Friday, March 24, 2017

Who's to blame for the defeat of the GOP health care plan?
Why, Obama, of course!

Today the question I heard over and over, as the Republican health care bill crumbled into dust, was, "Who is to blame?"

Obviously, the old cliche holds true. Who created a plan that insured tens of millions of Americans and gave them much more economic security? Who shepherded that plan through Congress? Who brought in stakeholders and got their buy-in? Who worked tirelessly to get Republican input, even though they ended up refusing to support a bill based on a Republican success story in Massachusetts? Who showed political savvy by making it a comprehensive, many-faceted effort that would difficult to undo? Who endured the pushback, both from a misinformed public and a Republican party that thought they could deny him a legacy? Who worked tirelessly to address problems that sprang up, from balky websites to Supreme Court challenges, with almost no support from a dysfunctional Congress? Who was, I hope, today sitting somewhere on a warm beach with a cold drink and a big grin on his face?

I think all Americans should take a moment this evening to silently say:

"Thanks, Obama."

Barack Obama wanted to do something no U.S. President had done: provide a universal health care system for a country that badly needed it. His ultimate success or failure is yet to be determined. But he got us much, much closer. We have a record low number of uninsured Americans in this country, according to Gallup. We have seen significant efforts to make health care more rational and efficient, even as costs continue to be too high. The ACA needs fixing, there is no doubt. The Republican plan was clearly not the correct fix. It would have made things much, much worse.

Whatever you think of Obama, it's clear that he accomplished all the things Trump has failed to do. He got a complex, difficult bill through Congress. He sold it to the public, at least enough to get 8 years of implementation... now it will be more than 8 years, apparently. He got his party unified in support of it, even at great political cost. He showed strength, toughness, and smarts. Have we seen that from the White House lately?

Trump is now saying he will let the current law fail and blame the Democrats. Well, besides the great compassion that shows for the American people, there are a couple questions that plan raises.

One--what if it doesn't fail? What if the states and the health care industry, realizing how royally screwed we all might be if incompetents and ideologues get their way, find a path to making the ACA work better, without the federal government's intervention? That actually would be a big win for conservative principles, although the conservatives might not realize it.

Secondly, what if it fails? We're in a situation now where Trumpcare is dead, and Obamacare could very possibly die from neglect and malpractice, with a Trump-led campaign of malign neglect from HHS. If this happens, many Americans will suffer, and their suffering will prolonged by a President who clearly doesn't understand the issues and doesn't really care to. Will the American people really blame Democrats, who passed health care reform and got it up and running? Or will they blame the party that can't shoot straight?

When Trump was bumbling through his presidential campaign, a lot of progressives said we were seeing the end of the Republican party. They said that Trump's defeat would split the GOP into two parts, the more traditional wing and the crazy Trump wing. It seems that even in victory, that split is happening, and the first casualty is governing. Trump's "art of the fail" has only clarified the divide among the Republicans. It's a little scary to contemplate where they'll go from here. It's even more scary to realize we all have to go with them.

In any case, what Republican senators once called "Obama's Waterloo" is still standing. It's too early to say that the attempt to repeal and replace the ACA was Trump's Waterloo, but one thing is for sure: Trump tried to take on Obama's legacy, and he got his ass thoroughly kicked.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Sunset is at 7:26 pm. 

At the end of this day, we know that:
1. Our president and his spokesmen are shameless liars.
2. The heads of the FBI, National Security, and the Justice Department all tell a story that directly contradicts what Trump says.
3. Trump's campaign members, possibly including the President himself, are being investigated for colluding with a foreign power in activities that have been called "an act of war."
4. Our President cannot stop himself from doing self-damaging things. This also applies to acts that damage the country.
This is not a sustainable state of affairs. I can only wonder when the GOP ship abandons this sinking rat.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Yes, this is Obamacare Lite.
It’s also Obamacare Cheap.

I have to say, I’m a little surprised at the new Republican bill to reform health care: the American Health Care Act. It would appear that the strong pushback from constituents and stakeholders such as state governors is having an effect: Republican congress members have crafted a bill that does retain some of the signature elements of Obamacare.

Financial assistance to help Americans afford insurance? Check. Not allowing insurers to deny coverage due to pre-existing conditions? Check. A list of “essential benefits” that all plans must cover? Check. Keeping young adults on their parents’ plans? Check. Cadillac Tax? Check. (Yeah, that one surprised me.)

In short, when hard-right Republicans call this “Obamacare Lite,” they’re not wrong. The problem for Republicans is that while Americans agree with them that premium increases and taxes and less choice are all bad outcomes, they still believe that the government does have a role to play in helping everyone obtain health care. They agree with the spirit of the ACA, if not the letter of the law.

As CNN reports,  “The bill on the table right now is closer to a restructuring, than eliminating Obamacare.”

So Republicans are trying to thread the needle—get rid of the parts of Obamacare that people don’t like, while not throwing millions off of their insurance plans and letting them fend for themselves.

But there’s a bigger point—and a bigger problem—here, one that harkens back to one of the cornerstones of Republican principles. The AHCA is an effort to keep some of Obamacare’s reforms, but pay much less for it. They are pushing to cut the taxes, fees, and other elements of the ACA that conservatives are philosophically opposed to. They also believe the ACA imposes regulatory burdens on businesses that are cumbersome and unnecessary.

So, it’s Obamacare on the cheap. Unfortunately, in America, health care isn’t cheap. We have the most expensive health care system by far, with outcomes that are simply not as good as they should be, considering how much we pay for them.

The ACA had a number of initiatives that attempted to cut down on rising health care costs. So far, they’ve had limited success. And this new GOP bill simply assumes that more “choice” and less regulation will reduce costs. That’s more of a wish than a plan. In real life, cutting corners on health care often raises, rather than lowers, costs in the long run.

The truth is, the ACA probably should’ve put more money into providing health care, not less. The problem, for both insurers and consumers, is that the system continues to cost more than their budgets can cover. Yes, we should cut back on health care cost increases. But that’s a nut we still haven’t cracked—and the old mantra of getting government out of the way is simply not going to work. Reducing the number of insured Americans is not the way to cut costs. 

Today, any effort to cut back the scope of the ACA is going to be problematic for providers, state governments, and the consumers of health insurance. Providers will lose insured patients, and hospitals will be forced to do more charity care—which will force insurers to raise premiums. Insured patients will have higher copays and deductibles, and many will lose some or all of the subsidies. It’s hard to see this law not resulting in millions losing coverage.

At first glance the Medicaid piece stays pretty much the same until 2020, when states will start to have to pay more for that population. But… that’s just kicking the can down the road, isn’t it? And there’s troubling language in the bill suggesting that mental health treatment could be degraded over time with the Medicaid changes.

That brings us to my last point. Whether you call it Obamacare Lite or Obamacare Cheap, this proposed law is simply inferior to the current law. It will cover fewer people. It will almost certainly make health insurance more expensive for many.

So far, trying to create Obamacare Cheap has not met with a lot of support. Put aside the opposition from both ends of the political spectrum, the stakeholders affected by this bill are not fans. Groups like the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, and AARP have come out against the bill. The current medical director of Medicaid has spoken out against it. The health insurance industry’s biggest lobbying group, Americas Health Insurance Plans, has asked for major changes.

Also troubling is the fact that House Republicans are trying to push the bill through committees before the CBO can score it—a sure tell that Republicans know an impartial analysis will find the numbers in their bill will not add up.

As Ezra Klein plaintively asks in the video below, what’s the point of all this? If we end up with a fix for Obamacare that still does some of the same things, only not as well, what have we accomplished? Yes, Republicans can say they kept their promise. But if the country is worse off for it, is that really what we want?

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Democracy, defeated.

(Photo from the New Yorker)

On Monday, members of the Electoral College will meet and confirm Donald Trump as the President of the United States. There has been some talk of unfaithful electors or some kind of protest vote, but it seems certain that that Trump will get the necessary votes to become President.

This bothers me for all the reasons you might expect, but it particularly bothers me because Donald Trump did not win the popular vote. As in 2000, we are turning the whole country over to someone who does not represent the will of the country as a whole. Last time, the vote totals were so close that it was seen as a fluke. This time, it’s clear that we have a problem: Hillary Clinton won by nearly 3 million votes. That’s not close.

As the old saying goes: fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, and Ben Carson becomes the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.  

The last time we installed a second-place finisher in the White House, the results were: 9/11 (ignoring or minimizing presidential briefings), the Iraq war (cherry-picking intelligence to push a preferred—and false—narrative), and the worst economic downturn in the lifetimes of most Americans (relaxing regulations and pursuing policies that favor the rich over the middle class).  We also saw completely unqualified people appointed to positions such as the head of FEMA.

Does that approach to governance sound familiar?

I don’t pretend we can undo the results of this election. And I understand that most Americans would rather not dwell on this unpleasant state of affairs. But I’m surprised there isn’t more of an outcry here. Once again, the American people are meekly accepting an election that doesn’t reflect the will of the governed. Clinton won the vote by more than two percentage points. She gathered more votes than any presidential candidate not named Barack Obama.

Yet we are preparing for the inauguration of Donald Trump.

Other writers have outlined the history and purpose of the Electoral College. My belief is that no matter how firmly entrenched this system is, it has been clearly demonstrated as contradictory to the spirit of the American democratic experiment, and manifestly damaging to our country.

No other election in our system is run this way. Governors, senators, representatives, mayors—all are elected by popular vote. Only in the most important election do we turn to an arcane system that gives some voters more power than others.

It is argued that this system allows rural, smaller states to have a say in the presidential election. That if we went by popular vote, only states with large, urban areas would be paid attention to by candidates, and that policies would then favor those living in the big cities.

As someone who lives in an urban area, that sounds like a nice change to me. But the truth is that in 2016, there were only a handful of states that the candidates paid attention to anyway.  Florida and Ohio got dozens of visits from the candidates. Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Michigan were also frequent stops.

All of these states have rural areas. All of them have urban areas—which is where nearly all the campaign stops were held. California also has both rural and urban voters. The Golden State is one of the most important agricultural states in the country. Yet it, like so many other states, didn’t receive campaign visits from the candidates.

California is also widely credited with giving Clinton her winning margin. It didn’t matter. The election was decided before California’s votes were even counted. But Clinton’s totals reflect the will of the entire country; voters from Maine to Hawaii, who clearly preferred her over Donald Trump. That nearly three-million-vote margin was irrelevant, though. Even when it was not that close, second place got the trophy.

I believe we need to re-emphasize the concept of “one person, one vote.” That principle has been a cornerstone for our democracy—or republic, if you prefer. People have died for that principle. The U.S. Supreme Court has many times ruled that the doctrine is in keeping with the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

Yet twice now in recent history, some votes have counted for more than others, thanks to the Electoral College. The will of the people was not recognized in 2000, and again in 2016. We need to ask ourselves, what does our country stand for, if not democracy?

I believe we are seeing a power struggle for the soul of the country. We’re seeing it in places like North Carolina, where voting districts are gerrymandered to give Republicans voters more weight at the polls—and where the Republican lawmakers voted in by that twisted system just held a special session to strip the incoming Democratic governor of some of his powers.

We’re seeing it places like Michigan, where in 2014 and 2016, Democrats received more votes in state house races, yet Republicans hold a strong majority of seats. How? As a writer in the Detroit Metro Times reported: “Republicans redrew the state's 110 state legislative districts in 2010 in such a way that Democratic voters are herded into a small number of districts. The majority of Republican voters, conversely, are spread among a much larger number of districts.”

In addition, there’s the voter-suppression wave that has swept Republican-controlled states. When our country becomes a place where some voters count for more than others, where votes are suppressed and voters walled off into gerrymandered ghettos to reduce their power, we stop being a democracy. And if you want to call it a Republic, please recognize we're on the verge of creating a system that favors certain classes and races over others. That is not what America should be.

This flawed state of affairs should not be acceptable. It should not be shrugged off as, “that’s the way the system works.” The system is obviously not working. In this election, it did not honor the principle of one person, one vote. In the United States, democracy was defeated in 2016.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Yeah, about those predictions

I really thought I left a post up here acknowledging my complete wrong-headed wrongness about the election. But I guess I just didn't get around to posting it.

I was wrong.

It's been one disturbing thing after another--Trump's victory, the fact that HRC actually won the popular vote but lost usually reliable states like Michigan, Penn. and Wisconsin, the awful cabinet picks, the growing realization that our election was manipulated by the Russians... it goes on and on.

Pretty bad November and December.

And it's going to be a pretty bad four years, it looks like. But our country has faced crises before. This is right up there with the worst of them, as far as I'm concerned. Time to get to work.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Predictions for the 2016 Election

Yes, Mod Lang has been shockingly silent for this election cycle; blame it on Facebook. I've had several ideas for longer posts here, but the ease of creating, reacting and interacting to posts on FB has trumped (ahem) the more solitary-feeling, labor-intensive (ten minutes of work rather than ten seconds) experience of posting on a blog.

I've also been on Twitter! Like, six times!

Yeah, well, anyhow, I returned to good old ML for this day-before-election-day post, mainly because I wanted to go on a bit, lucky you. So I'll give you some predictions up top, and ponder what it's all about further down. (Hint: hell, hand basket, etc.)

Long story short: I predict Hillary Clinton will win this election. Donald Trump is within striking distance of her--especially in some key battleground states--so I could be wrong. He could pull off on upset; even create a repeat of the 2000 election, when George W. Bush lost the national vote but won the presidency due to the electoral college. That could happen again this year. But I don't think it will.

I predicted early on that this would be a landslide, or at least a very strong win for Hillary. I still think that's possible, although probably not to the extent I thought a few months back. Here's my thinking: when a candidate alienates large segments of the population, say, Latinos, African-Americans, women, etc., then that candidate may struggle to find a strong national following.

Trump has outperformed expectations, as usual. The late-breaking FBI investigation/nevermind letters hurt Clinton, a bit. And her own shortcomings as a candidate also were a problem for her.

But we're hearing stories of a very strong turnout of Latino voters. I think it's very likely that women will vote for Hillary in unprecedented numbers, due mainly to wanting to make sure a man like Trump never gets the validation that the Presidency would confer. African-American voting may lag behind the historic highs that Obama generated, but again, it looks like there will be a relatively strong turnout there for the Democratic ticket.

We're a diverse country. Relying on angry, aging white people is simply not a winning strategy. And everyone tells me that a strong "ground game" counts--and the D's seem to have an advantage there. Unless the rumors of a "hidden" Trump vote come true to an astonishing degree, he will not be able to overcome Clinton's advantages with a wide range of voters. But as always, I could be wrong.

So here's my prediction: I'll go big and say that Hillary wins nearly all the battleground states. I'll give Ohio to Trump.

Click the map to create your own at

That's a strong win. I could see it getting to 340 (add Ohio), or even 351 (Arizona). But that's probably wishful thinking. 

As far as what it all means, I think it's safe to say we've really seen some of the fault lines in our society in the past year or so. White working-class people seem really fed up--with something. I just hope it's not the fact that they're not in charge in anymore. Because that's not going to change. We're going to have a more diverse country. We should be celebrating that, not fearing it.

I know people who have had it rough, economically. I kind of get why they might favor Trump, though his personal flaws seem disqualifying to me, even if you like the idea of a wall. But I also know Trump supporters who have had it pretty good over the last couple decades. And they seem angry too, over things that don't make a lot of sense to me. Is political correctness really destroying our country? Apparently it *can* kill you to be nice.

I often have said this election is a national IQ test. And even if HRC is elected tomorrow, I'd have to say we failed it. If Donald Trump can convince 40+ percent of the American voters that he deserves their vote, then something's wrong. And all of us need to get to work figuring out the fix. Our media, our educational system, our social networking--all if it needs to be re-examined to figure out why so many problems with our society remain: so much racism, so much misogyny, so much violence, and so much stubborn ignorance--even when the facts are easily obtained.

We need to be better people in order to be a better nation. And that's on all of us. Let's keep talking, as a first step.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Trump’s Republican National Convention: Oh the humanity!

The Republican National Convention wrapped up last Thursday night, and it was conducted with about the level the competence and civility we’ve come to expect from a Trump campaign production. Media outlets used the word “dark” to describe Trump’s message after his speech Thursday night, but another two-word description was also common for the convention as a whole: “dumpster fire.”

It was run poorly. There was public squabbling on the floor of the convention. It featured a rather lackluster lineup of speakers, including soap opera stars, marginal political figures, and of course, many, many members of Trump’s family.

The entire convention was bookended by two disasters: Melania’s plagiarism of Michelle Obama, and Trump’s Friday-morning talk to supporters, in which he reverted to style and went on a vindictive rant about Ted Cruz. Both were telling: the Melania speech neatly demonstrated both the campaign’s lack of competence and its penchant for denial—it took days for the Trump campaign to admit this was a simple mistake by a speechwriter helping Mrs. Trump with her speech. We got a preview of how small but significantly embarrassing mistakes would be handled by a Trump Administration: chaotically.
The Trump press conference on Friday morning nicely undermined the more conventional speech the night before (if by conventional you can include something that many said read better in the original German). At the event, instead of talking up party unity, Trump attacked Cruz and Kasich again, re-litigating old battles and puffing himself up in his typical manner. He made veiled threats to the GOP establishment, which he said had better raise enough money; and he said Republicans “have no choice” but to vote for him.

Of course, this tantrum was brought about in part by Cruz and Kasich, neither of whom have endorsed Trump. Cruz’ Wednesday night speech, delivered before poor Mike Pence accepted the nomination as VP, was another disaster, one that would be unthinkable in a normal election year. The candidate who came in 2nd to Trump gave an entire speech without endorsing the GOP nominee, and in fact, told Republicans to “vote their conscience.” The convention hall filled with boos. That’s some great prime time TV, right there. 

This points directly to the other huge stain on this convention—many establishment Republicans, to their credit, cannot support Trump. The extreme Tea Party wing, after decades of being sold a bill of goods chock full of racism, resentment, and victimization, are solidly behind the hateful rhetoric of Trump. The establishment, on the other hand, can at least see that Trump has no real allegiance to the GOP or any of its traditional issues. 

So we saw a convention where a GOP presidential contender who is also the Governor of Ohio skipped a convention in Cleveland. Other top Republican senators and leaders were also not in attendance. The unspoken message of Cruz, Kasich and many others was: “We’re not going to be associated with this clown. We’ll lose this year, regroup, and come back in 2020.”

The defections and pratfalls of the convention probably played a role in its underwhelming ratings. After much was made of Trump’s mastery of the television medium and ability to put on a great show, the convention itself was a letdown. Ratings were middling, with his big speech pulling in about 2 million more viewers than saw Romney’s speech four years ago, but fewer than the number who watched John McCain’s acceptance speech in ’08.

So where do we stand, now that the dumpster fire is guttering out? Conventional wisdom says candidates get a post-convention bump in the polls—I wouldn’t expect much of one after that performance, but maybe we’ll see a small one for Trump.

To me, the dynamics of the race stay the same: Trump pulls in the very rabid right-wing base and a sizeable portion of conservative leaners, who, in typical American fashion, will stick with their team regardless of the quality of the product. But he continues to alienate African-Americans. Latinos, women, and college-educated whites. Did the convention change that? No. Did it show him pivoting toward the center, as some predicted? No. Did it paint him as more human and likable, as many expect the Democratic convention to attempt to do for Hillary? No.The only things the Republican Party takes away from this convention are negatives. 

Preaching to the choir does not usually win you presidential elections. Everyone keeps saying this year is different. I am not convinced that it’s THAT different. After this ugly, divisive convention following an ugly, divisive primary, are there really that many people who don’t see Donald Trump for what he is? I keep calling this a national IQ test. And nothing from the Republican National Convention has suggested to me that this nation is dumb enough to elect Donald Trump.

(One of the songs Trump plays at his campaign events. Seriously.)