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The Sack of Rome was written in 2006, but rather than feel outdated, it is prescient.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.

Monday, March 13, 2017

With Us or Without Us – Special Election Edition

It was a bad news/good news thing.  The bad news is that Mick Mulvaney is now in charge of the federal purse-strings.  The good news is that there is an opening in Congress.  And we – the people of South Carolina – are fired up and ready to go.

Except that there appears to be a huge information vacuum.  Typically informed people (like myself) are scrounging around Facebook and the internet trying to get information about who and when.  There appears to be an awful lot of information about the republican side of the equation:  a clown car full of enthusiastic right-wingers eager to fill the stingy shoes of Tea Partier and loyal Trumper Mick Mulvaney.  It seems obvious that they are looking at it as an easy win for their side, and well worth the fight.  On the Democratic side, there are three, all new to politics, and there are even a couple of independents.

Isn’t this when the Democratic Party should be stepping in?  We’ve got two good people who have stepped up to run, and a primary coming up on May 2.  And District 5 has gone Democratic enough times in the recent past that one could imagine voters angry enough about losing their health care and tax cuts for the rich that this district could flip.

In typical Democratic fashion, I have my fears and my hopes for my party.

My fear is that we won’t hear much from the party, state or national, other than the ubiquitous fund-raising email.  In the few weeks before the primary, we are going to hide somewhere and let the republicans fight it out.  And then after the primary, there will be some half-hearted support, with the general philosophy being that the Democratic Party should save their strength (and financial support) for 2018.  Over the last election season, with a number of great candidates, there was little party support, and even South Carolina hero Jim Clyburn commented in one of our major newspapers that there was little chance of a win.  I am not expecting that I will hear much more from Jim than those auto-generated emails asking for money or explaining that while he enjoys hearing from me he is much too busy to answer.

My hope?  I am thinking that, much as the Democratic Party has woken up to support Jon Ossoff in Georgia's 6th, our SCDP and the DNC will take off.  I am hoping that they won't wait for a kvetch from Rachel Maddow, whose where-is-the-Democratic-Party rant appeared to light the fire under the party in the Ossoff race.  And I am hoping that they won't wait till the primary is over to act.  This is why:

There are a couple of factors that will ensure a republican victory.  One is that no one has ever heard of the Democratic candidate.  I have seen this happen time and again in races in South Carolina.  Everybody knows Tim Scott, because the republican party and wealthy right-wing donors have put his face and name front and center in the media for as long as they have been grooming him to carry their water.  He does photo-ops at elementary schools and gets fake awards from right-wing organizations that commend his fight for seniors and the environment.  And the last time he ran, even though he had a strong and passionate opponent, a man who represented the ideals of the Democratic Party, who fought in the community and for the people of South Carolina, to most voters he was running unopposed.  ETV refused to sponsor a debate.  There was no push to get him in front of the cameras or in the newspaper.  And that was true of the other good candidates, who threw themselves into their races in spite of the lukewarm enthusiasm of the party.

And it isn't just name recognition.  The other factor that moves the republicans to victory is that they have been making their arguments in the public forum for months before the final election.  By the time someone has won in the primary, they have been debating the issues and they know their stuff.  And the public has heard them speak.

The Democratic primary candidates need to have that same opportunity.  They need to rehearse their positions and become more confident about them.  They need to get out in front of the people, and the cameras, and do a bunch of interviews.  The Democratic Party needs to use their influence, their fund of knowledge, and their media clout to generate the publicity.

And debates.  We -- my party -- made a big mistake during the presidential election by trying to avoid letting Bernie and Hillary debate.  Not only did it look like favoritism, which it was, it gave the appearance that the party did not think the voter had the right or the capacity to listen to the candidates and make the best decision.  In other words, to be exposed to the democratic process.

The more debates, the more publicity, the more exposure Democrats can generate in the primaries, the more experience they can gain, the more likely they will be entering the general race equal to the fight.

So, I am hoping that the SCDP will get busy letting us all know a) that we have candidates in this race and b) that we have a primary.  I am hoping that they will see the primary race as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.

I can't emphasize enough how much enthusiasm there is for this race.  We people on the ground -- you know, the voters -- could really use the resources of the Democratic Party to help us move the election.  We need information about the candidates, maybe fact sheets, position papers, but done in a way that we will all be sharing the information on social media.  We need youtube videos to share.  We need exposure to the candidates themselves; they need to become familiar to not just us Dems but to everyone.

And because this is a social media world, I hope the party will be aware that it won't just be District 5 that will be watching this race.  We will all be working to inform our friends about the candidates.  We can truly work together, even without the deep pockets of the republican side.

Indivisible has given us the tools, and the travesty of the Trump administration and the 115th congress has given us lots of voice and motivation.  Most important, it will be the issues that will lead us to this win, and not the party identity.  And yet, without the party, the candidates will have to fight with less organization and media presence.

This race could be the one that proves that the Democratic Party and the people can be the formidable force that will begin to take down Trump's destructive reign.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Just Let the Girl Go!

Because it is Women’s History Month, I am going to take this time to indulge in a rant that has been building up for years.  It is about referring to women as “girls.”

I am currently reading John Grisham’s newest, The Whistler (about a whistleblower).  There is a meeting with the local constable and the chief of this Indian tribe.  The Chief wants to know about “the girl” that was in the accident.  “The girl” is a lawyer and investigator in her thirties.

Not to want to be overly sensitive, I asked myself if maybe there were groups of people who continue, in 2017, to refer to women as “girls.”  I don’t know this, so I am asking my readers.  As far as myself and the people I tend to hang around with, we call a woman a woman.  Although, in my old age, I admit to having made the distinction between a woman and a “young woman” more than once.  And I suppose there are young women who would not be able to resist describing me as an “older woman” (to be polite) or an “old woman” to be less so.

Calling a woman a girl just happens way too frequently in books and movies.  And I’m talking authors like Grisham, and movies… well, I can’t think of a specific one at the moment, but the last time it happened my head spun because it was so inappropriate to the quality of the movie.

Whether or not you know people who refer to women as girls, or whether you do it yourself – and you know who you are – I am here today to say, just stop it.  You would be unlikely to refer to a man in his thirties as a boy, although you may, like me, have a hard time calling a man in his twenties anything but a young man.  In fact, I would like to suggest that at age eighteen, boy and girl are no longer appropriate descriptors.

I also have a problem with the fact that although we are forbidden to say “the ‘n’ word,” it is perfectly okay to use the word “bitch” fairly indiscriminately, and even on network TV.  Just as horrific things were said in reference to President Obama’s blackness, women (like Hillary Clinton) have had ugly abuses heaped upon her in relation to her sex.

It has to start somewhere, so let it start with calling a woman a woman.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Ironic Cherry reads...

The Gilded Rage:  A Wild Ride through
Donald Trump’s America
by Alexander Zaitchik

So I’ve been listening to all the debates about what the Democrats did wrong – what Hillary did wrong – to lose the election to the orange-haired psycho.  I’ve heard Michael Moore talk about how the once bustling manufacturing states are now devastated.  I’ve read both Listen, Liberal and The Limousine Liberal.  I have been arguing with people since November about whether we could have won if only…

If only Hillary had spoken to the working people instead of just the minorities.  If only she had not ignored the white people.  If only she had gone to Wisconsin.  If she had not ignored the unions.

And then I read The Gilded Rage.

Alexander Zaitchik is one of those people who wanted to understand the Trump supporter.  Enough so that he went out to “Trump country” to meet and interview them.  It was an eye opener, but not in the way you might think.

As promised, he met with a lot of really nice, reasonable people.  They were not the mad hordes that were pummeling protesters and threatening media at the rallies.  In fact, it was a bit embarrassing to hear about the angry anti-Trump protesters who shouted diatribes and blocked the road at some events.

But still, there was something decidedly off here.  I’m talking about the capacity for logical thinking.

There was the couple who lived near the border, who talked honestly and rationally about how they had lived peacefully with both cartel and Border Patrol, even though both had broken into their homes and stolen from them over the years.  Who knew that “the wall” was not something that would solve any problems.

There was the environmental activist in West Virginia who fought the coal companies after seeing children get sick from inhaling the soot that coated everything, and whose friends and neighbors had turned on him because they saw him as taking away their livelihood.

There was the woman in Wisconsin who had grown up in a middle-class family where the jobs were secure and paid the bills with money left over for a night out, where the benefits included health care and a decent retirement.  Who now worried about supporting herself and her daughter because the jobs had gone to immigrants, or the factories had gone to Mexico.

The thing is, you’d be reading along, nodding your head, thinking you understand, and then they would say, “So that’s why I’m voting for Donald Trump.”  And then your head explodes.

There was a guy, a small business man, who complained about illegal immigrants coming in and “getting benefits that legal immigrants can’t have.”  Who then admits that he employs “illegals.  Pay them cash….  I feel very guilty about it.”

What it is, is a huge disconnect.  A line that begins to get drawn from point A to point B and takes a detour to a whole other alphabet.

And that leads me to wonder how on earth Hillary could have debated an argument that was so illogical.

I’m not saying that the Democratic Party has not made a huge mistake when it began, in the Clinton years and through the Obama presidency, to ally itself with bankers instead of unions.  Bill Clinton has admitted he made mistakes, in his charmingly humble way.  I don’t know that Barack Obama has yet admitted that he should have made the bankers criminally liable for their acts and worked harder to help those who were losing their homes.

I made excuses for Hillary’s alliances with Wall Street.  I still do.  It is the system we have.  I know that our Democratic Party has been quaking in their boots since Reagan hijacked the country with his false promises.  To this day, when most voters don’t know or give a damn who Ronald Reagan was, Democrats can still be counted on to bring him up as an American hero, caught in a political Stockholm syndrome.  Shame on them for hiding in the center, hoping no one will notice they aren’t really who they say they are.

I do know that, in the face of Bernie’s wild success, and when confronted by groups like Black Lives Matter, Hillary listened.  She changed some policy, like with trade agreements, and then took shit for changing her mind.  But she was fighting for women and minorities AND she was fighting to raise the minimum wage.  Even more than Bill and Barack, I believe Hillary’s heart is in the right place.  Because she is a woman, she is better at listening, and because she is Hillary, she really wants to do the right thing.

Meanwhile, there were people who had good reason to be angry about being ignored by those in power, but whose anger was manipulated by the very people who were responsible for their losses.  It was the power of celebrity and the power of the con artist.  And no matter what paths of logic they took, they would always come to the conclusion that they wanted to come to:  the billionaire was going to save them.  He wasn’t afraid to say, well, anything.  So that meant he wasn’t political.  And, ta-da! that meant he would be fighting for them.

Actually, we have learned through hard experience that Donald Trump is exactly the same as those other sixteen republican candidates, just stupider and more impulsive.  And his lies are bolder.  And he is a showman.  Unfortunately, that is a powerful combination in a reality TV world.

Gilded Rage is a short, quick read, and I think it is important to actually listen to the reasoning of these Trump voters.  I don’t think they elected Trump.  I think they were a part of a process that involved Russian hacking, FBI meddling, lies and cons, along with an election system that fails to count too many votes, and ended up with the loser getting three million more votes than the winner.  The election also spoke to thirty years of lies and distortions about Hillary Clinton, so that even reasonable Democrats would shake their heads and say, “I just don’t trust her,” even though they couldn’t tell you a single thing she had been found guilty of.  And, last but not least, the fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman.

Under different circumstances, she still would not have convinced any of the people in Gilded Rage that she would do more for them than Trump.  And it is possible she would not have been able to do much more for them than Barack Obama.  The fact is, we live in a country in which the wealthy control the conversation, and people are too frightened and insecure to question those who wield the power.  And, like the good people in the book, they will take themselves through all kinds of contortions of logic in order to get to the point where they can say, “I’m with him.”

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Thing About Health Care

First of all, let me just say that “health care” and “health insurance” are two different things.  But somewhere along the way, we have started to call health insurance, health care.

I remember the days when a health insurance plan did not necessarily provide a person with health care.  There were abominable deductibles and co-pays, and lots and lots of health care that just wasn’t covered.  Remember that?  It wasn’t so long ago.

And then, to republicans’ great consternation, Obamacare required minimum standards that were actually standards and not rip-offs.  The complaint from the right-wing was not at all about quality of care, it was about… freedom of choice.  That’s right.  The government was telling you that you would no longer be allowed to buy a sub-standard health insurance plan.

Shortly after the ACA became a real thing, I heard a guy at the optometrist’s office complaining to the receptionist about his Obamacare.  “I do get more stuff covered,” he admitted, grudgingly.

But now the good old days are coming back.  We consumers will once again have freedom of choice, by which I mean freedom to choose health insurance that you can afford even if it doesn’t really provide adequate health care, and even the freedom to be uninsured.  "Boy howdy!" as Rachel Maddow would exclaim.

And then there is the current big debate among the majority lawmakers over tax credits.  What tax credits mean is that when you pay your taxes, you will get a credit for a certain amount to go towards payment for health insurance.  So, if your health insurance costs $3,000 a year, you would have to pay $3,000 less in taxes.  Sounds good, right?

But suppose your income is so low that you only owe $1,000 in taxes?  What happens to that other $2,000 of health insurance cost?  That, friend, is what our lawmakers are bickering about.  The less evil among them believe the government should pick up the other $2,000, while the Ted Cruzes and Paul Ryans -- we know who you are -- believe we should just go suck eggs.

Until the ACA came along, Medicaid covered low-income seniors, children and the disabled.  If you were an adult working, say, at McDonald's, and you were most likely not earning a living wage, you most likely couldn't afford health insurance and you did not qualify for Medicaid.  For much of the country, Obama's Medicaid expansion changed that, providing federal dollars to cover those whose earnings put them somewhere between a rock and a hard place.

Republicans saw the injustice in providing health insurance to the working poor, however, and got the Supremes to agree that governors could decide whether or not they would take the free money.  And some of those anti-tax governors just could not go along with taking tax dollars, especially if they weren't going to benefit big corporations.  Here in South Carolina, where Nikki Haley refused to accept the Medicaid expansion, that meant you qualified if you earned less than $12,000 a year, and had less than $7,300 in savings.  So I am thinking (and this whole thing is about as clear as earwax) that if you are a low-income worker in SC, the good news is you may be no worse off after Congress and Trump get done with health insurance.

Sadly, that will be true for a whole lot more Americans.  And for those of us whose income qualified them for health insurance through the ACA, tax credits will mean a lot more of us will be falling through the cracks.  The good news about this, though, is that those fools will probably also repeal the mandate, so if you can't afford health insurance, you won't get fined for not being able to buy it.

The republican congress did not show up much in the eight years of Obama's presidency.  Mostly they were there to block any proposals made by the president and congressional Democrats.  That meant filling their time with lots of votes to repeal Obamacare.  These days I have heard more than once that they are like the dog that caught the car.  And I am really proud to say that, beginning with the Woman's March on January 21, we have been a big part of their problem.

We have shown up at town halls, made phone calls, protested, marched, written letters to the editor, and pretty much kept legislators awake nights wondering how they can sneak this travesty by us while we are watching their every move.

Apparently, even the Americans who voted R have finally woken up to see that something they need badly is being snatched out of their hands.

There is a lot of crap flying these days.  We are trying to fight as much of it as we can.  There are bad things that will happen.  For awhile, corporations will be having a big party, overindulging and then throwing up all over our country.  The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer, until those of us who have been buying the stuff that make the plutocrats fat can't afford it anymore.  It happened in 2008.

But this time we anticipated it, and we didn't just let it get reported in the news.  We took to the streets, and we are fighting it.  I don't know if the republicans are going to be able to turn health care into the tragedy it was before the ACA, or if they will just mangle it beyond recognition.  I do know that their decision will take them down.

And then we get to build it again.