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A thought for Sunday: no, Trump approval *still* isn’t imploding. BUT …

A thought for Sunday: no, Trump approval *still* isn’t imploding. BUT …

Democrats continue to delude themselves about Presidential approval polls — with one very big possible exception.

In the first place, can we all agree that Trump has had a particularly nasty last several weeks? Including firing Comey, blabbing secrets to the Russian ambassador, blabbing about our submarines to the Philippines’ now-dictator, compromising the intelligence sources of Israel (and then confirming it!) and later Britain, and reports of multiple occasions with multiple officials in which he blatantly appeared to be attempting to shut down a criminal investigation?

Can you imagine what the public opinion polling would look like after several weeks like that, for virtually any past US President, let alone if the president were Hillary Clinton?

Well, here is what Trump’s looks like as of today:


His approval stands at 41%, right in the middle of where it has been since he assumed office in January.

A variation of the Trump-support-is-imploding mantra showed up later in the week when FiveThirtyEight wrote that “Trump’s Base is Shrinking” based on strong vs. weak approval. Typically this is the graph that was shown:

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Of Memorial Day and Confederate statues

Of Memorial Day and Confederate statues

Memorial Day is a particularly fitting time to write about the issue of Confederate monuments. That’s because Memorial Day originated as a day set aside to honor the Civil War dead, not just those who fought for the Union, but those on both sides, including those who died in service of the Confederacy.  It was part of the process of magnanimous victory which enabled the country to heal, perhaps epitomized nowhere better than when both William Tecumseh Sherman and Joseph Johnston served as pallbearers for Ulysses S. Grant.

Part of that process was the erection of monuments in the South to honor their dead, at Civil War battlefields, and also at cemeteries throughout the South. For example, here is one in Foysth Park in Savannah:


I don’t remember if it this monument or not, but supposedly there was a mix-up in the deliveries of two civil war statues, and about 50 years later Savannahan’s learned that atop their monument was – a Union soldier!  A cemetery in Maine is supposedly watched over by a Confederate.  Go figure.

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Some Saudi-US History

Some Saudi-US History

Given Donald Trump’s new commitment to support military adventurism by Saudi Arabia in Yemen and more generally against Iran, it might be worth reconsidering how this alliance developed.

The beginning for Saudi Arabia was in 1744 when a wandering radical cleric, Mohammed bin Abdel-Wahhab met up with a local chieftain, Mohammed bin Saud in the village of Diriyah, whose ruins are now located in the suburbs of the current Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh. Wahhab converted Saud to his cause of spreading the strictest of the four Sunni shari’as, the Hanbali code, throughout the world, and this remains to this day the ideology of the House of Saud, the ruling family of Saudi Arabia, with this ideology widely known as Wahhabism. The territory ruled by the early Saudis expanded to cover a fair amount of the Nejd, the central portion of the Arabian peninsula, but when they threatened control of Mecca in 1818, ruled by Egyptians under the Ottomans who collected the moneys gained from pilgrims visiting there, the Egyptian leader, Muhammed Ali, invaded the Nejd and destroyed Diriyah. The Saud family moved to the next village over, Riyadh, and reconstructed their small state, which expanded again in the mid-1800s, although near the end of the century they were defeated and exiled to Kuwait by the rival Rashid family from Hail to the north of Riyadh.

In 1902 the 27 year old family leader, Abdulaziz bin al-Rahman bin Faisal al Saud, reconquered Riyadh and would eventually establish the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) through marital and martial conquests, with its modern boundaries established in 1932, and Abdulaziz (known in the West as “Ibn Saud”) bearing the title of King and Protector of the Two Holy Places (Mecca and Medina), which he had conqurered in 1924. He would have 43 sons, and today’s king, 81-year old Salman, is one of the last of them, and Abdulaziz would die in 1953. It should be noted that Saudi Arabia was independent of the Ottoman Empire, and was one of the few parts of the Muslim world that did not fall under the rule of a European power, along with Turkey, Persia/Iran, and Afghanistan.

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$ 2.1 trillion here $ 2.1 trillion there and soon you’re talking real money

I didn’t think they could shock me. Then I read that the Trump OMB made a $2,000,000,000,000 arithmetic mistake

Jon Chait explains “One of the ways Donald Trump’s budget claims to balance the budget over a decade, without cutting defense or retirement spending, is to assume a $2 trillion increase in revenue through economic growth. This is the magic of the still-to-be-designed Trump tax cuts. But wait — if you recall, the magic of the Trump tax cuts is also supposed to pay for the Trump tax cuts. So the $2 trillion is a double-counting error.”

Amazing, I thought. Also Chait is much better at snark even than Paul Krugman who made it sound boring “@paulkrugman
It appears that Trump budget involves two scoops of voodoo economics: faster growth *and* tax cuts without a fall in revenue as % of GDP”

But I was wrong. Chait and Krugman are discussing two different errors (3 scoops of voodoo). Mulvaney et al both counted 2.1 trillion twice *and* assumed tax cuts don’t cause any reduction in the ratio of tax revenues to GDP.

Binyamin Applebaum explains.

One example of the budget-ledger legerdemain: Mr. Trump has pledged to end estate taxation. His budget, however, projects that the government will collect more than $300 billion in estate taxes over the next decade. Indeed, the Trump administration projects higher estate tax revenue than the Obama administration did because it expects faster economic growth.

Mr. Trump, in other words, is proposing to balance the federal budget in part by simultaneously increasing estate taxation and eliminating estate taxation.

Then later and separately explains another error.

The budget’s presentation of the benefits of the administration’s economic policies also raised questions. White House officials said that tax cuts and other changes, like reductions in regulation, would push annual economic growth to 3 percent by 2020, well above the 2 percent annual average since the recession. The budget projects that the increase in economic growth will produce $2.1 trillion in additional federal revenue.

The Trump administration appears to be counting this windfall twice. It needs the money to offset the cost of the tax cuts, but in the budget, the $2.1 trillion is also recorded as a separate line item above and beyond the steady growth of tax revenues.

They are into deep Voodoo.

See also Larry Summers

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Debts, Deficits and Social Security

Dan here…I noticed several articles in the NYT (here is one forcasting Trump/Mulvaneys’ Budget Proposal 2017, contrasting safety net program cuts with the Medicare/Social Security deficit busting programs. In an aside no less. Here we go again…as if deficit spending reduction was important to Republicans, and Social Security was one of the chief problems. I am reposting Bruce’s last piece on Budget and deficit from 2014. Also see this post Social Security: Cost, Solvency, Debt and TF Ratio.

by Bruce Webb

With the release of Tim Geithner’s new autobiography the old quarrel about whether Social Security does or even can add to “the deficit” has cropped up again. So rather than weigh in let me start from a more neutral spot. CBO produces a document called the Monthly Budget Review and in Nov 2013 it carried this title: Monthly Budget Review—Summary for Fiscal Year 2013 The introductory paragraph of the Summary of this Summary reads as follows:

The federal government incurred a budget deficit of $680 billion in fiscal year 2013, which was $409 billion less than the deficit in fiscal year 2012. The fiscal year that just ended marked the first since 2008 that the deficit was under $1 trillion. As a share of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), the deficit declined from 6.8 percent in 2012 to 4.1 percent in 2013. (The deficit was 1.1 percent of GDP in 2007, prior to the recent recession.)

and in turn was illustrated with the following graph: Fiscal Year TotalsFiscal Year 2013 outlays and revenues
Now in the normal course of reporting CBO gives figures for any number of ‘deficits’ including ‘on-budget deficit’, ‘off-budget deficit’, and ‘primary deficit’. But here they simply reference THE ‘deficit’ without qualification. So which of the three above adjectivally modified ‘deficits’ is CBO using in this Summary of its Summary of Fiscal Year 2013? Well none of them. Instead it is using a metric which by some measures no longer exists, at least under some readings of current law. Which has led to untold confusion. Confusion which I hope to unravel a bit under the fold.

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Republicans Can Seize a Political Opportunity by Backing Student Loan Reform

Allan Collinge is the founder of the Student Loan Justice Organization a grassroots citizen’s organization dedicated to returning standard consumer protections to student loans. The group was started in March of 2005 and has focused primarily on research, media outreach, and grassroots lobbying initiatives. located in Washington DC. From time to time Angry Bear has publicized Allan efforts to restore bankruptcy protection for student loan.

In a rare display of political courage and bipartisanship last week, Rep. John Katko (R-NY) filed the Discharge Student Loans in Bankruptcy Act with Rep. John Delaney (D-MD). This bill will return standard bankruptcy protections to all federal and private student loans. Katko is well ahead of the conservative curve on this issue and has a unique opportunity to revitalize the Republican Party in the current session by stepping up to lead the fight on this issue.

President Obama federalized the student loan system during his eight years in office and the nation’s student debt tab increased by $1 trillion. From these student loans, the federal government profits well over $50 billion annually from the student loan program, and also makes a profit on defaulted student loans. This is something no other lender of any loan in this country can claim. In fact, this is a defining hallmark of a predatory lending system. During the same time period, the price of college rose far faster than any other commodity, including healthcare, and this trend is continuing to accelerate today.

The student loan program is a structurally predatory lending system and Uncle Sam sits atop the hornet’s nest. What has caused this hyper-inflationary lending behemoth and its consequences is the fact that the Department of Education is not constrained by standard free-market protections like bankruptcy rights, statutes of limitations, and other standard protections existing for every other type of loan. Congress stripped these protections from student loans and in the end greatly destabilized the entire loan system.

Make no mistake: The Department of Education loves this freedom from free-market protections and fights tooth and nail behind the scenes to keep bankruptcy gone from its source of income. Since Trump was elected, the student loan swamp of unelected bureaucrats in and around the Department of Education have made bold moves to make this lending system harsher and more profitable.

Some true conservatives have noticed this problem and have begun to speak out. Jeb Bush, for example, put the return of bankruptcy protections to student loans as a plank in his presidential platform. Pundits and think tanks such as David Brooks and the Cato Institute have also publicly called for the return of bankruptcy protections to student loans. The issue screams out to conservatives for justice by sponsoring the Discharge Student Loans in Bankruptcy Act. By his actions, Congressman Katko is demonstrating to his colleagues that it’s fine, in fact,it is a great political benefit to stand up for the citizens, fight for free-market mechanisms, and against big government.

Sponsoring this bill will endear Katko to tens of thousands of Democratic voters who would have otherwise voted against him next year. There are roughly 100,000 people in his district with student loans, of which 63,000 are currently unable to pay down their loans.

While few of these voters would ultimately file for bankruptcy, all of them feel the predatory weight of the lending system on their backs, and all will appreciate having this constitutionally mandated power back on their side. I suspect that a large majority of these voters — regardless of party — will be strongly compelled to vote for him based upon this issue alone because it is that strongly held by these borrowers.

What is most interesting is that even if his Democratic challengers’ parrot Katko on this issue, his being a Republican makes the chances for success of the bill go up dramatically. No Democrat with the same position can claim this, and indeed we have seen similar Democrat bills flounder and fail in years past.

This is one of the hottest issues today in Congress and Congressman Katko is in the forefront of it with his bill. Other Republicans in Congress could benefit and capitalize on it to reduce the strong headwinds from Democrats in next year’s election. Republicans could do well in supporting this bill and avoid a crushing defeat.

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“It’s The Economy, Stupid!”: The Iranian Presidential Election

by Barkley Rosser

“It’s The Economy, Stupid!”: The Iranian Presidential Election
“It’s the economy, stupid!” quoth James Carville back in 1992, adviser to Bill Clinton during his successful presidential election campaign then. And so quoth Stella Morgana in an informative piece written a few days ago prior to and about the Iranian presidential election as linked to by Juan Cole The Iranian Election: It’s the Economy, Stupid!. For those who have not seen it yet, incumbent President Hassan Rouhani has won decisively with 57% of the vote over his main rival, Ebrahim Raisi, who got 38.5%. Rouhani is viewed as a moderate in the traditon of former president Khatami, who is under house arrest, while Raisi was supported by hard line clerics and the supreme leader, Ali, Khamenei. Many view Raisi as a potential successor to Khamenei.

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Did Recep Tayyip Erdogan Make War on the USA ?

I assume the reader is familiar with the recent violence at the Turkish embassy & Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington DC. “Body guards” (really thugs) brought by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan attacked peaceful demonstrators. It is clear how the fight started, a rather thin not too tall man in a suit attacked. He has a receeding hairline, a mustache and wore a black suit and a dark blue tie.

Phillip Bump (of the Washington Post) says this is the moment it started.

The striking thing is that seconds earlier someone in the back seat of the car in which Erdogan was sitting said something to a middle aged man who leaned over to hear. That man said something to a young thin man with a receeding hairline and a mustache who was wearing a black suit and a dark blue (or purple) tie. That young man nodded twice and walked off briskly to the demonstration just before the fight started.

He returned a minute later and said something to Erdogan (who had gotten out of the car).

Is this man who takes instructions from someone who took them from Erdogan the man who started the brawl ?
ymm3

The brawl starts with a man in a suit punching a man wearing a blue t-shirt.

ymwm

The assailant has a receeding hairline and a mustacheymwm

Here @pbump shows the order coming from the car

Here a longer clip shows the young man with a mustache get some instruction, walk briskly towards the demonstration then return and report to Erdogan in person.

Here notice that the man who started the brawl by punching the man in a blue t-shirt leaves (heading generally in the direction of Erdogan) while the brawl continues. Cowardice or mission accomplished ?ymm4

These stills are from this youtube video

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Medicare does “NOT PAY FOR ITSELF”

In the comments section of an earlier post (1/3 of Medicare is Wasted), Maggie Mahar had stated to everyone; “Medicare Does Not Pay for Itself.” This is what I meant by that comment:

“For more than a decade the the federal government has borrowed to pay for the rising cost of Medicare. Debt-financing of Medicare will increase sharply as the population over 65 doubles from 2010 to 2030 and the number of beneficiaries over 85—with the greatest medical needs—triple.”

Note, using borrowed money to finance Medicare is not something happening in the future as it began more than a decade ago. Yet, as the article notes: “Members of Congress are reluctant to argue with constituents who sincerely believe that they have ‘paid for’ Medicare with payroll taxes and premiums. Most find it more convenient to tiptoe around the minefield of Medicare financings.” So the charade continues even today.

People who believe that they have paid for their Medicare with payroll taxes and premiums are terribly naïve and do not realize how much Medicare actually costs or how much “Medicare for all” would cost.

The article goes on to explain the history of how we arrived where we are today and why I make the comment on Medicare:

“In the mid-1990s, Democrats proposed to balance the Medicare budget by limiting fees paid to physicians for services, while Republicans sought to contain the costs by transferring the program to managed care insurers and capping the annual per capita rise in premium subsidies.

In 1997 the leadership in both parties agreed to a plan that would eliminate borrowing for Medicare, principally by limiting the growth in the level of fees paid to physicians. That Medicare reform, along with increasing general revenues paid by taxpayers in the highest bracket, led to a federal budget that balanced in fiscal year 2000.

The balance turned out to be short-lived. In 2001 and 2003 Congress passed debt-financed reductions in income tax rates. And in 2003 it also suspended the application of ceilings on fees set in 1997. Later that year Congress used debt to finance a new Medicare prescription drug benefit and higher payments to Medicare managed care plans.

As a result, the portion of Medicare paid for with dedicated taxes dropped from 73 percent in 2000 to 53 percent in 2010, the year that the first of the Baby Boom generation became eligible for Medicare.”

“After the 2008 election of President Obama, Democrats sought Medicare ‘savings’ for the purpose of expanding other medical services rather than balancing the budget for Medicare. In order to offset the cost of expanded PPACA medical services for families with low incomes; they placed restrictions on reimbursement rates, provided incentives for more efficient delivery of medical care, raised the Medicare tax paid by taxpayers with high-earned incomes, and applied Medicare taxation to gains from investment.”

On the other side of the political spectrum, “Republican House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan exemplifies his party’s ambivalence toward Medicare reform. He ran as the vice presidential candidate on a ticket in 2012 that attacked the Affordable Care Act’s limits on Medicare reimbursements. Yet before and after that election, he incorporated those very cost-saving measures into his own budget plans.”

Incumbents from “both parties find it awkward to even talk about the practice of borrowing to pay for Medicare. Obviously, an extra layer of interest on debt simply increases the program’s long-term cost. Any attempt to highlight that issue naturally invites the question of whether to cut Medicare costs or raise tax revenue dedicated to the program. No mainstream politician seeks to cut benefits by almost half and down to the level payable by revenues from premiums and payroll taxes. Democrats condemn any increase in payroll taxation as ‘regressive,’ while most congressional Republicans have signed a pledge to oppose any tax increase.”

Both sides of the aisle feint a reluctance to either cut Medicare benefits or increase Medicare withholding taxes and an honest discussion with their constituents regarding Medicare financing knowing full well something must be done. Indeed, it is politically expedient to kick the can or the bucket into the next decade avoiding the third rail of Medicare.

What can we do? I will answer that question in my next post.

Notes and References:
1. “Pay As You Go Medicare” Washington Monthly, Bill White, June 23, 2014

2. Maggie Mahar writes the Health Beat Blog Maggie is also the author of Money-Driven Medicine: The Real Reason Health Care Costs So Much (Harper/Collins 2006). Mahar also served as the co-writer of the documentary, Money-Driven Medicine (2009), directed by Andrew Fredericks and produced by Alex Gibney. Before she began writing about health care, Mahar was a financial journalist and wrote for Barron’s, Time Inc., The New York Times, and other publications. Her first book, Bull: A History of the Boom and Bust 1982-2003 (Harper Collins, 2003) was recommended by Warren Buffet in Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report.

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1/3 of Medicare Spending is Wasted

This was initially posted at Angry Bear September 14, 2014 by Maggie Mahar of Health Beat A little history: Dan and I invited Maggie Mahar to write at Angry Bear Blog as I was covering much of the Healthcare debate and Maggie could add much more in-depth knowledge and analysis of healthcare than I could. This is an important post as it gets down to the nitty-gritty of Medicare-For-All, things we need to know, and why it may not work.

Maggie Mahar in answer to a commenter:

You write: “That claim that one-third of Medicare spending is wasted sounds pretty questionable to me.”

This is your opinion. If you had spent the last 20 years working as a medical researcher investigating unnecessary treatment, your opinion would be of great interest to all of us; but, I’m assuming you have not done so.

Thus, you might be interested in some facts . . .

Dr. Donald Berwick, who headed up Medicare and Medicaid during the 1st half of the Obama administration has said, repeatedly, that at least 1/3 of Medicare dollars were wasted on unnecessary tests, procedures and drugs that provide no benefit for the patient. He is only one of dozens of health policy experts who have made the same statement. (Google “Health Affairs” the leading medical journal that focuses on health policy and “unnecessary treatments” Over the past 30 years, researchers at Dartmouth have provided stacks of evidence documenting unnecessary care in the U.S.

You also write: “I doubt that treatment protocols in the U.S. are all that different from other countries.”

Again, this is your opinion. Unfortunately, you are wrong.

In other countries, doctors and hospitals tend to follow evidence-based guidelines. In the U.S. a great many doctors object to the idea of someone telling them how to practice medicine even though that “someone is “science”. They value their autonomy and prefer to do things the way they have always done them. Of course this is not true of all doctors; but even when you look at protocols at our academic medical centers, you find that the way they treat similar patients varies widely.

Here, I’m not talking about how much they charge for a procedure (which also varies widely) but how many tests they order, how often they prescribe spine surgery for someone suffering from low-back pain, how often they tell a woman she needs a C-Section . . .

One big problem is that our doctors and hospitals are paid on a “fee – for service basis;” in other words, the more they do, the more they are paid.

As Dartmouth’s Dr. Eliot Fisher points out: “U.S. patients are not hospitalized more often than patients in other countries; but in the U.S., a lot more happens to you while you’re there.”

In addition, traditionally our medical schools have trained doctors to practice very aggressive medicine. The resident who orders a battery of tests is praised. Students are told “Don’t just sit there (and think). Do Something!” Traditionally, our medical culture has been a very macho culture and it is just beginning to change.

Finally, Americans tend to think that “more is always better.” Larger servings in a restaurant, bigger cars, bigger homes, etc. And when it comes to healthcare, patients in the U.S. tend to think that “more care is better care.” They are wrong. Every medical product and service carries some risk. If it provides no or little benefit, the patient is exposed to risk without benefit.

When medical protocols in the U.S. are compared to how medicine is practiced in other countries, researchers have found: —- Much unnecessary spine surgery. The rate of back surgery in the U.S. is five times higher than in the UK. Studies have shown little difference in long-term outcomes for patients who undergo back surgery compared to those who select non-surgical treatment.

The U.S. does more testing than other countries. For instance, the number of MRI and CT tests for every 1,000 people in 2010 was double the average in other OECD countries. Comparatively, there were also more tonsillectomies, caesarean sections and knee replacements. Regardless of how much more, nearly every procedure, scan and drug costs; it’s nothing compared to how out-of-whack the medical heroics thrown at Americans in the last stages of life The Cost of Health Care: A Country-by-Country Comparison

Colonoscopies are prescribed and performed more frequently than medical guidelines recommend and are given preference over less invasive tests that screen for colon cancer. Those less invasive tests are not only routinely performed in other countries, they’ve also been proven to be just as effective by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force.

“We’ve defaulted to by far the most expensive option, without much if any data to support it,” said Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.

In the U.S. many more patients die in ICU’s getting futile care. This is a painful, lonely way to die. In other countries, more patients are treated in hospices or allowed to go home where nurses and even doctors visit them.

Half of all heart surgeries (using stents) do no good. We know which half! But stent-makers and other providers have turned this into a big business.

- Our drug companies enjoy 20% profit margins.

- Our device-makers boast 16% profit margins.

We are over-medicated (particularly older people), and undergo too many surgeries that involve very expensive devices. Medicare covers virtually everything (even drugs that have been shown to be dangerous–until they are taken off the market). If it does not cover all of the newest treatments and products lobbyists would howl– and Congress makes sure that heads roll.

This is one reason why we don’t want to give everyone 40 to 65 a chance to enroll in Medicare. No one could afford it. (This idea was considered in the late 1990s. Do you have any idea how much 40-65 year olds would have to pay for our extraordinarily inefficient and wasteful Medicare system? On top of that and like people over 65, they would have to pay hefty sums for MediGap to Medicare advantage — private insurance plans that cover all of the things that Medicare doesn’t.

Medicare is now beginning to cut back, and over time it will refuse to pays for unnecessary surgeries (heart surgeries, unproven prostate cancer surgeries, and some hip and knee replacements, unless the patient has tried physical therapy first–and losing weight, if possible. (Some people just can’t lose weight, even under a doctor’s supervision.)

Medicare will also stop covering every new drug that comes on market, setting up a formulary and only paying for drugs that are effective — and cost-effective. The same will be true of devices.

Then — and only then — we might talk about letting people 40-65 sign up for Medicare, though in many cases, research on quality of care suggests that they would be better off with the best of our non-profit insurers: Kaiser, Geisinger, etc.

Medicare is a highly politicized bureaucracy and inevitably, Congress dictates what it can and can’t do. Medical guidelines should be set by medical researchers and doctors who have no financial interest in the outcome.

Maggie Mahar is the originator and author of the Health Beat Blog. Maggie wrote “Money-Driven Medicine: The Real Reason Health Care Costs So Much (Harper/Collins 2006),” and was the co-writer of the documentary, Money-Driven Medicine (2009), directed by Andrew Fredericks and produced by Alex Gibney.

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