Archive | April, 2017

The Latest Obamacare Repeal Plan Exacerbates the Political Problems of the First

By Vann R. Newkirk II

“Figure out a way to change the state that you live in.” That was the controversial advice White House budget director Mick Mulvaney offered to those worried about a proposal that would allow states to repeal required essential health benefits in health-insurance plans. That provision didn’t quite make it into the last round of the Republicans’ effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, and Mulvaney later clarified that he was urging citizens to persuade their legislators to enact changes where they lived, not encouraging them to move. But the soundbite, endlessly replayed on cable news, became a rallying point for the plan’s opponents. If Americans want their insurance to cover things like maternity care, hospital stays, or mental health under the future written by the American Health Care Act, they warned, they might soon have to pack up and move to another state.

The last round of Republican negotiations on the AHCA died last month in the House, driven by defections both among the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus, who balked at the elements of Obamacare individual cost controls that it maintained, and also by moderates, who thought that the controls the law cut were too draconian, especially for their working-class base. But President Trump and congressional Republicans have renewed negotiations on the AHCA in recent weeks, hoping to mollify the rebellious Freedom Caucus with more conservative additions to the bill. A new proposed amendment from Rep. Tom MacArthur might accomplish just that, but in the process might actually be the final nail in the bill’s second coffin.

The amendment is rather plain in its language and what it seeks to accomplish. It would allow states to opt out of federal essential health benefits requirements for exchange plans and create their own requirements, which could allow more insurers to sell barebones …read more

Via:: The Atlantic

      

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A Chilling Threat of Political Violence in Portland

By Conor Friedersdorf

On the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated, perhaps 3 million Americans took to the streets in peaceful protest to register their opposition. When news of his travel ban broke, I stood at LAX watching Angelenos sing the Star Spangled Banner and Amazing Grace. Across the nation, peaceful protest against President Trump continues. But a violent fringe has been using Trump’s rise as a justification for political violence, as if his authoritarian impulses justify authoritarianism from his opponents.

This tiny faction knows that most of their compatriots on the left are committed to nonviolence, so they frame their aggressive actions as a narrow exception to the rule.

Most famously, they insisted that it was okay, or even righteous, to punch white supremacist Richard Spencer because he was “a Nazi.” That position impels the debate down a slippery slope. And now, activists in Oregon caused the cancellation of the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade, a community event in the southeast quadrant of Portland, by threatening to forcibly drag “fascists” off the parade route if they weren’t excluded.

Who exactly did they want removed from the parade? The local Republican Party of Multonomah County. The Oregonian reports on the threat the leftists sent to organizers:

“You have seen how much power we have downtown and that the police cannot stop us from shutting down roads so please consider your decision wisely,” the anonymous email said, telling organizers they could cancel the Republican group’s registration or else face action from protesters.

The email went on to speculate that right-wing extremists would march among the Republicans, and warned, “we will have two hundred or more people rush into the parade into the middle and drag and push those people out as we will not give one inch to groups who espouse hatred toward lgbt, immigrants, people …read more

Via:: The Atlantic

      

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Moderates Can Now Sink or Save the Republican Health-Care Bill

By Russell Berman

The fate of the resurrected American Health Care Act in the House might now rest with Republican moderates.

Forgive them for not celebrating their newfound clout.

Conservative leaders of the House Freedom Caucus have struck a deal with the White House and one leading GOP moderate to back the party’s stalled replacement for the Affordable Care Act in exchange for granting states even more flexibility to wriggle out of the law’s insurance mandates. Under the proposed amendment, states could seek waivers from the federal government, allowing them to eliminate the prohibition on insurers charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing conditions and a requirement that plans cover a range of “essential health benefits,” including maternity care, mental-health treatment, emergency room visits, and hospitalization.

The Freedom Caucus has been targeting those core mandates from the start, arguing that they force insurance companies to increase premiums on all customers to pay for the sickest people. And after weeks of talks, the group’s chairman, Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, agreed to a compromise authored by a co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group, Representative Tom MacArthur of New Jersey. The Freedom Caucus formally endorsed the new bill on Wednesday. Its backing could bring another 15-20 conservatives aboard and draw the GOP leadership much closer to the 216 votes it needs for passage in the House. Republicans can lose no more than 22 votes, and about a dozen moderates were publicly against the original legislation.

“We think the MacArthur amendment is a great way to lower premiums [and] give states more flexibility while protecting people with pre-existing conditions. Those are the three things we want to achieve,” Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters on Wednesday morning, after a private meeting of the House GOP. “I think it helps us get to consensus.”

Yet the speaker acknowledged …read more

Via:: The Atlantic

      

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The Border Battles of Atlanta

By Sam Rosen

On the Saturday before Election Day last November, Jason Lary, a former insurance executive, crouched on a rough patch of grass at the center of a busy intersection 20 miles outside of Atlanta in DeKalb County. Lary was holding a hammer, and he tapped carefully on the thin wire base of a campaign sign. “My hand is like Fred Flintstone’s right now because I banged my hand in the night,” he said, noting his latest sign-related injury. This hazard, though, was worthwhile: “If you don’t start [the sign] with your hand, it will bend. It takes longer—guys are 10 times faster than I am. But my sign’s still gonna be up.”

This was a non-trivial advantage for Lary, who for the past month had begun most mornings with a kind of ground-game whack-a-mole. He would put up signs under the cover of night, only to have his opponents dislodge them by hand or, when that failed, run over them with their cars. Nevertheless, Lary was feeling good. “My opposition? Worn down,” he told me. “They don’t even have any more signs. And I kept a stash, knowing this time was coming. This is not my first picnic with nonsense.”

Listen to the audio version of this article:

Jason Lary, courtesy The Atlanta Journal-Constitution / Hyosub Shin

I have been investing in this town for 25, 30 years,” Lary told me. “We thought that the county would have done better for us, and it didn’t happen.” But then he noticed “cities starting to form on their own.” When Lary caught wind of these incorporation campaigns, he saw the cityhood movement’s potential to transform his own community. When a neighborhood called La Vista Hills tried to become a city, Lary started …read more

Via:: The Atlantic

      

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Why Educated Christians Are Sticking With Church

By Emma Green

The idea is peppered through the writings of scholars, great thinkers, and New Atheist-types: Education is the cure for religion. Freud wrote that civilization “has little to fear from educated people and brain-workers” who have rejected religion. And “if religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason,” maintained Christopher Hitchens, “we would be living in a quite different world.”

New data from the Pew Research Center doesn’t disprove these claims, but it does challenge them. While Americans with college experience are overall less likely to attend services, pray on a regular basis, and say religion is very important to them, that’s not true within many faith groups. In fact, Catholic, Mormon, and Protestant college grads are all more likely to attend church on a weekly basis than their less educated peers. This was not the trend among religious minorities like Muslims and Jews, or among people who don’t affiliate with any religion at all, suggesting that education has a distinctive effect on religiosity within the world of Christianity.  

There are at least two different ways to think about the relationship between education and religiosity: how schooling affects belief, and how it affects practice. Pew’s researchers looked at data from a number of recent surveys, including their 35,000-person study of American religion from 2014. They found that educated people are generally less likely to believe in God: Among all U.S. adults, only 83 percent of college grads said they think God exists, while 92 percent of people with only a high-school degree or less said the same.

Within Christianity, though, the difference all but disappears. Among educated mainline Protestants, 96 percent said they believe in God, compared to 97 percent among the less educated; among Catholics, 98 percent of both groups said the same. Among Mormons, …read more

Via:: The Atlantic

      

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‘Until the Drug Dealer’s Teeth Rattle’

By Matt Ford

Any real discussion of mass incarceration is impossible without addressing racism. Michelle Alexander’s widely acclaimed book The New Jim Crow cast the criminal-justice system as a successor to slavery and segregation, one that’s hamstrung the African American community’s social and economic growth since the civil-rights movement. My colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates has explored at length how racial anxieties led white politicians to support increasingly harsher punishments for gun and drug crimes to devastating effect.

Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America adds more layers to this case. (A full review of the book can be found in the upcoming June 2017 issue of this magazine.) The author, James Forman Jr., is a Yale University law professor and the son of a civil-rights icon. What he offers is an insightful history of black American leaders and their struggle to keep their communities safe from police and criminals alike. “Far from ignoring the issue of crime by blacks against other blacks, African American officials and their constituents have been consumed by it,” he writes.

What often followed, however, was a tragic embrace of punitive solutions to deep-seated social woes. “We’re going to fight drugs and crime until the drug dealer’s teeth rattle,” Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson insisted in the 1970s. Congressman Charlie Rangel, who represented Harlem for decades, enthusiastically took up the mantle of a drug warrior during the crack epidemic in the 1980s. Eric Holder, a federal prosecutor and later the first black U.S. attorney general, championed pretextual car stops and searches to curb gun violence during the Clinton administration.

Even while focusing on black America’s presence at the start of mass incarceration, Forman does not detach it from its roots in racist policies. If anything, he uncovers deeper ones. Black leaders in the 1970s, for example, called for “a …read more

Via:: The Atlantic

      

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One Hundred Days of Deconstruction: Part 2

Beware of the enemy within. With respect to the US government, the ultimate inside job is well underway. Through key Cabinet appointments, Trump is gutting federal agencies that have improved citizens’ daily lives in ways that most Americans will no longer take for granted.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

In her confirmation hearing, billionaire Betsy DeVos made the world painfully aware that she isn’t an educator or expert in curriculum. She’s not familiar with the decades-old Individuals with Disabilities Act, or the fraudulent for-profit colleges and graduate schools that exploit their students. She seems unconcerned about the funding crisis that confronts public education in America. But she has all of the credentials required to serve in the Trump administration: She’s a billionaire with a mission to destroy the federal department she now heads.

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

Keeping Trump controversies in the family, DeVos’ brother Erik Prince is the founder of the infamous Blackwater private security firm and was a $250,000 donor to the Trump campaign. In January, Prince met secretly in the Seychelles Islands with a Russian close to Putin. Russia’s goal in the meeting, according to The Washington Post, was to establish a back-channel line of communication with the Trump administration.

As a lobbyist through her organization — the nonprofit American Federation for Children — DeVos led the effort to privatize public education in Michigan. The result: widespread abuses, dismal performance and no accountability for taxpayer funds flowing into the coffers of for-profit charter schools and management companies. In Michigan, DeVos helped to create a system that “leads the nation in the number of schools operated for profit, while other states have moved to curb the expansion of for-profit charters, or …read more

Via:: Truthout

      

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Trump Takes Aim at Libraries

Donald Trump’s “America First” budget proposal for 2018 puts working-class communities last, calling for the elimination of several federally supported, independent, cultural institutions, including the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

IMLS helps fund literacy and technology programs in 123,000 libraries and about 35,000 museums across the US — all with a budget of just $230 million, which is about .05 percent of the entire federal budget.

IMLS is currently funded through a continuing resolution that expires on April 28, 2017, and additional legislation must be passed for funding to continue.

If Trump’s budget passes, the cuts will have a devastating impact on those who utilize public libraries in rural areas and poor urban communities in particular.

IMLS funds libraries through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) Grants to States program. It allots a base amount of $680,000 to each state plus an additional amount based on population.

The money goes toward library programming directed at underserved patron populations — teens, senior citizens, immigrants, adults learners for instance. There is also a focus on the maintenance and expansion of technology in libraries.

For many rural populations, the library is the only place to access the internet. In an official statement against Trump’s America First budget, IMLS director Kathryn Matthews explained:

We’ve invested in rural and smaller communities by supporting basic infrastructure and by developing libraries as local community hubs for broadband connectivity and digital literacy training — helping many residents gain job-related skills and, in many cases, find employment…our grants and programs support libraries and museums as essential contributors to improving Americans’ quality of life.

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For urban areas and poorer towns in states like Massachusetts, IMLS money goes toward projects that enhance access to information for working-class families who aren’t necessarily connected to universities and the databases they …read more

Via:: Truthout

      

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Building on the Tax Marches

As the deadline to mail checks to the IRS approached, organizers in New York were still protesting, and this time not only about President Donald Trump’s tax returns. Activists with the grassroots organization New York Communities for Change and other progressive groups held a rally on April 18 in front of Goldman Sachs’s headquarters in New York City to confront the world’s most powerful bank for dodging taxes and taking resources away from working people.

In the eight years between 2008 and 2015, Goldman avoided paying $5.5 billion in taxes by using various loopholes, billions that could have been used for public housing, healthcare, education, and many other vital programs and services. That’s around $21.60 per second in tax avoidance. At that rate, Goldman will have dodged about $4,000 in taxes by the time you finish reading this, about half the federal income taxes paid by the average American family.

While Goldman’s tax avoidance wizards worked their magic in the years following the crisis, it wasn’t because the cupboards were bare. In fact profits rose, and its net revenue in 2015 was $33.8 billion.

The fact is, most Americans don’t mind paying taxes. What ticks people off is when rich people don’t pay their fair share. This year, longstanding tax avoidance by the most powerful individuals and corporations got people off their chairs and into the streets in protest.

Saturday’s tax rallies across the country helped refocus America’s outrage at Trump’s refusal to make his tax returns public as every President since Richard Nixon has done. The rally at Goldman Sachs was a reminder that the demand for transparency is only the tip of the iceberg. For the protesters at Goldman Sachs chanting “Stop Looting America!”, the fight for tax justice is …read more

Via:: Truthout

      

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How Trump Alienated the Judiciary

By Garrett Epps

President Trump’s first 100 days deserve at least one superlative: The Trump administration has managed to alienate the courts to a degree that some administrations take years to achieve.

The latest Trump defeat came Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. That case, County of Santa Clara v. Trump, has now produced a nationwide injunction against another Trump executive order: “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” issued on January 25. On Tuesday, federal district judge William Orrick of the Northern District of California, blocked section 9(a) of the order. That’s the enforcement mechanism of the order’s ill-defined attack on “sanctuary” cities and counties that refuse to take orders from the Department of Homeland Security.

To a degree unusual in public law litigation, Trump’s legal setbacks flow from his personal flaws: constitutional illiteracy, governmental inexperience, contempt for law and lawyers, lust for executive power, and—most of all—simple inability to keep his mouth shut.

To begin with, the executive order would probably get an F in a first-year legal writing class. Among its sins, it announces measures against “sanctuary jurisdictions” but provides no definition of that term. Its goal is to convince—or more properly intimidate—local governments in two ways. First, a number of cities have concluded that their police agencies will be more effective in solving crime if victims, witnesses, and suspects can talk to them without being afraid that police will turn them in to U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly want those localities to scrap those policies, and instead to let their law-enforcement officers not only pass information to ICE, but also to work as temporary immigration-enforcement personnel.

Second, they want local jail authorities to honor ICE “detainers.” These are administrative requests …read more

Via:: The Atlantic

      

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