WASHINGTON — For many months on the campaign trail, Donald Trump sent a clear message about his fellow Republicans: Ideologically, I'm not one of them. This wasn't just true on trade, but also on safety-net programs that protect, among others, low-income whites. President Trump, he said, won't let people die in the streets and will protect Medicare and Social Security from those heartless Paul Ryan types who are forever salivating at the chance to slash them to ribbons.
But now The New York Times reports that congressional Republicans believe they will be able to get around this niggling problem. Republicans have seen Trump appoint people who want to downsize the safety net — like Tom Price to oversee health care and Mick Mulvaney to shepherd the budget — and they think Trump can be persuaded to forget about all that inconvenient campaign talk:
"On Capitol Hill, some Republicans are hoping Mr. Mulvaney and others will change the president's mind on far bigger targets and convince him that structural changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid - the biggest drivers of deficits that are projected to rise over the next decade - are needed to control the national debt and to preserve the programs without substantial tax increases….
"House Republican allies see no real contradiction in Mr. Trump's campaign promises and what they say he must now do….Republicans have assured retirees and those nearing retirement that any changes or cuts to entitlement programs for older adults would not affect them.
Trump went to great lengths to cast himself as ideologically different.
Now, Republicans are retroactively applying those caveats to Mr. Trump's promises, saying the president understands that programs like Social Security and Medicare must be maintained for Americans who are currently receiving benefits but must be changed for younger Americans who may have to work longer before retiring and getting benefits."
It's true that Republicans have long sold their reforms to such programs by vowing to protect those at or near retirement age. But as a video compilation of Trump promising to protect entitlements shows, Trump told audiences of all ages he would not cut their Medicare and suggested an intention to leave Medicare in its current form. (The reforms championed by Ryan and Price would result in cuts over time and would transform the program's core mission.) Trump went to great lengths to cast himself as ideologically different from his fellow Republicans on these matters.
Of course, as the Times reports, congressional Republicans believe Trump will have little trouble adopting their rhetorical approach, which combines protecting current beneficiaries (older Americans make up the GOP base) with pieties about the need to "strengthen" the programs over time. And indeed, it's not hard to imagine Trump getting easily rolled by Republicans in this regard — or easily persuaded, because he might shrug at the details.
This dynamic will also be at play in the debates over Obamacare and other government programs that help lower-income Americans. Trump strongly signaled to working-class white voters that, while he'd repeal the Affordable Care Act, he isn't like those other mean old Republicans when it comes to government's role in expanding health care to the poor and sick. He and his advisers recently insisted that under the GOP replacement, no one will lose coverage. But they've already backed off that promise, instead signaling that they may embrace the block-granting of Medicaid, which would probably lead to cuts over time. The bottom line: The Trump/GOP replacement is likely to end Obamacare's effort to create a universal coverage guarantee.
Rugged support — Shannon McGee
What's more, when it comes to the future of government programs for lower-income people, note that the Trump/GOP tax plan will likely feature huge tax cuts for the rich. That may lead to cuts to safety-net programs (or an explosion of the deficit, or perhaps even both). But a recent study by the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that safety-net programs — the kind often targeted for big cuts by Ryanesque Republicans — lift large numbers of working-class whites out of poverty.
Here a major caveat is in order: Trump promised lower-income whites safety-net help, yes, but ultimately, his biggest economic promise to them was to deliver jobs. Trump's narrative was built around the seductive vow to ensure that blue-collar jobs — the manufacturing and coal jobs of the Rust Belt and Appalachia — will come roaring back and restore an old economic order in which such jobs are Great Again, or at least good enough to form the basis for a prosperous future.
Trump has vowed to renegotiate our trade deals, but the mere act of making that promise doesn't guarantee that he will do so in the interests of workers — you'll be shocked to hear this, but the opposite might happen. Trump has promised an infrastructure plan, but we have no idea what that will look like. Major cuts to energy regulations are in the works, but the idea that those will restore the coal industry to its former glory — never mind the setbacks to efforts to fight climate change and protect the environment — is a cruel hoax. What happens if Trump's promised jobs fail to materialize, and he goes along with congressional GOP cuts to the safety-net programs that are designed to help all those who have been — and will be — economically stranded?
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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