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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Saviors of Obamacare?

Most familiar with pop culture of the 2010’s know all about the TV series The Walking Dead. The phenomenal zombie thriller, at the end of a nearly decade-long run, finds its survivor heroes under the yoke of a criminal gang known as the Saviors. Its leader, Negan, is a baseball bat-wielding psychopath who kills someone in almost every scene to make some obscure point. The Saviors rule is simple: you go outside the community and forage while avoiding zombies. Whatever you bring back, you hand over as tribute. In return, they allow you to remain alive.

At this point in history, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate fantasy from reality TV, or mainstream news from alt-news or ‘fake news’. In a world of entertainment where Saturday Night Live has turned the American President into a media icon, members of the Cabinet are being immortalized as wrestling-type heels. Leftist protests have turned into flash mob riots in which traveling bands of agitators attack police and vandalize private property wherever the media directs them. Celebrities are stepping out as political pundits, recharging their careers by going on record as being against the Government and all that it stands for. As usual, the Moral Majority stands in silence while the shrill and vociferous leftist fringe rages on.

It is hard to focus as we look back at the Obama regime, a bloated ten trillion-dollar enterprise that grew bigger as the country grew comfortably numb. People lost jobs, collected unemployment, signed up for welfare, sat home, gained weight and got sick. The president signed one of his many executive orders in a day when there were no vigilante judges willing to stand up and restrain said order. He made Obamacare the law of the land, and suddenly the unwashed masses had health insurance despite having no employer to provide it.

The Republicans fought against it, like feeble old women trying to fend off athletic young purse snatchers. They relented as small businesses folded in the face of health care mandates coming at insufferable cost. They shrugged as shrewd bean-counters in banking and insurance recalculated the odds. They used premiums and deductibles as wrecking balls that gave a ‘level playing field’ a new meaning. When industrial giants such as Humana and Blue Cross began steering clear of the train wreck ahead, Republicans smiled smugly and reminded all ‘we told you so’.

Of course, this did nothing for the working class who were under penalty of law for non-compliance. Obama required all Americans to submit to his decree. Like the Saviors, they stood at the threshold as citizens were forced to acquire coverage --- or face the baseball bats of the IRS. Americans complied, and in many cases at a cost they could not sustain. People were interviewed on TV as they testified their monthly premiums were their biggest household expense. Bollocks, we laughed. It is theatre created by the GOP to cast our President’s legacy in a bad light.

Fast forward to the Days of Trump, as our new President is being asked to make good on his campaign promise to abolish Obamacare. The dilemma he faces is that the aged and infirm, the genetically deficient, the morbidly obese, the clinically depressed, and many others are desperately clinging to Obamacare the way the multitudes grabbed at Christ’s robe along the countryside. Pandora’s Box has been opened, and it has become a can of whoop-ass that the GOP cannot close. They have free tickets to the hospital, and will only have them pried from cold, dead fingers.

What Trump must do now, as surveyor and architect, is to assess the landscape before devising his structure and masterpiece. It is bleak and foreboding, a wasteland dominated by insurance companies whose premiums and deductibles threaten to crush all who dare trespass. Swirling overhead are the minions of the medical industry who will pick the bones of anyone unfortunate enough to fall into their hands. Beyond lies an infinite horizon of crises along the path of life: accidents, injury, pregnancy, local epidemics, or anything that can financially crush a person in the blink of an eye.

The first move should be painfully obvious. The President must liberate his people from the yoke of Obamacare, downgrading it from a mandatory requirement. Let us consider the red-blooded American who goes from cradle to grave, visiting the hospital only once at their birth. How many hundreds of thousands will spend a lifetime purchasing something they will never use? The same can be said for any insurance: only car insurance is a necessary evil and home/life insurance defends against the unforeseen catastrophe our loved ones may not endure. Obamacare, for many, is being sent out to scavenge by bat-wielding thugs who take what they will never give in return.

Once this is resolved, Trump must focus on plowing and developing the wasteland. The insurance companies must realize that the 99% rule must no longer apply. Regardless of their objections, they must come to realize that their board of directors earning a half million per year can afford pay cuts to keep Joe Blow from paying $400 per month in premiums. The logic of the 20th century can no longer apply. True, bigger insurance companies offer more and better-paying jobs. Only the margin of profit must be drastically narrowed to give the working class the opportunity to afford what they need at a maintainable price.

From there, our leader must look overhead and follow the buzzards to their nesting place. The medical industry will continue to point to the matrix: the spiraling cost of pharmaceuticals, the astronomical price of modern technology and equipment, and the overhead expense that resulted in $50 aspirin in hospitals in Seventies NYC. Yet as we look around at the rest of the world community, the question is obvious. Why is medical coverage in the wealthiest nation on earth so costly? Our neighbors from Cuba to Canada provide health benefits to their citizens, and neither government is collapsing under the burden. Certainly a financial genius like Trump will find an answer for a problem defined by corporate greed.

One thing that burns in our minds is the image of St. Jude’s Children’s Center. This is a specialized institution dedicated to the care of children in various stages of cancer diagnosis and treatment. It relies on public and private funding to operate; in turn it proclaims its services free to all children and their families. Their tenet is that no one is ever turned away. As we know, cancer is an incurable disease. Billions of dollars have been spent on research, equipment and pharmaceuticals designed to combat the affliction. The treatment is astoundingly expensive in many cases, and the Center has literally saved thousands of lives.

The question, for purposes of this essay, is to how far this horizon may be extended. If the care can be provided for children, then why not men and women at some future time? If these services one day cover all Americans, can they not be expanded to cover other illnesses? And if St. Jude’s becomes a beacon of hope for patients across the country, why can we not open more of these centers? Granted, this becomes a long trickledown process. Yet if it begins to fill the middle ground between St. Jude’s at the apex and public health clinics as the bargain basement, America may be on the way to providing free medical benefits to its citizens at last.

Some of the technical issues facing Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price are just as challenging. Democratic opposition led by Senator Patty Murray point to ongoing arguments. The issue of Federal support for abortion has been a flashpoint between conservative Christians and leftist groups for over half a century. There is also the question of health insurance voucher programs affording the needy an opportunity to buy private insurance. Price will indeed join the fray on the floor of Congress, but the bigger battles await.

President Trump and Tom Price will be required to deal with major health care problems with the wellbeing of millions at stake. They must not allow these concerns to be reduced to a matter of dollars and cents.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Opening Salvos? (Excerpt from JRD's "Dynasty!")

          In retrospect, none of it should have been totally unexpected. Yet the events surrounding the inauguration of Donald J. Trump sent seismic waves around the planet. On January 20th, 2017, the 45th President of the United States took his oath of office. A highly enthusiastic crowd of Trump supporters came out to cheer the triumphant event. Yet just blocks away, an anti-Trump mob came out to throw stones at police and set fire to a limousine. His inaugural speech was wildly populist although iterating most of the rhetoric he developed on the campaign trail. Yet the press reported it as a right-wing nationalist call to arms that would set American diplomacy back a half century.

          What it does predict is a likely war of attrition that may possibly continue over the next four years of the Trump presidency. The liberal press, firmly entrenched after eight years of predominance over the Obama administration, has viewed the Trump ascension as the advent of an Orwellian reactionary super-state. Trump blasted back using the same analogy, citing the double-speak of Orwell’s 1984 as the leftist recipe for serving ‘alternative news’ to the American public and the nations of the world. Whatever the case may be, both sides are portending a future series of events that will serve no good purpose as time goes by.

          The size of the crowds attending the inauguration became the first item of interest over the weekend. The media derided the turnout as one of the lowest in recent decades. Trump called the declaration a bald-faced lie meant to debase the Trump Nation. He insisted it was as well-attended and enthusiastic as that of any previous Democratic inaugural events. The press countered with aerial photos, showing enormous crowds at the first Obama inauguration. Trump fired back with clips of plastic-covered areas that covered the White House lawn, resulting in the crowd being divided into sectors that appeared to be sparsely occupied.

          The media proved even more divisive in televising the nationwide demonstrations following the inauguration. Relatively few networks (such as Fox News and One America Network News) followed the Trump celebration at the inaugural ball.  The majority chose to provide non-stop coverage of the anti-Trump events, from the riotous protests in Washington DC to the so-called ‘female protests’ in large cities across the country and around the world. It was publicized as a women’s backlash against a misogynistic Trump regime. Yet it can be seen how the events were misrepresented in order to enhance the turnout.

          Women around the globe had been fed a steady stream of propaganda by the Clinton campaign depicting Trump as a male chauvinist. Making matters worse was Trump’s strong position on Christian issues, one of the foremost being anti-abortion. It made him an opponent of pro-choice groups; even worse, it placed him against health legislation that linked benefits to abortion options. Activist groups were quick to promote the idea that Trump would repeal women’s health benefits along with Obamacare upon assuming office. The world-wide response appeared as if the women of the world had united in opposition to the new President.

One of the more problematic selling points facing the media was the composition of the Trump administration. Trump’s wife Melania had already announced herself as being a champion of family issues. Ivanka Trump was already consolidating her position as one of the most influential ‘first daughters’ in history. There was also campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, education secretary Betsy DeVos and UN ambassador Nikki Haley, among many others. Unlike many women in the Obama and Bush administrations, these persons do not seem to be hired according to gender. Most come from backgrounds that indicate they will come out swinging from the opening bell. If Trump was assembling a male-dominated staff, he seemed to be uncharacteristically near-sighted in doing so.

At that juncture, White House press secretary Sean Spicer excoriated the media over their purveyance of ‘alternative facts’ and biased opinion during the inaugural weekend. Trump followed up by asking Cabinet and Congress members to refrain from disseminating information that might prove detrimental to the administration’s agenda. It was the equivalent of setting skirmish lines along the political battlefield. The media rose up in arms, and Orwell’s futuristic novel found a resurgence that took it to Number One on Amazon’s bestseller list. 1984 had flash-forwarded to 2017, and the fate of the world was at stake once more.

Once again Trump took the offensive, pointing to the press’ claim that Hillary Clinton had won the popular vote and should have been President were it not for the electoral college. He went on to announce that he would conduct a formal investigation of Democratic strategies in utilizing illegal immigrant votes to decide city and state election results. This reopened a can of worms surrounding allegations that the Putin regime in Russia masterminded the Internet hacks of the Democratic National Convention. The Clinton campaign contended that Russia had leaked information convincing voters that their integrity was highly questionable at best. It led to a new round of mud-slinging that has a long way to go.

One thing that stands out is the Democrats’ indignation over the alleged Russian interference in the electoral process. The most profound revelations were the DNC’s betrayal of Bernie Sanders in favor of Clinton, as well as the financial indiscretions of the Clinton Foundation. Although the exposes were, in all likelihood, disastrous to the campaign, the vital question remains. In an America where freedom of information has been declared an inalienable right, would it have been moral for voters to have been denied access to those details?

Another angle that many conservatives had forgotten was the intense backlash in many areas of the country over the Obama regime of the past eight years. Although the liberal press was strongly supportive of the Obama administration, the Republicans’ adversity was so strong that Obama was forced to rely on executive orders to make progress on key issues. There was also the fact that Obama received more death threats than any other President in history. The media conveniently downplayed much of this, making it seem as if America had entered a blissful era of inclusivity and diversity on both sides of the aisle and across Main Street USA. The Republican right was now uncovering what the media had swept under the rug.

The question of validity surrounding the electoral college brings the Democrats’ sense of values into light. The reason for the electoral college was to prevent major cities with overwhelming populations to dominate American politics. It allowed states with comparatively small populations to enjoy their fair share of influence over the outcome. Further, it is a sociological fact that citizens of lower income flock to large cities due to the abundance of public assistance programs. They become a magnet for demographic groups who will vote for liberal groups supporting welfare platforms. If the electoral college were abolished, conservative parties might never win another election.

          There is also a concern over the nature of Donald J. Trump as a self-made billionaire. He is a general in the world of commerce with few peers, a man who has developed successful campaigns and conquered markets on an international scale. He is an understandably proud man who has earned the respect of millions around the globe. Being vilified, slandered and libeled is something he is not used to and is not taking lightly. It is something he will have to get used to if the White House war against the media will ever come to a truce.

          For certain, the American public and the nations of the world will have to learn and discern in separating fact from fiction. If not, tidal waves of ‘alternative facts’ may evolve into the tsunami disaster of the decade.