Barack Obama Archives - Page 3 of 82 - Florida Politics

Kathy Castor calls on GOP not to repeal ACA without a viable replacement

When Christine Roeper was about to turn 26 last year and thus no longer be eligible to stay on her parents health care insurance plan under the Affordable Care Act, she says she contacted the navigators based at USF to help her find a plan.

“I definitely do need health insurance,” Roeper said on Monday at a news conference called by Tampa Democratic Representative Kathy Castor. “I have a heart condition called mitro valve regurgitation, so that requires even more doctor visits and different medications and different procedures. Without the ACA, I wouldn’t be able to afford insurance. It costs me a dollar to get medicine, a couple of dollars to see a doctor. It’s been phenomenal.”

Greg Robinson was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of blood cancer in October of 2015, and underwent extensive chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant to “essentially save my life” at Moffitt Cancer Center.He’s always been able to receive insurance through his employer,  but he says that the thought of his insurer no longer having to carry a patient with pre-existing conditions – a key tenet of the ACA- is something he calls “terrifying.”

The two Hillsborough County residents spoke at a news conference organized by Castor at Royal Sun Park, an assisted living facility located in North Tampa.

The Tampa Democrat has been a huge supporter of the ACA since Barack Obama signed it into law in 2010. With congressional Republicans poised to repeal parts of the ACA as early as this month, she says she’ll continue to hold press events bringing forth those who would be deleteriously affected if the plan goes away without a viable replacement. ‘We’re saying, Republican congress, don’t throw our families into chaos,” Castor said. “Don’t proceed on this ideological repeal plan without a replacement.”

While House and Senate Republicans remain relatively firm on repealing the ACA as soon as possible, no one has said how long it might take before a working alternative will replace it. There has been speculation that it could be as long as two to three more years before a completely new plan could be viable.

Although talk of repealing the ACA has been in the headlines for the past week, “enrollment again is off the charts” says Jodi Ray, principal investigator for the USF Navigator grant, which works towards signing the noninsured on to a health care plan.

“We’ve been busy,” Ray said, adding that the numbers of people signing up to get the ACA in 2017 has exceeded last year’s numbers. Ray said that there are at least 280,000 individuals from the Tampa Bay area on the ACA, with at least a third of them being Hispanic.

“We’re reaching women, students, folks who are in rural areas who are hard to get to,” Ray said. “We’re working nights and weekends and we are seeing consumers that are having their life changed … because they have access to health care now, and they didn’t have access to health care prior. Overall, 1.7 million Floridians are now on the ACA.

There is an immediate deadline of next Sunday, January 15, for people to begin getting coverage by February 1. The next deadline comes at the end of this month to begin qualifying for any type of health insurance this year.

Although there has been very little specific information about what a replacement health insurance program would look like, there has been renewed discussion of changing the way that the Medicaid funding formula works, with the money ultimately going to the states as a block grant.

“When you hear block grant, or per capita cap, or greater flexiblty, what that really means is you’re not going to have the same amount of money, your families are going to be left out in the cold, they’re not going to have a place to go for skilled nursing or assisted living care,” said Castor. “It’s something of a shell game that will leave our families out in the cold.”

Castor says she does believe she can work with Republicans on some improvements to the program without throwing it all out. She says working on controlling the costs of pharmaceuticals and working on bringing greater competition in those areas of the country that have seen exponentially large premium increases (because in some cases there is only one insurance company available) as two viable examples.

While Castor was making her case to save the ACA, Rick Scott was weighing in as well, applauding congressional Republicans for working immediately to dismantle the program.

“For far too long, it has been fashionable in Washington to say Obamacare can only be tweaked,” Scott wrote to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “The impact of Obamacare has been devastating in Florida and our nation. Obamacare was sold on a lie from the very start. Costs are skyrocketing, people have not been able to keep their doctors and many people have fewer doctors to choose from. The increases in health care costs are at a 32-year high and are expected to continue increasing in the coming months. Recent news of Obamacare rates rising 25 percent is absurd and families simply cannot afford it. We can do better and the families and businesses footing the bill deserve better.”

President Obama in Jacksonville Saturday, but not for the public

President Barack Obama is taking time away from wrapping his term up to visit Jacksonville for a staffer’s wedding Saturday.

He has no public events slated, and no media availability … almost as if he’d exhausted his quota of such in the Sunshine State during the presidential campaign.

President Obama arrives at Jacksonville International Airport at 5:50 p.m., and will be “fired up and ready to go” 90 minutes later, according to an advisory from the White House.

The arrival and departure of Air Force One are closed to the public.

However, media will show up to film his arrival and departure.

Perhaps President Obama will wave and offer a bon mot so they have sound.

If Republicans have a better idea to replace Obamacare, let’s hear it

I have a friend who has owned a small restaurant in Tampa for decades. He voted for Donald Trump for two important reasons: Trump isn’t Hillary Clinton, and he hates Obamacare.

Let me rephrase that: He doesn’t like Hillary, but he loathes Obamacare with unyielding venom. Keeping up with its requirements, he said, has been an expensive nightmare. He wants it gone.

Today.

This is a kind and decent man who is all-in on goodness. He is charitable, law-abiding and is happy to lend a hand. So, over several plates of bacon and eggs at his joint, I have deduced that his position can best be summed up like this: He wants his employees and anyone in need to have access to health care, but he despises the bureaucracy and costs imposed by Obamacare.

It looks like he is going to get his way as the Republican-controlled Congress is tripping over itself to defund, defeat and dethrone the signature accomplishment of President Barack Obama’s administration. But then what?

Well, to borrow the infamous quote from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from 2010 when the Affordable Care Act was coming to life, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.”

That quote was taken out of context and fed to Pelosi for breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with Obama’s vow that people could keep the doctors they liked. That became the rallying cry for opponents, but Trump now basically is saying the same thing – promising Americans that law will be replaced with something great.

While we wait for greatness, consider these Florida statistics from a recent federal Health and Human Services report.

— An estimated 132,000 young Floridians have been able to keep insurance by the provision allowing them to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26.

— It claims premiums grew 1.3 percent annually from 2010-2015, far less than the 8.2 percent of the previous decade.

Hold on just a minute there.

The HHS apparently forgot to include the estimated 25 percent premium hike for Floridians this year. There are many factors for that, especially the fact that far fewer people enrolled in Obamacare than the government projected and fewer insurers are offering coverage now that federal backstops against financial losses have been phased out.

All this sets up as a trap for Republicans in their zeal to end the program, though.

With lower enrollments than expected and the end to the safety net for insurance companies, any plan Republicans pass to replace the ACA probably will come up short of what Obamacare offered.

I can see the attack ads now when congressional seats are up for grabs in two years.

Incoming HHS head Tom Price of Georgia, a ferocious critic of Obamacare, has proposed a plan that would include a series of tax credits, health savings accounts, state grants and so on. Analysists have said Price’s proposal, if adopted, could mean reduced coverage and much higher premiums, especially for older Americans.

Republicans have the votes, for now, to move ahead with something. What that is, though, is anyone’s guess – especially Republicans. After barking their hatred for Obamacare for six years, they have, in the words of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, become “the dog that caught the car.”

Now what?

I know my friend would say to get rid of Obamacare and we’ll out the consequences later.

My take is a little different. I know this makes some people cringe, but I think health care is a right in a civilized society. It’s not something only those who can afford it should have. If Republicans have a better idea, let’s hear it.

After all, as Schumer said, they caught the car. They need to do more than just pee on the tires.

 

Grand Old Party? Donald Trump remaking GOP in his image

For eight years, a leaderless Republican Party has rallied around its passionate opposition to President Barack Obama and an unceasing devotion to small government, free markets and fiscal discipline.

No more.

On the eve of his inauguration, Donald Trump is remaking the party in his image, casting aside decades of Republican orthodoxy for a murky populist agenda that sometimes clashes with core conservative beliefs. Yet his stunning election gives the GOP a formal leader for the first time in nearly a decade. The New York real estate mogul becomes the face of the party, the driver of its policies and its chief enforcer.

Despite their excitement, Republican loyalists across the country concede that major questions remain about their party’s identity in the age of Trump.

The simple answer: The modern-day Republican Party stands for whatever Trump wants it to.

“He’s a sometime-Republican,” American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp said. “Donald Trump was elected without having to really put all the details out on all these questions. We are going to see in the first six months how this plays out. Does government get bigger or does it get smaller?”

Trump is eyeing a governing agenda that includes big-ticket items that Schlapp and other conservative leaders would fight against under any other circumstances. Yet some see Trump’s agenda as more in line with the concerns of average Americans, which could help the party’s underwhelming public standing and keep them in power.

The president-elect initially promised a massive infrastructure spending bill to update the nation’s roads and bridges, an investment that could dwarf the infrastructure spending Republicans opposed when it appeared in Obama’s 2009 stimulus package. Trump has also vowed to put the federal government in the child care business by allowing parents to offset child care costs with tax breaks. And he has railed against regional trade deals and threatened to impose tariffs on some imports, a sharp break from the free-market approach that has defined Republican policies for decades.

“From a policy perspective, he might be one of the more flexible Republican presidents. He’s just not encumbered with 30 years of Republican ideology,” said veteran Republican operative Barry Bennett, a former Trump adviser.

“If there’s a win involved, he’s interested,” Bennett said.

Republicans in Congress and elsewhere have expressed some hesitation, but most appear to be willing to embrace the incoming president’s priorities — at least at first.

There are indications that Trump may initially avoid issues that would divide his party. That’s according to Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, who said in a recent radio interview that the new administration will focus in its first nine months on conservative priorities like repealing Obama’s health care law and rewriting tax laws.

In a postelection interview with The New York Times, Trump acknowledged that he didn’t realize during the campaign that New Deal-style proposals to put people to work building infrastructure might conflict with his party’s small-government philosophy.

“That’s not a very Republican thing — I didn’t even know that, frankly,” Trump said.

Trump’s confusion can be forgiven, perhaps, given his inexperience in Republican politics. He was a registered Democrat in New York between August 2001 and September 2009. And once he became a Republican, his political views were shaped from his perch in New York City, where the Republican minority is much more liberal — particularly on social issues — than their counterparts in other parts of the country.

Trump said he was “fine” with same-sex marriage in a postelection interview in November, for example. And while he opposes abortion rights, he supported Planned Parenthood’s non-abortion-related women’s health services throughout his campaign.

It’s unclear how aggressively Trump will fight for his priorities, but there are signs that he’s not expected to have much tolerance for detractors in either party. He has been remarkably thin-skinned, using Twitter to jab critics like former President Bill Clinton, “Saturday Night Live” and a little-known union official from Indiana.

“You cross him at your peril,” said Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist who worked for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz‘s GOP presidential bid.

Tyler said Trump’s leadership style as he prepares to enter the Oval Office sends a clear message: “Unless you move in my way, I’ll make your life, including Republicans, pretty miserable.”

At the same time, the public’s perception of the Republican Party seems to be improving, albeit modestly.

A NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll conducted in December found that 37 percent of Americans have a positive rating of the GOP compared to 36 percent who have an unfavorable view. That’s slightly better than the Democratic Party, which earns positive marks from 34 percent and negative from 42 percent.

Before Trump’s rise, the Republican Party’s message didn’t necessarily resonate with the needs of “everyday Americans,” said veteran Republican strategist Alex Conant.

“The challenge for the party now is to adopt policies that fulfill those needs. And we have a lot of work to do on that front,” Conant said.

The uncertainty leaves longtime Republican loyalists with more questions than answers about the future of their party.

“The party will be what Trump wants it to be,” said Steve Duprey, a Republican national committeeman from New Hampshire.

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

Americans say Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton most admired in 2016

President Barack Obama is the man most admired by Americans 2016.

In a new Gallup Poll, 22 percent of respondents mentioned Obama in response to the open-ended question. Coming in second was President-elect Donald Trump at 15 percent. This marks Obama’s ninth consecutive time at the top of the most-admired list, but with a margin of only seven percentage points, it was his narrowest victory yet.

Often, incumbent presidents are ranked highest — in the 70 times Gallup asked the question, the president has won 58 times. Twelve exceptions came mostly when the sitting president was unpopular, such as 2008, when President-elect Obama was named over sitting President George W. Bush. The only other president-elect was Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, later finishing first 12 times, more than any other man in history. Gallup notes that Obama is now second all-time with nine first-place finishes.

Rounding out the year’s top 10 most admired man list: Pope Francis, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Rev. Billy Graham, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, The Dalai Lama, former President Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

Americans also named Hillary Clinton as Most Admired Woman, her 15th consecutive year and 21st time overall. Her first one was in 1993 as the first lady, after which Clinton has topped the list every year but 1995 and 1996 (finishing behind Mother Teresa) and 2001 (Laura Bush). Eleanor Roosevelt holds the second-most No. 1’s among women, with 13.

First lady Michelle Obama finished second this year on the Most Admired Woman list. The remainder of the top 10 includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former and current talk-show hosts Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres, Queen Elizabeth of England, human rights activist Malala Yousafzai, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

The poll — taken since 1946 — was conducted Dec. 7-11 with a random sample of 1,028 adults, aged 18 and older, from all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The sample includes 60 percent cellphone users and 40 percent landline users. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

Year’s top news filled with division — and no middle ground

Fed up with Europe’s union across borders? Reject it. Disgusted with the U.S. political establishment? Can it.

The news in 2016 was filled with battles over culture and territory that exposed divisions far deeper than many realized. But people confronting those divides repeatedly rejected the prospect of middle-ground solutions and the institutions put in place to deliver them.

While the headlines told many different stories, the thread connecting much of the news was a decisive torching of moderation, no matter how uncertain the consequences.

“You’re not laughing now, are you?” Nigel Farage, a leader of the Brexit campaign, told the European Parliament after voters in Great Britain spurned membership in the continental union. “What the little people did … was they rejected the multinationals, they rejected the merchant banks, they rejected big politics and they said, ‘Actually, we want our country back.'”

Farage was speaking only about the United Kingdom. But his observation that many people well beyond Britain shared that disdain for working within the system was borne out repeatedly in the year’s biggest headlines.

In a U.S. presidential campaign fueled by anger and insults, in Syria’s brutal war and Venezuela’s massive protests, in fights over gay rights and migration, opposing sides rejected not just compromise but also the politics of trying to forge it.

That was clear from the year’s first days, when armed activists took over a national wildlife refuge in Oregon’s high desert, opposing the federal government’s control of public lands.

“It needs to be very clear that these buildings will never, ever return to the federal government,” LaVoy Finicum, an Arizona rancher among the activists, told reporters. Weeks later, federal agents stopped vehicles outside the refuge, arresting eight of the activists and fatally shooting Finicum when he reached into a jacket that held a loaded gun.

Even in the rare cases when compromise prevailed, it was viewed with suspicion.

When a deal took effect in January limiting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief on sanctions, it marked the culmination of prolonged negotiation by President Barack Obama‘s administration. But the pact was repeatedly attacked by critics in both countries, including Donald Trump, saying it gave the other side too much.

“The wisest plan of crazy Trump is tearing up the nuclear deal,” a leading Iranian hard-liner, Hossein Shariatmadari, told his country’s news agency.

In mid-February, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in his sleep, leaving a vacuum on a court where he had long been the leading conservative voice. Barely an hour after Scalia’s death was confirmed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell staked out an uncompromising position on what lay ahead.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” McConnell said, disregarding the fact that U.S. voters had twice elected Obama. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

North Carolina lawmakers prompted protests and counterprotests when they rushed through House Bill 2, voiding local gay-rights ordinances and limiting bathroom access for transgender people. Companies, the NBA and others followed through on threats to move jobs, games and performances out of the state, amplifying the division.

Tensions over U.S. policing bled into a third year. In July, a sniper killed five Dallas police officers during a protest over shootings of black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota. A South Carolina jury failed to reach a verdict in the trial of a white officer caught on video fatally shooting a black man fleeing a traffic stop.

Division, though, was hardly limited to the U.S.

In Venezuela, triple-digit inflation and shortages of food and medicine fueled 6,000 protests throughout the year that brought millions into the streets. But the government of President Nicolas Maduro, blamed by many voters for the chaos, blocked a recall campaign.

“If you’re going to shoot me because I’m hungry, shoot me!” a young man shouted at a soldier during one protest in Caracas.

In Colombia, voters narrowly rejected a deal between the government and a guerrilla group to end a 52-year civil war. Even when lawmakers approved a renegotiated deal, the peace remained fragile.

In Brazil, senators impeached President Dilma Rousseff for manipulating budget figures, though many of the lawmakers were, themselves, tarred by accusations of corruption. South Korean President Park Geun-hye was stripped of power in December amid allegations she let a close friend use the government for financial gain.

Meanwhile, Syria’s war entered its sixth year. But despite pressure by the U.S. and its allies, Russia and the government of President Bashar Assad unleashed an assault on Aleppo to wipe out rebels, driving up the toll in a conflict that has already claimed as many as 500,000 lives.

“This is a targeted strategy to terrorize civilians and to kill anybody and everybody who is in the way of their military objectives,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, accusing Syria and Russia of war crimes.

“As long as war crimes are at question,” a Russian government spokeswoman said, “the Americans should start with Iraq.”

In Yemen, cease-fires broke down, extending a nearly two-year civil war. But with Syria capturing most international attention, a famine resulting from the turmoil was mostly overlooked.

As the fighting continued, terrorist strikes spread fear well beyond the Middle East.

A bombing at a Brussels airport in March and another attack in June at Istanbul’s airport by gunmen with explosives killed a total of nearly 80 people. More than 70 died when a bomb went off in a park in Pakistan, with a faction of the Pakistani Taliban claiming responsibility. In July, a terrorist drove a truck into a Bastille Day crowd in Nice, France, killing 86 and injuring more than 400 others. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

In June, security guard Omar Mateen opened fire inside a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in the deadliest mass shooting ever in the U.S. In a call to police during the attack, which killed 49, Mateen — a U.S. citizen born to parents who emigrated from Afghanistan three decades earlier — said he was acting on behalf of the Islamic State group.

A day later, Trump pointed to the attack in a renewed call to ban Muslim immigrants to the U.S. while suggesting that American Muslims were turning a blind eye to terrorists in their midst.

“We cannot continue to allow thousands upon thousands of people to pour into our country, many of whom have the same thought process as this savage killer,” Trump said.

Still, there were moments when the obstinacy that characterized so much of the news was set aside.

When boxing great Muhammad Ali died in June, a figure whose outspokenness on race, religion and other issues once made him deeply polarizing was eulogized as an inspiration.

In March, Obama became the first U.S. president to visit Cuba since 1928, affirming a contentious move to resume ties after more than a half-century of hostility. But the death of Cuba’s Fidel Castro in November renewed criticism of the U.S. opening, with Trump threatening to “terminate the deal.”

The hard line typified the outspokenness that attracted many voters. Critics lambasted the U.S. presidential campaign for feeding prejudice against minorities and denigrating women, warning that Trump could not win.

But each time Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton appeared to open a gap between herself and the billionaire developer, a scandal over her use of a personal email server while serving as secretary of state returned to the headlines.

When FBI Director James Comey reignited the issue in late October by announcing his agency had found new emails, Clinton’s popularity fell even as early voting began. Trump clinched victory by winning states representing an Electoral College majority, though Clinton captured more than 2.8 million more votes nationwide.

“Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division,” Trump told supporters in his first speech as president-elect.

The election’s shocking outcome was arguably the year’s biggest news story. But Trump’s speech made headlines in no small part for sounding a note of moderation that was jarringly out of place in a year of discord.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Marco Rubio supports U.S. sanctions on Russia and condemns Vladimir Putin’s crimes

Senator Marco Rubio supports the sanctions President Barack Obama is imposing on Russia in the wake of their possible hacking of the U.S. election earlier this year.

In fact, he thinks they should’ve happened sooner.

The sanctions are in response to U.S. government allegations that Russian hackers meddled in the election and tried to tip it in favor of President-elect Donald Trump by hacking into the emails of many high-ranking Democrats, including Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta and the Democratic National Commission.

Rubio, who supported Trump after his ascension to become the Republican party nominee, says the sanctions are a long time coming, speaking broadly about the crimes committed by Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s regime.

“After years of weakness that have invited and encouraged Russian aggression, today’s actions by President Obama are long overdue,” he said. “Vladimir Putin has made it abundantly clear he is not an ally or partner of the United States, and that his interests are fundamentally not our interests.”

Rubio goes on to list Putin’s crimes – among them repression of the Russian people, the assassination of his critics, the invasion of Ukraine and occupation of Crimea and war crimes in Aleppo, and more.

“I welcome the measures taken today to check Russian aggression and look forward to working with congressional leaders from both parties in the months ahead to strengthen these penalties, thoroughly investigate Russian efforts to undermine the U.S., and ensure that Putin and his cronies are held accountable for their actions,” he said.

Rubio recently defeated Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy in the race for his U.S. Senate seat.

Barack Obama’s decision awaited on Oscar López Rivera – terrorist or political prisoner

Puerto Ricans and other supporters are counting down days until Jan. 20, 2017, waiting to see if President Barack Obama will heed their pleadings to release Oscar López Rivera – a federal prisoner varyingly known as a terrorist, Puerto Rican nationalist freedom fighter, dangerous criminal, political prisoner, avowed enemy of the United States, or a conscience for a people.

López, who turns 74 in January, is serving his 36th year in U.S. prison, currently in the Terra Haute (Ind.) Federal Correctional Institution, on a 1981 conviction for several federal crimes, most notably seditious conspiracy, essentially conspiring to levy war against the United States.

López is a causa célebre in the Puerto Rican diaspora in Florida and throughout the United States, and for residents of Puerto Rico.

His support extends from the capitol of Puerto Rico, where Gov. Alejandro García Padilla; Gov.-elect Ricardo Rossell, and Secretary of Justice César Miranda all have written and called for his release; to the halls of Congress, where López has near-universal support among the Hispanic Caucus members including U.S. Rep.-elect Darren Soto of Orlando; on down to thetable talk in the cafeterías of Orlando and Kissimmee.

The support goes well beyond the Puerto Rican community to include Jimmy Carter, who was president during most of López’s alleged crimes, and who called last week for Obama to release him; U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who made a similar call; the New York City Council, which pass a resolution in 2015 calling for his immediately release; the late Coretta Scott King, who backed his release before her 2006 death; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; the presidents of the AFL-CIO, AFSCME and SEIU; the United Church of Christ; the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda; the Latino Victory Project, the ACLU, and several international human rights organizations, though not including Amnesty International.

A petition asking for his release, filed through the White House We The People program, has drawn more than 108,000 signatures. López also has petitioned on his own for clemency.

His most ardent supporters, including the ACLU, compare him with Nelson Mandela, portraying him as a jailed freedom fighter and prisoner of conscience. Soto compared his efforts with those of Boston Tea Party patriots. Even those who oppose López’s specific cause of national independence for Puerto Rico find him symbolizing their frustration at being second-class, under a political status imposed on the island.

“It’s important because it has a lot to do with Puerto Rico’s identity: as a U.S. territory we’ve been in the crossroads of our identities as Puerto Ricans or Americans,” said Orlando activist Phillip Arroyo, a former Obama White House intern who founded the Coalition for Puerto Rico Justice. “It’s a matter of justice and identity.”

“The overwhelming majority of the people of Puerto Rico, political leaders from all major political parties on the island, numerous members of the U.S. Congress including the congressional Hispanic Caucus, legal experts, the United Nations, and members of the international community have called on you to exercise your constitutional powers to commute Mr. Oscar López’s sentence,” Arroyo wrote Obama earlier this month on behalf of the coalition. “Today, I formally request the same.”

Not everyone agrees. Jay J. Rodriguez, an Orlando activist who is national president of the Hispanic Republican Organization, said too many people, including him, grew up in Puerto Rico being fed what he called propaganda and lies about being oppressed by the United States, and that López became the symbol of fighting that. Rodriguez argued that Puerto Ricans need to seek what López opposed, full statehood. López, he charged, is a criminal.

“Oscar López is not the voice of the people of Puerto Rico; it is our vote,” he said.

Partisan politics – many of the most visible individuals and groups supporting López are Democrats or Democratic allies – also is a factor at the moment. A full pardon or unconditional clemency from Obama [López already rejected President Bill Clinton‘s 1999 offer of conditional clemency] could do as much as anything to cement Puerto Ricans’ fragile loyalty to the Democratic Party. And, unlike solutions for Puerto Rico’s bigger problems such as its economic collapse, all it would take is a stroke of a pen.

But a pardon also likely would be seen by many outside the Puerto Rican community, most notably including the FBI and other officials in the U.S. Department of Justice [who aggressively opposed parole for López,] as undercutting law enforcement and anti-terrorism efforts. It would be easy, particularly for conservatives, to paint such a pardon as a final act of appeasement by Obama.

“Oscar López Rivera is not a political prisoner, he is not innocent of the commission of violent acts, and he is not guilty merely by association,” charged blogger Jeff Ingber in a recent column on TownHall.com, a conservative news site published by the Heritage Foundation. “López Rivera was a FALN leader who organized and personally led numerous FALN bombings, armed assaults, and hostage takings both in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.”

The case of López is complicated by conflicting reports.

Jan Susler, a lawyer with the People’s Law Firm in Chicago who said she is representing him, said that the only real opposition to his release comes from the FBI. And she charged the bureau has long been trying to destroy the Puerto Rican independence movement, that its pursuit of López is part of that, and that it has spread false statements about his case and his own positions.  She argued that any suggestion that his release would be broadly controversial would be creating “false opposition.”

“The controversy in the eyes of many people is that he is still in prison after 35 years without having been convicted of hurting or killing anyone,” she said.

A decorated Vietnam War army veteran who lived much of his pre-prison life in Chicago, López was an acknowledged member and alleged leader in the 1970s and early ’80s of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, or the FALN. The armed, Marxist-leaning, Puerto Rican nationalist group was linked to a number of bombings, shootings, robberies and other violent acts in Puerto Rico and stateside, acts which federal authorities labeled as terrorist. The 1975 bombing of the Fraunces Tavern in New York City, claimed by FALN as a retaliatory act, killed four people and injured 60. There were other deaths and injuries in other incidents.

A series of FBI roundups took down the FALN in the early 1980s. López was arrested during a routine traffic stop. During his trial, he was characterized as a leader, recruiter, trainer and bomb maker for the FALN. However, he was never charged with any specific FALN-linked attacks that injured anyone. He was charged with and convicted of seditious conspiracy, use of force to commit robbery, interstate transportation of firearms and ammunition to aid in the commission of a felony, and interstate transportation of stolen vehicles. He was sentenced to 55 years.

In 1988 he was charged with and convicted of conspiring with others for a prison break, allegedly to be done with smuggled-in weapons, grenades and explosives. The escape attempt never went forward. He got another 15 years.

When López turned down Clinton’s offer of clemency in 1999, federal officials stated that he did so because he refused to accept the condition that he renounce violence against the United States. He has since denied that claim, saying he turned down the offer because he wanted other prisoners to be released with him.

In 2011 López came up for parole, but it was denied. Now he’s not due for release before 2023.

López has stated in interviews, most recently earlier this month with with El Nuevo Día, the largest newspaper in Puerto Rico, that his participation in the FALN did not result in anyone getting hurt or killed, and that he’d never even heard of the Fraunces Tavern before he read about its bombing. He also told the newspaper that he has personally sworn off violent methods.

He also contested that the U.S. government has any valid reason to imprison him, arguing that Puerto Rico is an occupied colony and that he is strictly a political prisoner of that situation.

“President Obama—who has spoken directly about Nelson Mandela—must understand that no Puerto Rican can seditiously conspire against the U.S. government because colonialism is a crime against humanity,” López said in the English translation of the story El Nuevo Día published Dec. 3. “International law makes that very clear. Every colonized person has the right to exercise his or her free will and independence, using all available methods, including violence.”

In 1998 he told the Associated Press he had no regrets.

“I cannot undo what’s done,” López was quoted as saying. “The whole thing of contrition, atonement, I have problems with that.”

GOP: Cut taxes, change brackets; but what about deficits

Congressional Republicans are planning a massive overhaul of the nation’s tax system, a heavy political lift that could ultimately affect families at every income level and businesses of every size.

Their goal is to simplify a complicated tax code that rewards wealthy people with smart accountants, and corporations that can easily shift profits — and jobs — overseas. It won’t be easy. The last time it was done was 30 years ago.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have vowed to pass a tax package in 2017 that would not add to the budget deficit. The Washington term is “revenue neutral.”

It means that for every tax cut there has to be a tax increase, creating winners and losers. Lawmakers would get some leeway if non-partisan congressional analysts project that a tax cut would increase economic growth, raising revenue without increasing taxes.

Nevertheless, passing a massive tax package will require some tough votes, politically.

Some key Republican senators want to share the political risk with Democrats. They argue that a tax overhaul must be bipartisan to be fully embraced by the public. They cite President Barack Obama‘s health law — which passed in 2010 without any Republican votes — as a major policy initiative that remains divisive.

Congressional Democrats say they are eager to have a say in overhauling the tax code. But McConnell, who faulted Democrats for acting unilaterally on health care, is laying the groundwork to pass a purely partisan bill.

Both McConnell and Ryan said they plan to use a legislative maneuver that would prevent Senate Democrats from using the filibuster to block a tax bill.

McConnell says he wants the Senate to tackle a tax plan in the spring, after Congress repeals Obama’s health law. House Republicans are more eager to get started, but haven’t set a timeline.

Some things to know about Republican efforts to overhaul the tax code:

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THE HOUSE PLAN

House Republicans have released the outline of a tax plan that would lower the top individual income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent, and reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three. The gist of the plan is to lower tax rates for just about everyone, and make up the lost revenue by scaling back exemptions, deductions and credits.

The plan, however, retains some of the most popular tax breaks, including those for paying a mortgage, going to college, making charitable contributions and having children.

The standard deduction would be increased, giving taxpayers less incentive to itemize their deductions.

The non-partisan Tax Policy Center says the plan would reduce revenues by $3 trillion over the first decade, with most of the savings going to the highest-income households.

That’s not revenue neutral.

Small business owners would get a special top tax rate of 25 percent.

Investment income would be taxed like wages, but investors would only have to pay taxes on half of this income.

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SENATE PLAN

Senate Republicans have yet to coalesce around a comprehensive plan, or even an outline.

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TRUMP’S PLAN

Trump’s plan has fewer details. He promises a tax cut for every income level, with more low-income families paying no income tax at all.

The Tax Policy Center says Trump’s plan would reduce revenues by a whopping $9.5 trillion over the first decade, with most of the tax benefits going to the wealthiest taxpayers. Trump has disputed the analysis.

Like the House plan, Trump would reduce the top income tax rate for individuals to 33 percent, and he would reduce the number of tax brackets to three. He would also increase the standard deduction.

Trump has embraced two ideas championed by Obama but repeatedly rejected by Republicans over the past eight years. Trump’s plan would cap itemized deductions for married couples making more than $200,000 a year. It would also tax carried interest, which are fees charged by investment fund managers, as regular income instead of capital gains.

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CORPORATE TAXES

The top corporate income tax rate in the U.S. is 35 percent, the highest in the industrialized world. However, the tax is riddled with so many exemptions, deductions and credits that most corporations pay much less.

Both Trump and House Republicans want to lower the rate, and pay for it by scaling back tax breaks.

Trump wants to lower the corporate tax rate to 15 percent. Ryan says 20 percent is more realistic, to avoid increasing the budget deficit.

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BORDER ADJUSTMENT TAX

This is one of the most controversial parts of the House Republicans’ tax plan. It is also key to making it work.

Under current law, the United States taxes the profits of U.S.-based companies, even if the money is made overseas. However, taxes on foreign income are deferred until a company either reinvests the profits in the U.S. or distributes them to shareholders.

Critics say the system encourages U.S.-based corporations to invest profits overseas or, more dramatically, to shift operations and jobs abroad to avoid U.S. taxes.

House Republicans want to scrap America’s worldwide tax system and replace it with a tax that is based on where a firm’s products are consumed, rather than where they are produced.

Under the system, American companies that produce and sell their products in the U.S. would pay the new 20 percent corporate tax rate on profits from these sales. However, if a company exports a product abroad, the profits from that sale would not be taxed by the U.S.

There’s more: Foreign companies that import goods to the U.S. would have to pay the tax, increasing the cost of imports.

Exporters love the idea. But importers, including big retailers and consumer electronics firms, say it could lead to steep price increases on consumer goods. The lobbying has already begun.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

U.S. election voted top news story of 2016

The turbulent U.S. election, featuring Donald Trump‘s unexpected victory over Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, was the overwhelming pick for the top news story of 2016, according to The Associated Press’ annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors.

The No. 2 story also was a dramatic upset — Britons’ vote to leave the European Union. Most of the other stories among the Top 10 reflected a year marked by political upheaval, terror attacks and racial divisions.

Last year, developments related to the Islamic State group were voted as the top story — the far-flung attacks claimed by the group, and the intensifying global effort to crush it.

The first AP top-stories poll was conducted in 1936, when editors chose the abdication of Britain’s King Edward VIII.

Here are 2016’s top 10 stories, in order:

1. US ELECTION: This year’s top story traces back to June 2015, when Donald Trump descended an escalator in Trump Tower, his bastion in New York City, to announce he would run for president. Widely viewed as a long shot, with an unconventional campaign featuring raucous rallies and pugnacious tweets, he outlasted 16 Republican rivals. Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton beat back an unexpectedly strong challenge from Bernie Sanders, and won the popular vote over Trump. But he won key Rust Belt states to get the most electoral votes, and will enter the White House with Republicans maintaining control of both houses of Congress.

2. BREXIT: Confounding pollsters and oddsmakers, Britons voted in June to leave the European Union, triggering financial and political upheaval. David Cameron resigned as prime minister soon after the vote, leaving the task of negotiating an exit to a reshaped Conservative government led by Theresa May. Under a tentative timetable, final details of the withdrawal might not be known until the spring of 2019.

3. BLACKS KILLED BY POLICE: One day apart, police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, fatally shot Alton Sterling after pinning him to the ground, and a white police officer shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop in a suburb of Minneapolis. Coming after several similar cases in recent years, the killings rekindled debate over policing practices and the Black Lives Matter movement.

4. PULSE NIGHTCLUB MASSACRE: The worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history unfolded on Latin Night at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. The gunman, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people over the course of three hours before dying in a shootout with SWAT team members. During the standoff, he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

5. WORLDWIDE TERROR ATTACKS: Across the globe, extremist attacks flared at a relentless pace throughout the year. Among the many high-profile attacks were those that targeted airports in Brussels and Istanbul, a park teeming with families and children in Pakistan, and the seafront boulevard in Nice, France, where 86 people were killed when a truck plowed through a Bastille Day celebration. In Iraq alone, many hundreds of civilians were killed in repeated bombings.

6. ATTACKS ON POLICE: Ambushes and targeted attacks on police officers in the U.S. claimed at least 20 lives. The victims included five officers in Dallas working to keep the peace at a protest over the fatal police shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana. Ten days after that attack, a man killed three officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In Iowa, two policemen were fatally shot in separate ambush-style attacks while sitting in their patrol cars.

7. DEMOCRATIC PARTY EMAIL LEAKS: Hacked emails, disclosed by WikiLeaks, revealed at-times embarrassing details from Democratic Party operatives in the run-up to Election Day, leading to the resignation of Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other DNC officials. The CIA later concluded that Russia was behind the DNC hacking in a bid to boost Donald Trump’s chances of beating Hillary Clinton.

8. SYRIA: Repeated cease-fire negotiations failed to halt relentless warfare among multiple factions. With Russia’s help, the government forces of President Bashar Assad finally seized rebel-held portions of the city of Aleppo, at a huge cost in terms of deaths and destruction.

9. SUPREME COURT: After Justice Antonin Scalia‘s death in February, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, to fill the vacancy. However, majority Republicans in the Senate refused to consider the nomination, opting to leave the seat vacant so it could be filled by the winner of the presidential election. Donald Trump has promised to appoint a conservative in the mold of Scalia.

10. HILLARY CLINTON’S EMAILS: Amid the presidential campaign, the FBI conducted an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private computer server to handle emails she sent and received as secretary of state. FBI Director James Comey criticized Clinton for carelessness but said the bureau would not recommend criminal charges.

Stories that did not make the top 10 included Europe’s migrant crisis, the death of longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and the spread of the Zika virus across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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