Archive for March, 2017

Eaten by Alligators

Friday, March 24th, 2017

alligator

 

There are points in history when, even though you see them coming, you can’t help but marvel when they actually happen.

Thus it is with the repeal of healthcare reform.

Obama and the Democrats figured when it was passed, that if Republicans ever gained control of all branches of government again, the political costs of taking healthcare away from millions of people would prevent the basic reforms from repeal.

They were right.

The Democrats paid a high price for healthcare reform.  It spawned the birth of the Tea Party and a particularly virulent strain of conservative know-nothing Republicanism that cost the Democrats their House majority in 2010 and essentially ground the government to a halt for the next six years.  That movement morphed in the Trumpinistas in 2016 and gave Republicans the cherished control over all branches of government.

What did they do with that legislative control – the very first thing?  They turned on each other like rabid dogs fighting over a bone.  Those same rebellious Tea Partiers whom the Republican establishment thought they could control, brought another House Speaker and another President to heal.

The reason they were able to do this, however, is posted every week.

Trump’s approval rating.

Self-preservation is important to every politician, even the members of the Freedom Caucus.  They are WAY more afraid of disappointing the folks in their safe gerrymandered deeply conservative districts than they are of the Speaker, the President, or the Republican Party.  BTW, who was responsible for those gerrymandered districts that made these Republicans untouchable by even their own party?  Why the Republican controlled legislatures that the Republican Party is so proud of.

If Trump had approval ratings in the 60% range (as Obama did when he started working on healthcare reform), this would have been a different story.  That would mean that a majority of the voters in many of the Freedom Caucus districts also approved of Trump.  He very well could have had enough leverage to get this deal done.

Instead, he and Ryan are now exposed.  The Freedom Caucus called Trump’s tough-guy bluff and Trump blinked.  Rather than dig in and do the gritty political horse trading that gets things done in Washington, Trump stepped out of the room and into a big-rig photo op where he was obviously more comfortable.

How bad of a beat was it?

The guy who constantly celebrates himself as a dynamic winner of incomparable abilities?  He was reduced to blaming Democrats for this loss because not one of them gave him a vote.  That was a surprise to him?  And now it’s the fault of the Democrats who have been defending Obamacare from Republican assaults for for seven years to the day that this assault also failed?  No this was just another in a long line of Democratic victories.  Trump’s humiliation is all his own making and his incompetence was on public display.

  1. He demonstrated that he has no understanding of the legislative process.
  2. He attempts to bully powerful people failed.  They weren’t afraid of him, ignored his threats, and knew he had a lot more to lose than they did.
  3. He doesn’t respect the political process. Those that do just demonstrated how dangerous the swamp can be for the inexperienced.

All that’s left is the sorry spectacle of a public figure being exposed as the buffoon he really is.  But as he said in Time magazine, it is certainly his right because he is the President.

The problem is that the alligators don’t care who is President and at least in this swamp, they bite back.

Big Lie – Everyone Will Be Covered

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

fake healthcare bigger

 

President Trump rode a populist wave into the White House.  He was embraced by those who felt that both parties and were ignoring their pain.  He promised to pay attention to their problems and get government working again for them.  He promised healthcare insurance for everyone that would cover more and cost less.  He also promised to protect Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

His actions don’t reflect his promises.

His healthcare proposal is a tax cut for the rich disguised as a healthcare reform bill.  It repeals a Medicare tax on those with high incomes.  The loss of $117B over ten years accelerates Medicare insolvency by four years.

The bill does lower costs for the young and healthy at the expense of the most vulnerable older population who really need affordable insurance.  In its first version, it reduces the deficit more than Obamacare, but does so by driving older sicker people out of the subsidized insurance market.  While the latest version hasn’t been scored by the CBO yet, the math suggests that additional tax supports for older sicker people may keep more of them in the insurance pool.  That could easily bring the total saving down below those projected for Obamacare.  If that’s the case, Republicans are offering a plan that is more expensive AND covers fewer people.

The plan also caps Medicaid funding.  More uninsured will turn to expensive emergency rooms for care.  That drives healthcare costs back up.  If passed along with additional proposed budget cuts, it would be the largest social welfare cut in our history.

Republicans tout increased competition across state lines as the missing ingredient to lower insurance costs.  But Obamacare also encouraged selling insurance across state lines.  Six states implemented it.  No insurance companies chose to participate.  That’s because the barrier to entry is not state regulation, it’s the cost for insurance companies to setup provider networks.  The reasons why sparsely populated areas have few insurance providers is simple math.  The same counties that Trump said are currently underserved, will continue to be underserved in this proposed plan.

If you are still unconvinced, Medicare Advantage programs are federally regulated effectively providing the national economies of scale that Republicans tout.  97% of the counties in this country have limited choices for Medicare Advantage plans because of sparse population, not state regulation. 

Insurance premiums are driven primarily by costs of care.  Utah and Colorado have young healthy populations and low insurance costs.  An identical plan sold in Michigan costs more because of an older sicker population.

Expanding coverage to more people improves health and drives down costs.  That’s because those with insurance are treated by primary care physicians rather than in the emergency room.  They receive preventative care to keep them healthy rather than remediation when they are ill.  This plan doesn’t to that.  It’s regressive – punishing the poor, sick, and elderly in order to reward the wealthy.  Please tell your representatives that they have to do better if they want your vote.

Sometimes It Takes More Than Looks

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

harding2

Warren G. Harding is widely regarded as the worst President ever to occupy the office.

Many say he won the election because he “looked like a President”.   This was the tail end of an era where those who LOOKED like gentlemen were assumed to possess all of qualities and capabilities associated with gentlemen.  While Harding was popular during his term, the scandals which emerged after he left office relegated him to his status as a failed president.

We are now in an era of billionaires.  Those who appear to possess great wealth are assumed to possess special qualities and talents that set them apart.  Trump’s election is an example of the trust that some voters have in a wealthy person.  They elected a man whose only qualification to occupy the most powerful political office in the country is that he appears to be wealthy.

I think it is fair to say that in the first month and half, the Trump administration is struggling to find its way.  Even though it is early, there are seeds of scandal that are already blooming.

Russia

The White House has been working furiously to discredit a story that the NYT broke regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

In a now famous interview with Chuck Todd of Meet the Press, Reince Priebus disputed the story alternately calling it “grossly overstated”, “inaccurate”, “totally wrong”, “total baloney”, and “garbage”.  He claimed that people in both the intelligence community and the congress confirmed this description.  The next leak was that Priebus asked the FBI to go on the record with what they had told him.  The FBI refused because the request would politicize the FBI even more than it is now.  Then Priebus assembled a group of intelligence community members and Republican members of Congress to rebut the story, but only anonymously.  This is particular ironic since Priebus (and later Trump) used anonymity of the NYT sources to question the accuracy of the whole article.

It is this sort of fake news stuff that is enormously important that, when you get a front page story of The New York Times without a single source on the record saying that your campaign had constant contacts– they didn’t say one contact. They didn’t say two contacts. It doesn’t matter. We have not been informed of even that. But to say, “Constant contact?”

In this process, however, the two points that the White House objected to in the story became clear.

  1. The story said “repeated contacts”. The White House has built a straw man by claiming that the story said “constant contacts”.
  2. The story said the contacts were with senior Russian Intelligence officials. We now know that the White House is trying to claim that the Russian conversations that DID occur were not with senior Russian Intelligence officials.

“NBC News was told by law enforcement and intelligence sources that the NYT story WAS wrong — in its use of the term ‘Russian intelligence officials.’ Our sources say there were contacts with Russians, but that the US hasn’t confirmed they work for spy agencies. We were also told CNN’s description of Trump aides being in ‘constant touch’ with Russians was overstated. However, our sources did tell us that intelligence intercepts picked up contacts among Trump aides and Russians during the campaign.”

We find out today that new AG Jeff Sessions was one of the people who DID have at least two conversations with a Russian official during the campaign and neglected to share that information during his confirmation hearing.

Testifying under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he was asked in January by Al Franken what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign. “I’m not aware of any of those activities,” he responded. He added: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

There’s more: Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) sent Sessions an additional written question: “Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?” The AG’s one-word answer could not have been more categorical: “No.”

Sessions response was that his conversations with the Russian ambassador did not involve the campaign, so he felt he answered the questions accurately.  He has also agreed to recuse himself from future congressional investigations.

Here’s the scope of this potential scandal.

There WERE conversations between the Trump campaign and Russians during the election.  Those conversations included Jeff Sessions, though he claims that their conversations didn’t touch on the campaign.  Sessions clearly had an opportunity to disclose his conversations during his confirmation hearings and chose not to.

The White House is disputing that these conversations (Sessions and others) were “constant”, that they were with Russians who worked for Russia’s various intelligence agencies, and that they were about the 2016 election.  Of course this begs the question of why the FBI or other intelligence agencies were listening to the phone conversations of “regular” Russians, but the larger issue is the nature of the White House’s attempt to bury this story.

The risk to the Trump administration is that their efforts to bury the story will ultimately be more damaging than the story itself.  Flynn was the first victim.  Fired for lying supposedly lying to the President. The second victim could be Sessions.  He could be on the hook for perjury.  The cover-up is always more dangerous than the story itself, but in this case the story about a foreign power intervening in a US election is unprecedented.

Yemen

The father of the Navy Seal that died in last month’s operation refused to meet with the President.  He is blaming his son’s death on a poorly planned and poorly executed operation.  He has demanded an investigation.

“Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into his administration? Why?” said Mr. Owens, who told The Herald that he had not voted for Mr. Trump. “For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen — everything was missiles and drones — because there was not a target worth one American life. Now all of a sudden we had to make this grand display“  “Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation.”

“The government owes my son an investigation,” the father, William Owens, told The Miami Herald.

One of Trump’s campaign positions was that Clinton failed in her responsibilities to protect the lives of Americans in the Benghazi attack.  Trump criticized the Clinton investigations.  He claimed she was guilty even though the investigations produced no evidence to support that claim.  The Trump campaign produced an ad quoting some of the family members of those who were killed in the attack.  Several of them spoke at the Republican National Convention.  One was in the audience at the third debate.

Ryan Owens’ wife was at Trump’s first speech to Congress.  Trump recognized her for her sacrifice.  But he has also failed to take any responsibility for the failed mission.  He has instead blamed both the military and the Obama administration.

Here’s the scope of this potential scandal.

Will there be as thorough an investigation into this failed raid as Trump called for in Benghazi?

Will Ryan Owens’ father be as celebrated in his grief  as Ryan Owens’ widow?

Will the White House drop their claim that the raid yielded valuable intelligence – a claim that has since been disputed by intelligence officials?

The risk to the Trump administration will be similar to Russia.  If they oppose or interfere with an independent investigation, they will be putting the administration in jeopardy.  If the investigations reveal that decisions on either the raid or the speech were mainly political, they will lose the trust of voters.

Summary 

As these and other scandals continue to pop up and unfold, the façade of media bias as the root cause for Trump’s troubles will fall away.  What will be left are the tawdry facts that the Trump campaign DID have conversations with the Russians about the election. And the Trump administration DID approve a poorly planned, poorly executed mission that discovered no new information because there was political benefit to what appeared at the time to be an easy win.

The legacy of this administration will be similar to the business legacy of the President.  The claims of expertise and unique skill will all fail to produce any substance.  The bodies will stack up.  The collateral damage will mount.  The domestic and foreign mistakes will increase dissension and weaken our country.  At some point, enough people will realize that the only thing that Trump brought to this office was wealthy arrogance.  Once they realize that being President requires larger skill set, they will kick him out of office.  When they finally tire of his attempts to blame his failures on others, they will finally blame him for misleading them.  The fact, however, is that it was voters who misled themselves.  They assumed that wealth somehow qualified a person to be President.  Like Harding, voters will realize that wealth, just like looks, has little or nothing to do with competence or trustworthiness.