Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Trump Cycle: Blather, Reince, Repeal

American Heroes Week is firmly in the rear-view mirror, but as we celebrate our heroes--Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, John McCain, every Senate Democrat--it's important to remember that every American can be a hero every day simply by living a positive, moral, thinking, compassionate, empathetic, reflective life and acting on those values every day. Even a child knows that these behaviors are in everybody's interests.

And then there's the current administration in Washington. They talk about those values, but much of the time they fail to live up to them. This past week is a prime example.

The Republican health care crash and burn (or maybe not) should not surprise anyone who understand how insurance works and how much having health coverage affects other life decisions. A bill that would take coverage away from upwards of 22 million people or that would allow states to let insurance companies sell cut-rate policies that cover, well, nothing or have sky-high deductibles is not a bill that should even be written down, much less voted on.

And yet.

The clear, unequivocal truth is that after 7 years of bleating and babbling, the Republican Party still had no idea how to solve or improve the health insurance issue in this country. And the president (shudder) showed that he doesn't have any political or persuasive skills he can call on to get legislation done. All he knows is to threaten and tweet-shame and complain to Boy Scouts that it's everybody else's fault except his. His ignorance of policy and his drive to get anything passed simply to say it's been passed is dangerous, as last week showed. His leadership skills are likewise impotent and very few, if any, legislators fear his wrath.

But that's what happens when a minority of people elect an unqualified outsider who doesn't know how to do his job to be this country's leader.

That would be a full week for most presidents, but the palace intrigue that resulted in both Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus exiting the administration because of Anthony Scaramucci's appointment is the stuff of farce. I have some respect for Spice now because after reading Scaramucci's rant against Priebus it looks like old Sean has a good grasp of Scaramucci's character.  We will see more people exiting the administration on;y to be replaced by sycophants and fringe know-nothings whose only qualification is that they're loyal to Trump.

Of course, the irony of Trump speaking in front of the Boy Scouts and appointing a foul, vile, self-obsessed capo in the same week is rather tasty. Scaramucci threatening to kill leakers adds another merit badge to the mix, yes?

None of this is a real surprise given that I've lived in Chris Christie's New Jersey for the past 8 years. He's set the tone for Trump and his ilk by demonizing the people and groups who oppose him and flaunting laws that should apply to everyone, but not to him. Beach photos anyone?

At some point, and we might have reached it, the Republican Party will need to make critical decision: Do they keep supporting the president or do they barrel forward on their own. For Democrats, this is not an appealing choice, but for the good of the country the Congress will need to make sure that basic American institutions will survive a man who has clearly not read the Constitution and has no interest in doing so.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest



Sunday, July 23, 2017

Beg Your Pardon? I Can't Fear You.

If the past six months is any guide, then most politicians, corporate executives and foreign leaders have little to fear from Donald Trump. He has turned out to be a wildly ineffective manager, deal maker and communicator, and with turnover in his administration expected to be high over the coming months (Sean Spicer is just the beginning), the president (shudder) will find it even more difficult to project an image of competence and efficiency.

Are you surprised?

You shouldn't be. Despite running, and being perceived, as the great business executive who would bring a corporate approach to the sprawling wildness of government, Donald Trump has turned out to be a terrible administrator. Yes, he does tweet on a regular basis and I'm sure his fans find it reassuring that the country is deporting millions of undocumented people, undermining environmental laws and generally blaming the free press for his troubles, but this is no way to get any of the big things we need accomplished in a timely manner.

Even if the health care bill comes back from the dead this week, I really can't see enough GOP support for a measure that has a 32-million-people-losing-insurance-price-tag on it passing, although I have underestimates the cruelty and blind ignorance of the Republican Party before.

The bigger problem is that Donald Trump doesn't know how to sell policy or to focus his administration's message on passing a solid piece of legislation. Of course, it's very difficult to sell a law that you probably haven't read and even if you did you don't really understand it, which likely describes Trump's role in this process. Add in the fact that it contradicts his campaign promise that he would get a bill that covers everybody cheaply and get it fast.

Strike three, no?

But the real issue is that not a lot of stakeholders in Washington or otherwise actually fear Donald Trump, and with good reason. He was leading from the rear on health care, entering the fray only in the last couple of days when it was clear that most Americans hated the new law and many GOP Senators could not bring themselves to vote for it. He has removed the United States from any meaningful leadership position on climate, and by extension, jobs, by taking us out of the Paris Climate Accords. He nixed the Pacific Trade Agreement and his threats to Mexico and Canada about renegotiating NAFTA are meeting the reality that those other countries actually have national interests of their own that Trump cannot just dismiss.

And, you know, there is the very sensitive issue of the fact that Donald Trump did not receive a majority of popular votes in the 2016 election. If most people don't vote for you, it's difficult to rally the will of the American people around your agenda when your agenda is basically...Donald Trump and his interests. The investigation into potential, OK, nonexistent voter fraud in the election has led to a severe backlash from Republican and Democratic state officials who are rightly balking at handing over voter rolls and Social Security numbers to Trump's crack(pot) investigator who believes that voter fraud is rampant.

In fact, the only fear I have this week is that Trump or one of his minions will fire Robert Mueller because he's edging a bit closer to saying that the president has to turn over his tax returns which, I am convinced, is the real motivating factor behind Trump trying to forestall the Russia investigation. I'm sure he's been told that if the Benghazi investigation can lead to the discovery of Hillary Clinton's home email server, then there's no reason why Mueller can't go a little far afield of Russia and focus on Trump's financial dealings.

Now the president is also talking about issuing pardons to those people who are under investigation, and is even asking if he can pardon himself.

Does Trump understand that in order to receive a pardon, the person must admit to having committed a crime? My sense is that he doesn't. And I really can't see Trump admitting to obstruction of justice or any other high crime or misdemeanor. What he really wants is to end the investigations, but pardons won't do that. This is going to get as ugly as most other issues have since January 20.

In the meantime, we have a blustery executive with no real policy knowledge and even less intellectual discipline trying to tell all of the Republicans in Congress that he'll crack the whip if they don't vote for bills he wants. This is folly. I'm more than happy to have the country do nothing than to do something awful in the name of party discipline.

And I think that's exactly what will happen. What a waste.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Kill (the Trumpcare) Bill, Part I: And the Magic Number Is...?

I'm curious.

Just how many people have to lose their health insurance before the Republicans in Congress shout, "Eureka! We have done it?"

Obviously 22 million people is too many. But what happens if the Congressional Budget Office comes back this week and says that the new, not-really-improved Trumpcare bill will only result in 19 million or 15 million or 11 million people losing their health insurance? Is that number small enough for the GOP to claim success in their quest to not-really-repeal-but-just-do-something-so-the-base-thinks-that-Obamacare-is-dead?

It speaks volumes about the state of the right wing in this country that they will sacrifice so many Americans in the name of...what? Fiscal prudence, as if saving some money off the deficit will make up for the ruined lives? The promise to repeal the ACA even though the GOP STILL hasn't quite thought through the ramification of their actions? The misguided, indeed immoral, view that many conservatives have of the poor as undeserving couch potatoes who have no innate responsibility and are addicted to government programs? Never mind that millions of the people who will lose insurance voted for the president (shudder) and/or live in states where the opioid epidemic is raging through both city and farm. Cutting Medicaid would be a disaster for those people.

And if you think it's just the poor who will lose, then please think again. If you plan on growing old, then you need to read all of the articles by Ron Lieber about how the Medicaid debate will affect you later in life. Medicaid is not just for those we generally think of when we think of the poor. It also pays for elderly people who, oddly enough, don't believe they will suffer from dementia, or contract a debilitating illness, or fall and break their hip or just plain run out of money because they didn't save quite enough through a retirement plan.

Add this to the fact that Medicaid also covers millions of children who will lose their coverage if this Senate bill passes. And even without the Trumpcare cuts, the president's budget proposal would reduce health insurance coverage for CHIP. These are children that we see in our public schools who need far more support than just learning how to read. They come to school without the guarantee that if something happens to them, they'll be covered. Further cuts to school lunch and nutrition programs will complete this cruel turn the GOP thinks will help the country.

The Republican dream of turning Medicaid into a state grant program is also seriously and fatally misguided. States will likely use the money to shore up finances in other programs since, unlike the federal government, they must balance their budgets. And the GOP plan forces states to make choices that they should not have to make concerning who gets aid and who doesn't. Medicaid was created to cover all people who qualified for it. Changing that will produce winners and losers, which of course means those who live and those who don't.

In the end, the Senate and House plans will create lower cost health insurance pl;ans, but what people will get for their money will cost them far more when they actually need care. Sky-high deductibles will negate the low premiums as people will be forced to pay full price until their deductible kicks in. And allowing insurance companies to sell policies that don't include maternity care, mental health insurance or drug treatment coverage will make the cost of those options go up for those that do need it.

As business savvy as the Republican Party, and the president, think they are, they still haven't learned that insurance is all about spreading the risk so that those who don't make many claims pay for those who do, which evens out the cost. Having an a la carte health care system is a recipe for higher costs and lower outcomes as those who can pay will, and those who can't, won't get care.

The GOP seems oblivious to this, but they do have a number. This week we'll learn what that is.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, July 9, 2017

America's Educators Lead the Way

If you care deeply about social and racial justice, value equal opportunity, detest discrimination and believe that this country needs to focus on its core values of tolerance, compromise, equality and democracy, then fear not.

America's educators have got your back.

I returned from the National Education Association (NEA) convention in Boston last week feeling a great deal better about this country's direction than I get from watching or reading the news these days. The 7,000 strong NEA Representative Assembly, made up of educators, and the largest deliberative democratic body in the world when it meets, voted decisively in favor of making sure that if nowhere else, this country's teachers, educational support personnel, children and young adults would be valued, protected, empowered and educated in America's public schools. We also plan to use the power of solidarity and numbers to move what we consider to be the country's vital interests forward through the political process, protests and community action.

It was interesting to listen to colleagues who described their states and school districts in glowing terms, but also with a sense that the new administration in Washington is not looking out for our children. Some described ICE raids on their schools and workplaces that create fear and suspicion in their communities. They also described the dire effects that poverty, hunger, disease and psychological issues have on our students. The RA also learned about the deleterious effects of state and national budget cuts on our schools and on our ability to solve the pressing problems that schools and students face today.

By the end of the RA, though, I felt a bit brighter. As a democratic body, we affirmed the NEA's place in our society as a beacon of justice and a protector for those who desperately need it. We approved policies that will use the voice of millions of educational professionals across the country to pressure states and local governments to address educational equity, reduce the time that children spend on taking standardized tests, to gather and disseminate information on racial, gender, sexual and economic inequality, to publicize educational programs that work in schools and to reaffirm the power of a unified association in a country that seems to have lost its sense that unions are a vital, pulsating, guiding force for now and for our future.

Education must continue to be a bulwark against the high tide of intolerance and ignorance that can negatively affect children. We are here to lead that fight and to defend our country's values.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Christie's Last Stand: Bankrupt Bluster

Governor Christie is obviously not content with 15% approval ratings. He must want them to go lower. And he's doing a great job, drawing a line in closed beach sand about the state budget that was supposed to be approved by June 30. The problem is that Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto refused to include Christie's proposed grab of $300 million dollars from Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield. That money was supposed to fund the governor's opioid addiction program, which has been the part and parcel of his entire second term agenda.

Even a proposed compromise, where the bill would allow the next governor to take none, some or all of the $300 million didn't move Prieto who saw it as the power move that it was. And it lit up the previously dark, ugly, cobwebbed closet that modern Republicans would rather that voters not see because it contains the hypocrisy that has driven their bankrupt agenda for decades. They won't dare raise taxes, and they pretend that businesses should make their own decisions without government regulations. But when it comes to funding that the state desperately needs, they will put their meaty fists on any company they believe makes too much money or does big business with public workers.

Hence, Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the state's largest public worker health insurer. It's not enough that many public workers, including hundreds of thousands of public school teachers, have had their take home pay reduced because of rising health insurance payments which, by the by, Chrtistie forced by taking away their collective negotiating rights (with some Democratic help. Thanks a bunch.) It's now gotten to the point that Christie wants to weaken BSBC by taking away some of its surplus.

This is not all Christie, though. Senate President Steve Sweeney was able to get enough Democratic votes last week in that body, but the bill hit a wall in Prieto's Assembly. The result is a nasty political fight that has real consequences for the public and for state workers. This is the kind of fake leadership that Christie has demonstrated for almost 8 years and it's now spread to Washington. I'm assuming that Christie is just waiting for Trump to fire Jeff Sessions so he can move to Justice.

Which, in the present political atmosphere, really means just us.

For more, go to www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives or Twitter @rigrundfest