NEWS & OPINION : AIR STRIKE IN SYRIA; GOVERNOR BAKER AND THE STATE BUDGET; GORSUCH CONFIRMED

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^ General H. R. McMaster, President Trump’s National Security Council chairman, a man with a combat record unmatched recently, devised the two plan options, of which the President chose one, to make last night’s strike

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Air Strike in Syria

Last night the President took action against Syria’s tyrant Bashar Assad. (Reports say that 59) Tomahawk missiles struck the Sharyat air field whence Assad launched his deadly sarin gas bombing raid against villages in Syria’s Idlib province.

I fully approve this strike and hope there will be more once the details of a plan are agreed to and after the President secures an authorization from Congress to prosecute the defeat of Assad and his regime.

As for the first strike, I disagree that it was unlawful of the President to take. Long deliberation would render the strike’s deadly effectiveness moot. Assad had to know, and know immediately, that we  will not stand by while he violates all the war agreements made by the entire world 100 years ago, one of which is outlawing the use of weaponized poisons.

We are told that Russia will interfere with future attacks. Such threats are easy to make. If Russia’s murderous dictator wants to try the resolve of the free world, let him. He has had some success, recently, breaking the unity of purpose of the West; if he moves to resist our air strikes with war of his own, he will lose everything his devious cyber wars have gained, will assure rather that the NATO alliance becomes more resolute against him than ever. Does Putin really want to lose all his gains for the sake of a torturing, murderous petty tyrant far from Russia’s borders ?

The bigger difficulty of any Syria attacks arises from Iran. Assad is Iran’s client, toward whose continuation in power Iran and its proxy armies have committed tens of thousands of fighters and much weaponry. Iran cannot accede to having its ally ruined. Yet is Assad himself Iran’s bet ? One wonders if Iran would not be just as well off, strategically, being the top ally of a post-Assad Syrian government. Iran’s involvement can keep the peace after Assad is gone, and what better guarantee does it have of future influence in Syria than being peace after Assad’s most important guarantor ?

The other factors for war planners to consider are (1) how to keep Israel safe if Assad decides to attack it and (2) what position will Syria’s Kurds win for their effective victories and unmatched fighting skills ? Also what to do about Syrian refugees.

Israel first : as I see it, Assad attacking means nothing more than did Saddam Hussein’s attacks in 1991. Israel possesses our most effective missile-fighting defense. It deployed the predecesssor of that weapon very effectively in 1991. It acn do so again. As for the Kurds, a no fly/ no drive zone is all that is needed to cover the Kurdish region’s security. The same measure secured as much for Iraq’s Kurds after 1991. Lastly, the refugees. Whatever President Trump had in mind against refugees before, it can no longer stand. Our commitment to act in Syria obliges us to take on the consequences of our action. The war is ours now, so must its civilian victims be ours as well.

Governor Baker and the State’s Budget

For at least a year I have been talking about the state’s revenue riddle. My prediction was that Massachusetts would not be able to fund itself, much less, initiate, beyond the current fiscal year if we did not secure new revenue. The time has now arrived. The Fiscal Year 2018 Budget had a shortfall of money, which could only be resolved by every accounting device that Governor Baker could wield. There will be no such magic next year. The state’s FY 2019 Budget will require substantial more revenue.

Consider all the needs the Budget must satisfy :

(1) the MBTA still requires almost everything by way of infrastructure upgrades, new cars and locomotives, support system efficiency, upgraded passenger amenities (especially wi-fi in buses and commuter rail). The pension and retirement system must be better managed and fully funded. The Green Line Extension will begin construction. New commuter rail services must be initiated, including small-van routes and van-sized connectors. None of these can be accomplished without money infusions. The T has made substantial savings under Governor Baker’s management, but that device seems used up now. Recent money saving proposals have cut into actual service and thus were rejected.

(2) the state’s health care cost bases are undergoing complete restructuring. Baker told me last Fall that it might take five years to complete and would cost many billions of dollars that the state doesn’t have.

(3) the opioid addiction epidemic continues, is actually worsening, even as the number of beds for addicts requiring treatment grows more slowly than that of new patients.

(4) mental health treatment continues to suffer from the failures of 1980s de-institutionalization. One positive development, however, is the total repurposing of the Bridgdewater institution housing criminally insane persons.

(5) because the teachers’ unions and their parent allies decisively won last year’/s fight about charter school expansion, publicly funded schools now dominate education budgeting. School district budgets groan under the enormous and increasing burdens of teacher and staff salaries and benefits — in Boston, these account for 85 to 87 percent of the entire $ 1.06 billion school allocation. For fiscal 2019 and forward, public school budgets will likely increase by at least three to five percent annually even if we undertake no school reforms, or longer school days, or pre-school schooling — all oif which we will probably establish despite. Where will the money come from ? How will we assure continued improvement in school spresenyly under-performing ?

(6) charter schools, which help to close the “achievement gap” and thus prepare children less favored by family income or parental motivation for actual employment, have been blocked from moving to serve at least 32,000 city kids every year, and probably many more than that “official list” number. how will we now educate those 32,000 kids well enough that they can perform at least entry level jobs ?

(7) where will the state funds be for additional transit lines, train routes, bike and hired ride lanes, parking, garaging ?

The 2018 ballot will offer voters a two-tier tax proposal that proponents hope to use to fund transportation and education expansions. The history of such earmarked revenue doesn’t support that expectation. the money belongs to the legislature, and it appropriates as it sees fit. that’s what happened to the cigarette tax revenue that as supposed to be set aside for transportation. It didn’t go as planned.

In that case, what WILL the plan be ? I suspect there’ll be a move to tax online commerce, using point of sale as the nexus of a sales tax and the Constitution’s commerce clause as the basis for a challenge to it. This is one fight I think worth fighting. There is no reason why online sales of goods should enjoy a price advantage over bricks and mortar goods sales. the only effect that advantage has is to penalize bricks and mortar businesses. I hope that Governor Baker will agree with the proposal. The success of his upcoming state budgets could depend on it.

Judge Gorsuch

You can now call him “Justice Gorsuch.” He was confirmed by a vote of 54 to 45. Three Democrats joined 51 Republicans (Georgia’s Johnny Isakson did not vote).

I have supported the nomination since the day after it was announced, for reasons given in several columns and fully explained therein. I shall examine Justice Gorsuch’s long and challenging major opinions in a future column.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

NEWS & OPINION : THE GORSUCH DEBATE; FRAMINGHAM; SANCTUARY CITIES

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^ Framingham Charter Commission members celebrate vote to make it a City. From Left : Janet Leo9mbruno, MK Feeney, Jason Smith, John Stefanini

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Judge Gorsuch

Readers of this column know my feelings about the nomination of Judge Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. As the confirmation vote draws close — Senator McConnell says he’ll hold it on Friday — the devolution of what used to be an occasion for restraint continues . You already know my view, but it’s worth restating :

(1) Judge Gorsuch argues brilliantly for his view of the law, one in which the law is held to mean what it says and says what it means, a test which he applies rigorously.

(2) My view of Constitutional interpretation is different. I think that laws must be allowed a measure of flexibility because real life doesn’t precisely reflect rules written in words. An excellent example is yesterday’s 7th Circuit decision that the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s disallowing workplace discrimination on the basis of sex necessarily incorporates sexual orientation.

(3) Judge Gorsuch would surely decide opposite. He would have good grounds for doing so : the sex of an individual, as contemplated in the 1964 law, refers to biology only. Importing into that law the concept of orientation, which clearly the 1964 law did not have in mind, rests entirely on the theory that the application of a law can expand, or change, over time as life and understanding of it evolves.

(4) sanctioning the evolving of a law seems just to most of us; yet Gorsuch would argue that any expansion was not agreed to by those who made the 1964 law, and that the agreement factor is crucial and cannot be tampered. He’d argue that disagreement about what expansions to allow undermines consensus about the law, and that consensus is vital: without it, the law weakens.

(5) Gorsuch’s point is a strong one. So what to do ? I’m not about to answer that right now. What I do want is that Gorsuch’s voice join the deliberations among the nine Justices when a case is up for decision. I want his voice there because his view cannot be lightly dismissed by a Court charged with making rulings that must stand the test of time just6 as the laws must.

The arguments being made by Gorusch’s 41 opponents fail. They. amount to saying : we don’t like how he will probably rule. Which amounts to saying that to win t.heir vote, a nominee must agree to rule as they would like. No Senator, and no person, has any right to deposit a Justice’s thinking in their bank. Other Senators say their opposition is payback for the Republican Senators disgraceful refusing to accord Merrick Garland a hearing and vote. That was indeed an act of bad faith subverting Constitutional duty; but the “payback” Democrats have aggravated that irresponsibility rather than resolve it. Then there are Democrats who advance the proposition that no nominee presented by a President under investigation for potential treason should be considered. This view is comic eyewash. Those who make it know full well that even an impeached President’s fully Constitutional acts — and a Justice nomination is one — are not voided by his or her impeachment.

I’ve had it with the selfishness of partisan politics. Either we are governed by the Constitution, or we aren’t. Either we welcome to the High Court jurists of opposing views or we abet Animal Farm.

Granted, that most of the condemn-worthy actions being taken by the Senate’s Gorsuch opponents result from pressure put on them by outraged activist constituents. The indulgent extremism overtaking political participation, on both sides, hurts everybody, yet there seems to be no stopping it. We are rolling headlong toward anarchy or civil war, and right now I see no one in a leadership position who is ready to oppose it, or even to call it out; just the opposite. Most politicians caught up in the extremist flood are happy to stoke it, and the rest are afraid to stand in its way. We will someday rue their cowardice and cynicism.

Framingham

Last night 11,263 voters in the state’s largest town voted to make it a City with a May.or and an elected 11 person Council. The vote was close, as I expected : structural change is hard to make good. Heck, the Massachusetts Ratification convention of 1787 approved the  Constitution by only three (3) votes. Here are the pecinct totals:

(1) Yes 566  No 562 ;   (2) Yes 566  No 559;   (3) Yes 305  No 440;   (4) Yes 572  No 546;   (5) Yes 492  No 498;   (6) Yes 482  No 461;   (7) Yes 417  No 370;   (8) Yes 374  No 394;  (9) Yes 207  No 233;   (10) Yes 126  No 116;   (11) Yes 566  No 455;   (12) Yes 187  No 220;   (13) Yes 248 No 243;  (14) Yes 132  No 114;   (15) Yes 204  No 154;   (16) Yes 61  No 80;   (17) Yes 27  No 45;   (18) Yes 177 No 118.

Yes won 11 precincts, No won 7. The Brazilian “South Side” voted particularly strongly in favor : Yes 381, No 272. Because the very large “North Side” precincts’ vote was split almost evenly — Yes won precincts 1, 2, 4, and 5 by just 31 votes — the “South Side” really made the difference. And you can add the “downtown” precinct (11) to that mix. There, Yes tallied 111 votes more than No.

One of the chief purposes of the City proposal was to give stronger power to the new City’s Brazilian community — some 25 percent of Framingham’s almost 70,000 people. The four Brazilian precincts will now elect two district Councillors with significant authority that should attract — and maybe inspire — ambitious politicians. That and the new Mayoral office, sure to be a significant one state-wide, given Framingham’s strategic location halfway from Worcester to Boston and close to Route 495, the Mass Turnpike, and Route 128.

Sanctuary Cities

Last night the town of Ipswich’s selectmen voted unanimously to make it a sanctuary. Five nights prior, the City of Salem voted the same. Boston, Newton, Cambridge, and Somerville have already voted likewise; other of Massachusetts’ 351 municipalities are sure to follow.

Just as our state did after the enactment in 1850 of the notorious Fugitive Slave Law, so we do today : resist kidnappers of our vulnerable neighbors. May our resistance to the Immigration Police strengthen and broaden — and forge a new “underground railroad” if need be — until the entire state becomes safe for those who have fled one oppression only to become another oppression’s target once again.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THE CONSTITUTION : AN EXPANSIONIST DOCUMENT

Brennan

^ Mr. Justice Brennan, the judicial voice of Expansionism : “the Constitution is for the little guy”

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It is time to bring into the argument over Judge Gorsuch the name of that great voice of Constitutional expansionism, Justice Brennan, who served on the Court from 1956 to 1990.

Much has been made, during the hearings concerning the President’s nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court seat now vacant, of the Constitutional jurisprudence known as “originalism.” In a column that I posted at this blog about six months ago, I tried to explain what “originalism” means and why it must be taken very seriously as a means of interpreting the Constitution. (If you would like to read my presentation, you can do so here :  https://hereandsphere.com/2017/02/01/the-gorsuch-comination-and-its-political-consequences/?frame-nonce=cc802aa8bd )

Originalism is not, of course, the only major tradition of Constitutional interpretation. In Sunday’s Boston Globe, Professor Mary Bilder argued a case for Constitutional law quite opposite. In her view, the long negotiations that led through several drafts before a final version of the Constitution was agreed to suggest that for the Framers, the meanings of the various clauses therein were pretty much ad hoc — good for the moment but hardly binding upon future situations unforeseeable and unknowable. She argues that the Constitution can be altered in an equally ad hoc way as circumstances seem to require.

I find her view radical in application and unsupportable in fact. Negotiations precede almost every agreement; they lead up to every contract. In the law of cases and controversies, settlement negotiations, and their terms,. are inadmissible as evidence, and the reason for that is obvious : unless agreed to, the various proposals made in negotiation are nothing but a suggestion — no agreement is attached to them at all until they are actually agreed to, at which point a suggestion becomes an enforceable agreement. It is certainly helpful to examine the Framers’ negotiations as an aid to discerning what their actual agreements meant; but it subverts the entire notion of agreement to claim that suggestions made during discussion can be imported into the agreement itself.

We need not credit Professor Bilder’s overreach. A case for an ezxpansionist view — Justice Brennan’s view, the view that there is judicial urgency particular to an actual case — and that this urgency cannot be argued away by recourse to textual analysis — of the Constitution can be made within the four corners of the document itself.

The Constitution grants to Congress power to do many things in the future, things left as general as feasible:

The Congress shall have power

Thus we see that the Constitution itself, as agreed to, witho0ut having to import into it potential clauses that were NOT agreed to, offers interpreters a basis for applying its covenants to events well into the future and far beyond the lives or foresight of any or all the Framers.

Furthermore, the Constitution has been amended; and those amendments have equal standing with the original document because they have been adopted in accord with a procedure agreed to. Yet why amend the Constitution, rather than merely reapply it ad hoc ? And, conversely, why do not every Constitutional dispute require amendment to settle ? Here we see two contrasting principles which Professor Bilder do0es not discuss. On the one hand, amendment has been necessary, or felt to be necessary, in cases when the Supreme Court has held a proposed law to contravene the Constitution, or when the amendment in question clearly altered a precept in the original agreement (such as female suffrage, or the two term limit for President). Yet major Supreme Court decisions — as well as those that required an amendment to change — have changed what successive generations had thought the Constitution to require; and the only way in which those Court decisions can operate is by changing Constitutional assumptions.

Some such changes have been seen by many as an overreach: but for the most part that’s because those who see overreach have had their own, contrary assumptions about the document — assumptions that have no more claim to being clear than the interpretations given by the Court.

The difficult here cannot be willed away. The Framers did not specify rights of privacy, or abortion, or contraception, not because they opposed these, or sanctioned them, but because (1) they did not exist and (2) had they existed, they may well have been seen as too specific to command explicit mention in the general language that pertains throughout the Constitution. Again I would argue that the general nature of Constitutional covenants anticipates that future disputes are both foreseen and not to be prejudged; and that only basic principles are to be maintained when such unpredict6ed disputes come to the judging table.

The Constitution exists to provide everybody subject to it a path to embrace it and to be bettered, civically, by it. The framers did not — could not — know who the people would be who their agreement was intended to bind, and the language of their agreement contains within itself that invitation to embrace the unanticipated : unexpected people and unimagined events; and it is for today, the day of judging, that a judgment must apply these words that invite — even beg for — sensible elucidation.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

IMPEACHMENT, AND THE RUSSIAN ATTACK UPON OUR DEMOCRACY : WHAT CAN, OR SHOULD NOT, BE DONE ABOUT IT ?

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^ if there is impeachment, he becomes President. Then what ?

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Mr. Trump may well be impeached. Certainly there are numerous grounds for doing so : failure to take care that the Laws be executed; emoluments; collusion with Russia’s cyber war to aid his campaign; and many more potential cases. Yet impeachment, as traumatic a sit is, is the easy part. If convicted by the full Senate, Mr. Trump ceases to occupy the Presidency. Mr. Pence becomes President, end of story.

As I see it, that is not the end of the story at all. If the collusion with Russia’s cyber war is proven, the entire election becomes illegitimate, a coup rather than an election. But how to respond ? Not simple at all. Here’s how I see it :

1.It is almost impossible to prove that any collaboration by Mr. Trump with Russia caused his win. People vote by secret ballot. Even if thousands of voters in several close-run states were to come forward and say that stuff circulated via Russian cyber attacks changed their vote, how can that be proved a year or more after the fact ?

2.Even if Russia’s war upon our election, with collusion by Mr. Trump, COULD be proved to have changed the result, there is no Constitutional provision for calling a new election, nor could any such new election be fair; the charges of treason would override every other issue, and it is imperative that our elections be decided on our own issues, not by treasons and foreign attacks.

3.Treason is not a new crime. It is, in fact, a very common one in the long history of Western Civilization. The penalty for it is always been personal to the traitor: he (or she) is cast out, the system continues on as if the traitor had never been. (Note : in many treasons the family of the traitor has also suffered, and his or her nearest abettors. But the general principle stands.)

4.The difficulty for us is that our Vice President owes his election to that of his ticket leader. Thus the treason of Mr. Trump taints the election of Mr. Pence. Does that disqualify him ? How can it ? I say it does not. When Richard Nixon resigned under imminent impeachment, his vice President took office. Granted that Gerald Ford had not been elected; but he had been designated. Does that precedent control ? I say it does.

5.Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine could well claim, in the scenario I am setting forth, that they, not Mike Pence, should take office. But there is no legitimate way that they can do so. One can assert that, as Clinton and Kaine won the popular vote by almost three million votes, the popular vote, in a treason context, should control: but there is no Constitutional basis for this assertion. We can amend the Constitution to change the electoral vote system to a popular vote: but that is a revolutionary change that violates the first principle of my scenario, that a treason should affect only the traitor, never the system.

6.As I see it, the proper outcome is to let Mike Pence be sworn in as President and then,m at the next regular election, in 2020, let the voters decide whether to continue him in office. This is what happened with Gerald Ford.

All that remains to be discussed is, how do we prevent future Russian, or any other nation’s, cyber war upon our system ? And how do we prevent treasonous collusions by our own candidates ? There’s no easy answer, but clearly our national government is now fully aware of the gravity of foreign cyber war — I think nobody in Washington had any idea that what was done could, or would, actually BE done — and will take all the available cyber steps available to stop a repeat occurrence. Our democracy is rarely quick off the mark; our enemy usually gets the fi8rst blow. But we are also implacable in response, and that is what our CIA, FBI, NSC, and military IC need now to be. They are aware of it now and, I am sure, drastically focused on stopping it.

Lastly, the mainstream media needs to be more vigilant about foreign nations’ cyber attacks upon us. There should never be any room for “fake news.” The law of libel, aggressively applied, can put an end to most of it, and should. But the voters also bear prime responsibility. It is OK — maybe — to be fooled once, but not twice.

We need to apply to all news items Ronald Reagan’s brilliant epithet : “trust, but verify.”

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

SALEM BECOMES A SANCTUARY

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14-year-old Max McAuliffe spoke in favor at the hearing : “if the Sheriff of Bristol wants to come arrest us for adopting this ordinance, he can take me first: because we are Salem and we are united !

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Last night, after a town hall that continued for more than four hours, Salem’s City Council voted to make it a Sanctuary City. The vote was seven in favor, four opposed.

What says the ordinance approved by the Council ? You can read it all in the ordinance linked here (it’s a 15-page PDF, so take your time):

http://www.salem.com/sites/salemma/files/uploads/salem_sanctuary_for_peace_-_a_human_rights_declaration_0.pdf

The ordinance’s seven major provisions read totally plain vanilla, don’t they ?

Acknowledge the presence in Salem of undocumented persons; guarantee them all the rights and services which Salem accords to every other resident — no less, no more.

As more than one Councillor pointed out during the discussion, Salem is already according this to undocumented residents. So why was the ordinance in any way controversial, much less an occasion for at least 400 people crowding into the Bentley charter School]s assembly hall to speak in favor, or not in favor, of adopting it ?

The answer, of course, is that Mr. Trump has made undocumented immigrants his number one atrget, his excuse for everything he finds wrong with America, and thaqt he has a ton of virulent followers egging him on.

He won barely 25 percent of Salem’s vote; most Salem voters passionately detest him. And now comes a Sanctuary ordinance that puts the city officially on record recognizing, and extending its protection, to people who Trump says must be hounded out of the nation.  The city will now formally protect them from any deportation action by the Federal Immigration police (ICE)  — will refuse to assist the ICE in any way, might even warn them of impending ICE raids.

Many people spoke at the hearing; about four in five spoke in favor, and that’/s pretty much how I saw the entire audience’s ratio of support versus opposition. Mayor Driscoll spoke, too — she supported the ordinance — as did the city solicitor and Police Chief Butler. Scant wonder that the Council’s vote was such a clear win.

Nonetheless, the vote was not unanimous, unlike the Council vote in Boston upon a similar proposal.

Whatever else moves the dark hearts of Mr. Trump’s activists, immigration is first up. It’s his supporters’ obsession, their addiction, a bilious, gutter racism into which they pour the vilest language respecting neither age nor gender of those who presume to defend immigrants’ rights on social media.

At the Salem hearing last night a few of the opposed made their racial animus clear. As one man speaking against the ordinance said, “what about the white people of this city ?”

It is assumed that the undocumented Salemites being talked of are all Hispanic. They are not; but it was the Hispanic bogeyman that many in opposition were afraid of..

Most of the opposed said nothing so crass, but the implications of their allegations — that immigrants are a burden financially, that they commit more crimes than their numbers suggest, that they endanger the city being drug dealers — could not be missed. As Lucy Corchado, an Hispanic Salem activist said when her turn came to speak, “does not the city value our presence ?” Clearly most, of the opposition did not value it at all.

Of course none of this level of opposition is true. Salem’s undocumented people work incredibly hard at miserable jobs, initiate and operate basic community businesses, take care of their kids — do all the things that immigrant communities have always done when new to America and in the same way. It was easy for supporters of the ordinance to point out the absurdity of these claims.

More serious were allegations that if the city adopted this ordinance,  it would immediately lose $ 11,000,000 in Federal dollars which most agree are badly needed. Three of the four opposed Councillors cited this; and many in the huge audience asked for reassurance that their taxes would not balloon to make up such a large shortfall. Fortunately, the city solicitor — Salem’s city lawyer — reminded us all that the 10th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that no Federal authority can withhold duly appropriated Federal money to a “Sanctuary City:” because, as the Supreme Court has often held, Federal immigration law is exclusively Federal, and no Federal authority can compel any other government or jurisdiction to help enforce it.

Thus the proponents argued, and won the argument and the vote.

Which is not at all the summation of what took place.

By its vote, Salem’s City Council put the city’s 43,000 residents squarely on the side of a moral principle that no Federal dollars can buy off : that all residents of the city are worthy of every protrection and succor that the city can assure them; that no matter who you are, what you look like, what language you speak or what faith you practice (or no faith at all, as the case may be), or where you come from or how you got here, if you are here, you are OURS, and we will treat you as we treat our natural family; because you ARE our family.

And this principle is no radical innovation. It is guaranteed in Massachusetts’s state Constitution, which extends full rights even to visitors, not just residents, and to ALL residents, whatever their status. Much the same guarantee is stated in the Federal Constitutions’ 14th Amendment, adopted 150 years ago.

Last night Salem reaffirmed these venerable declarations, refreshed anew and brightly born for a long life ahead of them, a life which the people of Salem will nurture and encourage, no matter who disapproves, no matter what insults sulfurous souls hurl at us.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

THE MUGGLEBEE FILES : The T-Rex partnership and the industry that may face extinction

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^ Rex Tillerson as T-Rex

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Donald Trump has now signed an executive order to rollback Obama’s Climate Change initiatives. This was no surprise to anyone; it’s another sign of his siding with big business interests and, as he puts it, “make America wealthy again”.

For a change, he’s telling the truth. He’s just not very good at doing — by which I mean, succeeding at what he tries. This is important, because as many do not know, a major industry faces potential extinction, and Trump is trying to save it : an industry that has been very wealthy for a very long time. The apex predator on the planet.

Things have begun to change, along with the planet. CO2 emissions are have risen beyond safe levels; weather changes have wreaked economic havoc as these global forces adjust to mankind’s efforts to profit by fossil fuels; and certain interests have begun to combat the problem, giving rise to a new and progressive move toward sustainable energy.

Donald Trump’s election has brought this fight directly to the people of this planet. Yes, his substantial failures in the first 60 days foretell an incapacity to be an actual president. But in he did make one substantial choice that needs much more attention: Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.

Tillerson was the CEO of Exxon Mobile. He personally oversaw infrastructure investment and development in countless countries around the globe, making Exxon the single biggest company in the world. His exit from Exxon was a significant shift, but not without precedent; George W Bush was an oil man (though not a successful one). Nevertheless Big Oil had major influence in putting Bush into the White House in 2000. Big Oil has always played a role in politics, thanks to its enormity. It’s a serious business; its interests topple countries, empires, and despots.

One thing we learned during the Iraq War was how big oil took us to war, literally. War is expensive, and everything in war is not only based on oil but made of it — and runs on it. When an Administration decides to go to war, it needs the help and coordination of Big Oil.

In 2003, the launch of the Iraq War required the oil industry’s collusion. OPEC had to increase the flow of oil, so that its price could cheapen — thus reducing the war’s initial cost. How did they do that? They enlisted the Saudis, our allies.

Note this, however; Big Oil is American-based companies like Shell, Chevron, and Exxon Mobile. As for Middle Eastern oil, and the nations referred to as OPEC, it’s chiefly the Saudis. Big Oil works with the Saudis, who in 2003 controlled about 20-25 percent of the world’s oil supply. The scratch-our-back-we’ll-scratch-yours relationship meant that the Saudis agreed to turn up oil flow —  temporarily — making it cheaper. But in exchange for what? War. We shaped the Middle East in their favor and in ours. The ultimate goal, however, was to make money. So, after the United States military went all to its war budget, something remarkable happened…

The flow of oil reversed. And the price went up. As did profits. What was cheap to get in…turned expensive to get out of.

The whole equation benefits oil, across the board; what was an initial cheap investment becomes a lucrative payoff once in. The cost of doing business, they say. And guess who pays for that? Yeah, us, the tax-payer.

Since Big Oil and the Saudis are in business together, when the Saudis start profiting by The War, so does Big Oil. And who, of all the Big Oil companies made the most money off the Iraq War? Exxon Mobile.

The world is changing, undeniably — but not yet to the good. China is the biggest carbon emissions producing nation in the world; and the largest carbon emissions consumer ? Is the United States. After Saddam fell and the Iraq War ended, China began buying oil from Iraq and guess who they cut out? Exxon. This particularly angered Rex. When the 2016 election came and the unlikeliest of candidates, Donald J Trump, ran and actually won, Big Oil had a chance to save itself. Profits were down 30 percent under Obama, and Exxon, after the China debacle, had invested one billion dollars in Russian refineries in order to start pumping. But thanks to the thug culture headed by Putin, he and his Oligarchs were sanctioned. Which meant that Exxon couldn’t recoup its money. Come the Trump win — widely suspected to have been engineered in part by Putin — Exxon saw a chance. It could install someone at the top of the State Department who could make this Russia thing work. Thus Rex Tillerson.

Meanwhile, a curious coalition was forming. “Renewable energy” became a buzzword, and then a reality, as investors began to deem it possible to shift from over-dependence on oil, thereby save our planet — hopefully. This idea could even be profitable !

For Big Oil, all has not, however, gone as schemed. There’s this Russian scandal. Trump appointing Rex — whom I will now refer to as T-Rex — seemed an ever more strategic move. Yet as carbon-based fuels are more clearly viewed as something we need to discard, perhaps Big Oil has felt a pinch. Then it happened: Exxon’s shareholders filed class action suits against Exxon. Over what? Alleged evidence that Exxon knew its business had slumped and that it  defrauded its investors by saying it hadn’t. It got worse. Certain AG’s of certain states began filing class-actions. But — for something else, something far more grave. That Exxon knew the effects of climate change and were deliberately denying their knowing. Parallels to the tobacco industry were obvious. And the class-action had a new element: some AG’s were being paid, or forced, to spread the lies by punishing climate change scientists and businesses.

Yes. This is alleged.

Much of Trump’s agenda is regressive. Taking away rights, mistreating women, promoting coal mining. But I’ve heard it said that as a system nears a point of change, where it must evolve or perish, as critical point approaches, the business turns ever more dysfunctional, immedaiely prior to changing, as a caterpillar that becomes a butterfly. (Or a T-Rex becoming…what?)

T-Rex’s were the planet’s apex predator millions of years ago. No one quite knows why it didn’t survive, but some say it’s because it has such small hands (and arms). Science indicates some catastrophic change occurred, a global crisis that took that animal out and many of its contemporaries. We are facing something similar, we just don’t know it. Or maybe some of us do: yet the tobacco industry, for its intentional deception of the American people about the ills of smoking, was hit with the single largest monetary verdict in the world. It’s arguable that Big Tobacco hasn’t recovered and as the ills of smoking become ever more obvious, the industry itself is not what it once was. Like a dinosaur that used to roam the planet recklessly producing CO2 (and cancer) in its wake, tobacco may, hopefully, wane. Become extinct, maybe. Big Oil is facing a similar crisis, one in which it needs to get out in front of the wave. This now rests in the hands of one Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon, now Secretary of State, third in line to the President, the man who is the dumbest failed businessman in the history of this country.

—- Christopher Mugglebee / The Mugglebee Files for Here and Sphere

THE MUGGLEBEE FILES : IF THE AHCA HAD ACTALLY BECOME LAW ….

 

chris

^ Christopher Mugglebee writes “The Mugglebee Files”

NOTE : This long-read on the now failed AHCA was written the day before the bill was withdrawn. We publish it for its insights and detail and because the issues presented in it, and in the AHCA, remain unresolved and needing resolution somehow, and soon. — the Editors

—- —- —- —-

“Health is the first wealth.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson”
America has always had a complicated relationship with wealth; it aspires to obtain it, and those who have it strive for more, often at the cost of those who have none. Interestingly, the same thing could be said about health.

With the now failed Obamacare repeal and replace plan put forth by Paul Ryan, awkwardly titled “American Health Care Act”, the connection between the two became shockingly clear.

Oddly, the name fits – the American Health Care Act. That’s because it was an act. A bill put forth by a bunch of paid actors, and bad ones at that. Bad because no one bought any of it. Their lines disingenuous, their drama so poorly-acted and the plot so thinly-disguised it had to be laughed out of the theater.. Problem is…it was a heist and a tragedy wrapped into one. Actors delivering lines to an audience that had no idea the stakes are real, that the daggers would have ended up in them, the very people who paid to see the show.

When the ACA originally passed, health care in America was in a bad way; coverage was being denied, people with pre-existing conditions dropped; here were lifetime caps that could essentially bankrupt a person if, say, they got cancer.. The takeaway from that…don’t get cancer.

People unfortunately in that position had to make an impossible choice : take on enormous debt in order to pay for treatments; or foregoing treatment altogether; or bankrupt surviving family. This was common in America.

The GOP, from the start, opposed it because they opposed anything Obama did. It didn’t matter that they privately agreed or understood the need for these changes to the insurance system, they publicly called it “socialism”. I understood the sham of their opposition. I didn’t buy the claim that Obamacare was “a disaster,” and I don’t buy it now. That being said, from the beginning the ACA had problems– primarily due to GOP obstruction — but underlying it was another problem that no one was talking about.

The problems weren’t with the ACA itself. They were with something else entirely.

When politicians use incendiary terms like “horrible and catastrophic”, we know there is an agenda going. One such was that insurance companies were coming between patients and their doctors in a way that seemed completely outrageous. Doctors had to create circumventions of insurance companies just to be able to treat people. Doctors literally couldn’t practice medicine. All I could think was “How in the hell did this happen?”

Many people said it was Obamacare, but the more I looked into things, the more I saw that our health care system was failing — because the insurance companies weren’t following the law. Back when the ACA was being crafted, most people assumed the insurance industry opposed it. Truth was just the opposite : the industry wanted it. After all, millions of new young healthy people signing up for  policies they neither needed nor wanted was a giant windfall for the insurance industry. Why look a gift horse in the mouth, right?

Often, politics and big business hedge their bets by playing opposites, so if a change doesn’t work they have an easier time going the other way. In the case of the ACA, the insurance industry was getting rich by a privatized social medicine construct, and millions were signing up. The evidence was clear: the law was working: yet the insurance industry still wasn’t satisfied. Premiums began to rise. And then something curious : insurance companies began pulling out of certain exchanges.

Doctors, too. They resisted signing up for the exchanges. They, after all, had to make a living. They struggled with the insurance companies. Now the GOP, which had wanted to privatize social security (again) took the opportunity to begin scrapping not only the ACA but Medicare and Medicaid, too, even though these programs were widely popular and highly successful as well. Why sc rap them ?

Because there was no other way to give the rich a tax break.

As talk of repealing Obamacare gained momentum because of the Trump candidacy, Speaker Ryan and his team went to work crafting a benefit-the-wealthy plan that looked like a new ACA.

But the question remained : why would the powerful insurance lobby want to repeal something that was successful (in terms of enrolees)? Perhaps because many people, myself included, weren’t really happy with the system; it wasn’t a cinch, and much of what Obama promised was not the case. Premiums increased, benefits absent or obstructed; doctors were not joining the exchanges. And the insurance industry was finding ways to collect the money while reducing coverage.

Even so, the answer wasn’t repeal and replace. That was just a political thing. What they wanted was a full repeal, going back to what they had before, however unacceptable.

I began to piece together why. Why they wanted to scrap it all.

The thing wasn’t failing for the reasons GOP operatives like Ryan said it was. It was failing because the insurance industry was making it fail. And the wealthy were looking for a tax break.

The ACA could have worked, had the insurance industry followed it. Changes like no lifetime caps and no excluding pre-existing conditions were paramount, and most Americans agree these are absolutely needed. Obama made these the central tenets of his healthcare initiative. But, in America, healthcare is a business. And first and foremost a business must make profit for its investors. Who are its investors? The wealthy. There has to be wealth care for there to be health care.

The insurance companies supported the ACA initially because they stood to reap large profits from that untapped demographic : younger, healthier people. Millions and millions of new customers forced to pay into an exchange that paid for all those pre-existing conditions.

But the thing is, America was sicker than it realized.

The Insurance industry soon changed tracks and began to back out, because it realized that.

The name Obamacare was originally used by anti-Obama agendas, but became the accepted name for a frustrated system. The true source of the frustration no one was talking about. Politicians claimed it was failing, but were they calling the insurance companies out? Nope. In order for a progressive move like the ACA to work, the insurance companies had to actually follow the law…and they didn’t.

The insurance companies were the problem, not the act itself. But we weren’t told that. Why? Because helping the people and helping the wealthy are two very different things.

It was always about wealth, not health. Let’s look at how.

According to https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/anthonynitti/2017/03/13/gop-health-care-bill-will-result-in-a-huge-tax-cut-for-the-rich-24-million-without-insurance/amp/:

“While the removal of the individual and employer mandate are likely to benefit many lower and middle-class taxpayers, as noted above, both the net investment income tax and the additional Medicare tax apply only to the richest 2%. Thus, the repeal and replace plan results in a just-under $300 billion tax cut to those high-income taxpayers over the next decade, while simultaneously slashing Medicaid and subsidies for insurance premiums of low-income taxpayers.”

Here we see that The American Health Care Act might not have been about health, actually. More:

“…with the individual mandate no longer in effect, many young, healthy taxpayers will opt to go without insurance, driving up premiums in the short term by as much as 20%. Beyond 2020, however, the CBO predicts that premiums should actually decrease relative to Obamacare estimates, largely owing to a change in the American Health Care Act that allows insurers to offer cheaper plans because they are no longer required to cover at least 60% of certain health care costs.”

The AHCA allowed the insurance industry to raise costs in anticipation of a lowering in 2020, after which there would be a lowering of premiums. That’s good, right? No. When they lower premiums, companies no longer had to cover a minimum of 60 percent. That meant people would get less expensive, shitty coverage. Again. Like they had before the ACA.

And again, it’s always about wealth.

“It should be noted, however, that while the CBO estimates that average premiums will decrease after 2020, the report notes that the premiums for young individuals will be substantially reduced, while the premiums of older people will be substantially increased, as the new bill allows insurers to charge premiums to older applicants that are five times larger than those charged to younger applicants.”

This is truly startling. Here was the opposite of the ACA’s goals. It’s possible to surmise the insurance industry made a startling reversal of policy, no longer targeting the young and healthy but the old and sick. Why? Maybe because it’s more profitable? This was the single most confounding aspect to Ryan’s tax break for the rich.

https://www.google.com/amp/www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-obamacare-fail-health-care-insurance-medicine-0911-jm-20160909-story,amp.html

“Obamacare failed because the penalties for going uncovered are too low when stacked against its skyrocketing premium costs. Next year, the penalty for staying uninsured is $695 per adult, or perhaps 2.5 percent of a family’s taxable household income. That’s far less than many Americans would pay for coverage. Financial incentive: Skip Obamacare.”

This seems to indicate many people decided to pay the IRS instead of the insurance companies. So, what did that mean?

Supply and demand. If it hasn’t tamed costs, does that mean costs are higher than they expected? If so, did the industry panic? Realizing young, healthy people were just paying the penalty, in essence giving the money to the US government instead of the exchanges meant this experiment needed to be scuttled. Remember, they hedged their bet, and now they have a card to play getting them out of this. What else can we discover about this boondoggle?

“Obamacare failed because insurance is based on risk pools — that is, the lucky subsidize the unlucky. The unlucky who have big health problems (and big medical bills) reap much greater benefits than those who remain healthy and out of the doctors’ office. But Obamacare’s rules hamstring insurers. They can’t exclude people for pre-existing conditions, and can’t charge older customers more than three times as much as the young. Those are good goals, but they skew the market in ways Obamacare didn’t figure out how to offset. Result: Young and healthy consumers pay far more in premiums than their claims (probably) would justify in order to subsidize the unexpectedly large influx of older, sicker customers who require expensive care. Too many unlucky people, too few lucky people: That will collapse any insurance scheme.” 

Too many unlucky people. Those being the American people.

Any system that weighs people based on luck is not going to work. The previous quote I find the most difficult to accept. I do not believe it was ever about luck. Back to my earlier statement : America is sicker than it thinks, perhaps something that the billion dollar insurance industry found out.

The last ten years have been hard on Americans. The expansive high of the Bush years led to a collapse that Obama inherited. Racism, troublesome law enforcement, and hate unleashed through the rising tide of social media, coupled with media-driven news cycles all generated a partisan divide wider than the Grand Canyon. The erosion of social norms and revisionist history had a devastating effect; it should be no surprise that health is a concern nation-wide. These last years have distorted our collective lives to the degree that facts are now questioned as our current president tweets Obama is a sick (bad) guy. The sick pot is calling the healthy kettle black.

No wonder America is suffering and in need of healthcare. It’s ill, and the insurance industry knows it.

Which is why it is adjusting, perhaps.

“Obamacare failed because too many carriers simply can’t cover expenses, let alone turn a profit, in this rigidly controlled system. Take Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, the state’s dominant Obamacare insurer. Last year, for every dollar the carrier collected, it spent $1.32 buying care and providing services for customers, according to BCBS President Maurice Smith. No wonder BCBS is proposing rate increases from 23 percent to 45 percent for its individual plans.”

Fortuantely, the American Health Care Act did not happen. Still, the wealth problem remains. Occam’s razor says the simplest explanation tends to be the right one, so let’s apply that.

“Today, the Congressional Budget Office answered those questions, releasing its official scoring of the American Health Care Act, and the results are not pretty. An $883 billion tax cut, $274 billion of it going to the richest 2%. $880 billion stripped from Medicaid. And 24 million Medicaid. And 24 million fewer insured individuals over the next ten years.”

A $274 billion tax break for the wealthiest two percent. That’s all this was. In a list of America’s top 10 most profitable companies, no health care company is listed. The first one, United Health, is 16th. The top ten are Big Oil, Apple/Samsung…and Walmart. While the latter all list profits are down, United Health, the only insurer in the top 50, is actually up by 20%. Apple is the only one up almost 30%, whereas oil is down by as much. This indicates something. The top ten are all big employers, and will take up a large chunk of that $275bil tax cut. Health care providers aren’t really in the top fifty. Had the American Health Care Act passed, they surely would have been.

Health may not be the first wealth in America, because wealth is the first wealth. And the second and the third and on down the line. Health is not. But it’s doing its best to make sure that changes, by making sure it doesn’t have to cover a sick country that is being told to prize wealth over its own health.

— Christopher Mugglebee / The Mugglebee Files at Here and Sphere