Three Things: So Many Questions, September Edition

It’s been a little busy in my neck of the woods, trying to tackle a long accumulation of honey-dos. But questions piled up, needing answers, so much so that I had to take time out to put bits and pixels to digital paper. Let’s begin, shall we?

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PUERTO RICO POST-MARIA

Where the hell is the USNS Comfort, dispatched in 2010 to help after Haiti’s earthquake, and why isn’t it docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico, right the fuck now?

Why did we send 24,000 military personnel to help Japan after the 2011 earthquake but can’t muster them for a U.S. territory with a former navy facility and an active facility at Fort Garrison in San Juan?

Is Trump deliberately ignoring Hillary Clinton’s plea to send the USNS Comfort to PR because — well, it’s Hillary? (Yeah. Check that link. Even Fox News noted Hillary’s request.)

Has Trump deliberately ignored Puerto Rico’s urgent plight out of personal pique over the bankruptcy and losses from a Trump-branded, Trump-managed golf course located in Rio Grande, PR? He was trying to prop it up on Twitter back in 2013.

Are Trump’s tweets complaining about Puerto Rico’s debt yet more projection, since the failed golf course was built with government-issued bonds?

Why did the Senate approve as FEMA director — who only left to tour the island FIVE GODDAMNED DAYS AFTER MARIA MADE LANDFALL — the man who was the Hurricane Program Manager for FEMA under the Bush administration during Hurricane Katrina?

This, from The New York Times:

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, has received widespread praise for his handling of the federal response to Hurricane Harvey, the first major natural disaster faced by the Trump administration.

Somebody get me a concrete citation of a real accomplishment attached to some of this “widespread praise” for anything besides being “a calming presence in press briefings.” Has the bar slipped this low that calmly stringing together cogent sentences is worthy of accolades? Can the NYT stop fluffing Trump and his band of co-conspirators?

Because right now American citizens are suffering and likely dying as a result of this administration’s gross ineptitude and negligence, if not outright malignance.

Now Trump says he’s going to Puerto Rico next Tuesday. That’s TWO WEEKS after the storm. Can’t disrupt his golf game over last or the next weekend, don’t you know. What I particularly despise about Trump’s response to this crisis is that he makes this guy’s fly-by two days after Katrina look so much better.

Call your members of Congress and demand action. Yeah, that’s not a question. Suck it up; you’ve got electricity, communications, and access to clean water if you’re reading this. Millions of your fellow Americans in Puerto Rico don’t. Let’s fix this.

~ 2 ~
GRAHAM-CASSIDY-HELLER-JOHNSON NOT-A-HEALTH-CARE BILL

Have you called your senator and asked them to vote NO on the debacle Sen. Bill Cassidy can’t explain and over which Sen. Lindsey Graham is ruining any cred as a rational human being, while disabled health care activists recover from being hauled away by capitol police yesterday before the Senate Finance Committee’s hearing on the bill?

Have you documented and shared publicly your senators’ position on Graham-Cassidy, especially if they are up for re-election in 2018?

The number is (202) 224-3121 if you don’t have it memorized already.

Need a script to make it easier? Here you go.

As wretchedly bad as this obscene joke of a bill is, I can’t help wonder if GOP members of Congress and their staff are gaming this. Have they been working on something even worse than previous attempts at ACA repeal just to game the stock market and make a few bucks on the backs of worried citizens?

[graphic: Health Insurance stock chart, via Google Finance]

For grins you should look at Aetna’s chart for last Friday and note the jump it took when Sen. McCain expressed his reluctance to support Graham-Cassidy. Price jumped about the same time capitol police arrived to arrest protesters. Easy money, that, conveniently ahead of the market’s close.

~ 1 ~
IRAN ~AND~ PUERTO RICO

What question do these two disparate places prompt?

First, Trump tweeted about an Iranian missile launch as if it had ~just~ happened, within 24 hours of a reconstituted travel in which Iran is listed. But the missile launch ~didn’t~ just happen; it took place more than six months ago but was mentioned only this week in Iranian news.

Second, Trump took his fucking sweet time ensuring FEMA went to Puerto Rico; Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 20th, visible to anyone who watched weather networks, NOAA, and NASA reporting.

Is Trump ignoring any and all U.S. intelligence and government experts on matters foreign and domestic, relying instead on some other criteria for responding to events, including cable TV? Should we believe for a second he’s simply and accidentally flooding his source of information?

In the case of Iran’s missile program, it looks more like he deliberately used stale news to defend a new travel ban while making propagandistic false statements to the public. The Supreme Court canceled hearing the travel ban after the travel ban was rejiggered — does this suggest his manipulation of perception worked, not only on the public but on the Supreme Court?

~ 0 ~
One more time: call your Senators to ask NO on Graham-Cassidy and get their position on the record. Call your members of Congress to ask for urgent response and funding for aid to Puerto Rico. The number is (202) 224-3121. Put it on speed dial.

Viajar bien, mis amigos y amigas.

Financing Medicare For All

If you only read mainstream media you’d think Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill was terrifyingly expensive. An opinion piece behind the paywall in the Wall Street Journal cites a couple of studies with huge headline numbers like $2.5 trillion dollars in the first year, from the Urban Institute. Taxes will soar, government takeover of health care blah blah blah. It comes from centrist Democrats like Jonathan Chait and Ezra Klein who I saw in an appearance on Seth Meyer’s show. Here are two things to bear in mind in self-defense.

1. In 2015, we spent about $3.2 trillion on health care in the US. There is a cool graphic here showing where it was spent and who paid that amount. Maybe the cost of health care covering everyone for the kinds of things the Affordable Care Act requires would cost more than that. (The Sanders Plan covers other services as well as those under the ACA, but let’s ignore that because I can’t find numbers.) We calculate the additional amount we would need by adding the cost of all uninsured people and the cost of the care that people with insurance can’t afford because of deductibles and other co-pays, and subtracting the savings from the new plan. Any analysis that doesn’t start with this is bullshit.

It’s true that the Sanders plan would change who pays and how much, so someone would have to redo that cool graphic I mentioned. Some businesses would pay more, others less, and there would be a change in corporate taxation as deductible costs of insurance change. Some individuals would pay more and others less. But whatever those changes might be, the amount we need to raise isn’t frightening, and practically everyone will be better off.

It’s easy to see the savings from negotiating drug prices, lowering the reimbursement to doctors and hospitals, reducing excess profits from the health insurance companies, and reducing the costs of administration throughout the health care business.

It’s also easy to see that the additional costs are not that high. Approximately 9.1% of us were uninsured in 2015, so the cost might be as high as 10%, or $320 billion. That doesn’t seem too terrible when the savings are deducted. It will be easy to finance that if we want to. I have a long list of things to cut if anyone cares, starting with dismantling the carceral state.

2. We need to think clearly about taxation. We live in a fiat money system; the US is sovereign in its own currency and cannot go bankrupt. I’ve read Modern Monetary Theory by Randall Wray and many shorter pieces and I am convinced. I could make an interesting argument from MMT about this whole matter, but I won’t and I not going to focus on that. If single-payer a hard sale, convincing the devotees of Econ 101 (course title: My Neoliberalism) about MMT is hopeless. Actually with the excellent Stephanie Kelton as a teacher and leader I could well be wrong. Check out this on the Twitter, and follow her if you don’t already.

I agree with Warren Mosler, another MMT theorist, that taxes for revenue are obsolete. But that doesn’t mean that taxes are obsolete. Quite the contrary. Mosler quotes from a 1945 speech by Beardsley Ruml, chair of the New York Fed, to the American Bar Association. Ruml gives four grounds for taxation other than revenue:

1. As an instrument of fiscal policy to help stabilize the purchasing power of the dollar;

2. To express public policy in the distribution of wealth and of income, as in the case of the progressive income and estate taxes;

3. To express public policy in subsidizing or in penalizing various industries and economic groups;

4. To isolate and assess directly the costs of certain national benefits, such as highways and social security.

We can make a case for taxes and other measures to support Medicare for All relying solely on those four principles, without explicitly discussing MMT. If we do that, we lay a foundation for future tax issues, and for a sensible discussion of tax reform more broadly. I have a list of tax changes that will meet those standards. How about that NASCAR deduction for a starter. We raise a bit of money and get rid of a bit of corruption with one change.

This is a great teachable moment for MMT, just as the government shutdowns were with the heated arguments about the trillion dollar coin. I know Kelton and others will push on the MMT side. We need to win this, and we can’t afford to fight on two fronts. In particular, it isn’t helpful to attack people who don’t want to argue about MMT on the way to fixing our health care system. People like me.

Three Things: In the Debris Field After Health Care ‘Freedom’ Act

I still don’t have enough caffeine in my system and it’s nearly noon here. An entire pot of java may do the trick. As I rouse and read the hot takes after the failure of H.R. 1628 last night, a few thoughts stick with me.

~ 3 ~

All the think pieces — most written by white men lauding John McCain’s maverick move by departing from the party line — are evidence ‘the show’ worked.
McCain called it that when asked before the vote last night which way he was going. “Watch the show,” he said.

Meanwhile, the two women senators who have been firm all along they couldn’t vote for a bill causing damage to their constituents receive far fewer plaudits from the same mostly-white-male pundit class. Murkowski had been threatened by the Interior Secretary at Trump’s request. I haven’t heard for certain, but I’ll bet Collins received threats as well, probably from Trump-supporting constituents.

McCain won’t get those kinds of threats. He made his point last night about the power he wields within GOP Senate caucus as the final A/B switch on legislation. But the GOP Senate already knew this.

What McCain did was give the GOP a face-saving way to vote for a piece of shit they didn’t want to pass, without the repercussions Collins and Murkowski (and at varying times, Heller and Capito) have faced for rejecting a POS bill.

This is why they waited until the last goddamned minute to draft a meager eight-pages, slapping in some egregious stuff to ensure Collins and Murkowski couldn’t vote, adding the 20% annual premium increase as a coup de grace.

Because McCain would do the maverick kabuki for them, slap on his mask and robes, make big gestures and kill the bill for them.

And it worked not only because all the white male pundit class got suckered by their usual privileged blindness, but the white male Tweeter-in-Chief bought it, hook, line, sinker. He blamed all the Democrats and three GOP senators. All the other senators are off the hook.

Bonus: McCain’s legacy is salvaged with the patriarchal punditry.

Great ‘show’, maverick.

~ 2 ~

Scaramucci is nothing more than a highly-animated automaton on a stage; nothing he says is real. Why? Because the real communications are being run out of house by Steve Bannon, and likely in violation of federal law.

What is it and to whom is Bannon really communicating for the White House?
This operation may be in violation of the Antideficiency Act, but is it also in violation of the Presidential Records Act? What about any other regulations regarding FOIA?

Don’t believe me about Scaramucci’s role? Take a look at your news feed and point to any announcement about his firing or resignation. You know damned well had a communications director acted like he has under any other previous administration he’d have been walked out the White House’s fence.

p.s. Some say Scaramucci’s lowering discourse. Come the fuck on. He talks the way all of Wall Street’s white males do. The misogynist crack about Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ appearance? Par for the course.

~ 1 ~

Recommended lunch hour read for you: a book review by Andrew Bacevich in London Review of Books on The General v. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War by H.W. Brands. Bacevich’s background here.

Putting this book on my shopping list after this review, given how much power Trump has given and is likely to give to the military, breaking with civilian control.

~ 0 ~

That’s it for now. I’m stewing on something else but it’ll be dedicated and not an open thread like this one. Hasta pasta.

[Photo by Piron Guillaume via Unsplash]

Three Things: #KillTheBill, Kill It Dead, Die Already [UPDATED]

[UPDATE at end] Following the Senate today has been like watching an impeding train wreck. The track’s out just ahead, the conductor knows it, as do all the rest of the crew aboard. Not one of them has the smarts or spine to stop this crazy train.

So while this post was supposed to be about three things, it’s really all just one: the abject failure of Congressional Republicans to fashion effective health care legislation which meets their oath of office by calming the public’s worries to insure domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense against illness and injury, and promoting the general welfare through improved health.

~ 3 ~

Anthony Scaramucci was hired to be a circus act, a distraction from whatever the White House is trying to get away with. Clearly he’s good at that. Screw that. I’ve muted his name on Twitter; you’ll be surprised what you see when you do the same across your social media and news feeds.

~ 2 ~

This, from the rally on Capitol Hill tonight:

It’s this simple. Congress’ health care plan is America’s health care plan. Strip away everything else, start from the ground up, fund it, legislate and launch it.
But sadly the party leading Congress is incapable of vision. Get some, stat.

By the way, for you anti-Democratic Party folks: the Senate Dems are solidly unified behind killing all iterations of Repeal-and-Replace, and tonight, the ‘skinny repeal’. There are no defections. They are willing to work on a good faith bipartisan solution which fixes the ACA’s challenges. Senate GOP could meet them on this, but no — scoring a political win is more important to them than doing the right thing by the American public.

~ 1 ~

If you want to stay on top of this, here are a few key accounts on Twitter:

Andy Slavitt (see his summary of tonight’s expected Senate action on Trumpcare)

Adam Jentleson

Ben Wikler

Ben Jacobs at The Guardian

Right now the Senate is headed toward a vote around 2:00-3:00 a.m. on a bill for which is no text or a CBO score. Paul Ryan will follow suit as soon as possible, no matter what bullshit you hear about not wanting the so-called ‘skinny repeal’. They are doing this in the middle of the night to hide from the public, literally on a Friday late in summer which in the past has been news dump zone. It’s a fraud, a total sham.

~ 0 ~

That’s it. Call Congress now — start with your senators, then your representative. The life you save may be your own. (202) 224-3121 or (855) 712-7845.

UPDATE — 10:35 P.M. EDT —

All eight pages of the ‘skinny repeal’ bill have now been posted.

EIGHT. FUCKING. PAGES.

Read them here.

[Photo by Piron Guillaume via Unsplash]

Call to Action: Senate Vote Ahead – Stop Trumpcare

I’m going to let Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) explain what’s going on in his eight-tweet thread from last evening — and then we are getting down to business.

@ChrisMurphyCT tweet thread dd. 23JUL2017

Here’s HuffPo on status of this latest iteration of Repeal-and-Replace-ACA. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said, “It appears we’ll have a vote on Tuesday but we don’t know whether we’ll be voting on the House bill, the first version of the Senate bill, the second version of the Senate bill,” sounding very unhappy about being kept in the dark.

Agreed — this is not how a democracy is run.

Two more things you need to know:

— Trump’s administration is trying to crash the ACA; it terminated contractors in 18 cities to help with signups. Think of this as the equivalent of voter disenfranchisement by eliminating polls, only in this case, it could have deadly affects on citizens.

Trump “asked” Navy service members to call their senators to vote to repeal ACA. This is an abuse of power; an “ask” by the commander-in-chief is an order, and in this case it’s an order to U.S. military to take action against their own interests and against their fellow citizens. This may already have had a negative effect on counts based on reports last night on Twitter.

What’s next?

CALL YOUR SENATOR NOW before the vote and ask them to vote NO on the Motion to Proceed, and NO on any subsequent vote to repeal and/or replace ACA.

Tools you can use:

Here’s calling scripts prepared by the ever-helpful @Celeste_Pewter, one each for GOP and Democratic senators. (Celeste has an updated status on the impending vote, too.)

No on BRCA (GOP) via @Celeste_Pewter

No on BRCA (Dem) via @Celeste_Pewter

Switchboard telephone number: (202) 224-3121

Free fax by internet to Congress by Faxzero: https://faxzero.com/fax_senate.php

Help keep track of responses at: https://5calls.org/ (not for use on mobile)

For more information on BRCA vote:

Follow  @benwikler – MoveOn’s Washington DC director, who is all over this legislation.

Follow @make5calls

Follow @icalledmyreps

If you have any more resources to follow on the health care vote(s) this week, please share them in comments.

Lastly, if you live in Alaska, West Virginia, Ohio, Maine, you are a Most Valuable Player right now because your senators are on the bubble. Please make calls to your senators — thanks!

IMPORTANT: This is NOT an open thread. Health care comments here only; all other comments may be posted in the last open thread. Thank you.

Three Things: Shocker, Badger, Vapor

Summer doldrums are hitting hard here; it’s too steamy today to do much but watch the garden grow and the ‘hot takes’ bloom. Let’s breeze through these.

~ 1 ~

Shocker: The White House had its ass handed to it last night, alongside a serving of vanilla ice cream and peach cobbler. While it was kissing up to some über conservative Senators, Utah’s Mike Lee and Kansas’ Jerry Moran announced they would not support the Motion to Proceed on the latest POS edition of AHCA.

Excellent work on the dual tweets dispatched simultaneously at 8:30 p.m., by the way (see this one and this one). Live by the tweets, die by the tweets, Littlehands.

What I find particularly interesting is the secrecy this announcement revealed. Not just the discreet collaboration between two senators from very red states, taking advantage of the additional time afforded them by John McCain’s personal health care challenge. Apparently Senate Majority Leader Mitch “Yertle” McConnell has had such a tight grip on the legislative process that even his wingman, John Cornyn, doesn’t know what’s going on until McConnell’s office emails his deputies.

Not exactly a way to win friends and influence enemies, that.

(For some reason McConnell’s super-secret hyper control makes me think of the compartments Washington Post wrote about with regard to the Russian election hacks and the subsequent investigation. Why is that?)

~ 2 ~

Badger: Russia is pissed off about its dachas-away-from-home, threatening retaliation if they’re not returned. Uh, right. Like the U.S. suddenly decided to boot Russian occupants out of the Long Island and Maryland digs for no good reason last year. Russian Foreign Ministry “reserves the right to retaliate based on the principle of reciprocity,” forgetting that Obama took a too-measured response to repeated incursions by Russia into U.S. information systems — including hacks of the White House and Defense Department in 2015 — not to mention the ‘Illegals Program‘ spy who worked at Microsoft circa 2010. (Let’s also not forget an ‘Illegals Program’ spy worked their way close to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign co-chair.) The U.S. could and should have been far more aggressive in its response; Russia isn’t entitled to reciprocity.

This is a test for Congressional Republicans. Either cement sanctions against Russia including the ‘foreclosure’ on these two compounds, or admit complicity in the undermining of democratic process last year. The GOP needs to revisit a CRS report on U.S.-Russia relations and Executive Orders 13660, 13661, and 13662 before they give any ground. [EDIT: See also EO 13964, issued April 1, 2016 in response to “malicious cyberactivity” — this EO the GOP will probably ignore just as it has all signs of Team Trump collusion as well as Russian interference in the 2016 general election.]

If there are truly compelling reasons in the nation’s interest for conceding these compounds, give them back — but only after the buildings have been razed and permits for reconstruction are denied under sanctions. The Russian government can work out of trailers on the property, or on boats from the dock. They do not need to be any more comfortable than they have been.

~ 3 ~

Vapor: No longer a ghost — we  now know who the eighth attendee was at Donnie Junior’s June 9th meeting at Trump Tower last year. Lucky number seven is believed to be a translator — and wow, so is number eight!

Which seems kind of odd — in the information Junior dumped online, there was no mention that Veselnitskaya didn’t speak English and needed a translator, or who would be the translator. Doesn’t it seem strange that there would be no concerns about security clearance into Trump Tower or a meeting with a presidential candidate’s son and/or campaign team given the meeting requester was a foreign national?

Perhaps because there was little concern, Body Number Eight, Ike Kaveladze, purportedly showed up as Veselnitskaya’s translator only to learn she had brought her own, Body Number Seven, Anatoli Samochornov. It’s not clear from USA Today’s reporting who asked Kaveladze to attend; did Junior just let any Russian in the neighborhood attend the meeting? Aras Agalarov sent Kaveladze “just to make sure it happened and to serve as an interpreter if necessary,” Kaveladze’s lawyer told NYT. Why so many witnesses?

The room must have been a little crowded with Junior, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Rob Goldstone, Veselnitskaya and two translators as well as Rinat Akhmetshin.

Given the two translators, Akhmetshin’s presence seems even more curious. Why was he there if there were two translators?

~ ~ ~

That’s that. I could go on but it’s too damned hot here. Refresh your iced tea and settle yourself in front of the fan. This is an open thread — behave.

AHCA: GOP and its Ugly Poke

One of the most immoral and unethical episodes of American government unfolds today as the House votes today on the American Health Care Bill (AHCA) H.R. 1628, a bill which violates the GOP’s promise to allow three days advance notice before a vote, the text of which had not been made publicly available before last night and will only receive an hour’s debate, and the economic impact of which has not been analyzed and scored by the Congressional Budget Office.

Today the GOP-led House votes blindly on a purported pig in an ugly poke.

Nothing about this GOP-spawned atrocity serves the public’s interests — not even the estimated 2% who will obtain tax cuts from this legislation if it clears the Senate. The financial benefits for these über-wealthy who, already owning more than most of the rest of the country combined, do not need them. These cuts will eventually be neutralized by degradation of the overall economy after consumer spending tanks. Short-sighted gains yielding long-term losses.

Utterly stupid. Highly unethical.

In B-school I was taught that an ethical business decision was one made for long-term shareholder value, with reasonable decency and distributive justice.

If this is the business of American government, AHCA fails to meet those criteria.

For the über-wealthy there is no long-term improvement in value.

For Congress, there is no reasonable decency in cutting benefits — even when demanded by a minority of voters — to those most vulnerable in order to hand over money to those who do not need it. They are literally taking money from babies and mortally ill to hand over to rich people who will never even feel the weight of the addition to their bank accounts, amounting to little more than a rounding error for billionaires.

There is no decency in voting for legislation which most certainly will result in American deaths in the thousands from cancer and other diseases. Nor is there decency in signing away lives in some unacknowledged Malthusian attempt to limit population growth — a great permanent amelioration of their condition — by increased mortality rates.

There is no decency in voting for a bill which treats women as disposable annoyances instead of the font of America’s future, treats sex crimes against them as excuses to hurt them further.

There is no decency in cutting funding necessary for students requiring health-related aids in special education.

And there is absolutely no decency whatsoever for Congress to place itself above shared suffering. They are exempting themselves from the worst effects of AHCA on those with pre-existing conditions by voting for Amendment to Public Health Services Act H.R. 2192 while slipping in threats to working American’s employer-based health care insurance.

There is no decency, only shame, in Congress’ scuttling off into the shadows at the end of the day to avoid dealing with the repercussions of these offenses against their constituents.

For the average American — and most average Americans will be directly affected by the AHCA — there is no justice.

Not until November 2018.

Face The Nation

The failure of the American Health Care Act provides an insight that might be useful in combating neoliberalism. Paul Ryan centered his defense of ACHA around the notion of individual freedom. But there is a better view of freedom that the Democrats could offer: freedom from fear.

Ryan explained his view of freedom, the neoliberal view that freedom exists only in monetary transactions, in an appearance on Face The Nation March 12, 2017:

DICKERSON: How many people are going to lose coverage under this new —

RYAN: I can’t answer that question. It’s up to people. Here — here’s the premise of your question. Are you going to stop mandating people buy health insurance? People are going to do what they want to do with their lives because we believe in individual freedom in this country. So the question is, are we providing a system where people have access to health insurance if they choose to do so. …

The most important talking point in this whole interview is freedom; Here’s another example:

…[W}e’re not going to make an American do what they don’t want to do. You get it if you want it. That’s freedom.

What if you want it but do not have the money to get it? You are free not to get it. One of the problems with the ACA is that even with subsidies, people can’t afford a decent policy. A lot of people have a policy that doesn’t cover them sufficiently to prevent bankruptcy, or they have a policy but can’t afford to use it because of high deductibles and co-pays.

Ryan’s solution was to get rid of the Essential Health Benefits mandated by the ACA. These set the minimum coverage for any policy offered on the exchange. They include lab tests, drugs, maternity care, treatment for substance abuse and mental illness, and others. If insurance companies can issue policies that don’t cover these mandated benefits, they can offer cheaper policies. That doesn’t help anyone. It increases the number of people with policies that don’t cover treatment they suddenly need, and raises prices for others to buy fuller coverage.

Ryan and the Republicans think we only care about a few bucks we don’t have to pay an insurance company. They only value the freedom to buy and sell in unrestrained markets, as if anyone actually wanted to spend any part of their precious lives studying insurance contracts.

So there we have Ryan’s definition of freedom. You have the freedom to give money to an insurance company to buy any policy you can afford, and you can shop around for a policy that may or may not provide the coverage you eventually need, or you can take the risk of bankruptcy or denial of health care.

That’s a peculiar kind of freedom.

The Democrats have the possibility of offering a different kind of freedom: the freedom from fear that you and your family and your friends and neighbors and fellow citizens won’t be able to get health care when they need it. This kind of Freedom is the foundation of Franklin Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights, so it’s well within the historic tradition of the Democrats, at least before their neoliberal turn. The outpouring of public hostility to the ACHA proves that this definition of freedom is much more popular than Ryan’s.

Another way to phrase this idea is that what people want is the freedoom to pursue their own projects, projects that they choose for themselves and that give them a sense of satisfaction. John Maynard Keynes thought that as the age of work came to an end, people would pursue artistic, intellectual and cultural pursuits. Maybe. Maybe it’s going fishing, learning how to weld, or following the Cubs. For maximum freedom, there are areas where people would rather have the government protect them from the “market”, rather than wasting time coping with yet another market, or living in fear of the consequences of not handling the market. I think his is an idea with a lot of general appeal.

If we raise taxes fairly, or reorder our budget priorities favoring defense contractors, we can all get good health care at a price we can all pay. That’s the kind of freedom I want: freedom from fear and freedom from the endless consumerism we have to endure because of the other version of freedom. Not to mention freedom from profit-maximizing insurance companies.

The Lesson Trump Has (Thus Far) Not Taught Us: Civilian Casualties

I have a confession.

There’s something I like about the Trump Administration.

It’s the way that his unpopularity taints long-standing policies or practices or beliefs, making people aware of and opposed to them in a way they weren’t when the same policies or beliefs were widely held under George Bush or Barack Obama. Many, though not all, of these policies or beliefs were embraced unquestioningly by centrists or even avowed leftists.

I’ve been keeping a running list in my mind, which I’ll begin to lay out here (I guess I’ll update it as I remember more).

  • Expansive surveillance
  • The presumption of regularity, by which courts and the public assume the Executive Branch operates in good faith and from evidence
  • Denigration of immigrants
  • Denigration of Muslims
  • Denigration health insurance

As an example, Obama deported a huge number of people. But now that Trump has expanded that same practice, it has been made visible and delegitimized.

In short, Trump has made things that should always have been criticized are now being far more widely so.

But there’s one thing that Trump has escalated that has thus far — with the singular exception of the botched raid on Yemen — escaped widespread condemnation: the bombing of civilians. There was the Al Jineh mosque on March 16, a school sheltering families in Raqqa on March 21, and this strike last week in Mosul, not to mention continued Saudi attacks in Yemen that the US facilitates.

Again, I’m not saying such civilian strikes didn’t happen under Obama. And it’s not clear whether this spate of civilian bombings arises from a change in the rule of engagement put in place in December, the influence of James Mattis, or Trump’s announced review of rules of engagement. But civilians are dying.

And for the most part, unlike all the other horrible things happening under President Trump, they’re getting little notice and condemnation in the US.

Update: This NYT story on the Mosul strike says that the increased civilian casualties do reflect a change in rules of engagement put in place under Trump.

Which Came First, the Failed Ideology or the Spiking Mortality Rates?

One of the things that drives me nuts about the obsessive focus on Russia right now is the claim that Vladimir Putin is the biggest risk to America, to the EU, to western civilization. That claim ignores that — to the extent Putin is engaged in policies to maximize his advantage vis a vis American hegemony right now — the opportunity to do so has been created by the failure of American hegemony. The biggest threats to the EU, for example, stem from the idiotic policies “technocrats” enacted after America crashed the global economy and a refugee crisis caused, in part, by the chaos America has sown in the Middle East over the last 15 years (and to some degree manipulated by “allies” like Turkey). Sure, Putin is making the most of the American failures, but the underlying causes that make right wing populists popular, here and in Europe, can be significantly blamed on America. Significantly, that’s about a failure of the policies dictated by American ideology to deliver on what it promises — peace, democracy, prosperity.

Which brings me to this passage from a WSJ article on the latest installment of Anne Case and Angus Deaton’s documentation of a big spike in mortality among white people in America.

“For many Americans, America is starting to fail as a country,” said James Smith, chair in labor markets and demographic research at the Rand Corp., who wasn’t involved in the paper and said he was struck that mortality rates are rising for young working-class adults. “The bad things that are going on in America do not appear to be going on in Western European countries, and that’s a big deal.”

The spike in mortality, Case argues, is not about existing life conditions, but rather about “accumulating despair.”

The increase in mortality rate for working-class whites can’t be explained by declining income prospects alone. Blacks and Hispanics face many of the same income struggles but have experienced declines in mortality over the same period, the two economists argued, though their findings reveal more recent troubles for blacks, with gains stagnating the past couple of years amid an increase in drug overdoses and stalling progress against heart disease.

“This doesn’t seem to be about current income,” Ms. Case said in a call with reporters. “It seems to be about accumulating despair.”

The rising mortality of working-class white adults appears to be rooted both in worse job opportunities and increasing social dysfunction, following generations of relatively stable lives that involved job advancement and an expectation of living better than one’s parents, the researchers said.

As a number of people have noted, both today and after earlier releases of Case and Deaton’s data, one of the few precedents for such a spike is the rise in mortality in Russia leading up to and after the fall of the Soviet Union. Addiction and other despair-related health problems were significant in both.

Which got me wondering: to the extent this is driven by a failure in ideology — by the failure of the American dream — which comes first, the failed ideology or the rising mortality rates? That is, are people dying of despair in response to the recognition the American dream doesn’t deliver for people like them anymore (which, it should be said, has always involved white Americans benefitting from the unequal treatment of brown people both in the US and around the globe)? Or did a worsening lifestyle lead to a spike in mortality that has contributed to despair and the collapse of ideology?

I don’t know the answer — and admit it might be more closely tied to policy outcomes than ideology. But as we try to figure it out, we ought to be focusing at least as much on how to roll out life and meaning that can sustain Americans again as we are on blaming Putin for our recent failures to do that.

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