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.

Iran and the U.S.: A Love Story

People enjoy a good love story, right? Casablanca, Say Anything…, Titanic, The Notebook, the 1976 movie literally titled Love Story.

They’re formulaic, predictable and appeal to our inherent desire for romance and human connection. There’s usually an emotional soliloquy somewhere in there overlaid with dramatic music. We’re suckers for that.

On that note, let’s share another love story. The one between the United States and Iran.

But to tell this story, we must begin in 1953. Gather ‘round, kids. Kick off your shoes while you’re at it.

As the Harry Truman administration was coming to its end in the years following World War II, British officials tried to convince the U.S. president to assist them in an intervention of Iran. The argument British officials pushed was the county’s imminent threat of becoming a Communist state – an existential worry at the time with Soviet influence spreading throughout Europe and Asia.

The truth, however, was that Winston Churchill and the British really wanted to intervene to regain control of the oil company they owned. Britain had formerly made an agreement with Iran for drilling rights on their soil, struck oil, and were reaping the monetary benefits. Iran wanted a stake and the British were having none of it.

Neither was the Truman administration. They wanted no part of the plan.

Not long after, Iran kicked the British out and took over control of the oil company and the profits. When the American presidency switched from Truman to Dwight Eisenhower, the British took another crack at it. This time, Eisenhower agreed.

iran-hostages

But the political environment in Iran was turning. Indeed, the country was becoming democratic, and had even selected a new leader – Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh.

For years, Iran had been led by the repressive Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who treated citizens terribly, but was willing to abide by American and British influence if they helped him return to power.

And then came the Americans and the British. A secret coup d’etat ensued, led on the ground by none other than Kermit Roosevelt, a CIA operative and grandson of Theodore Roosevelt. Iran’s popularly elected leader, Mosaddegh, was overthrown, and the repressive Shah was put back in place, where he led a regime highlighted by oppression, brutality and corruption for nearly three decades.

The CIA mission was largely remained classified, and details of the operation slowly emerged over time, deeply immersing an anti-American sentiment within the Iranian people.

Finally, in the late 1970s, the Iranians had enough. The Islamic Revolution in 1979 saw the overthrow of the Shah, who was then exiled. Ayotallah Khomeini became the country’s Supreme Leader, the well-documented Iran hostage crisis saw 52 American diplomats and citizens held captive for more than a year, and Iranians started chanting “Death to America” on a daily basis.

And that’s been the basis of American-Iranian relations ever since.  Aytatollah Khomeini died in 1989, and he was replaced by Ayatollah Khamenei, who remains the country’s supreme leader.

In 2015, Barack Obama tried a new approach towards Iran – diplomacy. The result was a comprehensive agreement that removed crippling economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for the dismantling of their nuclear arsenal, which has been verified by outside independent agencies.

The agreement involved personal meetings between the two of the countries’ top diplomats at the time, John Kerry and the American-educated Mohammad Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Though the relationship between the two countries were still severely strained – Iran remains on the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism – it was the easily the most cordial and peaceful development between the two nations since the 1979 revolution, and at least left the window open for future reconciliation.

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Now to 2017. Trump is lambasting Iran on social media. Security Advisor Michael Flynn has put “Iran on notice.” Iran was one of the seven nations from which we banned immigrants from.

And now Iran is pushing back.

During a speech on Tuesday, Ayatollah Khamenei thanked “Newcomer” Trump for showing the “real face” of the United States.

“We actually thank this new president! We thank him, because he made it easier for us to reveal the real face of the United States. What we have been saying, for over thirty years, about political, economic, moral, and social corruption within the U.S. ruling establishment, he came out and exposed during the election campaigns and after the elections.”

He wasn’t done.

“Trump says fear me! No. The Iranian nation will respond to your comments with a demonstration on the 10th of February: they will show others what kind of stance the nation of Iran takes when threatened.”

With his reckless dialogue, Trump has given Iran the validation it had been seeking for the last 30 years to unleash their full wrath of hatred upon us. In their eyes, we are public enemy #1, and now they will be literally showing it on a public stage.

As our country continues to be led by a man with zero awareness of the nuances of foreign policy, thus creating a destabilizing shock wave throughout the entire world, an empowered Iran is making its move.

In this tale, there’s no Kate Winslet releasing Leonardo DiCaprio into the depths of the ocean. Humphrey Bogart isn’t seeing off Ingrid Bergman in front of a plane. Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams are MIA.

This is real life, and bad things may actually happen.

The end.

Oil and executive orders: Trump’s first week

It was July 21, 2016 when 225,000 liters of crude oil spilled from a pipeline into the North Saskatchewan River in Canada, contaminating the drinking water for two cities, and killing hundreds of wildlife. It took months for those residents to get back their primary source of water.

On Monday, it happened again. Another pipeline in Saskatchewan, managed by a different oil company, spilled some 200,000 liters into agricultural land on one of Canada’s First Nations.

Oil spills are inevitable side effects of economic development. While scientific discoveries continue to enlighten us on climate change and the dangers caused by excess carbon emissions released from burning oil and coal, and governments adapt by increasing emphasis on natural energy, the bottom line is that oil – and lots of it — is still necessary for civilizations to flourish.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t make a concerted effort to do better.

President Obama did more to protect the environment than any president in history. He placed moratoriums on coal production, limited offshore drilling, set regulations for carbon emissions, and protected national landmarks.

This, of course, was at the risk of eliminating jobs that come with the production of these resources, a fact that hurt his popularity in the Rust Belt states – a region that tilted the election towards Donald Trump this past November.

oil-pipeline

Two signature and heavily symbolic decisions by the Obama administration was the cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline and the curtailment of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a proposal that became the focus of protests from Native Americans, who said the oil would flow underneath sacred sites and, in the event of a leak (which are not uncommon — see above), would poison their drinking water.

The decisions were met with overwhelming praise from environmental activists and supporters of the Native American protesters. For once, the government acted in favor of our indigenous people, who, 200 years ago, we banished to the furthest depths of our country so we could take their land and use it for our own benefit.

On Tuesday, President Trump reversed both those decisions.

It was one memorandum signed by Trump in what has been a rampage of executive orders to undo the policies put into place by Obama, namely on healthcare, national security, immigration, foreign policy and now the environment. Heck, today he even ordered for funds to be put aside to build a border wall.

People said we should wait and see what Trump does before reacting.

This is what he is doing.

Executive orders only have so much pull. They are exactly that – an order. They aren’t law. But they set the tone and make clear what the administration wishes to accomplish. If you’ve been disenchanted by the political process and have stopped paying attention, then I advise you to tune back in. Because Trump is laying the groundwork for his presidency as we speak.

trump-executive-order

And maybe you like what he’s doing. He’s certainly acting on his campaign promises. Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada who became a close friend of Obama’s, supported Trump’s revival of the Keystone Pipeline.

Earlier this week, Bernie Sanders applauded Trump’s decision to reject the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that was central to Obama’s “pivot” to Asia.

But when people protested immediately after Nov. 8, they were criticized for their impatience for not waiting to let Trump do his job.

When they protested the day after his inauguration, critics still wondered why they weren’t giving him more time.

We are now past that. Trump is legislating. And for many, their worst fears are being realized.

No president has stoked people’s emotions more than Trump. Because of the discord he created, it shouldn’t surprise anyone when his actions are met with demonstrations and outcry.

People are passionate about what they believe in. And people will fight.

And Trump is giving them plenty of reason to fight.

I just hope nobody gets hurt.

Inauguration 2017: just treat it like any ordinary day

It would have been easy to start today’s post with some type of apocalyptic joke, pretending that this is the last time I’ll ever be able to speak with you all.

Because by this time tomorrow, Trump will have clamped down on freedom of speech and dissidents would be targeted and jailed, forcing me to flee and live in a cave somewhere.

Meanwhile, his tyranny would lead to an uprising from his opponents and full-out civil war.

Trump, with his hands now on the nuclear codes, would threaten extinction unless he received full obedience from the American people.

One thing leads to another, and next thing you know, we’re North Korea.

Clearly, I’ve read too much apocalyptic literature in my life.

But as much as people like to act as if Trump will bring about the literal End of Days … he will not. The sun will still rise tomorrow and we’ll all go to work like any other Friday. Just when we go to sleep at the end of the day, we’ll have a different president.

inauguration

The divisiveness that reared its ugly head during the election will likely remain, and Trump will continue to make headlines of the likes that we’ve never seen before from an American president. But life will go on, and we can only hope that we continue to converse with one another in a thoughtful and united way, and that we learn our lesson moving forward.

In the grand scheme of things, Trump’s reign as president will simply be a blip on the radar in terms of American history. Even if we do need to live through it the next four years.

To quote Bette Davis is the classic 1960s film All About Eve, “Fasten your seat belts. it’s going to be a bumpy night.” Except in this instances, it will be a bumpy 1,461 nights. *Shudders*

So let’s save the dramatics and treat this blog post like it’s any normal day. What’s going on in the news?

It was pretty anticlimactic, but the international search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 was officially called off after three years on Tuesday. Unless new evidence surfaces, we may never locate it and find out what actually happened to the plane, which disappeared after it veered off course for several hours on March 8, 2014 and presumably crashed into the Indian Ocean.

The lack of interest in this story exemplifies people’s short attention spans. Most of the world was captivated by this missing flight three years ago, and with the announcement of the search’s end, this news is being less discussed than Wednesday night’s People’s Choice Awards.

Also, speaking of Trump, remember when he pledged to purge America of misbehaving unauthorized Mexicans?

Well, it turns out we’re doing the exact opposite and bringing one back in.

El Chapo, the deadly drug lord with the adorable name who made two Houdini-like escapes from high-security Mexican prisons, will be extradited to the United States, and face trial here.

Welcome to America, El Chapo. You’ve come at just the right time. We have a new president who will just love you.

And with that, my last post in the Obama era comes to an end.

I’ll see you all on the other side.

Inauguration 2017: at least we’re not The Gambia

If it wasn’t for Nelson Mandela, the Ebola Virus and elephants, 95% of Americans probably would know almost nothing about Africa.

For example, I’d fathom to guess that the average American does not realize that nearly half of Africans are Muslim.

Or that the movie Casablanca takes place in Africa.

Or that the Southern tip of Spain is less than eight nautical miles away from mainland Africa.

The difference between the United States and Africa is stark, from the people, to the culture, to the living conditions. When you look at the World Health organization’s 2015 rankings of countries by life expectancy, all but six of the bottom 50 countries are in Africa.

That’s stunning.

And in an America that’s growing ever more concerned with itself, and not countries from afar, it’s no surprise how poorly educated we are on our African brethren.

Though, we do have a prominent South African in Trevor Noah hosting the prime time “Daily Show” to give us a little insight into African happenings. But even those are few and far between.

Unfortunately, when we do hear about news in Africa, it’s usually not good. Like the migrant crisis. Or an attempted uprising in the Ivory Coast.

Or, in today’s news, the ousted president in The Gambia refusing to cede power.

yahya-jammeh

For 90 percent of the people reading this, congratulations, you’ve just learned a new country! The Gambia sits in northwest Africa, completely surrounded by Senegal and the Atlantic Ocean.

Its president for the last 22 years, Yahya Jummah, has been accused of humans rights violations including the jailing and murder of political opponents, and once said he found a cure for AIDS consisting of herbal paste and a banana. He’s also claimed he’d lead The Gambia for billions of years.

Well, last month, he lost an election. And even though he initially said he’d accept the election results, he’s apparently changed his mind.

And now, neighboring African nations are moving to intervene, potentially setting the stage for a violent conflict, and causing tens of thousands of Gambians to flee the country.

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump compared America to a “third world country.” No Mr. Trump, this is what a third world country looks like. And ironically, this is probably similar to what he might have done had he lost this election.

We change presidents on Friday.It’s going to be a tough day for a lot of people.

But amid all of the contention and controversy this past year, we are still witnessing our country’s most storied tradition: a peaceful transition of power.

We take a lot of things for granted living in America. And though a lot of people are extremely unhappy with the results of the election on Nov. 8, the fundamental layers of our democracy remain as strong as ever.

A lot of the credit belongs to Barack Obama, who is handling the transition with class, even if he’s had quite a busy last few days cementing his legacy with pardons, commutations, troop deployments to Eastern Europe and Guantanamo Bay prisoner transfers.

We have a lot of things to worry about in our lives. And watching Donald Trump being sworn in on Friday won’t make life much easier.

But knowing that the stability of our political process is not one of those things is a nice thought. Because in many places in Africa, like The Gambia, they don’t get to experience that.

So my liberal friends, toughen up. You’re unhappy, we get it. I’m there with you, too.

But still try to realize on Friday that we live in the best country in the world, and that’s not changing anytime soon.

And if you can’t do that, well, it’ll be a Friday, so just go to a bar after work and get wasted.

Cheers.

 

So … we may beat ISIS soon.

Hey, remember that ISIS group? The terrorist organization that burst on the scene in the Middle East so suddenly and so horrifically in 2014 that the mere mention of their name has become the stuff of nightmares?

The same group that, as their influence has spread westward by inspiring and even orchestrating ruthless terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States, has led observers to declare President Obama as a feckless leader when it comes to national security?

And the very same group that has led some paranoid people to believe that all Muslims are inherently bad?

Well, they may very well be on the verge of collapse.

This has been a story that has gone widely unnoticed, mainly because it’s happening 7,000 miles away and in the same week as the final debate in arguably the most contentious presidential election in the history of our country, but on Monday, a mix of American-backed Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers began an offensive in Mosul, in northern Iraq, to retake the city from ISIS.

Mosul.jpg

Just a bit of rewind for a moment. When ISIS took the city of Mosul in 2014, it stunned everybody and quickly proved to the world that they are a legitimate terrorist threat to be reckoned with.

After that, they gained smaller cities throughout Iraq and Syria and even Libya.

ISIS stands for the Islamic State. The difference between them and Al-Qaeda is that they actually have territory —  a state. That is their calling card.

The reason they are able to attract so many followers worldwide is because they are able to tell people that they have territory in which they can create the Islamic caliphate that is their ultimate goal. Within that territory will be the apocalyptic war that they have continually presaged.

Well, flash forward to present day. ISIS has since lost many of its territories, like Ramadi and Tikrit in Iraq, Dabiq in Syria (where that apocalyptic war was supposed to take place) and in Sirte in Libya.

Mosul is the largest they still hold. If they lose it — which they are expected to, since their forces are badly outnumbered in this current battle — the militants will have no choice but to flee to their de-facto capital of Raqqa, in Syria, their last remaining stronghold.

I’m not saying ISIS is dead. Even if they lose all of their territory, the poisonous ideologies they have spread are still out there. Plus they can still operate underground. And lord knows what may emerge as the next terrorist threat even if ISIS goes away.

But it just goes to show that the people who thought America was doing nothing to combat ISIS could not have been more wrong  — and it was done without putting a single American soldier on the front lines.

This battle in Mosul may take weeks, or even months, to complete.

But if it goes the way it’s predicted, than President Obama will be entitled to one hell of a mic drop on Jan. 20 when he leaves the White House.

Nonetheless, it’s pretty sweet to imagine that we may very well see the downfall of Donald Trump and ISIS in the same calendar year.

After what has been a horrifying year for America, it may end on a pretty darn good note, after all.

I take it back. Don’t vote for Gary Johnson.

The first presidential debate may be three days old, but discussion surrounding it has not stopped.

What’s most interesting is that the chatter most prevalent in the media and among the two campaigns has nothing to do with any policy positions that came up on Monday night — but rather, a former beauty pageant contestant.

It was the final minutes of the debate, and viewers had already somehow survived 90 minutes of incessant bickering, mostly from the left side of their screen.

But that’s when Hillary Clinton laid a perfectly executed trap. And Donald Trump took the bait.

She mentioned a former Miss Universe winner, Alicia Machado, who Trump once insulted alicia-machadofor gaining weight. It was ingenious because it was a blemish against Trump that, somehow, we have never heard of before.

Of all the terrible, horrible things we’ve heard about Donald Trump over the past year and a half, his treatment of this woman was not one of them.

Instead of letting it go, Trump did what he does best — went on the defensive, and rather than calming the waters, he only proceeded to make the situation worse. And now, with the entire nation refocused on this election, we’re getting a full dose of Trump’s sexist, misogynistic tendencies. (Trump, for his part, appears to be retaliating by trying to turn the narrative to Bill Clinton’s past infidelities.)

Hillary is a lot of things to a lot of people. She’s definitely intelligent. But she’s also cunning. And honestly, I don’t think that’s the worst trait to have in a president.

For many, the debate probably validated their belief that they don’t want either candidate to be our president. And those people over the last couple of days may have taken a second look at the predominant third party candidate, Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico turned Independent, who’s polling at around 7 percent.

They should stop. Immediately.

And I know I endorsed the inclusion of Gary Johnson in this race, but, we shouldn’t give him credence simply because he exists as a third option. If he was a good third option, then fine. But recent history disagrees with that notion.

It’s been a rapid descent for Mr. Johnson in recent weeks, beginning with his failure to know anything about Aleppo, the city in northern Syria that’s facing the worst bombing the country has seen in its entire years-long Civil War.

And that coincides with his quirky-bordering-on-crazy behavior during interviews, like in this one last week with Bloomberg politics.

But the final nail in the coffin may have come on Wednesday, when, during a Town Hall-style interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, he was unable to come up with an answer when asked to name one single world leader that he respects. It was, in his own words, “an Aleppo moment.”

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Maybe the problem is that we should stop expecting our presidential candidates to be perfect. I mean, if you think about it, how many world leaders around the world are there right now who are universally liked?

When you’re in the public eye, people are going to look for reasons not to like you. Most of the time, they find them.

Trust me, I wish we had a leader who kept his cool every day on the job. Who was respected in the international community. Who was well-spoken. And who kept his campaign promises and who could represent our country with the proper amount of dignity.

If only that existed.

Oh wait. It does.

His name is Barack Obama.