Originally Published: 3/18/2017
Trumpcare: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released its estimate of the costs of Trumpcare. To understand their numbers you may want to review what’s in the plan. (TWW, Trumpcare, 3/11/17) The big news is that the new plan would reverse the gains of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) but it would also slow down the federal deficit. CBO estimates that there would be 24 million fewer people with insurance coverage a decade from now, nearly doubling the number of uninsured from 10% to 19%. 14 million of those would occur in the first year. A “secret” White House analysis showed even more people losing their insurance. (Talking Points Memo) But the deficit would be lowered by $337 billion during those 10 years, primarily by lessening Medicaid spending and subsidies. However, it would also reduce revenue by $592 billion by repealing several taxes - mostly on high-income people, hospitals, and insurance companies - to help pay for the program. And older Americans would pay “substantially” more and younger Americans less. The reduction in insured people would result from 3 factors: The recision of penalties for not being insured could prompt many to drop their plans. Tax credits less than the current subsidies could make insurance less affordable. And some states may undo their Medicaid expansion programs. The NY Times has a graphic on how the plan will affect people. Most of Republican arguments in support of their plan were “severely hurt” by the CBO report. (Washington Post) But it’s the plan’s impact on Medicaid that is proving to be the biggest problem. (Washington Post) The new plan would give each state a fixed amount of funding per person for Medicaid rather than covering a fixed percentage of its Medicaid costs. The CBO estimates a significant drop in Medicaid enrollment - about 15 million fewer by 2026. But the plan will hurt “Trump-supporting” places more and this may be its demise. (Washington Post) It didn’t take long for GOP senators to start talking about changes. (NY Times) Speaker of the House Paul Ryan admitted that the plan will have to change in order to pass the House. (Guardian) But John Oliver doesn’t believe it really is dead. Listen to what he has to say about it. (You Tube) On Friday “several key Republicans” endorsed the plan saying that Trump “had agreed to changes they favored.” What were the changes? “The changes Trump signed onto would give states more flexibility by allowing them the option to take Medicaid funding as a block grant or a per-capita payment. . . It would also impose a work requirement for able-bodied adults that do not have children who are enrolled in the Medicaid program.” (Roll Call)
Wiretapping: While stuff was flying all week regarding Trump’s assertion that Obama wiretapped his campaign offices (TWW, Wiretapping, 3/11/17), Devin Nunes (R, CA), chair of the House Intelligence Committee “who has been one of the few defenders of Trump’s claims,” admitted that there was no evidence. He said: “I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.” (Washington Post) Nunes later was joined by leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying they were aware of no evidence. (Roll Call) But White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that Trump “stands by” his allegation. (Washington Post) He even doubled-down and claimed the UK helped Obama wiretap, which British intelligence officials call “utterly ridiculous.” (Guardian) Trump was quoting a Fox News commenter, who later disavowed the report, but Trump refused to apologize to Britain as they demanded although they did get a promise from the White House to never repeat the lie. (Telegraph)
Tax Leak: Tuesday evening Rachel Maddow hosted Pulitzer Prize-wining journalist David Cay Johnston who received a copy of the first couple of pages of Trump’s 2005 income tax return. It showed that Trump made $153 million, written down to $105 million in business losses, and paid $38 million in federal taxes - 24%. About $31 million of the tax he paid was the “alternative minimum tax” (AMT) which is designed “to cut down on filers with excessive deductions.” (Washington Post) It should be noted that Trump has long been a supporter of abolishing the AMT. (Guardian) Much of the brouhaha has been over how Johnston received the document. Trump claims that Johnston “stole” the tax return but Johnston claims the return was mailed to him and “pointed out that the White House had confirmed his story.” (Roll Call) It seems clear, at least to me, that either Trump himself or someone close to him leaked the document as, on the second page, it’s clearly marked “Client Copy.” (NY Times) And didn’t Trump say that he couldn’t release his taxes because of an audit? And what about his claim that he’s worth $10 billion? Yes, folks, we learned a lot from this little leak, something I’m sure Trump didn’t expect.
Patrick Shanahan: He’s been picked to be Deputy Defense Secretary. Shanahan is a Boeing executive. (Reuters)
James Donovan: He’s been picked as Deputy Treasury Secretary. As a Goldman Sachs managing director, Donovan is the 5th Goldman Sachs veteran to be chosen by Trump for a senior role in his administration. (Washington Post)
Dan Coats: The Senate confirmed Coats as Director of National Intelligence. (Reuters)
H.R. McMasters: The Senate approved him as National Security Adviser. (Reuters)
Spying on Reporters: U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam of the District of Northern California declined “to force the FBI to reconsider a request to divulge guidelines for spying on journalists without a warrant.” Gilliam ruled that the FBI “had properly responded to public records requests” at the heart of a lawsuit filed by Freedom of the Press Foundation claiming the FBI “failed to reference a relevant memo” in response to prior Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. (District Sentinel)
Genetic Testing: There’s a bill going through the House you should know about. Under current law, results of genetic tests are private and cannot be used to discriminate in the workplace. But, with this bill, all that could change. “Employers could impose hefty penalties on employees who decline to participate in genetic testing as part of workplace wellness programs.” Got a gene for diabetes, cancer, anything else? They could fire you rather than possibly facing the costs of treatment. You need to keep on eye on this one. (Washington Post)
Drone Strikes: Trump has given the CIA “new authority to conduct drone attacks against suspected militants. . . The move would be a change from the policy of former President Barack Obama’s administration of limiting the CIA’s paramilitary role.” (Reuters)
Humanitarian Crisis: According to the UN, the world is facing its greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945. “More than 20 million people across 4 countries in Africa and the Middle East are at risk of starvation and famine.” (NPR)
Germany: A 29-year-old from Fresno, CA, Nicholas Smith, started a “thriving” burger joint in the German city of Essen. Then Smith went on national television and declared himself a Trump fan. What resulted was a boycott of his restaurant by liberal Germans. Then the German right started coming and saved him. The Washington Post wrote that this “suggests how the polarization of the Trump era has gone global.
Netherlands: Prime Minister Mark Rutte defeated anti-Muslim candidate Geert Wilders. “The result was embraced by other leaders inside and outside the Netherlands as a major blow to anti-immigrant populism, breaking a streak of disruption that started with the Brexit vote and continued with the election of Donald Trump.” (Washington Post)
North Korea: The U.S. “declared” that it will “permanently station missile-capable drones in South Korea in the latest round of military escalation in north-eastern Asia.” (Guardian)
Norway: The Sami parliament persuaded Norway’s second largest pension fund to “withdraw its money from companies” linked to the Dakota Access pipeline. (Guardian)
Merger: The $85.4 billion merger of AT&T and Time Warner has been approved by the European Commission. (Reuters)
Alabama: Attorney General Jeff Sessions is licensed to the bar in the State of Alabama. Perjury is a felony and any lawyer who commits perjury loses his law license. Remember Bill Clinton? He lost his license. Now there’s a movement to disbar Sessions. Here’s a letter that you can print out and send to the Alabama State Bar Disciplinary Commission to demand his disbarment.
Michigan: Senators Debbie Stabenow (D, MI) and Gary Peters (D, MI) and Rep. Dan Kildee (D, MI) announced that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved $100 million in federal emergency funding for the City of Flint.
South Dakota: It became the first state to have a law giving people the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people. The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Campaign are “calling out” Governor Dennis Daugaard (R) for signing the bill into law. As I’ve said before, until now we’ve always expanded rights. Now, we’re taking them back. And South Dakota has also become the first state to pass a law allowing religious adoption and family placement agencies receiving public funds “to discriminate against prospective foster or adoptive parents based on those agencies’ religious criteria. (Free Speech Radio News)
Texas on Voting: A panel of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio ruled that the Texas legislature “must redraw congressional maps in 3 districts it said unconstitutionally discriminate against Hispanic voters.” (The Hill)
Texas on Nuclear Waste: The State of Texas is suing the federal government for “failing to find a permanent disposal site for thousands of metric tons of radioactive waste piling up at nuclear reactor sites across the country.” (Texas Tribune)
Corporate Tax Rate: 35% is the official tax rate on corporations. It’s one of the highest in the world, which is why congress critters keep screaming that it needs to be reduced. However, the largest corporations don’t pay it. In fact, a new analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITWP) of 258 of profitable Fortune 500 companies that earned more than $3.8 trillion in profits found some interesting things. 100 of them, almost 40%, paid no taxes in at least one year between 2008 and 2015. 18 of them, including General Electric, International Paper, Priceline.com, and PG&E, incurred a total federal income tax bill of less than zero over the entire 8-year period. This negative tax rate means they received rebates. Yes. They paid no taxes but our taxes went to giving them more money. All together, these 258 corporations “enjoyed $513 billion in tax breaks over the last 8 years. More than half of those tax breaks, $277 billion, went to just 25 of the most profitable corporations. If you’re interested in how the corporations accomplish this, the NY Times has a great explanation.
Trump Budget: Trump’s budget has gone to Congress and so the battle begins. As expected, he’s proposing a $54 billion increase in defense spending but he’s offsetting it with cuts to domestic spending, including funds for foreign aid, poverty programs, and the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is hit the hardest with a cut of 31%. The State Department would be cut by 28% and Health and Human Services by 17.9%. “Funding to several smaller government agencies that have long been targets of conservatives - like the Legal Services Corporation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts - would be axed entirely.” (NY Times) Check out the list from the NY Times. The Department of Agriculture will suffer a 21% cut. (Roll Call) Funding for medical and scientific research will suffer a “seismic disruption.” (Washington Post) The Justice Department would get a $1.1 billion decrease but a bullet points out that Trump wants an additional 20 attorneys “to pursue Federal efforts to obtain the land and holdings necessary to secure the Southwest border and another 20 attorneys and support staff for immigration litigation assistance.” (Yahoo) According to the Wall Street Journal, obtaining the land is a “daunting task.” Also included is a proposal that failed in Congress last year that would eliminate more than 30,000 jobs with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and give them to a private contractor. (Washington Post) And there’s a proposal to eliminate several Transportation Security Administration (TSA) programs “in order to strengthen screening at airport security checkpoints.” (The Hill) The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which subsidizes the utility bills of tens of millions of Americans through the winter, is zeroed out, calling it a “lower-impact program . . . unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes.” (Think Progress) The Nation, which viewed the broad outlines of Trump’s budget prior to its release, said that it would fund childcare “through the tax code with a package of cuts and deductions. This would skew benefits toward well-off married couples, while offering the poorest parents perhaps just a few dollars a month.” Check out the graphic from Reuters. And read this piece by Charlie Pierce at Esquire. He claims, and makes a good case, that this budget is the end play of Reaganism. I would say, in short, that this budget is lacking in any morals whatsoever. It’s cruel and it should be stopped.
Travel Ban: U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii froze the travel ban temporarily. (TWW, Travel Ban, 3/11/17) Watson wrote that “a reasonable, objective observer” would view the order as “issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion, in spite of its stated, religiously neutral purpose.” In Maryland, U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang said the same thing a few hours later. Chuang wrote that the order was “the effectuation of the proposed Muslim ban” that Trump had promised as a candidate. Watson, too, cited a Trump campaign document calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. (NY Times) On Friday Trump filed notice it will appeal the Maryland ruling. Why Maryland? Because it goes to the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, located in Richmond, VA and has a better chance of success. (Washington Post) In case you’re wondering why Trump’s ban didn’t include Saudi Arabia, where 17 of the 19 9/11 hijackers came from, check out this piece from last November showing that Trump has registered 8 companies there. (The Hill)
Marijuana: Since the late 1960s the federal government has mandated “that all marijuana used in research has to come through the federal government.” However, researchers say that “to investigate the real-world effects of marijuana” they need “a product that looks and feels like the real thing. And they’re increasingly frustrated with government weed that is something else entirely.” Check out this photo and see for yourself the difference between what consumers get when the buy marijuana and what researchers get from the government. Where does the government get the weed? They grow it “at a single facility at the University of Mississippi. . . [T]he pot grown there maxes out, potency-wise, at about 13% THC.” And some samples are as low as 8%. “By comparison, the typical commercial weed available in Colorado is at about 19% THC.” So if you’re testing low-grade, less potent marijuana, you’re not likely to find that it has any medicinal benefits. (Washington Post)
Reorganization: Trump issued another executive order “aimed at streamlining the executive branch.” It purportedly requires the examination “of every federal department and agency” in order to see “where money is being wasted, how services can be improved, and whether programs are truly serving American citizens.” The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will oversee the evaluation. (ABC)
Attacking Unions: H.R. 1293, introduced by Rep. Ross Dennis (R, FL), “would require the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to provide annual reports to the Congress on the use of official time by federal employees who also serve as union officers. Official time is paid time off from assigned government duties to represent a labor union. The bill would require the OPM report to include the purpose for the use of official time, the amount of compensation paid for official time, and the locations where the official time duty occurs.” (CBO)
Monsanto: There’s a lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco brought by people who claim to have developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a result of exposure to glyphosate. The suit challenges Monsanto’s claim that Roundup, whose main ingredient is glyphosate, is safe. The suit is relying on the findings of “an international panel that claims Roundup’s main ingredient might cause cancer.” Many records have been turned into the court in the course of discovery. “The records suggested that Monsanto had ghostwritten research that was later attributed to academics and indicated that a senior official at the Environment Protection Agency had worked to quash a review of Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, that was to have been conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).” [Emphasis added.] The NY Times added: “The documents also revealed that there was some disagreement with the EPA over its own safety assessment.”
Climate Change: A group of 17 Republicans signed a House resolution to fight climate change. The resolution vows to seek “economically viable” ways to combat global warming. The legislation was introduced by Elise Stefanik (NY), Carlos Curbelo (FL), and Ryan Costello (PA). (CNBC)
Great Barrier Reef: Huge sections “stretching across hundreds of miles of its most pristine northern sector” are now dead, “killed last year by overheated seawater.” The damage has been going on for almost 2 decades, but now it appears to be intensifying. Scientists describe the disaster as “the third worldwide mass bleaching of coral reefs since 1998” but it is “by far the most widespread and damaging.” The state of coral reefs “is a telling sign of the health of the seas. Their distress and death are yet another marker of the ravages of global climate change.” In wealthy countries, there will be a loss of income from tourism. But in poorer countries, lives are at stake. “Hundreds of millions of people get their protein primarily from reef fish, and the loss of that food supply could become a humanitarian crisis.” (NY Times)
Drug Testing: Congress has passed a resolution under the Congressional Review Act (TWW, CRA, 2/4/17) that deletes limits on who can be drug-tested before collecting unemployment benefits from state governments. The Obama administration Labor Department finalized a rule last August giving the states the right to drug-test unemployment beneficiaries. However, it stipulated that the law should only allow drug tests for those “in an occupation that regularly conducts” them. The repeal allows states to drug-test anyone receiving unemployment benefits. (District Sentinel)
Student Loans: At the end of 2016 there were 4.2 million borrowers of student loans in default, an increase of almost 20%. If that’s not frightening enough, look at this: “As of the end of 2016, 42.4 million Americans owed $1.3 trillion in federal student loans. (Business Insider) About 7 million borrowers with $162 billion in student debt have borrowed through the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program. A class action suit over excessive collection fees prompted the Obama administration to issue guidance that barred student debt collectors from charging high fees on past-due loans if the borrower entered a loan rehabilitation within 60 days of default. Now, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has issued a memo revoking these guidelines. Collectors can go back to charging exorbitant fees for defaulters. (Washington Post)
Interest Rates: The Federal Reserve raised interest rates, “launching into what investors expect to be a more rapid series of increases that will help ward off the threat of inflation but also raise costs for indebted American households.” (Washington Post)