May 21, 2017

Sunday School 5/21/2017

For today's Sunday School, I managed to drop into two classrooms: Fox, the home of fake right news, and CNN, the home of fake left news. I'll leave it up to you to figure out who's faker, who's newsier, or who's more true to their school, so to speak.

Starting with CNN - I am left handed, after all - we had Jake Tapper opening the show letting us know how well received president Trump has been on his first international trip.
President Trump has so far been greeted very warmly in Saudi Arabia. Here he is (on video) joining in a ceremonial sword dance welcoming him. The Saudis even projected his image onto the hotel where he's staying, the next best thing to having his name on the building, I suppose. 
He moved on from there, with guest Little Marco Rubio, who sits on both the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees; the focus of the conversation was on Trump's morning speech, in which he offered this:
We are not here to lecture. We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership based on shared interests and values to pursue better future for us all. 
Tapper's question was whether Trump had strayed too far from the traditional role of America supporting human rights and democracy., and whether Rubio would have ever made such a speech.
Well, I mean, yes, that would not have been part of a speech that I would have delivered, for the reason that I think it's in our national security interest to advocate for democracy and freedom and human rights, now, with a recognition that you may not get it overnight. There needs to be a period of transition...That said, I would tell you that the White House and I have a different approach on the issue of human rights. I'm much more forceful and open and vocal about criticizing whether it's Egypt or Saudi Arabia for its human rights record.
The conversation shifted to the Comey Conversations. Tapper was interested in what Rubio would ask Comey when he comes to the Senate for an open session after the holiday.
...did he keep these memos? What do the memos say? And why did he write it? And how did he feel? Did he ever feel like he was being put in a position where he couldn't do his job? There's no doubt that that's the questions that are going to get asked, and asked repeatedly. And the American people deserve to have an answer to that. And I'm happy that Director - or former Director Comey is going to appear publicly before the Intelligence Committee to answer these questions, so we can get it directly from him, and not simply have to rely on a third-hand account of how he felt and/or what was in those memos.
Rubio also made it very clear that, regardless of the press reports, he's confident that the Intelligence Committee will do their due diligence and get to the bottom of things, as will Robert Mueller in his role as the special counsel.
Let us finish our work, let us collect the facts, let us document them, let us put it out in a report. And then, based on that, I will take a firm position. And then the people could say one - whatever they want to say. But we have got to finish our work. That's my job. And that's what I'm going to do.
Meanwhile, down the hall to the right, Chris Wallace had Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and John McCain separately and exclusively, on Fox News Sunday. Tillerson was pressed a bit by Wallace to explain the difference between candidate Trump  and president Trump, and why Muslim countries should trust him, or believe him.

Here's Wallace.
Given that past rhetoric, why would Muslim leaders trust Mr. Trump now? And on the other hand, if the president is so concerned about human rights, why isn't he talking about it publicly this weekend?
And here's Tillerson's response,
Well, Chris, I think this is one of the great attributes of this president, is that he is willing to call issues out, confront them, speak very plainly and bluntly about them. And in many ways that motivates these countries to want to understand why the feelings in the US are the way they are, but also to engage, to address those... And the president himself has said he has learned a lot on this trip, and he's learned a lot about the people, he's learned a lot about their culture. And I think this is an - it's a really important process in terms of how we move forward with this relationship between the Muslim world and the non-Muslim world...
Wallace also pressed Tillerson on the women's rights/ human rights issues that Trump harped on during the campaign, but that were not mentioned in the advance copy of Trump's big speech.
Well, Chris, I think the way you address those human rights issues and women's rights issues is to improve the conditions in the region. And today conditions in the region are under a lot of stress because of the threat of terrorism, the threat that Iran poses to instability in the region. And these subjects are being discussed as well, and there are efforts underway to, I think, improve the rights of women, the participation of women in the society throughout the region.  
But you now, the primary reason we're here today is to confront this threat of terrorism. If we do not defeat Daesh, if we do not defeat these forces of evil, there will be no conditions under which we can even hope to improve the human rights for all of the people in the region.  
For his part, Arizona Senator John McCain was his quotable self. First up, here's what he has to say about Trump firing Comey.
I don't know. I  -- honestly, I cannot explain a lot of the president's actions. I don't think it was a wise thing to do. Mr. Comey was highly respected and highly regarded. And so I can't -- I can't explain it. I don't think it was a smart thing to do.
And, on Trump telling Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that he had fired 'nutjob' Comey?
I don't know how to read it except that -- and I - I'm almost speechless because I don't know why to - how - why someone would say something like that. But I know this, Mr. Lavrov is the stooge of a thug and a murdered who used Russian precision weapons to strike hospitals in Aleppo, who's committed human rights violations all over the place... has acted in the most thuggish and outrageous fashion and he had no business in the Oval Office. 
There's more in both of the transcripts, including the panel discussions on both shows and an interview with Judy Collins (on Fox).

See you around campus.

May 17, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v89)

Wondering? What do you think?

We've got a special counsel in the 'everything Russia' investigation; Robert Mueller is, by all accounts, well respected and a good choice for this. We will have to wait to see what will happen, and in the meantime we'll have to wonder where it all will lead and what will happens once it's over in some six month, nine months, who knows.


This one I wonder less about. I've suggested all along that Trump was running on a lark, primarily because President Obama hammered him at the White House Correspondents Association dinner back in 2011 - so  I really only wonder, what's taking everyone else so long to get on board with my thinking?


I do wonder about this man. His focus on having this wrap up 'quickly' may be something to look forward to, but it's much bigger than collusion between his campaign and Russia or anyone else. How can he not understand that? I mean, one might think that the request for all records related to any Comey Conversations  (among other documentation) illustrates "this matter" is more than his colluding or not colluding with foreign friends. 



On this one, everyone can wonder what the hell Paul Ryan is thinking, right? How much longer would you expect a person who has no obligation to support someone who made textbook racist comments, and who boasted about sexually assaulting women, etc. etc. etc, to continue supporting this president? 

The story below on the left, about the BLM/KKK connection was made by Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, the opinionated (and hated, if I listen to friends of mine who are much more familiar with Clarke and his antics. The most important things he has going for him? He's black, he hates Obama and he thinks lethal force is a good thing.  In his new role, he'll serve as a liaison between the feds and various other law enforcement agencies. I wonder how that's going to work out...


And finally, there's this. This is how our commander in chief speaks to his peeps,  If you can, stick with it through the parts where he talks about how horrible it is to be him, and how wonderful he is for the country. That, my friends, should have definitely left our Coast Guard cadets wondering. 



May 15, 2017

Revisiting 'Time for a Trexit Strategy?'

How time flies!

Was it really only a year ago that I posted Time for a Trexit Strategy?, the post in which I wondered (hoped?) that Trump would realize he had proved his point, and that he could get the heck out of dodge and let a more qualified person take the Republican nomination and roar out of Cleveland into the general election campaign?

How. Time. Flies.

Here's what a former campaign staffer said way back a year ago:
You can give Trump the biggest gift possible if you are a Trump supporter: stop supporting him.  He doesn't want the White House. He just wants to be able to say that he could have run the White House. He's achieved that already, and then some. If there is any question, take it from someone who was recruited to help the candidate succeed, and initially very much wanted him to do so.
A year ago, I noted several things he had done that looked like he was trying to get out. An example? Calling Arizona Senator and former POW John McCain a loser. I thought for sure that would work, in and of itself, but even McCain ended up supporting Trump, so that shot down my hopes.

And now, we're what, 115 days or so into his Administration? I'm still not convinced he has the faintest clue what he's doing, or what he's supposed to be doing - but I'm still not sure there's enough to get members of his party to drop their support of him.
  • Is it enough to hold up documents for the cameras, his boldly illegible signature on display for all to see, even if we have no clue what he's just signed (nor does he?)
  • Is it enough to run off to a Trump-branded property every weekend, have meetings or chase a golf ball around or drop in on a charity event while he's there?
  • Is it enough to give frighteningly rambling, incoherent interviews with people, and expose his lack of knowledge and comprehension of issues? (I mean, let's be clear, there's a very real difference between life insurance and health insurance. We all know that, but he doesn't seem to understand that, even when he's talking about one of his own priorities?)
  • Is it enough to continue spewing alternative facts and claiming everything else is fake news, while he suggests that it's impossible for his spokespeople to tell the truth? Can he ever tell the truth?
  • Is it enough to have him threaten people via Twitter, and spill highly classified information to foreign visitors, and to entertain said foreigners with their media people present and our locked out of the room? 
  • Is it enough to have fired the FBI Director, lied about the reason, lied about the lie, and lied about the lying lie lying there for all to see?
What will it take? Will it take the 'nuclear option' that I tossed out there last year?  I'm beginning to think it will need to be something that extreme.

May 14, 2017

Sunday School 5/14/2017

It's Mother's Day, so there's only time to visit one classroom today. Let's see what's going on at NBC's Meet the Press, shall we?

Not surprisingly, Chuck Todd and his gang had some discussion on the firing of FBI Director James Comey, and the ever-changing reasons why it happened, and the tweet about "tapes" that Comey better be sure don't exist.

And about their new NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll which shows
  • 29% say they approve of Trump's decision to fire Comey;
  • 38% say they disapprove;
  • about a third say they don't know enough to say;
  • 6% say they now have a more favorable opinion of the president;
  • 30% say the firing gave them a less favorable opinion;
  • 61% say Trump firing Comey had no impact on their opinion of him;
  • 46% say Trump did it to slow down the Russia investigation; and 
  • 38% believe the original excuse, er, explanation.
Interesting what that says about us, isn't it?

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham was on the show; one of the key points he made was that the next director should come from within the ranks of the FBI and not be a political person.
I think it's now the time to pick someone who comes from within the ranks or has such a reputation that has no political background at all that can go into the job on day one. You know who does the FBI director work for? To me, it's like appointing a judge.  The president actually appoints the judge, but the judge is loyal to the law. The president appoints the FBI director, but the FBI director has to be loyal to the law... We got a chance to reset here as a nation. The president has a chance to clean up the mess that he mostly created. He really I think did his staff a disservice by changing the explanation. So I would encourage the president to pick somebody we can all rally around, including those who work in the FBI.
I can't agree with him more, on that. Trump, on the other hand? According to Reuters, there are eleven candidates to replace Comey, including these overtly political choices  Rep. Trey Gowdy (because Benghazi!) and Senator John Cornyn (because Texas, I guess) as well as former Rep. Mike Rogers, who was on the transition team. Acting Director Andy McCabe is on the list, likely as a courtesy, since he was a little too honest (and therefore disloyal to Trump) in his testimony before Congress. 

Graham also suggested it was premature to call for an independent examination, and that so far he has not seen any evidence of improper business dealings between Russia and the Trump Organization. 

Also on the show? NY's Chuck Schumer, senior Democrat in the Senate. Schumer prefers a special prosecutor, someone who could only be fired for cause, among other reasons, and he agrees with Graham that the new director should be apolitical. 

Rex Tillerson appeared via pre-recorded interview. He talked about how he and Trump and the world need a better relationship between America and Russia.
I think it's largely viewed that it is not healthy for the world. It's certainly not healthy for us, for the America people, our national security interest and otherwise, for this relationship to remain at this low level. Whether we can improve it or not remains to be seen.  It's going to take some time. It's going to take a lot of hard work. But I think the president's committed, rightly so, and I'm committed with him as well, to see if we cannot do something to put us on a better footing in our relationship with Russia.
He also got into the whole 'values vs. policy' conversation, stemming from his message to State Department employees that placing too much emphasis on our values, while trying to conduct foreign policy "creates obstacles" to moving our national interests forward.

To clarify, here's what he said.
...America's values of freedom, of treatment of people, human dignity, freedom of expression throughout the world, those are our values. Those are enduring values. They are a part of everything we do... But I make a distinction between values and policy. A policy has to be tailored to the individual situation. To the country. To its circumstances. To the broader issues that we are addressing in terms of advancing our national security interest, our national economic interest. 
And so policies have to be adaptable. They have to change. They have to adjust to conditions. But our values can never change. Our values can never put in a position of having to be compromised. And so the values guide our policy, but if we put our values in the front of our policies and say "this is our policy" we have no room to adapt to changing circumstances to achieve our ultimate objective.  And I think if we are successful in achieving out ultimate diplomatic and national security objectives, we will create conditions for the advancement of freedom in countries all over the world.  
Part of me understands what he's saying. I mean, we've long dealt with distasteful allies when it was expedient to do so; sometimes it's been covertly, sometimes overtly.

But another part of me hears what he's saying, and thinks this is the type of thinking that allows people and companies to do the wrong thing to advance their interests. This is why people, and companies, do things to get ahead that they know is wrong.

And this is why, when the president thinks of himself as the deal maker in chief and fills his cabinet with businessmen of the same ilk, we wonder when the values and ethics part will move to the front of the room.

Speaking of the front of room, that's where the light switch is. See you around campus.

May 12, 2017

Who Should Pay for Ordinary Healthcare?

Uh. Oh. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who might be the most honest person in the Trump Administration, stuck his right foot in and shook it all around again.

Mulvaney, you may recall, was the guy who told us that Trump was an #AmericaFirst candidate, and we elected an #AmericaFirst president and there should be no surprise that his budget was an #AmericaFirst budget, the sketch of which was put together from Trump's speeches, campaign promises and the like.  So there should also be no surprise that he thinks we should have an #AmericaFirst health insurance system.

Mulvaney was speaking at Stanford, and was asked a question about the Jimmy Kimmel test. Here's Senator Bill Cassidy, Louisiana Republican, explaining what that means.
The Jimmy Kimmel test, I think, should be that no family should be denied medical care, emergency or otherwise, because they can't afford it. Can that be the Jimmy Kimmel test? Is that oversimplifying it?
Here's what Mulvaney had to say about it
I do think it should meet that test. We have plenty of money to deal with that. We have plenty of money to provide that safety net so that if you get cancer you don't end up broke... that is not the question. The question is, who is responsible for your ordinary healthcare? You or somebody else?
That doesn't mean we should take care of the person who sits at home, eats poorly and gets diabetes. Is that the same thing as Jimmy Kimmel's kid? I don't think that it is. 
Wow. I  thought the Republican argument that Only Skanky Whores Need Birth Control was bad -- but now, Mulvaney is attacking not just Mitt Romney's 47%, but the whole basket of deplorables who voted for Trump. Yowser, as my sister-in-law would say. Yowser!

I shared the Only Skanky Whores Need Birth Control argument back in July of 2014, when we in dealing with the 'corporations have deeply held beliefs' case we all remember.  Here's how I started that post:
I've been torturing myself reading comments posted on various Burwell v. Hobby Lobby articles. And out of fairness, I've tortured myself leftly and rightly, not wanting to miss anything. Trust me, there's a lot that's worth missing.
After reading through opinions ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime, it seems that people have no clue how insurance works. There's a huge misconception out there that a health insurance policy should be completely individualized, so that for example a man would never have to pay for maternity coverage, seeing as how he would never have to use that specific benefit. And now that thinking has been extended to include contraception, because a guy would never have to use The Pill or an IUD so why the (insert curse words of your choice) should he have to pay for it for anyone else?
That argument is one of the Republicans' favorites. Birth control is a lifestyle choice, not a health care issue. Here's more from my post:
In reality, the hatred and vitriol (spliced with an occasional very detailed description of natural birth control) isn't about health insurance, it's about lifestyle and about women and about the 47%.  Because "if those whores would just keep their legs closed this wouldn't be an issue" and if they were good girls not "those skanks who sleep around and expect someone else to pay for their goddamn birth control" we probably wouldn't be having this discussion at all...
But of course wife, daughter, sister, and mother on insurance-covered-birth control, and men with insurance paid-for vasectomies, and honest-to-God hardworking me, well, those are the antithesis of skank, whore, and 47%er.
So now, the wife, daughter, sister and mother feeding their kids Big Gulp sodas, fast food and crappy school cafeteria lunches because their school district prioritizes cheap salty sugary food ahead of nutrition, and the husbands, sons, brothers and fathers hanging out at the bowling alley or chugging a few cheap draft beers in the corner dive after their shift in the mine or the factory, or killing a bag or two of Doritos watching NASCAR on FOX?  Yeah, they're the equivalent of those skanky whores and their birth control, if they think we should pay for their diabetes treatment, it would seem.

What Mulvaney is suggesting, and what others before him have suggested, is not a health insurance program. Again, from the previous post:
Most people would recognize this as a draconian way to finance health care, if we all were individually underwritten (that means no family coverage folks - we are all on our own), based on a complete medical history going back a few generations, a comprehensive medical exam including tests for all things known to man, God and nature, and an NSA-style examination of what we eat and drink and how we exercise or don't and how long we sleep or don't and with whom, and so on.  Full invasive medical and lifestyle exams for all -- paid for out of your own pocket, of course, because you can't have insurance that covers medical exams until you prove you're worthy. And done on a regular basis, because we know that lifestyles change, with age and circumstance and environment.
Mulvaney may be brutally honest, but wherefore art thou, cojones?

If he and the rest of the Trumpians really don't want to pay for Joe the Plumber's diabetes and Larry the Cable Guy's heartburn and Billy Joe Jim Bob's erectile dysfunction stuff (oh wait -- it's OK to pay for that - heaven forbid we don't let a good ole boy have an erection) and Sally's depression because her husband spends all his time and all their money at the bowling alley, Mulvaney would slash all funding related to health care and health insurance, other than pools for non-self-inflicted pre-existing conditions, from our #AmericaFirst budget.

  • No tax credits to buy insurance - that's money that should go to the federal kitty to pay for our $54B military build-up. 
  • No Health Savings Accounts to help pay for deductibles and coinsurances and stuff, that can be passed on from one generation to the next, because that's money that should go to the federal kitty to pay for that Aesthetically Pleasing on the North Side Only Border Wall.
  • No Medicaid block grants to states to allow them to cover benefits for citizens - that's money that should go to the federal kitty to pay for banning Muslims.
#AmericaFirst, 'ordinary healthcare' paid for, right there,  Mr. Mulvaney: every man, woman and child fending for themselves. 

May 10, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v88)

Time photo
Where do I even begin tonight? Let's see....

I wonder what I'd do if one day I woke up and was as intellectually uninterested in what's happening
in my country as seemingly everyone in the Trump administration thinks I am already? Or wants me to be when I grow up, as if I had been introduced to the Men in Black or something?

For example, I know they want me to believe that the reason Trump fired FBI Director James Comey was because he mishandled the Clinton email investigation. And by mishandling, of course, the Administration means that Comey did not run around the storied halls of the Justice Department chanting "Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!" the way he was supposed to.  But does ANYONE really believe that's why Comey was relieved of duty?

And do you wonder how much longer we will be listening to Sean I'm Hiding in the Bushes if You Need Me Spicer, when we have the delightful Sarah Huckabee Sanders (yes that Huckabee, no, not that Sanders)  who's brave enough to face the cameras?

And I wonder, is there anyone who still believes that Trump puts anything other than his own narcissistic interests first? Did you see him greatly appreciate Comey in his termination letter?  Because in case you were wondering, nothing more important than that!

Remember the time when Trump said we maybe needed to do something about the First Amendment? You know, change the laws to make it easier to sue media companies because right now our press is allowed to say anything they want? And when he said he was going to sue the NY Times (they said bring it on), but never did?  I wonder if they're working on accomplishing the same thing in a slightly different way? For example, supporting the arrest of reporters?

That's right. A reporter was asking/yelling/aggressively questioning Price about the WeDon'tCare Act as Price and (Where in the World is) Kellyanne Conway were walking down a hallway, and it was alleged in the police report  that the reporter was aggressively breaching the Secret Service agents, causing a disturbance by yelling questions, and worthy of being held on $5,000 bond. Now, it was a state law under which the guy was charged, but I wonder, had Price (or Conway, for that matter) had been the better man, would he have told the police that the reporter didn't really need to be arrested?

And I wonder if we're really supposed to believe that these actions - firing Comey, and standing by as a reporter is arrested - are not intended to have a chilling effect on others? The Administration says that the multiple Russia investigations will continue and hopefully be resolved quickly so they can move on to doing the country's business. That in and of itself sets the tone that speed is more important than accuracy, as it were, and since the man who was leading the investigations has been fired, well... you get the picture. I hope there's no impact, but there's no guarantee.

Same with the reporter. Waving a microphone and yelling to get the attention of Administration officials is an arrestable offence in West Virginia?  Who know how many reporters will back off as result of this arrest?   I hope none, but there's no guarantee on that, either.

And finally, I wonder, if my mind was erased by Smith and Jones, would I even realize?

May 9, 2017

Trump in Transition (v17)

James Comey, you're fired!

The celebrity president has fired the celebrity FBI director, only a few months after jokingly complaining that Comey had become more famous than Trump.

Should we have recognized that as a sign that Comey's tenure as FBI director was bound to be short?

In all seriousness, I'm not sure any of us really expected Comey to make it through, although I'm also not sure anyone thought the head-chopping would come so fast.

There were a few things working against him, not the least of which was his decision that Hillary Clinton would not be charged for anything related to her email server.

And, of course, there was that press conference last July, which polarized the last remaining two people who were still speaking to each other: he never should have said anything, it wasn't his decision to make, the press conference was wrong, the conclusions were wrong... on and on it went, and Trump did not stay on the sidelines, either - he blasted Comey six ways from Sunday, at every rally he held. Heck, blasting Comey was part and parcel of #MAGA for a while there.

And then, everything took a different turn in late October, when Comey discovered more stuff in an unrelated investigation into Clinton aide Huma Abedin's husband, the notorious sexter Anthony Weiner.  While that investigation must have been sickening, all the sudden Comey was "mildly nauseous" about interjecting himself into the election: he was between a very bad rock and a catastrophic hard place, and so he chose bad and told Congress there was more to look at in the Clinton investigation.

The Left was in a tizzy; the Right was in a state of euphoria, knowing that Comey plus Wikileaks plus Trumpian bluster would be an extraordinary burden for any candidate, even one as experienced as Hillary Clinton.

Clinton lost, the three million or so popular votes notwithstanding, and there were Trump and Comey, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s - oh, never mind. You get the picture.

Until Russia. All that Russia stuff, and then Comey's recent testimony, in which he confirmed there were investigations into Trump's team and Russia and Russia and Russia. Oh, and some lies about Clinton - there was that, too.

Comey perjured himself in his testimony, it would seem. Isn't that what it is when a person lies to Congress? The Department of Justice had to send a correction to the Senate regarding how Abedin handled emails (she did not forward hundreds and thousands of emails to a personal laptop shared with her husband), and the extent to which she forwarded anything classified (almost never, which was also not as described by Comey) and regarding certain terrorism investigations (Comey noted there were some 2,000 of them, when in fact it's more like 300).

One might wonder whether Comey exaggerated, or was mistaken, or lied in his testimony because he knew no good would come from it?

And there was still Russia.

While Trump's letter of termination to Comey was self-congratulatory, noting that Comey had told him three times that he was not a target of investigation, the fact remains that there are open investigations and not just the wimpy ones in Congress that are moving slower than mole asses covered in molasses.

Comey was dismissed not because he perjured himself, but because of what happened last July, because he reached the wrong conclusion on Clinton, according to the Administration. Assistant AG Rod Rosenstein noted
I cannot defend the director's handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton's emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken. Almost everyone agrees that the director made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives (emphasis added).
And yet... On Monday, Trump tweeted about Russia investigation(s) as he has a number of times.
.

The answer, it appears, at least in Trump's opinion, is "Tuesday." 

May 8, 2017

A Businessman in the White House, Revisited

It was a year ago today that I questioned whether we needed a businessman in the White House.

You know, I wrote
someone who's actually run a business, met a payroll, fought through countless ridiculous regulations, someone who knows how to balance a budget, someone who understands the real world ramifications of what policy changes mean, someone who is accountable to auditors... And maybe most importantly, someone who is accountable to customers and shareholders.
Over the course of writing the post last year, I talked myself out of the idea, based on the words and actions of candidate Trump.
So - is this the businessman we need in the White House, one who's unaware of the laws, unclear on the situation, and who in response to just about every question anyone asks can only say how much he "loves" some bucket of people, or how much some bucket of people love him, and who can only point to what he did as a businessman? One who would even suggest putting the full faith and credit of the United States government on the negotiating table?
Since he became president, my opinion that Trump was the wrong one has only been confirmed, and he may have forever ruined the chances for any future businessman-candidate in my eyes.
  • How many more times are we going to hear about how hard it is to do this job? 
  • How many more times are we going to see him traipse off, leaving our House to go spend time at one of his houses, making money off his presidency?
  • How many more times are we going to hear him praise despicable people, despots and dictators, and proclaim it would be an honor to be in their presence? 
  • How many more times will we hear him blatantly lie about things that are of such little consequence they are unworthy of even the tiniest exaggeration?
  • How many more times will we see him blur ethics lines, see others in his administration blur the lines, members of his family blur the lines between what most people intuitively know to be wrong and what is legally ethical? (Ethically legal?)
  • How many more times will we hear him or see him shove blame onto someone else - another politician, someone on his staff, someone on Fox News - when he's called out for one lie or another? Does the buck not stop with the man at the top?
There are so many other reasons why he's not what we need. but don't take my word for it. Here's another opinion, published in The Week back in March.
But at any rate, the government is not a business, and not simply because its basic structure and function are dissimilar to that of a corporation. The really bedrock difference, as Charles Peters writes in his new boo We Do Our Part, is that quality government requires a sense of public spiritedness and amoral conscience. Sociopathic pursuit of profit at all costs - the defining characteristic of the modern American businessman - is a route to corruption and disaster. 
Yep.

May 7, 2017

Tidbits and Trivia (v2)

A quick look at some un-fact-checked facts, quotes and trivia:

  • Protests are good for business. According to this article on Bloomberg.com, sales of sign-making materials spiked 30% in the week before Trump's bigly inauguration and the even more bigly Women's March the next day, with an estimated $6M invested. Kinda thinking I should check to see if I have stock in any of this stuff.
  • According to this, from NPR, the Trump administration is looking for a tasteful wall between the US and Mexico. The wall "shall be physically imposing in height" with 18' possibly being acceptable but 30' more in the altitude they're looking for. It can be see-through (no giggling, please) or solid concrete, and must prevent climbing and tunneling.Our side must be "aesthetically pleasing...to be consistent with the general surrounding environment." That ought to be interesting.
  • Kyle Reyes, a marketing executive or something, is now famous for putting together a "Snowflake Test" for prospective employees.  Reyes has shared the test for free "with all America" and wants people who read his piece to "help share (this) test with other patriotic Americans" like the kind who are "sick and tired of the sniveling,whining, entitled brats who believe that everything should be handed to them on a silver platter."  Reyes must think that passes for patriotic... 
  • Are you good with gender-neutral terms? It seems there's a Writing Style Guide for students at Northern Arizona University advising them to use non-sexist words; the guide was issued at the beginning of the semester so everyone knew what was expected. Cailin Jeffers, a student, decided to test the waters by using a word she knew she was not supposed to - mankind - and her professor knocked down the grade. And, as often happens in cases like this, Professor Ann Scott and the NAU English department  "received threatening calls and emails" - dozens of the former, hundreds of the latter, including one telling her to "get off the face of the earth" and to "go put a gun to your head." The calls and emails must have been from a different kind of snowflake, I guess.
  • And finally, according to this article, the DEA has seized over $4B in cash since 2007 from folks who are suspected of being involved with drugs; 81% of the cash was taken from people who were never charged civilly or criminally. And that's just the cash - it doesn't include other possessions or real estate. The Department of Justice has an Asset Forfeiture Fund, which has grown to $28B in the last 10 years. Who says crime doesn't pay?

May 6, 2017

Who Knew This Could Be So Confusing?

Darn it all, just when I think I have this health care stuff figured out, those pesky Republicans go and confuse the HDHP out of me.

Take access to care, for example. Some people believe that TrumpCare, or RyanCare, or the American Health Care Act-- actually, I think I will refer to it as WeDontCare - will take away access for people who are covered under plans paid for with Medicaid.  And according to the bill summary  published on GovTrack, if you are on Medicaid
  • The ACA expanded Medicaid eligibility in 32 states that opted into it. (WeDontCare) would reverse the eligibility expansion beginning in 2020 (anyone enrolled by then would remain enrolled) and it would reduce federal support for Medicaid with caps on coverage. And, if you have a gap in coverage for more than one month after the end of December 2019, you won't be able to re-enroll unless you live in a state that wants to pick up the cost. 
  • The ACA expanded required benefits under Medicaid, such as mental health and addiction services, which would not longer be required. 
You should recall the president promised - he PROMISED! - he would not cut Medicaid, so it's a little confusing why WeDontCare was estimated by the Congressional Budget Office (well, the early versions of the bill - we don't have an estimate on the one that passed) - to drop some $880B from Medicaid. 

And, to the second bullet above, the president promised - he PROMISED! - to end the opioid epidemic. 
Our terrible drug epidemic will slow down, and ultimately stop.
Not only that, but he announced this plan when he was a candidate which, in addition to building The Big, Beautiful, Busty, Bodacious Border Wall and closing shipping loopholes, would
  • Fix the misguided rules and regulations that have made this problem worse: Speed up the approval and availability of abuse-deterring drugs; lift the cap on the number of patients that doctors can treat with recovery medications, provided they follow safe prescribing practices and proper treatment supervision; and reduce the amount of Schedule II opioids (drugs like oxycodone, methadone and fentanyl) that can be made and sold in the US, and 
  • Get people struggling with addiction the help they need: Support the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act; expand incentives to use drug courts and mandated treatment; expand access to treatment slots and end Medicaid policies that obstruct inpatient treatment; and distribute widely naloxone/narcan (opioid antidote to treat OD) to first responders and caregivers.
So it seems a bit surprising that he would so strongly support (and celebrate the passage of) a bill that chops a limb or three off Medicaid, and allows coverage for substance abuse treatment under Medicaid to be eliminated, doesn't it? Or is it just me?

And we learned, a long time ago, that people were appalled with conditions at the Veterans Administration, when people were dying waiting for care. You remember that, right?
Those are just a few of the headlines letting us know that people do die waiting for healthcare, and it's a horrible situation, whether it's a veteran or anyone else. It's a situation we all should be concerned about - folks like you and me, and politicians too. Really concerned, not fake concerned or politically expediently concerned. 

So then, what's wrong with this guy, Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador, that he doesn't understand this? When an attendee at Labrador's town hall mentioned her concern that the cuts in Medicare benefits might result in people dying, Labrador disagreed.
That line is do indefensible. Nobody dies because they don't have access to health care.
Well, I guess someone should tell that to all those veterans the Republicans told us about?

No wonder I'm so confused. Am I supposed to believe the Republicans, or the Republicans? Do I believe the promises of the president, and his indignation or do I just throw that all aside?

Of course, for clarity, there's always this interpretation of things.
It is hardly indefensible to say that people don't die from lack of access to healthcare. It is, rather, a basic fact of life. So perhaps Raul should just be honest and say "Sure, some people are going to die, but look at all the money we'd save rich people who don't like paying taxes? Isn't that worth it? They should be proud of their sacrifice! This country would hardly exist were it not for the poor nobly sacrificing their lives to that rich people can be slightly more rich than they would be otherwise!"
Yeah, that seems to help.

May 5, 2017

The Update Desk: National Day of Prayer

Well, in the end, it seems that the president did not have the courage of someone else's convictions and the executive order he signed today only goes so far in meeting the desires of 'his evangelicals' and others in his base.

Some have characterized the order as meaningless, ineffective, and "more symbolic than substantive" as it was significantly watered down from the leaked version I wrote about yesterday.

Trump, who earlier this year sneered that he would
get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.
Which, of course, they are allowed to do today, freely and without retribution, except for standing in their tax-free pulpit and telling their flock who to vote for, or against.

But when push came to shove, he did no such thing. Here is the relevant text of Thursday's Presidential Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty (with emphasis added):
Section 1.  Policy. It shall be the policy of the executive branch to vigorously enforce Federal law's robust protections for religious freedom. The Founders envisioned a Nation in which religious voices and views were integral to a vibrant public square (a place where representatives of faith are allowed to speak freely and without retribution) and in which religious people and institutions were free to practice their faith without fear of discrimination or retaliation by the Federal Government (which they are today). For that reason, the United States Constitution enshrines and protects the fundamental right to religious liberty as Americans' first freedom. Federal law protects the freedom of Americans and their organizations to exercise religion and participate fully in civic life without undue interference by the Federal Government. (Why yes, yes it does.) The executive branch will honor and enforce those protections. (As it did before yesterday's bill-signing, and the day before that, and the year before that, and the decade before that...)
Section 2. Respecting Religious and Political Speech. All executive departments and agencies (agencies) shall, to the greatest extent practicable and to the extent permitted by low, respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech. In particular, the Secretary of the Treasury shall ensure, to the extent permitted by law, (which would need to be changed by Congress, not a stroke of a pen) that the Department of the Treasury does not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective (which they are allowed to do today), where speech of similar character has, consistent with law, not ordinarily been treated as participation or intervention in a political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) a candidate for public office by the Department of the Treasury. (which occurs extraordinarily infrequently and only when such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective encouraging a vote for, or against, a particular candidate.) As used in this section, "adverse action" means the imposition of any tax or tax penalty; the delay or denial of tax-exempt status; the disallowance of tax deductions for contributions made to entities exempted from taxation under section 501(c)(3) of title 26, United States Code; or any other action that makes unavailable or denies and tax deduction, exemption, credit, or benefit.
Section 3. Conscience Protections with Respect to Preventive-Care Mandate. The Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate promulgated under section 300gg-13(c)(4) of title 42, United States Code. (Reiterating that people-companies can "exercise religion" (which is impossible) and discriminate against their people-employees who are under no obligation to hold the same faith to get their much-needed job, or who might not even know that their company has a religion to exercise. And while, as written, this particular gem is only applicable to the preventive care mandate and protections that the Affordable Care Act provided for access to a variety of contraceptive methods, including drugs that some have concluded cause abortions but which actually don't, how long before we "shall consider issuing amended regulations"  allowing the discrimination we feared would be here?)
Section 4. Religious Liberty Guidance. In order to guide all agencies in complying with relevant Federal law, the Attorney General shall, as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections under Federal law. (This may be the scariest part of all).
So, all in all, it could have been worse, I guess.

And it likely will be.

May 4, 2017

National Prayer Day 2017

Not being a religious person, I've never paid all that much attention to the National Day of Prayer. For example, until I looked it up, I never knew that it was older than me. According to the history link on its web page, the whole thing started back in 1952.
On April 17 a bill initiated by Mr. Conrad Hilton of Hilton Hotels and Senator Frank Carlson of Kansas was passed (Public Law 82-324) that the President of the United States was to set aside an appropriate day each year, other than Sunday, as a National Day of Prayer.
This year, along with many other people, I'll pay more attention. Because it's rumored that today is the day that president Trump will sign one of his Executive Orders - you know, the thing he wasn't going to do -- that mess with religion in a way that is unfair to others.

The order is supposed to reduce enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, the pesky little part of the law that prevents 501c(3) organizations from supporting political candidates and to enable more non-living, non-breathing human corporations to express their deeply held religious beliefs.
The three main points of the executive order, according to a senior White House official, will declare "that it is the policy of the administration to protect and vigorously promote religious liberty," direct the IRS "to exercise maximum enforcement of discretion to alleviate the burden of the Johnson Amendment," and provide "regulatory relief for religious objections to Obamacare's burdensome preventative services mandate."
The order, after what I'm sure will be a deeply moving, prayerful and somber, signature-flashing photo op, will be signed by a man who lied about belonging to a church, and whose actions and words do not generally reflect core values or religious beliefs of any kind.

That part doesn't matter so much, I guess, to the living breathing people and bricks and mortar people, as long as he does their bidding.

The order will take bold steps to try and legitimize discrimination as the law of the land. According to a leaked copy that has been out there since February,which may or may not have been changed in any significant way, the order
specifically protects the tax-exempt status of any organization that "believe, speaks, or acts (or declines to act) in accordance with the belief that marriage is or should be recognized as a union of one man and one woman, sexual relations are properly reserved for such a marriage, male and female and their equivalents refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy, physiology at or before birth, and that human life begins at conception and merits protection at all stages of life. 
And, if it goes as originally written,
It sets forth an exceptionally expansive definition of "religious exercise" that extends to "any act or refusal to act that is motivated by a sincerely held religious belief, whether or not the act is required or compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.
Words like these, and actions like the ones we are likely to see today, are part of the reason why I'm not religious, and in fact serve to strengthen my core beliefs in that regard.

May 2, 2017

Quick Takes (v17): Preexisting Conditions

Quick Takes
Turning to health insurance, now that the basking in the first 100 days is over, the president has given us assurances that everything will be OK under his plan for anyone with a preexisting condition.

In fact he assured us on Sunday in an interview on what he calls DeFace The Nation that he would "beautifully" take care of these folks and that
Preexisting conditions are in the bill -- and I mandate it... Preexisting is going to be in there and we're also going to create pools and pools are going to take care of the preexisting.
In another interview, with Bloomberg News on Monday, he promised us again that everything was going to be OK.
I want it to be good for sick people. It's not in its final form right now. It will be every bit as good on pre-existing conditions as Obamacare. 
Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks and other House Freedom Caucus members got an amendment into the latest version of TrumpCare that would allow states to allow insurance carriers to charge significantly more for people who have preexisting conditions, force them into high risk pools, or likely in many cases, force them to go without coverage because they can't afford it.

The goal? Cheaper rates for everyone!

Well, cheaper rates for those of us who live the good life, anyway. According to Brooks, when asked about coverage for preexisting conditions by CNN's Jake Tapper,
My understanding is that it will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool. That helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they're healthy, they've done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now those are the people -- who've done things the right way -- that are seeing their costs skyrocketing. (Emphasis added, obviously.)
What's that?

You mean people who lead good lives simply don't end up with asthma or cancer or epilepsy or rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes or heart disease or Crohn's disease or allergies? Or any of the other things that can fall under the preexisting definition, often described as any medical condition for which a person did or should have sought medical treatment?

Using that definition, it doesn't take a healthy rocket scientist (or even an unhealthy one) to figure out that a person could be the best gosh darn 'goodest living person' in the whole state of Alabama and still fall into the bucket of skyrocketing premiums, subsidized high risk pools, or having to choose between, say, food or insurance.

Now, I get that people believe they are paying too much for health insurance. People who have insurance through their employer feel this way, as do people who have coverage under a state exchange like the one here in New York, as do people who get their health insurance under federally-facilitated marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act. In many cases they really are; in many others, though, they just think they are, because they've been convinced that's true.

Which, I guess, proves that in America we actually can say "universal" and "health care" in the same sentence, just not the way many people wish.

I get that some preexisting conditions can be extremely costly - some are, but not all of them. But the answer to solving the insurance costs of treating them is not to make people have to enter heavily subsidized high risk pools, or charge them three, five, ten times the premium or mow, the sky could be the limit - with no guaranteed reduction in costs for everyone else who doesn't have such a condition.

And shifting the cost of covering preexisting conditions from people's premiums to people's tax dollars? That does not reduce the overall cost of health insurance. All it does is hide part of the cost behind door number one, or curtain number two. It might make people feel better -- but so does taking a placebo, right?

It may be unfair of me to single out Mo Brooks - after all, he's but one of many politicians who have tossed a bunch of crazy pasta at the ceiling to see if it would stick (see Trump's comments at the top of the post, for example).

But it does seem as if he may have, through bad living or something, acquired a preexisting condition of his own - the thought that the rest of us are preexistingly stupid.