Action Call: 48 Hours to Save ACA (Again)

This is not a drill.

President Trump and House Republicans were able to strike a deal to appease the far-right Freedom Caucus by undercutting protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Right now, Republicans are rallying votes for TrumpCare 2.0. Killing TrumpCare once and for all depends on the next 24-48 hours and your constituent power. It depends on you and your neighbors showing up at district offices and calling to make sure that your Members of Congress know that the only acceptable vote on this dumpster fire of a bill is a firm NO.

Find out more

Opinion: Anti-Semitism in the Era of Trump – A Jewish Perspective

Since Donald Trump started his campaign for the presidency–and continuing throughout his short administration–there have been continuing incidents of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial from within his administration and in the country at large.

Jews are acutely attuned to anti-Semitic rhetoric, due to their long history of oppression. Despite living in relative comfort in the U.S., Jews have a personal history where we have experienced anti-Semitism or know friends and relatives who have been its victims or who have been victims of the Holocaust.

I am typical of someone who grew up Jewish in America. In many ways, it was easy for me. I grew up in New York City where there are many Jews. Many of my friends were Jewish. Schools in NYC closed on Jewish holidays. Yet I have memories of several incidents in my life that made me, as a Jew, become acutely aware of the horrors of the Holocaust as well as to become highly sensitive to anti-Semitic comments.

My grandmother, grandfather, my mother, my aunt, and my two uncles came over from Warsaw, Poland in 1929. This was around 15 years before all their remaining relatives were rounded up, either before or shortly after the Warsaw uprising, by the Nazis and their collaborators and sent to concentration camps to be exterminated.

I never had a bar mitzvah. This is the Jewish ceremony which a boy undergoes at the age of 13 to show that he is now accountable for his actions. In other words, he becomes a man.   I once asked my mother why my grandmother (my nana) did not get upset that I never had a bar mitzvah (nor did my sister have a bat mitzvah).  Her reply to paraphrase her: “Nana gave up caring about religion after all of her family back in Warsaw was killed during the Holocaust.”  I never forgot that answer.

My father once showed me horrific pictures of the thousands of bodies piled on top of each other at a concentration camp that he helped to liberate as a soldier during WW II. He said they had to bulldoze the bodies into lime pits because there were too many bodies to bury properly. Here is a link to similar pictures: Please be warned that these pictures are very graphic.

My father gave away those pictures to a relative who wanted to prove to a disbelieving neighbor that the Holocaust was real.

Anti-Semitism has followed me into the present day as well. One day while working in my new job as a software engineer, a co-worker and I were talking and she said that she had been “jewed”.  I had never heard this term used before but it certainly rubbed me the wrong way. I asked her what it meant. She told me that it meant cheated, and I asked her if she understood what I found offensive about that word. She did not.

After I explained that I was Jewish and that term reinforced a Jewish stereotype, she was quite embarrassed and apologized. The point here is that the term was so part of her vernacular (and I presume other people’s vernacular) that she did not realize the stereotype that she was perpetuating by using that word.

Many Jews have memories like mine that have made them keenly aware of anti-Semitic rhetoric. Luckily for those of us living in the U.S., we are not experiencing the explosive rise in anti-Semitism as in some countries in Europe. Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the rising incidents of anti-Semitism in the U.S.

What I find so discouraging is that the Trump administration itself has not only empowered anti-Semites, but has actually made several anti-Semitic remarks that are quite troubling.

On April 11, while talking about the chemical weapons that the Syrian government dropped on its own people, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary said, “We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II.  You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

He made his situation worse when he followed up by saying: “I think when you come to sarin gas, he”, referring to Hitler, “was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Ashad  [sic]is doing.” What Mr. Spicer said is classic Holocaust denial. He may not have realized what he was saying, but he played right into the hands of Holocaust deniers.

He later tried to clarify his remarks and said, “I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.”

Spicer equates any attacks on innocent people with the Holocaust, and his statement minimizes the uniqueness of the evil of the Holocaust in history and is typical of Holocaust denial. As horrific as it is to drop chemical weapons on one’s own population and killing close to 100 people, including babies, it is an altogether different order of magnitude to the Nazis’ attempt to wipe out an entire race of people.

Unfortunately, this so-called gaffe by Spicer was not the only time that members of the Trump administration have made anti-Semitic comments.

During the summer of 2016, during Trump’s campaign, Trump re-tweeted an image of Hillary Clinton with a Star of David and the phrase, “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” This image originally came from a white supremacist site.

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, with Trump as President, the White House issued a statement as follows:

“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, and [sic] heroes of the Holocaust. It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.

“Yet, we know that in the darkest hours of humanity, light shines the brightest. ‎ As we remember those who died, we are deeply grateful to those who risked their lives to save the innocent.

“In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good,” he concluded. “Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.”

What I find very troubling about this statement is that Trump has substituted the term “innocent people” for “Jews” just as Sean Spicer would do in a few months. This statement minimizes the uniqueness of the Holocaust, which was an attempt to wipe out not just innocent people, but an entire race of a people.

The language of Holocaust denial is to minimize or actually deny the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their collaborators in many European countries. Sometimes they deny millions of people died or they may deny that gas chambers (not “Holocaust centers” as Spicer called them) existed. Sometimes they just try to leave Jews out of the equation altogether, as Trump did in his Holocaust Remembrance Day statement.

This kind of Holocaust denial rhetoric strikes Jews right at their core. While many non-Jews might not pick up the nuances of Holocaust denial, Jews are very attuned to it.   I do not believe that Trump is necessarily anti-Semitic. What I do believe is that this administration is actively catering to the alt-right, which has large elements that are racist, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic.

Since Donald Trump became President there has been an increase in hate crimes against Blacks, Muslims, gays, and Jews due in part, I believe, to his giving legitimacy to the worst elements of the alt-right movement.  This is why the rise of Trump has become so dangerous to Jews and other minorities in the U.S. and overseas.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) noticed a dramatic jump in hate and violence–and incidents of harassment and intimidation–around the country immediately after Trump’s inauguration. In the first 10 days after his election, the SPLC reported incidents in every state, including 100 anti-Semitic ones.

Just this past week, the Anti-Defamation League released data which indicated that anti-Semitic incidents in Massachusetts jumped dramatically from 2015 to 2016.

I believe this should come as no surprise given Trump’s blatant appeals to the alt-right with their racist and anti-Semitic leanings.

Interestingly, Trump’s theme of “America First” was originally used by the America First Committee, which was formed to keep the U.S. out of World War II and had many members with anti-Semitic leanings. I have to wonder if the use of this term with its anti-Semitic roots is a coincidence.

One of Trump’s chief advisors has been Steve Bannon who was the editor of Breitbart, which is a champion of the alt-right and has promoted anti-Semitic views.

To me, Trump’s weak attempts at speaking out against anti-Semitism, like his recent remarks at the National Museum of African-American History, were too little too late*.  Meanwhile, his campaign drew support from racist and anti-Semitic groups such as the Ku Klux Klan while Trump remained mainly silent. I wish he had the same visceral reaction to anti-Semitic incidents as he recently had to the images of babies killed by the Syrian regime’s use of poison gas.

Anti-Semitism should not be tolerated. Neither should intolerance for any religion or ethnic group.

It makes me proud to be a Jew when I read that after a fire destroyed the Victoria Islamic Center in Texas, the leaders of the local Jewish congregation allowed them to use their synagogue for worship.

This is how we must all act. We must reach out to the communities that are the subject of hateful attacks. We must express outrage when there is a hate crime, whether it is against the LGBTQ community, the Muslim community, the Jewish community, or any other community.

Sometimes we might notice some stereotypes in our own attitudes towards certain groups of people. We all have some inherent stereotypes that come to the surface when we least expect it. When this happens, it is important to be aware of them, to examine them, to understand where they come from, and to do our utmost to eradicate them.

It is incumbent upon us to call out people who are spreading this kind of hatred, even in the subtlest of ways. Whether it is a member of our family, friends, acquaintances, or the President of the United States, we must stand up for the American values which have made America a shining light for the world.

* Update: On April 25, President Trump made his most forceful remarks yet regarding the Holocaust. This is a step in the right direction and hopefully will help reduce the growing anti-Semitism in this country.

Opinion blog posts represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Indivisible Groton Area or its individual members. IGA invites input and opinion from among the diversity of its membership.

Opinion: Brutally Dishonest

I heard some Trump supporters being interviewed on NPR recently. To a person, they extolled him for being a “straight shooter” who “doesn’t beat around the bush” and “tells it like it is.”

This reinforced something curious I’ve noticed recently: Trump is perceived as a no-nonsense guy, despite the fact that he’s been proven time and again to be a chronic and habitual liar (e.g., crowd size at his inauguration, millions of illegal voters, accusing Obama of wiretapping, etc.)

Why is this? Clearly, Trump’s supporters find his abrasiveness and lack of polish refreshing. But I’m afraid they’re also falsely equating these attributes with honesty. George W. Bush received similar praise from his supporters, despite the fact that he, too, was frequently less than truthful (e.g., claims about WMDs prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion).

I think people in many pockets of this country instinctively confuse ineloquence with candor. These folks are inclined to trust people who speak in a manner that makes them seem “common” and “like one of us.”

Conversely, they seem to mistrust people who are articulate, well-spoken, and sound like “elites.” This would explain the common misperception during the election that Hillary Clinton was conniving and disingenuous, despite the fact that fact checks of their respective statements have consistently shown her to be more truthful by far than Trump.

Unfortunately, American history is littered with examples of anti-intellectualism. In the 1630’s, Puritans ostracized those who did not conform to their dogmatic religious views. In the 1880s, the “Know Nothing” party gained prominence as an anti-Catholic, anti-immigration movement. The mindless violence of the KKK in the 1920s was followed by the more subtle, anti-intellectual racism of George Wallace in the late 1960s. It still persists to this day when those who question an authoritarian populist like Trump are denigrated as treasonous and unpatriotic.

Americans’ tendency to trust anti-intellectuals is self-destructive and dangerous. We need to continue to call Mr. Trump out on his blatant lies, and to fight his pernicious agenda with every ounce of energy we can muster.

Andy Sullivan is a yoga instructor, fitness guru, writer, and musician. He grew up in Stow, and has been living in Shirley with his wife, Cathy, since 2001.

Opinion blog posts represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Indivisible Groton Area or its individual members. IGA invites input and opinion from among the diversity of its membership.

Event: Monthly IGA Meeting, April 9th

Our April meeting will take place on Sunday, April 9th, from 7-9PM at the First Parish Church at 1 Powderhouse Road in Groton, MA.

A lot has happened since last month’s meeting–Donald Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban has been indefinitely blocked by the courts, attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act have failed in the House of Representatives, investigations into Russian efforts to subvert our democracy have taken several new turns, a stolen Supreme Court seat can only be filled by an unprecedented rule change in the Senate, and IGA has been tracking federal and state legislation you need to know about.

We have much to discuss. See you on Sunday!

Opinion: The Republicans’ Not-So-Secret Plan

Now that the Republican’s health care plan went down to defeat, I believe that the not-so-secret plan of the GOP, with the possible exception of the more moderate Republicans, is to destroy the very concept of universal health care. They will do this by dismantling the still active Affordable Care Act (ACA) through benign neglect and active manipulation.

Then, once the exchanges implode, the Republicans and the Trump administration can act as if they are vindicated in their declaration that the ACA was never a viable option. They will then claim that they cannot get a new health care package passed through a divided Congress. At that point, universal health care will be dead in the U.S.

The Republican’s health care bill failed because the right wing of the Republican Party, known as the Freedom Caucus, would not vote for it.  Remember, this is the so-called health care plan that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would have repealed the health care mandate, reduced subsidies for the purchase of private insurance, set new limits on spending for Medicaid, and repealed hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act.

This was not enough for the Freedom Caucus. They also demanded a repeal of all regulatory mandates in the ACA, including the prohibition on excluding coverage for pre-existing medical conditions and lifetime coverage caps.1 Paul Ryan, after consulting with Donald Trump, pulled the plan because he realized that he would not get enough votes to pass it.

I believe the not-so-secret agenda of the Republican Party is to abolish health care, period. The weak bill that was proposed but not voted on in Congress is evidence of this. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this bill would have reduced the number of people covered by health insurance by 24 million by 2026. Twenty-four million!

This is the bill endorsed by Donald Trump, the same Donald Trump who declared on January 15 in the Washington Post: “We’re going to have insurance for everybody. There was a philosophy in some circles that if you cannot pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

I believe the GOP’s heart was never really into passing true universal health care coverage. Although Paul Ryan introduced a health care plan called the Patients’ Choice Act in 2009 to compete with Obama’s plan, the GOP has voted to repeal the ACA multiple times without promoting this plan or any other as a replacement in the ensuing eight years. Surely if they were serious about wanting universal health care they would not only have voted to repeal the ACA, but they also would have voted on a bill to replace it.

I believe the GOP never wanted universal health care and they did their utmost to pass a plan that decimated health care for most of the people currently covered by the Affordable Care Act.  This is backed up by the Republican philosophy that the federal government should have as little involvement in the lives of U.S. citizens as possible.

I believe that the GOP’s plan is to destroy the ACA now that the Republican health care bill is dead.  Donald Trump has promised a good health care plan and seems to believe, according to a recent tweet, that once the ACA implodes the GOP will work with him to create a better one. I believe he is being naïve as the GOP leaders know that they will do their best to either not pass a health care bill or they will pass a bill that is weaker than the one that just failed to pass. In either case, universal health care will be dead.

The GOP and Donald Trump have already been saying for months that the ACA is a disaster and is in a death spiral. This is not true, despite some of the current problems with the ACA.  Over the life of the ACA, the rise in premium prices has slowed, even when the rather large rise in cost of premiums this year is factored in. In fact, government subsidies cover most of the rise in costs. And the number of insurers leaving the health insurance market could be staunched with some help from the federal government.

But help won’t be forthcoming, and the plan to destroy the ACA can unfold in a variety of ways:

  • The government can stop enforcing the individual mandate, which is exactly what Trump’s Executive Order–issued on the day of his inauguration–aims to do. If this occurs, then the Congressional Budget Office has predicted that millions of relatively healthy people who have enrolled in health care may not continue to do so in the absence of   And if enough people do not sign up for the plan, health care insurers may be forced to leave the exchanges due to high costs.
  • A lawsuit filed by the House of Representatives against the Obama administration, House v. Price, over the cost-sharing reduction payments, alleges that the administration did not have the authority to pay them. If Trump chooses to stop defending the suit, which seems likely, it will end subsidies for about seven million low-income people, potentially pushing insurers out of the market.
  • The Trump administration has made clear that it will not be promoting the ACA, as the Obama administration did, which can severely affect its viability.

I believe it is up to all of us in the Indivisible movement and other movements to pressure our representatives to prevent the GOP’s not-so-secret plan from succeeding.  If we do not put tremendous pressure on Congress to support and repair the ACA, it will mean the end of universal health care in the U.S. It is up to us to act now!  Call your U.S. representatives and senators, post your outrage on social media, and engage your family and friends in conversations about this all-important issue.

Mark Burkholz has been Director of Technology and a math and computer science teacher at Lawrence Academy since 1992. He lives in Groton with his wife Sheara Friend.

Opinion blog posts represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Indivisible Groton Area or its individual members. IGA invites input and opinion from among the diversity of its membership.