Donald Andrew Henson II

Archive for the ‘The Trump Administration’ Category

Healthcare Hypocrisy

In American Economy, American Society, Current events, The Trump Administration on May 5, 2017 at 11:44 pm
Botticelli's Canto XVIII

Botticelli’s depiction of the 8th circle of Hell – place of punishment for hypocrites

If you are a reader of this blog, and have not been off the grid for some reason, then you already know that the House GOP have finally passed a bill meant to repeal and replace the Affordable Healthcare Act, aka Obamacare. While it is considered a win for Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and GOP Congressmen, it is unlikely, in its current form, to ever become law. So I’m not going to cry wolf or tell you that the sky is falling just yet, because it isn’t. In a political season of big surprises, it’s best not to make predictions; however, I would be very surprised if anything similar to this bill ever becomes the law of the land.

What I would like to address is the astounding level of hypocrisy that surrounds any discussion of healthcare in the US these days. Even as a person accustomed to Beltway doublespeak, alternative facts, and FOX News hyperbole, I often find myself speechless at the audacity of the claims politicians are willing to make about ACA, AHCA, high-risk pools, deductibles, and anything else having to do with the role and provision of healthcare in America.

Before I address a few of the major hypocrisies (for there is not time enough to address them all), I think it’s important that I share with you my own healthcare status – this site proclaims the importance governing by the most rational course, meaning that pre-conceived ideas, creeds, religion, political viewpoints, etc., should have little bearing on the nature and construct of the laws of our great nation. If I had a heart condition that made me a huge beneficiary of ACA, for example, and would cost me thousands more under AHCA – that would of course color my view of the entire discourse. To be clear, I do not.

I have never benefited from Obamacare in any way, shape, or form. I have lived abroad for 14 of the last 18 years. Many of you may not know this, but Americans working abroad for a non-US entity do not face the same mandatory healthcare requirement that other Americans do – we are NOT required to have healthcare, and there is NO tax penalty for failing to acquire it. In fact, even if I wanted to enroll in Obamacare, I would not be allowed to do so. Assuming that AHCA does not add a requirement for expatriates – and I have seen no language to suggest that it will – whatever healthcare law is in force in the US effects no change in my status whatsoever. Whether I am subject to the healthcare mandates of my current country of residence depends completely on which country I live in.

Therefore, I feel I am in a unique position to look at healthcare objectively; I have no dog in the race, at least while I live abroad. I do, however, hope to return to the US at some point – and I’d certainly like to see something fair and affordable in place there when I return.

Now – on to the loathsome hypocrisy.

Before Obamacare, healthcare hypocrisy was already very much alive. When healthcare costs began increasing exponentially in the 1990s, conservative politicians explained that there was nothing that could be done – market forces. This of course, was BS. Government often steps in to re-direct market forces, subsidizing everything from farm products to big oil – and conservative politicians often vote in favor of these moves. The GOP has said for decades that we can’t afford government-sponsored healthcare, can’t afford to give ‘free stuff’ to everyone. This again is disingenuous. There are dozens of countries poorer than the US – using a variety of measurements of wealth – that provide universal healthcare to their citizens. So, it’s not a matter of whether or not we can afford it so much as it is whether it is a priority. Those countries that do provide healthcare don’t spend money on out-sized military commitments, corporate subsidies, or corporate bailouts. Most of them also have much more progressive individual tax rates – the citizenry of those countries have agreed that the general welfare of the nation is more important than producing or enriching a few more billionaires.

This is the classic conservative hypocritical argument, and it’s used for education, healthcare, climate change – anything that provides no benefit to the super-rich. First, say there’s not a problem. When that becomes untenable, say there’s a problem, but there’s really nothing that can be done about it. When sound solutions are offered, showing that something can indeed be done, claim that it would be wildly expensive, lower salaries, slow job growth – whatever. Finally, if necessary, proclaim that it’s too late, that it’s the new normal, the new status quo – grow up and stop being a snowflake. Repeat ad nauseum on FOX News and other conservative outlets.

Unfortunately, the Demos fought hypocrisy with hypocrisy when they finally got their chance to make what they felt were positive changes to healthcare. (And I do believe, unlike the alt-right, that progressives and liberals are trying to make peoples’ lives better. Agree or disagree with how they go about it, to say the end goal is more government control of our lives is just detached from reality. Do you really think Michelle Obama wants to grab the family-sized bag of Doritos out of your hands and replace it with a kale salad? Your own wife can’t be bothered.) Nancy Pelosi told us we’d have to approve it before we could see it. Barack Obama swore we’d be able to keep the doctors and coverage we had if that’s what we liked. We were told ACA would drive costs down. These were all lies – and if the politicians who told them knew they weren’t true, then they truly belong in the Hypocrite Hall of Infamy – illustrated above.

Yet, the GOP weren’t content to sit on the hypocrisy sidelines from 2008 to 2010. There was talk of ACA bankrupting us, crashing the economy (quite ironic actually), of national debts that would leave us a lackey to the Chinese. There were ‘death panel’ scares, cries of socialism. All of this was hyperbole at best, hypocrisy at worst. The truth is that the entire, top estimate for Obamacare, for a decade, is lower than the bottom estimate for the 2008 bailout.

Let that sink in for a moment. The estimates for the 2008 Wall Street bailout range from 1.7 trillion USD to in excess of 29 trillion USD. A one-time bailout. The total cost of Obamacare – for a decade – ranges from a low of actually saving 143 billion USD, through the Obama administration estimate of costing 940 billion, to a CBO cost estimate of 1.7 trillion.

Do you think your average FOX News-watching, Trump-voting American knows that the highest estimate we have for a decade of ACA healthcare coverage is equal to the lowest estimated cost of the bailout? Which would you choose – giving Wall Street a 2 trillion dollar, one-time Christmas present? Or spending the same amount for a decade of healthcare for everyone?

March 21-23, 2010 was the beginning of the GOP’s 7-year-long healthcare hypocrisy extravaganza – the astounding orgy of partisan posturing, fear-mongering, grand-standing, and outright misrepresentation of the facts that have occurred since ACA was passed is unparalleled in our legislative history. The final reconciliation bill cleared the House on March 21, and then-President Obama signed it into law on March 23. The first GOP push to repeal was March 22. GOP Republicans voted more than 60 times to shut down Obamacare – pure political posturing, as they knew they’d never get the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto. At least one smug, equivocating GOP face has appeared on FOX News to spread healthcare misinformation every single day for the past decade.

What is it that Republicans don’t like about it? Well, of course the rich don’t like paying extra taxes to fund it – big surprise. But why do lower and middle class Americans dislike it? Is it the fact that people with existing conditions can get insurance? That poor people are subsidized? The under-25s can stay on their parents’ insurance? No – these are aspects of the plan that a majority of all Americans clearly support.

It seems that the individual mandate bothers the libertarian wing (and I have a few problems with that as well), but for the vast majority of Republicans, what they hate most about Obamacare is – Obama.

Jerry Seinfeld once joked about how we go to a baseball game and cheer for a uniform. We don’t cheer for the individuals on the team, or cheer because our guys are better than the other guys – we cheer for the uniform. If Jose Conseco is wearing a Yankees uniform, I cheer him, because I’m a Yankees fan. If he’s wearing an Oakland uniform, I boo – I hate the A’s. This is a perfect description of American politics today – as it applies to us plebes, at least – the rich always support lower taxes and de-regulation, even if the Clintons are wearing the uniform.

If you are for the current House legislation simply because it’s a win for your team, a loss for the Demos, a slap in the face for Obama – welcome to the Hypocrite Hall of Infamy.

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Kaiser Trump

In American Society, Current events, The Trump Administration, Wars and Rumors of Wars on April 13, 2017 at 6:33 pm

I digressed from my three-part series on Trump’s relationship with Fascism to make a few comments about the recent US missile attack on Syria – today I finish that series. Some of the notes I had made in preparing this essay were made prior to Trump’s military actions there, and now seem unbelievably timely.

I previously interrupted a five- or six- part essay on the Protestant Work Ethic and its influence on American economic policy, in order to discuss what seemed like the more pressing issue of a new American fascism. I’m still planning to eventually complete that series. And at some point, I’ll get back to blogging the Bible. So many issues, so little time for this poor, sometimes neglected blog. If any of this ever makes it into a book, I promise to be more linear. 

I’ve stated in prior posts that Donald Trump is no Nazi. Yes, as I’m writing this, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, is busy apologizing for remarks that could be construed to be revisionist Nazi rhetoric – incorrectly stating that Hitler didn’t use chemical gas on his own people. Believe it or not, I don’t think Secretary Spicer is a Nazi sympathizer – I think he’s just actually that stupid. Notice how, when trying to defend his remarks, he stumbles at the point where he’s about to say ‘gas chambers’ – and says ‘Holocaust centers’ instead – only at that moment dawning on him that, ‘doh, gas chambers used chemical gas’. I don’t believe he was trying to deny the atrocities of the Nazis, or to insinuate that German Jews were somehow less than German, making them ‘not his own people’. It’s just that Spicer, like so many of the people Trump surrounds himself with, isn’t a very thoughtful or well-read person.

However, I think that it’s unclear thus far as to whether Trump could be called a fascist. He certainly whips up his base with a kind rhetoric that can be disturbing at times, with apparently no intention of changing his dangerous ‘tweeting’ habits. Part of the problem lies in the fact that his words and actions indicate nothing more than the President’s current whim, leaving the disturbing impression that, beyond vanity, there is no ‘core’ of convictions that might indicate who Donald Trump really is. As the acclaimed British journalist Max Hastings writes,  “As ever with this President, it is impossible to judge whether he means what he says, or even understands the significance of his words.”

Much like the Bible or the Koran, Trump’s words and actions are enigma, upon which his followers are able to superimpose any meaning they desire. Just as the prophet Ezekiel or the apostle Paul made pronouncements with little thought of what effect they might have on the world in the 21st century, so too does Donald Trump. Yet true believers receive them as gospel, full of hidden meaning that will be revealed in the fullness of time. 

To the liberal or progressive, he epitomizes everything that’s wrong with the political system, specifically as it applies to the GOP misinformation machine. To the Trumpite he is – – I don’t think we have a word in English to describe the concept. He’s like a scapegoat, except in a positive and opposite way. Instead of placing all of your admitted sins upon him, letting him suffer the consequences of your evil deeds, he instead wears all of your impure – but much-beloved – impulses without shame. His incredibly wide shoulders (but small hands) bear them all, as he is led, not down the Via Dolorosa to certain death, but down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. 

(There are, by the way, many concepts we find hard to put into words, for which there is foreign vocabulary to assist. Schadenfreude, for example, is a German word for which we have no equivalent, but it is something we experience nonetheless. My current favorite is kalsarikännit, the Finnish word for sitting around at home in your underwear getting drunk. If you know a word for a kind of positive scapegoat – in any language – drop me a line.)

Trump’s exoneration is a vindication of all the terrible ideas of his followers. There is no repentance or absolution – there is instead an ascension to political paradise with all sins intact. To the Richard Spencers of the world, he’s a führer. To David Duke, he’s a kinsman KKK. To those equate being white and owning a gun to patriotism, he’s a modern-day Andrew Jackson. 

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So, if Trump isn’t the next Adolf Hitler, who is he? The incredible thing is, if you’re American, the picture above might not even tip you off. You’d have heard little or nothing about him in history class, and have little understanding of how he helped make a bad political environment, at home and abroad, even worse. His actions helped to precipitate World War I.

British and Continental European commentators, however, sharing a more intimate experience with his bombastic incompetence, have been making comparisons for months. – Donald Trump as 21st-century Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Here are some of the other things Hastings – knighted, by the way, for his contribution to the understanding of history – has written about Trump:

(He is)…carelessly dropping matches beside a powder keg, with the same mingling of ignorance, vainglory and recklessness that the German emperor displayed in 1914. Trump needs a war to fulfill his constant quest for enemies, at home and abroad, and because he is a risk-taker, with little understanding of the cages he is rattling or the world order he threatens to undo….Trump’s record suggests a man who calls for High Noon, then suggests lunch at one of his golf courses instead.

That last sentence was actually meant to be hopeful – perhaps Trump is all bluster and no bite. I don’t think a few missiles lobbed at Syria discredit this observation.  The next statement is in quotes because it comes from Hasting’s article, and is meant to describe both the Kaiser and Trump. But it is the opinion of so many policy experts that I feel quotes are superfluous:

But the only way to make an effective foreign policy is to say what  you mean, mean what you say….Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm did not seriously want a war in 1914. But he got one anyway, because he postured once too often, drew his sword and waved it aloft. Thus, others drew their swords, too, and soon all Europe was using them.

Trump rained missiles upon a Syrian air base because he saw a video on television. He did not do extensive study into the Syrian conflict, nor did he base his decision on intelligence reports. It was – no better word for it – a whim. 

European comparisons of Donald Trump to Kaiser Wilhelm (or William II of Prussia – he was Queen Victoria’s oldest grandchild) prompted me to learn a bit more about the Kaiser’s personality. I could only remember the cartoon caricature of the man from high school history classes. What I found sounds alarmingly familiar:

(He was)…gifted, with a quick understanding, sometimes brilliant, with a taste for the modern,—technology, industry, science—but at the same time superficial, hasty, restless, unable to relax, without any deeper level of seriousness, without any desire for hard work or drive to see things through to the end, without any sense of sobriety, for balance and boundaries, or even for reality and real problems, uncontrollable and scarcely capable of learning from experience, desperate for applause and success….he wanted every day to be his birthday—romantic, sentimental and theatrical, unsure and arrogant, with an immeasurably exaggerated self-confidence and desire to show off, a juvenile cadet, who never took the tone of the officers’ mess out of his voice, and brashly wanted to play the part of the supreme warlord, full of panicky fear of a monotonous life without any diversions…(Wikipedia)

Wow. Nail on the head. Bigly. Or big league. Or whatever the hell it is Trump says. 

He believed in force, and the ‘survival of the fittest’ in domestic as well as foreign politics….William was not lacking in intelligence, but he did lack stability, disguising his deep insecurities by swagger and tough talk. He frequently fell into depressions and hysterics… William’s personal instability was reflected in vacillations of policy. His actions, at home as well as abroad, lacked guidance, and therefore often bewildered or infuriated public opinion. He was not so much concerned with gaining specific objectives…as with asserting his will. This trait in the ruler of the leading Continental power was one of the main causes of the uneasiness prevailing in Europe at the turn-of-the-century. (Wikipedia)

This trait in the ruler of the leading power today is also one of the main causes of uneasiness prevailing in the world now.

The Kaiser was in power before Fascism swept Germany – but his sentiments, misadventures, and bluster allowed that disease to grow. And his erratic policies increased international tensions, creating an environment ripe for war. While history illustrates that fighting right-wing fascism in the US is an important fight, it doesn’t take a Hitler to start another world war.

A Kaiser will do as well.

 

Missiles Won’t Save Syrian Children

In Current events, The Trump Administration, Wars and Rumors of Wars on April 11, 2017 at 5:18 pm

Syrian children

I’ve been decrying the violence against children in Syria for five years now, since my heart was torn apart by a video of Rena, a four-year-old Syrian girl shot by a sniper back in 2012. I’ve posted other photos and videos of dead and dying Syrian children since then  – admittedly with few suggestions on how to make the violence against helpless children in Syria stop. I’m still struggling for answers.

By all estimates, there are certainly at least 500,000 casualties to date in the Syrian conflict, many of them children, as well as a great number of non-combatant women and men. We as Americans have their blood on our hands. The God, Guns and Glory GOP under George W Bush started a war in Iraq under dubious pretenses, and lacking any plan for the stabilization of the country afterwards, left behind the chaos that spread across the border to Syria – and gave rise to ISIS and other militant groups. These are facts – no amount of whitewashing by those who supported the war will undo their veracity. Donald Trump’s claims that Obama and Hillary created ISIS – and conservative media’s support of those statements – is frightening doublespeak revisionist history of Orwellian proportions.

And while I wouldn’t hold President Trump directly responsible for the murder of children in Syria (unlike anti-abortionist groups that called Obama a baby-killer), it is certainly possible his press secretary’s statement that toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was no longer a priority, that it was instead a “political reality that we have to accept in terms of where we are right now”  – just a few days before the chemical attack – may have been a signal to Assad that he could deal as ruthlessly as he wanted with pockets of remaining resistance without fear of retribution from the US. In other words, Sean Spicer’s dissembling may have emboldened Assad in this latest attack. (Warning, this video is graphic and disturbing.)

The US has been complicit in the killing children in the Middle East for a long time. We’ve supported a regime in Israel that has in the last decades killed hundreds of Palestinian children in the name of ‘security’. (Yes, Palestinians kill Israelis children too, albeit in far fewer numbers and without American support). We fed and fueled the feud between Iran and Iraq for eight long years, resulting in one million dead Iranians and half that number of Iraqis. Not content to simply stoke the fire, we embarked on two major excursions into Iraq, the last of which produced an estimated 100,000 further civilian casualties. President Obama laughed ISIS off as a ‘JV team’, and did too little too late as they grew to power, sacrificing thousands more lives in the region. We’ve failed to take any effective action in Syria, while many thousands of children have died.

I think a secularist worldview, trying to find rational solutions to the world’s problems, by nature creates strong pacifist tendencies. War is almost never the correct solution to the problem, be it political, religious, economic, or otherwise. War is never clean or neat or ‘surgical’ – these terms apply only to the side that has sufficient technology to inflict much greater harm than it suffers, countries like Israel and the US. There is always ‘collateral damage’, meaning the slaughter of innocents, which in my opinion is unacceptable. But if military action is ever a solution – and I do believe it sometimes is necessary (is that because of the American side to being americansecularist? I’m not sure), then certainly protecting the most vulnerable among us would be one of those times.

I’m going to cut Mr. Trump some slack on his missile-attack response to the latest Syrian atrocity. The cynic in me says that, much like then-President Clinton’s airstrike on a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant, (read Christopher Hitchen’s brilliant deconstruction of that action ), Trump needed to create a distraction from the Russia scandal – and gross incompetence – his administration has been mired in. Bonus points that he had to stop holding hands with Putin to give the order. Trump and the GOP have been wildly inconsistent on military action since George W left office – or perhaps wildly Machiavellian. Their position has basically been that if Obama took action, it was a mistake; if he didn’t, he was weak.

However, I’m going to assume that Donald Trump saw these videos and was moved by them – as anyone should be – and that led to an actual change of heart. I’m going to assume the 180-degree change of opinion on Syrian action was motivated by genuine human concern and outrage when, perhaps for the first time, he came face-to-face with the realities there.

But missiles do not policy make, and if we want to see an end to the indiscriminate killing of children in the Middle East – and elsewhere – it will require intelligent, effective policies that so far no administration has been able to come up with. Airstrikes are the equivalent of taking away your teenager’s allowance after he’s murdered the neighbors, a sort of ‘well I had to do something’ kind of response. In fact, the bombed runway is already in use, and I’m sure innocents in Syria continue to be slaughtered by their own government – maybe not with gas canisters this time, but murdered nonetheless.

I refuse to join the partisan fray, to criticize each and every decision the ‘other side’ makes, simply because it’s the other side. But I can’t really applaud the decision either, as I don’t really see what it accomplishes. I understand – after I see these videos, I want to throw missiles at someone – anyone responsible – as well. However, it does absolutely nothing to dissuade Assad and company from committing further atrocities.

Real remedy in Syria requires intelligence, competence, and the guts to make unpopular decisions. I am pessimistic that our current president is any more capable – indeed is in many ways less capable – of solving Syria than his predecessors.

The photo above comes from an excellent aljazeera.com post – a must-read if you’re not clear on the causes current Syrian conflict.