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

Buried Lede … all time record

They got the goods, but some editor made them semi bury them.

By Mark Mazzetti, Eric Lipton* and Andrew E. Kramer note that the first shipment of Javelin missiles to Ukraine was mysteriously held up by the OMB until April 2018 when then prosecutor general Yurii Lutsenko froze the investigation of Paul Manafort. This isn’t a scoop. Both events were reported at the time.

To me the odd thing is that the key evidence is reported in the second to last sentence of the article. The two references to April 2018 are separated by Ten (10) paragraphs. In any case, the facts are devastating for Trump

Near the end of 2017, just as the government in Kiev was trying to get final approval from the Trump administration on the sale of the Javelin anti-tank weapons, Mr. Poroshenko’s prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, had begun freezing cases in Ukraine relevant to the Mueller investigation, including an inquiry tracing millions of dollars that Ukrainian political figures paid to Mr. Manafort.

The other two involved the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which wrote a report with Mr. Manafort’s help that came to be seen as whitewashing the arrest and imprisonment of a Ukrainian politician.

[skip]
No evidence has surfaced of an earlier quid pro quo of making the Javelin missile sale contingent on the halting of investigations relevant to the Mueller inquiry.

Except for the timing which makes it very clear what happened (it was clear at the time, but no one was interested)

Mr. Lutsenko took further steps to slow walk the Ukrainian cases related to the Mueller investigation in November and gave an official order to freeze them in April 2018.

One examined possible money laundering in a $750,000 payment to Mr. Manafort from a Ukrainian shell company. Another scrutinized a Ukrainian politician who signed entries designated for Mr. Manafort in a secret ledger of political payoffs uncovered after the 2014 revolution in Ukraine.

The other two involved the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which wrote a report with Mr. Manafort’s help that came to be seen as whitewashing the arrest and imprisonment of a Ukrainian politician.

[skip]

the White House Office of Management and Budget briefly held up the weapons sale after the Pentagon and the State Department had both approved it. The reason for the holdup, first reported by The Daily Beast, is unclear.

The logjam eventually broke, and in April 2018 the first of 210 Javelins and 35 launching units were shipped to Ukraine.

The second “April 2018” is in the second to last sentence in the article.

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It would not be safe for Democrats to play it safe.

Many liberal Democrats vote for the more moderate candidates in primaries, because they think half a loaf is better than none. The claim is that to win in the USA (or any first past the post system) you have to capture the middle. This is based on silly theory which requires the assumption that the set of eligible voters and the set of people who actually vote are the same. The contrasting view is that the key issue is getting people who might or might not vote (read young people) to the polls. The safe nominee can be risky. I want to make two arguments (after the jump)

1) There aren’t many swing voters. There aren’t all that many whose vote can’t be predicted right now given demographic characteristics.

2) The median US adult has policy preferences on bread and butter issues which are classified as left wing in the elite discussion, so going to the left of Hillary Clinton on those issues is a way to win their votes.

But first note how Democrats have done when playing safe. Mondale was the safe choice, Dukakis presented himself as a technocrat, Clinton was a DLC new Democrat welfare reforming capital punisher, Gore was the safe candidate (clearly to the right of Bradley), Kerry was the safe electable candidate. Black freshman senator Barack Hussein Obama was … you have got to be kidding me. H Clinton was the safe choice,

The record is crazy dream 1 out of 1, play it safe 1 out of 6. The crudest analysis of hardly any data points sure doesn’t suggest that it is good strategy to play it safe.

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DC Circuit grants Postal Watchdog’s challenge to PRC’s approval of rate hike on Forever stamps

An introduction to Save the Post Office and Steve Hutkins. I am not quite sure how I got to Steve; but, I do remember chatting with Mark Jamison who also wrote at Save the Post Office and posting his words up at Angry Bear (Asking the Wrong Questions: Reflections on Amazon, the Post Office, and the Greater Good earlier this year. Mark and I still exchange emails and I owe him a trip out to western North Carolina. Steve is the blog owner, a Prof. of Literature teaching “place studies” at the Gallatin School of New York University. Prof. Steve Hutkins has been writing about the Post Office for at least a decade and the attempts of government, UPS, Fedex, etc. to close it down or limit its operations.

“Save The Post Office” has been writing about the last 5 cent increase in First-Class mail earlier this year.

Back in January 2019, the Postal Service raised the price of a First-Class stamp from 50 to 55 cents. Postal watchdog Douglas Carlson filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (aka the DC Circuit) challenging the Postal Regulatory Commission’s decision to approve this rate hike.

Carlson argued that in approving the rate hike on Forever stamps the Commission had failed to consider the statutory pricing factors and objectives in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) and the public comments questioning this increase. He also argued that the Commission did not reasonably explain its decision. Therefore, he claimed, the Commission’s decision was arbitrary and capricious.

Today the court issued a ruling granting Carlson’s petition and vacating the PRC’s approval of the rate increase on First Class postage. (The court’s opinion is here; the order vacating the PRC ruling is here.)

It’s not clear what will happen next. The PRC could file a petition for a hearing en banc, meaning that it will ask the entire DC Circuit to review the case, as opposed to the three-judge panel that issued today’s ruling. Apparently anticipating such a possibility, the DC Circuit today also issued an order “that the Clerk withhold issuance of the mandate herein until seven days after disposition of any timely petition for rehearing or petition for rehearing en banc.”

If such a petition is not granted, the PRC could even appeal to the Supreme Court. (After the DC Circuit ruled against UPS on an unrelated case involving postal rates, UPS took both of those steps, to no avail.)

In the meantime, we don’t know what impacts today’s ruling will have on the rate hike, which has been in effect since January.

Under the PAEA, the Postal Service has the right to request its next inflation-based rate increase this fall, with an effective date in January 2020. How the next increase will interact with today’s court decision is also unclear.

Past the leap is the section of a court determination that reviews the main issues in the case:

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The Death Of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi And Related Matters

The Death Of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi And Related Matters

The self-proclaimed “Caliph” of Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS, Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarri, who took the name Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has blown himself up after US special forces successfully attacked his compound in Idlib province of Syria near the Turkish border after a US military dog attacked him. (His nom de guerre was chosen for its links to historical caliphs, the leaders of global Sunni Islam after the death of the Prophet Muhammed supposedly in his place, with Abu Bakr being the first such after the death of his son-in-law the Prophet and al-Baghdadi invoking the capital of the most powerful of all the caliphates, the Abbasid that ruled for 500 years from their capital in Baghdad).  A few observations.

While President Trump Trump bragged about this success of the US military for 46 minutes as a personal success of his own, the event was delayed for nearly a week and almost did not happen as al-Baghdadi was reportedly on the verge of moving again from the compound he was caught in because Trump had allowed Turkey to invade northeastern Syria, disrupting the Syrian Kurds there who had been the main US allies against Da’esh and al-Baghdadi, thus disrupting temporarily the planned attack.

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Georgetown University Report Finds Number of Uninsured Children Now at Highest Levels –

Since Major Provisions of Affordable Care Act Took Effect

Key Findings:

  • The number of uninsured children in the United States increased by more than 400,000 between 2016 and 2018 bringing the total to over 4 million uninsured children in the nation.
  • These coverage losses are widespread with 15 states showing statistically significant increases in the number and/or rate of uninsured children (Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia), and only one state (North Dakota) moving in the right direction.
  • Loss of coverage is most pronounced for white children and Latino children (some of which may fall into both categories), young children under age 6, and children in low- and moderate- income families who earn between 138 percent and 250 percent of poverty.
  • States not expanding Medicaid to parents and other adults under the Affordable Care Act have seen increases in their rate of uninsured children three times as large as states that have expanded Medicaid.

Causes of Decreased Coverage

The Georgetown Health Policy Institute (full report) details in its report the following factors have contributed to the erosion in children’s health coverage: efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid; an intentional delay by the Republican administration to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (2017); the elimination of the individual mandate penalty (2019); cuts to enrollment outreach and advertising pre-ACA enrollment; inadequate oversight by the federal government of state Medicaid programs which create more red tape barriers; and an administration enacted, climate of fear of deportation and intentional confusion for immigrant families discouraging them from enrolling eligible children in Medicaid or CHIP (2016).

The Republican party has made it a goal to repeal the ACA as passed by Barack Obama and Democrats early on in its administration. Under President Trump, the Republicans have done everything possible to deny healthcare coverage to legal immigrants and their families, the poor, and those who are marginalized. The full report includes a series of charts which pictorially represents the issues briefly cited here. It also includes a state by state analysis of the uninsured. It should come as no surprise, the South has 52% of the total uninsured children with Texas have 21.5% of the total uninsured children in the nation.

The Number of Uninsured Children Is On the Rise,” October 2019, Georgetown Health Policy Institute, Joan Alker and Lauren Roygardner

Families looking for information on how to enroll their children in Medicaid or CHIP should call 877-KIDS-NOW or visit insurekidsnow.gov

Run75441 (Bill H)

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Republican Renegade Emulates Warren’s Student Loan Cancellation, but it’s Still Problematic

Today we have a commentary  by Student Loan Justice Organization Founder Alan Collinge with support from an Angry Bear editor.

Alan:

A key Republican Education Department official and Trump Appointee, A. Wayne Johnson, recently resigned his position at the Department and later made a radical call for student loan cancellation. Johnson noted the lending system was “fundamentally broken” and called for loan cancellation for all loan holders up to $50,000. He also called for a tax credit of the same amount for those who have already repaid their loans. Interestingly, Johnson’s plan sounds very similar- and even more generous- than what presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is proposing.

The proposal is strong stuff coming from a Republican and his comments could indicate the problem is far worse than the Department of Education has said publicly on student loans. He noted that he came to this conclusion after having a “firsthand look” at defaults, which we already know are running at about 40% for 2004 borrowers, who had borrowed a third of what is being borrowed currently. One can only wonder how bad the internal projections are for more recent students.

Johnson is to be applauded for calling out this big-government lending monstrosity, and even, perhaps, for his call to get the government out of the lending business altogether. In the absence of both bankruptcy protections and statutes of limitations, the Department of Education has become one of the largest lenders on earth and a viciously predatory one at that. In his commentary, Johnson is correct in pointing out the various forgiveness programs run by the Department are failing badly.

Editor Comment:

Dependent upon which manner of accounting is used, student loans can be considered to be profitable or unprofitable. Using the Federal Credit Reform Act (FCRA) accounting methodology, student loans are profitable. Regardless, student loans have no escape unless one dies or becomes disabled. Student Loan Bankruptcy was effectively thwarted by Senator Joe Biden’s efforts since the nineties. If in default, the government will garnish wages, Social Security, and whatever else they can in order to get back their funds.

Others such as Jason Delisle of New America advocate using the Fair Market Value methodology of accounting to assess the risk of default for student loans. Delisle claims the interest rate of a student loan should be set at 12% as there is risk and yearly losses with making low interest rate student loans that do not cover risk of default which is not assessed in the beginning.

Disputing Jason Delisle’s commentary; Malcolm Harris pointed out on Twitter, it’s worth noting that the CBO’s fair-value accounting analysis finds no subsidy for PLUS loans and unsubsidized Stafford loans, but a big one for subsidized Stafford loans, where rates are rising. Overall, there’s a negative subsidy – profit. That’s a way the government could be making a profit even under other accounting specifications, though obviously skeptics like Delisle dispute that.

Outside of student loans, a student could walk into a car dealership, purchase a $30,000+ automobile, which is about the cost of an education, have little down payment and maybe a second signature, and both people could still escape through declaring bankruptcy. This is something major businesses and people such as President Trump have been doing for decades without having wages and benefits garnished for a lifetime.

Alan:

Some of the $50+ billion the Department books in profit every year is being used to fund unrelated social programs. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared that these loans would be “free of interest.” The former should not be the case and the later has not happened.

However previously, there were problems with Warren’s plan of student loan relief and these have not gone away under Johnson’s current proposal.

For example: while it is clear that the default rate is screaming upwards and this is crushing many borrowers, many are doing fine, and there is no particularly good reason to cancel their debt. Conversely, there are many borrowers who owe far more than $50,000, who have seen their debt explode with penalties, fees, and interest, such that writing them down by $50,000 really wouldn’t make much of a dent. So this “one-size-fits-all” approach makes little sense. And at an estimated $925 billion, it’s expensive.

Editor Comment:

What is clear to me is people complaining “what about.” Those who paid their loans have little  idea of what has been happening in the student loan industry which is profit driven. There are any number of stories being told of hucksters signing up students into for profit schools which sadly go bankrupt or steer students into course curriculums which will not lead to employment in a job to which they were trained. The system protects the servicer and the loan originator until that loan is paid off.

Does it make sense for people to be entrapped in a loan which can not be paid off thereby keeping them as an economic burden rather than a productive, taxpaying member of society? What about-isms and false equivalencies offers no solution other than indenture.

Alan:

Also, any cancellation program would be administered by the Department of Education, which has a well-documented history of bungling such programs, as Johnson rightly points out. For example, of the roughly 40,000 people who thought they were getting cancellation this year through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, fewer than 100 (less than 1%) actually will. Similarly, a whopping 57% of people in the Income Based Repayment Program (IBR) were disqualified for administrative reasons. So the borrowers are cruelly left owing far more than had they never tried!

The Department of Education cannot be trusted to administer yet another loan cancellation program. As they have done before, they will surely find ways to disqualify the vast majority of borrowers so that the agency captures the wealth rather than those who it was intended.

Editor Comment:

The Department of Education has always been troublesome in administering programs impacting students. The public service program has been haphazardly run and has left many who have paid back loans over ten years in service to the nation without forgiveness of part or the rest of their loan. The current Secretary of Education is a ditz who did not understand the training leading to gainful employment rule was for both nonprofit and for-profit schools and not just about for-profits as she claimed. I too would look for someone else to administer programs given the circumstance.

Alan:

A more efficient solution to this problem is simply returning standard bankruptcy protections to these loans. The Founders called for uniform bankruptcy laws ahead of the power to raise an army, and declare war, and this lending system proves their wisdom. Borrowers must have bankruptcy on their side in order for the lending system to be fair. It is only with this threat that the lenders will act with a modicum of good faith.

Bankruptcy is also a far less expensive solution. While there would be an unavoidable spike in filings initially, bankruptcy scholar Robert Lawless estimated that in the “steady-state,” annual discharges would come to less than $3 Billion per year. Even if it turned out to be double or triple this rate, that is still far less than the proposal in question. Not to mention, no tax hikes would be required. This could be achieved by simply repealing the one line of federal code that exempts student loans.

There is legislation in Congress that would achieve this: HR. 2648, a bipartisan bill, and its Senate companion, S. 1414. Alternatively, President Trump could simply direct the Department of Education to stop opposing student loan borrowers in court. Either way, we would get a much more efficient and well suited outcome.

And the Founders? They would agree with returning bankruptcy capability for student loans.

Alan Collinge is Founder of StudentLoanJustice.Org, and author of The Student Loan Scam (Beacon Press)

Angry Bear: Thank you Alan  .  .  .

Run75441 (Bill H)

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To Be Sure Jennifer Senior

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

by Robert Waldmann

To Be Sure Jennifer Senior

I just read an op-ed by Jennifer Senior. I am not 100% satisfied. To be sure, she denounces the Republican Party in no uncertain terms. The op-ed is not completely Balanced. However, old habits die hard. The op-ed contains a good bit of nonsense. Some of it is there to give the essay a beginning a middle and an end. More of it is a bit of reflexive bothsidesing.

First it begins “It’s that time of the campaign season when some Democrats are starting to feel — as President Jimmy Carter might have put it — malaise.” This is a reference to anectdotal evidence. It is not supported by polls of voter interest and enthusiasm or data on the number of campaign contributions. Basically, it is Senior arguing that Democrats need her advice (the pundit’s fallacy). Mainly it is a link to another op-ed by Jonathan Martin which begins ” When a half-dozen Democratic donors gathered at the Whitby Hotel in Manhattan last week, ” so the sample size is 6. Also, the “Democrats” in question are rich Democrats. Senior does not mention the possibility that rich people are out of touch with the forgotten man.

Is it the New York Times’ official position that 6 rich people in Manhattan deserve more attention than say the 940,000 people who donated to Warren or the 1.4 million people who donated to Sanders in the third quarter (of the year *before* election year). If that is malaise, I don’t think I could handle enthusiasm. I guess the idea is that 6 rich people in New York are more sophisticated than the small donors, because the 6 rich people are pragmatists who consider the pulse of the nation not their enthusiasm and so are more in touch with ordinary voters than regular people are.

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The Famous Baseball-Watching Equality-Equity Graphic, Scrutinized

The Famous Baseball-Watching Equality-Equity Graphic, Scrutinized

Here’s the graphic, widely used to explain why equity outcomes require unequal treatment of different people.

Benjamin Studebaker (hat tip Naked Capitalism) doesn’t like it at all: “I hate it so much.”  But his complaints, about the way the graphic elides classic debates in political theory, strike me as being too redolent of grad school obsessions.  The graphic is not trying to advance one academic doctrine over another; it just makes a simple case for compensatory policy.  I agree in a general way with this perspective.

Consider the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which mandates special facilities in public buildings to accommodate people in wheelchairs or facing other mobility challenges.  This is unequal treatment: extra money is spent to install ramps that only a few will use, rather than for amenities for everyone.  But it’s a great idea!  Yes, compensation is concentrated on a minority, but it aims to allow everyone to participate in public activities, and in doing this it embodies a spirit of solidarity that ought to embrace all of us.  By making a simple, intuitive case for focused compensation, the graphic captures the spirit behind the ADA and many other policies that take account of inequalities that would otherwise leave some members of the community excluded and oppressed.

Unfortunately, however, there are serious limitations to the graphic; above all, it embodies assumptions that beg most of the questions people ask about compensatory programs.  Some are challenges from conservatives of a more individualistic bent, others might be asked by friendly critics on the left, but all are worthy of being taken seriously.

 

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Whither Lebanon?

Whither Lebanon?

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I should probably write about the “big success” we have in Northeastern Syria thanks to Vladimir Putin talking the Turkish president, Erdogan, into holding back some from his nation’s invasion of Kurdish territory.  But, heck, it is still hard to know what is going on there.  So instead I am going to look at events happening in Lebanon mostly under the radar, but that are both connected to the broader war in Syria as Lebanon has been challenged by receiving over a million refugees from that war, but also is experiencing something that resembles events happening in several other nations and that may lead to deep changes in that complicated and  long-suffering nation, things that may actually be hopeful for an improved future, more likely than what is happening to the Kurds in Northeastern Syria.  Lebanon is experiencing massive street demonstration involving hundreds of thousands of people.

Lebanon became independent from French rule in 1943, having been carved out of the Ottoman province of Syria by them following the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement with the British in order to favor the elite Christian Maronite group, who follow eastern rites but are under the Catholic Church, with the wealthy Maronites having had close relations with the French dating back to the Crusades.  With 18 recognized ethnic/religious communities, the French set up a system based on these groups, but favoring the Maronites, then the largest group.  The president, as well as the Chief of Staff of the military and the Head of the central bank, were to be Maronites.  The premier would be from the then-second largest group, a Sunni Muslin, and the Speaker of the parliament would be from the poorest group, the Shi’a, who were predominant in the South next to Israel.  The Sunnis would increase in population as waves of Palestinian refugees entered, fist in 1948, and then in 1970 after the failure of the Black September uprising in Jordan, with the PLO taking power in various parts of Lebanon then.  However, the poor Shi’a would become the largest group in population.

 

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Michigan

EMichael:

The Repubs have a difficult time blocking national and state wide elections for Pres and Senators in Michigan. It is only when they pack a district or parcel a majority into several districts are they able to achieve a win in places where a fair election will contest who does win. In any case, the 11,000 difference between Trump and Clinton was due to record turnout in voting for “others” in 2016 as compared to 2012. I would attribute this to lies about Clinton on things disproven (Benghazi, security breaches, etc.) multiple times, “what-was-I-thinking” Comey’s two announcements so near to election day, and a failure of the Democratic National Committee to pay attention to Michigan. This last go around (2018), we were able to pick up congressional reps. Biden for sure cost us another. If people turn out and vote for other than Libertarians or Communists, we will win in spite of Repubs.

With regard to the civilians redistricting, it will be a battle to get a fair and impartial one. You can rest assured, I will not be on it for reasons such as pointing out the flaws in our state government which has been controlled since 1992 (Ballotpedia) (and before according to others) by Republicans using districting as a means of achieving their win.

Michigan is not a red state and will return to its former self unless Democrats get stupid or are fooled again by lies.

Click on the image for a larger version.

Past the leap, how Republicans destroyed Michigan.

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