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Wed, May

John Steinbeck’s ‘To a God Unknown’ or … How to Be a Writer In the Age of Donald Trump

MAKING OURSELVES HEARD--It’s easy to read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, winner of the 1940 Pulitzer Prize, and as Stephen King describes in his best-selling book On Writing, to have “feelings of despair and good old-fashioned jealousy—[thoughts like] I’ll never be able to write anything that good, not if I live to be a thousand.” 

Like King’s wise counsel about how to be a writer, John Steinbeck’s masterwork is a “spur” that “goad[s] the writer to work harder and aim higher.” During President Donald Trump’s regime of diminished-to-defunct arts funding, new writers—in addition to emerging musicians, painters, sculptors, photographers, and all creative people committed to contributing to civilization through art—can take inspiration from the inauspicious circumstances surrounding the publication of Steinbeck’s difficult second novel. 

In the introduction to the Penguin Classic edition of To a God Unknown—originally published in 1933, four years after Steinbeck’s first novel, Cup Of Gold, and six years before The Grapes of Wrath—the poet-scholar Robert DeMott writes that “Steinbeck labored longer on [it] than on any other book.” As DeMott notes, it took Steinbeck many, many revisions, crises in confidence, and almost five years to complete his second novel. (The Pastures of Heaven, published in 1932, is a sequence of stories—not a traditional novel—about the bad luck a new family brings to a happy valley.) 

Flush with cryptic and crystalline allusions to paganism, Christianity, and the Greek epics, To a God Unknown is at base a pioneering tale. It tells the story of Joseph Wayne and his family leaving Vermont to homestead initially fertile but increasingly—and eventually, climactically and cataclysmically—drought-ravaged farmland in California’s southern Salinas Valley. Putting aside California’s recent rainy spell, and considering President Trump’s already abysmal record on global warming and the environment, one might say the book portends critical warnings for America’s future. In a journal entry, Steinbeck wrote, “[t]he story is a parable . . . the story of a race, growth and death. Each figure is a population, and the stones, the trees, the muscled mountains are the world – but not the world apart from man – the world and man – the one indescribable unit man plus his environment.” 

Critical reviews of To a God Unknown were as savage as the feral wilderness it depicts. Virginia Barney opined in The New York Times that the novel was “a curious hodgepodge of vague moods and irrelevant meanings.” A book critic from The Nation characterized it as  “pitifully thin and shadowy.” As Robert DeMott notes in Steinbeck’s Typewriter: Essays on His Art, “not [even] enough copies [of the book] sold [for the publisher] to recoup the small advance” Steinbeck received. 

And yet it is precisely through this example of Steinbeck’s early literary stumbles that I submit all brave new artists can find the courage, the resoluteness, and the abiding faith in the value of their art to persevere t hrough rough spots, honing their craft through lean times as Steinbeck did—at risk to wallet, ego, and at times, to relationships. 

Imagine the gaping, un-fillable hole in American literature if, after the unfavorable reviews of To a God Unknown and The Pastures of Heaven, Steinbeck had decided to up and quit. What if, disheartened and disconsolate by the failure of To a God Unknown—which foreshadows elements and devices brought to masterful fruition in The Grapes of Wrath—Steinbeck had packed up his pen, paper, and typewriter, period, end of story—and I hasten to add, end of all his stories? 

In 2014 the novelist David Gordon described the business of writing in The New York Times as “a risky and humiliating endeavor.” Softened by self-deprecation, Gordon’s column firmly gut-kicks prospective authors with an honest peek at the lonely, ascetic, self-possessed lives that most writers by necessity lead. “Let’s face it [Gordon observed]: just writing something, anything and showing it to the world, is to risk ridicule and shame. What if it is bad? What if no one wants to read it, publish it? What if I can’t even finish the thing?” Both during and after the writing of To a God Unknown and the book's blisteringly bad reception, Steinbeck could have succumbed to any of these common writer’s ailments, never to be heard from again. 

But he didn’t. He kept on writing instead. 

To paraphrase Don Chiasson’s recent New Yorker magazine review of the biography of the poet Robert Lowell by Kay Redfield Jamison, “Perhaps [he had no choice, because as Gordon observed] being a writer is a bit like having Tourette’s, a neurological disorder. Or what psychologists call ‘intrusive thoughts’: unwanted and disturbing ideas and images that suddenly attack us unbidden. A need to speak the unspeakable thing.” Adds Chiasson, “mood disorders occur with staggering frequency in creative people, and writers seem to suffer the most.” 

Perhaps. But unquestionably To a God Unknown—written when Steinbeck was a published-but-still-struggling 30-year-old grinding away in obscurity and insecurity—provides evidence of a sturdy self-belief, the kind of grit I submit all successful or striving artists must possess. This tough and necessary tenacity is embodied in Steinbeck’s advice to his friend and fellow novelist, George Albee: “Fine artistic things seem always to be done in the face of difficulties, and the rocky soil, which seems to give the finest flower, is contempt. Don’t fool yourself, appreciation doesn’t make artists. It ruins them. A man’s best work is done when he is fighting to make himself heard, not when swooning audiences wait for his paragraphs.”

 

(Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas including CityWatch. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq)

-cw

 

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Trump’s Proposed Budget: Guess Who’s Paying for ‘The Wall’ … You!

OUR OWN ‘BERLIN’ WALL--So much for Mexico paying for it. According to a recent CNBC article, “Trump will request more than $4 billion in defense spending to build the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, marking the first federal dollars that would be allocated for one of his most divisive campaign promises.”  

The same article stated that Trump’s “great, beautiful wall” will be significantly more expensive than the president’s original estimate of 12-15 billion dollars.”The U.S. border with Mexico is roughly 2,000 miles long and underlines four states, from California to Texas, more than half of it along the Colorado River and Rio Grande. It is a massive stretch of land — the Berlin Wall spanned just 96 miles comparatively, and it cost about $25 million to build in 1961, or around $200 million with inflation.” 

We can all do the math. 

Make no mistake. Trump’s wall is going to cost the American tax payers at least 25 billion. If Mexico won’t fork over a single penny then someone must pay for the wall. It will not be the president and his modest fortune. So the American people will pay for it at their own detriment. It is going to be a shark frenzy. It is going to be one of the largest pay to play rackets in the history of crony capitalism. It is going to be an unsurpassed fiasco that will have far reaching consequences for decades to come. In due course Ronald Reagan’s most historic words will be summoned to stop the bleeding and heal the wounds. Reagan’s words will instruct Republicans and conservatives that tearing down walls that separate and barricade humanity is fundamentally right. Until then it is going to be a disaster. 

Referring back to the Berlin Wall, that is exactly what this Mexican-American division line will become in the eyes of the world. Like the Berlin Wall, as long as it stands, it will be used as a urine fence, art mural, protest site, commercial zone, terrorist magnet, money pit, and giant FU to internationalism and human rights. It will be climbed over and dug under. It will be burned through and broken apart. It will be a stupendous waste of time, energy, and all other precious resources needed to maintain it. It will be one of the stupidest things America has ever done. For every dollar used to build this wall, Trump will take one from the mouths of the elderly, the classrooms of the young, the hospitals of the newborn, and the lakes and rivers of our communities. 

Allow me to get granular. The proposed budget eliminates the Global Climate Change Initiative and ceases payments to the U.N. climate change programs. The budget reduces funding to the U.N. and affiliated agencies and limits contributions to 25% for U.N. peacekeeping costs. The budget eliminates the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance account; reduces funding for educational and cultural exchange programs, and calls for a nearly 18% cut next year at Health and Human Services. 

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, Trump will take away $4.2 billion in grants, including the decades-old Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income Americans with heating bills. It eliminates $403 million in training programs for nursing and other health profession; reduces the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) spending by $5.8 billion, including administrative costs and federal contributions to research funding; eliminates the Fogarty International Center, which coordinates global health research; and increases fees for Food and Drug Administration pre-market review of medical products. 

The president will eliminate funding for Community Development Block Grants, cutting $3 billion; eliminate funding for community development groups that create affordable housing; eliminate HOME Investment Partnerships Program, Choice Neighborhoods, and the Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program, cutting more than $1.1 billion. 

Trump’s wall will be built at the expense of the land in which it is staked and the natural materials from which it is constructed. The Los Angeles Times reports that Trump’s budget “reduces National Forest System land-acquisition programs; eliminates the water and wastewater loan and grant program; reduces staffing in U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Service Center Agencies; cuts funding for the Clean Power Plan and international climate change programs; diminishes the role of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, which uses civil and criminal litigation to target the most serious water, air and chemical hazards; and decreases federal support for employment services programs for unemployed seniors and disadvantaged youth, shifting the responsibility to state and local agencies.” 

Sadly, I can go on. Trump’s budget cuts $60 million from the Bureau of International Labor Affairs; eliminates training grants from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration; eliminates or reduces more than 20 education based programs, including Striving Readers, Teacher Quality Partnership and International Education; and eliminates $1.2 billion for before- and after-school programs as well as summer programs. 

But who needs clean water, safe food and after-school programs when you have a “big, beautiful wall?”

 

(George Cassidy Payne is a SUNY Adjunct Humanities Instructor and founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International. This piece was posted first at Creative Commons.) 

-cw

In This Cyber Era, Machines Wage War but Human’s Still Pull the Trigger

FEAR, HONOR AND INTEREST-Over the past quarter century, the information technology revolution has transformed relations between people and between states, including in the conduct of warfare. For the U.S. military, the manifestations of this revolution have covered the full spectrum from the dramatic to the prosaic. Unmanned aerial vehicles, ships, and ground systems now carry increasingly sophisticated surveillance capabilities and precision guided weapons. (General Petraeus with President Obama-photo above.) 

Less visible, but also hugely important, has been development of the ability to integrate and analyze vast quantities of intelligence from all sources and determine precise locations of friendly and enemy elements. Finally, we cannot overlook growth of the seemingly matter-of-fact but nonetheless essential reliance on email, video teleconferences, and applications like PowerPoint to communicate, share information, plan, and perform the tasks of command and control. 

Information technologies that did not exist at the time of the first Gulf War are now so fundamental to the conduct of military operations that it is difficult to imagine functioning without them. And the growth of the internet, social media, and now the “Internet of Things” represents a further stage in the information technology revolution whose full consequences are still unfolding. Nonetheless, some preliminary implications of such cyber capabilities for warfare are already clear. 

First, cyberspace is itself now an entire new battlefield domain, adding to the existing domains of land, sea, air, subsea, and space. This reality has enormous ramifications for military doctrine, operations, organizational structures, training, materiel, leadership development, personnel requirements, and military facilities. Most significantly, it adds a powerful new element to the challenges of the simultaneous “multi-domain warfare” in which we are now already engaged and for which we need to do more to prepare in the future. 

Second, cyber technology is adding another element to the already ongoing dispersion and fragmentation of global power. While no nation has contributed more to the growth of the internet and the digitized world than the United States (and no nation has developed more sophisticated cyber military capabilities), the nature of these technologies ultimately presents one more disruptive challenge to the preeminence that the U.S. has enjoyed since the end of the Cold War, as others exploit the potential of offensive cyber capabilities in new and increasingly sophisticated and diabolical ways. 

Examples of this include the use of cyberspace by extremist networks like ISIS and Al-Qaeda to inspire far-flung terrorist strikes; by Russia to wage ideological and political warfare that seeks to undermine the cohesion and self-confidence of the Western democracies; and by China to collect the technological know-how that is speeding its already rapid rise and undercutting America’s conventional military edge and industrial advantages. 

Security in the century ahead will depend more on our moral imagination -- and with it, the ability to develop concepts of restraint -- than it will on amazing technological breakthroughs. 

Third, cyber capabilities are further blurring the boundaries between wartime and peacetime, and between civilian and military spaces. These are distinctions that have, for various reasons, been eroding in recent decades and which technological developments are now accelerating. At present, it is likewise clear that offensive capabilities are outstripping defensive and retaliatory options. And as long as difficulties in identifying and attributing responsibility for cyberattacks persist, that reality is likely to undercut deterrence and encourage aggression in cyberspace. 

Yet even as technological changes inspire us to speculate on the future of warfare, perhaps the most important insights about the implications of the cyber age can be gleaned from the past.

While technology promises to disrupt the conduct of war, it is equally important to recognize what it will not alter -- namely, the causes of war, which continue to lie in the character of humanity. As Thucydides documented more than two millennia ago, it is the elemental forces of fear, honor, and interest that are the wellsprings of conflict, and it is often the choices of individual leaders that determine how conflicts develop. 

It was for this reason, in fact, that, when I was in uniform, I argued against the concept of “network-centric warfare” -- put forward in the late 1990s -- and instead contended that a better formulation would be “network-enabled, leadership-centric warfare.” It is, after all, still leaders who determine strategies and make the key decisions. And even as development of autonomous weapons systems and other such capabilities proceeds, parameters for actions by such systems will continue to be established by human beings. 

Furthermore, history suggests that humanity’s capacity for technical innovation often outpaces our strategic thinking and development of ethical norms. Indeed, the methodical development of doctrine around nuclear weapons by the “Wizards of Armageddon” in the 1950s and 1960s, which did much to help prevent a nuclear apocalypse, appears to have been the exception rather than the norm. More typical is the experience of the European powers of the early 20th century, which failed to recognize that the mass industrialized armies they were constructing were the components of a doomsday machine that would unleash a civilizational slaughter that none of the combatants had previously considered possible. 

As we and other major powers race to develop cutting-edge cyber capabilities -- expanding swiftly into realms such as robotics, bioengineering, and artificial intelligence -- we would be wise to devote equal energy and attention to considering the full implications of our ingenuity. Security in the century ahead will depend more on our moral imagination -- and with it, the ability to develop concepts of restraint -- than it will on amazing technological breakthroughs. 

This in turn suggests a final reality about warfare in the age of cyber. Regardless of the innovations that lie ahead, technology by itself will neither doom nor rescue the world. Responsibility for our fate, for better or worse, will remain stubbornly human.

 

(General David H. Petraeus (U.S. Army, Retired) is Chairman of the KKR Global Institute, a Judge Widney Professor at the University of Southern California, and a member of the board of Optiv, a global cybersecurity services firm. He culminated his military career with six consecutive commands, five of which were in combat, and then served as Director of the CIA. This essay was posted first at Zocalo Public Square produced by the Berggruen Institute and Zócalo Public Square, on what war looks like in the cyber age.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Time for a Change, Already!

AT LENGTH--We are just over the 60-day mark of Trump’s first 100 days in office and he has yet to do anything that would make the nation or the galaxy think, “Hey, he’s making America great.”

As for his legendary deal-making prowess, his repeal-and-replace health care legislation that went down in flames speaks for itself.

There are those, however, who continue to shout the refrain, “Give him a chance.”  Clearly that’s not an option for the nearly 66 million who voted against Trump. As we’ve seen from the day of his inauguration, there are just a whole lot of Americans who are not going to just sit back and take what #45 is dishing out — at least, not without a fight.

The Democrats are finally starting to look like they have some fight left in them — from sanctuary cities to the state house, to Gov. Jerry Brown saying that Trump “doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about” on health care. OK, so now that the Dems have finally got their nerve back up, who’s actually got the lead on the resistance?

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn) on the Senate Judiciary Committee tore into Republicans for their contradictory positions on blocking President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland, saying their arguments reminded him of his past life as a comedian on Saturday Night Live.

“I used to make a living identifying absurdity,” Franken said at the top of fiery remarks in the committee hearing. “I’m hearing a lot of it today.”

But even satire can’t slap some folks into governing with common sense. It will take more political craft — something that is in short supply as the Republican majority in Congress splinters between fiscal conservatives, Freedom Caucus right-wingers and GOP moderates. All the Democrats had to do was hold tight and stay loyal to core liberal values, while the Republican infighting imploded party unity. Trump is still looking for someone to blame.

The universe, it is said, abhors a vacuum, including the somewhat curious part of it known as Washington D.C. where the vacuous arguments about government seem to be spiraling dangerously out of control.

At this point, the idea that healthcare is a right and not a privilege (an idea  proposed back in 1944, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the Second Bill of Rights), now seems to have passed its latest test of survival.

Roosevelt’s argument was that the “political rights” guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights had “proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.”

His remedy was to declare an “economic bill of rights” to guarantee these specific rights:

  • Employment, food, clothing, and leisure with enough income to support them
  • Farmers’ rights to a fair income
  • Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies
  • Housing, medical care, Social Security and education

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that these are the core issues opposed by the Tea Party Freedom Caucus and the antithesis of which the Republican Party stands.  It is curious that one of the few Democrats who has clearly taken the lead on these issues is former presidential candidate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who continues to be the sole Independent in Congress to huddle with the Dems.

In the wake of the Republican failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, leading figures in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party — Sanders among them — are rallying behind a single-payer health insurance. These lawmakers and grassroots leaders have long believed that the problems plaguing the ACA are rooted in the original health care law’s attempt to accommodate, rather than gradually replace, the private, for-profit health insurance system.

“We have got to have the guts to take on the insurance companies and the drug companies and move forward toward a ‘Medicare For All,’ single-payer program,” said Sen. Sanders  on MSNBC’s  All In with Chris Hayes on Friday night after the vote failed. “And I’ll be introducing legislation shortly to do that.”

Sanders’ call “to have the guts … for a single-payer program” is the clarion call to action to progressive Democrats as well as old New Deal Democrats to act while the confusion in the Republican Party reigns.

For the Senate to pass this bill, they would only have to convince five moderate GOP senators to switch sides, but in the House of Representatives they’d have to find 44 — a daunting challenge. The success of this strategy comes down to whether the Dems are better at the “craft” of governance (and deal-making) to overcome the current political warfare that has ruled Washington for the past six years.

The advantage in this situation goes to the ones who have the guts, courage and a plan to lead rather than just oppose.

(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy - Don't listen to that man with the white cap - he might say something that you agree with!" He has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen…and other views and news at: randomlengthsnews.com.)

Time for a War on Coal in Christmas Stockings

JUST SAYIN’--First there was a so-called war on Christmas. Now Trump says there's been a war on coal. We're so tired of the Republicans declaring policy war on things that we're ready for a war on coal in Christmas stockings. For that one Americans should take up arms.

From pronouncing his blessing on Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipeline, to his most recent move to prop up coal mining, Trump has declared a full out war on the environment. By his executive orders he's trying to make America a 19th century energy user again.

The fact is that coal mining was and is a dying industry. Just among fossil fuels it has been losing the battle to cheaper natural gas. And as foul as the fracking is to produce the gas, calling coal "clean" is a1984 perversion … a black is white, P.R. fraud that flies ash in the face of reality.

At a time when fossil fuels are blowing up global warming, what Trump is doing is the exact opposite of wise policy.

Even his fellow Republicans having talked to Trump one on one on issue are appalled at how little he knows, and is even less interested in learning.

But as fast as his Russian collusion scandal is blowing up, with nearly his entire team lying about their Russian ties, even as they are caught red-handed (so to speak) we may well soon be rid of him.

That can't be a bad thing, with him doing as much damage by executive order as fast as he can. Policy-wise Pence would be just as bad, but without Trump the narcissistic promoter he can at least be slowed down.

As a candidate it started as chronic lying day one and has continued to worsen.

The coal miners don't realize it yet, but what Trump will actually deliver in their Christmas stockings is their very own coal, in the form of more mountain top destruction, more stream pollution, and inexorable for all humanity, increasing global warming and destruction of our environment.

Trump claimed during his campaign that America was like a third world country. His actions will actually help make that lie reality.

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

-cw

New Poll: Trump Budget Horrifies Majority of Voters … Don’t Want Elmo Fired!

Most Americans don't want Elmo to get fired

They also don't want enormous funding cuts to medical research, after-school and summer programs, new road and transit projects, climate change research, and a program to help low income people heat their homes.

Those cuts—and many more—comprise the "morally obscene" budget put together by the Trump administration, and a new Quinnipiac poll published Friday demonstrates that those proposals are deeply unpopular with most Americans.

The numbers showing widespread disapproval of President Donald Trump's budget are out just as public figures call for a "total shutdown" of government over the president's alleged ties to Russia, and as Trump grapples with the collapse of his attempt to pass a cruel and unpopular healthcare bill.

This latest poll also comes on the heels of other recent surveys that show tanking public support for the president and his policies.

Trump's proposed severe funding cuts face disapproval by huge margins. The budget's slashing of public funding for medical research, for example, faces a whopping 87 percent disapproval, with only ten percent of respondents voicing approval.

"By wide margins," Quinnipiac notes, "American voters say other proposed cuts are a 'bad idea:'"

  • 84 - 13 percent against cutting funding for new road and transit projects;
  • 67 - 31 percent against cuts to scientific research on the environment and climate change;
  • 83 - 14 percent against cutting funding for after-school and summer school programs;
  • 66 - 27 percent against eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities;
  • 79 - 17 percent against eliminating the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

President Donald Trump's oft-repeated campaign promise to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border is also a "bad idea," 64 percent of respondents said. Only 35 percent approved of the wall.

"[W]hen it comes to cutting public TV, the arts, after-school programs, and scientific research to improve the environment, it's a stern 'hands off' from voters," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. "And that wall? Forget it."

Respondents supported just two aspects of the budget: increased funding for health programs provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (85 - 13 percent), and increased military funding (58 - 39 percent).

Most Americans also don't agree with significantly increasing funding for charter schools and school voucher programs, as the budget proposes. In addition, they believe that tax cuts to the wealthy are a bad idea (74 - 22 percent), an opinion even shared by most Republicans (50-43 percent).

When it comes to the budget, it seems that quite a lot of voters agree with progressive critics such as the Institute for Policy Studies, which argues that "[i]n cut after cut, the proposal pours salt in the wounds of the very working people Trump pledged to help."

Moreover, an overwhelming majority—73 percent—are "very concerned" or "somewhat concerned" about the climate crisis, and 59 percent want the U.S. to do more to address it. The Trump administration, meanwhile, is committed to denying climate science and obliterating environmental regulations. (The poll also found that most voters don't want Trump to repeal those regulations.)

In answers to questions about other controversies swirling around the Trump administration—namely, the allegations that Trump's campaign was linked to Russia and the ongoing court defeats of his immigration policies—it's clear that voters are not on Trump's side, either.

The majority of respondents oppose the Muslim ban, and support the court decisions blocking it. They also oppose his now-rescinded ban on all refugees entering the U.S.

Sixty-three percent of respondents are "very concerned" or "somewhat concerned" about Trump's relationship with Russia, and 65 percent believe that alleged Russian interference in the November election is a "very important" or "somewhat important" issue.

A wide majority also supports an independent investigation into the connections between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

The poll was conducted from March 16 to 21, and Quinnipiac surveyed 1,056 voters nationwide in phone calls to landlines and cell phones. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.

(Nika Knight writes for Common Dreams … where this report was first posted.)

-cw

Repeal and Replace vs. Repair and Improve?

THE DOCTOR IS IN--One of the nice things about "keeping up" on Facebook is that we bump into those bright minds that helped shape us in our developing years and, to our delight, we discover they really made something of themselves.  Hence, when my old Jewish religious school classmate, Dr. Lori Lander Goodman, came up with the idea of "Repair and Improve" now that "Repeal and Replace" failed, I felt the need to continue with the theme of my last articles about the need to create a replacement for the ACA. 

The American Health Care Act (AHCA) appears to have failed (for now), which might cause some gloating, anger, joy, and scorn (depending on where you are politically), but for those of us able to compartmentalize the political and the policy-making, and for those of us able to compartmentalize the ideology from the need to develop a coherent and sustainable health care policy... 

... it's not over.  It's really not.  No need for joy, or anger ... just a willingness to accept a few hard truths, not the least of which there is a need to not make this problem (health care affordability and access) fixed in a manner that doesn't alienate large hunks of the general population. 

Like it or not, it was a BIG, if not fatal, mistake for the Democratic Party of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama to create an Affordable Care Act (ACA) that was so partisan.  It's easy to say that the GOP was the party of "no", but for those of us who remember through nonpartisan eyes it did appear that the Democrats were pretty quick to say "no" to any GOP ideas or additions. 

So get over yourselves that the Democratic Party was great in establishing the ACA--look what happened to the makeup of Congress and state legislatures. 

But ditto for those in the GOP--including and especially House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump, who darned well should have known better--than to create an AHCA that was as partisan as the ACA it was supposed to replace. 

And why oh why was there such a rush?  Just to say this was placed on the President's desk for signing by Easter?  Did the public even understand it, let alone the House?   

For example, only today did I get this summary, which probably would have made it easier to figure out what the heck the AHCA was. 

Remember, Speaker Ryan, what happened when former Speaker Pelosi told the nation we had to pass something to know what was in it? 

To Democratic partisans, they're relieved and overjoyed ... but the ACA is still spiraling down because of a lack of affordability and sustainability. 

To conservative Republican/libertarian partisans, they're similarly relieved and overjoyed...but the nation is NOT going back to pre-ACA realities, and they've just threatened their own political dominance of the House in 2018. 

And for those of us in the middle--whether it is Dr. Goodman (specializing in child abuse prevention and intervention) and myself (a dermatologist)--there's probably more confusion and concern as to how to get past this as a nation. 

The overriding historical legacy of President Barack H. Obama should be, and probably will be, that the era of "doing nothing and letting market forces rule health care" is over. 

It will be up to President Donald J. Trump to determine how to ensure how, or even if, market forces and government mandates can find an economically viable, and sustainable, medium. 

The House Freedom Caucus and President Trump are not on good speaking terms right now, and it will be up to moderates, both Republican and Democrat, who value "deal-making" to step up and find common ground

Meanwhile, President Trump will move on to tax reform, which is arguably what he should have focused on first.  And no, I don't think that businesses, Wall Street, and individual taxpayers want to wait until August to find out which way our taxes will be going.  

But as the door is opened by President Trump and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to the Democrats to discuss health care reform it should be emphasized that there are a lot of Americans--mainly Democrat, but certainly many Republican, who do NOT want our federal deficit and debt repaired on the backs of the poor and in ill health. 

Our economy is not where it should be, thanks to not just one but two past Presidents, and 2017 is the wrong year to tell everyone to "buck up" and "tighten their belts". 

So where can a divided Republican party go to get past the health care issue to become the new "majority" instead of a "perpetual minority”? 

Certainly, the GOP leadership and President Trump need to find some common ground, particularly on the one true safety net that has both saved many a patient's medical and financial life (to say nothing of their family's lives):   

Medicaid. 

When Medicaid provides a safety net and provides health for those with disastrous medical conditions, it's a wonderful thing.  When Medicaid (called Medi-Cal) is abused by ne'er-do-wells and dished out to those not supposed to be on that form of government relief, it's a horrible thing. 

More money to the sick?  Certainly. 

More money to the healthy?  Certainly not. 

And government oversight and mandates is NOT the same as creating a monstrous, expensive bureaucracy that should only be overseeing how state and local governments are operating the Medicaid program--and, more importantly, what those state and local governments are doing to get healthy Medicaid recipients OFF of that program. 

Are the healthy and able-bodied required to work ten (or some other number) hours a week for their health care, paid for by the taxpayers?  There are jobs they can and should be assigned to do, and they should either do those jobs or be sent to the county clinic for their free health care. 

Are the Medicaid programs funded and operated well?  Certainly, there's a growth industry in Medicaid who opposed the AHCA, but while they offer a host of excellent reforms for Medicaid, the state and local governments should incentivize healthy individuals to both get a job in order to KEEP their health care, and/or incentivize businesses to hire workers and offer benefits. 

That's "incentivize" folks, not "beat down" businesses to offer benefits. 

Which means goodbye business mandates, and hello business tax credits, to get more workers hired WITH benefits. 

And which also means goodbye individual mandates, but offer incentives to have individuals get their own insurance...and offer more variety of plans between states as well as bare-boned plans that don't require couples in their 50's to purchase insurance that covers pediatric psychiatry. 

The AHCA just went down ... for now ... but the ACA is also going down.  They're going down. 

But WE don't have to go down.  Common ground is hard, but common ground provides incentives for us as a nation to help those who've been laid low for the mere "crime" of being sick ... and for giving a boot in the rear to those who are able to take care of themselves, and should have been taking care of themselves for many years now. 

Whether it's "Repeal and Replace" or "Repair and Improve", the option of doing nothing cannot, and should not, ever be an option for the American people.

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected]. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)

-cw

Supreme Court: Eight is Enough

GELFAND’S WORLD--The senate Democrats are right to filibuster Trump's Supreme Court appointment. There are plenty of reasons, including the appointee's judicial philosophy. But there is one overriding reason, the one that Democrats haven't been explaining very well. Let's give it a try. 

The Republicans in the U.S. Senate made it clear from the moment of Barack Obama's inauguration that they intended to obstruct everything that the new president tried to do. They would do everything in their power to make Obama into a failure, and in so doing, cause him to fail to be reelected. Senator Mitch McConnell made this explicit. The Republicans failed in preventing Obama's reelection, but the policy of obstruction continued. 

In 2016, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died. Under the Constitution, the president is empowered to appoint Supreme Court justices, and the appointees take office provided that they receive the consent of the Senate. McConnell and his colleagues said that they would not consent to any Obama appointee. They were willing to stall until a new president took office. 

In effect, the senate Republicans established an 8 member Supreme Court as national policy. That policy was intended to continue until the United States got a president that the senate Republicans liked. They made various unimpressive arguments to explain the new line, but in actuality it was a raw power grab. 

As reprehensible as this tactic was, it wasn't all that surprising. More than a decade ago, economist and political analyst Paul Krugman had been warning the American people that the Republican Party had become something different from a classical conservative party. It was, he pointed out, a revolutionary force that was willing to break any rule and violate any precedent. 

The refusal by senate Republicans even to hold hearings on Obama's nomination was more than just a routine parliamentary maneuver. It is what historians and political analysts would refer to as a provocation. In the world of diplomacy, a provocation is something that the opposition must respond to or, in failing to do so, lose face and influence. A provocation is intended to reduce one's opponent's power and simultaneously to inflict humiliation. That's the course of conduct that the senate Republicans followed throughout Obama's presidency. 

A policy that blocks the right of a president to nominate a justice to an open court seat certainly is a provocation. Notice that there have been fights over Supreme Court appointments in the past, the most notable being that of Robert Bork. But the Bork nomination was handled according to the normal procedures of the Senate. Bork did not gain a seat on the court, but another controversial appointee, Clarence Thomas, was confirmed. 

The Republican response to Obama's nomination took obstruction to a new level. It was a provocation that must be answered if the Democrats are to maintain any semblance of credibility. 

The proper approach is for the Democrats in the U.S. Senate to make clear that once the Republicans established the 8-justice doctrine, even for just the last year of Obama's second term, the Democrats have had no choice but to respond in kind. The Democrats should make clear that there will be no Trump appointees to the Supreme Court confirmed during this four year term. That would not be a revolutionary act on the part of the Democrats, but merely a reflection of the precedent established by the Republicans in 2016. To use the old phrase, turnabout is fair play. 

This does not mean that the eight justice system needs to continue indefinitely. It might be possible for some sort of deal to be cut, but it would involve a good faith negotiation. 

Alternatively, the Republicans can try to abolish the right to filibuster Supreme Court nominations, but this "nuclear option," as it has been called, might be hard to execute. If any three Republican senators vote No, then the nuclear option won't succeed. 

In one way, this story is analogous to an interaction with a school yard bully. You either fight back or he owns you. It's time for the senate Democrats to fight back. Eight will suffice. 

Addenda 

During the preparation of this column, I became aware of a piece by Bill Humphrey titled Eight is enough for now: Unpacking the Supreme Court.  It first appeared in The Globalist and was picked up by Salon.com. It provides a detailed historical and legal analysis of the current situation and, as its title indicates, comes to much the same conclusion as what is stated here -- that there is no compelling reason to confirm a ninth justice at this particular moment. Bill Humphrey's piece is definitely worth a read. 

Meanwhile, it's somewhat amusing to listen to the bleating and whining of Trump administration spokesmen. The latest complaint, in response to the failure of the Republicans' healthcare bill, is that the administration is learning that everything is more broken than they first realized. Let's try to translate that into English: They have suddenly discovered what the term checks and balances actually means, and they think it is a bad thing. To quote the old adage, that is a feature, not a bug. The irony is that the most conservative wing in the House of Representatives was threatened by Trump for having the nerve to make use of this feature, and they laughed in his face. 

It's also of interest that Donald Trump is talking about dropping repeal of Obamacare and moving on towards other issues. One possible interpretation is that Trump was never all that interested in the subject, and when he discovered (seemingly for the first time) that health care is ‘complicated’, he lost interest in seeing things through.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])

-cw

The Wizard Behind Trump’s Curtain: Steve Bannon

CORRUPTION WATCH--America has four political parties in Congress, and thus, Congress has become a de facto parliament in which the President can govern if and only if he puts together a ruling coalition. The four American parties are: 

  1. The Tea Baggers: They have renamed themselves the Freedom Caucus and are the right wing True Believers; everything is their way or the highway. By their nature, they cannot play nicely with others. In fact, they cannot play at all with the other kids in the political sandbox. 
  1. The Alt-Left Democrats: This faction includes Punch a Nazi in the Face people who favor violence in public gatherings. During the campaign, the Trump supporters perpetrated the violence, but since the election, it seems to be the Alt-Left that starts the violence -- as happened in Huntington Beach (Orange County) California last Saturday. These trolls push others out of the sand box altogether. 
  1. The non-tea bagger GOP: This part of the GOP is motivated by one thing: power. Lust for power is often a bad thing. “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” said Lord Acton in 1887. Our Constitution is based on the need to constrain one power block with another power block.   
  1. The run-of-the mill Democrats: These politicos are like most in the GOP as they also only want power. They look to the Politics of Identity as their demographic savior. This is not the place to disabuse them of that self-deception. 

Bannon – The True Threat to the Trump Presidency 

None of these four parties pose as lethal a threat to Trump as does Steve Bannon with his agenda to destroy government. 

Nothing in Trump’s history ties him to Bannon’s destructionist philosophy. While Trump himself is devoid of any coherent political philosophy, he should be astute enough to recognize true disloyalty to him. Let’s be clear – Trump’s demand for loyalty involves personal loyalty to him. Bannon’s goal of destroying government requires the destruction of the Trump Presidency. If Trump is too mentally dense to figure out he’s being stabbed in the back, tripped in the dark and shoved down the stairs backwards by Steve Bannon -- then he’s beyond all hope. 

How the American Parliamentary System Works 

This year, 2017, is the first time America has had four political parties in Congress, and thus, it’s the first time it could operate as a type of “parliament” in which the President can succeed only by putting together a ruling coalition. 

There is only one ruling coalition: center GOP and center Dems. These two groups form the only combination able to give Trump a governing majority. As the tea bagger Freedom Caucus has shown, they will work with no one. But they have only thirty-six members; alone, they can accomplish nothing. Trump tried to put together a governing coalition of the Freedom Caucus members and the rest of the GOP. However, the tea baggers proved that such a coalition is impossible. Consequently, Trump has only one option. 

The general GOP has been held hostage by the tea naggers since 2010. The sole reason for this is that they feared losing power if they did not toe the right-wing line. On Friday, March 24, 2017, the GOP escaped the clutches of the Freedom Caucus – maybe they are smart enough now to see the open door and walk out of captivity. 

Power is the Glue that Holds Government Together 

Without the power to accomplish things, there can be no governing. The only functional combination will be between Trump (who used to be a Democrat) and a coalition of the moderate GOP (who want to be rid of their domestic Talibanese) and the Schumer Democrats.   

Will Sen. Chuck Schumer allow the left-wing talibanese in his a party to intimidate him into remaining powerless, risking that the tea baggers will gain more members in November 2018? As the tea baggers scream and holler and get bank-rolled for 2018, the Alt-Left will be their natural counterbalance. But unfortunately, Americans will be further polarized. Schumer knows that in politics, access to power heals all wounds. 

What Item to Tackle First 

Here the situation becomes complicated. Forging this new parliamentary alliance is child’s play compared to deciding which items to address and how to address them. It’s certainly not tackling the freaking Wall or the approval of Neil Gorsuch. The Wall was simply Trump’s replacement for the idiotic claim that Obama is a Muslim. Approval of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court would be a win for the tea baggers. The Wall plan needs to go to the back burner and the Dems have to make sure Gorsuch does not get 60 votes. 

Then, the Trump Parliamentary Alliance can move ahead to what both the vast majority of the GOP and the Dem electorate want: a sound economy

The Looming Disaster of Mercantilism 

Trump has to set aside his so-called tax reform as well as his Mercantilism from 1550. He is so wedded to 16th Century Mercantilism that getting him to understand its dangers will be difficult. This Mercantilist philosophy only serves Bannon’s agenda to wreck the government. Like almost all businessmen, Trump’s comprehension of macro-economics is worse than non-existent. 

The repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999 and other economic policy decisions around the year 2000 led us into a new economic system known as “Corruptionism.” This crashed the economy in 2008 and now we are gearing up for another Crash. Obama-Geithner blew a chance to jettison Corruptionism and get back to Keynesian economics. Instead, they decided to give trillions of dollars to Wall Street, send Middle America to bankruptcy court and pave the way for Trump’s Politics of Revenge. 

My nomination to head Trump’s economic policy is former Senator Byron Dorgan, who is currently with Washington D.C. law firm Arent Fox, LLP. Whether Dorgan becomes Secretary of the Treasury in the place of Mnuchin (who could be moved to be head of international trade,) or if Dorgan becomes head of the Council of Economic Advisors, a deal maker like Trump should create a place for the #1 person in the nation who correctly called the shots on the economy since 1994. 

A Formula for a Functioning Government 

  1. Get rid of Bannon and his cronies since their objective is to destroy government which entails destroying the Trump Presidency. 
  1. Make an alliance with the two center parties in Congress-parliament. 
  1. Address the macro-economic disaster which is just around the corner. The crash of 2008 hit at the end of Bush’s tenure, but the crash of 2018 will hit at the beginning of Trump’s tenure (which may be truncated by treasonous activity with Russia, which is a separate matter.)

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: [email protected]. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

'Whoa, Whoa, Whoa’ Sanders Says Democrat's Stubbornness Is Solution, Not Problem

VOICES--While intra-party disagreement among Republicans and a nationwide grassroots effort to stop the cruel and unpopular healthcare reform bill known as Trumpcare undoubtedly fueled its collapse on Friday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Sunday morning made it quite clear that Democrats not cooperating with Donald Trump and the GOP's regressive agenda is not the problem that needs addressing on Capitol Hill.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa," Sanders told CNN's Dana Bash during an interview when she asked if he would reach across the aisle to Republicans and tell Democrats to "stop being intransigent" with Trump and the Republicans on healthcare.

Cutting off Bash with a smile, Sanders said, "Look, what rational people would say is, 'What are the problems? And how do we fix it?' Are deductibles too high? Of course they are. Are there some parts of the country where people don't have a choice? Yes, that's true. Let us do, among other things, a public option. Let us give people in every state of this country a public option from which they can choose. Let's talk about lowering the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 55. Let's deal with the greed of the pharmaceutical industry. Those are areas that we can work together on."

On Friday night, after the spectacular collapse of Trumpcare (officially the American Health Care Act of AHCA) in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Sanders discussed the implications of the defeat and announced that he would soon introduce new Medicare for All legislation.

And on Sunday, speaking with CNN's Bash, Sanders again drew the connections between the downfall of the GOP plan and the need for a Medicare-for-All solution:

As Common Dreams reported Friday, the collapse of the AHCA has now opened the door for Democrats to go on the offensive when it comes to solving the real shortcomings of the nation's healthcare system and a growing number of progressive organizations and labor unions are now actively calling for, and organizing around, a demand for Medicare for All.

(Jon Queally writes for Common Dreams … where this perspective was first posted.)

-cw

Comparing the Onset of the Trump Presidency to the Rise of Adolph Hitler

GELFAND’S WORLD--There is a tradition on the internet that the use of analogies to Hitler and the Nazis are disqualifying. This unofficial rule was originally stated by Mike Godwin back in 1990 and is known colloquially as Godwin's Law. That tradition may now be obsolete, having been surpassed by current events. In a talk this week, distinguished historian and author Timothy Snyder rejected our hesitancy to discuss the Nazis and the holocaust, particularly with respect to the way that Hitler's rise parallels much of what we are seeing in the American political landscape. He paints a grim picture of the methods that turn democracies into tyrannies, but offers lessons by which to resist the process and to survive if possible. 

His book On Tyranny is subtitled Twenty lessons from the twentieth century. It's a mere 126 pages from cover to cover and physically small enough to fit in your jacket pocket. Snyder points out that what has just happened in America parallels what happened in Ukraine just a few years earlier. A giant campaign of disinformation originating in a foreign power was used to attempt to affect a national election. As Snyder explains, the foreign power is Russia, and the plan was effective in America. The Ukrainians were better able to resist the Russian propaganda campaign. 

Snyder spoke to a packed crowd at Writers Bloc on Tuesday night. If the audience reaction suggests anything, it is that On Tyranny is going to be read by lots of people and will become, alongside the Indivisible guide, the manual for how to deal with the Trump years. Snyder's book is darker and more ominous, making the Indivisible guide seem optimistic by comparison. His analysis and the accompanying corollaries are chilling. 

As Snyder explains both in person and through his book, the situation in the United States under the new presidency goes beyond mere electoral misfortune. It is regime change. What Snyder means by that term is developed more fully in the book, but comes down to the idea that our idea of American democracy is not inevitably destined to survive. The process is not automatic. Other western democracies failed, turning into dictatorships during the 1930s and '40s. We've taken a dangerous first step. 

I'll mention just a few of the twenty lessons. 

Lesson one says, "Do not obey in advance." It seems obvious, but it isn't. As Snyder points out, people tend to follow along and even anticipate what will be expected of them. I'll quote the lesson in its entirety: 

"Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do." 

Snyder expands and explains the lesson through the history of how Nazi rule arose out of a free election, bit by bit gobbling up the institutions that might have withstood Hitler but ultimately failed. 

Lesson Ten says, "Believe in truth." Here is the expanded description: "To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights." 

The idea isn't new; it's something that most ethical journalists treat as an implicit assumption. But putting Believe in Truth right up there as an explicit principle is something that we need. If nothing else, it is a statement to the opposition who have accepted Trump's big lie campaign as, if nothing else, amusing. It's time that we remind Trump followers that truth is something that matters. 

Some of the lessons are more appropriate to people who live in already-fascist countries. "Make eye contact and small talk." 

Snyder summarizes a point that has occurred to many of us. When Donald Trump attempted to blame any future terrorist attack on federal judges who uphold the Constitution and civil rights, it was a first step towards preparing the American people to turn against their fellow citizens and to accept significant loss of freedom. Snyder says, "Be calm when the unthinkable arrives . . . When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power." Snyder develops the argument by referring to the 1933 fire that burned the German Reichstag (the parliament building). Hitler used the fire to blame his enemies, tear down the authority of legitimate institutions, and consolidate power in himself. 

Notice that there is a tendency for the reviewer (either the person who interviewed Snyder at Writers Bloc or yours truly) to take up one's favorite lessons from the book and quote them. I suspect that a lot of people will be doing this in the near future. I happen to like "Be kind to our language" and "Stand out." The former was explored by George Orwell. The latter is the warning that because there are some philosophies and movements that you should not follow, there are times when you should not be a follower. 

One thread in these arguments is a little jarring, so there is an argument that has to be made explicitly. As mentioned above, Snyder brought it up and discussed it at Writers Bloc. The issue is using the history of the holocaust in present day discussions about present day politics. 

The counterargument has some merit. The Nazi holocaust was such supreme evil that it stands out against most other human history. Snyder points out that treating the holocaust as unique and not to be spoken of lightly has a certain validity. But he then argues that if we treat the holocaust as a sort of sacred subject that is out of bounds for use in comparisons, then how can we use it to extract lessons for the present day? Timothy Snyder is ready and willing to compare the onset of the Trump presidency to the rise of Adolph Hitler. 

It turns out that Snyder is not alone in rejecting the underlying tenets of Godwin's Law, at least for one tongue in cheek statement in the Urban Dictionary

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])

-cw

Trump’s 37 Percent Has a Not So Hidden Meaning

PERSPECTIVE--A recent poll showed Donald Trump’s approval rating at 37 percent. This compares unfavorably with every president since pollsters started tracking these attitudes. Those on the left are gleefully pointing to these numbers as proof that many who voted for Trump are experiencing buyer’s remorse. Those on the right are dismissing the poll results as fake news. 

That 37 percent is meaningful for another reason. It represents, more or less, the hardcore Trump supporters. Probably about a third of Americans will believe, buy and blindly endorse anything and everything they are told by Fox News, alt-right websites, and anyone working for the White House propaganda machine. 

Last year, at the time of the Republican national convention, I read a lengthy Q & A with operatives from the campaigns of three of Trump’s primary season opponents -- Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush. The major takeaway was that Trump started his campaign with a solid base of about one-quarter of the Republican electorate. 

One of those interviewed talked about daily polling done by his campaign organization which showed that this base never wavered. It didn’t matter what Trump said or did, these voters were with him. The campaign managers all said they expected Trump would finally step over the line and his support would fade. That never happened. 

In January 2016, Trump said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, O.K.? It’s, like, incredible.” He was talking about the loyalty of his supporters. He wasn’t kidding. Thanks to that loyalty, Trump always had a head start on his rivals for the Republican nomination. It was an advantage he understood and exploited to maximum advantage. 

It’s an advantage he’s still exploiting. That’s why he’s out on the campaign trail again, giving speeches in places such as Florida and Kentucky, where he can turn out a friendly crowd. Don’t expect to see him in Los Angeles anytime soon. 

Who are these people, the 37 percent? Typically, they are more rural than urban. They are less educated. They tend to be less well off in economic terms. A large number of them are socially conservative and, considering Trump’s life story, surprisingly religious. More than anything else, they are white. 

Much is made of Trump’s popularity in small towns. Most everywhere in America, small town means white. Congressman Steve King of Iowa recently praised Dutch anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders, tweeting, “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” 

A lot of commentators condemned King’s statement. King didn’t think it was a big deal and said many of his Congressional colleagues congratulated him on his words. His district in Iowa is 97 percent white. Trump took about 61 percent of the vote there. 

For all the talk about economics and making America great again, it’s hard not to conclude that a large chunk of Trump’s believers are motivated by racism. Go to places like northwestern Iowa and ask people if they are racist. Almost all will say no. Ask them if that means they would accept their child marrying a person of another color and you will be met with stony silence. Or maybe you’ll be run out of town. 

Democrats talk about needing to develop a message about jobs and revitalizing the manufacturing economy as a tool to reach voters in small towns in the heart of America. What these politicos really need to understand is that it will never work. For too many outside the big cities, Democrat is a dirty word. Whether it’s one of three or one of four, there will always be a hard core of the electorate for whom skin color beats all other considerations. 

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and former Board of Neighborhood Commissioners commissioner. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: [email protected]) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

New Stats: Trump Delivering on His Jobs Promise … Especially on the Comic’s Circuit!

NO JOKE-There is one area where President Trump is already delivering on his campaign promise to create jobs … on the comic circuit.

Yes, there is now actually a shortage of comedians in America. Never have there been so many jokes waiting, even begging, to be told about a new administration, and such a severe shortage of people clever enough to tell them.

The major TV networks are struggling to meet the demand, with no end in sight. Comedy schools are running classes around the clock to keep up with it. Small blogs are being hit the hardest, being forced to repost clips from late night standup routines in an effort to stay in the game.

Trump says these new jobs will all be red-blooded American jobs. He’s even imposed an outright ban on importing jokes from predominantly Muslim countries, at least those that have a sense of humor and don't declare a fatwa on you if you poke fun at them.

Supporters of Trump are even stepping into the breach themselves, saying as many laughable things as they can think of. In fact, a guy to do ‘rim shots’ has been elevated to a cabinet position.

 

(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

Bernie Sanders’ Three Overdue Apologies

@THE GUSS REPORT-The axiomatic history of white men hashing out shady political deals in smoke-filled backrooms has come a long way, baby. On Friday, Donna Brazile, the former CNN commentator and interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, finally confessed to that which most already knew and that she spent the past half-year denying: rigging a March 2016 Democratic primary debate on CNN by funneling to the Hillary Clinton campaign at least one pre-screened audience question that she did not also provide to the Bernie Sanders campaign, which she had planned to do again in subsequent debates. 

In a defensive, just-published essay she wrote for Time Magazine, Brazile said she would regret that decision for the rest of her life. But while she deserves credit for finally coming clean, she continues to blame the Russians for her own actions, and fell short of apologizing to Sanders and every registered voter who deserved the opportunity to hear him make his case for the presidency on a level playing field.

But the situation is actually worse than that. 

On the literal eve of the DNC convention last July, Brazile was suddenly appointed to the interim DNC job when President Obama persuaded her predecessor, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, to step down from the role because Wikileaks had just released scores of internal DNC emails showing significant bias for Clinton and against Sanders -- including snarky comments about whether and how they should use Sanders’ Judaism, or perceived atheism, to sow distrust of him among Southern Baptists who, DNC officials figured, would trust Sanders if they felt he was Jewish, but not if they could be persuaded he was atheist. 

Immediately upon her appointment, Brazile published an apology on behalf of the DNC (that was not signed by Wasserman-Schultz) which read, “On behalf of everyone at the DNC, we want to offer a deep and sincere apology to Senator Sanders, his supporters, and the entire Democratic Party for the inexcusable remarks made over email…. These comments do not reflect the values of the DNC or our steadfast commitment to neutrality during the nominating process. The DNC does not — and will not — tolerate disrespectful language exhibited toward our candidates.”  

But at the same time Brazile was apologizing for DNC misconduct under Wasserman-Schultz, promising neutrality going forward, she knew that just a few months earlier, she committed similarly egregious acts prior to the March 6 CNN debate. The public didn’t find out about it until just a few days before the general election, when in late October Wikileaks dumped proof of it. 

Right up until Election Day on November 8, Brazile refused to verify that the October Wikileaks emails were hers, even playing the victim card in a riveting live interview with then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly, with Brazile claiming that she is a persecuted Christian woman. 

The DNC and Clinton campaign were perplexed and frightened throughout the election cycle by the organic enthusiasm that imbued Sanders’ entire run. It was completely unanticipated by them for a man from the state with the second lowest population, and who was portrayed by Larry David on Saturday Night Live as a lovable, impossibly honest, curmudgeon.

Clinton, for her part, also has yet to apologize for the misconduct of those on her campaign staff. Wasn’t the buck supposed to stop with her? What heroes they would all have been if they made it known to the public prior to the debates that they were given an unfair advantage!

About the same time as Brazile’s confession this past Friday, Clinton delivered a speech in Pennsylvania, hinting about returning to public life, jokingly saying, “it’s time to come out of the woods,” a reference to the numerous selfies taken by people encountering her on trail walks near her home in Chappaqua, N.Y. With the 2018 mid-terms not looking too rosy for the DNC, it will need all the help it can get gearing up for 2020. Clinton, Wasserman-Schultz and Brazile, women who didn’t just occupy, but owned, the smoke-filled backroom in 2016, would be wise to each offer a clear, concise and unequivocal two words to Sanders and every registered 2016 voter across all party lines: I apologize.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has contributed to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Most Young Americans (18-30 Yrs Old) See Trump as 'Illegitimate President': Poll

TRUMP WATCH--Responses were varied as to what made Trump's presidency seem illegitimate. Some said it was his nationalist rhetoric and policies; others said they doubted whether he was fairly elected. (Most young Americans see President Donald Trump as illegitimate, according to a new poll out Friday.

The survey by GenForward, conducted by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, found that 57 percent of adults between 18-30 years old—including three-quarters of black Americans and a large portion of Latinos and Asians—see Trump's presidency as illegitimate.

A slim majority of white young adults, 53 percent, consider him a legitimate president, but even among that group, 55 percent disapprove of the job he's doing.

Responses were varied as to what made Trump's presidency seem illegitimate. Some said it was his nationalist rhetoric and policies; others said they doubted whether he was fairly elected.

One respondent said he keeps remembering Trump giving a speech in which he referred to Mexicans as criminals and rapists. "You can't be saying that [if] you're the president," said the respondent, 21-year-old Jermaine Anderson, a student from Florida.

"I'm thinking, he's saying that most of the people in the world who are raping and killing people are the immigrants. That's not true," Anderson said.

Megan Desrochers, a 21-year-old student from Michigan, said, "I just think it was kind of a situation where he was voted in based on his celebrity status verses his ethics."

The poll of 1,833 adults age 18-30 was conducted February 16 through March 6. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams ... where this report was most recently posted.)

-cw

Fox News Poll: As Trump Divides, One Lawmaker Remains Huuugely Popular with American Voters

CONSERVATIVES AGREE--While it seems that the American public holds a dim view of most of its elected officials these days, a recent Fox News poll highlighted one lawmaker who has seemingly won over the majority of voters: Sen. Bernie Sanders

The survey, published Wednesday, found that 61 percent of respondents said they view the Independent senator from Vermont, an avowed Democratic socialist, favorably.

At the same time, only 32 percent of respondents said they approve of the the job that Democrats are doing in Congress (60 percent disapprove), and even less (29 percent) agree with the work of the GOP.

Notably, the polling comes as Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats and lost in a competitive presidential primary bid to Hillary Clinton, has faced antipathy from the party establishment. 

Pointing to the Fox News poll as well as a Huffington Post chart that tracks Sanders' favorability over time, the Guardian's Trevor Timm wrote Friday: "One would think with numbers like that, Democratic politicians would be falling all over themselves to be associated with Sanders, especially considering the party as a whole is more unpopular than the Republicans and even Donald Trump right now."

"Yet," Timm continued, "instead of embracing his message, the establishment wing of the party continues to resist him at almost every turn, and they seem insistent that they don't have to change their ways to gain back the support of huge swaths of the country."

But, as the conservative news survey seems to suggest, Sanders' message of economic justice may be one of the few points of popular resonance in the U.S. Case in point, earlier this week the progressive senator traveled to West Virginia to connect with supporters of President Donald Trump over the growing interest in a single-payer healthcare system.

Another interesting statistic from the Fox News poll: Planned Parenthood, the embattled women's healthcare provider widely scorned by Republican lawmakers, also boasts strong favorability among U.S. voters. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they are either 'strongly' or 'somewhat' in favor of Planned Parenthood, compared to only 32 percent who view the organization unfavorably.

Sanders' rating is the highest yet for the poll, which has also taken samples in September 2015, as well as in March, June, and August 2016. Planned Parenthood's popularity has also jumped 7 percent since August 2015.

Notably, Sanders is the only individual among those on the survey who broke 50 percent favorability. Some of the others include: Vice President Mike Pence (47 percent); President Donald Trump (44 percent); Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), with 39 percent; House Speaker Paul Ryan (37 percent); House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (33 percent); Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (26 percent); and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (20 percent).

(Lauren McCauley writes for Common Dreams … where this report was first posted.)

-cw

Missiles of October: A Crisis and a Time When Americans Trusted their Commander-in-Chief

GELFAND’S WORLD--Some of us here may be old enough to remember looking at black and white television as President John F. Kennedy spoke to the nation about offensive missiles that the Soviet Union was installing in Cuba. It was October, 1962. This recollection is stimulated by the reshowing on late night TV of the 1974 dramatization, The Missiles of October. Those with a critical eye will notice a much younger William Devane as the president and an equally younger Martin Sheen as Robert Kennedy. Even more curious, celebrated actor Ralph Bellamy played then ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson. Bellamy had previously starred in Sunrise at Campobello, a Broadway play about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a role he reprised on a local stage in Los Angeles. 

Why is this forty year old made-for-television movie of interest all of a sudden? Obviously there is the contrast between JFK and the current occupant of the office. But it is the nature of this contrast that is concerning, and therefore worth dissecting. 

The year 1962 found the western world and the Russian empire locked in an ideological struggle that had been escalating on the nuclear front for a decade. The development of the hydrogen bomb had made the world an unsafe place. The competition to be able to deliver thermonuclear explosives over long distances was an active area for technical research and military development. The placement of intermediate range ballistic missiles in Cuba would have made the United States more vulnerable at the time. One day, a U.S. spy plane brought back aerial photos from Cuba showing the construction of a missile site. 

The plot of the movie bounces back and forth between the Kennedys and Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev. Each leader is involved in intense debates which include their top military commanders and their foremost political analysts. Krushchev, as portrayed in this dramatization, first rationalizes the risk he is about to take and later begins to understand that the risk of a disastrous war is the result. And it is growing. 

JFK is faced with the task of getting the Russians to back down and to remove the missile emplacements. A ray of hope begins to develop as each side begins to understand that it is necessary to give the other a chance to compromise without losing face. 

The movie portrays Kennedy's inner circle as a group of influential men who bring enormous experience and education to the task. What begins to dawn on the present day viewer is that we are expected to view the characters as people with intelligence, honesty, and honor. It's not surprising that generals and admirals try to push the president in the direction of air strikes and invasion. JFK and his broth Bobby do their best to keep the war talk under control. But each of the participants shows respect towards all of the others. JFK knows how to give orders and the others understand how much they can push back. 

As the crisis continues, we realize that even a leader of the caliber of JFK is driven by real world events. Depending on how the Russians act, he may be forced to order the invasion. He understands the grave danger this would bring. 

That was real life in 1962. Over the past couple of election cycles, we have endured irritating political ads in which a telephone call to the White House at 3 AM about some developing world crisis is used to represent the immediacy of presidential responsibilities. 

In the year of 1974 when this televised movie appeared, viewers were entitled to consider the president and his advisors as people who took their responsibilities seriously, who brought depth and broad intelligence to the table, and who didn't lie to each other. There is a lot of back and forth in the movie about how to withhold information from the press and when exactly to reveal it. But there is no inkling of a president or a presidential press secretary telling lies just for the sake of trivial expediency. 

There is no doubt that The Missiles of October glorifies its participants and avoids their all too human blemishes both as human beings and as politicians. But all of the characters in the story manage to maintain their dignity in public as they did in real life. Then again, they didn't have Twitter in 1962. 

These are characters who would take care to avoid being caught in a public lie. They would avoid becoming the public buffoon. The real life versions of these men didn't always live up to the public perception, but they at least paid lip service to the expectation and the ideal. 

It's hard to imagine the American people of 1960, in the face of thermonuclear risk, supporting a buffoon for the Oval Office. Even Richard Nixon, the 1968 winner, had the ability to carry on fairly learned discourse about international affairs without looking like a complete idiot. 

Perhaps the lesson of 2016 is that Americans simply don't worry very much about mass destruction on the scale that 1960s era Americans faced on a daily basis. Nowadays we are entitled to think about terrorism, but that is at a different level than the prospect of tens of millions of dead in a nuclear exchange. 

Jack Kennedy was aware of the danger, and at least in this dramatized portrayal, does his absolute best to avoid doing anything that would humiliate his opponents. Let this be a reminder. 

As I was watching this old rerun, there was the increasing sense of dismay that at one time, we had the right to expect our top elected officials to act at least in their official capacities with some sense of honor and in the performance of their duties with a considerable amount of intelligence. 

Addendum 

The Congressional Budget Office, as expected, came up with an estimate that the current House bill to replace the Affordable Care Act would reduce the number of insured by 14 million people, and over a decade, by nearly twice that many. Then the White House mentioned that their estimate was even a little worse. It remains to be seen how House Republicans will deal with wide scale public fears about the potential loss of Medicaid benefits. We can expect that Democrats will start to talk about Paul Ryan's stated intention of cutting back on Medicare. I'd like to think of some other descriptive term besides perfect storm, but that's what fits.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected]

-cw

Five Ways This Trump Tax Story Stinks

TAX LEAK RAISES QUESTIONS-- President Donald Trump paid $36.6 million in federal income tax on more than $150 million in income in 2005, according to leaked documents obtained Tuesday night by Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston.

"The 1040 shows how Trump obtained money—salary, business profits, dividends, and the like," Johnston wrote at the DC Report after the White House confirmed the documents' authenticity. "But there is still far more that it doesn't say."

Indeed, the release, which comprised just two pages of returns, in some ways raised as many questions as it answered:

  1. Where did his income actually come from?

As Johnston reported Tuesday night, the 1040 form shows that Trump made money through "salary, business profits, dividends, and the like," but does not name the sources of his income—"whether rich golfers playing on his various courses or Russian oligarchs visiting his various hotels," Johnston wrote at DC Report. "Nor does the 1040 distinguish between Trump's business and personal expenses—money spent traveling in his personal jet between homes and offices in New York and Florida or between hotels and golf courses around the world."

What he did get out of, Johnston noted, was "repaying nearly $1 billion he borrowed for his failed casino business" by making use of a tax shelter that Congress shut down soon after. "Ten years later, on his 2005 return, Trump was still saving tax dollars thanks to that tax shelter."

  1. What's this AMT all about?

Trump has called for the elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), the mechanism through which he paid the bulk of his 2005 taxes—about $31 million. The AMT is a federal rule that requires individuals pay the higher of two taxes—either their standard income tax or their AMT, which is imposed at a much higher threshold. The rule was implemented to keep a lid on tax-dodging by the wealthy. During his 2016 campaign, Trump vowed to abolish the mechanism, claiming it put a burden on middle-class families.

"But for AMT, which Trump wants to scrap, he'd have paid a lower tax rate than the poorest ½ of Americans—under 3.5 [percent] on $152.7 million," Johnston tweeted.

  1. Who leaked Trump's tax returns?

The answer is thus far unclear, but many—including Johnston—speculated that it could be someone acting on the president's behalf, or the president himself.

"It's entirely possible that Donald sent this to me," Johnston told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.

"It's a possibility, and it could have been leaked by someone in his direction."

On CNN Wednesday, Johnston also noted that Trump has "a long history of leaking things about himself." However, he continued, the White House "behaved pretty unethically" in its response, which included refusing to comment on Johnston's story and instead disseminating the documents to friendly, conservative outlets—which ultimately hints that Trump wasn't behind the disclosure, he said.

Still, many saw the leak's favorable reflection on Trump as too coincidental to be discounted.

As New York Times labor reporter Noam Scheiber wrote on Twitter on Wednesday, the returns showed "basically nothing incriminating." He continued, "If this was someone trying to bust Trump, why wouldn't they leak more than summary page? If this is all they had, why leak it at all?"

Many noted that the forms were marked "Client Copy," indicating that the documents came from someone close to Trump, rather than the IRS, as the Washington Post pointed out.

  1. Was it okay to expose these documents?

The White House said in a statement that it was "totally illegal to steal and publish" Trump's tax returns. But as Johnston and Maddow clarified, they didn't seek out the documents, and Maddow said the First Amendment gives them the right to put them on air.

  1. Where are the rest of the tax returns?

Theories aside, many observers—particularly those in the conservative media, which pounced on Maddow's reporting as a "fake news bonanza," per the rightwing blog Breitbart—said the returns reflected positively on Trump, showing that he paid an effective tax rate of 25 percent.

But that outcome only bolstered the argument that the president's team leaked the documents on purpose, and fueled a separate call to release all the pages in his returns, not just the two-page summary.

As Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) tweeted, "If [Trump] has nothing to hide, why not release complete #TrumpTaxReturns? Not enough to just show 2 pages."

And Slate's Adam Chodorow wrote on Wednesday, "Tax Day is fast upon us. In a normal world, our president would release his tax returns for all to see. This ritual both reinforces the idea that we are all subject to the law and allows the American people to know that their president is not a crook. It also lets us know where the president's financial interests lie so that we can be sure he has our interests at heart when he sets policy."

"Perhaps Trump will surprise us all by releasing his taxes in the next few weeks," he continued. "I'm not counting on it. While we cannot force him to behave as his predecessors have, we can at the very least refuse to let his nondisclosure pass unremarked upon. This still isn't normal. And no one, whether Democrat or Republican, should let it become so."

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams … where this report was first posted.)

-cw

Competing Models for Universal Healthcare have More in Common than You Think

ALPERN AT LARGE--The issue of healthcare, sadly enough, has become highly contentious and viciously partisan, but the need to compartmentalize politics and healthcare policy is critical.   

My previous article was kindly responded to by fellow CityWatch writer Bob Gelfand, who set the right tone:  we've got to TALK and COMPROMISE. 

Particularly if we're not so much on different sides of a given issue.  Part of the reason why health care appears so troubling politically is that we're not always "hearing" what the other side is saying. 

But there ARE differences, and they must be addressed...yet in a manner we've not seen to date.

Example #1: President Obama made it clear that doing nothing is NOT an option, and President Trump, interestingly enough, agrees. 

Example #2: Too many individuals, and families, and businesses were hurting because of the rising cost of health care, so President Obama took action.  Again, interestingly enough, President Trump agrees ... yet uses the "Obamacare" model as the unsustainable and unaffordable option that was hurting the same individuals and families and businesses that President Obama was trying to help. 

So once you/me/we get past the "Obama's coming to getcha!" or "Trump is Hitler!" and focus on fixing the problems, we'll disagree on a few things...but, like Mr. Gelfand and myself, we'll probably agree more than we disagree.   

It's all about the quality, affordability, and access to health care, right? 

1) What we can do, and MUST do, is emphasize transparency and flexibility for negotiations and improvements.   

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (who's as responsible as anyone for no longer being the Speaker of the House and for Democrats losing the House) wants transparency now

Well, ain't THAT rich?  OK, I agree, but perhaps the Democrats would do well with different leadership, because it was Ms. Pelosi who rammed the ACA down our throats, and the results have been less than stellar. 

Costs are UP, Enrollment is DOWN and one need not be a right-wing partisan to suggest that the "Affordable Care Act" hasn't been so appropriately named. 

President Trump has made it clear that the ACA repeal/replace is a work in progress, and will speak to ANYONE willing to talk to him. Some Republicans are fighting Trump's and House Speaker Paul Ryan's plan, and many Democrats are vigorously concerned about it (as they should be). So, let's talk.  And no one party should be relegated to "the back of the bus". 

2) There's the inevitable, and potentially beneficial, divide of universal health COVERAGE vs. ACCESS. 

The ACA or "Obamacare" did NOT get to its goal of universal coverage, and even ended a host of health plans that were used and cherished by tens of millions of Americans. 

Paul Ryan is NOT trying to achieve universal health insurance and without getting too reflexively angry at that, let's catch our breath and remind ourselves of competing realities: 

a) A 43 year-old woman with sudden-onset breast cancer should not lose her insurance, and her family should not be destroyed financially because of her terrible misfortune.  Period. 

b) A 43 year-old man in good health who has not worked in 5-10 years and who wants ongoing health insurance is someone who should be offered the ability to work for his healthcare benefits, or should be relegated to the free public health care system that counties are legally obligated to provided.

The first situation requires much attention and fiscal support from all parts of government, and the second situation shouldn't get us too concerned about "how will he be covered?" 

Paul Ryan and Donald Trump are emphasizing opportunity over mandate and affordability over forced full-coverage for all Americans. 

(And even though it's tough for some of us to talk about, the issue of how much we're spending on those not here in the country legally isn't a trivial one, or an issue that's going to go away.) 

The rest of the issues relate to the need to balance capitalism and socialism, between the benefits of the free market and the need to have government protect us all from predatory behavior, and Gelfand, in his CityWatch column, addresses many of them: 

1) Drug costs are three or more times more expensive in the U.S. than the rest of the world, and we're indirectly subsidizing Europe and Canada.  That must end. 

2) We need more residencies, and government-subsidized health educational costs of physicians and nurses to pay for health care in underserved areas.  Lots of health care professionals would give up a few years of their lives to avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. 

3) Opportunities for individuals and their families to work for their health care should be promoted so long as they are able-bodied, and a host of public works projects can be addressed by those opportunities...you know, that "win-win" situation Trump has always talked about? 

4) There will be arguments over the federal and state roles in funding and overseeing health care, but the first step is always the hardest step...particularly since this will be a neverending argument. Just pass something, and so long as it’s financially sustainable we can deal with fine-tuning the inevitable glitches in ANY system that is passed in Washington, D.C. 

On a final note, it should be emphasized that Republicans and Democrats both have major problems with Mr. Trump and Mr. Ryan ... which can and should be used to the advantage of all of us. 

Because debate and compromise is a form of arguments and policymaking that is ... well ... healthy.

And healthy is what our nation needs to become, more than ever.

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected]. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)

-cw 

 

 

 

 

 

Rx for Chaos: Healthcare Is Too Important for Political Horsepuckey

EASTSIDER-Having negotiated and mediated a good number of healthcare agreements all over the State of California for a lot of years, I have a reasonable understanding of the fundamentals of how these systems work. And after being inundated with all the highly politicized nonsense from both political parties lately, I say, enough! 

As long as we have a healthcare system which is underwritten by insurance companies, the mathematics of healthcare is simple. Hat tip to Dave Winer, a NYC (Queens) software developer and author of the Scripting News blog, who hit the real issue right on: ”The insurance industry, left to a completely free market, will only insure young, healthy people, and will cancel their policies as soon as they get sick.” 

In the current “debate” in Washington D.C., I don’t think it matters too much whether the politicians are Democrats or Republicans. They all take in gobs of personal money from the health insurance industry and big pharma so that they can stay in office -- even as they tell you and me how much they care while they count their take. 

Be it Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, or President Trump and Representative Tom Price (now Secretary of Health and Human Services,) they all take money from the trough. I will, however, admit that Tom Price personally investing in a joint replacement company and then introducing legislation to benefit them, was over the top, even for D.C. On the other hand, what he did is legal for legislators (who make their own rules,) and Zimmer Bionet Tom, as we can now call him, didn’t do anything that a whole bunch of other legislators in both houses of Congress haven’t done in the past. 

The reality of medical care is that none of us really know when or how much of it we will need. So there has to be some kind of a cushion against life-threatening medical events, or long term illnesses that require expensive treatments, such as dialysis, organ transplants, etc. Otherwise, to put it bluntly, we can get sicker and even die. 

Insurance companies have no economic interest in covering any of this stuff. At the same time, rich people have lobbied Congress so that they don’t have to pay for dialysis, organ transplants, or special needs care. The fact that you and I also benefited from these changes was incidental. Congress, of course goes with the bucks and passes such legislation. It is not a coincidence that it was Ronald Reagan who passed the ADA; his donor base wanted it. 

The Math 

The healthcare equation is that insurance companies don’t want to lose any money on their insurance, and you and I don’t want to get an expensive medical condition, and then get real sick or die because we can’t pay for the medical care. This affects all of us, every person in the United States. Absent some resolution to this conflict, we are all one major medical event away from bankruptcy, or worse. 

Think about it. One major event -- be it long term unemployment, divorce, or major medical emergency -- away from bankruptcy. I’m not making this up. Look at The Two Income Trap, by Elizabeth Warren and her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, written way back in 2003. It’s an impressive (and depressing) read about bankruptcy, a long time before the financial crisis that beggared all of us (except for the banks that caused it.) 

There is really only one entity that has the resources to cover that inherent conflict -- and, you got it, it’s the Government. Because we are really talking about how much risk the insurance industry is prepared to cover (not much) at what cost (a lot), and who’s going to pay for the rest your and my unmet healthcare costs. Realistically, the only entities that can do this are government agencies. And since they govern (and tax) all 360 million of us in the United States, the Feds have the deepest pockets. 

How much the Feds could cover vs. how much state and local entities could cover is pretty much a redistribution of costs issue, since the tax base is progressively smaller as you go down the food chain. Yet the statistical risks for all of us are roughly the same no matter where we happen to reside. A very small state, county or city is simply not going to be able to provide the cushion that the Federal government can. 

That’s the math. 

All the stuff you and I see on TV, hear about on the radio, or that is pushed out to us via social media and our mailboxes, is mostly just noise. Most of it is smoke and mirrors, designed to get you and me to vote for brand X or brand Y, like that will really fix our fundamental healthcare problems. 

Truth is Bernie Sanders was right in his analysis of healthcare, and he paid for it by having both the establishment DNC and RNC try to bury him. Whether or not the government can afford to go to his model, or should, is a public policy discussion that needs to occur and never really has. Instead we get this silliness. 

Budget Cycles and the Cliff 

The timing of all of the proposed changes to our healthcare system is not propitious, either. Most public agencies and corporations operate on one of two budget cycles: July 1 - June 30, or January 1 - December 31. Add in to this the fact that open enrollment for most healthcare providers is October/November for January 1 implementation. In order for them to do the necessary premium calculations, the data and coverage changes need to be in place well before summer. 

So here we are in March with the President and the Republicans playing around with what they call the “repeal and replacement” of Obamacare. After braying the same mantra for about seven years, it is clear that they didn’t have a clue what that slogan really meant. And for their part, the Dems have refused to play and are saying, “You break it, you own it.” Wonderful. 

If you are an insurer, if you are a small business person, if you are a public agency with a July 1 budget deadline, or if you are just a consumer at the mercy of all of these parties, this is incredibly anxiety producing. 

All that “striking while the iron is hot” rhetoric over healthcare is going to do is to make every insurer nuts as they try to figure out what premiums they will have to charge for next year. And they will have to take into account the impact for the rest of this year as hospitals, doctors, clinics and insurers have to make mid-year adjustments. 

The Insurers

It’s a prescription for chaos, even if all the insurers were playing fair. And let us not be deceived -- they are not all playing fair. I keep referring to Aetna as being a poster child for cheating, so let’s take a look at the details. First, they are one of the two largest insurance companies in the “health services industry” space. Whatever they do is therefore a big deal. 

Second, their mega-merger with Humana, another large player in the Medicaid and Medicare space, was a fix. They got caught by a federal judge lying about their decision to drop out of some 17 state exchanges on the grounds that they were losing money. Turns out that they threatened the Feds to do this if the Feds tried to block their merger with Humana. You can read about the skullduggery here.  

While Aetna called off the merger after being nailed by a federal judge, the moves to lessen, rather than encourage, competition in the Obamacare world have been marching on. The other 800 pound gorilla in the Obamacare game is Anthem Blue Cross, and they too are engaging in mergers to limit choice. You can read all about the insurance carriers shrinking our choices for Obamacare here, notwithstanding the blah blah blah of most news media

Whatever people’s ideology or political identification, let’s agree on one thing: insurance companies are in the business of making a profit, period. They are going to budget and set rates based on very conservative assumptions that will keep their CEOs employed. 

Most of the media reports over the Republican healthcare bill concern saving money, and how ok it is to charge folks from 60-65 more money because they “use” medical care more than younger people. Egad! You think? 

Here’s a modest proposal that will save a lot of money. Stop paying for organ transplants, stop paying for dialysis, and stop paying for long term care for the elderly. It would be really cost effective and save a ton of money! Insurance companies would love it. Heck, repeal the Special Ed statute. And make Congress have the same healthcare that you and I have. 

Anyone think they will do it? 

The Takeaway 

Here’s the practical problem: while the Republicans have elected to embrace Speaker Ryan’s plan without any substantive conversations with the Democrats, their math simply doesn’t work. A bill which pushes some 14 million poor and older Americans out of medical insurance while the relatively affluent get significant tax breaks is something that I cannot believe our political system will countenance. 

At the same time, the Establishment, limousine liberal Democratic leadership of Chuck Schumer in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House seems incapable of doing much more than ignoring the fact that they lost the election and are still trying to punish the Republicans for their choice of a deeply flawed candidate -- even as they themselves repudiated Bernie Sanders in every way possible. 

Well, we are all Americans. We all deserve affordable healthcare no matter who we are. What is missing here and deeply troubling, is that if the Republican effort fails, there is no Plan B being worked on by the few adults left in our political system, be they Republican or Democrat – at least that I’m aware of. This is not good and somebody needs to get crackin’ now

Remember, the ACA (Obamacare) is not sustainable in its current form after all that has happened in the last year, and while the big health insurance carriers are good at evading antitrust and gaming the system, I haven’t seen them or big pharma come up with anything sustainable either. 

We need to start electing politicians at every level who are reasonably honest and interested in actually representing you and me instead of the deep pocketed political parties and their owners. As long as election turnouts are in the under 20% range (heck, in LA that would be a big increase,) we’re going to keep getting what we got. 

Get involved, pay attention…and vote!

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Why the GOP Really Hates Medicaid

URBAN PERSPECTIVE--#45 Trump made news again when he abruptly switched gears and said that he wouldn’t keep hands off Medicaid as he kind of, sort of, promised to do during the campaign. Now, says Trump, it’s fair game for a quick assault, namely, the part of the program that some governors, including GOP governors, used to expand coverage in their states. This was made possible under a provision of the Affordable Care Act. Trump ignored the warning that by attacking Medicaid it could screw up the time table for the GOP congressional assault on Obamacare. 

This is incidental to the real reason Trump broke his promise and why the GOP has a manic obsession with savaging Medicaid. The GOP’s stock arguments that reining in Medicaid is about cutting costs, federal intrusion in health care, and restoring health care to the states is hogwash. It’s all about the program itself -- who it benefits from it and what it means politically to the GOP. 

The root of the GOP attack and loathing of Medicaid starts with who created it and what it was created to do. It was a Lyndon Johnson era, Democratic Great Society, War on Poverty Program that was unabashedly aimed at covering welfare recipients and the poorest of the poor. Despite the outrageous and very serviceable myth that is still happily fanned by conservatives as well as many in the media that Medicaid is a gigantic taxpayer health care give-away to the black poor, the majority of Medicaid recipients have always been whites. 

Over time, Medicaid was tweaked, reconfigured, and expanded to provide health care for millions more who had absolutely no access to affordable -- if indeed any kind -- of health care coverage. The greatest beneficiaries, though, have remained the poor, and especially their children. Medicaid covers the cost of prenatal care and hospitalization. 

Medicaid has been wildly successful in controlling health care costs, providing poor and working families with coverage unobtainable in the private insurance market, and acting as a brake on run-away medical care cost coverage in the states. Conservatives have seen deep political peril in this. And they saw even deeper peril when Obamacare expanded coverage more, bumping the number of those now receiving health care coverage under the program to nearly 20 million persons. 

When conservative GOP governors such Ohio’s John Kasich publicly took the expanded coverage deal with Medicaid, saying it could be a boon to the state, the die was cast. Medicaid had to be assailed. The political horror for the GOP is that as long as Medicaid is seen as a Democratic measure (more specifically an Obama measure to aid the needy) there’s a real possibility that many of those millions of voters in crucial swing states such as Ohio will begin to connect the dots. The dots being that Medicaid is a health care program that helps families in need, the Democrats support it and fight for it, while GOP conservatives bitterly oppose it. Therefore, come election time, those families might, just might, cast a vote for the friends, not the enemies, of Medicaid. 

This is an especially fragile political proposition for the GOP given that Trump won by only the barest margin in a handful of states, nearly all of Congress is up for re-election in 2018, and GOP governors and legislatures have only tenuous control in several states. Medicaid, and the lies and stereotypes told about it, appear to be a tailor-made issue to rally conservatives, and hopefully keep the GOP political ducks in contested states in line. That’s only the start since Medicaid -- because of those lies and stereotypes -- is regarded as the easiest of pickings to go after. If successful, this would open the gate wide for the next two perennial right-wing targets: Social Security and Medicare. 

As with Medicaid, Trump claimed during the campaign that he wouldn’t touch Social Security and Medicare, but that almost certainly will go the way of his Medicaid hands-off promise. The two programs are and have always been seen as Democratic inspired and backed. And that has made them conservative whipping boys with the usual storehouse of lies about run-away costs, waste and heavy handed federal intrusion. 

Medicaid then is the proving ground to convince the millions that benefit from these foundational federal programs that they aren’t really in their best interests. The GOP will try to pound home that there are better alternatives and the GOP, not the Democrats, is the party that can provide those alternatives. Trump got that message and will try to deliver this point to those voters who have grave doubts about hacking away programs that have been life-savers to them. For tens of millions, Medicaid has been at the top of the list of life-saving programs. This is what makes it the enduring political target it is -- or putting it bluntly, why the GOP hates it.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of In Scalia’s Shadow: The Trump Supreme Court (Amazon Kindle). He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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