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Cal Thomas: The UN: Once 'useless,' now useful

While campaigning for the presidency, Donald Trump more than once referred to the United Nations as a “useless” organization and “not a friend of democracy.”

In his speech Tuesday to the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, he apparently has discovered the often dysfunctional body can be useful, if it adopts the reforms he is proposing and accepts an agenda that includes uniting to stop North Korea from obtaining nuclear weapons and missiles to strike at U.S and other targets.

This may have been Trump’s finest speech as president. Written by Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior policy adviser, it was clear about the president’s objectives and concise about how he and any nations that wish to join him might hope to achieve them.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could barely stay in his seat. He said of the president’s address: “In over 30 years in my experience with the U.N., I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech. President Trump spoke the truth about the great dangers facing our world and issued a powerful call to confront them in order to ensure the future of humanity.”

Using his new nickname for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, Trump said the “rocket man” is on a “suicide mission” and that if he persists in his nuclear ambitions North Korea will be “destroyed.” How to do this without causing massive civilian deaths is the question. Trump framed the issue as one of good vs. evil: “If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph. When decent people and nations become bystanders to history, the forces of destruction only gather power and strength.”

While thanking Russia and China for voting to stiffen sanctions against North Korea in the Security Council, the president also criticized both nations: “We must reject threats to sovereignty, from Ukraine to the South China Sea,” an apparent reference to the Russian occupation of the former Soviet territory and China’s opposition to an independent Taiwan.

The “corrupt and destabilizing regime in Cuba” was also a target, noting his recent announcement no sanctions would be lifted against the communist regime “until it makes fundamental reforms.”

Venezuela has been brought “to the brink of total collapse” by the socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro. The president said that regime “has destroyed a prosperous nation by imposing a failed ideology that has brought poverty and misery everywhere it has been tried.” To defenders of socialism, he said, “The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.”

On Afghanistan, the president said, “from now on, our security interests will dictate the length and scope of military operations — not arbitrary benchmarks and timetables,” a clear reference to the policy of former President Obama.

He called Iran a “murderous regime,” which “masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy.” He called the Iran nuclear deal made by the Obama administration, “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into” and while not vowing to immediately cancel it, he added, “don’t think you’ve heard the last of it.”

There was praise for the U.N.’s humanitarian work and a call for all nations to protect the idea of sovereignty, security and success for themselves as the best guarantee of peace.

Clearly, the president was trying to mobilize a lethargic world body to act in its own and the world’s best interests. He laid out the threats and the opportunities. The question is will enough of the non-rogue nations acknowledge them and act to eradicate the threats they pose, while taking advantage of the opportunities freedom offers?

Other View: Republican nonsense sells health-care plan

Congressional Republicans are rushing to overhaul the U.S. health-care system by passing a bill that is based on dishonest claims, avoids the usual professional analysis, and makes a mockery of serious legislative process.

The Senate is scheduled to vote next week on a proposal by Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana to repeal and replace much of the Affordable Care Act passed by a Democratic Congress in 2009. Earlier Republican efforts failed, but this time, using more than a little sleight of hand, party leaders and the White House think they may pull it off.

The plan is to approve the legislation with only Republican votes in the Senate, with limited debate and before the Congressional Budget Office has time to analyze the costs and impact, then to rush the same bill through the House and send it to President Donald Trump. Haste is necessary because the procedural window will close at the end of September for passage with only Republican votes.

There have been no hearings on the bill despite its massive impact on the U.S. economy and health-care system.

Graham and Cassidy have sold this hastily assembled measure as a bipartisan compromise that, rather than cutting coverage, merely gives the funds and flexibility to the states to determine their own health-care policies.

None of that holds up. The bill is purely partisan-it’s being rushed through for the simple reason that it lacks any Democratic support.

Graham, in press conferences, has hailed the plan as a middle-ground compromise between Obamacare and the coverage-slashing Republican proposals that collapsed in July.

That’s nonsense. It’s crafted to appeal to Republican voters and lawmakers by cutting Medicaid spending in states where Democrats dominate and increasing it where Republicans hold sway. Graham claimed to Breitbart News that the measure “will score very well” with the CBO even though he’s hurrying to avoid CBO scrutiny because it almost certainly won’t.

Supporters also contend that the bill does not undo the Obamacare prohibition against discrimination in health insurance aimed at people with preexisting medical conditions. That’s more nonsense. It permits states to waive this requirement; where they do, it will make coverage unaffordable for millions of people with chronic diseases and disabilities. It also guts current guarantees of coverage for mental health treatment.

The Graham-Cassidy bill is opposed by the American Medical Association, the pediatrics and family-physician associations, the nurses’ group, the Children’s Hospital Association and most advocacy groups for people suffering from major diseases, like the American Cancer Society. They all understand what the bill would do.

Still, there is at least an even chance that the Graham-Cassidy bill will pass Congress and be sent to the White House. When the dire consequences ensue, backers will claim it’s all because of Obamacare, another lie.

Reader Comment: Latest GOP health care bill would hurt Idaho's disabled

The Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities appreciated Sen. Mike Crapo’s response to fears that Idahoans with disabilities and their families had regarding the proposed Medicaid cuts that dominated the media this spring and summer. In August, his statement to us acknowledged that Medicaid is a crucial safety net for people with disabilities. He also expressed his strong support for Medicaid Home and Community Based Services. Positive statements are indeed welcome in light of the painful history experienced by people with disabilities as a result of institutionalization. We don’t want to go back to a time when people with disabilities were forced to live in big facilities with no choice, control or quality of life.

In contrast, Home and Community Based Services provides the opportunity for people with disabilities to live, work and participate in their own communities. These were very hard-won gains, largely funded through Medicaid, and we must not allow them to be lost.

We also agree with the value reflected in Sen. Crapo’s statement to us regarding “promoting greater flexibility for Idaho to design a Medicaid program that offers patient-centered care in the community.” In cooperation with the Department of Health and Welfare, the Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities was already hard at work this past year creating a person-centered approach by bringing stakeholders together including, and most importantly, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and family advocates into a process called Community Now! This process put adults with I/DD and family advocates who utilize Medicaid Home and Community Based Services in the driver’s seat by creating safe spaces for adults and families to share their experiences about accessing the current adult developmental disability service system and providing solutions to problems presented. The stakeholder meetings, paired with a statewide listening tour, provided the additional voices of 94 adults with I/DD and 128 families that resulted in a key set of 16 recommendations. These recommendations set out to improve or replace the current adult developmental disability service system to allow for a more flexible and person-centered system. We expect these recommendations to inform the development of an improved Home and Community Based Services system for some of the most vulnerable citizens in our state.

Regardless of how well outreach to the developmental disability community was conducted or how well thought-out these recommendations are, Idaho cannot arrive at person-centered or flexible service systems if the financial base of the Medicaid program is undermined. That is exactly what all of the block-granting and per-capita proposals to date would do. Legislation like the proposed Graham-Cassidy bill in the U.S. Senate will eliminate the Medicaid program as we know it. People with disabilities will be at risk for losing their Home and Community Based Services. The bill allows states to remove mental health treatment and people who depend on HCBS will be forced to live in nursing homes and other institutions. This legislation allows for insurance companies to charge higher premiums to individuals with pre-exiting conditions. Pre-existing condition coverage will be gone as we know it.

We remain extremely concerned about Sen. Crapo’s support for legislation that contains these budget policy ideas because the severity of the proposed cuts literally jeopardizes the health, safety and freedom of people with disabilities by fracturing the HCBS system. If Sen. Crapo believes that Idaho’s lifeline for people with disabilities is Medicaid, he must work to preserve the financial integrity of the Medicaid program. We hope Sen. Crapo alters his position on block grants and caps, because you can’t support flexible, person-centered home and community based services without preserving budget integrity.