Why Should I Care About Kentucky?

Early in my adult life I got up close and personal with Kentucky during Army basic training at Fort Knox.  For sure the eight weeks of hell I endured there left an impression on me but what stayed more in my memory were the Kentuckians who trained alongside me and who shared my barracks.

It all started at the reception center where we were being issued uniforms and gear.  There I met a dozen or so young men — boys really – who were National Guard trainees from the mountains in the eastern part of the state.  All were poorly educated and several could neither read nor write.  Most had difficulty coping with military discipline and it occurred to me that their opportunities for a decent life were limited.  I was shocked and saddened by their plight.

Over the years the Bluegrass State didn’t appear much on my radar screen until several years ago when I started writing a column for a local newspaper.  My research soon focused on the dire economic status of the nation’s poorest states, most of which were controlled by Republicans.  It puzzled me; why would they vote for the anti-union GOP that favors the wealthy, refuses to raise the minimum wage and opposes government programs for needy people?  Kentucky stood out as the obvious poster child for these states.

Kentucky is 87 percent white with a small black population and an insignificant number of Latinos.  Almost half of its residents are evangelical Christians, second highest percentage in the nation.  Walmart is its largest single employer.  And the coal industry, which gets lots of media attention, employs less than 6,300 workers.

By almost every measure, many Kentucky residents still struggle to be happy, healthy and prosperous — and the recent statistics dramatically indicate why:

  • Around eight percent are on disability, the fourth highest in the nation.
  • Thirty-three percent have preexisting health conditions, tied for third highest.
  • Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) cover almost 30 percent of Kentucky’s residents and 62 percent of its children.
  • Kentucky is among the 10 poorest states with a median income of under $47,000.
  • Food stamps help feed 655,000 of its residents, one out of every seven.
  • It is number two of the states most dependent on federal government assistance.
  • Drug overdoses took 1,565 Kentucky lives in 2017, a 40 percent increase over five years.

In 2013, then-Democratic Governor Steven L. Beshear courageously tried to help his suffering constituents.  He established the state’s very successful Affordable Care Act health insurance exchange called Kynect.  And he expanded Medicaid in 2014, providing health care insurance to more than 500,000 additional Kentuckians.  But as they became more dependent on federal support, Kentucky voters inexplicably tacked harder to the right.

In 2014 they elected Tea Party Republican Matt Bevin as governor, a candidate who promised to abolish Kynect and cancel Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.  He wanted to eliminate Obamacare, even though Kentucky would be the third state most damaged by its repeal.  Bevin managed to shutdown Kynect.  But when Medicaid expansion proved too popular for him to ax, he received federal permission as the first state to impose strict work requirements on Medicaid recipients.  Bevin threatens to dismantle the Medicaid expansion if the courts block this plan.

To make matters worse, Kentucky’s legislature recently passed a typical GOP flat-rate income tax of five percent for everyone.  This law nearly doubled the cigarette tax and imposed sales taxes on 17 additional services, including auto repair, pet care and recreational activities.  As a result, small companies and Kentucky residents with average incomes will face tax increases and higher earners will get tax cuts.

I feel sorry for today’s Kentuckians, just like I did for those in my basic training unit.  But they keep voting for Republicans like Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, politicians who promote policies that will hurt Kentucky families.  There’s not much I can do to help people who vote against their self-interest; so why should I give them a second thought?

The problem is, Kentucky and similar needy states like Oklahoma, Alabama, and Louisiana — to name a few — elect Republicans to Congress who control the legislative agenda.  These four are among 14 GOP-led states that have a combined population less than California’s almost 40 million.  But they have 28 members in the Senate – including Senate Majority Leader McConnell.  Consequently, wealthier, urban states are being dominated by Senators from poorer, rural states.

To control the U.S. House, GOP state legislatures have gerrymandered congressional districts to favor Republican candidates.  And they’ve enacted election laws that make it harder for typical Democrats to cast ballots.  This results in electing Republicans whose billionaire financial supporters advocate conservative policies that will make these states even poorer.

I truly believe that the United States does much better when all Americans are doing better.  But working people — whose wages are basically stagnant — received little financial help from the Republicans’ tax cut while the wealthy revel in its benefits.  To me, that’s not a sustainable economic situation for Kentucky or any other state.

So yes, I have good reason to care about Kentucky and not just because I’m concerned about its struggling citizens.  Kentucky is emblematic of the Republican states whose right-wing politicians want to impose their failing ideology on the entire nation.

All voters should keep Kentucky in mind come November.

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GOP Policies Won’t End Well

The Republican tax cut and military buildup that President Trump frequently lauds is supercharging yearly federal budget deficits.  While this stimulus is giving a short-term boost to the economy, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has issued dire warnings about the $1+ trillion red ink it will create for each fiscal year from 2019 through 2028.  The CBO projects that even with a good economy and low unemployment, interest on the national debt alone will exceed defense spending in 2023.  So, what happens when the inevitable recession occurs?  Well, we’re almost sure to find out.

Trump – the self-proclaimed “king of debt” – apparently doesn’t have a problem with massive deficits.  He and congressional Republicans are already planning for “Tax Cuts 2.0”.  They want to add another $600 billion to the national debt by making the individual provisions of the 2017 tax reform that are scheduled to expire for 2026 permanent.  The CBO estimates that this legislation would increase the federal debt to near record levels by 2028 and further increase the likelihood of a fiscal crisis.  “The longer you [Congress] wait, the more draconian the measures have to be to fix the problem,” warned CBO Director Keith Hall.

The Republican-controlled Congress, however, doesn’t have a viable plan to significantly reduce deficit spending.  The Trump administration’s claim that the tax cuts will pay for themselves by greatly increasing economic activity is a cruel hoax that has no empirical basis or chance of succeeding.  Most Republicans have signed a pledge to never increase taxes on anything, ever.  So, the only GOP solution is to make the “draconian” cuts to the most expensive nondefense budget items, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.  Their plan has about the same probability of success as the tax cuts have of paying for themselves.  It simply won’t happen.  So, where does that leave deficit reduction?

Current federal health care spending is not sustainable.  The last of the baby boomers will be retiring during the coming decade, exacerbating the fiscal problems of both Medicare and Social Security.  The GOP has no plan for health care except to cut benefits; Democrats are moving closer to supporting a “Medicare for all” program.  Congress must find a way to legislate solutions to moderate health care costs and shore up the Social Security trust fund.  But these days such a compromise doesn’t seem remotely possible.

A border wall is not the infrastructure this nation needs.  It’s a waste of tax dollars for a political promise Trump must fulfill to satisfy his base.  And there aren’t many politicians claiming that a wall would be effective in preventing illegal immigrants from entering the U.S.  Meanwhile our highways, bridges, water systems, airports and other infrastructure are in bad need of repair and upgrades.  Having spent well over $1 trillion on tax reform, Trump and Republicans have no budget money left for this critical investment in our economy and our future.

Corporations and the wealthy are the big beneficiaries of the Trump/GOP tax reform.  Lower corporate tax rates have fueled stock buybacks of over $600 billion in the first half of this year. This exceeds the previous record for an entire year according to Morgan Stanley and is double what occurred in the first six months of 2017 according to Merrill Lynch.  Buybacks increase share prices and corporate executives are reaping huge gains selling their holdings in record numbers.  Meanwhile, wage increases for workers – which barely exceed inflation — are being consumed by higher prices of food, gas and medical care.

Republican politicians like to energize their base by attacking Democratic women, particularly the strong, intelligent ones.  Former secretary of State Hillary Clinton is no longer a significant political adversary but Trump and his supporters still want to “Lock her up.”   House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is a perennial target of vicious conservative TV ads, along with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).  Beware misogynous guys.  There are a lot of fired up liberal ladies challenging you for office this year.

There is something fundamentally flawed about a person like Trump who lies constantly about everything.  He’s so insecure that he can’t take criticism of any kind and his attacks on the media as the “enemy of the people” are bizarre and frightening.  Trump’s campaign rallies are becoming more unhinged and devoid of veracity.  He seems to be living in an authoritarian alternative reality, which makes him unpredictable and a threat to democracy.  Many Republicans just shrug.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is succeeding in destabilizing and dividing the United States, aided by Trump and his GOP enablers in Congress.  For many of us who well remember the cold war and the Soviet Union’s quest for world dominance, this is simply incredible.  Those Republicans who cling to Trump like Velcro, excusing his abuses of power and near-treasonous catering to Putin, are weakening our national security.

Trump will not give up the presidency without a divisive fight, whether he is impeached or defeated at the ballot box.  He constantly lays the groundwork for challenging elections by calling them “rigged”.  He insists that there is massive voter fraud and ludicrously claims that Russians will be hacking to aid Democrats.  If he’s impeached, he will likely incite his base into an angry mob.  What will the GOP do then?

Putting the era of Trump/Republican control behind us will not be easy or smooth but let’s take the first step in November.

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Congress Is Broken and Other Obvious Facts

President Trump lies incessantly, savages the rule of law and weakens our institutions of democracy.  The Republican-controlled Congress looks the other way and does nothing to stop him.  What is unfolding daily is just the latest example of how the legislative branch of our government has become partisan and ineffective.

Both political parties are partially responsible, of course, but I believe the blame for this dysfunction falls most heavily on the GOP.  Congress wasn’t always this way and neither were Republicans.  But in 1978, a right-wing firebrand from Georgia was elected to the U.S. House — Newt Gingrich.  While giving a speech to College Republicans during his campaign he claimed the problem with the Republican Party was that “we don’t encourage you to be nasty.”   Well, during his 20 years in Congress, Newt changed all that.

In 1996 Gingrich’s political action committee published a list of terms Republican candidates should use when referring to liberals and Democrats, encouraging them to “speak like Newt.”  It included degrading labels like, “traitor,” “corrupt,” “radical,” “pathetic,” and “intolerant”.  Gingrich’s aggressive tactics were instrumental in destroying congressional comity.

As speaker of the House from 1995 until 1999, Gingrich infused the GOP with an uncompromising, conservative ideology that reached its zenith of obstruction during President Obama’s two terms.  This far-right mindset became the gospel of numerous talk show hosts on Fox News and verbal bomb-throwers like radio personality Rush Limbaugh.  Their radical vitriol eventually infected rank and file Republican voters and unleashed thousands of vicious Internet trolls.

Gingrich had a strong ally in creating congressional gridlock — Grover Norquist.   He rose to power during President Reagan’s second term as president of Americans for Tax Reform, espousing a Libertarian agenda of tax cuts and dramatic government downsizing.   Norquist’s most damaging contribution to politics, however, is a pledge to never raise taxes on anything — ever.  The vast majority of today’s congressional Republicans have signed Grover’s pledge and they refuse to waver from it.  Consequently, while they control Congress, budget negotiations with Democrats can’t include any type of tax increase.  This makes compromise on deficit reduction almost impossible.

Trump has adopted the Gingrich nastiness mantra to keep his base energized, creating a cult-like following that eschews all issues except whether a candidate is with Trump or against him.  As a result, Republicans facing reelection in 2018 fear doing anything that will anger “The Great One,” or his base.

I don’t believe Congress will be an effective legislative body again until the Gingrich and Norquist protégés and the Trump sycophants are voted out.

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Ever since the presidency of Ronald Reagan conservatives have promoted tax cuts and greatly reduced government spending, which is around 20 percent of the U.S. economy.   In actual fact, the federal government collects tax revenue from the wealthier states like New York and California and distributes it to the poorer states like Kentucky and West Virginia.  Much of the funding that these states receive is for health care, education and food stamps.  Federal dollars help create more jobs for nurses, teachers and grocers.  The result is healthier, better educated citizens who can contribute more effectively to improving the state’s economy.

Politicians always highlight the amount of federal dollars they have brought to their state or congressional district, touting infrastructure projects, government contracts and military bases.  But have you ever heard one brag about how they cut government spending in their state or district?  It would be political suicide.

If Republicans truthfully explain to their constituents how the large cuts in federal spending they demand will affect their state, they won’t be around after the next election.

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Last year Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress spent months attempting to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare.  Having failed to do that legislatively, they are now trying to undermine or invalidate it through executive orders and litigation.

If they succeed, Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion would terminate, leaving millions of Americans in 33 expansion states without health insurance.  Federal subsidies to buy health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges would be eliminated, making health care coverage unaffordable for more millions.  The estimated 52 million Americans with preexisting health conditions would no longer qualify for affordable coverage under most insurance company rules.  Many hospitals with emergency rooms — which are required by law to treat indigent patients — would terminate that service.  Numerous small hospitals in rural communities would be forced to close after losing the revenue from insured patients and Medicaid.  And comprehensive health care insurance would be more expensive for everyone.

Yet somehow, Republicans have been able to lure voters by focusing on noneconomic social issues like gun control, abortion and immigration, which they buttress with large doses of patriotism and religious liberty.  But except for tax cuts, Republicans have not been very effective in passing legislation for their conservative economic policies.

This nation has some very serious problems — huge budget deficits exacerbated by tax cuts — the cost of health care – and climate change, to name just a few.  The Republican answer is always the same, reduce taxes for the wealthy and cut large holes in the social safety net for the middleclass, the poor and elderly.

If the GOP’s core economic policies ever become law, all but the rich will suffer — but Americans in the rural Republican base will suffer the most.

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What Is Trump’s Endgame?

Candidate Donald Trump was a wrecking ball during the first 10 months of 2016.  American leadership had everything wrong in his eyes, immigration, trade relations, health care, the NATO alliance and climate change. Trump claimed that America wasn’t winning anymore and only he could fix it.  He would “Make America Great Again.”  Unfortunately, too many voters believed him.

Well, here we are, almost 18 chaotic months into President Trump’s first term.  So, what has he accomplished and where is this nation headed under his leadership?

Fortunately, he hasn’t derailed the growing economy and low unemployment he inherited – yet. He was able to easily confirm a very conservative Supreme Court justice to a seat that was stolen from President Barack Obama by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).  And he is getting record numbers of conservative federal judges confirmed that McConnell high-jacked from Obama.  Trump’s base is cheering as he rapidly politicizes the judiciary.

Congressional Republicans were able to pass Trump’s huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy last December, which will dramatically increase the deficits and the national debt.  This financial burden will threaten the economy and national security longer term but Trump and Republicans are not concerned about that.  They just wanted to juice the economy in the short term so the GOP can retain control of Congress in 2018 and Trump can be reelected in 2020.

Trump takes the same transactional, short-term approach to other policies – like tariffs — with little concern about the future or unintended consequences.  The major problem with U.S. trade deficits is China but Trump slapped tariffs on friend and adversary alike.   In fact, he recently called the EU a trade “foe.”  Yet, Trump has outlined no clear objectives for his tariffs beyond reducing the trade deficits and it’s doubtful he will accomplish that.

Trump says he doesn’t like multilateral trade deals and claims that he will negotiate “beautiful” unilateral trade agreements, nation by nation.  He backed out of the Trans Pacific Partnership on his first day in office and is attempting to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement without much success.  His trade negotiations with China are at an impasse and so far South Korea is his only trade deal in Asia.  No one knows where the U.S. is headed with trade relations, including Trump.

It appears Trump is seeking reasons to pick fights with NATO, the strongest defensive alliance in history and a bulwark against communist, and now Russian, aggression in Europe.  So, he rails against our European allies for not contributing enough for their own defense and leaves their leaders wondering if they can still depend the United States.  Germany seems to feel the brunt of his animus, probably because of its Chancellor, Andrea Merkel.  Trump can’t seem to tolerate strong women in leadership roles.

Trump’s performance with British Prime Minister Teresa May, his thoughtless comments about her leadership and his bumbling meeting with Queen Elizabeth were complete embarrassments for the United States.  Hundreds of thousands protested his visit in London and elsewhere around the country.  In fact, Trump is pretty much disliked all over the planet.  According to one poll, Russians don’t even like him.

Many great Americans have sacrificed their blood and sweat to make this nation the greatest and the strongest in the world.  But Trump uses their legacy in a heavy handed negotiating strategy, which he outlined in this quote from his book, “The Art of the Deal:”

“The best thing you can do is deal from strength, and leverage is the biggest strength you can have. Leverage is something the other guy wants. Or better yet, needs. Or best of all, simply can’t do without.” 

The United States has a lot that other countries want — a huge market for their goods.  It also has much that other countries need — a stabilizing influence on world affairs.  And it has the power others can’t do without — protection from ambitious dictators like Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Past presidents have been mindful of the superpower weapons they control, both economic and military.  And they mostly used them carefully where U.S. national interests and security were involved.  But Trump uses them as a cudgel, mainly against our friends and allies, while he treats Putin with kid gloves.

The relationship between Trump and Putin was explored by Vox writer Sean Illing during an interview with Mikhail Fishman, the editor-in-chief of the Moscow Times.  Mr. Fishman, who is a Putin critic, stated that the Kremlin considers Trump to be a stupid, unstrategic [sic.] politician and a “useful idiot” who Putin can manipulate.

Trump proved Fishman’s claims at a joint presser after the Trump/Putin summit by criticizing the United States and the Russia investigation while not offering pushback to Putin’s denial of 2016 election interference.

As far as I am concerned, Trump is the Kremlin candidate, a counterfeit president, minted and manipulated by Putin.  He alienated our allies by imposing illegal tariffs on them.  He is destabilizing NATO and attempting to do the same to the European Union.  In short, he is accomplishing Putin’s objectives.

I don’t believe Trump has a vision for America, for its people or for its institutions.  And his endgame is all about his personal glorification and power.

But perhaps a better question is: What is Putin’s endgame?  Because that appears to be the path Trump is following.

 

 

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This Independence Day Was a Time to Be Wary

Our nation declared its independence 242 years ago but securing freedom is a continuous battle that must involve both conservatives and liberals.  It has become obvious after the 2016 election that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a major threat to our democratic processes and our freedom.

Putin is a former KGB security and intelligence agent who has been ruling Russia since 2000.  He was recently reelected but had very scant opposition; his major political opponents and detractors seem to experience grave misfortunes, like being imprisoned, poisoned or shot.

In January of 2017 the CIA, NSA, and FBI produced the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) that detailed interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by Putin and Russia.

The ICA found that:

  • Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election demonstrated a significant escalation in the level of activity compared to previous operations.
  • Russian activities were conducted against multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards.
  • Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate candidate Hillary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.
  • Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for candidate Donald Trump and aspired to help Trump’s election chances by discrediting Clinton.
  • Russia’s intelligence services conducted cyber operations in 2016 against both major U.S. political parties and gained access to Democratic National Committee (DNC) networks.

The Republican-controlled Senate Select Committee on Intelligence just released an unclassified, bipartisan report of its in-depth review of the ICA.  It found that:

  • The ICA is a sound intelligence product.
  • Analysts were under no politically motivated pressure to reach any conclusions.
  • Since January 2017, there have been additional examples of Russia’s attempts to sow discord, undermine democratic institutions, and interfere in U.S. elections.
  • Extensive efforts by Russia to manipulate social media outlets to sow discord and to interfere in the 2016 election and American society have been exposed.
  • All individuals the Committee interviewed verified that the so-called “Steele dossier” did not in any way affect the analysis in the ICA – including the key findings.

Assuming that all of these Russian efforts were done without President Trump’s knowledge or complicity, I keep wondering why he is so enamored with Putin and Russia?  If not for its petroleum reserves, 4,000 nuclear tipped missiles and 18,000+ tanks threatening Western Europe, this huge country with only 144 million people would be a minor player on the world stage.

Still, Trump has been highly complementary of Putin both before and after the election.  You can see the admiration on Trump’s face and in his body language when they are together.  Is he envious of Putin’s authoritarian powers?  Is Trump currying Putin’s favor?  It would appear so.

At the G-7 summit in Canada last month Trump angered the participants by claiming Russia should be allowed back in that organization, despite its annexation of Crimea in 2014.  Reports indicate that Trump also demeaned NATO during that meeting, comparing it to NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement he has threatened to cancel.  No doubt Putin was thrilled.

Putin’s objective is to breakup NATO or create divisions among its members.  He apparently has ambitions to reestablish Russian dominance over Eastern European countries.  NATO stands in his way and the key to the cohesiveness of this organization is the United States.

Yet Trump has continuously and publicly criticized NATO and railed against some of its members for not contributing their share of the joint defense, particularly Germany.  And tensions are already high between the U.S. and the European Union after Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and imposed tariffs on EU steel and aluminum.

Next week is the yearly NATO meeting in Belgium.   If he treats our European defense partners the way he bullied and criticized our G-7 trading partners in Canada, it will be an ominous sign going into his summit with Putin in Helsinki, Finland a few days later.  It has been reported that they will meet one on one, perhaps with no American translator present.  This is highly unusual and disconcerting.

The Senate put a bipartisan stake in the ground that Russia and Putin attacked our democracy in 2016 and is not letting up.  Trump has pushed back hard against these facts and most Republicans in Congress have cowered under his threats.  If they are afraid of him, every American should be doubly so, conservative and liberal alike.

A recently released annual democracy report by the V-Dem Project rates the status of liberal democracy across 178 countries.  It assesses whether there are free and fair elections; whether civil liberties are protected and whether leaders are constrained by the rule of law and oversight by the legislature and the judiciary. The United States fell 24 places in the country ranking on democracy over the past two years, from seventh in 2015 to 31st in 2017.  This downgrade resulted from weakened restrictions on the executive branch, i.e. Trump.

This great experiment in freedom that was launched by the Declaration of Independence in 1776 depends on the separation of powers, the rule of law, a free press, and a government deriving its power from the consent of the governed.  If it becomes subjugated by a president who governs without constraints, the Declaration’s promise of an unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will be destined for the scrap heap of history.

 

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Sessions Attacks Obamacare – Trump Tells Big Lies

Sessions Helps Republican States Destroy Obamacare

A group of 20 GOP-controlled states filed a lawsuit in a Texas federal court that would invalidate the Affordable Care Act (ACA) known as Obamacare.  They claim the entire Act became unconstitutional because the GOP’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated the ACA’s penalty for failing to have health care insurance.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has put the weight of the Justice Department on the side of these states, arguing that the provision of the ACA that requires insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions without prejudice or increased premiums.is unconstitutional.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation: There are 52 million Americans with preexisting conditions — they would likely be uninsurable under medical underwriting practices that existed in most states before the ACA — and in 11 states, at least three in ten non-elderly adults would be denied coverage due to prior health problems.  All 11 are Republican-controlled and include Kentucky and West Virginia, two of the poorest states in the nation.

Kentucky accepted Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion when a Democrat was governor.  So now, deeply red Kentucky has joined 16 mostly Democratic-controlled states that are defending the ACA in the Texas litigation.  Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear (D) gave the following explanation for his actions:

“Kentucky stands to lose a projected $49.7 billion in federal funding for our expanded Medicaid and subsidies for those on the individual market if this lawsuit moves forward.” “Hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians are at risk of losing their health care coverage, many of whom have coverage for the first time.”  Beshear is concerned about losing the ACA requirement that both private insurance plans and Medicaid cover drug treatment.  Opioid abuse in Kentucky caused 33.5 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2016.

The Medicaid expansion was also accepted in West Virginia where drug abuse resulted in 52 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2016, the highest in the nation.  Still, its attorney general joined the states fighting to overturn the ACA, which is a major factor in dealing with the drug crisis.  Clearly, he chose ideology over common sense.

This lawsuit will likely fail.  But if it succeeds, the people who will suffer are mostly President Trump’s supporters.

Despots Take Power with the Big Lie

A Massachusetts high school student submitted a quote to appear under his picture in the 2018 yearbook: “Make the lie big, keep it simple, keep saying it and eventually they will believe it.”  Supposedly, he didn’t realize who said it or what it meant and we don’t know why he chose it.  But the reactions to this quote were swift and strong.

No wonder, it was a statement by Joseph Goebbels, Nazi minister of propaganda.  He used the “big lie” to demonize Jews in the 1930s, referring to them as vermin.  Unfortunately, this vicious ploy is sometimes still used today.

Eric Edelman was President George W. Bush’s ambassador to Turkey during the early days when Turkey’s all-powerful President Erdoğan’s rose to power.  Referring to Trump’s use of the phrase “enemy of the people” he warned “I’ve seen this play out in Turkey, and that’s how this stuff gets normalized. And after a while, people say, OK, that’s the way it is.”

It’s doubtful that Trump even knows what Goebbels said.  He probably just adopted the decade-old propaganda blueprint of the right-wing media and many ultra-conservative Republicans.  They claimed President Barack Obama is a Muslim; they lied about “death panels” established by Obamacare; and they circulated wild conspiracy theories branding presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as a pedophile.  Trump is simply continuing with their strategy.

After Trump defeated his primary opponents in the 2016 presidential campaign with demeaning nicknames like “lying Ted,” he used this tactic to attack Clinton.  He referred to her as “Crooked Hillary” and incited his followers to chant “lock her up.”  His lie was big, it was simple and he kept saying it over and over until many came to believe it.

Fact-checkers have documented 3,251 of Trump’s often repeated false or misleading statements in just 497 days.  He constantly claims special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is a “witch hunt.”   He slams every negative story about him or his policies as “fake news.”  And he has equated illegal immigrants to vermin.  This is unhinged lying, bordering on psychopathic.  But sadly, it energizes his base.

In April Sessions announced Trump’s zero-tolerance policy to prosecute all illegal immigrants who enter the U.S. at the southern border.  Incarcerating immigrant adults requires separating them from their children.  When confronted with the backlash from this cruel policy, Trump casually lied: “I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law.”

Seriously, what kind of sick mind authorizes an inhumane practice, claims he hates it and then blames it on his political opponents?  Well, I’ll tell you.  It’s a mind that thinks Americans should sit up at attention when he speaks –  like North Koreans do when Kim Jong-un speaks.  It’s a mind that thinks he is above the law and can pardon himself.  And absolutely, it’s the mind of a dictator.

There has been a Trump coup in process since early 2016, aided by Russians.  The GOP is now the party of Trump, under his control and doing his bidding.  The critical question now is — will the voters prevent Trump and his big lies from taking control of the entire nation?

 

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A Satirical Peek at GOP Plans for 2019

Note:  As with most satire, the following is fiction.  But it may provide a welcome break from G-7 chaos and White House dysfunction.

Transcripts of a secret meeting organized by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have recently surfaced that outline a shocking GOP plan to take total control of the government.  The purpose of the meeting was to establish an agenda for 2019 and beyond.  A reporter acquired the document from one of McConnell’s legislative assistants after a night of heavy drinking at a D.C. bar.  Posing as a Russian agent, the fearless journalist promised the staffer that Russian cyber experts would use social media to sell the plan to the American public and hack voting systems throughout the U.S. to ensure huge Republican victories.

When asked for comments, McConnell called the story just another outrageous example of fabricated fake news.  Attempts to contact the staffer fizzled and a rumor that he had been assigned to a remote EPA outpost near the Arctic Circle could not be confirmed.  Fortunately, a friendly leaker — who observed the group from a hidden location behind the podium – provided some audio/visual “color” to the written dialogue.

McConnell started the meeting with a promise.  He would immediately move to change the Senate rules to eliminate filibusters in 2019.  This would enable Republicans to pass all legislation with a simple majority vote.  Prospective Speaker of the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) rose to offer support from his side of the Capitol.  With an excited tone, he agreed to push through bills to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 1965 Medicare amendments to the Social Security Act.  Approving nods and smiles were seen throughout the room.

McConnell continued that his top priority was to replace at least two current justices on the Supreme Court with “cooperative” conservatives.  He was sure Justice Anthony Kennedy could be encouraged to resign if we “sweeten his retirement” and that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wouldn’t hang on much longer at her advanced age.  Then with a voice rising to a crescendo and totally out of character for the typically stone-faced Leader, McConnell almost shouted, “With the Supreme Court secured, THERE’S NO STOPPING US!”  This plan was greeted with resounding cheers and a standing ovation by everyone in the room.  Several became so emotional they passed out.

Discussion turned to a perennial enemy – the mainstream media.  Various speakers agreed that years of GOP bashing and President Trump’s constant denigration had prepared the public to turn against the major publications and networks.  Fox News’ Sean Hannity spoke up, suggesting a new Department of Public Information that he would be pleased to head.  With the passage of laws giving this agency broad authority he pledged to approve regulations that would make sure all the news was “appropriately conservative”.  He agreed to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to see how the media is controlled by the Kremlin.  A loud “Hear, hear!” signaled unanimous approval.

The group then focused on a major security threat — guns.  McCarthy worried that the number of guns in private hands might present a problem as the government transitioned from a democracy to an oligarchy.  He warned that military styled assault rifles could be used to mount a popular insurgency.  Authorities needed to know who had them and where they were.  One attendee observed that due to National Rifle Association lobbying and GOP support, there were no government records to go by.  Then one staffer provided a simple solution: “We already have the NRA membership list, don’t we?  If we target this group we can confiscate 75 percent of all guns in the U.S., maybe more, and certainly most of the assault weapons.”  This idea was enthusiastically supported by all attendees.

Concern was expressed about controlling powerful corporations, particularly those in Silicon Valley.  This task was delegated to Rudy Giuliani — who was expected to replace Jeff Sessions as Attorney General — and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) slated to be appointed director of the FBI.  Nunes just smiled and assured the group that there would be no problems after several CEOs are targeted with investigations.  A billionaire corporate donor quickly jumped to his feet.  “You mean progressive CEOs, don’t you?”   Upon being assured of that, he sat down and continued writing checks to support the agenda.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who was the only female present, announced that her staff had been working on programs to replace the pubic education system with private charter schools where conservative ideology could be taught more effectively.  She added that a committee was studying various brainwashing techniques to “re-educate” students.  Attendees looked surprised that DeVos had actually come up with a good idea and applauded politely.

Lastly came a discussion of Trump’s title when the Constitution is amended.  This was his major concern about going forward.  Trump preferred Supreme Leader, Dear Leader or Brilliant Leader but the North Koreans had already used those.  McConnell thought Trump would be satisfied with Exalted and Beloved Leader with a subtitle of Renowned Deal Maker.   Further discussion of how to replace him with someone who could actually lead was tabled.  It was decided to address this issue after the results of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation were released.

The reporter who broke this story couldn’t independently verify the authenticity of the transcripts or the comments by the leaker but observed: “It sure as hell sounds plausible to me.”

 

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