Archive for the ‘Trump’ Category

D’oh

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

It only gets worse for President Trump and the rest of us.

On our national holiday, North Korea demonstrated that they overcame the cyber-attacks that impacted their previous missile tests.  They also figured out how to build a missile that meets the definition of an ICBM.

They are on a fast track that will soon give them the capability of reaching the West Coast.  All that’s left is miniaturizing their nuclear weapons to fit on their missiles.

Once they have those capabilities in place, they become much more difficult to deal with.  It basically takes any preemptive military option off the table.  Any strike today only requires support from China and Russia.  Soon the US won’t be able to guarantee that such a strike would completely eliminate the ability for North Korea to respond with a nuclear missile aimed at LA.

North Korea isn’t crazy.  They know that the ability to destroy LA or Beijing is their best defense against regime change.

Russia and China just told Trump the price for their cooperation in getting North Korea to change their strategy.

It’s reducing our military presence in the region.  If we accept that bargain, we are leaving the door open for China and perhaps Russia to take our place in protecting our Asian allies.

This is the just another long term cost of electing an inexperienced President who seems to think that he can make a deal with Russia and intimidate China and North Korea with tweets.  His failure to heed the warnings that he received at the start of his Presidency may result in North Korea becoming a nuclear threat to us.  It also may weaken our ability to respond to future threats to our Asian allies.

Is this really what making American great again looks like?

Kool aid

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

via GIPHY

I must admit that I remain astonished at our current political landscape.

We have a Congress who are attempting to take healthcare away from at least 22M people in the name of what? Reducing premiums for the young and healthy? Providing the first of many big tax cuts to the wealthy? Further punishing the poor, sick, and old just because they can? Because we need something to replace Obamacare because we promised something better? How do you then explain a plan that costs more, covers less, threatens those with pre-existing conditions, does nothing to address the basic drivers increasing healthcare costs, and essentially eliminates Medicaid as we know it?

Then we have a President encouraging Congress to repeal Obamacare completely without any replacement as some sort of punishment to Democrats for not supporting him. If he can’t have what he wants, nobody can. Those 32M people who suddenly find themselves without healthcare can just go to the emergency room (Mitt Romney’s solution the problem of the uninsured).

It isn’t even enough to discover that the new healthcare bill will cause premature deaths to rise by approximately 29,000 a year as a result of lost insurance. Medical bankruptcies will again begin to rise after a decline during the ACA years.

We even have Republicans suggesting that the best way to deal with opioid addiction is to inform addicts that public safety officials can only afford to save their lives with Nar can three times. The fourth time they overdose, public safety officials are instructed to just let them die. Why? Because saving their lives is too expensive.

We’ve got reports that Russian hackers discussed gaining access to Clinton emails during the 2016 campaign and providing them through an intermediary to Michael Flynn.

We’ve got Mitch McConnell saying that he has $200B to play with and should be able to buy some votes. He has $200B to play with BECAUSE the Senate bill kicks so many people off of the healthcare insurance rolls so much faster than the House bill that instead of saving $119B over the next decade, the number is more than $300B.

We’ve got the war ratcheting up in Syria and Afghanistan with nary a peep from Trump supporters.

We watched a truly cringe-worth round robin of ring kissing from Trump’s staff and cabinet. Normally those things only happen in dictatorships and religions.

We’ve got Trump demonstrating on a daily basis that he has no idea what he is doing. His attempt to rally the senatorial troops to get a vote on his healthcare bill was embarrassing. It’s so bad, that McConnell had to chew out Priebus calling a Trump PAC’s attacks on Nev. Senator Heller for his opposition of the Senate healthcare bill “beyond stupid”.

There is all of this and more and what does everyone get upset about?

Trump picks another fight with a female news person.

Republicans can’t seem to muster the courage to call him and the Republican leadership out for their cynical attempts to pass a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the wealthy. They secretly cringe when he obsessively thrusts himself back into the spotlight taking focus away from their attempts actually get something done. They continue to defend him as the evidence mounts regarding his campaign’s involvement with the Russians and his own attempts to obstruct the FBI investigation.

You’ve got Paul Ryan defending the large number of uninsured in the Republican bill by claiming that most people don’t want healthcare insurance. Exactly the opposite is true. The main reason people don’t have health insurance is because they can’t afford it.

But even he felt compelled to say something about how inappropriate Trump’s attacks are.

Some folks in the White House think that they are somehow “winning” when Trump demonstrates that he is a petulant narcissist. In their view, these events galvanize their base because it forces them to swallow yet another gulp of the Trump Kool-Aide which inoculates them against reality and demonizes the only source of unbiased information that could possibly save them.

But even some of these have decided that this recent tweet may have been a bridge too far.

So if this is what it takes to finally get us to a point where Trump can be held accountable for his failures to fulfill his responsibilities as President, I hope that the Morning Joe reality-TV battle is only the first of a long series of attacks, each more demeaning and mean spirited than the last.

Perhaps that will be the missing ingredient to break the Trump spell for enough of his current supporters that we can finally start a rational discussion about the consequences of incompetence.

In the meantime, we’ll have to continue to witness to Trump’s feeble attempts to govern with a weak 40% approval rating and an even weaker understanding of how to function in the most powerful elected office in the world.

As I already mentioned, last week Trump called GOP holdouts to the White House for some old fashioned arm twisting around the stalled Senate healthcare bill. What happened? Nothing. Nobody changed their vote. Why? Because when the House bill was in a similar situation, he threatened intransigent conservatives that he would actively campaign against them if they didn’t drop their demands. What happened? They called his bluff. He caved and gave into their demands. They passed a bill that now has no chance of passing the Senate.

He has strong support among Republicans. Where are his appeals to his base and Republicans in general to support the Senate efforts? Shouldn’t this be a natural instinct for a “master salesman”? Instead he has been criticizing the bill. When he calls the bill “mean” and implies that it is cheap, how many Senators are going to be willing to take a hard vote? He is already telling them that he is going to protect himself if this whole thing goes south.

He has even undercut his lead dog in this fight, majority leader McConnell. McConnell has been working every angle he can think of wrangle the handful of votes he needs to get this thing passed and Trump undercuts those efforts with a tweet suggesting that it may be time to throw in the towel and just repeal Obamacare without any replacement. That’s what Rand Paul wants to do, not Mitch McConnell.

What does all of this mean?

It is not going to get better. Trump isn’t going to change and the realities of how politics works are also not going to change.

What will change is the voter’s opinions of Trump and those who support him. We will discover that like many other things about this President, his unwavering kool-aid-loving support is small too. We’ll see how this plays out in the 2018 election.

Whoomp

Monday, June 19th, 2017

 

The next big test of the Trump presidency is sneaking up on him. As I predicted, the domestic challenges that this administration has been dealing with will pale in comparison to international events where there is the very real possibility of escalation.

Trump’s generals told him and Congress that we are losing the war in Afghanistan. Trump agreed to send 4000 more troops into the area. What is Trump’s strategy? It appears that it is to do whatever the Pentagon asks him to do. These are the same generals that he criticized during his campaign about their strategies in the Middle East.

In past administrations, the State Department served as a balance to the Pentagon regarding policy and strategy. Trump and Tillerson have abandoned that role in their vision of a much smaller State Department. Those civilian State Department foreign policy experts no longer exist.

Gen. Mattis told the Senate that “Reconciliation” was the goal in Afghanistan. He was unable to articulate a strategy to accomplish that goal. The only apparent strategy is a response to what the Mattis described as a “Taliban surge”.

Trump is also expanding the war in Syria. The first step was firing missiles in retaliation for Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Yesterday, US forces shot down a Syrian jet that was bombing US-backed fighters near Tabqah. The US military said that they notified the Russians that they were planning to target this airplane using a communications system that was setup during the Obama administration. Russia denied receiving the message. Russia claimed they were going to shut that system down after Trump’s missile attack. They now say they are no longer going to accept these messages in the future. Instead Russia warned that US aircraft will be treated as targets going forward.

Trump has promised closer ties with Russia in a coordinated effort to fight ISIS.

That hasn’t happened.

Instead we have the same escalation in Syria that experts warned of when Trump talked about a military solution to the Syrian conflict.

That leaves us with a couple of questions.

  1. How will Trump respond when the additional troops sent to Afghanistan don’t have the desired effect and his efforts are criticized?
  2. How will Trump respond when Syria or Russia shoots down one of our aircraft in Syria?

The honest answer is that we don’t know.

That is just another problem with this administration. If the strategy of having no strategy actually works, we can all be grateful. If, on the other hand, it puts our military in a situation where they can’t win and introduces the threat of escalation into a much bigger conflict – is the risk worth the reward?

The Trump administration now owns both the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria. They seem to have abandoned the Obama strategies of winding down the Afghanistan war and containing ISIS.  They replaced those strategies with short-term Pentagon-lead tactics. History tells us that tactics are particularly ineffective in resolving asymmetrical conflicts. Ultimately strategy and diplomacy are required because as Admiral James Stavridis famously said, “You can’t kill your way to success in a counter insurgency effort.”

The only remaining question is when will Trump supporters hold Trump and his administration accountable for the failure to have a coherent foreign policy?

The Credibility Gap

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

During the Vietnam War, there was a lot of public skepticism regarding statements that came from the LBJ administration.  Ultimately that led to Nixon’s election because he promised that he had a secret plan to end the war.  He lied too and instead expanded the war.  There were a lot of leaks including the Pentagon Papers.  Those internal defense department documents confirmed that both the Johnson and Nixon administrations had lied, not only to the public but also to Congress.  Daniel Ellsberg leaked those papers.  Nixon hired G. Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt to break into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office to plant bugs to acquire information that the Nixon administration used to discredit Ellsberg.  That same group went on to commit the Watergate burglaries.

The reason for this digression is that when Nixon eventually resigned, 24% of Republicans still supported him.

We are faced with a similar situation today.

Trump supporters are distrustful of any media that disagrees with them.  They are distrustful of any politicians that disagree with them.   In an April poll, 81% of self-described Republicans thought Trump was honest and trustworthy.  Only 38% of American’s share that view.  For those who attribute that 38% to some political bias, only 34% of those who self-describe as independents felt that Trump was honest and trustworthy.

Both of these things can’t be true.  Either he is honest and trustworthy or he isn’t.

It may be possible that Republicans have a different definition of honesty, but the accepted definition is that an honest person tells the truth.  By ALL objective measures, Trump lies on a regular basis.  Here’s a current running list of the 623 lies that he has told since his inauguration.  You may be able to dispute some of these, but it is difficult to suggest that they are all the result of media or political bias.

Republicans may believe that ALL politicians lie and Trump in particular is just a BS’er.  His lies are part of his method of negotiation.  But ultimately, they trust his motives and as a result excuse his tactics.  But that in itself is dishonest.  You can’t tell lies and be called honest.

But let’s give partisans a little bit of a break. They like Trump’s politics and suggest that all politicians lie because the media or the opposition won’t let them tell the truth, or else distort their statements to turn them into lies when in fact they were completely innocent.  But this a President who began his administration disputing the undeniable facts about the size of his inauguration crowd.  No, this President is different.

That brings us to the second topic of trustworthiness.  That is someone who does what he says he is going to do.  Someone who keeps their promises.

Trump fails this measure too.  He promised to release his tax returns.  He promised to put Hillary Clinton in jail.  He promised to pass a healthcare bill that would provide cheaper coverage to more people at a lower cost than Obamacare.  He promised to wipe out ISIS.  He even promised that he would never tell a lie.  I could go on, but I think the point is clear.  He doesn’t keep his promises either.  Worse, he doesn’t even acknowledge that he has failed to keep a promise.  Yet somehow Republicans feel he is still trustworthy.

Where does this come from?

From what I can see so far it is simple tribalism.  It doesn’t matter what Republican is in office, as long as there is an “R” next to their name, they are going to get the support of a large percentage of Republicans.  When the overall approval rating of Bush II fell into the 20’s in October, 2008 as the world-wide financial system began to collapse over 60% of Republicans still approved his job performance.

Another telling statistic that supports this view is what happened during the most recent primary season.

Just before Trump claimed victory, 46% of Republicans felt he was honest and trustworthy.  After the Republican convention, that number jumped to 69%.  Now it is at 81%.  Did Trump become a different person after the convention or after his surprising victory?  I don’t think so.

Here’s another example.  Only 22% of Republicans supported a missile strike on Syria during the Obama administration.  86% of Republicans supported Trump doing exactly the same thing for exactly the same reasons earlier this year.

So that brings us to Comey.

Will his testimony, that has been widely regarded a damaging to Trump and his administration, affect his support among his base?

Early indications are no.

Comey called Trump a liar.  Trump called Comey a liar, suggested there might be tapes to prove his case, and offered to testify in Congress under oath.  What he didn’t do is explain why he cleared the room before his conversation with Comey.

We recently learned that he had similar conversations with Preet Bharara before firing him.

Comey connected the dots between the FBI’s investigation of Flynn, to Trump’s request that the FBI drop those investigations, to his firing, to Trump’s statements that the firing was because Comey did not do what Trump asked him to do.  Trump’s defenders claimed it was just the fumbling of an inexperienced politician.  No harm was intended.  Why would an inexperienced politician make sure that all his conversations with Comey were private?  If nothing else, the reaction of Jeff Sessions, the “experienced” politician in the bunch speaks volumes.  He did not act to protect Comey.  Instead he quickly moved to dismiss him even though it may result in his prosecution because of conflict of interest.

Here’s why all this matters.

Trump is digging a deep hole that he may not be able to get out of.  He has not been vindicated.  The investigations are continuing.  Comey laid out the obstruction of justice case for Mueller to follow.  Mueller just hired a bunch of very high power lawyers who likely would not have signed on if there wasn’t the prospect of building a case against very high ranking members of the Trump administration.

We are long way from the Democratic House majority and the smoking gun that could result in a bill of impeachment.  But fivethirtyeight.com gives Democrats a 10% point lead over Republicans if the house election were held today.

What we do have is a widening credibility gap between a president, his supporters, and the rest of the electorate.  Every week, Trump’s actions and statements confirm the majority view of his credibility.  Those statements and actions also require his supporters to sacrifice their credibility in defense of Trump and out of allegiance to the Republican tribe.

This is not a healthy or balanced situation.  Eventually Trump will be held accountable for his actions and those supporters that remain will also be held accountable for enabling those actions.

Or else this will become the new normal and our country will continue to fracture in to warring camps where tribalism finally breaks democracy.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Monday, June 5th, 2017

Why is Trump so unpopular?

His supporters claim that a biased media and the “sore loser” Democratic Party are to blame.  While Trump supporters may draw some comfort from those excuses, the real cause is much more obvious.

Trump has lost a third of his support since taking office based on his actions.

  1.  He passed a bill that broke his promise to replace the ACA with something which provides better coverage to more people for less money.  His bill covers 23M fewer people, raises costs for the sick and elderly, removes pre-existing conditions protections, gives a huge tax break to the wealthy, and saves no more money than the ACA.  73% of voters oppose it.
  2. His admitted Muslim travel ban was poorly implemented and struck down by the courts.  Most polls show that the public supports the courts and opposes the ban.
  3. 78% of Americans support an independent investigation of the claims of Russian involvement in the election and Trump’s potential obstruction of justice.
  4. 62% of voters want to stay in the Paris Accords.  Trump announced the US was leaving based on an economic argument that was widely criticized by the fact checkers.
  5.  A majority of Americans (53%) want Trump to release his tax returns.
  6. Finally a majority (54%) of Americans believe President Trump is abusing his powers.

Trump’s historically low approval ratings are his own fault.  Neither the media nor the Democrats forced him to take these actions.  Hopefully his current supporters will also eventually hold him accountable.

For those Trump supporters who aren’t there yet, allow me to share the thoughts of Ray Dalio.  He is a billionaire hedge-fund manager who has been a vocal Trump supporter until recently.

His concern is that he hasn’t seen the pivot that he was expecting from Trump.  That was a pivot from seeking confrontation to implementing policy.  Trump won.  He has an historically unique moment for the conservative movement – Congressional and Judicial majorities.

Instead Trump has spent his time in office seeking out conflict.  Instead of making the fundamental changes in the way that government operates that he promised, Trump continues to drive the world to the brink of disaster environmentally, militarily, and financially.

Here’s how Dalio is evaluating his choice.

It seems to me people who are trying to figure out whether or not to support him are faced with three big questions: 1) what exactly is the part he’s trying to optimize for (e.g., American manufacturing workers) and at the expense of whom, 2) am I more aligned with that part he is trying to protect (e.g., American manufacturing workers) or more aligned with those who will lose out (e.g., immigrants, those who will lose benefits from his budget changes), and 3) will his path of conflict rather than cooperation be effective or harmful?

The rest of us are looking forward to 2018 when we plan to use the ballot box to vote out those who supported his plans.

The Great Erosion

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Nixon left office with a 24% job approval rating.  I’ve often wondered what sort of people would still support a President after his spectacular abuses of power were revealed.  Based on recent analysis by FiveThirtyEight, I now have a better understanding.

Nate Silver makes a good argument that Trump has already lost significant support among those who voted for him, and that may only be the beginning.

His analysis tracks the changes in the “strongly approve” portion of those supporting Trump’s job performance.

While Trump continues to enjoy strong approval among those who self-identify as Republicans, the nature of that support has changed.  Those who “strongly approve” has eroded from a high of 30% to current levels of 22%.  In addition, those who “strongly disapprove” outnumber those who “strongly approve” by a 2-1 margin.

The cause of this erosion in base is the first failure to pass healthcare reform followed by an even worse bill that added removing protections to those with pre-existing conditions to a bill that will reduce the rolls of the insured by 23M.

What’s important about this erosion is that it is entirely in line with what NBC polls predicted several months earlier.  They identified a “floor” of approval for Trump at 22%.  The rest of his support was conditional on accomplishments.

The erosion reflects approximately 8% of those who were previous strong supporters, now becoming “somewhat approve”.  But the “somewhat approve” and “somewhat disapprove” numbers have been fairly constant.  The “strongly disapprove” number spiked with the release of the travel ban and has stayed high.  So where did the 8% where were strong approvers ultimately go?

What appears to be happening is that the erosion is in the segment of Trump voters who were reluctant supporters to begin with.  It is those voters that are making the slow journey through the stages of grief from “somewhat approve” to “strongly disapprove”.

The result is that the 22% of voters who supported Trump during the primaries, continue to stick with him.  Everyone else is up for grabs.

That’s why the midterms are going to be an interesting test.

We’ll find out how many of these “reluctant supporters” are going to be willing to vote if their choice is between a candidate who represents a President who has disappointed them and a party that they don’t identify with.  What may make that vote easier for some are those House Republicans who will be defending their vote for a healthcare bill that most of these “reluctant supporters” did not support.

We’ll also find out if Democrats are going to be able going to turn out across the country in the numbers that we’ve seen in the couple of special elections.

If so, Trump may be in trouble because 23 of the seats won by Republicans in 2016 were in districts that Clinton won.  The Democrats only need 24 seats to reclaim a majority.  The special elections in Kansas, Montana, and (soon) Georgia are all much closer than anyone would have predicted.  The result is that ALL of those seats will be in play for the Democrats in 2016 too.

In any normal electoral cycle, gaining 24 seats would be a heavy lift but recent history (Republicans gained 63 seats in 2010) certainly indicates what’s possible when some parts of the electorate are unhappy.  And there are A LOT of people who are unhappy.

Here are some of the reasons why.

The House passed a healthcare reform bill, with Trump’s help, that only 17% of voters supported. His threats to undermine the existing ACA have caused BCBS of NC to request approval of a 22% rate increase.  His budget proposal eviscerates pretty much every discretionary dollar not spent on defense in order to fund a huge tax cut for the wealthy.  Trump’s executive immigration order has been struck down twice by the courts.  We’ll see how his court nominee affects that vote when it gets to the SCOTUS.  The investigations into obstruction of the Russian investigation will continue to produce bad news over the next 18 months.  Trump is considering pulling out of the Paris Accord which is supported by 70% of the public.  North Korea will continue to improve their missiles that could reach the west coast within a year.  Trump trusts China to help with North Korea, but China has their own agenda.  Russia and Syria will continue to deteriorate.  Nothing of substance is going to pass Congress because those who are up for reelection in 2018 won’t want to take any more hard votes.  And Trump will continue to be Trump.

He has no one to blame but himself.

Lock Him Up

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

In a stunning display of arrogance and incompetence, President Trump single-handedly ground his administration to a halt and changed the 2018 election into a referendum on his potential impeachment.

Firing the head of the FBI took a smoldering scandal about collusion with the Russians and turned it into a full blown bonfire with its own special counselor and an impaneled grand jury.

That’s because this is no longer just a question of connections between the Russians and the Trump campaign.  It is now an investigation of obstruction of justice.  It no longer matters whether or not there is substance to the claims that there were a dozen or so conversations between Russians and the Trump campaign.  It also no longer matters whether the conversations were about coordinating the Russian social media and hacking activities with Trump campaign, or they were about current or future business opportunities, or they were just friends catching up about hockey.  What matters now is that there is evidence that Trump and his administration may have attempted to intervene in an ongoing investigation.

The last two impeachment investigations were based on obstruction of justice claims.  It’s that claim that will drive this investigation forward.  That’s because voters are much more concerned about abuses of power than they are about any other claims of corruption.

Trump has attempted to characterize this as a witch hunt, but he only has himself to blame.  Firing James Comey in a fit of pique and then attempting to discredit him caused the response.  Involving the Deputy Attorney General in the firing, gave the Justice Department no other choice.  AG Sessions had already recused himself because he had lied during his confirmation hearings about his Russian connections.  The President had fired the guy leading the investigation at the FBI.  The DOJ had to appoint an independent counselor in order to preserve the integrity of the DOJ and the FBI.

This is politics 101.  Unfortunately, Trump and his administration appear to have skipped that course.

Here’s the rest of politics 101.  This investigation is going to take a long time.  There are two reasons.

First, there is already a grand jury involved, and they have a broad mandate to follow whatever issues they deem appropriate.  The Starr investigation started out with Whitewater and ended up with Monica Lewinsky four years later.

Second, everyone in the White House and the Trump campaign are going to be asked what they know and when they knew it.  Timing is critical to determine intent.  Intent to obstruct justice is what the special counselor will be attempting to prove or disprove.

The consequences of a long investigation are also obvious.

The administration will grind to a halt because Congress will be unwilling to take any controversial votes until they determine what the results will be from this investigation.

What that leaves is the 2018 election.

All the house seats will be contested as well as 33 senate seats.  A lot more information will dribble out between now and then.  Most of it will be unflattering to the President.  The House will not take an impeachment vote before the election because they will not want to run on how they individually voted.  Instead, House Republicans will be faced with the challenging prospect of defending their vote on a VERY unpopular healthcare bill AND defending the actions of a President who is under investigation for abusing his power.  Every Democrat running against an incumbent Republican in the House or Senate is going to tell voters that re-electing the incumbent will insure that Trump will never be held accountable for his actions AND that healthcare insurance will be taken away from all those who have pre-existing conditions and all those on MedicAid.

What is particularly ironic is that Trump won the election based in part on a last minute surge of voters who were persuaded by Trump’s claims that Clinton was a criminal.  He may now end up losing his majority in at least the House for exactly those same reasons.

BTW the Real Clear Politics combined job approval ratings poll just hit a new low.  For the first time since the inauguration, the aggregate poll slipped below 40.  Same thing with the aggregate FiveThirtyEight job approval poll.

 

Donnie’s Got a Gun

Friday, April 7th, 2017

fembots

Trump took action in Syria.

As he had previously said, he now owns it.

But one action does not a policy make. It isn’t clear what the Trump policy in Syria is, other than a warning to Assad that he can’t use chemical weapons and a threat that the US is now seeking regime change.

Lack of a clear policy as well as Trump’s apparent “go it alone” preference, leave us in a precarious place.

Here’s why.

Russia
Syria is Russia’s opportunity to be a player in the Middle East. Russia has its largest military base outside its own borders there. They are the primary reason why Assad is still in power. They have also ratcheted up the risk to the US in Syria by canceling the cooperative agreement that kept US and Russian jets out of each other’s way. Tillerson has talks coming up in Russia. At this point, there is little that he or the Trump administration can offer Russia to obtain some cooperation in Syria. Instead it is likely that Assad and perhaps Russia will both strike back. How will Trump respond if Assad gases somebody else or attacks US positions in the north? How will he respond if Russia cranks up something in the Ukraine or maybe Libya?

ISIS
Trump took his eye off the ball by striking Assad. He has said all along that his goal was ISIS, but now it appears that his goal has widened to remaking Syria. That is dangerous. Taking down Assad doesn’t mean a stable western-friendly government will replace him. Syria is much more likely to join the long list of failed states where the power vacuum is filled by another radical jihadist organization. On the other hand, the original goal of eliminating just ISIS had its own unpleasant consequences. With ISIS out of the way, Assad would likely win his civil war and Russia and Iran would gain power in the region.

Plan
It isn’t clear that there is any plan here. Weakening Assad will in fact end up prolonging the conflict in Syria. More chaos provides more opportunity for ISIS, generates more refuges which continue to cause problems in Europe, and ultimately more innocents are killed. Eliminating ISIS strengthens Assad and Russia. That will also result in more persecutions, more refugees, and likely more Russian and Iranian activity.

Summary
Trump is being tested in a very public way at a time when he is most vulnerable at home. His approval ratings are at historic lows. His own party is in disarray. He badly needs a win to turn things around. The problem is that there is no clear path to a win in Syria. Trump took military action in order to respond to one incident in what has been a long and brutal civil war. How will he respond to the next incident?

He has expanded his scope in Syria to include bringing down Assad. He is going to need Russia’s help to do that and Russia isn’t interested. They like Assad right where he is. What Trump has done instead is set himself up for long term failure in return for the short term gain of a little popularity boost.

Worse yet, by taking this provocative step, he has opened himself up to a series of potential escalations without any clear understanding of how they all might play out. It will take some focus off of his domestic struggles, but at what cost?

He doesn’t have an experienced staff of diplomats in place right now to guide his actions. Our military leaders are his primary source of information. The weaknesses that he has already displayed in dealing with domestic issues combined with a bias toward military action may create an international crisis that could be Trump’s final undoing.

 

 

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.