Saturday, February 25, 2017

ANS -- Republicans suddenly realize burning down the health-care system might not be a great idea

Maybe it's going to get through to the Republicans that repealing the ACA isn't such a good idea.  Maybe.  But, more than that, Republicans love power but have no idea what to do with it.  

Republicans suddenly realize burning down the health-care system might not be a great idea

 February 22 

Ryan promises to replace Obamacare 'this year,' but implementation could take longer

Play Video1:32
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said on Feb. 7 that legislation to replace Obamacare will be legislated this year, but that it could take longer to implement. "We hope to get this done as fast as possible," he said. (Reuters)

The Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act is not going well, in large part because it turns out that making sweeping changes to a system that encompasses one-sixth of the American economy turns out to be rather more complicated than they imagined. Their backtracking has an interesting character to it, in particular how they've been gobsmacked by the transition from shaking their fists at the system to being responsible for it.

Up until November, they had been pursuing a strategy they got straight from Marx and Lenin, but now that they're in power, it suddenly looks like a terrible idea. Here's the latest fascinating pirouette they're undertaking:

House Republicans and the Trump administration on Tuesday filed a joint motion seeking to delay lawsuit proceedings that threaten to undo President Barack Obama's health care law, the Affordable Care Act.

The House v. Price suit – formerly known as House v. Burwell, as it was filed when Sylvia Mathews Burwell was health and human services secretary – has presented Republicans with one of their most straightforward routes toward fulfilling their stated desire to do away with or dismantle Obamacare.

Yet in the absence of an Obamacare replacement plan, the outcome the GOP initially sought threatens to upend the insurance marketplace and jeopardize coverage for millions of people.

Just to be clear, Republicans are asking the court to delay their own lawsuit pretty much indefinitely, because they've become terrified of what would happen if they succeed. In this case, it concerns government subsidies to pay out-of-pocket costs for people with low incomes. The fact that this case is now called House v. Price (as in Tom Price, President Trump's secretary of health and human services) shows the contradiction. Now neither the GOP House nor the Trump administration wants the lawsuit to succeed, though they won't say this aloud — because that would mean billions of dollars in payments to insurers would cease, and as a consequence the insurers would either hike premiums or pull out of the individual market.

The ensuing catastrophe — exactly what Republicans were hoping for when they filed the lawsuit and Obama was president — would now be their responsibility alone, so they're scrambling to stop if from happening.

Republicans used to say (and sometimes still do) that the ACA would "collapse under its own weight," but they weren't satisfied to simply wait for that to happen; if it didn't, they would urge judges in friendly courts to help it along. So they filed one lawsuit after another to undermine various features of the ACA. The suits shared a simple principle: If they were successful, they would increase the amount of pain and suffering Americans endured, in the hopes that the public would then turn against the law and the Obama administration.

It's a classic Marxist strategy known as "heightening the contradictions," in which you intentionally exacerbate the problems you're criticizing the ruling powers for creating, in the hopes of bringing your revolution all the closer.

The problem Republicans face now is that their essential values on health care are in contradiction with what the public actually wants. Let me refer you to a tweet the House speaker sent out yesterday, apparently after he stayed up late rereading his dog-eared copy of "Atlas Shrugged":

This is what Ryan and his Republican colleagues actually believe. Put aside that it misunderstands the very idea of "insurance," or that it's plainly ridiculous, particularly if you apply it to other areas of government regulation ("Freedom is being able to buy meat that might poison you; food safety regulations are Washington telling you what to buy regardless of your needs"). It accurately represents conservative thinking on health care, which is that the government should just butt out and let the market work its magic. We'll all have the "freedom" to get insurance or not, and if you can't afford it, too bad.

But Republicans know that putting those values too directly into action would be a political disaster, particularly now that the ACA is in force and millions of people are benefiting from it, not just the 20 million or so who are newly insured but also everyone else who has health security for the first time, knowing that they can get insurance no matter their income or their preexisting conditions. So Republicans are madly trying to come up with some way to reconcile their values and political reality, something they have yet to figure out how to do.

They say they want to give Medicaid "flexibility" when, let's be honest, they'd really prefer that Medicaid cease to exist (it's a big-government program that helps poor people, which in their book is two strikes against it). They say they want everyone to have "access" to insurance, in the hopes people will mistakenly believe they want everyone to have insurance, when in truth under their plans we'd have "access" to insurance the same way we all have "access" to BMWs. They decry increasing out-of-pocket costs, while all their plans would massively increase out-of-pocket costs, which of course some people are better able to pay than others. They want to privatize and then slash Medicare, but they say their only interest is in "strengthening" it.

You may say, don't Democrats do the same thing? Don't they hide their socialist goals behind intricate policy structures that merely claim to maintain the private nature of the American insurance market? Not really, no. I don't recall any Democrats pretending that the ACA's maintenance of the privatized nature of the American health insurance market was anything but a compromise, something they had to accept because of political reality and the policy complexity of transforming the health-care system to single payer in one fell swoop. Even Obama acknowledged that, after supporting single payer for much of his early career. "If I were starting a system from scratch, then I think that the idea of moving towards a single-payer system could very well make sense," he said in 2009. "That's the kind of system that you have in most industrialized countries around the world. The only problem is that we're not starting from scratch."

Yes, most liberals consider their preferred system — perhaps single payer, or a hybrid system with guaranteed coverage, akin to what Medicare recipients currently enjoy — to be an eventual goal. But they don't see it as one worth investing too much energy into advocating right at the moment. Or at the very least they see it as something we could reach only through an incremental process involving multiple stages of reform spread out over decades. But they don't hide this fact, whereas Republicans are constantly dissembling about what their actual goals on health care really are.

And now that they actually have the chance to change the health-care system, heightening the contradictions not only doesn't work but will also hurt them. So they don't know what to do.

ANS -- Tom Perez Was the Wrong Choice for DNC Chair

Tom Perez was just voted in as chair of the DNC, the campaigning wing of the Democratic Party.  He just barely beat out Keith Ellison, the Sanders-recommended choice.  Here is one person's considered opinion about it.  
I would like to send a copy of this piece to Tom Perez for his reaction.  Any idea how I should do that?  Snail-mail? Email?  How do I figure out where to send it?


Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tom Perez Was the Wrong Choice for DNC Chair

by Benjamin Studebaker

Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez has defeated Keith Ellison to become the new chairman of the DNC. It took two rounds of voting, with Perez eventually prevailing, 235-200. This is a deeply concerning development–Perez has a long history of taking positions which accommodate and contribute to declining living standards for poor and working Americans. He does support minimum wage increases, but a closer look reveals an untrustworthy record.

We'll go through a few issues where Perez has been on the wrong side of things.


One of the big changes for the American worker in recent decades has been the move from defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution plans. If you're not familiar with the difference, here's a visual aid:

Defined benefit plans cost more to employers, because employers have to guarantee a fixed payout regardless of macroeconomic conditions based on a set formula. With a defined contribution plan, employers can tie their own contributions to pensions to their employees' contributions, which means that if an employee is short-sighted and doesn't contribute much to their pension, their employer can also avoid contributing.

In the 1980s, defined contribution plans took off, benefiting both from a desire by American firms to cut pension costs and by an encouraging tax loophole created by the Revenue Act of 1978, signed by President Carter. Since then they have driven defined benefit plans almost to extinction:

The result is that many people's pensions can now be wiped out by market volatility and many people don't make contributions to their pension plans in the first place. Employees, as it turns out, don't make large enough contributions to these plans and don't always make wise decisions about how to invest the money put into them. This might suggest that we ought to return to defined benefit plans, or reform defined contribution plans to make it harder for employees to make financial mistakes which leave them with little or nothing in retirement. But Perez believes the fault rests with employees for failing to change their "mentality". In 2015, he said:

The retirement landscape has shifted dramatically in recent years, adding complexity and uncertainty to what used to be a very straightforward system. It used to be you worked for the same company for decades and then you'd retire with a pension that you couldn't outlive. Times have changed dramatically. We've gone from 78% of workers with defined benefit pension plans in 1975 to only 33% in 2012. 401ks and IRAs are vulnerable to market volatility, so when the nation experienced a Great Recession and a meltdown of the financial markets, a lot of people were forced to deplete their retirement savings accounts–paying steep fees in the process–just to keep a roof over their family's head. It's clear that even though we live in a defined contribution world, all too frequently, we're clinging to a defined benefit mentality. Our habits and our outlook haven't caught up to the reality–Americans there are still behaving as if that check will automatically come in the mail when they're 65.

Perez is also wrong to say that "times have changed"–the government made substantive policy decisions which encouraged the rise of defined contribution plans rather than defined benefit plans. The government also made substantive policy decisions which deregulated the financial markets and encouraged the formation of the housing bubble which led to the crisis which forced so many people to deplete their pension savings. But for Perez, the state doesn't owe any apology or any help to the people whose retirement accounts have been victimized by the failed experiment of defined contribution plans. Today 1/3rd of Americans have no retirement savings and a further third have less than $50,000 total:

This is directly the fault of defined contribution plans–these plans did not take into account market volatility and they did not take into account human behavior. If no one makes people save for retirement, many of them won't save much, and if people who know little about the stock market are left to make investment decisions on their own, they are likely to make poor choices. Defined benefit plans protected people by having their pensions managed by expert trustees, with a guaranteed payout even if those pension accounts were indeed mismanaged. We ought to be thinking about how we can restore stability to the pension system instead of demanding that employees stop "clinging to a defined benefit mentality" which merely claims that people deserve a reliable pension when they retire, regardless of what happens with the stock market and regardless of how much they know about personal finance.

Perez would rather demand that we accommodate bad policies than reverse them or propose any bold new alternative. His biggest pension ideas are extensions of this failed system–he's talked about introducing defined contribution plans run by state governments, many of which eliminate employer contributions completely and are entirely employee-funded. There is nothing bold about this.


Perez was a supporter of TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But in most of his op-eds and remarks about the deal, Perez repeatedly claims that the deal protects workers without ever explaining how in any detail. One of the big fears with TPP is that because many countries with low wages and inferior labor laws are included, those countries will submarine the American worker, offering transnational companies cheap labor to encourage relocation.

When we look at the way the TPP is structured, we see a number of issues–for instance, while the Labor Chapter of the TPP required signatories to allow for unions to form and to pass minimum wage laws, it never specifies in any detail what level of rights those unions should have or how high that minimum wage must be. The US attempted to stiffen protection with some of the countries in the deal, forcing them into consistency plans that prevent them from joining TPP until the US agrees they've met certain minimum labor standards. But why should we trust that the US government will hold these countries to very high standards, particularly when the consistency plans were allegedly full of loopholes?

As Cathy Feingold of the AFL-CIO put it in The Atlantic:

Consistency plans are an attempt to make the labor and human rights committee feel good that we talked about this, that we're engaged in it, but a lot of it is unenforceable.

There were some major labor violators that didn't even get a consistency plan–the TPP never bound Mexico by one.

Perez was sanguine about this deal, bragging about how its protections were "the strongest in history". But this just emphasizes how much worse previous deals were for American workers and for the foreign workers who are paid exploitative garbage wages for their labor.

Donald Trump has rejected TPP, but Perez's willingness to go along with it indicates that he may be more interested in helping foreign corporations take advantage of weak foreign labor laws than in defending workers. When pressed, he retreats to the same defence President Obama made in his state of the union:

If we don't establish tough, fair rules through trade agreements, countries like China will write those rules.

This defence is snivelling appeasement–the United States has the largest consumer market in the world, and developing countries rely on American consumers to buy their goods. China itself still has a relatively weak domestic market, particularly on a per capita basis, and relies on American consumption. It is the relatively strong labor laws and worker protections of the US relative to East Asia which ensure that American workers have enough money to buy goods produced abroad. If we were braver and bolder in trade negotiations and demanded that the countries that trade with us treat their workers with dignity in exchange for access to our massive consumer market, many countries might buckle. But we have already cut tariffs so much with developing countries through toothless GATT and WTO negotiations that our leverage is limited. Again, rather than boldly rethink our strategy, Perez just sticks with policies that are not working well and are known not to work well.

Financial Regulations

Perez also has a record of being soft on the banks. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, banks foreclosed on many people's homes, including veterans who are meant to be protected under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Over 1600 violations of the SCRA were documented. Perez was Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the time, and had jurisdiction over the SCRA. He pursued zero of these violations. No individuals were convicted of screwing over these veterans. One of the individuals who profited from foreclosing on veterans was Steven Mnuchin, President Trump's new Secretary of the Treasury.

Later when Perez was Labor Secretary, he granted waivers to banks which had been involved in criminal activity, allowing these banks to manage people's pensions.

In his campaign for DNC chair, Perez talked a big game about going out and engaging with ordinary, working class Americans, campaigning in the suburbs and rural areas. But how is the party meant to inspire these voters when its chairman isn't committed to inspiring policies? How can we trust Perez to change the way things are done when he himself embodies the way things have always been done–letting banks off the hook, backing sleazy trade deals, and supporting a pension system which is more about propping up the stock market than it is ensuring Americans are kept secure in retirement?

Choosing him over Keith Ellison–Bernie Sanders' preferred choice, a man who stuck up for tuition-free college and single payer healthcare–sends a clear message that the DNC wants to continue hawking the same old stuff. We know how that goes for the Democrats:



Friday, February 24, 2017

ANS -- The Shallow State

Good article about how shallow Trump is trying to destroy everything that isn't shallow too.  Like truth and art and thinking.  
Fairly short article.

The Shallow State

The Shallow State

The "deep state" is the flavor of the month for conspiracy theorists, the "black helicopters" of 2017. The idea of career intelligence and military officers and bureaucrats marshaling the institutional power they have spent decades mastering to advance their goals regardless of the whims or wants of elected public officials or the people at large is irresistible, Tom Clancy stuff.

But I've seen what there is of a deep state, and let me tell you, based on very nearly 25 years living and working in Washington, it is not the dark fantasy of highly competent government workers that worries me.

Trending Articles

Amid Growing Threats, Germany Plans to Expand Troop…

But former officials and experts say Trump can't take the credit for this one.


No, what worries me is something new, more real, and much more dangerous: the shallow state.

The shallow state is in many respects the antithesis of the deep state. The power of the deep state comes from experience, knowledge, relationships, insight, craft, special skills, traditions, and shared values. Together, these purported attributes make nameless bureaucrats into a supergovernment that is accountable to no one. That is a scary prospect. But the nature of bureaucracies, human nature, inertia, checks and balances, and respect for the chain of command makes it seem a bit far-fetched to me. (The bureaucracy will drive Trump, like many presidents, mad, and some within it will challenge him, but that's not the same thing.)

The shallow state, on the other hand, is unsettling because not only are the signs of it ever more visible but because its influence is clearly growing. It is made scarier still because it not only actively eschews experience, knowledge, relationships, insight, craft, special skills, tradition, and shared values but because it celebrates its ignorance of and disdain for those things. Donald Trump, champion and avatar of the shallow state, has won power because his supporters are threatened by what they don't understand, and what they don't understand is almost everything. Indeed, from evolution to data about our economy to the science of vaccines to the threats we face in the world, they reject vast subjects rooted in fact in order to have reality conform to their worldviews. They don't dig for truth; they skim the media for anything that makes them feel better about themselves. To many of them, knowledge is not a useful tool but a cunning barrier elites have created to keep power from the average man and woman. The same is true for experience, skills, and know-how. These things require time and work and study and often challenge our systems of belief. Truth is hard; shallowness is easy.

The commander in chief of the shallow state, for example, does not have much use for reading. Or briefings. Or experts. He is famously driven instead by impulse, instinct, and ideology. He and the team around him care very little for facts. (The Washington Post has been tracking his performance, and so far the president has not let a day go by without a major lie.) Indeed, as we have seen, Trump & Co. are allergic to demonstrable, proven facts whether they be of the scientific, political, social, cultural, or economic variety. With leaders like these, the shallow state exists only on the surface, propelled only by emotion and reflex. Therefore, anything of factual weight or substance disturbs, disrupts, or obliterates it much as a rock does when dropped onto an image reflected in a pond.

We have seen shallow leaders before. Abraham Lincoln decried the Know-Nothing party and its adherents, who were a notable movement on the U.S. political landscape in the middle of the 19th century. Recent leaders like George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan were not seen as leading intellectual lights. But the Trump phenomenon is more extreme. The president of the United States with all the resources available to him wouldn't offer up major distortions of the truth every day for more than a month absent a deep disinterest in learning or a recognition that lies may be more supportive of his positions than the truth (and that his followers are perfectly happy accepting lies). Or both. In my view, it is both. Further, 

Trump's team has seemed much more focused on offering up something that is more like a television show about a president than actual governance.
Trump's team has seemed much more focused on offering up something that is more like a television show about a president than actual governance. It plays not to newspapers — which it seeks to discredit — but to social media, animated by the belief that the actions of a government can not just be explained in 140 characters but can consist largely of tweets and photo ops and packaged images. When things require real work behind the scenes but are hard to translate to tweets or chat TV, they just don't seem to be prioritized (like nominating people for the almost 600 open Senate-confirmable positions) or get done (like anything hard with regard to legislation).

It is convenient to blame Trump and write this off as a flaw in his character and that of his acolytes and enablers. But, honestly, you don't get a reality TV show president with no experience and no interest in big ideas or even in boning up on basic knowledge (like the nature of the nuclear triad — after all, it has only three legs) without a public that is comfortable with that … or actively seeks it. Think about the fact that two out of the last four Republican presidents came from show biz (and a third gained a chunk of his experience as a baseball executive). There is no doubt that the rise of the cage-match mentality of cable news has undercut civility in American political discourse, but it has also made politics into something like a TV show. You switch from the Kardashians to Trump on The Apprentice to Trump the candidate in your head, and it is all one. Increasingly shows are about finding formulas that produce a visceral reaction rather than stimulate thoughts or challenge the viewer. That's not to say that not much is wonderful in the world of media today … but attention spans are shrinking. Social media contributes to this. But the way we consume even serious journalism does, too. Much of it is reviewed in quick snippets on a mobile device. The average visit to a news website is a couple of minutes, the average time spent with a story shorter still. We skim. We cherry-pick.

When we read the news, most of us do so via the internet, with the majority of those under 30 doing so via social media. That means your Facebook page. It means not only do your friends influence what you see and read (thus creating an echo-chamber effect) but your news pops up in a stream of content that includes baby pictures and cat videos. That's right — cat videos, among the most popular destinations on the web, are responsible for Trump, too. Because they are the competition of the news, and therefore unless it is as quick, easy to digest, visual, and satisfying as a cat video (or baby pictures), it doesn't get read.

Much has been written about the dumbing down of America. Some of it has been pretty facile (appropriately enough). But seen in the light of the shallow state of the Trump presidency, the idea needs to be reconsidered. The electorate has not just become less patient with depth (if it mattered in elections, Hillary Clinton would have been the first unanimous winner of the presidency); it now seeks its political discourse in a form that is not that different from a reality TV show. And the consequence has been electing a former reality TV show host as president of the United States.

Life is once again imitating art. Actually, it's worse than that. 

Now this president has decided that if he is shallow and his followers are shallow, he shall do what he can to make our society shallower.
Now this president has decided that if he is shallow and his followers are shallow, he shall do what he can to make our society shallower. Perhaps that's his most ambitious goal given the level to which we have sunk. But he is doing so nonetheless, now offering up a budget that would eliminate those small pockets within the U.S. government that promote depth or real knowledge. Scientific and economic data that undercuts his theories is being suppressed. Dissent, even from within his own ranks, is being met with firings. And he is seeking to defund the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. These are small programs by government standards — the NEA's annual budget is smaller than that required to provide protection for Melania Trump to live in her New York City penthouse each year. But they celebrate those things that add depth to our collective lives, the exploration and contemplation of the human experience, of the nature of our society. And they deliver work that forces audiences and citizens to think.

Art is not an adornment to society. It is not a luxury. It is the purpose of society. It becomes our legacy. It is also, however, our teacher; it helps us consider that which is around us and what we want to be. It makes demands on us that in turn lead us to place demands on ourselves and those with whom we live and work. And that is precisely why these programs have been targeted by Trump. They are the enemies of the shallow state. So, too, of course, are the members of the press whom Trump has mislabeled as "enemies of the people." The only people they are the enemy of are those who are at war with truth and thought: Trump and his supporters, the champions of the shallow state. That is why, while it is easy to simply be angry or to laugh at a president who doesn't read or to be distracted by half-baked conspiracy theories like the deep state, we must recognize that the shallow state is much more pernicious. This administration has come to power because America has allowed public discourse, the quality of education we give our kids, and the standards we set for ourselves to decline. Trump seeks to institutionalize that decline. He is at war with that which has made our society great. He seeks to eviscerate the elements of our government and discredit those within our society who are champions of the depth on which any civilization depends.

And we cannot switch the channel. We cannot tweet this out of existence. We cannot unfollow him. We must fight, or we will lose that which is best about ourselves and our country.