Why “Obamacare” Won’t Be Repealed.

As of last week, more than 6 million people have signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges and that number is expected to grow to as many as 7 million by the end of today. Roughly one-third of those people were previously uninsured. Another 4.5 million people have gained health insurance as the result of the expansion of Medicaid (tens of millions more would be eligible if Republican governors had not blocked Medicaid expansion in 24 states). 3 million young adults under age 26 have been added to their parents’ health insurance plans. And millions more have benefited from the ACA provision that prevents insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Meanwhile, there have been few negatives.

Contrary to GOP claims, millions of Americans did not lose insurance when their insurance companies chose to cancel their policies rather than make them comply with the ACA. Indeed, many more Americans now have insurance as a result of the law. According to a survey by the Rand Corporation, the number of adults aged 18 to 64 without health insurance has declined from nearly 21 percent in late 2013 to 16.6 percent as of March 22. And contrary to the GOP, “Obamacare” is not a job-killer. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that it will actually create jobs.

In reality, millions of Americans have already benefited from the law and millions more will. Thanks to the ACA, there are fewer Americans who will have to rely on the Emergency Room for basic health care services and pass the costs along to those who do have insurance. Thanks to the ACA, there are no lifetime caps on the amount insurance companies will pay for an individual’s care. Thanks to the ACA, millions of Americans will no longer be facing financial ruin as the result of catastrophic illness.

Yet Teapublicans are still trying to stop “Obamacare.” The GOP-led House has voted to repeal or change the ACA more than 50 times. And Teapublican candidates are making “Obamacare” the central issue of their campaigns. They claim that the law will bankrupt the nation despite a CBO analysis that found the law will save billions of dollars. They claim that, if elected, they will repeal and replace the law. Yet they offer no replacement. They simply want us to trust them that they will come up with something better – better than the idea that they once promoted before President Obama embraced it.

The only thing the GOP has to offer is going back to what we had – a broken system that left more than 50 million Americans uninsured; a system that was the primary cause of personal bankruptcies in America; a system that led to double-digit inflation of health care costs; a system that encouraged US companies to send American jobs offshore.

But, trust me, no matter what happens in this Fall’s elections, we’re not going back. The millions of Americans who have already benefited from the ACA simply won’t permit it.

With Friends Like These…

The Karzai government in Afghanistan was put in place with the help of the US. Since the government is a supposed ally, we have spent more than $100 billion to rebuild the country that the Soviets and we destroyed – more than we spent to rebuild Japan or Germany after World War II; more than we spent to rebuild South Korea; even more than we spent to rebuild Iraq. Most of the money has been wasted. Indeed, much of it has found its way into the hands of the Taliban and Pakistanis. It has been used to prop up the most corrupt government in the world…a government that has accepted our money and redirected much of it into the pockets of Karzai, his associates and family members.

In truth, the Afghan government cannot and likely will not be able to survive on its own. It exists only because of our military forces and our taxpayer money. Indeed, the government’s entire annual revenue totals only $2 billion per year. Yet it costs more than $4 billion per year just to support the Afghan military. Without our financial aid, it has no money to pay for roads, schools, an electric grid, safe water supplies, waste treatment, emergency services and health care. Despite that fact, Karzai refuses to agree to a sustainable level of US military advisors following our pullout at the end of the year. This almost guarantees that much of the country will fall back into Taliban control.

Of course, that likely won’t mean a stop to the waste of our foreign aid. We are committed to funding the Afghan government at the same levels until at least 2017. There are simply too many military leaders, weapons manufacturers and private contractors who profit from our taxpayers’ largess to allow the flow of money to end.

And there are more long-standing recipients of our military aid. For example, we have been providing financial support to Israel for more than 60 years. Despite the fact that the Israeli standard of living and Human Development Index roughly equal ours, we send them more than $3 billion a year. And how do they repay us for our support? They bluster and threaten their neighbors. They continue to expand housing developments onto Palestinian lands. They ignore our attempts to broker a long-term settlement with Palestine and the rest of their neighbors. They have sent operatives to spy on our military and our government. They meddle in our politics. They have even sold some of our most secret military technologies to Russia and other nations.

Yet, because of the power of the Israeli-American lobby, no American politician dare complain.

Do Religious Beliefs Trump Scientific Facts And The Common Good?

Can a for-profit corporation have religious beliefs? If so, who defines the corporation’s beliefs? Is it the CEO? The Board of Directors? The shareholders? Do the corporation’s religious beliefs out-weigh those of its employees? If so, are there any limits on those beliefs? May the corporation cite those beliefs in denying service to customers? What constitutes a religion? What constitutes a sincerely held religious belief?

These are just a few of the questions at stake in the case now being considered by the Supreme Court of the United States.

As you most certainly know, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood have filed suit claiming that their religious beliefs should exempt them from complying with the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employer-provided insurance policies provide access to contraceptives. Both corporations claim that, despite scientific evidence to the contrary, IUDs, Plan B and several other types of female contraceptives are not mere preventatives. They consider them forms of abortion, which is forbidden by their religions.

The purpose of government – any government – is to solve conflicts of individual rights. When these rights are in conflict, it is left to the government and its courts to decide where one’s rights stop and another’s begin. For example, I enjoy the peace and quiet of the forest. You enjoy driving your loud ATV in the forest. We both have a right to our happiness, so whose rights prevail? It is precisely because of such conflicts that we have laws and regulations.

But, what if, instead of conflicting rights, we have conflicting beliefs? For example, I believe that science can prove our world and all its creatures are the products of evolution taking place over millions of years. Others believe that God created the world in six days. We can each hold to our beliefs without causing harm to the other. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, in this case, your beliefs neither break my arm nor pick my pocket.

But in the Hobby Lobby case, the female employees can legitimately claim damages if the corporation refuses to include contraceptives as part of the health insurance plan. The women’s health needs will be treated differently than other employees’. They will have to pay out of pocket to purchase contraceptives, even if those pharmaceuticals are needed for medical purposes, not pregnancy prevention. Does the application of the drug and the need factor into the religious beliefs of the corporation? If so, does the corporation get to decide when it will and won’t pay for the pharmaceuticals? Can the corporation demand a review of its employees’ medical records?

And what if a corporation founded by Christian Scientists decides that none of its employees should have health care at all…that they should simply pray, instead? What if that corporation considers the resulting tax is an infringement on its beliefs? What if a corporation cites religious beliefs in order to deny employment or service to women, gays, Jews, African-Americans, Latinos, tall people, short people, or fat people? What if a hospital or clinic decides to subject patients to a religious test before acting to save their lives? It has taken centuries for our nation to extend the rights guaranteed by our Founders in the Constitution to all of our citizens, and there are still many inequities.

If the Court allows people and corporations to treat others differently based on mere beliefs, the disparities and conflicts will never end.

We Can’t Afford That Anymore.

Whenever someone proposes rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, improving schools, funding research for chronic diseases, helping the unemployed, treating the mentally ill, paying pension obligations to public employees, etc., our politicians are quick to say that we can’t afford those things anymore.

Say what? The richest nation on Earth can’t afford to meet the needs of its own citizens?

In reality, it’s not that the US lacks the money to do these things. The federal budget for FY 2014 is $6.3 trillion and, for most Americans, our tax rates as a percentage of income are near all-time lows! So it’s not a lack of money. It’s a matter of priorities. We always seem to have money for military hardware and military interventions around the globe. It’s estimated that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost $6 trillion. It costs us $2.1 million per year to maintain just one soldier in Afghanistan, and current plans call for leaving up to 20,000 troops in Afghanistan after our “withdrawal.” Yet, some of the biggest budget hawks in Congress are calling for a larger presence in Afghanistan, military intervention in Syria, as well as confrontation in Crimea and the Ukraine. Some even hint at war with Iran.

Is it any wonder that we can’t afford to maintain our own nation?

These same budget hawks voted to dramatically expand funding for the F-35 jet fighter which is years behind schedule and hopelessly over budget. They even added funding to build more Abrams tanks, despite the fact that neither the Army nor the Marine Corps want them. As a result of such decisions, we will spend $820.2 billion on defense in FY 2014, not including Homeland Security. This money is not needed to defend our nation. It’s needed to maintain the American corporate empire; to maintain US control of resources in remote corners of the world; to maintain US access to Middle Eastern oil deposits; to maintain corporate access to global markets and to open new ones; to maintain massive profits and executive compensation.

Yet studies show that most Americans would rather bring our troops home. They would rather rebuild our own nation than one we bombed into submission. So why don’t our Congressional representatives listen? Why do so many continue to vote against the will of the people?

The answer, in a word, is money.

Large corporate interests take money from ordinary, hard-working people through various forms of scams and corporate subsidies. (You’ll find a great example detailed in a Rolling Stone article by Matt Taibbi linked here.) This leads to increased profits. The corporations then give a portion of that money to the election campaigns of politicians in order to buy access and influence. In return, those politicians pass laws to benefit the corporations. And the cycle starts all over again.

On the rare occasions when the politicians take their hands out of the pockets of their corporate sponsors, they pass laws to deregulate industries; to render the EPA and other regulatory agencies impotent; to increase welfare for large corporations while cutting their taxes; to privatize prisons, schools and public pension funds; to cut funding for parks, mental health facilities, public universities and public schools; to redirect taxpayer money to Wall Street hedge funds. All the while, they blame the nation’s resulting economic problems on labor unions, the unemployed and the working poor. To distract the public from their crimes, these fraudster politicians tell us that their actions are necessary to cut debt and create jobs.

What they don’t say is that the only jobs they’re concerned with are their own.

Are Women Mere Hosts?

Are they the property of men to do with as they wish? Are they mere vessels designed to do little more than nurture the male seed? Are they organisms good only for child-bearing and child-rearing? Do they not enjoy any civil rights of their own? That, in fact is the view of fundamentalist Muslims. It’s also, apparently, the view of fundamentalist Christians and many Teapublicans as expressed by Virginia State Sen. Stephen H. Martin in a recent Facebook post.

“You can count on me never to get in the way of you ‘preventing an unintentional pregnancy.’ I’m not exactly sure what that means, because if it’s ‘unintentional,’ you must have been trying to prevent it.  And I don’t expect to be in the room or [sic] will I do anything to prevent you from obtaining a contraceptive,” wrote Martin. “However, once a child does exist in your womb, I’m not going to assume a right to kill it just because the child’s host (some refer to them as mothers) doesn’t want it.”

Martin may have been trying to mimic the comedian by the same name and trying to bring some levity to the subject of abortion. But even if that were true, taken in context with the many disgusting and demeaning comments by Teapublican men about “legitimate” rape and “sluts,” his statement reveals a problem with accepting women as equals.

In fact, there are many other indicators of anti-woman bias byTeapublican politicians. For example, they voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to allow women more opportunity to sue for discrimination. They voted to allow employers to exclude contraceptives from employer-provided health insurance. They voted against a bill to ensure equal pay for equal work that would eliminate the disparity between pay for women and men. They voted against a bill designed to reduce the number of sexual assaults in the military. They voted to defund women’s health clinics operated by Planned Parenthood. And they have asserted their rights to control a woman’s body by repeatedly voting against a woman’s right to choose whether or not she wants to carry an embryo to full term.

All of this makes one wonder: Why are we spending trillions to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan when we have so many here?

Illusion Of Justice.

Since the founding of our nation, Americans have always taken pride in our rule of law.  In civics class we learned that this was what distinguished our country from others; that it provided protection from unreasonable search and seizures; that it guaranteed us a quick and fair hearing before a jury of our peers; that it protected individuals from power grabs by government; and that it gave our citizens a non-violent way of settling conflicts. As our nation expanded westward, communities took pride in instituting the rule of law by hiring marshalls, creating courts, ending vigilantism and restricting the carrying of guns. Such things were considered the necessities of polite society.

Now we seem determined to return to the lawless days of the Wild West.

The National Rifle Association and the gun manufacturers it represents have written and pushed laws to encourage the carrying and the use of guns. It is now legal to carry guns in virtually every state. They have pushed for and passed the so-called Stand Your Ground laws that allowed George Zimmerman to go free after shooting a black teenager who was “armed” with a bag of Skittles and an angry white guy to get away with murder because he didn’t like a teen’s music. Most recently, a retired cop has invoked the Stand Your Ground defense after shooting a fellow movie-goer following an argument in which he claimed threatened after a bag of popcorn was thrown at him.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), aided by GOP legislators have written and passed laws requiring states to privatize prisons despite their increased costs. Our state legislators have passed laws requiring lengthy sentences for non-violent crimes. At the same time, our government continues to wage a war on drugs that has sentenced drug users to lengthy prison terms. The result is to turn prisoners into profits, proving that crime pays – for corporations.

ALEC and its GOP servants have passed anti-immigrant laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 requiring local law enforcement to check papers in order to fill the private prison facilities with immigrants whose only crime was to cross an invisible border in search of work to support their families. Now the GOP-controlled House of Representatives is pushing to defund the department that defends immigrants from detention or deportation to further pack corporate-owned prisons.

Misinformed conservative voters elect people like Sheriff Joe Arpaio despite his many instances of using his position to racially profile individuals, to prioritize the arrest of hard-working immigrants while ignoring cases of violent crimes, and to use his office to harrass, intimidate, bully and incarcerate those who disagree with him. And Sheriff Joe is not alone. Each year, there are hundreds of cases from across the country in which law enforcement officers have abused their power. Unfortunately, most of these cases are never pursued because the victims are minorities and lack the video evidence and money to pursue justice.

In the US today, money is often the key predictor of sentencing. White color crimes, such as those committed by the mortgage lenders and hedge fund managers who crashed our economy in 2008, are seldom prosecuted. (Not a single person has been tried and convicted from one of the biggest thefts in world history.) When they are prosecuted, teams of high-priced lawyers are often able to get their clients acquitted. But poor people, especially minorities, can’t afford such representation. Usually, they’re appointed a public defender and offered a plea bargain. Is it any wonder, then, that minorities represent 60 percent of our prisoners, while accounting for only 30 percent of our population? And, according to a survey requested by Frontline, in the 20 states that have Stand Your Ground laws, whites are 354 percent more likely to be found justified in killing a black person than a white person who kills another white person.

With such statistics, it has become increasingly apparent that justice is becoming more of an illusion in the US than reality.

The Costs Of Deregulation.

For nearly 40 years, those politicians who represent big business have been pushing an agenda of deregulation. They want to “get the government out of the way of business.” And they have been amazingly successful.

Since the push for deregulation began, we have deregulated airlines resulting in lost service, rising airfares for many, the demise of regional airlines and the mergers of the few remaining large airlines. We have deregulated commodities resulting in the run-up of costs for everything from electricity and precious metals to oil and grains. We have deregulated banking resulting in predatory loans by banks that are considered too big to fail.

Even for those industries that have not yet been deregulated, we have seen a series of coal ash spills, chemical spills, oil spills, manure spills, fertilizer explosions and mining disasters. We have seen Medicaid and Medicare fraud, abuse in private prisons, tax fraud, commodities fraud, and, of course, the worst economic disaster since 1929…the collapse of our banking system.

Our corporations have imported flammable clothing made in sweatshops overseas. They have imported toys colored with lead paints that are poisonous to children. We have seen the poisoning of our food system by corporations that cruelly confine animals in small cages then pump them full of antibiotics to offset the inevitable danger of diseases. We have seen thousands of consumers poisoned with carelessly handled meats, fish, fruits and vegetables. We have even seen our pets poisoned with pet foods containing uninspected ingredients from overseas.

Despite a growing trend of corporate negligence, fraud and abuse, we hear the constant drumbeat of Teapublicans screaming “over-regulation!” They claim that government oversight and litigation is costing American jobs. They want to give corporations access to the world’s most environmentally sensitive areas in order to extract oil and minerals while leaving behind a toxic wasteland of poisons and destruction. They want to allow oil companies to drill in the Arctic Ocean and along our entire coasts. They want to permit a foreign-owned mining company to extract uranium from the Grand Canyon. They want to permit a foreign-owned oil company to transport the world’s most toxic oil across the length of our nation. They want…they just want.

Even as this is being written, the corporate tools otherwise known as the Republican Party have a case before the United States Supreme Court that would emasculate the Environmental Protection Agency…an agency that is underfunded and overburdened by the callous actions of greedy corporations. If the Republican Party and its Tea Party Parasites have their way, they will not only render the EPA mute. They will further weaken the USDA by allowing meatpackers as well as fruit and vegetable packers to self-inspect their produce. They are already in the process of passing laws forbidding unauthorized recordings of the mistreatment of animals and the mishandling of produce.

There is nothing inherently evil about corporations. Many are socially-aware and contribute a great deal to our society besides jobs. But far too many are only concerned with their bottom lines and will trade long-term consequences for short-term profits. Further reducing or eliminating our watchdog agencies will benefit no one except corporate shareholders.

Crimean Crisis Began With Bush.

When Mikhail Gorbachev called an end to the Cold War, President George H. W. Bush agreed that there would be no expansion of NATO. Bush also agreed that, following the reunification of Germany, NATO troops and weapons would not be permitted on former East German soil. This was not only necessary to ensure the security of the Russian Federation. In part, it was to prevent a reunified Germany from ever posing a danger to Russia again. After all, the Soviet Union lost more than 20 million of its citizens during World War II.

The agreement was short-lived.

Almost immediately, NATO expanded into the former East Germany. Then, during the Clinton administration, NATO expanded into the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. Then George W. Bush pushed NATO to expand into Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania and Croatia. In addition, Cyprus, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro have considered membership. And, before the end of his second term, Bush made it clear that he wanted Georgia and the Ukraine to join NATO, as well.

This expansion of Russia’s former enemy into nations that were once part of its Warsaw Pact has led Putin and the Russian government to distrust the ultimate goals of NATO, Europe and the US. Add the Bush/Cheney doctrine of pre-emptive war along with Bush’s assertion that the US has the right to use nuclear weapons, and Russians have reason to question our intentions. At the same time, the US has continued to develop and deploy our National Missile Defense (NMD) throughout Europe. Even though it is called a “defense” system, Russians see it differently. They view it as making a first strike survivable.

The NMD is unlikely to be capable of intercepting a massive first strike by Russia. On the other hand, it could more reasonably be seen as capable of intercepting a much smaller retaliatory strike by Russia following a first strike by the US. In other words, it very much upsets the balance of power. Combined with the US thirst for oil which has led us to interfere with governments around the globe, and you can easily see why Putin would be unwilling to see its long-time partner nation, the Ukraine, move away from Russia and join the European Union. Even worse, Russia would lose its naval base at Sebastopol, Crimea, which is home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

If you still think this crisis is the result of the Obama administration’s “weak” foreign policy, consider this: What if “independence” groups in Canada or Mexico suddenly took control of the government and formed an alliance with Russia? And what if they signed a treaty of mutual protection? What then? Would you support your neighbors? Or would you demand that the US do something to stop it?

I thought so.

Illusion Of Democracy.

The passage of SB 1062 by the Arizona legislature and subsequent veto by Governor Brewer drew national attention. But there’s one aspect of the incident that has gone largely overlooked…the fact that the legislation was not written by an Arizona legislator. It was written by a national stink tank, Alliance Defending Freedom and pushed by the ultra-right wing Center for Arizona Policy. In fact, most state legislation is no longer authored by legislators. The bills are written by lawyers working for the American Legislative Exchange Council, the State Policy Network, lobbyists for large corporations, the National Rifle Association and other conservative stink tanks.

Is it any wonder, then, that our Congress and our legislatures don’t seem to represent the will of the people?

The system of state legislators and congressmen sponsoring bills written by outsiders gives the illusion of representation. But the bills are written for the benefit of a few and to push a narrow ideology. They seldom benefit the majority. For example, the Iowa House recently passed a bill to legalize silencers for guns. How many Iowans will that benefit? The Ohio legislature passed a bill limiting voting hours. How many voters will that benefit? Other states have passed strict voter ID laws despite a lack of in-person voter fraud. The result will be to prevent many of the poor and the elderly from voting. Who will that benefit?

As a result of gerrymandering, issues with voter registration and the dark money used for campaign finance, a study by the non-partisan Electoral Integrity Project as reported by The Washington Post now ranks the US 26th in the world for electoral integrity and worst of all Western nations. And the situation will only get worse if Republicans and their stink tanks continue to push bills intended to rig elections.

How do we stop this blatant takeover of our democracy? Here’s an idea: Let’s ask candidates to reject any bills written by outsiders. Let’s demand that they solve problems for the majority of their constituents. Let’s treat all bills designed to limit civil rights with the same outrage as that for SB 1062. Let’s threaten to boycott states that pass such laws. Let’s refuse to do business with corporations that have co-opted our democracy.

Let’s make our votes count while we still have them.

Five Times The Distance. Five Times The Spills?

The debate over the Keystone XL pipeline is puzzling on many fronts. We hear that the pipeline will create jobs (although the number has been greatly exaggerated); that it’s safer than transporting oil by train; that it will lessen US dependency on foreign oil. Disregarding the fact that oil from the Alberta tar sands is foreign oil and the fact that most of the oil will be shipped to foreign markets, I have yet to hear anyone address the most obvious issue. The Alberta tar sands are located roughly 2,300 miles from the pipeline’s ultimate destination on the Gulf Coast. Yet the tar sands are just over 400 miles from the Pacific Ocean near Vancouver.

That’s more than five times as far, offering five times the opportunity for oil spills.

Even more puzzling is the fact that there is already a pipeline from the tar sands to Vancouver. If it doesn’t have the capacity to carry as much oil as Trans-Canada would like, why not increase its size? To equal the distance of the Keystone XL pipeline, they could increase the capacity of their Trans Mountain pipeline five-fold and eliminate the political conflict with their neighbor to the south. Instead, the Canadian company is asking US citizens to assume the risks of oil spills on our own pristine lands with few benefits to offset the risk.

This oil is even worse than the gooey, toxic stuff that has already despoiled our Gulf Coast. It’s even more toxic. Moreover, no one yet knows how to clean up the stuff. We’ve already experienced two spills of tar sands oil in US rivers and the so-called oil experts have no advice to offer other than to let it sink to the bottom. Worse yet, when the stuff is refined, one of the by-products is a fine, toxic dust that pollutes the entire surrounding area.

Seriously, Canada, I admire your country. I love your scenic beauty. I love your cosmopolitan cities. I love your people. But if you want to develop your tar sands deposits, you will reap the rewards. You should also reap the consequences.