Lots of Sea and Lots of History in Twelve Days

Acropolis-2

We just returned from 12 days of cruising and touring various countries with our family — Greece, Turkey, Montenegro, Croatia and Italy.  The morning after our flight to Athens – and before we could shake the jet lag cobwebs from our heads – we climbed up the steps to the Acropolis. This seven-acre fortress towers 490 feet above the city and at its center is the ancient, white marble Parthenon, with its 44 huge columns.  What remains is only a fraction of the architectural magnificence it most certainly had when it was completed in 438 BC.

Mykonos

Later that day we boarded our cruise ship and thereafter, every day was a new adventure.  The first stop was the small Greek island of Mykonos, with its crystal-clear Aegean Sea waters and distinctive white plaster homes and commercial buildings.   Some call it a whitewashed paradise and now I can understand why.  Many of the rich and famous have vacationed there or anchored their yacht in the port, including Aristotle Onassis.  We enjoyed an interesting walking tour.

In Istanbul — population estimated at 20 million – tours included the magnificent 6th century St. Sophia cathedral and the Blue Mosque, which was completed in 1616.  Both are huge, very impressive and well preserved.  We were there on the last day of the Ramadan holiday and the city was crammed with visitors.  Remarkably, ours was the first cruise ship to visit there in the past four years.

Ruins-88-A

Next port was Kusadasi, Turkey, where we walked through an entire city of magnificent Roman/Grecian 10th century BC ruins at nearby Ephesus.  It is amazing how well the Greeks developed ancient civilizations.  Thousands of years ago they created stunning architecture and advanced other sciences in many ways, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, medicine and more.

As I was gazing at a beautiful marble statue with one arm missing and the nose hacked off, a thought came to mind:  There are builders and creators and there are wreckers and destroyers.  Both groups may have similar motivations, religion, power, wealth or some combination thereof.  But the former advance civilization, while the latter impede it, sometimes simply out of ignorance.   Many of the impeders are still around to this day.

Santorini-3

After an overnight sail we docked at another Greek Isle, Santorini.  It rises hundreds of meters out of the blue Aegean Sea like a huge, steep-walled citadel.  Although the sun was bright, the wind was strong that morning with higher winds scheduled for early evening.  That would cut our visit a bit short but after being ferried to shore, we took a short bus ride to the Akrotiri archeological site to view some interesting 16th century BC ruins.   Let that sink in, 16th century BC.

Later we were dropped off at one end of the main shopping area of Firá, the capital city of Santorini.  With some difficulty we navigated up the crowded, narrow, cobblestone streets to the cable car station where we caught a spectacular ride down the 660 feet to the Santorini Old port.  There, a tender ferried us back to the ship.

Several friends have asked a tough question to answer; which country or city was most impressive?  Dubrovnik, Croatia would certainly be high on the list.  The old city there, which dates back to the 12th century, is a fascinating, walled fortress in the harbor.  Another favorite, Kotor, Montenegro, is just a short drive down the coast.  In both countries we learned a lot about olives and what extra virgin means on a label of olive oil.

During the trip we sampled ouzo, a dry, anise-flavored liquor that is Greece’s national drink and grappa, a brandy made from grape skins, seeds and stalks left over from the wine making process, supplemented with herbs.  My wife and I were served small glasses of this clear, high-powered liquid during our tour of a small winery near Dubrovnik.  It is said to be good for digestion.

Grappa is also a popular drink in Montenegro.  Our tour there began with a bus ride up the switchbacks of a steep mountain road that was barely wide enough for a car to pass the bus.  All the while the guide was telling us about how the locals had a reputation for being lazy and drinking a lot.  She said many take a shot of grappa as soon as they open their eyes in the morning, including her grandmother.  I wondered how many others on the bus were hoping the driver was not one of those laidback drinkers.

Venice

We ended our adventure in Venice, Italy, where most of us spent some quality time at the magnificent San Marco square.  We walked the three miles back to the dock on the other side of the city through numerous quaint piazzas, down narrow alleys and across bridges over many of the canals.  We got to see our share of gondolas.

While reflecting on the trip I remembered an article I read by NYT Magazine writer Sam Anderson.  He chronicled the life of Rick Steves, a television personality, travel guide and author.  Rick urges Americans to get a passport and let the world outside the United States change their life.  One of his books is entitled “Travel as a Political Act.”  Steves believes travel is not only fun but it may make a huge difference in the tourist’s outlook on life and politics.  Having visited over 40 countries, I whole heartedly agree.

 

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Taking a Break from Politics to Focus on Family

Larry Lion-A

Our grandson officially achieved adulthood recently, a happy event that prompts me to take a welcome pause from my usual political writing.  This occasion brought back some special memories of his mother and him and I hope you won’t mind if I share them with you.  Perhaps they will help you recall some memorable times with your loved ones too.

A little over 50 years ago – Oh my, has it been that long? – my wife and I were living in an apartment near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  I was working full time as a computer systems analyst on the Apollo man-on-the-moon project and seeking a degree in mathematics by taking night classes at a nearby college.  Most days during the week I would arrive home after our two-year-old daughter’s bedtime.

One spring evening I went into her room to whisper good night and she was fast asleep, as usual.  The window of her room was facing west and the sun was just about to dip below the horizon.  On the linoleum floor, in a row facing the window , were a half dozen of Fisher Price’s little people and some of her other toys.

Something about the lighting and this menagerie inspired me to begin writing a poem to preserve the memories of this period in our lives and the things that were special in her life at the time.  One was a rocking horse attached to a metal frame with springs that, as I remember, looked something like Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology.  She rocked that bronc so hard and fast that sometimes she would buck herself off onto the carpet.  Another was a stuffed toy lion called Larry that was twice her size.  She also had a doll named Drowsy.  But her favorite bedtime companion was a Snoopy doll that was fashioned like the dog in the Peanuts cartoon.

I managed to memorialize most of her toys in the initial verses but I just couldn’t come up with an ending back then that seemed right.  Perhaps life got too busy with career, college and just raising a family.  Some thirty years later, however, I decided to add some lines and a few years after our now adult grandson was born, I found the inspiration I needed to finish it.  It’s entitled:

Toys on the Floor

Larry Lion and Brownie Bear,

a sleepy-eyed doll with tousled hair.

A broken bracelet, a thousand blocks,

a tiny red and white striped box.

A magic horse that rocks on springs,

a golden stallion with dove white wings.

Small wooden people no longer at play,

she placed in a row at the end of the day.

Snoopy’s there too, right next to the clown,

assembled on the floor to watch the sundown.

But night has brought a silence there,

the lion’s not growling, neither is the bear.

Our little blonde angel is tucked in her bed,

her favorite blue blanket pulled over her head.

Again home too late for a goodnight kiss,

sadly a pleasure I too frequently miss.

But the next day is Saturday and I can sleep in,

except about six her day will begin.

With blanket in hand from the crib she’ll climb,

assembling her gang, they’ll be singing a rhyme.

Then into our bedroom and up on the bed,

she’ll bounce on the mattress and jump on my head.

How quick it all happened, how fleeting it passed.

It’s hard to believe that she grew up so fast.

Still I smile at the memory of her toys on the floor,

and the sound of her laughter at the bedroom door.

For now she is married, with a child of her own;

she hurries to greet him when she’s late getting home.

She knows he’s done things that she had to miss,

and there’ll be those times with no goodnight kiss.

Like me she’ll have memories to fill this lost space,

the warm hug in the morning, the smile on his face.

But too soon only memories of his lion’s roar,

of his little boy laughter and his toys on the floor.

All eight members of the family will be off on a special Mediterranean cruise for 12 days during the first half of June.  Our younger daughter’s, daughter — a perky nine-year-old — can’t wait to board the ship.  This year for me is — as my Chinese friends would say — a BIG birthday (50, 60, and I’m not telling) and we intend to enjoy our time together as a family to celebrate this year’s milestone events.  I will be taking some pictures and may publish at least one blog with something about the trip while we are away.  But that’s a plan, not a promise.

Going forward, I will try to be optimistic and hope that the American electorate will make the right decisions to preserve our democracy.  They usually do.  Yes, the political situation is a total mess and scary.  But we can’t let that defeat us and leave all the work to others.  So, I will be making contributions to, and working for, those politicians and organizations that endeavor to make sure that this nation of the people, by the people and for the people will continue to the benefit of our children and grandchildren for decades to come.

 

 

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Beware Fake News from the Imperial Presidency

President Trump confessed why he demonizes the press to journalist Lesley Stahl in 2016: “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”  Trump has been quite successful in achieving this objective, with lots of support from an adoring Fox News.  He can lie about the most obvious facts and his supporters seem to treat his every word as if it were gospel.

This Trumpian attitude toward the media, however, causes many voters to reject valid information, not only about Trump’s abuses of power but about the policies he’s promoting that are actually hurting them.  His international trade protectionism provides a classic example.

The president claims that tariffs added $100 billion to the U.S. Treasury’s coffers and that China is paying the tab.  Well, either he is playing those who believe him for fools or he is ignorant about how trade barriers work.  Tariffs are levies on imported goods that are mostly paid by the importing company and American consumers, just like a federal sales tax on products we buy.

Trump also lies when he boasts that the GOP will be the “party of health care.”  But the truth is revealed in his fiscal year 2020 budget proposal. No one in Congress paid any attention to this document when it came out in March, so it didn’t get a lot of media attention either.  Fortunately, the Congressional Budget Office evaluated Trump’s spending preferences anyway and its analysis was just published last week.

After all his hoopla, this CBO report shows that Trump wants to cut federal spending on health care by almost $1.5 trillion over the next decade.   Most of that reduction is based on his continuing plan to repeal Obamacare and comes from the current funding of Medicaid, although Medicare takes some hits too.  Will the folks in rural Trumpland whose hospitals are closing for lack of funding and who struggle to get health care come to understand what Trump and the Republicans are doing to them?  I doubt it.  And will those who are exposed to some facts believe them?  Not if Fox News can help it.

Trump will tout the fact that wages are finally increasing now that unemployment is at all-time lows and he will credit his 2017 tax cut.  But will he brag about the inequality that Republican tax policies have been causing since the 1980s and highlight a recent analysis of wealth holdings by the Federal Reserve?  I don’t think so.

The Fed estimates that Americans owned $114 trillion of assets in 2018.  The two largest categories were real estate, including housing, and pensions like 401(k)s.  Next were corporate stocks and mutual funds, followed by durable goods like vehicles, appliances, furniture, etc.  Liabilities totaled $15 trillion, which are mostly mortgages and consumer credit.  You know, the kind of debts the middleclass have.  That leaves Americans with around $100 trillion in net worth.  Quite impressive, right?

Well — yes, until you find out who owns all this wealth.  The Fed estimates that the top 10 percent of U.S. households control 70 percent of the household wealth, an increase from 60 percent in 1989.  The share of the wealth distribution held by the top one percent has increased from 23 percent in 1989 to almost 32 percent in 2018.  Over this same period, the wealth share of the 50th to 90th percentiles — the middleclass and the upper middleclass — decreased from 36 percent to 29 percent.  It appears that losses by this economically core group became gains for the top one percent.  And as the wealthy gain more, Republicans want to tax them less.

The bottom 50 percent of the wealth holders, according to the Fed, experienced virtually no increase in their net worth over the last 30 years, as their total wealth share decreased from four percent in 1989 to one percent in 2018.  Consequently, many in this group have almost no net worth and scant savings for retirement, health emergencies or nursing home care.  And growing federal budget deficits could make their plight worse as Republicans press for significant cuts to the entitlement programs that help keep some of these folks out of poverty.

The deficit red ink during the coming decade will add $11.4 trillion to the national debt according to the latest federal budget baseline published by the CBO.  But this projection assumes that the 2017 Republican tax cuts for individuals will expire in 2025 and that revenues will thereafter increase.  If these tax cuts are made permanent, which is likely, the 10-year deficit will balloon to over $12.2 trillion.

A financial advisor recently told me that Trump will do everything he can to keep the economy strong until the 2020 election and I agree.  Trump will lie; he will bully the Fed to cut interest rates; and he will label any negative numbers and critical information about his economic policies “fake news”.  And his supporters will probably swallow these specious claims like a cold beer on a hot day.

But what is truly frightening — and disheartening — is how Republican politicians have dutifully kneeled to Trump’s imperial presidency no matter how he lies and in spite of the damage he is doing to the rule of law and the Constitution.

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Did Trump Cause a Cancer In The GOP?

When the Democratic Party nominated former secretary of state Hillary Clinton as their standard bearer for the 2016 presidential race, the GOP was way ahead of the game.  Republicans had been doing everything they could to damage her credibility and weaken her eventual candidacy for decades.

Independent Counsel Ken Starr’s four-year investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton is mostly forgotten except that it resulted in President Clinton’s impeachment in 1998.  That effort was engineered by then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), a no-holds-barred, firebrand politician from the far right.  Right-wing conspiracy theorists at the time even accused the Clintons of murdering Vince Foster, the Deputy White House Counsel who committed suicide in July 1993.

Still, Bill survived impeachment and left office in January 2001 with a reasonably high approval rating.  That same month, Hillary was sworn in as New York’s junior senator, having won that seat in November 2000 while still serving as First Lady.

She would use this platform to run for the nation’s highest office in the Democratic primary in January 2008.  The right-wing was ready for her.  Conservative non-profit Citizens United produced a political documentary entitled Hillary: The Movie that they hoped to release early in that campaign.  It portrayed Ms. Clinton as unfit to be president.

The film was blocked by the Federal Election Commission, however, and became the subject of the infamous “Citizens United” Supreme Court case.  I believe the resulting decision rendered by the conservative majority was one of the most undemocratic in the history of the court, but that’s a different story.  The point is: Mrs. Clinton was constantly under attack from the right.

Hillary lost the primary battle to Barack Obama; and he went on to represent the Democrats in 2008 and was elected president.  After being inaugurated, President Obama selected Hillary to be his secretary of State, which probably angered Republicans.

Although Gingrich resigned from the House in 1999, the seeds of political viciousness he had planted in the GOP took root with some of the far right proteges he had promoted in Congress and continued to grow during President George W. Bush’s eight years in office.  Right-wing radio talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and archconservative Fox News — which had begun broadcasting in 1996 — continued to promote Gingrich’s strong hostility for liberals among their conservative audiences.

During the Bush years another ruthless politician was working his way up the GOP leadership ladder in the Senate, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell.  As a reward for his battle against campaign finance reform, he was elected the Republican minority leader in January 2007.  McConnell is given credit for devising and executing a democracy-weakening program of obstruction against Obama that was unprecedented in Congress.  He weaponized the filibuster with such ferocity that a 60-vote majority was required for almost every action taken by the Senate.

Having a black man as president, however, was just too much for conservatives to tolerate.  Under the guise of promoting fiscal restraint in response to the Great Recession, they formed the Tea Party in 2009 and won a huge victory in the 2010 midterm elections.

In 2011, the Republican-controlled House Oversight Committee chairman, Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.), commenced investigations into every blip that occurred in Obama’s executive branch.  When three Americans and Ambassador Chris Stevens were killed in the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, Republicans seized on another opportunity to demonize then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

These Republicans thrived on conspiracy theories.  So, Issa began hearings based on unsubstantiated claims that Clinton had denied security for the Benghazi facility and had prevented military assets from providing support during the attack.  Numerous other Republican-controlled committees in the House also began investigations, as did the Democrat-controlled Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Secretary Clinton was not found to be at fault by any of these inquiries.

Still, House Republicans commissioned a select committee to continue the Benghazi inquiry in May 2014.  It was this committee that uncovered evidence of Mrs. Clinton’s private email server.

By 2015 it was clear that Clinton would be a candidate for the Democratic nomination to run for president in 2016.  During an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, House majority leader Keven McCarthy (R-Calif.) defended conservatives’ performance in the House with the following: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?  But we put together a Benghazi …. select committee.  What are her numbers today?  Her numbers are dropping.”

Tragic as it was, the Benghazi attack pales in comparison to the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Still, Republicans prolonged the politically-motivated Benghazi inquisition against Hillary Clinton for more months than both of these world-shaking atrocities.  Yet, they uncovered nothing new.

Now Republicans want to close the book on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s damning report on President Trump and put the FBI on trial for investigating the Trump campaign’s very questionable Russia connections.  And – incredibly – they want to reopen investigations of Hillary Clinton’s emails.  Sad!

No, Trump is not the cause of the cancer — some call it rot — in the GOP; he is a symptom of it.  This malignancy has been spreading from its right-wing for several decades.  And after Trump leaves office, Republicans will continue to degrade our institutions and democratic processes until the Gingrich, McConnell and Tea Party influences in the GOP are excised.

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To Impeach or Not to Impeach–That Is the Question

William Shakespeare could not have written a more riveting drama than that which is unfolding before us.  Two days after receiving Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russian investigation, Attorney General William Barr presented his four-page conclusions letter to Congress and the public.  It dashed the hopes of those who expected that President Trump would be charged with a crime.  Trump, of course, claimed he was totally exonerated.  He wasn’t.

Almost four weeks later, Barr held a press conference prior to making a redacted Mueller report public.  He sounded more like Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, than the chief legal officer of the United States.  Trump was still basking in the glow of Barr’s March 24 letter and having “a great day” as he left for the Easter weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach Florida.  His political high didn’t last long, however, after Democrats and the media had commented on the damning facts about him in Mueller’s 448-page tome.

Mueller’s investigation failed to “establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”  Mueller also declined to find that Trump had obstructed justice — but Trump was definitely not cleared of these charges either.  In fact, the report provides incriminating and shocking detail on Russian interference in the election, the Trump campaign’s highly questionable activities related to the Russian efforts and Trump’s frantic attempts to squash the Russia investigation.

At no time in this nation’s history has a foreign government mounted such a sophisticated, pervasive effort to influence a presidential election.  This was unquestionably an attack on our democracy, akin to an act of war.  Yet, the Trump campaign welcomed it, used it and benefited greatly from it.  Was that a crime?  Mueller didn’t establish the necessary evidence to make that determination but that doesn’t mean crimes weren’t committed.

Were the acts of Trump and his associates treason?  Mueller didn’t go there.  But didn’t Trump and his campaign aid in this attack on the United States by a hostile foreign government?  Consider this: If Donald Trump Jr. had gone to the FBI when Russians offered him “dirt” on candidate Hillary Clinton in June 2016 – as most loyal citizens would have done — their efforts could have been made public and stymied.

Other Trump campaign operatives also had numerous opportunities to do the ethical thing regarding Russian interference, including George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and others.  Instead, they willingly played along and Trump brazenly requested that Russia hack Clinton’s emails.  Five hours later – according to Mueller – they attempted to do just that.  Surely that fits at least one definition of collusion.

Referring to the release of Russian hack emails, Trump’s personal attorney and former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani recently mused during an interview, “I wonder if there isn’t an argument that the people had a right to know that about Hillary Clinton.”  What unbelievable audacity!  Didn’t voters have a right to know about Trump’s infidelity with porn star Stormy Daniels, his ongoing attempts to cut a deal for a Trump Tower hotel complex in Russia and the many contacts his campaign associates were having with Russians?  Instead, these important facts were kept from the public with illegal hush money payments and lies by Trump and his associates.

Mueller’s report did reveal some good news:  Trump aids don’t always follow his orders, particularly if they’re illegal.  But here’s the thing, evidence shows that Trump has repeatedly directed his staff to take such actions.  Is that the type of president the rule of law and the Constitution abides?  What about his oath to “faithfully execute the office of President,” which requires that “he take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed?”   Can there be any doubt that Trump believes our laws don’t apply to him?

Another spot of good news is that Trump doesn’t appear to have the cunning to pull off the crimes he has been attempting or the viciousness to exact harsh retribution on those who fail him.  So far, he doesn’t seem capable of taking permanent control of the government.  But given more time and a few more loyal henchmen in high positions, like advisor Stephen Miller, that could change.

The bad news we’ve learned, however, is that AG Barr appears to have become a Trump enabler and “fixer.”  Those who have respected Barr in the past have expressed fear that the man they knew has changed.  If he hasn’t, perhaps he will resign sometime this year in order to save what’s left of his reputation.  Well, I’m not holding my breath.

Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted: “To ignore a President’s repeated efforts to obstruct an investigation into his own disloyal behavior would inflict great and lasting damage on this country, and it would suggest that both the current and future Presidents would be free to abuse their power in similar ways.”  But is impeachment in the House worth the effort if there is no chance that Trump will be convicted in the Senate?  Warren says yes; she believes it’s about principle, not politics.  I agree; there are compelling reasons to hold Trump accountable.

Some Democrats may be asking if they can politically afford to impeach Trump.  To uphold the rule of law and the Constitution, the better question is — can they afford not to?

 

 

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Republicans Aim a Big Gun at Their Foot

Ask business people what they try to achieve in their planning and they will frequently talk about “certainty.”  They seek to know how much tax they will have to pay, what regulations they will have to endure, how stable their markets will be, etc.  With this information they can set prices and more accurately estimate their return on investment.  Insurance companies are no exception.

For over eight years, however, Republicans in Congress have chipped away at the Affordable Care Act in ways that eliminated certainty in the Obamacare market places.  During the 2016 presidential primary campaign, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) even bragged that a provision he inserted in a spending bill would “kill” Obamacare.  This constant weakening of the law made it difficult for insurers to price their products and no doubt caused premiums to be higher.  The uncertainty also discouraged many insurers from even participating in the insurance exchanges, which lessened competition and increased premiums.

President Trump and congressional Republicans made an all-out effort to repeal and replace Obamacare in 2017.  It was their number one legislative priority, even before cutting taxes.  The draconian proposals they put to a vote, however, failed spectacularly and the effort collapsed when former Sen. John McCain dramatically turned thumbs down on their last gasp attempt in the Senate.

Undeterred by this failure, 20 Republican-controlled states filed suit in federal district court in Texas early last year seeking to invalidate Obamacare.  They claimed that the law was rendered unconstitutional because the 2017 GOP tax law eliminated the fine for not having health insurance.  Last December the conservative judge in that court agreed with their argument.

Sixteen, mostly Democrat-controlled, states and the District of Columbia appealed that decision to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.   Initially, the U.S. Justice Department argued that only the provision of Obamacare that protected people with preexisting conditions was unconstitutional.  Last month, however, Trump ordered the DOJ to join the plaintiffs in seeking to strike down the entire law.

Concurrently, Trump encouraged several Republican Senators to begin crafting a “wonderful health care [replacement] package” and claimed that the GOP would become “the party of great health care.”  After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell informed him that health care legislation would not be brought up this year or next, the president promised it would be done soon after he was reelected in 2020.

On Tuesday, the DOJ asked the 5th Circuit for an expedited hearing on the Obamacare matter, with oral arguments to occur in early July.  This court is probably the most conservative appeals court in the nation, so the lower court decision might be upheld.  Either way, it seems likely the issue will go to the Supreme Court for a final decision, perhaps next year in the spring.

But here’s the thing.  If the entire Affordable Care Act is held to be unconstitutional, Republicans seeking reelection in 2020 will be facing a disastrous political problem.  Around 20 million Americans would lose their health care insurance; the opioid crisis, which studies show has been moderated by the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, would get worse; people with pre-existing conditions would be priced out of the market; and more hospitals in rural Trump territory would have to close.

Why? Well, the GOP has no good alternative plan for Obamacare — or for folks with pre-existing conditions.  Republicans in the U.S. House, have been proposing huge cuts to Medicare and Medicaid since 2011.  Even Trump’s recent budget called for cutting $241 billion from Medicaid funding over the next decade.  Yet, I don’t think most voters realize the damage these Republican policies would precipitate, even for many in the upper middleclass.  Here’s just one example.

A New York Times article last month entitled “Nursing Homes Are Closing Across Rural America, Scattering Residents,” chronicled how patients are being relocated far from loved ones.  Frequently the reason is financial.  Medicaid funding provides a substantial amount of nursing home revenue, with estimates I’ve read as high as 60 percent.  Conservative South Dakota — which was featured in this report — provides the lowest level of Medicaid support in the nation for its elderly citizens needing skilled nursing care.  “Five South Dakota nursing homes have shut down in the past three years, and dozens more are losing money because the majority of their residents rely on Medicaid,” according to author Jack Healy.

Costs vary from state to state but $6,000 to $8,000 per month is probably a conservative cost range for a nursing home patient.  How many higher level middleclass families can afford that type of financial burden if a parent can’t?  And Alzheimer’s patients can need this type of care for many years.

There were over 1.3 million patients in nursing homes in 2016, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.   Almost half a million were in the 20 states seeking to invalidate Obamacare.  Six of these states are in the top 10 that are most dependent on Medicaid and other federal funding, according to the personal finance website WalletHub and half are in the top 20 most dependent.

Congressional Republicans who are up for reelection in 2020 are no doubt praying Obamacare survives this constitutional challenge by their state colleagues.  For if it’s struck down, they will finally be forced to defend what they have been trying to achieve for almost a decade — and they will be crushed at the polls.

 

 

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Again, Trump Proves He’s Unfit To Be President

Special counsel Robert Mueller has presented his report to Attorney General William Barr who hasn’t yet released it to the public or Congress.  The four-page “principle conclusions” Barr produced two days later, however, can’t possibly do justice to the reported 300 plus page document that Mueller delivered to him.  In fact, the special counsel statute doesn’t call for Barr to produce such a summary, per se, much less one that attempts to exonerate President Trump and gives an opinion on the president’s obstruction of justice.  I believe Barr’s letter was intended to hamstring ongoing investigations by the Democrat-controlled House and please Trump.  And he certainly succeeded in the latter.

Immediately, Trump, most Republicans, the right-wing media and even some in the liberal media seemed to take Barr’s hastily prepared conclusions as clearing Trump and his campaign of wrong doing.  Some on the right are even calling for retaliation against those who suggested that Trump was guilty of collusion or obstruction of justice.  Other Republicans want another special counsel to determine whether or not the Russia investigation was legally initiated in the first place.  Me thinks Trump and the Republicans are grossly overplaying their hand.

At a public hearing on Thursday, nine Republicans on the House Intelligence committee launched an attack against chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), calling for his resignation.  It was an unprecedented move in the formerly, mostly bipartisan group.  They appeared to be following up on Trump’s early morning tweet that Schiff “should be forced to resign from Congress.”

Schiff was ready for them, however, and he responded in a way I don’t believe the GOP committee members anticipated.  He laid out in dramatic detail how Trump and his associates lied about the numerous suspicious contacts and connections they had with Russians during and after the 2016 election.  He called these acts unethical, immoral and corrupt.  Acknowledging that Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to charge them with criminal conspiracy, Schiff said “There is a different word for that than collusion, and it’s called ‘compromise’.”  Schiff’s comments can be read and viewed here.

At a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Thursday night, Trump made the best of Barr’s missive, claiming “total” and “complete” exoneration.  He told his supporters: “After three years of lies and smears and slander, the Russian hoax is finally dead” and “The collusion delusion is over.”  He railed even more strongly against the “fake news” media and his detractors, saying they “would be held accountable” for backing the Mueller investigation. The crowd obliged with chants of “Lock them up.”   That’s justice in Trumpland — detractors and opponents should be locked up.

Although Barr said he would release a redacted copy of Mueller’s report in mid-April, I think he’s stonewalling.  House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) evidently believes that too; he’s preparing a subpoena for a full, unredacted report that should be approved by his committee on Wednesday.  No doubt, Nadler wants to examine why Mueller failed to give an opinion on obstruction of justice.

Still, according to most legal experts, obstruction of justice is not easy to prove.  It requires a finding of “corrupt intent.”  Since Mueller failed to subpoena Trump to testify in person, perhaps he was unable to establish clear evidence of the requisite intent.  Yet, as outlined in Barr’s letter, Trump was not exonerated of a crime by Mueller.  It was Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who have opined that there was not sufficient evidence to charge Trump with obstruction.

I don’t think this was a decision they should have made prior to release of Mueller’s report and certainly not after only two days of reviewing its voluminous findings.  The case for obstruction will probably look much more compelling after we get the facts.

Regardless, there can be no question that our democratic processes and institutions have been weakened significantly over the past three years.  For a fact, Russia significantly influenced the 2016 election, perhaps tipping it to Trump.  Numerous members of Trump’s campaign had contacts with Russians before and after the election — and lied about them.  Even if Trump is not charged with obstruction of justice, he most certainly attempted to do just that by firing FBI director James Comey, badgering Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign, issuing hundreds of tweets attacking Mueller, the FBI and the Justice Department and dangling the hope of pardons for those who might testify against him.  If these abuses are allowed to stand without consequences, future presidents will be empowered to exert control over the justice system and remain above the law while directing the prosecution of opponents.   That would be a tragedy of enormous proportions for our democratic republic.

Fortunately though, eight continuing federal criminal inquiries, several state investigations and the ongoing congressional probes are the products of Mueller’s investigation and there may be more that have not been made public.  So, Trump’s legal problems are far from over and he has not yet escaped accountability.

The conclusion of Mueller’s investigation, however, presented Trump with an opportunity to be presidential.  He could have admitted making some mistakes, even apologized for his campaign’s contacts with Russians and tried to move on.  Instead, Trump has chosen to threaten those who oppose him, tell more lies to those who support him and further divide the nation.  All of which conclusively proves once again – Donald Trump is totally unfit for the office he holds.

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