Friday, April 21, 2017

When Money Just Isn't Enough

The Ironic Cherry reads...

The True Story Behind the
Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy
by David Daley

I continue to wait for Democrats to create a catchy (memorable) phrase for "emoluments clause."  You know, like republicans renamed the "estate tax" the unforgettable and terrifying "death tax."  Something that would put Trump's obscene conflicts of interest front and center in the mind of the American people.

David Daley realized that the most important threat to democracy today is the redistricting that happened in 2010.  But not even its more apt term, "gerrymandering" is enough to cause us to bolt upright from a sound political sleep.  That's why he titled his book "Ratfucked."  He defines it as "a dirty deed done dirt cheap" and places it originally, and not surprisingly, in the Nixon White House, where the term was used to describe operatives in Nixon's inner circle.

The plot to steal America once and for all for the republican party began with the gift by the Supreme Court of Citizens United.  One clever and far-sighted republican realized that it really wouldn't take a lot of money in a lot of races to turn the tide; a study of the states where legislatures would control the redistricting after the 2010 census showed which states would gain or lose seats after reapportionment and would then be redrawing maps from scratch.  A fairly modest amount of money (by today's standards) poured into a few critical state races.  Sleepy Dems would wake up to find blue and purple states suddenly controlled by republicans, states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina.  (Remember when NC used to be the smarter of the Carolinas?)

The gerrymander goes way back, but these days it is done with computer programs and the enormous amounts of personal data collected on each of us resulting in stunningly bizarre district maps.  With chapters about several of the more fascinating and dysfunctional gerrymanders, he describes the process and the result in a way that makes this a true page-turner.  For one instance, he takes us into Michigan's District 14:

He takes a day to drive the entire 170 miles of the border, in order to "understand those juts, notches and tangrams and to see what, if anything, is different from one side of the street to the other."

What he finds is a surgical precision wherein poor, mostly African American communities are forced into the district, including boarded up houses and a completely closed national park.  On the other side, even right across the street, are the affluent neighborhoods.  This is part of his description:

"The mapmaker draws his first joke farther down Michigan Avenue.  Tiger Stadium used to sit at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull; the site is now a park.  It would have been in the 14th.  The baseball team's new home, Comerica Park, is just a mile away, as is Ford Field, where the Detroit Lions play.  Both are outside the lines.  This may be the mapmaker's favorite dig:  time and again, whenever the 14th might include a local landmark -- Faygo soda's headquarters, the Detroit Zoo, a major General Motors plant -- it contorts itself in another direction.  There will be no easy campaign cash and no famous constituency for the member of Congress from the 14th."

What he describes as "the growth atop the snake's head" is on a street that cuts in and out across three districts.  Turns out that that strange growth at the top of the 14th is an actual dump.

There are two critical aspects to this national redistricting.  First, you want to pack a couple of districts in the state with minorities.  Which leads to races, as in my own District 6 in South Carolina, that resulted in 2016 in a victory for Jim Clyburn with over 70% of the vote.  I then lost the ability to vote against Mark Sanford in my former district, District 1.  Sanford won with a more modest 58.6 % of the vote.  Which is part two of this devious scheme.  Not only do you want to pack a few districts with Democrats, you want to spread a few out over primarily republican districts, so you can have more of those majority republican districts that will nonetheless be safe.

Here is the gerrymandered District 1:

Sadly, republicans have been able to use the part of the Voting Rights Act which mandated the opportunity for minorities "to elect representatives of their choice" to advance their own power grab.  In 1990 the then head of the Republican National Committee made a proposal to the Congressional Black Caucus.  It was an unholy alliance that gave African Americans more representation in Congress by packing a few districts so that republicans could spread their constituencies across more districts.  In retrospect, this turned out not to increase the representation of the black communities in Congress, merely to assure them a few seats.  And those districts continue to be poor and powerless, with failing schools, crumbling infrastructure, and polluted drinking water.

The result of all this trickery is mind blowing.  Democrats consistently receive more votes for congress, but republicans walk away with a crazy but untouchable majority in the House.

While Democrats are agonizing over how to reach Trump voters, even though Hillary got three million more votes (and how many more presidential elections are we going to lose before we figure out a way to get rid of the electoral college?), we really, really need to take a smart look at the process.  If you pack Democratic voters in a couple of districts, giving them 80% majorities, spread out the rest in majority republican districts with more modest but reliable majorities, it doesn't matter how many $3 donations, how much door-knocking, how relevant the message.

Some states are actually moving toward fixing this abomination, including our own state of South Carolina.  A bill sponsored by Dems Nikki Seltzer, Mia McLeod, and Mike Fanning proposes establishing an independent, bipartisan commission to redraw districts.  Unfortunately, those in power have no incentive to support such a bill.  But a recent Winthrop Poll shows that 63% of South Carolina voters support such a commission.  We need to raise the same ruckus over this issue as we have over the ACA and Trump's taxes, because it is the issue on which the future of our democracy depends.

I hate to say it, but this book is an entertaining way to become more informed, and more passionate, about redistricting.  The number crunching, the map-making, the incredible amount of information about each of us that has gone into this bastardization of the democratic process, isn't just important.  It is really a gripping story.  And it is too bad that in our pseudo genteel society the Dems haven't come up with a more attention grabbing word than "gerrymander."  Because what it really is, is ratfucking.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Dems with Time on Their Hands

I have been known in these pages to gripe about the Democratic Party standing on the sidelines while good candidates struggle to be heard against well-connected and well-heeled republicans.  I have urged in a strident tone party Democrats to jump in and help level the playing field.

Well, be careful what you wish for.

While Tea Bagger Mick Mulvaney is fulfilling all his wet dreams by being able to use the eraser end of his pencil to cut from the budget every penny his former constituents depend on to survive, the race to replace him in South Carolina's District 5 has heated up.

In Kansas, in a district in which Trump won by 27 points, the House seat in last week's special election went to the republican candidate, but beating Democrat James Thompson by less than 7 points.  It appears that, while actual Democratic voters are fired up and ready to go, the Democratic Party took a look at the race and said, "Nah, too hard."

In Georgia's 6th, Jon Ossoff has had such a head of steam by virtue not only of his great credentials, a strong endorsement by Congressman John Lewis and the excitement of voters, that the Democratic Party has leaped into the battle.  He has been in the news for months, beginning with Rachel Maddow's interview with Daily Kos' David Nir, in which she scolded Party Dems for sitting on the sidelines and ended up lighting a fire under them.  He is so hot that republicans are paying for ridiculous attack ads to counter the groundswell of support.  And don't be surprised if the Trump-and-Pence show makes an appearance.

I am proud to say that here in South Carolina's 5th, while the republican clown car predictably is full (seven candidates) we have had three good people stand up to run in the Democratic Primary for Mulvaney's seat.

Here's the thing.  A few weeks ago, to my amazement, I got an email from Daily Kos endorsing Archie Parnell.  Not too long after that I heard that he was being endorsed by former Congressman John Spratt.  Then, last week, my email box was hit by pleas for donations from familiar names like Robby Mook, Daniel Barash, and the candidate himself.

Since I am not in the district, my first thought was to wonder who had given away the email list.  I hadn't gotten any mass emails from the woman I am endorsing, Alexis Frank.

And the publicity has been skewed.  The Union Daily Times reported on an event appearance by a Parnell staff member by referring to Parnell as "the sole Democrat" running.  Take this headline in The State:  "In SC Congress race, Goldman Sachs executive faces student."  Maybe if Alexis was a guy, the headline might have been "...Goldman Sachs executive faces army veteran."

This was an octopus of a candidate.  Suddenly he was everywhere.  It was a slick political race of the type we don't usually see in sleepy South Carolina towns.

When I first became aware of the race, I had sent an email to Alexis, asking for her positions on an array of issues.  She responded immediately, and I wrote endorsing her on my blog.  Parnell may look harmless,

and the video of his announcement with his wife wisecracking in the background was certainly clever.  But behind it all is the fact that he is a former Goldman Sachs senior advisor -- a fact that he does not explicitly mention, merely talking about his international financial expertise.

And with that, along with all the fund raising spam I have been getting from the various and sundry familiar names, and with the professional slickness of the campaign, I realized that Parnell's connections come not just from GS, but from Hillary.

I can almost picture those big guys at GS urging Archie to run.  And political contacts being made.

I hate to say it.  I believe Hillary's heart is in the right place, as are the campaign staff that don't really want to be twiddling their thumbs while Democratic candidates fall in special elections.  But here's the thing.

A primary is a different animal.  A primary is where the Democratic Party gets a chance to make headlines, to get people to show up.  It is a time when the Party can say, "look at all these great candidates that want to run for office.  Give them a listen."  It is a way of making people aware that, for one thing, there is an election happening, and for another, that there are real issues that need to be talked about.  And we Democrats have a few really good people that aren't afraid to get up there and debate those issues.

And, by the way, it gives the eventual winner the experience and confidence to go on and make their case to all the people.

Instead, we have the national Democratic Party coming into our town and putting their finger on the scale.  Much like what the DNC did under Debbie Wasserman-Schulz, when she decided that it would be better to try to block Bernie Sanders from the spotlight because he might hinder Hillary Clinton's shot at the nomination.  When in fact, the more the merrier should have been the call.

Meanwhile, Parnell never got back to my email asking for his stand on the issues, but at least now he has issues listed on his website.  It concerns me that his primary cause seems to be simplifying the tax code so we all can pay less in taxes.  That is a republican game, wherein they throw a few dollars at the middle class, millions more to the 1%, resulting in budget cuts to important programs to cover the loss in taxes.

The other concern I have is that he is running on his ability to "work with" republicans.  Wow.  So we have a Congress run by an extreme right-wing party which purpose is to cut needed programs from the working class and the poor, and Archie wants to work on compromise?  For too many years our party has been Charlie Brown hoping to get a chance at the football.  We make deals that cost us dearly, like Obama backing off on a public option so that the health insurance industry could retain control over the market, for that matter Ted Kennedy "working with" W. on the Medicare drug plan that would fatten the already bulging pockets of the pharmaceutical industry.

We saw President Obama get smacked around by a party that will do anything to win, including refusing to hold hearings for a moderate, well-respected Supreme Court nominee.  That is an insult to the Constitution that I believe even Scalia might have balked at.

It is a sad day when once again, the Democratic Party chases down the shiny object instead of doing the smart thing -- and more important, the right thing.

So here is what we can do about our SC District 5 special election.  The primary is coming up fast, on May 2.

1.  Continue to spread the word.  If you aren't in District 5, you surely know somebody who knows somebody who lives there.  Facebook, phone calls, or over Easter dinner, introduce people to Alexis Frank.

2.  Tell them why it is important to vote in the primary.  Let them know we don't need another representative of Wall Street going to Washington to simplify the tax code in order to make his old buddies richer.  And we don't need someone who is eager to work with republicans to cut programs.  It chills me when I hear people even suggest "working with" Trump on health care.  Because I guarantee, whatever we gain we will have more to lose.  We have been sliding down that slippery slope of compromise for too many decades.

3.  Those who live in District 5, show up whenever there is an event.  Support Alexis, ask questions of her and Parnell.  Ask Parnell the tough questions he hasn't yet had to answer.  What would he do about the minimum wage?  About raising the Social Security retirement age?  About vouchers for schools?  What business incentives does he support/oppose?  Where does he stand on women's reproductive rights?  Funding Planned Parenthood?  What rights should religious institutions have?  What would he do about campaign finance?  What should be done about immigration?

4.  Donate.  She's like us.  She doesn't have Wall Street bankrolling her.  That's why we need her fighting for us.  But she needs all we can give.

And Vote, Vote, Vote.  Remember that these special elections have low turnout, and getting out there, and taking someone with you, will make a difference.

Let's show the Goldman Sachs / Hillary bunch that we Dems can make our own decisions among ourselves.  And when we have a primary winner and we really need the power, the expertise and the deep pockets, we hope they will stand there with us.

Alexis Frank for Congress
SC District 5
Primary Tuesday May 2

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Playing at the Town Hall

One thing you can say about our own Lindsey Graham is that he is having a good ole time.  I watched all I could tolerate of his performance at his town hall on April 1, about a half hour.  Of the two of us, he was the only one really enjoying himself.

He knew he was being televised, and he had a full house, in a way a captive audience at his mercy.  Which I must say was a pretty clever turnaround after all the legislators who have been caught as though running red-handed from a crime scene.  Which they pretty much were, given the horrendous acts they had committed on their constituents over the past years.

Anyway, the thing about Lindsey is that he does a smooth transition, back and forth, from a level headed, rational person to a rabid right wingnut.  Likewise, his strut across the stage and his ready laugh go from charming to a bit maniacal.

What he did on Saturday was maintain control even in the face of a furious, fed up audience.  They were actually constituents, but he sure made it feel like they were an audience.

He started off with Russia.  Russia was easy.  I could tell he knew he nailed it with the audience, because we all know that Russia is the bad guy.  Trump was another easy one, because by now we all have shorthand for what we think of him, and we knew he agreed.  And that even though he hoped the Senate could do a sound investigation, the most important thing was not to get in the way of the FBI.

Once he got us all warmed up he tossed the bucket of cold water at us.  Gorsuch.  He’s been playing that tune since the nomination.  Lindsey Graham LOVES Neil Gorsuch.  How could he not?  Gorsuch is as slick as they come – as I learned to say in the South, he cleans up real good.  But underneath that well-dressed white haired dignified suit of armor is an angry, mean control freak.  Gorsuch is going to act out every damn thing Graham can only dream of.  He will consistently rule for corporations, which I don’t even think is the most important issue for Graham.  More important, he will take down women, dashing any hope for reproductive rights, worker rights, and basically, self-determination here in the 21st century.

Because Lindsey truly has a thing about women.  He could be reasonable about Obama, but when it comes to Hillary, his hatred is visceral.  And lately, you can see it in his eyes when he talks about Susan Rice.  Women in power.  Competent women.

So when those types of issues come up, that’s when we see crazy Lindsey.  That’s when facts fly out the window.  I believe this is why his defense of Gorsuch on Saturday was so shrill.  As though he had no idea that the nominee was even more right-wing than Scalia, he told the group that if they couldn’t see how qualified Gorsuch is then “you are blinded by your own partisanship.”  And that our problem with Gorsuch was entirely to do with Trump (and not Merrick Garland):  “You want to set the election aside because you can’t accept the results – that’s your problem,” adding, inevitably, that Trump is being investigated by the FBI, big deal, “so was Hillary Clinton.”  And of course, bringing up the made-up “Biden rule,” as though he has so much respect for Biden’s philosophy that he would follow him anywhere.

After that things went downhill.

There was the usual “Obamacare is failing,” followed by the very strange accusation that the ACA “was not designed to get us health care but to get single payer through the back door.”  A truly through-the-looking-glass moment as I recalled progressives’ anger at Obama, who had not just omitted the possibility of single-payer altogether, but also did away with a “public option” at the polite request of the insurance industry.

When that idiocy brought about some loud boos, he laughed and said, “Good fun!  This is better than going to the Flower Show.”  And proceeded to tell folks that if they like single payer, well, Canada has it.  And if we want his insurance we can join the military, apparently believing that his stint in the military is what makes him deserving of government health care, and not just being an American.  Adding that the VA system is a failure not because it does not have the funding to streamline and have more doctors, but because it is a monopoly.  Ending with a fantastical suggestion for improving health care with a combination of managed care for people of high risk (anybody remember the abomination known as managed care?), tax credits, and allowing sales across state lines.  Done and done.  Everybody insured.

About Betsy DeVos:  “She has spent most of her life working on alternatives to failing schools.”  The alternative being taking money out of public schools to profit private schools.

Around about that time, Graham had a brief attack of sanity.  Regarding social security and medicare, he offered that those with high incomes, like himself, should pay more, take less.  But then came the trade-off:  We should all be willing to raise the retirement and Medicare ages.

Now this has been a bee in Lindsey's bonnet for a very long time.  Way back in 2011, I made an ad for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee pleading with Lindsey not to change the social security retirement age.  It was actually featured on Keith Olbermann's Countdown; it was my fifteen minutes of fame and a truly proud moment.

Point being, that Lindsey is so out of touch with his constituents that he has no clue how many of us finally retire with aches and pains and actual disabilities at age 62, or force ourselves to work to age 66.  He has dismissed us whiners by saying we can just apply for disability, as though his gang of criminals has made it real easy for people who are hurting to cash in.  He has no idea how, thanks to folks on his side of the aisle, Medicare has been chipped and hacked at until it requires costly private supplements, another boon for the insurance industry.  I don't know how people survived before the pharmaceutical boondoggle known as Medicare Part D, but the way it stands now, with the drug plan, we are all in a position where cutting meds in half or living without them -- or not -- is a real option.

And then there is Planned Parenthood, where Lindsey has his final split from reality.  Again, a woman thing.  He doesn't much care about facts at this point, saying that the debate about funding "is about providing abortion services."

Lindsey is not an idiot.  He knows the government does not pay for abortion services -- although they damn well should -- yet he contends that this is the crux of the issue.  And this sometimes rational legislator is willing to not just vote for, but support cutting a truly essential source of women's reproductive health care because they also do abortions.  Like his blind spot with Hillary, the thought of women making their own choices about their bodies brings him to near Trump-level irrationality.

And I am just sick to death of having these unmarried old white guys obsessing over control of women's bodies.

But we are indeed left with crazy Uncle Lindsey.  He might toss you a quarter, but then you have to listen to him rant about Hillary and abortion if you want to keep it.  Unlike the other unmarried right wingnut who "represents" South Carolina in the Senate, at least Lindsey's head clears every once in awhile.  Is it good enough?

Graham has fought off challenges from the right.  He has lately blown away what the state Democratic Party seemed to think was its best chance, a challenger with the all the right stands on the issues, but one who was outmatched in the ability to take center stage.

Invincible?  I'm afraid it would take lots of money and a candidate brimming with personality and chutzpah, who could talk to the folks as though they were having barbecue and beer, and damned, knew what they were going through with that dad-gum gub'mint and was shore gonna fix it.  Somebody who could make even a thick-headed southerner admit that they didn't want their nutty next-door neighbor carrying a gun, or their teenage daughter having to have a baby when that nasty boy she was with got her knocked up.

That would surely do it.  And there's somebody out there just dying to step up. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Case for Eight Justices

Our own Lindsey Graham is having just too darn much fun at his town halls.  He loves the attention, loves to perform.  And doesn't give a rat's ass what we Dems have come to say.  He's not there to listen.  Buffered by misinformation about Planned Parenthood and abortion funding, a now regular misquote of Joe Biden's, and truly ironic comments about Democratic partisanship, his message is basically that Donald Trump is president, and we should just "get over it."

Graham justifies defunding Planned Parenthood to prevent the government from funding abortions, which it doesn't.

And after House republicans voted over fifty times to repeal the Affordable Care Act at an estimated cost of over $75 million, with big money behind challenges going to the Supremes, Graham is accusing DEMS of being partisan, and advising us to "get over it?"

And then there is the Joe Biden quote, that he has gleefully dragged out whenever asked about the Senate's refusal to even hear Merrick Garland's nomination by President Obama.

First of all, since when do republicans propose to follow anything Joe Biden advises?

Apart from that, the reality is that Joe Biden actually suggested that IF a seat became vacant during an election year, the nomination should not happen until after election day -- NOT until the newly elected president takes office.  The reasoning being that an election season should not be sullied by a contentious Supreme Court nomination debate (There are plenty of other things with which to sully it.).  His point being that the nomination should occur by the sitting president, but after Election Day.

Never passing up an opportunity to twist the truth to their advantage, republicans quickly named the misquote the "Biden Rule," and drag it out whenever convenient, happily during Obama's last year in office.

So let's stick the "Biden Rule" where it belongs and get on with the real issues about the Gorsuch nomination.

Most of us plain old American citizens don't really understand how important the Supreme Court is to the actual face of our day to day democracy.  We know about Roe v. Wade, and the more political of us know why Citizens United was bad, but truly, as we go about our daily lives, the make-up of the Supreme Court is the most important force in America.  The successful nominee will determine the direction of our country, and our lives, for decades.

It has been a bad time for the country because the Supremes have been ruled by narcissistic right wingnuts like Scalia, paranoid right wingnuts like Clarence Thomas,  and bought and paid for right wingnuts like Chief Justice Roberts for a very long time.  I can imagine the rage over the vacancies leading to the appointments of Sotomayor and Kagan during Obama's term.  After the initial shock, I imagine the republican response to Scalia's death was, "enough is enough --  NO MORE OBAMA JUSTICES!"

Of course we were stunned when McConnell pulled the "Biden Rule" from out of his ass, although we should not have been.  The republicans in Congress had done nothing other than plot to retake control for the eight years of Obama's presidency.  Their entire agenda had been centered around "NO."  They were primed to obstruct.

So, all the excuses to keep the quite moderate and well-respected Merrick Garland off the court are bullshit.  He was the legitimately chosen and extremely competent nominee and was denied a hearing and a vote.  The end.

But Dems being Dems, we are witnessing the waffling and spinning off that seems to always go on, and always results in splits that diminish our power and our message to the people.  That message being that we are standing together because it is the right thing to do and we feel that strongly about it that we will risk our careers to stand together.  You know, like the republicans did to regain Congress.

So, whether to filibuster or not?  Jeez, the justifications I've heard for voting for Gorsuch rather than filibuster have truly made me want to pull out my white hair.  He's going to get the votes anyway?  So I'll just help them along???  How about:  We don't want the republicans to change the rules and eliminate the filibuster, because then we can't use it next time.  Now that is truly the Democratic principle we all know and love, the one that says we should all cower and hope nobody notices that we aren't taking a stand.

Then we've got our perennial Dems in name only:  Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp, this time joined by Joe Donnelly.  Overlooking what was done to their sitting president and his nominee, they are claiming that they are voting yes because Gorsuch is qualified.  And they are afraid if they vote no they won't get re-elected.

Neil Gorsuch is the kind of right-wing obsessive-compulsive weasel who has made lots of bad decisions, but know just how to cross his t's and dot his i's so that they won't be overturned.  He is farther right than Antonin Scalia, and doesn't have his sense of humor.  He is John Roberts on steroids.  He is a moral twin to Mike Pence, who believe that God has granted them the power to make the poor and powerless swing in the breeze.

Fun fact:  Mike Pence reports that he will not dine alone with a woman who is not his wife.  I imagine his hair turned white from the amount of scrubbing he does to try to get the dirty thoughts out of his head.  I also wish the not-dining-with-women-alone thing were true of Gorsuch; it would be a great relief to our three woman justices once he is confirmed.

But enough comic relief.

The big money is on Gorsuch.  There are lovely ads put out by the Judicial Crisis Network telling us to call our Senators and tell them to confirm this wonderful man.  No surprise, the Judicial Crisis Network is a right wing dark money group which in fact fueled their self-named judicial crisis immediately after Obama nominated Merrick Garland.  It appears that McConnell isn't all that smart or politically determined; what it takes is those big guys who have kept the idiot in office all these years to tell him what stand to take.

Googling these dark and dirty groups, going backwards till my head spun, I came up with the Wellspring Committee run by Ann Corkery, moneyed religious right attorney who doesn't just put her money where her mouth is; she puts her mouth there too, as with an article for RealClearPolitics explaining how the Dems opposition to Jeff Sessions is based on falsehoods and,
"One, the left's reflexive opposition to all things Donald Trump.  Two, the left's prep work for the next confirmation battle over Trump's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court."
As far as facts and arguments go, we could say she's like Ann Coulter, but smarter.  And much richer.

The other nice thing about Corkery, Wellspring, Judicial Crisis Network, and all those other dark money groups is that they don't have to tell you who they really are and what they really do.  Corkery's twitter feed is a private group -- I didn't know you could even do that.  Secret money, secret affiliations, secret lives.  What we do know about all these groups and all this money behind Gorsuch is that their primary function is to protect their own power.  They are the people behind the corporations that run the country.  They are the "christian" conservatives that continue to put their money into controlling the rest of us with their fake family values, funding opposition to women's rights so that only women with money and influence can determine their reproductive lives and their futures.  They include the NRA and the Kochs.  JCN not only welcomes into their fold Dems who cave like Manchin and Heitkamp, they take to task their right-wing Supreme Court jurists who find against their interests, calling out Chief Justice Roberts for his decision on Obamacare.

If you want to try to follow the money, this is the article to read:

And while you are there, please feel free to donate to Open Secrets, a group that we are really going to need to ferret out the dark money during these dark days.

So, we have Dems that are doing all they can to slow down the inevitable appointment of extremist Neil Gorsuch.  He will rule against minorities, against women, against voting rights.  He will always, always rule in favor of corporations and the religious right.

A shame the Dems couldn't get it together, like, right from the beginning of this battle.  They knew Trump couldn't have come up with a qualified nominee (one who could speak in complete sentences with words of more than one syllable, and who hadn't been indicted on anything) all on his own.  The deal that has made Paul Ryan Trump's lapdog may have had more to do with choosing the right Supreme Court justice than with agreeing on repealing Obamacare.  We all know that other than furthering Trump's fame and fortune, he really doesn't care what gets done.  We know he was handed a list of acceptable nominees, and can only assume he closed his eyes and pointed to Gorsuch.

Dems united in this battle, refusing to accept anyone who was not Merrick Garland, and the DNC putting money into ads and publicity insisting on same, might have still gotten us Gorsuch, but might have put things off for quite awhile.  The fuss about having to have nine justices just doesn't hold water.  I think the Supremes have done just fine with four and four.  Because in order to accomplish anything, four would have to be persuasive enough to convince a fifth to come over.  I put my money on my team.  I believe the women justices are smarter and more determined than those characters on the right.  I believe Kennedy has been persuaded more than once since his pal Scalia has found out once and for all whether satan really exists.

Without a skeevy Mike Pence being able to cast a deciding vote as he does in the Senate, an eight judge court might be the closest thing to nonpartisan, democratic decisions we will have.

What can we do?  We can make that call that the Judicial Crisis Network wants us to make.

Call your Senator:  202-224-3121 and tell them NO to Neil Gorsuch.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Ironic Cherry Reads...

The Sack of Rome
by Alexander Stille

Hitler, Trump,... Berlusconi?  I didn't believe it either.  Italy is such a small place, I hardly pay attention to it, except for the food.  But when we weren't looking, Silvio Berlusconi took over and ran a country already corrupted into the ground.  And when I read about the parallels between Italy's prime minister and our own clown president in the New York Times in December, I decided to learn more.

The Sack of Rome was written in 2006, but rather than feel outdated, it is prescient.  When the author compares Berlusconi's manipulations to those of George W. Bush, the impression is that W. was just a prequel to the Trump reality show.  And that Trump is more Berlusconi than W., albeit even a bit stupider.

From odd bits like both being germophobes and referring to themselves in the third person, there are the more significant details of personal history, like the origination of their wealth in real estate development.  In fact, the lies and obfuscations, the hidden deals behind the schemes, are eerily similar.  Both bolster arguments with false quotes and statistics.  Neither read much.  And both garnered fame and power with the people of their country by virtue of media empire -- Berlusconi's ownership and control over television in Italy and Trump's fame and popularity beginning with Miss Universe pageants and culminating with the image of the successful entrepreneur and business mogul on the reality show, The Apprentice.

We mostly assume Trump is an idiot, because his poor impulse control and anger have led to some really dumb moves.  His attacks on people who might be supporters tend to prove he is not as smart as he thinks.  Or it might just be that the crazy has overridden the smart.

But Berlusconi seems to have a shrewd intellect wherein he has planned his successes with a philosophy that Trump can merely mimic.  As owner of the first private television station in the country, Berlusconi imported popular American TV shows that had been unavailable through the government owned station.  Then he built up commercial advertising in a way that multiplied both power and profit.

Berlusconi was hands on with both programming and personnel of his media empire.  As Stille writes:

"Berlusconi went unabashedly after the lowest common denominator and made the silent majority the protagonist of his television.  'Remember that the audience of our listeners, as they say in America, have an eighth-grade education and were not at the top of their class,' he told his sales force in the late 1980's."

And then there is his involvement with the Mafia, the shady characters that aided and abetted his ambitious plan for power and wealth.  Much as Trump and Russia, it was a mutually beneficial dirty deal.  And supporters of both merely shrugged off the complicity as something that was necessary to bring change.  Both assumed that it would take someone who knew how to deal and had the great wealth to prove it in order to bring order to their lives.

There needs to be a certain level of distrust and cynicism for the people of a nation to hand the reigns of power over to a leader who is known to be corrupt.  And in our country we have grown accustomed to lies, deceits and deals from our politicians.  We have a media that no longer is required to hold to standards of ethics or even pretend to fairness, in spite of claims to the contrary.  Our political leaders spend more time courting the wealthy and powerful and holding meetings to plan how they will control the electorate than actually listening to voters, which has been proved dramatically during the past several months of town hall evasions by legislators.

And after years of lies and innuendo, buttressed by a media that went after the most outrageous news rather than the most credible, we saw our election sabotaged to the point where people who should have known better said they couldn't vote for Hillary because they just couldn't trust her.  Day after day of Chuck Todd inserting in every story that these were the two most unpopular candidates ever, as though he had nothing to do with the perception.

The pressure on the media for ratings and ad dollars wakened and gave life to the hibernating Trump, but it took Russia to know what strings to pull to unravel our democracy.  And the corruption seeped through the system.  The cynicism that had been growing in the American people for decades allowed supporters to cheer when Trump said "crooked Hillary" even though they knew he had scammed Trump University enrollees; it is the kind of cynicism that has Michael Flynn yelling "lock her up" even as his is conspiring with the Russian government.

In fact, in the New Yorker article by John Cassidy cited above, he says,
"It is also worth recalling that, in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, another populist businessman, served as Prime Minister four times despite a list of allegations against him that included bribery, tax evasion, sexual misconduct, and having ties to the mafia."
For an American who isn't much interested in the world outside my own walls, this book was a page turner.  I would like to recommend it, but I realize we all could use a diversion in these dark days.  So let me suggest a drinking game to go along with the book.  Take a shot every time you can substitute "Trump" for "Berlusconi."  And don't plan on driving anywhere for awhile.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Tim Scott's Health Care Fantasy

I was going to write about the Supremes today.  But then I got an email from Tim Scott weaving his usual out-of-touch right-wing imaginings.  Of course, these aren't his own ideas; he has no more ability to think on his own than his president does.  He is just passing on the Word of his true constituents, the ones that line his pockets and assure his re-election.

Tim Scott appreciated my input on the ACA as well as the opportunity to share "his" thoughts with me.  Basically, it was the same talking points we have been hearing as all republicans are speaking with one mouthpiece as they cheer on the death of Obamacare.

Premiums and deductibles have gone up (soared is the word they are required to use).  Choice has gone down as we all know:  insurers are opting to leave the marketplace.  If you have lots of time you may want to dig into why this happened.  It could be that insurers were planning the hike before the election in order to butter their bread on the side that will ensure them the most profit.  We know (but forget) that premiums "soared" pretty much consistently before the ACA, and slowed dramatically afterwards, and let's assume that, as in the past, the insurance industry will take every opportunity to hike premiums when they can.  And by the way, much was made of Aetna dropping out of the exchange because of cost.  Turns out, it was a move to increase the likelihood of the courts approving their merger with Humana.  Who knew an industry giant would mislead the public to advance their own cause? 

Of course, republicans, like their president, don't care to do actual research and find actual facts, so talking points will do.  They all have similarly apocalyptic language, like Scott's:

"It increased taxes, stifled job creation, and created an entirely new classes of the uninsured: those who pay penalties because they cannot afford the mandated plans, and those who buy plans with high premiums and deductibles, which keeps them from actually using their coverage. The regulatory burden and mandates that the PPACA places on providers, businesses and families serves to increase costs and reduce access to care." 

Those of us who live in a fact-based world, and actually walk around outside of the bubble know that taxes were increased on the wealthy, Scott's true constituency.  We know from jobs reports that unemployment has actually gone down in the Obama years, and despite republican obstruction, wages actually began to go up.

Ignoring the grammatical error, there are indeed uninsured who pay penalties under the ACA; Scott makes the great leap that they do this because they cannot afford the mandated plans.  Let me just say:  bullshit.  If they could not afford the mandated plans, they would be entitled to the government subsidy, just as I was for the 1 1/2 years I was on Obamacare, before I became eligible for Medicare.  And I would like to add that my plan (one of the dreaded Blue Cross plans) was not just the most affordable but had the absolutely best benefits I have ever had under one plan.  Now, they may have chosen not to enroll in the ACA because they had the money but didn't want to spend it on healthcare, kind of like Jason Chaffetz' fantasy that we working poor are spending our money on those nice new iPhones instead of health insurance.  And with the help of the Supremes and right-wing Congress critters like Scott, the penalty for non-compliance ended up being minimal enough to be worth paying it rather than jump in and get health insurance.

The regulatory "burden" and mandates placed on providers include requiring most of the premiums paid to go back into actual health care payouts rather than things like advertising dollars.  Regulations include requiring quality health care, including preventative coverage, caps on raising premiums and deductibles, removing the lifetime cap on coverage, requiring coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.  You know, all that nasty fine-print insurance companies have been getting away with for decades, with the blessing of people like Tim Scott.

Scott goes on to say that one of his priorities is denying patients the ability to sue doctors for malpractice, or as he calls it, "medical tort reform."  Reform has a pleasant, positive sound, and a lot of people don't even know what a tort is, although it sounds yummy, so the whole thing just sounds like a good idea.  He then goes on to say that he wants everybody to have the same "great success" as they have had with tort reform in Texas.

Call me a cynic, but when somebody suggests that we should be more like Texas, I tend to want to look into that.  In fact, other than those with employer based insurance and us older folks on Medicare, statistics compiled by the Texas Medical Association pretty much show Texas insuring far fewer individuals than the U.S. average (2014):

Comparison of Texas Uninsured Population to U.S. Uninsured Population
Uninsured total population
Texas Uninsured: 16%
U.S. Uninsured: 9%
Uninsured children
Texas Uninsured: 9% 
U.S. Uninsured: 5%  
All adults uninsured, 19-64 years of age
Texas Uninsured: 22%
U.S. Uninsured: 13%
Uninsured women 19-64 
Texas Uninsured: 21%
U.S. Uninsured: 11%
Uninsured men 19-64
Texas Uninsured: 22%
U.S. Uninsured: 14%
Nonelderly uninsured- at least one full-time worker
Texas Uninsured: 76%
U.S. Uninsured: 74%
Enough with statistics.  Scott then goes on in his email to sing the praises of the AHCA, or Trumpcare.
"This legislation aims to lower the cost of health care coverage and improve patients' choice by repealing the PPACA taxes, eliminating the individual and employer mandates penalties, expanding Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), and providing a monthly tax credit for individuals and families who don't receive insurance through work or a government program."
The only way health care coverage is going to be lowered is by offering -- lots -- fewer benefits.  You know, those pre-ACA era plans that were cheap enough to afford, and then when you got sick you found out why.  As far as "choice" goes we should all know by now that the word "choice" coming from a republican has the same oxymoronic meaning as the word "freedom."  We get to choose our health plan if we have lots of money to pay for it.  Period.

On the plus side, for people like Scott, Ryan, and Trump that is, is that the taxes that would have been paid by the wealthy to pay for the health care for the rest of us is repealed.  And if you decide you just don't want to play, you don't have to pay those pesky penalties.  Both of which serve the additional function of strangling any health care benefits to those with lower incomes that remain.

Speaking of which, let's end on a laugh.  Health Savings Accounts mean that if your income is high enough for you to actually live comfortably, and not paycheck to paycheck, you can put money aside for future illness.  If you work at McDonald's, let's assume that doesn't work for you.

In that case, you might have a chuckle over the other option:  tax credits.  This means that if, at the end of the year, when you pay your taxes, if you owe $4,000 or more, the government will give you back $4,000 toward your health care costs.  Of course, if you are one of those freeloaders who is trying to support your family on, say, $25,000, and you don't pay any taxes, well, you're on your own paying those premiums.

So in conclusion, I would just like to thank Tim Scott for sharing his perspective with me.  Just as when I communicate my thoughts to him, his thoughts have absolutely nothing to do with my life in the real world, so there is as little chance of me changing my perspective as of him changing his.  At least he gets paid to maintain his warped view of what Americans need.

On the bright side, though, I am writing to you all knowing that you understand what the real world is like, and will help spread the word about what that nice Tim Scott really plans on doing to our health care.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Fighting for Alexis... So She Can Fight for Us

Well, we have been marching and rallying, we have been sending postcards and going to town halls.  We have been energized, then depressed and then back again.  We have been watching in horror as the right-wing fanatics, the wealthy, the corporations, led by Donald Trump, have been taking apart America, piece by piece.

Mick Mulvaney, former representative from South Carolina's 5th, now holds the purse strings to the country.  And like our crazy uncle, he plans on "draining the swamp" of anyone who needs the government to level the playing field, get back on our feet, exist day-to-day.  He, like the rest of the Deplorables, believes that to the victor go the spoils, meaning tax breaks for the rich, and draining "the swamp" of the rest of us.

But the good news is, Mulvaney's plum post leaves a vacancy in the House of Representatives.  And there is a primary being held on May 2.

SC's 5th Congressional District borders Columbia, Spartanburg and North Carolina.  It includes Rock Hill, which is the fifth largest city in the state.  I am happy to say that it also includes Union, home of the best burnt bologna sandwich I have ever had.

from Ballotpedia

As of this writing, there is the usual clown car full of republicans running in the primary, assuming that this district will be an easy win, you might say, a steal.  There are also a bunch of third party candidates throwing in their hats.  But we have a really exciting choice among the three Democrats that are running.

To be fair, let me run down all three.

Les Murphy is the newest candidate, and other than the fact that he is a former Marine, I can't tell you anything about him.

Archie Parnell appears to be the guy most people are going to be watching.  He's got the smarts and he has a lot of experience.  And he has the funding.  The thing is, what he has to say on the issues is pretty much what everybody says on the issues.  He is going to make the tax code shorter and simpler.  He wants to work for small businesses, not big corporations.  He knows a lot about budgets.  What Archie doesn't tell us is where he stands on things like:  health care, the environment, education, voting rights, minority rights, women's rights.  Oh, and he doesn't tell us that he was a senior advisor for Goldman-Sachs.

But wait!  The candidate we really need to take a look at is Alexis Frank.

She is smart, and she is on our side of every issue.  She understands about rural South Carolina because she grew up there.  She knows that the priorities are jobs, education, and health care.  She will fight to save the rights that are being attacked by the Trump administration and a right-wing, out-of-control republican congress.

I was going to summarize her positions on some of the issues, but thought it would be even better to just pass on what she wrote me:

Healthcare: I do not believe that the new Ryan plan is better than Obamacare. I acknowledge that Obamacare was not a perfect system, but this new plan is worse. I agree with removing the mandate, but replacing it with a 30% charge to your premium for the first year is craziness. Also, I do not agree with removing the medicaid expansion. Most parts of District 5 are rural, with hospitals providing most of the jobs in those regions. With medicaid not as widely available, jobs in those hospitals will also suffer. We are also talking about 10 million people losing coverage, how is that better?

Environment: I'm not sure if anyone else has noticed, but it was remarkably warm this winter. That is not a good thing, that is Global Warming. The fact that some lawmakers do not think that Carbon Dioxide contributes to global warming is completely unfounded. There are numerous scientific reports that back the fears that these gasses and emissions are causing our polar ice caps to melt. Also, placing someone in charge of the EPA who doesn't believe in global warming is nuts. And in no way, shape, or form should the EPA be dismantled or not continue to be funded.

National Security: Donald Trump himself is a threat to national security with his reckless tweeting and a need to host foreign leaders at Mar-A-Lago. He does not regularly consult his National Security advisors and putting someone as smug, and uneducated in national security matters like Steve Bannon on the National Security Council threatens the security of every American.

Taxation: I will admit, I am not as well versed in this as I should be. However, I know that we should not be allowing big businesses to benefit the most from tax breaks while middle class families that make 50,000 a year are paying 10-15,000 of that just in taxes. There should also be no discussion of not allowing homeowners to write off their mortgage interest or having to pay taxes on capital gains from selling their homes.

Worker's Rights: I believe that the minimum wage should be a living wage, but I believe that varies from state-to-state.  I believe that the federal minimum wage should be raised to at least $10/hour. However, depending on the economy of each individual state, it should be raised from there. The minimum wage in California should not match that of South Carolina simply because the economy, housing markets, etc. are completely different. SC is a right to work state; however, I believe that unions have a powerful purpose in helping workers fight for better healthcare, pensions, and other benefits. Also, in SC we need to understand that in many of our rural counties, blue collar jobs drive those communities. We need to make sure those jobs are available and that we are striving to find people to fill those jobs.

Small Businesses: Are the framework of the American dream. These entrepreneurs deserve the utmost respect and their businesses should not be run into the ground because of taxes and high costs of providing healthcare to their employees. They should benefit from lower taxes than big businesses, and allowed more tax breaks for situations like expansion.

Women's Rights:   I absolutely feel that women's rights are currently under attack. I would never choose abortion for myself but I stand with a woman's right to choose that for herself, and a woman should not be made to feel like a criminal or less of a woman for making that choice. I stand with Planned Parenthood because I acknowledge how much value the services they provide, bring to women.

And here is her background:

I was born in Hartsville, SC and I moved to Rock Hill when I was 15. But for my husband being stationed in Jacksonville, NC, I consider this place to be home. When my husband deploys, I come home. When he goes to extended training, I come home. I live here now, so that I can properly represent the people of this district. My ties here are strong. My mother teaches at Rock Hill High and my brother teaches at Winthrop. It is important for people to understand that me getting out to hear the people and talk to them face-to-face, is the best way, and the only way we will truly learn about the people of our district and their concerns. That is what I am here to do.

As you might guess, Alexis doesn't have deep pockets, and doesn't have the connections to big money that other candidates might have.  Rather, she is one of us.  So she is going to need our help and support.

While she is working on her Facebook profile and website, and until she has her ActBlue account up and running, you can donate at:

It really is time to make a difference.  If we don't live in District 5, we know people who do.  Chances are, they don't know there is a special election primary on May 5.  And if they do know, and if they have read the names of the candidates in the newspaper, they probably don't have the wealth of information you now have.

And I can guarantee that when it comes down to the issues, Alexis is going to be the candidate that the voters will want to see in the House of Representatives.

So spread the word in person and on social media.  Make a donation if you can.  Mark your calendar, and make sure your friends and family mark their's.

We have marched a few miles to change things this year, and now we just need to make sure we all march to the polls to take Alexis Frank to Congress.