Health Care Remains, For Now, in the Waiting Room

President Donald Trump might yet grow bored with winning, but it probably won’t happen today. On Thursday the House of Representatives delayed a vote on the health care legislation Trump is backing, lest it go down to certain defeat, and even if they are swayed by his threat to drop the matter altogether if they don’t pass it by the end of this work day it won’t likely count as a win.
The vote was scheduled for Thursday because that was the seventh anniversary of the signing of the hated Obamacare law that the current legislation is intended to repeal and replace, as Republicans have been promising to do for the past seven years, and apparently the irony of the date was too much for the bill’s backers to resist. It came too soon for Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan to round up all the Republican votes needed to overcome the predictably unanimous Democratic opposition, though, and so far it is not apparent why Trump has decided that the matter must be resolved today or not at all. Nor is it apparent that Trump’s threats will sway any reluctant Republican votes, or that it would be a good thing if they did.
Although Trump is careful not to call the proposed plan “Trumpcare,” despite his usual penchant for putting his name on everything, he has fully invested his rapidly diminishing political capital into the project, and he’s threatened any dissenting Republicans with political consequences if they defy him. He’s a president who’s polling in the high 30s and low 40s, however, and the bill he’s pushing was at 17 percent approval in the latest poll, and the Republican dissenters have plenty of perfectly Republican reasons to offer their constituents, and the Democrats in their districts surely won’t mind the nay vote, so the threats rang rather hollow on Thursday and might again today. If even the reluctant House Republicans are cowed by the prospects of presidential “tweets” there’s still a big fight ahead in the Senate, and even if Trump can win over all the Republicans he has slandered in that body the bill he signs won’t necessarily be scored a victory.
As it stands now, the bill has something for everyone but a diehard 17 percent or so of the country to hate. The Democrats can’t stand any alteration to their beloved Obamacare, no matter how obvious its many shortcomings have become over the last seven years, and all us Republicans who were Republicans long before Trump joined the party are disappointed that the repeal isn’t root-and-branch and the replacement retains too many of its most infuriating assaults on individual liberty and economic logic. Obamacare’s promise of coverage for pre-existing conditions makes as much sense as letting people buy fire insurance after their house has burned down, but it polls through the roof and is therefore protected by the bill. The new bill would end subsidies to millions of Americans who rely on them for health care coverage, many of whom who will have undeniably tear-jerking stories to tell the newspapers and broadcast networks, and although most of them are now inadequately covered and driving up costs for others and would happily opt out of a system that’s hurtling toward insolvency Trump and Ryan and the rest of the Republicans have done a poor job of making that case.
There’s bound to something in even the worst legislation to like, and we find favor with the fact that the proposal would eliminate a number of Obamacare’s more ridiculous requirements. For the past seven years we’ve been arguing that the Little Sisters of the Poor shouldn’t be forced to pay for contraception coverage, monogamous married couples shouldn’t be forced to pay for potential sexually-transmitted diseases, and healthy young people earning starting salaries shouldn’t be stuck with anything more than catastrophic coverage, but somehow the Republicans are mangling even that argument for the bill. Our own snarly Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts tried to make the point by sarcastically telling a female reporter that “I’d hate to lose my mammogram coverage,” which was quickly construed to mean that Republicans were against mammograms and their bill would eliminate that coverage for those who might choose it, even though that wasn’t the case at all, and not being a reality star he wound up apologizing via “tweet,” which is pretty typical of how the Republicans’ public relations campaign has been going thus far.
Although Trump is the leader of the Republican that has majorities in both chambers of Congress, he’s not had much luck lining them up behind the bill he’s careful not to call “Trumpcare.” Any concessions he makes to the hard-liners only makes it harder to woo the squishy moderates in purple districts who dread all those inevitable tear-jerking stories about people who lost their healthcare, his threats of political retribution for anyone who defies his will grow more ridiculous with each passing ridiculous pronouncement and every public opinion poll, and Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican establishment that Trump vowed to overthrow are looking equally inept. Now seems a good time for the party for stop and think through what it’s doing, but Trump has decided that it has to be done today, which is symbolic of nothing in particular, or that we’ll just have to put up with another four years of Obamacare.
Call us old-fashioned, but we don’t see why Trump and Congress and the rest of us can’t take a few more weeks or even a few more months to come up with something that both makes sense and scores more than 17 percent approval in the public opinion polls and might even get a Democratic vote or two from some purplish district. Back when Obamacare was passed we and everyone else who was a Republican at the time argued that the Democrats were hasty and reckless and obviously over-promising, and thanks to the anniversary-date vote that was planned for Thursday we’re reminded they took a full year to enact that stupid law, which passed without a single Republican vote and has haunted the Democratic Party ever since. We can’t help thinking that if the Republicans take just as much time, and come up with a sales pitch that avoids needless snark and doesn’t promise the coverage for everyone at much lower prices that Trump promised during their campaign, we might wind up with something that’s at least somewhat better. ┬áIf that’s not a next-news-cycle victory for Trump and his real estate negotiation style, so be it.

— Bud Norman

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Gorsuch and Nonesuch

So far President Donald Trump’s travel ban is still being held up in court, his repeal-and-replace plan for health care seems lacking some crucial Republican votes, the budget proposals are widely opposed and the “tweeted” accusations of treason are getting much ridicule and little support, but at least the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is going well.
The Democrats and the rest of the left are doing their best to stop it, as tradition requires the opposition party to do, but they don’t seem to be having much luck. They’ve objected to the fact that Gorsuch is an admitted “originalist” in his judicial philosophy, but that basically means he believes the Constitution says whatever a plain reading of it written words say, and ever since Franklin Roosevelt tried to pack the court the Democrats have had a hard time time selling the idea it should say whatever they want it to say at any given moment. There have been no revelations of financial entanglements or college dope-smoking incidents or any of the other assorted scandals that have sunk past nominees, his long history of voting with majority and unanimous decisions during a long tenure as a circuit court judge makes it hard to cast him as any sort of scary extremist, and his performance in the confirmation hearings has been as flawlessly careful and noncommittal and yet exceedingly charming as any we can remember. The Democrats have been frustrated that Gorsuch wouldn’t pre-judge any hypothetical cases for them, just as the Republicans were when they grilled past Democratic nominees, but we don’t expect that the general public will mind that Gorsuch has been answering all the questions exactly as Supreme Court nominees are supposed to do.
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank was reduced to complaining that Gorsuch seemed all too reasonable and downright personable during the hearings, and was sure that such “archaic phrases” as “goodness” and “since I was a tot” and “give a whit” would only be used an Eddie Haskell sort, who was a smarmy character on “Leave It to Beaver” that only the most archaic pop culture commentators remember. The late-night comedy program “The Daily Show” and its African host sneered that such expressions showed how very white Gorsuch is, but we doubt that most Americans would find that a disqualifying quality in a Supreme Court nominee and we’re quite sure that Trump’s most loyal supporters would find it endearing. Of the thousands of cases Gorsuch have heard the Democrats seized on one where he voted against a truck driver who had violated company policy and wound up frozen as a result and then sued over being fired, but of course the case was complicated and not the sort of thing that be easily conflated into a coming reign of judicial terror.
All the late night comics and the rest of the Democrats have had a far easier time scaring people about the rest of what Trump is to, but they inadvertently allowed Gorsuch to reassure the public about that. He’d already been quoted by anonymous sources as telling Senators that he was “disheartened” by Trump’s attacks on a “so-called judge” and the authority of the judiciary, but reiterated the sentiment under oath, carefully declined to answer any questions about how he might rule in a hypothetical case involving Trump and the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution or any of the other many things that might very well come up in the next four years, and somehow left a clear impression that Trump won’t be able to count on him if the facts and the law of a case favor the other side.
That willingness to defy Trump, along with all the aw-shucks demeanor and apparent reasonableness, have convinced some of Trump’s supporters that he’s picked another one of those squishy Supreme Court Justices that more establishment sort of Republicans have been picking for decades, and they’re still holding out for someone more snarling, but we doubt they’ll derail the nomination. Meanwhile all the Democrats are still made that President Barack Obama’s pick for the post, whose name was Merrick Garland or Garland Merrick or something, didn’t get a confirmation hearing at all, because it was blocked the Republican congressional leadership that all of Trump’s most avid fans hated for caving into everything Obama wanted, so it would be fun for almost everyone if a Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch did wind up ruling against some Trump overreach.
All the big press outlets seem resigned to Gorsuch’s nomination, and mostly unwilling to expend any of their diminishing capital of credibility on trying to portray him as a scary sort of extremist who’s going to bring back Jim Crow and back-alley abortions and all the stuff they once threw at Judge Robert Bork, whose last name is now a verb for such character assassination, so we expect this will be a win for Trump. That’s fine by us, and if it leads a few losses for Trump down the road that will also be fine.

— Bud Norman

Turning Right on Sesame Street

There’s a lot in the news lately other than the latest federal budget proposals, and of course there’s plenty further news within that proposed $3.6 trillion of spending that’s currently up for debate, but somehow the relatively mere pittance of $454 million per annum for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is once again getting column inches and air time. President Donald Trump wants to end the spending altogether, the relatively small but inordinately influential fans of public broadcasting are screaming foul, and it all seems slightly familiar yet somehow different.
Suspicious sorts of conservatives such as ourselves have been leery of government-subsidized media from the get-go back in the Great Society days of the ’60s, we’ve always wondered why the equally paranoid liberals didn’t share our concerns about it, and nothing that has happened since had changed our views on the matter. The arguments against allowing the government to pay for air time are all the more compelling in the age of Trump, as far as our suspicious conservative souls are concerned, and for the life of us we can’t understand why any liberal isn’t at long last seeing the light.
We’re old enough that our first exposure to educational programming for the kiddies was back in the days of the ad-supported Captain Kangaroo, though, and we understand that the subsequent generations that grew up learning the alphabet and other lessons from the Public Broadcasting System’s “Sesame Street” clearly have a different perspective. Our liberal friends of all ages also prefer the classical music and pretentious jazz and those soothing voices and sensitively wrought opinions of National Public Radio to the shrilly shrieked vitriol on the right wing radio talk shows with all the ads for gold sellers and survival food and promised relief from the Internal Revenue Service, and lately we can’t argue much with the preference, even if we’re sticking to old garage rock cassette tapes and the old folks’ AM station with the Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee tunes during our drives around town. There’s also no denying that a mere $454 million is too small a fraction of a $36 trillion budget for us to bother try to calculate, and that somewhere along the line “Sesame Street” might have taught some poor kids the alphabet and that sometimes classical music is the perfect thing for a drive around town, and we don’t doubt that Trump might just be settling a longstanding score with “Sesame Street,” which has apparently been taunting him since he was a minor New York tabloid celebrity, but we’re still comfortable with the draconian budget cut.
All the old arguments still apply, though, especially around here. Public broadcasting was touted as a subsidy to those poor folks who couldn’t afford the high-priced high-brow fare on cable, but our rabbit ears don’t get the local PBS affiliate and nobody we know all over this town can get it, and although the NPR affiliate at the local college station comes through loud and clear it doesn’t seem to be seeking out a low-income audience. Even such low-lifes as ourselves occasionally enjoy the classical music offerings that admittedly can’t be found elsewhere, but we’d happily endure the infrequent ad for contingency fee lawyers to those interminable fund-raising drives and all that Peter, Paul and Mary music. Free market purists assume there will always be a commercial market for sensitively wrought opinions broadcast in soothing voices, especially in the age of Trump, and given that the “Sesame Street” brand and all its toys and bed sheets and coloring books probably out-earns the Trump brand our liberal friends have nothing to free from a true laissez-faire media.
Back in the pre-cable days the local PBS affiliate used to come through to our suburban house with episodes of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” which we are still grateful for, and our friends affluent to still have cable talk of some good high-brow shows on PBS, but we’re not sure it warrants even a mere $454 million dollars. Getting the budget into a sustainable range will require some tinkering with the popular entitlement programs of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, which the liberals who love public broadcasting all consider sacrosanct and even Trump doesn’t dare to touch, so we’ll not worry much about this particular line item no matter how it turns out.

— Bud Norman

Who’s Bugging Who?

There’s all sorts of consequential politics going on these days to keep a president busy, what with repealing Obamacare and replacing it with Trumpcare and passing a thus-far unpopular budget and whatnot, but that’s all pretty dry stuff and involves a lot of math. Which makes it all the harder to turn one’s gaze away from the far juicier ongoing allegations coming from all directions about all sorts of international espionage and high-tech skullduggery and assorted movie-worthy twists. Monday alone provided enough plot twists to fill up several sequels.
The already convoluted plot plot started way back during the past presidential election, when Republican nominee Donald Trump was praising the strength of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s leadership and shrugging off the occasional extra-judicial killing and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign was taking a hit from some embarrassing e-mails that had been suspiciously hacked, and suspicious sorts started wondering if that was entirely coincidental. The resignation of Trump’s campaign manager after business ties to a Russia-friendly Ukrainian were revealed and the resignation of a foreign policy advisor for similar reasons did nothing to quell the suspicions, and neither did Trump’s still-unreleased tax returns, and although he nonetheless became President Donald Trump the news hasn’t helped much. His already-controversial National Security Advisor had to resign after a few days on the job because he’d lied to the Vice President about having been in contact with Russian officials, his already-controversial Attorney General recused himself from any role of a potential investigation into the matter of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials after similar revelations, and the late night comics and other conspiracy theorists have been having a ball with it.
Trump, of course, has been doing the counter-punching he so boastfully prides himself on. On an early morning a couple of weeks ago he “tweeted” a series allegations that past President Barack Obama had tapped his phone lines at Trump Tower, which, if true, would truly be worse than the Watergate scandal that Trump mentioned. That was immediately followed by a “tweet” ridiculing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s paltry ratings on “The Apprentice,” the reality show Trump starred in prior to his presidency, but the president still stands by his allegations. His press secretary has since explained that Trump had taken care to put quotation remarks around “wire tapped” to emphasize that he didn’t literally mean that Obama had tapped his wires, and occasional spokeswoman and former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway further explained that he could have meant that Obama was spying on Trump through the Trump Tower microwave oven, and of course the late night comics have been having even more of a ball with it. Subsequent “tweets” and presidential interviews have promised that would proof would be forthcoming, and that his Republican allies in Congress would provide it through hearings, but so far that has not happened.
Trump still has plenty of supporters in the comments sections of all the internet stories about all of this, and is still cheered on by some old-time Republicans who should know enough to at least hedge their bets with some skepticism, but Monday provided another public relations beating. Those Republican allies in Congress have thus far admitted they don’t have any proof to back up Trump’s allegations, and on Monday they invited Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey to testify that the allegations are untrue and that the Department of Justice has authorized him to say so, and that he was also authorized to says investigations of Russia’s meddling in the past election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign was ongoing, and in the absence of any classified documents that a president could unilaterally un-classify that was bound to be Tuesday’s big headline and the punchline of all the late night jokes.
The more determined Trump apologists will continue to explain how a “deep state” shadow government is still doing the bidding of Obama, and they’ll be quite right that Obama’s administration tapped so many phones and did so many shadowy things over eight years that you can’t put anything past them, and we’ve seen enough Hollywood movies to always be suspicious about those intelligence agencies, but such old-school Republicans are ourselves still expect some proof. All those intelligence agencies and their more boring bureaucratic colleagues are clearly opposed to Trump for reasons different than our own, all the leaks lately have clearly served their agenda, and there’s still some reason to keep most classified information classified, but for now we’re still waiting for proof of Obama’s worse-than-Watergate behavior and something in the way of usual financial disclosure to assure us that Trump’s seeming Russophilia is just bad ideology and not something to do with the global business empire that Trump still owns.
Which is a shame, as far as old-fashioned Republicans such as ourselves are concerned, because Obamacare really does need to be repealed and there’s still some hope that the old-fashioned Republicans left in office will be able to come up with something too imperfect for any hyperbole but at least better than what we’ve got. We find a lot to like in that unpopular budget proposal, too, and would even be cheering if a Republican president had the extra amount of guts to take aim at the popular entitlement programs that are driving the national debt to eventual bankruptcy. Fiscal solvency and other matters requiring hard choices and hard math are always a hard sell, and all the harder when you squander your credibility with claims that are never proved and only cast further lingering suspicion on yourself.
Trump’s supporters can also rightly note that none of his critics’ have yet proved their most damning allegations, but at this moment in the news cycle the claims are at least as plausible as that story about Sen. Ted Cruz’ dad being in on the Kennedy hit and President George W. Bush lying the country into the Iraq War that Trump was never for, or that one about Obama being born in Kenya that Trump took credit for putting to rest, and these days it all a needless distraction. At this point we want Trump to put up or shut up, disprove his conspiracy-minded critics with full financial disclosure and an independent investigation, then lay off the “tweets” and get on with all the boring but consequential stuff.

— Bud Norman

Another Jacksonian Age, For Better or Worse

President Andrew Jackson is back in the news again, despite being dead the past 172 years, this time around because of President Donald Trump. Jackson’s portrait has been given a prominent place in Trump’s Oval Office, Trump took the opportunity of a trip to Nashville this week to lay a wreath at Jackson’s home, and the current president frequently makes a point of comparing himself to his rough-hewn and populist predecessor.
The last time Jackson was in the news was when he was demoted from his place on the $20 bill in favor of the anti-slavery and civil rights heroine Harriet Tubman. Originally the idea was to demote former Revolutionary War hero and first Treasury Secretary and all around Founding Father Alexander Hamilton from his spot on the ten-spot, probably because Jackson was the founding father of the Democratic Party and Hamilton had views that sounded suspiciously like what the later Republican Party would espouse, but Hamilton’s reputation was somehow rescued by a big hip-hop Broadway musical that noted his illegitimate birth and immigrant status and his life-long impeccable anti-slavery credentials and a vision of an urbanized America where a meritocratic elite was allowed to flourish, and all that budget-balancing small government stuff and red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism that Hamilton espoused was forgotten. Around the same time even the Democrats were admitting that Jackson was an enthusiastic slave-holder who had waged avowedly genocidal wars against various Indian tribes and forced a mass relocation of other tribes that left at least 4,000 Cherokees dead along the infamous Trail of Tears, and that his crackpot economic theories which so closely resemble the most Democratic Party’s didn’t exactly work out for him, and thus Jackson wound up with the currency demotion.
All of which makes Jackson an odd choice for a modern Republican president to tout as his favorite, but then again Trump is an odd sort of modern Republican president. and one can easily see the reasons for his Jacksonian affinity. Jackson was an undeniably colorful character, and even Trump’s most strident critics will acknowledge that he is as well, and he ran as a pugnacious and proudly crude outsider who would defend his fellow common men from the nefarious machinations of a nebulous elite, which is pretty much the same storyline that Trump is peddling, and he was so beloved by the poorly educated of his time that his picture wound up on money, which is probably what Trump is aiming for.
There was other comparisons, too. Jackson was the first president who had not been born to the colonial aristocracy that had fomented the War of Independence and crafted the Constitution and tended the already-globalized economy, just as the self-proclaimed billionaire Trump proudly wears a chip on his shoulder that he had to make big campaign contributions to get the Clintons to come to his third wedding and is still hated by the older-money smart set. Jackson followed the mixed-results administration of John Quincy Adams, the son of a previous president who had been educated at the best schools and spoke several languages been involved in high-level diplomacy from a young and whose intellectual credentials were impressive by any standards, and had won the presidency with what Jackson called a “corrupt bargain,” just as Trump defeated a previous president’s son in the primaries and then succeeded President Barack Obama, who pretended to have Adams’ intellectual credentials and whose legitimacy Trump had challenged with a similarly fact-free conspiracy theory. Both men were mean old score-settling scorched-earth types, too, which in both cases endeared them to their many ardent admirers.
Such eerie similarities do little to comfort our old-fashioned Republican souls, though, and we can’t imagine they will make any self-respecting Democrat any more favorably inclined to either Trump or their own party’s founder. It might not matter much to Trump’s most ardent fans, but Jackson’s unapologetic-to-the-end pro-slavery stand and all that entirely unnecessary slaughter of peaceable and culturally integrated American Indians still rankles our Lincolnian sensibilities, and we’re sure that by now most Democrats would even agree, and anyone who bothers to read up on it will find that Jackson’s populist economics didn’t work out. The friend of the common man’s distrust of financial elites was such that he provoked the Panic of 1837, the nation’s worst financial crisis until the Great Depression, and Jackson’s dealings with the central banks of his time is eerily similar to the confrontation that’s brewing between Trump and the Federal Reserve Board, and although Trump is closer to self-described socialist and thorough Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders on the issue we suppose that this time around the Republicans will take all the blame.
At least Jackson fought, as his admirers said, just as Trump’s admirers say, but the comparison isn’t friendly to Trump. Jackson literally fought, first as a pre-teen soldier in the Continental Army, when he was captured by British troops and took a permanent facial scar by defying his captors’ orders, later in numerous battles with his state militia in the Creek campaign, most famously as the commander of the pirates and escaped slaves and swamp Indian and backwoods brawlers who won the Battle of New Orleans, followed by numerous pistol duels and sword fights and slaps across the cheek over matters of honor, and in his lattermost years he was known to strike out at any insult with the cane he was forced to use. Say what you want about his outdated racial sensibilities or cockamamie economic ideas, “Old Hickory” was undeniably a badass even by the most up-to-date hip-hop standards.
Trump, on the other hand, insists on being taken seriously but not literally, and that’s how he fights. He dismissed such heroic American prisoners of war as Jackson and Sen. John McCain by saying “I prefer a guy who didn’t get caught,” but a series of educational deferments and some bone spurs a family doctor attested to kept Trump out of the Vietnam War, and except for that time he body-slammed Vince Mcmahon and shaved his head in one of World Wrestling Entertainment’s “Wrestlemania” extravaganzas his fighting has been limited to lawsuits and press conference taunts and insulting “tweets.” Despite those momentarily pesky bone spurs Trump was apparently an above-average high school athlete, and apparently remains a competitive golfer with the help of a notoriously enterprising caddy, but we doubt he’d be dissing the looks of a political opponent’s wife so freely if that sort of thing were still being settled by pistol or sword duel.
Our man Hamilton died in such a duel, at the hand of the famously self-interested demagogue Aaron Burr, and we guess that makes him a loser in Trump’s book. In the history books and the latest Broadway shows Hamilton still looms large, though, and we’d like to think that his sound notions about small government and balanced budgets and letting the meritocracy rise and not unnecessarily slaughtering the darker folks will persist. We’re glad Hamilton will at least continue to smile at from our ten dollar bills, and wryly enjoy his current status as a hip-hop star, and although we don’t like this Taliban-like tendency of the modern left to blast away at the relics of history at least it’s a gun-toting and Bible-believing Republican and badass-in-her-own-right black woman such as Harriet Tubman who’s forcing Jackson into the corner of twenty. For now Jackson’s ghost can enjoy his moment back in the presidential sun, but the comparisons won’t do his reputation any good over the long run.

— Bud Norman

No Returns from the Tax Returns

As a general rule tax returns are pretty dull reading, but President Donald Trump is an exception to an awful lot of rules, so of course there was was some interest in the two pages of his 2005 filing that was somehow intriguingly leaked. There wasn’t enough in those two pages to justify some of the resulting coverage, as it turns out, but the resulting hubbub is also newsworthy.
The two purloined pages were reportedly mailed to a journalist and published Trump biographer of little renown, then passed on to Rachel Maddow of the MSNBC cable news network, whose program relentlessly hyped the finding for hours and then spent a full 20 minutes of the long-awaited showtime in further build up before disclosing that there’s really nothing very embarrassing to Trump in the two pages. It was revealed that Trump paid $38 million in income taxes that year, which was more than most Americans did, and it represented a percentage of his income greater than what President Barack Obama or self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders forked over, and there was nothing about deductions claimed for contributions to the Russian mob or anything like that.
We’d call it the biggest journalistic anticlimax since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone’s vault, but by now every other media in the critic in the country has already beat us to the analogy. All the ancien regime media cringed in embarrassment, and even such a fellow Trump-bashing liberal as the late night comedian Stephen Colbert couldn’t resist some piercing ridicule. Maddow is the most impeccably liberal voice on television’s most impeccably liberal channel, which has lately been racking up record ratings as liberals seek a “safe place,” but her fellows liberals are understandably miffed about how she muffed the far bigger story they still have hopes for.
Those tax returns reveal Trump would have paid even more if not for something called the Alternative Minimum Tax, which his tax reform proposals would repeal, but that’s a rather arcane policy point, and even such Trump-bashing conservatives as ourselves don’t believe that just because something’s bad for Trump it’s good the country, and it’s certainly not the sort of complicated economic argument you hype all day long and then have two pages of anti-climax to show for it. The bigger story that liberals would prefer to hype is that all we of know of the vast financial empire that Trump has not divested himself from is two pages of a 12-year-old tax return somehow includes only exculpatory evidence. A Trump campaign manager and National Security have already been forced to resign because of contacts with the Russian government Trump has thus far flattered, and his Attorney General had recused himself from an ongoing investigation in broader contracts between the campaign and Russia, and all that’s been released of the tax returns that would surely prove Trump himself has no financial ties with the Russian government were those two not-entirely-exculpatory pages. There are already rumors afloat that Trump himself leaked his $38 million tax bill, then preemptively tweeted his indignant denial of whatever MSNBC might report to cover his tracks, and although even the ancien regime media won’t touch that conspiracy theory we will note it’s at least as plausible as Sen. Ted Cruz’s dad being in on the Kennedy hit, and people are saying, and we’ll leave it up to Congress to investigate if it’s true or not, and let similar Trumpian standards of truth prevail.
There’s something fishy about Trump’s Russophilia even from our rightward Trump-bashing perspective, perhaps all the more so after so many years of Cold War vigilance, so we’re also annoyed that handsome Rachel Maddow fellow has momentarily muddied the media waters. With enemies of the people like these, Trump might be wondering, who needs friends?

— Bud Norman

The Boring Bureaucrats of the CBO Score

The Congressional Budget Office is back in the news, what with all this fuss about repealing Obamacare and replacing it something or another that in any case isn’t to be called Trumpcare, and we’re heartened to see their reassuring initials again. Back when political news was mostly a boring affair about arcane accounting questions the boring bureaucrats of the CBO were always in the lead or at least third paragraph of every story, but that was before the political news became more entertainingly about the latest “tweets” and the accusations of treason being flung from both sides, so lately we find ourselves missing the old days.
That good ol’ CBO finds itself back in the news because of its long-awaited “scoring” of the first of three promised phases of repeal of Obamacare and replacement with something that nobody is calling Trumpcare. The report contains plenty of argumentative ammunition for the Democrats who are unanimously opposed to the plan, possibly enough to scare some of the Republicans with whetted thumbs against the political winds, and a few big numbers that speak well for the first phase of the scheme but might embolden its conservative critics. All in all it was the desultory conclusion that you’d expect from a numbers-crunching bunch of boring bureaucrats, which is what the CBO is paid to be, and within a certain margin of error involved in all human undertakings we’re inclined to accept their findings.
One finding is that 24 million fewer Americans will have health insurance over the next decade if the current proposals of repeal and replace are enacted, which is a number hard for the most pro-reform media to spin, and which the anti-reform media gleefully headlined. The pro-reform forces therefore questioned the supposedly boring objectivity of the bureaucrats at the CBO, rightly noting its past errors in overstating the benefits and understating the costs of Obamacare, but they’ve conveniently forgotten how that happened. We were among the anti-Obamacare voices who noted that the CBO was diligently “scoring” those costs and benefits according to the pie-in-the-sky assumptions and spreadsheet legerdemain that the Democratic administration and Democratic majorities in Congress had described, and that the CBO had made that disclaimer quite clear, and when you take into account that the CBO’s forecasts couldn’t have taken into account subsequent Supreme Court decisions and other events they did about as well as anybody. If the current Republican administration and Republican administrations in Congress didn’t offer such helpful guidelines we can hardly blame those boring bureaucrats as the CBO.
Even without any helpful guidance from the Republicans the CBO has concluded that the first part of more or less Grand Old Party’s three-phase plan would lower federal deficits by a not insignificant $337 billion, given the nation’s poor fiscal health, and would eventually reduce the average American’s health insurance premiums by 10 percent, which by the now the average American would not consider an insignificant sum. The Republicans should be able make some political hay out of those numbers, but at the moment they’re busy discrediting everything the CBO says, and the eventual part will only play out long after the next election cycle and just before the president’s reelection race. The CBO’s past miscalculations were based on the garbage-in-garbage-out assumption of the Democrats who front-loaded their carefully planned Obamacare with early benefits and defrayed costs, while the CBO’s current calculations reflect the Republicans’ longstanding preference for paying up front, and although that makes for good policy we can’t fault the CBO if it makes for lousy politics. If the American public isn’t taking a longer range view of the situation, neither can we fault the CBO for that.
So far as we can tell from the CBO reports and everything else we read and hear and see this Obamacare thing has made things better for some people and worse for others and on the whole worse all around, and we’re quite sure this three-phased real and replacement with something that won’t be called Trumpcare might prove better but surely won’t be perfect. We’re holding out hope that nuns won’t be forced to pay for contraceptive coverage and monogamous married couples won’t have to fork out for sexually transmitted disease plans and teetotaling types aren’t hit up for alcoholism treatment, and that the the youngsters who only need catastrophic care can pay on the cheap, and that the daredevils can continue to defy the actuarial tables, but by now we have to admit that the benefits won’t come without costs, that those costs are actually figured in the long term that people rarely consider, and even those boring bureaucrats at the CBO can’t make any reliable predictions.
We always liked those old-fashined Republicans who used to acknowledge such uncertainties, but these days the party is represented by President Donald Trump and his campaign promises that everyone was going to be covered and the government would pay for it and premiums would go down and care would go up and everything would be great. He was never clear about the details, and being a big picture guy he seems to have left those details up to those Republican establishment guys he ran against, and they seem to have some old-fashioned ideas about paying up front and letting some number of Americans that might approach 24 million go without health insurance, and although there are philosophical arguments to made for that which the CBO can’t score he doesn’t seem able to make it, and this repeal and replace thing seems to be the very first time in his life that he doesn’t want his name on something.
As bad as Obamacare was we’ll still expect something better, but not matter what happens we won’t blame those boring boring bureaucrats at the CBO.

— Bud Norman

Who Knew Health Care Was Hard?

President Donald Trump was speaking to a meeting of the National Governors Association about health care reform a couple of weeks ago, and he offered up yet another one of those occasional quotes of his that cause us slap to our foreheads. “I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject,” he said. “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”
Every sentient American already knew that health care is darned tricky, and certainly each of those governors hearing the speech were especially well aware of it, so it’s a sobering thought that pretty much the only person in the country who thought it was easy is the president. Even the minimal amount of regulation that a free-market purist would agree to for the ever-evolving and increasingly high-tech medical sector that comprises a full sixth of the nation’s $17.4 trillion economy is bound to be tricky, managing every aspect of it is beyond the ambitions of even the most arrogant Democrats, and any compromise you might find somewhere in between is bound to be exponentially more complicated. The policy questions are daunting enough, but as Trump as surely figured out by now, the politics involved are even more convoluted.
Trump and the Republicans running the two chambers Congress rolled out the first of three promised phases of their plan to repeal and replace the current Obamacare system earlier this week, and if they thought that getting it passed into law was going to be easy they should now be wised up. There are still enough Democrats left in Congress to make trouble for for any changes in Obamacare, although the law is unpopular enough throughout the districts and states that it’s largely responsible for a Republican White House and an electoral victory for a Republican president, and there are still enough pre-Trump sorts of Republicans left in both chambers who won’t stand for any aspect of Obamacare, even those several provisions that poll extremely well with the general public, and what with politics making strange bedfellows they can cause all sorts of complications together.
Unless you’ve been too busy with your reality television show or branding negotiations to have been paying attention, for the past seven years or so the repeal and replacement of the hated Obamacare has been the metaphorical Moby Dick to the Republican’s Captain Ahab. Not one single Republican, even though squishy ones that you still find up way up northeast, voted for the damn thing, everyone last one of them has cast meaningless votes for its repeals on a regular basis ever since. From the most staid conservative publications to the most shrieking talk radio shows the entirety of the party was opposed to Obamacare, which was forced on a resistant public with some procedural legerdemain and a variety of lies about lowered costs and keeping your plan and your doctor that were eventually exposed, and conferred unprecedented powers on the federal government, and had monogamous couples paying for sexually-transmitted disease coverage and Catholic nuns paying for contraception and otherwise permanently altered its social contract with citizens, and generally offended every old-fashion Republican principle. As the false promises about lower costs and freedom of choice were exposed the Republican majorities in Congress grew, and with a Republican president who wouldn’t have gotten his party’s nomination without an unequivocal promise to repeal and replace Obamacare it should have been easily accomplished.
Politics is always complicated, though, and Trump’s apparent belief that it’s actually all quite simple adds another layer of complexity. The parts of Obamacare that allow young people to remain on their parents’ plan until age 26 and let people sign up for insurance at the usual rate after a pre-existing condition have been discovered poll well with the public, the subsidies that are being provided to a reported 20 million or so people are even more more popular with that reported 20 million or so people, and among them are some folks who will have tear-jerking stories to tell on the nightly news, and at this point it’s hard to tell how the unpopular Trump will fare against the unpopular Obamacare. All the Republicans are taking care not to call the new policies Trumpcare, even Trump, who usually loves to put his name on things, because at the moment both Trump and Obamacare seem equally unpopular.
As the pre-Trump sorts of Republicans, we were hoping for that most minimal sort of regulation no matter how complicated that might prove. If the insurance wants to sell policies that allow include children to any old age we’d be happy to let them, and expect that many would find it profitable to do so, but we wouldn’t force them do so no matter what the polls have to say about it. The preexisting conditions thing about Obamacare comes with all those heartbreaking stories, but you could just as easily interview people who couldn’t get flood insurance after their house was underwater, and no matter how heartbreaking it just doesn’t make economic sense. We have some red-in-tooth-and-claw solutions to the whole matter of rising health care costs, too, but we acknowledge they won’t poll well, and admit that the ever-changing high-tech world of medical marvels makes it very complicated.
Interstate health insurance plans and no mandated coverage of unnecessary producers and much of what else we were hoping for wasn’t included in the latest proposal but is promised to come in phases two and three of the great Republican health care reform roll-out, and for now we’ll take their word for it. Still, we can’t help wondering why they’re dishing it out like that. Something in phase one might make sense if it were done in conjunction with something in phase two or three, but not otherwise, these things being very interrelated, and the uncertainty of what’s to come only complicates matters further. Coming up with something better than the undeniably disastrous Obamacare system should have been a relatively simple matter, but of course Trump complicated matters by promising something “wonderful,” which of course is a whole lot harder to achieve.
Trump was all over the place on the issue during his improbably victorious campaign, wowing the Republicans with the usual repeal and replace rhetoric, but also promising the broader public some spectacular but unspecified plan where everyone would be covered and the government would pay for it and the costs would go down and quality of care would go up, and he really should have expected that would prove complicated. He’s already abandoned a campaign position in favor of that stupid individual mandate that requires poor people to pay a penalty for not having insurance, but endorsed a plan that would allow insurance companies to charge a 30 percent fee on people whose insurance have lapsed, and he’s no longer talking about the government paying to insure everybody, but he has abandoned enough longstanding Republican positions about the proper role of free markets and individual liberty and meddling bureaucracies in the nation’s health care to lose some Republican support. On the other hand he’s still retreating from the Democrats’ positions on those very vital questions, and won’t likely get any support from a single one of them.
We’re hopeful that at the end of all this complicated fuss that’s going to consume the next several months we’ll wind up with something that’s at least better than that dreadful Obamacare, but we don’t expect that it’s going to wind up being something as wonderful as what was promised. Obamacare wasn’t altogether bad, otherwise its repeal and replacement wouldn’t be so thorny, but it’s dreadfulness was made all the more apparent in contrast to the sales pitch, and what’s likely to known as Trumpcare surely won’t be altogether good, so its promises should be made accordingly. That’s not the Trump style, of course, and some painful but necessary procedures will probably be left out of the care, and we expect the fuss over it will outlast us all.
One of the few old-fashioned Republicans who has somehow enthusiastically embraced this newfangled Trumpist party is Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, who has been surprisingly outspoken in his opposition to what’s thus-far been rolled out. He “tweeted” that the Democrats were too hasty in passing that darned Obamacare when they enjoyed a Democratic White House and majorities in both chambers of Congress, and urged that his own party not repeat the mistake. We like Cotton’s old-fashioned Republicanism, and despite our disappointment with his enthusiasm for Trump’s newfangled party we think his advice to slow down and get it right is sound. The Republicans should take at least enough time to hear all three phases of what they’re doing, gauge just how free-market the party can get away given the current political climate, do what’s doable, and be satisfied if the results are somewhat better than Obamacare even if it so wonderful that nobody dies.

— Bud Norman

A Day Without Women, and Another With Trump

Wednesday was a “Day Without Women,” and if not for all the news stories about it we wouldn’t have noticed. It was already the annual “International Women’s Day” on the calendar, so women got together and declared a general strike to protest President Donald Trump and other affronts to womankind, and a “Day Without Women” was the catchy name they came up for it.
The protest reportedly drew large crowds to rallies in New York and Los Angeles and Chicago and other large cities, with smaller ones scattered around the country, and enough public school district teachers joined in to force several districts to shut down for the day. Meanwhile Trump remained president, the Republicans in congress went right ahead with consideration of a budget that would cut funding for Planned Parenthood, and someone on the Howard Stern was telling a sexist joke, along with all the usual domestic abuse and unwanted cat-calls and the slightly indignities that accumulate every, and all the coordinated outrage about it went largely unnoticed around here.
Being the contentedly solitary sorts we’ve survived many a day without women, or even men, and usually found it blessedly hassle-free. Even to the extent that we count on women for fast-food service and other commercial transactions, or just for some friendly conversation, the “Day Without Women” was pretty much as usual. The same group of delightful women in the local amateur theatrical we do every year were there at rehearsal, afterwards a lovely and charming young lady at the Thai fried rice place on West Street got us out take-out order of the very spicy chicken fried rice with admirable efficiency, and the woman with the mellifluous voice on the old folks AM radio station was playing some sultry Peggy Lee on the way home. There was nothing in the station’s news break about the local schools being closed, which was too bad for the local kids because the weather was unseasonably perfect for a day off, and although we didn’t check our Facebook we don’t think the general strike had much an effect on Wichita, Kansas.
Even here in the middle of the big red splotch on the electoral map, and despite our blissful bachelorhood, we’re quite sympathetic to at least some of the striking women’s complaints. Especially the more striking ones, if you’ll forgive the joke, which we couldn’t resist. Although we’ve never hesitated to argue with a woman that de-funding Planned Parenthood doesn’t constitute a “war on women,” and neither did any of that silly stuff they used against Republican nominee Mitt Romney back in ’12, we aren’t so willing to start a potential shouting match in defense of Trump. Especially if we were at a party and she were attractive and drunk and flirty, which is also a joke we apologize for but couldn’t resist.
The relative dearth of female cabinet picks and that transgender bathroom rule and the rest of what Trump has thus far done as president doesn’t bother us all that much, and most of the women we know seem similarly unbothered by any of it, but we can well understand the objections to the whole Trump persona. Even the most die-hard Republican women we know, and being here in the middle of that big red splotch of the electoral map that includes some pretty damned die-hard Republican women, would have preferred that their party had beaten Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton with someone, for that matter anyone, who wasn’t a thrice-married and proudly adulterous strip club owner who habitually makes public comments on women’s looks and tells sexist jokes on the Howard Stern show and goes around grabbing women by their wherevers. That’s what our Republican women friends say, so you can easily understand that what our Democratic women friends have to say about Trump does not bear repeating in such a genteel and family-friendly publication as this.
Perhaps it’s some vestigial sense of chivalry, or maybe we’ve just been wussified the feminization of America, but we find it hard to argue with any of the women we meet who don’t like Donald Trump. Our God-fearing Church of Christ mother taught us an old-fashioned and even Old Testament respect for women, the old movies on the late show taught the same manly code, a series of ferocious girlfriends and fiancees and fleeting encounters have successfully demanded our full respect, and although feminism far too often makes a fool of itself we can’t deny it still has some valid complaints.
Trump doesn’t treat women well, either by the standards of early 21st century feminism or the manly code you’ll see in all those old movies that still pop up on the late show, and that is a conspicuous flaw in a President of the United States. If it hasn’t inarguably affected any of his policy decisions, it has given license to the up-and-coming comic who’s taken Trump’s place on the Howard Stern show to keep up the sexist jokes, and for the construction worker to feel unbound by political correctness and shout out his appreciation of female passerby’s breasts, and to confirm that the most vulgar aspects of our popular culture trump all.
This is bad news for both the old-fashioned fuddy-duddies on the right who thought they controlled at least the Republican party, and for those hippy-dippy do-in-the-road lefties who thought their domination of the popular culture would bring about a utopia of sexual equality, but that’s where find ourselves on another generally fine day without women.

— Bud Norman

Big Brother is Watching, and Bored

The latest flood of Wikileaks is from the Central Intelligence Agency, and it’s scary stuff. Aside from the scariness of the apparent fact that even the CIA isn’t safe from hacking, the leaks describe some very high-tech snooping techniques right out of one those dystopian sic-fi movies where Big Brother is always watching.
Back when President Donald Trump was running for the office he often told his enthusiastic campaign rallies how much he loved Wikileaks, which was exclusively Wikileaking embarrassing information about Democratic rival Hillary Clinton at the time, but now he’s steadfastly opposed to leaks in general. Any old president would rightly object to having America’s intelligence-gathering capabilities exposed to the nation’s enemies, and we’re sure that’s Trump’s foremost concern, but he also has his own peculiar reasons for not wanting yet another story about electronic eavesdropping espionage intrigue and high-level leaks crowding his big and assuredly wonderful health care plan out of the news.
Trump is still sticking to his “tweeted” accusation that his campaign was wire-tapped by President Barack Obama, and still offering no proof and demanding that a congressional investigation come up with some, and that’s still taking up a lot of air time and column inches. That’s also part of an ongoing story about the Russian government’s meddling in the election and how everything that was coming out by Wikileaks seemed to be about Clinton and the contacts between Trump campaign officials and the Russkies that have already caused the resignations of a campaign manager and National Security Advisor and the recusal of an Attorney General, along with all the popular conspiracy theories about how the intelligence community and the rest of the “deep state” are out to get Trump. The roll-out of that big and assuredly wonderful health care plan didn’t go at smoothly, with all the Democrats from left to far-left and many of the most right-ward Republicans finding plenty to criticize, and we expect quite a fuss about in the coming weeks, but we’re sure Trump still would have preferred the topic got more prominent headlines.
Better for any old president, too, if the public weren’t fully aware of the resources his government seems to have at its disposal. Pretty much every American home is now equipped with computers and smart phones and internet-connected televisions sets and other devices that can be used to monitor almost every movement a person takes, and according to Wikileaks the government has figured out how to do that. One can hope that the Constitution restrains the government from doing so, at least without damned good cause, but the past decades of scandals from the Watergate wire-tapping of the Nixon administration to the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of President Barack Obama’s political opponents suggests that the plan isn’t foolproof. Like most Americans we can take more comfort in the knowledge that their lives are too boring for Big Brother to bother with, and that there’s bound to be a sorority shower room somewhere of more compelling interest, but this Trump fellow doesn’t seem to take criticism any more lightly than that Obama fellow did, and the possibilities are slightly spooky.
We’d hate to wind up like the Gene Hackman character in that last scene of “The Conversation,” the you’ve-gotta-see classic Francis Ford Coppola flick from the ’70s, where the world’s top electronic surveillance expert has become so paranoid about who’s eavesdropping on him that he’s completely destroyed his apartment in search of the elusive bug that he just knows is there is somewhere, and sits in the rubble playing his saxophone, but it does give us pause. The technology has greatly improved since then, and even after we’d torn up the house we’d still have this computer running and connected to the internet, and suddenly all the technology in those dystopian sci-fi movies seems as dated as the two-way wristwatch radio and other gadgetry in the Dick Tracy cartoons. George Orwell’s you-gotta-read it classic novel “1984” is lately back on the best-seller lists, and between the people who didn’t trust Obama and don’t trust Trump, who together comprise about 95 percent of the country, there’s a good deal of healthy suspicion out there.
For now, though, we’ll continue to trust in the generally reliable Constitution and the unerring fallibility of all humankind and how very mundane our own lives are to ward off the watchful eye of Big Brother. We wouldn’t put it past Obama to want to tap Trump’s phone, but we don’t think he would have dared done so without a warrant, which requires a judge and a paper trail and a damned good reason, and we’d like to think the system will impose similar restraints on Trump. Both men had a strange knack for having all their misdeeds exposed, too, even if they did go largely unpunished, and it’s hard to imagine either man having the genius to manipulate all those levers needed to create the all-powerful system depicted in any of those dystopian sci-fi movies. All those high-tech gizmos that were created to dominate the masses are incomprehensible to ourselves, but among our fellow populace are some pretty smart people who seem to know that stuff just as well as the government experts, and apparently well enough to hack the CIA, and those ubiquitous cell phone cameras keep catching cops and professors and other public officials abusing their power, and for the moment technology seems as like to thwart a tyranny as to empower one.
All these fancy gizmos also allow the dissemination of a wide range of opinions, such as this estimable publication provides, and once people become more discerning that’s bound to help. For eight long years we had little good to say about Obama, so far we’ve offered little praise Trump and are prepared for at least another four years of it, but that’s all been made as public as possible and we’ll face whatever consequences our reading of the Constitution will allow. The rest of our lives, we’re quite confident, are too boring to merit Big Brother’s attention.

— Bud Norman