Fair and Unbalanced

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Mike Littwin

"The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles."

The easy part was confirming that North Korea’s missile launch was an ICBM, a missile capable of reaching as far as Alaska. The next step for North Korea — a missile that could reach the American mainland — now seems well in reach. The question is what Donald Trump — who tweeted back in January that that “won’t happen” — can do about it. And the problem, as past presidents have learned, is that the options are extremely limited. Via The New York Times.

There may be no good options in dealing with North Korea, writes Mark Bowden in The Atlantic, but some options are far worse than others.

An early reaction from Trump: According to The Guardian, he spent his day at one of his golf clubs mocking North Korea on Twitter.

As a rule, Republicans are hiding from their constituents over the Fourth of July break. The New York Times tracks down Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who has yet to hold in a town hall in the Trump era, in his hometown of Yuma playing on his front lawn with his kids on July 3rd. On the Fourth, as parades littered the state, he was nowhere to be seen.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump promised to strike a “great deal” someday with Vladimir Putin. As Trump heads to the G-20 for his first meeting with Putin, it’s hard to see how he can afford to strike any kind of deal, great or otherwise. Via The Washington Post.

Carl Hiaasen: It’s time we turn our thoughts to understanding the needs of the ultra-rich and the ultra-healthy. Whoever designed the Republican healthcare bill certainly did. Via The Miami Herald.

Victor Davis Hanson: Here’s the right-wing intellectual pundit to defend Trump’s Twitter habits and suggest that Trump is smarter than most people, certainly most liberals, think he is. Via American Greatness.

Lawrence Wright writes in The New Yorker that Texas is America’s future. And if true that Texas is our political bellwether,  that’s even worse than you might imagine.

Why this female sports owner — of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm — decided to put her franchise directly in the middle of America’s political storms by promising to donate $5 to Planned Parenthood for every ticket sold for a game on July 18th. Via Politico.

This is the story where the picture is worth many thousands of words. The state beaches are shut down, and there’s Chris Christie lounging in his beach chair on his state-owned private beach with his family and friends. What would Bruce say? Via The (North Jersey) Record.

Photo by U.S. Department of Defense, via Flickr: Creative Commons

It is the Fourth of July and Donald Trump is president of the United States. Think of it. Now, if you dare, think a little harder.

He was president on the third and will be president, sadly, on the fifth, but those are just days on the calendar. On the Fourth, as we fire up the grill, we generally consent to brief history lessons, so long as they’re not too taxing. It’s sort of a national tradition, like barbecue and beer, baseball and fireworks.

And so, the lesson for today is that history tells us that there has never been anyone remotely like Donald Trump as president. Now, between bites, discuss.

No president as unfit for the job. No president less informed on, or less interested in, policy. No president who operates so openly as a xenophobic demagogue. No president whose assaults on a free press are as sophomoric as they are dangerously ill-considered. No president who, if he had chopped down a cherry tree and was caught with the hatchet in hand, would shamelessly lie about it and then tweet about #fakenews.

The fact that Trump is unique is, of course, both a good thing and a bad thing — good that there never was anyone like him, bad that there is one now. In fact, in the run-up to the Fourth, Trump has been making the case against himself as well as anyone could, basically distributing lessons on his inadequacy as if they were made-in-China miniature American flags.

Let’s see. There was his embarrassing inability to defend the details of Trumpcare because he doesn’t, uh, know what they are. And presiding over the first-ever viral cabinet meeting in which he demanded fealty from his “blessed” minions. Of course, his misogynistic Mika Brzezinski tweets. The Morning Joe allegations that Trump uses David Pecker, who owns the National Enquirer, as an enforcer. His absurd tweeting of the wrestlemania video in which Trump is seen body-slamming a figure with a CNN logo for a head.

Look, I don’t buy the violence-incitement argument about the video. Anyone who would be incited to violence watching logo-wrestling must already have some very deep issues. But the video is evidence, as if more were needed, that we are in a very bad place. It is evidence, as if more were needed, of how Trump’s casual cruelty is matched only by his raging insecurity. It is evidence, as David Frum recently tweeted the other day, of where we are today: “Trump has brilliantly changed the subject from ‘Is he a Russian intelligence asset’ to ‘Is he a dangerously violent lunatic?'”

And the fact is, we’re nearly six months into the Trump presidency, and we still have no idea how to deal with that fact. Think of that if you dare, although it’s guaranteed to make your logo-free head hurt.

We’re nearly six months in, and much of the nation is already suffering from some form of PTSD. I have a friend who tells me he wakes up each morning convinced anew that we can’t continue to go on like this and then falls asleep each night convinced it will never end.

Both things can’t be true, and yet I can’t shake the idea that they are. It can’t go on like this. There’s no way to stop it. Resistance is good. Mockery is good. Pressuring your local Republican senator is good. Watching a thin-skinned president go into full meltdown may not be good, but it’s a ratings bonanza.

And yet.

The tweets get more outrageous. The world (North Korea just launched a missile, which seems to have been an ICBM) gets more dangerous. The travel ban — remember that? — is back in place.  EPA regulations are being reversed. Trump tells the Russians James Comey is a nut job and he privately threatens to fire Robert Mueller. Trumpcare is polling around 20 percent — what I like to call Chris Christie/Jersey Shore territory — and the CBO says that 22 million people will lose their healthcare, but the Senate is still struggling to find a way to pass it.

On Monday, CNN was reporting that Trump would not discuss Russian interference in the 2016 campaign in his upcoming meeting with Vladimir Putin. That’s outrageous, but hardly surprising. And even less surprising, I’d guess, will be the reaction from Trump’s Republican enablers in Congress. Some will rouse themselves to mumble half-hearted admonitions. Mitch McConnell will refuse to answer the question. Paul Ryan’s long face will grow longer. Lindsey Graham will say something funny. Everyone will fall back in line.

It wasn’t always that way, of course. When the Declaration of Independence was being signed, Ben Franklin said (or maybe didn’t, but it’s too good a story not to believe) that we must all hang together or we’d all hang separately. That was a lesson in courage and unity. But there’s a more modern lesson that might be more relevant to our case. Remember it took more than two years from the Watergate break-in until we got to Nixon’s last ride on the helicopter. Most Republican senators stuck with Nixon until the end. I certainly don’t see any senators ready to dump Trump today, even those who might be willing to dump Trumpcare.

As a prime example, we have our own Cory Gardner, who is so reluctant to criticize Trumpcare — the bill he either did or didn’t help write — that he wouldn’t meet with the disabled-rights activists who were camped in his office. They would be carted off to jail because, we were told, of the pressure that the building’s management had applied to a U.S. senator. OK, the pressure argument strains credulity. But if Gardner can’t take the heat from a building manager, it’s no wonder he doesn’t have the nerve to hold a town hall.

In honor of Independence Day, we can call it pyrotechnophobia — fear of fireworks. But as one kind of fireworks ends for the year, we’re left with yet another kind. Call it Trumpophobia, meaning the fear that, as one explosion inevitably follows another, that they are only going to get worse.

Photo by Epic Fireworks, via Flickr: Creative Commons

 

Imagine if Cory Gardner were to hold a town hall meeting with actual constituents during the July 4th recess. You’ll have to imagine, of course, because it won’t happen.

What’s much easier to imagine, though, is why Gardner has decided he can’t afford to face the voters. Certainly not now. He was more likely to publicly address the ADAPT disability-rights activists — who were dragged away by the cops after spending two nights at his office — than he is hundreds of citizens in a high school gym.

Because, let’s be honest, what would he possibly say? (If you were there for the Cardboard Cory town hall, you’d understand.)

We’d start with Donald Trump’s latest misogynistic Twitter attack on Morning Joe’s Mika Brzezinski, her (maybe fake news) bleeding face lift, her crazy low IQ. How could Gardner explain why all he could come up with in response was a less-than-outraged press statement instead of, say, demanding that Trump apologize to her, to us, to the nation, to the freaking world for disgracing the office? I’d love to hear Gardner’s  answer if someone asked whether he thought Trump’s early-morning playground taunts were more third-grade level or, I don’t know, fifth grade.

You know he’d get the question about why he seems to have changed his mind about the man Gardner once called “a candidate whose flaws are beyond mere moral shortcomings and who shows a disgust for American character and a dignity unbecoming of the presidency”? And maybe more to the point, what explanation could he give for how he could blindly vote 95 percent of the time with a president who clearly has no idea what he’s talking about and who can’t begin to defend his indefensible health care bill because he doesn’t even know what’s in it?

I mean, what would Gardner say? What could he say?

You can see the problem. And so can Gardner. Believe me.

Try to picture a voter on camera asking Gardner why he thinks a health care bill should include a huge tax cut for the rich or why that tax-cut money would be stolen from future Medicaid recipients or how he could defend, much less apparently be ready to vote for, any bill that would leave 22 million more people without healthcare coverage. I know I’d be asking what he thinks of the latest Medicaid CBO projections, from which, we just learned, Medicaid spending (on children, the working poor, the disabled, nursing home residents) would be reduced by 35 percent over the next 20 years when compared to present law.

Were Republicans hiding that Medicaid number by backloading the cuts in the bill? Gardner was on the 13-person committee writing the law, even though he claims to have played only a minor role. Still, he must have known about the hidden cuts, right?

So many questions. What did Gardner think Trump meant when he said the bill was “mean” and lacked “heart”? Did that give Gardner pause? Speaking of mean and heartless, why does Gardner apparently think it’s OK to leave states with the ability to waive the, uh, burden of ensuring that people have essential health benefits? Did he think back when he was waving his Obamacare letter that this is where he would end up — backing a cruel bill being pushed by a “moral-shortcomings” leader?

What would Gardner say if you insisted on answers? What could he say?

Gardner is a champion at dodging questions. It’s what he does best. He was elected because he would insist straight-faced that the federal personhood bill he voted for wasn’t a federal personhood bill. He was elected because the Denver Post editorial board hilariously predicted he would become a leader in bringing comity to Washington. He was elected because people mindlessly hated Obamacare, and Gardner, when jumping on the issue, never let up. Now people apparently hate Trumpcare. It would seem, if Gardner was being consistent, he would hate Trumpcare, too, now that the polls blow that way. He should ask Mike Coffman for guidance.

But as good as Gardner is at avoiding questions, facing voters as the TV cameras roll is a lot different from facing the press. It’s easy to hit back at not-so-popular reporters. It’s not so easy when regular Coloradans are asking the questions.

For myself,  I’d love to ask this question, or have a voter ask it for me: Why didn’t Gardner reveal his meeting with the murderous thug Rodrigo Duterte until he was caught smiling with Duterte in a photo-op? I might even go for snark and ask him if the rumor were true that he traveled all the way to the Philippines to meet with Duterte because he was researching leaders who had greater moral shortcomings than Trump?

Is it any wonder Gardner doesn’t want to be seen, in public anyway, with the public?

I saw a list the other day of Republican senators who could possibly vote against Trumpcare. There were something like a dozen on the list. They were seen as moderates or senators from states that Hillary Clinton carried or senators who can’t quite get on board with crushing Medicaid or right-wingers like Rand Paul who don’t think Trumpcare is quite mean enough.

One senator not on the list was Cory Gardner. Yes, he represents a moderate state that voted for Clinton. Yes, he knows full well that when he runs again in 2020 (with Trump probably heading the ticket) that he will almost certainly face a Democratic opponent ready to make healthcare a major issue.

Wouldn’t you love to know why every insider seems so certain that Gardner’s vote is such a sure thing? I wouldn’t expect an answer, but I’m trying to imagine how great it would be just to hear the question.

 

Photo by Shruti Kaul, The Colorado Independent. Tracey Randolph joins protesters against the Senate health care bill outside Sen. Cory Gardener’s Denver office on June 28, 2017.

It’s official. The CBO projects that the Senate version of Trumpcare would not be quite as mean as the House version. Instead of 23 million people losing their health care coverage by 2026, the Senate number goes all the way down to … 22 million.

That’s it.

We can start there and, really, if we have even a little of what Donald Trump daringly calls “heart,” we can stop there.

There’s only one question to consider: Under what circumstance is America better, much less great, by removing health care coverage for 22 million people? For all its problems, the great triumph of Obamacare is that the uninsured rate in the country has plummeted.  If the Senate plan passes, the number of uninsured Americans is projected to grow from 27 million to 49 million by 2026.

Is there anything left to say? I mean, we can debate all the other stuff, and, yes, there’s much to debate. We can talk about Mitch McConnell’s cynical plan to rush the bill through the Senate. But once you get to the 22 million, it’s hard to consider anything else.

Still, for the record, we’ll note the cruel Medicaid cuts, which would reduce projected spending by $780 billion. Yes, that’s three-quarters of a trillion dollars. Also the huge tax cut for the rich. The removal of lifetime caps. The essential health benefits that states can waive. The coming of even higher deductibles, which Republicans keep saying needed to be addressed and yet which would soar, under the GOP’s silver plan, to $6,000. The crushing premium hikes, particularly for those nearing Medicare age. A 64-year-old making $56,800 would pay — get this — $20,500. And then there’s the bizarre six-month waiting period to renew coverage — the plan that would replace the hated mandate. Under the bill, if you have no coverage and get disagnosed with, say, cancer in June, the doctor will see you in December, if you’re not already dead.

But we shouldn’t have to go there. If we know just this, that 22 million who have coverage now won’t be covered over the next 10 years and that, even worse, 15 million people who have insurance now won’t be covered in a year, we don’t need to know anything else.

What Republicans are trying to do here is to take a buzzsaw to the safety net. And not just that. But to give the savings to the wealthy, who don’t need the money or the saw. We have to remember to mention the tax cut, because Trump and the GOP never mention the nearly $1 trillion in cuts. You don’t have to wonder why. It’s the unspoken rationale for the bill, joined with the always-spoken rationale that whatever else this bill is, it’s not Obamacare.

Predictably, the Republican reaction to the report has been that you can’t trust the CBO estimates. But here’s how you know not to take the critics seriously: The Trump administration and Senate leaders never offer their own numbers to counter the CBO projections.

There’s a reason for that. What if they said 15 million people would lose their insurance? What if they said 10 million?There’s no good number here. Once upon a time, Trump said everyone would be covered. That, I believe, is one of the lies mentioned in The New York Times‘ full page of lies told by Trump since taking office.

But this is not just on him. You saw Mike Pence saying that the Senate bill was based on personal responsibility. He didn’t say which people needed to be more responsible, so we’re left to guess. You saw the many Republicans going on cable news to say that Medicaid would be untouched by the bill even as the CBO would reveal that touching is the least of it. And now, some Republicans are actually said to be wavering.

There’s the right wing contingent saying that too much of Obamacare is being left in place. They’re right about that, at least in one sense. The shell remains, even as the law is being gutted. And then there are the moderates who will admit this bill is a disaster while expressing their “concern.” If there are four or five votes in opposition, as some are saying, then the bill dies. Republicans, with their 52-48 edge in the Senate, can afford to lose only two, but don’t count McConnell or the bill out yet.

So now in Colorado we must ask, what will Cory Gardner do? As we know, Gardner co-authored a letter to McConnell saying he was worried that the rate of Medicaid cuts would potentially cost participants “access to life-saving health care services.” Since he is the one who put it in life-and-death terms,  we shouldn’t feel any compunction about going there. Experts tell us that of the millions who would lose coverage, many would die sooner than if they were insured.

And yet, Gardner told The Denver Post that the CBO score hadn’t changed his position — at last check he was “reviewing” — but that he was heartened by recent talks he has had with insurance company CEOs about stabilizing markets. He might have mentioned he was also seen recently reviewing with the Koch brothers.

But while he’s reviewing, he might want to check some other sources. He could consult the American Medical Association, which said emphatically that the bill would do America much harm. Or he could check the CBO report which says that with higher premiums and sky-high deductibles that “few low-income people would purchase any plan” at all.  He might review, too, what this bill means for the working poor — a majority of those who gained insurance through expanded Medicaid are employed, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation — who might have a stronger visceral sense of the bill’s impact than the CEOs.

In a recent column, I asked whether Gardner was willing to risk his political career by voting for a wildly unpopular plan in a state that has benefited greatly from Medicaid expansion and strongly favors many other aspects of Obamacare. But after the CBO report, which suggests that more than politics are at stake here, I think I should pose the question differently.

Is Gardner really ready to vote for a plan that not only risks his political career but also risks, for the sake of a needless tax cut, the futures of 22 million real live human beings?

Photo by Pictures of Money, via Flickr: Creative Commons

Whatever else I’ve had to say about Cory Gardner over the years, I’ve never once said, or even thought, that he wasn’t a shrewd and able politician. But now it may be time for a rethink.

I mean, is he really prepared to put his political career at risk by voting for an ill-conceived, ill-considered healthcare bill that is not only “mean,” as Donald Trump has so eloquently put it, but is also wildly unpopular with voters across the country and certainly in Colorado?

Not surprisingly, he isn’t saying. Gardner says he’s “reviewing,” which is either an attempt at looking thoughtful or a signal of real trouble for Mitch McConnell’s bill. As I may have mentioned before, if good-soldier Gardner is a ‘no’ vote, there is no healthcare bill. And as I should mention now, good-soldier Gardner — not up for re-election until 2020 — is currently voting with Trump at a 95 percent clip.

This is a bill, though, that Republicans, including Gardner, are having trouble defending. And no wonder. As the estimable Sarah Kliff at Vox explains, the bill would require low-and-middle-income Americans to pay significantly more than they did under Obamacare in order to get far less. What they would get is higher deductibles, higher co-pays, higher premiums. And that may be the best that can be said for it.

The bill is a full-on assault on Medicaid, capping subsidies, limiting their growth and eventually causing millions to lose coverage. The losers here will be, uh, children, people in nursing homes, people with disabilities and on and on. You may remember that Gardner signed onto a letter voicing concerns about Medicaid, which covers 30 million children and two of three nursing home residents. It’s hard to see how any of those concerns have been answered.

And it gets worse. The bill allows states to waive the essential-health-benefits provision that requires insurers to offer coverage for, you know, essential health benefits. It does get rid of the unpopular individual mandate but replaces it with absolutely nothing. That means young and healthy people are far less likely to be part of the pool helping to pay for older and not-so-healthy people.

Oh, and there’s this: The bill also serves up a huge tax cut for the wealthy, to be paid for by—wait for it—cutting services for the poor.  It is, as Democrats like to say, a massive wealth redistribution plan. Or as Elizabeth Warren puts it: “Blood money.”

This bill, which is polling somewhere between 20 and 30 percent, could never possibly pass but for two things: Republicans have been promising to repeal and replace Obamacare for seven years, and Trump, who has no idea what’s in the bill, thinks it would be humiliating not to pass something, even if it doesn’t have “heart.” So there it is, like it or not, and most people seem to be in the or-not camp.

The Senate version of Trumpcare is no better than the terrible House version of the bill that Trump celebrated in the Rose Garden before deciding it was too “mean.”  That’s one White House moment, by the way, they do have on tape.

And not only is it a terrible bill, Republicans are pretty open about the fact, having drafted it in secret and refusing to hold any hearings. It was almost as if they were begging fake-news punditry to point out the irony that Republicans had complained for years that Obamacare had been rammed down their throats. Now, in the updated 2017 version of bill-ramming, you apparently do it while blindfolded.

So, what will Gardner do? He told The Denver Post’s Mark Matthews that he doesn’t understand why there’s such a rush to get a vote on the bill, which is scheduled for late next week. That’s an easy question to answer, of course. McConnell is rushing the bill because that’s the only way it could pass.

You’d think that Gardner, who’s definitely not in a hurry, would know that much since he was one of 13 senators assigned to craft the bill. But Gardner told The Post his role was actually limited to providing input, including, he said, helping to make sure that children with disabilities and certain other complications would be exempted from Medicaid limits. One problem with that. If Medicaid funds are limited, and they would be, that simply means some other child is necessarily excluded.

I’m not sure what to think about the bill’s prospects. Republicans can afford to lose only two senators or the bill is dead. So let’s put Gardner aside. Four senators from the right — Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Ron Johnson — have withheld support so far, saying the bill is too much like Obamacare and therefore, in effect, not mean enough. I don’t know if that’s anything more than a bargaining ploy, although Paul is the most likely to defect. I’d bet strongly against the other three.

From the moderate end, Susan Collins sounds like a ‘no,’ but she often sounds like a ‘no’ and then votes ‘yes.’ Nevada’s Dean Heller, who’s up for re-election in 2018 and who is already considered vulnerable, has to be shaky. There are a few other moderates in play.

And Gardner? How much pressure would he have to feel before he’d defect, even in a blue-ish state, and vote to save Obamacare? OK, I can’t imagine it either. We all remember Gardner’s letter-waving opposition to Obamacare and the 50-plus times he has voted to repeal the law. The letter waving helped make him senator. The repeal votes were no more than show votes, though, with no chance of becoming law.

But this is the real thing. The stakes are real. The pressure is real. The potential human cost is real. The CBO’s scoring of the House bill estimated 23 million people would be made to lose their insurance. It’s just that real. The CBO score of the Senate bill is due early next week, and the losses will again surely be in the many millions. That’s all that’s at risk, which is why you can be sure Gardner will still be reviewing up until the moment he has to actually cast his vote.

 

Photo by Gage Skidmore for Creative Commons on Flickr.