Courts and Pope Francis Say Grandparents are Important, “Close Family Members”

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“How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage so essential for each and every society!”  Pope Francis on Twitter

“Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents.  Indeed, grandparents are the epitome of close family members. The government’s definition excludes them. That simply cannot be.” Judge Derrick Watson, Hawaii District Court in defining that grandparents should not be exempt from those close relatives allowed to visit relatives in the United States from certain primarily Muslim countries subject to President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

These two public statements were recently made to affirm the important role of grandparents in the lives of their families.  Pope Francis has long been a voice to honor and support elders and their role in families.     The remarks of Judge Watson were important in his decision saying that grandparents were important family members of foreigners in the United States who could visit their relatives.  The Supreme Court refused to overrule his decision earlier this month.

It was certainly unacceptable that the Trump Administration would not include grandparents as “close” relatives who would be free to visit family members in this country.   Of course, the Trump approach to foreigners has been heartless and discriminatory so it is no surprise that he and his administration would not have a perspective on the importance of grandparents who would want to visit their families who are far away.  Trump pushes the idea of “America First” but he obviously doesn’t support the importance that family is always first no matter where you come from.

Lessons from Trump’s First Six Months: Unrelenting Advocacy and People Power Make Democracy Work

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Michael Burgess

The first six months of Donald Trump’s term have been filled with chaos and controversy.   His political agenda has also been beaten back with massive, active resistance on health care, immigration, and other issues.   That resistance has been a bright spot because progressive activists always seem to question their power.  Instead, we have even surprised ourselves with a flexing of political muscle and activism unlike anything since the opposition to the Vietnam War.

Efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act were met with immediate resistance and the flooding of town hall meetings as well as public demonstrations for the program.  The proposals which the House and Senate Republicans came up with to replace the ACA were disasters intended to take away benefits for tens of millions while giving tax breaks for the wealthy.  These proposals were terribly unpopular with less than 20% support in opinion polls.   The bills drafted were not based upon listening to the interests or representing the desires of the public.  Rather, they were right wing,  political proposals meant to destroy “Obamacare” for political reasons.

Congressman Chris Collins who represents part of western New York went so far as to call some of the opposition to the GOP health bills as  based on “fake” information and advocacy.  I would suggest that a Congressman like him who ignores the wishes of his constituents is a “fake” Congressman who represents his wealthy donors not one who really represents the people of his district, at least on this issue.

Now, the right wingers are thinking about cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in their budget proposals to be acted on in the coming months.  Just like their health care proposals, the public doesn’t support their plans to cut  Medicare and turn it into a voucher.  They don’t support turning Medicaid into a block grant or cutting Social Security disability benefits as well as food stamps.  They will try to do it anyway.

Don’t be re-assured just because Donald Trump says he doesn’t support cuts to Medicare and Social Security.  His positions are constantly changing based on his political needs of the moment.   Remember how he supported the House GOP health bill one day and then called it “mean.”

What we have learned in the first six months of Trump is that we must continue to organize, to write letters, to attend rallies and town hall meetings and public protests.  We must be unrelenting.  We showed it works and it will work again, especially as we continue to move closer and closer to 2018 and Congressional elections.  We have seen again that democracy is not a spectator sport and it only works as it is supposed to if we  work at it and insist upon it.


Disability Advocates Putting Their Bodies on the Line Against Senate Health Bill

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Many organizations are holding rallies and fighting the Senate health bill which is proposed to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).   One group of persons,  disabled members and advocates in the group ADAPT, are literally putting their lives on the line and being hauled off to jail for their sit-ins at Senator’s offices in Washington and their state offices around the country.  They have taken the fight right to the Senators and proclaimed loudly and clearly that the repeal of the ACA in this bill which cuts over $800 billion dollars from Medicaid is a direct threat to their independence as well as their health.   They are making it clear that cuts to Medicaid may reduce spending on home and community based services, forcing more into nursing homes which will also be cut.

They have become a very visible, in your face, reminder to members of the Senate that this bill being considered is about human beings not just some political chess move.   The disabled are making it clear that they will not be pawns in this battle and they are exposing the fact that tax cuts for the wealthy are a higher priority for those pushing this bill than the health of many vulnerable people.

Many of the disability rights advocates protesting in Washington are from Rochester and other parts of New York State and they have been very vocal at the State Capitol about reforming Medicaid to make sure that community based alternatives are strengthened so that nursing homes are not the default option.

There are some who have said in the past that the tactics of groups like ADAPT are too confrontational but sometimes, the injustice at hand demands this type of action and they are reminding us what passion and advocacy are all about.

Michael Burgess