That Big Yellow Taxi

efIt’s a quiet night here in Laurel Canyon, and raining, which doesn’t happen much out here – but the road that winds up though the canyon is open again. The back yard of one of the odd houses up in the hills gave way and slid down and ended up in the road near Jim Morrison’s old place. It happens.

That took a few days to clear. We don’t do rain out here. Gene Kelly doesn’t dance through the puddles. Those puddles were on a soundstage down at the old MGM studios in Culver City – and Laurel Canyon will always be the sunny center of all that mellow but deep rock of the late sixties and early seventies. Everyone bought that Carole King album with the gauzy picture of her and her cat on the cover – sitting at the window of her place here in Laurel Canyon, in the sun. Joni Mitchell lived nearby and her album was Ladies of the Canyon – and the surprise hit from that album was Big Yellow Taxi – with that catchy refrain. Everyone was singing that to themselves – “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…”

That’s banal enough, but this was more than a girl-loses-boy song. There was something in the air. The sixties were over. Something very cool and very good had ended. Joni Mitchell tapped into that, whether she meant to or not. And it’s raining in Laurel Canyon. And the Obama years are over. We may have a new national anthem, even if Joni Mitchell was Canadian.

People get it:

Barack Obama leaves office Friday with 6 in 10 Americans approving of his job performance, capping a steady rise that vaults him above the average final mark for modern presidents, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds.

Obama’s high-note finish comes with plenty of dissonance, including persistent pessimism about the nation’s direction and deep divisions after Donald Trump’s victory in last year’s presidential race after campaigning strongly against Obama’s policies.

Yet Americans grew significantly more positive about Obama’s presidency through the acidic 2016 campaign as perceptions of the economy improved. The president’s approval ratings were underwater in July 2015, when 45 percent approved and 50 percent disapproved of his performance. But his overall approval grew to a steady 50 percent by January 2016, and rose again to 56 percent in June, never falling below the mid-50s through the fall campaign.

The latest Post-ABC poll shows Obama hitting 60 percent approval, with 38 percent disapproving – his highest mark since June of his first year in office, when 65 percent approved of him.

Donald Trump kept saying people hated Obama and everything he stood for – and should hate Hillary Clinton because she stood for the same things – but for most people the economy wasn’t as bad as Trump said it was and Hillary Clinton did win almost three million more votes than Trump. Obama had coattails, not that it mattered, given our odd Electoral College system – but of course she was a clumsy and often tone-deaf candidate. She wasn’t Obama, who was neither. In the end the numbers came around. Obama had been a pretty good president. It was finally okay to admit that, now that he was on his way out, and he ended up in a good place:

Obama’s final job approval mark is well above the 50 percent average for presidents from Franklin Roosevelt onward, and nearly twice as high as the 33 percent approval of his immediate predecessor George W. Bush as he left office in 2009.

Bush had been a screw-up. Iraq, Katrina, the total collapse of the economy – you name it. Obama just plugged along, fixing things as much as he could, with the whole Republican Party trying to keep him from fixing things at all, so they could prove he was an idiot, or a Muslim, or a socialist if not a communist. He was none of those things. He fixed what he could and smiled – and got old before our eyes. And the big yellow taxi will take him away. Actually that would be Air Force One flying him out here for a long vacation in the sunshine (Palm Springs not Laurel Canyon) with the wife and kids – the last flight he’ll ever take in that plane. He may not miss it. He says he’ll settle down in DC and write, and speak out only when he feels he has to. He seems to hope it won’t come to that.

Barack Obama used his departing words as President Wednesday to offer an assured – if not entirely optimistic – outlook for a country governed by Donald Trump.

“At my core I think we’re going to be okay,” Obama said as he concluded his final news conference at the White House. “We just have to fight for it, work for it, and not take it for granted.”

“I know that you will help us do that,” he told reporters assembled in the White House briefing room.

Yes, the word is that Trump might lock them out of the White House, but DC is a big place. They’ll find someone somewhere nearby who will let them know what’s going on. They’ll adapt. He did:

In his question-and-answer session with reporters, Obama said that after two terms of political warfare with Republicans, he was emerging unbowed in his faith in the US and its citizens. But he continued to express concerns about his successor’s stance on Russia and his readiness for office.

“I believe in this country. I believe in the American people. I believe that people are more good than bad,” Obama said. “I believe tragic things happen. I think there’s evil in the world, but I think at the end of the day, if we work hard and if we’re true to those things in us that feel true and feel right, that the world gets a little better each time.”

“That’s what this presidency has tried to be about,” he continued.

In short, the nation will survive Donald Trump. The nation is bigger than Donald Trump, with his small and odd ideas. Things will be fine, but he’s outta here:

Conceding that Trump may not take his advice on issues, Obama said he would avoid weighing in on specific policy matters during his post-presidency, using his time instead to write and “not hear myself talk so darn much.”

America, things will be fine, but you’re on your own. That Joni Mitchell song comes to mind.

Things will be fine? E. J. Dionne isn’t so sure of that:

Let’s start with the fact that most Americans are not happy that Donald Trump is about to become president. The Post/ABC News poll this week found that Trump enters the Oval Office with the lowest favorable ratings since the question has been asked. Only 40 percent view Trump favorably. That compares with 62 percent for George W. Bush as he entered office in 2001 and 79 percent for Barack Obama in 2009.

Dionne, however, doesn’t expect much of Trump:

In the past, presidents facing public doubts of the sort Trump confronts have practiced what you might call self-interested humility. Bush declined to acknowledge the anger so many felt at the time about how the Supreme Court paved the way to his presidency, but in his well-wrought inaugural address he did show how to reach out and reassure those who worried about what he might do with power.

“Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment,” Bush declared. “It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos.”

You might say that since Election Day, Trump has chosen cynicism over trust and chaos over community.

Well, the sixties – love, peace, and cool music too – also ended, but that cantankerous conservative George Will says it’s more than that:

Donald Trump is the waterbeetle of politics. His feral cunning in manipulating the masses and the media is, like the waterbeetle’s facility, instinctive. The 72 days of transition demonstrated a stylistic seamlessness with his 511 days of campaigning, which indicates that the 1,461 days of his term that begins Friday will be as novel as his campaign was.

Its theme was often a pronoun without an antecedent, his admirers explaining their admiration by saying that “he tells it like it is.” Fortunately, a theme of his transition has been a verbal shrug: “Oh, never mind.”

Trump has already as much as said that:

He won by stoking resentments that his blue-collar base harbors about the felt condescension of elites. He has, however, transitioned with ease and celerity away from the most vivid commitments that made his crowds roar (prosecuting Hillary Clinton, making Mexico pay for the wall, banning Muslims from entering the country, deporting 11 million illegal immigrants within two years, restoring torture because “it works” but even “if it doesn’t work,” etc.). He shows an interesting disinclination to disguise his condescension toward those he effortlessly caused to roar by giving verbal prompts that he has now abandoned.

And there’s this:

Candidate Trump intimated a foreign policy less reliant on military measures than the policies of some recent presidential predecessors. But the most riveting moment of the transition received less attention than did Trump’s tweet snit about Meryl Streep. The moment was when Rex Tillerson, Trump’s designated secretary of state, told the Senate that China’s policy of building and militarizing islands in the South China Sea is “akin to Russia’s taking of Crimea” and that America should tell China that “your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.” China might not quietly accept this U.S. Navy blockading of the islands.

And there’s this:

The World Economic Forum that convenes every winter in Davos, Switzerland, will conclude Friday just as the Trump presidency begins. It has been well said that Davos is where billionaires tell millionaires what the middle class feels. Chinese President Xi Jinping attended. He is advocating a Chinese alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the U.S. initiative that probably was dying before Trump’s election killed it. The Communist leader offered an almost Thatcherite defense of free trade, which America’s president-elect opposes.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is the principled conservative now? George Will goes on and on. Expect contradictory chaos that makes no sense and does real harm – and this from a guy who really did think Obama was an idiot. He’s singing that Joni Mitchell song too, although he may think she’s an idiot too. George Will doesn’t seem like a sixties sort.

Peter Baker surveys the situation:

In one way at least, President-elect Donald J. Trump has already surpassed all of his recent predecessors. It took Barack Obama 18 months in the White House for his approval rating to slip to 44 percent in Gallup polling, and it took George W. Bush 4½ years to fall that far. Mr. Trump got there before even being sworn in.

Indeed, Mr. Trump will take office on Friday with less popular support than any new president in modern times, according to an array of surveys, a sign that he has failed to rally Americans behind him, beyond the base that helped him win in November. Rather than a unifying moment, his transition to power has seen a continuation of the polarization of the election last year.

Expect a new nastiness:

Where other presidents used the weeks before their inauguration to put the animosities of the campaign behind them and to try to knit the country together again, Mr. Trump has approached the interregnum as if he were a television wrestling star. He has taken on a civil rights icon, a Hollywood actress, intelligence agencies, defense contractors, European leaders and President Obama. The healing theme common at this stage in the four-year presidential cycle is absent.

“He seems to want to engage with every windmill that he can find, rather than focus on the large aspect of assuming the most important position on earth,” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said on CNN on Tuesday. “And obviously, apparently, according to the polls, many Americans are not happy with that approach when he has not even assumed the presidency.”

Well, screw them:

Mr. Trump’s advisers said privately that his unexpected rise to power showed that such traditional barometers did not matter as much anymore. If polls were to be believed, he would not have been president, they said.

Still, the anemic numbers clearly irritated Mr. Trump, who lashed out on Tuesday. “The same people who did the phony election polls, and were so wrong, are now doing approval rating polls,” he wrote on Twitter. “They are rigged just like before.”

It’s just not true, none of it true, just like global warming perhaps, or those reports of Russian hacking. He did beat Hillary Clinton. He got far more votes. No, wait – oh, never mind. All the polls are wrong.

This may make for an interesting inauguration speech – which he may or may not be writing himself – in which he’ll say that everyone loves him, and loves his ideas, and his justifiable swagger, and if they don’t they’re idiots, and there WILL be consequences! Or he could be a humble pussycat and say that other people have good ideas too, and he’ll listen to them and respect them.

Everyone knows which is more likely. Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?

That’s true in another way:

On the eve of its possible repeal, Obamacare is at its most popular, according to a poll from NBC and the Wall Street Journal released Tuesday.

Forty-five percent of Americans surveyed said they think Obamacare, the outgoing president’s signature legislative achievement formally called the Affordable Care Act, is a “good idea.” Forty-one percent think it is a bad idea.

The poll, conducted between Jan. 12 and 15, started asking about Obamacare in April 2009, and this month marks both the highest percentage of respondents who signaled their approval for the law and the first time that more people surveyed said they like it than dislike it.

Sing the song:

Republicans in Congress and President-elect Donald Trump have vowed to repeal the law and replace it with some alternative, although there is no clear consensus on what form that new legislation might take.

The NBC/WSJ poll found that 50 percent of respondents have “little to no confidence that Republican proposals to replace the law will make things better.”

Expect contradictory chaos:

Congressional leaders had first advocated repealing the law immediately and leaving open a window before it would take effect so they can take more time to pass a replacement package. Trump and some others, though, have publicly pushed back on that plan.

Trump also said this weekend that he wants to guarantee that “insurance for everybody” under a Republican replacement. Congressional Republicans had not promised this.

One might expect contradictory chaos, but Eric Zorn suggests one might actually expect a single-payer system:

So far, the hazy outlines of Trump’s ideas on replacing Obamacare – just like the various ideas floated by Republicans in Congress – would have some combination of significantly unpopular results: Higher deductibles. Skimpier coverage. Increases in the number of people without health insurance.

Single-payer systems have their drawbacks, too, of course, not the least of which is that they smack so heavily of “socialism” that, despite their popularity and prevalence in most of the rest of the developed world, Democrats have failed for the better part of a century to advance proposals to guarantee basic medical coverage for all.

The very idea has been too identified with the far left to gain mainstream traction, even with polls showing 6 in 10 Americans agreeing with the statement that “it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have health care coverage.”

Could Trump, the unorthodox populist blowhard, be the one to make it so?

That is possible:

Trump’s not even in the White House and he’s rhetorically led his party into a box canyon on health care. Even while bleating about what a “disaster” Obamacare is, he’s pledged not only to preserve the parts of it with huge public support, such as the ban on discrimination against those with existing medical conditions, but also to make it cheaper while not cutting funds for Medicare and Medicaid patients.

True, he has his finger to the winds of change generated by Obamacare and may be guided only by his desire for public approval and his instincts as a con man, but all his big talk has left his party no face-saving way to replace the existing program that isn’t something even closer to single-payer guarantees than what we have now.

If Trump is as good as his word – and yes, “if” insufficiently qualifies his track record of fake-outs, falsehoods and flip-flops – “Trumpcare” could go from a dark joke to a blessing.

It could, but that would be an accidental blessing. The real world is something like this. Sherri Underwood, a Midwestern woman in her fifties, explains that she voted for Donald Trump but now regrets it:

Most of my decision came down to my poor experience with Obamacare. In the ’90s, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic illness that causes fatigue, memory loss, physical aches, and soreness… I eventually was unable to work at all. I lost employer-based health insurance when I left the workforce and had to pay my health care costs out of pocket.

When Obamacare first came into effect, I was excited to get what I thought would be financial help with my costly medicine and treatments. But [my husband’s salary] put me in an earning bracket too high to qualify for any financial assistance… I’m left with a premium of $893, so high that I can no longer afford the cost of my medicines and treatments on top of the monthly premiums…

In the end, I voted for Trump because he promised to repeal and replace Obamacare, and that was the most important issue to my own life. Looking back, I realize what a mistake it was. I ignored the pundits who repeated over and over again that he would not follow through on his promises, thinking they were spewing hysterics for better ratings. Sitting on my couch, my mouth agape at the words coming out his mouth on the TV before me, I realized just how wrong I was.

That happens to a lot of people, but Kevin Drum thinks there’s more to this:

Lots of people have benefited considerably from Obamacare, but not everyone. Underwood found herself in the worst possible position: old enough to have a high premium but well-off enough that she didn’t qualify for assistance. So she was gobsmacked when she discovered just how much health care costs in America. Most people have no real clue about this, but per-capita health care spending in the US for someone 55 years old is about $10,000 per year. That means insurance premiums are going to be $10,000+ per year too. There’s just no getting around this.

If Republicans want to cover people like Underwood, they’re going to have to spend more money than Obamacare. If they want to reduce deductibles, they’re going to have to spend more money than Obamacare. If they want to increase subsidies for the middle class, they’re going to have to spend more money than Obamacare. This is an iron law, and no amount of blather about state lines or tort reform or anything else changes it more than minutely. But Republicans want to spend less, not more. Even if Trump had been sincere, there was never any chance that Underwood would do better under his plan than under Obamacare.

Cue the Joni Mitchell song. Another one didn’t know what she got, such as it was, until it was gone.

There’s a lot of that going around. Obama says we’ll be okay, somehow – but he just took that big yellow taxi, didn’t he?

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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