But before we make our jokes about tin foil hats and move on, we should recognize how such cyber chicanery can have a very real impact.
This part barely made headlines here, likely because it involved wingnuts in North Carolina. But in August 2015, the feds arrested three men who were building bombs, stockpiling guns and preparing to attack our government because of Jade Helm.
Back then, we were all busy rolling our eyes at Gov. Greg Abbott tasking the Texas State Guard with monitoring the U.S. military training exercises happening that summer in Bastrop County, while similar special ops training was held in several other states. But the notion of a martial law takeover by the U.S. military was not an obvious hoax to Walter Eugene Litteral, Christopher James Barker and Christopher Todd Campbell — then 50, 41 and 30, respectively.
According to arrest affidavits, these men gathered the materials to make pipe bombs and explosive tennis balls covered in nails. They had dozens of guns, military-issue Kevlar helmets, body armor vests and handheld radios with throat microphones. They planned to ambush U.S. soldiers on a 99-acre camp in Clover, S.C., a town not far from Charlotte, N.C.
“According to (Campbell),” the warrant stated, “he and Litteral intend to booby-trap the camp and draw government’s forces into the camp and kill them.”
Thankfully that showdown never came. The owner of a military surplus store where the men bought their gear learned of their plot and alerted the FBI, according to the Washington Post.
Of course it’s possible Litteral, Barker and Campbell would have planned their attack even without the involvement of Russian bots. After all, the bots simply spread the conspiracy theory that was already out there. It was a real person, right-wing provocateur Alex Jones, who conjured the fever dream in March 2015 that Jade Helm, the multi-state military training exercise planned for that summer, was somehow something sinister.
But as the conspiracy theory spread online with lightning speed, with a flurry of comments and shares that suggested legions of alarmed residents, real people took notice. And a handful of elected officials pandered to the paranoia.
U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, issued a statement in May 2015 saying “true patriots” had cause to be “legitimately suspicious.” That same month, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, then making his run for president, demanded answers from the Pentagon because “the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration.”
I know Republicans had major differences with the Obama Administration. But I think we can agree Gohmert and Cruz didn’t exactly nail this one.
In providing this week’s revelation about the Russian bots, former CIA director Michael Hayden helped us understand how the clearly ludicrous Jade Helm conspiracy theory spread so far and wide, and how the success of this operation paved the way for Russian meddling in the social media chatter around the 2016 presidential campaign. And that’s troubling enough. But let’s not lose sight of the life-or-death stakes in this realm of Internet mischief.
The decision by the State Board of Education to approve an elective course for Mexican-American studies in Texas high schools should have triggered triumphant celebrations among the scholars and advocates who worked for years to make the curriculum a reality. Instead, many came away feeling like they were history’s losers once more.
“Discrimination!” Marisa Perez-Diaz, a member of the board, said in a blistering statement that captured the outrage of critics.
Perez-Diaz, a Democrat from Converse who is Mexican-American, was angry that the course will not be called Mexican-American Studies, as scholars and activists had advocated. Instead, after the objections of one member, the Republican-dominated board voted to strip the name and call the course “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent.”
The board member who proposed the new name, Beaumont Republican David Bradley, offered this explanation: “I find hyphenated Americanism to be divisive.”
To understand why some Texans consider that statement and the name change a slap in the face is to understand the history of Texas and how it has treated Mexican-Americans as something less than American – not as equals. It is a painful and shameful history that includes loss of rightful lands after the Mexican-American War, Jim Crow laws and systematic discrimination, separate and unequal schools, lynchings, deportations of Mexican-American citizens without due process, bigotry and signs at restaurants, parks, swimming pools and public places that told Mexican Americans they most certainly were not welcome there.
“No dogs, No Negros, No Mexicans,” the signs of Jim Crow-era segregation said.
Even in death, Mexican-Americans were not equals. In some Texas towns they were buried in separate cemeteries, as were African Americans.
But you won’t read much of that sordid history in high school classrooms in Texas, if at all. The historical Mexican-American experience is whitewashed and airbrushed out of textbooks and out of young Texans’ minds.
“To say that one does not believe in hyphenated Americans is one of the reasons we need this course,” Richard Flores, a Mexican-American studies scholar at the University of Texas, told me. “Because this entire Mexican-American community was not accepted into the American way of life.”
Flores wrote the book, “Remembering the Alamo: Memory, Modernity, and the Master Symbol,” which tells a history of the famous battle that is different from the conventional narrative taught in Texas classrooms – that brave Anglos defeated savage Mexicans there. But as Flores’ book conveys, they were not alone — Tejanos, or Mexican-Americans, fought alongside those Anglos.
Throughout history, Mexican-Americans have been called all kinds of hateful epithets. Wetbacks, greasers, beaners, cockroaches, spics – these are some. The word “Mexican” also has historically been used as a slur — President Trump did in 2016 against a U.S. district judge.
To some, stripping the Mexican-American name from the high school course is another attempt to put Mexican-Americans in their place and to dictate their identity, a throwback – setback — to the 1940s and 1950s in Texas.
Angela Valenzuela, another Mexican-American studies scholar at UT who championed the new curriculum, said she would not want her name associated with it under its new name. Her mother would never forgive her, she said, because it harkens back to Jim Crow and the scars it left.
“My mother told us (an American of Mexican descent) is what I was,” she told me. “That was all we were allowed to be then because it was Americanization full throttle.”
Noting that Latinos make up 52 percent of school-age children in Texas – the vast majority Mexican American — Valenzuela said the education board sees Mexican Americans and other Latinos as a threat.
We don’t need a Mexican-American studies course only for its value in setting the historical record straight. We need it because it can highlight Mexican-American historical contributions too and affirm Mexican-Americans’ place as valued contributors to society.
“Without our stories, the message to young people is ‘We weren’t here, we weren’t important and we are not important,” said Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, director of the Voces Oral History Project at UT, which highlights the WWII contributions of Mexican-Americans who served their country, despite facing rampant discrimination at home.
Given Texas’ history, it’s easy to see how some might view that as threatening.
“We’re all Americans,” Bradley told the Houston Chronicle. “It’s a melting pot and most of the board agreed with that.”
The irony of Bradley’s statement is that in the land that was Mexico long before Texas became a state, in the face of historical bigotry and discrimination, Mexican-Americans have wanted nothing more than to stake their full and rightful claim as Americans. As equals. Though we might not see it reflected in our textbooks, history teaches us this.
Maybe sometimes it takes a stranger to remind us of our greatness and of the things we hold dear as a nation, but which we take for granted. Maybe it takes someone like Khizr Khan, a Pakistani immigrant who chased his American dream and is living it.
You remember Khan. At the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in 2016, the Gold Star father of a Muslim U.S. soldier killed in combat in Iraq fixed a stern gaze at the television camera as if it were a portal into the American consciousness.
With his wife Ghazala beside him, Khan pulled a copy of the U.S. Constitution from his jacket and ripped then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for his proposed Muslim travel ban and his rhetoric on immigrants. Then Khan famously asked if Trump had even read the founding document.
“I will gladly lend you my copy,” he said as the audience roared. “In this document, look for the words liberty and equal protection of the law.”
An electric moment, it rocketed Khan to national prominence.
As we now know is his standard impulse, Trump took to Twitter to fire back. Never mind that attacking the grieving parents of a U.S. Army captain who had given his life for his country seemed outrageously undignified, beneath what we expect of someone wanting to be president.
Khan wasn’t surprised, he told me before an appearance last Saturday morning at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Austin: “We had known (Trump’s) caliber and his mentality and his lack of empathy, his lack of compassion.”
Today of course, Trump is the president of the United States. Khan isn’t shrinking from the spotlight, either. He is traveling across the country with a newly published book, “An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice.” The event at St. Andrew’s, where he spoke to a few hundred people about the book and about his life, was his 175th event since that fateful, life-changing night in Philadelphia.
“I’d rather be with my grandkids,” Khan told me with a warm smile. “But it’s for a good purpose — to share a message of unity and hope. We are lacking that now.”
But not Khan. His faith in America remains resolute. “The book,” he said, “is a tribute from (our family) to the goodness of America. We are expressing our gratitude.”
Later inside the school auditorium, Khan, wearing a dark suit and a Gold Star lapel pin, deftly wove his life story before a rapt, diverse audience. A Harvard-educated lawyer he spoke in a low, soothing timbre, and reminded them that among the things Americans cherish most are the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.
“Human dignities,” he called them. “The founding document gave me these dignities. In Pakistan I did not have freedom of religion, freedom of press, freedom to address my grievances in a court of law and due process.”
Life led from a seat on a small cot at his rural Pakistani home with no electricity to his current home of Charlottesville – yes, that Charlottesville in Virginia, where a rally of white supremacists exploded in deadly violence August 12.
In the moonlit darkness of his Pakistani home, Khan’s grandfather offered the young boy wise counsel, paraphrasing one of Rumi’s seven advices. “He told me, ‘So what if you are thirsty. Be a river for others,’” Khan said.
In Charlottesville, three days after the ugly violence, the Khans joined other families in walking the same route the neo-Nazis had taken. Like his grandfather, Khizr Khan had his own lesson to impart.
“We showed our children that these were not American values,” he said. “We stood together to show them that this is the real America.”
Some Americans have blamed Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants for emboldening white supremacist protesters. Khan didn’t address the criticism.
The Khans didn’t intend to accept the Democratic convention’s invitation to speak. Confidantes had warned them there would be backlash, and they were right. Khan receives much hate mail – most of it unsigned and with no return address – and he must travel with great precaution.
But they could not ignore the concerns of their Muslim neighbors’ children, who with Trump’s talk about banning Muslims from entering the U.S., were reluctant to attend school because they feared their parents would be gone — deported – when they returned.
“They would ask, ‘Is this possible? But we were born here,’” Khan said.
In some ways, Khan’s appearance at St. Andrews bore some of the hallmarks of both a celebrity appearance and an inspirational seminar for people thirsty for hope. A long line of people waited to have their photo taken with Khan, who exuded a quiet and gracious humility.
At times audience members fought back tears. At others they rollicked with laughter. The idea of holding up the Constitution had been an afterthought, conceived in a taxi on the way to the Democratic convention. Khan described a comical scene like something out of The Three Stooges: in rehearsing pulling the pocket-size Constitution from his jacket, he displayed the back cover, ruining the intended dramatic effect.
“Practice,” Ghazala scolded him.
In Austin and across the country, at a time when political civility has gone missing, at a time when some in America vilify those who don’t look like them, Khan might be the unlikeliest of rock stars, spinning a love poem to democratic ideals.
If he is thirsty, he is not letting on. Instead, he is a river to others.
For President Trump, a border wall is a signature piece of his domestic agenda, of such magnitude to him politically that he fumed with Mexican President Peña Nieto and pleaded with him to stop saying Mexico wouldn’t pay for it. More on that later.
For U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, however, a border wall is important, but it’s not everything.
“It’s not the whole story,” the Republican Texas senator said Thursday as he presented his $15 billion border security plan that relies more on personnel and technology and less on a wall than the president might like.
As Maria Recio reported in the American-Statesman, Cornyn’s border plan calls for a layered strategy of walls, fencing, levees and technology. Called the Building America’s Trust Act, the bill would increase the number of federal agents at ports of entry and on the border, as well as add more immigration judges and prosecutors. It also would pour more resources into state and local efforts to fight drug trafficking.
Cornyn’s plan brings a more reasoned alternative to Trump’s one-size-fits-all, build a border wall approach. It is also likely to go over better with Texans who oppose a wall for a number of reasons, not the least of which is some people just don’t think it’s necessary. Many of those critics live along the border, a point Cornyn subtly referenced when he said federal authorities should consult local officials in shaping border strategy.
That’s something you hear a lot in South Texas and up and down the border, where some residents feel they’ve become a requisite photo op for politicians who swoop in for an hour or two to assess border security — as if that’s all it takes — then return to their respective homes in faraway states. That’s what Trump the presidential candidate did in a 2015 visit to Laredo.
It’ll be interesting to see how Cornyn’s bill progresses and whether it receives bipartisan support. As a border senator and majority whip, he holds considerable sway in Congress and on the fortunes of any border security measure.
‘You cannot say that to the press.’
Trump paved a path to the White House in no small measure on his boastful promise to build a “beautiful” border wall.
“And who’s going to pay for it?” Trump would ask delirious supporters at campaign rallies.
“Mexico will!” they would roar in response.
But leaked transcripts of a January phone call between Trump and Peña Nieto reveal the president knew Mexico would never pay for the wall and that his demand for payment was just a political play. More importantly, he wanted the Mexican president to stop saying publicly that Mexico wouldn’t pay for a wall.
Trump acknowledged that his public posturing on the wall had left him in an extremely tight spot politically.
“The fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind, because I have to have Mexico pay for the wall – I have to,” Trump told Peña Nieto in the call.
When Peña Nieto kept insisting that Mexico wouldn’t pay, Trump said: “You cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that.”
Trump later said the border wall is not all that important – remarkable considering all his bluster about it.
“Believe it or not, this is the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important (thing we) talk about,” Trump said.
Trump has steered away more recently from demanding that Mexico pay. He’s asked Congress for a $1.6 billion down payment for the wall, which the House has approved. Mexico will “reimburse” the U.S., Trump has said, without offering details on how that might happen.
That all sounds fuzzy. One thing is clear from that January phone call, however: Mexico won’t pay for the wall, and Trump knows it.
That means — and let’s face it, we knew this all along — American taxpayers will foot the bill, which the Department of Homeland Security says could hit $21.6 billion. Will Trump’s supporters still cheer?
Like the twisting Rio Grande, President Trump’s position on a border wall is changing course.
The president, who made the promise of a “big, beautiful border wall” one of the cornerstone promises of his campaign, significantly dialed back on the pledge Thursday, telling reporters that a 2,000-mile-long wall is no longer necessary “because you have a lot of natural barriers.”
“You have mountains. You have some rivers that are violent and vicious,” Trump said, according to excerpts released by the White House from the president’s conversation with journalists aboard Air Force One. “You have some areas that are so far away that you don’t really have people crossing. So, you don’t need that.”
The president said he now believes only 700 to 900 miles of wall are needed. About 650 miles of the border with Mexico are already protected by fences or walls; many of those miles in Texas. Trump seemed to suggest that repairing fences already in place would count against the total miles he has in mind, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“You know, we’ve already started the wall because we’re fixing large portions of wall right now,” Trump said. “We’re taking wall that was good but it’s in very bad shape, and we’re making it new.”
At campaign rallies, where supporters’ chants of “build that wall” became a staple, Trump often talked about a wall 30 feet high running the length of the U.S.-Mexico border. But on Thursday the president described a new vision of a wall more closely resembling the fencing already up in places like South Texas, where, at least in some cases, fences hug residents’ back yards.
“You need transparency,” Trump said. “In other words, if you can’t see through that wall — so it could be a steel wall with openings, but you have to have openings because you have to see what’s on the other side of the wall.”
Trump won the support of conservative groups who liked his tough campaign talk on immigration. Some clearly aren’t happy with his changing course on a border wall.
“We don’t have the rule of law when it comes to immigration,” Stephen Steinlight, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington told the Times. “It doesn’t exist. There’s immigration anarchy.”
His new position, however, is likely to go over better with some of the president’s prominent supporters in Texas, who think more border walls aren’t the answer on border security. They include Dennis Nixon, a well-known Laredo banking executive who had this to say to me recently about a border wall: “No serious person thinks you can build a wall from El Paso to Brownsville with any kind of reasonable expectation it will be successful.”
Nixon was the Texas finance chair for the Donald J. Trump for President campaign. Among other solutions, he advocates cleaning up dense vegetation along the Rio Grande so that border enforcement agents gain better access and visibility.
A final footnote on why Trump said a border wall needs openings, and we’ll leave it there.
“As horrible as it sounds,” Trump said, “when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them — they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It’s over. As crazy as that sounds, you need transparency through that wall.”
Gov. Greg Abbott made it clear soon after taking office in January 2015 that eliminating so-called sanctuary cities was one of his priorities for the 85th Texas Legislature.
Today, Abbott is one step closer to achieving that goal as Senate Bill 4, which punishes local jurisdictions that decline to assist with federal immigration enforcement, is en route to his desk.
After the Senate accepted on Wednesday the House’s controversial bill, Abbot took to Twitter to post: “The Texas sanctuary city ban wins final legislative approval. I’m getting my signing pen warmed up. #txlege#tcot”
However, the measure is wrong for Texas — even if our leaders refuse to acknowledge it.
The negative effects associated with this bill could be troubling. For instance, companies in the tech and medical sectors might think twice before relocating to Texas if they perceive an anti-immigrant measure will affect their recruiting efforts. And in some areas of the state, policing could become more about harassing people who look a certain way than about focusing on the worst of criminals in a community. Those ramifications just scratch the surface.
As the American-Statesman editorial board has written on several occasions, such a measure will hurt Texas more than keep it safe, as Abbott and proponents of the bill proclaim.
But the board was not the only voice against Senate Bill 4, as Texas law enforcement leaders went before state lawmakers to testify that the measure will be a burden for taxpayers and officers. Many more individuals testified about the potential this law presents for law enforcement officers to intimidate immigrants.
For now, the voices of so many have gone unheard.
We reflect some of those thoughts on the issue with these editorials:
If history is any guide, the Austin school district’s Lyndon Baines Johnson High School might well be in for a rough future in attracting students if Austin school trustees strip its crown jewel – the nationally-ranked Liberal Arts and Science Academy – from its campus.
That is a distinct possibility, given the recommendations under consideration tonight by the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees regarding its facilities master plan.
Moving LASA is estimated to cost at least $90 million and as much as $122 million in capital costs, which the district would have to ask taxpayers to finance through bonds. That could become a racially-charged issue for trustees and the public, signaling that school officials are willing to invest in moving the elite, predominantly white academy from its host campus, the predominantly minority and lower-income LBJ.
The reasoning behind moving LASA to a central location is well-intentioned, as the demand for seats in the academy far exceeds the supply and there is no similar advanced academy south of Lake Lady Bird. It’s unfortunate that trustees bypassed an opportunity to establish a second LASA at Crockett High School in South Austin.
It’s worth noting that the proposal to move LASA to a central location was forwarded by the district’s Facilities and Bond Planning Advisory Committee, a group charged with coming up with proposals to modernize and expand the district’s facilities to meet academic and growth needs as the district looks to offer instruction relevant for the 21st century.
But there are other, better solutions to address LASA’s growth issues without impairing LBJ, as the district did to then-Johnston High School, when it moved the Language Arts Academy from its campus in East Austin.
Johnston, now Eastside Memorial, never recovered from losing its high-performing magnet that helped integrate its campus and lift its reputation. In relocating Johnston’s liberal arts academy to LBJ in 2001 to join the district’s science academy, the district moved hundreds of students from Johnston, triggering a broader exodus of even students who weren’t enrolled in the liberal arts academy.
The high school has remained severely under-enrolled ever since, despite the millions of dollars the district has spent on raising its performance, reputation and enrollment.
Trustees should not make the same mistake with another, similar move that signals a divestment in another East Austin high school. A proposal by District 1 Austin School Trustee Edmund “Ted” Gordon would solve space limitations at LASA without gutting LBJ.
Gordon is proposing that the district construct facilities on LBJ’s campus that accommodate both LASA at its current 1,200 capacity and LBJ’s projected 1,000 capacity for student enrollment. Doing that would cost about the same, but send a positive message that the district is committed to diversity and inclusion.
We give Superintendent Paul Cruz and his team credit for pouring umpteen hours and resources into public meetings into developing the $4.6 billion plan. Chief financial officer Nicole Conley adds a high level of expertise in crunching numbers, forecasting and keeping focused on things that matter, such as how to stabilize the district’s enrollment and finances in changing times.
And we extend special thanks to the members of the Facilities and Bond Planning Advisory Committee, volunteers who put aside their own priorities to do the tough and sometimes thankless work of crafting a way forward regarding school district facilities.
Having said that, the committee’s recommendations also require more vetting and analysis.
Consider that the recommendations could mean closing/consolidating five elementary schools – all which are low-income with enrollments that are predominantly Latino and African American. Those campuses are; Brooke, Dawson, Joslin, Norman and Sanchez.
Schools could avoid closure if their enrollments rise so that at least 75 percent of their seats are filled.
But the plan seems to put the onus for filling seats on individual schools – and not on the superintendent, where it belongs. While it is right for the superintendent to work with campus administrators, teachers, parents and other stakeholders, the buck stops with the superintendent if a campus is failing or under-enrolled. As the CEO, he or she is the fixer.
We will continue to weigh in on the facilities master plan after trustees take it up Monday night. At a time when school property taxes are through the roof, Cruz, his team and trustees need to present a plan that is equitable, inclusive, efficient and financially sound. The absence of any one of those elements could be enough to sink a future bond package. And trustees would be wise not to ignore the lessons of history.
*This editorial has been updated to correct the name of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy.
Few pieces of legislation in recent years have generated as much intense national debate in recent memory as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known to many Americans as Obamacare.
An overhaul of the U.S. health care system, it was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010. Republicans have long vowed to repeal and replace the law, and on March 6 GOP lawmakers unveiled a House bill called the American Health Care Act, which would change how health care is financed for people who do not have insurance coverage through their work and eliminate the mandate requiring most Americans to have health insurance.
We asked Viewpoints readers to share their ACA experience with us. The following are some of their letters and photos:
In 2013, I was in good health but my doctor had me on four meds for cholesterol and high blood pressure. No big deal — in fact, three of these were on the $4 list at Wal-Mart Pharmacy. So, then I decided to buy an individual health insurance policy. Aetna, Blue Cross and other insurers declined to cover me for any price because of the number of meds I took to stay healthy. When the Affordable Care Act became effective in 2014, I had a choice of insurers through the health insurance exchange. So even though I didn’t qualify for subsidy, the ACA made it possible for me to finally buy health insurance because insurers are no longer permitted to cherry pick customers by excluding pre-existing conditions. — Howard Porter, Austin
I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 31 in 2015. With no family history, it was a terrible surprise nine months before my wedding. But I was lucky that the cancer had not spread, although my oncologist still recommended surgery, chemo and radiation. Again, I was lucky — I had health insurance, which picked up the $280,000 tab for my treatments. I didn’t need Obamacare for myself, but I cannot imagine what it would have been like to receive this diagnosis without insurance. It would have destroyed my dreams for the future. I know that before the ACA, this happened to Americans constantly. Repealing Obamacare will directly impact me — specifically, repealing the pre-existing conditions clause. Even though I no longer have cancer, I will forever be considered either uninsurable or gouged for health insurance without this provision. It isn’t my fault I got cancer, but if Obamacare is repealed, I will keep paying for it. — Tiffany Gilman, Austin
Never mind the lines: “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” or “If you like your policy, you can keep your policy.” At this time of the year, the biggest issue with the ACA really hits home. This is tax time; I am again preparing to include my 1095-C form with my return — you know, that nagging little mandatory document that must be included to prove to the IRS that you had ACA-approved coverage for the year or you get to pay a big, fat penalty. I really get tired of seeing all the numbers that are insured under the ACA. Of course there are big numbers of insured Americans; they have no choice. Instead of the previous lies, the statement should have been: “You will purchase a policy that is approved by the ACA with whatever doctors they provide, or face a stiff penalty.” — Jeff Popnoe, Round Rock
For about a year, due to pre-existing conditions, my husband, Ken, received his health insurance through the Texas High Risk Pool. When the Affordable Care Act debuted, he was glad to be able to choose a policy. Subsequently, due to a fall at home that resulted in a broken hip, he had surgery and was working on his rehabilitation in the hospital when we received devastating news: Although he had no outward symptoms, Ken had stage 4 pancreatic cancer. As we began to plan for his care, one of his doctors said, “I don’t know what you think of Obamacare, but be thankful that because of it. You are not looking at a cap on care.” Shockingly, Ken passed away only 12 days after the diagnosis. In the midst of such grief, I was very thankful for the coverage he had. There was no “Mickey Mouse” with the insurance company — as often seemed to happen before the ACA. I knew exactly what my financial responsibility was and there were no surprises. In a time of such sadness, with my brain feeling as if I was in a fog, Obamacare is something I will always be grateful for. — Robin Durr, Austin
To help pay for ACA, the cost for Medicare B went up. In 2013, I paid $98 per month for Medicare B. In 2014, it went up to $140 per month. In 2015, it went up to $280 per month, so I dropped Medicare B. — Clyde Claggett, Georgetown
My husband, Andy, and I own a small business together. I was able to make the decision to join him and leave behind the 9-to-5 world the year the ACA was rolled out. Being able to purchase reasonably priced health insurance that would allow us to have a baby was the boost we needed to make that move confidently. As the gig economy and self-employment gains a greater share of the overall economy, it’s vital to have a health insurance marketplace that is inclusive to a broad spectrum of people — especially those who have to be able to provide for themselves and their families. I suspect that the health insurance marketplace and the expansion of the gig and sharing economy and reduced unemployment are all interconnected. — Faith Sams, Austin
In 2014, my husband, Jeff, and I had insurance with Blue Cross Blue Shield with a monthly premium of $941.43. We didn’t qualify for an ACA subsidy. That policy had a $6,000 deductible per person. In November of that year, I had to have carpal tunnel surgery on both hands. In December, my husband had to have knee surgery. In summary, in 2014, we paid $23,297.16 in out-of-pocket expenses — monthly premiums plus deductibles — before Blue Cross Blue Shield ever paid a penny on our behalf. Not to mention, since the knee surgery was performed at the end of December and his physical therapy didn’t start until January, our deductible started over and we immediately started having out-of- pocket expenses again. Lastly, our monthly premium of $941.43 has now gone up to $1,457.15 starting this January. — Pam Hammonds, Burnet
My story is simple: I’m 61-years-old with two serious pre-existing conditions. I’m self-employed. If anyone would insure me, it would not be “affordable.” I’ve relied on the ACA from its beginning — and it has literally been a life-saver. I also happen to know several Republicans within my age bracket who have pre-existing conditions and also avail themselves to the program. Once they looked beyond the popular misconceptions, myths and blatant lies about the ACA, they figured out that it works pretty well for those of us who are not yet eligible for Medicare. Yes, costs have gone up while the program has worked out its early flaws, but I’ve yet to see or hear about any real alternatives that won’t cut services and raise costs even more. My biggest fear is that a bunch of grand-standing congressmen who have their own insurance are going to take mine away, leaving me — and millions of others — at risk until I reach 65. — Jeff Brown, Austin
Though my brother Alan Arms worked as a contractor for many years, none of his employers offered health insurance. In November 2013, he was coughing up blood and went to an internist who ordered him immediately to a hospital. There, he was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and faced a bill over $50,000. In January 2014, the ACA went into effect — and despite his pre-existing condition, Alan was able to buy health insurance for around $550 a month. When he died in May 2014, the sole reason he left a small estate — and not a smoking crater of medical bills — was the ACA covered his pre-existing condition and paid most of his bills. Though initially he had problems finding a plan with a network that covered his doctors, eventually he found one. Had he died indigent, the hospitals and doctors would have been forced to eat the payments for his treatment. Because of the ACA, they were paid. — David Arms, Austin
The ACA was life-changing for me. I am a 44-year-old published novelist and teacher. Before Obamacare, the only option I had for health insurance was through the Author’s Guild. An HMO plan was $1,200 a month; a PPO was $1,600 a month. I have had a pre-existing condition since I was 21” a blood-clotting disorder that rarely effects my life. I was elated when I could get a decent plan for less than $500 a month. I was able to start an Austin organization called Girls With Pens because I didn’t have to worry about getting health insurance through my job. Now all that could all be taken away. Do you want me teaching your children how to love writing, or do you want me serving coffee at Starbucks for the insurance? The ACA isn’t perfect, but each and every one of us deserves affordable health care, no matter our fitness, class or working status. — Carolyn Cohagan, Austin
In 2010, my wife lost her job and we lost our health insurance. I worked for a small hardware store, where the health insurance they offered would have cost me $450 a month with a $5,000 deductible. I was making $10 an hour, so that was not an option. Then, we were able to get insurance through the ACA. For about $100 a month, we were both covered with excellent medical benefits, which included prescription benefits, preventative care and doctor visits with a $10 co-pay. Later I found out I had high cholesterol and went on medication for that. Both of these conditions are under control now. Without health care, I may not have even known I was at risk for either a stroke or heart attack. Even when the cost of our insurance went up to about $120 a month, it was still very affordable. If the ACA is repealed, my health will be in danger. — Rick Koepcke, Austin
Obamacare isn’t affordable. The plan’s premiums are going up 25 to 116 percent nationwide this year. Health insurance companies are dropping the exchanges, which forces customers in 70 percent of the U.S. counties to buy insurance from one or two companies. Republicans promised to repeal and replace Obamacare and voted over 60 times to repeal part of the law. Congress began the process in January by passing the fiscal year 2017 “shell” budget resolution — S.Con.Res.3 — which instructed the committees about how to write the repeal law. The language has existed in a bill passed in 2015. They’ve not met their self-imposed deadline — and repeal timeline is slipping. Millions will be negatively impacted by these exchanges. We’re so close to making this last chance a reality. Contact your congressional members. Tell them we want a full repeal of ACA and to replace it with a new, workable health plan. No more excuses. — Wanda Whitney, Georgetown
I am concerned about efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. For many millions of Americans, this act is very far from being a disaster, as some have glibly claimed. In fact, for some of us, it has been a life-saver. Without Obamacare, I could never have afforded to pay for a costly heart-valve replacement that may have saved my life. What will those with pre-existing conditions do without the guarantees of health care eligibility promised in the Affordable Care Act? Caring for the least among us is part of who we are as Americans. If we smash affordable health care, we shatter the fragile bonds that preserve our sense of unity. — Charles Rand, Austin
As a 62-year-old breast cancer survivor who’s losing employer-based health insurance this year, I’m terrified that without Obamacare I may be forced to choose between bankruptcy and life-saving treatment. We’ve needed the Affordable Care Act before. Our 23-year-old daughter died of a rare illness 16 months ago. The ACA allowed her to stay on my husband’s employer-based insurance and not worry about lifetime expenditure caps. Were it not for the ACA, we would have been bankrupt in addition to losing our daughter Hallie. I can’t sleep at night wondering if I’ll have ACA insurance to treat my breast cancer. Or will we again face the prospect of bankruptcy? — Abby Brody, Georgetown
First, do no harm. We learn this in medical school, carrying it with us throughout our careers. In the U.S., access to affordable health insurance is a necessity for obtaining the best possible care. Shouldn’t our elected representatives share in this goal? Unfortunately, our new administration is pressing forward with repealing the law that puts insurance in reach for most. A survey in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 85 percent of family practice doctors are against repeal of the ACA. The president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, Dr. John Meigs Jr., says “too much is at stake to make significant changes to ACA.” Every day, primary care physicians see the struggles our patience face because of lack of insurance. Why isn’t our government listening to us? I hope they will join us in doing no harm — and keep the ACA. — Christine Mann, Leander
I had really good health insurance through my employers. When I went to work for myself, I had to buy insurance on my own. Though it was expensive and not very good, I knew that if I let it lapse it would be even harder to get back into the system later — and that I would have the issue of a pre-existing condition. I found the cheapest policy I could find and hoped that I wouldn’t get sick. The ACA changed everything. For the last two years, I’ve had good, affordable coverage thanks to the government subsidy. My prescriptions are just $5 — and ACA covered a large percentage of my carpal tunnel surgeries. Without that subsidy, I could not have afforded a good enough policy to cover my health care needs. Without the marketplace, I would not have had so many choices for a plan that works well for me. — Rona Distenfeld, Austin
I had my pancreas removed 16 years ago due to a rare form of pancreatic cancer. I work at home under contract and have no option for work-related coverage. When my work coverage was discontinued, I tried to get insurance to cover my needs for medication, an insulin pump and other supplies — but was told “no way” by numerous insurance companies. Once the ACA was introduced, I was finally able to get coverage that was somewhat expensive but went a long way toward keeping me alive. Many of us need it. — Rob Sanford, Fredericksburg
The debate over the merits of the Affordable Care Act highlights the highly partisan environment of our times. “Repeal and replace” has been the mantra of many Republicans elected to national office — President Trump included. However, the evidence is clear that our country’s rate of uninsured is at a historic low of nearly 9 percent. As someone who purchased insurance through the health insurance marketplace, of course I would like a more affordable monthly premium. I am hopeful that a Republican-controlled Congress can help deliver this. I am also hopeful that other pieces of Obamacare that aim to improve our nation’s health care will continue to be embraced, such as efforts to expand primary care medicine and efforts to improve quality of care. As an entering medical student, these pieces have inspired me to advocate for improving and embracing — rather than repealing and replacing — Obamacare. — Mark Smith, Austin
My wife, Linda, is a beneficiary of Obamacare. Prior to its enactment, she was covered by the Texas High Risk Pool. Due to her pre-existing type 2 diabetes, she could not get coverage from standard insurance carriers. My wife was 62 when the law was enacted — too young for Medicare. Her premiums went down with Obamacare — not up — with no subsidies. The good news is her premiums will go down again next year when she gets on Medicare. The bottom line is that Obamacare is flawed because it didn’t go far enough. Everyone should be on Medicare — and we should find a way to pay for it. Though Americans pay more for health care than any other developed country, our quality of care is not any greater. Americans should ask our congressmen and senators why. — Randy and Linda Johnson, Georgetown
In December 2013, I was newly pregnant and working long hours as a self-employed consultant at a global law firm. Our COBRA policy was set to expire. My husband, John, was the third employee in a dot-com that offered no benefits. As pregnancy was considered a pre-existing condition, agencies were well within their rights to deny us coverage regardless of our willingness or ability to pay premiums. Through the ACA exchange, we enrolled in a policy and suffered no gap in coverage. That summer, our daughter Elodie was born with a previously undetected, life-threatening birth defect called duodenal atresia. Without this coverage, we would have lost everything to save her life. The bills from her surgery and monthlong neonatal intensive care unit stay totaled upwards of $500,000. We were so fortunate to pay a small fraction, thanks to the ACA. I urge your readers to consider the many hard-working families like ours that rely on the ACA’s protections. — Lisa Federico, Austin
My son was prenatally diagnosed with a congenital heart defect that would leave him with one functioning ventricle and require a series of surgeries over his lifetime — two of them in the first six months of life. Today, my son is a sweet and mischievous 18-month-old toddler, thanks to an incredible medical team. But we have a long road ahead of us, and access to a good health care policy is a top priority in my world. The ACA means my son will have medical coverage for the rest of his life and will not be punished because he has a pre-existing condition. It means he won’t face a cap on his coverage. The idea that lawmakers could repeal Obamacare without a ready replacement is terrifying to families like mine. I guess when you have free health care for life — like our congressional representatives do — the rest of us don’t matter. — Michelle Beebe Nabours, Manchaca
Today is my daughter’s eighth birthday. She was born not long after Obama’s first inauguration. Before I got pregnant, I’d left a teaching job in favor of working with an educational nonprofit, though it offered no health coverage. Wishing to have a child, I stayed on COBRA and paid a $600 monthly premium. Two miscarriages later, a pregnancy stuck. My insurance coverage did not. COBRA terminates after 18 months. Because my pregnancy was deemed a pre-existing condition, I had no other viable option. My daughter’s birth was a 24-hour ordeal that was made harder because I was uninsured. Though my husband and I gained a beautiful child, we watched a down payment for a first home disappear. Our daughter’s middle name is Hope. Our hope for uninsured expectant parents was realized, albeit imperfectly, with the ACA. By repealing it, Republican lawmakers dash dreams and health for countless families, leaving them financially at risk. — Laurie Filipelli, Austin
My family had been waiting for March 15 for five years. It was the day I donated my kidney to my mother — so that she can live her life free of a machine. I remember sitting in the clinic and my donor advocate asking me what my plan is if the ACA is repealed, explaining that a kidney donation will count as a “pre-existing condition.” Without the ACA, health insurers can refuse to cover me. I went through a litany of health tests to even be chosen as a donor and am told I will live an ordinary life after surgery. Now I could be denied coverage at age 26. What about when I want to start a family? What if something else goes wrong? This gift to my mother is now a financial liability. I want to be part of a society that encourages giving life, not one that punishes donors. — Carolyn Blake, Austin
More than 133 million Americans like me have pre-existing conditions. For the first time in America, people with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied health coverage or charged exorbitant rates. The ACA prohibits these things. Now Republicans in Congress want to repeal the ACA, including the individual-responsibility part of the law. I know this is a tough pill to swallow, but maintaining protections for people with pre-existing conditions without requiring individual responsibility would cost millions of us coverage and increase premiums for even more of us. Health care reform is personal. Millions of lives are affected. The ACA allows those of us with pre-existing conditions to live healthier and more-productive lives. It also allows us to change jobs without losing health insurance. As Republicans work to repeal the ACA, I implore them to also follow the physician’s oath to first do no harm. — Janie F. Galko, Austin
With the government push to repeal and replace Obamacare, why not consider a simple solution? Principal criticisms of the ACA are inflexibility and high costs. Tenets of a “replacement” plan are flexible coverage alternatives and interstate insurance options. These objectives could be met by simply amending the existing system. Allow insurance companies to offer alternative plans in addition to the existing four ACA plans. A similar approach has worked in Medicare Part B, where “Advantage Plans” are offered in addition to original “Supplement Plans.” Let the public choose which plan is best for them. Allow access to individual state insurance exchanges from any state. This change would introduce competition and reduce costs. Why subject the nation to the Sturm und Drang of “repeal and replace” when it would be so simple to amend the existing system? An amendment would be a bipartisan, win-win solution — and it would be best for the public. The plan’s name is irrelevant. — David Butler, Georgetown
I am in full support of the Affordable Care Act. I have been able to obtain health insurance since its inception. Prior to ACA, I was paying $587 per month for health care through Blue Cross Blue Shield High Risk. It was a terrible plan and offered nothing beneficial. It was the only insurance I could obtain due to benign thyroid nodules. When ACA started up, I was able to have health care without having to worry about any pre-existing conditions and high monthly premiums. I am currently utilizing Sendero Ideal Care through the ACA. I am very happy with my doctors and the care I receive. — Jo Rae Di Menno, Austin
Just as Martin Niemoller once said, I now say: “First they came after Obamacare, and I did not speak out, because I was not on Obamacare. Then they came after Medicaid, and I did not speak out, because I was not on Medicaid. Then they came after Medicare — and there was no one left to speak for me.” I am an 89-year- old with serious and expensive medical problems. Now, I am scared to death that I will have no medical coverage in my final years as I try to stay alive with some comfort and dignity. — Herman I. Morris, Plano
WHOM TO CONTACT
The following lawmakers represent Central Texas:
John Cornyn: 202-224-2934; 517 Hart Senate Office Bldg., Washington, DC 20510
Ted Cruz: 202-224-5922; Russell Senate Office Bldg 404, Washington, DC 20510
10th District: Michael McCaul (R); 202-225-2401; 2001 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515
17th District: Bill Flores (R); 202-225-6105; 2440 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515
21st District: Lamar S. Smith (R); 202-225-4236; 2409 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515
25th District: Roger Williams (R); 202-225-9896; 1323 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515
When the stunning news broke late Tuesday that President Trump said he is open to an immigration overhaul allowing millions of undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally, one news organization called the president’s abrupt shift on immigration “a curveball.”
Curveball? More like whiplash maybe.
After all, what else are we to make of such a sudden reversal from the president’s hard-line crackdown on illegal immigration during his first weeks in office? Take, for example, last month’s sweeping Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in Austin and across the country. And just last week, the administration unveiled new deportation rules allowing federal agents to go after anyone living in the country illegally, even if they haven’t committed serious crimes — a stark contrast to the Obama administration’s policies that placed a priority on deporting criminals.
“The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides,” the president reportedly told TV news anchors at a White House meeting over lunch Tuesday.
Did this herald a new softer tone on immigration? Remember, this is the same Donald Trump whose rock concert-like campaign rallies reverberated with supporters’ chants of “build the wall!” on the U.S.-Mexico border. And Trump’s run for office began with a pledge to deport the nation’s estimated 11.1 million immigrants, something even those in his own party have described as unrealistic and bordering on fantasy.
Only a few hours after that meeting with the TV anchors, however, the president didn’t even mention in his first joint address to Congress that he might be receptive to an immigration overhaul giving legal status to millions of unauthorized immigrants.
In fact, Trump doubled down on aggressive enforcement, reiterating his campaign promise to begin building a border wall. “A great, great wall,” he called it.
And the president fell back on the familiar refrain of highlighting the crimes of undocumented immigrants, announcing that he has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to work with victims of crimes committed by immigrants who are in the country illegally.
After the speech to Congress, news analysts pounced on the chance to speculate why the president had not brought up his remarks earlier in the day about immigration. One said the president obviously had been reined in by his inner circle, who advised him that now is not the time.
But if not now, when? If the president couldn’t talk about immigration reform to a cheering audience dominated by those of his own party, then when? Certainly not at one of his rallies in places across the country, which Trump continues to hold even after his election, and where his legions of supporters continue their full-throated chant, “Build the Wall!”
There’s no doubt that by now most Americans know how they’ll vote on the main ticket this presidential election, but local races are just as important — if not more so, some will argue — and deserve voters’ attention. It’s at the local level that the Editorial Board has decided to focus and dig a little deeper, providing both analytical editorials on some of the most pressing issues coupled with Q&A’s with candidates who will take on these issues if elected. Below, you’ll find a list of the races and issues we’ve chosen to weigh in on.
So whether you choose to head to the polls next week (early voting ends Nov. 4) or decide to wait for Election Day on Nov. 8, we encourage you to make it through to the end of the ballot and cast as an informed vote as much a possible. (BTW: Need more info on Austin City Council Candidates? Don’t know who represents you? No problem. Use the Statesman’s City Council Candidate Explorer to answer your questions.)