March 12th —18th
• Montana’s Special Election
My home state is making front page news, and this time it’s not because a bear got into one of our high schools. This time its for the Congressional seat vacated by the newly minted Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke. The special election is scheduled for May 25th and many within and outside the state are keeping a close eye on the election. Article after article is being written on whether the recent demonstrations from the liberal masses across the nation will actually translate into votes come the midterms. This election will be an early warning sign for either the GOP or the DNC.
In the spirit that is politics these days, both candidates for the open seat are both individually wealthy and have zero government experience.
The GOP’s nominee, Greg Gianforte, is an engineer turned businessman who founded RightNow Technologies, a customer-experience software company based in Bozeman. Mr. Gianforte’s name may sound familiar to those outside the Big Sky country due to his recent campaign for Governor in the 2016 election which ultimately proved unsuccessful. Conservatives see Mr Gianforte as a local Trump and hope to usher in another political outsider who can shake up local politics and send Washington a message. Mr. Gianforte has come under severe criticism from local and national groups for his personal and financial support for a creationist museum and opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion.
His counterpart is, believe it or not, a musician. Local celebrity Rob Quist is the Democratic nominee to fill the Congressional seat. Mr. Quist, an award-winning musician, is running on a progressive agenda and often touts that he has traveled throughout Montana and North America and understands the concerns and feelings of the people whom he hopes to represent. Mr. Quist is entering the political arena for the first time and some are skeptical as to whether or not he has the experience or the political savvy to fill such an important position for Montanans. If Mr. Quist is to be compared to a big-time politician it would most likely be Bernie Sanders, of whom Mr. Quist is a bigger supporter.
Although Montana is historically a conservative state in terms of national elections (Donald Trump won 56% of the vote) local politics is a very different story. This election is one between a candidate very similar to President Trump and a charismatic progressive liberal. As the ads hit the airways and PAC money begins pouring into the state like the Missouri River, many —myself included — are anxious to see who will win and how the country is responding to the Trump presidency.
• Humanitarian Crisis in the Horn of Africa
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres has issued a warning and a call for aid for some 20 million people who face famine across four countries in and near the Horn of Africa. On March 10th, Stephen O’Brien, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, issued the following statement:
“We stand at a critical point in history. Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the U.N.”
The four countries cited were Kenya, Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia. All of whom are looking at massive proportions of their populations succumbing to starvation. The U.N. has reported that in Yemen, with a population of more than 18 million people, about two-thirds of the are in dire need of assistance and more than seven million are “severely food insecure.” In South Sudan a famine was officially declared and nearly 8 million people are in need of assistance, half of whom have been displaced according to Mr. O’Brien.
In Somalia the situation is no better. Secretary General Guterres is calling on aid for half the Somalian population, that’s just over 6 million people. Chief worry among those in the country and those attempting to assist is the estimated one million children under the age of five who are in severe risk of malnourishment. And in Kenya the U.N. is expecting four million people to reach food insecure levels by April of this year.
Mr. O’Brien further went on to report that 14 donors have pledged nearly $700 million, of which nearly $500 million is earmarked for humanitarian action in 2017. Mr. O’Brien expressed his deep appreciation for those who attended the Oslo Conference and for their support. However, that sum is not enough to divert the crisis that lies ahead as an estimated $1.5 billion is required for the region alone.
Mr. O’Brien called on the international community at large to step up and do their part. “It is possible to avert this crisis, to avert these famines, to avert these looming human catastrophes,” he concluded. “It is all preventable.”
What’s standing in the way? Fighters within the region for a start, but also the creeping spread of nationalism throughout many western democracies who’s leaders and candidates aim to decrease their amount of foreign aid. Suffice to say, the election of Donald Trump in America has given legitimacy to the movement of populism and nationalism around the world and other candidates of his ilk are hoping to ride the wave into seats of power. This week the elections in the Netherlands will pit Geert Wilders, an anti-islam far-right populist against the incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte. And in April, Marine Le Pen, of the National Front, a far-right nationalist party, will most likely be pitted against Emmanuel Macron a social liberal.
Mr. Trump, Mr. Wilders, and Ms. Le Pen win votes with hostile, anti-immigrant rhetoric, they cry foul at the international community and demonize organizations within such as NATO, the EU, and even the United Nations itself. As the world nears a humanitarian crisis not seen since World War II it is an especially dangerous moment for nationalism to make such strong headway into the geo-political sphere. In an age of globalization sayings like “America First” are not only foolish, they become dangerous.
Mr. Trump and Ms. Le Pen would do well to review a history book wherein the section on World War II and American aid to the French will perhaps redirect their consciouses. When the issue of international aid and humanitarian work arises I find it helpful to remember the word’s of Josh Lyman from the West Wing: “If your neighbor’s house is one fire, you don’t haggle over the price of your garden hose… There are too many things in the world we can’t do. Why help them? Because we can.”
• How Will Republicans Respond to CBO Report
One would think that after eight years of relentless assault on the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, Republicans in the House and Senate would have already drafted a repeal and replacement plan. Yet, since Congress reconvened for its first session and Mr. Trump entered the Oval Office, a plan was barely mentioned and whispers within Washington were just that, whispers. Last week however, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, unveiled his party’s repeal and replacement plan for Obamacare entitled The American Health Care Act or AHCA.
In a move late last week Mr. Ryan took the stage before the press pool looking like a substitute teacher trying to make dull math cool. He scrolled through a powerpoint presentation attempting to school the American public and press on the plan for his American Health Care Act. It was refreshing move for a politician of today, not because his act was genuine necessarily, but because he has personally opened himself up to voters retribution if his plan fails to deliver what was promised in the presentation. Forget an embarrassing soundbite, Mr. Ryan has given his opponents a half hour video with accompanying slides. He may yet come to regret the decision.
The real test on the future of the AHCA (no one knows whether to nickname it Donaldcare or Ryancare yet) was just released last evening. The Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan committee, tasked with “scoring” new pieces of legislation on its cost and effectiveness, have issued their report on the AHCA which can be found in its entirety on their website. Before the CBO released their report however, the bill is already drawing fierce opposition from both sides of the isle (finally they can agree on something). Oddly, the opposition from Republicans is either that it is too much of a tax credit or too little. Democrats oppose it outright and have quickly denounced their conservative counterparts for pushing the bill through committee before the CBO released their report. Several news outlets and reporters, including Fox News, also offered their skepticism about the Republicans conduct in trying to quickly pass such an important piece of legislation before the lawmakers had the CBO report.
In short the CBO has concluded that while $337 billion dollars would be saved over the next decade, 24 million people would loose their health care coverage over that same amount of time. As early as 2018 they have estimated that 14 million will be uninsured should the bill pass the House and Senate. The report was everything Republicans feared and, although people like to save money, a figure like 24 million uninsured is quite unpalatable. Medical groups have already come forward in opposition to the bill as currently written including the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, AARP, and the American Hospital Association.
As news of the CBO report broken, Mr. Ryan issued a statement in support for the bill despite the report’s backlash and instead aimed to highlight the positive aspects of the report. Aspects that conservative ideology often champions: increase in market competition, individual freedom, and tax relief. With the CBO report now in hand, lawmakers were no doubt up all night combing the report and marking it up with notes and questions. Should the Republicans choose to advance the bill further the AHCA will move on to the Budget Committee and then the Rule Committee most likely within the week. You can track the progress of the bill on through the Washington Post’s “What’s next for the Obamacare replacement bill” an interactive article that lets you see the trajectory of the bill through various scenarios. But even conservatives like Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton are already saying the bill will not pass the Senate — Sen. Rand Paul went so far as to claim that “the bill is dead on arrival.”