U.S. Politics

Donald Trump Kicked a Hornet’s Nest When He Fired Steve Bannon (White Idiot, White Freemason, Zionist)

After a week in which President Trump repeatedly took the side of white supremacists defending the confederacy, the Friday dismissal of White House strategist Steve Bannon is likely to launch a new civil war within the Republican Party.

Bannon’s departure means the president has sided with Wall Street bankers, globalists who believe in pro-corporate trade agreements, libertarians who want federal regulation gutted and taxes cut—in short, the economic elites supported by the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. This establishment side of the GOP was never at ease with stoking the far-right flames of white identity and economic nationalism Bannon brought to the Trump campaign a year ago, when Trump lagged behind in polls.

The evidence of the Republicans’ big-money wing being pleased by Bannon’s leaving could be seen immediately, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 60 points in the first 20 minutes after the announcement. There were numerous reports in recent days that Bannon was on the way out, especially after Trump dined with Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch in New York City recently and Murdoch said he had to go. The president reportedly vented about Bannon instead of defending his strategist.

But there’s more to this than the daily White House soap opera. Bannon was not just an idea person who encouraged Trump to stand with white supremacists in Charlottesville and deride those seeking to take down monuments celebrating slavery’s defenders. He was also an economic nationalist who saw China as a foe, not the friend to help defuse the North Korea crisis (in exchange for easing up on his tough talk on trade). Bannon wanted to raise income taxes on the very rich—stands cut from the same nativist cloth that was Trump’s bridge to the Tea Party, Freedom Caucus and Rust Belt voters.

Beyond these stances, Bannon ran the most powerful megaphone in Republican media in 2016. Breitbart News supplanted Fox News by Election Day 2016, which it attacked and saw as a competitor. Its vitriolic, propagandistic reports (including many based on information Russia pilfered from Democrats) was more influential than Murdoch’s network. Bannon knew his White House days were numbered, felt liberated by it and was looking forward to returning to media warfare, according to a report on Axios. (Late Friday, Politico.com reported that Bannon was returning to Breitbart as executive chairman.)

“Bannon has felt liberated since it became clear he was being pushed out, according to friends. He’s told associates he has a ‘killing machine’ in Breitbart News,” Axios noted. “Steve Bannon’s next moves will be all about the billionaire Mercer family. I’m told Bannon, who visited New York this week, met with Bob Mercer and together they will be a well-funded force on the outside… A source familiar with Breitbart’s operations told me they would go ‘thermonuclear’ against ‘globalists’ that Bannon and his friends believe are ruining the Trump administration, and by extension, America.”

Seen in this light, Bannon deftly stage-managed his departure by eclipsing Trump’s high-voltage defense of white supremacists. Earlier this week, Bannon called Robert Kuttner, the editor of the American Prospect, a progressive publication, and gave an interview in which he referred to white power marchers as “clowns,” said Trump’s corporate advisers were “wetting themselves,” and—contrary to Trump’s statements—dismissed possible military action in North Korea. That move didn’t just hasten his departure, it signaled to Trump’s base that their voice in the White House was being exiled.

Whether Trump’s White House can join the pro-corporate GOP mainstream is anybody’s guess. Trump’s association with Bannon, who became campaign CEO when Trump was down by double digits and who pushed Trump to hold more rallies and step up the attacks on Hillary Clinton, represented a bond between two men who clearly share instincts and values. Trump’s firing of Bannon is likely to haunt the White House. As ex-President Lyndon Johnson famously said of infamous FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”

“Conservatives from the Tea Party movement have viewed him as a crucial link to the White House,” the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. “Additionally, they worry about the president moving toward the political center without Mr. Bannon involved in policy fights, said a person with ties to conservative donors who support Mr. Bannon. ‘I see New York Democrats and generals in ascendancy, and that is not what we ran on in 2016,’ the person said. ‘So it worries me.’”

“Not what we ran on” is the key comment. Whatever Bannon is planning to do with the Mercers’ support—including their investment house analytics that profile and predict behavior of social media users—is going to deepen the GOP’s divides. The biggest divides in American politics, left and right, are between the unruly and energized grassroots outsiders and the pro-corporate, establishment-defending insiders.

Bannon may feel he and Trump share the same values and would be loathe to personally attack him, as the Washington Post’s Philip Bump suggests, arguing that others in Trump’s orbit would be targeted. But that is a bit fanciful, as after a point you cannot separate the president from the institutional decisions that arise in a presidency. If anything, using Breitbart to press Trump’s buttons or block his policies is going to get messy.

Partisan civil wars aren’t just fought with ballots in 2017; they’re fought with online platforms and emotionally provocative propaganda. As Bannon reportedly said, he has a “killing machine” at his disposal, and you can assume that its targets will be the disappointments surrounding the presidency, select Trump’s allies, and then establishment Democrats and progressives.

Bannon and his ilk are not about to allow the GOP to go quietly into the political mainstream.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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Pediatricians say Florida hurt sick kids to help big GOP donors

http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/18/health/florida-sick-kids-insurance-eprise/index.html

 

St. Augustine, Florida (CNN) When he was 11 years old, LJ Stroud of St. Augustine, Florida, had a tooth emerge in a place where no tooth belongs: the roof of his mouth.

LJ was born with severe cleft lip and palate, which explained the strange eruption, as well as the constant ear infections that no antibiotic could remedy.
With her son in terrible pain, Meredith Stroud arranged for surgeries to fix his problems.
But just days before the procedures were to take place, the surgeons’ office called to cancel them.
Like nearly half of all children in Florida, LJ is on Medicaid, which has several types of insurance plans. The state had switched LJ to a new plan, and his surgeons didn’t take it.
Doctors: 'Trick question' hurt sick kids

LJ wasn’t alone. In the spring and summer of 2015, the state switched more than 13,000 children out of a highly respected program called Children’s Medical Services, or CMS, a part of Florida Medicaid. Children on this plan have serious health problems including birth defects, heart disease, diabetes and blindness.
The state moved the children to other Medicaid insurance plans that don’t specialize in caring for very sick children.
Stroud says that for her son, the consequences were devastating. Despite hours of phone calls, she says, she couldn’t find surgeons on his new insurance plan willing to do the highly specialized procedures he needed. Over the next seven months, her son lost 10 pounds, quit the football team and often missed school.
“He was in pain every day,” Stroud said. “I just felt so helpless. It’s such a horrible feeling where you can’t help your kid.”
LJ filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida, and he was eventually placed back on Children’s Medical Services and received the care he needed. But some Florida pediatricians worry about other children with special health care needs who, two years later, are still off the program.
The doctors aren’t just worried; they’re angry.
First, the data analysis the state used to justify switching the children is “inaccurate” and “bizarre,” according to the researcher who wrote the software used in that analysis.
Second, the screening tool the state used to select which children would be kicked off the program has been called “completely invalid” and “a perversion of science” by top experts in children with special health care needs.
Third, in fall 2015, a state administrative law judge ruled that the Department of Health should stop using the screening tool because it was unlawful. However, even after the judge issued his decision, the department didn’t automatically re-enroll the children or even reach out to the families directly to let them know that re-enrollment was a possibility.
Finally, parents and Florida pediatricians raise questions about the true reasons why Florida’s Republican administration switched the children’s health plans. They question whether it was to financially reward insurance companies that had donated millions of dollars to the Republican Party of Florida.
“This was a way for the politicians to repay the entities that had contributed to their political campaigns and their political success, and it’s the children who suffered,” said Dr. Louis St. Petery, former executive vice president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Experts outside Florida are also disturbed that the children were switched out of CMS, a program that’s served as a model for other states for more than 40 years.
“CMS is well-known and well-respected,” said Dr. James Perrin, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. “It’s one of the earlier programs to build in assurances that these kids get the kind of care they need.”
“These are the sickest and most vulnerable kids, and (changing their insurance) can mean life or death for them,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University. “This is really very troubling.”
Dr. Rishi Agrawal, an associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, agreed, adding that Florida should have more carefully considered how the insurance switch would affect the children’s health care.
“The process in Florida was particularly abrupt and poorly executed,” he said.
Mara Gambineri, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health, said that “at no time (during the insurance switch) did children go without medically necessary services.”
State officials, including a spokesman for Governor Rick Scott’s office, initially declined to comment directly on the pediatricians’ and parents’ concerns that the children might have been switched to benefit contributors to the Republican Party of Florida. On Friday, after this story was published, the Florida Department of Health released a statement asserting that such a claim “is 100 percent false.”
“The department’s number one priority is protecting the health and well-being of all Florida residents, especially children with special health care needs,” Gambineri wrote in an earlier email. “The department remains committed to providing quality health care services to Florida’s children with special health care needs.”

A mother’s anguish

In spring 2015, LJ’s mother received a phone call from a nurse at the Florida Department of Health.
Stroud had no idea that one word she would say to that nurse — just one single word — would cause her son months of pain and suffering.
Meredith Stroud's son, LJ, was born with cleft lip and palate. He lost his Children's Medical Service coverage when he was 11.

The nurse asked Stroud a series of questions, including whether LJ was limited in his ability to do things other children could do.
Despite his birth defect, LJ goes to school and plays with friends, so she answered no.
Stroud says that because of that answer, LJ lost his insurance with CMS, the program that has cared for children with special health care needs in Florida for 40 years, and was put on a different Medicaid insurance plan.
LJ was one of 13,074 Florida children kicked off CMS — that’s about one in five children in the program — as a result of the telephone survey, according to a presentationtestimony and a letter from Florida’s top health officials.
Stroud thinks back to her answer to the nurse’s question about limitations.
“That question’s not fair,” Stroud said of the one that got her child kicked off CMS. “What [the Florida Department of Health] did was totally wrong.”
“It was a trick question,” she added.

Pediatrician: ‘A truly duplicitous question’

Experts agree with her.
“I personally find it pretty astonishing that they can take a survey question like that and use it to justify the de-enrolling of these kids,” said Dr. Jay Berry, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School who studies policies for children with special health care needs.
What Florida did was “completely invalid,” added Dr. John Neff, professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of Washington, another expert on children with special health care needs.
The pediatricians explained that many children with serious and chronic medical conditions — such as cleft lip and palate, HIV, diabetes and cystic fibrosis — are often able to do things other children can do. However, they still require extensive and highly specialized medical care.
The question the Florida Department of Health nurses asked — “Is your child limited or prevented in any way in his or her ability to do the things most children of the same age can do?” — would lead to disqualifying children who truly have special medical needs from a program designed for them, said Stephen Blumberg, associate director for science at the National Center for Health Statistics and one of the world’s leading experts on the epidemiology of children with special health care needs.
Question No. 3

“Is your child limited or prevented in any way in his or her ability to do the things most children of the same age can do?”

“You would get false negatives. Your conclusion would be that a child does not have special health care needs when, in fact, the child does,” he added.
Gambineri, the Department of Health spokeswoman, said it no longer uses the survey that resulted in 13,074 children being removed from CMS.
“It is unfortunate the negativity surrounding this issue is a continued topic of inquiry, as the department and our stakeholders have put in a significant amount of time and effort to move past this issue for the benefit of the children we serve,” she wrote.
Six pediatricians from across Florida gathered to tell CNN their concerns about children losing CMS coverage. They accuse the state of hurting sick kids to help big GOP donors.

But pediatricians in Florida point out that many children who were removed from Children’s Medical Services using the controversial questionnaire were never put back on.
“This was a truly duplicitous question,” said Dr. Philip Colaizzo, a pediatrician in Jupiter, Florida, who said that many of his patients with special health care needs were taken off CMS. “It was a trick question.”
“It’s a perversion of science,” said Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen, professor of pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine and medical director of the Bower Lyman Center for Medically Complex Children at Wolfson Children’s Hospital.
Goldhagen added that he was speaking for himself and not the institutions where he works.
“It was a scam job,” added Dr. Nancy Wright, a pediatric endocrinologist in Tallahassee who said that dozens of her patients with diabetes were removed from the program.
Dr. Nancy Wright, a pediatric endocrinologist, says dozens of her patients lost their coverage on Children's Medical Services. "For the children with diabetes that I work with, it was a disaster," she said.

“They really tried their darnedest to kick the kids out of CMS,” added Dr. Carrol Fenn, an orthodontist in West Palm Beach. “They’ve messed up kids’ lives.”
“They’re the most vulnerable of our population, and that they can be booted off the plan that was designed to help them is just amazing. How can someone in an office make a decision like that?” asked Dr. John Obi, an adjunct clinical professor in plastic surgery at the University of Florida, who operates on children with cleft lip and palate.
“I congratulate whoever came up with that question,” he added wryly. “If you want to exclude virtually anybody, that’s the way to do it.”

Johns Hopkins expert: ‘I’m speechless’

Christina Bethell’s team came up with that question — and she’s furious.
Bethell is a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She and her team spent many years and millions of dollars coming up with the right questions to accurately identify children across the United States who might have special health care needs.
The list of questions — known as the Children with Special Health Care Needs Screener — is publicly available on the Hopkins website. Many state and federal agencies use it to help decide which children might benefit from special health services.
The Florida Department of Health, however, used the questions to do something completely different: to kick children out of a program.
That’s scientifically invalid, Bethell said. Using the questions that way — especially the question about limitations — would lead to denying children with special health care needs the services they require.
“I’m speechless,” she said.
To make matters worse, Bethell said, Florida repeatedly and publicly cited research done by her group at Hopkins — the Children and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative — to support the children’s removal from CMS.
“I feel really manipulated,” she said.
She thinks of the children who were taken off CMS and fumes that the tool used to remove them was her own work.
“I’m angry,” she said. “And I’m crestfallen for these families.”

Grave consequences for Florida children

The Shabanehs in Tallahassee are one of those families.
Aref Shabaneh, 8, is blind, and his sister, Yasmeen, 11, is severely visually impaired. Their mother, Reema Shabaneh, says they were kicked off CMS in 2015.
Aref Shabaneh lost his Children's Medical Services coverage in 2015. He is blind and reads in Braille.

Shabaneh says she told the Florida Department of Health nurse that they didn’t have limitations.
“Aref wants to do everything by himself,” she said. “He can play ball with friends. The ball has a bell, so he can hear it coming.”
After they were kicked off CMS, Shabaneh said, she couldn’t find an ophthalmologist on the new insurance plan willing to care for her children.
“I was so scared,” she said.
When Jennifer Rodriguez received the phone call from the Department of Health nurse, she said, she told the nurse she didn’t know how to answer the question about limitations. Her son, Alejandro, suffers from a congenital heart defect, asthma and kidney problems. Sometimes, his heart races and he has trouble breathing, but other times, he feels up to playing soccer with his friends.
“When I tried to explain the answer, she cut me off and said she was just doing her job and needed a yes or a no,” she said.
Rodriguez says she answered that her son, who was 10 at the time, did not have limitations. He then lost his CMS coverage.
“It makes me angry, because you would think that since he’s seeing a cardiologist, a nephrologist, a urologist and an asthma doctor, they would see he’s not your average child,” she said.
LJ, Alejandro and the Shabaneh children filed lawsuits and were put back on CMS. They were represented by the Public Interest Law Center at Florida State University.
Alejandro Rodriguez wears a nebulizer mask to help him breathe. After he filed a lawsuit, the state put him back on Children's Medical Services.

Many Florida pediatricians say their patients also suffered when they were taken off CMS and put on other Medicaid plans. The doctors say those other plans typically have fewer pediatric specialists than CMS, which specializes in caring for very sick children.
Dr. Lisa Cosgrove, a pediatrician in Merritt Island, Florida, said she had a difficult time finding an orthopedist to treat a 6-year-old with a broken elbow who had been taken off CMS. The girl ended up having surgery later than she should have and now can’t extend her elbow all the way.
She said a baby born with a clubfoot also suffered because she couldn’t find an orthopedist willing to take the baby’s plan. The baby couldn’t have the necessary casts to twist the foot back into place and may need surgery, Cosgrove said.
Dr. Elizabeth Curry, a pediatrician in Port St. Joe, Florida, said that last year, she took care of a baby whose eye wiggled back and forth involuntarily, which can be a sign of a brain tumor.
Curry said it took her more than a month to find an ophthalmologist willing to take the baby’s Medicaid plan — and the doctor she finally found was three hours away, in Pensacola.
Fortunately, the baby turned out to be fine.
“This child could have had cancer. That’s a kid who should have seen a doctor right away,” Curry said. “I feel terrible for these children. It makes me so angry.”
Dr. Elizabeth Curry, a Florida pediatrician, says some of her patients didn't get the treatment they needed because the state had removed them from Children's Medical Services.

Because of problems like these, switching the children’s insurance “was a complete dereliction of Florida’s responsibility to children,” said Goldhagen, the professor of pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine.
Gambineri, the spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health, said the children didn’t suffer as a result of the switch, because the insurance plans they were moved to were “more than capable” of caring for them. She added that even before the 13,074 children were switched, those plans cared for tens of thousands of children with special health needs.
Other pediatricians agree that plans besides CMS have done a good job of caring for these very sick children.
The other plans “do a pretty good job with our families,” said Dr. Karalee Kulek-Luzey, medical director of the Pediatric Health Care Alliance, a group practice with multiple locations in the Tampa area. “They’re working really hard.”
“For the most part, they do a good job,” said Dr. Michael Freimark, a pediatrician in Plantation, Florida.
“We have a good relationship with the plans,” said Dr. Michael Gervasi, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Community Health Centers, a large medical practice with offices in several counties. Most of the time, he said, the plans take care of the children’s needs, but if there’s ever a problem, his practice contacts the plan, and they fix it.
Aref's older sister, Yasmeen Shabaneh, was also was removed from Children's Medical Services. She has a vision condition so serious that even a minor bump could cause her retinas to detach.

Florida’s ‘outreach’ to experts

In January 2016, about eight months after the Florida Department of Health started to move the 13,074 children out of CMS, Jennifer Tschetter, then the department’s chief operating officer, testified before the state legislature. She said that the decision to use the Hopkins screening tool was made “in consultation with … national experts.”
But it remains unclear who those experts were.
Tschetter, who has since left state government, did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.
Gambineri, the Florida health department spokeswoman, said the department did “research” into what Louisiana, California, Texas and New York “were doing and experiences they had in regard to clinical eligibility for children with special health care needs.”
When asked for the names of individuals Florida consulted in those states, Gambineri didn’t respond.
Gambineri added that “outreach” was made to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.
An official at that agency said she spoke with a Florida health official.
Dr. Marie Mann, senior medical adviser in the Division of Services for Children with Special Health Needs at the federal agency’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau, said she spoke with Stannard, who works for the Florida Department of Health.
Mann says she told Stannard she couldn’t give her any guidance.
“I told her I was not in a position to provide advice,” Mann said.
Mann said she suggested that Florida health officials reach out to Daniel Armstrong and Dr. Jeffrey Brosco, director and associate director respectively of the Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
“We will make sure they’re both involved in this review process,” Stannard wrote back to Mann in an email obtained by CNN under the Freedom of Information Act.
CNN asked Gambineri, the department spokeswoman, whether the department ever reached out to Armstrong to review and make recommendations on using the telephone survey to screen children out of CMS.
“Not to our knowledge,” Gambineri answered.
“I played no role in the decision-making process related to the use of the tool for the Children’s Medical Services program,” Armstrong wrote in an email to CNN.
Brosco said he told the Department of Health that in his opinion, a child should not be kicked off CMS based on a parent’s answer to the question about the child’s limitations.
“I gave them my feedback, and they said, ‘thank you for your work,’ ” Brosco said.
In July, Brosco was named the Florida Department of Health’s deputy secretary for CMS.

Christmas shopping at the Florida Mall

Despite the lack of support from the very experts they’d consulted, Florida health officials forged ahead with using the phone survey to disqualify children from CMS.
They had a schedule to stick to.
In November 2014, state officials set out to “go live” with the phone survey in six months, according to a timeline developed by the state and obtained by CNN under the Freedom of Information Act.
Before implementing the surveys, the officials gave themselves 21 days to “solicit feedback from the field” about the questions they would ask the parents.
One of the first things they did was to ask one of the state’s most experienced pediatricians to leave a meeting.
It was St. Petery, who at the time was the executive vice president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and who has an encyclopedic knowledge of Medicaid rules and regulations. He’d served as interim director of CMS for six months during the mid-1970s.
He’d also been a thorn in the side of the state Department of Health for years. He’d been instrumental in a lawsuit that accused the state of failing to reimburse doctors properly in the Medicaid program and to ensure that children receive adequate care.
His side eventually won that lawsuit, and the American Academy of Pediatrics gave him a prestigious award for being “a tireless advocate for children’s health and well-being.”
Dr. Louis St. Petery, a pediatric cardiologist and frequent critic of Florida's health policy, was asked to leave a state meeting where Children's Medical Services screening was discussed.

On December 13, 2014, St. Petery showed up at the Department of Health meeting. It was for the regional medical directors of CMS, the group of pediatricians who help run the program. St. Petery wasn’t one of the directors, but he’d been attending their meetings for many years in his role with the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
St. Petery said that just before the meeting started, Tschetter, then the department’s chief operating officer, approached him.
“She said, didn’t I want to go Christmas shopping at the Florida Mall?” St. Petery remembered. The mall was adjacent to the conference center in Orlando where the meeting was taking place.
St. Petery said he told Tschetter that he hates shopping, especially around the holidays, and wanted to stay at the meeting.
“I protested. I asked her, is this meeting not in the sunshine?” he said, referring to Florida’s Sunshine Law, which gives the public the right to access most government meetings.
“After she told me for the third time to leave, I decided not to create a scene,” he said.
St. Petery got up and left.
Other doctors watched the action, stunned.
“We were all kind of shaking,” said Dr. Barbara Rumberger, one of the CMS regional medical directors who attended the meeting.
After St. Petery departed, health officials explained that they would start screening children off of CMS. Their justification: a new analysis showing that half the children on CMS might not belong there.
There are no minutes for this meeting, according to Department of Health officials, but a year later, Tschetter presented similar data to the Florida Legislature.

A ‘totally inaccurate’ analysis

By Florida law, a child can be in CMS only if he or she has a “chronic and serious” condition requiring health care “of a type or amount beyond that which is generally required by children.”
The analysis Tschetter presented showed that about half of the children on CMS had lower than average risk scores, an assessment of how much a patient uses health care services.
Tschetter called these results “surprising.” By legislative mandate, children on CMS are supposed to have health needs greater those of other children.
“The analysis made clear, certainly to the department, that we were not meeting legislative direction: (that) the children in the plan have both chronic and serious health care conditions,” Tschetter told legislators. “It was clear to the department that something had to be done, because complying with legislative direction is certainly not optional.”
But an expert who developed the software Florida used to make that data analysis said the state did its calculations incorrectly.
“It’s totally inaccurate,” said Todd Gilmer, co-developer of the Chronic Illness and Disability Payment System and chief of the division of health policy at the University of California, San Diego.
Gilmer’s software, which is used by dozens of state Medicaid programs, tracks patients’ diagnoses and their prescription drug use to calculate risk scores for each individual.
After viewing Florida officials’ analysis of the data, he said they made two errors when they calculated that half the children on CMS had below-average risk scores.
First, he explained that his software relies on doctors’ diagnoses, and Florida failed to account for the fact that doctors frequently don’t document a child’s full diagnosis in the medical record. For example, if a quadriplegic child goes to the doctor because of bedsores, doctors often write down the reason the child came in — the bedsores — instead of the more serious diagnosis of quadriplegia.
Second, he said, Florida did the wrong calculation for disabled children, who represent 40% of the patients on CMS, according to Mallory McManus, a spokeswoman for Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration.
He said his software compares disabled children with each other. Even the ones who fall in the lower half of the risk-score spectrum still have serious and chronic illnesses, he said, such as HIV or heart failure.
He said that what Florida did was akin to assembling a group of people who are over 7 feet tall and calling the bottom half of that group short.
Gilmer called Florida’s analysis “kind of bizarre” and said he was disappointed to see his software “misapplied” by the Florida Department of Health.
Spokeswomen for the Florida Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration did not respond directly to Gilmer’s criticism.
Gambineri, the health department spokeswoman, said that the department no longer uses the screening method that it used in 2015 and that parents can ask to have their children re-screened at any time.
“Our mission is now and has always been to provide the best health care possible to the populations that we serve,” McManus wrote in an email.

Pediatrician: ‘We were just irrelevant’

Pediatricians say that by the time the Department of Health meeting was held at the Orlando conference center at the end of 2014, they felt like Florida was dead-set on screening a large number of children off CMS.
They said state officials didn’t listen to their concerns, even though they were stated repeatedly, both in person and in writing.
At the meeting, health officials asked the pediatricians to tell them what was on their minds, according to Rumberger, one of the doctors who was there.
She said she and her colleagues brought up concerns that children might be taken off CMS inappropriately.
The Department of Health official wrote down what the doctors said on pieces of paper taped to the wall, Rumberger said. The official then told the doctors that these were issues to discuss at another time.
“She said, ‘We’re going to park these. We’re putting these ideas in the parking lot for some time, and we’re not talking about these things today,’ ” Rumberger remembered, adding that she was speaking on behalf of herself and not in her role as a CMS regional medical director.
“We were all amazed at what they did,” she added.
A few months later, the state held a series of telephone conference calls with the same CMS regional medical directors.
“They didn’t ask us ‘What do you think?’ or ‘Do you have any suggestions?’ ” Rumberger said. “It was just ‘This is how we’re going to do it.’ It was clear they didn’t want to have a free discussion.”
“It appears to be a very conscious decision to not get input and not receive any dissension,” said Goldhagen, the professor of pediatrics at the University of Florida. “We were just irrelevant.”
Dr. Rex Northup, another CMS regional medical director and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine, agrees.
“It was like, ‘When we want your opinion on a given topic, we’ll let you know, and we’ll provide that opinion to you,’ ” Northup said, adding that he speaks for himself and not the university or any other institution.
Several doctors present on those conference calls said they voiced their concerns anyway.
There’s no record of these concerns. According to the Florida Department of Health, no minutes were taken of these phone conferences.
CNN asked the Florida Department of Health about the meeting where St. Petery was asked to leave and about doctors’ complaints that the state steamrolled through a screening tool that would harm sick children.
“When CMS began the process of implementing a new screening tool in 2014, the department may have underestimated the need for stakeholder input and the time required to obtain feedback and ensure our community was comfortable with the mechanisms for determining clinical eligibility,” responded Gambineri, the Department of Health spokeswoman.
She added that the department has “engaged our stakeholders using several methods” including public meetings to solicit input from patients, parents and providers and “remains open to feedback and input in order to best serve children with serious and chronic medical conditions.”
True to its schedule, the state started screening children off CMS in May 2015.
Florida pediatricians repeatedly told the state that it was hurting sick, vulnerable children.
In August 2015, Goldhagen, Rumberger, Northup and 11 other doctors with positions at CMS wrote a letter to a Department of Health official saying the screening process was “flawed” and was removing too many children.
The doctors did not receive a response, Goldhagen said.
Two months later, St. Petery wrote to Department of Health officials, sharply criticizing the use of the screening tool.
He said he never received a response, either.
Dr. Elizabeth Curry, examining Micah Creamer, says she wrote to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, expressing her concerns about patients being kicked off Children's Medical Services, but the agency didn't respond.

Curry, the Port Saint Joe pediatrician who practices in a rural area of the Florida Panhandle, said she also complained to the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration about children being kicked off CMS, along with other issues affecting children on Medicaid.
She said the agency worked with her on some of the other issues but didn’t respond to her complaints about the children being taken off CMS.
“Our Agency has been in contact with the provider and is working with the health plan to resolve what issues might be resolved,” wrote McManus, the agency spokeswoman.
Curry said she took her complaints even higher.
“I even called the governor’s office once and left a message,” she said. “I admit that I finally gave up. I’m just trying to take care of my patients.”
Pediatricians interviewed for this story said they felt pressure from the state not to speak to the media about the removal of the children from CMS.
On November 15, 2016, Dr. John Curran, then the Florida Department of Health’s deputy secretary for CMS, said on a conference call that a CNN reporter was working on this story, according to several doctors on the call.
That evening, a department official wrote an email to the doctors who’d been on the call. It advised these pediatricians that prior to responding to media inquiries, they should contact the department’s communications director.
“I’m going to be so fired for saying all these things,” Rumberger said.
But she and other pediatricians say they’re speaking up because they feel that the Department of Health hurt children because they didn’t listen to their concerns.
They say it could be because pediatricians don’t tend to have millions of dollars to donate to political campaigns.
But insurance companies do.

‘Like a plot in a Carl Hiaasen novel’

All of this — the telephone survey, the question about limitations, the analysis that’s been called flawed — leaves many Florida parents and pediatricians suspicious about why the state wanted to take 13,074 children off CMS and why it worked so hard and so quickly to do it.
Switching the children from CMS to the other Medicaid plans didn’t save taxpayers money, according to McManus, the agency spokeswoman.
The doctors wonder, then, whether the inspiration for the change was political: to send taxpayers’ dollars to generous donors to the Florida Republican Party.
CMS is a public program; it’s not owned by a private insurance company.
When the children were taken off CMS, they were switched to 11 insurance plans that are owned by private companies. The parent companies of nine of those 11 plans donated a total of more than $8 million to Florida Republican Party committees in the five years before the children were switched.
“I knew it had to be about money,” said Wright, the pediatric endocrinologist in Tallahassee who said that dozens of her patients had their insurance switched. “This sounds very believable for Florida, and I’m from Florida.”
“When this was all unfolding, I told my office manager, ‘I feel like we’re in a plot in a Carl Hiaasen novel,’ ” she added, referring to the Miami Herald columnist who writes about politics and corruption in Florida.
Dr. Nancy Wright, a pediatric endocrinologist, says she thinks the state's motivation for taking patients off Children's Medical Services "appears to be about money. ... It's clearly not medical."

The companies that own the nine insurance plans contributed $8.6 million to Florida Republican Party committees from 2010 to 2014, according to an analysis done for CNN by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisan nonprofit group.
Here’s a breakdown of how much money each insurance company with a Medicaid contract contributed to Florida Republican Party committees from 2010 to 2014:
  • $5.9 million from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida. Florida True Health is an affiliate of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida. At the time the money was contributed, Florida True Health owned 40% of Prestige Health Choice, which has a Medicaid contract with the state of Florida. In 2015, Florida True Health purchased Prestige outright.
  • $90,000 from Simply Health, which owns a Medicaid plan called Better Health.
  • $849,433 from Miguel Fernandez, the former chairman of Simply Health. In addition, Fernandez donated about $1.3 million to Scott’s Let’s Get to Work political action committee from 2010 to 2014.

Insurance companies’ outsize contributions to Florida Republicans

Nearly all states pay insurance companies to insure some of their Medicaid patients; this is not unique to Florida.
And insurance companies often contribute money to state political parties. That’s not unique to Florida, either.
What is unusual is the size of the contributions, even for a large state.
Take UnitedHealthcare, an insurance giant with business in all 50 states. From 2010 to 2014, United contributed $442,500 to Florida Republican Party committees, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
The company’s next largest contribution to any other state political party was $145,000 to California Democrats — less than half the Florida amount.
Humana, another insurance company with a national reach, gave substantially more money to Florida Republican Party committees than to any other state political party committees.
From 2010 to 2014, Humana donated $482,815 to Florida Republican Party committees. Its next largest contribution was $213,823 to Florida Democrats. The next largest contribution after that was $22,000 to the Illinois GOP, less than one-20th the size of the contribution to Florida Republicans.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida gave Florida Republican Party committees $5.9 million from 2010 to 2014 and gave Florida Democrats $1.8 million. The next largest contribution after that from any other Blue Cross and Blue Shield company in the United States was $730,696 from Blue Shield of California to Democrats in that state — about one-eighth the size of the contribution to Florida Republicans.

Florida’s payments to the insurance companies

Nearly all states pay private insurance companies monthly premiums to insure Medicaid patients. It’s become big business.
The Florida Department of Health declined to say how much it paid the private insurance companies to insure the 13,074 children when they were switched out of CMS.
“If they got 13,000 new kids, (it’s) that times however many dollars per member per month,” St. Petery said. “I think that’s a lot of money when you start talking about that many kids.”
LJ Stroud sued the state of Florida to be put back on Children's Medical Services. He has now had the procedures that he needs.

These children came from CMS, a Medicaid program for sick children, and the state pays insurance companies more money to care for such children.
This is how it works, according to McManus, the spokeswoman for the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.
Florida takes a look at all the people who’ve signed up with an insurance company and calculates a risk score for that group based on factors such as the age of the enrollees in the plan and their health conditions.
A plan with the lowest risk score has a “typical population” and might be paid a rate of, for example, $320 per person per month, McManus said. A plan with sicker enrollees might have a risk score that’s twice as high and so would be paid $640 per person per month, she added.
The numbers can get even higher from there.
“The state will pay a pretty good rate for these children,” said Agrawal, the pediatrician at Northwestern who studies health care systems for children with special medical needs.
“They could get paid thousands more per month for a child with serious medical needs,” said Steve Schramm, founder and managing director of Optumas, a health care consulting group.
“The enhanced reimbursement may be 10 times what the insurance companies get for a well child,” said Goldhagen, former director of Florida’s Duval County Health Department.
Yasmeen Shabaneh sued Florida and was placed back on Children's Medical Services.

Sick children are, of course, also costlier for insurance companies because they need more care. But insurance plans monitor that care to manage costs.
“Plans have gotten very sophisticated in their ability to manage very sick kids, so their willingness to take very sick kids is great,” said Jeff Myers, president and CEO of Medicaid Health Plans of America, an industry group representing insurance companies.
Pediatricians questioned whether such outsize political donations were an attempt to gain influence and favor with Florida’s Republican administration, which orchestrated the transfer of the children out of CMS and to the private companies.
“It certainly raises a lot of suspicion and concern,” said Northup, the associate professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine.
“Why would they make contributions in the hundreds of thousands and the millions to Florida Republicans? Why would they be so uniquely committed to Republicans in Florida? It gives one pause,” he added. “If you follow the money, at the very least, it’s worrisome.”
“It’s the left-hand-washing-the-right-hand kind of business,” said Dr. Joseph Chiaro, who was Florida’s deputy secretary of health from 2005 to 2011. “It breaks my heart.”
Six Florida pediatricians gathered in Orlando to tell CNN their concerns. They practice in rural, suburban and urban areas. Some of them are Republicans, and others are Democrats.
They said they feared that big donors had influence on the state’s decision-making process and that in many cases, the children suffered as a result.
“I don’t see this in writing anywhere, but my impression is, this was a way for political payback at the expense of the sickest of the Medicaid children,” St. Petery said.
“It just comes back to money or power. It’s not about health care for the children,” said Wright, the pediatric endocrinologist in Tallahassee.
“Just follow the money,” said Colaizzo, who runs a rural health care clinic in Pahokee, Florida.
State leaders “don’t give a damn about the kids. They don’t give a damn about the families,” said Dr. Marcy Howard, a pediatrician in Crystal River, Florida.

State officials and insurance companies respond

State health officials did not respond directly to the pediatricians’ concerns that campaign contributors had influence over Republican leadership’s decision to take the children off CMS.
“The Statewide Medicaid Managed Care program was designed to provide comprehensive care to recipients through high quality health plans with a payment structure designed to ensure that plans paid an appropriate rate based on the health conditions of those enrolled in their plan,” McManus, a spokeswoman for the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, wrote in an email.
“The program currently covers more than 2 million of Florida’s children, offers the strongest provider network and access standards in program history, and provides families with a choice of high quality, nationally accredited plans so that they can choose the plan that best suits their needs, including specialty plans for those who qualify.”
Alejandro Rodriguez also sued the state of Florida and was placed back on Children's Medical Services.

CNN reached out to officials at all nine insurance companies. Two responded.
“WellCare contributes to a variety of organizations that shape health care policy, including the Florida Republican Party committees, the Democratic Party committees and those without political affiliation,” wrote Alissa Lawver, a spokeswoman for WellCare. “The company also discloses and publicly reports all political contributions on its website above and beyond the requirements of state and federal law. As a provider of managed care, WellCare is committed to partnering with the state of Florida to provide access to quality, affordable health care solutions for the state’s most vulnerable populations. We maintain a robust provider network and offer comprehensive care management services to create personalized, coordinated care plans to help improve and maintain the health of families and children across the state.”
She added that WellCare has accountability to Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, “which provides careful oversight of the state’s Medicaid program to ensure all members, including children that transitioned from Children’s Medical Services, receive access to the right care, at the right time and in the most appropriate setting.”
Ethan Slavin, a spokesman for Aetna, said the company makes “donations to campaigns for both major political parties to support and address issues that impact our customers and members.”
He added that “we are required to meet state rules and regulations regarding our network of health care providers and are consistently compliant with those requirements” and that “we regularly work with our members, health care providers and the state of Florida to move children with special health care needs into the Children’s Medical Services program, when appropriate and in the best interest of our members. Our integrated care management program regularly identifies these children and assists in this process.”
Miguel “Mike” Fernandez, founder and former chairman of Better Health, said he had contributed several million dollars to both Republicans and Democrats. He added that states move Medicaid patients into the care of private companies so they can “move the risk off their financial books.”

A victory for Florida families

Many pediatricians use strong language to describe their anger and frustration with the Florida Department of Health and what it did in 2015 to the 13,074 children.
“This has just been a nightmare, and we’re still experiencing the fallout,” said Dr. Toni Richards-Rowley, treasurer of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“It’s disgusting,” said Cosgrove, the pediatrician in Merritt Island. “It’s all about money and not looking out for the children.”
“Honestly, it makes me want to puke,” said Lida Sarnecky, nurse manager of the team at the University of Florida that takes care of children with cleft lip and palate.
“In my heart, what I want to do is go down to Governor Scott’s office and ask him, ‘What if this were your child or grandchild who couldn’t receive the care they needed? How would you feel then?’ ” she said.
By June 2015, some Florida parents had had enough.
Five children, including Alejandro Rodriguez, and Yasmeen and Aref Shabaneh, sued the state Department of Health to get it to stop using the telephone questionnaire to take patients off CMS, claiming that the state Department of Health hadn’t gone through formal rulemaking procedures.
The children won.
The state didn’t fight the ruling. Instead, it came up with a new way to screen children for the program — one that doesn’t rely on a telephone survey and takes into consideration a child’s diagnosis.
Aref Shabaneh lost his Children's Medical Services coverage when his mother told the state he didn't have limitations. "Aref wants to do everything by himself," she said.

Many parents and pediatricians assumed the state would soon reach out directly to parents to let them know they could reapply to have their children put back on CMS.
They were very wrong.
Five months after the judge’s decision, St. Petery, the Tallahassee pediatric cardiologist, implored the secretary of the Department of Health to reach out to parents.
To St. Petery, the reasoning was obvious: A judge had said that the state had violated the law. Reaching out to the parents was a way of correcting wrongdoing.
The state had a notice on its website about the ability to be rescreened for CMS, and at a meeting with state legislators, a department official had given out a phone number parents could call. But St. Petery knew that busy parents of very sick children might not attend official state meetings or notice pages on government websites.
“I would hope that you would consider notifying each of the parents of those 13,074 children that the tool by which their child was screened out of CMS has been declared invalid, and that they have the right to appeal that decision,” St. Petery wrote to Dr. John Armstrong, then secretary of the Department of Health and the state surgeon general.
Armstrong wrote back that doing so would violate federal regulations, since the children had been switched to other Medicaid insurance plans.
“Federal regulations prohibit direct marketing to children currently being served by another managed care plan,” he wrote back to St. Petery.
CNN was unable to reach Armstrong for comment. Gambineri, the Florida Department of Health spokeswoman, said he “is no longer employed by DOH.”
Not satisfied with Armstrong’s response, St. Petery sought help from US Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa. Castor took his concerns to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
On March 23, 2016, an official at that agency sent an email to Justin Senior, then the Medicaid director at Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration. CNN obtained the email under the Freedom of Information Act.
In that email, the federal official explained to Senior that federal regulations do not prohibit Florida from reaching out directly to families.
“To clarify, 42 CFR 438.104 does not prohibit marketing,” wrote Jackie Glaze, associate regional administrator for the Division of Medicaid and Children’s Health at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, citing a federal regulation.
More than a year later, on July 24, 2017, the Florida Department of Health sent a letter to parents letting them know that their children could be screened to get back on CMS. The letter was sent to 6,081 parents whose children were removed from CMS and put on another Medicaid plan and were still on that plan and financially eligible for Medicaid, according to Gambineri, the Florida health department spokeswoman.
That letter was sent nearly two years after the judge’s decision. Pediatricians say they’re angry it took that long to directly let parents know about the possibility of getting back on CMS.
Gambineri said there was concern that parents might get confused.
“It was originally thought to be, and still is considered a risk, in terms of confusion and disruption to families, to send a letter because they have had rescreening available since 2015,” Gambineri said a few months before the letter was sent out.

Nelson Mandela and Mr. Rogers

Now that LJ Stroud is back on CMS, he’s a happy, strapping 13-year-old who loves to play football and horse around with his brother and sisters in the family’s backyard in St. Augustine.
But his mother looks back on the dark days in 2015, after her son was switched off CMS, when she says he would lie on the couch in pain, unable to get the surgeries he needed.
It’s not just her son’s physical pain that makes Stroud angry; it’s his emotional pain.
Since LJ Stroud was placed back on Children's Medical Services, he's been able to play football again.

When LJ was on CMS, Stroud says, he received excellent care and was a contented, well-adjusted child, never thinking of himself as different despite his birth defect.
But she says that when he was in pain because he couldn’t have surgery, he started to feel sorry for himself.
” ‘Why did God make me this way?’ ” she says he asked. ” ‘Why can’t I be like my brothers and sisters?’ “
When she hears about how top Florida officials have spoken with pride of what they did to her son and to more than 13,000 other children, she becomes livid.
Last year, Armstrong, then Florida’s surgeon general and secretary of health, made a presentation to the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet, a panel created by the state Legislature to promote children’s welfare.
Declaring that the Department of Health “cares about every child in Florida,” Armstrong explained how the state removed the 13,074 children from CMS.
Armstrong’s presentation quoted two great advocates for children, Nelson Mandela and Fred Rogers.
First, he quoted Mandela: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
And he quoted Fred Rogers, the star of the children’s television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”: “Anyone who does anything to help a child in life is a hero to me.”
Stroud struggles for words to describe what she thinks of Armstrong quoting these two champions for child welfare.
“It’s just — it’s just disgusting,” she said. “I feel my blood boiling just thinking about it.”

President Trump, cast out the anti-Semites

JTA — As Jewish liaisons to four different presidents, we had the responsibility inside the White House to give voice to the perspectives and priorities of the American Jewish community. While our community may not be unified in matters of policy and politics, our spiritual practice, cultural traditions and history have instilled in American Jews a shared commitment to protecting those targeted by bigots, racists and others spewing hate and division.

The presidents we served repeatedly used their bully pulpit to condemn hatred and bigotry when it appeared, whether in America or overseas. A video of President Ronald Reagan’s speech at the 1981 NAACP Convention following the lynching of an African-American man in Alabama has gone viral in recent days. President Bill Clinton led the nation’s mourning following the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and we all vividly recall President George W. Bush’s eloquent remarks standing on the rubble of the World Trade Center in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and President Barack Obama’s eulogy and rendition of “Amazing Grace” following the murder of nine African-American worshipers at a historically African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.

President Donald Trump, in his reaction to the violence in Charlottesville and to other examples of anti-Semitism, shows that he neither understands his responsibilities nor the nature of the ancient hatred of anti-Semitism and other forms of hate. His equivocation and unwillingness to speak clearly, without restraint, against blatant examples of racism, anti-Semitism and related manifestations of hate, as well as his refusal to lay blame for violence, are anathema to the best traditions of his office and to the examples set by the presidents we served. And in his failure, he exposes not just Jews but all Americans to greater danger.

If we were working in the White House today, we hope we would have had the courage, honesty and integrity to call upon President Trump to demonstrate moral leadership – and to resign in response to a failure to do so.

A white supremacist carrying a Nazi flag into Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017. (AP/Steve Helber)

If we had a successor in the current White House — there is no liaison to the Jewish community in the Trump White House — we hope he or she would have done so, too.

We need that leadership more than ever. The reason is not just because we have witnessed violence in our streets.

We need moral leadership to respond to the rise of hatred we are witnessing in the nation we love – hatred motivated by the things we cannot change such as the color of our skin, the faith we practice, the land of our birth, the language we spoke as toddlers.

We former Jewish liaisons know that the Jews in America feel hate and reject it, whether it’s directed at them or someone else. We are commanded by our faith to welcome the stranger, to comfort the oppressed, to reach out to the weak and dispossessed. We Jews have always been targeted and called out because of our differences from the majority. And even when we’re not called out and targeted, we know that those who use hate as a political tool will eventually turn their sights on us.

We hear today the chants against the Jews or the “Zios.” We hear in an American city the “alt-right” protesters chant “Jews will not replace us” and the Nazi marching trope of “blood and soil.”

We see in some academic and media circles the casual lumping together of Jews as enemies of the state, incapable of loyalty to America.

A vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017. (Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress via AP)

We see the use of the language and the imagery of anti-Semitism – the hooked noses and the bloody hands — resurrected in modern digital media to deny to Jews our humanity, our individuality and our agency. We see the rough language of Brownshirts casually tweeted by young Americans – “toss them in the ovens,” “throw rocks at the yahood [Jews].” We see the resuscitation of the blood libel.

And we know, the experience of Jews in America may be different from our historical experience as a religious minority elsewhere in the world, but this anti-Semitism is not different. We’ve see this hatred before.

So we say to the president:

“Mr. President, this nation has a problem. People think they can say and do hateful things with impunity. You have a responsibility. Not to weigh hatred against hatred. Not to divide blame equally among ‘both sides.’ Not to excuse those among you who hate by pointing out others who hate worse.

“There are among your supporters and your appointees people who are anti-Semitic. Do not treat them as a cost of doing your political business. Cast them out – not only from your political tent, but from the conversation about America’s future. They don’t have a place in either.

“You must stand on this nation’s strongest moral foundations and principled aspirations and against the violence and hatred. And you must recognize that whenever the Jew is attacked, there is a deeper hatred at work. Anti-Semitism serves as a gateway to other forms of group-based bigotry and hatred.

“The language of anti-Semitism is the language of national suicide – it is, sadly, a mother tongue to discredited and extinct ideologies known throughout human history. If anti-Semitism takes root in America, it will be America’s ruin. Because whoever gives voice to the ancient and tired tropes of anti-Semitism, his mouth goes dry with ashes.

“Mr. President, you must call out and stand against any creeping normalization of anti-Semitism — without obfuscation, hesitation or equivocation – not only because anti-Semitism is odious, but also because it will invariably lead to other forms of hatred and bigotry that divide and destroy our nation.”

Matt Nosanchuk (Barack Obama)
Noam Neusner (George W. Bush)
Jarrod Bernstein (Barack Obama)
Adam Goldman (George W. Bush)
Jay S. Zeidman (George W. Bush)
Scott Arogeti (George W. Bush)
Deborah Mohile Goldberg (Bill Clinton)
Jay K. Footlik (Bill Clinton)
Jeanne Ellinport (Bill Clinton)
Amy Zisook (Bill Clinton)
Marshall J. Breger (Ronald Reagan)

(The authors each served in the White House as the president’s liaison to the American Jewish community in Democratic or Republican administrations.)

Bannon: ‘The Trump presidency we fought for is over’

Ousted White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said Friday night that the Donald Trump presidency the nationalist-populist movement he champions had hoped for was “over.”

In comments to the Weekly Standard, Bannon said “The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over. “We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency. But that presidency is over. It’ll be something else. And there’ll be all kinds of fights, and there’ll be good days and bad days, but that presidency is over.”

Trump parted ways with his controversial chief strategist on Friday as the White House reeled from the fallout over the president’s much-criticized response to a violent white supremacist rally.

But the 63-year-old — whose departure caps one of the most disastrous weeks of the already chaotic young Trump administration — vowed to keep pushing the president’s right-wing agenda, as he returned to his former home at the ultra-conservative Breitbart News.

“If there’s any confusion out there, let me clear it up: I’m leaving the White House and going to war for Trump against his opponents — on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America,” the hero of the so-called “alt right” told Bloomberg News within hours of leaving the White House.

Bannon’s departure amounts to a nod to members of Trump’s government and Republican Party who grew increasingly frustrated with the anti-establishment firebrand.

It remains to be seen what role the serial provocateur — who was credited with a major role in Trump’s upset election victory — will continue play from outside the White House.

White House Senior Advisers Steve Bannon, left, and Jared Kushner, listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting, Monday, June 12, 2017, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Bannon’s presence in the West Wing had been contested from the start, and with Trump under fire for insisting anti-racism protesters were equally to blame for violence at a weekend rally by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, the president faced renewed pressure to let him go.

Trump, who rose to political prominence by casting doubt on whether Barack Obama, America’s first black president, was born in the United States, did condemn neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan once this week. But the next day he reverted angrily to his initial stance — effectively setting a moral equivalence between the white supremacists at the Virginia rally and anti-racism counter demonstrators there.

“Steve Bannon’s firing is welcome news, but it doesn’t disguise where President Trump himself stands on white supremacists and the bigoted beliefs they advance,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

Bannon was the nucleus of one of several competing power centers in a chaotic White House, and reportedly fell into disfavor for allegedly leaking stories about colleagues who he felt did not sufficiently adhere to his populist agenda.

Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced on Friday that the president’s new chief of staff John Kelly and Bannon had “mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” adding: “We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”

Kelly, a no-nonsense former Marine general, had reportedly warned he would not tolerate what he saw as Bannon’s behind the scenes maneuvering.

US President Donald Trump (R) speaks with newly sworn-in White House Chief of Staff John Kelly at the White House in Washington, DC, on July 31, 2017.  (AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON)

And Trump was reportedly furious about an interview in which his aide contradicted his own position on North Korea.

Since taking office in January, Trump has lost five top aides: Bannon, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, press secretary Sean Spicer, chief of staff Reince Priebus and communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

The latest departure came as former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney added his voice to those criticizing the president over last weekend’s events, telling Trump in a Facebook post he was facing a “defining moment” and needed to apologize “for the good of the country.”

The woman whose daughter was killed when an avowed white supremacist rammed his car into protesters in Charlottesville said she would not meet with Trump following his comments equating the likes of her daughter with white supremacists.

“You can’t wash this one away by shaking my hand and saying ‘I’m sorry,’” Susan Bro, the mother of 32-year-old victim Heather Heyer, said in an interview on ABC.

Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger warned Trump he has “a moral responsibility to send an unequivocal message that you won’t stand for hate and racism.”

And James Murdoch, the chief executive of 21st Century Fox whose tycoon father Rupert has been a Trump ally, pledged to donate $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League, which combats anti-Semitism.

“What we watched this last week in Charlottesville and the reaction to it by the President of the United States concern all of us as Americans and free people,” Murdoch said.

In other developments Friday, a statue of a US Supreme Court justice who was behind a racist ruling was taken down in Maryland and all 16 members of a presidential committee on arts and the humanities resigned to protest what they called Trump’s “hateful rhetoric.”

The statue of justice Roger Taney is the latest monument to topple in a growing campaign to remove symbols of the pro-slavery Confederacy.

Trump called the movement “foolish” on Thursday and said US culture and history were being “ripped apart.”

In the letter to Trump announcing their mass resignation, the members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities said “ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions.”

The first letter of each paragraph spelled out the word “R-E-S-I-S-T.”

White House staff on edge — one more resignation could set off a mass exodus

With Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Mike Flynn, Anthony Scaramucci and other staffers all quitting or getting fired from President Donald Trump’s White House, staffers are nervously eyeing each other to see who will be the next to go, according to Vanity Fair‘s Isobel Thompson.

On Friday, President Donald Trump made it official that White House Chief Strategist Stephen K. Bannon no longer works for the administration as Bannon’s loyal supporters at Breitbart.com ramped a plan for “war” against the White House.

Meanwhile, inside the White House, shell-shocked aides and advisors are all wondering who will bolt for the exit next. Firings and resignations are coming at such a furious pace that one D.C. restaurant is offering discounted drinks on days that the president fires a White House official.

Trump has reportedly been jubilant in the wake of his combative press conference earlier this week in which he created a moral equivalency between neo-Nazi and white supremacist demonstrators in Charlottesville, VA and the protesters who turned out to oppose them.

“Privately however, many staffers were queasy,” said Thompson. Aides have tried and tried to explain to Trump that he’s not helping himself but “He doesn’t care,” one White House adviser said.
“A number of people are on thin ice,” said another aide, who said the White House staff is “stunned and disheartened” after the weeks slew of failures, embarrassments and setbacks.

There is a sense, said Thompson, that “that the dominos could be about to fall.”

One aide told Axios.com, “The danger for Trump now is that one senior resignation will start a run on the bank.”

Rumors that Cohn — who is Jewish — might resign over Trump’s failure to disavow the KKK sent shockwaves through economic markets this week, although traders were jubilant on Friday when they heard that Bannon was fired.
Retired Marine Gen. John Kelly has struggled in vain this week to rein the president in and keep him from going off on emotional rants and outbursts. The newly-hired White House chief of staff is potentially finding out what attorneys who refuse to represent Trump already know, that the commander-in-chief is unable to exercise even the simplest forms of message discipline.

Meanwhile, said Thompson, public opinion and recent events are threatening to swamp an already storm-tossed administration and take down the Republican Party with it. As the stark “moral binary” becomes clear over whether to back an administration that has declared its common cause with white supremacists, history is watching.

“Some may be mulling altering the course of their careers,” she wrote, “rather than being tarnished in the process. History will likely not only look unkindly at Trump, but those staring steadfastly at the floor, too.”

Parents Catch FBI in Plot to Force Mentally Ill Son to Be a Right Wing Terrorist

http://www.renegadetribune.com/parents-catch-fbi-plot-force-mentally-ill-son-right-wing-terrorist/
By Matt Agorist

It’s become a near-weekly occurrence. Somewhere in some state, the FBI will announce that they’ve foiled yet another terrorist plot and saved lives. However, as the data shows, the majority of these cases involve psychologically diminished patsies who’ve been entirely groomed, armed, and entrapped by FBI agents. Simply put, the FBI manufactures terror threats and then takes credit for stopping them.

While many of these cases have garnered attention and been exposed in the alternative media, a recent case out of Oklahoma sets a new low for FBI and exposes how insidious these plots can be.

Through the hundreds of ‘foiled terror plots’ the FBI has ‘busted’ over the years, many of them have been focused on people of Middle Eastern descent or people associated with ISIS or Al Qaeda. This time, in the case of Jerry Drake Varnell, the 23-year-old diagnosed schizophrenic, accused of attempting to bomb a bank, the FBI fomented terror from a right wing dialogue.

In a June meeting with the agent, according to FBI documents, Varnell described himself as a believer in “Three Percenter” ideology, a right wing group claiming to be committed to standing against and exposing corruption and injustice.

According to federal documents, Varnell drove what he believed was a stolen van containing a 1,000-pound ammonium nitrate bomb on Saturday morning to blow up an Oklahoma City bank. Vile, indeed.

However, if we backtrack just a bit, to when the FBI began grooming their would-be right wing militia terrorist, the vileness comes directly from the government.

“The FBI knew he was schizophrenic,” Varnell’s parents declared on Wednesday in an open letter bravely published by NewsOK.

Underneath his condition, he is a sweet-hearted person and we are extremely shocked that this event has happened. However, what truly has us flabbergasted is the fact that the FBI knew he was schizophrenic. The State of Oklahoma found him mentally incompetent and we, his parents have legal guardianship over him by the Court. These documents are sealed from the public, which is why no news media outlet has been able to obtain them. The FBI clearly knew that he was schizophrenic because they have gathered every ounce of information on him.”

Yet they knowingly continued to groom him, despite the clear immoral implications.

When they began grooming him, according to the family, the FBI knew that Varnell was declared mentally unfit to live by himself and that he was a paranoid schizophrenic. Without their criminal informant and the FBI tactics playing mind games with this vulnerable man, the idea of him committing an act of terror would have likely never materialized.

What the public should be looking at is the fact that the FBI gave our son the means to make this happen. He has no job, no money, no vehicle, and no driver’s license, due to the fact that he is schizophrenic and we; his parents do everything we can possible to keep him safe and functional…..  He has suffered through countless serious full-blown schizophrenic delusional episodes and he has been put in numerous mental hospitals since he was 16 years old. The FBI came and picked him up from our home, they gave him a vehicle, gave him a fake bomb, and every means to make this happen none of which he had access to on his own. 

The parents noted that during the setup, they suspected something was going on and Jerry’s father told the informant to stay away from their son. However, according to the parents, the informant “continued to sneak onto our residence. The FBI paid him to continue this operation and I believe they have cleared his criminal record.”

Because they knew Varnell had severe mental disabilities, the FBI should have had stopped their plans to do this and immediately sought an option of hospitalization. However, they pressed on.

Knowing a sane person would likely never attempt to blow up a bank, the FBI deliberately targeted a severely delusional and mentally ill person. This is wrong on so many levels. Will the next mass murderer they groom come directly from a mental institution?

The FBI should have filed conspiracy on our son and had him committed to a mental institution. They should not have aided and abetted a paranoid schizophrenic to commit this act. There are many more facts that I will not make public that will support my son and the disturbing acts made by the FBI.

I realize that many will say my son could have found another person to commit this act. Yet, any person that has access to the materials and the state of mind necessary to bomb a building would not have any need for a schizophrenic who has no resources to contribute.”

Clifford and Melonie Varnell, Jerry’s parents make a powerful point. No one — other than the FBI — would’ve attempted to get a schizophrenic man with nothing to contribute to do their bidding as it would most likely be a futile effort — unless you are the FBI looking for an easy patsy to keep fear alive.

David Steele, a 20-year Marine Corps intelligence officer, the second-highest-ranking civilian in the U.S. Marine Corps Intelligence, and former CIA clandestine services case officer, had this to say about these most unscrupulous operations:

Most terrorists are false flag terrorists, or are created by our own security services. In the United States, every single terrorist incident we have had has been a false flag, or has been an informant pushed on by the FBI. In fact, we now have citizens taking out restraining orders against FBI informants that are trying to incite terrorism. We’ve become a lunatic asylum.”

Indeed, we’ve become a lunatic asylum.


This article originally appeared on The Free Thought Project.

Trump Will Resign Before Mueller Finishes Investigation, ‘Art of the Deal’ Writer Says

The guy who helped President Donald Trump write his seminal book “The Art of the Deal” said the former reality TV star will soon leave the White House on his own accord.

In a series of tweets Wednesday, Tony Schwartz—who co-authored the 1987 book that helped define the real estate magnate’s public image—said he thought the walls were closing in on Trump and he would soon leave office in an attempt to save face.

Every tweet Schwartz sent Wednesday was about Trump. “Think of Trump as a toddler w/ reactive attachment disorder, and therefore in a permanent virulent tantrum. His development ended at age 7,” he posted, later adding, “Remember that every time Trump criticizes and demeans someone he is projecting his deep sense of inadequacy & self-hatred onto others.”

Later he wrote in a series of three tweets that Trump’s end would come before the year was out. “The circle is closing at blinding speed. Trump is going to resign and declare victory before Mueller and congress leave him no choice,” Schwartztweeted. “Trump’s presidency is effectively over. Would be amazed if he survives till end of the year. More likely resigns by fall, if not sooner.

For the Americans who don’t support Trump—that’s a lot of folks considering the president’s approval rating is hovering about 37 percent—Schwartz warned they have to keep the pressure up if they want the billionaire to resign. “Trump must be isolated. Resistance every day. The end is near but must keep pressure high,” he tweeted.

Schwartz, now the CEO of The Energy Project, has been a critic of Trump as he ascended to the White House and has regularly tried to explain how the president goes about making decisions. Schwartz wrote in The Washington Postin May that for Trump “didn’t value—nor even necessarily recognize—the qualities that tend to emerge as people grow more secure, such as empathy, generosity, reflectiveness, the capacity to delay gratification or, above all, a conscience, an inner sense of right and wrong.” Instead, everything for him was transactional and considered a win or a loss. If that were true, then it would stand to reason that Trump would the desert the presidency before it could be considered an unsalvageable loss.

Oddsmakers seem to feel similarly to Schwartz. The latest odds from bookmaker Ladbrokes, for instance, gave Trump an about 48 percent chance of not finishing his first term due to either impeachment or resignation.

Jewish Democratic Congressman to introduce articles of impeachment

Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, announced Thursday that he plans to introduce articles of impeachment against President Trump.

Cohen cited potential obstruction of justice and violations of the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause as the reasons for impeachment while also addressing his own strong moral opposition to the president’s words and actions relating to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend.

“In response to the horrific events in Charlottesville, I believe the President should be impeached and removed from office,” Cohen said in a statement released by his office. “Instead of unequivocally condemning hateful actions by neo-Nazis, white nationalists and Klansmen following a national tragedy, the President said ‘there were very fine people on both sides.’ There are no good Nazis. There are no good Klansmen.”

The congressman’s call to remove Mr. Trump from office comes after the president blamed the Charlottesville disruption on “both sides”— both the white supremacists leading the “Unite the Right” rally, and their counter-protesters, who Mr. Trump labeled the “alt-left.”

“Well, I do think there’s blame,” Trump said in a press conference from Trump Tower in New York on Tuesday. “Yes, I think there is blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there is blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it. And you don’t have doubt about it either. And if you reported it accurately, you would say.

Cohen also serves as a Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice. A move to impeach Mr. Trump from the White House will likely not pick up speed in a Republican-controlled Congress.

“As a Jew and as an American and as a representative of an African American district, I am revolted by the fact that the President of the United States couldn’t stand up and unequivocally condemn Nazis who want to kill Jews and whose predecessors murdered 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, and could not unequivocally condemn Klansmen whose organization is dedicated to terrorizing African Americans,” Cohen’s statement reads.

Cohen is not the first of his colleagues to call for Mr. Trump’s impeachment. In July, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-California, and Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, co-sponsored an article of impeachment.

Sherman filed the article one day after the president’s eldest son Donald Trump Jr. acknowledged that he met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer during the campaign. Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, and Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign manager, were also present at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. The lawyer promised potentially damaging information on the Trump campaign’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Republican Jewish Coalition calls for ‘greater moral clarity’ from Trump

WASHINGTON — The Republican Jewish Coalition implored US President Donald Trump on Wednesday to “provide greater moral clarity” against bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism following his comments blaming “both sides” for deadly violence at a far-right rally in Virginia.

The group, long an engine of support for the president that has defended him on issues pertaining to Israel and the Jews, was responding to a press conference Trump gave on Tuesday in which he said “some very fine people” were marching with the white supremacists at the Charlottesville event.

“The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are dangerous anti-Semites,” RJC Chairman Norm Coleman and Executive Director Matt Brooks said in a statement. “There are no good Nazis and no good members of the Klan.”

“We join with our political and religious brethren in calling upon President Trump to provide greater moral clarity in rejecting racism, bigotry, and anti-Semitism,” the statement continued.

Former US Senator Norm Coleman (Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

On Saturday, after a 20-year-old man described as an admirer of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, rammed a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one woman and injuring at least 19 others. Trump intially said “many sides” were at fault, while pointedly declining to mention the racist hate groups that had organized the rally.

Two days later he eventually did so, calling out the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis who played an outsized role in the demonstration protesting the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

But come Tuesday he doubled down on his original assessment and apportioned equal blame to the white supremacists and the counter-protesters.

“You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent and nobody wants to say that but I’ll say it right now,” he said.

President Donald Trump speaks to the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Shortly after Trump made those remarks — during a press conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York — former grand wizard of the KKK David Duke thanked the presidentin a tweet for “his honesty and courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville.”

Trump’s Tuesday comments were swiftly repudiated by numerous Republican leaders, including former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, former Massachusetts govenor Mitt Romney, Senator John McCain and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, among others.

“No, not the same,” Romney tweeted Tuesday night. “One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes.”

One Jewish Republican, however, defended Trump’s response to the Charlottesville episodes, while simultaneously stressing there was no equivalence between the white supremacists and their opponents.

“These two sides are not equal,” Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York told The Times of Israel in a statement: “I would add though that it is not right to suggest that President Trump is wrong for acknowledging the fact that criminals on both sides showed up for the purpose of being violent. That particular observation is completely true.”

Zeldin, for his part, nequivocally condemned the hate groups that orchestrated and participated in Saturday’s rally.

“Anyone associating themselves with the KKK and Nazism is associating themselves with hatred, bigotry, racism, intolerance and a tremendously inhumane past filled with horrible evil,” he said, adding that their “violent acts inspired by deep hatred are disgusting, un-American, and unwelcome in our great nation.

Torch-wielding white supremacists march at the University of Virginia on August 11, 2017 (Screen Capture/ YouTube)

In their Wednesday statement, the leaders of the Republican Jewish Coalition took a similar tone and cited the history of the party as a lodestar for their denunciation of what happened in Charlottesville.

“As representatives of the party whose founder, Abraham Lincoln, broke the shackles of slavery, and of an organization with many members who experienced firsthand the inhumanity of the Nazi Holocaust, we state unequivocally our rejection of these hatemongers,” they said.

Jewish congressman: Trump’s Charlottesville reaction invites ‘repeat actions’

WASHINGTON — Jamie Raskin was not at all surprised to see such vile sentiments expressed over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a white nationalist rally took a violent and deadly turn.

“As a Jewish member of Congress you get treated to a cornucopia of extremist and anti-Semitic social media correspondence,” he told The Times of Israel in an interview. “I knew it was out there. The only amazing thing about the rally was that the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who showed up mostly did not bother to mask their identity.”

That was a sign to Raskin, a first-term congressman from Maryland, of a fringe element in American society that now feels emboldened to lash out in greater force than it has in decades.

But perhaps even more jarring for him was the reaction of US President Donald Trump, who, on multiple occasions since, has sought to equate the white nationalists with those who oppose them.

“You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent and nobody wants to say that but I’ll say it right now,” Trump said in the gilded lobby of Trump Tower in New York on Tuesday, adding that there were also “very fine people on both sides.”

A signal, Raskin believes, has been sent. “The brazen assertion of moral equivalence between the two sides is a direct invitation to more neo-Nazi assembly,” he said.

This file photo taken on August 15, 2017, shows US President Donald Trump speaking to the press at Trump Tower in New York. (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

“The problem with all of the president’s signals and then ear-piercing dog whistles is that it now invites repeat actions all over the country,” he went on. “David Duke and company are now set to stage fascist rallies in a neighborhood theater near you.”

Indeed, the so-called alt-right — a loose collection of far-right groups, including neo-Nazis, white supremacists and others — has rallies planned for at least nine American cities this Saturday.

Meanwhile, Duke, the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, has not been shy celebrating the president’s admonishment of the counter-protesters. In a tweet shortly after Trump’s now-infamous press conference on Tuesday, he thanked him for “his honesty and courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville.”

Trump’s first response on Saturday, after a 20-year-old man rammed a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one woman and injuring at least 19 others, was to say “many sides” were at fault, while pointedly declining to even mention the racist hate groups that had organized the rally.

A white nationalist demonstrator walks into Lee Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Two days later, he grudgingly did so, calling out the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, who played an outsize role in the demonstration, by name. But come Tuesday he doubled down on his original assessment and allocated equal blame to “both sides.”

Raskin, whose sister lives in Charlottesville, said that Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally, which was to protest the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, was the product of long-simmering discontent the president has galvanized.

“Donald Trump has been stoking white grievance and resentment for years now and what we saw in Charlottesville was a boiling cauldron of klansmen, skinheads, neo-Nazis and angry white nationalists,” Raskin said.

“This was the densest concentration of people who got the Steve Bannon message in the 2016 campaign,” he added, referring to the White House chief strategist, who used to run Breitbart News, an outlet that he himself once called “the platform of the alt-right.”

“Obviously, wherever fascists go, they’re going to attract huge numbers of non-violent protesters, but also some people who are driven to try to crush them,” he said. The neo-Nazis understand that perfectly well.”

“If they keep staging rallies like this, replete with violent altercations, and the president’s response is to place a gentle pox on both their houses, then it gives aid and comfort to the spread of more fascist ideas and gatherings.”