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Obamacare Unconstitutional: U.S. Federal Judge

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the judge’s decision “vindicates President Trump’s position that Obamacare is unconstitutional

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Obamacare, U.S., republican
Protesters gather across the Chicago River from Trump Tower to rally against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, March 24, 2017, in Chicago. VOA

A U.S. federal judge has ruled that the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare, is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor in Texas ruled Friday that a change in the U.S. tax law last year eliminating a penalty for not having health insurance invalidates the entire ACA.

Last year’s $1.5 trillion tax bill included a provision eliminating the individual mandate.

The decision is expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ACA will remain the law during the appeal process.

Health Insurance, U.S.
The HealthCare.gov website on a computer screen in New York, Oct. 23, 2018. A U.S. federal judge Friday ruled the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. VOA

About 11.8 million consumers nationwide enrolled in 2018 Obamacare exchange plans, according to the U.S. government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

U.S. President Donald Trump promised during his presidential campaign to dismantle the ACA, a program that made affordable health insurance available to millions of Americans.

The president took to Twitter Friday night:

“The ruling seems to be based on faulty legal reasoning and hopefully it will be overturned,” U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer said in a statement. “Americans who care about working families must do all they can to prevent this district court ruling from becoming law.

“If this awful ruling is upheld in the higher courts,” he added, “it will be a disaster for tens of millions of American families, especially for people with pre-existing conditions.”

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U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters about the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey during a bill-signing ceremony at the White House in Washington. VOA

Americans with pre-existing conditions, before ACA, faced either high premiums or an inability to access health insurance at all.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the judge’s decision “vindicates President Trump’s position that Obamacare is unconstitutional. Once again, the president calls on Congress to replace Obamacare and act to protect people with pre-existing conditions and provide Americans with quality affordable health care.”

Also Read: Microsoft Adds ‘Digital Health’ Feature On its Beta Android Launcher

“Today’s misguided ruling will not deter us,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the leader of an alliance of states opposing the lawsuit, said in a statement. “Our coalition will continue to fight in court for the health and well-being for all Americans.” (VOA)

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U.S. Government Human Rights Report Shows ‘Amber’ Warning Light Situation in Hong Kong

"Human rights issues included substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association [and] restrictions on political participation," the report said.

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China
The flags of Hong Kong (left) and its communist ruler China, in file photo. RFA

A U.S. government human rights report is ‘an amber light’ for the human rights situation in Hong Kong, with some of the city’s traditional freedoms under threat, commentators told RFA.

The State Department highlighted several areas of concern in its 2018Human Rights Report published last week, in particular, “encroachment” by the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing on Hong Kong’s promised autonomy.

“Human rights issues included substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association [and] restrictions on political participation,” the report said.

The report cited multiple sources as saying that Chinese operativesmonitored some political activists, nongovernmental organizations(NGOs), and academics who criticized Beijing’s policies in Hong Kong,which is supposed to be separate legal jurisdiction under the terms of the “one country, two systems” framework.

China
The move came as the Hong Kong Journalists Association warned ofincreasing self-censorship among local journalists, often among mediaoutlets with business interests in mainland China. VOA

It also pointed to cross-border detentions and abductions, citing thedisappearance of businessman Xiao Jianhua and the cross-border rendition of Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai, who is a Swedish citizen.

“Xiao’s and other abductions show the Chinese Central Government’swillingness to act contrary to the rule of law and undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy,” the report said.

It said Hong Kong and Chinese officials had restricted, or sought to restrict, the right to express or report on political protest and dissent, particularly the notion of independence for Hong Kong.

U.S.

“But if Hong Kong’s human rights situation continues to deteriorate in the next couple of years … for example, if we see more kidnappings, then I think the U.S. is very likely to abolish Hong Kong’s status as a separate trading territory.” VOA

The trial of dozens of protesters, including key figures, after the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement on public order charges had”raised the cost of protesting government policies and led to concerns the government was using the law to suppress political dissent.”

The report also cited the jailing of two disqualified lawmakers, Sixtus Leung and Yao Wai-ching, last June for four weeks on “unlawful assembly” charges, following scuffles with Legislative Council security guards in 2016.

It said the banning of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party(HKNP) last September was one example, while the disqualification of six pro-democracy lawmakers for “improperly” taking their oaths of allegiance was another.

The U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) voiced concern at thetime over the ban, which relied on colonial-era legislation under theSocieties Ordinance that originally targeted criminal organizations, or “triads.”

“The UK does not support Hong Kong independence, but Hong Kong’s highdegree of autonomy and its rights and freedoms are central to its way of life, and it is important they are fully respected,” the statement said.

‘An amber light’

Hong Kong political commentator Sang Pu said the State Departmentreport had struck a note of warning to the international community.

“I don’t think this is a red light, but it is an amber light,” Sang told RFA, adding that a further deterioration could affect Hong Kong’s international reputation as an open port.

“But if Hong Kong’s human rights situation continues to deteriorate in the next couple of years … for example, if we see more kidnappings, then I think the U.S. is very likely to abolish Hong Kong’s status as a separate trading territory.”

Another red flag would be the enactment of sedition, subversion andnational security laws, as mandated by Article 23 of the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, Sang said.

Meanwhile, a national law passed by Beijing in September 2017“criminalizes any action mocking the Chinese national anthem and requires persons attending public events to stand at attention and sing the anthem in a solemn manner during its rendition,” the State Department report said, adding that Hong Kong will soon legislate to make the law apply in its own jurisdiction.

It also pointed to the effective expulsion from Hong Kong, the first since the handover, of Financial Times Asia news editor Victor Mallet, after he hosted at event at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club featuring HKNP founder Andy Chan as the speaker.

The move came as the Hong Kong Journalists Association warned ofincreasing self-censorship among local journalists, often among mediaoutlets with business interests in mainland China.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Alvin Yeung, who also heads Hong Kong’s CivicParty, said he shares concerns over Hong Kong’s reputation.

“Our most important competitor, Singapore, has free trade agreements with pretty much the rest of the world, and Hong Kong is lagging behind,” Yeung said.

Also Read: North Korean Authorities Ramping Up The Levels of Strictness at Weekly Self-Criticism Sessions

“Our international image is probably that Hong Kong wouldn’t be capable of such a thing,” he said. “Other countries might not be interested in pursuing free trade agreements with Hong Kong, because there are no benefits to doing so.”

But pro-Beijing lawmaker Priscilla Leung said Hong Kong remains a free society.

“We have a very high level of human rights protection,” Leung said. “I hope they aren’t going to suppress our economic freedom under the guise of human rights.” (RFA)