Obamacare ruling, how to govern in 2019, and fighting a tech cold war

Obamacare Ruling

Nicolas Bagley on the gut-punch delivered to American healthcare by one Texas judge.
Washington Post

Late Friday night, a district court in Texas declared the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional — lock, stock and barrel. That includes not only the individual mandate and the protections for people with preexisting conditions, but also the entire Medicaid expansion as well as a host of other ACA rules without any connection at all to health insurance.

The logic of the ruling is as difficult to follow as it is to defend, and it sets the stage for yet another round of high-stakes constitutional litigation over the future of health care in the United States.

Fortunately, those with a great deal more judicial knowledge seem certain that O’Connor’s ruling will have no immediate effect. Thank goodness for that. Because it’s insane.

To put it bluntly, [the ruling] makes zero sense. The judge asserted — without any support — that the penalty-free mandate “requires [the plaintiffs] to purchase and maintain certain health-insurance coverage.” But that’s not right. An unenforceable instruction to purchase insurance is not coercive in the slightest.

And since the individual mandate had already passed scrutiny at the Supreme Court as falling under Congress’ power to levy taxes … how did any of this make sense on any level?

Adam Gaffney on why we need Medicare for all. Right now.
The Guardian

If you can’t undercut a popular proposal as undesirable, make it sound impossible. That, in any event, has been the tack of opponents of single-payer healthcare, also called improved “Medicare-for-all”.

“[W]e got to get away from these falsehoods and start talking about the truth …” opined billionaire Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on CNBC last June, while contending that single-payer healthcare was economically infeasible. “I think a lot of the analysis has shown it’s unaffordable,” claimed Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, last summer, quoted by Kaiser Health News.

Yet casting Medicare-for-all as an economic impossibility is becoming a sisyphean pursuit: a slew of studies – including one released just the other week – are confirming that, yes, we can afford real universal healthcare in America. But if that’s the case, why haven’t we already achieved it? Well, the real stumbling block is not that single-payer advocates’ arithmetic is poor, it’s that American politics are dominated by the rich.

It’s not just healthcare being smashed against that rock. Step one — get the Senate away from the Republicans. Also step one: and the White House. And also: Pass it.

In the meantime, fight like hell to preserve Obamacare.

Jeffry Epstein case

Leonard Pitts wants to know why nothing seems to be happening, when so much happened.
Miami Herald

What is Michael Horowitz, the inspector general of the Department of Justice, waiting for?

At least 80 young girls identified as victims of Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged sexual abuse.

A top federal prosecutor — at the time, Alex Acosta — lets Epstein’s attorneys call the shots.

There are deals, and there are deals that would embarrass a used car salesman who moonlighted making calls for Trump University. When so many cases seem to impose a penalty hugely disproportional to the crime, the idea that Epstein is getting off so lightly seems unconscionable.

Horowitz has the authority to conduct an independent probe into the case. He reports to the attorney general and to Congress. He should bring the full weight of that authority to bear — immediately — and announce that the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is jump-starting an investigation into how this misbegotten deal happened and why: Acosta met with Epstein attorney Jay Lefkowitz alone. None of the federal prosecutors conducting or supervising the investigation were present, as is the norm. Why? The girls never were told of the lenient plea deal, as required by the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act. Why?

It’s great that Leonard Pitts is posing these questions for Horowitz. It would be even better if someone would stand in the man’s way until he answered.

Party politics for 2019

Dana Milbank on the last days of the Republican House.

Washington Post

Republicans, in the waning hours of their eight-year reign in the House, are using this precious time to do what they love best: investigating Hillary Clinton’s emails.

The House Oversight Committee had one last item on this year’s calendar — a hearing Thursday on the Clinton Foundation. But it didn’t stop there! Republicans and their witnesses used the hearing to reprise their greatest hits: her email server, Benghazi, George Soros, Sidney Blumenthal, Huma Abedin, Cheryl Mills, James B. Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, IRS targeting the tea party, Uranium One and a QAnon conspiracy about the Justice Department swooping into Little Rock to seize Clinton documents.

Even the lock-her-up Trump administration had tired of these proceedings. The Justice Department — under the command of Trump loyalist and former hot-tub promoter Matthew G. Whitaker — refused to testify (leading one witness to suggest the administration had joined the cover up), and the IRS also sent regrets.

Honestly, this makes me happy. It makes me happy because Republicans are wasting their time, playing to a shrinking subset of their own base, and doubling down on the course that took them to the worst drubbing since Watergate. It also makes me happy, because it’s all too easy to think of how the House could be working with the GOP-held Senate and Donald Trump to see that the incoming Democratic House is hemmed in by new rules that weaken its authority. The US Constitution might not allow all the shenanigans that apparently fly in Wisconsin, but if Republicans worked together and GOP reps tossed their own institution under the bus, they could likely put in place barriers that would make it difficult for Democrats to act effectively come January. So … her emails! Oh, yeah, baby. Chase those emails. 

And speaking of that …

Andrew Gawthorpe on Republicans who have gone Frankenstein on democracy.
The Guardian

America’s federal system of government is, in theory, key to the strength of its democracy. As opposed to citizens in the more centralized states of Europe, Americans get to vote for a huge array of local offices, policies and ballot initiatives that can influence their lives for the better. Innovation in the states can be healthy for the whole country, such as when healthcare reform in Massachusetts provided inspiration for the Affordable Care Act. The supreme court justice Louis Brandeis famously praised US states as laboratories which could “try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country”.

But what happens when the keys to the laboratory end up in the wrong hands? Throughout history, the power invested in the states has allowed all sorts of anti-democratic abuses to flourish. The most famous example is the Jim Crow system, which denied African Americans their rights and stained the ideals of American democracy for decades. In extreme cases, such as Governor Huey Long’s Louisiana in the 1930s, near-dictatorships have been established by ambitious local politicians.

This is your please read the whole thing assignment for the morning.

Over the past few years, the Republican party has begun some experiments of its own. After losing governor’s races in North Carolina in 2016, and now in Wisconsin and Michigan in 2018, Republicans have looked to use lame-duck sessions of the state legislature to strip power away from the next governor and make it impossible for them to deliver the policies that the people of the state just voted for. And they’ve been remarkably brazen about doing it.

Elizabeth Bruenig with the flipside of all those “democrats need to be careful” advice columns
Washington Post

In 2020, Democrats will have a new opportunity to either reach backward for the Obama era, or to lay the foundation for a bolder, progressive future. Deciding which goal to pursue will likely become the chief party fault line as the 2020 primaries approach. My advice to progressives: Don’t back down.

For the party’s center-leaning establishment, a return to the Obama era makes sense. Centrists were happy then — thrilled to witness the passage of health-care reform that did something but not too much (so long, public option !), comfortable with what one might gently label a muscular foreign policy , pleased with the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, though it came at the expense of homeowners in foreclosure while coddling Wall Street . All in all, things seemed stable and sustainable. Only tweaks and patches lay ahead.

But then, history — presumed dead by those who believed, with socialism extinguished, the future held nothing but increasing gains for liberal democracy — happened again. The 2016 election witnessed a swell of populist disenchantment with the status quo and concluded with the election of Trump. With Trump came a queasy uncertainty that still characterizes politics to this day, leaving old norms dissolved and common sense unequal to its task.

For weeks before the election, and almost daily since the election, there had been columns from Republicans and from the No-labels gang warning that Democrats need to tread carefully. Don’t go too far! Mind the middle! How about some nice bipartisanship! Every one of those columns is an invitation to political suicide, and Republicans know that. It’s why they keep writing them.

Josh Rogin provides the milquetoast alternative view.
Washington Post

The Blue Dog Coalition began in 1995 after Democrats lost power in the most stunning electoral defeat of that era. Originally made up of mostly older, white, Southern men, their name was inspired by the iconic yellow-eyed blue dog painted by artist George Rodrigue. A post-Reconstruction adage had stated that Southerners would rather vote for a yellow dog than a Republican. But by the 1990s, Southern Democrats said that yellow dog was being “choked blue” by the extreme sides of both parties, hence the name Blue Dogs.

Uhhh … no.  That story isn’t just apocryphal, it’s stupid. Blue Dog Democrats should understand their role in the party is not to champion some ersatz conservative position in the search for a mythical middle. Their job is to bring their districts into the progressive movement. Or to keep the seat warm for someone who can. If the Blue Dog coalition becomes a roadblock for progressive action, they’re not going to get “moderate” results. From either side.

David Ignatius on the opportunity Democrats have to do what Republicans couldn’t — govern.
Washington Post

To put it bluntly, the Tories under Prime Minister Theresa May and the Republicans under President Trump have failed as governing parties. That’s because they can’t reconcile their inflammatory rhetoric with the practical realities of economic and social policy in the 21st century. The conservatives talked big to aggrieved voters, but they have come up empty.

This past week offered a rare chance to test the propositions on trade, immigration and other issues that have been polarizing British and American politics. Conservatives presented easy solutions — for Britain, a Brexit escape from a meddlesome European Union; and for America, a border wall (and other symbols) to address the real strains caused by immigration.

But the conservative quick fixes didn’t work. They were ill-planned, half-baked, jingoistic responses to serious issues. Rather than remedy the inequities that bothered middle-class Brits and Americans, they instead sought to turn back the clock with proposals that simply didn’t fit today’s globalized world.

Republicans may be seeking some alt-50s white paradise, but to govern successfully, Democrats also have to avoid trying to go back to the 80s or 90s. They need to run the party like it’s 2099 and get away from the past.


Ross Barkin on Trump’s plan to gut the Clear Water Act.
The Guardian

Trump the performer is ridiculous, but that’s the clown show that keeps many of us either terrified or entertained – the real harm is elsewhere, away from the blaring headlines. Trump has been most destructive in his willingness to carry out an unabashedly rightwing policy agenda. Most Republicans competing for the nomination in 2016 embraced their party’s total capitulation to the fossil fuel industry, denying the existence of climate change and promising to shred Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. This is a central threat to America’s future: a major, powerful political party rejecting science itself.

This week, the Trump administration said it would weaken federal clean water rules designed to protect millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of streams from pesticide runoff and other pollutants. This proposal would not just undo Obama-era regulations but chip away at protections instituted under the late George HW Bush, perhaps the last major Republican to pay even lip service to the environment.

THese changes to the regulation of water go beyond giving yet another hand out to coal, though that’s part of it—easier regulations on toxic slurry, less restrictions on the ability to simply dump mining waste in flowing streams. But that’s just a fraction of the changes.

Not only will it soon be easier for pollution to seep into our waterways, if a developer finds a wetland is in the way of a money-making opportunity, the habitat can be paved over altogether. Wetlands adjacent to a major body of water will warrant federal protection. The rest are fair game.

Victoria Herrmann on how the changing climate in Alaska affects more than just that state.
The Guardian

Alaska is warming at twice the rate of the global average. And as air and sea temperatures warm at record-breaking speeds, sea ice forms much more thinly and much later into the year. According to the Arctic Report Card, during the winter of 2017 and 2018 when ice historically accumulates, the Bering Sea lost a section of ice the size of Idaho.

With no ice, [Teller, Alaska] has no natural defense from increasingly intense storm surges that annually flood the town’s streets and sewage system. The US Army Corps of Engineers has identified Teller as one of the most imminently threatened villages in Alaska from this flooding. It is one of 12 communities currently exploring relocation away from the coastline further inland to higher, drier ground.

But while the fate of Teller is intimately connected to the fate of sea ice, it is not the only community facing the consequences of the Arctic’s unprecedented melt. The extent of sea ice in the Arctic affects the safety of Americans in Alabama and Arizona just as much as it does in Alaska.

Read the rest to understand how what’s happening in the North is a threat everywhere. Right now.


The Washington Post on Trump throwing in the just system as part of trade negotiations.
Washington Post

China has responded to Canada’s arrest of a top tech executive on U.S. criminal charges with what amounts to lawless hostage- taking. Two Canadians working for nongovernmental organizations in China were detained Monday even as the government of Xi Jinping shrilly demanded the unconditional release of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the Huawei telecommunications company, who was arrested on a U.S. extradition warrant. The contrast between the cases highlighted the difference between the West’s rule of law and China’s brutish authoritarianism — until President Trump stepped in and undermined both the U.S. justice system and Canada’s resistance to Beijing’s pressure tactics.

Trump’s offer to hand Wanzhou a get out of jail free card as part of trade negotiations isn’t just outrageous, it’s showing China that America’s respect for the rule of law is out the door — so why not take hostages and try to extort your way to victory? How long can Canada be expected to watch their own citizens be played as pawns between Trump and Xi?

Threatened by Beijing with economic boycotts on top of the abduction of its citizens, the Canadian government stood firm — only to be undercut by Mr. Trump. On Tuesday, in an interview with Reuters, Mr. Trump described the Meng case in explicitly political terms and linked it to the trade talks: “If I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made. . . . I would certainly intervene,” he said, adding, “It’s also possible it will be part of the negotiations.”

So why not just start grabbing more Chinese visitors? A few tourist here. Some engineering students there. Trump’s actions domestically and internationally have so blurred the line between justice and politics that if there is any high ground left, it’s sinking fast.

MIchael Morrell and David Kris on the Tech Cold War with China
Washington Post

The United States is in an escalating technological cold war with China. It’s not centered on tariffs and trade, which President Trump often cites; instead, it involves both China’s use of technology to steal information and the theft of technology itself. …

The stakes are high. Earlier this week, a senior FBI official told the Senate Judiciary Committee that China’s “economic aggression, including its relentless theft of U.S. assets, is positioning [it] to supplant us as the world’s superpower.”

Consider this struggle against China, and the unbelievable damage Russia did with a low-cost expedition into America’s e-space. It’s clear this is a war we’re not prepared to fight, in which we have everything to lose.

Chinese wireless equipment company Huawei is a major player in this cold war. Since 2012, the United States has publicly treated Huawei as a threat to U.S. national security, citing the risk associated with allowing its hardware into U.S. communications networks : that the Chinese government will use it as an espionage platform. 

The truth about Huawei … is complicated. And they’re not helped by the orange bull smashing his way through this China op. And while it’s easy to dismiss talk of ‘cyber war’ when places like Syria and Yemen are so vividly demonstrating the continued disaster of regular old war war, this is a cold war that’s already getting at least luke warm.

David Ignatius on where China makes no bones about its attempt to undermine democracy.
Washington Post

The specter of war across the Taiwan Strait has animated military planners since 1949, when Gen. Chiang Kai-shek fled here with his nationalist army after the Communist Party gained control of mainland China. The Ministry of Defense distributes a book with glossy photos of Taiwan’s defensive weapons and stirring captions: Air force jets are “Eagles that Dominate the Skies;” a navy destroyer is a “Blade the dominates the sea.”

But traditional military combat may be the least of Taiwan’s worries. More immediate, and potentially threatening, is the daily campaign to undermine Taiwan’s democracy and promote fealty to Beijing. This hybrid warfare is cheaper and harder for an open, democratic society such as Taiwan to resist than a conventional military assault. And it’s a challenge that Taiwanese experts are struggling to understand and address.

Recently in an article about possible ways that civilization could die, I pointed out there are already thousands of people who have it in their power to destroy civilization on any given day. As new technologies — genetic power, nanotechnologies, artificial intelligence — spread through society, we could reach the point where the ability to deliver a swift kick to the anthill is in every hand. Which is a pretty good recipe for a society that can’t last (and why I brought it up as a solution for Fermi’s Paradox). But if that day is approaching for civilization writ large, it’s at least halfway here for the governments and institutions that grew up the Industrial Revolution. It’s not just Taiwan. It’s not just China. We’re all on the cusp where we will adapt or die.

Trump / Russia

Richard Wolffe on how Trump’s legal peril is coming into sharper focus.
The Guardian

Who wants to be Donald Trump’s lawyer?

No, seriously. Among all the positions normally considered to be the worst jobs ever – sewer engineer, decomposition cleaner, British prime minister – it surely ranks as even less desirable than Trump’s chief of staff: a job that literally nobody wants. No matter how many imaginary applicants Trump sees lining up outside the West Wing.

Maybe Mich Mulvaney can do it on the side. The way he’s apparently doing the Chief of Staff position.

In terms of, you know, defending the man at risk of not one but two five-year felony charges of breaking election finance laws, Giuliani might not be a Gillette razor: the best a man can get. In Bahrain, he has been seeking new security contracts while his client is facing the deepest legal peril of his life. But Giuliani insists he is still on the case, and most definitely not trading on his presidential contacts. “I’m probably the most ethical person you ever met,” he declared. “I follow all the rules.”

Is Rudy selling himself to Bahrain as a cybersecurity expert? They … might want to check out this thing called Twitter.

Jill Abramson on reading Trump’s tweets to measure his fear.
The Guardian

The new documents filed for Michael Cohen’s sentencing were clearly terrible news for the president. We already knew from Cohen’s earlier guilty plea that Individual 1 (AKA Trump) was up to his eyeballs in the plan to pay hush money to two women who said they had sex with him. The prosecutors’ court filings on Friday were important because they show Cohen told them that it was Donald Trump himself who directed him to make the payments, which were illegal because campaign money was used. So, the president’s direct involvement in a felony violation of US campaign laws could place him in greater legal jeopardy.

If that date sounds odd, Abramson actually wrote this one on Monday. I’ve revived it for this weekend.

The president’s reaction to the filings came, naturally, in a tweet: “Totally clears the president. Thank you!” That day, he had also said: “On the Mueller situation, we’re very happy with what we are reading because there was no collusion whatsoever. The last thing I want is help from Russia on a campaign. You should ask Hillary Clinton about Russia.” Of course, the opposite is true.

Since then Trump has shed another rank of cabinet officials and had “so many choices” for Chief of Staff that he dragooned his direct of OMB for the job by promising that it would only be temporary. But honestly, Mulvaney should just hang in there. His OMB budgets have been ludicrous experiments in showing which departments earned Trump’s scorn, while having zero effect on any actual spending. And after all, Donald Trump is pretty temporary himself at this point.

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