What Fresh Hell Is This?

July 31, 2017

Two Senators, Two Sides On Health Care, Two Different Reactions From Constituents

First, we'll start in Maine:


And this is what it looked like:
On the other hand, Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, author of one of the Trumpcare replacements the Senate rejected hasn't felt such a warm embrace by his constituents in a while - at least if this piece at the York Dispatch is to be indicative of the whole:
The U.S. Senate narrowly voted to move forward Tuesday with debating a plan to repeal and replace "Obamacare," and Sen. Pat Toomey quickly released a statement to let his constituents know why he voted in favor of the move.

The Pennsylvania Republican posted his statement on Twitter: "I voted to open debate on reforming our health care system because we cannot continue on the current path without disastrous consequences. Today, we are one step closer to replacing Obamacare and putting Medicaid on a sustainable trajectory to ensure it will be available for future generations."
...
Toomey's statemement received more than 700 replies on Twitter with only a handful in support of the senator's decision.
Like this one:
And that was one of the nice ones.

One senator gets spontaneous applause for voting against Trumpcare while another gets very little that isn't whatever the opposite of applause would be called for supporting it.

A lesson for a Monday morning, I suppose.

I wonder if Pat Toomey is watching.

July 28, 2017

A "Skinny" Trumpcare Fails In The Senate. Pat Toomey "Disappointed"

In case you missed it, this happened over night:
Senate Republicans suffered a dramatic failure early Friday in their bid to advance a scaled-back plan to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, throwing into question whether they can actually repeal the 2010 health law.

Their latest effort to redraw the ACA failed after Sen. John McCain’s decision to side with two other Republicans against President Trump and GOP leaders. The Arizona Republican, diagnosed with brain cancer last week, returned to Washington on Tuesday and delivered a stirring address calling for a bipartisan approach to overhauling the ACA, while criticizing the process that produced the current legislation.

It was a speech that laid the groundwork for Friday’s dramatic vote.

The vote was 49 to 51 — all 48 members of the Democratic caucus joined with McCain and Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to block the legislation.
This was the GOP's third attempt to repeal Obamacare.  There was the
And yet Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey (along with most of the GOP in the Senate) voted in favor of each of them.

Toomey's disappointed in last night's vote and did so with some bigly spin of his own:
I am disappointed with this setback on efforts to fix our broken health care system. For the hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians suffering from the higher costs and fewer choices caused by Obamacare’s collapse, Congress must not give up on repealing and replacing the failed health care law.
Not collapsing, Senator. Not failed, Senator. Sabotaged:
Unable — at least so far — to kill the Affordable Care Act outright, the Trump administration has conducted a sustained war of attrition designed to inflict fatal damage on Obamacare.

This war, often operating below the radar, entails the use of a quintessentially conservative strategy, and the cooperation of Congressional Republicans. In a way, it’s pretty simple: You cut the budget, impose debilitating regulations, track the subsequent missteps and then attack the program as a failure.
Sound familiar, Pat?

July 27, 2017

Donald J Trump - On Transgender Rights.



From Christine Vendel at Pennlive:
Donald Trump said last year he would be the "real friend" of the gay and transgender community.

But transgender advocates say his presidency has been anything but friendly toward their cause. The latest blow for them came Wednesday when Trump announced on Twitter that he had decided to ban transgender people from serving in the military.
Vendel collected some local reactions.  First Senator Casey:
Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, criticized Trump's decision and said it was inconsistent with recommendations of previous military leadership.

"Americans willing to serve our nation in the military should be judged on their ability to do the job, not their gender identity," Casey said in a statement provided by his spokeswoman. "Prohibiting qualified, capable people from serving in our nation's military because of who they are makes our nation less safe."
And Senator Toomey:
U.S. Senator Pat Toomey's office released a statement that said Toomey, a Republican, believes every person should be judged based on his or her merits.

"That is why, during his entire public career, he has supported measures to protect individuals from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity," the statement said. "Department of Defense personnel decisions should be based entirely on maximizing the Armed Forces' ability to protect and defend the American people."

Toomey's office, however, did not offer additional clarification about whether Toomey supported or opposed Trump's ban.
I'll also note that in 2015, Toomey voted against "an amendment aimed at ending discrimination against same-sex marriage benefits for veterans." Here's the roll.

That kinda shifts the whole "during his entire public career, he has supported measures to protect individuals from discrimination based on their sexual orientation" phrase into something resembling dishonesty, doesn't it?

[Note: I ran out of time this morning and couldn't find this. My apologies for not including it.]

Then there's my local member of Congress, Mike Doyle:
Even more locally, Adam Smeltz of the Post-Gazette has this on Mayor Bill Peduto:
Transgender people who enlist in the U.S. military “should be honored for” wearing the uniform, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said Wednesday, rebutting President Donald Trump’s announcement that they can no longer serve.

“They are people who have put their lives at risk in order to defend this country, and discrimination shouldn’t be a case we look at to determine whether or not they’re qualified,” said Mr. Peduto, who has criticized Mr. Trump before. “When they wear that uniform, they wear it for all Americans, and they should be honored for that.”
Every patriotic American who is qualified to serve in our military should be able to serve.

Full stop.

July 26, 2017

Meanwhile, Outside...

While the republicans in the United States Senate decide on how many people will lose their health insurance and thus how many American citizens will die because of it (hey, I guess there IS a death panel after all!), we still have to contend with the planet's rising temperatures.

And so from the scientists at NOAA:
Overall, the combined global land and ocean surface temperature for June 2017 was 0.82°C (1.48°F) above the 20th century average of 15.5°C (59.9°F) and the third highest June temperature in the 138-year record, behind 2016 (+0.92°C / +1.66°F) and 2015 (+0.89°C / +1.60). June 2017 marks the 41st consecutive June and the 390th consecutive month with temperatures at least nominally above the 20th century average.
And:
The first six months of 2017 have each ranked among the top three warmest months on record, giving way to the second highest January–June period in the 138-year record at 0.91°C (1.64°F) above the 20th century average of 13.5°C (56.3°F), behind the record year of 2016 by 0.16°C (0.29°F), but ahead of 2015 by 0.05°C (0.09°F).
That's what the science says.

The current occupant of the Oval Office, however, is on record calling it all a hoax and our junior senator from Pennsylvania, Pat Toomey, voted against a resolution that said that "human activity significantly contributes to climate change."

And then there this:
President Donald Trump plans to nominate his longtime campaign aide Sam Clovis to head science at the US Department of Agriculture, despite the fact that Clovis lacks a background in science and a congressional rule maintains that the role must be filled "from among distinguished scientists."

Clovis, who has been serving as senior White House adviser to the USDA since Trump took office, has a background as an economics professor and a former talk radio host, but he has no formal background in the hard sciences. The White House announced Trump's plans to nominate Clovis Wednesday night.
And yet, it's still getting warmer out there.

That's what the science says.

July 25, 2017

My TWENTY-FIRST Open Letter To Senator Pat Toomey

I'll be dropping this letter to Senator Pat Toomey in the mail today:
Dear Senator Toomey:

It's me, again. Your constituent who also writes for the local Pittsburgh-based political blog, "2 Political Junkies."

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that Donald Trump and his advisors have been privately discussing replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions - possibly as a part of a plan to stop Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia and any possible links it had to Trump's presidential campaign.

Given that you've already publicly declared that you have "every confidence" in Mueller's "integrity and professionalism", is this OK with you?

Is it OK with you that Donald J. Trump, as elected leader of the country and (more importantly, it seems) leader of your party, has chosen a route so disrespectful of the rule of law? If he gets away with it would the phrase "rule of law" have any meaning anymore?

I await your response.
And I will be posting whatever response I get from him or his office.

Follow-up: 

July 24, 2017

ANOTHER RESPONSE from Senator Pat Toomey

In a break some recent responses, this one is by letter. An actual letter mailed through the US Postal service.

So what's this letter about? As usual, Senator Toomey let's us know up front what he's discussing:
Thank you for contacting me about the Paris Agreement. I appreciate hearing from you.
Good. So when did I mention the Paris Agreement?

Just once, in my sixteenth letter. (I did previously ask the Senator asking if he agrees with the 97% of climate scientists who've concluded that the earth is warming up and that human beings have significantly contributed to that warming but so far he hasn't chosen to answer that question.)

But back to the sixteenth. I wrote:
In light of Donald Trump's decision to remove the United States from the Paris Accord this past week, I'd like to ask you about your position on Climate Science.
And then I presented Senator Toomey with a statement, signed and agreed to by a a dozen and a half leading scientific organizations that said that
Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver.
I then asked Senator Toomey if he agreed with that. I asked for a "simple yes or no" answer.

And he simply refused answer that question  - or at best he simply chose not to. His long-ish letter describes, instead, why he supports Trump's decision to withdraw from the agreement.

And even then, he gets a few things wrong. For instance he says that:
Further the Paris Agreement would have a negligible impact on preventing climate change and reducing world temperatures.
Whereas some actual scientists at MIT have gone on record responding to Trump's assertion that the Paris Agreement:
...also accomplishes LITTLE for the climate.
With this:
[T]he 0.2 degree-figure used in the talking point reflects the incremental impact of the Paris Agreement compared with the earlier Copenhagen agreement. If you instead compare the impact of the Paris Agreement to no climate policy, then the temperature reduction is much larger, on the order of 1 degree Celsius — 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit — by 2100. This would be a significant reduction in the global temperature rise, though much more is needed if the world is to achieve its goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius or less.
And so on. Regardless of any amount of truth in Toomey's letter, it simply doesn't change the fact that he chose not to answer my question about whether he agrees with the science, instead he filled up a page with other stuff hoping I didn't notice.

Well Senator, I noticed..

And this is how the Senator answered (a scan to follow - my scanner's broken)
Thank you for contacting me about the Paris Agreement. I appreciate hearing from you,

Like many Pennsylvanians, I believe it is essential to protect our state's natural beauty and the quality of our environment. I am supportive of reasonable pollution controls that are designed to protect public health and hour natural resources, and I believe individual state agencies have the best knowledge and experience to safeguard these important assets. It is for these reasons that I have supported commonsense efforts in Congress to protect the environment and conserve lands for the enjoyment of future generations.

On June 1, 2017, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, an international promise to reduce global carbon emissions over the net few decades. Signed by then-President Obama in September 2016, this agreement establishes voluntary carbon reduction plans and financial contributions for climate change mitigation programs in developing countries. The Obama Administration supported this program by unilaterally pledging billions of American taxpayer dollars to the United Nation's climate fund, which I believe has little accountability and insignificant U.S. oversight.

I support the withdraw from the Paris Agreement as it would have neither protected the environment nor Pennsylvania's industrial and energy sectors. The benchmarks established for the United States under the agreement would have threatened millions of industrial jobs across the country, and Pennsylvania's 36,000 coal and coal-dependent jobs. Further the Paris Agreement would have a negligible impact on preventing climate change and reducing world temperatures.

While the United States would have been expected to make significant carbon reductions under the Paris Agreement, China and Russia would have been given a free pass to increase emissions for the next decade. The Paris Agreement also does not include a viable enforcement mechanism to unsure that countries actually meet their commitment. This inconsistently-applied standard favors countries like China and Russia wile American tax payers are left to foot the bill.

Thank you again for your correspondence. When considering any environmental regulations, it is important that American policymakers and negotiators strike an appropriate balance between conservation, energy production, job creation, and job growth. Do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of assistance.


July 22, 2017

I Guess It All Depends On How You Define "Town Hall" (Sen Toomey's So-Called "Town Hall" in Harrisburg)

Let's start here:
Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania explained why Republicans are having such trouble with health care. Speaking at a town hall during the July 4 recess, Toomey said, ‘I didn't expect Donald Trump to win. I think most of my colleagues didn't. So we didn't expect to be in this situation.' [Emphasis added.]
Actually if you read the entire piece, it's not only about health care. In fact very little of it is.  It's about how even the GOP got Trump wrong and now the party establishment has a problem on its hands.

From the piece:
No kidding. I too can report that, from June 16, 2015, to November 8, 2016, the feeling among the elected officials, party functionaries, consultants, strategists, and journalists in our nation's capital was that Donald J. Trump stood no chance of becoming president of the United States. And because the political elite held this view with such self-assurance, with all the egotism and snobbery and moral puffery and snarkiness that distinguishes itself as a class, it did not spend more than a second, if that, thinking through the possible consequences of a Trump victory.

Among those consequences: The expectation that Republicans might actually try to keep the promises they've made to voters over the last eight years.
Among these promises: Obamacare.

But I want to get back to my start. Was it a "town hall"? I guess it all depends on how you define "town hall."

If you read Time (and there's hardly a less mainstream news source than Time), it was certainly called that:
Speaking at a town hall Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Senator said that Republicans were having difficulty crafting a law to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act because they hadn't planned for it to happen this year.
 But what were the parameters of this so-called "town hall"?

From Pennlive:
Sen. Pat Toomey next week will appear in a televised town hall hosted by ABC27 News.

The event, scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the news outlet's Harrisburg station, will be broadcast by other ABC affiliate stations in Altoona, Wilkes-Barre and Erie.

Viewers will be connected with the Republican senator during the live event via social media. ABC27 will take questions for Toomey on its Facebook page.

Because of capacity limitations at the station, admittance to the town hall is by invitation only.
There it is: "by invitation only" with questions streaming in over the TV station's Facebook page .

What sort of town hall is that? 

It's a pretty safe guess that the protesters outside this so-called "town hall" were not among the invited:
[The protesters] then jeered Toomey as his vehicle arrived at the station on the other side of a barricade and row of police officers.
It was "by invitation only" AND protected by a "row of police officers" AND a barricade?

What sort of town hall is that? And I have a question: who chose which questions the Senator would hear? Was it Toomey's office or the TV station, if it's the latter, were there any parameters set up beforehand as to what Toomey would hear?

I only ask because in a real town hall meeting, citizens can walk up to any microphone and be heard by their elected official.

That's obviously not what happened in Harrisburgh over the July 4th weekend. We should stop calling it a "town hall."

July 21, 2017

It's Trump War - It's Just That Almost No One Sees It.

From Talkingpointsmemo:
The Times and the Post tonight both have stories out reporting the Trump legal team’s expanding war against Special Counsel Robert Mueller and – hyperbolic as it may sound to say – the law itself. While there are a number of individual dimensions to the stories, the larger story, especially from the Post, is that the President refuses to allow the law to apply to himself or his family. [Italics and links in original]
War against the law itself and then there's Trump's war on the media:


Resist.

July 20, 2017

What Senator Toomey Wants, What He's Voted For, And What We'd Get Because Of It.

From The Health Affairs Blog:
Late in the day on July 19, 2017, the Senate released the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act (ORRA) of 2017 (summary). The bill would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) coverage provisions, but delay the repeal of the coverage provisions until 2020, presumably giving Congress time to come up with a replacement. It is virtually identical to the reconciliation bill that passed both houses of Congress in 2015, only to be vetoed by President Obama. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) simultaneously released a cost estimate of the bill, which was very similar to the report it had offered on the 2015 bill. 
Senator Pat Toomey, like most other GOP senators at the time, voted for that reconciliation bill.

Senator Toomey this week:
I intend to vote to proceed to a full Obamacare repeal bill that would take effect in two years so that Congress can use this time to craft a legislative replacement and move toward a consumer-driven health care system.
And what the CBO said about this appeal bill (the one that's "virtually identical" to the one Pat voted for 2 years ago:
The number of people who are uninsured would increase by 17 million in 2018, compared with the number under current law. That number would increase to 27 million in 2020, after the elimination of the ACA’s expansion of eligibility for Medicaid and the elimination of subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces established by the ACA, and then to 32 million in 2026.
So Pat Toomey's solution to:
Obamacare is failing. In Pennsylvania, Obamacare premiums are up 120 percent and 40 percent of our residents are limited to one insurer on the exchange. Families are still in dire need of relief.
Is to make sure 32 million fewer Americans have health care insurance, hoping that the Congress, after failing to come up with a solution after 7 years of working on one, will somehow magically come up with a solution in just 2.

In the meantime, 32 million fewer insured.

The GOP plan. Pat Toomey's plan.

Hooray for us.

July 19, 2017

Toomey-Time Round-Up! (Part The Second)

Yesterday, we started looking at all the letters of mine that Senator Pat Toomey has chosen not to answer (so far, of course).

We know that he (or at least his office) has seen everything up to my nineteenth letter (we know this because he answered it).

Yesterday, we ended with the tenth letter.

What else has he decided not to answer?
  • Eleventh letter - I asked Toomey if he agrees with the 97% of climate scientists who've concluded that the planet is warming up AND that human activity is (at the very least) a significant cause.
  • Twelfth letter - This one was about former NSA Flynn. I asked Toomey whether he was concerned that Trump knew for two and a half weeks that Flynn was in danger of being compromised by the Russians before firing him.
  • Thirteenth letter - I asked Toomey if, given Trump's firing of FBI director James Comey and then his subsequent leaking of classified information to the Russians, he still had confidence in Trump's abilities as leader of the free world.
  • Fourteenth letter - This one is a follow up to the thirteenth. I asked Toomey if he was OK with Trump bragging to the Russians about his firing of James Comey, calling him "a nut job."
  • Fifteenth letter - I asked Toomey if he was concerned about Jared Kushner's dishonesty regarding his meeting with the Russians and then subsequent attempts to secure a "back channel" to them outside of the ability of US Intelligence to monitor.
  • Sixteenth letter - This is another climate science question. I asked Toomey a simple yes or no. Does he agree that "that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver"? 
  • Seventeenth letter - This one is probably moot. It's about Toomey's failed ACA replacement legislation. 
  • Eighteenth letter - Probably also moot as it's also about Toomey's failed ACA replacement.
Senator, I'd still like to see answers to these important questions as they touch on issues of global stability as well as domestic security.

July 18, 2017

It's Toomey Time - Time For Toomey Round-up! Time For Toomey Round-up!

Since we've hit the nice round number of twenty in my weekly "Open Letters To Senator Toomey" project, I thought it might be a good idea to look at some of the questions he has (so far) chosen not to answer.

I also figure I'd give him a break since his Trumpcare (Obamacare replacement) bill has stumbled.

We know that the Toomey office has received everything up to and including my nineteenth letter.

So he's seen everything before that and has (again, so far) chosen not to answer the following questions:
  • Third letter - Does Senator Toomey agree with Donald J Trump when the latter said that the press is "the enemy of the people"? 
  • Fourth letter - In his push to "defund Planned Parenthood" is Senator Toomey comfortable knowing that if he did, he'd be depriving thousands of low-income women in Pennsylvania necessary cancer screenings and STD treatments?
  • Fifth letter - this one's probably moot. In it, I asked about Senator Toomey's plans to protect his constituents in the event that the House Obamacare replacement becomes law. As we've seen his Senate Obamacare replacement, we already know that answer.
  • Sixth letter - Given Trump's repeated, uh, misstatements (and the repeated debunkings that followed) regarding the non-existent wiretapping of Trump Tower, how much does that undermine Senator Toomey's confidence in Trump's ability to lead?
  • Eighth letter - Senator Toomey supported a resolution that would have allowed ISPs to sell anyone's personal browsing history. Given the lack of public support of that idea, why is the Senator supporting it?
  • Tenth letter - Is Senator Toomey OK with Trump's continued refusal to release his tax returns? If it was good enough for Ronald Reagan, why isn't it good enough for Donald J Trump?
And that's the first half or so.

More later.

July 17, 2017

Happy Birthday Peter Schickele

Ok, so let's take a break from the disintegration of the country and/or the Trump Administration and/or the GOP for some fun.

Today is Peter Schickele's birthday.

Everything you need to know about him as a composer can be found in this piece:


Technically, the piece is a "quodlibet" but that's really not important.

If you need a hand getting through it, here's some help.

Prepare to giggle.

July 15, 2017

ANOTHER Response From Senator Pat Toomey

Like his previous responses, this one is email - saves postage and printing, I guess.

So what's this one all about? Senator Toomey's first sentence tells us:
Thank you for contacting my office about health care reform. I appreciate hearing from you.
I'm relieved that even after twenty letters, he still appreciates hearing from me. I'll take that as a Senatorial encouragement to keep the letters coming.

(That should be encouragement to any of my readers who are in the habit of writing to Toomey to keep writing to Toomey. And hey, if you have both your letter and his response in a post-able form, send it in. I'll post it here.)

Here are my five health care letters:
  • Fifth - where I pointed out the CBO of the Obamacare replacement bill written in The House of Representatives. As Toomey's letter is discussing the Senate's bill, this is probably not the letter to which he's responding.
  • Seventeenth - where I asked about his bill, the BCRA, before it was released. It was written in secret and so I asked why his constituents couldn't see it/comment on it before it was to be discussed in the Senate. This is also probably not the letter to which he's responding.
  • Eighteenth - where I pointed to some poll data showing the then level of public support for ACA (49% supported, 42% opposed) and then asked, given the lack of public support, why write the replacement bill in secret? This is also probably not the letter to which he's responding.
  • Nineteenth -  where I pointed out the CBO analysis of the BCRA and asked whether he's ok with millions of people losing their health insurance just so that the already wealthy can become a little wealthier. This is probably the letter to which he's responding.
  • Twentieth - where I asked him to comment on what Bishop David Zubik said, that "access to health care is a basic human right" and that his replacement bill is "morally unacceptable." Given that he doesn't mention Bishop Zubik at all, this is also probably not the letter to which he's responding.
That leaves the nineteenth letter.  The interesting thing about his response (posted in its entirety at the bottom of this blog post) is how familiar his opening is.  For example, his second paragraph:
Obamacare is fundamentally wrong in its approach to improving our nation's health care system. It forces people to buy overpriced health plans they do not want, hikes taxes, and puts important and personal health care decisions in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats instead of patients and their doctors.
Take a look at this from Senator Toomey, dated September of 2013:
Obamacare is fundamentally wrong in its approach to improving our nation's health care system.
Or this from only one month later:
...it is the fact that the President's health care law forces people to buy overpriced health plans they don't want, hikes taxes, and puts important, personal health care decisions in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats instead of patients and their doctors.
Toomey's response to me continues:
In Pennsylvania's individual insurance market, premiums have skyrocketed an astonishing 120 percent since 2013. Forty percent of Pennsylvanians have only one insurer from which to obtain coverage. For these reasons, Congress has begun the process to roll back this misguided experiment and address the most immediate challenges presented by Obamacare's collapse.
Is that true? Is Obamacare collapsing?

No, not according to Thomas Howell jr of the conservative Washington Times:
Obamacare in a death spiral? It’s been a mantra of Republicans, who say the law is collapsing and they are riding to the rescue.

But the Congressional Budget Office, in a little-noticed part of its report last week, said that is not the case. In fact, the CBO analysts said, Obamacare’s exchanges are likely to “be stable in most areas” under the existing law.

The analysts said the key is the tax subsidies the government provides to most of those buying plans on the exchanges. As premiums go up, so does the amount the government pays out to help people buy their coverage — meaning there will always be a pool of customers.
That last part kinda redefines Toomey's complaint about skyrocketing premiums, huh?

And that's an important part of whatever is pushing up the premiums - the issue that Senator Toomey  sees as a flaw in the law and not in how it's being sabotaged by members of his party.

Take a look:
Donald Trump has repeatedly assured the American people that their health-care system will collapse on his watch. In many instances, the president has framed this claim as a matter-of-fact assessment of Obamacare’s incurable flaws — in others, as a promise to kill the law by any means necessary.

In early April, Trump sounded the latter note. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the president suggested that he would cease paying out cost-sharing reductions — subsidies to insurers that defray the cost of covering low-income Obamacare enrollees — so as to engineer a crisis in the private insurance market, and, thus, generate more support for repealing Barack Obama’s signature law.
And:
By threatening to stop paying out those so-called cost-sharing reductions — while also threatening not to enforce penalties on those go without insurance — the White House sowed uncertainty that chased insurers out of Obamacare.
So when Toomey points out the lack of a big and healthy health care market, he can actually thank his party brethren for that - especially the orange vulgarity he voted for in November.

Then there's Toomey's defense of his bill's Medicare assault:
Despite inaccurate reports to the contrary, the Senate draft bill keeps Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid, the program for low-income Americans. Obamacare created a new category of eligibility: working age, able-bodied, childless adults. Under the Senate bill, both the 700,000 Pennsylvanians who signed up for this expansion and future expansion enrollees retain federal eligibility for the program. In fact, the federal government will pay at least 90 percent of their costs through 2020, with states paying the balance. Then, over a four-year phase-in period, states wishing to cover this new category of recipients will be required to pay their fair share - only 48 percent in Pennsylvania - for the Medicaid expansion. This is the same amount states currently pay for every traditional Medicaid category: the aged, disabled, children, and families.
We've already discussed this word play on the word "eligibility" in that the "eligibility" remains for people to go on Medicaid but the funding does not.

But this actually gets us at least close to the question I asked - the one that Pat Toomey failed to answer. He filled his email with lotsa stuff hoping, I guess, that I'd wouldn't notice that he didn't actually answer my question.

I noticed. but since we're talking Medicaid, I'll re-ask specifically about that:
Pat, are you OK knowing that thousands of your constituents risk losing Medicaid coverage (though not their "eligibility" just the funding) simply to allow more of your wealthy friends and supporters to get just a little wealthier?
Since that's what I asked and the page of filler is how he responded, I think it's safe to assume the answer's a quiet conservative "yes."

Senator Toomey's letter in full:
Dear David,

Thank you for contacting my office about health care reform. I appreciate hearing from you.

Obamacare is fundamentally wrong in its approach to improving our nation's health care system. It forces people to buy overpriced health plans they do not want, hikes taxes, and puts important and personal health care decisions in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats instead of patients and their doctors. In Pennsylvania's individual insurance market, premiums have skyrocketed an astonishing 120 percent since 2013. Forty percent of Pennsylvanians have only one insurer from which to obtain coverage. For these reasons, Congress has begun the process to roll back this misguided experiment and address the most immediate challenges presented by Obamacare's collapse.

On June 22, 2017, the Senate Budget Committee released the Better Care Reconciliation Act, a draft proposal to fix Obamacare's flaws. This legislation will not affect that vast majority of Pennsylvania families who receive their coverage through an employer, Medicare, or the Children's Health Insurance Program. The legislation ensures no one currently covered by Obamacare has the rug pulled out from under them. The proposal stabilizes the collapsing individual market by continuing Obamacare subsidies for all eligible Americans of modest incomes, and subsidizes high-cost enrollees via a new stabilization fund. Insurers receive some relief from Obamacare regulations to help lower premiums. More broadly, the bill's tax credits, expansion of health savings accounts, repeal of Obamacare taxes, and restoration of state insurance oversight will help to drive down costs for everyone as we transition to a more consumer-driven market.

Despite inaccurate reports to the contrary, the Senate draft bill keeps Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid, the program for low-income Americans. Obamacare created a new category of eligibility: working age, able-bodied, childless adults. Under the Senate bill, both the 700,000 Pennsylvanians who signed up for this expansion and future expansion enrollees retain federal eligibility for the program. In fact, the federal government will pay at least 90 percent of their costs through 2020, with states paying the balance. Then, over a four-year phase-in period, states wishing to cover this new category of recipients will be required to pay their fair share - only 48 percent in Pennsylvania - for the Medicaid expansion. This is the same amount states currently pay for every traditional Medicaid category: the aged, disabled, children, and families.

Perhaps most importantly, for the first time in its history, the Medicaid program will be reformed so it is sustainable for future generations and for taxpayers. For decades, Medicaid spending growth has been out of control. It is now a major driver of our federal deficits and debt. Obamacare exacerbated it by adding millions to the rolls without any reform. The draft bill begins, eight years from now, to transition from this uncontrolled, unsustainable spending growth to a slightly slower, hopefully manageable, rate of growth. It also gives states flexibility to deliver care more efficiently and effectively through Medicaid without being constrained by federal rules written by Washington, D.C. bureaucrats.

The draft bill is now publicly available, and all health care experts, patients, medical professionals, employers, and individual constituents are welcome to provide feedback. I am open to the ideas of anyone who hopes to improve the health care system. You should also know that should the legislation be brought to the floor of the full Senate, it will be subject to an open and unlimited amendment process, giving every Senator the chance to suggest changes before final passage.

Thank you again for your correspondence. Do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of assistance.

July 14, 2017

Red Handed



This is a big fucking deal. It's a big fucking deal that's getting fucking bigger by the day, it seems.

If you don't think so, run your Trumpster noggin by a couple of hypotheticals.

First from the Former FBI Agent, now Yale Law Associate Dean Asha Rangappa writing in the Washington Post:
Imagine that during the 2016 presidential election, a candidate publicly invited the Islamic State to bomb the Democratic Party headquarters. And then imagine that such a bombing in fact took place, resulting in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. Now further imagine that the new president not only had no interest in learning more about who caused the attack or bringing them to justice, but in fact went out of his way to make nice with the Islamic State and offer them political and diplomatic concessions. Finally, imagine that there may be evidence that members of the president’s campaign or other American citizens were actively or passively involved in facilitating such an attack.
Or this from Ezra Klein writing at Vox:
Imagine Chelsea Clinton had taken Bill Clinton and campaign chair John Podesta to a meeting set up by a Chinese government intermediary who claimed to have damaging information about Donald Trump’s tax returns and said over email they were willing to share the information in a bid to defeat Trump. Imagine emails emerged in which Chelsea, Bill and Podesta were all told the meeting was with a lawyer for the Chinese government and “is part of China and its government’s support for Ms. Clinton.”

Imagine this information came out mere weeks after stories revealing a major Democratic funder, acting on the behest of prospective National Security Adviser Susan Rice, had been trying to work with Chinese hackers to steal copies of Trump’s tax returns.

Imagine, during all of this, that Hillary Clinton herself had gotten on a stage and begged the Chinese government to release Trump’s tax returns. “China, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the tax returns,” Clinton said in Florida. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Imagine that these stories were not isolated. They came alongside dozens of strange meetings between Clinton campaign aides and Chinese staffers — contacts left off security clearance forms and “forgotten” during sworn congressional testimony — and were buttressed by Clinton herself lurching toward a strangely pro-China policy and an unusual, and repeatedly articulated, affection for China’s leader.

And imagine that in a crucial stretch of the campaign, hackers backed by the Chinese government really did break into the Trump family’s systems and release a bevy of damaging financial documents in a successful effort to elect Clinton.
Yea, imagine the outcry from the Trump supporters and their allies in the "party over country" GOP.

I very seriously doubt it would look like this:
Republican Sen. Pat Toomey said Tuesday called the investigation into possible collusion between members of Donald Trump's presidential campaign and Russia "overblown" and said he isn't paying much attention to it.
Speaking of which, I got another response from Senator Toomey last night. A full analysis is on the way.

July 13, 2017

Red Team/Blue Team False Climate Debate

From Reuters:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is in the early stages of launching a debate about climate change that could air on television – challenging scientists to prove the widespread view that global warming is a serious threat, the head of the agency said.
The plan, involving as yet unnamed scientists broken into two teams to "debate" the science on TV, was pushed by EPA head Scott Pruitt.

Scott Pruitt is a climate science denier:
EPA chief Scott Pruitt just went full climate denier. Until today, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency has walked a fine line between accepting and denying climate science. He’s been careful not to explicitly deny that humans cause climate change, claiming only that the debate is “far from settled” (false), and he’s dodged questions about whether he accepts the science. In his confirmation hearing, Pruitt said his “personal opinion” on climate change “is immaterial to the job” of being EPA administrator.

But now that Pruitt’s all settled in at the EPA, he’s getting a little less shy. In a CNBC interview on Thursday morning, Pruitt explicitly said that carbon dioxide doesn’t cause global warming. “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact,” Pruitt said. “So no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” [Bolding and links in original.]
The problem with Pruitt's two team debate is that it's already been done, as Senator Al Franken pointed out recently to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, as an ongoing part of science:
“It’s my understanding” that “the blue team makes an argument and red team tries to knock it down and the blue team then refines their argument and they go back and forth until consensus is reached,” Franken said.

“But that’s exactly how science works. Including climate science. Researchers collect data and make arguments, peer reviewers poke holes in the argument. The researchers respond. It goes back and forth until consensus is reached. Every peer review climate study goes through that red team, blue team treatment. And then thousands of studies have gathered into reports and those reports themselves go through rigorous red team-blue team and this is — that’s the scientific process.”
And as a Koch Brother (Charles, specifically) funded team one-off:
Over the weekend, UC-Berkeley professor Richard Muller outed himself as a "converted" climate "skeptic" in the New York Times after his Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project concluded the earth's surface temperature had increased 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 250 years and one and a half degrees in the past 50 years, likely entirely because of human industrial activity.

What makes this newsworthy, according to The Guardian, is that BEST had received $150,000 from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, whose namesake also runs the climate skeptic research program The Heartland Institute.
So saying that a red team/blue team is now needed just simply ignores the science in the first place.

It's not an attempt to "be fair" it's an attempt to undermine the science's legitimacy.

July 11, 2017

My TWENTIETH Open Letter To Senator Pat Toomey

[NOTE: I skipped last week's "Open Letter To Senator Toomey" because it was July 4.]

I'll be dropping this letter to Senator Pat Toomey in the mail today:
Dear Senator Toomey:

It's me, again. Your constituent who also writes for the local Pittsburgh-based political blog, "2 Political Junkies."

Senator, this week you sent out to your constituents another defense of your Health Care replacement bill. In light of that I'd like to hear your response to Bishop David Zubik's statement regarding that legislation. He wrote:
On behalf of those whose voices may not be heard at this critical time, those living in poverty, in nursing homes and with disabilities, I urge our senators to remove from the proposed Senate health care bill provisions that will severely limit health care access for those most in need.

Access to health care is a basic human right.
And:
Unfortunately, the Senate's proposed health care legislation is morally unacceptable, as it greatly reduces Medicaid coverage, making comprehensive, quality health care inaccessible to millions who cannot afford to purchase coverage.
I'd like you to comment on Bishop Zubik's statement that "health care is a basic human right" and that the legislation you wrote is "morally unacceptable."

I await your response.
And I will be posting whatever response I get from him or his office.

Follow-up: 

July 10, 2017

Wow. Just Wow. Trump Jr./Russia/Collusion. Wow.

The Guardian, May 19, 2017. When asked about former FBI Director Robert Mueller being appointed a special counsel to investigate contacts between his campaign and Russia, Donald J Trump said:
“I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt. There is no collusion – certainly myself and my campaign – but I can always speak for myself and the Russians – zero,” he said at a joint press conference with the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos.
It's getting harder to say that this is true, isn't it?

What with this being published this week in the New York Times:
President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.
Whether any damaging information was offered by Natalia Veselnitskaya (that "Kremlin-connected Russian Lawyer), is not the point. Whether she believed that the meeting was about the Clinton campaign is also not the point.

The point is that Trump Jr went to the meeting after being promised Clinton dirt. That was his intention. He even said so:
I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign.
You'll note that his second explanation differs from his first (and only one day old) explanation of the meeting:
It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.
If you want to know what he did by leaving out all the Russian stuff, you can look it up: it's called a "lie by omission."

Makes you wonder what else he's omitting.

It also means Trump's father can't pass this off as "fake news" as his own son admitted that "the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting."

Fake news this'll never be.

Then there's this from The Hill:
An ethics lawyer under former President George W. Bush blasted Donald Trump Jr. for meeting with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have compromising information on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the campaign, saying it “borders on treason.”

“This was an effort to get opposition research on an opponent in an American political campaign from the Russians, who were known to be engaged in spying inside the United States,” Richard Painter said Sunday on MSNBC.

“We do not get our opposition research from spies, we do not collaborate with Russian spies, unless we want to be accused of treason.”

Painter said the Bush administration would not have allowed the meeting, which was attended by Trump Jr., White House senior adviser and President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, to happen.

“If this story is true, we’d have one of them if not both of them in custody by now, and we’d be asking them a lot of questions,” he said. “This is unacceptable. This borders on treason, if it is not itself treason.”
Borders on treason.

Lock him up! Lock him up! Lock him up!

July 6, 2017

And The Trump Snowflakes Get Offended When You Call Them Stupid

Hey, remember two days ago when I posted this?

I didn't know this (or perhaps I did once and simply forgot it) but what I've been doing for the last couple of years, NPR has been doing for much much longer - broadcasting the Declaration of Independence on July 4.

Seems, however, that our friends on the other side of the political aisle didn't like it. Nope. Not one bit.

But it wasn't because of the source, The Declaration, but because they didn't recognize it. They simply didn't know it was the Declaration of Independence.

And so the rightwing snowflakes tweeted their little snowflake defenses of the little-handed pussy-grabber because they didn't know that this:
He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.
Wasn't written about the man they all think will MAGA.

Interesting that convicted criminal James O'Keefe (along with the right wing media noise machine) is all upset because in one of his overly-edited videos, a CNN producer is shown saying that Trump voters are "stupid as shit."

If these super-patriots can't even recognize the Declaration of Independence, maybe just maybe there's some truth to that, no?

July 4, 2017

Happy Fourth!


July, The Fourth

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence.

They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

July 3, 2017

A Patriotic Duty, This Independence Day.

As far as I know, I still have a right to criticize the man who sits (when he's not off playing a little-handed round of golf) sits in the Oval Office.

It's my understanding that The First Amendment (remember that one?) guarantees this. In case you've forgotten or it's recently been put down the memory hole, it states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
And if you need any further explanation, here's a snippet from a Supreme Court opinion for you to ponder:
But, above all else, the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content.
So as far as I know, I can still criticize Trump's policies, his record, or anything else that has anything to do with his time in office.

As far as I know,  I can still even protest the length of his tie or how he combs his hair or the fact that he's a ignorant, sexist, misogynist, thin-skinned, little little man.

I still have the right, right?

So this weekend, I find myself in NYC:


Fuck you, Donald Trump. Fuck you and your sexist, racist, ignorant, corrupt policies. They've done nothing but damage the country I've loved my entire life. Fuck you. You are what's wrong with America right now. You're not a symptom, you're the disease.

(And let me add a healthy "fuck you, too!" to the cowardly, opportunistic enablers in your party protecting your sorry ass in order to get their agenda passed.)

So this Independence Day, I gleefully exercise my First Amendment right to criticize the government by flipping off the sexist, racist, ignorant leader of the free world.