Friday, March 31, 2017

Trump Appeals Hawaii Judge’s Ruling That Stopped Travel Ban

The administration will go before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to overturn Judge Derrick Watson.

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The Trump administration filed a notice Thursday to appeal U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson’s nationwide stay against the president’s revised executive order on immigration.
The appeal follows Watson’s decision Wednesday to turn his temporary restraining order into a preliminary injunction, which indefinitely blocks key parts of the travel ban.

With the case now before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, the administration will be fighting to reinstate the revised order in two appellate courts on opposite ends of the country.
Two weeks ago, the administration appealed U.S. District Court Judge Theodore Chuang’s ruling against the travel ban to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.
Both Watson and Chuang ruled against the revised order on the basis that it ran afoul of the First Amendment’s establishment clause, citing Trump’s campaign promises of a “Muslim ban” as proof of the ban’s “religious animus.”
Chuang’s ruling is narrower in scope, blocking only one provision in the travel ban that would temporarily halt the issuance of new visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries.
Watson’s ruling covers another provision in the revised order that suspends refugee resettlements.
On Thursday, the Justice Department told CNN in a statement that it “strongly disagrees” with Watson’s ruling: “The president’s executive order falls squarely within his lawful authority in seeking to protect our nation’s security, and the department will continue to defend this executive order in the courts.”
But the administration will have to try its luck again in the 9th Circuit, where a three-judge panel voted unanimously in February to uphold an injunction issued by a federal judge in Seattle against the original travel ban.
It’s unclear whether the same panel will hear the administration’s appeal this time. Under the 9th Circuit’s rules, it could — so long as the appeal “relates to a previously resolved and no longer pending appeal.”
At least one of the parties would have to request the same panel, and its judges would have to agree to take up the case.
Joshua Wisch, special assistant to Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin, declined to comment on the appeal Thursday.

Bad Hombres? Doctors, Green Card Applicants Targeted by Trump

Neurologists and people scheduled for green card interviews are among the latest targets of Trump's deportation regime.

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President Donald Trump's war on immigrants apparently makes no distinction between documented and undocumented. If you are an immigrant, you are in his crosshairs.

On Wednesday, five people were detained as they made their way to scheduled appointments with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Lawrence, Massachusetts, about 30 miles from Boston. According to local public radio station WBUR, at least three of those arrested were attempting to begin the process of becoming legal permanent residents.
According to ICE, two of the five entirely lacked a criminal history while the rest had a few traffic tickets — or, in the harrowing words of an ICE spokesman, “multiple traffic violations.”
ICE claims that they were responding to an “investigative tip” when they arrested the five. "All five individuals have final orders of removal issued by a federal immigration judge. All five will be held in custody pending removal from the United States."

Speaking to WBUR, American Immigration Lawyers Association New England chapter chair Susan Church said, "What this means is that people who are eligible to obtain their green card in the United States, who are following the law, who are following the rules, who are doing what the government is instructing them to do, are going to be too terrified to show up and follow through with the process," while also noting that this will simply mean that new categories of people will be forced into “the shadow of immigration land … living in fear."
The next day in Houston, Texas, authorities notified two prominent neurologists at the children's hospital, Dr. Monika Ummat and Dr. Pankaj Satija, that they had 24 hours to leave the country due to minor technical errors in their immigration paperwork. A married couple from India who legally resided in the U.S. for over a decade, the two were denied temporary permission to remain in the country while the kinks in their paperwork were ironed out.
Checking in during a routine visit to a Customs and Border Protection office, the couple were informed that new memos issued by the White House meant a temporary reprieve was impossible. "Somebody up there has decided you have to leave the country in the next 24 hours," an agent told the couple.

"I have 50 patients today and 40 patients tomorrow," Dr. Satija, a founder of the Pain and Headache Centers of Texas, told the Houston Chronicle. "I'm just concerned they'll be left in a lurch. They could land up in the emergency room."
After considering temporarily deporting or temporarily incarcerating the two in a detention facility, CBP officials extended a temporary 90-day reprieve to the couple. The case caused local outrage.
Even under the Obama administration, immigration authorities targeted immigrants who lacked criminal convictions or who were found to have broken civil immigration laws. However, legal advocates feel that these recent cases represent a clear change in enforcement tactics under President Donald Trump's right-wing nationalist administration.
Gordon Quan, a lawyer representing the Houston doctors, said that the recent cases show the tortuous nature of legal immigration procedures as well as the brutal nature of the Trump administration.
"These are not tough decisions. These are not criminals, not a threat to society … It's just the rigidity of the system,” he said. “(And) instead of trying to work with people, the new administration is just trying to force them out, no matter what."

One in eight community college students in the United States are homeless

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By Bryan Dyne

A new study by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab has revealed that about half of community college students in the United States, which make up 46 percent college students in the country, do not have consistent housing and that 13 percent are homeless. In absolute terms, this means at least one million people trying to receive postsecondary education do not have a roof over their heads.
These results confirm and expand upon previous studies that have looked at college student homelessness, including earlier work by the HOPE Lab and studies done by the College and University Food Bank Alliance.
This estimate is an order of magnitude higher than the official homeless statistic of the US, which is 0.5 percent of the population, and more than twice the rate of youth aged 10-19 which face homelessness at least once during a year, which is just under five percent. It is also more than 29 times the official student homelessness rate recorded by the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), which is the only federal body that collects data on homeless students.
In order to clarify the disparity between the official statistics and the HOPE Lab survey, the World Socialist Web Site spoke to the Wisconsin HOPE Lab founder, Sara Goldrick-Rab. She noted that “The FAFSA is notorious for undercounting homeless students. First, students have to fill out the FAFSA, which many do not. Furthermore, since a homeless student counts as being financially independent, and thus is eligible for more money, FAFSA requires that they fill out a large amount of paperwork, essentially to prove that they are homeless. Since we just asked the students themselves, we captured a much better picture of the problem.
“Even our results, however, are undercounting the problem. Since it’s a voluntary survey, we are going to miss some people. We also do not count things like couch surfing as being homeless because that’s often considered something which college students just ‘do’. As a result, we include that in our housing insecurity statistics, which includes about half of all community college students.”
The latest HOPE Lab survey is the most widespread study of homelessness amongst college students and, according to the research done by the authors, is likely the only study that looks specifically at the plight of community college students.
One of the few comparable studies was done by the California State University (CSU) system, which included more students but only looked at California schools and achieved its estimates based on interviews with CSU staff, faculty and administrators rather than asking the students directly.
In contrast, the Wisconsin HOPE Lab sent a survey to more than 750,000 students across the country with a monetary incentive to garner participation. The final survey response was 33,934 students, making it the largest national study which focuses on food and housing insecurity among college students to date. While the nature of the study does not immediately lend itself to broad generalizations, the agreement between this study and all other studies looking at hunger and homelessness on US campuses suggests that the data collected do represent trends throughout all 50 states.
One thread which supports this hypothesis is that housing insecurity, which includes the inability to regularly pay utilities or rent or the need to move frequently as well as those without a permanent place to live, is not a problem isolated to urban or high-poverty community colleges but a largely uniform problem across the areas studied. Rural and urban community college students are equally likely to be housing insecure, but homelessness is actually higher for those students living in cities (15 percent) than those living in suburbs (14 percent), rural areas (11 percent) and small towns (9 percent).
Moreover, the data collected show that housing insecurity is unrelated to things like eligibility for Pell Grants or immigration status.
Of students ineligible for Pell Grants, 12 percent were homeless, compared to 16 percent for those who did receive a Pell Grant. The difference in homeless rates between US citizens and permanent residents was less than one percent. And while students who are African American or Hispanic both were overrepresented among homeless undergraduates in the study, the largest single racial category among homeless community college students in the study is non-Hispanic white.
Even the cost of attendance, which includes tuition as well as food, room and board, books, supplies and transportation, does not greatly affect the rates of housing insecurity. The community colleges studied with the lowest cost of attendance ($11,934 per year) had a housing insecurity rate of 50 percent while the most expensive colleges ($26,563 per year) had a housing insecurity rate of 46 percent.
The one factor that the study did find that impacts the homelessness rate is whether or not a given student was a former foster youth. Almost 30 percent of community college students among this demographic who were surveyed are homeless.
Similar to the previous studies, which looked primarily at the levels of hunger amongst college students, the current research shows that working or receiving financial aid does not alleviate the stress of finding adequate housing.
More than 40 percent of homeless students have a job, and more than half of those work between 20 and 40 hours per week. One-third of homeless students are receiving student loans. And, in another indicator of the financial distress among these students, one-sixth of homeless students are getting through college through credit card loans.
There is also little federal assistance for homeless students. To quote the report, “among students experiencing housing insecurity or even homelessness, less than 13 percent received any form of assistance with housing costs, and only about six percent got assistance with utilities. Even though 28 percent of students in this study have children, and of those 63 percent were food insecure and almost 13 percent were homeless, barely five percent received any child care assistance. Instead, the most common forms of support these students received were tax refunds (likely from the Earned Income Tax Credit) and Medicaid or public health insurance (e.g., via the Affordable Care Act).”

Arkansas pushes forward with plans to execute eight inmates in eleven days

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By Brad Dixon

The state of Arkansas is pushing forward with plans to execute eight death row inmates over the course of eleven days, two executions at a time, between April 17 and 27.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson ordered the spree of executions on February 27 after learning that one of the drugs in the three-drug cocktail used in executions, midazolam, was set to expire at the end of April.
The scheduled executions of the death row inmates, four of whom are black and four white, will proceed with Don Davis and Bruce Ward on April 17, Ledelle Lee and Stacey Johnson on April 20, Marcell Williams and Jack Jones Junior on April 24, and Jason McGehee and Kenneth Williams on April 27.
“No state has attempted to carry out so many executions in such a short period of time,” Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), told KATV, an ABC affiliate in Little Rock. “We are seeing a state create an artificially constricted execution schedule in order to carry out executions by a ‘kill-by’ date—the date the drug expires.”
On Monday, lawyers for the eight death row inmates filed federal motions in US District Court to block the executions so that the court can hear the merits of the case. If the federal court does not grant an expedited hearing before the first execution date, attorneys will ask the Supreme Court to authorize a hearing.
Among the filings is a request to block the execution of Bruce Ward, whose attorneys say he is schizophrenic and mentally incompetent. “Since learning that Defendant Hutchinson had scheduled his execution for April 17, 2017, Mr. Ward has remained steadfast in his belief that he will walk out of prison,” said the filing, according to ABC News.
Another inmate, Stacey Johnson, is asking the state’s highest court to block his execution so that evidence from his trial can be retested.
“The rushed schedule appreciably increases the risk of harm to plaintiffs, falls far outside the bounds of modern penological practice, and disrespects the plaintiffs’ fundamental dignity—defects that all run against the Eighth Amendment’s protection,” the attorneys for the inmates argued in their request for a preliminary injunction, according to the Associated Press.
“The suit challenges the execution schedule,” Federal Public Defender John Williams, who represents three of the inmates, told NBC News. “It’s an unprecedented act and we think the pace of the schedule puts our clients at unnecessary risk.”
Governor Hutchinson announced the execution dates on February 27, giving defense attorneys less than two months to prepare.
“It is impossible to represent those clients and do the kind of work that needs to be done at the end of the process,” Dale Baich, an Arizona assistant federal defender, told NBC. “We had a situation here in Arizona where we had two clients scheduled a week apart, and we had to have two separate teams working on those cases.”
The Arkansas Parole Board recommended rejecting the clemency requests of the inmates on Monday, and rejected a third clemency request on Wednesday.
The executions, which have been on hold in Arkansas due to legal challenges and difficulties acquiring lethal injection drugs, will be the first in the state since the November 2005 execution of Eric Nance.
In a voice vote earlier this month, Arkansas lawmakers in the state legislature’s House Judiciary Committee rejected bills prohibiting the execution of individuals with severe mental illnesses and limiting death penalty sentences to cases where there is no doubt of guilt.
States have found it increasingly difficult to access drugs used for lethal injections since the European Commission banned their sale for this purpose in 2011 and 2012. This was followed by a boycott among American pharmaceutical companies.
In response, states have attempted to illegally import the drugs from overseas, or have turned to other execution methods such as the gas chamber, electric chair or firing squad. In January, Arizona’s Corrections Director Charles Ryan issued a new execution protocol that invited the lawyers of death row inmates to provide the drugs to be used to kill their clients.
One of the drugs that will be used to execute the Arkansas prisoners, midazolam, an unreliable sedative and anesthetic, has been responsible for a number of botched executions. In 2014, the use of midazolam in the executions of Dennis McGuire in Ohio, Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma and Joseph Wood in Arizona resulted in grisly and drawn-out executions, lasting between 25 minutes and nearly two hours, during which the inmates kicked and struggled, gasped for air, and writhed in pain.
Despite the gruesome results from the use of midazolam, states continue to employ it in lethal injection drug cocktails. The Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the use of midazolam did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
The use of midazolam and the accelerated execution schedule for the eight Arkansas inmates, which will place even greater pressure on the staff responsible for carrying out the killings, guarantees further botched executions.
“You are just asking for something to go wrong—they are putting their team in a really difficult spot,” Jennifer Moreno, a staff attorney with the Berkeley Law Death Penalty Clinic, told The Guardian .
Not surprisingly, Arkansas is having difficulties finding enough volunteers to witness the executions. State law requires six to twelve “respectable citizens,” over the age of 21 with no felony criminal history and not related to the death row inmate or victim, to witness the execution and confirm compliance with state death penalty laws.
Seeking volunteers, the state’s Department of Corrections Director Wendy Kelley recently spoke to members of the Little Rock Rotary Club 99.
“You seem to be a group that does not have felony backgrounds and are over 21,” she told the members, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “So if you’re interested in serving in that area, in this serious role, just call my office.”
According to the acting president of the Club, Bill Booker, members of the audience initially thought Kelley was joking. After a few uncomfortable laughs, it soon dawned on the audience that she was speaking seriously.
“What I suspect is that some people might support the death penalty, but when it comes to witnessing something like that, it’s a different story,” Booker told the Gazette. “It may cause emotional trauma for quite a while. It would be one of the most significant things you’ll ever see in your life.”
“I can’t imagine she will get a lot of volunteers,” Rotarian Charlotte Gadberry told the Gazette. “I don’t think I could handle it. I’m not real sure how I feel about the death penalty, but it seems like there should be a better way of treating our fellow man.”
Executions take a heavy toll not only on witnesses, but the staff charged with carrying out the barbaric practice. Dr. Allen Ault, who gave the order for five executions in 1994 and 1995 as the commissioner of the department of corrections in Georgia, still has nightmares about the men he sent to death. He later discovered that members of his team also suffered psychological distress.
“What I did was much more premeditated than any of the murders committed by those I executed,” he told the Guardian in a story on the planned Arkansas executions . “You are taking a totally defenseless person, planning, premeditating, even rehearsing, then killing him—any sane person other than a psychopath would be dramatically affected by that.”
In a letter sent to Governor Hutchinson on Wednesday, nearly two dozen officials raised concerns over the multiple execution schedule, including the effects on the execution staff. These concerns were dismissed by Hutchinson, who argued that the accelerated execution schedule would be “more efficient and less stressful” for the staff.
“If the governor is so hot on this,” Ault remarked to the Guardian, “he ought to go down to the death chamber and do it himself. But he won’t, they never do. Politicians are never in the room when it happens, they never have to suffer anything.”
According to data from the DPIC, 1,148 people have been executed in the United States since 1976, when the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty. There are currently 2,905 inmates on death row. Six inmates have been executed so far in 2017 and an additional 35 prisoners, including the eight death row inmates in Arkansas, are scheduled for execution this year.
While the number of executions in such a short period of time being planned by Arkansas is unprecedented, it is not a complete aberration. No state has carried out eight executions in one month since Texas did so twice in 1997.
Two or more executions on the same day has occurred only ten times in the past 40 years, four of which took place in Arkansas, according to the DPIC. No state has ever conducted more than one double execution in the same week, and a double execution has never been successfully completed using midazolam. When Oklahoma attempted a double execution on April 29, 2014 using midazolam, it had to block the second one after botching the execution of Clayton Lockett.

Tom Price Intervened on Rule That Would Hurt Drug Profits, the Same Day He Acquired Drug Stock

While in Congress, HHS Secretary Tom Price acted to help kill a rule that would hurt drug company profits shortly after his broker bought him up to $90,000 worth of pharmaceutical stock.

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By Robert Faturechi

On the same day the stockbroker for then-Georgia Congressman Tom Price bought him up to $90,000 of stock in six pharmaceutical companies last year, Price arranged to call a top U.S. health official, seeking to scuttle a controversial rule that could have hurt the firms’ profits and driven down their share prices, records obtained by ProPublica show.
Stock trades made by Price while he served in Congress came under scrutiny at his confirmation hearings to become President Trump’s secretary of health and human services. The lawmaker, a physician, traded hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of shares in health-related companies while he voted on and sponsored legislation affecting the industry, but Price has said his broker acted on his behalf without his involvement or knowledge. ProPublica previously reported that his trading is said to have been under investigationby federal prosecutors.
On March 17, 2016, Price’s broker purchased shares worth between $1,000 and $15,000 each in Eli Lilly, Amgen, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, McKesson, Pfizer and Biogen. Previous reports have noted that, a month later, Price was among lawmakers from both parties who signed onto a bill that would have blocked a rule proposed by the Obama administration, which was intended to remove the incentive for doctors to prescribe expensive drugs that don’t necessarily improve patient outcomes.
What hasn’t been previously known is Price’s personal appeal to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services about the rule, called the Medicare Part B Drug Payment Model.
The same day as the stock trade, Price’s legislative aide, Carla DiBlasio, emailed health officials to follow up on a request she had made to set up a call with Patrick Conway, the agency’s chief medical officer. In her earlier emails, DiBlasio said the call would focus on payments for joint replacement procedures. But that day, she mentioned a new issue.
“Chairman Price may briefly bring up ... his concerns about the new Part B drug demo, as well,” she wrote. “Congressman Price really appreciates the opportunity to have an open conversation with Dr. Conway, so we really appreciate you keeping the lines of communication open.”
The call was scheduled for the following week, according to the emails.
An HHS spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment from Price. DiBlasio and Conway didn’t respond to questions about the phone call.
The proposed rule drew wide opposition from members of both parties as well as industry lobbyists and some patient advocacy groups. It was meant to change a system under which the government reimburses doctors the average sales price for drugs administered in their offices or inside clinics, along with a 6 percent bonus. Some health analysts say that bonus encourages doctors to pad their profits by selecting more expensive treatments.
Critics argued that the rule might cause Medicare enrollees to lose access to lifesaving drugs. Lawmakers worried the federal government was potentially endangering patients and turning them into guinea pigs in a wide-scale experiment in cost savings.
However, supporters of the rule said the experiment in payments was the kind of drastic action needed to rein in soaring health costs. “We are actively reforming every other aspect of our health-care system to pay for value except pharmaceuticals,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said at the time. “Drug manufacturers are the only entity that can charge Medicare anything they want.”
The six companies that Price invested in were steadfastly opposed to the rule. McKesson formally warned investors in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that such a change could hurt share prices. The firms lobbied the government to kill the plan.
And at two of the six companies Price invested in, people who used to work for the congressman were part of the lobbying effort.
Price’s former chief of staff, Matt McGinley, lobbied House members for Amgen, disclosure records show. Another former Price aide, Keagan Lenihan, lobbied on behalf of McKesson, where she was director of government relations at the time. Lenihan has since reunited with Price, returning to government to work as a senior adviser to her old boss at HHS.
Neither McGinley nor Lenihan responded to requests for comment.
Although Price said he wasn’t aware of his broker’s trades at the time they were made, he would have learned of his holdings no later than April 2016 when he signed and filed his latest financial disclosure forms. In earlier disclosures, Price signed forms listing his other health-related holdings, which included some drug stocks.
Price’s personal intervention raises more questions about the overlap between his investments and his work as a member of Congress.
According to House ethics guidelines, “contacting an executive branch agency” represents “a degree of advocacy above and beyond that involved in voting” on legislation where a financial conflict of interest may exist.
“Such actions may implicate the rules and standards ... that prohibit the use of one‘s official position for personal gain,” the guidelines state. “Whenever a Member is considering taking any such action on a matter that may affect his or her personal financial interests, the Member should first contact the Standards Committee for guidance.”
Tom Rust, chief counsel for the House Ethics Committee, declined to comment, saying any consultations with members of Congress are confidential.
In December, after Trump was elected and named Price as his choice to lead HHS, Obama administration health officials scrapped their plan to change the drug reimbursement system. “The complexity of the issues and the limited time available led to the decision not to finalize the rule at this time,” a spokesman said.

Bernie Sanders Wants to Expand Medicare to Everybody — Exactly What Its Architects Wanted

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BERNIE SANDERS DOESN’T just want to play defense on health care — he’s introducing a bill that would expand the Medicare program to everybody in America, creating a single-payer health care system.
Such a system would wipe out inefficiencies in our current, private insurance-run system, and polls very well — yet it is opposed by the health care industry and the Democratic and Republican establishments that relies on them for campaign cash.
But creating a “Medicare-for-all,” single-payer health insurance system for all Americans would be fulfilling the dream of those who created the Medicare system in the first place in 1965.

Medicare’s architects ended up compromising with Congress and establishing a system that offered public-run health insurance just for the elderly, but they never intended for only retirees to benefit from the program.

Medicare’s Roots and a Vision Unfulfilled
Yale political scientist Theodore Marmore, commenting on Medicare, once wrote that no “other industrial democracy” other than the United States “has compulsory health insurance for its elderly citizens alone, and none started a program with such a beneficiary group.”
The reason Medicare was offered only to senior citizens is a tale of legislative compromise, not intellectual intent.
Since Theodore Roosevelt ran on a platform of health insurance for all industrial workers as a presidential candidate for the Bull Moose Party in 1912, offering government-backed health insurance to workers has been a progressive cause. Franklin Roosevelt proposed guaranteeing a right to health care shortly before his death; his successor Harry Truman worked hard to pass a form of single-payer health insurance, but was defeated in Congress after a smear campaign led by the American Medical Association that associated the president’s plan with the Soviet Union.
Thus reformers decided to focus on the most sympathetic part of the population, which the health insurance industry had the least interest in covering: the elderly.
Robert Ball was the commissioner of Social Security under presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, and one of the officials who was involved in the push to create Medicare. In 1995, he wrote a short history of how the Johnson administration and its allies in civic society passed Medicare for the journal Health Affairs.
For persons who are trying to understand what we were up to, the first broad point to keep in mind is that all of us who developed Medicare and fought for it — including Nelson Cruikshank and Lisbeth Schorr of the AFL-CIO and [Under Secretary for Health, Education, and Welfare] Wilbur Cohen, [long-time Social Security administration official] Alvin David, [the Health Insurance Benefits Advisory Council’s] Bill Fullerton, [Social Security Administration officials] Art Hess, Ida Merriam, Irv Wolkstein, myself, and others at the Social Security Administration — had been advocates of universal national health insurance.  We all saw insurance for the elderly as a fallback position, which we advocated solely because it seemed to have the best chance politically. Although the public record contains some explicit denials, we expected Medicare to be a first step toward universal national health insurance, perhaps with “Kiddicare” as another step.
After the passage of the initial program, Johnson administration officials didn’t wait long before calling for expanding health coverage. Johnson explained to Congress in his 1968 State of the Union address that he wanted a “child health program to provide, over the next five years, for families unable to afford it, access to health services from prenatal care of the mother through the child’s first year.” Cohen was tasked by the president to design the program, which Ball refers to above as “Kiddie Care.”
The war in Vietnam and Johnson’s fraying political coalition made Kiddie Care a vision that remained unfulfilled. Today, the United States continues to have the highest infant mortality rate in the industrialized world.
All that Sanders is trying to do is fulfill the original promise of Medicare, by expanding it to everyone.

GOP Lawmakers Now Admit Years of Obamacare Repeal Votes Were a Sham

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IT IS HARD to overestimate the role of the Affordable Care Act in the Republican resurgence.
Over the last seven years, the GOP has won successive elections by highlighting problems with Obamacare, airing more than $235 million in negative ads slamming the law, and staging more than 50 high-profile repeal votes. In 2016 every major Republican presidential candidate, including Donald Trump, campaigned on a pledge to quickly get rid of it.
Now in total control of Congress and the White House, some GOP legislators are saying that the political assault on Obamacare was an exercise in cynical politics, and that an outright repeal was never on the table.
“We have Republicans who do not want to repeal Obamacare,” said Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., on Sirius XM Patriot on Wednesday.
“They may have campaigned that way, they may have voted that way a couple of years ago when it didn’t make any difference,” Brooks continued. “But now that it makes a difference, there seems to not be the majority support that we need to pass legislation that we passed 50 or 60 times over five or six years.”
Listen to Rep. Brooks’s comments below:
Likewise, Rep. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., one of the lawmakers who came into power by riding the anti-ACA Tea Party wave in 2010, and who once elected pledged to “repeal, defund, delay, and dismantle Obamacare,” recently conceded in a candid interview with the Delaware County Daily Times that previous repeal efforts were a sham.
Asked if the years of votes against the ACA were simply “ceremonial,” since Republicans knew that any serious repeal bill would be vetoed by President Barack Obama, Meehan responded “yes.”
“I don’t think anyone would quarrel with the idea that they were largely position votes,” Meehan continued. “They were as political as they were anything else because there was a recognition that those were unlikely to be moved.”
Republicans expected Hillary Clinton to win the election last year, and had not planned for being in a position to actually pass a repeal effort this year, said Meehan. But after Trump’s victory, the GOP leadership thought something had to be done on their campaign promises, and that’s why they attempted to move forward with the American Health Care Act.
Listen to Rep. Meehan’s comments below:
Other Republican lawmakers have made similar remarks in recent days.
“You know, I think maybe its easier to run on these platitudes, run on a platform like this,” said Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., when asked by local radio station News Talk 1290 if Republicans ran on repeal “simply to get elected or re-elected.”
Bacon, admitting that he supports provisions of the law, including coverage for pre-existing conditions, noted that governing can be very different from campaigning. “Sometimes things sound easier when you’re running,” Bacon added.
Another candid comment came from Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who told reporters last Friday that the dozens of repeal votes were cast in the past without any plan for viable legislation.
“Sometimes you’re playing fantasy football and sometimes you’re in the real game,” Barton told Talking Points Memo.
“We knew the president, if we could get a repeal bill to his desk, would almost certainly veto it. This time we knew if it got to the president’s desk it would be signed.”
Even House Speaker Paul Ryan, shortly after his legislation to overhaul the health care system was pulled from a vote, said that Republicans weren’t ready to meet promises on repealing and replacing Obamacare — an implicit concession that previous repeal votes were merely symbolic.
“We were a 10-year opposition party, where being against things was easy to do,” Ryan said, adding that his party wasn’t prepared to be the “governing party.”
“We will get there,” Ryan added, “but we weren’t there today.”
After the defeat of Ryan’s legislation last week, the speaker called Obamacare the “law of the land” that will remain “for the foreseeable future.”

Following the embarrassing admission, conservative donors and some White House officials have mounted a campaign to revive a repeal effort, though there are few details about the type of repeal effort would muster support among the hard-right conservatives and moderates who sank the last attempt.

Indigenous and Environmental Groups Sue to Block Trump's Keystone XL Permit

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By Mike Ludwig

Environmental and Indigenous groups filed two lawsuits yesterday challenging the Trump administration's recent decision to issue a cross-border permit for the Keystone XL pipeline that would bisect the nation and carry carbon-heavy crude oil from the tar sands of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
Last week, President Trump issued a ceremonial "presidential permit" to TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, and instructed the State Department to reverse a 2015 decision by the Obama administration to deny a federal permit needed for construction. The State Department quickly issued the permit, which is now being challenged by environmental groups.
Tom Goldtooth, director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the groups challenging the permit, said President Trump is breaking "established environmental laws" and treaties with Native Americans in his attempt to push the pipeline through.
"Indigenous peoples' lands and waters are not here to be America's environmental sacrifice zone," Goldtooth said in a statement.
Opposition to fossil fuel infrastructure projects like major oil pipelines has become central to the movements for climate justice and Native rights. Over the past seven months, the Native-lead resistance organized by the Standing Rock Sioux and others to the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota inspired people to action around the country and the world, and resistance to the pipeline's southern leg in Louisiana has also taken form.
The Indigenous Environmental Network joined the North Coast Rivers Alliance in challenging Trump's Keystone XL permit under several federal environmental laws, including laws protecting endangered species and bald eagles. The groups also say the State Department's federally required review of the pipeline's environmental impacts is inadequate and was prepared by a contractor with substantial conflicts of interest due to its close ties with the oil and gas industry.
In a separate lawsuit filed on Thursday, six environmental groups argue the State Department's environmental review, now three years old, is inadequate and out of date. The groups also say the Trump administration broke the Administrative Procedures Act, the law governing how federal agencies establish regulations, by "arbitrarily" reversing the Obama-era decision to block the pipeline. The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management, which is expected to issue its own permit for the pipeline soon, is also named as a defendant. 
Tar sands oil is one of the "planet's most environmentally destructive energy sources" and is expected to contribute to climate disruption, according to the six groups' complaint. Tar sands crude is particularly heavy and viscous, making it very difficult to clean up in the event of a spill. The pipeline would carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada's tar sands across the country each day. 
"The Trump administration broke the law by arbitrarily approving the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline," said Anthony Swift, a project director at the National Resources Defense Council, of the groups that filed the lawsuit. "And it ignored public calls to update and correct a required environmental impact statement that should have led to one conclusion: Piping some of the dirtiest oil on the planet through America's heartland would put at grave risk our land, water and climate."
Under President Obama, the State Department took years deliberating over the Keystone XL permit before ruling in 2015 that the pipeline was contrary to national interests, such as combating global warming. During those years of deliberation, Keystone XL became a political football in Congress and, for environmentalists, a potent symbol of the dangers posed by fossil fuels. Protesters swarmed Washington to oppose it.
Trump is now undoing Obama's climate legacy piece by piece. Earlier this week, the Trump administration formally began the process of dismantling carbon fuel and energy standards designed to help the United States fulfill international climate agreements and stave off the worst effects of anthropogenic climate disruption.
The president has also lifted environmental restrictions on coal mining and called on federal agencies to expeditiously approve permits for the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.
Environmentalists have pledged to challenge Trump's assault on environmental and climate protections in court and warned Republicans in Congress that voters would punish them in the midterms for rolling back Obama-era environmental regulations aimed at reducing air and water pollution.
Both lawsuits against Trump's Keystone XL permit were filed in a federal district court in Montana and seek an immediate injunction, which could stall construction of the pipeline.
The lawsuits are not the pipeline's only roadblocks. State regulators have yet to approve a plan for the pipeline's path in Nebraska, where the project is not popular among landowners.
Keystone XL and other pipelines have come to represent a political ideology that recklessly values private profits over people and the future of the Earth, and activists are expected to resist their construction outside of court as well. Indigenous activists will continue to be on the front lines.
"For too long, the US government has pushed around Indigenous peoples and undervalued our inherent rights, sovereignty, culture and our responsibilities as guardians of Mother Earth and all life, while fueling catastrophic extreme weather and climate change with an addiction to fossil fuels," Goldtooth said. 

Jeff Sessions admits crime is near historic lows despite his past warnings

Attorney general, who has described ‘dangerous permanent trend’ in crime rates, acknowledges improvement but says: ‘Hope is not a strategy’

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Jeff Sessions, who has warned of an American crime epidemic since taking on the role of attorney general, admitted to a crowd in St Louis consisting mostly of law enforcement members that US crime remains near historic lows, despite a recent uptick.
“Murder rates are half of what they were in 1980. We have driven the violent crime rate down to almost half of what it was at its peak,” Sessions said. Sessions has previously said a recent crime increase was indicative of a “dangerous permanent trend”, a contention criminologists have said has “no evidence” to support it.
But, Sessions’ brief concession was really just a prelude to a larger point. The attorney general reiterated fears that he has expressed since his nomination by Donald Trump that the country is on a path to a more violent future.
“While we can hope for the best, hope is not a strategy. When crime rates move in the wrong direction, they can move fast,” Sessions said.
Sessions’ remarks were delivered just a few miles from Ferguson, Missouri, where nearly three years ago, the death of Michael Brown inspired a wave of protests and activism against the excessive use of force by police officers.
A justice department report in the wake of the unrest uncovered rank racial discrimination by the police department and exploitation by the city bureaucracy aimed at black residents. Sessions has previously said that he hasn’t read the report, or other similar ones produced by the Obama-era justice department, and that he would like his department to not produce or follow any more like them because of their impact on the morale of law enforcement.
“Unfortunately, in recent years, law enforcement as a whole has been unfairly maligned and blamed for the unacceptable deeds of a few bad actors,” Sessions said on Friday.
Sessions noted his recent call for US prosecutors to ramp up their efforts against violent and drug criminals as an example of the type of strategy he is directing law enforcement to adopt.
St Louis had the most murders in the US per capita in 2015 and has been one of the most dangerous cities in the country for more than a decade. It has also seen increased drug activity recently, probably inspiring Sessions’ visit to push the administration’s narrative that crime rates will soon be out of control.
Sessions paid lip service to crime prevention efforts and programs as something his justice department was “looking at”, but devoted the majority of his remarks in St Louis to enforcement.
That struck community advocates as misguided, or at least the wrong point of emphasis. “One outreach worker can do more to reduce crime in a neighborhood than five police officers can,” said James Clark, vice-president of community outreach for the St Louis not-for-profit group Better Family Life.
“If we continue to lay the issue of crime and violence at the feet of the police department, then that’s a very short-sighted, not well thought-out approach.”
The St Louis city alderman Jeffrey Boyd added: “Let’s remind ourselves of when Ronald Reagan came into office and there was this war on drugs campaign, and then Bill Clinton came in with ‘three strikes you’re out’. It didn’t help the African American community or the poor community. It ended up being a disaster generations later,” Boyd said, noting the disproportionate impact that mass incarceration has had on the black community.
Boyd lost three male relatives to gun violence in 2015 alone and represents the area of the city the Guardian identified in January as the most violent neighborhood in the nation.
“I would have been more excited if he was coming here to say we’re going to put more money into prevention,” Boyd said, emphasizing the value of programs such as the city’s current multimillion-dollar initiative to pull down abandoned structures and replace them with green space. “Eliminating slum and blight is always a great opportunity to minimize some of the violence in the neighborhood because it takes away hiding spaces.”
Clark’s Better Family Life (BFL) emphasizes a similar approach to the drug and violence problems that trouble the city, especially its northern, predominantly black neighborhoods.
“It takes a grassroots, hands-on approach to stabilize the hardest-hit neighborhoods in the St Louis Metropolitan area,” Clark said.
“We’ve started a lightbulb campaign because, of course, if you have a light on, if the whole block is lit up, then prostitution is less likely, drug usage is less likely, and crime is less likely.” BFL also engages in what Clark calls triage in the most vulnerable neighborhoods, offering drug treatment, condom distribution and general outreach.