Signs of hope for Democrats in 2018? A cautious yes

Midterm elections in 2018 offer an uphill battle for Democrats, with gerrymandered House seats and 25 Democratic incumbent senators facing re-election. But factors ranging from better numbers in recent polling to surges in candidate recruitment — especially women — could mean good news for Team Blue, both next year and in the long term.

At the state and national levels, many people nationwide are lining up to run for office as Democrats in November 2018. President Trump’s dismal approval rating, which started out low and is creeping lower, isn’t helping the Republican cause. Polling shows that the voters of the future are more likely to be in the “D” column than their older counterparts.

The Pew Research Center delivers insights into views that most people already know or at least suspect: Young adults don’t like President Trump, while older adults do. And the future of voting lies with those who are going to be around longer.

Recent information from Pew Research shows a deep partisan divide by age among Americans. And the generational ideology gap is growing wider: The Pew figures show that 27 percent of millennials identify as liberal Democrats, while 38 percent of the “silent” generation (71-88 years old) identify as conservative Republicans.

A new AP poll also spells bad news for Republicans in the future: 57 percent of those age 18-25 consider Trump’s presidency illegitimate. A full 62 percent of young adults disapprove of the job he’s doing as president, and his approval rating with this age group is only 22 percent.

All those signs, as well as the energy of the thousands and thousands of people attending town halls and lighting up their elected representatives’ phone lines in favor of keeping the Affordable Care Act, might mean better results on election night. But partisan gerrymandering, voter ID laws, other forms of voter suppression, and typically lower Democratic voter turnout in midterms might make those future trends less consequential.

That is — unless those voter suppression tools can be reversed or at least neutered, unless good Democratic candidates run for office, and unless more people turn out to vote. No one is being a Pollyanna here, but there may be hope ahead, especially from women candidates.

The AP poll isn’t all good news for Democrats, but at least it’s worse for Republicans. The survey was funded by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago.

Just a quarter of young Americans have a favorable view of the Republican Party, and 6 in 10 have an unfavorable view. Majorities of young people across racial and ethnic lines hold negative views of the GOP.

The Democratic Party performs better, but views aren’t overwhelmingly positive. Young people are more likely to have a favorable than an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party by a 47 percent to 36 percent margin. But just 14 percent say they have a strongly favorable view of the Democrats.

Views of the Democratic Party are most favorable among young people of color. Roughly 6 in 10 blacks, Asians and Latinos hold positive views of the party. Young whites are somewhat more likely to have unfavorable than favorable views, 47 percent to 39 percent.

As for Trump, 8 in 10 young people think he is doing poorly in terms of the policies he’s put forward and 7 in 10 have negative views of his presidential demeanor.

The age separations in the Pew Research numbers show that it’s not just millennials and silents who are divided politically. The figures from Pew show that millennials and those from Generation X (ages 36-51) see themselves as liberal or moderately liberal and leaning toward Democrats. Baby boomers and silents skewed Republican and conservative.

In 2016, as in recent years, Millennials and Gen Xers were the most Democratic generations. And both groups had relatively large — and growing — shares of liberal Democrats: 27% of Millennials and 21% of Gen Xers identified as liberal Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents.

By contrast, Boomers and Silents were the most Republican groups — largely because of the higher shares of conservative Republicans in these generations. Nearly a third of Boomers (31%) and 36% of Silents described themselves as conservative Republicans or Republican leaners, which also is higher than in the past.

Another interesting point from Pew: The percentage of independents, at least in the Pew Research numbers, has shrunk. The percentage of those with no party identification has gone from 17 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2016. Usually that total changes little from year to year. But as the numbers of partisans, both liberal Democrats (especially!) and conservative Republicans have grown, the number of no-label voters has grown smaller.

It’s no secret that Democratic candidates have received more overall votes than Republicans in recent elections, even if that doesn’t mean that Democrats win more races. In the presidential race, Hillary Clinton received 65,844,610 votes to Trump’s 62,979,636, a percentage difference of 48.2 percent to 46.1 percent. In Senate races (slightly skewed, because two Democrats were running against each other in vote-heavy California), Democrats earned 10,512,669 more votes than Republican candidates. Yet the Republicans retained their majority. In the House, Republicans received 49 percent of the vote, contrasted with Democrats’ 48 percent, yet they hold 55 percent of the seats.

To recover completely, the Democratic Party must grow at state levels, and there’s growing interest there. A recent meeting coordinated by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee included some 20 groups from across the country, from labor unions to outside funding groups. According to a story from NBC News:

Democratic officials have had to add extra candidate training sessions to keep up with demand and increase enrollment in existing ones. One major training group, Emerge America, reports an 87% surge in candidate applications over last year.

The women’s group Emily’s List says nearly 10,000 women have expressed interest in running for office since November, including for state legislative seats. Meanwhile, Run for Something, which is focused on recruiting millennials, says it has heard the same from almost 8,000 young people. …

“Everything has changed,” Jessica Post, the DLCC executive director, said in an interview in her office.

What about the Republicans at the state levels?

Ellie Hockenbury, the spokesperson for the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee, said the GOP has already found strong candidates for this year’s races, though they’re just getting started on next year’s midterms.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of high Democratic interest in running for local races, too. There was a surge in interest by women candidates who attended a “Ready to Run” program at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Those same kinds of programs also are starting in other states. Even if some of those candidates ultimately decide not to run, the numbers are improving.

The group Run for Something was launched to capture the enthusiasm of young protesters after Trump’s election and the millions of people who came out for the Women’s March. It wants to get potential candidates to take the next electoral step. It’s focusing on helping millennials run for office, aiming in 2017 for Virginia and North Carolina. According to a story in Mother Jones:

The idea isn’t just to supply candidates where none are currently running; the group believes the bench is too thin everywhere because Democrats are too exclusive in how they pick out candidates. “Parties are usually focused on asking their electeds, their staff, their networks, who they think should run,” [Run for Something Co-founder Amanda] Litman says. That helps build a pipeline, but it’s also an echo chamber that makes it difficult for new faces and voices to penetrate. It can be intimidating, she argues, for a prospective candidate to figure out how to run, without an organization to walk him or her through it. “So we’re trying to reach people who, one, might not ever be approached by a party or by a recruitment network, or two, might not be comfortable raising their hand if the party asks, ‘Who wants to run?’ ” In other words, women, people of color, and members of the LGBT community—all under the age of 35.

As the Mother Jones story points out, there’s no time to lose:

The quest to rebuild the Democratic bench is a long-term fight with one ominous deadline in sight. The next round of redistricting is coming up in 2020, and Democrats are still paying the price for their catastrophic losses ahead of the last redistricting. If they can’t get a foothold in state legislatures before then—they currently control both houses of the legislature and the governor’s mansion in just six states—things stand to get even worse.

There are other groups, too. Brand New Congress was started by supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders specifically to elect just what the name implies: it’s aiming for 400-plus candidates. Higher Heights is hoping to find and help elect more black women candidates.

In my own town (admittedly a hotbed of progressive activism—we had an 87 percent turnout in the November election and went heavily for Hillary Clinton) there are contested races for the village board and two school boards. Even the library board has 10 candidates running for four spots.

The most important number, however, is the number of voters who show up on Election Day. Republicans historically have a midterm edge, since older voters tend to be more reliable for those elections. Recent voter turnouts in big-city municipal primaries don’t offer much hope. In Los Angeles, turnout in the mayoral primary was first reported at 11 percent but grew to 17 percent once all of the mail-in ballots were counted. At least that’s better than the 11 percent turnout of years past. In St. Louis, turnout in that city’s mayoral primary was 28 percent—again, better than the 22 percent of four years ago, but nothing to brag about.

Yet midterm elections usually show a downturn for the incumbent president’s party. But in the age of Trump, all bets may be off.

It’s still a long time until November 2018. But you’ve gotta hope it will be buried in a sea of pink pussy hats.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on March 26, 2017.

Trumpcare is dead. Now let’s start fixing Obamacare

Members of Congress got an earful from constituents about keeping the Affordable Care Act. Enough lawmakers listened, and the replacement bill failed. Democracy at work.

In a failure as epic as Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan lost soundly on a central part of Trump’s 2016 campaign and an issue in Republican campaigns for the past seven years — repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. You might even say they got “shellacked.”

In the final push to pick up needed GOP votes, Ryan actually lost rather than gained votes for the American Health Care Act. Sweeteners added to the bill, such as the move that would benefit Republican-controlled upstate New York but not Democratic New York City, failed to sway moderate New York House members. Added provisions such as delegating the specifics of what should be essential health benefits to the states weren’t enough to attract the Tea Party members in the Freedom Caucus. Without the votes, Ryan and Trump made the decision to pull the bill rather than 1) lose on the floor of the House and 2) have GOP members tainted with their “yes” or “no” votes, something they would have to run on (and against) in the 2018 midterm elections.

Both Ryan and Trump were forced to admit their failure in public, repeating the lies that the ACA is not sustainable. Trump blamed Democrats and repeated over and over that Obamacare would “explode” and “collapse,” cherry-picking big hikes in premium increases in states that didn’t establish health insurance exchanges while ignoring the places across the country where premiums had stayed steady in states with such exchanges.

As the proposal known as the AHCA drifts into the deserved legislative dustbin of history, let’s review how it — and the ACA — came about:

  • The ACA was more than a year in the writing and the subject of multiple congressional hearings. Democratic lawmakers sought GOP support (ultimately unsuccessfully — not one Republican voted for the bill in either chamber) by including Republican ideas and delivering monetary plums to insurers, hospitals, and drugmakers. Democrats also dropped provisions many progressives wanted such as a public health insurance option, or “Medicare for all.” President Barack Obama gave it a full-court press, giving speeches and holding news conferences about it throughout the first year of his presidency. But even today, Republicans claim that it was “rammed through” Congress.
  • Trumpcare was 17 days from start to finish. Despite railing against Obamacare for seven years and not coming up with a plan in all that time, Paul Ryan basically took the ACA and gutted bunches of benefits to save money, thus earning it the name “Obamacare lite.” He removed the health insurance mandate and gave huge tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans. Some 24 million people would have lost insurance coverage in coming years, and the cost of insurance for older Americans not yet on Medicare would have skyrocketed. House Republicans held no hearings, took committee votes before the Congressional Budget Office could even develop a score on how it would affect the budget, and rewrote parts in the dead of night in a quest for votes. Trump also vowed a full-court press, yet that only involved inviting a few GOP House members down to Mar-a-Lago, having some over to the White House for lunch and bowling, and claiming in meetings that he didn’t care about the details in the bill.

So the ACA remains the law of the land, as GOP leaders conceded. So many people across the political spectrum benefit from its provisions that there’s no turning back. Once benefits are given, lawmakers know that it’s nearly impossible to take away provisions such as free preventive care, birth control, Medicaid expansions, and coverage for pre-existing conditions. Telling people, as CBO Director Mick Mulvaney did, that you could always move or change your state legislature if your state didn’t offer maternity coverage, just isn’t going to cut it.

But Obamacare does need fixing. Cost is still a major factor. Just like every other piece of major health legislation, it needs tweaks and will continue to need more changes in the years ahead. Don’t forget that Trump, congressional Republicans, and Health and Human Secretary Tom Price all have opportunities to undermine the law and make things worse, by changing Medicaid waivers, underfunding insurance subsidies, and causing even more uncertainty in the health insurance market.

Republicans would do themselves a huge favor, both electorally and morally, if they met with Democratic counterparts to work on some of these fixes. At first, there’s bound to be little overlap, as some of the most liberal Democrats are still clamoring for single-payer while the most conservative Republicans think health insurance should be able to be so basic as to cover only catastrophic events.

Fortunately, experts offer plenty of good starting places. “True health care reform will happen when care is redesigned around the patient, not the doctor or hospital; when the financial incentives reward better health outcomes rather than hospital beds filled; and when the consumer has access to information to make good choices,” said a piece in the Harvard Business Review. Some of the specific ideas of things to keep and things to improve:

  • Payment system changes. The fee-for-service system “rewards the wrong behavior.” Different models such as accountable care organizations, medical homes, and bundled payments have demonstrated increased efficiency; there are lots of other approaches, too.
  • Public reporting of quality performance data. Scoring systems for hospitals and physicians would allow patients to make better-informed choices and would force health providers “to deliver higher-quality, lower-cost care for the populations of patients they serve.”
  • Health care exchanges. Make them harder to opt in and out of — for insurance to be affordable, it must cover young, healthy people as well as older, sicker ones. Use the Republican idea of letting states band together to create multi-state exchanges.
  • Medicaid coverage expansion. Liberals hate the idea of Medicaid block grants, but, as long as eligibility isn’t collapsed, the idea has merit.

A story in the liberal New Yorker quoted several ideas from the conservative Wall Street Journal:

  • Increase subsidies. Raising the level of subsidies for plans bought on the exchanges or raise the income thresholds at which the subsidies phase out. Subsidize insurers to enter unattractive markets.
  • Make sure there are enough people in the insured group. Increase the fines people must pay when they opt out of insurance. Insurance only works when there’s a “large and diversified risk pool.”
  • Offer a public option. Single-payer may be a pipe dream in America, even though it works (through higher taxes) in nearly every other Western country. But offering younger (and thus healthier) people a chance to join Medicare would help it in the long run.

Those are just a few of the many ideas across the political spectrum. The American Action Forum has suggestions that include how to better regulate the insurance market. A piece from CNBC discussed the need for more pricing transparency. The Century Foundation lists steps that include expanding access and getting rid of waste. A few years ago, USA Today even offered bipartisan solutions to the ACA’s woes, including fixing how Medicare pays doctors and ways to move people from Medicaid to paid coverage.

Conservative David Frum wrote in The Atlantic about the lessons to be learned for fellow Republicans and possible steps forward.

In that third week in March in 2010, America committed itself for the first time to the principle of universal (or near universal) health-care coverage. That principle has had seven years to work its way into American life and into the public sense of right and wrong. It’s not yet unanimously accepted. But it’s accepted by enough voters—and especially by enough Republican voters—to render impossible the seven-year Republican vision of removing that coverage from those who have gained it under the Affordable Care Act. Paul Ryan still upholds the right of Americans to “choose” to go uninsured if they cannot afford to pay the cost of their insurance on their own. His country no longer agrees. … Health care may not be a human right, but the lack of universal health coverage in a wealthy democracy is a severe, unjustifiable, and unnecessary human wrong.

We need more human rights, not human wrongs.

Why Chicago police don’t need increased stop-and-frisk

Chicago’s gun violence numbers are horrific. But returning to the days of unlimited police power is not the answer.

News about the wide swath of U.S. attorneys leaving office mostly focused on Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York until he was summarily fired, despite an earlier promise from President Trump that he would be kept on. But another outgoing U.S. attorney made news of his own.

Zachary Fardon, who resigned as Chicago’s top federal prosecutor after being directed to by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, released an open letter on his way out the door essentially saying it’s time to take the handcuffs off police. The now-former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois criticized a 2015 agreement between the Chicago Police Department and the American Civil Liberties Union that halted the CPD’s widespread use of stop-and-frisk actions, saying it “swung the pendulum hard” away from proactive law enforcement.

Few would argue against humane and effective proactive law enforcement such as community policing, especially when it will lower shootings in Chicago. Fardon is hardly the only one looking for solutions to Chicago’s epidemic of gun violence, and his letter contains some reasonable suggestions and honest points shared by others. But let’s not pretend that increased use of stop-and-frisk is the way to lower the number of shootings.

Many groups, including the Chicago Tribune, publish a running total of shooting victims in the city. Last year’s total was nearly 4,400. So far in 2017, there have been more than 600. There are so many factors feeding the high incidence of gun violence: a dearth of jobs in the hardest-hit neighborhoods, high unemployment, poverty, a disappearing manufacturing base, lack of new business development, gang prevalence, easy access to out-of-state guns, gun trafficking, threats of violence spread on social media, overall distrust of police, and a drop in proactive stops by police.

Fardon’s letter blamed the 2015 ACLU-CPD agreement for stopping police from doing their jobs. Much of the reason for the agreement grew out of the release of the Laquan McDonald video in November 2015, a year after the teenager was gunned down by a Chicago cop. Days of demonstrations ensued, and the officer, Jason Van Dyke, was charged with first-degree murder. (There is still no date set for his trial.) “That ACLU deal grew out of a lawsuit about stop and frisk, but the contract that settled the lawsuit swung the pendulum hard in the other direction by telling cops if you (officer) go talk to those kids on the corner, you’re going to have to take 40 minutes to fill out a form, and you’re going to have to give them a receipt with your badge number on it,” Fardon’s letter said.

The “form” Fardon refers to is a two-sided (rather than one-sided, which it used to be) incident report police officers must fill out after a street encounter. Yes, Chicago cops absolutely hate filling out the report, as evidenced by the rants on a Chicago police blog (not recommended reading for those who still want to believe the police are here to “preserve and protect”). But turning over a sheet of paper is hardly the difference between effective policing and ignoring crime.

The “receipt” he refers to is just that—a paper given to an individual who has been stopped, so that individuals have a record of who stopped them, presumably in case a complaint is made. That requirement came about because of a state law passed in 2015, the Police and Community Relations Improvement Act.

Fardon’s letter was quickly criticized by the ACLU of Illinois, which called Fardon’s remarks a “blindsided attack.” According to a story in the Chicago Tribune:

Karen Sheley, the police practices director for the ACLU of Illinois, said Fardon’s opinions were out of line with the Justice Department’s own investigation that found widespread constitutional abuses of citizens, particularly in low-income minority neighborhoods where the majority of street stops occur.

Fardon also “wildly exaggerated” the time needed to fill out the form and ignored “the real impact and harm of these stops,” which occurred far too often and under suspect or unconstitutional circumstances, Sheley said in an emailed statement.

“These stops were often invasive — with officers reaching inside someone’s clothing — and intrusive, happening repeatedly to the same person,” Sheley said. “The lack of oversight of the stops reflect the same systemic deficiencies identified in the Department of Justice report on the CPD issued early this year.”

Citing statistics from the ACLU’s own research, Sheley said police conducted more than 700,000 street stops in 2014 that yielded no guns and resulted in not a single arrest.

According to the ACLU research, 72 percent of those stopped by police were African-American, even though only 32 percent of Chicago’s population is black. Further, the ACLU said, in nearly half the cases the organization reviewed, police either didn’t bother listing a reason for the stop or wrote a false reason.

The ACLU put out its own response to Fardon’s letter.

These low-benefit stops came at a high cost — they further damaged the relationship between the community and police. If Chicago is to address its gun crime and establish community policing that instills confidence of all residents, stop and frisk must be monitored and measured. This is what our agreement is doing.

Don’t forget that unlimited stop-and-frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York in 2013, even though then-GOP nominee Donald Trump refused to believe it in a presidential debate in 2016. An analysis by the New York Civil Liberties Union of those stopped and frisked by police between 2003 and 2015 found that “nearly nine out of 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent, according to the NYPD’s own reports.” The vast majority of those stopped were African-American and Latino.

As U.S. attorney, Fardon made gun violence his office’s top priority when he took over in 2013. His farewell letter (as summarized by the Tribune story) also “urged the city and Justice Department to push through a consent decree for sweeping changes at the Police Department, called for federal and local police to ‘flood’ neighborhoods afflicted by rampant gang crime, and labeled social media as what’s driving ‘the virus of gunplay’ among young people.”

Fardon specifically rejected some of the more draconian ideas bandied about by Trump, including Trump’s call to “send in the feds,” e.g., the National Guard. But he sees a need for an increased role for local and federal law enforcement, and he wants more lawyers in the U.S. attorney’s office, which has been short-staffed since budget sequestration.

Attorney General Sessions is using some of the same language with his “tough-on-crime” agenda. Sessions met with several police chiefs this week, including Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, but he admitted he didn’t have funds for extra support. One of Sessions’ favorite initiatives is a Virginia program called Project Exile. A story on Talking Points Memo quotes an AP report:

[Project Exile is described as] aggressive prosecution of gun offenses under federal laws, instead of the weaker state statutes. Conviction on a federal gun charge carries a minimum, mandatory prison sentence of five years, bond is less available and defendants are sent out of state to serve their sentences.

“I will promote that nationwide,” [Sessions] said, calling the effort “a very discreet effective policy against violent crime.” …

Law enforcement officials, including FBI Director James Comey, credit Project Exile for a drop in murders in Richmond. But critics have said the program that began in the 1990s was racially biased and point to other reasons for declines in crime. Federal judges at the time expressed concerns about the wisdom of having federal agencies take over functions historically reserved for state and local law enforcement.

Giving more power to police to stop and frisk even more residents is not an effective way to restore faith in law enforcement. It will make people even less willing to cooperate with police when crimes are committed. Community policing, while not a panacea, has been more effective in building relationships between police and neighborhoods.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger is the pastor at St. Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the South Side, an area with its own share of violence. He’s a longtime leader in the fight against gun violence. He challenged Trump’s frequent criticisms of Chicago and Trump’s simple-minded solutions by inviting the president to come to Chicago. So far, there’s been no response (no surprise). Pfleger often shares his thoughts and frustrations on Facebook posts, and he doesn’t mince words, often in all caps. And he thinks stop-and-frisk is the wrong way to go.

“President Trump, since you say you’re concerned…I INVITE YOU TO ST. SABINA TO SIT DOWN WITH THE COMMUNITY AND LISTEN TO OUR CONCERNS ABOUT THE VIOLENCE AND WHAT’S NEEDED,” Pfleger wrote. “If it’s federal resources, don’t wait… SEND THEM NOW! If he’s talking about federal troops, stop-and-frisk and militarized police, which I believe he is… ABSOLUTELY NOT!”

Take it from someone in the community: the days of unlimited stop-and-frisk need to be swept into the dustbin of history.

Originally posted on Daily Kos March 19, 2017.

Amal Clooney’s baby bump, not ISIS? Let’s leave women’s bodies out of news coverage

ISIS and atrocities was the subject of Amal Clooney’s speech at the UN, not fashion.

You might not have noticed, but a world-renowned lawyer and human rights activist gave an important, impassioned speech at the United Nations on the Islamic State and genocide. That’s because all U.S. and British media could talk about was her yellow dress and her baby bump.

Amal Clooney asked the world body to press forward with an investigation into crimes committed by the Islamic State. “I am speaking to you, the Iraqi government, and to you, U.N. member states, when I ask: Why? Why has nothing been done? … Don’t let ISIS get away with genocide.”

But of course, since the British-Lebanese lawyer is married to actor George Clooney and is pregnant with twins, most media focused on what she was wearing.

“Amal Clooney is a vision in yellow as she shows off hint of baby bump in chic dress,” reported The Mirror. “Wearing 4½-in heels at 6 months pregnant … is that wise, Amal?” asked The Daily Mail. Time originally went with a tweet that teased, “Amal Clooney shows off her baby bump at the United Nations,” but at least it later used a headline of “Amal Clooney Addresses United Nations on ISIS” after it got slammed on Twitter.

Samantha Schmidt at The Washington Post also took issue, reminding everyone of the seriousness of Amal Clooney’s message:

Those watching her speech would have hardly noticed her barely visible bump, unless, of course, they were specifically looking for it. Most were more focused on her impassioned address, which she attended with her client, Nadia Murad, a young Yazidi woman who was enslaved and raped by Islamic State militants.

And let’s review Clooney’s bona fides, which gives her plenty of authority to discuss this topic:

Clooney is a barrister for Doughty Street Chambers in London and represents clients before the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights as well other domestic courts in Britain and the United States. She served as a senior adviser to Kofi Annan when he was the United Nations’ envoy to Syria, and was counsel to the British inquiry on the use of armed drones, in addition to serving on the country’s team of experts on preventing sexual violence in conflict zones.

All of this is just the latest example of the double standard and fuzzy focus women face when trying to enact serious policy and address serious issues.

Before the media became obsessed with Hillary Clinton’s emails, they spent an inordinate amount of time on her pantsuits, which were covered in full by both The New York Times and The Washington Post. Former first daughter Malia Obama, who wants to study film, currently has an internship with filmmakers at the Weinstein Co. But all Slate wanted to talk about was whether she was committing a fashion faux pas with her choice of high-waisted jeans, and it wasn’t the only media review:

The Huffington Post pronounced that Malia “looks awesome” in them, and Vogue had her channeling Rihanna. (“Someone’s got to work!” the Daily Mail blared in its headline, a sly reference to her recently deposed father.) Woke lil’ sis Teen Vogue said Malia “slayed the first day of work outfit.”

Gee, I wonder what she’s learning about filmmaking? Who cares, I guess, as long as we can pass judgment about her clothes.

Kara Alaimo at the Columbia Journalism Review took the media to task. “Ignoring the actual work of brilliant women to gawk at their bodies is both sexist and irresponsible. It’s sexist because it reduces women to objects to be viewed while men, of course, don’t get the same treatment. I haven’t seen any reports lately about the stomachs, clothes, or shoes of male human-rights advocates. It’s irresponsible because it shifts focus away from the bodies of murdered civilians and onto the body of a celebrity. It leaves readers uninformed about one of the most pressing issues of our time.”

CJR issued a simple two-step rule for journalists:

First, media outlets should only report on a person’s appearance if such information is relevant to a story. … In situations when a woman’s external appearance has nothing to do with the activities she’s pursuing, there’s no reason or excuse for commenting on it. Rather, reporters should report on the activities the woman is pursuing. …

Newsroom policy should also demand that if a media outlet is going to report on the bodies of women, then they should also report on the bodies of men in a similar fashion. … I somehow can’t imagine Time following through on its tweet if it required also covering the U.N. Secretary-General salaciously.

“Every newsroom needs policies about how they cover people’s bodies,” Alaimo wrote. “It’s time for the media to evolve past archaic notions of how women’s bodies should be discussed. The imprint a woman leaves on the world has little to do with the silhouette of her shoe, and everything to do with the work she pursues.”

What will happen to Trumpcare? Leave it for the vultures

These vultures finished off a wildebeest, but the vultures in the GOP House are waiting to finish off health care.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has introduced a real vulture of a bill to replace Obamacare.

I was going to say “turkey” of a bill, but that’s not fair to turkeys, which many of us enjoy at Thanksgiving. This bill is more like a scavenger that wants to loom over and starve the Affordable Care Act and the millions of people it helps, and then feed off the carcass. Yes, vultures are a necessary part of the ecosystem, especially when they rid the environment of otherwise putrid meat, digesting it with the corrosive acid in their stomachs. But they’re totally un-necessary in the workings of government and the nation’s health care system.

Republicans have been trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act ever since they regained the majority in Congress. They hyped the “repeal” part without bothering with the “replace” part. Well, they finally came up with a replacement that has earned more derogatory names than Donald Trump gave to his primary opponents.

Many hard-core conservative are calling it “Obamacare Lite” or “Obamacare 2.0.” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman calls it “Obamacare 0.5.” #Trumpcare started trending on Twitter immediately. It’s also earned the monikers RyanCare and HellCare, and (courtesy of those on Daily Kos) TrumpDoesn’tCare, the Unaffordable Care Act, the American Health Carnage Act, and GOPCare, “to tar them all.” Democrats in the House proposed (unsuccessfully) to change the name of the bill to the “Republican Pay More For Less Care Act.” Many conservative pundits trashed it, including Ann Coulter, who tweeted, “Who wrote this piece of crap?”

Even Breitbart hated it, claiming that it “GIVES ILLEGAL ALIENS HEALTH CARE THROUGH IDENTITY FRAUD.” Well, Breitbart was never one to let facts stand in the way of an incendiary headline.

So what will be the ultimate fate of this bill that House Republicans are trying to ram through, even as they try to pre-emptively trash what is bound to be a bad score from the Congressional Budget Office once the numbers are crunched? A bill opposed by many health care organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the American Nurses Association, and specialty societies? A bill that even the health insurers’ trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, found objections to—even though those insurers get all kinds of windfalls? A bill derided from the right by conservatives like Sen. Rand Paul, the Koch brothers, the Club for Growth, and FreedomWorks? A bill whose changes in Medicaid have earned scorn from the other direction of at least four GOP senators, two of whose votes would be necessary for passage?

President Trump was noncommittal at first, but now he’s decided that it’s a “wonderful” bill and said he would work with conservative leaders in Congress to make sure it passed, launching what Rand Paul called a behind-the-scenes “charm offensive” (Trump=charm? Talk about an oxymoron). Because Trump is so good at working with others. And like he’s got any clue how passing legislation works. “The President simply has no appetite for the hard work of passing laws,” wrote Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo.

He has defaulted to rolling out executive order after executive order, in most cases Potemkin decrees with vaguely legalistic language and limited actual impact. Like so much with Trump, it’s a mix of authoritarianism on the one hand and impatience and flimflam on the other. The upshot isn’t so much a poor man’s as a lazy man’s authoritarianism.

Yet Trump is threatening to unleash the dreaded Twitter finger of doom. He warned that Republicans who withhold support for the replacement bill would suffer badly in the 2018 midterm election, saying they would go down in an “electoral bloodbath” if they don’t follow through on their promises to get rid of Obamacare.

Sorry to point this out to the tweeter-in-chief and the GOP denizens on the Hill, but citizens all over the country have been lambasting their representatives (those who have deigned to actually hold town halls and meet with constituents, that is) about keeping the ACA. Tweak it and improve it, yes. Get rid of it completely and pass a half-assed piece of legislation that would limit care, remove people from the insurance rolls, and raise insurance costs (especially for older adults not yet of Medicare age)? No.

The bill would allow insurers to charge older Americans five times more than younger people for health insurance, but subsidies are limited and wouldn’t cover the extra cost. And if there’s anything those in Congress should have learned their lessons about, it’s “Don’t piss off older voters.”

You might remember the disastrous legislation Congress passed in 1988, the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act. The law actually provided coverage for some outpatient drugs and offered protection against “catastrophic” medical expenses under Medicare. But that extra coverage was funded by increased premiums and a supplemental premium tax on Medicare beneficiaries, and seniors groups quickly convinced beneficiaries that the costs outweighed the benefits.

There was a seniors’ revolt. House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, who had led the fight for the bill, was chased by angry seniors back in his home district in Chicago. At one point they even jumped on the hood of his car, demanding to have their complaints heard.

The law was repealed the next year.

The AARP faced a lot of backlash in 1988 because they supported the Medicare catastrophic coverage bill. This time around, they’re asking their members to stand against the proposed GOP plan, calling the higher premiums an “age tax.” The AARP is trying to get #NoAgeTax trending. After all, a bill that allows for sky-high insurance premiums for older adults while offering a tax break for insurance executives making more than $500,000 a year isn’t going to play well.

There’s even been a suggestion that Ryan and his GOP cohorts might have an easier time passing it in the House if they know it will be nixed in the Senate, so they won’t have to pay a political price. Good luck with that strategy, guys!

My favorite faux argument about AHCA costs vs. coverage came from Rep. Jason Chaffetz. The Utah congressman earned a lot of deserved backlash when he said, “Maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own healthcare.” As if the cost of a smartphone would make up for what health care and insurance coverage costs over one year. Twitter had a field day making fun of Chaffetz. Forbes (hardly a bastion of liberalism) even developed a Chaffetz iPhone scale to see how many iPhones the typical American would have to give up to pay for health care.

8 iPhones: People on Medicare paying out of pocket for cancer treatment: up to about $8,000, beyond premiums.

12 iPhones: Premiums for private insurance for a family; annual: $12,000.

14 iPhones: Out-of-pocket maximum for a family plan before benefits kick in, this one on the exchange for 2017: $14,300.

60 iPhones: The estimated annual costs to provide therapies and other supports for an autistic child: $60,000.

Even worse, Chaffetz has no clue that many people with lower incomes use their smartphones as their computer—because they can’t afford the cost of a laptop or desktop and a monthly Internet fee. That smartphone is their electronic tie to the outside world. But since Chaffetz’ iPhone and his monthly Verizon Wireless bill might be paid for by his campaign donors, he doesn’t have to worry about such things.

Here’s an idea. Why don’t some Republicans in the Senate reach across the aisle to try to work with their Democratic counterparts to iron out some differences and come up with some solutions to improve the ACA? Republican Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Cory Gardner (Colo.), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) all say they’ll oppose any plan that hurts lower-income Americans who were helped by Medicaid expansion. How about if they get on board with making Obamacare more efficient? There are plenty of ideas out there on how to do that, such as these from The New Yorker, or these ideas from the Harvard Business Review:

True health care reform will happen when care is redesigned around the patient, not the doctor or hospital; when the financial incentives reward better health outcomes rather than hospital beds filled; and when the consumer has access to information to make good choices.

Yeah, that won’t fly with Republicans. Many already are declaring the GOP health care bill DOA, so let’s just feed it to the vultures. Maybe the corrosive acid in the vultures’ stomachs will dissolve the damn thing once and for all.

Originally posted on Daily Kos March 12, 2017.

It’s #InternationalWomensDay. Who’s a great woman in your life?

No doubt your social media feeds are being filled with reminders of the many women who have shaped the world. Writers, scientists, government leaders, artists, successes in businesses.

But true mentors are women who served as close-up role models. It might have been a teacher, a mother, an aunt, a grandmother, a friend, a neighbor. We all had them, and we’re better for it.

I’m the result of positive influences of many women, including my mother and mother-in-law and various relatives (including my two daughters — who says we can’t learn from those younger than we are?). Certainly there have many teachers who pushed me, female writers and editors who demanded more of me, and friends who supported me when I needed it.

Today I’m going to tell the story of a women I only got to know fully once I was an adult. We lived in different cities, but I always admired her for her advice and for what she did with her life. She was the model of someone who easily could have followed a traditional path but chose to make it on her own.

I had a great-aunt named Nelle Prastalo, for whom my mother was named. She was a Serbian immigrant who came to the United States as a teenager in the early 1920s.

She was the younger sister of my grandmother, who had come to the United States at 16 years old several years earlier to marry my grandfather, another Serbian immigrant. Like Grandma, Teta, as we called her, came to marry another Serb. She had a daughter, Millie (named for my grandmother). But her husband died soon afterward.

What was a young mother with a young toddler to do? She was still learning to speak and read English. What kind of work could she get? Where would she live? Who would take care of her?

The Serbian community found her another husband, but it meant moving across the country from Chicago to San Francisco. So she packed up her few belongings and moved, arriving with young Millie in tow. It was only then that she met her future husband and decided —


I only heard the story secondhand from my mother, but apparently Teta decided that her future wouldn’t include an arranged marriage with a man she didn’t care for. She got a job in a watch-making factory and found a small apartment where she raised Millie on her own. Before long, she saved enough money to buy a small house (we’re talking REALLY small) in South San Francisco, where she lived the rest of her life.

In the days when single mothers were looked down on, Teta decided she didn’t need anyone else’s approval. She loved her house, her daughter, and her life. She made friends with co-workers and others in the community. Millie grew and married, living not far away in San Jose. Frugal Teta saved her money and traveled, going back to Serbia (then still part of Yugoslavia) to reconnect with relatives. She loved going to Hawaii. She enjoyed her evening nightcap of Canadian Club.

As a child, I remember her visits to Chicago when she came to visit her sister. Grandma was in a more traditional role of homemaker (although she didn’t put up with any guff from Grandpa), but the two of them loved the visits, cooking traditional foods and going to the Serbian Orthodox Church. They sipped Slivovitz (a plum brandy that is definitely an acquired taste), toasting each other with shouts of Nazdravlje (I remember the pronunciation as nas-TROV-ya).

I also remember that Teta was one of the first women who ever told me, “Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t.” It was a lesson that my mother must have learned, too, as she didn’t let anyone stop her from going to college (one of the few in the South Side Serbian community and definitely the first in the family) and finding satisfying jobs.

Teta also stressed that we shouldn’t settle for men we didn’t love; we could get along without them. We should live where we want. We should get jobs that paid us what we were worth. “Make sure they pay you doubletime!” was something she loved to say.

Here was a woman who started out basically illiterate yet raised a daughter on her own and worked her way into a satisfying life. I’ve never met anyone so proud to be a homeowner. When you went to visit, there was no argument: You stayed with Teta, even when you were crowded onto the fold-out couch in the living room.

She loved to drag visitors to places like the John Muir Woods to see the giant redwoods, even when the walking wore her out. She was proud of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and sourdough bread. And she always asked her guests, “Don’t you want a drink?” before she brought out the Canadian Club.

Teta developed breast cancer and died in 1991. We talked on the phone many times that summer and fall before she died. I told her stories of our family, and her own daughter finally moved her into her own house so Teta could see her grandchildren. I think leaving that tiny house was the hardest thing of all for her. But she died surrounded by love.

May we all be as successful as Teta at whatever we make of our lives.

Hey, media: People under 30 don’t trust you

A new report offers some insights into the changing ways younger Americans consume news, and the news isn’t particularly good for the nation’s news media.

The study shows that younger people view the news with distrust and do their own research to verify or clarify facts. Overall, they tend to trust video (especially user-generated video) more than the written word, but they see bias as inevitable in whatever news they encounter. They find news online—or else it finds them first, as it populates their social media feeds.

The Knight Foundation, a group founded by John S. and James L. Knight of the old Knight Ridder newspaper chain, released a report with a complicated message on how teens and young adults get their news and how much they believe of what they see or read. “How Youth Navigate the News Landscape” shows that most young people are bombarded with news on all of their devices from all kinds of social media—and that they view it with huge measures of salt.

Here are some of the themes that were expressed repeatedly by focus group participants:

  • Teens and young adults expressed widespread skepticism about the news and assume that much of the information they encounter may be inaccurate or biased.
  • Teens and young adults often consult multiple news sources to verify the stories they encounter.
  • While respondents assume some level of bias in much of their news sources, they say a news source is considered more credible when its biases are known beforehand and thus can be judged.

“Everyone already has their biases,” one respondent said. “As long as you’re really aware of them, you can make a better opinion about something. And it’s better to get it from multiple sources. At the very least, you have a bunch of facts to work with, instead of just one person’s particular story or agenda.”

Sort of puts the old 1960s statement of “Don’t trust anyone over 30” into a new context.

In summer 2016, in the midst of the presidential campaign, the Knight study held a series of 90-minute sessions with six focus groups of people, male and female of different races and ethnicities, between the ages of 14 and 24 in three different cities. While that is obviously a young cohort, it does represent the future of news consumption. From the report:

Today’s young news consumers face a dizzying array of options for getting their news. While their parents’ generation relied on print media, television, and radio, teens and young adults now have an ever-expanding suite of platforms to supplement those traditional formats; news and magazine websites, blogs, social media, messaging apps, text alerts, online video, GIFs, emojis and even virtual reality experiences may play a role in how today’s youth engage with the news. Less than a decade ago, simply getting any kind of news on a mobile device was considered a leading-edge activity.

Today, news consumption has become mobile by default. Smartphone-based news consumption has increased notably in the past two years, such that 89 percent of mobile phone users in the U.S. now access news and information on their devices. These shifting trends in consumer behavior are also evident in traffic patterns; the majority of the top 50 digital news websites reported in 2015 that visits from mobile devices outpaced those from desktop computers.

Focus group participants all reported that news pops up in all social media feeds, whether the person is seeking news or not. “Typically, a lot of times, I’ll look at the news by accident. Like I accidentally swiped left,” one participant said. “If I don’t see it on social media, I’m not going to hear it,” said another.

Respondents also put more stock in user-generated content, such as cell phone video that can counter the official evidence from law enforcement.

Video, especially live video, is generally considered to be more reliable than many other news sources. Young adults believed that individuals on the ground would have less motivation to manipulate the footage than a media company. For instance, video taken by a protester filming from inside a march held more credibility for many than CNN’s coverage professionally filmed from a few feet away and then later edited for repeat airing.

Even what younger news consumers call “news” goes outside the boundaries of traditional journalism. But the report points out that that definition is changing even within news organizations. “Historically, definitions of what qualifies as news have been codified by large professional journalism outlets that have also served as gatekeepers of the news,” the report says. “But teens and adults have little if any experience with that world.”

There is lots of material in the report and many quotes by participants, some spot on and some that make the respondent sound uninvolved and naive (two of the focus groups were teenagers, after all). Traditional media’s role ends up being a kind of verifier of material found elsewhere. As the Knight study concluded:

The news forms that teens and young adults encounter are also extremely varied and multidimensional. A story featured on Snapchat may also be discussed on Twitter. That same story may be encountered through CNN on television, which then integrates comments on Twitter. … In this fast-paced environment, our participants said that they may first notice a story circulating through social media channels, but they won’t always trust it as being real until they see it reported by a more traditional source. In this way, young people experience the role of the mainstream media as the “elevator” of stories rather than the “originator.” In an era where for most young people printed newspapers and viewing  the news at set times are no longer relevant, young people don’t follow the news as much as it follows them.

The conclusions from the Knight study were similar to conclusions from two studies from a year earlier, which found higher rates of media distrust and more news consumption from social media by younger adults. A study by Pew Research Center found that Millennials are one-and-a-half times more likely to get news from Facebook than from TV news. “Social media look to be the local TV of the Millennial generation,” the Pew study says.

Another study by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, found that 69 percent of Millennials seek out news at least once a day, and 40 percent look for news several times a day. Four out of 10 also pay for at least one news-specific service, app, or digital subscription. It’s no surprise that national papers have been pushing online subscriptions in an attempt to gain readers, especially younger ones.

Which brings us to the final point: There was one traditional news source younger people relied on even more than their elders: national newspapers. As long as they could read those papers online.

According to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center, during the 2016 election, people 18-29 and 30-49 got their news at much higher rates from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal than did those 50 and older. From the Pew survey:

Both The New York Times and The Washington Post were regular election news sources for about two-in-ten adults ages 18-29 and 30-49, roughly twice the rate of older age groups. For The Wall Street Journal, 15% of 18- to 29-year-olds and 12% of 30- to 49-year-olds regularly got election news there, higher than those ages 65 and older (7%), but about on par with 50- to 64-year-olds (8%). All age groups were about equally likely to get election news from USA Today. …

The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal have aggressively pursued online audiences, which tend to be younger. And indeed, attracting these younger, digital readers may help grow digital advertising revenue and even subscriptions. Nonetheless, most publishers still rely more heavily on print dollars. In other words, attracting young readers may be just one step in securing newspapers’ future.

Originally posted on Daily Kos, March 5, 2017.

Trump’s travel expenses hurt more than just our wallets

No shortage of trappings at Mar-a-Lago when Trump's in town. He profits, and we pay.

No shortage of trappings at Mar-a-Lago when Trump’s in town. He profits, and we pay.

In one of his first interviews after being elected, Donald Trump tried to sound like the voice of benevolence when he told Lesley Stahl of CBS’ 60 Minutes that he would take only $1 of the $400,000 annual U.S. presidential salary. What a bargain for America, right?

Except those savings of $399,999 are chump change compared with what U.S. taxpayers are shelling out for Trump and his family and their jet-setting ways. Estimates are at $10 million to $11.3 million for three weekend trips (so far) to Mar-a-Lago. Several hundred thousand dollars have also been spent for Secret Service protection and lodging on business trips for sons Donald Jr. and Eric as they fly to various countries around the world to ink hotel and other business deals. Don’t forget that we’re also footing the bill for protecting first lady Melania and son Barron at Trump Tower in New York City.

This has all been reported on and written about before, including here at Daily Kos—but wait! There’s more!

Add to all of those expenses the way Trump & Co. are hurting small businesses in Florida near his “Southern White House” and New York businesses near Trump Tower. The only business that isn’t hurting is Trump Inc., which is making a profit in a variety of ways.

Membership fees at the invitation-only Mar-a-Lago have doubled to $200,000 and give members “exclusive” access while those monies go to Trump. The Defense Department and the Secret Service are considering renting space at Trump Tower, so that money also would go back to Trump. CNN quoted a leasing agent who estimated that renting a floor in Trump Tower can cost about $1.5 million a year.

In this sense, having Donald Trump as president is a drag on the economy, in terms of both public and private dollars. The only place extra dollars are going is into Trump’s pocket.

When Trump heads to Florida to play golf conduct government “business,” financial prospects for businesses at the nearby Lantana Airport take a nosedive. When Trump is in town, there’s a 10-mile circle of restricted airspace around Trump’s Florida playground, which means that no small aircraft can be in the air (the larger and closer Palm Beach airport is still open for commercial traffic).

According to a story in the Chicago Tribune:

The Secret Service closed Lantana Airport on Friday for the third straight weekend because of the president’s return to his Palm Beach resort, meaning its maintenance companies, a banner-flying business and another two dozen businesses are also shuttered, costing them thousands of dollars at the year’s busiest time. The banner-flying company says it has lost more than $40,000 in contracts already. …

The airport and its 28 businesses have an economic impact of about $27 million annually and employ about 200 people full-time, many of them making about $30,000 a year. They don’t get paid when the airport is closed.

[Jonathan Miller, the contractor who operates the Palm Beach County-owned airport,] is already losing a helicopter company, which is moving rather than deal with the closures. That will cost him $440,000 in annual rent and fuel sales. …

Marian Smith, owner of Palm Beach Flight Training, said her 19-year-old business is losing 24 flights daily when closed and three students cancelled. She lost $28,000 combined the last two weekends and will lose $18,000 on this President’s Day weekend. She estimates her 19 instructors are each losing up to $750 a weekend.

“What’s frustrating is that we get little notice when this is going to happen,” she said.

David Johnson, owner of Palm Beach Aircraft Services, said his 27-year-old repair and maintenance business generates $2 million in sales annually, but has taken a hit over the last month and he fears it will cascade if flight schools like Smith’s close.

Here’s what a New York Times story reported on how Trump’s visits were affecting the local Florida economy:

  • $200,000 in lost fuel sales at a large local airport in a single four-day visit this month.
  • 75 no-shows at a new restaurant in just one night.
  • $60,000 a day to pay overtime to sheriff’s deputies who guard the many closed roads, a tab that is about $1.5 million overall since the election.
  • 250 private flights grounded every day.

Some in South Florida think the visits are just peachy. Some, but not all. Again, from the Times story:

Although economic development officials are ecstatic over the free publicity provided by news reporters’ live waterfront shots — and the excited buzz in the area is palpable — others are exasperated over the drain on small businesses and the circuitous routes residents have to drive to avoid two miles of closed roads. …

St. Catherine Greek Orthodox Church, in West Palm Beach at the western end of the Southern Boulevard Bridge, was holding its 42nd annual Greek Festival this weekend.

“If they see the road closed, they will find something else to do,” said the Rev. Andrew Maginas, who said the festival was a critical fund-raiser. “We pray for him at every service to do right by our country, but we are sad that his visit comes during our festival.

“We are hoping he can build a helipad soon on Mar-a-Lago grounds.”

The cost estimates for Trump’s weekly Florida vacations are based on what it cost taxpayers when President Obama spent a weekend in South Florida. From a CBS News story:

Four years ago, a weekend Mr. Obama spent in South Florida cost taxpayers $3.6 million. The Pentagon spent about $2.8 million for Air Force One plus support aircraft and military personnel. The Secret Service and the Coast Guard added nearly $800,000.

During his eight years in office, Mr. Obama racked up about $97 million in travel costs. Mr. Trump is on pace to eclipse that by the end of his first year.

No one would argue that a sitting president and his family don’t deserve security, and Americans realize Secret Service protection and the associated personnel and equipment come with a price tag. No matter who the president is or where or when the president travels, it costs money and causes inconvenience to the local community. It costs $180,000 per hour to fly Air Force One, and it’s a four-hour round trip from Washington. Protecting an open beachfront resort such as Mar-a-Lago also costs extra—a lot extra.

But traveling every weekend is beyond what other presidents have done. One month of Trump travel is costing as much as the average of what President Obama spent on travel for an entire year. You might say this much travel is “unpresidented.”

And don’t forget that throughout the campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized Obama for every golf game. Trump has played golf six times since his inauguration. Trump left Washington three weekends in a row, yet during the campaign, he said:

“I would rarely leave the White House because there’s so much work to be done,” Trump told a reporter in 2015. “I would not be a president who took vacations. I would not be a president that takes time off… You don’t have time to take time off.”

There have been claims that the costs of protecting Melania and Barron while they stay in Trump Tower will be $300 million a year, or twice the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts, which was $148 million in 2016 and which Trump is making noises about dismantling. While Politifact rates that claim “mostly false,” it also says that no one knows if or when the rest of the first family actually will move into the White House, so costs will continue, even if they can’t be estimated accurately. More recent reports put that total at $50 million a year, assuming Trump doesn’t make it to New York very much.

New York City businesses felt the pinch immediately after the election, with street closures and increased police presence. Said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer: “I’ve met with some of these business owners, and they’ve told me that since their street was dead-ended, deliveries have become nearly impossible and customers have stayed away, costing them anywhere from 30% to 70% of their business.” Some of that has since eased as streets have reopened, but businesses lost a lot of holiday sales.

The conservative group Judicial Watch was one of the first to blow the whistle on the high costs of Trump travel. From the CBS story:

“If he’s going down there every weekend, the costs are going to add up pretty quickly,” said Tom Fitton, president of watchdog group Judicial Watch. Fitton is pressing the administration to release Mr. Trump’s travel costs.

“He doesn’t need to go to Florida every weekend. He can work at the White House or up at Camp David,” Fitton said.

What about Camp David, the Maryland presidential retreat that was good enough for all of 45’s predecessors? According to a story in The Washington Post, this is what Trump said in a pre-inauguration interview:

“Camp David is very rustic, it’s nice, you’d like it,” Trump said in an interview with a European journalist just before taking office. “You know how long you’d like it? For about 30 minutes.”

The Washington Post (among other news organizations) carries a running total of Trump’s lies since he became president, and they’re adding up quickly. Maybe they can start a new feature adding up his travel expenses, too.

Back to Trump’s $1-per-year salary. Since Trump is never going to release his taxes—for past years or the current one—how will America know if he’s reneging on that promise, too? A site that lists all White House salaries, year by year, will be able to tell us, if the Trump White House ever gets around to making that information public. The official White House page that lists salaries in the Trump administration is still “being updated.”

In other words, don’t hold your breath on finding out any of that information.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Feb. 26, 2017.

Donald Trump and Russia: Like Watergate and Iran-Contra — only worse

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was at the center of the scandal, but he's just the tip of the Russian iceberg.

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was at the center of the scandal, but he’s just the tip of the Russian iceberg.

It took Richard Nixon more than two years to own up to the Watergate scandal. Facing impeachment, he resigned, and top aides spent time in jail. Ronald Reagan’s administration traded arms to Iran for the release of a few American hostages in 1985, using profits from those arms sales to fund a war in Nicaragua, and it took several years and three investigations to unravel the whole mess. Reagan escaped direct punishment for the Iran-Contra affair, but several on his team were convicted (and pardoned by Reagan’s successor).

It has taken Donald Trump less than one month for his administration to be embroiled in a scandal that’s just as bad—and perhaps much worse.

No one knows when we’ll get the full story about the Russian infiltration that reached high levels and inner circles of both the Trump campaign and the Trump White House. The scandal combines the power-grabbing paranoia of Watergate (interfering with an election, this time by a foreign power) with the illegal foreign policy workarounds of Iran-Contra (calling a Russian ambassador with inside info, and who knows what else).

Legendary newsman Dan Rather says Trump’s Russia scandal could end up being as bad as Watergate. “It may become the measure by which all future scandals are judged,” Rather wrote on a Facebook post that quickly went viral. On his Meet the Press Daily show, NBC’s Chuck Todd said, “Welcome to Day One of what is arguably the biggest presidential scandal involving a foreign government since Iran-Contra,” further describing it as a “class-five political hurricane that’s hitting Washington.”

Three scandals of different magnitudes, with different details. What do they have in common? Let’s give a thumbnail description of these scandals and what we know so far about Trumpland’s ties to Russia.

Watergate: After the 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters — described by the Nixon White House as a “third-rate burglary”—the scandal grew not because of the crime but because of the cover-up by the Nixon White House, including cash payoffs to the original burglars. The Watergate tapes—Nixon secretly recorded every conversation in the Oval Office — also provided damning evidence. (This is probably why the Trump team did not record Trump’s recent phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.) Shoe-leather journalism by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post broke the story open.

By March 1974, a grand jury indicted seven Nixon aides and named Nixon as an “unindicted co-conspirator.” The casualties: Attorney General John Mitchell, who also directed Nixon’s 1968 and 1972 campaigns, was convicted and served 19 months. White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman and top White House aide John Erlichman both were convicted and served 18 months. Charles Colson, special counsel to the president, pleaded no contest and served seven months. Charges against White House aide Gordon Strachan were dropped before trial. The conviction for Robert Mardian, former aide to Mitchell, was overturned on appeal. Kenneth Parkinson, counsel for the Committee to Re-elect the President (fondly referred to as CREEP), was acquitted.

The two men who planned the break-in in the first place, White House staffers Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, were convicted and jailed. Jeb Stuart Magruder, aide to Haldeman, spent seven months in prison. White House Counsel John Dean implicated himself during Watergate hearings and spent four months in prison. Also convicted were the five original burglars, including James McCord, who was a former CIA officer and CREEP security director. All together, 40 people were indicted and/or jailed.

Nixon resigned in August 1974. One of the first things his successor, Gerald Ford, did was to give him a “full and complete pardon” for his actions as president. That pardon probably cost Ford the election in 1976.

Iran-Contra: This arms-for-hostages scandal developed in three parts. Iran was in a lengthy war with Iraq and desperate for weapons. Seven Americans were being held hostage by a pro-Iranian group in Lebanon. And the Reagan administration wanted to undercut the democratically elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua. What to do?

In 1985, the U.S. sold missiles to Iran, despite a U.S. embargo on selling arms to Iran, a country that had held U.S. citizens hostage for 444 days starting in 1979. In exchange, Iran used its influence to release the hostages in Lebanon, even though it was against U.S. policy to bargain for hostages. (Only three were released, and they were replaced by three more Americans soon afterward. Secretary of State George Schultz referred to this as a “hostage bazaar.”) Much of the missile-sale profits were diverted for weapons and financial support to fund the Reagan-favored “contras” fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, even though it was illegal to fund the contras above the limits set by Congress.

A Lebanese newspaper exposed the whole affair in November 1986. At first, Reagan went on TV and vehemently denied the whole thing, denouncing the newspaper report. A week later, he said the weapons sale was not tied to the hostage release.

While investigating these issues, Attorney General Ed Meese discovered that the U.S. government could account for only $12 million of the $30 million that Iran had paid for the missiles. It turned out that Lt. Col. Oliver North, from his post on the National Security Council, was sending the extra funds to pay for activities of the contras with the full knowledge of the White House.

The congressional and independent investigations and trials took years, with much chest-thumping testimony from North, a decorated Marine with a uniform full of ribbons. His secretary, Fawn Hall, who had done her best to cover her boss’s tracks by shredding documents until the shredder broke down from overuse, actually uttered these words at a congressional hearing: “Sometimes you have to go above the law.”

Fourteen people were charged with operational or cover-up crimes; 11 were convicted, although some of those convictions were overturned on appeal, and sentences were for probation rather than prison time. North and National Security Adviser Adm. John Poindexter were convicted, but their convictions were overturned on a technicality. (Of course, North got a 15-year gig on — where else — Fox News.) President George H.W. Bush pardoned six people who were convicted or facing charges.

During the height of the scandal, Reagan and Bush continued to claim that they had NO IDEA about the entire scheme. The Reagan-appointed Tower Commission (see? appointing an independent investigatory panel isn’t so hard) determined that Reagan’s “disengagement” from running the White House meant that he had nothing to do with Iran-Contra. Might “disengagement” mean that Reagan was already suffering from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease when he was president? Televised interviews with Reagan late in his presidency include a lot of shots of Reagan saying, “I don’t remember.”

Trump-Russia connections: Trumpland’s ties to Russia have long been known, even if they weren’t made public. First, there’s the money angle: As Donald Jr. told a real estate conference in 2008, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” This is the most plausible reason why Trump refuses to release his taxes.

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has longstanding ties to Russia, misled officials (i.e., lied to Vice President Mike Pence) for weeks about his calls to the Russian ambassador the day President Obama announced sanctions against Russia for interfering in the 2016 election. Flynn finally was forced to resign as Trump’s national security adviser after only 23 days on the job. Now, new reporting from The New York Times shows Team Trump’s “repeated contacts” with senior Russian intelligence officials during the campaign, a campaign in which Russia heavily put its thumb on the electoral scale for Donald Trump by hacking into the Democratic National Committee. Trump campaign staff with ties to Russia included Paul Manafort, former campaign chairman, and Carter Page, former foreign policy adviser. Also included was Republican operative Roger Stone.

All three scandals share several characteristics: 1) Administration officials stepped over the line legally; 2) Officials denied, denied, denied any involvement; 3) Officials blamed the media and internal leaks, especially during Watergate and the current scandal, and claimed the story was “overblown;” 4) It’s never the president’s fault.

We know how the first two scandals turned out. The media are (finally) doing their part in exposing the Trump White House’s ties to Russia. So which part of the government will investigate all of these charges?

Well, don’t look to the House of Representatives. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, already said the Flynn situation “has taken care of itself.” Instead, Chaffetz is asking the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s Office to investigate leaks about Flynn.

Besides, Chaffetz will be too busy launching a probe into a cartoon show called Sid the Science Kid. From The Washington Post:

The chairman of the powerful panel — the main investigative committee in the House — sent a letter to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demanding to know why, in an attempt to raise awareness of the Zika virus, “CDC appears poised to make a sole source award to the Jim Henson Company for $806,000 to feature Sid the Science Kid in an educational program about the virus.”

Sid, for readers not familiar with PBS children’s programming, is a preschool cartoon character. Like President Trump, Sid is orange. Unlike Trump, he is highly inquisitive.

At this point, even the Muppets would do a more thorough job of investigating than Chaffetz will.

Don’t expect satisfaction from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, either. Russian influence on Flynn and Trump? Total loser of an issue. But the leaks that opened the nation’s eyes to this scandal? Now there’s a subject worth investigating, Nunes claimed. Did we mention that Nunes was a member of the Trump transition team? And remember when Trump couldn’t get enough of whatever WikiLeaks delivered, including asking Russia to find and release Hillary Clinton’s emails?

And as far as an independent committee to probe the Russia connections, Nunes, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell all say nyet. As Nunes told Politico: “There is not going to be one; I can tell you there is absolutely not going to be one. And I am not going to be lectured by people who are speaking out of both sides of their mouths.”

The only hope for congressional oversight seems to rest with a few Senate Republicans. Tennessee’s Bob Corker of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, Missouri’s Roy Blunt, and Arizona’s John McCain are among those publicly clamoring for further investigation. According to a Reuters story:

“Let’s get everything out as quickly as possible on this Russia issue,” Corker told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program.

“I would want to make sure, with all of this suspicion, that everybody fully understood what has taken place. Otherwise, maybe there’s a problem that obviously goes much deeper than what we now suspect,” Corker added.

The drama of Flynn’s departure was the latest in a series of White House missteps and controversies since Trump was sworn in on Jan. 20. Corker expressed alarm over the way the administration is functioning, referring to “so much back-biting.”

“Is the White House going to have the ability to stabilize itself?” he asked, while also voicing concern that the Russia issue could “destabilize our ability to move ahead as a country.”

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a prominent Republican voice on foreign policy who has been a Trump critic, called for a broader bipartisan congressional investigation, to be conducted by a special committee, if it turns out that Trump’s presidential campaign communicated with the Russians.

“If it is true, it is very, very disturbing to me. And Russia needs to pay a price when it comes to interfering in our democracy and other democracies, and any Trump person who was working with the Russians in an unacceptable way also needs to pay a price,” Graham told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Of course, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky doesn’t see any point to an investigation, because it “makes no sense” to investigate fellow Republicans.

Will the “Drip, Drip, Drip” of this Russian influence scandal be enough to make lawmakers launch an independent investigation? We can’t count on Attorney General Jeff Beauregard Sessions to look into the matter or to appoint a special prosecutor, despite the demands of Democratic senators to do so. Will public opinion make any difference?

What name will the media — and the public — ultimately give this scandal? A Washington Post story gave several examples of names already used, most ending with “-gate.” Flynngate. Kremlingate. Putingate. Russiagate.

While it would be nice to avoid the “-gate construction,” as the great scholar of political lexicology William Safire put it, Watergate remains the yardstick for any scandal, potential scandal or anything a partisan wants to be perceived as a scandal.

As Safire put it in his Political Dictionary, “gate” is merely a “device to provide a sinister label” to something.

But it’s too late to avoid gates. The gate is already out of the gate. …

And Watergate is now a script, with lines such as “what did the president know and when did he know it,” as much as it is history.

Who will turn out to be the Deep Throat of this scandal? In Watergate, FBI Associate Director Mark Felt turned out to be Bob Woodward’s secret source who supplied details and confirmed facts about the Nixon White House. Of course, leaks are gushing out of this White House and the intelligence community faster than the overflow of the Oroville Dam. There are probably IC agents lining up to be Deep Throats.

The most important question: What will be the smoking gun?

Originally posted on Daily Kos, Feb. 19, 2017.

So you want to help a refugee family

Members of Epiphany United Church of Christ in Chicago church welcomed their sponsored Syrian refugee family when they arrived at O'Hare Airport.

Members of Epiphany United Church of Christ in Chicago church welcomed their sponsored Syrian refugee family when they arrived at O’Hare Airport.

With the Trump administration’s Muslim travel ban currently on hold, refugee families—and those organizations aiming to help them resettle in the United States—can return to planning the next steps for a new life.

Many people are asking how they can help. Settling a refugee family into your community is not a task to be taken alone; more likely, it’s done by a group such as a faith community working with a local agency that assists refugees. This is one reason why so many churches have gotten involved.

When the travel ban was announced on Jan. 27, many refugee families already were at airports waiting to board planes. Their trips were abruptly stopped and their visas canceled, only to resume again a week later, when senior federal Judge James Robart of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington issued a temporary restraining order against the ban. Before being named to the federal bench by President George W. Bush (he was approved 99-0 in the Senate in 2004), Robart was in private practice for 30 years. The man Donald Trump called a “so-called judge” also did pro bono work representing refugees.

A three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments for and against the Muslim ban and ruled 3-0 against the Trump administration. The issue may end up in the U.S. Supreme Court—or the executive order may be redrawn. But for now, it’s legal for refugee families to resume their journeys.

During the resumption of travel, one Syrian refugee family was finally able to fly to Chicago. Members of a sponsoring church were waiting to greet them. Let’s see how they all fared so far.

Epiphany United Church of Christ on Chicago’s north side worked as a co-sponsor with Refugee One, which helps to oversee refugee families coming to Illinois. Groups wishing to be co-sponsors have a big job ahead of them which includes:

  • Raise at least $6,000 to $8,000 for expenses. The average cost is usually $8,500.
  • Meet the family when they land at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.
  • Set up and furnish an apartment.
  • Stock the apartment with food and have ready a welcoming meal.
  • Visit them weekly for six months to help them practice English skills.

Other duties are suggested for co-sponsors and mentors, including tutoring children and helping adults find jobs. Refugee One staff is on hand to guide co-sponsors every step of the way. They provide lists of all needed items for the apartment, including furniture, kitchen supplies, linens, and personal care items, and specify what items need to be new, such as bedding and linens, and what can be used, such as furniture.

The agency also helps the refugee families get integrated into American life. It tries to get each employable adult into a job within three months, and steers families toward English language classes, health care, and vocational training.

Epiphany worked for about nine months to get ready for a family of two parents and two boys, a 10-year-old and an older teenager. The apartment was ready with furniture, beds, and a stocked pantry, only to have the family stopped before boarding the plane. In the lull, a Congolese refugee family moved into the apartment temporarily but left before the Syrian family arrived. The Syrian family moved in after spending one night at a hotel.

Church members at a rally against the Muslim travel ban.

Church members at a rally against the Muslim travel ban.

The Rev. Kevin McLemore is the pastor at Epiphany. He said two congregation members led the effort to sponsor the family, with about 20-25 on the refugee care team. Some 15 people went to greet them at the airport.

After selling their belongings and paying for their own plane tickets, refugees receive a one-time payment from the U.S. government of $1,125 per family member to help with initial expenses (despite false right-wing media reports that refugees get that amount per month—they don’t). That money goes mostly for six months of apartment rent, along with other settlement costs. After six months, the family becomes responsible for their own rent. Refugee One finds the apartments in neighborhoods with affordable housing that also are near public transportation, making it easier for family members to travel to work and school.

McLemore said the fear is that the Trump administration and the GOP Congress might cut those refugee funds to zero. That’s one of the reasons Refugee One recommends a high initial amount of funds from the co-sponsor.

“My other fear is that if there’s a sustained action against feelings about refugees in this country, some of the agencies that help them, like Refugee One, might shut down,” McLemore said. “If the numbers of refugees are brought down, the organizations that do resettlements won’t have enough clients. And then there won’t be enough people around to help them when they do come.”

The members of the Epiphany refugee care team plan to visit their family once or twice a week to help them learn about the city and to offer any needed practical help, such as teaching them how to use passes to take public transportation and showing them where the nearest laundromat is. “The plan is to have them move forward as quickly as they can as well as to give them their privacy,” McLemore said. “Right now, they don’t know any English, but they’ll learn soon enough.”

The family helped by Epiphany fled Syria in 2013 to Turkey, where they spent the next few years. They completed the two-year vetting process and received their visa just recently. At their request, there is no photo of the refugee family. Back home in Syria, relatives of other refugee families who made it to the United States faced harassment when photos of smiling refugee family members showed up on social media and in the news.

The family also will be introduced to members of the Syrian Community Network, a Chicago nonprofit group made up of former Syrians who help with Syrian refugee resettlement. The group will work with the family to connect them with community resources and to ease the transition to a new country.

Taking on the responsibility of accepting a refugee family is a huge undertaking. Besides churches, other groups tackling the process include businesses, neighborhoods, and groups of like-minded friends. Groups like Refugee One will gladly accept donations, as will national groups such as the International Rescue Committee, which supports newly arrived refugees with immediate aid; UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency; the White Helmets, a volunteer Syrian Civil Defense group; Heartland Alliance, which works with immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and others; World Vision, a Christian group that works mostly with children; and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to name just a few. Nine national nonprofit agencies handle refugee resettlement in the U.S.

Refugee families come from countries other than just Syria. These agencies work with families from Burma, Burundi, Colombia, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Somalia, Yemen, and many other places.

A personal note: My own church is in the beginning steps of helping a refugee family. So far, two people have stepped forward to lead the effort, although it’s going to take work by people throughout the church to raise funds and to help with all of the tasks.

At the church’s recent annual meeting, one of those two volunteers stood up to address the congregation about co-sponsoring a refugee family. This was the same weekend that the Muslim travel ban had been issued and then stopped partway due to a series of lawsuits.

“Before, I was excited about this project,” the volunteer said. “Now, I’m on fire.”

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Feb. 12, 2017.

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