Is This the Deal You Wanted?

March 8, 2017

During the entire seven years and 60+ votes to repeal Obamacare, Congressional Republicans were suspected of simply opposing Obamacare for purely political purposes and they couldn’t care less about healthcare.

After campaigning on the promise to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, Paul Ryan and fellow Republicans have proven that theory right. After years of promising a comprehensive replacement plan to reform healthcare, Ryan released a plan dubbed “Obamacare Light”. It is a plan that takes out the least popular elements of Obamacare, conserves the popular elements and completely ignores the costs and feasibility of their plan. Most of the unpopular elements of Obamacare were there because they were essential to maintain economic feasibility.

The OMB will price the new plan and nearly every serious analyst predicts that the costs of the Republican plan will dwarf Obamacare. Some of the offsets to reduce the explosive impact on the budget include gutting the EPA, HUD, and Energy. Even if these agencies were completely eliminated, the saving would be a fraction of the costs of Trumpcare. However, the budget-busting price tag on the plan is the least serious consequence of Trumpcare. The human costs could be immeasurable.

For all of you who voted for Trump believing his promise of full access to health care, lower premiums, etc., you should look carefully at the plan. Even though the official cost estimate and consequences of Trumpcare are yet to be calculated, some consequences are obvious, and even admitted by Republicans. Trumpcare will result in overall increase in premiums of around 30%, not including huge increases in deductibles. Americans over 60 years old with any history of healthcare will be relegated to insurance company defined “high risk pools” with premiums up to 40% higher, partial coverage and an average deductible of $5000.00.

The subsidies to help Americans afford insurance have been replaced with a tax deduction. For Americans averaging $40,000.00 of income per year, they get a tax deduction of $4000.00, which will be less than the average minimum yearly deductible most will face. For the poorest Americans, the idea of having any access to health insurance is gone. For those Americans who are unable to make a payment or miss a payment of a monthly premium and let their insurance lapse, then insurance companies can charge the same person 30% higher premiums to re-enroll.

Republicans are aware that Trumpcare will cause millions of poor people, elderly and sick people to have much less access to health insurance and health care treatment, and they also realize that as a consequence uninsured people will begin to seek treatment in Emergency Rooms, raising the cost of health care and insurance premiums even more than the projected 30%. Their solution is to raise the minimum age requirement for any Medicare to 65 years old, and to reduce Medicaid funding and turn them to block grants to the States. In other words, let the States deal with the carnage.

The winners in Trumpcare are the youngest and healthiest Americans, who no longer have to purchase insurance; Americans with incomes over $250,000.00 because they get a huge tax break and the Insurance companies who will be unregulated and can dictate costs and coverage as they choose.  So, is this the deal you wanted when you voted for Trump? Is Obamacare looking better?

Know Nothings — Part II

February 13, 2017

There was a time in our nation’s history when some politicians tried to restrict immigration based on the country of origin and religion. In fact, an entire political party was formed with that agenda. They were called the “Know Nothings” and their platform was eerily like that of Trump and his supporters today.

The Know Nothings attempted to restrict Roman Catholics from immigrating to the U.S. and they targeted predominantly Roman Catholic countries, such as Ireland, for immigration bans. Their argument was that “papists” were enemies of our country, seeking to destroy the government and replace it with a papal state. They cited false claims of violence and weapons smuggling (for the purpose of slaughtering innocent women and children) to arouse fear of immigrants. They claimed that Catholics could not be trusted to be loyal to country over their religion (a claim that persisted even to the campaign of President Kennedy). They claimed that Catholicism was incompatible with American ideals, and that people from Catholic countries were inherently violent and criminals.

Facts about the Know Nothings are easily accessible to anyone who can read a history book, but they appear to be lost on a large part of the present generation of Americans. I even wonder how many American Catholics realize how similar their own arguments against Muslims were used against their great grandparents?

Fear was exploited by the Know Nothings to generate hatred, just as fear is being used now to justify not only violating our principles and ideals, but also our laws. Will we remember the past mistakes and the suffering of our own relatives and reject the attempts to ban Muslims? Ultimately, it was the courts who rescued our national soul and ruled against laws attempting to ban immigration based on religion and country of origin. Let’s hope the courts will do the same today.


Know-Nothings Part I

February 10, 2017

The recent order to ban immigrants from seven Muslim countries has generated a lot of misinformation. With the hearing on the district court order staying the president’s order being argued today in the court of appeals, it would be nice to get a few facts straight on what is being argued by our own federal government.

Three other federal district court judges have concurred that the presidential order appears to be unconstitutional (one district judge disagrees) because it violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution and previous case law prohibiting restrictions on immigration based on religion and country of origin. The presidential order identifies seven countries — all majority Muslim countries — for the ban, which plaintiffs argue is a ban based on country of origin. Furthermore, it allows for exceptions based on religion — Christians and other “oppressed” minorities in the banned countries are allowed to immigrate while the majority Muslim population is not. Plaintiffs argue that this is, in effect, a Muslim ban since non-Muslims are excepted and even though minority Sunni Muslims are being slaughtered at a far greater rate than Christians who are permitted as an exception.

So, the facts are that it is a ban based on country of origin and based on religion, and an obvious violation of the constitution. Attorneys for the administration are arguing that there is an exception based on national security concerns, and there is precedent for this exception, except they are not really arguing within the limitations imposed on previous exceptions. Rather, they are arguing that the courts have no jurisdiction at all because the president has declared the basis of the ban as being one of national security. They argue that the judges should not make their determination based on “facts” or a “rational basis” for the ban, but rather on an expansion of presidential power that “trumps” any constitutional concerns.

The argument that facts and any rational basis to the ban should be ignored is a key for the administration to win since both the facts and rational basis for Mr. Trump’s order are lacking. There is no fact that immigrants from these countries have committed any acts of terrorism against the United States or present a danger to national security. Most of the immigrants are young children and their mothers, and they have been vetted and waiting an average of 1 to 2 years for a visa. Many of the immigrants from Iraq actually are targets for terrorism because they, or some other family member, has been assisting the American war effort. Most of the immigrants are relatives of U.S. citizens or sponsored by citizens. With the exception of 9/11 (committed by Saudis and UAE citizens) all terrorists acts since then have been committed by radicalized U.S. citizens.

There is no rational basis for the ban either, since virtually the entire national security establishment, including the departments of defense and homeland security, the FBI, the NSA and the CIA, and the joint chiefs all agree the ban itself compromises national security. So, the administration attorneys are forced to ask the judges to ignore facts and rational arguments related to national security as the basis for the ban and simply rule that if Mr. Trump orders it as a national security measure it should be done. They are essentially arguing that the judges should “know nothing” and rule in their favor. For you students of history the term “Know Nothing” is significant.

Something’s Going On…

February 9, 2017

Trump’s recent interview with the friendly Bill O’Reilly is yet another indication that something is going on with Trump and the Russians.  I am sure O’Reilly thought he was tossing a softball to Trump when he asked Trump to acknowledge that Putin was a killer, but the results were not as intended. Even with repeated attempts from “Papa Bear” to rescue Trump from his own words, Trump said something that may have been disturbing enough to even overcome the denial of some of his supporters. Trump stated that he believed there was moral equivalency between a man who has murdered political opponents and ordered a policy of mass murder in several countries to that of past U.S. presidents and troops. The statement is of course outrageous and no one with any sense of reality or of moral development would say the same. So why is the so-called President of the United States acting as apologist in chief for Putin? Something is going on.

Trump was infamous for casting suspicion on his political opponents with innuendo from unknown people he “knew” or “a lot of people are saying …” with the phrase “Something is going on folks. Something is there — believe me.” Well the continued defense of everything Putin by Trump and his refusal to release his tax returns makes it ever more suspicious that “something is going on.” Hopefully the Senate looking into the Russian espionage during the last election will provide some answers, one way or another. At least we all hope they will do their job. More likely is the possibility that Anonymous will follow up with their threat to release information not publicly available.

If a thorough inquiry reveals that Trump does have significant financial holding with Russians that accounts for his sanctioning Russian threats to our national security, then it would be a serious matter. In the alternative, if the release of his tax returns or investigations reveal no such blackmail material, would it be any less disturbing that Trump sees no difference between the behavior and policies of Russia and our country?

Politics of Contempt and Intimidation

February 8, 2017

No matter what one believes about the Trump’s order on immigration, a legal challenge was inevitable because it does strike at the heart of the Constitutional separation of powers as much as it does at the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Five Federal Courts have ruled on the order, four of them concurring that it appears to be unconstitutional. One Federal District Court Judge in Washington ordered a national stay, invoking a reaction from Trump that should create even more concern than the order itself.

The attorneys arguing for Trump to the Court of Appeals are stating the case that the President has virtually unlimited authority to issue orders when those orders have anything whatsoever to do with national security. The Trump argument, in effect, is saying that he has the right to violate the Constitution if the matter is one of national security. For anyone with knowledge of the Constitution and of precedent, this matter was settled by the courts long ago. This is a fragile and frightening argument that he is making, but it is the only real alternative to their transparently false initial arguments that this was not a religious or country specific ban, or ban at all.

As if the argument that national security “trumps” the Constitution were not frightening enough, Trump has continued to attack Judge Robart (a George W. Bush appointee) personally. If an attorney had done the same thing, then they would be in jail or face serious sanctions — and there are those who argue that Trump should be sanctioned — or at least have his contempt codified in formal charges. The fact is that the authoritarian nature of their current legal argument in support of his order matches the authoritarian nature of the man. He has always personally attacked any judge who rules against him (e.g. housing discrimination, fraud with “Trump University,” or fraud with his “charities”). However, now that he is President, the same contempt he has always shown to judges and the law creates a Constitutional conflict and threatens to undermine the rule of law.

There is a worry emerging among both Republicans and Democrats, that after only two weeks Trump’s authoritarian nature is making a Constitutional crisis inevitable by using his power to intimidate judges who resist his power grabs.

How to Know If You Are a Trumpansie

February 7, 2017

It is generally accepted by the majority of Americans who did not vote for Trump that the minority of Americans who did fall into one of three categories, two of which are redeemable (if not understandable) and one category, that for lack of a better description, are people who think and act sub-cortically. These categories are (1) People who hate the Clintons, (2) People who are so alienated from the political establishment they want to destroy it whatever the result, and (3) Trumpansies. If you are curious about a loved one or friend who supported Trump and want to know if they have devolved into a Trumpansie, take this brief test.

  • Did they think that Sara Palin was a brilliant woman who would have made a great President?
  • Do they feel that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, evolution is a lie from Satan and climate change is a Chinese fraud?
  • When confronted with obvious lies from Trump do they reflexively respond with “What about Clinton’s e-mails?”
  • Do they read every Trump Twitter, ignore the grammatical and factual errors and accept what he says uncritically?
  • In high school, did they stop reading the Constitution after the first paragraph because they couldn’t understand what it means?
  • Do they divide the world into good God-fearing American patriots and those who did not vote for Trump?
  • Do they accept the idea that alternative facts are just as valid as objective reality if it supports their emotional belief system?
  • Do they wake up feeling afraid? Are they afraid of immigrants, Muslims, joblessness, medical insurance, atheists, black people, other people with more guns than they have, women controlling their own bodies, or things in their closet?
  • Do they believe everyone is lying except Trump and Sean Hannity?
  • Do they make distressing noises and jump around hysterically when the media criticize Trump?

If you answered ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions, chances are your friend or loved one is indeed a Trumpansie. It remains to be seen if there is help for these people. Stay tuned.

Muslim Bans

January 31, 2017

This past weekend  the Trump Administration took the first steps to implement a ban on Muslims from certain countries. People can argue the semantics that it is not a ban of all Muslims because other predominantly Muslim nations were not included, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (which have produced the most number of terrorist attacks and casualties in the USA, and which also coincidently have Trump Resorts). The bottom line is that the courts are correct in reading the plain language of the presidential order and its intent. It is a ban of all Muslims from those countries, which violates laws against discrimination based on religion and on country of origin.

Christian refugees from these same countries are allowed in under the pretext that they are oppressed minorities. However, Shi’a Muslims are oppressed in Syria and Yemen, as are Sunni Muslims in Iraq, but they are still banned, which makes the intent to ban people based on their religion even more transparent.

What is remarkable about the presidential order is that Trump issued the order without consulting with his nominee for Secretary of Defense, Homeland Security or the State Department. Why the agencies most tasked with protecting our safety at home and abroad were not consulted is obvious. This is not about protecting national security. Mattis (Defense) and Flynn (Homeland Security), both former Marine Corps Generals, are on record as saying that the ban would harm national security. In fact, the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff for all Armed Forces are also on record as objecting to the ban in any form.

Furthermore, diplomats serving around the world also agree that the ban harms national security and the effort against Islamic terrorism. So why is Trump implementing an order that virtually everyone other than his closest political advisors agree will harm our national security? I guess the answer is in the question.

For many of us, this is a moral issue. For others, it is a legal issue. However, for a few Americans, the ban is more personal. Families with troops serving in war zones with Muslims are far more at risk today than they were last Friday. Men and women in Iraq, for example, must rely on the loyalty and goodwill of Muslim troops and civilians to fight ISIL. Why would a Muslim in Iraq risk not only their life but also the lives of their families to assist American troops at this point? How would an American advisor explain to his Muslim troops that they should help him kill other Muslims when they are considered unworthy to immigrate to America?

No doubt there are Americans so overcome with fear and prejudice that they will ignore any moral or even legal issue to advocate for bigotry, but they should at least give up any pretext that their concern is national security and simply admit their hatred.