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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

CAE Joins In On The Fear Of Trains

Category: Transportation
Posted: 04/24/17 19:29, Edited: 04/24/17 19:36

by Dave Mindeman

This Republican war on trains is drastically misplaced. Our future does not lie in more asphalt, more cars, and longer commutes. Modern mass transit is our future and Minnesota Republicans, as well as Congressional Republicans are not causing a credit card problem, but a credibility problem.

An Op-Ed from Kim Crockett, (Center for the American Experiment) in MinnPost is just another biased treatise in my opinion. Her essay is a little short on the facts and on what is needed.

First she does what all good Republicans do - she asserts that the national debt will only be increased by funding these train projects. Which, frankly, is true for just about any spending project. Defense, roads and bridges, human services...all of it will increase the debt because we do not generate any revenue - even for the things we have committed to fund.

We have been using the kids' credit card, not just for trains, but for everything. This obsession with tax cuts is the real culprit, not the things we have needed for years. And a good mass transit system will eventually pay dividends because there will be less pollution, less traffic jams, less single occupant cars, more development around rail which increases the tax base, less maintenance costs (as compared to roads), and more construction jobs. Yes, the initial investment is high...but it is not going to cost less if we delay and obstruct.

Ms. Crockett says that "most local and state officials" say no to trains. Well, that is partially true, but only from one party. The Republicans have cast their majority lot with rural Minnesota, where it is easy to demonize mass transit. And as retired Republican legislators begin to overrun county boards, it will only get worse in that regard.

Democrats overwhelmingly support modernizing our transit. Governor Dayton supports it. City councils are generally on board. And most of our Congressional delegation support it as well.

It shouldn't be a partisan issue. And this is especially true when Metro areas are already committing their monetary resources to make this happen. General funds are part of the mix, but not nearly as much as the Republican legislators try to have us believe. Metro sales taxes cover the bulk of metro transit. It is a fair funding mechanism.

Crockett also includes an opinion from the CATO institute (another GOP think tank):

"Light rail is an obsolete form of transportation that will be made even more obsolete in a few years by self-driving cars," said Randal O'Toole, a CATO Institute senior fellow and public transit expert. "Congress should stop funding light rail, including the Southwest line, as well as other obsolete transit programs, such as an extension of the Northstar to St. Cloud."

Yes, self driving cars may be in the works, but you will still have to maintain roads for them. You will probably still have single occupants. And the pollution effects have the same probabilities as human driver cars. It depends on what type of fuel you opt to buy into. So how cars that drive themselves will change any of the things that we look to mass transit to solve is a mystery...and Ms. Crockett does not offer analysis for that.

She tells us that "costs will only rise with time". Well, duh...yes, they will, which is why we must follow through on this now. We have the SWLRT project underway. We have the route laid out. Some of the rail cars have already been bought. So, kill it now?

You know there will come a time that we will want to revisit this. We don't want to come back and start over do we? Like the Dan Patch line study which was legislatively ended and which local officials want to resurrect.

These are not projects without supporters. The problem seems to be that those supporters just don't offer that same support to obstructive Republicans.

Minnesota's future should NOT be a partisan war. Other major population centers are ahead of us on transit solutions. If we want to compete with them for visitor dollars and major development projects, then we need to find better ways to move people and reduce our carbon footprint.

Ms. Crockett doesn't address that - because Republicans never do.

Health Care:"Across State Lines"? Nobody Wants It

Category: Health Care
Posted: 04/23/17 13:17, Edited: 04/23/17 13:18

by Dave Mindeman

OK - can we debunk this once and for all? I'm talking about this Republican fantasy that selling insurance across state lines is some kind of competitive fairy tale that will solve the health care crisis.

Politico finally put together an in depth article about it....

Trump's Next Big Idea On Health Care

It goes into some of the problems I have talked about before, plus some other things I didn't know.

Here is the biggest problem....

"The president clearly is committed to the state-line policy. If he wants a small win on health care to distract from the challenges of getting a large-scale repeal through Congress, this idea might meet that goal. But there's one big problem: No one in the health care universe, on either the policy side or the business side, actually thinks selling plans across state lines will make a difference."

So, why is nobody, outside of Republicans in Congress and the President, pushing this forward?

1. It's unlikely to be profitable. Established insurance companies consistently say that they wouldn't pursue this opportunity under any regulatory circumstances. Even if state and federal legislators were to do all the heavy political and regulatory lifting, at best a few niche startups would try selling stripped-down policies in high-cost states--probably under the intense scrutiny of the dismayed insurance commissioners from those states. And since these changes wouldn't apply to most people currently covered by their employers or traditional Medicare or Medicaid, or the Veterans Affairs health system, or the Department of Defense, the opportunity for profit is quite small.

2. It is only a talking point. No substance. The GOP has been pushing the idea for years, but when specifically asked, Republican policy advisers admit off the record that this really is more of a talking point, and then they change the subject. There's just no there there.

3. It is already written it into the current health care law. It's already possible to sell insurance across state lines. This key plank of Trump's health care vision was authorized in 2010 by the very law he's trying to replace, and it remains in effect. The law leaves the decision up to states themselves, and since then, several states--both red and blue--have passed laws that allow insurers to sell policies in other states with similar laws. But the number of insurance companies that have taken advantage of this exciting new opportunity is exactly zero. State-by-state regulation persists. Any proposed sales must meet or exceed Obamacare's standards and can't increase the federal deficit.

4. Stripping regulations doesn't help. Perhaps what the President Trump really means by insurance competition is that he'll strip away the ACA regulations and others that allow states to regulate health insurance, making it easier for insurers to sell plans across state lines. An enterprising insurer in a lightly regulated state could create a bare-bones health plan with limited coverage and very high deductibles and co-payments. The company could offer this plan at a low premium to consumers all over the country. Sure, consumers who didn't read the fine print when they enrolled would have some unpleasant surprises when it came time to actually get health care, but that's the reality of a free market, right? All it would really do is create that "race to the bottom" of health care coverage.

5. Primary obstacle is an operational one. Networks are contracted within the state that the carrier operates. Setting up a network in every other state requires separate negotiations in those states (states will probably not give up their own oversight). This would lead to huge expenses associated within those various states - and make the entire venture unprofitable and unwieldy.


So, there you have it. Even if President Trump thinks this an answer (and obviously, he has not researched the issue), he will find few allies willing to go to the mat on something like this.

Health care is pretty complicated, Mr. President. Tread carefully.

When "Purifying" Democratic Candidates: Pick The Right Battle

Category: Donald Trump
Posted: 04/21/17 17:53

by Dave Mindeman

To all the Hillary bashers....past and present.

Complaint: Hillary took a lot of money from Goldman Sachs. Too close to Wall Street.

After election: Goldman Sachs runs the Treasury Department. The 1% are heading nearly every cabinet position.

Complaint: Hillary did not emphasize climate change enough.

After election: A climate denier is head of EPA. Climate cannot even be talked about in the government. And oil, gas, and coal get seats at the policy table.

Complaint: HRC ties to Clinton Foundation looked like "pay for play".

After election: Trump is a walking ethics violation. Trump businesses get paid by his campaign. Corporations gave money to inauguration fund - got direct access to NSC and foreign policy. Betsy Devos parlays donation into Ed Secretary. Ivanka promotes her goods directly from White House. Family members get prime positions in White House. Ties to Russia are explicit.

Complaint: HRC's e-mails were "careless" in handling classified info.

After election: Trump uses an unsecure phone. The admin has an unprecedented number of leaks. The chair of the intelligence committee, Nunes, talks to press about classified documents...and mischaracterizes what they say. Trump issued false accusation and ordered his staff to "find something" to corroborate it. Staff people aren't vetted - some even failed a security clearance.

Complaint: Hillary is too much of a "war hawk".

After election: Trump congratulates dictators in Turkey and Egypt. He bombs Syria. He is provoking North Korea. He has questioned the European alliance. He tries to befriend Russia and while doing nothing about Ukraine and Crimea. He insults Mexico, Australia, and Canada. And sends all sorts of mixed signals to China. And Russia and China are on military alert because they don't know what the hell is going on.

Complaint: Hillary is too friendly to bad trade policies.

After election: Well, at least TPP is gone. But Mexico is cozying up to China trade. Canada is causing a dairy crisis. He wants to keep obsolete manufacturing afloat. Does nothing for new job training (budget cuts a lot of it). Has no plan for Brexit. And thinks ending regulations will solve all of it.

I'm fed up with Democratic purists who think denigrating the DEMOCRATIC candidate is the best way to approach electoral politics. If HRC had been elected, everything on the complaint list would be better than what has happened.

I don't mind pushing Democratic candidates to be more progressive. That is a good thing to do. But once we have an endorsed candidate for the ballot, we need to fight like hell to get them elected. Then after the election we can fight harder for policy, with an actual chance of making it happen.

The next time you want to throw an endorsed Democrat under the bus, remember this Trump era.

Pick your damn battles.
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