The Coming Economic Meltdown

Here’s a headline from the New York Times that ought to give us pause:

Frankly, this one scares me even more, from the Washington Post:

Trump is increasingly relying on himself — not his aides — in trade war with China

If it appears the Trump Administration is veering even more out of control, that’s probably because it is. Anyone in the administration with half a brain has been fired or forced to resign. We’re now down to the hard-core morons and the Moron in Chief, Trump himself.

This is from the Ready to Rumble article:

The swings in financial markets Monday are hard to justify in narrow terms. A slightly cheaper Chinese currency shouldn’t have huge consequences for the global economy. Rather, investors are coming to grips with the reality that the trade war is escalating and spreading into the global currency market.

While the drop in the stock market gets the attention — the S&P is down 5.8 percent in the last week — it is global bond markets that are flashing the most worrying signs about the outlook for growth in the United States and much of the world. Ten-year Treasury bonds yielded 1.72 percent at Monday’s close, down from 2.06 percent a week earlier — a sign that investors now believe that weaker growth and additional interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve are on the way.

The “relying on himself” article basically says Trump is not listening to anybody any more. He decided he wanted to label China a “currency manipulator,” so that’s what he tweeted. Then his aides and Steve Mnuchin scrambled to make that official policy. Trump is convinced that China will be hurt much more than the U.S. in this game. I think he underestimates the degree to which China’s leaders, who aren’t worried about being voted out of office, are willing to inflict pain on their own people.

“We’re learning that maybe China has a higher pain threshold than we thought here,” said Stephen Moore, who was an economic adviser to Trump during the 2016 election and remains close to the White House. “They don’t seem to care that this is having extreme negative effects on their economy. It’s kind of a mutually assured destruction game right now.”

Do tell. Here’s another headline, from yesterday:

U.S. farmers suffer ‘body blow’ as China slams door on farm purchases

Chinese companies have stopped buying all U.S. agricultural products, China’s Commerce Ministry said yesterday. All of them. And we might remember that last year Vladimir Putin said Russia was ready to provide China with all the agricultural products it wanted. One wonders if it was Putin who put the trade war idea in Trump’s empty head.

Here’s another headline, from Steve Benen at MSNBC:

‘A body blow’: farmers grow frustrated with Trump’s trade failures

The president occasionally singles out parts of the country he doesn’t like, but he clearly sees farmers as being on Team Trump. In January 2018, he spoke at the American Farm Bureau’s annual convention, where the Republican strutted like a man who assumed he was among adoring fans.

“Oh, are you happy you voted for me,” Trump said, straying from the prepared text. “You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege.”

A year and a half later, many farmers are increasingly desperate – and openly skeptical that their president knows what he’s doing.

For his part, Trump has already approved a couple of bailouts for the industry – some of the money ended up going to foreign companies – and the Republican suggested this morning that he’s prepared to do a third.

The president added in his tweet that American farmers “know that China will not be able to hurt them,” which is plainly wrong, since Trump’s trade war has already hurt them.

Trump often praises farmers for being “patriotic,” which in his mind seems to mean they will stand by him no matter what. Farmers have stuck with him a lot longer than I thought they would, but there’s always a breaking point, and we might have reached it. From Yahoo Finance:

U.S. farmers are exasperated by latest trade war moves: ‘Another nail in the coffin’

“This is just another nail in the coffin,” Tyler Stafslien, a North Dakota-based soybean farmer, told Yahoo Finance. “To see this thing only seems to be getting worse rather than better is very concerning, and the American taxpayers may have to foot another round of funding if this keeps up — or we could see a ton of farmers’ loss throughout this nation.”

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said that the pain extended across the country.

“China’s announcement that it will not buy any agricultural products from the United States is a body blow to thousands of farmers and ranchers who are already struggling to get by,” Duvall stated.

So, Trump’s trade war is causing extreme pain in large parts of the U.S., and Trump doesn’t understand this or doesn’t care. Chinese leaders probably do realize the pain they are causing but are sticking to their long game.

The stock market is up a bit today, and the financial press is bubbling with all kinds of feel-good stories about “corrections” and August often is a bad month for stocks anyway, etc. But they were bubbly and optimistic until the day Lehman Brothers failed, too. See also:

Economy may be weaker than generally recognized

Keep some money in a safe place, folks. Like maybe your sock drawer.

FYI: Crusius Is a German, Not Latino, Surname

Last week after the mass shooting in Gilroy, California, Alexandra Petri wrote a gut-wrenching column that I heartily recommend. It is first-rate writing. But I just want to call out this little bit:

Imagine being careless enough and cruel enough to allow someone to punch such holes in the world deliberately, repeatedly, in the name of a lie. The lie is that we have no choice in this matter. The lie is that any effort, however common-sense, to restrict firearms or lower the capacity of magazines, is part of a vicious scheme to strip you of your freedoms. The lie is that this imaginary, vast conspiracy is more to be feared than these deaths that occur so frequently that we are almost out of synonyms for “horror.” How do you tell someone he is a sacrifice worth making to preserve this lie? How do you tell a child?

So the Republicans are already mouthing pious things about God and whatever, and you know they will not do a damn thing about gun violence and the threat of right-wing domestic terrorism. Indeed, the first instincts of wingnuts is to misdirect

Authorities hadn’t even released the official number of dead and wounded from a mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart on Saturday when Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick began complaining on Fox News about Antifa.

I am not aware that antifa is responsible for even one death in the U.S., although I acknowledge they’ve probably broken some windows. But never fear, Texas Republicans are on top of what needs to be done!

Texas Republicans have been steadfastly avoiding the topic of gun control in the wake of the El Paso shooting on Saturday that left 20 people dead, instead placing the blame on mental health, video games, and even lack of school prayer.

“I think we need to focus more on memorials before we start the politics,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) told reporters on Saturday when asked about his stance on gun legislation.

Did you know that 4 of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern US history havetaken place in Texas? The shooters were Devin Patrick Kelley (2017, 25 dead, Sutherland Springs); George Hennard (1991, 23 dead, Killeen), Charles Whitman (1966, 18 dead, University of Texas), and the alleged shooter at the El Paso WalMart was Patrick Crusius (20 dead, so far). All white men. The Sutherland Springs shooting was in a church; I assume they prayed there. Didn’t stop the bullets.

Wingnuts are telling each other that Crusius is a Latino name, but I checked — although it looks sort of Latin, it’s mostly found in Germany. Notable people with the name Crusius include Christian August Crusius (1715–1775), German philosopher and Protestant theologian; Ludwig Friedrich Otto Baumgarten-Crusius (1788–1843), German Protestant theoloian; and Otto Crusius (1857–1918), German classical scholar.

I have not read the alleged shooter’s manifesto, and I wouldn’t link to it if I had. Josh Marshall has read it and makes some interesting points:

There’s abundant evidence the shooter is a big fan of President Trump and certainly of his worldview. And yet the manifesto includes a sort of preemptive rebuttal of any claims that he is a Trump supporter or that Trump influenced. He predicts that “the media” will identify him as a white supremacist and blame President Trump’s racist and xenophobic rhetoric for radicalizing him and provoking the attack. Such claims would be “fake news” and such claims will indeed only prove that “the media” is “fake news.”

After these horrors, we expect rightwing talking heads to attack any suggestion that these attacks might be related to the President’s politics and rhetoric. But here the assailant is doing so himself in advance. Indeed he denies Trump’s influence by using Trump’s signature attack lines. For someone who specifically denies Trump radicalized him, he’s very focused protecting the President. He doth protest rather too much.

We don’t yet know enough about yesterday’s Dayton, Ohio, shooting to know if it fits the white supremacist pattern. The alleged shooter’s name was Connor Betts; his sister was among the nine killed, suggesting the motivation might have been more personal than political.  But Andrew Marantz points out at The New Yorker that most recent mass shooters seem to have been radicalized in the same way.

Each killer, in the moment, may have acted alone, but they all appear to have been zealous converts to the same ideology: a paranoid snarl of raw anger, radical nationalism, unhinged nihilism, and fears of “white genocide” that is still referred to as “fringe,” although it’s creeping precariously close to the mainstream. On many social networks that bill themselves as bulwarks of “free speech,” including Gab, 4chan, and 8chan, this way of thinking is so dominant that it is often taken for granted. In April, the Anti-Defamation League wrote that such platforms “serve as round-the-clock white supremacist rallies.”

Would it help if these platforms were shutdown? Could the platforms be shut down? This is a point Marantz addresses; the answer is, probably not. And if they were, would not other platforms spring up in their place?

White supremacy has been hardwired into American culture as soon as Europeans began moving here. The whole rise of Trump and right-wing domestic terrorism might be interpreted as the fight of a wounded animal, or white supremacy’s last hoorah. We have reached a moment in our culture in which white supremacy really isn’t acceptable any more. This is not to say that systemic racism isn’t still in place, or that racial equality finally reigns o’er the land. But for those pathetic losers — who have always been among us — who take their pride and identity and self-worth from nothing but their whiteness, our culture is, finally, beginning to deny them that. And in their own minds they have no where else to go.

Update: I just noticed that this post is getting a big influx of traffic, I assume from some right-wing site. Please read the commenting rules before posting comments.

Moscow Mitch’s Cut of the Kulebyaka

If you read nothing else today, be sure to catch Dana Milbank’s McConnell’s new posture toward Moscow. Here is just a bit:

After the Trump administration last year exempted Deripaska-related enterprises from sanctions, a bipartisan rebellion attempted to reinstate the sanctions (House Republicans joined Democrats in a 362-to-53 vote), but McConnell led a successful effort in the Senate to thwart the rebellion, which he called a “political stunt.” (In exchange for sanctions relief, Deripaska agreed to reduce his ownership in Rusal’s parent company, but Deripaska could retain de facto control .)

Three months later, the Russian aluminum giant announced its $200 million investment in Kentucky. McConnell declared in May that his vote to exempt Deripaska enterprises from sanctions was “completely unrelated.”

Of course.

It was also unrelated, no doubt, to the fact that Len Blavatnik, a Ukrainian American whose SUAL Partners owns 22.5 percent of Rusal, contributed $3.5 million to the McConnell-affiliated Senate Leadership Fund between 2015 and 2017, making McConnell his top recipient. Blavatnik — whose partner in the Rusal investment, Putin-allied oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, has been hit by U.S. sanctions — gave millions more to other Republicans and to Donald Trump’s inauguration. (Another Rusal owner, Russian state-owned VTB Bank, is also under U.S. sanctions.)

There’s a lot more. Damning stuff. Back when Mitch first killed the attempt to reinstate Russian sanctions people assumes he was just trying to please Trump, but now it seems Mitch is in on the oligarch action up to his mandible.

This may have some traction.

CNN’s Hot Mess, Night 2

I endorse what David Dayen writes about the atrocious job CNN did as debate host. I would add that whichever Democratic Party official(s) approved that format should resign immediately. Night #2 was such a mess nobody could be said to “win.” Cory Booker, Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, Julián Castro, and Jay Inslee were the least wince-inducing, IMO. And I’m not endorsing any of those people. Just saying they did not annoy me overmuch. Everybody else more or less just got on my nerves last night.

Never Trumpers and centrist Democrats are celebrating today because Joe Biden remembered his own name and managed to not trip over his podium. “Joe Biden was brilliantly and gloriously adequate,” Dana Milbank writes.

Biden was .?.?. perfectly adequate. He wasn’t the most eloquent or stylish debater on the stage. He struggled to find words at times, he seemed over-rehearsed, he seemed not to grasp how texting works (“Go to Joe 30330”), he cut himself off when his allotted time expired and, at times, he seemed stunned by the ferocity of the barrage — which, in fairness, was stunning.  …

… Biden’s triumph over mediocrity has a ready explanation. Correctly or not, voters believe this nonthreatening old white guy of moderate leanings is the one to beat President Trump. In the Quinnipiac poll, fully 51 percent of Democrats said that Biden has the best chance of doing so.

Biden fumbled around clumsily with a question on deportations in the Obama Administration. He revealed some fundamental ignorance and tone-deafness on health care issues. Running in the general election on Barack Obama’s legacy is not going to work to get independents to the polls. The only reason Biden wasn’t torn up worse is that the format made everyone ineffectual. This is the guy people want on a debate stage with Trump? Seriously?

I also think Gillibrand’s persistent challenges of an op ed Biden wrote in the 1980s just made him look sympathetic, and she’d been doing well up to that point. People need to choose which bricks they throw more carefully.

We can hope that the next debate will have a much smaller field. The New York Times says that Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, O’Rourke, Sanders, and Warren have already qualified for the next debate. Castro, Yang, and Klobuchar are close. I sincerely hope no one else gets a bump and is included. And I hope ABC, the host for the September debate, learns from the CNN atrocity and does it differently.

John Delaney, Tim Ryan, and Other Tools

Before getting into all the things I’d like to say to John Delaney and Tim Ryan just before leaving them alone in a cold and desolate wilderness with no matches or shoes, some general comments on last night’s debate:

One, MSNBC did a much better job moderating the June debate. CNN seems to think it was moderating America’s Ninja Warrior; it was more yelling and drama than substance. I agree with Joshua Holland, Bad moderation and a flood of conservative talking points made Tuesday’s Dem debate almost unwatchable.

The Vox editorial team even listed the Republican Party as one of the night’s winners:

If you were Donald Trump or another Republican lawmaker running for reelection in 2020, you probably had a good time watching Tuesday night’s debate. Several of the major issues were framed by the moderators in terms Republicans would love: Will you take private insurance from Americans to give them Medicare-for-all? Will you raise taxes on the middle class to do it? Will you decriminalize illegal border crossings and give unauthorized immigrants free health care? Are Democrats going too far to the left?

The extremely tight time limits, in which candidates could barely begin speaking before Jake Tapper cut them off, favored talking points over substance. The entire evening, from the razz-ma-tazz, rah rah patriotism introduction to the end, seemed more like a frantic game show than a debate. Clearly, CNN was going for “optics,” for entertainment, not for informing the public.

See also CNN’s Debate Questions Were for Losers and Attack of the Mini-Bidens, both at Slate.

I’m not looking forward to what they present tonight except to predict Jake Tapper will go easier on Joe Biden than he did on Liz Warren. Just watch. Fortunately Warren was savvy enough to be one of the evening’s winners, in spite of being set up for an ambush. The lady has skills. Bernie Sanders also did a bit better than in the first debate, I thought.

Now, on to Delaney and Ryan. Which is not to say I don’t have equally low opinions of John Hickenlooper and Steve Bullock, but they didn’t piss me off as much last night as Delaney and Ryan. Here is Delaney’s opening statement:

DELANEY: Folks, we have a choice. We can go down the road that Senator Sanders and Senator Warren want to take us, which is with bad policies like Medicare for all, free everything and impossible promises that will turn off independent voters and get Trump re-elected. That’s what happened with McGovern. That’s what happened with Mondale. That’s what happened with Dukakis. Or we can nominate someone with new ideas to create universal health care for every American with choice, someone who wants to unify our country and grow the economy and create jobs everywhere. And then we win the White House.

Got that? He’s channeling the fears of all Third Way – Democratic Leadership Council – neoliberal and “centrist” Democrats who turned FDR’s Democratic party into Republican Party Lite. We can’t have single payer health care because George McGovern lost to Richard Nixon in bleeping 1972.

Delaney was called out last week in a Paul Waldman column for perpetrating Republican talking points about Medicare for All. “We should have universal health care, but it shouldn’t be the kind of health care that kicks 150 million Americans off their health care,” Delaney had said. What he means is that people with employer-based health insurance love their health insurance and want to keep it. But it sounds as if he’s saying Medicare for All would take health insurance away from people. Waldman wrote,

The generous interpretation of this line is that it’s warning about widespread disruption; the other interpretation is that it’s meant to stoke the fear that if you now have coverage and single payer passes, you could be left with no insurance at all, which is just false. If we passed single payer, you’d move from your current plan to a different plan, one that depending on how it’s constructed would probably offer as good or better coverage at a lower cost.

Delaney was back on the same point last night —

DELANEY: Well, I’m right about this. We can create a universal health care system to give everyone basic health care for free, and I have a proposal to do it. But we don’t have to go around and be the party of subtraction, and telling half the country, who has private health insurance, that their health insurance is illegal. My dad, the union electrician, loved the health care he got from the IBEW. He would never want someone to take that away. …

…SANDERS: The fact of the matter is, tens of millions of people lose their health insurance every single year when they change jobs or their employer changes that insurance. If you want stability in the health care system, if you want a system which gives you freedom of choice with regard to a doctor or a hospital, which is a system which will not bankrupt you, the answer is to get rid of the profiteering of the drug companies…

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator.

SANDERS: … and the insurance companies, move to Medicare for all.


TAPPER: Congressman Delaney?

DELANEY: But now he’s talking about a different issue. What I’m talking about is really simple. We should deal with the tragedy of the (ph) uninsured and give everyone health care as a right. But why do we got to be the party of taking something away from people?

Delaney kept evoking union workers and reminding listeners his dear old dad loved his benefits. Well, my dad was a union guy, too, and those benefits were great for the family and for my parents in their old age. But what about the enormous majority of U.S. employees who are not unionized? And what happens to benefits when factories close or workers are laid off? Which happens a lot.

Tim Ryan also wanted everyone to know that union workers want to keep their union benefits.

RYAN: So here we are in Detroit, home of the United Auto workers. We have all our union friends here tonight. This plan that’s being offered by Senator Warren and Senator Sanders will tell those Union members who gave away wages in order to get good healthcare that they’re going to lose their healthcare because Washington’s going to come in and tell them they got a better plan.

As Jonathan Tasini wrote on Facebook, in recent decades unions have had to make major concessions on wages and working conditions in order to keep the health benefits. This is, Tasini says, a big reason for the meager raises workers have had to accept. An argument could be made that de-coupling health care from employment would be good for unions and workers.

Delaney’s other lie, which he has told before, is that Medicare for All would cause widespread hospital closings.

DELANEY: Listen, his math is wrong. That’s all I’m saying — that his math is wrong, it’s been well-documented that if all the bills were paid at Medicare rate, which is specifically — I think it’s in section 1,200 of their bill, then many hospitals in this country would close.

I’ve been going around rural America, and I ask rural hospital administrators one question, “If all your bills were paid at the Medicare rate last year, what would happen?”

And they all look at me and say, “We would close.”

But the question is, why do we have to be so extreme? Why can’t we just give everyone health care as a right, and allow them to have choice?

Delaney got Four Pinnochios from the Washington Post for a similar statement earlier this month. The problem with Delaney’s claim is that it ignores one of the primary reason hospitals are closing now, which is not because of Medicare rates, but because of the number of people who are treated and can pay nothing. This is a widespread problem in all impoverished rural areas, but hospitals in states that did not expand Medicaid are especially hard hit.

Hospitals in rural areas are losing money and sometimes closing down, taking away jobs and limiting health care options for some of the nation’s poorest citizens, according to a study published earlier this week by the Pittsburg Morning Sun and GateHouse Media. And the decision to reject a key part of Obamacare by Republican politicians in red states is exacerbating the problem.

The hospital closure crisis is most pronounced in states that have declined Medicaid expansion, the policy in the Affordable Care Act that offers coverage for individuals whose income is at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line. Of the 106 rural hospitals that have shut down since 2010, 77 were located in states that hadn’t expanded Medicaid, the study found.

The dirty secret behind health care costs is that health insurance premiums and medical bills are jacked up to cover the costs of non-paying patients. So those who do pay are shelling out a hefty surcharge to keep the system afloat. Delaney’s argument assumes that hospitals would be deprived of their surcharges, but if treatment for all patients were compensated, the equation changes considerably.

To Delaney’s question, why do we have to be so extreme? Why can’t we just give everyone health care as a right, and allow them to have choice? —  rights one cannot exercise aren’t rights at all. If we call health care a “right” but don’t provide a means for people to obtain it, what’s the point? Delaney’s health care position is, IMO, no more or less pie-in-the-sky than Bernie Sanders’s.

Delaney sees himself as the adult in the room on a major issue — health care — for the Democratic primary debate. He has a universal health care plan, though it is more limited in benefits and scope than single payer plans. (He is also, notably, still heavily invested in the health care industry; about $3.2 million of his $280 million fortune comes from the health care sector, per Sludge.)

Now, let’s switch back to Ryan:

RYAN: Now in this discussion already tonight we’ve talked about taking private health insurance away from union members in the industrial Midwest, we’ve talked about decriminalizing the border, and we’ve talked about giving free healthcare to undocumented workers when so many Americans are struggling to pay for their healthcare.

In the post-debate spin room, Ryan could be heard repeating the charge that undocumented workers shouldn’t be getting “free” health care while citizens have to work to earn it. But the people proposing that undocumented workers should be able to receive health care are proposing some form of single-payer system, meaning that we are de-coupling employment and health insurance and instead paying for health care through taxes. And undocumented workers pay a ton of taxes — billions in taxes, it says here. Undocumented workers wouldn’t be getting anything “free” that citizens also aren’t getting “free.”

And the fact is that undocumented workers are going to get health care from the health care system — not good, preventative care, but they’ll be taken to trauma centers when they are injured on construction sites. And are we going to let women in labor give birth on the streets? Are we going to leave undocumented children unvaccinated (bad idea) or babies sick with flu untreated? I doubt that, which takes us back to the costs of uncompensated care. Ryan (or maybe it was Delaney) kept blathering that undocumented people can just pay for health care, but people living on subsistence wages are not in a position to do that. Do we let them die? Do we let their children die?

Of course, this touches on the undocumented immigrants issue and the need for comprehensive reform that would stop forcing law-abiding people into hiding. It shouldn’t be that hard for a person who has been living and workng here to obtain some kind of official status. And then, voila! They are documented! Why is that so hard? Why is forcing people to stay underground better?

It wasn’t just Ryan and Delaney being stupid last night. Paul Waldman wrote this today:

Did you know that if liberals get their way and pass Medicare For All, you’ll have to actually pay for health coverage for the first time, when obviously everyone now gets it for free?

That was what you would have thought if you knew nothing about health care and listened to the way Jake Tapper of CNN framed the question during the Democratic presidential candidate debate on Tuesday night. And it showed just how difficult it is to have a meaningful, informative debate about a complex policy issue when the media are so determined to focus on squabbling and “newsworthy” moments.

Those moments usually happen when a candidate says something that they’ll be criticized for, often when their comments are taken out of context. So in the debate, Tapper relentlessly demanded to know whether taxes could increase for the middle class if health care reform was passed, as though that is the only real question worth considering. He asked Elizabeth Warren if she’d have to raise taxes, twice. He asked Pete Buttigieg, also twice. He asked Beto O’Rourke.

Seriously obnoxious. Tapper should be in the cold, desolate wilderness also. No shoes, no matches, no signal, not even a granola bar. Tapper kept going to Delaney to get him to challenge the front runners, and on a split screen Delaney would smirk and grimmace and smile the fake smile of someone who has been told to smile on television but doesn’t really want to. I do not like him. He needs to go away.

And after all the stupid shit Ryan said yesterday? What is he being called out for today in our dear mass media? He didn’t put his hand over his heart for the national anthem. Argh.

July 30, 2019 – Detroit, Michigan, United States: CNN Democratic Presidential Debate Detroit, Michigan 2019. L to R: Candidate author Marianne Williamson, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, Minnesota US Sen. Amy Klobuchar South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Vermont US Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts US Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. (John Nowak / CNN / Polaris)


The Democratic Split on Health Care

Countries that provide universal health care for citizens

The map shows (in green) countries that provide universal health care for its citizens. It’s from 2012, but I assume it’s still accurate. We are reminded that universal health care is not some pie-in-the-sky idea but is something many countries have accomplished. It’s also important to remember that this goal has been achieved in many different ways. I believe no two nations provide health care in exactly the same way. Many roads do get to the same place.

Currently the Democrats are split on two plans, Medicare for All — creating one single-payer system built on Medicare — and Medicare as a public option, sometimes called “Medicare for America.” Very basically, Medicare for All would replace the entire U.S. health insurance system with a Medicare-type program in which the government pays most medical bills directly. Medicare as a public option would allow people to keep their current insurance, including employee-based insurance, if they want that and their employers continue to provide it. Buying into Medicare would be a voluntary option, with substantial subsidies provided for lower- and middle-income people.

Maybe because I’m already on the standard Medicare for Geezers, I am not deeply and personally invested in one approach over the other. I agree with most progressives that Medicare for All, or something along those lines, is where we want to be. But I’ve also written that Medicare as a public option probably would be easier to sell to the public and would get us to the same place eventually.  See “The Many Roads to Universal Health Care” for those arguments.

Polling on these options has been confusing. An American Barometer Survey (whatever that is) came out last year saying that 70 percent of Americans support Medicare for All. But hold on, writes Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight. More recent polling shows that the public option approach is much more popular than Medicare for All.

90 percent of Democrats thought a plan that provided for a public option was a good idea, as compared to 64 percent who supported a Sanders-style Medicare for All plan that would replace private health insurance. The popularity of the public option also carries over to independent voters: 70 percent support it, as compared to 39 percent for Medicare for All.

It’s possible that some of the positive polling for Medicare for All is muddied by confusion about what it means. See Eric Levitz, Polls: Voters Want Medicare for All — But Don’t Know What It Is.

A pair of new surveys confirm that the single-payer movement’s signature rallying cry is both broadly popular and widely misunderstood. In polls conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Navigator Research, majorities of the public endorse the concept of “Medicare for All,” but evince ignorance about what such a policy would actually entail.

In Kaiser’s polling, most voters said that in a Medicare for All system, Americans would retain the option of keeping their current private insurance plans, and the obligation to pay premiums, co-pays, and deductibles.

In other words, what a lot of people polled are approving as Medicare for All is really the “public option” plan, not the single payer plan. Various polls also suggest that many people who really do prefer the single payer plan would be okay with the public option plan. And please do read all of Leavitz’s column; it’s from just last month and very informative.

Since either approach is popular with Democratic voters, it ought to be the case that Democratic presidential candidates who have chosen sides on this issue can advocate for one without trashing the other. But of course that’s not what is happening. “Centrist” Democratic candidates are using Republican talking points to trash Medicare for All. Paul Waldman writes,

The problem with what’s happening now is that some advocates of the public option approach are sounding a lot like, well, Republicans.

Their most common talking point when defending their plan is some variation of “We can’t kick 150 million people off their insurance,” referring to the number of people who are covered by employer plans:

    • “We should have universal health care, but it shouldn’t be the kind of health care that kicks 150 million Americans off their health care,” says John Delaney.
    • Beto O’Rourke says Medicare-for-all “would force 180 million Americans off their insurance.”
    • “I am simply concerned about kicking half of America off their health insurance within four years, which is what [Medicare-for-all] would do,” says Amy Klobuchar.

The generous interpretation of this line is that it’s warning about widespread disruption; the other interpretation is that it’s meant to stoke the fear that if you now have coverage and single payer passes, you could be left with no insurance at all, which is just false. If we passed single payer, you’d move from your current plan to a different plan, one that depending on how it’s constructed would probably offer as good or better coverage at a lower cost.

The further danger is that that kind of talk inevitably leads one toward the promise that got Barack Obama into such trouble, “If you like your plan, you can keep it.” In fact, here’s O’Rourke saying that under his plan, “For those who have private, employer-sponsored insurance or members of unions who have fought for health care plans … they’ll be able to keep that.” And here’s Biden saying much the same thing: “If you like your health care plan, your employer-based plan, you can keep it. If in fact you have private insurance, you can keep it.”

Haven’t they learned anything?

Of course not. The issue is, of course, that the public option plan wouldn’t directly cause you to lose your employee or private health insurance, but you could still lose it in the same ways people lose insurance now; for example, if you employer simply chooses to stop offering the plan you like as an employee benefit. Which happens all the time.

Waldman is also critical of a campaign ad Joe Biden released last week showing a woman thanking her union for fighting for her health insurance plan. “Apart from the praise of the Affordable Care Act, this video could almost have been scripted by the Republican National Committee, with its paeans to private health insurance,” Waldman writes. Health care is framed as something one earns through decades of hard work, not as a universal right.

Stuff like this reinforces my opinion that Biden is not the guy we want as the nominee. Of course I’ll vote for him if he is, but in the long run he’s going to hurt the future of the Democratic Party — by keeping it stuck in the mushy past — more than help it.

I do also run into people who are completely committed to Medicare for All and consider the public option route a betrayal. I respect that opinion, but at this point I think the one stand all Democrats should be taking is that health care is a universal right, period, not something that it’s okay to withhold from people who haven’t “earned” it. Beyond that, I can live with differences of opinion as to  how that will be achieved.

Schrödinger’s Impeachment Inquiry

The House Judiciary Committee appears to have begun an impeachment inquiry yesterday.

The House Judiciary Committee on Friday asked a federal judge to unseal grand jury secrets related to Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, using the court filing to declare that lawmakers have already in effect launched an impeachment investigation of President Trump.

In a legal maneuver that carries significant political overtones, the committee told a judge that it needs access to the grand jury evidence collected by Mr. Mueller as special counsel — such as witness testimony — because it is “investigating whether to recommend articles of impeachment” against the president.

Or, maybe not. What should have been a bombshell news story was muted by thick fog of ambiguity:

Members of the committee majority, led by Chairman Jerry Nadler, crowded together in front of a lectern to unveil their next steps following the testimony Wednesday of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller. What began as an announcement of high-profile lawsuits building on that testimony quickly devolved into a confused back-and-forth with reporters as Nadler and his colleagues repeatedly insisted they were not beginning impeachment proceedings before admitting that, yes, they were basically doing just that.

“Impeachment isn’t a binary thing,” argued Representative Mary Gay Scanlon, the committee’s vice chair. “What we’ve been saying, what we’ve been doing, is starting a process. We’re engaging in an investigation to see if we should recommend articles of impeachment … We started it some months ago, in some ways.”

“The committee is exercising its authority to investigate all of these scandals and to decide what to do about them, which could include articles of impeachment,” said Nadler—though he also emphasized that this wasn’t the same as an impeachment inquiry: “If an impeachment inquiry is if you’re considering only impeachment, that’s not what we’re doing.”

Then, to confound any faint whisp of certitude that might have taken hold after that exchange, four members of the House Judiciary Committee explained in The Atlantic Why We’re Moving Forward With Impeachment.

Despite assertions to the contrary by the president and his allies, the special counsel’s report and testimony are not the end of our investigations. We have now filed a petition in court to obtain the grand-jury documents referenced in the special counsel’s report. In that filing, we have made clear that we will utilize our Article I powers to obtain the additional underlying evidence, as well as enforce subpoenas for key witness testimony, and broaden our investigations to include conflicts of interest and financial misconduct….

…As members of the House Judiciary Committee, we understand the gravity of this moment that we find ourselves in. We wake up every morning with the understanding of the oath that binds us as members of Congress, and the trust that our constituents placed in us to uphold that oath. We will move forward with the impeachment process. Our investigation will seriously examine all the evidence as we consider whether to bring articles of impeachment or other remedies under our Article I powers.

So, call it an impeachment or other remedy inquiry. Charles Pierce believes that Nancy Pelosi is sorta kinda on board.

Nadler shrewdly roped in the Department of Justice under William Barr by telling the court that DOJ and White House stonewalling left him no other choice than to ask formally for the grand jury material. And it becomes even more intriguing with this wink-and-nod routine from Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Democrats are seeking to enforce subpoenas in court for certain documents in their investigation, as well as testimony from witnesses, all of which the administration has not complied with. This includes requests for six years of the president’s tax returns. “Everybody has the liberty and the luxury to espouse their own position and to criticize me for trying to go down the path in the most determined, positive way,” she said. “Again, their advocacy for impeachment only gives me leverage.”

In combination, Nadler’s motion and Pelosi’s remarks strike me as the result of serious re-negotiations within the Democratic House caucus. Pelosi seems to have freed up Nadler to move on the grand jury material. Baby steps, people, but ones that are starting to echo.

Still, this is all pretty mushy. Quinta Jurecic of Lawfare and The Atlantic writes,

The basic message is that the movers and shakers among the House Democrats believe the president to be a criminal who is disloyal to his country and abusive of his office, and yet somehow his conduct is not quite bad enough to justify the constitutional remedy designed to address the problem posed by such a leader. Pelosi and Schiff have both argued that impeachment proceedings are too dire a remedy to use in a situation in which the Senate would fail to convict an impeached president. But this is a separate argument, and to some extent one at cross-purposes, from their hints that Trump’s actions so far just don’t rise to a level that warrants impeachment. There may be a clear, forceful line of logic somewhere in here, but the House leadership has instead dabbled in a range of arguments while committing to none.

Friday’s House Judiciary Committee press conference flipped that dynamic on its head. The committee is moving toward impeachment proceedings—or, perhaps, has already begun them—with the same confusion that characterizes Pelosi’s opposition to it.

There is solid reason to believe that by invoking impeachment, the House Judiciary Committee will be on stronger legal ground to prevail in court to get the documents it wants. “In this sense, a press conference establishing that the committee is considering whether to bring articles of impeachment is a necessary step in beginning this litigation,” Jurecic writes. And Pelosi appears to have signed off on the language used in the press conference. “By fudging whether an inquiry actually exists or not, the committee might make it more difficult for that inquiry to be turned against the Democrats. Thus have Pelosi and Nadler split the baby,” said Jurecic.

However, all this fudging does mute the moral weight of the committee’s act. “The trouble with bringing urgent moral questions down to the level of political horse-trading is that the urgency dissolves, and with it the sense of moral crisis that House Democrats worked so hard over the course of Mueller’s testimony to build up,” Jurecic said.

Paul Thorton wrote in the Los Angeles Times,

At almost any other time in American history, a decorated Marine with a highly distinguished legal and law enforcement career vouching for his 400-page report detailing a president’s impeachment-worthy conduct would be greeted with (at least) deference or (at best) bipartisan gratitude.

But Robert S. Mueller III had the misfortune of explaining his life’s most important investigation to a bunch of Republicans eager to engage in character assassination on behalf of the the most amoral president in U.S. history, and in front of a media that valued “optics” just as much as the details of Mueller’s report.

Re “optics”: Do see the Columbia Journalism Review.



Yesterday the Senate Intelligence Committee released the first volume of its bipartisan report on Russian election interference. Most of it was redacted, I understand. But in between the solid black boxes some information did come to light.

The key part of the report shows that it’s very likely all 50 states were targeted by Russian hackers. That doesn’t meant Moscow got into all of the states’ systems, just that it infiltrated at least one system in that state. The report did not find any evidence that hackers were able to change votes.

But because there was no discernible pattern, intelligence professionals and other US officials believe Russia likely aimed to gain access to any systems it could to better understand what it all looks like.

“What it mostly looked like to us was reconnaissance,” Michael Daniel, a top cybersecurity official at the White House during the Obama administration, told the committee in 2017. “I would have characterized it at the time as sort of conducting the reconnaissance to do the network mapping, to do the topology mapping so that you could actually understand the network, establish a presence so you could come back later and actually execute an operation.”

In other words, 2016 was just a test run. But Charles Pierce has questions:

Remember when we were all told that it was only a couple of precincts, then a couple of cities, then a couple of states? Remember when it was just data? Now, as far as we can read between the blacked-out lines, we are being asked to believe that the Russian ratfckers could have deleted “voter data,” that they “were in a position” to jack around with it, but, having achieved this monumental intelligence triumph, they didn’t do anything with it? Does that dog even look like it’s hunting any more?

Oh, who knows? What I do know is that this Russian election interference thing really is a big bleeping deal, and I’ve been saying that since 2016. And, of course, Republicans are shutting down any attempt to add protections to the voting systems. The most recent bills that Mitch McConnell killed in the Senate would have mandated the use of backup paper ballots and other technical sageguards to election systems; required campaigns to report any hacking or other foreign interference to federal authorities; and provided for protecting personal accounts and devices of senators and some staffers from hacking.

These seem fairly benign to me. But Mitch was having none of it, because fair elections are partisan.

But McConnell said Democrats were just trying to make political hay on the heels of the Mueller testimony in their attempt to bring up a House bill that would mandate the use of paper ballots in states’ election systems and provide additional funding to the federal, nonpartisan Election Assistance Commission.

“This is partisan legislation from the Democratic House of Representatives,” McConnell said, noting that the bill garnered just one GOP vote in that chamber and was designed to give Democrats the political upper-hand.

“It’s very important that we maintain the integrity and security of our elections in our country,” the GOP leader said, but he added, “any Washington involvement in that task needs to be undertaken with extreme care, extreme care and on a thoroughly bipartisan basis. Obviously this legislation is not that. It’s just a highly partisan bill from the same folks who spent two years hyping up a conspiracy theory about President Trump and Russia.”

Obviously, paper has a well-known liberal bias. Meanwhile, the Right Wing Noise Machine is hyping up a conspiracy theory that it was Hillary Clinton who colluded with Russians, apparently so … that she would lose?

From Vox:

Put briefly, Hannity’s theory is that the Steele dossier — an unverified document prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele (whose work on behalf of Fusion GPS was funded in part by the Clinton campaign) that makes a number of salacious, unproven claims about the Trump campaign’s dealings with people in the sphere of the Kremlin during the 2016 campaign — contains kernels of misinformation that were intentionally fed to Steele by Russians. Per Hannity’s telling, these bits of misinformation were intended to serve as land mines to take out Trump, and were exploited by anti-Trump officials in the FBI and intelligence agencies to pursue an investigation of the Trump campaign that eventually became the Mueller investigation. Hence, Hannity views the Mueller investigation as the result of collusion between Russians and the “deep state.”

This is worthy of Glenn Beck. Does working for Fox News make one nuts, or do you have to be nuts to begin with? See also Republicans Are Doing a Good Job Blocking Efforts to Fight Russian Meddling in 2020 in Rolling Stone and Surely It’s a Coincidence That a Firm Tied to a Russian Oligarch Is Pouring Millions Into Kentucky by Charles Pierce.

Even if votes weren’t/aren’t changed, just knowing how easily our elections could be hacked sets up a way for Trump and McConnell to void election results they don’t like in 2020.