Billy Graham, Anti-Semite and Homophobe

Billy Graham, one of the founders of the religious right, died this week. Following are a few views on Graham from people who are not fans of the religious right.

Friendly Atheist writes that Billy Graham’s Body Shouldn’t “Lie in Honor” in the Capitol Rotunda

Evangelist Billy Graham, who died this week at age 99, was known for being an informal advisor to presidents of both political parties as well as one of the most admired people in America for decades.

That’s the white-washed version of his legacy.

He also helped inspire the modern Religious Right, left behind a son who’s best known for making life worse for LGBTQ people and women and minorities, disparaged Jews over their “stranglehold” on the media, and was hardly a champion of civil rights in the 1960s even when his support could’ve helped African Americans.

That’s the full legacy. You can’t talk about Graham without noting those glaring flaws in his life.

And that’s why it’s inappropriate for Republican leaders to honor him by bringing his body to the United States Capitol Rotunda next week so that people can pay their last respects.

The post later cites a letter which the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell protesting the honor. From that letter:

Graham’s career was devoted to revivals, Christian conversions, hellfire preaching and the insertion of his brand of religion into what is supposed to be a secular government governed by a godless Constitution barring establishment of religion or governmental preference for religion, FFRF points out. One of Graham’s dubious accomplishments was to successfully lobby Congress to pass a law declaring an annual National Day of Prayer. This law enacted at Graham’s behest, which FFRF has previously challenged, has entangled religion and government, spawned countless inappropriate prayer breakfasts, prayerful governmental events and prayer resolutions at all levels of government. In doing so, it has sent for generations a message that evangelical Christians are “insiders” and non-Christians and the nonreligious are “outsiders.”

FFRF also highlights how irresponsible it is for the U.S. Congress to venerate and honor a noted anti-Semite. The secret taping system that recorded President Nixon’s conversations and led to his Watergate downfall captured Graham’s anti-Semitic musings with Nixon. “A lot of the Jews are great friends of mine, they swarm around me and are friendly to me because they know that I’m friendly with Israel,” Graham told Nixon. “But they don’t know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country.”

Graham was on the wrong side of the leading issues of his time. The day after Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his letter from the Birmingham Jail — a letter addressed to white religious leaders like Graham who were doing little else other than “mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities” — Graham mouthed a few more, arguing that King should “put the brakes on a little bit.” Graham seemingly never met a U.S. war of aggression he didn’t favor or encourage the occupants of the Oval Office to wage. As columnist and former priest James Carroll observes: “Billy Graham was the high priest of the American crusade, which is why U.S. presidents uniformly sought his blessing.”

Graham vociferously opposed gay rights and marriage equality, saying “we traffic in homosexuality at the peril of our spiritual welfare.” The Billy Graham Evangelical Association once said that Vladimir Putin was “more right” on LGBTQ rights than then-President Obama. Graham, in his 90s, wrote a full-page ad appearing in several North Carolina newspapers “to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote FOR the marriage amendment” in May 2012, which passed, banning gay marriage until later nullified. He belonged to a denomination that refused to ordain women. The “Billy Graham” rule directing a man to not be alone with a woman other than his wife continues to influence evangelicals, including Vice President Mike Pence, isolating career women in the process.

Religion Dispatches protested calling Billy Graham America’s Pastor:

Let’s try this simple test. Would a good pastor suck up to presidents and other powerful people, granting them general absolution despite their known crimes (and yes, here I am thinking primarily of Napalmer-in-Chief Lyndon Johnson and of Tricky Dick Nixon, the president with whom Graham had the closest relationship)?

For that matter, would a good pastor reinforce a parishioner’s Jew-hatred, as Graham clearly did vis-a-vis Nixon (although he later claimed that he forgot saying these appalling things)?

Quotes of the Day: Jimmy Kimmel & Stephen Colbert On The Shutdown

Jimmy Kimmel On The Shutdown:

In Washington, Democrats and Republicans reached a deal. Kind of a deal, to reopen the government for, well, at least three weeks. The Democrats agreed to fund the government through February 8 in exchange for a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that they would have a debate and a vote on DACA. In other words, for nothing.

Schumer said negotiating with the president was like trying to negotiate with Jell-O, specifically the orange Jell-O.

Trump was completely removed from the negotiations. It’s funny, he always claimed to be the best negotiator. This was his big selling point, “I’m the dealmaker.” At this point it seems pretty clear he couldn’t even negotiate 20% off at Bed Bath & Beyond with the coupon.

Bonus Quote From Stephen Colbert:

To avoid another shutdown, all that needs to happen is Congress has to agree on how to fix our entire immigration system in 17 days. And once they do that, the pigs that fly will solve world hunger.

Bernie Sanders Remains Most Popular Senator In America

Bernie Sanders remains the most popular Senator in America in the latest Morning Consult poll. Mitch McConnell ranks at the bottom.

In one of the worst acts of political malpractice in American history, the Democratic Party passed up the chance to have Bernie Sanders as its nominee, which would have most likely delivered not only the White House, but also the Senate to the Democrats. Instead of nominating a popular and trusted Senator such as Bernie Sanders, the Democratic leadership decided to use its rules to tilt the nomination towards the unpopular and widely distrusted Hillary Clinton.

While Bernie Sanders offered the Democrats a nominee who could excite voters and bring in Republican and independent votes, Clinton polled poorly in the battleground states, among independents, among young voters, and among liberal voters. While Sanders offered a return to more traditional Democratic values, Clinton provided the Democrats with a nominee who backed the neoconservative agenda of George W. Bush and had the ethics of Richard Nixon.

Nominating Clinton in the midst of a major political scandal would have been like the Republicans nominating Nixon if the Watergate scandal had already broken. Thanks to the foolishness and dishonesty of the Democratic leadership, we are now stuck with Donald Trump in the White House and a Republican controlled Senate.

Republicans Surrender On Graham-Cassidy

It was already obvious by Saturday when I last wrote about it that the votes were not going to be there for Republicans to pass Graham-Cassidy. It became official today. Mitch McConnell announced that the Republicans will not be holding a vote on the bill, disappointing Donald Trump.

Republicans still might attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act beyond the current September 30 deadline to do this under budget reconciliation. Vox explained in considerable detail how this might be done. However, this would make changing the tax law more complicated, making many Republicans reluctant to go this route. There are already aspects of Trump’s plan which could cause serious headaches for many Republicans.

Last week Bill Cassidy faced the wrath of Jimmy Kimmel on health care. Last night, prior to the decision to cancel the vote on Graham-Cassidy, CNN held a debate on the law. Alternet reports that Bernie Sanders stole the show with quotes such as:

“These are wonderful gentlemen, and I know nobody up here wants to see anybody die. But you tell me what happens when somebody who has cancer, somebody who has a serious heart condition, somebody who has a life- threatening disease suddenly loses the health insurance that they have.”

“This [current] system is designed to make billions of dollars in profits for the insurance industry. We spend 12 percent to 18 percent to administer the incredibly complex hundreds of plans that we currently have. And with these guys, if they got their way, there would even be more plans, more bureaucracy, more complexity, more money going to the insurance companies.”

“So if we are serious about moving to a cost-effective universal health care, yeah, we do have to take on the insurance companies. They do not play a role in providing health care. Our money should be going to doctors, to nurses, to hospitals, not to the insurance industry or, in fact, the drug industry, which is charging us by far the highest prices in the world.”

While we do not know what the Republicans might do next to try to strip people of their health care coverage, it is a safe bet that the insurance and pharmaceutical industries will not be supporting Bernie Sanders if he runs for president in 2020.

Donald Trump Looked Up At The Eclipse, Apparently Denying Science And “Fake News”

If you paid even the slightest attention to the news, the most important thing discussed about the eclipse was to not look up at the sun. It would take someone who thinks that almost all the news is fake (with even Mitch McConnell publicly disagreeing with him), and doesn’t believe in science, to ignore these warning. Apparently Donald Trump thought that the stories about effects of the eclipse on vision were a hoax, like climate change and the earth being round. Despite a warning from a nearby aide, Donald Trump actually did look up at the solar eclipse.

What makes this even stranger is that Trump actually had protective glasses, which he put on later.

Now it will be interesting to see if Donald Trump starts bumping into walls, has difficulty reading teleprompters, or stops talking about how beautiful he thinks Ivanka is.

Regardless of whether he develops visual problems, this is yet another example of bizarre behavior on his part. There is a reason that some psychiatrists are publicly questioning his sanity. There is also a reason for the 25th Amendment.

Opposition Continues To Republican Health Care Plan

Little has changed on health care legislation. The Republican plan for replacing Obamacare continues to provide inadequate coverage. This includes reducing coverage for Medicaid and destabilizing the individual market, now with a provision written by Ted Cruz. As Ezra Klein wrote, The new Senate health bill is terrible for anyone who is sick, has been sick, or will be sick. This is especially true for those who do not receive coverage through an employer, or ever get sick enough that they cannot continue working to keep that coverage.

Fortunately the Republicans remain in a difficult position with regards to passing their plan. They can only afford to lose three Republican votes, and at this point two Republicans, Rand Paul and Susan Collins, say they will not vote for it. Several other Republicans are undecided. Mitch McConnell plans on holding a procedural vote on Tuesday to consider the measure, and there very well might not be enough votes to proceed.

There continues to be wide spread public opposition to the Republican plan, with multiple medical groups working to oppose the bill. This includes  the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Physicians, the American Osteopathic Association and the American Psychiatric Association. Putting further pressure on Republican Senators, the Cook Political Report also notes that 94 percent of ads have been opposed to the bill.

There has been some talk that the Republicans would work with the Democrats on a bill to shore up the exchanges should the Republican measure fail. It is doubtful that the Republicans would agree to the types of measures which would be best to cover those obtaining coverage on the individual market such as a public option or Medicare buy in. It is even more unlikely that the Republicans, or even enough Democrats, would back the most sensible solution–a single payer plan.

Republicans Have Neither Tapes Of Trump/Comey Meetings Or A Viable Health Care Plan

Today we found that Donald Trump does not have any secretly recorded tapes of James Comey and the previously secret Senate Republican health care plan has been released. Neither was a surprise. If Trump had any tapes proving he was telling the truth, he would have already released them, and if there happened to be tapes which showed he was lying, he would never admit to having them. Also, as expected, the Senate plan includes deep cuts to Medicaid, decreases subside for lower income individuals, and increases costs for those who are older.

Barack Obama described the plan:

Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family – this bill will do you harm. And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.

I hope our Senators ask themselves – what will happen to the Americans grappling with opioid addiction who suddenly lose their coverage? What will happen to pregnant mothers, children with disabilities, poor adults and seniors who need long-term care once they can no longer count on Medicaid? What will happen if you have a medical emergency when insurance companies are once again allowed to exclude the benefits you need, send you unlimited bills, or set unaffordable deductibles? What impossible choices will working parents be forced to make if their child’s cancer treatment costs them more than their life savings?

To put the American people through that pain – while giving billionaires and corporations a massive tax cut in return – that’s tough to fathom. But it’s what’s at stake right now. So it remains my fervent hope that we step back and try to deliver on what the American people need.

It is far from certain that the Republicans can even pass this plan, despite using reconciliation so that they only need fifty votes. They can only afford to lose two votes, but four conservatives have already expressed reservations. From NPR:

Senate Republicans’ health care bill may already be on life support, with four key lawmakers announcing their opposition just hours after the GOP’s latest effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was released.

“Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor,” Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Mike Lee, R-Utah; and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

They cannot easily move further to the right to appease the conservatives as some more moderate Republicans already have their own objections:

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who faces a competitive re-election race in 2018, says he has “serious concerns about the bill’s impact on the Nevadans who depend on Medicaid.”

“As I have consistently stated, if the bill is good for Nevada, I’ll vote for it and if it’s not — I won’t,” Heller said.

Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the centrist has some misgivings about the bills as well.

Whether or not it passes, Republicans will now be able to tell their constituents that they have attempted to keep their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. If their plan fails, the blame could be placed on Democrats and whichever Republicans vote against it, as opposed to the party as a whole. If that doesn’t work, McConnell could always take something from the Clinton playbook and blame Russia.

Republican Health Plan Might Be Even Meaner Than House Plan

Mitch McConnell is aiming for a vote on the Senate health care plan before July 4. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Failure to take a vote before either the July 4 recess or the longer break later in the summer also could open Republican lawmakers up to pressure from constituents either concerned about losing their health coverage or expecting Republicans to follow through on pledges to repeal the law known as Obamacare. Some town-hall meetings during the spring, when the House was considering its legislation, saw lawmakers greeted by boisterous crowds.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the House bill passed in May would leave 23 million fewer Americans with health coverage in 2026 versus current law.

GOP aides and others familiar with the negotiations said they anticipate the Senate bill’s text will be released later this week. The CBO is expected to release its estimate of the Senate bill’s impact on the federal budget and insurance coverage early next week, and a vote could potentially be held next Thursday, before lawmakers scatter.

As “mean” as the House plan was (to quote the inconsistent Donald Trump), reportedly the Senate plan might cut Medicaid spending even more. The Wall Street Journal notes that this “is likely to draw opposition from Republicans in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA, including Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Dean Heller of Nevada and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.”

Democrats, lacking the votes to stop the bill, are planning on using stalling tactics to attempt to slow down Senate business, but this is not likely to be sufficient to stop passage if the Republicans have the votes.

Polling has shown that voters are concerned about the cuts in health care benefits and the manner in which the bill is being drafted in secrecy, with voters preferring Obamacare to the Republican plan. Hopefully this will result in pressure on  more vulnerable Republican Senators to vote against the bill.

Wednesday is also the deadline for insurance companies to decide upon whether they will participate in the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act and decide upon their rates. The uncertainty caused by the Republicans working in secrecy to change the law could scare more companies off and destabilize the plan regardless of whether Republicans succeed in repealing it.

AMA Warns Of Risks Of Gutting Health Care Reform

With Republicans appearing to make abolishing Obamacare a top priority (following their failure to gut ethics oversight of Congress), the American Medical Association has weighed in with this letter (emphasis mine) stressing the importance of making coverage more affordable, providing greater choice, and increasing the number insured:

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Ryan and Leader Pelosi:

On behalf of the physician and medical student members of the American Medical Association (AMA), I am writing regarding our ongoing commitment to reform of the health care system and potential legislative actions during the first months of the 115th Congress.

The AMA has long advocated for health insurance coverage for all Americans, as well as pluralism, freedom of choice, freedom of practice, and universal access for patients. These policy positions are guided by the actions of the AMA House of Delegates, composed of representatives of more than 190 state and national specialty medical associations, and they form the basis for AMA consideration of reforms to our health care system.

Health system reform is an ongoing quest for improvement. The AMA supported passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because it was a significant improvement on the status quo at that time. We continue to embrace the primary goal of that law—to make high quality, affordable health care coverage accessible to all Americans. We also recognize that the ACA is imperfect and there a number of issues that need to be addressed. As such, we welcome proposals, consistent with the policies of our House of Delegates, to make coverage more affordable, provide greater choice, and increase the number of those insured.

In considering opportunities to make coverage more affordable and accessible to all Americans, it is essential that gains in the number of Americans with health insurance coverage be maintained.

Consistent with this core principle, we believe that before any action is taken through reconciliation or other means that would potentially alter coverage, policymakers should lay out for the American people, in reasonable detail, what will replace current policies. Patients and other stakeholders should be able to clearly compare current policy to new proposals so they can make informed decisions about whether it represents a step forward in the ongoing process of health reform.

We stand ready to work with you to continue the process of improving our health care system and ensuring that all Americans have access to high quality, affordable health care coverage.

Sincerely,
James L. Madara, MD

Medical groups and physicians have been conflicted regarding expected health care policy under Donald Trump. There was some early support for Tom Price to head Health and Human Services in the hope that he will work to reduce the regulatory burden, but many doctors have come out in opposition to him out of concern for reductions in coverage for many Americans.

While health care policy could likely a major impact of the all-Republican government, it received very little attention during the presidential campaign. This is partially due to the media’s preference to cover the horse race and scandal, Donald Trump making more noise on matters such as the Wall, and an extraordinarily poor campaign by Hillary Clinton which concentrated on stressing Trump’s negatives and avoiding issues. Democrats are now starting to speak out on health care. Chuck Schumer is trying to turn Trump’s slogan against him, warning that Republicans will “Make America Sick Again.” Hopefully they can provide a resistance beyond coming up with a slogan.

Democrats were successful in blocking George Bush when he attempted to partially privatize Social Security in his second term, and similarly have a chance of receiving public support in opposing Republican attempts to reduce health care coverage, including cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. Republicans are also getting jittery about health care legislation. They could safely please their constituents by voting to abolish Obamacare when Barack Obama was in office and they knew he would veto their efforts if it made it past a filibuster. Many now realize they will be held accountable for what happens, including if people lose coverage, and insurance costs continue to rise rapidly. The Committee For A Responsible Federal Budget, typically conservative on government  spending,  has outline the costs of repealing Obamacare, giving further reasons for Republicans to be cautious.

Donald Trump remains a huge wild care, having both promised to abolish Obamacare and to provide a plan to cover all Americans. So far he has given no meaningful specifics, talking primarily about health savings accounts and allowing insurance companies to sell insurance over state lines. Neither is a real plan. One point to Trump’s credit is that, while his major appointees have been from a very narrow group (primarily wealthy conservatives), he has spoken to a wider range of people. Zeke Emanuel, the architect of the Affordable Care Act, came out of a meeting with Trump expressing optimism, as reported by NPR. He believes Trump might seek to have a bipartisan bill after Republicans have complained about how Obamacare was passed by only Democrats. He also pointed out that some conservatives are pushing for “repeal and replace” as opposed to the currently discussed tactic of “repeal and delay” and discussed how legislation might be handled after an initial resolution (even if along party lines) to abolish the ACA utilizing budget reconciliation:

And so that you really do need to repeal and replace, and you need to do it in one bill. Otherwise, you’re really going to disrupt the individual insurance market in a very bad way, and you’ll be responsible for millions of people losing their coverage but also health insurance premiums going up. And I think that is not a scenario that a lot of Republicans really want…

So one possibility is that they pass a resolution saying that they will then come back and pass a bill that will repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act and at the same time have a replacement for those parts of the Affordable Care Act…

The resolution can be party lines, but the bill would then have to construct both the repeal part but simultaneously the replacement part. And I think if you do it that way, you could begin to negotiate with Democrats. If you just have a repeal and we’ll be back in three years and tell you how we’re going to fix it, then the Democrats are simply going to walk away. Chuck Schumer has made that clear.

And they should walk away because then it’s all – it’s the old pottery barn principle that Colin Powell made famous, which is, you break it; you have to fix it, and you take responsibility. And the Democrats will not want their fingerprints anywhere near the breaking of Obamacare and the disruption of the insurance industry in the United States…

The question is, what is the shape of that bill? Is it just a repeal bill, or is it a repeal with replacement? And that negotiation about that bill could take several months. My own estimate is if both sides come with good faith, they could probably hammer this out in about six months. It’s not a small item. I mean health care reform is big.

The question is, what are the gives and takes? I do think – again, one of the reasons I’m optimistic is that when you look at conservative and liberal health policy experts, there’s about 70 or 80 percent overlap between the two groups about the shape of the future and what you would need. And I think that’s, again, why I’m optimistic – because there aren’t that many ways of doing health care reform. They’re really limited.

Of course counting on the sanity of Republicans is a very risky bet.

Republicans Plan To Impose Huge Tax Increase On Middle Class In Opposing Obamacare Fix

Republicans are increasingly seeing King v. Burwell as a way to do what they couldn’t accomplish in over fifty votes–repeal the Affordable Care Act. While it defies logic, the Supreme Court could conceivably rule that the Affordable Care Act only provides subsidies for plans purchased on state exchanges but not on the federal exchange.

A majority of people want Congress to pass a simple legislative fix should this occur, guaranteeing a continuation of the subsidies for those who purchase plans over the federal exchange. The health care and insurance industries also support such a fix.

This does not mean that the Republican Party will take the rational path. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Congressional Republicans say they won’t move to preserve consumers’ health insurance tax credits if the Supreme Court strikes them down, raising the stakes in the latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act…

Leaders in the GOP-controlled House and Senate see the court challenge as their best hope for tearing apart a law they have long opposed. If the court strikes down the subsidies, Democrats are expected to clamor for lawmakers to pass a measure correcting the language in the law to revive them. Congressional Republicans say there is no possibility they would allow that.

“No, no, no, no,” said Sen. Dan Coats (R., Indiana). “Even Democrats have acknowledged that this needs fixing.”

That position would force lawmakers to confront people in as many as 37 states where the federal government is currently running some or all of the exchange where consumers buy plans and tap the tax credits. There are 6.1 million people in those states who have the credits for 2015, according to federal data released this week. The average tax credit this year is $4,330, the Congressional Budget Office said this week.

Eleven of the states where the federal government has a hand in running the insurance exchange – including seven with Republican governors – signed onto a brief submitted late Wednesday asking the Supreme Court to uphold their tax credits. The brief said the loss of the credits “would deprive millions of low-and moderate-income Americans of billions of dollars in federal premium assistance essential to buy health insurance, thereby disrupting state insurance markets throughout the United States.”

The brief was filed by a group of mostly Democratic attorneys general. The lone Republican, North Dakota’s Wayne Stenehjem, declined to comment…

Nobody in the Senate Republican caucus has said the party should tweak the law so it can continue as it is, particularly since such a move would preserve the unpopular requirement for people to buy coverage or pay a fine, said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Republicans are also increasingly preparing to use the budget procedural tactic known as reconciliation to repeal large parts of the law and potentially enact alternative provisions after the court ruling, whatever the outcome. The reconciliation process allows party leaders to pass changes with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes most bills need to clear procedural hurdles in the Senate.

A loss of the subsidies would amount to a tax increase on the middle class. Republicans tend to concentrate on lowering taxes for the wealthy, at the expense of the middle class, and therefore see no problem in this. They mistakenly believe this will not affect their more affluent supporters, who do not qualify for the subsidies. What they fail to realize is that reducing the number of people in the risk pool will result in higher premiums for everyone.

Republicans are again talking about proposing their own plan, but they have repeatedly failed at doing so. The last time the Republicans did propose a plan it was remarkably similar to Obamacare, except then it was proposed as the conservative alternative to Hillarycare.

Any Republican plan which avoids harming millions of people will not only have to provide a mechanism for assisting those who cannot afford insurance coverage. Any plan must also ensure that insurance companies could not return to denying coverage to those who have medical problems. Republicans will find that this is not so simple, and will require the type of compromises seen in the Affordable Care Act.