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Aurora, Colorado; Republican Congressional Representatives in Action

In Colorado, on Saturday, Republican Rep. Mike Coffman held an event for his constituents at a
Coffman a public library in Aurora, Colorado. At least 150 constituents showed up, most of them hoping to ask Coffman about his recent vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his plans for a replacement. But only about 70 people got to meet with Coffman: Despite booking a large room with ample space, Coffman allowed in only four constituents at once for five minutes at a time. When the crowd grew restless, police put up crime scene tape and Coffman snuck out the back door—six minutes before the event was scheduled to end.

Coffman co-authored a Denver Post op-ed on Friday urging the full and immediate repeal of the ACA. About 419,000 Coloradans have gained health care coverage since the enactment of the law, and many of them stand to lose their insurance if it is repealed. Yet Coffman has not proposed a clear replacement for the law, an issue constituents hoped to ask him about on Saturday. “I am potentially going to lose my health insurance,” Berthie Ruoff told NBC 9 while she waited to meet with her representative. “I’ve had a preexisting condition. I’ve had breast cancer. What’s going to happen to me? My spouse who had health insurance passed away. What do I do? You know, what am I supposed to do?”

But neither Ruoff nor many other constituents who stand to lose coverage had an opportunity meet with Coffman. When it grew clear that Coffman would refuse to meet with a majority of those at the event, the crowd channeled its agitation into patriotic songs:
This show of unity, however, did not impress Coffman. Indeed, it appears to have scared him: Rather than address the crowd, Coffman had police officers secretly escort him out of the back door before the event was set to conclude.

A few people noticed Coffman sneaking out and attempted to address him. “Next time,” one woman pleaded, “please be sure you hear all your constituents!” Coffman ignored them, hopped into a waiting car, and drove away.

“Have a good afternoon!” yelled another exasperated woman.

GOP Rep. Sneaks Out of Townhall Meeting, Mark Joseph Stern, Slate, January 15, 2016

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Millions Are Uninsured

When People claim “Millions Are Uninsured Under the PPACA,” it is a garbage statement meant to elicit a negative reaction without going into the detail of who is uninsured and why. Repeatedly Charles Gaba, Maggie Mahar, Commonwealth Fund, Urban Institute, Kaiser Foundation, etc. have explained the numbers and the whys of the uninsured, most of which are not the fault on the PPACA.

I see commenters come to AB and outside AB discussing the uninsured. Some being legitimate bloggers claim “millions are uninsured” and some have exaggerated it even more with citing “tens of millions” with their credibility disappearing as they can not recite the make-up of or the reasons for the number as they do not know it or are trying to make a political statement. The latter being worst than the ignorance of the former.

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There are reasons for the uninsured as detailed by Kaiser Family Foundation. For example, Republican states which do not allow expansion of Medicaid accounts for 2.6 million, undocumented citizens 5.4 million, those eligible for Employee sponsored insurance 4.5 million, and 3.0 million who could have unsubsidized insurance. Then there are 6.4 million adults and children eligible for Medicaid and another 5.3 million eligible for Premium Subsidies and for some reason have not chosen to be insured. Some states like Michigan do make it difficult to enroll in Medicaid. These are the Kaiser numbers for 2016 and they total ~27 millionfor uninsured and why. A “tens of millions” uninsured is a BS numeric when we start accounting for Republicans blocking Medicaid Expansion in states, undocumented immigrants, ESI available insurance, 6.4 million eligible for Medicaid, and another 5.3 million eligible for subsidies. Other than undocumented citizens and states blocking the Medicaid Expansion, there is access to healthcare insurance in one form or another through the PPACA, much of which exists today due to the PPACA, or Employer Sponsored Insurance. When we account , the number drop as there are those without subsidy who chose not to be insured, others who could be on Medicare or have Premium subsidies, and those who could have Employee Sponsored Insurance.

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Repealing the PPACA

I am back to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, as it gives an accurate assessment of what the public really wants with healthcare insurance rather than a political view. Given that Senator Sessions, and Rep. Upton, and Rep. Kingston stopped all funding of the Risk Corridor by placing a sentence in Section 227 of the 2015 Appropriations Act (dated December 16, 2014) effectively eliminating the financial assistance to Co-ops and Insurance companies; it comes as no surprise healthcare insurance premiums would rise, Co-ops would be especially hit hard and go bankrupt, and healthcare insurance companies would leave the PPACA insurance exchanges all together. For sure, we have seen healthcare insurance premiums go up due to the unregulated healthcare industry, less competition due to fallout of companies and bankruptcies, and mostly because of the impact of Section 227 of the 2015 Appropriations Act (dated December 16, 2014). This was a well-orchestrated attack on the PPACA by Republicans, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, Rep. Fred Upton, and Rep. Jack Kingston to disrupt healthcare coverage, claim to be saving taxpayers money, and shift the blame for increased out-of-pocket costs to the PPACA and President Barack Obama.

invisible hand Kaiser does a good job of tracking trends with little of the political bias you might see in other polls. The number one concern of the Democrat and Republican constituency is not repealing the PPACA; but, lowering out-of-pocket costs paid by individuals such as premiums, co-pays, and deductibles. 93% of the people polled found this to be a #1 priority followed by lowering the cost of prescription drugs (89%). For sure, Sessions, Upton, Kingston, and their fellow Republicans have aggravated the healthcare premiums costs by restricting the Risk Corridor funding and are hiding in the weeds knowing they put one over on the Dems and the voters. The opportunity was there for Repubs to work with Dems and come up with ways to lower the overall out-of-pocket cost. Republicans let it go by for political reasons and now we have the head Randian Republican Paul Ryan trying to kill the PPACA, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. To replace them, you will get tax vouchers for each of those programs and a copy of “Atlas Shrugged” telling you to tough it out and be independent. This is coming from a man who has been in politics much of his life, has worked little in the private sector, went to college on Social Security Survivor benefits, and occasionally drove the OM Wiener Mobile around. Unlike ours, Representative Ryan’s congressional healthcare and retirement are a sure thing.

There are those in Congress who wish to repeal the PPACA in favor of whatever might be better as determined in their own minds. It took a long time to get to this point and the last time someone made an attempt at healthcare coverage was in the early nineties by someone named Clinton. In the early nineties, Congress did not like a President telling them what to do which is why Obama had Congress write the PPACA . . . well at least the Democrats put together the PPACA with no input from Republicans. In the chart above, 58% of the constituency favors repealing the PPACA. It is a majority; however within that majority, there are some other questions to be answered. This particular Kaiser Poll is dated December 13, 2016 so it has some relevance to invisible hand what is going on today. For example, most Americans prefer Congress to either not repeal the PPACA or at least wait until the detail of the alternative plan is revealed. The second chart gives the percentages. 75% do not want to repeal and want to know “first” what is going to replace the PPACA before repealing.

The percentage of who oppose and support the PPACA shifts with the argument being made for or against. Sometimes the phrasing of the question can determine or lead to the answer given. While healthcare is one of the top priorities for the President – Elect and Congress, repealing the PPACA is not the first or even the second actions the constituency wishes the President to take as shown by the Kaiser pie and bar charts. Overwhelming the constituency wants to know what will replace the PPACA before Congress acts. Furthermore the constituency would rather see Congress deal with lowering out-of-pockets costs first, fix pharmaceutical costs second, and deal with the Opiod epidemic before even deciding on repealing the “catastrophic event ” Mr. Trump called it today. By asking for an immediate repeal of the PPACA by Congress, perhaps Mr. Trump is attempting to distract attention away from the Senate Confirmation Hearing of Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions an AG candidate who has some serious issues challenging his candidacy. We can be just as lively in both political arenas.

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Risk Corridor, Healthcare Premiums, Companies Leaving the Exchanges, and Republicans

The Washington Post story “Rubio’s inaccurate claim that he ‘inserted’ a provision restricting Obamacare ‘bailout’ funds” is about a year old. Its relevance to the PPACA is in depicting how the Republicans undermined the PPACA causing many Co-ops to go bankrupt, insurance companies to leave PPACA exchanges, saddled insurance companies with $millions in debt, and is a reason for much of the premium increases. I am not pro-insurance; but, this effort to get even with Obama has set the stage for what will negatively affect millions of the insured.

I had written earlier about Rubio playing a part in cutting the funding for the Rick Corridor funding. He did play a not-so-critical part and while researching some additional information I ran across a better explanation.

The Risk Corridor program in the PPACA protects insurance companies from losses during the first three years if they did not estimate premiums properly which can happen in new markets with different characteristics. With the mandate to insure all with pre-existing conditions, keeping children on parents plans, the exchanges, etc.; the Risk Corridor program was put in place (besides two other safe guards) giving insurance companies and Co-ops a three year window to get it right. Besides looking at losses, the Risk Corridor also looked at the profits of companies who had estimated accurately, had excess profits as a result, and required them to pay a ratio of excess profits into the Risk Corridor fund to help underwrite the losses of other companies. Outside of a plus or minus 3% was the basis for whether you gave up a ratio of profits or received a ratio of funding from the Risk Corridor program. The Risk Corridor program is nothing new and was used successfully with Medicare Part D forcing the evil insurance companies to share profits with the government. It still is in place for Part D and “still” generates additional revenue for the government. I do not recall any Republicans complaining about funding for insurance companies then; but then too, Part D was Bush’s legislature while the PPACA legislation was Obama’s. Strictly politics and constituents will pay the price of it.

Depicting the Risk Corridor particulars rather than attempting to explain it in writing will give a better explanation. Click on the image to better read the chart. Please note the plus or minus 3% and then the different ratios of revenue sharing or funding from and to healthcare companies and Co-ops.

invisible hand So what happened? The Risk Corridor program works well for Part D, brings in revenue for the government, and is still in place. February 2014 found Rubio testifying to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on behalf of his bill. At the same time the CBO released their evaluation of the Risk Corridor program. Instead of being detrimental and a fiscal drag, the CBO projected the federal government would collect $16 billion from health insurers. Premiums would outpace claims, $8 billion would be distributed to the plans losing money, and $8 billion in additional revenue would be left for the federal government. Another House probe suggested initially there would be a shortfall with claims exceeding premiums.

The Republicans were not sitting idle and were investigating ways to derail the PPACA. As the ranking member of the Budget Committee, Senator Jeff Sessions and the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Fred Upton came up with a plan to attack the legality of the Risk Corridor payments. They joined forces with the Appropriations Panel Chairman Rep. Jack Kingston whose panel funds the Department of Health and Human Services and the Labor Department. Kind of get the picture so far?

Questioning whether the Risk Corridor payments were being appropriated correctly, the Appropriations Panel forced the HHS to make changes in how they appropriated funds allowing Congress to stop all appropriations. The PPACA could no longer appropriate the funds as they were subject to the discretion of Congress. The GAO issue an opinion on the legality of what the HHS was doing with funds.

GAO Letter to Senator Jeff Sessions. September 30, 2014: Discussion; “At issue here is whether appropriations are available to the Secretary of HHS to make the payments specified in section 1342(b)(1). Agencies may incur obligations and make expenditures only as permitted by an appropriation. U.S. Const., art. I, § 9, cl. 7; 31 U.S.C. § 1341(a)(1); B-300192, Nov. 13, 2002, at 5. Appropriations may be provided through annual appropriations acts as well as through permanent legislation. See, e.g., 63 Comp. Gen. 331 (1984). The making of an appropriation must be expressly stated in law. 31 U.S.C. § 1301(d). It is not enough for a statute to simply require an agency to make a payment. B-114808, Aug. 7, 1979. Section 1342, by its terms, did not enact an appropriation to make the payments specified in section 1342(b)(1). In such cases, we next determine whether there are other appropriations available to an agency for this purpose.”

Further down in the GAO letter, the GAO leaves the HHS an out of using other already available appropriations for the Risk Corridor payments to insurance companies. Classifying the payments as “user fees” was another way to retain the authority to spend other appropriations already made by Congress. Otherwise if revenue from the Risk Corridor program fell short, the administration would need approval for addition appropriations from Congress. As it was, the HHS could no longer appropriate funds to make Risk Corridor payments unless the funds were already appropriated by Congress or Congress approved new funds which was not going to happen with a Republican controlled House.

Appropriations Panel Chairman Rep. Jack Kingston put the final nail in the coffin by inserting one sentence in Section 227 of the 2015 Appropriations Act (dated December 16, 2014) which escaped notice. In the 2015 Appropriations Act, the sentence inserted said no “other” funds in this bill could be used for Risk Corridor payments.

Sec. 227. None of the funds made available by this Act from the Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund or the Federal Supplemental Medical Insurance Trust Fund, or transferred from other accounts funded by this Act to the “Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services–Program Management” account, may be used for payments under section 1342(b)(1) of Public Law 111-148 (relating to risk corridors).

This action blocked the HHS from obtaining any of the necessary Risk Corridor funds from any other Congressional appropriated program funds.

Nothing was said by Sessions, Upton, or Kingston before passage on what they had managed to do. It was Rubio who issued a news release saying the provision was appropriate even though he had little to do with it. In the end, Rep. Jack Kingston’s one sentence purposely created a $2.5 billion shortfall in the Risk-Corridor program in 2015 as the HHS had collected $362 million in fees. Insurers who had misjudged the market sought nearly $2.9 billion in payments, many nonprofit insurance Co-ops failed, healthcare insurance companies began to raise premiums to compensate, and some healthcare insurance companies recognizing an untenable environment created by Republicans took their losses and left the market.

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Why Healthcare Premiums are increasing Faster than Healthcare Costs

invisible hand In the first three years of the PPACA, a Risk Corridor Program was established to help insurers get past the initial loss phases. This is typical of startups and was used with Republican President George Bush’s Part D Drug insurance program. The PPACA had built-in protections for insurers who enrolled many abnormally sick people, provided backup payments for very high-cost cases, and protected against big losses and gains during the first three years. Due to eliminating all “pre-existing conditions” with the implementation of the PPACA, this was the protection for companies and the incentive to take on the people with health issues. Not only did it help Insurers cover their losses; but, it was an incentive for insurers not to increase premiums. Much of the funding for the program comes from the Federal Government and profitable Insurance companies paying into the Risk Corridor fund which unprofitable companies use to recoup losses. However in the first three years losses exceeded funding from profitable companies due to a Republican Congress passing laws forcing the Risk Corridor Program to be budget neutral leaving 12.6% of the necessary funds available to make insurance companies whole. As many probably know, the shortfall of funding already forced many CO-OPs to go bankrupt and resulted in Healthcare Insurance companies pulling out of the Exchanges.

Those Healthcare Companies still a part of the PPACA have gone to Federal Court to sue the administration for sustained losses. Moda Health sued the administration for $191 million due to losses in implementing the PPACA supposedly covered by the Risk Corridor Program. Moda has dropped its program in Alaska as a result of its losses and has only received ~$14 million. The Risk Corridor Program ended in 2016 and companies now face the issue of never recouping losses beyond just this.

Interesting how the Republicans have been the proverbial slugs in the process and took advantage of the crisis they created by forcing the PPACA to be budget neutral when the Part D Drug Program had no restrictions. They limited how the PPACA can fund the same Risk Corridor Program used for George Bush’s Part D Program. In September of this year, “ five Republican Senators sent HHS Secretary Burwell a letter demanding how HHS is handling a much-maligned insurance provision within the Affordable Care Act. Earlier this month, the CMS had sent a memo to health insurance companies that said the agency would not be making risk-corridor payments for 2015 because any collections would be used to cover the $2.5 billion shortfall from 2014.”

Under the PPACA Budget Neutral Act passed by the Republicans, the administration (DOJ) must now defend the law claiming they were not guaranteed the massive payouts in the first place. In November Republicans introduced the “HHS Slush Fund Elimination Act,” which restricts the Administration from using any Federal funds for the Risk Corridor Program to settle with the healthcare companies owed money.

“We are going to repeal and replace Obamacare but, in the meantime, the last thing Americans need is for the Obama Administration to sneak in one last bailout on its way out the door,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.)”

You can see;

- Why United Healthcare pulled out of the PPACA Exchange early as it did when a Republican controlled Congress reneged on the funding for the Risk Corridor Program to cover losses in the startup of the PPACA.

- Why Healthcare Insurance companies losing money would resort to increased premiums to compensate for the lack of Risk Corridor Program funds to cover the startup and losses.

- Why the Part D Drug companies have become successful and competitive amongst each other due to their successful startup with the availability of Risk Corridor Program funds.

All of this was an effort to deny the PPACA an opportunity to be successful by a Republican Congress who would deny its constituents healthcare just to get even with a President they did not like and deny him a legacy. Risk Corridors and associated programs still exist and will continue to exist for Medicare Part D; but then, this was pre-Obama and occurred under Republican President George Bush. No one called it a bailout then.

Furthermore, do you think any healthcare insurance company would ever want to be a part of a Government Healthcare plan for the public as implemented by Republicans after they have been repeatedly screwed by Congressional Republicans?

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Election Integrity

From the beginning of this election cycle President-Elect Trump claimed the system is rigged, millions of illegal voters voted, the dead have voted, etc. That is until he won and then it was I also won the popular vote as millions voted illegally for Clinton. Historically, voter fraud has hardly been an issue and it has been measured in the tens of thousands of 1%. What is claimed to be voter fraud is usually voting irregularities or issues with the procedures and process of voting. Even though there is no evidence of wide spread voter fraud, it has not stopped states from putting in place new laws to supposedly safe guard the vote and at the same time making it more difficult to vote. Amongst those states who have installed new requirements to vote or register are “9 of the 15 previously covered in whole or in part by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because of a state’s history of preventing minorities from voting.

The Electoral Integrity Project is an independent academic project at Harvard University and the University of Sydney. It is directed by Harvard University Professor Pippa Norris and governed by an International Advisory Board. Using 726 political scientists based in local universities in each state, the EIP evaluated the process and procedures of voting in each state using 49 core indicators which were then grouped into 11 ranking categories. The highest attainable ranking in any one category is 100 points. The project reviews the entire electoral cycle from the pre-election stage, the campaign itself, the actual polling day, and the aftermath. The results of the 2016 election and the corresponding state rankings are in Figure 1 (click on the picture for a larger version).

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In speaking for the SCOTUS majority vote of 5, Chief Justice John Roberts repealed Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act claiming things had changed dramatically since the 1960s. Congress could no longer require states and counties to get the approval of the Department of Justice to change plans or put in place requirements for minorities to vote. The thought was the additional approval and supervision by the DOJ was no longer needed as these jurisdictions could be trusted to treat minorities fairly going forward.

State wide voting restrictions directed at minorities were viewed as a problem of the past when discrimination was blatant. With the passing of decades it was felt these States had outgrown past biases with minorities and could be allowed to govern voting rules and regulation on their own by SCOTUS. Evidence of such was not so positive and recent reviews show the states in the South had the weakest electoral performance overall in 2016. The newly passed North Carolina GOP State House laws to restrict the power of Democrat Governor Roy Cooper before he takes office suggest such thoughts of fairness were optimistic. The Rust Belt ‘Blue Wall’ states of Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were also problematic. By contrast, the quality of elections in the Pacific West and New England were viewed positively.

Figure 2 shows the ranking of each state amongst the other states for “perceptions of Electoral Integrity” from the highest Election Integrity at 1 (Vermont) to the lowest Election Integrity (Arizona) at 51 (Click on the picture for a larger version).

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Vote counting, the Voting Process, and the role of Electoral Authorities were shown to be less problematic than Congressional Voting District Boundary Delineation, State Electoral laws, Campaign Media, and Political Money in the Electoral process. North Carolina comes in at #1 followed by Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas, and South Carolina for Congressional Voting District Delineation. The aggregate for Congressional Voting District Delineation is 33 and is the lowest of the 11 categories with Electoral Laws (Voting IDs, Early Voting, Provisional Ballots, etc) being next.

It is no secret, delineation of state Congressional Districts has led to additional Congressional Representatives of a political party being sent to Congress. As an example, Michigan has had a greater than 50% Democrat majority vote since 1992 and its Congressional delegation to the House has been less than 50% Democrats. This is the result of Congressional redistricting after every Census by a Republican majority in the state. As it now stands, changes to Congressional Districts will not happen until 2022 and only if the Democrats can take back state legislatures or if courts overrule the Congressional District delineation in place now or created in 2022 after the next Census. There is a far greater issue with Republican drawn districts than Democrat.

Other issues which need sunlight and additional discussion are Campaign Media, the lack of substantive Policy Discussion during the campaign, the False Equivalency Standards of Journalism, and the overwhelmingly Negative Tone of news coverage.

If one were to compare states by political control using this data, Democrat – Controlled states showed greater “Electoral Integrity than Republican – controlled states. Figure 3 shows in the aggregate assessments of each of the eleven stages during the electoral cycle compared with which party controlled the State House. With the exception of “Reporting Results” across all the remaining stages, “the gap was substantial and statistically significant on the issues of gerrymandered district boundaries, voter registration, electoral laws, and the performance of electoral officials.” Democrat controlled states out performed Republican controlled states in Electoral Integrity.

invisible hand

Taking into consideration the substantial gap and statistically significance issues of gerrymandered congressional district boundaries, voter registration, electoral laws, and the performance of electoral officials” (Figure 3), there was a clear tendency for Trump to also win more states (Figure 4) exhibiting these weaknesses. The evidence is not so clear as to state Trump won these states solely due to these issues; however, the correlation and direction pointed is clear. Perhaps as Trump claimed the election was rigged; but, it was not rigged in the manner he claimed.

There is little or no evidence there was voter fraud or votes cast illegally in 2016 as President – Elect Trump has claimed before, during, and after the election. However taking a broader vision of Election Integrity and with a review of this study, “one could arrive at the conclusion US elections suffer from several systematic and persistent problems. Donald Trump and the Republican party appear to have done well in states with the most problems.”

invisible hand

It is not only the 2016 election which has had its issues. As EIP and Professor Norris have shown in other studies, there have been issues with the 2012 and 2014 elections as well. When compared to other countries, the United States has scored the worst in Election Integrity amongst similar Western Countries given the culture and history the US represents. “The US also ranks 52nd out of all 153 countries worldwide in a cross-national Electoral Integrity survey. The comparison is even worse when the issue of Congressional District boundaries ate considered as the U.S. score is the second lowest in the world.

References:

Why it’s Not About Election Fraud, Its Much Worse. Electoral Integrity Project; Pippa Norris, Holly Ann Garnett, Max Grömping

Study: Clinton-Trump Coverage was a Feast of False Equivalency, Erik Wemple

“North Carolina Is No Longer Classified as a Democracy”, Andrew Reynolds

The Truth About Voter Fraud”, Justin Levitt

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NPR discusses Steve Bannon and his impact on Breitbart News.

I have written about left of center or centrist organizations writing in a manner which no longer reflects a liberal, progressive, or centrist view. NPR just went out on a limb with its recent conversation with Breitbart Senior Editor at Large Joel Pollak about newly elected Donald Trump’s selection of Steve Bannon as his administration’s Chief Strategist. It is not unusual to have this type of interview on Morning Edition; but, it did take a different direction then what I thought might happen.

NPR’s Steve Inskeep starts off;

Let’s hear a defense of Steve Bannon.”

Breitbart Senior Editor Joel Pollack glowingly describes Steve Bannon as “a national hero” adding;

“how great it will be to have someone in the White House who can remain so calm under pressure.”

Other evidence points to another Steve Bannon, a Bannon who has been accused of “domestic abuse, sexual harassment, and accused of being a verbally abusive bully who is prone to tirades” by former staffers.

When Steve Inskeep asks about Bannon’s efforts to turn “Breitbart into the Alt-Right program of choice,” Pollak distances the site from the Alt-Right diet of xenophobia, racism, sexism and anti-Semitism upon which Breitbart has been nurtured. He sidesteps the issue of various articles portrayed in Breitbart as being amongst thousands and do not necessarily tie Breitbart as a unifying force of the Alt-Right movement. Pollack also dismisses Steve Bannon’s point late last August of “Breitbart being the platform of the Alt-Right as simple journalism.” In no way does Pollack give credence to an association with the Alt-Right to Breitbart and Steve Bannon. It is here where Inskeep begins to miss the opportunity to strike back and challenge Pollack on these issues and Pollack’s answers.

What is different about the Breibart’s Editor Joel Pollack interview by NPR’s Steve Inskeep is not so much the topic as it is the seemingly lack of forceful challenges to Pollack’s statements. When there is a challenge, they are feeble. For example:

A Breitbart commentary about the Confederate flag “Hoist it High and Proud” is published two weeks after the Charleston massacre of nine black churchgoers. The story line encourages Alt-Right and other readers to proudly wave the Confederate flag as a symbol of the South the same what Dylann Roof is seen doing in countless photos. Here is where Inskeep could step forward and at least challenge the timing. Instead, it passes. Included in the Breitbart article is this passage:

“While your supporters are trashing the monuments and reputations of the forefathers of so many Americans; perhaps, you might want to remind us again which state of the Union, north or south, Barack’s ancestors resided in during the traumatic years 1861-1865? Or did Kenya not have a dog in that fight? The Confederacy was not a callous conspiracy to enforce slavery, but a patriotic and idealistic cause for which 490,000 men were killed, wounded or taken captive.”

Breitbart’s justification for the Confederate flag wave is focused on history and heritage rather than the flag of slaveholders, secessionists, and identificatists the flag has come to represent then and today in many cases. Huh? Where is Pollack taking us and why isn’t NPR’s Inskeep’s on top of this pulling it back to his agenda? Instead we get a feeble but factual rebuttal:

“Alexander Stevens, the vice president of the Confederacy, declared the Confederate cause was slavery.”

Answering the slavery part was a part of that battle, there is still the part of Barack Obama’s inclusion. Obama never had a dog in this fight that we know of today; however, where does President Obama’s heritage have a place in a discussion about Confederate flag waving by a mass murderer and a recommendation to others to take up a similar action of Confederate flag waving? Oh wait a minute, it doesn’t have a place in the dialogue and Inskeep misses an opportunity again to put Pollack and his deflection in its place. Pollack has just started to turn the discussion away from Bannon and Breitbart. At the least, Inskeep stomping on this might have given Pollack pause, kept the focus on the Alt-Right, Bannon, and Breitbart, and gain the NPR segment some credibility besides just a comment on what Confederate VP Steven’s had said.

Pollack does not stop there and proceeds to apply more of the strategy of “obfuscation and flipping” the script of totally justified accusations of bigotry, misogyny and anti-Semitism into reverse racism by the accuser. Take this standard complaint and deflection by the right.

NPR is taxpayer-funded (boy, this sounds familiar), and has an entire section of its programming and a regular feature called “Code Switch,” which from my perspective is a racist program by calling election results, ‘nostalgia for a whiter America.’” (Angry white America striking back at liberalism, sounds Star Warish as in “The Empire Strikes Back”) Some have called Breitbart’s “the history of the Confederate Flag program”racist, it is not racist and this was one opinion article in a 24-hour news website as compared to NPR’s Code Switch.

“’NPR has racial and racist programming I am required to pay for as a taxpayer (a white listener at that – my emphasis). You can read Breitbart, you can read something else — I don’t think talking about the history of the Confederate flag is racist. There are people who disagree with it as a symbol; but besides that issue, you’re picking on one opinion article to judge Breitbart and it is a 24-hour news website providing coverage from within a conservative worldview.”

It is here I have a major problem with liberals and progressives in general. We have an out right supporter of the Alt-Right who has reversed the tables on us and we can not ever find the words to kick some major butt here in rebuttal and in telling the truth. This is why we lost an election because we could not put two words together to call out Trump and his “rabid” supporters on their beliefs. Not even Bernie touched this hot poker.

Blue collar, middle class, and white America was left with the idea that what Trump has said, what Pollack is saying, what Breitbart has said and stands for is ok, and what Trump rode into the Presidency represents the truth. Guess what, it is not ok and it is not the truth. Our failure to come back at these statements has reaped something no one really likes.

Trump’s Chief of Staff Steve Bannon has worked hard to build Breitbart into an Alt-Right Sky Club for Alties looking for comradery, a glass of beer, and an ideology rest stop. It is “a loose coalition of white nationalists, “identitarians,” neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, racists, and misogynists who were ecstatic over Bannon’s appointment.” The point man for the Alt-Right and Breitbart, Joel Pollack took the NPR segment in a different direction to distance Steve Bannon from Breitbart and ” flipped the script to turn totally justified accusations of bigotry, misogyny and anti-Semitism into ‘reverse racism.”

Truth be told as detailed by Kali Holloway at AlterNet;”Bannon has spent four years ensuring that Breitbart contains all the Sky Club hors deourves and drinks the Alt-Right can feast on, from an entire section tagged ‘black crime’ to frequent contributions from Jason Richwine, whom the Daily Beast notes ‘resigned from the conservative Heritage Foundation when news broke that his Harvard dissertation argued in part that Hispanics have lower IQs than non-Hispanic whites.’ That, Pollak should be told, is actual racism. Textbook.” NPR and Steve Inskeep were just not up to the task of rebutting Joel Pollack or cornering him to keep him on the defensive. As Kali might say and I will say, we missed the chance to pin the tail on this donkey.

And Steve Bannon will be wandering the halls of the Whitehouse as Chief Strategist advising a man who has no experience as a legislator and is a poor leader.

Normalizing the Abnormal: NPR Begins Its Whitewashing of Breitbart’s Racism Kali Holloway, AlterNet, November 16, 2016

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Michigan Lame Duck Legislature

The Republican controlled House and Senate has been largely busy passing bills in the few days left in 2016. This particular one caught my eye.

Michigan had put in place a new Unemployment System (Michigan Data Automated System or MiDAS) to help in detecting unemployment fraud. With the passage of Senate Bill 1008 by the Republican led House, $10 million is transferred from the Unemployment Contingent Fund to the General Fund to be done with in the General Fund as determined by the Republican held Legislature.

Just a little history; MiDAS was put in place (2013) by Governor Rick Snyder of Flint, Michigan fame to automate the system away from the manual process. The system sends out a series of questions, which the Unemployment Applicant has to answer picking from listed answers. There is no room for explanation. The claimants chosen answers from the list of answers are then loaded into the MiDAS data base and notification is sent to the former employer who then confirms the answers the claimant has listed in the system. If there is any discrepancy, MiDAS assumes the claimant has committed a potential fraud.

Another questionnaire is then sent to the claimant, which is also limited to listed responses. If you do not respond in 10 days, it is assumed a fraud has been committed as determined by MiDAS. A notice is “supposedly” sent out and the claimant has 30 days to answer. If no notice is sent out and the claimant does not answer, MiDAS assumes fraud and the issue goes to collections where just about anything can take place to collect the unemployment funds already given to the claimant. There is little or no human interaction throughout the process and little can be done to explain circumstance during the process.

The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency, partly at the request of the federal government and partly on its own, reviewed 22,427 cases in which a computer determined a claimant had committed civil fraud between October 2013 and October 2015 and found that 20,965 of those cases did not involve fraud. Unemployment Insurance Agency spokesman Dave Murray said on Wednesday. That’s an error rate of more than 93%.”

The $10 million will be transferred from the Unemployment Contingent Fund which had already grown by 400% after the MiDAS caused spike in fraud cases of which nearly all of them unfounded. Senate Bill 1008 is balancing the state budget on the backs of innocent citizens wrongfully accused of false unemployment claims.

Governor Rick Snyder spent $47 million of taxpayer funds to install MiDAS which has been shown to be correct in determining fraud < 7% of the time. Rather than give the funds to those who were unjustly denied Unemployment Compensation by MiDAS, the Republican led Michigan legislature and Republican governor Rick Snyder are keeping much of it in the Unemployment Contingent (used to train workers and for rainy days) and will also transfer $10 million of it to the General Fund to help balance the budget. This is the same as using the additional Medicaid funding received from the expansion to balance the budget rather than set it aside for later years which would have kept Michigan from having to add to Medicaid funding till 2027. It too was used to balance the budget. By doing so in both cases, the Republicans do not have to raise taxes on the rich in income.

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“America Belongs to White Men”

A Leading Intellectual according to Trump’s Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and founder of the Alt-Right, Richard Spencer “We won . . . .” I am playing the entire newscast rather than just the abbreviated version of the speech which is popping up all over. Sorry about the commercial. This took place at Texas A&M at the same time the University was holding a Unity meeting

America

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Tom Price for Healthcare and Human Services

For those of you who may have missed it, Rep. Tom Price (R-Georgia) is Pres. Trump’s pick to be the head of the Department of Health and Human Services. Price is an Orthopedic Surgeon (former?) and has been in the House for 12 years now and a member of the Congressional Healthcare Caucus. It appears he has all of the required qualifications to be the head of the Department of Health and Human Services. The minority representative American Medical Association for doctors has endorsed Tom Price as an excellent choice.

AMA “strongly supports the nomination of Dr. Tom Price to become the next secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). His service as a physician, state legislator and member of the U.S. Congress provides a depth of experience to lead HHS. Dr. Price has been a leader in the development of health policies to advance patient choice and market-based solutions as well as reduce excessive regulatory burdens that diminish time devoted to patient care and increase costs,” said AMA Board of Trustees Chair Dr. Patrice A. Harris.”

The choice of Tom Price is a no brainer for Pres. Trump as he is also in line with Republicans wanting to repeal the PPACA and put in its place vouchers for healthcare, Medicare, and Medicaid. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell’s jobs suddenly became easier. Mr. Price’s 2009 bill “would allow refundable, age-adjusted tax credits with amounts tied to average insurance for people who buy insurance on the individual market and don’t have access to a government or employer plan.” One can see the widow-peaked Paul Ryan smiling all the way to the House floor.

The AMA in 2012 represented ~17% of all practicing doctors and students. Overall numbers have been in a downward slide over the years. Does the AMA represent the majority view of doctors and how they view the PPACA? “Only 26 percent of all primary care physicians viewed the law ‘very unfavorably’. So it might be said that just one out of four primary care physicians “hate” Obamacare.” Indeed, all the scare tactics of decreased care put forth by the opposition about the PPACA have failed to materialize (Kaiser). It does not matter to Republicans what the finding are and to some on our side of the table can only speak of “crapification” due to the PPACA as it is a bill signed by Pres. Obama

A growing number of doctors have come out in opposition to the AMA as led by Doctor Manik Chhabra, Navin Vij and Jane Zhu on their new blog Clinician Action. At the time (December 1, 2016) of Neil Versel’s article “Pushback begins against controversial HHS pick Tom Price”, 2500 doctors had signed their petition. As of December 4, 2016; >4600 doctors have signed the petition in opposition.

“We are practicing physicians who deliver healthcare in hospitals and clinics, in cities and rural towns; we are specialists and generalists, and we care for the poor and the rich, the young and the elderly. We see firsthand the difficulties that Americans face daily in accessing affordable, quality healthcare. We believe that in issuing this statement of support for Dr. Price, the AMA has reneged on a fundamental pledge that we as physicians have taken ?—? to protect and advance care for our patients.

We support patient choice. But Dr. Price’s proposed policies threaten to harm our most vulnerable patients and limit their access to healthcare. We cannot support the dismantling of Medicaid, which has helped 15 million Americans gain health coverage since 2014. We oppose Dr. Price’s proposals to reduce funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a critical mechanism by which poor children access preventative care. We wish to protect essential health benefits like treatment for opioid use disorder, prenatal care, and access to contraception.”

The rest of their stetment can be found on their blog; Clinician Action.

Whether Tom Price carries some of his views beyond an agenda to reform healthcare and repeal the PPACA, we will not know until he is appointed and has spent some time in the position. It is worthwhile to point out;

“Tom Price is a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a conservative group that publishes a journal that has promoted discredited views — including the supposed link between ‘vaccines and autism.’”

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons also came out with a statement on Living Wills:

“Living wills are not needed to prevent overtreatment in days when hospital procedures have ‘produced the imperative to ‘move things along.’” Death is usually “orchestrated by professionals in hospitals, … a transition that has markedly shortened the ‘waiting time’ for dying.”

The “Tucson, Arizona-based AAPS is also listed on Quackwatch (“Your Guide to Quackery, Health Fraud and Intelligent Decisions”).”

There is more to be said here and I hope you take a moment to read Neil Versel’s article, some of the other references, and visit Clinician Action.

“Pushback begins against controversial HHS pick Tom Price” MedCity News, Neil Versel, December 1, 2016

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