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Daley Weekly: Crises and Confrontation

Apologia pro vita sua

Things began getting away from me about two weeks ago and I now am three weeks in arrears. So, a new beginning, a fresh start, and a promise to be a more faithful correspondent.

Two Senior Politicians Forgo the Presidency

The first of course is Joe Biden, who has tossed in the towel. Would have been fun to watch him run. He always brings a sparkle with him whenever he enters a room.  If the D’s keep the White House maybe Secretary of State, but no Presidency.

The second is Paul Ryan, who now appears to be headed into a cul de sac known as the Speakership. Much of Ryan’s hesitation about taking this office must originate from the almost sure bet that a Speaker is unlikely to be President – too much blame for every crazy idea dreamed up by the caucus.  It’s going to be hard to figure how Ryan can get much of anything out of the House because of the obstructionist promises he apparently made to the Tea Bagger faction.

The Grand Bargain at Last

There is news this week that the White House and the House Republican leadership (John Boehner version) have fashioned a plan to fund the federal government for two years. The agreement apparently uses some $80 billion to give a modest lift to the sequester spending caps for both domestic and defense programs. It also will extend the debt lid to March of 2017. Funding would come through standardizing the eligibility rules for the Social Security Disability Insurance program, but it also rescues the Disability Insurance program from the limbo the House placed it in months ago.

The deal also gets funding through some cuts in provider pay in Medicare, and by selling some oil now held in the U.S. Petroleum Reserve. There also are provisions preventing a sharp spike in Medicare premiums. However, it adds a provision that allows folks with student debt to be chased by debt collectors who use robocalls – something currently prohibited. (How do these things get into a deal like this?)

The agreement will last beyond the 2016 election. So it looks like Boehner is going to take some lumps in order to clear the decks for Paul Ryan to save him from having to wrestle with the alligators as he ascends to the Speakership.

What They Have Not Done

They have not renewed the Child Nutrition Programs.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is still expired.

Infrastructure funding through the Highway Trust Fund is still unresolved.

The “tax extender” package is still pending.

And, God knows, while they are at it, they could enact comprehensive immigration reform, restore the Voting Rights Act, mandate caps on carbon emissions, and pass the Medicare for All single payer plan.

Benghazi

The other big thing in D.C. last week was the prosecution of Hillary Clinton before an investigative committee. After revelations by House Members and committee staff that the whole thing was designed to bring down Hillary, the hearing showed a sense of desperation – at least to get her to look deceitful or confused. After trying everything this side of waterboarding, nada.

Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC), the Chair of the Committee was especially clear in his assessment of what the hearings had produced:

“I think some of Jimmy Jordan’s questioning — well, when you say new today, we knew some of that already. We knew about the emails. In terms of her testimony? I don’t know that she testified that much differently today than she has the previous times she’s testified.”

This is the product of seventeen months of investigation and the expenditure of nearly $5 million?

Now watch them double down with some kind of report written by a team of science fiction authors coached by the few still living members of Joe McCarthy’s staff.  Doubling down will inevitably raise a question about whether or not they know the correct answer to the question “what’s two times nothing?”

TPP

Apparently the 12-nation negotiation on the big trade pact is finally ready for prime time, but the text is not yet public. For some reason – maybe I am just being stubborn – I have been advising everyone to read it before attacking it. I want the opposition to form around actual provisions in the agreement, not on shifting ideologies and political posturing. Let’s face it – we will have problems with this agreement, given the troubling involvement of corporate interests in the negotiations. But our opposition needs to be factual, on policy grounds, and against the provisions of the pact.  Let’s root our concerns on what actually is there. It won’t be long – D.C. leaks like a sieve.  One leak already out provides new international protections for the patents of pharmaceutical companies. Surely there is more to come.

Once we discover the troubling stuff in this deal, we have to react with force and confidence. The pro-corporation gang has the upper hand given that the anti-Obama Congress gave the President “fast track” authority a couple of months ago. This means that the President submits an unamendable plan that cannot be filibustered.

Social Security

Just to clarify the confusion about inflation in the economy the government has announced that there is so little inflation that Social Security beneficiaries will not receive a cost of living increase in the coming year.

Economics

The Wall Street Journal reports that companies are indicating a serious slowing in the economy. You have to consider the source here a bit, but, if they are correct, consumer spending is falling and the pace of economic activity is going negative for the first time since the recovery began. Time for a little stimulus to get the momentum turning back in the other direction, but don’t expect the Journal to editorialize in favor of higher government spending.

What is wrong here? We built a post-WWII middle class and became the envy of the world. Then we decided to shift the income growth from the middle class to the wealthy. Now we are wondering why the middle class, burdened with student debt, extortionate drug costs, fraudulent foreclosures, stagnant wages, and inexplicable insurance costs, are not buying the latest electronic gadgets built by exploited labor.

The explanation about the economic stagnation is quite simple. Our corporate uber-masters decided that the destruction of the middle class in the U. S. was irrelevant to their wealth accumulation – they could sell their trinkets to the unsuspecting natives in China. Tiny little miscalculation – China decided that they could sell their trinkets to us. Win-Win became loss-loss.

Presidential Campaign  

Both Democrat-for-a-Day Lincoln Chaffee and what’s his name from Virginia have announced that they are suspending their campaigns.  The next Republican Debate is tonight.

Language Access

The Office of Civil rights in the Department of Health and Human Services is working on regulations to implement the civil rights sections of the Affordable Care Act. The Alliance for a Just Society is encouraging everyone to send comments on these rules encouraging HHS to add interpretation in the medical setting for non-English speakers. After all, if you cannot talk to the doctor in a language you both understand, how can you get useful medical care? You can sign a petition here that will be forwarded to HHS.

Muddle East

Here’s some fun news about the land of perpetual conflict. Our FBI has found a group with apparent Russian connections working out of Moldova who have been trying to sell radioactive material to Middle Eastern operatives. Apparently poison gas may not be potent enough.

Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie, File Gumbo

Paul Prudhomme died. Loved his cookbook – Cajun, as in real French stuff, with spice and emphasis. Sorry vegans, but one of my favorite recipes is from Prudhomme’s repertoire – a pork roast layered with veggies sautéed with white, black and cayenne pepper, thyme and dried mustard. He also teaches how to make and use roux. Incomparable gumbos. I once tried to eat in K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, his restaurant in New Orleans, but the line was so long I ended up in an inferior imitation where I had to console myself with strong drink.

Polarization

Report in The Washington Post regarding evidence that the U.S. electorate is not becoming increasingly polarized. This, despite a perception that there is an extreme polarity emerging between the various parties, factions and ideologies. So if the electorate is not polarized, what is going on in Congress? Your trusty reporter has a couple of theories.

First one is that the money is driving extremes. The dark money donors are not passing the cash to the folks who say that they can bring everyone together, rather they seem to be sending it to folks who demand ideological purity and exclaim that they are just a little bit more radical than the next person.

Second, there is a little thing called Gerrymandering. While drawing the district election lines is a partisan art, legislatures have locked some solid factions in place that are representing a significant enough minority to command attention in the Congress. This appears particularly true of the Tea Bagger-bunch in the House who have some 40 or 50 votes and have put an ideological lock on the Majority Caucus.

Third, the proliferation of ideological media voices also increases the perception that polarization is both extreme and critical for access to airtime. Do the folks who watch Fox News ever tune in on MSNBC? Probably not much.

Banks

Did you know that the big banks are getting a 6 percent dividend on the money they invest in the Federal Reserve?  What is the return on the cash you have stuck in your savings account? The total amount that banks receive from the Fed will amount to $17 billion over the next decade. Surely the return you get on your money in your bank is proportionately equal to the cash they get for pretty much doing nothing?

Well the fun may be over. One of the plans being considered to pump money into the Highway Trust Fund to pay for infrastructure projects would cut this rate from 6 percent to 1.5 percent. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) has already told the banks that this will be a part of the plan. Bank lobbyists are blanketing the Hill trying to kill this thing, but they may be in trouble.

Coral is the New White

When you pick through the list of designer colors for your apartment’s new paint job, coral is one of your options. That honey hued little paint sample soon may be passé.  The corals are turning white. The extreme El Niño in the Pacific is challenging them so much that they are forced to reject their hospitality as symbiotic hosts, slough away the parasites that give them their color, and turn a ghostly white. Then a bunch of them die.

I saw one of the Koch boys on TV the other day. The reporter asked him about the idea that he was just trying to buy power. He answered that he was trying to reduce the power of the government. And he smiled when he said it. This must be an important theme for Koch’s petroleum companies, the fourteenth largest polluter in the country. No government and they can pollute at will.

It is getting pretty difficult to witness this sort of crap. I have children and grandchildren.

But, just to add to the concern, Scientific American is reporting that Exxon Mobile knew about climate change as early as 1977 but persisted in deliberately spreading misinformation about the problem anyway.

I do not know what denial mechanism inside them lets these people ignore the evidence of the fires burning their farms or the seawater lapping at the lawns of their costal mansions, but ignorance is no longer an excuse. We have to begin regarding their assault on the rest of us as premeditated.

Schedule

The Congress will be in session until November 20, that should be plenty of time for a whole bunch of crises and confrontations.

 

Bill Daley, National Legislative Director

Daley Weekly: Crazy Daze of Summer

President Stuff, Democrat

It is beginning to look like Joe Biden may be headed into the fray. The trends have to be tempting.  Many hope that Hillary will be the first woman President – she clearly has the values, experience, and ability to serve with distinction.  But she’s not lighting up the place, she’s dogged by the email glitch, and lacks her husband’s flair for this stuff.  Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren made juicy rumors over the weekend, via a two-hour meeting at the VP’s residence in D.C.

Bernie Sanders is doing really well. He actually has the corner on an understanding of the deepening inequality and corporate corruption that are savaging the national economy. Great crowds and exciting articulation. But there are questions about his ultimate electability when they start painting that name Socialist on him.

Martin O’Malley is not gaining any traction and candidates Chafee and what’s-his-name from Virginia are just hoping for the others to evaporate so that attention might turn to them. Run across any campaign workers for any of these folks lately?

So it’s got to be real tempting for Biden. Bloggers report he is talking with donors and sizing things up. My guess was expressed a couple of issues back when I heard that his dying son Beau had urged him to run. Pretty tough stuff for an emotional guy like Biden to resist.

And the R’s? This is Crazzazie

My friend Margarida has improved my vocabulary by exposing me to the critical literature about the Zombie Apocalypse and by describing the fringes as crazzazie and wackadoodle. I am reaching into this lexicon because I am at a loss for more traditional words to describe the Republican campaigns for the American Presidency.

I look at the R’s and roll my eyes. For their sake and for the sake of the Nation I don’t want them to nominate Trump. Even the R’s deserve better than this racist, sexist gasbag. But their candidates are so weak – none of them seem have an original thought. Their whole approach has been defined by Trump and they are stumped – they are captives of a bankrupt ideology and when Trump out-demagogues them, they are like deer in the headlights.

It is my deeply held predisposition that if the R’s nominate Trump they will prove beyond all possible debate that they haven’t got the guile God gave a Grape-Nut flake. But if the R’s are determined to nominate him, let’s get it on. The last century taught us how to look at racists with funny hair – we will not do it again.

Nice to See Paul

Sitting in my little corner of Serafina, a favorite restaurant in Seattle, I saw a man pass on the way out who I remembered with affection. Paul Kraabel was a Republican legislator when I first got into the political world of Washington state. I was sent to see him for some reason and, though my normal old leftish Democrat self, I was greeted with respect and he listened.

Tonight, his friends were helping him navigate his way out, he used a cane – but I caught him on the sidewalk and he knew who I was we were able to share a couple of recollections.

Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s I knew many Republicans like Paul who were open to talking, and solving problems, and being decent to others.

Oh how I miss them when I watch folks like Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, who act as though they came from the Seraphim, armed with the voice of God and equipped with the instrument of prejudice and the malice of the fanatic.

Oak Flat

Remember our depressing report a few weeks back about how the Senatorial aristocrats slipped a little provision into the Defense Reauthorization that gave over a sacred Apache place to mining? The billion tons of copper that apparently have deposited themselves under Arizona’s Oak Flat proved an irresistible attraction – Arizona Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake slipped a little provision into the Defense Authorization bill and handed it over to foreign mining interests.

Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva (D), has introduced a bill to reverse this and to return the land to public ownership where it can be protected for the Apache. If you want to read more, start with H.R.  2811. You can help reverse this tragedy by writing your Congress people and asking them to help pass this bill.

Drug Costs

I cannot bear to have you miss the news about how your fellow Americans feel about the cost of prescription drugs.  Recent polling shows that this issue just jumped ahead of concerns about the Affordable Care Act.  Eighty-three percent favor allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices and seventy- three percent believe that drug companies make too much profit. 

This news comes as reports filter out of negotiations over the Transpacific Partnership trade pact suggesting that the insistence of U. S. bargaining team on protections for the big drug companies is a main issue stymieing progress in the negotiations. We can only hope that our crack negotiating team loses this one.

El Niño

Looks like a hot, wet wind may be about to blow in from the sea. Meteorologists are predicting that the El Niño effect will be the warmest in decades, maybe a record. The California drought will become the California monsoon.

Marriage

Iowa Representative Steve King (R), the leader of the Congressional Xenophobia Caucus, apparently believes that the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage enables American’s to marry inanimate objects. Some wedded folks long ago realized that a court decision on this was unnecessary – their spouses already are inanimate objects.

ACA and Declines in the Uninsured

According to the latest Gallup Poll on the subject the rates of the uninsured continue to drop post-ACA.  The national uninsured rate fell from 17.3 percent in 2013 to 11.7 percent 2015. A bunch of states did even better than this, particularly those that both expanded Medicaid and instituted exchanges.

Latina Income Inequality

This should come as a surprise to few, but the wage gap for Hispanic women is way wider than it is for all women.  Researchers with the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, have done the math so those like me, who struggle with numbers, just have to glance across a series of simple charts to get the idea.

The gap between all women and men is bad enough – women get 78% of what the men get for the same work. Only in nursing and home health care are Hispanic women equally discriminated against when compared to all women – both get 75 percent of what men get.  But in retail and public service jobs pay for all women runs at 88 percent of the pay for men, while Hispanic women get only 50 percent. Other job categories do not show such extreme differences, but are troubling.

Amigas, something is up here and it is not good. ¿Is anyone else wondering what the figures might be for Somali or Samoan women, por ejemplo?

Sen͂or Presidente, tiar abaje este mura

Oozing xenophobia and narcissism from every pore, Donald Trump has oiled his way into an apparent lead in the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary among Republicans.

Just to seal the deal, details of his plan for immigration reform have been announced. First, every undocumented immigrant gets sent home – deported at a cost of some $400 to $600 billion. A 2,000-mile long fence will be erected along the entire U.S./ Mexico border – built at the expense of the Mexican government. Then there is the proposal to amend the Constitution in order to remove the provision that makes all babies born on U.S. soil citizens automatically.

Anyone else feel a tremor of slavery revulsion when they hear the proposal to change the citizenship of babies born here? Is it possible that the 14th Amendment had to do with making former slaves and their children into citizens? Now the immigration loonies are talking about these children as “anchor babies” – children born here in order to anchor the prospects for future citizenship for their parents.

Not only is there no legal connection to citizenship for their parents, but they also are talking about folks like Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio whose citizenship is established by their birth.  Wow.

While we are in the process of un-anchoring the babies, we are also going to round up and deport all the 11 million-plus undocumented in the country. I don’t know how to be constrained about this stuff. This idea has eerie historical echoes. One has to hear the thud of the jackboots reverberating in the night streets.

And the great fence? Great fence projects have a way of turning into real big failures. I do not know if this edifice to idiocy will be visible from the moon, but one can see the Great Wall of China from there. The Mongols took over China, wall or not. Remember the Berlin Wall? How did that go? There recurs in my sleep a dream (or perhaps a nightmare) in which the ghost of Ronald Regan, a supporter of immigration reform, stands in Nogales or Mexicali, and says: “Mr. President, tear down this wall.”

Medicaid Politics

Asa Hutchinson, Governor of Arkansas, wants to change the wildly successful decision of his state to expand Medicaid. His state has seen the most dramatic decline on rates of the uninsured of any state in the nation. Not satisfied with success, Hutchinson has decided to try to get the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to permit Arkansas to imitate the successful negotiations of other wackadoodle governors and make the program worse by privatizing stuff and making the poor pay more.

Dear Governor Hutchinson:  The thing is working. Just walk away.

Apparently Pennsylvania’s John Kasich has been banned by the Koch boys from their events because of his support for expanding Medicaid.

Scott Walker and the ACA

Whenever I hear the anti-Affordable Care Act crowd explain its alternative, to “Obamacare,” I remember the presentation that my friend David West once made to a legislative committee. He was describing a plan offered by an insurance company that had a surgery benefit – but not anesthesia. David suggested that perhaps they might at least offer a bullet to bite and a bottle of bourbon.

Desperate to put a little passion into his campaign as poll numbers fall, Scott Walker has decided to lay out some specifics about what he would offer for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Turns out to be the usual tax cut gibberish that will force the needy back into the ranks of the uninsured. But there are specifics.

Perhaps the worst of the specifics is the idea that anyone could buy any health insurance product from any state. This passes and the insurance gang will soon be regulated by the domestic equivalent of the Cayman Island—i.e., no standards at all.

Conflict of Interest

So there is a big debate going on in D.C. over whether or not investment counselors should be required to act in the interest of the investors they counsel. Apparently some Republicans in Congress believe that steering you to waste a lot of time in a thinly veiled pyramid scheme is the sort of advice that your investment counselor should be able to give without concern or penalty.

Musical Chairs

Former Ohio Congressman Louis Stokes died last week. Stokes did many really fine things, but what I, the hopeless wonk, remember the most was the Heckler Report. Margaret Heckler was the Secretary of the then Department of Health Education and Welfare in 1984 and she directed an analysis of health disparities based on race. This was the first big national analysis of this important issue and it outlined patterns that persist into today.

Louis Stokes was the behind-the-scenes inspiration that caused this report to be written. Maybe we have not gotten much done as a response?  Maybe, with the news of Stokes’ death, how important it is to keep working on this issue?

Schedule

You are going to have to wait a couple of more weeks for the return of the Congress.  Summers can be so relaxing.