Martin Luther King Jr.

This is the day that we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. And so we should remember what he said and what he stood for (from his letter from a Birmingham jail cell):

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

from one of his last speeches:

We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic nonviolent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.

Why do we do it this way? We do it this way because it is our experience that the nation doesn’t move around questions of genuine equality for the poor and for black people until it is confronted massively, dramatically in terms of direct action.

If you want to honor his memory, you could do worse than go to the Women’s March next Saturday in Washington or one of the hundreds of others around the country.

and more from the previous speech:

In 1863 the Negro was told that he was free as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation being signed by Abraham Lincoln. But he was not given any land to make that freedom meaningful. It was something like keeping a person in prison for a number of years and suddenly discovering that that person is not guilty of the crime for which he was convicted. And you just go up to him and say, “Now you are free,” but you don’t give him any bus fare to get to town. You don’t give him any money to get some clothes to put on his back or to get on his feet again in life.

Every court of jurisprudence would rise up against this, and yet this is the very thing that our nation did to the black man. It simply said, “You’re free,” and it left him there penniless, illiterate, not knowing what to do. And the irony of it all is that at the same time the nation failed to do anything for the black man, though an act of Congress was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and the Midwest. Which meant that it was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor.

But not only did it give the land, it built land-grant colleges to teach them how to farm. Not only that, it provided county agents to further their expertise in farming; not only that, as the years unfolded it provided low interest rates so that they could mechanize their farms. And to this day thousands of these very persons are receiving millions of dollars in federal subsidies every years not to farm. And these are so often the very people who tell Negroes that they must lift themselves by their own bootstraps. It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.

We must come to see that the roots of racism are very deep in our country, and there must be something positive and massive in order to get rid of all the effects of racism and the tragedies of racial injustice.

You could also honor him by trying to help the immigrants (from his speech in Memphis):

One day a man came to Jesus and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base.  Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from midair and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho.  And he talked about a certain man who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side; they didn’t stop to help him. Finally, a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying this was the good man, this was the great man because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his brother.

Now, you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that one who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony. And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem, or down to Jericho, rather, to organize a Jericho Road Improvement Association.  That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.

But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho Road is a dangerous road.  I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho.  And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road.  It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about twelve hundred miles, or rather, twelve hundred feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about twenty-two feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road.  In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.” And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around.  Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking , and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?”

But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” That’s the question before you tonight.

You could also help out a union:

Negroes in the United States read the history of labor and find it mirrors their own experience. We are confronted by powerful forces telling us to rely on the goodwill and understanding of those who profit by exploiting us. They deplore our discontent, they resent our will to organize, so that we may guarantee that humanity will prevail and equality will be exacted. They are shocked that action organizations, sit-ins, civil disobedience and protests are becoming our everyday tools, just as strikes, demonstrations and union organization became yours to insure that bargaining power genuinely existed on both sides of the table.

In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. It is supported by Southern segregationists who are trying to keep us from achieving our civil rights and our right of equal job opportunity. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone. Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.

What you shouldn’t do is denigrate one of the leaders in Civil Rights:

Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “All talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad!

What is this thing called ethics?

A week ago, I wondered how long it would take Trump to get rid of the Office of Government Ethics. It seems he might not have to worry about it, House Republicans are on the case:

Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who chairs the House Oversight Committee, has summoned Walter Shaub Jr., the director of the Office of Government Ethics, to answer questions about his public comments on Trump.

This week, Shaub issued a scathing review of Trump’s plan to turn over control of his business to his sons. Shaub said in a speech Wednesday that the only way Trump could avoid a conflict of interest as president would be to divest from his business and have his assets placed in a blind trust.

If Donald Trump acts unethically according to an ethics panel, Republicans will just change the panel. And claim it’s the panel that’s being unethical”

In an interview, Chaffetz said Shaub is offering opinions on conflicts of interest without fully researching the circumstances. “What he’s doing is highly unethical,’’ Chaffetz said.

it’s a widely held opinion:

Shaub’s criticism of Trump has been echoed by several government watchdog groups and both Republican and Democratic government ethics experts. They include Norman Eisen, a former chief ethics counselor for President Obama, and Richard Painter, who served in the same role for President George W. Bush.

Well, a widely held opinion of people who don’t care about ethics.

Interesting point

So, it seems that Michael T. Flynn likes calling up Russia:

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security adviser, cultivates close Russian contacts. He has appeared on Russia Today and received a speaking fee from the cable network, which was described in last week’s unclassified intelligence briefing on Russian hacking as “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.”

According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions? The Logan Act (though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. Was its spirit violated? The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

It seems the Trump administration has commented on this:

A first Trump official confirmed that Flynn had spoken with Kislyak by phone, but said the calls were before sanctions were announced and didn’t cover that topic. This official later added that Flynn’s initial call was to express condolences to Kislyak after the terrorist killing of the Russian ambassador to Ankara Dec. 19, and that Flynn made a second call Dec. 28 to express condolences for the shoot-down of a Russian plane carrying a choir to Syria. In that second call, Flynn also discussed plans for a Trump-Putin conversation sometime after the inauguration. In addition, a second Trump official said the Dec. 28 call included an invitation from Kislyak for a Trump administration official to visit Kazakhstan for a conference in late January.

Nancy Letourneau makes an interesting point:

But it also reminded me of this from Julian Borger a few days ago:

The Guardian has learned that the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The Fisa court turned down the application asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus. According to one report, the FBI was finally granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed, and it is not clear whether any warrant led to a full investigation.

It is very likely that the four members of Trump’s team that are referred to include Flynn, Manafort, Page and Cohen. Given that a U.S. official knows that Flynn had telephone contact with the Russian ambassador on Dec. 29th, it appears that the FBI got the warrant approved and has been surveilling these four men as recently as two weeks ago. That indicates that an investigation into the allegations made in the dossier is very much alive and ongoing. What happens to it after January 20th remains to be seen.

It could be that Flynn’s phone was being tapped. If so, we very well might soon know if the Trump official was telling the truth.

Update: It seems the Trump team is backtracking already:

Gen. Michael Flynn, President-elect Trump’s pick to be national security adviser, did speak to Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak by telephone on Dec. 29, the same day the Obama administration announced measures retaliating against Russia for interfering in the 2016 presidential campaign, two Trump transition officials confirm to NPR.

And there were multiple calls:

Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for national security adviser, held five phone calls with Russia’s ambassador to Washington on the day the United States retaliated for Moscow’s interference in the U.S. presidential election, three sources familiar with the matter said.

That’s a lot of calls to set up a conversation.

FBI Director Comey helped elect Trump

As you might have heard, there are some unsubstantiated claims about relations between Trump and Russia:

The chiefs of US intelligence agencies last week presented President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump with a summary of unsubstantiated reports that Russia had collected compromising and salacious personal information about Trump, two officials with knowledge of the briefing said.

The summary is based on memos generated by political operatives seeking to derail Trump’s candidacy. Details of the reports began circulating in the fall and were widely known among journalists and politicians in Washington.

FBI Director Comey was asked about this:

Appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a hearing outlining the intelligence agencies’ findings on Russian election interference, Comey was asked whether the FBI had found any evidence that the Trump campaign was in touch with Russian officials before Election Day — and whether it is an issue the FBI is actively investigating.

Comey declined to give an answer, saying he couldn’t comment publicly.

“I would never comment on investigations, whether we have one or not, in an open forum like this,” Comey said. “So I really can’t answer it one way or another.”

This would be the same Comey who released information about possible revelations in Clinton emails 12 days before the election, where it turned out there was absolutely nothing to any of it–nil/nada/zilch/bupkis. And it probably handed the election to Trump (via here):

Instead, the evidence is clear, and consistent, regarding the Comey effect. The timing of the shift both at the state and national levels lines up very neatly with the publication of the letter, as does the predominance of the story in the media coverage from the final week of the campaign. With an unusually large number of undecided voters late in the campaign, the letter hugely increased the salience of what was the defining critique of Clinton during the campaign at its most critical moment.

But no, it would have been unprofessional to talk about an investigation about Trump. Fuck you Comey.

Republicans don’t care about ethics

So, how are the confirmations for Donald Trump’s cabinet going?

As Senate Republicans embark on a flurry of confirmation hearings this week, several of Donald J. Trump’s appointees have yet to complete the background checks and ethics clearances customarily required before the Senate begins to consider cabinet-level nominees.

Who cares about ethics?

In a letter to Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the head of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter M. Shaub Jr., said on Friday that “the announced hearing schedule for several nominees who have not completed the ethics review process is of great concern to me.”

Hmm, the House tried to get rid of the Office of Congressional Ethics. I wonder long it will take Trump to get rid of the Office of Government Ethics?

Republicans are upset at the ‘delaying tactics’:

“Holding up confirmations just for delay’s sake is irresponsible and it is dangerous,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. He added, “This is a dangerous world we are living in, and why in the world would we want to make it even more dangerous just to let our colleagues delay for delay’s sake President-elect Trump getting to fill his cabinet, particularly these important national security offices?”

Yes, Republicans are very worried about this dangerous world:

President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition staff has issued a blanket edict requiring politically appointed ambassadors to leave their overseas posts by Inauguration Day, according to several American diplomats familiar with the plan, breaking with decades of precedent by declining to provide even the briefest of grace periods.

The mandate — issued “without exceptions,” according to a terse State Department cable sent on Dec. 23, diplomats who saw it said — threatens to leave the United States without Senate-confirmed envoys for months in critical nations like Germany, Canada and Britain. In the past, administrations of both parties have often granted extensions on a case-by-case basis to allow a handful of ambassadors, particularly those with school-age children, to remain in place for weeks or months.

Very worried:

(e) Restriction on funding subject to opening determination.—Not more than 50 percent of the amounts appropriated to the Department of State for fiscal year 2017 under the heading “Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance” may be obligated until the Secretary of State determines and reports to Congress that the United States Embassy in Jerusalem has officially opened.

(f) Funding.—

(1) FISCAL YEAR 2018.—Of the amounts authorized to be appropriated under the heading “Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance” for the Department of State for fiscal year 2018, such sums as may be necessary should be made available until expended only for construction and other costs associated with the establishment of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.

(2) FISCAL YEAR 2019.—Of the amounts authorized to be appropriated under the heading “Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance” for the Department of State for fiscal year 2019, such sums as may be necessary should be made available until expended only for construction and other costs associated with the establishment of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.

This also shows how much they care about embassy security, what you thought the whole Benghazi thing meant they cared?

More Elizabeth Warren

This is a depressing year, what with Donald Trump being elected President. You can see why in today’s release saying the main US intelligence agencies are very confident that Russia was behind the hacking and they are quite confident that Putin ordered it–Trump just dismisses it:

Before even seeing the classified intelligence report Friday, Trump dismissed the assessment and told The New York Times the focus on Russia’s involvement is a ‘‘political witch hunt’’ by adversaries who are embarrassed they lost the election. ‘‘They got beaten very badly in the election,’’ Trump said. ‘‘They are very embarrassed about it. To some extent, it’s a witch hunt. They just focus on this.’’

A leak of the classified intelligence report noted:

The officials also said there were disparities between efforts to infiltrate Democratic and Republican networks, and said the U.S. intercepted communications in which Russian officials celebrated Trump’s victory.

And here’s Trump:

There were attempts to hack the Republican National Committee, but the RNC had strong hacking defenses and the hackers were unsuccessful.

And therefore I needed some good news, like:

Elizabeth Warren announced Friday that she will seek a second term as US senator from Massachusetts, giving battered liberals a rallying point as Donald Trump prepares to assume the presidency.

“In the weeks and months ahead, we will stand up to the Trump Administration’s racism, sexism, bigotry and hate,” Warren wrote. “Our diversity is what makes our country strong — and on this, there will be NO compromise.”

Very nice Senator.

Trumpcare=No Care

Via Kevin Drum, we see how well Donald Trump and Republicans have prepared for the elimination of Obamacare:

Congressional Republicans, despite pledging to quickly repeal the Affordable Care Act, are struggling with what parts of the law to roll back and how to lock up the votes they will need, particularly in the Senate, to push their ambitious plans.

Thirty-one states, including many with Republican governors, have expanded Medicaid through Obamacare and could lose billions of dollars if the law is cut back.

In Washington, Republicans are also struggling to figure out what to do with Obamacare insurance marketplaces that Republicans worked for years to dismantle. In a reversal, GOP leaders now are trying to figure out how to prevent their collapse, which would jeopardize coverage for millions more Americans.

Insurance experts, including leading industry officials, have repeatedly warned Republicans over the past several months that repealing the health law without a replacement risks destabilizing insurance markets and will push many insurers to simply stop selling health plans.

So, not only will the repeal likely lead to tens of millions of people losing their health insurance it might actually wreck the entire individual health insurance market. Things would be even worse than before the ACA was passed:

But when the time came to pay up for risk reduction in the Obamacare exchanges, Congress reneged and paid only 12% of what was owed to the insurers. So, on top of the fact that the companies had to bear the risk of unknown costs and utilization in the startup years, which turned out to be higher than they expected, insurers had to absorb legislative uncertainty of whether the rules would be rewritten.

And now comes the reality of the “repeal and replace” initiatives from the Republicans. If the uncertainty of this market was large before with the ACA, it is almost unknowable under whatever comes next. Thus the initial exit of some latecomers, including United Healthcare, and undercapitalized minor entrants, such as nonprofit co-ops, is almost certain to become a flood of firms leaving the exchanges. They have little choice since the risks are too large and the actuarially appropriate rates are still not obvious given the political turmoil and changing rules.

Some in Congress seem to think that passing the “repeal” part immediately but delaying its implementation for two or three years will somehow leave everything as it is now. But this naive notion misses the fact that the riskiness of the Obamacare individual insurance exchange markets will have been ramped up to such a level that continuing makes no sense.

How does the Trump administration plan to deal with this?

The budget legislation gives congressional committees until Jan. 27 — a blink of an eye for lawmakers — to write legislation repealing major parts of the health care law. Likely targets include the law’s tax penalties for people who don’t obtain insurance, its requirement that many companies cover workers and tax increases on higher-earning individuals and many health care firms.

Aware they have no chance of quickly agreeing on replacement legislation, Republicans plan to delay when their repeal would actually take effect. A range of 18 months to three years — perhaps longer — has been under discussion.

Trump has provided few specifics about how he would revamp the nation’s $3 trillion-a-year health care system. Steps he and congressional Republicans have mentioned include greater reliance on tax credits to help people afford coverage.

Republicans don’t want to abruptly end health care coverage for millions of voters who live in GOP-represented districts and states, or cause chaos in health care markets and prompt insurance companies to stop selling policies. So they are considering including provisions in their repeal bill to protect consumers and insurers during the transition period.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., a member of the GOP Senate leadership, said that could include money to temporarily continue helping people afford to buy coverage and language letting the Department of Health and Human Services help stabilize insurance markets.

A few things:

  • Republicans have been talking about repealing the ACA since it was passed and they have no plan to replace it yet? Obviously they have never really planned a real replacement.
  • Given the above discussion, it’s very possible that the repeal of the ACA will crash the individual insurance market so it won’t matter if there are subsidies since there will be no companies willing to participate in the market. Why would a company participate in a market they know will be gone in a few years and which depends on Congress supporting them to break even–knowing that Congress reneged the last time such a promise was made?
  • Given all the complexities, they are going to write the repeal legislation very quickly. I’m sure they will be very well written and carefully vetted.

Donald Trump, being Donald Trump, is trying to get out the lie that any failure will be the fault of Democrats:

massive increases of ObamaCare will take place this year and Dems are to blame for the mess. It will fall of its own weight – be careful!

Sorry Donald, this will all be on you and the Republicans. You will be responsible for tens of millions of Americans losing health insurance.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: