Friday, June 30, 2017

Evidence Of Trump Campaign Collusion Is Massive And Growing

The incidents of direct collusion between the Russians and not only the Trump campaign but down-ballot Republicans in the 2016 continue to grow. Today's revelation is that intercepts of Russian hackers indicate they were attempting to hack Hillary Clinton's emails and then pass that information on to Trump adviser Mike Flynn.

According to the story, "Those investigators have examined reports from intelligence agencies that describe Russian hackers discussing how to obtain emails from Mrs. Clinton’s server and then transmit them to Mr. Flynn via an intermediary." The speculation in the story is that the intermediary might have been a Republican operative named Peter Smith. Smith had shown interest in getting hackers to uncover Clinton's emails that he, for some unexplained reason, believed had already been hacked by the Russians.

According to the Journal, "'He said, ‘I’m talking to Michael Flynn about this—if you find anything, can you let me know?'' said Eric York, a computer-security expert from Atlanta who searched hacker forums on Mr. Smith’s behalf for people who might have access to the emails." Smith had apparently worked with Flynn in the past and believe that Flynn was interested in getting his hands on the information.

(Update: A further Wall Street Journal story out tonight indicates that Smith pitched potential hackers and allies in his efforts with the story that he was coordinating not only with Flynn but with Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and Trump adviser Sam Clovis “to the extent permitted as an independent expenditure.”)

We have already documented the case of the Republican operative in Florida who coordinated with Guccifer 2.0, widely understood to be the pseudonym of Russian hackers, in order to detail the strategies and vulnerabilities of Democratic candidates in contested elections in multiple states based on emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

In addition, there was the curious incident of the change to the Republican party platform at the party's convention that removed the provision that offered "lethal defensive weapons" to Ukraine in its war with Russia. After months of denial, the Trump team finally admitted the they had demanded that change. It was the only change in the platform the Trump's campaign requested.

That change nicely dovetailed with Paul Manafort's long-time work for pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. For that work, Manafort admitted receiving over $17 million between 2012 and 2014. Manafort is also accused of receiving around $13 million from Ukrainian parties off the books, paid from a secret Ukrainian slush fund, between 2007 and 2012. In addition, Manafort has also been linked to some curious real estate deals during that same period that may have been used to facilitate Russian money-laundering while at the same time also compensating Manafort. Manafort recently made a retroactive filing to become a registered foreign agent for the work he did in Ukraine, making him the second top Trump campaign official after Mike Flynn to be forced to retroactively register as a representative of a foreign government. Whether these retroactive filings by both Flynn and Manafort reflect the fact that they are now cooperating with authorities remains to be seen but is obviously a real possibility.

In Flynn's case, his work was being done for Turkey although it is unclear whether the payments he was receiving actually came from Turkey or Russian-backed interests. Flynn was clearly colluding with Turkey during the campaign, the transition, and his brief tenure as NSA. On election day itself, he wrote an opinion piece recommending support for Turkish President Erdogan, who was in the midst of a brutal crackdown after a coup attempt, and condemned Fethullah Gulen, a former ally but now foe of Erdogan who Erdogan accuses of plotting the coup, who is living here in the US. Flynn. subsequently recommended extraditing Gulen to Turkey as Erdogan has demanded and apparently even conspired to kidnap Gulen and transport him back to Turkey. Flynn also vetoed an Obama administration plan to arm the Kurds, a move that was opposed by Turkey.

But Flynn was apparently also colluding with the Russians. We already know that he was paid and feted by the Russian propaganda outfit RT and that he did not disclose that moneys he received. He also apparently discussed Russian sanctions in his meetings and calls with the Russian ambassador and then may have lied about that to the FBI. In addition, Flynn had a number of other contacts with the Russian Ambassador during the campaign.

Jared Kushner attended one of those meetings with the Russian ambassador where Flynn apparently discussed sanctions. Kushner reportedly proposed creating a back-channel to Russia outside the purview of the US government by using Russian communication capabilities, possible from inside the Russian embassy. Kushner remained silent as Flynn continually lied about the content of those meetings, not only to the public but also reportedly to Pence and other administration officials. Kushner followed up that meeting with his own undisclosed meeting with VEB bank, which is not really a bank but a vehicle for Russian government investments in projects and people. At the time and continuing to this day, the Kushner Cos. are facing a massive problem in financing the debt they took on to buy their flagship property at 666 5th Avenue in New York City. Kushner himself is reportedly under investigation for additional collusion during the campaign where officials are looking into "whether Russians suggested to Kushner or other Trump aides that relaxing economic sanctions would allow Russian banks to offer financing to people with ties to Trump". After the inauguration, Kushner apparently bizarrely intervened to reduce the cost of a missile defense system that the US was selling to Saudi Arabia, a move that actually reduced the amount of money that US taxpayers would see from the deal. Again, his rationale is not clear but it can easily be looked on as another attempt to curry favor with a wealthy country capable in financing the Kushner Cos. problems. The Kushner Cos. without Jared at the helm have been trying to sell access to the President to investors in China to help fund the disastrous 5th Avenue property. It should also be mentioned that Kushner was reportedly responsible for the data analytics of the Trump campaign and one of the questions outstanding is how the Russians were able to so accurately target swing voters with a massive propaganda campaign.

Lastly, of course, there is Trump himself who begged the Russians to hack Hillary's email and virtually spouted Russian propaganda throughout the campaign.

In addition, there were other figures in Trump's orbit like Roger Stone who seemed remarkably prescient about what the Russians and WikiLeaks were going to release and when. There were also undisclosed contacts between the Russians and other Trump campaign official but any details about those meetings have not been revealed. On top of all this, there is the continued inability of the President himself to admit the Russian interference and the bizarre habit of virtually everyone on Trump's orbit to blatantly lie about the contacts that they had with the Russians.

I have written earlier that the Russians hacked the election not only to help Trump but also to help down-ballot Republicans get elected. And GOP leaders were well aware of that and did nothing. In a similar vein, Trump and his various cronies apparently were and are willing to collude with virtually anyone who will give them money, whether it's Russia, Turkey, China, or Saudi Arabia.

The number of documented collusion cases so far is small, primarily the two GOP operatives mentioned above. But the circumstantial evidence surrounding other possible cases is large and compelling. And as more and more direct evidence of collusion starts to dribble out, we can expect the right wing media echo chamber to repeat the cry of "where's the crime?". If the Republican party continues to stand by and do nothing while evidence mounts that the President got elected because he was able to coordinate with a foreign power and the right wing media insists that, even though it happened, it is not a crime, then I fear our democracy may be truly lost. Right now, there's no evidence to think that won't actually happen.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Astronomy Adventure - Open Cluster IC4665

This nice little open cluster located in constellation Ophiuchus is actually a naked eye object in clear, dark skies and provides a nice view with binoculars. Like the Swan Nebula, it was first "discovered" by Philippe Loys de Chéseaux in 1745.

Here are the technical details:
Scope: Starblast 4.5; tracking on
Magnification: ~30x
Camera: iPhone6 using NightCapPro app; ISO 8000
Processing: 1x15 sec.

Faux Moderates And The Party Of Mean

The level of hypocrisy inside the Republican party has always been enormously high but it is bordering on farcical these days. Susan Collins was just on MSNBC saying she wishes that the Senate had tried to craft a bipartisan compromise on health care rather than crafting the bill in secret and trying to pass it with just Republican votes, claiming that was just the way Obama passed the ACA.

Besides the fact that the ACA was passed after hundreds of hearings and with plenty of input from Republicans, who, in the end, chose not to provide a single vote, the idea that Collins preferred a bipartisan solution is downright laughable. All Collins had to do was to round up two other Republicans Senators who agreed with her position and they would have been able to stop the secret Senate bill in its tracks. And it's clear from recent statements that both Lisa Murkowski and Dean Heller probably would have supported Collins if she had the guts to buck McConnell and demand that the health care bill be handled through regular order with hearings and amendments and then a vote. But she went along with McConnell's plan right up until it failed. As Harry Reid always said with regard to Collins, "She's always there when you don't need her."

MSNBC quickly followed up with a segment focusing on Trump's sexist, misogynistic tweet regarding Mika Brzezinski. Jodi Ernst commented off camera that Trump's comments were "not appropriate". At least she got that right. On the other hand, Ernst is someone who had no problem supporting the Senate bill that will kill over 200,000 Americans over the next 10 years if it becomes law. I wonder if she thinks that's "appropriate".

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Jared Kushner, Boy Wonder, Can't Seem To Fill Out A Government Form Without Lying

Jared Kushner really has a problem filling out government forms. He has already left out his meetings with Russian Ambassador Kislyak and the head of the sanctioned Russian "bank" when he filled out his security clearance. Now it is reported that Kushner also failed to report a sweetheart $285 million loan from a bank currently under investigation for money laundering and that Kushner personally guaranteed on his financial disclosure form.

Last October, the Kushner Companies, with Jared as its titular head, received a $285 million loan from Deutsche Bank, the one Wall Street firm that still did business with Donald Trump. The loan was to cover four floors of an office building in New York City that the Kushner Cos. had purchased in 2015 for around $295 million. One year later, in a declining New York real estate market, the Kushner Cos. received the Deutsche Bank loan plus another loan from another lender for $85 million, totaling nearly $75 million more than the purchase price of the property.

At the time of the loan, Deutsche Bank was under investigation for mortgage fraud relating to actions taken leading up to and during the financial crisis in 2008 and faced fines of up to $14 billion, which was actually almost as much as the market value of Deutsche stock at the time. It eventually settled that suit for a mere $7 billion. At the same time, the bank was also under investigation for running a $10 billion money laundering scheme for wealthy Russians trying to move money out of that country from 2011 to 2015.

More importantly, there was a major catch to Deutsche's loan to the Kushner Cos. and that catch was that Jared Kushner and his brother Joshua would personally guarantee the loan. As the Post reports, the Kushner boys' guarantee was "a 'nonrecourse carve-out.' Such guarantees require more than a loan default to kick in. They are commonly known as 'bad boy' clauses, a reference to how a lender could seek to hold the guarantor responsible for the debt under circumstances that might include fraud, misapplication of funds or voluntary bankruptcy deemed inappropriate."

Since the loan was considered a major coup for the Kushner Cos. and only was secured a couple of months before Kushner filled out his financial disclosure form, it is hard to see how this would slip his mind. Kushner's lawyer claims that the loan and the fact that Kushner was a guarantor did not need to be disclosed but, when presented with the details of the loan by the Post, the acting head of the Office of Governmental Ethics admitted the law may not be clear on the issue but recommended Kushner report it due to the size of the loan and the implications of Kushner's guarantee.

Rachel Maddow also made an important point about that sanctioned Russian bank that Kushner forgot to mention he met with in his security clearance. VEB Bank is not a bank in any sense of the word. It is not a registered bank in any country, it is not a regulated bank anywhere, it has no capital, it has no cash, it has no deposits. It is merely a vehicle for the Russian government, and that means Putin, to throw Russian money around investing in various projects and people as he sees fit.

In addition, VEB was also instrumental in salvaging the Trump hotel in Toronto when it was close to failing, as the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month. Trump's partner and  builder of the hotel tower was struggling with severe cost overruns and the backing out of buyers of pre-sold condos in the wake of the financial crisis when VEB appeared with a deal to buy the builder's stake in a Ukrainian steel maker for $850 million. The builder had bought his share of the steel maker for just $70 million shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Democrats keep asking why Jared Kushner still has a security clearance after lying on his application. They have received no answer. And Kushner still hasn't given a reasonable answer to why he met with VEB to begin with and now the question is why he did not list the personally guaranteed loan from Deutsche Bank on his financial disclosure form.

The deeper this investigation goes, the more Kushner seems critical to it. Kushner was responsible for the data analytics for the Trump campaign which seems important since it seems the Russians were uniquely able to target Clinton voters with propaganda during the campaign. And Kushner and the Kushner Cos. have tried to use their connections to Trump to line up funding for their failing office tower at 666 5th Avenue in New York. It's hard to believe that issue did not come up when Kushner met with the head of VEB bank. It's no wonder Kushner just hired top-flight Washington attorney Abbe Lowell.

Trump Hires Yet Another Grifter

Jay Sekulow, a recent addition to Trump's legal team, was on the TV over the weekend constantly contradicting himself on whether Trump was or was not under investigation for either Russian collusion or obstruction of justice. Sekulow was an interesting choice as it was as his legal expertise primarily focused on constitutional religious issues as opposed to Washington criminal and political experience.

On the other hand, Sekulow obviously does have real experience in grifting and theft that might make him appealing to Trump. In a similar way to which Trump used the Trump Foundation, Sekulow has also used his own nonprofits, Christian Advocates Servicing Evangelism (CASE)  and the American Center for Legal Justice (ACLJ), to funnel millions of dollars to himself and his family. It seems Sekulow and his family may have been the only ones being serviced.

A Guardian report shows that Sekulow has managed to take $60 million from CASE and ACLJ for himself and his family since 2000. Much of this money was raised in small donations from Christians via phone or direct mail. The money was raised by ACLJ which was merely the fundraising arm of CASE. This hid the fact that the Sekulows were taking millions from the nonprofit as they were mostly paid by CASE. Some of the fundraising pitches were hardly subtle and were factually challenged. Requests included claims that Obama would institute Sharia law and would open up abortion clinics in middle and high schools.

The amounts that the Sekulows ripped off from the nonprofits they controlled are staggering. Sekulow's law firm received $25 million for legal services and his media company received over $11 million for production services. Sekulow himself has received over $3 million in compensation and his wife got over $1 million. Sekulow has received an over $200,000 loan in 1999 and then had the loan and interest payments forgiven and treated as compensation. Sekulow's brother has received over $9 million while claiming he works for 40 hours per week for running multiple nonprofits that the Sekulows control. Sekulow's sister-in-law has received over $6 million and the children of the two Sekulow brothers have shared in nearly $2 million.

The Sekulows have also engaged in some unusual real estate transactions. In one case, the non profit leased office space from a company controlled by Sekulow's brother and both the nonprofit and the company listed that same space as their corporate address. Records show that the company made nearly $250,000 for that sublet. In another instance, Sekulow's wife bought a property in North Carolina with a loan from the nonprofit. The nonprofit then proceeded to forgive the loan and treat the forgiveness as compensation.

Sekulow has apparently used CASE's money to prop up other businesses he is involved in. One of those businesses was Amerivision, a company selling telephone services where Sekulow was a director. After CASE wrote off over $750 million in loans to Amerivision in 2004, it decided to make an additional $187,500 loan to Amerivision in 2005.

Since 2000, the Sekulow family has managed to extract between $3 and $4 million a year from these nonprofits. Sekulow's spokesman claims "The financial arrangements between the ACLJ, Case and all related entities are regularly reviewed by outside independent compensation experts and have been determined to be reasonable. In addition, each entity has annual independent outside audits performed by certified public accounting firms. Further, the IRS has previously conducted audits of the ACLJ and Case and found them to be in full compliance of all applicable tax laws." That may be technically true but you have to wonder about the quality of the audits. The whole Sekulow scam just screams of using nonprofits for personal benefit, a quality that Trump probably admires. And, while Sekulow may claim his actions are legal, I'm not sure many of his donors would think it was very Christian.

Astronomy Adventure - Messier 17, The Swan Nebula

Messier 17, also known as the Swan Nebula or the Omega Nebula, is located in the constellation Sagittarius and lies about 3,500 light years from us. It was first "discovered" by Philippe Loys de Chéseaux in 1745 and Messier added it to his catalogue in 1764.

Here are the technical details:
Scope: Starblast 4.5; tracking on
Magnification: ~30x
Camera: iPhone6 using NightCapPro app; ISO 8000
Processing: 2x15 sec. images stacked in Deep Sky Stacker; with darks; adjusted curves using GIMP

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Bernie Indicates A Democratic Consensus On Fixing The ACA

Bernie Sanders was just on MSNBC and he made some important news regarding the Democrats approach to health care now that Mitch McConnell has pulled the vote on the BCRA until at least after the July recess.

Sanders was pressed on whether Democrats should be offering their own solution and he agreed that they should. Rather than just pivoting immediately to single payer, Sanders said the Democrats will be putting forward ideas like adding a public option so that no county will go without an insurance option as well as reducing the Medicare eligibility age to 55. He described these options as a path to single payer.

Sanders statement indicates that Democrats may actually be unified in pushing these fixes for the ACA now that it appears that Republicans can not jam through their own plan on their own. McConnell may still take another run at a strictly GOP option but Democrats are in a far better position now on this issue than they have been since Trump was elected.

Needless to say, Trump is always a wildcard. In his fury, he may actually stop paying the insurer subsidies, further sabotaging Obamacare for next year. In addition, McConnell made it clear in his statement a moment ago that he is not interested in working with Democrats and will continue to try and twist arms and pass the bill after the July recess.

As it is right now, insurers are completely up in the air about what the state of play will be in 2018. Whether that means even more of them will pull out of the exchanges in 2018 is unclear at present but would hardly be surprising should it happen. Further issues in the exchanges will turn 2018 into a PR battle over who should be responsible, Republicans and Democrats. I'm betting that Republicans, with their billions in dark money, believe they can win that fight.

McConnell Pulls Vote On BCRA

Mitch McConnell has apparently pulled the vote on the BCRA and is postponing the vote, according to multiple sources including MSNBC. Whether that delay extends beyond the July recess is unclear until McConnell speaks in a few minutes. This is a huge win for the resistance. But this is just another battle in the war. Remember what happened in the House. Even after a recess where GOP representatives got absolutely hammered, Republicans came back and passed the horrific and cruel AHCA. This win should mean that the resistance needs to be even more aggressive in expressing opposition to the BCRA while Senators are on recess.

Mitch McConnell will have to come back to this issue at some point, if only because the GOP is now in danger of being blamed for the problems with Obamacare next year. Whether that means taking another run at jamming something similar to the BCRA through with just Republican votes or actually working with Democrats to craft some necessary tweaks to Obamacare, as McConnell threatened earlier today is also unclear. But Republicans hate the individual mandate and want it repealed while Democrats understand that the mandate is one of the three legs that make the ACA work. It seems hard to bridge that divide.

In the meantime, the calendar gets even more difficult for the Senate. It's hard to see how the Republicans can move forward with tax reform, having not finished health care. In addition, the clock is also ticking on the budget and raising the debt ceiling, both of which would be contentious issues within the GOP caucus and may even require Democratic votes.

Theresa May Pays Massive Bribe Using Public Monies To Stay In Power

Theresa May just made the first installment on what may turn out to be a multi-billion pound bribe to remain Prime Minister. In a deal announced yesterday, The Tories formally entered into an agreement with the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in order to create a governing majority of just 13 votes. In return, the DUP extracted multiple concessions from May, including over 1 billion pounds in additional government spending for Northern Ireland.

The deal requires additional spending of 400 million pounds for infrastructure, 300 million for education and health, 150 million for improved broadband, and 100 million to tackle poverty. If only the Democrats could pull off a deal like that. The increased spending comes to over 500 pounds for every man, woman, and child in Northern Ireland. In addition, another 500 million pounds might also be available for Northern Ireland if May and the Tories decide to loosen restrictions on existing spending. That seems highly likely since the coalition can pretty much pass anything they want.

The DUP has also demanded and received the withdrawal of a number of Conservative election promises including the plan to means-test the winter fuel allotment and to abandon the "triple-lock" on pensions which guaranteed the government would use the highest of three measures, inflation, average earnings, or 2.5%, when calculating pension increases. In addition, Northern Ireland will be allowed to set its own corporate tax rate, most likely aligning it with Ireland itself.

The DUP has only committed to supporting the government on votes about finance, Brexit, and security. Its MPs will be free to vote on other matters any way they wish. And the agreement will be up for review in 2019.

The reaction from the other home countries, Scotland and Wales, was predictably negative as it was across the UK in general. In Wales, Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru's leader, called the deal a "bribe" and its leader in Parliament said, "Any commitments for Northern Ireland should be matched for Wales. If reports that the DUP has secured a £1bn increase in public spending in Northern Ireland are realised, Wales' population share would be around £1.7bn - a substantial boost to the Welsh economy that must be delivered." Corwyn Jones, Welsh Labour's leader was even harsher, labelling it "a straight bung to keep a weak Prime Minister and a faltering Government in office" and "outrageous that the Prime Minister believes she can secure her own political future by throwing money at Northern Ireland while completely ignoring the rest of the UK". In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon called it a "grubby DUP deal to let [Theresa May] cling to power".

Labour's Shadow Chancellor echoed that sentiment, saying, "The same Conservative Party which spent the recent election campaign saying there was no money available for the crisis in the NHS and schools has now found at least £1bn to buy a parliamentary majority, with some reports suggesting it could be as much as £2bn...Let’s call this grubby deal what it is, this is a straightforward political bribe to desperately prop up Theresa May in office." As did outgoing Liberal Democrat leader, labelling it a "shoddy little deal..The nasty party is back, propped up by the DUP. While our schools are crumbling and our NHS is in crisis, Theresa May chooses to throw cash at ten MPs in a grubby attempt to keep her Cabinet squatting in No 10." Lastly, the 11 year permanent secretary to the Treasury Nick Macpherson noted ominously, "£1bn for Ulster is just a downpayment. DUP will be back for more...again and again... They have previous in such matters."

And predictably, things were not all smooth in Northern Ireland either. The new funding is contingent on Sinn Fein joining a new power-sharing agreement with the DUP in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein's leader Gerry Adams is keeping his options open, saying, "We may be able to say ‘well done Arlene [Foster, DUP leader]’, when we have the executive in place...There is work to be done by the DUP and only limited time to do this…the allocation of additional funds could help to ease the enormous pressure on our public services...The devil is in the detail". He went on to criticize the deal for "continued Tory austerity and cuts to public services" and the "Tory Brexit which threatens the Good Friday Agreement". He also added, "Sinn Fein will resolutely oppose any attempt to give preferential treatment to British forces, either in terms of legacy or the provision of public services."

This is how low the Conservatives and Theresa May have fallen. May is now paying a 1.5 billion pound bribe and relying on Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein for an agreement to keep herself ensconced in Number 10. I'm thinking this deal will not allow the Conservatives to get very much accomplished. This whole arrangement doesn't seem like it can last too long and it certainly won't end well.

Avik Roy Goes To Hacktacular Lengths To Defend BCRA

Avik Roy, the conservative health care hack, has yet another amazing op-ed in the NY Times today, following on yesterday's equally striking one from Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson. In his opinion piece, Roy goes the only place Republicans can go in defending the BCRA and that is to simply claim the CBO is wrong and then claims that the bill is actually bipartisan, drawing on Democratic health care ideas.

Roy is the guy who tweeted the other day, "I'm very open to thoughtful critiques of the Senate bill form the left. 'MILLIONS WILL DIE' is not it." That just gives you an insight into the straw-man lies that Roy likes to tell. First, no one has ever claimed millions will die, only over 200,000 over the next ten years. Roy, of course, has not refuted that. And if he wanted a thoughtful critique of the BCRA, I think the CBO just gave it to him.

In his piece, Roy points to a proposal made in 1995 by Bill Clinton to link spending per-enrollee to some economic metric. Clinton's proposal used GDP while the BCRA uses CPI. Roy notes the medical inflation is often greater than GDP growth but interestingly fails to mention that it is also greater than the CPI number that the BCRA will use. What Roy also fails to mention is that the Clinton proposal was not part of the Clinton health care plan as he would like us to believe if we did not do the research. Instead it was a proposal to head off an even worse proposal from the GOP in budget negotiations to avoid another government shutdown, long after the Clinton health care plan went down to defeat. The GOP plan to destroy Medicaid in that case was similar to the BCRA today, to simply block grant Medicaid money to the states and cut those grants by three times more than Clinton's proposal over just seven years. Clinton's proposal was made 20 years ago in a climate of GOP control of Congress that was attempting to gut Medicaid just as Republicans are doing today. To say this reflects any kind of Democratic thinking on Medicaid today is totally disingenuous. But that is what Roy is doing.

Roy follows that lie about Clinton with another whopper, writing, "The Senate bill replaces the A.C.A.’s Medicaid expansion with a robust system of tax credits for which everyone under the poverty line is eligible. Under Obamacare, you could enroll in private insurance exchanges only if your income exceeded the poverty line." Again, Roy tries to give the impression that the ACA wasn't helping those below the poverty line. But enrolling those below the poverty line in Medicaid was the whole point of the ACA's Medicaid expansion. Or at least that was the plan until Chief Justice Roberts demolished another long-standing precedent and allowed states to back out of Medicaid expansion which a number of red states did. Those states are free to join in the expansion to this day.

Roy then goes on to claim that increased tax credits for younger people will encourage them to enroll in private health insurance plans and thereby bring down the costs for everyone. The problem with this statement is it's just not true. The tax credits in the BCRA are not as robust as in the ACA, the coverage will be worse and the deductibles higher. And for older people, cost will rise significantly because the cost ratio for older enrollees is moving from 3:1 to 5:1.

Roy finally gets around to discussing some of the differences between the ACA and the BCRA, writing, "The bipartisan heritage of the bill does not eliminate areas of philosophical disagreement between conservatives and progressives. It increases the role of private insurers, and decreases the role of state-run Medicaid programs in covering the uninsured. It reduces federal spending on health care, whereas Obamacare increased it. The Senate bill repeals or rolls back all of the A.C.A.’s tax increases." Hmm, that doesn't sound very bipartisan to me but I'm not a GOP hack. I'm thinking that there's a pretty large partisan divide between increasing spending on health care and decreasing it.

Roy then goes into an extended riff on a mythical compromise bill that could have been passed in 2009 that would have combined elements of the ACA supported by Democrats with the GOP plan to gut Medicaid. I have a feeling there was a reason that compromise bill never happened. But that doesn't deter Roy who simply claims the BCRA is that compromise bill. It is a remarkable proposition to create a fictional bill that never passed that you label "bipartisan" and then claim that the bill you are offering is that very same bill. But that is how far down the rabbit hole Roy is taking us.

Roy decides to end with his biggest lie of all, saying, "It’s likely that, if the Senate bill passes, more Americans will have health insurance five years from now than do today. The Congressional Budget Office believes that solely because Republicans would repeal the A.C.A.’s individual mandate, by 2026, more than 15 million fewer people will buy health insurance, regardless of what senators do to direct more financial assistance to the poor and the vulnerable. That’s not a flaw in the Senate bill; it’s a flaw in the C.B.O.’s methods." The CBO is nowhere claiming that removing the individual mandate will mean 15 million people will not buy health insurance. What the CBO is claiming is that 15 million people will not be able to afford either health insurance at all or the high deductibles and co-pays and pathetic coverage of the insurance they buy actually make it economically nonsensical to waste money on premiums that get them nothing. Roy makes no effort to refute that or explain why the CBO methodology is flawed.

You'd think this op-ed couldn't get any worse but it does. The Times describes Roy as "the president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, is the author of 'How Medicaid Fails the Poor'." But NY Magazine specifically asked Roy if he had a hand in crafting the BRCA. Roy's answer is an evasion worthy of Donald Trump, "As a matter of policy, I don’t discuss with the press my conversations with policymakers." You think that might be worth a mention to the Times' readers of Roy's claptrap.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Lowlights From The BCRA CBO Score

Here are some of the lowlights from the CBO score of the BCRA that was released today:
  • 22 million will lose insurance in the next 10 years. That is an improvement of just 1 million from the already abysmal 23 million AHCA
  • 15 million would lose insurance NEXT YEAR!!
  • 4 million would lose their employee-sponsored insurance NEXT YEAR!!
  • Over 200,000 Americans will die over the next ten years because of the changes in the BCRA
  • The BCRA reduces the deficit by $320 billion as compared to around the $120 billion in the AHCA
  • The BCRA will result in higher copays and higher deductibles that will actually make it almost irrational for lower income earners to actually buy insurance even with potentially lower premiums and additional tax credits
  • A mid-income 64 year old will see his/her premiums rise from just under $7,000 to over $20,000
  • In addition, the existing problems in certain counties that either have one or none insurers will not be solved by the BCRA
  • The BCRA would cut over $770 billion from Medicaid over the next 10 years and that number would increase by an undetermined amount beyond the 10 year window
The GOP also added a questionable change to the BCRA today, mandating that a person who had let their coverage lapse for over 60 days would have to wait six months in order to re-enroll. That change may not pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian in order to be considered for reconciliation and only need 50 votes to pass in the Senate.

You would think that the massive coverage losses next year might make some of the GOP Senators queasy about voting for this legislation. But this is the Republican party and tax cuts are more important than almost anything, including American lives.

GOP Senators Don't Even Bother To Defend The Healthcare Bill

Republicans have been unable to mount any kind of serious defense of either the AHCA or the Senate health care bill. That's simply because there is no defense for gutting Medicaid in order to pay for massive tax cuts for the top 5% and even more massive tax cuts for the top earning 400 households.

Last week, Republican Senators were asked to describe what problems the health care bill would solve and not one of them could provide a reasonable answer. Chuck Grassley's comments in response to Vox's Jeff Stein were typical:

Jeff Stein
I want to ask a very broad question: What do you think this health care bill will accomplish that will improve America? What's the positive case for this bill?
Chuck Grassley
Well, I can tell you what it's going to do for Iowa. We are one of those states that in a couple of weeks if [the insurer] Medica pulls out, we'll have 94 of our 95 counties won't have any insurance ,even for people who have the subsidies. That's what we have to concentrate on now.
Jeff Stein
How do you think the bill will fix that problem?
Chuck Grassley
Well, by bringing certainty to the insurance market. They don't have that certainty now.
Jeff Stein
What do you mean by certainty?
Chuck Grassley
Well, they can't even file. They have to check the rates real high if they don't know what the government policy is. And so the certainty is that passing a bill gives the health insurance companies certainty.
Jeff Stein
Wouldn't not passing a bill also do that?
Chuck Grassley
No, it ... well, yeah — it gives them certainty that you'll have a lot higher rates than if you pass the bill.
Jeff Stein
So you're saying [the bill] will lower the rates?
Chuck Grassley
Um, if you're talking about lowering the rates from now down, no. The rates could be way up here. [Points to sky] And if they — if we get a bill passed, it maybe wouldn't go up or would go up a heck of a lot less than they would without a bill.
Jeff Stein
By "rates," are you talking about premiums?
Chuck Grassley
Yeah, premiums. … I'm sorry I have to go.

Yes, Grassley had to go before he buried himself even deeper in his own contradictions and nonsense.

Today, in the NY Times, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson wrote an amazing op-ed that claims the Senate bill does not go far enough in cutting government spending on health care. According to Johnson, "The bill’s defenders will say it repeals Obamacare’s taxes and reduces Medicaid spending growth. That’s true. But it also boosts spending on subsidies, and it leaves in place the pre-existing-condition rules that drive up the cost of insurance for everyone." On other words, for Johnson, gutting Medicaid to give huge tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans is an entirely defensible idea and is such an obvious positive development that it apparently requires no discussion. What is indefensible is the idea of forcing insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions. Instead, Johnson would let them just die.

Johnson's expertise in health insurance apparently comes from being an accountant in the manufacturing sector. His depth of knowledge tells him "the private sector is much more effective at solving problems. Concepts like the 'KISS' principle ('keep it simple, stupid'), pursuing continuous improvement and root-cause analysis are core ideas in private-sector problem-solving...[P]atients neither know nor care what things cost. We have virtually eliminated the power of consumer-driven, free-market discipline from one-sixth of our economy...[A] a simple solution is obvious. Loosen up regulations and mandates, so that Americans can choose to purchase insurance that suits their needs and that they can afford."

I'm pretty sure I know who's stupid in this argument. As far as I know, no one has yet come up with a discount version of treating cancer. And, according to Johnson's logic, I should just die if I can't afford it. I hate to ask Johnson if he believes that people should be required to carry homeowners or auto insurance. According to the logic he presents here, I'm afraid his answer would be in the negative. In addition, if he really relied on his experience in manufacturing, he might want to look at how his "competitors" are delivering a better or equal product for much less money. In other words, he might want to look at every other advanced economy that manages to provide universal health care for every one of its citizens at far less cost than we do. But that would be "socialism".

Even more laughable is the fact that Hugh Hewitt believes that Johnson will vote for the bill anyway, despite his editorial claims that the bill "turns its back on this simple solution, and goes with something far too familiar: throwing money at the problem."

Speaking of Hewitt, he wrote on op-ed in the Washington Post today and he could not even muster one word of the 720 he'd written in defense of the Senate health care bill. He did spend one paragraph outlining and overstating the relatively easily fixed problems with Obamacare but not one word about how the Republican plan would address those issues. Instead, the entire editorial amounted to saying that the GOP base will desert elected Republicans if they don't pass this bill.

But that is the box that Republicans have created for themselves. When it comes to health care, they can either be exposed as liars now, by not passing anything, or later, when millions lose coverage and tens of thousands die because of their plan. If you know politicians, and especially Republicans, the option will be to wait until later.

Democrats Need To Tell The Story Of The Anti-Democratic Nature Of The Republican Party

Last week, I wrote that Democrats are simply terrible at telling stories that highlight a policy position while weaving it into a greater tale of Democratic beliefs. That particular post was focused of Democrats complaining that the GOP was using tactics far worse than what Republicans accused Democrats of doing to pass the ACA in passing the AHCA. Rather than focusing on GOP hypocrisy, Democrats should be focusing on how this process is part and parcel of Republican attacks on our democratic processes over the last two decades.

Democrats are again failing to create a real story when it comes to the revelations about the depth of Russia's attempt to interfere in our election. The bombshell Washington Post report on Friday detailed the unfolding intelligence about Russia's hacking and the largely inadequate response of the Obama administration to those attacks largely out of a two-fold concern. First, the administration worried that openly confronting the Russians would escalate the attacks even further and disrupt the election by editing the voter rolls in some of the 21states' election systems they had breached. And additional and equally important consideration for the administration was that it did not want to look political and attempting to influence the election.

And, in typical fashion, Democrats are circling the firing squad, blaming Obama for not letting the American public know the details of Russia's efforts before the election. Adam Schiff, who has actually been magnificent in the Russia investigation, is quoted in the Post article as saying he felt "cognitive dissonance" from the Obama administration in its reluctance to confront the Russian hacking, saying, "The administration doesn’t need congressional support to issue a statement of attribution or impose sanctions." Ron Wyden also commented, "I am troubled learning this new information that the Obama administration didn't do more." And Chuck Schumer tried to move the focus to the Trump administration present inaction on Russia, saying, "If  Donald Trump wants to do something about Russia and Russia meddling, instead of saying Obama didn't do enough, support our sanctions bill."

This is truly pathetic. By August of last summer, the Obama administration was concerned enough to start contacting state election officials in the hopes of getting them to agree that the state voting systems be designated "critical infrastructure", allowing the states to receive federal assistance on cybersecurity. The reaction was not positive and the Georgia Republican Secretary of State is probably indicative of his GOP peers, saying, "I think it was a politically calculated move by the previous administration", and denounced the idea as an infringement of states' rights. Unsurprisingly, the Georgia system apparently remains open to hackers to this day, creating concerns about the validity of the special election that Democrats lost there last week.

When that effort failed, the Obama administration went to Congress in the hopes of getting a bipartisan statement describing the Russian attack. According to the Post report, "In early September, Johnson, Comey, and Monaco arrived on Capitol Hill in a caravan of black SUVs for a meeting with 12 key members of Congress, including the leadership of both parties. The meeting devolved into a partisan squabble. 'The Dems were, ‘Hey, we have to tell the public,’' recalled one participant. But Republicans resisted, arguing that to warn the public that the election was under attack would further Russia’s aim of sapping confidence in the system. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went further, officials said, voicing skepticism that the underlying intelligence truly supported the White House’s claims...Key Democrats were stunned by the GOP response and exasperated that the White House seemed willing to let Republican opposition block any pre-election move. A week later, McConnell and other congressional leaders issued a cautious statement that encouraged state election officials to ensure their networks were 'secure from attack.' The release made no mention of Russia and emphasized that the lawmakers 'would oppose any effort by the federal government' to encroach on the states’ authorities."

That is the entire story for Democrats to tell in a nutshell. When confronted with evidence that Russia was attacking our country and interfering in our democratic processes, Republicans chose party over country. And when confronted with evidence that state voting systems might be compromised by an attacking foreign government, Republicans were more concerned about maintaining their power to purge voter rolls and restrict minority voters than actually repelling the attack on our country.

As we have seen, the Russians were attacking our country to help Republicans get elected, not just Donald Trump. And the GOP leadership knew it. And to this day, the Republican leadership refuses to respond to these Russian attacks. They have obstructed and slow-walked the entire investigation into the Russian hacking and are now resisting the effort to impose additional sanctions on the Russians for this attack and also thereby allowing the President to roll back existing sanctions without any Congressional sign-off.

And now we are seeing the GOP media machine go into full gear suggesting that collusion with the Russians during the campaign is perfectly fine because it is not a "crime", with one Fox newscaster saying, "You can collude all you want with a foreign government during an election". Brit Hume also made similar comments, saying, "Collusion, while it would be obviously alarming and highly inappropriate for the Trump campaign, of which there is no evidence by the way, of colluding with the Russians. It's not a crime." I'm pretty sure that receiving foreign funded free media in support of a candidate is a violation of federal election law, but Republican already think that foreign money in US elections is fine. More importantly, collusion with the Russians would be aiding and abetting the enemy in an attack on our democracy and our country. And that is a crime. Taking the Fox News position to its extreme, there would be no "crime" in Trump asking the Russians to invade the US and install him as dictator.

We all know that if the shoe were on the other foot, Republicans would be screaming "treason" and they would finally, in this one instance, be correct. Why is it so hard for Democrats to say what everyone can see as plain as day. When the Russians attacked our country and our democracy, the Republicans refused to defend the country but played a partisan political game instead. But this fits in with the decades long pattern of Republicans attacking our democracy in order to win partisan advantage from stealing the 2000 election to attacking minority voting rights to extreme and illegal partisan gerrymanders to destroying governing norms to stealing control of the Supreme Court.

It's a story that is so easy to tell and ties together various threads of Democratic opposition to the Republican party. I know that some Democrats can not and will not go as far as saying treason right now, but they can at least point out the choice that the Republican leadership made to opt for partisanship over country and show that this is a choice the GOP has made for decades. The story of the anti-democratic nature of the GOP ties together that party's attacks on voting rights, abortion, labor rights, the destruction of democratic norms, and a host of other issues into one consistent story. Democrats need to tell it.