Friday, March 31, 2017

Response to One Very Bad Day

(See: Just Above Sunset: One Very Bad Day)

Do you, as I do, get the feeling that every morning, every member of the Trump team gets out of bed, and while getting dressed, ties his shoelaces together?

It seems that General Michael Flynn is offering to tell his “story”, in exchange for legal immunity from prosecution. Given that we seem to have handed our government over to a family of grifters, I wouldn’t jump to the same conclusion as the one outlined here:
”Donald Trump should be worried about this amazing story that Flynn has to tell, even if no one knows what that story is – yet. It’s easy enough to guess. Trump fired the guy. This seems like revenge. This will involve Trump and Russia – or it won’t. … Trump knows what Flynn knows. This cannot be good.”
I’ve not gotten the impression that Flynn, since his departure from the Trump camp, is playing the part of the “disgruntled ex-employee”, out for “revenge”. In fact, I’ve gotten the impression that Flynn and Trump are still, as the saying goes, “as tight as thieves”.

Frankly, I think I smell a rat.

We need to keep in mind that, just within the past week, we’ve seen a third-rate scam, apparently staged by the gang in the White House, to “leak” information to the public that corroborates some fuzzy story that Donald Trump has been telling about being surveilled by the Obama administration, a preposterous tale involving the “unmasking” of innocents that is so incomprehensible and convoluted, it barely serves it’s (I think) intended purpose as a diversion from the actual issue of investigating Russia’s interference in our 2016 elections.

How is it, you may be asking, that this gang of rodeo clowns has been able to change the subject, from a serious probe of Russia's attack on our country, to “incidental” surveillance of innocent persons whose identity was somehow “unmasked”, something that has absolutely nothing to do with Russia?

I’m wagering that it has something to do with the low expectations of those whom the Trumpsters have been able to cajole over to the dark side. The point is, whatever they may think of Donald Trump, the Republicans largely share a conservative agenda with him, and know that their choice is to either (1) back him up on his bullshit scams, or (2) side with the dreaded Democrats and their liberal agenda. It’s as simple as that.

So what story does Flynn have to tell those committees?

I don’t know the details, but I’m pretty sure it’s one that reflects well on Donald Trump, and also furthers the diversion of attention away from Russia (an area of discussion that can only hurt Flynn), and toward whatever case Trump is trying to make about Obama spying on him. I would not be surprised to learn at some point that whoever at the White House arranged for Nunes to stage his stunt is also behind Flynn volunteering to “tell all”.

And by the way, how has President Trump been doing so far? I hear it’s not so hot, especially when it comes to keeping his campaign promises. But fortunately, nobody is really paying too much attention, which is fine, because all that stuff is really boring anyway. 

Any chance this presidency is just a continuation of the campaign itself, with all those outrageous tweets and contretemps in the headlines on a daily basis to divert our attention from the fact that Trump had nothing especially worthwhile to say?

But what happens if Trump's success rate continues on this same path, and he runs out of diversions?

If that happens, and I were Barrack Obama, I'd think about moving to Canada.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Response to All-American Deal-Making

(See: Just Above Sunset: All-American Deal-Making)

One problem with having someone ghost your best-selling book about how good you are at making deals is that you end up spending the rest of your life playing the “other people’s expectations" game, since everybody is left with the impression that you are a whiz at making deals, even if you aren't really, and that leaves you trying to live up to your own hype.

Having your reputation precede you wherever you go can, I guess, be great for your ego, but I would think it could also cramp your style.

One of my last duties at CNN was to represent the satellite needs of the network pool on President Reagan’s one-day visit to the European Parliament building in Strasbourg, France, in the summer of 1985, starting with my own advance trip to Paris in the spring.

I found myself sitting in a meeting hall with just me and Francoise Husson, CNN’s French-born former London Bureau Chief who was serving as my translator, on one side of the table, and about forty representatives from the EU Parliament and various French entities, mostly of the government and TV networks, the telephone company and power company and whatnot, on the other. Through Francoise, I informed them of what we would be needing and when we would be needing it, and after about ten minutes of anguished (and, to me, incomprehensible) French words exchanged among themselves, they came back to let me know why they wouldn’t be able to deliver the workspace in the Parliament building, or the power, or the phone lines, or the security, at least not in time for the event in June.

To which I shrugged my shoulders and replied that I understood the problems (I lied), thanked them in advance for their efforts and suggested that all we all can do is do what we can, and hope for the best.

With that, the meeting was over, and Francoise and I went out to dinner, at which time she told me that what I said to them seemed to baffle them, since, me being an American, they expected a whole lot of that hard bargaining that we Americans are famous around the world for. In fact, she thought they were pleased with the lack of fuss. After all, Americans are also famous for skipping all the jibber-jabber, cutting through all the ceremony, and just getting to the point, one of our famous foibles that is sometimes actually appreciated overseas.

In any event, the next day, I flew home. Over the next month, bit by bit, I learned that I was receiving even more than I had asked for, and way ahead of schedule. That June, back in France, Reagan's visit came and went with nary a hitch. The French were wonderful to work with. Sometimes, the best bargaining is no bargaining at all, especially if nobody involved in it is in the mood for any of that foolishness anyway.

Unfortunately for Trump, his reputation, undeserved as it might be, precedes him. One of my old bosses who was famous throughout broadcasting for his haggling skills, had that same problem. It was often said of him, “He knows the price of everything but the value of nothing”. Word got around, and eventually, everyone saw him coming, and — well, there’s that old saying about those who are forewarned are forearmed.

In fact, if everyone suspects that Donald Trump cares more about his precious image than the details of any one deal he’s working on, the deal will probably suck in ways he won't even recognize, assuming it ever gets closed at all, or else his deal may just implode, which has happened more than once to...

Hold the phone! BREAKING NEWS!! This just in!!! As I am writing this, while waiting for the voting in the House to begin, word arrives that, instead of voting, they’ve withdrawn the bill!

At first, I thought this meant they postponed it, which is what I had been predicting would happen, but it’s even better than that! Our long national nightmare appears to be over, sort of.

And it seems that Trump has already started doing what, early on, he himself promised to do if the vote failed — he’ll start blaming it on the Democrats and Obama! So, in truth, Sean “Slick” Spicer was wrong when he told reporters there was no back-up plan:
Spicer told reporters during a daily press briefing that there is no back-up plan for the American Health Care Act ... because the bill would pass. 
"No, there is no plan B," said Spicer. "There is a plan A, and plan A. We're going to get this done. We're going to get it done, that's it, plain and simple." 
During a recent meeting, Trump told conservative groups that are against the bill that his plan B was to allow Obamacare, officially named the Affordable Care Act, to "collapse" and then blame Democrats for any negative outcomes.
Hey, good luck with that! And thanks for the heads-up.

Of course there’s a “Plan B”! We’ve just entered it. Trump planned for this and warned us it was coming, that in the event of failure, he would somehow blame it on the Democrats, I guess for not voting for Trumpcare. 

Which is preposterous, of course.

Weren’t they saying through all those years that they would repeal Obamacare in the first five minutes of Day One, once they were able to get one of their own guys into the Oval Office? That didn’t happen, but it wasn’t because of the Democrats, who, yes, were prepared to cast exactly as many “Yes” votes for Trumpcare as Republicans cast for Obamacare, way back when.

The difference between the two votes was that Obama himself turned out to be a more-successful wheeler-dealer than Mr. King of the Big Deal himself. Surprise!

Repeal, which once seemed like a surefire thing back in Republican Dreamland, before the inauguration, back when the moderate “Tuesday Group" was dreaming of “Repeal and Replace”, while, seemingly unbeknownst to anyone, the take-no-prisoners "Freedom Fries Caucus" was envisioning only the “Repeal” part.

That doesn’t sound like a big thing, but it turned out to be quite a deal-breaker. It was the fact that the distance between the two extremities of the GOP is too great to allow consensus on any one bill that queered this deal, and had nothing to with whatever the Democrats were doing at the time — which, of course, was that they were probably quietly watching all the Republican shenanigans with bemusement.

And yes, I suppose we could blame the Democrats for not barging down to the Oval Office to pitch their own healthcare plan, which is known as “Obamacare” — which has already been proven popular with a plurality of Americans who have said they’d rather see it changed than repealed — and which could also be called “Obamacare: New and Improved”, including within it all those upgrades that Barrack Obama was referencing the other day, when he talked about always envisioning the program being improved upon as we went along.

But then, in that same vein, I guess Trump can blame himself for not inviting Democratic input (in which case, I think there’s a chance he could have won!), instead of placing all his faith in all those hopeless congressional Republicans, who have, after years of practice, demonstrated that they still can't organize a one-car funeral.

But think of it! This may be the closest we ever get to a face-to-face contest between Trump and Obama, and after all that negotiating, look who's healthcare version ended up as "the Law of the Land!"

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Response to The Expected Perfect Storm

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Expected Perfect Storm)

Here’s the issue that’s at the bottom of the question of what to do about Obamacare:

Do you believe in our national government being involved in the nation’s healthcare, or don’t you?

If you do, you’re probably a Democrat (and/or a liberal), and if you don’t, you’re probably a Republican (and/or conservative, and/or a Libertarian). And for all practical purposes, there is no in-between. 

Which is to say, if you’re a believer, you should be all-in, and if you’re not, you should be all-out, because anything in between is just a tangled miss-mosh, with compromises left in there for the sole purpose of pleasing the other side, which ends up costing us way too much money, and not doing the job any of us want done anyway.

And just to be crystal clear, I myself am a "true believer" — which is to say, I’m a liberal and/or Democrat, the implication of which is this:

If I had to choose between the somewhat-flawed Obamacare and the absolutely brain-dead and duplicitous Trumpcare, please give me Obamacare any day. 

Obamacare may be way too complicated and twisted to be of as much good to anybody as it is intended to be, but it was working pretty well, in spite of the ubiquitous Republican noise machine chanting that it was a total disaster.

But more to the point, Trumpcare is an out-and-out lie, put forth as a stalking horse, with the ultimate purpose of doing away with any and all public healthcare systems altogether.

Republicans actually believe in “Bupkis-care”. That is, they don’t believe in any healthcare program at all, but lack the courage to admit this out loud.

In their soul of souls, they think everyone should take care of their own doctor and hospital bills, without digging into everyone else’s pocket. But they’re afraid to admit this, given the country's having warmed up to the idea of government involvement in healthcare, and so when Republicans seriously brought up “repeal”, and found themselves having to answer questions about what they would do with all the sick-and-dying left out in the streets, they gave into pressure to change their mantra to “repeal and replace” — but with a much better plan.

That was the crack in the dyke.

Before long, they were crawling deeper and deeper into the trap, claiming their plan would keep the good parts of Obamacare — such as coverage of pre-existing conditions, and letting kids stay on their parents’ plans until age 26, and no annual or lifetime caps — but they’d just replace the parts they didn’t like — such as, well, how to pay for the parts they did like — the particulars of which, of course, they would have to get back to us about, since it was going to take some real noodling to figure that out.

But now the time has finally come to place their bets!

Had they kept their noses clean, we wouldn’t see a painfully joyous Paul Ryan yesterday, clumsily trying to explain how the CBO scoring that shows 14 million fewer Americans with healthcare next year, and 24 million fewer ten years from now, actually supports his proposal:
"Our plan is not about forcing people to buy expensive, one-size-fits-all coverage. It is about giving people more choices and better access to a plan they want and can afford. When people have more choices, costs go down. That’s what this report shows. And, as we have long said, there will be a stable transition so that no one has the rug pulled out from under them."
“Rug"? What “rug"? There will be a “rug”? (More on that in a minute.)

Some problems with his arguments, in order:

1. It seems that his plan is about “forcing people to buy expensive, one-size-fits-all coverage”. Go look at Steven Ratner’s recent New York Times column that has a chart (see “Fact #1”) showing the comparative size of tax credits in 2020 under “Obamacare”, which varies according to level of income, and the “New GOP plan”, which varies according to age, but stays constant across all incomes. In other words, one size fits all.

2. The magical thinking — that “when people have more choices, costs go down” — may actually be true, but it also seems to be that when costs go down, insurers start dropping out of the program, as evidenced by what happened last year.

3. And maintaining a “stable transition”, as described here, seems to suggest that, when the time comes to "pull the rug", everyone will hopefully have enough advance warning to get off it before it gets pulled. And where is this “stable transition” supposed to be transiting to? Sounds like the plan is to leave everyone with “Bupkis-care”, which is pretty much what we had before Obamacare came along.

It’s like you hire an advisor to come into your house to figure out how you can spend less money on food, and they come up with a plan that involves slowly cutting down on buying food, until eventually you find yourself not buying any food, and your family starves to death. But on the bright side, you did save a lot of money.

But last Friday, Paul Ryan explained to radio host Hugh Hewitt what he thought would be the reaction to the upcoming CBO estimates on the reduction of the insured, and how he’d handle it:
"If the government says 'thou shall buy our health insurance', the government estimates are going to say people will comply and it will happen. And when you replace that with, 'we’re going to have a free market, and you buy what you want to buy', they’re going to say not nearly as many people are going to do that. That’s just going to happen. And so you’ll have those coverage estimates. We assume that’s going to happen."
And he was right! Sure enough, the CBO scoring ended up predicting millions more will be uninsured, quite possibly because Obamacare coerced people into buying health insurance, while Ryan’s plan did not.

Ryan seemed to have no problem with there being fewer insured, since, for Republicans, healthcare reform is all about exercising one’s freedom to pick one’s own plan from a whole big list of plans, all of which promotes competition and brings down costs and blah-blah-blah — instead of being about getting more healthcare to more Americans!

I don’t don’t mean to be flip, but if you can’t get a big list of companies willing to compete under a system where citizens are penalized if they don’t buy insurance, then why would insurance companies want to compete among the much smaller group of customers willing to do it without the penalty?

And to that suggestion that there is something wrong with penalties:

What if there were no penalty for not paying income taxes? Couldn't we assume the number of people paying their income taxes would do down? And if so, would that be a good thing?

If there were no truancy laws, do you think maybe there would be fewer parents sending their kids to schools, with the result being that we would become a nation of nitwits? And if so, would that be a good thing?

And then there’s the big problem with Obamacare that you don’t get with Trumpcare, which is that Obamacare taxes the rich to fund Medicaid, which is what many call “class warfare”.

You’ve heard the expression, “it’s his world; the rest of us are just living in it”? Those rich people who don’t like the idea of progressive taxation think they own the economy, and the rest of us are just living in it. But in fact, everyone from high-income through middle-income to no-income, we all own the economy, because we created it, even the poor, by buying and selling goods and services within it, and anyone who tries to claim they deserve most of it, because they earned it, has to get over themselves.

And the “class warriors” are not the people who claim the economy belongs to all of us; it’s those who think it belongs to only the rich who are the real "class warriors".

But then there’s also that question of “socialized medicine”:

Back in the early middle ages, the government didn’t have its own military; rich guys did. We don’t do that anymore. We let our country have a monopoly on owning armed forces. You could call it “socialized military”. I believe in that.

A long time ago, governments weren’t the only ones who printed money; banks printed “bank notes”, which in many cases were worth even more than the so-called national currency. Nowadays, the federal government has a monopoly on printing money. We don’t think of this as socialism, but it really is.

But maybe the big problem with Obamacare has been, because it doesn’t do away with the insurance middlemen, nor own all the hospitals and employ all the doctors, it isn't really socialized medicine. It would be better if it were, in that (1) it would probably have better healthcare outcomes than what we’ve ever had, and (2) it would also be cheaper.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s the answer for both the Democrats, who’s main concern is to get everybody covered, and for the Republicans, who are mostly interested in seeing costs come down, with both of them interested in best possible health outcomes!

Maybe we should just forget Obamacare! Forget Trumpcare! We can even forget about so-called “Single Payer”! Where in the world can we find a system like that?

Would you believe the Jolly Old United Kingdom?

We are so used to hearing some overly-enthusiastic jamoke, usually of the Republican persuasion, off-handedly boast that our country has “the best healthcare in the world”, but luckily for him, nobody ever asks him to back up the claim:
For this [2014] survey on overall health care, The Commonwealth Fund ranked the U.S. dead last. 
1. United Kingdom 
2. Switzerland 
3. Sweden 
4. Australia 
5. Germany & Netherlands (tied) 
7. New Zealand & Norway (tied) 
9. France 
10. Canada 
11. United States 
It's fairly well accepted that the U.S. is the most expensive healthcare system in the world, but many continue to falsely assume that we pay more for healthcare because we get better health (or better health outcomes). The evidence, however, clearly doesn't support that view.
Notice who’s number one? Yep. The UK!

And sure enough, according to a link sent to me by a friend up in Canada (who seems to share my admiration for Britain’s National Health Service), the U.S. topped a chart listing the costliest healthcare systems in the world for that same year, 2014, the most recent available:
The chart is titled, "Healthcare Costs Per Capita (Dollars)”, and runs from left to right, cheapest country to most expensive on the list: 
1. Italy ($3,207) 
2. U.K. ($3,971) 
3. Japan ($4,152) 
4. Australia ($4,177) 
5. France ($4,367) 
6. Canada ($4,506) 
7. Sweden ($5,003) 
8. Germany ($5,119) 
9. Switzerland ($6,787) 
10. United States ($9,024) 
(Source: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD Health Statistics 2016. Compiled by PGPF.)
So maybe not coincidentally, the UK, with their out-and-out socialized medicine, has about the cheapest and the best healthcare system in the world. If we copied them, we’d be up there, too.

What’s that you say? Good luck getting that past the Republicans?

My answer to that is, just give the Trump gang a few years of trying to jibber-jabber their way out of the “Repealing and Replacing” mess they’ve made for themselves, and there’s just a chance Americans will become fed up, and will come to their senses.

After all, that ACA stuff was just Barrack Obama trying to solve our healthcare problem in a way he thought Republicans might buy into — which was an admirable attempt, but look where it got him.

So maybe it’s time to stop working so hard for the other side to come to our side. Maybe we should just do what we should have done from the start, and make the same healthcare choice that that crusty old conservative, Winston Churchill, did. In fact, he was apparently one of the movers behind getting the NHS up and going.

And while I realize Democrats may not be feeling all that bold lately, this may be exactly the time to get started talking about it, just when there might be a constituency primed for trying something brand new.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Response to Kafka Comes to America

(See: Just Above Sunset: Kafka Comes to America)

The overall theme of President Trump’s "new-and-improved" travel ban and Congress’s new "Obamacare replacement" plan, both released on Monday, seems to be this:

In an over-abundance of caution and a sharp eye toward cost control, Donald Trump and his Republicans have unilaterally decided to reduce the number of lifeboats on the ship of state. Yes, this greatly increases the chance of innocent people dying, but not to worry! That’s a chance they’re willing to take, particularly in light of all the money we will save!

It’s not really surprising that, when you listen to the party’s defenders of the new GOP-care bill, you don’t hear them say much about how many people it will or will not cover, since that’s never really been a concern of Republicans, although getting as many Americans as possible covered by good health insurance plans has been a longtime major focus for Democrats.

And, in fact, the new GOP plan — with its doing away with mandates, its Medicaid "block grants" to states, so-called medical “savings accounts” and huge premium increases for those who don’t keep a continuity of coverage — seems designed to allow government-aided healthcare to fade out of existence entirely, by attrition, eventually returning us to the totally “free-market” approach of pre-healthcare reform, proving that despite all those Republican promises, “Repeal and Replace” is, in the long run, just another way of saying “Repeal”.

And where will this leave the so-called “middle class” — or, even worse, the “working poor” — and, even worse still, the “non-working poor”? Will more of them get sicker, stay sicker, and even die because of this?


Yeah, but is that such a bad thing?

Your answer to that may depend on whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat. After all, what’s keeping that poor person from going out and getting a job, pulling himself out of poverty by his bootstraps? (Okay, but what if that little six-year-old "poor person" can’t find a job? "Hey, nobody said life will always be fair!”)

But it's also worth asking ourselves:

If the Republicans were right all along when they kept insisting, throughout the Obama years, that Obamacare is such a total disaster! — and everybody knows it! — then why is it, now that they finally get the chance to just shut it down, they seem too absolutely scared shitless to do it?

Then there’s this cutting the number of refugees admitted from 110,000 to 50,000 per year. And the point of that? The reason we take in any refugees has to do with helping them escape imminent danger, which means that any refugees we refuse to take in are probably in grave danger, possibly, of losing their lives.

So why are we reducing the quota? Is this a money issue, in that we only have enough in the budget to save a certain number of lives? In fact, why is there even any limit to the number of lives we help save in the first place? Either we care about saving refugees or we don’t, and if we really don’t, why aren’t we just reducing that number to zero?

Come to think of it, has the White House ever offered any answer to the criticism that their “solution” to the imaginary “problems” that spring from drastically reducing travel from these six countries  from which there has been not one terrorist immigrant who has ever killed any American  has created many more real problems than the imaginary problems they are trying to solve?

And if not, why don’t they just shut the stupid program down?

The answer, of course, has to do with “form over function”. It’s really about image, not reality.

That is, the people Donald Trump is trying to "keep faith with" don’t give one flying damn about whether the Muslim travel-ban actually “works" or not; all that matters to the people who elected him is that somebody is seen doing something about “certain" people, and especially Muslim people, period. The point is not to solve some actual problem or other, it’s just to send a message to everybody that we mean business!

When it comes right down to it, what these people couldn’t stand about Barrack Obama is that he was too nice! Being “nice” is bad, in itself, because it sends a message of weakness! And if you look weak, your enemies will take advantage of you. Forget about “doing the right thing”, the only thing that matters is that your enemy fears you.

Your enemy is (as is Donald Trump, too, by the way) constantly looking you over in hopes of finding some weakness to exploit, in hopes of somehow humiliating you. 

And this over-concern with “messaging” also figures in why we on the left (although also those in the center) become so frustrated with those on the right showing so little regard for actual “truth”. We need to understand, for example, that Donald Trump’s election victory did not ever depend on his superior ability to know and adhere to any “truth”. He won both his primaries and the general election because of his skill in showing what a strong guy he is, what an effective bully he is — or maybe, if you insist, what a complete jerk he is.

There are lots of people in the world who are impressed with the somewhat charismatic dim-wit who, nevertheless, is gifted with the ability to push people around. If that weren’t true, the world would never have tyrants. This past year, in America, that number apparently reached the critical mass needed to elect one president of the United States, but the important thing to remember is that that mass was still not as great as the mass who were not as impressed.

Maybe more people over the next few years will come to see this new GOP healthcare offering as vastly inferior to the plan it replaces, or better yet, for the out-and-out, bait-and-switch scam it seems to be. Maybe most Americans will come to the same conclusion about all of Trump’s phony Potemkin-village-like programs supposedly designed to “keep us all safe”.

Or maybe our only hope is for, somehow, the critical mass of Americans who don’t respect bullies to go back to vastly outnumbering those who do.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Siege Engines

(See: Just Above Sunset: Siege Engines)

Halfway through reading this “Siege Engines” column, I was preparing to comment, asking the question of who is sieging whom, but then saw Andrew Sullivan asking the same question. Given your setup of the siegee always losing, I’d say it’s Trump who has the strong hand here, since there’s not much any of us can do about this but sit and hope for some help from the outside — which, at this point doesn’t exist — or else wait for the sieger to accidentally shoot himself in the head — which, in our case, still seems to be a real possibility.

As I write this, there's so-called “Breaking News” (is there any other kind anymore?) on CNN of our so-called president tweeting that he just learned that Obama tapped his Trump Tower phones back in October. I haven’t heard any details yet, but it may very well be “fake news”, the only question being whether the faking is being done by the mainstream media, or alternatively, by the so-called White House.

After all, claims to the contrary notwithstanding, while we have no examples of the former, we definitely do of the latter — or at least we allegedly do, from some possible “alternative facts” given to CNN’s Sara Murray by some anonymous "senior administration official”, that some other "senior administration official” (which turned out to be — surprise! surprise! — Donald Trump!) “lied” to the press (that’s my word for it; the White House didn’t call it that, they called it a “misdirection play”) when he promised he was going to reveal himself to be a humane and reasonable man in his speech to Congress that night, while in fact his real plan turned out to be that, although speaking in his inside voice in the speech, he would be the same shithead that more than half the nation already knew him to be.

Then again, we can’t be sure he lied, since we never can be sure that he didn’t just forget what was in the speech, although he’s also been known to change his mind between the time he says he’s going to do something and when he actually does it. Maybe the “misdirection play” claim was itself just some “misdirection play” of its own, a coverup of sorts, just to make Trump look less like an idiot, as if he did it on purpose. Although I could be wrong about all that. 

(HEY, ARE YOU STILL AWAKE? Don’t fall asleep! That’s just what they want you to do!)

Given the fact that Trump has publicly admitted he likes to keep everyone guessing, will we ever know for sure when he’s lying and when he’s only lying about being a liar? My guess is, no, we probably won’t.

And that brings us back to the question that was being asked the other day:

If the media knows the White House will be lying to us all the time, shouldn’t it just boycott them?

My answer is, tempting as that is, no. The reason is, the purpose for media coverage of the White House isn’t just for whatever actual information they might give to the American people, but also just to report what they say, whether it be a lie or the truth. And if we have reason to believe it’s not the truth? Then we also report that, making sure we back it up with evidence.

As for off-the-record “backgrounders”, we should be very careful and use our best judgement before using whatever information they give us, since we already have good reason to know it may not be true.

As for "not revealing confidential sources”? That’s a little trickier. Here are some guidelines on use of anonymous sources from the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ):
Few ethical issues in journalism are more entangled with the law than the use of anonymous sources. Keep your promise not to identify a source of information and it’s possible to find yourself facing a grand jury, a judge and a jail cell. On the other hand, break your promise of confidentiality to that source and it’s just possible you might find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit. … 
The SPJ Code of Ethics contains two pointed statements on anonymous sources:
1. Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability. ... 
2. Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
But is it okay to include in your agreement with the source, that “If I find out that you, the source, have deliberately lied to me, our deal is off, and I may just feel free at that point to reveal my source, whether you like it or not"?

This SPJ position paper doesn't say anything about that.

Still, maybe you could try it, but if you do, I’d advise you to do it very carefully, since you’ll be messing with long-standing ethical traditions — and upending ethical traditions may be something best left to the likes of Donald Trump.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Response to Simple and Wrong

(See: Just Above Sunset: Simple and Wrong)

I remember hearing that, during commercial breaks of “I Love Lucy” back in the early 1950s, New York’s water pressure dropped measurably with so many toilets being flushed at the same time, so the other day, when I guffawed on hearing Donald Trump say, "Nobody knew health care could be so complicated!”, I wondered: If enough Democrats and Independents all laughed at the same time, might that cause a measurable earthquake?

If a new president really doesn’t know something because he hasn’t been keeping up with the news, I guess it’s okay to learn on the job, but I have a feeling that even if Trump had been paying attention over all these years to the Obamacare issue, he would still have been confused today, and that’s partly because the “Repeal-and-Replace” Republicans, despite their famous wont to keep things much simpler than they really need to be, have not had the guts to reduce the problem of healthcare in America down to its true essentials.

We need to go back and ask ourselves, what was the problem that needed solving?

The answer depends on who you were to ask. Democrats wanted everybody to have affordable healthcare, even if that meant “Medicare-for-All”, while Republicans mostly just wanted healthcare to be cheaper, especially for themselves and their family and friends, and didn’t talk at all about the idea of “universal” care. In fact, they ignored it altogether, as if nobody really believed in it anyway.

The Democrats drove healthcare reform in America back then, in much the same way that Republicans, especially under Trump, have been pushing immigration being a top-level political problem today, and what Democrats saw was too many poor and middle class people without jobs or health insurance (and also their children) showing up at hospital emergency rooms when they got sick or injured, and sometimes getting turned away once it was learned they were going to be unable to pay their bills.

At least that was true until politicians grew guilty consciences, passing laws that prohibited hospitals from turning away those who couldn’t pay, at which point the costs of their treatment, such as it was, would be passed on to the patients who could, but that sent hospital bills and insurance premiums soaring. In other words, by default, those of us who had the money to pay our bills, were also paying the bills of those who couldn’t.

Since the public was picking up the tab for the poor anyway, what was needed was a way for us to do it more efficiently, and with better outcomes, and probably at lower cost. The result, by an eyelash, was the ACA. Once it got going, most economists seemed to admit that it worked, with a few glitches here and there, but solvable ones.

Or else, depending on if the Republicans ever got in power, we could always go back to the way we were doing it before.

In fact, in a perfect conservative Republican world — although this would be one in which people feel no obligation to help anyone but themselves and their families; but that should go without saying — the hospitals would be told they are no longer under obligation to give away free healthcare, and should feel free to turn away anybody who can’t pay.

And those who couldn’t pay (and that includes their offspring) would go untreated, and would stay sick, and eventually die. That would be “unfortunate" and “sad”, of course, but with all these burdensome sick hangers-on out of the picture, they would cease to be our problem, and this, one would think, would cause insurance premiums and hospital bills to drop.

(Or would it? Or would the expenses of all that costly equipment, not to mention the salaries of medical personnel, just be spread across a smaller population of patients, which would mean higher medical costs for each patient, rather than lower? Whatever.)

Economist Paul Krugman asks the question, "So why do Republicans hate Obamacare so much?”, and has his own theory:
It’s not because they have better ideas; as we’ve seen over the past few weeks, they’re coming up empty-handed on the “replace” part of “repeal and replace.” It’s not, I’m sorry to say, because they are deeply committed to Americans’ right to buy the insurance policy of their choice. 
No, mainly they hate Obamacare for two reasons: It demonstrates that the government can make people’s lives better, and it’s paid for in large part with taxes on the wealthy.
My own theory is, conservatives are, on principle, opposed to the idea of government making it easy for people to live, thinking that “giving people stuff” instead of making them work for it only makes them soft.

How this principle — that of having to work for what you get — applies to their own kids, who generally get their health insurance from their rich parents, is a puzzle that rarely comes up in the discussion; nor does the question of why they believe in that principle, since it’s too hard for them to explain to people who don’t already share your prejudices.

Regardless, it comes down to one of two choices — (1) some sort of universal healthcare, with its efficiencies and better outcomes for all, or (2) what we did before Obamacare, with some people slowly dying in cardboard boxes because they haven’t the money it takes to stay alive.

So in a way, all those Republicans who’ve always thought that the healthcare question is not a complex one, have been right all along! It's essentially a simple choice between Healthcare-for-Everybody, and Healthcare-for-The-Well-to-Do, along with some sort of slow and painful death for most everybody else.

It’s really pretty much as simple as that! So what’s this big problem everybody’s been wrestling with all this time?