Congressmen: Our bipartisan plan for health care

(CNN)People are sick of politics and politicians. They have had it with the finger-pointing and blame games while the world is engulfed in chaos.

We are, too.
We’re freshman members of Congress from different political parties, but we know there is more that unites us than divides us. That’s why we’re part of the Problem Solvers Caucus: a group of more than 40 lawmakers, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, committed to — you guessed it — solving problems.
    This month, after working together for weeks, the Problem Solvers Caucus announced a five-point proposal to begin the process of fixing our broken health care system. After years of attacks and counterattacks by both parties, we are resetting the conversation by outlining a set of principles aimed at stabilizing the health insurance markets and providing relief to individuals, families and small businesses.
    As it stands, the Affordable Care Act is unsustainable. For too many Americans, health care is still too expensive. Premiums are rising and people are scared. This is a life-and-death issue for many Americans. They deserve to know that when they get sick, or their child falls ill, that a system will be in place to ensure they have access to high-quality, affordable health coverage. That should be the goal for any lawmaker, regardless of party.
    We know that the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, but we need to keep what works and fix what doesn’t. The bottom line is: we need to stabilize the individual market right now — and that is what our proposal does.
    First, it would bring cost-sharing reduction payments under Congressional authority, but ensure they have mandatory funding. The President has threatened to withhold these funds, which would result in devastating premium increases and out-of-pocket costs for families.
    Second, we must stabilize the individual marketplace by creating a dedicated fund for states to use to bring down premiums and limit losses for providing coverage, especially for people with pre-existing conditions.
    Third, our plan calls for an adjustment to the employer mandate from businesses that have 50 employees to those with 500 employees. The current mandate puts too many burdens on small businesses, making it almost impossible to grow beyond 50 employees.
    Fourth, we must repeal the 2.3% Medical Device Tax, which we know is passed onto consumers and creates a bigger hole in their pocket.
    Finally, our proposal will provide technical changes and guidelines for states seeking to improve their exchanges and offer better coverage for consumers.
    This isn’t the silver bullet solution to our healthcare troubles, but it’s a start — and it’s the exact kind of common sense leadership that Americans are looking for. Instead of focusing on scoring political points, the Problem Solvers Caucus’ goal is simple: get things done.
    We both happen to have been trained as CPAs and lawyers. We’re both freshmen members from suburban districts. One is from Long Island and Queens in New York and the other from outside Philadelphia, but we are joined by other members from all over our nation with varying backgrounds and years of service.
    When we came to Congress earlier this year, each of us signed a freshman pledge to civility. That’s what being an elected official is about. We chose to set aside our petty differences, look at the big picture, and realize that we have a sacred duty to improve the lives of the people who have entrusted us with the responsibility of representing them — and our country — in Congress.
    We know that this is serious business. Ramming through legislation with support from only one party is not how the legislative branch of government was meant to operate, and as we’ve seen before and we’re seeing again now, it just doesn’t work.

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    We need leaders sobered by their responsibilities and individuals committed to stopping the nonsense that dominates our current national discourse and elevating the debate to the serious, responsible level our times demand.
    Instead of focusing on areas of disagreement, let’s focus on goodwill and compromise where we can find common ground. We believe our health care proposal is the start of many good bipartisan conversations. It is not only our duty, but our only hope.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/10/opinions/problem-solvers-caucus-opinion-souzzi-fitzpatrick/index.html

    Trump’s transgender tweets are an affront to the all-volunteer military

    (CNN)There is a lot to dislike about President Donald Trump’s decision this morning to reinstate the ban on transgender service.

    First of all, it’s an affront to the very ideals of the all-volunteer force, the force we both joined and served in for a combined 68 years. The central tenet of that force is that young men and women from across the spectrum of American society can choose to wear the cloth of the country in service to the nation.
    As long as they swear the oath to defend our ideas, meet the professional standards, complete the training and thereafter serve with honor, they have the privilege of defending our country. It’s led to a highly professional, well-led and motivated force that continues to be the world’s example of professionalism in military service. Right now, only about 1% of the nation make that choice, and transgender troops are a part of all that.
      To be sure, there have been times when ‘all-volunteer’ didn’t mean every volunteer. Policies throughout the years have altered the physical and mental aptitude requirements, have restricted — and still restrict, to a lesser degree now — the service of women, have banned the service of gays and lesbians, and have even made racial equality and equal opportunity a challenge. There is still much work to be done on these fronts.
      Wednesday’s decision doesn’t make that work easier. Indeed, it sets us back.
      It also violates the covenant, as well the very contract, between recruits and the Defense Department. If we are to believe the President’s statement this morning — which barred transgender troops from serving in “any capacity” — then it follows that every transgender soldier currently in uniform is in a state of limbo right now, uncertain whether or not they can continue their military careers.
      Sen. John McCain, along with many other lawmakers, objected to Trump’s tweet. “The Department of Defense has already decided to allow currently-serving transgender individuals to stay in the military, and many are serving honorably today,” McCain wrote in an official statement.
      As Army Staff Sgt. Patricia King told CNN today, “The great thing about being in the military is when we take our oath we take it to our country. I felt like I had just gotten fired via tweet.”
      They deserve better than this.
      There’s another problem: this new policy could actually hurt readiness. A study by the RAND Corporation — commissioned by the Defense Department — found that somewhere between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender troops currently serve on active duty. If you consider the upper end of that estimate, you’re talking about the same number of people who fill out an Army Brigade Combat Team, a little more than two Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs) or an aircraft carrier with its embarked air wing. And this RAND estimate doesn’t include many thousands more transgenders who likely serve in the Guard and Reserve.
      That’s a lot of talent … a lot of people with unique and necessary skills. These are not individuals attempting to make a statement, these are citizens wishing to serve their nation. They serve in the infantry. They repair and maintain tanks, planes and ships. They fly, navigate, sail and drive all manner of machinery, vehicles and aircraft. They send missiles downrange. They keep supplies coming. They are interpreters and military analysts. They hunt down and kill terrorists.
      We — the American people — have trained them. We’ve invested time and dollars in their education, in their development as leaders, and in their contribution to teams. We put them out there on the front lines, and now — apparently — our Commander-in-Chief wants to call them back in.
      At a time when the Secretary of Defense and all the Service Chiefs are rightly concerned about readiness levels, when each of the military forces needs the continued funding and support of Congress to reset a force that has operated — and continues to operate — at a high tempo, it makes little practical sense to deprive the ranks of these professionals.
      We should be better than this.
      Many proponents of this new ban will say that it actually saves money … that the costs of providing specialized medical care to transgender troops deprives the services of funds that could be applied to weapons systems, training and operations.
      “Should we be spending any tax dollars to do gender reassignment surgeries when we have soldiers who don’t have body armor or bullets?” asked Republican Congresswoman Vicki Hartzler, a supporter of Trump’s decision. “We need to be investing every dollar that we have to meet the threats that we’re facing as a nation,” she added.
      Citing an internal study conducted by her office, Hartzler claimed that gender reassignment surgeries alone would cost the Defense Department $1.35 billion over the next 10 years.
      But the RAND report (to remind, commissioned by DoD) disputes that, calling the costs of transition-related treatments “relatively low” with an increase by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually, roughly a 0.04- to 0.13-percent increase in “active-component health care expenditures.” The study also concluded that only a small percentage, estimated in the study to be between 29 and 129 service members, would even seek “transition-related care that could disrupt their ability to deploy.”
      So, yes, while there would be a financial cost to keeping the policy in place — and the concomitant time away for post-operative rest and recuperation — it’s beyond a stretch to assert that it would debilitate the military.
      Finally, there is the actual process … how this whole thing came about today. In a tweet. Without, apparently, much coordination with the Pentagon. Without any heads-up to Congressional leadership. Without a statement to our troops as to what this means for them and how it was going to be implemented.
      Politico posted an excellent piece this afternoon, citing sources that claim the President made this decision to ensure passage of a spending bill that would fund, among other things, his cherished border wall. If true, that represents the worst kind of political gerrymandering on an issue that should have been thoughtfully considered and weighed — just like Trump’s defense secretary had wanted to do in the first place.
      Only three weeks ago, Defense Secretary James Mattis informed the Hill that he needed another six months to review transgender recruiting, saying he would use the “additional time to evaluate more carefully the impact of such accessions on readiness and lethality,” and would have those results in December of 2017.
      That reflection, additional analysis and further evaluation is now moot. There will be no thoughtful deliberation about consequences or impact, no careful planning about how to move forward one way or the other. Just a knee-jerk political decision with no input from those who must execute it. No consideration over the lives and careers it affects.
      We went from studying the impact of transgender recruiting to banning their service altogether at light speed, or should we say tweet-speed. Regardless of how you feel about the issue, that’s just not the way to set personnel policies in the greatest military on earth.

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      This was an ill-considered, unplanned, and poorly executed decision. It is as unfair to Pentagon leaders as it is cruel to the thousands of serving troops it directly affects. It violates the very ideals behind our all-volunteer force, deprives us of much-needed talent, and flies in the face of the President’s own promise to take care of our troops.
      We must be better than this.

      Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/26/opinions/trump-trans-military-opinion-hertling-kirby/index.html

      A small but important step for GOP in health care marathon

      (CNN)A heartfelt standing ovation from both sides of the aisle welcomed Sen. John McCain as he cast the 50th vote to take up Obamacare repeal. The decorated veteran and war hero, who returned to Washington after being diagnosed with brain cancer last week, said “to hell” with the “bombastic loudmouths” — it’s time to get something done.

      With that, Senate Republicans have taken the first step in what will likely be a marathon effort to reform health care by voting to proceed with repealing Obamacare. Vice President Mike Pence cast the tiebreaking vote. Zero Democrats supported the measure.
      The 2016 election was a call for change after Americans lost faith in the failed policies of the Democratic Party. Republicans campaigned and won on the promise to repeal Obamacare. They must deliver on their promises.
        Congress needs to continue taking steps to follow through on its promise to repeal Obamacare.
        After the Senate vote, President Trump said, “This is the beginning of the end of the disaster known as Obamacare.”
        After pulling the original Senate bill due to lack of support, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell managed to move some Senate GOP votes by making the pitch to simply open the debate on a couple of options.
        The motion to proceed begins discussion on support for the 2015 repeal bill or the Better Care Reconciliation Act, known as BRCA. The proposed BRCA is a patient-centered, free-market approach that will cut the deficit, lower premiums and increase options. The bill will expand tax-free health savings accounts, give more funding control back to the states, protect pre-existing conditions, and allocate $45 billion to combat the opioid epidemic.
        McConnell’s strategy of starting a marathon with a few small steps won the day.
        Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky had been a confirmed “no” until now. But he voted in support of the motion to proceed, saying to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday, “Let’s start small and see how many pieces of repeal we can agree on.”
        Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada (who is facing a tough re-election campaign next year) also opposed the first pass at health care repeal because it didn’t protect Medicaid funding in his state. The former holdout voted to proceed because, as he told CNN, “Doing nothing to try and solve the problems it [Obamacare] has created isn’t the answer either.”
        Sen. Ted Cruz also supported the motion to proceed, saying, “The American people rightfully expect us to keep our promises and get the job done.”
        The reality is that Obamacare has been dying on the vine. In 2009, Democrats made promises: if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor; if you like your plan, you can keep your plan. For millions of Americans, that was not the case.
        Although Obamacare implemented a higher standard for policies, a report from the Department of Health and Human Services noted that, since 2013, premiums have more than doubled nationwide and next year, people buying insurance in Obamacare exchanges in 45 counties across the country could have no insurance carriers to choose from.
        Voters sent Republicans to Washington to make good on their campaign promises to deliver relief from the Obamacare nightmare, and Congress needs to follow through and do just that.

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        As Ronald Reagan liked to say: “There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers.”
        The same principle applies to health care reform. We all knew repealing Obamacare would be difficult, but the simple fact remains: The time is now for Republicans to act on health care, even if they have to do it by taking small steps at a time.

        Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/25/opinions/republicans-take-step-on-health-care-stewart-opinion/index.html

        ‘A Better Deal’ is more of the same from Dems

        (CNN)Democrats would like voters to believe the party’s slogan for its new economic agenda rolled out Monday, “A Better Deal,” describes a program aimed at fighting for regular people — even though it mostly rings like a sales pitch for a discounted item at a shopping mall. Worse, the specifics of the strategy are a path to more electoral failure, because “A Better Deal” embraces falsehoods about economic power while leaving a bankrupt system unchallenged.

        Right after the presidential election, I argued that the crisis facing Democrats, which was at least a decade of electoral losses in the making, boiled down to a failure to show voters any clear differences between the parties when it comes to propping up a failed economic system. As it now stands, it’s a system in which lobbyists shower both parties with money, tax cuts for business and keeping taxes too low on the wealthy are a bipartisan goal, health care is still something to leave in the hands of insurance companies and, above all, the glory of the “free market” is extolled by Democrats and Republicans.
        Until Democrats display the strength to reject the system, they’ll continue to lose, and “A Better Deal” is just more of the same.
          The stupefying foolishness of the plan is evident in three main points from Monday’s s outline offered in op-eds by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and three Democratic House members in which they purport to give the broad strokes of the party’s economic strategy.
          Schumer specifically says the party will fight to increase “workers’ incomes by lifting the minimum wage to $15.” He and the House Democrats also talk a lot about retraining workers to give them skills to get higher-paying jobs. Most of the rest of the mumbo-jumbo is the typical warmed-over “innovation” and “don’t we all love small business” standard fare that excites elite policy wonks but is largely irrelevant to voters.
          Perhaps the most glaring omission here is that none of these party leaders use the word “union” even once. That isn’t entirely surprising: The typical party ethos going back to Bill Clinton has been to minimize the embrace of labor unions, beyond the occasional rhetorical gesture, except when it’s election season (read: when the party needs donations and campaign troops).
          But the “Fight for 15” has been primarily funded by unions, some of whom frankly were dragged into the battle by other affiliated organizations who were less than inspired by the Obama administration’s and congressional Democrats’ support for a paltry minimum wage hike to $10.10. To the consternation of the Wall Street wing of the party, the Bernie Sanders movement made $15-an-hour a central part of its economic message, and forced $15-an-hour as a goal, into the party’s 2016 platform.
          And if raising wages and preserving pensions is what Democrats want, they’re not going to get it without growing the power of unions. Unions built the middle class. Wages are low because, over the past several decades, employers have effectively stolen the productivity gains made by workers and only by revitalizing unions, publicly, aggressively and explicitly, will that change.
          Schumer and the House Democrats compounded this problem Monday by perpetuating the myth that workers need more skills to get “high-paying” jobs and that politicians can ensure they get those skills by, you guessed it, that sure-fire election winner: giving a tax credit to companies. This has been an untenable proposition going back to the 1990s, when then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich flogged his elitist “symbolic analysts” solution, in which workers can all find a place in the creative and knowledge economies, which supposedly fix everything.
          Reality is more difficult. Skills have nothing to do with the class warfare underway in the country. Workers are not dumb. It’s simple: There is no reason a retail worker, janitor or any worker who isn’t “highly skilled” can’t be paid a high wage, other than the lack of power to demand it through collective bargaining.
          Even so, today’s Democrats, with the “A Better Deal” slogan, have the temerity to channel Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal” by explicitly stating, as Schumer does in his op-ed, “Our better deal is not about expanding the government.” Shame on them. That position betrays a continued acceptance by Democrats of a decadeslong Republican talking point that demonizes government, adopts the idea that taxes are too high and puts blind faith in the “free market.”
          Our problem has not been a growing government or a spending problem. It’s the priorities political leaders have set and how we raise money. And it’s a continued belief in “free market” neo-liberalism: a system that relies on market mechanisms, argues against expanding the role of the state and social services, and empowers corporations and wealthy individuals at the expense of citizens.
          To take the current policy debate around health care as the perfect example, a large majority of people support universal, single-payer health care, which would entail expanding government’s role. Yet, Schumer is trying to short-circuit universal health care as a party priority, even though it would end up saving businesses and average people hundreds of billions of dollars.

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          The ideological straitjacket “A Better Deal” creates goes deeper than a neglect of history or a refusal to empower citizens. It’s a failure of political philosophy and imagination. Its advocates say they want to protect the promise of Social Security and Medicare. But embracing a growing government would expand Social Security and Medicare, and, then, also fund free college education, and guaranteed annual incomes and a livable pension. We could fund some of that if, for example, we just cast off (a quarter-century after the Cold War ended) the government’s bipartisan priority to underwrite a bloated military and maintain the country’s prominence as the largest weapons merchant in the world, arming repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia.
          Of course, to do any of these things requires a political spine, and leaders who finally admit that the “free market” system cannot be fixed. Until the Democrats get this message, they might as well have a slogan closer to “Better Hygiene, Better Grammar, Better Front Lawns.” At least it won’t mislead.

          Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/24/opinions/democrats-economic-plan-opinion-tasini/index.html

          I read about Bannon and Clinton so you don’t have to

          (CNN)“Devil’s Bargain” — Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Joshua Green’s in-depth exploration of the mind and machinations of former Breitbart News boss and Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon — and “Shattered” — a painstaking account of Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful campaign by Jonathan Allen, also of Bloomberg, and Amie Parnes of The Hill — have both climbed the bestseller lists and monopolized the attention of the chattering classes since their releases. (“Shattered” was published in April; “Devil’s Bargain” hit shelves this past week.)

          They’re both absorbing reading for anyone interested in better understanding the unlikely and unprecedented set of circumstances that put reality show multimillionaire Donald Trump into the White House. Both offer fascinating (and juicy) revelations; neither should be read on its own, since their access journalism roots make each a half-book at best, covering just one of the two campaigns, and always from the perspective of sources whose personal agendas make them eager to talk.
          Here’s my scorecard of how they stack up.

            “Devil’s Bargain:” Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency

            Most compelling character:
            Given that the book reads like an odd hagiography of Steve Bannon, it’s impossible for him not to be its most compelling character: Brilliant, slovenly, gleefully opportunistic and given to profane eruptions and weird turns of phrase, proudly referring to Trump supporters as fellow “hobbits” and “grundoons,” and dismissing dumb and useless people as “schmendricks” and “mooks” (ironic, since Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager was, of course, Robby Mook). A close second: Robert Mercer, the eccentric right-wing billionaire who backed the Trump insurgency. Prior to backing Donald Trump, Mercer’s primary electoral investment had been in the unsuccessful congressional campaign of a quack scientist with an obsessive fixation on human urine.

              What you need to know about Steve Bannon

            Biggest revelation:
            Bannon conceived of activating the internet’s legions of disaffected, meme-addicted young males after investing (and losing his shirt) in IGE, a Hong Kong-based business that “farmed” gold and virtual items for resale to online gamers. Bannon realized that these underemployed and overeducated denizens of message boards like 4chan and Reddit were susceptible to misogynist and racist symbolism (when disguised with snark) and highly adept in launching viral campaigns. They became the digital shock troops for the booming growth of Breitbart News and, later, the Trump campaign.
            Most memorable quote:
            From Steve Bannon: “(House Speaker Paul Ryan is) a limp-d*** m***rf***er who was born in a petri dish at the Heritage Foundation.”
            Best anecdote:
            All the anecdotes that paint Bannon as larger-than-life even in his own mind, like the one about an oil painting of Bannon reimagined as Napoleon Bonaparte that hangs in his personal office — a gift from British ultranationalist and Brexit proponent Nigel Farage. Or the one about how Bannon recruited a strikeforce of “beautiful young women” to Breitbart News, whom he proudly referred to as his “Valkyries.”
            Best anecdote about Chris Christie:
            According to Green’s sources (or conjecture), Chris Christie’s exile from the Trump inner circle began when he dared to tell The Donald that when Clinton was ready to concede, President Obama would call the governor and Christie would hand his phone to Trump. Trump, a fanatical germophobe, was reportedly repulsed at the thought of having Christie’s mobile against his face and barked back, “Hey, Chris, you know my f***ing number. Just give it to the President. I don’t want your f***ing phone.”
            Key takeaway:
            Steve Bannon is a fascinating and monstrous character, who undoubtedly bears great responsibility for Donald Trump’s shocking victory. But the interesting revelations about Bannon are primarily constrained to the first half of the book, and focused mostly on his rise to power; by the book’s midpoint — when it begins to cover the campaign in earnest — Bannon feels oddly sidelined, and the narrative becomes much more of a by-the-numbers diary of Donald Trump’s slouch toward the Oval Office.

            “shattered:” Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign

              Authors: Hillary Clinton didn’t grasp populism

            Most compelling character:
            Not Hillary Clinton — but that’s by design, as Allen and Parnes’ thesis about the campaign’s failure depends on Clinton’s being framed as simultaneously world-weary and naive, controlling and remote, distracted and obsessive, but most of all, incredibly boring. Bernie Sanders comes off as far more interesting, though he’s also firmly presented as unelectable. Though a minor character, the most memorably described figure in the book comes early: Clinton true-believer Adam Parkhomenko, whose desire to see her elected president was so passionate that it led him to found the scrappy grassroots movement Ready for Hillary and spend a full decade tirelessly fighting to make her POTUS.
            Biggest revelation:
            Hillary Clinton was far closer to picking Elizabeth Warren as her running mate than anyone suspected — in part because they connected so deeply on the girl-wonk level. Would making the surprise pick of the popular — and populist — Warren have turned things around for Clinton? Quite possibly. The roadblock to Warren’s selection? She’d run afoul of President Obama, calling him out for nominating a banker to a key Treasury Department role. “It’s safe to say she’s not a favorite person in this building,” one White House official observed.
            Most memorable quote:
            “When you’re done with a condom, you throw it out.” — unnamed Democratic insider, whom Green describes as “familiar with Mook’s thinking,” discussing Robby Mook’s attitude toward the grass-roots zealots of Ready for Hillary.
            Best anecdote:
            In May 2016, when Hillary Clinton was being pressured to give a high-profile public interview in the face of the rise of Bernie Sanders and the relentless drip-drip-drip story of her private email server, she was asked by her communications chief what journalist she’d most prefer for a one-on-one TV conversation. Her team thought she said “Brianna,” and reached out to CNN’s Brianna Keilar as a result; Clinton had actually said “Bianna,” referring to Bianna Golodryga of Yahoo! News, the wife of former Clinton administration economic aide Peter Orszag. The interview — brutally intense, rather than softball — turned out to be “a disaster” for Clinton.
            Best anecdote about Bernie Sanders:
            Sanders was asked to film a TV ad to seal the deal of his endorsement of Clinton. He was fine with everything that the Clinton campaign asked him to say — putting a stamp of approval on her positions regarding education, health care and the minimum wage — but refused to say the script’s final words, “I’m with her.” “It’s so phony!” he griped. “I don’t want to say that.” He didn’t. The ad ultimately never ran.

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            Key takeaway:
            “Shattered” appears to have been written with a key assumption in mind: that Hillary Clinton was almost entirely responsible for her own defeat, and that this defeat was predestined because of her personal history and prior political choices she’d made. That makes it a strangely off-key read in an era where new revelations about Russian interference in the campaign and potential collusion (perhaps the true “devil’s bargain”) are erupting on a daily basis. But it also seems to put a capstone on Clinton’s political career, having her declare to her “Hillaryland” team after her loss that 2016 is the “last campaign” of her life. Fact, or wishful thinking on the part of the authors? We’ll undoubtedly see as the gears of 2020’s campaign begin to grind.

            Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/21/opinions/devils-bargain-shattered-opinion-yang/index.html

            What we need to learn from Linkin Park frontman’s death

            (CNN)It’s a tragic day for the music industry. The lead singer of Linkin Park, Chester Bennington, was found dead in his Los Angeles home at 41. Sadly authorities were treating the case as a possible suicide. Eerily, Bennington died on what would’ve been his dear friend Chris Cornell’s 53rd birthday — the Soundgarden frontman hung himself on May 18, 2017. Both men are now part of a long, disturbing history of rock and roll and untimely death.

            Linkin Park was a groundbreaking rock band that shattered the music industry with 2000’s “Hybrid Theory.” In an era of overly sweet pop music with boy bands and copycat starlets, the group was a refreshing mix of angst, grit and raw emotion.
            Chester Bennington’s melodic but rugged voice helped spawn rock classics like “In the End,” “Numb” and “What I’ve Done.” Arguably, one of Linkin Park’s most brilliant (and unexpected) moments was pairing with Jay-Z for 2004’s “Collision Course.” The album was a mashup of Jay and Linkin Park, and launched the single “Numb/Encore.” Not since Aerosmith and Run-DMC did “Walk this Way” had people heard this perfect fusion of rock and hip hop. The six-track album was critically acclaimed and a smash hit, going to number one on the Billboard album chart and selling over two million copies.
              One thing no one can deny is the significant pain in Bennington’s voice. He clearly purged his anguish through his music. Bennington was open with his history of abuse and struggles with drugs and alcohol, which he claimed helped him create some of the band’s biggest songs. When describing the song “My Suffering,” he told the music website Noisecreep.com in 2009 it’s “literally about (how) being an alcoholic and a drug addict has paid off for me in many ways. I have been able to tap into all the negative things that can happen to me throughout my life by numbing myself to the pain, so to speak, and kind of being able to vent it through my music.”
              He said that another song, “Crawling,” is “probably the most literal song lyrically I’d ever written for Linkin Park and that’s about feeling like I had no control over myself in terms of drugs and alcohol. That feeling, being able to write about it, sing about it, that song, those words sold millions of records, I won a Grammy, I made a lot of money. I don’t think I could’ve been inspired to create something like that by watching someone else go through that. So in a lot of ways that’s been very constructive for me.” This sentiment is sadly familiar for many artists who are obviously struggling with pain or addiction and see the battle as a space of creativity.

                Linkin Park singer on his past, drug use (2009)

              Tragically, when I think about artists like Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell and so many more, I can’t help but wonder what is the price for singing the lifelong blues? Do you have to suffer for your art to create? Even back to the days of Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, all of whom died too young, these artists were living every note, lyric and chord of their music.
              Sure, pain and angst create great music. But considering the phenomenal artists we have lost in the past few years to suicide and inner demons, it is long past time to prioritize real mental health over the sporadic catharsis of bars and chords. According to Health.com, musicians are fifth in the top ten professions with high rates of depressive illness.
              If you make a choice to not suffer for your art, can you still be a great artist? The answer is, yes. When Adele released her “25” album, she admitted she would no longer thrive off of depression to create. When Mary J. Blige was criticized for “getting happy,” she specifically told me in an interview for BET.com, “Some of them (fans) are mad at me for making the switch, but I would’ve died over there. Literally, I’d be six feet under.” Thankfully, Mary and Adele made the switch.

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              I hope there is a lesson that can be learned in the deaths of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington. We need to support our artists to be healthy and loved even when they evolve out of the sadness that inspired our favorite songs. Depending on pain to create is a dangerous road to travel. I can’t help but wonder about the sonic and vocal brilliance we will, now, never get from Chester Bennington.
              Long live a god of rock.

              Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/20/opinions/lesson-in-chester-bennington-death-opinion-cane/index.html

              To fix health care, look to state governors

              (CNN)The recent collapse of Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare can be blamed on disagreements about policy more than anything else.

              For seven years, Republicans at all levels of government were able to articulate the simple message that President Barack Obama’s signature health care law had to go, and a set of better, market-based policies needed to replace it.
              But once the GOP captured control of the White House and both houses of Congress, it became clear that the devil really was in the details. Within their own ranks, Republicans remain divided on fundamental questions of policy — whether to change how Medicaid is financed, whether there should to be tax credits to help low-income Americans afford private insurance, and how far to go in deregulating the marketplace.
                So, what’s next? Republicans may soon vote on a bill that will mirror the 2015 legislation they passed (and Obama vetoed) repealing large parts of Obamacare, without an accompanying package of replacement reforms. This approach, dubbed “repeal and delay” because it offsets the repeal of Obamacare by two years, raises significant concerns. It would introduce dramatic uncertainty into the health care system, place the most vulnerable among us at risk of losing the coverage they need, and punt on the important work of replacing Obamacare with reforms that could actually lower costs and expand choices for consumers.
                The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated the impact of “repeal-and-delay” and found that, while it would decrease budget deficits significantly, it would also leave 32 million more Americans uninsured in 10 years, as compared to Obamacare. Moreover, a recent survey from the Associated Press and the University of Chicago showed that, by a 2-to-1 margin, those polled believed that Obamacare should not be repealed until a replacement was available.
                This suggests that Republicans would be the ones who would “own” the political consequences for rising premiums, diminishing choices, and lost coverage during the two years before Obamacare is actually repealed — a period of time that includes a crucial midterm election.
                Plus, the notion that a two-year delay would be an action-forcing mechanism is sheer folly. It is an approach that has never been particularly effective at encouraging policymaking amongst members of Congress on even the most urgent of priorities (see the much-maligned budget sequester for evidence of this).
                But there is another route.
                Despite the many policy differences between Republicans that torpedoed the recent repeal-and-replace effort, there was common ground between Senators (and many governors, as well as members of the House) on the value of federalism and state-led reforms in our health care system. This concord should form the basis of any future GOP discussions about the fate of Obamacare, or what should go in its place. It might even jumpstart bipartisan discussions about the future of health reform, as some Democrats have suggested that state-focused solutions are a reasonable step forward.
                A number of existing legislative proposals speak to this emerging consensus.
                The stalled GOP Senate bill included a notable provision that dramatically expanded upon a state innovation provision contained in Section 1332 of Obamacare. This section of current law allows states to waive many of the law’s mandates and requirements so long as they establish health solutions that don’t increase the federal deficit, and furnish coverage that is at least as affordable, comprehensive and widespread as that provided for by Obamacare.
                The Senate bill basically eliminated these guardrails and deemed state reform plans presumptively valid, so long as they did not increase the federal deficit. Many conservatives cheered this change and believed it would create an “escape hatch” from Obamacare for many states, particularly those governed by conservative leaders.
                Earlier this year, Senators Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Susan Collins of Maine — two skeptics of the Senate Republican legislation — introduced their own bill that, at core, would allow states the option of implementing Obamacare (with its mandates and requirements) or designing their own health systems, with some or none of Obamacare’s regulatory structure.
                Their legislation would keep many of Obamacare’s tax hikes in place, but send this money to states that, at a minimum, elected to maintain protections for those with preexisting health conditions. While most conservatives balked at the notion of retaining so many of Obamacare’s tax increases, the federalist core of the Cassidy-Collins proposal should be appealing to Republicans looking for a way forward.
                Finally, Senator Lindsey Graham has a proposal that mirrors many elements of the Cassidy-Collins proposal (in fact, media reports indicate that he worked with Cassidy on his plan) that would retain almost all of Obamacare’s tax hikes, as well as its protections for patients with preexisting conditions, in return for block grants to states. These grants would give states significant flexibility in each pursuing the solutions that suit their citizens best.
                Republicans have long advocated for solutions that empower governors and state elected officials to address major public policy challenges. Reforms such as the landmark 1996 welfare reform legislation, which granted states significant latitude to design safety net programs that suited their populations best, illustrate the value that such an approach can have.

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                Health care is an area where federalism not only has the potential to lead to more innovative solutions, but to forge consensus between conservatives — and maybe even across the partisan divide.

                Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/19/opinions/health-care-federalism-opinion-chen/index.html

                Collectors Rejoice! Topps Just Released A Limited-Edition Hall Of Famers Pack That Includes Each Legends Stance On Abortion

                Read more: http://www.clickhole.com/article/collectors-rejoice-topps-just-released-limited-edi-6220

                We need to hear FBI nominee’s view on hate crime epidemic

                (CNN)With hate crimes increasing in the past year throughout the country, too many Americans are fearful they will become the next target of violence simply based on their race, religion, gender, disability, national origin, gender identity or sexual orientation.

                While President Donald Trump’s new nominee to be the next director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Wray, will no doubt face questions during Wednesday morning’s hearing about how he plans to address matters of national security, Americans also deserve to know how he will ensure that the FBI prioritizes civil rights enforcement and will investigate hate crimes.
                Hateful rhetoric and the violence inspired by such rhetoric makes us less safe. Those that carry out hate crimes seek to tear communities apart. This occurred recently in the city of Portland, Oregon, when a man started hurling virulent anti-Muslim words of hate at two teenage girls, including one teen who wore a hijab. When a few brave observers stepped in to help the young women, two were killed and another seriously wounded. This tragedy rocked the city of Portland and the entire nation.
                  In recent months, white supremacists and others filled with hate toward people they perceive to be different have been newly emboldened, and their actions have brought pain to and instilled fear among many. This past weekend, white supremacists marched in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of Confederate statues in the city. The Southern Poverty Law Center has said the number of hate groups across the country has increased in the past year and is growing to “near-historic highs,” while the FBI reported a rise in hate crimes in 2015.
                  The spike in hate groups and hate incidents makes clear that we must combat the root causes of these crimes. But we cannot stop there. Victims, survivors, and witnesses need support — from law enforcement, and from service providers. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, immediate crisis intervention is crucial for victims who have been the target of a hate crime. Without this support, victims can experience nightmares, flashbacks, and even memory problems that can interfere with their health, ability to work, and ability to support their family.

                    What is a hate crime?

                  Inspired by the work done to combat hate across the country, 19 national nonprofit civil rights and legal organizations joined to launch Communities Against Hate in March. This initiative provides a way for survivors and witnesses of hate incidents to document their stories. It also connects individuals in communities across the country to the critical support systems they need as they face the uptick in hate. The initiative offers access to legal resources and social services to support victims of hate incidents. It includes a resource hotline (1-844-9-NO-HATE) with a focus on serving the needs of organizations working to combat hate incidents in their respective communities.
                  While we are proud to join that effort through the Communities Against Hate initiative, we also need to see real leadership at the federal level. That begins with the consideration of Trump’s FBI director nominee. This week, Senators must ask Wray how the bureau will prioritize combating hate crimes and whether he will publicly condemn the scapegoating and demonizing of immigrants, religious minorities, and other groups historically targeted by hate violence. Wray must also answer whether he will ensure the FBI’s Civil Rights Unit and agents across the country have sufficient resources and support to thoroughly investigate hate crimes.

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                  The spirit of community and of fairness that prompted three brave men to act in Portland must not be forgotten. We must all join together to stand against hate. We must ensure that the new Director of the FBI is prepared to lead an agency dedicated to fully investigating hate crimes and the domestic terrorism of white supremacist groups.

                  Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/11/opinions/hate-crime-fbi-opinion-clarke-gupta/index.html

                  New sanitary pad tax exposes India’s archaic period taboos

                  (CNN)Sanitary pads, an essential need for all adult women, have been placed in a non-essential tax bracket by the Indian government.

                  In a surprise move, the recently passed Global Sales Tax (GST) bill — which brings all of India under a single tax rate for the first time — placed sanitary pads in the lower middle 12% bracket.
                  The 12% number is ironic, because according to a 2011 study by AC Nielsen, only 12% of India’s 335 million adult women can afford sanitary napkins.
                    A 12% tax on sanitary napkins is an improvement from the earlier proposal of 18%, but comes as a shock since sindoor– the red powder applied to a married Hindu woman’s scalp, bangles and bindis (the dot motif used to adorn a woman’s forehead) — has been bracketed as “essential” and therefore exempt from tax.
                    Of the four tax brackets, the lowest 5% tax rate has been applied to items of mass consumption, while the highest of 28% to luxury items. Everything else is clubbed into the 12% and 15% brackets.

                    Cow dung sanitary pads

                    The Indian government’s apathy and utter ignorance of women’s health issues is deeply concerning.
                    Most women in India (88%) still use scraps of cloth, newspaper, ash, wood shavings, dried leaves, hay or even cow dung — basically the cheapest, most absorbent material that they can lay their hands on.
                    Incidents of reproductive tract infections (RTI’s) are 70% more common amongst women who do not use sanitary pads than those who do. Around 64% of gynecologists believe that the use of sanitary napkins reduce the risk of cervical cancer, according to a 2010 AC Nielsen study.
                    Furthermore, because of the immobility that using paper/cloth/cow dung imposes on them, it is common practice for girls to drop out of school for the week of their period.
                    According to the AC Nielsen study, inadequate menstrual protection means that adolescent girls miss on average 5 days of school in a month (50 days a year).
                    It is considered taboo for most women in India to work, visit temples, enter communal bathing areas or kitchens during their periods.

                    Lack of awareness

                    At the heart of the matter is the lack of awareness among both men and women.
                    In 2010, the government launched the first phase of the Menstrual Hygiene Scheme (MHS) introducing subsidized sanitary pads called “Free days” priced at 7.50 rupees ($0.11) for a pack of six. Typically, sanitary pads cost between five rupees ($0.08) and 12 rupees ($0.20) each.
                    The scheme failed due to irregular supply and quality of the pads.
                    According to conversations that I have had with women in pilot villages of the MHS, the low quality of the government sanitary pads, meant that alternatives — made with cloth, hay or even cow dung cakes — were often considered more comfortable. Women also spoke of the problem of disposal of conspicuous sanitary pads.

                    Shirking from the subject

                    While the tax imposed on sanitary pads is certainly a sign of India’s inherent patriarchy, it is not just the men who are to blame. Instead of shirking from the subject, Indian women too need to speak up.
                    Ever since we were little girls, we have been taught to be embarrassed about our periods, to never speak about our monthly “curse,” to hide sanitary napkins up our sleeves.
                    I know so many married men, who live with wives, mothers and daughters, yet have never seen a sanitary napkin in their lives. This is not just their fault, it is also ours — for allowing ourselves to be part of a culture that punishes women for simply having their period.
                    According to leading gynecologist Malvika Sabharwal who runs Jeewan Mala Hospital in New Delhi India, it is a shame that the government is imposing such a tax on sanitary napkins especially when usage among women is already so low.
                    Even in urban centers like Delhi, taboos around menstruation prevent women from talking about problems and then trying to hide anything related to their period, including sanitary pads.
                    “It is this unhealthy attitude of shame which prevents us from progressing towards more positive change in menstrual hygiene,” says Sabharwa.
                    The taxation of sanitary pads is a starting point of a much-needed conversation and deeper cultural change on menstruation and more.
                    India is lagging behind the curve.
                    In the West, women have moved on from the sanitary pad to the tampon– and though tampons are more hygienic, more cost-effective, more convenient and easier to dispose, the sale of tampons in India is negligible because Indian women are discouraged from using due to cultural myths related to virginity and the tampon.
                    Women of all ages and at every rung of society will suffer if we remain silent.
                    At the end, it is up to us women to break the archaic and unnecessary taboos that surround our periods.

                    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/30/opinions/sanitary-pads-india/index.html