Saturday, May 27, 2017

The meaning of freedom for which so many died defending it

So how are you celebrating Memorial Day? Will it be a long weekend  with friends and families and backyard barbeques? Or did you put up your flag  with a sense that you did your patriotic duty? Or have you reflected a bit  on the meaning of Memorial Day,  to commemorate those who died in defense of our country? I plan all.  Running through my head  is Lee Greenwood’s great lyric which  captures the meaning of Memorial Day the best:
“And I'm proud to be an American
Where at least I know I'm free
And I won't forget the ones who died who gave that right to me
And I'll gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today
Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land, God Bless the USA.”

Those words are ones that both sides of the ideological spectrum can agree upon.  However, in our polarized America, we have differing views of what freedom, the  core value saluted in those lyrics, means.

My grandson, raised in a Colorado household of both  immigrants  and  those who could trace New World ancestors back to the late 1600’s, just returned from a visit with relatives of his nearest and dearest in a southern state.  His comment was, “they live in a different world and now I understand why Donald Trump is popular there”.  To him  profound  political divisions became real.

I  was not surprised. I grew up in Oklahoma, the reddest of any state, but I spent the remainder  of my life in large urban areas both in Europe and in the US and  married  a refugee from eastern Europe.  I have experienced  authoritarianism and  non-free societies  practiced first hand. Not everyone has that perspective, but it has influenced my political thought about what freedom means and what I find disturbing today in this very politically polarized America.

While I respect others’ rights to hold values that differ even from what  I was taught in my  Oklahoma youth,   I see personal freedom as protected  in our Constitution’s  First Amendment : right to free speech, press freedom, religious freedom, and the freedom to peacefully assemble. I see those freedoms under attack  today by some. For them,  free speech is reserved for those who  agree with personal views, but otherwise those opinions are to be minimized, shouted down and intimidated. Religious freedom is not only free from government interference to practice it  or to be free of a  religion established, preferred, or enforced by a government,   but now  it  means freedom to refuse to serve or give the same rights to those  with different religious beliefs and values.   Freedom of the press means loyalty to one media outlet and to consider all others prejudicial  and “the enemy of the people”  regardless of the merits of the arguments or the sources of  facts. Facts become those presented by the favored news outlet; otherwise there are no such things as facts.  The freedom to assemble in peaceful protest is viewed as motivated and organized  by some sinister force to be disrespected as certainly not arising  from real self interest or values of morality and a sense of fairness.  Our military  defends our freedoms from foreign threats, but the real threat  to our traditional views of freedom lies  within our own country’s hearts and minds.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

What should be the Democratic Party agenda? Here's the long and short of it.

Carried in all editions of the Sky Hi News May 24, 2017

The news coming from Washington regarding the Russian connection scandal has historic implications and the Democrats are salivating at a chance to turn the House of Representatives from red to blue.  The danger for  Democrats is that the scandal may drown out other news, and bury Democrat’s excellent case to beat Republican House candidates. The case to be made is that the Democrats are the champions of the middle class and :the GOP is  attacking  ordinary Americans’  day to day financial survival.


The GOP  talked  up a middle class game in 2016, but in 2017 they took a hard right turn..
They are quietly undertaking an agenda that hurts middle class pocket books, from  yanking away affordable health insurance and making it harder to pay off student loans or  to buy a home.   It will be up to Democrats to make sure the GOP/Trump agenda does not get  passed while voters are looking the other way.  


The scandals will play out over time, possibly lasting past 2018 and impacting the elections without the Democrats even hyperventilating. If Democrats  make the Russian issue  their only focus,  they are in danger of drowning out an attempt to position themselves as the advocates of issues that help  the middle class.   Voters ultimately care  most what impacts their lives, and  many  could view the Russian connection  as an issue that does not directly affect them other than crippling the implementation of Trump's domestic agenda.


Whenever the Trump administration and local GOP candidates support a policy that will hurt the middle class, Democrats need to 1) respond  quickly 2) point out how it hurts the middle class , and 3) present positive,viable alternatives..


Aside from any unease or disgust with the Russian connection, top of the list of voter  concerns is health care, per recent polls. Democrats cannot just  be a party of "no”. The party  must propose a better way to go. It must recognize the Obamacare problems of dwindling insurer participation and high cost of the individual market premiums.. It then must propose a fix that maintains affordable access and keeps essential benefits with guaranteed coverage of pre-existing conditions.


Political reality is that Congressional Democrats  alone are powerless to implement any fixes to health care insurance  They do not have the majority and cannot pass much without some Republican support .  Medicare for All right now would be a very hard sell.to moderate Republicans.. Retaining and repairing Obamacare can be short term way forward. Doing so  should  not preclude those  who advocate  continuing a quest  down the road for a system that is cheaper for citizens and government and  provides more universal  and comprehensive. coverage.  That vision is the longer one.


If the investigations lead to jail time for Trump’s associates and  even Trump stepping down,  the GOP agenda  will not go away even if there is a President Pence.  The GOP will continue an attempt to upend healthcare insurance ,  limit civil rights , harm women’s health,
increase our dirty our air and water, remove consumer protections in financial matters,   undermine public education, and make radical , immoral  cuts in.the social safety to finance huge tax cuts to the rich.  .  That is the “long of it” .The only  short term brake on the GOP is if the House majority can go Democratic in 2018.  

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In the meantime, Trump and the GOP are busy fulfilling their own prophecy that Obama care will fail. Donald Trump is trying to sabotage Obamacare by  proposing to remove subsidies to insurers or to those who receive subsidies that are necessary to  make their policies affordable in the exchanges.  His goal is to force Democrats to accept Trumpcare that has only 17% approval in the entire country. . So far their plan  would screw the lower middle class  for years by dumping 24 million off the insured roles and provide fewer benefits  for the rest who  will have to pay  even more out of their pockets.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/210545/healthcare-surges-top-problem
http://www.politico.com/story/2017/05/19/donald-trump-end-payments-obamacare-subsidies-238616
http://www.latimes.com/…/la-fi-hiltzik-obamacare-charts-201…
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/05/03/iowa-at-risk-of-having-no-obamacare-insurers-next-year-in-all-but-five-counties/?utm_term=.c1164c7566cb
See 5/20/17 blog post: Trump has plans to destroy Obamacare so he can claim it is  failing
See 5/4/17 blog post: The china shop rule: Trump broke health care insurance; he owns it
http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/05/will-gop-sacrifice-safety-net-programs-on-altar-of-tax-cuts.html
and blog posting 4/17/17 Trump threatens to blow up exchanges: Why?

Some other views worth considering: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-trump-gop-bargain-may-be-unraveling-1495403179

https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-republican-survival-strategy-1495236527

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Trump has plans to destroy Obamacare so he can claim it is failing

While the country was fascinated with the Russian Connection story, under the radar Trump plans  to make sure Obamacare fails by yanking subsidies to insurance companies so they do pull out of the market. Seven million who benefit by the subsidies would lose their health insurance subsidized through the exchanges, mostly with lower middle income. The insurance market would collapse. The BS that Obamacare is failing is the self fulfilling GOP prophecy. The reasons insurers are pulling out is because of the uncertainties caused by the repeal/replace and this would engineer  the fatal blow. A court case is pending that woud give him the go ahead to do it.  The reason: to force Democrats to approve Trumpcare that would take away health insurance from 24 million people.  Per Gallup polls this month, health care is the number one concern of Americans..but tied with that is poor leadership.  The economy ranks low in the concern list, as does immigration.  This issue plus the ongoing investigations into the Russian Connection could make it a toxic stew in the 2018 midterms.
http://www.gallup.com/poll/210545/healthcare-surges-top-problem.aspx?g_source=Politics&g_medium=newsfeed&g_campaign=tiles


The case made by the GOP today that Obamacare is collapsing is sheer BS. That is the best case they seem to be making to approve Trumpcare and it is based on false premises. The poster child is that an insurer has pulled out of Iowa, but also as the Washington Post and Yahoo News report, insurers are already leaving the Obmacare exchanges because of the unstable market conditions created by the GOP's repeal/replace efforts. The GOP is self fulling their own prophecy. http://www.latimes.com/…/la-fi-hiltzik-obamacare-charts-201…

Per Yahoo News re Iowa" last insurer still planning to offer individual coverage in most of the state next year warning it may leave “without swift action” by state or federal officials act to “provide stability.”https://www.yahoo.com/n…/uh-oh-most-iowa-apos-225803321.html
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/05/03/iowa-at-risk-of-having-no-obamacare-insurers-next-year-in-all-but-five-counties/?utm_term=.c1164c7566cbIn

In N Carolina, Trump's plan to end subsidies to insurers is the reason why Blue Cross/Blue Shield say they have to raise rates: https://www.yahoo.com/news/m/9edee2e4-99b5-3b9a-aa1e-c23a1c9507cb/ss_big-obamacare-insurer-wants.html



For local impact on Trumpcare, and a related strategy to force Democrats to approve his terrible Trumpcare plan, see prior posting  in April: Trump threatens to blow up Obamacare exchanges. Why?


Many senior aides oppose the move for fear it will backfire politically.
POLITI.CO

Friday, May 19, 2017

Why has Mike Pence been out of the White House loop on the Russian connection controversy

The question is why has Mike Pence been seemingly out of the White House loop on the Russian connection controversies?  Perhaps it goes back to the 2016 campaign when Pence parted ways with Trump on Russian policy.  Going back to two prior postings on this blog, this has a history, including the Mike Flynn/Pence flap re: Pence saying Flynn lied to him.  In these blogs are also references to the Russian connections in the 2016 campaign and possible financial entanglements  with  Russia in  the Trump administration.  Whether Pence took himself out of being involved in the Russian connection issue or if Trump did, is unknown. However, it may be Pence himself removing himself and the matter flared up when he accused Flynn of lying about the nature of his conversations with the Russian ambassador, that forced Trump to fire Flynn.

Pence also departed from Trump on Russia in his first trip abroad with a hard line approach: : http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/18/politics/pence-munich-russia-foreign-policy/,

Blog Posting Oct. 5  2016
 "One event in the Vice Presidential debate, October 4, was the position of GOP candidate Mike Pence regarding Russia.  The comments on Russia got lost in Pence's  absolute denial that Donal Trump ever said Russian President Vladimir Putin was a better leader than Pres. Obama. The quibble could be whether the correct term was "stronger". In any case, there is plenty of video available on Trump's comments which makes Pence look like a liar, albeit a smooth one delivered with conviction.

 What should also be the story is that Pence took a hard line on Russia saying we should stand up to them..  This deserves some closer scrutiny and looks like there is a division on foreign policy between the two running mates.  Take a look at the debate as can be accessed via You Tube regarding Pence's views of Russia incursions into the Crimea, Ukraine and Georgia...a great contrast from Trump's prior statements.
What does count in 2016 ,however, is Trump's position, though Pence might use his own quotes in his own future campaigns.

It stands in sharp contrast with the GOP presidential candidate himself, Donald Trump, who has been advocating a foreign policy that strangely runs parallel to the same as Russia's, from declaring NATO obsolete, not objecting to the Russian threats and incursions into Eastern Ukraine, and recognizing Russia's grab of the Crimea.  In fact, the mutual comments between Trump and Putin have been so complimentary that it has been timed a "bromance" of mutual admiration.

Not only is this a major issue in foreign policy, but in calls into question whether Trump can even negotiate with Putin in America's and our alliies' security interests without giving away the store to Russia.  Negotiation means give and take and the question remains what Trump would give away to make a deal.

http://mufticforumblog.blogspot.com/2016/09/trumps-foreign-policy-make-russia-great.html

http://www.politico.com/story/2016/10/vice-presidential-debate-putin-mike-pence-donald-trump-229147

http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/28/politics/donald-trump-vladimir-putin-quotes/ "
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Blog posting Feb, 14, 2017
"General Michael Flynn's departure from the White House may have much deeper roots than just his lie to both Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence about conversations with the Russian ambassador.  The conflict between the two goes back to the days of the campaign post GOP conventions.  I noted that in a column at that time. In the Vice Presidential debate, Pence parted ways on Russia from  candidate Donald Trump's line.
From my blog posting 10/5/16: (repeated above)
and continues:


"Some background:
 For some time, the question has been why has Donald Trump been so cozy with Russia? There has been a great deal of speculation ranging from Trump's debts to Russia oligarchs to blackmail , the connection with  the Russian Alfa Bank, with embarrassing pictures (a victim of a honey trap).  Fingers have been pointed to influencing Trump's views of Russia was his campaign manager, who departed the campaign mid year, Paul Manafort, who was an advisor to the ousted  president of the Ukraine who sought refuge in Moscow after a coup.  Congressional investigations into Russian influence and hacking  in the US elections are just getting underway.  Ukraine is involved. The Russians have conducted a stealth takeover of the eastern parts of that country and the West punished Russia with economic sanctions.  The Flynn issue involves lies about his pre- January conversations with the Russian ambassador over lifting those sanctions. The question arises was this a thank you for the role Russia played in helping Trump win by planting false news stories and by hacking and revealing damaging information regarding Hillary Clinton.

That there are many concerned about why Donald Trump only ever has kind words for Russia and their president Vladimir Putin, while being critical of even our closest allies and even calling NATO, our mutual defense treaty with Europe, obsolete.  It has set our Eastern Europe members of NATO on edge and one of President Obama's departing actions was to announce the placement of US troops in Poland as a signal to Russia not to mess with our Baltic members.  Trump and others, including libertarians, had already expressed concern about going to war to support the small trio of Baltic nations in spite of their NATO membership. Russians have always seen the Baltics, with their ports to the sea, as part of theirs since there is a large number of Russians living in those areas left over from the old Soviet  military occupations days when the Baltics were their satellites.  Russia has a modus operandi of using "saving discrimination against Russian minorities" as an excuse to grab territory and the Baltics are ripe targets.  Their membership in NATO has made Russia think twice. Ukraine, Crimea, and Georgia, recent targets of Russian grabs, are not part of NATO and are not under NATO's protections.  Flynn was Donald Trump's closest campaign advisor on foreign affairs through out the campaign."