425 posts categorized "Politics"

What are You Doing During Today's Inauguration?

Civil Rights hero John Lewis has been the representative for the state of Georgia's Fifth Congressional District since 1987. He has taken a lot of tweet vitriol from the new president for announcing that he is boycotting today's inauguration.

Me too (along with several dozen additional federal legislators) which, since I live about 3,000 miles from Washington, D.C., just means I will not be watching on television.

In no way is that meant to scorn or disparage the office of the president nor do I believe – even with possible Russian interference in the November election and FBI director James Comey's reprehensible behavior toward Hillary Clinton – that Donald Trump should not be sworn in.

Alternately, Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland takes a different view. Yesterday, he told CNN reporter Chris Cuomo that while he believes others should boycott the inauguration if they want, he is attending the because he wants to be a witness to history.

Further, however, he told Cuomo that if the public knew what he and some colleagues had heard in the classified briefings about Russian interference in the election and other information, they might not attend the inauguration themselves. This six-minute exchange is a more informative interview than we usually get on cable television:

Note that Cummings says the information from those classified hearings will come out later.

We, the citizens of the United States, can respect the office of president while generally opposing the man himself – which is the intention of my personal boycott.

To tell the truth, however, I have a long-standing appointment and several errands that will take me away from home today for all but the oath of office so I didn't put a whole lot of thought into my boycott. I would not have missed President Barack Obama's inaugurations for anything; this one doesn't matter to me beyond the fear I feel for the future of our country and for us, the citizens of America.

Besides, what am I really missing. There will be more reporting than anyone needs of the inauguration address and since Trump disavows or changes his mind about everything he says faster than anyone can parse it, it doesn't really matter what he tells the nation today.

Apparently, a lot of people feel as I do about today's event. One website I ran across asked readers how they planned to spend the day, offering these four choices:

Watching the ceremony
Protesting
Avoiding the spectacle
Moving to Canada

I do recall reading news stories about how tens of thousands of Americans, on the day following the election in November, were Googling what is required to immigrate to Canada.

Remember when, a few weeks ago, I posted a Dr. Seuss parody titled How the Trump Stole America written by a North Carolina minister named John Pavlovitz?

He's had some thoughts about what dissenters can do on this inauguration day to resist. Here's the short version:

Serve someone
Financial activism
Get your hands dirty
Reach across a divide
Read
Pray
Reassure your children
Cultivae gratitude
Be visible
Create
Rest

You can read Pavlovitz's full post with explanations of his 11 points at his website.

Resist200Since I am already committed for several hours today, I like the last one in that list for us - for elders - so we can store up a lot of energy for the long resistance we need to undertake starting now.

What are you doing today?



The First Sneak Attack on Medicare, Social Security Has Already Happened

And we didn't even know it.

Social Security Medicare Cards

Remember, back on the morning of 3 January when the new 115th Congress convened, Republicans had already voted in secret the night before to shut down the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE)?

And how, when word got out, so many thousands of furious citizens phoned Congress that the House was forced to rescind that clause? Before noon?

It was a jubilant win for the good guys that day but there is more in the new rules package that got lost in the hubbub and celebration:

”Unnoticed by most was an additional provision, which is one part of the Republican game plan to destroy Social Security and Medicare,” writes Nancy Altman at Huffington Post last Saturday...”

This is slightly complicated (as the Republicans intend) but not something we can't understand if we pay attention – and it is crucial that we do.

Start with this from Altman:

Social Security...and Medicare...do not go through the appropriations process because, as monthly pension payments and medical insurance, they must pay what is owed, not what Congress chooses to spend.

“If Social Security and Medicare were subject to the whims of every Congress, they would be radically transformed. No one could count on the benefits they had earned.

For this reason, Social Security and Medicare are unique among most federal agencies and departments whose work can be hobbled and even destroyed with funding cuts during the appropriations process by representatives who don't like those departments.

As Altman explains, Republicans have an almost religious belief that the private sector can do anything better than government can and because Social Security and Medicare bypass the appropriations process, the GOP has hated those two programs from the moment they were each enacted.

So here is what the House Republicans wrote into the new rules package that will be in force for the next two years. Altman again:

“...the new rules require the relevant committees to make 'recommendations for changes to existing law for moving [unspecified] programs...from mandatory funding to discretionary appropriations, where appropriate.'

“Note the vague language,” writes Altman. “Republican politicians understand how popular Social Security and Medicare are.

Yet they desperately want to destroy the programs, which put the lie to their anti-government agenda by illustrating clearly that there are some tasks that the government does much better than the private sector.”

Now, here is the stealth part that the Republicans hope will slip by and/or mystify other politicians, the press and citizens (emphasis mine):

”The solution? Cut and radically transform Social Security and Medicare, but do it in a manner that avoids political accountability.

“Using changes in the arcane [new] rules of the budget to force through subsequent cuts fits that bill perfectly.

“By the time the American people realize what's happening, the rules that usher in the changes are in the past [voted in on 3 January 2017], and those voting for the cuts can claim that they have no choice, for budgetary reasons.”

Representative Tom Price, current chairman of the House Budget Committee, proposed other changes to the budget rules which if enacted, says Altman, “would end Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as we know them.”

Price is the president-elect's nominee to become Secretary of Health and Human Services where he will have direct control of Medicare and Medicaid and will be a trustee of Social Security.

Nancy Altman understands more about Social Security and Medicare and the politics thereof than just about anyone on the planet. She is founding co-director of Social Security Works and and a regular contributor on these issues at Huffington Post.

Along with Josh Marshall and his reporters at Talking Points Memo, she is the foremost defender and topnotch explainer of the sometimes cryptic issues around these programs.

Please read Altman's entire story on the stealth attack at Huffington Post. We need all the education we can get to be articulate enough to effectively resist the upcoming Republican attempts to dismantle these programs.

In some ways, the Republicans in Congress are more dangerous to the American way of life that the president-elect and you can expect additional stealth attacks in almost any area Congress controls. We're all going to be busy for the foreseeable future.


A Delicious TGB Extra

Time Goes By does not usually publish on Tuesday but this is too delicious to hold back especially because it does have a sell-by date - Friday 20 January – after which it is not as rich.

It happened Sunday in Scotland's Sunday Herald newspaper where Damien Love is the television columnist. You will find his review of President Trump: The Inauguration about halfway down the the online listings here.

And this is how it appeared in the print edition's featured highlights:

SundayHeraldTrump

The Twitterverse has had a fine ol' time passing this around and you'll find some commentary on the "preview" at the BBC. A few people object; I think they have no sense of humor - we need to remember to laugh about our predicament now and then, even if darkly.

* * *

FYI: You will find the cabinet nominee hearing schedule for this week here.


How Trump Will Get Anything He Wants From Congress

I believe this is important enough to publish on what is usually an “off day” for Time Goes by.

donald_trump

If you have been following the Republican/Democratic discussion over repealing Obamacare, it has become obvious that it is way too complex to replace the ACA than can be done in a week or two.

Nevertheless, on Tuesday that is what Donald Trump demanded: that Congress repeal Obamacare and replace it “within weeks,” as The New York Times reported.

Further from The Times [emphasis is mine]:

"...[Trump] threatened Democrats who might stand in his way, saying he would campaign against them, especially in states that he won in November.

“'I feel that repeal and replace have to be together,” said Trump “for very simply, I think that the Democrats should want to fix Obamacare. They cannot live with it, and they have to go together...'

“'It may not get approved the first time, and it may not get approved the second time, but the Democrats who will try not to approve it will be at risk, warning that 'they have 10 people coming up' for re-election in 2018. That alluded to Democratic senators in states he won.

“'I won some of those states by numbers that nobody has seen. I will be out there campaigning,' he said.”

That is, campaigning against any Democrat who does not vote in line with Trump.

Is there any precedent for this from a president? Dear god, what have we wrought.


Call To Action Now: Senate Confirmation Hearings This Week

EDITORIAL NOTE: This is much longer than I intended and that's just how it is today. There's more stuff to know these days than my ability, sometimes, to summarize.

* * *

Remember when I told you last week that it was thousands of telephone calls from voters to Congress that forced House Republicans to reverse their decision to trash the Office of Congressional Ethics?

Too many news outlets reported that it was the president-elect's tweet that made the difference. No, it was not. Most members of Congress agree that it was the deluge of constituent phone calls that forced them to backtrack.

Throughout our coming resistance campaigns, do not forget that. Such is the mindset of our Congressional leaders that their number one concern is not the benefit of the country or its people; it is being re-elected next time.

If you are in the D.C. area and can visit your representative(s), go for it – that impresses them more than anything. But second are live phone calls. They work.

* * *

GOP CONFIRMATION BLITZ
Here we go. As mentioned in that Friday post, the Republicans are going to try to snow everyone into inattention by doing so much at once that no one – Democrats, press, the American public – can keep up. As Politico noted last week:

”Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has personally urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) not to schedule simultaneous hearings on Trump’s selections, warning that such a move would test the new relationship between the two leaders.

“But the GOP ignored the entreaty by scheduling the attorney general, secretary of state, CIA director, education secretary, homeland security chief and transportation secretary all for the same day.”

That would be Wednesday this week, 11 January and the Republicans, as to be expected these days, ignored Schumer. Here are the nominees whose separate hearings are currently scheduled to be held that day:

Nominees

Actually, Jeff Sessions, who is the most controversial of all the nominees so far, is scheduled for a two-day hearing beginning on Tuesday 10 January and all the other nominees should be scheduled for more than one Senate committee session. At the risk of stating the obvious, just how are citizens expected to follow this bum's rush?

Further, most of the background checks and ethics clearances have not been finished. Bad enough but wait, there's more.

KICKER
Here is the kicker to these multiple hearings: The Republicans, in addition to scheduling hearings of five of the most crucial appointments in one day are getting extra help at confusing the country from the president-elect:

On the same day, 11 January, Donald Trump is holding his first open press conference since July 2016. Now what do you think will lead the news on Wednesday and how much short shrift will these nominees get?

OTHER NOMINEE HEARINGS THIS WEEK
In addition to Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, 10 January: Retired Marine General John Kelly for Secretary of Homeland Security

Thursday, 12 January
Ben Carson for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Wilbur Ross for Secretary of Commerce

1. All the schedules are subject to change at Republican whim

2. Do your homework on these nominees. Track down the arguments for and against each one's confirmation

3. You can start that with the short version at this Washington Post page but go further, Google them and see what you learn.

And here is something worth knowing that I've excerpted from a The New York Times report:

”Donald Trump’s transition team and Senate Republicans are determined to railroad several nominees to his cabinet of billionaires and moguls through to confirmation without fully revealing business interests that could disqualify them, say people both inside and outside government who are working on the transition process.

“This is unprecedented, potentially illegal, and the clearest sign yet of Mr. Trump’s cavalier attitude toward criminal laws preventing federal officials from profiting from public service.”

WHAT WE NEED TO DO
So our job this week is to:
Do our homework on these nominees

Follow the hearings as best we can depending on how much attention the press pays as the president-elect's press conference shuck and jive is the shiniest of shiny object this week

Deluge our senators with phone calls about where we stand about each of the nominees

You might throw in how you feel about cramming this many confirmation hearings into one day, especially one when the president-elect holds a press conference

To prepare for your call, use those scripts in the Indivisible Guide and this page under the header “Calling Script” to help write a script in your own words.

Even with as many conflicts of interest there are with nearly every nominee – all of whom are millionaires, billionaires, insiders or highest level military – I expect all, with the possible exception of Jeff Sessions, to be approved.

We are not going to win everything we resist but maintaining democracy is never-ending work and we are as responsible to do our part as every other age group. And it IS relevant to our lives.

Remember that slogan from the Sixties: The personal is the political. My friend Tony Sarmiento sent a link to the Wikipedia page about that for us.

Call your senators before the vote of the full Senate on these nominees. Wednesday is a good day to do it.

* * *

EXTRA: How the Confirmation Process Works
In case you are wondering how the confirmation process works – first of all it is contained in Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, known as the Appointments Clause which, a different Wikipedia entry explains:

"...empowers the President of the United States to appoint certain public officials with the 'advice and consent' of the U.S. Senate. This clause also allows lower-level officials to be appointed without the advice and consent process."

ABC News provides us with the best, most succinct description of the process I have read:

1. A nomination is given to the relevant Senate committee. The Senate Judiciary Committee, for example, handles the attorney general nomination.

2. That committee can then hold hearings, vote to move the nomination straight to the Senate floor for a vote or not move on it at all (in which case, the committee effectually kills the nomination).

3. After hearings, the committee votes to report a nomination to the full Senate, requiring a simple majority. It may vote to report the nomination favorably, unfavorably or without recommendation. If a committee sits on an appointment, the full Senate may vote to invoke cloture and move the nomination along.

4. If a nomination clears committee, it moves to the Senate floor for a simple majority vote. Filibusters are not an issue here because Democrats changed Senate rules three years ago to eliminate the 60-vote threshold for most nominations. Supreme Court picks are still subject to filibuster.

Certainly I know that I am asking for a lot. Please keep in mind this new government is not business as usual. These appointments are not normal. And "it" CAN happen here. We must each do our part to prevent it.


Things to Do Now to Resist and Protect

The former Congressional staffers who wrote the excellent Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda state unequivocally that, while not dismissing telephone calls, nothing works better than in-person meetings with our representatives in Washington, D.C. and at their state offices and events.

Certainly that is good advice but for us elders, it is often not possible for a variety of reasons. In that case our second best option is phone calls to our reps directed at one specific issue at a time.

An amazing, brand new case in point:

On the first day of the new, 115th Congress on Tuesday, the Republicans, who with their majority, are in charge of the House rules, had voted in secret on Monday evening to change the rules of the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE).

”A rules change,” reported The New York Times, “would have prevented the office...from investigating potentially criminal allegations, allowed lawmakers on the House Ethics Committee to shut down any O.C.E. investigation and, for good measure, gagged the office’s staff members in their dealings with the news media.”

As soon as the news of this got out early Tuesday morning, even before the House members were sworn in, voters throughout the country deluged House members with angry phone calls.

Now here is the important part for you and me and others committed to resistance and protection:

Before noon, House Republican leaders reconvened in the basement of the Capitol and rescinded their changes to the OCE and that happened because of the uproar from ordinary citizens.

It was a humiliating defeat for the Republicans on the first day of the new Congress that was the lead headline Tuesday and Wednesday on every TV news program, internet news website and old-fashioned print newspaper.

Let us not forget that. We elders who don't get out and about much have an important role to play with phone calls and we got our first lesson this week in just how effective it can be. Here's why.

House members and one-third of the Senate will be up for re-election in 2018. From day one in each session, they spend about half their days fundraising for the next campaign and nothing scares them more than angry constituents. (See page 8 of the Indivisible guide for more on this.)

BE PREPARED FOR TO RESIST AND PROTECT
As on Tuesday, votes and other issues can come up quickly in Congress – in fact, the Republicans have planned it that way, to keep public and political opponents hopping and, maybe, confused with one thing following swiftly on the heels of another so they can sneak through bills – like that rule change on Tuesday.

So we need to be prepared to take action on a moment's notice. Here's how to do that: Create a file on your computer with all the information you need to contact your three representatives: two senators, one House member.

Make a section for each one that includes:
Member's Name

Congressional office phone number

District office phone number

Address of nearest district office

Email address, if available. If not, a link to the Congressional webpage where you can send email

List of committees he/she serves on and what position they hold on it. These can be relevant depending on legislation at hand.

Lots of this information and much more about bills and votes can be found at GovTrack

Copy out sample call dialogue scripts to edit as needed for current issues (See page 25 of Indivisible Guide and more scripts at this link under the header “Calling Script”.)

You can find links to your representatives home pages at these two links; it's a good idea to sign up for the newsletters that many members of Congress send out regularly:
Senate Contact Information
House Contact Information

If you don't know who your House representative is, click here to find out via Zip Code.

SOME ADDITIONAL TIPS
Keep this number handy too: 202.224.3121. It is the Capitol switchboard where you can be directed to any of your representatives. Even if you don't know the rep's name, just give the operator your Zip Code and he/she will connect you.

Keep the White House Switchboard number too: 202.456.1414

Subscribe to the Indivisible Guide newsletter. The authors send out regular updates with tips and information on how best to influence your representatives.

Add all your phone numbers to your cell phone so you can easily call from anywhere.

In the computer file you have made for each of your representatives, keep a diary of what you are doing: telephone calls, in-person visits, what you told them and the response you received.

If you think this is a lot of work, listen to what Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) said, as was recently reported in Daily Kos:

”Democrats plotting a return from the political wilderness are facing their first big dilemma: how fiercely to fight President-elect Donald Trump.

“Let me answer that for you: Fiercely. In the way that, back in 2010, Elizabeth Warren said she wanted the fight for a strong Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to go: 'plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor.'

And President Obama said on Wednesday in his meeting with Democrats on Capitol Hill planning their resistance to Republican's promise to repeal Obamacare:

“Treat it like a campaign” and “Look out for the American people.”

A PERSONAL DILEMMA
I believe that America's democratic ideals, Constitution and way of life are at greater risk than at any time since the Civil War. And it is not just from the president-elect. The Republicans are equally dangerous to our country's well being.

For that reason, I will not let up on reporting and urging readers to do whatever is possible to resist and protect the United States. (Thank you, Simone, and all the commenters who agreed to her excellent suggestion for “resist and protect on Monday's post.)

However, I cannot and do not want to neglect the original mandate of TimeGoesBy to explore “what it's really like to get old” and while it is important not to respond to every twitch from Congress or tweet from Trump, sometimes political events will take precedence over ageing.

That notwithstanding, I am wondering about the mix. I'd appreciate any thoughts you have.


We Have Never Seen a Year Like 2017

Capitol-diagram

There are ceremonies tomorrow at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. At noon or thereabouts, the 115th Congress will be sworn in. All the of 435 members of the House of Representatives will take the oath. In the Senate, the newly elected and re-elected one-third will do so. It goes like this:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

Would that every member of Congress took that oath seriously. But honestly, when in recorded history have all politicians lived up to their oaths and obligations?

Last Friday, at a lunch I attended, the conversation at my table of six turned to the president-elect. Every one of us expressed fear at what might be coming this year and the concern that we – individually and as “we the people” who are aghast at the terrifying proposals – are up to the sustained effort of resistance that is required.

I like that word “resistance”. It brings to mind the brave members of the World War II underground in the occupied countries. At their start, it took awhile to get organized but over time, the resistance forces grew in size and number and were amazingly effective against an overwhelming war machine.

With the entire federal government now held by a Republican majority, that is how we need to operate – to resist in every manner we can imagine and create.

Resist200By the way, I have ordered my “Resist!” teeshirt. I'm not saying you should do that too – at $40 it's expensive – but if you are interested, it supports Think Progress, an important and well-established progressive institution that will certainly be of help in the coming months and years.

Between the new executive administration and the Republican Congress – both so full of themselves - it won't be easy keeping up with number of outrageous changes they will throw our way: environmental, nuclear, border walls, taxes, deportation, public education, poverty, Wall Street de-regulation and of course, what they like to falsely call “entitlements”.

In fact, according to Robert Pear in The New York Times a couple of days ago:

”Within hours of the new Congress convening on Tuesday, the House plans to adopt a package of rules to clear the way for repealing the health care law and replacing it with as-yet-unspecified measures meant to help people obtain insurance coverage.

“Then, in the week of Jan. 9, according to a likely timetable sketched out by Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, the House will vote on a budget blueprint, which is expected to call for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.”

These are procedural moves and neither repeals Obamacare (yet) so I don't want to waste our ammunition by asking us to call our Congress members yet. But you see what it's going to be like - one damned move after another and we will need to be alert to keep up.

No single person, website, political organization can handle all the issues Congress and the Trump administration with throw out way and because the focus of the this website has always been ageing and elders, TimeGoesBy will target and resist the already announced threats to repeal, privatize and/or voucherize Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare and Social Security.

Right now, there is an explosion of resistance plans on the internet from old and new organizations. So far, they are scatter shooting their resources, each with individual plans for this march, that petition, those visits with representatives and various other public events as they request donations from you and me.

And god bless them. We, America, need every protester and resister we can mobilize but what I'm looking and watching for is are two or three well-organized coalitions where people like us with targeted concerns can share resources and support one another as events from Washington require us to speak out and to act.

Here's what worries me (not counting the frightening assault on our institutions): my energy. I will be 76 in a couple of months and in the past year I have felt more acutely than ever before how much my stamina waxes and wanes from day to day and how much I need to pace myself.

Tiring more easily is a fact of ageing life and I'm working to devise a good plan to keep going in what will be a completely unpredictable 2017. We're facing a frightening new world and we must do our part even if our physical gusto isn't quite what it was in the 1960s.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of links you can set aside to use for the coming campaign:

Indivisible: The Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda that we have discussed here before

List of the freshmen members of Congress



Inspiration for Our Resistance in 2017

...or, How His Excellency * Stole America.

As I explained on Wednesday, I had been down with a virus since last Friday. I'm much better now – you could even say I'm well. But one of the hardest lessons of my old age is that it takes much longer to recover from a setback than when I was young.

Now, at last, I have learned this truth and am giving myself time to get up to speed again. Hence, another post today on which I don't need to expend a lot of effort.

This comes from TGB reader Richard Hannigan who says he received it from a friend. It is a poem titled How the Trump Stole America, written by one John Pavlovitz who is a minister at the North Raleigh Community Church in North Carolina. He has a personal website here.

JohnPavlovitz250As Richard pointed out in his email to me, given where Mr. Pavlovitz lives and works, making this poem public takes a lot of courage and so it does. But I also see it as an inspiration for our coming work to resist “his excellency” and the Republican Party in the new year.

Here then, as our quadrennial interregnum proceeds on course, is John Pavlovitz's How the Trump Stole America with as he says, “many apologies to Dr. Seuss”.

In a land where the states are united, they claim,
in a sky-scraping tower adorned with his name,
lived a terrible, horrible, devious chump,
the bright orange miscreant known as the Trump.
This Trump he was mean, such a mean little man,
with the tiniest heart and two tinier hands,
and a thin set of lips etched in permanent curl,
and a sneer and a scowl and contempt for the world.

He looked down from his perch and he grinned ear to ear,
and he thought, “I could steal the election this year!
It’d be rather simple, it’s so easily won,
I’ll just make them believe that their best days are done!
Yes, I’ll make them believe that it’s all gone to Hell,
and I’ll be Jerk Messiah and their souls they will sell.
And I’ll use lots of words disconnected from truth,
but I’ll say them with style so they won’t ask for proof.
I’ll toss out random platitudes, phrases, and such,
They’re so raised on fake news that it won’t matter much!
They won’t question the how to, the what, why, or when,
I will make their America great once again!”

The Trump told them to fear, they should fear he would say,
“They’ve all come for your jobs, they’ll all take them away.
You should fear every Muslim and Mexican too,
every brown, black, and tan one, everyone who votes blue.”
And he fooled all the Christians, he fooled them indeed,
He just trotted out Jesus, that’s all Jesus folk need.
And celebrity preachers they all crowned him as king,
Tripping over themselves just to kiss the Trump’s ring.
And he spoke only lies just as if they were true,
Until they believed all of those lies were true too.
He repeated and Tweeted and he blustered and spit,
And he mislead and fibbed—and he just made up sh*t.
And the media laughed but they printed each line,
thinking “He’ll never will win, in the end we’ll be fine.”

So they chased every headline, bold typed every claim,
‘Till the fake news and real news they looked just the same.
And the scared folk who listened, they devoured each word,
Yes, they ate it all up every word that they heard,
petrified that their freedom was under attack,
trusting Trump he would take their America back.
From the gays and from ISIS, he’d take it all back,
Take it back from the Democrats, fat cats, and blacks.
And so hook, line, and sinker they all took the bait,
all his lies about making America great.

Now the Pant-suited One she was smart and prepared,
she was brilliant and steady but none of them cared,
no they cared not to see all the work that she’d done,
or the fact they the Trump had not yet done thing one.

They could only shout “Emails!”, yes “Emails!” they’d shout,
because Fox News had told them—and Fox News had clout.
And the Pant-suited One she was slandered no end,
and a lie became truth she could never defend.
And the Trump watched it all go according to plan—
a strong woman eclipsed by an insecure man.

And November the 8th arrived, finally it came,
like a slow-moving storm but it came just the same.
And Tuesday became Wednesday as those days will do,
And the night turned to morning and the nightmare came true,
With millions of non-voters still in their beds,
Yes, the Trump he had done it, just like he had said.
And the Trumpers they trumped, how they trumped when he won,

All the racists and bigots; deplorable ones,
they crawled out from the woodwork, came out to raise Hell,
they came out to be hateful and hurtful as well.
With slurs and with road signs, with spray paint and Tweets,
with death threats to neighbors and taunts on the street.
And the grossest of grossness they hurled on their peers,
while the Trump he said zilch—for the first time in years.

But he Tweeted at Hamilton, he Tweeted the Times,
And he trolled Alec Baldwin a few hundred times,
and he pouted a pout like a petulant kid,
thinking this is what Presidents actually did,
thinking he could still be a perpetual jerk,
terrified to learn he had to actually work,
work for every American, not just for a few,
not just for the white ones—there was much more to do.

He now worked for the Muslims and Mexicans too,
for the brown, black, and tan ones, and the ones who vote blue.
They were all now his bosses, now they all had a say,
and those nasty pant-suited ones were here to stay.

And the Trump he soon realized that he didn’t win,
He had gotten the thing—and the thing now had him.
And it turned out the Trump was a little too late,
for America was already more than quite great,
not because of the sameness, the opposite’s true,
It’s greatness far more than just red, white, and blue,
It’s straight, gay, and female—it’s Gentile and Jew,
It’s Transgender and Christian and Atheist too.
It’s Asians, Caucasians of every kind,
The disabled and abled, the deaf and the blind,
It’s immigrants, Muslims, and brave refugees,
It’s Liberals with bleeding hearts fixed to their sleeves.
And we are all staying, we’re staying right here,
and we’ll be the great bane of the Trump for four years.
And we’ll be twice as loud as the loudness of hate,
be the greatness that makes our America great.
And the Trump’s loudest boasts they won’t ever obscure,
over two million more of us - voted for her.


Some Good News About His Excellency

When the Republican candidate won the U.S. November election for president, I vowed to never utter his name in these pages again (aside from quotations) and to reference him as just an asterisk: *.

I have changed my mind.

There is a remarkable letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin that formally addresses our president-elect as "Your Excellency." (Can you hear me laughing again even though I've read it a dozen times by now???)

When he released the letter to the media, his excellency described it as "A very nice letter from Vladimir Putin; his thoughts are so correct." (You can read the entire letter here - scroll down.)

Of course such a man would crave such an exalted title. So until something better comes along, in this space * will become "his excellency." In a post-ironic world such as ours, how could I resist.

Here is what Russia expert Nina Khrushcheva, who is professor of international affairs at New York University, had to say about the letter and the response to his excellency in Russia on an MSNBC News panel a couple of days ago:

On Christmas Day, The New York Times published a big story telling us that although his excellency still insists there are no legal conflicts of interest between his businesses and his new position, he and his family have announced the will close foundations and end some development deals.

In the past few days, he has also ended a long-running labor dispute in a Trump hotel in Las Vegasv ending his demand for a 15-foot fence at an ocean-front golf course in Ireland. Ivanka is said to be "looking at" donating proceeds from an upcoming book to charity and Eric Trump announced he will no longer attend administration meetings. These are among a fairly lengthy list of divestitures. However,

"While the family may be removing some of the most obvious problems," reports The Times, "critics say Mr. Trump will still know what properties his family owns and which policy decisions will benefit them, no matter how careful he is.

"The portfolio of assets might influence his interactions with leaders in nations such as Turkey and the Philippines, where Mr. Trump has prominent marketing deals.

"In places where he has allowed the use of his family name and even his image, Mr. Trump will soon be confronting foreign policy decisions, such as how to confront human rights violations or fight terrorism.

"The family, at least so far, has not announced how it will resolve other issues, such as the lease at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, which was issued by the federal government’s General Services Administration, an agency Mr. Trump will soon oversee."

This is good news but perhaps not for the reason you may think. As The Times makes clear, this is a start but the changes get nowhere near clearing the table of his excellency's conflicts. But here is what this news otherwise tells us:

His excellency (or his lawyers, I suppose) responds to public pressure that, in this the case of conflicts, has been non-stop since he was elected.

Keep that in mind: he responds to public pressure if it is loud and unrelenting. That means that on any upcoming issue, enough noise, enough media attention, enough commotion, uproar and outcry can make a difference.

It's not just Congress we will need to repeatedly and resolutely lobby in the coming year(s). Add the White House to our list of Congressional representatives because on so many issues, nothing can become law without the signature of the president.

That is what makes even this puny divestiture good news - news we can use in our fight against the coming Republican onslaught against the virtues and values of our country.


The First Salvo in the War on Social Security Has Been Fired

Is this attack on Social Security serious? Who knows, but we cannot afford to assume otherwise. This is a long and detailed post. Please try to read it anyway (if you're an American).

BackOffSocialSecurity

Last Thursday, Representative Sam Johnson, Republican of Texas and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee's subcommittee on Social Security, released a plan to “preserve Social Security for generations to come, reward work, and improve retirement security” - as the first page of the bill states.

It does nothing of the kind. It is a nasty, vicious bill that would impoverish a majority of beneficiaries. Daniel Marans, reporting about the announcement of Johnson's bill at Huffington Post wrote that it

”...would drastically reduce benefits. The bill would make the program less of a universal earned benefit and more of a means-tested safety net that aims only to provide basic support to the poorest retirees and disabled workers.”

Here is the short version of the bill from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM):

”Johnson's bill

Cuts Social Security benefits by one third
Raises the retirement age from 67 to 69
Changes the benefit-computation formula in a way that cuts benefit amounts
Cuts Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs)

“The resulting benefit cuts will affect Americans of all ages, at all income levels, including the middle class and those with very low incomes.”

Representative Johnson's goal with this legislation, to make the program more solvent, he says, does it entirely by benefit cuts - Draconian cuts. Democrats and progressives, including Senator Bernie Sanders, have for years proposed fixes to Social Security that not only avoid cuts but actually increase benefits.

Nancy Altman is a leading expert on Social Security, the founding co-director of Social Security Works and the co-author of Social Security Works!, the definitive, fact-based explanation of this crucially important program. Over this weekend, she wrote a clear explanation of what this legislation does. Pay close attention to this excerpt:

"Remember the ubiquitous mantra of those who propose to dismantle Social Security: no benefit cuts for those aged 55 and older?" asks Altman. "That is out the window. Every single one of the more than 57 million current beneficiaries will experience a cut, under the just-released Republican plan.

"And for some of them, the cut will be extreme. Take a worker who contributed to Social Security for 43 years and earned $118,500 just prior to retiring this year at age 65. At age 95, he will, under the Republican plan, receive a benefit that is less than half ― 48.7 percent, to be exact ― of the value of the benefit he is receiving today.

"And for tomorrow’s workers, it’s even worse. Today’s 45-year old worker with the same work history will receive, at age 65, a benefit that is 74.8 percent what today’s 65-year old receives. And, if he or she lives to age 95, the benefit will be about a third ― 34.6 percent ― of what it would have been under current law!

The Republican proposal raises benefits for long-term low-income workers who qualify for a minimum benefit, but don’t be fooled. It is window dressing, hiding what is really going on.

"Under the Republican plan, a 45-year old worker earning $12,000 a year, who has contributed to Social Security for twenty years and is able to hold off claiming his earned benefit until age 65, will receive a benefit that is twenty percent lower than current law. And that is if he or she can hang on until age 65!"

As Ms. Altman writes, this (along with the coming attacks on Medicare) amount to a war on elders. Please read her entire article here.

Nothing will happen on this bill before Congress shuts down for the year-end holidays on Friday and does not return until Tuesday 3 January 2017 – but Johnson will undoubtedly reintroduce it in the new 115th Congress early next year.

According to Talking Points Memo, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement “slamming Johnson's bill”:

“Slashing Social Security and ending Medicare are absolutely not what the American people voted for in November," Pelosi said. "Democrats will not stand by while Republicans dismantle the promise of a healthy and dignified retirement for working people in America.”

Good for her but she cannot do it alone. This holiday hiatus is a good time for a first call to your two senators and congressional representative, as we discussed in this post a couple of weeks ago.

Tell them what you think of Representative Sam Johnson's Social Security bill. You will find phone numbers of local offices in your states here (Senate) and here (House).

Of course, if any of your representatives are retiring or were not re-elected, you'll need to wait until January to get phone numbers of the newly elected.

Here is a sample script you can edit to suit yourself. It's short, strong and to the point:

I'm [full name], a constituent calling to ask [Senator (name) or Representative (name)] to publicly oppose the Social Security Reform Act of 2016 from Representative Sam Johnson of Texas.

This bill would slash the program's benefit not just for future beneficiaries but for current ones too, and destroy Social Security. There are many other, well-known ways to preserve Social Security and I am asking the (senator or repressentative) to block this legislation with all (his/her) might.

It doesn't matter what party your representatives belong to. Make the call either way.

And ask everyone you know to do so too. If you have a blog or Facebook page, you have my permission to copy and post any of this you want without a link back if that is inconvenient. In this case it is much more important to get as many people calling as possible and as regularly as possible than worry about citations.

Thanks for sticking with this entire post. Your wellbeing in your old age is at risk as is that of your grown children and their children and beyond. We must not let this legislation happen.

Read the press release about the bill here

Read a short overview from Representative Johnson here [pdf]

Read the full bill here [pdf]

And here is another link to Nancy Altman's story


That .3% Social Security COLA in 2017 Might be Zero for You

And it's not even the Republicans' fault.

This will be as short as I can make it today and still be clear because I can hardly speak, let alone type.

Social-security-card

If you are an American retiree, you know that sometime in December, you receive a mailing from the Social Security Administration (SSA) titled “Your Benefit Amount.”

This form shows your new full monthly SSA payment based on the cost-of-living (COLA) increase (when there is one) along with the new amount of the deduction for your Medicare Part B premium for next year.

(Some recipients may also have deductions for the Part D prescription drug premium and/or voluntary federal tax withholding.)

Because SSA does not date this annual mailing, I could not tell from previous years when it ought to arrive so on Monday, as I was working out a personal budget for 2017, I phoned Social Security to get my numbers for the new year.

Recall, please, that as announced a few weeks ago, Social Security recipients have been granted a miniscule .3 percent COLA for next year – the smallest in the history of Social Security.

It won't amount to much even for those who receive the maximum, full retirement SSA benefit: the increase on the average payment of $1360 per month will be about $5. Only twice that for the maximum payment of around $2,600.

While I was on hold waiting to speak to someone at the Social Security office in Washington, a recording announced that the Part B premium for most beneficiaries would increase by about $30. I nearly dropped the phone – for me that's close to a 28 percent increase. Huh?

(There are several different Part B premium amounts depending on a bunch variables.)

When I was connected to the SSA representative, I asked for an accounting of three items: my new full monthly payment, my Part B deduction and the amount of the check I will receive each month.

Perhaps you know that there is a “hold harmless” clause in the Social Security regulations. It means that whatever increases such as Part B premiums are imposed each new year, a monthly benefit payment cannot be less than it was in the previous year.

That is what has happened to me: I will not be charged the actual new Part B premium because that would reduce my 2017 payment to less than what I receive now and, in fact, even less than I received in 2009.

So in such circumstances, the Social Security Administration jiggers with the Part B premium so that I will receive the same amount as last year - and not a penny more - while, of course, all fixed expenses have increased.

Now for sure I am not going hungry, I will not do without – so I do not mean this to be a personal whine.

But one of the few things I have learned in life, on my own, with no help from anyone else – as I mention here now and then - is that if it is happening to me, it is happening to thousands, maybe millions of other people.

And a whole lot of them – I know some personally - have a lot less than I do and not having even a small SSA increase for next year while faced with the usual increases in utilities, food, insurance, prescription drugs and other expenses they watch closely will become a further hardship in 2017.

As I said at the top, this is even before the Congressional Republicans start taking a hatchet to Medicare and Social Security. More reason we must fight with all we've got against threatened repeal and privatization of those programs.


The Republican War on Obamacare and Medicare

It's getting complicated, my friends - and hard, too - to keep up with the fierce Republican war on healthcare.

In that regard on Sunday, New York Times cartoonist Brian McFadden pretty well captured all you need to know about what happened during the past week. (For easier reading, click here for full-size strip).

Safety Net Cuts Cartoon

The amount of posturing, threat and pushback between Republicans and Democrats in Congress make it difficult to know what's real and what is bluster. I'm going to try to simplify what we know.

One thing is certain: we've heard more about Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – what most of Washington falsely calls “entitlements” - more in the past week or two than in the past four years.

Democrats and media pundits spent their time denying that it is possible to get rid of Obamacare and Medicare as we know them without dire consequences, and they are probably right. But the constant drumbeat of "they won't be able to repeal or privatize" sounds an awful lot to me like "* cannot win the election."

What bothers me most about all the leftie predictions that it can't be done is that it allows the people – you and me - to relax, to think that everything will be okay. Well, don't you believe it.

So while Congress and the presidential transition team continue to cross swords on these issues, we need to educate ourselves for the coming onslaught – probably soon after the 20 January inauguration. I'll do my best to keep you up to date.

NOMINEE FOR HHS
Last Tuesday, the president-elect nominated Representative Tom Price (R-Georgia) to head the Department of Health and Human Services, the cabinet-level agency that oversees Medicare and other services for elders such as home delivery of meals.

Medicare_card400

If approved by the Senate, he will also manage the effort to dismantle of Obamacare.

Here is what the Washington Post had to say about Price, who is a physician:

”The 62-year-old lawmaker, who represents a wealthy suburban Atlanta district, has played a leading role in Republican opposition to [Obamacare] and has helped draft several comprehensive bills to replace it...

“Under his vision, [Medicare and Medicaid] would cease to be entitlements that require them to provide coverage to every person who qualifies.

“Instead, like many House Republicans, he wants to convert Medicaid into block grants to states...

“For Medicare, Price favors another idea long pushed by conservatives, switching it from a 'defined benefit' to a 'defined contribution.' With that, the government would give older or disabled Americans financial help for them to buy private insurance policies.”

With only slight variations, the Republicans are all singing from this playbook.

THE DOG WHO CAUGHT THE CAR
However, what the Republican lawmakers have finally realized is that it could be political suicide to repeal Obamacare and privatize Medicare without having reasonable replacements ready to go.

By Thursday, the Republican dilemma was becoming almost funny. Josh Marshall reported at Talking Points Memo (TPM):

”Both on repealing Obamacare and phasing out Medicare, Republicans are now realizing they have to ask Democrats for help, despite the fact that they control every branch of the federal government...

“One key reason is that on both Obamacare and Medicare, the GOP - especially the House GOP - is the dog who caught the car. What do they do now...

“Republican Senators are now telling pretty much everyone who will listen that they don't want to get dragged into phasing out Medicare this year...You can only push through so much at a time. But don't believe the hype,” writes Marshall. “They know that killing Medicare is toxic politically...

“They're getting a similar message on Obamacare.”

REPEAL AND DELAY?
At the end of the week, the latest word is that the Republicans have renamed their kill-Obamacare initiative Replace and Delay. As this new story goes, they would quickly vote to repeal it early next year but delay implementation for up to several years while they figure out what to replace it with.

Meanwhile, Texas Republican Kevin Brady who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is telling people he wants to “overhaul” Medicare in 2017. Another TPM story:

” While House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has boldly doubled down on his own proposals to privatize Medicare or what he calls 'premium support,' Brady was less clear about what he wanted to do.”

DOES THIS ADD UP TO ANYTHING?
Well, it's obvious the Republicans haven't got their act together yet. Now that they own all the federal government, “repeal” is their mantra but I think Josh Marshall nailed it: they're the dog who caught the car.

As messy as this political tap dance is, do not get complacent. The GOP will not let their ownership of the entire federal government pass without doing everything possible to seal their ideological advantage for years to come.

Due to the Republican disarray, right now is not the time for action from us, not the time to be badgering our representatives because there is nothing yet to aim at. Instead, we need to keep our eye on what is developing and do our homework.

As I mentioned in last week's Medicare post, the single best source of information about the Repubican war on healthcare is Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo.

He covers it reliably, thoroughly and intelligently. So if you don't read anything else about this, TPM will keep you better informed than most people are.


Saving Medicare and Contacting Congress

Capitol-diagram

EDITORIAL NOTE: This is a nuts-and-bolts post pulling together some information we are going to need before long. I know some readers don't want any more politics, but emboldened Republicans are hard bent on killing Medicare and they want to do it right after the New Year.

Discussion of Medicare privatization may come up sooner than we expect; Congress reconvenes today, none of the Republicans are shy about pressing their political advantage.

I spent some time over the long weekend, locking down details of one way we can make our voices heard. There will be others, but contacting your representatives is basic to the effort, and there is a right way to do it. Maybe you will want to bookmark some of these links for future use.

* * *

REFRESHER
As I wrote here last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has been pushing a plan to privatize Medicare for at least half a dozen years and is willing to lie to the American public to accomplish it:

”What people don't realize,” Ryan told [Fox News host Brent] Baier, “is because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke, medicare is going to have price controls because of Obamacare, Medicaid is in fiscal straits.

“You have to deal with those issues if you are going to repeal and replace Obamacare. Medicare has serious problems [because of] Obamacare.”

This is exactly opposite of what is true which you can read about on my most recent Medicare post here.

As it looks now, Ryan's new, private Medicare coverage would compete against traditional Medicare. New York Times reporter, Robert Pear, who has closely followed Medicare and Social Security for many years, wrote about Ryan's plan last week and noted this about how it would work:

“'Beneficiaries would have to pay much more to stay in traditional fee-for-service Medicare,' said John K. Gorman, a former Medicare official who is now a consultant to many insurers. 'Regular Medicare would become the province of affluent beneficiaries who can buy their way out of' private plans.”

According to many reports (but who knows what applies in a * administration), Ryan intends to push Medicare privatization (also called voucher plan) legislation as soon as the 115th Congress convenes in January.

Last Friday, in response to the Republican Medicare threat, Senate Minority Leader-elect, Chuck Schumer (D-New York) issued a defiant statement reminiscent of actor Clint Eastwood in a certain movie [emphasis is mine]:

“Medicare is one of the most successful government programs ever created – it’s been a success story for decades. The Republicans’ ideological and visceral hatred of government could deny millions of senior citizens across the country the care they need and deserve.

“To our Republican colleagues considering this path, Democrats say: make our day. Your effort will fail, and this attack on our seniors will not stand.”

I hope Senator Schumer is right but with a Republican-controlled Senate, he will need a lot of backup from the people of the United States and it is we, elders, who best understand the consequences of Medicare privatization.

For when that time comes – and it may be as soon as early January – I have collected some information about how to take our message to Congress and make it as effective as possible. Having this information now will keep future posts on the issue much shorter.

THE BEST WAYS TO CONTACT CONGRESS
I found instructions from a former six-year Congressional staffer, Emily Ellsworth, with an excellent list of what does and does not make the biggest impact.

Twitter and Facebook do not work. Staffers hardly ever check them.

Emailing your representatives is better, but the staffers get so many emails and are so busy, they just use an algorithm to “batch them” and send out form letters in response. (Snailmail is, apparently, dead.)

At Lifehacker where I found this information, the reporter notes that Ms. Ellsworth specifically recommends phone calls:

”...phone calls have to be dealt with when they occur and they can’t be ignored. A large volume of phone calls can be overwhelming for office staffers, but that means that their bosses hear about it.

“Which office you target also matters. Members of Congress have offices in DC, but they also have offices in their home district that they represent. Target your letters and phone calls to your local office and you’ll have an easier time getting their attention.”

Also, says Ms. Ellsworth, “If you want to talk to your rep, show up at [local] town hall meetings. Get a huge group that they can't ignore. Pack that place and ask questions.”

These and other instructions are included in Ellsworth's (irony alert) Twitter chain that is reproduced in full at Lifehacker.

CONGRESSIONAL EMAIL ADDRESSES AND PHONE NUMBERS
U.S. Senate contacts including D.C. and home district offices: You might have to search around to find the state office contacts but with a few exceptions, they are somewhere on the main page.

U.S. House of Representatives contacts including D.C. and home district offices – the latter sometimes called satellite offices: Although I have not looked at the web pages of all 435 Congress people, listings for district offices were on the pages I spot checked.

Over the years here, I've recommended other websites that list Congressional phone numbers but after my latest scrutiny, these appear to be the most thorough and best organized. New members of both the House and the Senate are sworn in on 3 January 2017. Obviously, newly-elected representatives may not have web pages yet on day one.

SCRIPTS FOR PHONE CALLS
Congressional staffers – at home and in Washington – are busy people. Another excellent suggestion is to prepare a short, to-the-point script you can read when you telephone your representatives.

A Google Doc by Kara Waite is messy but is packed with great information – especially this page of scripts (click on "Calling Scripts" at the top of the page). And in the future, I will create some sample scripts as a starting point you can personalize.


Medicare Part B Premium Increase and Normalizing *

There is a spiral-bound notebook on my desk where I keep a running list of ideas for future TimeGoesBy posts. Some of them are terrible ideas I never use (well, mostly). Others are mainstays – such things as updates or threats to Medicare and Social Security that our age group needs to know.

Mostly, the book is a reminder so I won't lose thoughts I had in passing while doing something else, and I add maybe three or four a week. Since election day, however, there are four new, tightly-hand-written pages now that there are deeply worrying potential dangers afoot in Washington, D.C. that will affect Americans of all ages.

I am telling you this in explanation for what is a new kind of post here now and then that will cover two or three unrelated items that seem to me to be important right now as opposed to having a decent shelf life or, sometimes, even being evergreen.

So here goes with the first one.

MEDICARE PART B FOR 2017
As you know, there was no increase in the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for the past two years. That means that for most Medicare beneficiaries there was, also, no increase in the premium for Part B which covers expenses for doctors, other outpatient care and durable medical equipment.

Now, due to the measly .3 percent COLA to Social Security for 2017 (which does not begin to cover inflation that most elders experience) an increase in the Part B Medicare premium is allowed.

The increase in the average 2017 Social Security payment is about $5. It will be wiped out for 70 percent of recipients because the Part B premium, which is deducted from the Social Security benefit each month, rises by 3.9 percent from $104.90 to about $109.

High earners will have an even larger increase in the Part B premium as will certain other categories of beneficiaries. You can see more detail at this PBS page.

It's not that I will go hungry or anything drastic, but so many other fixed expenses are increasing in the new year, by up to 10 percent in at least one case, that I will be cutting back and I expect many of you will be doing so too. This has happened every year for the decade I've received a Social Security benefit and I keep wondering in what year it will become a serious hardship.

In addition, the Part B deductible for 2017 will increase from $166 to $183. The Social Security Administration will soon be sending their annual benefit update letter so you will see your new numbers then.

NORMALIZING THE * ADMINISTRATION CONTINUES APACE
As I mentioned last week, it took less that 24 hours after the election results were in for pundits and most of the media to call for giving the president-elect “a chance” - as if we didn't already know what kind of man he is.

As Rohit Chandan, writing at FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) on Friday about normalization:

”The danger is that by normalizing Trump—a candidate distinguished by an embrace of political violence and open appeals to ethnic nationalism who boasted of getting away with sexual assaults — these commentators will make racist and sexist bullying an acceptable way to run for public office.”

No kidding. His way of speaking has already brutalized public discourse in general. Here is FAIR's accompanying cartoon laying out the media's excuses for normalization:

NeNormalCartoon

Over the past year, Seth Meyers, host of Late Night on NBC-TV, has become my favorite of the late night hosts – I can't stay awake that late but I record his show every night to watch the opening 10 minutes the next day. Meyers is smart, funny and fearless.

Last week, in his “A Closer Look” segment that airs at the top of each show, he pilloried the media and * associates trying to insist * is a normal person. Enjoy.

It is easy, when outrage after outrage is repeated hundreds of times a day in the media, to fall victim to accepting it as normal. Please be vigilant of yourselves and don't let it happen to you.


Medicare in Peril

TolesMedicare

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan has wanted to privatize Medicare ever since he first went to Congress 18 years ago. Now, with a new president on deck, he sees his chance.

And just in case that “privatize” word feels a bit toxic, he has renamed the effort to kill the program, Medicare Phase Out. Don't be fooled; it is the same thing as privatization.

But something else may come up in Congress before Medicare Phase Out legislation that will make the first inroads into killing Medicare. Let me explain.

REPEAL AND REPLACE OBAMACARE
The president-elect appears to have backed off somewhat his campaign promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Now he says he wants to keep the pre-existing conditions provision along with one other that allows parents to keep their children on their coverage until the kids are age 26.

As we have learned in the past 19 months, it is impossible to know if what * says has any relationship to what he will do about anything. But until we know differently, we can only work with his statements.

So, in regard to repealing and replacing Obamacare (except for those two provisions), let us remind ourselves what Obamacare has done for Medicare beneficiaries:

Thanks to Obamacare, the donut hole in Part D, the prescription drug plan, has been gradually closing and will be gone by the year 2020. This has already saved elders billions of dollars and will continue to do so.

Also thanks to Obamacare, there are no copays for wellness visits to physicians and certain preventive services, among them annual flu shots, mammograms and colonoscopies.

And a big one, Obamacare extended Medicare's solvency by more than a decade, until 2029, giving more time to figure out how to make the program permanently solvent.

If Obamacare is repealed and replaced, these benefits will disappear and more important for Ryan, he will have already made a major inroad into killing Medicare without even needing to make a targeted effort.

And, he is willing to lie to make Medicare Phase Out happen.

PAUL RYAN'S TACTICS FROM *'S PLAYBOOK
Here is an interview with Ryan from last week with host Brent Baier on Fox News - transcript and commentary from Talking Points Memo:

”What people don't realize,” Ryan told Baier, “is because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke, medicare is going to have price controls because of Obamacare, Medicaid is in fiscal straits.

“You have to deal with those issues if you are going to repeal and replace Obamacare. Medicare has serious problems [because of] Obamacare.”

Now, here is editor of Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall, who has saved me hours of research in his ongoing attention to and coverage of Medicare's peril for which I am enormously grateful:

”First, Ryan claims that Obamacare has put Medicare under deeper financial stress.” writes Marshall. “Precisely the opposite is true. And it's so straightforward Ryan unquestionably knows this. The Affordable Care Act actually extended Medicare's solvency by more than a decade. Ryan's claim is flat out false.

“Second, I've heard a few people say that it's not 100% clear here that Ryan is calling for Medicare phase out. It IS 100% clear. Ryan has a standard, openly enunciated position in favor of Medicare Phase Out. It's on his website. It's explained explicitly right there.”

As the new administration prepares to take power in January, both health programs are in trouble and those who want to kill them will continue to lie. It is up to us to stem that tide and when the time comes to take action.

Meanwhile, keep your eye on Talking Points Memo, also known as TPM. Josh Marshall and his crew are doing a sensational job tracking this issue.

ONE BRIGHT SPOT
The bright spot in this scenario to trash both Obamacare and Medicare is that in addition to the 22 million people with Obamacare who like that pre-existing condition provision and 26-year-old children's coverage provision, there are an additional 56 million insured with Medicare who like that program – even love it.

With all those people, I suspect we, the American people, may have some leverage over this health coverage threat.

There is much more to know about it and plans to make but geez, this has been a hard week for most of us, working out how we feel and what to do about our new world order.

And I haven't made it any easier – the posts this week have been dense to wade through, including this one.

So let's give ourselves a break. There is a holiday coming up next week, time to relax a little – not that I won't be here on the usual days, I just won't ask as much of you or me for a few days.

OH, WAIT A MINUTE: I woke this morning to a pertinent Op-Ed from economist Paul Krugman in The New York Times. It is titled "The Medicare Killers" and you should read it. Here is the link.

If you don't subscribe to The Times or you have used up your monthly allotment of stories, email me (Contact link above) and I'll send the text to you. Well, I'll be out of the house today until mid-afternoon west coast time but after that I can do it.


Advice for Living in an Autocracy

Jan Adams, who keeps her own blog – never more appropriately titled than now, Can It Happen Here? - left this message on Monday's post:

”So glad that TGB will be here, NOT normalizing this catastrophe. Many of us may not live to see a turnabout from this white-lash (Van Jones' appropriate phrasing.) But we sure need to do everything we can in our own age group to help people understand that another way is possible.

“There will be avenues, campaigns, resistance to mistreatment and injustice in which we can participate. We may sometimes feel we have less to lose than younger folks and under conditions of autocracy, that can be freeing.”

Jan has been organizing political campaigns, protests and resistance for liberal and progressive causes all her life and she knows well whereof she speaks.

Soon enough I will alert you to some of the first acts of the * administration that affect elders. But before that, we need to go to school.

As Jan suggests in her comment, we are now engaged in a sustained struggle and we need to ground ourselves in exactly what it is we are opposing and how, generally, to go about it.

That's what today's post is for. It is much longer than even my wordier ones in the past but the information (not my own) is deeply useful and important for us to know. So I hope you will sit back and read it all or take a little at a time here and there throughout the day.

AUTOCRACY: RULES FOR SURVIVAL
We now live in an autocracy. Some people have been tossing around the word fascism but history makes that a more loaded term than I am willing to embrace. Yet.

That section headline just above, as it happens, is the title of an article published last week in The New York Review of Books. It is a survival manual for living in such a country as it names, written by Masha Gessen.

Gessen is a Russian/American journalist and activist who is the author of several books about Russia, including one on the Russian feminist punk rock protest group Pussy Riot, and The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.

Autocracy is something Ms. Gessen knows about from first-hand experience and which you and I know little.

As I read it the first time (and in each subsequent reading, it rang true in every way making me want to say to you, “take heed, take heed.” Here are some excerpts from the main points:

”[*] is also probably the first candidate in history to win the presidency despite having been shown repeatedly by the national media to be a chronic liar, sexual predator, serial tax-avoider, and race-baiter who has attracted the likes of the Ku Klux Klan.

“Most important, Trump is the first candidate in memory who ran not for president but for autocrat—and won.

“I have lived in autocracies most of my life, and have spent much of my career writing about Vladimir Putin’s Russia. I have learned a few rules for surviving in an autocracy and salvaging your sanity and self-respect. It might be worth considering them now:

Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. “He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization...

“Back in the 1930s, The New York Times assured its readers that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was all posture.

“More recently, the same newspaper made a telling choice between two statements made by Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov following a police crackdown on protesters in Moscow: 'The police acted mildly—I would have liked them to act more harshly' rather than those protesters’ 'liver should have been spread all over the pavement.' “Perhaps the journalists could not believe their ears. But they should—both in the Russian case, and in the American one.

“For all the admiration Trump has expressed for Putin, the two men are very different; if anything, there is even more reason to listen to everything Trump has said. He has no political establishment into which to fold himself following the campaign, and therefore no reason to shed his campaign rhetoric.

Rule #2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality. “Consider the financial markets this week, which, having tanked overnight, rebounded following the Clinton and Obama speeches. Confronted with political volatility, the markets become suckers for calming rhetoric from authority figures. So do people.

“Panic can be neutralized by falsely reassuring words about how the world as we know it has not ended. It is a fact that the world did not end on November 8 nor at any previous time in history. Yet history has seen many catastrophes, and most of them unfolded over time. That time included periods of relative calm.

Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. “It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system; the judiciary collapsed unnoticed...

"The national press is likely to be among the first institutional victims of Trumpism. There is no law that requires the presidential administration to hold daily briefings, none that guarantees media access to the White House.

“Many journalists may soon face a dilemma long familiar to those of us who have worked under autocracies: fall in line or forfeit access. There is no good solution (even if there is a right answer), for journalism is difficult and sometimes impossible without access to information.

Rule #4: Be outraged. “If you follow Rule #1 and believe what the autocrat-elect is saying, you will not be surprised. But in the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock.

“This will lead people to call you unreasonable and hysterical, and to accuse you of overreacting. It is no fun to be the only hysterical person in the room. Prepare yourself.

Rule #5: "Don’t make compromises. Like Ted Cruz [did]..."

Rule #6: "Remember the future. "Nothing lasts forever. Donald Trump certainly will not, and Trumpism, to the extent that it is centered on Trump’s persona, will not either.

“Failure to imagine the future may have lost the Democrats this election. They offered no vision of the future to counterbalance Trump’s all-too-familiar white-populist vision of an imaginary past.

“They had also long ignored the strange and outdated institutions of American democracy that call out for reform—like the electoral college, which has now cost the Democratic Party two elections in which Republicans won with the minority of the popular vote.

“That should not be normal. But resistance—stubborn, uncompromising, outraged—should be.”

Read – in fact, study - Masha Gessen's entire article at The New York Review of Books website. You won't be sorry and you will learn a lot.

Here, then, are half a dozen other good articles I found about how to resist in this frightening new world we find ourselves in:

SOME IDEAS ABOUT WHAT TO DO NOW
Michael Moore is an experienced protestor and he is highly visible which helps get people to pay attention.

“This is his anti-* to-do list. Among the items: commit to a vigorous fight and push for an amendment to eliminate the Electoral College.

EMBRACE POLITICS AND NON-CORPORATE MEDIA
John Schwartz at The Intercept has some ideas, too, about what to do next: Make politics one of the centers of your life; * succeeded by telling a story – now we need a story; support non-corporate media; and more.

STAY ANGRY
At the Washington Post, the esteemed Leon Wieseltier – writer, philosopher and son of Holocaust survivors - ends his essay titled “Stay angry. That’s the only way to uphold principles in Trump’s America,” thusly:

”The prettification of Donald Trump has begun. When a crushed Hillary Clinton graciously asked that Trump be given 'a chance to succeed,' I confess that I felt no such graciousness. This made me as small as Mitch McConnell, I know.

“But if Trump succeeds, America may fail; and it is America, its values and its interests, whose success matters most desperately to me. No cooling off, then. We must stay hot for America.

“The political liberty that we cherish in this precious republic is most purely and exhilaratingly experienced as the liberty to oppose.”

THE PROPER RESPONSE IS STEELY RESOLVE
Jonathan Chait writing in New York magazine about what we should do now:

“Trump’s allies in Congress are prepared to collect on their devil’s bargain. House Speaker Paul Ryan described the election as a 'mandate' — a curious term for an election in which his party will finish second in the national vote — and Republicans will move with maximal haste on plans to cut taxes for the rich, deregulate the financial industry, and cut social spending for the poor.

“There is no other conceivable course of action: The Republican Party in Washington has been organized over the last three decades as a machine to redistribute resources upward....

“Despair is a counterproductive response. So is denial — an easy temptation in the wake of the inevitable postelection pleasantries and displays of respect needed to maintain the peaceful transfer of power.

“The proper response is steely resolve to wage the fight of our lives.”

HOPE FOR THE BEST, PREPARE FOR THE WORST
A couple of days ago, Van Jones, co-founder of Color for Change and president of the social justice incubator Dream Corps, gave an interview to Mother Jones about our new predicament:

”...we need to put pressure on Trump, to speak out very forcefully that he's the president of all Americans including Muslims, and that his administration, including his law enforcement, is going to take very, very seriously any crimes against any Americas based on their race or their faith, including Muslims.

“He needs to send that signal very, very soon and very, very clearly. Otherwise, he's going to be seen as culpable. And his silence may be interpreted as encouragement, rightly or wrongly.

“I think we have every reason to hope for the best but expect and prepare for the worst. It is conceivable that maybe he won't feel the need to throw so much raw meat at his base and might govern reasonably, but it seems more likely that he'll follow the usual pattern of demagogues.”

I encourage you to read all of these in their entirety. But if you have time only for one, please make it Masha Gessen's rules for survival in an autocracy – because that's where we live now and we need to know more about how to do that.


John Oliver on the 2016 Presidential Election

This is not the usual quadrennial shift in politics we're having in the United States. It is a new world. Everything is upside down. There is nothing we can count on. All we are accustomed to is up for grabs.

Right now, most of the media – big-time newspapers, cable and network television news, a variety of news websites and a bunch of self-important, know-it-all pundits including Oprah Winfrey – are busy normalizing the president-elect. “Give him a chance,” they say, “things will be fine.”

No, things will not be fine.

His second appointment to the highest tier of White House advisers is a man who has spent recent years promoting, even celebrating, white nationalism in addition to publishing vicious anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and anti-immigration attacks at Breitbart News where he was chairman before joining the * campaign.

Does anyone think it gets better from here? How about Newt Gingrich for secretary of state? Rudy Giuliani for attorney general, anyone? Or Ben Carson for education secretary? Sarah Palin's name has been bandied about too.

* is not a normal politician, not even a normal person. Do not allow the media to convince you he is. His sexist, xenophobic, racist and hateful statements are not just another policy position.

We will talk about all this later but Tuesdays at TGB are usually a day off so I'll keep it short.

Sunday night on his HBO program, Last Week Tomight, host John Oliver warned against normalizing * and made a passionate call for action by all of us.

He makes a good start on some of the steps we can take to fight back and there will be additional ideas at this blog in the coming days, weeks and months.

This is the final Last Week Tonight show of 2016. It will return early in 2017. (As is often the case with Oliver, there is a lot of profanity, a quite prolonged section of it toward the end. It's okay. It won't harm you.)


An Elder's Notes on the New World Order

We often talk about how time speeds up as we grow older. It's true. Almost every morning when I brush my teeth, I look in the mirror and think, “Didn't I do this just a few minutes ago?” It feels that way.

Quite the opposite last week. After the election results were in, it felt like each day would never end. It must be lunch time, I would think, glance at the clock and see that it was 10:30AM. The next time I had that thought and checked the time, it was 10:45AM. And so on all throughout the week, like trudging through waist-deep mud.

Lifelong media maven that I am – both professionally and personally – I let go of most of it, particularly television news channels because I cannot bear to see or hear that person who is now president-elect.

I do not expect that to change much in the coming months and years and I have plenty of practice. In the two terms of the Bush II administration, I became adept at automatically pushing the mute button when his visage appeared.

That doesn't mean I haven't kept up – mostly via print media - just enough news to know how regime change is moving along in both official circles and among the public.

Along the way, I ran into some interesting thinkers who are grappling with options for those who oppose the new order in government and which I will share with you soon.

Today, however, some scattered notes and thoughts from the past week.

THE TGB CONVERSATION
What an extraordinary outcry from dozens of you last Friday – a record number of blog comments and Facebook likes.

There is a lot of shared pain, confusion and disbelief among us and I was grateful, reading it all, that somehow TGB has become a safe haven for people who reject the bigotry, misogyny, hate and authoritarianism that is the bedrock of the administration that will take power in January.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THAT COIN
There was an unusually high number of email unsubscribes from TGB on Friday and through the weekend.

The email distribution service I use offers several choices of reasons for people who unsubscribe to let me know why they are leaving and the most popular in this case was “Offensive, strongly disagree or disapprove.”

Some others - apparently lacking the courage of their conviction – chose “Other or will not disclose.”

However, there is a satisfying number of new subscribers too who, I hope, will soon be joining our conversation.

TWO GOOD PROTEST SUGGESTIONS
The Republican party will soon control it all - the White House, both houses of Congress, a majority at the Supreme Court before long and, as of this election, in 24 states, both the governorship and the legislature.

It is a total takeover and that requires response. I'll be talking a lot about what we can do in days and weeks to come but today, two small things from your comments.

ASTERISK *. Last Friday, a couple of people asked what SFV stood for in my post. It is an acronym for “short-fingered vulgarian” which is my favorite epithet for the Republican candidate to come out of the campaign.

I thought I might use it in place of the president-elect's and eventual president's name which I now will not say or write. But several of you used the asterisk a la Doonesbury and that, I think, is a better idea for this blog: * in place of the name.

SAFETY PINS. Several of you on Friday mentioned safety pins and I have not left the house without one on my jacket, sweater, lapel, etc. since then.

If you are unfamiliar with this protest, it began in Britain last June when people who disagreed with the Brexit vote began wearing safety pins to show solidarity with immigrants and people of color who were victims of racist attacks, and now Americans have adopted it.

Safety Pins

(On Saturday morning, MSNBC host Joy Reid took off her safety pin to give to an obviously pleased Michael Moore.)

That same day, I bought a box of safety pins and in addition to always wearing one, I keep a few with me to pass out when people ask what it means. This is a good thing for all of us to do – think of it as today's POW bracelet, a symbol to call attention.

THE ELDER VOTE
There are a zillion ways to slice and dice the electorate. By political affiliation. Gender. Income. Education. Issues. Ethnicity. Religion. Special interests. And, ahem, age.

Pundits and reporters have attributed the outcome of Tuesday's vote to these divisions and others too. As with all previous elections since I made ageing my daily work, elders as a group have again embarrassed: 53 percent of people 45 and older voted for *. Here's the graph:

Vote By Age Chart

We must not forget this – that old people bear some of the responsibility for the fix our country finds itself in. Maybe if more of my age cohort had voted differently we wouldn't be where we are now, facing what is likely to be an unfortunate future for all age groups.

WHAT CAN WE DO?
The last time I felt this strongly about working for change was in the 1960s during the civil rights and women's movements. Like many of you, I marched and petitioned and canvassed and in my case, produced a lot of radio shows to help spread the word.

It's half a century later now and I can't do as much in person as before nor can some other elders due to waning energy, illness, disability and other normal changes of age.

But this time we have a powerful and effective new tool that did not exist 50 years ago: the internet. That is a great advantage. It widens of the field of activists and while we will rely greatly on younger people to show up in person, old people can help too. Watch this space for more to come.

WHAT'S NEXT
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is beside himself with glee at this election. He has wanted to privatize Medicare and Social Security for as long as he has been in Congress and this is his best chance yet.

It is likely he will make his first attempt at about two minutes after the inauguration ceremony ends on 20 January so we need to be prepared and we'll be discussing that here soon.

With Republican control of every lever of government now, we must be vigilant and ready to move quickly all the time.

MEANWHILE
Breathe. It is the healthiest thing we each can do for ourselves and just in time, The New York Times is on it:

”Studies have found...that breathing practices can help reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder.

“'Breathing is massively practical,' says Belisa Vranich, a psychologist and author of the book Breathe, to be published in December. 'It’s meditation for people who can’t meditate.'”

You can find the story and several simple breathing techniques here but for those of you who do not subscribe to The Times and have used up your monthly allotment of stories, here is the most basic technique:

  1. Sitting upright or lying down, place your hands on your belly.

  2. Slowly breathe in, expanding your belly, to the count of five.

  3. Pause.

  4. Slowly breathe out to the count of six.

  5. Work your way up to practicing this pattern for 10 to 20 minutes a day.

ONE MORE THING
When Time Goes By began 15 years ago, the intention was - and still is - to explore growing old in all its aspects and it has hardly deviated in all that time. But now, an event of this magnitude needs regular attention too.

In no way am I abandoning the original mission – just expanding it to include what I believe is a national, even international emergency. This is a great time to be a white male; not so much everyone else and I cannot ignore that. So TGB will handle both of these issues now.


U.S. Election Day 2016

Yes, yes - I don't usually publish on Tuesday but even is a small way it seems right to mark the end of what John Oliver calls below, our long election nightmare. Or could it be just the beginning? I suppose, now, we will soon know.

Here are two short videos, John Oliver's final words on the campaign from his Sunday HBO program, Last Week Tonight. I couldn't decide on the best order to present them so if you think I've erred, just rearrange them in your head.

See you back here tomorrow, rain or shine, win or lose.