Mar 312018
 

At this point, news of another corruption scandal within the Trump administration is not surprising. These stories have become disturbingly routine over the past year, as have the shrugs from the vast majority of Trump supporters in reaction to such news. Trump’s election has opened my eyes to the fact that many Americans are basically cool with a corrupt form of petty authoritarianism as long as they feel that their tribe is part of the “in” group that will benefit from said authoritarianism. Human history certainly provides plenty of examples of our willingness to get behind a strongman who promises to protect us from those people, but it’s depressing to watch these tendencies play out in real time.

During the Cold War, we framed human conflict as a struggle between competing political ideologies. It seems more accurate to frame conflict as a struggle between our most basic and twin natures: the desire to surround ourselves with people who are just like us in a society shaped by a powerful few and the desire to find a way to live alongside those who are different from us in a society shaped by democratic norms. Our darker instincts seem to have the upper hand at the moment, both in America and around the world. Perhaps all of our history will be a pendulum swinging between the impulses writ large of our better angels and our inner demons. I want to believe that the pendulum will begin to move in the other direction soon, even as the daily news tests my optimism.

Mar 062018
 

Another top adviser for the Trump administration, Gary Cohn, has announced his resignation. His departure may be connected to Trump’s impulsive decision last week to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. The turnover rate in the White House, which now includes moderates like Cohn, raises important questions about the quality of the advice that Trump receives from the remaining members of his inner circle. Will Stephen Miller become even more empowered to push his agenda of white grievance and isolationism? Will Trump appoint some brown-nosing intern to advise him on trade policy? Do we really have a president or just a useful idiot for whomever happens to be whispering in his ear?

Chaos is enveloping this administration despite a decent economy and a relatively calm global scene. If a crisis occurs and the only people left to advise the president are cranks and incompetents, we shouldn’t be surprised if things quickly spiral out of control.

Feb 282018
 

While Trump pretends to play dealmaker again, his cabinet continues to demonstrate that they are really bad at hiding their corruption. The Times reported yesterday that the Department of Housing and Urban Development spent $31,000 on a dining room set for Secretary Ben Carson’s office. This news comes on top of previous allegations that Carson used his position to secure government contracts for his son.

These people are just the fucking worst. While Carson was busy redecorating his office, his agency proposed steep cuts to housing programs for the poor and the elderly. I’m sure Carson doesn’t see any hypocrisy in his actions, which is the whole problem. Trump’s appointees seem happy to treat their positions of public service as personal fiefdoms with no care for how their actions might violate the public trust. In fact, they work diligently on plans to undermine the core missions of their agencies.

I have no doubt that Carson was once a talented surgeon, but he’s also a grifter. His presidential campaign was little more than a scam to line his pockets and he can’t seem to turn down another opportunity to scam the American people.

Feb 262018
 

The Supreme Court heard a case today that could seriously undermine unions for public employees and deliver another blow to the broader labor movement. The case centers on whether public employee unions can require employees who are not full members to pay a fair share to help cover the costs of negotiating contracts and representing employees in individual disputes. This may sound like an esoteric issue, but the consequences of a ruling against unions could be dramatic. In states that have passed right to work laws that include the elimination of fair share payments, membership in public employee unions has plummeted. This leaves the unions with less negotiating power on core issues like wages, health care costs, and family leave.

Conservative critics of unions argue that individuals shouldn’t be required to give money to a union when they disagree with its politics or lobbying efforts. This ignores the fact that all employees, whether they are full members of the union or not, benefit from the bargaining power of the union. And if the union is significantly weakened, all of the employees stand to lose. Conservatives don’t genuinely care about the First Amendment rights of public sector workers; it’s a pretense for destroying what little political influence the labor movement still has.

I belong to a public sector union, so I have a personal stake in this fight. Public sector jobs have long been a a gateway to the middle class for society’s marginalized, including people of color and people with disabilities. If our unions no longer have the resources to advocate for us and our fellow workers, that gateway may slowly disappear.

 

Mar 242017
 

A few thoughts on the demise of the American Health Care Act:

  • Paul Ryan is not a smart man. As others have noted, he is a dumb guy’s idea of a smart man. He actually thought he could pass a bill in a month without doing any of the hard work necessary to pass major legislation. He didn’t reach out to stakeholders. He didn’t hold public hearings. He barely allowed any debate on the bill. And I’m not even getting into the substance of the bill, which was breathtaking in its cruelty.
  • Trump is low-energy! Seriously, he couldn’t be bothered to focus on the task of realizing a major campaign promise for more than a few weeks. He claims to be more interested in tax reform, but that’s likely to be even more arduous than his failed attempt to repeal the ACA. He’ll need to be able sell tax reform on its merits, but he’s shown no capability for this.
  • The voices of constituents matter. If you called your representative or senator, if you showed up at a town hall meeting, if you wrote a letter to your newspaper, then you played a part in the demise of this terrible bill.
  • The fight is not over. Republicans will try to sabotage the ACA through regulatory actions, funding cuts, and other shenanigans. People of good conscience must be prepared to fight any efforts to diminish the effectiveness of the ACA. We must also offer practical solutions to fix the shortcomings of the ACA. And maybe we can even find bipartisan consensus on those fixes.
Mar 132017
 

I drafted the op-ed piece below in an effort to explain why the proposed cuts to Medicaid in the American Health Care Act would be so detrimental to me and millions of others. Alas, the Times was not interested, but perhaps this is a more fitting place for it.

Soon after I turned thirteen, I was hospitalized with pneumonia and my parents confronted an agonizing choice: should they surrender their parental rights to ensure that I received the health care needed to ensure my survival? I was born with spinal muscular atrophy, a rare neuromuscular disability that severely weakens muscles and compromises breathing. I had several bouts of pneumonia as a child and had always managed to recover, but this time was different. My lungs had weakened to the point where I would need a ventilator to help me breathe. Doctors advised my parents to place me in a facility that could care for children with intensive medical needs.

Fortunately for me, my parents refused this option and eventually I returned home with a boxy yet portable ventilator on the back of my wheelchair (this was 1987, when most technology was still in its boxy phase). Caring for me wasn’t always easy for my parents. I’m essentially a quadriplegic and I need help with everything from bathing and dressing to scratching my nose when I have an itch. But thanks to Medicaid, they didn’t have to care for me around the clock. Medicaid provided nurses to take me to school, which allowed my parents to keep working. It paid for modifications to my wheelchair so that I could leave the house more easily. Without the supports provided under Medicaid, I would not have been able to finish college and move to Minnesota for law school.

Today, I’m 43; I live independently and work as an attorney for the State of Minnesota. My life is ordinary in the best sense of the word. When I’m not at work, I go to the movies (Logan was great!), check out the occasional concert (you really must see CHVRCHES live), and generally indulge my pop culture obsessions (that new Star Trek series had better be worth the wait). None of this would be possible without the excellent, round-the-clock care that I receive under Medicaid.

Medicaid has made my life immeasurably better, along with the lives of countless others. However, that isn’t stopping congressional Republicans from embarking on an ideological mission to starve Medicaid of funds. Last week, House Republicans unveiled a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The entire bill is a travesty, but its proposed changes to Medicaid are particularly troubling. First, the bill would gradually repeal the expansion of Medicaid for low-income adults without children. This provision would rob eleven million people of the health coverage that they gained just a few years ago. Many of the people who benefited from the expansion have chronic conditions such as diabetes or mental illness that previously went untreated. Medicaid. Second, the bill makes radical changes to the funding of Medicaid. It would establish caps on the amount of federal funding for each Medicaid enrollee. While this may seem like a technical change, it would dramatically reduce Medicaid funding over time. Under such a scheme, states like Minnesota would soon face budget shortfalls totaling billions of dollars and they would be forced to find savings by cutting services, reducing payments to providers, or both.

For people with disabilities like me, such cuts could be catastrophic. States could eliminate services that we depend on in our daily lives, such as personal care attendants or specialized equipment like communication devices. Those of us who are employed could lose the option to buy into Medicaid, forcing us to quit our jobs in order to preserve our health coverage. In some cases, we may face the dreaded possibility of institutionalization and isolation from our communities.

Republicans claim that these changes are necessary to “save” Medicaid and protect it “for the most vulnerable.” These claims are absurd and deserve no credence. Like any program devised by humans, Medicaid has its flaws, but the Republican bill would do nothing to address those flaws. The true rationale for these cuts to Medicaid is to pay for the repeal of the taxes on businesses and the wealthy that fund the ACA. The vulnerable people whom Republicans claim to champion are those who will suffer the most if this bill becomes law.

Medicaid has been instrumental in helping people with disabilities achieve lives of independence and dignity. Advocates have worked tirelessly to improve the program and its focus on providing services in the community. The Republican bill puts those hard-fought accomplishments in jeopardy and threatens real harm to those of us who depend on the program for our very survival. The only thing that Medicaid needs saving from is this vicious and mean-spirited legislation. 

Dec 152016
 

It’s only now that I feel like I can write about the election and its aftermath with any degree of perspective. I was wrong about so many things; things that maybe should have been more obvious at first blush. I thought Clinton’s experience and competence would compensate for her lack of charisma and aloofness. I thought that bragging about sexually assaulting women was far more disqualifying than e-mail mismanagement. I thought that the Obama coalition would turn out in droves to defeat a flim-flam man with no prior political experience and a penchant for manic tweeting.

In the weeks since the election, I’ve been watching a lot of Seinfeld and doing my best to avoid my Twitter feed. Reading the news has become a grim exercise in endurance. Ben Carson will be in the Cabinet? The guy who ran Breitbart will have an office in the White House? The president-elect is dismissing reports that Russia may have hacked our political process to give Trump an advantage? This would all be hilarious if it wasn’t, you know, actually fucking happening.

So now what? Perhaps Trump will turn out to be just a generic Republican, which is still pretty awful. Perhaps he’ll resign after a year or two because he’ll be unable to reconcile his authoritarian tendencies with his pathological need to be liked. Whatever happens, progressives will need to figure out how to mount an effective opposition to this administration. Republicans wrote the playbook on this and we shouldn’t hesitate to use their own tactics against them. Any efforts by Trump to shred the social safety net, undermine efforts to prevent climate change, or cut taxes on the wealthiest among us must be met with the staunchest resistance. We can try to work with Trump when he has some genuinely good ideas, but I’m guessing that will be a rare occurrence. Too much progress has been made in the last eight years and too much remains to be done.

This blog will be a very small part of that resistance. If nothing else, it will serve as the chronicle of a snarky middle-aged guy trying to navigate Trump’s America. So buckle up, Dear Reader. We’re both in for a bumpy ride.

Jun 262015
 

This week has reminded us that the United States is, at its heart, a progressive country. That progress does not always come quickly or easily and there can be long stretches of time when it seems like things will be ever as they are. But in fits and starts, we bend the long arc of history a little closer towards justice and equality.

In the wake of a horrific terrorist attack at a Charleston church, we came to the much-belated realization that the Confederate flag represents the worst of our country’s history and it is not a symbol that should be flying over state capitols. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court turned back a cynical challenge to the Affordable Care Act that, if successful, would have left millions of people without health insurance. And today, the Court affirmed that marriage equality is the law of the land.

Any of these events would have been momentous. Together, they represent a period of rapid and long-overdue change that will probably leave some people feeling confused, overwhelmed, or even angry. We may not recognize it now, but history will regard this time as a critical juncture in the country’s evolution and I feel so fortunate to be a witness to it. Here’s to the ongoing work for a better future and the countless anonymous people who will make it happen.

Jun 212015
 

The Supreme Court will rule on King v. Burwell in the coming days and the outcome could determine whether millions of people will continue to receive subsidies to purchase health insurance. But as Ezra Klein rightly points out, a ruling against the government won’t destroy the Affordable Care Act. In blue states that have set up their own exchanges (like Minnesota), the ACA will continue to function as if nothing had happened. It’s people living in red states who will suffer the  consequences of an adverse ruling. And some Republicans may rue the day that this suit was filed in the first place. They’ve had the luxury of taking potshots at the ACA without having to propose a serious alternative. If millions of their constituents suddenly learn that they are losing coverage, Republicans will be pressured to come up with some kind of solution. Whether they can pass anything is another matter entirely.

I’m still cautiously optimistic that the government will prevail, but a bad decision won’t realize conservative fantasies of a wholesale dismantling of health care reform. There will be turmoil and some people could suffer real harm if Republicans refuse to act. The law itself will remain and most states will eventually find a way to ensure their citizens enjoy its full benefits.

Apr 012015
 

Indiana lawmakers are really bad at understanding cause and effect. How else can we explain their stunned and bumbling reactions to the swift public condemnation of the “religious freedom” law that they recently passed? They should have been prepared to give a full-throated defense of their discriminatory law before the ink was even dry on the governor’s signature of the bill. They should have proudly declared that their fellow conservative Christian evangelicals deserve protection from the strains of living in an open, diverse society. They should have presented reams of testimonials from thousands of Christian businesses owners who lie awake at night, terrified at the prospect of selling a pizza to a gay couple or baking a cake for a same-sex wedding. Instead, they’re still staring slack-jawed into the high beams of censure from a modern world that is becoming ever more foreign to them.

I don’t have a problem with people opposing homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Their views are rooted in superstitious silliness, but they are free to hold them. But when those in power implicitly legalize discrimination as a reactionary response to changing social mores and then get called on it, they have no right to wave their hands and claim it’s all a big misunderstanding. Lawmakers in Indianapolis, who most likely regard themselves as “real” Americans, decided to pass legislation that spits in the face of American ideals of equality and fairness. They don’t get to claim victimhood after the fact.