Friday, June 30, 2017

TRUMP AGENDA - Accessing Your Vote

"Presidential Commission Demands Massive Amounts of State Voter Data" by Jessica Huseman, ProPublica 6/29/2017

A commission created by President Donald Trump to enhance confidence in America's elections has asked all 50 states for copies of their voter records which often include names, addresses and ages.  The commission has said it intends to make the information widely available.

On Wednesday, all 50 states were sent letters from Kris Kobach — vice chair for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity — requesting information on voter fraud, election security, and copies of every state's voter roll data.

The letter asked state officials to deliver the data within two weeks, and says that all information turned over to the commission will be made public.  The letter does not explain what the commission plans to do with voter roll data, which often includes the names, ages and addresses of registered voters.  The commission also asked for information beyond what is typically contained in voter registration records, including Social Security numbers and military status, if the state election databases contain it.

President Donald Trump established the commission through an executive order on March 11.  Its stated goal is to “promote fair and honest Federal elections” and it is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence.  The commission plans to present a report to Trump that identifies vulnerabilities in the voting system that could lead to fraud and makes recommendations for enhancing voters' confidence in election integrity.  No deadline has been set for completion of the work.

A number of experts, as well as at least one state official, reacted with a mix of alarm and bafflement.  Some saw political motivations behind the requests, while others said making such information public would create a national voter registration list, a move that could create new election problems.

“You'd think there would want to be a lot of thought behind security and access protocols for a national voter file, before you up and created one,” said Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola University School of Law and former Department of Justice civil rights official.  “This is asking to create a national voter file in two weeks.”

David Becker, the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, also expressed serious concerns about the request.  “It's probably a good idea not to make publicly available the name, address and military status of the people who are serving our armed forces to anyone who requests it,” he said.

Kobach, the secretary of state in Kansas, has been concerned about voter fraud for years.  His signature piece of legislation was a law requiring Kansans to show proof of citizenship when they register to vote, which is currently ensnarled in a fraught court battle with the American Civil Liberties Union.  He has written that he believes people vote twice with “alarming regularity,” and also that non-citizens frequently vote.  Multiple studies have shown neither happens with any consistency.

Kobach also runs the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, a proprietary piece of software started by Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh in 2005.  Under the program, 30 states pool their voter information and attempt to identify people who are registered in more than one state.

Some expect the information Kobach has requested will be used to create a national system that would include data from all 50 states.

It is not uncommon for voters to be registered in more than one state.  Many members of Trump's inner circle — including his son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Tiffany Trump — were registered to vote in two states.  Given the frequency with which voters move across state lines and re-register, the act of holding two registrations is not in itself fraud.  There is no evidence to suggest that voting twice is a widespread problem, though experts say removing duplicate registrations are a good practice if done carefully.

“In theory, I don't think we have a problem with that as an idea, but the devil is always in the details,” said Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project.  While he believes voter registration list maintenance is important, he says Kobach's Crosscheck program has been repeatedly shown to be ineffective and to produce false matches.  A study by a group of political scientists at Stanford published earlier this year found that Crosscheck highlighted 200 false matches for every one true double vote.

I have every reason to think that given the shoddy work that Mr. Kobach has done in this area in the past that this is going to be yet another boondoggle and a propaganda tool that tries to inflate the problem of double registration beyond what it actually is,” Ho said.

Some experts already see sloppy work in this request.  On at least one occasion, the commission directed the letter to the incorrect entity.  In North Carolina, it addressed and sent the letter to Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, who has no authority over elections or the voter rolls.  In that state, the North Carolina Board of Elections manages both.

Charles Stewart, a professor at MIT and expert in election administration, said it was proof of “sloppy staff work,” and questioned the speed at which the letter was sent.  “It seems to me that the data aren't going anywhere.  Doing database matching is hard work, and you need to plan it out carefully,” he said.  “It's a naïve first undertaking by the commission, and reflects that the commission may be getting ahead of itself.”

Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill, who oversees voting in the state, said she was dismayed about the commission's failure to be clearer about what its intentions are.  In a statement, Merrill said her office would share publicly available information with the commission.  But she said that “in the same spirit of transparency” her office would request the commission “share any memos, meeting minutes or additional information as state officials have not been told precisely what the Commission is looking for.”

“This lack of openness is all the more concerning, considering that the Vice Chair of the Commission, Kris Kobach, has a lengthy record of illegally disenfranchising eligible voters in Kansas,” she wrote.

Alabama's Republican Secretary of State John Merrill (no relation) also indicated he had questions for Kobach regarding how much of the data would be made public and how Alabamans' privacy would be protected, even while he expressed support for the commission.  “Kobach is a close friend, and I have full confidence in him and his ability, but before we turn over data of this magnitude to anybody we're going to make sure our questions are answered,” he said.

Colorado Secretary of State Republican Wayne Williams, for his part, said he was not concerned with what the commission planned to do with the data.  “Just like when we get a [public-records] request, we don't demand to know what they are going to do with the data,” he said.  “There are important reasons why the voter roll is publicly available information.”

The extent to which voter roll data is public varies across the country.  While some states, like North Carolina, make their voter rolls available for free download, other states charge high fees.  Alabama, for example, charges one cent per voter in the roll for a total cost of more than $30,000.  The state law provides a waiver for government entities, so Merrill said the commission would receive the data for free.  Other states, like Virginia, do not make this information public beyond sharing it with formal campaigns and political candidates.  When ProPublica tried to purchase Illinois' voter roll, our request was denied because they only release it to government entities for privacy reasons.  Illinois did not respond to a request regarding whether they would release this information to the PCEI, which — while a government entity — intends to make the information public.

The letter from the commission also asks quite broad questions of state elections officials.

“What changes, if any, to federal election laws would you recommend to enhance the integrity of federal elections?” asks the first question.  The letter also asked for all information and convictions related to any instance of voter fraud or registration fraud, and it solicited recommendations “for preventing voter intimidation or disenfranchisement.”

“The equivalent is, 'Hey, doctors, what changes would you suggest regarding healthcare?  Let us know in two weeks,'” said Levitt, the Loyola professor.  “If I were a state election official, I wouldn't know what to do with this.”

While the commission is being chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, Kobach signed the letter alone.  Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said this is an indication that Kobach — not Pence — “will be running the show,” which he said should be a point of concern.

“As we know with Kobach, he's obsessed with trying to identify voter fraud and finds it in a lot of places where it doesn't exist,” he said.

Vanita Gupta, the former acting head of the Department of Justice's civil rights division under President Barack Obama, said the commission's letter was an indication the commission was “laying the groundwork” to carry out changes to the National Voter Registration Act that might seek to restrict access to the polls.

The National Voter Registration Act — sometimes called the Motor Voter Act — was enacted in 1993.  It allows the DOJ the authority to ensure states to keep voter registration lists, or voter rolls, accurate and up-to-date.  It also requires states to offer opportunities for voter registration at all offices that provide public assistance (like the DMV).

In November, Kobach was photographed holding a paper addressing national security issues and proposing changes to the voter registration law.  It is not clear what these changes were.  The ACLU is involved in a lawsuit against Kansas' state law requiring people to show proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.  As part of the suit, ACLU lawyers requested access to the document reflecting the changes Kobach proposed.

Originally Kobach told the court the document was beyond the scope of the lawsuit, but last week the court found the documents were relevant and that Kobach had intentionally misled the court.  He was fined $1,000 for the offense and required him to turn the document over.  It has not yet been made public.

Gupta said her concern about the future of the voter registration act was deepened by the fact that, on Thursday, the DOJ sent a letter to the 44 states covered by the act requesting information on the maintenance of their voter rolls.  States were given 30 days to answer a set of detailed questions about their policies for list maintenance.

“The timing of the letters being issued on the same day is curious at the very least,” she said.

The White House and the DOJ all did not respond to requests for comment about the letters.

The letter did not ask about compliance with the portions of the act that require states to attempt to expand the voter base, such as by offering voter registration forms and information in public offices.

Danielle Lang, deputy director of voting rights for The Campaign Legal Center, said the focus on list maintenance troubled her.  While she said this might point to a new direction in enforcement for the DOJ's voting rights section, it was too early to tell how this information might be used.

Levitt said he did not recall a time when the DOJ has previously requested such broad information.  While the information is public and not, on its face, troubling, Levitt said the only time he recalled requesting similar information was during targeted investigations when federal officials suspected a state was not complying with the law.

Monday, June 26, 2017

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 6/23/2017

"Shields and Brooks on the Senate health care bill unveiled, Trump’s tape clarification" PBS NewsHour 6/23/2017


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the debut of the controversial Senate Republican health care bill, the high-profile Georgia special election and why Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was invoked by Republicans during the race, plus President Trump’s clarification that he had not taped former FBI Director James Comey.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

David, let me start with you.

Let’s start talking about the health care plan that the Senate rolled out this week.  You surprised at what is different, what’s the same between the House bill?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times:  I’m a little surprised.

First, it’s sort of Obamacare-lite.  It’s not going to work.  It’s functionally nonoperational, because it will encourage, when they’re healthy, to exit the system and then go back into the system when they’re sick.  And that’s a recipe for a death spiral in a lot of places.

So I think, functionally, it’s not going to work.  Politically, I have to say, it’s kind of canny.  Mitch McConnell had these two wings of his party.  And I think he steered as well as is possible to steer down the middle to give the right, the Ted Cruz folks the cuts in Medicaid and Medicare and stuff like that.

He gave the center basically the structure of Obamacare with some of the rules about preexisting conditions.  So, I think, politically, it’s an act of skill.  And as I look forward, is this thing going to pass, I still think probably not because I don’t think you can get the whole Republican Party behind this thing, but I’m reminded not to underestimate Mitch McConnell.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Have the Republicans made the case that this is something better or just that this is not Obamacare?

DAVID BROOKS:  It’s not Obamacare.

What it does — you ought to start with, what kind of country are we in?  We’re in a country where — widening inequality.  And so I think it’s possible to be a conservative and to support market mechanisms basically to redistribute wealth down to those who are suffering.

This bill doesn’t do that.  It goes the other way.  So, I think, fundamentally, it doesn’t solve the basic problem our country has, which is a lot of people are extremely vulnerable.  And so I do think, as a solution any the range of health care problems, I don’t think it’s it.  I don’t even think repealing Obamacare.  It’s a cheaper version of Obamacare.


MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:  Two things hit me, first of all.

We know there’s been no debate, no hearings, so that’s been a cry.  But it’s interesting, because there is no public case to be made for the Republican plan, none.  I mean, at least with the Obamacare, Affordable Care Act, you could say, no lifetime limit, a children — children could stay on their parents’ plan until the age of 26, no preexisting condition will deny you coverage, no lifetime illness will knock you off.

There was a case.  You could argue against the case.

There is no public case that has been made in either the House or the Senate.  So, they hold no hearings, and there is no public debate, because they don’t want to take the time to make the case for it because they don’t have a case.  And they don’t want to give the other — opposition a case to make — the time to make the case against it.

And what it is, the only thing that the House and the Senate are consistently faithful on is that it’s a major tax cut.  It is a redistribution.

Obama, who was, you know, if anything, overly moderate for many tastes, did, in fact, lay it on the most advantaged among us to pay, to cover people who couldn’t afford it in his plan.  And a 3.8 percent tax on unearned income for those earning over a quarter of a million dollars became the rallying cry, the organizing principle for the opposition.

And that’s the one constant that has been through it all.  Warren Buffett, to his everlasting credit, pointed out that he will get a tax cut under the Republican plan this year of $630,000.  That’s the redistribution.

And, you know, in the richest nation in the history of the world, it is a terrible indictment, a sad commentary that the most vulnerable among us, the least — the least among us are really tossed off as a political statement.
MARK SHIELDS:  I mean, Medicaid, Hari, I think, is health care for poorer Americans.  And what this plan does is essentially starve Medicaid.  The Senate does it slower.  The House does it faster.


"Rebuilding a Chicago neighborhood by forging connections to the Muslim community" PBS NewsHour 6/23/2017


SUMMARY:  The South Side of Chicago has long been plagued with some of the highest crime rates in the nation, but a man of faith is trying to transform the area by focusing on the everyday needs of those who live there.  Jeffrey Brown visits the neighborhood with Rami Nashashibi, founder of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, to see how his efforts are improving health and well-being.

"Rev. William Barber is building a new ‘moral movement’ to reach people on race" PBS NewsHour 6/23/2017


SUMMARY:  Special Correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault speaks with Reverend William Barber and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, co-authors of “The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear,” about what it takes to tackle America’s racial divide.

TRUMPCARE 2.0 - Brutal

"Senate GOP releases health care bill and battle lines form" PBS NewsHour 6/22/2017


SUMMARY:  Senate Republicans unveiled details of their health care bill Thursday after weeks of work behind closed doors.  The proposal shares some broad strokes with the bill that the House passed in May, drawing unanimous opposition from Democrats and starting negotiations among Republicans, some of whom have publicly criticized it.  Lisa Desjardins reports.

"Why the Senate Republican health care bill has a vote problem" PBS NewsHour 6/22/2017


SUMMARY:  The biggest change proposed by the Senate Republican health care bill is how the federal government would fund Medicaid.  Lisa Desjardins and Mary Agnes Carey of Kaiser Health News join Hari Sreenivasan to help break down the details and the political prospects for getting it passed.

"Senate GOP plan to delay Medicaid cuts ‘doesn’t make it less awful,’ says former HHS secretary" PBS NewsHour 6/22/2017


SUMMARY:  Former President Barack Obama responded Thursday to the Republicans’ planned overhaul of the Affordable Care Act, saying “If there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family, this bill will do you harm.”  Judy Woodruff gets reaction to the GOP replacement proposal from Kathleen Sebelius, former Secretary of Health and Human Services and a key figure in the creation of the ACA.

POLICE SHOOTINGS - Why So Few Convictions

IMHO:  Because juries and investigators are prejudiced to believing 'I was in fear for my life' arguments.  This is especially apparent when the victim is a child or unarmed.

Police need to be trained to NEVER put their hands on their gun when confronting children OR unarmed citizens.  They also need to be taught to use non-lethal force FIRST, guns last.

"Why do so few deadly police shootings end in police convictions?" PBS NewsHour 6/22/2017


SUMMARY:  Why do so few trials of police officers charged in on-duty shootings end in convictions?  Most recently, the officers who shot and killed Philando Castile and Sylville Smith were acquitted by juries who saw video of the fatal encounters.  John Yang discusses issues of race and deadly force with David Klinger of the University of Missouri-St.Louis, and Brittany Packnett co-founder of Campaign Zero.

HEALTH - Farm-to-Table Food

"Farm-fresh healthy food doesn’t have to be too pricey or pretty, says this chef" PBS NewsHour 6/22/2017


SUMMARY:  Chef and restaurateur Joy Crump explains how we can find greater value and health in farm-to-table food, in a conversation at the Aspen Institute's Spotlight Health Conference.

MAKING SEN$E - Payday Loans

"The surprising logic behind the use of check cashers and payday loans" PBS NewsHour 6/22/2017


SUMMARY:  Often seen as predatory, the check cashing industry has been booming.  Lisa Servon wondered why lower-income people who were struggling would cash checks instead of getting a bank account, so she took a job as a cashier to find out.  What she learned -- that it’s often cheaper -- is the subject of her new book, "The Unbanking of America."  Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.

NEWSHOUR SHARES - Great Stalacpipe Organ's 60th

"The Virginia cavern that can play the Moonlight Sonata" PBS NewsHour 6/21/2017


SUMMARY:  In our NewsHour Shares moment of the day, this year marks the 60th anniversary of “The Great Stalacpipe Organ,” the largest musical instrument in the world, built into Virginia’s Luray Caverns.

THE LEADING EDGE - Pigs Can't Fly....Wait? Planes Can't Fly?!

"Why planes can’t fly when it’s too hot, and other ways our civilization can’t take the heat" PBS NewsHour 6/21/2017


SUMMARY:  An extreme heat wave is baking the West and Southwest, with temperatures well above 100 degrees.  More than 40 flights were canceled or delayed because some planes can't safely lift off in that heat.  Science correspondent Miles O’Brien joins Hari Sreenivasan to explain how high heat can ground air flight and the larger trend of our warming climate and how it affects us.

NEWS HOUR BOOKSHELF - "If I Understood You, Would I Have this Look on My Face?"

"For Alan Alda, the heart of good communication is connection" PBS NewsHour 6/21/2017


SUMMARY:  As an actor, educational TV host and founder of a scholarly center for communication science, Alan Alda has used his trademark humor and wit to help others express complicated ideas in accessible language.  Now he's written new book called "If I Understood You, Would I Have this Look on My Face?" Alda sits down with Jeffrey Brown to offer a lesson in communication.

NORTH KOREA - Response to Otto Warmbier's Death

"Will Otto Warmbier’s death affect U.S. strategy on North Korea?" PBS NewsHour 6/20/2017


SUMMARY:  President Trump condemned the death of 22-year-old American student Otto Warmbier -- who was released from North Korean detention in a coma -- and seemed to abandon his goal of enlisting China to pressure the regime.  How does Warmbier’s tragic end affect the U.S. approach?  John Yang explores what's at stake with Kathleen Stephens, former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea.

MAKING THE GRADE - Social Media 101

"Schools are watching students’ social media, raising questions about free speech" PBS NewsHour 6/20/2017


SUMMARY:  As universities have started paying close attention to the internet presence of prospective students, high schools have also begun cracking down, sometimes hiring outside companies to police social media posts for bullying or abusive language.  But monitoring raises other problems, and civil rights groups are paying attention.  Special correspondent Lisa Stark of Education Week reports.


"David Sedaris’ diaries paint a life spent in observation" PBS NewsHour 6/20/2017


SUMMARY:  Who was humorist David Sedaris before he had sold millions of books and made countless live appearances before adoring audiences?  In a new book, "Theft By Finding," Sedaris offers a portrait of himself as a younger artist through his personal diaries.  Jeffrey Brown sits down with the author to discuss his compulsion to observe, write and perform.

SYRIA - Jet Shoot-Down

"Fallout from U.S. strike on a Syrian jet further complicates messy battlefield" PBS NewsHour 6/19/2017

IMHO:  About time.  Next, get rid of War Criminal Assad.


SUMMARY:  An American aircraft shot down a Syrian air force fighter jet Sunday, prompting Russia to say it now considers all U.S. aircraft in the region a threat, and suspending its military hotline for coordination of air missions.  John Yang reports and Judy Woodruff gets analysis from Faysal Itani of the Atlantic Council and former Defense Department official Andrew Exum.

NEWSHOUR SHARES - Fixit, Don't Discard

"The clinic that brings your broken toaster back to life" PBS NewsHour 6/19/2017


SUMMARY:  In our NewsHour Shares moment of the day, Fixit Clinics teach people how to repair electronic items instead of throwing them out.

AGENTS FOR CHANGE - Human Trafficking

"How human traffickers trap women into domestic servitude" PBS NewsHour 6/19/2017


SUMMARY:  More than three million women are forced into servitude as domestic workers every year, often lured to other countries in the Persian Gulf or Middle East under false pretenses.  Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on ways some advocates are working to protect workers, as well as women in low-income countries who may be vulnerable to human traffickers.


"Shutting Out the Public from the Senate Healthcare Bill Isn’t Just Antidemocratic: It’s Deadly" by Ben Palmquist, In These Times 6/20/2017

These lethal policies would never pass through an accountable, participatory public process.

A secretive Senate working group is closing in on a bill to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system by gutting Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  With Republican leaders tight-lipped, the details of what’s in the bill remain a matter of speculation. [updated, been released]

The closed-door deliberations by this all-male cabal of Republican senators are antidemocratic to the point of parody, but the stakes are dangerously high.  Healthcare is not just one sixth of the U.S. economy: It is critical to people’s wellbeing and very survival.

These draconian policies would never pass through an accountable, participatory public process.  By fast-tracking this bill with no transparency or public hearings, and perhaps as little as a handful of days for any public response, they are threatening tens of thousands of people’s lives.

How many lives could be at stake?  If the Senate bill cuts 23 million people off of Medicaid and ACA insurance plans as the Congressional Budget Office calculated the House healthcare bill would, estimates suggest that somewhere between 17,000 and 44,000 people would die every year.

Skeptics may quibble that these estimates lean high, but does the precise figure matter?  How many lives would it be acceptable for Republicans’ healthcare cuts to take?

Widespread suffering borne unevenly

Death by a thousand Republican cuts would hit people of every race and every gender in every state.  Even people with comfortable incomes and comprehensive employer-sponsored insurance are just one illness, divorce or job loss away from danger.  Yet the harm of the Senate bill would overwhelmingly fall on poor people, sick people, older people, women and people of color.

Senate Republicans’ plans would do incredible harm to poor and working-class people by slashing Medicaid and ACA subsidies in order to fund an enormous redistribution of resources up the income ladder.  These funding cuts, along with deregulation of private insurance, would exacerbate the existing failures of the insurance market by raising people’s premiums and out-of-pocket costs, limiting coverage and leaving many uninsured entirely.  All this would especially hurt the very people who most need care; people with serious illnesses and chronic conditions, as well as older people.

Women and people of color are disproportionately poor and thus more likely to be hurt by cuts to Medicaid and ACA subsidies.  Women are impoverished by wage inequality, part-time jobs that don’t provide health benefits and lack of payment for domestic work.  They would also be hurt by Republican plans to defund Planned Parenthood.  Black and Brown communities are kept poor by racial inequities in public health, criminalization, education, hiring, housing, banking, and other arenas, and would thus be especially hard hit.  At the same time, because more white people rely on Medicaid and ACA subsidies than people of any other racial or ethnic group, huge numbers of poor and working-class white people would be hard-hit too.

Illnesses and deaths ripple out too, taking an emotional and financial toll on entire families.  The communities that Senate Republicans are targeting have the least resources to cope with the loss of a wage earner, caregiver or loved one.

Death by unnatural causes

Preventable deaths are not a natural disaster.  They are produced by policy choices and are, by definition, totally avoidable.

The root of the problem is the way the U.S. healthcare system prices and pays for healthcare.  Other wealthy countries guarantee healthcare to everyone as a fundamental human right by controlling healthcare prices and levying taxes to pay for healthcare as a public good.  But in the U.S. healthcare system, insurance, hospital and drug corporations are allowed to set healthcare prices virtually without limit, and the private insurance system allocates healthcare not to those who need it, but to those who can afford to pay.

This pay-for-access healthcare market puts up cost barriers that force an enormous number of people to forego needed care.  According to a survey by The Commonwealth Fund, even after the coverage gains of the Affordable Care Act, 63 million people (one in three adults under 65) skip doctors’ visits, prescriptions and other needed care because they can’t afford the costs.  All these people suffer, and a portion die.  The Senate bill would force this needless misery on millions more.

It’s not hard to see why costs create a barrier to care.  In some cases, the ACA allows insurance companies to charge deductibles of over $14,000.  Out-of-pocket costs that high prevent even middle-class people from going to the doctor and filling prescriptions.  And if Senate Republicans have their way, deductibles could rise much higher.

For poor people, the cost barriers are even worse.  Working a low-wage job and struggling to pay for rent, transportation, food, utilities and other necessities means that even a $20 copay can be prohibitively expensive.

Market-based healthcare pricing is especially cruel to poor people, but it hurts us all.  People in the United States pay far more for healthcare than any other nation.  We have the worst health performance in the industrialized world.  And by dividing us into categories and forcing us into isolated struggles for survival rather than uniting us around our shared needs and values, the health insurance market frays our democracy.

Ultimately the only way to remove cost barriers and to stop forcing people to die tragically preventable deaths is by moving from private, for-profit insurance to a universal, publicly financed, single-payer insurance system.  In the meantime, Senate Republicans must be stopped.  Our lives depend on it.

CITIZENS SPEAK - Why Should We Pay

Sometimes it takes a senior to remind us of the fundamentals of Democracy and civil responsibility.

Barbara Rank, Thanks

Thursday, June 22, 2017

REPUBLICAN AGENDA - Senate's Trumpcare 2.0

IMHO:  Still mean and uncaring.  America, bend over and spread cheeks.

"Senate finally unveils secret health care bill" by MJ Lee, Tami Luhby, Lauren Fox, and Phil Mattingly - CNN 6/22/2015

The closely guarded [secret] Senate health care bill written entirely behind closed doors finally became public [bill text] Thursday in a do-or-die moment for the Republican Party's winding efforts to repeal Obamacare.

The unveiling of the legislation marks the first time that the majority of the Senate GOP conference gets a comprehensive look at the health care proposal.  With Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pressing ahead for a vote next week, senators only a handful of days to decide whether to support or vote against the bill.

The bill is very similar to the version of the House bill that passed last month but with some key changes.  The text released Thursday showed the Senate legislation would still make major changes to the nation's health care system, repealing Obamacare's individual mandate, drastically cutting back federal support of Medicaid, eliminating Obamacare's taxes on the wealthy, insurers and others.  The Senate plan however would keep Obamacare's subsidies to help people pay for individual coverage.

McConnell's decision to keep the details tightly under wraps until Thursday was intentional and aimed at winning over his colleagues out of the public spotlight, but the secretive process has infuriated Democrats -- and aggravated plenty of Republicans, too.

"I need the information to justify a 'yes' vote.  I have a hard time believing that we would have that in such a short period of time," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, told CNN on Wednesday.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham joked: "We'll know if it's a boy or girl tomorrow."

McConnell has very little room for error -- he can only lose two Republican votes and still pass the bill.

President Donald Trump said Wednesday night he hopes to "surprise" with a plan that has "heart."

"I hope we are going to surprise with a really good plan," Trump said at a campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  "You know I've been talking about a plan with heart.  I said add some money to it.  A plan with heart, but Obamacare is dead."

The House passed its version of health care reform last month, but while Republicans celebrated that bill with Trump at the White House, the President has since called it "mean."

A senior administration official said Senate leaders sounded "optimistic" about the fate of the health care bill in the Senate during their briefing for White House officials Wednesday night.

Can McConnell get the votes?

Senior GOP senators were still putting final touches on the draft legislation on Wednesday, and it is still likely to change before any vote as members express their preferences.

Much like in the House, where moderate and conservative lawmakers were deeply divided on health care policy leading up to a vote in May, Senate Republicans also have clashing ideological views and priorities.

Some of the key issues that lawmakers are most concerned about include Medicaid reform, regulatory waivers, the state stability fund and tax credits.  McConnell has a tough needle to thread: making significant concessions to conservatives risks losing moderate votes, and vice versa.

What will CBO say?

The legislation will also have to undergo parliamentary scrutiny to ensure that it meets the strict requirements on what can or can't be included in a bill under the budget reconciliation process.

One report that will inform Senate Republicans as they decide whether to support the bill will be a score from the Congressional Budget Office, expected to come out in the coming days.

The CBO analysis will shed light on how much money the bill would cost and how many people would be covered.  Senate Republicans hope to see better headlines from this CBO report than the one that the House GOP legislation received.  CBO said the House bill would result in 23 million fewer people insured in 2026 than under Obamacare.

What's in the bill and differences with the House

While the Senate bill is largely similar to the House passed-bill, there are some key differences.

Medicaid has been one of the central sticking points in the debate.  The bill would continue the enhanced Medicaid expansion funding from Obamacare until 2021 and then [still] phase it out over three years.  This is a concession to moderates, who weren't pleased that the House version would end the enhanced support for new enrollees in 2020.

However, conservatives also get some of what they want when it comes to overhauling the entire Medicaid program.  The Senate bill would keep the House plan to send a fixed amount of money to states each year based on enrollment or as a lump sum block grant.  But it would shrink the program even more over time by pegging the annual growth rate of those funds to standard inflation, rather than the more generous medical inflation, starting in 2025.  This would likely force states to cut enrollment, benefits or provider payments.

The Senate bill would also largely maintain Obamacare's premium subsidies structure, but tighten the eligibility criteria starting in 2020.  Fewer middle class folks would get help because only those earning up to 350% of the poverty level would qualify, rather than the 400% threshold contained in Obamacare.  But it would also open up the subsidies to enrollees below the poverty level so those living in states that didn't expand Medicaid could get some assistance.

Senators opted to keep Obamacare's subsidies to prevent the funds from being used for abortions.  The House bill called for creating tax credits based largely on age, but adding abortion restrictions to these credits could have run afoul of Senate rules governing the bill.  Still, the similarities to Obamacare will likely infuriate conservatives such as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who decried the House version as "Obamacare Lite."

Also, as in the House bill, it would defund Planned Parenthood for one year.

The Senate also backs away from some last minute House concessions to conservatives that would have allowed states to opt out of several protections for those with pre-existing conditions, but insurers would not be allowed to charge higher premiums to those with pre-existing conditions.

The bill would also aim to shore up the existing Obamacare market by allocating funds for the cost-sharing subsidies until 2019.  This will placate insurers, who were distraught by Trump's refusal to commit to continue making these payments, leading many carriers to hike rates or drop out of the exchanges for 2018.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

AMERICA - Universal Health Care

In the debate about health care in the U.S. there are many claims going around.  One is Universal Health Care whose champion is Bernie Sanders.

Universal Health Care:

"Universal health care, sometimes referred to as universal health coverage, universal coverage, or universal care, usually refers to a health care system that provides health care and financial protection to all citizens of a particular country.  It is organized around providing a specified package of benefits to all members of a society with the end goal of providing financial risk protection, improved access to health services, and improved health outcomes.  Universal health care is not one-size-fits-all and does not imply coverage for all people for everything.  Universal health care can be determined by three critical dimensions: who is covered, what services are covered, and how much of the cost is covered.  It is described by the World Health Organization as a situation where citizens can access health services without incurring financial hardship. U.N. member states have agreed to work toward universal health coverage by 2030." - Wikipedia

As of 2009, 58 countries have legislation mandating universal health care and have actually reached >90% health insurance coverage and >90% skilled birth attendance.

The cost and spending on Health Care:

It is hard to argue with the numbers.

The U.S. spends MORE than any other nation and we get Trumpcare.

Here's another argument:

  1.  $200 billion tax cut!
  2.  $2.2 trillion saved by NOT needing private heath care!

Of course the reason we are not getting Universal Health Care is item #2.

It would be a $2.2 trillion loss to health insurance industry (aka extortionists).  And they have bought the loyalty of politicians.

Reminder:  Health care PROVIDERS (doctors, hospitals, HMOs, etc) would not loose money, they will get more with 100% coverage.  The health insurance industry are middle-men.

We don't get a less costly Universal Health Care because of GREED!

Don't believe the lies, especially by the Republican Party.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

VIDEO - 'Some Cats Just Know How to Roll'

Love this commercial.  Typically cat; snobbish, snooty, and cool.

Yapping dog bothering you, just roll-up the window.

My candidate for best commercial 2017.


Monday, June 19, 2017

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 6/16/2017

"Shields and Brooks on Trump's response to Russia probe, Scalise shooting" PBS NewsHour 6/16/2017


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's news, including the latest developments in the Russia probe and how President Trump has been reacting to reports that he is being investigated for possible obstruction of justice, plus the state of political polarization in light of a shooting targeting GOP lawmakers.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

So, gentlemen, it's been another tumultuous week, on top of several others.  We have had the attorney general of the United States testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee.  And then we learned, I guess in the last 48 hours, Mark, that the investigation by the Special Counsel into the Russia meddling in the election has been expanded to include whether or not the President committed obstruction of justice.

Is this a one-alarm crisis, two-alarm?  Are we making too big a deal of this?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:  Well, based on what the President — how the President's reacting, Judy, I don't think we're making too big a deal of it.

I mean, the President, having acted briefly Presidential after the tragedy of the shooting of Steve Scalise and the others at the baseball field, has reverted to form and gone back to, as you reported at the outset, now the man who told me to fire the FBI director is after me because — is investigating me because of firing of the FBI director, which is totally contradictory to what the President said to Lester Holt on NBC, that the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein had nothing to do with his decision to fire James Comey as FBI director, that it was based solely on Donald Trump's desire, as he expressed to the Russians the next day in the Oval Office, to get the Russian investigation behind him.

And so I just think that he is behaving like a man who really wants to fire Robert Mueller and, you know, who didn't live through October 20, 1973, when President Nixon ordered Elliot Richardson to fire Archibald Cox and the independent counsel, and he refused and resigned.  And William Rucklehaus, his deputy, resigned.

And we had a constitutional crisis.  And it led to impeachment hearings.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The President is calling it a witch-hunt, David.

The White House is saying he didn't — isn't going to fire the Special Counsel.  But it isn't clear.  There have been reports out about that.

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times:  Yes, it may be a witch-hunt, but he's acting like a witch.


DAVID BROOKS:  To me, we have had this — the idea that there has been collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign has been investigated for a long time.  And so far, we have had no really serious evidence that they did collude, and everything else seems to be leaking out.

So, I begin to be a little suspicious — and maybe I'm wrong — we will see over the long term — whether there was any actual act of collusion.  There were certainly conversations maybe about some building and some investment, but so far, no evidence of an underlying crime.

But this, to me, is not a criminal story.  It is a psychological story.  And it's a story about a President who seems to be under more pressure, under more threat, lashing out in ways that are painfully self-destructive, but also extremely disturbing to anybody around him.

And so whether it's the North Korean Cabinet hearing that he held recently, where they all had to praise him, or the tweets as late as this morning, this is not a President who is projecting mental stability.

And the idea that he will fire somebody, whether it's Mueller or anybody else, seems very plausible.  And so, to me, if there is something really damaging here, it's something that has not yet happened caused by the psychological pressure that he apparently feels.
JUDY WOODRUFF:  Is this coming together at all, Mark?  Do you see any enduring — any endurance of that, or is that just — is it just going to be a blip?

MARK SHIELDS:  You hope, Judy, but to David’s point, both parties — according to Pew Research, in both parties, what drives the most activist wing is not support and energy and advocacy of their own side.  It’s loathing of the other side.

That’s the gauge as to whether you’re going to be politically involved, you’re going to vote, and whether you’re going to contribute, how much do you loathe the other party, how much do you hate them.

And there was a time, I will be very blunt, when I came to Washington, when the legitimacy of your opponent was never questioned.  You questioned their judgment.  You questioned their opinions or their arguments, but you never their legitimacy.

And that changed.  And it changed.  And one of the reasons it changed is that a man was elected from the state of Georgia who ran on the book, and the book was, you use these words.  You use sick.  You refer pathetic, traitor, liar, corrupt, shame, enemy of normal Americans.

This was Newt Gingrich’s bible.  It wasn’t an idea of a policy.  It wasn’t a program.  He used it and he became successful.  He became Speaker of the House.

Donald Trump is a clone of Newt Gingrich.  Donald Trump used, Donald Trump, lying Ted, and lightweight Bobby Jindal, and Mitt Romney choked like a dog, and used that language.

And you’re right.  The left has used similar language and there has been a response and almost a premium on going after Trump in the same sort of language.  But there’s been no punishment.  There’s no political downside for this tactic.

TRUMP AGENDA - Anti-Cuba Effect

His decision has nothing to do with Cuba, it IS all anti-Obama.

"Average Cubans likely hurt by Trump's return to stricter rules" PBS NewsHour 6/16/2017


SUMMARY:  President Trump announced renewed restrictions on business in and travel to Cuba, partially reversing course on former President Obama's re-engagement with the island nation.  John Yang speaks with Alan Gomez of USA TODAY about what's at stake for average Cubans who depend on tourism.

NEWSHOUR'S IMHO - Following Boyfriends

"I ignored advice and followed my boyfriend to a new city after college.  Here's why" PBS NewsHour 6/16/2017


SUMMARY:  Caroline Kitchener grew up hearing that strong women don't need to rely on a partner to have a happy and successful life.  But after graduating college, her values clashed with real life: She decided to move to a new city with her boyfriend.  Kitchener, author of "Post Grad: Five Women and Their First Year Out of College," shares her humble opinion.

KUSHNER - American for Sale

"Kushner family's real estate dealings land foreign-investor visa back in the spotlight" PBS NewsHour 6/15/2017


SUMMARY:  Thousands of investors apply and participate annually in the little-known EB-5 visa program, designed to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors.  Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports that recently, one real estate business in particular has put it back in the spotlight; that of the family of Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law.

RELATED:  "How Jared Kushner and others gerrymander to sell visas to foreigners — at a steep discount"

BRIEF BUT SPECTACULAR - Art of Conversation

"How Dick Cavett brought the art of conversation to TV" PBS NewsHour 6/15/2017


SUMMARY:  TV great Dick Cavett credits comedian Jack Paar with providing his talk-show hosting philosophy: Make it a conversation.  Cavett offers his Brief But Spectacular take on his career.

PS:  Did you catch the comment at the very, very end? 😂

UNITED KINGDOM - London Tower Fire

"Deadly tower of flames traps residents in London" PBS NewsHour 6/14/2017


SUMMARY:  A massive fire in London killed at least 12 people and injured several others Wednesday.  The fire spread rapidly, engulfing the high-rise apartment building as trapped people called for help.  The cause of the fire is still unknown and it could be several days before a final death count.  Dan Rivers of Independent Television News reports.

DOMESTIC TERRORISM - Attack on Congressmen

"Attack on congressman provokes somber reflection in Washington" PBS NewsHour 6/14/2017


SUMMARY:  A gunman opened fire Wednesday in Alexandria, Va., during a morning practice for the Congressional Baseball Game.  The gunman, who died from his injuries sustained during the attack, shot Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the House Majority Whip, and four others.  Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff for an update on the reaction from Capitol Hill.

TRUMP AGENDA - Afghanistan, More U.S.  Troops

"Can more U.S. troops in Afghanistan help end the war?" PBS NewsHour 6/14/2017


SUMMARY:  As part of the Trump administration's review of America's 16-year war in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary James Mattis announced that the President has given him the authority to decide appropriate troop levels.  The U.S. commander in that country has recommended boosting the number by thousands more.  William Brangham speaks with retired Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO.

"Petraeus: We went to Afghanistan for a reason, and we need to stay" PBS NewsHour 6/16/2017


SUMMARY:  The Trump administration is reportedly considering sending 4,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan in light of a deteriorating security situation.  Retired Gen. David Petraeus joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the need for a long-term U.S. military commitment in that country, civilian casualties in the coalition fight against the Islamic State, the American policy on the crisis facing Qatar, and more.

SESSIONS - Spin and Obfuscation

"What former Justice officials heard in Sessions' testimony" PBS NewsHour 6/13/2017


SUMMARY:  From dealings with former FBI Director James Comey to the Attorney General's recusal from the Russia probe, Judy Woodruff gets analysis from George Terwilliger, Walter Dellinger, and Carrie Cordero, three former Justice Department officials with extensive experience in government and the law.

TRUMP AGENDA - Tracking Lies and Exaggerations

"Has the President created lots of jobs?  Putting Trump's claims in context" PBS NewsHour 6/13/2017


SUMMARY:  Just four months into his term, President Trump has made numerous claims about the jobs he's created and saved.  What's the real record?  William Brangham reports.

NORTH KOREA - Freed Student in Coma

"U.S. college student freed from North Korea after falling into extended coma" PBS NewsHour 6/13/2017


SUMMARY:  Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old American college student, has been medically evacuated under desperate circumstances after being detained in North Korea.  North Korean authorities arrested Otto, who is now comatose, almost 18 months ago during a trip to the reclusive nation and sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor for taking a poster.  Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now to the release of Otto Warmbier from captivity in North Korea.

The American college student was arrested almost 18 months ago during a trip to the reclusive nation, and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

This morning came word suddenly that the United States had secured his release, but under apparently desperate circumstances.  Warmbier is comatose, and has been for a year.  An American delegation in Pyongyang petitioned for his immediate release yesterday.

TRUMP AGENDA - Diplomat Quits Because of Paris

"How Trump's Paris decision drove the top U.S. diplomat in China to quit" PBS NewsHour 6/12/2017


SUMMARY:  Four days after President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, the top American official in China, David Rank, tendered his resignation, citing the President's decision.  Rank, who served 27 years in the foreign service, sits down with Judy Woodruff in his first interview since stepping down.

REPUBLICAN AGENDA - Senate Trumpcare in Secret

This is an affront to American governance.  They are crafting a unethical health bill, not allowing debate, AND using a rule to fast-track this bill to a vote.

Why?  They know it will NOT fly with American citizens.

"Republican senators are privately crafting a health care bill, raising alarm from Democrats" PBS NewsHour 6/12/2017


SUMMARY:  Republican senators are trying to finish drafting their own health care bill this week as part of the GOP effort to replace the Affordable Care Act, and they've been doing it in secret.  Democrats like Sen. Claire McCaskill have been raising their concern about what's happening.  Lisa Desjardins walks us through the normal process and how these efforts differ.

Friday, June 16, 2017

TRUMP AGENDA - His Dark Government & Anti-Rights

"Trump Administration Quietly Rolls Back Civil Rights Efforts Across Federal Government" by Jessica Huseman and Annie Waldman, ProPublica 6/15/2017

Previously unannounced directives will limit the Department of Justice's use of a storied civil rights enforcement tool, and loosen the Department of Education's requirements on investigations.

For decades, the Department of Justice has used court-enforced agreements to protect civil rights, successfully desegregating school systems, reforming police departments, ensuring access for the disabled, and defending the religious.

Now, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the DOJ appears to be turning away from this storied tool, called consent decrees.  Top officials in the DOJ civil rights division have issued verbal instructions through the ranks to seek settlements without consent decrees — which would result in no continuing court oversight.

The move is just one part of a move by the Trump administration to limit federal civil rights enforcement.  Other departments have scaled back the power of their internal divisions that monitor such abuses.  In a previously unreported development, the Education Department last week reversed an Obama-era reform that broadened the agency's approach to protecting rights of students.  The Labor Department and the Environmental Protection Agency have also announced sweeping cuts to their enforcement.

“At best, this administration believes that civil rights enforcement is superfluous and can be easily cut.  At worst, it really is part of a systematic agenda to roll back civil rights,” said Vanita Gupta, the former acting head of the DOJ's civil rights division under President Barack Obama.

Consent decrees have not been abandoned entirely by the DOJ, a person with knowledge of the instructions said.  Instead, there is a presumption against their use — attorneys should default to using settlements without court oversight unless there is an unavoidable reason for a consent decree.  The instructions came from the civil rights division's office of acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler and Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Gore.  There is no written policy guidance.

Devin O'Malley, a spokesperson for the DOJ, declined to comment for this story.

Consent decrees can be a powerful tool, and spell out specific steps that must be taken to remedy the harm.  These are agreed to by both parties and signed off on by a judge, whom the parties can appear before again if the terms are not being met.  Though critics say the DOJ sometimes does not enforce consent decrees well enough, they are more powerful than settlements that aren't overseen by a judge and have no built-in enforcement mechanism.

Such settlements have “far fewer teeth to ensure adequate enforcement,” Gupta said.

Consent decrees often require agencies or municipalities to take expensive steps toward reform.  Local leaders and agency heads then can point to the binding court authority when requesting budget increases to ensure reforms.  Without consent decrees, many localities or government departments would simply never make such comprehensive changes, said William Yeomans, who spent 26 years at the DOJ, mostly in the civil rights division.

“They are key to civil rights enforcement,” he said.  “That's why Sessions and his ilk don't like them.”

Some, however, believe the Obama administration relied on consent decrees too often and sometimes took advantage of vulnerable cities unable to effectively defend themselves against a well-resourced DOJ.

“I think a recalibration would be welcome,” said Richard Epstein, a professor at New York University School of Law and a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, adding that consent decrees should be used in cases where clear, systemic issues of discrimination exist.

Though it's too early to see how widespread the effect of the changes will be, the Justice Department appears to be adhering to the directive already.

On May 30, the DOJ announced Bernards Township in New Jersey had agreed to pay $3.25 million to settle an accusation it denied zoning approval for a local Islamic group to build a mosque.  Staff attorneys at the U.S. attorney's office in New Jersey initially sought to resolve the case with a consent decree, according to a spokesperson for Bernards Township.  But because of the DOJ's new stance, the terms were changed after the township protested, according to a person familiar with the matter.  A spokesperson for the New Jersey U.S. attorney's office declined comment.

Sessions has long been a public critic of consent decrees.  As a senator, he wrote they “constitute an end run around the democratic process.”  He lambasted local agencies that seek them out as a way to inflate their budgets, a “particularly offensive” use of consent decrees that took decision-making power from legislatures.

On March 31, Sessions ordered a sweeping review of all consent decrees with troubled police departments nationwide to ensure they were in line with the Trump administration's law-and-order goals.  Days before, the DOJ had asked a judge to postpone a hearing on a consent decree with the Baltimore Police Department that had been arranged during the last days of the Obama administration.  The judge denied that request, and the consent decree has moved forward.

The DOJ has already come under fire from critics for altering its approach to voting rights cases.  After nearly six years of litigation over Texas' voter ID law — which Obama DOJ attorneys said was written to intentionally discriminate against minority voters and had such a discriminatory effect — the Trump DOJ abruptly withdrew its intent claims in late February.

Attorneys who worked on the case for years were barely consulted about the change — many weren't consulted at all, according to two former DOJ officials with knowledge of the matter.  Gore wrote the filing changing the DOJ's position largely by himself and asked the attorneys who'd been involved in the case for years to sign it to show continuity.  Not all of the attorneys fell in line.  Avner Shapiro — who has been a prosecutor in the civil rights division for more than 20 years — left his name off the filings written by Gore.  Shapiro was particularly involved in developing the DOJ's argument that Texas had intentionally discriminated against minorities in crafting its voter ID legislation.

“That's the ultimate act of rebellion,” Yeomans, the former civil rights division prosecutor, said.  A rare act, removing one's name from a legal filing is one of the few ways career attorneys can express public disagreement with an administration.

Gore has no history of bringing civil rights cases.  A former partner at the law firm Jones Day, he has instead defended states against claims of racial gerrymandering and represented North Carolina when the state was sued over its controversial “bathroom bill,” which requires transgender people to use the facility that matched their birth gender.

All of the internal changes at the DOJ have left attorneys and staff with “a great deal of fear and uncertainty,” said Yeomans.  While he says the lawyers there would like to stay at the department, they fear Sessions' priorities will have devastating impact on their work.

The DOJ's civil rights office is not alone in fearing rollbacks in enforcement.  Across federal departments, the Trump administration has made moves to diminish the power of civil rights divisions.

The Department of Education has laid out plans to loosen requirements on investigations into civil rights complaints, according to an internal memo sent to staff on June 8 and obtained by ProPublica.

Under the Obama administration, the department's office for civil rights applied an expansive approach to investigations.  Individual complaints related to complex issues such as school discipline, sexual violence and harassment, equal access to educational resources, or racism at a single school might have prompted broader probes to determine whether the allegations were part of a pattern of discrimination or harassment.

The new memo, sent by Candice Jackson, the Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, to regional directors at the department's civil rights office, trims this approach.  Jackson was appointed deputy assistant secretary for the office in April and will remain as the acting head of the office until the Senate confirms a full-time assistant secretary.  Trump has not publicly nominated anyone for the role yet.

The office will apply the broader approach “only” if the original allegations raise systemic concerns or the investigative team argues for it, Jackson wrote in the memo.

As part of the new approach, the Education Department will no longer require civil rights investigators to obtain three years of complaint data from a specific school or district to assess compliance with civil rights law.

Critics contend the Obama administration's probes were onerous.  The office “did such a thorough review of everything that the investigations were demanding and very expensive” for schools, said Boston College American politics professor R. Shep Melnick, adding that the new approach could take some regulatory pressure off schools and districts.

But some civil rights leaders believe the change could undermine the office's mission.  This narrowing of the department's investigations “is stunning to me and dangerous,” said Catherine Lhamon, who led the Education Department's civil rights office from August 2013 until January 2017 and currently chairs the United States Commission on Civil Rights.  “It's important to take an expansive view of the potential for harm because if you look only at the most recent year, you won't necessarily see the pattern,” said Lhamon.

The department's new directive also gives more autonomy to regional offices, no longer requiring oversight or review of some cases by department headquarters, according to the memo.

The Education Department did not respond to ProPublica's request for comment.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has also proposed cutting over 40 positions from the civil rights office.  With reduced staff, the office will have to “make difficult choices, including cutting back on initiating proactive investigations,” according to the department's proposed budget.

Elsewhere, Trump administration appointees have launched similar initiatives.  In its 2018 fiscal plan, the Labor Department has proposed dissolving the office that handles discrimination complaints.  Similarly, new leadership at the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed entirely eliminating the environmental justice program, which addresses concerns that almost exclusively impact minority communities.  The Washington Post reports the plan transfers all environmental justice work to the Office of Policy, which provides policy and regulatory guidance across the agency.

Mustafa Ali, a former EPA senior adviser and Assistant Associate Administrator for Environmental Justice who served more than 20 years, quit the agency in protest days before the plan was announced.  In his resignation letter, widely circulated in the media, Ali suggested the new leadership was abandoning “those who need our help most.”

Monday, June 12, 2017

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 6/9/2017

"Shields and Brooks on James Comey hearing takeaways" PBS NewsHour 6/9/2017


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, let's continue the conversation about James Comey.

David, we heard today what the President thinks of it.  He said he thought the former FBI director vindicated him, but he also was telling lies.  What did you think?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times:  I thought Trump actually had some points.

I think one of the things we heard on the criminal side, it wasn't a bad, not a terrible day for Donald Trump.  James Comey seemed to suggest that there was no — maybe — cast some doubt at least the idea there was a lot of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign or even a lot of conversations.

I think what Trump did to James Comey, clearing the room and asking him to lay off on Flynn, was scandalous, I think terrible, but probably not something that would rise to the level of impeachment in any normal Presidency.

So, to me, on the criminal front, not a disastrous testimony for Donald Trump.  On the cultural front, on the moral front, kind of disastrous.  The thought that he [Trump] lied is pretty strong.  We do know, because of what Comey said yesterday, there's going to be a lot more investigations.

And every time there's some sort of independent or special investigation into the White House, it can swallow a White House up not only for months, but for years.  The Whitewater investigation went on for seven years.

And so I think what's going to happen is, you are going to have a continued administration that's dysfunctional, that is under investigation, that is distrustful, and a President who's obsessed, not with policy, not with anything constructive, but with this sort of warfare.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  What did you make of James Comey and what he had to say?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:  I thought James Comey was believable.

I thought he was compelling, in large part because, Judy, he admitted his flaws.  He did not present himself as Galahad or some profile in courage.  He acknowledged the fact that the pressure of being one-on-one with the President just in the White House, that he had not said to the President it was inappropriate.  He said he hadn't been strong enough.

But what was most revealing to me of all the hearings, Republicans — and I do want the say one word to the Senators.  I mean, they didn't do soliloquies.  They didn't do seven-minute statements followed by a question, do you agree?  I thought — and they didn't show rank partisanship, I felt, and that there was a seriousness led by Chairman Burr and Co-Chair Warner.

But what impressed me most of all was that, while Republican Senators were willing to come to the defense of the President, a point David made, that there wasn't obstruction of justice on his part or whatever, none of them challenged Director Comey's direct statements the President lied and that he was a liar, and that is why he had to memorialize each meeting with the President, each conversation with the President, because he feared that the President would lie.

And nobody said, 'no, wait a minute, this is George Washington.'  This is a man [Trump], a total — he does have a reputation for exaggeration, hyping, and some would say not a totally consistent relationship with the truth and reality.

And I think that's a real problem for him [Trump].  The fact he wasn't under investigation is significant, but, ironically, nobody asked him, and Director Comey didn't volunteer, whether, as a consequence of what happened in his meetings at the White House, that he may now have opened himself up to some investigation, he, the President.


"Assessing Comey's justifications for Clinton email actions" PBS NewsHour 6/8/2017


SUMMARY:  Senators again questioned former FBI Director James Comey about his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email and what pushed him to take the unusual step to discuss it publicly last summer.  Judy Woodruff gets analysis from John Carlin, Carrie Cordero, Greg Craig and George Terwilliger, four people with extensive experience in government and the law.

"Did Comey testimony shed light on whether Trump obstructed justice?" PBS NewsHour 6/8/2017


SUMMARY:  Perhaps the biggest question swirling around former FBI Director James Comey's testimony is whether President Trump or other White House officials obstructed justice.  Judy Woodruff gets analysis from John Carlin, Carrie Cordero, Greg Craig and George Terwilliger, four people with extensive experience in government and the law.

"Should Comey have spoken up against Trump's request?" PBS NewsHour 6/8/2017


SUMMARY:  Former FBI Director James Comey was asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein why he didn't clearly speak up against President Trump's request to drop the criminal investigation into his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.  Judy Woodruff gets analysis from John Carlin, Carrie Cordero, Greg Craig and George Terwilliger, four people with extensive experience in government and the law.

"The questions James Comey didn't answer in the Senate hearing" PBS NewsHour 6/8/2017


SUMMARY:  There were several things that former FBI Director James Comey said he couldn't publicly answer in a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.  Judy Woodruff gets analysis from John Carlin, Carrie Cordero, Greg Craig and George Terwilliger, four people with extensive experience in government and the law.

"What does Comey's testimony mean for the Russia probe?" PBS NewsHour 6/8/2017


SUMMARY:  While the nation watched, former FBI Director James Comey offered a raft of revelations about his interactions with President Trump in a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, his first public appearance since being fired.  Lisa Desjardins, John Yang, and Matt Apuzzo of The New York Times join Judy Woodruff to discuss the major headlines that emerged from his testimony.

"Comey intrigue overshadowed by pressing local concerns in many communities" PBS NewsHour 6/9/2017


SUMMARY:  The testimony of former FBI Director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday sent ripples across the nation as millions tuned in.  How are different communities responding to Comey?  Hari Sreenivasan talks to Brandon Smith of Indiana Public Broadcasting, Jon Ralston of Nevada Independent, and Ashton Marra of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.