Friday, March 31, 2017

TRUMP AGENDA - 'Sorry, the Person You Are Calling is Not Available'

"How the Trump Administration Responds to Democrats' Demands for Information: It Doesn't." by Justin Elliott, ProPublica 3/30/2017

Congressional Democrats' letters to the Trump administration are going unanswered.

When billionaire investor Wilbur Ross was going through the confirmation process to become President Trump's commerce secretary, Senate Democrats wanted answers about Ross' role as the vice chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, which has significant dealings with Russian oligarchs.

The administration's answer: crickets [chirp].

Ross' handlers had initially assured Commerce committee staff that Ross would respond to their Feb. 16 questions, according to a congressional staffer.  But a response never came.

The White House was sitting on Ross' written answers and refusing to hand them over, as Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., complained in a floor speech.  “It is behavior that everyone in this Senate should agree is unacceptable and should not be tolerated,” Nelson said.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and other senators sent two more letters.  The administration still hasn't responded.

A Commerce spokesman declined to answer our request for an explanation.

The lack of response to congressional letters is part of a pattern.  Virtually every day, Democrats write the Trump administration demanding answers on a range of issues.  And every day they are met with the sounds of silence.

The recent unanswered letters include: a request from senators asking for details on Jared Kushner's conflicts of interest, another asking how agencies will implement Trump-ordered changes to Obamacare, and a third asking for details on officials the administration has quietly installed in so-called beachhead teams across the government.

A recent, informal audit by Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., found 100 letters that went unanswered as of mid-March, though not all of them made clear requests for information.  “These findings confirm what many feared: The Trump Administration has little regard for transparent government,” Sarbanes said in a statement.

A Sarbanes spokesman said the audit found just a small handful of letters that did receive responses, such as one sent to the Federal Railroad Administration and another related to a pipeline issue.

The reasons for the lack of responses aren't clear.

It could be another symptom of the President not filling top jobs across the government.

Trump, for example, hasn't nominated anyone for 12 out of the 13 Senate-confirmable leadership spots at congressional affairs offices throughout the government, according to a Washington Post jobs tracker.  The Department of Education and the Department of Defense, for example, both have open spots.

Those offices handle congressional requests ranging from minor constituent issues to politically charged demands for documents.

The White House didn't respond to a request for comment.

Other jobs have also gone unfulfilled below the Senate-confirmed level.  At the Department of Labor, for example, the office of congressional affairs' website previously listed around 15 politically appointed staffers.  It now lists none.

The agency didn't respond to a request for comment.

The lack of responses also shows a hard truth for Democrats: As the minority in both the House and the Senate, they have no clear authority to compel the Trump administration to answer questions or release documents.  “No ranking minority members or individual members can start official committee investigations, hold hearings, [or] issue subpoenas,” notes a guide to investigations by Morton Rosenberg, a veteran staffer of the Congressional Research Service.

It's difficult to compare Trump's record to that of the Obama administration since there's no hard data on responsiveness to congressional requests.  But Republicans say Obama was also less than responsive to their requests.

“It usually took months of persistence to get responses.  Sometimes a response never came, and even when it did, the Obama Administration rarely fully answered the questions,” said Jill Gerber, a spokeswoman for Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

While practices vary agency to agency, there has always been a pecking order in whose letters get quick responses, with subpoena-wielding committee chairs at the top and members of the president's party typically getting preference.

Yet at least some Obama-era congressional affairs offices had policies of responding to letters from any member of Congress.

At the Labor Department, for example, there was a policy of providing a response to all letters from the Hill, regardless of the party of who was asking, according to a former agency official who handled congressional affairs.  But response times could take months, depending on the nature of the letter and whether, for example, a response needed to be approved by another agency.

The General Services Administration, which handles procurement for the government, also had a policy of answering all correspondence from the Hill, regardless of the party or the member it came from, according to a former agency official.  The policy was to respond within 25 business days.

Monday, March 27, 2017

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 3/24/2017

"Shields and Brooks on Obamacare repeal failure, Gorsuch grilling" PBS NewsHour 3/24/2017


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's news, including the GOP's abandonment of a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, plus the House Intelligence Committee's Russia probe and the Supreme Court confirmations hearings for nominee Neil Gorsuch.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  But first to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, I'm sorry there is no news to talk about today, but let's see what we can find. (sarcasm)

Mark, seriously, the move today in the Congress and by the president to pull this health care bill, what is there to say?  The Republicans wanted — they said for months that this is what was going to happen.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:  The first thing, Judy, is, I think, a general statement.  The Republican Party is an opposition party.  It's a protest party.

We have a protest President.  We have a protest party.  It's not a governing party.  It showed itself unable to accept the responsibility and the accountability of governing.

This bill wasn't a bad bill.  This bill was just an abomination.  There was no public case that could be made for the bill.  There was no public argument that could be made for the bill, because nobody knew what was in it.  There was no public campaign for the bill, because no organizations — every organization that cares — that was involved in medical care, whether it was the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, they were all against the bill.

It was a terrible bill.  There was nothing organized.  The only organizing principle is, it was against Barack Obama.  And Paul Ryan, a very earnest policy wonk, showed himself to be an inept political leader.  He couldn't even lean on the safest seats in his own party's caucus.

Those are ones you say, these are people who are really not threatened for reelection.  I need you.  You have to vote.

He couldn't even do that.  And Donald Trump showed he has no understanding of the legislative process.  He dealt in adjectives.  It was wonderful, fantastic, glorious.  He had no idea what was in it.  The Art of the Deal just collapsed, and this is a man who gave away the store to the Freedom Caucus, and got nothing in return, didn't even get their votes.

I mean, on no count was this anything but a disaster politically, and public policy, and just for the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  How do you explain it, David?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times:  Well, all those things contributed; Trump's bad negotiation, lack of experience, the factionalism.

And people talk about divisions within the party, blah, blah, blah, but the core problem was philosophical and intellectual.  The problem was with the substance of the bill.  We live in a country that has widening inequality, where there's a lot of people very — being very insecure.

And the Republicans could have taken some of their approaches, like the tax credits, like the health savings accounts and a lot of things, and to deal with the country as it is, as, say, take those mechanisms, market mechanisms, to reduce costs, but to give people basic security and shore up the coverage that they have now.

But, instead of doing that, they gave a bill that was, like, out of 1984 (the book), which devastated the poor, $880 billion cut out of Medicaid, while enriching the rich, increasing the after-tax incomes of people making more than a million dollars by 14 percent.

So, this was like every stereotype of the Republican Party.  And so it just didn't fit the country.  And the core problem for the Republicans is they can't figure out what they want to govern.

Even if they were the best and most efficient legislators in the history of the world, if you don't know what you want to do, and you don't know how you're going to address this country's problems, you're going to wind up with bills which are superficial, intellectually incoherent and unpopular.

And the last Quinnipiac poll had this at 17 percent.  And so it was a failure of understanding, what we do we want to do?  That's what killed this bill.

REPUBLICAN AGENDA - Trumpcare, Crash and Burn

IMHO:  Where else could the poorly formulated plan go?  All the years that Republicans had to come up with a good heal care plan and they try at the last 'minute' to come up with one?!

This is especially true when their modus operandi is money is more important than anything else.  They are just not willing to help citizens to PAY for health care, actually GET health care.  Their message is, 'you are not worth paying for.'

"Republican repeal effort in ruins, 'we're going to be living with Obamacare' for foreseeable future" PBS NewsHour 3/24/2017


SUMMARY:  It was a hectic day on Capitol Hill as top Republicans tried win enough votes to pass an Obamacare replacement.  But House Speaker Paul Ryan, along with President Trump, decided to pull the repeal when it was clear it would not pass.  Judy Woodruff speaks with Lisa Desjardins from Capitol Hill and Robert Costa from The Washington Post about today's political upset.

"Where does Congress go next on health care?" PBS NewsHour 3/24/2017


SUMMARY:  Now that Republicans have withdrawn a health care bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, what comes next?  Judy Woodruff gets two perspectives on the aftermath and next steps from Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and Lanhee Chen of The Hoover Institution.

"Assessing the impact of the failed GOP health care bill" PBS NewsHour 3/25/2017


SUMMARY:  Following the failure of President Donald Trump and Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan to usher in a long-promised bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, questions remain over how the defeat will influence the new President's agenda.  NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the implications for the Trump administration.


"Why the Trump administration is sending more troops to Syria" PBS NewsHour 3/23/2017


SUMMARY:  The Pentagon has authorized the deployment of 400 additional troops to Syria in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State militant group.  Judy Woodruff discusses the U.S.'s deepening military involvement and the complexities with former Defense Department official Andrew Exum and Bulent Aliriza of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  United States military involvement in Syria has deepened since President Trump took office.  The Pentagon has authorized the deployment of 400 more troops, some of whom are already there.  Five hundred special operations forces sent by the Obama administration are also on the ground.  War planners reportedly are seeking to send an additional 1,000 American troops to Syria.

Yesterday, in Tabqa, Syria, American forces aided Syrian rebel and Kurdish forces in the taking a strategic dam and road from ISIS.  All this comes on a complex battlefield and under the wary eye of Syria's northern neighbor Turkey.

For more on what's happening now and what may come, I'm joined by Andrew Exum.  He served in the Obama administration until this January as deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East policy.  He's also a former Army Ranger and a contributing editor at The Atlantic.  And Bulent Aliriza, he's the director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  It's a Washington think tank.

And we welcome both of you back to the program.

Andrew Exum, to you first.

How much of a change is what we are seeing right now in Syria from what was going on in the Obama administration?

ANDREW EXUM, Former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense:  So, significant in one way.  Significant in terms of the numbers.  It is clear that the Trump administration doesn't have the same reticence that the Obama administration did in terms of putting more boots on the ground, especially conventional troops, as opposed to special operations troops.

Where it is similar is that what we are trying to do, it seems, is replicate the success we have had in Iraq working, by, with and through local forces, so no direct combat themselves, but really enabling local forces to try to win the fight.

It seems what the U.S. military is trying to do is put the same infrastructure on the ground that has proved successful in helping the Iraqi army in Mosul in Syria to help the Syrians successfully take Raqqa.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, if the Trump administration seems to be headed toward 2,000, assuming this next 1,000 contingent gets there, is that where the Obama administration would have eventually gotten, or is that not even clear?

ANDREW EXUM:  So, it's a really good question.

Over the past 18 months, we have steadily ramped up our commitment in terms of resources to both Iraq and Syria, and certainly, as the fight developed in Iraq, we continued to put more troop there, for example, building up the Qayyarah West Airfield in presentation for the fight against Mosul.

So, you could say the Obama administration might have eventually done something similar to this.  We really don't know.  In some ways, this is typical of the ramping up of the strategy so far.

NEWSHOUR BOOKSHELF - "A Train Through Time"

"For a veteran NewsHour journalist, an early loss defined her life's journeys" PBS NewsHour 3/23/2017


SUMMARY:  Elizabeth Farnsworth traveled the world for years as a foreign correspondent for the NewsHour.  Her new book, A Train Through Time, examines her experiences in hotspots such as Latin America.  But it's more than a story of her reporting, as she details her childhood and the loss of her mother, and also blends fact with fiction.  Farnsworth sits down with Jeffrey Brown to discuss her work.

CLIMATE CHANGE - Great Barrier Reef

"Climate change is killing the Great Barrier Reef" PBS NewsHour 3/22/2017


SUMMARY:  Coral reefs are more than examples of natural beauty; they harbor fish that feed millions and shield us against storms and floods.  Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the largest living structure on the planet, is dying.  As ocean waters steadily warm, extensive coral destruction continues, part of an unprecedented global crisis.  Science correspondent Miles O'Brien reports on what's at stake.

MILES O'BRIEN (NewsHour):  Half the size of Texas, spanning 1,400 miles, Australia's Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on the planet.  It is rich in beauty and diversity, but it is dying, as the ocean waters steadily warm.

DAVID WACHENFELD, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority:  It's a very confronting situation.  And I hope the people of the world take this as a call to action to do more about climate change.

MILES O'BRIEN:  Coral reef ecologist David Wachenfeld is director for reef recovery at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.  It's the second consecutive summer of extensive coral destruction, or bleaching, on the reef.

DAVID WACHENFELD:  We are using aerial surveys and underwater surveys to try and cover that whole enormous area of the Great Barrier Reef to get a handle on the extent and severity of the event.  But, certainly, this year is shaping up to be another very bad year, as was last year.

MILES O'BRIEN:  Last year, two-thirds of the corals in the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef died, the worst die-off in history.  As for this year, it is too early to tell.  But the outlook is grim, as this is one big piece of an unprecedented global coral crisis.

C. MARK EAKIN, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Watch:  Since June of '14, we have had continuous bleaching somewhere in the world.  Globally, over 70 percent of the coral reefs around the globe have been exposed to the high temperatures that cause bleaching.

MILES O'BRIEN:  Coral reef ecologist Mark Eakin is the coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch.

He relies on data from scientific satellites operated by NOAA, the Europeans, and the Japanese that measure ocean water temperature.  He, along with David Wachenfeld, is co-author of a new study published in the journal Nature documenting the link between warm waters and dying coral in the Great Barrier Reef.

C. MARK EAKIN:  What we did here at Coral Reef Watch was to provide the satellite data that gives the information on the areas where the high temperatures occurred.

So, there are charts in there showing where the bleaching was worst and where the temperatures were highest for the longest time, and the correlation between that heat stress and where the bleaching occurred was very high.


"Inclusive wellness center is an oasis for a neighborhood left behind" PBS NewsHour 3/21/2017


SUMMARY:  In the heart of one of Denver's poorest neighborhoods, parents hoped for a new preschool.  Instead they got much more.  The Dahlia Campus for Health and Well-being is a preschool, urban farm, dental office and mental health care center, all in one.  William Brangham visits to see how it's supporting the community.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  After years of neglect, parents in one of Denver's poorest neighborhoods hoped that a new preschool would be built in their community.  Instead, they got much more.

William Brangham recently visited there, and he is back again with this report.

It's part of our weekly series Making the Grade.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM (NewsHour):  Fish swim in giant tanks.  Collard greens grow in abundance in a massive greenhouse.  Down the hall, there's a dentist's office, as well as a mental health center.  And at the other end of the building, 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds run around like mad.

Some might say it's an unusual mix here in the heart of one of Denver's poorest neighborhoods, but not according to the woman who runs the place.

LYDIA PRADO, Vice President, Mental Health Center of Denver:  It's taking a new approach to community well-being.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Dr. Lydia Prado is the driving force behind this place.  It's called the Dahlia Campus for Health and Well-Being.

LYDIA PRADO:  My initial conversations were with two folks who had — together, they have over 80 years of residence in this community.

And just floated the idea, I want to take integrated care to the next level.  I want to think comprehensively about health.  I want to be able to talk about mental health, and went to talk to them about it, and it's like, what do you think?  And they're like, OH?

But, you know, they were very honest about it.  There are going to be challenges, but if anybody's going to give it a shot — and we're behind you.

FLIGHT SECURITY - Carry-On Electronics

"What sparked a new carry-on electronics ban on some flights?" PBS NewsHour 3/21/2017


SUMMARY:  Passengers flying out of 10 specific airports in the Middle East can no longer take large electronic devices in their carry-on luggage, according to a new rule from the Department of Homeland Security.  The British announced a similar rule, but included different airports.  William Brangham gets insight from Matthew Olsen, former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM (NewsHour):  Passengers flying out of these airports can no longer take large electronic devices, things like laptops or mobile gaming devices or tablets, on board with them.  Those devices have to be in checked luggage only.  Cell phones are still allowed on board.

The new restrictions apply to flights from 10 specific airports in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.  The British today announced a similar move, but they included some different airports in their ban.

We turn now to Matthew Olsen for more on this.  He was the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center during the Obama administration.  And he now teaches at Harvard University.


I wonder if you could just tell me a little bit, what is going on here?

MATTHEW OLSEN, Former Director, National Counterterrorism Center:  Well, it would appear that, almost certainly, there is some new intelligence that the intelligence community has gathered, whether on its own or from one of our partners in the region, that has given the government, in particular the Department of Homeland Security, increased concern about the possibility that a terrorist organization has developed some type of bomb that it can hide in a device like a laptop.

You know, whether that is brand-new intelligence or maybe just new analysis of existing intelligence, it's hard to say, but, certainly, there is some new piece of information that has given the government more cause for concern in this particular context.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  I mean, clearly, it also seems that we have lost faith in these particular airports, either in their ability to screen luggage or their ability to weed out infiltrators amongst their staff.  Is that right?

MATTHEW OLSEN:  Well, we have always had concern about airports in this region, and we have always placed additional screening requirements on flights that leave from these airports and don't stop before reaching the United States.

But the truth is that the best place to stop a terrorist attack, a plot like this, is at the earliest possible stage, where you can have intelligence that allows you to identify those individuals who are responsible for the plot.

The last opportunity really is at those airports, and really you are at least hoping that you're going to be able to stop a bomb once it reaches the airport gate.

ART - Latino Identity

"Artists illuminate Latino identity and life in the American West" PBS NewsHour 3/20/2017


SUMMARY:  Thirteen young Mexican-American artists explore the ideas of "home" and "place" in the American West in an exhibit called "Mi Tierra" at the Denver Art Museum.  Artists tackled topics of immigration, identity struggle and colliding worlds.  Jeffrey Brown reports.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  At the Denver Art Museum recently, an emotional moment for artist Ramiro Gomez and his parents.

WOMAN:  I'm very proud of him.

JEFFREY BROWN:  He'd brought them here to see his newest work, called 'Lupita,' an installation that pays homage to a janitor who worked at these galleries.

It was particularly poignant.  Gomez's parents themselves are laborers, his mother a janitor, his father a truck driver.

RAMIRO GOMEZ, Artist:  I wouldn't be here without their labor.  I wouldn't be here without their sacrifice.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Today, Gomez is an up-and-coming artist in Los Angeles featured in galleries and exhibitions for work that captures a life of work by immigrants and others, not typically the subject of art.

RAMIRO GOMEZ:  It's important for me to highlight these people that are not going to be recorded in our history.

JEFFREY BROWN:  In Denver, Gomez was one of 13 young Mexican-American artists chosen for an exhibition called 'Mi Tierra,' their assignment, to create a new work that explores the idea of home and place in the American West.

There were smaller paintings and large installations, videos about the land before Europeans settled here, and a garden that looked like a giant pinata.

Many of the artists tackled the politically charged topic of immigration.  This piece contained an actual panel of the U.S.-Mexico border fence.

RAMIRO GOMEZ:  For me, place becomes a very difficult word to focus on, just because place is never permanent.  We're constantly moving.  It's constantly shifting.

I'm an American-born child to Mexican immigrants.  So, I'm at once Mexican and American.  I'm in between.  That in-between space, that in-between place that I occupy is something that is constantly changing within myself.


"Gorsuch in confirmation hearing promises independence from politics" PBS NewsHour 3/20/2017


SUMMARY:  On day one of Judge Neil Gorsuch's confirmation hearing, senators outlined partisan attacks for the week to come.  While Republicans spent most of the hearing praising Gorsuch's legal resume, Democrats knocked his constitutional philosophy as too rigid.  Judy Woodruff reports.

"Grassley: Gorsuch willing to be a judge, not a legislator" PBS NewsHour 3/20/2017

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY:  A few, but I don’t think very many.  I think the base of the Democrat Party is very strongly wanting to demonstrate two things, one, that they may not approve of his approach to the law and the Constitution, and, secondly, they want to make a case that Garland should have been approved last year.

This is a total lie.  All Democrats wanted is a VOTE on Garland.  The Senate could have done so and NOT approved him.


SUMMARY:  What did the country learn about Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch on opening day of his confirmation hearings?  Judy Woodruff speaks with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, about Gorsuch's judicial philosophy, how he compares to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, plus the House hearing on the FBI's investigations into Russian influence of the 2016 election.

"Did senators get enough substance on Gorsuch's views?" PBS NewsHour 3/21/2017


SUMMARY:  It was an all-day interrogation for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, who fended off Democratic efforts to ferret out his views on hot-button issues.  Judy Woodruff takes a close look at the day's proceedings with Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal, Amy Howe of, Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute and Pam Karlan of Stanford Law School.

"How does Neil Gorsuch wield originalism in his decisions?" PBS NewsHour 3/22/2017


SUMMARY:  In Judge Neil Gorsuch's third day of questioning, Democratic senators pressed the Supreme Court nominee on how he interprets the Constitution as well as the effect of partisan politics on the court.  Judy Woodruff analyzes today's hearing with Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal, Amy Howe of, Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute and Pam Karlan of Stanford Law School.

Friday, March 24, 2017

TRUMP - CEO Turned President

The problem with electing a CEO as President?

The government is NOT a business –– and we shouldn't run it like one.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

TAXES - Big Money Tax Filing

"Filing Taxes Could Be Free and Simple.  But H&R Block and Intuit Are Still Lobbying Against It." by Jessica Huseman, ProPublica 3/20/2017

The makers of TurboTax and other online systems spent millions lobbying last year, much of it directed toward a bill that would permanently bar the government from offering taxpayers prefilled filings.

Here's how preparing your taxes could work: You sit down, review a prefilled filing from the government.  If it's accurate, you sign it.  If it's not, you fix it or ignore it altogether and prepare your return yourself.  It's your choice.  You might not have to pay for an accountant, or fiddle for hours with complex software.  It could all be over in minutes.

It's already like that in parts of Europe.  And it would not be particularly difficult to give U.S. taxpayers the same option.  After all, the government already gets earnings information from employers.

But as ProPublica has detailed again and again, Intuit — the makers of TurboTax — and H&R Block have lobbied for years to derail any move toward such a system.  And they continued in 2016.

Intuit spent more than $2 million lobbying last year, much of it spent on legislation that would permanently bar the government from offering taxpayers prefilled returns.  H&R Block spent $3 million, also directing some of their efforts towards the bill.  Among the 60 co-sponsors of the bipartisan bill, then congressman and now Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

The bill, called the Free File Act of 2016, looks on the surface to be consumer-friendly.  It makes permanent a public-private partnership in which 13 private tax preparation companies — called the “Free File Alliance” —have offered free online tax filings to lower- and middle-income families.  The Free File Alliance include both Intuit and H&R Block.

But the legislation would also permanently bar the IRS from offering its own free alternative.

Intuit has repeatedly warned investors about the prospect of government-prepared returns.  “We anticipate that governmental encroachment at both the federal and state levels may present a continued competitive threat to our business for the foreseeable future,” Intuit said in its latest corporate filings.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., offered a bill last year that would have actually allowed the government to start offering prefill tax returns.  While Intuit did not lobby against Warren's bill — presumably because the legislation had little chance of success — tax giant H&R Block did.  (H&R Block did not respond to a request for comment.)

Neither Warren's bill nor the Free File Act made it out of committee.

Very few of those eligible for the industry's no-charge filing program actually use it, perhaps because the system is confusing and pushes people toward paid products.

While the Free File Alliance says 70 percent of U.S. taxpayers can use the service, less than 2 percent of all individual tax returns were filed through the program in last year, according to a National Taxpayer Advocate's report to Congress.

“Let's call the so-called Free File Alliance what it really is — a front for tax prep companies who use it as a gateway to sell expensive products no one would even need if we'd just made it easier for people to pay their taxes,” said Warren in a statement to ProPublica.  Warren's office put out a report on the issue last year that repeatedly cited our coverage.

In an emailed statement the Free File Alliance's executive director, Tim Hugo, said that the alliance does not automatically push paid products to those that use the Free File program but the taxpayer does “have the option of 'opting in' to receive additional information and offers from the tax preparation company they have selected.”

He said that the lack of awareness of the program is “unfortunate,” and placed blame on the IRS.  While the tax agency previously had a large budget to advertise the Free File program, “today that budget is $0, making it difficult to reach the general public,” he said.

In response to Warren's bill, the Free File Alliance warned in press release that allowing the IRS to prep returns would create “a tremendous and potentially harmful conflict of interest for the American people by enshrining the roles of tax preparer, tax collector, tax auditor and tax enforcer in one entity.”

Hugo is also a state legislator in Virginia, which canceled its own cost-free system of tax filing in 2010 and replaced it with a “Free File” bill connecting taxpayers to private companies.  Hugo serves on the committee that green-lighted the legislation.  Hugo said he saw no conflict of interest here, as the Free File program he represents is federal, not state, and he recused himself from voting in the committee and on the floor.

Joseph Bankman, a law professor in tax law at Stanford Law School said arguments about government overreach are false.  Participation is voluntary and actually gives taxpayers the upper hand, forcing the government to “show its hand.”

“Now you know what the government knows,” Bankman said, who added that there are multiple ways taxpayers could benefit.  “If there's a mistake that goes in your favor, maybe you don't call attention to it.”  Also, everyone would receive the returns — including the millions of Americans who are due tax refunds but don't get them because they don't file.  In 2012 alone, the IRS said more than 1 million Americans did not receive their refunds — amounting to $950 million — because they did not file.

The authors of the federal Free File bill have repeatedly voiced fears of big-government interference.

In an opinion piece for The Daily Caller and on his site, Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., said “making the tax collector also the tax preparer creates an inherent conflict of interest while forcing citizens to relinquish control of their taxes to the government.”

Since the 2008 election cycle, Roskam has taken in more than $32,000 in donations from Intuit's political action committee and Intuit employees.  He received a far smaller amount, $2,500, from H&R Block — all for the 2016 election cycle.  Roskam's office did not return a request for comment.

HHS Secretary Price received only modest donations from Intuit, $3,500 since 2008 — $2,500 of which came six days after the Free File Act of 2016 was announced.  He received $2,000 total from H&R Block.  (Price's office did not respond to a request for comment.)

The bill's Democrat co-author, Ron Kind, from Wisconsin, has taken in more than $29,000 from Intuit and its employees since 2008.  He received $3,000 from H&R Block.

In a statement, Kind said he is “open to working with anyone” to find ways for “hardworking Wisconsin families” to file their taxes with ease.  “At the same time, I want to make sure that Wisconsinites can access programs, like Free File, that they have come to depend on.”

When asked for details on how many Wisconsinites actually rely on the program, given that few of those who qualify for it actually use it, a spokesperson for Kind did not respond.

Monday, March 20, 2017

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 3/17/2017

"Shields and Brooks on GOP health care bill pushback, Trump's dramatic budget" PBS NewsHour 3/17/2017


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's news, including the conundrum for Republicans trying to pass a health care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act in the face of different factions of opposition, the White House budget blueprint offering sweeping cuts, plus the continuing allegation of a Trump Tower wiretap.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentleman.

So, let's pick up with the conversation, David, that Jeffrey Brown was just having with the head of the American Medical Association.

President Trump is saying again today the health care overhaul is moving along very well, it's going to move through the House.

What do you see as the prospects?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times:  It has no critics. (satirically)

No.  I'm first all amazed that they did it first.  Of all the issues to tackle, health care is probably the hardest one.  And so every four or eight years, some President decides, you know, let's do health care first.  And it hurts them every single time.

Whether the prospects of this bill are good, I tend to doubt.  It has very few fans in the Senate.  And it has two wings of opposition which are in contradiction, what we call the coverage caucus, who want a little more expensive bill that will cover more people; and the Freedom Caucus wants a less expensive bill to cover less.

You can't — they have to win both of these groups.  And how do you do this, when they are mutually contradictory?  And so the Senate is very daunting.  So, therefore, you're asking the House members to vote for something that will take away coverage that already exists, for a bill that probably doesn't have great prospects in the long run.

I personally bet they get through the House, just because it's so hard to go against the sitting President in his first major thing.  But I wouldn't want to bet on the eventual passage of this.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And, Mark, what we hear is the main argument they are using now in the House as it gets closer to the vote is the political vote, you can't go against your President.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:  Yes.

It's an argument that used, used in 1993 for the Democrats and Bill Clinton on his major budget and tax increase, which, by the way, per what David was talking about, included a BTU tax that House members voted on.  It passed the House in a very difficult vote and died in the Senate.

Several moderate to conservative Democrats walked away from it.  And it left those House members with a vote that they really couldn't — it became politically mortal — fatal in several instances.  I think the same thing is true here, and for good reasons, Judy.

I mean, the Republicans — part of David's answer — they pledged in 2010, they pledged in 2012, they pledged in 2016.  That was the one pledge they had,  repeal Obamacare.  It was an applause line.

So, it really did take on almost a moral imperative, or at least a political imperative.  But, Judy, this is going to radically overhaul the Affordable Care Act.  It going to radically overhaul Medicaid.  You heard Dr. Gurman in his interview with Jeff.

The reality is, providers are not going to provide coverage.  They're not going to take on as patients people under Medicaid, because they are not going to have the money to pay for it.  They are talking — one figure that jumps out, beyond all the questions of deductibles and everything else, 24 million Americans.  That's what the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

And Republicans just kind of recoiled.  That is the number that has hung around — are going to lose coverage.  Lose coverage.  That just is — that is truly unforgivable.  It's morally indefensible.  And I think, in this case, it will be politically indefensible.
DAVID BROOKS:  Yes.  I’m — was looking for the political philosophy that might be inherent in a budget.

And some of them are just weird, even for Republicans, as Mark said, $6 million — $6 billion off the National Institutes of Health.  That is an investment in scientific advance and economic growth.  And why would you do that?  That doesn’t even seem particularly Republican.

But, basically, what you’re doing, they are investing in everything that is hard power.  They’re investing in the military, in homeland security, everything that is about threat and fear.

And they are disinvesting in everything that has to do with compassion, with care, thinking, innovation.  And it’s almost like emotionally consistent.  It’s just hardness and toughness and fear.  And everything else just has to go.


"From Neil Gaiman, tales of Thor and Odin for modern ears" PBS NewsHour 3/17/2017


SUMMARY:  Famed fantasy writer Neil Gaiman read and absorbed the stories of the Norse gods when he was young.  In a new book, "Norse Mythology," he retells them for a new generation.  Gaiman sits down with Jeffrey Brown to discuss the importance of keeping the stories -- and the gods in them -- alive.

"How powerful stories can change the world for the better" PBS NewsHour 3/17/2017


SUMMARY:  Stories are weapons, for good or ill, says writer Derek Thompson.  Society is bound by the common stories we tell, whether it's about who we should trust and admire, or who we should fear and look down on.  Thompson, author of the recent book “Hit Makers: How Things Become Popular,” offers his humble opinion on the powerful stories we need to be passing on.

TRUMP AGENDA - A Primer: "How-To Make Friends Into Enemies"

"First Trump-Merkel meeting reflects different views, styles" PBS NewsHour 3/17/2017


SUMMARY:  German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Trump met for the first time Friday, a meeting that might have smoothed relations after a rocky start.  Though they exchanged compliments, Mr. Trump pressed Merkel on NATO defense spending as well as trade issues, and the chancellor was asked to comment on the President's combative style.  Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner (NewsHour) reports.


"Magical novel 'Exit West' explores what makes refugees leave home" PBS NewsHour 3/16/2017


SUMMARY:  In "Exit West," a city in the Muslim world is plunged into violence and two lovers join the mass migration of our time.  Mohsin Hamid's story about refugees is a novel, not journalism, but it combines the surreal with the very real.  Hamid sits down with Jeffrey Brown to discuss what inspired him and why he says he's seeing a "failure of imagination" around the world.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  An unnamed city in the Muslim world is plunged into violence, and two young lovers are forced to flee, becoming a small part of the mass migrations of our era.  But they travel through time and space through magic doors.

Exit West” is a novel combining the very real with the almost surreal, imagining individuals behind today's headlines.

Author Mohsin Hamid has spent parts of his life in the U.S. and Europe.  He now lives in his native city of Lahore, Pakistan.

And nice to see you again.

MOHSIN HAMID, Author, “Exit West”:  Nice to see you.

JEFFREY BROWN:  This is in one way a very up-to-the-minute look at the dislocation of individual lives, but, of course, it's not journalism.  It's art.  It's a novel.

Tell me how you thought about what you were after.

MOHSIN HAMID:  Well, I have been moving around my whole life, California, Pakistan, London, New York, Pakistan again.

And I wanted to write about the experience of migration.  And I also felt this resistance to migrants was growing, and I wanted to write in response to that.

TRUMP AGENDA - Buildup the Military Industrial Complex and Skimp On Human Beings

Alternate title: "War Mongering First and People Last"

"Trump budget prizes military buildup and sweeping cuts" PBS NewsHour 3/16/2017


SUMMARY:  Unveiled today, President Trump's first federal budget embodies stark changes in federal spending priorities.  The more-than $1.1 trillion proposal would cut funding to the EPA and the State Department by almost a third, while boosting spending for the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs.  John Yang takes a closer look.

"Does Trump's budget defend America or erode American power?  Lawmakers weigh in" PBS NewsHour 3/16/2017


SUMMARY:  From strong support to condemnation, President Trump's new budget proposal has garnered an array of reactions on Capitol Hill.  Judy Woodruff gets two views from Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md), and Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind), who both sit on congressional budget committees.


"This artist brings dinosaurs back to life" PBS NewsHour 3/15/2017


SUMMARY:  In our NewsHour Shares moment of the day, a childhood love of prehistoric creatures inspired a unique and prolific career for artist Julius Csotonyi, who uses his skills to bring fossilized bones back to life.

Julius T. Csotonyi's Paleoart and Scientific Illustration




RACE IN AMERICA - "Zoot Suit" Classic Play

"'Zoot Suit,' a classic play about discrimination, finds renewed purpose" PBS NewsHour 3/14/2017


SUMMARY:  It's the story of a real-life murder trial and the so-called Zoot Suit Riots, set amid rampant discrimination in 1940s Los Angeles.  A play called "Zoot Suit" was a cultural phenomenon in the 1970s and '80s, launching the careers of many Chicano actors.  Now it's in revival at the theater where it all began.  Jeffrey Brown reports talks to writer and director Luis Valdez.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  It is a deeply American story, a Mexican-American story, “Zoot Suit” the play, set in Los Angeles in the 1940s, amid rampant discrimination, a real-life murder trial and the so-called Zoot Suit Riots.

ACTOR:  The grand jury has just indicted you all for the same identical crime, not just you four, the whole entire 38th Street Gang.

JEFFREY BROWN:  And “Zoot Suit,” the cultural phenomenon, reaching from its premiere in 1978 at L.A.'s Mark Taper Forum, to Broadway, to a 1981 film, and now, 38 years later, to a revival at the theater where it began.

Its writer and director, then and now, is Luis Valdez.

LUIS VALDEZ, Writer/Director, “Zoot Suit”:  I believe in entertainment.  I love entertainment, you know?  But I love it with a purpose.  I want people to come out of here thinking about what they saw, and perhaps reassessing what's happening in their own lives with their families.

And, more than anything I hope that people leave here with hope and inspiration.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Valdez received a National Medal of the Arts from President Obama in 2015 for — quote — “illuminating the human spirit in the face of social injustice.”

He spent his early years in a family of migrant workers.

Is it correct what I read, that you were 6 when you first discovered your love of theater in a camp?

LUIS VALDEZ:  In a camp, labor camp, I got hooked, yes.  I auditioned, and I won my first role.  Unfortunately, the week of the show, we were evicted from the labor camp where we were staying, and I was never in the play.  So, that left a big gap, a big hole in my chest, you know?

TRUMP AGENDA - Killing Public Education

"Are school vouchers good for education?  That debate is playing out in Indiana" PBS NewsHour 3/14/2017

REMINDER:  Many of the 'Charter Schools' that receive payment are for-profit companies.  These companies exist to make money for the owners, NOT for providing good education.  Do not confuse method for purpose.


SUMMARY:  Indiana is one of nearly 30 states that offer vouchers or similar programs with the goal of allowing parents to use public funds for private schooling.  When the state launched the program, it was designed for low-income students.  But enrollment skyrocketed when the program was dramatically broadened by then-Gov. Mike Pence.  Special correspondent Lisa Stark of Education Week reports.

LISA STARK, special correspondent:  It's the start of the day at Emmaus Lutheran School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where chapel is held once a week.

About 20 miles away, this is how the day begins at Fairfield Elementary, the city's largest public elementary school.

Fairfield is warm and welcoming.  So is Emmaus.  Fairfield get top grades from the state for academics.  So does Emmaus.  But one is a public school, the other a private school that accepts vouchers.

They symbolize opposite sides of the heated voucher debate, only likely to intensify, given the administration's strong support for school choice.

At the heart of the debate, money, and how education dollars are divvied up.  Normally, the state distributes tax dollars to public schools to educate students.  In Indiana, that's about $5,800 a student.  Vouchers change that.  A portion of the money, the tax dollars, follow the student instead, allowing parents the use those dollars to pay tuition at the private school of their choice.

That's the voucher program.

Robert Enlow is an advocate.

ROBERT ENLOW, President, EdChoice:  We have seen over time our traditional school systems, because they're based on zip code assignment and where you live, not providing always the best options for families.

Let's put the money in the backpacks of the parent and let them choose where they want to go by giving parents the best options for their kids.

LISA STARK:  Indiana is one of nearly 30 states that offers vouchers or similar programs.  All have the same goal, allowing parents to use public funds for private schooling.

Jerry and Miriam Lunz use vouchers to send their children to private Lutheran schools, rather than their local public schools.

JERRY LUNZ, Parent:  I would say the schools in our particular area are not the best from the academic standpoint.  That played into some of it, but mostly the moral aspect is what we wanted, the Christian aspect, same taught at the school as at the home.

LISA STARK:  Without vouchers, private high school was mostly out of reach.

MIRIAM LUNZ, Parent:  We looked at the financial aspect, and we had no idea how we were going to cover the cost.  Jerry is the hardest-working truck driver I know, but that doesn't pay a lot.

LISA STARK:  More than 300 private schools in Indiana accept vouchers.  The vast majority are religious schools.

Keith Martin is the principal at Emmaus Lutheran.

Why does this school participate in the voucher program?

KEITH MARTIN, Principal, Emmaus Lutheran School:  Simply because it allows us to serve more students and more families.

LISA STARK:  In fact, nearly half of the 193 students at Emmaus rely on vouchers, bringing in about $400,000 for the school, more than a third of its budget.

KEITH MARTIN:  It's obviously very helpful, but you know, our school was here 100 years before the voucher program, and I'm confident that we will have it here 100 years with or without the voucher program.

LISA STARK:  At Fairfield Elementary, a drop in students and resources due partly to vouchers has strained budgets, according to principal Lindsay Amstutz-Martin.

LINDSAY AMSTUTZ-MARTIN, Principal, Fairfield Elementary:  I do know I have lost teachers every year.  I have lost allocations of teachers every year, because we're losing students, and sometimes that makes — certain grade levels' class sizes are large.

TRUMP AGENDA - Spreading Falsehoods

"Al Gore: We need to restore American democracy's immunity to blatant falsehoods" PBS NewsHour 3/13/2017


SUMMARY:  Former Vice President Al Gore is troubled by what he sees as an American vulnerability to false assertions driving political policy.  Gore has just re-released his book “The Assault on Reason,” 10 years after its original publication with an update for the Trump era.  Gore joins Judy Woodruff in a discussion about the state of democratic dialogue, as well as his interactions with President Trump.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Has faith in the power of reason fallen victim to modern politics?

Ten years after its original publication, former Vice President Al Gore has updated his book “The Assault on Reason.”  Its new subtitle is telling:  “Our Information Ecosystem:  From the Age of Print to the Age of Trump.”

I sat down with him this afternoon, and started by asking about the sharp criticisms he made in the original version against then President George W. Bush.

AL GORE, Former Vice President of the United States:  My criticisms were not mainly aimed at any individuals, including President George W. Bush or Vice President Cheney, but rather the way in which our democratic conversation has been degraded over the last several decades.

And I would say the same thing about President Trump.  For me, the most serious problem is how our nation became so vulnerable to the assertion of blatant falsehoods that drive policy and are not corrected by the so-called immune system of democracy, a free press and a free democratic discourse.

And I think we have a huge systemic problem that we have largely ignored.  When our founders created America, it was in the age of the printing press, when individuals could freely join the conversation.  And that robust, democratic dialogue more often than not lifted up the best available evidence and asserted what was more likely to be true than not.

Now we have things that are obviously false, leading us to war, leading us to deny people health care, leading us to ignore the climate crisis.  We have to restore the integrity of the democratic conversation.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Well, back when you first wrote the book, you were pretty optimistic, you wrote, that the Internet would be an open — an opportunity for the kind of discourse that you would like to see.

AL GORE:  Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Has it turned out that way?

AL GORE:  Not as quickly as I had hoped, that's for sure.

I still do have hope, however.  If you look at the way all of the new reform movements dedicated to the public interest are living and thriving on the Internet, I do think there is still some considerable hope that the full participation of individuals in that conversation of democracy can once again restore the integrity of the way our democracy works.


"Will the CBO estimate make the GOP's health bill harder to sell?" PBS NewsHour 3/13/2017

IMHO:  Trumpcare should be called 'American Health NO-Care Act'


SUMMARY:  The Congressional Budget Office numbers are out on the Republican health bill.  What's the political impact?  Judy Woodruff talks with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR about the difficulties of selling the American Health Care Act, plus the lack of evidence to back up President Trump's tweet allegation of being wiretapped by President Obama.

"Two views on the pros and cons of the GOP health care bill" PBS NewsHour 3/13/2017

COMMENT:  There is ONLY ONE view; if you are old, sick, or not rich, you die.  In affect Republicans say you are not worth the money.


SUMMARY:  The Congressional Budget Office predicts that more people than who got health care under Obamacare will lose coverage under the repeal bill proposed by Republicans.  But the bill also shows cuts in federal spending and a smaller deficit.  John Yang gets reaction to the proposed law from Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel of the University of Pennsylvania and Lanhee Chen of the Hoover Institution.

"Freedom Caucus member Yoho thinks House health care bill will get amended" PBS NewsHour 3/14/2017


SUMMARY:  From both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue came talk of amending the GOP health care bill on Tuesday.  New estimates released Monday from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office bolstered opposition from Democrats and had some Republicans warning that the bill needs work.  Judy Woodruff speaks with Rep.  Ted Yoho, R-Fla., a member of the House Freedom Caucus, about his reservations.

"Why a top physicians' group opposes the GOP health care plan" PBS NewsHour 3/17/2017


SUMMARY:  Although leading Republicans are pushing to pass their Obamacare replacement bill next week, its impact on millions of Americans remains a point of worry.  Some prominent interest groups directly involved in health care are expressing opposition to the plan.  Jeffrey Brown talks to Dr. Andrew Gurman, president of the American Medical Association, about the group's concerns.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


I woke up last night with a music phrase running through my head, trying to remember where I heard it.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I give you from 1979..........

"Tusk" by Fleetwood Mac
with the USC Trojan Marching Band

"In 1979, the TMB was invited by Fleetwood Mac to perform and record "Tusk", the title song for the album Tusk.  The album went double-platinum and was adopted as a part of the TMB's traditional selections." - Wikipedia

(This official video focuses on making the recording and the USC Trojan Marching Band)

Friday, March 17, 2017

TRUMP AGENDA - Who IS That Pulling the Strings??

"The Right-Wing Machine Behind the Curtain" by Theo Anderson, In These Times 3/14/2017

The radical conservative Heritage Foundation has spent 40 years trying to gut the federal budget.  Now Trump is providing to be the perfect tool.

THE MOOD WAS JUBILANT TWO DAYS AFTER THE NOVEMBER 2016 ELECTION at a Washington, D.C., panel co-hosted by two powerhouse conservative thinktanks—the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

In his opening remarks, Heritage president Jim DeMint rejoiced that Donald Trump's election had “preserved our constitutional republic.”  Panelist John Yoo, a Berkeley law professor best known as the architect of George W. Bush's justification for torture, drew laughs with feigned surprise at the audience size.  “I thought everyone at Heritage was working over at transition head quarters,” Yoo quipped.  “I asked the taxi cab driver to take me to Trump transition headquarters, and he dropped me off here.”

Indeed, Politico reported in November that Heritage, based in D.C., had become “a crucial conduit between Trump's orbit and the once-skeptical conservative leaders who ultimately helped get him elected.”  By Heritage's own account, “several dozen” of its staff members worked on the transition team, and Trump used its recommendations for his list of potential Supreme Court picks.

Vice President Mike Pence, the head of that transition team, has deep ties to the foundation.  In 2006, Heritage co-founder Paul Weyrich, a mentor of Pence's, said of him, “Nobody is perfect, but he comes pretty close.”  In early December, Pence gave the keynote speech at a Heritage event (held at Trump's D.C.  hotel) to honor its biggest donors.  He promised that the Trump administration “is now and will continue to draw on” the institution's work.

Heritage defines its mission as creating “an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society flourish.”  It has an annual budget of about $100 million and a staff of about 90 “experts” who hold such pseudo-academic titles as “research fellow' and “policy analyst.”  One example is libertarian economist Stephen Moore, a Trump advisor and a Heritage “distinguished visiting fellow.”

Heritage's ties to the administration have received relatively little press.  With its academic gloss, it may seem benign set against the extremism and zaniness that dominate the headlines: a press secretary only marginally less bizarre than the Saturday Night Live spoof of him; a key advisor who embraces the role of Darth Vader; cabinet picks who have promised to abolish the institutions they lead; executive orders that stigmatize Muslims and violate the Constitution; attacks on the press as “the enemy of the American people”; and on and on.

Yet a grim reality underlies the White House circus.  Trump's election is the culmination of a radical right-wing movement that began with the founding of Heritage in 1973.  “We are different from previous generations of conservatives,” Weyrich said in the early 1980s.  “We are radicals, working to overturn the present power structure of this country.”

Trump is that movement's best hope yet for achieving its great dream of gutting government.  Heritage isn't an appendage of the Trump administration's radicalism.  It's the heart of it.  Trump is just a tool.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

REPUBLICAN AGENDA - Kill the Sick to Save Money

"Tennessee woman dies after losing government benefits and medicine" by Walter Einenkel, Daily KOS 3/15/2017

My first question is how in hell does the Social Security Administration get the right to decide that you sick or not?!  That's for doctors to decide.

Amy Schnelle died a little less than a month ago due to an epileptic seizure she suffered at her home in Knoxville, Tennessee.  The 31-year-old former factory worker had suffered from severe seizures and was on disability.  Her government subsidized disability paid for her very strong anti-seizure medication.  That was until September.

On disability for several years, Amy Schnelle was receiving powerful anti-seizure drugs and had been seizure free since 2015.  Then the United States Social Security Administration threw her a curve ball in September 2016 when they informed her she was no longer sick.

Schnelle appealed this decision and in January of this year, the Social Security Administration put her back on disability.  However, according to her mother, the time spent off of the drugs had a terrible effect on Amy Schnelle's health.

“She had a whole lot of seizures because one of the medicines didn't come through,” said Sylvia Schnelle.  “Once you stop your medicine so abruptly you go into a tailspin of seizures and you don't come out of it.”

Writing to Congressman Jimmy Duncan, Amy Schnelle was able to convince the government to resume her benefits.  That happened in January 2017, but in February 2017, from her apartment, she texted her mother she had a “bad” seizure and asked her to “please” come.  Her mother rushed to Knoxville from her home in Dandridge.

Part of the Republican concept of healthcare is that you die or to go to the emergency room, and hopefully get lucky and don't die.  What happened to Amy Schnelle can and will continue to happen to many more people now that tax breaks for the rich are the main focus of our government's healthcare plan.

Monday, March 13, 2017

AMERICA - Our Crumbling Infrastructure

"America's infrastructure receives poor assessment" PBS NewsHour 3/11/2017


SUMMARY:  The nation's infrastructure received an overall grade of D-plus in a report card published this week by the American Civil Society of Engineers, the same poor grade it issued in 2013.  With 16 categories graded, bridges, roads and dams were among those that received a low score.  The group's managing director, Casey Dinges, joined Hari Sreenivasan from Washington to explain why.

HARI SREENIVASAN, NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:  The nation's infrastructure received an overall grade of “D- plus” in a report card published this week by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the same grade the group issued in 2013.  Among the 16 categories graded:  bridges received a “C-plus”; roads, dams and airports, a “D”; while mass transit came in with a “D-minus.”

The group's senior managing director, Casey Dinges, joins me now from Washington to explain these very low grades.

Mr. Dinges, these are not grades that we would want to see on any child's report card.  Yet, I guess we tolerate them at such crucial things as the roads and bridges we drive on and the water that we drink.

CASEY DINGES, SENIOR MANAGING DIRECTOR, AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS:  I think the way the issue may play out is that the degradation is maybe so imperceptible to the public users, the traveling public you know, the water main break, even though it happens every 2 1/2 minutes in the United States, people my say, “Well, it's just not happening in my neighborhood, so I'm not thinking about it.”  Traffic congestion is a huge issue in major metropolitan areas.  Pavement issues you'll find in regions all across the country affect people, but maybe not enough to make it a top-of-mind issue.

So, at this point, we are somewhat encouraged to see presidential leadership being exerted on the infrastructure issue.  But funding is the key thing.  That would be the heavy lift for the Congress.

OPINION - Shields and Gerson 3/10/2017

"Shields and Gerson on GOP health care bill conflict, Trump's wiretap tweet" PBS NewsHour 3/10/2017


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's news, including the political disagreement over the House Republican bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, President Trump's unsubstantiated claim that his predecessor had ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower and how it ties into potential investigations of Trump ties to Russia.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now to the analysis of Shields and Gerson.  That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson.  David Brooks is away.

And welcome to both of you.

So, a lot going on this week, Mark and Michael.

Let's start, Mark, though, with we got a really good sense or a better sense this week of what it is that Republicans in the House and the White House want to do in terms of replacing the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.

What do we make of this?  Is this something that has the elements of a piece of legislation that can survive?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:  I don't think so, Judy.

And I guess the one point I would disagree with you is, agreement between the White House and the Republicans in Congress.  To listen to Speaker Paul Ryan, this is the last stage out of Dodge.  This is the best and only chance the Republicans are going to have to repeal, fulfill that pledge that they have made now for seven years to repeal Obamacare and come up with their own plan, whereas the White House, in the words of the President, is, I'm for it, but we can deal, we can negotiate.

So I'm not sure that they're on the same page or have basically the same commitment to this legislation.  That's why I just — I think it's in precarious position right now.


JUDY WOODRUFF:  Even though it's moved through these two committees?  And we just spoke to the chairman of the Budget Committee.  And she says she expects it to go flying through.

MARK SHIELDS:  She does.  But the question was, how many hundred thousand Tennesseans will lose health care?

The estimates, Judy, quite frankly, range from 10 million to 15 million now.  All the promises of transparency the Republicans made about going to have open hearings, open votes, they will not vote, that Budget Committee headed by Congresswoman Black, until — they will not release the Congressional Budget Office scoring to tell you how many people are going to lose it and what it's going to cost until that happens.

It's all being sort of railroaded through the Republican House.  But I don't see it surviving.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  How do you see it on the substance, Michael?

MICHAEL GERSON, The Washington Post:  Well, on the substance, there is a set of conservative reform ideas that have been developing, but this isn't it.

This is a jerry-rigged system to try to achieve some of the goals of Obamacare by slightly modifying this, by changing that.  And the result is incoherent.  It has alienated the left because of the number of people that will be off the system.  It's alienated the right because there are some people that wanted a true repeal.  This isn't that type of approach.

So, I think it's — right now, you know, it has the virtue or the drawback of pleasing no one, actually, in this system on left to right.

NEWSHOUR ARTS - Yayoi Kusama

"Need to escape reality?  Step into infinity with Yayoi Kusama" PBS NewsHour 3/10/2017


SUMMARY:  At the Hirshhorn Museum, visitors are lining up to experience Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's world of whimsy, color, shapes and a peek into the beyond.  Jeffrey Brown tells us why this new exhibit is currently the toughest ticket in Washington, D.C.

AGENTS FOR CHANGE - Larry Brilliant

"Stamping out smallpox is just one chapter of his Brilliant life story" PBS NewsHour 3/9/2017

SIDE NOTE:  The three rock groups mentioned below are some of my favorites.  Especially Pink Floyd and their "Dark Side of the Moon."


SUMMARY:  Larry Brilliant jokes that he doesn't live up to his last name, but he has lived a remarkable life, from his early days in the San Francisco hippie scene, to his work as one of the world's leading disease fighters who helped eradicate smallpox.  Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro sits down with Brilliant to look back at his career and current work identifying today's global threats.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO (NewsHour):  The shiny red T-bird convertible is a nod to its owner's Detroit roots.  But it's in San Francisco that he first made a name for himself.  It was quite a name to begin with.

DR. LARRY BRILLIANT, Epidemiologist:  It's so arrogant to have a name like Brilliant that I put 'Sometimes Brilliant and Sometimes Not So Brilliant.'  And that's what I sign.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO:  The memoir Larry Brilliant is autographing chronicles a life of unusual journeys, a civil rights, an anti-Vietnam War activist, and hippie, who helped eradicate smallpox from the world.

Today, he's an adviser to Silicon Valley philanthropists who are helping him tackle other major diseases.

DR. LARRY BRILLIANT:  In the last 30 years we've had 30 pathogens, viruses jump from animals to humans.  We know some of them, SARS, MERS, swine flu, bird flu, Ebola, Zika.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO:  It all began in 1969 in San Francisco, where Brilliant had come for an internship after medical school and volunteered to work at the recently closed federal prison on Alcatraz Island, which was occupied by a group of about 100 Native American protesters.  That stint got him on the evening news.

DR. LARRY BRILLIANT:  Somebody from Warner Brothers saw me on television, and they called me the next day and they said, we're starting a movie in two or three days.  We're going to be gathering at the same place I got off the boat, and it's going to be a movie about hippies and rock 'n' roll.  It's going to have the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane and Pink Floyd.