443 posts categorized "Politics"

Independence Day 2018

Americans are here today to celebrate Independence Day which is set aside from all other days to recall the United States' declaration of independence from Great Britain.

The document itself, The Declaration of Independence, was signed in the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall) at Philadelphia in 1776. (I like this copy with the edits.)

Decofindwithedits

Actually, the document was not signed until August 2 and August 3, 1776, but it was adopted on the Fourth of July so that is when we celebrate.

Like last year on this date, today the republic is looking a raggedy around the edges and some of us are worried, even frightened of what the current regime in Washington. D.C. is doing to our imperfect but always, until now, striving nation.

They are intent on trashing the reasons we have a Declaration of Independence in the first place.

Nearly every day, the president and his self-appointed minions in high places commit more outrages. Baby jails. Rollback of environmental protections. Vicious trade wars with allied countries. (Canada???) Open, overt racism and sexism. Lies, lies, lies. And – well, to track it is a full-time job.

The ultimate irony of today's holiday is that as we celebrate (or try to) the nation's rejection of a king 239 years ago, the president has made it abundantly clear that he doesn't like being president. He wants to be king, a tyrant like his “pals” who rule by fiat in Russia and North Korea.

We are heading in that direction, folks, and there is no one we have elected who can or will stop him.

There are many inspiring quotations from great thinkers about what the maintenance of freedom entails. I've chose three that speak to what we are up against during this assault on our nation's very existence:

“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” - George Bernard Shaw
“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” - Thomas Paine
“It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority.” - Samuel Adams

That's our job now. Every one of us who believes in the Declaration of Independence (which, by all reports coming from the federal government, does not include the president), must do what we are capable of to help preserve its ideals.

Take some time today with your family and friends to enjoy your barbecues, the parades in your town and fireworks tonight. We can do that even when we are worried and maybe frightened – we can use the respite for a day.

And here is a little history of fireworks I found online. I have no idea if it's true, but it's a good story.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone.



America's Shame – A Turning Point?

EDITORIAL NOTE: In a departure from the usual TimeGoesBy fare, today's post has nothing to do with growing old unless, like me, you didn't believe you would ever see concentration camps in the United States. Second, I finished writing this on Sunday but things move so swiftly in Trumpworld that god only knows what will have changed in regard to the border crisis by the time you read this.

* * *

Here is the latest New Yorker cover from artist Barry Blitt.

NewYorkerCoverRefugees

It took long enough but at last, this past week, the U.S. is paying attention to the cruel, merciless and inhumane policy of President Trump's administration at the country's southern border.

Did you ever, in your wildest imagination, think that the government of the United States would snatch infants and toddlers from their parents and stick them in baby jails behind chain link fences?

How about all those teenage boys in tents in 108-degree F temperatures? Do you believe the government when it says those tents are well air conditioned?

And what about the girls? Where are the girls? Why won't the government tell us?

It was only after hundreds of protests and marches around the U.S. that President Trump capitulated and signed an executive order to end family separations at the border late last week.

And it was not until this weekend that a few members of Congress were allowed inside one or two detention centers in Texas. But no pictures allowed.

”The lawmakers didn’t know exactly how many children were at the facility,” reports Bloomberg News, “and complained about being unable to get numbers and other specific responses.

“They were told, though, that 26 minors brought to Tornillo had been separated from their parents at the border, and that three of them have since been reunited with their families.”

The Trump government doesn't know how many kids are in their tent jail? Doesn't know???

And that figure of 2,342 children snatched from their parents arms between May 5 and June 9 that the media keep repeating? What kind of number is that? How many were taken away before 5 May and since 9 June? Can we trust these numbers? Can we believe anything the federal government says about their zero tolerance border policy?

No one from the press has been allowed to take photos or videos inside any the camps. What is the government trying to hide?

It has been obvious for a week or more that when Trump's “zero tolerance” policy was enacted and they started grabbing kids from their parents, no one – not a single federal employee including the president and cabinet secretaries – had any intention of keeping records of the names and contacts of the parents and their children.

Why would they? If you believe it is a good idea to lock up children without their parents, keep them in empty warehouses in chain-link cages and not allow anyone in to verify who is there and under what conditions, why would care about returning the kids to their parents?

What else would you expect from a president who spends his time name-calling people he doesn't like, lying once every two minutes or so about pretty much everything, and is generally nasty in word and deed?

As bad as all this is, now the government will no longer split up families, they say. Instead...

”The Navy memo outlines plans to build 'temporary and austere' tent cities to house 25,000 migrants at abandoned airfields just outside the Florida panhandle near Mobile, Alabama, at Navy Outlying Field Wolf in Orange Beach, Alabama, and nearby Navy Outlying Field Silverhill,” reports Time magazine.

“The memo also proposes a camp for as many as 47,000 people at former Naval Weapons Station Concord, near San Francisco; and another facility that could house as many as 47,000 people at Camp Pendleton, the Marines’ largest training facility located along the Southern California coast.

“The planning memo proposes further study of housing an undetermined number of migrants at the Marine Corps Air Station near Yuma, Arizona.”

Does any of this sound familiar? Some people younger than you and I may not recall those evil places called concentration camps in Europe during World War II or that other shameful episode in American history of rounding up Japanese-Americans and placing them in internment camps during the same war.

Apparently there is no time limit for holding families in these new camps. The word “indefinitely” has come up in the discussions.

There are plenty of useful and humane possibilities to deal with undocumented immigrants coming to our country but this administration didn't bother to look into it. They chose the racist answer.

I'm sure none of this is new information to you – all of the U.S. and much of the world has been watching this brutal practice for days. But I don't want to end this post without one more comment.

First Lady Melania Trump went to Texas one day last week to see the children. She wore this jacket:

MelaniaJacket

When objections erupted, a spokeperson for Mrs. Trump said it is “just a jacket,” no message intended. No, it is not just a jacket (price: $39) when a woman who regularly spends thousands of dollars on a single dress wears it. It is a choice she made, a message she wanted people to see.

In the past, I've had some sympathy for the First Lady. No more. And from the public response, millions of others feel as I do.

God knows I could be wrong, but I sense that we have reached an inflection point in the politics of the United States. That throwing babies and toddlers (even teenagers, in my mind) into detention camps without their parents has been a bridge too far for a majority of Americans and maybe, just maybe things will begin to change now.



Net Neutrality Died on 11 June

In a three-to-two party-line vote, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed net neutrality rules put in place by the Obama administration in 2015 and that repeal, despite massive, nation-wide objection, went into effect on 11 June 2018.

We have discussed this often enough in these pages that you probably know what net neutrality is all about. But just in case, the idea at its most basic is that before this vote, internet providers could not, for example, block websites they don't like or slow down load time of websites whose owners have not paid a fee for speedier service.

Now they can do that along with pretty much anything else they can think up to charge more and/or control access to information.

Rolling Stone notes that now,

”...service providers have carte blanche to strike deals with powerful Internet companies. A company like Amazon, for instance, could pay service providers to make their content stream faster, thus making it more appealing to consumers than its competitors.

“Any company looking to game the system is now able to do so, and those whose pockets aren't so deep are now at a marked disadvantage.”

The FCC repealed the common-sense, net neutrality rules despite unprecedented public approval of it. As The Hill reports (emphasis is mine):

”Americans like net neutrality. Surveys have consistently shown that a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents all support the 2015 net neutrality rules.

“For example, one survey from April found that 82 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats opposed the FCC’s move to repeal the rules, echoing similar numbers from other surveys, including those funded by the cable industry.

Most technology reporters I've read are pessimistic about the chances of reversing the net neutrality repeal. State of the Art columnist at The New York Times, Farhad Manjoo, goes further:

”As I’ve noted often in the last few years, big companies have been crushing small ones over and over again for much of the last decade,” he wrote on the day repeal took effect.

“One lesson from everything that has happened online recently — Facebook, the Russians and Cambridge Analytica; bots and misinformation everywhere — is that, in the absence stringent rules and enforcement, everything on the internet turns sour. Removing the last barriers to unfair competition will only hasten that process.

“It’s not going to be pretty.”

Nevertheless, there is strong pushback from a majority of states. In a variety of forms, more than 30 are producing their own net neutrality legislation. Here is a map of those efforts from the National Regulatory Research Institute (NRRI). The legend in the main image is too small to easily read so here is a larger version of it:

StateActionsLegend

NetNeutralityStateActions680

Follow this link and scroll down to view details of the efforts in the states.

It is not clear that all these attempts to restore net neutrality locally are legal or that all will succeed. Some of those some states and a few others are suing the FCC over net neutrality. Here is that map:

States-suing-the-federal-communications-commission680

The Times reporter, Farhad Manjoo, spoke with one of the two Democratic commissioners at the FCC:

“'History shows us that companies that have the technical capacity to do things, the business incentive to do them and the legal right — they will take advantage of what is made available to them,' said Jessica Rosenworcel, an F.C.C. commissioner and a Democrat, who voted against the repeal of net neutrality last year.

“'Now they can block websites and censor online content,' Ms. Rosenworcel said. 'That doesn’t make me feel good — and if you rely on the internet to consume or create, it shouldn’t make you feel good, either.'”

Also, there are continuing efforts in the House of Representatives to restore net neutrality. You can add your name here.

It is easy in such circumstances as this to feel impotent. But it takes only a small amount of effort and it couldn't hurt to telephone your representative or at least, send an email. You can get that information here.



What Trump's Proposed Drug Plan Does for Elders (and Others)

EDITORIAL NOTE: This is long-ish and gets a bit wonky in places but it is important to know this stuff.

* * *

We have all known or have read about elders who don't fill medication prescriptions or cut them in half because the cost forces them to make the choice between life-saving drugs and food.

Just recently, I had a personal encounter with such an issue. A newly prescribed drug I inject twice a day costs me hundreds of out-of-pocket dollars a month which is way beyond my means and at first I told the doctors it was out of the question; find something else to help me that I can afford.

Then someone in the meeting realized they had neglected to note that I need the drug for only three months. I don't like dipping into my emergency fund for that much money, but I suppose that's why I call it an emergency fund. And I can handle three months.

I'm lucky to have that fund. Millions of American adults who can't afford their prescriptions with or without insurance converage just don't fill them, endangering their health and their lives.

Why, do you suppose, are prescription drugs so expensive in the United States, higher than in other countries. Here is an explanation from CNN:

What reporter Christine Romans overlooks in this video is that pharmaceutical companies do not bear the entire of burden of new drug development. A great deal of money and help comes from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In the White House Rose Garden on Friday, President Donald Trump unveiled a proposal he says will lower the prices of prescription drugs for consumers. It tells us something that minutes later, the stock market price of pharmaceutical companies soared:

”The stock prices of Pfizer, Merck, Gilead Sciences, and Amgen all spiked after Trump’s speech,” reported STATnews. “Wall Street analysts said the speech posed few threats to the drug industry on the whole.”

Do you think that outcome could that have anything to do with input from the man accompanying Trump at the podium Friday, the one who will be in charge of implementing Trump's proposed drug plan, Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Alex Azar?

TrumpAzarScreenGrab

Until last year, Azar spent a decade employed at pharmaceutical giant, Eli Lilly and Company first as the firm's top lobbyist and later as president of Lilly USA LLC.

So what does Trump's proposal, disingenuously titled American Patients First, include? NBC News reports:

”The plan, presented as a thinly described set of executive actions...focuses on four elements, according to the Health and Human Services Department:

Increasing competition
Better negotiation
Creating incentives to lower list prices
Reducing patient out-of-pocket spending."

That is a far cry from Trump's campaign promise to

”...allow Medicare to negotiate directly with drug manufacturers... The industry is now having the last laugh,” reports The Atlantic. “In a speech Friday on drug pricing, President Trump completed his 180-degree turn on Candidate Trump’s promises.

“The White House’s new plan, as outlined, does seek to address high prescription-drug costs. 'We will not rest until this job of unfair pricing is a total victory,' Trump said. But it doesn’t directly challenge the pharmaceutical industry and the direct role it plays in setting prices.

“Indeed, the new policy largely meets the goals of big pharma, signaling an ever-tightening bond between Trump and drug manufacturers.”

Trump didn't say much about how his proposals will lower prices and what is conspicuously missing, despite the second item on that list, is any plan to allow Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.

Big Pharma won that one when Medicare's prescription drug plan, Part D, was introduced in 2003; the legislation specifically disallows price negotiations between Medicare and the pharmaceutical companies. Trump's proposal does not change that.

During the Rose Garden speech, Trump attacked what he called “global freeloading” by countries where citizens often pay much less than Americans for the same brand-name drugs:

“He directed his trade representative to make fixing this injustice a top priority in negotiations with every trading partner,” reports Robert Pear in The New York Times...

“It is not clear,” continues Pear, “why higher profits in other countries would be passed on to American consumers in the form of lower prices, and officials in those countries pushed back hard.”

The Times also reported on another of the proposal's items:

”Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, said the Food and Drug Administration would explore requiring drug companies to disclose list prices in their television advertisements.”

It is equally unclear how that would reduce the cost of advertised drugs. It is worth quoting Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley who served as President Bill Clinton's secretary of labor, at some length on this:

While it’s true that Americans spend far more on medications per person than do citizens in any other rich country – even though Americans are no healthier – that’s not because other nations freeload on American drug companies’ research,” writes Reich in Eurasia Review.

“Big Pharma in America spends more on advertising and marketing than it does on research – often tens of millions to promote a single drug.

“The U.S. government supplies much of the research Big Pharma relies on through the National Institutes of Health. This is a form of corporate welfare. No other industry gets this sort of help.

“Besides flogging their drugs, American drug companies also spend hundreds of millions lobbying the government. Last year alone, their lobbying tab came to $171.5 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“That’s more than oil and gas, insurance, or any other American industry. It’s more than the formidable lobbying expenditures of America’s military contractors. Big Pharma spends tens of millions more on campaign expenditures.”

And you wonder why your drugs cost so much.

"'This [proposal] is not doing anything to fundamentally change the drug supply chain or the drug pricing system,' said Gerard Anderson, a health policy professor at Johns Hopkins University,” quoted at CNN.

The so-called American Patients First proposal is not a bill and while a small number of the proposals would require Congressional legislation, most can be put into effect with regulations or guidance documents.

So much for lowering the price of prescription pharmaceuticals. Like most everything else in the Trump administration, this proposal is gift to big business.

You can read the full, 44-page proposal here [pdf].



Brain News for Elders, Ageist Headline and Net Neutrality

Often I run across stories of interest to elders that are too long for an item in Saturday's Interesting Stuff and too short for a full blog post. Here today are a three of those.

CAFFEINE CAUSES BRAIN ENTROPY...
and although counter-intuitive, that's a good thing, according to a new study, especially for elders.

”There's not much debate on the subject,” reports Curiosity, “a more chaotic brain is a more effective brain. They call the quality 'brain entropy,' and it measures the complexity and irregularity of brain activity from one moment to the next...

“We generally associate entropy with chaos or decay, but in this case, it's a sign of a brain working correctly...An effective brain is one that doesn't always rely on the same patterns of thinking, and one that can solve problems in unexpected ways.

“By contrast, a brain with lower entropy is characterized by order and repetition. The most orderly brains of all? They belong to comatose people and people in the deepest sleep.”

More than 90 percent of American adults regularly consume caffeine, reports Big Think:

“Despite decreasing blood flow to the brain, caffeine leaves individual regions more stimulated. The stimulating effects are uneven, however, creating a chaotic balance of energy when the stimulant is in full force. The greater unevenness in stimulation throughout the brain, the higher the entropy.”

In addition to drinking coffee, Curiosity notes that there is one sure way to increase entropy in your brain:

”All you need to do is age. Yes, entropy naturally increases with age — we suppose that's just the wisdom of the years accumulating. After all, the longer you've been alive, the more types of thinking you'll have encountered or come up with on your own.

“And with that kind of broad experience, your brain will have a million different possible ways to think.

For the scientifically-minded among you, there is more detailed information about the study at PLOS and at nature.com

MAGAZINE'S AGEIST HEADLINE
Earlier this week we discussed one type of ageism, age discrimination in the workplace. But ageism manifests itself in many other obvious and/or devious ways which hardly anyone recognizes as demeaning to elders.

The latest I came across was published at New York magazine this week.

Before I show it to you, let me say I am far from being a Rudy Giuliani fan, never have been going back to his mayoral stint in New York City. That, however, does not make this headline acceptable:

”Trump Worried Aging, Loudmouth New Yorker Can’t Stay on Message”

“Aging loudmouth.” “Can't stay on message.” The slur is repeated in the story's lede: “Donald Trump is starting to wonder if it was a mistake to trust an elderly, New York celebrity...”

These are among the most common insults – nay, beliefs – regularly used against elders: that we are forgetful and untrustworthy. Further, that "loudmouth" crack is just another version of "get off my lawn" gibes. Even the word "elderly" is used disparagingly in this instance.

The byline on the story is Eric Levitz, a young reporter at the magazine but youth does not absolve him. I'm pretty sure that were he writing about a black person or a woman, Levitz would not have used the N word or "chick' as a description.

It's not that I mean to pick only on Mr. Levitz – hundreds of writers and reporters of all ages use these slurs (and worse) against old people every day with nary a consequence. And that is wrong.

NET NEUTRALITY
It's ba-a-a-a-a-ck, net neutrality. It can seem to be a complicated idea but it isn't, really. Here is a succinct explanation from a February post here quoting Engadget:

”'Net neutrality forced ISPs [internet service providers] to treat all content equally; without these rules in place, providers can charge more for certain types of content and can throttle access to specific websites as they see fit.'

"So, for example, big rich companies could afford hefty fees to providers so their web pages arrive faster in your browser than – oh, let's say political groups that depend on donations or blogs like yours and mine that are throttled because they can't bear the increased cost."

After a vote by the Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission (FCC), regulations to trash net neutrality, the 2015 rules will cease on 11 June.

Now, the Los Angeles Times reports that the fight for net neutrality is back.

"The effort formally begins [last] Wednesday as backers file a petition in the Senate that will force a vote next week to undo the FCC's action. Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, Google and other online giants support the move...

"Although they're poised for a narrow win in the Senate, net neutrality supporters acknowledge the attempt to restore the Obama-era regulations is a long shot. The hurdles include strong opposition from House Republicans and telecommunications companies, such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp., as well as a likely veto from President Trump.

"Regardless of the outcome, the debate over net neutrality — and by extension, the future of the internet — appears headed for a key role in November's congressional midterm elections.

"'There's a political day of reckoning coming against those who vote against net neutrality,' warned Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who is leading the Senate effort to restore the rules."

It is said that despite the FCC and its chair, Agit Pai, 86 percent of Americans support net neutrality. You could do your part to move the initiative to restore the 2015 rules by contacting your representatives in both houses of Congress. You can do that here.



The Future of Social Security Under Trump

(EDITORIAL NOTE Oops, how did this happen. It's long and wonky again but it's important.)

* * *

Did you know that due to President Donald Trump's dereliction in appointing federal agency heads, the Social Security Administration is now without even an “acting commissioner” due to regulation limits in regard the length of time someone can hold that title?

As the Washington Post reports, Trump has nominated no one for 216 of 640 positions that require Senate confirmation:


“President Barack Obama nominated Carolyn W. Colvin, but she was not confirmed by the Senate. Nancy A. Berryhill held the acting commissioner title from January 2017, when Trump was inaugurated, until Wednesday, the day after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled that her service violated the law because she had held that title beyond the permitted time.”

As the Post further reports:

“'If an acting officer is serving after the relevant time periods have run, any attempt by that officer to perform a function or duty of an advice and consent office will have “no force or effect,”' Valerie C. Brannon, a legislative attorney with the Congressional Research Service, said Wednesday...”

THE IMPORTANCE OF SOCIAL SECURITY TO ALL AMERICANS
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has an excellent page enumerating the many ways Social Security is crucial not just to elders but to almost all Americans. Here are three of them:

”Without Social Security benefits, about 40 percent of Americans aged 65 and older would have incomes below the poverty line, all else being equal. With Social Security benefits, 9 percent do. The program lifts 15.1 million elderly Americans out of poverty.
”About 6 million children under age 18 lived in families that received income from Social Security in 2015.

That number included 3.1 million children who received their own benefits as dependents of retired, disabled, or deceased workers, as well as others who lived with parents or relatives who received Social Security benefits. Social Security lifted 1.1 million children out of poverty in 2015.
”Social Security...benefits are not means-tested. Indeed, universal participation and the absence of means-testing make Social Security very efficient to administer. Administrative costs amount to only 0.7 percent of annual benefits, far below the percentages for private retirement annuities.”

SOCIAL SECURITY FACES DEMOGRAPHIC ISSUES
Just this week, the Census Bureau released its population projections for the years 2020 to 2060. Here is some of the salient information that will affect Social Security:

”Beginning in 2030, all baby boomers will be older than 65. This will expand the size of the older population so that one in every five Americans is projected to be retirement age.

“By 2035, we project that older adults will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history.

“Beyond 2030, the U.S. population is projected to grow slowly, to age considerably, and to become more racially and ethnically diverse.”

"In other words, the longer Congress waits to act, the more likely it is your Social Security benefit is being reduced.”

Due to those demographic figures, as Motley Fool recently pointed out (and has been known for many years without action by the federal government), the current Social Security payout schedule is unsustainable beyond 2034:

”...Social Security is expected to begin paying out more in benefits than it's generating in revenue by 2022. Just 12 years later, in 2034, the estimated $3 trillion in asset reserves held by the program at its peak in 2022 will be completely gone...

“The [Social Security] trustees [2017] report estimates that it could result in an across-the-board cut in benefits of up to 23% just to keep the program solvent through 2091. That's a reduction in benefits for current and future retirees.

"In other words, the longer Congress waits to act, the more likely it is your Social Security benefit is being reduced.”

IDEAS TO ENSURE THE FUTURE OF SOCIAL SECURITY
In 1983, during the Reagan administration when lawmakers realized Social Security needed an adjustment to sustain itself, SSA taxes were raised and full retirement age was gradually increased over 40 years from 65 to 67.

Even though it has been well known for at least a decade that Social Security now needs another adjustment, our elected officials have abdicated their responsibilities in this regard.

It is not hard to figure out how to “fix” Social Security. Experts have been telling us what is needed for many years. Among the useful possibilities:

Lift the payroll cap, currently at $128,400 of taxable earnings. All income levels should pay the same percentage rate on all their income.

Gradually increase the payroll tax. You might not think so, but Americans are amazingly open to this idea. As CNBC reported a few months ago:

”According to a survey by the National Academy of Social Insurance, 77% of Americans feel that it is critical to preserve Social Security benefits for future generations, even if it means raising taxes.

“Among respondents, 81% agreed that they don't mind paying taxes into Social Security 'because it provides security and stability to millions.' This includes majorities of every age group, income level, and political affiliation.

Those are only two ideas - two of the reasonable ones anyway - but the only proposals from Congress over the past few years are various underhanded cuts meant to destroy what is the country's most popular federal program.

WHAT TO DO TO MOVE FORWARD
It is unlikely that Congress will do anything this year about Social Security (or a whole lot of other important issues that require attention). Their session schedule is one of the shortest in history and they are thinking only about the midterm election.

During the 2017 presidential campaign, Trump promised that he would not follow Republican orthodoxy to pursue cuts to Social Security. Now, nearly 14 months into his administration, we know how reliable those promises are so it may be that Congress's inattention is a good thing until after the November election.

It would be an excellent idea, during the rest of 2018, for the Social Security Administration to develop a policy and strategy to fix the shortfall so to have it ready to go in Congress in 2019.

But that's hard to do when the president of the United States neglects his sworn duties and refuses to appoint a commissioner to lead the effort.



Trump's Budget and Medicare

(This is wonkier that usual in some places but I think it's important to know and I've tried to keep confusion to a minimum.)

Remember when, during the presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly promised that he would never allow cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid? He said so at nearly every rally.

If you are still harboring a belief in any of Trump's promises, you must be part of his entrenched base, and in the case of his Medicare promise, he broke it “bigly” in his FY2019 budget proposal released on 12 February. You can read the entire budget here.

There are many good reasons not to like this budget but today's post is devoted primarily to Medicare, a program which, with my diagnosis of pancreatic cancer last year, is no longer theoretical.

Since then, there never once was a question of whether any procedure, surgery, treatment or care would be covered. Everything was. Or, to be clear, they were covered by Medicare along with my supplemental policy which takes up the slack of the 20 percent Medicare does not cover.

So well does this combined insurance work that already, eight months in, I have personally paid much more for medications under Medicare Part D than for medical care.

Now, as I get into the Trump budget Medicare particulars, keep in mind that the budget hasn't a chance of passing Congress. However, it is important for two reasons:

  • Essentially, it is a “values statement” from the president – what his priorities are for the people of the United States.

  • As we have seen on past issues and this week on gun control, the president's values are fungible. What he promotes one day can be withdrawn or condemned the next leaving no way to know what he will support.

So let's take the proposed budget as a starting place to keep in mind when later this year Trump and Congress try to craft a real 2019 budget and we will need to petition our individual representatives to do the right thing.

Trump's budget makes significant cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, $266 million from Medicare (mostly by reducing payments to physicians and skilled nursing facilities) and $1.1 trillion from Medicaid, both over 10 years. Among the changes are these:

Freezes most funding for the Older Americans Act (OAA) which supports home and community-based services that help keep elders in their homes and as independent as possible. This involves nutrition programs, in-home services, transportation, legal services, elder abuse prevention and caregivers support.

It also cuts funding for falls prevention, elder rights support, and chronic disease self-management.

Abolishes certain federal block grants that states use to fund social service programs they believe are beneficial for elders including Meals on Wheels.

Restructures the Medicare drug benefit [Part D] to reduce costs for some beneficiaries but raise them for others. This is complicated and not worth the effort of the details right now.

It is enough to say that the sickest patients would pay nothing after they reach the “catastrophic” threshold ($8,418 this year) while less ill beneficiaries would pay more than they do now before they reach the catastrophic level at which they pay five percent of drug costs.

No one knows how these changes would affect Part D premiums so let's be grateful this is unlikely to pass Congress.

Kills the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) which prepares low-income, unemployed, older workers for re-entry into the workforce partly through jobs with local governments and non-profits.

In addition, the Trump budget proposal would gut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – also known as food stamps - by $17.2 billion which is equal to about 22 percent of the program's 2016 cost.

As the Washington Post noted, this would ”...bring a fundamental change to a program that for the past 40 years has allowed recipients to use SNAP benefits at grocery stores as if they were cash. SNAP provides an average of $125 per month to 42.2 million Americans.”

In place of about half the SNAP benefit, the Department of Agriculture would buy and deliver a package of food called “America's Harvest Box” which would include “shelf-stable milk, juice, grains, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, and canned meat, fruits and vegetables.”

White House Budget Director and rich white guy, Mick Mulvaney, has compared this new program to Blue Apron. (Yeah, right.)

All these cuts and reductions come on the heels of the massive tax cut bill passed not long ago that primarily benefits rich people. CEO Warren Buffet announced this week that his investment firm, Berkshire Hathaway, gained a windfall of $29 billion dollars from doing absolutely nothing – just from the tax bill changes.

To people in Buffet's economic range, the cuts enumerated here today are too miniscule to even take note of. But to recipients, they can be life savers.

Nancy Altman is president of Social Security Works and America's leading expert on Social Security along with other government social programs. She wrote this in response to Trump’s FY19 budget proposal:

“Despite Donald Trump’s numerous promises during his presidential campaign to not cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid, he proposes to cut all three in his just-released budget. And not just by a little. He proposes cuts of over $1.8 trillion to the three programs.

“On top of that, he proposes to slash Meals on Wheels, home heating assistance, and other programs on which seniors rely. It is noteworthy that Republicans just passed, for almost the same price tag, a huge tax giveaway to their donors.

“So that’s the Republican plan: save money by gutting programs for the elderly and transfer the savings to the billionaire class.”

As I said above, the presidential budget proposal has a long history of irrelevance and will not get through Congress. But pieces of it might and it is worth knowing this stuff to understand how many ways the federal government is willing to leave elders out in the cold – literally in some cases.



Net Neutrality Dies on 23 April Plus The Alex and Ronni Show

It surprised me to find that the first interview I did via Skype with my former husband Alex Bennett was published here way back last September. (Blame that damned time-goes-faster-as-you-get-older phenomenon.)

Ever since, Alex has been nudging me to do more of such chats and from my end, there never seemed to be time until earlier this week.

Below is the full interview, about 30 minutes. For the second time, we had audio sync difficulties - it appears to be a feature, not a bug, of Skype. Oh well.

If you would like to see Alex's entire two-hour show with other guests after me, you can do that at Facebook or Gabnet on Facebook or on YouTube or Vimeo.

NET NEUTALITY SET TO BITE THE DUST
As Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai has been threatening since before he was appointed to that post, yesterday the agency filed its net neutrality revocation order in the Federal Register.

The ruling, misleadingly titled The Restoring Internet Freedom Order which can be found online here, goes into effect, if not stopped, on 23 April 2018.

A simple explanation of what that will mean to your internet life can be found here at TGB but even better is this easy, one-sentence explanation from Engadget:

”Net neutrality forced ISPs [internet service providers] to treat all content equally; without these rules in place, providers can charge more for certain types of content and can throttle access to specific websites as they see fit.”
So, for example, big rich companies could afford hefty fees to providers so their web pages arrive faster in your browser than – oh, let's say political groups that depend on donations or blogs like yours and mine that are throttled because they can't bear the increased cost.

Also, ISPs may offer new tiered systems of subscription where we, the users, could be required to choose websites and content based on the price we are willing or able to pay for a certain package level.

There are many more ways ISPs can favor one kind of content. The Verge explains another:

”One current practice that’s a sign of things to come is zero-rating, where internet providers offer free data when you use certain services. This sounds great on the surface (who wouldn’t want free data?), but it gives a huge advantage to the sites and services that the internet provider chooses to support.

“AT&T, for instance, offers free streaming of its own video services, like DirecTV Now, whereas subscribers still have to pay in order to stream Hulu. That means an AT&T customer may be more inclined to sign up for DirecTV than Hulu, which would make life harder for Hulu and other streaming video competitors.

“Over the long run, this could allow established tech and telecom giants to pick the services that win and lose, rather than having them all compete on an even playing field and letting consumers pick which they like better.”

Publication of the FCC order in the Federal Register is important because now, notes Reuters,

”...state attorneys general and advocacy groups will be able to sue in a bid to block the order from taking effect.”

Engadget again:

”...the attorney general of New York is set to sue the FCC over the repeal of net neutrality, and more states and advocacy groups will follow.

“Democrats in the Senate have the votes to restore net neutrality (but not the two-thirds majority required to override the president's veto, which would surely follow any action on their part.)”

Most of the news coverage of this filing yesterday suggested it will be difficult if not impossible for Democrats in Congress to override Republican approval of the revocation order. Reuters again:

”Even if Democrats could win a majority in the Senate, a repeal would also require winning a vote in the House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a larger majority, and would still be subject to a likely veto by President Donald Trump.

“Democrats need 51 votes to win any proposal in the Republican-controlled Senate because Vice President Mike Pence can break any tie...

“The approval of Pai’s proposal by the FCC marked a victory for internet service providers like AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc and hands them power over what content consumers can access.

“Earlier this month, technology companies including Alphabet Inc and Facebook Inc threw their weight behind the congressional bid to reverse the Trump administration’s plan to repeal Obama-era rules designed to protect an open internet.”

Do recall, everyone, that during the public comment period for this order, the FCC received more than a million fake comments supporting their proposed repeal of net neutrality.

Rather than investigate the false comments to get an honest count of the public's position, Chairman Pai ignored the intrusion and went forward with safeguarding the internet for corporations. (See this Salon story.)

Net neutrality is a consumer issue but it is also an important free speech issue. Because the internet has become indespensible for almost everything we do in life, it is crucial to individual wellbeing, support of the Constitution and equality.

Between now and 23 April, please contact your federal representatives and urge them to vote down the hypocritically named Restoring Internet Freedom Order.



Ivanka Trump, Social Security and Valentine's Day

TIME GOES BY DONATION WEEK REMINDER
This is day three of the 2018 TGB donation drive to help support the increasing costs of maintaining Time Goes By. You can read the details on Monday's post.

Whether you donate or not, nothing will change. TGB will always remain advertising-free with never a membership fee or paid firewall. If you would like to help support the work that goes on here, click the button below. If not, which is perfectly fine, scroll down for today's post.

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IVANKA TRUMP AND SOCIAL SECURITY
To create a fund for family leave, presidential daughter Ivanka wants to take the money from Social Security recipients, a move that would delay retirees' benefit start date.

Actually, it's Senator Marco Rubio's idea to which Ivanka has hitched her paid family leave proposal, the idea being to fund the program on the backs of old people who have spent a lifetime paying into Social Security.

It would work something like this: the bill would allow

"...people to draw Social Security benefits when they want to take time off for a new baby or other family-related matters, and then delay their checks when they hit retirement age." reports Politico.

"For instance, a person who would begin receiving full benefits when he or she turns 67 years old but wants to take six weeks of paid leave wouldn’t draw Social Security benefits until six weeks after his or her 67th birthday."

Long-time Social Security advocate and president of Social Security Works, Nancy Altman, released this statement after hearing about Rubio's Ivanka-approved proposal.

“It’s well past time for our country to join the rest of the world in providing workers with paid family and medical leave. But we should not undermine our retirement security to achieve it.

“In light of the decline of traditional pensions and the proven inadequacy of 401(k) plans for everyone but the wealthiest, Social Security’s modest benefits will be even more important in the future.

“We are the wealthiest nation in the world at the wealthiest moment in our history. Our country can afford to increase, not cut, Social Security’s modest benefits, while also adding paid family and medical leave.

“Other less-wealthy nations have those benefits. We can too if we simply require the wealthiest among us to pay more to our commonwealth (i.e., “common wealth”) from which they have benefited so enormously.

A admirable and reasonable approach but it won't gain a foothold during a Trump administration. Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who has exchanged email with Ivanka about a paid family leave program, has a different approach. She argues

”..that paid leave has to be national,” reports the Daily Beast, [it] must be structured as a social insurance program (i.e., have a finance stream that a wide swath of the population contributes to), must be gender neutral, and must cover not just the birth of a child but also time that workers spend caring for sick family members.”

That would get it off the backs of elders but if you believe a Republican Congress is going to buy it, you haven't been paying attention:

”Republican leadership has never wavered in their opposition to Gillibrand’s approach. [House Majority Leader Paul] Ryan has said he opposes any leave policy that requires employers to give their workers paid time off for the birth of a child—favoring, instead, legislation that would allow workers to bank overtime hours to use at a later date for comp time.”

Huffington Post reports that the Ivanka/Rubio plan is a disaster for women who generally make less money throughout their lifetimes than men, they are also the ones who would make most use of a family leave program:

"The plan’s backers suggest that a person applying for Social Security benefits would just have to wait six more weeks to collect, [former SSA analyst, Kathleen] Romig explained. In reality, the recipient would receive a lower benefit, she said.

“'It’s cutting your benefit for the rest of your life,' said Romig, who is now a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities...

"Perhaps most alarming: The very idea of using Social Security funds as a private piggy bank threatens to destabilize the very notion of a social insurance program.

“'If we start treating Social Security, really the bedrock of financial security for elderly people, as just another asset to tap, we are imperiling people’s financial security,' Romig said."

It is unlikely that there will be much, if any, movement on paid family leave legislation this year, but it behooves us - people who know how important Social Security is to retirement – to keep our eye on Congress.

Small sneak attacks like this one and other big-time privatization schemes such as President George W. Bush's failed attempt at that 10 years ago along Paul Ryan's almost constant barrage of attacks on Social Security are only the most recent assaults on old people's retirement income.

Republicans have been trying to kill Social Security since President Franklin Roosevelt signed it into being in 1935.

The problem for them is that Social Security is the most successful and most beloved program in the federal government. Hardly anyone in the U.S. supports cutting Social Security (or Medicare/Medicaid).

In a May 2017 Pew survey, only three percent of Democrats or those who lean Democratic support “decreasing federal spending on Social Security.”

Among Republicans and those who lean Republican, in the same survey, just ten percent support “decreasing federal spending on Social Security.” So the Trump administration and the current Congress need to be careful about floating ideas to cut any of the programs they too often refer to as “entitlements.”

Don't forget, Americans pay into Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid all their working lives – that's why it is called an earned benefit and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

I would be alarmed by this latest attempt to chip away at Social Security but I don't think the plan to fund family leave on the backs of elders has a much chance of flying with the public. Nevertheless, it's important that we keep track of the attacks and who is trying to sneak them past us.

* * *

One more thing: perhaps you have noticed that this is Valentine's Day – a perfect time for me to again thank you all for your continuing support of this blog and especially your many good thoughts during the past eight months of my, ahem - medical interlude.

Happy valentine's day heart banner

Sending much love and hugs and good cheer to each and every one of you from Ronni, Crabby Old Lady and Ollie the cat.



Unsettling Changes and a Book Giveaway

Two items today – one that is probably close to universal among people past a certain age, and a second that undoubtedly has a more limited audience. Doesn't matter – it's all good. Let's start with

CALVIN TRILLIN'S "ALL THUMBS" MEDITATION
Many of you know Calvin Trillin, the long-time New Yorker columnist, humorist, novelist, journalist, food writer, etc. extraordinaire.

About a week ago, The New York Times published Trillin's essay that began with our now-changing usage of our thumbs – both physically and in speech:

”I was on the subway, watching a teenager text on his smartphone," writes Trillin, "when I realized that the idiom 'all thumbs' might be doomed...

“As his thumbs danced over the tiny screen, I realized that 'all thumbs' cannot much longer mean clumsy with one’s hands. And I realized how much I’m going to miss it. It has always seemed to me a way of noting a deficit without being vicious about it...

“But how can that man be labeled all thumbs if the teenager sitting across from me can use his thumbs on his smartphone fast enough to take dictation from a cattle auctioneer?”

This line of thought led Trillin to wonder how many others in his subway car were, like him, wearing a wristwatch

”...as opposed to reading the time digitally on a small device. It was a warm autumn day, and a number of people were in short-sleeves. From what I could see, almost none of them wore a wristwatch.

“That got me to thinking about 'counterclockwise.' When all of the analog watches and clocks are gone, will there be generations of people who don’t know what it means when the instructions say, 'Turn the bolt counterclockwise'?”

Trillin made a related observation about newspapers – the hard-copy kind:

”The train was crowded, but I had a seat. I was the only person in the car who was reading a newspaper rather than staring at a small electronic device — a singularity that should have provided another hint about where I fit in demographically these days.

“At the 86th Street stop, a gray-haired gentleman entered the car and, locking his arm around one of the vertical poles, unfolded The New York Times. I noticed that he was wearing a wristwatch. Catching his eye as he held out the paper to turn a page, I nodded. He nodded. I nodded again and offered him my seat.”

As much as old folks are exhorted to keep up with current trends, there can be a comfort sometimes in recognition of our common experiences of a lifetime whether or not they are fading.

(Because I know many of you do not have a subscription to The Times, I offer these excerpts – unfair as they are compared to the entire essay - because it is such a touching, little tribute to old age (Trillin is 82) and to the memories and habits of a lifetime, some of which may disappear until no one knows what they mean anymore.)

MALCOLM NANCE'S BOOK DEFEATING ISIS
If you live in the U.S. and watch MSNBC now and then, you probably know Malcolm Nance, the widely-respected former cryptology analyst and counterterrorism expert who frequently lends his knowledge of terrorism, torture and insurgency to the cable news channel.

My friend Jim Stone recently met Mr. Nance. I'll let Jim explain:

”I went across the mighty Hudson, and shook Malcolm Nance's hand at a farm which he and various backers are starting to benefit returning veterans of latter-day Republican adventures in foreign lands...

He did not give a talk on any political subjects, but mainly spoke about the project...I bought two copies of his latest tome, ISIS, which I had him sign...He's pretty good, as you probably know, having a steady job on the talk circuit, and he has something to say.”

And then Jim offered to let me give away his two signed copies to TGB readers. And so we will.

DefeatingIsisThe book – full title, Defeating ISIS: Who They Are, How They Fight, What The Believe - could have been a dry, difficult read.

Instead, it is well organized and Nance has seen that it is enhanced will photographs, other illustrations, lists, historical context, descriptions of ISIS centers of influence throughout the world, and much more mostly broken up into short, clear sections.

In his review of the book in 2016, U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations retired Colonel Millard E. Moon praised Nance's structure of the book as a reference source and further wrote,

"Nance has done a really good job of providing detailed information about the growth and activities of ISIS components...there is a wealth of factual information on ISIS".

It's a good read if you have an interest in current history, counterintelligence and terrorism in our modern world.

We'll do the giveaway of the two copies as we always do:

Just tell me in the comments below that, “Yes, I want to win one of the books.” Or, you could say, “Me, me, me.” or anything else that indicates your interest.

Winners (you can live in any country) are selected by a random number generator and I will have your email addresses from the comment form. I will then email the winners to get your snailmail addresses to send off the books.

The contest will remain open through 12 midnight Pacific Time on Wednesday 10 January 2018, and the winners will be announced on Friday morning's regular post, 12 January 2018.



Trump Administration Tries to Ban 7 Words

Unless you're sensible enough to take the weekend off from Trump-related politics, you already know about this story: that the U.S. Centers for Disease (CDC) are now forbidden from using a certain seven words in reports and official budget documents:

Diversity
Entitlement
Fetus
Transgender
Vulnerable
Evidence-based
Science-based

As Newsweek reported, the CDC staff was told,

”...that rather than using the phrases evidence-based or science-based, they should instead say: 'The CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.'”

Oh, of course, wishes and science. They go together like salt and pepper - why didn't I think of that.

After the announcement on Friday, objections poured forth onto Twitter and elsewhere from scientists and concerned citizens far and wide. Bruce Y. Lee at Forbes:

To ban any of these 7 words would be absurd and frankly a gigantosaurus waste of time...Banning the word 'vulnerable' certainly won't make 28.2 million Americans under the age of 65 who are uninsured or the over 46 million who live in poverty go away.

“Similarly what exactly will prohibiting the words 'transgender' and 'entitlement' do besides force people to search their thesauruses or thesaurusi? Plus, 'entitlement' has other uses such as 'what sense of entitlement gives one the right to override science and reality'"?

And from the AP:

”Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of Boston University’s School of Public Health, says these things matter 'because the words that we use ultimately describe what we care about and what we think are priorities.'

“'If you are saying you cannot use words like ‘transgender’ and ‘diversity,’ it’s a clear statement that you cannot pay attention to these issues.'”

By Sunday, the volume of alarmed complaints had grown loud enough that the CDC or, rather, the Trump Administration was forced to backtrack saying that the new language was for use only in budget documents to help, as The New York Times put it: “when appealing for funding from Republican conservatives in Congress.”

The genesis of the seven-word ban remains in question and no one has been able to find out who issued the order. According to the Times:

There seemed to be confusion around the public health agencies about whether the ban originated at the agency’s parent department, Health and Human Services, or inside the C.D.C. itself; and whether such a ban would apply beyond budget documents.

“The Food and Drug Administration was quick to note that it had gotten no such instruction. An agency spokeswoman, Jennifer Rodriguez, said, 'We haven’t received, nor implemented, any directives with respect to the language used at F.D.A. to describe our policy or budget issues.' The National Institutes of Health referred inquiries to Health and Human Services.”

This isn't just another weird, little screw-up in the Trump administration. This is an attempt to censor. Other agencies are said to be subject to the ban of these seven words and such bans – books, movies, words, etc. - are always an attempt to control thought.

It is crucial to a democracy that all people are allowed free speech – that means saying anything they want whether anyone else likes it or not. This word ban is an attempt to thwart that right supposedly preserved in the Constitution but now under attack from many angles by the Trump administration.

Words are important and it is important to use the right words for what you mean to say. I keep a little quotation on my desk from Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts school in the “Harry Potter” series – in this case the book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone:

”Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

True but don't be afraid of this authoritarian grab for control. Instead, don't let the government tell you what you can say. Ever.



AG Sessions Aiming For Marijuana Prosecutions

Today's story is an update of one from 23 October 2017 titled Cannabis and Chemo about my first visit to a marijuana dispensary to see if I could find relief for my insomnia.

Over-the-counter sleep aids don't work for me and my doctors are reluctant to give me prescription sleep drugs but one of them suggested weed (I live in Oregon where both medical and recreation marijuana are legal).

I'm expanding on this story because in the past two weeks, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it clear he intends to find a way to agressively prosecute marijuana growers, distributors, sellers and users. He believes marijuana use is "only slightly less awful" than heroin addiction.

Oh, please.

”Sessions argued that the DOJ's hands need to be untied when it comes to prosecuting marijuana dispensaries, 'particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime.' reports Amanda Marcotte in Salon.

“There is, of course, no evidence,” she continues, “that marijuana use is contributing to the opioid crisis and, in fact, there's a significant link between legalized medical marijuana and a decrease in opioid overdoses.”

First of all, opioids are about 50 times more addictive than heroin and they are the cause of the current epidemic. Rolling Stone magazine reports that early in 2017,

”...the National Academies of Science, Medicine and Engineering released a landmark report determining that there is conclusive evidence that cannabis is effective in treating chronic pain.

“What's even more promising is that early research indicates that the plant not only could play a role in treating pain, but additionally could be effective in treating addiction itself – meaning marijuana could actually be used as a so-called 'exit drug' to help wean people off of pills or heroin.”

The reason this is of great interest to elders is that they are the fastest growing group to adopt cannabis for medical reasons.

Motley Fool reports that a recent Gallup poll shows

”...a record 64% of Americans now want to see pot legalized nationally. That's up from 60% in 2016...Support for medical weed is even higher, with a separate survey from Quinnipiac University in April 2017 finding 94% support for legalization.”

But even as old people are fast adopting marijuana especially for medical use, even growing their own in some cases to cut down costs, their acceptance of legal weed lags significantly behind young people's. Motley Foolagain:

“In the combined 2003 and 2005 analysis, Gallup found that only 29% of seniors supported the idea of legalizing weed. By 2016, as noted, this was up to 45%.

The magazine notes that it's hard to tell if elders are increasingly embracing the use of pot or if younger adults are growing into the elder age category.

However - different polls, different results. In October of 2016, The Pew Research Center survey demonstrated widespread support for sensible cannabis laws in nearly every demographic.

”The poll, conducted in August, shows 37 percent against legalization. A decade ago, opinion on legalizing marijuana was nearly the reverse – just 32% favored legalization, while 60% were opposed, Pew reported.

Millennials – those ages 18 to 35 – are more than twice as likely to support legalization of marijuana as they were in 2006 (71 percent today, up from 34% in 2006), and are significantly more likely to support legalization than other generations.

Among Gen Xers — ages 36 to 51 — a majority (57 percent) support legalization, a considerable jump from just 21 percent in 1990.

But even Baby Boomers— ages 52 to 70 — are seeing the light: 56% percent support legalization, up from just 17 percent in 1990.”

Obviously, legalization is a trend that can't be denied.

As I noted in my previous pot post, marijuana is useful for helping to treat and/or alleviate many of the symptoms of the “diseases of age” - cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy, arthritis, depression and glaucoma among many others.

I use it for sleep, having switched from cannabis candies to tincture. I have noticed – as I did in all the decades I smoked pot for fun – that there is, for me, a mild hangover the next day. I feel slightly sluggish physically and mentally so I use it only every second or, sometimes, third night.

Eight states have legalized marijuana for recreational use while 29 states and the District of Columbia have done so for medical use. In 2014, Congress passed The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment which bars the U.S. Department of Justice from using federal funds to prosecute people buying or selling medical marijuana in states that have legalized it.

Last Friday, that amendment would have expired leaving AG Sessions free to prosecute except that Congress renewed it even over objections from Sessions. However,

”Ames Grawert of the Brennan Center for Justice told Salon, 'Every time, there’s sort of a dance around whether it will actually get cut this time or not."

“It’s reasonable to be at least 'a little concerned,' Grawert said, that Sessions' pressure will eventually convince congressional Republicans to dump the amendment.

In response to that, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, and a bipartisan group of 24 other lawmakers earlier this year introduced a new piece of legislation, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017, which would prevent the federal government from prosecuting any marijuana users, growers or distributors who are in compliance with state laws.

With all the real troubles in our country you would think the attorney general would have better things to do than chase down people whose health benefits from cannabis along with a business that brings in billions of dollars in taxes to states where the drug has been legalized. I sure don't want to lose my sleep remedy now that I've found it and I'm pretty sure millions of other elders feel the same way about the reasons they use marijuana.

You might want to let your representatives in Washington, D.C. know where you stand on this issue – even if you don't use marijuana. You can find their contact information here.



Crabby Old Lady's State of the Union

Today's post isn't precisely about ageing but Crabby Old Lady needs to get some of this off her chest and suspects a lot of you may want to also.

Have there ever been so many different things going wrong – painfully, horribly, terrifyingly wrong all at once - in the U.S. than now? It's not even possible to list them all.

Biggest of all is the ongoing confrontation with North Korea. Crabby hasn't been this frightened of the potential reality of nuclear war since she hid under her desk at school in the 1950s. How does it not make it worse to taunt the Supreme Leader with juvenile name-calling?

TAX REFORM BILL
The tax reform bill has made it clear as never before that the Republican Party philosophy is simple: more for me, less for you. And now they've doubled down on it by openly admitting that adding $1.4 TRILLION to the deficit is a deliberate decision made to be able to claim the necessity to make deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

That's big too. The Pay-Go law may require $25 billion in cuts to Medicare the moment Trump signs the bill into law which would cut back care and treatment for millions of people.

There has been some reporting on that but not enough that anyone not dependent on Medicare would notice. (According to a new Quinnipiac Poll, only 29 percent of Americans approve of the tax reform bill; 53 percent disapprove.)

NORMALIZING TRUMP
Remember how, right after the November election, many reporters and pundits were admonishing the public to not normalize Trump's behavior?

Guess what? Everyone, including those pundits, not only accepts presidency by tweet storm now, we expect it on a daily basis and the pundits analyze his every Twitter utterance as though it is a policy announcement.

Which it has become. Who needs Congress or even Executive Orders? The president tweets and it instantly becomes policy. If, in Trump's ignorance, the tweet goes wrong, he can just have his lawyer take the fall for his mistake as happened this week.

There are a lot of people in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere – Republicans usually – for whom Trump's word is their marching order. Case in point, supporting an accused pedophile for the U.S. Senate in the upcoming Alabama election. No Republican will now disavow Roy Moore.

ADMINISTRATION LIES
Can anyone count the number of lies from this administration? It's hard to keep up when it's every day, and when any given lie is no longer convenient he and his aides just make up another and refuse to acknowledge if it contradicts the first one.

NATIONAL PARKS
And how do you feel about the cuts Trump made to national parks earlier this week? Trump reduced Bears Ears National Monument area by 85 percent and the Grand Staircase-Escalante by about 50 percent which, according to The New York Times is the “largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history.”

This move opens about two million acres of wilderness to potential commercial development. Crabby had no idea until now that a president could just do that, all alone without Congress.

SEXUAL MISCONDUCT
Then there the continuing story of alleged sexual misconduct among mostly famous men in glamour businesses. You know the list: Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Glenn Thrush, Garrison Keillor, Jon Conyers, Roy Moore among many others.

There is a fuller list here which, like all the other lists, does not include the predator-in-chief, Donald Trump.

Speaking of lies, earlier this week, he tried to say that was not his voice on the Access Hollywood tape. Billy Bush set the media straight on that.

Most women Crabby Old Lady knows have been sexually harassed at work, including Crabby herself. Pats on the butt, inappropriate jokes and suggestions. In some places Crabby worked, women made note for one another of which men to keep a distance from in order to avoid unwanted touches.

There was never any question of complaining. Everyone knew they would be the ones to be fired.

Some think, thanks to so many women coming forward, those days are gone. Many are claiming this is a watershed moment for women, that workplace sexual harassment will end now.

Don't count on it. Crabby hopes she is wrong but news stories fade, the public gets jaded (see “normalization” above) and the media is always chasing the next new thing.

VENTING
And here's a question for you: how is it that the president's every single cabinet appointment is the worst possible choice. Worst, that is, if you are idiot enough to believe that the country's leaders are there to run a government by, of and FOR THE PEOPLE, and not to (further) enrich themselves.

Given how ignorant, uninformed and erratic the president is, Crabby Old Lady worries every day about what terrible predicament he will get the country into.

It's not like Crabby has any solutions. She just felt the need, on this otherwise single-topic blog, to acknowledge a problem (well, a large set of problems) that are more important than growing old.

It helps to vent now and then, and to give everyone here a chance to do that too.


How the Tax Bill Harms Elders

BarbaraLeeTweet

I'll get back to that tweet from the California Congress member in a bit. First:

In case you slept through the weekend, in the early hours of Saturday morning, the Senate voted along party lines 51 to 49 to pass their version of H.R. 1: Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the sweeping tax reform bill that pretty much steals money from everyone else and gives it to corporations and the very rich.

Many different senators were adding and subtracting and changing items in the bill – often hand-written in the margins - until about two minutes before the vote took place. Here is Montana's Democratic Senator Jon Tester:

No one, not a single person in that legislative body had read the entire bill, let alone had any time to understand it or weigh the consequences before voting.

And don't apply any “what-about-ism”. Do not let the fact that Democrats have done this same thing in the past deter you from heaping contempt for those 51 yea-voting Republican senators, nearly every one of whom lied to the public about who will benefit and who will lose from the bill.

There are only three reasons, all of them corrupt, to vote for a bill that will affect every American and crush tens of millions of them:

To appease the Trump base who scare the crap out of Republicans who are up for re-election in 2018

To deliver on legislative promises to their rich and powerful campaign donors

To have this one and only thing to show the public that they did something this year besides sit on their thumbs

WHAT'S NEXT?
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act now goes to the conference committee to iron out the differences between the Senate version that passed on Saturday and the House version that passed on 16 November.

When that work is done and the bill is reconciled, it will be voted on in both chambers of Congress. Over the weekend, some pundits predicted that could be as soon as this week.

WHAT'S IN THE BILL “FOR” ELDERS
There are painful shockers in H.R. 1 for just about everyone who is not in the top one percent of wealth holders but we are concentrating on elders here not because I think they are more important than the poor, working and middle classes but because that's who we are at this blog.

With the caveat that especially with all the late-night, last-minute alterations, no one yet knows or understands the entire bill, here are some of the reported changes that will affect old people if the bill becomes law.

AUTOMATIC MEDICARE CUTS
Sarah Kliff, writing at Vox, notes that H.R. 1 is really a health care bill that affects more than 100 million Americans who rely on the federal government for their health insurance. The bill, she writes,

”...includes tax cuts so large that they would trigger across-the-board spending cuts — including billions for Medicare. The last time Medicare was hit with cuts like this, patients lost access to critical services like chemotherapy treatment.”

(Can you tell how terrified I am right now about that?)

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) explains in more detail why this would happen:

”...the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says that the tax bill would trigger an automatic $25 billion cut to Medicare, as required by the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010 (PAYGO).

“In response, the President’s Office of Management and Budget would be required to cut Medicare payments to health care providers...”

SOCIAL SECURITY COLA REDUCTION
Both the Senate and House versions of the bill would replace the standard cost-of-living index currently in use (CPI-U) to calculate COLA adjustments to Social Security, military and federal civilian retirement benefits with the more slow-growing chained CPI. As the NCPSSM notes:

”According to the Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration, three years after becoming law, calculating the COLA based on the chained CPI would decrease Social Security benefits by about $130 per year (0.9 percent) for a typical 65-year-old.

“By the time that senior reaches 95, the annual benefit cut would be almost $1,400, a 9.2 percent reduction from currently scheduled benefits.”

REPEALING THE OBAMACARE MANDATE
Among the reasons AARP opposes this tax bill concerns people who are not quite old enough for Medicare, those between age 50 and 65:

” Eliminating the mandate would leave 13 million additional Americans without health coverage over the next decade, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.

“Repealing the mandate would also drive up premiums by roughly 10 percent in the health insurance marketplace; 64-year-olds could see their tabs jump by an average of $1,490 a year.”

THE MOST FRIGHTENING CUT OF ALL
The most insidious cut in the tax bill is the stealth move (by design?) to eventually eliminate Social Security, Medicare and other social programs that stupidly uninformed legislators and partisans refer to as “entitlements” instead of earned benefits. It goes like this:

Because the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the tax bill will balloon the federal deficit by an unfathomable $1.4 trillion, the bill will become the Republicans' reason to enact their long-term, dearest wish – to kill these programs altogether.

Newsweek explains how Republicans intend to play out this goal:

”[Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) and] Other key Republicans have hinted that after the tax bill passes they’ll take on welfare and entitlement programs.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said that he wants Republicans to reduce spending on government programs in 2018, and last month President Donald Trump said that welfare reform will, 'take place right after taxes, very soon, very shortly after taxes.'

“Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said Thursday that 'liberal programs' for the poor were wasting Americans’ money.

"'What's coming next is all too predictable: The deficit hawks will come flying back after this bill becomes law,' said Senator Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.) 'Republicans are already saying “entitlement reform” and “welfare reform” are next up on the docket.

“'But nobody should be fooled—that's just code for attacks on Medicaid, on Medicare, on Social Security, on anti-hunger programs.'”

Again, as California Representative Barbara Lee tweeted on Friday,

BarbaraLeeTweet

President Donald Trump wants this bill on his desk before Christmas. All the “in-the-know” people are saying it will sail through Congress and into law without a hitch.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't complain, shouldn't tell our senators and representatives to vote with the American people and not against them.

Do it. Find their contact information here. Polls show that only about 25 percent of Americans want this bill, so make a nuisance of yourself with your Congress people, and do it today.


What Net Neutrality Means to Your Online Life

We have been through this before and here we are again: someone in government wants to make it hard, maybe impossible, for startups and ordinary people to get online without paying a whole lot more money that we do now.

This time it is Ajit Pai, a former attorney at Verizon, appointed to chair the Federal Communications Commiussion (FCC) last January by President Trump. Read what he wrote [pdf] about how wonderful life will be when, if he has his way, net neutrality is repealed in December:

“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet. Instead, the FCC would simply require Internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”

That statement is so deeply disingenuous that it bears no resemblance to what Pai intends which is to allow internet providers to make even more billions of dollars than they already do.

Trying to read the dry details of net neutrality can make you cry so I spent a good deal of the weekend looking for the best short explanation I could find for us.

After watching more than a dozen videos from the big guys in TV news and other name-brand online sources, this segment from the local news at WDIV, Channel 4 in Detroit did the best, clearest job.

Don't let the length, 6:44, deter you. It is all you need to know and as it was first broadcast yesterday, it is up to date with the latest information:

Google, Netflix and some other large tech companies oppose repealing net neutrality as do many of our representatives in Washington. Although the millions of apparently false comments being left by robots at the FCC website (referenced at the end of the video) in support of repeal may derail this next step, the FCC is set to vote on the proposal on Thursday 14 December.

You can read more about fake comments at Salon.

President Trump supports repeal of Net Neutrality. So just to add a little levity or even schadenfreude to this issue, here is a warning tweet from Wikileaks' Julian Assange addressed to Trump:

Assange Net Neutrality



A Matter of Life and Death Or...

The cruel Graham-Cassidy repeal-and-replace the ACA healthcare bill.

Yes, life and death. Because if this bill passes thousands of Americans will die. Let me walk you through it.

If passed, Graham-Cassidy will end up killing sick Americans because it does away with the Obamacare (ACA) requirement to cover pre-existing conditions.

Republicans, including Senators Graham and Cassidy and President Trump keep saying the bill covers pre-existing conditions. That is a lie.

The reasons are a bit complicated involving state exchanges and other esoteric effluvia in the bill but, as the Washington Post boiled it down for us [emphasis is mine],

”...the Cassidy-Graham proposal simply would allow states to waive the ACA’s prohibition against varying premiums based on an individual’s health status.

“Insurance companies would then be free to charge higher premiums to people with preexisting medical conditions.”

In addition, Graham-Cassidy removes premium subsidies and the Medicaid expansion which would leave many who bought health insurance for the first time under Obamacare unable to afford it under the new rules.

There is strong evidence that uninsured people, lots of them, die for want of coverage. As The Guardian recently explained:

”Various studies have looked at whether uninsured people have a higher risk of death. The most cited was published [pdf] by the American Journal of Public Health in 2009 and found that nearly 45,000 Americans die each year as a direct result of being uninsured.”

No one knows the actual cost of Graham-Cassidy - to insureds or the government - because the Congressional Budget Office has informed Congress that it does not have enough time to score the bill before the vote this week.

What we do have, from the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy project, is an analysis that seeks to approximate the Congressional Budget Office’s methods. As reported in Vox, Graham-Cassidy will cause

15 million fewer people to have insurance in 2018 and 2019, versus current law

21 million fewer be insured by 2026

32 million fewer Americans with coverage after 2026 if the funding provided in the Obamacare repeal bill [Graham-Cassidy] is not reauthorized by Congress

As I mentioned on Saturday's Interesting Stuff post, late night host Jimmy Kimmel waged a week-long war of words against Senator Bill Cassidy who, four months ago on Kimmel's show, said that he would not vote for a bill that did not include coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Then he went right back to Washington and co-authored this bill that does the opposite. Can you spell hypocrite?

Last Thursday a new survey from Public Policy Polling showed that only 24 percent of Americans approve of Graham-Cassidy. There is more detail about the poll at Vox.

Most of the news media and pundits are saying that the bill is hanging by a thread and has almost no chance of passing.

Three Republican senators have indicated they probably will not vote for the bill: Rand Paul, of Kentucky, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. On Friday, in a move that Vox called a “death blow,” to the bill, Senator John McCain of Arizona announced that he opposes Graham-Cassidy.

[UPDATE 5:45 AM PDT: Overnight, Republican senators altered Graham-Cassidy to throw more money via block grants to Alaska and Maine as a bribe to Senators Murkowski and Collins to vote for the bill. It will be interesting to see what they do.]

But are you going to count on that to quash the bill? Fifty-one votes are needed and we know at least one senator who went back on his public word.

Among the things I am grateful for even with my frightening diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is that I am old enough for Medicare. Without it, I would not have had anywhere near enough money to pay for my treatment and I would have had to just go home and die.

As will happen to too many people if Graham-Cassidy becomes law. Private insurance is not as comprehensive as Medicare but the Obamacare changes have gone a long way to help more people afford coverage. Graham-Cassity guts that.

They say that the Senate will vote on this bill on Wednesday. Unless Republicans withdraw it, they must vote by next weekend when Senate rules change and more than 51 votes are needed to pass a bill.

So please call your senators now to let them know where you stand. Even if you believe your senators will vote against it, call anyway. The number of calls matters.

Let's keep it simple – you don't need direct numbers to senators' offices. This number - 202.224.3121 - will get you to the Congressional switchboard. Just ask for your senator's office. Then, when you've left your message there, call back and ask for your other senator.

2122243121

Do it now.


Will the Republicans Cut Social Security?

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Earlier this week, I posted a story titled The Attempted Theft of Medicare. That done, today it is time for a Social Security update – especially since the Board of Trustees released its annual report (pdf) on the status of the trust funds earlier this month.

The full report is 269 pages. If that is as daunting to you as it was to me, here is a one-page highlight version.

First, some facts to keep in mind about Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) which is the official name of Social Security:

According to the Social Security Administration, 43 percent of single Social Security recipients who are 65 or older and 21 percent of those who are married, rely on their checks for 90 percent or more of their income

In 2016, the combined number of beneficiaries of OASDI was about 61 million

It cost $6.2 billion to administer the Social Security program in 2016, just 0.7 percent of total expenditures - (a bargain)

Republicans have been trying to kill Social Security since President Roosevelt signed the bill into law in 1935 and now that they own all three branches of government, the current assault on Medicaid and Obamacare are only their first targets.

Their attacks usually start with the lie that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are “entitlements.” Too many people believe that but every penny comes of worker contributions (and interest on that money). These social programs are “earned benefits” and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Keeping the focus on Social Security today, Republicans also repeatedly tell us that OASDI is unsustainable. Here are a few facts addressing that lie according to this newest Trustees Report:

The asset reserves of the combined OASDI Trust Funds increased by $35 billion in 2016 to a total of $2.85 trillion.

The combined trust fund reserves are still growing and will continue to do so through 2021. Beginning in 2022, the total annual cost of the program is projected to exceed income – the shortfall covered by reserves.

Reserves are projected to be depleted in 2034 – the same as last year's projection. At that time there will be sufficient income to pay only 77 percent of scheduled benefits.

The Trustees project that come January, there will be a 2.2 percent increase in benefits for 2018. That certainly does not cover the real costs faced by elders who spend much more on medical bills and prescription drugs than young and midlife Americans but we'll deal with that another day.

Today, we need to educate ourselves on the best ways to ensure that Social Security will be viable way past 2034 and how to counter those in and out of Congress who are working hard to cut the program.

Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, who probably knows more about the program than anyone else in the U.S. wrote this following the release of the Trustrees' Report:

”Social Security is the most universal, secure, fair, and efficient source of retirement income that we have, providing a guaranteed, inflation-protected source of income that one will never outlive. Expanding Social Security is a common-sense solution to that looming crisis...

“Expanding Social Security is a solution to other challenges, as well. Americans are rightly concerned about growing income and wealth inequality. Expanding Social Security and requiring millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share will begin to put brakes on this dangerous, and rapidly growing, upward redistribution of wealth.”

Regarding expansion, in February, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon introduced the Social Security Expansion Act in both the House and the Senate.

The bill would remove the loophole so that earned income above $250,000 would be subject to the Social Security payroll tax (it is not now) and replace the current calculation for cost-of-living (COLA) increases to one that better reflects how elders spend their money. It also would

Increase benefits for Social Security recipients by an estimated $65 a month

Improve the Special Minimum Benefit by making it easier for low-income workers to qualify for benefits and increasing the benefit level

Apply a 6.2 percent Social Security tax on investment income for high-income households, collecting more revenue for the program

If enacted, the Social Security Expansion Act will provide a critical expansion of benefits and extend the solvency of Social Security for more than 60 years, past 2078.

Of course, since the Republicans control both the House and Senate, this bill would seem to be dead on arrival. However, listen to Nancy Altman again from her article referenced above:

”As divided as the American people are over many issues, we are not divided about our deep support for Social Security.

“Support for Social Security expansion, and opposition to benefit reductions, cuts across ideological divides. These views are shared by Republicans, Independents, and Democrats. They are held by self-identified Tea Partiers and union households.

“A Pew poll conducted during last year’s presidential primaries discovered that supporters of every candidate running overwhelmingly oppose Social Security cuts. Our Social Security system is so popular that it unites Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz supporters!”

So now that Congress ran out of steam on repealing Obamacare and gutting Medicaid late last night, it won't be long before they try to convince Americans that Social Security isn't working which simply isn't true. Some well-researched tweaks can fix it.

With their unrelenting attacks on the Affordable Care Act, Republicans in Congress have already proved that they don't care what their constituents want and it won't be any different for Social Security.

So be ready to barrage Congress with the truth. For ourselves, our children, grandchildren and beyond, we can't afford to lose this one.


The Attempted Theft of Medicare

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While the American president and the Senate majority leader are trying (and so far, failing) to make sure only the rich in the United States can afford health care, GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan is proposing to take out Medicare.

He released a 2018 budget plan last week that would make it possible to overhaul the tax code (read: cut taxes for the rich) and he wants to do it on the backs of elders and the poor.

The plan promises to balance the budget through unprecedented and politically unworkable cuts across the budget. It calls for turning this year's projected $700 billion-or-so deficit into a tiny $9 billion surplus by 2027,” reports the AP.

“It would do so by slashing $5.4 trillion over the coming decade, including almost $500 billion from Medicare and $1.5 trillion from Medicaid and the Obama health law, along with sweeping cuts to benefits such as federal employee pensions, food stamps and tax credits for the working poor.”

Ryan's plan would privatize Medicare, as noted on the website of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM):

”Undermining Medicare has been a long-held dream of fiscal conservatives. Their 'premium support' proposal is a thinly veiled scheme to allow traditional Medicare to 'wither on the vine,' as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich once put it.

“Privatization is being sold as 'improving customer choice,' but based on the way current Medicare Advantage plans work, private insurance will continue to offer fewer choices of doctors than traditional Medicare does. If traditional Medicare is allowed to shrink and collapse, true choice will disappear, too.

“'Weakening Medicare is a politically perilous path for Republicans,' says [NCPSSM President Max] Richtman. 'Recent polling indicates that large majorities of Americans across party lines prefer that Medicare be kept the way it is...'”

As Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California noted in the AP story:

"Republicans would destroy the Medicare guarantee for our seniors and inflict bone-deep cuts to Medicaid that would devastate veterans, seniors with long-term care needs, and rural communities.'”

I know a little more about this lately than I used to. The Medicare Parts A and B summaries for the biopsy and subsequent surgery I recently experienced are beginning to come in.

The mailings haven't caught up to the expensive part yet but it's already apparent that without traditional Medicare as it currently operates, I would not have been able to afford any of these medical needs and that gives me chills for all of us.

It may seem that Washington, D.C. is taken up these days with Russians and collusion and a president's threats to fire nearly everyone he's hired and pardon himself from wrongdoing but the budget bill must come up. So it wouldn't hurt to let your Congress person know how you feel.

Meanwhile, here is an excerpt from the best story I've read on Ryan's 2018 budget plan by John Wasik at Forbes:

”What House Speaker Paul Ryan and GOP congressional leaders are proposing is to tear down and remold basic Medicare into the troubled Medicare Advantage program, which would be like throwing kerosene on a house fire.

“There's even more of a muddle on how the GOP would calculate how much to give seniors for their yearly stipend to cover private premiums. What if policy costs go up double digits and the stipend doesn't keep pace with the private market?...

”I think there's a reason why there's a billboard in Kenosha, Wisconsin - in the heart of Ryan's Congressional District - that shows Ryan in a robber's mask. There's an attempted theft in progress, but older Americans and the disabled will be the victims.”

During the 2016 campaign, candidate Trump repeatedly promised not to cut Social Security and Medicare. If, somehow, Ryan's 2018 budget gets through Congress, don't count on President Trump to veto it. So far, he has reneged on every campaign promise he made.


A Cancer Patient's Perspective on Today's Politics

There is a lot I want to write here about this frightful disease, treatment and recovery, the hospital, doctors, nurses, other care professionals, friends, helpers and more.

But today, I want to give you a short take on how my worldview has changed as a result of this major health and medical interruption.

Most TGB readers know that my second big interest after ageing is politics and government combined with the media that reports on those institutions.

You wouldn't be wrong to call my attention to them rabid – at least in the past and perhaps again in the future but for now, since the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, mostly suspended.

Potential imminent death does focus the attention in new directions and, I think, clears the fog of constant screeching reports of a baby president's latest tweet storm.

How much more foolish they all seem to me now - the self-serving politicians, the (with a few admirable exceptions) sycophantic reporters and pundits and all the rest who, day in and day out, pretend (they couldn't believe, could they?) that this is a normal presidency, a normal world.

What mean little men (they are mostly men) we have in Washington, D.C. who openly trade health care for the poor to enrich just 1,000 gazillionaires, and the few who say they oppose them have only empty words, no deeds.

The world has become demonstrably more dangerous in the months since the baby president took office as he ignores the nuclear threat from southeast Asia, buddies up to America's pre-eminent and crafty political enemy, and doesn't even acknowledge the lastest terrifying climate change warning from Stephen Hawking.

(Look it up; I can't bear to repeat it.)

According to American news media, there is no news now except about President Trump's idiotic tweets and they have lost the craft of editing. If it comes out of the mouth of the incompetent, ignorant, vulgar and stupid president, it leads the newscast and they, the media, drone on without insight, without thought, without citing consequences. It is all so much the same each day that I've stopped reading and watching but for headlines.

I am equally angry with the leaders of the United States, with the fourth estate - both for abdicating their responsibilities - and terrified for future of the world. Not that I wasn't before my surgery – it is just so much more obvious to me now that no one has a plan or the will to do anything to stop the world's headlong rush into oblivion.


Cruel Cuts in the Trump Budget

MulvaneyWithBudget

The main beneficiaries of President Donald Trump's 2018 budget proposal are the people who already have too much, the one percent. Here's how tax cuts go for them, as reported in Yahoo! News:

”According to calculations from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities [CBPP], each household in the top 1% would receive approximately $250,000 per year, and the 400 taxpayers with the highest incomes would each receive at least $15 million per year, for a total of 'at least $6 billion annually.'

“As the CBPP points out, '$6 billion is more than the federal government spends on grants for major job training programs to assist people struggling in today’s economy,' and it is 'roughly the cost of providing 600,000 low-income families with housing vouchers.'”

Other winners in the budget proposal would be the military at a 10 percent increase and the border wall with $1.6 billion set aside to begin its construction.

After that, it is a reverse Robin Hood budget. All of the above is being paid for with deep cuts to programs for children, the poor, disabled, elders and important agencies of the federal government that benefit everyone.

So many programs and agencies are under the knife in the proposed budget that I'll concentrate on the ones that mostly affect old people by which I do not mean to slight the pain others would suffer. No one but the very rich would escape hardship if Congress passes this budget.

First, here is a chart from the White House showing some of the "winners and losers" in Trump's first budget. Most of the ones we'll discuss fall under the Department of Health and Human Services. (Don't faint at the percentage reduction of the Environmental Protection Agency.)

BudgetChartwinnersLosers

MEDICAID
$800 billion would be gone from the program that gives millions of elders access to long-term care. That amount is on top of the $839 billion that would already be cut under the proposed American Health Care Act (AHCA) that passed in the House earlier this month.

Few people recall that during the campaign, candidate Trump promised to not touch Social Security, Medicare and MEDICAID. (More on this below.)

MEALS ON WHEELS
Eliminates the Community Services Block Grant that helps pay for delivery of meals to low-income and house-bound elders.

LIHEAP
Eliminates the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) that helps elders with winter heating costs. I lived in Maine for four years, one of the poorest and coldest states in the U.S. This program is crucial to keeping old people there warm (and maybe) alive in winter.

SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY (SSDI)
Administration spokespersons and too many journalists are saying that the budget keeps Trump's campaign promise not to touch Social Security.

HUL-LO. Social Security Disability Insurance IS part of Social Security.

Back in March when he was discussing a preview of the 2018 budget on Face the Nation on NBC-TV, White House Budget Director Mike Mulvaney had this to say:

”Do you really think that Social Security disability insurance is part of what people think of when they think of Social Security? I don't think so.”

Well, I do and so do millions of SSDI beneficiaries and their families. Nevertheless, in keeping with Mulvaney's misbegotten snark, the new budget makes deep cuts to the program that covers people mostly 50 and older who can no longer work, until they are old enough for retirement Social Security.

SSDI benefits are typically modest. In March 2017, the average monthly benefit for a disabled worker was $1,171.52, barely $14,000 a year. If this cut is approved, it would be the first inroad to cutting Social Security retirement benefits in the future.

OTHER CUTS
The proposed budget also makes cuts to SNAP (food stamps), CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program), student loan repayment aid, education and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) would take a big hit too.

Experts, pundits and some others who are supposed to know such things are saying that this budget is dead on arrival in Congress and I certainly hope they are right.

But I keep thinking, these are the same people who told us Trump would lose the election and they are kin to Trump himself who said a hundred times during the campaign that he would not touch Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

It's time to make some telephone calls again. The offices of congresspeople and senators keep count and the number of calls they receive DOES matter. So contact your representatives even if you believe they would vote to reject this Draconian budget that would further enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class.