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Trumpcare Is Medical Apartheid

Before Obamacare, if you were denied coverage and then got sick, you were thrown to the wolves.

Source: Trumpcare Is Medical Apartheid

Jonathan Alter 05.02.17 10:00 PM ET

Jimmy Kimmel was weeping on his show this week. After describing the heroic efforts of doctors to fix the heart defect of his newborn son, Billy, he said that baby Billy would be dealing with this congenital condition when he was a teenager and beyond. Then his thoughts turned to people who are not the children of late-night talk-show hosts. He told the audience that important meetings are underway in Washington right now. “No parent should have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life,” he said to thunderous applause.

Before 2010, millions of parents were faced with just that decision. As we wait to see if Republicans can ram through their new version of the health care bill—and I give them decent odds in the House—please join me on a quick trip back in time on this most wrenching of issues. It’ll help clarify the breathtaking cynicism of the GOP.

I’m talking here less about President Donald Trump, who wouldn’t know a community rating from a Nielsen rating if his life depended on it, than about other dishonest “public servants” who should know better, like House Speaker Paul Ryan, HHS Secretary Tom Price and Rep. Tom MacArthur, the New Jersey conservative who fashioned the latest compromise with the far-right Freedom Caucus.

Democrats are hardly covering themselves with glory on this one, either. Their efforts to defend Obamacare are often arid, abstract and disconnected from the powerful moral imperative at the heart of this issue.

First, the context. Let’s return for a moment to the Great American Double-Whammy—the way millions of Americans lost their health and their savings at the same time. Before Obamacare, more than half of all personal bankruptcies were caused by onerous health-care costs. Those who didn’t go bankrupt often sold their homes or spent much of their net worth to pay for their care or that of an ailing loved one. It wasn’t just cancer or heart disease that prevented people from getting insurance. High blood pressure, kidney stones, even allergies could be enough to deny you coverage. Then, if you got sick, you were thrown to the wolves. It’s hard to believe we lived so long in that shameful world.
While we did, Democrats advocated some kind of national health insurance—at least catastrophic coverage. Republicans mostly opposed it, but they had to figure out some way to deal with the middle-class Billy Kimmels of the world.

So state policy-makers came up with something called “high-risk pools,” where insurers would all contribute to help cover their outcasts, the ones they didn’t want wrecking their profits because of preexisting conditions. This sounded like a decent stop-gap idea and in the 1990s and 2000s it spread to 35 states.

Sadly, high-risk pools were a colossal flop. In 20 states, legislators provided no money to help with premiums for those in the pools. That meant few could afford the coverage. Only 226,000 out of 40 million uninsured—less than one percent—took part. In California, for instance, fewer than 1,000 people in the entire state were in the high-risk pools.
Now Trump, Ryan and company are pretending that these proven failures—state-run high-risk pools—are the way to keep their promises to anyone who has ever had a chronic or serious health problem. The president says with a straight face that those with preexisting conditions—one quarter of all middle-age and older Americans—will be “taken care of.” The speaker put out a press release Tuesday saying it was a “verified” fact that the new compromise bill would cover them. His proof is the high-risk pool—the Health Insurance Risk Sharing Plan (HIRSP)—in his home state of Wisconsin.

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Trump says his first 100 days have been a historic success. History disagrees. – The Washington Post

It’s ridiculous for him to claim to have accomplished more than other presidents.

Source: Trump says his first 100 days have been a historic success. History disagrees. – The Washington Post

April 25 at 4:36 PM

President Trump is fond of his first 100 days. “I don’t think that there is a presidential period of time in the first 100 days where anyone has done nearly what we’ve been able to do,” he said recently.


To give you a sense of how ridiculous this is, let’s start with the two Hundred Days champs: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson.

In his first 100 days in 1933, at the depths of the Great Depression, Roosevelt signed 15 major bills, rescuing the banking system, winding down Prohibition, slashing the budget, regulating Wall Street for the first time, limiting foreclosures, raising disastrously low crop prices, enacting bank deposit insurance and putting 250,000 young men to work through the Civilian Conservation Corps, which eventually employed 3 million Americans. Finally, Roosevelt signed the National Industrial Recovery Act, which reshaped every aspect of the American economy (though not always for the better). The country came out of its coma psychologically. One journalist observed that, for all of his shortcomings, the new president had accomplished “three magnificent things”: hope, action and self-respect.

Johnson was sworn in after John F. Kennedy’s assassination in late 1963, but his real first 100 days came in 1965 after his reelection in a landslide. The long-term impact was immense: After civil rights demonstrators were beaten in Selma, Ala., in March, he told Americans, “Their cause must be our cause, too. . . . And we shall overcome.” His stand led to the August signing of the Voting Rights Act, the most important civil rights legislation in a century. Johnson’s first 100 days also saw approval of the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which brought aid to poor schools. Just after the first 100 days came Medicare and Medicaid.

In fact, according to the American people, every president since Roosevelt has had a more successful debut than Trump. The latest Gallup Poll shows Trump’s approval rating at 40 percent, the only president with the support of less than half of the public at this point in his term.

In 1961, Kennedy suffered a serious setback with the botched Bay of Pigs invasion. But his humility after the fiasco and a sense of renewal in the nation sent his approval ratings to 83 percent, the highest on record for the first 100 days.

Many have lately compared Trump to Jimmy Carter, who alienated the Democratic Congress in 1977 by proposing to kill more than a dozen expensive water projects in the districts of powerful House barons. But Carter’s extraordinary grasp of complex issues when he took phone calls on CBS with Walter Cronkite and in a televised town hall meeting in Massachusetts sent his approval ratings 23 points higher than Trump’s. Even his calls for Americans to conserve energy were popular.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan’s bold package of tax cuts, domestic budget cuts and defense increases appeared to be stalled in the Democratic Congress. But after he was wounded in March by John Hinckley Jr., his program began moving quickly through Congress and his popularity went to 68 percent .

Even presidents who experienced unexceptional first 100 days have almost always had something lasting to show for it. George H.W. Bush signed legislation protecting whistleblowers. Bill Clinton won the Family and Medical Leave Act and the “Motor Voter Act” expanding voter registration. And George W. Bush didn’t win big victories at first, but within six weeks after his first 100 days, he had his big tax cut in place.

The most significant first 100 days of recent times came in 2009, when Barack Obama pushed through the second installment of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) — a $350 billion bank bailout — even before he took office. Then came the $787 billion stimulus, an expansion of children’s health insurance and helping to save General Motors and Chrysler. Even though no one knew at the time that the taxpayers would get their money back, Obama’s popularity was still 24 points higher than Trump’s is today.

Historians judge presidential debuts by lasting legislative achievements, not tweets or theatrics. Yes, some of Trump’s right-wing appointments and executive orders will do semi-permanent damage, though most of the orders merely study the problem and do not have the force of law.

Under Trump, the Senate did approve Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, but only after Republicans nuked long-standing Senate rules. Beyond some highly specific congressional resolutions, Trump has nothing to show so far for his promises. No major legislation has come to the Senate floor, and it looks as if none will for some time. The use of the Congressional Review Act, which allows reversal of last-minute regulations from the prior administration, is a blow, especially to the Clean Power Plan. But otherwise, if the repealed regulations were so crucial, why did Obama wait nearly eight years to issue them?

The “100 days” milestone may be artificial, but first impressions count and the first 100 days are a good indicator of success or failure in a president’s crucial first year in office.

Trump has plenty of time to recover. Past is not prologue for presidents, especially so early in their terms. But Trump’s claim to historic success so far gives new meaning to the two biggest words of his first 100 days: fake news.

Bush Nostalgia Is Overrated, but His Book of Paintings Is Not


Sgt. First Class Michael R. Rodriguez, U.S. Army.

APRIL 17, 2017

A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors
By George W. Bush
Illustrated. 191 pp. Crown Publishers. $35.

As a cub reporter in 1967, Richard Cohen (now a political columnist for The Washington Post) covered an exhibition of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s paintings and asked the former president about their symbolism.

“Let’s get something straight here, Cohen,” Ike snapped. “They would have burned this [expletive] a long time ago if I weren’t the president of the United States.”

The same might have been said of former President George W. Bush’s paintings of his pets — and his embarrassing if psychologically compelling self-portraits in the bathroom — that were hacked in 2013 from family emails by “Guccifer,” a Romanian hacker. This was a first. Who leaks paintings?

Their value lay only in their presidential provenance. In the Amazon TV series “Alpha House” (disclosure: I was a producer), Garry Trudeau makes sport of a fictional Republican senator carefully hanging his treasured bathtub-feet “Bush” as if it were a masterpiece. This while former President Jimmy Carter was selling one of his paintings at a Carter Center charity auction for $750,000.

In the introduction to his new coffee-table book of oil paintings, Bush readily — perhaps pre-emptively — admits that he’s a “novice.” Three years after leaving the White House, he set out to adopt the pastime of Winston Churchill, who painted to relieve the “Black Dog” of depression. But age 66 is awfully late to achieve proficiency, especially for a man with a famously short attention span. Bush recalls playfully informing his first art instructor, Gail Norfleet, of his objectives. “Gail, there’s a Rembrandt trapped in this body,” he told her. “Your job is to liberate him.”

Norfleet and Bush’s other talented tutors fell short of that ideal, but they did liberate an inner Bush we — and maybe he — never knew existed: An evocative and surprisingly adept artist who has dramatically improved his technique while also doing penance for one of the greatest disasters in American history.

After staring at the haunting close-up portraits of wounded warriors and reading the searing accounts of their suffering, I’m beginning to understand why this beautifully published book went to No. 1 on The Times’s nonfiction best-seller list. It’s not that people are suddenly nostalgic for Bush; historians consistently rank him near the bottom in their lists of American presidents and — despite lasting achievements on treating AIDS globally and a prescription drug benefit for Medicare — he will very likely remain there, even if he rises past President Trump some day. (Trump hasn’t gotten us into a $1 trillion war or presided over an economic meltdown — so far.) And it’s not just that Trump has set the bar of character and decency so low that Bush barely needs to lift his cowboy boot to step over it. His charming family, warm relationship with the Obamas, and welcome defense of the press and other threatened democratic institutions aren’t sufficient explanations, either.

Lt. Col. Kent Graham Solheim, U.S. Army.(see article)

A better answer might lie in the words of Marine Corps Sgt. Andy Hatcher, who enlisted a month before 9/11 and was ambushed on Thanksgiving Day 2004 in the Second Battle of Falluja. Hatcher lost his right foot and most of the hearing in his right ear. He also suffered traumatic brain injury, though a less severe form of that signature wound of the Iraq War than afflicted other veterans. “My father is a Vietnam vet,” Hatcher said. “He was treated incredibly differently than I was.”

The success of “Portraits of Courage” (with the proceeds to help vets) is something more than just another “Thank you for your service.” It testifies to our genuine, bipartisan determination to do it better this time — to support healing in all of its forms, even from the president who most made that healing necessary. It reflects our fascination with how leaders process pain and regret. And whether or not we backed Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq (as I wrongly did), commemorating the more than 40,000 brave Americans who left a piece of themselves behind in Iraq and Afghanistan seems a fitting if tiny step toward bridging the civilian-military divide. Bush writes of the veterans he met that “looking them in the eye and saluting them as their commander in chief” was the greatest honor of his presidency and that he will continue to actively honor them for the rest of his life. This was not something that Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon did much of with Vietnam veterans after leaving office.

Presidents who send soldiers into battle cannot easily confess that it was in vain. In his memoir “Decision Points,” Bush concedes that American forces were withdrawn too quickly but not that responding to 9/11 by attacking a dictator who had nothing to do with it was a colossal error. He can’t admit that he has little to show for his dream of democratizing the Middle East, beyond continuing chaos.

Sgt. Leslie Zimmerman, U.S. Army.

And yet, bearing unflinching witness to the horrific consequences of historic folly should always be welcome. Atonement is not accountability, much less redemption, but it’s a start. Bush mostly avoids Veterans Day-style platitudes and sugarcoats nothing, not even stories about a veteran who wounded a fellow soldier with friendly fire and one shot by an Afghan security guard who was supposed to be an ally.

The former president met the 96 men and two women he painted in military hospitals and at the Warrior 100K mountain bike rides and Warrior Open golf outings sponsored by the Bush Institute. Their inspiring stories of recovery — most would not have survived in earlier wars — cannot soften the horrors they endured. Bush’s colorful brush strokes (he painted from photographs) capture the faces of soldiers like Army Capt. Jae Barclay, who underwent 30 surgeries after his vehicle struck an I.E.D. in Afghanistan; Lt. Col. Kent Solheim, whose right leg was amputated amid 34 surgeries, after which he returned for two more deployments; and Master Sgt. Israel del Toro Jr., “DT,” whom Bush first met when he was in a medically induced coma after his Humvee was hit by a bomb that severed his fingers and nose and severely burned 80 percent of his body. He was given little chance of survival, and when he beat those odds, doctors told him he would never walk or breathe on his own. After more than 100 surgeries, DT represented the United States in cycling and powerlifting at the 2016 Invictus Games and won the gold medal in the shot put.

The wounded warriors who don’t like Bush and haven’t recovered well were unlikely to have become friendly enough with him to have their portraits painted. But most of his subjects suffered nightmares, depression and “PTS.” (He leaves “disorder” off the end of post-traumatic stress, presumably because the clinical distinction between PTS and PTSD can be fuzzy.) The stories are gruesome but also occasionally amusing. Lt. Col. Ken Dwyer told Bush and the golf legend Lee Trevino how he took his prosthetic eye out of its socket and presented it to an umpire at his son’s baseball game with the comment: “Here, you seem to need this a lot more than I do.”

The only weak part of this book is the ingratiating foreword by Gen. Peter Pace, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “President Bush asked tough questions — and continued to ask them until he had all the information he needed,” Pace writes. This is precisely what Bush did not do — on incomplete plans for the postwar occupation, insufficient American troop levels, the disbanding of the Iraqi Army (one of the factors that led to ISIS) and many other matters. “Once he made a decision, he would resource it properly,” Pace claims. Tell that to the men who were killed or wounded because of unconscionable delays in obtaining proper body armor. Pace is right about one thing: The book is a “message of love” from a former president to the troops.

In 2003, I argued that Iraq was the right war with the wrong commander in chief. I had it nearly backward. It was the wrong war — for which history will forever blame Bush — but with the right commander in chief, at least for the noble if narrow purpose of creatively honoring veterans through art. Contra Ike, these portraits — an unexpected asterisk to the Bush legacy — would not have been burned, even if the artist had never been president.

Jonathan Alter, a former columnist for Newsweek who has written books on Franklin D. Roosevelt and Barack Obama, is working on a biography of Jimmy Carter.


By Jonathan Alter March 20, 2017

The death of Jimmy Breslin, pictured here in 1986, the same year he won a Pulitzer Prize, ends a storied era in American journalism.  The death of Jimmy Breslin, pictured here in 1986, the same year he won a Pulitzer Prize, ends a storied era in American journalism.


Jimmy Breslin’s first big break came when he was hired, in 1963, as a columnist for the New York Herald Tribune. There was a reason so many American newspapers were called Tribunes, after the Romans who represented the plebes. These newspapers, many now dead or much diminished, saw themselves as voices of the people, a concept that today sounds almost quaint. All over the country, shoe-leather columnists became local celebrities when they wrote with wit and empathy about ordinary people and savaged the powerful. At their best, they captured the soul of a particular city, helping to create an identity that digital journalism—with its global reach but clumsy local coverage—often cannot. When I was growing up in Chicago, my god was Mike Royko, who ended his career at the Chicago Tribune, but the most famous and influential was Breslin, whose death, on Sunday, ends a storied era in American journalism.

Jack Newfield described Breslin as “Charles Dickens disguised as Archie Bunker.” Mike Lupica said that “watching Jimmy write was like watching Willie Mays play baseball.” Between novels and other books, Breslin managed to crank out four or five columns a week, most memorably for the New York Daily News, a publication that still exists but is now painfully thin. His run extended through the second half of the twentieth century, from 1951, when he covered a drunk Senator Joe McCarthy arriving at LaGuardia Airport and knew he was a liar (because he lied about being on his way to attend mass, which had already occurred), to 2001, when he happened to be on Liberty Street in downtown Manhattan on September 11th, and wrote about running from the smoke, and about the firefighters who didn’t. In between, he brought his talent and ego to bear on nearly every big national and local story of his time—Vietnam, Watergate, the Mafia, Son of Sam—and thousands of little ones, from the homeless man who slept on a median strip to the Latina cop wrongly fired for posing nude for a magazine before she joined the N.Y.P.D.

Breslin made his name covering the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He arrived in Dallas on the night of November 22, 1963. The next day, he stuck with the doctors at Parkland Hospital after other reporters left and interviewed them with a novelist’s eye for detail. He found the undertaker who provided the casket, and enlisted his wife to use their Queens parish to find the Dallas priest who administered last rites. That evening, he filed a twenty-five-hundred-word story for the Herald Tribune that contained so much chilling and evocative detail that readers might have thought there were seven people, not six, inside Emergency Room One: the dying President, his wife, Dr. Malcolm Perry, Dr. M. T. Jenkins, Dr. Kemp Clark, Father Oscar Huber—and Jimmy Breslin. Breslin wrote that Perry “saw only the throat and the chest, shining under the huge lamp, and when he would look up or move his eyes between motions, he would see this plum dress and the terribly disciplined face standing over against the gray tile wall.”

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