Friday, April 28, 2017

Trump's 'Rookie Error' Revisited


Chuck Schumer asked the question about the health-care bill that no one at the White House asked. The New York Democratic senator put it rhetorically to The New York Times: “Why,” he asked, “would you risk voting yes for a bill that is devastating to your constituents and has no chance of becoming law?”

That plain-spoken common sense bore itself out on April 27th, as the Republican-led House of Representatives failed to come to agreement on the American Health Care Act, again not bringing it to the floor of the House for another vote that was destined to fail, like the original bill was predicted to do, on March 24th.

The bill, with some tweaks and variations, was expected to finally be one of the Trump administration’s campaign Promises Kept (that and the border wall). In fact, the AHCA has become more clearly to the public what it’s always been: a deeply cynical and poorly-conceived effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, one that, by some estimates, would have cost 24 million Americans their access to health insurance.

Read the full report at The Swamp

Image credits: Tweet: @DebraMessing. Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

[Unintelligible.]: Trump’s mental health
and the questions that won’t go away


THE WORLD according to Trump is a frighteningly disjointed, bizarro-Tetris-on-steroids, Machiavellian, zero-sum-game mashup of situational identities, convenient allegiances and, always and always, vast financial entitlement. And for all who would have us believe that the Trump world view is animated by intent — that all of this crap, every aspect of his public persona, is on purpose — there’s a growing number of clinicians, mental health experts and health professionals who are coming to a more sobering assessment: Donald Trump can’t help himself, his mental health is bad and it’s getting worse.

Bob Cesca in Salon picked up on some of the behavioral anomalies: “When he desperately avoids details by rotating through his mental rotisserie of superlatives (‘very, very’ or ‘tremendous’ or ‘terrific’ or whatever hyperbolic pitchman gibberish he’s trained himself to repeat), he comes off as an uninformed dolt, conspicuously avoiding questions with more vigor than he avoids strong gusts of wind.

“Conversely, when Trump struggles to repeat issue-oriented details, he comes off as a scattered, barely coherent toddler attempting to repeat something he heard at the grown-ups’ table and failing badly.”

◊ ◊ ◊

That’s part of the problem. Some of the rest is found in a partial transcript of a Trump interview with The Associated Press, the president-apparent responding to AP about the importance of the presidency and the responsibilities of the job:

“Number One, there’s great responsibility. When it came time to, as an example, send out the 59 missiles, the Tomahawks in Syria. I’m saying to myself, “You know, this is more than just like, 79 missiles. This is death that’s involved, because people could have been killed. This is risk that’s involved, because if the missile goes off and goes in a city or goes in a civilian area — you know, the boats were hundreds of miles away — and if this missile goes off and lands in the middle of a town or a hamlet . . . every decision is much harder than you’d normally make. [Unintelligible.]

“This is involving death and life and so many things. . . . So it’s far more responsibility. [unintelligible].”

◊ ◊ ◊

THE PALMER Report, a news blog by Bill Palmer (founder, editor in chief, and muckraker in the best sense of the word), put things in perspective just after Easter weekend: “Over the weekend Donald Trump humiliated himself by not remembering to put his hand over his heart during the Easter Egg Roll, and then taking a kid’s hat from him and autographing it before randomly flinging it into the crowd – seemingly forgetting that the kid had just handed it to him.

“Then he went on Fox News and unwittingly revealed he didn’t remember that Kim Jong-Il gave way to Kim Jong-Un in North Korea six years ago.

“Then he began repeatedly referring to his close ally Paul Ryan as ‘Ron’ during a Tuesday rally in Ryan’s home state. And this came after Trump bombed Syria and then immediately announced that he had bombed Iraq instead.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Recently, The Palmer Report retweeted the observation of Brenda J. Iannucci, M.D., a medical doctor and cognitive function specialist in New York state. Dr. Iannucci (tweeting as Brenda Ji) summed up Trump’s apparently deepening lack of recall in the following fashion: “Cognitive failure in Trump: naming functions located frontotemporal regions of brain. Recall and reasoning fail concurrently.”

It’s not the first time health problems have been expressed as the reason for Trump’s rather ... singular behavior, which started before his installation on Jan. 20th.

It’s thought by some that Trump suffers from malignant narcissism, characterized by a thirst for admiration; a more or less universal suspicion of anyone outside an inner circle; aggression ... and a host of other malign behavioral patterns.

◊ ◊ ◊

USING from-afar clinical assessments of Dr. John D. Gartner, a psychologist formerly on the faculty at Johns Hopkins, and conclusions distilled from anecdotal examples and the comments of Trump intimates (including ex-wife Ivana Trump), journalist Shane Show came to the “diagnosis” that Trump is plagued with malignant narcissism. Snow’s conclusions, though not coming from a clinician in the field, are nonetheless a compelling read (complete with play-by-play and a scorecard), whether you think he’s right or not.

Snow’s analysis gets additional traction from Gartner, whom Snow interviewed for his blogpost. Gartner described for the journalist the origins of the phrase “malignant narcissism”:

“The concept was developed by a famed psychologist named Erich Fromm, who escaped Nazi Germany, as a way to describe evil,” Gartner says. “He used it to describe Hitler.”

◊ ◊ ◊

In February, The New Republic boldly speculated that our asterisked chief executive “may have an untreated sexually transmitted disease that has led to a condition called ‘neurosyphilis,’ characterized by ‘irritability, loss of ability to concentrate, delusional thinking, and grandiosity.’”

Psychoanalysts and psychiatrists are also considering Trump’s behavior as the manifestation of a “dark triad” personality exhibiting three specific traits: machiavellianism (an inclination toward manipulative behavior), narcissism (excessive love of one’s self), and psychopathy (a lack of empathy).

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Killing O'Reilly on TV


Ladies and gentlemen, this long national nightmare is over. Bill O’Reilly, for 21 years the host of The O’Reilly Factor, the voice and face of the Fox News Channel, and on-air avatar of the Pantone-red conservative movement, has left the Fox News building in Manhattan. Long the target and subject of sexual harassment lawsuits alleging wanton misogyny, bullying, intimidation and innuendo, O’Reilly was fired on April 19th, reportedly received an exit payout somewhere in the well-heeled neighborhood of $25 million.

“I will always look back on my time at Fox with great pride in the unprecedented success we achieved and with my deepest gratitude to all my dedicated viewers,” O'Reilly said in a statement. “I wish only the best for Fox News Channel.”

Since then, Fox News has been rearranging its lineup, working to fill a gaping hole in its programming schedule. The fallout of O’Reilly’s absence from advertiser-dependent TV will continue for a while, but the impact of his departure will be felt on three fronts more or less immediately, and for maybe longer than “a while” ...

Read the full story at The Swamp

Image credits: O'Reilly: Fox News screengrab. The Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

The wannabe emperor’s new polls,
and the ones before that


NEVER IN modern times has an American president fallen so far among so many of his fellow citizens so fast. That’s the main takeaway about the Trump White House from the latest opinion polls, any one of which seem to reinforce the results of the one before that and the one before that.

If the ascendancy of House Trump was a miracle of political aviation, the multitude of surveys from several established polling organizations point to that miracle approaching stall speed … some unknown time before the flagship of Icarus Airlines begins the five-spiral crash we know is coming.

We’ve seen the mountain looming in the windshield from a long ways off. There’s chronology and context growing into our popular perception of this manqué presidency, and it doesn’t look good for House Trump.

◊ ◊ ◊

It’s easy to react to one of a collection of the latest polls from a day or two ago or a week ago. That’s part of a snapshot view of the public mood about the Trump administration. What’s telling is what comes next. What comes next is another, closer, wider look at what came before.

The same downbeat reaction to Trump policies and initiatives, the same oppositional perspectives from the voting public, have been the one consistent reaction from much of the voting public that publicly voted his way in November. And that’s the throughline that’s been building for weeks and months.

Never mind the snapshot, the Movie of House Trump is not an especially good one right now, and based on what we know of the director’s previous work, it ain’t gettin’ any better from here on in. The last 100 days don’t augur well for the next 100 weeks.

Read the rest at The Omnibus @Medium

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Three takes on 4/20 revisited


In the midst of a change in the national mood, and anticipating the next wave of entrepreneurial masters of herb, the term "4/20" has truly attained the, uh, high ground in benevolent public perception. This in the face of the rise of a wannabe emperor of a president, and a presumably renascent white supremacist movement. A lot can go down in seven years. It's all different from 2010, when I wrote the piece that follows, and much the same. The time seems right to bring it back; it's here with its historical ironies intact (with a tweak here and there):


What the hell is it about the twentieth of April anyway. For generations now the 110th day of the year has been a source of fascination bordering on … well, not bordering on anything so much as tipped over into obsession.

For numerologists, the number 420 has meant deception, fraud and subterfuge. Fans of nursery rhymes point to the line in “Sing a Song of Sixpence” (four and twenty black birds baked in a pie”). Fans of rock point to Stephen Stills plaintive “4+20,” what you get when you multiply the numbers in the title of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35.”

For the rest of us, the calendrical variation of the number 420 — the date April 20th — usually, or at least often, comes to three things:

There’s Adolf’s birthday. Yes, even demons have birthdays. The enduring symbol of how the cult of personality can be twisted into monumental evil was born this day in 1889, in what was then Austria-Hungary. The rest is history more ably recounted elsewhere, and lived, to one degree or another, everywhere.

It’s a comforting idea, the idea that by common consent any associations between Adolf Hitler and April 20 could be expunged from the record of our collective memory, the better to reinforce his expulsion from the garden of humanity. ...

Read the full 2010 post here

Through the Latest Looking Glasses



When Snap Inc., creators of Snapchat, announced in September its plans to roll out its first actual product, the video-enhanced Spectacles eyewear, speculation was strong that the product would be a game-changer in the world of wearable technology.

Fast forward eight months. A Wyoming entrepreneur has taken to Kickstarter as he prepares to roll out his own line of video-enhanced sunglasses, with some tweaks to what Snap wrought last year. But while these upstarts are raising the bar on what’s possible in a wearable-tech market estimated to grow dramatically — to $25 billion by 2019, according to industry analyst CCS Insight — there’s another, more serious side to the wearable-camera trend.

In a nation that’s a collection of states with differing laws governing use of police body cameras, the upstarts could be accidental disrupters, filling a need for public accountability that law enforcement can’t, or won’t, address. ...

Read the full report in OMNI

Image credits: OMNI logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

When Artificial Intelligence = Not Enough Intelligence



It’s a staple of science fiction: the devices made by humans run afoul of their creators by learning how humans think. From the renegade HAL9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey to the replicants in the sci-fi classic Blade Runner to the robot in the 2014 hit Ex Machina, and others besides — all would eventually achieve the same cunning and brutality as the human beings who created them.

On April 13th, the website Science reported the latest unsettling news of how algorithms being used to develop artificial intelligence systems are — like the mechanisms of the movies — getting better at internalizing bad habits of their human creators, via written language and text. ...

Read the full report at OMNI

Image credits: HAL9000 computer image: From 2001: A Space Odyssey (MGM). OMNI logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The, um, Evolution of Donald Trump


THIS TIME a year ago, Donald Trump was throwing red meat to the crowds with both hands at campaign rallies across America; their appetite as political carnivores helped power Trump into the White House. But reality has a way of intruding on fantasy -- to be expected when the fantasy depends on the reality to exist.

Now, we’re starting to see the slightest pivot toward geopolitical and economic reality – realpolitik – taking shape within House Trump. We don’t know for sure who the Donald Whisperer is: maybe Firstborn Plenipotentiary Ivanka Trump, or presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, in his emerging role as a chief personal counselor to the president, a kind of Rasputin in chief.

It sure as hell ain’t Steve Bannon.

Whoever the Oval Office Jiminy Cricket is has been whispering words of a pushback into Trump’s coiffed ear, a recognition of how the big-boy-pants world works -- of what is, finally, the difference between campaigning and governing. ... a difference that Trump has been hard-pressed to observe even before taking office in January.

That pivotal distinction never went away, and it never will. Trump is being dragged, kicking and not quite screaming, to realizing that. There’s a lot of recent evidence to show that process has already taken place. ...

Read the full story in The Swamp

Image credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking.  Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The inconclusive GOP 'autopsy'


Nothing blunts the inconvenient discomfort of failure like the narcotic of success. Achieving victory has a way of obscuring the pre-existing conditions that could have otherwise led to defeat. The Republican Party avoided defeat in 2016, but the GOP had fundamental, deeply structural problems brewing long before the 2016 election. Those problems didn’t vanish when Donald Trump raised his right hand in January. ...

In American politics, a victory, even an unexpected one, makes it hard to believe there’s anything wrong, in your campaign or your party. The thousand-candlepower glow of a win in November — one that ushered in an historic Republican majority in both chambers — has blinded the GOP to the need to come to grips with changes it needed to make as a party, at every meaningful level, before the Trump juggernaut even got started. ...

Read the full analysis in The Swamp.

Image credits: Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC. Elephant X-ray: William Dwight Whitney The Century Dictionary: An Encyclopedic Lexicon of the English Language (New York, NY: The Century Co., 1911)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

‘Rookie error’: The disaster of TrumpCare, the president
who branded it, and the House Speaker who birthed it


We will immediately repeal and replace ObamaCare — and nobody can do that like me. We will save $'s and have much better healthcare!

@realDonaldTrump, February 2016


YOU KNOW it’s been a bad day at House Trump when the proprietor in chief won’t even tweet about the biggest accomplishment of the day. The one that was intended to be held high as a shining example of presumptive president Donald Trump’s ability to lead a newly-unified Republican government. But there was silence about that biggest accomplishment from TeamTrumpTweet ... which makes a kind of sense: When the biggest accomplishment didn’t come off as planned, well, who wants to own up to that?

On the day after the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s bedrock-legacy domestic achievement, Trump caved on even bringing the ACA’s long-awaited replacement to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote.

On Friday, in an act of political euthanasia — one that everyday people can understand better than the politicians — the American Health Care Act was withdrawn shortly before an almost-certain losing vote in the House, despite the late-night pleading of Trump administration officials with Republican conservatives who refused to sign on. The bill shorthanded AHCA was quickly and mercifully taken off the respirator by its loved ones, rather than be allowed to die over time, vote by vote, on live television.

If that seems like a harsh rhetorical use of real-life experiences, all apologies. But the fact of how the AHCA went down to defeat implicitly sends that same message: This is how precipitous American lives are down here on the ground, in the real world. “Repeal and replace” was simply not an option, not for Americans who’ve besieged their representatives in emails and tweets, phone calls and town halls for weeks.

“We had no votes from the Democrats,” Trump said on Friday afternoon. “They weren’t going to give us a single vote, so it’s a very difficult thing to do … I think what will happen is Obamacare, unfortunately, will explode. It’s going to have a bad year.”

◊ ◊ ◊

YOU COULD see this coming from a distance. The AHCA never had the populist loft needed to take off. It was rushed, hurried. Obamacare took about a year to gain ground in Congress and gain favor with the public. Trump’s legislation — principally the work of House Speaker Paul Ryan — took less than two months. It didn’t pass the smell test with anyone.

Influential conservative entities from the Heritage Foundation to the Club for Growth hammered Trump’s AHCA mercilessly in the week before the vote. “In many ways, the House Republican proposal released last night not only accepts the flawed progressive premises of Obamacare but expands on them,” Heritage Action CEO Michael A. Needham said to The Daily Beast on March 14. Others piled on with no fear of retribution.

It was going south for House Trump. We knew it Thursday when White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said “we are very, very pleased with the direction this is going.” With a straight face. We knew it when Ryan postponed a planned Thursday vote, pushing it back later in the day and finally cancelling it.

We knew it late Wednesday, when the president-apparent, a big fan of brinkmanship, said he wanted Congress to get behind the AHCA or he would abandon the repeal-and-replace effort altogether.

◊ ◊ ◊

The arm-twisting and gnashing of teeth continued into the night but by Friday morning, not enough had changed. Trump, sensing an all-in, guts-ball moment in the making, dramatically called for a floor vote on Friday. No dice. It wasn’t cooler heads that prevailed, it was mathematics.

The Democrats were a solid bloc against the AHCA. Any more than 22 House Republicans voting against the Trump measure was a kiss of death, and there were a lot more No votes than that. The White House knew it; Trump, consulting with Ryan, the author of this nightmare, opted to, uh, pull the plug.

“I spoke to the president just a little while ago and I told him that the best thing I think to do is to pull this bill, and he agreed with that decision,” Ryan said at a press conference. “This is a setback—no two ways about it. "We're going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”

◊ ◊ ◊


HOUSE MINORITY Leader Nancy Pelosi pulled no punches when the deal went down, with a timeless quote: “Rookie error, Donald Trump, for bringing this up on a day that it is clearly not ready,” the California Democrat said. “You do not bring up your bill just to be spiteful on the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. You build consensus ... not the shortest, quickest monstrosity you can bring to the House floor.”

There’s a semantic reason for Democrats to cheer: By characterizing the GOP replacement measure as “Obamacare Lite,” as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul did on March 14 (when TrumpCare was still gathering what looked like steam), Republicans attached to their own legislation a weaker contrasting rhetorical valance that defined it, fatally.

By definition, if you say something is “[Anyword] Lite,” you’ve invested the [Anyword] with a weight that its ostensible alternative doesn’t have. The intended Republican disparagement is an actual Republican compliment. The messaging itself sent the signal that the Republicans knew AHCA was facing an uphill battle.

◊ ◊ ◊

TOM PRICE’S bid for the diplomacy of gradualism had its own unexpected revelation. On March 14, the Health and Human Services secretary told reporters the AHCA is a “is a work in progress, and we'll work with the House and the Senate. As you know, it's a legislative process that occurs. ... People engage and they get involved in the process. Sometimes, to a greater degree, nothing focuses the mind like a bill currently sitting on the table. We’ll work through it.”

With his “work in progress” talk, Price underscored something that was just as true for the GOP replacement for Obamacare as it’s true of the genuine article. Obamacare was never intended as the be-all and end-all, the slam dunk for all the nation’s health-care woes.

From the start, seven years ago this month, President Obama characterized it as a first step, not an event but a work in progress. Price’s comments on March 14th on behalf of the GOP’s alternative plan showed how challenging that process can be. No matter what side of the aisle you’re on.

Friday’s events were an optical and a tactical setback for Trump. By failing to even get the AHCA bill to the House floor for a vote, Trump saw his vaunted reputation as king of “the art of the deal” get the drubbing it deserved. It’s especially galling since last Oct. 24, at a campaign rally, Trump all but guaranteed that a full-on repeal and replacement of Obamacare would be done and dusted within his first 100 days. He only needed 64 to find out how wrong he was.
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