Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer posted an op-ed in the New York Times (7/24) seeking to re-establish Democrats as a party that truly stands for the working class ideals that Donald Trump pretended to care about during the election. Schumer moves beyond a call for passing a jobs/infrastructure bill, raising the minimum wage, and providing paid family/sick leave to lay out several new prongs on the way to leveling the playing field for Americans who haven’t benefitted equally from the many opportunities the 20th century brought to our country. Schumer writes:

“Right now, there is nothing to stop vulture capitalists from egregiously raising the price of lifesaving drugs without justification. We’re going to fight for rules to stop prescription drug price gouging and demand that drug companies justify price increases to the public. And we’re going to push for empowering Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices for older Americans.

“Right now our antitrust laws are designed to allow huge corporations to merge, padding the pockets of investors but sending costs skyrocketing for everything from cable bills and airline tickets to food and health care. We are going to fight to allow regulators to break up big companies if they’re hurting consumers and to make it harder for companies to merge if it reduces competition.

“Right now millions of unemployed or underemployed people, particularly those without a college degree, could be brought back into the labor force or retrained to secure full-time, higher-paying work. We propose giving employers, particularly small businesses, a large tax credit to train workers for unfilled jobs. This will have particular resonance in smaller cities and rural areas, which have experienced an exodus of young people who aren’t trained for the jobs in those areas.”

Kerry Eleveld noted at (7/24), “None of these ideas are entirely new, but the Democrats’ pledge to recommit to them as a party could certainly put a force behind them that has been missing. As corporate America became a behemoth power broker in our political system, the Democratic Party backed away from taking on Wall Street directly, even as it claimed to have the concerns of working Americans at heart. In a sense, party leaders talked a good game while following the same money trail Republicans did. Now it appears Democrats are making a bid to break away from a path of doublespeak that was so easy to take when the other party offered no true alternative. Schumer promises to come through with more initiatives in the coming months and declares: ‘Democrats will offer a better deal.’”

Schumer adds, “We cannot promise anyone that this Congress will begin passing our priorities tomorrow. But we have to start raising our voices to present our vision for the country’s future. We will seek the support of any Republicans willing to work with us, but more important, we must start rallying the American people to support our ideas.

“In the last two elections, Democrats, including in the Senate, failed to articulate a strong, bold economic program for the middle class and those working hard to get there. We also failed to communicate our values to show that we were on the side of working people, not the special interests. We will not repeat the same mistake. This is the start of a new vision for the party, one strongly supported by House and Senate Democrats.”

Tim Murphy at MotherJones calls this the sound of “Elizabeth Warren Tightening Her Grip on the Democratic Party.”

Dems could do worse. As Eleveld concluded, “Now let’s see if they can produce.”

DEMS CONTINUE TO FLIP STATEHOUSE SEATS. Democrats have been unable to win several solidly Republican congressional seats that were vacated by congressmen who took jobs with the Trump administration, but Team Blue has had more success with state legislative seats. On July 11. Oklahoma Democrats flipped two legislative seats, both of which went for Trump in 2016, from red to blue. Former public school teacher Karen Gaddis won House District 75 and immigration attorney Michael Brooks Jimenez will represent Senate District 44.

Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Executive Director Jessica Post said Gaddis and Brooks-Jimenez’s wins demonstrate an influx in Democratic support, enthusiasm and participation that should have Republicans shaking in their boots. “Republican candidates, even in the red state of Oklahoma, aren’t safe from the shadow cast by the Trump administration and the Republican party,” Post said.

In New York and New Hampshire, Democratic women flipped two legislative districts on May 23. State Rep.-elect Edie DesMarais, a retired special education instructor, became the first Democrat in 2017 to flip a seat from red to blue in New Hampshire. Not only did DesMarais bring home a win in a district carried by Trump in 2016 and Romney in 2012, she outperformed Hillary Clinton’s November numbers in the Carroll 6 District by almost 8 points.

In New York Assembly District 9, high school teacher Christine Pellegrino wrestled the district from GOP control while securing almost 58% of the vote. Pellegrino overcame a 13-point Republican registration advantage in a district Trump carried by 22 points in 2016 and Romney carried by 12 points in 2012 to defeat her Republican opponent 58-42. Christine, who is the first Democrat to hold AD-9 in recent memory, called her win “a thunderbolt of resistance.” Her victory adds to Democrats’ sizable majority in the chamber.

Brian Benjamin also won a Senate seat in heavily Democratic Harlem. His election gives Democrats a nominal one-seat majority in the 63-seat chamber, but eight Democratic senators are caucusing with Republicans, keeping the GOP in control of the chamber.

REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMEN SEEK REVENGE ON CBO FOR TRUMPCARE REPORTS. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has been a constant thorn in the side of congressional Republicans, repeatedly pointing out that Trumpcare would have a disastrous impact on the American health care system. The most recent version of Trumpcare, according to the CBO, would strip 22 mln people of coverage by 2026.

In an apparent response to this political black eye, four Republican congressmen introduced legislation (7/24) that would eliminate the CBO’s Budget Analysis Division and reduce the office’s staff by 89 employees.

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), the amendment’s lead sponsor, claims that CBO too often releases inaccurate predictions, such as when it “overestimated by millions the number of people who would enroll in the Obamacare exchanges.” Under Griffith’s amendment, which is co-sponsored by Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Mark Meadows (R-NC), and Scott Perry (R-PA), the CBO would become “an aggregator of predictions made by third-party public policy groups across the political spectrum.”

So, instead of actually providing its own impartial advice on the impact of certain legislation, the CBO would simply relay what outside entities say about the bill, including self-interested groups with a political ax to grind.

It should be noted, while Griffith is correct that the CBO did underestimate the number of people who would enroll in the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges, it outperformed other independent groups examining the impact of Obamacare — arriving at more accurate predictions than “the Obama administration’s own figures, and those of the RAND Corporation, the Urban Institute and the Lewin Group, a health industry consulting firm.”

The reality is that any analysis that requires an agency to predict how millions of people will behave years into the future will necessarily have a large margin of error. In the case of Obamacare, the CBO overestimated the number of people who would enroll through the law’s exchanges, and underestimated the number who would enroll through its Medicaid expansion.

Nevertheless, CBO’s top line estimates regarding the impact of the Affordable Care Act were pretty close to on the mark. In 2012, after the Supreme Court effectively rewrote the law to allow many states to reject the Medicaid expansion, the CBO predicted that “the number of nonelderly (under age 65) people lacking insurance would drop to 30 mln in 2016.” In reality, the number dropped to 27.9 mln. (Ian Milhiser, ThinkProgress, 7/24)

SOUTH TEXAS BORDER WALL WILL ‘ESSENTIALLY DESTROY’ RIO GRANDE WILDLIFE REFUGE. The Trump administration plans to use a 2005 anti-terror law to avoid conducting an environmental review of the proposed border wall, Reuters reported (7/21).

The $21.6-bln wall is expected to cross through more than 30 miles of the Rio Grande Valley Sector of the US and Mexican border, an ecologically sensitive area that includes the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, sometimes called the “crown jewel” of the US wildlife refuge system.

The refuge, which encompasses 2,088 acres and was established in 1943 for the protection of migratory birds, is home to at least 400 species of birds, 450 types of plants, and half of the butterfly species found in North America, as well as the highly-endangered ocelot.

Despite struggling to secure funds from Congress for the construction of the wall in the 2018 federal budget, the Department of Homeland Security’s US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has already begun planning for its construction, which will likely stretch through the refuge. A Texas Observer report — confirmed independently to ThinkProgress by a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson — found that soil samples are already being taken within the wildlife refuge in preparation for potential construction.

“Drilling for soil sampling is being done at several locations along the southwest border, including in the Santa Ana Refuge in Rio Grande Valley,” David Lapan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Media Operations with the Department of Homeland Security, told ThinkProgress via email. “These geotech samples allow the architecture-engineer to map the actual below-ground conditions as part of the planning feedback process for CBP as it makes its tactical infrastructure decisions.”

A federal official told the Texas Observer that such construction would “essentially destroy the refuge.”

A US Fish and Wildlife report from 2016 found that construction of the wall could threaten more than 100 species that are listed as endangered, threatened, or in need of protection under the Endangered Species Act. Construction for the wall could bring noise, trucks, and pollution to sensitive areas, disturbing both the habitat and animals which depend on it. And construction of the wall itself could cut off migration routes that animals rely on to find food, or for mating.

Despite the fact that the wall would run through ecologically sensitive areas, the Trump administration plans to move forward with construction without conducting an environmental impact study, which is usually required of large-scale federal projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

A 2005 counter-terrorism law known as REAL ID, passed following a recommendation from the 9/11 commission, gives the Department of Homeland Security authority to forgo environmental impact studies when the project is a matter of national security. Administration officials told Reuters that the department plans to use the legal authority granted under this law to begin construction without taking into account how a wall might adversely impact ecosystems or the environment. A CBP official told Reuters that the agency had already been given a NEPA waiver to begin taking soil samples from the Santa Ana refuge.

Construction of the border wall already faces one environmental lawsuit, from the Center for Biological Diversity and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ). The lawsuit argues that the administration must first conduct an environmental impact study before beginning construction of the wall, noting that a 2008 amendment to the REAL ID act requires the Department of Homeland Security to consult with the Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture and local stakeholders to ensure that the project is completed in such a way to minimize adverse impacts on the environment. The lawsuit also argues that the last time the government conducted an environmental impact study into the impact of border security operations was 2001, making that study incredibly outdated.

Potentially in an effort to placate environmentalists, President Trump has suggested putting solar panels along the border wall. Energy experts, however, have universally panned the idea, noting that the wall is both far from population centers and transmission lines — two factors that are typically necessary to get solar energy from a solar panel to anyone that could use it.

Despite repeated promises throughout the campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall, at least one key Republican has promised to force a government shutdown unless funds for the wall’s construction are included in Congress’ next budget, despite the fact that a majority of Americans oppose funding the wall’s construction. That would mean that the American taxpayer would be left paying for the multibillion dollar project — while losing access to significant portions of a wildlife refuge, and national parks, meant for public use. (Natasha Geiling, ThinkProgress, 7/22)

FIRST AMENDMENT FACES BIPARTISAN ASSAULT. Sometimes bad ideas have a bipartisan patina, and that appears to be the case as 29 Republicans and 14 Democrats have joined in supporting a bill that would make it a criminal offense to support an international boycott of Israel.

The primary sponsors of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S 720) are Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rob Portman (D-OH). The bill would subject violators to a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that the bill “was drafted with the assistance of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.” Indeed, AIPAC, in its 2017 lobbying agenda, identified passage of this bill as one of its top lobbying priorities for the year, Glenn Greenwald noted at TheIntercept.com (7/19).

A similar measure (HR 1697) was introduced in the House sponsored by Rep. Peter J. Roskam (R-IL), with 63 Democrats and 174 Republicans co-sponsoring.

Brian Hauss, staff attorney for the ACLU, noted that the bill is aimed at advocates of boycotts targeting Israel, most notably the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement — a global campaign that seeks to apply economic and political pressure on Israel to comply with international law. Specifically, the bill sponsors intend the act as a response to the UN Human Rights Council’s 2016 resolution calling on companies to respect human rights, including in occupied Palestinian territories.

“No matter what you think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one thing is clear: The First Amendment protects the right to engage in political boycotts,” Hauss wrote. “In fact, the right to boycott is one of the brightest stars in our constitutional firmament. The American Revolution was founded on boycotts against British goods to protest excessive taxes. John Jay led a boycott against New York merchants who engaged in the slave trade. And the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955–1956 was a major turning point in the struggle for civil rights in the Jim Crow South. In the 1970s and 1980s, colleges and universities led a widespread campaign to boycott and divest from South Africa, in protest of apartheid. In 2015, football players at the University of Missouri went on strike until the school addressed acute racial tensions on campus. ...

“Boycotts are a form of collective action that allows ordinary people to make their voices heard. For precisely this reason, the Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment protects the right to boycott. The court’s landmark decision in NAACP v Claiborne Hardware Co. affirmed the constitutional right of NAACP activists to hold a mass economic boycott of white-owned businesses in Port Gibson, Miss., to protest the community’s persistent racial inequality and segregation. In ringing language, the court held that the boycotters’ exercise of their rights to ‘speech, assembly, and petition ... to change a social order that had consistently treated them as second-class citizens’ rested ‘on the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values.’”

MEDICAID EXPANSION HAD HUGE IMPACT ON FINANCES OF POOR. In states that expanded Medicaid, medical debt fell nearly 40% by the end of 2015, according to a study done for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and released in October 2016. The researchers examined overall debt, and found that it varied by only a small amount between expansion and non-expansion states.

Kevin Drum at MotherJones.com noted (7/24) this is a 40% reduction in total medical debt. “Since Medicaid is available only to the poor, it’s a good bet that it’s reduced the medical debt of the poor by considerably more than 40%.

“So: Does Medicaid work? Yes indeed. It has moderate but positive effects on health, and very large effects on medical debt.”

Consumer Reports reported in May that personal bankruptcy filings fell from more than 1.5 mln in 2010 to 770,846 in 2016. Several factors contributed to the decline, but experts “almost all agreed that expanded health coverage played a major role in the marked, recent decline,” Michael Hiltzik noted at the Los Angeles Times (5/10).

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), when she was a law professor at Harvard, was attacked by conservatives when she asserted in a 2009 paper that “illness or medical bills contributed to 62.1% of all bankruptcies in 2007.” But surveys by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the percentage of Americans reporting problems paying medical bills fell from 56.5% in 2011 to 43.8% in 2016, consistent with the spread of ACA-related insurance coverage.

An especially rigorous analysis published in 2014 by Daniel A. Austin, a law professor at Northeastern University, concluded that even though Warren’s definition of medical bankruptcies was too broad, it was nevertheless true that “medical bills are the single largest cause of consumer bankruptcy.”

Austin placed the percentage of medical bankruptcies at 18% to 25% of all personal filings nationwide. Interestingly, he showed that the rate was much lower in Massachusetts, where health insurance became mandatory after 2006, prior to passage of the ACA in 2010. There, the rate of medical-related bankruptcies was 3% to 9%.

Before the ACA, insurance plans in the individual and employer-sponsored markets routinely placed annual or lifetime limits on benefits; families facing a serious or chronic medical condition could outspend their annual benefits before the first crocus of spring, and lifetime benefits before the end of the year. The ACA outlawed such limits and mandated annual out-of-pocket limits instead, so the expenses of even the most beleaguered households were capped.

The Consumer Reports survey supports the conclusion that Obamacare delivered relief to millions. Jim Molleur, a Maine bankruptcy attorney, told the publication, “We’re not getting people with big medical bills, chronically sick people who would hit those lifetime caps or be denied because of preexisting conditions. They seemed to disappear almost overnight once ACA kicked in.”

The implications of the Republican repeal of the ACA are inescapable, Hiltzik noted. “The measure approved by the GOP-controlled House and sent to the Senate would allow states to reimpose annual and lifetime caps on some benefits and erode protections against rejection or surcharges for consumers with medical conditions.

By killing Medicaid expansion, the bill would expose some 10 million low-income Americans to life without insurance coverage. By cutting back premium subsidies, the measure would make coverage more expensive for older consumers. The plan is not only dangerous for the physical health of millions of Americans, but to their financial health too.”

ENERGY EFFICIENCY IS A HUGE MONEY SAVER — BUT TRUMP IS AGAINST IT. A leaked draft study of the electric grid requested by Energy Secretary Rick Perry found that federal energy efficiency policies are in the process of saving US consumers and businesses more than a half trillion dollars.

Meanwhile, the new administration is halting energy efficiency policies and gutting funding for energy efficiency improvements for American homes. Perry’s department is currently being sued by 11 states for stalling efficiency mandates for air conditioners and other high-energy products.

Back in April, Perry ordered a study from Department of Energy (DOE) staff to back up his claims that solar and wind power were undermining the US electric grid’s reliability. But a July draft obtained by Bloomberg debunked that attack. Instead, the authors found that “the power system is more reliable today” than ever.

After obtaining a copy of the draft, ThinkProgress reported the study concluded a large fraction of America’s aging fleet of coal and nuclear plants are simply not economic to operate anymore.

The study has a long discussion of why coal and nuclear aren’t going to become economic anytime soon. For instance, it’s increasingly clear that, for the foreseeable future, natural gas prices will stay low — and that renewable sources of power like solar and wind will continue the stunning price drops they’ve seen in the past two decades, which have upended the global power market.

Another key point of the study is that flat electricity demand growth — which the US has been experiencing for a decade now — is also likely to continue.

Had demand kept growing at the 2.7% annual rate it did from 1970 to 2005, there might have been room for both cheap renewables and cheap gas along with more expensive coal and nuclear. But, as the report explains, the lack of demand growth made it harder for “less competitive plants” to survive.

Significantly, a major reason demand has flattened is federal energy efficiency policies, especially efficiency standards.

“Currently, about 90% of US residential electricity, 60% of commercial, and 30% of industrial electricity consumption is used in appliances and equipment that are subject to federal minimum efficiency standards implemented — and periodically updated by — the Department of Energy,” the study says.

No good policy goes unpunished in the Trump administration, however, so California and New York are leading a coalition of states in a lawsuit to force DOE to publish five efficiency standards that were finalized under the Obama administration but were undergoing a 45-day review period (typically used for catching typographical errors and other minor problems, the *Washington Post* reported) when Trump took office. Six months later, the new administration still hasn’t sent the rules to the Federal Registrar to be published.

The DOE draft report, however, undercuts any rationalization Perry or the agency might have for stalling these energy efficiency regulations. “Between 2009 and 2030, these cost-effective standards are projected to save consumers more than $545 bln in utility costs“ and “reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by over 2.26 bln tons,” it says.

That’s a lot of money to save while reducing projected CO2 emissions growth. And that’s why energy efficiency is often called “the first fuel,” and why it has such broad support across the political spectrum.

Since the leaked draft was put together by career staff, it is subject to change by Perry and his team of Trump appointees. So the American public will have to wait and see if the Trump administration erases these facts in the final draft, the way they appear to be erasing so many other inconvenient truths. (Joe Romm, , 7/24)

TRUMP WARNING TO MUELLER PROVES, AGAIN, IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY. “It is about the money because it always has been about the money, and, because it always has been about the money, we suspect that the hounds now are baying loudly at the doors of the Kompromat Laundromat,” Charles P. Pierce writes at (7/21). As he sees it, this is how it could have happened: The Trump Organization, reportedly deeply in debt, needed money and couldn’t get a loan from a US-based bank. Meanwhile, the vicious Russian kleptocratic elite had a lot of dough it needed cleaned and was washing it through Deutsche Bank and through banks in Cyprus, an underrated spot for such enterprises. It was a profitable relationship for both parties: Both of the older Trump boys boasted in the past about how important Russian investment had been in maintaining the Trump Organization. Then Dad ran for president. Then he won. And then, by all indications, the bills came due.

One of the more conspicuous debtors to the Russians was a guy named Paul Manafort, who reportedly owed them $17 mln in the days before he became manager of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. From the *New York Times*:

“Mr. Manafort’s Cyprus-related business activities are under scrutiny by investigators looking into his finances during and after his years as a consultant to the Party of Regions in Ukraine. He recently filed a long-overdue report with the Justice Department disclosing his lobbying efforts in Ukraine through early 2014, when his main client, President Viktor F. Yanukovych of Ukraine, was ousted in a popular uprising and fled to Russia.

We can safely assume that special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into all of this, and more, but the outline of the essential corruption never has been clearer. The Trumps needed money and the Russians needed to clean a lot of it. … All of the rest of it, the dodging and weaving and, most recently, the unveiled threats to fire Mueller and unilaterally end the investigations, the almost blithe assault on all democratic norms and institutions, spin out from the possibility that Donald Trump needed money to continue to be Donald Trump to the world, and to himself, and that the easiest place to get that money was from the Russians.

(Would the revelation that he’s not as rich as he pretends to be really have sidetracked his campaign? Would it have cost him votes? That’s an interesting question for which we never may know the answer. However, wide public knowledge of that fact might have destroyed his self-image, which might have been all it took.)

Pierce’s analysis goes on, and is worth checking out, at .

TRUMP’S NEW JUDGE COMPARED ABORTION TO SLAVERY. Charles Pierce also notes how the president* continues to surround himself, and to staff the institutions, with only the best and highest quality people. For example, this guy got a big promotion to the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. Via The Daily Beast (7/20):

“But what has gone unreported until now is how duplicitous, evasive, and outright deceptive Judge [John K.] Bush was in defending the statements to the Senate, as revealed in the official record of his answers to questions senators posed to him. Bush’s responses to Senators who pressed him on these statements indicate that he is unrepentant, uncooperative, and uninterested in the democratic process by which judges are confirmed. For example, in 2008, Bush repeated Birther claims—made in the Birtherism-supporting World Net Daily—that ‘Obama’s kin’ living in Kenya was a criminal. He also repeated a claim by Birther Jack Cashill that Obama didn’t write his book, *Dreams from my Father*. Oh, but I’m not a Birther, Bush told the senators, ‘I usually relied upon readily available sources on the internet discussing topics that might be of interest to the blog’s readership.’ It just so happens that the only readily available sources were Birthers,” Jay Michaelson reported.

“What’s important to remember, especially as respectable conservatives run screaming from El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago, is that the president* wouldn’t know this guy if he sat in his lap,” Pierce noted. “The selection of judges has been outsourced to the Federalist Society and to Heritage—in other words, to the cream of the conservative legal intelligentsia. And this, pretty much, is what you get.”

Michaelson continued, “But the single worst instance of Bush’s contempt for the Senate came when Senator Al Franken pressed Bush on his statement that ‘the two greatest tragedies in our country—slavery and abortion—relied on similar reasoning and activist justices at the U.S. Supreme Court, first in the Dred Scott decision, and later in Roe.’ The meaning of this execrable statement is clear: slavery and abortion are the two greatest tragedies in our country. People on the hard right say so all the time. But pressed to explain it, Bush provided the preposterous ‘explanation’ that Roe was tragic because ‘it divided the country’ whereas Dred Scott was tragic because it ‘took away Mr. Scott’s freedom’ and because of its ‘taking the issue of slavery out of the political process and leading to civil war.’”

Pierce added, “This is not judicial temperament. This is a tryout for drive-time talk radio.”

The Senate confirmed Bush to the 6th Circuit court on a party-line 51-47 vote, with John McCain and Debbie Stabenow not voting.

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2017


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