat. It was a nearly real-time exchange that circled back on itself, like a cat chasing its tail
Trump tweet: The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process.
The Facts: No such assurance was offered by Comey or his fellow witness at the hearing, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers. They did not offer any conclusions about whether Russia succeeded in influencing the election.
Comey asked about the tweet while he was stilt testifying: I'm sorry, I haven't been following anybody on Twitter while I've been sitting here.
From Newsday
FBI Director James Comey on Monday confirmed publicly for the first time that his bureau is probing Russian meddling into last year's election -- searching also for any links or possible coordination between the Kremlin and the campaign of President Donald Trump. 
The reveal came at the start of a five-hour congressional hearing at which Comey also disputed Trump's claim via Twitter that his predecessor had wiretapped Trump Tower.
I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI, Comey said.
From ABC
During the five-hour hearing, Comey also confirmed an investigation of possible links between Trump associates and Russia, a story line that the president has decried alternately as a "ruse" and "fake news." Comey also indicated that Vladimir Putin hated Hillary Clinton "so much" that he had a "clear preference" for her opponent.
With respect to the president's tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets, Comey told the House Intelligence Committee today at his much-anticipated hearing -- the US law enforcement community's first public response to wiretapping allegations that the White House has promoted for more than two weeks.
And we have looked carefully inside the FBI. The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that they answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components. The department has no information to support those tweets.
And finally, from the president himself


March 19, 2017

Grains of Salt (v21): Challenges for Syracuse's Next Mayor

Grains of Salt
Republican Laura Lavine, the unanimous choice of her party's committee members.

Democrats Alfonso Davis, Marty Masterpole, Andrew Maxwell, Joe Nicoletti, Juanita Perez Williams, all of whom might stick around for a primary. (Maxwell was first to my door with information, which was the impetus for this post.)

Party-less Ben Walsh, the first in the ring, but without a party choice.

It's likely that one of these folks will be the next mayor of Syracuse, since Stephanie Miner is term-limited and done at the end of the year,

Syracuse faces a number of challenges, some of which have been our challenges for a long time:
  • Roughly half of the property in the city is owned by educational institutions and non-profits; these entities are not obligated to pay property taxes, but fully use city services. Over time, the city has negotiated service agreements with some, but not all, of these property owners.
  • The city has somewhere in the neighborhood of 1800 vacant properties of all types - single family homes, multiple family homes, apartment buildings, commercial properties -- it runs the gamut. Some of them are 'tax current', but many are not. The Greater Syracuse Land Bank, through purchasing and reselling homes, helps generate almost $750K in property taxes annually. (I've written about the Land Bank previously, including our very positive experience with their efforts on the house next door.) Not all buildings can be saved; way up the street from me, three or four houses in a row were recently taken down, as was one a block or so up the road. I prefer the empty lots to what was there before, even as it pains me to say that; I'd much rather have a lived-in city, rather than one full of large stretches of driveway ends, going from the road to the sidewalk, showing us what once was. 
  • That's another one of Syracuse's challenges: people leaving the city, stretching our population further and further, eating up more and more green space, leaving the city a shadow of her former self, and doing the same to the rolling hills and farmland that surround us. I get that people have the choice to live where they want, to build where they want, to sell their land when and toom who they want, even if it's to someone who's going to put up a development of half-million-dollar houses. I do get that. I just have long wished that people would make the investment in the city, live in the city, would stake their claim in the city, and help it thrive.
  • And without people, without families, it's that much harder for our Syracuse City School District (SCSD) to thrive. We have made progress, it seems: we now have a Superintendent, Jaime Alicea, who knows the city, knows the students, knows the lay of the land, and who seems to have support from all constituencies.  Graduation rates for the SCSD  as a whole are the highest in a decade, although still lower than anyone would like. With a higher percentage of  English as a New Language (ENL) learners and special needs students than most of its area counterparts, the city has different challenges than suburban schools, even as its students are required to meet the same standards for gradation.  Another big challenge the schools face is poverty.
  • We've all seen statistics and more statistics: Syracuse ranks 29th out of the 30 highest poverty major cities, and we had the highest concentration of black and Hispanic poverty in the nation. The poverty is undeniable, and it's probably higher than that. Similar to the 'real feel temperature' the 'real unemployment rate' we hear - numbers designed to make us feel worse than we do, there's 'official poverty' and 'real-feel poverty' the kind that kids and families feel every day, even if they don't meet an official threshold. And the fact that we actually maintain statistics for people going up to 400% of the Federal Poverty Level, well that says something in and of itself, doesn't it?  
  • Poverty impacts everything - absolutely everything. For the individuals living in poverty, it can negatively impact their physical and mental health, educational outcomes, employment opportunities, future income, and, for many, the ability to break the poverty cycle for future generations. For the rest of us, it impacts our property values, the services our city can offer, and it impacts our 'social psyche', our pride of place, our sense of our home.  It impacts everything. 
Our next mayor, regardless of party, will have his or her hands full with these and other issues, including our aging infrastructure (a victim of all of the above) and the potential for/threat of consolidation via the Consensus plan or our Sonofa Governor's 'convoluted' plan to allow county executives to run roughshod over their constituents by unilaterally bringing consolidation plans to the ballot. 

Syracuse deserves a leader who is up to all of these challenges. It will be interesting to see who our choices are, and how they plan on rising to the occasion.
 

March 14, 2017

Babies! We Need More Babies!

Representative Steve King of Iowa posted his support for the Dutch Donald Trump, Geert Wilders (Make the Netherlands Great Again is his slogan).Wilders is

King tweeted
Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can't restore our civilization with someone else's babies. 
Someone else's babies?  Egads! Whatever could he have meant?

In a follow up interview with CNN, he clarified things for us. He's been to Europe, he said, and he's been telling anyone who will listen this same message. Take Germany - or any country with a shrinking population.
You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else's babies. You've got to keep your birth rate up and that you need to teach your children your values and in doing so, then you can grow your population and you can strengthen your culture, you can strengthen your way of life.
Chris Cuomo was, understandably, incredulous while he wondered who are somebody else's babies. King answered
Chris, we're a country here you know if you take a picture of what America looks like, you can do it at a football stadium or at a basketball court, and you'll see all kinds of different Americans there. We're pretty proud of that, of the different looking Americans that are still Americans. And there's an American culture, an American civilization, it's raised within these children in these American homes and that's one of the reasons that we require that the president of the United States be raised with an American experience,
Cuomo then challenged King, that it seemed he was saying that "you're either white or you're not right" with his comment about someone else's babies and that thinking was anathema to what we believe in America.

King responded
If you go down the road a few generations, or maybe centuries, with the inter-marriage, I'd like to see an America that is just so homogeneous that we look a lot the same, from that perspective. I think there has been far too much focus on race, especially in the last eight years and I want to see that put behind us. I gave a speech on this on Saturday and half the liberals got up and left the room.
Again, Cuomo challenged him, that his statements seem "inherently divisive" language, and again pointed it out it seemed King was saying that white babies were better. King fought back, noting that his language was 'precise' and he never said white was better.

His point, if you would just stop projecting, is that he believes in Western Civilization, and that good things follow the English language, and that non-English speaking people or people who don't resemble Americans don't contribute equally to Western Civilization. Or something like that.

Cuomo fought valiantly, but it's really not worth fighting with someone like Representative King. As he noted, he's been selling this message for a while now (this article says as far back as 2003 when he first got elected), with consistency.

For example, speaking about Dreamers and other Mexican babies:
For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.  
 Or, for example (from the same article):
This whole white people business, though, does get a little tired. I'd ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about. Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?
Or, for example:
As much as I love and appreciate people from any place on the planet, this country has been made up of, is a center-right country, is Christian based, that is our morality, we believe in freedom religion but if you brought in, say, all the Muslims in the world into the United States, you know it changes the culture. 
So if it turns into a few hundred thousand every year, how long is it before the culture of American is changed? And we're willingly, we're knowingly and willingly changing the culture of America by government policies driven out of the White House and we aren't even having a national debate about how that changes our country and is it good or is it bad. I have not seen either the level of assimilation of Muslims into the broader American society, or any place in the world, for that matter. So I'd like to see that model, point to that, tell me how you want America to look, because America's being transformed because of immigration policy and I'm like Ann Coulter, I like the America we had.
Or, for example, speaking about members of the Congressional Black Caucus expressing a concern about a history of racial profiling in Ferguson, Mo:
This idea of no racial profiling. I've seen the video (of protesters after the Michael Brown shooting). It looks to me like you don't need to bother with that particular factor because they all appear to be of a single origin, I should say, a continental origin might be the way to phrase that.  I just reject race-based politics, identity politics. I think we're all God's children. We should all be held to the same standards and the same level of behavior.
Or, for example, speaking about Blacks and Hispanics becoming the majority putting whites in the minority:
When you start accentuating the differences, then you start ending up with people that are at each other's throats. And he's adding up Hispanics and blacks into what he predicts will be in greater number than whites in America. I predict that Hispanics and the blacks will be fighting each other before that happens.
No; you can neither reason with nor fight with someone like King; it's un-winnable. You'd be better off going out and making more babies, and raising them with your values, so that eventually he and others of his ilk might be outnumbered.

March 13, 2017

And the Winner is...The Deficit

Some politicians have said that the nonpartisan congressional Budget Office and their numbers a bunch of hooey, that the numbers can't be trusted, that these folks are always wrong. First, there’s Sean Spicer.
If you're looking at the CBO for accuracy, you're looking at the wrong place. Look at what the CBO's record is on Obamacare. It's vastly off. They're way off in terms of the millions.  

And then there’s  HHS Secretary Tom Price:
We believe that the plan that we're putting in place will ensure more individuals than are currently ensured SO we think that the CBO simply has it wrong. It's just not believable, is what we would suggest.  
Unless of course they like the numbers, as Speaker Paul Ryan seems to, in which case the CBO folks are rocket scientists who know this stuff (whatever this stuff is) like the back of their hand.
This report confirms that the American Health Care Act will lower premiums and improve access to quality, affordable care. CBO also finds that this legislation will provide massive tax relief, dramatically reduce the deficit, and make the most fundamental entitlement reform in more than a generation...
So, rather than listening to them, let's just read what  the report says: (emphasis added)

CBO and JCT estimate that enacting the legislation would reduce federal deficits by $337 billion over the 2017-2026 period. That total consists of $323 billion in on-budget savings and $13 billion in off-budget savings. Outlays would be reduced by $1.2 trillion over the period, and revenues would be reduced by $0.9 trillion.

The largest savings would come from reductions in outlays for Medicaid and from the elimination of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) subsidies for nongroup health insurance. The largest costs would come from repealing many of the changes the ACA made to the Internal Revenue Code—including an increase in the Hospital Insurance payroll tax rate for high-income taxpayers, a surtax on those taxpayers’ net investment income, and annual fees imposed on health insurers—and from the establishment of a new tax credit for health insurance.

CBO and JCT estimate that, in 2018, 14 million more people would be uninsured under the legislation than under current law. Most of that increase would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate. Some of those people would choose not to have insurance because they chose to be covered by insurance under current law only to avoid paying the penalties, and some people would forgo insurance in response to higher premiums.

Later, following additional changes to subsidies for insurance purchased in the nongroup market and to the Medicaid program, the increase in the number of uninsured people relative to the number under current law would rise to 21 million in 2020 and then to 24 million in 2026. The reductions in insurance coverage between 2018 and 2026 would stem in large part from changes in Medicaid enrollment—because some states would discontinue their expansion of eligibility, some states that would have expanded eligibility in the future would choose not to do so, and per-enrollee spending in the program would be capped.

In 2026, an estimated 52 million people would be uninsured, compared with 28 million who would lack insurance that year under current law.

The report further notes the following “uncertainty surrounding the estimates” saying that CBO and JCT considered the potential responses of many parties that would be affected by the legislation, including these:
  • Federal agencies—which would need to implement major changes in the regulation of the health care system and administration of new subsidy structures and eligibility verification systems in a short time frame;
  • States—which would need to decide how to use Patient and State Stability Fund grants, whether to pass new laws affecting the nongroup market, how to respond to the reduction in the federal matching rate for certain Medicaid enrollees, how to respond to constraints from the cap on Medicaid payments, and how to provide information to the federal government about insurers and enrollees;
  • Insurers—who would need to decide about the extent of their participation in the insurance market and what types of plans to sell in the face of different market rules and federal subsidies; 
  • Employers—who would need to decide whether to offer insurance given the different federal subsidies and insurance products available to their employees;
  • Individuals—who would make decisions about health insurance in the context of different premiums, subsidies, and penalties than those under current law; and
  • Doctors and hospitals—who would need to negotiate contracts with insurers in a new regulatory environment. 
Each of those responses is difficult to predict. Moreover, the responses would depend upon how the provisions in the legislation were implemented, such as whether advance payments of the new tax credits were made reliably. And flaws in the determination of eligibility, for instance, could keep subsidies from people who were eligible or provide them to people who were not.

So, in the end, all things being equal, the deficit goes down by $337B over ten years, so the plan is a winner. In the process, the big government mandate is lifted; taxes go down; spending goes down; and if in the process a few million more people lose their health insurance, that's a small price to pay for a Republican lawmaker.

We'll see what happens once people have a chance to read the report and see how they think they can sell it to their constituents, particularly in the Senate where there has been, at least so far, less love for the plan. 

March 8, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v81)

Well, what's going on out there tonight that give us pause?

We've got your RNR -- Replace, Not Repeal -- meandering through a couple of House Committees.  I tried to read the bill last night, like Speaker Paul Ryan told me to, but when it looks like what you see below, it's a little hard to figure out what they're really talking about:
The Social Security Act is amended— (1) in section 1902 (42 U.S.C. 1396a)—
(A) in subsection (a)(47)(B), by inserting ‘‘and provided that any such election shall cease to be effective on January 1, 2020, and no such election shall be made after that date’’ before the semicolon at the end; and
(B) in subsection (l)(2)(C), by inserting ‘‘and ending December 31, 2019,’’ after ‘‘January 1, 2014,’’; (2) in section 1915(k)(2) (42 U.S.C. 1396n(k)(2)), by striking ‘‘during the period described in paragraph (1)’’ and inserting ‘‘on or after the date referred to in paragraph (1) and before January 1, 2020’’; and  (3) in section 1920(e) (42 U.S.C. 1396r–1(e)),  by striking ‘‘under clause (i)(VIII), clause (i)(IX), or clause (ii)(XX) of subsection (a)(10)(A)’’ and inserting ‘‘under clause (i)(VIII) or clause (ii)(XX) of section 1902(a)(10)(A) before January 1, 2020, section  902(a)(10)(A)(i)(IX),’’. 
If I were cynical (hey - I heard that!) I'd think that they are relying on folks like me to look at that gobbledygook and instead just read the propaganda.  I did look at that, and I'm still a little confused.

I'm wondering which part of it says that I can go back to the doctor I had before that failed disastrous sad horrible Obamacare took my doctor away from me in the first place?

Oh wait that's right. There wasn't anything in the Affordable Care Act that said companies had to change products, drop insurance, change carriers, or change networks. I don't know what I was thinking.

I'm also wondering about Ryan's ability to truly champion the America Health Care Act the way our old friend Nancy Pelosi did, back in 2010. While this passage is not as famous as her widely out-of-context remark about "having to pass the bill before we can read it", this one's pretty special.
We will go through the gate. If the gate is closed, we will go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we will pole vault in. If that doesn't work, we will parachute in, But we are going to get health care reform passed for the American people for their own personal health and economic security and for the important role that it will pay in reducing the deficit. 
Seriously, I didn't make that up - you can read my post from six years ago here.  And against that backdrop Ryan offers #readthebill? Sheesh, he needs to be more motivational than that!

I also wonder if anyone else has taken a look at Pelosi's comments. I mean, gates and fences and pole vaulting and parachuting could be just the keys to working around that wall we've heard so much about.

Or, maybe that won't be too much of an issue.  It seems the Trump Administration is looking for ways to pay for the wall, and they're not making a lot of friends with some of their ideas, including gutting the budgets of the TSA (and FEMA too) by 10%, and the Coast Guard by 14%, in fiscal year 2018 which begins in October.

I don't know about you, but I'm wondering how slashing the budget for two agencies that actually work to protect us here in the homeland makes sense when the goal is to protest us here in the homeland.

Thoughts?

The Update Desk: Did He Really Just Say That?

In Monday's post, I expressed incredulity that HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson would refer to Africans who were brought to America against their will and sold into slavery as immigrants.

Surely, they were people who came to "a country to take up permanent residence" if you can actually call being bought and sold repeatedly a life of permanent residence, but perhaps that's splitting hairs.

Today, we have reports that former President Obama reportedly used similar language, with varying degrees of specificity, on multiple occasions. For example, speaking to recently naturalized citizens in December 2015, Obama noted:
It wasn't always easy for new immigrants. Certainly it wasn't easy for those of African heritage who had not come here voluntarily and yet in their own way were immigrants themselves. There was discrimination and hardship and poverty. But, like you they no doubt found inspiration in all those who had come before them. And they were able to muster faith that, here in America, they might build a better life and give their children something more.
Here's what immediately preceded the remarks above:
Down through the decades, Irish Catholics feeling hunger, Italians fleeing poverty filled up our cities, rolled up their sleeves, built America. Chinese laborers jammed in steerage under the decks of steamships, making their way to California to build the Central Pacific Railroad that would transform the West and our Nation. Wave after wave of men, women, and children - from the Middle East and the Mediterranean, from Asia and Africa - poured into Ellis Island or Angel Island, their trunks bursting with their most cherished possessions - maybe a photograph of the family they left behind; a family Bible or a Torah or a Koran; a bag in one hand, maybe a child in the other - standing for hours in long lines. New York and cities across America were transformed into a sort of global fashion show. You had Dutch lace caps and the North African fezzes, stodgy tweed suits, colorful Caribbean dresses. And perhaps, like some of you, these new arrivals might have had some moments of doubt, wondering if they had made a mistake in leaving everything and everyone they knew behind. So life in America was not always easy.
This context may make soften the blow a little; reading this one could make the connection between the people in leading passage being the ones Obama was referring to in the section referencing slaves as 'in their own way, immigrants themselves."

Either way - with or without the context, I find it disturbing to use immigrant and slave glowingly in the same sentence. Had I been aware of the Obama comments, I would have had the same reaction as I did to Carson's remarks: What the hell are we doing?

The other times when Obama is said to have used similar language, he referenced a 'connectedness' and a sense  of  'we're in this together" because, as a nation of immigrants (other than the First Americans), we share the same dreams about America: people come here because they wanted a better life then they had wherever they came from.

I don't think that's the case with the slaves, do you?

March 6, 2017

Did He Really Just Say That?

I had to double check, even triple check this one to make sure it wasn't fake news. I watched the video a couple of times, just to be sure. And I haven't found a report telling me that this is anything other than what it appears to be.

Below, the words of Dr Ben Carson, former pediatric neurosurgeon and current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, from a message to HUD employees:
That's what America is about. A land of dreams and opportunity. There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slaves ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons granddaughters, great granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.
When a Cabinet secretary in the United States government says that slaves were 'immigrants' who had a dream, where exactly do we go from here?

No, seriously --  where the hell do we go from here?

Wasn't it bad enough when Texas called slaves 'workers'? Or tried to deny that slavery had anything to do with the Civil War? Or when Virginia tried to sell elementary school children on the thought that thousands of Southern blacks fought for the South in the Civil War?  Or when we try and re-write history at the homes of slave-owning former Presidents, which I saw with my own eyes?

Remember when Carson said that having him as a federal bureaucrat would be like a fish out of water?

Is it too late to throw him back?

March 5, 2017

Sunday School 3/5/17

I know, I know.

We've had a few weeks of no school; blame it on the fact that I've put my pajamas on inside out and put the toilet paper in the freezer, or whatever it is that kids to when they want school to be cancelled.

Today, anticipating we'd have a lot of consistency in what was discussed in our various classrooms, I tried something different with today's lectures: I used a keyword search.

Here are the words I figured would be making an appearance: FISA, foreign,impeach, impeachment, intelligence, investigate, investigation, lie, lied, lies, Obama, resign, resignation, Russia, Russian, Russians, Sessions, Trump, and wiretap.

I realize it's an imperfect analysis, with no context for how the terms were used. It's also imprecise; Attorney General Sessions was a guest on NBC's Meet the Press, and every time he spoke, his name appeared in the transcript, so there's a bit of skewing there. Also,if a show talked about Obamacare, in addition to Obama being mentioned in relation to the Trump tweet-storm, that will also skew the numbers.

Keyword
ABC
CBS
CNN
FOX
NBC
FISA
10
6
6
4
17
Foreign
7
4
2
6
8
Impeach/Impeachment
1
0
0
0
1
Intelligence
28
21
18
41
36
Investigate/Investigation
34
24
16
27
30
Lie/Lied/Lies
7
0
9
3
1
Obama
40
15
33
51
20
Resign/Resignation
5
2
2
2
6
Russia/Russian/Russians
50
38
31
56
89
Sessions
18
3
15
21
18
Trump
101
40
50
97
69
Wiretap/Wiretapped
29
6
11
14
8

Is there anything grossly unfair just looking at the numbers? Not really. Was there anything earth-shattering in any of the shows?  Nope, not that I saw. 

We'll see what the week brings us. Supposedly we'll get a new travel ban tomorrow, although with all of the churn, that might be delayed a little, until it can get the attention it deserves.