Two Western Leaders came to Washington

Last week, the two leaders of the western world met with the US President, who has ceded the US role in the world. Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, and Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany visited with Donald Trump.

Of course, the US has the most powerful military in the world. We’d better as we spend far more than other countries. Yet, with our pulling back on diplomacy and the number of diplomats, with our imposition of tariffs on even our allies, with our retrenching from global agreements and with an unprecedented level of untruthfulness, we have ceded our global leadership role to China, overall, and Germany and France in the western world. And, while the UK remains important and formidable, I am sad to say Brexit will precipitate its decline from these ranks.

Macron and Merkel beseeched the US President to remain in the Iran Nuclear deal signed by seven parties (including the four countries above). As with other issues, Trump does a lot of chest beating without the benefit of being factually accurate. John Oliver of “Last Week Tonight,” does a nice job of defining the terms of the agreement and noting three untruthful things the US President says about it.

And, at least Macron openly requested the US to remain in the Paris Climate Change accord. We know this as Macron was allowed to speak with Congress and did so with an eye to the future and a statesman like flair. Yet, Merkel did not get such an opportunity. It puzzles me why Trump does not like her as his contempt easily shows.

He dotes on Macron, but he looks like he would rather be elsewhere when he is with Merkel. Is he jealous because Putin will actually listen to her? Is he superficial to not like her because she does not have a model’s shape or looks? Or is it her policies of openness to refugees? Or, it may be she is a student of understanding issues and he is not?

Nonetheless, she sees the future in the appropriate light as does Macron. “Narrow-minded nationalism” is something we must guard against Macron said to the US Congress. Global trade and relationships make the world safer.

I firmly believe if Trump remains in office for four years (and God forbid eight years), history will judge this period as when the US gave up its leadership role in the world. And, this happened with others not firing one shot, just a well-orchestrated influence campaign by the Russians who want a weaker west. But, don’t trust my judgement. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and former State Department official Ronan Farrow has penned a book called “War on Peace” that notes the same premise with definitive examples. The decline in diplomacy is a huge mistake – we sent two people to a global issues meeting, while China sent twenty. They worked the rooms.

This is a sad state of affairs. We have listened to a populist President who does not care to know historical context and is not beholden to the truth. He has listened to people who want us to retrench. And, there is one thing for certain, we cannot shrink to greatness. It matters not what the ball caps say at Trump rallies.

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Senate Judiciary Committee moves Mueller Protection Bill forward

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed 14 to 7 the bipartisan bill to give Robert Mueller a fair hearing should he be fired by the President. I admire their political courage to protect the rule of law. I give special kudos to Senators Tillis, Graham, Coons and Booker for pushing this bill forward and Senator Grassley, the Commitee chair for his role.

Their efforts deserve a full hearing and vote on the Senate floor, yet Senator McConnell is refusing to let this happen. I encourage you to support such a vote and call upon your Senators and Senator McConnell to bring it to the floor. The American people are owed such a vote.

As an Independent and former Republican voter, I feel it is extremely important to let Mueller and team finish their work. I also find it highly offensive that legislators, including the President, are trying to mask the pursuit of truth by denigrating honorable and hard working law enforcement professionals. As GOP Congressman Trey Gowdy said, if the President is innocent, it would help his cause if he started acting like it.

Mueller is a man of integrity and has served our country as a Marine and as leader of the FBI. The only negative I have read about him from reliable sources is he can be gruff. Since he comes across as a no nonsense kind of person, that lone criticisms fits. A gruff man of integrity reminds me of my grandfather.

I have made multiple calls and sent emails to several Senators and my Congressman. I have applauded the political courage of those involved. Standing up to your own party is difficult, but it is even harder with an untruthful, tempestuous and vindictive man such as the President. We, the people, are owed the truth.

The week that was

Looking back at the week ending April 27, 2018, a few things jump out at me as examples of larger problems.

The US Congress heard a speech from a President that spoke of staying the course on America’s global role in security, free trade and environmental issues. He also warned of the unhealthy focus on narrow nationalism and promoted the ideals of the American experiment. Unfortunately, the speech was given by Emmanuel Macron of France and not the US President.

Yet, the US President did make news when he nominated another poorly vetted candidate this time for the VA director role. He was already a curious choice, but he and the White House were obviously not prepared for the discovery of potential peccadillos in his past. This is a recurring problem for the White House where too many candidates withdraw, should not have been nominated or are approved with some later being fired or resigning as past or new problems surface. It should be noted there are too many articles and biographies that do not define “due diligence” as a strength of the President.

Between two tragedies in Canada and the US, it shows that terrorism need not be imported. Four people died at a Waffle House in the Nashville area, while  ten people died on the streets of Toronto. The larger problem that is revealed time and again, it is very difficult to stop a motivated lone assailant. The only thing that has a chance is an invested community who cares about what happens there. Neither of these people were from an actively tracked hate group, which number over a thousand. Nor were they part of an extreme religious terror group.

On Thursday, a boyhood and even adult idol of mine, Bill Cosby, was found guilty of three counts of sexual impropriety. While the trial involved only one of his victims, the number totals over 60. This is very sad  that someone so present in the public eye for fifty years could harm so many people.

Finally, an unconfirmed report out of China notes that one reason North Korea may be eager to give up nuclear testing is they blew up their testing site. The report said an underground blast may have punctured a hole in a mountain and released some radioactive material. From what others have noted is Kim Jong Un likely does not want to give up the nuclear weapons they created and their conventional forces could do great damage by themselves to South Korea. But, this unconfirmed report is interesting nonetheless and offers a potential explanation for a willingness to talk. Setting this aside, Kim Jong Un wins by getting on the world stage in a meeting room. Yet, talking is far better than the alternatives for keeping a lid on things.

Many other interesting things have happened. Our friend Jill has an excellent summary on Ben Carson’s housing plan which will triple the rents for people in need. Maybe he should have remained a surgeon where he could help people.

That’s all folks. Have a great weekend.

 

I am evidence – real sexual assault cases are lagging

One of the longest running shows on American television is “Law and Order – Special Victims Unit” starring Mariska Hargitay and a terrific ensemble cast. The SVU investigates and hopefully solves heinous sex crimes in New York City. Unfortunately, real life SVUs are woefully understaffed, underfunded and behind.

It is not ironic that Hargitay has co-produced with co-director Trish Adlesic a documentary film called “I am evidence,” which focuses on efforts to remedy a US backlog of over 200,000 untested rape kits. That is not a misprint. The film is co-directed by Geeta Gandbhir and focuses on efforts in Detroit, Cleveland and Los Angeles.

Only eight states require the testing of every rape kit – Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. This boggles my mind as women who have been sexually assaulted and beaten went to great pains to be tested after being raped.

Two of the focal points of the film are Wayne County (Detroit) Prosecutor Kym Worthy and a reporter for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland named Rachel Dissell, who each brought attention to the backlogs in their two cities. With a spotlight on these travesties, gained funding and oversight, they are making huge headway in their local problems. But, it is more than local as many of the DNA samples have revealed serial rapists and repeat offenders  across state lines.

Many of these untested kits are ten years and more overdue. It also became clear by not testing these kits, more woman were raped. One rapist was a truck driver who raped many women across the country for years. And, in one chilling example, one serial rapist would abduct, hold, abuse and kill his victims. When arrested, the police found multiple women’s bodies in his home. One of the victims was able to escape an earlier abduction.

Letting the previous paragraph sink in will likely make you ill. The scarcity of resources is appalling. It also led to a prioritization of cases often based on race and notoriety of the victim. Worthy noted rape kits should be tracked, since these victims went to a lot of effort and remained unclean for hours as they were subject to tissue and semen sampling and verbal examination. One women said she was made to feel guilty as she answered questions – why were you there at that time, eg?

Worthy noted “If you can track a package when you order something from Amazon, then certainly you should be able to track a victim’s rape kit through the criminal justice system.” Is that too much to ask?

The good news is the progress that is being made. It is never too late and it goes without saying lives are being saved, some dignity restored to the victims and future rapes can be avoided. Please download “I am evidence,” and watch this important film. We owe it to the current and potential victims. And, as one oversight committee member noted, the success rate on testing the kits made every dime well spent as the DNA data leads to convictions and takes a rapist off the streets.

 

Tuesday Truisms

While Monday is like getting reacquainted with the workweek, Tuesday is when it begins in earnest. In no particular order, I have noted a few truisms for this Tuesday.

Looking out at the rainy early evening, it is wonderful to see how green everything looks. The trees frame an enchanting view.

On a more sober note, on our travels to visit our son a few hours away in NC we saw two huge confederate flags flying boldly off the highways. I know the flyers do not care, but when I see a flag like this, especially having grown up white in the South, my first thought is bigotry. This flag represents Jim Crow and the KKK as much as it does the Confederacy. When I see a Confederate flag side-by-side with an American flag, the hypocrisy that one flag represents rebellion against the other is not lost on me.

I mention this as the persona non grata NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick won a global award from Amnesty International for human rights this month. He was made an example by the US President for his very brave protest of kneeling during the national anthem in deference to black Americans not having the same rights and opportunities in America as whites. His courage and understanding of our constitutional rights far exceeds that of the President who resorted to flaming fires of jingoism among a dutiful base against this man. I am reminded that MLK was equally unpopular when he won the Nobel Peace Prize. People outside the US are watching if we are living up to our ideals which mean far more than an anthem.

A final thought on our ideals includes the freedom of the press. It should not be lost on others that reporters for The Washington Post and New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for Journalism for their coverage of the Russian meddling. It is important to note that the US President has called this fake news and a witch hunt. Apparently, the Pulitzer people disagree. Let’s see, if the man is lying about that, what else might he be lying about?

I started with how green everything looks with the rain. Maybe our country needs a good cleansing rain to wash away our fears and demeaning of others and our ideals.

Letter from Senator Thom Tillis regarding Mueller

I received the following letter in response to my calling and writing Republican Senator Thom Tillis to compliment him on his bipartisan  legislation to make sure Robert Mueller is given a fair hearing if he is fired. The letter speaks for itself.

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Thank you for taking the time to contact me about S. 2644, the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act. I appreciate hearing from you.

I believe in the rule of law, regardless of who occupies the White House or which party leads the Justice Department. That is why in August I introduced a bill to create a judicial-review process to prevent the removal of a special counsel without good cause.

Over the past several months, Senator Christopher Coons (D-DE) and I have been working with Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), who introduced a similar bill, to reconcile the differences between the two proposals. On April 11, 2018, we introduced the compromise, the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act.

Last May, when the Justice Department named former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel, virtually all lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats alike — praised the choice. Mueller has had a distinguished career in law enforcement and public service, and he has a well-earned reputation for impartiality. I have confidence that he will follow the facts, wherever they may lead. I also have confidence that he is leading the investigation without bias toward either side of the political spectrum.

Letting his investigation run its course is in the best interest of the country, and it is the only option to ensure that the American people have trust in the process. This is critically important because it means when the investigation concludes, our country can move forward together. Our bill will help ensure that happens.

I have received a good deal of criticism from my own party for introducing special-counsel legislation, with the common refrain being that it is harmful to President Trump. It isn’t, for two main reasons.

First, if the president actually removes the special counsel without good cause, it would likely result in swift, bipartisan backlash and shake the country’s faith in the integrity of our legal system. Talking heads and pundits on television encouraging the president to make such a drastic and counterproductive move most certainly do not have his best interests at heart. The result would not be good for the American people, my own party or the president.

Second, the constant headlines and rumors that President Trump is considering or has considered removing Mueller — “fake news” or not — are a distraction from the president’s agenda and successful policy initiatives. While the president is understandably frustrated with the investigation, I don’t believe he would ultimately remove Mueller, and the White House and the president’s legal team have indicated that he does not intend to do so. This bill becoming law would remove that narrative from the conversation.

Political grandstanding requires no courage — independence and compromise do. The focus needs to be on achieving a legislative outcome, not a talking point. There are members of my conference who want to get to “yes,” and can get there, especially because the bill will be subject to an amendment process in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the bill can be improved. My colleagues on the other side of the aisle who support the bill for the right reasons and want a result will be working hand-in-hand to build consensus and get us closer to 60 votes.

The Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act is about protecting the rule of law and producing an outcome that is good for our country. It’s not about producing an outcome for one political party.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. Please do not hesitate to contact me again about other important issues.

Sincerely,

Thom Tillis
U.S. Senator

That healthcare thing

In more than a few surveys, the majority of Americans have noted that healthcare is a key dinner table issue. In several surveys, shoring up and stabilizing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is preferred by a smaller, but still majority of Americans, than its repeal.

With a background of being a former benefits actuary, consultant and manager of benefits, here are a few facts and observations that I encourage you to research and verify.

– The ACA borrows from a Republican idea implemented by Governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts which was advocated by de facto Tea Party leader Senator Jim DeMint for the whole country. Some elements can be found in a healthcare idea of Senator Bob Dole when he ran for President in 1996. These are reasons Republicans had a hard time with other ideas to repeal and replace it.

– The ACA is designed to require employer and public plans to offer certain minimum level benefits. The non-employer benefits are delivered through healthcare exchanges of policies and the expansion of Medicaid for people near or in poverty (32 states and the District of Columbia elected to do this).

– The biggest benefits of the ACA are guaranteed issue and renewability of coverage and the premium subsidy for people with incomes up to 4 x poverty limit. If you or a child has a preexisting condition, guaranteed issue and renewability are huge benefits.

– The botched roll out of the online exchanges sits at the feet of President Obama. For this to be such an important issue, it deserved better planning. The online exchanges are doing much better now, but you don’t get a second chance for a first impression. And, this poor roll out was used as fodder to nay-say the program, even though the problems were fixed.

– The ACA has experienced higher premiums due to adverse selection (pent-up demand and more high risk than better risk customers), but it is frustrating that the Republican Senators and President have masked their role in making premiums even higher. Senator Marco Rubio led an effort to strip 89% of the funding to insurers for initial adverse selection a couple of years ago and President Trump stripped out funding for co-pays and deductibles for lower paid people last year. Both of these changes cause premiums to increase even more than they otherwise would have.

– The lack of expansion of Medicaid in 18 states means the ACA is still not fully implemented. Per The Commonwealth Fund, this implementation would help people, rural hospitals and state economies. GOP Presidential candidate John Kasich called Medicaid expansion a no-brainer when he did it in Ohio as Governor.

The ACA is not perfect, but it is working OK. It could work even better if it were stabilized and improved. Taking away the mandate will be harmful and cause premiums to go up even more. What troubles me in our zero-sum game of politics is we are foregoing improving an imperfect law, which we have done countless times before on major changes. The way I see it, Congress and the President own this law now. If it fails, people should look to them asking why did they let it happen. This impacts people.

I have mentioned before several changes to consider. National healthcare is not going to happen in our country as it is too political and the healthcare industrial complex is strong. Yet, I advocate expanding Medicare in a targeted way down to age 62 (or maybe 55). Unlike the more complex Medicaid, Medicare actually works pretty well and strips out the profit load embedded in insurance premiums. This will reduce exchange premiums and Medicare premiums, as it makes both audiences younger on average.

I think we need to reconstitute the adverse selection and co-pay subsidies to insurers. The federal government needs to repay insurers they stiffed and invite insurers who left back into the exchanges. I would also recommend the remaining states expand Medicaid and I would add back the mandate for coverage, even though this feature is unpopular. If there are areas where competition is not significant, select use of Medicare (or Medicaid) could be deployed in those counties.

There are other changes that should be considered, but we need to shore this thing up. Congress and Mr. President, the ball is in your court as well as the legislatures for those eighteen states.