Comey’s dismissal doesn’t ring true

President Donald Trump removed Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey from his post Tuesday afternoon.

Mr. Comey had come under fire in recent months for his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails and the subsequent probe into potential foreign influence in the election of Mr. Trump. Calls for his firing had come from all sides of the political spectrum and though Comey likely had good intentions, his choices helped shape the political landscape at critical moments.

Removing Mr. Comey wasn’t necessarily the wrong thing to do. It’s just the wrong person removed him.

Though the FBI was investigating Trump and his administration, he was still within his power to fire the agency’s director. But why do that? And why now? It’s possible Comey was close to proving Trump knowingly aided in the manipulation of last year’s election. It’s also possible that the ties to Russia aren’t there, or they’re exaggerated, and a sociopath saw an opportunity to evoke controversy and so took it. Maybe Mr. Trump just saw it as an opportunity to promote someone within his circle to a plum position. Maybe the entire administration is tone deaf and made an insanely incompetent move. The first two possibilities could potentially result in his removal from office. Not one of the four is a good look.

Barack Obama never seriously considered removing Comey from the position to which he had appointed him several years prior. Mr. Obama realized the potential impact and made known his displeasure, but didn’t fire him. Perhaps he should have, knowing what we know now, and shouldered the political heat. But it still seems like the right call in spite of Comey’s removal Tuesday.

President Trump did what his predecessor did not, calling to mind the only other time a commander in chief terminated the head of the FBI (fun fact: noted choir boy Bill Clinton holds that honor, and Richard Nixon earns an honorable mention for ordering the firing of the special prosecutor charged with investigating Watergate). He should have let Comey and his team finish out the investigation uninterrupted. Instead, his crass and callous decision has become the most recent in a less-than-stellar few months full of them.

Anything less than a level-headed, respected man or woman with at least a little bipartisan support being named director of the FBI is unacceptable, but likely. Whether this is another smokescreen to repress something more sinister or a head of state delighting in the confusion of his political enemies remains to be seen.


American healthcare isn’t exactly on the mend

The Affordable Care Act is stuck in a unique sort of purgatory at the moment. It’s fitting, really, given its tumultuous life that after rushing to sentence the bill to death, constituents of Congressional critics are now asking for a stay of execution.

“Obamacare” hasn’t been without its issues. Premiums for many popular ACA plans spiked this year and a state-run marketplace has its drawbacks. Some wounds were self-inflicted, such as rising costs that plagued the 22 states that opted not to expand Medicaid through the ACA. In spite of its shortcomings, the law still managed to help a significant portion of the individuals it set out to help.

The numbers vary (don’t they always?), but the figure that seems to split the difference from left-and-right-leaning data miners comes out somewhere near 16 million.

One can debate the merits of “Obamacare” all he or she would like, but at the end of the day it helped roughly five percent of the population find coverage. Insurance was (and is) complicated and all parties involved have their own idea of how the system should operate. Prior to reform efforts from Mr. Obama and company, providers ganged up on a vulnerable marketplace. The system was broken. Average healthcare costs in America were more than three times of those in the average OECD country. It was out of control, and the ACA took steps to address that, though results have been mixed; depending on one’s income and state of residence, some benefited greatly while others, sometimes those seeking insurance for small, struggling businesses, saw increased costs (though it must be pointed out, my family’s small company benefited from the implementation of the ACA). But the distinction must be made; there is a clear difference between not being able to afford healthcare (the primary issue with the old system) and spending more than one should for healthcare (the lion’s share of the complaints with the ACA).

Now, Republicans that have had the better part of a decade to draft an “Obamacare” replacement (Trumpcare? Ryancare? GOPcare?)have proposed plans that would walk back coverage for millions of Americans whom Trump promised could keep their plans (in fact, older individuals – a demographic largely responsible for his win, would be most adversely affected), provide billions of dollars in tax cuts to the wealthy, and end coverage necessary to addiction treatment (a stipulation that hits close to home here in Cincinnati). Some aspects even do the same thing they’re supposed to replace, such as Paul Ryan’s own individual mandate-penalty. Not surprisingly, the pushback has been pretty tremendous from both sides of the aisle.

It’s okay to voice opposition to the Affordable Care Act and its very real issues. But the GOP has spent so long vilifying a flawed bill as the worst example of oligarchic overreach in modern history that it forgot to actually do its job and put together a working replacement. The leaders of the Republican party have come to find out that contrarianism can only get one so far. At some point you’ve got to help the people that put you office – a lesson Democrats would be wise to heed.

So, for the time being, America is stuck in a quagmire of doubt and the a future with affordable healthcare for all in this country is endangered at best. Republicans could somehow forge ahead in the face of significant disagreement and pass the proposed plan that would side with insurance company wants and make matters worse for a significant portion of the population, especially the eldest in our ranks. The GOP could falter and, in the face of mounting criticism, fail to produce a replacement, which would lead to growing strife and add another interesting wrinkle to the 2018 interim elections. It’s also possible that the different camps find common ground and work towards a comprehensive reform instead of sabotaging each other’s attempts. Is it likely? Of course not, no. But it’s possible, and a few different options have been explored by lawmakers of various nationalities.

A single-payer system has been proposed by progressives such as Bernie Sanders and can face its own unique set of challenges at enormous costs to the government, even though it has found success in a number of Western countries. The once-vilified public option has reluctantly gained a spot at the replacement table in some circles as a possible patch to the current system, though critics of the single-payer system believe the public option will send American healthcare careening into the depths of what they consider to be the hell of lightly-socialized medicine. Some believe a two-tier system is in our future, though countries like Australia have found some of the same single-payer wait time issues might exist.

By now you’ve likely picked up on the common theme: not one of these plans is perfect. Each has its own pitfalls and benefits, reflected in the menagerie of health care systems around the world.

No matter the shift in policy there will always be losers in health insurance, which is why it’s so important for those in power to look out for those who are most vulnerable to such a radical change. Mr. Obama, to his credit, tried to do so with imperfect results. It appears Mr. Trump and the Congressional GOP leaders don’t seem to be bothered by such obligations.


The broader implications of Trump’s “tap” tweet

President Trump’s most recent claim accuses his predecessor of tapping his phones at Trump Tower weeks before the 2016 election. By itself, that’s a bad enough charge to levy at one’s political opponent without sufficient evidence. But it’s worth looking at Mr. Trump’s motivations more closely.

A recent Breitbart piece is generally accepted as the origin of the president’s tweet, which adheres to Mr. Trump’s trend of consuming a significant portion of his news from alternative sources. The president’s motivations are, per usual, shrouded in a muddled fog of rushed secrecy. It has been postured by some that this accusation is a deflection to distract from the scrutiny the Trump administration has received for possible ties to Russia. Trump’s camp insists the tap actually happened, though they have failed to compile any compelling evidence. Though, if Trump Tower was indeed tapped, it could have been for reasons that are well within the legal realm. At this point, Trump is either trying to beat the feds to the punch and cast doubt on the tap’s legality, there was no tap and he believed a phony tabloid, or he willingly lobbed a serious accusation at Mr. Obama with the intention to rile his base into a frenzy, renewing a vitriolic response to his adversaries while potentially hiding the aforementioned Russian ties in the process. The truth will not likely be kind to the recent White House tenant.

But it’s the second possibility that is the most nefarious. If President Trump truly believes this crock, it’s likely that his chief strategist, Steve Bannon (a man whose beliefs could have seriously adverse implications on policy), has at least a little sway over him. At best Trump is intentionally citing the kind of fringe outlets that deny the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place. At worst, he’s fallen prey to the manipulative work of conspiracy theorists.

Occam’s razor suggests that it’s more likely that the president is trying to divert attention from something else or a legal tap was warranted. But that doesn’t make the other possibilities any less unsettling.


Why Social Media Outrage is the 21st Century Guillotine

As an avid student of history, the French Revolution was one of the most fascinating historical events. In a short 10 year period, the French people revolted and overthrew centuries of monarchy, only to fall victim to the liberal Jacobin Reign of Terror, eventually leading to the conservative Thermodorian Reaction and back to an authoritarian leader in Napoleon. This was the perfect example of Hegel’s Dialectic in play, showing how progress is rarely linear but instead advances via dramatic swings and subsequent backlashes between two opposing forces.

Flash forward to 2017, the French Revolution serves as a good parable for what has happened in the US. In a short 10 year period, we overcame centuries of racism to elect the first African American president in Barack Obama, only to follow that up by electing a president with authoritarian tendencies in Donald Trump.

So for both the French Revolution and the US, what the hell happened in between?

In the case of the French Revolution, the Jacobin Reign of Terror was the bridge between the revolution and Napoleon. The Reign of Terror was symbolized by the use of the guillotine, which was used to publicly  execute “enemies of the republic” in order to preserve the liberal ideals of the revolution. In an ironic twist, the Jacobin leader Maximillian Robespierre eventually fell victim to the guillotine himself. The backlash from this chaos was swift and resulted in an authoritarian figure in Napoleon taking power.

In the case of the US, while there was clearly no Reign of Terror under President Obama, I would argue that there was a Reign of Political Correctness. The emergence of social media outrage and social media shaming acted as the 21st century version of the guillotine. Anyone who voiced a contrarian opinion was labeled as a “bigot or racist” and destroyed in the court of public opinion. In an ironic twist, steadfast liberals who expressed reasonable concerns about terrorism were labeled “Islamaphobes” by other liberals via social media outrage. The backlash from this lack of dialogue was swift and resulted in an authoritarian figure in Donald Trump getting elected President.

Net, the Reign of Political Correctness needs to come to an end. The social media outrage guillotine doesn’t work when you are not in power, as evidenced by the confirmations of Betsy Devos and Scott Pruitt. In the words of Bill Maher, “As liberals were getting outraged over fat shaming, the tea partiers were busy taking over the local school boards”. Ultimately, Democrats should focus less on political correctness and focus more on having real dialogue, expanding the tent, and winning elections.

Come on, you guys – it’s pretty easy to afford a number of federal programs on the chopping block

The first few weeks of the Trump administration have been interesting, if nothing else. Largely unburdened of Congressional oversight, the president has signed into action 12 executive orders as of Monday morning. Several more to come will likely take aim at defunding or altogether excising government programs deemed expendable by Mr. Trump and his advisers.

There is nothing wrong with exploring the options of managing the country’s expenses more efficiently, and the president is well within his means to trim some fat from the budgetary cow. It is, however, unfortunate that he’s choosing to dispose of the tenderloin.

Just as I began reading further into the programs that the new administration will likely target, I received a push notification from Youtube. One of my favorite channels was one step ahead of me.

It’s actually kind of astounding to put into visual perspective just how insignificant these costs are when compared to the sheer monolith that is the federal budget. The National Endowment for the Arts requires each American taxpayer to part with 46 cents each year. Many similar programs go a long way on tight budgets, providing invaluable services that keep us safe and enhance or, in some cases, make entirely possible the education of millions of Americans.

Mr. Trump wishing to cut back on government spending would be fine, were it not for the unfortunate, glaring prospect of unnecessary spending in multiple instances. If he truly wished to regain a more firm grip on the nation’s finances, he wouldn’t be targeting inexpensive and beneficial programs – a move which isn’t only impractical; it’s practically vindictive.

If average Americans have a firm enough grasp of these concepts, I find it within reason to ask that the government and those who lead it do, as well. Yet it appears that this administration has no such grasp or – and this is the more likely option – it does not find the cost of enacting its vision too great.


Winning Social Media but Losing the War

Today, Betsy Devos was confirmed as the Secretary of Education. Regardless of your politics, it is clear that she is completely unqualified for the position, as evidenced by the fact that she didn’t know the difference between basic educational concepts like growth vs proficiency.

Despite the outpouring of opposition to her nomination on social media and countless calls to people’s representatives, Democrats were only able to get 2 Republicans to vote against her. The net effect of this serves as a perfect example of what I call “winning social media but losing the war”. In other words, winning a cathartic battle in your social media echo chamber is ultimately a hallow victory.

This leads me to a greater point:

1) If you want to enact your preferred government agenda, you need to get a legislative majority

2) If you want to get a legislative majority, you need to win elections nationwide across diverse areas

3) To win in diverse areas, you need to have a broad and appealing message to people that vote

My biggest complaint with the Democratic party the past 8 years is that they have narrowed their appeal to focus on the priorities of their heavily urbanized coalition. The main talking points revolve around cultural issues over economic ones, while demonizing the opposition as ignorant, bigoted, or privileged.

Even if those viewpoints are 100% right, this approach is still a sure losing strategy when it comes to elections. Our dual federalist system built in mechanisms such as the Electoral College and equal representation of senators to ensure broad geographical governance. For example, if 100% of California and New York vote Democratic, that still only equates to 4 senate seats. You still need to win congressional seats in Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida etc. to further your legislative agenda.

The proof is in the pudding. In comparing Democratic standing from 2006 to now, the Democrats have lost 39 House seats (233-194), 3 senate seats (51-48), and 12 governorships (28-16). In order to prevent future Trumps, Democrats will need to win back the Rust belt blue collar white voter that they have shunned away with years of identity politics.

Ultimately, there are 3 key takeaways:

1) Only winning social media is a Pyrrhic victory

2) In order to prevent people like Betsy Devos from getting nominated, you need to win elections

3) To win elections, you need to have broad appeal across various geographical regions

Don’t Forget About the Whole ‘Net Neutrality’ Thing

Donald Trump’s first nine days have been – for lack of a more comprehensive term – “challenging.” The immigration ban has elicited a variety of responses from all corners of the globe and while the executive order might have the world’s attention for now, dozens of other complications have cropped back up, including the new administration’s stark opposition to the concept of net neutrality.

It’s a simple idea often defined as the “golden rule” of the internet: all sites should be treated equally, with access to the same bandwidth as every other site, regardless of the service provider with which a customer has a contract (here’s a handy explanation). And as these service providers begin to buy media platforms that produce programming or curate content, issues are beginning to arise.

While net neutrality forces the internet to remain an even playing field, critics claim the current system stifles innovation and provides yet another arena for the federal to government to do its “overreach” tap and dance. Mr. Trump is an outspoken adversary of net neutrality, a stance that was reaffirmed last week when he tabbed Ajit Pai to head up the FCC.

The bottom line, however, is the end of net neutrality would be disastrous. Because most Americans have almost no choice in service provider, the loss of the equal access mandate would mean massive, multimedia conglomerates like Time Warner Cable, Comcast, and AT&T would have nothing stopping them from slowing out or completely blacking out competitive sites and content. Prices would continue to rise, choices would narrow, and the consumer would be get the short end of the stick.

There are a panoply of issues that demand to be discussed in the world today, and unfortunately net neutrality is still one of them – but it shouldn’t be, at least not for long. Educate yourself. Write to your representatives at all levels of government. Demand that they this from becoming a larger problem than it already is so we can get back to focusing on the bevy of problems we already face.