Media (420)


A Desk Murderer

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

I have ‘chronic idiopathic demyelinating peripheral neuropathy.’  It means that my feet are gradually becoming numb, and if I don’t get treatment I’ll soon be walking with a cane, then with a walker, and eventually I’ll be in a wheelchair.  The only known treatment, IVIG, is a biweekly infusion with a substance that is made of the blood plasma of at least 100 people, so it is very expensive.  When I was diagnosed with the condition five years ago I still had private health insurance through my employer.  To make sure that I would get the treatment my neurologist wanted to run some tests, but the insurance company didn’t give him permission to do that.  Since he was confident that his diagnosis was correct he wrote the prescription for the treatment anyway, and submitted it to the insurance company for approval, which was denied because the tests had not been done.  With his support, I appealed that decision.  My first appeal was rejected, but after an appeal of that decision I was informed that I would have to appear in front of a panel of experts.

That committee, consisting of doctors and nurses, would make the final decision about my treatment.  I acknowledged that I would appear before the panel, but also informed the insurance company that I would file a lawsuit if I didn’t get the treatment.  The night before I was scheduled to appear before the committee I got a phone call that the meeting had been cancelled and that the treatment was approved.  Obviously the insurance company had been trying to save some money, and in most cases they would have succeeded.  As my neurologist said: “How many people would go as far as you did in fighting them?”  This year I turned 65 and now I have Medicare.  With Medicare there was no problem continuing the treatment, because the program’s only criterion is whether the treatment is appropriate in light of the diagnosis and what is considered good medical practice. Which brings me to Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, who has been intent on ending Medicare ever since he read Ayn Rand as a boy and decided that government couldn’t do any good.

If Ryan has his way, Medicare will be transformed into a voucher program via which seniors get a certain amount of money to buy private health insurance.  Those who can afford it can supplement the voucher money with their own to buy a plan that covers all their conditions, those who cannot afford it have to accept the coverage the plans they can afford with the voucher money offer, and leave conditions that are not covered untreated.

The term ‘desk murderer’ was coined by Hannah Arendt in her reporting about Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem.  It refers to a bureaucrat who condemns people to death with the stroke of his pen, as the consequence of a policy he implements.  Paul Ryan is no Eichmann, but people who could be cured will die if his Medicare plan is implemented.

With the election of Donald Trump Paul Ryan may very well have become the most powerful man in DC.  During the campaign Trump has said that he won’t allow changes in Medicare to be made, and we’ll soon find out if he has the cojones to stand up to Ryan.

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Why Hillary lost the Rust Belt

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Almost two weeks after Donald Trump won a majority in the Electoral College the discussion about what went wrong with Hillary Clinton’s campaign has all but faded and been replaced by a discussion about what the US will look like under president Trump.  Still there is one aspect of Hillary’s loss that has hardly been analyzed so far.  Her campaign blamed the unexpected debacle that turned the Democrats from a party potentially in control to a party in crisis exclusively on FBI Director Comey’s letters to members of Congress, suggesting that the second letter did even more damage than the first one, which had already halted Clinton’s momentum.  They undoubtedly have a point, but it’s incomplete.  Obviously Comey’s intervention didn’t help, but neither did the paranoid way in which grandma Hillary handled her emails, and probably even more damaging was the way in which the Clintons squirreled over $200 million together after Bill’s presidency.  But ultimately Hillary Clinton’s defeat can only be explained by her campaign’s messaging.

Granted that it would have been difficult to execute a coherent communications strategy while the email controversy kept popping up, it was even harder because of the lack of a comprehensive message.  The Clinton campaign seemed to tell the voters three things, first that Donald Trump was totally unqualified for the presidency, second that in contrast to Trump’s divisive language we would be stronger together, and third that it was Hillary’s turn, embedded in slogans about electing the first female US President.  In a TV show last week veteran Democratic strategist Bob Shrum mentioned that this was the first time in his memory that a Democratic candidate ran without an economic message.  The reason for this fatal omission is probably that the Clinton people were bamboozled by the official US unemployment rate, currently 4.9%, and by the way Barack Obama was touting that percentage as a major achievement. However, although his policies after the crisis of 2007 have contributed to the creation of millions of jobs, the unemployment rate is a bad measure of their success.

In most countries of the world a person is considered unemployed if he or she is a potential employee but doesn’t have a job.  In the US someone is only considered unemployed if he or she is actively looking for a job, which implies being registered with a State Department of Labor and going through all the required moves.  If and when that person gives up looking for a job and decides to get by in another way he or she is no longer counted.

Social scientists are well aware that the real percentage of Americans without jobs is much higher than 4.9%.  Not the 42% Donald Trump occasionally mentioned, but probably anywhere between 10% and 20%, although nobody knows for sure.  Intuitively Trump realized this as well, and he tapped into a reservoir of disgruntled voters that Hillary ignored.

The bad news for those voters is that president Trump won’t do anything for them.  Jobs that went to low wage countries won’t come back, coal mines will not reopen because gas is much cheaper, and infrastructure investments turn out to be tax discounts for builders.

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Terrible Times

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Denial, anger and depression don’t solve anything, acceptance can only be conditional, and with regards to Donald Trump’s being elected US President bargaining is hardly an option, as Barack Obama will soon find out.  However, since Trump is a prime example of the dog that caught the car, and poorly prepared to staff the White House and form a cabinet, there is some room to negotiate an imaginary future, obviously with the caveat that the assumptions may be as wrong as those that led most of the pollsters astray this week.  The first assumption is that Trump will be a very lazy president.  During the campaign he is alleged to have offered the Vice Presidential slot to John Kasich, who would have full responsibility for both domestic and international policy, leaving plenty of time for the Commander in Chief to tend to his business interests and play golf.  It appears that the same arrangement has now been made with Mike Pence, who will shortly be staffing departments with the same insiders his president campaigned against.  Of all the empty slogans the campaign produced the most recent, ‘drain the swamp,’ takes the cake.

If Pence will effectively be the most powerful man in DC, immediately followed by Paul Ryan, the cabinet will consist of a collection of characters that would make any Halloween party too scary for children.  Rudy Giuliani as Attorney General, John Bolton or Newt Gingrich at State, General Flynn, a paid contributor to Putin’s propaganda station RT, as Secretary of Defense, ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the most racist person in law enforcement in the US, at Homeland Security, climate change denier Myron Ebell as head of the EPA, and Sarah Palin as Secretary of the Interior.  No cigar for Chris Christie, who will be punished for having put Jared Kushner’s dad in jail. Every organization rots from the top, and so will those departments, with a highly dysfunctional government as result.  The White House won’t be any better.  Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon are competing for the Chief of Staff position, a fight that the latter will probably win because Trump realizes that Priebus next to the Oval Office would give Ryan too much control.  Maybe he’ll try to balance Bannon’s Alt-Right mentality with Kushner as his deputy.

A government of that dubious a quality, supplemented by some minor players like Larry Kudlow as Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, Laura Ingraham as Press Secretary and Cory Lewandowski as CIA Director can do tremendous damage in a very short time, both nationally and internationally.  In the US, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and the LGBT community, and internationally NATO members and refugees from Muslim countries have to be frightened.

The irony of Trump’s election is that he won’t do anything for the white male underclass that was the core of his electorate.  There may be some benefits from a comprehensive infrastructure program, of the kind that Obama never got funding for from congress, but they will be offset by 20 million Americans losing their health insurance and austerity caused by tax cuts for the rich.

The environmental impact of Trump’s policies will be devastating, and at the end of four years Trump will have been outmaneuvered by Putin in every area.  Iran will have nuclear arms, unless Israel has started a war that would dwarf the current fight with ISIS.

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The Donny Horror Show

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

The images come when you least expect them, walking down a street, waiting for a bus, or at night in a dream that suddenly turns into a nightmare.  The worst are the pictures of the inauguration, when the Obamas have to hand over the keys to the White House and sit through the bombastic acceptance speech of the new president, aware that he’ll destroy everything they worked for the last eight years, including the vegetable garden.  You know that they’ll have to leave through the back door, like a couple of slaves that has become too old and weak to work in the fields and therefore is kicked off the plantation.  Of course they cannot expect the same class as they exhibited when they walked the Bushes to their waiting helicopter in 2009.  And if it’s not the inauguration you’ll see the orange buffoon with his Germanic features, who would have been a perfect Nazi Feldwebel in any war movie, walk into the US House of Representatives to give his first State of the Union address, declaring that America is decrepit but that he’ll make it great again, by cutting taxes for the rich, banning Muslims and building a border wall. He doesn’t have any other policies so it’s a short speech, for which everybody but the Alt-Right is grateful.
      Then there is Putin’s first official state visit, when you can see the short rat-faced ex-KGB colonel smile joylessly while he shakes hands with his puppet and congratulates himself for having gotten that idiot into the Oval Office.  Of course Trump wants to make a grand deal, and Putin has exactly what he’s looking for: if the US and its allies stop supporting the Syrian rebels and let Assad stay on as president the Russians and the Syrian army will focus all their efforts on defeating ISIS, coordinating their actions with US Special Forces.  Trump will take the offer because he secretly admires Assad for his survival skills and what does he care about Syrian civilians, who are Muslims after all?  His next project will be the nuclear disarmament of North Korea, and for that he has a nifty plan: he’ll challenge Kim Jong-un to a game of golf, referring to the fact that the young man’s father had five holes-in-one on his very first round, on a course with only three par-three holes, and that the son must have inherited that exceptional talent.  If Trump wins North Korea will dismantle its nuclear arms, if Kim wins the US will stop assisting South Korea and Japan militarily.  They’ll play on a course in China, where Trump has $900 million in debt so he knows they’ll be nice to him for fear of getting stiffed.
      The day in the White House starts with a breakfast for part of the family.  While Melania and young Barron eat in the kitchen, sometimes in the company of Tiffany when she’s visiting and not sleeping in, Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric have scrambled eggs, bacon and orange juice with their father in the dining room, reporting on the state of the family business and discussing steps to increase revenue and profits.  The interests of foreign investors in Trump’s empire and its own investments in foreign business ventures are the main topics.
      From the very first day of his presidency Trump has insisted to have this meeting before the daily briefing by his national security team, of which the members obviously don’t understand the world as well as he does, and may not have appropriate appreciation for the international projects his children are undertaking.  As long as he knows their plans he can adjust US foreign policy to meet their daily needs.
      We are not there yet, but it could happen, and that is the scariest thought of all.  These days I find myself occasionally thinking about Menno ter Braak, a Dutch intellectual who warned for Adolf Hitler in his publications during the 1930s and committed suicide after the German invasion of the Netherlands.  There may be such cases in the US sometime soon.

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FBI Trick (or Treat)

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Last Friday the presidential campaigns were respectively surprised and shocked by the news that James Comey, Director of the FBI, had sent a letter to members of Congress informing them that the FBI had discovered a trove of emails belonging to Clinton aide Huma Abedin on the laptop of her estranged husband, Anthony Weiner.  Weiner is a sad case of sexually frustrated narcissism, who cannot stop tweeting lewd pictures of himself to women he doesn’t know, and usually pays a high price for it.  The first time he got caught it cost him his job as a US Representative, the second time it blew his minimal chances of becoming New York City’s mayor, and the third time it cost him his marriage.  The FBI was investigating Weiner’s laptop because he had tweeted pictures of his dick to a 15 year old girl and apparently hoped to start a relationship, a federal offense.  Abedin’s emails were thus discovered by accident, but Comey felt that he had to inform Congress after having testified earlier that Clinton had committed no crime by operating a private email server.
      After the initial news broke, it became clear that Comey had no idea if Abedin’s emails contained any classified or otherwise incriminating information, because the FBI had not yet obtained a warrant to review them.  Subsequently, it turned out that the FBI had known for weeks that the laptop contained these emails, making it a mystery why a warrant was not obtained and why Comey waited until eleven days before the election to inform Congress.  The most plausible explanation is that Comey knew or suspected that some of his underlings would leak the information to the press, which explains why Comey sent an email to FBI personnel informing them that he had contacted Congress, where his letter was leaked immediately. The whole affair shows at least that Comey doesn’t have a grip on the organization he’s supposed to be in charge of, but it may be a lot worse.  He should never have sent his letter without first having established if the emails changed his earlier conclusion, and if they didn’t he was under no obligation to inform Congress at all.
      If it turns out that Abedin’s emails were already known to the FBI and/or don’t contain incriminating information, Comey has violated a rule that prohibits disseminating information that may affect the outcome of an election within 60 days of the election date. It is an inexplicable blunder for a civil servant who is highly regarded on both sides of the aisle, and Comey, who is tenured in his position, will have a lot of explaining to do.
      Today the FBI has suddenly acquired the warrant that allows agents to review the emails, and it is reasonable to assume that they are already working overtime to provide the answers that everybody, but mostly Democrats, are demanding.  Comey may still be able to reduce the damage he has done if he can elaborate on or withdraw his letter tomorrow.
      Of course the Trump campaign is jumping on the news like a fly on a pile of shit.  Without any new facts Hillary Clinton’s handling of her emails is declared worse than Watergate.  By a different token, Comey can now be considered worse than Wikileaks.

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