Thursday, March 9, 2017

Midweek Roundup

Top local story here has been wildfire, the predictable result of a very dry winter and three or more days of high winds. On Wednesday, the Wichita Eagle front page, above the fold, consisted of one huge picture of fire and the headline "Unprecedented." The story revealed that about 60% of Clark County (WSW of Wichita, south and a bit east of Dodge City, at population 2215 pretty much the definition of nowhere) has been burnt. That fire spread east into Comanche County (pop. 1891), and there have been more scattered fires near Hays and Hutchinson. For a rundown as of Wednesday, see Tim Potter: Over 650,000 acres burned so far, state says. The wind died down a bit on Thursday, so presumably the worst is over. Note, however, that the annual record broke last week (a bit early, don't you think?) dates from just last year.

The big story of the week was that Paul Ryan, with Donald Trump's evident blessing, unveiled his "repeal-and-replace" health care bill. He's managed to disgust both the right and the left, and more than a few people in between. Some reactions:

  • Jamelle Bouie: How Republicans Botched Their Health Care Bill: Title from the link, better than "Trumpcare Is Already on Life Support" on the page itself.

  • David Dayen: The Republican Health-Care Bill Is the Worst of So Many Worlds: it "fails on every score -- except cutting rich people's taxes."

  • Tim Dickinson: The Dark Strategy at the Core of the GOP Health Care Plan

  • Richard Eskow: The American Health Care Act Is a Wealth Grab, Not a Health Plan

  • Mike Konczal: The Truth About the GOP Health-Care Plan

  • Paul Krugman: A Plan Set Up to Fail

  • Josh Marshall: Let's Agree Not to Lie About GOPCare: Starts with a rather striking lie: "Here is the simple secret of health insurance and health care provision policy: You can create efficiencies and savings by constructing functioning markets." Actually, it's been clear for decades that health care markets are inherently dysfunctional -- i.e., that Marshall's assumption is horribly faulty. His next line is also untrue: "But at the end of the day, more money equals more care." This doesn't even demand theory: it implies that the US has 3-4 times more care than France or Japan, which is empirically false. Marshall then argues that when Ryan promises to reduce costs, he's really just saying he'll be offering less care, which is, well, true, but that's mostly because Ryan isn't trying to change any of the cost factors behind health care (e.g., by limiting private party profits). He then seems to endorse right-wing opponents of Ryan's plan, saying "the real way to do this is simply to repeat the Affordable Care Act root and branch -- no pretending about making it better and 'access' and other nostrums," but he doesn't see that happening because "Republicans have essentially accepted the premise of the ACA: which is to say, the people who got coverage under the ACA should have coverage." But Republicans refuse to admit to that position, so Ryan has tailored the program to fit Republican biases, which is to say to protect the insurability of people who can afford it and screw everyone else. Marshall ultimately make some solid points ("The current plan also starts the phaseout of Medicaid and preps for the phaseout of Medicare -- a key policy goal for Paul Ryan"), but makes a lot of stupid blunders along the way.

  • John Nichols: Sean Spicer Is Lying About Trump's Health-Care Debacle:

  • Joy-Ann Reid: Donald Trump Signs On to Paul Ryan's Let-Them-Die 'Health-Care' Crusade

  • Michael Tomasky: It Sure Looks Like Paul Ryan Wants Ryancare to Fail: "The tip-off to me came Tuesday around noon, when Heritage Action, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, issued a tweet condemning the bill. If Ryan didn't even bother to grease this with Heritage, he's just not being serious."

  • Matthew Yglesias: Republicans are now playing the price for a years-long campaign of Obamacare lies: "Republican leaders and conservative intellectuals, for the most part, didn't really believe nonsense about death panels or that Obama was personally responsible for high-deductible insurance plans. What they fundamentally did not like is that the basic framework of the law is to redistribute money by taxing high-income families and giving insurance subsidies to needy ones." I want to add two points here: the first is that every health care reform going back at least to Medicare protected industry profits and allowed the industry to increase those profits by inflating costs, even though this quickly price health care beyond what most families could afford; and second, that the Republicans have always had to jump through hoops to pretend that increasing industry profits was good for the people (at least the ones they profess to care about). These positions have become increasingly untenable over time, but Republicans have been able to make political hay as long as they could get people to blame the Democrats, whose own policies have only been marginally more viable, and whose reforms have saddled them with the lion's share of blame for their shortcomings.

Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:

Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still to America's bout of political insanity:

  • Dean Baker: Progressives Should Support Policies That Help All Working-Class People: This is all good; for example:

    On trade this means policies designed to reduce the trade deficit. This issue here is not "winning" in negotiations with our trading partners. It's a question of priorities in trade negotiations.

    Rather than demanding stronger and longer protections for Pfizer's patents and Microsoft's copyrights, we should be getting our trading partners to support a reduction in the value of the dollar in order to make our goods and services more competitive. If we can reduce the trade deficit by 1-2 percentage points of GDP ($180 billion to $360 billion) it will create 1-2 million manufacturing jobs, improving the labor market for the working class.

    We should use trade to reduce the pay of doctors and other highly paid professionals. If we open the door to qualified professionals from other countries we can save hundreds of billions of dollars a year on health care and other costs, while reducing inequality.

    We should also support policies that rein in the financial sector, such as reducing fees that pension funds pay to private equity and hedge funds and their investment advisors. This money comes out of the pockets of the rest of us and goes to some of the richest people in the country. A financial transactions tax, which could eliminate tens of billions of dollars spent each year on useless trades, would also be a major step towards reducing inequality.

    Policies that put downward pressure on the pay of CEOs and other top executives would also help the working class. This could mean, for example, making it easier for shareholders to reduce CEO pay. In the nonprofit sector we could place a cap on the pay of employees for anyone seeking tax-exempt status. Universities and nonprofit charities could still pay their presidents whatever they wanted; they just wouldn't get a taxpayer subsidy.

    There is a long list of market-based policies that we can pursue to reverse the upward redistribution of the last four decades. (For the fuller list see Rigged). These are policies that we should pursue because it is the right thing to do. It will help the working class of all races, including the white working class.

    I've been reading Ira Katznelson's Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time, which puts a lot of emphasis on how white Southern Democrats supported radical New Deal policies up to about 1938, when many switched sides, most famously joining with Republicans to pass the Taft-Hartley Act which halted the growth of unions and ultimately did them great damage. The South was, at the time, by far the poorest part of the country (well, still is), so as long as New Deal policies were crafted not to upset the South's Jim Crow racial order politicians were happy for the help. However, by the late 1930s, especially with the Wagner Act supporting unionization in 1935, Southern whites started to feel threatened, and decided they'd rather keep their racial order pure and poor than do anything that might help both whites and blacks. It is one of the great shames of American history that one of our few major periods of progressivism was so fraught with racism. (Actually, the same combination hampered Wilson's progressivism, and before that the Populist Party, at least in the South. For that matter, the great expansion of voting rights in the Jackson-Van Buren era was more often than not accompanied by disenfranchisement of free blacks.)

  • Thomas Frank: Don't let establishment opportunists ruin the resistance movement: I agree that there's a lot of similarity between the anti-Trump resistance and the anti-Obama Tea Party, but there is very little symmetry between left and right, either in the streets or among the partisan establishment (although I suspect the Republicans were more inclined to feed their protest movement because they considered it less of a personal threat -- wrongly, perhaps, if you take Trump to be a Tea Party champion, but for now let's just say that Democratic party centrists have a lot more to feel guilty about).

  • Joseph P Fried: Lynne Stewart, Lawyer Imprisoned in Terrorism Case, Dies at 77

  • Paul Glastris: Charles Peters on Recapturing the Soul of the Democratic Party

  • Rebecca Gordon: Forever War:

    During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump often sounded like a pre-World War II-style America First isolationist, someone who thought the United States should avoid foreign military entanglements. Today, he seems more like a man with a uniform fetish. He's referred to his latest efforts to round up undocumented immigrants in this country as "a military operation." He's similarly stocked his cabinet with one general still on active duty, various retired generals, and other military veterans. His pick for secretary of the interior, Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, served 23 years as a Navy SEAL.

    Clearly, these days Trump enjoys the company of military men. He's more ambivalent about what the military actually does. On the campaign trail, he railed against the folly that was -- and is -- the (second) Iraq War, maintaining with questionable accuracy that he was "totally against" it from the beginning. It's not clear, however, just where Trump thinks the folly lies -- in invading Iraq in the first place or in failing to "keep" Iraq's oil afterward. It was a criticism he reprised when he introduced Mike Pompeo as his choice to run the CIA. "Mike," he explained, "if we kept the oil, you probably wouldn't have ISIS because that's where they made their money in the first place." Not to worry, however, since as he also suggested to Pompeo, "Maybe we'll have another chance." Maybe the wrong people had just fought the wrong Iraq war, and Donald Trump's version will be bigger, better, and even more full of win!

    Perhaps Trump's objection is simply to wars we don't win. As February ended, he invited the National Governors Association to share his nostalgia for the good old days when "everybody used to say 'we haven't lost a war" -- we never lost a war -- you remember." Now, according to the president, "We never win a war. We never win. And we don't fight to win. We don't fight to win. So we either got to win, or don't fight it at all."

    Well, if you'd just stop to give it a bit of thought, you'd realize that no one ever wins a war. Maybe you lose less bad than the other side does, but everyone comes out worse for the experience. Anyone who thought we won the 20th century's two world wars simply didn't account for everything we lost (admittedly, a pretty widespread problem, given how much money some people who didn't fight made off those wars). And anyone who tells you we won (or could have won if only we'd shown more unity and resolve) wars in Korea or Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq simply has their head wedged. What makes Trump so dangerous is his obsession with winning, and worse still his conviction that's he such a big winner -- that the only possible result of whatever he chooses to do will be winning, and indeed that all it takes to "make America great again" is leadership by a great winner like himself.

  • Danny Sjursen: I Was Part of the Iraq War Surge. It Was a Disaster.

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