Diabolical Moves to Pass a Flawed AHCA

 

Background

My representative in Washington in the House of Representatives is John Katko who is serving his second term in Congress. He represents a sprawling CNY district which includes an inner city (which has been identified as one of the most stubborn pockets of poverty in the US), suburban areas which are quite affluent, including the one where his family lives, and rural areas where poverty is more the rule than the exception.

He has been elected in an area which has fairly recently been turned red by empty factories and recession. Republicans promise the hardest hit folks that they know the secret to turning the economy around and bringing jobs back. Democrats did not believe that they could promise any such thing. Republicans poured money into Katko’s election. The Democrats never came forth with the level of support that was necessary to help turn the area blue again. Ever since the Citizen’s United decision Republican PACs and donors have poured money into areas where it looked like they had a shot at turning any little dot on the map into a red dot. And their attention to detail has paid off.

So now we have a representative who is basically bought and paid for, who has, so far, voted the party line. And we have the health care bill coming up for a vote, supposedly as early as Thursday, March 23, 2017. In a district with as many poor people as Katko’s,  the number of people who will lose health care if the AHCA passes will be enormous. One of the problems is, of course, that the full impact of this bill will not be felt until 2020 so that these poor unsuspecting folks can vote this guy in again before they get zapped. Isn’t our politics lovely? Anything that can be done will be done.

I sent my Representative in the House the following letter asking him to get in touch with his better self:

Rep. John Katko:

Although I am sorry to write such a long letter I hope you will indulge me and read it in its entirety.

I am thinking that you are not thrilled by everything that is happening in Washington. I know that you are an earnest man who has a serious interest in serving the people in your district, which is a mix of urban, suburban, and rural cultures with diverse needs that few other representatives have to deal with. I suspect that you are a Catholic man, or at least a man of faith. I know that your unshakeable Conservative values include a firm pro-life stance and probably an economic view that fits with the one usually held on the right, one of fewer regulations and possibly even tax breaks to help employers take greater risks.

I don’t believe that someone with your inflexible position on women’s reproductive rights should be in government at all, but there are obviously many people in this district who do not agree with me. So I will leave this issue aside except to say that if you have your way in this matter it will make women’s lives far more difficult and will reset the clock on women’s rights back to my grandmothers’ days.

However, what seems most doubtful to me is that you want to “deconstruct” the American administration as the President’s men and women seem to want to do. It seems doubtful to me that you want to invite Vladimir Putin in to influence American politics. I find it hard to believe that you would like to vote in lower taxes for the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class people you represent. You just don’t seem like a person who wants to see our schools with insecure funding which could have profound effects on the quality of education in America and make opportunities unequal across the states.

I also find it hard to fathom why you might want to support the American Health Care Act when so many in your district would lose health insurance and so many seniors would be negatively affected. You don’t seem that extreme to me. I would guess that you are more moderate than some of your colleagues. But I do not know how ambitious you are. I do not know what you owe to the national party and the super PACs and other Conservative organizations. I do not know how courageously you would fight the very powerful pressure brought to bear on Conservatives in Washington by the base and the upper echelons of the party and by big money people.

Well I guess we, as your constituents, will see how extreme you are or how courageous you can be. Will you fight for the needs of your constituents the way a parent fights to meet the needs of their children. Every day I awake to see what new actions of this administration have weakened the foundations of our democracy and every day I am more and more shocked and distressed about what I see. Yet every day I feel more and more helpless to have any way to stop this administration from undoing every single thing I think any modern culture should try to do for the people it governs.

Sincerely,

Mr. Katko knows that the AHCA is not a good replacement for the ACA. He knows that it will create hardships for a large number of his constituents, and that it will please some of his constituents. He is between a rock and hard place but I was hoping that he would take the moral high road instead of the economic low road. I was hoping he would be brave enough to pick people over party in this instance. I am still hoping for that.

Federal Government Sweetens the Pot

The Federal government, however, is quite diabolical when it is determined to get its way. They have added an enticement to the health care bill that is only being offered to Upstate NY because Mr. Katko (and others upstate representatives) was having problems liking this legislation. They have also included some tidbits to tempt other Republican representatives who are less than delighted with this rushed and deeply flawed piece of legislation. The New York Times included a piece about these “carrots” in this morning’s edition.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/20/us/politics/house-health-care-new-york-republicans.html

In this article the authors, Thomas Kaplan and Richard Pear (with Jesse McKinley contributing reporting from Albany) tell us the following:

“House Republican leaders, trying to lock down the votes of wavering upstate New York Republicans, inserted a last-minute special provision in their health care bill that would shift Medicaid costs from New York’s counties to its state government”

(While it is true that Medicaid costs are among the mandated budget items that are an enormous burden on county budgets and while it is equally true that relief plans should be in the works, this Federal move to immediately shift the burden of these costs to the State of New York budget is a totally unplanned move that could perhaps bankrupt the state and is at the very least a political ploy strategically designed to get a very bad health care bill to pass, and at the most is something the states should raise an outcry about. Is it even legal?)

The article goes on to say:
“The move – one of a number of changes designed to gain more votes – would affect New York State only. It could save county governments outside of New York City $2.3 billion a year. But it could shift costs to state taxpayers or deny New York the same total in matching federal aid if the state continues to require those counties to contribute to the cost of Medicaid. Upstate New York Republicans, backed by local government officials, pressed for the measure over the angry opposition of New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew M. Cuomo.”

“The more we learn about the repeal and replacement for the Affordable Care Act, the sicker New York gets,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement Monday night.”

While I can see what this measure does for county budgets I cannot, for the life of me, see what if does for poor people who need health care.

“The newly released set of changes does not directly provide more generous tax credits for older Americans as many Republicans had been requesting, but it lays the groundwork for the Senate to enhance those tax credits at a later stage in the legislative process.”

“President Trump and House conservatives already agreed to other changes involving Medicaid, including offering states the option of imposing a work requirement for certain able-bodied beneficiaries. They also agreed to let states choose a lump-sum block grant to fund their Medicaid programs instead of a per-capita allotment originally set in the House Bill.”

The Republicans representative who were wavering are now feeling that they can get back on board. But, although you can patch some tires and drive on them, some tires prove unfixable. Putting patches on this bill does not in any way make it a better health care plan. In fact New York’s governor has more to say:

“This cut is so severe that the majority of hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities located in upstate New York and on Long Island would be devastated, Mr. Cuomo said.”

What do I Say to Mr. Katko Now?

I guess this puts the ball back in his court, although I still believe that he has to legislate in ways that serve the majority of his constituents but, in particular, the poorest of his constituents, since we are talking about something that means life or death in many cases. I also know that he will have a county executive to deal with and that this relief from what she calls “unfunded mandates” will put a great big old smile on her face. And who will win? Supposedly I will win because my taxes will go down or there will be more money to spend locally, but I have never minded that some of my tax dollars help people less fortunate than me. I have little extra money to contribute to the many charitable causes that break my heart, but this, since I am used to it, is a relatively painless way to give back for my many blessing.

John Katko, please stick to your guns and vote down this bill which will hurt many of your constituents and perhaps the entire state of New York, which DT would love to humble because of the Governor’s defiant statements. As I said, diabolical.

 

 

 

 

Governments Determine Society

 

Let’s talk about the link between a government and the society in which that government sits. Clearly governments determine society in very direct ways by the things they do and the things they do not do. Do the people in the society feel comfortable? Are people fearful? Do they scuttle out of their homes, do their business quickly, and get back behind closed doors, with closed curtains? Do the people have enough to eat, have adequate housing, pleasant surroundings? Are the people warm enough and well-clothed; are they healthy?

Is transportation available? Can people afford it? Are there jobs? Can people choose their own professions? Can they get the training they need? Do they enjoy some autonomy in the work places where they spend so much of their time or are they nervous because bosses are cruel and arbitrary and employees never know quite where they stand?

Russia

Let’s be more case specific. What do you think it was like to live and work in Russia before the Russian Revolution and after it? Russia had aristocrats, it had merchants, and it had peasants. The merchant class was about as close as they came to having a middle class. If you were not an entrepreneur then you were a peasant and the pleasure you took from your life depended on so many factors that you were far more likely to labor long and hard and die young, with perhaps a saint’s day to celebrate now and then. How the whole society fared depended on whether their ruler was benign or tyrannical.

So you would think that when that big pitchfork – revolution – turned over that compost heap and those on the bottom were the hallowed, but poor workers who rose up against oppression, that those poor people would experience a transformation in their lives. But the leaders of the revolution made tests for people. You had to join the Party and everyone’s actions were constantly under scrutiny. You could be sent to labor and die in Siberia. You could be killed outright. You could be imprisoned in a gulag, without a trial, without any argument, just taken out of your life and sent to hell on earth. Then the leaders, who perhaps felt vengeful about their years at the bottom of the heap, really clamped down. They assigned citizens to jobs. They erected that virtual iron curtain around the USSR so they would have no interference from other nations. They even built an actual wall to separate West and East Berlin.

China

The People’s revolution in China did not turn out well either. Perhaps it was because Mao was mentally ill or maybe Mao only became insane as he tried to correct his failing policies with more failing policies, until we got to the truly injurious Cultural Revolution. In this era China, as had happened in Russia, placed those who had been on the bottom on top as officials and those who had been on the top became the workers. So you had farmers, without any education, unable to read or write, in charge of a whole village of people. These untrained leaders become defensive and dictatorial. The upper classes made very poor farmers. Although we think that “turn-around is fair play, and that it makes a certain moral sense, it was a terrible failure. People starved. People were so intimidated they found sneaky ways to undermine those in charge. People were beaten and imprisoned. Many left the country if they could find a way and some died trying.

Democracies and Our Republican Coup

Revolutions that put democratic governments in place fared slightly better. Still when we wish for revolution in this country I want to know exactly what we will get when it is done. Will it take a revolution to overcome this coup that I have been writing about for the past six years? The one where the Republicans took over all three branches of government so they can have their way with the American people. What will it be like now that Donald has “trumped” their coup? Will he let the Republicans do as they wish? He seems delighted to do just that and more by dismantling our Federal agencies. When we have no affordable health care, when we have to work in an America with no labor unions to protect us, no laws about wages, no safety net if the economy slows, when we have no allies, what will life be like for people who once considered themselves in charge of their own fate and enfranchised in a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” With all these changes in governance how could we expect our society to be as it is now?

What Effect Will these Aberrations in Government Have on our Society

There does not seem to be any place for “we the people” in our government after the coup. Unless we agree with those in power we have no input in governance except through resistance. We are now a one party government, the other major party basically powerless. It looks as if America will no longer be a society that will nurture us all and provide opportunities for us all.

I believe that Donald Trump could only be President in an America where the Constitution has been trashed, hollowed out by people who found every way to exploit the flexibility our forefathers left in the document. The Republicans did the gut work to take over the government and their agenda seemed quite extreme to me. Then Donald stepped in and usurped all that the propaganda war, the gerrymandering, the purchase of state and local governments had accomplished, and went further when and he brought in his enforcers, the “alt-right”, so extreme that they had always been sidelined by nearly everyone.

This is now a “take no prisoners” government, a “my way or the highway government,” and they are vengeful and selfish. This time I think “we the people” may be in real trouble. We may find a meaner government produces a meaner society and guess who will bear the brunt of that? All of the big money is with those who have taken over our government. It is sort of a revolution in reverse.

After looking at the new budget, after looking at the new bill on education, and the new health care nonplan it is clear that these guys (don’t ever doubt that the men are in charge) intend our nation to be that old thing we fought so hard against – a military-industrial complex, and we will be the grist for the mills.

If all the programs that people depend on to lift up the less fortunate or the temporarily-down-on-their-luck are cut to the bone and our Federal government lavishes all its funds and energies on the military and the corporations, our society will be changed beyond recognition. It will be a DINO, a Democracy In Name Only. And we will be the ones behind the wall this time. I so did not want to go here. Of course we have to resist. We have to fight, fight, fight – to the bitter end. But I don’t see how we will win. In the end we may have to hunker down and try to make it through to the other side of this nastiness. Only experiencing it will convince the “faithful” of their misplaced loyalty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Darwinism and Overweening Egos

There are things the current incarnation of the GOP believes. They believe that social programs have been bad for the people at the bottom of the heap, robbing them of incentive to claw their way up the ladder. A lingering reptilian part of our brain is trying to whisper to us that this is a reasonable idea to explain why some people need government assistance for most of their lives. But the part of our brain that contains actual knowledge of history and intelligence to reach back and see if this is true tells us that this line of argument is wrong. This is Social Darwinism. Trump didn’t think John McCain was a hero because he got captured. Well the Social Darwinists (which apparently includes all of the GOP and their base) don’t think the less fortunate among us are worthy of any assistance because they are losers. They do not want to spend their millions and billions on losers. Let them survive or die. The fittest among them will survive. A few may even achieve greatness.

If you do some reading about the days before governments tried to “even the playing field” or at least put a livable bottom on our societies you will find that life without supports was very rough and hard scrabble indeed for those who were poor. But leaving poor people on their own without offering opportunities to legally improve their lives had consequences for everyone. Bandits roamed freely making travel difficult. Hygiene suffered when there were no funds to pay for infrastructure and when hygiene goes out the window, germs come in. So we know that plagues and diseases usually took root in poorer districts first and worked their way up. People who had to support families but had no skills turned to every type of crime and scam to make their meager way in the world. No country became great without some way to lift up those who were without honest resources.

The GOP points to the 1890’s, the midpoint of the era of the Robber Barons, when fortunes were made and regulation was pretty much nonexistent. They want to create this wild-west economy again. Throw out all regulations, disregard the end-of-the-world nuts who say that without regulation the world’s climate zones will change in ways that we may not be able to adapt to, and we may face the same extinction many animals face today. Nonsense the GOP says. The world’s climate changes all the time and nothing humans do can affect that it any way. So they are willing to bet on this even though all of the evidence stands against them and even though they are betting the futures of many folks who don’t agree with them. But they say, if we reset to a time when people were left to their own devices without government interference we might see the same burst of innovative energy that we saw at the beginning of the Industrial Age. To many of us this seems like an enormous gamble to take and they plan to take us all along for the ride.

They interpret the meaning of our forefathers when they said that all men are created equal differently from those of us who think that means that we are all equally human and that a government that is of the people and by the people and for the people is not a government for only rich people. Some of us believe that in order to keep our democracy great we must try to give everyone in our society an opportunity to succeed and at least a minimum standard of living to maintain health and order in our society. Offering social programs is not a totally altruistic endeavor. It is a survival mechanism besides offering spiritual rewards to all.

The GOP however does not assume that the forefathers were saying that all humans deserve to be equal regardless of their talents or the accidents of their birth (fortunate or unfortunate). They say this phrase means that although we may start out as equals it is how we make use of our opportunities that causes us to thrive or fail. The logic that they offer us is pretty self-serving. They feel that everyone can fight and struggle his/her way to the top given enough grit. No grit, no gold.

So under the cover of the “orange one” they are “deconstructing” Washington, enacting their brand of Federalism which sticks strictly to the Constitutions which says that any rights not given to the Federal government belong to the states. The Federal role is only to deal with foreign powers, to fund, maintain and employ the military, and to make a Federal budget. They have no worries comparing America with a population of 3 million to America with a population of 324 million. They have no worries that our forefathers decided not to go with a strict interpretation of the states’ rights versus federal rights. In fact, in 1890 the population in America was 5 times less than it is today but the GOP believes that the math does not matter. We are a republic, which means that our democracy is a constitutional democracy and we have wandered too far from what our forefathers intended.

Two of the strongest proponents of this view are Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz and, right now, they are the overweening egos of which I speak. Both of these men are well-educated and quite comfortably well-off. Both are ambitious and, I assume, sincerely want to fix America. But one is enamored of a thinker from the 1930’s and the other is the son of a man we took in as a political refugee, a man who has preached fire and brimstone and hate and racism all across the American South (like father, like son). We can see the Paul Ryan/Ted Cruz ideology in their stand on health care in America. Both are of the Social Darwinist wing of the Party. They want to put health care back on the free market and those who can afford it will buy it and those who can’t will get no health care at all. See if that doesn’t make “them” strive to move up the ladder of opportunity (which had just been pulled up into the attic, for the most part unreachable by any of the lowly).

Ted Cruz said recently that he does not back the American Health Care Act because it is just Obamacare Lite. He is holding out for Ryan Care, the free market. We the wealthy don’t wanna’ pay for any more health care handouts. Buy or die. And, he now is offering a way to get this done, right quickly. Here’s the title of the article that tells what Ted Cruz is up to now,

Senator Cruz Found an Overlooked 1974 Rule That Could Be a Real Game-changer for Repealing Obamacare

 http://ijr.com/2017/03/822444-senator-cruz-found-an-overlooked-1974-rule-that-could-be-a-real-game-changer-for-repealing-obamacare/

 

Of course he did, after all he prides himself on being a whiz (or a genius) at Constitutional Law.

“Among the disappointed is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who now says he’s found a decades-old rule that he hopes will allow Republicans to pass a more thorough, far-reaching health care reform bill.

However, Cruz’s strategy — which would leverage the power Vice President Mike Pence has as president of the Senate — “might blow up the Senate too,” Bloomberg Politics notes.”

“These special rules hinge on what is known as “reconciliation,” a process which allows legislation that affects the budget but has a limited scope to be passed with only a simple Senate majority, leaving such bills immune to filibuster.

Traditionally, it has fallen to the parliamentarian — who advises the Senate “on the interpretation of its rules and procedures” — to determine what should and should not be considered a reconciliation bill.”

“Under the Budget Act of 1974, which is what governs reconciliation, it is the presiding officer, the vice president of the United States, who rules on what’s permissible on reconciliation and what is not.

That’s a conversation I’ve been having with a number of my colleagues.”

“Still, it remains to be seen whether or not Cruz’s colleagues will be eager to employ the senator’s “radical” interpretation of the rule. Being similar to 2013’s filibuster reform, it runs the risk of “fundamentally altering the way Congress works.”

In terms of fellow Republicans eager to see a more thorough replacement of Obamacare, however, Cruz certainly has plenty of allies.”

 

So while those who disagree with Social Darwinism fight to keep the ACA we are up against a new “nuclear” option, as if a Party that controls all branches of our government has any need to employ nukes. It is difficult not to feel that we are helpless to turn back the tide of backwardness now that it has been given sway over the business of our nation. I, for one, already believe that the GOP way is not good for our nation and I am sorry that we seem to have to go “there” to find out and that we may never find our way back. The tides of political thought in the world seem to have turned against government of the people, by the people and for the people.

 

Reasons to Resist the American Health Care Act

I get lots of emails from all kinds of people about causes that need money. They are all important and I wish I could give to all of them. Right now I really can’t give to any of them. But I sign any petitions that I agree with and I write to my Congressional representatives when asked and sometimes when I just feel the need to tell them what one of their constituents is thinking. I fill out lots of surveys, although not all of them, because most are just too transparently focused on getting you to donate. But with the release of the American Health Care Act this first full week of March in 2017, several of these fund-raising emails also included some very useful points showing why the AHCA will not meet the needs of “we the people” and is not a replacement for the ACA in any way.

We know that the bill offers tax credits to be used, supposedly, for buying health care, although I have also seen feedback that it will not be helpful unless you itemize your deductions on your taxes. No one with under 50,000 dollars in income is very likely to itemize deductions. There is a great graphic in today’s New York Times that depicts tax credits by income and there is a second set of maps that indicates lost funding by age.  (I do not mean to favor the NYT. It is the only paper I subscribe to. Sadly it is too pricey to subscribe to all of the papers I would like to read.)

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/03/08/upshot/who-wins-and-who-loses-under-republicans-health-care-plan.html/

We know that if this bill passes the mandate to buy health insurance disappears and so does the Medicaid expansion. Although the bill ostensibly still protects people with preexisting conditions and children up to the age of 26, it is unclear whether that will stay in the plan, either because it seems financially impossible, or because it may be such a point of contention with insurance providers that it will have to be deleted.

You can find summaries of the shortcomings of this bill all over the internet and on both sides of the issue but these short lists that came in my emails make the information that matters to folks who lean left very clear and concise.

Paul Tonko, a US representative since 2009 from New York’s 20th district (Paul Tonko.com) gives us this succinct list about the AHCA:

Key points about “Trumpcare”:

  1. The GOP’s plan will lower taxes for the richest among us while reducing coverage for senior citizens and the poor;
    Their plan lines the pockets of billionaires and CEO’s by giving money back to insurance companies – not the American people;
    3. Mental health care and other issues would no longer be required to be included in your health insurance plan;
    4. Planned Parenthood would be completely defunded and women would have less access to reproductive care;
    5. The GOP bill does nothing to fight the opioid epidemic and eliminates support for counseling and rehabilitation.

From the Daily Kos

  • Kill the Medicaid expansion, one of Obamacare’s most popular and successful ways to expand healthcare coverage
  • Defund Planned Parenthood, a critical provider of women’s health care coverage
  • And end healthcare subsidies in favor of tax breaks that will make it harder for older Americans to afford coverage

From Michael Phelan of Social Security Works

Republicans have wasted little time declaring war on seniors.

The new GOP plan to gut the Affordable Care Act will give massive tax breaks to the wealthy at the expense of the poor, elderly and sick. It does this by raiding $346 billion from the Medicare trust fund to pay for giveaways to the wealthy, and in turn intentionally weakens Medicare’s finances.

Immediately after Election Day, Paul Ryan “justified” his plan to gut Medicare by saying, “because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke.” Of course this couldn’t be further from the truth. ACA has in fact extended the lifespan of the Medicare Trust Fund. But the GOP’s plan is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Weaken Medicare in order to destroy the program through privatization.

From Kirstin Gillibrand, one of my state senators

Here are the top points you need to know about the Trump plan:

  1. It allows health insurance companies to charge older Americans up to five times more.
  2. It repeals the employer mandate, causing many families covered by their employers to lose coverage.
  3. It will take insurance away from millions of individuals and cripple state budgets by phasing out the Medicaid expansion.
  4. It gives health insurance companies a tax break for CEO pay over $500,000.
  5. It defunds Planned Parenthood, leaving millions without access to breast exams, birth control and pap smears.

I’m sure there is plenty more to be learned about this plan, which gives health care breaks and tax breaks to those who are already well able to pay and pretends to offer breaks to people who have such low incomes that they will find themselves unable to access these breaks (because they offer payment after the fact rather than up front).

Democrats and Republicans are both unhappy with this plan but for different reasons. Democrats expected a plan that would widen the gap between the average American worker and the wealthy, and one that would make health care unavailable to most of the people who just got into a plan, although they hoped for better. The Republicans, as miserably greedy and judgmental as ever, think this plan is too generous, too costly, and too socialist. They want a plan that uses no Federal dollars to pay for anyone’s health care. I don’t see how “we the people” will win either way, but I think we ought to put up a wicked fight to keep the ACA intact. Regardless of how flawed it might be, it is not as exclusionary as what we are likely to get from our currently very one-sided government.

 

 

 

 

Koch Clout – Distraction, Bill, Executive Action

On March 3, 2017 the New York Times reported that Koch backed organizations were ready to pitch a fit if Congress did not act to repeal the ACA. Obviously they have a lot of practice with pitching this particular fit because they have done this at least 60 times already. They plan to pull out their old action plan of shrilly stalking Republican Congressional representatives until they stop stalling.

Quote:  Saying their patience is at an end, conservative activist groups backed by the billionaire Koch brothers and other powerful interests on the right are mobilizing to pressure Republicans to fulfill their promise to swiftly repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“We’ve been patient this year, but it is past time to act and to act decisively,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, which is coordinating the push with other groups across the Kochs’ political network. “Our network has spent more money, more time and more years fighting Obamacare than anything else. And now with the finish line in sight, we cannot allow some folks to pull up and give up.”

The Koch groups are calling their campaign “You Promised,” and are prepared to spend heavily, they said.

“I think that the only way we get members of Congress to stay the course on this is with constituent pressure,” said Noah Wall, the national director of campaigns for FreedomWorks. If that does not work at first, he added, “I’m going to fill their offices with really angry constituents, and they’re going to listen.

“And if they don’t,” he continued, “I’m going to go back into their district and fill their district offices with angry constituents. And we’ll do this again and again.”

“Their rhetoric that has enabled them to stir up the far right is in collision with the truth,” said Thomas E. Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

“Congressional Republicans have promised an Obamacare repeal in unequivocal terms,” Mr. Phillips said. “It’s time for them to keep their promise.”  Unquote

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/03/06/us/politics/republican-obamacare-replacement.html/

 

Koch Clout

Well apparently we go from Koch mouths to Congressional ears, another sign of the outsized role of money and wealthy people (these two wealthy brothers in particular) in our nation’s politics. There seems to be no way to get these two guys to stop buying every level of our government. So two days after the New York Times article telling Congress to get a move on, my evening news tells me that the 66 page bill detailing the Republican health care plan was released. Now that is what I call real clout, or is it fear? Who knew eight years ago that all we had to do to get Congress to vote the way we want is to threaten to “primary” them and have the cash to back up our threat. There is no way these GOP reps want to see their ferocious constituents begin their assaults on GOP Congressional elections again.

Two Actions Come Out Right Quick

Not only did the new health care bill come out (which will once and for all defund Planned Parenthood, and we all know the level of anxiety the continued existence of this friend of females has been engendering in the ranks of the GOP), but, on this same day, we heard the details of the new Immigration and Refugee executive action which is just like the old one except it excludes Iraq as a banned country and if doesn’t begin immediately, it does not ban people already vetted or people with green cards, and the “pause” will last for 120 days while the “extreme” vetting program is designed. I would like to see a graphic in two columns. One column would list what immigrants and refugees must do to be vetted now and the other will show what will be involved in this “extreme” vetting of which they speak. The number of refugees accepted in a year will also be capped at 50,000.

A Distraction is Created

Under the smoke screen of their “trumped-up” charges about the Obama wiretapping at Trump Towers. (Whoever wanted to say trump or Trump this many times?). This tactic of creating a smoke screen by creating a fake big scandal is designed to draw we the people’s eyes away as these two developments are almost simultaneously released. They think Democrats and allies will be so protective of Obama that we will not notice the human rights violations contained in these two bills (like a health bill which will once again rob some people of health care, i.e. women and low income folks, and an immigration executive action that is likely as un-Constitutional as the old one.)

It is all happening so fast because they know they need to hurry. Why? Because the Smoke Screener- in-Chief may go off the deep end at any moment, or they may have to finally admit that we got him already broken, or they will lose seats in Congress next time around if they back these two actions, or the resistance may win. In fact the health care bill, if passed, does not go into effect all at once, but is rather phased in with the most onerous parts not going into effect until after the 2020 election. It is all happening so fast that we may just have to move out into the streets and live there for a while with our chants and our signs.

If you want to read the text of the Health Care Bill here is a link”

https://housegop.leadpages.co/healthcare/

Back to the Kochs

Both the bill and the executive action channel the “Conservative Way” and they will both, eventually, be totally disastrous for we the people. Will we ever be able to put America back together again once the wealthy win so many of their battles? Will the middle class become poorer and poorer? Will the wealthy winners stick it to their “loyal” followers who have been bullying them a bit too much, as if they truly had any power except the power of numbers? Will they cut these folks loose and also kick them out of the middle class? Will our Democracy “live” through the long game assault of the Koch brothers?

HB 610 – Deconstructing Schooling

 

We should all be aware that members of the House are moving to pass House Bill 610 (HB 610) which would make some fairly drastic changes to education in America.

https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/610/text

 

Dated January 23, 2017

“Mr. King of Iowa (for himself, Mr. Harris, and Mr. Franks of Arizona) introduced the following Bill; which was referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce.”

They go on to write that this is “a bill to distribute Federal funds for elementary and secondary education in the form of vouchers for eligible students and to repeal a certain rule relating to nutrition standards in school.”

They give us a new “Title I to be called Choices in Education Act” which does two things:

  1. Repeals The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965
  2. Limits Secretarial Authority (Secretary of Education)

Here is what Wikipedia tells us about the Education Act of 1965: (note: these links don’t work in this setting)

“The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was passed as a part of United States President Lyndon B. Johnson‘s “War on Poverty” and has been the most far-reaching federal legislation affecting education ever passed by the United States Congress.

The act is an extensive statute that funds primary and secondary education.[1] It also emphasizes equal access to education and establishes high standards and accountability.[2]

In addition, the bill aims to shorten the achievement gaps between students by providing each child with fair and equal opportunities to achieve an exceptional education.

As mandated in the act, the funds are authorized for professional development, instructional materials, for resources to support educational programs, and for parental involvement promotion.

{The act was originally authorized through 1965; however, the government has reauthorized the act every five years since its enactment…}

Sections of the original act

  • Title I—Financial Assistance To Local Educational Agencies For The Education Of Children Of Low-Income Families
  • Title II—School Library Resources, Textbooks, and other Instructional Materials
  • Title III—Supplementary Educational Centers and Services
  • Title IV—Educational Research And Training
  • Title V—Grants To Strengthen State Departments Of Education
  • Title VI—General Provisions

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elementary_and_Secondary_Education_Act

 

This bill, HB610 includes only Title I as responsibilities of the Federal government. It also revises Title II.

Title III-VI would no longer be the domain of the Federal Government.

 

Section 103 of HB 610 is entitled Block Grants to States

This is how they intend to do the math. Out of the total budgetary allocation the Secretary of Education’s only job will be to collect total numbers of students to attend public schools, private schools, and home schooling for a school year, do the divisions, and pass out the block grant to the “qualifying” states. This job would also involve enabling “qualified” states to carry out an education voucher program under section 105.

Further subsections of this section include: reallotment and deficit reduction to describe what will be done with the funds from “unqualified” states. (Excuse my sidebar, but, yikes. The bill never gives a really clear definition of a “qualified” state and the Secretary of Education makes the call.

Section 104 of HB 610 is entitled Application and describes the application process of the states, All applications must

  • Comply with the requirements of section 105
  • Make it lawful for parents of an eligible child to enroll their child in any public or private elementary or secondary school in the States
  • Or to home school their child

State applications must be approved within 3o days of the date when applications are due.

Section 105:  Education Voucher Program Requirements

This section tells the states what children need to be counted.

It also says that it is the “sense of Congress” that States should distribute non-Federal funds for elementary and secondary education in a manner that promotes competition and choice in education.

The next part of section 105 is entitled Identification of Eligible Children; Allocation and Distribution of Funds (with more details on the local responsibilities in this regard and the States responsibilities.)

It further describes how funds will be disbursed to parents of children who choose private schools (tuition, fees and transportation)

To the parents of children who are home schooled (not to exceed the cost of home schooling the child) (Yikes again)

This section (105) goes on to say how money will be distributed by the states to local schools both public and private and to parents who school their children at home.

It allows the local education agency (?) to reserve 1% of the funds allocated for administrative costs.

Payments made to parents will be nontaxable and will not count in determining eligibility for any other Federal program.

Section 106 of the bill gives Definitions.

The bill then addresses Title II of the Education Act entitled NO HUNGRY KIDS ACT

In section 202 entitled Repeal of Rule

“The rule prescribed by the Food and Nutrition Service of the Department of Agriculture relating to nutrition standards in national school lunches and school breakfast programs published on January 26, 2012 and revising parts 210 and 220 of title 7, Code of Federal Regulations, shall have no force or effect. (In other words they wash their hands of Michelle Obama’s attempt to mandate healthier eating practices in schools).

They revert to the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act of 1945, but insert before the semicolon “to establish a calorie maximum for individual school lunches, or to prohibit a child from eating a lunch provided by the child’s parent or legal guardian.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_School_Lunch_Act

 

Well there it is, done and done, a deceptively simple bill that changes schooling in America forever, or at least for the next 4 years (and makes it very hard to change it back to the way it was.)

This is because it reduces the role of the Secretary of Education to that of a bean counter, or in this case, a child counter.

It also gives the Secretary of Education the power to decide if a state qualifies for Federal funds.

Since the idea of qualifying is left relatively undefined it seems that states could be disqualified for ideological reasons at the discretion of almost any branch of government.

Let’s open this up to questions:

  • Can you take a system such as our huge (sorry) national school system and change the way it is funded almost overnight without any serious repercussions? (That is just the first of many question any educator or parent might have about this plan- which has not exactly been opened up to formal discussion in any public forum.)
  • Our schools have ticked along for many years with laws which only tried to modernize them or make them more inclusive. What kind of chaos will such a massive change make in our schools?
  • While our schools still use rows of desks devised for schooling kids in the 19th century people are working on ways to get students moving and perhaps out into work environments as learning laboratories and other creative models that fit better with 21st century society and young people. Some states will probably continue to innovate, but some states want to totally privatize or parent-ize schooling. How will students fare when their parents move across state boundaries? Our states are going to become like independent nations.
  • We just made schools adopt Common Core and, although Republicans now hate Common Core they are the folks who first designed it and advocated for it. Can our schools be jerked around like this during each new administration in Washington and then asked to reinvent themselves every 4 to 8 years? Of course, getting rid of the Federal Department of Education would make this new trend of “change by administration” less likely.
  • The whole area of how states “qualify” for money needs to be much clearer.
  • The entire area of how special needs students will be taken care of in such a system certainly needs to be spelled out.
  • If these changes were to be passed into law shouldn’t there be a step by step plan for implementing the law which does not make the change an abrupt change, but rather, in some way, phases the plan in?
  • Personally, as an educator, I believe this plan has nightmare written all over it. This plan will not provide equal opportunities to American students. It will, instead, destroy an educational system which has worked pretty well for at least a century and a half, and is the envy of all but a few countries around the world.
  • Why should we even bother to pay taxes to the Federal government at all? Let’s figure out what percentage of our taxes goes to education and just pay that portion to the states instead. It’s stupid to give our money to Washington so they can give it back to us (there are also trust issues).
  • I have seen block grant programs before and they work well for a few years and then the funds start looking good to other programs who begin to covet and syphon off the dollars for their own pet projects.

Don’t you have some questions of your own? It would be very good to hear them.

Tomorrow (Sat., 3/4/17) people are demonstrating against HB 610. See if you can find a rally to join if you are so inclined. Or do something on your own.

Immigrants – Resentments Feed Deportation Movement

From a Google Image Search (Huffington Post)

There seem to be basically three conscious reasons and one less conscious reason why some Americans are ostensibly adamantly opposed to any kind of “amnesty” for people who did not immigrate here through proper channels.

Misplaced Jealousy

One source of anger is a sort of probably misplaced jealousy that people who are not even supposed to be here are taking jobs that American workers need and are being given benefits which come from taxes on hard-working Americans. This is complicated by laws which state that anyone born in America is automatically a citizen of America. When immigrant families, “legal” or not, have children, their children do become eligible for benefits such as food stamps and free public education.

Changing “Complexion” of America

A second source of agitation is that Americans who are legal citizens (but whose parents were immigrants) do not like the changes they see in, let’s say, the complexion of America. We were always most unkind to immigrants, even if they arrived on our shores legally, if they were not of white European descent. We were happy to have Chinese laborers but not happy to accept them as neighbors. The same is true of others who arrived from Asian nations such as Japanese immigrants. We spoke of “black” Irishmen and we thought the skin of Italians a bit too toasty for our tastes. This discrimination based on skin color is driving some of the rage that some Americans experience as they are told in the media that Americans of European descent will soon be the minority in our previously majority white nation. With the arrival of more Muslim immigrants not only is the “color” of our nation changing, Americans are worried that Christianity will no longer be the primary religion in our nation and that when or if this change occurs we will no longer be America.

The very people who seem to object most to the changing complexion of our nation are possibly related to the Americans who bear the most responsibility for introducing non-Europeans onto American soil. In fact they kidnapped them from their African homes and enslaved them here where they became “property”. Once our principles caught up with us we did correct this situation but it has hardly been totally redressed. The descendants of slave owners continue to mourn a way of life that is so abhorrent to most of us that we cannot understand the attraction. These descendants have never actually stopped nursing their grievances about losing the Civil War, which makes them pretty sore losers and yet gives them, incongruently, enormous arrogance and pride. However deeply they bury the sentiment, they have never truly forgiven the rest of us for allowing non-Europeans, black folks, to mingle in American culture as equals. So we also have this strand running through our current emotional resentments to immigrants.

We Don’t Know Each Other

Immigrants tend to hang on to the languages and customs of the lands they came from. They tend to gather in communities where they can feel comfortable and speak the same language, eat the same foods, and experience the warmth that being in a strange land robs them of until they can assimilate. The first generation often experiences difficulty with learning to speak in the English language which is the only language most Americans know. The second generation usually can communicate more successfully. (These are generalization to which there are many exceptions.)

With this wave of immigrants from Muslim nations we have the added strangeness of women who wear headscarves as their religion requires. It provides another marker besides skin color that sets these particular immigrants apart and this tends to bother many Americans. In American we don’t wear headscarves. Some see the scarves as a sign that women in Muslim culture are not as free, or indeed are placed below their husbands in rank, a position which American women have trouble accepting, having fought so long and hard for their own imperfect emancipation. Others feel that refusing to give up headscarves means that Muslims do not want to assimilate with American culture. It also makes Muslim women easy to categorize as foreign.

Languages and customs and the desire to have some sense of a human community that is familiar, along with economics, tend to keep immigrants separate from other Americans. For people here without documents the situation is even more pronounced because of the need to stay hidden and keep their secrets. Although there is mixing between the wealthy or the farmers who often hire people with no papers, it is not the mixing of social equals. The fact that many “undocumented” people work in service to Americans with citizenship rights allows those who are the boss class to look upon the “servant” class as populated by people who are “less”.

Because there are often few opportunities for Americans, especially suburban and rural Americans, to meet and socialize with newly arrived immigrants, both legally-here and not legally here it is quite easy to see these groups as “invaders” who are pushing aside “real” Americans, taking our jobs, sharing our benefits which we are already in jeopardy of losing because our government is arguing that these benefit programs are unsustainable and even counterproductive.

They Did Something Illegal and They Must Be Punished

How can people who are not even supposed to be here be collecting benefits, Americans ask? There is a feeling that our nation is not a just nation because it is kicking “real” Americans to the curb and yet it is offering their tax dollars to people who are basically criminals. And criminals deserve to be punished not showered with free gifts. Even though Americans who think this way may realize that they are overstating the great good fortune of the “illegals,” they believe it is true enough that they are justified in being thoroughly ticked off, and the feelings are sometimes so strong that violence could fairly easily be ignited.

It did not help that many of the most recent immigrants, both legal and illegal, arrived in America just as good jobs were becoming scarce. Factories were closing in the North and moving South. Then they were closing in the South and moving out, mostly to Asia. There were empty factories everywhere. People did not find it difficult to make a connection, however false, between immigrants and increasing numbers of unemployed Americans. Although many studies have been published that debunk this logic, that say that most immigrants did not and could not take jobs away from Americans, displaced workers are convinced that someone who wasn’t born here has their job or the job that would have replaced the job they lost.

There is plenty of evidence available on the internet to debunk both the argument that immigrants are getting lots of benefits and that they are taking our jobs. If you think my claims are wrong, do a web search. The problem is that you can find evidence for almost any point of view on the internet if you are not too choosey about your sources. David Brooks, who leans right, has written two very cogent recent articles on this subject.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/21/opinion/this-century-is-broken.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/24/opinion/the-national-death-wish.html

Outcomes of Making Decisions Based on Negative Emotions

Logic barely makes a dent in this complicated mass of negative emotions. The smallest piece of news about these matters that appears to remind Americans that our nation is no longer as white or as Christian as it once was sets off new waves of resentment and makes the plans of the current administration to deport everyone who has not “behaved” and is here illegally back to their country of origin regardless of how they may be treated once they get there sound pretty appealing.

It is entirely possible that these Americans will not understand the down side to this pogrom until it is well under way and by then we will already be pariahs throughout the very European nations we so revere, and many other nations besides. Nations all around our temporarily tumultuous world are being inundated with immigrants who they must accept because it would be inhumane not to. They cannot be expected to feel any sympathy for the very minor disarrangements we are experiencing in America. They are saying “man up” and “get a grip”.

No matter how badly we might want to turn inwards and be that sort-of-white Christian America of old the upheavals of the times are against us. There are 7+ billion people now on our very small planet. Population density alone changes everything and it is way more essential that we address the ramifications of this upward trend than that we build walls or put people on buses and planes and “return to sender.” I love my country and I don’t want to bring disorder and lawlessness to it but our feelings right now look rather petty compared to the pictures of the devastation, starvation, and thuggery that people around the world are experiencing. Although I think we will eventually have to take in more immigrants, my argument right now is just that we probably need to keep the ones who are already here because we will lose all our allies if we don’t.