Disturbing

The last few days have been deeply troubling.  I fear that I will be saying that over and over and over for the next three and a half years.  Every time it seems that our president cannot do anything more outrageous, he does it.  There is no low bar.  Every time I think he’s gone about as far as he can go, he goes further.  Yesterday takes the cake.  So far.  I can never say he won’t go lower.

I do not need to go into detail about President Trump’s impromptu press conference from the gilded lobby of Trump Tower.  You have undoubtedly heard all about it already.  And if you haven’t, all you need to know about his support of Nazis and Klansmen, not to mention how he butchered our history by putting Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on an equal basis with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, is the following Tweet at 4:45PM, immediately following the president’s remarks yesterday, from former KKK leader David Duke:

Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.

So now what?  Well, lots of politicians and business executives separated themselves from President Trump’s moral equivalency of putting the KKK, Nazis, Anti-Semites and other white supremacy groups on the same level as those that oppose them.  Unfortunately most did not separate themselves from the president himself — just his remarks.  Look carefully and you will see that very few actually condemned the president.  A real failure of moral courage.

As Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer said in a speech to the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”  For two years we have listened to Mr. Trump disparage group after group after group, from women to Mexican Americans.  The events of the last few days are just one more data point in a long list of unacceptable statements and actions of the same vein. He is the same guy, we shouldn’t be surprised.  So, when is he going to be held accountable by an equal branch of government — the Congress? When are Cabinet members and White House Staffers going to leave?  Any ideas that Mr. Trump will change are pure fantasy.  In a piece published this afternoon, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote out five concrete steps that Republicans must take to regain the moral high ground, restore the good name of the Republican Party and put Mr. Trump in a box to limit any future damage to our country.  It is worth a look.

Unfortunately, it is extremely unlikely that the Republican leaders in Congress will do anything substantive to rein in Mr. Trump.  They are focused on achieving their “agenda” which apparently does not include taking action to counter the rise of the vilest elements of our society.  Thus the rats know that they can come out into the light now because no one is trying to push them back into their holes.

Looking at this from another angle, I am deeply disturbed not only by the president’s defense of racists bent on destruction (“both sides” did not commit a terrorist act, which I am not afraid to say even though Mr. Trump said it was “legal semantics”).  I am ever more disturbed by his actions, of which yesterday’s impromptu press conference was just one more in a long line of troubling actions by the president.

This is what I mean.  Yesterday’s press event was supposed to be an announcement concerning infrastructure plans.  The president was to sign an Executive Order and turn the event over to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao (spouse of Senator Mitch McConnell by the way) and depart — no questions from the press.  It was planned.  The Chief of Staff John Kelly, the Secretary and other cabinet level individuals were in place, briefed and all knew the plan.  The president knew the plan and said he would stick to the “script.”  He lied to all of them.  The evidence?  He had a copy of his speech from Saturday in his pocket which he pulled out.  It wasn’t left over from Saturday — he purposefully pulled it from his pocket to start his tirade about the events in Charlottesville.  He knew before he came down that would happen but did not bother to tell any of the other participants.  One look at the photos and videos of the Chief of Staff show his dismay and dare I say horror at what was happening.

And that is my point.

Mr. Trump just had to prove — had to — that no one can control him and that he can do whatever the heck he wants to do.  Period.  He gave an inappropriate speech on Saturday following the disturbing events in Charlottesville.  He doubled down through a nameless staffer on Sunday.  On Monday cooler heads got to him and he read a prepared speech, without any emotion or sense that he believed what he was saying, but he did it and it helped.  And then, and then, he could not control himself and the real Donald J. Trump came through.  A petulant, whiny individual who always, always, always has to have the last word.  He will not be controlled, he cannot be controlled.

You need further evidence?  Look at his remarks on North Korea and Venezuela.  Yes, Venezuela.  He threatened military action against Venezuela because he could.  And thereby undermined ongoing diplomatic efforts with our Latin American neighbors trying to bring pressure on that regime.  And undermined Vice President Mike Pence who was on a diplomatic mission in Latin America.

He does things just to show that he can.  Because he wants to.  It is always, always, always only about him. That is even more frightening than what appears to be in his heart.  Whether or not Donald J. Trump is a racist is something I can never know.  But his words and actions indicate that if he is not, he is at least clueless about the mission and intent of the white supremacists who see him as “their man” and see him as helping their cause.

Where are our moral leaders at the national level?  Thank goodness many mayors and governors around the country and of both political parties stood up and took action.  Shoot, even the members of the service leaders on the Joint Chiefs of Staff put out statements today condemning the events in Charlottesville and the racist nature of those acts.  They were clear and unambiguous.  They did not mention Mr. Trump directly, but it is very clear when you read them that they are reacting to the president’s remarks from yesterday.

When will Congress find its moral footing?


It Just Will Not Stop

Just when one thinks that just about everything that could happen under the Trump Administration has already occurred — it can’t possibly get any crazier, but it does.  Last week was chock full of newsworthy items, any one of which would have been worthy of discussion but they just kept coming and coming. Over the last week or so, we’ve seen proof that President Trump still does not understand the dignity and impact of the presidency.

To quickly cover a few of the highlights before getting to the main event — health care bills — let’s do a tour d’ horizon.  Two venerable institutions, the Boy Scouts of America and Police Departments across the country, had to issue apologies and “clarifications” following President Trump’s speeches to the annual Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia and to a Long Island New York police department.

In the former he gave a political speech that was short on inspiration to America’s youth and long on past grievances, politics, and a reminder of how personally great everything Trump is and will be. Some parents threatened to pull their kids from the Scouts.  President Trump supporters opined that the “kids loved it” forgetting that they are boys and teens and that when you get 40,000 kids together in one place, especially mostly boys, they will laugh and cheer at just about anything, especially if flatulence is involved. On Long Island the president seemed to say that police brutality when arresting suspects was okay.  As usual, whenever called out on similar pronouncements, it was proposed that it was a “joke.” Police departments around the country could only cringe and issue statements that such statements were no joking matter and that their (fill in the city) police department does not condone such action.

Within days of President Trump announcing the new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, aka “The Mooch”, aka “Mini-me” Mr. Scaramucci went on a rant to a New Yorker Magazine reporter that disparaged key senior members of the White House staff and included numerous references, in full graphic detail, to acts of biology that to my knowledge are impossible.  No comment from the president at the time.  Others in the Administration opined that he’s just a “New Yorker” and apparently that’s how New Yorkers talk about co-workers.  Having lived for a number of years in New York state I don’t recall anyone talking that way and certainly not in the name of the President of the United States.

In Tweets (Tweets!) the president continues to disparage his own Attorney General and his first and for a very long time, only official supporter for president.  According to some accounts this is a prelude to cleaning out the senior levels of the Department of Justice including the Attorney General, his deputy, the Acting FBI Director, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  No problem there.  In another Tweet the president arbitrarily told all active duty transgender military personnel that their services were no longer required “in any capacity” because they are a burden and “disruptive.”  Suddenly somewhere around 7,000 soldiers, Marines, Sailors and airmen are in limbo and told that somehow their patriotism and willingness to defend the nation does not count.

In yet another Tweet, the president fired his chief of staff Reince Priebus.  The Tweet announced that retired Marine general and serving Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly would be the new chief.

Whew!  A full week.

On the upside for those of us rooting for a successful and appropriate presidency there were several positive developments.  As I write this, reports are that Anthony Scaramucci was removed from his job of ten days as the Communications Director.  I have no inside information but I suspect that the new chief of staff had something to do with that as Mr. Scaramucci bragged last week that he only reported directly to the president and did not have to answer to anyone else on the staff.  My knowledge of General Kelly, although limited, would indicate that he would absolutely not tolerate antics such as those of Mr. Scaramucci.  Perhaps the General can bring order to the White House staff.  We’ll see, but a good first step.

Also positive, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford, USMC let it be known that the military does not act on Tweets or any other form of informal communications when a policy decision is to be made, even a Tweet by the president concerning transgender policy.  Hurrah. It remains to be seen what actual policy evolves, but it is good to know that spontaneous utterances by the president will not precipitate military action.

Further good news came out of the Congress that overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill strengthening sanctions primarily against Russia, but with some additional provisions against Iran and North Korea. The Congress felt it necessary after listening to, and observing the actions of, President Trump with regards to Russian President Putin and our president’s apparent fascination with him.  The White House staff had worked hard behind the scenes to stop the passage of the bill but both houses of the Congress got up on their hind legs and said “no” to the president on this issue. A positive sign that they may increasingly exercise their role in governing as an equal branch of the government.

Many Republican Senators and Representatives also went on the record along with their Democrat colleagues to oppose President Trump’s Tweet policy on transgender individuals in the military and the treatment of Attorney General Sessions.  Clear signs that the president will not get blanket support from them.  As an aside, the president now taunts Republicans as well as Democrats via Twitter seeming to make it clear that he does not consider himself a Republican.  But to most of us, that is no surprise.

And of course let’s not forget that North Korea tested new Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) that experts think can reach targets on the U.S. mainland as far as Chicago.

Arguably the biggest news of the week was the failure to repeal or repeal and replace or otherwise get rid of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) lovingly known as Obamacare.  Most of us followed the news and at least heard of the ins and outs of the entire suspense filled week of “will they or won’t they?”  They did not.  One could ask why after seven years of clamoring for (and voting over 50 times for) the repeal of Obamacare the Republicans were not ready to put forward their own coherent health plan. One could also ask why the only argument put forward by most Republicans, and especially by the president, had nothing to do with the merits of the proposed replacement plan(s) but rather the only argument was that Obamacare was “bad” — nothing about why the new plan would be better.  SAD!

But be careful.

I do not think the health care battle is finished, only in a strategic pause.  There will be further efforts to repeal or repeal and replace.  For supporters of Obamacare, or supporters of a bipartisan effort to repair Obamacare and to make it better, do not relax.  The fat lady has yet to sing.

Over the weekend President Trump tweeted out (how else?) that Obamacare was going to implode and implicitly that he would make it happen.  On Sunday the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Mick Mulvaney went on television to be explicit about the president’s threats/promises. As I have written in this space before, the president can do grave harm to the current Obamacare system, primarily through non-enforcement of the mandate and by withholding funds to subsidize premiums. He also made news by threatening the Congress and Congressional staffers with actions to increase their premiums.  I am no expert in this area, but this is what I understand is the issue.

Is it possible for the president to make Obamacare “implode” as he promises?  As with most things, the answer is “it depends” on what part of Obamacare one refers to during the discussion.  Since Obamacare remains the law of the land, the president cannot make it go away at once.  He can, however, create enough chaos in the system that it can degrade over time.  Remember that most Americans get their health insurance through their employers or through the government (military, VA, military retirees, Medicare, etc.).  For middle to low-income working adults and for children that do not have employer or government health insurance they mostly get their insurance through Medicaid or in a market place created by the ACA.  Although a major factor in the latest debates, Medicaid is provided by law and cannot be legally changed without a change to the law. What is really under discussion are the ACA market places.  Since the ACA was fully implemented, about 10 million Americans get their coverage via the government market place.  These are the people you most hear about on the news and in political rallies, be it how bad the system is or how wonderful the system is.

The administration has a number of ways to degrade the ACA.  In a slow motion effort, they could stop advertising and marketing the exchanges so that people either don’t know that the markets still exist (a lot of Americans are unsure as to what is available after all the latest hubbub) or miss deadlines to sign up because there was no public advertising as to how or when to get on board.  Additionally, if the administration follows through by not enforcing the mandate (either get insurance or pay a fine) healthy people will get out of the market which causes costs to rise for the insurers which is then passed on to those still in the market — their premiums rise — or the insurer gets out of the market because it isn’t profitable for them if they have to eat the added costs.  (Remember the three legs from my 23 June post. To work, if we want to cover pre-existing conditions, the system needs a mandate to keep the pool costs low by balancing healthy folks with those that we already know have problems, but then to be fair, we subsidize those that have to have insurance but cannot afford it.  Get anything out of whack, and the system starts to wobble — the promised “death spiral.”)

President Trump is threatening/promising to speed up the process by withholding cost sharing payments. As I write, they are only released through the end of July — today. (The next deadline is in late August.)  The ACA requires insurance companies to hold down the deductibles, co-pays and premiums for those in the individual market place. However, the insurance companies are not charitable organizations and they are in business to make money.  To make up the loss of revenue to those companies every month the government makes up the difference on the costs — currently about $600 million a month.  Should the Trump administration stop paying those subsidies, premiums for those on the market place would sky-rocket or the insurers would just pull out of the market.  This is a lot of what you hear about when those that oppose the ACA say it is “collapsing.”  Health care and health insurance is not “collapsing” for most Americans, but it could for those middle to low-income Americans that are on the individual markets should the president follow through and try to cause the ACA to “implode”.

He claims the Democrats will “own it” and he will take no blame.  I think he is fooling himself if he takes deliberate action to make it tough on the citizens he swore to protect.

There is one more esoteric wrinkle in the president’s threats that you may hear more about this week. Mr. Mulvaney explained the issue and says that the president is serious about implementing it.  This involves the health insurance for members of Congress and their staffs.  Despite rumors to the contrary, by law the entire Congress and their staffs are on the ACA — they get their insurance from Obamacare. But with a wrinkle.  President Obama’s administration put out a policy that allowed them to treat each individual office of each Senator and Representative each as a small business.  This means that they are eligible for the subsidies just talked about above, saving them lots of money out of their own pockets. Before setting our hair on fire, take a minute to think about it.  Certainly the individual Senators and Representatives could afford to pay full price in an employer plan, but most staffers, interns, administrative personnel, etc. working in their offices are young folks not making much money.  It would have a huge impact on them should President Trump change the policy to exclude them from the subsidy program.

Today is the start of a new week.  Let’s hope it is a dull one.  We need to take a collective deep breath and take a few minutes to enjoy the summer.  And summers in official Washington D.C. are supposed to be dull.  Nothing going on.  If so, hold on to your hats come September.


That Was The Week That Was

Some of us of a certain age can remember the 60’s political satire show “That Was The Week That Was”, or TWTWTW, or simply TW3.  The show launched the American career of the British television host David Frost who went on to do many serious interviews including the definitive series of interviews with former president Richard Nixon.  But in the beginning, think of TW3 as an early, ensemble cast version of the “Daily Show.”  I can only imagine what fun they would have had with this week’s news out of Washington D.C.  Actually, it is hard to keep up with the news from the last 72 hours, but I will try to hit some of the highlights.

First, on the Russian front.  No, not that news, but rather the news that President Trump decided to withdraw the U.S. from a CIA program to provide training and equipment to Anti-Assad forces in Syria. One could argue whether that secret program — different from the American involvement in Syria fighting ISIS — was effective or not, but it was relatively low-cost and showed U.S. support for freedom fighters in Syria.  By pulling the rug out from under them, it seriously undermines confidence in U.S. commitments in the Middle East. Oh, by the way, the Russians’ number one request from the U.S. was to withdraw support from those forces.  They have been demanding it for years.  And now the U.S. has given in to the demand in exchange for, for, well apparently for nothing.  A significant bargaining chip for the U.S. in its relations with Russia (and a symbol of our desire for Bashar al-Assad to go away) is now off the table.  Not sure how or why because the Trump administration doesn’t want to talk about it.

In an extraordinary (in every sense of the word) interview with the New York Times President Trump talked about everything from the healthcare bill, to the French Bastille Day celebration, to Napoleon, to Hitler to NATO and many more topics (you can’t make this stuff up).  In total, a bit disconcerting when it is all put together.  Reading the transcript is actually frightening as it shows that the president thinks that the entire federal government is his personal staff — that they owe allegiance to him first, foremost and only, rather than to the American people and the Constitution.  It cements in my mind that he has no real understanding of what it actually means to be president of the entire United States. It is particularly disconcerting when he speaks about the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the senior leaders in both.  By name and with apparent malice of forethought he disparaged Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller.  For one example, how would you interpret what he said about Attorney General Sessions?

TRUMP: Well, Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.

HABERMAN {NY Times}: He gave you no heads up at all, in any sense?

TRUMP: Zero. So Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have — which, frankly, I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, “Thanks, Jeff, but I can’t, you know, I’m not going to take you.” It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president. So he recuses himself. I then end up with a second man, who’s a deputy.

To me two things jump out.  First, in the best case scenario, the president does not understand the role of the DOJ and that those attorneys do not work for him as Mr. Trump.  They work for the American people and need to have a loyalty to the Constitution rather than to an individual in the White House. Mr. Trump always insisted on loyalty from employees and so it appears President Trump insists on loyalty to him from his “employees.”  A second more sinister interpretation would be that President Trump would not have nominated Mr. Sessions if he knew that the Attorney General was not going to keep any investigation into the Russian interference in the election and possible Trump campaign involvement in it from gaining any traction.  Apparently, he expected the Attorney General to keep things under control and away from the president and his family.  Otherwise, why appoint him?  Read it for yourself, but if you look closely, you will see that he is castigating Mr. Sessions for doing the right and honorable thing.  There are now reports from multiple sources revealing that President Trump is reviewing his options on pardoning friends, family, and himself.  Very Nixonian.  Take a look at these three quotes and guess which are which from President Trump and President Nixon.

“When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”

“When you’re a star, they let you do it.  You can do anything.”

“The law’s totally on my side.  The president can’t have a conflict of interest.”

The first one is from President Nixon, the other two from President Trump.

The biggest issue of the last few days is healthcare.  What the House and the Senate decide, or don’t, in the coming days and weeks will have an impact on millions of people and on billions of dollars in our economy.  It should not be something that is just pushed through for the sake of “getting something done” alone.  I agree that the Congress should get something done — so far not much of substance has gained escape velocity from Capital Hill — but something this big should be carefully considered. Kudos to Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and other Republican Senators that examined the proposed bill and found it woefully wanting.

Claims that Trumpcare is dead are, however, exceedingly premature.  Likewise reports of the death of Obamacare are premature.  But the president can murder Obamacare if he wants to, and there is some indication that he wants to do so.  By withholding subsidies for insurance premiums, which he says he may do, and by not enforcing the mandate, which is already the case, the president can make portions of Obamacare collapse — not the whole thing, but parts.  Claims that he “doesn’t own it” will not hold.  If he actively undermines the law, people that lose it will notice.  Bad policy.  Hopefully some of his advisers and others in Congress will convince him not to take that path.

The Senate will vote on something next week, but even the Senators themselves do not know what that will be.  Not good news. Currently there are at least two basic versions of “repeal and replace” legislation, with the possibility that those two bills will change before voting occurs, and one version of “repeal and replace later” with the possibility that one will also change.  It is surprising and disconcerting that a vote will be held early next week, with wide-ranging consequences on real people’s lives, not just in theory, and no one yet knows what will be up for a vote.

Dare I hope?

Here is what I hope for.  There are definite signs that moderate Republicans and Democrats are making the early moves to work for a bipartisan bill to “repair” the flaws in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare.  Flaws do exist.  But there is no reason to get rid of the entire program — assuming one believes that health care should be affordable and available to all as I wrote about in my 23 June post. To be realistic, no Democrat will budge until the word “repeal” gets buried.  They also won’t support anything called Trumpcare.  Conservative Republicans such as Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky) won’t support anything that does not completely repeal the ACA “root and limb.”  But I hope that enough good folks, willing to put country above party, still exist in the Senate in both parties and that cooler heads will prevail.  If that happens, it could be the beginning of a wonderful relationship.  Getting something as tough as health care tackled on a bi-partisan basis would go a long way in having Republicans and Democrats getting back together to tackle other long-standing problems.  What a concept. I am always told how naive I am, but I hope that we have a break through on this issue and that it leads to accomplishments in many more areas.

Finally, and I leave it here despite many more developments of the last 72 hours, speaking of putting country above party I have always had the deepest respect for Senator John McCain (R-Ariz).  That doesn’t mean I always agreed with him but I always thought he was trying to do what he thought best for the nation and its people.  As you know, he is battling a particularly nasty form of brain cancer. I hope that he is back on his feet and back to the Senate before too long.  There are not many like him left in today’s Senate chamber.


Whither Healthcare?

“Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”  — President Donald Trump 27 February 2017

And you know what?  He is correct.

As the Senate debates and votes on Trumpcare to repeal and replace Obamacare over the coming days, much will be written and talked about regarding its impact and efficacy.  Some will think it is great and others will think it a travesty.  It all depends on what the goal for the program might be and how one thinks that goal should be attained.  Is Trumpcare, or the American Health Care Act (AHCA) (as it is called in the House of Representatives while the Senate Bill is called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017) designed to help Americans and keep them healthy or is it an attempt to do the bare minimum while saving the government, and ultimately tax payers, money?  One’s view of Trumpcare also depends on whether or not Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is working for you.

Put more succinctly, is healthcare in the greatest country on earth a right or a privilege?  Should it be open to a free market — those that can afford to pay do, those that can’t need to earn more money — or something that every citizen deserves?  If you happen to think that healthcare is a privilege, you get what you pay for, then you may as well stop reading here because you basically think that the government should have nothing to do with healthcare.  If you think that access to healthcare should be a right, then read on. Be forewarned however, that this is, as the president says, complex. Politicians of every stripe also parse and obfuscate elements of healthcare to their own advantage. It can be difficult to determine where the truth lies — especially since many times two people can both be technically correct while interpreting the meaning in totally different ways.  As I like to say, it is the difference between what things are and what things mean.

Here is the crux of the problem.  The United States does not suffer from poor medical care.  People come from all over the world to have their health problems resolved here in the U.S. — if they can afford it. That is the problem.  It is not the quality of care, but rather having access to good care and being able to afford it. Access and affordability are the reason we need insurance plans which is what both Trumpcare and Obamacare are really about.

The U.S. does not really have a health system.  It has a series of health systems depending on whether the individual is on Medicaid or Medicare (the dreaded by conservatives single payer system), or on the VA or Tricare (military) system (basically socialized medicine), or gets insurance through an employer (where most people get their insurance), or buys it on the open market (usually very expensive).

A pervasive goal in the U.S. should be that no one goes bankrupt due to an unexpected illness or injury. Likewise no one should have to forgo medical treatment because they cannot afford it.  Both happen in the U.S., although by most accounts, Obamacare went a long way in reducing the numbers of people in either situation.

So let’s design a system that helps people get care without using their every last dollar.  Let’s assume we want a system where no one can be turned down — or charged unattainable amounts of money — for a pre-existing condition.  This seems to be one area that most politicians can agree upon and one of the most popular aspects of Obamacare.  How to do that?  It does not take a genius to see that maybe I won’t buy any insurance until I get sick or injured and I will save a lot of money in the meantime.  That leaves only those with pre-existing conditions on the insurance rolls — a situation which will either leave the premiums so high as to be unaffordable, or leave the insurance companies holding the bag and going bankrupt.  To even out the costs and make them more affordable to all, we would then require everyone to have insurance — the dreaded mandate. However, it may not be fair or even affordable for everyone to buy insurance, especially for people that do not receive insurance through their employer, so if we are going to require it, then we should come up with a system to help people pay for it — the other debated aspect, subsidies. Those three elements are the basis for every proposed health care plan concocted by politicians.  If you play around with one of the three, it impacts the other two.  It becomes a very complicated game.  How one plays the game depends on my opening statement — what is the goal for the plan?

On top of that throw in hot button issues such as who can do what (Planned Parenthood anyone?), whether in our proposed system we “punish” young healthy citizens by making them subsidize the old “sick” citizens, should the government have the power to tell people that they “have” to have insurance, and who pays for all this, the wealthy or the poor who are most likely to benefit from a plan like this.  It does indeed get complicated in a hurry, and also very emotional for a lot of people.

In evaluating a planned system, lots of politicians focus on premiums and deductibles — and not always together.  It is possible to devise a plan with very low premiums, lower than Obamacare, but does it cover everything?  Does it have a high deductible?  Does it have annual or lifetime caps? What pre-existing conditions are covered?  Those and other details mute any discussion about premiums.  To coin a phrase, we cannot compare apples with oranges.  Premiums are certainly relevant when discussing the cost of a particular plan, but it is not sufficient to get a true picture of the impact or value of that plan.

To muddy the issue, the president makes unfounded claims about Obamacare.  He says “it is dead.” Except it isn’t.  But the president and the Republican leadership are trying hard to kill it, partly to force through Trumpcare.  Insurance exchanges are drying up and companies are pulling out because of the biggest fear they have — uncertainty.  The Congress has yet to decide if they will provide the money for the aforementioned subsidies to help people afford the mandated insurance.  And they have announced that they will not enforce the mandate.  Two of the legs of our three-legged plan are being distorted, that means the third leg is terribly out of balance which makes it appear the system is not working.  If insurance companies don’t think they are going to get paid — or that they will be left holding the bag for high cost pre-existing conditions which they are required to cover — then there are two choices.  They can raise premiums or leave the market.  Most experts assert that without the uncertainty coming from the White House and Capital Hill, the health insurance system in the U.S. would be stable and hold down costs for most (most — not all) Americans seeking health care.  Many people now have insurance that would not otherwise have it.  The result is “wellness checks” and other preventive health measures now sought out by people that did not seek it before.  Therefore they are healthier and the over all expenditures for larger, more catastrophic care comes down because they are less necessary.  Like it or not, the states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare generally have more small hospitals and clinics serving the poor or rural areas of their states because those hospitals have a known source of income for the care they provide.  Many of those small hospitals and clinics closed in states that did not expand Medicaid and there is significant concern over the reduction of those Medicaid funds under Trumpcare. In mostly rural states such as Alaska and Maine, even their Republican Senators are concerned and may vote against the proposed Senate bill.  Senators Murkowski and Collins both realize what the proposed reductions in Medicaid mean to their states and are worried, as are others.

Whatever your own views on healthcare in the U.S. take a good hard look at any plan floated to solve the problem.  I am no expert on this subject.  Not at all.  I recognize that we do not have a bottomless purse to pay increasing costs for social programs.  I get it.  Personally, I think we leave a lot of possible solutions (such as a single payer system which prevails in many modern nations, such as Canada) on the table because of emotional political arguments rather than a factual airing of the pros and cons to different solutions.

It boils down to one’s personal views.  Do you get what you pay for and if you can’t pay you don’t get it? Or should the greatest nation on earth also provide the best healthcare available to its citizens?  If so, how is it paid for?  There are no easy answers, but I think we are making it harder on ourselves than needed.  Democrats and Republicans state that they both have the same goal — to make healthcare available to our citizens and at a cost that is sustainable.  If that is the case, then everything else is politics.

To me, we have a system for providing affordable care through an insurance program called the ACA — Obamacare.  No one thinks that system is perfect.  Democrats affirm that they are willing to work with Republicans to fix what needs to be fixed.  Republicans shout that Democrats are obstructionists while jamming through a bill that even most Republicans did not get a chance to look at.

You can look it up, you don’t have to take my word for it, but in putting together Obamacare the Democrats took nearly a year, held countless hearings, folded Republican amendments into the final bill, and tried to put together a bipartisan bill.  Politics interfered at the end of that process and one could argue that Democrats jammed it through at the end.  But contrary to what you now hear, it was not a secret process and it wasn’t a slap dash final product.  I am not sure what the rush is in the Republican held Congress at this point.  This is major legislation that will impact many Americans and a large chunk of our economy. There is no need to play hurry up ball at this point.  Every piece of legislation has some perverse and unintended consequences.  Obamacare has some.  Trumpcare certainly will if it has not been properly vetted and reviewed.  It is too important to just slam through, whether or not you support the fundamental political and social theories behind it.

This process is not in the best interests of our country.  I hope that cooler heads prevail and that everyone takes a step back.  Take a deep breath.  Let’s regroup and come forward with a bipartisan approach to helping every citizen find effective and affordable healthcare.

I’m not holding my breath.


It Will Be Amazing. Believe Me.

Amazing:  causing astonishment, great wonder, or surprise

— Merriam Webster Dictionary

We have now experienced the first week of the administration of President Donald J. Trump.  And it was quite a week.  I am not sure that the country can survive many more of these types of weeks. Among other highlights we have the following:

  • A public battle over the size of the crowd on Inauguration Day (somehow with Mr. Trump it always involves size), including a personal call from the president to the head of the National Park Service to have him produce pictures to prove he had the biggest crowd ever.  “Period.”  There are no such pictures.
  • In his first full day in office, he went to the CIA, stood in front of the Wall of Heroes, and proceeded to mislead about crowd sizes, the role of the media, and deny that he said the intelligence community was like “Nazi Germany.”  I watched it live and not once did he mention the ultimate sacrifice of those listed on the wall, some of whom still cannot be named because of the sensitivity of their actions. They died for their country yet somehow it was all about him. I have been to the Wall.  It is humbling. It was appalling to see our president be so unaware, or uncaring, of his surroundings and their meaning.
  • A senior adviser to the president introduced the administration’s use of “alternative facts.”
  • A claim by the president that 3 to 5 million “illegals” voted in the presidential election and that every single one of them voted for Secretary Hillary Clinton.  No proof was provided.
  • A self-created diplomatic crisis with our neighbors in Mexico when they said that they would not pay for a wall along the border.
  • A declaration that torture works and should be used in interrogations because terrorists do a lot worse than that.  Torture is illegal under U.S. law including the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution and under international law.
  • A draft Executive Order to bring back the “black sites” overseas where the CIA and other agencies can take terrorists secretly and interrogate them outside of international and U.S. law. The new Director of the CIA and the new Secretary of Defense say they were not consulted on the order.
  • A presidential pronouncement that lifting sanctions on Russia might be a good thing.  This while we still await the results of inquiries into their interference with our election and while they still illegally occupy Crimea and other parts of Ukraine.
  • An Executive Order halting immigration from seven Muslim countries including Iraq.  We currently have troops on the ground along side Iraqi military units fighting ISIS.  We will arm them and train them and send them into battle, but we will not let them into the country.  The ban includes those in danger because they worked with and helped U.S. forces as interpreters, informants, and fighters.
  • A presidential statement that his immigration ban is not anti-Islam, even though the only countries banned are Islamic and the president said that Christians from those countries would be admitted.  A gentle reminder may be in order that our Constitution prohibits discrimination due to one’s religion.
  • A host of other Executive Orders and Presidential Memoranda that create questions about the future of programs and freeze numerous regulations from the Affordable Care Act to inspections of commercial airliners.

There are more, but you get the idea.  Taken as a whole it is amazing.  Depending on your view of President Trump, it is amazing good or it is amazing bad.  But most of us can agree that as a whole his actions to date meet Webster Merriam Dictionary definitions and are certainly creating “astonishment” and “surprise”.  We may also “wonder” what is going on?

There are several ways to look at his words and actions thus far.  Some may think that President Trump is the ultimate egotist, thin-skinned and overly concerned about being the best ever — it is all about him and very little about the country’s well-being.  Some may say that he and his administration are rookies and that many of the rough patches will smooth out as they get accustomed to governing rather than campaigning — which is not unusual with changes in administrations.  Some may say that no one has ever told him “no” and that he is used to running a one man show and that eventually he will figure out that even though he ran as an autocrat, that is not how our government works.  Some may think that he is, simply put, a nut case.  Some may think that he is doing exactly what they voted for him to do and by golly he is out there doing it.

Of course, some or all of those opinions may be true in part or in whole.  The real question is whether the nation as we know it will withstand his impetuous actions and words.  And no, that is not a “sky is falling” we are all doomed statement.  It is too early to see how all of this will settle out.  More on that in a minute, but first let me digress for a few sentences.

Famously in the aftermath of the election, it was said that members of the press did not take him seriously, but they took his statements literally, while his supporters took him seriously but did not take his words literally.  An interesting way of looking at things. Maybe we should take him both literally and seriously as his actions thus far seem to indicate that he looks at himself that way. Regardless, here is the problem.

As president, words matter.  What the president says is often taken literally, or taken as a signal of intentions, in foreign capitals and can impact international relations, trade, economic matters and other elements of our national interest.  When he says he is building the wall and Mexico will pay for it with a 20% tax, the leadership in Mexico has to take him seriously.  When he says that 3 to 5 million illegals voted in the election and therefore it was rigged (yet he won!) it plays right into the hands of those in Moscow and other places that Americans are no better off than they are and that democracy is a sham. People around the world listen.  I have no idea if he believes what he says or not, but he must understand that as President and Commander-in-Chief he can no longer say the first thing that pops into his head.

There is an old military saying that he should become familiar with — “no plan survives contact with the enemy.”  Our opponents always have a vote in what happens because they have their own self interests and national goals to defend.  You can slap a 20% tariff on another country out of pique, but you have no say in what they do in return.  And you can be sure that they will react, often in ways that are unpredictable and harmful to our own interests.

Here is my opinion of Mr. Trump’s actions so far.  They are based on two factors.  He has never functioned as a part of government or of the military.  In his life all he has ever had to do was say he wanted something done, and it pretty much got done.  The government does not work like that. For better or for worse, there are a lot of moving parts.  The president alone cannot change laws or hand down court rulings.

The second factor is that much of Mr. Trump’s success, however big or small or entangled with overseas governments and entities (we still wait for him to reveal their extent), his biggest successes are in marketing and self-promoting — branding as it is now called.  His brand is brash and huge and a take no prisoners approach.  I am surmising that in his mind, he needs to keep the brand alive with his supporters and therefore he is continuing to be outrageous, bullying and a man of action. All of that feeds back into his own perception of himself as the best at whatever he does and the cycle continues. When it stops is anyone’s guess.

I am very concerned about the damage to our world position of leadership that will occur if he continues on his “America First” doctrine.  It may be a good marketing slogan, but isolationism is not in our own best interest and does not help us with our interests overseas.  Our history is replete with such attempts in our past and the result inevitably is war or a depression or both.  Neither of those outcomes are in our national interests.

I am less concerned about his actions thus far on the domestic front.  When looked at carefully, most of his Executive Orders are more like outlines of where he would like to go.  He is fairly restricted in what he can and cannot do without the House and Senate in agreement.  Thus far the Republican controlled Congress has begun to realize that governing, rather than just opposing the other party’s initiatives, is hard to do.  The first real test of President Trump will be when enough Republicans say “no” to one of his proposals. Hopefully when Congress collectively says no, it will be a political lesson to Mr. Trump and not result in a Constitutional crisis.

My biggest and most fundamental concern are his and his administration’s attacks on the First Amendment.  Most modern presidents have had a dim view of the media coverage they receive and some have had an adversarial relationship with the press.  That’s fine and to some extent it is good for our Republic’s health.  However it does no one any good for President Trump to continually and perpetually call the press dishonest, the worst people on earth, liars or any of the other epitaphs that he throws their way. His senior adviser told the press to “shut up.”  He went on to call the press the “opposition party” — not the Democrats.  The attacks come because the press reports what Mr. Trump and his advisers actually do and say.  As they used to say, “let’s go to the video tape!”  It’s there.  It’s a matter of public record and yet Mr. Trump continues to deny that a given action or statement took place.  This is dangerous.

I fear that over time the outrageous comments and attacks on the press will become old news. People will stop paying attention.  Or worse — justify the outrageous and potentially unconstitutional behavior because we got some jobs back, or some other narrow, short-range goal at the expense of what we hold dear. Most autocrats gain power that way.

None of us has any idea how the next four years will unfold.  Based on the last week, we know that it will indeed be amazing.  I trust that the Congress and the American people will begin insisting that we get more from our president than a sweeping “believe me” when it comes to critical issues.

 


But Do They Have A Football Team?

Much has been written and discussed lately concerning the Electoral College.  Some argue that it is an anachronism that outlived its usefulness.  Others argue that it is integral to the foundation of our republic and must stay in place.  There are strong arguments on both sides of the issue and it seems that most people’s opinions are colored by whether they see our country as one nation, indivisible — as stated in the Pledge of Allegiance — or whether they see it as a collection of united states.

Although the discussions surrounding the Electoral College pop up every four years in conjunction with presidential elections , they are more noticeable this time around given that we have two presidents out of the last three (George W. Bush and Donald J. Trump) that lost the popular vote but won in the Electoral College.  There are only three other times in our entire history where this happened.  John Quincy Adams became president in 1824 through a vote in the House of Representatives.  Although Andrew Jackson won more Electoral College votes, he did not win enough to get a majority as required under the Twelfth Amendment (more on that later) and the House elected Mr. Adams.  In 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes became our president despite having lost the popular vote and the Electoral College vote — until 20 disputed electoral votes were changed under a compromise between Republicans and Democrats and awarded to Mr. Hayes.  This despite the fact the his opponent Samuel J. Tilden not only had more popular votes, but had a majority of the vote (just over 50%).  And we think our current election was contentious.  The only other time that the Electoral College victory came despite losing the popular vote was in 1888 when Benjamin Harrison defeated the incumbent president Grover Cleveland by campaigning to keep trade tariffs high to protect American jobs.  Some things don’t change.

For the next 124 years there were no instances of a candidate losing the popular vote but still winning the Electoral College vote.  And now in the first sixteen years of the 21st century it happened twice. Thus the argument over whether it is still a valid way to elect our presidents.

To fully understand the issue, a quick history of the reasons for the Electoral College are in order. Briefly stated, it was established because our esteemed Founding Fathers did not want the citizens of the new United States to elect the president.  Remember that their ideal for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was really meant for white wealthy males.  The pursuit of happiness meant property, and wealth meant education.  The masses were considered unfit and untrustworthy to elect the “real” leaders of the nation. Thus the president was elected by the Electoral College and United States Senators were elected by the legislatures of each state.  The House of Representatives was the “people’s house” — the safety valve for allowing the average citizen to participate.  Note that Senators are elected for six years (designed to provide stability and experience) and the House is elected every two years, making it easily changeable.

Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution created the Electoral College as the means to elect the President and the Vice President.  In practice it did not work out so well and the procedure was modified through the Twelfth Amendment when it was ratified in 1804.  All subsequent elections have been carried out under that amendment.  Clearly a precedent was set that if our method of electing the president is not efficient or effective, then it can be changed.

Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution was replaced by the Seventeenth Amendment when it was ratified in 1913 and provided for the direct election of Senators, vice having them elected by state legislatures. This is another precedent that our voting procedures can change with the times.

Both of these changes are relevant to the arguments for and against the continued use of the Electoral College.  The arguments are cogent on both sides of the issue, although passions sometimes run rampant rather than logic or historical facts.

Some of the arguments for eliminating the Electoral College, or to significantly change the way that it works, include the following.

  • Our presidential election process is not democratic.  It is the only national office where “one person, one vote” does not apply.  As has happened, the voice of the people can be muted or eliminated by the electors choosing someone who did not win the popular vote.
  • Originally Senators were picked in a manner very similar to the Electoral College voters. That process was changed with an amendment to the Constitution to allow direct voting.  If that can change because the original purpose for state legislators to vote for Senators changed, then that same argument for the purpose of the Electoral College is no longer relevant. We now have an educated citizenry with easy access to communications and an understanding of the issues.
  • The Electoral College was meant to be a check on the whims of the citizens.  Most states now require the electoral voters to match the results of the popular vote in their state, thus the original purpose of the college is no longer followed.
  • Too much power is invested in smaller states relative to their population.  For example, one electoral vote in Wyoming equals 142,741 people whereas in New York one electoral vote equals 519,075 people.  One can argue that this is patently unfair to all voters, and gives disproportionate power to states with small populations.
  • The House of Representatives could elect the next president and in doing so totally ignore the wishes of the electorate.  This would happen if the Electoral College vote ends in a tie, a mathematical possibility unrelated to the national popular vote results.  The vote in the House is by state — one state, one vote — thus giving Rhode Island the exact same say in choosing a president as Texas.
  • It solidifies a two-party system and precludes the possibility of other candidates making a meaningful run for president.
  • A president may punish a state that voted for his/her opponent even though many citizens of that state voted for the winner.
  • Presidential candidates ignore states that are safely in their camp or that they believe will not vote in their favor.  They end up not visiting large states (no serious campaigning by either candidate in New York, California, Texas for example) and small states (no serious campaigning in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming for example).  They only campaign in a handful (about ten) of swing states.

Some of the arguments for keeping the Electoral College as it is include the following.

  • The Electoral College protects states rights.  Small states would lose their voice in presidential elections in favor of states with large populations.  Candidates would only focus on states such as New York, California, Texas and Florida.
  • The two-party system is preserved.  Such a political system is proven to be the best form for governing in the United States through competing political parties and their ideas .  If the Electoral College is eliminated in favor of directly voting for candidates, multiple candidates could conceivably run and splinter the popular vote.  This could allow a candidate with only 20 or 30% of the vote to win.
  • The Electoral College embodies our nation’s principle of federalism and eliminating it could be the first step in dismantling that system of governing.
  • Only the “coastal elites” in large cities would get presidential attention.
  • No one should mess with what the Founding Fathers created.  They knew what they were doing.
  • To change or abolish the Electoral College would require a Constitutional Amendment.  This process may open the door to other changes to our Constitution.
  • A victory in the Electoral College gives the president the legal authority to govern all of the states and all of the population.

To me, the strongest argument for changing or eliminating the system is that states with small populations have a disproportionate impact on the election.  The strongest argument for keeping our current process is to prevent a candidate from winning in a race with multiple candidates and garnishing only a small percentage of the popular vote.

Additionally, given the current political climate in our nation, any attempt now to change the Constitution would probably open a Pandora’s Box of other issues that could fundamentally change our Constitution and thus our way of life.

Although it goes against my preference, I reluctantly conclude that keeping the Electoral College is, at least for now, the best thing for our country.

And no, the Electoral College does not have a football team.  And that’s too bad.


It’s Not Funny Anymore

“What in the wide, wide, World of Sports is going on here?”

— Slim Pickens as “Taggart” in Blazing Saddles

I made a promise to myself, and to many others, that I would give President-Elect Donald J. Trump a chance to prove himself as our next president.  After all, I reasoned, he has yet to take office, has not had any Cabinet officers confirmed or proposed any legislation to the Congress.  I thought to myself, let’s give him a chance and see what he actually does rather than what he might do.

Too late.  Mr. Trump is already showing us what kind of president he will be.  In so doing, it appears to me that he has forgotten that he is not yet the president.  We only have one president at a time and currently Barack Obama is our president, like it or not.  Yet Mr. Trump has already meddled in foreign affairs, the market place, labor union affairs, and other areas properly the purview of the person that is the president.  In addition he continues to refuse to reveal anything about his business interests, or tax returns or any other aspect of his dealings that may well impact his decisions as president.  Mr. Trump was to have a news conference this Thursday to outline how he will deal with all of those interests, but he announced yesterday that the news conference has been deferred to an unspecified date in January. Don’t count on him actually holding it.  Despite frequent promises, he has not held a news conference since 27 July 2016.  In that one, he famously invited the Russians to hack Secretary Hillary Clinton’s emails.

My biggest concerns with his actions thus far relate to national security.  He has been reckless in his statements and actions to date.  One can argue that in the United States domestic economic concerns are the biggest motivators to the voting public.  However, the number one role of a national government is national security.  If the government cannot protect its citizens from all enemies foreign and domestic, then it has failed.  Otherwise, there is no ability to focus on any other aspect of government.  I find that Mr. Trump is woefully uninformed and reckless in his actions thus far and has already put our national interests in jeopardy.  One can only imagine what may take place once he assumes the office.

If you have only glanced at the news (real news, not fake news) you know that Mr. Trump has muddled our relations with both China and Taiwan.  His original conversation with the Taiwanese President sent shock waves through our diplomatic corps and the Chinese were not amused.  This week, Mr. Trump compounded the mess by saying in an interview on Fox News Sunday that in essence, his comments on China and Taiwan was an opening gambit in trade negotiations.  This thrilled Taiwan because now they are considered bargaining chips in our relations with China.  Their take away over the last 48 hours is that Mr. Trump would not expand the relationship with Taiwan but rather bargain them away as a pawn if it meant a “good deal” with China on trade.  In only a few days he managed to scare and to irritate both a friend and a foe, without stating any clear policy to move forward.

There are always new policies and ways of doing business with each new administration.  But as they say on Monday Night Football, “c’mon man!”

Most troubling, and seriously dangerous, is Mr. Trump’s reaction to the profoundly disturbing news that the Russian involvement in the presidential election is much deeper than imagined.  As I have written in this space before, it was disturbing to me that during the campaign the discussion was about the juicy tidbits in the hacked information and not that it was illegally obtained through the auspices of a foreign nation.  If you have not recently read about the intricate details, there is a primer in the New York Times that provides the outline of the case and what is known and unknown.

In short, the Russians have been acting deliberately to interfere with our election in a wide variety of ways.  One can argue whether the intent was to “merely” undermine the integrity of the democratic process or whether it was actively trying to derail Secretary Clinton’s campaign in order to help Mr. Trump.  Either way, we as a nation should be outraged and demand an investigation.

Unless you are Mr. Trump or his advisers that is.  They repeatedly called the notion “laughable” and “ridiculous.”  Or as Mr. Trump said on Sunday;

“I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it. I don’t know why, and I think it’s just — you know, they talked about all sorts of things. Every week it’s another excuse. We had a massive landslide victory, as you know, in the Electoral College.”

— Mr. Donald J. Trump on Fox News Sunday on 11 December 2016

This followed a Friday night press release where they ridiculed the CIA and Mr. Trump has repeatedly said that he does not take the daily intelligence briefs because “I am a smart person.”

It baffles me why Mr. Trump and his advisers didn’t just say something along the lines of this:

We are deeply troubled by the revelations of possible Russian intrusion into the 2016 presidential election.  While there is no evidence that the election results were tampered with or otherwise illegitimate we welcome the Congressional investigation into what happened in order to confirm the basic tenets of our democracy.  President-Elect Trump looks forward to working closely with the intelligence community to keep our nation safe.

Here is the problem.  He must believe that the CIA and other intelligence agencies — which are unanimous in their conclusion that the Russians tried to influence the election, but not on why they did so — are not good at their job and politicized.  Either or both assumptions are dangerous to our well-being.  Today Michael V. Hayden, former director of the NSA and later of the CIA wrote an opinion piece that explains the danger.  The question is not really about whether or not there are political overtones to the Russian involvement or what their intent may be.  The real question is why Mr. Trump refuses to seek the assistance of the intelligence agencies in solving problems and to use the information to help inform his decisions.  An adversarial relationship with the intelligence agencies is not going to help protect our nation.  To be dismissive of the information that they provide is reckless.

Through my personal experience and confirmed by all knowledgeable accounts, the members of our intelligence communities work very hard to keep us safe.  More importantly in this context, they are career professionals that have faithfully served both Republicans and Democrats.  They are apolitical. They seek only the facts.

There are cultural differences between the agencies, which could be used to the new president’s advantage rather than as a weapon to delegitimize their efforts.  For example, the CIA lives in a mushy world where the preponderance of evidence gives them signals to interpret events and to predict potential adversarial relationships in order to inform decision makers as they set policy.  They themselves do not set any policies.  The FBI on the other hand, has a different culture.  They are a law enforcement agency that works to convict criminals and others in a court of law.  They must gather proof beyond a reasonable doubt that can stand up in court.  An entirely different mission.  Add to that the fact that the CIA is focused on the international scene and that the FBI has an internal domestic focus. Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are areas for disagreement as to the degree of surety about a particular case.

Look at it another way.  Many CIA employees risk their lives to gather information to keep our nation safe.  How motivated are they going to be to do so if the Commander-in-Chief basically calls them liars and political operatives attempting to “re-litigate the election”?

As a side note, but related, Mr. Trump seemingly due to his thin skin and lack of understanding, attacks anyone that he surmises does not support his election.  And that happens to anybody that does not tout his “landslide” victory.  I have yet to conclude whether Mr. Trump’s numerous untruths are the result of wishful thinking, studied ignorance or outright lies.  I suppose it could be all three, but it is continual. Let’s just use the election results as an example.  Mr. Trump claims that he won the election in a landslide.  The fact is that his percentage of electoral votes ranks him 46th out of the 58 presidential elections in our history. Not even the top half.  He is also losing to Secretary Clinton in the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes — her total is more than that received by any presidential candidate in history except Barack Obama — a result he claims is the result of “millions” of illegal voters that otherwise would have afforded him the outright win.  There is no proof of any voter fraud, much less “millions.”  I could go on but I don’t have enough time or space to enumerate the misinformation that comes from him and his aides — even if I just limited it to the last seven days.

This is dangerous.  We need an informed and truthful president — or at least one that doesn’t create his own facts.

Even more troubling is his cozy relationship with Russia and seemingly endless admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Let’s take a look at but a few examples.

Mr. Trump’s son said that Russian investors are a major factor in the family business.  Or more precisely he said, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Members of his campaign and future administration have close business ties with Russia, including his national security adviser LT General Michael Flynn, USA (ret.).  He famously sat at a banquet with Mr. Putin and lambasted American news media outlets during a Russian propaganda television broadcast.

Mr. Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State is a personal friend of Mr. Putin and was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship in 2013.  Oh, by the way, Mr. Rex Tillerson, as the CEO of Exxon-Mobil, has done a lot of business with Mr. Putin and other Russian oligarchs over oil.  Secretary-nominee Tillerson is a staunch advocate for removing sanctions against Russia imposed after Russia illegally annexed Crimea. He is quoted as saying the sanctions cost his company one billion dollars.  I am sure that will have no bearing in his dealings with the Russians.

I have no doubt that Mr. Trump did not personally collude with the Russians to interfere with the election and I am equally sure that no actual votes cast changed as a result of the Russian actions. I do feel strongly that their actions did impact the election, but it is impossible to know whether the outcome would have been any different without the Russian efforts.  Mr. Trump will be our president.

That said, I think it perfectly reasonable to investigate the extent and intent of Russian interference.  I think it perfectly reasonable to investigate Mr. Tillerson’s ties to Russia and his other dealings.  I think it perfectly reasonable to investigate Mr. Trump’s business dealings and relations with foreign powers. I think it perfectly reasonable for Mr. Trump to continue to receive pressure to release his tax returns and to build a firewall between himself and his businesses — just like everyone that works for him will have to do.

Thankfully, members of the Senate are going to do that on a bi-partisan basis.  They should dig deep and hard.  The point is not to undo the election.  That will not happen.  The point is make sure that undue influence from foreign powers is deterred in future elections and to make sure that going forward, the ties to Russia that are obvious to all but Mr. Trump do not inhibit the national interests of the United States of America.  Our nation and citizens come before the business interests of the billionaires that apparently will be running our country.  Let’s keep the pressure on Congress to provide the over sight needed to keep our nation safe.