“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 Medicare 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 Medicare and there is significant concern over the reduction of those Medicare 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 Medicare 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.
I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.
— President Donald J. Trump on 1 June 2017
As most of you know, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord during a speech in the Rose Garden at the White House. This announcement fulfills a campaign promise that he continually made in the run-up to the November election. His base, and several close advisers clearly think that putting the United States in the same company as Syria and Nicaragua (the only other nations not in the agreement), instead of in the company of the other 195 nations that agreed to the Accord in December 2015, is a positive development. Other advisers, including Secretary of State (and former Exxon-Mobil CEO) Rex Tillerson reportedly did not and advised the president to stay within the boundaries of the agreement. As a consequence, many misstatements were made about what was or was not in the Accord. Somehow, it got caught up in an argument over whether or not climate change is a hoax, as the president continually claimed on the campaign trail, or is it backed up by a preponderance of evidence that human beings are contributing to the changing climate on Earth.
The main effort of the Accord was to reduce green house gas emissions. These emissions are the root cause of rising global temperatures, which in turn are melting the polar ice cap, shrinking the ice shelves in Antarctica, and eliminating glaciers around the world. As the world’s ice melts, sea levels increase putting coastal land, and many island nations, in danger of being covered by water. Will this happen tomorrow or even next year? No. However, 196 nations (until the U.S. announced its withdrawal) agreed that it was a real and present danger to life as we know it on this planet. Long-term problems need long-term solutions, and that was the aim of the Accord.
In my view we can restate it another way. Forget about arguments for or against climate change. Put it in terms of being pro or anti pollution. Who is for more pollution? Apparently, the president and his key advisers such as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Edward Scott Pruitt and White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon who reportedly convinced President Trump to leave the Accord.
Rather than looking at the Accord as a positive thing for the citizens of the United States and all living things around the world, the president put his opposition to the agreement in economic terms. To me, this is a short-sighted vision that provides misleading hope for the future for those struggling in the economy with mining and manufacturing jobs that are disappearing whether or not the U.S. remains in the Paris Accord. The president also claims his decision is a matter of sovereignty and a chance to keep “others” from telling us what to do in our own country. Or as the president said, “As of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.” Apparently no one told him what “non-binding” means and also forgot to inform him that the agreement does not set any burdens on any country outside those that the individual countries voluntarily agree to for themselves.
This is what makes the president’s announcement extremely puzzling. Under the Accord, each country sets its own commitments with the common goal of “holding the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels” which is intended to begin to reduce the long-term warming trend rather than stop it, but more on that in a minute. The point is that if President Trump did not agree with the goals laid out by the Obama administration, under the terms of the Accord, he could change them. He did not have to leave the agreement. This makes his statement that “we’re getting out, but we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair” even more preposterous. He is not going to get 195 nations to renegotiate. And it isn’t necessary, just adjust the commitment under the terms of the existing agreement. I cannot decide if he is being purposely misleading or if he does not understand what he is talking about.
This is a central point for understanding why it is bad policy for the United States to withdraw and makes me believe that the move was intended as an “in your face” insult to the Europeans (thus the reference to the citizens of Paris) and a purely political decision to appeal to the hard-core base that voted for him in 2016, rather than truly thinking about the long-term needs and welfare of our citizens.
This is also reflected in his claim that the United States could not build new coal plants but China and India can, and will, thus somehow depriving the U.S. of the coal-burning market. Wrong again. As has been repeated, the agreement is non-binding, and also has nothing in it that prohibits the United States from building coal-burning plants and it has nothing in it that “allows” China and India to do so. To so state is purely political demagoguery, or ignorance. In the United States, coal plants are being replaced not because of EPA regulations or because of the Paris Accord, but because of market forces — mainly, because of the abundance of natural gas at cheaper prices.
Coal jobs currently number about 50,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly universally, economic analysts say that the combination of natural gas and technological advances in mining mean that number will not grow, and is likely to decrease. As pointed out in an article by Christopher Ingraham that number of coal miners compares to about 80,000 employees at Arby’s restaurants or the approximately 150,00 employed in the car wash industry. 50,000 is a drop in the bucket for our entire economy and not at all near the catastrophic impact that the president implies.
Clearly coal mining jobs are important to the 50,000 so employed, but dropping out of the Paris Accord is not going to help them in the future. When the Pony Express went out of business because of the telegraph and railroads, those people found new jobs. And so it goes throughout history — innovation and technological progress cause people to lose jobs, but new jobs are created. For example, the energy efficiency industry had about 2,700,000 jobs in 2016 of which about 677,000 jobs were in the renewable energy sector (solar, wind, hydro, etc.). President Trump should be putting effort into retraining and educating miners and others in dying industries to allow them to help themselves and the economy in the future rather than promising them a past in which they cannot long survive.
At the same time, those that find environmental issues important, and a threat to our survival, need to do a much better job at making the case. When asked to choose between the environment and jobs as our president states it, many Americans will choose jobs every time. It is important to educate voters and all our citizens about the importance of working towards improving our environment. It is also important to explain and educate voters that a clean environment and jobs are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, environmentally related jobs are a growth industry and go a long way in reducing unemployment. Railing and ranting will not convince others. Education and reasoned arguments as to why we are better off under an agreement such as this one, including how it creates jobs (and not in the government bureaucracy), is important to our long-term goals and well-being. Use this as a wake up call.
Without going through every portion of President Trump’s speech on departing from the agreement and comparing it with the actual Accord, there is one thing he got right — sort of — although it did not appear that he understood what he was saying. He said, “Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a 2/10 of one degree – think of that. This much [held his fingers nearly close together] Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100. Tiny tiny amount.” The size of the reduction is unknown and several experts contend that it will be more significant than the president intimated. But here’s the point, the signatories of the Accord acknowledge that the limits pledged thus far will not meet the 2 degrees Celsius goal, but the efforts to reach that goal will be better than just letting the pollution continue and allow temperatures to continue to rise unabated. In other words, the signatories were working on the premise that something is better than nothing and that as technology and developments continue evolving in the coming years, new ways of reaching those goals will become apparent. Time will not stand still and the world and its technology will not always be the same as it was in 2015 or now. The president seems to miss that point. He seems to think that the world won’t reach the goal anyway so screw it.
Since the president’s speech really did not discuss the issue of global climate change, how to deal with it best, or point out misguided practices, it can only be seen in this light. It was instead one more example of his belief that some kind of conspiracy — primarily by our closest and most important allies — is holding the United States back and dictating what we do or cannot do. His belief appears to be that by putting “America First” that he can do, or not do, whatever he feels like, the rest of the world be damned. This is extremely dangerous to the future of the United States and its place on the world stage.
With increasing frequency, nearly daily, we as a nation wake up to yet another incredible self-created crisis in the Trump Administration. People that care that our nation’s leader is becoming something of a punch line around the world debate whether President Trump’s actions, statements, and yes, tweets are part of a larger plan or simply the reflection of a man with little to no intellectual curiosity, the attention span of a young child, and who is in way over his head. I am increasingly falling into the latter category.
In my day the military term for his administration would be that it is a soup sandwich. The term means exactly what the imagery suggests, something so confused and messy that it cannot be salvaged.
The litany of recent events are well-known. Whether it is his casual revelations to the Russians of highly critical intelligence, his thinly veiled threats to former FBI Director Comey, his stated reason for firing Mr. Comey because of the “Russian thing”, or the possibility that he tried to stop the FBI investigation of the Russian meddling and specifically Lt General Michael Flynn’s possible involvement with the Russians, his actions have shown a president and an administration that have lost their way. Put more bluntly, look in the dictionary for “soup sandwich” and you will see a picture of the president.
Note again that all of the crises that the White House staff have dealt with thus far are all self-created by the president. This does not bode well for handling the inevitable national security crisis or domestic tragedy on the horizon that will test our ability as a nation to deal with all that comes our way.
Most legal scholars and Constitutional law experts point out that nothing that we know about thus far concerning the president’s actions is illegal. Unethical and/or immoral, perhaps, but not illegal. This is very troubling. As Dana Milbank ably points out in a recent opinion piece, just because it is legal, does not mean that it is right. Or as we used to say, just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean that it is a good idea. The basic point is that President Trump knows no boundaries, has no self-control and therefore has the ability to do great damage to our nation, whether deliberate or out of ignorance. As Mr. Milbank points out in his troubling piece, the president is within his rights — legally — to do all of the things that we know about. But the assumption for all modern presidents is that a president would not do all of those things without the proper justifications and explanations. In crafting the Constitution, the Founding Fathers assumed that the chief executive would be virtuous , guided by honor, and exhibit self-restraint. Scholars point out that the Constitution gives many powers to the president, specifically and inherently. The checks and balances that we rely upon cannot stop the president from wreaking havoc in the short-term. Although the ultimate power rests with the Congress — impeachment — and the courts — ruling certain presidential actions unconstitutional — it takes time and political capital to bring those counter balancing powers to bear. In the meantime, significant and even irreparable damage can be done to our nation. With President Trump we have a chief executive that seems to be lacking the knowledge to understand the limits and responsibilities of the presidency combined with unchecked impulsivity that can easily lead to damaging actions and decisions.
Look at President Trump’s background. His success as a businessman by most accounts was not so much because of his personal knowledge and ability. It was more about branding. He sold the Trump Brand to investors and let others actually build the real property. Recently, few of his Trump buildings were actually Trump projects, he merely sold his name and promotional abilities for use by those doing the work. He became famous due to his time as a television reality star. Even today he talks about “ratings” for press conferences and speeches. The pop psychoanalysis could go on and on, but in every instance, it appears that his personality is ill-suited to lead the greatest nation on earth. To me, for example, he related the very highly classified information to the Russian Foreign Minister (information that will probably result in lives lost, and certainly the loss of an important avenue of intelligence) not because he wanted to help the Russians. I think he did it because he was showing off and wanted to impress his visitors. Remember this is the guy that in the midst of the ceremony “celebrating” the House passing Trumpcare, stopped his speech to turn around and ask “How am I doing? Am I doing OK? Hey, I’m president. I’m president. Can you believe it?” Well, no, I can’t believe it. But it is true.
I hear the “I word” — impeachment — bandied about a lot recently. From what we know now, we are not there yet. I also worry that under the current divisive political atmosphere in our country that an impeachment act and subsequent trial would be very bad for our nation. We might not recover from that trauma for many years. Therefore any impeachment proceedings must be based on clear violations of the law, should there be any.
The other proposal that floats around from time to time is that the 25th Amendment can be used to remove him from office. This amendment pertains to the succession to the presidency should the president be unable to fulfill his duties. The relevant section of the amendment in this case is Section Four which provides a procedure for the Vice President and such other “principal officers of the executive departments” (meaning the Cabinet) to declare the president unfit for duty. Should the president contest that declaration, it goes to a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate. This too would be a long drawn out procedure that could seriously divide our country should the president resist the take-over attempt. It seems unlikely in any event that Vice-president Pence and the Trump appointed Cabinet would invoke this avenue of removal, barring some obvious and unassailable problem with the president.
Finally, President Trump could resign. Many pundits and others think this is the most likely scenario for the current president to leave office. President Trump himself said that
“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier. I like to work, so that’s not a problem, but this is actually more work and while I had very little privacy in my old life because, you know, I’ve been famous for a long time, I really, this is – this is much less privacy than I’ve ever seen before.”
None-the-less, I doubt very much that the president has any intention of resigning. He likes the attention and being on the “inside” — people have to pay attention to him and he likes that.
Potentially compounding President Trump’s negative impact on the nation is the dilemma many of his top advisers are facing. It is a classic scenario. The president continually throws good, hard-working and upright people under the bus. They go out and defend his actions in, I hope, good faith only to have him personally provide a completely different rationale for his actions. This can only go on for so long before people start to ponder resigning. This is the dilemma such good people face — resign and save my reputation and integrity or stay and try to change things because they could really be a lot worse if no one of significant knowledge and competence is left to try to hold him in check?
I fear that most people consider the recent events as “typical” Washington politics. That’s too bad. This is not typical and it is not normal. And it isn’t “sour grapes” that the Democrats lost the presidency.
Many continue to state that as a nation we should give the guy a chance. He’s only been in office about four months. Give him time. I tried. Sorry, but I do not think that anything is going to cause President Trump to change.
For the Republican majority on Capital Hill I can only say, “Clean up on aisle seven. Soup sandwich in progress.” The Republican agenda depends on a functioning presidency. The deal with the devil is almost gone as more and more of the president’s actions take away from the legislature’s ability to legislate. Clean up the soup sandwich through comprehensive and bipartisan investigations. Find out what actually happened, or did not happen, and get it into the public domain. Use a little Clorox on the clean up of the soup sandwich.
If it turns out there is nothing there involving the Russians or other problems then so much the better. If there is something, hold all involved accountable. The good news/bad news may be that there is nothing there. The good news is that people will not go to jail and the integrity of the system may be restored. The bad news is that we will still be left with a soup sandwich.
Yesterday, President Donald J. Trump fired James B. Comey Jr., the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This came in the midst of an ever-increasing FBI investigation into known Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and the increasing number of revelations of ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Those are actually two different issues, which our president apparently cannot understand.
There is wide-spread consensus based on the truth and, you know, actual facts that the Russians interfered with the election. Most likely they interfered because, as former Bush Administration Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained, Russian President Vladimir Putin is a pay-back kind of guy. He hated Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, primarily because she called his election a sham, and sought the opportunity to work against her campaign. According to Secretary Rice’s theory, he relished disrupting the election in and of itself, but to have Secretary Clinton as the recipient only made it sweeter.
Every American should be gravely concerned that a foreign power aggressively and with malice of forethought worked hard to disrupt the very foundation of our Republic. Every American. This is not a political issue. Consequently both the Senate and the House of Representatives are conducting bi-partisan inquiries into what happened and how we can protect against it in the future.
However, President Trump seems to believe this is unnecessary. If one pays only the mildest of attention to the news, you know that he is constantly calling the fact of the interference a “hoax” and the investigations “a waste of taxpayer money.” He won and that’s all he cares about. In his mind, end of story.
Secondarily, as the investigation of the Russian interference deepened, it became apparent that there may have been some interaction between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. The who, why and what questions remain unanswered. This also is considered “fake news” by the president and he constantly tweets about issues he thinks are “ridiculous” in connection with the investigation.
He does so even though his first National Security Adviser Lt. General Michael Flynn USA (ret.) was fired by the president for working with the Russians, being paid by them, and lying about it. I suppose we should just let that go. Nothing to see here, folks, just move along.
This is the short version of the context surrounding the firing of Director Comey. The president showed real class by not notifying Director Comey of his dismissal, rather the Director learned about it on television while giving a speech in Los Angeles.
So the president whose staff members and campaign members are under investigation by the FBI and the Attorney General of the United States who was forced to recuse himself from the Russian investigation because of his own role in the campaign and “forgetting” to reveal his own Russian contacts, are the folks that fired the Director. It most definitely does not pass the smell test.
Thus the question, is the president incompetent of trying to cover up misdeeds in his administration? Does he not know what he is doing or is he deliberately undermining our Constitutional balance? I do not know, but either one is dangerous.
The alleged reason for the firing was the mishandling of the investigation of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s emails back in July. Of 2016. The investigation that then Candidate Trump applauded. Hmmm. The timing is also suspicious. Remember the Trumpian tactic of changing the headlines whenever something critical of him makes the news? On Monday former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified before a Senate sub-committee looking into the Russian connections. Their testimony was less than flattering to the Trump Administration and in some cases directly contradicted statements made by the president and his spokespeople. On Tuesday, Director Comey is fired, thus changing the headlines. I’m just sayin’….
From the time Attorney General Yates notified the White House that General Flynn was compromised and a potential agent of the Russians until he was fired — only after it all became public in the Washington Post — was 18 days.
From the time that the current Deputy Attorney General and Attorney General recommended the dismissal to the president and the FBI director was fired — for something that happened in July 2016 — was minutes.
Also remember that the FBI Director is appointed for a 10 year term. This is to keep politics and partisanship out of law enforcement in the most critical areas of our national security. Only one other active Director was fired, and that was William Sessions in 1993 by President Bill Clinton for ethics violations, not for investigating anything to do with the administration.
Many people were upset by the way that Director Comey handled the email investigation of Secretary Clinton. Some even argue that the way he handled it (a news conference about a lack of evidence to prosecute) was unprecedented and unprofessional and effectively handicapped the campaign of Secretary Clinton. In a larger context, even as one may have no love for Director Comey, his firing is very troubling at this particular point. It seems that as the investigation gets closer to the truth, the resistance from the White House increases. Director Comey must have been very close to finding damaging information. It only takes a cursory look at any newspaper or other news source to see that this has raised significant bi-partisan concern in the Congress as to the meaning, appropriateness and impact of the firing. Most Republicans and Democrats have expressed serious concern. It is not right.
Alarm bells should be going off when taken in connection with this quote from White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders during an interview last night with Tucker Carlson on Fox News. In the same vein as the president and other spokespeople in the White House, she spoke about the Russian investigations and said:
I think the bigger point on that is, “My gosh, Tucker, when are they gonna let that go?” It’s been going on for nearly a year. Frankly, it’s kinda getting absurd. There’s nothing there. We’ve heard that time and time again. We’ve heard it in the testimonies earlier this week. We’ve heard it for the last 11 months. There is no there there. It’s time to move on.
President Trump wants the investigation to go away. Countless efforts by the president and his spokespeople to undermine the investigations have not worked. They pretend, as does Ms. Sanders, that the American people do not care. We won. End of story. Yet, the investigations continue and it does not go away. Next step — fire the Director of the FBI.
One can only conclude that the president must really be trying to hide something big. Maybe yuuge. Reporting today indicates that last week Director Comey quietly asked Congress for a significant increase in funding for the Russian investigation. Another coincidence?
President Trump undoubtedly thought that by making Director Comey go away, his troubles would go away as well. They are just beginning. Reportedly, the president has little interest in history or understanding exactly how the government works. Fine. But someone should tell him that time and time again the cover-up is what brings folks to their knees, doing more damage than the “crime” ever would have. Maybe he should read up on it. He may learn something about it when he appoints his next Director of the FBI and the Senate holds confirmation hearings. If you think there is a fire in the Senate during the current hearings, you haven’t seen anything yet.
A civics lesson might help as well. Trying to run the United States as a family business operation does not work so well. Unless his aim is to make a lot of money, which that part so far is working. But that’s a piece for another day.
The investigations will not go away. They will be slowed down dramatically in the near term. The FBI is extremely unlikely to report the results of their investigations without a Director in place. That will take weeks or more likely, months. James Comey was a Republican appointed by President Obama. President Trump should appoint a Democrat with an impeccable reputation as the next Director. I am not holding my breath. His appointment will tell us a lot about the future integrity of anything that comes out of the Department of Justice.
The investigations will continue in the interim. However, the integrity of those investigations is now compromised. Only by appointing a special prosecutor — which the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are mightily resisting — will there be some assurance to the American people that an independent investigation, unencumbered by political and partisan elements, reports believable results.
This is fundamental to our national security. Stay awake and keep the pressure on. Silence and “getting tired of it all” will erode our freedom.
“Obamacare is the law of the land. … We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.” — Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) on 24 March 2017
The last ten days of the Donald Trump Administration has had more drama and newsworthy events than any recent presidency in memory. Most of it was not good news. Not good for the country and not good for the Trump Administration. Ranging from the revelation that the FBI is conducting a long-term investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and foreign entities, to the failure of the House of Representatives to vote on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The American Health Care Act (AHCA) was pulled by Speaker Ryan because of its sure defeat in the House. A defeat I may add, that came despite the fact that the Republicans had a majority in the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House.
There are many reasons why the bill failed, and I am sure that pundits will dissect those reasons at length as time goes by. Among the most prominent in my view, is that as the final push began to go from theory to an actual bill, the Republicans lost sight of policy and focused primarily on politics. In so doing they ended up changing the bill in ways that left only 17% of Americans in favor of it replacing the ACA.
Despite President Trump’s promise on 17 January 2017 that his health care bill was nearly finished and would be revealed shortly, he apparently did not have one of his own and went with the proposal crafted by Speaker Ryan. In that January interview, President Trump also insisted that his health care bill would provide “insurance for everybody” and that people “can expect to have great health care. It will be in a much simplified form. Much less expensive and much better.” Which, surprisingly from this administration, turned out not to be true.
One could also ask why after seven years of campaigning on “repeal and replace” the Republicans did not have a viable plan, worked on by all factions of their party, with the contentious issues litigated before hand, ready to go? It became a lesson for the new majority that opposition is much easier than leadership.
Speaking of leading, President Trump learned that leading the nation and a divided government is much different, and I would add more difficult, than running Trump, Inc. The “closer” couldn’t close and he found that threats to an equal branch of government do not carry much water when the president’s approval rating is only in the 30’s and his disapproval rating is in the high 50’s.
There are other significant issues at play and we will see how things work out in the coming months as the president moves on to more “fun” (his word) endeavors such as tax reform and infrastructure renewal. However, I think that all concerned are naive to believe that health care is resolved for the future. In many ways, this is just round one of a longer, continuing saga. As always, the devil is in the details and there are many details yet to be resolved before the battle of the ACA vs. AHCA is over.
Recall that President Trump and others continually repeat that the ACA is a “disaster” and in his usual method of communicating complicated issues, tweeted that “ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!” One of many such tweets where he constantly reiterates that ObamaCare (the ACA) will “explode” or “implode” depending on his mood of the day, and blaming everyone — Republicans, Democrats, bureaucrats, a long list — for the failure of the bill to pass the House. He blames everyone but himself or his dogmatic but very inexperienced staff, even as insiders say that he never really understood the policy behind the bill, nor really had much interest in it other than as a tag line during the campaign.
“Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.” — President Trump on 27 February 2017
Here is the real point. In fact, President Trump and his administration can turn his prediction into a self-fulfilling prophecy. By regulatory action, or inaction, and by refusing to defend or promote the current system, they can indeed cause it to fail. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but over time they can ensure that it fails without the proper attention to implementing its provisions.
Nearly all impartial adjudicators, including the Congressional Budget Office, state that under current provisions, the ACA will not explode, implode, or otherwise become a disaster. It is working. However, it is not working perfectly and could use improvement. In particular the number of insurance companies participating are decreasing, and deductibles in some areas are increasing. There is some debate as to whether this is happening because of the uncertainty that surrounded the ACA leading into the introduction of the AHCA or other factors. Generally, the experts say that this trend can be reversed and in any case, does not impact all Americans.
The ACA — ObamaCare if you will — can be improved and should be improved. Just like Social Security and other programs, the original plans are rarely perfect and it is entirely reasonable to see changes that improve the process and benefits. Hopefully, now that the histrionics from both parties are over, the real leaders of the House and Senate can sit down in a bipartisan way and work on fixing the things that need to be fixed in the ACA. I am not optimistic that it will happen. It will be difficult because from a policy viewpoint it is expensive and from a political viewpoint the Republican majority cannot pass such legislation without significant numbers of Democrats on board. Thus far they have shown themselves to be unbelievably reluctant to pass anything that needs Democrats to carry the day. Conversely, at this point in time, Democrats are unwilling to show support for much of anything that President Trump is pushing. That said, I am more confident that President Trump will be willing to work with Democrats and they may in turn be willing to work with him, on the right issues.
Unfortunately, the Secretary of Human Health and Services Tom Price made a career in the House of Representatives by opposing the ACA. Now that he is the Secretary he can make regulatory changes that lessens the coverage provided by the ACA. He can refuse to defend in it court when challenged and he can refuse to advertise re-enrollment dates and other factors that makes it harder for people to access and benefit from the Act. Whether this will happen or not, time will tell, but as the president and others continue to insist that the ACA will collapse, it is entirely possible that Secretary Price will help to make matters worse.
President Trump now has the opportunity to demonstrate whether or not he is the great negotiator that he claims to be. He can choose to show real leadership and bring the parties together and do something positive for all Americans or he can show us that his “repeal and replace” sloganeering was only that — an applause line without substance. So far his stated intention is to “move on.”
What he cannot do is claim that he no longer has any responsibility for the future of health care in the United States, which is what he tried to do last Friday.
“I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer because now they own Obamacare. They own it – a hundred percent own it. And this is not a Republican health care. This is not anything but a Democrat health care. And they have Obamacare for a little while longer, until it ceases to exist, which it will at some point in the near future. And just remember. This is not our bill. This is their bill.” — President Trump on 24 March 2017
Sorry, Mr. President. I regret to inform you that you are the president of the entire nation and that you are responsible for the well-being of all its citizens. And oh, by the way, it was the Republicans that could not get themselves organized to pass their own bill.
Let us all work for a better deal in the future.
Another day, another Trump story dominating the news. I will eventually again write about something other than our president, but it is hard to ignore the elephant in the room when every morning there is some new statement by the president or his staff that is cringe worthy. Be it wire tapping (with or without “quotation marks” — this is what we have come down to — or misspellings) or microwaves as cameras, every day there is something. We as citizens need to look past the daily “guess what they just said” comments and try to discern what is really going on.
Avoiding a discussion on the Trump Administration policies for the moment, which is hard to do, there is a different picture I am trying to understand. And believe me, trying to ignore his proposals is difficult, be it the American Health Care Act (or Trumpcare — no, no, it’s Ryancare — no, no Trumpcare) or the president’s budget proposals that gut many essential programs and departments. Those proposals, as good or as bad as they may be depending on one’s political views, are just that, proposals. The Congress ultimately will pass, or not, the AHCA and any president’s budget proposals are more of a wish list and indicator of their administration’s priorities rather than the actual budget, which is also the purview of the Congress.
I am focused for the moment on trying to figure out exactly what is going on with those things that the president actually controls and what they may portend. To some degree, it is necessary to get down in the weeds to see where things are headed. There are several troubling indicators of how President Trump intends to run his administration.
At first I could not figure out if the nonsensical and illogical tweets, statements, and press briefings were the sign of an administration in disarray, trying to find its bearings or something else. I have come to believe it is something else. Many pundits have already commented on the fact that every time the media or the public focuses on some inane action or statement from the president or his staff, some new, head line grabbing tweet or statement comes out. Some call President Trump the Distractor-in-Chief (DIC?). That may be part of it, but I think there is a larger more insidious goal. President Trump continually calls any reporting he does not like “fake news.” Beyond that he and his staff continually attack the media and put out statements that are proven to be untruthful, yet they double down and insist that it is true by pointing to some off-the-wall media source as the “proof” of their statements. This is deliberate — not flaky, or anti-PC, or any other excuse attributed to the activity. I say again, it is deliberate. The White House staff is deliberately and systematically trying to undermine the credibility of the serious news outlets in the United States. Coupled with the stated disdain of the intelligence community so often reiterated by the president and his advisers, there is a very deliberate effort to create an atmosphere of distrust where nothing is ground truth. Once such an atmosphere exists, the administration can say and do anything that they want to do and they will then claim black is white and only they know what is going on. Trust them. How many times has Senior Adviser Kelly Anne Conway (and others) gone on a news show and defended some outrageous statement from the president? When pressed for evidence that such statements are true, how many times has she said words to the effect that “well, the president has access to information that I do not have so he must know what he is talking about?” No proof. No logic. Only that if the president said it, it has to be true, no matter how outrageous. And how many times when personally pressed does the president decline to give proof to defend a statement and only says something along the lines of “more information will be coming out in about two weeks. It will be amazing. You won’t believe what is going on. It will surprise you. Believe me.” Have you noticed that it is always in two weeks? And then two weeks, months, years, pass and nothing more comes out.
This approach seriously undermines the credibility of the president. If anyone were to pay attention. Seemingly most Americans shrug it off as that’s “Trump being Trump” or as the “mainstream media” trying to undermine his presidency. Never mind that the media merely plays what the president or his advisers actually say and then for some strange reason ask them to provide the basis for the statement. How unfair!
You can take it to the bank that our friends and enemies are paying attention.
That is why I am so troubled. Either the president does not care that his credibility suffers, credibility that will be crucial when a real crisis hits our country, or he is risking his credibility in order to undermine the veracity of any source of information outside the White House so that only his version of the truth is available. A harsh assessment, I admit, but increasingly I am unable to come up with any other explanation for the way that he and his staff conduct business. What began as mildly amusing behavior morphed to incredulity to concerns about sanity to fear that it is intentional.
And there is more.
There are some good people working in the Trump administration. Secretary Mattis is one, Lt General McMaster is another, and others, who while I may disagree with their policy views, I respect their integrity and willingness to try to do the right thing. Many of them signed up with this administration with the caveat that they be able to pick their own people and not be micro-managed by the White House. So far, that is not happening.
Secretary Mattis has yet to get a second in command, the Deputy Secretary of Defense. He tried three times so far to get three different people in place. All rejected by the White House. There are no other political appointees below the Secretary level at DOD thus far. One may claim that we need to “drain the swamp” but the reality is that the Secretary cannot do everything by himself. Skilled, knowledgeable people with expertise in everything from procurement to regional alliances need to be in place to make U.S. policy effective. Right now, nobody. Likewise, in the State Department. Secretary Tillison’s nominees for his subordinate political positions are zero for everyone. None has gotten past the White House. Just as troubling to those that understand how such things work, last week the Mexican Foreign Minister, the direct counter part to Secretary Tillerson was in Washington for talks and the State Department did not even know he was in town, much less participate in the discussions. Only the White House inner circle participated. National Security Adviser McMaster found out last week that, in fact, he cannot pick his own staff. He tried to have a Trump campaign supporter now in charge of national intelligence for the National Security Council moved to a different job so that NSA McMaster could put a more qualified and effective person in that slot. The staffer went to the president, on the advice of Mr. Steve Bannon, and NSA McMaster was overruled. There are a multitude of similar examples were one to peel away the layers and look inside the various departments and agencies in the Executive Branch.
Even if all that is true, who cares? So what? Why write about it except for sour grapes?
There are at least two reasons to take note. The most benign concern is that our nation’s defense and foreign policies, to name two, cannot be thoroughly vetted, reviewed and implemented without the right people (any people!) in place. No matter how good the Secretary may be, he or she is only one person and cannot do it all alone. The more serious concern is that the White House staff, the close inner circle to the president, may not want any effective push back from the Defense or State Departments or other agencies. They may want only the White House inner circle to promulgate and execute policy. The Cabinet’s job is merely to act as props (see almost every signing ceremony in the White House) or cheerleaders for the president.
President Trump’s style as a businessman was to have a small, totally loyal, inner circle that carried out his decisions. By all accounts describing his style, President Trump is not much for details and makes decisions by using his “gut instincts.” His close inner circle then carries on and implements what they understand to be his intent. This may work in a real estate business, but it does not work well in an undertaking as large as the United States government, especially when the current inner circle takes great pride in stating that they have no experience. When they also refuse, or limit, the input from those that do have knowledge and expertise, something is brewing. It is either a disaster waiting to happen, or something more sinister, such as a drift towards centralized, autocratic control of the nation.
When all of the pieces of the puzzle are together — and there are more including Mr. Bannon’s view of the world, his declaration to “dismantle the administrative state,” blaming “the deep state” for the failures of their policies, lashing out at the judiciary, claiming that former President Obama is running a shadow government with the aim of stopping the Trump administration, among others — it paints a troubling picture.
At first I thought that maybe they were just experiencing growing pains, not unusual for a new administration. Then I thought that maybe the staff was just trying to deal with a loose cannon in President Trump — which could be dangerous, but the experienced hands would eventually bring him back to reality. Now I am beginning to see that it is actually a plan. What I have not decided upon is whether President Trump is the visionary using his staff, or whether Mr. Bannon is the visionary using the president to fulfill his own view of re-ordering the world.
I absolutely have not given up on the ship of state being righted and put back on a steady course. There are positive signs such as the Congress (after only about 8 months!) investigating the impact of Russian meddling on our national election. Equally soothing is that more and more Representatives and Senators, of both parties, have nicely said that the president lied when he stated that President Obama had Trump Towers and the campaign “wire tapped.” The judicial system is working to check the executive over reach of some of the president’s Executive Orders. The system is working as intended, even if in fits and starts. It remains incumbent on all Americans to keep our eyes wide open and call “foul” when appropriate. Likewise, we need to give credit where it is due. All is not lost, not even close, but I still worry. If we see this seeming chaos from self-inflicted crises within the White House, one wonders what will happen when a real crisis erupts. History teaches us that one eventually will come along. And probably sooner than later.
When it happens, that will be the true test of this administration. My nightmare scenario is given the chaos and attempts to undermine anything that runs counter to White House wishes now, while in a period of relative calm with a strong economy and no direct existential threats to our well-being, what will happen in a major crisis? Will the administration draw upon the many talented and experienced resources our nation and our government has to solve the problem or will they draw even more inward in an attempt to use the crisis to consolidate more power and move further towards autocracy?
I have no crystal ball and have no idea how things will unfold. The signs thus far leave me greatly troubled about the future of our great nation, more so than at any point in my life.
A basic admonition for success in a variety of sports such as baseball, golf and many others, is to keep your eye on the ball and follow through. The same is true for politics. Distractions come easily and it is easy to lose track of the original issue. Such seems to be the case with the fireworks surrounding the knowledge that Russia interfered with our 2016 presidential election.
In a rare show of unanimity, last fall and again in January this year, the U.S. intelligence community briefed the outgoing and incoming presidents on the Russian meddling. Much of the information is highly classified, but we as citizens can be sure that it happened, otherwise, we can trust nothing that our professionals in intelligence and highly respected leaders tell us. They do not make such accusations lightly or without serious and deep consideration as to the facts and the repercussions. As a result of their findings, President Obama in September 2016, in a face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, told him to “cut it out” with regards to Russian cyber attacks and hacking — notably before the election. Claims that he did so to create a “ruse” because the Democrats are “sore losers” holds no validity when the warning came before the election. In October, again before the election, President Obama used the “red phone” — used to avert nuclear attacks between the two nations — to again warn Mr. Putin about the continued interference in the election. In late December President Obama implemented additional sanctions against Russia and expelled 35 Russian diplomats accused of spying within the United States because of the Russian attempts at meddling. These are facts.
In and of itself, every American should be outraged that there is incontrovertible evidence that the Russians attempted to interfere with our most sacred ritual as a nation — the election of our president. This outrage should supersede any sense of Republican, Democrat, Independent, liberal, conservative or any other political category one can imagine. America was under attack. This seemed to be forgotten as our new president initially, and for a lengthy amount of time, refused to acknowledge these facts. Facts that should outrage any serious leader of our nation. Instead in a news conference on 11 January 2017 he attacked our intelligence community and compared them to “Nazis.” He only reluctantly concluded that “as far as the hacking, I think it was Russia” before adding “it could have been others also.”
For whatever reason — ego, appealing to his base, purposely trying to create chaos for some political objective, or trying to cover up the truth — President Trump continues to deny that the Russians had any significant effect or were in fact trying to influence, if not to change, the election. This continued denial, along with accusing the intelligence community of trying to undermine him and all the other shenanigans now coming out of the White House must stop. Enough! This is not a serious presidency if this is the way that they will conduct themselves over the next four years. It is amateur hour.
The current brouhaha surrounds who did or did not meet with representatives and agents of the Russian government and for what reasons. This is where the obfuscation continues. While we argue over whether then Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala) met with the Russian Ambassador in his role as a Senator or as a member of the Trump campaign and oh by the way Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) ate donuts with the Ambassador in 1992 is beside the point. Way beside the point. One could argue, on purpose beside the point. Deliberate distractions to keep our eyes off the ball.
Now Attorney General. Mr. Sessions says he “misspoke” about his contact with the Ambassador. Perhaps so. The problem is that in both oral and written testimony during his confirmation hearing he claimed that he had no contact with any member of the Russian government. Just as former (remember he got fired) National Security Adviser Lt. General Michael Flynn said nearly the same thing. Just as more and more members of the Trump campaign claimed that they never had contact with any representatives of the Russian government and it is becoming clear that in fact, they did have contact.
Focusing on all of those individual circumstances may or may not have significance. We simply do not know. Here is what we do know. Starting with the first reports of the hacking of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Mr. John Podesta’s emails (an event seemingly predicted by one of Mr. Trump’s then advisers Mr. Roger Stone before they were released by Wikileaks), Mr. Trump and his staff continually denied that any, repeat any, contact with the Russians simply did not happen. For example, in November 2016 the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov responded to a press question about contacts with the Trump campaign and said that “there were contacts” with influential people in Trump’s circle. “I don’t say that all of them, but a whole array of them supported contacts with Russian representatives.” In response, Trump campaign spokesperson Ms. Hope Hicks said, “It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.” This is one of at least twenty separate official denials that there had been any contact with the Russians. Assertions we now know to be false.
Remember that this is an administration that deals in “alternative facts.”
Still, I think all of this who-talked-to-who-and-when is beside the point. It indicates that there is probably some “there” there, but in and of itself is inconclusive. Any single or even series of contacts could have multiple explanations, some of which are benign. What is concerning to me, when taken as a whole, is that so many of them occurred and that the campaign and now the administration, continues to cover up and deny that anything at all took place, even in the face of video and audio that refutes their claims.
What are they so anxiously trying to cover up?
Today was the last straw. One might say that President Trump deployed the metaphorical nuclear option this morning when he tweeted out that President Obama broke the law. More specifically, in a series of tweets this morning he said:
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!–President Trump tweet 6:35 AM 4 Mar 2017I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!–President Trump tweet 6:52 AM 4 Mar 2017
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
–President Trump tweet 7:02 4 Mar 2017
Actual quotes from the President of the United States! Unconscionable! Statements such as these are unreasonable and can easily be interpreted to be a calculated effort to create turmoil and unrest in our nation.
There is so much that is wrong with his latest undisciplined reactions it is hard to know where to start. (And it is particularly interesting, or appalling depending on one’s view, that Mr. Trump’s in-your-face style was cultivated by his long time mentor, Mr. Roy Cohn, who was Senator Joe McCarthy’s primary adviser when the McCarthy witch hunt was in full bloom. I suppose that the circle stays unbroken.) Keeping our eyes on the ball, there are a few facts involved with possible underpinnings in the law — unlike the tweets from President Trump who has offered no evidence or other substantiation of his claims. This tweet storm is merely intended to divert attention and to change the narrative. His usual, now predictable, tactic. When under siege, attack. (And exactly why do you think you are under siege Mr. President? Something to hide?)
It is outrageous for a current president to call his predecessor “bad” and it is especially outrageous to call him “sick.” Perhaps if the shoe fits….
But again, this is a diversionary tactic. The facts tell a different story. For example, the president cannot order wire taps on his opponents. It is against the law and only the most screwball, or clinically paranoid, opponents of President Obama would think that he would blatantly break the law by ordering wire taps.
The most inconvenient fact of all for President Trump is this. Should it be true that taps of some sort were placed on Trump Tower, they can only be done when a federal judge under the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is presented with probable cause that “foreign powers” or “agents of foreign powers” — which may include U.S. citizens or permanent residents — are suspected of terrorism, colluding with agents of foreign governments against the interests of the U.S., or espionage. When presented with evidence, the judge may approve physical and electronic surveillance of those individuals and their likely places of operation for espionage or other nefarious purposes.
If the FISA statute was implemented by the FBI and NSA through the Department of Justice, utilizing the provisions of the law through the proper court, then President Trump does indeed have reason to distract us from the real problem.
The president may be out of his league. It may turn out that he is not so “big league” (often transcribed as “bigly”) as he assumes. He is up against the full power and strength of the national government and the national press, sworn and determined, respectively, to uphold and protect the Constitution.
President Trump will no doubt continue to make wild, baseless and counter-factual claims. Sad! We need to keep our eye on the ball and follow through.