Friday, April 21, 2017

Most Americans Want Medicare For All

In one sense Democrats and Republicans agree on the need to reform healthcare in the United States. The difference is the goal of Republicans in Congress is to lower taxes, particularly for the wealthiest while the goal of Democrats is to make sure more people are covered by insurance. Republicans in Congress can’t seem to agree on how far to push, the Freedom Caucus, aka TEA Party, want to take away healthcare for everyone receiving coverage through the Medicaid expansion. That’s in addition to the folks the so called moderate Republicans want to throw to the wolves by reducing subsidies on the Exchange such that they could no longer afford insurance.

Whether or not the motivation for cutting off the federal assistance is at least partially racist the fact is that the rate of uninsured among Hispanics is 30.7%, more than twice the rate of African-Americans and three times that of whites.

Texas' overall uninsured rate is about 8 percentage points higher than the overall U.S. uninsured rate. Nearly 18% of Texans still don’t have health insurance making this state the worst in the country.

Medicaid expansion critics like Gov. Abbott object to providing coverage to able-bodied adults who can work. What they don’t talk about is that many Texans work a full time job and still don’t earn enough to qualify for subsidies on the exchange but they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s latest healthcare “reform” proposal Medicaid would be turned into what is called block grants the amount that the federal government gives to states to administer Medicaid would be reduced. A block grant would allow much more freedom to states like Texas to set their own criteria for who deserves healthcare and how much care would be paid for. Since under Ryan’s proposal funding would also be reduced some people would lose coverage or have access to less healthcare.

One group most likely to suffer are those in nursing homes since a very large fraction of Medicaid is spent to subsidize the fees since Medicare doesn’t cover it and their social security checks usually aren’t enough either. Once those folks run out of their retirement savings the only thing keeping them in the nursing home is Medicaid. If Paul Ryan were to get his way be prepared to close in the garage and put grandma in there because there will be no where else for her to go.

I think most of us would agree that the folks we, know regardless of income, deserve to be able to see a doctor when they’re sick and fill the prescriptions needed to recover. I’ll bet most of believe that every child should get the healthcare they need to grow up strong and healthy. Recent studies show that over 60% agree that it would be so much simpler and better if everyone was on Medicare. And it’s not just liberals who believe this, 30% of Republicans agree.

Representative John Conyers of Michigan has filed a bill in Congress named the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, H.R. 676. The bill that would not only insure that every American could go to the doctor when sick but it would also save the 20% that insurance companies now get to spend on overhead because Medicare is just that much more efficient.


If you wondered what that bunch of demonstrators out in front of the Guadalupe Regional Medical Center last Saturday were doing; we were calling on our congressman, Vicenté Gonzalez, to join other Texans in co-sponsoring H.R. 676.

Published in the Seguin Gazette April 14, 2017

Friday, April 14, 2017

Science Fiction and the Consequences of Wrecking Our Environment

Writers of what is often termed literary fiction tell a story about what is called the “human condition”, love and loss, revenge and overcoming adversity are just a few of the themes. Science fiction often does the same thing cloaked in a far off future but sometimes it examines the potential consequences of today’s actions or choices. Over the last 40 years post-environmental collapse stories such as the movies Mad Max, starring Mel Gibson, in 1979 and Waterworld, starring Kevin Costner, in 1995.

Neither movie spends much time on how things got to be the way they are, instead they address what life is like after civilization breaks down. Both movies offer worlds where violence is used to gather and control scarce resources whether it is oil or fresh water and run by warlords with no compassion or sense of decency. Neither movie ends on an especially hopeful note.

If, like me, you accept the scientific consensus that global climate change is occurring and that man’s activities are responsible the vast majority of it then you’re likely to have been frustrated by the slow pace of official action by the Obama administration to stem the tide. Now that Trump is in office the slow pace has been reversed starting with the appointment and confirmation of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt earned his chops as a conservative hero by suing the Environmental Protection Agency to benefit polluters.

In a recent CNBC interview, Pruitt stated that he does not agree that carbon dioxide is the primary driver of the global warming revealed by the temperature records over recent decades. The American Meteorological Society, your favorite TV weatherman is probably a member, wrote him a letter calling out his scientific ignorance and urging him to reconsider his “...stance on the science, and then help lead the nation and the world to consider, first, options for action, and then the course to be followed.”

Trump has taken direct actions that are contrary to the need to get off fossil fuels before it’s too late. Just over a week ago he approved the Keystone XL pipeline which will allow the transmission of dirty, caustic tar sands from Canada to refineries in the United States. Tar sands are much less efficient to process into gasoline, diesel and other petrochemicals due to the contaminants it contains making it much more energy intensive to refine and therefore raising the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.

Then in what he claims is an effort to restore coal mining jobs Trump signed a bill which reverses the Stream Protection Rule, an Obama era regulation that prohibits coal mine operators from dumping mining waste containing arsenic, mercury and other harmful chemicals into nearby streams. So not only does this bill give wealthy coal mine operators the right to contaminate our water supply it encourages the burning of a fuel that wrecks the climate.

Scientists say that if we don’t get our act together soon and cut our C02 and methane emissions the climate will take an irreversible turn around 2050 and by 2100 human life in much of the world will be unsustainable. You and I won’t live to see that but today's young adults and their children almost certainly will.

Today we resist however we can. In 2018 it is imperative that we vote out Trump’s Republican enablers in Congress and demand strong action in order to save our grandchildren and great grandchildren from life that English philosopher Thomas Hobbes would likely describe as “nasty, brutish and short”.


Published in the Seguin Gazette April 7, 2017

Saturday, April 8, 2017

#donthecon meets Tax Reform

Now that Trump has ordered Speaker Paul Ryan to put aside Trumpcare they’re moving on to “tax reform” also known as Tax Breaks for Millionaires. Fortunately for the rest of us failing to take away healthcare for millions of Americans makes this scheme a lot harder as one of the fig leaves they had planned to hide the budget busting effect of the tax breaks behind has been removed.

They’ve also run into trouble with big retailers like their corporate sponsor Walmart over Trump’s desire to apply a tax on goods at the border. The plan was to raise taxes on imports and use the money to both rebate exporters and lower taxes for millionaires. Walmart which imports 70% of its merchandise from China alone isn’t happy about that as you might imagine and has sent their army of lobbyists off to the halls of the Rayburn House Office Building with the message that they won’t stand for import tariffs. Of course the fact that it would have set off a trade war wasn’t enough.

Even Republicans in Congress can’t agree on where to focus the tax breaks. Some want to lower the top corporate tax rate, some want to lower the individual rate for top earners and some want to lower the rate charged on international businesses. Between the bust on saving billions by letting low income folks be sick and die and the Walton family putting their foot down has left the hapless Republicans in a bit of a tight spot.

Some talking heads in television and radio land suggest Speaker Ryan should reach out to Democrats for assistance passing a tax reform bill. I doubt Ryan’s ready to try that yet as it’s only two months into the Trump presidency and he’s probably going to  try to get his right flank, known as the “Freedom Caucus”, to march in step. Of course, since the Freedom Caucus is the group that sank Trumpcare he’s welcome to try.

#donthecon is more in tune with tax breaks for millionaires like himself, you can tell because during the presidential campaign he made big promises about healthcare but never put forth a plan whereas on taxes he’s actually put pen to paper and made concrete proposals. Basically his tax plan is if you’re a millionaire or billionaire you deserve a tax break, the little people like us, not so much.

One of the proposals being floated is to eliminate all itemized deductions except for home mortgages. While that would certainly streamline tax forms it will surely hurt those of us with large healthcare expenses not paid by insurance. Last year I was able to deduct $7750 in un-reimbursed healthcare expenses which saved me $1938 in taxes. Under the Trump/Ryan tax plan as proposed I’d lose that deduction and I’d be certain to pay higher taxes even if they lowered the overall rate a few points.


Are you ready for a tax plan where just like Trumpcare the benefits go to the wealthiest among us?

Published in the Seguin Gazette March 31, 2017

Friday, March 31, 2017

HJR 118 is best for all Texans

Do you believe that some people’s votes should count more than others? Do you think Senate District 21 which runs from Starr County which is an hour south of Laredo on the Mexican border northeast to Guadalupe County then north to Travis County is a sensible district? Do you believe in gerrymandering for partisan gain? Do you believe legislators should get to pick their constituents instead of voters picking their legislators?

If you answered no to those questions you probably should support Victoria Neave’s bill HJR 118 which would change the way Texas creates state legislative and congressional districts. Today state law gives legislators from the party in power the right to create the district maps in their own interests. Since they’re drawing the maps they make sure that their seats are safe and that two incumbents of their party aren’t put into the same district. Essentially they are picking their constituents in order to insure re-election.

Those hyper-partisan maps have triggered numerous lawsuits and cost Texas over $2 million just in the current decade. Texas is losing the current lawsuit but it is still battling so taxpayer dollars continue to be spent.

In 2013 Austin used an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission to draw its 10 city council district boundaries in compliance with federal and state requirements through an open and transparent process that enabled full public consideration and comment. The volunteers on the commission held a series of public meetings over four months to gather public input.

The Commission worked to ensure that the districts were geographically contiguous and compact, minimizing the impact on local neighborhoods or communities of interest, used existing election precinct boundaries, and had geographically identifiable boundaries.

HJR 118 would create a non-partisan Citizens Redistricting Commission which would consist of 14 voters who aren’t elected officials, lobbyists or major campaign donors. They would be tasked to create district maps that are both compact and respect communities of interest. The process would include input from community members around the state. Equally important they would be expected to draw maps without regard to partisan makeup or where incumbents live.

If you’re a Republican you just might be OK with the current hyper-partisan maps but remember if Democrats ever retake control of the legislature under current law they could and likely would return the favor. It’s in the best interest of every Texan that a non-partisan Citizens Redistricting Commission as called for in HJR 118 draw the maps after the 2020 census. If nothing else it should dissuade many of the current plaintiffs from suing the state again.

The Redistricting Committee has yet to meet and hold a hearing on this bill. If you believe as I do that no politician should have the right to choose their own voters call Representative Cindy Burkett at (512) 463-0464 and urge her to hold a hearing on HJR 118.


Published in the Seguin Gazette March 24, 2017

Monday, March 27, 2017

Trumpcare and what's wrong with it

The Republicans finally unveiled the replace part of Repeal and Replace of the Affordable Care Act which is sure to become known as Trumpcare. It should come as no surprise that Trumpcare cuts funding for Medicaid and Exchange subsidies in order to give huge tax breaks to the wealthiest among us. If you earn in the top 1% or above $450,000 a year your tax break will be $33,000. If you earn in the top one tenth of 1% or above $1,695,000 annually then your tax break will be $190,000. Just about everyone else comes out on the short end of the stick.

That’s right in order to give tax breaks to people who don’t need them Trumpcare will cause upwards of 14 million people to lose their healthcare immediately and within the next six years 24 million will likely be without healthcare. Trump and his Republican acolytes in congress want to smear the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office with claims that they’re over-estimating the number of people who will lose their health insurance coverage but even if they’re estimate is twice as bad as reality that’s still 7 million people losing healthcare immediately and 12 million within a few years. How is that not disaster?

Trump has repeatedly stated that Americans should look forward to his plan because it will cover more people for less money and provide better coverage. Trumpcare fails on all three counts. The bill cuts subsidies by more than two thirds for many people meaning to get the same coverage on the exchange a 60 year old person living in a rural area will pay as much as $9,000 more than they do now. That’s why the AARP opposes the Trumpcare.

The bill eliminates funding for the Medicaid expansion which will cut 10 million low income Americans out of healthcare. That won’t be noticed in Texas because Republicans like John Kuempel wouldn’t vote to accept the federal money to expand Medicaid in the first place meaning that nearly one million Texans have gone without healthcare unnecessarily.

Trumpcare fails on providing better coverage since in order to lower premiums the bill lets insurers write barebones policies which don’t cover things like: prescription drugs, laboratory services like x-rays and blood tests, outpatient care you get without being admitted to a hospital, emergency services, pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care (both before and after birth), mental health care like counseling and psychotherapy, rehabilitative services and devices to help people with injuries, disabilities, or chronic conditions gain or recover mental and physical skills, preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management, or pediatric oral and vision care. That’s why the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association oppose the bill.

Trumpcare isn’t about making life better for you and me, it’s all about providing tax breaks for the very wealthiest Americans at the expense of everyone else. Ripping healthcare away from millions of Americans will not only mean they’ll be sicker it means many will die unnecessarily and that’s immoral.

Trump lied about his healthcare bill and he’s still lying about it, that makes him #donthecon. The only question is; will the American people push back and tell congress to kill this bill before it kills them?

Published in the Seguin Gazette March 17, 2017


Friday, March 17, 2017

Trump the Russian Nesting Doll

Evidence of Trump and his associates’ connections to Russia has continued to expand since the first revelation that his first campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had such connections and resigned in August. Manafort was shown to have worked for Ukraine’s former president, the Russian backed strongman Viktor Yanukovych and is believed to have been paid millions for his work.

Even before he ran for office Trump’s family has admitted that his business had huge investments from Russians which accounted for a significant percentage of his working capital. Several newspapers have followed the money trail as well as they can given the number of shell companies involved and found that there are numerous Russian investors in his real estate businesses and buyers of his development properties.

Rex Tillerson, former Exxon chairman and now Secretary of State, has had dealings with the Russians for a long time and shepherded a billion dollar deal with Putin to conclusion before leaving the company.

Since then further revelations have tied numerous staff members to Russian oligarchs and Putin himself. In July last year Carter Page, a member of Trump’s National Security Advisory Committee, made a trip to Russia ostensibly as a private citizen. That trip is getting a closer look due to new disclosures about his contact two weeks later with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican convention in Cleveland. Just days after Kislyak talked to Page, and two other campaign officials, WikiLeaks posted thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee’s servers which U.S. intelligence recently attributed to the Russian government.

Until this week retired Gen. Michael Flynn was the most notorious Trump associate having served as National Security Advisor for all of three weeks before being forced out when it was revealed he had spoken to the Russian ambassador about sanctions imposed by the Obama administration before Trump took office and then lied about to Vice President Pence. Flynn also was paid handsomely by Russia Today, Putin’s television channel.

Now Trump’s Attorney General has been revealed to have perjured himself when testifying under oath at his Senate confirmation hearings. Sen. Al Franken’s question: "...if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?" Sessions responded: "Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn't have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I'm unable to comment on it." But it has since been revealed that Sessions twice met Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., including once during the Republican National Convention.

There’s been enough political pressure on Sessions that he has recused himself from any investigations into Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election. Given that the Attorney General has so obviously perjured himself he needs to resign or be impeached. This country cannot tolerate its chief law enforcement officer lying to Congress under oath.

When will the next shoe drop?

Published in the Seguin Gazette March 10, 2017

Friday, March 10, 2017

Guadalupe Rallies to Defend the ACA/Medicaid/Medicare


Last Saturday more than 80 area residents rallied at the Guadalupe Regional Medical Center on E. Court Street in support of maintaining the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and Medicare. The group acted because of the threats to those programs posed by actions of the Republican controlled Congress. Republicans have begun the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act. They’re also working to turn Medicaid into straight block grants to the states and convert Medicare to a voucher system.

The goal of the event was to send a message to newly elected Congressman Vicente Gonzalez that many of his constituents rely on various parts of our current healthcare insurance system and drastic changes will be unwelcome. Doctor Sarah Typhair held a sign stating “This M.D. proudly supports the A.C.A.” Many in attendance have children or grand-children covered through the provision that allows them to stay on their parents insurance until age 26. Some rely on the fact that A.C.A. forced insurers to drop the lifetime cap that meant people like my wife who have had multiple serious health issues no longer lose coverage after $1 million dollars of healthcare.

Congressional Republicans have been using the phrase “Repeal and Replace” for quite a while now so you’d think they’d have most of the details figured out but you’d be wrong. While Republicans have the repeal part down they can’t agree on the replace part at all. The Congressional Budget Office analyzed one of the more widely accepted proposals and found that if enacted it would increase deficit spending by $171 billion or force a 26% cut in the subsidies available to those who get their insurance through the exchange meaning that many would once again find health insurance unaffordable.

Turning Medicaid into a block grant is sure to fix the number of dollars spent and therefore further limit the number of people who benefit from it. Texas has the highest rate of uninsured in the nation at 17% due to Governor Greg Abbott’s failure to expand Medicaid which the federal government would have paid for 90%. That’s 4.6 million Texans whose only option for healthcare is the emergency room and no follow up care or prescription coverage. Converting to block grants means our rate of uninsured will climb higher still.

The proposal to convert Medicare to a voucher program would mean that seniors would get a fixed amount of money to use in order to purchase health insurance on the private market. There are a host of problems with that not the least of which is insurers don’t want to insure seniors in the first place because of their numerous and expensive health problems. Another problem is that there’s no guarantee that the voucher would cover the entire cost of the insurance premium so those seniors who are already struggling to pay their bills or for their prescriptions will have an even greater costs shifted onto them.


Rally participants urged Congressman Gonzalez to come out strong as a defender of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and Medicare. Every there understands that those programs aren’t perfect but the Trump Republican proposals to abolish or dismantle them are moves in the wrong direction. Gonzalez would do well to become a champion for improving those programs.

Published in the Seguin Gazette March 3, 2017