Fox News guest: "Jimmy Kimmel has a responsibility, using his platform, to tell people the truth and not engage in propaganda"
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Interviews with Graham-Cassidy supporters spread misinformation, devolve into misleading deflection
Republican senators took to the airwaves this week to shore up support for the so-called “Graham-Cassidy” health care bill, the latest GOP proposal that aims to dismantle much of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with a series of proposals adopted from previously failed legislation. The often contentious interviews frequently devolved into stonewalling and deflection when reporters pressed lawmakers for answers about the ways the legislation would affect tens of millions of Americans who rely on programs such as Medicaid, live with pre-existing medical conditions, or have gained coverage under the ACA.
Republican lawmakers have attempted to build support for the latest attempt to repeal and replace the ACA, which is in jeopardy of collapse amid reports that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is opposed to the bill, by once again recycling worn-out myths about the Obama-era health care reform law and spreading falsehoods about the proposed legislation. With Republicans set to appear on the Sunday morning political shows this weekend to build support for the bill, which many lawmakers seem to know little about, their refusal to engage in a factual debate about the legislation should be a red flag for the journalists conducting those interviews.
During September 20 appearances on CNN’s New Day and MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) spread several falsehoods about the health care repeal legislation that bears his name. (He spread much of the same misinformation from the friendly confines of Fox News, where he was allowed to push his talking points completely unchallenged.) During his CNN and MSNBC appearances, Cassidy falsely claimed the proposal would result in more people getting health insurance coverage and asserted that the new bill protects the tens of millions of Americans living with pre-existing medical conditions. When CNN’s Chris Cuomo pressed Cassidy to provide proof of his claims, Cassidy pivoted to attack the ACA’s individual insurance mandate. And when MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle confronted him about coverage cuts for “low-income seniors, children, and people with disabilities,” Cassidy evaded the question while claiming that his bill would simply reroute money currently allocated to those groups through the existing Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP):
In reality, the Center for American Progress, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), and The Commonwealth Fund each reported that, according to previous estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Graham-Cassidy proposal to end private market health insurance tax credits, along with its severe cuts to Medicaid and rollback of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, would result in 32 million people losing health insurance over the next decade. And as Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation explained to Axios, though the Graham-Cassidy bill would not repeal the ACA's rules about pre-existing conditions, "they might end up only existing on paper." That's because, as PolitiFact has also noted, the bill removes ACA protections against charging higher premiums to customers with existing medical problems and the language about pre-existing conditions "is vague and subject to broad interpretation.”
During a September 20 appearance on Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) emphasized the supposed need to pass his health care agenda because “Obamacare is collapsing around us.” Graham also asserted that under the ACA, “access to health care is going down” nationwide:
Graham’s claim that the ACA “is collapsing” echoes years of conservative smears about the law, which exaggerate any hiccup in the implementation of ACA reforms as proof of an impending “death spiral.” In reality, the insurance marketplaces established by the law have stabilized considerably over the past year, and lingering issues are largely the result of Republican sabotage, not a failure of the ACA. Graham’s additional claim that the newest GOP bill is a solution to reduced health care access could not be further from the truth: The number of uninsured Americans reached an all-time low in 2016 before the Trump administration launched its efforts to dismantle the ACA and, as previously noted, Graham’s bill would strip insurance from millions of Americans.
During a September 19 interview on CNN’s New Day, bill co-sponsor Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) bemoaned health care reforms instituted by the ACA, which he called “Washington, D.C.’s one-size-fits-all model” for health care coverage. Johnson reiterated his support for the proposal in the Graham-Cassidy bill to convert ACA revenue into block grants to states, which he claimed would be “far more responsive to their citizens than Washington, D.C., will.” Co-host Alisyn Camerota largely let Johnson push his talking points unchecked, and she seemed more interested in Johnson’s plan to recruit additional Republican supporters than with the ways the legislation would affect millions of Americans:
Johnson approached his September 21 interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe with a similar strategy, stressing that Graham-Cassidy would help states be more responsive to their citizens and deflecting questions about concerns from several Republican governors that the bill’s Medicaid cuts will devastate low-income communities. When co-host Willie Geist pressed Johnson about whether some Medicaid recipients would be “denied coverage they have now” by Graham-Cassidy’s rollback of the program, Johnson again deflected those concerns and suggested the problem could be avoided if governors “manage their programs properly”:
In fact, according to CBPP, any proposal to convert federal Medicaid funding into a block grant system would inevitably lead to major funding cuts and program restrictions. CBPP estimated that millions of Americans would lose Medicaid coverage from the block grant system proposed by Graham-Cassidy, a concern shared by the bipartisan group of governors opposed to the bill.
On the September 19 edition of MSNBC’s MTP Daily, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) falsely claimed that Medicaid had “failed” as a result of ACA reforms and argued that the program insuring low-income Americans is unpopular with patients. (Host Katy Tur, however, correctly noted that Medicaid is extremely popular.) Barrasso also asserted that “this bill protects everyone with a pre-existing condition” and smeared ACA patient protections requiring insurance plans to cover essential health benefits (EHBs), which protect consumers from inadequate plans. When Tur pressed him to provide support for his claims, Barrasso simply talked over her repeated inquiries while reiterating the same talking points:
On the September 20 edition of CNN Newsroom, Barrasso had a less contentious interview with co-hosts John Berman and Poppy Harlow, during which he spread even more misinformation about the Graham-Cassidy plan. Barrasso bizarrely claimed that Graham-Cassidy would not kick millions of people off their plans, but would instead empower millions to drop coverage with “the free choice they have as Americans.” He also falsely claimed the Graham-Cassidy bill would result in states “get[ting] more money to deal with” the health care needs of their own residents. A September 20 report from Avalere Health, however, has revealed that the bill would actually “reduce federal funding to states by $215 billion” through 2026, by $489 billion through 2027 when block grants for Medicaid run out, and by a staggering $4 trillion through 2036. In the end, Graham-Cassidy would redistribute billions of dollars from states that enacted ACA provisions to those (like Wyoming) that refused to do so:
Media Matters research coordinator Julie Alderman contributed to this research
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Right-wing media figures attacked Jimmy Kimmel, host of ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!, after Kimmel sharply criticized Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) as having “lied right to my face” about health care in May. Kimmel pointed out that the Affordable Care Act repeal package Cassidy is co-sponsoring does not protect all children with pre-existing conditions, even though Cassidy told Kimmel he would support only those bills that passed that test.
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The latest Obamacare repeal plan rehashes the same unworkable ideas as the others
As the budget reconciliation period draws to a close in the Senate, a handful of Republicans are pushing a last-ditch effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), branding their proposal as a “compromise.” While media may be tempted to accept that framing, the proposal is built on the same unworkable, recycled ideas that undermined previous ACA repeal plans.
Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have been shopping a plan, known informally as the Graham-Cassidy health care bill, to repeal and replace the ACA for months. Just last week, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), one of three Republican senators who voted against the last iteration of ACA repeal, said he would support the Graham-Cassidy bill (but after he reads a draft and if it goes through committee hearings). McCain’s support means the bill has a chance of reaching the 50-vote threshold it would need to pass the Senate under budget reconciliation rules, which expire September 30.
The Graham-Cassidy effort is largely a regurgitation of the same unworkable solutions Republicans have been putting forward for years. The biggest difference seems to be how the plan’s supporters are selling it. As Vox noted, the Republicans who support the bill “have spent the past two months selling it as a compromise plan” to gain support on Capitol Hill and in the media. Media cannot accept this framing. Here are a few reasons why:
New York magazine reported last month that the Graham-Cassidy plan would “turn both Medicaid expansion and Obamacare-tax-credit money into a block grant for states” and “put a long-term per capita cap on Medicaid.” This same provision was adopted in the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the bill the Republican-led House passed this summer to repeal and replace the ACA.
Per capita caps on Medicaid funding make as little sense today as they did earlier this summer. Block-granting Medicaid “is not a new or innovative idea,” according to Families USA, but rather "just another way to cut Medicaid.” In a piece for The Washington Post, political scientist Ryan LaRochelle explained that “turning Medicaid into a block grant would result in less funding.” Edwin Park of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) also pointed out that block-granting Medicaid would “threaten benefits for tens of millions of low-income families, senior citizens, and people with disabilities.”
Graham-Cassidy, like two previous bills -- the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) and the Health Care Freedom Act -- that failed in the Senate, would repeal the ACA’s employer mandate, which “requires larger companies to offer affordable coverage to their employees,” The Washington Post reported. The Graham-Cassidy plan also eliminates the ACA’s individual mandate, which the Post noted “requires most Americans to have health coverage or pay a fine.” This proposal was floated earlier this year by Republican members of the House Appropriations Committee.
Repealing these mandates would have devastating consequences. The Commonwealth Fund found that repealing the individual mandate “would significantly reduce health insurance enrollment and cause individual market premiums to rise.” Additionally, CBPP policy analyst Tara Straw concluded that ending the employer mandate “would erode employer-sponsored insurance and increase the ranks of the uninsured.”
Under the Graham-Cassidy bill, “ACA subsidies would be eliminated” by 2020, according to The Washington Post. This would include ending “cost-sharing reductions” (CSR), which help insurers offset the costs of covering low-income customers, something President Donald Trump has hinted he may do in the near future.
Ending CSR payments would increase individual market insurance premiums by nearly 20 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). And, as CBPP noted, getting rid of these subsidies specifically would “shift additional costs and risks onto states”; “leave low- and moderate-income people with no guarantee of affordable or adequate coverage”; and “create significant near-term uncertainty and disruption in the individual market.”
The Graham-Cassidy legislation would reinstitute the so-called “age tax,” which, The Washington Post reported, would mean that “insurers would be able to charge older customers up to five times as much as they charge younger customers.” This provision was also included in the Senate health care bill that failed to pass the chamber last month.
This “age tax” would make coverage “unaffordable” to seniors, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). An AARP representative told CNBC in June that currently “health care is barely affordable for those people who are over age 50” and cautioned that the “‘age tax’ … would just make it unaffordable for them.” A report AARP published in March found that this “age tax” could cost some older adults over $8,000 per year in premium increases.
Like the Senate health care bill, under the Graham-Cassidy plan, “people can contribute more to their health savings accounts than under the ACA, among other changes making HSAs more attractive,” The Washington Post reported.
This reliance on health savings accounts (HSAs) would benefit the rich by letting them set aside more pretax income, but would cause harm to low-income people and those with high medical costs who already cannot afford to save money. As CBPP’s Park noted, similar HSA proposals “would mostly help wealthy, not uninsured” people. Economist Kathryn Phillips explained that HSAs “primarily benefit the wealthy, the healthy, and the educated.” Additionally, KFF found that HSAs can increase out-of-pocket costs for “people with chronic conditions, disabilities, and others with high-cost medical needs” and would do nothing to increase coverage among the uninsured.
The Graham-Cassidy legislation, like the failed Senate bill, would allow states to “change what qualifies as an essential health benefit,” according to The Washington Post. Under the ACA, insurers are required to cover things designated as essential health benefits (EHBs), including hospitalization, maternity care, ambulatory care, and other important services.
According to a May 2 report from The Brookings Institution, allowing states to set their own standards for what qualifies as an EHB could “weaken ACA protections against catastrophic costs for people with employer coverage nationwide.” And as economist Gene Sperling and former White House economic advisor Michael Shapiro explained in The Atlantic, eliminating some EHBs would give insurers a “backdoor way” to price out people with pre-existing conditions. Sperling and Shapiro added, “If these benefits are not covered, a plan is all but worthless to those with serious pre-existing conditions.”
Under the Graham-Cassidy proposal, “Planned Parenthood would face a one-year Medicaid funding freeze,” The Washington Post wrote. A similar provision was included in the House and Senate bills brought up this summer to repeal and replace the ACA.
The Republican crusade against Planned Parenthood would leave millions of American women stranded. In a blog post for Health Affairs, public health professor Sara Rosenbaum wrote that the right-wing argument that community health care centers could “absorb the loss of Planned Parenthood clinics” is “a gross misrepresentation.” The Guttmacher Institute found that in 103 counties, Planned Parenthood is the only “safety-net health center” that provides accessible contraception services. And, as The New York Times editorial board explained, Planned Parenthood serves more patients and has “higher quality care than centers without an emphasis on reproductive health.”
While those who support the Graham-Cassidy bill may try and frame it to the media as a newfound compromise on health care reform, it’s not. The supposed compromise proposal is based on the same unpopular proposals Republicans have fought for years to enact. And just like those plans, this one would wreak havoc on the health care system as it exists. Media need to say so.
Several media outlets are suggesting that President Donald Trump’s August 30 speech calling for tax reform was a “populist pitch,” and dozens of media figures and outlets have been calling the president a “populist” since his inauguration. A closer examination of Trump’s policies, however, show a pattern of decisions that will create devastating impacts on Americans, particularly low-income residents, while providing handouts to corporations and the wealthiest citizens.
Right-wing media condemnation reached a fever pitch on August 9 after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) commented that President Donald Trump had “excessive expectations” for health care reform, which many Trump loyalists in the conservative mediasphere interpreted as an attack on the president. In response, Trump sycophants along with online bots and trolls used their platforms to besmirch McConnell’s character, call for him to retire, and popularize the hashtag #DitchMitch on Twitter.
During last week’s health care “vote-a-rama,” prime-time cable news coverage largely neglected the voices of activists, despite their crucial role in helping to block Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Media Matters reviewed four nights of cable news coverage -- from 5 to 11 p.m. -- between when the “motion to proceed” was passed (which opened debate on possible plans to overturn the ACA) and the GOP “skinny repeal” bill was defeated in the Senate. During those four nights of coverage, cable news programs largely failed to include the perspectives of activists, and both CNN and Fox News disregarded these voices altogether:
CNN and Fox News did not host a single activist over four nights of health care coverage
MSNBC hosted five activists during the same time period, but they accounted for less than 10 percent of its prime-time guests included in discussions about health care.
Throughout Republican efforts to overturn the ACA, cable news repeatedly failed to offer diverse voices. Guests in conversations about health care were predominately white male pundits, while African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and women -- all of whom stand to lose disproportionately if the ACA is overturned -- received far less screen time.
Additionally, cable news programs often ignored the personal stories of those that would be most affected by Republican health care policies, choosing to focus on the legislative process, at the expense of the human cost of the GOP’s repeated actions to undo the ACA. As Senate Republicans searched for a way to overturn former President Barack Obama’s signature health care act last week, cable coverage continued to erase the voices of those most intimately involved in the health care debate. CNN and Fox News failed to include a single activist amongst the combined 97 guest appearances on the channels during discussions of health care, and while MSNBC did host five activists, they made up less than 10 percent of the network's total guests hosted during prime-time to discuss health care.
While this isn't the first time cable news failed to seek out the voices of activists, their disregard for activists' voices is shocking considering the influential role they have played throughout the health care battle. Employees and volunteers for organizations like MoveOn, ADAPT, and Planned Parenthood organized health care rallies across the country, and helped organize tens of thousands of calls to House and Senate offices on behalf of the ACA. Activists also kept constant pressure on elected officials, staging all-night protests in lawmakers' offices, and showing up to elected officials’ town hall meetings and other public appearances. Activists played a crucial role in pressuring Senators to vote no on repeal and replace bills, and in keeping public attention on health care in midst of numerous distractions, like the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Activists deserve credit for their role in the health care battle, and comprehensive news coverage needs to include their voices.
Media Matters searched Nexis for mentions of “health care,” “the Affordable Care Act,” “Obamacare,” “Republican health,” “GOP health,” “the Better Care Reconciliation Act,” or “BRCA” on prime-time cable news between July 25 (after the Senate passed the motion to proceed to debate) and July 28 (after the failure of “skinny repeal”). Segments were coded if they included a significant discussion of the Republican health care bill. “Significant discussion” was defined as at least two speakers in the segment engaging on the topic with one another. Guests that partook in discussions that included a “significant discussion” about health care were included in this study. Guests were considered “activists” if they were affiliated with a group actively working against GOP efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
Prime-time cable news refers to CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC weekday programming between 5 and 11 p.m.
In the wee hours of the morning of July 28, Democrats, activists, and three Republican senators just barely thwarted the GOP’s attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Ever since President Donald Trump pledged to make repealing the ACA one of his first priorities as president -- and Republicans retreated to secrecy to take health care away from tens of millions of people -- media have continuously made six key mistakes in their health care coverage.
During the health care debate, broadcast and cable news largely marginalized key perspectives from those who would be among the most affected by the legislation. This, in turn, correlated with a lack of coverage on how those same people would be affected by the legislation. Like the GOP, broadcast and cable news relied almost solely on white men to discuss the bill. This absence of diverse voices correlated with little to no coverage of how the legislation would affect marginalized groups, like the LGBTQ community and people of color.
At its core, health care is an intersectional issue. As the American Medical Association noted, “Intersectionality has much to offer to population health in providing more precise identification of inequalities, in developing intervention strategies, and ensuring results are relevant within specific communities.” But this message was absent from most broadcast and cables news coverage of the GOP health care plans.
Throughout the debate, media were focused heavily on the process behind the bill, highlighting vote counts and speculating about support. At the same time, key consequences of the bills were barely noted. A Media Matters study found that on cable news, the negative impacts of the bills were drowned out by discussion of the process. Cable and broadcast networks also largely ignored personal stories by those who would be most impacted by the bills. At every stage, the impact of the bills was whitewashed by the media, including Sunday morning political shows, national newspapers, cable morning shows, and some local newspapers.
Right-wing media also adopted the GOP’s revisionist history when it came to the ACA and allowed Republican lawmakers to escape responsibility for their years-long efforts to sabotage the health care law. Right-wing media repeatedly pointed to things like insurer withdrawals from the exchanges and slight downturns in gains brought about by the law to claim the ACA was “struggling,” or even in a “death spiral.” In doing so, right-wing media conveniently forgot that the GOP has sabotaged the law every chance it could by eliminating the risk corridor provision of the law, refusing to build insurance markets in several states, rejecting federal dollars to expand Medicaid, and not appropriating “dedicated funds” to implement the law.
The Trump era has seen even more extensive sabotage efforts. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities chronicled over a dozen ways the Trump administration has already weakened the law. And recently, Trump renewed his threat to end cost sharing payments to insurers, a move that would put the market in shambles.
Not only were Republicans relatively unscathed by their efforts to sabotage the ACA, but television reporters and hosts also allowed them to push misinformation by failing to debunk their claims. Throughout the debate, Republicans took to broadcast and cable news to push falsehoods in order to gain support for their various plans to repeal and replace the ACA. Sunday shows, in particular, proved to be a fruitful platform for GOP lawmakers to lie about the law.
When Trump gave a blockbuster interview on July 19 to The New York Times, all three reporters failed to push the president on health care policy as the bill was coming to a vote in the Senate. Similarly, MSNBC’s Morning Joe allowed Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to push a nonsense claim that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which found the bills would throw tens of millions of people off insurance, had a methodology akin to astrology.
Right-wing media used the debate to push some of their favorite health care policies, even though they all fall somewhere between unworkable and disastrous. One of the most popular policy proposals was high-risk pools, which have “a lousy history” and have been “prohibitively expensive for consumers.” Additionally, Fox News’ Marc Siegel praised health savings accounts, which “primarily benefit the wealthy, the healthy, and the educated,” not the uninsured.
Perhaps the most dangerous solution pushed by right-wing media was one that almost became law: repealing the ACA without a replacement plan. The CBO said such a move would have left 32 million people uninsured and premiums doubled, by 2026.
Perhaps the most ridiculous mistake television and print media made during the health care debate was ignoring it. While Senate Republicans used an “almost-unprecedented opacity” to craft the bill, media let them get away with it by either not reporting or burying reports on the legislation. One of the worst offenders of this strategy was Fox’s Sean Hannity who somehow discussed Hillary Clinton more than the health care bill as the Senate was voting on it.
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Cunningham used his appearance to compare Sen. John McCain to a “backstabber, O.J.-style”
Bill Cunningham likened Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to O.J. Simpson, calling the senator a “backstabber” on ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Sen. McCain voted no along with Republican Senators Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Senate Democrats to block the “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act.
Cunningham has a history of inflammatory on-air commentary, especially when it comes to former President Barack Obama and discussing women whom he disagrees with. In some of his many appearances on the Fox News Channel, he questioned fellow guest Tamara Holder’s ability to do math, said she didn’t “look like a Catholic girl” but rather a “Farrah Fawcett wannabe,” and told her to know her role as a woman and “shut her mouth.” He has also more recently stated that the “ugly broad” Joy Behar should be “muzzled” for criticizing Trump.
He has continuously called the former president "Barack Mohammed Hussein Obama,” and asserted that it would be a “shock” if he won "in these difficult terrorist times” in 2008. He repeatedly spread misinformation about President Obama to his listeners, alluding that Obama and Satan were somehow linked, and stated that Obama wanted to “gas all the Jews.”
Cunningham has been a vocal supporter of Trump, calling him the “Trumpster,” boosting his supposed accomplishments and speaking vehemently against his critics. During this segment, Cunningham defended Trump’s record, saying, “I don't think any president after six or seven months could travel the way the Trumpster has traveled, with the outpouring of love and affection, despite the fact that a few days ago, the backstabber, O.J.- style, who is Sen. John McCain, that began his public life as a hero and is ending up giving a thumbs down and a middle finger to the middle class by not repealing Obamacare.”
From the July 30 edition of ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
MARTHA RADDATZ (CO-HOST): OK, so [Trump] does seem to have some pretty solid base support, but I've been around the country and in Ohio, and Pennsylvania, a lot, and the independents who voted for Donald Trump do seem to be a little squishier of late. And how about that poll? Our latest ABC News/Washington Post poll has his approval rating down to 36 percent, the lowest for any president at the six month mark in 70 years. So what does he do about people outside of his base? The rest of America? What advice would you give him?
BILL CUNNINGHAM: Martha, when he went to Youngstown, [OH], thousands and thousands showed up. If he would come here to Cincinnati, the same thing would happen. I don't think any president after six or seven months could travel the way the Trumpster has traveled, with the outpouring of love and affection, despite the fact that a few days ago, the backstabber, O.J.-style, who is Sen. John McCain, that began his public life as a hero and is ending up giving a thumbs down and a middle finger to the middle class by not repealing Obamacare. What happened a couple of days ago is terrible. And Trump, I think, has lost a bit of little support in the periphery, but the heart and soul of America that beats this great country is Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa. This is where real Americans, normal Americans live. These are the lands of J.D. Vance and Hillbilly Elegy. This is where normal people get up every day, and everywhere I look, everywhere they look, things are good. Everything that should be up is up. Things that should be down are down. America is pretty good. Plus, school starts in two weeks. I see an America bursting at the seams to get loose. And frankly, most of my listeners are proud that the Trumpster is still in the White House and he’s still extremely popular among the base who put him there. And if the election were held today, I think there was a poll a few days ago, that the Trumpster would beat Hillary again, and again, and again. Basically in the land of J.D. Vance and Hillbilly Elegy, things are pretty good. What I see on television and read in newspapers from the East Coast is a disconnect to normal Americans like me.