Publius Speaks

Publius Speaks
Become A Follower

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Resistance Speech


Today's Post is a speech I gave at a Resistance gathering in Utica, NY as part of the demonstrations that were held in the United States - and in several countries around the world - to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump to the Office of President of the United States.  I hope it reminds us that we have a duty to protest and resist whenever democratic values are threatened; that we also have a duty to use that right in a bold, positive, reasoned and effective manner.   This POST is also meant as a thank you to all the participants around the globe yesterday, especially those at the three events that took place in Utica, NY.  

The challenge facing us now is how to keep the Resistance alive for the next four years.  That will be the test of our commitment to democratic values as Citizens of this nation, and to human rights as Citizens of this World.    
  
Anti-Trump Unity Rally
January 21, 2017
Utica, NY

This talk today was advertised as being about resistance.  And indeed, we must be ready to resist whatever Donald Trump and his followers – including our new congresswoman – attempt to do that is harmful, hurtful and demeaning of people and destructive of our democracy.  We must be prepared to counter that which leads us away from our constitution, away from our moral underpinnings and away from our mutual responsibility for each other.
 
While I stand firmly on the side of resistant actions that display our objections to injustices and to inequality of access and opportunity, I want to accentuate the positive approach that was an important part of President Obama’s farewell speech on January 10th

And let me begin where he began – with us.  Change happens when people of hope and good-will engage with each other to forge that more perfect union that was set in motion over 2 and 1/4 centuries in our past.  We can handle dire current challenges by working to make people’s lives better with greater economic opportunity, by upholding laws and policies that prevent discrimination, separation and denigration of people, and by knowing that the long sweep of our history has favored a progressive advance toward realization of that ideal of equal justice-for-all forged centuries ago.

President Obama pointed out that the worst threat to our democracy is when good people choose to do nothing; taking Democracy for granted.  We must throw ourselves into the work that strengthens democracy; And we must certainly seek to enlist others in this cause because, as President Obama said:  the most important office in our democracy is that of Citizen.

 He even laid out for us some of the necessary attitudes and actions we citizens must cultivate:

·       We must Reject attempts to enfeeble our sacred ties to one another for it weakens the underpinnings of Democracy when we write-off certain people and deny our responsibility to care for one another.
And those first attempts have already begun in the new Congress: our new congresswoman recently voted in favor of cutting off funds to the UN; she also voted for a budget resolution designed to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  And we face the approval of cabinet nominees who basically reject the mission and purpose of their assigned departments and seem poised to eliminate some vital functions that will more than weaken our democracy. 

·       Run for office.  While Democrats ignored local politics and needs, the Republicans took over school boards, town boards, county legislatures, college curricula, state legislatures and a hefty portion of Governorships.  It is necessary for us to be candidates, find candidates, train candidates and win local elections, and even to help fill empty Party Committee seats in other towns and cities. 

·         What President Obama said about the Constitution was very meaningful: “The Constitution is nothing but a piece of parchment that has little power of itself unless the people give it force” – the force of progressive ideals and values.

Let no one misunderstand.  The word “force” does not mean the use of violence, but it does mean the reasoned use of power.  The use of Economic Boycott, for instance, is a tactic that has been employed when nothing else worked. The repeal of the ACA for over 20 million formerly uninsured and under-insured citizens may not respond to the usual tactics of protest, and targeted boycotts may turn out to be necessary. So, be prepared to be innovative; to be forceful but reasoned about tactics.

However, we must become BOLD; in the spirit of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the Anti-Viet Nam War movement of the 1970s. And so, I’m going to conclude today with a few of the thoughts and ideas that are occupying my mind lately:

·       Those who attack equality and justice-for-all must be made to feel the loss of privileges that too many politicians and office-holders believe they deserve.  If Congress and Trump insist on destroying affordable health care insurance operated out of government exchanges with federal subsidies, then we must find ways to abolish free clinics at the Capitol and subsidized surgeries for members of Congress at army & navy hospitals.  And, we must advocate for Congressmen and Senators to have to follow every provision in whatever they legislate to replace the ACA. No exemptions!

·       The Electoral College has always been a way for an elite group to hold some sway over elections for president.  It must be abolished.  And one way to do that is already a Movement across the country worthy of your consideration, called the “National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.”  Its premise is that once states containing more than half of the total electoral votes pledge by law all their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote, the Electoral College will become simply a rubber-stamp of the popular vote.

·       Recently, a coalition of agencies supported the City of Utica in a press conference held at City Hall featuring a joint agreement between the Mayor and the Common Council that opposed repeal of the ACA.  Such local participation in national issues is a necessity, and we must support and promote just such a model elsewhere.  What’s more--

·    We must develop coalitions of progressive organizations;
·    We must have rapid response teams trained in creative ways to react immediately to the errant proposals and actions of the Alt Right;
·   We need people to utilize and scrutinize social media, as well as writers of Letters-to-the-Editor (LTEs);  
·     In-depth education of the public is indispensable.
· Therefore, we must be holding training for candidates and writers and activists of all kinds like today’s Rally.  But we also need individuals who can call and post and text and write from their own homes.

So, Dive in; stay with it; have faith in the power of ordinary people to bring about change. Let us resolve to put our opinions, our values, our ideas to work, for we are the Hope, the Change and the Resistance that we need at this point in our history. Let us act with the determination and the audacity of true believers in a new and stronger social contract with each other. Let us have faith in the power of right over might and build up the protection and expansion of our rights and freedoms like voting, elections, healthcare and public education.

Let it be said as we pass the torch to a new generation that we met the challenges of authoritarianism, expanded our concept of democracy, and left a stronger more progressive nation to our children and our grandchildren, who themselves can then once more proudly proclaim:   YES WE CAN!


NOTE:  read the previous Blog Post dated 1/10/2017 for more on the non-visible Republican alternatives to the ACA. 



Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sounding the Alarm on "Obamacare" Repeal

It is certainly no secret that Donald Trump and the ultra-conservative Republican Congress are gearing up for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act – “Obamacare” as they like to call it.  It is also clear to many of us that they have an unbridled ideological obsession about this which is hopefully going to result in a wide-spread negative reaction (and perhaps torrents of protest) because they have no alternative measures with which to replace the health coverage of over 20 million enrolled in the ACA (not counting perhaps 10 million more who were able to enroll in Medicaid under expanded income eligibility guidelines).

As you must know by now, the repeal process is underway. A Resolution was passed last week that instructed two relevant committees in the House and two in the Senate to draft legislation within their particular purview that “would cut at least $1 billion from the deficit over 10 years.” (NY Times).  Their legislation is due by Jan. 27th and will be in the form of a reconciliation bill which can be adopted under fast-track procedures, and which will require no more than 51 votes to pass the Senate because, in the Senate, the filibuster rule will be curtailed.

The seemingly innocuous language of the resolution will allow the four committees to propose budget cuts that will affect the functioning of the Affordable Care Act, something with which the House already has some familiarity, having voted more than 60 times to repeal “Obamacare.”  Some parts of the ACA law may remain intact, such as the prohibition on insurers denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, and those under age 26 being able to remain on their parents’ insurance. Since Senate rules require that reconciliation bills must have provisions that have some effect upon spending or revenue, the committee bills will address those issues in perhaps the following ways:

·         Eliminate the tax penalties imposed on people who do not have coverage and on larger employers who do not offer coverage to employees
·         Eliminate the billions of dollars that go to states each year to cover expanded eligibility under Medicaid
·         Repeal the subsidies for those obtaining coverage under the marketplace exchange plans
·         Could possibly repeal some of the taxes and fees on certain high-income people, on health insurers, and on certain drug and medical device manufacturers

    Republicans have taken every opportunity to indicate that the effective date of repeal will be delayed for two to four years to avoid disruption and to provide time to craft replacement legislation.  But, make no mistake:  There are some thorny problems left to address.

  1. If the Republican Congress has failed to produce a credible alternative health care bill over the last 6 years, is it plausible that they can do so over the next 2-4 years?  Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee when the ACA was signed into law, has said that “the American Academy of Actuaries has highlighted concerns about premium rate hikes” under the GOP non-Plan.  In a letter to Speaker Ryan, the Academy made clear that: “Delaying the effective date of repeal while a replacement is worked out likely won’t be enough to assure the stability and sustainability of the individual market.”  Health Plans, hospitals and researchers have all echoed the same worry, says Mr. Levin.
  2. Since Trump expects to issue Executive Orders to undo some of the ACA provisions and policies, what will be the effect on an alternative plan, and how will the newly insured under ACA be affected?  According to some reports, Trump is more concerned about shoring up the stability of the insurers than of addressing the devastation of the about-to-be uninsured.        
  3. According to a NY Times article at MSN.com, Mike Pence indicated last Wednesday that the replacement would “probably encourage greater use of personal health savings accounts and make it easier for carriers to sell insurance plans across state lines.  Also, it would encourage small businesses to band together and buy insurance through ‘association health plans’ sponsored by business and professional organizations.” Trump has endorsed some kind of state-run “high-risk pools” for people with pre-existing conditions. None of which answers the question of how millions of people unable to afford these before they got ACA coverage will be able to afford these measures after repeal!
  4. The thorniest question, of course, comes down to affordability and mandated coverage. The latter can perhaps be put off, but the former is going to determine what the millions of former ACA-covered clients are going to be able to afford during the interim period and beyond it.  Without adequate subsidies, millions of people will again simply not be covered.  And by the way, guess where many Republicans want to put that money they will save on no more subsidies?  According to the Tax Policy Center, the primary recipients will be those earning over one million dollars annually.  Another use will be to shore up large insurance companies that lost money during the first few years of operation in the ACA exchanges (because of their own miscalculations, by the way!).
  5. Another tremendously important dilemma is the fact that certain provisions of the ACA depend on other provisions in the law to work effectively.  This is one more reason why many health care professionals are warning against repeal.  Doctors, hospitals and even some insurance companies are warning against repeal because of what the absence of certain provisions will do to them and their livelihoods.  Medicare and Medicaid will be affected by the ACA repeal and that could affect payments to hospitals and doctors.
  6. Not only are there provisions within the law that work with other provisions, but repeal would likely affect the entire healthcare system and professional groups like the American Medical Association are sounding the alarm. For example, repeal could have an effect on Medicare recipients who could lose access to free preventative care and more affordable prescription drugs.  
  7. No one has taken the time or made the effort to address the one thing in the law that was included to protect consumers and to advocate for reasonable changes and adjustments in the law.  That is the section on consumer advocacy and protection.  (Please see my posting of 9/29/2013 for details).  Republicans despise consumer advocacy and oversight boards, but they don’t want you to realize that so they keep quiet on that matter while they surreptitiously try to eliminate every such entity they can find!  Soon, you will have zero such groups to advocate for your needs, while the favored 1% of wealthiest citizens will continue to reap every possible government dole-out that becomes available.
  8. Another thorny issue that repeal of the law portends is that its successes will be thrown away with repeal, which is something that Republicans cover-up by telling the Big Lie that the ACA is falling apart from the inside out.  Not so.  In fact:
·         enrollment for coverage is at a higher pace than last year at this time or in any other year; the navigator provision has been of great help in this enrollment
·         the percent of Americans without insurance coverage is at an all-time low and so is the rate of rise in premiums
·         over 20 million depend on the law for health care coverage (and about 10 million more signed up for Medicaid under enhanced eligibility rates)
·         there is also increased access to primary healthcare and a reduced reliance on emergency unit care
·         Seniors on Medicare are experiencing the disappearance of the “doughnut-hole” and a reduction in their cost for prescribed medications
·         Large numbers of young adults up to age 26 are being covered on their parent’s policies
·         Women are experiencing more equality in rates and treatment, and benefiting tremendously from ACA provisions directed at their circumstances

I want to conclude today with something unusual.  I want to conclude with sort of an exercise; perhaps a way to look outside one’s own situation.  Picture, if you will, a person who has multiple health problems, in this case, let’s say heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and skin cancer.  Any one of these, allowed to go untreated, could result in a fatal conclusion - death. 

Just think of the expense involved in treating this person who would require a primary physician versed in watching for the worsening of any of the three conditions.  A cardiologist would be very important, as would a cardiac surgeon, a neurologist, and a plastic surgeon.  Of course, numerous lab tests would be required to monitor the effect of medications, the complications of these diseases such as blood thinning, edema, loss of balance, loss of fine motor coordination, removal of some skin cancers, and even some mechanical equipment such as stents, a valve replacement in the heart perhaps, a pacemaker and/or defibrillator, and perhaps an operation on the face to remove what were becoming  worrisome growths.  Then there would be the therapies: physical mostly, but perhaps speech as well for complications from Parkinson’s.  Of course, one cannot forget the expense of hospital stays and perhaps a few ambulance rides. Have I forgotten anything major?  How about a gastroenterologist needed to monitor the effects of certain drugs on digestive system, liver, kidneys, etc.? Oh yes - how about all those necessary medications -- as many as 15-20 separate pills. I’m sure there must be more items involved, but let this serve as a broad overview of this (real) person’s health picture, and his/her overwhelming need for a very adequate health insurance plan. 

For many such people dealing with multiple diseases or conditions, Medicare, a very good Medicare supplement, and perhaps extra coverage for dental, vision and hearing treatments and devices is a necessity.  It is not an exaggeration that some kind of insurance – perhaps Medicaid – will also be needed at the end stage of this person’s life as nursing home or hospice care may be inevitable but personal resources will have been gradually exhausted.

Now please do what many people are failing to do - switch from your vision of this person with multiple diseases and with adequate health insurance coverage to meet the demands of these conditions to a vision of a person who has no health insurance coverage and can't afford it – and has no help to manage these conditions and their resulting side effects.  Millions of such people exist in this country, with more about to be forced back into that reality.  They could not afford the medical insurance coverage, they could not even get adequate coverage because of insurance company restrictions on pre-existing conditions and long-term pay-outs.  Some who got very basic cheaper coverage also got a lifetime cap on expenses, and higher costs for co-pays and limits on certain treatments.  If they were eligible for Medicare, they also got stuck in an expensive “doughnut hole” which affected their treatment because they could not afford the expensive drug costs. 

What did they do?  They overloaded our emergency rooms, community health clinics and public health services trying to get treatment to save their lives – all of which services were not equipped to handle the onslaught of chronically ill people.  Rates of medical insurance climbed every year for all those who were covered in order to pay for those public services for those who weren’t covered.  That was before the passage of the much-derided “Obamacare” that was set-up to cover the uncovered or inadequately-covered persons so that their right to adequate health care would not be compromised, and so that the rest of us could reasonably expect to be free of the out-of-control rising rates we were being forced to bear by insurance companies in order to balance their costs and maintain their rather lucrative profit-margins.  And now, radical Republicans are determined to repeal the ACA so that we can go backwards to allowing insurance companies their large profits made possible by their undue and unfair restrictions, unreasonable rates and unwarranted caps.  Unwitting proponents of repeal are about to get what they have been asking for – along with the rest of us -- health bills that we can’t afford and bankruptcies we didn’t expect and cannot endure.

 As usual, unscrupulous politicians in the Congress have bamboozled you.  They directed blame for initial flaws and hiccups in the ACA to one person – Barack Obama – when it was Republican inattention, delay and outright opposition to providing adequate health care coverage for an uninsured segment of our population that played a key role in rising health care costs, rising deficit-spending and rising difficulties for small hospitals and for folks who are sick, often with multiple diseases.

Repeal of the ACA is not only irresponsible; it is immoral because care of the sick and vulnerable is an integral part of the ethical code inherited and embraced by this nation.  Congress is about to bring real harm upon millions of individuals -- including children, women and Senior Citizens -- who have gained health care coverage, and assistance for medication costs, under “Obamacare.”  Those who vote to repeal should be declared ineligible to hold public office because they will have violated their oath of office by bringing direct harm to real people, and abandoned their fiduciary obligations by directly abrogating the constitutional principle of the General Welfare of the People and the obligation in Article 1, Section 8, to do all in their power to execute the responsibilities named therein. 

Stop these anarchists.  Go on www.barackobama.com or to www.indivisibleguide.com and join the anti-repeal movement in a meaningful (and well-guided) manner.  As our President said in his farewell address last night: we weaken democracy when we write-off certain people and our responsibilities toward them and toward all.  We must constantly work - for a lifetime - to improve our great nation and its ideals. Being an involved Citizen is the most important Office in a democracy, because self-government is the underpinning of our democracy. In a phrase that I shall ever remember, he declared that the Constitution - a piece of parchment with writing - has no power or meaning unless We the People give it force and meaning.

So, he concluded: "Dive in.  Stay at it.  Have faith in America and in fellow Americans.  It is in the power of ordinary citizens to bring about change with our hearts, our ideals, and our enthusiasm. Believe in your ability, and in the Creed at our Core: "Yes, WE CAN!"  

Thank you, Mr. President, for your grace, your determination, your capacity to focus on the good, and your undiminished commitment to the fundamental values that have nourished, sustained and inspired us for centuries.  I am committed to grass roots activism to bring about meaningful change in our democracy and will continue that quest in the spirit you have manifested throughout your Presidency.  I am also committed to preserving your distinct legacy in any way I can because the successes and the achievements of your terms must be preserved for the edification of future generations. May many blessings be yours in the next phase of your life of service.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A PRESENT FROM the PAST

PLEASE NOTE:  I just found a draft posting from five years ago that was never published for readers to view.  I regret that error and that omission.  It is almost Christmas 2016.  This is most certainly a season of new birth, of joy, of caring, of inner peace and of hope.  In this particular year, on the political scene, it is seemingly also a season of nervous anticipation, actual fear, disgust, hypocrisy, division, anger, lies and bigotry, to say nothing about belligerence, intolerance, hatred and racism.  We are caught in a dilemma of our own choosing and of our own making.  One side of that dilemma expresses the virtues of love, family, faith, goodness, kindness peace and hope.  As with many of the events of Jesus’ life (birth, death, resurrection, ascension), there is great meaning within the events themselves, and a certain spiritual power or grace that emanates from that event into the celebration of it.  That's why we wish each other a "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays."



But, we cannot ignore the other side of our dilemma – also something of our own making and of our own choosing. We have allowed the creation of something frighteningly unfamiliar: the inside out, upside-down, value-threatening world of the President-elect of our country and of those leaders who will follow and support him. Donald Trump has, for many people, come to symbolize that inside-out Christmas, represented by the Grinch, (or perhaps -- Beelzebub).


So, in the midst of this dilemma, I am re-presenting this posting as a quick look at one of our most important Judeo-Christian values or beliefs that is being turned inside out - a PRESENT from the PAST! Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!


=============================================

One of the major themes of the Bible is clearly the treatment of the poor and oppressed.  In fact, if someone wanted to be a one-issue candidate or voter, the Bible would lend itself to supporting that particular value as the one for which it speaks in no uncertain terms.  Perhaps as far back as the thirteenth century B.C., the Hebrew Law institutionalized assistance to the poor:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.  You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.” 

Seems somewhat trivial in our high-powered capitalistic world, doesn’t it?  Leave something for the poor and alien from your harvest; but, it not only set a precedent in Israel, but carried over into other countries and cultures as well.  
England, for example, for a long time, allowed the poor to glean wood from forests owned by the rich and to have a “commons” where they could allow their animals to graze because it was held “in common” by all the tenants of the lord of a manor, and by villagers who settled nearby.  It was a rule followed right into the 17th and 18th centuries, until the rich began to push for “enclosure” of their lands so that their holdings could be protected and held inviolable.  Many of the poor were adversely affected by such a reversal of the custom of providing “gleanings” from the forests and the commons.

This message about helping the poor continues throughout the Old Testament, and is found not only in the Torah, but in the Psalms and Proverbs (songs and sayings), and in the Prophets.   It is found again in the New Testament as Jesus and some of his writer-followers reiterated the admonitions and content of the Old Testament.  Moreover, Jesus during his ministry, came back to his hometown of Nazareth and proclaimed something quite remarkable:  that he would be the fulfillment of God’s concern for the poor and downtrodden. 


“ He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read (from Hebrew scripture, of course)….’ The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he appointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord…’ Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)


Then, Jesus went a step further to make clear that God, and his own ministry, is on the side of the poor and downtrodden, by defining salvation as depending on how individuals and nations treat the poorest and most afflicted in the rather alarming parable or allegory of the Sheep and the Goats.

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty, and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked, and clothe you?’
“And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me’.”

Of course, we all know what happened to the goats who didn’t see God in their brothers, and who didn’t offer their help; they went away into eternal punishment, while the righteous gained eternal life.

  
This was a startling message for Jesus’ day, for the prevailing belief was that wealth and position were signs of God’s favor, and poverty was God’s punishment for sin.  Jesus rejected that idea most clearly in the parable or allegory of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).  The rich man ended up in hell because of his lack of compassion toward the beggar Lazarus (obviously, his wealth was not a sign of God’s favor), and Lazarus ended up in heaven (his great poverty was obviously not a sign of sinfulness or his own folly). 

Is it possible that there is a strong undercurrent of such attitudes existing today that allows our corporations and our government to justify economic and social policies that favor the rich and prosperous while undermining and zeroing- out programs that help the poor? Certainly the attitude that the poor, and even the handicapped, have done something to deserve their condition is much too prevalent.
In both the Old and New Testaments, helping the less fortunate is a message without caveats; it is simply something that must be done: a duty, an obligation, a way of life. And the overwhelming message in all these sources is that God wants it this way! Rather than quote hundreds of passages to prove a point, let us simply take a few samples to remind ourselves of the content of these messages:


1) It is incumbent on all to help the poor and oppressed:

“You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him.” (Leviticus 19:13).

“If there is a poor man among you…in any of the towns of the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to the poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.” (Deut. 15:7)

“When you have finished paying the complete tithe of your increase in…the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.” (Deut. 26:12)


“Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3)


2)  The Lord God is on the side of the poor and He protects and defends them; He identifies with them.  In fact, God is called by many names throughout the scriptures and many of those names emphasize His great love for the poor:




“Defender of the fatherless and widows” (Deut. 10:18; Psalm 10:16-18; Jeremiah 22:16)
“Protector of the poor” (Psalm 12:5)
“Rescuer of the poor” (I Sam. 2:8; Psalm 35:10; Isaiah 19:20; Jeremiah. 20:13)
“Provider of the poor” (Psalm 68:10; Isaiah 41:17)
“Savior of the poor” (Psalm 34:6; 109:31)
“Refuge of the poor” (Psalm 14:6; Isaiah 25:4)



3) Those in positions of authority - Kings, Judges, representatives; and those who are rich -- are all responsible for the care and protection of the poor:

[A Commandment to kings] “Open your mouth for the dumb, for the rights of all the unfortunate.  Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” (Prov. 31:8ff).

“Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who continually record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice and rob the poor of My people of their rights"(Isa. 10:1-3)

“He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who are hungry. He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed.” (Luke 1:52ff)

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew t6:24-25)
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth… but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (1Timothy 6:17,18)

4)  Care for the poor brings rewards; oppression and indifference bring other outcomes:

“He who despises his neighbor sins, but happy is he who is gracious to the poor.” (Proverbs 14:21)



“He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses.” (Proverbs 28:27)


“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:13-14)


“But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1John 3:17)


What might we conclude from all this?  Too many ultra-Conservatives have already concluded that the scriptures simply call us to recognize that the poor will always be with us and that the best way to approach poverty is to have faith communities handle their needs, but not to burden government with this task.  Many of them have also concluded that the poor and indigent, the immigrant and alien, those who receive welfare payments from government are lazy, illegal, undeserving, and are defrauding the government. 


However, the Book that has given us so many tenets related to human rights and dignity, to liberty and equality, and even to democracy, is unequivocal in its admonition that the poor and oppressed, even the stranger and alien, must be cared for; that officers of government and the rich have a solemn obligation to seek justice and to stand on the side of the downtrodden.  The Bible actually equates helping the poor, the widow, the orphan, the alien, the oppressed with aiding God.  That is, the lives and well-being of the most vulnerable in our societies are directly bound-up in our relationship with God.

While I do not contend that the Bible is to taken literally, or for that matter, as an Absolute of some kind, I do take it as a very important source of the Judeo-Christian ethic and thus for democratic ideals and institutions.
 
I


It is perhaps not too harsh, then, to conclude from that source, that American society is headed in the wrong direction as it turns over its administration to the rich and powerful; as it diverts the taxes of the middle and working classes to further enrich the already prosperous; as it tolerates the efforts of lobbyists and lawyers to gain clear advantages for the rich and powerful in our laws and regulations, without regard to the consequences for the less fortunate; as legislators cut needed programs that assist the less fortunate under the guise of reduction of government debt.


We would not be amiss to conclude also from that source that government is not exempt from providing for the poor, the downtrodden, and the less fortunate; that government, and churches, synagogues and mosques, as well as individuals, all have an equal obligation to stand with the poor and to give absolute assurance of opportunity, safety, security, protection and justice to all in need. To do less is to deny our God, our patriotism, our sacred honor and our obligation as citizens of this great Democracy.










Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A 'NEW (AB)NORMAL' Takes Hold

I really have to laugh at the ‘surprise’ exhibited by certain people, mainly newscasters, whenever Donald Trump announces something, tweets something, appoints someone or when he goes to partake of dinner with Mitt Romney at a New York restaurant.  It’s both laughable and tragic – whatever Mr. Trump does. 

So folks – let’s stop being so surprised and awe-struck whenever the Donald does or says something unexpected, contradictory, inflammatory, or unwise.  It’s too late now to be surprised, or caught off-guard.  This is scheduled to be the new (ab)normal for the next four years, and we will all have to learn to live with it, or make plans to move to Canada. (Maybe enough of those Trump Electors – we need 37 of them -- will switch their votes to Clinton on December 19th, but that’s extremely doubtful).

BUT –– don’t say you weren’t warned. On this Blog alone, since the Donald announced his candidacy, there have been 26 posts about how wrong Trump will be for this country.  At least a half-dozen of those dealt with his tendency to be authoritarian and even fascist-like in his approach to policy, legislation, established law and even to accepted procedure.  Here are some of the things I have said previously about Trump that one might want to consider again in relation to the new (ab)normal:

  • “Avoidance of tough questions is nothing new to politics, or to politicians.  It happens all the time; and often it happens because the candidate knows he is in deep trouble with donors, with voters or with the media, and sometimes with his party colleagues.  Trump avoided several questions of what he would actually do to solve certain problems and instead emphasized his wealth and what that means in terms of governing.” (8/9/2015)
  • “What we heard...from the Republican presidential candidates only serves to prove my point:  this is not just about winning an election.  This is about the use of POWER.  Republicans want that power in the hands of a few elite persons, states and industrial entities.  Progressives want that power in the hands of servants of the people and of the People themselves. It is a fundamental difference in the social-political-economic philosophy and activism of the Right and the Left; of Republican and Democrat; of those who serve to crave and to profit themselves, and those who crave to serve and profit the People.” (9/21/2015)
  • “It cannot be under-stated that one of the most attractive pieces of Fascist philosophy... was the myth that a strong man in charge will make all things right again, and contribute to the strength of the Aryan race at the same time. It is also important to recognize the place of intimidation and violence in the myth of the strong man. They also made sure that their strength showed in their competence, their timeliness and in results.  Need I mention the obvious – “the Donald.”   The words are those of a Social Darwinist; of someone who believes that might makes right or will win the day.  We are talking about authoritarianism – the principle of subjection to authority as opposed to a principle of individual freedom.  We’re talking about the actions of a potentially peremptory, dictatorial strong man...” (11/17/2015)
  • The promotion of unquestioning patriotism --or rather of misplaced patriotism -- is a force that is invasive and destructive.  In touting American “exceptionalism” no matter the realities of our national life, is to numb us to realities that are destructive of our ideals and of our true patriotism.  “Exceptionalism” is not so much found in being first in various fields of endeavor, or being strongest militarily, or being out front earning unmatched profits.  Greatness or exceptionalism is rather found in how much we can, as a people and a nation, give to others; on what we can share to enhance life upon our earth, and on what we can promote so that others can have the opportunities that we have.  The Republican Right wing is attempting to pull us in the opposite direction so that we value self-protection more than accepting refugees; so that we value profit more than quality or equality, strength more than empathy, and self-aggrandizement rather than charity.  We must not allow Right-wing fanatics to rob us of our heritage, and to use a growing moral numbness as a tool of destruction of our democracy.” (11/30/2015)  
  • “... a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he was writing his dissertation, sampled 1,800 voters from across the entire political spectrum and ran a “statistical analysis” of the poll answers. He found that it didn’t really matter what age, race, religion, etc. the voter was, they tended to support Donald Trump if they agreed with authoritarian values.  Authoritarian leanings are defined by Dictionary.com as --“A personality pattern reflecting a desire for security, order, power, and status, with a desire for structured lines of authority, a conventional set of values or outlook, a demand for unquestioning obedience, and a tendency to be hostile toward or use as scapegoats individuals of minority or nontraditional groups.”  Conditions are ripe for an authoritarian leader to emerge. Trump is seizing the opportunity. And the institutions—from the Republican Party to the press—that are supposed to guard against what James Madison called “the infection of violent passions” among the people have either been cowed by Trump’s bluster or are asleep on the job.  “It is time for those who would appeal to our better angels to take his insurgency seriously and stop dismissing his supporters as a small band of the dispossessed. Trump support is firmly rooted in American authoritarianism and, once awakened, it is a force to be reckoned with.” (1/22/2016)
  • “It doesn't much matter what consequences may get strewn in the path on the way to victory, for winning is the ultimate goal and the ultimate pay-off.  Trump is not in this campaign to win friends; he is only in it to win and to draw a huge number of unsuspecting ordinary people... and enough of the powerful and influential into his circle of admiring worshippers.  This campaign is all about Donald Trump, the Trump name and the Trump Enterprises.  It is not about governing or serving or acting on behalf of the People.  All the talk from this man is about him, his art of the deal, and the billions that will accrue to him (beyond his present wealth) as he builds a Trump empire bigger than ever expected. 
    Those who believe that Donald Trump is speaking their language, speaking for them in terms of their needs and wants, or is going to care one wit about whether this country wins, have missed the point.  Donald Trump is using the People, and will use the entire mechanism of both the government and the economic system, to make them all work for him.  This man is not a philanthropist; he is not a servant of the people; he is not someone who cares deeply about people's problems or hopes; he is a competitor, a bully, an authoritarian, an entertainer, a deal-maker.  But don't be bamboozled friends.  He is not in this campaign for any of the reasons usually given -- making our country a place of hope, building on our principles of equal justice, individual freedoms and equal opportunity.  He is not seeking to protect or enhance the lives of vulnerable people, or to use government as the defender of our God-given rights.  He is out to win big for himself, and will do that in whatever ways he needs or desires or wants.” (3/22/2016)
  • “With a radical Republican President Trump, an ultra-right-wing majority on the Supreme Court, and a Congress controlled or obstructed by Tea Party ideologues, YOU ARE ABOUT TO WISH YOU HAD NEVER HEARD OF DONALD TRUMP.  Just as Ronald Reagan betrayed his union followers when he fired striking Air Traffic Controllers, Trump followers are about to be betrayed beyond their wildest fears.  THEY ARE ABOUT TO BE EATEN ALIVE by the forces of destruction, division, diminution, denigration, deregulation, distrust, demonizing and demoralization.
“I tend, therefore, to pity those followers who believe that Donald Trump, once in office, will carry out every promise he has made to help particular groups of people.  Why do I say that?  Because he has constantly demonstrated in his life and in his work that his personal status, profit, power, prestige and winning are all that matter.  Equality and Justice, charitableness and service to others are not important to him unless they can be used as tools to CON others into following his lead.  Therefore, I end with a personal message to Trump supporters: YOU WILL LIVE TO REGRET YOUR SUPPORT OF TRUMP because his support ultimately means your downfall, and the probable deterioration of our economy, our daily existence, our democratic values and your livelihood.”  (9/23/2016)

It is extremely provocative (and not surprising!) that the Trump Transition Team is now embarked on a tactic that is straight from the Fascist playbook.  It involves the diminishing (and possible destruction) of a career civil service component within the top echelons of government bureaucracy.  Something one must understand about our Executive branch of government: some civil servants work in the government for a good number of years, and in many ways, the stability they provide is very helpful.  On the other hand, depending on the circumstances as to what particular Party controls the White House, those same civil servants, with years of experience and some accrued authority, especially in the top echelons of departments and offices, can set up resistance to changes that do not make sense to their minds and in relation to their principles and experience.  In other words, the Trump people already see these civil servants as a problem in some areas and are beginning to assert their own power of appointment, perhaps seeing opportunities to assert their own purposes, mission and authority.

At any rate, the story from the Washington Post is that Trump Transition people are calling for the names of EPA staff and the dates they met with others about environmental issues.  More precisely, Trump’s people are looking for the identities of those staff who were pushing the Obama environmental agenda.  Here’s some of what the article explains:
“The Trump transition team has issued a list of 74 questions for the Energy Department, asking officials there to identify which department employees and contractors have worked on forging an international climate pact as well as domestic efforts to cut the nation’s carbon output.

The questionnaire requests a list of those individuals who have taken part in international climate talks over the past five years and “which programs within DOE are essential to meeting the goals of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.  The questionnaire also appeared to take aim at the national laboratories, which operate with a high degree of independence but are part of the Energy Department. The questionnaire asked for a list of the top 20 salaried employees of the labs, the labs’ peer-reviewed publications over the past three years, a list of their professional society memberships, affiliations, and the websites they maintain or contribute to ‘during work hours.’ Researchers at national labs focus on a range of issues, including renewable-energy development and climate analysis.”

The questionnaire, which one Energy Department official described as unusually “intrusive” and a matter for departmental lawyers, has raised concern that the Trump transition team was trying to figure out how to target the people, including civil servants, who have helped implement policies under Obama.”

In addition to all I have said leading up to this point, let it be clear that this tactic is not that of a usual gentle purging of left-over appointees from a previous administration.  This appears to be more of an attack upon certain civil servants who acted to implement the environmental agenda of the Obama administration. 

Similarly, using the Civil Service Law of April 1933, Nazi Party authorities began eliminating Jews from governmental agencies, and state positions in the economy, law, and cultural life. Although not a direct corollary to the Nazi agenda in the early 1930’s, this move by the Trump Team has the unusual flavor of individual targeting of certain people for removal from the government.  This is not a good sign. 

Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), a physicist, warned that the questionnaire “threatens to undo decades of progress we have made on climate change,” and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said punishing civil servants for their work under previous administrations “would be tantamount to an illegal modern-day political witch hunt and would have a profoundly chilling impact on our dedicated federal workforce.”

Finally, we should no longer be astonished or surprised by the appointments being made by Donald Trump.  In case it has not become entirely evident at this point, the appointments so far do not appear to this writer to be made on the basis of loyalty or ‘cleaning the swamp’ or bringing in outsiders.  The one common pattern or thread appears to me to be the anti-Obama, anti-central government, and anti-liberal programs and policies inherent in those nominations.  We are talking about destruction here, not about construction. 

 “A strikingly similar situation occurred in Reagan’s first term when Anne Gorsuch was appointed to head the Environmental Protection Agency amid a major push for regulatory rollback. But after Gorsuch resigned amid controversy in 1983, Congress opened investigations into supposed “hit lists” at the agency used to track the views of members of scientific advisory boards, according to contemporary news reports.” (NY Times)

So far, in my mind, the present situation contains an even worse scenario.  We have a leader who believes he has a mandate to destroy much of what has been built in the past to benefit the People.  “While there have been many instances of political appointees and career scientists clashing in various administrations, what is novel is the request for the names of so many individual scientists, and the fact that it comes during the transition period, before the Trump administration has even taken power. This may be a signal of even more intense politicization after the inauguration.”

Trump has so far appointed some department heads who will take their mandates very seriously, and whose credentials, experience and policy positions can only lead to politicization, certain deregulation and probable dismemberment of their agencies.  The current example speaks to that contradictory scenario.

Scott Pruitt, EPA Director nominee --the attorney general of the oil and gas-intensive state of Oklahoma, named to head the Environmental Protection Agency.  When the nomination was announced, the press release from the Transition team called Pruitt “an expert in Constitutional law” saying he “brings a deep understanding of the impact of regulations on both the environment and the economy.”
According to the NY Times, “Pruitt has spent much of his energy as attorney general fighting the very agency he is being nominated to lead.  The Times suggested this move “signals an assault on President Obama’s climate change and environmental legacy.” 

The press release quoted Trump as saying: “For too long, the Environmental Protection Agency has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs, while also undermining our incredible farmers and many other businesses and industries at every turn.”  Trump added: Pruitt “will reverse this trend and restore the EPA’s essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe.” My administration “strongly believes in environmental protection, and Scott Pruitt will be a powerful advocate for that mission while promoting jobs, safety and opportunity.”

Pruitt himself was quoted as saying: “The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.”

The words behind the quotes are clear and resounding.  There will be a detailed dismantling of regulations formulated during the Obama administration that put certain laws and policies into practice.  There will be what is known as a ‘reduction in force’ as certain key participants are identified for removal. 

There will be what may become, under the Trump administration, a widespread involvement of government agencies openly conducting their departments to create the most positive atmosphere possible for corporations and businesses, to the exclusion of other important functions. Protecting the environment, enhancing public education, ensuring that people’s rights, welfare and health are addressed, attending to national needs like rebuilding infrastructure, alternative fuels, and research into childhood diseases, plus public health reform will all be on the back burner. 


For that reason, we will next take a look at the nominations so far for cabinet positions and other leaders of the Trump administration because those appointments are illustrative of where this nation is headed under the Alt-Right.   





UPDATE:
President-elect Donald Trump's transition team on Wednesday disavowed a survey sent to the U.S. Department of Energy that requested the names of people working on climate change in the agency.
"The questionnaire was not authorized or part of our standard protocol," Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said. "The person who sent it has been properly counseled." 


Notice please: no one said the survey was not sent -- it was and that's the problem!
...hours before the disavowal, Democratic U.S. Representatives Frank Pallone and Elijah Cummings sent a letter to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, the head of the transition, saying the team is entitled to select political appointees who share Trump's climate views, but that any effort to marginalize civil servants on the basis of their scientific analysis would be an "abuse of authority."