The Trump Chronicles, Volume 79: Two Little Boys Playing With Loaded Guns

This week’s news has been dominated by the escalating and dangerous rhetoric between President Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. It’s not been pretty.

We were at war with North Korea from 1950-1953; the war was concluded with a cease fire, not a surrender. Technically we are still at war.

In the 64 years since the cease fire North Korea has become more and more isolated from the rest of the world. At first they were closely allied with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. The dissolution of the USSR moved China into the only true ally of North Korea.

As with (let’s face it) all communist nations, North Korea faces horrific poverty. Several times they’ve refused to negotiate with the free world and accepted famine as a cost of maintaining their independence. We can’t know exactly how bad it was, but there is reason to believe that up to 2,000,000 North Korean citizens starved to death between 1993 and 1999.

Most of us have looked on this with a mixture of horror and anger. Those unlucky enough to have been born there did not deserve their fate and we recognize that their suffering resulted from the poor leadership of Kim Il Sung (1912-1994), his son Kim Jong Il (1941-2011), and his grandson Kim Jong Un (b.1983).

The Kims have always favored their fate above the people they lead, but things took a decisively bad turn in 2003 when North Korea announced it had nuclear weapons.

Presidents from Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969) to Barack Obama have recognized that they needed to be the adult in the room. They’ve known that a little boy with a loaded gun needs to be taken seriously and they’ve looked for ways to ensure that whatever Kim led North Korea, he would be placated.

And by and large it’s worked. North Korea has rattled sabers, made threats, and generally frightened much of the rest of the world. But it hasn’t delivered on its threats.

But last November we elected another little boy. It’s generally understood that good leaders command respect while poor leaders crave affection. We’ve understood for 64 years that North Korean leaders have craved affirmation, but late last year we elected a President who does the same thing.

And while our little boy previously argued that we should negotiate with North Korea he has now decided to meet Kim’s juvenile rhetoric with juvenile rhetoric of his own.

Last Wednesday he threatened “fire and fury like the world has never seen” but didn’t explain what that meant. It’s a little like “You had better do what I want or else!” It’s never clear what “or else,” or for that matter what “fire and fury” really means.

And while Kim Jong Un’s threats make clear his targets (Guam), our little boy continues to make vague threats that nobody can interpret.

Many of us found his threats alarming and even his Secretary of State hoped to walk back his remarks.

Last December I wrote about my fear that our little boy would not be prepared for a complex international crisis. Nine months later I fear this crisis has landed.

I pray these little boys listen to the adults in the room, but I have no confidence they will.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 78: Lies Are Not "Truthful Hyperbole"

Almost from the beginning of his campaign for President we’ve known that Donald Trump has, at best, a casual relationship with the truth. Web pages like Politifact and Snopes fact check what we hear to determine the difference between what’s true and what’s false. Politifact sorts stories in several categories, including the lowest one, “Pants on Fire”.

They’ve done heroic work even while being under attack. On September 28, 2016 conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh instructed his listeners to ignore fact checking organizations because they operate under the “guise of fairness.” I guess he sees no need for Mr. Trump to tell the truth.

This recently came into focus. On Monday, July 24th, Mr. Trump spoke to the annual Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia. By any measure his speech insulted the young men and their families who worked hard and saved money to attend. After promising not to talk about politics he then spoke about his greatness, complained about how he had been mistreated, and gossiped about someone he met decades ago.

When his speech faced justifiable criticism he claimed to have received a phone call from the “head” of the Boy Scouts who told him that his speech was the “greatest speech that was ever made to them.”

Except that call didn’t happen. A few days later his press secretary insisted that he didn’t lie. Instead Sarah Sanders insisted that this was a live conversation and not a phone conversation. And while a phone call can be traced, a conversation cannot. I think most of us believe this conversation never happened and he lied to make himself look better after an offensive speech.

Simply put, President Trump lies, and lies often. This goes back a long way. In 1991 he called People magazine claiming to be “John Miller” to give himself good publicity. After denying he made the call, he later admitted it.

In his ghost written book The Art of the Deal (no way I’m linking to this) he said this:

“The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion.”

That may have made him a success as a real estate developer, but as President it makes him a liar. More than six months into the job I don’t think he understands that he is accountable for what he says. I don’t think he understands lying to boost his brand undercuts his credibility.

I understand that this bravado emboldens his base, but his base was dangerously small on election night and is shrinking. My fear is this: as his base declines he will respond by increasing his inflammatory rhetoric. Much like Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny his paranoia will only grow as fewer and fewer people find themselves willing to accept his narrative.

He may call what he does “truthful hyperbole” but the rest of us call it lying.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 77: The Dishonesty of Repeal and Replace

From the day President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in April of 2010, the Republicans in Congress started a drumbeat of promises to repeal it.

You can read an excellent timeline here. It was published in 2014 and chronicles only the first four years of their attempt.

Republicans in both the House of Representatives and the Senate introduced bills to repeal the ACA. But by the next month they were already backpedaling; Tennessee Senator Bob Corker said this: “The fact is that’s [a repeal] not going to happen, OK?” There were parts of the ACA that everyone liked, (e.g. allowing children to remain on their parents’ policy until age 26 and preventing insurers from denying coverage for preexisting conditions).

The 2010 Congressional elections broke heavily Republican; they gained 63 seats in the House and 6 seats in the Senate. Republicans ran on a platform of repealing the ACA and they saw this victory as a mandate and vindication. Instead of looking for bipartisan ways to improve the ACA they elected to do nothing legislatively and instead keep beating the drum to repeal.

But as long as Barack Obama was President they could freely call for the ACA to be repealed, safe in the recognition that it wouldn’t happen and they wouldn’t be responsible for its consequences. As matter of fact, they passed a repeal bill that President Obama vetoed in January of 2016. At the time House Speaker Paul Ryan said this: “It’s no surprise that someone named Obama vetoed a bill repealing Obamacare. The idea that Obamacare is the law of the land for good is a myth. We have now shown that there is a clear path to repealing Obamacare without 60 votes in the Senate. So, next year, if we’re sending this bill to a Republican president, it will get signed into law.”

But on November 7, 2016 they found themselves in the spotlight. On that night the Republican party won the House, the Senate, and the Presidency. Suddenly they found themselves in a position where they needed to deliver on a promise they never expected to have to keep: repeal (and replace) something the American people had grown to love.

Candidate Trump promised to repeal and replace and made it sound easy. But it never occurred to him (or any of his allies) that it wouldn’t be easy.

Simply put, while the Republicans spent seven years promising to repeal the ACA, the rest of the country spent those years recognizing its value. By late 2016 6,400,000 Americans knew their health wasn’t in danger because they purchased insurance through the ACA.

And it surprised nobody but President Trump that health care reform is complicated.

Meanwhile, the ACA kept growing in popularity. In June we learned that 41% of Americans supported it while only 38% didn’t (presumably 21% weren’t certain). On the same poll only 16% supported the plan the House passed in April. In fairness, President Trump weighed in and called the House plan mean.

All during this time both Congress and the White House steamed on, determined to keep this promise regardless of its damage. In early May the House passed the American Health Care Act by a vote of 217-213. They took this vote before hearing from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO); when their report did come out the CBO predicted 24,000,000 would lose their health insurance over the next 10 years. Several members voted for the AHCA knowing it would not pass the Senate.

The Senate indicated they weren’t going to vote on the AHCA and drew up their own version that they called the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). The CBO determined that only 22,000,000 people would lose coverage in the next 10 years.

Like the House, several moderate Republicans voiced concerns. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attempted to pressure his members to vote for this bill by essentially saying “we need to get something done.” When it became clear that it couldn’t pass, they came up with “skinny repeal”. This also failed, but only by one vote.

Their actions are both dishonest and irresponsible. Moderate Republicans have been bullied into voting for legislation they don’t support by being told “we’ll fix it later.”

What they need to do now is the thing they’ve refused for the last 7 years: work with Democrats. Nobody believes the ACA was perfect on its first try but it’s far from doomed. They need to put the health of the nation ahead of their political ambitions.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 76: Amateur Hour Marches On

President Trump ran (and won) on the platform that he wasn’t a politician. Nobody disputed that. Since moving into the White House he has surrounded himself with others who were equally naive about how government works.

In previous posts I’ve created a subcategory of the Trump Chronicles I’ve called “Amateur Hour.” Previous winners included Kellyanne Conway, President Trump, Stephen Miller, and Sean Spicer.

Next up is Sean Spicer’s successor, Anthony Scaramucci. He took the job promising to end leaks to the press (which reminds many of us of President Nixon’s attempt to stop leaks in his administration through the use of operatives that we know as plumbers).

Wednesday night Mr. Scarmucci called the journalist Ryan Lizza demanding to know how he (Mr. Lizza) knew about who attended a White House dinner. Of course Mr. Lizza refused to give his source.

Mr. Scarmucci then began a tirade, accusing (then) White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus of leaking the information.

He then falsely claimed that the public disclosure of his finances was a felony even though it was published by Politico after they made a public records request.

If that weren’t enough he then made increasingly vulgar attacks on Mr. Priebus and White House Strategist Steve Bannon. You can read about it here.

I’m not a politician but I recognize that any conversation I have with a journalist is “on the record” unless I ask that it be “off the record.” An “off the record” conversation is understood by both parties to be kept confidential. The reporter may use the information to continue to investigate but he can’t directly quote anything he is told.

I guess Mr. Scarmucci didn’t get the memo. When Mr. Lizza quoted him in an excellent article in The Atlantic, Mr. Scarmucci claimed he made a mistake in trusting a reporter and that it won’t happen again.

Only a rank amateur would speak to a reporter on the record and then complain that his words were quoted.

Tony, welcome to the club currently occupied by Kellyanne Conway, President Trump, Stephen Miller, and Sean Spicer. Fear not, the club will get bigger.

The Trump Chronicles Volume 75: It's Been Six Months. Had Enough?

Dear Mr. President:

Yes, it’s been six months since you took the oath of office and gave an inaugural address that can only be called dark and dystopian.

I have to confess that six months later my fears for your presidency are vindicated, though I did have some initial hope. During the campaign you promised to be so presidential that we would be bored. I prayed that this campaign promise would be honored.

It didn’t take long to see that you lied about this too. On your second day in office you did something so disrespectful that it still takes my breath away. In case you don’t remember (or wish to claim it’s fake news) you appeared at the Central Intelligence Agency and stood in front of the Memorial Wall.

Perhaps you didn’t know this, but each of the 125 stars behind you commemorate a CIA employee who died in service to his country. But unlike most memorials to those who paid the ultimate price, there are no names with the stars. We know who some of them are but some died in circumstances that are still classified to ensure the safety of others who continue to serve us. This wall is a sacred place.

And not to put too fine a point on this, we don’t memorialize these 125 martyrs anywhere. We don’t remember them with streets, or parks, or schools. They don’t live on in memorial runs or hospital wings. Our only recognition of their sacrifice, and even their existence, lies in those 125 stars most of us will never see.

So did you honor their memory? Did you tell their families that while they may never know how their loved ones died, their country’s gratitude knows no bounds? Or did you instead use this opportunity to complain that “the press” cheated you by reporting that your inauguration was poorly attended?

Were this not sufficiently offensive, you later claimed to have been given a standing ovation. Really? So here’s the thing: when the President walks into a room everyone stands, and nobody sits until the President tells them to. You didn’t. Not only that, but you planted the room with your own people who were instructed to laugh and clap on cue. You were given an alleged standing ovation only because nobody was allowed to sit and your own people clapped.

I weep for those whose memory you disrespected.

But I hope you listen me now: it’s not too late. You still have 3 1/2 years left in your term (1208 days but who’s counting). Here’s what I suggest:

  • Stop trying to make yourself look better by denying health care to the poor and the sick. The Affordable Care Act is, while necessary, not perfect. If you work with Democrats and make it better you can claim to have “fixed” it. We’ll give you that.
  • Come clean about how you worked with Russia to win the election. Admittedly this won’t make you more popular, but full disclosure is your only way to take this off the front page of the daily news cycle. Much of the reason you’ve not been able to get much done lies in the fact that you’ve consistently cared more about your image than the nation you lead.
  • Stop listening to those who are the most loyal and start listening to those who are the most intelligent. Those who bring you bad news aren’t currying favor, they’re looking out for your (and our) best interest. Be cautious about those who tell you want to hear and listen carefully to those who tell you what you need to hear.
  • Admit that you have a hard job. This won’t be a hard sell but you ran on a platform of “I’m smart enough to make this job easy.” When you mused that nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated you looked stupid. Every President before you understood that they needed to learn how to do the job. It’s your turn to recognize that.

I’ll have more later. Call me.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 74: When All is Said and Done…

When I was a teenager I served on a committee at my church. After a long and painful meeting another member told me: “When all is said and done, a great deal more is said than done.” I still laugh when I think of it

I’ve written several posts on the Republican promise to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. Perhaps it’s time to take a step back and look at how we got here.

From the 2nd half of the 20th Century different Presidential administrations have sought to make health care available to everyone. As far back as 1945 we’ve been hearing about this. In November of 1945, Democratic President Harry Truman (seven months into his first term) said this: “The health of American children, like their education, should be recognized as a definite public responsibility.”

Alas, he was not able to make this happen. But 20 years later Democratic President Lyndon Johnson signed into law Medicare (health care for those 65 and older) and Medicaid (health care for the poor).

It’s worth noting that the Republican Party fought hard against all three. You can read an excellent article here.

From his first days in office in 2009 President Obama pledged to provide health care to those who had previously been left out because they had pre-existing conditions, or worked for employers who didn’t offer health insurance, or couldn’t work. You can find an excellent timeline here. It wasn’t easy, but he signed the ACA bill on March 23, 2010.

When Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid became the law of the land the Republicans soon learned that these programs were both popular and permanent. Both parties then learned to cooperate and make regular updates that benefited the American people.

Not so with the ACA. Republicans who wanted nothing other than President Obama’s defeat latched onto this as a path to destroy his Presidency. You can read about it here. Simply put, while they failed in the courts, they found moderate success in frightening insurance companies away from entering markets in states that declined the Medicaid expansion (and threw overboard their poorest citizens in favor of settling political scores).

Meanwhile they’ve spent the last seven years promising to replace the ACA with something “better and cheaper.” Five days before his inauguration President Trump promised insurance for everybody. But if we’ve learned anything from the last six months, we’ve learned that while the Republicans pledged to replace the ACA they’ve spent not one minute figuring out how to do it. No plan, no framework, no work at all.

In fairness they’ve enjoyed the luxury of making promises they never expected to have to keep. That all changed in November.

So here’s the problem: these Republicans now have to choose between a moral compass and their job security. I don’t envy them because it’s not a fair fight. They continue to claim that they serve their constituents but the latest national poll shows that most Americans support the ACA and only 12% of counties who voted for President Trump support the ACA’s replacement. This morning we learned that a group called the Senate Conservatives Fund are already targeting Republican Senators who didn’t support the latest Senate bill to replace the ACA.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 73: Essential Health Benefits Explained

In my last few posts I’ve talked about the Senate Healthcare Bill, also known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017. My last post centered on its effect on Medicaid.

Today I wish to focus on another aspect: the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) listed 10 things that all health insurance were required to provide:

Ambulatory patient services. [outpatient care]
Emergency services.
Hospitalization. [inpatient care]
Maternity and newborn care
Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment.
Prescription drugs.
Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices.
Laboratory services
Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management;
Pediatric services, including oral and vision care.

These were chosen because several of them are exactly the benefits that are denied when times get tough. You can find an excellent article from National Public Radio that compares Obamacare, the House bill, and the Senate bill.

For the purposes of this post I’m going to drill down on just one: mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment. With Obamacare your health insurance required them to pay for mental health services, but both the House and Senate bills allow states to apply for waivers that would not require them to pay for this.

We’ve been hearing more and more about this, but opioid addiction has skyrocketed in the last few years. In fact, in March Mr. Trump appointed former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to lead a new commission to battle opiod abuse.

Thing is, many addicts who seek treatment are able to pay for it through Medicaid. The percentage varies from from state to state. States that are hardest hit by addiction rely heavily on Medicaid to pay for this treatment. In Ohio it’s 49%, West Virginia it’s 45%, Kentucky it’s 44%.

The GOP plan will decimate Medicaid and make it harder for those who seek sobriety. We’ve been reading in the last few days that the Senate is looking at adding $45 billion for drug treatment but this isn’t nearly enough.

I’ll be writing more about how we all benefit from Medicaid, but healing addiction helps everyone.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 72: Slashing Medicaid for Fun and Profit

In my last post I spoke about the Senate health care bill and how they needed to find a way to compel insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions while eliminating the individual mandate to purchase health insurance. This should come as no surprise, but they found their target: Medicaid.

But first, a little background. Life expectancy (ie, the average age when you can expect to die) shot up in the 20th century. In 1900 it was 47 years. But 100 years later that number increased by 60% to 75 years. By the 1950s and 1960s it became clear that people were living longer after they retired from work, and often lost health insurance. On July 30, 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation that led to the creation of Medicare.

In addition to the elderly, we found that millions of poorer Americans were locked out of even basic healthcare. The same bill that brought us Medicare also brought us Medicaid.

By 2011 CNS News estimated that over 108,000,000 Americans accessed health care from one or both of these programs. On May 21, 2015 Donald Trump promised not to cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.

Simply put, President Trump’s promise to sign whatever version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) breaks his previous promise. The House version (HR1628) would, in the next 10 years, cut Medicaid by $880,000,000 and throw 14,000,000 Americans overboard.

We’re still waiting on the numbers on the Senate bill (the Congressional Budget Office should have the numbers early next week), but early analysis shows these numbers won’t be any better.

So why should we care about Medicaid? Fair enough. There are those who honestly believe that poverty is a self inflicted wound and that by providing anything we are encouraging laziness.

But many Americans depend on Medicaid on either end of life. According to their own web page, Medicaid provides health insurance to 35,000,000 children and 35,000,000 elderly.

As a nation we’re much better off providing health care to children. Not treating children for an earache with antibiotics places the child at risk for meningitis or hearing loss. Not vaccinating children places them at risk for a host of dangerous and preventable diseases. Healthy children become healthy adults. They grow up, get jobs, and create wealth that provides for all of us.

On the other hand, there is little downside to ignoring the elderly (except that they vote in high numbers). Nobody wants to spend the last years of his life in a nursing home, but 60% of nursing home residents rely on Medicaid for their care.

In other words, funding Medicaid does two things: it makes our children less dependent on needing further treatment and it insures our elderly poor aren’t found days after their death or don’t die on park benches.

Then again, believe President Trump’s promises at your own risk.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 71: We Finally Get To See the Senate Health Care Bill and It Should Frighten Everyone

When I began the Trump Chronicles last November I hoped to chronicle his Presidency. Frankly there’s so much drama it’s hard to keep up. I never thought I’d be able to keep up with the President’s tweets for two reasons: I don’t have a twitter account, and unlike the President I have a full time job.

But I was driving home from work this afternoon listening to the news and knew I needed to blog on the state of legislation on health care. Since its inception in 2010 the Republican Party has made repeal of the Affordable Care Act a priority. At every opportunity they’ve attempted to sabotage it. Despite their best efforts, the ACA continues to enjoy popularity.

And despite the will of the American people, the GOP continue to insist on a mandate to repeal and replace.

In May the House of Representatives passed HR 1628 and frankly we found much of it horrifying. Even the President called it mean and suggested the final plan as generous, kind, with heart.

Previous to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies could pick and choose who they cover. They could deny coverage for someone with a pre-existing condition. And to be fair, that makes sense. If you’re an insurance company you don’t want someone to live without health coverage in their young and healthy years, only to demand coverage after being diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, or dementia. But it also meant that if you had something as simple as sleep apnea, and could not get insurance from your employer, you were out of luck.

The Affordable Care Act recognized this and mandated coverage even if you’re young and healthy. It’s much the same as requiring you to have car insurance even if you’re a safe driver. But this health care mandate led to some of the largest whining among conservatives. Under the banner of “no one can tell me what to do with my money,” they screeched that this diminished the freedom of those who were willing to take their chances. But when Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney authored a health plan with an individual mandate in 2006, he characterized it as a personal responsibility. He went on to say that it was “immoral” for those who can afford health insurance not to buy it.

And yet the GOP demanded the removal of the individual mandate which left them with a problem: how will they pay for this? Well, they went back to their playbook to reward the wealthy and punish the poor. More later.

Happy Watergate Day Everyone!

Forty five years ago today five men were arrested for breaking into an office. Almost nobody knew it at the time but it would begin a series of events that would end, two years later, with the unprecedented resignation of the President. On that date, June 17, 1972 I had just finished 6th grade and I honestly don’t remember when I first heard about it. But I soon became obsessed, and continue to be so to this day.

If you’re not aware of what I’m talking about, let me give you a (hopefully) brief background. In June of 1972 President Richard Nixon was running to be re-elected as President. In 1968 he received 301 electoral votes (needing 270) and by all accounts he was the favorite to enlarge his victory margin (and in November he received 520 electoral votes).

But Mr. Nixon was a man who worried constantly about his “enemies” and may well have been paranoid. His re-election committee, called the Committee to Re-elect the President, was abbreviated as the CRP to them, but as CREEP to nearly everyone else. They wanted to know what the campaign of his opponent, Senator George McGovern, knew about the Nixon campaign.

It was a dumb move because they broke into the offices of the Democratic National Convention (or DNC) in the Watergate Office Building, while the information they needed would have been found at Senator McGovern’s campaign headquarters.

In any case, security officers in the Watergate found and arrested five men: Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, James McCord, Eugenio Martinez, and Frank Sturgis.

Nobody believes that President Nixon ordered the break in, or even knew about it in advance. But in the days after we later learned that he ordered his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman to pay money to the burglars in return for their silence. It didn’t work and over the next two years we learned that Mr. Nixon obstructed justice. This led to his resignation on August 7, 1974. I wrote about it here two years ago.