Thursday, September 21, 2017

Politico -- Price’s private-jet travel breaks precedent

In a sharp departure from his predecessors, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price last week took private jets on five separate flights for official business, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars more than commercial travel.

The secretary’s five flights, which were scheduled between Sept. 13 and Sept. 15, took him to a resort in Maine where he participated in a Q&A discussion with a health care industry CEO, and to community health centers in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, according to internal HHS documents.
The travel by corporate-style jet comes at a time when other members of the Trump administration are under fire for travel expenditures, and breaks with the practices of Obama-era secretaries Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, who flew commercially while in the continental United States.

Price, a frequent critic of federal spending who has been developing a plan for departmentwide cost savings, declined to comment.

As Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price calls for drastic cuts to Medicaid, including programs that provide care for children and people with disabilities, he's billing taxpayers thousands of dollars to fly around in private jets. Just last week, Price racked up a $60,000 bill for five chartered flights. One trip between Washington and Philadelphia (less than 150 miles apart) cost taxpayers an estimated $25,000. Past secretaries flew commercial. Even Price himself, a self-proclaimed deficit-hawk, once called the use of government planes, "fiscal irresponsibility run amok." Trump and his enablers continue to serve their own interests, while doing nothing to improve the lives of the American people,” -- Robert Reich.

By Dan Diamond And Rachana Pradhan

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

How Do We Abolish the Electoral College (VIDEO)

By Dan Merica
The 2016 Presidential election brings to mind once again the issue of whether the Electoral College is an institution whose time has passed. All that is needed is the popular vote. One Person, One Vote. It’s the principle that all citizens, regardless of where they reside in a state, are entitled to equal legislative representation.

Hillary Clinton told CNN on Wednesday that it is time to abolish the Electoral College, part of a sweeping interview where the former Democratic nominee sought to explain why she lost the 2016 election.

"I think it needs to be eliminated," Clinton said of the Electoral College. "I'd like to see us move beyond it, yes."

While we resist Donald Trump, we also need to make sure our democracy doesn't ever again elect a candidate who loses the popular vote. We must abolish the electoral college. Already 10 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws to reform the system, but we need more to join. Help spread the word,” -- Robert Reich

Trump, White House all in on ObamaCare repeal push

A new version of Trumpcare is gaining momentum inside the Senate Republican caucus. But, the new Trumpcare proposal known as "Graham-Cassidy" is just as bad as previous versions.

Why now? Robert Reich says it’s “mainly because it is assumed the Affordable Care Act (ACA)was in the clear so we put our attention elsewhere.”

Senate Republicans are planning to take action on it before September 30.

The new proposal would leave millions of Americans struggling to pay their medical bills and to get coverage.

The Congressional Budget Office won’t have time to calculate the cost of "Graham-Cassidy" but it is anticipated that 32 million will lose coverage.

The big difference between the new Trumpcare and previous versions is that under the new repeal legislation, sponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy, the individual states would be given block grants. The block grants would be used to fund all of each state’s health care needs (what was Obamacare, and medicare and medicaid).
It would undermine requirements that people with pre-existing conditions be covered, leading millions to either lose health care or have to pay a lot more for it.

It would lead to massive cuts to Medicaid, forcing states to deny health care to millions of children and families.

It would defund Planned Parenthood and be a major step backward for women's health care and particularly for reproductive health care.

Right now, Republicans are very close to getting the 50 votes they need to pass it. Only a few Republicans are against it or undecided -- including Alaska's Lisa Murkowski and Maine's Susan Collins. John McCain has said he's willing to vote for it, but as details of the bill leaked and revealed how badly Arizona would be hit, he's become less certain.

We've been very close to losing on this several times in 2017 -- but because Americans mobilized to fight it, we were able to stop Trumpcare. If we can stop them again by September 30, then it will take 60 votes (instead of 50) to pass Trumpcare. That makes it a lot harder for Trump and the Republicans to take away health care from millions.

President Trump and Vice President Pence have been making calls to senators and governors in a furious effort to gain support for a last-ditch ObamaCare repeal bill.

The Trump administration is making clear it's all in on the repeal push, with Pence warning that the White House will not support efforts to "fix" or "prop up" ObamaCare.

That would appear to rule out a bipartisan effort in the Senate Health Committee to craft a bill stabilizing AFC insurance markets.

Pence will attend a Senate GOP lunch Tuesday and tell senators "this is the moment" to repeal ObamaCare, the vice president told reporters Tuesday.

He'll say ObamaCare is "collapsing" and make clear that Trump would sign the bill.

By Jessie Hellmann

WP -- In U.N. speech, Trump threatens to ‘totally destroy North Korea’ and calls Kim Jong Un ‘Rocket Man’

Robert Reich’s reaction to Donald Trump’s U.N. speech:

Trump delivered his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly this morning. Among his comments were these (followed by my annotations):

1. For the cost of resettling one refugee in the United States, we can assist more than 10 in their home region.”

Earth to Trump: That makes no sense. The reason they’re refugees is they can’t be resettled in their home without being endangered or killed. As to costs, your own Department of Health and Human Services has found that refugees have brought in $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost, but your White House didn't like this conclusion and, according to today's New York Times, has pulled the report.

2. “Fortunately, the United States has done very well since Election Day last November 8th. The stock market is at an all-time high -- a record. Unemployment is at its lowest level in 16 years, and because of our regulatory and other reforms, we have more people working in the United States today than ever before. Companies are moving back, creating job growth the likes of which our country has not seen in a very long time. And it has just been announced that we will be spending almost $700 billion on our military and defense.”

Earth to Trump: Bragging about the U.S. isn't exactly appropriate in this forum. Nor is self-promotion. And if I were you I wouldn't be touting a gigantic military budget that's bigger than the total military budgets of the next 10 biggest militarized nations put together.

3. “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime."

Earth to Trump: If you hadn't noticed, your increasingly incendiary threats against North Korea aren't helping. Perhaps you should take a different tack.

4. “I will always put America first just like you, the leaders of your countries, should put your countries first.”

Earth to Trump: The world is not a zero-sum game. America wins when other nations win.

5. The U.N.-backed Iran nuclear deal is “one of the worst and most one-sided” agreements ever, and “an embarrassment” to the United States.”

Earth to Trump: The deal is better than no deal. If you declare Iran out of compliance, Iran will resume its nuclear buildup.

6. “Major portions of the world are in conflict and some, in fact, are going to hell.”

Earth to Trump: Are you referring to the Trump administration?

By David Nakamura and Anne Gearan

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

HuffPost -- Don’t Look Now, But Full Obamacare Repeal Is Back On The Table

A bill nobody took seriously suddenly sounds serious.

Full repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is on the Senate’s agenda. It’s reported that the Republicans are planning to take action on it before September 30.

The bill is known as Graham-Cassidy.

Regardless of any differences the new proposal may have from previous health care legislative attempts to make health care legislation their own, it still wouldn't dramatically scale back what the “federal government spends on health care and undermining rules designed to guarantee insurance for people with pre-existing conditions, this new proposal would leave millions of Americans struggling to pay their medical bills and to get coverage.

The Huffington Post’s Jonathan Cohn writes,

“The prospects for the new legislation are murky. The proposal has generated a ton of conversation in political and health policy circles in just the past week, with multiple outlets reporting that leadership is now thinking about floor action before Sept. 30. That’s the magic date when, because of parliamentary rules, Republicans lose their ability to pass repeal with just 50 votes. But much of the chatter is hype from supporters and it’s hard to know how much enthusiasm for the proposal actually exists.

Nevertheless, “It is, in other words, another shot at full repeal, although its GOP sponsors sometimes suggest otherwise ― and that’s one reason it has escaped heavy scrutiny until now.

It’s difficult to say where this is all going. After all, the idea that repeal could get another look now, despite its unpopularity, in the form of a proposal that in some respects is more radical than its predecessors, is difficult to fathom. And yet here we are, fathoming it.

NBC NewsBenjy Sarlin tells us what you need to know about what the new GOP health care bill does, where senators stand, and what would have to happen for it to pass.

Here's the story from the Huffington Post:

By Jonathan Cohn

Vox -- Reports: Paul Manafort was wiretapped, has been told to expect an indictment

President Donald Trump’s affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin, the entanglements of Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn with Russia raises huge questions and red flags. There are way too many questions to ask, way too many hints of wrongdoing, way too many circumstances of President Donald Trump’s associates nefariously colluding with the Russian government, for the most obvious reason: to put Donald Trump in the White House.

Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn are the leading focus of the special prosecutor’s office into whether Trump’s associates coordinated with the Russians to interfere in the 2016 campaign on his behalf.

All of it increasingly points to Trump’s direct knowledge of Manafort’s and Flynn’s involvement. It could have even been at Trump’s direction to diminish Hillary Clinton’s chance of becoming the next President of the United States.

The latest report suggests that special prosecutor Mueller’s legal team is getting to the heart of Trump’s Russia problem.

Robert Reich summarizes the story:

Three big developments in the Mueller investigation. Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn appear to be in serious legal trouble:

1) Mueller's investigators have reportedly told Manafort to expect an indictment, according to the New York Times. The warning came after an early morning raid on his home over the summer, where documents and electronic files were seized.

2) A federal judge authorized the FBI to wiretap Manafort's communications with possible Russian operatives. The surveillance began before Manafort joined the Trump campaign while he was working for pro-Russian interests in Ukraine. Federal investigators again turned their focus on Manafort last summer when they began investigating possible collusion between the campaign and Russian agents to sway the election.

3) Former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has established a legal defense fund to cover his attorneys' fees. In recent months, Mueller has intensified his investigation into Flynn, requesting White House documents and questioning witnesses about his international consulting firm. Flynn's camp appears to be bracing for a long legal battle.

These revelations come as Mueller has reportedly obtained a search warrant for records of the fake Facebook accounts set up by Russian agents during the 2016 campaign. That probe could have implications for Jared Kushner.

Bottom-line: Trump can try to distract the public from the investigation by repealing DACA and banning transgender Americans from the military, but Mueller is only gaining steam.

 By Andrew Prokop

Monday, September 18, 2017

WP -- Speaker Ryan’s fuzzy math on the nation’s ‘terrible tax system’

Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan said in an interview with the Associated Press on September 13th, “It is a terrible tax system that was written in ’86. … The headlines write themselves: We tax our corporations at 35 percent, and successful small businesses are taxed as high as 44.6 percent. The average tax rate in the industrialized world for businesses is 22.5 percent.”

Donald Trump promised his supporters that he would cut corporate taxes to 15%. Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan now says that in reality, it will be around 20%

"The numbers are hard to make [15%] work. [President Trump] obviously wants to push this as low as possible and I completely support that, but at the end of the day we got to make these numbers work," Ryan said. "I think our goal is to be at or below the industrial world average, and that's 22.5%. So our goal is to get in the mid- to low 20s."

The Republican House framework for tax reform is planned to be unveiled on September 25th.

Robert Reich labels Ryan’s reasoning as “Lies, lies, and more lies”:

Here’s what House Speaker Paul Ryan is saying about corporate taxes and why the U.S. must lower them: “We tax our corporations at 35 percent, and successful small businesses are taxed as high as 44.6 percent. The average tax rate in the industrialized world for businesses is 22.5 percent.”

We don’t tax our corporations at 35 percent. That’s the official rate by law – the statutory rate. But it doesn’t include corporate tax deductions, which are abundant. The effective tax rate – what corporations actually pay after all deductions – is just 18.6 percent

Small businesses aren’t taxed at 44.6 percent. A 2013 study commissioned by the National Federation of Independent Businesses found that the average effective tax rate for small businesses is 21.3 percent. Source: 

The average tax rate in the industrialized world for businesses is not 22.5 percent. Ryan got this number by averaging the statutory tax rates for all the countries in the OECD, including small countries like Iceland. When weighted according to the size of the economy, according to the Tax Foundation, the average statutory corporate rate in the OECD is 31.4 percent. Source: 

Bottom line: Ryan is putting out fake facts. In reality, U.S. corporations pay about the same tax rate as corporations in other major economies. There's absolutely no justification for a corporate tax cut.

By Nicole Lewis

Trump’s will be the most ethically challenged administration in American history

Trump’s only interest is what’s in it for him. It’s could be the principle reason he wanted to become President of the United States.

Hold that thought and consider Trump’s decision to prevent scrutiny of his Mar-a-Lago golf club list. Those of whom he has privately spent time with. It certainly attracts more questions: What does he have to hide from public view? What are the extent of Trump’s private business interest? How much is he profiting from being President of the United States? What is the extent of his conflicts of interest? 

Robert Reich says, “Trump’s will be the most ethically challenged administration in American history.

Trump has spent 25 days of his presidency at Mar-a-Lago, but the White House refuses to disclose who he has met with during these trips. In response to an inquiry by ethics watchdogs, the Justice Department claimed the visitor logs are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Several groups plan to appeal the government's decision in court.

A recent report also found that dozens of lobbyists, business executives, and defense contractors are spending big bucks on membership fees at Trump's golf clubs to gain exclusive access to the president.

This isn't the first time the Trump administration has sought to keep the president's meetings secret. The White House has also stopped releasing its visitor logs. . . . We have no clue who he's meeting with, what's in his taxes, or how involved he still is with his business dealings.

Here’s a part of the story reported by the N.Y. Times:

The Trump administration on Friday escalated a battle with government ethics groups by declining to release the identities of individuals visiting with President Trump at his family’s Mar-a-Lago resort during the days he has spent at the private club in Palm Beach, Fla., this year.

The surprising move by the Department of Justice, which had been ordered in July by a federal court to complete its review of Mar-a-Lago visitor records, came after weeks of promotion by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the liberal nonprofit group known as CREW, that it would soon be getting the Mar-a-Lago visitors logs.

Instead, on Friday the Justice Department released a State Department list of just 22 names — all of them members of the delegation of the Japanese prime minister — who visited the club in February for a meeting with President Trump.

The dispute centers on what kind of records related to private individuals visiting the president should be open to public inspection. The refusal to disclose the full list of presidential visitors’ names also brings renewed scrutiny to the president’s private business empire and raises questions about why the administration would want to withhold information that could reveal possible conflicts of interest.

CREW and its partners in the effort — the National Security Archive and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University — sued in April to get access to presidential visitor logs for Mar-a-Lago, the White House and Trump Tower in New York. CREW requested only a list of people explicitly visiting the president, not, for example, all Mar-a-Lago members or other guests who happened to be there on those days.

Here’s the full story:

By Eric Lipton

Sunday, September 17, 2017

USA Today -- Photographer snaps eye-opening photo he wishes 'didn't exist'

An uninhabitable earth at some point in our future is not an unreasonable thought. Years of disregard for mother earth can cause components of the earth system to change. Consequently, humankind should not shrug off insidious warnings of cataclysmic environmental transformations.

And, for those who think that climate change warnings are just hullabaloo and pooh-pooh the idea of an impending catastrophe, I have one question, what if you’re wrong? What harm can come from taking meaningful action now rather than wait until it’s too late?

Moreover, it’s not just climate change we need to be concerned about. As California-based nature photographer Justin Hofman's troubling photo of a tiny seahorse clinging to a pink plastic cotton swab highlights how plastic pollution has left virtually no corner of our world untouched clearly points out. 

Here's the rest of Hofman's story:

By Mary Bowerman

Alternet -- Our Country Has Gotten So Scary, I Don't Think I Can Live in Denial Anymore

Many politicians, journalists, academics, and many in the mental health community are increasingly questioning the state of Trump’s mind and whether he is capable of continuing to be our President.

Political commentator George Will said President Trump is someone who is not able to "think and speak clearly." And "It is urgent for Americans to think and speak clearly about President Trump’s inability to do either."

Marty Kaplan over at the Alternet gives us more to be concerned about:

Denial just ain’t what it used to be. Maybe it’s just me, but as recent news has delivered one gut punch after another, I'm feeling like magical thinking has lost its mojo.

Case in point: Though I know Donald Trump is pathologically void of empathy, who can process a truth as dark as that? We’re not talking about a Batman villain here; this is the effing president of the United States. So as a coping mechanism, my psyche threw an invisibility cloak over his immorality. It didn’t always work, but it came to a dead stop when neo-Nazis—“some very fine people”—marched and murdered in Charlottesville. I plumb ran out of the strategic ignorance necessary to pretend he’s not complicit in evil.

Here’s Kaplan’s story:

By Marty Kaplan