When you’re reading too much news, it can be hard to focus on what’s the most important issue facing the country. Social media and reliable news sources send an endless stream of information. I’m trying to focus my attention. Here’s a discussion of what’s happened in health care, the Russian connection, the free press, and a legitimizing of interpersonal divisions.

Health Care

You can read my Talking Points on Health Care from January. Nothing’s changed in the essentials, although some Republican congressmen are pushing back on the idea of repeal without replacement. After last week’s leaked copy came out, this week’s proposal is under lock and key, and even Republican Senator Paul Rand has been unable to get a peek at it, despite standing outside the meeting room with a photocopier.

It looks as though the bill may be brought to the House floor before the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has a chance to “score” it. The CBO looks at different pieces of legislation and estimates their costs. For example, they estimate the costs of repealing the ACA to be an INCREASE in the federal deficit of $353 billion over the next ten years. Most of these costs will come from a decrease in taxes on high-income Americans.

Kaiser Family Foundation (www.kff.org) analyzed last week’s plan and offered the following image:

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Importantly, there are no distinctions in the new plan for income or geography. A single person earning $20,000 (full time at above minimum wage for those of you who like to think people needing help to pay for health care are “lazy”) would receive the same $3000 as Bill Gates. In Alaska, where a 40 year old’s health insurance has a list price of over $10,000 a year, that would mean 35% of income would go towards health care, leaving nothing left over to cover both food and housing. Currently, under Medicaid Expansion, that person would be completely covered. (Figures from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2017 calculator.)

In both January and February, a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed that more Americans are in favor of the Affordable Care Act than are against it. Conservatives are pushing their “mandate” for repeal, but polls and surveys seem to indicate that as people become more aware of what the law actually does for them, the more they become in favor of it.

Eighty-four percent of Americans believe that Medicaid Expansion should be continued in its current form in a poll on February 24. I can’t think of anything else that 84% of Americans agree on, yet the House of Representatives is considering cutting it.

The same study from the Kaiser Family Foundation notes the surprising statistic that only 17% of Republicans are worried that they or a family member will lose insurance in a repeal of the ACA, compared with 70% of Democrats. One possible cause for this divergence is that the states which choose not to implement Medicaid Expansion are all Republican states, and so many of those people may not currently have health insurance, so they have nothing to lose.

Representative Ryan’s current plan appears to have “refundable tax credits.” The word refundable is key here. Very conservative organizations are against Ryan’s plan because the tax credits are refundable, meaning that if you don’t earn enough money to pay taxes, you will receive a check in the mail. (There is also some speculation that the plan may contain “advanceable, refundable” credits so that, like the ACA, the money would be available up front to purchase policies.) Very conservative think tanks are against any form of distribution of money, and so are in favor of a tax credit, meaning that you receive a break on taxes owed, but receive nothing if you don’t make enough to pay taxes. The Kaiser Family foundation has a good discussion of that here.

Last week’s plan hands a windfall to individuals earning more than $100,000 a year, but leaves insurance out of reach for those earning $20,000 a year, meaning millions will lose health insurance.

Russia

What is going on with Russia? How deep is the involvement? We don’t know. So far, Congress has declined to investigate it. Considering we had seven investigations on Benghazi, I think we could afford a small inquiry into the Russian issue. Denying the investigation simply suggests that there is something to hide.

And, yes, there is a substantial difference between Attorney General Jeff Sessions lying under oath about meeting with Russians, and Nancy Pelosi chatting with Ambassador Sergey Kislyakat a dinner party. Lying under oath is perjury, which is a crime, even if the act described is not.

AG Sessions has recused himself from any investigations about Russia; this is a start. Speculation on the left runs from wild conspiracy theories to simple bringing together different threads that might be true. Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show on Wilbur Ross and Donald Trump ties together banking threads and Donald Trump’s $60 million dollar profit on a housing deal with Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev. This article on the left-wing Medium.com by Alex Steffen ties together the Russian influence and the attacks on the EPA and other environmental and scientific agencies as part of the “carbon bubble.”

We don’t have anyway of assessing it beyond conspiracy theories until there is an impartial, bi-partisan Congressional investigation. But what we’ve heard so far strongly suggests that there is something there. Seventeen intelligence agencies agree that there was Russian interference in the election. (I didn’t even know we had seventeen intelligence agencies.) The dossier from British agent Christopher Steele was initial leaked on CNN and BuzzFeed, and officials dismissed it, but as time goes on, it seems that more and more of the report is being confirmed.

The right-leaning Wall Street Journal reported on January 11 that, “The author of the report had a good reputation in the intelligence world and was stationed in Russia for years, said John Sipher, who retired in 2014 after 28 years in the CIA’s clandestine service.”

The New Yorker reported: “in the weeks that followed, [intelligence officials] confirmed some of [the dossier’s] less explosive claims, relating to conversations with foreign nationals. ‘They are continuing to chase down stuff from the dossier, and, at its core, a lot of it is bearing out,’ an intelligence official said.”

On February 13, National Security Advisor Lt. General Michael Flynn resigned over lying to the Vice President about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak. Mr. Flynn had became the NSA on January 20 with the president’s inauguration. (This position is not subject to Senate Confirmation.) Earlier in his 24 day term, General Flynn had been criticized for beginning the process of giving a security clearance to his son (also Michael Flynn), who later tweeted a conspiracy theory that a pizza restaurant in Washington, DC was home to a pedophile ring with some connection to Hillary Clinton, which lead a North Carolina man to travel to Washington and open fire in the restaurant.

Left-leaning Politico has published a timeline of events here for anyone who needs a refresher.

I think the news media has done an ample job of demonstrating that a bi-partisan investigation is a necessity.

The Free Press

Speaking of the news media, the White House banned CNN, the New York Times, Politico, the Los Angeles Times and BuzzFeed from attending a informal briefing on February 24. Time Magazine and the Associated Press refused to attend in solidarity with them. The Washington Post (which had been earlier banned from attending any of the president’s pre-election rallies) was not present. The Wall Street Journal attended, but tweeted a photo-statement afterwards stating: “The Wall Street Journal strongly objects to the White House’s decision to bar certain media outlets from today’s gaggle. Had we known at the time, we would not have participated and we will not participate in such restricted briefings in the future.”

Hours earlier, the president had described the press as “the enemy of the people.”

The First Amendment to the Constitution states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Some commentators regarded this as little more than a distraction tactic, but a free press is at the heart of American freedoms. There is no free press in Russia; there was no free press in Hitler’s Germany. Without a free press, all we have is propaganda.

Hate

In the last two weeks, three men have been shot for being immigrants: Srinivas Kuchibhotla (who died) and Alok Madasani in Kansas on February 22.  Deep Rai was shot in Washington state March 4.

This year, more than 100 Jewish synagogues and community centers have received bomb threats. Cemeteries have been vandalized.

The news is full of stories of parents in front of children, grandmothers, and cancer patients being seized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The president withdrew a prior executive order allowing students to use school bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity, leaving the decision up to the states. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos argued to leave the order in place, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions overrode her.

At least seven transgender women have been murdered in the last two months.

The big picture news — health care and Russia — are important, but the smaller picture, the shattered lives of individuals is important too. We must remember them.

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