Trump Admin. Gives Rick Scott Offshore Drilling Win Ahead Of Possible Senate Bid

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The Trump administration has handed Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) a major political win as Republicans try to entice him to run for the Senate, promising to spare his state from its plan to massively expand offshore drilling.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke flew to Tallahassee to meet with Scott Tuesday night and pledged to exempt Florida from his plans to open nearly all coastal areas in the U.S. to offshore drilling, while heaping praise on the governor for his work.

Republicans from Trump on down have spent more than a year pushing Scott, a self-funding billionaire and close Trump ally, to run against Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). The move was seen by many as a naked political ploy — a way to boost Scott’s standing in the state, where offshore drilling is deeply unpopular, while pushing ahead on the plan in states like California where there are fewer local Republicans to worry about helping.

Zinke called Scott a “straightforward leader that can be trusted” in his statement announcing the decision, giving Scott all the credit for the reversal.

“I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver,” he said. “As a result of discussion with [Scott] and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms.”

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Simply Repealing Obamacare Will Hurt the White Working Class

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Donald Trump’s pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act threatens to harm the voters who put him into office.

On January 20—quibbling over the Electoral College notwithstanding—Donald Trump will become president. For the first time in the seven years since its passage, Republicans will have what they need to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Trump has made some remarks indicating a full repeal of Obamacare might not be in the cards. But his own repeated campaign promises, the Republican Party platform, and dozens of congressional votes make it fair to expect that most of the law will be repealed or rolled back over the coming months. The three biggest provisions of the ACA—Medicaid expansion to all low-income people, the individual mandate to buy insurance, and the creation of a subsidy-backed private-insurance marketplace—are the most obvious candidates for the axe. Unfortunately for many of the millions of voters who elected a Republican president and Congress, cutting those provisions could place their lives in disarray.

The full-throated Republican rebellion against Obamacare since its passage was both a rejection of Obama’s policies and a reaction to a dysfunctional health-care system that proved unaffordable to many. Trump has been widely credited for tapping the economic anxiety of many white working-class voters, promising to help them make ends meet and make their lives better.

But white people who make less than $50,000 annually have derived particular benefit from Obamacare’s provisions, especially in the Rust Belt and in rural, white Republican strongholds. It’s been widely reported that rates of uninsurance dropped more for people of color than for white people in the years since Obamacare was passed, but that’s largely because people of color are generally more likely to fall into lower income brackets, where the Medicaid expansion and tax subsidies had the greatest effect on increasing coverage.

When stratified by income, however, it appears that among those whose incomes are less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level—just around $49,000 for a family of four this year—whites actually gained insurance at relatively high rates. Data from the 2016 and 2014 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement shows that the proportion of uninsured low-income white people dropped by 8.6 percentage points from 2013 to 2015, a reduction that was roughly similar to the decrease among Hispanic people, but which outpaced the national average of 8.1 percentage points, and dwarfed the decrease among black people in the same income groups. Members of the white working class, in other words, were particularly likely to gain coverage from Obamacare.

A closer look at some of the states that Trump captured reveals a much more nuanced picture of Obamacare’s role in the lives of low-income white people than his campaign-trail rhetoric might suggest. In the “coal-miner country” of Appalachia, the Affordable Care Act has been vital in shoring up collapsing rural-health systems that have become overburdened with the mounting health problems of their constituents.
West Virginia, which has been wracked by public-health problems, pollution, and has the most per-capita drug deaths in the country, has had to embrace Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and subsidies in order to provide affordable healthcare for all those coal miners, other low-income workers, and their extraordinary rates of disease and disability. While premiums for exchange plans have increased by double digits across the state, that largely reflects the cost of covering such a sick pool of rural enrollees, and most people in the state will never see those increases because of subsidies.

Just across the Big Sandy River, Kentucky’s corner of Appalachia is dealing with the same issues for similar populations of rural, low-income white people with similar health problems. Kentucky also expanded Medicaid to all low-income people, and over 60 percent of all the state’s residents approve of that expansion. Even more support maintaining the expansion in the future. Notably, the support for all of the Obamacare provisions in the state is lower when referred to by that name then when referred to by Kentucky’s own branded name for its exchange program—Kynect.

In the vaunted blue-collar pieces of the Rustbelt, where Trump broke through Hillary Clinton’s “blue wall” in his near-sweep of Midwestern battlegrounds, Obamacare also holds sway in the lives of lower-income working white people. In Ohio—whose Republican Governor John Kasich accepted the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion—the law helped cut uninsurance to 6 percent. The lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, prompted an emergency expansion of Medicaid to care for mothers and children affected by lead poisoning. And although Flint is a majority-black city, its lead crisis is a harbinger for other lead-related infrastructure crises in Rustbelt towns, which mostly skew rural and white. For citizens in those towns—quite literally in Middle America—maintaining robust federal public insurance could be a matter of life and death, and of the future of their children.

But insurance coverage is only a means to an end, and that end is health. While it is undeniable that several million Americans face rising or unaffordable premiums and prescription drugs, it is also true that millions of the worst-off Americans gained coverage at low cost or at no cost, and that it allowed many of them to visit physicians or go for check-ups without fear of bankruptcy for the first time in their lives. Most of those first-timers are white people working low-paying jobs, and for them that security couldn’t have come at a better time. Especially in the rural, whitest pockets of America, the opioid crisis and a staggering number of other morbidities have actually reversed the declining trend in mortality rates among white Americans that has often been taken as a birthright. For much of this group of people, their generation is the first to give birth to children who will not live longer than them.

For all the angst about Obamacare’s overreach, rural white America has long been dependent on public insurance. For one, these residents tend to be older than urban counterparts and thus rely more on Medicare. But even among the non-elderly, a quarter of all rural residents rely on Medicaid or other public insurance for their basic health-care needs. Many of these residents rallied around Trump’s vague plans to ease their economic issues, including the erosion of stable union-protected jobs. But one of the benefits that these people have lost the most and that has contributed to family economic woes the most is employer-sponsored health care. Public insurance—now bolstered by Obamacare—has taken up much of the slack.

Extending health-insurance coverage is not, of course, a guarantee of affordable or useful healthcare. But the ACA actually does fund several direct public-health initiatives that attempt to address rural America’s deepening health issues. The president-elect has largely neglected these in his scathing analysis, but the law authorizes funding for hundreds of new community-health centers and for sending physicians to long-neglected communities outside of urban centers. While so far, the law’s implementation has been a severe strain on rural hospitals, clinics, and the healthcare workforce that caters to many low-income white patients, that strain has come because millions of people with lifetimes of unmet medical need now have a way to finally get into the system. If the goal is to help these people, that might be a case for expanding the ACA’s coverage and capacity-building measures, not abandoning the attempt.

All but one of the plans currently in consideration by the congressional Republican leadership, however, would not only diminish Obamacare’s subsidies, but also restrict Medicaid in historically novel ways. The sudden removal of billions of dollars of Medicaid and subsidized private payments to rural health centers, reducing support below even 2012 levels, could be the final blow for many places that are the last lines of defense for America’s whitest communities.

Although tax reductions and lower premiums would likely benefit many of the healthiest and youngest adult residents of white America, they would distinctly harm exactly the kinds of vulnerable people that Republicans have placed at the center of their narrative.

According to an analysis from The Economist, the health of a county was the strongest predictor aside from race and education of the likelihood of its voters to switch from voting for President Obama in 2012 to voting for Trump in 2016. There might not be causality there, since on a county level, poor health outcomes are strongly associated with rurality, which is itself associated with whiteness, low-incomes, and less education. But the places that suffer the most and have flipped for Trump by the highest margins stand out as Rustbelt counties that have been hit hard by a number of other issues. While Obamacare has not been enough to solve their problems, the plans so far advanced by Republicans restrict federal funding for health crises and public health, as opposed to extending new avenues of coverage, care, and access.

The people who desperately need better health-insurance coverage and a more robust healthcare infrastructure among the stereotypical Republican base are black-lunged ex-coal miners in West Virginia who’ve lost pensions and union protections; children with opioid-addicted parents; hard-scrabble farmers who work 100-hour weeks just to rise above the poverty level; and abandoned auto- and steel-industry employees in polluted towns who now need public benefits just to feed their families. If anything, the years of experimentation with Obamacare have indicated that more investment is necessary to protect them. But it appears America will be going the other way.

By Vann R. Newark II

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Kentucky’s National Defense Strategy: “Reliance on Almighty God”

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Members of the Kentucky House of Representatives and Senate are demanding the state acknowledge “reliance upon Almighty God” in its Homeland Security department.

Nearly every member of the Kentucky House of Representatives and Senate has signed a court brief demanding that the state be permitted to acknowledge “reliance upon Almighty God” in its Homeland Security department.

The controversy started last year after Franklin Circuit Court ruled that provisions in two laws requiring the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security to acknowledge God were a violation of church-state separation.

The first law, passed in 2002, contains a “legislative finding” declaring that the “safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.”

The second law, passed in 2006, goes a good bit further. It requires the Homeland Security Office to publicize the state’s “dependence on Almighty God” in agency educational and training material and mandates that a permanent plaque acknowledging God be posted at the department’s Emergency Operations Center.

The American Atheists v. Commonwealth of Kentucky case is on appeal, and the lawmakers have decided to weigh in. Ninety-six of the state’s 100 House members signed one brief while 35 of 38 state senators signed another.

The brief filed by the senators was written in part by Roy Moore, former chief justice of Alabama. Moore was ousted from the state’s high court in 2003 after he defied a federal court order to remove a 2.5-ton Ten Commandments monument from the judicial building in Montgomery.

Moore’s brief argues that the U.S. Supreme Court has misconstrued decades of church-state law and asserts that the First Amendment prohibits only the establishment of a national church.

The brief filed by the state representatives cites four antiquated Supreme Court rulings, some from the 19th century, in which justices referred to the United States as a Christian nation.

One of the few legislators who didn’t sign on told the Louisville Courier-Journal that he found the exercise offensive.

“We really do not depend on God for our physical security,” Rep. Jim Wayne, a Louisville Democrat who is Catholic, said. “We really continue to believe we can master that on our own with arms and spending about 50 cents of every tax dollar to the federal government to build up the American military-industrial complex. That to me is a bit of idolatry right there.”

Rep. Tom Riner, a Louisville Democrat and pastor of a Baptist church, took a different approach. Riner said the fact that so many lawmakers endorsed the effort shows that “we do trust in God in good times as well as in perilous times.” (Riner sponsored the religious language in the Homeland Security legislation.)

Ed Kagin, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, expressed dismay over the legislators’ intervention, telling the Courier-Journal that the laws were an attempt to create “theocracy.”

From AlterNet

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Sen. Graham: ‘Grover is wrong… I will violate the pledge’

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Image: Raw Story

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Sunday said that he was willing to break with anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist and find ways to raise additional revenues for the government because he was worried that spending cuts would hurt the military.

Norquist recently insisted to The Wall Street Journal that no Republicans would violate his tax pledge because of the so-called fiscal cliff, which he called a “completely invented crisis” where lawmakers of both parties agreed to automatic rate increases and spending cuts.

“What I would say to Grover is that the sequester destroys the United States military,” Graham told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. “I am willing to generate revenue. It’s fair to ask my party to put revenue on the table. We’re below historic averages. I will not raise tax rates to do it. I will cap deductions.”

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