Now that Donald Trump has gotten solidly behind Paul Ryan’s plan to dismantle Medicaid as part of the American Health Care Act deform plan, which Trump repeatedly said during the campaign he would not do, how long will it be before Trump embraces Paul Ryan’s longtime dream of privatizing Social Security and Medicare?

Even before the election, Nancy Altman and Linda Benesch of Socal Security Works noted at HuffingtonPost (4/29), there was good reason to be extremely skeptical of Trump’s promise. “After all, prior to running, he had called Social Security a Ponzi scheme, said that ‘privatization would be good for all of us,’ and, in true elitist fashion, called for raising the retirement age to age 70, because ‘how many times will you really want to take that trailer to the Grand Canyon?’ Moreover, he selected Mike Pence as his vice president. Pence has a long record of attacking Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Indeed, Pence criticized Bush’s Social Security privatization proposal for not going far enough, fast enough!”

In a 2011 interview with Sean Hannity, Trump said he was on board with plans to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — but that Republicans should be very careful “not to fall into the Democratic trap” by doing it in the open, without bipartisan cover, or they would pay the price politically.

Speaker Ryan has been advocating the dismantling of Medicare for years, Altman noted in a previous column (3/15). After the election, Ryan announced his intention to enact 2017 legislation ending Medicare. “Ryan’s plan would force all seniors and people with disabilities onto the private market, arming them only with inadequate voucher coupons. So, that 64-year-old spending more than half her income on her premium will get no reprieve from her cat-food diet when she turns age 65.”

Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, has also been clear about the Republicans’ plans. Against all evidence, Price claims that “nothing has had a greater negative effect on the delivery of health care than the federal government’s intrusion into medicine through Medicare.” Of course, the exact opposite is true. Medicare saves lives. It allows seniors and people with disabilities, those with the greatest health needs, to obtain life-saving health care.

With true radical zeal, Price has said, “We will not rest until we make certain that government-run health care [e.g., Medicare] is ended.” Shortly after the election, Price, like Ryan, announced that the Republicans planned to enact Medicare privatization in the first six to eight months of the Trump administration.

Ryan is using two lies to get at Medicare, Altman wrote. “First, he falsely claims that ‘because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke,’ when in fact the Affordable Care Act strengthened Medicare’s financing. Second, as he does with Social Security, Ryan falsely claims that, because Medicare is going broke, it’s necessary to ‘reform’ it in order to ‘save’ it. (He apparently is using ‘save,’ in the same Orwellian way it was used during the Vietnam war, when a US military officer explained, ‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.’”)

The ticking time bomb in Trumpcare is that it raids Medicare of $117 bln and puts it into the pockets of the rich, she wrote. “That raiding of Medicare, along with a provision that increases Medicare’s hospital payments by $43 bln, paves the way for further destructive action later in the year.”

Trump’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, was a member of the House Freedom Caucus who is well known for his fervent support of cuts to Social Security and Medicare, Altman and Benesch noted.

“Mulvaney has enormous influence over the budgets of the agencies responsible for administering Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. If that weren’t bad enough, he promised both GOP lawmakers and right-wing media personalities that he will push Trump to cut Social Security. On recent television appearances, including Face the Nation, Mulvaney has outrageously asserted that Social Security Disability Insurance isn’t ‘real’ Social Security.”

Social Security’s insurance against the loss of wages in the event of disability, as well as old age and death, are all essential parts of working families’ earned Social Security benefits, Altman and Benesch noted. “But, it is not hard to see the method in Mulvaney’s madness,” they wrote. “By Mulvaney’s Orwellian illogic, Trump could cut Social Security, but claim he did not!”

Since the election, they wrote, “Trump has been completely silent in the face of attacks on Social Security and Medicare from GOP leaders. Not one comment. Not one tweet.” Meanwhile, reports have emerged that the White House is considering the idea of weakening Social Security by raiding a substantial part of its dedicated revenue and/or replacing employee contributions to Social Security with general revenue, which would weaken beneficiaries’ claim to the benefits they have paid for.

“If Trump and Republicans truly wanted to help the middle class, they would be expanding Social Security, while requiring the wealthiest among us to pay their fair share. Unlike most workers, who contribute to Social Security from every paycheck all year long, millionaires and billionaires pay on only their first $127,200, and then stop. The very wealthiest earn that amount and stop contributing on their very first work day of the year!,” Altman wrote (4/11)

“If Trump and Republicans wanted to give working and middle class Americans a tax break, there are much more targeted, efficient ways to do that. They could, for example, reinstate the Making Work Pay tax credit. Under that provision, which has now expired, millionaires, senators, representatives, the president, his cabinet, and every CEO of Wall Street banks and Fortune 500 companies received nothing. Under the Trump proposal, all of them would pocket more than $7,800, while very low-wage workers earning $10,000 would get just $620 and millions of public employees not covered under Social Security would get nothing,” Altman wrote.

Meanwhile, Altman and Benesch noted, “As Trump acknowledged during the primaries, Republican politicians are hostile to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Even though Trump’s first 100 days have shown no fidelity to his campaign promise, it is not too late for him to prove he really is different from the Republican establishment.

“He can repudiate that part of Trumpcare that undermines his promise. He can make clear that Mulvaney and Price are not running the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid show. He can propose and push for the adequate funding of SSA and the part of HHS responsible for the administration of Medicare and Medicaid. And most important, he can attack those in his party who propose dismantling these essential programs and tweet his continued commitment to them.

“If he was not just conning the public when he promised to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, he should do all of those things. The first 100 days should not make any of us hold our breath in anticipation, though.”

McCONNELL NAMES SENATE ‘DEATH PANEL.’ Trumpcare now goes to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) hopes to pass the health deform as a budget reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority and cannot be filibustered. But the rules require that the bills provisions be limited to tax and spending changes — and Republicans can’t afford to lose more than two senators to pass the bill.

Toward that end, McConnell named 13 men to the Republican working group to draft the Senate’s version of health deform. The working group includes McConnell, John Thune (SD), Mike Enzi (WY), Pat Toomey (PA), Rob Portman (OH), Cory Gardner (CO), Ted Cruz (TX), Tom Cotton (AR), Mike Lee (UT), John Barrasso (WY), Lamar Alexander (TN), John Cornyn (TX) and Orrin Hatch (UT).

The 52 Senate Republicans include five women — Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Susan Collins (Maine), Deb Fischer (Nebraska), and Shelley Moore Capito (W.V.), but no women were named to the working group.

Politico reports that Collins and Murkowski both oppose the House bill’s attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, which is a primary health care provider for millions of women and low-income Americans. The House bill also eliminates the requirement that all health care plans cover maternity care, and allows insurance companies to charge more for certain “pre-existing conditions,” including those particularly affect women, such as trauma from domestic abuse and rape.

ThinkProgress reported, “Prior to Obamacare’s requirement that health insurance plans cover maternity care, for example, 62% of plans on the individual market didn’t include it. Only nine states chose to mandate maternity coverage. And, often, women were forced to pay more for their plans than men anyways — even though these plans didn’t include coverage essential to women’s health care.”

McConnell’s decision to include himself and his top three lieutenants — but not Collins, Murkowski or more junior women Republicans like Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — speaks volumes about his direction and has raised eyebrows, Robert Pear reported in the New York Times (5/9).

“The leaders have the right to choose whomever they wish,” Collins said (5/8). “It doesn’t mean that I’m not going to work on health care.

“I’ve worked on health care for many years,” she continued. “I spent five years in state government overseeing the Bureau of Insurance many years ago, and I think I can bring some experience to the debate that will be helpful.”

By excluding Collins and Bill Cassidy (LA), perhaps viewed as potential troublemakers for the bill, Senate leaders may have inadvertently created a dangerous alliance, Pear wrote. “The two senators now have no obligation to fall in line behind the working group’s final product and will almost surely continue to work on their own ideas. Together, they and their allies could hold near-veto power.”

TRUMPCARE THREATENS VETS’ HEALTH CARE. The American Health Care Act (Trumpcare) that Republicans are pushing in Congress might take away coverage from many veterans who were helped by the Affordable Care Act).

Many veterans don’t live close to Veterans Affairs facilities or simply don’t qualify for VA health care, which is why a large group of them rely on the insurance provided by “Obamacare.”

“This is not fear mongering, this is not hyperbole,” Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA)., and a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, told Military Times before the vote. “This bill jeopardizes health care for up to seven million veterans, and everyone should oppose it.”

Repeal of the ACA, or “Obamacare,” was a key campaign promise of Trump and Republican lawmakers. But the replacement “Trumpcare” measure has faced an uneven path in the House this year, with numerous amendments and concessions in recent weeks to gain enough Republican support for passage.

One of those changes in March stripped out language specifically stating that veterans who were eligible for VA medical services but not enrolled in them would be eligible for health care tax credits. Republicans have called the language superfluous, saying that existing IRS rules have already established that.

But Democrats have countered that the IRS rule only applies to the Affordable Care Act, not the new health care bill, and removing the language took away vets’ tax credit eligibility. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Tim Walz, D-Minn., called the situation “absolutely shameful.”

“We were loud and clear about the disastrous impact AHCA could potentially have on millions of veterans when the bill was brought up for debate in March,” he said. “Unfortunately, House Republicans never listened to our warning, and as a result, if this deeply flawed legislation passes as it is written, millions of veterans and their families could have diminished choice in where to seek care.”

TRUMP’S DOJ CITES SEGREGATION ARGUMENT IN MUSLIM BAN APPEAL. Palmer v. Thompson is one of the great missteps in the Supreme Court’s often unfortunate history on matters of race, Ian Milhiser writes at ThinkProgress.org (5/8). The 1971 case centered on the city of Jackson, Miss.’s operation of five racially segregated public swimming pools. After a court ordered the pools integrated, the city closed the pools rather than operate pools where people of all races could swim. And the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, let Jackson get away with this scheme.

As a federal judge acknowledged in 1989, “the Supreme Court has never expressly overturned Palmer, but it has all but done so.”

Nevertheless, the Trump administration cites Palmer favorably in a brief it filed in the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which heard a challenge to Trump’s Muslim ban (5/8).

A central issue in that case, International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump, is whether Donald Trump’s many, repeated statements that he intends to ban Muslims from entering the US show that he acted with an unconstitutional motivation when he signed an order banning many Muslims from entering the US.

At least on its face, the most recent version of Trump’s travel ban does not explicitly state that it is a Muslim ban — instead, it bans most citizens of six majority Muslim nations from entering the US.

Nevertheless, there’s some evidence this was the ban’s true intent. As a candidate, Trump promised “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what is going on.” Trump later said that because “people were so upset when I used the word Muslim,” he shifted his rhetoric to talk about “territory instead of Muslim.” And former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a close confidante to Trump, also said that Trump told him to “show me the right way to do it legally” — and that the nations-based approach was deemed the best way to give the impression that Trump’s Muslim ban was not actually a Muslim ban.

The Trump administration’s brief cites Palmer for the proposition that “searching for governmental purpose outside the operative terms of governmental action and official pronouncements is fraught with practical ‘pitfalls’ and ‘hazards’ that would make courts’ task ‘extremely difficult.’”

The administration, in other words, wants courts to evaluate the Muslim ban based solely on the facial language of the order and Trump’s official actions in office — not on his many promises to ban Muslims.

Palmer claimed that “no case in this Court has held that a legislative act may violate equal protection solely because of the motivations of the men who voted for it,” in part because “it is extremely difficult for a court to ascertain the motivation, or collection of different motivations, that lie behind a legislative enactment.”

But the Court stepped away from Palmer only a few years after Palmer was handed down. As Justice Byron White wrote for the Court in Washington v. Davis (1976), “to the extent that Palmer suggests a generally applicable proposition that legislative purpose is irrelevant in constitutional adjudication, our prior cases … are to the contrary.”

WOMAN FACING PRISON FOR LAUGHING AT JEFF SESSIONS REGRETS NOTHING. Desiree Fairooz, who faces up to a year in prison for laughing at Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing, said the public should be “outraged” over her arrest and conviction.

In a first-person account published at Vox.com (5/8), Fairooz, a member of the protest group Code Pink, wrote that she had no regrets about demonstrating against Sessions or laughing when Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), said Sessions’ history of treating Americans fairly under the law was “well-documented.”

“At this, I laughed. I just thought it was ridiculous given Session’s voting record against several civil rights measures,” Fairooz wrote. She recounted what happened next.

“At that moment, I didn’t think anything would happen. But a few seconds later, a Capitol Police officer asked me to leave with her. No warning. No shushing. She just asked me to leave the hearing. When I asked why and told her that I was going to be quiet, she called over two other officers, who helped her forcibly remove me from my chair, creating a spectacle. Then I realized I was being arrested. I was upset, being unjustly removed from a public hearing that I had every right to attend,” she said. “I do not regret what I did. I do not regret dissenting at the confirmation of Sessions, and being part of a visible statement to draw attention to a dangerous man who does not deserve to be attorney general. This was and is my responsibility as a citizen.”

Fairooz was prosecuted by federal prosecutors in Sessions’ Department of Justice and she was convicted (5/3) of two charges — disorderly conduct and parading and demonstrating on Capitol grounds.

“Americans should be outraged that for two seconds of laughter during a public hearing, one could get jail time!” she wrote. “What does this say about the state of free speech in our country? We should all be concerned that our freedoms are in jeopardy.”

The Code Pink protester said others were laughing during the hearing, and hypothesized that she was singled out because of her stance against Sessions.

“The only logical conclusion I can arrive at is because of my message — the fact that I was there to protest Sessions’s confirmation,” she wrote.

The witnesses at the trial included the rookie officer who arrested Fairooz, who was the officer’s first collar.

“I was gobsmacked by the decision, convicted of disrupting Congress for a bit of laughter! I think our lawyers were equally shocked. They had predicted a sympathetic jury. They were wrong,” she wrote. “We are still stunned. I face a maximum of six months for each charge, for a total of 12 months in prison, plus possible fines or community service.”

Fairooz is scheduled to be sentenced (6/21). Her attorneys are working on motions to overturn the verdicts.

FCC CHAIR STARTS PROBE OF COLBERT’S BLEEPED TRUMP JOKE. New FCC chairman Ajit Pai said his agency will look into complaints made against Stephen Colbert for making a crude joke about President Trump.

Colbert quipped during his opening monologue on his CBS Late Night show (5/1) that “the only thing [Trump’s] mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s c— holster.” Colbert’s mouth was blurred and the term was bleeped out for the broadcast, however.

Two days later, Colbert told his audience, “Now, if you saw my monologue Monday, you know that I was a little upset at Donald Trump for insulting a friend of mine [when Trump abruptly stopped an interview with CBS News’ John Dickerson after Dickerson questioned him about wiretapping claims]. So at the end of that monologue I had a few choice insults for the president in return. I don’t regret that. He, I believe, can take care of himself. I have jokes; he has the launch codes. So, it’s a fair fight.”

Colbert added that while he doesn’t regret insulting the president and would do it again, he “would change a few words that were cruder than they needed to be.”

In an interview with a Philadelphia radio station (5/5), Pai said, “I have had a chance to see the clip now and so, as we get complaints — and we’ve gotten a number of them — we are going to take the facts that we find and we are going to apply the law as it’s been set out by the Supreme Court and other courts and we’ll take the appropriate action.

Broadcasters have a “safe harbor” for indecent and or profane content between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. — and “Late Show” falls within that time frame, Johnson noted. (Broadcasters have no safe harbor for obscene content, but that tends to be applied to pornographic material). Moreover, what Colbert said was bleeped — which would make it all the more difficult for the FCC to make a case.

The presidents of the Writers Guild of America East and West said Pai’s plans to review Colbert’s joke was an indication of the administration’s “willful disregard of the First Amendment.”

Michael Winship, president of WGAE, and Howard Rodman, president of WGAW, said that they were “appalled” by Pai’s remarks, apparently because he didn’t dismiss the complaints out of hand and view Colbert’s joke as a form of protected political speech Ted Johnson reported in Variety (5/8).

“Pai’s remarks are just the latest in a series of statements by the current administration indicating a willful disregard of the First Amendment,” they said in a statement. “Colbert was poking fun at authority, a time-honored American tradition and an essential principle of democracy. What is obscene is not what Colbert said but any attempt by the government to stifle dissent and creativity. Our unions vehemently support Colbert and his writers and will fight for their or anyone’s right to publicly express his or her opinion of our elected officials.”

Trump has said he would like to change laws to make it easier for public figures to sue for libel and slander.

OFFSHORE WIND FARM SHUTTERS ISLAND’S DIESEL POWER PLANT. America’s first offshore wind farm just helped to shut down a small diesel-fired electric power plant on Block Island, R.I. Bobby Magill reported at ClimateCentral.org.

Block Island officials (5/1) switched on a connection between the island and a cable linking the wind farm to Rhode Island’s mainland power grid. The connection allowed the island’s only electricity source — a small diesel-fueled power plant — to shut down. The island’s 2,000 residents burned about 1 mln gallons of diesel fuel annually.

“The emissions that go along with nearly a million gallons of diesel a year — that’s all going to go away,” said Jeff Wright, chief executive of the Block Island Power Co.

Until now, Block Island’s power grid was completely isolated from the mainland. The construction of the wind farm and its connection to the mainland allowed the island to connect to the New England power grid for the first time.

Though offshore wind farms are common in Europe, the Block Island Wind Farm is the first built in the US — a demonstration meant to help prove the viability of offshore wind in the US.

The offshore wind power potential in the US is huge. If fully developed, offshore turbines could supply four times today’s total US electricity generating capacity — enough to power roughly 800 million homes, Magill reported.

The shutdown of the Block Island diesel plant came three days after President Trump signed an executive order taking steps to lift restrictions on offshore oil and gas development.

One of the administration’s main goals is to expand fossil fuel development as much as possible across the US and offshore. At the same time, it has shown no sign that it will stand in the way of expanding offshore wind development, said Mike Jacobs, an energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“Broadly, there’s been positive support from the Trump administration for offshore wind,” Jacobs said.

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2017


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