- Associated Press - Thursday, May 25, 2017

The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, May 23, on health care:

If “something better” than Obamacare is truly coming - and it will be up to the U.S. Senate to make that happen - shouldn’t the Trump administration do what it can to ensure that Americans have the affordable health care they need until then?

We’re not alone in thinking so. Last month, organizations representing nearly the entire health care industry asked the president to remove uncertainty about continued funding for Cost-Sharing Reduction reimbursements to health insurers.

By not committing to the payments, the Trump administration is creating chaos that threatens the viability of the Affordable Care Act - and access to insurance, especially for rural Americans.

As we’ve remarked many times, the ACA is flawed and needs significant adjustment. But until those flaws are addressed in a functional way, we need stability in the marketplace. Otherwise, Americans’ health needs will suffer as a result of political gamesmanship.

The administration needs to announce a commitment to pay the subsidies through 2018. Anything less than that sows uncertainty which will send premiums through the roof and force some insurers to stop selling policies on the individual market altogether.

But stabilizing the insurance market means the administration has to defend the subsidies, which are at the center of a lawsuit filed by House Republicans. The suit claims Congress hadn’t authorized payments of the subsidies to insurers to help consumers defray their out-of-pocket insurance costs.

Rather than filing a brief clarifying its plans, the government kicked the can down the road and asked for a 90-day delay. It’s a stop-gap move that ensure the subsidies will be paid for three months, but this inaction won’t encourage insurers to come back to the insurance exchanges. As USA Today reported Monday, “Several insurers have left the Affordable Care Act exchanges and those that proposed rates for 2018 so far have said they set them up to 40 percent higher to account for uncertainty around what the administration is planning, according to ACASignups.net.”

Sending the ACA into a tailspin that adversely affects millions of Americans shouldn’t be a consequence of the current debate on reforming health care. The president seems to think that an ACA “implosion” will somehow translate into more support for repeal-and-replace legislation. But that’s a huge gamble.

After the first version of the American Health Care Act failed to reach the floor of the House for a vote, a Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found three-fourths of the American public wanted the president and his administration to do what they can to make the current health care law work - including a majority of Democrats and independents and half (51 percent) of Republicans. Presumably those sentiments haven’t changed just because House Republicans hastily passed a repeal-and-replace bill with flaws of its own.

The Senate appears to be working on competing plans, none of which completely embrace the House version. Given the uncertainty of an Obamacare repeal, the Trump administration shouldn’t let it unravel until a solid replacement is in place.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2r0vwAX


The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, May 23, on Denver’s April 20 celebration being shut down:

Goodbye and good riddance to the annual 4-20 pot party in downtown Denver. City and county officials shut it down for at least the next three years, showing authorities throughout the country they need not tolerate mass displays of mayhem wrapped in the First Amendment.

This year’s pot party, as in the past, was a disgrace. Eight food vendors operated without licenses. A mob broke down a fence and laughed about it. Activists parked cars on sidewalks. Grown men urinated on trees. Noise forced nearby offices to close. A cloud of marijuana smoke wafted through downtown for all to inhale.

“We have courtrooms that can’t even work because you can’t hear the parties,” said Denver District Court administrator Kelly Boe, as quoted in the Washington Times.

That was Thursday, April 20. When the sun rose Friday, Civic Center Park looked like a landfill. Bottles, cans, food, paper and other debris were strewn for acres.

City and county officials decided they’d had enough.

“When you hold events at one of these spaces, we all have the responsibility to uphold the public trust, and when you leave one of our parks trashed, you violate that trust,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said after announcing his disgust with the gathering.

“When I look out that office at the 4/20 event, any year, and I see the plume that bothers me. Because at the end of the day, the city must be seen as the guardians of our treasured spaces, but also the law. We don’t want to put our officers in an unsafe situation; we don’t want to put our citizens in an unsafe situation.”

Pot party organizers plan to appeal. Defenders of the assembly have long argued the First Amendment protects it from permits and permit fees that are charged to commercial and entertainment celebrations, such as Taste of Colorado.

Event organizer Miguel Lopez told the Denver Post in 2013 that his party is a political protest, and therefore protected from government interference. Oh, really?

We hear the same song and dance all over the country, as increasingly uncivil protesters break windows, damage cars and litter landscapes with trash for someone else to pick up.

Whether protesting President Donald Trump, global warming, cops, speakers on campus or the Standing Rock reservation pipeline, political rallies have made headlines of late for trashing the environment.

With rights come responsibilities. Responsible Americans have protected the freedom to assemble by mitigating negative effects of crowds. When a massive group gathered to celebrate “Americas heroes and heritage” at the 2010 Restoring Honor rally in Washington, participants made news for leaving the National Mall cleaner than they found it.

As 4-20 protesters fight for their right to party, asserting the freedom to assemble without interference, a judge should remind them what the First Amendment says. It expressly protects the right to “peaceably” assemble.

When groups destroy property and trash public space, they violate the law. They dishonor the tenets and restrictions of free speech. Protesters, regardless of cause, are required to respect and maintain the peace. When they do not, they jeopardize their rights.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2r0xiSO


(Boulder) Daily Camera, May 22, on Russia probe:

The U.S. Justice Department appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to lead a criminal investigation into possible collusion between President Trump’s campaign and the Russia government is a welcome and overdue move to bring integrity and seriousness of purpose to the daily revelations that threaten to overwhelm Washington.

But more is needed. An old-school, by-the-book prosecutor, Mueller is expected to undertake a meticulously thorough examination and has the sweeping powers necessary to do so. He will be focused on whether the president, his campaign associates or members of his administration have or had illegal ties to an adversarial nation. If laws were broken, he will determine which ones and to what extent. Mueller also remains bound by Justice Department rules and supervision. His decisions, actions and budget can be reined in at any time. And a criminal probe, no matter how thorough, will not address the larger issues that confront this nation about how to ensure that U.S. elections and governments are protected against foreign interference.

An independent, 9/11-style commission could examine the broader threat to American democracy posed by what intelligence agencies all agree was Russian meddling in the 2016 election. This nation must learn the extent of those actions and what must be done to protect the U.S. against attempts to subvert elections and institutions.

Republicans should be leading those efforts, not blocking them. Despite control of the executive and legislative branches, their agenda is getting bogged down in a ceaseless stream of self-generated crises by an administration that appears to be going off the rails. To salvage their own prospects, let alone those of the country at large, Republicans should want to halt the downward spiral of this administration.

And while the special counsel is needed, the criminal investigation cannot become an excuse for not addressing those larger issues. Congress, despite four active investigations, may not be up to the job. Its work has been painfully slow and problem-plagued. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes recused himself from the Russian investigation after he ran to the White House with sensitive information, and yet a new report shows he remains involved. House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz may be resigning his seat next month, reportedly lured by the prospect of a berth at Fox News. Sen. Lindsay Graham is already saying of his Judiciary Committee investigation that Mueller’s appointment “probably well shuts it down.”

An outside commission not answerable to the administration would have none of these issues. Given the impending 2018 midterm elections, Congress cannot wait until Mueller has wrapped up his work. Confidence must be restored that American elections and institutions are well-insulated against interference by malicious foreign governments.

One courageous Republican, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, has signed on to a bill by California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell to form such a commission. But efforts to establish an independent body have been blocked by House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose deference to Trump ill-serves his branch’s responsibility to provide a check on executive power.

Democrats are resorting to a maneuver known as a discharge petition, which would allow them to bypass Ryan and bring a bill straight to the floor. As of Friday, they had 191 of 218 signatures needed.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2r0seh5


Cortez Journal, May 18, on moving the BLM headquarters:

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) recently introduced legislation into their respective chambers to authorize moving the Bureau of Land Management’s Washington, D.C., headquarters to the Western U.S.

Their rationale? That 99 percent of the 247.3 million acres the agency manages is located west of the Mississippi River, and that having decision-makers on the ground in communities affected by those decisions will lead to better policy.

We are not so sure.

There are several problems with moving the BLM headquarters, not the first of which is that public lands are the birthright of all Americans, not just those living adjacent to them. There is also the reason why BLM offices are in the nation’s capital: That is where all members of Congress can access the agency’s leaders. Remove them from D.C., and you risk removing these lands from the national conscience.

Move skeptics say that is the point of the proposal - to allow extractive industries, including the energy companies that heavily influence Western governors and state legislatures, to gain more control of BLM lands and minerals.

Local community concerns must be considered in BLM decisions - possibly to a greater degree than other interests - but moving the BLM’s headquarters will not ensure that will happen.

One BLM proposal designed to better engage the public earlier in natural resource and land-use planning was the Planning 2.0 rule that Republicans recently jettisoned using the Congressional Review Act. That rule had problems but was a good start and could have been revised, instead of killed.

The BLM currently employs almost 10,000 staff across the continental U.S. and Alaska. Only 600, or 6 percent, work in the metro D.C. area. That means that 94 percent of BLM’s national workforce is already in a field, district or state office.

Colorado alone is home to almost 1,000 BLM employees.

The BLM is already decentralized. There are 12 state directors who report to another dozen directors of BLM program offices who report to the BLM’s top brass. Most in D.C.-based leadership positions started with the agency long ago and know the West. Maybe they just need to spend more time here? That would certainly be cheaper than establishing an entirely new headquarters, the cost of which is yet to be estimated.

It does not appear to be a geographic problem that is thwarting agency decision-making. Grand Junction, where Gardner and Tipton propose the BLM’s new home locate, would certainly benefit from new jobs and becoming a public lands power center, but moving personnel does not necessarily solve what is perhaps more of an internal communications problem.

A move may, in fact, create more problems, possibly making it harder to interact with Congress to lobby for policies and the agency’s budget.

And why move just the BLM? The U.S. Forest Service manages close to 200 million acres, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 90 million and the National Park Service 80 million acres, also largely in the West.

Gardner said that constituents generally feel like they have a great relationship with their local BLM staff, but “something happens on the way to Washington that changes that.”

Why, with all the staff in the West, is the public’s message not getting up the chain of command? That is a worthwhile line of inquiry.

On first pass, moving the BLM headquarters is not.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2r0tLnF

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