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  • Sen. Rand Paul, never one to be content to stay in the mainstream, released his own ACA repeal-and-replace plan on Wednesday.  The plan can be read here. The plan has been far less discussed in public health policy circles than other Republican alternatives, and for good reason: it is by […]

    Sen. Rand Paul’s Obamacare Replacement Act

    Sen. Rand Paul, never one to be content to stay in the mainstream, released his own ACA repeal-and-replace plan on Wednesday.  The plan can be read here. The plan has been far less discussed in public health policy circles than other Republican alternatives, and for good reason: it is by […]

  • Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Susan Collins of Maine brought forth the first major Congressional alternative to the Affordable Care Act of this Congress, as they unveiled their Patient Freedom Act of 2017.  The full text of the bill can be read here. The senators promise the plan would […]

    Another ACA Alternative: Patient Freedom Act of 2017

    Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Susan Collins of Maine brought forth the first major Congressional alternative to the Affordable Care Act of this Congress, as they unveiled their Patient Freedom Act of 2017.  The full text of the bill can be read here. The senators promise the plan would […]

  • Today, January 20, 2017, Donald J. Trump will place his hand on the Lincoln Bible, and take the oath of office to become the 45th President of the United States. Exactly 8 years ago, I wrote a similar post to this one, regarding the 44th President, Barack H. Obama, that can […]

    The Inauguration of Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States

    Today, January 20, 2017, Donald J. Trump will place his hand on the Lincoln Bible, and take the oath of office to become the 45th President of the United States. Exactly 8 years ago, I wrote a similar post to this one, regarding the 44th President, Barack H. Obama, that can […]

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Sen. Rand Paul’s Obamacare Replacement Act

Sen. Rand Paul, never one to be content to stay in the mainstream, released his own ACA repeal-and-replace plan on Wednesday.  The plan can be read here.

The plan has been far less discussed in public health policy circles than other Republican alternatives, and for good reason: it is by far the most radical plan proposed yet, and the least likely to pass Congress in its current form.

The core of his plan is as follows:

  • $5,000 tax credit per individual; this could be spent on either premiums or deposited in a health savings account;
  • Completely eliminates baseline regulations set up by Obamacare for minimum requirements of insurers, as well as the individual and employer mandates; in short, allows the complete return of pure catastrophic coverage.
  • Extends employee tax deduction to all individuals purchasing health plans;
  • Elimination of remaining regulations stopping sales of plans across state lines. Furthermore, to increase access to coverage, he would expand association health plans and allow individuals to purchase health insurance through non-traditional groups, such as churches and civic associations. Of specific note is that he would eliminate the consumer protections for pre-existing conditions;
  • Restores HIPAA’s pre-existing conditions protections. Prior to Obamacare, HIPAA guaranteed those within the group market could obtain continuous health coverage regardless of preexisting conditions.

Paul has stated openly what his philosophy on health care reform is…and it isn’t about expanding coverage or reducing cost. It is about freedom:

As we repeal Obamacare, we would be wise to vote on its replacement at the same time.

 What should we replace Obamacare with? Perhaps we should try freedom:

1.  The freedom to choose inexpensive insurance free of government dictates.

2.  The freedom to save unlimited amounts in a health savings account.

3. The freedom to buy insurance across state lines.

4.  The freedom for all individuals to join together in voluntary associations to gain the leverage of being part of a large insurance pool.

Paul also is one of the leading voices to push for both repeal AND replace at the same time. He argues that without both, too much of the Affordable Care Act would remain in place to make sufficient head way in reforming the system.

There is a lot in this plan to appeal to traditional conservatives.  Rand’s plan would essentially deregulate much of the health care system on the federal level, leaving minimal regulatory protections (for better and for worse).

Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute clearly voices the core conservative argument for Sen. Paul’s vision in an Op-Ed earlier this month:

Paul would eliminate the pre-existing-condition regulations altogether (after a transition period), while his other reforms would significantly reduce the number of people who genuinely cannot buy health insurance because of a pre-existing condition. For those who still need help, Paul envisions responsibility for covering them being shifted to the states, possibly in conjunction with proposals to block-grant Medicaid.

This would give states the freedom to experiment with ways to cover people who are unable to buy their own insurance for whatever reason, whether pre-existing conditions or low-income. Importantly, it prevents a small number of high-cost cases from distorting the rest of the insurance pool. It wouldn’t try to insure the uninsurable, but would provide their health care more directly. After all, it is health care that counts, not health insurance.

One can be forgiven for thinking that the last thing Republicans need right now is another health-care plan. And Senator Paul’s plan is certainly not perfect; there are nits to be picked. But it may well offer Republicans the best road map they can find out of the wilderness they have been wandering in.

The problems with this are obvious, if you have evaluated prior GOP alternatives. First, straight forward tax credits such as this will certainly benefit the healthy and young, but will be a net negative for the elderly and for sicker patients. This is a tradeoff that can’t be ignored. This cost issue has been estimated in and of itself to likely cause 5-10 million people to lose coverage after repeal of the ACA.

Furthermore, Paul never specifically answers how he will take care of individuals that for one reason or another cannot buy plans in the group market, mostly because of costly pre-existing conditions. He largely argues that he will ‘give states flexibility’ to reform Medicaid by providing block grants…but provides no other real answer to the question.

Even if you are willing to completely pass the problem off to states (which in a federalism view of government isn’t unreasonable) there is a political price to pay: there is no chance any Democrats (and possibly even a few moderate Republicans) would accept such a plan. They would demand an answer to the question, and as far as I can tell, Paul lacks any specific answer.

Furthermore, because Paul’s plan would require a Senate vote on complete repeal of Obamacare, he requires 8 Senate Democrats to join him…which seems impossible in this environment. I also suspect that although Paul has said President Trump has approved of his plan, that Trump may well change his mind once he understands all the repercussions of such a radical change. Trump would be unlikely to keep his many promises on health care under Rand Paul’s vision.

Paul’s plan is reasonable in an ideal world, but no such world exists. Today’s political environment simply makes it impossible to pass such a plan, unless the GOP somehow gets 60 votes in the Senate. As a position piece it is interesting, but as practical policy it is a non-starter.

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Another ACA Alternative: Patient Freedom Act of 2017

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Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Susan Collins of Maine brought forth the first major Congressional alternative to the Affordable Care Act of this Congress, as they unveiled their Patient Freedom Act of 2017.  The full text of the bill can be read here. The senators promise the plan would designate more power and regulatory decisions to the states, and in turn hopefully increasing patient access and affordability.

This plan echoes a similar plan proposed by Sen. Cassidy in 2015.  That plan, notably, was written in the heated discussion over what would have happened to Obamacare customers if the Supreme Court had ruled against the Obama administration in the King v. Burwell case (the Court ultimately upheld the Obama Administration’s view, and Obamacare was left intact).

What makes this alternative quite different from the other Republican plans is that it would maintain most of the funding mechanism that existed under the Affordable Care Act. Cassidy and Collins state that there is simply no simple way to fund any system in the short-term without maintaining those taxes.  95% of the current funding per capita per state promised under the ACA would continue under this plan; the remaining 5% of funds would be used for health savings accounts and other expenditures.  Cassidy argues that he would be open to replacing that tax structure in the future, but only in approach of a larger tax reform bill. So overall expenditure under the plan would be quite similar to that under the Affordable Care Act, assuming no further tax changes.

Political negatives aside, by retaining the tax funding mechanism, the Senators are able to offer an alternative that no one else in the GOP is currently offering: allowing some states to keep Obamacare.

The plan would largely shift the decision-making on health care reform to the states. States would have one of three choices. States such as New York and California who are perfectly happy with the status quo can choose the first option and keep their current systems, with their funding remaining as defined by the Affordable Care Act of 2010. In short, little to nothing significant would change for them.

Option two would allow states to build their own health care plans, centered around individually owned Health Savings Accounts (HSA). Cassidy would provide a pre-funded HSA to all individuals in the form of an advanceable tax credit. The insurance plans would have to meet some basic requirements, such as guaranteeing catastrophic coverage, basic pharmaceutical coverage, mental health coverage, and some level of coverage for preventative care. One key attraction of this option? States that opt for this would not only receive all Federal funds that they would have received for subsidies through the Obamacare exchanges, but in addition would receive the full federal matching funds they would have received from Medicaid expansion, whether or not they decide to actually expand Medicaid. In short, this system would allow states to create a system using the private sector, and cover the poor in that manner, totally bypassing Medicaid, and retaining most of the federal funding while doing so.

The third option for states would be to opt out of federal funding all together. They would receive no federal funds, but would also be exempt from most of the federal regulations written into the bill.

Sen. Collins did make clear that some consumer protection provisions such as coverage from parents’ insurance until age 26 and prohibition from lifetime caps would be maintained across the board, regardless of what option states choose. For example, out of network excessive hospital charges, an issue that has been gaining greater attention over the past year, would be eliminated under their bill, something the ACA never even referred to.

Notably, they would not maintain the consumer insurance protections regarding pre-existing conditions, leaving that choice up to the states. There would be no individual mandate on the federal level, but a ‘Continuous coverage’ rule would require patients to avoid gaps of more than 63 days, or face being subject to late enrollment penalties and other costs.

There are other smaller provisions that could potentially lower overall health care costs. For example, states that allow universal health savings accounts would receive 2% of their total funding to population health initiatives, that could be used to treat any public health threat, such as opioid abuse or sexually transmitted diseases.

There are significant positives to Cassidy’s approach. First and foremost, it takes a more decentralized approach to health care reform. It allows states to tailor-make their plans to their populations, allowing them to avoid onerous federal regulations that may or may not be beneficial in their circumstance. It would maintain federal funding, basically through the equivalent of block grants, and that funding would be the equivalent per capita as those states that maintain Obamacare.

Cassidy would also give states the option to auto enroll their citizens into basic health care plans. It would allow patients to opt out, but they would have to actively pursue that course of action if they chose to do so. This is an important detail of the plan. It allows states to guarantee a high rate of insured among the population, without relying on the much despised individual mandate to achieve that goal.

There are aspects of the plan that are problematic however. Because of its accounting procedural changes, coverage of older and sicker patients would probably be less than under Obamacare. The program would allocate approximately $5,000 per person for people under 55, and $6,000 per person for those aged 55-65. That would likely dramatically increase out-of-pocket costs for that older aged and sicker subset.

Politically, Cassidy makes a very strong point: by allowing the option of liberal blue states to keep the Obamacare regimen, he has a better likelihood of drawing some Democrat Senators when a full plan comes to a vote in the Senate. I am largely pessimistic about the chances of Democrats crossing the aisle on anything as long as President Trump is in office. For example, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) described it as “an empty facade that would create chaos.” That is not the greatest first impression one could have received from Democrat leadership. However, that may also be the opening salvo in a long debate on health care reform.

Across the aisle, some conservatives will argue that it maintains too much of the Affordable Care Act. The tax regimen would not change, and that is a major issue for some such as the Freedom Caucus.  Some federal regulations that are popular would remain, but some conservatives feel that such federal rules help distort the free market. Finally, this plan is not cheap, as it largely maintains the overall federal costs that would have been incurred under Obamacare. Are conservative Republicans willing to maintain that level of federal funding? That remains an open question.

In short, the Patient Freedom Act is a well thought out piece of legislation, and any fair-minded reader would have difficulty in saying that both Sens. Cassidy and Collins have not honestly put forth a solid effort in providing a plan that would answer most critics’ questions.  That said, like every health care reform plan, it has costs and benefits; there is simply no way to escape that.  It provides both states and individuals more freedom of choice than Obamacare, but in turn, provides slightly less benefit for some patients, especially the sick and the elderly.  It also maintains the ACA taxes in the short run, which will put off many hard-core conservatives. This is a trade-off, and politicians will  have to decide if that trade-off is worth it.  But in toto, it is a valiant effort that should be taken seriously as we move forward in the coming reform debate.

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The Inauguration of Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States

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Today, January 20, 2017, Donald J. Trump will place his hand on the Lincoln Bible, and take the oath of office to become the 45th President of the United States.

Exactly 8 years ago, I wrote a similar post to this one, regarding the 44th President, Barack H. Obama, that can be read  here.

There is a lot of similarities in my feelings regarding these two men, even though those opinions are separated by 8 years, large policy difference, and two completely different political parties.

This is what I said about Obama at the time:

I for one did not support the election of Mr. Obama. That said, even for me this moment is one to behold. Unlike many minorities, I have always believed in my heart that I would see a member of a racial minority elected president; I only wish it were a Republican! I never had a doubt in my mind that this would happen in my lifetime, unlike many in our society and in the mainstream media who proclaimed they never believed it would happen. Maybe it is a generational difference; I think most in my generation are proud, but not surprised, that we elected an African American President. I think there is also a divide among African Americans and the rest of American society. My African American friends still believe Obama’s election is surreal, that it can’t be happening. This is even more so with older African Americans, especially those that lived through the civil rights era of the 1960s. But ultimately, most people I know, even most Republicans who don’t support Mr. Obama’s policies, are proud that we were able to elect an African American to lead us.

Even now, after all the disunity that Mr. Obama caused with his policies over 8 years, I feel very much the same way. Obama’s legacy may be damaged, but the fact the US was able to elect a minority to the highest job in the land is something that shows the continual maturity of our great nation.

I concluded my piece about Obama’s Inauguration this way:

Don’t get me wrong. Mr. Obama is the American President. He is my president. I wish him no ill; in fact, if he does spectacularly, I will seriously consider voting for him in 4 years. But that does not mean that he should not be criticized. In fact, it is patriotic to criticize anyone and everyone who you disagree with politically. The political dialogue improves the country.

So, on this historic day, I wish Barack and Michelle Obama, and their two lovely daughters, all the congratulations and best wishes in the world. They will need our best wishes for what lies before them. And I hope Americans remember that the political fight is what makes us the greatest democracy in the world. I will fully support Mr. Obama when I agree with him, and fight tooth and nail when I don’t. I don’t think President Obama would want to have it any other way. As my hero, and Barrack Obama’s, Abraham Lincoln wrote to Horace Greeley on August 22, 1862,

I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views…I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men, everywhere, could be free.

Again, the similarities to today are stunning. I did not support Mr. Trump, but he is still my president. I wish him the best, and if the does a superb job, I will seriously consider voting for him in 4 years. Note that Mr. Obama was not able to achieve that goal, as I voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.

I hold to the standard that it is patriotic to criticize any person in power, and the more dialogue and discussion we have, the stronger this nation will be. I hope that Trump and the Republican party, who defended dissent for 8 years, holds to that philosophy.

And finally, I wish Donald Trump and his entire family congratulations, and nothing but the best wishes for the years to come.

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Trump Versus The GOP’s Obamacare Repeal and Delay Folly

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The race to repeal the Affordable Care Act is now on.  The promises of President-Elect Trump, as well as the Republican Congress, now come to fruition as they are left to deliver on their mandate to roll back Obamacare permanently.

Republican leaders on both sides of the Hill have largely focused on a strategy of repealing the majority of Obamacare through reconciliation, leaving components of the law intact because it would require a 60 seat majority in the Senate to pass.  In turn, once this repeal has been passed, the revenue stream will be phased out over time, leaving the country with an open question: what happens next?

That is the $2 trillion question.

First, let me stipulate that every conservative policy expert I have talked to uniformly agrees this is the moment to repeal as much of Obamacare as possible. Yes, components of the law will remain (such as regulatory restrictions like community rating, which impose high costs on the insurance market). However, the GOP will never have a window of opportunity like this to repeal the law, and if they are honest about their promises, they must move forward quickly.

Conservative Health Care Wonk Avik Roy argues that the GOP has no choice but to move forward with ‘repeal and delay':

The fundamental problem is that in order to fully replace Obamacare, Republicans need to come up with a bipartisan plan that can attract the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Democratic filibuster.

Given that Republicans don’t even agree among themselves as to how to replace Obamacare, it’s going to take them some time—at least a year or two—to figure out how to do that.

Based on dozens of conversations I’ve had with Democrats on this subject, it seems clear that Republicans’ best and only chance to get 60 votes is to develop a plan that can cover approximately the same number of people as Obamacare—and ideally more.

Think about it the other way around. If Republicans try to pass legislation that covers 10 million fewer people than Obamacare, most Democrats won’t support it. And then when Obamacare’s funding streams expire, Dems will blame Republicans for the resultant turmoil. On the other hand, if Republicans draft legislation that credibly covers a comparable number of people to the ACA, then it’s Democrats who would look stubborn if they refuse to play ball.

The argument is sound, but that said, the process argued for here to repeal and delay is steeped with risks.

Roy argues that the GOP would have leverage to force at least 7 Democrats to join the Republican effort to replace Obamacare…but is such leverage realistic?

Consider this scenario: the GOP repeals much of the funding for Obamacare, and basically promises that the exchanges are not going to extend past 2019. What then is the incentive for insurers to stay on the exchanges? Many have already been hemorrhaging money, but willing to stick it out in hopes of establishing a long-term viable marketplace. With that incentive gone, there is no reason for them to suffer through the losses entailed. The death spiral of the exchanges are likely to accelerate, rather quickly.

By 2018, what would the exchanges look like in this scenario? My guess is that most of the major players would exit by the end of 2017, basically leaving consumers with few if any choices for health care. This, in turn, likely would increase the rate of premium cost increases, further increasing financial pressure on the middle class.  In that environment, who would have the leverage…Republicans or Democrats? I would argue the latter; with elections nearing, Democrats would lay the blame for the entire mess on the Republican Party, and would have legitimate claims to do so.  They would have no incentive to compromise until after the midterm elections.

Even if the GOP survived with a slightly larger Senate majority after 2018, what are the chances that Democrats would side with Republicans on a plan that would eliminate abortion coverage?  That would narrow Medicaid expansion?  Destroy the individual mandate? I find the likelihood of that exactly the same as when I was asked in late 2009 what the chances were that Republicans would join Obama in the ACA effort: slim to nil.

Note that Chuck Schumer, the new Democrat Senate Leader, has been quite clear on this front:

“We’re not going to do a replacement,” Schumer said of the Senate Democratic caucus. “If they repeal without a replacement, they will own it. Democrats will not then step up to the plate and come up with a half-baked solution that we will partially own. It’s all theirs.”…

Asked directly if Democrats would refuse to support anything that falls significantly short of the ACA in terms of expanding social welfare, Schumer said: “The odds, after they repeal without any replacement, of us sitting at the table to do something that will chop one arm off instead of two is very small.”

Why wouldn’t we take him at his word on something like this?

The irony of this is that as I have gotten attacked for this position, I have gained a powerful and strange bedfellow: President Elect Donald J. Trump. Trump, in his recent press conference, basically promised a repeal and replace strategy, not just one relegated to the former.

Mr. Trump appeared to be unclear both about the timing of already scheduled votes in Congress and about the difficulty of his demand — a repeal vote “probably some time next week” and a replacement “very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter.”

But he was clear on one point: Plans by congressional Republicans to repeal the health law now, then take years to create and implement a replacement law are unacceptable to the incoming president.

Trump understands that the political risk of leaving the ‘replace’ portion of health care reform is steeped with major political downsides for him.  If he is going to take this on, far better the does it swiftly and quickly, instead of letting the issues drag on over time, because time is not his friend.

The questions surrounding what a conservative health care plan would look like remain the same today as they were in 2009: will the Federal government subsidize health care? Will it continue Medicaid expansion?  Will it protect people with pre-existing conditions? Will it maintain coverage for young people under their parent’s plan until age 26? Will their be a mandate to buy insurance, or will you use other methods, such as continuous coverage mandates, to guarantee everyone has some basic level of insurance?

James Capretta of the American Enterprise Institute lays out the obvious tradeoffs involved in any health care reform…and these tradeoffs will not change over time:

To succeed in this effort, however, House and Senate Republicans, as well as the incoming Trump administration, must dispense with wishful thinking. There is no plan for replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that is without political controversy. Whatever they do will involve trade-offs, and in some cases they will be attacked by their political opponents for doing what is necessary but perhaps unpopular.

 

Further, there is no silver bullet for reforming health care that will solve all the existing problems. Health-care policy is complicated and does not lend itself to simple solutions. What’s needed most of all is the discipline of a well-functioning marketplace. Getting there will require many changes, in public insurance, employer plans, Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), and the individual insurance market. While Medicare changes can be addressed separately from other reforms, it will not be possible to replace the main provisions of the ACA in incremental, piecemeal bills, as has been suggested by some in Congress. An effective ACA replacement plan will need to ensure that changes in Medicaid, the individual insurance market, and employer-sponsored plans work well together to provide insurance options for the entire non-elderly population. That will happen only if these changes are made in one coherent reform plan so that interactions among various provisions can be understood and anticipated.

Republicans must also drop their ambivalence about embracing the goal of providing a ready and reliable pathway to insurance for all Americans. It should be self-evident, and not at all controversial to acknowledge, that health insurance is a necessity of modern life. Only the very affluent can afford to pay the cost of treating many forms of cancer without health insurance, and no one is immune from cancer, or a costly accident for that matter. Moreover, households with low incomes will never be able to pay the premiums for health insurance without governmental assistance.

The questions go on and on…and don’t get any easier with time. There are costs and benefits to every one of those policy decisions, and all come with political risks.  Republicans are extremely risk averse when approaching these issues, but ultimately there is no way to escape from that; Democrats learned that lesson all too well in the years after ACA passage.

While the GOP appears ambivalent to take on these issues head on, and deal with them immediately…Trump, for better or worse, does not. Now that he has come out in favor of immediate replacement, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and others are lining up to do just that, regardless of their concerns.

There are ways Republicans can limit their immediate downside risk. For one, they can grandfather current ACA plans, to reduce disruption in the market. They can stabilize the Medicaid system, while continuing to move forward on much-needed long-term reforms of the program. They already appear to be moving full speed ahead on reforming the tax code to provide more equal treatment of benefits under the law, while giving more access to Health Savings Accounts across the board.

Simply put, if the Republicans have meant what they have said for the past 8 years regarding the Affordable Care Act, this is the time to put up or shut up. Donald Trump has taken the first step in this process by staking his flag upon immediate repeal and replace. It is time for the Republican Party to live up to the same promise.

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America: The Land Of Bubbles

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Another central moment in society, another political controversy.

Last night, Hollywood held their annual Golden Globe Awards ceremony. During the average year, I would avoid watching this somewhat like I avoid a prostate exam or root canal.  I can think of few things that annoy me more than a bunch of elitist actors and Hollywood producers drinking expensive champagne, wearing $10, 000 dresses and million dollar necklaces, congratulating themselves on their own theatrical glory. But my wife begged me, and well, I acceded.

But last night, they found a new way to annoy me.

Forget that fact that the award show spent three hours, and not a single, competent joke regarding Trump was made. I mean…isn’t Donald Trump the easiest comedic target in modern history? How can a room full of entertainers tell three hours of bad jokes about Trump? Yet, this group pulled that fantastic feat off.

Then, it got worse.

Meryl Streep, receiving a lifetime achievement award for the 97th time, took the opportunity to spend several minutes lecturing America about how evil and destructive our next President of the United States is.

You can read the transcript here, and you can find the video almost everywhere.

The first problem with Streep’s commentary was somehow trying to portray those in the hall listening to her as victims.  Streep started her commentary by stating the following: “You and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now.”

Really?  Do those people in that hall (who probably have an average net worth in the tens of millions of dollars) really consider themselves the most vilified segment of America?  Trump spent months attaching illegal immigrants, and even a fair number of legal immigrants. But those millionaires are the real victims?

Then, to compound her arrogance, Streep doubled down on her condescension of middle America:

Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. If you kick ‘em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.

This, to me, was the most out of touch statement in her entire speech. First, it presumes there are not immigrants working in football (or other sports)…which is clearly false. Second, it shows the bubble in which entertainers live in. They believe their artistic foray is the only one that matters, that is relevant, that is important.

Let us note a fact: The Golden Globes was CRUSHED in the ratings by a first round NFL playoff game yesterday.  The Golden Globes received 9.76 million viewers last night. The Giants/Packers game? 34.28 million viewers.  The arrogance (and ignorance) of Meryl Streep is quite apparent.  And Hollywood would pray for the time of advertisement numbers the Super Bowl would get, let alone a early playoff game.

That said, what bothered me most was not her opinion of Donald Trump. As a long time former member of the #NeverTrump allegiance…I agreed with many of her opinions of our new Commander-in-Chief.  And even the environment which she chose to lecture the American electorate about her opinions was not all that offensive to me (though it is kind of strange to watch the 0.00001% talk as if they are victims in our society).

No. What bothered me is how ineffectual her argument was, and how little Liberals have learned about the Trump phenomenon over the last year.

If lecturing America about how dangerous Trump’s rhetoric can be was effective, or that his character is not fit for the Oval Office, Trump not only would not have won the Presidency…he wouldn’t have ever won the Republican nomination. Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and all the other Republican candidates spent months screaming that message, to no avail. Hillary Clinton did the same, along with $500 million or more in advertisements, and still lost the Electoral Vote.

Now, it has become a cottage industry in conservative circles to become outraged when Liberal Actors do or say something ignorant or stupid. But again…Streep’s comments were less ignorant than they were simply foolish.  I made this comment on Twitter as I was listening to Streep’s diatribe:

Now, maybe we shouldn’t expect anything more from Hollywood, who has time and again proven they are completely tone-deaf when it comes to Trump’s appeal to Middle America.  But many mainstream journalists sat up and applauded Streep’s speech. Those who have followed Trump for the last two years should know that such a spectacle only emboldens Trump, and makes his devout followers love him more. The fact that these journalists don’t realize that Trump was ecstatic to get this kind of attention boggles my mind. After more than a year of Trump, have they not learned that every time one of these incidents happen, Trump comes out on top in the end? Its almost as if they still haven’t accept the reality of this past year’s election cycle.

But this is larger than Meryl Streep, or Hollywood; let us look at the larger picture. Time and again, we have controversies like this where two large segments of America think they are totally, 100% right, and the other side is clueless and lost. This is the problem we have in this country today; both sides live in bubbles, echo chambers of media and news in which we have a feedback loop which convinces us our view point is the only viewpoint with any significant basis in truth.

The reality is Meryl Streep is not fully wrong in her comments. Trump can be a danger to the country…we should never fool ourselves otherwise. But Streep and others, by dismissing his entire movement as evil and racist, do the country a disservice. Instead, maybe they should look in the mirror, and accept their own failures. Furthermore, by dismissing entire large swathes of the population who were open to Trump’s message, they further distance themselves from the very people whose opinion they are trying to convert…that is a level of stupidity I cannot fathom.

Hollywood’s blind support of liberal causes will, year after year, give them less and less clout on the political stage. Streep is a perfect example; does anyone, anywhere, believe her speech changed a single mind? I profoundly doubt that is the case. All it did was enforce pre-existing notions about our enemies across the aisle, further enforcing the bubbles we live in.

Someone, at some point in time, is going to have to be able to burst those bubbles. At some point, if there is going to be a successful voice in uniting America in a common cause, regardless of which side of the political aisle they come from, some leader is going to have to be able to go to Middle America, into Hollywood, into inner cities, into churches across the United States, and be able to give a message of unity and hope.

But as of now, considering all we continue to see, I remain pessimistic that such an individual with those skills and messages will be seen any time soon.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Movie Review

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Rogue One: A Star Wars story, Disney’s first foray into the larger expanded Star Wars Universe, was attacked with numerous whispers of disarray, bad scripting, rewrites and reshoots, and was rumored to be a train wreck waiting to happen.

Those were all false, at least when it comes to the final product.

In virtually every way that the Prequels were a failure, and in many ways where Episode VII: The Force Awakens never reached its full potential and greatness…Rogue One succeeds.

First…there is no opening crawl. That tells the viewers, from the very first instant, that this isn’t your father’s Star Wars.  Disney clearly is making a clear distinction from the core Star Wars movies, and its expanded universe.

The story begins after the events of Episode III and just before the events of Episode IV. The Empire is at the peak of its power, and is now consolidating that power in the from of  the galaxy’s greatest weapon: The Death Star.

Jyn Erso Jyn (Felecity Jones, Oscar-nominated for “The Theory of Everything”) heads up a Rebel team who sets out to steal the blueprints for the Death Star, in the hopes of halting the growing power of the Empire. She is chosen because her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) is a “collaborator” with the Empire, and is critical in its construction. Her team includes various outcasts, from Rebel diehards to criminals, that are all brought together for a common cause.

Director Gareth Edwards does a magnificent job of blending not only characters and themes from the original movies, but also providing this movie its own character and depth.  The battle scenes are what grabbed me the most; the scenes are more like something akin to Saving Private Ryan than the war scenes we have seen from Star Wars before. The scope, and danger, of the events is brought to you in full living color.

Are there political messages in the movie? Some Twitter groups have argued one way or another. I would say Star Wars is primarily about the fight for freedom, and not a particular political message, though if you want to read between the lines, I am sure there are plenty of philosophical threads you can grasp on to.

Ultimately, the verdict is pretty simple: this movie works. It works as a stand alone action movie, even if you have never watched a Star Wars film in your life. It works brilliant as another piece to the historical puzzle of the Star Wars Universe. If this is the quality of films that Disney is going to bring to fruition in the next few years, Star Wars fans are going to be elated for a long time to come.

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Hypocrisy, And Lessons Left Unlearned

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Let me remind you first of all that I did not vote for Donald Trump. In fact, I was one of the earliest adopters of the #NeverTrump label, and declared I could not vote for him as early as August 2015.

I don’t say this as a statement of pride or exaltation, but as a simple fact, because where I go from here is going to anger people who opposed Trump.

I understand you are angry, despondent, outraged, confused. I know the feeling well.

Four years ago, I was you. So were my friends and conservative brethren.

When Romney lost, our entire worldview changed. We thoroughly, completely believed that Barack Obama was a failure, and that his record would matter ultimately. It did not. Nothing mattered. Not his foreign policy disasters. Not is muddled economic plan. Not Obamacare.

Today, liberals are in the same place. They cannot fathom that Hillary Clinton lost to a social media neophyte who had more gaffes than actual policy positions, that had as many scandals as any presidential candidate, ran the most ridiculous campaign in modern history…and proved everyone wrong by actually winning.

Trust me…I feel your pain.

But what got us here? That is the question that should be echoing through our consciousness, over and over and over again. If you are shocked, or angry, about Trump now being the 45th President of the United States, ask yourself: is there any way that you were culpable in this?

I say most of us were, and the reason is pretty simple: gross, absurd hypocrisy.

On every level, whether you are a liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, White or Minority…the reason that the Trump base came out and voted was because of the continued, constant and absurd hypocrisy of every group in power.

Republicans (traditional Republicans) led the way, by making promises and never keeping them.

Democrats, from Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton on downwards were right there with them, promising to be defenders of all, but when the concerns of these groups were considered silly and distasteful, they were labeled racists, clinging to ‘their God and guns’, and deplorable.

And the mainstream press and entertainment industry, which was almost universally opposed to anything Trump said or did, and basically insulted Trump voters from day 1…what reaction did these people expect?

If you disrespect a large portion of the country for long enough, they look for a way to react. This was actually true in 2008 too, as Minorities, fed up with Republicans ignoring them and because of the economic collapse, came out in droves to elect Obama. This is nothing new.

But considering the reaction of the last few days, we’ve learned nothing.

The last few nights, a small cohort of Hillary voters, rightfully angered by the election result…decided that the proper response to their anger and disappointment was…violence and mayhem.

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Now, I am one of the largest defenders of free speech will ever find…I am an extremist and absolutist on the matter. And I defend their right to protest peacefully. But the violence was completely unnecessary and overboard.

As for the messages…the messages were tone-deaf. These people have learned nothing from this election. This was precisely the behavior of disdain and disrespect that helped Trump coalesce a coalition of people, many of whom don’t even like Trump.

Many in the media were on the air, describing Trump supporters as racists and bigots, while the clip shot behind them showed liberal anarchists and thugs burning dumpsters, defiling public streets and smashing windows.

Many in middle America, even if they are not Trump supporters, look at these images and think, “I want no part of that”.

In truth, I fully believe there is violence on both sides. I think emotions are at an all time high, and our leaders need to calm things down. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Donald Trump so far have done a fairly decent job speaking to these problems, but more needs to be done.

On the other hand, just imagine in an alternate universe, where Hillary Clinton had won, and Trump supporters marched down the streets of major cities burning debris and flags, and smashing windows. Saying that Hillary was not their President, and burning her in effigy and hanging her puppet by a noose (which occurred to Trump at Progressive rallies yesterday). What would the media and Leftists be calling them?

They would be calling them fascist, authoritarian Brownshirts.

But I have yet to hear a single journalist describe these protesters as such. Instead, you have Van Jones on CNN saying that we must ‘understand their anger’. We had Rachel Maddow applauding the protesters. Imagine from the other side, and think of how they view this.

This is the hypocrisy that is central to understanding why Trump won. Yes, Trump was distasteful, and I won’t defend many of his past comments. Yes, there are real racists in the midst of crowds coming out for Trump. But there are also average Americans, not racists or bigots, simple people who want to earn a living, send their kids to school, to have hope for the future, who have been dismissed by all the major forces in American society for years, demanding to be heard, demanding to have equal footing for their concerns and worries.

From the behavior of many in the last few days, I think they are going to make those problems of disunity and disrespect worse, not better.

This is not to pick sides either. I am fully aware there are awful acts being caused by idiots on both sides; I am also aware that these are a small minority of individuals on both sides, and not the core values of either group. Mostly, I am aware that the violence must stop. This is Republic, based on democracy, and the voters have spoken. We have a right to be angry, but responsible people have a responsibility to accept that defeat, and move forward to help the opponents they so despise, because the good of the country must come above all else. But until we can get past the anger and hurt feelings, we will have a cycle of hypocrisy and hate that will guide our future.

 

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Election Mea Culpa, Part Deux

Sad puppy is sad for not doing better.

Sad puppy is sad for not doing better.

I like many others have tried to figure out what evidence we clearly missed as Donald Trump stormed his way through the Rust Belt states to defeat Hillary Clinton. There will be extensive debate and literature on how the mainstream media and intelligentsia misrepresented or disillusioned itself regarding the reality of the electorate. I myself pointed to mistakes I made in evaluating the election, especially the ground game in Ohio.

But for me, this is more than a data argument..it is one of personal reflection.

As I look back, I definitely think I need to apologize to some people for how I reacted and behaved, especially regarding Trump.

I have a long-standing personal position that it isn’t worth getting angry about politics. However, Trump supporters did that to me. They would use trigger words that would get me into a spiral. They somehow angered me in ways liberal trolls never did.

But my fault was biting on the hook.

The irony of it is I knew I would regret that behavior later on, regardless of whether Trump or Hillary won the election. But I let people get under my skin…something I had promised myself I would not do. I will have to do better. And I apology for not having done so.

That said…I am still proud of the positions I took. Even looking back, in retrospect, I would not change how I voted, or what I said regarding policies and conservative principles. To me, without those principles, we simply become a demagogic movement, instead of an intellectual one. I want no part of that. My conscience is clear.

Some Trump supporter are angry that I have not departed from my positions. I will politely tell them they will have to live with it. At the same time, I am going to give Donald Trump all the support I can when he supports and advances conservative causes..because the conservative movement is my primary goal. When those goals are aligned with the Republican Party, I will fight for them; when they are not, they will not have my support. I have no idea if Donald Trump will consider people such as myself as his ally; but I will ally myself with Trump when it benefits the country, without hesitation.

On the other hand, my sympathy goes out to Democrats and Liberals. I feel your pain; four years ago, I was in the exact same position as you were: disillusioned beyond belief that the country was not the way I perceived it, and having no idea where we go from here.

That said: liberals need to take a deep breath, and move forward. It will not happen quickly or smoothly, but it must happen. Donald Trump is your President, for better or worse.

Personally, I will provide Trump the same approach that I would have for Hillary Clinton, or I did for Barack Obama. I believe all Presidents deserve a honeymoon period to acclimate to the most difficult job in the world. I think they deserve to make their arguments for new policies, and we should give them as much latitude as possible.

On the eve of his 2008 inauguration, I said this about the new President:

Mr. Obama is the American President. He is my president. I wish him no ill; in fact, if he does spectacularly, I will seriously consider voting for him in 4 years. But that does not mean that he should not be criticized.In fact, it is patriotic to criticize anyone and everyone who you disagree with politically. The political dialogue improves the country.

So, on this historic day, I wish Barack and Michelle Obama, and their two lovely daughters, all the congratulations and best wishes in the world. They will need our best wishes for what lies before them. And I hope Americans remember that the political fight is what makes us the greatest democracy in the world. I will fully support Mr. Obama when I agree with him, and fight tooth and nail when I don’t. I don’t think President Obama would want to have it any other way. As my hero, and Barrack Obama’s, Abraham Lincoln wrote to Horace Greeley on August 22, 1862,

I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views…I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men, everywhere, could be free.

I actually  make a very similar pledge about Trump. He is my President, the American President. If he does a good job, I will absolutely consider voting for him in four years. But he should be criticized when deserved, and I believe it is my patriotic duty to do so. But I absolutely wish his family the best, and wish him the best as we move forward.