Just Another Thursday

Last night, the Txxxx administration asked the Supreme Court to abolish the Affordable Care Act, even though “Obamacare” has allowed millions of us to get health insurance  and even though, according to the internet, we’re in the midst of a pandemic.

From NBC News:

The Trump administration is asking the Supreme Court to wipe out Obamacare, arguing that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and that the rest of the law must be struck down with it.

The late-night brief, filed Thursday in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, carries major implications for the presidential election. If the justices agree, it would cost an estimated 20 million Americans their insurance coverage and nullify protections for pre-existing conditions.

The Trump administration’s brief comes as the U.S. has recorded more than 120,000 deaths from COVID-19, with nearly 2.5 million confirmed cases. On Wednesday, the nation hit a new record for the highest daily total of new infections reported with more than 45,500.

In a similar vein, the McSWeeney’s site has a list of 759 offenses committed by the president. It’s called:

LEST WE FORGET THE HORRORS: A CATALOG OF TRUMP’S WORST CRUELTIES, COLLUSIONS, CORRUPTIONS, AND CRIMES.

They’ve color-coded the list:

 – Sexual Misconduct, Harassment, & Bullying
 – White Supremacy, Racism, & Xenophobia
 – Public Statements / Tweets
 – Collusion with Russia & Obstruction of Justice
 – Trump Staff & Administration
 – Trump Family Business Dealings
 – Policy
 – Environment

It doesn’t appear you can search the list by clicking a category. More importantly, the list doesn’t include many cruelties, collusions, corruptions and crimes perpetrated by the terrific people who work for the president. (There have been many crimes, etc.)

But they do offer a link where you can get help registering to vote. It’s a government site, so it’s odd that the administration hasn’t shut it down. Their voter suppression task force must be asleep.

Finally, way back in 1979, Senator Edward Kennedy had trouble answering an interview question: “Why do you want to be president?” His stumbling performance was one of the factors that ended his campaign to replace President Jimmy Carter as the Democratic nominee. (YouTube has a brief history lesson.) Carter subsequently lost to Ronald Reagan, who began ruining the country shortly thereafter.

I bring this up because our president was asked a similar question last night: “What are your top priority items for a second term?” Here’s what he said:

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What a guy! What a president!

Remember to register and vote. You can see if you’re registered here and start getting registered if you’re not.

Add the Evil to the Rank Stupidity and It’s Even Worse

Where to begin?

From NPR: In a significant shift, the Trump administration says the entirety of the Affordable Care Act should be struck down in the courts. Previously, the administration had pushed to remove the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions but had not argued in court that the whole law should be struck down.

The change was announced in a two-sentence letter from the Department of Justice to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said that the ruling made in December by a district court judge in Texas “should be affirmed.” In that case, District Judge Reed O’Connor declared the ACA unconstitutional. He ruled that a 2017 change in federal tax law eliminating the penalty on uninsured people invalidated the entire health care law.

From The Washington Post: At the Casa Ismael clinic for HIV-positive men with severe health complications, the staff used to immediately change patients’ diapers after they were soiled. But last week, [the] clinic administrator … told the nurses that had to stop. To save money, the nonprofit clinic, which relies on its patients’ food-stamp money for funding, will ask patients to sit in diapers in which they have repeatedly urinated, sometimes for hours.

The Casa Ismael clinic is short on funds in part because of cuts in food stamps that hit about 1.3 million residents of Puerto Rico this month — a new crisis for an island still struggling from the effects of Hurricane Maria in September 2017….

A senior administration official with direct knowledge … described Trump’s stance: “He doesn’t want another single dollar going to the island.”

Meanwhile, the nonsense continues:

From columnist Greg Sargent: Have we really learned nothing from the first two years of the Trump presidency?

Welcome to the new narrative: President Trump and Republicans are “turning the tables” and going “on offense” against Democrats and the media, who, we are told, should be groveling for forgiveness in the wake of Attorney General William P. Barr’s brief summary of the special counsel’s Russiagate conclusions.

Unfortunately, there are scattered signs that some in those quarters are taking this far too seriously. We’re seeing news accounts suggesting media coverage of the Russia scandal may have overreached; columnists demanding introspection from journalistic colleagues; and analyses that overestimate the degree to which Trump can now claim victory over Democrats. Some accounts hintat angst among Democrats about how aggressive an investigative posture to strike going forward.

It’s amazing this needs to be stated, but here goes. This “new offensive” from Trump and Republicans is saturated with nonsense from top to bottom, and it is designed to get the media to back off of its entirely legitimate scrutiny of Trump, and to get Democrats to retreat from their entirely legitimate efforts to impose oversight and accountability.

Trump has spent the past two years screaming “WITCH HUNT!” and “FAKE NEWS!,” even as he and his congressional allies have absurdly cast the investigations as corrupt based on one fake “scandal” after another. Throughout all this, what’s actually happened is that one revelation after another has emerged detailing startling criminality among those in Trump’s inner circle and extraordinary corruption and abuses of power by Trump himself.

Much of the current discussion and journalistic handwringing has the effect of badly downplaying the significance of what has emerged in the past two years, and the potential for more damaging information to emerge. And it doesn’t adequately reckon with the rot of bad faith at the core of what’s driving this new “turn the tables” offensive — an effort to chill continued efforts to unearth that information, through legitimate scrutiny and oversight. We know this, because we’ve seen it for two years.

Remember: All we know about the Special Counsel’s report is what the president’s hand-picked Attorney General has said about it. Presumably, it’s true that the Special Counsel didn’t exonerate the president regarding obstruction of justice. Otherwise, the Attorney General’s letter would have said it did. Presumably, it’s true that the Special Counsel didn’t find enough evidence to say the president was part of a criminal conspiracy with the Russian government. We need to see the Mueller report now.

But we already know there was collusion between the campaign, various Russians and Wikileaks. That’s because, despite what the president and his defenders would like us to believe, “collusion” means “secret agreement or cooperation, especially for a DECEITFUL OR ILLEGAL purpose”. As the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee says, the evidence for collusion (and obstruction of justice) is “in plain sight”:

“There [is] a big difference between whether there was evidence of collusion — and I think that evidence is in plain sight — and whether you can establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt of a criminal conspiracy,” he told CNN.

Schiff also questioned whether Attorney General William Barr would be able to come to an unbiased conclusion about special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings.

“You have [an] attorney general who applied for the job by talking down any potential obstruction conviction or indictment who then went to a Senate confirmation and refused to recuse himself,” Schiff said. “He has now done the job he applied for, which is attempt to exonerate Mr. Trump. That ought to deeply concern people.”

Asked Schiff tonight if he would drop his probe after Mueller didn’t find a Trump-Russia conspiracy, and he said: “Our investigation has always focused on counterintelligence issues, that is, is the president or anyone around him compromised in some way. That work has to go on.”

Of course it does, and it will, despite the president’s absurd claim that he’s won a race that isn’t over.

The “Skinny” Repeal of the ACA Is Back

Republicans in the Senate want to cut taxes so much for rich people and corporations that the federal deficit would go way up. That means they need to reduce government spending or find new revenue to offset the cuts. Their latest idea is to bring back the “skinny” repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The repeal would be “skinny”, because the only thing being repealed would be the “individual mandate”, the requirement that people have health insurance or pay a fine.

But why would getting rid of the individual mandate help offset tax cuts? The reason is that millions of low-income people would no longer buy health insurance, so the government would no longer need to give money to help them afford it. Right now, the government spends millions of dollars on health insurance subsidies for people who couldn’t otherwise get it. If those people don’t have health insurance anymore, the subsidies won’t be paid.

Unfortunately, there are serious problems with this approach. From The Washington Post:

 

Repealing the mandate would undermine … key parts of the Affordable Care Act. The health care law banned insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing health conditions. But in order to prevent people from waiting to buy insurance until they got sick, the law … imposed financial penalties [the individual mandate] for individuals who did not maintain health insurance coverage.

 

Health experts say eliminating the mandate would destabilize the individual insurances markets set up by the Affordable Care Act, as they would be full of people with high health care costs but have far fewer of the healthy people that insurance companies bank on. In response, insurance companies would likely either massively raise premiums or pull out of the marketplaces entirely.

 

A powerful group of stakeholders, including the major health insurance and hospital insurance lobbies and two influential doctors’ groups, wrote a letter to leaders from both parties arguing that they should retain the individual mandate.

 

“There will be serious consequences if Congress simply repeals the mandate while leaving the insurance reforms in place: millions more will be uninsured or face higher premiums, challenging their ability to access the care they need,” the groups wrote.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), among others, analyzed “skinny” repeal earlier this year. Their conclusions led three Republican senators to vote against it on the night of July 27th (it was in all the papers). Maybe the same three will defeat it again if it’s part of the Republican tax bill, but there might be more pressure on them to accept it this time.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the House of Representatives have their own version of the tax legislation. Today, the CBO had something to say on that. From Yahoo Finance:

 

If the House GOP tax plan passes, it is projected to cut revenue significantly, likely increasing the deficit by $1.456 trillion from 2018 to 2027, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation and Congressional Budget Office.

 

… the CBO explained that without any more money to offset the fall in revenue, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) would be required to issue a “sequestration order” to reduce spending in 2018 by $136 billion.

 

The effects of this sequestration order would trigger automatic cuts to various programs, including Medicare. According to the CBO, this could be as much as 4% for Medicare, which amounts to $25 billion in 2018. Furthermore, all non-exempt programs would be eliminated, which include some farming subsidies, border security, and student loan help.

So, in order to give the wealthy and corporations an enormous tax cut, Republicans will either raise insurance premiums for millions of average Americans or apply major spending cuts to programs like Medicare (or do both). This is in addition to increasing taxes on millions of people who itemize their deductions because they have big medical bills or live in states or cities with high taxes. All of this will happen while they increase the deficit by $1,456,000,000,000, give or take several billion. 

On the plus side, the president, his family, the billionaires in the Cabinet and lots of other plutocrats, including many CEO’s, will have a lot more money in their very deep pockets, a few dollars of which will trickle down to the rest of us. Inequality will increase, people will die too sooner, but that’s all right, because I’ve got mine, Jack!

The Bastards Are At It Again

It’s been 51 days since Republican Senator John McCain cast the dramatic “No” vote that sunk the bill that would have sunk the Affordable Care Act. Most of us assumed that was the end of the story. Even Sen. McConnell, the evil Majority Leader, said it was time for the Republicans to “move on”.

But we were wrong. They’re making one more attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They have until September 30th, because the Senate rules say that’s the last day they can pass a bill with only 50 senators, plus the Vice President, voting “Yes”.

Sarah Kliff of Vox calls the latest bill, released by Sens. Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham on Wednesday, “the most radical” repeal effort yet:

Work on Cassidy-Graham began in the midst of the chaotic Obamacare repeal effort in July….

The senators are selling this idea as a compromise plan and say it is a way to return power to states, giving local governments more control over how they spend federal dollars….

But the plan does much more than that. The proposal would eliminate the health care law’s subsidies for private insurance and end the Medicaid expansion. States could allow for waivers that let insurers charge sick patients higher premiums and stop covering certain benefits required under the Affordable Care Act, like maternity care or prescription drugs. The health insurance marketplaces would no longer exist as they are envisioned to continue under other Republican proposals.

The federal government would convert some (but not all) of that spending into a lump-sum payment to states. States could choose to spend this money on providing insurance — or they could use it to fund high-risk pools, or do other activities to pay the bills of patients with high medical needs….

The plan hasn’t been scored by the Congressional Budget Office yet, but analysts who have studied Cassidy-Graham estimate it would cut deeply into federal funding for the health law programs, likely resulting in millions losing coverage.

Cassidy-Graham would arguably be more disruptive, not less, to the current health care system than the plans that came before it. It would let money currently spent on health insurance go toward other programs, providing no guarantee that the Affordable Care Act programs individuals rely on today would continue into the future.

Jonathan Cohn of the Huffington Post quotes Aviva Aron-Dine of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

“This bill is far more radical [than previous repeal bills] in that it envisions going back to the pre-ACA world, where the federal government wasn’t in the business of helping low-income adults or moderate-income people without employer coverage get health insurance at all… Compared to pre-ACA, there would be some extra state grant money floating around ― but it would have virtually no requirements attached to it at all and, since the funding wouldn’t adjust based on enrollment or costs, it would be hard for even well-intentioned states to use it to create an individual entitlement to coverage or help.”

Cohn continues:

Oh, and the bill would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, and do so right away ― destabilizing insurance markets and causing premiums to rise right away, according to official projections….

It’s difficult to say where this is all going. After all, the idea that repeal could get another look now, despite its unpopularity, in the form of a proposal that in some respects is more radical than its predecessors, is difficult to fathom. And yet here we are, fathoming it.

So it looks like we need to speak up again. Republican senators need to hear from their angry constituents again. Facebook and Twitter need to heat up again. Activists need to get arrested again, because this is a matter of life and death for many of our fellow citizens and nobody knows if three Republicans will still vote “No”. McCain, who provided the crucial third “No” in July, has changed his tune from day to day (he’s 81 and has a brain tumor). People are saying he might vote “Yes” this time because he and Sen. Graham are very good friends. 

In November 1932, the German government was in disarray. Hitler was demanding to be made chancellor. He had many supporters, but others feared he would immediately institute a murderous dictatorship if given the chance:

Yet it was entirely unclear who would succeed [Franz von Papen] as chancellor or whether a way out of the political crisis could be found. The only thing that was clear, [a German count named Harry Kessler] noted … was the absolute impenetrability and uncertainty of the situation: “Everything more or less depends on chance and the good or bad moods of four or five individuals”.

Hitler became chancellor two months later. 

The Truth Still Matters

Will be going to North Dakota today to discuss tax reform and tax cuts. We are the highest taxed nation in the world – that will change.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2017

But the truth still matters:

oecd tax burdens

The chart includes individual and corporate taxes, as well as local taxes, as reported by the 35-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

For some historical perspective, consider “When the Rich Said No to Getting Richer” by from David Leonhardt of The New York Times:

A half-century ago, a top automobile executive named George Romney — yes, Mitt’s father — turned down several big annual bonuses. He did so, he told his company’s board, because he believed that no executive should make more than $225,000 a year (which translates into almost $2 million today).

He worried that “the temptations of success” could distract people from more important matters, as he said to a biographer, T. George Harris. This belief seems to have stemmed from both Romney’s Mormon faith and a culture of financial restraint that was once commonplace in this country.

Romney didn’t try to make every dollar he could, or anywhere close to it. The same was true among many of his corporate peers. In the early 1960s, the typical chief executive at a large American company made only 20 times as much as the average worker, rather than the current 271-to-1 ratio. Today, some C.E.O.s make $2 million in a single month.

The old culture of restraint had multiple causes, but one of them was the tax code. When Romney was saying no to bonuses, the top marginal tax rate was 91 percent. Even if he had accepted the bonuses, he would have kept only a sliver of them.

The high tax rates, in other words, didn’t affect only the post-tax incomes of the wealthy. The tax code also affected pretax incomes. As the economist Gabriel Zucman says, “It’s not worth it to try to earn $50 million in income when 90 cents out of an extra dollar goes to the I.R.S.”

The tax rates helped create a culture in which Americans found gargantuan incomes to be bizarre.

A few years after Romney turned down his bonuses from the American Motors Corporation, Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation that lowered the top marginal tax rate to 70 percent. Under Ronald Reagan, it dropped to 50 percent and kept falling. Since 1987, the top rate has hovered between 30 percent and 40 percent.

For more than 30 years now, the United States has lived with a top tax rate less than half as high as in George Romney’s day. And during those same three-plus decades, the pay of affluent Americans has soared. That’s not a coincidence. Corporate executives and others now have much more reason to fight for every last dollar.

And fight they do (it’s called “class warfare”).

Meanwhile, the president* is unnecessarily threatening hundreds of thousands of young people brought to this country by their parents and another extremely dangerous hurricane is on its way. This is further evidence that Republicans are evil and global temperatures are rising, but you already knew that.

Update:  John McCain, the Republican senator who talks a good game but can’t be relied on, has changed his mind about repealing the Affordable Care Act. He now says he’d vote Yes on what is “in may ways … the most radical” repeal bill yet. Further evidence for [see above]. 

2nd Update: McCain now says he would only vote for repeal if the legislation survived committee hearings and was subject to amendments proposed by both sides. That’s not what the 81-year old senator implied earlier today. This latest announcement is good news, because the repeal legislation is extremely unlikely to pass if it’s subject to “normal order” in the Senate instead of being rushed through.