Thursday, March 30, 2017

Bernie's Revolution Has Taken Off And Could Help Power Democrats Into Congressional Wins Despite A Hopeless DCCC


This morning we looked at a new bill introduced this week by Ro Khanna and Beto O'Rourke that would end the pervasive influence of PACs on Congress. It's another example of how Democrats are getting behind Bernie Sanders' most salient ideas. Ro Khanna endorsed Bernie during the 2016 cycle and Beto O'Rourke had endorsed Hillary. Both are strong supporters of the core progressive principles that made Bernie's campaign so popular among Democrats and independents-- like muscular campaign finance reform. Writing this week for Newsweek, Tim Marcin explained how Bernie's ideas are winning in the Trump era. Marcin points out that "recent polls have shown that progressive ideas are catching on, largely as a function of organized opposition to President Donald Trump's policies. Half of Americans now believe in climate change and are concerned about it, Gallup found this week. This, as President Trump walked back Tuesday environmental regulations put forth by former President Barack Obama."

Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) and Bernie have long been on the same page when it comes to climate issues, but, in 2016, she endorsed Hillary in the primary and Bernie-- perhaps stung-- promoted some clueless, reactionary independent candidate, Shawn O'Connor who had about as much in common with Bernie's agenda as your standard Blue Dog does. But Tuesday, just as Trump signed his 4 executive orders promoting the end of efforts to promote clean energy and combat Climate Change, Carol Shea-Porter was front and center in the pushback, telling New Hampshirites that "The threat of catastrophic climate change is very real, and today’s short-sighted actions from the Trump administration leave us less prepared than ever to confront it. I will fight to restore these protections." Just like Bernie.

Single payer was one of the biggest issues that Bernie was pushing-- an issue Hillary was not enamored of. Today single-payer, or Medicare for All, has become pretty standard among all but the Republican wing of the Democratic Party (the corrupt New Dems and reactionary Blue Dogs). Marcin wrote that as soon as Ryan's TrumpCare proposal got flushed down the toilet, Bernie "indicated he planned to put forth legislation creating a single-payer system. He admitted it would probably not pass Congress but added, 'it is a common sense proposal, and I think once the American people understand it, we can go forward with it.' New York Times op-ed writer David Leonhardt wrote that after the AHCA didn't pass, Republicans have two choices: stick with Obamacare or gradually move toward a system resembling single-payer, and that it seemed things were heading toward the latter. At the very least, amid the battle over whether the GOP should replace Obamacare, support for the Democratic bill ticked up to 49 percent."
A Fox News poll in mid-March, meanwhile, found 61 percent of registered voters had a favorable view of Sanders, compared with just 44 percent for Trump. The president's approval rating, meanwhile, fell to just 36 percent, according to the latest poll from Gallup this week.
Gallup has found that a majority of Americans now favor Medicare for All. And Democrats serious about winning congressional seats are running on it. This week I noticed that OurRevolution, the group headed by Bernie's former campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, had endorsed Rob Quist in Montana based on his support for unflinching universal health care. DFA didn't just endorse Quist, they also endorsed James Thompson, running for Mike Pompeo's now empty seat in Kansas and running on many of Bernie's popular ideas, not on a DCCC-Republican-lite platform.

"Rob Quist," explained DFA in a mailer to their members, "is a beloved rancher and musician. He supports single-payer health care, opposes Citizens United and he's ready to take on corporations that outsource jobs and hurt workers-- but first he has to beat the carpet-bagging New Jersey billionaire the Republican is running against him. James Thompson is a civil rights attorney and military veteran from Wichita who acutely understands the struggles both urban and rural working class families are facing under increasingly unpopular Republican leadership in his deep red district... After November's upset defeat, Republicans crowed that Hillary Clinton's failure to compete in rural areas meant that Democrats were doomed. But we know better. Bernie Sanders won both Montana and Kansas by running on populist progressive ideas, focusing on real conversations with voters, and refusing to compromise away core values of racial, gender, and economic justice. These candidates are ready to make that happen at the Congressional level and send shock waves to the Republican party."

Yesterday, Nate Cohn explained something we've been talking a lot about here at DWT, namely that a progressive Democrat has a good shot at winning a Georgia congressional seat that the DCCC has always considered hopelessly Republican and out of reach. "Jon Ossoff, a Democrat, has fared well in recent polls and has raised an astonishing $3 million in only a few months," wrote Cohn. "Trump struggled to victory in this district, a well-educated suburban area north of Atlanta. He won by just 1.5 percentage points, down from Mitt Romney’s 23-point win in 2012."
The idea of a competitive race here would have come as a surprise to many just a few months ago. Mr. Price won re-election with a healthy 62 percent of the vote, which observers have held up as a stronger indicator of the district’s partisanship than Mr. Trump’s performance. Democrats also have a poor track record in special elections.

But Mr. Trump’s weak performance last November was a sign that this race could be competitive... National political conditions are worse for the Republicans than they were in 2014 or 2016. Republicans now hold the presidency and the Congress, with Mr. Trump’s approval rating around 40 percent. On paper, these are the sort of conditions that tend to build up to so-called wave elections, like the ones that swept the Republicans out of power in 2006 and back into power in the House in 2010.

...When the seat opened up, it was reasonable to assume that a special election would work to the advantage of Republicans. The Democrats didn’t have a candidate. And in recent years, Republicans have excelled in special elections because they’ve done well among the older and reliable voters who dominate low-turnout elections.

Instead, everything has been breaking toward the Democrats-- and it probably wouldn’t have happened without a special election.

Start with the money. Mr. Ossoff, a 30-year-old first-time candidate, has benefited from timing. He was basically the only Democrat seeking federal office at a moment when Democratic energy was surging and when progressives were looking to “do something.”

Mr. Ossoff probably would not have raised nearly as much money if he’d been competing for attention with 434 other races. His fund-raising tally is better than that of 96 percent of the congressional challengers who raised more than $100,000 in 2016, and there’s still time for him to move up the list.

Instead, it’s the Republicans who are struggling to coalesce. They have 11 candidates on the ballot, with none emerging as the obvious favorite, although former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, the businessman Bob Gray and state senator Judson Hill are considered among the strongest contenders. Whoever advances to a runoff (assuming anyone does) will have only two months to coalesce support and raise funds with the benefit of party unity.

Low turnout could work to Democrats’ advantage, too. The enthusiasm that brought millions of Democrats to the streets and millions of dollars into Mr. Ossoff’s campaign account might just translate into an unlikely and possibly big turnout edge.

So far, 55 percent of early voters in the special election-- either in-person or absentee-- have most recently participated in a Democratic primary, while just 31 percent have most recently participated in a Republican primary.

For comparison, just 23 percent of voters in the district in the 2016 general election had most recently participated in a Democratic primary, compared with 46 percent in a Republican primary.

The huge Republican field probably helps the early Democratic turnout edge: Republican voters are less likely to know at this stage whom they’re going to vote for. But the Democrats also enjoy a similar 45-to-21-point edge among the larger group of voters who have requested but not yet returned absentee ballots.

These sorts of lopsided turnout advantages aren’t sustainable in a high-turnout presidential election or even a midterm. But in a low turnout election like this, it doesn’t take much to generate a meaningful turnout edge.

All these factors might be enough to get Mr. Ossoff over the top, but these are also reasons the result might not say much about Democratic or Republican fortunes next year and beyond.

Democrats can’t count on huge fund-raising, a split Republican field and a low turnout for future victories.

Goal Thermometer But a strong Democratic turnout in Georgia’s Sixth would certainly raise the possibility that the party can cure its enthusiasm gap in the midterms. And if the Democratic turnout stays anything like what it is so far, it will be fair to start wondering whether Mr. Ossoff will win the election outright, with no need for a runoff. Weird things happen in special elections.
You can contribute the Ossoff's campaign by tapping the thermometer on the right, where you'll find not just him, but other progressive candidate running against a pretty loathsome bunch of Republicans-- like Kim Weaver, who's opposing Iowa racist Steve King and Doug Applegate, the progressive marine ready to finish off the villainous Darrell Issa in the San Diego area.

Yesetrday Josh Krasushaar at National Journal went so far as to speculate that "Demo­crats now have a real­ist­ic shot at re­tak­ing the House in 2018. "Re­pub­lic­ans," he wrote, "with con­trol of the White House and Con­gress, look em­bar­rass­ingly in­cap­able of gov­ern­ing. The polit­ic­al con­sequences are severe: GOP voters are likely to be de­mor­al­ized in the run-up to next year’s midterm elec­tions, es­pe­cially if Pres­id­ent Trump is un­able to achieve any oth­er le­gis­lat­ive vic­tor­ies. This, at a time when Demo­crat­ic polit­ic­al en­gage­ment is sur­ging-- fueled by their off-the-charts an­im­os­ity to­wards Trump."
Each of the past three midterm elec­tions have swung wildly against the party in power-- re­flect­ive of the long­stand­ing dis­sat­is­fac­tion of voters to­wards polit­ic­al lead­er­ship, no mat­ter who’s in charge. Trump’s job ap­prov­al rat­ing is hov­er­ing around 40 per­cent, a tox­ic level for the dozens of Re­pub­lic­ans run­ning for reelec­tion in swing dis­tricts. Re­pub­lic­ans would be fool­ish to as­sume that Pres­id­ent Obama’s co­ali­tion of mil­len­ni­als and non­white voters-- many of whom stayed home in past midterm elec­tions-- re­mains dis­en­gaged giv­en their aver­sion to Trump.

Polit­ic­ally speak­ing, the health care bill couldn’t have been more dam­aging for Re­pub­lic­ans. In a dis­cip­lined Con­gress, safe-seat Re­pub­lic­ans would be more will­ing to take risky votes so those in com­pet­it­ive seats could main­tain some in­de­pend­ence from the party. But this time, hard-line con­ser­vat­ives in the Free­dom Caucus de­clared their un­stint­ing op­pos­i­tion early on, for­cing some vul­ner­able Re­pub­lic­ans to go on re­cord in sup­port of the un­pop­u­lar le­gis­la­tion-- which didn’t even come to a vote. Adding in­sult to in­jury, Trump bragged on Twit­ter that the health care ex­changes would col­lapse as a res­ult of his in­ac­tion-- the worst pos­sible mes­sage to send to any­one who viewed Trump as a can-do ex­ec­ut­ive.

The end res­ult is the worst of all worlds: a party that can’t get things done, a pres­id­ent with de­clin­ing job-ap­prov­al num­bers, swing-dis­trict mem­bers flushed out, and the base dis­il­lu­sioned.

“The midterm elec­tions are all about who shows up. Demo­crats are already up­set and angry; you’re already see­ing this dy­nam­ic at the protests and town halls. Now the Re­pub­lic­an base be­comes dis­pir­ited after this,” said former Rep. Tom Dav­is, who twice chaired the GOP’s House cam­paign com­mit­tee. “You might be able to hold the House with just your base, but this is bad.”

There are already signs that Trump’s sag­ging ap­prov­al rat­ing is rais­ing the pos­sib­il­ity of a stun­ning up­set in an up­com­ing con­gres­sion­al elec­tion in sub­urb­an At­lanta. The race, to fill the va­cant seat held by Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Tom Price, couldn’t be more rel­ev­ant to the health care de­bate. One pub­lic poll shows the Demo­crat­ic front-run­ner, Jon Os­soff, nar­rowly lead­ing sev­er­al of his GOP op­pon­ents in a run­off-- this in a con­ser­vat­ive dis­trict that has elec­ted Re­pub­lic­ans to Con­gress for over four dec­ades. Fear­ing an em­bar­rass­ing de­feat, the party’s lead­ing House su­per PAC is spend­ing over $2 mil­lion on at­tack ads con­nect­ing Os­soff with Nancy Pelosi.

Of the 36 at-risk House Re­pub­lic­ans, ac­cord­ing to the Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port’s rat­ings, 28 rep­res­ent urb­an or sub­urb­an dis­tricts where Trump isn’t par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar. In last year’s elec­tion, most of these GOP rep­res­ent­at­ives sig­ni­fic­antly out­per­formed Trump as voters dis­tin­guished between the pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee and the re­cord of their own mem­ber of Con­gress. But with Trump as pres­id­ent, that dis­tinc­tion is harder to make.

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Crossing the U.S. Border with Electronic Devices


(Source; click to enlarge)

by Gaius Publius

It used to be that when most people crossed the U.S. border, their electronic devices — computers, smartphones, tablets — were not routinely searched. This is no longer the case. As Murtaza Hussain notes at The Intercept, searches are up sharply, from 5,000 in 2015 ... to 5,000 in just last February alone.

It's not just ICE agents whose jobs are "fun" again, it's the men and women at the U.S. Border Protection service too.
Lawsuit Seeks Transparency as Searches of Cellphones and Laptops Skyrocket at Borders

A lawsuit filed today by the Knight First Amendment Institute, a public interest legal organization based at Columbia University, seeks to shed light on invasive searches of laptops and cellphones by Customs and Border Protection officers at U.S. border crossings.

Documents filed in the case note that these searches have risen precipitously over the past two years, from a total of 5,000 searches in 2015 to 25,000 in 2016, and rising to 5,000 in the month of February 2017 alone. Among other questions, the lawsuit seeks to compel the federal government to provide more information about these searches, including how many of those searched have been U.S. citizens, the number of searches by port of entry, and the number of searches by the country of origin of the travelers.
The obvious problem — that pesky Fourth Amendment aside — is, as the author puts it, "the wealth of personal data often held on such devices." Seizure and search of these devices puts that highly personal treasure trove in the hands of the Trump-led, even-more-muscular government and its agents, to do with as they will. (And don't discount the possibility that Trojan horse software could be implanted. Not that our government would do that, mind you — that would be wrong — but still.)

Of course, the border agents can't order you to surrender your devices and unlock codes — not exactly — though intimidation and coercion is in their repertoire. How long, for example, are you willing to put your life on hold while you defy them and they wait you out ... at the airport, with a flight to catch or a job to get to?

Hussain again:
A number of recent cases in the media have revealed instances of U.S. citizens and others being compelled by CBP agents to unlock their devices for search. In some instances, people have claimed to have been physically coerced into complying, including one American citizen who said that CBP agents grabbed him by the neck in order to take his cellphone out of his possession.
With that in mind, I thought I'd offer a few suggestions, as a partial answer to questions I'm seeing more and more, asked by people who have reason to believe they may be on the "outs" with the brave new world in Washington and its agenda.

How to Safeguard Your Data From Searches at the Border

The first set of suggestions comes from the New York Times. Brian Chen, the author of the piece, gives a nice introduction to the problems encountered by those who cross the U.S. border, closing with the admonition, Do not lie about your passwords. That would not only be wrong, it would be punishable.

That said, here are his suggestions. Note that many of them hinge on not crossing the border with your data to begin with — or not crossing the border with your passwords, even in your head. Chen:
Consider a cheap device

The best way to prevent your information from being searched is to travel with a device that never had any of your data in the first place.

It’s a wise idea to invest in a so-called travel device, a cheap smartphone or computer that you use only abroad ... So leave your fancy equipment — along with your photo album, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter apps — at home.

Which devices to buy? The Wirecutter, the product recommendations site owned by The New York Times, published a guide on budget Android phones, including the $100 Moto G4 Play that comes unlocked so that it can work with foreign SIM cards. For cheap computers, consider a $550 Acer laptop or a $430 Dell Chromebook.
When it comes to phones, you could even forego a local phone and, as an East London friend suggests, buy a cheap smartphone or even a "dumbphone" at your destination. Then load a pay-as-you-go SIM card into it and use it exclusively. You could even abandon it before leaving if you're feeling really bold. (Remember when travelers didn't feel incomplete if they didn't have a phone in their pocket? That could be you.)

If you want it back, I'm sure a friend would be glad to mail it to you after you leave — or you could simply mail it to yourself before you depart.

Three more small pieces of advice before one major one:
Disable fingerprint readers

...[In] the United States, law enforcement agencies have successfully used warrants to compel people to unlock their cellphones with a fingerprint. But because of your right to remain silent, it would be tough (though not impossible) for the federal government to force you to share your passcode. So disabling your fingerprint sensor when traveling is generally a safer move. ...

Encrypt your devices

Whether you are using a burner device or your own, always make sure to lock down the system with encryption, which scrambles your data so it becomes indecipherable without the right key.

Desktop apps like BitLocker or Apple’s FileVault let you encrypt your hard drive, requiring a passphrase to decrypt your files. To avoid surrendering this passphrase, you could jot it down and hand it to a friend and contact that person for the passphrase after crossing the border. [emphasis added]

Back up to the cloud, then wipe before you cross

...[To have access to your data while abroad] back up your data to a cloud service and then wipe, or erase, all the data from your device before arriving at the border, Mr. Zdziarski said. After passing through customs, you could then restore your information from the online backup.
I want to focus on the comment above about your passphrase for a moment. You can't surrender your passphrase (a more complex form of password) if you don't know it. So, when you encrypt your device, use a complex passphrase that you (1) don't memorize, and (2) give to someone not traveling with you.

If You Don't Know Your Passwords, You Can't Surrender Them

Which leads to the final piece of advice, a major one:
Don’t memorize your passwords

The best way to protect your passwords is to not know them. When resisting a data frisk, it is easier to say you didn’t memorize your password as opposed to refusing to provide it to border agents, Mr. Grossman said.

“If you don’t know them it’s hard to compel you to give them over if you don’t know how,” he said. “Even if somebody put a gun to my head, I don’t know it.”

Password management apps like 1Password and LastPass can automatically create strong, lengthy passwords for all your online accounts and keep them stored in a vault that is accessible with one master password.

However, Mr. Grossman said you are better off traveling without your password management software loaded on your devices so that you won’t be asked to hand over the master password to your vault. You could store a copy of the password vault on a cloud service like Dropbox and get access to your vault of passwords when you reach your travel destination, he said.

An alternative to using a password-managing app is to write your passwords down and leave them with someone you trust. After getting through customs, contact that person and ask him or her to read off your passwords.
What's really needed, of course, is for someone who can put her life on hold — and who has a great lawyer prepared to defend her — to challenge these searches and seizures in court. Some lawyers I spoke to don't think they're legal — though note the strong objections to that opinion here.

Suggestions from the CIA

The other suggestions I want to offer come from the CIA. This isn't related to carrying electronic devices per se, but to how to comport yourself during screenings. WikiLeaks has leaked internal documents from the CIA that advise its own agents how to behave when they cross the border. After all, if you're a spy with a cover story, you don't want it blown by some border cop who pulls you out of line for a random secondary check and spots your nervousness.

Those documents are here:

Happy traveling.


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Ro Khanna And Beto O'Rourke Move To Remove PACs From The Temple Of Democracy


According to, there are only six members of the House who don't take PAC money-- 4 Democrats and 2 Republicans:
Ro Khanna (D-CA)
Beto O'Rourke (D-TX)
Jared Polis (D-CO)
Phil Roe (R-TN)
Francis Rooney (R-FL)
John Sarbanes (D-MD)
The six most corrupt members of the House-- at least in terms of taking the PAC-bribes-- are all notorious corporate whores who have poisoned the political system and should be driven from office-- 5 Republicans and a disgusting excuse for a Democrat:
Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)- $3,249,247.09
Kevin Brady (R-TX)- $3,068,027.73
Pat Tiberi (R-OH)- $2,822,165.00
Bill Shuster (R-PA)- $2,495,129.55
John Shimkus (R-IL)- $2,484,809.71
Steny Hoyer (R-MD)- $2,471,618.21
Ro Khanna, a dedicated progressive who represents the very PAC-friendly the Silicon Valley, started the No PAC Caucus in Congress. So far just Beto O'Rourke, the El Paso congressman challenging Ted Cruz's mega-PAC 2018 reelection bid, and independently wealthy Jared Polis from Boulder have joined the caucus. I've always asserted that the reason ethics laws for members of Congress-- including everything regarding how candidates raise money-- will always be inherently corrupt because they are written specifically for one class of people: members of Congress. They write their own laws to cover their own asses and legalize their own criminal behavior.

Tuesday, though, two members, Ro Khanna and Beto O'Rourke, have come forward will a new bill-- The No PAC Act-- to prohibit members of Congress from taking PAC contributions. It's a truly revolutionary proposal and it transcends partisanship. The bill that seeks to amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 by prohibiting members of Congress and those running for Congress from accepting contributions from a PAC, other than that of the candidate’s own PAC. It would also prohibit the establishment of leadership PACs.

The villain of the video above is Chicagoland knee-jerk Republican Peter Roskam who's taken $1,564,543.89 from PACs (more than half his campaign haul). Roskam's opponent in this race is Blue America-backed Geoff Petzel who backs what Khanna and O'Rourke are trying to accomplish-- and more: "I support the concept of the No PAC Act," he told us, "but this bill doesn't do enough to stop the influence of big money in our politics. I am a strong supporter of campaign finance reform and believe that no one, including corporations, should be able to contribute more than $200 to a campaign and all funds should run through a candidates committee. The No PAC Act does take an important stand against leadership PACs. Leadership PACs should absolutely be banned. They have no transparency and allow our elected officials to use them for personal gain. We need more transparency and less corporate influence in our politics. Reasonable people can agree that a $200 donation to a political campaign shouldn't influence someones vote, but when people like Peter Roskam use leadership PAC money for ski trips and hundreds of thousands in travel, I think most people will agree that some influence is certainly possible. Peter Roskam's use of leadership PAC money is yet another example of his questionable judgement when using outside money. In the past he was investigated for ethics violations over a trip he took with his family. The trip to Taiwan that cost $25,000 was paid for by a foreign government. His wild spending of leadership PAC money should also raise serious ethics concerns. And to make matters worse, Congressman Roskam voted to dismantle the House Ethics Committee... we need more oversight regarding these questionable uses of funds, not less. Being a Congressman should be about serving the people, not living a celebrity lifestyle."

In the 2016 cycle, PACs contributed more than $474 million to congressional candidates according to the FEC, which accounted for 35% of campaign funds for House Democrats, 39% for House Republicans, 15% for Senate Democrats, and 27% for Senate Republicans.

Khanna told the media that the bill "is an important step in stopping the influence of wealthy special interests in our political system. By limiting who can give to congressional candidates, voters can have a stronger voice in who represents them in Congress." O'Rourke agreed: "We need to get special interest money out of politics. This bill is an important step to do just that," he said.

We asked some of the progressive candidates who are running for congressional seats now. David Gill, who's up against Republican incumbent Rodney Davis-- who has gobbled up $1,806,068.14, an astonishing 69% of his total contributions-- was the first to respond. "As a candidate who supports meaningful campaign finance reform and who only accepts contributions from individuals, I'm fully supportive of the bill introduced by Representatives Khanna and O'Rourke. It will be much easier to finally achieve the single-payer health care system so desperately needed here in America when we eliminate the big money put into our political system by Big Pharma and the insurance industry."

Tom Guild is running against another big PAC-abuser, Republican Steve Russell in Oklahoma City. Russell gets about half his campaign funds from PAC-- $409,554.12 so far. Guild told us he fully supports the bill proposed by Khanna and O'Rourke. "I have never accepted a PAC contribution and have no plans to do so.  Especially in light of Citizens United, we have a great need for campaign finance reform to remove the stench of big corporate money in congressional campaigns. Dependence on big corporate and Wall Street money undermines the one person, one vote principle undergirding our political system. Accepting PAC money is a serious and debilitating problem that crosses party lines. It virtually ensures that only billionaires who can self-finance their campaigns or those who 'play the game' and sell their souls to the devil can successfully mount a congressional campaign. The No PAC Act is a very good step in the right direction. People often say that members of Congress can’t be bought, but can be rented for long periods of time. We need to put a stop to that unfortunate reality. I’m all in on this one! I know voters in CD5-OK are fed up with the corrosive influence of all the PAC money sloshing around the political system and if they vote to send me to Washington in 2018, I'll sign on as a co-sponsor of this bill on their behalf as soon as I get there."

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Right Wing Fifth Column In Brighton Beach? West Hollywood? Bustleton?


Growing up in Brooklyn I had never met a Republican. And they didn't run for office where I lived either. Republicans were sleaze-ball used car salesmen like Nixon. They were in other parts of the country, not anywhere near Kings Highway. When Senator John Kennedy needed to demonstrate the enthusiasm hard core liberal communities had for him-- he was a kind of conservative senator for a Democrat-- he showed up during the 1960 campaign at Dubrow's on Kings Highway, a couple blocks from my house on 17th Street and Avenue P. My mother took me to see him. The crowd was adulatory. (Just 12 years old, I got stepped on by a police horse and got carried into Dubrows, a casualty of war, to be fussed over by the future president. There were no cell phones then, let alone cell phones that could have captured the moment for a then non-existent Facebook page.) I don't know how my old neighborhood voted in November but it wouldn't be out-of-bounds to speculate that Kennedy beat Nixon in the realm of 80-20%, maybe better. Kennedy only won New York state by 5 points. But he won NYC 62.62% to 37.04%. Brooklyn was his second biggest county in the state (after the Bronx)-- 66.16% to 33.51%. And my part of Brooklyn-- Homecrest, Madison, Midwood, Ocean Parkway South, West Brighton, Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach-- was way more Democratic, way more liberal, than the rest of the borough.

Jesus, has that changed! I did a post about it a few weeks ago. Russians started moving into Brighton Beach while I was still, more or less, living in New York, just a trickle at first, but they eventually took over the area and spread out from there. Bye-bye, heart of liberal Brooklyn. My old stomping ground all went for Trump. Brooklyn was the heart of Clinton-territory. The borough gave her a solid 595,086 (79.25%) win over Trump's sad 133,653 (17.8%). Not so my ancestral-- now Russian-dominated-- part of Brooklyn:
Ocean Parkway South- Trump- 71.15%
West Brighton- Trump- 68.77%
Homecrest- Trump- 66.56%
Midwood- Trump- 60.62%
Brighton Beach- Trump- 59.35%
Madison- Trump- 56.35%
Sheepshead Bay- Trump- 50.53%
Makes me want to barf. And, by the way, although he had come to America (the Bronx) 5 decades earlier, my grandfather was a Russian too-- a Russian socialist, like many of the Russian immigrants who came to America at the turn of the century (the 20th century, not this one). These weren't conservatives; they were the ones who powered the labor movement in New York. The biggest concentrations of Russians in America today still live in Brooklyn, but have spread out to Bergen County, New Jersey, as well as to West Hollwood, Miami, Chicago, Alaska, Dallas, Houston, Philly, Baltimore and the Silicon Valley area.

Olga Khazan, writing for The Atlantic in April of 2016, long before Trump was president, penned an article about how specifically the Russian Jewish community is, Why Societ Refugees Aren't Buying Sanders' Socialism. My grandfather's experience in Czarist Russia-- a fascist dictatorship-- colored his American politics. Khazan write soft Russians who's bitter experience of the Soviet Union-- which they foolishly imagine is what Bernie or the Democrats are advocating-- colors their American politics. They hate big government-- just wait til they figure out what Señor Trumpanzee has in mind-- and loath the idea of a workers revolution. Surprising that Jews are too incapable of critical thought as it be unable to differentiate between authoritarianism and socialism. But... that's their sad life's experience. Recent Russian Jewish immigrants voted overwhelming for Trump. In the primaries, the ones who didn't like Trump were hung ho on Cruz. They don't grok the Trump-Putin connection.

I found a degree of comfort of sorts-- from the changing voted patterns of my old neighborhood-- Monday when I read a piece in Politico by Malcolm Burnley, Why Philly's Russians Are Crazy For Trump. Turns out, like Brooklyn's Brighton Beach, they've got their own "Little Odessa" (Bustleton and Somerto) too.
Not since the end of the Cold War has there been quite such a miasma of suspicion and intrigue about Russia and Russians. The news brims with murky allegations of computer hacking, election meddling and influence peddling, all of which seems to demand assertions of allegiance to one side or the other. But for many of the estimated 26,000 Russian-speaking people in Philadelphia (not to mention the more than 900,000 across the country) the us-and-them nature of the political debate in Washington doesn’t really apply. Here, in a self-created cocoon of familiar cultural touchstones, I detected a kind of dual nationalism among the residents-- a manifest love for countries that once were home and an equal adoration for the populist president many of them voted for.

“Trump is a fighter, a negotiator, a successful businessman. Four times he go through the bankruptcy. He understand how the world works from a business perspective,” says Alexander Shapiro, who came to the states in the early-1990s from what’s now Ukraine. “During the campaign, he ran against governors and senators. He beat everybody like babies.”

Hearing how jazzed residents sounded about Trump’s first 60 days in office, I half expected to find shelves laden with Russian nesting dolls featuring Barron, Ivanka, Don Jr. and the whole gang. There was nothing so brazen inside the Knizhnik gift store, a mom-and-pop-looking place where I was repeatedly reminded that the inventory was “all Russian-- all.” There was, however, a Russian biography of Trump prominently displayed. It was the same book that became a popular giveaway at Trump-friendly election watch parties in Moscow, the one whose title has been dubbed in English as “The Black Swan.”

It’s an apt metaphor for how Bustleton and Somerton fit into Philadelphia writ large. Meaning, hardly at all. In a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans seven to one, and the local GOP has become something of a joke, these neighborhoods are as close to a conservative bastion as you’ll find. It’s been that way for decades. The Far Northeast, as it’s known in local parlance, which borders on the swing-state suburbs of Bucks County, has a long history of opposition to progressivism, on everything from taxation to school desegregation. In 1983, a Pennsylvania state senator representing the area introduced a bill to have Northeast Philadelphia secede from the city. In part, this was perceived to be retribution against the city’s first African-American mayor, a dynamic that evokes the subtext to Trump’s Make America Great American movement. “Whether they are Russian newcomers or older generations, there is a nationalist theme running throughout the political mindset of Northeast Philadelphians, especially those who lean more conservative,” says Matt Smalarz, a professor at Manor College in the Philadelphia suburbs and a native of the Northeast whose dissertation focused on the area he grew up in. “You won’t go to any other part of Philadelphia where there are more American flags being flown.”

...In his campaign speeches, Trump leveraged a profound feeling of abandonment being experienced by white working-class voters, as if the government had cast them aside. You don’t have be an unemployed steelworker from western Pennsylvania to share that commonality. In fact... the population hailing from ex-Soviet states might be predisposed to an up-by-the-bootstraps message like that of the Trump campaign, and a drain-the-swamp message, too. “In my family, we paid for everything with our hard work and great attitude toward this country,” she says. “Eastern Europeans are not so much depend on public benefits. We’re not waiting for dollars to fall from the trees.”

After all, many of these immigrants ended up here, during the 1990s, seeking freedom from ethnic or religious persecution in their respective states. “Most of the Russians here are almost libertarians,” says Andre Krug, president and CEO of KleinLife, a senior-citizen program that caters to many Russian-speaking adults. “They came from a country where the country dictated how they were going to live their lives, so when they came to this country, they feel like the less government does, the better they’re going to be ultimately.” Their ideology-- to draw a generality-- is more like an attitude of rugged individualism, Krug says. In other words, one that is innately American but born of life in the former Soviet Union. In the end, Trump’s wealthy upbringing and his career of questionable business deals didn’t undermine the essential appeal of his well-practiced message of personal triumph. Last November, Donald Trump narrowly lost Philadelphia’s 58th ward, which encompasses Bustleton and Somerton, but garnered 1,464 more votes than Romney in 2012. Pennsylvania was decided by less than 45,000 votes.

...Despite a palpable dislike for Putin among most of the foreign-born Philadelphians I spoke to, there was concurrent praise of Trump for displaying what might be called Putin-like qualities: His unflinching projection of strength. And his intuition-- what Shapiro calls “guts.” And most of all, Trump’s promise of bygone economic enrichment for all Americans. The MAGA message can be a personal one for immigrants like Shapiro, who arrived during America’s relative prosperity during the 1990s. This pink-cloud period in our recent history happened to be his first taste of the West. “From 1996 until when the [World Trade Towers] collapsed, it was communism,” Shapiro says, meaning, everybody was reaping the spoils. “It was a very good time. Everybody happy. People buy houses. Real estate booming. Stock market booming. That’s why Trump won. He wants to make America great again. He wants to return to old times when people were happy.”
Have you ever tasted a maroon, not to be confused with a coconut macaroon?

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Someone's Got To Jettison The Great Wall of Trump-- Might As Be The GOP


Did you always have the feeling that Trump's campaign ploy-- his absurdly expensive ($20 billion) and ineffective, beautiful wall-- would be a non-starter? If so you were probably correct. Democrats won't vote for anything that includes funds for the nonsense and more and more Republican congressman-- many who oppose the whole idea to begin with-- are not ready for a shut-down-the-government fight over the wall. Yesterday Burgess Everett and Rachel Bade reported for Politico that even though the Regime knows the only way to get funding for the wall would be to tie it in to a bill to keep the government open, GOP leaders in Congress know they need Democratic votes for that because they "expect a significant number of conservatives to defect on any government funding bill, as they have in the past." Democratic votes won't come if a wall is included-- so, despite Trump-- they're ready to leave the wall funding out of the bill. That would probably mean bye-bye wall, although Trump will still be able to whine and bluster about it well into the future.
“It remains to be seen,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) in an interview. “What I would like to see is a plan for how the money would be spent and a good faith discussion about what border security is really composed of. We haven’t had that.”

Asked about the prospects for a lapse in government funding, Cornyn was definitive: “There’s not going to be a shutdown.”

The White House made an initial request earlier this month for $1.4 billion in border wall funding as part of a package that boosts defense spending by $30 billion, with the thought that it would hitch a ride to the broader government funding bill due next month. Republicans expect the final price tag for the wall could be more than $20 billion.

The problem is that polls show the border wall is not all that popular, particularly if the United States is paying for it, and it does not unify congressional Republicans in the way Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch or even the basic goal of repealing Obamacare have done. That makes it a harder sell to the rank-and-file GOP-- especially if pressing it means playing a government shutdown blame game with Democrats.

“The border wall is probably not a smart investment,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who proposes funding the wall as part a package legalizing some young undocumented immigrants and beefing up enforcement.

Several sources said it is unclear whether Trump wants to take the fight to Democrats over the wall or avoid a shutdown battle. His Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney in recent weeks has suggested the administration will focus more on the wall in the future, perhaps as late as fiscal 2019.

...Of course, some in the GOP [read: Bannon] are itching for a border battle. A senior Republican source suggested Trump could conceivably win a shutdown fight if he went to the mat to defend it: “This is his signature issue. I cannot imagine a scenario where the Trump administration loses on the border wall funding. If I were them, I’d dare the Democrats to shut down the government over this.”

Another senior House Republican source [read Priebus] disagreed completely: "The Trump administration can't have another disaster on its hands. I think right now they have to show some level of competence and that they can govern."

Republicans began the year thinking that they could get moderate Democrats and perhaps even Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to fund construction of a wall that some Democrats have supported in the past. But Schumer has warned McConnell that his party will not support any “riders” in the funding bill intended to jam Democrats with conservative policies.

“The wall is a poison-pill rider,” Schumer said in an interview. “They’ll do it at their peril.”

We may have to hold the slippery Schumer to that, so let's not forget it. What if Trump gets all hopped upon Adderall one weekend and has tantrum and demands Ryan give him the money? With no Democrats-- or next to no Democrats-- on board, Ryan could only afford to lose a couple of dozen Republicans in a balls-to-the-walls bill that includes funding the wall. The problem would be in the Senate, where McConnell would have to hold every Republican together-- even though several have been publicly skeptical about the wall-- and win at least eight Senate Democrats to break a filibuster that Schumer has promised.

About 10 days ago PPP found that only 37% of Americans are willing to see U.S. taxes fund the wall. And just 16% of voters liked Trump's trial balloon that he'd cut the budgets of the Coast Guard, TSA and FEMA to pay for the wall.

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Did Republicans Just Sell Our Internet Privacy Off To Their Big Corporate Campaign Donors? Yep!


Yesterday, Republicans in the House voted-- pretty narrowly-- to approve Jeff Flake's Joint Resolution, overturning the protection of privacy rights on the Internet. Flake, an unpopular Arizona Republican, is up for reelection in 2018, as is unpopular Nevada Republican, Dean Heller, who co-sponsored the bill in the Senate. The House passed it 215-205, with 15 Republicans crossing the aisle and voting NO with every single Democrat. Earlier in the day, one reactionary Blue Dog, Jim Costa (CA), voted with the Republicans on a piece of enabling legislation for the bill, but by the time of the final vote on the bill itself, Costa backed down and voted against it.

Among the Republicans voting against this nightmare proposal were Walter Jones (R-NC), Justin Amash (R-MI), Johnny Duncan (R-TN) and Mark Sanford (R-SC), among the only Republicans ever willing to buck the corporately paid-off party leadership.

The specific FCC rule the Republicans overturned required Internet Service Providers to ask customers' permission to collect, use and sell personal information. Pelosi's floor speech urging her colleagues to vote NO was pretty compelling, but not for corporate Republicans looking for big bucks from internet service providers. Among the corporations handing out the big corporate bribes in this area are AT&T, Century Link, Charter (Spectrum), Comcast, Cox, Frontier, Optimum, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and Windstream. In the last cycle alone, the sector handed out $97,910,784 in political bribes. Ryan, of course, was the biggest recipient of the bribery among current members ($559,221). The half dozen other biggest bribe takers from this sector were:
Greg Walden (R-OR)-$544,429
Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)- $400,300
Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)- $344,950
Bob Goodlatte (R-VA)- $332,033
Anna Eshoo (D-CA)- $318,437
Darrell Issa (R-CA)- $317,200
Walden, McCarthy, Goodlatte and Issa earned their bribes yesterday by voting for the resolution. Pelosi's floor speech made the point that "Americans turn to the internet for so many things these days-- buying books, filing taxes, learning about why they are feeling sick. The Republicans want this information to be sold without your permission. The websites you visit, the apps you use, your search history, the content of your emails, your health and financial data. Overwhelmingly, the American people do not agree with the Republicans that this information should be sold, and it certainly should not be sold without your permission. Our broadband providers know deeply personal information about us and our families-- where we are, what we want, what we’re looking for, what information we want to know, every site we visit and more. They can even track us-- our broadband providers can even track us when we are surfing in a private browsing mode. Americans’ private browser history should not be up for sale, yet Republicans are bringing S.J. Resolution 34 to the floor to allow internet service providers-- excuse me, Mr. Speaker-- to profit, to profit. This is about profit from America’s most intimate, personal information without our knowledge or our consent. Republicans’ use of the Congressional Review Act will do permanent damage to the FCC to keep America’s personal information safe... With this measure, Republicans would destroy Americans’ right to privacy on the internet. We made that clear, and forbid any effort to keep your personal information safe... So while they’re hiding President Trump’s tax returns, some discreet piece of information that the public has a right to know-- they’re selling your most personal, selling your most personal and sensitive information-- again, your browsing history, your children’s location, everything, to anyone with the money to buy it... Most Americans have no or limited choices for broadband providers and no recourse against these invasions of their privacy, because with this measure, Republicans turn their back on the overwhelming number of Americans who want more control over their internet privacy. Americans can choose who represent them in Congress. Americans are paying close attention.  They want to know who is taking a stand with them in opposing efforts to sell the private-- their private information to the American people. This is staggering. This is almost a surrender. If the Republicans are allowed to do this, we have surrendered all thoughts of privacy for the American people. Privacy is a value that the American people treasure. It’s about their dignity. It’s about their dignity. We cannot allow the Republicans to sell the dignity of the American people. I hope that everyone will vote ‘no’ on this most unfortunate assault on the dignity of the American people."

Ted Cruz is all for ending Internet privacy rights. Beto is running against him next year

Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), who wrote the Personal Data Privacy and Security Act of 2014 to ensure consumers are notified quickly if their private information has been compromised and who co-introduced legislation that would prohibit employers from requiring current and prospective employees from disclosing their personal passwords as a condition of either keeping or getting a job, is strongly opposed to this bill and told her constituents why she voted against it. "Allowing Internet companies to sell personal information flies in the face of the New Hampshire 'live free or die' values we cherish. Congress should be doing more to safeguard our Internet privacy, not making it harder for law-abiding citizens to protect their own data."

Geoff Petzel is running for Congress in a Chicagoland district represented by Ryan crony Pete Roskam. And, of course, yesterday Roskam voted to sell our internet privacy rights to his campaign donors. I contacted Geoff-- whose campaign you can contribute to here-- and he told me that "seeing what Republicans and the right wing are doing to dismantle our society has me incredibly angry. I have been attending meeting after meeting where people tell me they are 'pissed' at Congress and Trump. I have no other words-- I am pissed too. The destruction of our freedoms from internet privacy to a woman's right to choose to suppressing the vote and lying about the facts has us on a trajectory that will destroy our democracy. I believe that the United States is the greatest country on earth, but it can only remain that way if we fight for our freedom everyday.  William Douglas said 'The privacy and dignity of our citizens are being whittled away by sometimes imperceptible steps. Taken individually, each step may be of little consequence. But when viewed as a whole, there begins to emerge a society quite unlike any we have seen-- a society in which government may intrude into the secret regions of a person's life.' I am committed to my campaign because we can't we must stop the destruction of our democracy. Our freedom is at stake and we must fight back. After all, Privacy is Freedom."

UPDATE: Revenge

Erin Corbett:
Repealing the FCC guidelines is a huge blow to online privacy. So Adam McElhaney, an activist based in Chattanooga, Tennessee who cares about privacy and net neutrality set up a GoFundMe page to collect donations to buy the internet histories of everyone who voted to repeal the FCC’s privacy protections.

The page is called Purchase Private Internet Histories.

“I think that your private Internet history should be yours,” McElhaney wrote on the page. “I also believe your Internet should be neutral. I am raising money to help secure those freedoms.”

McElhaney explained that because the Senate is gutting online privacy and allowing anyone’s internet histories to be purchased, “I plan on purchasing the Internet histories of all legislators, congressmen, executives, and their families and make them easily searchable at”

“I don’t think that what I lookup on the Internet, what sites I visit, my browsing habits, should be bought and sold to whoever. Without my consent,” McElhany noted, with a call to action. “Let’s turn the tables. Let’s buy THEIR history and make it availble [sic].”“Everything from their medical, pornographic, to their financial and infidelity,” McElhaney wrote. “Help me raise money to buy the histories of those who took away your right to privacy for just thousands of dollars from telephone and ISPs.  Your private data will be bought and sold to marketing companies, law enforcement.”

“Join me in the fight to turn the tables and do whatever it takes to take back your privacy.”

The page has so far raised $54,446, after intending only to raise $10,000.

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It's Not Happenstance That Americans Pay So Much For Prescription Drugs


A few weeks ago Digby and I went to dinner with Ted Lieu and Ro Khanna, two of Congress' most dedicated legislators-- guys actually looking for ways to make people's lives better. We asked David Dayen to come as well so he could explain the intense research he has been engrossed in involving pharmacy benefit managers. His piece, "The Hidden Monopolies That Raise Drug Prices," is running in the new issue of the American Prospect and it's worth reading in its entirety. But first a 101 definition for those who may not have heard of a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM), simply "a third-party administrator of prescription drug programs for commercial health plans, self-insured employer plans, Medicare Part D plans, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, and state government employee plans. 266 million Americans are dependent on them doing a good job, which the American Pharmacists Association says includes "contracting with pharmacies, negotiating discounts and rebates with drug manufacturers, and processing and paying prescription drug claims.. striving to maintain or reduce the pharmacy expenditures of the plan while concurrently trying to improve health care outcomes." Sounds powerful, right? And that kind of power inevitably leads to abuse including lawsuits involving fraud, deception and antitrust claims.

Dayen pointed out that most people blame insurance companies and/or pharmaceutical companies for raising costs in the health-care system. He wants you to know how the PBMs have "morphed from processors to predators... Over the past 30 years, PBMs have evolved from paper-pushers to significant controllers of the drug pricing system, a black box understood by almost no one. Lack of transparency, unjustifiable fees, and massive market consolidations have made PBMs among the most profitable corporations you’ve never heard about."
Americans pay the highest health-care prices in the world, including the highest for drugs, medical devices, and other health-care services and products. Our fragmented system produces many opportunities for excessive charges. But one lesser-known reason for those high prices is the stranglehold that a few giant intermediaries have secured over distribution. The antitrust laws are supposed to provide protection against just this kind of concentrated economic power. But in one area after another in today’s economy, federal antitrust authorities and the courts have failed to intervene. In this case, PBMs are sucking money out of the health-care system-- and our wallets-- with hardly any public awareness of what they are doing.

Even some Republicans criticize PBMs for pursuing profit at the public’s expense. “They show no interest in playing fair, no interest in the end user,” says Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, one of the industry’s loudest critics. “They act as monopolistic terrorists on this market.” Collins and a bipartisan group in Congress want to rein in the PBM industry, setting up a titanic battle between competing corporate interests. The question is whether President Donald Trump will join that effort to fulfill his frequent promises to bring down drug prices.

Dr. David Gill is a policy-driven progressive candidate running for Congress against a backbench garden variety Republican incumbent, Rodney Davis, in a central Illinois swing district, IL-13. (Blue America has endorsed him and you can contribute to his campaign here.) This morning, after reading Dayen's article, he told us that as an emergency department physician he doesn't have direct dealings with pharmacy benefit managers. "However," he added, "it comes as no surprise to me that such abuses take place. Given that the benefit managers are subcontractors of insurance companies whose primary mission is to maximize their profit, it should be no surprise to anyone that these benefit managers are also largely focused on maximizing their own profit, and that the well-being of patients is of secondary importance. Until we finally adopt a single-payer healthcare system administered by the federal government ('Medicare for all'), such abuses will continue within many different layers of healthcare here in America. Uncle Sam does not run Medicare in order to make money; if only the rest of our healthcare system was run with such noble intentions."

Jason Westin is a first time candidate, a cancer researcher specialist and physician in Houston, who's running against reactionary GOP incumbent John Culberson, a long-time-corporate puppet. We turned to Jason immediately when Dayen made us aware of the PBM problem. He told us that as a cancer doctor he has "seen first hand the hard choices that patients are often forced to make when it comes to medications. Many of the newest and most promising new anti-cancer medications are also the most expensive due to unregulated pricing by Pharma and by the hidden charges of the pharmacy benefit managers (PBM). This predatory pricing puts desperate and vulnerable patients between a rock and a hard place. If they purchase the drug and it works, they will need to decide if they can continue to pay for it longterm and face financial ruin, or quit after a while and take their chances. If they do not purchase the drug, their families may long wonder 'what if?' As PBMs no longer provide any real benefit to patients, loosening their stranglehold on prescription medications should be a bipartisan issue. Many uninformed GOP members of Congress, like John Culberson of TX-07, think drug pricing would be solved if we could 'open up purchasing across state lines' (actual quote from 3/25/17 Town Hall). Their ignorance on the insidious effects of PBMs on drug pricing means they are completely incapable of regulating them: how can you fix what you do not understand?"

Like David Gill and Jason Westin, progressive candidates Tom Guild in Oklahoma and Kim Weaver in Iowa are running against extreme right wing incumbents, respectively Steve Russell and Steve King. Both had the same reaction to the GOP attack on Americans' privacy yesterday. "It's disappointing and disgusting that Big Corporate donations of nearly $100 million doled out  to members of Congress," said Tom, "including my opponent incumbent Clyde 'Steve' Russell, carried the day. Russell joined the list of U.S. House Members who were all but bribed to vote to take away Americans internet privacy, to the extent that even our browsing history can be peddled to the highest bidder, like a cyber-Snickers bar. As they say about Clyde and other career politicians who voted for this outrageous legislation, they can’t be bought but they can be rented for long periods of time. I’m looking forward to defeating Wall Street lackey Russell in November of 2018, and taking back our rights and freedoms, including the right to privacy, that Clyde blithely sells to the highest Wall Street and Big Corporate Bidder. Has he no shame? Apparently, not!"

"Once again Steve King showed that his loyalty rests with his corporate sponsors rather than with the people of Iowa," Kim told us. "I'm appalled that he thinks it's okay for cable and internet companies should have the right to sell our private information. The people of this district will be outraged when they see this vote-- American's privacy should not be for sale!"

Back to Dayen's piece, which doesn't end quite as bleakly as it starts. He's looking for a way to solve this mess:
Amid frustration on all sides of the market, some private-sector actors are attempting to break the PBM stranglehold. A group of 20 large employers representing four million patients, including Coca-Cola, Marriott, and Verizon, have formed the Health Transformation Alliance, seeking to break away from the “patchwork of complicated, expensive, and wasteful systems” in modern health care, including the pharmaceutical supply chain.

The alliance has expressed interest in a “transparent PBM” model, which takes a flat administrative fee on each prescription, with all rebates and discounts fully disclosed and no hidden spreads. Transparent PBMs only have a sliver of the market, but they can get results: A hospital nonprofit network named Meridian Health Systems claimed to Fortune magazine that a transparent PBM saved it $2 million in the first year, about one-sixth of its total drug costs.

But many employers don’t know enough about the system to go outside the Big Three, says Susan Hayes. “They’re trying to manage something they don’t understand. If you put blinders on, and hire one of the Big Three, you won’t get in trouble with the boss.”

Another model would empower pharmacies. A 2016 report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance highlights a quirk of law in North Dakota, which only allows drugstores to operate if owned by pharmacists (similar laws exist in Europe). The law prohibits chain pharmacies from entering the state. Not surprisingly, North Dakota’s independents deliver among the lowest prescription drug prices in the country, along with better health outcomes and more drugstores per capita than any other state. This flies in the face of industry claims that big chains and giant conglomerates save consumers money or improve services.

Why can’t this successful model be replicated elsewhere? “The answer is PBMs,” says Stacy Mitchell, the report’s author. “Because in North Dakota, independents are the only game in town, PBMs have to negotiate with them. In other states, they have no leverage.” Unsurprisingly, PBMs and chains want the North Dakota law overturned rather than adopted in other states.

For a more immediate impact, we must turn to Washington. And there, solutions often emerge when one large industry starts pointing the finger at another. Under fire for their many drug-pricing scandals, from Martin Shkreli to Valeant, the pharmaceutical industry has tried to deflect blame by citing PBMs. GlaxoSmithKline CEO Andrew Witty said in a February conference call that so much of the list price on the company’s drugs went to “non-innovators in a system which thinks it’s paying high prices for innovation,” a veiled reference to PBMs. An industry-funded report in January asserted that manufacturers took only 63 percent of gross drug revenues, attributing the decline to discounts and rebates paid to PBMs. (Of course, this hasn’t stopped pharmaceutical companies from earning higher profit margins than any other industry.)

For their part, PBMs insist that drug prices would be even higher without them, arguing that they deliver broad access to medications and 90 percent customer satisfaction rates. But in an industry-on-industry arms race, the millions of dollars that leading PBMs and their trade groups spend each year on lobbying would be no match for the pharmaceutical industry. That creates opportunities for longtime PBM opponents in Washington, which include several Republicans representing rural districts, where independent pharmacies are getting crushed.

Doug Collins, a third-term House member, experienced the PBM issue personally, when his mother couldn’t get her regular medications and her plan had no substitute on the formulary. “I am a free-market person, as conservative as they come,” Collins says. “When dealing with this, it’s not a free market.” Buddy Carter, his colleague, has worked in independent pharmacies since 1980, and sees himself as their voice in Congress. I asked him if he had difficulty explaining the PBM market and its problems to his colleagues. “Heck, it’s difficult for me to understand and I’ve worked in the industry over 35 years!” Carter says.

Watch some hearing soundbites from these two and you’d think you’re seeing the second coming of William Jennings Bryan. “Who will my folks in my district of Georgia call, when they need someone at night and their local pharmacist is the one they trust?” Collins asked two PBM representatives in 2015. “They’re going to try and find their local pharmacist, who has been closed because of the anti-competitive nature of this field.” Carter grilled top PBM lobbyist Mark Merritt in 2016: “I notice that the profits of the PBMs have increased enormously over the past few years. In fact, almost doubled. And I find that very disturbing.” These are conservative Republicans!

What can Congress do to reform PBMs? More than 20 states have passed laws to require more frequent MAC list updates, so PBMs can’t drag their feet and generate large pricing spreads. But PBMs started to circumvent the laws, in one case by eliminating the term “maximum allowable cost” from contracts. Collins’s bill, the MAC Transparency Act, would take care of this at a federal level, to stop the game-playing.

Other bills in the House and Senate would prohibit retroactive DIR fees on Medicare Part D plans, stopping the after-the-fact clawbacks on pharmacy reimbursements. A separate bill would allow any willing pharmacy to participate in a PBM’s preferred pharmacy networks if they agree to the terms, increasing access in communities without chains. All of these bills would add transparency to the system, and reduce the incentives to constantly jack up prices. And they all have bipartisan cosponsors.

...The wild card in all this is Donald Trump. At his one and only pre-inauguration press conference, Trump singled out drug companies for “getting away with murder,” vowing to create “new bidding procedures” for Medicare and earning praise from the likes of Bernie Sanders. But when Trump met with pharmaceutical executives two weeks into his presidency, he focused more on speeding up new drug approvals from the FDA and cutting regulations than on reducing industry profits. This lines up with the perspective of a key aide, Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, who wants to overhaul the FDA process. (In fact, the Republican Congress just overhauled the FDA process in one of the last bills signed by Barack Obama.) Trump doesn’t appear to understand the cost excesses in the supply chain.

Trump did say in his address to a joint session of Congress that he would “bring down the artificially high price of drugs.” And in his confirmation hearing, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, discussing Trump’s idea for competitive bidding in Medicare, said that “right now the PBMs are doing that negotiation… I think it is important to have a conversation and look at whether there is a better way to do that.”

But where Trump’s team will ultimately land is unknown. “We need to get to a point of clarity about whether the administration is serious,” says the NCPA’s John Norton. Furthermore, any attempt to move forward legislatively on any part of health-care policy will run headlong into the deeply polarized debate over the Affordable Care Act. While a bipartisan alliance appears possible on the PBM issue in isolation, it will be difficult to separate anything health-related from the Obamacare vortex.

The PBM industry’s leading trade group isn’t sleeping on the possibility of an attack. Days after Trump met with pharma execs, the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association issued an internal memo leaked by Buzzfeed, stressing the need for “building a political firewall” in Congress to stop any legislative action.

Frightened about drug manufacturers highlighting a “bloated supply chain,” PCMA CEO Merritt laid out a six-point strategy that included meetings with White House staff and key members of Congress, a digital ad campaign targeting congressional leaders, partnerships with right-wing think tanks like the American Action Forum, and working groups to shape regulatory changes that make PBMs the savior instead of a villain. “We will continue to show how competition—not government intervention-- is the way to manage high drug costs,” Merritt wrote, apparently without irony. Merritt even scheduled a meeting with the main health insurance lobby, AHIP, “to make sure the payer community is aligned and coordinated.”

With drug companies on one side and PBMs and insurers on the other, both camps will have plenty of resources. In that environment, is bipartisan action possible to break up a powerful monopoly? “My answer would be absolutely,” says Representative Carter. “Everyone is impacted by prescription drug prices.”

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The Will Of The Voters Be Damned-- Republicans Still Aren't Done Trying To Kill The Affordable Care Act


Republicans are hoping voters already forgot this

Kansas has mostly been a one-party state in contemporary politics. Their entire congressional delegation is Republican. All 6 statewide elected officers are Republicans and the state legislature-- blood red. Of the 125 House members, only 40 are Democrats and in the state Senate-- 40 members and just 9 lonely Democrats. And yet... Monday's Kansas City Star reported that the legislature is moving towards expanding Medicaid along Affordable Care Act lines. This is Sam Brownback and Kris Kobach's state. The legislature is ignoring Brownback in this battle. Tuesday morning he state Senate voted for expansion of KanCare-- 25-14 (two votes shy of a veto override if Brownback blocks the bill).
“I can’t believe it took this long to do it,” said Sen. John Doll, a Garden City Republican... “This is something that’s long overdue.”

House Bill 2044 would expand health care coverage to an estimated 150,000 people in Kansas. Moderate Republicans and Democrats helped push the bill through the Legislature this session in a stark contrast from past years where expansion efforts failed to gain much traction in either chamber.

David Jordan, the executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, one of the main advocacy groups pushing the bill, said he thinks the “level of support in both chambers reflects the fact that a majority of Kansans support expanding KanCare… They understand what this means for keeping their local hospital open.”

Conservative Republicans tried repeatedly to change the Senate legislation before it came to a vote. All of those efforts failed, however, with moderate Republicans frequently siding with Senate Democrats in opposition to the changes.

“It’s very gratifying that people had the sense to see that we needed to not be distracted by the political games that are being played in Washington, D.C., and we needed to try to help our own people,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat.

Opponents of the bill have spent much of the 2017 session downplaying the legislation’s chances because of uncertainty over how health care would change under President Donald Trump’s administration.

“We’re standing at an amusement park ride that’s closed,” said Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican who voted against expansion. “It’s broken. And we’re saying we want to go ahead and get on the ride. There’s a reason there’s nobody in line behind us.”

But the opponents’ argument faded slightly after U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, canceled a vote on a bill that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act and effectively barred states from expanding Medicaid beyond March 1, due to a lack of GOP support.

The Affordable Care Act enabled states to expand Medicaid, which provides health coverage to the disabled and low-income families, to cover people who earn too little to buy insurance through the federal health care exchange but also earn too much to otherwise qualify for Medicaid.

...If Brownback vetoes the bill, it would take 84 votes in the House and 27 in the Senate to override his opposition.

Once he gets the bill, the governor has 10 days to either sign the bill, veto it, or let it become law without his signature.

Conservative lawmakers have said they hope that Brownback vetoes the bill, while moderates and Democrats fear he’ll do just that.
Kansas is one of only 19 states that haven't expanded Medicaid to benefit their citizens. What's interesting about what happened in Kansas yesterday is that the NY Times was reporting at the same time that Trump and Ryan are being pressured by the hard right of the party to go for a Obamacare repeal (with no replacement). Ryan won't tell anyone what's in the new iteration of the repeal he has in mind-- presumably more than the one-sentence bill Alabama crackpot Mo Brooks already introduced. "Just days after President Trump said he was moving on to other issues, senior White House officials are now saying they have hope that they can still score the kind of big legislative victory that has so far eluded Mr. Trump. Vice President Mike Pence was dispatched to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for lunchtime talks."

Brooks' bill: "Effective as of Dec. 31, 2017, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is repealed, and the provisions of law amended or repealed by such Act are restored or revived as if such Act had not been enacted."
The new talks, which have been going on quietly this week, involve Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, and members of the two Republican factions that helped sink the bill last week, the hard-right Freedom Caucus and the more centrist Tuesday Group.

Any deal would require overcoming significant differences about how to rework a law that covers about one-fifth of the American economy, differences that were so sharp they led Mr. Trump and Mr. Ryan to pull the bill from consideration just as the House was scheduled to vote on Friday.

Still, Republican members of Congress said they hoped that revisiting the issue would lead this time to a solution and a vote in the House.

“I think everyone wants to get to yes and support President Trump,” said Representative Dave Brat, Republican of Virginia and a Freedom Caucus member. “There is a package in there that is a win-win.”

Representative Raúl Labrador of Idaho, another Freedom Caucus member, said he hoped the discussions would yield a compromise that brings the party together after a divisive debate that revealed deep fissures. “I think we will have a better, stronger product that will unify the conference,” Mr. Labrador said.

Mr. Trump has sent mixed signals in recent days, at times blaming the Freedom Caucus, outside groups and even, it appeared, Mr. Ryan. On Monday, for instance, he said in a late-night Twitter post that the Freedom Caucus was able to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” over the health care repeal. “After so many bad years they were ready for a win!”

But then he suggested that he could also cut a deal with Democrats, a move that would almost certainly make more conservative members of the House balk. “Don’t worry,” he tweeted later Monday night, “we are in very good shape!”

Mr. Ryan said House Republicans were determined to use the next version of the repeal bill, like the first version, as a vehicle to cut off federal funds for Planned Parenthood clinics.
So, this is already headed in the same dumpster fire direction as the first two failed attempts.

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