Nel's New Day

July 18, 2017

U.S. House Produces Mixed Results

Most media attention on Congress has targeted the Senate, but the House keeps chugging along. The 2018 budget plan goes to committee tomorrow with a partial repeal of Dodd-Frank in order to stop protecting consumers plus a reduction of $203 billion for financial industry regulations, federal employee benefits, the safety net, etc. to pay for tax cuts and military. Defense spending would increase over the next decade as nondefense discretionary declines to $424 billion from $554 billion. Like senators, representative factions are split between far more cuts to the safety net and opposition to the proposed ones.

Unlike Dictator Donald Trump’s (DDT) assumption of a four-percent growth, the House Budget Committee expects a 2.6 percent annual average. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office forecasts a 1.9 percent growth in the economy for the next decade.  The House budget plan also assumes that their repeal of the Affordable Care Act will pass.

Last week the House Appropriations Committee passed a $20 billion spending bill to fund federal agencies, including $1.6 billion to build DDT’s wall against Mexico. The bill includes a measure preventing the IRS from enforcing the 63-year-old law preventing churches from backing political candidates. Another provision in the bill is taking control of funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from the Federal Reserve.

Congress—meaning both chambers—must pass a budget by October 1 to avoid another embarrassing and expensive government shutdown similar to the one in 2013. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), House Freedom Caucus chair, said that his members won’t vote for any budget without constructing the wall. They also claim that they won’t vote for the budget bill because they haven’t seen it. Ryan needs the Caucus because they comprise 31 of the 240 Republicans in the House; passing a bill requires 218 votes. Representatives from districts along the Mexico border are largely opposed to a wall between Mexico and the United States.

The House is still largely ignoring a Senate bill, passed 98-2, that imposes greater sanctions on Russia and limits DDT’s ability to lift them. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that the bill should have originated in the House after DDT lobbied the House to weaken the bill. Special interests in energy are now opposing the bill. Despite the Democratic support for the bill in the senate, Ryan is blaming Democrats for the slowdown.

The House did manage to pass two anti-immigration bills. The first cuts off some federal grants from cities that do not go beyond federal law in cooperating with immigration authorities, and the other creates tougher sentences for criminals illegally entering the U.S. several times.  The second bill was based on a woman killed by a man who had been deported to Mexico five times; DDT had used her as a symbol during his campaign. The Senate will probably not survive the Senate, especially the first one opposed by law enforcement groups. The National Fraternal Order of Police wrote House leaders that “withholding needed assistance to law enforcement agencies—which have no policymaking role—also hurts public safety efforts.”

Even GOP representative couldn’t swallow the massive cuts to the UN peacekeeping budget that its ambassador Nikki Haley touted on behalf of DDT. Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) pointed out “our leadership is irreplaceable.” Appropriations Committee Chair Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) said the cuts are not “sustainable or advisable” if the U.S. wants to maintain its status as a global leader.

The House did give DDT a bloated defense budget of $696 billion, more than his requested $603 billion. To survive, the budget needs to cut a deal to increase or repeal the sequestration caps that the GOP supported in 2013. A proposal to end the 2001 Authorization of Use of Military Force remained in the budget, but an amendment passed to require an administration strategy to defeat ISIS and an assessment of whether the 2001 AUMF is adequate to accomplish the strategy.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) lost her amendment to bar the Pentagon from paying for grender transition services when 24 Republicans joined Democrats to kill the measure. Twenty-seven GOP House representatives, including Oregon’s Greg Walden, joined the Democrats to oppose lawmakers who tried expand DDT’s religious profiling and Islamophobic policies. The failed amendment would have required the Secretary of Defense to “conduct strategic assessments of the use of violent or unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine to support extremist or terrorist messaging.”

Another loss for the GOP came from 46 Republicans voting against with their caucus to defeat an amendment to the Pentagon’s budget to eradicate language about climate change’s threat. The defense policy calls climate change a “direct threat” to national security and requires analysis about its affect on the military. The House voted 185-234 to keep this language by voting down the amendment. Justification for the language in the Defense Department included the rising sea levels threatening military installations and disasters of drought and floods that exacerbate instability and increase extremist insurrections and war. Defense Secretary James Mattis has already stated that climate change is “a real-time issue, not some distant what-if” and “impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today.”

One House member who may find himself embroiled in the DDT/Russia collusion is Oversight Committee Chair Trey Gowdy (SC). His super PAC accepted a great deal of money at the same time that the House Intelligence Committee began his investigation into the collusion. Gowdy defended himself by saying that “it’s not unusual for Russians to contact campaigns.” Yes, it is, and how does Gowdy know about these contacts? He also faces an ethics complaint about the possibility of bribes for his actions connected to Hillary Clinton’s debunked Benghazi investigation.

Gowdy has demanded that every DDT official disclose all communications with Russia before they come “out on the front page of the newspaper.” He wouldn’t admit that there is a problem with Russian collusion, but he wants the distraction to stop. Yet he admitted that “four or five statutes [could be] impacted” and “trusts” special investigator Robert Mueller “to sort all that out.” Mueller has 16 attorneys in his team of 25 people looking into Russian interference.

Things between the House and the White House may grow even more tense, if possible. Devil’s Bargain, a new book from Bloomberg’s Joshua Green, states that white supremacist Steve Bannon, back in WH favor, called Ryan “a limpd**k mother**ker.” Green wrote that the comment from DDT’s chief strategist came from the suggestion of Ryan as a DDT alternative is the RNC were contested. Breitbart.com, Bannon’s former website, launched critical pieces about Ryan. Can this be the first of “kiss and tell” books about DDT—without the kiss?

Ryan has expressed dismay at the senate failure to pass a healthcare bill after the House found 217 votes for Trumpcare months ago. He said that the House will move forward on tax “reform” (aka cuts for the wealthy). Passing the House health care bill has been profitable from some U.S. representative who bought stock in health insurance companies. As the bill moved forward in late March, GOP congressional members invested, i.e., Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), $30,000 and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), $50,000-$100,000.

Shortly after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) pulled the vote on its second bill for Trumpcare, he declared that the Senate would vote for a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and then replace it later. That plan didn’t work either. Senators who opposed the harshness of the Trumpcare bill are already voicing their opposition. And one possible GOP vote—Sen. John McCain—is still in Arizona. Plus McConnell will need 60, not 50, votes because a repeal won’t fall under the reconciliation process. Yet McConnell plans to move ahead with a vote next week

Ryan was surprised when some women representatives objected to the enforcement of a dress code preventing sleeveless tops and open-toed shoe. Rep. Jackie Spiers (D-CA) initiated “Sleeveless Friday,” a day when the temperature in Washington, D.C. was 97 degrees. Twenty-five women gathered for a photo op on the steps of Congress. Three-fourths of the women in the House are Democrats, but the protest crossed party lines.

Some people may complain about the women making a big deal of a small thing. At this time, however, the Republicans in the House are making a small thing of a big deal—DDT’s conflicts of interest, lack of tax returns, violent and threatening tweets, Russian connections, etc.

July 17, 2017

Waiting for McCain: Senate Struggles

Senators were so desperate to avoid their constituents that they decided to stay in Washington, D.C. for two weeks of their summer recess, departing August 11 soon after DDT’s 200th day. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had planned to pass the health Trumpcare bill at the end of this week because he wanted major legislation by the end of Dictator Donald Trump’s (DDT) 200th day. That might make up for almost nothing done during DDT’s first 100 days. McConnell’s little train went off the rails, however.

First, McConnell had two definite defections from either end of the political spectra. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) opposed the second bill that McConnell’s staffers wrote because it was more punitive than the first one. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said he wouldn’t vote for the bill because it gave people too much health care. The second senate bill came from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) who wants people to save money by buying substandard insurance plans. These would provide almost no care with prohibitively high deductibles, but the premiums might be lower.

Even big guns in the health insurance industry pointed out flaws in the new Trumpcare bill. In a letter to McConnell and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Blue Cross/Blue Shield and the insurance industry lobby group America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) called the most recent Trumpcare plan “unworkable in any form.” They wrote that the plan “would undermine protections for those with pre-existing medical conditions, increase premiums and lead to widespread terminations of coverage for people currently enrolled in the individual market.” The letter also asserted that a “single risk pool” would establish “two systems of insurance for healthy and sick people.” The bill has two pools—one for regular policyholders and another for the very sick. According to the letter’s authors, “millions of more individuals will become uninsured” with the proposed “risk pool.”

The second serious hitch for McConnell was Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) surgery in Arizona to remove a blood clot above his eye. McConnell delayed a vote to take healthcare from millions until McCain was back from his surgery paid for by the taxpayers. The first expectations were a week of recovery, but surgeons who performed the craniotomy are now less optimistic. He might not be able to vote on Trumpcare for several weeks. McCain’s blood clot was discovered during a routine physical, the kind of preventative care provided by the Affordable Care Act that Republicans hope to take from people if McCain gets back to Washington. The ACA Medicaid expansions in 30 states and D.C. increased preventative services for 5.4 percent more low-income childless adults in the past year.

If only Collins and Paul had defected, the remaining 50 GOP senators could have passed Trumpcare with VP Mike Pence casting the tie vote. But Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) indicated that he might join Collins and Paul because of  his irritation about McConnell’s assurances to moderate Republicans. The majority leader said, “The bill’s deepest Medicaid cuts are far into the future, and they’ll never go into effect anyway. McConnell finally pulled the vote on Trumpcare after Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Mike Lee (R-UT) dropped their support to even proceed to a vote. Moran stated:

“We should not put our stamp of approval on bad policy. Furthermore, if we leave the federal government in control of everyday healthcare decisions, it is more likely that our healthcare system will devolve into a single-payer system, which would require a massive federal spending increase.”

The senate debacle occurred after DDT hosted GOP senators for dinner at the White House. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), health committee chair, one of the invitees, was also one of those who wasn’t committed to voting in favor of the bill. A media whip count found only eleven GOP senators, mostly elected leaders and chairs of committees negotiating the bill, who fully supported Trumpcare. With Moran and Lee pairing up to deny Trumpcare, no GOP senator is in danger of being the third “no” in a vote.

Like the House, the Senate figured that if people didn’t like the first bill for healthcare, they would create a worse one. In addition to Cruz’s idea of ending federal subsidies and regulations, it still allows insurers to reject people with pre-existing conditions, reinstitutes lifetime coverage caps, and eliminates coverage of essential benefits such as maternity care. McConnell’s bill retains 80 percent of taxes that earlier versions would repeal, but reduction in Medicaid still offsets these taxes. The $100 billion tax break for people who open health care savings accounts gives to the wealthy, the only people who have enough money to establish these accounts. The bill also gives $70 billion to insurers as protection against the bill’s turbulence, but that action didn’t satisfy the health insurance industry. In its opposition to the bill, AHIP issued a press release entitled, “Policies that increase uncertainty or threaten instability should be avoided.”

As bad as the Trumpcare bill is, the process may be even worse. Senate staffers wrote a health bill that even GOP members of the health care committee couldn’t see, and the GOP leaders said they were proud to be part of a “transparent and open” process. They declared that the Democrats were far more secretive about passing the bill. The Affordable Care Act had over 100 hearings; Trumpcare has none, despite suggestions for having hearings now that the vote has been delayed. Trumpcare is the least popular bill in 30 years and growing less popular every day. Twice as many people support “Obamacare” as “Trumpcare”—50 percent to 28 percent. Sixty-one percent of people disapprove of the Senate plan, and almost two-thirds in the survey oppose major reductions to federal funding for Medicaid. Seventy-one percent want Republicans in Congress to work with Democrats to improve, but not repeal, the ACA.

In another mystery surrounding Trumpcare, the mandatory score from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has been delayed from its expected release today. The report for the first bill revealed that Trumpcare would increase average premiums by 20 percent in 2018 and 10 percent the next year before going down in ten years. The CBO may be preparing a comparison with the two different senate bills, but Republicans are concerned about what the most recent bill may reveal.

Passing Trumpcare and DDT’s budget could create an epidemic of “super gonorrhea” caused by the overuse of antibiotics. Eliminating the Antibiotic Resistance Solutions Initiative (ARSI) to try to improve detection and containment of resistant infections across the nation could also limit modern medical advances in surgery and chemotherapy from the threat of infection. Nineteen of the leaders in the G20 are planning to coordinate a fight against this problem.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

In another Senate story that keeps dripping, a D.C. judge overturned the conviction of a protester at the confirmation hearing of AG Jeff Sessions. Desiree Fairooz, 61, laughed when Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) claimed Sessions had a “clear and well-documented” record of “treating all Americans equally under the law.” The government had argued that her laugh was sufficient for a guilty verdict. The real disruption occurred when a rookie officer took her out of the room. A new trial has been set for Sept. 1.

In Senate confirmation hearings for FBI director last week, Christopher Wray said all the right things and impressed Democrats. Here is his background.

  • Defense of white collar defendants, including a major Swiss bank accused of laundering money for terrorists and helping Iran obtain nuclear weapons.
  • Lawyer for Russian companies Gazprom and Rosneft.
  • Deletion from his bio about representation of unnamed American “energy company executive in a criminal investigation by Russian authorities.”
  • Overseer of a deal with Chiquita, while he was in the Criminal Division, that exonerated executives of the company supporting terrorism in Colombia.
  • Support for Bush-era rules interrogating (torturing?) so-called “non-combatants.”
  • “Less-than-truthful” answers about the murder of a CIA-held detainee.
  • Defense attorney and “chief custodian of missing cell phones” for Gov. Chris Christie (NJ) during an investigation into the closure of the George Washington Bridge.
  • Extreme enthusiasm for the PATRIOT Act in opposition to civil liberties groups, indicating his using extensive surveillance for protesters.

E.J. Dionne gave an excellent rationale for not confirming Wray:

“There is good reason to feel uneasy about having anyone appointed by Trump lead the FBI at this moment. It is obvious to all except the willfully blind that we now have a president who observes none of the norms, rules or expectations of his office and will pressure anyone at any time if doing so serves his personal interests. We also know beyond doubt that this team will lie, and lie, and lie again whenever the matter of Russia’s exertions to elect Trump and defeat Hillary Clinton arises.”

But Wray said the right things to senators, and VP Mike Pence avows (falsely) that Trumpcare “secures Medicaid for the neediest in our society.” Our culture is dominated by “fake” claims.

June 28, 2017

Congress Churns Forward

Congress is getting ready for another vacation, gone for all next week for a week, before returning for a few days and disappearing for over a month. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) has taken over for Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) as head of the House Oversight Committee and announced that he won’t bother with any investigation into the involvement of people such as Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner with Russia. Gowdy also ruled out looking into whether Trump White House adviser Jared Kushner’s security clearance should be revoked. This is the same man who spent millions of dollars and hundreds of hours examining Hillary Clinton’s email server and four deaths in Benghazi.

Chaffetz won’t be back to Washington after the break; he submitted his resignation in April. He did leave a legacy by calling on Congress to declare a monthly $2,500 housing stipend for each congressional member, equivalent to two annual minimum-wage salaries. Chaffetz is the same person who told people that they could pay for their health insurance if they didn’t buy an iPhone. People who asked why Chaffetz had quit a year and a half before the end of his two-year term now have their answer. He starts on Fox network Saturday—the day that he begins “retirement.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain (R-AZ), each met with Andriy Parubiy, founder of the neo-fascist Social-National Party of Ukraine that used Nazi ideology and Third Reich imagery. The SNPU banned non-Ukrainians and established a violently racist paramilitary group called the Patriot of Ukraine. Ryan called on “closer political, economic, and security relations between our legislatures,” and McCain said that he and Parubiy had a “good meeting.”

While the media concentrated on the egregious health care plan in the Senate and the Russian investigation into Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) and his colleagues, the House passed a near-repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act. When the act was signed into law in 2010, it attempted to limit the riskiest types of securities to keep the United States out of another recession like the one a decade ago. Current Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin hates the Dodd-Frank Act because it keeps him from making more vast profits from disclosing on mortgages the way that he did before it went into effect.

Ironically the pro-Wall Street bill is called CHOICE Act. One part of it eliminates the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule, requiring brokers to act in the best interest of their clients when providing investment advice about retirement. The legislation would also stop the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from overseeing plans for banks with more than $50 billion in holding assets if they need to declare bankruptcy. It would also greatly lower capital requirements, a method of making bank safer by keeping them from loading up on debt.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) calls it the “Wrong Choice Act” because the anti-family, anti-consumer provisions block regulators from carrying out their jobs and allows big banks to ignore oversight. CHOICE allows banks to return to gambling in the market with federally guaranteed deposits and resume unlimited unfair banking practices to deceive customers. CHOICE permits unregulated payday and car-title loan sharks. If the bill passes, the president can fire the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and curb its oversight powers. The bill allows legislators to defund CFPB, the first step in doing away from it.

CFPB returned $11.8 billion to more than 29 million consumers defrauded by big banks, shady for-profit colleges, and debt collectors. Despite the banks’ record profits last year, they want to eliminate the rules that reduce foreclosures and protect borrowers.

The Dodd-Frank Act creates rules, processes, and organizations in the connected financial world of banks, hedge funds, mortgage originators, insurance companies, debt collectors, and payday lenders. Stripping away the pieces of Dodd-Frank is like mining by removing a mountain. With any luck, the CHOICE Act may not move through the Senate because eight Democrats would have to support it.

Before the Senate tackles CHOICE, it has to deal with the highly unpopular health care bill. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has found $188 billion, and he’s madly talking with reluctant GOP senators to bribe them with backroom “side deals.” Conservatives no longer want to use money to reduce the deficit. If he gets any kind of consensus, then he has to rush the revised bill to the Congressional Budget Office for another scoring in order to vote in the last two weeks of July. The bill has to be passed in coordination with the House by September 30 in order to need only 50 votes, and the Senate is in recess for all of August.

Compromise will be difficult: the far right wants no coverage mandates to lower premiums, and the right (called moderates) want more generous tax credits for the working class and less punitive Medicaid cuts. At least nine senators have said that they couldn’t vote for the present bill, and they’re split between those from states that expanded Medicaid and those who fought it. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) wants permission for bare-bones plans that don’t offer much health care—back to life before the Affordable Care Act. McConnell continues to claim that Democrats won’t talk about the health care bill while Democrats are begging to be given a seat at the discussion table.

As could be expected, Democrats were upset about being left out of the process. In an odd twist, however, so were several Republicans. Those in the closed-door “listening sessions” reported that the leadership wouldn’t tell them what was and wasn’t on the table. They were just asked about what they could and couldn’t support. Some went so far as to say that the meetings were a box-checking exercise.  “I always believe legislation is best crafted through the normal order,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said. “I think it’s much better to have committee consideration of bills, public hearings and to have a full debate.” She was joined by a number of “moderate” GOP senators in calling on involvement of Democrats in the governing process.

The Senate has not had this type of closed-door partisan process to major legislation since before World War I, over a century ago. Don Ritchie, the historian emeritus of the Senate, said that Democratic leaders tried the same MO during the Great Depression, but senator revolted. A small revolt may be starting now as most GOP senators are non-committal about the bill. A  result of Senate support, people hate their version of Trumpcare even more than they hated the House bill. A USA Today poll reported 12 percent approval, and that newspaper is owned by Fox’s Rupert Murdoch. The House bill had gone as high as 20 percent approval.

The last time that members of Congress headed home for a recess, most of the Republicans refused to have town halls with their constituents. They will be increasingly reluctant this summer because the health care bills are causing far more anger than earlier—and the public was furious then. Some GOP legislators are using the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) as an excuse to avoid their voters. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) has an idea. During the last recess, he suggested that Democrats “adopt a district” as he did when he fielded questions in a town hall from constituents in a neighboring district after Rep. John Faso (R-NY) avoided any meetings. Rep. Reuben Gallego (D-AZ) “adopted” a neighboring district belonging to Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) when she wouldn’t host an event in her district. Maybe the idea will catch on this summer. Only two GOP senators—Jerry Moran (KS) and Bill Cassidy (LA) have scheduled town halls for the upcoming break.

A miracle did happen in the U.S. House during the past month! Republicans stood up for the environment! DDT’s budget eliminates more than 50 EPA programs, halves the scientific research, and decimates environmental enforcement and grants—in all, slashing $2.6 billion, 31 percent of the EPA’s budget. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) wasn’t buying the agency’s secretary, Scott Pruitt, when he defended the cuts by saying they didn’t need the funding. Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) defended the Great Lakes, calling them “a national treasure” and asking if Pruitt thought that it’s “fair to expect states and local communities to shoulder the burden of caring for them.” Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) opposed the 30 percent cuts in the Superfund program, affecting over 100 hazardous waste sites in his state. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) objected to zeroing out several tribal environmental grants and programs. It’s a start!

June 27, 2017

DDT: Week Twenty-Two – Russia, Other Bizarre Happenings

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) seemed tamer earlier last week, but he always winds up before his weekend vacations when he can ditch his keepers. Maybe his daily 6:30 am calls to his legal time have given him food for thought. He has far too many lawyers for a man who has nothing to hide. Some of his own lawyers are even hiring their own lawyers.

DDT’s biggest loss to Russia could be the Senate vote of 98-2 that limits DDT’s power to remove sanctions from Russia. The U.S. shooting down a Syrian Air Force fighter didn’t make this nation popular with Russia, a Syrian supporter. In retaliation, Russia declared any U.S.-led coalition craft west of the Euphrates river as a possible target and ended the Syrian air safety agreement with the U.S. to avoid aircraft collisions. DDT had already turned all military decisions to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, thereby losing all control and possibly forecasting war. The result was 4,000 more troops sent to Afghanistan and a massive increase in U.S.-caused civilian casualties in Syria and Iraq, more than 35 percent more in five months since DDT’s inauguration than in all of 2016. May saw a record number of women and children killed. It was only two months ago that DDT said that “we’re not going into Syria.”

Each week gives greater information about Russian hacking into the U.S. election, including attempts to delete or change voter data. A DHS official testified that 21 states were target although a total of 39 states is possible.

Russian revelations keep surfacing. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn missed reporting a 2015 trip to Saudi Arabia lobbying a U.S./Russia business plan to build nuclear reactors. The legality of foreign payments to Michael Flynn’s business partner Bijan Kianthe is also being investigated.  Another casualty could be CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who kept briefing Flynn on highly classified secrets after he knew Flynn was subject to Russian blackmail. The Justice Department has one month to make public part of AG Jeff Sessions’ clearance form that was supposed to disclose Russian official contact, according to a U.S. District Court judge. Sessions has hired his own lawyer. The judge gave the same time limit to search Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’ communication with the FBI to repudiate links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Much of the media was taken up last week with the announcement of the senate health care bill, prepared in secret by GOP leader’s staffers, according to Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). The sole purpose of the bill is tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, indicating that the name might be better Trumpcut than Trumpcare.

In his continuation of hosting foreign leaders—perhaps hoping that they will want his golf courses and resorts—DDT praised the U.S. for doing “a good job building [the Panama Canal].” Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela responded, “Yeah, about 100 years ago.”

The Supreme Court decided to hear a gerrymandering case from Wisconsin that could—or might not—reduce voter suppression throughout the United States. The fourth solid red district stayed red after reelections for DDT’s nominations. All of them, however, are turning purple as the most recent one in Georgia where Dem Jon Osoff lost by under two points after GOP Tom Price won it by 23 percent just six months ago. Democrats overperformed in the other elections too, despite the Republians’ lies.

The circus of White House press conferences continued with refusals to even tape the event before Spicer backed down. Despite rumors of Sean Spicer’s departure—and his requirement to interview for his replacement—the press secretary is still there and repeating his line about not speaking to DDT about the subject of the question, any question.

After weeks of teasing his audience about possible tapes of himself and former FBI director James Comey, DDT has announced that he lied, that there are no tapes. His claim about taping could be defined as an attempt to intimidate a witness. DDT could still be lying about the existence of tapes if he thinks that they don’t support his version of conversations with Comey. According to former employees, DDT taped conversations at Trump Tower in New York City and recorded his guests’ telephone calls at Mar-a-Lago. To cover himself, DDT said that he didn’t rule out the possibility that “electronic surveillance” had picked up their talks.

DDT sent a statement with “warm greetings” to Muslims celebrating Ramadan but eliminated the two-decade tradition of an Iftar dinner representing the end of the Islamic holy month of fasting.

Two organizations are suing DDT for illegally destroying communications that federal law demands be preserved. Messages sent from the White House supposedly use an “auto-delete” app to erase messages after they are read. Jordan Libowitz, CREW spokesman, said that the purpose is to “keep them secret from the American people,” as part of a “larger, troubling pattern” of information suppression in the Trump administration, which also includes deletion of the president’s tweets.” DDT continually slammed Hillary Clinton for not saving her emails, asking Russia to find them.

Ivanka Trump is also involved in a lawsuit. She has been ordered to testify in a lawsuit from an Italian shoemaker who is accusing her of copying one of his designs.

DDT has gone back to finding ambassadors. He picked two owners of sports franchises, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson to go to the UK and former LA Dodgers baseball team owner Jamie McCourt for Belgium. Top donor and fundraiser Kelly Knight Craft may be headed to Canada. She and her husband Joe Craft, president of a coal company Alliance Resource Partners, gave $1.3 million to GOP candidates and SuperPACs last year. Fourteen of his 19 ambassador picks are campaign donors.

In another choice, DDT nominated Christopher Wray to replace James Comey as head of the FBI. In early January 2017, Wray deleted a line from his law firm bio referencing a 2006 case in which he represented a U.S. energy executive being investigated by the Russian government. As Chris Christie’s personal lawyer, Wray got the New Jersey governor off from a charge of the George Washington Bridge closing. Wray had a phone with text messages and a former staffer during legislative testimony that Christie claimed he gave to the Department of Justice, but a judge refused to subpoena the phone in evidence against Christie. Wray’s firm also worked on DDT’s “blind trust.” Several candidates for the FBI position had already withdrawn from consideration.

A Washington Post analysis found that DDT’s Mar-a-Lago club is booking fewer charity banquets and events since his campaign than in the previous seven years. These banquets account for almost half the annual revenue. DDT’s  real estate business is also struggling with a decline in condo and land sales. Listing prices for several high-end NYC condos are being drastically cut while the city’s condo market is booming. DDT did manage to sell a penthouse to a Chinese American tied to high-ranking Chinese government officials and organizations linked to Chinese military intelligence groups. The large revenue on DDT’s financial disclosure forms show gross and not net revenue.

DDT tried to rally his troops in a speech in Iowa ten days ago. It was his first west of the Mississippi, and he told at least 18 lies according to fact checkers. One was his promise to pass “new immigration rules which say that those seeking admission into our country must be able to support themselves financially and should not use welfare for a period of at least five years.”  DDT’s mandate has been law for 20 years. He also bragged about bringing back coal jobs while delivering multiple lies about the Paris Agreement. Iowa not only has no coal jobs but also gets one-third of its electricity from wind. DDT ridiculed the state for its wind energy, indicating that people will have no electricity when the wind doesn’t blow and complaining about wind turbines “killing all the birds.” Cell phone towers killed 6.8 million birds a year, and glass buildings do away with one billion. Climate change can finish off the rest of them.

Last fall DDT proudly announced that he had saved jobs because Ford wouldn’t be expanding its production in Mexico. The corporation is centralizing its small-car production in China. Ford has said it will cut as many as 1,400 jobs in less than a year. General Motors has cut production at four U.S. assembly lines, costing 4,400 workers their jobs. Fiat Chrysler laid off another 1,300 workers at their assembly line in Detroit. The 600 Carrier jobs that DDT bragged about saving last year are going to Mexico, and Boeing is pink-slipping an unknown number of employees.

As Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said,  American leadership was better under President Obama than under DDT.

[Note: My apologies for being late with the 22nd week. Look for the 23rd week in a few days. DDT keeps making news!]

June 22, 2017

Senate Trumpcare: ‘Mean and Meaner’

After weeks of secrecy, the Senate version of Trumpcare is out, and police dragged protesters from the hall outside from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) door. Many of them were disabled in wheelchairs and on respirators. Over 40 people were attacked and arrested, and photographs showed blood on the floor of the hall. Photographs and video here. These protesters aren’t alone: Trumpcare has only a 17 percent approval rate in the country and no majority in any of the 50 states.

 SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

GOP senators said that their bill would not be as cruel as the House bill passed last month, but it is more “mean,” to use a word from Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). Republicans said that they had to pass a repeal of “Obamacare” to keep their promise, but it leaves most of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) bones while taking away the flesh. Four senators have criticized Trumpcare because it doesn’t do enough damage to most of the people in the United States.

The sole purpose of the bill was to take money out of health care for women, the poor and low income, the elderly, the sick, and any health person who becomes injured in order to give massive tax cuts to the wealthy, the health care companies, and the pharmaceutical corporations. People with incomes over $200,000 are the ones who benefit. The rich get over $600 billion while people on Medicaid lose over $800 billion. Forty percent of the tax cuts go to the top one percent: multi-billionaire Warren Buffet said that his tax bill would drop about $680,000 with the bill, a 17 percent reduction on his taxes. The top 20 percent will gain 64 percent of the cuts. No date is listed for the giveaway to the wealthy, but it’s retroactive to last December.

The pharmaceutical industry would gain $28 billion from Trumpcare to add to its massive profits, $83 billion last year alone. These companies are also among the biggest offshore tax dodgers; Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck are three of the top ten U.S. corporations avoiding U.S. taxes.

In essence, Trumpcare is only an income-distribution plan.

The bill will meet the requirement of lowering the deficit by a few billion because people will no longer have the benefits of the ACA. Like the House bill, the senate Trumpcare will take insurance from tens of millions of people, remove guarantees for pre-existing conditions, and force massive increases in premiums and deductibles.

Bill highlights:

  • No ACA mandates.
  • Elimination of taxes for wealthy and corporations.
  • Disappearance of Medicaid expansion throughout the next few years. In eight states—Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Washington—phasing out Medicaid automatically ends any expansion and cuts off currently enrolled people.
  • Limits on Medicaid spending with per capita caps or block grants for states, allocating a specific amount of money no matter what the actual costs of care are. Caps are tied to general rate of inflation, meaning a smaller percentage of the actual cost of care each year. States can also use this funding for purposes other than health care.
  • Waivers allowing states to sell insurance without the Ten Essential Benefits that include hospitalization, emergency care, mental health, lab tests, maternity and pediatric care, etc. People can pay lower premiums to get minimum health care from insurance, leaving them with much higher medical costs. Low- and middle-income Americans will spend significantly more for less coverage.
  • Elimination of tax credits by 2020.
  • Repeal of ACA’s cost-sharing subsidies by 2019. Until then subsidies are reduced to 350 percent of the poverty line from 400 percent, providing help to fewer people. People would have to spend as much as 16.2 percent of their income on premiums instead of no more than 9.5 percent.
  • Reduction of covered medical costs to 58 percent, down from the ACA 75 percent.
  • Shift to Medicaid spending growth to general inflation rate, much lower than medical costs inflation.
  • Work requirement for Medicaid recipients except elderly, pregnant women, and people with disability.
  • Elimination of Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood.
  • Limitations on insurance for abortions, making it almost impossible to purchase.

Most of the 13 senators on the committee who supposedly wrote the 142 pages of Trumpcare were not aware of its contents during the process. [These 13 white men average over 60 years of age and more than $1 million in assets.] One member, Sen. Mike Lee (UT), said on Tuesday that he had not seen the bill that is “apparently being written by a small handful of staffers for members of the Republican leadership in the Senate.” Trumpcare must get a vote by the end of next week, according to McConnell. He will allow no testimony from experts and no input from the public. The debate will be limited to ten hours.

Republican senators claim that their bill stops denial of insurance for people with pre-existing conditions. In reality, premiums will be too high for people to afford. An analysis of the bill shows that older people could see their premiums increase by more than 700 percent.

Women will suffer from Trumpcare with lack of birth control to maternity coverage. Medicaid now pays for half of all births in the United States, including two-thirds of unplanned births. Women in the U.S. have some of the worst maternal health and mortality outcomes in the industrialized world, and life expectancy for women is going down.  Trumpcare allows the nation to return to the days when only 11 states required maternity coverage on individual and small-group markets. At that time, 88 percent of individual plans failed to provide maternity coverage.

Another highly vulnerable population is disabled and elderly people living in nursing homes who depend on Medicaid. With federal spending reduced by 25 percent, states will be able to cover millions of fewer people. Medicaid also pays for opioid treatment in the current epidemic. Trumpcare allocates $2 billion in 2018 for treatment and recovery services but nothing beyond. Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) have requested $45 billion over the next ten years, and experts say that $19 billion a year is needed for the addiction crisis that results in hepatitis C, HIV, and bacterial endocarditis.

Rural people will be hard hit with Trumpcare. Their hospitals are partly keep afloat by Medicaid funds because hospitals are required to care for people whether they have insurance or not. At least 79 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, and another 700 are at risk. Trumpcare wants to remove $834 billion in Medicaid, and DDT takes another $610 billion cuts with his budget. The loss of hospitals means not only less health care but also fewer jobs and lowered property values.

Republicans complained about the secrecy of passing the Affordable Care Act when the ACA had over 100 hearings and involved hundreds of interested parties during more than a full year. Both the House and the senate bills for Trumpcare were more secret than the Russian hacking. Democrats always clearly stated the purpose for the law, but Trumpcare supporters can’t even come up with a logical reason for the bill. They just repeat that they want to repeal “Obamacare.”

Hopefully, senators will have to face constituents during the summer recess. Twenty GOP senators represent 14 states that accepted Medicaid expansion. Over 30 percent of people in Sens. John Kennedy’s Louisiana, John Boozman and Tom Cotton’s Arkansas, and Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul’s Kentucky are Medicaid beneficiaries. More than one-fifth of those living in eight of the other states with Republicans senators are enrolled in Medicaid.

In explaining the House Trumpcare bill, used as a pattern for the senate bill, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) said:

“It will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool that helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now, those are the people who have done things the right way that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.”

Using Brooks’ statement as a guideline, he should tell Rep. Steve Scalise (R-SC) after he was received at least three surgeries from the recent shooting in Alexandria (VA) that he should have done a better job keeping his body healthy. Scalise now has at least one pre-existing condition—and probably many more—from the shooting. Fortunately, however, the people losing health care are paying for his health insurance.

The Republicans have trapped themselves. They can’t pass a repeal of the ACA if it needs 60 votes in the senate so they put it into a reconciliation process that requires only 50 votes. They can’t pass a reconciliation measure if it doesn’t have the budgetary savings as the House bill so they cut hundreds of billions of dollars that have helped people. They can’t “add some money to it,” as DDT suggested. So they end up with another bill that, added to the House bill, is “mean and meaner,” as Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said. [Right: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaking on the floor of the senate.]

The 142-page bill is available on line.

June 11, 2017

GOP Senators Work to Take Health Care from Millions of People

Filed under: Health Care — trp2011 @ 10:37 PM
Tags: , , , ,

While millions of people in the United States were focused on the Senate testimony of former FBI director James Comey, the Republicans were sabotaging health care for a large percentage of people in the nation. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) announced this goal at the annual Road to Majority conference organized by Ralph Reed and the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Amidst a drum beat of calling Democrats obstructionists, DDT said that restoring freedom means taking away health care from millions of people. A 13-senator group has been planning in secrecy, hoping to push a vote by July because, according to Sen. Roy Blount (R-MO), “I don’t think this gets better over time.” In other words, they know it stinks.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)  is desperate because the bill has to meet the approval of both House and Senate by September 30 in order to use the process of reconciliation, allowing a simple majority vote instead of a possible 60 votes in a filibuster. A vote on the bill by June 30 requires that it go to the Congressional Budget by the end of this week. Unlike the House, the Senate cannot vote on a bill that has not received CBO scoring. Because the bill will be voted on under the “reconciliation” process, it cannot require any revenue. Because of the possible tax cuts for the wealthy, a leaked version of the bill shows that it includes waivers for states to the ten essential items—including hospitalization—from insurance coverage and enlarges the ratio of what older people can be charged relative to younger customers, greatly increasing premiums for many people.

McConnell implemented Senate “Rule 14” last week, the day before Comey’s testimony, to fast-track it by skipping the committee process—and a full senate debate. During a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the Health and Human Services 2018 budget request on Thursday, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) expressed her concern with McConnell’s invoking Rule 14. She said that the senate health care bill was being written by “group of guys in the back room making all the decisions” and asked Chair Orrin Hatch (R-UT) if there would be a public hearing on the health bill which has been secret until now. (Hatch is a member of the gang of 13 health care killers.) After a painfully long pause, an aide said into Hatch’s ear, “They’re invited to participate in this process and we’re open to their ideas and suggestions.” Hatch, helped by an aide talking into his ear, said he didn’t know. As McCaskill commented, “But we have no idea what’s being proposed.” Republicans complained about her “rants and raves,” perhaps because she said that the Republicans were trying to pass the bill with 50 votes and one from the vice president. McConnell plans to make the bill public for only two days before the vote.

One glitch to the bill comes from a ban on people using new refundable tax credits for private insurance plans that cover abortion. Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough pointed out that the Byrd Rule might prevent that provision for reconciliation because it covers policy and not budget, not permitted under reconciliation. With the anti-abortion provision, the bill may not be allowed under reconciliation, and without that provision it might not pass. David Christensen of the far-right evangelical Family Resesarch Council, said, “Abortion is not healthcare.” A precedent for MacDonough’s position was in a 1995 ruling about attempting to block abortion in a reconciliation bill.

The GOP senators are already divided into factions, three in opposition to the 13 white men devising the plan. Bill Cassidy (LA) and Susan Collins (ME), not members of the deciding 13 senators, oppose the House bill and co-sponsored their version called the Patient Freedom Act. Led by Rob Portman (OH), another group wants Medicaid expansion. Ted Cruz (TX) and Mike Lee (UT) are part of the group that wants the House bill.

The abominable baker’s dozen of murderers on the Senate health care plan has an average age of over 60 and an average worth of over $1 million each. (They look very much like the people above celebrating the ending of health care of millions of people in the U.S. after the House bill passed.) Almost half of the 13, six senators, are from three states—Texas, Utah, and Wyoming, and Wyoming’s total population of under 600,000 represents less than 0.002 percent of the U.S. population of 321,000,000. Utah isn’t much better with under one percent of the U.S. population. These are the men deciding health care for everyone, including women, minorities, and the poor. The average net worth of the bottom 40 percent of people in the U.S. is almost zero because of heavy losses during the George W. Bush era.

These 13 men of wealth are writing and pushing through a bill for health care that 140 million people in the U.S. directly rely on and one that comprises one-sixth of the nation’s GDP, one that 140 million people in the United States.  This comes from the same party that complained for eight years that Democrats passed health care on a party-line vote and falsely asserted that Republicans weren’t involved in the process. And they admit what they’re doing: Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said that there was no reason for a committee hearing because Democrats won’t support their bill. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said that the bill will go up for a vote without floor debate as soon as there’re 51 votes for it. The senate has 52 Republicans.

The senate promised a kinder version of health care than the House approved, but states would still be forced to end expanded Medicaid programs because of lost federal funds, and poor and near-poor adults losing Medicaid couldn’t afford private coverage. Eight Medicaid-expansion states have laws immediately dropping the program without federal funding, the year 2020 if the bill passes, and other states would see significant increases in costs which they may not be able to afford. Eighty-four percent of the public, including 71 percent of Republicans, support continued current federal funding for Medicaid expansion.

With the philosophy of “kill the ump,” OMB Director Mick Mulvaney wants to do away with the Congressional Budget Office because it scored the House bill as removing health insurance from 23 million people as well as either raising premiums or reducing health care coverage—or both—for tens of millions more people. He used this information to claim that the CBO is partisan, despite the fact that his own department’s evaluation matched that of the CBO. In addition, the GOP chose CBO’s director, Keith Hall, praised by DDT’s cabinet member Tom Price because of Hall’s “impressive level of economic expertise.”

In addition to telling Christians at the conference that he wants to strip health care for tens of millions of people, DDT is also sabotaging the existing health care plan. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield has impacted 10,500 consumers by pulling out of the federal exchange in Ohio; the company blamed DDT, citing “the lack of certainty” about the federal government funding cost-sharing subsidies. Since DDT was inaugurated Ohio’s governor, John Kasich has warned that insurance markets are “slipping into crisis.” DDT is pushing for the health care system to collapse by making the exchanges less stable and discouraging companies from offering plans.

DDT supporters are big losers with Trumpcare. The more likely people were to vote for DDT, the greater they will lose. Those losing more than $1,000 favored him by seven points, and those losing at least $5,000 in tax credits supported DDT by 59 percent to 36 percent. The largest number of losers from voting for DDT are older people and those who live in rural areas. All the benefits of two tax hikes go to people earning $200,000 or more; only ten percent of that demographic voted for DDT.

North Carolina resident Martha Brawley, 55, cast her first ballot in her lifetime for DDT because he said he would bring down the cost of healthcare. “I might as well have not voted,” she said after she discovered that Trumpcare would give her $3,500 to buy insurance instead of the $8,688 subsidy she gets from Obamacare.

Gone with Trumpcare will be any hope for retirement. Tea Partiers who turned the government into one of cruelty almost eight years ago are the same people who are getting too old to find jobs now and won’t have health insurance if they aren’t old enough for Medicare. Before the Affordable Care Act, people were forced to stay in jobs to keep health insurance; “Obamacare” freed many of them. Trumpcare will force people back into a pattern of working long into old age, even those with serious medical issues like cancer. Trumpcare may force people out of their homes. In 2009, medical bills caused 1.5 million people in the U.S. to declare bankruptcies. Medical bills stressed at least 20 percent of all families. By 2013, medical bills put over ten million people into poverty. During the first year of the ACA, over four million fewer people, including one million children, were in poverty.

The 50+ senators who may vote for Trumpcare go home on recess immediately after the vote. Let’s hope that they all have town hall meetings with their constituents who lose the health care.

 

May 10, 2017

Jason Chaffetz: Epitome of the GOP

Filed under: Legislation — trp2011 @ 11:10 PM
Tags: , , , , , ,

Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) may be almost gone, but he will live on as the epitome of the GOP leadership. Vinson Cunningham describes some of his characteristics, and photographer Bill Clark captured a representative image.

Chaffetz seemed like an independent person last October when Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) revealed his privileged sense of depravity by talking about indiscriminately  grabbing “pussy.” In response, Chaffetz seemed to take the high road when he rescinded his endorsement of DDT:

“My wife and I, we have a fifteen-year-old daughter, and if I can’t look her in the eye and tell her these things, I can’t endorse this person.”

At that time he also had much more to say about the “awful place” the nominee had put the country in and his “abhorrent and offensive” language, but his position about DDT lasted only two and a half weeks before the 180-degree turned Chaffetz into a DDT supporter. His excuse was that Hillary Clinton was “that bad.” As House Oversight chairman, he has focused for years on trying to make Clinton’s life miserable in endless Benghazi inquisitions. None of the expensive endeavors turned up any illegal action, but Chaffetz isn’t through. Returning from re-election this past January, Chaffetz opened an investigation into Clinton’s emails, hoping for criminal charges, and Comey’s firing inspired him to expand the scope of his search for something—anything—that might be illegal in Clinton’s private server.

Faced with unconstitutional conflict of interest charges for DDT, Chaffetz mentally shrugged his shoulders and said, “He’s already rich. He’s very rich. I don’t think that he ran for this office to line his pockets even more. I just don’t see it like that.” Pushed to investigate the $400 million deal between Jared Kushner’s family and the Chinese, Chaffetz said:

“I don’t see how that affects the average American and their taxpayer dollars. Just the fact that a staff person’s family is making money? It’s not enough.”

Chaffetz referred to “these other little intrigues about a wealthy family making money” as “a bit of a sideshow.”

Soon after DDT’s inauguration, Chaffetz proposed a bill that would allow Republicans to sell off public lands. A bipartisan backlash caused him to say that he was withdrawing the bill because his constituents objected. That was February 2. Eight days later the bill was referred to a subcommittee.

During public appearances during “Trumpcare”s first attempt this year, Chaffetz maintained that people could pay for their health care if they didn’t buy a new iPhone. First, the cost of an iPhone won’t pay for health care. But then came the discovery that Chaffetz’s $738 iPhone—and its services—came from campaign funds. This would be illegal if he used it for person business, but he hasn’t answered any questions about whether he does. Then came his attack on Rosie O’Donnell after Chaffetz’s Democratic opponent for 2018, Kathryn Allen, raised over $200,000 in just two days.

Another part of Chaffetz’s history is his failure to become a Secret Service agent. He claimed that he was rejected because he was too old, but then-Assistant Director Edward Lowery sent an email saying about his application, “Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out. Just to be fair.”

The kitchen apparently got too hot for Chaffetz at an April town hall meeting in his home Utah district. The people who attended scolded him for not investigating administration corruption, including DDT’s appointment of Michael Flynn for national security adviser. Chaffetz whined about how his constituents in his deep red district were there only to “bully and intimidate” him and called them “paid protesters.” Then he said he wouldn’t run for re-election in 2018 and might even leave Congress before then. Chaffetz claimed that he wanted to return to the private sector and be with his family. “I started poking around to see what I might be worth and what sort of possibilities are there,” he said in an interview. And then he avoided Congress and his constituents by a month-long leave after foot surgery. Distancing himself from DDT at this time could let him run for governor or even president in 2020.

The House was so desperate for votes on their cruel “repeal and replace” health care bill that Chaffetz showed up on an expensive metallic scooter to cast his vote denying tens of millions of people the same health insurance that he will keep. His district is in the top ten of districts with the most people relying on the Affordable Care Act. Clark’s photograph perfectly presents the GOP cruelty of a “repeal and replace” vote for ACA in the House with the slick, gleeful Chaffetz framed against marble walls and elaborate chandeliers.

With Clinton in the White House, Chaffetz could have stayed gleeful while the Fox network filmed him constantly leading highly visible investigations about Clinton’s conflicts of interests and abuses of power. Like many other Republicans, Chaffetz hasn’t figured out how to work in a government controlled by the GOP. They are accustomed to dealing with opposition in a world where they preen in front of the cameras as victims; they don’t know what to do when the opposition comes from within. Even worse for the Republicans is that the corruption comes their own party—and much of it from their own president.

Stephanie Mencimer writes: “Jason Chaffetz is so ambitious that his last name is a verb.” She explains that “to Chaffetz” means to throw a former mentor under the bus to move ahead, something that people such as presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. and House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy. Other Republicans carry Chaffetzing farther. DDT claimed that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, and Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, had come to DDT asking for Comey’s firing, but people familiar with the occurrence said that DDT summoned the two of them to the White House after he decided to fire Comey. They followed his orders, and DDT tried to put the blame on them when the scheme backfired.

According to over 30 White House officials, however, DDT had become increasingly furious about Comey’s appearing in public, especially to talk about Russian involvement in U.S. politics, especially during the past week. The Washington Post has provided extensive information about events leading up to the firing and such questions as why Sessions was involved in the firing when he recused himself from anything dealing with Clinton’s emails, the ostensible reason for the firing, and Russia, the probably reason behind the firing.

The firing and the GOP support behind him reflects how Chaffetz views his job—that he has sworn allegiance to the Republican party over any loyalty to his country. The question is how long the Republicans will continue to support DDT over their country’s best interests. In an analysis of senators’ responses, only 12 of them actively defended DDT for the firing while another fifteen said that DDT’s actions raised concerns about a lack of information or the timing of the firing. Another 21 senators were vague, likely waiting to see which way they should jump after the dust settles. This is the congressional body responsible for confirming the replacement for Comey. Much to DDT’s amazement, the Democrats were overwhelming angry about the firing because of its apparent intent to stop the investigation into his relationship with Russia.

DDT’s possible business dealings with Russia may be the major issue that emerged from Monday’s Senate hearing and Comey’s firing. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper if he had any “concern” about a DDT business interest in Russia. Clapper’s ultimate answer upon being pressed is that he could not comment on that question “because that impact an investigation.” That was an open hearing; the Judiciary Committee may pursue the question in closed meetings.  Thus far, there is a murky background to DDT’s Russia business interests that he has denied.

Basically, Chaffetz well represents the Republican leadership—cruel, self-centered, hypocritical, cowardly, dishonest, ignorant, and loyal only to those who can give him something. We’ll watch him to see where he pops up next.

May 5, 2017

DDT: Week Fifteen – Disasters Continue

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) now has his name on Trumpcare—although the bill is far from passing—but he told Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during a press conference that health care in Australia is better. For once, DDT is right: Australia’s universal health care system gives citizens free access to doctors and public hospitals paid for by the government, and it costs nine percent of the GDP compared to the 17 percent cost in the United States.

At least one GOP representative is in trouble with his local press about his yes vote for Trumpcare. A headline in the Buffalo News read, “Chris Collins admits he didn’t read health care bill.” Collins told CNN that he didn’t read the entire bill  and then the Buffalo News that he didn’t know that the bill took $3 billion from his state. Rep. Mark Sanford (R-NC) didn’t read it either, but he said he “turned through every page.” In 2010, he GOP signed “Pledge to America” that they will read bills and publish the text online at least three days before a vote so that “bills are debated and discussed in the public square.” With Trumpcare no reading, no posting, no three days.

More Disastrous Healthcare Information: Like a bad oil leak, the news from the bill keeps oozing out. Rape, domestic violence, sexual assault, Cesarean sections, and post-partum depression can all be classed as pre-existing conditions. Victims will have the choice of reporting any attacks against them or keeping their insurance. Medicaid, slowly eradicated by Trumpcare, covers half the babies born in the nation and 60 percent of people in nursing homes.

The lies keep coming. “We’re not taking a benefit away. Nobody on Medicaid is going to be taken away.” Falsehood by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). “Premiums will be coming down.” Falsehood repeated three times in two sentences by DDT. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2017/05/tweet-day-can-we-even-call-it-lying-anymore Kevin Drum wrote about DDT and GOP politicians saying whatever they want with no pretense of hinting at facts or searching for data. Trumpcare won’t benefit the rich, and Trumpcare won’t do away with protecting pre-existing conditions, and the lies keep rolling. Politicians’ lies are killing people to protect their ideologies.

The protests against Trumpcare started immediately, several of them in DDT’s home town of New York City where he returned for the first time since he was inaugurated. And where DDT blew off a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull who had flown 10,000 miles to meet with him. 

DDT’s New Vacation Spot: Unwelcome in New York and too hot in Florida this time of the year, DDT moved on to his estate in Bedminster (NJ) where he claims he’ll save the country money. His trip this weekend costs $840,000—enough to cover Medicaid for 4,000 people–in addition to the over $25 million that’s he’s spent at Mar-a-Lago. This website is keeping track of DDT’s vacation expenditures.

Easy Peace in Middle East: DDT declaimed that the Israel government and the Palestinian Authority “get along unbelievably well… They work together beautifully.” While DDT hosted Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas at the White House, DDT said there could be “no lasting peace” unless all Palestinian leaders spoke out against hate. Evidently Israelis can keep on expressing hatred. Last week, DDT said, “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians—none whatsoever…. It’s something, frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years.” Maybe like other things that he ended up finding “complicated.

No Comfort for Poor: On his photo-op “listening tour,” DDT’s HUD Secretary Ben Carson said that public housing is too good for poor people. He thinks that it should not provide a “comfortable setting” which makes people want to “stay here.”

No DDT Celebration for Latinos: Today is Cinco de Mayo and the first time in 16 years that the White House has not celebrated the day. Instead, a reception has been relegated to a building next door and hosted by VP Mike Pence.  

Swamp Spreading: http://www.politico.com/story/2017/05/03/trump-lobbying-ban-transition-237850  DDT ‘s bragged that he has a five-year rule that people leaving the government can’t sign up as lobbyists seems to be failing. Nine people leaving his transition team have signed up as well as two people who left his administration, one who he fired.

DDT Departures:  “You’re fired.” DDT’s latest  Apprentice moment was directed at Sebastian Gorka because he can’t pass the security clearance. He’s gone, but not forgotten, because the man with ties to neo-Nazis and former editor of ultra-conservative Breitbart.com says that he’ll stay  with DDT’s administration with the other “alpha males.” He’s the third DDT employer to leave the National Security Council. Former DDT nominee and bigot Mark Green has also taken his name out of contention for Army Secretary, whining about “false and misleading attacks.”

Tax Reform: Press Secretary Sean Spicer said last week that 401ks aren’t “intact” with the new DDT plan until DDT “clarified” what he said. But who know what’s true if DDT says something.

Win for Poor People: Five Supreme Court justices ruled that the Fair Housing Act allows the city of Miami to sue two banks, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, for riskier and more costly mortgages to minorities than white borrowers.

Protection for Immigration: New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner has called on ICE to stop arresting undocumented immigrants at the state courthouses because it undermines the justice system. He wants to add these places to a list of “sensitive locations”—including hospitals, schools, and houses of worships—where ICE supposedly cannot arrest people. Gov. Chris Christie is not happy with Rabner.

The Extinction of Diplomacy: DDT will cut 2,300 U.S. diplomats and civil servants—nine percent of the workforce. Secretary Rex Tillerson doesn’t want to make eye contact with anyone—and now there won’t be anyone there.

State Department Called Out on Ethics Violations: First the State Department advertised Mar-a-Lago and, having been forced to take its commercial down, now  promotes Ivanka Trump’s new book. Like the Mar-a-Lago ad, it was taken down after a talk about ethics violations. Lack of appointments has left the department without people who understand the constitution and the law.

Vetting Not a DDT Strength: DDT has hired Steven Munoz as assistant chief of visits, an important State Department position. The 28-year-old has a staff of ten and is responsible for organizing visits of foreign heads of state to the U.S. and arranging meetings with the president. When Munoz was a Citadel military college students several years ago, he was accused of multiple sexual assaults by several male classmates. A school investigation found that “certain assaults likely occurred,” but a local prosecutor refused to seek an indictment. The year after Munoz graduated in 2011, he was also under investigation when he worked for Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign and banned from the Citadel campus. Munoz may now attend public events at the school but has only limited interaction with students. After employment with a political consulting firm hired by DDT, Munoz worked for DDT’s inaugural committee and then moved to the State Department on January 25. Except for Munoz’ lawyer, no one—not the White House, State Department, Citadel, etc.—is making any comment. In President Obama’s administration, even a drunk driving case or registering as a lobbyist kept people from employment consideration. DDT is not commenting about its vetting process. [Photo from OccupyDemocrats]    also

Vetting Michael Flynn: DDT tried to blame President Obama for not vetting his fired National Security Advisor, but insiders said that DDT did vet Flynn—“very casually.” DDT also knew about Flynn’s nefarious connection with Turkey and hired him anyway. Rachel Maddow discussed how everyone—including DDT, Mike Pence, Jeff Sessions, and Sean Spicer—lied about Flynn’s criminal activities. Sally Yates may provide more information about the issue when she testifies before a Senate panel next week.

DDT Ad Campaign Pulled: Just 185 weeks before the next presidential election, DDT released his first TV ad and was forced to withdraw it for violations of military policy. The original video includes DDT shaking the hand of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, in uniform, at Mar-a-Lago. DDT had planned to spend $1.5 million to air the ad. Once it was revised, CNN still refused to air it because of its graphic branding CNN, among other mainstream media organizations, as “fake news.”

So Sad: Emails recently obtained through the Freedom of Information show DDT’s involvement in searching for a tweet showing that his inauguration crowd was one-third the size as the audience for President Obama. Soon after the inauguration, National Park Service director, Michael T. Reynolds, was pressured to give DDT photos supporting his false claim that up to 1.5 million attended the event.

Budget Deal: The best news from last week may have been the bill that Congress sent to DDT to keep the government running until September 30. No wall. No new money for immigration deportation. No cuts to Planned Parenthood or “sanctuary cities.” Another $30 billion to non-defense programs over sequester level. None of DDT’s $18 billion non-defense cuts. A $2 billion funding increase for the National Institutes of Health. A $17 million increase in energy efficiency. Protection of 99 percent of the EPA budget with increase in clean energy and science funding plus no staff cuts. Health benefits for retired miners that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) with miner constituents has fought for years. A $2 billion in disaster funding for California, West Virginia, Louisiana, and North Carolina because of flooding. Increased funding for transit infrastructure. Wildfire funding for Western states of $407 million. Funding the Northeast Amtrak rail corridor, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Head Start, and an early education program for disadvantaged kids. A $295 million bailout to cover a Medicaid funding shortfall in Puerto Rico. Healthcare subsidies continue. Withdrawal of almost 180 “poison pill” riders. The “great negotiator” lost everything except $12.5 billion in military with an extra $2.5 billion if he ever figures out a strategy for defeating ISIS.

More tomorrow!

 

May 4, 2017

Make America Suffer Again

The House passed its “We Don’t Care” bill this morning to take health insurance away from tens of millions of people in the United States. The 217-213 had 20 GOP “no” votes from those smart enough to know how furious their constituents would be with a “yes” vote. Only one of them belonged to the scorched-earth Freedom Caucus. Voters didn’t even have an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office to help them make a decision.

In their race to the bottom, the GOP also ignored the impact the 100+ million people who get insurance from employers. Because the bill allows large employers to offer the same benefits as state requirements, companies can skimp on benefit standards in states that get waivers to opt out of current ACA regulations. The same employers can also bypass any limits on out-of-pocket expenses for expensive illnesses and impose lifetime limits of cost. Premiums may cost less, as Republicans promised, people would have little health care covered. Congressional members and staff are lucky: the new bill exempts them from losing quality insurance.

In the time of DDT and the GOP, governance means voting for a bill that has a life-or-death impact with no information on costs and other affects. The legislators who voted for it hadn’t even read it and don’t want to know the outcome of their legislation that affects one-sixth of the U.S. economy. Republicans leaders didn’t let anyone read the legislation in advance. All people know about the bill is that gives massive tax breaks to the wealthiest in the nation and guts protections for everyone else. Now that it’s passed, people know what’s in the bill, and it looks even worse than previously believed.

Trumpcare winners:

  • The rich and corporations getting $600 billion in tax breaks.
  • Millionaires getting a $50,000 tax break each year for a total of $275 billion to the richest two percent.
  • The 400 richest families each getting an average $7 million each year.
  • Insurance companies getting $145 billion in tax breaks over ten years.
  • Drug companies rewarded with $25 million in tax breaks over ten years.
  • The richest two percent getting a $117 billion tax cut.

Trumpcare losers are the 24+ million low-income sometimes DDT supporters who lose health care (24 million) or people who will pay up to $13,000 more for premiums. No one will have protection from huge increases in drug costs, and the loss of $117 billion in revenue shortens Medicare’s ability to pay full benefits by at least three years.

Eight years ago, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) said this about the Affordable Care Act on MSNBC:

“I don’t think we should pass bills that we haven’t read, that we don’t know what they cost.”

At the same time, Mike Pence ridiculed the Democrats:

“Don’t blame us, we didn’t read the bill we voted for.”

In 2009, House Republicans had a fit about the possibility of voting for the ACA without a CBO score, and Ryan demanded that the CBO analysis be expedited before a vote. In fact, Congress and President Obama and spent 14 months writing that bill in 2009 and 2010 with dozens of hearings, committee markups, and consultation with the health care system that won support from hospitals and doctors while waiting for multiple CBO scores. No one in the health care system wants Trumpcare, and Republicans’ only rationale for voting in favor of the bill is that they promised to do it. Oh yes, and it gives massive cuts to the wealthy.

Perhaps most prescient is DDT’s 2014 tweet:

“It’s Thursday. How many people have lost their healthcare today?”

Today is Thursday, and we don’t know the affect of the House vote, but it’s sure to be tens of millions of people if the House bill passes the Senate.

According to DDT’s statements last Sunday, he hasn’t read the revised plan to satisfy the scorched-earth Republicans. On Face the Nation, DDT told John Dickerson that the bill keeps pre-existing conditions and “I mandate it.” Pressed for clarification, DDT added, “We actually have a clause that guarantees [protections to those with pre-existing conditions].” [No, “we” don’t.] The GOP bill clears the way for states to remove this benefit. DDT said that “Obamacare” “doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions.” [Yes, it does.] Even VP Mike Pence said that Republican policymakers are “keeping our promises to protect people who have pre-existing conditions.” Of course, he believed that Michael Flynn didn’t have anything to do with the Russians.

According to a Harvard study about the health care bill, Trumpcare would “effectively end enrollment in the insurance markets for families that make less than $75,000 a year.” In 2015, that was over 70 percent of the people in the United States.

Another population that would suffer from Trumpcare are students needing special education help. Medicaid provides schools districts with such services as physical therapists and feeding tubes as well as preventative care like vision and hearing screenings. Republicans voting to do away with these services may not know about this issue because the House did not allow any public testimony before the vote.

If DDT and Congress are successful in repealing the ACA, discrimination can be the law of the land. One section is the ACA stops federal funds from going to anyone or any group discriminating on the basis of race, skin color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. That includes pregnancy, sex stereotyping, gender identity; religious-connected providers could deny contraception, sterilization, in vitro fertilization, or anything else against “religious” beliefs. People could be turned away from emergency rooms for any reason. At this time, 20 percent of the hospitals in the nation have an affiliation with religion—up 50 percent since 2010, and many times small communities have only these hospitals. At the same time, the federal and state governments are rapidly closing non-religious clinics such as those operated by Planned Parenthood.

In addition to ethical reasons to keep and repair the ACA, its loss will result in the loss of 1.8 billion jobs.

Oregon’s only GOP representative was a leader in destroying the ACA. Greg Walden is now proud of his part in doing away with the small hospitals in his rural district and losing insurance for the largest number of people in his state. DDT acknowledged the part that Ryan and Walden played in taking insurance from Walden’s constituent when he said, “This is the group.” Walden’s district added more Medicaid recipients than any other GOP district and more than all except three Democrat-held districts. That makes it fourth out of 435 districts in helping people under the ACA.  One of Walden’s colleagues pointed out that 640,000 people with pre-existing conditions could lose their insurance, but Walden claimed, “We are protecting people with pre-existing conditions. Those conditions continue to be protected.” Either he has not read the bill, or he lies. People have said he’s a nice man. So sad.

The GOP is backing a losing horse with its argument for less government. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that a majority of people, 57 percent, thinks that government should do more—not less—to help solve the nation’s problems. That’s an increase of 14 percent in just two years and almost double the percentage since 1996. In that time the number of people who think that the government should do less has dropped by over one-third. A study from Baylor University has also found that more government enhances human happiness.

Last month the New York Times’ hired climate denier Bret Stephens. Now the NYT equates Ryan’s lie (“under no circumstance can people be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition”) and Pelosi’s statement (“up to 17 million children … who have pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied coverage by insurers” thanks to the ACA) as both “misleading.” It may be possible that Rupert Murdoch bought the newspaper while I wasn’t paying attention.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) (3rd L)  after signing legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and to cut off federal funding of Planned Parenthood at the U.S. Capitol January 7, 2016 in Washington, DC.

The bill that passed today and moved on to the Senate was even more draconian that the earlier bill, and that one got only 17 percent approval. Yet Republicans are celebrating their success at taking insurance away from 24 million people and allocating much higher charges for people with pre-existing conditions with cases of Bud Light rolled into the Capitol. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and the other GOP leaders are even giddier than they were over a repeal in January 2016. Following their beer-bust in the Capitol, Republicans took buses for more celebration in the White House Rose Garden, historically a place where bills are signed into law. Never before have House Republicans reveled in passing a bill that may not survive the Senate. And certainly not a bill designed to create misery for millions of people in the United States.

It’s a new time: Make America Suffer Again.

May 3, 2017

Trumpcare, A ‘Moral Monstrosity’

Filed under: Health Care — trp2011 @ 11:18 PM
Tags: , , ,

Sarah Palin’s warnings about “death panels” in government health care are coming to fruition with the GOP version, supposedly up for a vote in the House tomorrow right before congressional members disappear for another two-week vacation. The difference from what she said a few years ago, however, is that her own party, not the Democrats, is creating the death panels. In House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) desperation to pass the “repeal and replace” of the Affordable Care Act, he has blatantly lied about what’s in the Trumpcare bill.

Unlike Ryan’s claims, these are the facts:

  • The GOP plan would raise out-of-pocket costs.
  • The GOP plan will hurt people between the ages of 40 and 65.
  • The GOP plan will remove the ACA benefits to Medicare.
  • The GOP plan will strip coverage from some of the 24 million who got it under the ACA.
  • The GOP plan allows states to strip pre-existing conditions from health insurance.

In every congressional district, at least tens of thousands will lose coverage while the rest of the people will face premium hikes of 15 to 20 percent and deductible increases of 60 percent.

GOP North Carolina Rep. Robert Pittenger told people who live in states that deny pre-existing conditions through waivers that they should move to another state.  Last year he said that protests in Charlotte were caused by people who “hate white people” after the police fatally shot a black man.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) said that “good people” don’t have serious or life-threatening pre-existing conditions. These people “lead good lives”—they’ve “done things the right way.” These people are also half the population, those who can be denied health care because of any medical condition existing before enrolling in health insurance—like asthma or pregnancy.  Some of his constituents wrote him about being some of these “bad people“—such as being born with cerebral palsy or being in an automobile accident.

Rep. Fred Upton (MI) opposed the bill until he sold out for $1.6 billion a year in a high-risk pool, at least 90 percent less than necessary to make it viable. High-risk pools, recommended for the sickest five percent of people insured in small-group and individual markets, have a history of failure. States limited people from enrolling in them or using the coverage. People in these pools also face much higher premiums—up to twice as much—as people in the individual market and very high deductibles. High-risk pools can allow annual or lifetime limits on coverage, something not permitted in the ACA and have coverage exclusions for up to 12 months, meaning that people have no insurance for that time. California’s plan had only a three-month waiting period for coverage for pre-existing conditions but had a $75,000 annual limit and a $750,000 lifetime limit. Florida’s high-risk pool was such a disaster that it froze new enrollment in 1991, a situation that lasted for almost two decades. Before the full implementation of the ACA in 2011, these pools in 35 states covered only 226,600 people with net losses of $1.2 billion. Of nonelderly adults, 52 million people in the nation have pre-existing conditions which would make them uninsurable. And these pools don’t help the other 90 percent of the people forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in premium “surcharges.”

People on Medicare may also be affected by Trumpcare.  The ACA provided free preventative screenings such as mammograms and colonoscopies as well as an annual free wellness visit. Another provision closed the “doughnut” hole, the coverage gap in prescription drugs that beings when insurer’ and beneficiaries’ combined costs for drugs reached $3,700 and ends at $4,950 for catastrophic coverage. By this year, people have to pay 40 percent for brand-name drugs and 51 percent for generics in that hole which was scheduled to close by 2020 when beneficiaries would be responsible for 25 percent of the cost after the deductible. A repeal without replacement could eliminate this help for people on Medicare.

The ACA helped Medicare become more solvent because of its cost-cutting provisions, including a reduction of federal payments to Medicare Advantage plans. Keeping ACA would keep Medicare would be in the black for 11 years longer than before ACA’s enactment, but its repeal would add $80 billion a year to Medicare spending. The government may make up the losses with higher Medicare premiums, deductibles, and cost sharing for beneficiaries.

The GOP bill still exempts congressional members and their staffs from losing popular aspects of the Affordable Care Act. Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) claimed that there would be a later vote about the exemption.The fast-track consideration came without posting the bill text and without a Congressional Budget Office analysis about the bill’s effects.

House Minority Chair Nancy Pelosi (R-CA) said today before the vote:

“Forcing a vote without a CBO score shows that Republicans are terrified of the public learning the full consequences of their plan to push Americans with pre-existing conditions into the cold. But tomorrow, House Republicans are going to tattoo this moral monstrosity to their foreheads, and the American people will hold them accountable.”

With its provision to eliminate ACA taxes on the wealthy, Trumpcare is the first move to drastically cut taxes for the few percent.

Trumpcare would also

  • Tie subsidies to age instead of income and geographic location.
  • Charge higher premiums to people in the 50s and early 60s, as compared to younger consumers—at least five times but more if states get waivers for a higher ratio.
  • Cut $800 billion from Medicaid support.
  • Permit states to require able-bodied adults to work for Medicaid.
  • Give waivers to states to exempt people with pre-existing conditions and allow insurers to provide insurance without the 10 essential health benefits—most of the parts of health insurance.
  • Allow caps on some of the health benefits.
  • Repeal tax credits in 2020 that help some people pay deductibles and make co-payments.
  • Stop the requirement for larger companies to provide affordable insurance to their employees.
  • Permit high-risk pools (see above).

An unwritten part of the GOP platform is that poor people are to blame for their poverty, and the rest of the population, which shrinks daily, can thrive without them. Uninsured people actually cost the system more than when they are covered. Even worse, however, the GOP belief is totally unethical. The current president promised all these people that he would take care of them. These people voted for him because they believed his promises. Now he’s thrown them away while continuing his lies that he will “mandate” coverage for pre-existing conditions and provide subsidies.

The GOP members of the House who are getting out of Washington immediately after the vote might want to avoid their constituents in their home districts. Although the House can avoid a CBO analysis of the Trumpcare effects, Senate budgetary rules require a score before they vote. At that time, people will find out the estimated impact of the measure.

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