What's Better for the Environment, Paper Bags or Reusable Plastic Bags?

AlterNet.org - 0 sec ago
Click here for reuse options! "Paper or plastic?" is a common question at the checkout line. What should you choose?

It’s a basic question faced by millions of shoppers every day: paper or plastic? Making the best choice for the environment, however, is less simple.

Last November Californians approved Proposition 67, which upheld a 2014 ban on the issuing of single-use plastic bags in grocery and drug stores. As a result, shops were able to continue charging customers around a dime for reusable plastic or paper bags. The ban seems effective because it should lead to a reduction in plastic waste. More importantly, the extra charge aims to incentivize people to bring their own reusable bags to the store. But let’s face it, many shoppers still forget, which brings us back to that darn choice we often have to make at the checkout line.

So, which option is better?

Plastic bags were first used in the 1970s as an environmentally friendly alternative to paper. The logic was that less paper leads to less felled trees. Even better, the material used in making plastic bags, polyethylene, comes from ethane, a byproduct of natural gas extraction and a major contributor to global warming (when it’s not being frozen and used to make handy shopping bags).

The production of paper, by contrast, exacts a heavy toll on the environment. Resource-wise, apart from the trees that are lost, the entire logging process involves the use of heavy machinery that run on fossil fuels. That’s not to mention the massive amount of water required to turn pulp into paper, at a ratio of one part pulp to 400 parts water.

On that information alone, choosing plastic over paper would seem the obvious choice. But that would mean ignoring the other half of a grocery bag’s life: recycling.

“The whole point is we have to think of this in terms of the entire life cycle of our products,” Rachel Harvey, a sustainability program manager at UC Irvine and an activist who helped banish plastic bags from much of Hawaii, said, in an interview with the Orange County Register. “The recycling bin is the last stop on their chain. We want people to be more intentional on the front end of the chain.”

Harvey’s point aside, most shoppers who opt for paper likely do so due to the simple fact that paper easily decomposes. On this point, these consumers are not wrong. While it generally takes paper about a month to decompose, plastic, by contrast, only tends to break down, on average, after 20 years. Plastic is one of the world’s worst litter culprits, spreading itself far and wide, often at the great expense of wild animals and birds, particularly sea-dwellers who end up ingesting the ubiquitous marine trash.

That said, even though paper breaks down easier, it requires far more energy to recycle. For starters, paper weighs a great deal more than plastic does, resulting in tons more weight that must be processed by municipalities, and by association, a much greater expenditure of greenhouse emissions.

Taking both production and recycling into account, it becomes difficult to choose a clear winner between paper and plastic. So over the years, a number of governments have turned to the scientific method to find an answer.

In 2005, the Scottish government released a report comparing the environmental impacts of plastic and paper bags. Based on two years of inquiries involving interviews with experts and governments who had conducted similar research around the world, the government found that overall, paper tended to have “a more adverse impact than a plastic bag for most of the environmental issues considered.”

The U.K. Environment Agency, a governmental research group, conducted a similar inquiry around the same time period. Its report was a life cycle assessment comparing the environmental impacts of a variety of grocery bags. From extensive research, some of the study’s key findings concluded that:

  • Single-use plastic bags outperformed all alternatives, even reusable ones, on environmental performance.
  • Plastic bags have a much lower global warming potential.
  • “The environmental impact of all types of bag is dominated by the resource use and production stages. Transport, secondary packaging and end-of-life management generally have minimal influence on their performance.”
  • “Whatever type of bag is used, the key to reducing the impacts is to reuse it as many times as possible.”

Eric Masanet, a lead researcher in the Energy and Resource Systems Analysis Laboratory at Northwestern University reiterated these scientific findings in an article on Ecomyths Busted, saying that, “the science shows that moving from plastic to paper is not necessarily ‘greener’.”

So does Prop 67 help the environment at all? In short, yes—and no. Given California’s long coastline, a decrease in plastic litter that would otherwise end up in the ocean is an extremely positive outcome. But in order to be truly comprehensive about environmental awareness, an effective policy needs to take into account the considerable impact of paper bags. A fine example is that of Austin, Texas, where both paper and single-use plastic bags are banned. Quoted in an article on the Guardian, Reuseit.com explained that when “faced with the question of paper or plastic, the answer should always be neither.”

If you’d prefer to hear this advice more melodically, Australian comedian Tim Minchin immortalized in song this one simple piece of advice: “Take your canvas bag, take your canvas bag, take your canvas bag to the supermarket.” (As long as you make sure to use that canvas bag at least 131 times.)

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Chelsea Manning Decision Gives Supporters Reason to Cheer

AlterNet.org - January 17, 2017 - 5:07pm
Click here for reuse options! Obama administration commutes majority of sentence following sustained pressure from social movements.

The Obama administration announced Tuesday afternoon that it will commute the majority of the remaining sentence of whistle-blower Chelsea Manning, and she will reportedly be freed in May 2017 along with the political prisoner Oscar López Rivera.

One of 209 commutations granted by President Barack Obama on Tuesday, the decision follows a mounting public pressure campaign from social movements around the world, in which Manning emerged as an outspoken defender of human rights while enduring solitary confinement and denial of health care in the hands of the U.S. military. For years, Manning’s backers have marched through the streets, appealed to the Obama administration and organized direct support for the jailed whistle blower while she endured torture.

“Since she was first taken into custody, Chelsea has been subjected to long stretches of solitary confinement — including for attempting suicide — and has been denied access to medically necessary health care,” said Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project representing Manning, in a press statement immediately following the White House’s announcement. “This move could quite literally save Chelsea’s life, and we are all better off knowing that Chelsea Manning will walk out of prison a free woman, dedicated to making the world a better place and fighting for justice for so many.”

Manning has already suffered more than six years of imprisonment as part of her 35-year sentence and is currently held in an all-male military prison, even though she identifies as woman. United Nations special rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez determined in 2012 that the United States is guilty of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” for holding her in solitary confinement for nearly a year.

Manning is recognized internationally as a hero for releasing to WikiLeaks key State Department Cables, the Afghanistan War Diary, Iraq War Logs, and Collateral Murder video exposing U.S. war crimes, killing of civilians and lies to the public. In a 10,000-word statement she read at her pretrial hearing in Fort Meade, Maryland in February 2013, Manning declared: “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the [Iraq and Afghan War Logs] this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Manning's supporters have maintained that she has suffered a stiff prison sentence, harsh detention and torture in retaliation for blowing the whistle on the U.S. government. They have repeatedly called for her immediate release.

Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future who is in regular contact with Manning said in a press statement, “As someone who has become friends with Chelsea over the last year, but has never had a chance to see her face or give her a hug, I'm overjoyed that she will be able to share her beautiful self with the world. She has so much to offer, and her freedom will be a testament to the power of grassroots organizing. I’m so excited for the world to get to know her as the compassionate, intelligent, and kind person who she is.”

Transgender Law Center executive director Kris Hayashi said, “The government tortured Chelsea by subjecting her to extended solitary confinement, denying her medical care, punishing her for attempting suicide, and forcing her to serve her time in an all-male prison. She has already served longer than any other whistleblower in United States history, and continued imprisonment would likely have been fatal for her. It is time for Chelsea to come home and be free of abusive confinement.”

As recently as March of 2016, Manning wrote an article in which she asked, “When will the US government stop persecuting whistleblowers?” She warned, “In the months following the US government’s initial charges against me over the release of government records in 2010, the current administration formed the National Insider Threat Task Force under the authority of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and several other US government agencies. The mission of this taskforce is breathtakingly broad. It aims at deterring threats to national security by anyone 'who misuses or betrays, wittingly or unwittingly, his or her authorized access to any US Government resource.' Unfortunately, the methods it outlines amount to thousands of government personnel being effectively under total surveillance."

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'Grab Patriarchy By the Balls!' Topless Activist Crashes Trump Statue Unveiling at Madrid Wax Museum

AlterNet.org - January 17, 2017 - 2:12pm
Click here for reuse options! The protester squeezed the sculpture's "huevos" before she could be escorted out.

Women aren't only protesting Donald Trump's inauguration in Washington, D.C. this week. At least one activist in Madrid is baring witness.

On Tuesday, a topless protester from the international feminist group FEMEN crashed the unveiling of a new statue of the president-elect at the city's waxwork museum—much to the horror of its communications director Gonzalo Presa. "If they want to do this they should do it directly to him," he lamented.

Emblazoned in black grease across the woman's back were the words "GRAB PATRIARCHY BY THE BALLS," a clear reference to the explosive 2005 Hollywood Access tape leaked in October.

FEMEN draws attention to gender inequalities through "sextremism," which the movement's website describes as "female sexuality rebelling against patriarchy, embodied in extremal political direct action events." Members aim "to destruct the patriarchal understanding of the destination of female sexuality" in the service of a "great revolutionary mission."

According to FEMEN, the statue took at least three days to create. It took several minutes—and staff members—to restrain the activist. 

Watch:

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UPDATED: Trump Sexual Assault Accuser Going Ahead With Lawsuit

AlterNet.org - January 17, 2017 - 12:44pm
Click here for reuse options! One of the 13 women who alleged Trump assaulted her will seek a legal remedy.

UPDATE 6:09pm, January 17: Summer Zervos, a former contestant on "The Apprentice," announced at today’s press conference that she has filed a defamation suit against Donald Trump for using “his national and international bully pulpit to make false factual statements to denigrate and verbally attack Ms. Zervos and the other women who publicly reported his sexual assaults in October 2016.” The lawsuit, which was filed in Manhattan Supreme Court on Tuesday, can be viewed online.

According to those court papers, Zervos “was ambushed by Mr. Trump on more than one occasion” over the course of filming the television show in 2007. The lawsuit alleges:

Mr. Trump suddenly, and without her consent, kissed her on her mouth repeatedly; he touched her breast; and he pressed his genitals up against her. Ms. Zervos never consented to any of this disgusting touching. Instead, she repeatedly expressed that he should stop his inappropriate sexual behavior, including by shoving him away from her forcefully, and telling him to “get real.” Mr. Trump did not care, he kept touching her anyway.

The suit also charges that Trump “attacked [Zervos] in a hotel room on a later occasion.” Attorney Gloria Allred told assembled press that Zervos volunteered to take, and passed, a polygraph test.

The lawsuit describes Zervos as having “felt conflicted and confused for years about the incidents.” She came forward in October, after the leak of the infamous Access Hollywood tape, which features Trump boasting about grabbing women by the genitals. Trump has said that he “never met [Ms. Zervos] at a hotel or greeted her inappropriately,” and characterized her charges as lies.

“His statements are plainly defamatory and caused serious harm,” according to today’s filing. “This lawsuit seeks to make Donald Trump accountable for the significant damage he has caused.”

Law Newz writes that counsel Allred, who is well-known for taking on cases involving anti-woman discrimination, was with Zervos at the press event. The lawyer “suggested she may attempt to subpoena copies of unaired, unedited outtakes from the Apprentice show.” There has been plenty of curiosity about the tapes for months, dating back to October, just after the Access Hollywood tapes leaked. A former Apprentice producer tweeted “I assure you: when it comes to the #trumptapes there are far worse. #justthebeginning.” More recently, comedian Tom Arnold reignited interest in the footage when he claimed he’d seen outtakes from the show featuring Trump, “saying the N-word, saying the C-word, calling his son a retard, just being so mean to his own children.”

Law Newz points to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that determined sitting presidents can face civil suits.

***

Charges of rape and sexual harassment dating back four decades dogged Trump in the months leading up to the election. Last year, a woman filed a lawsuit against the then-GOP presidential candidate alleging he violently raped her when she was 13 years old. Another woman, Jessica Leeds, said Trump fondled her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt on a flight in the 1980s. “He was like an octopus. His hands were everywhere,” she told the New York Times in October last year. “It was an assault.”

Trump’s ex-wife Ivana was perhaps the first woman to publicly accuse Trump of sexual assault. The charge was made during a deposition in the Trumps early 1990s divorce. Before the release of Lost Tycoon, a Trump biography that made mention of Ivana’s testimony, Donald Trump’s lawyers sent author Harry Hunt III a letter on Ivana’s behalf recanting those accusations:

“During a deposition given by me in connection with my matrimonial case, I stated that my husband had raped me. [O]n one occasion during 1989, Mr. Trump and I had marital relations in which he behaved very differently toward me than he had during our marriage. As a woman, I felt violated, as the love and tenderness, which he normally exhibited towards me, was absent. I referred to this as a ‘rape,’ but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.”

Trump’s response to mounting allegations of sexual abuse and harassment—most of which emerged after a leaked 2005 video showed him bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy”—was that his accusers weren’t hot enough to be merit sexual assault. In response to People magazine reporter Natasha Stoynoff’s recounting of Trump pushing her against a wall and “forcing his tongue down [her] throat,” Trump told a rally crowd, "Take a look! You take a look. Look at her. Look at her words. You tell me what you think. I don't think so. I don't think so."

In October, Trump also said he would sue all of his accusers after November 8. "All of these liars will be sued after the election is over,” he said during a Pennsylvania campaign speech. Those lawsuits have failed to materialize.

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Queer Rights Group Plans to Throw Mike Pence a Dance Party He Won't Soon Forget

AlterNet.org - January 17, 2017 - 12:36pm
Click here for reuse options! The vice president-elect will face glitter, rainbow suspenders and fierce resistance.

The resistance begins a new chapter with Trump's inauguration this week, and early reports suggest it will be fabulous.

“We are taking our dance floor to the streets to say, ‘We are here, we are queer and we will dance,'” Firas Nasr, an organizer with the Washington, D.C.-based Werk for Peace, told AlterNet over the phone. “It’s about using movement as a form of resistance and protest.”

Nasr is one of scores of Washington, D.C. residents planning to stage a pre-inaugeration queer dance party outside the home of Vice President-Elect Mike Pence. Equipped with biodegradable glitter, glow sticks, rainbow suspenders and “bomb music,” Nasr says the dance party will send a message to one of the country’s most notorious homophobic and transphobic public officials that the LGBTQ community is not backing down.

“We will happily protest bigotry through love, connection and dance,” Nasr says of the event, which was organized by Werk for Peace and the Disrupt J20 Collective, both Washington, D.C.-based formations. “We are coming out in all our glamor and all our fabulousness, and we are ready to werk.”

"The queer community has, for a long time, used dance as a form of self-expression and healing," notes Nasr, whose group formed as a response to last summer's massacre at the Orlando LGBTQ Pulse club’s Latinx night.

The mobile dance party will take aim at a politician with a long career track record of statements and positions that have directly harmed LGBTQ communities, including overt support for policies that expand discrimination against transgender children in public schools and the backing of sadistic conversion therapies for gay teens.

In 2006, Pence called for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, declaring “societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family.” And as far back as 1996, Pence expressed opposition to the attendance of AIDS activists at the San Diego Republican National Convention, which took place that same year. “An endless line of pro-choice women, AIDS activists and proponents of affirmative action may have struck a chord with the Washington press corps,” he complained in an article for the conservative think tank, the Indiana Policy Review.

Pence is a leader in the national push to defund Planned Parenthood and signed into law in 2015 a draconian anti-abortion bill that was blocked by a federal judge this summer. He has (in)famously declared, "I long for the day that Roe v. Wade is sent to the ash heap of history.” Pence is also a backer of harsh anti-immigrant laws and Trump’s proposed wall on the border with Mexico. He opposed the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana, supports the privatization of public education and makes no disguise of his climate denialism.

After Wednesday night, Pence might find his lawn blanketed in glitter and rainbows by some of the communities he has spent his life in public office targeting. An invitation to the queer dance party states, “We plan on leaving behind [biodegradable] glitter and rainbow paraphinalia that he can NEVER forget.” It invites community members to come out and “tell Daddy Pence: homo/transphobia is not tolerated in our country!”

Nasr notes that many of Pence’s neighbors in Chevy Chase have displayed rainbow flags outside of their houses in a show of solidarity with LGBTQ people. Organizers of Wednesday’s action have reached out to Pence’s neighborhood and “gotten some positive response,” he says.

David Thurston, an arts organizer with the Disrupt J20 Collective, tells AlterNet that “Pence is a bigot, and we want to expose that, but we also want to have some fun while doing solid political work.”

“Wednesday night will be a taste of what people will see at inauguration,” says Thurston. “Our goal is to show that we can resolutely oppose Trump's agenda while also having a vision of what kind of world we can live in and build solidarity, relationships of trust and effective grassroots movements in this country to stop Trump in his tracks.”

The queer dance party will rage outside of Pence’s house as people across the country prepare to take to the streets to oppose a Trump administration that will put white nationalists and overt racists in the White House.

“On Friday, January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as President of the United States,” Disrupt J20 declared in a statement. “We call on all people of conscience to shut down the ceremonies. If Trump is inaugurated at all, let it happen behind closed doors, showing the world that the vast majority of people in the U.S. do not support his presidency or consent to his rule.”

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FBI 'Honors' Martin Luther King, Jr., 50 Years After Plotting To 'Neutralize' Him

AlterNet.org - January 17, 2017 - 12:19pm
Click here for reuse options! The agency's history with the civil rights icon is far more sordid than its MLK Day celebration might suggest.

"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you," declared socialist leader and union organizer Nicholas Klein in 1914 (in a quote often misattributed to Mahatma Gandhi). Klein added, "In this story you have a history of this entire movement."

Nearly 50 years after his murder, Martin Luther King Jr. is lionized by the very forces that ridiculed, attacked, and wanted to burn him. The same government institutions that threatened King's life and called him the "most notorious liar in the country" and a "filthy, abnormal animal" are applauding him tody.

The radical legacy of the civil rights icon — who not only valiantly fought Jim Crow, but also harshly condemned capitalism and spoke out bravely against the US war in Vietnam, alienating the vast majority of the liberal establishment — has been so thoroughly whitewashed that the very same government institutions that wished death on King are now heaping praise on his memory.

On Martin Luther King Day, the Federal Bureau of Investigation posted a tweet honoring "Rev. Martin L. King Jr. and his incredible career fighting for civil rights."

Today, the FBI honors the Rev. Martin L. King Jr. and his incredible career fighting for civil rights. #MLKDAY pic.twitter.com/9UEulHmL8a

— FBI (@FBI) January 16, 2017

What the FBI did not mention in its tweet is that King, who was arrested 30 times in his life, was a primary target of COINTELPRO — the FBI's Counter Intelligence Program that spied on, threatened, and even assassinated revolutionary leaders in the Black liberation, socialist, and anti-imperialist movements.

The FBI relentlessly harassed and threatened King. It listened to his phone calls. It spied on his romantic affairs. It taunted him and repeatedly called his house. 

After he gave his famous "I have a dream" speech in 1963, the FBI dubbed King the "most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country." FBI department heads held a meeting to discuss "a complete analysis of the avenues of approach aimed at neutralizing King as an effective Negro leader."

In the name of fighting communism, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference to be surveilled. The FBI placed dozens of microphones in places King frequented and wiretapped his phones, with the approval of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. In order to gauge "the communist influences upon him," the FBI tracked "all instances of King's travels and activities."

When King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 1964, the FBI was incensed. In an infamous November press conference, FBI Director Hoover slammed King as "the most notorious liar in the country." Off the record, Hoover also called the civil rights icon "one of the lowest characters in the country."

A few days after the press conference, the FBI sent King a chilling anonymous letter, blackmailing him and telling him to kill himself. The FBI called King an "evil, abnormal beast" and a "complete fraud and a great liability to" black Americans. "Your end is approaching," the FBI wrote, describing him as "not a leader but a dissolute, abnormal moral imbecile."

Through its surveillance, the FBI gathered evidence of King's sexual dalliances, and threatened to expose them to the world. "You are done... I repeat you are done... You are finished... King you are done... You are done," the letter reiterated.

"King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what that is," the FBI concluded, strongly hinting at suicide. "You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation."

King persevered for three more years until his assasination in 1968. In 1999, a jury decided in a Tennessee civil suit that the US government was complicit in the killing of King.

A March 1968 FBI memo, from the month before King's death, discussed ways to "prevent the rise of a 'messiah' who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement." The memo, which is redacted, hinted that a leader like King "could be a real contender for this position should he abandon his supposed 'obedience' to 'white liberal doctrines' (nonviolence) and embrace black nationalism."

"Through counter-intelligence it should be possible to pinpoint potential trouble-makers and neutralize them," the memo added. The next year, the FBI was involved in the murder of Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and another potential "black messiah" the agency had targeted.

Five decades later, however, despite their well-documented history of trying to destroy King, the FBI and other government institutions now use him to try to whitewash their sordid histories.

The real King was an uncompromising political radical. He recognized that the US government was "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world." He implored people to "question the capitalistic economy" and insisted, "We can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power."

King linked white supremacy to imperialism and Jim Crow in the US to apartheid in South Africa. When he came out against the barbaric war in Vietnam, which would leave millions dead, he was castigated by liberals and conservatives alike. The editorial boards of The New York Times and The Washington Post cast their scorn on King; on one day, 168 separate newspapers berated him.

Yet King persisted. He declared that "the evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism are all tied together, and you really can't get rid of one without getting rid of the others." He also said activists must must "make it clear that America is a hypocritical nation," and maintained, "The whole structure of American life must be changed."

 

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New Poll Shows Trump Fans Are Almost All White-Wingers: 4 Fascinating Findings

AlterNet.org - January 17, 2017 - 11:22am
Click here for reuse options! A new survey finds most Americans think Donald Trump is unqualified to be president.

Most of the attention given to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll has centered on the finding that Donald Trump will take office as the most unliked president of the last four decades, making him historically unpopular. The survey finds 54 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Trump, while 40 percent view him favorably. Just a day earlier, Gallup released almost identical numbers, with Trump’s unfavorable/favorable split at 55/40. Compared to Gallup’s November numbers, Trump’s favorables are on the decline since his election. CNN also found that Trump’s numbers have dropped by 6 points since he beat Hillary Clinton in November and that his favorables are less than half those of incoming President Obama, which stood at 84 percent at around this time in 2009.

Trump responded to the polls in the most Trumpian way possible, by re-whining the story of how the system is rigged against the racist, misogynist, white male, trust fund kid-turned-adult billionaire who, despite no previous experience in government or the military and a lack of coherent policy proposals, was elected president. “The same people who did the phony election polls, and were so wrong, are now doing approval rating polls,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “They are rigged just like before.”

It’s unlikely Trump has really dug into the numbers, which show it’s not just about popularity. Americans overwhelmingly think poorly of Trump on a whole host of issues. Here are four interesting findings from the Washington Post/ABC Survey. 

1. White people are the only group that have a favorable view of Trump at anything near 50 percent.

Trump spent the long Martin Luther King weekend tweeting racialized insults at civil rights icon John Lewis, who was marching and getting mercilessly beaten by racist cops back when Trump was racking up Vietnam war deferments because his feet hurt until the moment the war ended. That was fully in character with the guy whose entire presidential run was launched by assuming the role of birther-in-chief, and who spent 18 months co-signing his angry followers’ ludicrous belief that Muslims, blacks and immigrants are stealing a country that rightfully belongs to them. It follows that just 17 percent of African Americans, 24 percent of Hispanics and 21 percent non-whites polled overall rated Trump favorably. In contrast, a whole 50 percent of whites think Trump is pretty cool.

2. Most Americans think Trump is unqualified to be president.

Fifty-two percent of respondents to the WaPo-ABC poll responded in the negative to the question, “Do you think Donald Trump is qualified to serve as president, or not?” As with a lot of the questions, divides are most glaringly observed along lines of party affiliation, race and class. A whopping 90 percent of conservative Republicans said they think Trump is fully prepared to take on the task ahead of him, which only proves their ability to overlook every egregious failing a president can have unless he (and yes, emphasis on “he”) is black. Just 21 percent of Democrats agreed. White evangelical Protestants, a segment that worships a lord and savior who apparently wanted a man who brags about sexual assault to be president, have the most faith among white religious groups: 75 percent stated Trump is qualified for his new job.

3. Three-quarters of Americans want Trump to release his tax returns.

Last week, after waiting long enough to ensure there wouldn’t be enough time for him to respond to all the questions begging for answers, Trump finally held a press conference. Between attacks on the media and con games about his business conflicts, he insisted that “the only one[s] that care about my tax returns are the reporters.” Today, we are all reporters, I guess. Or at least the near 75 percent of us who want to see whatever Russian shenanigans and account overdrafts he’s hiding in those tax documents.

4. Most Americans believe Russia hacked Democratic emails.

Most Americans, 65 percent, believe the 17 intelligence agencies that report Russia hacked the DNC. No one reason got a majority of votes, but the largest number of respondents, 45 percent, believe the cyberespionage was undertaken to help Trump beat Hillary Clinton. This bodes poorly for that huge back tattoo Trump has that reads, “It Coulda Been China.”

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Was Trump's So-Called Cybersecurity Adviser, Rudy Giuliani, Hacked?

AlterNet.org - January 17, 2017 - 10:57am
Click here for reuse options! Days after cybersecurity experts pointed out Giuliani's site's vulnerabilities, it mysteriously disappeared.

On January 12, President-elect Donald Trump announced that Rudy Giuliani would serve as a cybersecurity adviser to the incoming administation. The former NYC Mayor and major Trump booster is also the chief executive of Giuliani Partners, his own private-sector consulting group. 

Cybersecurity "is a rapidly evolving field both as to intrusions and solutions and it is critically important to get timely information from all sources," the Trump transition team said in a statement.

"Mr. Giuliani was asked to initiate this process because of his long and very successful government career in law enforcement and his now sixteen years of work providing security solutions in the private sector," the team also noted.

Giuliani touted his experience with Israeli and German cyber defense in an interview at Trump Tower following the announcement.

"It's going to be my job to bring these people to the president, and then obviously to the people in his administration so they can share with him, number one, their problems and number two, their solutions," the former mayor concluded.

He also railed against fake news in the same interview. 

"We've seen a lot of incidences of fake news recently; I have never seen something as bad as this," Guiliani added.

It's not clear if Guiliani considers this a cybersecurity issue. It's also not clear what his company actually does. 

"His venture claims to offer 'a comprehensive range of security and crisis management services.' His consulting firm has hired controversial staffers, and has worked for questionable clientele, reports have said. Yet, even his cybersecurity venture's website, filled with clunky Flash components and "cyber" stock imagery throughout, doesn't advertise what it does," Zack Whittaker, a Security editor for CBS News' ZDNet reported

What's even more mysterious is the disappearance of Guiliani's website on Monday January 16, days after experts proved it was, ironically, easily hackable

Watch:

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Colbert Rips GOP's 'Repeal and Erase' Plan for Health Care

AlterNet.org - January 17, 2017 - 10:26am
Click here for reuse options! "If you are losing your Obamacare you will be beautifully covered... either by insurance or six feet of dirt."

For Republicans, the struggle to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is coming to fruition as Donald Trump takes office. However, without a specific replacement plan, Americans enrolled in Obamacare are growing increasingly worried; particularly voters just realizing that ACA and Obamacare are, in fact, the same thing.

“You know the old saying,” "Late Show" host Stephen Colbert began.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try, try, try, try, try try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try again. And this time, the Republicans mean it.”

It's taken the GOP over 60 tries to repeal Obamacare after facing opposition in the House and Senate for years. On the campaign trail, Trump vaguely promised to replace and replace the plan with "something terrific." And as President-elect he claimed everyone would be covered after the much-anticipated repeal, once again, without offering details.

“It’s not going to be their plan,” he said of the 20 million covered under Obamacare. “It’ll be another plan. But they’ll be beautifully covered. I don’t want single-payer. What I do want is to be able to take care of people,” Trump said less than a week before he takes office. 

Trump failed to disclose just how the new act would get approval, but insisted it would pass. 

“We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” Trump continued. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us... [Americans] can expect to have great health care. It will be in a much simplified form. Much less expensive and much better.”

The following week, Colbert responded with a scathing takedown in a “WERD” segment. 

“Don’t worry, if you are losing your Obamacare you will be beautifully covered,” he said. “Either by insurance or six feet of dirt. Either way, just beautiful. So nice. So beautiful. We’re going to tamp the dirt down, we’ll tamp it down all smooth. It’s going to be beautiful.”

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Seth Meyers Exposes Trump's Complete Hypocrisy About John Lewis' District

AlterNet.org - January 17, 2017 - 10:12am
Click here for reuse options! If Atlanta is such a "crime-infested" hellscape why did Trump want to build a $300 million condo there?

Seth Meyers took solid aim at the Donald Trump transition on Monday, pointing out that presidential transitions are traditionally times to unite and heal the country. Trump on the other hand has used it to take aim at a civil rights icon.

That icon, Congressman John Lewis, famously went on television last week and said he did not regard Trump as a legitimate president given all that has come to light about Russian interference in our election. 

Trump counter-attacked on Twitter, accusing Lewis of being “all talk and no action” and fell back on his familiar racist tropes by saying his district is a terrible crime-infested, economic hellscape.

“All talk, no action?” Meyers wondered. "John Lewis was getting beaten by police for protesting for voting rights, while you were starting your first failed business.”

While many commentators have pointed out the absurdity of Trump's claim, Meyers went one better and dug up a fun little fact about Trump's aspirations to build a condo in Lewis' Atlanta district in 2006. At the time, Trump said, “It’s a great location and a great city. I’ve loved Atlanta for years.”

Yes, yes, Trump lies. It's what he does, having no allegiance to truth or consistency from one day to the next, let alone a decade. 

“Trump changes positions more often than a porn star with a bad back,” Meyers quipped before tackling the ridiculousness of Mike Pence trying to put a sunny spin on Trump's late-night Twitter rants.

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Donald Trump's 'Law and Order' Obsession Is Rooted in America's Racist Past—and Points Toward a Dystopian Future

AlterNet.org - January 17, 2017 - 10:08am
Click here for reuse options! Trump's ideas about crime, police and the death penalty go back to 1970s stereotypes—but present a real danger.

When Donald Trump tweeted out his angry reaction to Rep. John Lewis’ announcement that he would not attend the inauguration, a lot of people were aghast that he would accuse a Civil Rights icon of “all talk, talk, talk — no action.” They couldn’t believe the incoming president would so crudely caricature Lewis’ district as being “in horrible shape and falling apart not to mention crime infested” when Lewis represents Atlanta, which Forbes recently ranked as the ninth-best place in America for businesses and career development, and among the best for job growth and education. The city’s crime rate has also been steadily declining since the ’90s.  In other words, as usual, Trump was not telling the truth.

It’s important to recognize what was really going on there, however. It seems obvious to me that Trump had never heard of Lewis and had no idea where he is from. He was reflexively repeating his standard campaign talking points about the “inner city” in which he complained that nobody has ever done anything about the dystopian hellholes he believes all African-Americans inhabit. Trump claimed to be the only man in the country who could fix the problem, although he never shared the details. If you look at his history, however, it’s not hard to figure out what he plans.

Trump’s view of race in America is very simple: If police could take the gloves off it would fix whatever problems exist. He is particularly adamant about applying the death penalty. He famously took out a full-page ad in New York newspapers after the arrests of the young men known as the Central Park Five (four of them black and one Latino) in the rape and beating of a white jogger in 1989. The five men spent years in prison before being exonerated by DNA evidence and the confession of another man, a career criminal with a long prison record. Trump has said he still believes they are guilty.

The big, bold title of the ad was “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY, BRING BACK OUR POLICE!” Even then, Trump wanted to make America great again by going back to the days of his youth when the cops could crack some heads. The ad said:

When I was young, I sat in a diner with my father and witnessed two young bullies cursing and threatening a very frightened waitress. Two cops rushed in, lifted up the thugs and threw them out the door, warning them never to cause trouble again. I miss the feeling of security New York’s finest once gave to the citizens of this City. Let our politicians give back our police department’s power to keep us safe. Unshackle them from the constant chant of “police brutality” which every petty criminal hurls immediately at an officer who has just risked his or her life to save another’s. We must cease our continuous pandering to the criminal population of this City. Give New York back to the citizens who have earned the right to be New Yorkers.

Trump has a few bedrock beliefs he has held for decades: The world is laughing at America, Asian nations are making fools of the U.S. on trade, we must bring back the death penalty and law enforcement must be given more power.  This was the fundamental philosophy that propelled him to the presidency.

Throughout the campaign he reiterated his strong pro-police stance. But it wasn’t until the mass shooting of police officers in Dallas in July that he came out roaring out with his declaration:

The attack on our Dallas police is an attack on our country … It’s time for our hostility against our police and against all members of law enforcement to end and end immediately right now …

I am the law and order candidate.

He used the line repeatedly from then on in, including in his angry acceptance speech at the Republican convention. Eventually he was endorsed by the National Fraternal Order of Policethe unions representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, and numerous local police organizations throughout the country. Trump was celebrated by cops everywhere he went, and there are many pictures to prove it. He likes them and they like him.

After the election, the Fraternal Order of Police issued a wish list for the first 100 days. It includes reinstituting racial profiling, deporting Dreamers (undocumented immigrants brought here as children and ending sanctuary-city programs. Whatever advances we may have made toward reform of the criminal justice system don’t look as if they are going to hold.

Trump’s loyalty and reverence for the police, and his racist 1970s stereotypes of African-American communities makes for a dangerous brew, particularly considering recent Pew Research center findings about attitudes in law enforcement. That report paints a highly disturbing portrait of police officers who increasingly see themselves as under siege and who long for more power and authority — with important differences in attitudes between white and black police officers, particularly regarding the protests against police shootings. That points to a potentially volatile situation.

Trump often brings up the distressing gun violence in Chicago as if it wer emblematic of all major American cities. It’s not, actually. This week a new Justice Department study about Chicago’s finest was released, suggesting that the gloves are already off — police in the Windy City routinely use whatever force they deem necessary, and there is very little accountability for it. Illinois recently repealed the death penalty after it was revealed that at least 13 men had been wrongly condemned to Death Row.

Apparently, Trump’s “get tough” policing doesn’t work in real life. Not that he is likely to believe that. As he said during the campaign and as far back as 1990 in this Playboy interview:

In order to bring law and order back into our cities, we need the death penalty and authority given back to the police … It sets an example. Nobody can make the argument that the death penalty isn’t a deterrent.

In reality, anyone who knows anything about the subject will make precisely that argument. Trump simply won’t listen. He believes what he believes and from what we can tell, he is incapable of changing his mind about any of it.

 

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'Nobody Wants to Buy Them': Frustrated Scalpers Losing Big Money Trying to Sell Inauguration Tickets

AlterNet.org - January 17, 2017 - 9:17am
Click here for reuse options! No one wants to see Trump inaugurated. Sad!

With just three days left until President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, scalpers are rushing to sell the remainder of their inauguration tickets and they’re having a hard time doing so, the New York Daily News reports.

Yossi Rosenberg, a 36-year-old Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton, told the outlet that he had purchased two tickets to Friday’s inauguration from a woman in Westchester County who sold them for $700. Rosenberg thought he would be able to sell them on the secondary market for at least double the price, but the task has proven difficult.

“Nobody wants to buy them,” he said. “It looks like I’m stuck with them, I might even have to go.” Rosenberg purchased the tickets thinking they would be “in demand.” He told the Daily News, “I got offers before I got them, but then I get them and everybody balked.”

After receiving no interest in the tickets, Rosenberg advertised the tickets on white supremacist websites, according to the Daily News. There was no interest there either.

“Someone offered me $200 for the pair,” Rosenberg said. “I guess his approval ratings aren’t that [high], right?” According to a Gallup poll, just one week before the inauguration, Trump’s approval rating was just 44 percent. The number is the lowest approval rating for any presidential transition that Gallup has ever recorded.

CNN reported that at this point in President Barack Obama’s transition, his rating stood at 83 percent; George W. Bush was at 61 percent.

The inauguration of President Trump will be met with mass protests, including the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21, which is expected to be one of the largest protests ever in the history of the United States.

But this doesn’t help scalpers trying to make money off of the inaugural events.

Rosenberg told the Daily News, “I never intended on going, I really thought I’d see some profit. If I don’t sell them for what I paid within 72 hours, I’m just going to go.”

 

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Trevor Noah Destroys Donald Trump With Pitch-Perfect John Lewis Analogy

AlterNet.org - January 17, 2017 - 7:24am
Click here for reuse options! "Saying John Lewis isn’t a man of action is like me saying ‘Donald Trump is all tax returns, no tweets.’”

"Daily Show" host Trevor Noah devoted his Martin Luther King Day segment to discussing both Steve Harvey and John Lewis' reactions to a Trump presidency. 

"I actually feel bad for Steve Harvey," Noah began. "These days, whenever you see his name in the headlines, it's because something went wrong." 

Noah then rattled off a few notable examples. 

"Two years ago, he crowned the wrong Miss Universe on live TV, he's constantly calling families to feud, and last week was a double whammy." 

The "Family Feud" host faced controversy after mocking Asian men and meeting with President-elect Trump at Trump Tower. 

"Because after pissing off a whole ethnic group, where does one go to find a sympathetic ear?" Noah joked. 

"Comedian Steve Harvey revealed he'll work with Donald Trump to improve inner cities," CBS Local reported.

But really, who not already on the Trump Train was buying this?

"As you can imagine, any black person seen to be rolling with Trump knows they will be subject to the full fury of Black Twitter. Which is why Steve was not ashamed to justify his visit and drop names," Noah remarked. 

"I was invited here by both transition teams; Obama's transition team and Trump's. President Obama said 'You gotta sit down and talk,'" Harvey revealed. "It's just me following orders from my friend, President Obama." 

Harvey also said the President advised Americans to "stop tweeting." Unfortunately, President-elect Trump wasn't swayed. 

Shortly after Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) doubted Trump's legitimacy as president in an exclusive "Meet the Press" interview, Trump tweeted:

Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to...... mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk - no action or results. Sad!

Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to......

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 14, 2017

mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk - no action or results. Sad!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 14, 2017

“I’m sorry, what?” Noah asked in response. “You’re calling a civil rights hero who marched in Selma with Martin Luther King Jr. ‘all talk no action’? Saying John Lewis isn’t a man of action is like me saying ‘Donald Trump is all tax returns, no tweets.’”

"This man got his head beaten in on multiple occasions by racist policemen who were trying to silence him and what he was doing," Noah explained.

"I'm not gonna front," he added. "If you smashed me over the head, I would seriously reconsider whatever issue I was fighting for... I'd be like... "You know what, the back's cooler anyway, it's where all the cool kids are, Rosa [Parks], you do you, I've got a one-head beating policy. I'm out. I'm out!'"

Trump's tweets also made Noah consider the possibility that Trump "didn't even know who John Lewis was."

"This seems like just Trump's generic response to any black criticism," Noah explained. "Anytime black people criticize him, he's just like, 'Go back to your burning inner city.' Like, if Trump met a black astronaut, I bet he'd be like, 'Thank you for fighting crime in the burning inner cities of space. Space crime is a huge problem. Sad!'"

Noah then concluded why both Harvey and Lewis' divergent responses provide for a critical discussion.

"It's appropriate that we're talking about this on Martin Luther King Day because Dr. King also stood for both approaches," Noah reminded viewers. "Dr. King was out on the street marching and boycotting, but he also sat down to negotiate with those in power."

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Annus Horribilis

New Internationalist - January 17, 2017 - 3:36am
Looking for hope in dreadful circumstances, Mari Marcel Thekaekara refuses to let last year drag her down.
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The Bullet: Canadian Aid to Africa under Justin Trudeau

Socialist Project - January 17, 2017 - 2:00am
The Canadian government under Justin Trudeau is attempting to alter the narratives about our country's relationship with the African continent. Be aware the initiative is largely ideological chimera void of concrete action, but even worse, it is blatant hypocrisy. The purported 'new agenda' for Africa began with a trip to Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia by Foreign Affairs minister, Stéphane Dion in November of 2016.
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GroundWire | Jan 16

Toronto Media Coop - January 16, 2017 - 7:42pm
In memory of Authur Manuel and sexual violence against Asian communities

This episode of GW was produced on traditional territory of the Sto:Lo nation in Abbotsford, British Columbia at CIVL 101.7FM.

Headlines:

-Justice for women in the Province of BC | Common Law Radio, CFRO, Vancouver’s Coop Radio;

-Charges dropped against the Enbridge Line 9 water protectors | David Gray-Donald and Jon Milton, The Media Co-op, with audio from the Dominion Podcast;

-Needed employment standards in BC | CJSF’s Gorilla Radio

Features:

-The passing of Indigenous leader and activist Arthur Manuel | Gretchen King, CKUT, with Alan Soni and Golbon Moltaji from CHUO

-Sexual violence against Asian communities at UBC and beyond | CiTR’s Gender Empowerment Collective

Community Radio Report:

-CIVL Radio’s Creative Dialogue Project

Music:

Saturday Rain by In Drift and Wild Card by Kin

Thanks to all contributors, including Common Law Radio (CFRO), David Gray-Donald and Jon Milton (The Media Co-op & Dominion Podcast), Gorilla Radio (CJSF), Gender Empowerment Collective (CiTR), Alan Soni (CHUO ), and Golbon Moltaji (CHUO)! We also thank Glen Ess, Gretchen King, and Omme-Salma Rahemtullah for this episode.

Tune in to hear GroundWire on your local community radio station or download at www.groundwirenews.ca

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Voter Suppression Works Too Well

AlterNet.org - January 16, 2017 - 4:35pm
Click here for reuse options! The Republicans’ quest for a permanent political majority culminated in mammoth voter suppression in 2016. The 2018 midterm election promises both to embolden these efforts and energize resistance.

Unnerved by progressive voting policies and by the numbers of black, Latino, and young voters streaming into the electorate, Republican state lawmakers across the country have moved to suppress the franchise to maintain GOP political dominance. The strategy is simple: Turn voting into a bureaucratic nightmare by eliminating popular timesavers such as same-day registration and early voting. Require photo identification to vote, using IDs that many people don’t have or cannot pay for. The harder it is to vote, especially for people juggling some combination of work, classes, and child or elder care, the fewer people will.

It is difficult if not impossible to calculate how voter suppression affected voter turnout or the outcome of the presidential election. What is indisputable is that these roadblocks deterred many people from exercising the franchise, particularly in states like North Carolina with a long history of racial voter suppression. Many of those new election laws were promulgated after the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder that invalidated provisions of the Voting Rights Act that required U.S. Justice Department review of election law changes. North Carolina was especially adept in manipulating the building blocks of suppression through redistricting, racial gerrymandering, and unprecedented election law changes.

 

Fourteen states had new restrictive measures in place for the general election. Wisconsin requires photo ID, a hardship for many: In 2014, a federal district court judge determined that an estimated 300,000 registered voters did not have one. Turnout plummeted in the city of Milwaukee, where most of the state’s African American voters live, with 41,000 fewer people going to the polls than in 2012. Donald Trump’s margin of victory in Wisconsin was more than 22,000 votes. Over the past five years, Ohio has purged two million voters from the voting rolls. Trump won the Buckeye State by about 447,000 votes.

Despite a federal court order striking down its so-called monster voter—suppression law, North Carolina officials devised ways to ensure that there were 27 fewer places to vote on Election Day. Seventeen of the state’s 100 counties also saw cuts to early-voting locations and hours, resulting in a drop of nearly 66,000 votes during the early-voting period, an 8.7 percent decrease from 2012, according to Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political science professor.

In 2011, after the 2010 census, state lawmakers began to chip away at voting rights by redrawing state and congressional legislative districts. They also left a long trail, beginning the day after the Shelby County decision, outlining plans for new race-based election restrictions that included eliminating same-day registration, adding a strict voter-ID requirement, eliminating one week from the early-voting period, dispensing with out-of-precinct voting and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds—all tools that had benefited minority voters and young people. Nor did the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in North Carolina NAACP v. McCrory, which struck down those restrictions, deter state Republican Party leaders from pulling off an end run around the decision by suggesting to certain GOP county election officials to dispense with Sunday voting and reduce the number of early-voting places and Election Day polling places.

In North Carolina, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by about 177,000 votes. Down-ballot state races were much tighter, with Democrat Roy Cooper finally prevailing over Republican Governor Pat McCrory by more than 10,000 votes. Democrats also won other races, including attorney general and secretary of state.

Voting rights are under siege in a way that hasn’t been seen in more than a generation. But these coordinated attacks follow a historic pattern: Laws that expanded the franchise during Reconstruction and after the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act have typically been followed by state-level repression and federal indifference. “With advancements in voting rights, there is always a swift backlash,” says Leah Aden, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. With Donald Trump in the White House, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama likely as attorney general, and Republican-led legislatures primed to continue voter suppression, the run-up to the 2018 midterms promises to be one of the most difficult periods for protecting the franchise in the country’s history.

 

VOTER SUPPRESSION is a long-standing tactic. However, victory was not enough for Donald Trump and his allies. They continue to hammer home the fiction that millions of people voted illegally, statements for which there is no evidence, in a country where voter fraud is practically nonexistent.

The threat of Election Day intimidation and protests which largely failed to materialize diverted attention from the more insidious developments that occurred two years before, which actually had more of an impact on turnout—for instance, North Carolina’s “monster” voting law, which culminated in epic court battles and a contentious state election. Recounts demanded by vanquished Republicans like McCrory failed to produce evidence of fraudulent voting. “The whole recount process that we [went] through is proof to me [that] the idea of voter fraud is just a hollow shell to mask some of the work that people want to do to maintain their power or to get power,” says Mary Klenz, co-president of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina.

In states like North Carolina and Texas, which has a very strict voter-ID law, restrictive measures presage what Americans can expect in the run-up to the 2018 midterms. According to the narrative of voter suppression, additional regulations that make it easier to confirm a person’s identity and citizenship are needed to combat fraud. The tactics used to ferret out alleged fraud almost exclusively affect minority groups, the young, and the elderly. Indeed, fear of the black voter is a persistent theme in the history of voting in the United States. Images of blacks stuffing ballot boxes entertained Americans in D.W. Griffith’s 1915 silent film, The Birth of a Nation, during a period when blacks in the South were more likely to be lynched for even attempting to vote.

Regulations like photo identification are supposedly designed to prevent people from impersonating other voters, despite the fact that practically no one impersonates another person with the intent to vote in the United States. The misuse of alternatives to in-person voting, such as the fraudulent use of absentee ballots, is also rare. Other tactics, like consolidating polling places, are explained away by noting that these moves save money, despite long lines and other headaches such closures produce in the remaining polling stations.

Meanwhile, Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, headquartered in swing state North Carolina, encountered a problem she had not seen before: formal protests initiated by individuals who had done internet research, going on fishing expeditions. They alleged, with no evidence, that other voters had felony convictions. The practice forced attorneys and boards of elections to hear challenges to voters in more than half of the state’s counties. In a brief, filed in late November, before the state board of elections regarding a number of election legal issues, the coalition determined that race was the focus of those 41 voter protests.

Of the voters challenged as ineligible, most could be identified by race using an internet voter search tool: 22 were black; 11 were white; and 4 were of an unknown ethnic background. When county boards of elections investigated, officials often discovered the person named in a protest had been confused with another individual with a similar name. “Almost none of the challenges are being sustained,” says Earls. “Problems happen where people believe they will have an impact,” she adds. “Where the vote is close is where the most suppression goes on.”

Shortly after the election, the national League of Women Voters used Trump’s own “the election is rigged” rhetoric to describe the voter suppression efforts around the country. Lloyd Leonard, the league’s national senior advocacy director, says the organization thought long and hard about its choice of words, and has no regrets. “You don’t steal an election by getting four, five, six, or twenty of your friends to cheat; you do it by having a more massive operation,” he says. “I leave it to you to do the arithmetic about who is more likely to affect the outcome of the election.”

 

 

WITH THE 2018 MIDTERM elections on the horizon, the next two years will be a crucial test for voting rights. A Republican Congress could weaken voting-rights laws, and the Justice Department could weaken enforcement. With a conservative now expected to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the high court will be no defender of the franchise.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion in Shelby County, has demonstrated antipathy to voting rights since his tenure as a special assistant to William French Smith, Ronald Reagan’s first attorney general. A former Department of Justice official told Ari Berman, author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, that “John seemed like he always had it in for the Voting Rights Act.”

The high court’s Shelby County decision eviscerated the landmark law’s “preclearance” provision, which required nine states and specific counties or townships in six other states to submit election law changes to the Justice Department for review. The preclearance process gave the federal government a tool to prevent blatantly discriminatory regulations from going into effect. (Now challenges to election laws must be fought as rearguard actions through state and federal courts.) The remaining teeth of the VRA rest on another provision that mandates that voting laws do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or certain languages. That provision, Section 2, “has not come under the same level of scrutiny and has consistently safeguarded the rights of minority voters,” says Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Several cases are likely to make their way to the high court in the next two years, including North Carolina NAACP v. McCrory, which produced the now-celebrated Fourth Circuit decision that struck down the state’s “monster” suppression law and found that state lawmakers implemented a variety of racially restrictive election laws “with almost surgical precision,” since “African Americans, who had overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, had too much access to the franchise”; Veasey v. Abbott, the decision by the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which struck down the Texas photo-ID law; and Frank v. Walker as well as One Wisconsin Institute, Inc., et al. v. Mark Thomsen, et al., both cases that contest Wisconsin’s photo-ID laws.

These victories demonstrate that voting rights can sometimes get a fairer hearing in lower courts. Even conservative judges in places like the Fifth Circuit have been willing to strike down discriminatory election laws. But a new conservative majority on the Supreme Court does not augur well.

Prospects to defend voting rights are no better in a Republican Congress. The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015, aimed at restoration of federal preclearance, is a dead letter. Congress may weaken the 2002 Help America Vote Act, which covers election administration, by eliminating the troubled Election Assistance Commission that develops election guidelines and has usually not been staffed at full strength. (Only three out of four commissioners have been seated under President Obama.) The 1993 National Voter Registration Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, could well be targeted for its mandate that social service agencies that typically serve low-income people should also help them register to vote, even though compliance with the law is haphazard, with some states making very little or no effort to sign people up to vote.

U.S. Representative Marc Veasey, the lead plaintiff in the Texas photo-ID case and a co-chair of the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus established in 2016 as a response to Shelby County, is also concerned about possible measures that would require people to present proof of citizenship, such as a passport or birth certificate, to register to vote. Those mandates would weaken nonprofit voter registration programs at events like weekend new-voter sign-ups by requiring people to present documents that most people do not carry with them on a daily basis. States like Alabama, Georgia, and Kansas have tried to institute proof-of-citizenship requirements, but a federal appeals court threw out those regulations shortly before the election.

The Texas Democrat says some of his fellow Lone Star State lawmakers once told him that strict voting regulations had less to do with race or ethnicity (or African American legislators like him) and everything to do with party affiliation. “If you make it harder for blacks to vote, choose the candidate of their choice, or to have any kind of say-so in election results, then it’s not about racial discrimination, it’s more [about] how we make it harder for Democrats,” he says they explained to him. “That’s how they’ve justified it and been able to get a good night’s sleep,” Veasey says.

With the avenues for national legislation closed, what transpires in the states in the next several years becomes increasingly more important. In addition to congressional seats being contested, 38 governor’s races will be held in 2017 and 2018, along with dozens of state and local races.

Yet as crucial as midterm elections are in election lawmaking, they usually elicit indifference from an already apathetic electorate. Only 37 percent of eligible voters made it to the polls in 2014, the lowest midterm turnout in 70 years. The average voter who sits out a midterm election does not make the connection between a party’s control of the state legislature and the governor’s office, and how those partisan officeholders will have the ability to craft new election laws and carve out state and federal legislative districts after the 2020 census. Yet in 2014, a Center for American Progress/NAACP-LDF/Southern Elections Foundation report found that the numbers of voters in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia that were affected by changes in early-voting and photo-ID laws far outstripped the margin of victory in those states’ U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races.

 

THE MOST BRAZEN ATTACKS on voting rights still come out of the South, and North Carolina is ground zero. But the Tar Heel State has also become a model of effective resistance based on litigation, public protest, and, most significantly, a ballot box backlash.

The North Carolina Republican Party’s dedication to curbing voting rights has produced an onslaught of litigation by groups like the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which will keep state attorneys busy in state and federal courts for some years to come. Shortly after the presidential election, a federal district struck down gerrymandered North Carolina state Senate and House legislative districts that forced African American and Hispanic voters into a few districts, and ordered the state to hold new elections. State officials have until mid-March to redraw the districts in preparation for a new primary and a November election. Republican state lawmakers plan to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court.

The voter-suppression law catapulted the North Carolina NAACP to the forefront of public protest. The Moral Mondays movement grew out of opposition to the voting curbs, and spawned regular protests that grew in number and size to rival the bloody voting-rights marches of the 1960s. “[Republican state lawmakers] have shown since Shelby County that they will do almost anything, tell almost any lie, go to almost any extent to suppress the vote,” Reverend William Barber, the leader of the North Carolina NAACP and of the Moral Mondays protests, said in an early December conference call with reporters.

With many North Carolinians already mad as hell about voting rights, Governor McCrory and Republican state legislators finally overreached, passing HB2, a bill that mandated that transgender people use the bathroom corresponding to their assigned sex at birth. They could not contain the backlash, which prompted an economic boycott that has so far cost the state tens of millions plus the loss of marquee events like NCAA and ACC championship games and the NBA All-Star Game. The divisiveness of serving as a laboratory for conservative Republican dogma contributed to the Democrats’ November successes.

Republicans’ determination to dismantle voting rights that were once presumed settled will necessitate a response worthy of a new civil-rights movement. Voter-suppression efforts compounded problems for Democrats, who want to counteract the powerful appeal of the far-right message espoused by Trump, but the presidential election pointed to alarming signs that key constituencies like African Americans and young people are not as engaged in exercising their right to vote. The message that midterm elections matter will be a difficult concept for many voters to embrace after the rancorous 2016 contests.

Yet Representative Veasey argues that the first line of defense for American democracy begins in state races at every level—the very races that voters tend to ignore. But without a new focus on exercising the franchise at every possible opportunity, he fears right-wing conservatives will continue to devise schemes and create loopholes that will make voting harder during a presidential election year when most people really want to vote. “At some point, we have to be in charge of these state legislatures,” Veasey says. “If not, when it comes to things like voter-ID and redistricting, we are always going to be playing defense.”

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Bruce Springsteen Is a Class Act

AlterNet.org - January 16, 2017 - 4:26pm
Click here for reuse options! Springsteen's career and book are revelations of the written word.

Words flowed like a storm surge, crashing into one another with no regret.” That’s Bruce Springsteen in his new memoir, writing about his first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., but he might as well be writing about the memoir itself. Springsteen the musician has also been an artist of the word, and this book confirms his artistry in that second medium. Few literary genres can be as inane as stars’ autobiographies, and while Born to Run has enough concert anecdotes to satisfy the curiosity of any fan, it is a sustained, satisfying, and thoroughly readable self-portrait.

Like other autobiographies that put the protagonist in a wider context, Springsteen’s book is also the history of a time and a place, beginning with his hometown, Freehold, New Jersey, and the houses of families like his own—places where, he writes, “people make lives, suffer pain, enjoy small pleasures … and do their best to hold off the demons that seek to destroy us.” Music is Springsteen’s way of guiding us into this world, but this world is also a key to understanding his music. The ostensible euphoria in so many of his songs—cars, girls, the beach, the night—gains depth and ambivalence when we see the people in his lyrics against the background of their working lives and communities. Sometimes they escape from that world (“I took a wrong turn and I just kept going”) but are pulled back if not in fact, at least in memory and feeling, by inescapable “ties that bind.”

Here, in a perfect interweaving of musical and sociological analysis, Springsteen writes about the people he grew up with:

It took the dark, bloody romanticism of doo-wop, the true-to-life grit and soul and just that small hint of possible upward social mobility embedded in Motown to define what this crowd’s lives were all about. Except for their Top 40 hits, the bohemian poses of the Stones or their other sixties brethren had little relevance to these kids’ experience. Who could afford that? You had to fight, struggle, protect what was yours, remain true to your crew, your blood, your family, your turf, your greaser brothers and your country. This was the shit that would get you by when all the rest came tumbling down—when the bullshit was washed away in the next fashion trend and your gal was pregnant, your dad went to jail or lost his job and you had to go to work.

Later, with the unabashed awe of a teenage fan getting to meet his idols, Springsteen tells his readers about his encounters, friendship, and collaborations with the Rolling Stones. They are a measure of the road he has traveled: “the acne-faced fifteen-year-old kid with the cheap Kent guitar from Freehold, New Jersey,” who “ended up standing between Mick Jagger and George Harrison, a Stone and a Beatle.” “My parents were RIGHT!” he exclaims. “My chances were ONE, ONE in a MILLION, in MANY MILLIONS. But still … here I was.”

A satisfying autobiography, besides situating the protagonist in a rich context, should be a narrative of change, an explanation of that road traveled. Springsteen’s most memorable lines, the opening verse of “The River,” seem to deny this possibility: “I come from down in the valley / Where mister when you’re young / They bring you up to do like your daddy done.” In this intimate song about his own origins and the lives of his sister and brother-in-law, even the “possible upward mobility” imagined in Motown music is a “dream” that turns into a “curse.” Yet, on listening again to “The River” after reading Born to Run, one senses a more personal layer of meaning. He tells us about the valley where “I come from,” the place where he was born, raised, and taught, but now he is “here,” and this combination of familiarity and distance enables him to sing and write about other people’s lives that might have been his own with a sensitive realism unattainable to those who remain caught inside.

How did it happen? “I was not a natural genius. I would have to use every ounce of what was in me—my cunning, my musical skills, my showmanship, my intellect, my heart, my willingness—night after night, to push myself harder, to work with more intensity than the next guy just to survive untended in the world I lived in.” Like Edison, who is supposed to have said that genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration, Springsteen writes: “I’ve left enough sweat on stages around the world to fill at least one of the seven seas; I’ve driven myself and my band to the limits and over the edge for more than forty years.” “I always love the feel of sweat on my shirt,” he sings. And sweat, writes British cultural critic Simon Frith, is “the basic sign of Springsteen’s authenticity.”

This is the working-class ethic turned into music (the sound of his early band, the aptly named Steel Mill, was “blue-collar, heavy music with loud guitars and a Southern-influenced rock sound”). But Springsteen’s tools include intelligence too—an intelligence, moreover that is not only his own, but a shared cultural capital, sustained and circumscribed by his blue-collar roots. “My Asbury Park,” Springsteen writes, “was an island of misfit, blue-collar provincials. Smart, but not book smart.” Not smart enough to read between the lines of his first manager’s manipulative deal, but smart enough (and he did become book-smart, too) to keep growing and say goodbye to all that.


Yet, sweat and smarts are not all. They do not explain how Bruce Springsteen became that one in many millions who made it. It is always misleading to try to explain an artist’s achievement by his life (the recent controversy over Elena Ferrante’s identity is a case in point). Events in the artist’s life may at times reveal the occasion that originated the art, but not how that occasion became art. We may discover the seeds of the song “Wrecking Ball” (“all our little victories and glories have turned into parking lots”) when we read: “My house, my backyard, my tree, my dirt, my earth, my sanctuary would be condemned and the land sold, to be made into a parking lot.” Or we may recognize “Cautious Man” (“Alone on his knees in the darkness for steadiness he’d pray / For he knew in a restless heart the seed of betrayal lay …”) in a nocturnal scene of doubt and self-doubt after his first marriage. Yet, between the lived experience and the created work there is an intangible something that no biography can account for. The 1 percent that Edison called “inspiration” and Springsteen calls “talent” remains a mystery. The role of art, to be sure, is not to provide answers, but to raise questions and leave them open. Our respect for all kinds of art, “highbrow” or “lowbrow,” requires, in the words of country artist Iris Dement, that we “let the mystery be.”ADVERTISEMENT 

On a more tangible plane, one mark of the road traveled is the gap between Springsteen’s blue-collar background and the much broader composition of his audience. One does not become a planetary icon by addressing a blue-collar audience exclusively, and there are many reasons why middle-class listeners (this writer included) should respond to the triumphant sound of his music and its message of hope and belief. As George Lipsitz pointed out many years ago, the very history of rock and roll is the history of how a proletarian, marginal form of expression rose to occupy the center of the cultural mainstream. Sometimes, the mainstream audience forgets where the music they enjoy came from, and simply responds to its life-giving power without a sense of its history. Yet, one of Springsteen’s achievements is how he manages to weld so much heterogeneity into a shared sense of community in his concert audiences and, at least to some extent, in his fans. Which is perhaps why in this autobiography he always writes about his audience in generic terms, without showing any interest in its composition.

This ambivalence also reflects the changes in Springsteen’s own class position and personal experience (after Born in the U.S.A., he devoted three albums to the complexities of human relationships with hardly any class reference). Springsteen has always spoken from where he stood. As he got older, he never pretended he was forever young, and when he moved up from the working class he never feigned that he was still part of it. Yet, to paraphrase his song about steelworkers in deindustrialized Youngstown, he is now “rich enough” but still remembers their names. Throughout his career, he has always retained and conveyed a sense of emotional and intellectual closeness to the much-maligned white working class. Springsteen’s subjects are supposed to be Donald Trump’s constituency, but he speaks a different language to them and offers different ways of facing their problems (also, as opposed to Trump, his people do include immigrants). During the Kerry-Bush campaign, he was one of the very few American voices who talked about “economic justice.” Springsteen is never ideological, yet his politics are clear and consistent: unions and food banks, support for veterans as an anti-war position, an early awareness that black lives matter, a male anti-chauvinist sensibility, solidarity with immigrants and their demands.

The book does not detail the growth of this progressive conscience. Springsteen comes from an anti-intellectual environment, yet a good deal of his thought emerged from the anti-war, non-racist youth culture of the 1960s, combined with a working-class kid’s awareness of how the anti-union policies of local corporations damaged the lives of people like his own father. Later, his manager and sometimes mentor Jon Landau would help him put it all into shape and expand his native “smarts” into “book smarts” by providing him with the necessary cultural background and “language for discussing [his] ideas and the life of the mind” and for integrating rock and roll’s “primal world of action” with “the world of thought and reflection.”


As an Italian, I share with other Europeans a different vantage point from that of Springsteen’s American fans. Here’s an American who in our most beloved American form of expression—rock and roll—voices some of our concerns about American society and America’s role in the world. One cannot help but be intrigued by the sight of 100,000 Romans in the Circus Maximus raising their fists and singing happily that they are “born in the U.S.A.” Yet we have an unmistakable feeling that he is also singing about us. The America that Springsteen’s worldwide fans love is not the physical and tangible United States of Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, or even Hillary Clinton, but an ideal place of the mind—“not another country,” as the Italian writer Cesare Pavese put it in the 1940s, “but the great theater on which, more frankly and openly, everybody’s drama [is] being staged,” allowing us to see “our own drama develop on a much larger screen.” Pavese was referring to the writers of the Great Depression. But so was Bruce Springsteen in 2016, when in his Rome concert he took a request from a workers’ cooperative from the small town of Monterotondo, and sang “The Ghost of Tom Joad.”Interestingly, in his songs about American workers Springsteen never seems to evoke nationalist protectionist panaceas. In fact, one turning point in his development was Springsteen’s internationalization. He has often mentioned in interviews that it was his first experiences abroad that sent him back to reading American history and thinking about American identity. He has become an even bigger star for European audiences (especially in countries like Spain, Sweden, and Italy) because he manages to bridge the big dilemma of European progressives: a passionate love for American culture (music, film, TV, literature) and an equally passionate dislike of American politics.

Finally, one expects from an autobiography also a search for self-awareness, a dialogic exploration of one’s own subjectivity through writing. Springsteen makes an honest effort at self-discovery, and the result is occasionally predictable and even bland, but more often daring and surprising. An unexpected word returns again and again in the book: “rage.” It’s a rage that is bred from his childhood (“When I became of school age and had to conform to a time schedule, it sent me into an inner rage …”); is mirrored in his father’s temper (“my poor old pop tearing up the house in an alcohol-fueled rage in the dead of the night”; “all passive anger until he’d break and rage, then return to his beer and moonlike silence”); is vented in his own behavior (“I would use speed and recklessness to communicate my rage and anger”); and poisons his relationships (“I was sliding back toward the chasm where rage, fear, distrust, insecurity and a family-patented misogyny made war with my better angels”). There is also a happiness, he writes, that is “the bright brother of my depression.” Just as the euphoria of his youthful songs stands in relief against a backdrop of class struggle and family tensions, likewise the athletic and irrepressible Bruce Springsteen we see on stage has emerged from a depression that he has exorcised with psychoanalysis and medicines, and with the work of writing this book.

“I fought my whole life,” he concludes, “because I wanted to hear and know the whole story, my story, our story, and understand as much of it as I could. I wanted to understand in order to free myself of its most damning influences, its malevolent forces, to celebrate and honor its beauty. … I don’t know if I’ve done that, and the devil is always just a day away.”

Bruce Springsteen has come a long way and taken us along for the ride. Yet, the old “demons that seek to destroy us” haven’t disappeared. The hellhounds are still on the trail, and music and words are the weapons we have to hold them off.

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Obamacare Repeal Equals Death: GOP Zealots Seem Intent on Disaster

AlterNet.org - January 16, 2017 - 3:47pm
Click here for reuse options! Before Obamacare, 45,000 Americans died every year because of inadequate health insurance. We risk going back there.

During the 2009 debate over the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the American Journal of Public Health published a study by Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance showing that 45,000 Americans were dying every year as a result of not having health insurance. To be clear: this was prior to the passage of the ACA. Broken down, that’s 3,750 deaths every month of every year — the equivalent of a new 9/11 every 30 days.

It appears as if the Republicans who are sprinting to repeal the ACA without an adequate and comparable replacement plan would prefer to resurrect this cataclysmic death rate. Ironically, these Republicans could be characterized as a literal “death panel.” Again, knowing the repeal is lurking around the corner, we’re days away from returning to a new 9/11 every month. As for a replacement, the proposals on the table currently include nothing — no plan at all — or an absolutely ludicrous alternative pitched by House Speaker Paul Ryan on CNN last week.

We often find out about these things after it’s too late, but not this time. Ryan revealed a significant chunk of what the GOP intends to introduce as a replacement for the ACA. The repeal of the ACA, by the way, is only supported by 18 percent of Americans, according to the latest poll from Quinnipiac University. Despite this, it’s full steam ahead for Ryan and the Trump administration — euthanizing the ACA anyway, in defiance of popular opinion indicating that 73 to 87 percent of ACA enrollees, including 74 percent of Republicans, are satisfied with their ACA insurance.

Nevertheless, Ryan was confronted on CNN by a man named Jeff Jeans, a Republican small business owner and cancer survivor who said the ACA saved his life, even though he had previously vowed to close his business before supporting the ACA. Like any man of integrity, Jeans reversed his position when it became obvious that he would never have been able to afford his life-saving cancer treatments were it not for the ACA.

Ryan’s response? Jeans and millions of others will be doomed to endure what’s arguably the most ridiculous option for replacing the ACA. Ryan described what are known as “high-risk pools” for those of us with pre-existing conditions, suggesting that such a plan will be more affordable than policies that most of us already have and which we already like. Ryan also promised subsidies to help pay the premiums. Incidentally, the notion of Republicans passing tax subsidies for lower-income Americans, with or without paying for them somehow per the Paygo Act signed by President Obama, is laughable.

Unfortunately, Ryan’s plan will never, ever work.

We’ve tried high-risk pools already and they’re anything but affordable or desirable. Imagine, if you will, insurance policies that cover nothing but millions of sick or injured people who will require ongoing treatment, cutting into the bottom line of insurance companies that want nothing to do with sick people in the first place. There are no younger, healthier people in the mix to make it financially possible for insurance companies to do business. Now imagine a scenario in which the Trump Republicans gut the ACA regulations that set a cap on deductibles and banned lifetime and annual limits on those treatments. Next, imagine what the premium costs and deductibles will be for these sick people, once the GOP rolls back the ACA’s consumer protections.

In the past, catastrophic plans were actively marketed to risky customers. Suffice it to say, the deductibles were enormous, making it almost worthless to pay for coverage. Even with such coverage, an insured person was likely to pile up massive medical debts anyway; patients were forced to cover punitive out-of-pocket expenses before any insurance coverage kicked in.

Kevin Drum summarized the ridiculousness of high-risk pools this way:

  • Handling everyone through a single system is more efficient and more convenient.
  • High-risk pools have a lousy history. They just don’t work.
  • Implementing them at the state level guarantees a race to the bottom, since no state wants to attract lots of sick people into its program.
  • Ryan’s promise to fund high-risk pools is empty. He will never support the taxes it would take to do it properly, and he knows it.

To make matters worse, it’s already a given that the GOP will repeal the individual mandate in the ACA, which happens to be the least popular but arguably the most necessary aspect of the law. The purpose of the mandate is to make sure people don’t sign up for insurance as soon as they get sick, thus gaming the system. However, Ryan and Trump don’t plan to retain the mandate (that we know of — they haven’t released a plan yet). Consequently, it’s likely very few insurers will agree to participate in these high-risk pools, knowing that customers will only sign up once they’re sick or injured. And all of this might be preempted by insurers deciding to drop out of the individual market altogether, due to the GOP’s reckless destabilization of the system.

The solution to all this is obvious: Amend the ACA rather than repealing it; improve it by eliminating loopholes and the like. Hell, call the amendment legislation “Trumpcare” or “Ryancare” or “Biglycare,” or whatever. I assure you, those of us with ACA policies won’t care what it’s called. But, cumulatively, a reasonable replacement will be almost impossible to pass and implement, making the hasty effort to repeal even more irresponsible than it already is.

Trump’s plan to have a replacement within the same hour as a repeal bill is hilariously impossible. So we’ll either see a shoddy, unpopular, unusable replacement bill or we won’t see any replacement at all — bad news for at least 20 million Americans, including me, who will lose our insurance without any other alternatives. And, I hasten to note, it will be bad news for the congressional Republicans and for Donald Trump, who are collectively bungling and botching their way into this mess. Especially once we start reading about how the death toll is backsliding to pre-ACA levels.

 

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