Thursday, March 30, 2017

Politico fixes Obamacare / Ryancare / Trumpcare: Reinsure the insurers

Politico Magazine seems to have taken me up on one of my ideas for reforming Obamacare (or RyanCare or TrumpCare, if some other replacement bill someday does pass).  That is, offer resinsurance to insurers, mostly dealing with pre-existing or perhaps lifestyle conditions.  That’s Point 2 of the “4 things” in the article by Michael Grunwald, March 27, here.

The Chicago Tribune has an article by Steve Chapman, “Why health care can’t be fixed”.   Except that the article really says that Obamacare is more or less working for most people, and that the steep premium rises are the exception, not the rule.

The  Republican governor Brownback of Kansas today denied Medicare expansion, which the hospitals want, for no good reason other than ideology (that is, providing tax dollars to Planned Parenthood).  .

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Trump ready to issue EO to "obliterate" Obama's progress on climate change; will the free market really work? (natural gas can be clean)

The Washington Post reports that President Donald Trump will “obliterate” Barack Obama’s progress on climate change and environmental cleanup, with a new Executive Order today, in a detailed and illustrated (with photos) story by Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, link.

Energy self-sufficiency (“autarky”, or “economic nationalism” indeed) may be admirable enough (remember the rhetoric during Jimmy Carter’s years and the post-Arab Embargo gas shortages of the 70s).  Free market incentives will lead the power industry to favor natural gas over coal anyway. It looks like the pipelines will get built as part of Bannon's infrastructure.

 Natural gas is cleaner and safer in most circumstances.  It can be made very clean.  And we have both the “Pickens Plan” of a few years ago, and the Taylor Wilson Plan (supported by Peter Thiel) which Trump ought to be paying attention to (just invite Thiel and Wilson to the White House).

Increased coal mining probably means more mountaintop removal, especially in the southern West Virginia area within 80 miles of Beckley, and over into eastern Kentucky and far SW Virginia, toward Cumberland Gap.  It probably doesn’t save many miners’ jobs.

But walking away from international climate change debate sounds, well, immoral. One precept of conservatism is that future generations matter.  Who is responsible for the refugees from low-lying poor countries thirty years from now?  Who is responsible for the super storms that may occur?  How about sudden methane release from northern permafrost?

I may be gone when a lot of this happens, but I may know about it anyway.  Maybe, like Celebrity Apprentice’s Schwarzenegger. “I’ll be back” after all.  The very idea that reincarnation may happen (there’s more evidence about this than we realize) changes the self-interest.


The EO has been issued.  Here is Vox's detailed rundown by Bard Plummer. Note the link to the interview with Harvard's Jody Freeman.

Here is the text of the Executive Order at the White House site.

Monday, March 27, 2017

How effective are AP courses?

I found a curious story in the Atlantic in October 2012, by John Tierney, “AP Classes are a Scam”,

I did get AP classes when I worked as a sub, and they were a pleasure to teach.  I took only one in my own high school, Enriched Chemistry in twelfth grade.

I wonder how science fair winner Jack Andraka would react to this article today (he won his prize for his pancreatic cancer test in 2013, and says that the idea for using carbon nanotubes the way he does in the test occurred to him in a class.

I have seen AP math classes that went as far as differential equations.  I remember giving a calculus test where the first part was without graphing calculators, and had to be turned in before the student could work the second part.

But I wonder how the calculators do today in the era of smart phones.  I found the TI device that bought kept losing power quickly.

You could make math and physics test problems about how high a batted baseball that barely clears the Green Monster in Fenway Park in Boston will reach before starting to descend, and how far it would travel beyond the wall to reach the ground.  A lot farther than 305 feet.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

More about what "unmasking" means -- it could have happened to me, even

There is some more clarification of what “unmasking” by the NSA means.  If an American tried to contact Vladimir Putin or high Russian officials, the NSA would pick it up.  In the effort to identify foreign officials, a FISA court might allow the identification of American citizens.  This can be quite common.  It could be someone ordinary, even like me, or the citizen could be Donald Trump, or an official in the previous Obama administration.

When private citizens get classified tips sent to them, and authorities find out (as would happen in the four or five foreign tips I have shared sent to me over the years – one might have concerned a possible attack in Indonesia), something similar to “unmasking” happens.  It normally will not result in adverse action against the citizen.  (I have TSA pre-cleared flight status.)

All of this means that most of Trump’s complaints about Obama are pretty meaningless, but not without some remote foundation.

But it is possible that crimes might have been committed in the apparent connections between Putin and Trump’s campaigns, Vox,  Zack Beauchamp – but the “grand jury” is still some time away. .

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Wiretaps, Russian hacking, and really existential foreign threats: this gets dangerous when truth is loss

I’m not sure what to make of Donald Trump's @POTUS Twitter storm yesterday as he apparently watched the hearings rather than doing his job.  

The Washington Post writes a Fact Checker, “President Trump’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Twitter day, here. I'm reminded of the really bad President's Day Blue Monday that Milo Yiannopoulos experienced recently. 
Trump seems to find in Comey’s statement about “unmasking” American citizens some sort of evidence backing up his fantasy that Obama wiretapped the Trump Tower.  But Comey denied right off the bat that there was any such evidence. 

No question, the US relations with Britain and Germany are already embarrassed, and Trump faces an accelerating and existential threat from North Korea that seems to have been kept on a back burner.  North Korea may be much closer to having ICBM’s that can reach the entire US than anyone had imagined, and it might have the ability to direct an EMP attack from a satellite.

No wonder the doomsday prepper crowd is (ironically) so active on Facebook.

The criminal investigation of the Russian activities with respect to last year’s election are becoming a side show..  Noubt, Vladimir Putin really did hate Hillary that much. 

FEE's Julian Adorney writes "The Media and Trump are both to blame for the death of truth". Truth. remember, is "the eternal feminine". 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Will private sources take up the slack on likely Trump-aka-GOP budget cuts for FY 2018?

If Congress slashes the civilian budgets the way Donald Trump wants, what will be the effect on ordinary Americans?

Well, very mixed.  On the arts, there is plenty of reason to believe that private sources can do a lot more to support PBS, the Smithsonian, and the like.  There are ways to set up “socially responsible investing”.  The non-profit world would grow, much of it around DC, and help take up some of the loss of federal jobs. The Washington Post has expressed a lot of concern over possible federal layoffs on the regional economy. 

Rick Sincere, connected to the Libertarian Party of Virginia and to GLIL (Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty) in the past, has written some articles on Virginia and the arts.  He argues that states subsidies for the arts help rich people out of state rather than poor Virginians (typical blog post – he has several; his posts look like mine). 

Tod Van Der Werff of Vox makes somewhat similar arguments and notes that rural areas will lose out – primarily because supporting public services in rural areas is generally less cost effective for the public as a whole – this goes for airlines service in smaller cities, too. All of that feeds the self-sufficiency, self-defense (NRA) culture of the “doomsday prepper” movement that I see on Facebook (ironically).

I stop and ponder this a moment.  Most of the time when I travel on my own, I’m staying in smaller towns at night (unless I go to NYC).

What about so many of the other cuts?  We hear a lot about the loss of funding to things like Meals on Wheels.  Some states will do more than others to pick up the slack.  But it is this delivery of personalized service to people that the private sector is best at.  That brings me back to another general comment – organizations that recruit many volunteers need to become much more transparent about what they will be asking for.  Meal delivery, for example, can mean driving in low-income neighborhoods and a bigger risk of exposure to crime. 

Yet, traditional conservatism still has a point:  part of the solution to the inequality problem is expecting more openness and less insularity from those who are better off (me).  

Here is the CBO's analysis of the 2017 budget. 

Update: March 21, 2017 

Peter Jamison has an article on how Trump's budget affects the District of Columbia, here.  I wonder if it could affect organizations like Whitman Walker and DC Center Global.  

Friday, March 10, 2017

Trump's idea of making a deal could be challenged by the next debt ceiling crisis (Beware the Ides of March)

Damian  Paletta has primed us to apprehend another debt ceiling fight this summer, in an article on p A6 of the Washington Post Friday, March 10, 2017, “Treasury calls on Congress to raise debt limit, begins steps to delay default.” 

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnunchin has started his “extraordinary measures” already, as Congress-passed immunity from the debt ceiling runs out on the Ides of March, that is, March 15, 2017. 
The possibility of a default could occur as soon as August. 

Trump, remember, has claimed he could “make a deal” and not raise the debt ceiling (story ).  He has also made statements that seem to suggest it could be OK to “default” (at least maybe on debts overseas like to China).  He does seem to be promising Social Security would never be interrupted (and maybe it wouldn’t be, for legal reasons we have covered before).

Here is CNBC’s article by john W. Schoen on Feb. 17.  CNBC continues the discussion (Jacob Pramul) with charts March 9. 
I can live with Parlor Timocracy, but not “t_Rump-ocracy”.  

But maybe the fact that Trump is nominally from the same party as Congress means there won't be the partisan bickering we saw in the summer of 2011.  (Trump had at one time tried to get the Reform Party nomination, in 2000, and wrecked the party, Jesse Ventura notwithstanding. 

Update: March 20

FEE has an article by Richard M/ Ebeling arguing against extending the debt ceiling, but fails to note the government would actually default on what it actually owes.  Whether current social security beneficiaries are actually owed is a good question (Flemming v Nestor) as I've covered, but the Trust Fund intermediary tends to protect beneficiaries. The writer seems to think a balanced budget alone would cover this, but it wouldn't. 

Monday, March 06, 2017

Obamacare 2.0 waffles into TrumpCare with little ideological accomplishment on anti-selection

Here’s a good explanation of the GOP draft of the Obamacare rework, by Sarah Kiff on Vox, link.

The main concept in dealing with the pre-existing condition problem is “continuous coverage”.  But older people are likely to be charged more than under Obamacare.

Also premium support supplements are largely replaced by tax credits.  For this idea to work for poor people, they would have to be given the money (almost like UBI).  The tax credits tend to be less than the support. If they are true tax credits, then it won't matter if people itemize or not, but we have to watch that.

Young adults pay less, older people pay more.  This may help young adults with student loan problems.   Trump does seem to be determined to cover someone like Connor Golden, who lost a leg to an explosion in Central Park properly.

Ezra Klein writes that the bill is a solution looking for a problem, or is a “compromise of a compromise …”.

The Washington Post calls the new proposal "reckless and heartless".

Here's the text of "The American Health Care Act", from Fox, of course.

Update: March 11

Julia Belluz of Vox explains how the "continuous coverage" concept in the GOP plan can fail people with long term medical conditions and job breaks.  I also wonder what happens if the insurer leaves Obamacare;  does the person have to find a new provider within 63 days?

March 13

The CBO says that 24 million people would keep coverage under the American Health Care Act/  Another issue is that consumers cannot comparison-shop for healthcare or know the prices when critically ill (although they could compare-shop for plans if there was enough competition).

March 14

Today, at a WH Press Briefing.  Sean Spicer made a point that Obamacare burdened a lot of people for making them buy coverage they didn't need (making 55 years olds cover other people's pregnancies); so it's about more than just pre-existing conditions.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Visit to Smithsonian exhibit on WWII Japanese-American internment; a lesson for today's immigration debate?

Today, I made a brief visit to the small exhibit “Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and World War II”, at the Smithsonian American History Museum in Washington DC, link here.

Wikipedia gives the history of this episode   which started when president Franklin Roosevelt promulgated Executive Order 0966, in early 1942, shortly after Pearl Harbor.  Over 110,000 Japanese Americans (including second generation citizens born in the US of Japanese descent) were forced into camps (Nisei) and even their kids (sansei).  First generation immigrants were called issei.
Immigrants lost property, pretty much through theft and expropriation, as they were allowed to carry only what fit in a suitcase (shown in the museum).  Fear-driven propaganda morphed into racism, and comments on how different the orientals looked  (Some the same attitude would show up during the Vietnam era.)

I recall writing a term paper on “The Home Front During World War II” for social studies in eight grade (1957) and covering the Nisei issue.  In 2012, I did stop at Manzanar along US 395.

The history of the Japanese internment seems like a pertinent comparison to today’s aggressive attitude on immigration by Donald Trump and many on the political “right”.  There is a tendency to look for civilian scapegoats and group people into “us” and “them” when war occurs, and terrorism tries to get ordinary people to see things that way.

Interned men sometimes served in the Army.