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24 июня, 19:39

Real Frustrated Lawyers Tell A Fake Trump They Won't Save Him

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Throughout the last month, President Donald Trump and his team keep confirming and then denying that he is under investigation by the Department of Justice. Besides Trump confirming an investigation on Twitter, the most notable instance was his lawyer, Jay Sekulow, claiming that Trump was under investigation and then that he wasn’t under investigation during the same “Fox News Sunday” interview. It remains unclear whether Trump truly is under a high-level investigation, but that didn’t stop Comedy Central’s “The President Show” from constructing an entire segment to parody the president’s dire/maybe-not-dire situation. You’ve defended con-artists, foreign agents and mobsters, but have you ever done all three at once? Parody of Donald Trump The parody Trump addresses this confusion by saying, “I realized this week that I need to build a tremendous legal team to help me with this investigation that I’m totally not under ― wink!” Of course, he didn’t really wink towards the camera because his eyes were already in an uncomfortable-looking squint. The parody Trump, played by Anthony Atamanuik, then auditioned real lawyers to join his legal team. “You’ve defended con-artists, foreign agents and mobsters, but have you ever done all three at once?” the parody Trump asked one of these lawyers while pointing to himself. It quickly became clear, though, that the underlying premise for this sketch was for lawyers to vent their overwhelming frustration with Trump to this stand-in for the president. One of the recruited lawyers is Gloria Allred, a civil rights lawyer who has filed a lawsuit against Trump in New York. She is representing women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct.  Trump isn’t getting away from facing his problems this time. Even if it’s sadly just a parody. -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

24 июня, 19:11

White House Says Its Election Commission Will Examine Hacking. That's News To The Commissioners.

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function onPlayerReadyVidible(e){'undefined'!=typeof HPTrack&&HPTrack.Vid.Vidible_track(e)}!function(e,i){if(e.vdb_Player){if('object'==typeof commercial_video){var a='',o='m.fwsitesection='+commercial_video.site_and_category;if(a+=o,commercial_video['package']){var c='&m.fwkeyvalues=sponsorship%3D'+commercial_video['package'];a+=c}e.setAttribute('vdb_params',a)}i(e.vdb_Player)}else{var t=arguments.callee;setTimeout(function(){t(e,i)},0)}}(document.getElementById('vidible_1'),onPlayerReadyVidible); As President Donald Trump continues to face questions about Russian interference in the 2016 election, the White House has pointed to a commission he created to investigate electoral integrity to show the president’s commitment from preventing a future intrusion. But if understanding hacking is going to be a commission priority, it would appear to be news to at least some of the commissioners, who said this week they have no idea when the commission will meet or what it is actually going to examine. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, pointed to the presidential commission on electoral integrity, created by Trump in May, when he was asked Friday whether Trump was concerned about hacking. “He instituted an election commission that is making sure that we look at all of how we’re voting, and to make sure that we maintain integrity in all of our voting process to make sure that we have faith in it,” Spicer said Friday. “And that includes cyber, it includes voter I.D., it includes all sort of systems.  I expect that commission to have several announcements in probably the next two weeks, and potentially some hearings in July.” Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s senior advisers, made similar comments on CNN Friday morning after being pressed, repeatedly, on what Trump was doing to secure American election systems. “The president has met with his national security team many times, he has an initiative or commission on voter integrity, and he himself has used the power of the bully pulpit to express his resistance towards any type of outside interference,” she said. Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap (D) told HuffPost he had no contact with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), the vice chairman of the panel, since being named to the commission in May. While he hoped the commission would investigate Russian hacking, he didn’t know if it would. There’s been an urgent focus on the need to address election security after leaked National Security Agency documents showed Russia successfully breached election systems last year. Bloomberg reported there was a breach in 39 states, but Trump has downplayed Russia’s responsibility. “I certainly believe it’s relevant to include [hacking] and it’s probably integral to include it if you’re going to talk about integrity of elections. Anything that would undermine the integrity of an election should be considered for recommendation by the commission. I mean that was the whole point,” Dunlap said. “You can’t talk about the integrity of elections and ignore a big pile of problems in the middle of the room.” While Kobach told The Boston Globe he was open to investigating hacking if members of the commission wanted to examine it, he hardly made it seem like a priority. “In the initial descriptions of the commission, election security and the integrity of equipment and voter databases was not specifically described,” he told The Globe. “But if it’s something the commission wants to discuss, we can.” Given the attention on the commission, Dunlap said he was surprised he hadn’t heard more from Kobach or the White House as to what the commission would do. “I haven’t heard anything since the executive order was made public. I understand that things happen to move kind of slow in D.C., that’s kind of the nature of the beast ... I don’t have an answer as to what our scope is going to be or when we’re meeting or where we’re meeting,” he said. “I think this is something people are looking to now and the fact that it’s been treading water has been a surprise. But I don’t ascribe that to anybody having a particular motive to hold it up.” Many have expressed concern over the decision to appoint Kobach to lead the commission because he has a history of exaggerating voter fraud and pushed some of the country’s most restrictive voting laws in his state. Critics say the probe is just a pretext to try and justify Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that millions voted illegally in the 2016 election. Since being tapped to lead the commission, Kobach also launched a campaign to run for governor of Kansas. David Dunn, a former Arkansas legislator, and Mark Rhodes, a West Virginia county clerk were both appointed to the commission this week, but both said they had received no details about the commission’s work. Dunn, who doesn’t have an expertise in elections, told HuffPost he was surprised he was picked for the panel and Rhodes had to search online to find out who else was on the commission. In addition to Dunlap, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (D), another member of the commission has called for the probe to examine Russian hacking. Rhodes told HuffPost he thought the probe should “look at everything” while Dunn said Russian interference was beyond its scope. The other members of the commission are Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson (R), former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R) and Christy McCormick, a commissioner on the Electoral Assistance Commission. Luis Borunda, the Maryland deputy secretary of state, is also serving, despite an apparent lack of previous election experience.   type=type=RelatedArticlesblockTitle=Related Coverage + articlesList=591465f6e4b030d4f1f03d26,594c1068e4b01cdedf01e75e,5915e3cce4b0031e737d5d9c,5915bb2de4b0031e737d0f23 -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

24 июня, 18:23

The Secret Republican Plan To Unravel Medicaid

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Bad enough that the Republican Senate bill would repeal much of the Affordable Care Act. Even worse, it unravels the Medicaid Act of 1965 – which, even before Obamacare, provided health insurance to millions of poor households and elderly. It’s done with a sleight-of-hand intended to elude not only the public but also the Congressional Budget Office.  Here’s how the Senate Republican bill does it. The bill sets a per-person cap on Medicaid spending in each state. That cap looks innocent enough because it rises every year with inflation.  But there’s a catch. Starting eight years from now, in 2025, the Senate bill switches its measure of inflation – from how rapidly medical costs are rising, to how rapidly overall costs in the economy are rising. Yet medical costs are rising faster than overall costs. They’ll almost surely continue to do so – as America’s elderly population grows, and as new medical devices, technologies, and drugs prolong life. Which means that after 2025, Medicaid will cover less and less of the costs of health care for the poor and elderly.  Over time, that gap becomes huge. The nonpartisan Urban Institute estimates that just between 2025 and 2035, about $467 billion less will be spent on Medicaid than would be spent than if Medicaid funding were to keep up with the expected rise in medical costs. So millions of Americans will lose the Medicaid coverage they would have received under the 1965 Medicaid act. Over the long term, Medicaid will unravel.  Will anyone in future years know Medicaid’s unraveling began with this Senate Republican bill ostensibly designed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act? Probably not. The unraveling will occur gradually.  Will future voters hold Republicans responsible? Again, unlikely. The effects of the unraveling won’t become noticeable until most current Republican senators are long past reelection.  Does anyone now know this time bomb is buried in this bill?  It doesn’t seem so. McConnell won’t even hold hearings on it.  Next week the Congressional Budget Office will publish its analysis of the bill. CBO reports on major bills like this are widely disseminated in the media. The CBO’s belated conclusion that the House’s bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would cause 23 million Americans to lose their health care prompted even Donald Trump to call it “mean, mean, mean.” But because the CBO’s estimates of the consequences of bills are typically limited to 10 years (in this case, 2018 to 2028), the CBO’s analysis of the Senate Republican bill will dramatically underestimate how many people will be knocked off Medicaid over the long term. Which is exactly what Mitch McConnell has planned. This way, the public won’t be tipped off to the Medicaid unraveling hidden inside the bill.  For years, Republicans have been looking for ways to undermine America’s three core social insurance programs – Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. The three constitute the major legacies of the Democrats, of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. All continue to be immensely popular.  Now, McConnell and his Senate Republican colleagues think they’ve found a way to unravel Medicaid without anyone noticing. Don’t be fooled. Spread the word. Originally published on RobertReich.org. -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

24 июня, 17:53

'Julius Caesar' Star Considered The Play To Be Donald Trump 'Resistance'

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The New York Public Theater’s presentation of William Shakespeare’s 400-year-old play, “Julius Caesar” was embroiled in controversy this month, with protests over a choice to costume the titular character as President Donald Trump. This wardrobe decision was controversial because senators plot to stab Caesar to death in the play.  Now that this run of “Julius Caesar” has come to an end, actor Corey Stoll has written a piece for Vulture about what it was like to star in the play. Stoll had the role of Marcus Brutus, a reluctant assassin of Caesar. Although the play is explicitly about the pitfalls of assassination, Stoll wrote that following through with the play amid the protest eventually felt like a contribution to the “resistance.” These days, that term is loaded to evoke the phrase ”#resist” which refers to a rallying cry against Trump. “The protesters never shut us down, but we had to fight each night to make sure they did not distort the story we were telling,” wrote Stoll in the piece that was published Friday. “At that moment, watching my castmates hold their performances together, it occurred to me that this is resistance.” Watch video of two protestors disrupting a performance: BREAKING: Julius Ceasar Gets SHUTDOWN pic.twitter.com/ITgfMR0tHE— Jack Posobiec (@JackPosobiec) June 17, 2017 Stoll, who memorably played an eventually murdered politician in the first season of “House of Cards,” said that he had no idea this production would portray Trump so explicitly before signing on to the role. After four weeks in the rehearsal room, we moved to the theater and I saw Caesar’s Trump-like costume and wig for the first time. I was disappointed by the literal design choice. Corey Stoll Stoll was frustrated by the choice at first, as he feared involving Trump would overshadow the rest of the performance.  A passage from Stoll’s piece: When I signed on to play the reluctant assassin Marcus Brutus in this production, I didn’t know Caesar would be an explicit avatar for President Trump. I suspected that an American audience in 2017 might see aspects of him in the character, a democratically elected leader with autocratic tendencies. I did not think anyone would see it as an endorsement of violence against him. The play makes it clear that Caesar’s murder, which occurs midway through the play, is ruinous for Brutus and his co-conspirators, and for democracy itself ... After four weeks in the rehearsal room, we moved to the theater and I saw Caesar’s Trump-like costume and wig for the first time. I was disappointed by the literal design choice. I had little fear of offending people, but I worried that the nuanced character work we had done in the rehearsal room would get lost in what could seem like a “Saturday Night Live” skit. I was right and wrong. After the president’s eldest child, Donald Trump Jr., blamed this production for the actions of the gunman who fired on a baseball team made up of Republican congressmen, Stoll began to fear for his own life. “Like most Americans, I was saddened and horrified, but when the president’s son and others blamed us for the violence, I became scared,” wrote Stoll. The production was plagued with disruptions from protestors, but fortunately had none that caused physically critical harm. Read the whole piece at Vulture. -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

24 июня, 17:29

This Former MTV Icon Found Inner Peace Through Islam

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BERLIN/LONDON ― In her early 20s, Kristiane Baker was having the time of her life. She was living her dream as a presenter for MTV Europe, brushing shoulders with celebrities like Mick Jagger and Bono on a regular basis ― and getting paid to do it. From the outside, it was everything she had ever hoped for. But on the inside, she sometimes felt a crushing sense of depression and anxiety that she couldn’t shake. And then she met Imran Khan, the famous Pakistani cricketer who through music would lead her to Islam and a new sense of inner peace.   “He was my introduction to Islam,” she said of Khan. “I like to say I wasn’t looking, I was found.” As a German growing up in Hamburg, Backer had always been passionate about the arts, so when she heard a qawwali, the devotional form of music often associated with Sufi Islam, during a trip to Pakistan to visit Khan, it was no surprise that she was intrigued and moved by its beauty. What was different this time though, was the depth she experienced with every note. Each lyric seemed connected to a higher form of love that could not be felt between humans. Beyond the music, Backer said she was “very much touched by the humanity of the people, by the hospitality, by the warmth,” in Pakistan. Everyone she came across, no matter what their financial situation, was willing to donate funds to Khan’s charity project, a cancer hospital in Lahore. “We met people who were very poor in the mountains, in the northern areas of Pakistan, who welcomed us with generosity,” she said. “Men in rags with teeth missing dropped a few rupees into Imran’s hands ― for the hospital. Women took off their jewelry and donated it for the hospital.” 'I like to say I wasn’t looking, I was found.' Backer was in awe. She was taken aback by the stark difference between the attitudes she experienced in the entertainment industry life, especially the superficiality of Western pop music, and the spirituality she witnessed in Pakistan. It would be three years before she finally converted to Islam, but the trip had struck a chord. Backer began researching about Islam, spending many days with Khan constantly exposed to his religion and way of life. This, she would later admit, helped her to spiritually awaken and discover a way of life that she could truly identify with. “I read a lot of books, and what I discovered was mind-blowing,” she said. “It was like a whole new universe. I was intrigued from the first book I read, and I wanted to know more. I realized … there is one God ... and that we’re self-responsible for our own deeds and [that] babies are born pure, not as sinners. ... I also learned how verses from the Quran can help me in my daily life.” Backer was inspired by it all. “I was convinced,” she continued. “I converted because I wanted to bring God into my life, and I wanted to purify myself to taste the spiritual fruits I was reading about.” But just as Backer’s interest in Islam was growing, something in her life shifted again. Khan, the man she had hoped to marry, abruptly ended their relationship and married another woman. At that point, Backer no longer had a direct reason to understand Islam. If she had recoiled against Khan and his religion, it would have been understandable. Instead, she embraced the faith without skipping a beat and converted. Islam provided Backer with the solace and strength to remain dignified throughout Khan’s instant and very public marriage to another woman. What began as a journey of discovery prompted by love for a man became a discovery of eternal love for someone else: God. It was her newly adopted faith that helped Backer reconcile life in a glitzy pop icon world ― where she had previously felt unsure of her place ― and find meaning in European culture. There were no more clouds in her life; the confusion and inner conflict had lifted. A Rocky Conversion Backer, now 51, is one of the most well-known German converts to Islam. But sadly, her conversion was not well-received by everyone at home.  “When it became known that I am a Muslim, a very negative press campaign followed,” Backer said. “I was an award-winning TV presenter, a popular icon over there for over seven years, and suddenly I was accused of being a supporter of terrorism. The papers suggested I had lost the plot. … Soon after, I was sacked from all my TV programs and practically lost my entertainment career in Germany.” 'It’s fine if you … have a piercing in your tummy and wear miniskirts, but it’s not fine to wear long clothes and a headscarf? That’s wrong.' This reaction had surprised Backer, because while she did enjoy an increased sense of modesty in her Muslim life, she had never associated Islam with the compulsion to wear burqas or found the stereotype of repression of women in the religion to ring true in her personal experience. “The first thing I changed was my sense of dress a little bit,” she said. “I ditched the miniskirts … I felt more feminine … Who needs those whistles on the streets?” “I was working in this industry where the motto was: ‘If you’ve got it flaunt it,'" she continued. “And now [I was] suddenly learning about the concept of modesty. You know, how it’s actually more dignified for a woman to cover her assets and not show them to everybody.” But others didn’t seem to understand her abrupt identity change. She found the double standard towards Muslim women confusing. “It’s fine if you … show your tummy and have a piercing in your tummy and wear miniskirts, but it’s not fine to wear long clothes and a headscarf? That’s wrong.” Her parents also held these unfair perceptions of Islam, and though they loved her in spite of her conversion, they struggled to move beyond them.  “They had some serious prejudices against Islam and especially Muslim men ― prejudices that Imran’s way of ending our relationship had only confirmed,” Backer recalled. “I tried to explain to them that I had discovered the religion for myself and had made it my own. Imran had merely opened the door for me … My father even mentioned the word ‘pantheism’ ― in his view, Muslims wanted to take over the whole world. He eventually asked me to stop talking about Islam and from then on, the topic became taboo in the house.” The reactions frustrate her to this day. In Backer’s experience, German identity is not all that different from Islamic identity, so why should she have to choose between the two? “Being German,” she said, “doesn’t mean drinking beer and being nationalistic. I wholeheartedly believe and know that Islamic values are compatible not only with German values, [but] with European values generally. Islam is a religion for all times and all worlds ― and therefore also for Europeans in our day and age. I’m living proof.” And the Germans before her were proof as well, Backer said. In embracing Islam and Eastern culture, she was merely following in the footsteps of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Martin Heidegger and Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller ― German thinkers who were influenced by Eastern and Islamic texts, including those by Persian poets Jalaluddin Rumi and Hafez. But Backer’s own convictions couldn’t change the perceptions at home, and she found many German doors closed on her. She decided to relocate permanently to London, where she had converted, and continued working as a broadcaster. In England, Backer found a much different reception to her adopted religious identity. Despite continued Islamophobia across Europe, the United Kingdom had a more established group of Muslims working across the country. This was largely due to the fact that a number of Muslims in England had often come to the country for educational and intellectual pursuits, whereas those entering Germany historically came as guest workers, she said. 'I wholeheartedly believe and know that Islamic values are compatible not only with German values, [but] with European values generally.' But life as a Muslim here isn’t entirely easy, especially as a convert. There is a sense of community among Muslims in general, Backer said, which makes the climate for converts in particular quite lonely. “We are a minority within the minority. Where do we pray? Which mosque do we go to, the Pakistani, the Persian or the Turkish mosque?” Instead of feeling included in one of those ethnic groups, converts sometimes find themselves pushed aside for not being Muslim enough, or regarded as trophies that other Muslims flaunt around at parties and events, with little regard for the person themselves, she said. For Backer, the lack of acceptance from her family, as well as the sense of rejection from within the Muslim community, is one of the reasons she is determined to maintain her role as a prominent Muslim TV presenter in England ― a career path that she thinks will help change perceptions of Islam in the West.   “Do your job ― whatever you do ― really well so people admire you,” is the advice she gives Muslims struggling to assimilate in Western society today. “Remember [that] whatever you do, … you are not only a servant of God, but also an ambassador of Islam,” she said. But Backer knows that Muslims doing good in their own communities can only go so far, so as a member of the media, she constantly advocates for stronger and more accurate representations of Muslims in pop culture. “Nowadays,” she said in light of the disproportional and often Islamophobic coverage of terrorist acts, Muslims need “to compensate for the news coverage in other sections of the media, to make documentaries on Muslim culture and have Muslims characters featured on soap operas.” This need for a more accurate representation of Islam and Muslims is why she published a book about her journey to the faith. With From MTV to Mecca: How Islam Inspired My Life, Backer aspires to show Europeans that outside of the terror and suppression they see on the news, the majority of Muslims are in fact normal, wholesome and productive members of their society. And she has already seen results. In her newfound role as a spokesperson for Islam in Europe, she’s noticed some attitudes in Germany toward her greatly improving. Yet the future of Islam rests on the youth in the community, not her, Backer said. Young Muslims, she stressed, must teach the world that Islam is a modern religion and show people that it’s not something backward or incompatible with the West. “Islam here in Europe is a little fossilized, and it is up to the young people to take this forward and to really look into the sources of Islam, study the religion thoroughly through contemporary and classical scholars. And then educate not only the mainstream society, but even their own parents, because I tell you, I’m always so shocked when I hear young Muslims here are losing their faith.” 'It’s befriending other people; it’s reaching out. That is how I became a Muslim. Because I was touched by the generosity and friendship of the Muslims I met.' Ultimately, Backer said, it’s about making others understand the faith and closing the empathy gap, like Imran Khan did with her all those years ago in Pakistan. “It’s befriending other people; it’s reaching out,” she said. “That is how I became a Muslim. Because I was touched by the generosity and friendship and the wonderful manners of the Muslims who I met.” Her parting advice to Western Muslims, convert and otherwise?: “Never retreat just in your own Muslim bubble … Mix with mainstream society.” If professional Muslims in the West “suddenly roll up their prayer mat in their offices and step away to pray or fast on Ramadan,” colleagues will be exposed to Islam, she said. “And [this is how they] will understand it better. ” After all, Backer said: “The beautiful values of Islam and the teaching[s] of our noble Prophet [Muhammad] are [some] of the best-kept secrets in the West. ... [It’s] time we lift that veil.” * * * This Ramadan has been an especially trying month for Muslims. Long summer days without food or water have been made all the more challenging given such tragedies as the attack on a mosque in London, the heartbreaking story of young Nabra in Virginia, who was on her way to the mosque to start her fast when she was bashed to death with a baseball bat, and the numerous attacks on innocent civilians in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and other countries in the Muslim world. The only antidote to the despair brought on by such suffering and violence is the message of Ramadan ― a message of compassion, of unity and of spiritual connection to our fellow human beings and to God. I hope that the stories in this series of Western Muslim converts reveal how every individual is constantly seeking spiritual fulfillment. In our case, these individuals have found their spiritual home and solace. I pray that the readers of this series, in their own way, through their own traditions, also find the spiritual solace they are seeking. Although the month of fasting has come to an end, we need more than ever to keep the message of Ramadan alive. Muslims across the world are marking the end of this holy month this weekend with the festival of Eid al-Fitr and a message of “Eid Mubarak.” So to all of you, Muslim and non-Muslim, I wish to extend these greetings of compassion and unity to you as we end our series. Eid Mubarak! type=type=RelatedArticlesblockTitle=Read the rest of the series here: + articlesList=59273e07e4b01b9a59377de2,5935ba70e4b0cfcda916c756,593f1985e4b0e84514edd221,5941d53de4b0d3185486f32e -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

24 июня, 17:23

The Overlooked Trumpcare Threat: A Medicare Time Bomb

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Just over two years ago, Donald Trump gave a speech announcing his run for the presidency. In that speech, he promised that he would not cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. That promise became a centerpiece of his campaign. It was a key way for Trump to differentiate himself, as a matter of policy, from his Republican primary opponents – a distinction he happily and frequently pointed out. In the general election, the promise helped him appeal to voters who don’t traditionally support the GOP. But six months into his presidency, Trump has already betrayed those voters by breaking his promise. Indeed, rather than protecting those programs, he has already, in his short tenure, gone after all three! When it comes to Social Security and Medicaid, that betrayal is highly visible and clear: His budget slashes billions from Social Security and Medicaid. Trump also champions the Republican health care repeal bill (also known as Trumpcare), which includes yet more massive cuts to Medicaid. Indeed, Trumpcare is bait-and-switch: It claims to repeal and replace Obamacare, which it modifies, but doesn’t completely undo. What it does do, without broadcasting the fact, is repeal and replace Medicaid. Trumpcare repeals Medicaid as we know it. It replaces it, transforming it from a guarantee to individuals into an inadequate lump of money to states. When the Medicaid changes are completely phased in, the clock will be turned back to before the enactment of Medicaid in 1965, when millions of seniors, people with disabilities and others were unable to afford life-saving health care, home health care, and nursing home care. The destruction of Medicaid and the cutback to Social Security have gotten media attention. The broken promise on Medicare is in danger of slipping by beneath the radar, though. Only days after the election, Speaker Paul Ryan announced that he saw an opportunity to realize his decades-long dream of destroying Medicare. He said that he planned to enact legislation as soon as possible that would end Medicare’s guaranteed benefit and replace it with voucher coupons. Ryan justified this horrible plan — destined to leave the nation’s seniors without medical care after a lifetime of work — by claiming “because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The Affordable Care Act improved Medicare’s long-term finances, by requiring the wealthiest Americans to pay somewhat more. Trumpcare repeals that increased funding. Ryan, Trump and their fellow Republicans are like the proverbial murderer who kills his parents and pleads for leniency because he is an orphan. In this case, they are raiding Medicare of necessary revenue, only down the road to argue that they must cut Medicare because it has insufficient funding! Indeed, Trumpcare accomplishes two goals: It gives a giant tax break to the wealthy at the expense of Medicare and it sets up the destruction of Medicare by raiding it. It is completely predictable that, if Trumpcare becomes law, Republicans will, as a next step, go after Medicare, claiming its funding shortfall as the supposed reason. Trump ran on a promise to protect Medicare and Medicaid. But he now champions a bill that would destroy Medicaid and tees up the destruction of Medicare. This terrible bill is a betrayal of the American people, and it can still be stopped. To become law, the bill must first pass the Senate and then be voted on a second time in the House. I urge everyone who cares about the future of Medicare, Medicaid, and all health care in this country to take the following steps: If you have a Republican Senator or Representative, protest outside their state or district offices, and at any events they hold. If they are marching in a parade or participating in a ribbon cutting, it’s the perfect opportunity to demand that they keep their hands off the American people’s Medicare and Medicaid. Call your Senators at 202-224-3121. Tell them why cuts to Medicare and Medicaid would be a disaster for your family. Share this blog post, and all other information about how terrible Trumpcare is, with your friends and family. The media, especially TV news, likes to focus on “process” (e.g. how will this Senator vote?) at the expense of covering what’s actually in the bill. We need to make sure that everyone hears the truth about what Trump and the GOP are trying to impose on America. It is not a stretch to say that the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid required the landslide victory of President Lyndon Johnson, one of the nation’s truly masterful legislators. We cannot let them be repealed. It is, bluntly, a matter of life and death. Nancy J. Altman is President and Linda Benesch is Communications Director of Social Security Works. Email your Senators today and tell them to vote NO on Trumpcare! -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

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24 июня, 15:59

Health Care Must Remain A Right

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function onPlayerReadyVidible(e){'undefined'!=typeof HPTrack&&HPTrack.Vid.Vidible_track(e)}!function(e,i){if(e.vdb_Player){if('object'==typeof commercial_video){var a='',o='m.fwsitesection='+commercial_video.site_and_category;if(a+=o,commercial_video['package']){var c='&m.fwkeyvalues=sponsorship%3D'+commercial_video['package'];a+=c}e.setAttribute('vdb_params',a)}i(e.vdb_Player)}else{var t=arguments.callee;setTimeout(function(){t(e,i)},0)}}(document.getElementById('vidible_1'),onPlayerReadyVidible); This post is not so much why the current senate (draft?) bill, “Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017” (“Better Care Act”), represents one of the most destructive pieces of legislation to come out of the halls of Congress in decades that rips at the fabric of our democracy (“Everything You Need to Know About the GOP Senate Health Care Bill”; and [Kaiser Family Foundation’s] “Compare Proposals to Replace The Affordable Care Act”), but the underpinning of why our nation is facing a crisis and real and present danger. In capsule form, do we wish to see health care remain a RIGHT for all Americans, regardless of socioeconomic status, or only a privilege for the wealthy, i.e., for those that can afford to access it? Do we, as a nation, want our citizens to be able to access and afford health care in order to maintain our health, regain our health, or acquire our health―-like all industrialized nations want to see for their citizens―- or do we want to give the (greedy) wealthy segment of our society the monies in the form of tax write-offs to be taken from Obamacare (otherwise known as the Affordable Care Act) that assist the less fortunate and disadvantaged with accessing and affording health care? The Republican senate bill attempts to rob blindly those that can’t afford and access health care like those Republicans are able to do as members of Congress and that otherwise have no voice in Congress that will be heard by those legislators. It is our job as Americans to be their voice. But let’s go back to this notion of whether or not health care should, or continue to, be a right. Two articles dating back nine years among scores are instructive, “Is Health Care a Right and Should It Be?”; and “The Moral Imperative: Health Care as an American Right”. Health care is certainly not a constitutional right for nothing in the Constitution sets this forth. We do know we have inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness guaranteed by the Bill of Rights (but nothing about affording and accessing health care since no doubt that was not on the minds of the drafters), and that without health care, none of us can do much of anything for ourselves, our families, our employment, even our country. We also know the Supreme Court has interpreted the 8th Amendment’s “cruel and unusual punishment” clause to require prisoners be guaranteed the right to health care. And even the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 declares, “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of oneself and one’s family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care” (“Health Care Reform: It is Now or Never”). What we see happening is only Republicans wanting to steal a “win” vs. incurring a “loss”; achieving “victory” over “defeat”. But what should be foremost is country over politics and political party. So what must happen next since the Senate is supposed to vote on its health bill no later than next Friday? Members of Congress serve as public servants and at the pleasure of all voters. If we all believe that our health is a fundamental commodity that is equally important to each one of us as it is to the next regardless of status, wealth, position or power (and this includes all Senate Republicans!), then we must not only inform ourselves over this weekend and the early part of the upcoming week (see links to the two articles atop this post) about the disaster facing us with the Senate’s Better Care Act , but we must tell our (Republican) public servants there that what they want to do must be voted down. Democracy and the fabric and very underpinning of our society demand no less! -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

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24 июня, 15:28

Will Gardner Again Vote Against Planned Parenthood?

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U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) built his political career in Colorado, and rallied grassroots Republican support, by opposing abortion, even for rape and incest. Part of that, of course, has meant that he’s opposed and vilified Planned Parenthood. So you’d expect Gardner to be on board with the provision in Senate’s Obamacare-replacement legislation that would remove federal funds for Planned Parenthood, just like the House version did. After he voted to defund Planned Parenthood two years ago, Gardner said, “We voted to take the money from Planned Parenthood and distribute it to the community health clinics around the state of Colorado,” Gardner told KNUS 710-AM’s Dan Caplis in 2015. He stated the move would provide “more access” to health care for low-income men and women across the state. More access without Planned Parenthood? Woman go to Planned Parenthood clinics for specific and understandable reasons, like privacy, trust, and convenience. Community health clinics cannot replace what Planned Parenthood offers.  And even though no federal funds are used for abortions at Planned Parenthood, they are available. In contrast, community health centers don’t offer abortion services that many woman obviously want available at their clinic of choice in the year 2017. But Gardner apparently doesn’t think women care. When confronted with his extreme anti-choice positions during the 2014 election, Gardner responded by saying Democrat Mark Udall was trying to “distract voters” from the real issues. Now Gardner should face the same question from reporters. Does he think women in Colorado care about Planned Parenthood? About access to basic health care for low-income women? What does he think about the Republican Party assaulting on abortion rights in a health care bill? In a news release, Vicki Cowart, President of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, notes that the Senate bill would “block more than 30,000 women, men and young people in the Rocky Mountain region alone from accessing the trusted reproductive health care they rely on.” “We will not stand by while politicians play these types of political games with the health care and livelihood of more than one third our patients,” said Cowart, adding that the Senate rules may block the defunding effort because it’s politically motivated. Gardner may try to say his opposition to Planned Parenthood isn’t about opposition to Planned Parenthood, just like he tried to say, during his last election campaign, that his support of abortion-ban legislation wasn’t support for an abortion ban. Despite heroic efforts by journalists to untangle Gardner’s wordpile on abortion, packaged at the time as “personhood,” Gardner got away with it. He won his race to become Colorado’s Senator. Will he slip by again, and help pass a bill defunding Planned Parenthood? -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

24 июня, 15:00

Kentucky's Hedge Funder Governor Keeps State Money In Secretive Hedge Funds

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function onPlayerReadyVidible(e){'undefined'!=typeof HPTrack&&HPTrack.Vid.Vidible_track(e)}!function(e,i){if(e.vdb_Player){if('object'==typeof commercial_video){var a='',o='m.fwsitesection='+commercial_video.site_and_category;if(a+=o,commercial_video['package']){var c='&m.fwkeyvalues=sponsorship%3D'+commercial_video['package'];a+=c}e.setAttribute('vdb_params',a)}i(e.vdb_Player)}else{var t=arguments.callee;setTimeout(function(){t(e,i)},0)}}(document.getElementById('vidible_1'),onPlayerReadyVidible); Kentucky’s public pension system is a long-running, worst-in-the-nation disaster. Even as state workers chip in their fair share, the system suffers from years of chronic underfunding by the state. Seeking higher returns, the program, formally known as Kentucky Retirement Systems, has turned to “alternative investments” such as private equity and hedge funds. But those funds also carry far more risk than traditional investments in stocks and bonds ― and much higher fees.  The year before the state’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, was elected, the pension system had 25 percent more alternative investments than its peers, 27 percent higher costs and 15 percent lower long-term returns, according to a report prepared for the pension board. As a part-owner of a hedge fund himself, Bevin said in 2015 that he didn’t have a problem with the pension system’s heavy reliance on alternative investments like hedge funds. But he campaigned on promises to improve the system and shore it up for the future. He hasn’t. Despite the Republican Party being in total control of Kentucky state government for the first time in nearly a century, the actual policy changes Bevin has implemented or overseen have mainly ended up supporting the system’s ruinous status quo. And some legislators are raising concerns that state officials ― potentially including Bevin himself ― could benefit financially from the system. Maintaining Kentucky’s status quo requires that oversight be finely balanced between people who are deeply invested in the current system and people who have very little idea of what’s going on. Since taking office in December 2015, Bevin has picked a former hedge fund director, a current hedge fund owner and a dermatologist to serve on the board that watches over the pension system. In February 2017, he signed bipartisan legislation that shielded the board from disclosing how much it paid some investment managers and prevented it from opening its contract process to competitive bidding. Under Bevin’s watch, the pension fund has continued to rely on alternative investments. It makes no sense, some state lawmakers argue, to overpay for risky financial products that rarely outperform the market. The retirements of as many as 350,000 public employees ― including social and mental health workers, university staff and others ― are at stake. Experts, including legendary investor Warren Buffett, agree. Buffett has long advocated against alternative investments, saying it’s better to focus on simpler options that deliver better returns.  “I’ve talked to huge pension funds, and I’ve taken them through the math, and when I leave, they go out and hire a bunch of consultants and pay them a lot of money,” Buffett said last year. “It’s just unbelievable.” The potential for corruption is also much greater when funds invest in these types of assets over “plain vanilla stocks and bonds,” said Lynn Stout, a professor of corporate and business law at Cornell University. But Kentucky continues to transfer tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to hedge fund managers. And the state’s front-line public servants are still wondering if the pension money will be there when they need it. By the time Bevin took office, Kentucky’s public pension system was among the worst-funded in the nation, according to a 2016 study from S&P Global Ratings. The pensions overseen by Kentucky Retirement Systems had just 37 percent of the money required to pay current and future retirees. The largest of the three funds ― Kentucky Employees Retirement System, which covers virtually all state employees except teachers, legislators, judges and state police ― had only enough money to cover 17 percent of its obligations. Bevin’s first budget, released in January 2016, proposed a larger-than-required monetary commitment to pensions. The legislature eventually passed a budget that put $1.2 billion toward the troubled system. The governor’s effort to remake the system really got rolling in April that year, when he fired Thomas Elliott, the chairman of the Kentucky Retirement Systems board of trustees and a former banker. Elliott had been reappointed to a four-year term in 2015 by the previous governor. His firing was meant to give Kentucky “a fresh start and more transparency,” Bevin’s spokeswoman said at the time. Elliott didn’t go quietly ― he chaired the board’s April meeting despite Bevin’s order removing him. The governor picked a dermatologist to replace Elliott, but that individual never assumed the seat, withdrawing in May after the state attorney general said he lacked the requisite investment experience and that Elliott’s firing had been improper. Bevin showed up at the board’s May meeting with state troopers to physically bar Elliott from acting as chair. Bevin’s appointments included two hedge fund managers. One was Neil Ramsey, the owner of Louisville, Kentucky-based hedge fund RQSI Holdings. Throughout the turmoil, Kentucky Retirement Systems didn’t just continue to invest in hedge funds ― it intensified its commitment. In May 2016, the board dumped $300 million more into four new hedge funds and increased its investment in another hedge fund, created for Kentucky by KKR Prisma, that itself invests in hedge funds. The following month, Bevin, whose spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article, announced that he would reorganize the entire board of trustees. By executive order, he expanded the board from 13 to 17 members and named economist John Farris as its chairman. The new structure allowed Bevin to appoint seven board members right away. In response, Elliott and another trustee sued Bevin. That lawsuit is ongoing, and Elliott remains a non-voting member of the board thanks to a court order. Bevin’s appointments included two hedge fund managers. One was Neil Ramsey, the owner of Louisville, Kentucky-based hedge fund RQSI Holdings. Ramsey, along with his wife, contributed $4,000 to Bevin’s gubernatorial campaign and $15,000 to his inaugural committee, state records show. He also appears to own two other investment companies, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings: d.Quant Special Opportunities Fund, which late last year acquired a majority stake in another company called ZAIS Group Holdings. Neither of those firms is listed on the most recent version of Ramsey’s financial disclosure form, a copy of which HuffPost obtained through an open records request. Ramsey did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The other new board member was William Cook, a former director and senior portfolio manager at KKR Prisma, the company that created the fund of funds for Kentucky Retirement Systems. Cook, who retired from KKR Prisma in 2015, said he would recuse himself from any investment decisions involving his former company. This past November, as both Democratic and Republican members of the state legislature called on the pension board to divest from hedge funds, the board abruptly changed course and proposed to cut those investments in half. It would divest from 12 hedge funds altogether, and its investment in the KKR Prisma fund would return to the prior lower level. That decision was finalized in December 2016, but it’s not clear how much headway the pension board has made on the promise. Overall, big institutional investors like pension funds hold a declining, albeit still large, share of hedge funds’ assets. Some pension systems, such as those in California and New York City, have said they will divest entirely from hedge funds. New York City is just getting started, while California’s investment is down 80 percent since 2014. Kentucky’s progress is less impressive. As of March 2015, the state’s pension program had 10.6 percent of its $16 billion worth of assets in hedge funds. As of March 2017, that number was 8.4 percent, a large portion of which is still in the KKR Prisma fund. After the pension board’s drama, the Kentucky state legislature took up a measure, known as Senate Bill 2, that had been a priority for reform-minded Republicans and Democrats for more than two years. Its primary aim was to increase transparency around and reduce the costs of the pension investments. Past versions of the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Joe Bowen (R), included two significant provisions that would have required Kentucky Retirement Systems to disclose the fees it paid to all investment managers ― including managers of the hedge funds within the KKR Prisma fund ― and would have opened up the process of selecting the firms that oversee the pension program’s investments to a competitive bidding process. Currently, state pension officials hire whomever they want to oversee pension assets, and pay whatever fees they think are fair.  The provision requiring disclosure of all management fees was particularly important, given that the KKR Prisma fund is one of the system’s largest hedge fund investments. Generally, funds of hedge funds are used by individual investors who cannot put money directly into hedge funds. Even for those people, funds of funds are rarely a good deal, because they come with an extra layer of fees that goes to the fund-of-funds manager, on top of the fees paid to the underlying hedge funds. This structure makes even less sense for an investor, like Kentucky Retirement Systems, that can and does put money directly into hedge funds. Kentucky may have gravitated to the fund of funds because KKR Prisma offered a part-time pension employee as part of the deal. Yet that seems to suggest that the pension program didn’t have the in-house expertise or staffing levels needed to invest in hedge funds, let alone a fund of hedge funds. Measures to require full fee disclosure and competitive bidding were noticeably absent from this year’s version of SB 2, and an amendment to reinsert them was defeated on the House floor. Instead, the latest bill mandated more granular disclosure of fees (but didn’t cover fees paid to underlying funds), strengthened the requirement that pension board members have investment experience (a provision that likely would have precluded Bevin from appointing a dermatologist), and cemented Bevin’s reworking of the board’s structure. These changes were supported by both parties and passed unanimously in February. How the two stronger provisions disappeared from the bill “is a mystery,” said state Rep. Jim Wayne (D), who has for years fought for pension reforms, including the divestment of hedge fund investments. Kentucky Retirement Systems, as it had in the past, opposed full fee transparency and competitive bidding on the grounds that those requirements would make the pension funds less competitive, as investment managers would be less likely to do business with them if their books had to be open. The overall legislation was “a compromise that I worked out with KRS,” Bowen told HuffPost. He suggested that it will still reduce costs and increase transparency because it requires the board to develop best practices for managing assets and picking contractors, and then get those guidelines approved by the state government’s Finance and Administration Cabinet. Secret deals don’t help anybody. We’re taking their assumption that we’re getting a good deal, but it’s a secret. And the performance in the market proves that it has been a bad deal for Kentucky. Rep. James Kay, who has spearheaded Democratic pension reform efforts Some Kentucky lawmakers wondered whether Bevin had been involved in the watering down of SB 2, even as they stressed there were no clear links. Given his history in the investment field and the new makeup of the board, “it would not surprise me if he had a hand in that process,” Wayne said. Bowen said that while he’d discussed parts of the legislation with the governor’s office, he’d heard “nothing contrary” from Bevin about the two provisions that were cut. Regardless, the removal of those provisions, pension experts said, will be a boon to the Wall Street firms and investment managers that are charged with managing Kentucky’s investments. In 2015 alone, the state paid more than $100 million in investment fees related to its pensions. “The last minute gutting of SB 2 of competitive bidding and weakening of fiduciary standards I believe was worth in the $10′s of millions for the hedge fund & private equity industries,” Christopher Tobe, a former member of the pension board, said in an email. Tobe wrote Kentucky Fried Pensions, a 2013 book that explores the system’s “culture of cover-up and corruption.” Kentucky is paying those exorbitant fees even as its hedge fund investments cost it even more money. The KKR Prisma fund had a negative 8 percent return in 2016, helping Kentucky Retirement Systems finish the year with a 0.5 percent loss overall. The stock market, the Lexington Herald-Leader noted, rose an average of 15 percent over the same period. A spokesperson for KKR declined to comment after she was sent detailed questions about the company’s role in Kentucky’s pension system. Before SB 2 passed, state Rep. James Kay, who has spearheaded Democratic pension reform efforts, introduced an amendment that would have restored the provision requiring the disclosure of fees paid to all investment managers. He doesn’t buy the pension board’s argument against it. “If they don’t want to do business with us because they don’t want to be transparent, that should be the first sign of trouble,” Kay told HuffPost. “Secret deals don’t help anybody. We’re taking their assumption that we’re getting a good deal, but it’s a secret. And the performance in the market proves that it has been a bad deal for Kentucky.” Lawmakers have also raised the possibility that Kentucky’s elected and appointed officials ― including Bevin, state legislators and members of the pension board ― could benefit financially from the continued opacity of the hedge fund investments. If the KKR Prisma fund’s undisclosed investments include any of the hedge funds that officials own or operate, that would be problematic, Kay said on Kentucky’s public television network earlier this month. Because there’s no transparency, the Kentucky pension system could be investing in hedge funds owned or operated by general assembly members, people on the pension system’s board or even the governor himself, Kay said. “There could be people that could actually vote to enrich themselves on our current retirement board.” There is no proof that Bevin or any of his associates or appointees are benefiting in such a manner. But the idea that they could isn’t just a hypothetical: Heavy reliance on opaque hedge funds and funds of funds has greased the wheels in the past for pay-to-play scandals in major state pension funds, including California’s and New York’s, said Edward Siedle, a former SEC attorney who now forensically investigates public pension systems. “It’s a way of creating, potentially, a political daisy chain,” Siedle told HuffPost. How would that work? In Seidle’s version, the manager of a fund of hedge funds could suggest that the managers of the underlying funds contribute to an elected official’s campaign, causes or business associates. That supportive effort might help the fund-of-funds manager get hired by a public pension system connected to the elected official. Once hired, the fund-of-funds manager could then direct business back to those other managers. “Everybody’s happy,” Seidle said. “Because of the lack of transparency, it’s hard to tell. But ... the potential for personal profit is enormous.” Questions about Bevin’s pension moves have intensified in recent months, as one of his appointments began to draw scrutiny thanks to a mansion in a posh Louisville suburb. In March, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported that Bevin appeared to be living in a restored mansion in Anchorage, one of Kentucky’s wealthiest cities. The home had recently been sold by Anchorage LLC to another entity called Anchorage Place LLC. The owners of Anchorage Place LLC aren’t listed on public documents, but Bevin admitted in May that he owns the entity. Anchorage LLC, meanwhile, is owned by Neil Ramsey, the hedge fund manager Bevin had appointed to the pension board eight months prior. And it appeared the mansion had been sold at a discounted price. Last year, the Courier-Journal reported, the Jefferson County property valuation administrator assessed the mansion and the 19-acre property on which it sat at nearly $3 million. The sale to Anchorage Place LLC included the mansion and 10 of those acres ― property that was altogether worth $2.57 million, according to the Courier-Journal. The sale price, however, was just $1.6 million ― a reduction of $970,000.  This is one of the worst cases of personal enrichment by a governor. Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear (D) The house wasn’t Ramsey’s only financial connection to Bevin. In May, the Courier-Journal reported that Ramsey had also invested $300,000 in Neuronetrix, a Louisville-based medical device company with ties to Bevin. That investment occurred in February ― at the same time the legislature was considering SB 2 and right as Bevin began living in the Anchorage house. The governor owns at least 5 percent of Neuronetrix and sits on its board of directors, according to the paper. The Neuronetrix investment qualified Ramsey for a significant tax break. Selling the mansion at a potential loss did too. During the two months after the mansion’s sale, Bevin “largely ignored” questions about it, according to the Courier-Journal. He told the Herald-Leader that where he lived was not a matter of public interest. The governor called Courier-Journal reporter Tom Loftus, who led the paper’s mansion coverage, “Peeping Tom” and dismissed reporters who questioned his purchase of the house as “cicadas.” The state’s two largest newspapers, he said, “don’t actually seem to care about Kentucky.” Ramsey has maintained that he sold the house at fair market value. Bevin similarly batted down questions about the price during a late-May news conference in which he finally admitted he had bought the mansion. “It is arguably not even worth what was paid for it,” he said, “let alone what it’s being assessed at.” Bevin has even appealed the assessment. But his non-answers have not put the issue to rest. The governor is facing two separate ethics complaints around his acquisition of the mansion. Attorney General Andy Beshear (D), the son of Bevin’s predecessor and a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2019, has asked the state’s Executive Branch Ethics Commission if his office is the appropriate venue to investigate the sale and whether Bevin and Ramsey violated state ethics laws by personally benefiting from it. “This is one of the worst cases of personal enrichment by a governor,” Beshear said in May. “News reports suggest he is personally enriching himself and his friends, getting a Louisville mansion at half the price from a state contractor, donor and political appointee. ... Because the governor refuses to be direct and honest, someone must investigate.” Bevin continues to dismiss his critics. In that May news conference, he tied the mansion and Ramsey’s involvement back to the pension crisis that he says he is still trying to fix. “People that are making the decisions to actually fix the pension system,” Bevin told reporters, “are the very same people that you’re trying to destroy.” (Disclosure: Travis Waldron interned on the summer of 2009 for the Senate primary campaign of Jack Conway, who ran as the Democratic candidate for governor in 2015 against Bevin.) -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

24 июня, 14:47

Here Is How Senate Republicans Try To Hide The Damage Of Their Repeal Bill

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function onPlayerReadyVidible(e){'undefined'!=typeof HPTrack&&HPTrack.Vid.Vidible_track(e)}!function(e,i){if(e.vdb_Player){if('object'==typeof commercial_video){var a='',o='m.fwsitesection='+commercial_video.site_and_category;if(a+=o,commercial_video['package']){var c='&m.fwkeyvalues=sponsorship%3D'+commercial_video['package'];a+=c}e.setAttribute('vdb_params',a)}i(e.vdb_Player)}else{var t=arguments.callee;setTimeout(function(){t(e,i)},0)}}(document.getElementById('vidible_1'),onPlayerReadyVidible); Senate Republicans desperately want you to believe their health care bill is something it’s not.  They want you to believe that it protects the financially and medically vulnerable, that it won’t “pull the rug out” from people now depending on the Affordable Care Act for insurance, that ― as President Donald Trump has promised ― it will have “heart.” Reality is different.   The Senate bill, which GOP leaders unveiled Thursday, looks an awful lot like the bill that the House passed in May. It would roll back the expansion of Medicaid that has allowed millions of people to get health insurance, then change Medicaid’s structure and reduce its funding going forward. It reduces the financial assistance available to Americans who buy coverage on their own and scales back guarantees of what insurance covers. It would feel like an improvement to some people, for sure, particularly young, healthy people who would end up paying less for coverage than they do today, as well those who want less-comprehensive coverage or are angry about paying the individual mandate penalty. The wealthy Americans now paying taxes that finance Obamacare’s coverage expansion would get to keep that money. But the net effect would be more exposure to crippling medical bills for many millions of Americans. It’s possible that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his allies have deluded themselves into thinking this won’t happen. It’s more likely that they grasp the consequences and simply deem them worthwhile, for some combination of personal, political and philosophical reasons.    But they can’t come out and make that argument ― in part because, as polls indicate, the public almost surely disagrees. And so McConnell and his allies have written the Senate bill in a way that’s designed to obscure some of its harshest effects and give skittish members plausible-sounding reasons to vote yes. Big Medicaid Cuts, But Pushed Into The Future The House bill would change Medicaid in two main ways. It would end the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, cutting off the extra federal matching funds that 31 states plus the District of Columbia used to expand eligibility. And then, going forward, the House bill would change Medicaid’s underlying funding formula, tying future federal contributions to an inflation rate likely to fall below what states would need to maintain existing levels of coverage.   Many senators objected loudly to these changes, usually because their states were among those that expanded coverage, or because their states rely on Medicaid to finance treatment of raging opioid epidemics or both. GOP leaders in the Senate purported to address these concerns by changing the timing of the expansion repeal ― specifically, by reducing the federal matching funds over three years rather than in just one year, as the House bill proposed to do. But this change is a lot less significant than it sounds. The House bill also had a phase-in of sorts, because it had what amounted to a grandfather clause: It preserved the extra funding for people who had enrolled in the expansion for as long as they stayed on Medicaid. This would have effectively stretched out the transition over two or three years, as people in the program found jobs with enough pay to push their earnings out of the eligibility range. More important, the Senate bill took the long-term cuts in the House bill and made them bigger, tying the federal matching formula to an even lower level of inflation. As a result, any gap between federal matching funds and what states need for Medicaid would grow over time ― most likely forcing them to make bigger cuts.  The more years that pass, the bigger the cuts would get ― which means, literally, that the worst damage would come after the 10-year window that the Congressional Budget Office uses for its projections of the bill’s effects. Small Tax Credits But Distributed In A Progressive Way  The significance of the Senate bill’s changes to the private insurance market are similarly easy to miss, particularly when it comes to the financial assistance available to people buying coverage on their own. The House bill would have wiped away completely the Affordable Care Act’s scheme of tax credits, which are bigger for people who have low incomes or face higher premiums ― in other words, the people who would struggle the most to pay for coverage on their own. The Senate bill actually keeps that basic structure, more or less, adjusting tax credits based on income and insurance cost. In that respect, it resembles a version of “Obamacare lite,” as many commentators have noted. But the word “lite” does a lot of work there. For one thing, the Senate bill is designed to buy a skimpier plan than the Affordable Care Act’s credit scheme does ― specifically, a plan that pays only 58 percent of the typical person’s medical expenses (roughly equivalent to a “bronze” plan in today’s system) rather than one that pays 70 percent of the typical person’s medical expenses (a “silver” plan in today’s system). That translates roughly into a 15 percent, across-the-board reduction in subsidies, according to Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Changing the benchmark for premium subsidies from the equivalent of a silver plan to a bronze plan is about a 15% across-the-board cut.— Larry Levitt (@larry_levitt) June 22, 2017 Lower-income consumers would lose even more money, because the Senate bill would not guarantee access to special, low-deductible plans that the Affordable Care Act makes available. The vast majority of people buying silver coverage through healthcare.gov or one of the state exchanges, like Covered California, enroll in one of these plans, which reduce total out-of-pocket spending to as little as a few hundred dollars in some cases. It’s actually possible that the CBO will find the Senate bill leaves fewer people uninsured than the House bill did, just because of the way the different features would interact. And if that happens, Senate Republicans are sure to tout the CBO coverage number as proof they made the bill less severe. But if the coverage number is higher, it would likely be because Senate Republicans have shuffled the pieces of their plan to distribute the impact a little differently ― disguising the damage rather than averting it. -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

24 июня, 14:30

Google Search Is Doing Irreparable Harm To Muslims

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Google asks its employees to “Do the right thing.” At least, that’s what its revised 2015 motto states in an upgrade from the original company maxim, “Don’t be evil.” But when a user searches Google for information on Islam, the results often link to propaganda, anti-Muslim hate and outright lies. The algorithm for the world’s largest search engine is definitely not doing the right thing ― especially when it comes to the first page of results, where most users stop their searches. Basic searches for words like “Muslim” and “Islam” return reasonable results with links to reputable sites. But more specific terms, like “sharia,” “jihad” or “taqiyya” ― often co-opted by white supremacists ― return links to Islamophobic sites filled with misinformation. The same thing happens with the autofill function. If a user types in “does islam,” the first suggestion that pops up to complete the query is “does islam permit terrorism.” Another egregious example occurs when a user inputs “do muslim.” The autofill results include “do muslim women need saving.” There are endless possibilities for misinformation, and the consequences are disturbing. “Ninety percent of people don’t make it past the first page,” Heidi Beirich, a project director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told HuffPost. “It’s miseducating millions, if not billions of people on many subjects.” Indeed, there is a distinct correlation between anti-Muslim searches and anti-Muslim hate crimes, according to researchers. The result? At the extreme end of the spectrum, white supremacists commit heinous acts of violence, like in Portland, Oregon and Tulsa, Oklahoma. But more commonly and perhaps more nefariously, such searches normalize a culture of fear, leading to the harassment of hijab-wearing teenagers and 7-Eleven store clerks.   But Omar Suleiman, a Muslim American imam from Dallas and founder of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, has a plan to take on Google. Suleiman and his team have been publishing reports on controversial topics in Islam ― like jihad ― in the hopes of influencing the search algorithm. His goal is to flood the search results with accurate information on Islam. Suleiman, 30, realized a few years ago that there was a dire need for factual information during the rise of the self-described Islamic State, when he noticed how right-wing groups were equating ISIS’s language with the beliefs of the world’s entire Muslim population. One of Suleiman’s most popular reports is on the Islamic idea of taqiyya, a term Islamophobes and white supremacists have appropriated and exploited to accuse Muslims of lying to non-Muslims for a sinister objective like taking over the world. Suleiman explains in the report that taqiyya is actually a centuries-old concept that permits a Muslim to conceal his or her faith when under the threat of persecution. Applied more commonly by the minority Shia sect of Islam, taqiyya is rarely, if not ever, applicable to modern-day Muslims. Because it is an Arabic word, Islamophobes use the word “taqiyya” solely to instill fear, Suleiman told HuffPost. It’s a foreign-sounding word from a religion that’s perceived as foreign, and it sends “chills down the spines of well-meaning but woefully misinformed patriotic Americans wary of those turban-wearing bearded foreigners, right? What could possibly go wrong?” Suleiman wrote in the report. The Yaqeen Institute has also published reports on honor killings, stoning and jihad, all topics Islamophobes constantly twist to degrade Islam and Muslims.    But taking on the internet is not easy, and may not even be possible. Suleiman’s report on taqiyya doesn’t come up until the second page of Google search. The first link that appears on the first page, an article from meforum.org, may appear legitimate, but the Middle East Forum is actually an Islamophobic “think tank” and website that “promotes American interests in the Middle East and protects Western values from Middle Eastern threats.” TheReligionOfPeace.com and Billionbibles.org are other anti-Muslim websites whose articles appear on the first page. The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented a similar ― and arguably worse ― problem when users search for the term “sharia.” Factual content about Islam “in basic searches often gets choked off by anti-Muslim propaganda,” writes Alex Amend, digital media director at the Southern Poverty Law Center. However, there is precedent for Google to make a change. The company removed the “are Jews evil” autofill suggestion late last year, and apologized for mistakenly tagging African-Americans as “gorillas” in the search feature of the Google photos app. “We’re appalled and genuinely sorry that this happened,” a company spokeswoman said at the time. “There is still clearly a lot of work to do with automatic image labeling, and we’re looking at how we can prevent these types of mistakes from happening in the future.” Earlier this year, YouTube, which is owned by Google, announced a new set of policies that target offensive content that doesn’t necessarily violate the company’s guidelines. The policy includes burying the videos and not attaching them to any advertising. Videos that promote the subjugation of religions or races without outright inciting violence, such as by targeting Islam, would be covered by this policy. Beirich says Google’s actions so far are not enough. “Google’s algorithm is seriously flawed and it’s a scary thing, because millions of people around the world are using it,” she said. “It’s a fundamental problem with how search works.” We are teaching [people] reasons to hate black people, Jews, Muslims and [other] minorities. Heidi Beirich, project director for the Southern Poverty Law Center Beirich points to the case of white supremacist Dylann Roof, who went “from being someone who was not raised in a racist home to someone so steeped in white supremacist propaganda that he murdered nine African-Americans during a Bible study.” “We are teaching [people] reasons to hate black people, Jews, Muslims and [other] minorities,” Beirich said. The SPLC has brought its concerns to Google, but says it has yet to see substantial action. A Google spokeswoman told HuffPost she had “nothing to add” when asked about the harmful search results.  Despite the odds stacked against Suleiman, he is hopeful. He is also aware that Yaqeen has nothing close to the $57 million network fueling Islamophobia, both online and offline, in the United States. “The prize of Islamophobes is the hearts and minds of people,” Suleiman said. “What we need to continue to do is to discredit these people and their agendas.” America does not do a good job of tracking incidents of hate and bias. We need your help to create a database of such incidents across the country, so we all know what’s going on. Tell us your story. -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

24 июня, 12:26

Speaking Of 'Rigged'

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Within the last two weeks, much of the African American community has been thrown into abject pain yet again. The police officer who was seen shooting Philando Castile, killing him in front of his girlfriend and four-year-old daughter, was acquitted. Four African American members of the LGBTQ community, who marched in the PRIDE parade in Columbus, Ohio and who felt the burden of their race as well as their sexuality, decided to protest the Castile ruling by calling for seven minutes of silence – and the result is that they were arrested as whites looked on, appearing to be cheering their fate. And then the jury in the trial of the former University of Cincinnati police officer who shot and killed Sam Dubose decided it could not decide if that officer was guilty of any crime, and a second mistrial was declared. The pain of always being denied justice is almost too much to bear. While there will be and have been protests against the injustice meted out in cases involving police officers killing black and brown people, protesting is not enough. The powers that be of and in this country have learned to shut out the chants and have stopped listening to the demands. They know they are in control, and they are fairly confident that no amount of direct actions carried out will change the script. If we understand the “justice” system, we can see that perhaps they have a point. Though the Seventh Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees that American citizens have a right to a “speedy and public trial by an impartial jury,” that right has been denied to African Americans since this country’s inception. And though the Eighth Amendment guaranteed the right to be protected from excessive bail and fines being imposed upon American citizens, as well as guaranteeing that we should be protected from cruel and unusual punishment, that right, too, has often eluded African Americans and Hispanics, and poor people in general, regardless of their race. The truth is, we have a problem in these United States. The justice system is rigged, to use one of this administration’s words heard throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. It is rigged to protect police officers and to insure that black and brown people lose in cases involving them and police officers. The injustice begins with the grand jury. Those two words are powerful; they suggest that there is a mechanism in place that insures justice. Yet, according to MSNBC anchor Joy Ann Reid, that is not the case. Reid served two weeks on a grand jury this past spring and in the aftermath of the Castile case, wrote about it in an article entitled “Philando Castile and this Savage System.” According to Reid, accusations brought by black and brown people against police officers are almost sure to be knocked down by grand juries, which, she writes, have been constructed to protect police officers at all cost. Those who challenge the rightness of that unspoken understanding are many times just booted off the grand jury, she writes. Many times, those being charged by police after an altercation do not testify (a fact with which Reid strongly takes issue) but police officers are invited to give their side of the story, and too often, all the grand jury hears are the voices of the police officers who have committed an offense and the prosecutors who appear, to be in place primarily to protect what the officers do, regardless of how obvious it might appear that they have seriously abrogated the rule of law. Black and brown people expect justice, because all humans believe that justice is a right. More than that, it is a need. At the heart of the problem, however, is a belief, based on white supremacy, that black and brown people are not, in fact, entitled to justice because they are less than human. That belief is a mainstay of white supremacist ideology and has been passed down for literally hundreds of years. We may live in the 21st century, but we walk with views on race which began in this country in the 17th century with the Puritans. Those views have been nurtured and advanced, and have only gotten more virulent over the years. The system is rigged against people of color (against women, people of different religions and poor people as well) The founders of this great nation were clear in their belief that black and brown people did not deserve justice and believed that to give them justice would go against the will of God. White supremacy was preached and taught in the North before it ever hit the South. The objectification, dehumanization and criminalization of black people is as much a part of the American ethos as is the Constitution itself. Unless and until something is done to change the criminal justice system, with grand juries in place to protect police officers, nothing is going to change. More African Americans will be shot and killed by police officers who know the justice system will protect them. And unless and until trials of black and brown people are really outfitted with juries “of their peers,” and not with white people who carry such deep implicit bias that it is impossible to see or hear black people as, in fact, people, who deserve justice, nothing will change. The powers that be are counting on that. -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.