Monday, June 26, 2017

GOP Senators: Where's Your Heart?

Senate Republicans are pushing hard for a vote this week on their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, aka the ACA.   But the Senate plan takes coverage away from 22 million Americans, according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office released on Monday.  The CBO also projects the plan will reduce the deficit by $321 billion over the next decade.  And the bill's authors utilized some trickery to get their bill scored slightly better than its House counterpart proposal, which President Donald Trump called "mean."   

The Senate GOP proposal will phase out Medicaid's expansion, it will cap Medicaid spending to the states, it will repeal Obamacare taxes used to fund the program, and it will restructure subsidies to insurance customers.   The federal government currently picks up between 50 and 100 percent of the states' healthcare costs.  The Republicans want to reduce these costs through block grants that are capped to slow growth.  This will leave it to the states to cover any difference and administer healthcare.  But the effect will be to reduce federal Medicaid spending over time, leaving millions of those who need support most without health insurance.   

In January President Donald Trump told The Washington Post, "We are going to have insurance for everybody.  There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can't pay for it, you don't get it.  That's not going to happen with us."   The House GOP earlier had passed their version of health care, which President Trump feted at a White House ceremony with Congressional Republicans.  But later he turned on them by describing the bill as "mean."  Now he is pushing for passage of the Senate Republican bill, which is not dissimilar to the House version.  

Health care represents one sixth of the U.S. gross domestic product, or more than $2.6 trillion.   Medicaid spending has reached $575 billion annually.  The Health Insurance Association of America defines Medicaid as a "government insurance program for persons of all ages whose income and resources are insufficient to pay for health care."  Republicans have long strived to cut Medicaid costs in an effort to reduce the U.S. deficit.   They believe that block granting it to the states will make it more efficient.

The federal government's options for reducing Medicaid costs are limited.  It can reduce the number of people covered, it can reduce the benefit coverage, it can pay less for benefits, it can get doctors and hospitals to accept less in reimbursement, or it can ask beneficiaries to pay more.  Both the House and Senate bills would have a devastating impact millions of Americans by throwing the problem to the states and cutting the growth of Medicaid subsidies over time through a cap on spending.    While the CBO shows that healthcare price increases will in a couple years be less under the Senate version than Obamacare, those covered will get less for their money.  

For more than seven years Republicans have railed against Obamacare.  President Trump campaigned heavily against Obamacare, pledging at a Florida rally in October to repeal and replace it.  "That begins with immediately repealing and replacing the disaster known as Obamacare," he promised.  "You're going to have such great health care, at a tiny fraction of the cost--and it's going to be so easy."   Four months later a frustrated President Trump told reporters,  "It's an unbelievably complex subject.  Nobody knew health care could be so complicated."   

Senate Republican leadership turned this complicated task over to thirteen of its members, all men, who then crafted its health care bill behind closed doors.  The measure was released to the public last Thursday, leaving little time for public scrutiny.  The Affordable Care Act, by contrast, was debated over months of hearings and Republicans added more than one hundred amendments to the legislation.   Clearly Senate Leader Mitch McConnell knew his caucus's bill would be unpopular.  But now President Trump is championing the Senate bill, even though it will adversely impact millions of his own supporters while giving tax breaks to the rich, like the Trump family.  All Trump, a self-proclaimed dealmaker, cares about is making a deal.

Ultimately, someone has to pay if health care is to cover those who can least afford it.  The American Medical Association sent a letter to Leader McConnell warning that the Senate's Obamacare repeal plan could hurt America's "most vulnerable citizens."  The key to covering more Americans while lowering health insurance costs is risk sharing, where the healthy contribute to pay the costs.  But Congressional Republicans are more focused on fulfilling their campaign promise to repeal Obamacare, even at the risk of losing Congressional seats in the 2018 Midterm elections, especially in those states that have already accepted Medicaid coverage.  

Yet President Trump is exhorting Republicans on Twitter--driving them to close the deal and perhaps off the cliff in 2018.  "Republican Senators are working very hard to get there, with no help from the Democrats.  Not easy!  Perhaps just let OCare crash & burn!" he tweeted Monday.   Of course it would be easier to fix Obamacare, and former House Speaker John Boehner warned Republicans that once you give people and entitlement you can't take it away.

So Republicans have replaced a "mean" proposal with a less mean proposal.  Now passage rests in the hands of a handful of uncommitted Senate Republicans.   Were Hippocrates, the father of medicine in Western Culture, alive today he would give each of them this advice:  "Do no harm."

But this is politics, and nobody knew it could be so complicated.    

Monday, June 12, 2017

Trump's Tangled Web

President Donald Trump's tangled web of scandals has plagued his administration, paralyzed his domestic agenda and undermined America's long cherished global relationships.   Arizona Senator John McCain, a Republican and no fan of Trump's, criticized the president in an interview with the Guardian.  Asked if America's global standing was much better under President Barack Obama he responded,  "As far as American leadership is concerned, yes."

South Carolina's Senator Lindsay Graham, who ran against Trump in the GOP primaries last year, expressed his frustration with the president on Face the Nation Sunday.  "Well, I think it was true that he's not under investigation for colluding with the Russians, and I don't think what was said amounts to obstruction of justice. Now, what the president did was inappropriate," he said.  Then, perhaps addressing Trump, he added, "You may be the first president in history to go down because you can't stop inappropriately talking about an investigation that if you just were quiet, would clear you."

Following reports that the president may have shared classified information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador last month, Tennessee's Senator Bob Corker provided reporters a gloomy characterization of the White House.  "Obviously, they're in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that's happening."   Following former FBI Director James Comey's damning testimony about the president last week, some Republicans are straining to explain their continued support for Trump even though he reportedly asked Comey to publicly exonerate him.  House Speaker Paul Ryan explained, "The president's new at this.  He's new to government, and so he probably wasn't steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between the Department of Justice, FBI and the White House.  He's just new to this."  

As the dark cloud of scandal hangs over the White House,  the president is having difficulty filling key positions throughout his administration.  Staff shakeups are rumored, with the latest being a report by Politico that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has until July 4th to clean up the mess.  Meanwhile, against the advice of his advisers, Trump continues to strike out on Twitter.  "I believe the James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible.  Totally illegal?  Very 'cowardly!'" he wrote Sunday.

The president has repeatedly hinted for weeks that there may be tapes of his conversations with James Comey.  If tapes do exist they could set the record straight on exactly whether he asked Comey in their private meetings to end the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, whom he fired last month.   Skeptics note that it is hard to believe that the president would not immediately release a tape that supports his account of the Comey meetings.  

Meanwhile, the White House is doing all it can to change the subject, but with little success.   On Monday, President Trump held his first meeting with his full cabinet, reminding his team, "We're here to change Washington."  He called Democrats "obstructionists" and went on to tout his own accomplishments as president.  With news cameras rolling on the proceeding, he said, "Never has there been a president--with few exceptions, in the case of FDR he had a major Depression to handle--who passed more legislation, who's done more things than what we've done."   Well President Trump, you are certainly no FDR, President Harry Truman passed more legislation than you, and much of what you have passed is not significant.  

New York Times correspondent Glenn Thrush tweeted about the event, "This interminable cabinet (camera) spray, where everybody pays tribute to Trump, is one of the most exquisitely awkward public events I've ever seen."  The beleaguered Reince Priebus even thanked Trump for the "blessing" of being able to work for him.  Maybe that will buy Priebus more time?   

On Tuesday the nation's attention will turn to Attorney General Jeff Session's public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which he requested.   Session has said he wants to answer questions raised by Comey's testimony last Thursday. Session's knows his most important audience will be the president.  Trump was reportedly angry at Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, and there have been rumors that the attorney general is on thin ice.  Sessions had earlier failed to report meetings that he had with Russian officials during the transition.   Before recusing himself, Sessions said, "I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign."  That was not true.

Can Jefferson Beauregard Sessions really be trusted to answer Senator's questions accurately in a public hearing with Donald Trump holding the sword of Damocles over his head?  Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.  
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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Trump Staff Shake Up

The crisis surrounding the Trump White House and its possible ties to Russia deepened with the disclosure of unreported meetings between the Russian ambassador and Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser. The disclosure raises questions about whether Kushner was intentionally concealing the meetings, and, if so, why?  Meanwhile, President Trump has retained private legal counsel, and he is reported to be considering a major staff shakeup.
The Washington Post reported Friday that Kushner proposed setting up a back-door channel to the Russians using their facilities during the transition.  He did so in a meeting last December with Russian Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak and Michael Flynn, who served as national security adviser to the president briefly before he was fired.   The Washington Post reported that Kushner’s proposal took Kislyak by surprise.   A former U.S. intelligence official quoted in the paper called Kushner’s idea, “extremely naive or absolutely crazy.”
Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee has stepped up its inquiry into Russian interference into the 2016 presidential race by requesting all Russian related documents, emails and phone records beginning June 2015 from the Trump organization, according to the Post.   Investigations are being conducted by committees in the Senate and House, as well as by the FBI.
The number of leaks pertaining to these investigations is extraordinary, and some appear to come from within the White House.   Below the surface members of Trump’s team have been deeply divided, which is not surprising given Trump’s management style.  Moreover, the sheer weight of these daily revelations is taking attention away from other issues, and they have disrupted any progress with Trump’s agenda.
The Russians want economic sanctions imposed on it by the U.S. eased, including those imposed by President Obama for its meddling in the U.S. elections.   In a meeting during the transition last December, Mike Flynn gave the Russian ambassador the impression that sanctions could be revisited after Trump took office.  U.S. intelligence has concluded that the Russians interfered in the November election to tip the scales in favor of Trump over Hillary Clinton.  Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Clinton of being behind anti-government protests in his country and tough on sanctions.
Kushner also held a previously undisclosed meeting with Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, who is chairman of VneshEconomBank, a Russian government institution that is under U.S. sanctions.  Putin used that bank to finance the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, which cost a record $50 billion, and he and Gorkov are close.
In March, Reuters reported that, “at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded towers in southern Florida.”   Both Kushner and Trump have had to raise money to fund their extensive real estate businesses.  Last week, The Washington Post revealed, “The investigative work now being done by the FBI also includes determining whether any financial crimes were committed by people close to the president.”   In a written statement, Kushner’s attorney said, “Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”
President Trump held no news conferences during his just completed trip overseas, leaving his aides to fend with reporter questions about Russia. Conservative Bill Kristol tweeted Saturday, “It’s not only that the Trump administration wanted a back channel to Russia, it’s that the Trump family did.”
Next week President Trump will have many tough issues to deal with.  They include his unrealistic and callous budget proposal, his ineptness in dealing with health insurance, and whether the U.S. should withdraw from the Paris Accord on climate change.  But no issues will be more difficult than the intensifying investigations into Russian interference in the U.S. Election, questions about Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, and Russia’s relationships with the Trump administration and family.
Not even a staff shakeup will bring the president any relief.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

More on Roger Ailes


IN THE NEWS  JOURNALISM  LAWRENCE HERBERT SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION

Joe Peyronnin on Roger Ailes’ Legacy



Joe Peyronnin, a journalism professor in the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication and
former president of Fox News (1995-96), spoke with CBS Newsradio 880 and the Los Angeles Times 
about the legacy of Fox News Channel founder and former chairman Roger Ailes, who died Thursday,
May 18 at age 77.  He also writes about his experiences with Ailes in his Huffington Post column.
Listen to the WCBS 880 report:


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Roger Ailes and Fox News

Roger Ailes was a brilliant and fearless television executive who built from scratch the most powerful conservative news brand in television.   Ailes died Thursday at the age of 77, and less than year after he resigned as Fox News CEO in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal.
No one would have bet on the success of the Fox News Channel when it was launched in 1996.  CNN had dominated the cable news world, and Microsoft and NBC News had just teamed up to create MSNBC.  But Ailes had a vision and a mission to create a voice for conservative Americans that he felt would be successful in tapping into the “silent majority.”
I was Fox News President in 1995, having been hired by Rupert Murdoch to create a "proper news organization."  Murdoch hated CNN and its founder, Ted Turner.  My challenge at that time was that no other senior executive at Fox was interested in airing network news programming or creating a news channel.  The Fox owned local stations, which aired their own very profitable newscasts in the morning and at night, did not want to turn programming time over to the network.  Meanwhile, a cable news channel would be extremely expensive to build, and it would be very costly to obtain cable clearances.
After months of frustration I put together a news service and produced some network news specials using a core news staff that I had hired.  Later, I put together a plan for a Sunday morning public affairs program I titled, Fox News Sunday.   I identified several anchors, many of whom Murdoch rejected as too liberal.   We finally agreed to hire the late Tony Snow, a conservative columnist and former White House spokesperson for President George H. W. Bush.
Murdoch had greatly admired Roger Ailes for his politics, tenacity and bombast.  When Ailes left NBC in late 1995, Murdoch hired him as Chairman of Cable and News.    I was asked to report to Ailes, a breach of my contract.  Ailes reached out to me to arrange a luncheon meeting.
Ailes got right down to business at lunch.  He said, "I need you, I don't know anything about news."  But soon the conversation turned to an attack of the news media.  Ailes said he hated CNN and Ted Turner.  He told me he wanted to create an "alternative news channel," a conservative alternative.  He then asked me why I was liberal.  He added that he knew I had worked for "The Communist Broadcasting System (CBS News)."   I said that I didn't think CBS News was liberal, and that I had always worked hard to provide fair coverage in all my work.  He asked me to stay on, saying, "It's up to you, you have a good reputation, but let me know you're decision soon." Ailes was in a hurry.
Following our lunch I reflected on Ailes' political work for Republicans, from President Richard Nixon to President Bush.  I thought about his role in creating many misleading political commercials, and his ruthless reputation.  He was well known for his bullish and brutish style of management; you had to be totally loyal to Ailes or you were out.   And I remembered the role he played in the infamous live television showdown between CBS News anchorman Dan Rather and President Bush.  I was the CBS News Washington Bureau Chief at the time.
Ailes had accompanied President Bush to his remote interview location on Capitol Hill.   When Rather asked the president about his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal, Bush testily responded, ''It's not fair to judge my whole career by a rehash on Iran. How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set in New York?''  Rather had, in fact, walked of the set a year earlier when a U.S. Open tennis match ran long and preempted the first few minutes of The CBS Evening News.  It turned out that Ailes had prepared cue cards for the president and held them up under the camera lens to assist Bush. Ailes saw the interview as an opportunity for Bush to win over wavering conservatives who viewed Rather as the personification of the liberal media.
In the hours that followed my luncheon with Ailes, I found out he had asked members of my staff of they were liberal or conservative. He terminated some who he thought were liberal, or he didn't think he could control.  That night I decided I had had enough.  The next day I told Ailes I was resigning because I do not do "alternative journalism."   I agreed to help during my transition, which would give my lawyer time to work out my contract.
Roger and I periodically remained in contact, and I appeared dozens of time on panels for The Strategy Room, a Fox News internet program.   But then one of Roger's many spy's reported to him that I had been quoted about our luncheon in Senator Al Franken's 2003 book about Fox News, Lies (and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them).  I was told I was banned from all Fox News programs and I wasn't to call Roger again.
It is hard not to admire Ailes' brilliance as a cable programmer, he created one of he most powerful news organizations ever, and he decided what stories would be emphasized throughout each day.   He became powerful and rich doing what he loved to do.  But he was anything but fair and balanced as a journalist and as an executive.   Ailes user fear and intimidation to rule his empire, and he created a workplace atmosphere where sexual harassment was overlooked.
Still, he had many devoted supporters and friends, including President Donald Trump.   He always thanked the television crew members, and, according to reports, he donated a large amount of his earnings to charities, including religious organizations.
While Ailes resigned from Fox in disgrace, for more than a decade he was one of the most powerful media executives in the world.  Yet, no other media executive did more to divide the country.  After all, Ailes was the founding father of alternative news.  

Monday, May 15, 2017

Priming the GOP

President Donald Trump's actions over the past couple weeks should be particularly alarming for all Americans, even for those whom have steadfastly supported him.  His approval ratings are at an historic low for a president this early in their term.  Yet, for the most part, Congressional Republicans remain reticent, although pressure is building on them to show courage. 

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson warned, "Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny."  Tyranny, the cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary use of power or control, has been a growing characteristic of America's 45th President, who wants to bring an end to the many investigations into Russia's ties to the Trump campaign. 

The fact that Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, the man who was leading the FBI investigation, is chilling.  That the president would undercut his surrogates and admit flat out that the Comey firing was in part due to the Russian investigation is stunning and may be obstruction of justice.  Trump told NBC News' Lester Holt last week, “I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story; it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”  Trump added that the investigation should have been "over with a long time ago," and disingenuously continued, "I might even lengthen out the investigation, but I have to do the right thing for the American people."  

The president took the trouble to note in his dismissal letter to Comey that the director told him, "on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation."  But according to those who know the director it is highly unlikely that Comey would give such assurances.  Of course, only an extreme egotist would invite the FBI director over for dinner and then ask if he is personally under investigation.   And only an extreme narcissist would ask Comey for his total loyalty before agreeing to keep him on at the FBI.  

The president regularly confuses ethical behavior with his personal interest, as if to say, "If it's good for me, it's ethical."  He sees no boundaries when it comes to the FBI investigation.  He recognizes no lines when it comes to the many financial conflicts of interest he and his family have in the U.S. and around the world.   

Even so, Trump's supporters still believe he will keep his campaign promises, that his obvious bluster is authenticity, that he truly cares about those left behind.   How's that working now?  Obamacare is still the law, meaningful tax reform is boxed up behind health care legislation, the North American Free Trade Agreement is still in place, nothing has happened on infrastructure, the national debt continues to explode, job creation is modest, and American taxpayers will pay for whatever wall is ultimately built along the border with Mexico.  Meanwhile, North Korea is out of control, the Iran nuclear deal has not been altered, there is no "secret strategy" to defeat ISIS, the U.S. Embassy in Israel has not moved to Jerusalem, Trump now says China is not a currency manipulator, and Russians are taking advantage of the president in the Oval Office and in Syria.

Thankfully many of Trump's campaign promises have not come true.   His replacement for Obamacare would knock 20 million people out of coverage, and give an $800 billion tax break to the wealthy.  His "tax reform" plan would add trillions to the national debt, and his unconstitutional anti-Muslim travel bans have been blocked by the U.S. courts.   Last month Trump told Reuters, "This is more work than in my previous life.  I thought it would be easier."  

Of course, Trump blames the the fake media for his failures and problems.  He has even proposed ending the daily White House briefings.  But even some leading Republicans think that's a bad idea.   In 1776, Jefferson wrote on how to prevent tyranny, "It is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large."   

Trump ridiculously claimed the other day that he came up with the term, "priming the pump."  Apparently they don't use that phrase at the Wharton School, even though President Franklin Roosevelt began using it in 1937 during the Great Depression.   But this is yet another example of how Trump makes it up as he goes.  And rumors of a massive White House staff shakeup once again highlights the fact that Trump will throw anyone under the bus for his own transgressions and shortcomings. 

Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans stand silently by as Democrats feel increased optimistism about their chances in the 2018 midterm elections.  

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Colbert-Trump Flap

CBS late night talk show host Stephen Colbert has been on a roll lately, outdrawing NBC’s Tonight Show in the household ratings since January.  Colbert’s rating’s growth has been largely fueled by his scathing anti-Trump monologues that drip with derision and contempt.  But Colbert may have gone one insult too far Monday night.
In an appearance on CBS This Morning, President Trump abruptly ended and interview by CBS News Political Director John Dickerson when he was pressed to explain his charge that President Barack Obama wired tapped him.  Earlier in the interview the president called Dickerson’s Sunday program “Disgrace the Nation“ instead of Face the Nation, and indicated Dickerson may be peddling fake news.  This was an unprecedented series of presidential insults never seen on network television before.  
Later that day Colbert jumped to the defense of his CBS News colleague, saying, “John Dickerson has way too much dignity to trade insults with the president of the United States to his face. But I, sir, am no John Dickerson.”  More than 10 minutes of Trump insults spewed forth from Colbert, which included a roll of toilet paper and a banana.   Colbert’s relentless verbal tongue lashing was similar to a boxer pounding a staggering opponent.  Colbert’s denouement came with a burst of energy.  “I love your presidency. I call it Disgrace the Nation. You’re not the POTUS. You’re the bloatus. You’re the glutton with the button. You’re a regular Gorge Washington. You’re the presi-dunce, but you’re turning into a real prick-tator. Sir, you attract more skinheads than free Rogaine. You have more people marching against you than cancer. You talk like a sign language gorilla who got hit in the head. In fact, the only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s c*** holster.”
The closing Putin reference has set off a firestorm of criticism, especially from the right, calling Colbert’s remarks obscene and homophobic. Some have ludicrously tried to compare Colbert to former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly, who left the network following a sexual harassment scandal.  Thousands have used the Twitter hashtag #FireColbert.  But where were these concerned citizens when Trump said Fox host Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever,” or when he insulted Mexicans as rapists, or he humiliated a physically disabled reporter, or he was recorded referring to how celebrities can handle women, “Grab them by the p***y. You can do anything?”  Of course, they voted for Trump.  Hypocrisy always rears its ugly head in politics.  
Sadly, the simple fact is that, when it comes to public comments and tweets, President Donald Trump has set the bar for decency to a pathetic new low.  Trump has now inspired comedians to descend to his level in order to get a few extra laughs, and for many viewers Colbert’s Putin comment clearly was in poor taste. Regretfully, this is not a laughing matter because it only further divides the country.   It is time for President Donald Trump to finally stop with the endless personal insults and name calling.  Conversely, comedians can dial their monologues a few notches and still be very funny.  
And what should Colbert do in the face of all this criticism? On his Wednesday night program he said he had no regrets, except he “would change a few words that were cruder than they needed to be.” Perhaps he might have used Trump’s own words following the release of that embarrassing tape recording about celebrities?  “This was locker room banter...I apologize if anyone was offended.”