President-elect Donald Trump said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal (11/11) that he is open to keeping some parts of the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.

Trump said he supports keeping in place the prohibition on insurance companies discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions and the provision allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26.

Trump said he changed his view on the need for an across-the-board repeal after meeting for 90 minutes with President Obama at the White House (11/10).

Healthcare experts told The Hill that keeping the ban on discriminating against pre-existing conditions would likely require keeping some of ObamaCare’s subsidies in place. The subsidies were designed to expand insurance pools and make it economically viable for insurance companies to sign up patients with costly chronic health problems.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who served as chief economist to the Council of Economic Advisors and as director of the Congressional Budget Office under President Bush, said all the Republican plans to replace ObamaCare that he’s reviewed include some sort of subsidy.

About 9.4 mln people who earn up to 400% of the federal poverty level earn premium subsidies under ObamaCare, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Twenty million Americans get insurance through ACA.

Thomas Scully, who served as CMS administrator from 2001 to 2004 under Bush, told The Hill Republicans might scale the subsidy down to only apply to people earning 250 to 350 percent of the federal poverty level.

Scully predicted Republicans will pass legislation repealing ObamaCare soon after Trump takes the oath of office in January but delay the implementation of the repeal until 2018 or even 2019 to give them time to come up with a replacement.

“Are you really going to take insurance away from this many people and leave them with only a tax credit? I think there’s a powerful argument that they won’t do that,” said Thomas Bulleit, a partner specializing in healthcare policy at the law firm of Ropes & Gray.

The other big question facing Republicans is what to do about the Medicaid expansion, which was adopted by 31 states, including Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, three Rust Belt states that helped push Trump to victory.

Republican healthcare experts say it’s unlikely that Congress will reverse the Medicaid expansion in these states. More likely lawmakers will enact reforms to curb its costs and give states flexibility to administer smaller payments from Washington.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), told The Hill last year that she was “very concerned” about the 160,000 people who were then receiving health insurance in her state through the law’s Medicaid expansion.

Similarly, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), whose state has the highest poverty rate in the nation, said he’s worried about hurting people who received insurance for the first time. He hopes to work with Democrats to find a replacement program to limit the chances of a major disruption.

Repealing the Medicaid expansion was a sticking point within the Senate Republican conference last year. McConnell addressed the concerns of colleagues such as Capito by proposing to phase in the repeal of the Medicaid expansion over two years to give the federal government and states time to figure out how to replace it.

Before the election, former insurance executive turned consumer advocate Wendell Potter predicted, “when push comes to shove, Republicans will not vote to strip 20 million Americans of coverage they have gained because of the law. Here’s another reason it will not be repealed: the insurance industry won’t allow it. Despite the complaints some insurance corporations have made about losing money on their Obamacare enrollees, they have thrived overall under the law.

“The share price of most of the big for-profit insurers has more than tripled since the law went into effect. Those companies are actually making record profits under Obamacare,” Potter noted. “Remember that Obamacare makes it illegal for most of us to be uninsured. Without a public option, Americans who are not eligible for a government-run program like Medicare or Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California) have no choice but to buy coverage from a private insurer. Look at it this way: If you were a business owner, wouldn’t you be delighted if Congress passed a law requiring people to buy the stuff you sell? (That’s why I told members of Congress during the health care reform debate that if they passed a law without a public option, they might as well call it ‘The Health Insurance Profit Protection and Enhancement Act.’)”

Several groups led by Families USA (familiesusa.org) have formed a network tentatively called “The Coalition to Keep America Covered,” which will seek to protect the insurance coverage that Republicans now threaten —―starting with the more than 20 million Americans who now depend on Obamacare.

Without the law’s protections and funding in place, many would go back to being uninsured again —― a point that the Congressional Budget Office recently confirmed, when it predicted that outright repeal of the law would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 22 million, Jonathan Cohn reported at HuffingtonPost.com (11/14).

COMEY LETTER COST CLINTON VOTES. The announcement a week before the election that the FBI was reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails accelerated the shift of a largely hidden rural mass of voters toward Donald Trump, Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg reported at Bloomberg Businessweek (11/10).

“Trump’s analysts had detected this upsurge in the electorate even before FBI Director James Comey delivered his Oct. 28 letter to Congress announcing that he was reopening his investigation into Clinton’s e-mails. But the news of the investigation accelerated the shift of a largely hidden rural mass of voters toward Trump.

“....After Comey, that movement of older, whiter voters became newly evident. It’s what led Trump’s campaign to broaden the electoral map in the final two weeks and send the candidate into states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan that no one else believed he could win (with the exception of liberal filmmaker Michael Moore, who deemed them “Brexit states”). Even on the eve of the election Trump’s models predicted only a 30% likelihood of victory.

“The message Trump delivered to those voters was radically different from anything they would hear from an ordinary Republican: a bracing screed that implicated the entire global power structure — the banks, the government, the media, the guardians of secular culture — in a dark web of moral and intellectual corruption. And Trump insisted that he alone could fix it.”

Kevin Drum noted at MotherJones.com (11/11) that people who decided on their presidential vote in the last week, after Comey announced the renewed investigation, broke 50% for Trump and 38% for Clinton, while people who decided in the last few days, after Comey cleared Clinton, broke more narrowly for Trump, 46-44. “Comey provided the match that Trump used to light the country on fire,” Drum wrote. “… Did that letter make a difference of 1%? No one will ever be able to prove or disprove it, but I’ll bet it did.”

TPP APPARENTLY STYMIED. The Obama administration apparently has thrown in the towel on its effort to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership during the lame-duck session. Matthew McAlvanah, spokesman for US Trade Representative Michael Froman, told the Washington Post (11/11), “it’s up to congressional leaders as to whether and when this moves forward.”

Then House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office said: “the Republican leader is standing by comments he made before the election that there would not be a vote in the lame duck.”

Larry Cohen of Our Revolution, the activist group that grew out of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, said the Trans-Pacific Partnership is dead for the foreseeable future. “While we must be vigilant if it comes back to life, this is a victory to celebrate,” he noted.

“Our Revolution is ready for the fights to come to protect working people in the next four years. We must be prepared to fully stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, and to make sure the Keystone XL pipeline is not resurrected. We must do everything we can to protect our sisters and brothers who will be targeted by the racist and xenophobic Trump Administration.” (See OurRevolution.com.)

MORE THAN 300 HATE INCIDENTS REPORTED IN WEEK AFTER ELECTION. Reports of hate incidents were “off the charts” in the week after Donald Trump was elected president, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a non-profit organization that tracks hate groups and hate crimes, which said 315 incidents of “hateful harassment and intimidation” were reported in the five days after Election Day. That is roughly the amount they usually see in a five to six-month period, Jack Jenkins noted at ThinkProgress.org (11/14).

“Since Donald Trump won the election we’ve seen an alarming number of hate-based incidents occur throughout the nation, some of which are no doubt stemming from Trump’s hate-filled campaign,” read a statement from the SPLC. “We’ve collected more than 315 such incidents since the election — truly a frightening number.”

The 2016 election season had already seen unprecedented spikes in Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant fervor, but now experts say the period following the election amounts to the worst surge of hateful violence since the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, when Muslim communities across the country were subject to record levels of assault, intimidation, and harassment.

The surge was corroborated by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which told USA Today that they have been inundated with reports of anti-Muslim vitriol.

“We already had been worse based on the fact that Donald Trump had mainstreamed Islamophobia … and this was just taking it off the charts,” Ibrahim Hooper, a CAIR spokesman, told USA Today.

According to SPLC data, the vast majority of the claims  —  roughly 100  —  were classified as “anti-black” or “anti-immigrant.” The next highest percentage belonged to “anti-Muslim” incidents, of which more than 20 were reported in the week after the election.

GOP VOTER PURGES FIXED ELECTIONS. Republican officials purged more than enough voters from the rolls to account for the wins in several states, Greg Palast noted at GregPalast.com (11/11).

Starting in 2013 – just as the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act – a coterie of Trump operatives, under the direction of Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State, created a system to purge 1.1 mln Americans of color from the voter rolls of GOP-controlled states.

The system, called Crosscheck, was detailed in Palast’s Rolling Stone report, “The GOP’s Stealth War on Voters” (8/24).

Palast noted that the Trump victory margin in Michigan was 13,107. Michigan Crosscheck’s purge list had 449,922 names.

Trump’s victory margin in Arizona was 85,257. Arizona Crosscheck’s purge list challenged 270,824. 

Trump’s victory margin in North Carolina was 177,008. North Carolina Crosscheck’s purge list challenged 589,393.

“On Tuesday, we saw Crosscheck elect a Republican Senate and as President, Donald Trump,” Palast wrote. “The electoral putsch was aided by nine other methods of attacking the right to vote of Black, Latino and Asian-American voters, including ‘caging,’ ‘purging,’ blocking legitimate registrations and wrongly shunting millions to ‘provisional’ ballots that will never be counted.” Palast detailed the methods in his book and film, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: a Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits.

Trump signaled the use of “Crosscheck” when he claimed the election is “rigged” because “people are voting many, many times.” His operative, Kobach, who also advised Trump on building a wall on the southern border, devised a list of 7.2 mln “potential” double voters — 1.1 mln of which were removed from the voter rolls by election day. The list is loaded overwhelmingly with voters of color and the poor. In many cases, names are listed as suspected double voters because they are similar but not identical to another voter’s name.

STATE VOTERS RAISE MINIMUM WAGES AND REQUIRE PAID SICK LEAVE. The working poor scored some victories in four states as voters approved minimum-wage increases in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington. Paid sick leave also continued to gain momentum, Laura Clawson noted at DailyKos.com (11/11).

In  Arizona, $12 by 2020 was passed by nearly 60% of voters. The first raise, from $8.05 to $10, will come in January. Tipped workers in one Arizona city are also getting some good news. Flagstaff voted to raise the tipped minimum wage to $15 by 2026. The federal tipped minimum wage has been $2.13 an hour since 1991.

In Colorado and Maine, the minimum wage will be going to $12 by 2020 as well, with Maine including tipped workers—they’ll get to the full $12 by 2024, up from a current level of $3.75.

Washington state had the highest minimum wage of any state in the country, at $9.47 an hour, before the minimum wage-raising movement of the past few years, but it has gotten left behind as two of its cities — Seattle and SeaTac — adopted $15 minimum wages. Washington voters said yes to $11 on Jan. 1 and $13.50 by 2020.

The same measures that raised the minimum wage in Washington and Arizona also included paid sick leave. They will become the fifth and sixth states — after Connecticut, California, Massachusetts,and Oregon — to require paid sick leave.

US WILL BE PARIAH WHEN TRUMP PULLS OUT OF CLIMATE PACT. The vast majority of US voters and policymakers have no clue how cataclysmic it will be when Trump keeps his promise to exit the landmark Paris Climate Agreement, Joe Romm noted at ThinkProgress.org (11/14), adding, “But then why would they, when much of the media also has no clue about the existential nature of the climate fight after a quarter century of ignoring the warnings of scientists?”

The Trump team is looking to quit Paris as fast as possible, perhaps within a year, according to “a source on his transition team,” Reuters reported (11/13). Another reason to take Trump seriously: He appointed fellow climate science deniers to top positions in his transition team and administration — while the media normalizes his radical words and deeds.

“Since the United States was a leader in making Paris happen, when the country pulls out (and then works to kill climate action at home and abroad), it will suddenly become a global pariah,” Romm noted. “Think of the sanctions against Putin’s Russia — or, think about a massive, global boycott, like the one against apartheid South Africa, times 10.”

Romm said the world will rightly blame the United States for destroying humanity’s last, best hope to avoid catastrophic warming. “We will be blamed for the multiple ever-worsening catastrophic climate impacts that befall the planet in the coming years (and decades and beyond). And why not? We’re the richest country and the biggest cumulative carbon polluter, and the pledge we made for Paris was just about the weakest we could offer. And now we aren’t even going to do that.

“From the world’s perspective, US voters just elected a man who actively campaigned on a plan to kill the Paris agreement, undo all US climate action, boost coal and fossil fuel use, and zero out funding for all international climate-related aid, domestic climate science, and clean energy R&D. Oh, and he thinks global warming is a hoax, and he has named a well-known climate science denier to run the EPA transition (if not the EPA itself — and another to be his top White House aide and chief strategist.

“It bears repeating that on Oct. 26, Trump promised, ‘I will also cancel all wasteful climate change spending from Obama-Clinton, including all global warming payments to the United Nations. These steps will save $100 billion over 8 years.’”

Not only is Trump appointing hard-core climate science deniers to high level positions, but even everyday Republicans  — like Trump’s newly appointed Chief of Staff Reince Priebus — are critical of climate action, Romm noted. Indeed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders have actively lobbied other countries against the Paris climate deal and lobbied states to disregard the EPA’s Clean Power Plan standards for electricity generation.

COAL JOBS AREN’T COMING BACK. In May, President-elect Donald Trump stood on the stage at the Charleston, W.V., Civic Center, put on a miners helmet and pretended to shovel coal.

“If I win we’re going to bring those miners back,” Trump said at the rally. “…These ridiculous rules and regulations that make it impossible for you to compete … we’re going to take that all off the table, folks.”

With Trump’s election and Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress, many in Kentucky are now waiting to cash in on the Republican promise of more coal jobs.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wasn’t making any promises after Trump’s election, the Lexington, Ky., Herald-Leader noted (11/11).

The interim president of the Kentucky Coal Association said he “would not expect to see a lot of growth because of the Trump presidency.” Nick Carter said in an interview, “If there is any growth in Eastern Kentucky, it will be because of an improved economy for coal.”

Mark Sumner noted at DailyKos.com (11/14) that about 33% of electric power in the US comes from burning coal. That sounds like a lot, but less than a decade ago, it was 50%. What happened in the interval wasn’t Obama starting up a war on coal. It was fracking for natural gas. “And coal jobs? They are well and truly fracked. Forever.”

In the summer of 2008, natural gas cost over $12 per mln Btu. That was about three times as much as the equivalent energy from coal. At the time coal was 50% of the nation’s electrical production, while natural gas was about 20%.

By the end of 2008, the cost of natural gas was down to $6. It kept moving down because fracking was putting supply well ahead of demand. Meanwhile the cost of coal was actually creeping upward.

There were hundreds of new coal plants in planning across the country in 2008. By 2010, there were dozens. By 2012, there were none. Even plants that had broken ground were abandoned in progress.

Gas has many advantages over coal, Sumner noted. In particular, a gas-powered power plant can be built much more cheaply, at a smaller scale, and added to incrementally. Coal also has to be stockpiled on site, and the ash it produces has to be stored after it’s burned. Coal is simply a mess to deal with.

Meanwhile, while gas gradually replaces coal, renewable energy sources—which are rapidly decreasing in price and increasing in efficiency—slowly eats up the difference. Wind and solar made up just 3% of the energy portfolio in 2008. By the time coal and natural gas were tied for production at the end of 2015, renewables were up to 7% of the picture.

The good news is that, for the third year in a row, global carbon emissions have remained flat, thanks in large part to declining emissions in China.

Carbon emissions from 2016 will only be about 0.2% more than in 2015, despite a steady 3% growth in the world’s economy, according to a new report from the Global Carbon Project. Before 2014, emissions were increasing at an average rate of 2.3% per year, Natasha Geiling reported at ThinkProgress.org (11/14).

“This third year of almost no growth in emissions is unprecedented at a time of strong economic growth,” Corinne Le Quéré, Director of the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia, said in a statement. “This is a great help for tackling climate change but it is not enough. Global emissions now need to decrease rapidly, not just stop growing.”

Researchers point to declining coal use in China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, as the main driver behind the slowdown in emissions. In 2014, China’s coal use dropped 3%. It fell another 5% in 2015 — and is on pace this year for another decrease, likely between 2.5 and 3 percent. Regulations to decrease air pollution, a general economic slowdown, and a three-year ban on new coal mines have contributed to the decline of coal use throughout the country.

SENATE RACE STILL UP FOR GRABS IN LOUISIANA. Republicans will keep control of the Senate but one race remains to be decided, as Democrat Foster Campbell faces Republican John Kennedy in a Dec. 10 runoff to succeed retiring Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). Kennedy, the state treasurer, finished first among 24 candidates in the Nov. 8 primary with 24% of the vote, and he is favored in a state that went 60% for Trump, while Campbell finished second with 17.5%, but Campbell is a cattle rancher and former state senator who has been elected three times to the state’s Public Service Commission, which manages public utilities and motor carriers in Louisiana.

TRUMP CONFLATES DOCUMENTED AND UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS. Donald Trump said on 60 Minutes (11/13) he will immediately deport as many as three million “criminal” undocumented immigrants once he takes office in January, and he’ll decide later what to do with the rest. (His claim that two million undocumented immigrants have criminal records has been checked by the Washington Post and found to be inaccurate. Most of the alleged criminals are aliens who are in the US legally — and the Obama administration has been deporting them after they finish their sentences.)

Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone, “Shunned during election season by many in his own party, President-elect Trump’s closest advisers are a collection of crackpots and dilettantes who will make Bush’s cabinet look like the Nobel committee. The head of his EPA transition team, Myron Ebell, is a noted climate-change denier. Pyramid enthusiast and stabbing expert Ben Carson is already being mentioned as a possible Health and Human Services chief. Rudy Giuliani, probably too unhinged by now for even a People’s Court reboot, might be attorney general. God only knows who might end up being Supreme Court nominees; we can only hope they turn out to be lawyers, or at least people who played lawyers onscreen. And sitting behind this fun-house nightmare of executive-branch worthies (which Politico speculates will be one of the more “eclectic” cabinets ever) will be a rubber-stamping all-Republican legislature that will attract the loving admiration of tinhorn despots from Minsk to Beijing.

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2016


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