Real News

Let’s be clear. I still think the Donald is a thin-skinned, narcissistic bully whose only goal is self-promotion.

Nonetheless, CNN and other media outlets must de-escalate the Russia story and find more time for other news. There are two reasons for this. First, there is other important news. Second, roughly one-third of the country doesn’t care. If you want to maintain (or reestablish) a reputation for fair coverage, you can’t spend all your on-air time talking about something a third of your potential viewers think is unimportant and won’t be interested in unless something much more definitive comes to light. It looks more like harassment than news coverage to a lot of people and is divisive. Don’t stop reporting on new facts related to Russian election-meddling, possible collusion and hacking. Just don’t spend all day and all night covering the same issues.

Other Stories Needing Coverage

While you are covering Russia-related news, spend time on what Congress and the White House are doing about the Russian hacking. Are they continuing the Obama Department  of Homeland Ssecurity efforts to help states? Are they doing something new? Nothing? How are they protecting us from the next attack. Frankly, I care more about that than I do about Don Jr’s ineptitude and Jared’s shallowness. If you are going to obsess over Don Jr’s and Jared’s foibles, at least ask how it is that they so casually deal with the Russian oligarchy. It’s almost like they are part of it. Imagine the American populist president’s campaign being approached so easily and successfully by Russian oligarchs. Imagine instead it was the Sicilian Mafia. Except that the Russians are richer and deeply connected with the government, I don’t think there is much difference. Trump’s supporters deserve to know about that aspect of the meeting.

Let’s also get some updates on the veiled threats made by the administration to corporate mergers involving “enemies”.  Like the AT&T/Time Warner merger which involves CNN. How about the escalation of the Afghan war and creeping incursion in Syria not to mention the abandonment of the Free Syria Army.

Maybe we could afford a few eyeballs on Venezuela before it becomes the refugee generator of the Americas. I believe that the president made some statement of support for them. What exactly is our policy with respect to Venezuela?

Another good topic would be the continued (since 2010) growth of jobs and the economy and why economists think it is not more robust. Maybe even on what could boost it. Perhaps something on the infrastructure plans that have been presented to Congress just this year. By my count, something close to thirty infrastructure bills from both Republicans and Democrats are in the works. That is a lot of churning but probably represents more than POTUS is doing. What is in his plan again?

Perhaps more important for the current political situation is healthcare. For example, I was surprised to learn about several proposals that have been made by democrats to fix problems in the ACA. Someone needs to question the president when he says he gets no help from the Democrats. Maybe he doesn’t know because he gets his news from CNN and Fox.

How about the tax reform plan? The president’s notes were apparently pretty thin but Paul Ryan has a budget plan too. What’s in them? Talk to Ryan. Ask Huckabee-Sanders. And the coming debt ceiling debate ought to be getting some coverage before it reaches crisis proportions.

Updates on campaign promises? I’ve seen a little bit on these but it isn’t something that should only be covered every six months.

CNN in particular spends far too much time with talking heads who ignore each other for the sake of getting talking points out. Please, make the speakers reconcile their “facts”. In some cases there is a “glass half empty/half full” issue. Acknowledge that. In some cases, there is pure BS on one side or both sides. CNN has gotten better at calling out lies but often let two people put half empty/half full facts out.

Russia may become the downfall of the administration. But there are other acts in the circus. Most of them will have longer term consequences. I was recently in a discussion on fake news. One aspect we missed is failure to report on the full range of important topics. This may be where the main stream media is letting us down.

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Republicans:  Say What You Mean on Health Care

The Republicans should stop messing around with health care bills, state their goal clearly and get on with it.  They could have a vote and be on to the next subject in a week.

The problem they are having is that they keep trying to create a bill that both takes all the money away, strips the government’s involvement (individual mandates, essential benefits, etc.), gives individuals more control and options and simultaneously continues to provide some acceptable level of care to 20 million people more or less.  This is the eat-nothing-and-lose-five-pounds-of-fat-while-gaining-ten-pounds-of-ripped-muscle-without-excercise-in-one-week diet.

What they need to do is state the obvious:  They don’t want to help poor people afford health care and they don’t want to increase taxes.  Note that I didn’t say they don’t care.  I think they do.  And by “they” I usually mean the leadership and much but not all of the rank and file.  There are several obvious exceptions.  They just don’t see it being the government’s role to participate in that kind of help.  Some would do away with Medicare and Social Security because they don’t think it is government’s job to do those either.  Fine.  So bring up the bare bones repeal bill and put it up for a vote.  No more pretending.  No more forcing Republican congressional members into believing the impossible diet routine. It will probably fail by a dozen or more votes.

Then, they can introduce two bipartisan bills.  One will be ACA repair to make Obamacare solid enough to get through a few years.  The second will be a rational health care system.  It should look at every element and discover how it effects the whole.  What are the gaps in the current system (for example, research for common vaccines – not lucrative enough for big pharma, not enough clinical personnel to cover the entire population, payment systems that encourage more treatments over better health, . . .). How to fund it whether by employers, individuals, towns, federal government, something else, a combination?  We could devote multiple essays to consideration of the irrational parts of US health care today.  Why, when you want to buy a hamburger, can you go to a store, ask about the price and pay the price you are quoted but when you seek medical treatment, not only do you not only get a price quote but you may not know the final cost for months?

And if ACA repeal passes, so be it.  There will be another election soon.  Just quit screwing around and stop creating more instability in the markets you pretend to be so in love with.

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No Harm, No Foul

Kelly Anne Conway and Donald Trump Jr have both used the “no harm, no foul” excuse in relation to the recently disclosed meeting between Jr, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort with a Russian attorney.  Because the Russian attorney failed to deliver derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, as Trump apparently had expected, they say “nothing to see here, move along”.  No harm, no foul.

I’m not sure that applies to politics.  It’s a term that came from basketball.  While politics bears a strong resemblance to many contact sports (think mud-wrestling, MMA, etc.), it is not a sport.  It is how we manage our country.  Think about a potential bribe that is not delivered because the FBI intervenes.  Does the case get thrown out because the action the bribe was meant to bring didn’t happen? No harm?  Or someone trying to buy explosives to bring down a building but is prevented by good police work.  No foul?

This meeting is not evidence of illegal activity but it continues to show the judgments of the Trump campaign that anything goes, that business as usual means running up against the fringes of legal and ethical behavior, that there is no difference between campaigns dealing with foreign governments vs friends in American operations.  It is also deeply disturbing that the campaign thinks that just because there was no useful, negative information about Clinton that it was ok to meet with a foreign representative and explore the possibility.

Most disturbing is the operating mindset of the Trump campaign that led so seamlessly to a casual meeting with representatives of the Russian oligarchy by members of the US oligarchy with no thought about the national issues involved.  This seems to be the greatest betrayal of Trump’s voters yet.  More to come on this subject.

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So Happy to Have a Strong, Thoughtful and Effective POTUS – a Fantasy

Looking back to the Obama years, I have to say they were boring.  Yes, Republican obstruction provided some excitement from time to time.  Remember when they were ready to shut down the government?  That was a hoot!  But generally the No-drama-Obama years were more dulls than lulz.

No more!  It began with the president’s promise to unify the nation in his inaugural address.  You remember.  It was the one delivered to the largest crowd in history in a torrential downpour that ended only when the president stepped to the microphone and the sun came out.  Since then it has been one exciting breakthrough after another.  No obstacle stands in the way of bringing the US into the world envisioned by the new president.

Healthcare

I was very impressed when he told the nation that our healthcare system is broken.  Taking a lead from his unification theme, he added that it is broken in spite of Obamacare and not because of it.  Being a businessman and not a politician enabled him to see that the problem is not the cost of insurance but the cost of the whole system, how the parts of the system interact and weird incentives.  His promise to set up a task force to come up with alternatives for an entirely new system was as exciting as it was shocking.  No options were off the table.  Obamacare tried to use the system as it is with largely employer based plans managed through private insurance and supplemented by the public programs of Medicare and Medicaid.  It was probably the best that could be done in that system if we as a country wanted to make sure decent healthcare was available to all.  But it was fragile.

The new president wanted something that was stronger, pioneering and actually lowered the cost of the healthcare while improving results. He demanded to know why a test might cost $5,000 in New Jersey, only $1,700 in Massachusetts but less than $100 in Japan.  He could not be placated over the unavailability of needed healthcare to the working class men that were his greatest supporters.  He was furious with the cost of old drugs going up when new ones came out.  He wanted to rationalize the system to make costs predictable.  In a famous tweet, he declared “When I buy a fleet of limos I know the price will vary within a narrow range.  If I get an ECG, it could vary by 5000%. Sad!  #rationalhealthcarecosts”.  That tweet set off the greatest burst of innovative work since the microprocessor.  The president became so involved with the task force that he tweeted only to get feedback on some of the major issues and to encourage the team!

Unity

Because the country had become so polarized, there was a great deal of fear and loathing between the election and inauguration. Some argued that he was not ideological and would push for practical and effective solutions to problems.  He quickly overcame those concerns with his soothing comments.  Then he went further by inviting Democrats and independents to participate in the healthcare task force.  He steered away from ideological extremes and chose instead people who are open-minded problem solvers.  That’s why there were so few Congressional participants but several governors and mayors of large and small cities.

The “Unification Tour” he embarked on did wonders to break down the barriers that had been built up during the vicious presidential campaign.  The highlight of the tour was when he publicly, humorously and ceremoniously gave up his cell phone while promising only to tweet with good cause, after counting to ten and under supervision by Ivanka.  He said that might reduce the humor of his administration but it would allow him more time to focus on issues.

His invitations to the press to play golf  with him at his resorts was well appreciated but short-lived due to his busy work schedule.  In the first six months, he was only able to get two rounds of golf in and one of them was with the President of the People’s Republic of China.

Ah, yes,  It’s been great.  It helps me enjoy even more the white sun rising in the red western sky between the two moons in my world.

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Resistance is not enough

Let’s get this clear before I go on.  I am no fan of Donald Trump.  I believe he is a 12-year-old, thin-skinned bully – a very talented and clever bully it must be said – in the body of a 71-year-old ego-maniac.  Taking that perspective I think gives tremendous insight into his actions and motivations.  Nonetheless, this story is not about him.  It is about the Democrats and how they are going to continue to lose.  It is to some extent also about how the press is helping them lose.   Continue reading

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US Steps Back

International agreements are enormously complex.  They cannot be explained in sound bites so no one understands them completely except the negotiators and the handful of speed-readers who are dedicated enough to read through them.  Both political parties can find some language in them support their positions. So how are we to know whether the Trump administration should be applauded for withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord or castigated?  Three possible answers.

  1. It is a Trump administration decision so anyone with a brain
    1. should oppose it
    2. should support it
  2. It was negotiated by the Obama administration so anyone with a brain
    1. should oppose it
    2. should support it
  3. Other

Ok – that was a trick question.  The answer is of course Ÿ.  [Editor’s note – this character was not able to be interpreted from the original manuscript.  Apologies.]

You can argue the facts . . .

You can argue whether is good or bad for the US, whether it is binding enough on other countries or too binding on the US, whether the Senate should have been asked to ratify it.

[Tangent:  Would anyone seriously ask the Senate of the United States to take some substantive action on a matter of world-wide importance when they can’t even pass a budget?  When they only work around 130 days a year (that’s 100 or so days less than you do).  When they are more interested in investigations and photo-ops than in legislating?  When they would rather pass symbolic acts with no possibility of becoming law than take a risk on a real law?  And now back to the main show.]

You can argue that we should not be subject to any level of control by foreign organizations even though the agreement is not binding and we can unilaterally change our level of commitment.  You can even argue whether we should be good and effective neighbors with our fellow world inhabitants.

But you can’t lead from outside . . .

But, it is hard to see any positive relationship between leaving the Paris accords and our ability to continue as a world leader.  We will create a vacuum that someone will fill in climate change debates and international bodies.  Our influence in the UN will diminish leaving the world’s strongest advocate for human rights and individual liberty on the sidelines.   That in turn reduces our ability to protect countries like Israel from what many perceive as UN heavy-handedness.  If there is a need for another treaty or sanctions against a rogue nation like North Korea or Iran, other countries may be less likely to trust us to lead the negotiations for fear we’ll quit if the result isn’t perfect for America.  (Remember the saying “the perfect is the enemy of the good”?)

It is also hard to see how our security is in any way enhanced by leaving the climate accord.  It will cost us friends in Europe.  It will cost us something in our relationship with China as they step up to take our place in climate debates and use their position to improve their own strength in east Asia.  It continues the message that the United States is not going to be a player in mitigating world issues.  We will not be the world’s police force nor the world’s honest broker.  They can work out their issues on their own.  And we’ll deal with the consequences.  The last time the world was in the position of having no police force and no semi-trusted broker was 1939.

We could join the league of irrelevant nations . . .

There is one good thing about withdrawing from the Paris Accords.  That is we will become a member of that exclusive club of first class nations known as the “Irrelevant Three”.  We’ll join Syria, defender of injustice, and Nicaragua, who thought the treaty was not aggressive enough.  Maybe we can negotiate a better deal with them.

 

 

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Listening with Trumpian Ears

(Note:  This is republished to correct the publication date in the Permalink.)

I have been trying to hear the news recently through the ears of a Trump supporter.  I’m beginning to understand why he had enough supporters to win.  There are several  themes.  I’m trying to describe them so I can follow them for a while to see how  he does on these issues and to refine my understanding of what his supporters expected.  I am not arguing the right or wrong side of these issues but only that this is what a lot of Trump supporters see.  So here they are in no particular order:

  • Many of his basic policies appeal to conservatives.  Smaller government, lower taxes, strong defense spending are all standard Republican issues.  Jobs through government spending on infrastructure do not necessarily fall in that camp but a sufficiently strong Republican Congress could put some checks on that issue.  Likewise, repeal of the ACA is a six-year Republican dream.
  • Bringing jobs back to the US is one of the most powerful of Trump’s themes.  The frustration felt by many is either triggered by or worsened substantially by the real loss of higher paying middle class jobs. Both parties made some hay on the issue of gains going to the top 1% and many people taking home smaller paychecks.  Even though the economy has grown steadily for some years, many people have not been riding the wave.  Job growth does not necessarily equate to  middle-income pay growth.
  • A lot of people feel “left behind”.  Those are people who have not gained from globalization, free trade, automation and expanded human rights.  They have seen local jobs disappear across the world and feel nothing of nearly equal value has come back.  Being a greeter at Wal-Mart is not as lucrative as being a lathe operator and for many people not as satisfying either. They do not see how government programs have helped them but do see a lot of interference in things like land use and business regulation.
  • Another issue is “line skipping”.  Some folks (immigrants, minorities, city dwellers, others getting “special”  treatment) seem to get benefits for being members of a group and not for what they have done in life.  They are seen to be cutting in the line to the American dream ahead of others who have worked hard and neither ask nor get much from government.
  • National security and protection against terrorism is another theme that has broad appeal.  Thoughts and images of Orlando, San Bernardino and other attacks are compelling and make many yearn for a strong defender.
  • “America first” and “America for Americans” address the fear that America is losing not only its jobs but its predominantly northern European cultural foundation.  Things are changing too fast and without thought for the future consequences.  Combined with fears of increasing violence in some cities and perceived decline in respect for all forms of authority, especially the police, this creates a longing for the law and order candidate and greater control of immigration.
  • I wondered for a while what complaints about Democrats offering “free stuff” meant.  Then I heard Bernie Sanders talking about free college and it clicked.  Plans for free college and elimination of college debt don’t do anything for me if I have no college ambitions.  Programs for special groups sound like giveaways to the line skippers.
  • President Obama ran on a “Hope and change” platform.  Things that changed were largely inconsequential to many of Trump’s supporters.  ACA arguably got many people health care they needed but healthcare is complicated and expensive.  When premiums went up, as they have always done in private insurance, many ACA beneficiaries felt cheated.  Bank bailouts seemed to help only the elites.  Dodd-Frank is too esoteric for most people and too complicated for everyone.  The complete grid-lock in Congress showed everyone what a swamp the federal government can be and gave all voters someone to hate in Washington.  An outsider who promises to drain the swamp can easily sound like just what the doctor ordered.  People were still left hoping for change that Trump promises to deliver.
  • Trump’s apparent personal qualities are also important.  He is a successful business man, ran a TV program that presented him as a strong leader, is independently wealthy and cannot be “bought”, and as “The Apprentice” suggested, is able to select capable staff. And, he is not part of the professional political establishment.  He’s tough and strong and can run the country like a business.  Many people see very admirable presidential qualities.
  • Then there is the final argument that Hillary would be worse!  She had no obvious grasp of the issues that were important to much of the country and no message other than “It’s my turn”.  She was associated with thirty years of real or made-up scandal and is an ultimate insider in the year of the outsider.

The underlying message is that a lot of people fear the country is changing too much, too fast and beginning to wobble on its foundation.

So what now? I understand better.  I desperately do not want to be one from the other side who is guilty of the knee jerk reactions that I thought I see in many.  I want to continue to give thought to the issues and the facts that support or contradict them.  That will continue to drive me to the media and to research sites and Think Tanks.  And I still won’t have time to become educated enough on all the issues.  I have expanded my news feeds to include more conservative sources and will continue trying to understand  and think of solutions that will work for everyone.

In that vein, I will continue to revisit this list periodically and look at progress by the administration toward dealing with them.  I will also look at why I think his policies and actions will be a disaster for American ideals and for his supporters.

 

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