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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Meanwhile, back in the states

by digby

They never quit: 
Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday signed a law requiring doctors to investigate women seeking abortions before they can actually receive the procedure. The measure purports to block abortions that are based solely on the sex of the fetus, but actually bans women from getting the procedure until their physician has put in an unspecified amount of “time and effort” obtaining her pregnancy-related medical records.

House Bill 1434 — which creates the “Sex Discrimination by Abortion Prohibition Act” — was passed by the Arkansas House of Representatives and Senate this month, and will go into effect in January 2018. It forces doctors to ask a woman if she knows the sex of the fetus and, if she does, they must then gather all medical records pertaining to her “entire pregnancy history.” Under the law, doctors are prohibited from providing a woman with an abortion until they’ve taken a “reasonable” amount of time to get the records — which could potentially result in an indefinite waiting period, the Center for Reproductive Rights noted in a statement.
Of course it will result in an indefinite waiting period. That's the whole point.

But hey, keep telling us feminists that we should STFU about abortion because it's a) icky and b) hurting the cause.  It's all working out so well.

Fixing whatever is wrong with Obamacare isn't that complicated

by digby

This piece by Henry Aaron lays it all out:
Republicans insist that Obamacare is failing. Facts refute the charge. The law set out to expand health insurance coverage, and it has done so — by more than 20 million people. Overall health care spending since enactment of Obamacare has been well below historical trends. Commonly reported measures of health care quality have been improving.

To be sure, the law has its problems. Obamacare leaves some people with burdensome health insurance costs. Too few insurers offer plans in some areas.

The AHCA would have made the first problem worse and done little to solve the second. It would have ended Medicaid for millions of poor people, and raised premiums for individuals and small groups by as much as 20%. It would have slashed help for people in their 50s and 60s.

It would have used the savings from these cuts to finance tax reductions for the well-to-do and to pay for premium subsidies for people with incomes as high as $200,000 a year, most of whom can afford to buy health insurance on their own if they are not covered through work.

The problems of insurers are more complicated. Through inexperience or the desire to attract customers, some insurers initially set premiums so low that they lost money. Unsurprisingly, they then either raised prices or stopped selling in the Obamacare marketplaces.

Those drafting Obamacare foresaw such difficulties and authorized payments to insurers that enrolled sicker-than-average customers. The Republican-controlled Congress reneged on that commitment.

Unwilling to take responsibility for problems they helped create, Republican critics now allege that insurance prices are excessive and that marketplaces are collapsing.

Both charges are false. Premiums are lower, not higher, than projected before Obamacare passed. And independent analysts now agree that after the price adjustments, insurance markets will be stable and that insurers will make money.

Trump and Republicans should devote themselves to correcting acknowledged flaws in Obamacare, not to sabotaging it. Many of these improvements would advance Republican objectives and help politically red states: 
• The Obamacare mandate that large-and medium-sized employers provide insurance to workers applies only to workers employed 30 or more hours a week. Republicans correctly criticized the design of this mandate. It should be improved or repealed. 
• Some Republicans have proposed replacing the 40% excise tax on high-cost health plans, the so-called Cadillac tax, with a requirement that people include the cost of employer-financed health insurance above certain thresholds in their personal taxable income. Democrats should welcome that shift. 
• Nineteen states have been unwilling to extend Medicaid coverage, partly from a fear that the federal government will cut payments and leave states holding the bag. Congress should reassure states on this score. It would help all states, most of which are Republican-controlled. 
• Republicans and some Democrats have decried the provision of Obamacare authorizing the creation of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, an unelected group empowered to hold down growth of Medicare spending by proposing cost-reducing changes that would take effect unless both houses of Congress mustered majorities to block them. So, change it.

Should the GOP move ahead on these repairs, Democrats would want something in return. For instance, they would seek to raise, rather than lower, assistance for those who currently face high out-of-pocket medical costs. But that’s the kind of tradeoff Donald Trump, supposed dealmaker, should proudly strike — isn’t it?

There is a deep irony here. Medicaid, which Republicans now seek to roll back, was originally a Republican proposal. The Obamacare marketplaces, the requirement that individuals carry insurance, and subsidies to help them afford it were originally Republican ideas.

Republicans now fail to acknowledge clear-cut evidence that these ideas are working and refuse to consider changes that would make them work even better. So sad.

Aaron thinks that this could be the basis for a compromise with Republicans but I really, really doubt it. If Democrats had a majority in the congress and a Democratic White House they could do this and yet it wouldn't be a slam dunk. And as our politics are currently constructed, they would have to do it all without GOP buy-in and would have to appease red state Democrats who would be facing the Koch brothers and swarms of wingnut activists.

That's the reality. But it's important to put this out there so that people know that whatever problems exist with the ACA, they are fixable. There may be more problems in the future that need to be fixed too. That's how this stuff works. In the old days you could get bipartisan co-operation to fix such problems in existing programs. But those days are gone.

Right now we have a president who has said that he wants the program to blow up so he can blame the Democrats. And frankly, I think the rest of the Republicans probably secretly agree with him.  Their opposition has always simply been a weapon with which to bash Democrats. It's clear by now that they don't have the slightest idea of how to successfully replace it without killing people.

Right now the best hope is that the program toddles along for a couple of years until the Democrats can take back the congress, pass these fixes, let the lunatic in the White House run against them in 2020 and beat him.


QOTD: No shit Sherlock edition

by digby

CNN white house correspondent Sarah Murray:
We know president Trump as a candidate had a very rosy view of Russia and wanted a better relationship with Russia. Now we're being told by administration officials that those hopes are beginning to fade.  They were initially hoping for some kind of a Grand Bargain, something to deal with Ukraine, something to deal with Syria, to deal with combating ISIS. But now the president is sort of feeling a little more glum about the opportunity to do that. It's not necessarily hi view of Vladimir Putin has changed but because he just feels like the climate has not favorable to actually accomplishing a good deal. He feels like there is too much media scrutiny surrounding Russia right now combined with the House probe and the Senate probe, the FBI looking into Russian meddling in the election and also the Trump campaign contacts with suspected Russian officials and says that sort of takes them back to the drawing board.
Ya think??? Lol...

*Keep in mind that the Russian Grand Bargain Trump envisioned was coordinated carpet bombing (and more) of Syria and other ISIS strongholds in exchange for carte blanche incursion into Eastern Europe and a pullback of NATO.

Does that sound like a good deal?


Looking to the sky

by digby

From Reading the Pictures:
Candidate Trump constantly ridiculed the military campaign against ISIS. In reality, a deliberate strategy and a delicately-balanced coalition of players has shown steady progress and impressive results. At the point Trump inherited the situation, these forces had largely reclaimed Anbar Province, the Islamic State reduced to it’s last bastion, the city of Mosul. That’s why the bombing and mass killing of civilians in a U.S. airstrike in Eastern Mosul last week is so alarming, the event described by WAPO as “potentially one of the worst U.S.-led civilian bombings in 25 years.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time, in the course of the post 9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, that errant U.S. actions led to horrors and political blowback. Still, President Obama worked calmly and persistently over eight years to apply realistic strategy, methodical goals and a range of limits to American firepower. Trump’s bellicosity and thin skin, his knee-jerk ways, his inability to educate himself, his aggressive stance toward friends as well as foes, and his personalizing of everything proves him the anti-Obama. Under seasoned hands, the Trump Pentagon remains to prove itself. Still, the Yemen incursion, and now the atrocity in Mosul has cast the American military and America itself in a new light. Trump — the man who up until recently was still advocating that we seize Iraq’s oil — is turning America into a hair-triggered bully.

Trump inherited a stable government, a growing economy, and a complex set of foreign engagements that hardly made waves at home. After eight years of Obama, we’re now in a hard pivot. It’s difficult to believe, let alone adjust to. And to make matters worse, Trump aims to keep people off-balance, his radical and impulsive actions a political and emotional form of shock-and-awe. Public confusion and disorientation, as well as the elicitation of anger and helplessness is intentional.

So how do we come to terms? This is where questioning and dialogue and imagination is critical, and art has a large role to play. Artist Brandon Tauszik’s GIF, above, was produced last year in Lebanon for The International Committee of the Red Cross. It was published this January with other moving and still images on a project website called “Syria Street.” The project documents the hostility between two Lebanese neighborhoods, one Sunni Muslim, the other Alawite Muslim, aligned as they are with different sides in the Syrian civil war. Ironically, the two sects are separated by a street named after the war torn country only a forty minute drive away.

To be clear, bombers are not threatening this Tripoli suburb. The men in the GIF could simply have noticed a bird. The suggestion of vigilance and the unnerving repetition is metaphorical, and it’s also hauntingly effective. Couched in the safety of slow-motion, the mundanity of sanding a chair and, especially, the repose that comes with having a cigarette is the specter of imminent annihilation in so many Middle and Near Eastern neighborhoods. In the gesture is the anxiety that, in the next instant, your community with be reduced to rubble, and you, your family and all your friends will be incinerated.

Of course it’s difficult for Americans to relate to this, just like it’s difficult to wrap our heads around a suddenly poisonous and reviled United States of America. Perhaps the new reality is easier to apprehend though if you imagine that, from today on, the looping GIF does not just apply to citizens of Syria. It now also applies to Iraqi citizens terrified of it’s own ally — us.

Where Trump is winning

by digby

I felt as if it was important to document some atrocities for Salon today:
With all the hoopla over the current administration’s relationship with Russia and the health care dumpster fire, we haven’t been paying as much attention to the Trump policy that seems to be going great guns: the deportation and detention of foreign nationals by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). For all of President Trump’s failures on other matters, this one is succeeding briskly. That is, if you define success as ICE striking terror into immigrant communities all over the country.

On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally announced that the administration’s plan to use federal funds to crack down on “sanctuary cities” and states that choose not to comply with federal immigration laws was being implemented. The Justice Department believes that local officials should be required to determine the immigration status of anyone they detain (or interact with), and if that person cannot provide proof of citizenship, he or she should be turned over to ICE. The plan calls for the federal government to withhold certain funds from any of the 200 different municipalities that have designated themselves as sanctuary cities.

Trump and Sessions are both hardcore demagogues on the issue of immigration, spreading fear and paranoia that undocumented immigrants are dangerous people who’ve contributed to a crime wave, despite lots of evidence to the contrary. Local officials in most of these cities, including the police, understand that this actually makes their jobs harder and the community less safe, as many people will simply refuse to report crimes or bear witness for fear of being turned over to federal agents. Essentially, the federal government now has policies that threaten to turn America’s cities into the frightening dystopias Trump already says they are. Local people, unsurprisingly, would prefer to have their communities prosperous and safe.

There will be legal challenges from the cities, and the plan to withhold federal funds depends upon a number of factors that may or may not be successfully deployed. But that might not even be the point. Trump and Sessions want to create a climate of suspicion and drive immigrants underground or out of the country. ICE is carrying out with that mission with gusto.

The New York Times reported last month that new orders from the Trump administration have given ICE and the border patrol much more freedom to detain and deport. They apparently felt very restrained by the rules in force during the Obama administration, which required them to focus their attention on undocumented immigrants with a record serious felonies. Today they have the mandate to deport even with minor infractions — as press secretary Sean Spicer put it, agents have been told to “take the shackles off.” A spokesman for the ICE union told the Times that “morale amongst our agents and officers has increased exponentially since the signing of the orders.”

Two officials in Washington said that the shift — and the new enthusiasm that has come with it — seems to have encouraged pro-Trump political comments and banter that struck the officials as brazen or gung-ho, like remarks about their jobs becoming “fun.” Those who take less of a hard line on unauthorized immigrants feel silenced, the officials said.

Part of their “fun” is being able to freely arrest bystanders, even people without criminal records, which they call “collateral” arrests.

Stories abound of people being rousted from their homes, and even shot, by ICE agents. People have committed suicide in detention centers. Kids are watching their parents dragged away in handcuffs, and women are withdrawing domestic abuse complaints for fear of being detained. In Los Angeles, reports of sexual assaults are down 25 percent from last year, which authorities attribute to victims being afraid to come forward. In Atlanta, African immigrants are being rounded up for deportation at much higher rates than in 2016.

Immigrant communities all over the country are already living in terror of federal agents. If Sessions is able to end the practice of sanctuary cities, they’ll be living in fear of local police as well. That’s the point.

That describes the anti-immigration crusade against undocumented workers. But there’s also the crusade against refugees and travelers from certain Muslim countries the Trump administration has deemed a threat. The harassment of those travelers continues even as the ban wends its way through the courts. For instance, there’s this story about an Iranian woman making a family visit to Oregon on an approved visa who was held for hours at the Portland airport before being transferred by Customs and Border Protection agents to a county jail 80 miles away. She was reportedly moved back to Portland 12 hours later and then put on a plane out of the country without explanation. An ACLU lawyer representing the woman’s family told the Guardian he had no knowledge that she had been charged with any crime.

Asylum seekers are also on the list. This report about a 16-year-old blogger from Singapore is instructive. Amos Yee is a kid with a big mouth who ran afoul of Singapore’s anti-free speech laws for his internet rants about religion and politics and was sent to jail twice. This week an immigration judge granted Yee asylum in the U.S. because “his prosecution, detention and general maltreatment at the hands of Singapore authorities constitute persecution on account of Yee’s political opinions.” The Trump administration has vigorously opposed the asylum claim and is likely to appeal the decision. Singapore’s authoritarian society, where business concerns are predominant and dissent is not tolerated in any form, may well be the model Donald Trump aspires to.

In the political big picture, Trump and his administration are in trouble. They are inept, corrupt and mired in a very serious scandal. The president’s approval ratings have already hit historic lows. But the executive branch’s law enforcement agencies are carrying out his immigration agenda as if all of that were taking place in another country. In cities and towns across America, Donald Trump’s promise to “get ’em out and get ’em out quickly” is being kept. It’s important that people don’t fool themselves into believing that Trump is a paper tiger who can’t do any serious harm. He’s already doing it.


Anything that smells like money

by Tom Sullivan

Photo via wrnihealthcareblog.

Matt Taibbi's vampire squid imagery for describing Goldman Sachs may end up on his tombstone. But thrusting into "anything that smells like money" is a an apt description not just for Wall Street but for metastatic capitalism in general.

The anti-inflammatory prescription I picked up Friday cost just $5. But for another recent medication the price difference between either a cream or an ointment was well over $100. David Dayen looked into why that is and published his findings at The American Prospect. A pharmacy owner such as Rob Frankil has no idea how much he'll make selling a prescription until he sells it:
Frankil’s troubles cannot be traced back to insurers or drug companies, the usual suspects that most people deem responsible for raising costs in the health-care system. He blames a collection of powerful corporations known as pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs. If you have drug coverage as part of your health plan, you are likely to carry a card with the name of a PBM on it. These middlemen manage prescription drug benefits for health plans, contracting with drug manufacturers and pharmacies in a multi-sided market. Over the past 30 years, PBMs have evolved from paper-pushers to significant controllers of the drug pricing system, a black box understood by almost no one. Lack of transparency, unjustifiable fees, and massive market consolidations have made PBMs among the most profitable corporations you’ve never heard about.
Originally set up in the 1960s to streamline claims processing, PBMs formed large networks that could negotiate discounts from drug companies and pharmacies, and pass the savings on to you, the familiar pitch goes. That's rarely how it actually works out.
Why haven’t PBMs fulfilled their promise as a cost inhibitor? The biggest reason experts cite is an information advantage in the complex pharmaceutical supply chain. At a hearing last year about the EpiPen, a simple shot to relieve symptoms of food allergies, Heather Bresch, CEO of EpiPen manufacturer Mylan, released a chart claiming that more than half of the list price for the product ($334 out of the $608 for a two-pack) goes to other participants—insurers, wholesalers, retailers, or the PBM. But when asked by Republican Representative Buddy Carter of Georgia, the only pharmacist in Congress, how much the PBM receives, Bresch replied, “I don’t specifically know the breakdown.” Carter nodded his head and said, “Nor do I and I’m the pharmacist. … That’s the problem, nobody knows.”


The PBM industry is rife with conflicts of interest and kickbacks. For example, PBMs secure rebates from drug companies as a condition of putting their products on the formulary, the list of reimbursable drugs for their network. However, they are under no obligation to disclose those rebates to health plans, or pass them along. Sometimes PBMs call them something other than rebates, using semantics to hold onto the cash. Health plans have no way to obtain drug-by-drug cost information to know if they’re getting the full discount.
The higher-priced drugs have more float for offering rebates. So a perverse incentive exists for manufacturers running up prices to allow for rebates the PBMs can collect as a condition for listing the drug.

Naturally, there is a lot more to this in Dayen's report, including PBM involvement in the opioid epidemic.

Middlemen monopolies. Entrepreneurship. The stuff they celebrate in business schools. In the hallway yesterday someone referenced bit of folk wisdom from a colleague: confusion means cash. Those who can generate and/or exploit it profit from it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Havin' a laugh

by digby

Or lordy, I just need a little chuckle once in a while:

Follow da money

by digby

Those of you read this blog regularly know that I have always suspected that the Trump Russia connection has more to do with his nefarious business dealings than with a direct quid pro quo or blackmail. (It may have to do with that too of course.) But Trump's global networks of dirty financial dealings should have disqualified him from office once he refused to disclose the scope of his company's businesses, release his tax returns or divest himself and his family. It's an outrage that this is hanging over the administration's head and the Republicans are covering for him.

Anyway, the investigation is moving in this direction for good reason:

A U.S. Senate investigation into Russia's meddling during the U.S. election should include a thorough review of any financial ties between Russia and President Donald Trump and his associates, Democratic senator Ron Wyden said Wednesday.

In a formal written request made to the leaders of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, Wyden said financial relationships between Trump, a real estate developer with properties around the world, and Russia are deserving of scrutiny because of resistance by Trump and some in his orbit have not been forthcoming about their finances.

"Efforts to understand these relationships and to separate fact from speculation have been hampered by the opacity of the finances of President Trump and his associates," Wyden, who also sits on the intelligence panel, wrote to Republican Richard Burr and Democrat Mark Warner.

The letter, though devoid of new details, is the latest piece of evidence suggesting Trump's business dealings are attracting expanded interest from investigators amid a raft of new reports scrutinizing potential financial entanglements between the president and Russia.

Trump has declined to release his tax returns, bucking decades of precedent for presidents and presidential candidates.

The letter followed new disclosures in recent weeks of previously unknown meetings and financial arrangements between Trump's associates and wealthy Russians, and came as Democrats attempt to focus public attention on questions about Trump's connections to Russia.

On Monday, the state development bank Vnesheconombank disclosed that its executives had met Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and a top White House adviser, in December. And last week Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, admitted he had done business work for Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska...

A Reuters investigation published earlier this month found that dozens of members of the Russian elite have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida, according to public documents, interviews and corporate records.
And that's just the beginning. Check out this major USA Today (!) expose about Trump and the Russian mob...

Can you believe we're talking about the fucking president of the United States? Wow ...

First they came for the asylum seekers

by digby

Bill Moyers features a truly chilling story of ICE ignoring the courts to hold an asylum seeker from Singapore. It's just nuts.

This is the press release from his lawyers:

On March 27, 2017, Officers at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Chicago Field Office informed Grossman Law, LLC that Amos Yee will remain in detention despite the Honorable Immigration Judge's asylum grant on March 24, 2017. Yee has been detained since December 17, 2016.

When ICE officers first detained Yee, they stated he would be released on parole and that ICE had no interest in keeping Yee detained for the pendency of his proceedings. Then, after release of the new Administration's Executive Orders, ICE informed Grossman Law that they would not release Yee. Subsequently, after Yee's merits hearing, ICE moved him to another detention facility without informing counsel about the transfer. Now, ICE officers are basing the decision to keep Yee detained on a potential, but not yet filed, appeal by the Department of Homeland Security.

Grossman Law has learned from the Assistant Field Office Director for ICE's Chicago Field Office that "...detained aliens who are granted relief remain in custody during the pendency of an ICE appeal, except in extraordinary circumstances." Additionally, Amos Yee informed us via telephone that other individuals he has met at the Dodge County facility, remain in detention despite a grant of asylum. The decision to deny Yee his freedom is not limited just to him, but to many others.

ICE's decision to continue to detain individuals granted asylum, especially when there are no security concerns, brings up serious questions about this country's compliance with basic principles of international law regarding the treatment of asylees. There is no provision under the Immigration and Nationality Act, or under any Presidential Executive Order, that justifies the continued detention of an individual who has been granted asylum and is deemed to be a refugee. The supposed pendency of the Department's appeal is immaterial; Yee should have been released immediately after he was granted asylum.

As the American Immigration Lawyers Association notes:

"America's immigration detention practices undermine the fundamental principles of due process and fairness, and require immediate systemic reform. Annually, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unnecessarily detains more than 400,000 people, including asylum seekers and other extremely vulnerable immigrants. Many detainees are held for prolonged periods despite the fact that they have strong ties to the United States and pose no threat to public safety.

Detention is extremely expensive, costing American taxpayers $2 billion per year. Proven alternatives to detention, by contrast, cost between 17 cents and $17 per day. Detention should be a last resort, used only when other means of supervision are not feasible, and only after a truly individualized assessment of someone's public safety and flight risk."
This is ICE "having fun."

Yesterday in Sacramento there was a Townhall with the head of ICE. And this happened:

"Is that not treason?"

by digby

He's so clevah:
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Tuesday that leakers in the intelligence community are guilty of treason.

"I don't understand why there isn't a great outrage over the leaking of information out of the highest levels of US intelligence," Huckabee, whose daughter is an aide to President Donald Trump, told radio host Laura Ingraham.

Huckabee continued, "This is of grave concern, because if people who are supposed to be guarding our secrets are letting them go -- Laura, I hate to use this word, but I don't know what else to use -- is that not treason? Is that not treason, when you work against your own government?"

Yeah, he thinks he's cute with this silly accusation. They all do. But I'm going to guess that the vast majority of the American people (even if the Republicans among them won't admit it) understand that the leaking about possible collusion between Russia and the president of the United States isn't the real problem here.

QOTD: meritocracy edition

by digby

A new study:
A common criticism against gender quotas is that they are anathema to meritocratic principles. This research on Sweden shows that the opposite can be true: Quotas actually increased the competence of politicians by leading to the displacement of mediocre men whether as candidates or leaders. The results may also be relevant for judging gender quotas in business.
Lol. Mediocre men are displaced. No wonder there's such resistance to them.

Trump's Grand Bargain

by digby

For Salon this morning:

I have written many times that Barack Obama’s most serious misjudgment was when he came into office and declared that he would bring people together and strike a “grand bargain” with all the warring political constituencies. It failed in grand fashion and the fact is that members of both parties were relieved. The idea of trying to do a huge bipartisan agreement in this era of sharp polarization was a major misreading of the political Zeitgeist. So naturally Donald Trump thinks it’s a good idea to try a grand bargain of his own. On Monday Axios reported that the Trump administration plans to negotiate tax reform and infrastructure concurrently.

Obama at least had some reason to believe he had a mandate. He won a majority of the popular vote with unprecedented turnout. The country was in the grip of a major crisis, something that often brings both parties to the table. He thought it might be a transformative political moment and was determined to see if he could take advantage of it. But his grand bargain was a nonstarter from the get-go, even with his own party. It consisted of deficit reduction and “entitlement reform,” which included cuts to Medicare and Social Security, in exchange for as much as $1 trillion in unspecified new revenue (including a carbon tax). And the biggest part of the package: health care reform.

Despite being rebuffed by Republicans over and over again, Obama kept at it all throughout his first term. Even when the GOP leadership signed on, knowing that it was a rare moment when Democrats would offer to take responsibility for cutting the already ragged safety net, Republicans couldn’t get their people in line. The grand bargain plan never went far enough for us to find out whether Obama could have gotten enough Democrats on board, but it’s hard to imagine they would have been any more enthusiastic.

There’s a reason it didn’t work. Asking members of the two main parties to sacrifice their most important priorities in order to get the other side to deal doesn’t really feel like much of a bargain. To Republicans, signing on to a large tax hike is akin to asking them to walk the plank. The GOP has been organized around lowering taxes for decades, and such a deal would have sparked tremendous outcry from the grassroots Tea Party types to Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform — not to mention all of corporate America. As much as Republicans would have loved to make big cuts in Medicare and Social Security, Obamacare was never going to be worth it to them as a fair exchange. On the Democratic side, cutting those safety net programs in order to get health care would have been like asking the party’s true believers to make Sophie’s choice.

These are issues that go to the heart of each party’s philosophy, and as long as they have the power to hold on to them, they will. The hard work that went into the Affordable Care Act showed the only way a party can enact a major policy in these polarized times: sheer partisan will. Bipartisanship just doesn’t exist.

So what are we to make of Donald Trump nattering on about his next big legislative push being a package deal of massive tax cuts and infrastructure projects? Axios reported that Trump is unhappy with the House Freedom Caucus and thinks he can get Democrats to help him pass legislation and seal his legacy. It is true that early on some Democrats and others such as Sen. Bernie Sanders indicated a willingness to work with Trump on infrastructure. But if Trump thinks the plan he’s proposing will fly with them now, he’s got another thing coming. Here’s how Sanders characterized it:
Trump’s plan to repair our infrastructure is a scam that gives massive tax breaks to large companies and billionaires. Trump would allow corporations that have stashed their profits overseas to pay just a fraction of what the companies owe in federal taxes. And then he would allow the companies to “invest” in infrastructure projects in exchange for even more tax breaks.
The New York Times’ Paul Krugman simply called it “a giant ripoff,” which is exactly what we should expect from Donald Trump. That’s his specialty, as thousands of plaintiffs, hedge funds and investment bankers can attest.

We know, moreover, that Republicans are not going to go along with big increases in government spending. Any plan they would even be willing to contemplate would have to be a corporate boondoggle of epic proportions, and Democrats are not going to sign on to that. Indeed, there’s almost no chance they would sign on to any Trump initiative because Democrats learned the lessons of 2009 to 2010 the hard way; they lost their majority. They are now gearing up for a 2018 midterm election that brings out the base of their party in large numbers in the hopes of taking back at least one house of Congress. Making deals with Donald Trump for corporate ripoffs isn’t going to get that done.

Perhaps Trump and his brain trust, who obviously learned nothing from the Obama years, think that they can get the majority of Republicans (if not the Freedom Caucus) to go along with some deficit spending if they promise big tax cuts in return. The problem for Trump on tax cuts is that there will be no Democratic defections for sure and the infighting that’s likely to break out among Republicans on that one will make deliberations on the health care bill look like those for a post-office naming bill by comparison.

This analysis by Shawn Tully at Fortune spelled out all the ways in all the Republican business constituencies will be at one another’s throats. As he said, “For every winner there’s a perceived loser.” There’s a reason the last big tax reform package they passed was under Ronald Reagan in 1986. I’m guessing that before long we’ll be hearing Trump say, “Nobody knew tax reform was so complicated.”

Obama could claim a mandate when he came into office and proposed his grand bargain. Trump, on the other hand, won the election only through a fluke of the Electoral College’s functioning, is mired in a major scandal and is presiding over a congressional majority run by a bumbling leadership that is being held hostage by a gang of fanatics. Trump has already proved that his vaunted negotiating skills are better suited for licensing deals concerning ugly ties and cheap perfume than for running the most powerful nation on Earth. The likelihood that he can enact a grand bargain is roughly the same as the chance he can stop lying. That would be zero.

Setting a national precedent, Maryland passes fracking ban; GOP governor to sign it

by Gaius Publius

(Source; click to enlarge.)

The action moves to the states. The first good news was this — California introduces (again) single-payer health insurance, this time in a climate that increases its chance of passing. Read more about that here.

Now more good news from Maryland — the nation's first state-wide fracking ban in a state with proven reserves has cleared the last hurdle. With support from the GOP governor (you read that right), it will become law.

Fracking will be forbidden anywhere in Maryland, because, well, people don't want it.

Needless to say, like the singe-payer news from California, this has national implications. Here's Mike Tidwell and Denise Robbins of Chesapeake Climate Action Network with the announcement (my emphasis below):

Maryland Fracking Ban To Become Law, With Nationwide Implications

Senate passes bill with GOP governor support, following six years of grassroots resistance across the state of Maryland

ANNAPOLIS – With game-changing support from Republican Governor Larry Hogan, the Maryland state Senate Monday night gave final approval to a bill to forever ban the practice of fracking in Maryland. This move culminates years of protests against fracking for gas from landowners, health leaders, and environmentalists. It also sets a nationally significant precedent as other states grapple with the dangerous drilling method.

Maryland will now become the first state in America with proven gas reserves to ban fracking by legislative action. New York has banned the drilling process via executive order. Vermont has a statutory ban but the state has no frackable gas reserves at present.

The Maryland ban is sending political waves across the East Coast and the nation. From Virginia (where leaders have imposed or proposed local bans at the county and municipal level) to the state of Florida (which is looking to follow Maryland’s statewide ban), the “keep-it-in-the-ground” movement is gaining new bipartisan steam even as President Donald Trump recklessly works to approve disastrous pipelines like Keystone XL.

“Let the news go forth to Congress and the White House: fracking can never been done safely,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “The Republican governor closest to DC – Larry Hogan of Maryland – has joined scientists and health leaders in agreeing that fracking must be banned. This is a win for Marylanders and for citizens nationwide as we move away from violent fossil fuels and toward sustainable wind and solar power.”

With Senate passage late Monday night, the Maryland bill will now be sent to Gov. Hogan’s desk in the next few days for signing.

The push to ban fracking in Maryland began six years ago as gas companies swarmed into western Maryland to tap the Marcellus Shale basin. This is the same pool of gas that has been widely fracked in Pennsylvania and West Virginia with negative consequences. But then-Governor Martin O’Malley (D) imposed a temporary moratorium before any drilling occurred. Over the years, the movement for a permanent ban came to include farmers, doctors, students, faith leaders, environmental groups, and others – constituting the largest statewide grassroots movement ever seen in Maryland on an energy issue. Former member of the House of Delegates Heather Mizeur was a leading figure in sparking the statewide ban effort. With time, multiple counties and cities in the state banned fracking locally and public polling consistently showed growing support for a statewide ban. Finally, earlier this month, with overwhelming support among Democratic lawmakers, even the previously pro-fracking Republican governor saw the wisdom of a ban.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network has been honored to play a leading role in this campaign along with our friends in the Don’t Frack Maryland Coalition, including Food and Water Watch, Citizen Shale, Engage Mountain Maryland, the Sierra Club, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Physicians for Social Responsibility and many others.

The Maryland fracking ban bill also could not have succeeded without the extraordinary leadership of Kumar Barve (D-Montgomery County) and David Fraser-Hildago (D-Montgomery County) in the Maryland House of Delegates. The same must be said of Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) and Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s County) in the Maryland Senate. But Senator Zirkin, more than any other legislator, fought tirelessly for the fracking ban and refused to compromise on the road to this historic victory.

It took six long, hard years to make this happen, but in the end, it succeeded. The fracking ban pushes the right button at the right time. With sufficient effort, states can indeed defy the money that buys all governments and enact what people want.

The states can defy the nation

Now that the national, federal government is seen as the enemy, states can defy the nation without a single guilty backward glance. If single-payer health insurance passes in California, the pressure on other large states — and regions of states — will be immense.

Imagine, for example, a New England single-payer plan that encompasses not just Vermont, which was too small to make single-payer work properly, but Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Imagine a single-payer plan for the Pacific Northwest — Oregon and Washington (and perhaps, since they desperately need it, Idaho). It's easy to imagine regional plans sprouting like flowers from the rich dark dung of the national Trumpcare, Ryancare defeat.

Just as marijuana legalization has now reached critical mass in the states — Beauregard Sessions and Mike Pence will start a new civil war if they go all draconian in opposing it — single-payer will approach critical mass if the California legislature passes it.

So too with fracking. It's undeniably hated by people who have to endure it. Hatred of fracking in New York upstate counties is part of why Zephyr Teachout did so well in her bid for the New York state governorship.

Now hatred of fracking has cleared the last hurdle in Maryland, and the nation's first state-wide ban that bites into industry revenue will become law. A few more victories like this and we may have methane — the falsely sold "bridge fuel"* — in our rear-view mirror as well.



* About "bridge fuel," as I wrote here: "If it's a 'bridge fuel,' will investors be told that the methane facilities they're investing in will be torn down in ten years to make way for the fuel that methane is a bridge fuel to? If so, why not just invest in that? Or is the "bridge fuel" talk just talk?"

Answer: In the pitch to investors, of course it's just talk. Like all infrastructure investors, they're being sold a 30-year amortization and cash flow plan.



The fetish of choice

by Tom Sullivan

Unquestioned assumptions abound in political debate, but the relative advantage of more choice is one that is both ubiquitous and rarely challenged. More is better. End of discussion. At The Week, Damon Linker looks at how Paul Ryan's trying to sell health care reform on choice doomed it. Ryan's American Health Care Act (AHCA) treats patients as consumers looking for the best bargain:

It's hardly surprising that Ryan took this approach. The right is obsessed with the cost of health care, both for individuals and in the aggregate, and it believes that spending can be most effectively contained by increasing options and competition. That makes choice a means to the end of cost savings. Then there's the fact that the right also makes a fetish of choice for its own sake. It's simply better, apparently, for individuals (acting as consumers) to have more insurance policies, doctors, and hospitals to choose from.
It is also more tedious. Quite frankly, I hate shopping. I don't mind going out and buying when I already know what I want, but I hate shopping. Loathe it. When on rare occasions the mood strikes, I go out and buy what I need for the next year so I won't have to shop again for months. The Paul Ryans of the world insist I spend the rest of my life doing what I hate simply because it fits the ideology of their economic cult.

Linker points to a 2011 post by Bloomberg View economist Noah Smith who found the toll constant transaction costs take in a culture where they are everywhere. If private everything is better, Japan must be a libertarian paradise, Smith mused:
For example, there are relatively few free city parks. Many green spaces are private and gated off (admission is usually around $5). On the streets, there are very few trashcans; people respond to this in the way libertarians would want, by exercising personal responsibility and carrying their trash home with them in little baggies. There are also very few public benches. In cafes, each customer must order something promptly or be kicked out; outside your house or office, there is basically nowhere to sit down that will not cost you a little bit of money. Public buildings generally have no drinking fountains; you must buy or bring your own water. Free wireless? Good luck finding that!

Does all this private property make me feel free? Absolutely not! Quite the opposite - the lack of a "commons" makes me feel constrained. It forces me to expend a constant stream of mental effort, calculating whether it's worth it to spend $4 to sit and rest for 10 minutes, whether it's worth $2 to get a drink.
Linker extends that experience into the realm of medical care:
As options proliferate, individuals face the need to choose among a growing list of high-stakes possibilities. Should I opt for catastrophic coverage that costs less but allows me to see a doctor only if I'm in a severe car accident or suffer a heart attack? Should I purchase something more expensive that will enable me to make an appointment if I'm merely running a fever, worried about the occasional tightness in my chest, or concerned about the mysterious lump in my neck? Or should I take on the enormous medical and financial risk of foregoing coverage altogether?

If I opt for little or no coverage, I'm gambling that I'll be lucky. If I win that bet, the choice will be retrospectively vindicated. But if I'm unlucky, the choice will seem horribly foolish, contributing either to much worse medical outcomes, much worse financial consequences, or both. If, on the other hand, I opt to pay for maximal coverage and I get sick, I'll feel wise. But if I stay healthy, I'll likely end up feeling like a sucker who's wasted enormous resources just to ease my mind.
Sometimes I don't need or want more choice. Yes, I can have a coffee maker that is also a timer, an alarm clock, satellite radio, and that starts and warms up my car on cold mornings. But all I really wanted was a cup of coffee.

It is also hard to escape the feeling that the fetishizing of choice comes from people who fancy themselves more savvy than their neighbors. “I’m, like, a really smart person” types. Your basic social Darwinists who imagine themselves at the top of the social order and who would like to structure it so they stay there. Imagine how a confusing array of choices might make it easier for them to fleece their neighbors, especially when the neighbor's child is in distress or the, uh, "consumer" faces a medical emergency. If Americans wanted to shop for "best buys" in medical care, they'd already be selling it through big box stores.

Which is why a single-payer health care system makes more sense, Linker writes, "everyone pays in, and everyone is eligible for benefits. Choice has nothing to do with it." A medicare for all system that leaves no American behind. But who would propose a system like that?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

He Ain't Goin' Nowhere 

by tristero

Kevin Drum is right. The important polling data is in regards to Trump's popularity among the poor benighted souls who voted for him. And it's incredibly high, slightly higher than St. Ronald Reagan's at this point in his presidency. Or as Kevin says: "Unless things change, the Republican base remains not just out of reach, but positively thrilled with President Trump."

This poll was taken before the healthcare debacle, but the numbers won't change that much.

Trump is going nowhere.

The generals go to war with each other

by digby

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson

Reuters reports:

For years the national political organizations of both Democratic and Republican state attorneys general observed an agreement not to target the other party's incumbent office-holders in elections.

That hands-off stance ended this month when Republican AGs voted to abandon the agreement and spend money to help unseat Democrats in other states, according to the Republican Attorneys General Association. The decision has not been previously reported.

The move comes as Democratic attorneys general in states across the country have assumed lead roles in opposing some of Republican President Donald Trump's policies. State AGs in Washington and Hawaii successfully sued to block Trump's executive orders restricting travel from some Muslim-majority countries, and California's attorney general has pledged to defend the state's environmental standards.

Republican attorneys general who supported the change reasoned that AGs should join other national political campaigns which target incumbents, two sources familiar with the closed door process said. Additionally, a desire by some to roll back same-sex marriage and the potential for increased corporate contributions played a role in the decision, said the sources, who requested anonymity to discuss the deliberations.

The so-called 'incumbency rule' observed by the state attorneys' party fundraising arms reflected a rare bit of bipartisanship in the polarized environment of U.S. politics, aimed at promoting cooperation across state lines on issues of common interest, such as consumer protection.

Yeah, why even pretend? Their agreement was downright quaint in this environment.

Also, there's just too much fundraising potential at stake for these Republicans not to exploit it. There's lots of Koch money to be had.

I've gotcher racism and sexism for ya right here (on Fox)

by digby

Wow, this is bad. Really, really bad:

BILL O'REILLY: I didn't hear a word [Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA)] said. I was looking at the James Brown wig. If we have a picture of James, it's the same wig.

STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): It's the same one.

BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): And he's not using it anymore. They just -- they finally buried him.


AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): No. OK, I've got to defend her on that. I have to defend her on that. She a -- you can't go after a woman's looks. I think she's very attractive.

O'REILLY: I didn't say she wasn't attractive.

EARHARDT: Her hair is pretty.

OREILLY: I love James Brown, but it's the same hair, James Brown -- alright, the godfather of soul -- had.

EARHARDT: So he had girl hair.

O'REILLY: Whatever it is, I just couldn't get by it.

First of all, I don't know wtf he's talking about. Waters' hair is fine. It
doesn't look like James Brown unless you're racist who thinks "they all look alike."

These guys have always been bad. But Trump has super-charged their cretinism.

O'Reilly apologized later saying his "jest" was dumb. That's nice.


Trump needs to have a chat with Kellyanne's hubbie

by digby

I can't believe they think this will work, but of course they're going to try:
Donald Trump is making a big legal move that may shape his presidency over the next four years. In New York Supreme Court, his longtime lawyer Marc Kasowitz looks to throw up a roadblock to a defamation lawsuit filed by Summer Zervos, who appeared on season five of The Apprentice.

Zervos, represented by Gloria Allred, claims that Trump tarnished her reputationby denying acts boasted to Access Hollywood's Billy Bush about grabbing women's genitals. The Apprentice alum accuses Trump of kissing her twice in 2007 and attacking her in a hotel room. In response to this, Trump put out a statement that he "never met [Ms. Zervos] at a hotel or greeted her inappropriately," along with tweets how his accuser "made up events THAT NEVER HAPPENED."

Now, Trump is looking to bifurcate the litigation so that "the threshold issue of whether the United States Constitution bars this Court from adjudicating this action against President Trump during his Presidency" can be briefed and resolved first.

Kasowitz writes that Trump intends to file a motion to dismiss arguing that the Supremacy Clause immunizes the President from being sued in state court while in office. The attorney adds the "crucial threshold issue was raised, but not decided, by the U.S. Supreme Court in Clinton v. Jones."

That refers to a lawsuit that Paula Jones filed against Bill Clinton in 1994, while he was serving his first term in the White House. Jones alleged that Clinton sexually harassed her while serving as Governor of Arkansas. Clinton's attorneys argued that in all but the most exceptional cases, any litigation against the president should be deferred until he left office.

In 1997, the high court came back with its answer that a president can't escape private litigation.

"Indeed, if the Framers of the Constitution had thought it necessary to protect the President from the burdens of private litigation, we think it far more likely that they would have adopted a categorical rule than a rule that required the President to litigate the question whether a specific case belonged in the 'exceptional case' subcategory," wrote Justice John Paul Stevens at the time. "In all events, the question whether a specific case should receive exceptional treatment is more appropriately the subject of the exercise of judicial discretion than an interpretation of the Constitution."

But Trump's lawyer seizes on another aspect of the decision.

Stevens also wrote that "immunity questions should be decided at the earliest possible stage of the litigation" in recognition of the "singular importance of the President's duties."

"Moreover, as in Clinton v. Jones, the public interest mandates that the immunity issue be resolved before proceeding further," writes Kasowitz. "The 'singular importance of the President’s duties' warrants a stay where civil actions, such as this one, 'frequently could distract a President from his public duties, to the detriment of not only the President and his office but also the Nation that the President was designed to serve.' Requiring President Trump to litigate the merits on a motion to dismiss the complaint, in addition to moving to dismiss on grounds of Presidential immunity, would negate the very interests that that immunity is designed to protect."

According to Trump's court papers, Zervos' lawyer initially agreed to a 30-day extension, but wouldn't agree to a more expansive time table without an agreement to accept service of Zervos' subpoena. Without a deal, a judge is now being asked to intervene in a constitutional showdown.

What this article doesn't mention is that Trump's choice to head the civil right's division of the Justice department, George Conway, husband of Kellyanne, is one of the lawyers who helped prepare the Paula Jones case --- which led to the impeachment of President Clinton. This is almost exactly the same circumstance --- exactly. You literally couldn't find a more similar case.

Trump seems to think that just as they've decided a president can't be corrupt they will also decide a president can't be sued. But thanks to Kellyanne's husband and the rest of "the elves" this is a question that went all the way up to the supreme court and was decided against the president.

As ye sow so shall ye reap.


Somebody got the wrong talking points

by digby

This CNN format has been tiresome for months. But just ... wow:

I don't know who they think they're fooling with this but the format of having Trump hacks like her and Jeffrey Lord on isn't interesting because they are predictable robots. That's not compelling TV.

McEnany isn't dumb. But her job is to say dumb things. It's not real.

Jared Kushner, renaissance boy

by digby

I wrote about young Jared for Salon this morning:

For a few days last week the scuttlebutt held that President Donald Trump’s most trusted adviser might be on the outs with the boss because he decided to take the family skiing in Aspen, Colorado, just as the White House entered its first big legislative fight, which of course it ignominiously lost. I’m speaking of Jared Kushner, the boyish 36-year-old husband of favorite offspring Ivanka and, by all accounts, the man who is the last person Trump talks to before he makes a decision.

The pictures of Jared and Ivanka posing for Instagrams like a bunch of Kardashians hawking designer ski gear while the embattled president called up wavering Republican congressmen and prattled on about “his damn election” didn’t exactly show a serious, hardworking image to the nation. And we know how Trump feels about that, right?

As it turns out Trump’s actually a yuuuge believer in taking vacations. He has been to his Florida resort seven times already (at taxpayer expense) and last weekend the White House tried to pretend the president was having meetings at his Virginia golf club. It was later revealed that he was hitting the links again.

So it’s not surprising that Trump was quick to forgive his favorite daughter and son-in-law for their little getaway. Not only did he forgive Jared; yesterday he put him in charge of a bold new initiative to run the country like a business with what the Washington Post described as a “SWAT team of strategic consultants” that “will be staffed by former business executives.” If the first couple of months of the Trump administration are any indication of what that might look like, we’re in for a bumpy ride. As Salon’s Simon Maloy observed:

Innovation! What a concept. And who better to head up a team of business innovators and power brokers than Jared Kushner, a child of privilege who inherited his father’s real estate business and fell ass backward into a position of authority? Kushner will take the lessons he learned from being born rich and marrying the right person and use them to disrupt the American government.
And this tired old GOP mantra about running government like a business is like saying that you should build boats like you wash dishes. They are completely different tasks. And Kushner is a particularly poor choice, even if you buy the argument. As Maloy pointed out, Kushner is a lot like his father-in-law in that he inherited his father’s New Jersey real estate business and, well, that’s about it.

Actually, after Chris Christie put Kushner’s father in jail for corruption (it’s a long story), Jared took the reins of the business and jumped into Manhattan real estate where he is known for one very big deal. Unfortunately, also like his father-in-law, it turns out Kushner is not very good at what he does. Kushner sold his stake in that project to his family recently, ostensibly to avoid a conflict of interest. It was actually a smart business decision because the building’s finances are in big trouble at the moment. The Kushners may receive a bailout from a powerful Chinese insurance company. So it’s a good thing that we’ve decided that Republicans enriching their immediate family while in office isn’t corruption — or that might look bad.

Kushner’s new job is just an addition to his already bulging portfolio. Recall that a while back he was given the special task of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue. One might assume he’s even less qualified for that job than he is for heading up a “SWAT team” of business leaders, but apparently being an observant Jew is all that’s required. It’s surprising that nobody ever thought of that before.

On Monday we found out from White House press secretary Sean Spicer that “throughout the campaign and the transition, Jared served as the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials until we had State Department officials up.” That’s correct: This 36-year-old with no experience in government or foreign affairs served as the new president’s primary contact with foreign governments. Apparently, no one who knew what he (or she) was doing was available.

This important task seems to have landed young Kushner into a spot of trouble, however. We also learned on Monday that the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating possible Russian ties to the Trump campaign, has asked to speak to Kushner about his meeting during the transition with the Russian ambassador. Apparently there was more than one, including a meeting previously unacknowledged by the Trump administration with a Russian banker named Sergey N. Gorkov, head of the state-owned development bank Vnesheconombank, which just happens to be one of the Russian banks facing U.S. sanctions. (Gorkov is reportedly close to Vladimir Putin and graduated from what was formerly the KGB academy.)

At the time of those meetings, Kushner had not sold his interest in the Manhattan building to his family and The New York Times reported that the committee wants to know whether Kushner spoke to Gorkov about potentially helping him with his financial problems. According to Reuters, Kushner met with representatives of the bank earlier in 2016 as well, which raises still more questions. Whatever the substance of the conversations, the whole thing carries the stench of a conflict of interest.

That Kushner wouldn’t understand this and would hold such meetings after numerous news reports and government acknowledgments about Russian intervention in the election campaign shows such astonishingly poor judgment that it makes one shudder to think what he may have said and done in his role in the transition and now in the administration.

I cannot help but be reminded of a comment from a State Department employee:

They think Jared can do everything. It’s reminiscent of the developing countries where I’ve served. The family rules everything, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows nothing.

The United States is not a developing country. It is supposedly the world’s only superpower. Can’t we do better than this?

Trump voters starting to wonder what the hell is going on

by digby

"We can tweet about Snoop Dogg...but can't seem to help people who lost over 1 million acres"

Devastating wildfires ripped across the grasslands in Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma earlier this month, and ranchers were among those hardest hit. Some families lost 80 percent of their livestock herds, along with hundreds of miles of fences and land. Seven people have died, several trying to save their cattle.

Many of these ranchers voted for Donald Trump, and some say they wish the president was paying more attention to them in their time of need.

Garth Gardiner runs Gardiner Angus Ranch in Ashland, Kansas with his brothers and their families. He says the day the fire started, his brother was out working on their ranch. By the time the fires burned out, he had lost 500 cows — a third of his herd.

Here, Gardiner makes an emotional appeal for help to the White House, and the president he helped elect.

He's busy marketing his "brand" with endless photo ops and tweeting and monitoring his PR on cable news networks. That's what he does. And every week-end he needs to fly at taxpayer expense to his Florida resort or go to his Virginia golf club to get in 36 holes or so and secretly meet with his rich cronies. That's also what he does.

Helping out disaster victims isn't really in the job description of a billionaire who promised to run the country like a business. Where's the profit in that?


Trump misunderestimated

by Tom Sullivan

Donald Trump promised that repealing Obamacare was the first on his agenda as president (turns out it was banning Muslims). Team Trump expected to use the "savings" from the repeal to justify a tax cut as big, fat, and juicy as Trump doesn't like his steaks. Stocks have taken a tumble as investors realized they might get their tax cuts cooked to perfection either.

Jim Newell at Slate explains how this was supposed to go:

The AHCA was supposed to lower the budget baseline to give leaders about $1 trillion to work with in the tax reform package. This would have gone a long way toward making tax reform revenue-neutral—i.e., not a long-run deficit increaser—which would be a requirement in order to pass the bill with a 51-vote majority under reconciliation if the changes are to be permanent. If the tax reform package isn’t revenue-neutral, its cuts will expire after 10 years like the Bush tax cuts did. Balancing rate cuts with a simplification of the code is what would define it as “reform, and not just an enormous temporary tax cut.
That $1 trillion evaporated when the AHCA went down in flames on Friday. Now what? Freedom Caucus chair Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) spoke to that on Sunday. From The Hill (emphasis mine):
"Does it have to be what they would say revenue-neutral, or do you have to have an offset, like with the border-adjustment tax — I think those are going to be the two questions," Meadows said during an interview on ABC's "This Week."

"I think there's been a lot of flexibility in terms of some of my contacts and conservatives in terms of not making it totally offset."


"When we start to grow the economy at 4, 4.1 percent, it actually not only increases wages but it puts more money in Americans pockets each and every day," he said.

"And so tax reform and lowering taxes will create and generate more income, and so we're looking at those, where the fine balance is. But does it have to be fully offset? My personal response is no."
You saw it coming, didn't you? I haven't yet heard a Republican in Congress utter the phrase "tax cuts pay for themselves," but that's just a matter of time. The National Review is already there. There will be "dynamic scoring" and other sleight-of-hand deployed to sell as sound economics tax cuts that are actually conservative dogma.

FiveThirtyEight addressed the question last fall:
The root of the problem is that in order to understand how taxes will affect the economy, we have to understand how the economy itself works. In a number of important ways, we don’t. Paul Romer, the incoming chief economist of the World Bank, made waves last week (at least on Twitter) with a new paper arguing that the field of macroeconomics has suffered through “more than three decades of intellectual regress.” At the Tax Policy Center event on Friday, former Fed economist Louise Sheiner ticked off a list of big questions that economists can’t answer: “We don’t understand why productivity has slowed so much. We don’t understand why labor force participation has fallen by so much. We don’t understand why companies aren’t investing now with such low interest rates.” With so many unanswered questions, Sheiner said, there is no way we can accurately estimate the impact of specific tax policies.
What the Trump administration underestimates, as it did with tackling health care, are the number of obstacles to getting through a tax package. Newell again:
When Republicans talk about simplifying the corporate tax code, they talk about weeding out corporate “loopholes” while lowering marginal rates. The effective tax rate that corporations pay is far lower than the top statutory rate that Republicans so often complain is too high. But if you weed out “loopholes” in any way that would result in a large corporation ending up having to pay more in taxes, they will lobby against that with every fiber of their being until the bill is dead, forever.

As Mark Mazur, director of the Tax Policy Center, told me cheekily, what the public may see as a corporate loophole is what each relevant corporation sees as a “well-deserved tax incentive.” If a corporation is paying an effective tax rate of 10 percent now, they’re going to lobby hard against any bill “that makes it 11.”
Entitlements. In the Republican universe, they only benefit poor people, low caste Irresponsibles. The president could find himself up against opponents with much more fight in them in the next round. He will need more golf to get through the tax fight.

Monday, March 27, 2017

A lotta egg on a lotta faces ...

by digby

No, Obamacare is not in a death spiral

by digby

If you've heard it once you've heard it a thousand times: Obamacare is falling apart and on the verge of catastrophic failure.

No it isn't:
Republican leaders say they will table health care talks following the defeat of the House GOP to replace Obamacare. As House Speaker Paul Ryan put it, "Obamacare is the law of the land."

But some conservatives say that President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation can’t last much longer, regardless of whether Congress finds a legislative compromise.

"It is in a death spiral," conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt said March 26 on Meet the Press. "The New York Times yesterday pointed out that — the president of Aetna — that you will lose coverage in many places in America for everyone, and that to me is a death spiral for those people."

The idea that Obamacare is in a "death spiral" — a specific term used in the health insurance industry — is a claim that we’ve heard before. Experts say Hewitt is incorrect.

We reached out to Hewitt through his radio program but did not hear back.

Still no ‘death spiral’

"Death spiral" is a health industry term built around three components:

Shrinking enrollment;

Healthy people leaving the system;

Rising premiums.

Specifically, a death spiral occurs when shrinking enrollment leads to a deteriorating risk pool (or when healthy people leave the plan due to the cost). That leads to higher premiums for the people remaining in the insurance pools, which causes enrollment to shrink even further, continuing the cycle until the entire system fails.

The latest government figures show enrollment in the Affordable Care Act is slightly down from last year. Through Jan. 31, 2017, some 12.2 million people were signed up for coverage through a federal or state marketplace, which is a decrease of 500,000, or 4 percent, from the same point last year.

Experts noted that marketplace sign-ups were running in line with their 2016 pace as of the middle of January, which experts said might suggest the decline in sign-ups was somehow related to the Trump administration, not an impending death spiral.

For example, the Trump administration decided to at least partially halt marketing and outreach encouraging people to sign up for health coverage.

But experts say the enrollment decline isn’t an indication the health care law is in a death spiral. There is no direct connection, they said, showing that the declining enrollment is causing premiums to increase.

Why not? Because federal government subsidies in the form of tax credits are largely shielding customers from feeling the premium increase.

As we have reported, premiums are increasing. But that isn’t affecting the cost for most consumers, due to built-in subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. The subsidies cap premium prices at a certain percentage of income for anyone below 400 percent of the federal poverty level (in 2016 that would be $47,520 for a single person).

Among the people who have signed up so far for 2017, 81 percent will receive a subsidy.

Data also shows no uptick in healthy people leaving the health insurance market.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reports the share of people signing up for health care in the low-risk demographic — ages 18-34 — remains about the same in 2017 as it was in 2016, at 26 percent of enrollees.

"There is no data to indicate a drop in the number of younger enrolled, although the announced policy not to enforce the IRS penalty, if not reversed, could result in a decline over time," said John Rother, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care.

Hewitt referred to a New York Times article that quotes the president of Aetna saying that in many places people will lose health care insurance.

We couldn’t find that article, but a simple remark on how premiums are rising and insurers are leaving the marketplace is not enough evidence to meet the actuarial definition of a death spiral.

CBO, independent analysis: No death spiral

Others have also concluded that the Affordable Care Act is not in a death spiral. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, as part of its recent analysis of the GOP legislation, described the Affordable Care Act as stable.

Matthew Fiedler, a fellow with the Center for Health Policy at the Brookings Institution, similarly concluded in a recent analysis that the Affordable Care Act is not in a death spiral.

Fiedler found that marketplace premium increases had little if any impact on health insurance sign-ups and that the impact on the individual market risk pool will more than likely be minor, despite the small decline in enrollment numbers.

"It therefore remains likely that insurers’ individual market business will return to a roughly break-even or slightly profitable position in 2017, absent other policy changes," Fiedler wrote.

Our ruling

Hewitt said Obamacare is "in a death spiral."

That’s a specific phrase that describes a process where health people leaving the insurance market causes insurance premiums to rise to the point that more healthy people leave the market. At some point, the system becomes unsustainable.

Experts say there is no evidence that cycle has started with Obamacare, because federal subsidies are keeping people from feeling the brunt of premium increases. The CBO and other independent analyses have found the health care system to be stable.

We rate this claim False.

There you go ...