Tuesday, June 13, 2017

How TV Cultivates Authoritarianism – And Helped Elect Trump

Television tends to distill complex issues into simpler forms, while the use of violence as an approach to solving problems is glorified.

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Many gallons of ink (and megabytes of electronic text) have been devoted to explaining the surprise victory of Donald Trump.

Reasons range from white working-class resentment, to FBI Director James Comey’s decision to reopen the Hillary Clinton email investigation, to low turnout. All likely played some role. It would be a mistake to think the election turned on one single factor.

However, a study we conducted during the campaign – just published in the Journal of Communication – suggests an additional factor that should be added into the mix: television.

We’re not talking about cable news or the billions in free media given to Trump or political advertising.

Rather, we’re talking about regular, everyday television – the sitcoms, cop shows, workplace dramas and reality TV series that most heavy viewers consume for at least several hours a day – and the effect this might have on your political leanings.

An Authoritarian Ethos

Studies from the past 40 years have shown that regular, heavy exposure to television can shape your views on violence, gender, science, health, religion, minorities and more.
Meanwhile, 20 years ago, we conducted studies in the U.S. and Argentina that found that the more you watch television, the more likely you’ll embrace authoritarian tendencies and perspectives. Heavy American and Argentinian television viewers have a greater sense of fear, anxiety and mistrust. They value conformity, see the “other” as a threat and are uncomfortable with diversity.
There’s probably a reason for this. Gender, ethnic and racial stereotypes continue to be prevalent in many shows. Television tends to distill complex issues into simpler forms, while the use of violence as an approach to solving problems is glorified. Many fictional programs, from “Hawaii Five-0” to “The Flash,” feature formulaic violence, with a brave hero who protects people from danger and restores the rightful order of things.
In short, television programs often feature an authoritarian ethos when it comes to how characters are valued and how problems are solved.

Viewing Habits And Trump Support

Given this, we were intrigued when, during the campaign, we saw studies suggesting that holding authoritarian values was a powerful predictor of support for Trump.
We wondered: If watching television contributes to authoritarianism, and if authoritarianism is a driving force behind support for Trump, then might television viewing – indirectly, by way of cultivating authoritarianism – contribute to support for Trump?
About two months before the party conventions were held, we conducted an online national survey with over 1,000 adults. We asked people about their preferred candidate. (At the time, the candidates in the race were Clinton, Sanders and Trump.)
We then questioned them about their television viewing habits – how they consumed it, and how much time they spent watching.
We also asked a series of questions used by political scientists to measure a person’s authoritarian tendencies – specifically, which qualities are more important for a child to have: independence or respect for their elders; curiosity or good manners; self-reliance or obedience; being considerate or being well-behaved. (In each pair, the second answer is considered to reflect more authoritarian values.)
Confirming our own earlier studies, heavy viewers scored higher on the authoritarian scale. And confirming others’ studies, more authoritarian respondents strongly leaned toward Trump.
More importantly, we also found that authoritarianism “mediated” the effect of watching a lot of television on support for Trump. That is, heavy viewing and authoritarianism, taken together in sequence, had a significant relationship with preference for Trump. This was unaffected by gender, age, education, political ideology, race and news viewing.
We’re not the first to note that entertainment can have political consequences. In a Slate article shortly after the election, writer David Canfield argued that prime-time television is filled with programming that is “xenophobic,” “fearmongering,” “billionaire-boosting” and “science-rejecting.” What we think of as “harmless prime-time escapism,” he continued, actually “reinforces the exclusionary agenda put forth by the Trump campaign.” Our data reveal that this was not simply speculation.
None of this means that television played the decisive role in the triumph of Donald Trump. But Trump offered a persona that fit perfectly with the authoritarian mindset nurtured by television.
The ConversationWhat we think of as “mere entertainment” can have a very real effect on American politics.

America Last

Will Trump Set a Record for the History Books? 

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By Tom Engelhardt

In its own inside-out, upside-down way, it’s almost wondrous to behold. As befits our president’s wildest dreams, it may even prove to be a record for the ages, one for the history books. He was, after all, the candidate who sensed it first.  When those he was running against, like the rest of Washington’s politicians, were still insisting that the United States remained at the top of its game, not an -- but the -- “indispensable nation,” the only truly “exceptional” one on the face of the Earth, he said nothing of the sort.  He campaigned on America’s decline, on this country’s increasing lack of exceptionality, its potential dispensability.  He ran on the single word “again” -- as in “make America great again” -- because (the implication was) it just isn’t anymore.  And he swore that he and he alone was the best shot Americans, or at least non-immigrant white Americans, had at ever seeing the best of days again. 
In that sense, he was our first declinist candidate for president and if that didn’t tell you something during the election season, it should have. No question about it, he hit a chord, rang a bell, because out in the heartland it was possible to sense a deepening reality that wasn’t evident in Washington.  The wealthiest country on the planet, the most militarily powerful in the history of... well, anybody, anywhere, anytime (or so we were repeatedly told)... couldn’t win a war, not even with the investment of trillions of taxpayer dollars, couldn’t do anything but spread chaos by force of arms.
Meanwhile, at home, despite all that wealth, despite billionaires galore, including the one running for president, despite the transnational corporate heaven inhabited by Google and Facebook and Apple and the rest of the crew, parts of this country and its infrastructure were starting to feel distinctly (to use a word from another universe) Third Worldish.  He sensed that, too.  He regularly said things like this: “We spent six trillion dollars in the Middle East, we got nothing… And we have an obsolete plane system. We have obsolete airports. We have obsolete trains. We have bad roads. Airports.”  And this: “Our airports are like from a third-world country.”  And on the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, he couldn’t have been more on the mark.
In parts of the U.S., white working-class and middle-class Americans could sense that the future was no longer theirs, that their children would not have a shot at what they had had, that they themselves increasingly didn’t have a shot at what they had had.  The American Dream seemed to be gaining an almost nightmarish sheen, given that the real value of the average wage of a worker hadn’t increased since the 1970s; that the cost of a college education had gone through the roof and the educational debt burden for children with dreams of getting ahead was now staggering; that unions were cratering; that income inequality was at a historic high; and... well, you know the story, really you do.  In essence, for them the famed American Dream seemed ever more like someone else’s trademarked property. 
Indispensable? Exceptional? This country? Not anymore. Not as they were experiencing it.
And because of that, Donald Trump won the lottery.  He answered the $64,000 question.  (If you’re not of a certain age, Google it, but believe me it’s a reference in our president’s memory book.)  He entered the Oval Office with almost 50% of the vote and a fervent base of support for his promised program of doing it all over again, 1950s-style.
It had been one hell of a pitch from the businessman billionaire.  He had promised a future of stratospheric terrificness, of greatness on an historic scale. He promised to keep the evil ones -- the rapists, job thieves, and terrorists -- away, to wall them out or toss them out or ban them from ever traveling here.  He also promised to set incredible records, as only a mega-businessman like him could conceivably do, the sort of all-American records this country hadn’t seen in a long, long time.
And early as it is in the Trump era, it seems as if, on one score at least, he could deliver something for the record books going back to the times when those recording the acts of rulers were still scratching them out in clay or wax. At this point, there’s at least a chance that Donald Trump might preside over the most precipitous decline of a truly dominant power in history, one only recently considered at the height of its glory.  It could prove to be a fall for the ages.  Admittedly, that other superpower of the Cold War era, the Soviet Union, imploded in 1991, which was about the fastest way imaginable to leave the global stage.  Still, despite the “evil empire” talk of that era, the USSR was always the secondary, the weaker of the two superpowers.  It was never Rome, or Spain, or Great Britain.    
When it comes to the United States, we’re talking about a country that not so long ago saw itself as the only great power left on planet Earth, “the lone superpower.”  It was the one still standing, triumphant, at the end of a history of great power rivalry that went back to a time when the wooden warships of various European states first broke out into a larger world and began to conquer it.  It stood by itself at, as its proponents liked to claim at the time, the end of history.
Applying Hard Power to a Failing World

As we watch, it seems almost possible to see President Trump, in real time, tweet by tweet, speech by speech, sword dance by sword dance, intervention by intervention, act by act, in the process of dismantling the system of global power -- of “soft power,” in particular, and of alliances of every sort -- by which the U.S. made its will felt, made itself a truly global hegemon.  Whether his “America first” policies are aimed at creating a future order of autocrats, or petro-states, or are nothing more than the expression of his libidinous urges and secret hatreds, he may already be succeeding in taking down that world order in record fashion. 
Despite the mainstream pieties of the moment about the nature of the system Donald Trump appears to be dismantling in Europe and elsewhere, it was anything but either terribly “liberal” or particularly peaceable.  Wars, invasions, occupations, the undermining or overthrow of governments, brutal acts and conflicts of every sort succeeded one another in the years of American glory.  Past administrations in Washington had a notorious weakness for autocrats, just as Donald Trump does today.  They regularly had less than no respect for democracy if, from Iran to Guatemala to Chile, the will of the people seemed to stand in Washington’s way.  (It is, as Vladimir Putin has been only too happy to point out of late, an irony of our moment that the country that has undermined or overthrown or meddled in more electoral systems than any other is in a total snit over the possibility that one of its own elections was meddled with.)  To enforce their global system, Americans never shied away from tortureblack sitesdeath squadsassassinations, and other grim practices.  In those years, the U.S. planted its military on close to 1,000 overseas military bases, garrisoning the planet as no other country ever had. 
Nonetheless, the cancelling of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, threats against NAFTA, the undermining of NATO, the promise of protective tariffs on foreign goods (and the possible trade wars that might go with them) could go a long way toward dismantling the American global system of soft power and economic dominance as it has existed in these last decades.  If such acts and others like them prove effective in the months and years to come, they will leave only one kind of power in the American global quiver: hard military power, and its handmaiden, the kind of covert power Washington, through the CIA in particular, has long specialized in. If America’s alliances crack open and its soft power becomes too angry or edgy to pass for dominant power anymore, its massive machinery of destruction will still be left, including its vast nuclear arsenal.  While, in the Trump era, a drive to cut domestic spending of every sort is evident, more money is still slated to go to the military, already funded at levels not reached by combinations of other major powers. 
Given the last 15 years of history, it’s not hard to imagine what’s likely to result from the further elevation of military power: disaster.  This is especially true because Donald Trump has appointed to key positions in his administration a crew of generals who spent the last decade and a half fighting America’s catastrophic wars across the Greater Middle East.  They are not only notoriously incapable of thinking outside the box about the application of military power, but faced with the crisis of failed wars and failing states, of spreading terror movements and a growing refugee crisis across that crucial region, they can evidently only imagine one solution to just about any problem: more of the same.  More troops, more mini-surges, more military trainers and advisers, more air strikes, more drone strikes... more.
After a decade and a half of such thinking we already know perfectly well where this ends -- in further failure, more chaos and suffering, but above all in an inability of the U.S. to effectively apply its hard power anywhere in any way that doesn’t make matters worse.  Since, in addition, the Trump administration is filled with Iranophobes, including a president who has only recently fused himself to the Saudi royal family in an attempt to further isolate and undermine Iran, the possibility that a military-first version of American foreign policy will spread further is only growing.    
Such “more” thinking is typical as well of much of the rest of the cast of characters now in key positions in the Trump administration. Take the CIA, for instance.  Under its new director, Mike Pompeo (distinctly a “more” kind of guy and an Iranophobe of the first order), two key positions have reportedly been filled: a new chief of counterterrorism and a new head of Iran operations (recently identified as Michael D’Andrea, an Agency hardliner with the nickname “the Dark Prince”).  Here’s how Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Goldman of the New York Times recently described their similar approaches to their jobs (my emphasis added):
“Mr. D’Andrea’s new role is one of a number of moves inside the spy agency that signal a more muscular approach to covert operations under the leadership of Mike Pompeo, the conservative Republican and former congressman, the officials said. The agency also recently named a new chief of counterterrorism, who has begun pushing for greater latitude to strike militants.”
In other words, more! 
Rest assured of one thing, whatever Donald Trump accomplishes in the way of dismantling America’s version of soft power, “his” generals and intelligence operatives will handle the hard-power part of the equation just as “ably.”
The First American Laster?
If a Trump presidency achieves a record for the ages when it comes to the precipitous decline of the American global system, little as The Donald ever cares to share credit for anything, he will undoubtedly have to share it for such an achievement.  It’s true that kings, emperors, and autocrats, the top dogs of any moment, prefer to take all the credit for the “records” set in their time.  When we look back, however, it’s likely that President Trump will be seen as having given a tottering system that necessary push.  It will undoubtedly be clear enough by then that the U.S., seemingly at the height of any power’s power in 1991 when the Soviet Union disappeared, began heading for the exits soon thereafter, still enwreathed in self-congratulation and triumphalism. 
Had this not been so, Donald Trump would never have won the 2016 election.  It wasn’t he, after all, who gave the U.S. heartland an increasingly Third World feel.  It wasn’t he who spent those trillions of dollars so disastrously on invasions and occupations, dead-end wars, drone strikes and special ops raids, reconstruction and deconstruction in a never-ending war on terror that today looks more like a war for the spread of terror.  It wasn’t he who created the growing inequality gap in this country or produced all those billionaires amid a population that increasingly felt left in the lurch.  It wasn’t he who hiked college tuitions or increased the debt levels of the young or set roads and bridges to crumbling and created the conditions for Third World-style airports.
If both the American global and domestic systems hadn’t been rotting out before Donald Trump arrived on the scene, that “again” of his wouldn’t have worked.  Thought of another way, when the U.S. was truly at the height of its economic clout and power, American leaders felt no need to speak incessantly of how “indispensable” or “exceptional” the country was.  It seemed too self-evident to mention. Someday, some historian may use those very words in the mouths of American presidents and other politicians (and their claims, for instance, that the U.S. military was “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known”) as a set of increasingly defensive markers for measuring the decline of American power.
So here’s the question: When the Trump years (months?) come to an end, will the U.S. be not the planet’s most exceptional land, but a pariah nation?  Will that “again” still be the story of the year, the decade, the century? Will the last American Firster turn out to have been the first American Laster?  Will it truly be one for the record books?

Energy Department Cooks Up A Case Against Wind And Solar

Rick Perry Orders a Staff Report Showing Renewable Energy Harms the Electric Grid

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By Laura Vecsey

Energy Secretary Rick Perry is cooking up a case to stifle further federal support of renewable wind and solar energy. He’s ordered a dubiously sourced staff study that is aimed to paint renewables as an unreliable source for the nation’s electric grid.
The study, due June 23, seeks to determine whether federal tax and subsidy policies favoring renewable energy have burdened “baseload” coal-fired generation, putting power grid reliability at risk. It is being spearheaded by Energy Department political appointee Travis Fisher, who’s associated with a  Washington policy group that opposes almost any government aid for renewable energy.
Fisher wrote a 2015 report for the Institute for Energy Research that called clean energy policies “the single greatest emerging threat” to the nation’s electric power grid, and a greater threat to electric reliability than cyber attacks, terrorism or extreme weather.
ACTION BOX / What you can do about it
What Rick Perry does with the grid study will be the real test. With a campaign promise to “Bring Back Coal,’’ the Perry-ordered report could be used to help rewrite the Clean Power Plan.
The man shepherding this process forward is Travis Fisher, Senior Adviser, Department of Energy, Forrestal Building, 1000 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20585.
You can also write Rick Perry at that address. His email: The.Secretary@hq.doe.gov. Or you can Tweet at him that advanced energy technology is already reliable.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) wrote to Perry on behalf of other senators charging that a Koch Industries-led cabal is wrong to blame wind and solar for the demise of coal plants. 
The Institute for Energy Research and its advocacy arm, the American Energy Alliance, has been the “influential force in shaping Donald Trump’s plans to dismantle Obama administration climate initiatives,’’ according to Bloomberg News.
Travis Fisher (Linkedin photo)
Headed by Thomas Pyle, a former director of federal affairs for Koch Industries, IER has already delivered its fossil fuel industry wish list to the Trump administration. It’s part of the “America First Energy Plan” that was posted on the White House website on Jan. 20.
As a blueprint for quashing renewable energy research and development, Perry’s call for the study immediately signaled alarm. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) slammed the study as “anti-wind.” University of Texas’ Energy Institute experts called the question of whether renewables are killing coal “would be similar to asking in the late 1990s whether email was killing fax machines and snail mail.’’
letter from Advanced Energy Economy, American Wind Energy Association and Solar Energy Industries Association disputed the administration’s premise: “Policies supporting the deployment of these technologies are not playing an important role in the decline of coal and nuclear plants. Numerous studies have conclusively demonstrated that low natural gas prices and stagnant load growth are the principal factors behind the retirements in coal and nuclear plants.’’
Energy Department officials last week sought to reassure members of its electricity policy advisory panel that a grid reliability study “is gathering a range of viewpoints from experts at DOE’s national laboratories,” reported E&E News, a Washington new organization that covers energy issues.

Neo-Nazi with explosive materials, framed picture of Timothy McVeigh deemed “not a threat” and granted bail

Brandon Russell leads a neo-Nazi group and had bombmaking materials, but a judge granted him the option of bail

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A suspected neo-Nazi who had bomb-making materials inside his apartment, as well as copies of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and a framed picture of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, was granted bail by a judge because he argued there was not enough “convincing evidence” to prove he was a threat to others, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
A federal court document filed Monday by prosecutors stated that Brandon Russell, 21, was in possession of explosive materials because he intended to “kill civilians and target locations like power lines, nuclear reactors, and synagogues,” according to the Times. “That assertion is based on law enforcement interviews with Devon Arthurs, one of Russell’s three roommates who is accused of killing the other two at their Tampa Palms apartment,” the document continued.
Russell and Arthurs were two of four roommates living together in an apartment in Tampa, Florida. Arthurs murdered two of their roommates because, he claims, “they were neo-Nazis who had disrespected his conversion to Islam,” according to the Times. Arthurs also said he shot and killed the two because they had planned to carry out acts of domestic terrorism, according to the Times.
Arthurs attested that Russell had no involvement of the murders but also told authorities that Russell was the leader of the “Atomwaffen neo-Nazi group,” according to the Times. The police found Russell’s explosives during a search of the apartment while investigating the murder. The court document notes that after Russell had met with investigators, he admitted that the bomb-making materials belonged to him.
The following day, Russell “was charged with possession of an unregistered destructive device and unlawful storage of explosive material,” according to the Times. During a search of his car, investigators found two long guns as well as over 500 rounds of ammunition.
Last Friday U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas McCoun granted a request for Russell’s bail and said in his ruling, “I am unable to conclude there is clear and convincing evidence that Defendant represents a threat to any other person,” according to the Times.


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IF THERE’S ANYTHING Jeff Sessions hates more than answering rapid-fire questions in front of a packed Intelligence Committee hearing, it’s a bag of stinky bud. The Attorney General’s distaste for marijuana is well documented. His Reefer Madness-era alarmism is so anachronistic it’s almost quaint. Or at least it would be if he weren’t using its outdated data to launch an attack on states’ rights to authorize medical marijuana.
In May, Sessions asked congressional leaders to roll back federal protections for the drug that have been in place since 2014, according to a letter that became public Monday. Known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, these protections prevent the Justice Department from using federal funds to block states from crafting their own medical marijuana regulations. In his letter, Sessions complained that the amendment was keeping his department from enforcing other federal laws—namely, the Controlled Substances Act—citing the country’s “historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime” as justification.
Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that Session’s position directly contradicts the will of the American people; as of an April Quinnipiac poll, medical marijuana hit its highest levels of support in history, with 94 percent of voters approving of doctor-prescribed weed. Instead, let’s jump straight into why this is a totally bogus way to justify a new national drug enforcement policy.
While it’s true that yes, the US is in the midst of a “historic drug epidemic,” marijuana is not the drug that kills 91 Americans every single day. It is also not responsible for the quadrupling in overdose deaths in the US since 1999. In fact, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration—which Sessions oversees—no deaths from marijuana overdose have ever been recorded. The epidemic the AG referred to is, of course, the deadly opioid sort—drugs like oxycodone, methadone, heroin, and fentanyl. No one is losing family members to some THC oil.
Using this very real public health crisis to justify cracking down on medical marijuana isn’t just disingenuous, it’s irresponsible. Because marijuana, it turns out, is actually pretty great at managing chronic pain. In January, the National Academies of Science, Medicine and Engineering conducted the most thorough review of marijuana researchto date. Across numerous trials and experiments, the report found strong evidence that people treated for pain with marijuana were “more likely to experience a significant reduction in pain symptoms,” compared to a placebo.
That was pretty huge, because marijuana’s legal status as a Schedule 1 drug has severely limited the ability of researchers to test whether it can help patients deal with crippling pain, anxiety, insomnia, and nausea. It’s a classic, bureaucratic Catch-22: The DEA won’t change the legal status of marijuana unless the FDA determines its medical usefulness. The FDA can’t make that determination because the legal restrictions on the drug prevent researchers from running gold-standard clinical trials with it.
A meta-analysis published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found just 28 randomized clinical trials evaluating cannabis for chronic pain. Part of the reason for the paucity of pot trials is because whole plants and natural extracts aren’t patentable, so pharmaceutical companies have little incentive to pursue them. Plus the FDA doesn’t have an approval process for whole plants or other botanicals, just single molecules.
So instead, scientists are having to rely on observational, real-world data to form a picture of how marijuana might actually help solve the opioid epidemic, rather than contribute to it. So here are a few things Sessions might want to note:
States that permit medical marijuana have fewer opioid overdose deaths. According to a 2014 study in JAMA Internal Medicine, the 13 states that enacted medical cannabis laws before 2010 had a 25 percent lower average annual opioid overdose mortality rate. Painkiller prescriptions go way down after introducing medical marijuana laws. In a 2016 Health Affairs study, researchers found that doctors in states where medical MJ was permissible, prescribed (on average) 1,826 fewer painkiller doses for Medicare patients between 2010 and 2013. Chronic pain patients who use pot don’t need as many painkillers. A 2015 study in the Journal of Pain found that patients in Michigan who visited local dispensaries were 64 percent less likely to report opioid use, which suggests weed could actually substitute for some painkillers.
All of these studies looked at correlation, not causation, so it’s impossible to say for sure that access to medical marijuana will drive down opioid use and abuse. Marie McCormick, a public health researcher at Harvard who chaired this year’s NAS committee report says more research is needed to understand whether or not marijuana could be a substitute for serious painkillers. But it shouldn’t take a PhD or an MD to understand that cutting off people’s access to pot won’t make their symptoms go away. And pot, unlike opioids, doesn’t have a fatal dose.
McCormick says that’s something that states are starting to understand. “We’ve gotten really good feedback that our report is helping them set policies,” she said. “And at the end of the day it’s states that are basically running this thing.”
Well, they are for now. But not if Sessions gets his way. And that’s where researchers like McCormick start to get a little worried. “Once you’ve made up your mind about something, presenting alternative evidence only reinforces what you already think,” she says. Sessions thinks pot is ruining this country, not helping patients. “I really doubt whether this report or any other could convince the AG otherwise.”

US Senate Republicans moving forward on Obamacare repeal bill

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By Kate Randall 

The US Senate “working group” drafting the chamber’s version of the bill repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) appears to be moving closer to a vote on the Senate floor. The Senate leadership hopes to bring it to a vote before the July 4 recess or shortly thereafter.
House Republicans passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) early last month. That legislation guts Medicaid, the insurance program for the poor jointly administered by the federal government and the states that currently covers 74 million people.
The AHCA would cut $834 billion from Medicaid over a decade. The bill would effectively end Medicaid as an open-ended entitled program, by shifting federal funding to per capita caps or block grants, resulting in people who qualify being denied enrollment or having their benefits slashed.
The AHCA would also end the expansion of Medicaid under the program popularly known as Obamacare. The Congressing Budget Office (CBO) estimates that 14 million people would lose coverage under the AHCA by 2018; this figure would reach 23 million in 2026.
It would slash taxes for the rich, disproportionately taking aim at health coverage for the poor, older Americans and those with preexisting conditions.
Senate “moderates,” who originally signaled their opposition to ending the Medicaid expansion, are now indicating they could agree to phase out the program, but over a seven-year period. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has proposed three years.
The bill will be sent to the CBO to score before the vote. In a major break with Senate protocol, Republicans say there will be no committee hearings or mark-ups for the bill, but it will be brought straight to the floor for a vote. Democrats argue this is a strategy for minimizing time for opposition to the bill to build.
Senate conservatives are still concerned about the longer Medicaid expansion phase-out, as well as moves to dial back the waivers in the AHCA that would allow states to repeal various Obamacare regulations.
The Senate bill is expected to allow states to seek exemptions from ACA rules on what insurance companies are required to cover, known as essential health benefits. These waivers would allow states to allow the sale of policies that don’t include benefits such as maternity care, prescription drugs, emergency room visits, substance abuse treatment, and other vital health needs.
As the Senate bill now stands, however, states would not be allowed to seek waivers preventing people with preexisting conditions to be charged more for coverage. “There has to be a give and take, and right now it seems like conservatives are being told just to take it all and not get anything,” Dan Holler, a spokesman for the conservative group Heritage Action for America, said on Thursday.
Also on the table is retaining some of the ACA taxes on the wealthy in place at least for a while to reach the $133 billion savings goal that is required under Senate rules. As the Senate bill is shaping up, however, it will retain the majority of the AHCA’s reactionary features.
In a conveniently timed move, more health insurance plans across the country are beginning to exit the Obamacare marketplace, citing uncertainty around the ACA’s future. This has prompted continual calls from the Trump administration and Republicans that Obamacare is “exploding” and “collapsing” and is in urgent need of repeal and replacement.
According to Vox, in the past week the number of US counties with zero health insurers signed up to sell coverage in 2018 has doubled. There are now 38,000 Obamacare enrollees across 47 counties where no insurers want to participate in the ACA.
Last week, Anthem announced that it would exit the Ohio marketplace, leaving 20 counties and 15,000 Obamacare enrollees with no 2018 plan options. If Anthem were to exit the rest of the states where it currently sells ACA plans, 300,000 Obamacare enrollees would be left without coverage.
Blue Cross Blue Shield Kansas City quit the exchanges on May 24, citing “the uncertain direction of the market.”
Andy Slavitt, who served as Medicare administrator in the Obamacare administration, spoke the truth when he told Vox, “We elected to have a system that is completely market-based so companies get to make individual decisions.”
In other words, the ACA relies on the insurance companies to volunteer to sell their products on these public marketplaces. Just as they are virtually unhindered in the premiums they can charge, they are free to exit the marketplaces when it is not in their best profit interest.
These insurance market conditions are making passage of the Senate bill, and its reconciliation with the House version, an easier process for Trump and the Republicans. While congressional Democrats have made a few protests, the repeal and replacement of Obamacare is for the most part flying under the radar.
While they concentrate on Trump administration ties to Russia and whether or not the president has taped recordings of his conversation with fired FBI Director James Comey, the Democrats and mainstream media have had little to say about legislation, in whichever form it emerges, that will result in millions of Americans losing their health care coverage, or being plunged into poverty due to high premiums and out-of-pocket costs.
This is because they agree in principle with the subordination of the health needs of the vast majority of the population to the profit requirements of the corporations that control the giant hospital chains, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical industries and the Wall Street banks that dominate the economy.

Immigration raids strike Detroit: Dozens rounded up for deportation to Iraq war zone

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By Eric London and Niles Niemuth 

In a series of raids Sunday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested as many as 100 Iraqi immigrants in the Detroit metro area, including Muslims and many Chaldean Catholics, some of whom were reportedly captured while leaving church services.
Family members of the arrestees told the World Socialist Web Site that the detainees were sent to a for-profit prison four hours away near Youngstown, Ohio, from where they face immediate risk of deportation to Iraq.
Protesters held a demonstration at the Mother of God Catholic Church in Southfield yesterday, where friends and family of the arrestees wept and screamed denunciations of Trump and immigration officials.

Relatives say that deportation will be a “death sentence” due to the ongoing war and sectarian strife that has enveloped Iraq since the US invasion of 2003. While ICE claims they are only deporting dangerous criminals, relatives say some of the arrestees were convicted for crimes as minor as marijuana possession and that many of the convictions are decades old.
The decision by the Trump administration to deport refugees to Iraq explodes the claims that the US wars in Iraq and Syria are “humanitarian” interventions aimed at protecting the population. In violation of international law, the US government is sending the arrestees into an active warzone in a region that it continues to bomb. Iraq has been laid to waste by 25 years of permanent US-led war. The death toll is in the millions.
As the ICE raids were taking place Sunday, the Department of Defense issued a press release announcing that the US military launched seven air strikes in Iraq, hitting Bayji, Kisik, Mosul, and Tal Afar in recent days.
Family members were informed that their relatives could be sent to the Iraqi city of Erbil, located less than two hours by car from Mosul, a city under active siege where the US has killed thousands of civilians and where the US-backed invasion force has been accused of using the chemical white phosphorous against the population.
Mosul, which has been largely demolished by the US siege, is the seat of a leading Chaldean Catholic Church diocese and the home of ethnic Chaldeans, an Assyrian population whose roots in Iraq date back over 5,500 years.
Although the Chaldean minority in Iraq was not targeted by the secular regime of Saddam Hussein, persecution grew after the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91 as the US stoked sectarian conflict in the country’s northern Kurdish region in an effort to destabilize the Ba’athist government.

Conditions drastically worsened after the US invasion, which fueled sectarian warfare as the US military mobilized Shi’ite forces against insurgents in the majority Sunni areas, and both Islamic factions persecuted religious minorities like Yazidis and Chaldeans. Over 80 Chaldean churches have been bombed since the US occupation began.
Since the 2003 US invasion, Iraq’s total Christian population has fallen from 1.5 million to 400,000 due to death and emigration. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians fled to Syria after the US invasion, only to now find themselves trapped in the conflict raging there.
In order to stoke civil war and force the ouster of Bashar al-Assad in neighboring Syria, the US has backed an opposition dominated by Syria’s Al Qaeda affiliate, the Al Nusra Front, which has also carried out atrocities against Chaldeans in both Syria and Iraq. Al Qaeda is believed to be responsible for the 2008 assassination of Mosul’s Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahno.
In the last three years, ISIS has routinely destroyed Chaldean churches, killed religious officials, and desecrated ancient ruins. The Islamist group developed in Iraq and emerged in Syria under conditions where the US’s deliberate policy was to fuel violent religious conflict. In Iraq, the purpose is to keep the population divided and more easily dominated by Washington. In Syria, the aim is to bring down Assad.
Sunday’s round-up is the product of a deal made in March by the Trump administration with the Iraqi government that removed the country from the administration’s revised executive order barring travel from seven predominantly-Muslim nations. Under the terms of the deal, Iraq agreed to take deportees from the US, something the country has not done for years.

Many Chaldeans at Monday’s demonstration told the WSWS they voted for Trump because he claimed he would protect Christians in Iraq and Syria. An older Chaldean man whose brother was arrested said, “I voted for Trump, it’s not fair. This is our home, where are we to go in Iraq? We have no country, that’s why we came to America!”
Steve, another Chaldean protester whose brother was arrested, said, “Trump lied, he said he would go after people without legal papers, but everyone they arrested had papers. My brother went in for a regular check-up with immigration authorities, and he got picked up at home one week later. If they took your brother, father, sister, or mother, how would you feel? What would you do?”
Scenes like the one that played out in a church parking lot in Michigan on Monday afternoon are becoming increasingly common in the US. In the first three months following his inauguration, Trump’s administration arrested over 40,000 immigrants, an escalation from the already high numbers deported under Barack Obama.
Across the country, parents of all backgrounds are being torn from their children and from one another. Many, including those from the Middle East, Central America and Southeast Asia, will be sent back to impoverished disaster zones suffering from the impact of US imperialist intervention.
The number of lives shattered by these policies is in the tens of millions, and yet there is near total silence from the Democratic Party on Trump’s mass deportation program.
Instead, the Democratic Party is throwing its entire political energy behind advancing unsubstantiated neo-McCarthyite claims that Trump is an agent of Russia, amplified by highly publicized Senate hearings.
But the Democrats’ attempt to whip up public hysteria over “foreign meddling” may exacerbate xenophobic confusion, further poisoning the political climate and creating conditions in which “foreigners” and immigrants may find themselves the victims of physical attacks. The Democrats’ anti-Russian campaign is providing right-wing paramilitary groups and the Bannon-Miller faction of the Trump White House with a springboard to direct social anger against immigrants.
If public hearings were held on Trump’s deportation program, facts would emerge that would shock tens of millions and educate them on the horrific conditions immigrants face.
For example, the government is setting up a network of camps to house hundreds of thousands of immigrants, including those who have committed no crimes. The government has considered mobilizing 100,000 National Guard troops across 11 western and southwestern states to incarcerate millions of immigrants. ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are filled with thousands of fascistic officers who describe beating and arresting immigrants as “fun.” Violations of immigrants’ due process rights are so routine they are treated as par for the course by immigration attorneys and judges.
The Democrats have not and will not demand hearings to investigate these widespread violations of democratic rights, in part because Barack Obama’s administration carried out similar crimes and deported 2.7 million immigrants. The task of bringing the Trump administration to justice for the attacks on immigrants therefore falls to the working class.