Nel's New Day

June 10, 2017

DDT: Week Twenty, Infrastructure Fails to Distract from GOP Problems

Filed under: Donald Trump — trp2011 @ 9:44 PM
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Infrastructure was supposed to be topic of the week for Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). He tried very hard to use this topic to distract from his problems—such as testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee—but failed.

A major DDT problem is the Middle East. Immediately after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to end the eight-country blockade against Qatar, DDT tried to regain his popularity with his bullying, interfering stance toward the tiny, natural-gas rich country. The world, including the United States, may be confused about who is in charge of foreign policy. The $110 billion arms sales to Saudi Arabia that DDT touts has been shown to be a giant con—only letters of interest or offers for enticement. Nothing has gone to the Senate, and none of the identified deals is new.  All began before DDT was inaugurated, including four frigates, first reported in 2015, and other items on the Saudi’s wish list such as 150 Black Hawk helicopters and the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system (THAAD). With low oil prices and a two-year war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia may not have the money as the country struggles to make their payments for past deals.

DDT’s caretakers kept him from tweeting for a solid 46 hours during the Senate testimony of former FBI director James Comey, but his rants returned. About Comey’s testimony, DDT tweeted, “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication … and WOW, Comey is a leaker!” Earlier in the week, DDT smeared London Mayor Sadiz Khan after the terrorist attack on London Bridge. DDT is still bitter because Khan opposed DDT’s Muslim ban. Other DDT tweet attacks slammed his own Justice Department by blaming them for not submitting a “tougher version” of the “travel ban” to the Supreme Court. He also criticized his lawyers for not calling it a travel ban and thus destroyed their only argument to regain the ban. Kellyanne Conway’s husband, George, was so disgusted that he withdrew his name last week from consideration as the Justice Department’s Civil Division chief.  In a poll, 59 percent responded that his tweeting is bad, and 69 percent want him to stop. A strong approval of DDT went from a peak of 30 percent in February to 21 or 22 percent now. Every demographic has shown a significant decline.

A question is whether DDT’s tweets are formal statements or just musings. Aides and officials like Kellyanne Conway and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly maintain that DDT’s tweets aren’t policy, but Press Secretary Sean Spicer called them the “official statements by the President of the United States.” Russel Neiss has put DDT tweets on the record by retweeting DDT’s messages with the White House letterhead. Neiss said, “These are serious words coming out of the highest office holder in the land, and all that this bot does is just give those messages the proper honor they deserve….These are statements of the president.” DDT is also threatened with a lawsuit after he blocked selected followers from his Twitter account. In a letter to DDT, Columbia University scholars wrote, “Blocking users from your Twitter account violates the First Amendment.” The argument is that his tweets are a public forum just as a Facebook page by a government official is.

Personnel is also a serious problem for DDT. He’s unhappy with his staff, but other people are increasingly reluctant to work for him. AG Jeff Sessions offered to resign, probably because of DDT’s anger at his recusal from anything Russian. Sessions didn’t keep to his promise, but he’s still not in charge of the investigation into Russian collusion and hacking. Sessions is trying to get back into DDT’s good graces by blaming New York City’s “murder epidemic” on humane treatment of undocumented immigrants. Last year, the city experienced its second lowest rate in history, and shootings were below 1,000 for the first time on record. Sessions is testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.

DDT also hasn’t made appointments for 442 of the 559 key positions requiring Senate confirmation. In February, he said that he didn’t want to fill “a lot” of key posts in his administration because “they’re unnecessary to have.” By April he said that the vacancies were a Democratic conspiracy against him. Yet Republicans control the confirmations; and DDT hasn’t sent names of nominees to the Senate. Only five countries in the world have U.S. nominees for ambassadorships waiting for confirmation: Bahamas, Ethiopia, Holy See, Japan, and New Zealand. A major country without an ambassador at this time is Great Britain.

A deadly hurricane season is predicted, and neither NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) nor FEMA has had anyone in charge since DDT fired everyone in January. DDT has also recommended huge budget cuts for both these agencies. He probably listened to Alex Jones who thinks that FEMA runs camps where people’s guns are taken away and NOAA wants to “intensify global warming” by outfitting planes with chemtrails. DDT may not know that NOAA tracks hurricanes to provide warnings, and FEMA coordinates disaster responses. DDT appointments, however, would most likely be selected because of their opposition to these missions.

White supremacist Steve Bennon appears to have returned as de facto U.S. president since DDT’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, disappeared. In addition to the at least 20 waivers allowing conflicts of interest for his officials, DDT has retroactively granted a “blanket exemption” permitting Bannon to “communicate” with editors of ultra-right Breitbart “News,” Bannon’s old employment. The exemption might relieve him from a pending ethics complaint about past discussions with the editors. OGE director, Walter Shaub, said, “If you need a retroactive waiver, you have violated a rule.” Bannon’s ally Michael Peck may control U.S. government messaging abroad with a possible nomination to head the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

In an impressive analysis, Propublica has collected disclosures from 349 officials installed in DDT’s administration and analyzed their financial holdings and employment backgrounds for conflicts of interest and omissions. It’s a monumental—and invaluable—accomplishment. Check it out here.

DDT has also been stealing from his own foundation and charity. Earlier it was known that he used money donated by others to the Trump Foundation to settle his lawsuits plus purchasing a portrait and autographed Tim Tebow memorabilia, DDT has been found to overcharge the Eric Trump Foundation for annual fundraisers at one of DDT’s golf courses. DDT’s son said that DDT donated the facilities, but he charged $322,000 in just 2015 for 200 day golfers and 600 dinners. Another $500,000 was transferred from helping children with cancer to charities connected to DDT’s family or interests. He also has a history of taking credit when he failed to donate any money, for example to a nursery school serving children with AIDS and  $1 million for children with a rare disease.

In a partnership with the Houston-based Remembrance Project, DDT claimed to raise money to families of those killed by undocumented immigrants. For almost a year, he has gotten publicity while the group collected funds, but no families have been financially helped. The nonprofit project has filed paperwork to allow it to directly support or oppose candidates and to lobby for legislation.

Democratic members of Congress are being denied information from federal agencies because of DDT’s orders to ignore their requests. His excuse is that Republicans now control the entire government. GOP Sen. Grassley (IA) has told DDT that he has no right to withhold information unless Congress approves the action which has left 102 requests unanswered.

The percentage of people identifying as Republicans has dropped to 38 percent since the November election, and Democrats have increased to 45 percent. The seven-point gap is over three times in that seven-month period. Overall DDT’s approval ratings have slid to the 30s, and strong approval of DDT has dropped from a peak of 30 percent in February to 21 or 22 percent. Every demographic has shown a significant decline.

As fewer people look for jobs, the increase in the number of new ones is also shrinking. The 138,000 jobs created during May, down from the estimated 185,000, plus the downgraded totals of 174,000 in April and the 50,000 in May, make an average monthly gain of 121,000 for those three months. (Last year, over two million new jobs were created.) Retail jobs have declined for five straight months. For the fifth month in a row, auto sales declined—the first slump since the end of George W. Bush’s financial disaster. Consumer credit increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2.6 percent in April, down from the 6.2 percent rate in March. Borrowing rose only $8.2 billion, barely half the estimated $15.5 billion and 40 percent of March’s $19.5 billion. Consumer spending, accounting for two-thirds of U.S. economic growth, rose at a 0.6% annual rate in the first quarter, far short of DDT’s promised three to four percent, indicating a concern about the nation’s instability.

For now, DDT is at his home in Bedminster (NJ) for the weekend, probably playing golf in the 90+ degree weather.

April 25, 2017

Zombie Health Care Bill Returns

Filed under: Health Care — trp2011 @ 9:40 PM
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After petulantly demanding his “beautiful wall” for the past week, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) blinked and withdrew his demand last night. That leaves the specter of his health care—if at first you don’t succeed, try try again—and make it worse. That’s the case with DDT’s latest incarnation he wants for at least one legislative notch on his first 100 days.

The deal tries to bring in the ultra-right wing of the House by allowing waivers for states that want to charge higher—far higher—premiums to the 52 million people with pre-existing conditions that can include depression, obesity—even pregnancy. This is a partial list of how much could be added to regular health insurance premiums for different conditions. [Note: These costs aren’t the premiums; they’re the extra!]

  • Breast Cancer: $28,660
  • Pregnancy: $17,060
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: $26,180
  • Lung cancer: $71,880
  • Diabetes: $5,510
  • Drug dependence: $20,140
  • Asthma: $4,270
  • Metastatic cancer : $142,650

With the new bill, states could also exempt the Essential Health Benefits from insurance if they could show that it would lower premiums, increase the number of people insured, or “advance another benefit to the public interest in the state.” Essential Health Benefits: care outside the hospital, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use disorder services, prescription drugs, rehab services, lab services, preventive care and chronic disease management, and pediatric services. These covers almost all health care needs, meaning that insurers can disallow all health care in health insurance or make it so expensive that people would choose to go without the insurance.

Another waiver available to the states under the proposed law would loosen restrictions on higher premium charges for older people over those for younger people. In addition, the bill would provide high-risk pools for people who couldn’t afford insurance, but these have been proved failures, underfunded by government with poor coverage and high costs.

DDT has promised everyone that “Obamacare” is a disaster, and he has plans to make sure that he’s right. Instead of leaving it alone, he is working on regulations that help the insurance companies and hurt the consumers.

  • The sign-up period is cut in half, from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, 2017 instead of lasting until Jan. 31, 2018.
  • Insurance companies can refuse to sell policies to consumers who fail to make all their premium payments this year instead of a 90-day grace period before losing their insurance.
  • People who need to obtain coverage after the open enrollment must provide documentation that they have had such life changes as marriage, having a child, or moving.
  • The IRS stopped its plans rejecting tax returns if people did not say whether they had coverage.
  • Advertising for the Affordable Care Act, available until January 31, 2017, was pulled immediately after DDT’s inauguration: although enrollment was ahead of the previous year through mid-January, the final 2017 enrollment was down four percent.
  • Coverage may be less comprehensive with less coverage, lowering the value of tax credit subsidies for premiums.
  • Tax subsidies may be reduced so that premiums won’t be affordable for low- and middle-income people.

DDT has also threatened to cut off cost-sharing reductions paid to insurers covering the poorest enrollees. In addition to great instability, DDT’s “plan” will cause premium costs to skyrocket in addition to increased costs for taxpayers.

And DDT can do worse:

  • Broaden or narrow the definitions of some of the 10 broad benefit categories  which de facto eliminates them.
  • Depress enrollment by drastically expanding the definition of “hardship” which exempts people from the individual mandate.
  • Drop the former administration’s legal defense of an ACA rule mandating contraception coverage.
  • Impose work requirements on low-income people on Medicaid expansion.
  • Carry through with the promised 17.9 percent cut in the HHS budget.
  • Let the software and personnel architecture crumble.
  • Allow disastrous waivers to states for “experiments.”

An example of the last problem could happen in Kentucky. The state developed an exemplary health care system, but it lost many of its gains with a GOP governor, Matt Bevin, who wants to administer vision and dental Medicaid through punishment. Desperate to gain back the bad publicity he received with his threat to take health care from 18 percent of his residents, he set up “MyRewards Accounts” in which poor people will be required to meet a list of prorated behavioral requirements for their health care. People on Medicaid will lose their vision and dental care with paying premiums and a $1,000 deductible. Bevin says that they can earn back these costs with such good behavior as job training, health screening, smoking cessation, volunteering, and educational programs.

Linking accounts to work comes from a misconception about people who need Medicaid that Bevin and millions of others hold. In Kentucky, only 15 percent of people on Medicaid are abled adults—in fact, almost 50 percent are children—and most of these adults are already working, looking for work, or in school. Of the others, three-fourths are caretakers for a family member. That’s a small number of people for a massive expensive and invasive database which will be privatized.

Bevin’s plan would give negative “MyRewards” chits, actually fines, for going to the emergency room too often. For example, the first visit would cost $20 and would go up to $75 by the third visit. The ER can be the only health care for a person who cannot find a provider who accepts Medicaid. The plan also fails to understand the loop of how less-covered people are sicker and sicker people are less able to work.

The cockamamie idea comes from Medicaid restrictions by Vice President Mike Pence when he was governor of Indiana. Pence got his idea from Seema Verma, the current administrator of Medicare and Medicaid Services. Although some employers use wellness incentive programs, they are positive and not punitive like Pence’s and Verma’s plan that keeps people from any health care if they don’t accomplish the goals.

Insurers must set their premiums in the market exchanges for 2018 by June 21, 2017. Dana Milbank wrote:

“’The evidence is strong that the ACA is not dying of natural causes, but with the president’s recent comments it’s clear that it could die of suspicious causes,’ says Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan outfit that studies health care. In the current environment, insurers ‘are just not going to stick around and take big risks,’ Levitt tells me. ‘They’ll just take their marbles and invest elsewhere. It would be a very rational decision.’”

Before DDT put his little hands on the health care system, it was healthy. The credit-rating agency Standard & Poor found “marked improvement” in the individual market for most Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers that were forecast to be “close to break-even margins” in 2017. Disruptive actions, however, block the market’s stability and cause insurers to either raise their prices or just leave it.

DDT may be playing a dangerous game. A Kaiser poll revealed that 61 percent would blame DDT and the GOP for any upcoming problems with the Affordable Care Act, compared with 31 percent who would blame President Obama and the Democrats. DDT’s new regulations make it “Trumpcare.”

The end result of DDT’s new regulations is like a teacher telling students that they will fail a class and then changing their answers to make sure it happens. And a majority of people in the U.S. disagree with destroying “Obamacare”: 61 percent want “Obamacare” kept and fixed, and a larger number—79 percent–want DDT to make the current law work and not fail. In addition, 62 percent want nationwide minimum insurance coverage standards, and 70 percent want mandatory protection for pre-existing conditions. These figures show a marked increase after the GOP’s pitch for “Trumpcare” since DDT’s inauguration.

The conservative Freedom Caucus may be on board with DDT’s new plan. Tomorrow we may find out what the other Republicans in the House think of taking health care away from their constituents.

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