Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Martin Luther King – Walls Separating Mankind

Martin Luther King when asked about the Berlin Wall: This is my first vision of the Wall. “And do you find it depressing?” Yes, I certainly do. It symbolizes the divisions of mankind. “Have you ever seen anything as disastrous as this?” Not really. Suddenly there are the divisions that continue to exist but when these divisions are symbolized by an actual wall, it becomes very depressing.

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MSU Pays for Former MSU President’s Criminal Defense

This does not come as a surprise to anyone in Michigan. Mostly it is quiet here and people are still stunned about something of this magnitude could go on for years. There were numerous complaints by female student athletes of various college ages and under which span 20 years. Complaints made to the university, administrators, coaches, trainers, etc. quietly fell to the wayside with conciliatory answers.

“he is an Olympic doctor and he should know what he is doing”, “filing a report would involve an investigation, making an accusation against Nassar, and requires a statement that I felt what Nassar did was unprofessional or criminally wrong”, “you could file a report if you were uncomfortable; but, there may be consequences”

Lindsey Lemke is a “Sister Survivor,” the name taken by the 256 survivors of Larry Nassar’s physical sexual assault. She and the others spent the last 18 months fighting “not just for justice for Nassar;” but, they also fought for accountability, “the accountability of Michigan State University who enabled Nassar’s continued abuse” by not reacting.

People are stunned this could happen at a state university. And there still is a battle going on for accountability beyond Nasser.

Former MSU President “Lou Anna Simon and Coach Kathie Klages face charges of lying to police about when they knew about sexual abuse reports against Nassar.” MSU is paying for their legal defense which is in the $milions along with half of Dean William Strampel’s defense. The mental harm done will never be erased for the hundreds of young women (one as young as 6) which is something MSU forgets when it comes discusses its image and the costs of going to court.

Recently, Interim President and former Governor John Engler resigned (requested) from the position. Some of his comments to victims and publicly in defense of the university were totally wrongheaded lacking empathy. The university is still learning there image is not as important as the harm done to the students who were abused under its watch. As attorney John Manly believes states:

“I think it’s sexism, misogyny, and you know, it’s not college football, it’s gymnastics. And the audience for gymnastics doesn’t generate hundreds of millions or billions of dollars.”

To hell with the money . . .

References:

Larry Nassar gymnastics scandal costs Michigan State in legal fees so far

Sister Survivors

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Its Time for Democrats to Come To Negotiate

McDonalds Anyone, Trump Buys for Lunch? Dems Refuse over Bad Offer on the Table.

Giving this guy some coverage is questionable; but he is an idiot along the lines of his boss who also says the dumbest things.

KEVIN HASSETT, Trump economic adviser: “You know as soon as it’s resolved, then people get their paychecks, and the government will go back to acting normal, and the economy will go back to the 3 percent growth that President Trump’s policies have delivered.” — interview Tuesday with Fox Business Network.

While it is true the economy probably will get a boost once the shutdown ends, but few independent economists think that boost will be sustained. The economy is facing other headwinds that make it unlikely growth will return to 2018’s pace. This shutdown in my opinion will only make it worse and cause consumers to hold back from spending which is needed to keep the economy going.

You have to wonder what goes on in this guy’s head with the little sh*t -eating grin he has. First damage to the economy (:50) and than an effect on the economy (3:11). Hassett argues Trump made a good and fair offer and Dems should come and discuss what they have already turned down before.

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Not Accurate

Not Accurate

BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate. — Office of the Special Counsel.

If this is the first story the special counsel has felt compelled to dispute, does that mean he had no objection to all the others that have come out before now? — Peter Baker, New York Times.

These things cannot both be true:

  • The Mueller investigation is a witch hunt fomented by a Mueller-Comey-Strzok cabal of Trump haters.
  • The statement from the Office of the Special Counsel calling BuzzFeed’s “description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office” “not accurate” definitively refutes the two-year long fake news crusade against Trump by the media.
Parsing the special counsel’s statement, it seems to refer to the “description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office.” Period. Note the repetition of the word “office.” The evidence may or may not exist. The office of the special counsel may or may not be in possession of it. They do not confirm or deny that they are not confirming or denying.
But “BuzzFeed’s description” is “not accurate.” Where does the crucial word “office” appear in the BuzzFeed description?

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A viral ad

(Dan here…lifted from Robert’s Stochastic Thoughts)

A viral ad

This ad is clearly designed to go viral also I enjoyed it, so I want to reward them. Notice one aspect of the viral strategy — the ad lasts amazingly long. TV ads are 30 seconds long, because they have to pay for every second. The shame shame shame goes on incredibly long — because youtube doesn’t charge by the second and making a strong impression is key to making people share it or uh copy a link to their low traffic blog (hey but every bit helps).

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Healthcare News

Massachusetts ACA Enrollment Exceeds Last Year, Charles Gaba, ACA Signups Blog

Massachusetts: (January 14, 2018) saw an increased 285,000 signups for healthcare for 2019 which is up 6.6% YOY and with 9 days left until the ACA signup deadline. This comes even though Republicans and Trump have been sabotaging the ACA. Even more impressive, 97.2% (90% National Average) of enrollees have paid their 1st month fees.

Republicans and Trump Implement the CSR again, Ban Silver Loading, and then Kill the CSR in 2021, Andrew Sprung, xpostfactoid blog

The Trump administration has called for an appropriation to fund CSR the old way — by reimbursing insurers directly for providing it. This comes after President Trump revoked the CSR subsidy used to help pay for deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance. When the CSR was revoked, ACA companies loaded the costs solely into the Silver plans in which they were used and resulted in Bronze and Gold plans to become less costly. Income-based ACA premium subsidies are based on a silver benchmark and silver loading generated major discounts in bronze and gold plans.

“For the first half of 2018: 16% percent of enrollees were enrolled in a plan with zero premiums after application of advance payments of the premium tax credit, 19 percent of enrollees paid a premium of less than 5 percent of the total plan premium.” This is largely the result of Silver plan loading, which created $0 premium bronze plans widely available and less costly gold plans which doubled in enrollments in 2018. There was also an increased enrollment of approximately 300,000 enrollees in 2018 with the likelihood of a 2-3 million boost in subsequent years.

So what is the issue? CMS released the annual Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters (NBPP) January 17th. In its efforts to kill the ACA, CMS is calling for an elimination of Silver loading in 2021. Given the lowered cost of various plans resulting from Silver loading, Democrats should not be willing to sacrifice the silver loading windfall without trading it for a less haphazard boost to marketplace funding.

As xpostfactoid blog suggests, perhaps a cap on premiums as a percentage of income for all enrollees up to 600% FPL and improved subsidies for the 200 – 400%FPL.

Healthcare Job Growth Outpaces Nearly Every Sector in 2018, MedPage Today, John Commins

For 2018, healthcare created a total of 346,000 jobs or nearly 29,000 new jobs each month which is up from 284,000 jobs created in 2017. The 2018 figure includes 219,000 new jobs in ambulatory services and 107,000 new hospital jobs.
Healthcare job growth outpaced nearly every other major sector of the economy in 2018, including food services (261,000), construction (280,000), manufacturing (284,000), and retail sales (92,000).

The new data is in line with Bureau of Labor Statistics projections that healthcare sector employment will grow 18% from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations, adding about 2.4 million new jobs.

The VA’s Choice Program Meant to Eventually Replace the VA Gave Companies Billions and Vets Longer Waits, Isaac Arnsdorf & Jon Greenberg, Politifact

As a short-term response to a crisis, the VA paid contractors at least $295 every time it authorized private care for a veteran. The fee was high because the VA hurriedly launched the Choice Program to meet a ninety-day deadline from Congress in response to an Arizona VA facility not responding quick enough to veteran’s needs for healthcare and resulting in deaths.

Four years later, the fee never subsided — it went up to as much as $318 per referral.

Since 2014, 1.9 million former service members have received private medical care through Choice. It was supposed to give veterans a way around long wait times in the VA or travel long distances to be seen. But their average waits using the Choice Program were still longer than allowed by law, according to examinations by the VA inspector general and the Government Accountability Office. The watchdogs also found widespread blunders, such as booking a veteran in Idaho with a doctor in New York and telling a Florida veteran to see a specialist in California. Once, the VA referred a veteran to the Choice Program to see a urologist, but instead he got an appointment with a neurologist.

While it was true officials at the Phoenix VA were covering up long wait times, the inspector general eventually concluded that no deaths were attributable to the delays. However, critics seized on this scandal to demand that veterans get access to private medical care. As a safety valve for veterans, the Choice program is an alternative provided the quality of outcomes is there. My own experience with the VA has not been bad nor did my appointments take months. On the other hand, there are times I end up at clinics or the ED when I can not see my PCD.

An IG of the Choice program found the VA overpaid by $140 million besides other issues with the program.

Access to VA Health Services Now Better Than Private Hospitals? Nicole Lou, MedPage Today

Researchers find some wait times generally improved since 2014.

In 2014, the average wait for a new VA appointment in primary care, dermatology, cardiology, or orthopedics was 22.5 days, compared with 18.7 days in private sector facilities (P=0.20). Although these wait times were statistically no different in general, there was a longer wait for an orthopedics appointment in the VA that year (23.9 days vs 9.9 days for private sector.

The study, published in JAMA Network Open, found that wait times in 2017 favored VA medical centers (17.7 days vs 29.8 days for private sector facilities). This was observed for primary care, dermatology, and cardiology appointments — but not orthopedics, which continued to produce appointment lags in the VA system (20.9 days vs 12.4 days), the authors stated.

As resources in the VA are increasingly diverted to purchase care in the community, it remains to be seen if access to healthcare services can be maintained while access in the private sector continues to deteriorate, adding that virtual care may be one way to improve access given the non-infinite supply of face-to-face appointments.”

Fee-for-Service Must Go Says Ex-Vermont Governor Howard Dean, Joyce Frieden, MedPage Today

Dean, an internist and former Democratic governor of Vermont: “Under the current system, you only make money if people get really sick. Every financial incentive we have in American healthcare is to spend as much as we possibly can.

“We’re not getting paid for keeping people healthy in our system. I don’t believe that doctors think it’s a wonderful idea to have people get sick. But incentives work in every system … and monetary incentives always work in human beings. If you keep the incentive system the way it is, you have a distorted system that works against good health.”

As for universal care in the U.S., I’m not necessarily opposed to Medicare for All, but the problem is it’s a fee-for-service system so we’d have to fix that. The only way you can really save money is with capitated care.”

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Whatever Happened To Iran?

Whatever Happened To Iran?

Who? What? Where?

Long a headliner in the news, Iran has disappeared from the headlines, and even the inside pages. It has largely disappeared from the news, after being the big headline for a long time. This is probably good for Iran, despite its many problems.

I have made a big effort to find out its current economic status. The little data out there seems to suggest that not much is happening. GDP had been falling in the aftermath of the US withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement, which Iran had and continues to adhere to, with the official support of the official signatories, even as private companies in many of them against their governments, have pulled back from dealing with Iran under US pressure. But that is old news.

The US withdrawal from the JCPOA was provocative, and pushed many companies such as France’s Total to withdraw from dealing with Iran, along with many others. This satisfied a campaign promise of Trump’s, even as he has been lying on a 15 per day rate recently according to recent reports.

About the time of the US’s withdrawal over a half year ago, there were many reports of having a collapsing economy. There were many reports of demonstrations against the government in hardline Islamist regions over the troubled economy. Somehow these reports seem to have stopped, although I would not rule out that some may still be happening. But the world is not hearing of them, and I do not think this is due to some increased level of Iranian suppression.

No, I think Iran has halted its economic decline, not that things are great. This post is partly triggered by talking to a good friend recently returned from Iran who reports that while things are expensive, most goods are available and the economy seems to be more or less stable.

Despite this supposed intense push by the US to harm the Iranian economy, parts of that certainly in place, without publicity US policy has recently gone the other way, not so vigorously harming the Iranian economy. For starters we have that the US gave “temporary” exemptions from the renewed US sanctions against nations importing Iranian oil for 8 major such importers. The upshot is not all that much of a reduction of such exports from Iran, an obviously crucial factor.

Then we have more recent subtle pro-Iranian decisions, most importantly Trump’s announcement of US removing troops from Syria. This helps Iran, even if the removal is slowed down as seems likely. We also have SecState Pompeo pressuring the Saudis to end their boycott against Qatar, which has retained both political and economic relations with Iran, not to mention having just whupped Saudi Arabia in soccer 2-0.

So, we, or at least I, do not know what precisely is going on inside Iran, long a highly repressive regime, despite its facade ofs pseudo-democracy. They have been continuing to adhere to the JCPOA nuclear deal, even as recent reports have them possibly setting up increased uranium enrichment facilities and activities. While there have been many demos against the government over the troubled economy, it seems that these have slowed down, or at least reporting of them has.

The US does not determine all that happens in Iran, but it seems that currently the US has an inconsistent verging on incoherent policy regarding Iran. But for Iran, this turn from full hostility, combined with a possible upturn in world oil prices, may explain an unreported stabilization in Iran.

Barkley Rosser

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McConnell’s WaPo Rant on H. R. 1

Twenty-two hours ago McConnell posted an op-ed on the Washington Post. If you have not read it and can get into the Washington Post I included a link. If you can not get into the Washington Post; here is a link from the Intelligencer. Formerly of the Washington Monthly, Ed Kilgore takes McConnell to task.

Never let it be said that Mitch McConnell can be shamed into silence or introspection. In response to H.R. 1, House Democrats’ new package of campaign finance and voting rights reforms, the saturnine Senate leader issued a Washington Post op-ed that reads a lot like a series of spell-checked Donald Trump tweets, guffawing his way through an extended attack. McConnell, of course, intends to bury H.R. 1 in the Senate without a hearing or a vote. Here are some low-lights:

It should be called the Democrat Politician Protection Act … Why else would the bill scrap the neutrality of the Federal Elections Commission and set it up for a partisan takeover? Since Watergate, the commission has been a six-member body so neither party can use it to punish political opponents.

Perhaps because the Republicans on the six-member FEC have paralyzed its ability to discharge its responsibilities, as a recent chairman of the FEC bitterly observed:

[A] controlling bloc of three Republican commissioners who are ideologically opposed to the F.E.C.’s purpose regularly ignores violations or drastically reduces penalties. The resulting paralysis has allowed over $800 million in “dark money” to infect our elections since Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums to elect or defeat candidates.

McConnell, of course, is one of the most absolutist of opponents to any kind of campaign finance regulation, even of the sort the conservative majority on the Supreme Court has allowed. So it’s not surprising that he goes on to treat Democratic proposals for reviving campaign finance regulation and providing voluntary public financing — or even donor transparency — as somehow illegitimate:

Under this bill, you’d keep your right to free association as long as your private associations were broadcast to everyone [that’s disclosure of “dark money” sources]. You’d keep your right to speak freely so long as you notified a distant bureaucracy likely run by the same people you criticized [that’s reporting political spending by tax-subsidized non-profits]. The bill goes so far as to suggest that the Constitution needs an amendment to override First Amendment protections [that means overturning Citizens United, which did not precede enactment of the First Amendment].

(my $.02) I really do not want to post all of Ed’s comments on AB as I think it is worth the read at his site. McConnell has certainly dished out a number of lies in a similar proportion as what you may find in a Trump diatribe. For example, the harvesting of ballots in California is not legal as McConnell claims, it still is a crime and earn you three years in the jail or prison the same as one may occur in North Carolina in a clear example of “ballot harvesting” by Republican operatives. I stand in awe of a person who can lie about and construe the facts and not blink an eye while doing so. This is not the same as Trump. McConnell (not worth being called a Senator) knows full well what he is saying.

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Notes on the government shutdown

Notes on the government shutdown

I have a post on the housing market pending at Seeking Alpha. If and when it goes up there, I will link to it here.

In the meantime, here are a few important notes on the shutdown.

I can’t find the quote now, but about a week ago it was floated that Trump could “save face” by declaring an emergency, starting to build the wall, and then allow the government to open. Then Trump indicated that if he declared a state of emergency, that wouldn’t mean that he would open the government even then. This is a win-lose capitulation transaction, and Trump is bound and determined to show dominance over the Democrats.

Aside from the fact that there is a large portion of the GOP that is taking advantage of this to “drown the government in a bathtub,” now that a Federal judge has turned down government workers’ “involuntary servitude” challenge, Trump has a ready-made force of de facto slaves that he can recall — or not — depending on whether he wants a particular government program to work or not:

Rank-and-file Democrats reject Trump’s invitation to shutdown talks, back Pelosi in opposition to border wall

The nearly 50,000 furloughed federal employees are being brought back to work without pay — part of a group of about 800,000 federal workers who are not receiving paychecks during the shutdown, which is affecting dozens of federal agencies large and small. A federal judge on Tuesday rejected a bid by unions representing air traffic controllers and other federal workers to force the government to pay them if they are required to work.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for SEC workers or those necessary to issue food stamps to be recalled.

 

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Getting Ever More Surreal

Getting Ever More Surreal

I am referring to a comment Sean Hannity made on his show earlier this evening in his monologue. The reports tht  President Trump was under  investigation by FBI Counterintelligence as being a possible “Russian asset” supposedly taking orders from Vladimir Putin has pushed uber Trump defender Hannity to ever more surreal forms of defense, in this case one especially bizarre given the cloase association in Trump’s early career between him and Roy Cohn, the lead attorney for the late anti-communist scourging Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.

This new more surreal position has Hannity after declaring that “the walls are closing in” on former FBI Director James Comey over his supposed role in this investigation, although apparently it was the circumstances around Trump’s firing of Comey that initially triggered this reported conterintelligence investigation, Hannity then compared Comey to the late anti-communist scourge, J. Edgar Hoover, FBI director for 48 years.  In particular he pinpointed Hoover’s investigation of the late Henry Wallace in 1948 for his reputed ties to the Soviet Union, highlighting that Wallace had served as vice  president during FDR’s third term (and was pushed out of that position to be be replace by Harry Truman in FDR’s fourth term by conservative Democrats worried about his perceived to be friendly attitude to the Soviet Union).  In 1948, when Hoover was making his investigation and allegations, the Cold War was starting, and Wallace was the candidate for president of the Progressive Party, running heavily on a platform of opposing the Cold War (and certainly the anti-communist positions of McCarthy).  The sight of Hannity of all people praising and defending Wallace against the supposedly evil Hoover was quite a spectacle.

As it  is, I am sympathetic to the view that Wallace was unfairly treated and smeared.  Also, the Progressive Party and Wallace supported many, well, progressive policies that were and remain reasonable, such as national health insurance.  All of that adds to the irony of Hannity now defending him as he has no use for such policies.  The exact nature of Wallace’s relations with Soviet leaders and of the connection between the Progressive Party and CPUSA remain controversial to this day, but but ceetainly Wallace opposed the incipient Cold War and publicly supported Soviet positions in 1948.  I do not know if it was possible to avoid the Cold War or not, and it is impossible to know what would have happened if Wallace had won, especially given that he came nowhere near dong so.  As it was, Hoover was correct that Wallace was very friendly with various Soviet leaders and agreed with their views, for better or worse.

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