Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

“Congressional Leaders Signal They Intend to Kick the Can Down the Road on CHIP” Again

A Little History of the legislator who wrote the bill:

Chair of the House Appropriations Committee since 2017, Rodney Frelinghuysen’s campaigns have been funded by the aerospace, defense, pharmaceutical and health care industries. On domestic issues, he opposes legalized abortion, Planned Parenthood, sanctuary cities, and federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. He endorsed Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. He voted to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and replace it with the American Health Care Act (AHCA). He was criticized for purportedly failing to have in-person town hall meetings since 2013, as well as writing a letter which had the effect of threatening an opponent’s employment.

It does appear Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen has some irons in the fire when it comes to woman’s healthcare, healthcare in general, the healthcare industry, and who is a priority in healthcare plus sanctuary cities and green-house gases. Definitely unbiased irons as Congressman Frelinghuysen, like Michigan’s Mike Bishop, refuses to meet with his constituents and learn of their interests. His “Chip Further Continuing Appropriations Bill” passed by the Senate was reported-on by the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, Center for Children and Families’ Joan Alkers. The bill does not solve the 5 year funding issue for CHIP as proposed in another Republican led bill.

What is coming to pass is a stopgap measure taking unused CHIP funding and giving portions of it to states running out of funding. Some states ware better funded due to timing and other reasons. It is as Chairman Greg Walden of the House Energy and Commerce Committee called the stopgap measure:

“a short-term, fill-the-gap for states – a little rescue, lifeline for them right now.“

Portion of the Bill:

DIVISION B CHILDREN’S HEALTH INSURANCE PROGRAM (CHIP) ALLOCATION REDISTRIBUTION SPECIAL RULE

SEC. 201. CHIP ALLOCATION REDISTRIBUTION SPECIAL RULE FOR CERTAIN SHORTFALL STATES DURING FIRST QUARTER OF FISCAL YEAR 2018.

‘‘(B) DETERMINATION OF REDISTRIBUTED AMOUNTS IF INSUFFICIENT AMOUNTS AVAILABLE.

‘‘(i) PRORATION RULE. Subject to clause (ii), if the amounts available for redistribution under paragraph (1) for a fiscal year are less than the total amounts of the estimated shortfalls determined for the 3 year under subparagraph (A), the amount 1 to be redistributed under such paragraph for each shortfall State shall be reduced 3 proportionally.

‘‘(ii) SPECIAL RULE FOR FIRST QUARTER OF FISCAL YEAR 2018.

‘‘(I) IN GENERAL.—For the period beginning on October 1, 2017, 8 and ending December 31, 2017, with respect to any amounts available for redistribution under paragraph (1) for 11 fiscal year 2018, the Secretary shall redistribute under such paragraph such amounts to each emergency shortfall State (as defined in sub-15 clause (II)) in such amount as is equal to the amount of the shortfall described in subclause (II) for such State and period (as may be adjusted under subparagraph (C)) before the Secretary may redistribute such amounts to any shortfall State that is not an emergency shortfall State. In the case of any amounts redistributed under this subclause to a State that is not an emergency shortfall State, such amounts shall be determined in accordance with clause (i).

What is Stopping CHIP Funding?

The Hill blames it on Congress not reaching an agreement on how to fund the CHIP for children. The issue lies with the Republican Congress which wishes to take funds from other programs, etc. to fund the Children Health Insurance Program.

• Additional Means testing of certain higher income seniors. (if you start with this, it will grow to other things also. This is another Republican scam.)
• Allowing states to kick out Medicaid beneficiaries if they win the lottery (This can be done by asking for a waiver from the Republican run CMS).
• Shortening the grace period for people paying their Obamacare premium payments late. (The point to this is to penalize those who have lower incomes and have trouble paying during certain time periods.)
• Cutting more than $5 billion from the Affordable Care Act’s prevention and public health fund. These funds are used for the ACL, CDC, and SAMHSA programs.

Not satisfied with holding children hostage in the continental United States, Republicans are also holding Puerto Rico Medicaid funding hostage.

Another funding option suggested by Chairman Greg Walden of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is;

“letting states receive more money for CHIP from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). This would not be new money, but would come from the agency’s unused funds.”

With Walden’s suggestion there would be no additional funding. This option would pit the needs of CHIP against the needs of Medicaid and Medicare. All of the funding options proposed either grow into something worse down the road for children and the elderly or steal from funding for those needing healthcare, programs again for the elderly and also programs for minorities and low-income constituents.

Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas for Republicans will be stealing healthcare from children and those who can least afford it or lose it.

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Stop talking affordable water and start talking poverty

David Zetland writes at Aguanomics

Stop talking affordable water and start talking poverty

Circle of Blue published this long, aggravating article of the efforts of activists, water managers and (far too many consultants) to “find a compromise” on the price of water that will cover system costs without “burdening the poor.”

Let me solve this “puzzle.”

First, there’s no point in making water cheap to help poor people. Cheap water will not make them rich. If you want to help poor people, then give them money.

Second, water utilities are neither charities nor social innovators. Their job is to deliver safe and adequate quantities of water at prices that cover their costs of operations, maintenance and expansion. Utilities that are underfunded (like those in India that lose money on every cubic meter delivered) cannot provide good service.* Utilities that are asked to take care of poor people (like those in England where the government is too stingy to help poor people [pdf]) lose track of their primary mission (good service) as they struggle to identify who is “poor”.**

Third, any politician who claims that water needs to be cheap to help poor people is a lying, lazy incompetent. It’s the politician’s job to tax the rich to help the poor, but US politicians work for the rich. Sad.

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An astute progressive critique of the Trump Administration from … CNBC?!?

An astute progressive critique of the Trump Administration from … CNBC?!?

John Harwood of that well known lefty outlet, …. ummm, CNBC …. writes this morning that “Trump has Forgotten his ‘Forgotten People’:”

He forgot them on health care. Jettisoning his campaign pledge to “take care of everybody” regardless of income, he proposed cutting federal health subsidies for the hard-pressed blue-collar voters who put him into office.

He forgot them on financial regulation. Abandoning talk of cracking down on Wall Street executives who “rigged” the economy to hobble the working class, he seeks to undercut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ….

And he forgot them on taxes. Discarding his vow to reshape taxation for average families at the expense of rich people like himself, he’s working with Republican leaders to hand the biggest benefits to corporations and the wealthy.

To the contrary, his budget includes big cuts to Social Security disability program. Meanwhile his much-vaunted infrastructure plan has ‘failed to materialize.”

But, Harwood points out:

The president hasn’t forgotten everything. In lieu of big financial benefits, Trump has steadily given “the forgotten people” at least one visceral commodity [: ]  affirmation of shared racial grievances.

I think this is a good summary of Trump’s domestic policies as revealed by the past year.  On social issues, he has governed exactly as he promised during his campaign, issuing a de facto ban on Muslim immigration, unleashing ICE against Latinos, and fulminating against protesting black NFL players.

But on economic issues he has behaved exactly like a standard issue country club republican.The requirement that the GOP enact a “replacement” for Obamacare? Gone. Preventing the offshoring of manufacturing jobs? Gone. Enacting at least something like a tariff at the borders? Gone. Actually *doing* something about the opioid crisis, which is strongly correlated with areas of economic distress (as opposed to lip service)? Nothing.

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Why I Do Not Say Much on Facebook

I have watched Ken Houghton, Tom Bozzo, and Daniel Becker out on Facebook and have sometimes made a few not to serious remarks. Similar interests. There are some I just associate with who like to engage in politics which I usually ignore. I go out of the way not to engage with people because you would have a better conversation talking to a wall at times. This commentary defies logic, shows no understanding of what is taking place, and neither does she care how many will be hurt by this. It was hard to pass up. I am sure this person will eventually drop me.

Sheri: A very important component of the proposed tax changes will help ensure homeownership remains a valuable financial incentive over renting — and a big reason why I’m a republican — homeownership is truly a HUGE part of the American dream. Any presidential administration that enacts laws that erode it is NOT okay in my book. If you got socked with the ‘3.8% property sales tax’ since 2012, go ahead and flip the bird at Obamma’s picture if it makes you feel better. Thank God we again have a republican president that gets how crucial real estate is to our economy and way of life!!

A few points to note regarding the proposed tax changes related to real estate:

A last-minute change to the Senate version would make up to $10,000 in property taxes deductible. Previously, the Senate version had eliminated the property tax deduction entirely. The change aligns with the property tax cap set in the House bill.

One difference between the two bills is that the Senate version retains the deductibility of mortgage interest payments on up to $1 million of indebtedness; the House version caps
indebtedness at $500,000.

Now, members of the Senate and the House must meet to agree on a final bill. It’s not too late to make your voice heard. Tell your members of Congress that incentives for homeownership and the capital gains tax exclusion on the sale of a home MUST be protected.

Myself: It is not often I say much out here as much of what is said defies reason. I assume you make >$200,000 AGI as a single person or >$250,000 AGI as a member of a marriage? It is then the investment tax hits with after another exclusion.

Another limitation is that it’s imposed on the smaller of:

1. A person’s investment income, or
2. The amount by which AGI exceeds the threshold amounts of $250,000/$125,000 or $200,000.

But there is more. There is a limiting factor on the house sale:

It only applies to home sale profits above a $500,000/$250,000 exclusion.

When the portion of the profit above $500,000/$250,000 causes the seller’s AGI to exceed the threshold amounts.

Let’s say a couple has an AGI of $325,000 and sells their home at a $525,000 profit (not sale proceeds, but profit). $500,000 of that gain is excluded; the $25,000 isn’t, and raises their AGI to $350,000.

The couple’s revised AGI exceeds the $250,000 threshold for joint filers by $100,000. That’s more than the amount of their taxable gain ($25,000). So the 3.8% is applied to the smaller of these two amounts. They owe a surtax of $950 ($25,000 x 3.8%).

There has always been a capital gains tax on homes when you sell them and it is wise to keep your receipts on renovation of a home as that comes off of the profits in the end when you make the final reckoning. This tax does not apply to everyone in the US. I certainly do not have $250,000 or $200,000 in AGI income. Of the ~156 million of Household Taxpayers, ~5.5 million Households exceed $200,000 in income annually or ~3.5% of the total (Tax Policy Center numeric).

The 3.8% tax itself + the 9 tenths of 1% go to fund healthcare, Medicare, and Medicaid. Now as far as the GOP Tax plan of which ~66% of will go to less than 1% of the household taxpayers (~1 million households), those making less than $75,000 will start to see their taxes rise even before 2027. The GOP tax plan is a scam and rides on the backs of the middle class.

Sheri: While that is true, it doesn’t change the fact that it is a grossly unjust tax, which was put in place to support Obummer’s ‘ACA’. People making $250k/yr are already paying high taxes, and it is tough enough to make money on investments in this economy — 0.25% interest on a CD — no thanks. Any ‘surplus’ taxes that discourage investing in RE are a bad thing.

Myself: I will stand by my understanding as will many other people. It is a tax giveaway to less than 1% of the taxpaying households making greater than $500,000 . It is not hard to make money on investments.

Sheri: It’s still a ‘take from the successful to give to the poor’ SURPLUS tax, and it applies to couples who make $250k, and individuals who make $200k, which in today’s economy is by no means ‘wealthy’. I’m sick and tired of liberals thinking taxation is the answer to everything — it is not.

Myself: It is obvious you did not read all of what I said. Please take a moment and read it all.

Sheri: It is OBVIOUS you are a liberal.

Myself: Non Sequitur.

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A First Step for Organizing Counterpower from Below

A First Step for Organizing Counterpower from Below

I’ve been posting a lot of critical stuff on gaps and faulty assumptions in the rhetoric and strategy (such as it is) of the US Left.  A reasonable person might say, OK, enough already.  We know what we’re doing isn’t working, but what would?  What’s the alternative?

Good question—I’m glad you asked.  Actually, for about 40+ years I’ve had the same idea, which I’ll now try out on you.

First, consider the basic conundrum of organizing the Left.  On the one hand, what’s needed is structure on every scale from your neighborhood or workplace to the whole country.  We need to bring the millions of people who share our outlook, in some general sense, into a common organization.  Conservatives will always have more money to draw on; those on the other side have to rely on numbers—and not hypothetical or once-in-a-blue-moon election numbers, but everyday, signed up and available for mobilization numbers.  In other words, the organizational basis for ongoing collective action.

But here’s the thing: the Left has had only flashes of success at this game because it has a powerful tendency to factionalize.  Every time it looks like an organization is getting over the hump it breaks apart.  Why this is so is an interesting question, but I won’t go into it here.  In some ways the dissentious character of the Left is a good thing, since social change is complicated and we need many points of view.  Still, it gets in the way of solving the organizational dilemma, and I will assume this will remain the case.

So how to build a measure of organizational unity on a fractious base?  Scale down the scope of this hypothetical organization in order to scale up across differences in beliefs and strategy.  Imagine an organization with many of the characteristics organizations are supposed to have, like membership rosters, officers, budgets, facilities, and activities, but prohibit it from taking sides in any electoral, legislative or judicial dispute, or promulgate manifestos as an organization.  Make it so there is no political program to fight over, nothing to make members want to quit or drive out those who disagree.  Then allow it to succeed at a more limited role.

And what would this role be?  Above all, it would make visible, countable even, the existence of a massive Left constituency in America.  People would feel differently—they would have more self-confidence and be willing to take bolder action—if they knew they were not alone but part of a movement with millions of supporters.  They could begin to think in “we” terms, where “we” is a fairly well-defined group with game-changing potential.  In addition, such an organization could create opportunities for networking, incubating smaller groups centered on particular issues or ideologies or self-identities, free to be as political as they want, and facilitate media with a wider reach than what we currently have.  It could schedule debates and film series, organize festivals and commemorations, and foster other activities to keep people informed and connected to one another.  It would not do everything—we would still need explicit political organizations to take stands, lobby, organize protests and win elections—but it would be a giant step forward.

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Has Dean Baker Joined Team Republican?

Has Dean Baker Joined Team Republican?

The dishonesty ab out the Trump tax cut for the rich from certain Republican leading conservatives are been extensively noted so let’s not go there. But why is Dean Baker writing this?

There are two ways in which we can say that a deficit/debt is will hurt our children. The first is by slowing economic growth and therefore making the economy and our kids less wealthy in the future than they otherwise would be. The route through which this is supposed to happen is that deficit pushes up interest rates and crowds out investment, thereby slowing productivity growth. (We can also see a rise in the value of the dollar, which means larger trade deficits and more foreign debt.) There are no projections that show any substantial negative effect in this way. In fact, most projections show at least a modest positive boost to growth. So this one doesn’t make any sense.

There are no projections that the Trump tax cuts for the rich will lower national savings? If not, there should be. We tried this back in 1981 and what was the result? A massive increase in real interest rates and a massive appreciation of the dollar. The former did crowd out investment and the latter did lead to large trade deficits. I’m sure Dean remembers this. I would assert that the proposed tax cut today is a lot like the 1981 tax cut. If Dean disagrees – might he tell us why.

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What Republican Iowa Senator Grassley Really Thinks . . .

of His Constituents.

Iowa Republican Senator Grassley came out publically stating he wants to eliminate the estate tax to help Iowan farmers stay on their family farms. In rebuttal, the Des Moines Register had this to say:

Of the numbers of Iowans paying the estate tax, they can be quantified in the dozens each year. Out of the 1.45 million Iowans filing federal tax returns, the numbers of Iowans over the last five years paying estate taxes numbers from 32 in 2012 to 61 in 2015 according to IRS data. Further-more, the vast majority of those probably were not farmers or small business owners.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Finance Committee member Sen. Chuck Grassley still insisted the estate tax is potentially a ruinous burden on Iowa farmers and small business owners.

Earlier this year either in a blatant misleading statement or in total ignorance, Grassley said;

“The federal estate tax may force family members to liquidate to pay the death tax. It is harder than ever for families to pass down the family-run farm or business from one generation to the next. The death tax creates financial hardship for family businesses to survive and thrive.”

Today, the estate tax is a 40 percent tax on wealth assessed when a person die. It is applied on assets > $5.5 million for individuals and $11 million for couples. The House and Senate proposal doubles those exemptions to $11 million and $22 million. The House version abolishes the tax completely in 2024.

Iowan Republican U.S. Reps. Steve King and David Young joined the chorus with King insisting the estate tax;

“often falls hardest on family-owned farms and small businesses.”

and Young called the repeal being a massive giveaway:

“a ‘myth,’ that the repeal of the estate tax would be a massive giveaway to the wealthiest Americans.

The estate tax (sometimes called the death tax) negatively impacts farms and businesses all over the 3rd District. … Death should not be a taxable event and families should not have to fear the Internal Revenue Service and more taxes making it more difficult and costly to pass on the farm or family business to the next generation.”

.

No shame amongst politicians who are either ignorant on the topic, outright lying, or believe the populace is so unknowledgeable of the facts, they can say anything and be believed.

Kristine Tidgren, assistant director of the Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation at Iowa State University, told the Register;

“I have not come across any examples of an Iowa family that had to sell the farm to pay the estate tax,” adding, “I don’t think the current estate tax system threatens family farmers.

IRS data from 2016 confirmed the 682 tax filers in the entire country who owed estate taxes owned farm assets and represented ~ 13 percent of the 5,219 estate tax returns in which taxes were owed.

Even that numeric likely overstates the number of primarily farm operations subject to the tax. A 2015 Congressional Research Service report projects that 65 farm estates annually across the U.S. face an estate tax liability. Less than a quarter of these, the report finds, lack sufficient funds to pay their tax bills.

There is no fool like an old fool and Senator Grassley who has served 7 terms in the Senate confirmed it by getting indignant when challenged on his beliefs.

“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

Grassley could not have stated it any better what he thinks of his constituents. His work, argument, and effort is not to eliminate the estate tax to benefit working constituents; but, it is an effort to protect and separate the ownership class from the rabble, his constituents. His comments prompted a pointed response from Pat Rynard of the Iowa Starting Line:

It is difficult to think of a more condescending, elitist worldview – that if you are not ultra-wealthy, it is clearly because you are wasting all your money on alcohol, frivolous fun, and prostitutes (I assume that’s what he meant when he said women). Certainly, it could not be because people are struggling to find decent-paying jobs, are burdened with debt from the college education needed to attain better jobs, or are paying outrageous sums for health insurance and medical bills. Nope, it must be because they are all getting hand jobs from hookers in the back of a dark movie theater while downing a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.

Describing himself as a farmer Senator Grassley runs a farm in Butler County with his son and grandson. Initially Grassley stated his own family farm would not be subject to the estate tax and then changed his mind after rethinking his farm.

If he and his wife died on the same day, the estate would be subject to the $5.5 million exemption rather than the $11 million exemption and likely would have to file an estate tax return.

Enough said.

Mr. Grassley will retire on lifelong healthcare benefits and a nice government pension thanks to his liquor swilling constituents who repeatedly elected him to office. Later in another interview, Mr. Grassley stated his comments were taken out of context.

Hat Tip to Tom Sullivan @ Hulabaloo.

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The Great Awokening

The Great Awokening


There’s a theory about the sins and shortcomings of society: they are all due to our failures of consciousness. If people were purer, given to understanding and following the true path, the problems of this world would cease to exist. According to this view, poverty and inequality are the result of greed, wars occur because people fail to see the humanity in the “enemy”, and bigotry feeds on fear and ignorance. The solution is to cleanse our consciousness and achieve enlightenment. This is the way of religion, which has endeavored to perfect the world for thousands of years, with mixed results.

I’d like to think a more promising approach is to identify the structures in society—the laws, customs, institutions, and rules—that are responsible for these problems and change them. This is the way of politics, preferably informed by deliberation and experience. From a political perspective, trying to change people’s consciousness has some value as an end, but it is mainly important as a means, part of building a movement for collective action.

What I sense is that, for many on what considers itself the left, politics in the sense of the previous paragraph is a delusion, a repeating nightmare that one can only awake from, not transform. Instead, passionate energy is funneled into demanding changes in language, personal behavior and conceptions of one’s identity. Done right, that’s worth doing—better consciousness and behavior is better for all of us—but not as a substitute for politics. And if you take politics seriously, battles over culture and consciousness should be strategic, taking into consideration how they can best contribute to collective action.

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Flynn Bails, but Don’t Get Your Hopes Up

Flynn Bails, but Don’t Get Your Hopes Up

I haven’t seen anything yet to convince me that the Putin-Trump collaboration was a big deal.  Ugly and unprincipled, sure, but politically consequential, probably not.

contrary view, expressed by Harry Litman in today’s New York Times, is that this is the beginning of the end for the Trumpster.  The evidence is accumulating that, between his election in November of last year and his inauguration on January 20 of this one, Trump and his inner coterie worked back channels to undermine Obama’s foreign policy.  Litman characterizes these efforts as “abuses of power arguably well beyond those in the Watergate and Iran-contra affairs.”  He further sees the possibility that Trump will be cited for obstruction of justice in his attempts to keep these activities secret.

I’m not convinced.  On the face of it, Trump intervening in foreign policy after his election is less condemnable than Nixon’s secret disruption of a Vietnam peace deal during the 1968 campaign.  The Nixon escapade was an open secret almost from the beginning, and he got away with it.  Iran-Contra was nasty stuff, but Reagan made it through intact, as did his Nicaragua policy, and even the underlings caught red-handed survived and prospered.

But let’s not compare Trump to Nixon and Reagan; that just shows how old some of us are.  Let’s speculate on the political fallout from a potential prosecutor’s report that Trump cut deals with Putin before taking office.  Litman says this is something “that nobody on either side of the aisle could possibly defend.”  Why not?  What happens if the Republicans in the House and Senate say, hey, it’s just a bureaucratic detail, since he was already elected?  And why wouldn’t they say this?  How would that be any more outrageous than anything else they’ve said or done in recent memory?  Who would stop them?

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