America’s Costly Health Care System Can be Fixed

The Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund that American workers and employers pay into is projected to become insolvent in 2028, according to the latest Medicare trustees’ report.  President Biden has proposed some fixes in his budget for fiscal year 2024 that include higher payroll taxes for the wealthy and prescription drug reforms.  He claims his plan will keep the trust fund solvent until sometime in 2050.  Drug companies, of course, are pledging to fight efforts to lower drug prices, including those already passed in the Inflation Reduction Act. 

Not to worry though, even if the president’s proposals do not become law, Congress will find some way to keep Medicare solvent in the short term.  But our current health care system is not sustainable longer term and that will only delay the inevitable.  The best solution for the future is to significantly reduce health care costs – and not just for drugs.

Prescription drug costs are killing people, literally.

Mavenclad, a multiple sclerosis drug, has a list price of $194,000 a year, according to a February New York Times article.  One lady’s Medicare co-pay is $10,000, but she can’t afford that and neither can most families.  Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act will cap out-of-pocket costs for Medicare patients like her at $2,000 annually — but not until 2025.  Research suggests, however, that large numbers of patients abandon their prescriptions when faced with $2,000 in payments. 

The median annual price of a new drug was around $180,000, in 2021, according to researchers for Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts.  Still, new drugs aren’t the only problem.  In the last few decades, drug companies have hiked the prices of many older medications like blood cancer drug Revlimid, which costs three times more today than when it was introduced in 2005. 

The prices for insulin, however, are even more shocking.  This drug has been around for over 100 years and, depending on the type, only costs between $2 and $10 to make per vial, according to Verywell Health.  But that vile can cost consumers between $50 and $1,000.  For all types of insulin, Americans pay 10 times more on average than all other countries.  Some diabetics rationing their insulin have died.

Ely Lilly projects that it will spend $8 billion on drug research in 2023.  I believe Congress must find a way to effectively reimburse companies like Lilly for research so they can’t use these costs to justify the exorbitant drug prices they charge to Medicare and consumers.

Why less costly and sustainable health care systems are desperately needed.

An estimated 98 million Americans cut spending on things like food and rent, or borrowed money, to cover healthcare costs, according to a West Health and Gallup 2022 survey report.  And high costs caused 26% of U.S. adults to either delay care or avoid purchasing prescribed medicine.

Other large, wealthy countries spent, on average, about half as much per person ($6,100) on health care in 2021 as the U.S. ($12,900), according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.  Yet, life expectancy is lower in the U.S. than other wealthy nations, while about 60% of American adults have a chronic disease and around 10% of the population doesn’t have health insurance. 

Health care costs are a factor causing gross inequality in medical outcomes.  The death rate of college-educated – and likely wealthier – Americans with cancer is 90.9 per 100,000 per year, according to Dr. Otis Brawley, a Johns Hopkins University professor of oncology and epidemiology.   The rate is 247.3 for patients with a high school education or less.  And I suspect this is also the case with other life-threatening diseases.

America’s population is aging and half of its current five-year-olds will likely live to be 100, according to a recent National Geographic article. 

Universal health care, like many other wealthy nations have, could have prevented an estimated 338,000 U.S. deaths and saved $105.6 billion in health-care costs during the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a June 2022 report by the National Academy of Sciences USA.

The possibilities for Artificial intelligence (AI) in health care are almost endless.

Radiologists will increasingly be examining x-ray, CT, MRI, and PET images in 2023 that have been first evaluated by AI machines, according to an article in Wired.  An exciting new capability of AI will allow untrained patients with a smart phone to acquire high-quality scans of their organs, which can be interpreted by AI algorithms.

Smart watches are already able to detect abnormal heart rhythms and this year these capabilities will be extended to preliminarily diagnose other conditions, like skin lesions and urinary tract infections.     

I am confident that AI can use a combination of patient’s medical history and various CT, MRI and/or other images to diagnose numerous health issues, effectively and safely prescribe drugs and so much more.    

Voters must support solutions to fix our health systems.

My first career in information technology helped me understand that AI machines will require large, accurate quantities of personal medical data in order to fully transform America’s health care system.  Personal data collection, however, creates significant privacy concerns that must be addressed.

I believe, however, that only dramatic, paradigm shift proposals – like those suggested above – can make America’s health care systems less costly, more effective and sustainable long-term.  I intend to support organizations that will help voters understand the need for these solutions and politicians who will vote for them.

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Do Some Republicans Want a U.S. Debt Default?

Rep. Greene yelling “liar.” Photo: Win McNamee-Getty Images

Debit limit crisis?  We’ve been there, done that.

Tea Party Republicans took control of the U.S. House in January 2011, with a promise to dramatically cut government spending.  When U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced that the federal debt had reached its statutory limit in May, their strategy became apparent.  House Republicans immediately refused to raise the debt limit unless President Obama agreed to dramatically trim the federal budget.  Negotiations went down to the wire and the nation came so close to default that the U.S. credit rating was lowered for the first time in history.

The result was the Budget Control Act of 2011, which would reduce government discretionary spending (more on this later) by around $1trillion over 10 years, half would come from defense spending and the other half from nondefense appropriations.  It became known as the “sequester.”  Without going into detail, neither party liked the results, particularly defense cuts; so, the sequester was modified by subsequent budget acts. 

2023 is déjà vu 2011 in so many ways.

The president is a Democrat, Democrats control the Senate, House Republicans won’t raise the debt limit unless spending is cut and the nation is recovering from a disastrous situation, just like in 2011.  Back then it was the Great Recession; today the coronavirus pandemic is still threatening.  The U.S. military, however, has much greater challenges in 2023, with Russia waging war on Ukraine and China becoming more aggressive.

There is also another interesting similarity, the George W. Bush tax cuts were set to expire in 2012; former president Trump’s tax cuts for individuals will terminate after 2025.  Remember the ominous “fiscal cliff” in 2012?  Another one is looming in 2025.

About the Congressional Budget Office’s Yearly Baseline Budget.

The following analysis uses projections from CBO’s yearly “baseline” report that was just published.  This document gives a detailed breakdown of federal revenues, spending and deficits over the 2023-2033 period.  These numbers help us better understand America’s fiscal situation, including the two main categories of federal government budget authorizations, mandatory and discretionary.

Mandatory – Automatic programs where most federal dollars are spent.

Mandatory spending is mainly for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid but a very significant amount of it funds government pensions, veterans’ benefits, farm subsidies and much more.  These dollars touch every level of our society.  Congress legislates these programs that typically have no limits in time or dollars, which is why they’re called “automatic.”  Some of them, like Medicaid, are “means tested,” so that only lower income families can qualify for the benefits.

Discretionary – Programs funded by Congress each year.

Discretionary spending is further separated into two categories, defense and nondefense.  Nondefense is all other outlays to fund government operations and various activities, including K-12 education and highway programs.  The $1.7 trillion budget that President Biden signed in December is the discretionary spending authorized for fiscal year 2023 that ends on Sept. 30, 2023. 

Republicans and some Democrats refuse to cut defense spending significantly.  So, that leaves nondefense spending, which Congress has the most power to reduce.  Over the next 10 years, however, nondefense dollars will only be around 16% of the federal budget, not including interest on the debt; mandatory spending will be almost 70%.  The projected deficit over the upcoming decade, including interest on the debt, is $9+ trillion more than nondefense spending.

Republicans claim they will balance the federal budget, but how?

Well, it is obvious from the CBO numbers that cutting all nondefense spending would fall dramatically short of eliminating the deficits and balancing the budget.  That fact alone tells us that it will be impossible to balance the U.S. budget without large tax increases or massive cuts to mandatory programs, the largest of which are Social Security and Medicare. 

Would Republicans cut Social Security and Medicare?

When President Biden accused Republicans of wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare during his SOTU speech, some of them, like Ms. Greene, loudly called him a liar.  Last June, however, the House Republican Study Committee – which includes 70% of GOP House members – released its “Blueprint to Save America” budget for 2023-2032.  It would reduce mandatory spending over that period by almost $12 trillion, compared to last year’s CBO baseline, including $700+ billion from Social Security, almost $3 trillion from Medicare and more than $3.6 trillion from Obamacare, Medicaid and other mandatory spending.  The Blueprint would also cut taxes by over $1 trillion.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for reducing federal deficits with tax increases and spending cuts.  Lots of waste in the federal budget can be eliminated, even in mandatory programs.

The catch is, Republicans adamantly refuse to increase taxes on anything; they only want to cut spending.  I believe their hard position prevents any meaningful compromise on reducing deficits.  But even when they control Congress and the White House, Republicans are loath to cut spending significantly, particularly from mandatory programs.  Why?  They fear getting wiped out in the next election.

So, do I believe that some of the more radical Republicans actually want to force a U.S. debt default?  Absolutely!  They won’t succeed, but in their addled minds, they believe that the resulting economic catastrophe would force Congress to make drastic cuts in the federal budget, including to Social Security and Medicare. 

Voters must never forget though – this has been the Republicans’ objective for several decades and it won’t end with this fiscal crisis. 

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About States’ Rights Bias and SCOTUS Legitimacy

National Archives photo: Atlanta, Georgia, 1864

Long before the 13 colonies sought to break away from British rule and form the United States, slavery was well established in America.  Most of the 56 delegates to the Second Continental Congress who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 were slave owners, according to Politifact. 

The first governing document for this new nation was the Articles of Confederation, which was drafted in 1777 and ratified in in 1781.  It did not establish a federal government as such, with an executive branch or a president.  The central authority was the “United States, in Congress assembled,” where the vote of nine states was required to take most important actions. 

Under Article II, each sovereign state retained every power not expressly delegated to the Congress. The result was a weak central government with limited enforcement power, which was likely favored by states whose economies depended on slavery.   The Articles, however, proved to be inadequate to deal with foreign affairs, among many other shortcomings, so a Constitutional Convention was convened in 1787.

Of the 13 states that were represented at this assemblage, six were slave states and 25 of 55 delegates were slave owners, according to American history website  Most of the delegates did not support the practice of slavery, according to this site, but it was not abolished in the Constitution for fear that the slave states would not join the union.  According to a article, “the issue of slavery was instrumental in the creation of distinct “states’ rights” and “federal rights” enumerated in the tenth amendment.”

All constitutional amendments have been proposed by a two-thirds vote in both chambers of Congress.  The original 1787 document and its first 12 amendments became the law before 1860 when slave states were quite powerful.  And recorded history makes it clear that these states still had significant influence on amendments ratified after the Civil War. 

In fact, all constitutional amendments but the 27th were passed by Congress before 1972 when the Senate still had some powerful conservative southern politicians who were adamant supporters of segregation and states’ rights.  Among the most influential of these were Senators James Eastland (Miss.) – sometimes called the “Voice of the White South” – and Strom Thurmond (S.C.) – who filibustered both the 1957 and 1964 civil rights acts.

The current Supreme Court’s majority of six conservative justices are committed states’ rights advocates too.  All were handpicked by the powerful Federalist Society and appointed by Republican presidents.  Members of Society are primarily wealthy conservatives and libertarians who chose these justices because they are “originalists” who believe the words of the Constitution should be interpreted for what they meant, or were intended to mean, at the time they were written.  

I submit that this theory of interpretation, which is called originalism, applies bygone – and yes, even segregationist – thinking to current issues.

For such a profound document, the Constitution is quite brief.  Including the Bill of Rights, it is 14 pages in pdf file format and only 21 pages with all 27 amendments.  I find it hard to believe that the Founding Fathers thought of this seminal document as static and inflexible like the originalist conservative justices are interpreting it.  Rather, I believe they drafted the Constitution to be both the letter and the spirit of the law of the United States and intended that it should be interpreted in a way that best promotes the democracy it established.

Like the English common law, the Constitution has expanded based on precedents.  Some of the more liberal Supreme Court decisions, however, are an anathema to conservatives and libertarians.  They want low taxes and minimal federal regulations so they can operate without federal government interference.  That’s why they lobby for a strict, originalist interpretation of the Constitution that favors states’ rights and limits the powers of the federal government – which is exactly what I believe the slave states demanded in 1787.

Well, conservative Supreme Court justices have evidently listened to them in making numerous decisions, many of which – according to critics – smack of partisanship, including:

  • Citizens United v. FEC (2010), which opened the flood gates of corrosive corporate money in politics,
  • Shelby County v. Holder (2013), that gutted parts of the federal Voting Rights Act,
  • Rucho et al. v. Common Cause et al. (2019), which prevents federal courts from reviewing partisan gerrymandering by state legislatures,
  • Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022), which eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion, giving legislative authority to the states.

After the Shelby decision, numerous Republican-controlled states immediately enacted strict voting laws designed to suppress minority voters, just like former slave states attempted with Jim Crow laws after the Civil War.  And, after the Dobbs decision they rushed to enacted laws to ban abortion.

Arguments for states’ rights have been ongoing since 1777.  I believe historical evidence shows, however, that they were codified in the Constitution at the insistence of slave states to shield their slavery practices from federal oversight and were used by segregationists after 1865 to disenfranchise Black citizens.

Certainly, the Constitution reserves certain rights to the states.  Still, I am convinced that decisions by the Supreme Court’s conservatives, like Shelby and Dobbs – that appear to be politically motivated and that allow states to weaken American democracy – are expanding rights for states that are deeply rooted in the practice of slavery. 

And in my view, these justices are dangerously undermining the Court’s legitimacy.

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Right-wing Radicals Control the People’s House

Photo by: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Republicans seem to doggedly follow their ideology no matter how many times it is proven to be wrong or rejected by voters.  Overall, conservative policies haven’t done well with the electorate since 2016.  Now that we have a clearer view of what Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the far-right members of the House want to do, it appears to be more of the same, except further to the right.

The slim GOP House majority is both good news and bad news.

The red wave Republicans were expecting in last November’s election fizzled out, giving House Republicans only 222 seats.  That’s the good news.  McCarthy needed 218 votes to become speaker – the same number needed to pass legislation in that chamber.  Consequently, it took only a hand full of his most extreme colleagues to demand concessions and block his quest to be speaker until the 15th vote.  McCarthy readily cut deals with them in order to secure their support.  Some are written in the House rules that were adopted on January 9, others are apparently in a three-page side agreement.  Of course, the slim majority means that the same small number of ultra-conservative zealots can totally control the Speaker for the next two years.  And that’s the bad news.

McCarthy’s side agreements are a radical hidden agenda.

Reportedly, McCarthy’s secret agreement promises to cap spending at 2022 levels and block a debt limit increase unless Democrats agree to major cuts in future spending, perhaps even to Social Security and Medicare.  The government’s borrowing (debt) limit will be reached this month but the Treasury Department can use extraordinary measures to delay a showdown on increasing it until late summer.  What is likely to occur then, according to Goldman Sachs, will be the “scariest debt ceiling battle” since the 2011 fiasco that cost America its perfect AAA credit score. 

Another McCarthy capitulation gives ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus members three of the nine Republican seats on the powerful, 13-member House Rules Committee. Typically, the speaker retains control the majority’s seats by filling them with close allies.  This means McCarthy has surrendered a significant part of his leadership power with this concession. Why?  Well, the Rules Committee decides what bills and amendments are sent to the lower chamber for a vote and – equally important – which ones won’t be considered.  The Freedom Caucus members could influence this committee to block a debt limit bill from even coming to the House floor for a vote.  What could go wrong? 

The Republican House rules further empower the extremists.

If McCarthy fails to meet his obligations under whatever agreements he made, the rules allow a single representative to call for a vote to remove him as speaker, just like former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) did to threaten Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in 2015.

The rules emasculate the House Ethics Committee and specify that a federal income tax rate increase can only be passed with a three-fifths vote of the House members.

The previous rules on raising the debt limit – which simplified the process – have been eliminated, thereby requiring a politically fraught stand-alone vote to increase the nation’s borrowing authority. 

The first Republican bills passed show their intent.

Republicans have been putting funding shackles on the IRS for more than a decade, much to the joy of their wealthy, tax cheating donors.  Their first bill passed on Monday continues this abuse by eliminating most of the almost $80 billion that the IRS is to receive under Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act.  The Congressional Budget Office estimated that this legislation would decrease tax revenues and result in a net $114 billion increase in deficits over the next decade. 

Another quickly passed GOP bill sets up a Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government with broad powers to delve into the operations of the intelligence agencies, the DOJ, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, including ongoing investigations.  The objective is obvious, this subcommittee, chaired by far-right Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), will attempt to prevent the DOJ from indicting Trump or any other Republicans who supported his attempts to overthrow the 2020 election, which could include some members of this committee.

What does this mean for the next two years?

No question, all eyes will be on raising the debt limit this summer.  Until that is done, nothing else matters.  Of course, a default on the U.S. debt would be catastrophic, not only for the United States, but for the entire world.  Even coming close to a default could send the stock and bond markets into freefall and further damage the U.S. credit rating. 

The battle to elect McCarthy as speaker last week severely weakened both the office and the man.  So, he will be virtually powerless to stop his radical colleagues from attempting significant Social Security and Medicare cuts or forcing a fiscal crisis, even if it hurts the GOP in 2024. 

But wait, perhaps they will listen to some of their biggest donors.  Yesterday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned Congress: Businesses are “fed up” with gridlock.  The message from business leaders was clear, according to U.S. Chamber CEO Suzanne Clark.  Congress should “not default on our debt” and should “not play chicken with the true faith and credit of the United States.”

Still, the far-right ideological binge continues, and Republican obstruction is always a work-in-progress, so I’ll stop here for now.  But watch this space.

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Cruising from Cold and Rain to Sunny Uruguay

Our tender and a small pod of seals sunning at the end of the dock.

My previous blog ended with a rough sea sail from Ushuaia (End of the World) to the Falkland Islands, which is an archipelago about 300 miles from the coast of southern Argentinian Patagonia.  The population of this large group of small islands was 3,662 in 2021; most residents live in Stanley, where we landed in a tender (large, covered lifeboat) from our cruise ship.  Later we learned that the only trees on the island are those nurtured by residents in the city.  The following picture shows only half of the city.

Except for the brief war between the U.K. and Argentina in 1982, most people would have no clue as to where the Falkland Islands are.  I suspect that they are much like barren islands found in the North Sea off the coast of England or Scotland and the very friendly inhabitants do have British or Scottish accents.  Stanley is a small port and we were anchored outside the cove where the city docks are located.  Our tour there was to Bluff Cove for photo ops with the penguins.

Along our 45-minute ride in fifteen passenger vans, we looked out over vast rolling areas of brown grass and low brush where hundreds, perhaps thousands, of sheep were grazing with their spring lambs.  Most were scattered and not in herds.  Where we could see the soil, it was coal black and most is probably peat, which in the past was the main source of fuel for the residents.

The numerous penguins in this cove were organized into at least three rookeries.  Not far away, waves were crashing on the shore and there were a few penguins close to the water.  None of them seemed at all disturbed by the tourists eagerly taking pictures.  This picture also shows the surrounding landscape, quite barren.

And some were sheltering chicks, as in this photo, and others probably eggs.

The relatively small group of more colorful Emperor penguins was separate from two other groups of black and white penguins.  A don’t know what the hairy brown one is.

The winds were blow-you-down strong and before long it started to rain.  There were sheep pellets everywhere we stepped and some bird droppings too.  After we had taken a bunch of penguin pictures it started to hail so we hurriedly – but carefully – walked several hundred yards to where two, trailer-like buildings offered shelter from the elements. 

One was a café that served tea and coffee, plus various excellent sweet treats.  The other building was a gift shop with some nice products and many souvenirs, some of which we purchased.  We used credit cards but the prices were in Falkland pounds.

The squalls kept sweeping through, wind, rain and sometimes hail, with the occasional semi-dry spell so we stayed close to the buildings until time to leave around 1:30 PM.  We wanted to do some shopping in Stanley but it was still raining or hailing so we took the tender back to the ship.

Later in the afternoon, just before we sailed away, the weather cleared over parts of the island we could see.  We wished it had been like that for our tour, but such is life on the sea islands.  Still, this stop was one of the highlights of our cruise.

The next two days were over rough seas to Punta del Este, Uruguay, which is a very modern, very upscale city where many Argentinians and others come to vacation and retire.  It looked like a great place for Americans to retire too.  We had gone from cold and rainy to hot and sunny. 

Our tour there was by bus to a couple of art museums, one of which was huge and fabulous.  The beaches looked very nice too.  The huge fingers at one beach were popular for photo ops.

Next was Montevideo, Uruguay, which is a much older and larger city and probably not nearly as attractive to retirees.  We did a walking tour in the center of the city that included a beautiful old opera house, a lovely old church, a small, city palace and more.  There is something about an old city with its art, plazas, architecture and old-world restaurants that can’t be replaced by modern stuff.

We passed by one restaurant where I wish we could have stopped to eat.

Our last stop was Buenos Aries for a day of touring at a ranch 90 minutes from the city.  It was a full day of horses, gauchos doing their thing, a show with dancers doing an authentic tango and a fabulous lunch with plenty of wine.

Next morning, we said farewell to the ship and at 10 PM boarded the first of the three flights and 14 flying hours that brought us back home.  The business class seats on a 777 helped for the 8-hour flight to Miami.  It was a long cruise and while we were glad we were able to do it, we won’t likely take such a long cruise again.

Again, Happy New Year to all.

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Cruising to the End of the World

Don’t worry; this title doesn’t have religious or apocalyptic connotations; it actually refers to a city.  But I’ll get to that later.

My failure to post a blog for over a month hasn’t been for lack of important subjects to discuss.  Oh no – it’s because the 21-day, South America cruise (Lima to Buenos Aries) we booked for November 2020 finally sailed.  I’m very happy, however, that the somewhat upbeat closing about the survival of democracy in my November 6 blog was supported by the 2022 midterm elections.  I learned to have faith in Americans to eventually make the right decisions (on juries) during my years managing the defense of high potential liability litigation and I hope that I never lose it.

It would be impossible to share all the great experiences my wife and I enjoyed during our cruising adventure, but I thought my readers might find some of them interesting.  Please keep in mind, I am not a great photographer and my best camera is my phone, but the many scenes presented were not hard to capture.

One of our most memorable experiences sailing the Pacific Ocean down the coast of Chile was viewing the distant snowcapped volcanic mountains of the Andes from Puerto Montt. 

The following day in Patagonia, we hiked through a dense forest to a scenic waterfall.  After another 30 minutes we left the trail for a pisco – national drink – cocktail (or two) at a pavilion overlooking a beautiful lake.  A couple entertained us by doing traditional dances around a open pit wood fire where small goat carcasses were roasting.  We weren’t able to sample the results.

Next was the Amalia Glacier and other spectacular glaciers along the Chilian fiords.  There were so many that it was hard to decide which pictures to include.  First though, is a picture that doesn’t do justice to the rough seas and 50 MPH wind gusts we encountered before entering the relatively quiet waters of the fiords.

The Amalia glacier.  Too bad it was a cloudy day.

Flowing out of this glacier along the fiords was a water fall hundreds of feet high. 

The surrounding mountains with glacial runoff were spectacular too.

After a stop at Punta Arenas, Chile, which is on the strait of Magellan, the ship docked at Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city on the planet and why it came to be called the, “End of the World.”  The cruise ship that was hit by a rogue wave in the ocean to the south of Cape Horn was already docked at Ushuaia when we arrived.  As you may have read, that resulted in the death of a 62-year-old woman and damage to the ship.  Ushuaia is at latitude -54.8 in the south.   By comparison, Anchorage, Alaska is at latitude 61.2 in the north.  This picture from gettyimages is better than I could take and shows a lot more snow on the mountains around Ushuaia than in the photos I took. 

Ushuaia aerial view. Ushuaia is the capital of Tierra del Fuego province in Argentina.

We had to walk 500 yards down the pier in strong winds and heavy rain from where the ship was docked to a large 100+ person catamaran and the start of our tour.  We experienced rough seas over 45 minutes to reach some small rocky islands where there was a lighthouse, a pod of hundreds of seals and even more hundreds of nesting cormorants.  That was only the first part of our day.    The low clouds and rain early in the day made for poor quality photos.  The first is the other catamaran on this tour.

The bodies of the seals blend with the rocks they are laying on.

The birds were nesting in a small valley, perhaps for protection from the strong winds.

Next, we boarded buses and rode for almost two hours through the Tierra del Fuego National Park. 

We eventually boarded a very narrow train for the ride back down closer to the city and then rode another bus to the dock.  It was a long, but quite interesting day.

We didn’t actually sail around Cape Horn, the seas were too rough.  So, our ship took a route to the Atlantic Ocean (Beagle Channel) between the Argentine mainland and several islands north of the Cape and cruised for a day over quite rough seas to Stanley, Falkland Islands.  It occurred to me that cruising in this area near Cape Horn is almost as rough as the ups and downs of U.S. politics.

The Falkland Islands were well worth the visit, but I will cover that and the rest of our cruise with my next blog.  In case I don’t get this done during next week, I will take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and a wonderful holiday whatever you are celebrating.  May all have a prosperous and productive New Year. 

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GOP Ideology Fails in the Labs of Democracy

Typical State Legislature –

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis was referring to the then-48 states when he coined the phrase “laboratories of democracy.”  They were the focus of his dissent in a 1932 case that involved federalism (states’ rights) and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.  Justice Brandeis was arguing that states should be free to “try novel social and economic experiments” without federal intervention.  

Republicans totally agree with Brandeis and federalism.  That’s why they advocate for lower taxes, limited federal government, fewer regulations and significantly less federal spending.  Lately, some Republicans are even seriously talking about cutting Medicare and Social security benefits to reduce spending.  Numerous GOP politicians have also called for eliminating entire federal agencies, like the Department of Education.  They want to transfer primary responsibility for environmental protection, welfare and other federal programs to the states. 

Well, I’ve been wondering how the Republican laboratories of democracy would cope with these added burdens.  So, let’s take look.

Education is the key to a higher paying job.

The federal government subsidizes education in all states.  Still, seven of the 10 with the poorest education systems in 2022 are GOP-controlled, according to a report on  To be fair, California, probably the most liberal state in the nation, has the seventh worst education system.  There are no solid red states with the best education systems in the top 10.

Good health means better quality of life.

Uncle Sam also provides large subsidies to the states for health care.  Yet, all 10 of the states with the poorest health care systems in 2022 are solidly red, according to WalletHub, a financial services website that publishes research I frequently use.  Six of these states have refused to expand Medicaid under The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).    

America’s greatest asset is its youth.

Based on 16 key metrics, nine of the 10 states in 2022 with the most at-risk youth are Republican-controlled, according to WalletHub.  These are the young people who are poorly educated, under employed or unemployed and are in poor physical and/or mental health.  There are no solidly red states among the 10 with the least at-risk youth. 

Strong economies boost state budgets. 

Among the 10 states with the poorest economies in 2022, according to WalletHub, eight are GOP-Controlled.  There are some red states with large economies too, particularly Texas and Florida, but neither is among the mostly blue states with the top 10 economies. 

“Life is precious!”

That’s what one of my relatives used to say.  “I’ve got plenty of money,” he would tell me, although his only income was Social Security, “I just need to find a way to stay alive.”  Well, he was over 86 when he passed and his example helps highlight the differences in life expectancies among the states in 2022.  The 10 that have the shortest – 76.9 down to 74.4 years – are all solidly Republican, according to 24/7 Wall St.  The 10 with the longest, with the top being 80.9 years (83.9 for women), are mostly blue, with one or perhaps two being purple.

States, counties and cities are responsible for most public services.

WalletHub evaluated the quality of the services that residents receive in each of the 50 states within five categories, education, health, safety, the economy and infrastructure & pollution.  Nine of the 10 states whose services scored the lowest in 2022 are GOP-controlled. 

States and local governments are responsible for crime control.

Nine of the states with the highest rates of violent crime in 2020 have Republican-controlled legislatures, according to a recent report on, which was based on the most recent statistics available from the FBI.

All States Depend heavily on federal funding.

Federal dollars typically average between 30 and 32% of yearly state revenues.  In budgets of some poorer– mostly red – states, federal dollars are over 40% of revenues, according to the Tax Foundation.  Of the 10 states most dependent on federal government support in 2022, nine are solidly Republican, according to WalletHub. 

Budgets for all states except Vermont must balance.  Consequently, their legislatures must significantly raise taxes or dramatically cut services if revenues fall short of budgeted spending due to reductions in federal support, or whatever reason. 

What does all this mean?

Of course, the ideology of the party that controls the state government, although quite significant, isn’t the only reason why socioeconomic conditions differ from state to state.  It is clear to me, however, that if the GOP’s policies of cutting taxes, enfeebling federal agencies and slashing spending were to ever become law, Republican-controlled states and Republican voters would suffer the most.  

Finally, this is just one reason why I don’t believe the GOP will ever succeed in replacing American democracy with a one-party government.  Voters would soon come to realize that Republican policies mostly benefit wealthy Americans and don’t really work them.  Sure, many corporate leaders favor lower taxes and fewer regulations but statistics show that the economy does better under Democratic presidents.  Besides, I don’t believe the titans of industry will want a loser, ignoramus like Donald Trump or a right-wing blowhard like Ron DeSantis dictating what they can or can’t do.  

Yes, MAGA Republicans will create chaos and dysfunction in Washington, for sure.  But I don’t believe their attempts to override free and fair elections and/or undermine the rule of law will ever succeed.

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GOP Plans for 2023 and Beyond Threaten

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The November election is drawing near and early voting has already commenced in some states.  Still, I wonder how many voters truly understand what will result if Republicans control either chamber of Congress next year.  I wrote about this possibility in March but now seems like a good time to take another look.  Unfortunately, the scenario hasn’t improved.

The House of Representatives is predicted to turn red come January, and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) currently has the best chance be the speaker.  Over the past several years he has shown time and again that he’s not very smart nor is he a strong leader with wide support among his caucus.  Consequently, McCarthy has been forced to curry favor with the hard-right members of the Freedom Caucus and the Republican Study Committee.  He knows that without their approval his candidacy for the top job in the House is doomed.

There are already numerous radical members of these two groups.  The Republicans who manage to flip House seats in November to secure a GOP majority will add even more extremists to their ranks.  Most of them are loyalists of former president Trump who believe the 2020 election was stolen from him.  If you remember the Tea Party Republicans who caused chaos when they took control of the House in 2011 and the Freedom Caucus members that savaged then-speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and drove him out of Congress in 2015, these miscreants will make them look like choir boys and girls.

What are their goals?  Well, generally, they want to stifle the Democratic agenda, roll back parts of what President Biden has accomplished, investigate the president and his administration unmercifully, cut social safety net benefits and rehabilitate former president Trump.  Mostly though, they will cause total dysfunction, weaken the nation and drive Congress’ approval rating into single digits.

Here is just a small sample of what some Republicans have in mind if they get control:

Recently, McCarthy said there will not be a “blank check to Ukraine.”  (Russia, are you listening?)  He has also threatened to risk a catastrophic default on the nation’s debt by using a debt limit increase as leverage to gain concessions from Biden, possibly on reducing Medicare, Social Security and food stamp benefits.  

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told members at a conservative confab earlier this year that GOP investigations would help “frame” the 2024 race, according to Politico, and that Republicans needed to make sure Trump wins another term.  If he becomes chair of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, he wants to attack the DOJ and FBI for conducting the search of Trump’s Mar-A-Lago home and will likely threaten steep cuts to their budgets.  Jordan’s objective will be to discourage further investigations of the January 6 attack on the Capitol and prevent indictments of Trump and other high-level masterminds of that insurrection.

Jordan’s influence with the Republican base gives him significant sway with McCarthy, who is desperate to be the speaker.  The minority leader is also beholden to other popular members, including freshman Rep. Margorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).  McCarthy will not only restore the committee assignments she lost in 2021, he promised to give her higher level positions.

So, who is this lady from a rural, northwest Georgia district who reportedly is being considered as Trump’s running mate in 2024?

Well, Ms. Greene is an outspoken Trump loyalist whose many inflammatory Facebook posts and other actions prior to her 2020 election caused Democrats to remove her from committee assignments in February 2021.  Among those were suggestions that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other prominent Democrats should be executed, along with FBI agents who were accused of being part of the anti-Trump “deep state.”  Greene had also promoted QAnon conspiracy theories and questioned if deadly school shootings were staged.  Oh, and she had shared videos with anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim content.  Clearly, Greene checks all the boxes of a far-right extremist.

According to Robert Draper’s October 17, NYT article “The Problem of Margorie Taylor Greene”, she told him, “My style would be a lot more aggressive,” referring to McCarthy.  Greene added that he would have little choice but to adopt her “more aggressive” approach in attacking Biden.  “I think that to be the best speaker of the House and to please the base, he’s going to give me a lot of power and a lot of leeway,” she predicted, “in a flat, unemotional voice,” according to Draper. “And if he doesn’t, they’re [the base] going to be very unhappy about it. —- And that’s not in any way a threat at all.  I just think that’s reality.” 

Like Trump, Ms. Greene not only lies with ease and frequency, she learned that garnering the enthusiastic support of the ultra-conservative base gives her a commanding position in the GOP.  So, she describes herself as a Christian nationalist and has continuously voiced the most extreme of the far-right positions on guns, abortion, transgender youth, immigration, etc., according to Draper’s article.   Undoubtedly, Greene will be pushing McCarthy to champion these radical positions too.

There are many serious threats facing the United States today, China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, plus pandemics and the deleterious effects of climate change.  Still, I believe the menace that puts the future of our democratic republic in the most peril is the Republican Party.

There can be no doubt, democracy truly is on the ballot in 2022. 

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How the Federalist Society Controls Our Lives

Supreme Court of the United States – Fall 2022

Former president Donald Trump gave life appointments to 226 judges in the three major levels of the federal court system, the district courts, the circuit courts of appeal and the Supreme Court.  He was accused of outsourcing the process to the ultra-conservative Federalist Society, which is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt nonprofit formed during Ronald Reagan’s first term.  Don McGahn, Trump’s White House counsel and candidate selection czar, reportedly joked that it had actually been “insourced” because he had been a member of that organization since law school.

It appears that a recommendation by, or membership in, the Federalist Society is a prerequisite for Republican judicial appointees.  In fact, the six conservative Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade are all Society members.  So is Trump appointed Florida federal judge Aileen Cannon.  Her decision granting Trump’s request for a special master to review documents he had stolen from the government has been roundly criticized by legal experts.

I believe there is no doubt that most, if not all, of the federal judges appointed by Republican presidents since Reagan was first elected were strong states’ rights advocates (federalists) and many were members of the Federalist Society, including around half of President George W. Bush’s appointees, according to Politico.

So, what is the purpose of the Federalist Society and why is it such a powerhouse in today’s political environment?  Well, as stated on its website, it’s an organization of over 70,000 lawyers, law students and scholars who believe that individual citizens can make the best choices for themselves and society.  I guess this just applies to men because many of its members are strong anti-abortion activists and certainly not “pro-choice.”  Generally, however, “rugged individualist” phrases like this imply an advocacy for limited government and an opposition to government social safety net programs, like Social Security and Medicare. 

Its website also advises that the Society is a group of conservatives and libertarians whose mission is to reform the current legal order.   Its members believe that the duty of the judiciary is to say what the law is – not what it should be.  This means, among other things, that they promote jurists (originalists) who will strictly interpret the Constitution in accordance with this Society tenet. 

Donors to the Federalist Society have the option to remain anonymous but reports indicate that it is strongly backed by many large corporations and wealthy donors due to its support for lower taxes, limited federal regulations, free market capitalism and likeminded conservative federal judges. 

Well, there has been a lot focus on federal judges this year, particularly those on the U.S. Supreme Court.  With lifetime appointments, they can have a much greater influence on American society than the presidents who appointed them.  Ultra-conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, for example, was appointed by one-term president George H. W. Bush in 1991.  He is the longest serving Justice and could serve for another decade.  The three conservative justices appointed by Trump during his one term could serve two to three decades.

The Federalist Society influence on Republican presidents and the federal judiciary for the past four decades makes it – in my opinion – the most powerful right-wing organization in the United States.  For example, according to an article in Britannica, the five conservative Supreme Court justices adopted the Society’s broad interpretation of the Constitution’s right to freedom of speech in the Citizens United v. FEC (2010) case when they ruled that campaign finance laws could not restrict corporate spending on independent political advertising.  That decision opened the floodgates of money in politics, much of it from shadowy sources.

Yet, the Federalist Society’s tremendous power in American politics is virtually unknown to many, if not most, voters.  And very few have ever heard of its co-chair, Leonard Leo, a staunch social conservative lawyer and religious freedom advocate who has served the organization for more than 25 years. 

Leo controls Marble Freedom Trust, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that can use dark money from anonymous donors to promote conservative causes and Republican candidates.  Last year, the Trust received a $1.6 billion – yes, billion – donation of Tripp Lite stock from the company’s owner, Chicago billionaire Barre Seid – which it later sold.  This is likely the largest ever publicly known contribution to a politically focused entity, according to a recent New York Times article.  Obviously, Marble Freedom Trust, the Federalist Society’s alter ego, has lots of resources to influence elections in 2022 and 2024.

Liberals founded an organization in 2001 called the American Constitution Society that has similar purposes as the Federalist Society.  Very few voters have ever heard of it, however, and none of its judges are on federal benches, according to a Politico article.  Although I didn’t find current numbers on how well it is funded, past data indicates the ACS has nowhere near the financial resources of the Federalist Society.

Unfortunately, there is no apparent clear path to counter the oppressive control the Federalist Society has on the nation – and our lives – with the vast sums of money its surrogates wield.  Certainly, democracy-loving Americans should support congressional candidates who seek to nullify the effects of the Citizens United decision.

However it is accomplished though – we the people must find a way to put a lid on the enormous sums of money infecting American politics; that may be the only way to neutralize special interest organizations like the Federalist Society.

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GOP Legislative Failures Help Them Win Elections

Conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are attempting to remake the United States with their states’ rights agenda, particularly Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.  Striking down Roe v. Wade and eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion is just one of their numerous decisions that limit the rights of we the people.  And they aren’t finished yet.

The vast majority of Republicans have been clamoring for the end of Roe for decades and now they’ve finally succeeded.  I’ve frequently opined, however, that one of the major reasons the GOP has been able to remain a viable political party is that Republicans have failed to get their policies enacted into law.  I know, that seems counter intuitive – but allow me to explain.

Recent polls indicate that most voters opposed overturning Roe.  Even in his concurrence, Chief Justice Roberts stated that the Court was going too far with this decision.  As a result, pundits who were certain that Republicans would easily take control of both the U.S. House and the Senate in November began hedging their bets and here’s a good indication of why. 

Fearful Republican candidates are suddenly moderating their previously strong pro-life positions.  In a recent Twitter ad, for example, far-right Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters backtracked on his earlier tough anti-abortion rhetoric.  He also rewrote, or scrubbed five of the six positions opposing abortion on his website.  Gone are “I am 100% pro-life” and his support for a “federal personhood law (ideally a Constitutional amendment),” according to an NBC News article.  

Masters has also changed his position on Social Security.  During a candidate forum in June, he stated, “[M]aybe we should privatize Social Security.  Get the government out of it,” according to an article in the Arizona Republic.  Then, after he won the primary, he did a total about face, claiming, “I do not want to privatize Social Security.” Masters even suggested that payments under the current system should be increased.

Believe it or not, at least two incumbent Republican senators have also attacked the Social Security system, which for decades has been considered the “third rail of politics.”  You know, like the power source of some electric railroad systems, if you touch it, you’re dead.  That hasn’t deterred GOP Sens. Ron Johnson (Wis.) and Rick Scott (Fla.). 

Johnson has advocated for making both Social Security and Medicare discretionary programs, meaning they would be subject to yearly congressional appropriations, instead of guaranteed benefits as they are today.

Scott’s 11 Point Plan to Rescue America proposes that all federal legislation, including Social Security and Medicare, sunset in five years.  He states, “If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.”  Oh, how Republicans would love an opportunity to rework and weaken these critical programs for seniors.

But folks, reproductive rights, Social Security and Medicare are just several of the many issues where the GOP is on the wrong side of voter sentiment.  This has been true for decades but, curiously, the party never seems to be able to pass the legislation that would implement their major policies, except for tax cuts, mainly for corporations and the wealthy.   

To see what the GOP is proposing currently, I reviewed the 112-page, 2023-2032 budget proposal – Blueprint to Save America – from the House Republican Study Committee (RSC), an organization to which most GOP House members belong.  Here are its most significant legislative goals, as compared to the Congressional Budget Office 10-year projection of revenues and expenditures under current law.

The RSC Budget proposes:

  • Cutting tax revenue by $3.9 trillion and requiring a supermajority vote in the House to raise taxes.
  • Repealing the estate tax (which only applies to the wealthiest taxpayers).
  • Declaring that human life begins at conception.
  • Abolishing most gun controls and prohibiting the keeping of records on gun sales.
  • Allowing tax exempt religious organizations to participate in politics.
  • Finishing Trump’s border wall.
  • Privatizing Medicare by providing insurance premium support subsidies to seniors.
  • Providing block grants to states to cover Medicaid, food stamps and other social safety net programs.
  • Adopting a federal balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

I always get some grumbles when I include too many number details, so, I’ll just summarize that the RSC budget would slash federal spending by almost $17 trillion (23%) over the next 10 fiscal years.  The lion’s share of this would significantly reduce spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other mandatory spending programs, virtually decimating these benefits. 

Actually though, there’s nothing new about Republican desires to cut taxes and slash federal spending; it’s been their stated agenda since before Ronald Reagan’s presidency.  But here’s the thing.  Even with a Republican president and control of Congress they’ve only seriously tried to accomplish a small fraction of it.

Why?  Well, I believe GOP election fears after they were successful in getting Roe overturned gives us the answer.  Republicans know that if they even attempted to get a few main items of their radical policy positions enacted, they would be removed from office in droves come the next election. 

Their “carrot on a stick” budget proposals, however, keep hopeful conservatives eagerly voting for them. Ah, but their failures to get them enacted keeps millions of moderates from voting against them.  That enables Republicans to employ their main strategy for winning – spreading misinformation and outright lies about the Democrats and their agenda.  Clever, huh?

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