Dualism as a Force of Separation

Dualism as a Force of Separation Based on a Comparison of the Philosophies of Descartes and Heidegger

Early in the Twentieth Century, Martin Heidegger[1] analyzed the concepts of previous Western philosophers and rejected their prevailing dualistic worldview. Based on Descartes[2] and similar philosophers, Western civilization had divided the world into the dualistic view that everything was either mind or body. In other words, for centuries, they believed that knowledge had two bases: either thoughts or physicality.[3] This philosophy was called Cartesian Dualism.

Since Cartesian Dualism divided the world into mental things and physical things, [4] it separated mind from body, soul from matter, and spirit from flesh as if they functioned totally separately from each other.[5]  It permitted our society to develop concepts based on simplistic assumptions such as all or none, good or evil, and us or them. In addition, that dualism led to a situation where people could be separated from their experiences in the world.

Incidentally, don’t confuse the dualism of Western civilization with the apparent dualism of Taoism that is commonly expressed by the yin yang symbol. The yin yang of Taoism incorporates an interdependent and independent existence of opposites. The counterparts may be divided into dark and light, male and female, hot and cold, or moon and sun. However, just as the moon and the sun exist in relationship to each other, yin and yang interact. They seem to stand alone but there is that little dot in each that symbolizes  interaction and mutual support. Together they make a complete balanced whole. The yin yang concept does not completely separate the opposites; even though they are independent, the Taoist symbol, and the philosophy behind it, does not detach the mind from the body or yin from yang.

Working from a purely Western European perspective, Heidegger rejected the dualistic worldview. He believed that philosophy must focus on human experiences in the world, and so, he developed some complex and novel explanations to try to explain events.  Heidegger said that people could not be separated from their experiences. In fact, he viewed experience as an important part of existence, but he recognized that there is no analysis of event or things while experiencing them.

For instance, individuals using a hammer do not think about the hammer unless it breaks. That is, to use the hammer, they do not need to think about how many nails it has pounded into wood in the past, and they do not need to know how or where the hammer was manufactured. They are focused on utilizing the hammer, perhaps to build a bookcase. Explanations about how the hammer works are not an important part of the experience. The company that manufactured it is not important unless the hammer breaks and must be replaced.

In the same way, Heidegger considered Being-in-the-world to be an experience. To him, a mental analysis of any object was not considered important; only the usefulness of the object was important. Yet, Being-in-the-world was imperative. That is, the essential thing about life would be actually living our experiences.

It is important that we don’t separate mind from body or spirit from flesh.  But the key is: actually living our lives is of utmost significance. I think we all can agree with that.

 

— Footnotes —

[1] Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) was a German philosopher; his most famous work is Being and Time.

[2] René Descartes (1596-1650) was a French philosopher, scientist and mathematician; he was (and still is) extremely influential in western philosophy and analytical geometry.

[3] These explanations of Heidegger’s views are mine; any misinterpretations cannot be blamed on the reference material.

[4] I am grateful to Professor John Searle, University of California at Berkley for his succinct online lecture explaining Cartesian Dualism.

[5] Searle, John. Philosophy of Mind, lecture 1. UC-Berkeley Philosophy 132, Spring 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zi7Va_4ekko (accessed October 15, 2012).

 

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What is Constitutional Originalism — and Why Should You Care?

Former SCOTUS Justice Antonin Scalia and sitting Justice Clarence Thomas have called themselves constitutional originalists.  New Justice Gorsuch also claims to be one. Constitutional originalism is similar to those Christians that believe in the literal word of the Bible: they both claim to interpret the written words exactly as the writers intended them.  In the case of the US Constitution, that means basing law on the values and connotations of the originators back in 1789 — although most, including Scalia, include the amendments. Regardless of your beliefs about the Bible, Constitutional originalism is bad for our country.

First and most obviously, our country is totally different from that time; we live in a completely changed world. How can we possibly know the beliefs, ideals, and social expectations behind the constitution? We can imagine committee meetings and discussions about specific details; we have written records of some of those assemblies. However, we cannot really understand the ideas behind those words or the concepts and arguments left out of the conference records.

For instance, we all know what “google” means, but no one living in 1791 would have an idea about the definition let alone the significance of being able to google information. Reverse that concept and think about words that they used that we do not.  Now expand that to include concepts, attitudes, and social expectations. We can read about them, but can we truly understand? More famous people than me have written entire books on the fallacies that arise from believing we understand our ancestors and their societies.[1]

In any case, as much as we think we comprehend people from centuries ago, it is unrealistic to believe we do. Supreme Court Justice Brennan agrees.  “It is arrogant,” Brennan said, “to pretend that from our vantage we can gauge accurately the intent of the framers on application of principle to specific, contemporary questions.”[2]

As an originalist, Justice Scalia debated the concept of flogging, that is, whether or not it was cruel and unusual punishment. His views shifted from one year to another. Flogging was acceptable in 1789, but it certainly is not considered civilized now. Obviously, since Scalia could not reconcile flogging as a blameless contemporary punishment, he was not an absolute originalist.  However, during his time on SCOTUS, he set in motion the idea that originalism was acceptable as a basis of legal interpretation or a reason for rejecting modifications.

Although Scalia was flexible in his originalism, Clarence Thomas declares himself to be an absolute originalist. It seems incongruous that he  accepts originalism, and that he bases his rulings on it. In fact, I would love to hear Justice Thomas explain why he defends constitutional originalism. I’ve searched the internet without finding his justification. After all, as an African-American, it is likely that he would not have had citizen rights in 1789. Not until 1865, would the Thirteenth Amendment outlaw slavery. Does he acknowledge that the writers of the Constitution were flawed since they did not prohibit slavery? What about women’s right to vote? That law, the Nineteenth Amendment, was passed in 1920. Obviously, our society has decided that the goal of equality among all people — established as a truth by the Declaration of Independence — is a positive objective.

Third, regardless of its increased status on SCOTUS, constitutional originalism is damaging and dangerous to our country.  Media as diverse as The Daily News, The Washington Post, and The Hill (“published for and about US Congress”) have discussed the problems with constitutional originalism, and they have also noted, in particular, the issues with Gorsuch’s version of it. Many of those arguments focus the need to be able to change the laws to fix injustices in modern society and to handle contemporary situations (such as technology and privacy).

Rather than recounting all of that, let’s look at some of the transformations in our society since the 1700s.  Men of color are no longer legally considered a portion of a man with white skin. People who do not own property have the right to vote, and so do women. Employment is based on minimum wage rates, 8-hour workday, and 5-day work week. Employees have the right to safe working conditions, and their labor entitles people to Unemployment Insurance, Social Security, Medicare, and Worker’s Compensation — all through employee and employer contributions. None of that existed when the constitution was written. Women can buy houses and cars without a male co-signer. The government no longer can jail an individual for marrying a certain person. I’ll stop now even though there are many more positive changes. How can originalism ignore those changes? Certainly, as a country, we recognize that they were good ones. As I said, I’d enjoy hearing Thomas’ reasons for supporting originalism.

Let’s consider the most important idea: the reason we have a constitution.  The US Constitution gives us our basic rights — those freedoms that politicians like to mention in speeches and the military claims to protect.  The Hill published: “there is a big difference between the Constitution and statutes: while statutes are designed to represent the majority’s will, the Constitution — especially the Bill of Rights — is largely designed to protect individual rights against the majority.”[3]

There it is: US Constitution was written to protect individuals, all individuals, regardless of faith or lack of faith, and despite skin color or ancestry — and someday we look forward to that protection extending to everyone regardless of gender too. In the last few centuries, our society has evolved. Certainly our country is a different one than it was in 1776 or 1789. The founders of our country knew that people (and society) would change, and they accepted that idea. Article V of the US Constitution explained the process for proposing and passing amendments to the document.

Consider what Benjamin Franklin said: “I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.”[4]

The constitution delineates the proper behaviors of both the government and its employees. It sets out the interactions of the three divisions as equal powers in the federal government, and it explains how those divisions should interact with individuals, the states, and other countries. Most importantly, the Constitution provides many important rights; rights we should not be quick to give up. However, constitutional interpretation is fluid: it shifts as our culture matures and develops. Whether you call those interpretations “originalism” or something else, the rulings made by SCOTUS affect each of us.

It is time to read the US Constitution again and remember the protections it offers.

 

—- footnotes —-

[1]. I refer you to The Symbolism of Evil by Paul Ricoeur.

[2]. Stephen F. Rohde. “The myth that is Neil Gorsuch’s ‘originalism’ (To the Editor)” posted 3/21/17 Los Angeles Times online at http://www.latimes.com/opinion/readersreact/la-ol-le-originalism-gorsuch-20170321-story.html (5/30/2017).

[3]  Ken Levy, “Judge Gorsuch’s strict ‘originalism’ puts justice itself at stake” posted 04/07/17 The Hill online at http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/the-judiciary/327808-strict-originalism-puts-justice-itself-at-stake (5/30/2017).

[4] Benjamin Franklin, “Madison Debates: September 17” The Avalon Project (Lillian Goldman Law Library, 2008) online at http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/debates_917.asp (bold text added for emphasis) (6/1/2017).

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Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan Fails Civics

Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan Fails Civics

Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan[1] has released advertising for a demonstration he has organized (to support President Trump on May 31). Through that ad he shows that he needs to retake a high school civics class. The ad claims that protest is  a “public temper tantrum.” This ignores or rejects the constitutional right to protest. The US Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting … the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” [edited only for clarity].[2]

In addition to his desire to reject the constitutional right to assemble, it seems he would like us to lose the right to criticize our government. Remember Freedom of Speech? Once again, the US Constitution gives us the right to complain about our government and the politicians that work in that government. We can legally do that through verbal or written words and through assemblies.

The ad continues with the emotionally-charged statement that “left-wing Democrats” are protesting in an “attempt to undo President Trump’s election.”  Democrats and Republicans should want the same thing: the elected president to do his job legally and properly. And while we are on the topic, why is it okay for a Republican to organize a demonstration but it is wrong for a Democrat to do the same thing?

Jordan will be up for re-election in 2018. Since the congressman is so willing to set aside your constitutional rights, I suggest you find someone else to vote for.

 

—- footnotes —

[1] Jim (James D) Jordan is the Republican State Congressman for Ohio 4th district first elected in 2007. The 4th district was redrawn in 2013 (was it gerrymandered?) to include Elyria on Lake Erie (although skipping Sandusky and Port Clinton) and moving south and west around and through 14 counties to end in the northwest suburbs of  Columbus.

[2] This is part of the First Amendment. The entire sentence is “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

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What I Learned from Church: Personal Lessons of Interfaith Experiences

Although most people have their own ideas about what the words interfaith and community mean, in broad terms, interfaith relationships stand on an idealized notion that people who believe in similar ideals desire to interact harmoniously. That is, whether they proclaim themselves as mystical, metaphysical, spiritual or religious persons, they would interact amicably in order to reach a common goal. Through these interactions, they would learn about each other and increase understanding of each tradition’s practices.

Regardless of the definition of interfaith that you accept, anybody can learn a great deal from being involved in such a community. The level of education increases when it is a well-functioning interfaith group. Here are a few important things I have learned.

Respect and Consideration

  • Having respect for a person is different from treating others respectfully.
  • Respect has nothing to do with fear or anger. Many people think that they must be feared before they will be given respect. Nothing could be less true.
  • As we interact, respect for an individual grows. Most commonly, it is earned through observation of someone’s appropriate actions or superior character.
  • While it is true that respect is earned, nothing good happens unless we treat each other with respect. In other words, we must begin our interactions with consideration and politeness. No positive communication can happen without courteous and civil interactions.
  • Clearly insults don’t move a group (or two people) towards a goal of empathy and friendship. After all, how can we build positive associations if we demean an individual? Whether we have just met or have known each other for years, rude behavior separates us from developing a friendly relationship. It prevents us from getting to know each other and it stops us from understanding each other.
  • The conversation needs to begin with the fundamental attitude that everyone has a valid point, even those we judge as being on the wrong side. Consequently, if everyone’s view is treated as valid, even if it is a dissenting opinion, people will be more levelheaded and more willing to listen.

In this time of bipartisan polarization, we have forgotten that we learn more when we speak our personal truths and listen to the other individual’s truths. Of course, that means we have to work to discover our own truths. Sure, it is easier to parrot someone else’s opinion — but that’s another topic.  Whether we are Republicans, Democrats or Independents, we need to remember that we are all in this together. We have to learn to listen to each other.  How bad does it have to get before we start to do that?

 

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Today’s US House Version of Trumpcare Fails the People

The latest version of Trumpcare was passed by the House today with no Democratic support; in addition, 20 Republicans voted against it. The bill gets two issues right but it breaks more things than it fixes.

I’ll mention the positive first. It eliminates tax penalties for those who don’t buy insurance (presumable because they can’t afford it). In addition, it continues the policy of keeping children on their parents’ insurance until they are 26 years old.

However, here are some of the problems.

  1. It erases tax increases on higher-earning people. That means richer people will pay the same amount as poorer people. Will the cost be a reduced amount or too much money for many people? We don’t know.
  2. It cuts the Medicaid program for low-income people. Don’t they need insurance more?
  3. It lets states force Medicaid recipients to work in order to obtain insurance. What happens if the person cannot work or there are no jobs?
  4. It changes the Obamacare subsidies into tax credits. The credits are supposed to increase as consumers get older, but it is a tax credit. That means that people must be able to pay for the insurance for a year before they will receive a tax credit. What happens if they cannot pay the premiums?
  5. States can obtain federal waivers freeing insurers from other Obama coverage requirements.
  6. With a waiver, insurers could charge people with preexisting illnesses far higher rates than healthy customers. By the way, preexisting conditions include: rape, cesarean section birth, postpartum depression, and surviving domestic violence.
  7. With the waiver, insurance companies can increase premiums for older consumers.
  8. With a waiver, there is no limit to the cost of the insurance.
  9. Waivers mean that insurance companies could choose what is covered so that certain benefits would not be covered such as family planning or pregnancy care. Insurers get to pick what services they will provide. So much for your doctor or health care provider determining your treatment.
  10. Back to pre-existing conditions: how does this impact people born with disabilities? Will they be covered at a reasonable price?

The House bill will now go to the Senate. Please call your Senators and write postcards about these problems. We may not be able to stop the Affordable Care Act from being repealed — after all, Republicans have been trying to do that since 2010 — but we can push them to fix some of these problems.

Here is the link to contact information for all US Senators:  https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/ .

Thank you for acting.

 

 

 

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Finding your Tarot Deck

Perhaps you’ve decided you want to learn tarot, but you have no clue how to begin.  Certainly, the first deck is important because you are training with it, but don’t just buy the Rider-Waite because someone told you that everyone starts with that deck.  Choosing an initial deck is actually a simple process, but it may take some persistence. Although I would argue this should be true of any deck, the first deck you buy should make sense to you on a level beyond that of memorizing the meanings from the enclosed book. You should spontaneously comprehend the archetypes and symbols in the pictures.  After you master one deck, you will be able to more easily overlook the symbols in another set that may not entirely work for you.

Since it is important to find a deck with pictures and symbols you like, look at as many decks as you can.  I suggest looking at certain major arcana cards in particular:  the devil, death and the fool are good indicators of the feel of the deck.  From them you can judge the belief structure on which it was based. There are decks with obvious Christian symbology and those with Pagan concepts, plus there are many based on specific mythological or historical symbology.  Some decks are drawn austerely while others contain very complex symbols from varying metaphysical systems.  There are even decks with artwork consisting entirely of geometric shapes and swirling colors. When choosing your first deck, it comes down to this: do you like the way it looks and feels?

After you have found a deck or two that might work for you, focus on your overall emotional response to each deck.  If you truly use the cards, you will bring the energy of that particular deck into your life. Ask yourself:  do I want this influence in my life?  How does the symbolism fit with my individual opinions and views? If the archetypes don’t match your beliefs, you will soon discover that the deck was a mistake, no matter how beautiful you find the art.

Since you can find a tarot deck in any style or conceivable theme, you are not limited in choices. Take time to consider the deck from an objective viewpoint. Will you be forced to learn a specific metaphysical or esoteric system in order to fully utilize the deck?

For instance, the Tarot of the Sephiroth is steeped in the Kabbalah.  As its name suggests, in order for you to work with the code of the deck, you will need to understand the Kabbalah — and that’s not something you can pick up on a Saturday afternoon. Some decks are even more complex, incorporating several esoteric traditions. One such deck is the Haindl Tarot, which includes symbols taken from the Kabbalah, Runes and I Ching.  Similarly, if you are nervous about nudity, you probably shouldn’t pick the Robin Wood deck. For effective use, other tarot sets require a knowledge of geometry or herbalism.

Many tarot decks are based on a specific culture.  Examples of these are the Minoan Tarot, the Tarot of the Orishas, or the Ancient Egyptian Tarot. When you are drawn to tarot based on a historical civilization, a specific religious tradition, or a mythological system, consider how much you know about that tradition. Do you have a foundation of knowledge about the stories and deities?  Will you need to learn the concepts behind the pictures and research the symbolism?

To help you in your search for the perfect tarot deck, check out this great site online:  http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/.  It includes all of the popular decks plus numerous hard-to-find ones, and even a few unpublished tarot sets. Sample photographs are displayed for cards in each tarot.

 

 

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House bill 785 National “Right to Work” Act

House bill HR 785 National “Right to Work” or More of Is This What You Want Your Government to Do? (Part 3)

There is no summary for HR 785 National Right to Work act, but it is an anti-union bill. If you support unions, you need to contact your representatives to block this bill.

The act claims “to preserve and protect the free choice of individual employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, or to refrain from such activities.”  However, that is a lie.  In convoluted references to five other laws, it would do the following.

  • Removes the rights of a worker to join unions.
  • Splits workers of the company into those who are and are not members in union,
  • Eliminates protections of certain unfair labor practices.
  • Forbids membership in a union as a requirement of employment.
  • Removes unions from determining necessary qualifications in the building and construction industry and from submitting the names of qualified people for those positions.
  • Specifically cancels membership of railway workers in railway unions.

Based on history, there would be some obvious effects if this bill passed.

First, it strikes down the rights of labor organizations to prevent unfair labor practices such as discrimination in hiring or continued employment. If that doesn’t scare you, it should. I don’t need to tell any minority or disabled employees what that could mean.  In the past, people were refused work due to the color of their skin, the land of their ancestors, and their religion, just to name a few.  Quite a few wars have been fought over these reasons. Refer to the US Civil War for one.

Second, it removes the law that stops employers from disciplining or firing employees who join unions.  By splitting workers into those who belong to a union and those who do not, this bill would set up a prejudicial system for treatment of employees. That should bother you too.

Third, it attempts to break union authority away from specific occupations. For the last century, the qualifications of many journeyman jobs have been determined by a union; this is common in construction, skilled trades, and manual labor positions. People are given the jobs in order according to a list. This bill would remove that method of finding gainful employment. The effect would lower the wages of people who do the work — work that is often dangerous due to weather or other working conditions — and remove incentives for those people to learn their trade, continue learning new skills, just as it would remove incentives for employers to hire the skilled tradesmen at a living wage.  In addition, it could lead to an increase in accidents at construction sites due to untrained workers replacing experienced employees.

The act would remove the requirement of railroad workers to join the railway union. Therefore, they would no longer have a union to make agreements on their behalf, and to resolve or establish working conditions.

Blocking membership in a union as a requirement of employment is a clear attempt to break union power.

Perhaps it is time to remind people of what US unions have done. They did get rid of sweatshops, those were a real thing. Here is a short list of other benefits (of the many that could be listed):

  • 5 day work week — and the weekend!
  • 8 hour work day
  • Occupational safety legislation
  • Family and medical leave act

In the past, states have implemented “right to work” legislation, but it is anything but that. Employees in those states tend to have lower wages and less secure employment. On 2/01/2017 it was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce for review. Let your representatives know how you feel.

 

—-

You can read the entire text of the act with links to the associated laws here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/785/text .

 

 

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Is This What You Want Your Government To Do? Current US House Bills (part 2)

Is This What You Want Your Government To Do?

A post is going around social media publicizing current House bills and asking people to call their officials to request they vote against the following bills. Today I am reporting on my continuing research into these bills.  See below the list for the current status of the bills, a summary of what each covers — and why you should care. Monday I reviewed the first four on the list in part 1, which you can read here. Today’s post covers 5 and 6, repeal of Obamacare and defunding Planned Parenthood. I plan to continue the review of the rest of the bills in the next few days.

  1. HR 861 Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency – referred to House Subcommittee on Environment
  2. HR 610 Vouchers for Public Education – referred to House Committee on Education and the Workforce
  3. HR 899 Terminate the Department of Education – referred to House Committee on Education and the Workforce
  4. HJR 69 Repeal Rule Protecting Wildlife – PASSED and sent to Senate
  5. HR 370 Repeal Affordable Care Act – see below
  6. HR 354 Defund Planned Parenthood – see below
  7. HR 785 National Right to Work (this one ends unions) – coming in the next blog.
  8. HR 83 Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Bill – coming in the next blog.
  9. HR 147 Criminalizing Abortion (“Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act”) – coming in another
  10. HR 808 Sanctions against Iran – coming in another blog.
  1. HR 370 Repeal Affordable Care Act

The entire title of this bill is “To repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and health care-related provisions in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, and for other purposes.”  It has been referred to the following House committees: Energy and Commerce; Education and the Workforce; Ways and Means; Judiciary; Natural Resources; Rules; House Administration; Appropriations; Budget; and Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs. This sounds serious: most bills only go to one committee.

This bill would cancel the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare. It also repeals the health care provisions of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010. The repeal would go into effect on January 1, 2020. The bill also states “Provisions of law amended by the repealed provisions are restored,” whatever that means.

Let’s try to figure out what those confusing words mean. The Senate Democrats wrote a “detailed summary” of the Affordable Care Act that simplifies the original bill.[1] Although ACA is imperfect and some people cannot afford medical insurance under ACA, millions of people have healthcare that previously did not. In addition to coverage of pre-existing conditions and chronic ailments, ACA stipulates that insurance companies must spend a minimum of 80% of the premiums on medical care. The HR 370 bill would repeal all of that as of 1/1/2020.

Let’s look at the other provisions of HR 370.  The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010[2] (HR 4872) changed the financial provisions of ACA. This is a complicated bill. In addition to modifications to coverage of those on Social Security and changes to allowable fees paid to doctors, it reduced the percentage of insurance costs that an employer pays. It set up an increasing fine for people who did not obtain insurance coverage.  On the plus side, it set the maximum waiting period for coverage at 90 days, forbid dropping coverage except in cases of fraud, and required grandfathered medical plans to include coverage for dependents up to 26 years of age.

In addition, it changed the maximum Pell Grant amount that could be awarded beginning in 2013. Although it extended grants to minority institutions until 2019, it forbids the Secretary of Education from awarding those grants after FY2019. It also terminated unsecured Stanford loans for middle-income people.

Repealing would obviously remove health care coverage unless the government provides a replacement. In addition, it would remove the modifications set forth in Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, and so, it would affect Pell Grants, Stanford loans, and grandfathered medical plans.  Not only would HR 370 remove those provisions and end ACA, it would rewrite Medicaid.

I’ll be honest: I have no idea what further changes would be enacted or restored with the passage of HR 370.  The original ACA bill[3] was a complex law encompassing 124 pages with 506 amendments, and HR 4872 added another 124 pages plus 165 amendments. [4]

On 3/6/2017, the Republican House replacement plan was announced. Despite 66 pages of text, it is incomprehensible and filled with references to other legal sections.[5]  As it was announced, it would provide tax credits for an individual or family to purchase insurance. It freezes Medicaid enrollment and puts an unspecified cap on state coverage. It removes requirements for employers to provide health coverage, removes subsidies for payment of insurance, adds a surcharge for people who have gaps in insurance coverage, and eliminates fines for individuals who do not obtain coverage. It prohibits funds to Planned Parenthood or any similar non-profit. It bans payments to any organization that provides abortion other than in cases of rape, incest or danger of death. States can remove coverage for some odd groups, such as people who receive large lottery winnings, and the state can recover any previous medical payments from that individual. Although it abolishes the Medicaid expansion coverage, which is scary, it does continue the Obamacare provision that stopped insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. However, cancelling Medicaid expansion removes coverage for more than 10 million people.

According to The New York Times, Medicare (including the expansion) currently insures 74 million people or “one in five Americans.”[6] Many of the replacement bill’s spending caps refer to money that finances Medicaid. Rather than reimburse states for actual Medicare costs, it would freeze funding for state medical health cost payments and tie increases to the Consumer Price Index. It seems odd — or immoral — that costs of health care would no longer be linked to patient needs. Instead costs would be linked to the economy.  Since health care needs tend to rise when the economy worsens, that seems barbaric.

Due to the Medicare changes, states could not institute new treatments. They might not manage to cover existing levels of medical coverage, for instance, if the medical needs of the state’s population were to change. One example would be public health care emergencies.

Some health experts worry that over time, states would be unable to respond to changes in the health care needs of their population unless they use their own money, potentially risking the survival of a program that has been a critical source of health coverage for the poor. … The Republican plan would set different spending targets for different types of Medicaid beneficiaries, like older Americans, the blind and disabled, children and adults.[7]

We will need to pay vigilant attention to what happens with these interlocked bills in the future.

  1. HR 354 Defund Planned Parenthood

To many Republicans, Planned Parenthood has become scapegoat for what they perceive as society’s evils. Based on that belief, the bill would prohibit any federal funding for one year unless all of the clinics associated with Planned Parenthood certify that they will not perform an abortion during that year.  There is an exception to the abortion provisions of the bill in the case of rape, incest or endangerment of the woman’s life. Since Planned Parenthood offers many more services than abortion, this is a way to blackmail the organization. Although Republican politicians claim they want to give families more power, HR 354 wants to remove decisions about family planning from women and from couples.

In addition, it instructs the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture to obtain repayment of funding if the terms are violated at one of the locations nationwide.  It would remove funds from all clinics associated with Planned Parenthood if one location was determined to be at fund. The bill does not state who would make the determination. It also does not explain if the money would be sent to Planned Parenthood after a year of defunding.

Money already budgeted for Planned Parenthood would go to existing community public health as set forth in section 330 of the Public Health Service Act.  Public health centers are wonderful providers, but they do not cover the same population. That act sets up public health programs for specific “medically underserved” populations. The Public Health Service Act covers programs for the homeless, residents of public housing, and seasonal agricultural workers.[8]  That is not the population served by Planned Parenthood.  This is beginning to sound like a shell game.

Again, federal funds do not currently cover abortions. Planned Parenthood does provide sex education (focused on prevention of pregnancy), [9]  Pap tests, breast exams, cancer screenings, treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, birth control, family planning services, and education on health and safety.[10] Essentially, this bill threatens to take all medical treatment away from Planned Parenthood populations.

HR 354 claims that people could go to other clinics instead of Planned Parenthood.  However, Planned Parenthood serves millions of people who don’t have another clinic, who don’t have a doctor, and do not have insurance. Planned Parenthood serves low-income people who aren’t on welfare; it serves the working poor, middle-income people, and young people who have no other means to medical treatment.  Last year, millions of men and women went there for information, medical services, and medical treatments.

Recently, I had a conversation with a doctor at a low-cost clinic; she told me that she had never received birth control training in medical school because it was affiliated with a Catholic hospital. Think of all of the religious hospitals and how many doctors are doing residency there. If regular doctors don’t know about birth control, what will happen if people don’t have insurance and cannot turn to Planned Parenthood?

HR 354 has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce committee and the Subcommittee on Health for review.

 

—- Footnotes—-

[1] Responsible Reform for the Middle Class “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Detailed Summary”  Democrats.Senate.Gov/Reform (2010)  https://www.dpc.senate.gov/healthreformbill/healthbill04.pdf

[2] “H.R.4872 – Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010” Congress.Gov (2010) online at https://www.congress.gov/bill/111th-congress/house-bill/4872 (3/6/2017).

[3] “H.R.3590 – Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”  Congress.Gov (2010)  online at https://www.congress.gov/bill/111th-congress/house-bill/3590/text (3/6/2017).

[4] “H.R.4872 – Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010” Congress.Gov (2010) online at https://www.congress.gov/bill/111th-congress/house-bill/4872 (3/6/2017).

[5] For example,  section 302 reads (in part): “Notwithstanding section 504(a), 1902(a)(23), 1903(a), 2002, 2005(a)(4), 2102(a)(7), or 2105(a)(1) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 704(a), 1396a(a)(23), 1396b(a), 1397a, 1397d(a)(4), 1397bb(a)(7), 1397ee(a)(1)), or the terms of any Medicaid waiver in effect on the date of enactment of this Act …”

[6] “Republican Changes to Medicaid Could Have Larger Impact Than Its Changes to Obamacare” The New York Times (2017) https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/03/07/us/politics/medicaid-reform-impact-on-states.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FHealth%20Insurance%20and%20Managed%20Care (3/7/2017).

[7] “Republican Changes to Medicaid Could Have Larger Impact Than Its Changes to Obamacare” The New York Times (2017) https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/03/07/us/politics/medicaid-reform-impact-on-states.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FHealth%20Insurance%20and%20Managed%20Care (3/7/2017).

[8] “42 USC 254b: Health centers” (2017) online at http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=(title:42%20section:254b%20edition:prelim) (3/8/2017).

[9] “Planned Parenthood at a Glance” Planned Parenthood (2017) https://www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/who-we-are/planned-parenthood-at-a-glance (3/7/2017).

[10] Debra Goldschmidt and Ashley Strickland  “Planned Parenthood: Fast facts and revealing numbers” CNN http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/04/health/planned-parenthood-by-the-numbers/

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Is This What You Want Your Government To Do? Current US House Bills (part 1)

Is This What You Want Your Government To Do?

A post is going around social media publicizing current House bills and asking people to call their officials to request they vote against the following bills. See below the list for the current status of the first four bills and what each covers — and why you should care. I plan to continue the review of all of these bills in the next few days.

  1. HR 861 Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency
  2. HR 610 Vouchers for Public Education
  3. HR 899 Terminate the Department of Education
  4. HJR 69 Repeal Rule Protecting Wildlife
  5. HR 370 Repeal Affordable Care Act
  6. HR 354 Defund Planned Parenthood
  7. HR 785 National Right to Work (this one ends unions)
  8. HR 83 Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Bill
  9. HR 147 Criminalizing Abortion (“Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act”)
  10. HR 808 Sanctions against Iran
  1. HR 861 Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency

This bill would terminate the Environmental Protection Agency on December 31, 2018. On 02/10/2017, it was referred to the House Subcommittee on Environment.  While pundits do not believe this bill will pass, it is the first in a long line of bills that are intended to weaken or destroy EPA.[1]

For instance, H.R.1030 – Secret Science Reform Act of 2015. It will stop “Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible.” Essentially, under cover of supporting science and the scientific method (the text of the bill does neither), the bill will prevent EPA from passing regulations unless the information used for the basis of the ruling is available online, thereby preventing EPA from using public health research its rulings. Because public health research examines private medical records, this bill would mean that EPA could not use medical records[2]  to make rulings such as the recent ones about antibacterial soap, lead poisoning, or mercury contamination. H.R.1030 passed the House and was referred to Senate where it was sent to Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Under President Nixon, EPA was established to restore and maintain clean air and clean water. All of the Republican Presidents since Nixon have supported EPA; however, but the current crop of Republican representatives seem to think the costs in money outweigh the future health and well-being of our citizens. I wonder what people living in Beijing and Mexico City who cannot breathe the air where they live think about air pollution?

  1. HR 610 Vouchers for Public Education

This bill repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and limits the authority of the Department of Education so that block grants can be awarded only to states qualified under the bill.  To find the truly bad news, you have to read the entire bill: it also repeals the No Hungry Kids Act which improved nutrition standards for school breakfasts and lunches.[3] On 01/23/2017, it was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Critics claim using public school money in vouchers will not bring advantages and will lead to increased segregation in schools. Privatization of public education hurts those who cannot go to private schools and does nothing to improve or fix problems in either private or public schools. In addition, voucher money often goes to religious schools, a violation of the separation of church and state as set up in US Constitution.[4] Since this bill will apply regulations to control which states receive the money, federal government will increase its control on education at the state and local levels. For an administration that claims it wants to reduce government oversight in education that seems hypocritical. This bill should go away simply because it reduces the level of nutrition in school meals.

  1. HR 899 Terminate the Department of Education

House bill 899 terminates the Department of Education on December 31, 2018. It was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on 02/07/2017.   I’ll let the founders of our country argue against this one.

Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people, enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve it … they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

James Madison: “Learned Institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people … the best security against crafty and dangerous encroachments on the public liberty.”

John Jay:  “I consider knowledge to be the soul of a republic, and as the weak and the wicked are generally in alliance, as much care should be taken to diminish the number of the former as of the latter. Education is the way to do this, and nothing should be left undone to afford all ranks of people the means of obtaining a proper degree of it at a cheap and easy rate.”

Thomas Jefferson again: “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

  1. HJR 69 Repeal Rule Protecting Wildlife

The House passed HJR (House Joint Resolution) 69. By doing so, they sent the bill to the Senate. If the Senate passes it, the bill will repeal protections on hunting or trapping bears, wolves, and other endangered predators in Alaska national wildlife refuges. It will allow hunting in dens with cubs, permit using aircraft to hunt, allow use of wire traps, and permit baiting (using food to lure them into kill areas).[5] The arguments included a statement that Alaskans needed to be able to put food on their families’ table. I don’t think Alaskans really want to feed their children wolf and bear meat.

This bill is also another attack against federal level environmental laws. The bill passed the House under the rarely-used Congressional Review Act measure which permits Congress to repeal a federal regulation with a simple majority vote.[6] Before 2017, the Congressional Review Act was only used once since its creation in 1996. The same act was used a few days ago to repeal the Stream Protection Rule. [7]
—- Footnotes —-

[1] Robinson Meyer  “Congress and Trump Won’t ‘Terminate the EPA’ Instead, they’ll restrict the agency in far subtler ways.” The Atlantic (2017) https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/02/congress-wont-terminate-the-epa/516918/  (3/4/2017).

[2]  Ed Young “How Trump Could Wage a War on Scientific Expertise: The mechanics of stripping empiricism out of America’s regulatory systems The Atlantic (2016)  https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/12/how-trump-could-wage-a-war-on-scientific-expertise/509378/ (3/4/2017).

 

[3] Summary: H.R.610 — 115th Congress (2017-2018)  https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/610?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22HR+610+Vouchers+for+Public+Education%22%5D%7D&r=1 (3/4/2017).

[4]  Valerie Strauss “Study: Private school vouchers favored by DeVos don’t offer real advantage over public schools” The Washington Post (2017) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/02/27/devos-favors-private-school-vouchers-but-new-study-says-they-dont-offer-real-edge-over-public-schools/?utm_term=.f40b946bdf72 (3/4/2017).

[5] Dakshayani Shankar “House Overturns Obama-Era Law to Protect Alaskan Bears and Wolves” NBC News (2017) http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/house-overturns-obama-era-law-protect-alaskan-bears-wolves-n722481 (3/4/2017)

[6] Erica Martinson “U.S. House passes Don Young’s bill to repeal Alaska wildlife management rule” adn.com (2017) https://www.adn.com/politics/2017/02/16/u-s-house-passes-rep-don-youngs-bill-to-repeal-alaska-wildlife-management-regulation/ (3/5/2017).

[7] Erica Martinson ibid.

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Stephen Miller: Donald Trump and the Muslim Ban

One Sunday morning a few weeks ago, Stephen Miller (Senior Advisor to the President) leapt to the country’s attention when he appeared on numerous shows[1] defending President Trump’s executive order banning immigration (the “Muslim ban”). His comments ranged from unsubstantiated claims to downright scary and unconstitutional statements. In lambasting the judges who blocked the Muslim ban, he said, “In the end, the powers of the president of the United States will be re-affirmed.”[2] In his nationalist fervor, he declared, “One unelected judge in Seattle cannot remake laws for the entire country.” [3] With blind faith in Trump, he stated, “that the powers of the president to protect our country … will not be questioned,”[4] and that it was “judicial usurpation of the power. … We will fight it. And we will make sure that we take action to keep from happening in the future…”[5]

When I first heard those statements, I was overwhelmed with thoughts. Does he really expect President Trump to be above the law? Based on his responses that Sunday morning, he thinks so. Regardless of where you stand in the political arena, that attitude should bother you. Perhaps it should terrify you.

Miller as Senior Advisor to the President should know how the federal government was set up. I’m sure you remember from your government class that US Constitution set up three equally powerful branches for the federal government: Executive, Judicial and Legislative. Regarding the Judicial, US Constitution Article III states: “The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority.”[6]  In other words, the constitution states that the Judicial Branch is supposed to rule on every law, every treaty, and every controversy that effects a US citizen, a state or the country as a whole. The only exemption to this power is Impeachment and Trial, which is set out as a power of Congress.

An important member of the Executive Branch should not be telling the public that it the Judicial Branch is wrong when its Judges make rulings. That’s exactly what Judges are supposed to do. Their jobs are to review the actions of the Legislative and Executive branches. Federal Judges are supposed to eliminate rulings that are unconstitutional. That’s the job. We may not like the ruling, and it is obvious that Miller does not, but he has little recourse. Sure, he can go on television and complain about it, but unless he can find another federal judge to rule differently, [7]  he is just as stuck as those who fought against segregation were. [8]

Setting aside the discussion of his racist sentiments, Miller complained that an unelected federal judge in Seattle overstepped his power by stopping the president’s executive order that created the Muslim ban. It is true that federal judges do not run for election in the same way that local judges do. Federal judges are appointed by POTUS and confirmed by US Senate. They are appointed for life precisely so they are not limited by political elections or influenced by politics. Therefore, they remain in their positions until they die unless they resign or are impeached by Congress.

Looking at the specific Seattle ruling, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson brought the case to U.S. District Judge James Robart. Ferguson asked Robart to determine if the Executive Order was valid under the president’s national-security powers.[9]  Although immigration law is set by Executive and Legislative Branches, the Muslim Ban struck an unconstitutional cord.  In 1982, the US Supreme Court declared: “The clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another.”[10] Thus, when Trump signed the Executive Order banning Muslims, it clearly and specifically violated constitutional law.

Robart’s ruling was appealed to a higher court: the Justice Department (part of the Executive Branch) asked US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to review the case. The Appeals Court unanimously upheld Robart’s ruling.[11] They maintained the freeze on the immigration order.[12] When Miller said, “One unelected judge in Seattle cannot remake laws for the entire country,” he was wrong: one federal judge can do that, and three other federal judges agreed.

Judges protect our country too. Miller claimed on TV that Trump will protect the US — even writing that seems silly. It ignores the thousands of people who make up US military forces and many other people who work at airports, etc. But it ignores something more important. Protection is not only an external job; it is internal too.  I’m not talking about terror attacks on US soil. I’m referring to something much more important: the role of the federal judicial branch. As set up in the US Constitution, neither Congress (the legislative branch) nor the president (the executive branch) can alter a judicial ruling. To do so violates the separation of powers. Just to be clear: violating the separation of powers is unconstitutional.  If Stephen Miller ignores that, he turns himself into a flunky who arrogantly insists his side is right even when it means going against the constitutional power that he claims he wants to maintain.

— Footnotes —

[1] He spoke on most of the major networks (excepting CNN), appearing on “Meet the Press” (NBC), “Face the Nation” (CBS), “This Week” (ABC), and “Fox News Sunday.”

[2] David Jackson “Aide Stephen Miller takes vigorous Trump defense to TV Sunday shows” USA Today (2017) online at  http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/02/12/donald-trump-stephen-miller/97819774/ (2/23/2017).

[3] Aaron Blake “Stephen Miller’s authoritarian declaration: Trump’s national security actions ‘will not be questioned’” The Washington Post (2017) online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/02/13/stephen-millers-audacious-controversial-declaration-trumps-national-security-actions-will-not-be-questioned/?utm_term=.5f303187cca8 (2/23/2017).

[4] Aaron Blake “Stephen Miller’s authoritarian declaration: Trump’s national security actions ‘will not be questioned’” The Washington Post (2017) online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/02/13/stephen-millers-audacious-controversial-declaration-trumps-national-security-actions-will-not-be-questioned/?utm_term=.5f303187cca8 (2/23/2017).

[5] Aaron Blake “Stephen Miller’s authoritarian declaration: Trump’s national security actions ‘will not be questioned’” The Washington Post (2017) online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/02/13/stephen-millers-audacious-controversial-declaration-trumps-national-security-actions-will-not-be-questioned/?utm_term=.5f303187cca8 (2/23/2017).

[6] “US Constitution Article III Section 2” FindLaw online at http://constitution.findlaw.com/article3.html#sthash.HyFchLXy.dpuf (2/24/2017).

[7] Rulings of a federal judge can be appealed to a federal appeals panel. In addition, once a federal judge rules, it is possible for a different case to go to another federal judge and for that second judge to rule differently.  If that happened, the case would go to a higher level court for determination. The federal higher court is an appeal’s court. In this case, if the president did not like the appeals court ruling, Justice Department attorneys could ask SCOTUS to review it.

[8] Whether on the federal level or in local courts, people don’t always like the rulings. There is an appeals process in place (if a person can afford that). Many organizations such as ACLU or Anti-Defamation League work towards changing law by bringing new cases to court in attempts to overturn a previous ruling. For instance, during US segregation, cases went to federal judges and SCOTUS many times before segregation was finally overturned.

[9] Jim Brunner, Jessica Lee, and David Gutman “Judge in Seattle halts Trump’s immigration order nationwide; White House vows fight” The Seattle Times online at http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/federal-judge-in-seattle-halts-trumps-immigration-order/ (2/24/2017).

[10] You can read “Larson v. Valente” at FindLaw (2017) online at  http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/456/228.html (2/23/2017).

[11] Matt Zapotosky “Federal appeals court rules 3 to 0 against Trump on travel ban” The Washington Post online at  https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/federal-appeals-court-maintains-suspension-of-trumps-immigration-order/2017/02/09/e8526e70-ed47-11e6-9662-6eedf1627882_story.html?utm_term=.7e1904ed9082 (2/24/17).

[12]  If you want to read more about their ruling, I suggest Matt Zapotosky’s  “7 key take-aways from the court’s ruling on Trump’s immigration order” The Washington Post online at  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/02/09/7-key-takeaways-from-the-courts-ruling-on-trumps-immigration-order/?utm_term=.2ccc8e6331b9 (2/24/17).

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