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This Is What Obamacare’s Critics Won’t Admit Or Simply Don’t Understand

THOUSAND OAKS, California Maryann Hammers is likely to die from ovarian cancer someday. But she hopes someday won t come anytime soon.

Hammers, 61, received the diagnosis in late 2013, and doctors told her that it was stage 3-C, which meant that she could live for many years with the right treatment and a little luck. So far, she s had both. She s in remission for the second time, and her last course of chemotherapy ended a year and a half ago. But recent blood tests detected elevated levels of a protein associated with tumors, she explained when we met a few weeks ago. Maybe it s a fluke, she said. I hope so. I kinda feel like the clock is ticking.

If the cancer is back, Hammers said, she may need surgery similar to her two previous operations gigantic surgeries, gutted like a fish and hospitalized for many days. Chemotherapy would likely come next, plus medication, hospitalization, and home care. But Hammers considers herself lucky because she s been able to get treatment at City of Hope, a highly respected Southern California cancer research and treatment center, and luckier still that she s been able to pay for the treatment with insurance an Anthem Blue Cross policy she bought through Covered California, the exchange her state created under the Affordable Care Act[1].

To hear President Donald Trump[2], House Speaker Paul Ryan[3] and other Republicans tell it, Obamacare has been a disaster, even for those who obtained coverage through the law. Hammers has a very different perspective. She s a freelance writer and editor, which means she has no employer-provided insurance. In the old days, if she d gone shopping for a policy with her cancer diagnosis, she would have struggled to find a carrier willing to sell her one.

I’m terrified. … Do you know how easy it is to use a million dollars when you’re getting cancer treatment? Maryann Hammers, Thousand Oaks, California

And it s not just the pre-existing condition guarantee, which even critics like Trump say they support, that Hammers has found so valuable. The Affordable Care Act requires insurers to cover a wide range of services and treatments which, in her case, has included multiple shots of Neulasta, a medication that boosts white blood cell counts and typically costs several thousand dollars per injection. The law also prohibits annual or lifetime limits on benefits, which, as a long-term cancer patient, she would be a prime candidate to exceed.

Policies with such robust coverage inevitably cost thousands of dollars a year, more than Hammers could afford on her own particularly since battling the disease has cut into her work hours. But the law s generous tax credits discount the premiums and help with the out-of-pocket costs, too. Without the Affordable Care Act, I honestly do not know what I would have done, she said.

The coverage Hammers has today still isn t as good as what she had years ago, when she worked for a company that provided benefits. But it s better than what she had in the years right before the cancer diagnosis, when she was buying insurance on her own. The latter plan covered fewer services and came with out-of-pocket costs high enough to discourage her from getting checkups. Obamacare s introduction of free preventive screenings led her to schedule a long-overdue colonoscopy. During routine preparation for that procedure, a physician first felt a lump in her abdomen.

Sometimes Hammers wonders whether, with less sporadic doctor visits, the cancer might have been caught a little sooner. But I couldn t afford a fat doctor s bill. And I thought I was super healthy.

These days, something else looms even larger in her mind the possibility that Trump and the Republican Congress will repeal the health care law without an adequate replacement, or maybe with no replacement at all.

I m terrified isn t that crazy? Hammers said. My biggest source of stress right now isn t the fact that I have incurable cancer. It s the prospect of losing my insurance.

What American Health Care Used To Look Like

To appreciate the significance of stories like Hammers and what they say about the Affordable Care Act, it helps to remember what used to happen to people like her before the law took effect. By 2009, when President Barack Obama took office, roughly 1 in 6 Americans had no health care insurance, and even the insured could still face crippling medical bills. As a reporter covering health care during those years, I met these people. Some of their stories stand out, even now, because they capture the old system at its callous, capricious worst.

Gary Rotzler, a quality engineer at a defense contractor in upstate New York, lost his family coverage in the early 1990s when he lost his job. He ended up uninsured for two years, while he juggled stints as an independent contractor. His wife, Betsy, made do without doctor visits even after she started feeling some strange pains. By the time she got a checkup, she had advanced breast cancer. Desperate efforts at treatment failed. After she died, Gary, a father of three, had to declare bankruptcy because of all the unpaid medical bills.[4]

Jacqueline Ruess, a widow in south Florida, thought she was insured. But then she needed expensive tests when her physicians suspected she had cancer. Although the tests were negative, the insurer refused to pay the bills because, it said, a brief episode of a routine gynecological problem in her past qualified as a pre-existing condition.[5]

Tony Montenegro, an immigrant from El Salvador living in Los Angeles, was uninsured and working as a security guard, until untreated diabetes left him legally blind.[6]

Marijon Binder, an impoverished former nun in Chicago, was sued by a Catholic hospital over medical expenses she couldn t pay.[7]

And Russ Doren[8], a schoolteacher in a Denver suburb, believed he had good insurance until the bills for his wife s inpatient treatment at a psychiatric hospital hit the limit for mental health coverage. The hospital released her, despite worries that she was not ready. A few days later, she took her own life.

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 was an effort to address these kinds of problems to carry on the crusade for universal coverage that Harry Truman had launched some 60 years before. But precisely because Obama and his allies were determined to succeed where predecessors had failed, they made a series of concessions that necessarily limited the law s ambition.[9]

They expanded Medicaid and regulated private insurance rather than start a whole new government-run program. They dialed back demands for lower prices from drugmakers, hospitals and other health care industries. And they agreed to tight budget constraints for the program as a whole, rather than risk a revolt among more conservative Democrats. These decisions meant that health insurance would ultimately be more expensive and the new system s financial assistance would be less generous.

Still, projections showed that the law would bring coverage to millions while giving policymakers tools they could use to reduce medical costs over time. When the Senate passed its version of the legislation in December 2009, then-Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) described the program as a starter home[10] with a solid foundation and room for expansion.

Where Obamacare Failed And Where It Succeeded

Seven years later, Trump and the Affordable Care Act s other critics insist that the program has been a boondoggle that the Obamacare starter home needs demolition. Some of their objections are philosophical, and some, like the persistent belief that the law set up death panels, are fantastical. But others focus on the law s actual consequences.[11]

High on that list of consequences are the higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs that some people face. The new rules, like coverage of pre-existing conditions, have made policies more expensive, and Obamacare s financial aid frequently doesn t offset the increases. A rate shock wave hit suddenly in the fall of 2013, when insurers unveiled their newly upgraded plans and in many cases canceled old ones infuriating customers who remembered Obama s promise that if you like your plan, you can keep it, while alienating even some of those sympathetic to what Obama and the Democrats were trying to do.

I ve interviewed plenty of these people, too. A few weeks ago, I spoke with Faisuly Scheurer, a real estate agent from Blowing Rock, North Carolina. She and her husband, who works in the restaurant business, were excited about the health care law because they d struggled to find decent, affordable insurance. They make about $60,000 a year, before taxes, with two kids and college tuition looming in the not-distant future, she said.

In late 2013, they checked out their options and learned that, after tax credits, coverage would cost $360 a month. Scheurer said she remembers thinking, OK, that is really tight. But if the benefits are good, we are going to have to skimp on other things to make it work. Then she learned about the out-of-pocket costs, which could reach $13,000 over the course of a year depending on her family s medical needs. My disappointment was indescribable.

The Scheurer family ultimately decided to remain uninsured. They re not the only ones, and that has weakened the system as a whole. The people eschewing coverage tend to be relatively healthy, since they re most willing to take the risk of no coverage. That s created big problems for insurers, which need the premiums from healthy folks to offset the high medical bills of people with serious conditions.

Many insurers have reacted by raising premiums or pulling out of some places entirely, leaving dysfunctional markets in North Carolina and a handful of other states. Just this week, Humana[12], which had already scaled back its offerings, announced that it was pulling out of the Affordable Care Act exchanges altogether. At least for the moment, 16 counties in Tennessee don t have a single insurer committed to offering coverage in 2018.

Trump, Ryan and other Republicans pounced on the Humana news, citing it as more proof of a failed system and the need for repeal. That s pretty typical of how the political conversation about the Affordable Care Act has proceeded for the last seven years. The focus is on everything that s gone wrong with Obamacare, with scant attention to what s gone right.

And yet the list of what s gone right is long.

  • In states like California and Michigan, the newly regulated markets appear to be working as the law s architects intended, except for some rural areas that insurers have never served that well. Middle-class people in those states have better, more affordable options.[13][14][15][16][17]

  • It looks like more insurers are figuring out how to make their products work and how to successfully compete for business. Customers have turned out to be more price-sensitive than insurers originally anticipated. In general, the carriers that struggle are large national companies without much experience selling directly to consumers, rather than through employers.[18][19]

  • Last year s big premium increases followed two years in which average premiums were far below projections, a sign that carriers simply started their pricing too low[20]. Even now, on average, the premiums people pay for exchange insurance are on a par with, or even a bit cheaper than, equivalent employer policies[21] and that s before the tax credits.

  • The majority of people who are buying insurance on their own or get their coverage through Medicaid are satisfied with it, according to separate surveys by the Commonwealth Fund[22] and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation[23]. The level of satisfaction with the new coverage still trails that involving employer-provided insurance, and it has declined over time. But it s clearly in positive territory

And then there s the fact that the number of people without health insurance is the lowest[24] that government or private surveys have ever recorded. When confronted with questions[25] about the people who gained coverage because of the law, Republicans often say something about sparing those people from disruption and then argue that even those who obtained insurance through the law are suffering and no better off. This claim is wildly inconsistent with the experience of people like Maryann Hammers and, more important, it s wildly inconsistent with the best available research.

This Is What Obamacare's Critics Won't Admit Or Simply Don't Understand

HuffPost Infographic: Alissa Scheller

People are struggling less with medical bills, have easier access to primary care and medication, and report that they re in better health, according to a study that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2015. The number of people forgoing care because of costs or being very worried about paying for a catastrophic medical bill dropped substantially among the newly insured, Kaiser Foundation researchers found last year when they focused on people in California.[26][27]

A bunch of other studies have turned up similar evidence, All of them concur with a landmark report on the effects of Massachusetts 2006 insurance expansion, which was a prototype for the national legislation. Residents of that state experienced better health outcomes and less financial stress, according to the study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.[28][29][30][31][32][33][34]

Though it s had no shortage of controversies and stumbles, there s really no denying that the ACA has created historic gains in insurance coverage, said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Foundation. With better coverage that has fewer holes, access to health care has improved and many have better protection from crushing medical bills.

What Repeal Would Really Mean

Reasonable people can disagree about whether these achievements justify Obamacare s costs, which include not only higher premiums for the young and healthy but also hefty new taxes on the wealthiest Americans. That s a debate about values and priorities as much as facts.

What s not in dispute, or shouldn t be, is the stark choice on the political agenda right now.

Democratic lawmakers still argue for the principle that Truman laid out in 1948: health security for all, regardless of residence, station, or race. They think the Affordable Care Act means the U.S. is closer to that goal and that the next step should be to bolster the law by using government power to force down the price of drugs, hospital services and other forms of medical care, while providing more generous government assistance to people who still find premiums and out-of-pocket costs too onerous. Basically, they want people like Faisuly Scheurer to end up with the same security that people like Maryann Hammers already have.[35]

Some Republicans talk as if they share these goals. Trump has probably been the most outspoken on this point, promising to deliver great health care at lower cost and vowing that everybody would be covered. But other Republicans reject the whole concept of health care as a right. Although it s theoretically possible to draw up a conservative health plan that would improve access and affordability, these aren t the kinds of plans that Republicans have in mind.

There s a face to this law, there s a face to people that are going to be affected by it. Angela Eilers, Yorba Linda, California

Their schemes envision substantially less government spending on health care, which would mean lower taxes for the wealthy but also less financial assistance for everybody else. Republicans would make insurance cheaper, but only by allowing it to cover fewer services and saddling beneficiaries with even higher out-of-pocket costs. The result would be some mix of more exposure to medical bills and more people without coverage. If Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act without replacing it a real possibility, given profound divisions within the GOP over how to craft a plan 32 million more people could go uninsured, according to the Congressional Budget Office[36]. That would mean real suffering, primarily among those Americans who benefit most from the law now the ones with serious medical problems, or too little income to pay for insurance on their own, or both.

Jay Stout, a 20-year-old in Wilmington, North Carolina, is one of those people. He was in good health until a head-on car collision nearly severed his arm and landed him in the hospital for more than a month. Surgeries and rehabilitation would have cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars that, as a community college student working part-time as a busboy, he could never have paid if not for the Blue Cross plan that his mother had bought through the Affordable Care Act. When we spoke a few weeks ago, he told me the insurance has been irreplaceable and that losing it would be totally devastating.

Meenakshi Bewtra had never had a serious health problem until her first year at the University of Pennsylvania medical school, when she developed severe gastrointestinal problems the kind that forced her into the hospital for two months and drove her to drop out of school. Her insurance lapsed, which meant that her GI issues became a pre-existing condition. She eventually found coverage and today she s a professor of medicine at Penn, where she moonlights as an advocate for universal health insurance.

For the first time, I truly understood what comprehensive health insurance meant, Bewtra said, remembering what it was like to become fully covered. I did not have to worry about how many times I saw a doctor, or how many lab tests I had to get, or having to ration out medications.

Angela Eilers, who lives in Yorba Linda, California, isn t worrying about her own health. It s her daughter Myka who has a congenital heart condition called pulmonary stenosis, which makes it more difficult for the heart to pump blood to the lungs. The little girl has required multiple surgeries and will need intensive medical treatment throughout her childhood. In 2012, Angela s husband, Todd, was laid off from his job at an investment firm. Since going without insurance was not an option, they took advantage of COBRA to stay on his old company s health plan. It was expensive, and Eilers recalled panicking over the possibility they might not be able to pay the premiums. I remember sitting at the table, thinking of plans. What would be our plan? One of them was giving up our parents rights to my mom, because she has really good health insurance.

Eventually her husband started his own consulting business, and that gave them the income to keep up with premiums until 2014 when they were able to obtain coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Today they have a gold plan, one of the most generous available, for which they pay around $20,000 a year. Even though they make too much to qualify for financial assistance, they re grateful for the coverage. Seven-year-old Myka has already run up more than a half-million dollars in medical bills. In the old days, before Obamacare, they would have worried about hitting their plan s lifetime limit on benefits.

The family s coverage has become more expensive over the years. They wish the price were lower, but they re also not complaining about that. I m thankful that the letter was a premium hike, rather than Sorry, we are not going to cover your daughter anymore, Angela Eilers said.

When she thinks about the possibility of Obamacare repeal, she wonders if Trump and the Republicans understand what that would really mean. There s a face to this law, there s a face to people that are going to be affected by it, Eilers said. It s not me, it s not him, it s her. She s only 7. And through no fault of her own, why should she suffer? And she s not the only one.

Sign up for the HuffPost Must Reads newsletter.[37] Each Sunday, we will bring you the best original reporting, long form writing and breaking news from The Huffington Post and around the web, plus behind-the-scenes looks at how it s all made. Click here[38] to sign up!

References

  1. ^ Affordable Care Act (www.huffingtonpost.com)
  2. ^ Donald Trump (www.huffingtonpost.com)
  3. ^ Paul Ryan (www.huffingtonpost.com)
  4. ^ Gary Rotzler (www.newsweek.com)
  5. ^ Jacqueline Ruess (www.self.com)
  6. ^ Tony Montenegro (www.amazon.com)
  7. ^ Marijon Binder (www.nytimes.com)
  8. ^ Russ Doren (www.amazon.com)
  9. ^ Harry Truman (www.trumanlibrary.org)
  10. ^ starter home (newrepublic.com)
  11. ^ death panels (www.huffingtonpost.com)
  12. ^ Humana (www.modernhealthcare.com)
  13. ^ states (www.huffingtonpost.com)
  14. ^ California (www.latimes.com)
  15. ^ Michigan (www.huffingtonpost.com)
  16. ^ appear to (www.huffingtonpost.com)
  17. ^ be working (www.huffingtonpost.com)
  18. ^ figuring out (www.nejm.org)
  19. ^ their products work (www.cnbc.com)
  20. ^ too low (www.brookings.edu)
  21. ^ equivalent employer policies (www.urban.org)
  22. ^ Commonwealth Fund (www.commonwealthfund.org)
  23. ^ Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (kff.org)
  24. ^ lowest (twitter.com)
  25. ^ confronted with questions (www.latimes.com)
  26. ^ Journal of the American Medical Association (jamanetwork.com)
  27. ^ Kaiser Foundation researchers (kff.org)
  28. ^ bunch (www.commonwealthfund.org)
  29. ^ other (annals.org)
  30. ^ studies (www.nber.org)
  31. ^ turned (jamanetwork.com)
  32. ^ similar (content.healthaffairs.org)
  33. ^ evidence (content.healthaffairs.org)
  34. ^ Annals of Internal Medicine (annals.org)
  35. ^ Truman laid out (www.trumanlibrary.org)
  36. ^ Congressional Budget Office (www.cbo.gov)
  37. ^ Sign up for the HuffPost Must Reads newsletter. (www.huffingtonpost.com)
  38. ^ here (www.huffingtonpost.com)

Michael Flynn, General Chaos

I said, Fetch Chardonnay, not Riesling.

By this point, the Justice Department had informed Trump officials of concerns about Flynn s conversations with the Russian Ambassador and his public accounting of them. The acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, a holdover from the Obama Administration, told the White House that she worried Flynn might be vulnerable to blackmail by Russian agents, the Washington Post reported. Yet Flynn remained an important player in national-security matters. He was always in the room, and on every call, one Administration official told me.

Each morning, Flynn attended Trump s intelligence briefing the President s Daily Brief. Bannon joined occasionally, as did Mike Pompeo, the director of the C.I.A., and Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff. Flynn conferred with senior intelligence officials on how to best tailor the briefing for Trump. Presidents are particular about how they receive information, Michael Morell, a former acting C.I.A. director, who prepared and delivered the President s Daily Brief to several Presidents, told me. George H. W. Bush preferred text on a half page, in a single column, limited to four or five pages; the briefer read fifteen to twenty pages aloud to George W. Bush, who preferred more material and liked to discuss it with the briefer; Barack Obama studied the material alone, over breakfast. Trump s briefings were being shaped to address macroeconomics, trade, and alliances, Flynn told me, in a telephone conversation earlier this month. The P.D.B. is not always about just your enemies.

Congress created the National Security Council in 1947, in the hope of establishing a more orderly process for co rdinating foreign and defense policy. Six years later, Dwight Eisenhower decided that the council needed a chief and named the first national-security adviser a former soldier and banker, Robert Cutler. The position evolved into one of enormous importance. McGeorge Bundy, who served under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, regarded himself as a traffic cop controlling access to the President. Under Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger dramatically expanded the role, often meeting directly with the Soviet Ambassador, and bypassing the State Department.

The temptations of power nearly overwhelmed Ronald Reagan s Presidency, in what became known as the Iran-Contra affair, when national-security staffers were discovered to be running covert actions involving Iran and Central America. The scandal prompted some to call for the national-security adviser to become a Senate-confirmed position. Heading off these demands, George H. W. Bush chose a retired general, Brent Scowcroft, who had held the job under Gerald Ford, to return to the role, confident that Scowcroft would respect the lines between intelligence work, military operations, and policymaking. He will be an honest broker, Bush said.

Since then, according to Stephen Hadley, George W. Bush s second-term national-security adviser, the honest broker has become the model for Republican and Democratic Administrations alike. That meant overseeing a process that is fair and transparent, where each member of the council can get his views to the President, Hadley said. In late November, Hadley met with Flynn, who was seeking advice, at Trump Tower. Hadley left the meeting optimistic that Flynn meant to act as a facilitator in the traditional way.

I feel like everybody s podcasting and nobody s podlistening.

In mid-June, 2010, the magazine piece, The Runaway General, appeared. McChrystal was quoted calling Vice-President Joe Biden shortsighted for his opposition to the surge in Afghanistan; one aide mocked Biden as Bite Me ; and another aide dismissed Jim Jones, Obama s first national-security adviser, as a clown. Obama fired McChrystal the day after publication. Flynn chafed at the decision. It s hard to see someone you know have to go through that, a close associate of Flynn s told me. You don t heal from that overnight.

Flynn prepared to leave Afghanistan, as McChrystal s successor, David Petraeus, brought in his own staff. Before Flynn departed, he stopped by the Joint Intelligence Operations Center to say goodbye. Speaking to dozens of analysts, Flynn delivered a forty-five-minute lesson, covering some of the bloodiest engagements in American history: the Battle of Antietam, in 1862, when twenty-three thousand people were killed or wounded in a single day; Operation Torch, in 1942, when several hundred soldiers died establishing beachheads in North Africa as part of the Allied invasion. His point was that no one in Washington can ever appreciate what is happening on the battlefield, and that there aren t as many Americans dying now as before, the intelligence analyst who worked with Flynn said. But it was confusing, and these would be the same kind of discussions you d have with him about the nature of the insurgency you d leave his office and spend an hour trying to figure out what he was trying to say.

I said, I wonder what it means, not Tell me what it means.

Employees started to complain. Many sought reassignment with other agencies. Morale was in the toilet, Shelby said. To higher-level observers, Flynn looked like this bold leader, willing to make changes in the face of opposition. But, the further down you went, the more negative impact there was, because it was complete chaos.

Moreover, Flynn could be sloppy with numbers and details misstatements that his staffers derided as Flynn facts. His habit of chasing hunches also exasperated some staff members. In September, 2012, after the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate and annex in Benghazi, Flynn urged an investigation into an Iran connection; his insistence that Iran was involved stunned subordinates, according to the Times. (Flynn denies that he asked for a probe.) An intelligence analyst who worked with Flynn during this period told me that his iconoclasm sometimes went too far. By nature, Flynn takes a contrarian approach to even the most simple analytic issues, the analyst said. After Benghazi, I remember him using the phrase black swan a lot. What s a black swan ? He was looking for the random event that nobody could predict. Look, you certainly have to keep your eye on the ball for that, but there s a reason why it s a black swan. You shouldn t dedicate a ton of time to that.

In 2013, Flynn arranged a trip to Moscow to speak to a group of officers from the G.R.U., Russia s intelligence agency, about leadership development. His decision to go was a controversial one. Flynn believed that there were opportunities to find common ground with Russia. But Steven Hall, the C.I.A. s chief of Russia operations at the time, was skeptical. He wanted to build a relationship with his counterparts in the G.R.U., which seemed, at best, quaint and na ve, Hall told me. Every time we have tried to have some sort of meaningful co peration with the Russians, it s almost always been manipulated and turned back against us.

Several months after Flynn returned from his Moscow trip, he hoped to reciprocate by inviting several senior G.R.U. officers to the United States. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, cautioned him against it. Russia had recently annexed Crimea, and Russian special-forces operatives were fomenting a violent clash between rebels and Ukrainian troops in eastern Ukraine.

By then, Flynn had become a target of scorn for many inside the department. His deputy, David Shedd, became one of his harshest critics, and did little to hide his disdain. I was walking by the front office once and heard David Shedd say, I m going to save the agency from the director, Simone Ledeen, who works in counter-threat finance at a multinational bank, said. Ledeen had worked for Flynn in Afghanistan, at the office for the director of national intelligence, and in the D.I.A., doing threat-assessment research. (She is also Michael Ledeen s daughter.)

Normally, a D.I.A. director serves for three or more years, but, in late 2013, Clapper and Michael Vickers, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, were concerned about the tumult inside the agency and told Flynn that his tenure would last just two years. Flynn unsuccessfully tried to extend his term when his successor s nomination was delayed. Shedd later became the acting director.

On August 7, 2014, at a ceremony in the atrium of the D.I.A. s headquarters, Flynn retired from the military, after thirty-three years. His wife and two sons attended, as did Michael Ledeen. The senior military intelligence official, who was present, told me that Flynn was obviously bitter: He was loading up, and he was not going to go quietly.

Flynn, who was fifty-five, began fashioning a post-military life. He started his own business, the Flynn Intel Group, which offered clients a range of private intelligence and security services. He did some freelance consulting and also worked with SBD Advisors, a strategic consulting firm whose roster included the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen; former chief of the Special Operations Command Admiral Eric Olson; and other retired military officers. In January, 2015, Flynn signed with Leading Authorities, a speakers bureau, which promoted his expertise in leadership, cybersecurity, and terrorism.

Look, until there s a Tinder for pandas, we have to meet the old-fashioned way: being locked in a room together by scientists.

On Fox News, NBC s Meet the Press, CNN, and elsewhere, Flynn became increasingly critical of the Obama Administration. He lashed out at the Iran nuclear deal, the Administration s ISIS strategy, and its approach to radical Islam generally. Several Republican hopefuls preparing to run against Hillary Clinton asked for his advice. Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, brought Flynn on as an informal adviser for her Presidential bid. She told me that she found him refreshing. He is a very down-to-earth, approachable guy, she said. She was also impressed by his candor. Flynn, she said, doesn t pull punches.

In August, 2015, Flynn went to New York to meet Trump for the first time. They were scheduled to talk for thirty minutes; the conversation lasted ninety. Flynn was deeply impressed. I knew he was going to be the President of the United States, he told me.

Two months later, Flynn appeared on RT, the English-language Russian television channel, formerly known as Russia Today. The outlet was widely regarded as a propaganda arm of the Kremlin, even before a recent U.S. intelligence report on Russian hacking and the Presidential election said that the channel had become an important part of a Kremlin-directed campaign to undermine faith in the US Government. Flynn discussed the civil war in Syria, where Russian jets were flying bombing sorties in support of President Bashar al-Assad s regime. He contrasted Putin s resolve with what he described as Obama s dithering in the region: There s no coherence or no clarity to the strategy.

Yes, we re all white, but we re post-racial white. April 7, 2014

Flynn s own views seemed to be tilting increasingly toward the fringe. He, as Trump has, publicly insinuated that Obama was a secret Muslim, and not a true American. I m not going to sit here and say he s Islamic, Flynn said of Obama, during remarks last year before the American Congress for Truth, an anti-Muslim group. But Obama didn t grow up an American kid, Flynn said, adding that the President s values were totally different than mine.

Flynn also stoked fear about Muslims and, in a tweet that used the hashtag #NeverHillary, shared an anti-Semitic comment that read, in part, Not anymore, Jews. Not anymore. (He subsequently deleted the tweet, calling it a mistake. ) I m not perfect. I m not a very good social-media person, he told me in one of our conversations. Stanley McChrystal and Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, both contacted Flynn and tried, unsuccessfully, to get him to tone it down.

Flynn predicted a Trump win, but he was making contingency plans. He began reorienting his firm, the Flynn Intel Group, so that it would be able to compete for lobbying clients after the election. The firm arranged to work with Sphere Consulting, a public-relations and lobbying business in Washington.

In August of last year, a Turkish businessman with close ties to the government of Recep Tayyip Erdo an hired Flynn Intel Group on a lobbying contract to help promote the view that Turkey s business climate was a positive one. This was a challenging task, given that Erdo an had survived a coup attempt just the month before, and was, in retaliation, rounding up anyone considered insufficiently faithful to his regime. Flynn had previously been critical of Erdo an, whom he viewed as an Islamist threat. He put those concerns aside now as he vouched for Erdo an s government, writing an op-ed for The Hill that heralded Turkey as our strongest ally against ISIS.

Flynn remembered Election Night fondly, a moment of triumph. I like to think that I helped get Donald Trump elected President, he told me. Maybe I helped a little, maybe a lot. One of Trump s first major decisions was to appoint Flynn his national-security adviser, calling him an invaluable asset to me and my Administration. Flynn told me, Service was something our family was always encouraged to do. He went on, I made some mistakes, but I m still serving. It s like being a priest, you know. I ve been called to serve.

And that s when he realized he wasn t on the partner track at all! March 10, 2014

The end for Flynn came rather abruptly. He had spent the weekend with the President and the Prime Minister of Japan at Mar-a-Lago, Trump s resort in Palm Beach, Florida, where they had used a table in an open dining area as an impromptu and unsecured situation room after a ballistic missile test by North Korea. But, back in Washington on Monday afternoon, there was confusion about Flynn s standing. During a television interview, Kellyanne Conway, a senior White House adviser, said that Flynn enjoyed Trump s full confidence. Then, within the hour, Spicer said that Trump was evaluating the situation. Flynn went about his duties as usual that afternoon, participating in foreign-policy discussions in the Oval Office, an Administration official told me.

NBPA officers express concern over Oakley-Knicks conflict

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Officers with the National Basketball Players Association said Friday that the problems between Charles Oakley and Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan could impact decisions future free agents make about playing for the New York Knicks.

Oakley was removed from MSG earlier this month, pulled away by security guards, handcuffed, arrested and eventually banned from entering the arena[1] . That ban has since been lifted, but the long-strained relationship between Oakley a very popular player when he was a Knick and the team remains tenuous at best.

“I think it’s kind of a personal thing,” said NBPA vice president Anthony Tolliver of the Sacramento Kings. “I think some guys, for sure, notice it and some of those guys have made it known that it will affect them. Other guys, maybe not.”

Added NBPA secretary-treasurer James Jones of the Cleveland Cavaliers: “It’s kind of self-evident.”

Tolliver has played for nine franchises in his nine NBA seasons, and said one thing he’s learned in his many moves is how some franchises are just operated differently than others.

“Can’t really put a blanket statement over all players,” Tolliver said. “But for me personally, playing for so many different teams like I have, there’s a big difference between an organization that’s run the right way and an organization that isn’t.”

It’s an issue of particular importance for NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts not just because of her role in the union, but because she’s a New York fan.

“I have been a fan of the Knicks since I could spell, and I welled up when I saw what happened to Oak,” Roberts said. “So of course I was affected by that.”

Dolan said Oakley was being abusive when he got to his seat for the game on Feb. 8, and later suggested on ESPN New York that the former player “has a problem with anger. He’s both physically and verbally abusive. He may have a problem with alcohol. We don’t know.”

Dolan and Oakley, with help from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan[2] , began mending fences this week. But it remains a topic at All-Star weekend, and Silver will almost certainly address it again when he holds his annual All-Star news conference on Saturday.

“I know Oak personally, so that was real tough to watch,” union president Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers said. “To hear them say that they hope Oak is going to get some help like he’s mentally ill or something, that was tough. Since I’ve come into the NBA and talking about looking out for younger players, Oak has been a guy who has always checked on me injury, anything like that. To see him treated in that fashion was tough.”

The BIG3, the 3-on-3 league featuring former NBA players that will debut this summer, announced Friday that Oakley would be a player-coach of the Killer 3s. The team also includes Chauncey Billups and Stephen Jackson.

References

  1. ^ eventually banned from entering the arena (bigstory.ap.org)
  2. ^ with help from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan (bigstory.ap.org)