The good, the bad and the ugly Republican healthcare bill

As most of you know, Republican lawmakers finally took the first step in fulfilling their near decade-long promise to repeal and replace Obamacare last week by introducing their own alternative legislation, the American Health Care Act, which would reshape healthcare access throughout the country.

Most notably, the bill would eliminate the Obamacare mandate that all Americans have healthcare, or pay a penalty.

The mandate – while unpopular – has been repeatedly deemed necessary by economists and health care experts, noting that for healthcare to actually be affordable, a bounty of young, healthy people needed to be buying insurance to offset the costs of all the sick people, whom, historically, pay the highest prices for their extensive health coverage needs, and thus are the most expensive to insure.

The national mood towards Obamacare has changed drastically since its implementation several years ago, holding true to the adage — you don’t know what you’ve got until its gone.

An awakening has suddenly blossomed among the public of the imminent consequences of repealing Obamacare: the loss of health coverage for tens of millions of Americans who gained eligibility under the law, thanks to Medicaid expansion and the qualification that young adults can stay on their parents’ plan up to age 27, in addition to the aforementioned mandate.

Paul Ryan AHCA

As a result, thousands of constituents have stormed their representatives’ offices to demand they vote against an Obamacare repeal, among many other things. Survivors of various health issues have publicly stated that they wouldn’t be alive today without Obamacare.

And yet, Republicans, pressed on, culminating with this new bill introduced last week. But despite the party’s tough rhetoric, the bill contains some remarkable concessions, maintaining many provisions of Obamacare – a clear testament to the fact that America is now too deep in healthcare reform to turn back now.

Following its introduction, Donald Trump lauded the bill as the fulfillment of his campaign promise to replace Obamacare, while throwing continuous jabs at the “imploding” state of his predecessor’s signature legislative accomplishment.

Barely minutes later, conservative Republican lawmakers held a press conference to denounce the bill, calling it Obamacare 2.0, and saying it doesn’t accomplish their desire of a full, categorical repeal.

And moderate Republicans from swing states are concerned that their constituents will turn against them if they endorse the bill.

Democrats, naturally, are united against the bill. As are nearly every professional medical agency.

US President Barack Obama gives a thumbs

Upon further analysis of the bill, it became apparent that the AHCA is basically a major tax cut for wealthy Americans disguised as a healthcare bill.

And just when support was sinking lower and lower, the Congressional Budget Office – which the White House was preemptively attacking – announced on Monday that the AHCA would result in the loss of health care coverage for approximately 24 million people.

In other words, it’s dead on arrival.

There’s a reason why presidents dating back to the early 1900s have tried, and failed, to implement health care reform – because it’s freaking hard. Obama got it done. It was not without criticism, but as a result, millions more people have health insurance than before he was in office.

Republicans talked themselves into this mess by promising to repeal Obamacare, and making it seem like it would be a piece of cake. They raised expectations by passing dozens of bills to repeal Obamacare over the last several years that were immediately vetoed by Obama.

And now, in control of the House, Senate and presidency, they have the opportunity to do it, and they’re realizing just how hard it is.

It’s ironic, but Obamacare may end up being the downfall of the Republican Party under Donald Trump.

But pay attention to what happens. It’s easy to observe from the sidelines, and even cheer that you are no longer penalized for failing to purchase health insurance if this bill somehow passes.

But one day, if you get sick, it could be your life that’s on the line … and what’s happening now was the signature moment that impacted that care that you will one day receive.

If you won’t care for the sick people, then maybe you’ll at least care about future sick you.

Don’t make future sick you want to punch young healthy you in the face.

If you’re tired of hating Trump all the time, direct some towards this dude from the Netherlands

On March 15, the Netherlands will hold their parliamentary elections, where they essentially elect their local representatives in government, called Members of Parliament, our version of Congress.

Unlike the United States, countries with parliamentary systems almost always have several parties to choose from, which gives residents the opportunity to have a more diverse government that better represents the will of the people.

If one political party has enough of their MPs elected to form a majority (for example, 76 representatives in a parliament of 150 seats), then they essentially control the government and their party leader likely becomes prime minister. If there’s no majority, parties form coalitions until they have one, and the leader of the party that got the most votes still usually becomes prime minister.

Normally this is all trivial stuff and few people outside the Netherlands cares what happens in their elections.

In fact, unless you’re talking about planning a trip to Amsterdam with the bros, few Americans have any interest at all in discussing the Netherlands.

But on March 15, the stakes in the Netherlands have never been higher.

AMsterdam

And that’s because the election has basically become a referendum on far-right populist ideologies that are being increasingly espoused by radically conservative politicians across the world, most notably in the U.S. by Donald Trump.

With populist movements threatening to gain influence in countries like France and Germany, the Netherlands elections are being viewed as a global bellwether of the European political temperature – especially since Netherlands is historically one of the most socially liberal countries in the world.

Their version of Donald Trump? A man by the name of Geert Wilders (last name pronounced Vilders), a bleached-blonde, slimy looking, Islam-hating, refugee-loathing agitator who has stirred the pot within his country and has had a far-reaching influence worldwide.

He’s proposed closing all mosques, banning the Qu’ran, and has called the hijab a “useless piece of cloth.” He’s also being partly funded by American conservative groups.

And as recently as a couple of weeks ago, his populist “Party of Freedom” was predicted to take the most seats in parliament in the upcoming elections. Closer to the election, the outcome looks a little murkier, but Wilders’s goal of instilling far-right ideologies into the country has already been accomplished.

Because his party is so unpopular among his fellow politicians, it’s highly unlikely that Wilders would be able to form a coalition even if his party wins the most seats, meaning he will not likely become the country’s next government chief.

Geert Wilders

But this could set the stage for far-right politics to take hold across western Europe. If Wilders reins victorious, will Marine Le Pen follow in France? Will Frauke Petry shake up Germany?

We received a sort-of heartening precursor for what’s to come when Austrians rejected a far-right candidate during their most recent elections.

But Geert Wilders isn’t comparable to Trump just because of his views, but because of his celebrity and his mannerisms. For one, he tweets a lot. And he’s often followed in public by a gaggle of reporters.

Wilders has been the subject of death threats, and as a result has lived a very isolated life where he reportedly only sees his wife a couple times a week, sleeps in a different place every night, and is under 24-hour police surveillance.

And unlike Trump, he has actually been legally charged for inciting discrimination.

On March 15 we will have a clearer answer as to whether people like Trump are the new normal.

And if that happens, threatening to leave your country may no longer be a viable option to escape populism.

Those seven planets we discovered a couple of weeks ago…

Are they inhabitable yet?

Hawaii, this is your moment

Since being granted statehood in 1959, Hawaii has been viewed by most Americans simply as a tourist destination.

Which, to say, is nothing be ashamed of. By all accounts, Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places in the world, featuring some of the most vibrant people and fascinating cultural experiences. Every person I know who has traveled there say it’s a place that everyone needs to visit at least once.

So we love having Hawaii as part of the U.S. But besides its appeal to travelers, it still lacks a very specific identity in terms of the broader history of the United States.

Yes, of course the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred there in 1941 when it was still an overseas territory of the U.S., killing 2,403 Americans, and propelling the country into World War II.

One day later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously called the attack “a day that will live in infamy.”

And so it has.

We have, nor will we ever, forget the events of Pearl Harbor.

But Hawaii needs some more positive memories to add to its history books. Because when the highlights of your state in the last 58 years is the birth of Manti Te’o and being the setting for Forgetting Sarah Marshall, you know you need a bit more recognition.

Alright, fine. To be fair, it’s also the final resting place for iconic American Charles Lindbergh. But you get the point.

Hawaii needs something that the rest of the country can point to and say, “Yeah … Hawaii did that.

And that time may have finally come.

Hawaii ban

Following Trump’s issuance of his revised travel ban on Monday, the state of Hawaii has already filed a lawsuit demanding an immediate freeze on the order, even before it is set to be implemented on March 16.

As you will recall, the administration’s horribly rushed and vaguely defined first travel ban was almost immediately struck down by the federal courts. But this time, they attempted to clear any language that might give it legal pause.

That includes the exemption of permanent residents, green card and visa holders, and people who have already been approved to enter the United States, and openings for exemptions for people who want to enter the U.S. for purposes of work and study, and those seeking to visit or live with family. Iraq was also removed from the list of temporarily banned Muslim-majority countries.

Hawaii is basing its argument on the fact that judges will recognize the true intent of the ban, as stated by Trump several times on the campaign trail, and that the barring of foreigners will have a harmful impact on the state’s economy, which is boosted by visitors from abroad.

Basically, Hawaii is saying that this new ban will have the same impact as the first one — which was vocally admitted by a top Trump adviser — and if that one was nixed, then this one should be too.

It’s worth noting that two leaked Homeland Security reports basically concluded that banning residents due to their lack of citizenship will have almost no impact on protecting the country from terrorism.

It’s also worth noting that the law firm representing Hawaii is headed by Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general in the Obama administration.

So we’ll see how this plays out. It appears that there’s much less leeway for judges to be willing to strike it down right away. That being said, Hawaii is appealing in the same appellate circuit – the Ninth Circuit – that shut down Trump’s first travel ban.

But if this goes Hawaii’s way, then this will be the state’s biggest achievement since the invention of the Mai Tai.

This is Hawaii’s moment, in all of its glory.

As their state motto goes: Ua Mau ke Ea o ka Aina i ka Pono.

You can google that to see if I’m lying or not.

What to expect when you’re expecting a CIA hack

Today on ‘As the World Turns,’ Congressional Republicans proposed an alternative to Obamacare that may benefit the wallets of young, healthy people, but will likely be extremely problematic for those who are severely ill; European and Asian countries are considering upgrading their nuclear arsenal out of the fear that they can no longer rely on an unstable United States; and Wikileaks released thousands of pages of documents that may reveal highly secretive — and highly troubling — hacking techniques by the CIA.

Oh, and an explosive story in the New Yorker explains how Donald Trump’s company may have done shady business with corrupt Azerbaijani officials that illegally laundered money to Iran.

In other words, just another day in the U.S.

But hey, Ed Sheeran’s new album is actually pretty dope. Give it a listen. I’m calling “Castle on the Hill” as 2017’s next big hit.

One thing that gets lost when you exclusively follow American news is the impact that Trump’s presidency is having not on our country, but on the world.

While we are micro-analyzing every Tweet, and are balancing reactions from Republicans and Democrats, other countries are taking their own actions to protect themselves against an increasingly uncertain United States.

CIA

The European Union is considering its own nuclear program. China is threatening to increase its arsenal if the United States follows through with a missile defense program in South Korea. This is an actual world development that demands attention.

We saw in the ’60s the anxiety that can resonate worldwide when powerful countries engage in an arms race. And when the man with his fingertips on the nuclear codes in this country is someone who describes nuclear weapons as such:

“You know what uranium is, right? It’s this thing called nuclear weapons. And other things.”

Then call me crazy for being a little fearful.

As for the Wikileaks thing, a lot of reporting needs to take place before we understand the full scope of what was released. But the immediate indications are not very good.

For one, it means that someone leaked classified CIA information to Wikileaks, either because they really hate Trump and wanted to cause a problem, or because we have another Edward Snowden on our hands, and someone felt morally obligated to share what they felt was obtrusive and secretive spying on American citizens.

Secondly, if true, it means the CIA can spy on us using cell phones and smart TVs.

Which basically means that George Orwell’s ‘1984’ got it right yet again. In that book, the autocratic regime uses TVs, or what they call telescreens, to conduct surveillance on their citizens.

So to sum up: healthcare may no longer be affordable if you’re sick, nuclear war is imminent, the government is watching you through your smartphone as you read this, and Trump has probably committed criminal — let alone impeachable — offenses that would likely be easily uncovered if Congress were to conduct just one independent investigation into his past business dealings.

But other than that, everything is cool.

Our conspiracy theorist-in-chief

In the month-and-a-half since this regime took office, it’s become apparent that news will cycle very quickly.

A big story to start a day will fade by dusk. Something that happened on Monday may as well have happened a decade ago by the time Friday rolls around.

Just trying to keep up with it all elicits emotions ranging from a sensory overload at best to mental exhaustion at worst. And if you happen to go away for a weekend and are separated from the news, then forget it. By the time you catch up, six more things will have happened.

Some say it’s a premeditated strategy by this administration to be so hyperactively outrageous that it fatigues us into caring anymore. So far, it hasn’t worked.

In the last few days, three very important things have happened:

  1. Jeff Sessions recused himself from any further investigations into the ties between Trump’s administration and Russian officials.
  2. Trump issued a revised travel ban.
  3. Republican lawmakers issued their alternative to the Affordable Care Act.

But what are talking about? An unsubstantiated conspiracy theory tweeted by a man who has a proven history of recklessly pedaling false accusations.

Trump Obama

Trump’s tweetstorm about Obama wiretapping him is a smokescreen. It’s a means to distract us from the real issues at hand, and it’s working. Has it completely detracted the Trump-Russia talk? No. But it has prevented people from focusing their attention on Jeff Sessions and the travel ban.

I wrote a couple weeks ago about my biggest fear: that Trump is soiling the minds of young thinkers by validating an aversion to facts.

It’s only getting worse.

As president, he has access to the most detailed intelligence briefings that any human on this planet can receive. And yet, he still gets his news from conservative talk show hosts and right-wing websites that promulgate bigotry and conspiracy theories.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I find it embarrassing to have a president who is constantly insulting my intelligence. And to make matters worse, the White House then parades its talking heads onto talk shows to try to somehow spin the president’s words to a more pragmatic level.

It’s literally making me feel dumber to witness this craziness.

Two shootings that by all accounts appear to be prototypical hate crimes occurred in recent days: an Indian couple were shot in Kansas, and a Sikh man was shot inside a temple in Seattle.

In both instances, the shooter reportedly made remarks about their target’s country of origin.

Where is the president’s public denunciation of these murders? Why is he tweeting about Arnold Schwarzenegger and ignoring the deaths of American citizens?

Why is he so quick to repudiate crimes committed by brown-skinned people, but silent when they are the victims?

This is not the America I know.

Why Russia matters

Even those who’ve only had a casual interest in politics since the election have probably still heard about Trump’s ominous ties with Russia.

It’s Trump this and Putin that. White House this and Kremlin that. As we speak, the FBI is investigating the relationship between the two leaders, and stories highlighting the two nation’s shadowy dealings are breaking by the day, including a Washington Post exclusive on Wednesday reporting two pre-election conversations between now Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak — a direction contradiction of what he told Congress during his confirmation hearing.

Sessions has, as of tonight, announced he will recuse himself from any future Justice Department investigations into Russia.

But the overarching question from casual observers and even serious political junkies is likely to be: Why? What does it matter if Trump talks with Russia? How does it affect me and why should I care?

The answer to that is complex. But the bottom line is that it does matter. A lot.

All explanations must begin with the Cold War. Russia never wanted the Cold War to end. If they had it their way, they’d have pedaled their interests and influence all over the world, forming one giant Soviet Union. The United States was their direct adversary in preventing that from happening.

In the decades following World War II, there was no greater threat to America than the expansion of Soviet influence. It’s why we fought wars in North Korea and Vietnam. It’s why we performed a secret coup in Iran. It’s why we expedited our space and nuclear arms programs. Nearly all foreign policy from 1950 to 1990 revolved directly around the Cold War.

cold-war

Since it’s been about 27 years since the collapse of the USSR, most millennials probably don’t appreciate this history. But in reality, it has shaped the way these two countries exist and operate.

And even though the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia, in no way, shape or form, represents American interests. The country shares a deep mistrust of the U.S., and takes great pleasure in discrediting western values. Vladimir Putin grew up during the Cold War and is a former agent of the KGB, the Soviet secret police.

To believe that he still doesn’t possess Soviet values – the ones that were instilled in him throughout his entire childhood and adult life — would simply be naïve. He does not like the U.S., and he hated the Obama regime for being particularly tough on Russian overreach, particularly in the Ukraine and Syria.

So there’s your context. There’s very little to gain by warming up to Russia.

The question, then, is why has Trump appeared to be so buddy-buddy with Putin? Why has he failed to say anything negative towards the Russian leader?

Therein lies the question, and the motivation for news outlets to continue digging.

trump-putin

The ties between the Trump team and Russia are vast. His first campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was dismissed because of his ties to Ukraine’s former president, who was basically a Russian shill who was later ousted after protests by the Ukrainian people.

Security advisor Michael Flynn was fired following his clandestine conversations with Russian officials.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has had numerous business dealings with Russia, and it’s well documented that his former employer, ExxonMobil, would benefit significantly if Obama-imposed sanctions against Russia were lifted.

Trump himself has admittedly tried to do business with Russia. And we still haven’t seen his tax returns. Thus, we do not know the extent of his involvement with the country. The fact that he is refusing to release them only adds to the speculation.

And this is all in the backdrop of what we already do know – that Russia purposefully interfered and aimed to influence our presidential election.

As in most cases, the cover-up is usually worse than the crime. Perhaps the alleged ties between Trump and Russia are harmless. But the more he denies them, and the more his administration officials deny them, the more he compromises himself.

Lying under oath is what could bite him in the end. Presidents have been kicked out of office for less.

Furthermore, coziness between the U.S. and Russia also serves to destabilize our relationships with eastern European countries who are not friendly with Russia. The more complicit our president is with Putin — even simply from conjecture and hearsay — the less trustworthy we become in their eyes.

tillerson

And finally, the elephant in the room is the leaks. There are tens of millions of employees in the United States government, all of whom are privy to more information about the U.S. and Russia than we are.

There are continuous reports of widespread disarray within government departments under this inexperienced regime. Trump has already shown an indifference towards heeding the advice of our leading intelligence officials.

If these employees feel concerned enough that our government is not functioning properly that they have no choice but to leak information to the press, then that is deeply troubling. They are in a unique position to evaluate the state of this current regime, and if their assessments lead them to believe that leaking is the best option to protect American interests, then that to me is as much of a warning sign as anything.

In the end, this growing scandal has the potential to compromise the motives of our leaders, weaken American sentiment worldwide, and as a result, threaten our standing as a global power and our sovereignty as an independent nation.

So yes, one administration official speaking with the Russians is not altogether that troubling.

Trump’s inability to repudiate Putin is alarming, but not overly scandalous.

The appointment of a secretary of state who, with his previous job, went against U.S. interests to forge a relationship with Russia may be controversial, but not necessarily disqualifying.

All of these things together, given the past and recent history between the United States and Russia … it’s not a red flag.

It’s a freaking five-alarm fire.

How I missed the biggest mix-up in Oscars history

It was supposed to work our perfectly. I booked my work-related flight from New York to Phoenix on Academy Awards Sunday through Jet Blue, where I could watch the ceremony live on the plane.

Indeed, it would make the Oscars that much more memorable. When I look back on the 89th Academy Awards in the future, I’d always remember that I watched it live in the air. It would make my nearly six-hour flight go by that much quicker, and pending technical difficulties, I wouldn’t miss a second of the action.

So it was with deep befuddlement when I first sat down in the plane one hour before show time, when I realized that my in-flight television got basically every channel but ABC, which was broadcasting the ceremony.

But I didn’t become alarmed just yet. After all, it made no sense. Why would ABC not be there? Not only was every other basic cable channel available, but there was also some secondary channels like NBC Sports, MTV, TNT. So why not ABC? I figured maybe it was listed under another channel name or something.

moon-la-la-light

That’s when the flight attendant informed me that ABC is one of the few channels that has not given permission for JetBlue to use.

Still, I didn’t start panicking. I had my laptop and JetBlue had Wi-Fi.

Then I discovered that the live feed on ABC.com was not accessible from my flight.

No worries, though, the Oscars website has a live stream … which redirected to ABC.com.

In a last-ditch effort, I searched Google and Twitter for live streams, which probably weren’t licensed by ABC or the Oscars, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. Finally, with about 15 minutes to spare, I found a live YouTube stream. It was a bit grainy, but it was live and perfectly watchable. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Come 8:30 p.m., we were comfortably sitting at cruising altitude, Justin Timberlake was opening the show with his summer hit “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” and I had a cocktail in hand. I was perfectly set for the next four hours.

Then my live stream cut out due to copyright infringement.

A few unsuccessful searches later, I resigned my fate. I would miss the Oscars. Fortunately, though, it’s 2017, and I was able to get up-to-the-second updates on the awards, and then able to find a clip on YouTube minutes later to see the actual footage. I was basically watching the Oscars on a delay, with no suspense whatsoever.

But for most of the broadcast, the show was very enjoyable. Jimmy Kimmel filled the spacesCasey Affleck nicely with some great gags involving tourists and Matt Damon, and while politics did not dominate the event, there was still some powerful moments, highlighted by the Best Foreign Film-winning director Asghar Farhadi’s decision to boycott the show in protest of Trump’s previously-struck-down travel ban.

Furthermore, I was on a roll. With the exception of Best Leading Actor going to Casey Affleck — much to the dismay of many females — I had predicted almost every major category correctly.

All that was left was for me to correctly predict Moonlight for Best Picture.

The following text message conversation ensued shortly after midnight between a friend and I:

Me: Tell me when they’re announcing Best Picture.

Friend: Right now.

Me: Moonlight plz

Friend: La La Land

Me: *sad cat emoji*

Friend: It won seven awards in total.

one minute passes…

Friend: Wait

Friend: Moonlight won

Friend: There was a mistake. Wtf

Me: Are you being serious lol

Friend: Yes. You need to watch that clip.

Me: Did they pull a Steve Harvey?

Friend: They were halfway through the speeches.

Me: I AM MISSING EVERYTHING.

emma-stoneOf all the Oscars to miss live, it had to be this one.

For the viewer, it was obviously a very entertaining sequence of events. And while I am glad that justice was wrought and Moonlight ultimately won, I couldn’t help but be saddened that the people involved with the film didn’t get to have the full experience of winning the industry’s biggest award. It really would have been a memorable moment.

Instead, we got a circus.

We now know what happened amid the chaos, thanks largely to Jimmy Kimmel’s late night monologue the next day. It wasn’t Warren Beatty’s fault. Wasn’t really Faye Dunaway’s fault. Wasn’t Matt Damon’s fault.

It was the accounting firm that tallies the votes.

When in doubt, blame the accountants.

All in all, as bad as that snafu was, you’ve got to hand it to the La La Land crew for how graciously they handled the situation. And as a result, I think Moonlight and La La Land should now be made into one movie.

In fact, I’m working on the script now.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Moon La La Light.

It probably won’t be the next Hamilton.