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4CA Upholds Injunction on Trump’s Muslim Ban

[ 54 ] May 25, 2017 |

I will have more on this tomorrow. Good news, but I find the party-line breakdowns of the vote a little concerning given the Gorsuched Court.

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A: Both

[ 84 ] May 25, 2017 |

Eric Levitz has an appropriate response to the crocodile tears and feigned ignorance of the lead negotators of TrumpCare, the Freedom [sic] Caucus’s Mark Medows and the Tuesday [note: negotiations end Monday] Group Capitulator-in-Chief Tom McArthur:

The congressman continued:

“In the end, we’ve got to make sure there’s enough funding there to handle preexisting conditions and drive down premiums. And if we can’t do those three things, then we will have failed.”

Meadows’s remarks bring to mind one of the Trump era’s defining questions: Are these people really this stupid, or evil, or both?

Let’s take Meadows at his word: He would never want to make a “political decision” that undermines someone else’s access to health care, and had no idea that the bill he wrote would do that.

When the first CBO report revealed that Trumpcare would leave 24 million more people uninsured, Meadows just assumed that this was the number of healthy, devil-may-care Americans who would be freed from the burden of the individual mandate. When he pushed for even more draconian cuts to Medicaid than those included in the bill, he did not realize that poor people can also die from breast cancer, and then be mourned by brothers who loved them. And when he demanded measures to weaken regulatory protections for those with preexisting conditions, he did not bother to research how much it would cost to finance stable, high-risk pools — and ignored the many, many news reports that warned the amount he was allocating was insufficient.

Finally, when the CBO released its report on the effects of the provision he co-authored, he read its findings so carelessly, he thought that they constituted “good news.”

If Meadows was honestly representing his views about health-care policy to IJR, than he is far too negligent, incompetent, and intellectually impaired to hold public office.

If was lying about his views — and invoked his sister’s death from breast cancer as a means of distracting from his mendacity — then he is far too morally monstrous to hold a congressional seat.

Tom MacArthur’s response to IJR’s questions about the CBO’s findings was no less stunning:

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), who was a primary negotiator in getting AHCA through the House, also downplayed the CBO score, noting that CBO personnel are “not prophets.”

“They’re trying to answer questions that I think it would be better where they say ‘I don’t know,’” MacArthur said.

Here, the congressman suggests that the only honest answer to the question of whether his health-care bill will condemn nonaffluent cancer patients to preventable deaths is “I don’t know.”

What a comfort that must be to every American who worries about the cost of chemotherapy; what a relief for “somebody’s sister or father.”

This is a horrible bill passed by reprehensible people.

The Violent Gasp of a Ruling Minority Party

[ 83 ] May 25, 2017 |

Pierce uses the dishonest statement put out by the campaign of Republican hired goon Greg Gianforte to put his assault on Ben Jaobs in context:

I just adore that last part. I adore it even more than the fanciful notion that Ben Jacobs was using his iPhone of Doom to overpower poor Greg Gianforte. “Aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist.” This is an interpretation of events from a flack who is fully confident that his intended audience is made up of dupes and fools who’ve been marinating in the conservative media for decades and, therefore, will believe any goddamn thing they’re fed. Shane Scanlon, the flack in question, has a very bright future, I believe.

These attacks on individual reporters should be no surprise. In the wider political world, people like Shane Scanlon and Greg Gianforte operate secure in the knowledge of precisely who their audiences hate and why they hate them. They know that those audiences cheered when reporters covering the Ferguson protests got roughed up and busted by the cops, and when that guy got arrested in West Virginia for questioning HHS Secretary Tom Price, and when that reporter got put into a wall while asking questions at an FCC event, and, ultimately, when the 2016 Republican candidate for president spent a good portion of every campaign rally coming right up to the edge of setting a mob loose on the penned-up press at the back of the hall.

This must be a great comfort to Scanlon and Gianforte. They don’t have to care about representing anyone they don’t want to represent, or about the survival of democratic institutions, or even about the country in general. The Bubble has turned into the Octogon, and Greg Gianforte fancies himself its king.

Also related is the fact that Gianforte has mostly refused to hold public events throughout the campaign.

And the fact that so many Republicans won’t hold town halls. A party that owes its control of the White House and Senate to anti-democratic mechanisms is trying to pass a plan that is astoundingly unpopular given the current polarization, a plan they relentlessly lied about during the campaign. Gianforte’s assault is just a more extreme manifestation of the fundamental contempt that the Trump/Ryan/McConnell Republican Party has for democratic values.

Comey Was Putin’s Most Important Mark

[ 203 ] May 25, 2017 |

It is well known that the Wikileaked EMAILS! and massively overblown controversy over Clinton’s EMAILS! had a mutually reinforcing effect, creating the impression of a major scandal based on nonexistent and trivial misconduct, respectively. I can’t say that this was a plot twist I anticipated, however:

A secret document that officials say played a key role in then-FBI Director James B. Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation has long been viewed within the FBI as unreliable and possibly a fake, according to people familiar with its contents.

In the midst of the 2016 presidential primary season, the FBI received what was described as a Russian intelligence document claiming a tacit understanding between the Clinton campaign and the Justice Department over the inquiry into whether she intentionally revealed classified information through her use of a private email server.

The Russian document cited a supposed email describing how then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch had privately assured someone in the Clinton campaign that the email investigation would not push too deeply into the matter. If true, the revelation of such an understanding would have undermined the integrity of the FBI’s investigation.

Current and former officials have said that Comey relied on the document in making his July decision to announce on his own, without Justice Department involvement, that the investigation was over. That public announcement — in which he criticized Clinton and made extensive comments about the evidence — set in motion a chain of other FBI moves that Democrats now say helped Trump win the presidential election.

But according to the FBI’s own assessment, the document was bad intelligence — and according to people familiar with its contents, possibly even a fake sent to confuse the bureau. The Americans mentioned in the Russian document insist they do not know each other, do not speak to each other and never had any conversations remotely like the ones described in the document. Investigators have long doubted its veracity, and by August the FBI had concluded it was unreliable.

This is…remarkable. And it makes attempts to characterize Comey as a nonpartisan civil servant just trying to PROTECT THE BUREAU even more farcical than they already are. There’s no way Comey would have been similarly credulous about highly implausible quadruple hearsay from the Russians if it had been about, say, Mitt Romney.

JMM:

Now this new story tells a very different story. The email appears to be much more specific, suggesting that Lynch had given her assurance that she wouldn’t let the probe go too far. But that’s not the big news: it now appears to be the consensus opinion in the FBI and intelligence community that the email is in fact fraudulent, presumably a fake document woven into a trove of genuine documents with the aim of having it be found by the FBI and trigger something just like what in fact happened. Notably, the apparently fraudulent email never appeared in any of the document dumps during the course of the election. It only seems to have dropped directly into the FBI’s hands.

There is a lot here that is unclear, a lot left to supposition. But fraudulent documents get woven into caches of genuine documents for specific reasons, sometimes merely to sow confusion, more often to trigger specific actions. Remember, the Niger Uranium forgeries which played such a notorious role in the lead up to the Iraq War and controversies lasting long after it were in fact forgeries included in a batch of genuine documents. Some dissenting sources suggest that the phony email didn’t play much role in Comey’s decision. It only got pulled in as an ex-post facto explanation once Comey’s decision-making came into question. (Even if true, that in itself would be a highly disturbing development.) Regardless, the idea that the FBI and James Comey himself could have been punked by such an operation and taken such consequential actions on the basis of it is simply astonishing.

This doesn’t let Bill Clinton off the hook for his staggeringly stupid decision to visit Lynch on the tarmac, which may still have been integral to this chain of events. But it’s also pretty clear that Comey was looking for reasons to open his yap about the Moral Failings of Crooked Hillary, and manufactured Russian evidence was to his misconduct in June what the Weiner laptop was to his misconduct in October.

Nothing To See Here In These Careless, Random Oversights

[ 27 ] May 25, 2017 |

For some reason, Jeff Sessions just can’t stop lying by omission about his contact with Russian officials:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not disclose meetings he had last year with Russian officials when he applied for his security clearance, the Justice Department told CNN Wednesday.
Sessions, who met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least two times last year, didn’t note those interactions on the form, which requires him to list “any contact” he or his family had with a “foreign government” or its “representatives” over the past seven years, officials said.
The new information from the Justice Department is the latest example of Sessions failing to disclose contacts he had with Russian officials. He has come under withering criticism from Democrats following revelations that he did not disclose the same contacts with Kislyak during his Senate confirmation hearings earlier this year.

Odd that he would keep forgetting about these entirely innocuous meetings. His memory must be dreadful.

Republicans are Very Confident in Their Health Care Bill

[ 73 ] May 24, 2017 |

Donald Trump becoming the Republican nominee for president is a mystery that can never be explained:

The Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat slammed a Guardian reporter to the floor on the eve of the state’s special election, breaking his glasses and shouting, “Get the hell out of here.”

Ben Jacobs, a Guardian political reporter, was asking Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire running for the seat vacated by Ryan Zinke, about the Republican healthcare plan when the candidate allegedly “body-slammed” the reporter.

“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs said by phone from the back of an ambulance. “This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”

Jacobs subsequently reported the incident to the police. Gianforte’s campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

[…]

Jacobs’s account was partially confirmed by BuzzFeed News reporter Alexis Levinson, who wrote on Twitter that she had been in an adjacent room during the incident.

“This happened behind a half closed door, so I didn’t see it all, but here’s what it looked like from the outside – Ben walked into a room where a local tv crew was set up for an interview with Gianforte. All of a sudden I heard a giant crash and saw Ben’s feet fly in the air as he hit the floor. Heard very angry yelling (as did all the volunteers in the room) – sounded like Gianforte…”

Did Gianforte release a statement that blatantly contradicts the audio recording and implies that the assault was justified because it was a LIBERAL reporter? I think you can guess the answer! Weigel has more.

In re: the Iraq War, Daniel Davies famously observed that “good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.” One corollary would be that good ideas do not compel you to physically assault reporters who ask you questions about them.

The AHCA Is A Horrible Bill Passed By Reprehensible People

[ 68 ] May 24, 2017 |

Jon Cohn has more on the political suicide-literal murder pact passed by the House of Representatives:

Twenty-three million fewer Americans would have insurance under legislation that House Republicans narrowly passed last month, the Congressional Budget Office reported on Wednesday.

The agency also predicted the deficit would come down by $119 billion over the next decade ― and that premiums for people buying insurance on their own would be relatively lower than those premiums would be if the Affordable Care Act stays in place.

But the reasons health insurance would be less expensive for some aren’t much to cheer about, the budget report makes clear. Prices would come down for healthy people because those who are sick or have illness in their medical histories would have less access to coverage ― and the policies available on the market would tend to be a lot less comprehensive.

In other words, the price for lower premiums would be some combination of higher out-of-pocket costs, fewer covered services, and coverage that would be harder to get for the people who need it most.

Pema Levy has more on the misleading “lower premiums” spin here. See also Gaba and Lopez.

Meanwhile, let’s head over to the Cavalcade of EMAILS! for some hard-hitting analysis, with annotation by Simon Maloy:

Either way, he won’t be one of the 23 million, so let’s forget this dry policy analysis and get into a dry martini!

The Path to Universal Healthcare II: The Political and Policy Obstacles

[ 209 ] May 24, 2017 |

Let’s pick up on the discussion we started yesterday. Before we begin, read Charles Gaba’s piece, which is really good. Done? OK. Let’s assume the first can opener, congressional majorities that despite the skew of both the House and Senate towards rural, conservative jurisdictions are open to comprehensive health care reform (whether a single-payer or, more likely, a hybrid model). I’ll leave out some of Gaba’s important points, such as the fact that under universal health care women’s reproductive services will be under-covered or uncovered whenever Republicans win a federal election. There are still some formidable remaining political obstacles:

  • Most people like their insurance, and most people covered by employer-provided insurance are likely to get worse insurance in a universal model. Paul Starr’s book is really good on this point, but one paradox of American health care reform is that its gross inefficiency makes reform more difficult — one upshot of spending so much money is that most people who get health insurance through their jobs have insurance that’s pretty good. This may change, but as of now that’s a lot of people, more likely to vote than the uninsured as a group, who have only downside risk from a transition to universal insurance. Meanwhile, people on Medicare — another politically influential group — have nothing to gain at best and are also likely to perceive a downside risk.  Obama wasn’t dumb when he kept repeating the “if you like your plan you can keep it” half-truth-at-best — risk aversion among the public is a major obstacle to health care reform. This is also why the ACA preserved the incentives for employer-provided insurance although virtually no health policy experts think it’s an optimal system.
  • Sharply reducing or eliminating the role of the for-profit insurance industry will put a lot of people out of work. In the long term, this isn’t a reason not to do universal health care, any more than coal jobs are a reason not to support green energy. But in the short term it’s a political problem not just because the companies will fight reform hard but because any statute will be most vulnerable in the next two electoral cycles, and anything that makes the economy significantly worse is bad. All things being equal, it is preferable that this transition happen gradually rather than immediately. (Note that this isn’t in itself a dispositive argument for incrementalism, just a point in its favor.)
  • Any universal health care program that is 1)worth doing and 2)has a politically viable level of taxation will have to give practitioners a yoooge haircut. People focus way too much on the insurance industry when discussing obstacles to reform. They’re a problem, but not an insurmountable one. (The ACA passed without buy-in from the insurers, after all.) The real problem is doctors. Another way that the grossly inefficient American health care system insulates itself from reform is that doctors make a lot more money in the United States than in countries with truly universal systems.  Medical professionals are a more influential and much more widely admired group than the insurance lobby. As a result, even in contexts with fewer veto points than the American system universal health care has generally passed by offering doctors a better deal than they had before. If there’s a precedent for passing a universal health care statute while sharply reducing payments to doctors anywhere, I’m not aware of it. This is a big, big political problem.

In short, I suspect the question of whether gradualism or a nearly-immediate transition to universal health care is better on the merits will be moot because the latter is politically impossible. But, at a minimum, supporters of universal health care need to be prepared to deal with these obstacles, and they need to be thinking about what intermidiate steps should be prioritized in the overwhelmingly likely event that passing Medicare For All or some variant proves impossible. There are very, very difficult political and policy obstacles involved here. “Having a president who supports single payer give some BLISTERING speeches” is not a plan. The United States doesn’t lack universal health care because the alternative models don’t exist — just throw a dart at a map of Europe and you’ll get a better one — or because politicians are unaware of them, but because there are all kinds of status quo biases that make comprehensive reform massively difficult. Difficult, not impossible — but handwaving the obstacles away doesn’t get you an inch closer to universal coverage.

Amazing Job

[ 120 ] May 24, 2017 |

The Franco of Fifth Avenue heaps praise on one of his leadership models:

In a phone call from the White House late last month, U.S. President Donald Trump heaped praise on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, one of the world’s most murderous heads of state, for doing what Trump called an “unbelievable job” in his war on drugs. Trump offered an unqualified endorsement of Duterte’s bloody extermination campaign against suspected drug dealers and users, which has included open calls for extrajudicial murders and promises of pardons and immunity for the killers.

“You are a good man,” Trump told Duterte, according to an official transcript of the April 29 call produced by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs and obtained by The Intercept. “Keep up the good work,” Trump told Duterte. “You are doing an amazing job.”

Trump began the call by telling Duterte, “You don’t sleep much, you’re just like me,” before quickly pivoting to the strongman’s drug war.

“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” Trump told Duterte at the beginning of their call, according to the document. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

Well, with civil rights hero Jeff Sessions as the Attorney General I’m sure this mindset won’t be relevant to federal policy in any way!

All presidents cut deals they perceive to be in the national interest with bad leaders, of course. Trump heaping praise on various despots sua sponte is another matter.

Great Moments In Responsibility Evasion

[ 182 ] May 23, 2017 |

Ariel Edwards-Levy has a good roundup of a new study demonstrating that the media’s coverage of the campaign was abominably bad unless you think Clinton’s email server was more important than every substantive issue put together and made her as or more unfit than Trump:

The phrase “But her emails!” has become a sarcastic rallying cry among many liberals who bemoan the attention dedicated last year to questions over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

Their perception ― that the focus on Clinton’s emails overshadowed the rest of her campaign ― is backed by data, according to an analysis recently released by researchers at Gallup, Georgetown University, and the University of Michigan. The results don’t directly address the share of media coverage focused on Clinton’s emails, or the degree to which it hurt her standing, but they make it clear that much of what the public remembered hearing about her was focused on the controversy.

“Email-related scandals clearly dominated recalled words about Clinton. This is true for almost every week of the campaign,” the authors concluded in a presentation given Saturday during a panel on election surveys. “There was no similarly common theme for Trump, whose multiple scandals produced a changing, and perhaps more easily overcome, narrative during the campaign.”

The study also shows that negative coverage of Clinton’s emails completely drowned all other coverage right before the election.

Surprisingly, this has even gotten coverage at CNN:

This study will be used by liberals as evidence that the media’s unnecessary focus on Clinton’s email server cost her the election. I’d agree that Clinton’s email server played a decisive role in deciding the election.

Wow! Who would write this at CNN of all places?

Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large

Wow! So I assume this is a resignation letter?

But I wouldn’t agree with the idea that the media is responsible for it.

After all, it was Clinton who never seemed to grasp the seriousness of the issue and how it eroded the public’s already shaky confidence in her. Her inability to do those things meant she was never able to put the story behind her. And then the Comey announcement came, which undoubtedly surged the issue back to the top of many voters’ minds.

Hillary Clinton should have used the One Conveniently Unspecified Magic Trick she could have used to get hacks like me to stop writing obsessively about her email server, but she Didn’t. Even. Try. So while the media’s coverage priorities put Trump in the White House, the media cannot be held accountable because they don’t really have a choice. It’s a nice racket.

The Path to Universal Healthcare I: Let’s Clarify Our Terms

[ 280 ] May 23, 2017 |

The United States, as is well known, spends much more money to provide effective access to health care to fewer people than other comparable liberal democracies. This is an urgent moral issue. The Affordable Care Act was a major step in the right direction but is also not a satisfactory end point for health care reform. The energy surrounding “single payer” is therefore both justified and generally a good thing. But, in part because health care is — who knew? — complicated and in part because for some people invoking “single payer” are saying “the neoliberal Democrat Party sucks because neoliberalism” rather than thinking through a strategy for getting universal coverage through James Madison’s sausage factory, there’s a lot of sloppiness and conceptual confusion surrounding the discussion. Before discussing the political and policy barriers to universal health care, it’s worth making some distinctions.

Let’s start here. There is a strange tendency to use “Medicare for all” and “single payer” interchageably. But unless Medicare was very substantially altered, “Medicare for all” would not actually be “single payer”:

Medicare provides protection against the costs of many health care services, but traditional Medicare has relatively high deductibles and cost-sharing requirements and places no limit on beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket spending. Moreover, traditional Medicare does not pay for some services vital to older people and those with disabilities, including long-term services and supports, dental services, eyeglasses, and hearing aids.

In light of Medicare’s benefit gaps and cost-sharing requirements, most beneficiaries in traditional Medicare have some form of supplemental coverage to help cover cost-sharing expenses required for Medicare-covered services (Figure 12). Other beneficiaries—30 percent in 2014—are covered under Medicare Advantage plans. However, 14 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries had no supplemental coverage in 2010, including a disproportionate share of beneficiaries under age 65 with disabilities, the near poor (those with incomes between $10,000 and $20,000), and black beneficiaries.

Medicare for all would actually be more like a European hybrid system. This is not necessarily a criticism. Indeed, as I have argued I think this is actually a much more viable path to comprehensive health coverage in the United States than true single payer or nationalized medicine:

Many liberal democracies, including Switzerland, France and Germany, have achieved true universal coverage with hybrid public/private models. The Netherlands actually changed its single-payer system to a hybrid system in 2006. When compared to single-payer Canada, the hybrid models in general rank better in quality and efficiency and are as or more equitable. And like single-payer, they deliver better results for far less money than the US spends.

Particularly given that there’s no way that single-payer would be as cheap in the US as it is in Canada, single payer is probably less desirable than the hybrid model even if we ignore the former’s political unfeasibility.

But Sanders and Clinton are right that, in the long term, something at least approaching European-style universal healthcare is possible. Many countries have built excellent healthcare systems out of better versions of the ACA model: expanded (and in the case of Medicaid, improved) public insurance combined with better-regulated and subsidized private markets. Progress can be made towards this incrementally, as Clinton has proposed; it can be done in another big statute but it doesn’t have to be.

If we’re going to get to universal coverage, though, liberals need to get beyond conflating “single payer” and “European-style healthcare.” (And I’ve been as guilty of that as anyone.) Universal health coverage is a case in which Sanders’s idealism and Clinton’s realism can in fact end up in the same place.

Whether “Medicare for all” is the best hybrid approach is debatable. Michael Sparer makes a good case for building off Medicaid rather than Medicare. But I’m not sure we have to decide ex ante, particularly since the path to universal coverage is much more likely to be gradual expansions of both Medicare and Medicaid while individual private insurance is more heavily subsidized.

The key point is that, whatever the most useful shorthand for politicians trying to win elections, when we’re thinking about health care policy we really need to stop conflating “universal health coverage” with “single payer.” It’s not wise to close off viable paths is advance, particularly since there’s not really any reason to think that single payer models are inherently better than hybrid ones at providing equitable coverage. This is particularly true given the formidable political obstacles that still exist, but we’ll return to that in the next post.

Clarence Thomas’s Fatalism on Race In America

[ 56 ] May 23, 2017 |

In the wake of Clarence Thomas being the swing vote in yesterday’s case holding North Carolina’s racial gerrymanders unconstitutional, I have a piece in the New Republic about his jurisprudence on race:

In part because he rarely speaks at oral argument, there was a common perception that Thomas is just a clone of the late Antonin Scalia. This assumption—which, in some cases, carried the odor of racist condescension—is profoundly wrong. “What [Thomas] has done on the Court,” wrote Mark Tushnet, now a professor at Harvard Law School, in his 2005 book A Court Divided, “is certainly more interesting and more distinctive than what Scalia has done and, I think, has a greater chance of making an enduring contribution to constitutional law.” Thomas and the recently retired Justice John Paul Stevens are the two most idiosyncratic Supreme Court justices of the last 40 years, the most likely to stake out a unique position on a particular issue.

Thomas’s approach is particularly visible in cases involving race. Typical Republican nominees like Chief Justice John Roberts and Antonin Scalia combine a belief in formal colorblindness with the view that racism is no longer a major problem in American society. This willful optimism reached the point of self-parody with Roberts’s 2013 opinion gutting a section of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discrimination to get approval from federal authorities for any changes to election law. Roberts held that because the Voting Rights Act had been so effective in addressing race discrimination in voting, Congress no longer had the power to enact its most important enforcement mechanism.

Thomas also generally believes in formal colorblindness, but for very different reasons rooted in (sometimes explicit) black nationalism. Thomas believes that the state should be race-neutral not because he has any illusions that racism has ended in the United States, but because he believes that color-blindness is the best that African-Americans can reasonably expect from the state.

Thomas’s fatalism can be seen even in opinions where he ends up in the same position as his conservative colleagues. His 2003 dissent from the Court’s opinion upholding the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action program is a powerful argument even if, like me, you ultimately disagree with the bottom line. Beginning by quoting Frederick Douglass, he makes a subtle, complex argument with pointed discussions about the fallacious assumptions that predominantly black institutions must be inferior; the dubious necessity of the state maintaining an elite law school; the disgrace of legacy admissions preferences; and the false “merit” reflected by standardized tests. Even if one ultimately finds it unpersuasive, it’s certainly not the boilerplate defense of American “meritocracy” that underlies Republican arguments against affirmative action.

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