Discussing Obamacare Replacement With A Republican Congressman

House Republicans have finally released their plan to replace Obamacare. I have a lot of concerns about the plan, such as whether the tax credits will be sufficient for low income families to afford health insurance, and their attack on Planned Parenthood.

I am going to wait until I have a chance to look at the details of the plan to discuss it in depth, but for other reasons I have found it a good day to blog about health care. Hours prior to the release of the plan, I met with my conservative Republican Congressman, Bill Huizenga, along with a few colleagues, to discuss health care. I figured it would be futile to change the mindset of a conservative Republican, but when I received the invitation I also thought I should make the attempt to try to explain how health care really works. After all, there is zero chance of changing anyone’s mind if no attempt is made to persuade them. I was also appreciative that he was willing to meet with a group which strongly disagreed with him on the issue, while many Republicans around the country are reportedly hiding from their constituents.

The first time I spoke today I made a point of explaining how I am self-employed and have purchased health care on the individual market for my entire life. Therefore I could definitely state that high premiums and high out of pocket expenses, often cited as a failing of the Affordable Care Act by Republican, have always been a characteristic of the individual market–and are not something created by Obamacare.

Discussion got bogged down for quite a while over philosophical issues, especially when someone referred to health care as a right. Congressman Huizenga disagreed. While I managed to get out most of what I wanted to say today, in a conversation with multiple people present, sometimes the topic changed before I got a chance to speak. I didn’t get a chance until after the meeting while speaking to a colleague that I can understand a Republican’s position in not seeing health care as a Constitutional right in the same way as civil liberties specifically expressed in the First Amendment. After all, the Founding Fathers would have never conceived of health care being as expansive, and expensive, as it is now. However, regardless of whether you want to call it a right, access to affordable health care is both highly desirable, and something which is expected in a modern, advanced, industrialized society such as the United States. We should do it regardless of whether you want to label it a right.

The limited nature of assured coverage in the United States, compared to the rest of the world, was an underlying thought in many of our comments. It did come up that 1) the sick can show up to the Emergency Room and will not be turned away and 2) a significant portion of the Medicare population consists of the disabled. In typical Republican dodging of the issue, the Congressman at one point tried to claim that this does provide some form of basic health care as people can go to the Emergency Room. I pointed out that it is one thing to receive coverage in the Emergency Room, but this does not mean that people will receive necessary follow up medical care, especially for the types of chronic medical conditions I typically treat, such as diabetes, heart failure, and emphysema. Initial stabilization in an Emergency Room is both costly and not adequate health care. Plus an Emergency Room physician present pointed out that being seen does not mean patients do not receive large bills, which could be well beyond their ability to pay.

Congressman Huizenga responded that the disabled can receive coverage on Medicare, but I pointed out that people with chronic medical problems are not necessarily disabled, especially if they receive adequate medical treatment. Someone with diabetes, for example, can live and work for many years with the condition. However, without adequate care, twenty years down the road they are far more likely to develop problems such as heart attacks, strokes, and renal failure.

The Congressman’s philosophy on limited government (which, like most Republicans, is terribly selective, ignoring everything from infringements on reproductive rights to today’s revised anti-Muslim travel ban), also influenced his responses. Before his arrival I had discussed with others how market solutions have not worked well, with insurance companies having developed a business strategy based upon collecting premiums and then finding ways to deny care. Congressman Huizenga brought up irrelevant matters such as restrictions on choice present in Canada and other countries which Americans might not tolerate. The typical Republican scare stories. My response was simply that we do not have to adopt the restrictions which he mentioned, regardless of what other countries have done. One point I did not manage to get in was that in the United States, private insurance plans are often far more restrictive on the choices which patients and physicians can make than the government Medicare program is.

The physicians present generally saw Obamacare as an improvement over the previous system, but not going far enough, with Medicare for All being seen as a preferable solution. As a couple of us discussed afterwards, this is a far easier sell for physicians, who see first hand the amount of time and money wasted in having to deal with multiple different insurance companies, with  multiple different sets of rules. Plus this has the huge advantage of taking the astronomical profits received by the insurance industry, and using that money to actually provide health care. (Medicare for All was promoted by Bernie Sanders in the 2016 nomination battle, leading to politically-based opposition from Hillary Clinton.)

If Medicare for All is too hard a sell immediately, I, and others, suggested phasing it in. I also mentioned ideas such as the public option and the Medicare buy-in which were considered when the ACA was being written, but died when the two most conservative Senators voting with the Democrats (Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson) opposed the ideas. Either would help with the high costs on the individual market.

The  higher cost for caring for older individuals, with some of that cost spread to the premiums of younger purchasers, is a major problem in health care coverage.  I doubt insurance companies even want to cover their older customers, who are responsible for the bulk of their costs. Either outright lower the Medicare age (even if gradually, such as initially to 50 or 55, and ultimately to around 40) or allow a Medicare buy-in.

After the Congressman left, his Legislative Director remained for a brief time and suggested that Americans would not go for expanding a government program such as Medicare. While a typical Republican thought, it does not hold up. I pointed out that we all do wind up on a government program, with most people going on Medicare at age 65. Not only are Americans failing to rebel at the though of going on Medicare at age 65, many look forward to the opportunity. Remember all those tea party protests with signs like “Keep Government Out Of My Medicare.”

My parting comment to Congressman Huizenga before he left was that Republicans must move beyond their anti-Obama rhetoric and actually address the problem. I related how for the past eight years I have often heard patients blame Obama for anything wrong with the health care system, even if it was over matters not even related to the Affordable Care Act. However, in early January, before Donald Trump even took office, I started to hear patients blame Trump for their healthcare problems. Republicans now “own” healthcare and must deliver.

I have my doubts as to whether the plan released today does deliver, but I do want to take a look at the details beyond what is in the initial news stories I have read.

A Way Too Early Look At The 2020 Election, Including A Pundit’s Prediction That Clinton Will Run Again

Yesterday I looked at very early discussions from pundits and pollsters regarding the 2018 Congressional elections. It is far too early to say what will happen, but at least there is old data correlating presidential approval ratings and changes in seat in the midterm elections. There are also pundits with way too early predictions as to the 2020 presidential elections, including one predicting that Hillary Clinton will not only run again, but win the Democratic nomination. Fortunately any predictions made today have a good chance of not coming true.

The New York Post looks at who the Trump White House sees as potential challengers, claiming that they are already working on finding negative information on them. A lot will change between now and 2020 and any predictions are risky. Who would have predicted that Barack Obama would be the nominee four years before he ran? However, it is interesting to see who the Trump White House is concerned about, assuming that the Post has reliable information as to their thoughts:

Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, asked consultants to scour the backgrounds of four outspoken Democrats — Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, two sources close to the administration said.

“The White House political department wants people to start looking into them,” said one source close to the White House. “Trump is obsessed with running for re-election.”

Both Murphy, a freshman senator who has lambasted Trump’s immigration orders, and Brown, a 10-year Senate vet who made Hillary Clinton’s VP short list, are seen as viable threats who can quickly raise money and build a network of supporters, the sources said.

Hickenlooper, who founded a brewery before becoming governor of the Western swing state, is seen as a less-combative rising star, the sources said.

But the White House’s “biggest fear” is that Cuban, a billionaire businessman, would run because he can appeal to Republicans and independents, the sources said.

“He’s not a typical candidate,” the second insider said. “He appeals to a lot of people the same way Trump did.”

This could be one reason that Trump is attacking Cuban, not that he needs any reason to attack anyone who has been critical of him.

Making predictions based upon age is risky, but reportedly they have eliminated not only Bernie Sanders but Elizabeth Warren as possibilities due to being too old. They eliminated Kirsten Gillibrand, believing she is too young. The Post also says, “Trump’s political team is also counting out Cuomo and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, because they’ve been tainted by corruption probes.” The nomination of Hillary Clinton in 2016 showed that being tainted by corruption might not be a disqualification.

I would hope that the Democrats have learned their lesson and would not consider nominating Clinton again, but Matt Latimer predicts in Politco Magazine that not only will Clinton run again, but that she will win the nomination. His evidence for why he thinks she plans to run could indicate such plans, but is hardly conclusive. It is also conceivable that she wants to remain in the public eye, and rehabilitate her reputation, without plans to run. While perhaps she should take this advice, I really doubt that this is what she will do:

Hillary Clinton has 100 percent name ID, a personal fortune and a bastion of loyalists. She could enter the race at the last possible moment—at the behest of the people, of course—and catch her Democratic Party rivals by surprise. To soften her reputation as a programmed, overly cautious and polarizing figure, Clinton should eschew the front-runner label and run as an underdog, praising the other candidates and their proposals, opening up her campaign bus to the press corps and offering to have a freewheeling debate with any major rival, at any time, and anywhere.

It is possible she could win again, especially if their is a divided field without a clear front runner as he predicts, but based upon Clinton’s past I doubt this is what she will do. If she wants to run, her first instincts will be to once again try to clear the field and start running early with claims of inevitability.

Opening up to the press corps is the last thing Hillary Clinton would feel comfortable doing. She will continue to oppose liberal views which are far outside of her comfort zone. She certainly does not want to agree to frequent or freewheeling debates. Clinton knew exactly what she was doing when she tried to get the DNC to set a limit of four debates (with the DNC agreeing to limit it to six). Postponing the first debate until fairly late in the cycle made it harder for other candidates to establish themselves. Initially, due to her long experience in politics, she did dominate the debates. However, as Sanders developed experience in debating her, and the fact checkers reviewed her falsehoods, the debates turned against her, such as before the Michigan primary (which foreshadowed her general election loss). If there had been multiple debates starting earlier in the process, I doubt Clinton would have won the nomination.

Regardless of whether Clinton can win the nomination, I hope that Democrats have learned their lesson after loses in 2010, 2014, and 2016. Running as a Republican-lite party does not work. Democrats need to run their best possible candidate in 2020, not one so weak that she could not beat Donald Trump. It is especially important for Democrats to regain control of some of the state legislatures they have lost prior to redistricting in 2020, and a weak candidate on top of the ticket will make this more difficulty. Even if Clinton could win, after Trump we do not need a conservative DLC-type Democrat and neocon in the White House.

SciFi Weekend: Months of Doctor Who Speculation To Come; The 100 Returns; Gotham; Star Trek Discovery Starts Production; Renewals; Supergirl; Powerless; 12 Monkeys

Just as we struggle to get used to the transition in Washington, there is another huge transition to look forward to. As I posted earlier in the week, the big news is that Peter Capaldi has announced that he will leave as the Doctor, with his last appearance on Doctor Who to be in the 2017 Christmas special. There might be speculation for many months as to the next Doctor, with reports that incoming show runner  Chris Chibnall will be waiting until next fall to chose a replacement as he is currently busy with completing the third and final season of Broadchurch, and then plans a vacation. There are also reports that he will not start filming Doctor Who until early 2018, with the show not airing until fall, giving us another long gap between seasons.

The speculation regarding the next actor to play the Doctor appears to be concentrating even more on having the first woman or non-white Doctor than in the past. Digital Spy looked at some of the top female contenders for the part.  David Tennant backs his costar on Broadchurch, Olivia Coleman. Peter Capaldi suggests Frances de la Tour. Billie Piper is also calling for a woman to receive the role (but has no interest in doing it herself).

Just to be clear, my opposition to Hillary Clinton replacing Peter Capaldi is not sexist and does not indicate an opposition to having the first female Doctor. My opposition is just to that woman. Hillary Clinton is terrible at acting. Look at what happened when she tried to act like a progressive. There are plenty of far more qualified choices being discussed, such as Hayley Atwell or Lara Pulver, along with those mentioned above. Jill Stein would be a far better choice, and is even a real doctor. I would chose to have Barack Obama be the first black Doctor before picking Clinton. Joe Biden would also be an excellent choice, having a similar look to Jon Pertwee. I disagree with those who say that Bernie Sanders would be too old or too far left for the role, although I see him more as a Jedi Knight than a Time Lord. Of course, #NeverTrump. However, if they decide to have a regeneration of the War Doctor after the recent death of John Hurt, then Hillary Clinton (aka The Queen of Chaos) should be a top choice.

Season 4 of The 100 began just after where season 3 left off. If anyone hoped that ALIE was lying about the nuclear reactors melting down, the episode graphically demonstrated that the survivors of the first apocalypse are now facing a second one. Eliza Taylor discussed Clarke’s role in the upcoming season:

“We’re picking up directly where we left off,” Taylor told us on set in Vancouver. “We’ve just discovered that the world’s going to end, again. Just another day on the ground. This whole season’s mostly based around how we’re going to deal with fighting an enemy that we can’t go to war with, so it’s going to prove very interesting.”

As of now, Clarke is the only one with the knowledge that the world is going to end … again. The rest of Skaikru and the Grounders have no idea, and as season four begins they’re all going to have their hands full with picking up the pieces of their respective civilizations after ALIE took over their minds and convinced so many people, both Skaikru and Grounders alike, to kill themselves and their loved ones all in the name of the now-destroyed “City of Light.” Will Clarke tell everyone about ALIE’s warning, or will she keep this revelation to herself?

“It’s something that she has to be really careful about because she’s just taken all these people out of a beautiful city that they were happy [in] and brought them back into a world that’s about to end,” Taylor said. “She has to be very careful about how she goes about telling people without starting a riot. You will see more of her relying on her friends and family, which is good because it’s kind of like the old crew being back together again. It feels like season one again, which is awesome.”

While Clarke has always been the de facto leader of the 100 juvenile delinquents sent down to Earth, with help from Bellamy (Bob Morley), when the rest of the Ark came down from space, the adults didn’t listen to Clarke’s guidance. They thought they knew how to lead better, and they’ve been proven wrong time and time again. With Chancellor Pike (Mike Beach) murdered by Octavia (Marie Avgeropolous) and Jaha (Isaiah Washington) officially fallen from grace after he helped ALIE take over, Clarke will finally take the leadership position that is rightfully hers.

“She’s definitely stepping up more and accepting herself as the leader, which is really great,” Taylor said with a smile. “It’s really fun to feel like she’s asserting herself and not taking any s-t from people who don’t know as much as she does exactly what’s going on.”

Jason Rothenberg also discussed plans for Clarke, plus other characters, in an interview with Nerdist.

Gotham is going on hiatus and (spoiler alert), having left with Jerome being pushed in the river after being shot. He has already returned from the dead once, and it seems commonplace for characters to survive being dropped in that river. The original plan was for Jerome to just be a precursor of the Joker, but it now appears that he is actually being considered as the Joker. Cameron Monaghan, who plays Jerome, discussed how the original plan was to kill him off even earlier in the season:

But according to Monaghan, that wasn’t the original ending the Gotham showrunners had planned for this episode and his character—in fact, Jerome wasn’t supposed to survive the winter finale at all.

“I don’t think the producers will mind me saying that initially Jerome wasn’t going to live,” Monaghan told Nerdist. “He wasn’t originally going to make it through this confrontation. He was going to be beheaded and that was going to be it for him. Ultimately they decided that instead, we’ll go the opposite way and really embrace the idea of the character being involved in the Joker mythos. They decided not to dance around it but instead embrace it and bring the audience on the roller coaster ride of the episode, allowing it to be open-ended, playing into whatever they decide to do with that stuff later down the line.”

He continued, “The first time I read that final scene, I didn’t even really know about that or think about it or care about it because I was just so excited about everything else that was going on in the script. But now the fact that I am able to return in the fourth season or whenever they want to bring me back is really exciting.”

When Monaghan first debuted on Gotham back in season one, the showrunners didn’t officially call him the Joker, explaining instead that his character was the earliest inspiration for the Joker, who would come later. But now, it looks like the show is finally coming out and saying that Jerome is the Joker, at least for the DC Comics TV universe.

CBS announced that Star Trek: Discovery has started production. Air date is still unknown, with the previously announced date already having been moved back twice. There was also additional casting news, with Emily Coutts as the helmsman.

I recently noted that, following the inauguration of Donald Trump, 1984 had moved up to be the number six best selling book on Amazon. It is currently at number two, and had made it up to number one recently. As it was sold out for a while, this might possibly account for its slip to number two. Some other books to consider following the inauguration of Donald Trump, both alternate histories, were discussed here.

We will see the outcome of that huge plot twist on The Good Place, as the show has been renewed for a second season. Mozart in the Jungle has been renewed for a fourth season by Amazon. TNT has renewed The Librarians.

Supergirl has already used a number of actors who have played characters in the Superman universe. Teri Hatcher, who played Lois Lane in Lois & Clark, has been cast to play a villain later this season. Aftermath has been cancelled.

Over in another corner of the DC universe, Powerless debuted. It is too early to evaluate the show and I want to see more of it. Screen Rant lists sixteen DC Easter eggs and other references.

12 Monkeys will have its cast reunite in the 1980’s when it returns.

Signs Democrats Are Rejecting The Gutter Politics Of David Brock & Peter Daou

One of the many downsides of Donald Trump’s election is having people like Steve Bannon working in the White House. However, if Clinton had won, we might have had people nearly as bad from Team Hillary such as Sidney Blumenthal, Peter Daou, and David Brock.

We learned during the email scandal that Hillary Clinton was receiving advice from Sydney Blumenthal, who also had conflicting business interests in Libya. Peter Daou continues to attack Bernie Sanders and his supporters on Facebook and Twitter, often directly naming “white males” as the enemy, failing to see anything wrong with attacks based upon gender and race. He has attributed any opposition to the policies or unethical conduct of Hillary Clinton as being based on sexism. Former Republican hit man David Brock, turned Clinton hit man utilizing the same unsavory tactics, is trying to promote himself as a leader of the Democratic opposition to Donald Trump.

During the election campaign, the activities of David Brock and Peter Daou to promote Hillary Clinton’s campaign was the topic of an article in The New York Times. They continued their gutter politics, directed towards Bernie Sanders and his supporter, after the election. Jeff Weaver responded to the attack:

The knives are out on the Democratic side after the unexpected victory of Donald Trump. Not surprisingly, the first attacks have been launched by the experts on mudslinging against fellow Democrats: David Brock and those whose lease he holds like Peter Daou. Brock’s long history of character assassination and penchant for attacking those on the left continues…

Rather than face the very real challenge of remedying this situation, some have taken to blaming pollsters and data analysts for Hillary Clinton’s loss. After all, it’s much easier to bash those who didn’t see the wheels coming off the train rather than asking why the wheels were coming off in the first place.

Now we’re witnessing the scapegoating of Sanders and his supporters. Most of us knew this predictably lazy attack would come. Somehow, Senator Sanders is to blame because he brought millions into the Democratic Party process by articulating a positive vision of economic, racial, environmental and social justice…

Now he wants Democratic donors to replenish his coffers with millions for another round of mud-slinging. Hopefully, Democratic donors won’t let themselves be scammed again.

And hopefully, the Democratic Party re-establishes faith with the American working class in every zip code by authentically offering a bold and positive vision — a vision with no room for the ineffective gutter politics that benefit Mr. Brock and his friends.

There is hope that Democrats have learned their lesson and might be rejecting the gutter politics of Brock and Daou if this article from The Daily Beast is correct. Asawin Suebsaeng writes that Democrats are rejecting such a role for David Brock, with even some Clinton supporters now sick of Brock:

As David Brock attempts to position himself as a leader in rebuilding a demoralized Democratic Party in the age of Trump, many leading Democratic organizers and operatives are wishing the man would simply disappear.

Many in the party—Clinton loyalists, Obama veterans, and Bernie supporters alike—talk about the man not as a sought-after ally in the fight against Trumpism, but as a nuisance and a hanger-on, overseeing a colossal waste of cash. And former employees say that he has hurt the cause…

…many Democratic grassroots activists and campaign alums have been giving his proposed plans some stern side-eye.

“His ability to produce wins for Democrats is nonexistent,” Jeff Weaver, former campaign manager for Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential run, told The Daily Beast. “He does not have the kind of understanding of what kind of coalition you have to bring together to win national races—that’s his fundamental problem.”

During the 2016 election, Brock and his network positioned themselves as prominent allies to the Clinton campaign, generating opposition research, stunts, and ads against Trump, and supporting Clinton in the primary.

Brock bragged early last year that his team had assembled a mountain of damning oppo that could “knock Trump Tower down to the sub-basement.”

But Trump Tower still stands, and Brock’s groups failed to help Clinton to victory.

I would add that the dirty nature of Clinton’s campaigns is precisely one of the reasons that Clinton lost. While many (but not all) of the attacks on Trump from the Clinton camp were accurate, they were not enough to overcome Clinton’s own negatives. Trump managed to pull in enough votes in the rust belt with promises of jobs to win the election. Such talk about the issues, even if he probably cannot keep his promises, were more appealing than the negative message from the Clinton campaign, which failed to provide any positive arguments to vote for her other than her gender and the belief that it was her turn.

Suebsaeng continued:

It’s clear why Brock has acquired a long list of enemies on the more progressive corners of his own party. Brock’s political evolution is well-known: the former anti-Clinton right-winger who starting in the late 1990s transformed into a relentlessly pro-Clinton Democratic operative.

But the friction between Brock and Democrats is not merely limited to its more progressive faction—many alumni of Obama’s campaigns and White House, as well as Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 run, say they want Brock to stay far away from the Democrats’ future plans.

“I don’t think David Brock has been helpful to the party to date, and I don’t think he will be a big part of its future,” a former senior Clinton campaign official told The Daily Beast. “And it’s surprising that many other people don’t see it that way.”

Another senior 2016 Clinton aide, who asked not to be named because the ex-staffer did “not want to deal with Brock’s bullshit,” described Brock and his organizations in 2016 as “useless—you might as well have thrown those [tens of] millions of dollars down a well, and then set the well on fire.”

Two sources told The Daily Beast that in the last couple of months Brock and his team reached out to former Clinton campaign officials, including ex-national press secretary Brian Fallon, to join Brock’s new anti-Trump “war room.” All, however, declined the offer simply because “no one wants anything to do with him,” one source recalled. (Fallon did not respond to a request for comment.)

Other opinions expressed about Brock:

“I met with I’m a couple times—he’s fucking weird,” a former Obama administration official, who also requested anonymity, told The Daily Beast. “I felt like I was meeting Mugatu from Zoolander… I don’t know what the fuck [Brock’s network] did besides raise a ton of money, and I don’t think the after-action report on 2016 says we need more David Brock. Probably the opposite is true.”

And:

“He has a tendency to overstate his level of impact and importance,” a former operative of one of Brock’s organizations said. “There is a sense [in Brock’s own groups] that he cares less about progressive policies and moving the ball forward, and is actually more focused on stroking his ego.”

Another Democratic operative close to the Brock empire told The Daily Beast that the experience working with him only deepened suspicions that Brock cared more about himself than the liberal base or the party at large.

“Somewhere along the way, it became instead of putting the mission of American Bridge [or Media Matters] first, it became about putting him first, growing his power in the party—his popularity,” the operative said. “There’s no question that his groups were the least effective of 2016. If anything they did harm.”

The staffer concluded: “I have never worked somewhere with so much unlimited resources [where] I don’t think they’re used efficiently.”

If the Democrats are going to rebuild in time for the crucial 2020 elections, it is important that they stop acting like Republicans to give voters a reason to support them. Rejecting the gutter politics of people like David Brock is an important step.

Saturday’s Rallies Will Hopefully Be The Start Of A Strong Anti-Trump Protest Movement

Donald Trump got off to a poor start with an attack on the press by his press secretary, while Saturday was a good day for the start of an anti-Trump protest movement. The excitement seen in the participation in the anti-Trump marches shows what could have happened if the Democratic Party was not so foolish as to give Hillary Clinton the nomination. Reporters covering the event found that many women motivated to march against Trump did not see Hillary Clinton as a choice which motivated them to turn out to vote. With a better candidate we could now have a Democratic president and a Democratic Senate.

It is estimated that three times as many people marched in Washington than turned out for Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday. Millions more protested in other cities. It remains to be seen whether this will be a sustained movement, but it was an impressive start. The tape of Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women did not derail his campaign as many thought at the time, but the tape has come back to haunt him. Many protestors wore pussy caps. Others, such as Supergirl star Melissa Benoist used this in their signs.

While the protests were in progress, Donald Trump and press secretary Sean Spicer were attacking the press. Donald Trump is as defensive about the small crowds at his inauguration as he is about his “small hands” and what that represents. Speaking at the CIA, Donald Trump even said, “I have a running war with the media.” Ezra Klein wrote that “Trump’s real war isn’t with the media. It’s with facts.”

Trump then had press secretary Sean Spicer call an impromptu briefing in which Spicer lashed the press for estimating crowd size. “Nobody had numbers, because the National Park Service does not put any out,” he insisted. Seconds later, he said: “This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, both in person and around the globe.”This, along with much else Spicer said, was plainly untrue. But there’s a strategy at work here. The Trump administration is creating a baseline expectation among its loyalists that they can’t trust anything said by the media. The spat over crowd size is a low-stakes, semi-comic dispute, but the groundwork is being laid for much more consequential debates over what is, and isn’t, true.

Delegitimizing the institutions that might report inconvenient or damaging facts about the president is strategic for an administration that has made a slew of impossible promises and takes office amid a cloud of ethics concerns and potential scandals.

It also gives the new administration a convenient scapegoat for their continued struggles with public opinion, and their potential future struggles with reality. This kind of “dishonesty from the media,” Spicer said, is making it hard “to bring our country together.” It’s not difficult to imagine the Trump administration disputing bad jobs numbers in the future, or claiming their Obamacare replacement covers everyone when it actually throws millions off insurance.

Spicer ended the statement on a warning. “There has been a lot of talk in the media about the responsibility of holding Donald Trump accountable. I am here to tell you that it goes two ways. We are going hold the press accountable as well.”

This is reminiscent of the credibility gap during the Vietnam war. If Trump will outright lie about verifiable facts such as these which are of limited significance, it is doubtful that he will hesitate to lie when it comes to justifying actions while at war, or defending his policies. We have already seen this type of disregard for the truth throughout his campaign. Kellyanne Conway said that the White House press secretary gave “alternative facts.” Alternative facts sure looks like another word for lies.

The White House is being called out for their lying from both the left and the right.  The Weekly Standard wrote:

Crowd size does not matter. At all. It is not correlative with any conceivable marker of presidential success.

Which leads us to the question of why Spicer rushed out on Day 2 of the administration to begin his relationship with the press by insisting on a blatant, demonstrably false, lie. And please understand: That’s what this is. It is not spin, or misrepresentation, or cutting a fine line. It’s a deliberate lie.

And the answer is that this isn’t about Sean Spicer. He’s already been caught lying in the recent past…

Rule #1 for press relations is that you can obfuscate, you can misrepresent, you can shade the truth to a ridiculous degree, or play dumb and pretend not to know things you absolutely do know. But you can’t peddle affirmative, provable falsehoods. And it’s not because there’s some code of honor among press secretaries, but because once you’re a proven liar in public, you can’t adequately serve your principal. Every principal needs a spokesman who has the ability, in a crunch, to tell the press something important and know that they’ll be believed 100 percent, without reservation.

It is debatable as to how much crowd size matters, but I do find it encouraging to see  both that crowd size was much smaller than for Barack Obama’s inauguration, and that far more people were motivated to protest against Trump than to see him inaugurated as president. While it is bad that the White House is already lying to us, it is at least better that most realize when they are lying. If the election had turned out slightly differently in a few states, Hillary Clinton could be president, but we would still have a president who cannot be trusted. Instead of turning out to protest, many of those protesting on Saturday would be defending her and, as we saw during the campaign, this would including defending her false statements. While many of the protesters did vote for Hillary Clinton, many also cheered when Michael Moore said the “old guard” has to go and that “We have to take over the Democratic Party.”

Many Americans View The Presidential Transition As Ominous

A large number of Americans are looking at the inauguration of Donald Trump with dread. Beyond ideological differences, there are concerns that Donald Trump does not respect the norms which have maintained our democracy.  E.J. Dionne calls this “the most ominous Inauguration Day in modern history.” He wrote, “Trump’s disdain for the democratic disposition we like our presidents to embrace was on display when he dressed down CNN’s Jim Acosta at that news conference last week. Trump’s tone, style and sheer rage (whether real or staged) brought to mind authoritarian leaders who brook no dissent.”

The Associated Press reports on how the presidency is about the change, also discussing Trump failure to respect established norms:

Polls over the past week show that Trump is poised to enter the White House as the least popular president in four decades. Democrats remain staunchly opposed to him, independents have not rallied behind him and even Republicans are less enthusiastic than might be expected, according to the surveys.

In his typical reaction to poll results he doesn’t like, Trump dismissed them as “rigged” in a Tuesday tweet.

It’s exactly that kind of tweet that worries governing experts, lawmakers and other critics, who argue that traditional practices of the presidency protect the health of the American democracy.

“With notable exceptions, we’ve had a political culture in which presidents largely respect a series of unwritten rules that help democracy and the rule of law flourish,” said Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College. “What’s striking about Trump is he flouts norms that have previously been respected by both parties on a daily basis. He calls things into question that have never been questioned before.”

Since winning the election, Trump has attacked Hollywood celebrities, civil rights icons and political rivals alike. He’s moved markets by going after some companies, while praising others.

He’s questioned the legitimacy of American institutions — appearing to trust the word of Russian President Vladimir Putin over the intelligence agencies he’ll soon oversee, engaging in personal fights with journalists as he assails the free press and questioning the results of the election, even though it put him in office.

With this backdrop, many Americans are more interested in the massive demonstrations expected for inauguration day than in seeing Donald Trump inaugurated. David Weigel points out that in the past, such as when George W. Bush was inaugurated, demonstrations were “dominated by the political fringe.” Now they being embraced by both the Democratic Party and the left:

Democrats and the broader left, recuperating from an election few of them thought they could lose, are organizing one of the broadest — and earliest — opposition campaigns ever to greet a new president. It began with protests in the hours after Trump’s victory, but it has become bolder since, marked most dramatically by nearly 70 Democratic members of Congress boycotting the inauguration itself…

This year, in his enhanced role as a messenger for congressional Democrats, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) successfully encouraged 70-odd rallies last weekend in support of the Affordable Care Act, organized on the ground by Democrats and labor groups. Local branches of the Working Families Party, which endorsed Sanders (and de Blasio) in 2016, have organized “Resist Trump Tuesdays,” in which activists have protested inside the offices of Republican legislators or filled the galleries of state legislatures. According to WFP spokesman Joe Dinkin, 450 community planning meetings took place the week before the inauguration.

Donald Trump has made many contradictory statements. While he has given reason to fear he might not respect our political norms, we really do not know yet what he will do. Adam Gopnik warns to be prepared for the worst possible scenario, and offers this advice:

What is to be done? In such a moment of continued emergency, the most important task may be to distinguish as rigorously as possible between new policies and programs that, however awful, are a reflection of the normal oscillation of power, natural in a mature democracy, and those that are not. To borrow from Woody Allen’s distinction between the miserable (something we all are) and the horrible (fortunately suffered by only a few), we must now distinguish resolutely between the sickening and the terrifying. Many programs and policies with which progressive-minded people passionately disagree will be put forward over the next few years. However much or strongly one opposes them, they are, like it or not, the actual agreed-on platform of a dominant national party. On the issue of gun control alone, we’ll get a Supreme Court that won’t reverse the bad decision of Heller, a legislature that will only further diminish sane controls on military weapons in private hands, likely an increase in open-carry laws, and all the murderous rest. All of this will cost kids’ lives and bring much misery.

One may oppose these things—and one should, passionately and permanently—but they are in no sense illegitimate. They are just wrong. They are also reversible by the same laws and rules and norms and judicial and, perhaps most of all, electoral processes that created them. If we want gun control, we need to get more people caring about it and more people in more places voting for it; we cannot complain because people who don’t want gun control don’t give it to us.

Assaults on free speech; the imprisoning of critics and dissidents; attempts, on the Russian model, likely to begin soon, to intimidate critics of the regime with fake charges and conjured-up allegations; the intimidation and intolerance of even mild dissidence (that “Apologize!” tweet directed at members of the “Hamilton” cast who dared to politely petition Mike Pence); not to mention mass deportations or attempts at discrimination by religion—all things that the Trump and his cohorts have openly contemplated or even promised—are not part of the normal oscillations of power and policy. They are unprecedented and, history tells us, likely to be almost impossible to reverse.

So we need to stiffen our spines and broaden our embrace, grasp tightly but reach out far. The conservatives who see Trump for what he is and are shocked by it—and there are many, though not as many as there should be—should be welcomed. We can postpone arguing about the true meaning of the Second Amendment while we band together to fight for the Constitution that precedes it…

The best way to be sure that 2017 is not 1934 is to act as though it were. We must learn and relearn that age’s necessary lessons: that meek submission is the most short-sighted of policies; that waiting for the other, more vulnerable group to protest first will only increase the isolation of us all. We must refuse to think that if we play nice and don’t make trouble, our group won’t be harmed. Calm but consistent opposition shared by a broad front of committed and constitutionally-minded protesters—it’s easy to say, fiendishly hard to do, and necessary to accomplish if we are to save the beautiful music of American democracy.

CNN Hosting Town Hall With Bernie Sanders Tonight

It is great that CNN is putting Bernie on for a Town Hall format show tonight, but why do it during the national championship game? That sounds like DNC debate scheduling.

Donald Trump Again Acts Like Hillary Clinton In New Year’s Message

While there is no question there are also major differences between the two, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton also have far more similarities than supporters of either are likely to admit. They both have problems with financial ties including a Foundation and involving family. Trump has acted like Clinton in avoiding press conferences. Policy wise, both will continue the warfare/surveillance state, both have a similar disdain for freedom of speech, and both were seen as a threat to freedom of the press.

Trump also reminded me of Clinton when he released this Tweet: “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”

I have often noted similarities between Hillary Clinton and Richard Nixon. There is something rather Nixonian to this Tweet (along with Trump’s earlier talk of being the law-and-order candidate, a phrase also used by Bill Clinton). Trump referring to his “enemies” reminded me of Clinton dismissing half of Trump voters as “irredeemable” and fitting into a “basket of deplorables.” Clinton’s statement was foolish for alienating a large segment of the country when trying to attract voters, just as Trump’s tweet is foolish for alienating those who voted against him at a time when he should be seeking to unite the country around him as he prepares to take office.

It is debatable as to how accurate Clinton’s statement was about Trump supporters, while Trump’s statement is clearly wrong on the facts. He did win, but it was a narrow win. Perhaps trying to distract from his loss in the  popular vote, Trump has been falsely attributing it to illegal voters, and exaggerating the degree of his victory in the electoral college. Fact checkers including Factcheck.org and PolitiFact have debunked him on these claims.

He is also wrong in saying that those who fought him “just don’t know what to do.” There has been a tremendous increase in donations to progressive organizations, and organization to prepare to oppose Trump’s agenda. The good that could come from a Trump presidency as it stimulates progressive action:

Trump’s ascendancy is already calling forth social and political initiatives aimed at defending the achievements of the Obama years (particularly Obamacare), protecting the environment, standing up for immigrants and minorities, preserving civil liberties, civil rights and voting rights, and highlighting how Trump’s policies contradict his promises to working-class voters. Here is a bet that the mobilization against Trump will rival in size and influence the tea party uprising against Obama.

Another positive for the future: Trump’s campaign forced elites and the media to pay attention to the parts of the country that have been falling behind economically and to the despair that afflicts so many, particularly in rural and small-town America.

It should not have taken Trump (or Bernie Sanders) to bring their problems to the fore. If the powers that be had been paying more attention, the resentments and dissatisfactions that Trump exploited might not have been there for him to stoke.

Of course we would be in a completely different situation if the Democrats had listened to their base and nominated Sanders instead of Clinton.

While Dionne probably would not agree, I would extend his argument to pointing out that, rather than leading to such mobilization of progressives, a Clinton victory would have its dark consequences. Democrats would be split in pushing more liberal goals versus rationalizing and justifying Clinton’s conservative positions, as many did during the campaign, and as they ignore the negative aspects of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Why Obama, Or Sanders, Could Have Beaten Donald Trump

There has been a lot of playing “what if” after Donald Trump unexpectedly beat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. Now Barack Obama has joined in, saying he could have beaten Donald Trump if he was able to run again:

“I am confident in this vision because I’m confident that if I — if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could’ve mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it,” Obama told his former senior adviser, David Axelrod, on the “Axe Files” podcast published Monday. “I know that in conversations that I’ve had with people around the country, even some people who disagreed with me, they would say the vision, the direction that you point towards is the right one.”

Full transcript of the interview is here.

I agree Obama would have probably won, but to say he would have won because of his vision alone is an over-simplification. There are many more specific reasons why I think Obama could have beaten Trump, even if Clinton could not.

While Clinton tried to run by winning the Obama coalition and running for Obama’s third term, she failed to understand that part of the Obama coalition came together in 2008 due to seeing Obama as the best shot at beating Hillary Clinton and keeping her out of the White House. We continued to oppose Clinton in 2016 for the same reasons we opposed Clinton in 2008, and opposed George W. Bush prior to that.

Clinton was about the worst possible candidate to put up against Donald Trump, and some of this could be seen in the differences between Clinton and Obama. While disappointed that we remain at war in Iraq and the region, at least Obama opposed the war from the start. He recognized that regime change in Libya, which Clinton was the primary proponent of, was the biggest mistake of his administration, while Clinton continued to defend her failed policy. Obama opposed escalating intervention in Syria which Clinton backed, often for rather absurd reasons.

Not only was listening to Clinton on  Libya the biggest foreign policy mistake of his administration, the domestic policy mistake which hurt Obama the most also involved accepting a Clinton policy position–accepting the individual mandate as part of the Affordable Care Act, after he had campaigned against Clinton on this point. While it would be necessary to make health care reform more complicated to avoid the free-rider problem, making the program mandatory in this manner was guaranteed to create considerable public opposition to the program.

Obama managed to keep his administration free of scandal–except for the actions by Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. This made her a much weaker candidate than Obama, and eliminated what would have been an advantage for Democrats on the conflicts of interest Trump faced. Clinton’s dishonesty, emphasized by both her dishonest campaign against Sanders and her frequent lies in response to the email scandal, also negated Trump’s negatives for his dishonesty.

Obama would have also done a far better job of campaigning. He had an approval rating far stronger than either Clinton or Trump. He wouldn’t have hidden from the press as Clinton often did. People would have turned out to see him, as they did with Trump but not with Clinton. Clinton was weak in the traditional battle ground states, among independents, and among young voters. Obama could have kept most of these voters. He might have lost an occasional state such as possibly Ohio, but not multiple states as Clinton did.

Of course similar arguments would have applied to other potential candidates. While Obama could not legally run again, the Democrats did have a strong alternative in Bernie Sanders. He did much better than Clinton in head to head polls against Trump and other Republicans during the nomination battle.  Sanders also could have turned out the voters which Clinton could not. He could have won in the rust belt states which Trump picked up. There would have been no FBI investigations, and no revelations of a crooked process for Wiikleaks to release if Sanders was the nominee.

Julian Assange On The Election Of Donald Trump And Defeat Of Hillary Clinton

Julian Assange and Wikileaks had a significant impact on the Democratic Party. The revelations in the leaked email led to the removal of Debby Wasserman Schultz as chairperson of the Democratic National Committee and very likely had an effect on the results of the general election. La Republica interviewed Assange. This is what he had to say about the United States election:

WikiLeaks published documents on Hillary Clinton and the US Democrats. How do you reply to those who accuse you of having helped to elect Mr. Trump?
“What is the allegation here exactly? We published what the Democratic National Committee, John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, and Hillary Clinton herself were saying about their own campaign, which the American people read and were very interested to read, and assessed the elements and characters, and then they made a decision. That decision was based on Hillary Clinton’s own words, her campaign manager’s own words. That’s democracy”.

Do you agree with those who say that it was a hit job, because you hit Hillary Clinton when she was most vulnerable, during the final weeks of her campaign?
“No, we have been publishing about Hillary Clinton for many years, because of her position as Secretary of State. We have been publishing her cables since 2010 and her emails also. We are domain experts on Clinton and her post 2008 role in government. This is why it is natural for sources who have information on Hillary Clinton to come to us. They know we will understand its significance”.

So Clinton is gone, has WikiLeaks won?
“We were pleased to see how much of the American public interacted with the material we published. That interaction was on both sides of politics, including those to the left of Hillary Clinton those who supported Bernie Sanders, who were able to see the structure of power within the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and how the Clintons had placed Debbie Wasserman Schultz to head up the DNC and as a result the DNC had tilted the scales of the process against Bernie Sanders”.

What about Donald Trump? What is going to happen?
“If the question is how I personally feel about the situation, I am mixed: Hillary Clinton and the network around her imprisoned one of our alleged sources for 35 years, Chelsea Manning, tortured her according to the United Nations, in order to implicate me personally. According to our publications Hillary Clinton was the chief proponent and the architect of the war against Libya. It is clear that she pursued this war as a staging effort for her Presidential bid. It wasn’t even a war for an ideological purpose. This war ended up producing the refugee crisis in Europe, changing the political colour of Europe, killing more than 40,000 people within a year in Libya, while the arms from Libya went to Mali and other places, boosting or causing civil wars, including the Syrian catastrophe. If someone and their network behave like that, then there are consequences. Internal and external opponents are generated. Now there is a separate question on what Donald Trump means”.

What do you think he means?
“Hillary Clinton’s election would have been a consolidation of power in the existing ruling class of the United States. Donald Trump is not a DC insider, he is part of the wealthy ruling elite of the United States, and he is gathering around him a spectrum of other rich people and several idiosyncratic personalities. They do not by themselves form an existing structure, so it is a weak structure which is displacing and destabilising the pre-existing central power network within DC. It is a new patronage structure which will evolve rapidly, but at the moment its looseness means there are opportunities for change in the United States: change for the worse and change for the better”.

In these ten years of WikiLeaks, you and your organisation have experienced all sorts of attacks. What have you learned from this warfare?
“Power is mostly the illusion of power. The Pentagon demanded we destroy our publications. We kept publishing. Clinton denounced us and said we were an attack on the entire “international community”. We kept publishing. I was put in prison and under house arrest. We kept publishing. We went head to head with the NSA getting Edward Snowden out of Hong Kong, we won and got him asylum. Clinton tried to destroy us and was herself destroyed. Elephants, it seems, can be brought down with string. Perhaps there are no elephants”.

While there is potential for significant harm under Donald Trump, bringing down such a tremendous force for evil on the world stage such as Hillary Clinton would be a great victory.  While the revelations from Wikileaks were damaging to Clinton, it is not clear how much they actually affected the election. They primarily acted to verify criticism already being made of Clinton by Sanders supporters and her opponents on the left.

Having Wikileaks as a major news story in October was probably harmful in that this centered much of the discussion in the final days of the election on Clinton’s flaws as opposed to Donald Trump’s flaws. The polls seemed to show signs of limited memory on the part of many voters as Clinton’s lead seemed to grow or diminish based upon which candidate was receiving the most coverage. With Donald Trump staying quieter in the final days of the campaign, it did probably hurt Clinton to have her flaws dominate the news between the Wikileaks revelations, along with further discussion of the FBI investigation of her email.

FiveThirtyEight.com tried to objectively measure the degree of damage done to Clinton by Wikileaks but the answer is not clear to them either:

There just isn’t a clean-cut story in the data. For instance, you might have expected a decline in the percentage of Americans who trusted Clinton after Wikileaks began its releases. As Politico’s Ken Vogel pointed out in mid-October, both Trump campaign officials and even progressives said the Wikileaks emails revealed that Clinton would be “compromised” if she became president. But the percentage of Americans who found Clinton to be honest or trustworthy stayed at around 30 percent in polling throughout October and into November.

The evidence that Wikileaks had an impact, therefore, is circumstantial. Trump, for instance, won among voters who decided who to vote for in October 51 percent to 37 percent, according to national exit polls. That’s Trump’s best time period. He carried voters who decided in the final week, when you might expect Comey’s letter to have had the largest impact, 45 percent to 42 percent. (Although, Trump’s margin among those who decided in the final week was wider in the exit polls in some crucial swing states.) And while Clinton’s lead was dropping in the FiveThirtyEight polls-only forecast before the Comey letter was released, the drop accelerated slightly afterward.

Of course, one thing didn’t sink Clinton. The evidence suggests Wikileaks is among the factors that might have contributed to her loss, but we really can’t say much more than that.

Julian Assange also discussed other topics. Among the most interesting was the status of opposition voices in Russia:

“In Russia, there are many vibrant publications, online blogs, and Kremlin critics such as [Alexey] Navalny are part of that spectrum. There are also newspapers like “Novaya Gazeta”, in which different parts of society in Moscow are permitted to critique each other and it is tolerated, generally, because it isn’t a big TV channel that might have a mass popular effect, its audience is educated people in Moscow. So my interpretation is that in Russia there are competitors to WikiLeaks, and no WikiLeaks staff speak Russian, so for a strong culture which has its own language, you have to be seen as a local player. WikiLeaks is a predominantly English-speaking organisation with a website predominantly in English. We have published more than 800,000 documents about or referencing Russia and president Putin, so we do have quite a bit of coverage, but the majority of our publications come from Western sources, though not always. For example, we have published more than 2 million documents from Syria, including Bashar al-Assad personally. Sometimes we make a publication about a country and they will see WikiLeaks as a player within that country, like with Timor East and Kenya. The real determinant is how distant that culture is from English. Chinese culture is quite far away”.

The Guardian, in its coverage of this interview, did point out how bleak the situation is in Russia:

Dozens of journalists have been killed in Russia in the past two decades, and Freedom House considers the Russian press to be “not free” and notes: “The main national news agenda is firmly controlled by the Kremlin. The government sets editorial policy at state-owned television stations, which dominate the media landscape and generate propagandistic content.”