Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The stubborn illogic of the Congressional Freedom Caucus on replacement of Obamacare

Revised March 1, 2107
The stubborn illogical members of the Freedom Caucus types in Congress regarding repeal and replace Obamacare ignore changing public opinion. They stonewall attempts to replace it when it contains any thing smacked of "entitlements" which they define as providing any subsidies to make insurance affordable. For them, tax credits are subsidies; they oppose some GOP plans that would replace federal subsidies with tax credits to buy insurance . (This is not an endorsement of those tax credit plans, but that is another topic) ..They would rather, it appears, yank insurance from their own constituents. After all, they say they promised repeal and their constituents want it repealed. Replacements are not relevant because they claim.consumers of health care will not be worse off than they are now, they claim. The Freedom Caucus logic: the ACA (Obamacare) is going to collapse of its own weight so even if it does not cover the same number of people that Obamacare covers, so what difference does it make.

Wait a minute, There is something worse: having no insurance. There is also something worse; not trying to make the ACA succeed. What is worse is that those with pre-existing conditions cannot get coverage; that once again their insurance will a limit of the amount in a period of time they will cover; that those who are living pay check to pay check and whose budget struggles  leave no room to pay for health insurance so they  will go without; that even annual check-ups  and cancer screenings will be put off until the disease is so far along, the choice is bankruptcy or die or go into debt and lose their homes; or insurance policies are not required to allow young adults to stay on parent's policies?

It appears that Democrats are going to make Obamacare the major issue in their resistance to the GOP. Gov. Beshear's rebuttal to Trump's addresss laid out the case to those who would be impacted the most by any changes, replacements, and/or repeal...blue collar workers in the south (and with similar demographics in the midwest. 64% of the sign ups for Obamacare this year are from states Trump carried. In the speech to Congress, Trump endorsed the GOP plan to give tax credits to help subsidize insurance, instead of tax deductions as promoted by the Freedom Caucus. (in itself deceptive because it would only benefit those who pay income taxes..and most needing health care insurance subsidies are those who do not have enough income to pay any income taxes..so deductions would be useless). . However, watch the devilish details: What Paul Ryan, house majority leader and advocate of the tax credit approach, also wants is the credit based on age; and the other part of the equation is how much? Currently subsidies of health insurance are based on income. The poorer an applicant is, the larger the subsidy. The GOP wants it to be based on say 2K for young people and 4K for older, or a ratio like that. Unfortunately for older people the cost of healthcare ratio is more like 5x the younger people. This would screw the older people and leave the younger with barely enough to buy catastrophic insurance, with little incentive to subscribe for insurance, plus destroy the "pool"...which keeps costs down for all by mixing a correct ratio of those who use insurance v those who do not..an actuarial method upon which nearly all insurance is based.

If Obamacare is headed downhill, why not fix it, repair it?  For eight years any fixes to Obamacare were stonewalled by the GOP in hopes it would collapse.  However, now that the GOP controls Washington, the old china shop rule applies: If they break it, they own it.  The day after the State of the Union address, the Republic National Committee chairman, Ronna Romney McDaniel and Sen. Ted Cruz appearing on Morning Joe on MSNBC both refused to promise they would guarantee those who had their newly acquired Obamacare/ACA health insurance would keep it.  In fact, Cruz took it a step farther and said he was concerned about everyone who had been hurt by Obamacare instead. He should absolutely no concern for the rest.

The comment made by Ronna McDaniel was that Obamacare broke the health care system so the GOP will fix it.   I rarely name call statements stupid, but this one was a doozy. Adding 22 million insured was hardly breaking the system; it is an indication of its success.  Even the 80% got better benefits. Kicking off 22 million from their insurance or even a large percentage of that would truly be breaking the system. If Cruz and McDaniel get their way, they  and their party will own that one.

The GOP is still stuck in 2009 when people complained they had to change insurance plans and did not keep their doctor.  To them, that was a catastrophe.  There is even a commercial running about a mother of for who had to change her ob-gyn because of Obamacare.   What would really have been a catastrophe if she had no health care insurance  at all . That is what the GOP is proposing  for many when they repeal  the ACA without an adequate replacement.

 Having been married to an ob-gyn for over 50 years, being a very clost observer of his private practice. I know changing ob-gyns can be traumatic. However, even before Obamacare, that was a common occurrence when jobs were changed and the new employer offered different benefits, jobs were lost, or choices were made to  sign up with another insurer.  Now, many consumers are faced with having to go without insurance at all if the hard right of the GOP has its way.

What the challenge is for Congress is to come up with a way to make Obamacare financially sustainable, if they think Obamacare is not, and so far, what is coming out of the rumor mill is that the GOP does not have a plan to do that without reducing benefits and  increasing the cost to individual consumers while kicking many off their insurance coverage. What I see are plans to make health care insurance even less  sustainable by reducing the size or ratio of the "pools", leaving the sicker left insured and the healthy opting out of insurance.  If they do propose a plan, the issues become who and how many will be hurt, instead of helped , and the cost which will be "scored " or estimated by the Congressional Budget Office.

 The arrogance of the Freedom Caucus is that they do not realize the public opinion ground is shifting under their feet. They are still functioning under the  old polls where tagging the Obama name to any health plan was considered by their base as bad, yet a significant part of their base liked their ACA and did not know that was also Obamacare.  That is an ongoing education project, but the marches and  angry attendees at townhalls are getting the message across.   CNN had an interesting approach of having those listening to the President's address to Congress on February 28. They have a pulse poll of thousands responding in real time to what the President was saying.  The part of his speech that got the most negative response was repealing Obamacare/ACA.  The self identified  independents pulse taking line  plunged below approval the most dramatically, but interestingly enough, even the Republicans/ approval line took a significant dip.

The public is waking up and getting educated to what the ACA (Obamacare) provides. That is  the same  insurance they could not afford before, and they do want not to lose it now. The polls show that its popularity is different than it was in November. Even their own party members are realizing the repercussions on their own self interests, if not the interest of their constituents.  The GOP governors fear their budgets will be blown apart if medicaid expansion is not funded; that small, rural hospitals will go under without the paying customers who had subsidized insurance.

Where Congress should focus is repair. Where they have a problem is that any of their proposals being discussed is that it would only make the costs soar because they want to shrink the "pool", removing any mandates for even the healthy and those with faith they will never get sick or have an accident to carry insurance.  They want to remove required  benefits, leaving consumers with poor, inadequate policies, that means paying more out of their pockets and not having the kind of coverage when they need it.

 Where they can begin is to aim their guns at the cost of prescription drugs, requiring competitive bidding for Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance  company participants in  any government supported insurance..They can  include in exchanges a public option that forces competition and makes sure that at least one insurer remains in the market. They can stop advocating fake panaceas that do little  to provide competition and lower costs such as cross state insurer options. They can do more to break up the insurance company monopolies that allow them to collude  to set the same benefits and cost of coverage  nationwide.. That monopoly by a few big insurers makes a mockery of a free, competitive market.

They are assuming that the collapse of Obamacare would cause consumers to embrace their minimalist, poor replacement plans, or just  go insurance naked. The Freedom Caucus should be careful what they wish.  Those  are not the only alternatives. If Obamacare does collapse,, the GOP will find that public demand for a single payer system will become the only way out and it  will gain popularity just because of the pressure from demand by desperate consumers.



Also see the 2/11/17 post for a long list of resources:

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Why I have refrained from calling Donald Trump a fascist.

Updated 2 25 2017
 I have refrained from calling the Trump administration fascist. It is not there yet.  It is too early to tell and the constraints of law and the Constitution may keep President Trump from putting some of his innate tendencies into practice. However, every day it seems Trump's actions resemble even more the examples of fascism as practiced in the 20th century.

The definition of fascism as a philosophy is complex, but actions can be the the definer, too.     Calling someone fascist brings to mind Hitler, the gas chambers, the hyper nationalism, the rallies and parades, and a goal of economic recovery based on ramping up the military/industrial complex,  blaming and scapegoating minorities, and feeding on the emotions of those who hate "others".   Hitler seems to personify it in many minds, though the 20th-century ideological roots are actually in Italy and Mussolini and not all authoritarian governments are fascist.

 While President Trump certainly does not fit the extreme Hitler mold, there are some similar elements to the rise of fascism in Europe found in Trump's tweets and orders and techniques,  such as holding rallies to whip up supporters' enthusiasm and hyper-nationalism, exaggerating potential external security threats and the weakness of our military,  and the failure of an economy,. He is ignoring the fact that the economy has the lowest unemployment rate since 2009 and had a pre-election robust Wall Street. True, the blue-collar middle class has been left behind. Whatever Trump advocates, the US in 2017 is nowhere like Germany in the early '30s that was decimated by reparations and the Depression.

With crowd-pleasing rhetoric and tweets, Trump claims the only facts that are not fake are those considered true by the Trump administration. He verbally delegitimizes other centers of power,  courts, and their judges,   and media.  Stephen Bannon is the president's most trusted and closest adviser and is also an example of the hatred factor found in fascism. Bannon had been CEO  of Breitbart, the media public platform for white supremacists and ultra-nationalists.  Leading to Trump's own rise on the political scene was "Obama was born in Kenya" birtherism crusade, considered by many to be dog whistles to racists. Whether or not Bannon and he are racists and bigots themselves is the lesser issue.  Like Bannon  Trump tolerates and exploits racism for political gain, even being reluctant to condemn bigotry until forced to. His Muslim ban obviously appeals to religious bigots. Pressed for weeks to condemn Jewish cemetery vandalism and threats against religious centers, he finally made a statement last week condemning anti-Semitism.

These last couple of weeks of his media relations were particularly disturbing and brought him a step closer to qualifying as at least a wannabe fascist.  Looking at how the fascist movement got into power in the last century, we can see some similarities.  One is an attempt to bully and control the press and to take over the messaging. Trump is beginning the process by excluding "opposition" outlets.  CNN and the New York Times were kept from the press "gaggle"at a non-televised briefing at the White House and Trump and his spokespeople have refused to call on reporters who represented media promoting stories critical of him. These were obvious attempts at "punishing" CNN and the Times. Their sin: reporting on Trump's possible even closer relationship with Russians during the campaign.

The most serious media-related event raised the question of whether his administration had tried to influence the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign's colluding with the Russians. One version reported by the media was that Reince Priebus, Trump's chief of staff, had approached the FBI director asking him to tamp down a report being leaked from the agency as flawed because there was no evidence any Russian contact involved Russian agents. The Trump administration did not deny the contact had been made with Russians, but said it was not their agents, and counterclaimed that the FBI director had approached Priebus. If the latter is true, then the FBI's impartiality and credibility in their Russian related investigations into Russian hacking and meddling in the 2016 elections are jeopardized. If the administration initiated the contact with the FBI, then they are verging on a Nixon-like cover-up and look guilty that there is a fire in the smoke. Adding to suspicions that there is something there there,  as many have noted, Trump has never flatly denied that contact with  Russians and his campaign staff occurred but instead has tried to deflect attention to "illegal leaks",  as a way to direct public attention and media focus elsewhere and a way to scotch deeper probes.

 Either way, the exchange with the FBI flap is not good news for the Trump administration. In that dust-up, what has been clear is that the Trump administration is fearful that the FBI or the other investigations being conducted by intelligence agencies will find the smoking gun of collusion with  Russian agents. If that collusion turns out to be sanctioned or conducted by Donald Trump himself or others in his campaign acting under his direction, that could lead to impeachment at worse or destroying the credibility, legitimacy,  and effectiveness of the administration at best.  The stakes are very high.

.Populism has also been an element in the rise of fascism.  Candidate Trump's appeal to the blue-collar working demographic was more populist than corporate.  Ironically, a  corporatist element has been added to  Trump's presidential administration with the appointment of the team of billionaires to the various cabinet posts. These cabinet officers have been charged to de-construct their departments, eliminating consumer and environmental protections that were designed to protect the middle class from corporate excesses.

The populist rationale Trump has pitched to the public is that this pro-business, anti-environment/consumer approach will lead to high paying job creation in the rust belt and national economic growth. Those most affected by economic struggles are without a college education and robotics have replaced many of those jobs once held by human beings. Some blame unions, too, for holding back efficiencies. Trump has not provided any plan to fix those problems but instead has blamed bad trade policies.  Whether protectionism will result in high paying jobs with a workforce ill-equipped to fill them or reduce robotics is doubtful. If proof of Russian collusion does not lead to his defeat in 2020, his failure to provide promised economic growth and high paying job creation will. As counties who voted for Obama in the past then went for  Trump in 2016 showed,  populism is a fickle beast.

Another parallel with the practice of German fascism is Trump's reliance on militarism to promote US leadership in the world. The current world order he is de-constructing is one based on mutual defense treaties  (NATO) and multinational economic and trade arrangements. Instead, Trump's vision of leadership is relying on military muscle power as a threat to deter attacks and as a "might makes right" bully power over the rest of the world.  Where it does differ from Hitler's rise is that Hitler used military buildup in manufacturing as an argument to the public, promoting it as a way to pull Germany out of the depression.

Donald Trump had wanted to display military weapons and missile launchers in his inauguration parade, but the US military declined that opportunity. Red Square type parades are not far from his mind. Whatever the reason for militarism, if diplomacy and treaties are not tried first, we can imagine where a crisis might lead. For some in history promoting military conflict was a way to make the  "pledge to the leader" a patriotic duty. To increase an autocrat's power, the exaggeration of threats to national interests and persecution of ethnic groups are familiar modus operandi.even in our current memories, from Milosevic's Balkan Wars in the 1990s to Russia's stealth invasions of the Crimea, Georgia, and Ukraine. It is no wonder a recent poll showed the majority of Americans fear involvement in another major war.  The danger is that we are living in a nuclear age where miscalculations and political ambitions could lead to disasters far greater than the world wars of the 1900s


There is a very comprehensive discussion of this : https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/12/fascism-populism-presidential-election/510668/



http://www3.nd.edu/~salder/RB.pdf puts blame on the Rust Belt decline on unions
MIT looks at the impact of robotics and the need for greater worker education  https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602869/manufacturing-jobs-arent-coming-back/

Footnote:  while I usually do not use Wikipedia as a source, I did tap into their definition of fascism and its history.  It seemed comprehensive and well documented.  I did not rely on it alone, though, drawing on my undergraduate background in history and political science and first-hand encounter with the results of fascism in an academic year spent in post-war Berlin in 1957. It was a  grassroots attempt to find out how and why it happened there. My intellectual curiosity has not dimmed over the years.  I number among many life long friends and relatives by marriage the recounting of their personal experiences and memories of the rise of fascism and communism in their native countries.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A White House in chaos is right now a danger to our security

Originally posted 2/16/17; updated 2/21/17; published in www.skyhidailynews.com 2/21-22/17
A White House in chaos is a danger to our national security. This is a period when those who want to do us harm see a softness in our ability to respond with a unified voice and is at risk. They see no clear chain of command needed to respond effectively in case of a  national security crisis.  For our own sakes, let us hope that the Trump administration corrects the situation as quickly as possible.

It may be that the uncertainty caused by the inexperience and peculiarity of President's personality traits might give pause  to a wannabe attacker Any reaction, say to a 9/11 size event, might make an attack a gamble knowing  Trump is so impulsive. On the other hand, taking advantage of a situation when the chains of command, the boundaries of power, or its policies have not been clearly established, might be seen by an attacker as an  opportunity. The danger is that to understand us better, they will test us to see how we react such as parking a spy ship near our coast or firing off a missile test, which has already happened.

Donald Trump has denied disarray in the West Wing, asserting his administration was running like a "fine tuned machine".  Views that there was chaos came from  Leon Panetta, former Secretary of Defense  and past CIA Director and Senator John McCain.

With the firing of  General Michael Flynn, his controversial National Security adviser, Trump's first choice to fill the post, retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward,  bowed out for family reasons, though some close to him said Harward was also worried about access to the president and the ability to choose his own staff. He announced his new pick Monday, Lt. General H.R. McMaster, which is a step toward more order. With McMaster's appointment, I am feeling much better about our security and a tougher stance on Russia. The question is if he will get the same access to the President as did Flynn or if there will be friction.

Who possibly could stand in the way of a national security  adviser's  access to the President? The closest to President Trump  is Stephen Bannon, the former head of Breitbart Media , an ideologue of the farthest right with a stated goal to disrupt the Establishment.. He maneuvered  to be appointed the the National Security Council where such coordination of the flow of information from State Department, intelligence agencies, and the Pentagon takes place.

Even with a well coordinated and competent leadership of the West Wing, we have had a history with national security fumbles early in an administration. The George W. Bush administration was  staffed at higher levels with experienced men from the outset before 9/11, but were so focused in other matters, such as filling lower vacancies and legislation, they had not devoted enough attention to the warning signs noted by the FBI of some Saudi individuals taking pilot training, even in the face of  well known attempts  abroad by  terrorists to turn a commercial plane into a weapon. The new security team is headed for a rocky shake down cruise.

Confusing those abroad, friends and foe, have been mixed messages delivered by VP Mike Pence in his recent tours of Europe and NATO  and Nikki Haley, the new US ambassador to the UN regarding policies toward Russia . They seem to  contradict Trump's coziness with Russia , speaking with a harder line toward Russia.











Time magaznie, February 13, 2017

Also see my blog posting: Tensions between Vice President Pence and Michael Flynn pre-exist the "lie" flap 2/14/17

Footnote: This story was "officially leaked" by the Kremlin. Some believe they think Trump may not last full term. Whatever the motivation, the irony does not escape me. Often the comment about the chaos in the White House is that Trump was the dog that caught the bus they chased, the US Presidency, and now that he caught it, he does not know what to do with it. Perhaps the Kremlin is the dog that caught the bus, President Trump. Now that they did it, they are wondering what to do about him.

The attempt to get inside the U.S. president's mind is aimed at helping Vladimir Putin plan for their first meeting. Among the dossier's preliminary conclusions is that Trump…


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Blind eyes of Donald Trump and the GOP. The eye opening challenge: "prove it"

Originally posted 2/15/17/ Updated 2/22/17

President Trump, his supporters, and apologists are turning blind eyes to bad news that is in our faces and in plain sight.    The role Democrats and " the resistance" can play when they hear such delusions is to respond with "prove it" .   An administration that loses credibility is an administration that will likely fail in future elections.

Trump has continued to blast media as "dishonest", (most recently defined coincidentally when they criticize him) and "fake news' when it is negative about his administrations. He railed against the tone of reporters he called hate filled. He urged the public to view only Fox and Friends and some other ideologically right wing web casts instead of CNN and MSNBC  Hurling such  name calling   without proving how their reports are dishonest  eventually will become part of a credibility problem that will come back to haunt him. In the  meantime, he is  trying to damage the credibility and trust of all news sources.  https://www.yahoo.com/news/trump-the-leaks-are-absolutely-real-the-news-is-fake-195441027.html

If political strategy and policy are based on delusions, there is great possibility they will make strategic errors that will work against the GOP and Trump sooner or later. It will give their opposition media fodder and could lead to the the public losing trust in both the Trump administration and GOP Congressional members who are trying to bury the issues they prefer not to give exposure. It will also dominate the news cycles and tie Congress in knots. The diversion will stop the Trump legislative agenda in its tracks for months, from job creation, tax reform, health care, and much more. But far more harmful to the public interest and the security of the US will be shaping of domestic and foreign policy based on false premises. Garbage in, garbage out , and that garbage could  be toxic to the well being of its citizens and national security.

 Here is the bad news :the GOP and the Trump administration either denies or seek to divert attention from the public eyes:

The Russian connection:  The Flynn debacle and the highly likely connection the Trump campaign was coordinating with Russia to defeat Hillary Clinton is not only a problem of Russian meddling and hacking the 2016 elections, it is also the possibility it was to some extent coordinated with the Trump campaign.  The GOP and Trump instead of going full bore to find the truth are, trying to get public attention focused on "leaks" as the real criminal act instead of shedding light on the substance. That is a self-defeating strategy. The GOP dominated Congress has taken the route that would keep findings from the public eye by burying it in intelligence committees that mostly work in secret.  That is an outrage. The public needs to know, not just one secretive  committee in Congress and the way that can be accomplished is a Select Committee investigation, setting up an independent commission,  or the appointment of a special prosecutor.  The best proof: release the transcripts the FBI has of those conversations between the Trump operatives and Russian intelligence and officials. The text is going to be leaked sooner or later, anyway. Those in Congress who stonewall shedding public light on whether there was indeed collusion so harmful to our democracy deserve to be the target of the 'resistance".  The danger to national security is that foreign policy would be shaped  to enhance the power of Russia and would not to the national interests of both the US and its allies, especially our NATO allies, and  diminish US ability to shape policy in its national interests.

The delusion that the public demonstrations, in particular the women's march in revolt against Trump policies, were made up of paid flunkies, all 1.1 million, is so easily disproved,  it is truly laughable. I was one of those marchers; I know who organized this in my area and who communicated with me. I saw who stood next to me in that enormous crowd and who joined me at my encouragement.  The ultimate challenge to those who want to put blinders on their dedicated followers is to prove it.  In the meantime, 1.1 million paid minimum wage for 4 hours of their time and to be compensated for out of pocket transportation expenses (my bus ride to the event cost over $40) would be at minimum $23 million dollars. Where did that money come from? That  size of a money trail should be easy to uncover if it is true. Find it and prove it.

Donald Trump's more recent  attack of fooling himself is to claim all of those angry citizens turning up at GOP members of Congress' town halls are "fake".  They may be organized to turn out and paint signs, but there would not be such angry turnout if there were not a large body of voters who would be willing to do it...week after week. Think they are paid? Prove it.

The delusion is a making of Trump's own fantasy, that the nearly three million gap in favor of Clinton in the popular vote were illegal voters.  No one is challenging Trump's win  in the electoral college or his right to serve as President,  but it is a wound to Trump's  delicate ego and  it diminishes his claim to have a  popular mandate for  his policies . The challenge to Trump: prove it. An independent panel in Congress should conduct an investigation.  Of course, they won't, because only Trump  and his most dedicate followers believe it and he has already been sworn in.

 The consequence is that his supporters who believe it too will make bad political calculations  in their overconfidence and  result in such overreaches in policy that such action will create a reaction that will swing the pendulum to the left in future elections. The danger is that policies on health care access and quality of benefits will be so shrunk, that many will be left in far worse condition than they now have with Obamacare, losing insurance and important benefits. Expect  a reaction  from Congress and the public to any replacement, finding the deficit or their out of pocket expenses will soar, as will the number of bankruptcies and poorer health of many. That pain would be felt immediately and the backlash will be equally quick.

Taking longer to feel the pain are removing  consumer protections from financial services practices provided in Dodd-Frank and weakening environmental regulations. Voter suppression moves will be felt in future elections.  Turning back Dodd-Frank  will lead to more fraud, anti consumer policies that will cost their pocket books, and  dangers of repeating the 2008 crash.  More bad air and polluted water will be what citizens will suffer , but not realize it for a while since those impacts are more accumulative and anecdotcal. Worse, the unproved delusions will be used as a political motivation by legislatures to restrict voters' rights and suppress the votes of the most vulnerable, the minorities, and seniors. That is great for the GOP, bad for democracy and citizen participation.

More delusions: 2017 polls are here as well...and except for one poll, the rest reveal Donald Trump is living in an alternate world. In his rambling press conference of 2/16 he cited the Rasmussen poll as proof he was doing well and popular...claiming 55% approval.  

2016 Latest Polls


Footnote on fake news: I have spent some long noon hours lately listening to Denver  Radio Station KOA's line up of right leaning talk shows.  If attitude toward the "other side" is a hateful tone Trump defines as "fake news" , then what I heard  is "fake news" to me. During the campaign I  tuned into FOX, and theirs meet Trump's fake news definition in tone, emphasis to my ears.   In fact, if someone in the household switched to FOX, I could recognize a certain tone in the next room and recognize it as FOX without listening to the content, but  just on the basis of a unique plaintive, accusatory tone.  That is a hallmark of our fragmented media, especially cable, that caters to a divided audience and contributes to making a divided nation even more deeply divided as listeners/viewers accept the slanted report as factual and accurate news.   The problem is searching out straight news and I have some postings and statements regarding that.

While I write opinions, and I do not consider my columns  news, but my take on it.  I also footnote my sources upon what my opinion was based in each blog. Blogs are the wild west of opinion writing.  Facebook and twitter postings are likewise more opinion than fact.I  do not pretend to be a straight reporter; I give my opinions. That is why what I write is labeled as  "opinion", separate from the news reports in the other print pages.  In talk shows, opinion and facts get merged into something bordering on entertainment  bent on seeking ratings. I know that. I was one of Denver's first radio talk show hosts in the very early '80's and when the tone of the genre got nasty and hateful and got the big ratings, I  bowed out of that media form forever which required a tone and slant that was just not me.

What also listeners and viewers and readers also must realize, since Watergate  investigative reporting , once called muckraking in the early 1900's , is in vogue again.  Some of the reasons investigative reporting gets front page, serious news designation, is that it drives readership and it can have a real impact in uncovering facts and take the role of  whistle blowing. It is a valuable part of current journalism, but it takes critical thinking to sort out its credibility and its importance. Critical thinking depends on getting information and opinions and news  from many, sources not just from the media that synchs with our own opinions, guts, and knee jerks.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tensions between Vice President Pence and Michael Flynn pre-exist the "lie" flap

General Michael Flynn's departure from the White House may have much deeper roots than just his lie to both Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence about conversations with the Russian ambassador.  The conflict between the two goes back to the days of the campaign post GOP conventions.  I noted that in a column at that time. In the Vice Presidential debate, Pence parted ways on Russia from  candidate Donald Trump's line.
From my blog posting 10/5/16:
"One event in the Vice Presidential debate, October 4, was the position of GOP candidate Mike Pence regarding Russia.  The comments on Russia got lost in Pence's  absolute denial that Donal Trump ever said Russian President Vladimir Putin was a better leader than Pres. Obana. The quibble could be whether the correct term was "stronger". In any case, there is plenty of video available on Trump's comments which makes Pence look like a liar, albeit a smooth one delivered with conviction.

 What should also be the story is that Pence took a hard line on Russia saying we should stand up to them..  This deserves some closer scrutiny and looks like there is a division on foreign policy between the two running mates.  Take a look at the debate as can be accessed via You Tube regarding Pence's views of Russia incursions into the Crimea, Ukraine and Georgia...a great contrast from Trump's prior statements.
What does count in 2016 ,however, is Trump's position, though Pence might use his own quotes in his own future campaigns.

It stands in sharp contrast with the GOP presidential candidate himself, Donald Trump, who has been advocating a foreign policy that strangely runs parallel to the same as Russia's, from declaring NATO obsolete, not objecting to the Russian threats and incursions into Eastern Ukraine, and recognizing Russia's grab of the Crimea.  In fact, the mutual comments between Trump and Putin have been so complimentary that it has been timed a "bromance" of mutual admiration.

Not only is this a major issue in foreign policy, but in calls into question whether Trump can even negotiate with Putin in America's and our alliies' security interests without giving away the store to Russia.  Negotiation means give and take and the question remains what Trump would give away to make a deal. "




Some background:
 For some time, the question has been why has Donald Trump been so cozy with Russia? There has been a great deal of speculation ranging from Trump's debts to Russia oligarchs to blackmail , the connection with  the Russian Alfa Bank, with embarrassing pictures (a victim of a honey trap).  Fingers have been pointed to influencing Trump's views of Russia was his campaign manager, who departed the campaign mid year, Paul Manafort, who was an advisor to the ousted  president of the Ukraine who sought refuge in Moscow after a coup.  Congressional investigations into Russian influence and hacking  in the US elections are just getting underway.  Ukraine is involved. The Russians have conducted a stealth takeover of the eastern parts of that country and the West punished Russia with economic sanctions.  The Flynn issue involves lies about his pre- January conversations with the Russian ambassador over lifting those sanctions. The question arises was this a thank you for the role Russia played in helping Trump win by planting false news stories and by hacking and revealing damaging information regarding Hillary Clinton.

That there are many concerned about why Donald Trump only ever has kind words for Russia and their president Vladimir Putin, while being critical of even our closest allies and even calling NATO, our mutual defense treaty with Europe, obsolete.  It has set our Eastern Europe members of NATO on edge and one of President Obama's departing actions was to announce the placement of US troops in Poland as a signal to Russia not to mess with our Baltic members.  Trump and others, including libertarians, had already expressed concern about going to war to support the small trio of Baltic nations in spite of their NATO membership. Russians have always seen the Baltics, with their ports to the sea, as part of theirs since there is a large number of Russians living in those areas left over from the old Soviet  military occupations days when the Baltics were their satellites.  Russia has a modus operandi of using "saving discrimination against Russian minorities" as an excuse to grab territory and the Baltics are ripe targets.  Their membership in NATO has made Russia think twice. Ukraine, Crimea, and Georgia, recent targets of Russian grabs, are not part of NATO and are not under NATO's protections.  Flynn was Donald Trump's closest campaign advisor on foreign affairs thorught the campaign.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of our democracy

Original revised and re- posted on 2/13/17; in print, Sky Hi News as Democracy in the Age of Autocracy 2/15/17

A jaw dropper: Said Stephen Miller on Sunday talk shows regarding the Muslim country ban and the judicial review of it:
“As we begin to take further actions,...that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”
The part of that statement that is objectionable is not that the executive branch has strong powers to protect the country from threats from terrorism; it does.. It is the phrase we: "will not be questioned" which indicates that due process, anti discrimination clauses, freedom of the press, separation of powers, and rule of law have no constraints provided by the Constitution in matters of national security. What this does is lay ground work and precedence for application to "further actions" of other executive powers.
Who is Stephen Miller? A chief policy advisor to President. Trump and a former aide to our new US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. If this is the view of the Trump administration of separation  of powers and the rule of law and an independent judiciary, we are looking at many, many more court challenges and Constitutional crises before the Trump administration is able to stack the federal judiciary with his appointees and controls all three branches of government.
Are we looking at the end of our beloved form of democracy that has kept us from being ruled by an autocrat  for 250 years?  The only powers standing between that happening, given the attitude being expressed by the administration,  lie in the hands of the other two branches, judicial and legislative, jealously guarding their own Constitutionally granted powers. If Miller represents the views of President Trump and the advisers to which he listens, that is an issue of greater importance than any facing us at this time. .
That burden of protecting our democracy falls the heaviest on the GOP members of the Senate  in screening judicial appointments to assure the independence of that branch.
We should revisit our school days civics classes and remember the beauty of our Constitution founded by those who had had their fill of being governed by an autocratic king.  The fear and abhorrence of autocracy was not just specific to our revolution in the 1776.. It is applicable to all wannabe autocrats who have plagued mankind since the beginning of civilization. Even in the memory of those of us living is the  natural tendency by strong men for power grabs initially using the nominal authority of constitutional democracies .It has happened  from Germany to Italy in the last century  to  Turkey and  Russia in the current era.
We have fought wars to protect our freedoms, but the danger comes now  from within our country,  Many are even willing to excuse Trump's admiration of autocrats and dictators so consumed they are by their desire for change, any change, from the past.
The fear is that Donald Trump seems to be  unschooled in public governance, depending on those he trusts  to guide his hands to make good on his campaign promises.  He is fueled by the glow of his rallies and the adoration of his followers. .  Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of our democracy before this all gets out of hand.

Via Reuters reposted by the Washington post:



Saturday, February 11, 2017

Where were those Save Obamacare activists last year? Asleep ? Fooled?

Originally posted 2/11/17: updated 2/22/17 and 2/25/17  Sky Hi News 3/1/17 print edition (in part)

Crowd chanting and party platforms cheered on  GOP candidates  to  support repeal of  Obamacare. in 2016. Now that the GOP controls both the White House and Congress, they are finding themselves on the receiving end of a consumer revolt.  Twenty million  are suddenly  realizing they may lose high quality  health insurance they can afford for the first time in years. The chants of audiences at the  rowdy town halls are instead " don't take away my insurance ".

Donald Trump calls the town hall attendees a small, noisy minority  of paid  activists. The GOP and he are fooling themselves.  Take a look at the polls. Those angry attendees represent the majority opinion. Obamacare  for the first time is polling more popular than not.

Where were these defenders  of Obamacare last November? They were lulled and fooled. They awoke in January/February. thanks to the marches and rowdy town halls. They had been  soothed by promises of some in the GOP, and especially  Donald Trump, that the health care law would be replaced with something “better”.  Others were dreaming for single payer systems.   Ignorance also shaped public opinion.   35% of Americans  polled did not know Obamacare and the ACA were one in the same and are just learning their newly acquired insurance they may lose was indeed Obamacare.
Many of GOP plans in formation now would  eliminate subsidies that make the plans affordable for those in the lower middle class, and  even eliminate medicaid expansion , taking away insurance from those who cannot afford to pay even minimum premiums.

What polls do show is that "mandates" are what most voters want repealed. "Mandate " is a  turn -off  term.  For most that means to eliminate requirements all must carry heatlh insurance or face a penalty.   But "benefit" is a nicer word and the GOP wants to call "benefits" mandates, too.   Those nasty mandates are  benefits are required by  the ACA to be included in all insurance plans, whether individually bought, employer provided, subsidized through the exchanges,and  Medicare, Medicaid. They include: low co-pay annual physicals , and cancer screenings for both sexes such as mammograms and colonoscopies, pink and prescription blue pills, banning life time limits, and providing pre-natal care. The GOP wants to make these benefits optional in the name of being "patient centered".

Unfortunately those "mandates/benefits" are what makes the ACA affordable because it keeps the "pool" large enough so that those who do not use or need all of  benefits now or in the future  pay for those who do. The larger the pool, the lower the cost for all, an actuarial  fact.

The GOP has challenges replacing the ACA.  They will have to show that the costs to the federal budget will be less than is the ACA.  Cutting benefits and to take away insurance from many who have it now will be an unpopular political option.  The hottest  political backfire will happen in the states Trump carried in 2016. 64% of the 2017 ACA subscribers are in those states. GOP governors are protesting repeal, too, since abandoning Medicaid expansion would seriously dent their budgets. Rural hospitals would lose paying customers and close their doors. Miners would lose black lung coverage.  Jobs would be lost in the health care sector. The GOP has grabbed a political tiger by its tail.

Some more thoughts:

The complaint about Obamacare  most received in my inbox is that  the premiums are too high for those who make too much income to qualify for subsidies. That can be fixed without throwing all of the ACA babies out with the bathwater. IThe most unpopular part about the ACA, per the polls, is the mandate that requires adults to have health insurance, but unfortunately that is element that keeps the cost and premiums low.

Not on the radar of the polls either are complaints that the ACA contains benefits  some customers would never use, such as pre natal care or prostate exams. While the GOP dangles the lure of letting consumer cherry pick  if  any and what kind of benefits they want to pay for  (they call that "patient centered choice") instead of the Obamacare required minimum eight benefits , they overlook the fundamental truth of insurance financing : the size of the pool and the mix of the  number of those they forecast who would make claims vs those who do not.   

That is going to be where the GOP's plans are going to run smackdab into reality.  When the Congressional Budget Office scores the costs of whatever GOP plans that have been rumored so far, the deficit hawks are going to get their scissors out and the temptation would be to cut the numbers of voters who would be able to get affordable insurance. that will contain benefits consumers want

To deal with the cost problem, the GOP's panacea are permitting  cross state purchases, which the CBO itself earlier said it would have minimal impact. High risk insurance pools have been less than successful  in covering pre-existing conditions because of costs. Systemic problems keep multi state risk pools from succeeding.

Not only would taking away insurance from voters have a politiacl backlash, there could be some unintended consequences. It would result in job loss and rural hospital closings.  A significant number of jobs added to the economy since 2009 have been in the healthcare sector. Over 20 million new paying customers have entered hospitals and doctors doors thanks to the ACA. Hospitals and doctors can count on getting paid instead of writing it off as charity or losing payments for services in bankruptcy court.

To deal with the cost problem, the GOP's panacea are permitting  cross state purchases, which the CBO itself earlier said it would have minimal impact. High risk insurance pools have been less than successful  in covering pre-existing conditions because of costs. Systemic problems keep multi state risk pools from succeeding.

That Obamacare will implode because insurance rates have gone up and it is a "disaster", the Trump and GOP mantra, is very misleading and those 12 million plus who signed up for it in the exchanges do not see it as a disaster, but a necessity . They just would like to see premiums cheaper and deductions or out of pocket expenses less.
That GOP claim is based on the knowledge that major insurance companies have not made as much of a profit as they hoped and left only one plan in some states's exchanges and that premiums have increased 600%. or doubled. (not in every state). Those getting subsidized or Medicaid insurance have seen increases in premiums and up front deductions. It has especially increased in the individual market but the facts are that the "cost curve" has been reduced...that is, premiums have not gone up as much as projected without Obamacare.Repeal Obamacare, and we would really see premiums soar. The real disaster will be dumped on those who lose insurance they have just now been able to afford. The other disaster: block grants on Medicaid to states which are really federal aid reduced and leaving the states holding the bag. That is not "better"by any definition.

Addendum: Feb. 27, 2017:
Ali Velshi  on CNN interviews person from Columbia U. Half of the 20K covered by Obamacare get Medicaid Expansion (11 mil).. 31 states did Medicaid expansion; half have GOP governors. A total of 75million are now on Medicaid.   Right now states and federal government split costs and GOP proposals floated would give the states a block grant, but no guarantee in future would be enough or would the block grants be the same. 
Currently subsidies for those on Exchanges based upon sliding scale of income. GOP proposals would change that to one based on age and young people would get $2K credit (enough for catastrophic, but not much more) and older people would get $4K credit. However, cost of older people 5x younger so not enough for the older, sicker. 

For more about how GOP "patient centered" proposals would discriminate against women's health,
see my blog posting below of 2/3/17 "GOP and Trump planning to discriminate against women's health access"













Related blog postings: