432 posts categorized "Politics"

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.


A TGB Extra: John Oliver on Is This Real Life?

That's one of the four questions John Oliver asked Sunday night on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight.

Time Goes By does not usually publish on Tuesday but I'm posting this video today instead of next Saturday because there will be so much more to know by then that we need this to help us up keep up.

Last week was by any measure the worst presidential week yet in this administration and that's saying something. Scandal upon scandal, a new one every day and more than that on some days.

Oliver titled this 25-minute segment “Stupid Watergate.” He takes us through all the terribly worrying events of last week saying everything I've been wanting to say but he does it better than I can while also being funnier about it without minimizing the importance of a single point.


The Importance of the Comey Firing

If, earlier this week, the friend to whom I said I believe the U.S. is in the midst of a slow-moving coup had called me out for being hyperbolic, I would not have disagreed. That is, until I ran across this nearly identical headline at Salon:

Americans are witnessing a slow motion coup.

The article is written by journalist, novelist and screenwriter, Lucien K. Truscott IV who has covered some of the biggest news stories of our lifetimes, here and abroad. (Disclosure: I knew him slightly half a century or so ago when we were both starting out.) I'll get back to his Salon piece shortly.

There hasn't been much in these pages about the dying of American democracy because who can keep up. Any one person could write 24 hours a day, seven days a week and not cover all the outrages being inflicted almost daily by the president and the Republican Congress upon the citizens of the United States.

Besides, plenty of other people - in print, online and on TV - have more than enough to say - too much of it unhelpful and even wrong. And it is not within the mandate (see banner above) of this blog.

Even with all that, this week's firing of FBI Director James Comey, the fact of it along with the shameful haste, lies and crudeness with which it was done, is unprecedented. In the 240 years of our country's history, it has happened only once before that a president fired the person investigating his own election campaign.

Comey

Some reporters are making the comparison to President Richard Nixon's “Saturday night massacre” and that is not inapt. What is different for me and for people who are older than about 55 now is that we were there in real time.

For nearly a year, we lived through the daily dispatches from Woodward and Burnstein, became familiar with Deep Throat's leaks and followed the accusations and denials that pretty much unhinged the country for nearly a year.

When, at last, Nixon resigned, you could almost hear the collective sigh of relief of millions of citizens throughout the land. It was an unprecedented moment in our history.

And so is this one.

For all the millions of words already spoken and written about the Comey firing, what appears to me to be most true is that the letters the White House released were outright lies. It is becoming increasingly clear to any sentient being that the real reason Trump fired Comey is that he was getting too close to whatever connections there may be between the Trump campaign and/or administration and Russia.

The reason I bring it up today, instead of the age-related post I had planned, is that I am worried, maybe even panicked, that as the Republican Congress has ignored every Trump administration transgression so far, they will do it again with this one.

Because he closely echoes my own thoughts and is more concise, I will let Mr. Truscott explain:

”All political power is being concentrated in the office of the president. All law enforcement power is being concentrated in the office of the attorney general and, when it comes to enforcing the law regarding the Trump campaign and its contacts with elements of the Russian government, in the office of the deputy attorney general.”

“They have turned their offices into black holes into which things are meant to disappear without investigation or enforcement.

It sure does seem that way to me. Further, Truscott tell us, unless these three men decide otherwise, there are no ways to enforce U.S. law without which we do not have a government and our democracy is crippled.

”What we have (then) instead is an authoritarian regime run by a few men for the personal and political benefit of one man, President Trump.

“No one else benefits — not the citizens, not the systems by which we have until now governed ourselves, not the people who staff those systems, not the people occupying the other elective offices of the government. Only Trump.”

If I may stray slightly from the main topic, let me mention a related disturbing development – the escalating war on free speech in general and journalists in particular.

Without that First Amendment civil guarantee, an open society cannot exist and although there are plenty of other Trump administration attacks on journalists, ponder just these three that took place within just the past two weeks:

A woman, Desiree Fairooz was convicted of laughing during Jefferson Beauregard Sessions' Senate confirmation hearing in January.

A journalist was arrested for asking a question of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

U.S. news organizations were entirely shut out of the Oval Office during Trump's visit with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador while Russian news agency Tass was allowed access.

Our government, our institutions, our founding documents and therefore our country are being snatched away from us and the Republicans controlling Congress have made it evident that they are going to allow this to happen.

Lucien K. Truscott IV again:

”it will take enormous outrage by the citizenry, and an act of enormous political will by their representatives, to bring a halt to this this authoritarian madness.

“Our government belongs to us — not to [Trump]. Unless we teach him this lesson, we deserve everything he does to us with the power he has so nakedly and corruptly seized in this slow-motion coup.”

The whole reason for this post is that I'm deeply curious if TGB readers who are mostly old enough to remember Watergate think I am being hyperbolic to say I believe there is a coup underway, and what other thoughts you have about the astounding government and political events of this week.

Reminder: There probably are not a lot of Trump supporters among us to provoke unseemly argument in the comments but as always, whatever you have to say, keep it civil.


The Republican Plan to Nuke the Internet

[I copied that headline from vanityfair.com because I'm lousy at headlines and “net neutrality” - which is what this is about - sounds boring. But it's important and depending on what happens, it could ruin your internet experience while also costing you more money for access.]

* * *

Here is a clear and concise, two-minute explanation of net neutrality from Armand Valdez at Mashable:

That was 2014. It is now three years later and this next video is an interview that was broadcast last week on the PBS Newshour with the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, about his plans to trash the net neutrality regulations that took effect in 2015.

Yes, it is seven-and-a-half minutes of two talking heads but it will save you 4,285 paragraphs written by me and give you some insight into this Trump-appointee:

Oh, man, this guy Pai is smooth. That alone should worry us all but don't forget, too, that like the rest of the Trump cabinet and agency heads, his first inclination is to trash the organization he now leads.

Since his appointment in January, Commissioner Pai has, according to billmoyers.com, already

”... moved aggressively to roll back Obama-era consumer protections and other regulations. He has undermined a program that provided low-cost broadband service to poor customers; eased FCC limits on shared service agreements between TV stations in the same market; reversed a rule that limited the number of airwaves any one broadcaster can own throughout the country; and removed caps on fees that ISPs could charge hospitals, small businesses and wireless carriers in markets where there is little competition.”

Further, in March, President Trump signed a bill that overturned a regulation requiring that internet service providers ask consumers' permission before collecting data from them about online activities. So that's gone now.

“'Recent weeks are prologue, and I am fearful that we are moving in a direction that will unravel and undo some incredible gains we’ve made for consumers,' Mignon Clyburn, the sole Democratic commissioner at the FCC, told The New York Times>.”

Since Mr. Pai's appointment in January, telecom and cable companies have flooded the FCC and members of Congress with requests to kill net neutrality. In addition, however,

”About 800 tech start-ups and investors, organized by the Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator and the San Francisco policy advocacy group Engine,” reports The New York Times, protested the unwinding of net neutrality in a letter sent to Mr. Pai [last week].

“'Without net neutrality, the incumbents who provide access to the internet would be able to pick winners or losers in the market,” they wrote...”

Columbia University law professor, Tim Wu, is the man who coined the term “net neutrality.” Last Friday, he spoke out forcefully in The New York Times against Commissioner Pai's intention to make net neutrality voluntary (read: “eliminate”).

He notes that the change would raise prices on everyone and that net neutrality is wildly popular; a few years ago, four million people wrote the FCC to demand stronger controls of the cable industry “while those who took cable's side would have fit in the commission's lobby,” wrote Wu.

Here is some more of what he wrote:

”In analyzing the attack on net neutrality, one looks in vain for the problem that needs to be fixed...

“...it has sheltered bloggers, nonprofit organizatin like Wikipredia, smaller tech companies, TV and music streamers, and entrepreneurs from being throttled by providers like AT&T and Verizon that own the 'pipes'.”

Not to put too fine a point on this, it would mean that TimeGoesBy (and any of your blogs) could take so long to load onto your screen that readers would give up and never return.

More from Wu:

”Make no mistake: While killing net neutrality may be rolled out with specious promises of 'free video', there is nothing here for ordinary people. Lowering prices is just not something that cable or phone companies will do except under pressure.

“Instead, the repeal of net neutrality will simply create ways for cable and phone companies to tax the web and increase your broadband bill. Raise your hand if that sounds enticing.”

As vanityfair.com reports, the proposal will go up for a vote at the FCC's open meeting on 18 May. If it is approved (it will be), the public will have 60 days to file comments at the FCC website.

When that happens, I'll be reminding you of the need to make yourself heard and with this post today, you have the information we need to understand this crucial fight - and it is a fight, as Commissioner Pai himself made abundantly clear in a speech last week:

”Make no mistake about it,” he said. “This a fight that we intend to wage and it is a fight that we are going to win.”

Oh yeah?


One Republican Plot to Destroy Social Security

If President Donald Trump follows through on his stated plans for this week leading up to his hundredth day in office, it will be a head-spinning time for those of us trying to keep up.

So let's take a look today at one of the nefarious ideas the Republicans are plotting for Social Security. We all know better now, don't we, than to trust anything Trump says on any given day. Just in case, here is a reminder of one promise from the campaign:

He said that about Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security over and over and over again at hundreds of rallies.

Then, about two weeks ago, AP reported that the Trump administration is mulling over tax cuts including a House Republican plan, proposed by “a GOP lobbyist with close ties to the Trump administration,” to cut the 12.4 percent Social Security payroll tax.

”This approach would give a worker earning $60,000 a year an additional $3,720 in take-home pay, a possible win that lawmakers could highlight back in their districts even though it would involve changing the funding mechanism for Social Security...”

Although the idea is short on details, it appears that the current Social Security funding via the payroll tax would be replaced with something like a VAT (value added tax) on imports that would be held in the general fund instead of in the Social Security trust fund.

Nancy Altman, the Social Security expert who works tirelessly to protect the program, calls the proposal a Trojan horse, as she explained at Huffington Post:

“[This proposal] appears to be a gift in the form of middle-class tax relief, but would, if enacted, lead to the destruction of working Americans' fundamental economic security...”

”Not only would the Trump proposal starve Social Security of dedicated revenue, it would ultimately destroy it. Social Security is not a government handout. It is wage insurance that the American people earn, as part of their compensation, and, indeed, pay for with deductions from their pay.

Let's back up a little. Here is a photo of President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the Social Security bill into law on 14 Ausut 1935.

764px-Signing_Of_The_Social_Security_Act

This is what he said during the signing ceremony:

"We can never insure one-hundred percent of the population against one-hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life. But we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against…poverty-ridden old age.”

And so it does. Without Social Security, 22 million people it currently insures would be living in poverty.

The dedicated Social Security Trust Fund did not exist when FDR signed the original legislation so in 1939, he signed additional legislation creating it, he said,

“…to give the contributors a legal, moral and political right to collect their pensions…With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.”

I guess Mr. Roosevelt didn't count on the damn politicians of the Trump regime.

[For an easily understandable explanation of how the Social Security Trust Fund works, see my post from December 2004.]

When this subject came up at a meeting I attended last week where all attendees were elders who receive a Social Security benefit, one said that it doesn't matter if the idea succeeds because any changes to the program will not affect current recipients.

I hear that way too often but I'm pretty sure that like me, most of you are ready to fight to maintain this program for your children and grandchildren and beyond – fewer and fewer of whom make enough money these days to save for their retirement.

So keep your eye on all Republican budget proposals to see what they're doing with the Social Security trust fund. That way you'll know what you're talking about when the time comes to call your representative and senators in Washington about this.

Here's is a last word on the subject of scrapping the payroll tax (for today) from the estimable reporter, Michael Hiltzig of the Los Angeles Times:

”Already, conservatives and budget hawks repeat as a mantra that the cost of Social Security is 'unsustainable.' That’s their claim even though the program runs a surplus today and ensuring its fiscal stability for the future would require a modest increase in the tax rate or removal of the cap on taxable wages ($127,200 this year).

“Scrapping the payroll tax would make it easier for Congress to cut Social Security benefits under the guise of saving the government money. And that’s just another way to funnel more money to the rich, at the expense of the working class. And who needs that, other than people who already have enough?”


High Stakes for Elders (and Some Others)

It's hard to keep up with the federal government these days, isn't it. Every day brings news of so much legislation passed and so many executive orders signed that it all blurs together.

But there are serious things going on that can dramatically change how we live and cost us a lot of money too. Here are three recent events of importance to elders you should know about.

TRUMP DEFUNDS PLANNED PARENTHOOD
And he did it in secret last week. We all know how much he likes to show off his signature, but he signed this bill behind closed doors with no cameras present.

Here's what the bill is about:

As an aside, both President Trump and Jake Tapper in that clip get it wrong when they imply that Planned Parenthood is only for younger women. Aside from birth control information, pregnancy-related services and abortion (which is somewhere between three and 10 percent of Planned Parenthood's services), most apply to both men and women of all ages. Here are some examples:

⚫ Breast cancer, cervical cancer, colon cancer screenings
⚫ Testicular cancer, prostrate cancer clinics
⚫ Cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure screenings
⚫ Flu vaccines
⚫ Vasectomies

FYI, Vice President Mike Pence made the tie-breaking vote when this bill passed in Congress and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called the legislation “a major pro-life victory.”

According to a Government Accountability Office report [pdf] released in March 2015 that looked at data from 2010 to 2012, 80 percent (of Planned Parenthood clients) had incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

Most now have nowhere affordable to go for these medical services.

MICK MULVANEY AND SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY
Remember when then-candidate Trump repeated at many rallies that he would protect Social Security without cuts? He may or may not stick with that because he appointed South Carolina Representative Mick Mulvaney to be director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Mulvaney, who is a fierce advocate of deep spending cuts, was a member of a conservative bloc that pressed for slashing federal spending more deeply than House Republican leaders preferred, and established himself as one of the most outspoken of the anti-Washington movement in Congress.

Here is what he said to host John Dickerson on the CBS Sunday show Face the Nation last month:

Let me repeat that for us in print:

“Do you really think," Mulvaney said, "that Social Security disability insurance is part of what people think of when they think of Social Security? I don’t think so.”

Tell that to the 17 percent of Social Security beneficiaries who are disabled workers or their dependents – 10.6 million in 2016.

Apparently, the president shot down any of Mulvaney's proposed changes to Social Security but a couple of weeks later, Mulvaney told CNBC reporter John Harwood in an interview:

”I continue to look forward to talking to the president about ways to fix that program. Because that is one of the fastest growing programs that we have. It's become effectively a long-term unemployment, permanent unemployment program.”

Oh, I see now. Mulvaney believes disabled workers are lazy deadbeats. Social Security could use some fixing and there are years of research with some excellent choices. Mulvaney's is not one of them.

MICK MULVANEY AND MEDICARE/MEDICAID
In that same interview, Harwood asked if it will be possible in a Trump administration, given Trump's vows to protect Social Security and Medicare, for Congress to “go after” Medicare:

”I think the message to the House and Senate is, 'Look, you go do what you think is best,' said Mulvaney. “And I voted for Medicare premium support in the past when it was part of the Ryan budget. My guess is the House will do either that or something similar to that. [emphasis mine]

“Premium support” is Republican code for voucherizing which is the same thing as privatizing. As Trudy Lieberman explained in the Joliet Herald-News last week:

”The amount of 'support' and how well it would keep pace with medical inflation would be buried in the details Congress would hash out.

“Today, the government provides the benefits for hospital and physician care for most Medicare beneficiaries, but that could change with more privatization. There already is a lot of privatization in Medicare...

“In a totally privatized arrangement, there may be no standardized benefits, and seniors would choose from a menu of insurance company options much the way drug plans are sold today.”

All of which - the Planned Parenthood legislation already in place and the Mulvaney Social Security and Medicare plans - means money out of the pockets of the poor, middle class and elders transferred directly into rich people's pockets.

The president has reversed himself on so many campaign promises already that we would be foolish to trust him on Social Security and Medicare. When it is expedient, he will embrace the mainstream Republican philosophy: more for me, less for you.

Meanwhile, your senators and representatives are in their home states for the rest of this week. It would be good to give their local offices a call and let them know how you feel about Director Mulvaney's plans.


Resisting Tyranny: It's Up to You and Me

No ageing stuff today. I think we need some time here to talk America's national predicament. The dangers to our liberties, our freedoms, our country and democracy itself grow day by day and if you are not frightened for our future - even near future - you are not, as they say, paying attention. So

”The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy.

“Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism.

“Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.”

- Timothy Snyder in On Tyranny (2017)

Following the defeat of the frightful healthcare bill last week (of which the president made clear he is as ignorant as he is about, for example, foreign policy, the reasons a government cannot be run like a business or the threats of climate change), Democrats seem to believe Trump has been soundly defeated and it is smooth sailing from now on.

In fact, a couple of days ago this headline appeared in the Washington Post: “Democrats, Once Threatened by Trump, See Little Reason to Worry.”

Oh, for god's sake, the Dems are going to blow it again. Have they not noticed that although the healthcare bill was pulled, much more continues:

Paul Manafort. Steve Bannon. Steve Miller. Vladimir Putin. Does anything need to be said about their goals?

Both houses of Congress just voted to repeal internet privacy rules. The president has said he will sign the bill and then broadband providers will begin selling any and all of the personal information they collect about our activities online (which is vast) to whomever they want.

Don Jr. and Eric Trump announced that they regularly speak with their father, keeping him apprised of the doings of the family business. Does anyone really think this information does not affect the president's governing agenda or that he is not participating in decisions for the family business?

Ivanka Trump has been given a White House office and security clearance. She is taking no salary but says she is abiding by the conflict of interest requirements of all federal employees. Uh-huh. Just like her father, I suppose. Also, no one understands what her job is or what possible expertise she might have about anything.

Donald Trump and his bootlicker, Sean Spicer, continue every day to insist that up is down, left is right, day is night, black is white and - let me not pull any punches – lie without shame.

And now, General Flynn has asked for immunity in exchange for testifying about Trump/Russia connections. This is monumental on the order of Watergate.

Even so, What a puny list I've made compared to the large number of stupid, ignorant, frightening and potentially illegal actions from the president and the Republicans who are in control of the entire Congress. Whether it is dirtier air now for everyone or continued attempts to defund such important institutions as Planned Parenthood or collusion with foreign states, it is impossible to keep up.

The Democrats are not going to protect the country, nor is Congress and the media isn't helping as they chase each day's new shiny object of no value. Many non-governmental organizations are working hard against the onslaught from Washington but they cannot do it without us – you and me.

Last weekend, Yale University Professor of History Timothy Snyder appeared on Bill Maher's HBO program, Real Time to discuss his new book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.

Here is that interview. (I couldn't find a video copy that is not visually distorted so just go with it – listen to the words and ignore the video. Also ignore all of Maher's mishigas during the interview and especially in the last two minutes or so. As he tends to do, he just refuses to let interesting people be interesting but Snyder is more than worth your time.)

OnTyrrany Professor Snyder's On Tyranny, published last month, explains how easily tyranny can come creeping in on silent feet and destroy democracy before we notice what has happened. He also shows us what to watch for and what we must do to fight back.

On Tyranny is an inexpensive, small-format book that is available at Amazon and most other online and offline retailers. Each chapter, only four or five pages long, is one of the 20 lessons we need to know.

Somehow in that small space, Snyder has packed in the history he calls on to make the connections between the past and today, and shows how we can use that knowledge to craft our responses.

You can easily read the book in an hour. Please do that. Then re-read it. And then re-read it a third time while you highlight or make notes on what you want to remember.

If enough of us do this and put Professor Snyder's lessons to use, it might save our democracy.


Travel While Old (and Resistance Notes)

[EDITORIAL NOTE: These travel complaints have been on my mind for a couple of weeks but they aren't wildly important unless you feel as I do. The Resistance Notes at the end are important.]

Greece2

During my working life, I traveled a lot, sometimes hopping on a plane at a moment's notice to go across the country or across an ocean. I loved visiting places I'd only read about or seen in movies and the airlines, in those days, made getting there and back a pleasant, even glamorous, experience.

The 1970s and 1980s were prime time for airline travel. Plenty of room even for people with long legs, reasonably good meals served hot (even special ones if you ordered ahead), aisles wide enough that you could get up and stroll around to stretch your legs without banging into people who were napping.

Remember 747s? The middle rows were five seats wide and when I was traveling between Los Angeles and New York, there were often a few that were entirely empty so I used one as a full-length bed and slept the whole way. No objections from the flight attendants who even gently woke me when it was time to buckle up again for landing.

Best of all, the price was the price. Whatever was quoted to you was what you paid. No surprise charges for an aisle or window seat or food or checked baggage or carry-on items or, maybe soon, oxygen.

Unless you can afford first class, air travel has become torture and I don't think I need to recount all the ways it is now made so terribly difficult, even painful.

Full-aircraft-xlarge

Therefore, I was surprised to read the results of an AARP survey about baby boomers' travel plans for 2016:

”Most respondents (97%) planned at least one domestic trip and nearly half (45%) planned international ones,” reports Irene S. Levine in MarketWatch (reprinted from Next Avenue).

“While most research about over-50 travelers focuses primarily on boomers, data on the Silent Generation (those born between 1925 and 1945) suggests that with improved health and increased longevity, these folks, too, are opting to travel...”

[DISCLOSURE: Ms. Levine interviewed me for this travel story.]

The report goes on to discuss how boomers are willing to spend more money than younger people to avoid hassles, they demand better service, plan trips far in advance and are intent on checking items off their bucket lists, among other changes from their youth.

Bora-Bora

From the quotations in the article, they are gung-ho about getting out and about to seeing the world as often as possible by air.

“We take ourselves less seriously because we have lost loved ones and realize what really is important in life.”

“Life is unpredictable and I think we need to do as much as we can while we can.”

“Loving every minute of travel even when it isn’t so great. Aren’t we lucky to be able to go?”

Well, not me. Can it be that I am alone in finding being crammed into a plane seat that doesn't accommodate even my five-foot, two-inch size? Or enduring flight delays of many hours (happened on my last three flights in a row with the worst food on earth at airports)?

Crowded-terminal_Editorial

How about the literal mile and more that must be walked between flights? Worse, once you finally get to the gate, you find it's been changed to another gate half a mile from where you are standing and none of those little jitneys airports used to have to carry people from here to there are anywhere to be found.

I've turned into such an old fart that it's just too much work to contemplate a plane trip and because there isn't anywhere I want to go that isn't at least six hours from where I am, it's a full day trip when you count to and from airports which means I'll be exhausted for at least a day after I arrive.

In addition, there is something else in play that I haven't entirely worked out. I just like being home. We have mentioned here that even after too many social engagements in a row (in my case, two days worth does it), we need some down time to recharge.

For me, it's not just dinner with friends or a meeting or other kind of gathering that psychically exhausts me. Being in the vicinity of hundreds of other people for several hours, even if I don't know them or speak with them, is exhausting. I don't entirely understand but it seems to be related to the normal hubbub of being surrounded by a huge group.

Or not. I haven't sorted that out yet but the bottom line is that I'm quite happy at home and my nearby environment. And I'm amazed, given those AARP statistics, at how many people put up with what I find too odious to suffer through.

What do you think?

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RESISTANCE NOTES
There is a lot going on in Washington, D.C., enough to give me a major headache AND heartburn. Here are two items that I'm sure you're aware of.

First Item: Tomorrow, unless the Republicans change their mind, the full House of Representatives will vote on Trumpcare. Or, as it is more formally known, The American Health Care Act (AHCA).

The bill devastates Medicaid, harms people age 55-64 in other ways too and undermines the financial stability of Medicare. You'll find more detail about all that at this two-page Justice in Aging fact sheet [PDF].

It would be a good thing for you to call your representative today and tell him or her what vote you prefer.

Second Item: Last week President Donald Trump released his budget plan but it's not his alone. The budget contains many of the cherished draconian dreams of Republicans.

Instead of me, let's have John Oliver, host of the HBO show, Last Week Tonight, tell you about the bill's troubling priorities:


What Trumpcare Tells Us About Social Security

If you want to know what the Republicans in Congress will soon try to do to Social Security, pay attention to today's post.

Socialsecuritycard

As we have discussed in these pages many times over the years, Republicans have wanted to kill Social Security and Medicare since they were enacted in 1935 and 1965, respectively.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan is well known for his past attempts (so far failed) to kill Social Security, and the Robin-Hood-in-reverse American Health Care Act (aka Trumpcare) being debated now is a good indication – whatever happens to it – of what he and other Republicans will soon attempt with Social Security.

You have probably heard this widely reported premium nightmare people not yet old enough for Medicare will face if the ACHA becomes law:

"A 64-year-old earning [$26,500] will get sticker shock...Under the Republican plan, health insurers would be free to charge the senior more, raising that person's premium to $19,500.

“But the tax credit would be only $4,900, and the 64-year-old's share of the premium would then be $14,600 — about 10 times higher than the 21-year-old's."

You can comfortably assume that draconian changes of this kind will be adapted to fit Social Security when the Republicans move on to attack that program.

Ezra Klein, who is editor-in-chief at Vox and one of most knowledgeable policy journalists we have, made this video with a clear, easy-to-understand explanation of Trumpcare. It's worth five minutes of your time, keeping the future of Social Security in mind as you watch.

Late last year, Representative Sam Johnson (R-TX), chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee at the House Ways and Means Committee introduced H.R.6489 - Social Security Reform Act of 2016 - which he described as a "plan to permanently save Social Security."

At the time, estimable Los Angeles Times reporter, Michael Hiltzik called foul on that description:

”Followers of GOP habits won’t be surprised to learn that it achieves this goal entirely through benefit cuts, without a dime of new revenues such as higher payroll taxes on the wealthy.

“In fact, Johnson’s plan reduces the resources coming into the program by eliminating a key tax --another way that he absolves richer Americans of paying their fair share, while increasing the burdens of retirement for almost everyone else.”

To move forward, the bill needs to be reintroduced in the new 115th Congress which has not been done yet but undoubtedly some form of those changes will show up in future Social Security legislation.

In January, Social Security guru, Nancy Altman, wrote about another, more secretive way Congress may try to cut, if not entirely kill, Social Security (and Medicare). It's complicated, involving back-stage rules changes, but here is Altman's short explanation: Congress would transform the programs avoiding personal accountability by

”Using changes in the arcane rules of the budget to force through subsequent cuts...By the time the American people realize what’s happening, the rules that usher in the changes are in the past, and those voting for the cuts can claim that they have no choice, for budgetary reasons.

“The rule that has been adopted was telegraphed shortly after the election when Representative Tom Price, Chairman of the House Budget Committee and Donald Trump’s nominee to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, proposed changes to the budget rules, which, if enacted, would end Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, as we know them.”

As you know, Tom Price was confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services and Medicaid “as we know it” is already on the chopping block with Trumpcare.

One way or another, the Republicans will try to kill Social Security and as the president has made evident already with other campaign promises, we cannot depend on his repeated statement not to cut Social Security and Medicare to hold.

In fact, former South Carolina Congressman Mick Mulvaney who was recently confirmed as director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has said that the president promised only to “save” Social Security. Nancy Altman had a few words to say about that:

“Mulvaney and other Republican elites, who hate Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, are now claiming that Trump was simply promising to 'save' these programs.

“Like the infamous comment about destroying the Vietnam village to save it, they argue that cutting or even dismantling these programs 'saves' them. In this twisted logic, Trump can cut these vital benefits, and not break his campaign promise not to cut them!

“The American people are not going to be fooled. If Mulvaney succeeds in convincing Trump to sign on to cutting Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid, or even worse, ending them as we know them, Trump voters will know that they have been betrayed.

“And all Americans will know that the Republicans in Washington, including Trump, are working for Wall Street, not Main Street.”

Oy. This administration is sure going to keep us busy. You can listen to a 10-minute interview with Nancy Altman about Trumpcare here - from fair.org.


Ben Carson's Geezer Surgery (and More)

There is no dearth of reasons to rant, rail and rage against the new president for the disgraceful caliber of people he has placed in positions of power throughout the departments, offices and agencies of the federal government.

Even a few Republicans have been embarrassed by the obvious lack of experience or knowledge of some nominees. Think Betsy DeVos, Rex Tillerson, Rick Perry, Scott Pruitt, among others.

In some cases, however, a person who is given high political office is deeply unqualified in more disturbing ways: ideologically, ethically and morally.

Carson

On Saturday in these pages, I mentioned that Dr. Ben Carson, in his first official speech as the new secretary of the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), equated the men and women who were taken from their homes by force and shipped off to America to become slaves - with “immigrants.”

That is only the most obvious of the offensive moments in Carson's speech a week ago. Here is a short transcript of another, when he spoke about his previous work as a neurosurgeon:

”With a kid, you can operate 10, 12, 18, 20 hours and if you're successful, your reward may be 50, 60, 70, 80 years of life.

“Whereas with an old geezer, you spend all that time operating and they die in five years of something else. So I like to get a big return on my investment.”

I'll pause for a moment to let the potential consequences of that perspective on housing and related civil rights sink in.

Most days, I record the Late Show with Stephen Colbert so I can watch his monologue the next day. One of the “rewards” for my effort is way too many ageist jokes (although no more than the other late-night hosts).

But this time, to his great, grand credit, Colbert called out Carson.

This is that segment with the two parts from the secretary's speech I've highlighted along with two others that deserve equal piles of scorn:

You'll find some of the instant Twitter reaction to Carson's slave/immigrant comment at Huffington Post.

It's not that Secretary Carson is more ideologically or ethically challenged or any less knowledgeable about his new position than some other appointed leaders in this most reprehensible federal administration in my lifetime.

But he does appear to be the most candid about his shortcomings; whether by accident or design is hard to know.

What I do know is that there is so much double-dealing, overreach, hubris, lying, ignorance, secrecy, possible criminality and even treason along with open disdain for the Constitution, the rule of law and the citizenry itself that we must recognize every instance we see.

That isn't easy because there are several new ones every day. But we must not allow the bizarre beliefs of Secretary Carson and those of everyone else in the Trump administration to become so normal and ordinary that we are no longer shocked.

Do not let that happen to you or the people you know.


Elders and the Republican Healthcare Plan

EDITORIAL NOTE: This is a busy week for me so I'm writing this on Wednesday. God knows what will happen regarding the new healthcare plan by Friday morning when this is posted to TGB. If anything important changes, I'll try to update it but no promises.

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Healthcare introduction

The ACHA, also known as the American Health Care Act (or Ryancare or Trumpcare if you prefer) released on Tuesday hit a firestorm of criticism from everywhere. That includes, according to ABC News,

”...AARP, the House Freedom Caucus, GOP senators including Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz, Heritage, the Club for Growth, tea party groups and even, yes, Breitbart News.”

In some circles, it was scorned as Obama Lite and that the “Obamacare cure is worse than the disease.” Other responses as reported in mainstream news media:

”Ryan disappoints his friends with Obamacare replacement bill. Close allies in conservative policies circles found little to love with the GOP's health care proposal.” (Politico)
”The GOP’s plan guts the Medicaid expansion, defunds Planned Parenthood, and sunsets a federal rule that requires that qualified insurance plans cover things like mental health care, maternity care, and pediatric dental and vision care, among other things.” (The Daily Beast)
”If you’re poor, you will not have the money to pay the premium, leaving you without insurance." (Newsweek)

And don't think that if you are 65 or older and a Medicare beneficiary that it doesn't affect you. As Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid expert, Nancy Altman, explains

”Seniors aged 65 and over, as well as people with serious disabilities, rely on Medicare for their basic health insurance. That program will be seriously weakened if the Republican plan to gut the ACA is enacted. It is estimated that Medicare’s revenue will drop by $346 billion.

“The Republican bill to repeal the ACA drains Medicare to gives tax breaks to wealthy Americans and corporations. In fact, even before Republicans pass a so-called 'tax reform bill,' this bill’s giveaway amounts to a whopping $525 billion tax break for the wealthiest among us.”

There is little doubt that the $346 billion drain on Medicare revenue would negatively affect these items that, with the passage of Obamacare, came into being for Medicare:

  • the ongoing reduction of the donut hole in the Part D prescription drug program

  • annual wellness visits without a copay

  • free annual flu shot

  • the extension of Medicare solvency to the year 2029.

The many TGB readers not quite old enough for Medicare would be hit particularly hard if this new healthcare bill is passed. Vox reports:

"In general, the impact of the Republican bill would be particularly severe for older individuals, ages 55 to 64. Their costs [of annual premiums] would increase by $5,269 if the bill went into effect today and by $6,971 in 2020. Individuals with income below 250 percent of the federal poverty line would see their costs increase by $2,945 today and by $4,061 in 2020."

Which brings us to effects of Medicaid changes in the bill. The estimable Nancy Altman again:

”The GOP’s bill, if enacted, will place caps on Medicaid spending, again shifting costs away from the federal balance sheet and to the balance sheets of states and individuals.

“If that is enacted, seniors needing long term care and their families may find themselves out of luck, since nursing home care is extremely expensive. It is estimated that the typical annual cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home is $80,300. Very few families can afford that huge cost on their own.

“And the impact on seniors not yet 65, and so, not yet on Medicare, will be the harshest of all. They will have more difficulty obtaining insurance and will face higher health care costs if this legislation is enacted and implemented.”

On Tuesday, the Chicago Tribune reported that Tom Price, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and a physician,

”...would not commit to reporters that consumers would be able to keep their current doctors if the plan were passed, whether it would provide insurance at a lower cost, or that it would not add to the nation’s deficit. On each point he said simply that those were the administration’s goals.”

Of course not because no one knows, least of all writers of the bill. It was not been submitted to the Congressional Budget office for scoring, as is customary for any new bill.

Republicans, who control both the House and the Senate, expect Congress to vote on the bill by mid-April. President Trump supports it even though, as quoted by the Washington Post, he said in January:

“'We’re going to have insurance for everybody,' Trump said. 'There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.' People covered under the law 'can expect to have great health care. It will be in a much simplified form. Much less expensive and much better.'"

Which, like his other campaign promises so far, is apparently dead. Maybe he never meant it to begin with. It is said that the president will fly here and there across the country to promote the bill. I wonder what he will tell his voters who expected not the lose the coverage they have now.

Let's give Nancy Altman that last word today:

”The truth is that all of these cuts [in the healthcare bill] are entirely unnecessary. In fact, Medicare should be expanded to cover all of us.

“Medicare and Medicaid are more efficient than private insurance. Other nations are able to provide health care as a right, at a fraction of the cost with better health outcomes.

“We should be building on the successes of Medicare and Medicaid and the cost savings measures of the ACA. But instead, Republicans in Congress want to take us backwards.”


Elders: Don't Let Trump Fatigue Stop You

Protests work. We who are old enough learned that first hand back in the 1960s when we stopped a war, helped force through civil rights legislation and made a big leap forward with women's rights. And it's true again in the 20-teens.

In addition to some wins and the growing resistance movement now, you can tell for sure progress is being made when the opposition gets scared enough to threaten criminal action.

Take a look at this map:

Mapstateswithprotestb ills

Republicans in at least 18 state legislatures have introduced bills that would restrict public protests and in some cases, criminalize them. The Hill reports:

”Arizona Republicans have introduced a measure to expand racketeering laws, which target organized crime groups, to include rioting. The bill would allow police officers to arrest and the seize the assets of those who organize protest events...

“One measure in Tennessee goes so far as to give civil immunity to a driver who hits a protester blocking traffic.

“The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Matthew Hill (R), comes after a car hit volunteers helping protesters cross a street in Nashville as they demonstrated against the Trump administration’s orders blocking immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.”

The Washington Post, in publishing a thorough listing of the various legislation to date noted that there are already plenty of laws throughout the U.S. that control public demonstrations:

“Democrats in many of these states are fighting the legislation. They cite existing laws that already make it a crime to block traffic, the possibility of a chilling effect on protests across the political spectrum, and concerns for protesters’ safety in the face of aggressive motorists.”

The Post reporter goes on to describe pending legislation in each of the 18 states. Some examples:

“An Indiana Senate committee recently toned down a bill that would have allowed police to shut down highway protests using 'any means necessary.' The current version allows police to issue fines for such behavior.”

“A Republican lawmaker [in Missouri] has introduced legislation that would make it illegal for protesters to wear masks, robes or other disguises during protests deemed to be illegal.”

“A bill before the Mississippi legislature would make obstruction of traffic a felony punishable by a $10,000 fine and a five-year prison sentence.”

“A novel piece of legislation in Oregon would require public community colleges and universities to expel any student convicted of participating in a violent riot.”

None of the 18 bills has become law yet and according to the ACLU, most of them are unconstitutional. Even so, it takes time, money and effort to fight them and to me, the legislation frighteningly exposes how ignorant or dismissive or both of the First Amendment state Republican leaders are. ACLU senior staff attorney, Lee Rowland:

I bring all this to your attention because it is just one of the many overt and sneaky ways the Trump administration and the Republicans - as much in the states as in Congress - are working hard to strip away constitutionally guaranteed rights.

That, and how easy it is for us to succumb to Trump fatigue. With ten new outrageous assaults on our senses every day, it's not hard to throw up our hands and stop reading the news.

Please don't. I know as well as anyone how hard it is for old people to get out and march for several hours. But there is a lot more we can do if we cannot be there in person.

And it must be us, the people, because I didn't see anything on Saturday at the election of the new leadership of the Democratic Party that will correct any of their ineptness.

Michael Moore has some good ideas for us. Here's the first item of his ten point plan:

THE DAILY CALL: You must call Congress every day. Yes – YOU! 202-225-3121. It will take just TWO MINUTES! Make it part of your daily routine, one of those five things you do every morning without even thinking about it:

  1. Wake up
  2. Brush teeth
  3. Walk dog (or stare at cat)
  4. Make coffee
  5. Call Congress

Further, says Moore, and I agree one hundred percent with this important note:

”[I]f you’re saying to yourself, 'I don’t need to call because my rep is a Democrat!' — that is NOT true. They need to hear from you. They need to know they have your support.

“Don’t believe it? Our beloved Sen. Elizabeth Warren voted in favor of Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development! I’m sure no one in Massachusetts thought they had to call her. YOU DO! She and the other Dems need to hear from the boss — YOU! They work for us – and what boss doesn’t have daily contact with his or her employees?”

Moore includes another terrific idea, a smart phone app someone created called 5 Calls that Moore says “...will dial the friggin’ phone for you and give you talking points for when you speak to your reps!”

It's available for both Android and Apple smartphones. I downloaded it and it couldn't be easier. Give it permission to access you location then, each day, there are a dozen or so issues about which you can call your representatives.

It even gives you a good explanation of each issue then shows you a photo of your representative with his/her phone number. Tap it and the phones dials for you.

Michael Moore has a lot of other good ideas in his Ten Things, many of which even we old folks can do.

We can't let protesting get old. We can't allow ourselves to become bored with it. We can't let President Trump wear us down. Our children, grandchildren and our country, need us to fight back as hard as we can.