False Choices

Flexibility with reduced funding is a false choice. I will not pit seniors, children, families, the mentally ill, the critically ill, hospitals, care providers, or any other Nevadan against each other because of cuts to Nevada’s health-care delivery system proposed by the Graham-Cassidy amendment.

Governor Brian Sandoval (R-Nevada)

This week’s featured post is “Nationalism Reconsidered” and “Why Republicans Can’t Stop Trying to Repeal ObamaCare“.

This week everybody was talking about yet another last-ditch attempt to repeal ObamaCare

which appears to be failing, just like the others did. Sadly, even this is probably not the end, as I explain in the second featured post.

Like previous attempts, the Graham-Cassidy bill contains nothing to attract Democrats and so can afford to lose only three Republican senators. Rand Paul declared against it first, because it retained too much of the spending in ObamaCare, even if it did redirect it through the states. John McCain declared against it Friday, saying that he couldn’t vote for it without more information, like a complete CBO analysis, which would not be available in time for the vote. Susan Collins seems to be waiting for what little analysis the CBO will provide, but finds it “very difficult for me to envision a scenario where I would end up voting for this bill.” Lisa Murkowski hasn’t committed herself, but she’d have a hard time squaring a yes vote with the principles she has laid out. Even Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are said to be against the bill “in its current form”, which probably means their votes are available for the right concessions, with the risk that those concessions might alienate some other senators.

So it’s not completely dead yet, but Graham-Cassidy has to roll a long series of sevens to pass.

Midnight Saturday is the deadline for passage, which sounds like a bad-movie plot device rather than a real rule, but that actually seems to be how things shake out. [Skip this if you’re already bored: In a nutshell, the reason has to do with an arcane process for avoiding filibusters, known as reconciliation. To be eligible for reconciliation, which allows a bill to pass the Senate with a simple majority (50 senators plus the vice president) rather than the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster, a bill has to meet a long list of conditions, one of which is that it has to match up with reconciliation instructions in the current fiscal year’s budget resolution. Fiscal 2017 ends on September 30, so the budget resolution’s reconciliation instructions expire then.]

[Keep skipping: So why not roll the reconciliation instructions from FY2017’s budget resolution over into FY2018’s? That runs into another rule that also sounds like a plot device: There are limits on how many reconciliation instructions a budget resolution can contain, and FY2018’s are already reserved for tax reform. (Or at least that’s how it looks at the moment; Orrin Hatch is looking for a way to do both.) So at midnight on Saturday, the ObamaCare-repeal coach becomes a pumpkin, the horses turn back into mice, but for some reason the slipper is still glass — stop asking so many questions.]


You expect Democrats in Congress and former Obama administration officials (including Obama himself) to make the case against this bill. But the strongest opposition voice has turned out to be someone you wouldn’t usually expect: late-night host Jimmy Kimmel.

Kimmel first spoke out about healthcare when in May when he told the story of his newborn son’s heart problem, repeatedly choking up as he did so.

A week later Kimmel came back to the topic, and had an on-air conversation with Senator Cassidy, who had just started talking about “the Jimmy Kimmel test”, which he summarized like this: “Would a child born with a congenital heart disease be able to get everything she or he would need in that first year of life?”

Cassidy sounded great in that interview. But if he thought Kimmel wasn’t going to check whether he followed up on those good words, he found out differently Tuesday:

I know you guys are going to find this hard to believe, but a few months ago after my son had open-heart surgery (which was something I spoke about on the air) a politician, a senator named Bill Cassidy from Louisiana, was on my show, and he wasn’t very honest. … This guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied right to my face.

Cassidy responded by lamenting that Kimmel “does not understand” his bill. Kimmel played that clip the next night, characterizing it as playing “the all-comedians-are-dummies card”. He then asked Cassidy which part of the bill he doesn’t understand, and listed all the objectionable things the bill does. And the back-and-forth continued Thursday as well.

The wonderful thing about this whole series is the way Kimmel has flipped conservatives’ favorite script. They love to portray liberals as out-of-touch Washington insiders dishonestly condescending to concerned American parents. Now that’s what Senator Cassidy and Senator Graham doing.

and the NFL

No, not the games, the players’ response to Trump. Everything in the world is about Trump now.

It started Friday in Alabama at a rally for GOP Senator Luther Strange (who seems to be losing a primary battle with the truly strange Roy Moore), where we found out what Donald Trump thinks about free expression:

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say: “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired.”?

This, of course, is an insult directed at former Super Bowl quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who last season began protesting against police brutality and racial inequality by quietly and respectfully kneeling during the national anthem. Many players (Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, for example) had expressed respect for the protest, but only a few (Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks comes to mind) had participated themselves.

Until yesterday. Seeing the President of the United States call their colleagues a “sons of bitches” (for doing something that hurts no one, and that offended people can just look away from) made players take a stand … or a knee. Not all players and not all teams responded the same way, but in every game in the country (and one in London), players did something, often with the support of the team’s owners. Some players joined the kneeling protest, while others simply protested Trump’s attempt to turn players against each other by locking arms. Some teams resisted being divided by staying in the locker room until the anthem was over. The WaPo’s Jerry Brewer summed up:

The prevailing statement was rather simple, at least for people who have the decency to resist acting like Trump and labeling an athlete protesting police brutality and [in]equality a “son of a bitch.” It was about having concern for the person next to you and showing that unity doesn’t require shaming others to think the way you do.

A few of my reactions:

  • It’s disturbing the way that Trump has stepped out of the usual bounds of politics and taken over the entire national conversation. Back in 2011, Hank Williams Jr. got fired by Monday Night Football for ranting about President Obama, but that was all him; Obama never engaged with the controversy. For eight years, you could escape Obama by watching football. But today, where can you put your attention and be confident of escaping Trump?
  • This event is a lesson in what usually happens when a president talks tough: His fans cheer, but whatever problem they think he’s solving just gets worse. (Far from being intimidated, more players are kneeling.) The people who cheer Trump’s North Korea rhetoric should think about this.
  • If only Trump got this outraged by people waving swastikas. Maybe if black athletes would start doing that, he’d finally denounce it with some real feeling.
  • Here’s the saddest thing about this story: The issues that motivated Kaepernick to begin with are playing out in St. Louis right now, but the country isn’t paying attention.

Lest basketball players feel left out, Trump insulted them too. Traditionally, championship teams visit the White House, and everybody has a feel-good photo op. But Trump’s appeals to racism have made that ceremony problematic for black athletes like Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors. It’s a real dilemma: politicize a tradition that used to be purely ceremonial, or normalize a president who is squishy on the KKK?

Athletes have turned down the White House before, for a variety of reasons, and presidents have never made a big deal about it. But Trump did, tweeting that he was “disinviting” Curry. Like Kaepernick, Curry enjoyed a wave of social-media support from his fellow players, including LeBron James, who tweeted at Trump: “Going to the White House was a great honor until you showed up.” All-star guard Chris Paul added something about the NFL controversy: “I doubt he’s man enough to call any of those players a son of a bitch to their face.”


Sports TV anchors — at least black ones — haven’t escaped either. After ESPN’s Jamele Hill called Trump a “white supremacist” on her personal Twitter account, the White House called for her to be fired. ESPN basically told her not to do it again.

An aside: Hill’s show, SportsCenter’s flagship 6 o’clock slot, is an interesting cultural phenomenon. For years, a typical sports-TV segment featured white guys talking about black guys. SC6’s two black hosts, Hill and Michael Smith, break that mold. And Hill isn’t just eye candy, or a Mom moderating between outspoken men; she’s a sharp sports fan with a mind of her own. (Hill and Smith banter and bicker like a married couple that feels secure about the strength of their relationship.) Smith describes the criticism the show sometimes gets for being too black, and too full of young urban cultural references that older whites may not understand:

This election was about taking the country back from people like us, right? And now, it’s like, “Dammit, I got to come home and watch these two?!” That may not be what you want on SportsCenter. OK. That’s fair. Watch Fox.

and Trump’s UN Speech

My threshold of embarrassment for my country has gone up considerably since Inauguration Day, but Trump’s speech to the UN General Assembly Tuesday did the trick. Apparently it did for White House chief of staff John Kelly too. (Based on this picture, I’m guessing Melania cleans Kelly’s clock at White House poker games.)

In many ways it was the kind of speech a heavy-handed liberal script writer (Aaron Sorkin, maybe) would put in Trump’s mouth, full of unintentional ironies. For example, he denounced “rogue regimes” that “threaten other nations”. And a bit later he was threatening to unleash “the most destructive weapons known to humanity” against another nation:

The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.

but meanwhile, back at the swamp …

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price wants to cut government spending on your healthcare, but not on himself. In particular, he prefers to travel by private plane rather than take commercial flights, even though they are vastly more expensive.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has taken at least 24 flights on private charter planes at taxpayers’ expense since early May, according to people with knowledge of his travel plans and a review of HHS documents.

The frequency of the trips underscores how private travel has become the norm — rather than the exception — for the Georgia Republican during his tenure atop the federal health agency, which began in February. The cost of the trips identified by POLITICO exceeds $300,000, according to a review of federal contracts and similar trip itineraries.

Price’s excuses for the extravagance don’t hold water. The article says that Obama’s HHS secretaries, Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, took commercial flights. Price claims he uses privates jets “only when commercial travel is not feasible”, but Politico found that many of the flights are between large cities with frequent, low-cost airline traffic”. (D.C. to Philadelphia was one of them.) An HHS spokesperson said Price took private jets because commercial flights are “unreliable” and once caused him to miss important an meeting.

But the flight in question — to a two-day industry conference at a Ritz-Carlton hotel in Southern California — didn’t get off the ground on a day when storms virtually shut down air traffic in the Washington region, preventing even private jets from getting out.

None of this should be surprising, because we’ve known all along that Price has low ethical standards. The Senate knew when it confirmed him that when he was in Congress, Price bought stock in pharmaceutical companies while sponsoring legislation that would benefit those companies.

Saturday, Price announced that he would stop taking tax-payer funded private jets until a review is completed.


Price’s excesses shouldn’t be confused with those of fellow cabinet member Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (net worth: half a billion), who requested a military plane to take him and his wife on their European honeymoon, and took an expensive government-funded private flight to visit Fort Knox, for reasons no one has been able to explain, at precisely the time of the eclipse.

Nor with those of EPA Director Scott Pruitt, whose “business” trips keep taking him home to Oklahoma, where he is rumored to be planning to run for governor. Pruitt is also diverting resources from environmental protection to his own security.

Scott Pruitt’s round-the-clock personal security detail, which demands triple the manpower of his predecessors at the Environmental Protection Agency, has prompted officials to rotate in special agents from around the country who otherwise would be investigating environmental crimes. … Pruitt’s protective detail is the rare area of the EPA that is growing even as the Trump administration seeks a 31 percent cut to the agency’s budget.

Here’s a security idea: Maybe Pruitt would face fewer threats if he actually started trying to protect the environment.


Associated Press has been unsuccessfully investigating what happened to the whopping $107 million Trump raised for his inaugural celebration. Obama’s inauguration was bigger in almost every sense, but cost only $50 million, a sum many at the time already considered outrageous. Trump had pledged that any left-over money would go to charity … but we’ve heard that before.

During the campaign, the WaPo’s David Fahrenthold investigated Trump’s (lack of) donations to charity:

[Trump] spent years constructing an image as a philanthropist by appearing at charity events and by making very public — even nationally televised — promises to give his own money away. It was, in large part, a facade. …

Instead, throughout his life in the spotlight, whether as a businessman, television star or presidential candidate, The Post found that Trump had sought credit for charity he had not given — or had claimed other people’s giving as his own. …

Trump promised to give away the proceeds of Trump University. He promised to donate the salary he earned from “The Apprentice.” He promised to give personal donations to the charities chosen by contestants on “Celebrity Apprentice.” He promised to donate $250,000 to a charity helping Israeli soldiers and veterans.

Together, those pledges would have increased Trump’s lifetime giving by millions of dollars. But The Post has been unable to verify that he followed through on any of them. Instead, The Post found that his personal giving has almost disappeared entirely in recent years.

Rachel Maddow has also been looking into the inaugural-money story and getting no-commented. On Thursday, she interviewed Craig Holman of Public Citizen, who told her:

The source of funds has to be disclosed after the inauguration, but how that money gets spent is anyone’s guess — no rules, no regulations. Quite frankly, it could even go into the pocket of Donald Trump.

Holman also addressed the fact that the Russia-related legal expenses of both Trump and Donald Trump Jr. are being paid by either the RNC or Trump’s re-election fund. Paying for the president seemed legal to him, but Trump Jr. (who had no official role in the campaign) raised issues.

Maddow has been wondering about the mounting legal expenses for administration figures who aren’t rich, like Mike Pence and Sean Spicer. The RNC and the re-election fund aren’t paying for them.

and you also might be interested in …

One of the under-appreciated aspects of the Russia/Trump story is how Russian operatives used social media to spread fake news against Clinton and to boost Trump. The Daily Beast describes one Russian-sponsored Facebook page that actively organized face-to-face pro-Trump rallies in Florida.

Facebook agreed to turn over to Congress thousands of pro-Trump and anti-Hillary ads that alleged Russian agents spent $100K distributing. NBC reports:

A Facebook employee said Wednesday that there were unspecified connections between the divisive ads and a well-known Russian “troll factory” in St. Petersburg that publishes comments on social media.


Black Lives Matter protesters went to a pro-Trump rally and were actually given a chance to speak. It went well. Seriously.


Paul Manafort was offering private briefings to a Russian oligarch while he was Trump campaign chairman.

and let’s close with something natural

Looking for a prescription that will help you deal with the stress of modern life? Try Nature.

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Comments

  • SamuraiArtGuy  On September 25, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    A friend – currently serving US Military – made a thoughtful and insightful post on this topic. My comment –

    “I have been getting increasingly frizzy over the folks who attack people of color over their lack of patriotism and love for nation by virtue of their exercising their right to protest, and the hostility and threats leveled at them.

    “But there seems to be very little willingness in the political or mediasphere to examine the cause they are protesting OVER. Many people are unhappy that “liberty and justice for all” is still a goal and not a universal truth.

    “Instead of calling for these people to be punished, censured, and coerced into false expressions of patriotism, how bout actually keep working to make the nation better? But some people don’t seem to believe that structural and institutional racism still exists, or more disturbing, some seem to be perfectly okay with it.”

    • 1mime  On September 25, 2017 at 5:37 pm

      Very well stated. If we focused just a small part of the attention on “why” these players are risking their (very lucrative) livelihoods with their protests, we might get to the root of the problem rather than simply pass judgement.

  • Jacquie Mardell (@jacquiemardell)  On September 25, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    “But today, where can you put your attention and be confident of escaping Trump?” Puerto Rico

    • SamuraiArtGuy  On September 26, 2017 at 11:53 am

      Daaaanggggg….

    • weeklysift  On September 30, 2017 at 10:07 am

      You win this week’s I-wish-I’d-thought-of-that prize.

Trackbacks

  • By The Right Way to Protest | The Weekly Sift on October 2, 2017 at 10:56 am

    […] travel-expense scandal that had enveloped the HHS Secretary last week only got worse this week, until he resigned Friday. (In his five months in office, the taxpayers […]

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