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You Are What Your Record Says You Are

[ 180 ] March 8, 2017 |

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RyanCare and the process that led to it is a subject right in Chait’s wheelhouse, and he’s written a couple very good posts about it. I recommend this post in its entirety, but I particularly like the punchline:

Eventually they had told the lie so long it became impossible for them to abandon it. And so Republicans have found themselves frantically scrawling out a hopelessly inadequate solution in order to meet a self-imposed deadline driven by their overarching desire to cut taxes for the rich. “Expanding subsidies for high earners, and cutting health coverage off from the working poor: it sounds like a left-wing caricature of mustache-twirling, top-hatted Republican fat cats,” writes the Republican health-care adviser Avik Roy. The caricature is true.

I genuinely can’t understand what Roy could possibly have been expecting. Of course any Republican health care plan was going to involve 1)fewer benefits to the poor and most of the middle class and 2)a massive upper-class tax cut. The already cartoonishly evil plan is being attacked by Republicans mostly from the right. What does he think his party is? Can he see how they’re living? How can he delude himself? And note that even his moderate, reasonable, thinking-person’s analysis celebrates RyanCare’s savage Medicaid cuts.

This post is also good. First, it’s right that while it’s good that Democrats didn’t fund the ACA entirely through debt like Republicans would have, the bad obsession with deficit reduction led to subsidies that were lower than they should have been, which is both bad policy and bad politics, and is one thing that needs to be corrected by the next Dem Congress if the ACA survives. It’s also good on Paul Ryan’s use of empty buzzwords to evade his naked class warfare:

In a press conference defending his health-care plan yesterday, Paul Ryan rattled off the same buzzwords he has been repeating for years. “It means more choices and competition so that you can buy the plan that you need and that you can afford,” he said. The plan creates “a better, patient-centered system,” and “gives people the freedom to buy the plan they want and can afford.”

If you don’t know exactly what all these terms mean — choice, competition, freedom, patient-centered — that’s fine by him. It’s better than fine, actually. It’s the point. All these terms are meant to complicate the real choice his plan presents, which is a very simple one: more versus less.

[…]

The most naked and revealing moment of Ryan’s press conference came when he was asked about why his plan provides a huge tax cut for the rich. You can watch his response, ten minutes in. Ryan scoffs and makes a dismissive hand gesture, like he’s been presented with an utterly frivolous objection. Then Ryan says, “Read the bill! Go to readthebill.gop!” and moves on to next question while he and his lieutenants share forced laughter at the absurd query.

And it’s not just politicians. Note how Megan McArdle deals with RyanCare’s upper-class tax cuts in an otherwise mostly critical post:

So who does like this thing? Well, um, I guess rich donors and the taxes-uber-alles wing of the conservative movement. The bill is pretty good on the tax side, in terms of repealing the squintillions of fiddling little taxes by which Obamacare helped fund itself.

[…]

As I already mentioned, it makes a lot of fiddling tax changes — restoring deductibility of health insurer compensation in excess of $500,000, repealing things like the tanning tax, ending the Medicare surtax on high earners, and so forth.

Some of you will see one change she left out buries. I strongly recommend this Dylan Mathews post, which demonstrates that the biggest generator of tax revenue RyanCare would eliminate is a tax on investment income for households making over $250K (or single people making $125K). If you’re making more than $250K a year and would notice a 3.8% tax on your capital gains, you’re doing very well. And yet Republican orthodoxy is that giving you that money back by taking health insurance away from the less affluent should be a central policy goal. They’re just not willing to put it in those terms, because the vast majority of people correctly see this as monstrous. But this is what the Republican Party is.

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FBI Director Implying One Candidate is a Liar and Crook has Material Negative Effect on Candidate, Shocking Research Finding Says

[ 405 ] March 8, 2017 |

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Conversation survey data shows what…pretty much all of the relevant data shows about the effect of James Comey deciding to kneecap Hillary Clinton based on absolutely nothing less than two weeks before the election:

Most decisively, there was a sudden change in the net sentiment results that followed immediately after FBI Director James Comey released his Oct. 28 letter to Congress about a renewed investigation of Clinton emails. Immediately afterwards, there was a 17-point drop in net sentiment for Clinton, and an 11-point rise for Trump, enough for the two candidates to switch places in the rankings, with Clinton in more negative territory than Trump. At a time when opinion polling showed perhaps a 2-point decline in the margin for Clinton, this conversation data suggests a 28-point change in the word of mouth “standings.” The change in word of mouth favorability metric was stunning, and much greater than the traditional opinion polling revealed.

Based on this finding, it is our conclusion that the Comey letter, 11 days before the election, was the precipitating event behind Clinton’s loss, despite the letter being effectively retracted less than a week later. In such a close election, there may have been dozens of factors whose absence would have reversed the outcome, such as the influence campaign of the Russian government as detailed by US intelligence services. But the sudden change in the political conversation after the Comey letter suggest it was the single, most indispensable factor in the surprise election result.

This conclusion helps us to understand how it is possible that the polls were generally correct about a Clinton lead through most of the campaign, but nevertheless Trump still won because of a late October surprise. In other words, pollsters and the media were likely correct that Clinton was “winning” during most of the campaign.

Obviously, in roughly 99% of cases people demanding “MOAR EVIDENCE” about the Comey effect are making the demand in bad faith, because no alternative hypothesis to “Hillary Clinton lost because, in her perfidious neoliberalism, she failed to understand that marginal voters in every jurisdiction in the country have exactly the same policy preferences and priorities as Brooklyn socialists” is ever going to be entertained. (Sometimes, this will be followed by demands that nobody else discuss any other variable either.) But the evidence that Comey’s intervention was decisive ceteris paribus is about as clear as any such counterfactual could be.

What Is Paul Ryan Doing?

[ 207 ] March 7, 2017 |

Ryan-invites-Trump-to-address-joint-session-of-Congress

RyanCare has generated intense opposition from those who hate it because it takes health insurance away from millions of people to pay for upper-class tax cuts. But RyanCare has also gone over like a lead zeppelin among many members of the faction who do think it’s a good idea to take health insurance away from millions of people to pay for upper-class tax cuts. While some of the opposition from the right was inevitable, it’s strange that he couldn’t get conservative think tanks onboard. One possibility is that he’s not a competent legislative leader. Another possibility is that he’s fine with repeal failing:

What explains the depth of conservative opposition? One possibility is that we should, as Marco Rubio might put it, dispel with the myth that Paul Ryan knows what he’s doing. While some grumbling from House conservatives was inevitable, it’s odd that he couldn’t get buy-in from conservative organizations for a replacement plan. On its face, everything about this botched rollout seems like gross political incompetence.

Another, and perhaps more plausible, answer is that Ryan couldn’t possibly be this inept. He didn’t get his allies on board for a simple reason: He doesn’t actually want any major repeal plan to pass.

This isn’t to say that Ryan would not, all things being equal, like to kill the Affordable Care Act. His entire political career has been devoted to attacking programs for the poor to pay for upper-class tax cuts. But now passing and maintaining tax cuts and achieving other crucial objectives means Republicans must keep control of Congress — and that’s where ACA repeal becomes a major political liability.

Now that it’s being seriously threatened, the ACA is popular. And as Greg Sargent of The Washington Post explains, passing RyanCare would almost certainly be a political disaster in the 2018 and 2020 elections. Marginal voters might favor “small government” and oppose the “government takeover of health care” in the abstract, but that doesn’t mean they won’t object to having their coverage taken away or made substantially worse.

Passing a health care bill that takes coverage away from voters would also complicate what will already be a difficult political situation for the Republicans. They’ve benefited from having the opposition control the White House during a time of gridlock, but now the shoe is on the other foot. The out party generally fares better in midterm elections to begin with. Even worse for Republicans, the popularity of the president is the best predictor of how the party will fare in congressional elections. And while Donald Trump was able to eke out an Electoral College win with a lot of help from an unpopular opponent and the FBI, he remains a very unpopular figure.

Whether Ryan is bad at his job or has already decided to bail out, the key point is that getting the votes for his cyanide sandwich is going to be very difficult. Democrats shouldn’t be complacent, but the chance for a yoooge substantive and political win is definitely there.

…it’s also hard to explain what McConnell is doing if he actually wants RyanCare to pass, and unlike Ryan we can be confident he knows what he’s doing as a legislative mechanic.

Courageous Reporter Identifies Central Problem With American Political Discourse

[ 100 ] March 7, 2017 |

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Donald Trump says things that are flatly untrue on a remarkably frequent basis. Bernie Sanders, citing several of these, called Trump a liar. Over at Chris Cillizza’s Cavalcade of EMAILS!, Amber Phillips is absolutely appalled by…Bernie Sanders:

Do me a quick favor. Hit pause on your temptation to either cheer or jeer what Sanders said and let this marinate: A prominent U.S. senator just described the president of the United States as a frequent and “shameless” liar, a claim that for reasons I’ll explain is difficult to prove. What’s more, what Sanders said about President Trump is one of a bazillion hefty criticisms that Democrats have lobbed and will lob at the president this week alone.

I am OUTRAGED that Bernie Sanders has not lived up to the standards of civil discourse set by President Grab Them By the Pussy! Why can’t he discuss how poor people can pay for their insulin by foregoing their weekly iPhone upgrade in calm, measured tones like that nice Representative Chaffetz! Now that’s some civilitude.

Why should you care it exists at all? Well, the manifestation of such no-holds-barred rhetoric is often a lot of talk and not a lot of action.

Say you have a job, and say within that job you have a colleague, and say said colleague is, in your mind, a frequent and “shameless” liar. You’re probably not going to want to give that colleague the time of day. The reverse is true, too: If you’re asked to work with someone who just told the entire office that you’re a liar, well, screw him, right?

Right. It was entirely plausible that President Trump, Republican Senate Majority Leader Dirksen and Senate Minority Leader Mansfield would civilly cooperate on bipartsian legislation before retiring to the lounge for 8 Cutty-and-sodas. But then Bernie called President Trump a liar for routinely saying things that are false, and suddenly longstanding norms of comity vanished.

It is worth noting here that the statements called out by Bernie were not statements that involved any normative judgement, not even on the “does Paul Ryan’s plan to replace Medicare with an annual $25 CVS gift card constitute ending Medicare?” level. The statements in question — assertions that 3-5 million people voted illegally, that Trump won the “biggest Electoral College win since Reagan,” and that Barack Obama was not born in the United States — were unambiguously false. Which leads to the most irritating political reporter diversion ever:

Here’s the problem with using the “L” word in politics, though. To say someone’s lying suggests that you know they don’t believe what they’re saying.

It’s possible Trump believes the allegations he’s making, which seem to have surfaced on a conservative news site one of his top aides used to manage.

In this kind of context, I think it’s time to retire the pointless hair-splitting about whether calling a politician’s statement a “lie” requires proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the falsehood was intentional. For political statements, can we just agree that “Trump knew the statement to be false or should have known” is good enough to call the statement a lie? Sanders can’t call Trump a liar and has to rely on more awkward constructions because Trump might be delusional enough to think that he won a huge landslide? All this does is shield people who say things that aren’t true. And even if you see value in this academic distinction that I don’t, it’s hardly some massive breach of civility to call someone who constantly says things that aren’t true a liar. What does undermine civility very effectively is clinging to the norm of Both Sides Do It.

Millions to Be Liberated From Neoliberal Bailout of the Health Insurance Industry

[ 229 ] March 6, 2017 |

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Much more about RyanCare this week, but here’s the bottom line:

The proposal defunds Planned Parenthood. No federal funding can be made, either directly or indirectly, by Medicaid to a healthcare organization that “provides for abortions,” other than those done in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother.

[…]

Essential health benefit rules are repealed. As of Dec. 31, 2019, ACA rules that required qualified health plans to provide hospitalization, maternity care, mental health services and other benefits would be sunsetted. That’s likely to make maternity coverage, among other services, immensely expensive, if available at all. State could maintain the standards if they wish, but the federal standards would be eviscerated.

[…]

Income-based premium subsidies would be replaced by age-based subsidies, which will hurt working-class families in many states. Under the ACA, subsidies to help individual buyers afford premiums and (for poorer households) deductibles and co-pays were based on household income. The GOP measure will base them on the buyer’s age, instead, with older buyers receiving more help than younger. The GOP plan limits subsidies to $4,000 per individual; under the ACA, which also keys subsidies to the cost of benchmark insurance plans in the buyer’s home market, the subsidies theoretically could be several times higher.

As we reported last week, this scheme would reduce subsidies to many of the people who need them the most, while awarding them to recipients who don’t need them.

[…]

The Medicaid expansion is killed. As of Dec. 31, 2019, the Medicaid expansion is repealed. Traditional Medicaid will be block-granted, a system almost certain to result in less federal funding for the joint state-federal program than it would have received, over time. The neediest and sickest Americans will increasingly be on their own, as states get less federal help to provide them with medical services.

All of Obamacare’s taxes are repealed, another boon for the rich. Everything from the tax on tanning salons and medical devices to the surcharge on high-income taxpayers will be gone. As we explained earlier, this amounts to an enormous tax cut for the wealthy — at least $346 billion over 10 years, every cent going to taxpayers earning more than $200,000 ($250,000 for couples). The proposal would sharply raise the limits on contributions to tax-advantaged Health Savings Accounts — another gimme for the rich.

To summarize, RyanCare will take away health insurance from millions of non-affluent people, make the insurance people do have much worse, and open a major front in the War on Women in order to pay for a massive upper-class tax cut. In conclusion, Both Sides Do It but Hillary Clinton is worse.

These Things I Believe

[ 64 ] March 6, 2017 |

I think this is correct:

It is, of course, true that there are many unelected officials within a large government, who individually and as a group have their own interests and norms. Sometimes the federal bureaucracy can act as a legitimate constraint on the power of elected officials and sometimes as an illegitimate ones. Sometimes unelected officials grossly abuse their powers, like James Comey did in 2016. I don’t really see what analytic value the term “deep state” has in describing these well-known facts about the world; as Burns says, it tends to obscure more than it clarifies. And that goes triple given the tendency for the “deep state” to refer to “parts of the bureaucracy that I don’t like.”

In related news, see this Greg Sargent post about Trump’s anger that the federal government can’t be managed like a business.

Our Presidential Manchild

[ 13 ] March 6, 2017 |

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Another key takeaway from the recent WaPo story about Trump’s daily meltdowns:

And what soothes poor little Donald, apparently, is arbitrary racism.

What’s depressing is that this new, narrower travel ban might well survive based on embedded assumptions that such executive orders must have followed a rational decision-making process and be motivated by serious national security concerns.

[Everything is Fine.gif]

[ 139 ] March 6, 2017 |

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Everything seems highly functional with the Franco of Fifth Avenue:

The president has been seething as he watches round-the-clock cable news coverage. Trump recently vented to an associate that Carter Page, a onetime Trump campaign adviser, keeps appearing on television even though he and Trump have no significant relationship.

Stories from Breitbart News, the incendiary conservative website, have been circulated at the White House’s highest levels in recent days, including one story where talk-radio host Mark Levin accused the Obama administration of mounting a “silent coup,” according to several officials.

Stephen K. Bannon, the White House chief strategist who once ran Breitbart, has spoken with Trump at length about his view that the “deep state” is a direct threat to his presidency.

Advisers pointed to Bannon’s frequent closed-door guidance on the topic and Trump’s agreement as a fundamental way of understanding the president’s behavior and his willingness to confront the intelligence community — and said that when Bannon spoke recently about the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” he was also alluding to his aim of rupturing the intelligence community and its influence on the U.S. national security and ­foreign policy consensus.

It goes on like this. Kim Du Toit must be kicking himself for having quit blogging; he’d probably be the #2 at the State Department now.

“I Said All Along One Candidate Was A Liar and a Crook!”

[ 99 ] March 5, 2017 |

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A little buyer’s remorse at Quantico, I see:

FBI Director James B. Comey asked the Justice Department this weekend to issue a statement refuting President Trump’s claim that President Barack Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump’s phones before the election, according a U.S. official, but the department has not done so.

Comey made the request on Saturday after Trump accused Obama on Twitter of having his “‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower.”

The revelation, first reported by the New York Times, underscores the fraught nature of the FBI’s high-profile investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. A key question fueling the probe is whether Trump associates colluded with Russian officials to help Trump win.

Justice declined to comment late Sunday afternoon, as did the FBI.

The development came as Trump’s charge against Obama — leveled without any evidence — was being rebuffed both inside and outside of the executive branch. And it drew a blunt, on-the-record denial by a top intelligence official who served in the Obama administration.

Speaking on NBC News on Sunday morning, former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. denied that a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) wiretap was authorized against Trump or the campaign during his tenure.

“There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time as a candidate or against his campaign,” Clapper said on “Meet the Press,” adding that he would “absolutely” have been informed if the FBI had received a FISA warrant against either.

“I can deny it,” Clapper said emphatically.

If only there was some medium Comey could use to convey his views on this directly to the public. We could call it a “letter.”

I actually do wonder how Comey reacted to the news of Mike Pence’s EMAILS! He may well be enough of a hack that he doesn’t care. But the fact that he was roused to push back against Trump on this may suggest that he was high on his own supply when he was attacking Crooked Hillary throughout the campaign, and is now realizing that he bought oceanfront property in Utah from Jason Chaffetz. If the latter is true, things could get…very interesting.

The Republican Party Was Always Going to Collaborate With Trump

[ 52 ] March 5, 2017 |

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Of course:

If Trump had accused Hillary Clinton rather than Rafael Cruz of conspiring to kill JFK, House Republicans would be investigating that too, and Republican lackeys in the media would be taking (or pretending to take) them seriously.

None of this is anything new. Donald Trump’s road to the presidency started with falsely claiming that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, and Republicans supporting or refusing to reject these claims with various degrees of passive-aggressiveness. If this was the pattern when Trump was a blowhard reality show host, it was never going to change when he was actually in a position to help Republicans deliver sweet, sweet upper-class tax cuts and neoconfederate judges. But with Notably Rare Exceptions the American elite has always been unified against Trump!

The Quiet Parts Loud: Medicaid Edition

[ 91 ] March 5, 2017 |

ryan is a working man

A Republican from Brownbackistan says that repealing Medicaid is fine because poor people want to be unhealthy. No, really:

The law’s Medicaid expansion, which Kansas has not adopted despite support from many hospitals, including some of Marshall’s former colleagues, is one of the big sticking points for Republicans. Many GOP-led states adopted it and want to see it preserved in some form.

Marshall doesn’t believe it has helped, an outlook that sheds light on how this new player in Washington understands health policy.

“Just like Jesus said, ‘The poor will always be with us,’” he said. “There is a group of people that just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.”

Pressed on that point, Marshall shrugged.

“Just, like, homeless people. … I think just morally, spiritually, socially, [some people] just don’t want health care,” he said. “The Medicaid population, which is [on] a free credit card, as a group, do probably the least preventive medicine and taking care of themselves and eating healthy and exercising. And I’m not judging, I’m just saying socially that’s where they are. So there’s a group of people that even with unlimited access to health care are only going to use the emergency room when their arm is chopped off or when their pneumonia is so bad they get brought [into] the ER.”

This is sort of the ultimate Republican healthcare argument, in that it’s both nakedly sociopathic and either willfully clueless or actively dishonest about the policy details — to state the obvious, repealing Medicaid and/or the exchange subsidies will have the effect of people using less preventative care and relying on emergency rooms. But, of course, this will be a matter of free will! If you choose to use an emergency room because you don’t have access to any other form of medical care, you still have made a choice!

The bigger problem for the country is that however much time the Speaker of the House of Representatives spends getting reluctantly and accidentally photographed at soup kitchens, all the relevant evidence suggests that he’s no less sociopathic. Whether or not they win this particular fight, having people who think like this in control of Congress is terrifying indeed.

Greyball’d

[ 190 ] March 3, 2017 |

Uber

Who could have anticipated that a company founded on systematic lawbreaking would engage in systematic lawbreaking and evasion?

Uber has for years engaged in a worldwide program to deceive authorities in markets where its low-cost ride-hailing service was being resisted by law enforcement, or in some instances, had been outright banned.

The program, which involves a tool called Greyball, uses data collected from Uber’s app and other techniques to identify and circumvent officials. Uber used these to evade authorities in cities such as Paris, Boston and Las Vegas, and in countries including Australia, China, South Korea and Italy.

Greyball was part of a broader program called VTOS, short for “violation of terms of service,” which Uber created to root out people it thought were using or targeting its service improperly. The VTOS program, including the Greyball tool, began as early as 2014 and remains in use today, predominantly outside the United States. Greyball was approved by Uber’s legal team.

Greyball and the broader VTOS program were described to The New York Times by four current and former Uber employees, who also provided documents. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the tools and their use are confidential and because of fear of retaliation from the company.

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