Monday, July 31, 2017

Constitutionalist Justin Amash vs Señor Trumpanzee, The GOP And The DCCC


Blue America is not affiliated with the Democratic Party in any way. We're a progressive PAC. We often back progressive candidates-- like these this cycle running against corrupt Blue Dogs and New Dems in primaries-- but we've never endorsed a Republican. The closest we ever came was in 2012 when we pointed out that the Democratic Party hack running against Justin Amash-- Steve Pestka-- was far worse in every way. Pestka even won the endorsement of Michigan's top anti-Choice organization. In the current session, Amash scored a 47.22 ProgressivePunch Crucial Vote score. , the same as 3 right-of-center California quasi-Democrats (Ami Bera, Lou Correa and Raul Ruiz) and better than 16 other creatures who run as Democrats and vote as Republicans. These are the current scores:
Justin Amash (R-MI)- 47.22
Jim Costa (Blue Dog-CA)- 47.06
Gene Green (TX)- 47.06
Al Lawson (FL)- 45.71
Ron Kind (New Dem-WI)- 44.44
Sean Patrick Maloney (New Dem-NY)- 44.44
Scott Peters (New Dem-CA)- 44.44
Jacky Rosen (NV)- 44.44
Charlie Crist (Blue Dog-FL)- 42.86
Tom Suozzi (NY)- 42.86
Stephanie Murphie (Blue Dog-FL)- 40.00
Dan Lipinksi (Blue Dog-IL)- 33.33
Josh Gottheimer (Blue Dog-NJ)- 30.56
Tom O'Halleran (Blue Dog-AZ)- 30.56
Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)- 27.78
Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)- 25.00
Kyrsten Sinema (Blue Dog-AZ)- 19.44
The video up top is of an interview the libertarian website,, did with Amash in Las Vegas last week. It's gotten some national attention because Amash calls for the disintegration of both political parties. Keep in mind, both Boehner and Ryan-- consecutive leaders of the House Republicans-- have financed Republican primaries against Amash and have continued to punish him for his independent stand on issues. Since being elected in a Grand Rapids-based swing district, Amash has worked across the aisle on several issues-- especially around national security and domestic spying-- in ways that drove the GOP establishment bonkers. He also signed on to a resolution for an independent commission to investigate Putin-Gate. Trump is demanding that some nut case fro his crackpot wing of the GOP primary Amash.

He started the interview by responding to a question about the White House looking to fire Jeff Sessions and Non Mueller by pointing out that Señor Trumpanzee "doesn't really understand how the Justice Department works, and that he really needs to keep some distance from these investigations. But, it's Donald Trump, and he's gonna do what he's gonna do... Setting aside the constitutional concerns, there are ethical concerns, there are rule of law concerns, so we want to make sure that when a president is in the White House that he's living up to all of the ethical standards, that he is allowing the system of justice to work itself out the way it's supposed to work without any interference, and there are those concerns. So I don't want to go the constitutional route yet on this kind of thing, but certainly there are rule of law and ethics concerns... [T]here are always political consequences. So polling numbers will change if people think that the president can't be trusted. There are those political realities, and you'll have more and more Republicans who are uncomfortable with the way the White House is operating. So, I think over time, that's probably what will have the biggest impact here. Whether it will impact the president's behavior over the next few years, I don't know. But it might have an impact over the next election cycle." Highlights from the interview:
Welch: You have one of the great Twitter feeds out there in Congress, and a week or two ago you tweeted something along the lines of, "Having principles is better than just resorting to 'what-aboutism' all the time." Do you see a lot of what-aboutism happening from your caucus these days when it comes to treating with and reacting to the actions of President Trump?

Amash: Yeah, it's not just from Republicans in Congress, Democrats in Congress do this too, and so does the general public. I think we should be concerned about hypocrisy, where one side is doing something we think is okay, and then the other side does something and we think it's bad. So there are reasonable concerns about hypocrisy, but that doesn't mean that every time President Trump or Republicans do something we should just say, "Well, the Democrats did the same thing." Because there's no accountability in that.

At some point, people have to decide to make the change themselves. They can't always blame the other side and say, "Well the other side did the same thing." That's how you get these third-world despotic systems, where everyone says, "Well, the other side does it, so we just want our strong man to beat up on them when he's in power." And you see that all around the world, Venezuela and other places where people's rights are restricted on the basis of, "Our guy is in power now, we should do the same thing that they did to us."

Welch: Do you feel like the Republican Caucus, in particular, has been ... As someone, you're a critic of congressional inaction, and advocating it's responsibility, do you feel like Congress has been doing well in it's oversight responsibility of the executive branch under President Trump, not so well, just right ... What's your assessment of that so far?

Amash: Not so well. The number of committee hearings has dropped significantly. When you had the Obama Administration in charge, you had a lot of Republicans making sure that we were investigating every little detail, and now, you don't have that as much. And you certainly have many members who are concerned about what's going on, but you don't have it to the same degree. And that's not to say that in any particular situation the president is necessarily doing something wrong, but we always have to stay on top of things as a congress, that's part of our role, to have oversight. And I think it's good for everyone if we oversee the executive branch and find that nothing was wrong in a particular situation, that's better for everyone. It's better for Republicans, it's better for Democrats, it's better for the country.

Welch: Let's talk a little bit about other ways that Congress abdicates it's responsibility. This week, if I'm not mistaken, the authorization for use of military force was in play as part of the Defense Authorization Act, and it kind of vanished overnight. What happened there, what's the status of that?

Amash: Yeah, it was in a Defense Appropriations Bill, and it was seemingly stripped out. So, the idea was to restrict the government from using that old authorization for use of military force on whatever they want today. So, there is a lot of pressure in Congress, on leadership, to do something new. To put a new authorization in place if we want to go after ISIS, if we want to do things in Syria, and Yemen and other places, there should be a new authorization. It doesn't make sense now, so many years later, a decade and a half later, to be using the same authorization as though we are fighting the same war. It's a different group of actors, the people we're fighting today aren't the same people who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks.

So, if we want to continue that fight, let's get a new authorization with the appropriate limitations. And I think that there should always be a time limitation on authorizations. So there should be a requirement that they have to be reauthorized at some point. That doesn't mean you're telling the enemy when the war is gonna end, it just means that Congress has to do it's job and say, "If this battle's continuing, we have to have another authorization."

Welch: Was this as close as we've come since 2001 to actually re-upping and requiring the re-uppage of the authorization of use of military force, and what happened to it? What was the process by which in vanished?

Amash: Yeah, it was the closest we've been. Allegedly, it was allowed on there by the chairman of the committee without the blessing of Republican leadership, without the blessing of the White House. And so, I think whether it was the White House or House leaders, they came in and said, "We're stripping this out. We don't think this is the appropriate venue." And my understanding is, they're putting a different provision in there in the bill so that we can do a watered down version of what was there from Representative Lee.

...Welch: What else have you seen from Attorney General Sessions that has set off your alarm bells?

Amash: Everything. Whether it's indefinite detention ... There's a whole host of things out there. The drug war, his belief that we should continue to prosecute people for minor drug offenses ... But at the same time, those are things that Congress has a duty to change. So if we don't like the way the law is being enforced, if we think that Jeff Sessions should spend his time on more important matters, then we have a responsibility to change the law. So, let's change the law. Let's change the law on civil asset forfeiture. Let's change the law on sentencing. Let's change the law on indefinite detention. Let's change all of these laws, and then there's no excuse for the attorney general to do the wrong thing.

Welch: EXIM Bank. Listen, we've been talking about criminal justice reform for three or four years, and a lot of surveillance, post-Snowden revelation reform, and all these kinds of things. EXIM Bank was euthanized for like a week and half at some point, and it seems to be rising up. Talk to me, specifically, about what you're trying to do with murdering that crony capitalist thing in it's sleep on more time, but why can't Republicans do even Republican things right?

Amash: I've been asking myself that question for a long time. But the Export Import Bank is a no-brainer. It's a corporate welfare bank. We should do away with it. I've had legislation over the past couple terms to get rid of the Export Import Bank, to phase it out, so it's actually a pretty modest piece of legislation. It gives them a little bit of time to phase things out. But the Export Import Bank should go away. We shouldn't be financing other countries to purchase stuff from big corporations in the United States. That's just a transfer of wealth from everyday Americans to these big companies. And they'll say to you that, "Oh, it doesn't cost anything," but taxpayers are on the hook. So if you used normal accounting principles, you'd see that taxpayers are on the hook for the liability here, and we have a major problem that has to be addressed.

So, let's get rid of it, and in many ways, it's a symbol of other types of corporate welfare at the federal level, and at the state level. So let's get rid of it, because I think it's a pretty easy target. It's a target that's right in front of us, and they don't have the number of board members necessary right now to operate, it hasn't been operating really the way it's traditionally operated for the last two years because of the lack of board members, and the world hasn't fallen apart. Boeing still exists, all these other companies are still doing just fine. So we can do away with it, and help out regular Americans.

They'll tell you, as well, that small businesses benefit from this, but actually, it's a very small percentage of businesses that benefit from this. So we're talking about a fraction of a percent, and all of these people are essentially paying taxes, whether it's small businesses or individuals, are paying taxes to help support something like the Export Import Bank, but very few get any benefits from it.

Welch: Starting with Ron Paul's run for presidency, which I think helped at least partially inspire you, and the Tea Party Movement of 2009 and 2010, there was this creation out of the ether of a Liberty Movement, and it felt like there was some momentum going in this direction on the EXIM Bank and other things that we've talked about elsewhere. And now, we have a president and a movement around him that's pretty nationalist, pretty populist, which is not necessarily in a very libertarian direction, although there are big exceptions on regulation. And then on the left, it's just going straight Bernie Sanders here on economic policy, which is very hostile to a lot of issues of economic freedom. What happened to the Liberty Movement, or are we thinking too much in terms of high profile national politics?

Amash: Well, there's always been a strain of nationalism within parts of the Liberty Movement. There was, in some sense, an alliance between libertarians and some people who had more nationalistic views, whether it's on economics or other issues against the establishment. So they had allied themselves against the establishment. And now that you have President Trump, who's very clearly in one of the camps there, many people who were part of the Liberty Movement, but were more on the nationalistic side, now don't want anything to do with the libertarian part of that movement. I think that's caused some friction, and maybe it's time for people in the Liberty Movement to rethink some of those alliances, think about some of the principles that we hold. We believe in free markets, we believe in people being allowed to trade and live with whoever they like, and we don't need the sort of nationalistic side of it undermining those principles, because they're in conflict.

And if you look back on people like von Mises, or Hayek, or others, they spoke very negatively about this nationalist strain. They didn't like the idea of nationalism in a country. They thought it was a very bad idea, and dangerous to liberty.

Welch: On your Twitter feed, you have pinned a George Washington quote warning about parties and factions. I've seen, over the last month, you've had events with a couple of high-profile Democrats and libertarians ones to be sure, Jared Polis and Beto O'Rourke ... What are you doing? Are you going rogue? What are you doing here?

Amash: I think the parties are a problem. That became more clear to me when I entered Congress, and now I've been in Congress for a few years. I can see that a lot of the inability to move forward on more libertarian ideas is because we have this two-party system that really controls all of the levers. And you have Republican leadership that basically decides on all of the outcomes in advance, and doesn't allow issues to be debated on the floor. And I believe that a lot of these libertarian views would be successful in a floor vote if they were allowed to be debated, but we don't have that opportunity under this leadership team, and you're not going to get that opportunity under Democratic leadership.

So it's not that the parties are problematic because bipartisanship is a cure-all and is the greatest thing in the world, there's a lot of bad things that happen through bipartisanship. In fact, many of the worst pieces of legislation passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities. So it's not a call for bipartisanship, it's a call for non-partisanship. I think that we need to move away from this idea that you just have two parties who are at war with each other, and one party is good and the other party is evil, because that leads to all sorts of bad outcomes. You get 'End justifies the means' thinking in just about everything, and liberty doesn't really have an opportunity to flourish in that sort of environment.

Welch: So, what do you do? I mean, you can nonpartisan your own brain, but you're still a Republican, and the system is still like this. What can you do, to further that kind of goal or ethos?

Amash: Well, I'll keep speaking about it, for one thing. I speak to young people all the time and try to encourage them not to be beholden to these two parties. They don't have to be Republican or Democrat, they can be something else. Right now, I would say that the largest group out there are Independent people, people who aren't aligned with one of the two parties. So, we need to make sure that the next generation is thinking about this, and hopefully, over time, these two parties start to fall apart. They're getting smaller each year, which is why, I think, the partisan rhetoric is getting elevated, because they're actually smaller and smaller each year, and they're becoming more extreme.

Welch: Just to make sure you know what you just said, you're a Republican advocating for the Republican Party to fall apart.

Amash: Well, I think, over time, that's what has to happen. I think both parties, not just the Republican Party, I think the Democratic Party as well. I don't think that in the modern era that you need this sort of institutionalized party system to run for office. Back when you didn't have internet, it made more sense. People didn't even know who they were voting for, they didn't meet the people, they couldn't hear about the particular individual's views, so they had to depend on the party systems to tell them who to vote for. And in this day and age, you don't need that. I can go straight to Twitter or Facebook or elsewhere, and tell people exactly what I stand for. And young people, I think, understand that better than our generation and older generations. So, I think there's an opportunity to really have a paradigm shift here, but it might not happen in the near future. It might be the next generation that has to do that.

The DCCC would never back a candidate like him, but MI-03 Democrats are lining up behind a Medicare-For-All progressive named Jeff Thomas as their candidate against Amash this cycle. In making his announcement last month, he pointed out to the media that "(Amash) voted in support of the American Health Care Act, a bill pushed by Donald Trump that would take health coverage away from millions," Thomas said in the release. "He has shown indifference to protecting the Great Lakes, and failed to join the bipartisan effort to aid the people of Flint. The people of this district deserve a representative who will respond to our needs and concerns, not just follow a rigid ideology wherever it leads."

In 2016 Trump beat Hillary in the district-- 51.6% to 42.2%-- while Amash beat his Democratic opponent 59.5% to 37.5%. There are 5 counties in MI-03 and Bernie won all of them in the primary. But the vast majority of the votes in the district come from Kent County. Bernie beat Hillary there 43,375 (62.5%) to 25,899 (37.3%) but Bernie also significantly outpolled Trumpanzee (35,285) that day. The only other county with a significant number of voters is Calhoun County and that was also Bernie country. He beat Hillary 5,810 (51.5%) to 5,230 (46.4%) and beat Trump (5,800) as well, albeit narrowly. Bernie won MI-03 but the DCCC isn't interested in backing a Berniecrat against Amash-- which is why they are a loser party and will always be a loser party as long as Pelosi and Hoyer are calling the shots at the DCCC.

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So Paul Ryan Thinks The GOP Can Run In 2018 On Cutting Medicaid, Medicare And Social Security?


If you missed Bernie on CNN with Jake Tapper yesterday, the interview is above. Bernie's plans are the polar opposite of what Paul Ryan (plus Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republicans) are trying to do. He explained to Tapper how he's working to perfect a Medicare-For-All bill that can-- eventually-- pass Congress. Meanwhile the Republicans are not just trying to defund Medicaid in their "healthcare" bill but are also using their budget plan to weaken and start defunding Medicare and Social Security. And this is what the GOP wants to run on? Last week Priscilla Alvarez, writing for The Atlantic reported that "On Tuesday, House Republicans released a 2018 budget plan that would make cuts to Medicare and Social Security, despite President Trump’s campaign pledge to keep those entitlement programs intact. The proposal calls for more than $200 billion in cuts to mandatory programs. It also serves 'as a vehicle for changing taxes,' CNN reports, which is 'the primary legislative focus of the 2018 budget.'"

Ryan's core dream is that, with Trump still willing to sign any man-made-catastrophe he can get through Congress, he can implement the Ayn Rand plan to make America into a jungle where only the "strong" survive.
“In past years, our proposals had little chance of becoming a reality because we faced a Democratic White House,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Diane Black in a statement. “But now with a Republican Congress and a Republican administration, now is the time to put forward a governing document with real solutions to address our biggest challenges.”

The spending plan will likely face hurdles within the Republican Party: While it may alleviate concerns from deficit hawks and fiscal conservatives, it may also receive pushback from moderate Republicans for the entitlement cuts.

Those reductions drew approval from the president’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, who previously served on the House Budget Committee. “It is a bold effort that follows the leadership of President Trump in making America great again,” he said. “Critically, this budget lays a pathway for Congress to pass, and President Trump to sign, pro-growth tax reform into law.”

Mulvaney has conceded that his stance on entitlement programs diverges from Trump’s purported views. During his confirmation hearings, Mulvaney defended his support for raising the eligibility age for Social Security to 70 years old and said he continues to back means-testing for Medicare. While the president’s budget this year didn’t cut Medicare or Social Security’s core retirement benefits, it did include cuts to Social Security’s supplemental-income and disability programs.

Whether the House proposal could pass remains unclear. Members of the conservative Freedom Caucus have been pushing for more cuts, and moderates are raising concerns over the $200 billion in mandatory spending reductions. Republicans may face more pressure to pass the proposal after the Senate health-care bill fell through late Monday night.
Randy lives in Caledonia, between Racine and Franklin, but since he declared his candidacy last month he's been traveling to every part of the first district. Yesterday when I asked him what he thought about Ryan's budget plans he said, "No one at the Rock County Fair came up to me and said, 'Hey Randy, can you lower Social Security payments' and no one I met in the towns near Beloit, which the Republicans gerrymandered out of the district to make it 'safe' for Ryan, asked me to make sure to gut Medicare for them. Everyone I've met in Kenosha and Janesville wants government to work, not to fail. I'm running to represent the interests of working families in Wisconsin, not Paul Ryan's special interest donors. The voters are going to have a very clear choice in 2018 and I hope Democrats across the country give the voters a clear choice in their districts too. If they do, a whole lot of new members will be able to hit the ground running and work with dedicated members of Congress like Mark Pocan, Jan Schakowsky, Ted Lieu, Ruben Gallego, Raul Grijalva and Barbara Lee to start fixing some of the damage the establishment in DC has dealt out to our families."

Nancy Ohanian asks: “White House Shakeup: Who’s Next?"

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I Know it Sounds Strange But Scott Pruitt Is In A Race To Destroy Planet Earth


Who wouldn't be attracted to Jeff Goodell's excellent piece in the new Rolling Stone, Scott Pruitt's Crimes Against Nature. It would be impossible to make a short list of Trump's worst appointments and leave off Pruitt. As Goodell emphasizes, he's gutting the EPA, defunding science and serving the fossil-fuel industry that has underwritten his entire career. And Pruitt is proud of all the damage he's doing.
Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, wants you to know that he was responsible for persuading President Trump to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. Pruitt has never said that explicitly, of course – he understands that if he wants to keep his job, he needs to pretend that the decision was Trump's alone. But Pruitt did everything he could to telegraph to the world that he thought Paris was a bad deal for America, and urged Big Coal executives to make their views known to the president as well. Trump, who has dismissed climate change as a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, was lobbied equally hard by major business leaders and some of his own advisers, including his daughter Ivanka and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to stay in the agreement. But Pruitt, aligned with White House chief strategist and populist provocateur Steve Bannon, won the fight. And when Trump announced the decision to withdraw from Paris in the White House Rose Garden on June 1st, Pruitt was the only Cabinet official who spoke at the ceremony. "We owe no apologies to other nations for our environmental stewardship," Pruitt said in a strikingly defiant tone.

In the following days, Pruitt was all over the media, taking bows on Fox News and sparring with Jake Tapper and Joe Scarborough. He argued that the agreement would slow the U.S. economy by hindering America's God-given right to mine, export and burn fossil fuels, even suggesting the agreement was part of a plot by European leaders to weaken America. "The reason European leaders . . . want us to stay in is because they know it will continue to shackle our economy," he said on CNBC. At one press conference, he claimed that 50,000 new coal jobs had been created by the Trump administration since the beginning of the year-- a fake fact he refused to correct. (There are only about 51,000 miners in the entire coal industry; according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 1,000 new jobs have been created in the coal industry this year as of June.)

...While the rest of the Trump administration has been mired in scandal or incompetence (or both), and the media has been distracted by the Republican health care debacle and daily revelations about the Trump family's involvement with the Russians, Pruitt has been quietly tearing down decades of environmental progress. "If there was ever an example of the fox guarding the henhouse, this is it," says Michael Mann, a noted climate scientist at Penn State University. "We have a Koch-brothers-connected industry shill who is now in charge of climate and environmental policy for the entire country."

The mission statement of the EPA is simple: "to protect human health and the environment." It says nothing about promoting economic development or energy security or the glory of fossil fuels. But Pruitt has already carried out an impressive list of corporate favors: He rejected the advice of EPA scientists and approved the use of millions of pounds of a toxic pesticide that causes neurological damage in children; in a gift to Big Coal, he delayed tougher ozone air-pollution rules; he plotted to kill Obama's signature climate accomplishment, the Clean Power Plan, designed to put America on track to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 32 percent by 2030; he rescinded the Clean Water Rule, allowing countless streams and rivers to be exempted from pollution controls; he undermined regulations on the release of mercury, a potent neurotoxin, from power plants and other sources; and he submitted a budget that would wipe out more than a third of the funding for the agency, including cutting money for scientific research in half.

"Scott Pruitt is not secretary of commerce," says a former top Obama administration official. "His job is not to protect the fossil-fuel industry. It's to make difficult decisions, based on science and risk-reward analysis, that protect the environment and the health of the American people. And he's not doing that." Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, who opposed Pruitt's confirmation, says that having a guy like Pruitt in charge of the EPA is evidence of the "dangerous, bizarro world we now live in."

In the past, EPA administrators have understood their role as the tough cop on the beat. "You say yes to things that protect public health and the environment while growing the economy," explains Gina McCarthy, EPA administrator during Obama's second term. "But it's often about saying no-- 'No, you can't dump that pollutant into the river. No, you can't run that coal plant without a scrubber.'" The EPA is an enormous agency, with ten regional offices and 15,000 employees around the country; only about 80 of them are political appointees. The rest are civil servants, many of whom joined the agency because they believe deeply in its mission. The administrator, as a member of the president's Cabinet, reflects the political priorities of the administration: Anne Gorsuch, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s (and was the mother of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch), is remembered for her anti-regulatory zeal; Gina McCarthy is best known for her role in shaping climate policy. But the job has never been a launchpad for political ambition. In fact, no administrator in the 47-year history of the agency has ever gone on to higher office.

Pruitt may be different. After only six months running the EPA, he has elevated the power and influence of the job to a new level, inspiring speculation within the Beltway that he sees the position as a steppingstone to bigger things. Given Pruitt's unabashedly pro-fossil-fuel agenda, it helps that he's working for a president who generates such chaos that worrying about ozone levels in the air we breathe seems like a quaint concern. Pruitt also has the support of White House advisers like Bannon, who famously vowed to fight every day for "the deconstruction of the administrative state." But now Pruitt's political ambitions will be measured against the future prospects of the planet-- and the health and welfare of the people who live on it. "The appointment of Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator is as serious a threat to our environment as we've ever faced," says Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. "Pruitt's entire career represents the exact opposite of the EPA's mission, which is to protect us from the reckless polluters and the disastrous consequences of climate change."

...To help with his cause, Pruitt brought in a team of experienced EPA-bashers and climate-change obstructionists, many of whom have worked for Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the most notorious and flamboyant climate denier in Congress. (Inhofe once brought a snowball to the Senate floor as evidence that global warming isn't real.) Pruitt's favored pick for deputy administrator, Andrew Wheeler, worked for Inhofe early in his career, then became a lobbyist for coal magnate Bob Murray, among others. Ryan Jackson, Pruitt's chief of staff, was formerly Inhofe's chief of staff. "He brought in the climate-denial all-stars," says Frank O'Donnell, head of Clean Air Watch, a climate and anti-pollution advocacy group in Washington, D.C.

Many of the career staffers looked on in shock and disbelief. "Most people who work at the EPA do it because they believe in the mission of the agency," says one EPA manager, who insists on anonymity-- like nearly everyone I talked to at the agency. "The people Pruitt brought in made it clear they had no interest in pursuing that mission." Within the first week, Pruitt alienated many of the rank and file with an uninspiring introductory speech about the importance of civility and how "regulators exist to give certainty to those that they regulate." He did not say a word about public health or the environment. That same week, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, he said that those who want to eliminate the EPA are "justified" in their beliefs. "I think people across the country look at the EPA the way they look at the IRS," Pruitt said. As one EPA staffer commented later, "Could he have been more insulting?"

...As long as the House and Senate remain in Republican control, Pruitt has few checks on his power. And that includes the press, too. Except for his victory lap after Paris, he mostly avoids mainstream media. (Pruitt's office refused numerous requests to interview him for this story.) And despite his often-professed belief in "the rule of law," he has steadfastly resisted and evaded Freedom of Information Act requests for e-mail records and other public documents. He's so good at operating in the shadows, in fact, that he was recently given the Golden Padlock Award by investigative journalists, which recognizes the most secretive publicly funded person or agency in the United States.

...So far, Pruitt has ingratiated himself at the White House, proved his mettle to the fossil-fuel industry and even gotten late-night talk-show hosts to tweet about him ("Put simply, Scott Pruitt is a piece of shit," Jimmy Kimmel tweeted during Pruitt's confirmation hearing). But his honeymoon may also be coming to an end. In July, a federal court rejected his attempt to delay new rules on methane emissions. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has already challenged many of Pruitt's rollbacks, predicts, "We'll be spending a lot of time in court." Even more worrisome for Pruitt, his pals on the right are getting impatient. Myron Ebell, the noted climate-change denier who led Trump's EPA transition team, criticized Pruitt at a conservative conference in April, saying he is a "clever lawyer" but his "political ambition" may undermine his willingness to take on heavy lifts like challenging the endangerment finding. James Delingpole, a writer at Breitbart who is close to Bannon, said that if Pruitt refused to undo the endangerment finding, "it will represent a major setback for President Trump's war with the Climate Industrial Complex." Delingpole added, "If Scott Pruitt is not up to that task, then maybe it's about time he did the decent thing and handed over the reins to someone who is."

Pruitt faces risks within the agency, too. He has zero loyalty among the rank and file, which means, as one veteran staffer says, "Everything is gonna get slow-walked. Stuff that embarrasses Pruitt will be leaked. You will see the power of bureaucracy in action." Exhibit A: Subversive Twitter accounts like @altUSEPA and @ActualEPAFacts ("leading the members of The #Resistance to a better world") have hundreds of thousands of followers and offer a daily stream of Pruitt-damning commentary.

As Pruitt knows, the last EPA administrator who came in with a burn-it-to-the-ground agenda was Anne Gorsuch. Like Pruitt, Gorsuch promised to roll back regulations, slash the budget and cut agency staff. But after a year, she was under siege, turning the agency into what the New York Times called "an Augean stable, reeking of cynicism, mismanagement and decay." Eventually, the House cited Gorsuch, who repeatedly failed to hand over subpoenaed records, for contempt of Congress. The debacle led Reagan to ask for her resignation. "Pruitt may think that because Republicans control all three branches of government right now, he has immunity," says the former Obama official. "He does not. If he gets in trouble, he will be jettisoned faster than you can say 'Donald Trump Jr.'"

Then there is the possibility of an environmental disaster on his watch. Imagine a high-profile Deepwater Horizon-like catastrophe involving one of Pruitt's cronies in the oil-and-gas industry. The congressional investigation that would follow might shine a very bright-- and unwelcome-- light on Pruitt's corporate ties.

For now, Pruitt's rise could not come at a worse time for the planet. The Paris Agreement, which aims to limit CO2 emissions to a level that will prevent warming above 2 degrees Celsius, was signed last year by virtually every nation in the world. And not a moment too soon. To avert climate catastrophe, a recent study in Nature determined emissions need to be on a downward trajectory by 2020-- that's just three years away. America's decision to pull out of the Paris climate deal, physicist Stephen Hawking recently warned, could be "the tipping point where global warming becomes irreversible." Companies like Apple, Amazon and Wal-Mart are investing billions in clean energy, and U.S. cities and states are pushing ahead on their own (California just extended its landmark cap-and-trade program to cut carbon pollution). But on a global scale, for America to reboot its love for fossil fuels at this late stage is like taking five shots of tequila at midnight and promising to drive the rest of civilization home safely.

There are plenty of other reasons to be appalled by Pruitt. He is destroying the mission of the EPA. He is pushing policies that will make poor people poorer and rich people richer. And he is quite literally putting his own political career above the welfare of tens of thousands of people. While the air quality in many parts of America has gotten better in recent decades, air pollution still causes more than 200,000 premature deaths a year; even small increases in pollution mean more deaths. "He is sacrificing the health and welfare of children in order to give industry a few years of regulatory relief," says Jeff Carter, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

But it's likely that Pruitt won't hang around at the EPA long enough for anyone to count the bodies. His sights are set on higher things: the Oklahoma governor's race in 2018, or a run for Inhofe's Senate seat in 2020. Either way, Gavin Isaacs, the former head of the Oklahoma Bar Association, predicts "there will be more campaign contributions than anyone has ever seen." For that reason alone, Pruitt should not be underestimated. He may be on the wrong side of science and the wrong side of history, but given the post-factual trajectory of American politics right now, that doesn't mean his future isn't bright. It's the hope for a stable climate and a rapid transition to clean energy that's really in trouble.

Tom Guild, the Blue America-backed Berniecrat candidate running for Congress in the Oklahoma City area, knows Pruitt better than most 'cause... well, Oklahoma. This morning he told us "Pruitt is a radical who is dangerous to the health of all Americans. His incompetent reign as Oklahoma’s attorney general drew admiring glances and a job as EPA Administrator from Donald Trump, who is the consummate protector of Wall Street and big corporate polluters and mindless deregulation. It is no surprise that Trump cut off his nose to spite America’s face and withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement at Pruitt’s urging. The Donald spoke in draconian tones about how America would be forced to do many things that would hamper the American economy if shackled by even reasonable regulations. Take a breath Donald (if you don’t choke on the pollutants dancing in the air)! Pruitt is a willing lackey for the fossil fuels industry, because they have powered his political career with huge campaign contributions. He is a climate denier and must have skipped the required science class in school while growing up in Oklahoma. As renewable energy sources become less expensive and virtually inexhaustible, Pruitt is stuck in a time warp that fueled the dated but hilarious story lines in the old Beverly Hillbillies TV show. While Pruitt lines his pockets and fuels his ambition by doing the bidding of wealthy oilies, Rome (Georgia and Texas) and Kremlin, Oklahoma burn. The world’s finest scientists have shared with the world that our planet may be on an irreversible path to being unfit for human habitation as soon as the beginning of the next century. Meanwhile, Pruitt cuts clean air and water regulations and invites and encourages energy foxes to guard the American hen house. President Trump doesn’t give a frack (shake, rattle, and roll), because he’s all caught up in his rhetoric and desire to make the world safe for millionaires, and may I dare add billionaires. As they say in parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas, Katy bar the door!  It may soon be too late. Katy may slowly and painfully die from breathing disorders caused by unregulated pollutants in the air. Sadly, Katy may soon have some awesome company, namely the Late Great Planet Earth!

Jim Thompson is the progressive Democrat running for Congress in the Wichita-based 4th district. He's campaigning on a platform that includes a jobs plank tied to everything Pruitt and TRump-- and his Republican opponent, Ron Estes, are trying to wreck: green energy. "Kansas," he told us this morning, "is one of the windiest states in the country, and not just because of the hot air from our politicians like Brownback and Estes. Continuing to 'Go Green' is the future for energy in Kansas and the United States, with more than 27,000 jobs provided by clean energy in Kansas alone. Rather than taking steps backwards with fossil fuels such as coal and oil, we should be transitioning our fossil fuel workers to renewable energy jobs. Why continue to pour money into OPEC countries in the Middle East for limited supplies of oil? We should be investing that money here so that American ingenuity can erase our dependence on foreign oil. The future of America depends on investing in going green with infrastructure to support renewable resources like wind, solar, and bio-energy. We can either lead the world into a new era of energy and be the example, or we can stand by as other countries develop technology that we will have to depend upon. It's time to lead and Go Green!"

Paul Clements is running to represent the people in southwest Michigan who have been stuck with Fred Upton, a total Pruitt soulmate, who was once dubbed "an enemy of the earth" by the L.A. Times for his own anti-environmental agenda. Paul read the Rolling Stone piece too and had a really good perspective on what Goodell was getting at:
Assuming he doesn’t start a nuclear war, future generations are likely to remember Donald Trump not for White House chaos, demeaning the presidency, or promising to drain the swamp and packing his cabinet with millionaires. They are likely to remember him for turning back the clock on climate action. We must not be defeatist, but there is a very real chance that Trump, Pruitt, Inhofe and Upton have condemned our descendants to run away warming, sea level rise that swamps the world’s coastal cities, deserts rising across Spain and Italy, food crises, water wars, and mass starvation. Let us call out the ambition that leads to casual disregard for the well-being of millions. What is it but political ambition, feeding blind egos, sustained by a culture and discourse of greed? These names will be badges of ignominy.

Goal ThermometerThere is also a very real chance that our grass roots movements, cities and states can turn the tide toward a future of clean energy, shared prosperity, and international cooperation that gets climate change under control.

Some say climate change is the great moral issue of our time. Some say it is economic inequality. There is no need to choose: they are linked at the hip, and we certainly need to deal with both.

Today there is a new energy rising among the people. Political comfort zones are expanding wildly. We’re all seeing it. We don’t need to burn Trump, Pruitt, Inhofe or Upton in effigy. We need to call them out as the enemies of the people their actions have shown them to be. Building shared prosperity, from the depths Trump and his cronies are taking us to, is a long term task. The task will be brick by brick, institution by institution. But the other side has laid their cards on the table and shown their hand to be empty. Let’s use the real and terrible possibilities to motivate the sustained and focused activism, political action, and plain hard work the people are calling for.

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Three Years to Safeguard Our Climate


Why we need to start now to address global warming (source; click to enlarge)

by Gaius Publius

Tick tick tick.

Stefan Rahmstorf is one of the most pre-eminent climate scientists in the world:
Stefan Rahmstorf (born 22 February 1960) is a German oceanographer and climatologist. Since 2000, he has been a Professor of Physics of the Oceans at Potsdam University. He received his Ph.D. in oceanography from Victoria University of Wellington (1990). His work focuses on the role of ocean currents in climate change.[1] He was one of the lead authors of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.[1]

Rahmstorf is a co-founder of the blog Real Climate, which has been described by Nature as one of the top-5 science blogs in 2006,[2] and included among the 15 best environmental websites by Time in 2008.[3] He also co-founded the German blog KlimaLounge.[4] KlimaLounge won the 3rd prize of the science blog award of 2013.[5]
He and a group of fellow scientists have authored an article at the journal Nature (lead author is Christiana Figueres) that includes steps toward "turning the tide of the world’s carbon dioxide by 2020." The title is "Three years to safeguard our climate," and it includes both a warning and a list of practical suggestions to achieving success.

It starts with a warning. While much progress has been made in addressing climate change, according to the authors, including the 2015 Paris climate agreement, "there is still a long way to go to decarbonize the world economy. The political winds are blustery. President Donald Trump has announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris agreement when it is legally able to do so, in November 2020."

Note first the goal — "decarbonize the world economy." This formulation assumes that transforming the planet — "decarbonizing" the earth — can only take place within the current economic system. Thus, for the authors, the often-heard criticism that "capitalism" or "growth" (or relatedly, "population growth") are among the root causes of the climate crisis that, to all appearances, has already started — that criticism, or those criticisms, don't contain solutions that can address the issue.

Their reasoning should be obvious; even if that large a change were desirable (one can agree or disagree on that), there's not enough time to make it. Transforming a global economic system won't happen in the few years left, unless it's done by a kind of violent change (not necessarily bloody, but by definition hugely disruptive), and that level of disruption will also disrupt any coordinated attempt to address climate change.

The Importance of 2020

How much time is left to us? I wrote in 2012 that in my best (lay person's) estimation, "at most, 5 to 10 years" is all that's left — meaning, we have until about 2022 or so, if we're lucky, to make the major transformation of our CO2 emissions pattern needed to significantly alter our climate future under a "business as usual" scenario. After that time, the worst of the destruction to come will be, to use an apt phrase, "baked in."

As it turns out, Figueres, Rahmstorf, et al agree with that time line (emphasis mine):
The year 2020 is crucially important for another reason, one that has more to do with physics than politics. When it comes to climate, timing is everything. According to an April report1 (prepared by Carbon Tracker in London, the Climate Action Tracker consortium, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut), should emissions continue to rise beyond 2020, or even remain level, the temperature goals set in Paris become almost unattainable. The UN Sustainable Development Goals that were agreed in 2015 would also be at grave risk.

That’s why we launched Mission 2020 — a collaborative campaign to raise ambition and action across key sectors to bend the greenhouse-gas emissions curve downwards by 2020 (
That's the warning. This puts the writers much more on the side of the author of "The Uninhabitable Earth" than on the side of those who propose half- and quarter-solutions, which nevertheless keep industry profit in place, and who think we can kick can down the road to the next generation, by embarking, for example, on projects like a methane "bridge fuel" infrastructure buildout that won't be a bridge to anything but profit for investors for at least 30 years.

But it also puts the writers in the camp of people like Margaret Klein Salamon, founder of the climate action organization The Climate Mobilization, who argue that if there's still time on the clock, there's always a way to achieve a goal, assuming we have a plan does what's needed to get there. (For more on both "The Uninhabitable Earth" and Klein Salamon's plan for addressing the climate emergency, see our write-up here.)

What's Needed for Success

According to the authors, it's still possible to decarbonize the economy, "still possible to meet the Paris temperature goals if emissions begin to fall by 2020 (see ‘Carbon crunch’) [chart at the top]."

Here's what they propose (emphasis mine):
To prioritize actions, we’ve identified milestones in six sectors. Developed with knowledge leaders, these were reviewed and refined in collaboration with analysts at Yale University, the Climate Action Tracker consortium, Carbon Tracker, the low-carbon coalition We Mean Business, the Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT), advisory firm SYSTEMIQ, the New Climate Economy project and Conservation International.

These goals may be idealistic at best, unrealistic at worst. However, we are in the age of exponential transformation and think that such a focus will unleash ingenuity. By 2020, here’s where the world needs to be:

Energy. [by 2020] Renewables [must] make up at least 30% of the world’s electricity supply — up from 23.7% in 2015 (ref. 8). No coal-fired power plants are approved beyond 2020, and all existing ones are being retired.

Infrastructure. [by 2020] Cities and states [must] have initiated action plans to fully decarbonize buildings and infrastructures by 2050, with funding of $300 billion annually. Cities are upgrading at least 3% of their building stock to zero- or near-zero emissions structures each year9.

Transport. [by 2020] Electric vehicles [must] make up at least 15% of new car sales globally, a major increase from the almost 1% market share that battery-powered and plug-in hybrid vehicles now claim. Also required are commitments for a doubling of mass-transit utilization in cities, a 20% increase in fuel efficiencies for heavy-duty vehicles and a 20% decrease in greenhouse-gas emissions from aviation per kilometre travelled.

Land. [by 2020] Land-use policies [must be] enacted that reduce forest destruction and shift to reforestation and afforestation efforts. Current net emissions from deforestation and land-use changes form about 12% of the global total. If these can be cut to zero next decade, and afforestation and reforestation can instead be used to create a carbon sink by 2030, it will help to push total net global emissions to zero, while supporting water supplies and other benefits. Sustainable agricultural practices can reduce emissions and increase CO2 sequestration in healthy, well-managed soils.

Industry. Heavy industry is developing and publishing plans for increasing efficiencies and cutting emissions, with a goal of halving emissions well before 2050. Carbon-intensive industries — such as iron and steel, cement, chemicals, and oil and gas — currently emit more than one-fifth of the world’s CO2, excluding their electricity and heat demands.

Finance. The financial sector has rethought how it deploys capital and is mobilizing at least $1 trillion a year for climate action. Most will come from the private sector. [By 2020] Governments, private banks and lenders such as the World Bank need to issue many more ‘green bonds’ to finance climate-mitigation efforts. This would create an annual market that, by 2020, processes more than 10 times the $81 billion of bonds issued in 2016.
Please read the entire piece to get a stronger sense of why the authors are optimistic that the above goals (a) can be met, and (b) will succeed if they are.

Yes, the timeline is short, and while some contend that the time for enough action to be effective has already passed, that's no more certainly true than the opposite. No one can solve a problem without a plan. According to the authors, people who have been involved in the science of addressing global warming, the above plan, if enacted, offers a good chance of success.


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Does Expecting Candidates To Back Medicare-For-All Make You A "Purist?"


Kamala Harris-- just like Obama... but without any substance

Saturday afternoon we noted the new book coming out by Phillip Anderson, The Case Against Andrew Cuomo, with a post entitled Anybody But Cuomo? Well Almost Anybody. Certainly as silly a prospect as Cuomo is a very mediocre, former California Attorney General, careerist freshman senator, Kamala Harris. There's literally nothing-- unless gender and identity politics bullshit are all that matters-- that would recommend her for president. In a more politically competitive state than California she would never even have been elected to the Senate. Don't get me wrong, her voting record in the Senate is excellent (98.81), nearly as good as Elizabeth Warren's and Jeff Merkley's-- identical with other smart, ambitious corporatists like Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand as well as with Schumer's. It's even fractionally "better" than Bernie's (98.78)! But in terms of leadership and accomplishments... we have a ways to go, to put it very, very mildly.

A couple of months ago, Evan Halper was covering her for the L.A. Times and she was barking about "progressive purists." Harris is a total light-weight and, tragically for California, destined to be a pointless backbencher. I'm sure she'll continue voting well most of the time and that she'll mouth the "right" talking points on most policy issues, although I'd watch her down the road when her donors' interests clash with her constituents' interests. Meanwhile, last week, Jimmy Carter came out forcefully for single payer healthcare. As John Nichols noted for The Nation, he was certainly not a progressive president but this month came to the conclusion that Medicare-for-All is the path forward for the Democratic Party and for America.
Democrats remain divided on the question of whether to go all-in for “Medicare for All”-- as Montana Republican Senator Steve Daines attempted to highlight this week by proposing an insincere amendment backing a version of single payer. Daines, a right-wing provocateur, is not a supporter of real reform; he simply wanted to get progressive Democrats and their more moderate colleagues wrangling with one another over health-care reform. His move was foiled by supporters of single payer, led by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who refused to play Daines’s game. “The Democratic caucus will not participate in the Republicans’ sham process. No amendment will get a vote until we see the final legislation and know what bill we are amending,” explained a text from Sanders aide Josh Miller-Lewis. “Once Republicans show us their final bill, Sen. Sanders looks forward to getting a vote on his amendment that makes clear the Senate believes that the United States must join every major country and guarantee health care as a right, not a privilege.”

While they are united in rejecting Republican chicanery, however, Democrats have yet to get on the same page with regard to single payer-- a fact frequently noted by RoseAnn DeMoro, the executive director of the 175,000-member National Nurses United union, and others who have grown frustrated with the party’s failure to embrace the “Medicare for All” option.

Democrats should listen to Carter, as they should to the great mass of Americans who have made it clear that they want to maintain the access to health care that came with the Affordable Care Act and extend that access with an absolute guarantees of health care as a human right. That old argument for single payer, in combination for the new realities of scorching income inequality and an increasingly unstable gig economy, has made Carter and others recognize that the reform that was once morally necessary is now becoming an economic and social inevitability.

...The June Kaiser Health Tracking poll found that a majority of Americans (53 percent) now favor a single-payer health plan, while just 43 percent oppose such a plan. What’s especially notable is that not just progressive Democrats but independents are turning toward a “Medicare for All” system. “Not surprisingly,” note the Kaiser analysts,
There are partisan divisions in how the public feels about single-payer health care, with a majority of Democrats (64 percent) and just over half independents (55 percent) in favor and a majority of Republicans (67 percent) opposed. However, the recent increase in support for single-payer has largely been driven by an increase among independents. Among this group, on average in 2008-2009, 42 percent said they would favor a single-payer plan, a share that has increased to a majority (55 percent) in the most recent tracking poll.
The Pew Research Center notes that support for the argument that government has a responsibility to provide health-care coverage is especially pronounced among young people under the age of 20-- precisely the potential voters that Democrats will need to motivate in 2018 and in 2020.

...Democrats need to make their support for expansion clear. Yes, they must fight now to stop the Republican assault on the Affordable Care Act. But just saying “no” to Donald Trump and Paul Ryan is an insufficient response to the challenges that now exist and to the challenges that will take shape in the future. As Congressman John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat who has sponsored H.R. 676, the Expanded And Improved Medicare for All Act, says:
Establishing a non-profit universal single-payer health care system would be the best way to effectively contain health care costs and provide quality care for all Americans. It is time for Members of Congress, health policy scholars, economists, and the medical community to begin a serious discussion of the merits of a universal single-payer health care system.
In other words: It is time to listen to Jimmy Carter’s wise counsel.
Instead, the DCCC is doing exactly the opposite. As we mentioned over the weekend, although most of the Democrats in Congress have signed on as co-sponsors of John Conyers' Medicare-For-All bill, nearly the entire leadership of Pelosi's DCCC refuses to do so. And what's worse-- much worse-- is that they are recruiting and favoring, sometimes overtly, sometimes more subtly, candidates who oppose, or at least refuse to support, Medicare-For-All.

Take CA-39 for example. The DCCC has recruited a so-called "ex"-Republican lottery winner, Gil Cisneros, with nothing going for him aside from the eagerness to spend a fortune on buying the seat and purchasing endorsements from incumbents. At a candidates forum at Fullerton College last Wednesday (July 26), he and the progressive in the race, Sam Jammal-- who you can contribute to here-- were asked if they support Medicare-For-All. The lottery winner appeared to not understand the issue and refused to take a position, which is what the DCCC and their consultants urge their candidates to do. Sam has pledged to work for Medicare-For-All and to sign on as a co-sponsor as soon as he gets into Congress, just the way Jimmy Gomez did last week after he got sworn in after running against a centrist "ex"-Republican. Medicare-For-All is one of the top issues motivating Sam's entire run for office. He knows the issue inside and out, which was clear to the voters in Fullerton who were so shocked by Cisneros' inability to articulate a cohesive message on something that important to voters.

Min and mentor

In another Orange County district, CA-45, there are several Democrats forcefully backing Medicare-for-All, like Kia Hamadanchy. Yesterday he told us that "Healthcare is a universal right and no American should ever go bankrupt because they lack health insurance. Single payer is the best way of ensuring that every single person in this country has the access to healthcare that they deserve. And that means Medicare for All is something I'm going fight fiercely for when I get to Congress." That's the attitude voters want to hear. But a former Schumer staffer, Dave Min, is running-- awkwardly-- as a centrist who thinks, inexplicably, he's entitled to progressive support. He's not as thick as the lottery winner and he's likely to mouth some pablum somewhere along the line that can be interpreted, in a stretch, as support for single-payer but he hasn't felt the pressure to do so yet and if he does say it, he'll be as sincere about it as the nervous Blue Dog and New Dem incumbents who can read the writing on the wall and are starting to sign on as co-sponsors now.

Virtually the entire top echelon of the DCCC is at the core of right-of-center Democrats refusing to back Medicare-for-All... and they're working furiously to recruit and support more candidates like themselves. The worst of the worst, aside from Pelosi and Hoyer who enable this:
DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján (NM)
Recruitment chair Denny Heck (New Dem-WA)
Frontline chair Ann Kuster (New Dem-NH)
Finance Co-chair Suzan DelBene (New Dem-WA)
Finance Co-chair Don Beyer (New Dem-VA)
Heartland Engagement Chair Cheri Bustos (Blue Dog-IL)
Partners and Allies Council Co-chair Jim Himes (New Dem-CT)
Partners and Allies Council Co-chair Terri Sewell (New Dem-AL)
Partners and Allies Council Co-chair Joaquin Castro (New Dem-TX)
Women Lead co-chair Val Demings (New Dem-FL)
Women Lead co-chair Lois Frankel (FL)

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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Doctor In The House? Yeah We Need One To Balance Out Crackpot Doctors Like Scott DesJaralis And Tom Price


The lowest point in my 2 years of cancer treatment led to the highest point. I was zonked on chemo at this point but still managing to stay at home. I was a mess. One night I couldn't make it all the way up the stairs to my bedroom, was too tired to get back down the stairs, and slept on a landing 6 steps up. Much worse was a few nights later when I woke in the middle of the night and wound up falling and passing out for 8 hours. I had broken 2 ribs and punctured a lung in the fall and couldn't get up. At Sire Records we had once made a glow-in-the-dark rosary as a promotional item for a Book of Love song and it was hanging on a wall. It helped me focus on Jesus who came into my life at that moment.

I credit Jesus, my doctor at City of Hope and Medicare for remission and saving my life. Jesus is still part of my life now. And Medicare still hasn't been destroyed by Paul Ryan and the Republican Party. Meanwhile my doctor keeps asking me why Blue America hasn't endorsed Jason Westin for Congress yet. Jason is running for a flippable seat in Houston, TX-07, which has more than just one good candidate in the primary. I've been explaining our vetting process to her and she listens patiently but in the end she's certain that Congress needs a cancer expert like Westin. She and he have been doing experimental lymphoma research and she seems convinced Congress would;don't be making so many errors about healthcare policy if Jason were in Congress. Maybe she's right. A few days ago ASH Clinical News interviewed him. It's more the kind of journal doctors read than one we would normally find at DWT... but my doctor insists I share it. And... hey, she and Jesus and Medicare saved my life...
A Cure For Congress?

As a hematologist and researcher, Jason Westin, MD, has dedicated his career to expanding and advancing treatment options for patients with lymphomas. Now, he’s turning that focus to the American health-care system. In May, Dr. Westin announced his run for Representative of the 7th Congressional District of Texas.

ASH Clinical News spoke with Dr. Westin about why he decided to enter the congressional race, coming off the sidelines to take a political stand, and how he’s navigating the challenges of balancing politics and patients.

When did you become interested in politics?

Fresh out of college, I was deciding between going into politics or medicine. I had been accepted to medical school, and I also interned in Senator Bob Graham’s (D-FL) office, where I worked on health policy. It was an eye-opening experience, but I thought I could do more good for more people as a physician.

What inspired you to return to politics at this stage in your career?

It was a difficult decision to make, and one that my wife and I struggled with. She is also a doctor and cancer researcher, so she understood that running for office would mean making some tough sacrifices. Eventually I realized that, while I wouldn’t be able to take care of patients as an elected official, I would be advocating for them in a different way.

I still love my job-- I’m not moving into politics because I don’t want to be a doctor anymore. Yet, I feel that we need people with experience in health care and research to find solutions to the problems we face. I didn’t build my medical career to try to transition into politics, but I think my medical career will serve me well in that transition.

When did you throw your hat into the ring?

The November election last year changed how I view politics and the direction of our country. The morning after the election, I felt like the country needed people with different perspectives. Of course, as a doctor and not a politician, I didn’t have much knowledge of how to get my voice heard. At first, I thought about supporting candidates or speaking out or testifying in hearings, but then I came across 314 Action-- a group of political professionals who are geared to help doctors and scientists get off the sidelines and into politics.

Most of my fellow doctors are political people with strong beliefs, but we are apolitical in our professional lives. For that reason, many doctors don’t tend to get involved in politics. So, discovering 314 Action (named after the first three numbers of pi) has been helpful. With their guidance and support, I’ve built a team that’s helping to make this a legitimate, and hopefully successful, campaign. This is not a moral crusade – we’re in it to win.

Who are your opponents?

First, I’ll be running against several candidates in the March 2018 Democratic primary. The advantage of a primary is that it gets more people engaged in their local politics. They may all support various people at the initial stage, but at the end of the day, we all want to come together and support our candidate in the general election. For that reason, I’m keeping my primary race positive and focused on the issues that matter. I don’t want to do anything that’s going to be detrimental to the race going the right direction.

If I get through the primary, my opponent in the general election would be Rep. John Culberson, a career politician. He’s been in elected office for more than 30 years and has been in Congress for nine terms. He has coasted along without a serious challenge for a long time. He’s voted with President Trump 100 percent and has not modified or moderated his positions at all. And, though he represents a district with a strong health-care and research focus, he supported the American Health Care Act-- it’s hard to reconcile those things.

This election would involve an outsider running against a classic insider, and I hope it brings about real change.

What has the race been like? Were you surprised by anything about politics?

It’s been busy. When I announced my congressional run, people would joke, “Oh, you didn’t have enough to do already?” I’d say, “I have a few extra minutes a day, I figure I might as well fill those, too.” My day-to-day life has been similar, but I’m still finding the balance between seeing patients, managing trials, and having time for my family. My wife and I have three young kids (ages 9, 5, and 2), so our lives are full.

Unfortunately, I will have to hand off some of my research responsibilities to my capable colleagues. My research team has been very supportive and are helping pick up the research slack so that we’re able to keep the research studies going 100 miles an hour. Patient care, of course, is paramount and will never take second place to outside interests.

One drawback of this undertaking is having less contact with the people I care for and who care for me. Still, it’s necessary for me to do, and my patients understand that I am running to try to improve health care for the wider population. It’s similar to why I enjoy doing clinical research: If I’m seeing a patient in the office, I can help that one person; if a trial succeeds, I can potentially help hundreds or thousands of people.

One of the things I’ve learned is how important fundraising really is. As a constituent, it wasn’t something I thought of; I’d get emails or phone calls asking for donations, without understanding how essential these are. Even small donations can help build a movement – that’s something American Society of Hematology members who are interested in politics may not know.

Will it be a tough race in your district?

Texas’s 7th Congressional District encompasses an area of Houston with a large population of people who are connected to the medical field through the Texas Medical Center, a medical complex that the Texas legislature established in 1945. The center contains medical schools, research facilities, and a number of hospitals in a tightly packed area.

It’s a heavily medicine- and science-oriented district. It’s also a changing district. Twenty or 30 years ago, Texas tended to vote heavily Democratic; over the past two or three decades, that trend has reversed and we have gone heavily Republican. That has been shifting recently, though. In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton carried the district-- a district that Mitt Romney won by more than 20 points in the previous election cycle. I think that is a reaction to the disrespect for science and the handling of health care expressed by Republican legislators. I also think it speaks well for the 7th district’s chances to elect somebody with my background.

If you win the election, what will your first priorities be?

Obviously, I would want to continue to work on health care. I think that the Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act are the opposite direction in which we need to be moving. I am a lymphoma specialist, so all my patients, by definition, have pre-existing conditions. They don’t see me unless they have a diagnosis that would put them at risk for losing health-care access if the pre-existing condition protections were dropped. And if people lose their insurance, they will be less healthy, be less productive, and have shorter lives. So, trying to expand access to care and reduce costs of care would be my main priorities.

Because I also wear the hat of a researcher, I would focus on increasing funding. I’ve received research funding from the National Institutes of Health, so I know how critical that is for making progress in finding new cures. Medical research is also an industry that creates thousands of jobs.

However, it’s not a perfect system. Writing and designing clinical trials have shown me that there is room for improvement in the ways that we conduct research in the United States. Much of our research is funded by private companies that have a financial interest in the outcomes of that research. Often, they are seeking a new drug approval, rather than seeking cures for chronic diseases. These don’t have to be mutually exclusive goals, but I think we need to change the metrics for success.

In U.S. community practices, 97 percent of patients with cancer receive the standard of care. Only three percent participate in clinical trials. We would not need to radically rewrite research to accelerate progress; even an increase to six or 10 percent clinical trial participation would mean a significant push forward in our ability to search for cures.

Do you have advice for your hematology colleagues who want to get involved in politics?

It’s important to get help. You have to talk to people, like the members of 314 Action, who have done this before and are knowledgeable about the process. Doctors and scientists have a lot to lose by running for office. First, it means putting yourself out there by taking a political position, and second, it means putting your work on hold-- and grants and research don’t do well when put on pause.

If you’re interested in participating in politics, you have to be passionate about it and you have to be determined to win. The way to do that is building a good team and listening to their advice.

Do your patients know that you’re running for Congress? If so, how have they responded-- especially those who don’t share your political beliefs?

I’m not hiding the fact that I’m running for Congress, but I’m also not bringing it up with patients in the clinic. I don’t want politics to have any impact on the care that I’m delivering to my patients.

As patients learn about my campaign, though, they have generally been supportive. They’re mostly worried about whether I’ll be able to keep taking care of them if I win.

A number of my patients don’t share my political beliefs. During last year’s 24/7 coverage of the presidential election, many would try to engage me in a political discussion, but doctors have to remain apolitical in the clinic. I would deflect their comments and return the subject to their health. I may say, “I appreciate different opinions, but that’s not why you’re here to see me. Let’s get back to the important issue here in the room: helping fight your cancer.”

I haven’t yet had any patients leave the clinic or change doctors, and I think that’s because of the personal relationships we’ve formed. We may disagree on a specific policy, but my patients recognize that there is more to me than my political beliefs.
As for the endorsement... we're well-sold on Dr. Westin and they're are some typical centrist DCCC-type establishment lawyers in the race but there are a couple of other decent candidates we're evaluating as well. Stay tuned; there's going to be an endorsement decision and a recommendation very soon.

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