Rep. Ilhan Omar reminds us: “Stephen Miller is a White Nationalist”

Rep. Ilhan Omar said the obvious yesterday:

This should not come as a shock to anyone. His family also knows he’s a white nationalist, his uncle wrote an Op-Ed about how he saw Miller’s politics as a betrayal of everything their family was:

I have watched with dismay and increasing horror as my nephew, who is an educated man and well aware of his heritage, has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country.

I shudder at the thought of what would have become of the Glossers had the same policies Stephen so coolly espouses— the travel ban, the radical decrease in refugees, the separation of children from their parents, and even talk of limiting citizenship for legal immigrants— been in effect when Wolf-Leib made his desperate bid for freedom. The Glossers came to the U.S. just a few years before the fear and prejudice of the “America First” nativists of the day closed U.S. borders to Jewish refugees. Had Wolf-Leib waited, his family would likely have been murdered by the Nazis along with all but seven of the 2,000 Jews who remained in Antopol. I would encourage Stephen to ask himself if the chanting, torch-bearing Nazis of Charlottesville, whose support his boss seems to court so cavalierly, do not envision a similar fate for him. —…

We’ve also known for a long time that Stephen Miller was a little barrel of xenophobic hate. The moment Trump began running, it was clear that Miller and his boss then Senator Jeff Sessions would throw their lot in with him. Miller was also allied with white supremacist Steve Bannon in peddling extreme xenophobia as a political strategy. 

U.S. demographics have been changing rapidly — and undesirably in the eyes of top Trump aides, including his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, and domestic policy advisor Stephen Miller. Inside the West Wing, the two men have pushed an ominous view of refugee and immigration flows, telling other policymakers that if large numbers of Muslims are allowed to enter the U.S., parts of American cities will begin to replicate marginalized immigrant neighborhoods in France, Germany and Belgium that have been home to plotters of terrorist attacks in recent years, according to a White House aide familiar with the discussions. — LA Times

We’ve always known he was the worst kind of entitled trash. Back in 2017, a former janitor, now professor at U. Chicago had this to say about Miller’s high school speech where he said “[I’m] sick and tired of being told to pick up my trash when we have plenty of janitors who are paid to do it for us”:

He’s also a pedantic twat, of the special sort created on white supremacist web-sites. That is the character trait which led him to raise a fuss when Jim Acosta quoted “The Statue of Liberty says, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.’ It doesn’t say anything about speaking English or being a computer programmer,”Acosta said. “Aren’t you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country if you’re telling them that you have to speak English?” —…

Bannon and Sessions are gone, but Miller has outlasted them, and for the past 2+ years, he has been driving the cruel policies of the Trump administration, visibly reveling in inflicting agony on children and parents.

Of course, if the goal were simply to draw voters’ attention to the border, there are plenty of ways to do it that are less controversial (not to mention, less cruel) than ripping young children from the arms of asylum seekers and sticking them in dystopian-looking detention centers. But for Miller, the public outrage and anger elicited by policies like forced family separation are a feature, not a bug.  —…

Rep. Omar is saying something that has been obvious for years, to all who would see with open eyes and hearts.

— @subirgrewal

The paradigm shift we need for single-payer

In 1962, Thomas Kuhn published The Structure of Scientific Revolution a book that changed the way we think about scientific progress. Kuhn posits that scientific progress is punctuated progress where major advances are made by what he called “paradigm shifts”. These paradigm shifts open unexpected areas of enquiry, and allow scientists to accumulate knowledge in more gradual steps. These revolutions were often initiated by unknown scientists presenting radical ideas outside the mainstream. This powerful idea of “paradigm shifts” has since entered the general lexicon, but its implications are not always fully appreciated.

Though Kuhn applied his conception of revolutionary change to the project of science, it has a broader application and a longer history. In Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, the economist Joseph Schumpeter outlined his theory of “creative destruction”. Schumpeter identified the periodic destruction of certain commercial ventures, so new ones could take their place.  In his analysis, a “gale of creative destruction” drives “industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one”.

Schumpeter owed at least part of his inspiration to Marx’s analysis of accumulation and destruction of capital. And we can go on, in the study of both human and natural societies, scientists and philosophers have remarked on concentrated periods of change. All observers of humanity understand that there are moments of profound regeneration when we see with new, clear eyes and the world is remade. The rest of the time, we plod along, one step at a time.

Sorting out bureaucratic details is not the biggest hurdle when implementing systematic changes. The challenge is to demolish unexamined assumptions that unduly constrain the range of possibilities. In the context of the US health-care system, the unexamined assumption is that health-care must be earned. That only those who are deserving should be able to visit a doctor and receive care for their bodies. This underlying, unsaid assumption has hampered universal health care proposals for decades. The same assumption also impacts proposals for public education and all other social programs. This concept of “merit” as applied to healthcare is the paradigm we must shift before we can have universal health-care.

The “merit/deserving” mindset rests on shaky ground, because for decades now we have demanded that all Emergency Rooms treat anyone who walks in. Clearly, in some remote corner of our brains, we do recognize the social and moral value of providing health care to all. But around this kernel of truth has been erected an edifice of artificial constraints placed by a health insurance industry that seeks the privilege of exploiting the sick and infirm.

The ACA delivered several much-needed improvements to health-insurance. From minimum coverage requirements, to abolishing the idea of pre-existing conditions, to expanding coverage. But it cannot serve as the path to universal healthcare because it never directly attacked this assumption of “worthy” and “unworthy” human beings head on. This is what made it, and still makes it, vulnerable. The ACA exists within the language of the “deserving”, as in we deserve access to health-care at a reasonable price. This weighing of human beings also finds expression in the individual mandate which posits a responsibility to purchase health-care (so as to not become a public charge by entering the emergency room). This is no accident, the ACA’s conceptual structure was taken directly from a Mitt Romney, Heritage Foundation plan. And yet, it has been relentlessly attacked by the right. The lesson we’ve learned is that if we give them an inch they will demand a mile.

If we are to have universal health-care, these modes of thinking need to be well and thoroughly smashed. As does the idea of “market solutions” to health-care and health-insurance.

Any health-care “market” is destined to be dysfunctional or imperfect. Neo-classical economic models assume buyers and sellers have complete information alongside the freedom to choose what they buy and when. There are further assumptions about the ability to defer purchase and the rationality of all actors. Health-care “markets” meet none of these criteria. Enormous information disparities exist between patients and providers. In many cases, health-care decisions are literally a life and death choice that cannot be deferred. Very few among us remain “rational” about cost/benefit when our loved ones are sick. Marginal analysis simply breaks down at these extremes. What is the marginal benefit of your life or your child’s? Everything you own, everything you can borrow? That is the choice many Americans find themselves making, with health-care costs leading to millions of bankruptcies a year.

With most goods or services, consumers can defer gratification to work towards a purchase. Perversely, when patients do defer care, the cost of neglect to their bodies and society overall, is enormous. Sick, fearful human beings cannot be the rational bean-counters neo-classical economics assumes we are. We are rarely in a position to question doctors and hospitals when they recommend a procedure or drug. Recognizing all this, and the fact that drug-makers and doctors have a unique ability to exploit the precarious position of desperate patients, most societies have regulated prices for health-care services. The US does the same, with Medicare setting prices for procedures that become the basis for most health-care pricing.

Health insurance “markets” inherit all this dysfunction and amplify it with other real world wrinkles like moral hazard, biased risk perception and information asymmetry. Limiting the terms of our debate to Republican “market-based” approaches perpetuates dysfunction.

So how do we get out of the trap created by these right-wing frames?

First, healthcare must be acknowledged as a right, and we have to talk about it in those terms. “Access” and “insurance” are not rights. Health care is. We need to keep reminding people that Republicans will take every opportunity to take away their health-care. We need to demonstrate that this right-wing plutocratic agenda is why we want a simple, universal program. Medicare for All, which would be untouchable (and cheaper to boot).

The question we need to answer now is not how we pay for universal health-care, but why we should pay for it. We have to sell the benefits of universal, single-payer healthcare first.

Here’s a story an acquaintance shared with me:

I was on the ACA for several years, and each year my policy was cancelled, but I was eligible for a new one from another company. The trouble was that each new policy had different coverage, doctors, formulary, etc. While they were more or less equivalent, the change in coverage was distressing and uneven, especially when my wife got breast cancer. To avoid disruptive changes in crucial coverage, I came out of retirement and got a job with bullet-proof, stable insurance, which I maintain to this day.

We need to show people a better future. A world where they can continue to go to their doctors and get high quality of care, even if they lose their job and can’t find another one before money runs out. A world where their employer can’t switch to a plan with weaker coverage at the end of the year. A future where an insurance company cannot be deny covering treatment because of fine print, where they don’t have to fear bankruptcy if their child get seriously ill. A world where they can focus on their health rather than worrying about bills. A future where doctors are helping patients get better rather than fighting with insurers to get paid.

Once people see these possibilities, together we will find a way to pay for it. We’ve sent people to the moon, we built the Internet, we can definitely do what every other major developed country does and provide universal healthcare. The good thing is that they are beginning to demand it. Medicare has always been popular. Medicare For All is becoming popular as well.

If we are to succeed, we cannot cede the debate to those who traffic in fear about the future of health insurance companies, or sow panic and fear about Medicare For All. Whether they know it or not, they are undermining the cause of universal health care and parroting right-wing talking points. Democrats who do this should be reminded that this job is best left to the Republican party.

The cruel reality is that tens of millions of Americans already live in a state of fear, about their health and paying for care. Those who have insurance worry about losing it, those who don’t worry about their health. These are the worries we need to concern ourselves with.

We do not have to worry about health insurance companies. If they disappear, they will join a long list of obsolete industries our society no longer relies upon. Buggy whip manufacturers did it, health insurance executives will find a way too. Workers will either find work in M4A, or new jobs they’ll receive transition assistance for.

We can safely ignore self-appointed “experts” who exclaim “How will you pay for it?” about every social program, but scatter like the wind when we spend trillions on wars of destruction. It is perverse that they never worry about cost when blowing up bodies, only when it is time to mend broken ones. It is illogical that they never ask this question when proposing massive tax breaks for the super wealthy. Their behavior reveals their values.

In any case, their question is a ridiculous one. We already know how universal care will be funded, via taxes. That is how we fund social security and how we fund Medicare, that is how we will fund Medicare For All. Taxes should be the one word answer to anyone who asks “how will you pay for it”?

The foundational enterprise of this country presents a conundrum. We declared it self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights. But, for decades we recognized these rights only for some, the “deserving”, the “civilized”. If we are to build a better society, a society focused on allowing people to achieve their full potential, we need to break away from these caveats to our founding creed.

We made a more perfect union when we legislated free public education for all. Let’s do it again by caring for all bodies. Let’s make Medicare For All a reality.

— @subirgrewal

The time for playing games on Medicare For All is over

Abdul El-Sayed said something yesterday that brings into focus the essential dysfunction which is the US health-care system:

Millions of Americans need insulin to survive. The researchers (Frederick Banting, Charles Best and James Collip) who developed insulin in the 1920s knew this and wanted to ensure the medication would remain affordable and safe. They assigned the patent to the University of Toronto for a nominal amount. When asked why they’d done that, Dr. Banting reportedly said “Insulin belongs to the world, not to me.”

On January 23, 1923, an American patent on both insulin and Toronto’s method of making it was awarded to Banting, Collip, and Best. For $1.00 to each, the three discoverers assigned their patent rights to the Board of Governors of the University of Toronto. The application had stressed that none of the other researchers in the past had been able to produce a nontoxic antidiabetic extract. A patent was necessary to restrict manufacture of insulin to reputable pharmaceutical houses who could guarantee the purity and potency of their products. It would also prevent unscrupulous drug manufacturers from making or patenting an impotent or weakened version of this potentially dangerous drug and calling it insulin. —…

Which brings us back to our system. It has clearly failed patients in this and many other respects. It has also failed the vision and intention of the researchers whose humanitarian intentions are being undone as pharmaceutical companies try to extract profits out of insulin sales, using every trick in the book.

As we head towards 2020, we know that healthcare will again be a major part of the conversation. Republicans have failed miserably in outlining any alternative approach beyond reactionary slogans like “repeal and replace”. They have made it clear they do not plan to do anything in the approach to 2020, and will not detail any plans past 2020 either.

This is a good thing, because it allows Democrats to set the terms of the debate. A huge majority of Americans supports Medicare For All. This includes 85% of Democrats and a slim majority of Republicans.

The Republican response is, in Trump’s case to call private insurance “beloved” in a tweet that launched a hundred comedy routines:

I don’t know anyone apart from health-insurance executives who “loves” our current exploitative system. Most Americans know they’re being scammed. Republicans have underscored that by literally putting a fraudster in charge of their health-care proposals. There is no compromising with this party which wants to defraud the American people on a massive scale to line the pockets of its donors:

But this is no laughing matter. It is a matter of life and death.

It is a serious political enterprise and if Medicare For All is to be instituted, it will require an enormous push. Over the past three years, public support for the idea has snowballed. To turn this support into a reality we have to:

  • solidify the public support
  • win an election by campaigning on it
  • push Medicare For All through Congress
  • close the door on Republican attempts to undermine it

The wide field of Democratic candidates offer a variety of positions on health-care and the problem of pharmaceutical prices. Jeff Stein over at the Washington Post has done us a favor by synthesizing all the candidates’ positions on healthcare.  He asks seven important questions, and places all the candidates on a scale for each of them.

  1. What should happen to private insurance?
  2. Do you support creating a public option to expand health care, such as allowing people to buy into a state Medicaid program regardless of income?
  3. Do you believe all undocumented immigrants should be covered under a government-run health plan?
  4. Do you support partially expanding Medicare by allowing people ages 50 to 64 to buy into Medicare?
  5. Do you support giving the federal government the ability to negotiate drug prices for Medicare
  6. Do you support importing drugs from other countries?
  7. Do you support having the federal government produce and sell generic drugs to lower drug prices? —…

In all the responses, one pattern is clear across all the candidates, Warren and Sanders are the major candidates who are clearest on the challenge, and on the solutions. Most of the other candidates waffle on details, or hem and haw instinctively wary of upsetting the health insurance industry.

This is not the path we should follow. We’ve already gone down that road with the ACA. Republicans amplified every single negative aspect of a plan based on their own Heritage Foundation’s proposal. They called Obama socialist for instituting a market based plan. Insurers have continued to raise premiums, recalcitrant Republican governors have tried to kill the ACA with a thousand cuts, the complexity of the system has made it prone to misrepresentations

That should have taught us a lesson. Complex, half-measures will not do in our current environment. We need to create simple, universal programs and implement them in the way Medicare and Social Security were. We need to do this once, demonstrate the value to the people, and put the fear of god into any politician who tries to undo them. 

We need to convince people that they should jealously protect these programs from any right-wing hack who might try to undermine them.

There are two major candidates who understand this. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. The rest seem to be playing around. The time for games has ended.

— @subirgrewal

Will anyone remember Tongo Tongo, Niger, or Yakla, Yemen the way they do “Benghazi”?

Walk down any street in the US and ask people about Tongo, Tongo, Niger, you will get blank stares. Ask them about what happened in Yakla, Yemen and you will get confused looks.

Now, ask them about “Benghazi” and you’ll get an immediate reaction. Why is that?

Because Republicans took the attacks on two US compounds in Benghazi, Libya and held a hundred hearings about it, they made it part of the conversation. They made it news. To the point where there were books and movies made about it. Trey Gowdy practically made a career out of chairing one sub-committee. Americans have the wrong impression of those attacks, they get major facts wrong. For example most will tell you the attack occurred on a “embassy”. The US embassy in Libya is in the capital Tripoli. But they will know something bad happened in Benghazi, and somehow Democrats did something wrong.

Now, go back and ask them about Tongo, Tongo and Yakla. You will get blank stares again. And for that ignorance, you should hold Democrats accountable. Specifically, Democrats in the House and Senate.

The events in Niger and Yakla, Yemen were far more scandalous than anything that happened in Benghazi. The difference is that House Democrats haven’t convened any hearings or empaneled any sub-committees to investigate them. There are rich lines of inquiry that would reveal Trump administration ineptitude which led to the deaths of children and US soldiers.  Instead of following these important threads, the Democratic chairs of powerful Congressional committees (we see you Eliot Engel), spend their time policing the speeches of fellow Democrats at coffee shops.

If Democrats don’t act now, before the 2020 election gets underway in earnest, these scandals will fade entirely. Any opportunity to fully investigate them or hold the Trump White House responsible for these failures will pass.

It’s worth remembering just how terrible these two operations were (and there are others). First Niger:

A senior congressional aide who has been briefed on the deaths of four U.S. servicemen in Niger says the ambush by militants stemmed in part from a “massive intelligence failure.” […]

There was no U.S. overhead surveillance of the mission, he said, and no American quick-reaction force available to rescue the troops if things went wrong. If it weren’t for the arrival of French fighter jets, he said, things could have been much worse for the Americans. —…

There’s a rich, rich line of inquiry, including video of the recovery of Sgt. Johnson’s body, which is widely understood to have been mutilated. He was mauled so badly that his widow was not permitted to view his body, and partial remains continued to be found five weeks after his death. To make things worse Trump told the widow of one of the soldiers that he “knew what he signed up for”. There are reports that the unit’s mission might not have been properly authorized.

There is an enormous investigation to be undertaken here, and Congress should do it. In 2018, Trey Gowdy said there would be a hearing, but that never happened and the military’s report was quickly buried. Rep. Cummings issued a statement at the time lamenting the lack of hearings. Now that Democrats control all the House committees, special sub-committees should be created to investigate all aspects of the Niger raid.

But where are the Democrats chairing these committees? We have 235 Democrats in the House and we control all the gavels. Most of these Representatives spend hours every day dialing for dollars. Is that the best use of their time? Wouldn’t their time be better utilized getting some answers for Sgt. Johnson’s widow?

Nawar Al-Awlaki, the eight year old American girl who was among nine children killed in Trump’s botched attack on Yakla, Yemen.

There’s more. Worse than the human toll in Niger is the story of the botched operation in Yakla, Yemen. Nine children under the age of 13, including an 8-year old American citizen died in this botched raid ordered days after Donald Trump’s inauguration. The raid was ordered by Trump, who had publicly declared his intentions to murder women and children on the campaign trail.  

“The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” he said in December. “When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.” —…

Trump’s blood-thirsty statements on the campaign trail, and this operation alone should spawn a dozen investigations. There are enormous lines of inquiry to be followed. The disgraced Steve Bannon can be called to testify about his role in this raid. Trump’s buffoon of a son-in-law Jared Kushner can be called to testify before Congress about this action. He can be quizzed about the role his affection and business-dealings with the Saudis played in it.

One American soldier was killed in this botched raid, and three wounded. The intended target was never in the village. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimated that 25 civilians were killed in the attack. Even more outrageously, the decision to authorize this ill-conceived attack on Yakla was made by inept Trump administration officials over dinner. Talk about a made for TV spectacle.

Secretary Mattis supported the mission as presented to him, and the new Trump national security team met for the first time on the night of Jan. 25 to consider it. Present were the president, Vice President Pence, Mattis, then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, CIA Director nominee Mike Pompeo, chief strategist to the President Steve Bannon, and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. Absent was any representative of the State Department, a departure from common practice in past administrations of both parties.

Over dinner, they discussed an upcoming raid to occur that very weekend. —…

With Kushner alone, hearings could go on for weeks. It’s been revealed that his security clearance was denied by WH officials, and Trump personally intervened in 2018 to grant it. Kushner’s clearance was held up specifically because of his suspicious links to the Saudis. How could such a man be part of planning a military operation in Yemen, where his Saudi associates were engaged in a brutal, inhuman war?

Call all these men before Congress and make each and every one of them testify. Start with Bannon and Kushner. Then Pompeo and Flynn. Then Mattis and Dunford.

Question them about their motives and make them squirm. We all know this raid was planned and authorized for political purposes. They were trying to make a high-profile capture, for political purposes, so they could claim that they had done the equivalent of the Obama administration’s killing of Osama Bin-laden.

There are so many threads to follow. For example, the legal authority for this raid is  at question.

In addition, Yemen was what the national security community called “outside of a declared theater of war,” where the legality and implications of operations were far more sensitive. —…

Congress alone has the power under our constitution to declare war. How can a drone bombing or military action of this sort be anything but an act of war? If it is not an act of war, it is an assassination, which has been prohibited ever since the Ford administration issued an EO to stop such assassinations. If it’s not an assassination, it’s an extra judicial killing, and again, what authority does the president have to kill people at will without due process? These are questions that must be asked, and they are far, far more important to our security and to human rights than many of the things House Democrats seem to be doing right now.

Then there is the on-going collaboration with the Saudis in their war on Yemen. There are other broad issues at stake here. Including a continuing cover-up of the Trump administration’s drone strike policies.

In the latest step toward rolling back Obama-era rules for targeted killings, President Donald Trump will no longer require U.S. intelligence officials to publicly disclose the numbers of people killed in drone strikes and other attacks on terrorist targets outside of war zones. —…

During the Vietnam era, we saw Nixon’s administration vastly expand the bombing campaign in South-East Asia. In the Trump administration, we are again seeing a Republican president take a program begun under Bush/Obama, remove all the safeguards and cover up all information about it.

All these threads lie in wait, to be picked up by Democrats in the House, if they have the stomach for it. Instead, they are doing what exactly?

Here we are, almost three months after House Democrats got the gavels we worked our butts off in 2018 to get them. There have been no hearings on these and other incidents. Knowing what we know about Yakla and Tongo, Tongo, why haven’t they spawned a dozen investigations?

People ask sometimes why we’re angry with Democrats. This is why.

— @subirgrewal