Browsing the blog archives for September, 2017.


Trump at the UN: He Kept His Shoes On

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Trump Maladministration

Khrushchev and his shoe at the UN, 1960

Trump addressed the UN this morning, and I’m pleased to say that he did not at any point pull off a shoe and pound it on the podium. Credit where credit is due.

However, that’s the good news. Here’s the bad news: The content of the speech.

The headlines from the speech are calling out Trump’s threat to bury North Korea.  Well, okay, he said “totally destroy,” not “bury,” which arguably is worse. But at least he didn’t remove articles of clothing to make a point. I’m sure someone in media will give him presidential points for being presidential and all, that he didn’t disrobe on live TV.

Here’s a snip from the Washington Post:

The president warned of growing threats from North Korea and Iran, and he said, “The scourge of our planet is a group of rogue regimes.”

He praised the U.N. for enacting economic sanctions on Pyongyang over its nuclear and ballistic missile tests. But he emphasized that if Kim Jong Un’s regime continued to threaten the United States and to destabilize East Asia, his administration would be prepared to defend the country and its allies.

“We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump said, before calling Kim by a nickname he gave the dictator on Twitter over the weekend. “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself.”

Trump added, “If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph.”

Ooo, we’re even calling Kim Jong Un funny names. That’s so … third grade.

Aaron Blake writes,

President Trump took to the floor of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday and, in his maiden speech there, called the leader of North Korea “Rocket Man,” decried “loser terrorists” and said certain parts of the world are “in fact, going to hell.”

But Trump’s perhaps oddly chosen colloquialisms masked what was a pretty astounding escalation of his rhetoric when it comes to North Korea. Just to be clear: The president of the United States threatened to wipe a country of 25 million people off the map.

Well, when you put it that way, it does seem unprecedented. And unpresidented.

Trump’s speech Tuesday ratcheted things up in two respects: saying the United States would also unleash a massive response on behalf of its allies, and threatening to “totally destroy” the country.

We still have allies? Who knew?

Polls show the American people are not confident in Trump’s ability to handle the North Korea situation, with 61 percent saying they are “uneasy.” Trump’s words Tuesday likely won’t calm many fears, but he’s clearly gambling on North Korea backing down in the face of big talk.

Yeah, that’s been working so well so far. Oh, wait …

The speech news gets better

President Donald Trump spent much of his address to the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday berating Iran and complaining about the “embarrassment” of a nuclear deal his predecessor signed with the country.

There’s an embarrassment, all right, but it’s not the Iran nuclear deal.

“It is far past time for the nations of the world to confront another reckless regime,” he said upon first referring to the nation, following a condemnation of North Korea. “One that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing death to America, destruction to Israel and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room.”

The many leaders and nations worked hard for that nuclear deal, just as they worked hard for the Paris Agreement. They aren’t going to renegotiate it on Trump’s say so.

“The Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship behind a false guise of a democracy,” he said.

Well, Trump would know corrupt dictatorships behind a false guise of a democracy. And I bet he knows shoes, too. He could have brought some samples of Ivanka’s shoes and pounded some of them on the podium. Then Ivanka could tweet about which retailers carry her shoes. I wonder why he didn’t think of that.

After all, at one point in the speech he said, “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone but rather to let it shine as an example.” Some of Ivanka’s shoes are pretty blingy. Yes, we lead the first world in income inequality, I believe, or at least we’re in the top ten. We’re also number one among the wealthier industrialized democracies in the percentage of citizens with substandard health care. I doubt very much that other nations want our way of life imposed on them, frankly. But who doesn’t like shoes?

I’m sure there will be more commentary about this speech later in the day, as soon as the people who write political commentary have a stiff drink and mutter at the walls for a while. It was some speech.

See also: Here Are the Most Trump Things Trump Said in His United Nations Speech

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Ken Burns’s Vietnam War

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Trump Maladministration

I watched the first episode of the PBS Vietnam War series and thought it was good so far. I don’t think anything was said I didn’t already know, but a lot of it was stuff most people don’t know.

I was a bit dismayed to find people on social media trashing it, some of whom apparently didn’t even watch it. One person decided to not watch it because one of the sponsors was Bank of America, and she was certain it wouldn’t be any good. Others assume it will be a whitewash of U.S. crimes and refuse to watch.

I left a comment somewhere that the first episode (which covered the beginning of French colonialism to 1961) was accurate, and got a response from someone named Doug Zachary — “Barbara you are the perfect fascist citizen. fall in line. smile, really BIGLY!” I take it Doug has Issues.

Of those who claimed to watch it and who dissed it as propaganda, my impression is that they won’t accept anything that isn’t an anti-American polemic. The problem with that is that they seem to want to think that Americans in the 1950s and 1960s went to Vietnam just to napalm Vietnamese children for kicks and grins, and don’t want to hear how mostly well-meaning people talked themselves into thinking that the war was the right thing to do, even though it wasn’t.

To me, that last part is the most important part of the story, and the part of the story that people need to understand. Because that’s how evil works. Most people who do wrong things don’t recognize they are doing wrong things at the time. They persuade themselves they are doing the right thing. We keep doing wrong shit because people get worked up into thinking that the wrong shit is righteous and necessary, and then when it all goes bad nobody wants to look back try to understand how they could have been so mistaken. Well, here’s a chance. Those of you who are too young to remember Vietnam could apply this same lesson to several more recent misadventures, like Iraq.

Tonight’s episode covers 1961 to 1963. I expect to see the corruption of the Diem regime and Kennedy’s signing off on Diem’s assassination. This article in Newsweek contains some pans of some of the episodes that haven’t been shown yet. So we’ll see.

See also “What Trump Needs to Learn from Vietnam.”

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You Won’t Get It If You Don’t Ask for It

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Democratic Party, Health Care

Hubert Humphrey at the 1948 Democratic National Convention

Hubert Humphrey’s Civil Rights speech at the 1948 Democratic National Convention was one of the great moments in the party’s history.

“Friends, delegates, I do not believe that there can be any compromise on the guarantees of the civil rights which we have mentioned in the minority report,” he said. “In spite of my desire for unanimous agreement on the entire platform, in spite of my desire to see everybody here in honest and unanimous agreement, there are some matters which I think must be stated clearly and without qualification. There can be no hedging — the newspaper headlines are wrong. There will be no hedging, and there will be no watering down — if you please — of the instruments and the principles of the civil-rights program.”

Humphrey was speaking in support of the civil rights plank of the 1948 Democratic Party platform, which said this:

The Democratic Party is responsible for the great civil rights gains made in recent years in eliminating unfair and illegal discrimination based on race, creed or color,

The Democratic Party commits itself to continuing its efforts to eradicate all racial, religious and economic discrimination.

We again state our belief that racial and religious minorities must have the right to live, the right to work, the right to vote, the full and equal protection of the laws, on a basis of equality with all citizens as guaranteed by the Constitution.

We highly commend President Harry S. Truman for his courageous stand on the issue of civil rights.

We call upon the Congress to support our President in guaranteeing these basic and fundamental American Principles: (1) the right of full and equal political participation; (2) the right to equal opportunity of employment; (3) the right of security of person; (4) and the right of equal treatment in the service and defense of our nation.

This platform also said “We favor legislation assuring that the workers of our nation receive equal pay for equal work, regardless of sex,” and called for some kind of national health care. Seriously, this is a very progressive platform, the domestic policy section especially. The Dems would have to update the foreign policy section, but the domestic policy section could be adopted in 2020 with just a little tweaking.

Did I mention this was said in 1948?

Of course, there were many years of struggle ahead before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made discrimination illegal. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement forced the Democratic Party to introduce that law,  and we’re still struggling to fully implement that law.  My point is that before change could happen, somebody had to stand up and say this. Somebody had to commit to this. Somebody had to say, this is the right thing to do.

I’m sure Hubert Humphrey didn’t expect racial discrimination to disappear after the election. As it was, the entire Mississippi delegation and half of the Alabama delegation stomped out of the convention in protest of the civil rights plank. Two weeks after the convention, President Truman issued executive orders mandating equal opportunity in the armed forces and in the federal civil service. Southern segregationists  organized to form a “states’ rights” party and nominated Strom Thurmond as its presidential candidate.  Civil rights was a divisive issue for Dems in 1948. But they adopted that platform because it was the right thing to do.

Today, we’re squabbling over an issue that shouldn’t be that divisive — universal health coverage. Whether you call it “single payer” or “Medicare for All” or just “universal coverage,” by now it should be obvious to anyone with a functional brain that achieving this is going to require some sort of national, taxpayer-supported system that sidelines for-profit insurance companies and includes controls to prevent price gouging. It’s almost certainly going to mean phasing out job-based group insurance. Beyond that, the hundreds of other nations that provide universal coverage for its citizens have gone about this in various ways, not all of them “single payer,” strictly speaking. We should be studying them.

The hysterical reaction against the Affordable Care Act never made sense, if you realize that just about all the ACA did was regulate health insurance to force insurance companies to cover more people and provide some subsidies so that poor people could pay the private insurance company premiums. That the premiums were still not affordable for a lot of folks is largely the fault of the insurance companies, and indeed it’s the fault of the whole idea that private-for profit insurance can pay for most medical care with affordable premiums and without bankrupting people. It can’t. All the other nations of the world figured that out a long time ago.

But in the U.S., the insurance companies, the medical-industrial complex and the conservative media-think tank network that largely controls public opinion have made universal coverage a taboo subject. Until now.

There are 16 Democratic senators supporting the bill, a remarkable number considering where the healthcare debate was two years ago, when Sanders first campaigned for president as a democratic socialist long shot. At the time, pundits, political operatives and countless elected officials dismissed the single-payer Sanders dream as a disingenuous moonshot.

Now, the man who told Obama to lay off Bain Capital (Cory Booker) and the woman who once voted in favor of withholding federal funds from sanctuary cities (Kirsten Gillibrand) are co-sponsors of Sanders’ bill. Times, indeed, have changed.

Some are not persuaded.

In an interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein, Clinton repeated attacks on single-payer she made during her primary campaign against Sanders, arguing that more modest measures like a public insurance option or a Medicare buy-in for people 55 and older are more realistic and achievable.

“I don’t know what the particulars are” on Sanders’s latest plan, Clinton said, but added, “He introduced a single-payer bill every year he was in Congress — and when somebody finally read it, he couldn’t explain it and couldn’t really tell people how much it was gonna cost.”

She clarified that she’d support a bill opening up Medicare or Medicaid and cutting prescription drug costs, but cautioned, “I think it’s going to be challenging if within that bill, there are tax increases equivalent to what it would take to pay for single-payer, and if you’re really telling people — about half of the country — that they can no longer have the policies they have through their employer.”

She noted that this issue arose in 1993-’94, when she was crafting a health reform plan in the Bill Clinton administration, and she concluded then that the forces arrayed against single-payer, not least of which were the public’s fears about such a program, were insurmountable.

Those forces may have been insurmountable in 1993-1994; there are people who argue that the Clintons themselves blew the opportunity then, but let’s set that aside. I personally think it was insurmountable in 2008; just getting the ACA passed was a massive achievement at the time.

But it’s not 1994 any more. It’s not even 2008 any more.

I’ve long believed that universal health care would become politically viable in the U.S. as soon as a big enough part of the working and middle class in the U.S. realized that they are being screwed by the medical-industrial complex, and I think we’re about there.

When Mike Dukakis talked about health care reform in his presidential bid in 1988, all the Republicans had to do was trot out some hard hat guys with union benefits to talk about the great health coverage they had for a few dollars a month, and why mess with that? But those hard hat guys are harder to find these days.

In  1999, 67 percent of nonelderly Americans were covered by employee insurance. In 2014, that had fallen to 56 percent, as the old-fashioned full-time job with benefits became more and more  elusive in the U.S.  If we include all Americans, less than half are covered by employee benefit insurance now. See also “Let Them See How We Live. Let Them Come.”

People in the U.S. don’t know what solutions are possible because nobody tells them. Sanders’s cardinal sin, according to some, is that he stood up and told people what is possible. Apparently, according to some Democrats, this is not allowed. We are not allowed to speak the name of a thing until we have a fully formed program with all the details ironed out, and even then we must limit ourselves to those programs that are achievable in the near term, under current political conditions. This means Democrats negotiate with themselves until they come up with something that they think Republicans might accept, so that it can be watered down some more before passing.

Under those rules, Hubert Humphrey wouldn’t have been allowed to speak at the 1948 Democratic Convention, and the civil rights plank would have been axed from the platform. Yes, the 2016 Democratic platform has a section about “securing universal health care,” but the verbiage that follows is about protecting the status quo —

Democrats will keep costs down by making premiums more affordable, reducing out-of-pocket expenses, and capping prescription drug costs. And we will fight against insurers trying to impose excessive premium increases.

— and maybe throwing in a few tweaks to existing programs, but it offers nothing that looks anything like genuine universal coverage.

Paul Waldman wrote last week,

Support for some kind of universal coverage is now the consensus position among Democrats. And Sanders’ single payer plan is the one that has gotten the most attention, so it’s going to be the one against which other plans are measured.

But we have to understand this plan for what it really is: an opening bid. While he won’t say so himself, I doubt even Sanders believes that something in this form could pass through Congress. Even so, it represents an important strategic shift for the Democratic Party.

Waldman goes on to say that both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton tended to negotiate with themselves, giving away too much too quickly before negotiations with Republicans even started. On the other hand, Sanders’s Medicare for All asks for everything. It covers everything, without co-pays or deductibles. It even covers abortions. And, as a lot of people have pointed out, such a bill has no chance of passage in Washington now. But a watered-down bill has no chance, either.

Waldman continues,

This bill is being offered in 2017, when there’s a Republican president, a Republican House, and a Republican Senate. It doesn’t have to be realistic. It can be a way of saying, “This is what as Democrats we think a perfect health insurance system would look like.” In that sense, this bill could be extremely useful, since it will communicate the Democratic vision to voters in a way that isn’t too hard to understand. …

… Once the Sanders plan is in wide circulation, if I said, “How about an expansion of Medicaid to become a basic plan for all adults, while private insurance would still exist to offer supplemental coverage?”, you might now say that sounds pretty reasonable. If you did, it would mean that Sanders had effectively widened the debate and made what not long ago would have seemed like radical ideas look like moderate compromises.

Exactly. It tells people what is possible. It’s saying, we can have this, or something like this, if we demand it. We don’t have to put up with the status quo.

To me, one of the biggest mistakes Hillary Clinton made last year was not just to dismiss Sanders’s health care plan as politically untenable, but to compare even asking for universal coverage — which is what most people mean by “single payer” — to believing in unicorns. The widely circulated video of her proclaiming that single payer will “never ever come to pass” damaged her more than she seems willing to admit.

Josh Marshall wrote last week,

Medicare for All is a horizonal demand. It satisfies a basic need and does so by looking beyond the corrupt, meretricious system we now have. The activity of private insurance companies symbolize much that is wrong with contemporary capitalism. You don’t have to be a leftwinger from Park Slope to hate these companies. Believe me: a lot of those people who voted for Trump (whom the liberal elite dismisses as racists and misogynists) hate insurance companies.

While Medicare for All would cause an upheaval in the health insurance markets, it is actually based on expanding a system that works and that has remained intact for over fifty years. It’s incremental in its own way. It is also very easy to understand, while most of the incremental reforms I’ve seen require a degree in healthcare economics to comprehend and rarely seem to apply to “you.”

Unfortunately, a lot of Democrats are still too mired in learned helplessness to stand up for what’s right; see Democrats Against Single Payer by Branko Marcetic at Jacobin. So it’s going to be up to voters to continue to apply pressure on the Democrats to grow a spine. Watch them fold up like cheap lawn chairs as soon as Republicans begin their pushback. Socialized medicine! Higher taxes! Booga booga booga booga!

I say, let the Republicans go to their constituents and tell them no, you can’t have this. We must support the medical-industrial complex. We must support the rights of insurance companies to make lots of money, even if you or your loved ones are cut off from life-saving medical care for the sake of profit. Let the Republicans defend that position. Stop being afraid to stand up for the right thing.

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Trump, Painted in a Corner

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Trump Maladministration

Greg Sargent writes that Trump supporters are in meltdown mode:

With the chatter intensifying about the possibility of President Trump cutting a deal to protect the “dreamers,” The Post reports today that his loudest supporters are in a fury. They are warning that “the base” will desert him if he commits such a massive betrayal.  …

…The most vocal immigration hard-liners who backed Trump in the media and Congress — people such as Ann Coulter, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), and Stephen K. Bannon and his merry Breitbart warriors — are warning Trump that his voters won’t tolerate it if he agrees to legislative protections for hundreds of thousands of people brought here illegally as children, as part of a deal with Dems.

However, Sargent goes on to argue that what they’re really afraid of is not that Trump’s base will turn against him, but that it won’tRobert Costa and Michael Scherer write,

Yet the lasting political cost of Trump’s engagement with top Democrats on immigration remained ambiguous. While Coulter and others vented, several conservative leaders Thursday remained hesitant about breaking with the president publicly given his continued grass-roots support and their desire to focus Republican ire on the leadership in Congress.

“The jury is still out on whether the base starts to leave him. And I’m not sure what the truth is,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said in an interview. “If this stands and we end up with amnesty, the base that was pulled together because of immigration will start to peel off in significant ways.”

But, King added, “No one is quite sure about how this will play out and whether it’s truly what we worry it’ll be.”

Since there actually is no deal on DACA — and I’m skeptical there ever will be — I doubt the base is that perturbed. Many of them probably aren’t aware of any of this. We’re not talking high-information voters here. It’s also the case that a recent poll showed that only 15 percent of Americans favored deporting dreamers. This suggests that at least some Trump supporters are at least ambiguous about it. However, Huffpost reports a few are burning their MAGA hats.

Elsewhere in WaPo, we read that Republicans on the Hill don’t know what to do with themselves.

Despite their control of both chambers and with a GOP partner in the White House, congressional Republicans are laboring, sometimes awkwardly, to project leverage over efforts to rewrite the nation’s tax laws and craft a bill to decide the fate of hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants.

Some are privately fuming over the valuable political cover Trump is giving to centrist Democratic senators who are top targets in the 2018 midterms in states the president won. By negotiating with them and appearing at events together, the president is potentially easing their challenge of winning conservative voters.

I think a lot of people in media are making way too much of the “new,” supposedly bipartisan Trump. Along with being a bigot and a grifter, Trump is also a sucking black hole of emotional neediness. If Nancy and Chuck figure out how to exploit that to get some concessions here and there, grand. But nobody can be Trump’s friend, or at least not for long, without completely capitulating to the needs of his ego. So the Donald, Nancy and Chuck show can’t possibly last forever.

My impression is that Trump just wants to succeed at something, and he’s been thrashing around trying to find the magic formula that will enable him to do that. And he’s noticed that the Republican Congress isn’t getting anything done that he can sign and claim as an accomplishment so that he will be praised in the New York Times. He doesn’t know why, but it isn’t.  Maybe this bipartisan thing will work.

But his problem is that if he does something that pleases most Americans, the Right will turn on him like a rabid skunk. If he caters to the Right, he’s stuck with dealing with the whackjob Freedom Caucus in the House, and nothing gets done. He’s in a completely untenable place.

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Donald, Nancy and Chuck Hit a Wall

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Trump Maladministration

I just saw Trump on MSNBC, from Fort Myers, saying there would be no agreement on DACA that didn’t include funding for his wall.

“We have to have an understanding…that the wall will be funded,” the president said on the Ft. Myers’ tarmac. “Otherwise we’re not doing any deal.”

“If we don’t have the wall,” he said, “we’re doing nothing.”

This is a shift from what he said earlier this morning, before he left Washington for Florida. Earlier this morning, he just said “strong border security” without making the wall a condition. The wall would be funded later, he said.

Josh Marshall wrote, also before Trump got to Fort Myers —

The word this morning is that leaders Pelosi and Schumer say Trump agreed to make DACA law as part of a deal that upped funding for “border security” but not for a wall. But Trump came out and said there’s no deal. So it’s all a mess and a big dispute.

I think if you look closely, that’s not quite what happened….

…The Democrats came out of the meeting last night saying they’d agreed to make DACA law as part of a bill that would include border security but not a wall. The White House put out a different statement that didn’t say quite the same thing but very conspicuously did not mention the wall.

Was this a “deal” or “agreement”? The Dems didn’t say they had a “deal”, which I take to mean they’d hashed out the specifics and terms. They said they’d agreed to do this kind of legislation: DACA plus Border Security minus Wall. This is basically a semantic difference. The words (deal or agreement) can mean anything you want them to. The key thing in my mind is that if you look closely, I don’t see where they’re really disagreeing on what happened. If Trump or the White House had come out this morning and said, “No way. The price for DACA is the Wall,” that would be a major disagreement. They have not done that.

However, what he was saying in Fort Myers just now was that they had to agree to fund the wall some time in the future, or the deal or agreement or whatever is off.

Let’s just say that Trump has a bad case of the flip flops, and not just about DACA. Today, Gail Collins writes that Trump shifts positions on tax cuts almost hourly. His only written tax plan, which he insists that Congress enact immediately, fits on one page.

Still, Trump is ready to roll. Details, schmeetails. “With Irma and Harvey devastation, Tax Cuts and Tax Reform is needed more than ever before,” he tweeted. “Go Congress, go!” Negative thinkers pointed out that the hurricane devastation required federal spending, not revenue reduction. Also that “is needed” was grammatically … tragic.

Plus, again, the no-plan thing. “It’s really important for people to understand — the administration is urging Congress to vote fast on a proposal that doesn’t exist,” said Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center. The center made a rather heroic effort to figure out what the consequences would be if you cobbled a proposal out of all the tax stuff Trump has mentioned, and concluded it would add about $8 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years.

People keep calling Trump a deal-maker, but the truth is he doesn’t do deals. A “deal” means that two or more parties have agreed to terms for their mutual benefit, and that they all intend to abide by those terms. Trump has a long and well-known history of getting people to agree to his business plans by making promises he doesn’t keep and had no intention of keeping them when he made them. Such an arrangement is not a “deal”; it is a “grift.”

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What Do We Want? Universal Coverage!

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Trump Maladministration

Let’s look at some good news. Paul Waldman writes that Democratic politicians are finally embracing single payer.

While some of us have been predicting for a few months that support for some version of single payer health care would gradually become the default position for those seeking the 2020 presidential nomination — and thus for the party as a whole — it’s happening faster than one might have thought.

A bunch of potential candidates, including Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris, have moved from their previous position — a somewhat vague support of single payer in the abstract — to becoming co-sponsors of Bernie Sanders’ single payer bill, which is set to be released this week. Today Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who’s up for reelection next year, added her name to the list, and so did Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, joining a number of others. A single payer bill in the House is cosponsored by more than half the Democratic caucus (though Nancy Pelosi is notably holding off).

I know some people will argue that a few of these politicians — Harris and Booker in particular — are just trying to kiss up to the progressive left. And what’s wrong with that, I say? It means they are taking us seriously, instead of brushing us off as unicorn lovers.

For starters, it would be better if we referred not to “single payer” but to “universal coverage,” since the latter is the real goal, while the former is just one way to achieve that goal (see Harold Pollack for more on this). One big question about Sanders’ plan is whether it will be the kind of “Medicare for all” he’s advocated in the past, or something like “Medicare for all who want it,” which would retain a role for private insurance. There are multiple paths to universal coverage, and no one who is serious about the complex policy questions involved believes that a true single payer plan is the only way to get a system that does what we want it to. But that reality may be powerless in the face of the fact that “single payer” is a simple two-word slogan that people are already rallying around.

This is right; we might have to be careful about the “single payer” slogan.  It’s also the case that the same person who might say yes to a program labeled “single payer” might say no to the same program labeled “socialized medicine.” We also will have to fight off the inevitable “but it will raise taxes” arguments and explain that people will end up with more money in their pockets, anyway. We have a lot of educating to do.

One thing we can say, however, is that Democrats probably don’t need to be too paralyzed by fear of the inevitable Republican charge that it would represent big government controlling your life. As Republicans discovered when they tried to kick millions of people off Medicaid and undermine the program, the American public is perfectly fine with the government helping to give people health coverage. Medicare and Medicaid are both extremely popular with their recipients, who in total now number about 130 million….

… But single payer offers Democrats something extremely powerful: an ambitious policy change that will motivate their own voters to haul themselves to the polls.

Wow, actually promising to work for something grand that we’ve wanted for several years, instead of telling us that we’re naive and unpragmatic and believe in fairies and unicorns? What a concept!

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Trump and the Emolument Clause

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Trump Maladministration

McClatchy reports today:

A major construction company owned by the Chinese government was hired to work on the latest Trump golf club development in Dubai despite a pledge from Donald Trump that his family business would not engage in any transactions with foreign government entities while he serves as president. …

… The companies’ statements do not detail the exact timing of the contract except to note it was sometime in the first two months of 2017, just as Trump was inaugurated and questions were raised about a slew of potential conflicts of interest between his presidency and his vast real estate empire.

Now, let us consider the emolument clause of the U.S. Constitution — Article I, Section 9, paragraph 8.

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

Is Trump in violation of the emolument clause? Peter Overby recently reported on NPR:

Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, sued President Trump three days after he took office, saying he is “submerged in conflicts of interest” because of foreign governments’ spending at the D.C. hotel.

The Constitution doesn’t ban foreign emoluments outright. It empowers Congress to approve them or not, and lawmakers have passed judgment on foreign gifts to lesser officials for more than 200 years.

Trump could agree that the hotel spending amounts to emoluments, and ask for congressional consent. But last January his lawyer, Sherri Dillon, said he doesn’t have to.

“No one would have thought, when the Constitution was written, that paying your hotel bill was an emolument,” she said at a press conference. “Instead, it would have been thought of as a value-for-value exchange. Not a gift. Not a title. And not an emolument.”

The Justice Department agrees, arguing in the CREW case that the hotel transactions are business transactions, unrelated to the president’s office, and thus not emoluments.

However, the Constitution is an 18th century document, and the language has changed. So what did emoluments mean in the 18th century? John Mikhail, a professor at Georgetown Law School, investigates.

Mikhail told NPR he and his researchers looked at all the known dictionaries between 1604 and 1806 that define emolument — 40 books in all. He said only three gave definitions in ways favorable to Trump, “kind of a narrow, even technical meaning, tied to the salary or official duties of an office,” while the other 37 used “a broader meaning that would encompass sort of the profits of ordinary market transactions.”

Almost all of the dictionaries used the word profit in their definitions. The two other go-to words were advantage and gain.

In the CREW case, the Justice Department cites two dictionaries that also used the words office and employ. “They had selected, maybe cherry-picked even, a couple of dictionary definitions,” Mikhail said.

An online search of Founding Fathers’ papers at the Library of Congress failed to produce any indication the Constitution’s Framers had consulted either of those dictionaries, he added.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) has accused Trump of violating the emoluments clause more than 20 times, and that was before today’s McClatchy report.

Blumenthal said Trump “has never sought the consent of Congress” for the profits from deals in the more than 20 countries where he has business operations.

Just one example he offered: Trump has sought — and obtained — valuable trademarks from China’s government but did not clear those transactions with Congress.

Today’s example might or might not fit; back to McClatchy —

Trump’s partner, DAMAC Properties, awarded a $32-million contract to the Middle East subsidiary of China State Construction Engineering Corporation to build a six-lane road as part of the residential piece of the Trump World Golf Club Dubai project called Akoya Oxygen, according to news releases released by both companies. It is scheduled to open next year. …

… Meredith McGehee, chief of policy, programs and strategy at Issue One, which works to reduce the role of money in politics, said doing business with a foreign entity poses several potential problems for a president, including accusations that a foreign government is enriching him, gaining access to or building goodwill with him and becoming a factor in foreign policy.

The Trump Organization agreed to not engage in any new foreign deals or new transactions with a foreign entity — country, agency or official — other than “normal and customary arrangements” made before his election.

The China State Construction Engineering Corporation is not just a Chinese-based company; the government of China is the principal owner.  McClatchy also notes that CSCEC appears in the Panama Papers.

Meredith McGehee, chief of policy, programs and strategy at Issue One, which works to reduce the role of money in politics, said doing business with a foreign entity poses several potential problems for a president, including accusations that a foreign government is enriching him, gaining access to or building goodwill with him and becoming a factor in foreign policy.

The Trump Organization agreed to not engage in any new foreign deals or new transactions with a foreign entity — country, agency or official — other than “normal and customary arrangements” made before his election.

But Trump ignored calls to fully separate from his business interests when he became president. Instead, he placed his holdings in a trust designed to hold assets for his “exclusive benefit,” which he can receive at any time. He retains the authority to revoke the trust.

McGehee said Trump clearly knew foreign arrangements could be problematic because he outlined a list of restrictions, although vague ones, for his company to follow while he served as president. But more importantly, she said, the writers of the U.S. Constitution knew they could be too.

The Emoluments Clause in the U.S. Constitution says officials may not accept gifts, titles of nobility or emoluments from foreign governments with respect to their office, and that no benefit should be derived by holding office.

Back to NPR:

But going back to the word in question: “It’s clear in the 1780s this was a very broad term, understood by most people,” Peter Sokolowski, a lexicographer at the dictionary publisher Merriam Webster, told NPR. “As often happens, the definition that is the broader one, which happens to be the one that was in most common use in the 18th century, is the one that has sort of fallen away.”

Cato Institute senior fellow Walter Olson said in an interview that Congress may have the final say on the definition. “At that point, the mood that Congress has, whether it is mad at the president or indulgent toward him, is going to make a lot of difference.”

In other words, if they ever do get in the mood to impeach him, they’ve got a ready-made issue close at hand.

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Irma Day

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disasters, natural and unnatural, Hurricanes

I really don’t want to write about crap in Washington when Irma is tearing up Florida. If you’re affected by the weather, please tell us about it in the comments.

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Stay Safe

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disasters, natural and unnatural, Hurricanes

We may be in for a rough weekend, between floods and fires. Stay safe. Do let me know if you see any plagues of frogs or locusts or anything.

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Democrats and Litmus Tests

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Trump Maladministration

James Hohmann writes that immigration has become a litmus test for Democrats. One of the reasons the Dream Act, which passed in the House in 2010, failed in the Senate is that five Democrats voted no. If Senate Dems had unanimously voted yes, it would have passed.

But of those five, only one, John Tester of Montana, is still in the Senate. and now Tester supports DACA and the dreamers. Apparently in 2010 he got slammed for that no vote.

Hohmann continues,

Understandably, most of the media’s coverage of the Trump administration’s Tuesday announcement has focused on cleavages in the Republican ranks. The president has placed his adopted party in a bind by putting the onus on Congress to protect the 800,000 “dreamers” with a legislative fix in the next six months. Reflecting the fraught politics, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) — who is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — backed a bipartisan bill yesterday that would shield young immigrants from deportation and give them a pathway to citizenship.

— The untold story, though, is the degree to which Democrats are now in lockstep on what not long ago was an issue that divided them. Not a single Democrat in either chamber of Congress has expressed support for getting rid of DACA.

— This is part of a larger lurch to the left in the Democratic Party on a host of hot-button issues. No matter where you’re from, it is harder than ever to be a Democratic candidate who is against gun control, abortion rights or single-payer health insurance. That doesn’t mean you cannot be, but one risks losing major donors and drawing the ire of the progressive grass roots – even if you represent a red state.

This is a hopeful sign, I think. Maybe the Dems have gotten the message they have to actually stand for something. And it shows us the progressive grass roots are having an impact.

But I also want to point out that just over a month ago, Democrats were having an internal pissing contest over “litmus tests,” which are supposed to be bad, say some people.

This is from The Hill, July 31:

Democrats will not withhold financial support for candidates who oppose abortion rights, the chairman of the party’s campaign arm in the House said in an interview with The Hill.

Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) said there will be no litmus tests for candidates as Democrats seek to find a winning roster to regain the House majority in 2018.

“There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” said Luján, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman. “As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.”

Author Lindy West responded (August 2, the New York Times):

I relate to the flailing panic that is no doubt undergirding such a morally putrescent idea. Nineteen hyenas and a broken vacuum cleaner control the White House, and ice is becoming extinct. I get it. I am desperate and afraid as well. I am prepared to make leviathan compromises to pull us back from that brink. But there is no recognizable version of the Democratic Party that does not fight unequivocally against half its constituents’ being stripped of ownership of their own bodies and lives. This issue represents everything Democrats purport to stand for.

To legislatively oppose abortion is to be, at best, indifferent to the disenfranchisement, suffering and possibly even the death of women. At worst it is to revel in those things, to believe them fundamental to the natural order. Where, exactly, on that spectrum is Luján comfortable placing his party?

I’m mostly with West on this, although it’s also the case that if, hypothetically, an anti-choice Democrat won his primary and had a chance at knocking Ted Cruz out of the Senate, I’d say fund him. But the larger point is that there’s a natural tension between people extolling the “big tent” and those who say the Democratic Party brand means nothing any more.

In years past we’ve seen, time and time again, Democrats being their own worse enemy. We watched many of them vote to allow George Bush invade Iraq. We watched some of them fight against the Affordable Care Act, causing it to be watered down. For a long time the Party pretty much surrendered the field to the Right on gun control. Too many Democrats have been squishy on unions. And, of course, Democrats as well as Republicans have a long history of votes to help the corporate interests that donate to their campaigns.  See also “Democrats once represented the working class. Not any more” by Robert Reich.

Too many Democrats still think that appealing to blue collar voters means moving right on social and cultural issues. This is phony. I say we can stand firm on social and cultural issues and move left on economic issues and labor. Even in “red” districts. We’re not winning those districts, anyway; at least show the voters they have a choice other than Republican or Republican Lite.

“Big tents” are grand, but IMO the problem the Dems have had is that they made the hypothetical big tent so big that the party itself became meaningless. Maybe they’re learning.

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