Category Archives: Public Policy and Governance

What White Supremicists Are Also Voting Against

There’s a theme emerging in the depressing story of current American political behavior. Call it karma, irony or profound stupidity leading to a boomerang effect.

A couple of days ago, I described a local election campaign in which the dishonest and unethical efforts of a State Senator who had previously had a reputation as one of the more honorable contemporary Republicans had instead brought disrepute on a family name that, until now, had identified admirable members of a Hoosier political family.

Tuesday, Paul Krugman pointed to yet another example of probable karma–in their determination to re-elect Donald Trump and their haste to co-opt the Supreme Court (ostensibly to “save”  babies they refuse to feed once they’re born), the GOP is facilitating the death-knell of Obamacare and the ability of both Republican and Democratic Americans with pre-existing conditions to obtain health insurance.

If you or someone you care about are among the more than 50 million Americans suffering from pre-existing medical conditions, you should be aware that the stakes in this year’s election go beyond abstract things like, say, the survival of American democracy. They’re also personal. If Donald Trump is re-elected, you will lose the protection you’ve had since the Affordable Care Act went into effect almost seven years ago.

The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has made this even more obvious. In fact, it’s now possible that coverage of pre-existing conditions will be stripped away even if Trump loses to Joe Biden, unless Democrats also take the Senate and are prepared to play serious hardball. But health care was always on the line.

Naive members of the GOP base either don’t understand this, or don’t care, or believe Trump’s repeated promises to issue a “wonderful plan” that will replace the Affordable Care Act and protect those with pre-existing conditions.

As Krugman points out, we’ve been hearing about how imminent that plan is for four years, and there’s still no sign of it. (Krugman suggests that  administration officials may have been” too busy botching their response to the coronavirus” to get to the task of crafting a healthcare plan. “Did I mention that, as we pass the 200,000 deaths mark, cases appear to be rising again?”)

In 2017, the last time Republicans did offer their own health care plan, the Congressional Budget Office calculated that it would cause 32 million Americans to lose health insurance, and others would face much higher premiums. That calculation didn’t come from “fake news” sources, but from the budget office of a Republican administration.

And what about that promise to people with pre-existing conditions?

The Trump administration is backing a lawsuit, now before the Supreme Court, claiming that a fairly minor provision in the 2017 tax cut somehow rendered the whole Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. It’s a ludicrous argument — but Republican judges in lower courts have backed it anyway, and a court without Ginsburg is more likely to let partisanship override any pretense of respect for logic.

The odds that the court will destroy Obamacare, and with it protection for pre-existing conditions, will obviously go up if Trump is able to install a right-wing partisan to replace Ginsburg.

For many members of the Trumpian base, loss of their health insurance would be karma– their overwhelming desire to hurt people who look, love and pray differently would have brought disaster on themselves. Much like the situation with masks–if the only people being hurt were the selfish know-nothings and bigots refusing to be inconvenienced to save the lives of their neighbors– the rest of us could probably live with that result. (I know–that’s horrible. But I never said I was nice.) Unfortunately, however, the trite sentiment is also true: we really are “all in this together.”

Dishonesty, stupidity and bigotry do come back to bite their promoters–the problem is, they get the rest of us, too.

 

Denying Reality, Subsidizing Our Own Destruction

Warnings about climate change began years ago, with predictions of devastating fires, more powerful hurricanes, rising oceans and millions of global migrants.

What’s that line from “bring in the clowns?” Oh yes–“Don’t bother, they’re here.”

The Idiot-in-Chief may dismiss science, may attribute the fires burning much of west coast America to “forest management” (not to get picky, but the federal government is responsible for managing something like 70% of California’s forests), but people who actually know what they are talking about uniformly connect the extent and severity of those conflagrations to climate change.

 How many Americans will be displaced by climate change–not sometime in the future, but soon? The New York Times recently focused on the probability that massive population movement will change the country. Abrahm Lustgarten, the author, explained how he came to the issue:

I had an unusual perspective on the matter. For two years, I have been studying how climate change will influence global migration. My sense was that of all the devastating consequences of a warming planet — changing landscapes, pandemics, mass extinctions — the potential movement of hundreds of millions of climate refugees across the planet stands to be among the most important. I traveled across four countries to witness how rising temperatures were driving climate refugees away from some of the poorest and hottest parts of the world. I had also helped create an enormous computer simulation to analyze how global demographics might shift, and now I was working on a data-mapping project about migration here in the United States.

Noting the obvious, Lustgarten points out that Americans have largely avoided confronting these issues, thanks to politicians who play down climate risks, support continuing the enormous subsidies to fossil fuels and support “other incentives aimed at defying nature.” By “defying nature,” he means Americans’ longstanding preference for settling in areas most vulnerable to environmental danger– coastlines from New Jersey to Florida and the deserts of the Southwest.

The article is lengthy, and the statistics and other data are well worth your time to click through and consider. Lustgarten cites studies predicting that one in 12 Americans who currently live in the U.S. South will move toward California, the Mountain West or the Northwest over the next 45 years. A population shift of that magnitude will increase poverty and income inequality,  accelerate urbanization of cities ill-equipped for the burden, and will deal “repeated economic blows to coastal, rural and Southern regions.”

As he points out, this negative spiral has already begun in rural Louisiana and coastal Georgia.

Meanwhile, the bad climate news keeps coming. 

In New Mexico, the mass death of birds has puzzled–and spooked– scientists.

Professor Martha Desmond of the college’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology expressed deep concern about what the sudden deaths of these birds portends for the environment.

“It is terribly frightening,” Desmond told the Sun News. “We’ve never seen anything like this. … We’re losing probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of migratory birds.”

In Antartica, two major glaciers are in the process of breaking off. According to The Washington Post

Two Antarctic glaciers that have long kept scientists awake at night are breaking free from the restraints that have hemmed them in, increasing the threat of large-scale sea-level rise.

In a recent column, Eugene Robinson pointed out that the fires burning on the West Coast are only one of a number of threats generated by our changing climate: 

For only the second time on record, five tropical cyclones are swirling in the Atlantic Ocean at the same time — including Hurricane Sally, which is gathering strength in the Gulf of Mexico and aiming at vulnerable New Orleans and Mississippi.

These catastrophes horribly illustrate the stakes in the coming election: at risk is the future of our beautiful, fragile planet. The choice facing voters who care about that future could not be more stark. Democratic nominee Joe Biden accepts the scientific consensus about climate change and wants the United States to lead the world in a transition to clean energy. President Trump has called climate change a “hoax” and encouraged greater production and burning of “beautiful, clean coal.”

Along with all the other reasons to vote “Blue No Matter Who,” Robinson reminds us that a vote for Trump is a vote for ignorance and environmental ruin, while a vote for Biden (who has pledged to rejoin the Paris agreement immediately if he is elected) is a vote for Planet Earth.

There’s a reason Scientific American–which has never endorsed a candidate in its 175-year history–has endorsed Joe Biden. You would think that anyone who is genuinely “pro life” (and not just pro-birth/ anti-woman) would vote for an environment capable of supporting human life. 

 

Blue In Red Indiana

This will be a crassly political post. (As if most aren’t…)

“Blue No Matter Who” is an easy slogan, and I endorse it for reasons I have repeatedly recited. That slogan does, however, have one unfortunate implication: “no matter who” makes it sound as if we should vote for the Democratic candidate no matter how unsatisfactory we find that candidate. I actually endorse that sentiment, too; however, in the vast majority of contests I follow, the Democratic candidate is genuinely admirable–certainly not a “best we can get under the circumstances” choice–and infinitely superior to his/her Republican opponent.

Take Indiana’s Fifth Congressional District–a district that abuts the 7th, where I live (and am blissfully happy with my own Congressman, Andre Carson.) The 5th is an open district, thanks to the retirement of the incumbent and major disappointment, Susan Brooks. It has been reliably Republican pretty much forever, but it is populated with educated suburbanites and has been showing some purplish–even bluish–tendencies. Brooks ran as a moderate and voted like an alt-Right puppet (98% support for Trump) and her constituents had noticed.

The Republican primary for the open seat was an ugly free-for-all, with several candidates contending to see who could most strenuously support Donald Trump. The victor–one Victoria Spartz–was notable for her “pro life” and “pro gun” emphases (a bit of cognitive dissonance there?) and for putting a lot of her own money into the campaign. Her TV spots and website are notable for their lack of specificity and candor. (She’s a mother and she’s “not a career politician.”)

Her website is, however, unintentionally revealing.

Spartz lists each of her “issues” in two to three sentence paragraphs, none of which identify specific bills or initiatives she would support. She’s “for” the Constitution, but mentions only the 2d Amendment. She wants to balance the budget (!) by cutting spending on welfare (no mention of corporate welfare, just the social safety net variety.) She’s an immigrant, but wants to “build the wall.” She wants to spend whatever it takes to keep the military strong, and she favors “consumer choice” in healthcare (code for “if you can afford it you can have it.”) The only thing she says about education is that she favors “flexibility” for the states (code for vouchers), and–surprise!–she wants to further limit the regulation of business.

There is no mention of either COVID or the environment. I guess those aren’t problems.

If you feel I am being unfair, please visit her site and double-check.

Now, in the interests of transparency, I will admit that I worked a bit with Victoria’s Democratic opponent, Christina Hale, when she was in the Indiana Statehouse, and I was impressed with her. She was a serious legislator, and absolutely passionate about protecting children. Her website is here.

Not only does Christina address COVID and the Environment, along with other issues, but you will immediately notice that she doesn’t just identify issues with generalities and ambiguous language. Under “healthcare” she lists–and explains– her support for a public option, her opposition to attempts to allow insurance companies to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, and her support for requiring drug companies to negotiate for lower drug prices. Under “environment,” she underscores her support for clean energy infrastructure and technology, the creation of jobs to reduce carbon emissions, and improving Indiana’s water infrastructure.

There’s a lot more, but my point is that people in the 5th District who vote for Christina will do so knowing what sort of policy agenda she will pursue. (In all fairness, it’s pretty clear what sort of policy agenda Victoria will pursue, too–but that clarity sure isn’t a result of forthright labeling.) When I went to VoteSmart, I saw that during her single term in the legislature, Spartz voted against regulations for pesticides, and for allowing firearms on school grounds, among other interesting items…

This is one Congressional race among hundreds, and I’m not prepared to assume that the differences are this stark in every single one of them. Every political party has its losers (to appropriate one of Trump’s favorite terms), and I’m sure there are jerks out there with a D after their names. But the GOP has devolved into something approximating a  scary religious cult, and you can rest assured that virtually all Republican Senate and Congressional candidates are ideologues cut from the same cloth as Spartz– impervious to science and fact, suspicious of the government they want to join, and dismissive of climate change, COVID and people who can’t afford health insurance.

That’s why we need to vote Blue up and down the ballot, and in numbers sufficient to make the outcomes obvious on Election Night.

 

 

Money And The Planet

We’re at a time of the year and election cycle when news about the political campaigns tends to drown out other important or newsworthy developments. Policy arguments, particularly, take a back seat to “breaking news” about the latest evidence or eruption of Trump’s mental illness and general despicableness–like the taped confession that he knew in February how contagious and dangerous the COVID-19 virus was.

So I’ve seen very little about an important effort to counter climate change being made by the Democrats in the House of Representatives. Late last month, The Guardian reported on a three-part plan that aims to expose and counter the fossil fuel industry’s well-funded efforts to conceal the scale of the climate crisis.

Senate Democrats are set to release a 200-page plan arguing that significant US climate action will require stripping the fossil fuel industry of its influence over the government and the public’s understanding of the crisis.

“It’s important for the public to understand that this is not a failure of American democracy that’s causing this,” said Sheldon Whitehouse, a Senate Democrat from Rhode Island. “It is a very specific and successful attack on American democracy by an industry with truly massive financial motivation to corrupt democratic institutions.

A report titled Dark Money has laid out in detail just how “giant fossil fuel corporations have spent billions – much of it anonymized through scores of front groups – during a decades-long campaign to attack climate science and obstruct climate action”.

It isn’t as though the media hasn’t reported on this web of disinformation. Environmental groups have brought lawsuits that have exposed the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to conceal the scale of the problem and its use of dark money groups to slow a shift away from fossil fuels. But as Whitehouse points out, the story has yet to reach the American public.

In an indication of how interrelated our current problems are, and the extent to which campaign finance permissiveness has affected policymaking, the report blames the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allowed industries to spend virtually unlimited sums of money to sway elections.

The elements of the three-part plan are:

“Expose the role of the fossil fuel billionaires, executives and corporations in funding and organizing the groups trafficking in climate denial and obstruction.”

“Reform federal laws and regulations to require greater transparency and reduce the influence of money, particularly dark money, in politics.”

“Alert industries that support climate action to the depth, nature and success of the covert fossil fuel political scheme.”

The article points out that climate change–like so much else in our polarized political world–has become a defining feature of partisanship.

Republicans meanwhile are split on the climate issue, with some outright denying the science, many questioning the severity of the crisis, and a growing minority pitching technologies for capturing emissions from fossil fuels so they can continue to be used. Donald Trump has called climate change a hoax and rescinded essentially all of the federal government’s biggest climate efforts.

The article noted that fossil fuel companies knew the severity of the climate crisis as early as the late 1970s, and are only now–reluctantly–confronting it. Whitehouse pins the success of their intervening efforts to mislead and misdirect directly on Ciitizens United.

Whitehouse was elected to the Senate in 2006, and he said everything changed immediately after the supreme court issued the Citizens United ruling in 2010. “There’s a very clear before and after,” he said.

“I don’t think Americans understand enough the extent to which the fossil fuel industry has weaponized a whole variety of systems and laws that now competes with the government itself for dominance,” Whitehouse said.

A final note: The United States is scheduled to exit the Paris Climate Agreement on November 4th.

 

 

Ladies And Gentlemen–Your Postmaster General

Americans who haven’t been living in caves the past few months have heard a lot about Donald Trump’s assault on vote-by-mail and the post office.

Trump has attacked the post office pretty consistently, even before he began his most recent efforts at vote suppression. (He hates Jeff Bezos and Amazon, and is convinced that USPS undercharges Bezos for deliveries. As with so many other things Trump “knows,” this  has been debunked by people who actually know what they’re talking about.)

It was bad enough when Mitch McConnell–aka “the most evil man in America”–refused to allow a Senate vote on House-passed measures to shore up USPS finances, but things really started going to you-know-where-in-a-handbasket when the administration installed  Louis DeJoy as Postmaster. As Paul Waldman noted in an article in The Washington Post,“Like many Trump appointees, DeJoy seems to have been hired for the purpose of undermining the agency he now leads.”

Ignore LeJoy’s transparent efforts to sabotage the vote. He would have been an appallingly inappropriate choice even if he hadn’t been willing to wage war on democratic self-government..

LeJoy was a major Republican donor, thanks to the sale of a family shipping company for some $615 million, and he is heavily invested in shipping companies that are not only not the USPS, but are in direct competition with the postal service. As a post to Daily Kos put it, DeJoy “stands to make a serious chunk of change if he can either redirect a larger chunk of the nation’s mail to those companies or, alternatively, sabotage the constitutionally-mandated USPS severely enough to cause those redirections to become nonoptional.”

Evidently, DeJoy was Trump’s kind of “businessman.” His shipping company was sued multiple times for sexual assault, sexual harassment, racism, wage theft, and union busting. In 1997, the National Labor Relations Board found that, after taking over the Compton Army Terminal in California, DeJoy directed the company to take extreme efforts to hide job opportunities from union workers.

Last month, CNN reported on DeJoy’s ongoing conflicts of interest.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy continues to hold a multimillion-dollar stake in his former company XPO Logistics, a United States Postal Service contractor, likely creating a major conflict of interest, according to newly obtained financial disclosures and ethics experts.

Outside experts who spoke to CNN were shocked that ethics officials at the postal service approved this arrangement, which allows DeJoy to keep at least $30 million in XPO holdings….

“The idea that you can be a postmaster general and hold tens of millions in stocks in a postal service contractor is pretty shocking,” said Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, who resigned in 2017. “It could be that he’s planning on selling it, but I don’t understand the delay. He has managed to divest a lot of other things. And if he wasn’t prepared to sell that off, he shouldn’t have taken the job.”

Schaub, who is now a senior adviser at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, suggested that if DeJoy doesn’t divest his holdings soon, it could be construed as an illegal conflict of interest. Schaub also questioned why the ethics officials approved this arrangement.

It’s illegal under federal law for federal government employees or their spouses to have a “financial interest” in companies that intersect with their official duties. The ethics experts who spoke to CNN said DeJoy could have mitigated these conflicts by divesting, agreeing upfront to recuse himself from some matters, receiving legal waivers, or even establishing a blind trust.

“If you have a $30 million interest in a company, of course it’s going to impact you,” said Stuart Gilman, who spent 12 years at the Office of Government Ethics, where he was the assistant director. “I would assume that there is a problem here. It certainly doesn’t pass the smell test.”

CREW–Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington–also issued a letter detailing DeJoy’s conflicts of interest, noting that DeJoy personally participated in particular matters that directly affect two companies in which he retains ownership interests, and that “These actions run counter to his obligations under the conflict of interest law.”

More recently, we’ve been treated to blockbuster reports that DeJoy routinely violated campaign finance laws.

Is there a single person in Trump’s cabinet or administration who isn’t sleazy and dishonest?