Betsy DeVos Sure Gets Confused Easily

Remember when U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos scrapped the Obama administration's guidelines on campus sexual assault because they were "confusing"?

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Remember how some Very Serious People, even liberals, praised this as a good-faith effort? (Some folks seem to believe that there's an epidemic of really good guys being falsely accused of rape and this is the worst thing in the world — worse apparently than even being raped). DeVos consulted with Men's Rights Activists on the issue, but she was still strangely given the benefit of the doubt. Here's a little explainer on one of these lovely MRA groups, the National Coalition for Men:

"Chapters have published photos, names, and biographical details of women who have accused men—falsely, the National Coalition for Men insists—of rape. Its members routinely bring lawsuits against women-only networking groups and social events, crying discrimination."

I'm sure women in college feel safer already.

Well, DeVos seems to be confused again — this time over a federal law protecting students with disabilities. This month, the Department of Education rescinded 72 — yes, 72 — guidance documents outlining disabled students' rights.

Why was this necessary? Here's the Washington Post:

"President Trump in February signed an executive order 'to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens,' spurring Education Department officials to begin a top-to-bottom review of its regulations."

I'm sure parents with students in special education programs are deeply relieved to be freed from the yoke of meddlesome regulations protecting their children.

Just like I know parents of LGBT students were thrilled when DeVos shrugged at kids being discriminated against.

I'm just throwing this out there, but perhaps DeVos wasn't being an honest broker in dumping sexual assault regulations. Maybe she's just not into protecting the rights of women, LGBTs, disabled kids and other groups that have faced targeted discrimination.

Just a thought.

Trump Supporters Are the Ones Living in a Bubble in Michigan

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After Donald Trump’s surprise victory last year, it became almost gospel with beltway pundits that liberals were living in a bubble. That’s been followed by a never-ending stream of profiles of Trump supporters (aka Real Americans) who — wouldn’t ya know it? — vowed to stick with him no matter what.

Now given the fact that Trump’s win shocked most observers, myself included, it makes sense for analysts to look at what they got wrong and who they ignored. But often times, the course correction is riddled with false or overstated assumptions.

By any standard, Trump’s victory was not a landslide. He lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by almost 3 million — which means the majority of the country wasn’t overcome with #MAGA fever. Trump won the Electoral College by flipping three states — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — by 80,000 votes, which is roughly the population of Farmington Hills. It’s an impressive strategic win, but a mandate it is not.

For some perspective, consider the fact that Barack Obama’s 2008 win isn’t considered a landslide, even though he won by 7 percentage points, almost 10 million votes and 192 votes in the Electoral College. The Democrats won big majorities in both houses of Congress, achieving a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate.

In 2016, Republicans lost seats in both chambers of Congress in 2016. Democrats picked up six seats in the U.S. House and two seats in the U.S. Senate. That wasn’t enough to gain a majority in either house and fell far short of expectations. But it certainly doesn’t indicate a Trumpian wave crashing over the entire country.

Of course, just pointing out basic facts like this nowadays is enough to get some Trump supporters to shout, “Fake news!” Talk about living in a bubble.

They’ll probably want to close their eyes to new polling from NBC/Marist in the three key Trump states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The Michigan poll of 795 votes was conducted Aug. 13 to 17 and had a 3.5 percent margin of error.

Here in the Mitten State, 36 percent of voters approved of the president’s job performance, with just 19 percent strongly approving. Meanwhile, 55 percent disapproved, with 40 percent saying they strongly do.

And 64 percent said that Trump’s conduct embarrassed them. Six in 10 voters said the United States’ role on the world stage has been weakened under Trump.

The best numbers for the president were on the question of whether the U.S. economy has been strengthened by his decisions. Voters by a 42 percent-to-39 percent margin gave him props, within the poll’s margin of error.

The Wisconsin and Pennsylvania numbers are very similar — Trump had a 35/54 job approval in Pennsylvania and was at 34/56 in Wisconsin.

Given the fact that Trump’s numbers are so dismal in the three states that propelled him to victory just nine months ago, it would seem that his vastly outnumbered supporters are the ones living in a bubble. Might be something to mention in any future pseudo-sociological studies of Trump voters.

There's No Way Ruth Johnson Should Turn over Private Voter Information to Trump Commission

Voting is a sacred act and for many people, it remains a private one. That will change under President Trump's Election Integrity Commission.

The commission chaired by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Vice President Mike Pence is charged with investigating voter fraud. The problem is that this is not a widespread problem, no matter what Trump tweets. The Washington Post found four cases in the entire country for 2016. That's out of 135 million ballots cast. And in Michigan, a state audit found no evidence of voter fraud in Detroit.

The commission has been flying under the radar. But this week, the group sent a letter to all 50 secretaries of state.

Everyone — Republicans, Democrats and independents alike — should be alarmed by the information this commission is demanding. The Chicago Tribune's headline sums it up well: "Trump's voter fraud commission wants voting history, party ID and address of every voter."

But it gets even worse when you read the fine print:

The chair of Donald Trump's Election Integrity Commission has penned a letter to all 50 states requesting their full voter role data, including the name, address, date of birth, party affiliation, last four Social Security number digits and voting history back to 2006 of potentially every voter in the state.

And here's the kicker: Kobach said that "any documents that are submitted to the full Commission will also be made available to the public."

So when you went to the polls, did you expect that your name, address, date of birth, party affiliation, voting history and part of your Social Security number would be released for public consumption?

California, Kentucky, Virginia, Massachusetts and Connecticut have already rejected the commission's intrusive request.

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson should quickly follow suit to protect voters' privacy and not contribute to this waste of taxpayer dollars.

Michigan's SOS races tend to be quiet affairs, especially as nominees are picked at party conventions. But an issue like voter privacy could become explosive in next year's open race.

Why Are the Media Ignoring Stories about the Millions Impacted by Trumpcare?

If you haven’t heard Jordan Acker’s story, it won’t take long.

In just 16 tweets last weekend, the Huntington Woods dad and attorney revealed how a bad drug reaction shut down his liver. Thankfully, he recovered, but it left him a pre-existing condition. And under Trumpcare, he and millions of others with pre-existing conditions will be paying more for health insurance — and many won’t be able to afford it at all.

Here are the first tweets, but read the whole thing:

Acker told me that something amazing happened after he shared his story on Twitter. He heard from roughly 10,000 people, from across the country and across the globe, about their health care issues. Acker thought that was pretty unusual (it is) and tried to see if any media would be interested in the story.

They weren’t.

I can’t tell you why. As a journalist, I know that this is a pretty compelling premise for a human interest story (and it has a social media angle that you can sell to gray-haired management as a way to rope in the hip youngs).

I suppose if I were still a daily journalist covering politics and health care (as I was for many years), I would be a little overwhelmed by all the stories to tell about people impacted by Trumpcare, even right here in Michigan.

There are so many people who will be harmed by Trumpcare that it’s hard to get your head around it. There are the 23 million who will lose insurance under the last version scored by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (the Senate version is still under review).

But the Senate plan goes even further and decimates Medicaid, which serves 75 million people. It’s not just the expansion under Obamacare, mind you — Trumpcare goes after the program itself. Many people know that slashing Medicaid hurts low-income people. But Medicaid provides a range of services, including those for disabled people and nursing home care for seniors. That’s why you saw people in wheelchairs protesting the bill outside the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — where they were unceremoniously thrown out.

And there are millions upon millions more who will see their health costs soar — as Trumpcare will raise deductibles, eliminate mandated services (maternity, mental health, substance abuse care, etc.) and put caps on your coverage so insurance companies don’t have to pay anymore if your care costs too much.

If you’re starting to see a pattern that nothing Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail is in there, you are correct. If this is sounding like the bad old days before Obamacare when people went bankrupt for getting cancer, that’s also correct. But on top of that, Republicans want to kill Medicaid, which means that we’re not just going back to 2010. We’re going back to 1965 — only with skyrocketing health care costs to boot.

But to be honest, I’m not seeing a lot of these stories being told. To be sure, some are. Amy Lynn Smith has done a beautiful job chronicling people’s health care stories for years right here. Sarah Kliff has done the same for Vox and Jonathan Cohn has for Huffington Post. But cable news, local TV affiliates and newspapers — which can’t seem to get enough of stories about Trump supporters who still love the president no matter what — are largely ignoring the personal stories of tens of millions of people who will be hurt by Trumpcare.

I expect that this will change if Trumpcare becomes law and more journalists see their grandmothers tossed out of nursing homes, their best friend who can’t get opioid addiction treatment or their newly retired uncle unable to afford insurance.

But that’s no excuse for failing to cover the impact of massive legislation before it’s passed. And when you’re talking about a bill that affects tens of millions of people, I can almost guarantee that your audience would watch, read and react to these stories — which is exactly what outlets should want.

Barb Byrum Talks Michigan Elections and Hacking Concerns

In the midst of the bombardment of news about the U.S. Senate’s secret health care bill, the Michigan Legislature whacking teachers (again) and President Trump lashing out about the FBI’s Russia investigation, it’s easy to overlook some revelations about Russia’s attempt to hack our electoral systems last year.

First, there was the Intercept’s blockbuster story about a top-secret NSA report detailing Russian hacking efforts. Bloomberg News followed up with a report that the hacking attempts were more widespread than previously thought, with 39 states targeted.

Long before these reports, Michigan was a focus of electoral integrity concerns, as our presidential contest was only decided by roughly 10,000 votes. The short-lived presidential recount shed light on problems with the process, especially in Detroit, home to more than 80 broken voting machines. After vote totals in a majority of precincts couldn’t be balanced, the state Bureau of Elections also conducted an audit. Despite stubborn conspiracy theories on the right about rampant voter fraud — which is rather curious, since Trump won the state — the audit found that “an abundance of human errors” by precinct workers was primarily to blame.

This month, the Washington Post had two experts run the numbers and assured us that the vote counts in Michigan and Wisconsin (another key state Trump won) weren’t hacked.

But there are still myriad concerns about possible breaches to voting systems going forward. Is Michigan prepared? I talked to someone with plenty of experience running elections here, two-term Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, who was also a former state representative from 2007 to 2012 and the ranking Democrat on the House Redistricting and Elections Committee. She has been awarded the national title of Certified Elections/Registration Administrator (CERA) serves on the Security Task Force with other national members for Election Center.

Byrum says she believes Michigan elections are “safe and secure as a result of the many safeguards that municipal and county clerks utilize, including the isolation of election networks, the paper ballot trail, and the ability to conduct post-election audits and recounts.” She stressed that the audits are vital.

The clerk also shared her experience in the 2016 general election. She said the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office prompted radio-to-radio communication, implemented through the Michigan State Police, the week before the election.

“I worked closely with the Bureau of Elections and Ingham County’s emergency manager to take all necessary precautions to be able to communicate in case there was any interruption in communication,” Byrum said. “Thankfully, internet and phone services remained intact during the process of the election.”

Byrum noted one change going forward. She said the Secretary of State’s office plans to facilitate the forwarding of emails from voters based outside of the United States to county and municipal clerks through a free email service. She said she has concerns and is raising them with the Bureau of Elections.

“Given the nature of recent hacking attempts, both successful and not, I am alarmed by the recent announcement from the Bureau of Elections. … I worry that encryption will not be sufficient,” Byrum said.

Republicans Launch the ‘Fredo Defense’ of Trump

"The president’s new at this. He’s new to government, and so he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses. He’s just new to this.” — U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (D-Wisc.), at a Thursday press conference held during former FBI Director James Comey's Capitol Hill testimony

For years, we've been accustomed to Republicans chest-beating about their strength. The perception of this has been one of the party's greatest assets, as many of their policy proposals, like cutting taxes for the rich and ripping health care away from 23 million Americans, poll terribly.

There was Ronald Reagan telling Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down that wall" and end communism in the late 1980s. There was George W. Bush strutting across an aircraft carrier to (prematurely) celebrate victory in the Iraq war in 2003. There was John McCain declaring he'd put the "Country First" during the '08 election, which everyone believed because he'd survived the Hanoi Hilton.

In 2016, Donald Trump campaigned as the ultimate alpha male. "I alone can fix it," he promised with his trademark braggadocio, while disparaging his rivals for failing to compete with his virility (remember his digs at "Little Marco" Rubio and calling Jeb Bush "low energy"?) During a March 2016 campaign rally, Trump made a big point of stressing he was 6'3'', not 6'2." And at the GOP debate in Detroit, Trump bragged about the size of his hands in such an awkward soliloquy that CNN cast subtlety aside and ran this headline: "Donald Trump defends size of his penis."

Now the president finds himself engulfed in a growing scandal over his campaign's ties to Russia, which is the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation, and a possible coverup. He admitted in a TV interview that the "Russia thing" was on his mind as he decided to fire FBI Director James Comey.

Comey was on Capitol Hill Thursday to testify and it was riveting. The former director said that Trump told “lies, plain and simple,” about he and the FBI as part of a coverup for his firing. He revealed the president had said he "hoped" he would drop his investigation, which Comey "took as direction." Comey also said there was "no doubt" that the Russians were behind the Democratic National Committee hacking last year, which sowed party divisions between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton supporters that Republicans exploited.

So it's somewhat breathtaking that as the walls close in on Trump and his allies, Republicans are launching a "Fredo defense." Like the slow brother in "The Godfather," the president just doesn't really know what he's doing (although, fittingly, Fredo insisted until the day he was whacked that he was really the smart one).

This is not an exaggeration, as you can see by the quote from U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) above. He's really arguing that Trump is "new at this" and therefore what he did was OK. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a former proud Never Trumper, tried out a version of the Fredo defense before the hearing: “I don't think [Trump] colluded with the Russians because he doesn't collude with his own staff." Look for this to become a popular talking point from the same folks that excoriated former President Barack Obama as "Obambi."

In case you're looking for a laugh through your tears, Democratic activist Kaivan Shroff sums the whole thing up nicely.

Go Ahead and Celebrate the Massive Failure of Trumpcare

There’s been some finger-wagging that liberals shouldn’t be cheering the Republicans’ huge defeat on Trumpcare.

As everyone knows, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) didn’t actually put the bill up to a vote because it was doomed by defections from moderate Republicans and Freedom Caucus members alike. And President Trump didn’t know the bill well enough to whip votes, Politico Magazine embarrassingly reports.

Yes, there are many other fights ahead on the debt ceiling, tax policy, Russian interference in our election, etc. And I don’t think Trump and Ryan are giving up the ghost of killing Obamacare, no matter what they say.

So if Democrats want to take the opportunity to craft some fixes for the Affordable Care Act, I think that’s great.

But for the time being, it’s OK to celebrate that a bad policy died. Because that means:

  • 24 million people get to keep their health insurance.
  • People won’t see massive insurance rate increases.
  • People with pre-existing conditions won’t be priced out of care.
  • Essential health benefits, like prenatal and post-natal care, are still protected.
  • Seniors won’t be targeted for rate increases.
  • The more than 650,000 people who gained insurance through the Medicaid expansion in Michigan are safe.
  • Small business owners and the self-employed can get better rates on policies through competition afforded by the health care exchange.

And there’s a whole lot more. So go ahead and revel in the fact that Republicans failed to do what they’ve promised for seven long years. Go ahead and celebrate that people’s lives will be better without Trumpcare. After all, there haven’t been a lot of reasons to smile since November 8.

Wake Up and Smell the Freedom Not to Have Health Coverage

The U.S. House Republicans' super-secret Obamacare replacement is out and it's all about freedom.

Yes, if you're one of the 20 million Americans who gained health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, you may soon enjoy the freedom of no longer being covered. We don't know how many people will be covered, but even Republicans acknowledge that it will be a lower number than the ACA.

As President Donald Trump finally noticed last month, health policy is kinda complicated. So it will be awhile before we know all the details of the GOP plan. But one key element to reducing coverage is that they'd end the federal funding in 2020 for states who expand Medicaid. Currently, 31 states, including Michigan, have expanded Medicaid to cover 10 million people.

That could definitely put Michigan's program in jeopardy. Gov. Rick Snyder had to fight tooth and nail with his fellow Republicans in the Legislature just to get the expansion in the first place. The Legislature has only gotten more conservative since then and Snyder is term-limited next year. It's easy to imagine a Gov. Bill Schuette, who fought Obamacare all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, joining together with GOP lawmakers to scrap Michigan's Medicaid expansion.

There are 640,000 Michiganders who now have health coverage due to the expansion — more than 6 percent of the state's population. Yanking away health insurance from them would be unnecessarily cruel. And it's not even smart economic policy. The expansion will have a $432 million impact this year, according to a University of Michigan study commissioned by the New York-based Commonwealth Fund. And that's created 30,000 jobs. Given the fact that Trump goes around irresponsibly taking credit for companies keeping a couple hundred jobs in the United States, you'd think that losing 30,000 jobs in just Michigan alone might give him pause.

There are many other ways that people could lose their health insurance under the GOP plan. Insurance subsidies for low-income people would be replaced with age-based subsidies, which would likely reduce benefits and the number of people who are insured. The New York Times reports that people with preexisting conditions "would face new uncertainties in a more deregulated insurance market." And the plan cuts off funding to Planned Parenthood.

But at least people who didn't want to buy health insurance will escape paying that freedom-sucking penalty, right? Well, yes ... but if you let your insurance coverage lap because you've changed jobs, didn't want to pay for it, etc., the GOP plan allows insurance companies to sock you with a 30 percent premium increase. That's probably going to be a much bigger hit to your wallet.

The Republican concept of freedom always seems to come with a lot of not-so fine print.

If there's one thing Americans love, it's when politicians meddle and make things worse. And they really love having things taken away from them. So this new GOP plan should really go over well.

The First Amendment is under attack in Michigan

Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas

We all know President-Elect Donald Trump is not a big fan of the First Amendment. During the campaign, the Republican complained it has "too much protection" for free speech. He's routinely targeted journalists at rallies and on Twitter as an intimidation tactic.

After winning the election, Trump's first tweet took aim at people protesting against him, which he whined was "unfair." A few weeks later, he went even further, tweeting the threat that those who exercise their 1A right to burn the American flag could be jailed or stripped of their citizenship.

But while Trump dominates news coverage by unloading outrageous tweets and unveiling cabinet picks with reality show-style flair, the Michigan Legislature has fired a shot against the First Amendment.

Those of us in the Mitten State are used to Republicans who control state government ramming through unpopular right-wing legislation during the lame duck session. Unions are a frequent scapegoat, as we saw with the 2012 Right to Work law

This time around, the House has narrowly passed bills that would jack up fines on unions for "illegal" picketers (from $1,000 to $10,000 a day) and make it easier to hire replacement workers (i.e. scabs).

Using labor for political target practice is bad enough. At a time when Michigan's median income still clocks in $5,000 below what it was in 2007, it's amazing that lawmakers keep going after unions trying to win and protect fair wages. But the bills will also likely silence peaceful protests. My read of the legislation (as well as that of several lawyers) is that it's written so broadly that it could run afoul of the First Amendment.

Now that may not deter the Republican-controlled Legislature from sending this package to Gov. Rick Snyder's desk. And the governor, who's a lawyer, has a history of signing bills that experts warned were unconstitutional.

But it would really be something for a significant First Amendment challenge to originate in Michigan. And it's likely a sign of things to come in the Trump era.

Michigan Republicans want to crack down on voting rights, but where's the evidence of fraud?

Let's just dispense with the euphemisms. Republicans are poised to ram through bills that will make it harder to vote in Michigan

Here's where we are. Michigan already had a voter ID law, but this new legislation toughens up the process. Currently, if you don't have your ID when you vote, you sign an affidavit and cast a provisional ballot. Your vote is counted in the tally.

But this proposed law would set aside your vote. And it requires you to go back to your local clerk's office and produce your ID within 10 days –– or your vote doesn't count at all.

Laws are traditionally proposed in response to a problem. In this case, you would expect that problem to be a rash of voter fraud cases in Michigan. After all, the bills were introduced after the Nov. 8 election, just in time for the frenzied Lame Duck session in the run-up to the holidays (when voters conveniently aren't paying attention).

You would be wrong.  

I have yet to see any documented cases of voter fraud in Michigan in the 2016 election. The Washington Post has only found four cases in the entire country. To put this in perspective, 135 million ballots were cast in this election.

That's why Republican former Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema and I both agreed in a Michigan Radio interview on Friday that these voter ID bills aren't necessary.

“There’s very little documentation of voter fraud in Michigan,” Sikkema said. “Some legislator ... or some party activist dreamed this up and said, well, Michigan ought to do this, other states do it, but in my opinion, they’re not necessary.”