2017/08/24

Pulling the wool over the President's eyes

I thought this statement was kind of fascinating. A reporter asks “Representative Chris Collins (R-NY) to give her just one example of Trump trying to work with Democrats.”

Collins: [President Trump] has had Democrat senators into the White House time and again, early on, talking about health care, attempting –

Tur: In what way did he reach out? Give me one way he reached out on healthcare other than a conversation?

Collins: It starts with conversation, and he was shut down immediately by Senator Schumer and the others, in saying that they weren't going to support anything called a repeal of Obamacare. They worked to put more money into the individual marketplace, but that was it. At which point he had no choice, but to turn to the Republicans, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan. We in the House sent a pretty darn good repeal and replace that didn't get through the Senate, but it takes two people and Senator Schumer –

So Trump “had no choice” but to work with McConnell and Ryan, who agreed with him that the ACA/Obamacare was hopelessly broken and needed to be torn down entirely and replaced wholesale. It wasn't that the Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was stubborn, it was that Schumer didn't agree on the scope or the shape of the problem. Schumer felt that the problems with the ACA were small and fixable. Trump went with the far more dire and apocolyptic view pressed by the Republican Senate and House leaders. How did those two views end up being substantiated? Here's the view presented by Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway in late July, after Trumpcare failed to win passage in the Senate:

CONWAY: The president will not accept those who said it's, quote, time to move on. He wants to help the millions of Americans who have suffered with no coverage. They were lied to by the last president. They couldn't keep the doctor. They couldn't keep their plan.
We’ve met with the ObamaCare victims at the White House several times now. They’re real people, they’re suffering.

Okay so first off, yes, Trumpcare had crashed and burned with unanimous Democratic “No” votes and three rock-solid Republican “No” votes in the Senate, so yes it was and still is “time to move on.”
Second, it's kind of interesting that Conway doesn't cite any problems that require tearing down health care coverage for 20-plus million people. All of the CBO estimates for all of the Republican replacement plans in both the House and Senate called for removing at least 20 million people from their ACA health care plans. Trump apparently just wanted to extend coverage to even more people.
Were the American people lied to by President Obama? Well, that “they couldn't keep their plans” was pretty obvious to anyone who was seriously following the debate over the ACA in the first place. If you had crummy, inadequate individual coverage that had really high deductivles and lots of rules you had to follow in order to make a successful claim, then yes, such plans couldn't be kept. The ACA insisted that plans had to be comprehensive and had to cover a variety of health conditions and deductions were lmited by regulations. The prior individual coverage was good if you were young and healthy and were unlikely to ever make a claim and only really cared about the price you were paying.
Very interesting that Conway feels the need to assert that “Obamacare victims” were “real people.” Apparently, they had to search for people who weren't covered and their numbers appear to have been so small that Conway feels the need to assert that there were indeed such meetings.

Okay, so what about people on the other side of the question, people who urged a “No” vote on ACA repeal? How did ordinary citizens react to the failure of Trumpcare? Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) was one of the three Republican “No” votes and her return to Maine was described in a local paper:

Friday morning, as she wearily walked off her plane at Bangor International Airport, Collins stepped out into a terminal gate packed with passengers waiting to board their outbound flight.
She recognized no one. But several of them recognized her and began to applaud.
Within seconds, the whole terminal was clapping, many people rising to their feet as their sleep-deprived senator passed.
Never before, throughout her two decades and 6,300 votes in the Senate, had Collins received such a spontaneous welcome home.
It was absolutely extraordinary,” she said. “It was just so affirming of what happens when you do the right thing.”


So yeah, sounds to me as though Trump was given bum information by the Republican House and Senate leaders. Had the amateur president any real knowledge of the situation or the ability to separate BS from real facts, he might have gone with Schumer and the Democrats to achieving a real solution to a real problem. 

2017/07/15

Israel as the new Goliath

So Jewish people holding flags with the Star of David were not permitted to take part in a gay pride parade. The explanation from the parade organizers tells us that the decision had nothing to do with Jewish people and everything to do with the policies of the Israeli government as regards Palestinians. Statistics show that the Republican Party is very solidly pro-Israeli and the Democratic Party is about a third pro-Israel, a third pro-Palestinian and a third undecided. If there's any one single individual that has caused this situation to come about, that would be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. By ignoring the President's role in foreign policy and speaking to Congress without President Obama's permission, Netanyahu strongly contributed to making support for Israel a partisan issue. 
But the heart of the issue is shown in the below story and it shows that Israel has become a ruthless, iron-booted occupier. A Palestinian village within Israel's borders had received solar panels from Holland. After the panels had been supplying power to the village for a year, Israel abruptly removed them, giving notice only when the removal of the panels was halfway complete, thereby giving the village no opportunity to appeal the decision. After the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel was seen as the scrappy, resourceful David to the Goliath of the surrounding Arab states. Now Israel appears to be the Goliath that is stepping on Palestinians.

2017/06/02

President's speech on pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord

Okay, just read the President's speech on climate change and on his pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord.

1. Is the economy "coming back?" The latest jobs report is not horrible, but not really that impressive. There is no sign of a Trump boom and good reason to worry.

2. He goes through a series of promises kept, one of which is "putting in place tough new ethics rules." Erm, yeah. About those "tough" rules, the Trump Administration has already made 16 exceptions, a number that, in five months, is equal to Obama's over eight years.

3. One commitment that was very clearly not kept was the commitment to not touch Social Security or Medicaid. As AARP puts it "The proposed [AHCA/Trumpcare] legislation would also make huge cuts to Medicaid by taking $880 billion out of the program by 2026" and SSDI benefits are slated to be cut as well. Yes, the President keeps his promises, but in a highly selective manner. Some promises he takes seriously. Others, not so much.

4. The promise to renegotiate the Paris Climate Accord is dead on arrival. Won't happen.

5. From the speech: "The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries..." Erm, no. Preventing global warming is good for all humans on the planet. "Climate change resulting from rising greenhouse gas emissions is expected to lead to increasing temperatures and changing rainfall patterns over the next century that will, among other things, significantly affect human livelihoods. Since the beginning of this millennium, natural hazards, such as hurricanes, have triggered disasters, which have reversed years of development work." In fact, climate change is already making us sick. The Navy is very much aware that rising seas pose an enormous danger to coastal military bases.

6. The WaPo has an extensive fact-checking piece that thoroughly debunks the speech.

Update: People have asked how serious the President is on this issue.  I really don't think there's much room for doubt. He's taken the same position consistently since 2012, that global warming is a hoax. His position may be completely cynical, but he's held for a long time.

2017/04/29

Fake News and the sites I use


I posted a link to a Daily Kos piece that praised the NY Times for doing a really good job with a piece that examined Syria’s actions in the chemical attack that President Trump felt obliged to respond to with an attack by 59 drones. Then, I posted a piece from Crooks and Liars that took the NY Times to task as the paper was now supporting a climate change denier. A commenter said: “The NY Times does not promote climate denial.“ and “Do not believe everything you read, especially if the source is a sleazy tabloid like this one.”
I read the piece that C&L criticized and am unimpressed. The author starts off by suggesting that the Hillary Clinton campaign somehow misread or didn’t fully grasp the poll numbers and so was blindsided by the 2016 election results.
But that’s not true. Clinton was maintaining a small, but steady lead over Trump. Trump was trying very hard, but couldn’t bridge that gap. The real problem was that FBI Director Comey came out of the blue with supposedly new emails that he hadn’t yet examined himself. That threw a giant monkey wrench into the campaign and pushed Trump over the top.
From there our author goes on to call into question the authority of climate science and suggests that we should be much more cautious about claims that sound too certain.
My own view on certainty is that if you feel someone is wrong, it’s up to you to show where and how the person is wrong. If you’re simply saying “don’t be too certain,” then you’re just trying to create doubt and confusion and yes, you count as a denier. And yes, back in late 2002, early 2003, the NY Times ran some editorials that were skeptical of the Iraq War, but they also published Judith Miller’s “OMG! Saddam Hussein’s got WMDs!!!” stories on their front pages. So yes, on balance, their promotion of the Judith Miller pieces outweighed their cautious editorials and they promoted the war.

Okay, so how do we properly judge news sources? I regularly check a number of sources that have weird names, Balloon Juice, Hullabaloo, Informed Comment and Talking Points Memo. I once told a right-winger that some information I was presenting came from the magazine called Mother Jones. He thought that was a stupid name and so therefore, my information must not have been any good.
If we say that we can’t tell how good or bad the reporting on a blog is by the name of the blog, in other words, if a quickie, surface examination is insufficient, how are we to tell how reliable a source is?
One major criteria of mine is whether the blog gives you a way to verify what they say. If the blog regularly provides links to their sources and quotes their sources accurately, that’s a very good start. If the blog sometimes just quotes the terribly provocative thing that was said without even bothering to add editorial comments, even better. Media Matters is especially good on this. They’ll frequently just allow the provocative comment to stand by itself without any further editorial comments from them.
Modest editorial language is a plus, but sometimes the provocation really calls for some serious cussing. If a blog generally shows restraint, but occasionally lets loose (Balloon Juice does this) with Not Safe For Work (NSFW) language, then that’s a pretty good sign their information is reliable.
And of course, there’s the matter of track record. Dean Baker was an economist that I became familiar with in the late 1990s. He decided in 2002 that the US had a housing bubble (the bubble had actually started in the late 1990s, it took Baker a while to figure it out). The NY Times columnist Paul Krugman agreed with him. These two became rather tiresome with their constant warnings that when the bubble burst, it was going to be awful. Well, sure enough. It burst in late 2007 and the result was indeed awful. So yeah, I give these two lots and lots of credibility.

There’s no such thing as a source that’s always right. So developing a list of reliable sources is a waste of time. Even the lefty sources that I like and regularly check can be wrong. There are many tests that one can apply to news stories to see whether they’re credible or not. The NY Times is often right, but they can be wrong as well and we can run tests to see whether they’re right or not. I’ve mentioned a few such tests. I’m sure that I regularly apply a few others that I can’t recall at the moment.

2017/02/17

Suggestion that we intervene in Syria against ISIS



My major problem with it is of course that it would be an utter quagmire as the US has no natural allies in Syria, except perhaps the Kurds and they’re only in the Northern part of that country. We’d get bogged down again even worse than we were in Iraq. But, an even worse problem is that the Daesh/ISIS problem is largely solved anyway.

Let’s put this in terms of World War II analogies. Everyone knows about the battles of Stalingrad (Nazi Wehrmacht vs the Soviet Union), Midway (Imperial Japanese Navy vs the US) and El Alamein (The Nazi Afrika Corps against the British), where the German/Japanese advances were stopped. Then there were three battles where the Axis powers might possibly have been able to stop the Allies and reversed the course of the war, but didn’t and victory for the Allies was never really in doubt afterwards. These were Kursk (In the Soviet Union), Guadalcanal (In the Pacific) and the Normandy Landings (France).

The situation with Daesh right now is comfortable after the Kursk/Guadalcanal/Normandy stage. Daesh has lost a great deal of land and people. They’re hanging onto a part of the city of Mosul, the Western part, but they’ve lost much else of their Iraqi territory. There’s even talk of their leaving Raqqa, their capitol in Syria.

Are there further battles the US may wish to fight in the region?

The main conflict in Syria’s civil war pits President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, Iran and Shi’ite militias, against an array of rebel groups aiming to oust him, including some that have been backed by the United States, Turkey and Gulf monarchies.

This is a battle the the US really doesn’t want to get into, even though we’re obviously involved to some degree anyway. It’s really not clear that we wouldn’t be better off by simply abandoning the region. The main thing keeping us there is the oil supplied by the Gulf monarchies and global warming/climate change is a strong motivation to get ourselves off of fossil fuels anyway. The Saudi Arabians see the writing on the wall and have determined to get themselves out of the oil-supplying business during the 2020s.

No, we don’t need to send troops into the Mideast. We don’t need to throw US troops into a war against Daesh that Daesh has largely lost anyway and we really don’t want to “gin up” a conflict against Russian/Iranian forces.

2016/07/26

My LTE to the WaPo

So the Washington Post (WaPo) published "Appeals court says Texas voter-ID law discriminates against minorities." The Philadelphia Inquirer changed the title a bit to "U.S. court orders fixes in Texas voter-ID law." I wrote a Letter To The Editor (LTE) in response, sent it to the Inky and decided that as the piece originally came from the WaPo, I'd send my LTE to them, too. To my surprise, the WaPo go back to me, saying they wanted to publish it. They wanted an assurance though, that the LTE wouldn't be copied to anyone else. I said sure and sent an email off to the Inky, asking them to confirm they weren't going to print it. To my further surprise, they requested to be able to print it! I regretfully told them no. So the WaPo told me that it would be printed in their Sunday (July 24th) edition.
Problem: The LTE is not online. The Horsham Library doesn't carry the WaPo, neither does the Norristown Library. I checked with Temple University and they used to carry it, but not anymore. The Reference Librarian checked more thoroughly than I had, but he couldn't find it online, either. The Abington Library carries the WaPo, but they only have the 17th as of the 26th.
So, I guess it'll be available in Abington next week. When I copy the full wording to my blog, I'll re-run this post. 

2016/06/07

Democrats vs Republicans, any real difference?

Okay, so I was challenged to come up with a list of differences between the two major parties so as to prove they’re not just one party with two names. Here’s the opposing list of where there’s not much difference between the parties:

War

Brutal sanctions preceded the Iraq War, but Democrats left the actual military invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan up to Bush. Yes, Obama reinforced the Iraq War and then carried out the Bush plan to pull out by the end of 2011. In contrast to Republican charges that came out after Daesh (ISIS) appeared, the Obama Administration tried very hard to remain in Iraq longer, but neither the Iraqi nor the American public wanted any such thing to take place. 

the Democrats' support for NAFTA, TPP
Formally and officially, Hillary Clinton opposes TPP, but a major criticism of NAFTA was that labor and environmental groups were heard from as an after-thought. If Clinton had truly learned from NAFTA criticism, those groups would have been in on the ground floor for TPP.
 
bank deregulation

True, but Dodd-Frank has had a modest effect on restraining “too big to fail” financial institutions. Not a major effect and not right away, but “what is clear is that Dodd-Frank sent notice to banks and other financial institutions that they couldn’t continue with as little scrutiny and oversight as they had in the past.”

welfare "reform"

Yes, a very bad move on Bill Clinton’s part.

social security "reform"

Bill Clinton was planning on major “reform” but thanks to Monica Lewinsky, he wasn’t able to. The Simpson-Bowles “Cat Food Commission” certainly tried to “reform” SS, but Rep. Paul Ryan thought it wasn’t destructive enough and Rep. Jan Schakowsky thought it went too far, so there was no consensus report, just the recommendations of Simpson and Bowles to gut SS. So not really sure what’s meant by that.

NSA spying

Yep, definitely a bipartisan thing.

corporate welfare for the insurance industry - aka Obamacare (originally a right wing thinktank policy first implemented in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney)
Actually, many people have interpreted that as a clever move by Obama. By going as far to the right as was possible and still having a workable system, that left the Republicans with nothing to recommend in its place. The new Governor of Kentucky ran on dismantling the ACA/Obamacare, but found that he had no way to do so without throwing 300,000 citizens off of their health plans and thereby directly causing 300,000 people to become loyal, committed Democrats, so he backed off on that.
Also, the Democrats did have a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, but they had to keep right-wingers like Senator Joe Lieberman and others aboard, so the set-up had to be kept modest. We can’t blame the right-wing Democrats entirely. there’s evidence Obama wanted to blame Lieberman for his dropping the public option and that Lieberman agreed to be the scapegoat, but that Obama was really the one that wanted to drop it. 

bailing out the banks in 2009 but not Main Street

Yeah, Obama wasn’t in office yet, but he signed off on that.

refusal to fight for serious campaign finance reform
Another bipartisan thing.

refusal to tax the rich
Obama raised taxes on the wealthy a bit, but yeah, we could return to the Kennedy-era 70% rate without damaging the economy at all.
 
or cut the military budget
I’m personally disappointed Star Wars/SDI/Missile Defense is still being researched. Complete boondoggle. The A-10 “Warthog” attack plane simply doesn’t need replacing. Nor does the B-52, for that matter. Both planes are extremely well-designed for their function. The F-35 is another complete boondoggle that’s good for putting money into defense contractor pockets  and not much else. From 2011 to 2014, that is, from the pull-out from Iraq to the appearance of Daesh, US military spending went down a few hundred billion (it went back up again), but yes, way too much being spent.
 
refusal to prosecute makers of illegal wars and torture
Again, yup. Obama made a deliberate decision not to prosecute.

So what can we list as being real differences between the two parties?

Legislation. Enacted laws went from 460 during the last term under G.W. Bush, to 385 under a period of Democratic control of both the House and Senate, but also when Republicans got more and more filibuster-happy. Was at 284 and 296, then crashed to 165 (so far as of June 2016) when the GOP took over the Senate. Speaker Paul Ryan, formerly the Republican Budget Director, can’t seem to pass a Budget Resolution that’s, by the way, required by law. There’s no filibuster in the House and Republicans have a solid majority, so Democrats get zero blame for that. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell regards a Trade Promotion Authority bill (One of those bipartisan things listed above) and a bill concerning the Obama Administration deal with Iran as his two biggest accomplishments of the current Senate. Not really sure what the latter bill did as it would have canceled the deal with enough votes, but they didn’t get those votes and it’s not at all clear that the critics of the deal got anything else out of the bill. 

Republicans just don’t seem to like passing legislation as much as Democrats do.

Zika. After sitting around for two months and essentially twiddling their thumbs, the House finally decided to take money out of the response to Ebola and put it into Zika. Problem is, the fight against Ebola isn’t over. Neither Congress nor the Senate has voted on a bill that gives the Administration the full amount it’s requesting. And Congress left town in late May without doing anything to fix the problem. “Dozens of Democrats staged a media event on the steps of Capitol to decry the Republicans who control the House and Senate for leaving for the week-long break with what Democrats argued was so much unfinished business.”  How serious is Zika? Very!

Republicans just don’t seem to like fixing problems.

Abortion. One of the effects of Zika is that it affects babies in the womb, causing them to be born with microcephaly. That is, their brain is much smaller than normal because it hasn’t developed properly. One would think that, being allegedly very, very deeply concerned about babies in the womb, that anti-choicers would be all over this issue. They aren’t. Problem is, Zika and the called-for response contradicts the anti-choicer crusade against Planned Parenthood that was kicked off by a series of highly edited, misleading videotapes released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). Studying fetal tissue could help combat the effects of Zika, but the issue of women who have abortions and then donating fetal tissue is what’s at the heart of the CMP videos. A fourth federal committee was established (a dozen states had already investigated Planned Parenthood and exonerated them in every case) to further investigate Planned Parenthood to “find the truth.” As of June 2016, the committee has turned up zip. 

Conducting ideological crusades appears to take priority over solving real-world problems.

Holding up nominations. The Supreme Court nominee blockade, the blocking of any person nominated by the current president to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia is utterly and absolutely unprecedented in American history. Just as an example of the grossly excessive blocking of legitimate nominations, Senator “Tehran” Tom Cotton put a block on “Obama's ambassadorial nominations in order to pressure him to do something about the leaks coming out of the Secret Service. Eventually, that issue was resolved, and Cotton lifted all of the holds except [Cassandra] Butts'. When she met with him to ask why the hold remained on her nomination, Cotton told her "that he knew that she was a close friend of Obama’s — the two first encountered each other on a line for financial-aid forms at Harvard Law School, where they were classmates — and that blocking her was a way to inflict special pain on the president."

Shorter Senator Cotton: “I’m holding up a legitimate appointee because, fuck you, that’s why!”

Priorities.  Senate Majority Leader McConnell was asked about Donald Trump’s racist attack on a judge and responded “I think the Party of Lincoln wants to win the White House.” In other words, yeah, yeah, attacking a judge strictly for his ethnicity is, y’know, maybe not so great, but hey, winning is all that matters!

Winning is more important than maintaining basic decency.


No, I’m sorry, the two parties are not as different as I’d like them to be, but they are indeed different. It does make a difference whether you vote or whether you blow off the voting booth. It does make a difference whether you vote for the Democrats or for a third party.