June 30, 2017

Repeal First, Replace Later?

Rand Paul and Donald Trump are suggesting that the GOP repeal the Affordable Care Act now, to keep their promise to America and then work on the hard part of coming up with a health care plan at some other point down the road

First, Trump's tweet, followed by Paul's (wrapped in some context):


As I've said a million times, I'm no expert on how to build a health care bill, but I can pretend to repeal one, so here goes. Note that my assumptions are that 'repeal' means all provisions of the bill will be immediately removed, not continued until such time as a completely new healthcare plan is passed, which is what "repeal now and replace later' means to me. (I'm not sure what other interpretation there could be?)

  1. Immediately shut down Healthcare.gov and the 28 federally facilitated marketplaces and the five state-based marketplaces using the federal platform. 
  2. Cancel the coverage for individuals and families who were covered under the now-defunct marketplaces.
  3. Return any unused premium to them.
  4. Immediately repeal the voluminous taxes required under the Affordable Care Act, whether charged to a business, a health insurer, any medical facilities, and so on. This will of course require an immediate rewriting of the tax code just to get us back to where we were before the Affordable Care Act went into effect.
  5. Immediately repeal the individual mandate.
  6. Immediately kick over-aged dependents off their parents' policies in any location such coverage is not mandated under any other jurisdiction.
  7. Immediately remove the Medical Loss Ration (MLR) requirements, which dictate the percentage of health care premium dollars insurers must pay for benefits (base around 80%) and requires insurers to rebate premiums to insureds when they don't meet the MLR percentage.
  8. Immediately eliminate the full coverage for pre-existing conditions at no additional premium - let the games begin.
  9. Remove no-cost-sharing coverage for preventative care, including things like lead screening, mammograms and paps, prostate screenings, annual physicals, a whole host of lab tests, and countless other benefits - those can all go back to whatever pricing structure was in place before.
  10. Remove all subsidies which currently help people pay for coverage - all of them.  
  11. Similarly, remove all supports that are paid to insurance companies to help cover the costs of  insuring the people who got coverage under the ACA. 
  12. Eliminate requirements for 'essential benefits' including outpatient services; emergency services; hospitalization; pregnancy, maternity and newborn care; mental health and substance abuse, prescription drugs, and more.
  13. Immediately end all funding for Medicaid expansion.
  14. Immediately reintroduce annual and lifetime limits on benefits.
  15. Immediately increase the population of uninsured by the number of people covered under a marketplace (~10 million or so as of February 2017) and the number covered under Medicaid expansion, ~14 million).
I'm sure there's more, but that's what comes to mind right off the bat. 

Seems like lots of benefits would be lost, lots of tax revenue would be lost, lots more people would immediately be uninsured. And lots of people would be unemployed, I'm sure, if there was no need to support the Affordable Care Act's infrastructure. 

On the plus side for Republicans? Taxes would go down, Medicaid expansion would disappear, and lots of people would be uninsured.   

June 29, 2017

Multiple Choice

Trump tweets (bottom up):

You Decide
a. asinine
b. bullying
c. childish
d. degrading
e. erratic
f. fixated
g. gross
h. horrific
i. insane
j. jackass
k. knucklehead
l. lowlife
m. manic
n. #notmypresident
o. obsessed
p. petulant
q. quarrelsome
r. repulsive
s. sick
t. tyrant
u. unhinged
v. venomous
w. #whatthesniff
x. Xanthippe
y. yahoo
z. zealot



June 28, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v93)

Well, well, well.

First Donald Trump told us that this healthcare thing was complicated. Now Mitch McConnell has told us that healthcare is a complicated subject.  I wonder, who will be the next one?

One thing that makes it more complicated, of course, is trying to do it with two hands full of Republican men behind closed doors.  McConnell says he remembers how tough it was for the Dems to get the Affordable Care Act implemented in the first place, and while the record shows that there were both public hearings and behind closed doors sessions to get the bill to passage, it seems like McConnell is doomed to repeat the history that he so closely watched. Reports out today said the majority leader is going to get another version of the bill to the CBO before the holiday break.
While the legislation is likely to undergo further revisions after this next update, McConnell is trying to move quickly to produce a new CBO score by the time lawmakers return to Washington in mid-July. That would give the Senate about two weeks to fulfill the majority leader's goal of voting before the August recess.
As all that's going on, the news tonight was filled with the faces of Republican senators suggesting that sitting down with Democrats might actually be the trick to getting the bill passed. The president has said as much himself, but I don't have to wonder who was being sincere - the senators or the president?

We'd love to have some
Democrat support but they're
obstructionists.
They'll never support.
We won't get one
no matter how
good it is.

And, with multiple polls showing a resounding lack of support for the Republican bill, it could be a long break for Senators at home.
Separate surveys from NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist, USA Today/Suffolk University and Quinnipiac University - all released on Wednesday - show fewer than one in five voters back the GOP push to repeal and replace Obamacare.
I wonder if I know even that many who support it?

And speaking of the president, as it seems I do most Wednesdays, did you hear about someone hanging fake news featuring his likeness in several of his resorts? ? Seriously!

Washington Post/Getty Images
In at least five of his resorts, there's a fake Time magazine cover with Trump as the subject.

Fake headline, exclamation points and all, someone mocked up the fake and someone framed them and someone hung them up, without the knowledge of Trump himself, I can only assume. Because he would never do that, right?

John Barron maybe, but not Trump.  He would never do that, never order that, never even think of that!

Trump would never think of holding a campaign fundraiser in his own hotel, either, right?  I mean, he did that when he was a candidate, of course. And raised the price, once the RNC started picking up the bills,  enriching his company's - and therefore his own and his family's - coffers. But that would unethical, now that he's president, right?

Wrong. Trump, who filed his papers for the 2020 election on Inauguration Day (and likely fought off millions of supporters to do so), is holding his first fundraiser less than six months after taking office. At his own hotel.
In keeping with this theme, Trump will be officially kicking off his reelection bid with a major fundraiser (June 28th), less than six months into his first term... Trump is holding his first fundraiser in the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC, which he has refused to give up ownership of while in office. That ensures that every advertisement for (and article about) the fundraiser doubles as a promotion for the hotel, and likely means that those attending will be spending money that goes to his company, the Trump Organization.
And then, of course, I wonder why I wonder whether this man has any ethics at all? And I wonder why I wonder why so many people don't seem to care about that.

Grains of Salt (v22): All Hail Ride-Hailing

Just after midnight, Uber and Lyft become legal in our neck of the woods here in Central NY, across Upstate, and on Long Island.

Long a staple in New York City, it wasn't until this most recent legislative session that our State Legislators figured out a way to make it happen, and even then, they had to reduce the normal 90-day effective date to 80 days so that the services could be available for the Independence Day weekend.

A year ago this week, I published a post raising some concerns beyond the ones that had been raised by politicians and the editorial board of the paper. While many of them were concerned about things like background checks, past issues with the drivers (contractors of, not employed by the ride-sharing services), lack of accessibility for the disabled, and so on, I questioned how this would impact the existing infrastructure of taxi drivers, who are heavily regulated under the Syracuse Municipal Code.
Furthermore, Syracuse has regulated rates, from the drop charge (the initial charge that's on the meter before the taxi pulls away from the curb, currently $2.80), the per-mile price (currently $2.50), and, for airport taxis, the flat rate zone price to get from Hancock International Airport to downtown, the University, to my house here in The Valley, or anywhere else.

And, don't forget the licensing fees, renewal fees, and the limitation on the number of ground transportation licenses that can be issued in the city, currently 200 plus whatever is needed for the airport. 

Would all of the current rules and regs that apply to taxis apply to ride-hailing companies? Would the number of licenses be expanded to accommodate an unknown number of entrepreneurs, those jobs the mayor and others are looking forward to? Would the same rates, metering and other rules apply?
Last night, I checked the codes for taxis and, to no real surprise, found no changes to the regulations. Syracuse is still limited to 200 taxis outside the airport service; there are still specific fees for mileage, wait time and the meter drop charge; all of the licensing and other requirements are also still in place.

The local news was all over the new service, including letting us know that Lyft (but not yet Uber) had signed a deal with the airport to provide services, giving people a choice between the unregulated entrepreneur and the regulated existing business. And, we learned that thousands of people have signed up to be Uber drivers (Lyft has not disclosed their numbers).
In January, Uber announced that 50,000 people in Upstate New York had gone through initial steps of becoming drivers, and 10,000 of them were in Syracuse.
Pretend even a fraction of them make themselves available for pickup on Thursday -- there'll be cars everywhere!

Fares have not yet been announced, that I can find. I tried an Uber rate estimator, to get from my house to the airport, but came up empty. However, I was assured on the website that even with a 20% tip, the fare should be cheaper than calling a cab.  We'll see if that's true with the taxes that's being added on - a 4% assessment fee which goes to NY's general fund, and a 2.5% surcharge to cover workers comp insurance for the driver.

But from what I did read, there will be a similar structure as that for taxis - as noted in the link above on tipping, which looks to b boilerplate language with dropped in city names.
There is a base fare, a charge per mile and a charge per minute. It looks like the pricing structure you know well from all the miles you have logged in Syracuse,NY cabs. But Uber Fare Estimator actually uses a bit different pricing model. Uber taxis in Syracuse, NY charge riders per mile when moving, and per minute when idling. Even so, Uber rates do beat cab fares in Syracuse, NY.
In addition to regulatory differences and pricing differences, there's also a potential concern about coverage. For example, it was reported that some taxi drivers are dropping out of those ranks to become hailed ride drivers because they didn't like being dispatched to certain parts of town.  Said one driver (who may not fully understand how the new service works)
(Driving a taxi) was dangerous because sometimes the dispatcher would send us to like the real bad neighborhoods. The dispatcher would just throw you in there, to the wolves. With Uber, I will decline it if they send me to a bad neighborhood.
On the plus side, there are discussions underway with Centro, our public transportation service, to see if there are ways to serve populations of the city that rely on public transportation the most - low income folks - who are currently underserved in some locations and at particular times of day.

Much more to come on this as things move along; time will tell whether ride-sharing will take off here as it has in other areas. I hope that if it does, it's not because we failed to make it as easy for existing businesses to be successful as we're trying to make it for the new model to work, and that we end up with more accessible service to all residents, not less.

June 27, 2017

OrangeVerse IX: Emergence

As promised, here's the continuation of free - and competitive - verse from the American Leadership in Emerging Technology Event.
Now Being Cut
Too many years of excessive
 government regulation.  We have had 
regulation that's been so bad,
 so out of line that it's really hurt our country.  
And as you see, on a daily basis 
we're getting rid of regulation.  
In fact, Dodd-Frank is 
now being cut  and cut 
very substantially. 

Many
My administration 
has been laser-focused
 on removing the government 
barriers to job growth 
and prosperity.  
We formed 
a deregulation taskforce inside 
every agency to 
find and eliminate 
wasteful, intrusive, and job-killing 
regulations, 
of which 
we've
had 
many.

America First
We want
our innovators to dream
 big, like the folks around me
and surrounding me
in this room.
And
 we want
them to create
new companies
and to create
lots of jobs.

Your industry has
 been incredible. Your
representation of your companies
 -- is the reason you're here -- 
has been something
that has created so many
millions of new American jobs
 and probably jobs
 in many other countries, also.
But we're interested
right now
in America first.

Elvis
So,
thank you all very much
for being
here.
On behalf of myself
and my great 
Vice President
it's been a meeting
that we actually
both looked
very much
forward
to attending.

June 26, 2017

Trump's Travel Ban

A whole lot of shaking going on, going on today,what with the SCOTUS decision on the president's Muslim ban, or Travel ban, or whatever you want to call it. The Supreme Court allowed the ban to go forward, with some exceptions. As we learned today,
The government's interest in enforcing (the ban), and the executive's authority to do so, are undoubtedly at their peak when there is no tie between the foreign national and the United States.
 What constitutes a 'tie' between the traveler and the US?
The facts of these cases illustrate the sort of relationship that qualifies. For individuals, a close familial relationship is required. A foreign national who wishes to enter the Unites States to live with or visit a family member, like Doe's wife or Dr. Elshikh's mother-in-law clearly has such a relationship. As for entities, the relationship must be formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading EO-2. The students from the designated countries who have been admitted to the University of Hawaii have such a relationship with an American entity. So too would a worker who accepted an offer of employment from an American company or a lecturer invited to address an American audience. Not so someone who enters into a relationship simply to avoid (the ban). For example, a nonprofit groups devoted to immigrant issues may not contact foreign nationals from the designated countries, add them to client lists, and then secure their entry by claiming injury from their exclusion.
The intent of the 'close relationship' part was to help eliminate much of the churn that happened when the original ban was implemented, which included keeping people in America as well as keeping people out of America.

In a statement issued by the White House, we were advised that
Today's unanimous Supreme Court decision is a clear victory for our national security. It allows the travel suspension for the six terror-prone countries and the refugee suspension to become largely effective. 
As president, I cannot allow people into our country who want to do us harm. I want people who can love the United States and all of its citizens, and who will be hardworking and productive.
My number one responsibility as Commander in Chief is to keep the American people safe. Today's ruling allows me to use an important tool for protecting our Nation's homeland. I am also particularly gratified that the Supreme Court's decision was 9-0. 
The Department of Homeland Security promised to think outside the box this time, and to consult with other agencies, including the Departments of  Justice and State, to come up with a plan.
The implementation of the Executive Order will be done professional, with clear and sufficient public notice, particularly to potentially affected travelers, and in coordination with partners in the travel industry. 
Still, concerns abound. What constitutes a 'close familial relationship' for example; would a cousin count? A Joseph Greenwald and Laake civil rights attorney, Jay Holland, notes
There is absolutely a gray area. The issue of who has a bona fide relationship or familial relationship certainly appears to be an open and confusing question. 
The head of corporate communications for the International Air Transport Association,Perry Flint noted in the same article linked above,
It is absolutely imperative that airlines receive clear and concise information, as well as sufficient time, to enable them to comply with those portions of the executive order for which the injunction was stayed.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissenting opinion, which Justices Alito and Gorsuch joined, largely on the point of trying to define rules that meet the Court's requirement of a relationship.
Moreover, I fear that the Court's remedy will prove unworkable. Today's compromise will burden executive officials with the task of deciding - on peril of contempt - whether individuals from the six affected nations who wish to enter the United States have a sufficient connection to a person or entity in this country... The compromise will also invite a flood of litigation until this case is finally resolved on the merits, as parties and courts struggle to determine exactly what constitutes a "bona fide relationship," who precisely has a "credible claim" to that relationship, and whether the claimed relationship was formed "simply to avoid (section) 2C of Executive Order No. 13780...
It would be hard to imagine that the implementation could be worse this time around, but this is the government, after all (and no, that's not a comment on this particular administration). At least the people who have to make this work are talking to experts for assistance.

Now that a decision has been made, we should all hope for the best - and perhaps more importantly, hope that the efforts to "figure out what the hell is going on" which started earlier this month, are completed timely.

June 23, 2017

OrangeVerse VIII: Indescribable

Six minutes is a long time, especially when you're the president, you're talking to folks at the American Leadership in Emerging Technology Event, and your son is the expert at cyber in your household.

Here are part of the president's remarks; I'll have more in an upcoming post.

I Know You!
Good morning, everybody, 
Very nice 
to have you here.
It's a great honor. So many of you, 
I recognize
And others I do from reading 
business magazines and other magazines.
You've done well.

Greatness
I want to thank my Office
of Science and Technology - and
this has been a great office; 
they have
done such incredible work - 

The Hawkeye State
And we just got back
from Iowa last night.
A big speech
in Iowa. 
That was an amazing group
of people. Those people
were excited. 
I guess most people saw it,
but they were excited.

Oh Wilbur
I want to thank Secretary Ross
for joining us today...
Wilbur has done a fantastic job
and I want to thank you
very much for it,
Wilbur.
Everybody understands it.
Wilbur, as Jeff - as you know - 
Wilbur is known just as Wilbur
on Wall Street. 
They don't even call him
Wilbur Ross. 
They just say, oh, Wilbur
is involved -- right?
He's done
a great job
Thank you.

Percolating
And Mr Vice
President, thank you
very much for being here.
We've had some busy schedules
and we have a thing called 
healthcare
that you might hear
is percolating
in the outside
as we've discussed.

And I think
it's going to come out.
Obamacare
is a disaster; it's 
dead.
Totally dead.
And we're putting in a
plan today
that's going 
to be negotiated. 

We'd love to have some
Democrat support but they're
obstructionists.
They'll never support.
We won't get one
no matter how
good it is.

But we will
hopefully
get something done
and it will be
something with
heart
and very meaningful.

Steve
It's great to have you here
by the way.
Really
good.
You've done
a great job
I always say
you got a hell of a lot of money
for that sale. 
I don't think
you've been given enough -- 
I mean, I don't think
you were
ever given enough
credit for the deal
you did
for your shareholders.

What a deal that was.

June 21, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v92)

Another Wednesday already?  Where does the time go?

As I expected, talk about everyone 'coming together' in the wake of the shooting in Alexandria lasted only a few news cycles; now, we get a very brief update on Steve Scalise's condition, and we move on to the latest severe weather threat.

I did have to wonder what on earth the punditry thought was going to happen when the Dems and Reps got ready to play their charity ball game? Were they expecting them to stand on opposite baselines glaring at each other or something? Did the multi-million dollar talking heads forget that this game has been played since the early 1900's, without rancor, to raise money for charity?

What was up with all of the amazement shown when the two teams knelt in prayer before the game began? And why was it seemingly so hard for people to understand that maybe the Congressmen (and women) are human beings, regardless of how different their opinions and ideas? Of course, that makes me wonder, if this had been a contest between the gangs from Infowars, Breitbart and Fox News on one team and The Washington Post, The Rachel Maddow Show, and CNN on the other, what would they have done under the same circumstances?

Last week also had me wondering about three widely publicized court cases: the Bill Cosby trial, the Jeronimo Yanez trial, and the Michelle Carter trial.

In the first case, the jury of five women and seven men deadlocked after some 50 hours of deliberation, and a mistrial was declared. The prosecution vowed to try the case again, but I wonder if the outcome will be different. That dozens of women have claimed Cosby did to them what he did to the alleged victim in this case - drugs as foreplay followed by unwanted sexual advances - may not matter when push comes to shove about sending America's Dad to jail. It's not just that those other women cannot bring criminal cases themselves, due to statutes of limitations, but even if their stories do come in as indicative of a pattern of behavior, it's that they might not be believed, anyway.

The second case involved the police officer who shot Philando Castile less than a minute after pulling him over for faulty brake lights, or because he resembled a suspect the police were looking for. Either way, Castile ended up dead after Yanez fired seven shots into the car (five of which hit their intended target) in which Castile's girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her four year old daughter were passengers. The police video released after the trial was the second one to become famous in this case; the first was the one that captured the aftermath of the shooting, filmed by Reynolds. Yanez was found not guilty of second degree manslaughter and intentional discharge of a firearm that endangers safety.

Finally, the last case involved the Massachusetts woman who was charged with - and convicted of - involuntary manslaughter because she encouraged her boyfriend to commit suicide, after he had threatened to do so many times.  There were thousands of texts between the two teens presented as evidence, but it was phone calls the night of the suicide that led a judge to find her guilty. Carter, now 20 years old, could be sentenced to that many years in prison in August.

I can't help wondering how we can see a police officer acquitted of involuntary manslaughter after firing seven shots in the close quarters of a vehicle's driver's seat, while a woman is convicted of the same charge for firing only words across a communications network.

I have not been able to wrap my arms around this, and to be honest, I'm not sure I want to.

Meanwhile Back in Albany (v11)

Nathaniel Brooks/NY Times
As many of you may have heard, there's a LOT of water in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, which together form much of the border between New York State and Canada.

What's "a LOT of water" mean? How's 6,000,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools full?  Four cubic miles - a puddle a mile wide, a mile high, and four miles long - of water?

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, in the six weeks starting April first, about four trillion gallons of rain water alone entered Lake Ontario. And it didn't stop raining, either.

All spring, we've been seeing and hearing about the incredible flooding, beach erosion, scores of houses and camps and trailers and restaurants and bars and parks under water. The marina and fishing camp owned by my brother-in-law John has received more press this year - for being under water - than in all the years he's owned it, combined, times five or ten  -- it's been that bad along lake, with no end in sight.  For folks like John, who own seasonal businesses which under the best of circumstances are at the mercy of a fickle Mother Nature, this spring has been almost incomprehensible. And yet -- it's inspired great creativity, as folks do whatever they can to keep their businesses open and customers well served.

We've heard less about flooding around Montreal, unless we took the time to read or listen all the way through to the end. As noted in this article from early May,
The city, which is located at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers is experiencing record-breaking flooding. The river at Montreal Harbor is nearly four feet higher than normal for this time of year and "dramatic flooding in and around Montreal has forced the evacuation of thousands," according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
Naturally, American politicians were unable to contain themselves any better than the lake boundaries could contain the water. Local, state and federal officials jumped on the International Joint Commission, tasked with managing the lake and seaway for the benefit of both countries and their billion dollar shipping, commerce and tourism industries. The IJC controls the Moses-Saunders Dam on the St. Lawrence River, which is how and where lake levels can be controlled. The IJC is guided by something called Plan 2014, which updated guidelines that had been in place as long as I've been alive. Despite its name, Plan 2014 only went into effect this January; as such, it's been a focal point of many politicians as their constituents deal with water, water everywhere.

Our Sonofa Gov, Andrew Cuomo, is no neophyte when it comes to lashing out - he's gotten pretty good at it. Three weeks or so ago, over the Memorial Day weekend,  Cuomo set his sights on the IJC, calling them on the carpet for the high water while visiting Monroe County.
There's not doubt but that the IJC blew it. They blew it... I think the IJC has made a series of blunders. Their methodology was flawed to begin with. They're doing tremendous damage and it has to stop now. 
Cuomo's comments followed on the heels of a letter he wrote to the IJC a couple of days earlier, in which he noted, after blasting them for not letting water out last year when levels were high or earlier this year before the rains came, and after tooting his own horn about financial assistance the state is offering to those impacted,
With the highest water levels in a century, it is imperative that the IJC take action to reduce lake levels and provide immediate relief to these shoreline communities. Failure to act now defies common sense and will exacerbate this growing problem. Local communities, businesses and residents are facing one of the most damaging and protracted flood situations in generations and relying on you to provide relief.
The IJC responded, noting that Cuomo had responded just last year to the opposite water issue.
...These near average supplies to Lake Ontario last year were the result of above-average inflows from Lake Erie, offset by well below average rainfall and runoff in the Lake Ontario basic, which you may recall experienced such a severe drought in 2016 that you declared a drought disaster in 24 counties in upper New York... (emphasis added)
They went on to explain things about ice formation, weather forecasting, how they used Plan 2014 and also how they deviated from it (as allowed) to manage the situation. Further, they noted
We and our staff are available to you and your staff to further explain the conditions, constraints and hydrology that affects these decisions whenever you would like. 
We applaud your action to dedicate $22 million to assist New York communities, businesses and homeowners to address the devastation that these extreme weather conditions have wrought.  We also hope that you use this opportunity to demonstrate your strong leadership to increase and improve coastal resiliency, as you did after Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy, rather than merely repairing the current damages and leaving people vulnerable.   
I'm no scientist, and don't pretend to have the answers to what's happening to folks like my brother-in law. But I must say, I love a good throw down with our governor, especially when NY's own Environmental Conservation Commissioner notes that we'd have the same conditions whether we were following Plan 2014 or the 1958 plan.

And especially since, as the editorial linked above notes,
For six years, Governor Cuomo was silent as scientists, environmentalists and shoreline property owners debated Plan 2014, the water management plan for Lake Ontario...
Cuomo got his press coverage, which matters dearly to him. And he will take credit for putting assistance on the table, which matters dearly to him, and will help those who qualify. But the exchange with the IJC feels sort of like what I think it would feel like if I decided to publicly challenge my 9th grade earth science teacher.

I'd write a good letter, to be sure, but he would crush me with his expertise.

June 17, 2017

Sidebar: After the Bullets...

There has been no let up in the comments and discussions following the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise and three others at the ball park in Alexandria, VA.

Calls for unity, and cooperation, and tamped down rhetoric, and bipartisanship across the spectrum, from regular people to public servants in Washington continue, even as a couple of handsfull of Republican men meet in secret to reform healthcare, one sixth of the American economy. (They must not have gotten the memo?) And while many are hopeful, most are not holding out hope that this will last any longer than these types of "calls for (fill in the blank)" typically last - five or six news cycles? Ten, maybe?

Lotf of people have mentioned out that Donald Trump, both as a candidate and since the election, has been a key factor in emboldening people on the fringes, through his 'textbook' racist comments and his denigration of, well, pretty much everyone, whether overt (women, Mexicans, POWs, Gold star families, the disabled) or covert (blacks, uneducated people, and more), via his hideously insulting professions of "love" for them.

Others have blamed Barack Obama (no specific examples, just in general), Bill Clinton (same), Hillary Clinton (her basket of deplorables), Congressional Democrats, liberals in Hollywood, free speech protesters at Berkeley, Congressional Republicans, Rush Limbaugh... even, again, regular people like me who express opinions around the vast water cooler that is "social media."

(Ironically, I've yet to see someone blame lifelong Independent Bernie Sanders, the candidate of choice for the gunman, according to his social media record. Sanders, by the way, is still widely and erroneously described in the media as the Democratic Senator of Vermont, which is mind-boggling to me, but that's a whole nother post.)

The bully pulpit, it seems, whether the one at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave or the one at The Little Garden in The Valley, where I sit, is actually filled with bullies.

This hand-wringing about the words we use and how we use them, would not be occurring to this degree had the gunman not targeted members of Congress. It does not occur, as I noted in my post, when extreme words about abortion lead to murder.

It did not happen, to this elevated level, when racist words and beliefs led to the murder of churchgoers at Mother Emmanuel.

It did not happen, even, when the Sandy Hook murders were claimed to be fake; parents are still hounded by people who believed the words, and acted on them.

It did not happen when the citizenship of President Obama was challenged.

It did not happen, did it, when Hillary Clinton's lesbian-child-sex-ring from the-back-of-a-pizza parlor led to a man going there to take matters into his own hands?

When we challenge each other on the power of words, we're told they don't matter. Violent movies, video games, song lyrics? They have no impact, we're told, and besides, that's artistic freedom. Same with references to drugs, smoking, drinking and sex - mainstream movie sex, I'm talking about, not porn. Those don't matter, they don't influence anyone, that's just art. (Maybe someone should tell the ad agencies that their work doesn't matter?)

All of this, we're told, people know it's not real. They know it's fake. And yet, "fake news" influenced our presidential election, and continues to influence people's thoughts, opinions, conversations, and memes.

Words don't matter, we're told. Until something like this happens, and the political becomes personal. Then, everything matters.
But, as you all know, tonight's game has taken on a much deeper level of meaning. Beyond anything that we would have thought. By playing tonight, your are showing the world that we will not be intimidated by threats, acts of violence, or assaults on our Democracy. The game will go on.
Here are some words I think matter.
If people, politicians and pundits really believe that words matter, they need to believe that all of them do. If people, politicians and pundits really believe that inflammatory rhetoric matters, they need to believe that all of it matters. If people, politicians and pundits really believe that extremism matters, they need to believe that all of it matters. If people, politicians and pundits really believe that gunmen shoot innocent people because they have mental health issues, they need to believe that all of them have mental health issues.
If people, politicians and pundits want to show the world that we will not be intimidated by threats, acts of violence or assaults on our democracy, we all need to play the game as if that really matters. 
Ladies and gentlemen, let's play ball.

June 15, 2017

After the Bullets, the Words Fly

Here's a smattering of comments I've read in the aftermath of the shooting at the ball field in Alexandria VA which left House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, of Louisiana, critically injured.

Speaker Paul Ryan delivered a speech on the House floor that CNN's Chris Cillizza called 'spot on.' In it, Ryan (who seems to me an uncomfortable speaker) noted
We are all giving our thoughts to those currently being treated for their injuries at this moment. And we are united. We are united in our shock and anguish. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us...
You know, every day, we come here to test and challenge each other. We feel so deeply about the things we fight for and believe in At times, our emotions can get the best of us. We are all imperfect. But we do not shed our humanity when we enter this chamber.
For all the noise and fury, we are a family. These were our brothers and sisters in the line of fire... 
So before this House returns to its business, I want us to slow down and reflect, to think about how we are being tested right now. Because we are. I ask each of you to join me in resolving to come together, to lift each other up and to show the country - show the world - that we are one House. The people's House - united in our humanity.
It is that humanity which will win the day. It always will. 
Ted Nugent apparently had a "listen to your wife" moment, regarding his inflammatory language, which he blamed on his Detroit upbringing and adrenaline.
At the tender age of 69, my wife has convinced me I just can't use those harsh terms. I cannot and will not and I encourage even my friends/enemies on the left, in the Democrat and liberal world, that we have got to be civil to each other.
In case you had missed his comments, here's a recap from a post on ThinkProgress.org.
Nugent's 2012 comments about Obama - who he has called a "piece of shit" and a "subhuman mongrel" - are far from the only threat he's made against prominent Democrats. As the Daily Beast chronicled, Nugent discussed shooting Harry Reid during the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in 2015. In January 2016, he called for both Obama and Clinton to "be tried for treason & hung." Nugent once called Clinton a "worthless bitch" and called for her to "ride one of these (guns) into the sunset." He told Obama to "suck on my machine gun."
FYI, this past April, Nuge enjoyed a quiet evening with his wife, Kid Rock and his fiance, and Sarah Palin and president Trump at the White House.

Former Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords, herself a victim of gun violence, offered words of condolence and hope.


And, from the peanut gallery, this anonymous guy, TOTAL, commenting on a Nancy Pelosi video.
I am a true blue Democrat and even I will admit it is the LEFT and our disappointment about losing a "can't lose" election that caused this tragedy. Our leaders and attached at the hip MEDIA (CNN, MSNBC) are the ones stirring the pot BLACK with their LIES and blatant exaggerations about our President to TAKE HIM DOWN. The Congressional Investigations are a WITCH HUNT to bring down a president the left (and some on the right) deem unacceptable so they NEED to control the narrative (which they have). This is their fault (OUR) and our fault as Democrats and liberals to believe the distortions and outright lies (Trump is not anti gay or a racist) and start living in the real world and get over a poorly run DNC election. An election that the DNC and Clinton tried to RIG from the beginning.

What happened, I wonder, in the past couple of years?  Remember when people turned guns on others because of mental health problems, like the shooting at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs a couple of years ago?

Here's what Paul Ryan said then.
Clearly, we can do more... one common denominator in these tragedies is mental illness. that's why we need to look at fixing our nation's mental health system. 
Why, now,  wouldn't we make the same assumption when someone shoots at Republican Congressmen? 

Why, now, is it the rhetoric? 

June 13, 2017

Poll Watch: Opportunities and Blessings

I'm sure by now you've heard about the bizarre, "someone put something in the juice cups again" public portion of Trump's cabinet meeting. You know, the one where everyone sat around and told their fearless leader how fabulous he was?

Trump, of course, tooted his own horn.
Never has there been a president, with few exceptions - case of FDR, he had a major depression to handle - who has passed more legislation and who has done more things than what we've done. I think we've been about as active as you can possibly be at just about record-setting pace.
Oh, the #winning and the #recordsetting, #Icantstandit I truly can't. I don't know that anyone was prepared for Reince Priebus and his remarks, though.
On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you've given us to serve you agenda and the American people. And we're continuing to work very hard every day to accomplish those goals. 
In light of his statement, and that of the others talking about the "honor" and "privilege" to serve this president, when they were simply asked to introduce themselves and the department they work in, I thought it would be fun to juxtapose the Cabinet members' sentiments with those of the American people.

Here are some key callouts from a recent Gallup poll
  • Trump's approval - 37% 
  • his weekly disapproval - 58%, highest of his administration
  • only 8% of Democrats approve; 83% of Republicans do.
The approval rating among republicans is down three points from his average, which is not a great sign, I don't think.  Among independents, his approval rating of 41% is five points lower than his average there. 

And, let's see what people are saying over at Public Policy Polling.

  • Angela Merkel (+11), Justin Trudeau (+11), Emmanuel Macron (+7) and even Theresa May (+4) are seen more favorably by Americans than our own president (-14) based on their net favorability scores/
  • Clinton voters particularly like Merkel and Trudeau; Trump voters only like the British PM.
  • Only 24% of all voters support the AHCA (aka the WeDon'tCare Act), with 55% opposing; only 42% o Republicans support the darn thing
  • Staying on health care, the ACA is the preferred path, with 51% approving vs. 34% not, and 35%  think the Republican's repeal and replace the right answer; 59% favor keep and fix.  

Dean Debnam, the president of PPP, tells us that
Six weeks after the initial passage of the AHCA voter anger over it isn't subsiding. It continues to be the biggest issue driving a Democratic advantage in 2018.
Why? Because, according to their polls, voters says they're less like to vote for a member of Congress who supported the ACHA (48%) than someone who favored it (24%).

Quinnipiac polling tells a similar story, one that is not all that positive for the president, regardless of his bigly opinion of himself. Let's look at Russia for example.

  • A majority of Americans think there's something amiss with Trump's own dealings with Russia; 31% this he did something illegal, with another 29% saying he did something unethical.
  • When it comes to Trump's campaign advisors, 40% think there was something illegal going on and 25% think there was unethical behavior. 
  • 54% think Trump is too friendly with Russia; 68% are "very" or "somewhat concerned" over Trump's relationship with Russia, a country 45% of voters think is our adversary, not our ally (only 8%). 
Those numbers aren't out of line, given the general lack of consideration for ethical behaviors show by everyone from the lawyers to the cabinet members, and of course there's the Trump Organization, and the bad charities, and the Access Hollywood tape, and more.  Back to the poll:

  • Trump's approval rating is even lower -- 34%, down from 37% in May and 35% in April.  
It gets worse.
  • 68% say Trump is not level-headed (although 64% of Republicans think he is).
  • 59% think he is not honest
  • 58% think he doesn't have good leadership skills
  • 58% think he doesn't care about average Americans
  • 64% think he doesn't share their values
There was some good news, though, which I'm sure will make it into an early morning tweet.
  • 62% think he's a strong person; 57% think he's intelligent. 
Even at Fox News, the poll is not showing great things.
  • 53% think Trump's agenda and presidency are coming apart
  • On taxes, 54% think our current system is worth keeping, with some tweaks - but not major changes
  • On the AHCA, 54% oppose the bill; 45% strongly oppose it. 
  • 53% think Obamacare has been good for the country (in 2014, 52% thought it was bad for the country)
  • Only 51%  are concerned about illegal immigration, a drop from 71% back in September 2010
  • And, finally, on climate change, the pendulum has swung from 46% concerned (February 2013) to 60% in the most recent poll

Sure, Reince, the blessings are great, but even among his most friendly audience, things are not looking so good. 

Perhaps there are some other opportunities out there you might want to look at?

June 11, 2017

Sunday School 6/11/2017

Boy, it was a hot one today, no air conditioning in the school, since it's the weekend and all. I only had the energy to visit one classroom today, and it was a good one: This Week with George Stephanopoulos, on ABC.

One of George's guests today was former US Attorney Preet Bharara, who, you might remember, is the guy who brought about the end to the reigns of Shelly Silver and Dean Skelos in the New York State Legislature, and who was also not shy about delving into potential ethics violations by New York's Sonofa Gov, Andrew Cuomo, his close associates, and less-close associates affiliated with Cuomo's Buffalo Billion and other economic development activities. He was not thrilled with the premature shuttering of the Moreland Commission, either.

Right here in Syracuse, he's got the leaders of COR Development under indictment; motions are still being filed in those matters, even as COR continues working on our Inner Harbor project, where they have exclusive development rights. Bharara's firing has not yet had an impact on the cases, and I hope it doesn't. Better to see these go through the legal process than to have things messed with simply because we have a new administration in Washington.

Anyway, today Bharara talked about James Comey and Donald Trump, answering some specific questions from Stephanopoulos. When asked if Comey lied under oath, the answer was clear:
It does not appear that way. I mean you've got someone who...has a reputation for telling the truth, someone who has contemporaneous notes of what happened... On the other hand, I think a lot of people will tell you that the president himself sometimes makes accusations that turn out to be not true...  And when it comes down to who's telling the truth and who's not, I think most people would side reasonably with James Comey.
Stephanopoulos asked about Comey leaking his notes, and whether there was "anything illegal" there.
So, I'm not in the business of making legal pronouncements on... what's legal or what's criminal anymore. But I will say, it sounds like more of a distraction... Nothing that was in the memo or in the conversations he had with his friend... was classified.
So I think the main point that people should be focusing on, from what I can see, is that you have... uncontroverted from someone who was under oath that on at least one occasion, the president of the United States cleared a room of his vice president and his attorney general, and told his director of the FBI that he should essentially drop a case against his former national security advisor. 
And whether or not that is impeachable or that's indictable, that's a very serious thing. And I'm not sure that people, you know, fully get that the standard is not just whether something is a crime or not, but there should - you know, whether or not it can be charged as a crime or Congress will impeach, it's a very serious thing.
And there's a lot to be frightened about and a lot to be outraged about if you have a president who, A, may have done it, although I know he denies it, but he hasn't (denied it) under oath yet. And B, he seems to suggest that even if he had done it or said words to that effect, there's nothing wrong with it. And you have other people who seem to be excusing it.  
 That's an incredibly serious thing if people think that the president of the United States can tell heads of law enforcement agencies, based on his own whim or is own personal preferences or friendships, that they should or should not pursue particular criminal cases against individuals. 
That's not how America works.
There's more, including a discussion on whether or not this is ever going to be more than 'he said/he said case'. Bharara doesn't know but did toss out this out there.
...look at the surrounding circumstances and indicia of truthfulness and those things include contemporaneous statements to other people. They include the track record of the witness... and whether or not one of the hes in the 'he said/he said' has a track record for lying or not both on the air and in legal proceedings...and I believe there is such a track record with respect to one of the parties.
We all know which one he's talking about, don't we?

Bharara himself was the recipient of a three calls from Trump, two from him as president-elect and a third after the inauguration, including the one Bharara refused to return. He was fired the next day. Regarding those  conversations, he also noted
The number of times that President Obama called me in seven-and-a-half years was zero. The number of times I would have expected to be called by the president of the Unites States would be zero, because there has to be some kind of arm's length relationship given the jurisdiction that various people had.
I miss Preet Bharara, I do.

See you around campus.

June 10, 2017

Shaming the VA on Memorial Day

At the end of last month, congressional Republicans released a video commemorating Memorial Day, honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice -  and, in one case, blasting the VA. Because that's how they roll, I guess.

Here's Rep. Jeff Denham of California, an Air Force vet, speaking in the video:
This is a day of remembrance and honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. But for the last several years, far too often, we're spending time talking about the inadequacies of the VA. 
Sure -  in between solemn ceremonies of remembrance, and collective breath-holding as high school buglers play Taps in cemeteries or at veterans' memorials, and 21-gun salutes at parades in just about every small town in America, and thinking about friends and family members who were lost, we bitch about the VA.

Or, maybe, we do that when we're test-driving mattresses, I don't know.

New VA Secretary David Shulkin, an MD who was appointed as undersecretary by President Obama in 2015, has been making concerted efforts - and progress - since then, well before he was nominated by president Trump to head the agency earlier this year.

In a White House briefing on May 31st, Shulkin vowed
to turn the VA into the organization veterans and families deserve and one that Americans ca take pride in. 
 He mentioned several priorities, such as reducing the backlog of vets waiting for care; the high suicide rate; quality improvements;and faster disability claim processing, and noted
Though we are taking immediate and decisive steps, we are still in critical condition and require intensive care. 
And, he made clear, there was no question he had support from the West Wing, including both Trump and Mike Pence.

Shulkin, the first non-veteran to head the agency, was confirmed unanimously by the Senate to lead the VA. He's also got a long track record of innovating in the healthcare world, usually successfully but sometimes not - which is OK, because the only thing worse than failing is not even trying, right?

In this NY Times story, we learn a lot more about Shulkin and his plans for the VA. For example, Shulkin regularly sees patients, in person and remotely via telemedicine. And he was more than a handful down Trump's list to lead the agency, having been in the VA leadership during the time candidate Trump regularly trashed the agency. 

He's already had the VA facilities post wait times and quality information, and this month the VA will start offering mental health services to vets with less-than-honorable discharges, a group full of folks living with PTSD. He's also working on changing employment practices to allow for quicker hiring and firing; he wants more vets to see private physicians; about a third do now, but he wants to increase that number. And, things like hearing aids and eyeglasses (the latter, Shulkin notes, you can get in an hour in any mall) should be handled outside the system so that more time and resources can be put into treating vets who have been wounded. 

That kind of thinking is consistent with how he handled himself in his previous VA role; it was as under-secretary that he challenged suicide prevention leaders to do more. After being told it would take a "summit meeting" and "10 months" Shulkin gave them one month - by showing them that some 6,000 vets would kill themselves while the VA studied things. They ended up getting it done in a month.  Remembering that meeting with the leadership, Shulkin said
For me, it was a very important day. It taught our people you can act with urgency, and you can resist the temptation to say we work in a system that you can't get to move faster. I think they learned that you can. 
So why does all this matter?

I was looking through old posts, and it was on May 31, 2014 -- three years to the day before Shulkin's briefing -- that I posted about Congress ignoring repeated reports, going back more than a decade at that time, from the VA about the scheduling issues, and how Congress responded to the resignation of General Eric Shinseki, Obama's VA secretary.

From my 2014 post:
Since 2005, the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued 18 reports that identified, at both the national and local levels, deficiencies in scheduling resulting in lengthy wait times and the negative impact on patient care...
Apparently these "well documented and systemic issues" which the VA OIG has been complaining about for years, were not important enough for Miller's committee to jump on, like they jumped on VA travel expenses, for example. Spending taxpayer dollars on conferences is one thing, but years worth of information on poor treatment of veterans, well that's something else entirely. 
I ended the post quoting former House Speaker John Boehner, and noted that while Shinseki fell on his sword, as usual, Congress pointed theirs at someone else.
General Shinseki has dedicated his life to our country, and we thank him for his service. His resignation, though, does not absolve the president of his responsibility to make things right for our veterans.  Business as usual cannot continue...One personnel change cannot be used as an excuse to paper over a systemic problem. Our veterans deserve better, we'll hold the President accountable until he makes things right.
Fast forward to this year, and we learn that Denham has sponsored or cosponsored bipartisan bills to help move things along at the VA. In essence, he's doing exactly what he should be doing.

Which leaves me to think that everyone would be better served - those we have lost, whom the Memorial Day video was intended to honor, and vets who are still with us and in need of quality services of all kinds - if he just continued to work to make improvements, instead of slamming the agency that is finally, with Congress's help, at least moving in the right direction.

June 8, 2017

Tidbits and Trivia (v4)

A quick look at some un-fact-checked facts, quotes and trivia:
  • According to a GSS-NORC/University of Chicago poll, 55% of white Republicans say black Americans are stuck in poverty due to a lack of willpower or motivation; 26% of white Democrats agree. 42% of white Republicans, and 24% of white Democrats, believe blacks are inherently lazier than whites
  • Under the failed version of the American Health Care Act, tax cuts to the 400 highest-income taxpayers (averaging about $7,000,000 each) would have saved more than the total Affordable Care Act subsidies to more than 800,000 people in 20 states and Washington DC ($2.8 billion). 
  • According to this article, published in mid-May, pizza franchiser Domino's stock has risen 5000% since 2008, (and more than 2000% since 2008, better than Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook, I read). Better taste, adoption of technology, and franchisee managing seem to be the keys. Domino's delivers more than 1 million pizzas each day.
  • According to this Bloomberg article, many of us are fools for whom parting with money is easy. Check out the opening paragraphs of the article:
"One of the most lavishly funded gadget startups in Silicon Valley last year was Juicero Inc. It makes a juice machine. The product was an unlikely pick for top technology investors, but they were drawn to the idea of an internet-connected device that transforms single-serving packets of chopped fruits and vegetables into a refreshing and healthy beverage. 
Doug Evans, the company's founder, would compare himself with Steve Jobs in his pursuit of juicing perfection. He declared that his juice press wields four tons of force - "enough to lift two Teslas," he said. Google's venture capital arm and other backers poured about $120 million into the startup. Juicero sells the machine for $400, plus the costs of individual juice packs delivered weekly. Tech blogs have dubbed it a "Keurig for juice.""
Sounds good, right? Except that someone figured out that you could squeeze the juice packs with your bare hands and get the same - or even better results - than with the $400 internet-connected product. Another report noted that full refunds are being offered.