Quick Takes: Babysitting the Mad King

Quick Takes: Babysitting the Mad King

The Washington Monthly

* Apparently Trump’s campaign staff have some pointers for White House aides whose job it is to babysit the mad king.

President Donald Trump’s former campaign staffers claim they cracked the code for tamping down his most inflammatory tweets, and they say the current West Wing staff would do well to take note.

The key to keeping Trump’s Twitter habit under control, according to six former campaign officials, is to ensure that his personal media consumption includes a steady stream of praise. And when no such praise was to be found, staff would turn to friendly outlets to drum some up — and make sure it made its way to Trump’s desk.

* Ezra Klien suggests that “Donald Trump is dangerous when he’s losing.”

In the aftermath of Trump’s election, I spoke to top liberals terrified that Trump would outflank them, and quickly. If he had given a conciliatory inaugural address, named some compromise candidates to key posts, filled his administration with competent veterans of government, and began his term by working on an infrastructure bill that Chuck Schumer could support, he would be at or above 60 percent in the polls, the media would be covering him positively, and the Democratic Party would be split between those who wanted to work with Trump and those who wanted to resist everything he did. In that world, Trump might be a big fan of America’s political institutions right now.

Liberals aren’t afraid Trump will outflank them anymore. He launched his presidency with a series of speeches, appointments, and executive orders that have made him radioactive among congressional Democrats. He’s running an understaffed, inexperienced government even as he provokes our enemies and alienates our friends. Trump is burning both political capital and time. It is significantly less likely now than it was a month ago that he will be able to replace Obamacare or pass a tax reform bill.

This is the hard part about failure in American politics: It feeds on itself, perpetuates itself. Trump’s low poll numbers make it harder for him to win Democratic support on, well, anything. The inability to get anything done feeds his low poll numbers. The same goes for how Trump runs his White House. The Trump administration is a chaotic, leaky place, and that leads to negative press coverage of the Trump White House, which leads to more chaos and leaks as scared aides try to push blame for the disaster onto their rivals.

It is easy to imagine Trump, in a year, cornered in his own White House, furious at the manifold enemies he blames for his failures, and cocooned within an ever-smaller and more radical group of staffers and media outlets that tell him what he wants to hear and feed his grievances and resentments.

* Those two articles remind me of one of the points psychiatrists made about the fact that there are no good options when it comes to dealing with someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

There are only two ways to deal with someone with NPD, and they are both dangerous. There is no healthy way of interacting with someone with this affliction. If you criticize them they will lash out at you and if they have a great deal of power, that can be consequential. If you compliment them it only acts to increase the delusional and grandiose reality the sufferer has created, causing him to be even more reliant on constant and endless compliments and unwavering support.

* Trump has been fond of blaming the Democrats for delays in confirmation of his nominees. But there’s much more to that story .

There are 549 key positions in President Donald Trump’s administration that require Senate confirmation. Trump has yet to nominate anyone to 515 of them. According to Max Stier, the CEO of the nonpartisan Center for Presidential Transition, when it comes to political appointments, Trump is lagging behind almost every recent president — and he has a long way to go.

* Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has an amazing capacity for hypocrisy.

Nearly 1,000 people jeered Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as he drove to a speech Tuesday where he told local business leaders that “winners make policy and the losers go home.”

That comes from the same man who did everything he could to rally the Republican losers to obstruct anything the “winners” in 2008 attempted to accomplish.

* We have conflicting reports on whip counts for the DNC Chair race, which will take place this Saturday. First there’s this from The Hill .

The Hill has identified the stances of 240 DNC members, either through their private responses to a survey circulated over the past week or from public endorsements.

Out of those who responded, Ellison leads with 105 supporters to Perez’s 57. The remaining major candidates have less than a dozen supporters each, while more than 50 DNC members remain undecided.

* The Associated Press reports a different tally.

Perez, who was encouraged by Obama administration officials to run for the post, has emerged as the front-runner with the backing of 205 committee members, according to independent Democratic strategists tracking the race. The strategists spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss the voting publicly. Ellison, backed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and his supporters, has the support of 153 members.

* Finally, for some cathartic relief, go check out Phillip Bump’s “Yell-O-Matic.”

On Tuesday, a number of elected officials held town halls and a number of constituents yelled at them. Clips of the yelling spread quickly online. Since one of the secondary joys of people yelling at elected officials is watching people yell at elected officials, we decided to make a little tool that facilitates that vicarious thrill.

Pick a politician on our YELL-O-MATIC™ and watch them get yelled at — by one person or many, recently or years ago…Yelling is part of the American political system, one that should be embraced and savored.

As is schadenfreude.

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Republicans Could Have Blown Up Obamacare Yesterday, But Didn’t

Republicans Could Have Blown Up Obamacare Yesterday, But Didn’t

The Washington Monthly

If Republicans really wanted to send Obamacare into a death spiral, they had the perfect chance to do so yesterday. In order to understand the opportunity they let pass them by, we need to dive into the weeds a bit to understand a court case on a little known funding mechanism for making health insurance affordable on the Obamacare exchanges.

It was understood by the framers of health care reform that the exchanges might not initially draw enough business from mostly healthy young people to offset the costs of insuring those with more chronic medical conditions. In order to keep premiums down and make plans more affordable, the law included subsidies to health insurance providers for covering low income participants. The problem was that there was no funding mechanism for this provision included in Obamacare. So the administration applied other funds from the Treasury.

In 2014, Republican sued the Obama administration over this and a federal district judge ruled in their favor, but stayed the decision to allow the administration to appeal the ruling. That appeal was still in the works when Trump was elected. Immediately following the election, Republicans asked the court to pause its proceedings until February 21st (yesterday), presumably to give the new administration the opportunity to weigh how to handle the lawsuit.

Once Trump was inaugurated, with Jeff Sessions confirmed as Attorney General, all the administration would have had to do is drop the appeal and the federal district judge’s ruling would stand, ending the subsidies. The result would have been chaos in the insurance market – leading to the very real possibility that companies would either significantly increase their premiums or pull out of the exchanges altogether.

Instead, yesterday a joint motion was filed by House Republicans and the Justice Department to extend the current stay indefinitely in order to “allow time for a resolution that would obviate the need for judicial determination of this appeal, including potential legislative action.”

What this signals is that both the Trump administration and the Republicans in Congress are very well aware of the fact that they would face significant blowback if they were to trigger problems with the coverage provided to millions of people via Obamacare. While that has become increasingly obvious since they actually had the power to repeal the law, it is interesting to note that when they didn’t have that power, they constantly made great shows of being willing to blow the whole thing up. They had the opportunity to actually do that yesterday, but chose not to.

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An Alternative Strategy for Democratic Success: Growing a New Electorate

An Alternative Strategy for Democratic Success: Growing a New Electorate

The Washington Monthly

We often hear that the problem Democrats are facing is that they not only lost the presidency in 2016, but are getting trounced at the state and local level. Much has been written about that challenge, but we rarely dive into the weeds about solutions or shine a spotlight on successes.

What if I was to tell you about a county in a red state where Democrats won almost every slot on the ballot in 2016 (some for the first time in decades) and Clinton won by over 160,000 votes, after Obama’s margin was less than a thousand in 2012? That is exactly the story Andrew Cockburn tells us about Harris County Texas (Houston and the surrounding suburbs).

Cockburn credits the work of three women for those results: Michelle Tremolo, Ginny Goldman and Crystal Zermeno—two of whom met while working for the now-defunct organization ACORN. They created an organization called the Texas Organizing Project (TOP). Given that Texas has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country, the first order of business for TOP was to find out who was not voting.

Digging deep into voter files and other databases, Zermeno confirmed that Texas contained a “wealth of non-voting people of color.” Most of them were registered, but seldom (if ever) turned up at the polls. The problem, she noted, was especially acute with Latinos, only 15 percent of whom were regular voters. In her detailed report, she calculated precisely how many extra voters needed to turn out to elect someone who would represent the interests of all Texans: a minimum of 1.1 million. Fortuitously, these reluctant voters were concentrated in just nine big urban counties, led by Harris.

The next step was one that is too often skipped. TOP wanted to learn why 4 million registered voters of color (likely Democrats) in Texas don’t show up at the polls. They conducted a series of focus groups and, armed with the results, began organizing them to have an impact on local issues, predominantly criminal justice issues. Starting with the 2012 election, they began mobilizing both volunteers and paid staff to work in their own neighborhoods with relentless efforts to get out the vote. As a result, in that year Latino turnout in Harris County increased by 5%. In 2016, the success wasn’t limited to Harris County.

East Dallas County, a band of suburbs to the east and south of Dallas, comprises House District 107 in the state legislature. Despite a Latino and African-American majority, Republicans have been carrying the district for years, albeit with narrow margins. This time, however, thanks to an intense registration and organizing drive by TOP and other groups, including labor unions, Victoria Neave, the Democratic candidate, ousted her Republican opponent by 836 votes.

Much of the effort to understand what happened in the 2016 election has rightfully focused on how Democrats can win back white voters in the so-called “Rust-Belt” states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Those are important questions to answer going forward. But what might be effective in those states isn’t necessarily a formula for the rest of the country.

It is worth noting that Trump’s margin of victory in Ohio was about the same size as his margin in Texas (both around 8%). That is on the heels of Romney winning Texas by almost 16 points in 2012. As TOP learned, they need about 1.1 million of the 4 million registered non-voters of color in that state to produce a majority and turn Texas blue. The same dynamics are true in states like Arizona and Georgia. If those three states were to vote Democratic, they would provide about the same number of electoral votes (65) as would be captured by Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

As TOP organizers are quick to point out, demographics isn’t destiny. But in some states like Texas, there is a “shadow electorate” to be mobilized. Here is the formula that drove their efforts:

By relentlessly appealing to that shadow electorate, and gradually turning them into habitual voters, TOP could whittle down and eliminate the Republican advantage in elections for statewide offices such as governor and lieutenant governor, not to mention the state’s thirty-eight votes in the presidential Electoral College. In other words, since the existing Texas electorate was never going to generate a satisfactory result, TOP was going to have to grow a new one.

In summary, the formula for Democratic victories in some states is to win back voters the party has lost. In other states, it’s all about growing a new electorate.

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Why Is Congress Undermining Retirement Security for Millions of Americans?

Why Is Congress Undermining Retirement Security for Millions of Americans?

The Washington Monthly

When you think about all of the contentious issues that have defined the past few years—especially the last presidential campaign—what comes to mind? Our guess: issues like immigration, tax reform, and climate change. But helping Americans save for retirement? That probably doesn’t strike you as being very divisive—but that’s exactly what House Republicans have made it.

Yesterday the House passed two bills that would undo key regulations that the Department of Labor put in place last year. These regulations clarify the right of states, and certain municipalities, to offer automatic enrollment retirement savings plans (often called Secure Choice plans) to workers who are not offered a 401(k) or similar type of plan by their employer—some 40 million working-age households.

The House used a rare and sweeping law called the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to do this. The CRA allows Congress to overturn regulations issued by government agencies. Only successfully used by Congress once before this year—in  2001—the act is now back in play as Republicans rush to overturn Obama-era regulations. The new Congress is attempting to rollback regulations concerning everything from consumer financial protection to environmental issues , as well as firearm sales to some individuals with diagnosed mental disorders. Unlike more common mechanisms of policy change, CRA disapproval does long-term damage to the ability of the government to put effective policy in place, since it prohibits “substantially similar” rules from being issued without additional Congressional action.

America is facing a major retirement shortfall. Roughly half of Americans don’t even have a retirement account and the median near-retirement household with an account has just $14,500, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security. The numbers are even worse for people of color and women. As one example of the severity of the situation facing non-white Americans, 74 percent of African Americans have less than $10,000 set aside for retirement.

Back in 2009, President Barack Obama tried to address this impending crisis by introducing a national automatic individual retirement account (auto-IRA) proposal along with improved tax subsidies to help low- and moderate-income workers save for retirement. Despite the inclusion of the auto-IRA proposal in his annual budgets, the Republican majorities that took hold of Congress in 2011 refused to pass any meaningful retirement savings legislation. Some states have responded by taking action into their own hands. Backed by extensive market and policy research, five states—California, Illinois, Connecticut, Oregon, and Maryland—have started their own auto-IRA programs to help cover the millions of their citizens who lack access to a retirement account through their employer. Other states are studying and developing plans of their own, and 11 states have introduced legislation to create a plan or study in 2017, according to the Georgetown Center for Retirement Initiatives .

But now Congress is putting all of that in jeopardy.

These rollbacks won’t directly kill existing Secure Choice plans, but they’ll open the door to legal challenges that will drag on for years, preventing additional states from acting—and harming the retirement prospects of millions of workers.

House Republicans and the US Chamber of Commerce have offered a wide array of arguments  against the regulations. Sponsors of the resolutions argued that a “patchwork of rules ” would harm businesses, a surprising argument given the usual party support for federalism over centralized control. For example, state-facilitated individual savings accounts for college, commonly called 529 plans, were brought into being thanks in part to the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). 529 plans have operated successfully for decades and are the model on which Secure Choice plans are being built. Both 529s and Secure Choice are operated out of state treasurer’s offices, in some cases by the same staff, and using the same private sector partners to manage investments. In recent years, 529s have enjoyed vociferous Republican support .

Floor debate in the House also engaged the question of whether or not Secure Choice plans provide adequate consumer protection, with Republicans arguing that Secure Choice plans are inferior and unacceptable because they do not comply with the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The DoL rules do create a “safe harbor” from ERISA for employers. This is a critical function of the rules, as ERISA compliance is a major reason small businesses choose not to offer retirement plans. The DoL rules shift the fiduciary responsibility contained in ERISA from the employer to the Secure Choice plans, and as 529s (and the closely related Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts) have shown, the states are capable of providing safe, popular, and low-cost individual savings accounts outside of the ERISA framework.

Economic populism was one of the major themes that President Donald Trump campaigned on, as he promised to represent “the forgotten man.” Surrogates for then-candidate Trump addressed this issue directly, saying , “Trump believes any states who want to set up their own auto-IRAs have every right to do so, and he doesn’t want to interfere with their initiatives.”

Recent polling shows these Secure Choice plans aren’t just popular with political candidates—they’re also popular among ordinary Americans, including small business owners. The National Institute on Retirement Security found that 75 percent of Americans, including 72 percent of Republicans, support state-facilitated retirement savings plans. The Pew Charitable Trusts conducted a survey of small business owners and found that 86 percent favored the concept of a retirement savings IRA with automatic enrollment and payroll deductions.

According to Small Business Majority , a national small business advocacy organization: “[P]rograms like these help level the playing field between small businesses that want to offer retirement benefits but can’t, and their larger counterparts that can. This helps small businesses compete for the best employees, and gives employers peace of mind that they are doing what’s best for their workers.”

In short, Congressional Republicans are contradicting the President, public opinion, and small business owners, and they’re using extraordinary measures to do it. Undermining the right of states to connect tens of millions of Americans to low-cost, retirement savings accounts—without a single hearing or any testimony—is not a path to economic or political success.

The Senate, where cooler heads are supposed to prevail, will most likely vote on this issue soon. They should abandon the rushed CRA process and really examine the impact of undoing these important rules. Hearings should be held to determine the best policy path forward. The state treasurers implementing Secure Choice programs should be heard from, as should the voices of the small business owners and workers who will be impacted. The President and his Labor Secretary nominee (whoever that may be) should be granted the opportunity to affirm where they stand on this and why.

Facing a clear and massive public policy problem, the states produced a response that addresses a clear need in a way that uses no tax dollars, requires no employer contributions, and is popular with the public. Rather than racing to cut off the rules that endorse this extraordinary innovation, Congress should find ways to replicate this success—or at least not go out of its way to do unnecessary harm to Americans already struggling because of an issue where there is no good reason for controversy.

This story  originally appeared in New America’s digital magazine, New America Weekly . Sign up to get New America Weekly delivered to your inbox , and follow @NewAmerica  on Twitter.

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What if Conservatives Really Were Pro-Life?

What if Conservatives Really Were Pro-Life?

The Washington Monthly

Corinne Segal  has an important story about how marriage equality is saving lives.

State legalization of same-sex marriage appears to be linked to a decrease in adolescent suicide, based on a new analysis published today in JAMA Pediatrics. The results give more context to the potential effects of social policy on mental health.

The researchers found that suicide attempts by high school students decreased by 7 percent in states after they passed laws to legalize same-sex marriage, before the Supreme Court legalized it nationwide in 2015. Among LGB high school students, the decrease was especially concentrated, with suicide attempts falling by 14 percent.

But in states that did not legalize same-sex marriage, there was no change.

Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S. and the second for people aged 10 to 24. But young LGB people are particularly affected, attempting suicide at four times the rate of straight youth, according to the Trevor Project, an organization that works to prevent suicide among LGBT youth.

If you care about the lives of LGBT youth, the fact that they are now less likely to commit suicide would be something to celebrate.

In a similar vein, Brianna Ehley reports on how former Governor Mike Pence saved lives.

When then-Gov. Mike Pence faced the worst public health crisis to hit Indiana in decades, he turned to Obamacare — a program he vilified and voted against.

In 2015, as a rash of HIV infections spread through rural southern Indiana, state health officials parachuted into Scott County and enrolled scores of people into Obamacare’s expanded Medicaid program so they could get medical care and substance abuse treatment. Many were addicted to opioids and had contracted HIV by sharing dirty needles.

Speaking of substance abuse treatment , that saves lives too.

The ACA has been particularly important for those seeking addiction treatment, says Keith Humphreys, a Stanford University psychiatry professor who advised the Obama administration on drug policy. “It was designed to be very broad, but at the same time we knew that if there was anything that this would help a lot for, it’s addiction,” he says.

Before the ACA went into effect, a third of individual market insurance policies didn’t cover substance abuse treatment, including medications like buprenorphine that have proven critical to keeping former opioid users off of drugs. The ACA deemed substance abuse and mental health treatment to be essential health benefits, and now insurance plans are required to cover them. In states that expanded Medicaid, 20 percent of hospital admissions for substance abuse and mental health disorders were uninsured in 2013, before the bulk of the expansion provisions kicked in. By the middle of 2015, the uninsured rate had fallen to five percent.

In addition, Obamacare covers Americans who are are most at risk of becoming addicted to opioids: People with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line have a 50 percent higher risk of having an opioid problem than people with higher incomes. Humphreys adds that most users start using heroin or pain-killers when they’re young. Since the ACA lets children stay on their parents’ health insurance until they’re 26, it’s easier for young users to access treatment.

In the lead-up to the November election, I heard a lot of conservatives talk about how they weren’t very impressed with Trump — but planned to vote for him because they are pro-life and wanted him to appoint an anti-abortion justice to the Supreme Court. It was as if nothing else mattered.

As someone who believes that a decision about whether or not to terminate a pregnancy should be left to the woman involved, I fundamentally disagree with most conservatives on that issue. But if you truly believe that every zygote is a human being, I can understand why we see things differently.

What I can’t understand is the idea of being pro-life and not caring about the lives of gay teens, people with HIV or those who are drug addicted. Wanting to re-stimatize LGBT people and repeal Obamacare are just two ways that their lives are threatened. Where are the pro-life conservatives on those questions?

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Quick Takes: Some People Can’t Give Up On the Idea of a Trump Pivot

Quick Takes: Some People Can’t Give Up On the Idea of a Trump Pivot

The Washington Monthly

* For the writers at NBC’s First Read , the hope of an eventual Trump pivot lives on.

After a chaotic and controversial first month in office, President Trump’s week has the potential for a bit of a reset — a new national security adviser, a revised travel ban, even a stop this morning at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. But here’s the $64,000 question: Can Trump enjoy a no-drama week? The stakes are important, given that Congress is on recess with many of its members holding town halls across the country, and given that Trump’s approval rating stands at historic lows for a new president. This week is a big opportunity for the president and his team. Can they seize it?

I can answer that question with one word: No. What we are likely experiencing is the depressive side of Trump’s manic/depressive tendencies after he let loose over the weekend. If you can point me to a time in the president’s history when he seized the opportunity to become “no-drama,” I’m all ears.

* To be honest, this has been a relatively slow news days compared to what we’ve been experiencing in the Trump era. You know that’s true when an Ann Coulter wanna-be who got booted from CPAC and Breitbart claims most of the headlines. But no, that’s not really news and even mentioning his name sends us careening into the void that is this guy’s insatiable need for attention. So don’t hold your breath for me to go there.

* Similar to the story I highlighted yesterday from Frank Morris about how the town of Garden City, Kansas was renewed by immigrants, Jesse McKinley reports on what has happened in places like Buffalo and Rochester, New York. These are stories that Donald Trump and Steve Bannon don’t want you to hear about as they try to demonize refugees .

Newcomers have filled up hundreds of empty homes and apartments, and poured money and energy into destitute neighborhoods. Former churches have been reborn as mosques and refugee health centers, or found new congregants to fill pews and collection plates. Students have restocked classrooms at public schools where enrollment had been in a decades-long downward spiral. Storefront “For Rent” signs have given way to “Grand Openings.”

While President Trump has cast incoming refugees in a sinister light, the influx into the beleaguered communities along New York’s old Erie Canal has been a surprising salve for decades of dwindling population and opportunity.

The impact has been both low-budget and high-tech: Foreign-born students from countries like Iran have flocked to programs — and paid tuition and fees — at upstate schools offering advanced scientific degrees, while street-level entrepreneurs have started shops offering knickknacks and takeout for curious locals, and exotic staples and calls home for homesick émigrés.

Local businesses have found cheap, willing labor in the rolling stocks of refugees, while resettlement agencies have used federal funding to assist with their assimilation, creating work for everyone from refrigerator sellers to house painters.

* As regular readers know, one of the stories I followed closely during the Obama administration was how he kept his promises to Native Americans. That is why I find this story so deplorable .

Native American reservations cover just 2 percent of the United States, but they may contain about a fifth of the nation’s oil and gas, along with vast coal reserves.

Now, a group of advisors to President-elect Donald Trump on Native American issues wants to free those resources from what they call a suffocating federal bureaucracy that holds title to 56 million acres of tribal lands, two chairmen of the coalition told Reuters in exclusive interviews.

The group proposes to put those lands into private ownership – a politically explosive idea that could upend more than century of policy designed to preserve Indian tribes on U.S.-owned reservations, which are governed by tribal leaders as sovereign nations.

* I always find creative resisters to be uplifting.


* If you are looking for a resistance effort to join, Al Giordano has some great advice in a thread that starts with this tweet.


Here’s the kicker:


* Finally, let’s end the day with some music for the resistance from Ben Harper.

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