News Roundup (Week of Mar. 12-18, 2017)

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Hello, readers! Are you ready for another News Roundup?


Table of Contents

Here are the stories I have curated for this week. These last two weeks were pretty busy, that I didn’t have enough time to cover everything. I’m still sifting through the information regarding Trump’s proposed budget and the Republican health plan.

There was a lot I wanted to cover, so I might add more later. For now, the linked stories can be found on this page.

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In International News …

The United States has its hands in quite a bit of conflicts around the world. Perhaps the most pressing one involves North Korea. I will lead this week off with recent developments in South Korea and China.

The U.S. South Korea a Missile Defense System.

Earlier this month, North Korea launched four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan. And on Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the military action against the North was “on the Table.”

Also last week, the U.S. sent a Terminal High Altitude Area Device (THAAD) battery to South Korea. The THAAD is meant to defend South Korea and Japan from a missile attack. The system could be in operation as soon as summer 2017.

A THAAD battery generally includes “truck-mounted launcher carrying interceptors, a fire control and communications unit, and a radar system.” The THAAD system is limited with a 120 degree radar radius and it can only detect a missile up to 1000 km away.

Opposition the THAAD

China views the THAAD as a threat to its own national security. Beijing suspects the radar would be used as surveillance in its northern region and allow the THAAD to intercept its rockets (Russia feels the same way). U.S. maintains that it is a purely defensive system.

But even American experts in the region contend that the missile defense system is destructive to South Korean and Chinese relations. These experts include former U.S. Ambassador Thomas Hubbard and Richard Weitz, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Political-Military Analysis.

In particular, Weitz said China had already engaged in an influence campaign. Methods included “encompassing threatening leadership speeches, alarming media commentary, and most recently coercive economic pressure that has included government-sanctioned trade boycotts.”

China is South Korea’s largest trading partner, so the effects could be disastrous for the South Korean economy. Some of its companies, including Lotte, have been alleged to have code violations; these allegations could serve as a basis for these companies being shut down.

And China has begun blocking tourist travel from its borders to South Korea; the latter is a popular tourist destination by Chinese Citizens. It there is a tourism embargo, it could reduce Chinese visitors to South Korea by up to 70%, according to Scott Seaman, the director of Asia at the Eurasia Group.

The Necessity of a Missile Defense System?

In an op-ed for The Hill, Philip E. Coyle, a Senior Science Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation laid out the reasons why the recent decision by the Unites States THAAD is harmful. Coyle says the ballistic missile defense system is unneeded in the Korean Demilitarized Zone. There are few if any good options when it comes to dealing with North Korea and the THAAD missile defense system is one of the worst.

The THAAD systems have a poor record of success. In six tests in the 1990’s, the systems failed to intercept a single ballistic missile. Since 2006, there have been 11 out of 11 successful tests, but conditions were controlled and there have been no independent tests to confirm the THAAD’s reliability.

The use of a THAAD system in South Korean will only antagonize China. Beijing has said that it fears the missile defense system’s radar threatens its national security because the radar could be used to spy on its military systems. Also, the THAAD will lead to an arms race in the region. And Pyongyang might not really want the system; it delayed the installation by two years before finally agreeing to it in 2016.

Additionally, the THAAD will not serve as a deterrent. Quite the contrary, as it might also provoke North Korea and the DPRK could find ways around the system’s radar. A submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) could be one way.

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China and the U.S. Are Working on Their Relationship.

In a meeting in Beijing on Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi worked to smooth over tensions between their two countries. The two men discussed North Korea, the related THAAD system in South Korea, and Taiwan. They also tried to set the stage for a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi JinPing.

Tillerson and Wang promised to work together to ensure that the nuclear-armed North Korea would purse “a different course,” but there are many challenges ahead. Wang agreed that the U.N. sanctions on North Korea served as a blueprint for dealing with the country, but China would like to see North Korea halt its program and for the U.S. and South Korea to abandon missile defense systems in order to resume talks. Tillerson agreed that talks could only resume when North Korea halts its weapons programs. But there is a possibility that Tillerson would propose “secondary sanctions” on Chinese banks and other firms who do business with North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions.

Taiwan is also a delicate situation and it could be jeopardized by any arms deals. Currently, Trump’s team is developing an arms package for Taiwan that could include advanced rocket systems and anti-ship missiles to protect against China …

In the meantime, China and the United States are working on setting up the meeting between Trump and Xi in Washington, D.C., presumably in April. Tillerson will meet with Xi on Sunday.

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A Paris Airport Shooting Leads to a Terrorism Investigation.

A man was shot at Paris Orly airport, the second-largest in the country, on Saturday morning. After a series of events, Ziyed Ben Belgacem, 39, arrived at the airport and immediately threatened soldiers there. He tried to hold a female soldier hostage with his air pistol and yelled the following:

“Put down your guns. Put your hands on your head. I am here to die for Allah. In any case, there will be deaths.”

He was immediately shot dead by other soldiers.

Prosecutors in Paris thought the circumstances of the incident warranted a terrorism investigation. Belgacem had served a prison sentence for drug trafficking a few years ago. And before entering the airport, he had already shot a police officer with an air pistol and shot the pistol again at a bar. Belgacem’s father, brother, and a cousin of his are currently in police custody.

This was an incident that only serves to fuel the anti-immigration sentiments within France (and across Europe). In November 2015, a series of bombings and shootings left 130 people dead and scores injured. In all, there have been 230 deaths in France caused by attackers aligned with Islamic State in the last two years.

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In National News …

This week, there was new information about the Obama Administration and the 2016 presidential election. Also, the Republicans are dealing with the fallout from their health care plan and Trump introduced his much-maligned budget.

Obama’s Final Year in Office Was Not a Model of Transparency.

Sunshine Week started on Monday, Mar. 13 and it ends on Sunday, Mar. 19. And in honor of it, the AP shared the following information:

In 2016, the Obama Administration spent a record $36.2 million dollars to defend against the Freedom of Information Act. The administration had previously set a record the year before. The Justice Department accounted for $12 million, the Homeland Security incurred $6.3 million, and the Pentagon ran up a $4.8 million to that effect.

The Associated Press has done an analysis of the FOIA requests, much in the same way it did an analysis of Hillary Clinton’s emails during the time she was secretary of state. The case the AP had against the State Department was settled in 2015 and the news organization received $150,546 to cover part of its legal fees.

How the Obama Administration Fared in Transparency Categories

The Obama Administration also performed poorly in numerous transparency categories.

  • When asked for federal records via FOIA requests, the government told citizens, journalists, and others that the files could not be found.
  • The government sometimes only gave people files with heavily redacted information. When put together, the instances where nothing or part of the information requested was given amounted to 77% of the cases the AP studied in 2015 and 2016. The figure was around 65% in the first full year after Obama was elected.
  • The Obama Administration refused to quickly respond to some of the most pressing or newsworthy requests.
  • The government forced people who had asked for the waiver of search and copy fees to pay anyway.
  • The government also acknowledged that it had been wrong to initially refuse part or all of requested records at least in one-third of the cases analyzed.

During Obama’s second term, the number of FOIA lawsuits filled by news organizations (including the Associated Press, the Center for Public Integrity, and The New York Times) increased.

More Details

The AP study was in part aided by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

The AP is also suing the FBI in two lawsuits. One lawsuit was filed because of the FBI’s action to impersonal an AP journalist during a criminal investigation. The other lawsuit was filed because the FBI will not reveal who helped it hack into the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter or who much the government paid to do it.

Obama pledged to be “the most transparent administration in history.” But his record does not reflect that.

There were a record 788,769 requests for files in 2016; $478 million was spent answering the requests. There were a record 4,263 full-time FOIA employees last year across more than 100 federal departments and agencies; that was an increase by 142 from 2015.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, U.S. citizens and even foreigners can compel the United State government to turn over copies of federal records for no or little cost. The people requesting the information are supposed to receive it unless the information could compromise national security, personal privacy, decision-making processes, or expose business secrets.

To see the 2016 statistics online: https://www.foia.gov/data.html

How Trump Could Fare

Trump could be far worse. He required his employees and campaign workers to file non-disclosure agreements. He has barred certain members of the press for giving him unfavorable coverage on the campaign trail and in the White House. And he has refused to release his tax returns.

Additionally:

Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is traveling to Asia this week on a small plane without a contingent of journalists or a designated pool reporter who would send reports to the broader diplomatic press corps, departing from 50 years of practice.

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Why Did Preet Bharara’s Firing Garner Attention?

On Saturday, Mar. 11, Preet Bharara was fired from his position as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He said he was asked to give his resignation but he refused to give it.

On Thursday, Mar. 9, all the holdover U.S. attorneys from the Obama Administration were asked to step down and about half complied by the end of the day the next day. (There are 93 U.S. Attorneys covering 94 districts; all but 46* from the Obama Administration were still in place as of Friday, Mar. 10.)

Bharara did not step down because he said he wasn’t sure the order applied to him. He claims in November that he spoke with Trump and the real-estate magnate promised the Bharara would be there for the first full term of a Trump presidency. However, Bharara received a call from one of Trump’s assistants on Mar. 9 that let him know Bharara was being asked to step down.

A person briefed on the situation confirmed that Bharara met with Trump and then-Sen. Jeff Sessions in November 2016. Bharara was being asked to stay on, but it was not clear how long the U.S. Attorney was being asked to stay on. Bharara believed he would stay on for four more years.

Jooh H. Kim, Bharara’s former deputy, is now the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

* Also, two attorneys were called by Trump and their resignations were declined. Boente is the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and the acting deputy attorney general. Rod Rosenstein is the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland and Trump’s nominee for deputy attorney general.

Is Bharara’s Firing a Big Deal?

Politico’s Jack Shafer tries to set the record straight on recently fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. As Shafer points out, Bharara knows how to use the media to his advantage and his recent dismissal as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York is one such case. Bharara did as most attorneys in his position would do and political firings of U.S. Attorneys are common; Bharara just brought more attention to this event and his job, that’s all.

How Did Bharara Do As U.S. Attorney?

Over at ProPublica, Jesse Eisinger paints a pictures of Bharara that shows how reluctant the recently U.S. Attorney was to go after bigger financial targets.

Bharara was appointed as the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District by Barack Obama in 2009. Bharara succeeded the man who then became Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder.

Bharara had a number of high-profile cases in his jurisdiction. He prosecuted Sheldon Silver, the Democratic speaker of the New York State assembly and Dean Skelos, the majority leader in the state senate. Both of them are 2 of the infamous “three men in a room.” He also won criminal cases against local politicians.

However, Bharara was less aggressive when it came to bringing the players in the 2008 financial crisis. He inherited numerous investigations such as the probe of Lehman Brothers and he inherited insider-trading cases against hedge fund managers. His office focused on the latter, with him going 85-0 in those cases (although an appeals court reversed two of those convictions).

Hedge funds are safer targets. The firms aren’t enmeshed in the global financial markets in the way that giant banks are. Insider trading cases are relatively easy to win and don’t address systemic abuses that helped bring down the financial system.

More …

Bharara ultimately let Steve Cohen of SAC capital get away, only charging his firm and getting a guilty plea from it.

Bharara’s hands-off approach to the financial crisis was a similar stance to Holder’s. And there was little support for the pursuit of those cases within Obama’s Justice Department.

In failing to do anything to further the investigations into the financial crisis, Bharara let Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG, numerous other misbehaving businesses in the financial sector, and their CEO’s off the hook.

Bharara’s office did go after a number of banks and secure guilty pleas, but he could have gone after the executives behind the financial crisis just the same. But he only made one case for misconduct against Kareem Serageldin, a mid-level banker who worked for Credit Suisse. He pleaded guilty to charges stemming from mortgage securities fraud.

Bharara’s office get JP Morgan Chase to pay a $1.7 billion fine but brought no charges against individual bankers.

Additionally, the office deferred some Wall Street cases to other jurisdictions. The cases included investigations into residential mortgage-backed securities, although those offices were not well-versed as the SDNY. Foreign exchange and global interest rate manipulation cases were handed over to prosecutors working from Justice Department headquarters. That is peculiar since SDNY had historically taking corporate fraud cases from other jurisdictions; it became known as the “sovereign district.”

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John Huntsman Has Been Chosen to Be Ambassador to Russia.

John Huntsman, a former Utah governor, has been tapped to be the next ambassador to Russia. Huntsman was offered the position early in the week of Mar. 5-11, 2017.

This will be Huntsman’s third ambassadorship. He previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Singapore under H.W. Bush and then as the ambassador to China under Barack Obama.

Huntsman co-chairs “the anti-partisan group” called No Labels.

Huntsman served under Bush and Obama and accepted Trump’s offer out of patriotism. He once said, “When your president asks you to do something, I was raised in an environment that taught you to do it.”

While he was ambassador to China for two years (2009-2011), Huntsman deftly navigated his way between charming the Chinese and advancing U.S. interests while occasionally speaking out on human rights. He once raised a question about internet censorship at a controlled town hall where President Barack Obama was present.

Before being offered this diplomatic role, Huntsman was seen as a challenger to 82-year-old Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Huntman’s Connection to Trump

In 2011, Huntsman stepped down from his position as ambassador to run for president. While on the campaign trail, he said ideas like Trump’s would lead to a trade war. He also said:

I’m not going to kiss his ring, and I’m not going to kiss any other part of his anatomy. If he has any courage at all, he would be running for president of the United States of America instead of manipulating the process from the outside.

In the 2016 presidential race, Huntsman surprised many by endorsing Trump early on in the primary process. However, Huntsman would rescind that endorsement when the audio tape came out.

In Oct. 2016, Huntsman turned on Donald Trump after a 2005 Access Hollywood audio clip surfaced in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting beautiful women. At the time, Huntsman said Trump should bow out of the presidential race.

However, the two have since made amends. And it seems that Huntsman still lobbied to be a part of a Trump administration. The former trader even defended Trump’s call to Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen.

Navigating His Way in Russia

It remains to be seen if Huntsman is right for this job. Immediately, he is at a disadvantage since he doesn’t know the Russian language and it’s not entirely clear how much he knows about the country. He was an excellent fit for his previous diplomatic assignments because he could speak Mandarin.

Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul cautions that Huntsman may have his work cut out for him. The last six ambassadors to Russia had some mastery of the language and knowledge of the country.

Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center adds that the current U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Tefft, is a standard bearer for that appointment. “He served with distinction at sensitive times as U.S. ambassador in Lithuania, Georgia and Ukraine prior to Russia and is enormously well respected by the Russians.”

McFaul served two years in Russia and he was “harassed by security goons, protesters and state media television crews alike.”

It might behoove Huntsman if the Russians believe he has Trump’s ear. But the two are not that close and may have differing views about how to proceed. An any pronounced difference might cause Trump to sideline Huntsman.

(Some believe Rex Tillersoon is receiving the cold shoulder because of how the Secretary of State handled the human rights report. Tillerson had “low-level staffers” give the report via an anonymous phone call.)

There is no current policy on Russia and the U.S. needs to tread cafefully. Yulia Gorbunova, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that Russia is developing a record on human rights that is worse than at any time since the fall of the Soviet Union.

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Trump Released His Controversial Budget Proposal.

President Donald Trump released his “skinny” budget last week. This is not the final budget but it contains the general blueprint of his plans for various agencies and programs.

Among the winners are defense and national security agencies. Trump plans to increase military spending by $54 billion and to add money to the FBI, Homeland Security, and Customs and Border Protection. This would fulfill the promise to his base to be the “law and order” president and to bolster defenses to support his wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Many other important governmental agencies would suffer deep cuts (around 15%-20% on average) that overall seek to reduce the governmental workforce and weaken regulations. These agencies include the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Departments of Energy, the Interior, State, Housing and Urban Development, and Commerce. The EPA alone might suffer a cut of at least 25% percent and the State Department might face a 28% cut.

Among the programs that might be cut involve solar energy, biofuels, and other alternative energy sources. Conservatives argue that those programs give certain business preference over others.

Foreign aid will also be cut.

Additionally, there would be cuts for arts programs and public broadcasting.

In all, the programs that are being targeted account for $1.2 trillion out of the yearly $3.9 trillion U.S. federal budget.

That reminds me tweet from Neil DeGrasse Tyson on Cutting PBS:

Trump’s budget does not include the elimination of entitlements. About $2.4 trillion is set aside for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. These programs help the poor, elderly, and disabled.

Reaction

Many government workers are fearful that the new budget could mean an end to their employment. Although Republicans argue that the government is too big, the U.S. government is the country’s largest employer. And there are important jobs done by government workers, which include food inspection.

Also, this budget could have political ramifications. Trump’s base might not care what happens regarding the budget, but this could turn some who voted for him against him. And as Douglas Holtz-Eakin (a former Republican director of the Congressional Budget Office) suspects, Republicans can be split on the budget proposal.

It turns out Holtz-Eagan had a point.

Most Republicans might like the cuts to certain agencies and the 10% increase in military spending.

However, some may be opposed to the cuts for various reasons. Some worry about the cuts in foreign aid and moderates might not like the cuts to domestic programs.

In particular:

  • Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is opposed to any cuts that would hurt the EPA’s Great Lakes restoration program.
  • Lisa Murkoswski (Alaska) is opposed to cutting or eliminating specific programs which help the poor and help localities deal with wastewater.

FYI …

Much of this budget was written or informed by current and former Heritage Foundation members, including Stephen Moore, who calls foreign aid “a complete waste of money.” Until Mick Mulvaney was confirmed as Office of Management and Budget Director, the budget policy was being run by Paul Winfree, who is now the White House Director of Budget Policy. Winfree was a Heritage Foundation staffer and he wrote the foundation’s 2016 budget blueprint, which also included the elimination  of entitlements like Social Security.

The full budget is expected sometime this May. It may require 60 votes in the Senate in order to increase military spending and override the sequester rules of a few years ago.

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Senate Confirmations

It’s been a while since I gave updates on the Senate confirmations of Trump’s picks. I wanted to give an in-depth look at the picks, but here are the basic details.

Picks Confirmed So Far

No new president has seen all his picks confirmed in the last 30 years. But Trump has gotten all of his picks in so far. The Democratic “resistance” hasn’t done much but slow down the process.

  • General James Mattis was confirmed as Secretary of Defense on a 98-1 vote on Jan. 20.
  • Retired Gen. John Kelly was confirmed to lead the Department of Homeland Security by an 88-11 vote on Jan. 20.
  • Nikki Haley of South Carolina was confirmed as Ambassador to the United Nations on a 96-4 vote.
  • Mike Pompeo (KS) was confirmed as CIA Director on a 66-32 vote on Jan 23.
  • Elaine Chao was confirmed as Transportation Secretary on a 93-6 vote on Jan. 31.
  • Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, was confirmed as Secretary of State by a 56-43 vote on Feb. 1.
  • Betsy DeVos was confirmed to lead the Department of Education on a 51-50 vote on Feb. 7. Two Republicans, Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowsky (Alaska) voted alongside the Democrats against DeVos’s confirmation. For the first time in American history, a cabinet pick needed the deciding vote to come from the vice president.
  • Jeff Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General on a 52-47 vote on Feb. 8.
  • Tom Price was confirmed as Health and Human Services Secretary by a 52-47 vote on Feb. 10.
  • Steve Mnuchin was confirmed as Secretary of the Treasury by a 53-47 vote on Feb. 13.
  • David Shulkin, who served in the Obama Administration, was confirmed to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs by a 100-0 vote on Feb. 13.
  • Mick Mulvaney (SC) was confirmed as Director of the Office of Management and Budget on a 51-49 vote on Feb. 16.
  • Former Oklahoma Attorney General and climate skeptic Scott Pruitt was confirmed as EPA Administrator on a 52-46 vote on Feb. 17.
  • Wilbur Ross was confirmed to lead the Department of Commerce on a 72-27 vote on Feb. 27.
  • Ryan Zinke (MT) was confirmed to lead the Department of the Interior by a 68-31 vote on Mar. 1.
  • Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was confirmed as Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary on a 58 to 41 vote on March 2.
  • Energy Secretary: Former Texas Governor Rick Perry was confirmed on a 62-37 vote on March 2.

Awaiting a Hearing

It looks like there are only two major confirmations to go:

  • Andrew Puzder’s name was withdrawn for Labor Secretary on Feb. 15 and he was replaced by Alexander Acosta to head the Labor Department. Acosta is currently awaiting a hearing but it is highly likely he will be confirmed.
  • Sonny Perdue, a former governor of Georgia, was named as Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Agriculture. Perdue is tough on immigration.

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Genetic Testing Might Be Enforced at a Workplace Near You.

While so much attention is being focused on Trump’s tweets and other things, there is a bill that has been given little attention so far. The bill, HR 1313, would allow employers to basically force their employees to undergo genetic testing and see employee’s health information. The bill was approved by all the Republicans (and opposed by all the Democrats) in a House committee on Wednesday, Mar. 8.

In 2008, a law known as GINA protected workers from protected workers from discrimination on the basis of genetics. It also protected worker privacy. But it this law is passed, it would allow businesses to get around the law by tying the gathering of information to compulsory (yet, mandatory) “workplace wellness” programs.

From Mashable:

The 2008 genetic law prohibits a group health plan — the kind employers have — from asking, let alone requiring, someone to undergo a genetic test. It also prohibits that specifically for “underwriting purposes,” which is where wellness programs come in. “Underwriting purposes” includes basing insurance deductibles, rebates, rewards, or other financial incentives on completing a health risk assessment or health screenings. In addition, any genetic information can be provided to the employer only in a de-identified, aggregated form, rather than in a way that reveals which individual has which genetic profile.

Companies which run the programs are often poorly regulated, and thus share the information with businesses for a fee.

Also, studies have shown that “workplace wellness” programs generally do not work.

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The Republicans Revealed Their Plan to Repeal the Affordable Care Act.

On Monday, Republicans unveiled their replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act. And the early reviews are overwhelmingly negative.

Here’s What the Affordable Care Act Did

When the ACA was passed in 2010, it did not have any Republican support in Congress. It wasn’t very popular among Americans, but it instituted important changes to get coverage for 20 million more people.

  • It made subsidies available for people who made less than $48,000 a year and used health care exchanges.
  • The amount of subsidies a person could receive was income-based and depended on the costs of premiums in a particular area.
  • The subsidies would automatically be applied to the insured’s health care bills each month.
  • There was a mandate which required everyone to have health insurance. The failure to purchase health insurance by a certain date each year (Jan. 31) would result in a tax penalty.
  • Health insurance providers were barred from denying those with preexisting health conditions.
  • The cost of providing insurance for poor Americans would be shared by the federal and state governments and the money the federal government gave to each state depended on how much care their Medicaid patients received.
  • The federal government paid most of the cost to expand Medicaid for low-income adults without children for 30 states and the District of Columbia. Those 30 states and Washington, D.C. chose to expand Medicaid.
  • The ACA set up online marketplaces to allow people who did not have health plans through their jobs to compare plans.
  • All plans featured on the online marketplaces had to offer a basic set of benefits.
  • Insurance companies and medical device makers had to pay more taxes.

What the Republicans Want to Do with It

What the Republicans Want to Do the ACA:

  • Subsidies would decrease for younger customers with $75,000 or more per year.
  • The subsidies received are based on age, not income, meaning poorer Americans will receive less help.
  • The amount of subsidies would not be based on the cost of insurance; people in more expensive areas will receive less help.
  • There would be no tax penalty for failing to be insurance. However, anyone who goes without buying health insurance for two months would face a 30% increase in premiums for up to a year when they do purchase a new plan.
  • The plan would keep the prohibition from insurances turning away those with preexisting conditions.
  • There would now be a “per capita cap,” meaning each state will be given a fixed amount of money for Medicaid per person. The amount will linked to inflation.
  • However, Medicaid expansion will be ended by 2020.
  • Insurers would be allowed to charge older consumers up to five times more than younger consumers.
  • Insurers would still be required to offer basic benefits under their plans.
  • Insurers will be barred from imposing annual or lifetime limits.
  • A tax cut will be given to insurance companies, medical device makers, and wealthy Americans.

The Possible Effects of the Changes

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act would cause 24 million Americans to lose their health coverage by 2026. There are around 28 million uninsured Americans. That number could nearly double to 52 million in 9 years.

Depending on where a person lives, how much they make, and how old they are, the changes in subsidies could either help or hurt them. Those who stand to benefit are generally younger, have higher incomes, and have lower premiums. But as you get into the $75,000 yearly income range, the older tend to benefit more.

The CBO also estimated that the Republican plan could reduce the deficit by $337 billion over the next ten years. Most of the savings would come from Medicaid reductions and the loss of subsidies for non-group health insurance.

The Reaction

On Tuesday, Trump endorsed Republican legislation meant to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act, A.K.A. Obamacare.

However, the bill does not have the full support of conservatives. Senator Mike Lee (R-) called the new bill “exactly the type of back-room dealing and rushed process that we criticized Democrats for.”

Some conservatives said the new bill did not go far enough to repeal the ACA and take the federal government from the health insurance industry. Rand Paul called the plan “Obamacare Lite” and wanted a repeal-only option. Jim Jordan (R-) also said that he would like to see the ACA repealed; he introduced his own plan to repeal the health care act on Wednesday.

Conservative groups who want to see the bill defeated include: Heritage Action for America, the Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners (the last of which is funded by the Koch brothers). The Club for Growth called this plan “RyanCare” and basically stated its opposition to “government-run healthcare.”

Conservatives also referred to the tax credits as a new form of entitlement. The tax credits proposed in the plan would range from $2,000 to $4,000.

This may be a make or break issue for congressional republicans. Many of them have faced backlash from voters, primarily due to the threat to health insurance. If they coverage is interrupted or made even more expensive, voters will be motivated to vote Republicans out of office.

Democrats said this new plan will only benefit the rich while knocking millions of Americans off health insurance rolls. They and moderate Republicans said the plan would hurt millions of low-income Americans by getting rid of the Medicaid expansion.

The ACA is popular in most states, even in those controlled by Republicans.

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Some People Are Trying to Crack Down on Protesters.

Republican lawmakers in at least 18 states have introduced bills aimed at curbing protests. They are being joined by law enforcement agencies who are going after protesters.

What States Are Doing

Among the things that make up these bills are increased penalties for blocking roadways and railways, immunity for drivers who hit protesters with automobiles under circumstances, a ban on masks during protesting, and the seizure of assets if people get involved in protests that turn violent.

Bills in North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, and Oklahoma are definitely in response to the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. These states want to punish people who “interfere” with pipelines or “tamper” with oil and gas equipment.

North Dakota, Florida, Tennessee, and Indiana are states with bills on the extreme end of spectrum. Three of these states want to give serious leeway to drivers who strike protesters with their cars under certain circumstances, even though street protests are often the most effective to get people to pay attention to worthy causes. The Indiana bill initially granted the police free reign to shut down protests; it has since asked only for fines on protesters.

Arizona’s bill aims to treat protests like organized crime syndicates. If protesters passed, could be hit by racketeering charges.

The Georgia bill in consideration includes sidewalks as being off-limits to protests.

Iowa and Mississippi bills would call for five-year prison sentences for protesters who block traffic.

Law Enforcement

On Jan. 20, over 200 people were arrested in connection to Inauguration Day protests. Among the people arrested were members of the press, legal observers, and medics.

Now, law enforcement agencies are pressuring Apple and Facebook to hand over the personal information of the arrestees.

The FBI is specifically looking at protesters from Standing Rock (who opposed the Dakota Access Pipeline.

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About the 2016 Election …

If you supported former Secretary Clinton in the last election, this is going to hurt.

Don’t shoot the messenger, but …

Clinton’s TV Ads Often Lacked Substance.

Based on a study by the Wesleyan Media Project, Hillary Clinton’s television ads during the last election had less to do with policy than ads from other presidential candidates in the last four presidential election cycles. As the researchers found, only 25% of Clinton’s ads went after Trump on policy grounds, compared to 70% of Trump’s ads discussing policy, at least somewhat. Since 2000, every other presidential candidate besides Clinton had at least 40% of their ads have included some discussion of policy.

From 2015-2016, Clinton’s team spot over $1 billion during her campaign; that is twice the amount Donald Trump spent on his campaign. Clinton and her supporters also managed to hit Trump and those aligned with him in every state.

But why didn’t this work out? For one thing, Trump and his allies were already advertising in states like Wisconsin consistently since September. Also, the types of ads run by both campaigns likely made a difference.

The Effects of Negative Advertising

The researchers also looked at the attack ads. On Clinton’s side, 90% of her negative TV spots went after Trump’s personality. Around 70% of Trump’s negative advertisements “contained at least some discussion of policy” and all contrast ads from him focused on policy.

This is mentioned because Clinton might have suffered a backlash from her negative ads.

As stated from Vox Media, the lack of policy discussion left little room for Clinton to talk about why she was the better choice. That’s something voters find helpful and Trump did more of that for himself.

Spending

Additionally, the spending in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — three states that had been reliably “blue” during the last few presidential elections — was virtually nonexistent until the last weeks. Clinton spent a total of $72 million on TV ads in the final weeks of her campaign. And there was particular a rush to spend in swing states like Wisconsin near the end.

In the report on the advertising patterns on the 2016 presidential election, Fowler, Franz, and Ridout looked at how the major presidential candidates spent their funds on advertising and the spending on the down-ballot races. Of particular interest was the ratio of policy-based and attack ads in the race and the effects of negative advertising.

Quote:

Even though the ad advantage may have been in Clinton’s favor, it does no good if the message does not resonate with voters. Of course, the jury is still out on how effective Clinton’s message was, but evidence suggests that negativity in advertising can have a backlash effect on the sponsor (Pinkleton 1997) and that personally-focused, trait-based negative messages (especially those that are uncivil) tend to be seen as less fair, less informative and less important than more substantive, policy-based messaging (Fridkin and Geer 1994; Brooks and Geer 2007).

Donna Brazile May Have Confessed to Sharing Debate Questions.

Democratic analyst Donna Brazile wrote an essay for Time in which she discussed why Trump should be investigated for his suspected ties to Russia. In the letter, she broached the subject of the DNC email leaks and she seemingly implicated herself in giving Hillary Clinton’s campaign debate questions beforehand.

Quote:

As a former presidential campaign manager, I know that the very essence of a campaign is its strategy, the ability to design a winning plan. A winning plan requires research, resources and personnel. Russia’s attacks on the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election cycle compromised each of these elements.

When I was asked last July to step in temporarily as D.N.C. Chair, I knew things were amiss. The D.N.C. had been hacked, and thousands of staff emails and documents were plastered on various websites. Staff were harassed, morale suffered, and we lost weeks of planning. Donors were harassed, and fundraising fell off.

Then in October, a subsequent release of emails revealed that among the many things I did in my role as a Democratic operative and D.N.C. Vice Chair prior to assuming the interim D.N.C. Chair position was to share potential town hall topics with the Clinton campaign. I had been working behind the scenes to add more town hall events and debates to the primary calendar, and I helped ensure those events included diverse moderators and addressed topics vital to minority communities. My job was to make all our Democratic candidates look good, and I worked closely with both campaigns to make that happen. But sending those emails was a mistake I will forever regret.

What Was the Scope?

It turns out that Donna Brazile sent at least 3 total questions to Hillary Clinton ahead of a March 2016 Democratic presidential debate which aired on CNN. Roland Martin was a moderator and he asked Clinton a question about labor unions. Martin asked Sanders about income inequality. Those questions were given to Clinton’s campaign ahead of time.

In particular, Brazile talked with a Flint, Michigan resident ahead of a March 6 Democratic debate that aired on CNN. Brazile then gave Clinton’s campaign a question about the Flint Water Crisis.

Those leaks were costly. In late October 2016, it was announced that Donna Brazile and CNN were parting ways. Brazile, a Democratic political strategist, was a correspondent for CNN and ABC. She was suspended from both networks after she accepted her second stint as interim DNC chair. However, after news surfaced that Brazile provided the Clinton campaign with questions ahead of a couple CNN debates, she was let go.

Link to Transcript: http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/2016/03/13/full-rush-transcript-hillary-clinton-partcnn-tv-one-democratic-presidential-town-hall/

Brazile claims that she was helping both the viable Democratic nominees and the leaks were “selective.” But there were no emails showing that she tried to help Sanders’ campaign in this way, and there were others emails in which Brazile was seen denigrating Sanders; she later apologized to him and his team.

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In Regional News …

I had to share these two stories From Texas and

Those District Lines Are Racist.

In 2011, the Republican-controlled legislature in Texas redrew maps to create three new voting districts. That same year, a very strict voter ID law was passed in the state.

Since then, the voter ID law has been weakened by court rulings. And on Friday, the gerrymandered districts were ruled invalid.

A three- judge panel in San Antonio ruled 2-1 that the three districts in question were drawn along racial lines. However, the judges did not order an immediate fix to the problem and Texas could still appeal to the Supreme Court.

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This Is Why You Should Know Your Grammar.

On Monday, truck drivers in Portland, Maine were awarded $10 million in back pay by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Three truck drivers who worked for Oakhurst Dairy filed a class-action lawsuit against the company in 2014. The drivers argued they were owned back overtime pay and their case ultimately hinged on the lack of the Oxford Comma.

What Is the Oxford Comma?

The Oxford comma is also called the serial comma. It is placed before the word “and” in a sentence when three or more items are being listed.

Here’s an example:

First, I need to talk to me sisters, Sarah, and Rosalina.

Depending on who is being addressed, the person might already know who Sarah and Rosalina are. And if there is a comma after Sarah, it can be inferred that Sarah and Rosalina are not the speaker’s sisters. The lack of a comma would imply that Sarah and Rosalina are the speaker’s sisters.

Now, according to a 2014 survey of 1,129 Americans by FiveThirtyEight and SurveyMonkey, 57% of the country prefers using the Oxford Comma. Forty-three percent is opposed to it.

And different businesses will have different rules for the usage of commas. Most news outlets, including The New York Times and the Associated Press generally omit the Oxford comma unless a comma will prevent confusion. But most academic publishers and guides, like The Chicago Manual of Style and the Oxford University Press style (of course), promote the comma.

How Did the Comma Come Into Play for This Case?

Well, it turns out the Maine Legislative Drafting Manual instructed lawmakers to omit the Oxford comma.

One of the drivers’ lawyers, David G. Webber, used the grammar in a state law governing the business to win the case. This is how the law was written:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.

Now, look at how this is no comma before “or distribution of.” This begged the question if all the other activities (except for distribution) were exempt or if all activities were exempt from overtime pay. If the latter was true, distribution would be considered part of packing.

The delivery drivers distribute perishable food items, but they don’t pack them themselves. Also, they make between $46,800 and $52,000 a year without overtime pay. They normally worked for 12 extra hours a week and would be owed 1.5 times the hourly pay for each hour they worked over 40 hours total per week (unless they did exempted work).

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In Internet News …

Facebook has updated some of its rules and YouTube’s JonTron lands himself in hot water.

Facebook & Instagram Have New Privacy Guidelines to Protect Users.

In a recent post, Facebook announced that it was no longer allowing developers use the platform to do surveillance on other users, notably protesters and people of color. Before the update to Facebook and Instagram’s terms, some developers were offering products that allowed them to glean publicly available information like names, track protests, and conduct monitoring activities on the platforms.

Facebook and Instagram average 1.86 billion and 600 million users per month, respectively.

Twitter, which has 319 million monthly users, instituted a policy like this last year. Law enforcement, intelligence services, and developers are barred from gleaning information from tweets.

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JonTron Is Messing Up.

On Sunday, Mar. 12, Iowa Rep. Steve King tweeted a message in support of far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders. The message read:

Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.

Sometime later on the 12th, Jon Jafari, A.K.A. JonTron, defended Steve King’s Tweet. The March 12 Tweet from Jafari (JonTron) referring to Steve King read:

Wow, how scandalous, Steve King doesn’t want his country invaded by people who have contempt for his culture and people! NAZI!!!

Jafari later went on to hold a two-hour conversation with Steven Bonnell (A.K.A. Destiny) on Twitch, during which the former made a series of inflammatory statements.  Link to video.

Among the things Jafari said were:

  • Rich black people were more predisposed to crime than poor whites.
  • There was no more discrimination in the United States and anyone who believed there was “is living in a fantasy land.”
  • While denying that discrimination existed, Jafair gave credence to the notion that there was a “white genocide” happening in the United States.

Jafari immediately came under fire from his remarks, including from some of his fans. While many people have found and still find his review-based videos hilarious, it was disappointing for him to spout un-researched, right-wing talking points.

This incident has drawn comparisons to what happened with PewDiePie, but there is little comparison to be made. PewDiePie made a series of off-color, and many would agree, tasteless, jokes. It appears that Jafari was dead serious and he had been affected by far-right sources.

And Jafari’s statements are worse when you consider that Steve King made a March 13 Tweet that read:

I’ll be up on @TuckerCarlson this hour. Let’s Make Western Civilization Great Again!

King would later try to clarify his statement in another tweet, but he has a reputation. King has been known to make inflammatory statements about race. Sometime last year, he asked which subgroup of Americans made the most contributions to the country. Of course, he was implying that whites did.

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In Entertainment News

The world lost a Rock N’ Roll Legend over the weekend.

Chuck Berry Passed Away at the Age of 90.

Rock and roller Chuck Berry died on Saturday, Mar. 18 at the age of 90. His health had deteriorated six years ago. And his death was confirmed by the St. Charles County, MO, police department.

Charles Edward Berry was born on October 18, 1926. He was the fourth of six children and he grew up in St. Louis, Missouri.

Berry was a beautician before easing himself into a musical career. By the early 1950’s, he was part of the Jonnie Johnson trio. The three went on to make music with Chess Records after Berry set up a meeting with Leonard Chess.

Among the hits Berry made were “Johnny B. Good,” “Maybelline,” “Roll over Beethoven,” and “Rock and Roll Music.” The song “Maybelline” led to a three-decade battle for him to retain all rights to the song only he wrote. His only chart-topping hit was the 1972 song “My Ding-A-Ling.”

Johnny B. Goode (Live in 1958):

My Ding-A-Ling:

Berry’s Legal Troubles

Berry did get into a bit of trouble during his lifetime. At the age of 18, he was arrested for robbery with a pistol (which he said was unloaded).

For a time, he was under surveillance by authorities, who accused him of molesting children. He did get involved with prostitutes and tape his … um, escapades. Those tapes were eventually leaked and they can be found on the Internet. (I don’t want to look for them.)

Berry’s Musical Influences

Berry cited a whole host of influences for his music. He looked up to Nat King Cole and Muddy Waters. He incorporated the guitar styles of T-Bone Walker, Charlie Christian, and Elmore James. And you can hear a Country Western influence in a number of Berry’s songs.

Berry was at the forefront of Rock n’ Roll music during the 1950’s a 1960’s, along with Little Richard and James Brown. And like them, he was influential to future artists, but even more so.

Berry is survived by his wife Themetta. The two were married for 68 years.

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