S&P says that Obamacare isn't failing at all:

With better data supported by actual individual market experience, most insurers put in for increased premium pricing for 2016. Also, several insurers introduced narrower network products to control medical costs. Regulatory changes such as tightening the SEP rules also helped this year-over-year improvement. We expect the full-year 2016 underwriting losses to be lower than in 2015 and 2014.

....Insurers have put in meaningful premium rate increases for 2017...[but] we view 2017 as a one-time pricing correction....For 2017, we believe the continued pricing correction and network design changes, along with regulatory fine-tuning of ACA rules, will result in closer to break-even results, in aggregate, for the individual market, and more insurers reporting profits in this segment.

Hey, how about that! Now that insurers are pricing their coverage about where the CBO expected it to be, they're starting to move toward profitability. Who could have guessed that?

This reminds me of something. A lot of lefties were unhappy with Obamacare because, in the end, it didn't include a public option. Thanks, Joe Lieberman! But the truth is that although a public option would have been nice, it's not really what Obamacare needed. What Obamacare needed was two things:

  • About twice as much funding.
  • A higher tax penalty for not buying insurance.

That's it. But Democrats were fixated on Obamacare costing under $1 trillion (over ten years), and that prevented them from creating a program that people truly would have loved. If, instead, they had supported funding of, say, $2 trillion, generous subsidies would have continued into the working and middle classes; maximum deductibles could have been set much lower; and more insurers would have entered each local market. Combine that with stiffer penalties to back up the individual mandate and a lot more young people would have joined the insurance pools—and would have done so without resentment since the cost would truly be affordable. All of this together would have made Obamacare far more popular with the public and much easier to manage for insurers.

But where would that extra trillion dollars have come from? This is where the hack gap comes into play once again. If this were a Republican plan, and it were something they really wanted, they wouldn't have bothered with funding. They would have just made up a story about medical inflation coming down (which it is) and broader health coverage leading to improved economic growth blah blah blah. Democrats weren't willing to do that. Alternatively, they could have just funded a $2 trillion program. That would have meant even higher taxes on the rich and maybe some higher taxes all the way down into the upper middle class. Or maybe a small increase in the payroll tax. Who knows? There are plenty of possibilities.

But Democrats weren't willing to be hacks and they weren't willing to raise taxes more than they did. This is despite the fact that the public plainly doesn't care much about deficits no matter how much they may say so, and the public is positively delighted with higher taxes on the rich. Multiple polls repeatedly show this by a wide margin.

This would have solved virtually every problem Obamacare has had. Higher taxes on the rich would have been a populist winner. Higher funding would have made the program genuinely affordable and far more popular. And the increase in both funding and the mandate penalty would have made the eventual insurance pool closer to what insurers expected, which would have kept them nearer to profitability and truly duking it out to gain market share against their competitors. It was a missed opportunity.

Politico reports that Donald Trump's driver's license lists his height as 6-foot-2:

Size apparently matters to Trump. A letter that the businessman candidate displayed this summer from his longtime gastroenterologist — while appearing on the Dr. Oz show — stated he was 6-foot-3, though media reports were quick to point out discrepancies.

Slate, for example, posited that Trump was adding an inch to his height to avoid crossing into obesity territory — he also weighed 236 pounds — on the BMI index. That Slate article pointed to multiple media that pegged Trump as 6-foot-2, including Google, though the search engine now has Trump at 6-foot-3.

ZOMG! Trump is a vain, narcissistic liar? Who knew?

But this reminds me of something. By a remarkable coincidence, I happen to be 6-foot-2 and weigh exactly 236 pounds. I have an unfortunate amount of belly fat to show for this, but nowhere near what Trump does. At a conservative guess, Trump weighs at least 30 pounds more than I do. So he's lying not only about his height, but also about his weight.

And before you ask: yes, it's fairly likely that this week will be filled with posts like this. There's just never much real news during the week between Christmas and New Year's.

This is hardly earthshaking, I know, but take a look at this Donald Trump tweet from Monday evening:

No hope! But put the narcissism and egotism aside.1 In a mere 26 words Trump has managed to mislead his audience in three separate ways without quite lying about anything. First, no matter how many times the press pushes this meme, the world was not especially gloomy before he won. Nor was America. Consumer sentiment has been steadily rising since 2011 and personal satisfaction is near its all-time high:

Second, the stock market is indeed up, but it's been rising steadily for President Obama's entire term. That "nearly 10 percent" uptick—actually 6 percent since Election Day, and mostly driven by big banks, but who's counting?—is that teensy blip at the very end of the chart:

Finally, retail sales have been rising steadily during Obama's entire term, and so has holiday spending. The National Retail Federation forecasts that holiday spending will increase 3.6 percent this year (1.9 percent in real terms), and will finish up not at "over a trillion dollars," but at $655 billion:

In the grand scheme of things, this doesn't matter. But it's still a fascinating little insight into how Trump gaslights his followers and the nation into believing that he's the savior of the country. Most people have no idea about any of these numbers, so he can say anything he wants and he's likely to be believed. Nor will fact-checking change this even a tiny bit. Politics has always been about exaggeration and cherry picking, but we're now living through an era in which the truth flatly doesn't matter. At this point, I'm pretty sure Trump's followers would believe him if he said that Obama had tried to give Alaska back to the Russians but he managed to stop it. Then the press would stroke its collective chin and write careful pieces about how Trump was really talking about some rocky shoal that nobody cared about but had been officially disputed since Seward bought the place. Nuance, you see.

1Though I suppose we shouldn't. What kind of person writes stuff like this?

For many years:

  • Virtually every country in the world has condemned Israel's settlements in the West Bank.
  • They have all repeatedly voted to say so in the UN.
  • The US has also opposed Israel's settlements, but hasn't officially said so in the UN.
  • And Israel has said very clearly that the UN is virulently anti-Israel (true) and they pay it no mind.

A few days ago one small part of this formula finally changed when the US abstained from a UN vote condemning Israel's settlements on the West Bank. It was a parting blow from a lame-duck president who has been treated appallingly by Bibi Netanyahu, and the only surprising thing about it is that President Obama managed to hold his temper this long.

In any case, it's entirely meaningless: Donald Trump will take office soon and Netanyahu claims to consider the UN illegitimate on this subject anyway. So why has everyone gone ballistic over it? Sure, there's now an "official" UN resolution condemning the West Bank settlements, but what difference does that make? An "official" UN resolution is barely worth the minute or two it takes to read it. Even as a PR coup it doesn't amount to much.

The whole Israel charade long ago ceased to interest me. I can hardly pretend to be any kind of expert, but my take is that the last chance for any kind of peace deal ended in the 90s. The huge influx of conservative Jews from Russia after the fall of the Iron Curtain, followed by the Second Intifada, turned Israel permanently against any kind of settlement with the Palestinians.

Because of this, I never blamed George Bush for not trying to broker a peace deal and never blamed Obama for not succeeding. Even people who are sympathetic toward Obama often say that he handled the Middle East badly—and the Israel relationship particularly badly—but I simply don't see how he could have done any better. Netanyahu treated him with unconcealed contempt; was unapologetic about publicly undermining him; decided to ditch bipartisanship and openly team up with the Republican Party; and very plainly was never open to any kind of settlement at all. There is absolutely nothing Obama could have done to change that.

In any case, the following things are indisputably true:

  • Israeli leaders will never* stop building in the West Bank. It would be electoral suicide.
  • Israeli leaders will never give up the West Bank. It would be electoral suicide.
  • Israeli leaders will never formally annex the West Bank. It would be electoral suicide.

In other words, nothing is going to happen. Period. Israel is going to keep things as they are, fight off world opinion forever, and hope that maybe over the course of several decades they can slowly get all the Palestinians in the West Bank to emigrate elsewhere. It's sort of like Mitt Romney's "self-deportation" on steroids.

And just in case you think this puts me on the side of the Arabs and Palestinians, forget it. To the extent that I stay even marginally on Israel's side, it's because the Arabs have acted even more abominably. They tried to invade Israel twice. They never cared a fig for the Palestinians except as a convenient poster child. (Jordan must have been the first country in history to lose territory in a war and be happy about it.) They never accepted Israel as legitimate, but for decades they've tacitly tolerated its existence because it gives them an easy way of stirring up demagogic hatreds that help prop up their own vicious regimes. The PLO was a murderous terrorist organization, and Hamas is worse. The intifadas were depraved and ruinous. And despite the fact that the Palestinians were clearly on the losing end of a war and needed to accept the best deal they could get, they remained delusional to the end. I've never bought into the revisionist history that Bill Clinton's Wye River/Camp David/Taba negotiations were unfair to the Palestinians and Yasser Arafat was right to turn down the final proposal. He needed to accept it, and he probably knew it. He was just too cowardly to do it and too convinced that his own leadership was dependent on opposition to Israel.

Even in theory, there is literally no settlement that either the Israelis or the Palestinians would accept right now. This isn't necessarily true forever, but it will be true for a good long time. We should all stop wasting our time on the fantasy that peace talks have any value.

*All uses of never in this post are figurative. Never is a long time. But in this case, it means many decades at a minimum.

Adam Liptak tells us that the Supreme Court is pondering whether to hear a case from Ramsey County, Minnesota, which confiscates money from people it arrests. That's what happened to Corey Statham, who was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, and then released:

But the county kept $25 of Mr. Statham’s money as a “booking fee.” It returned the remaining $21 on a debit card subject to an array of fees. In the end, it cost Mr. Statham $7.25 to withdraw what was left of his money.

....Kentucky bills people held in its jails for the costs of incarcerating them, even if all charges are later dismissed. In Colorado, five towns raise more than 30 percent of their revenue from traffic tickets and fines. In Ferguson, Mo., “city officials have consistently set maximizing revenue as the priority for Ferguson’s law enforcement activity,” a Justice Department report found last year.

....Through his lawyers, Mr. Statham declined a request for an interview. He lost in the lower courts, which said his right to due process had not been violated by the $25 booking charge or the debit card fees, which were both, the trial judge said, “relatively modest.”

Lovely. It's OK to confiscate money as long as you don't confiscate too much. Unless, of course, you're engaged in civil asset forfeiture, in which case the sky's the limit. All you have to do is attend one of the many classes that teach your police officers how best to steal people's money under the pretense that they "just know" it's drug money.

I continue to be gobsmacked by all of this. I've heard all the arguments about due process and civil vs. criminal and so forth, and not a single word of it strikes me as anything but an obvious sham. And yet courts—all the way to the Supreme Court—and judicial agencies—all the way to the Department of Justice—accept them without blinking. It's the kind of thing that makes me wonder if I'm stuck in some kind of Kafka-based virtual reality. How can something so obviously wrong be approved with a shrug by so many people?

Matt Yglesias tweeted yesterday about mortgage interest rates going up after the election, and that got me curious about just how quickly they spiked upward after we all learned that Donald Trump would be our next president. The chart on the right shows the answer: pretty darn quickly.

On November 8, the average 30-year fixed mortgage was available at a rate of 3.53 percent. Within two days it had gone up 21 basis points, and within a week it had gone up 43 basis points. Adjustable mortgages spiked upward too, though not as dramatically, and both rates continued to drift upward until December 14. Then they spiked upward again thanks to the Fed's decision to increase interest rates.

So what does this mean for your ordinary working-class joe who voted for Trump? Well, for a 30-year fixed mortgage on a $200,000 loan, the monthly payment has increased from about $900 to $950. That's an extra $600 per year.

Generally speaking, this spike was due to the fact that everyone panicked after Trump won, causing treasury bond yields to jump 35 basis points in a week. More specifically, however, is it due to China selling US treasuries in greater quantities than usual? Maybe! But whatever the cause, if you waited until after the election to buy a house, you're paying a pretty stiff Trump penalty.

Happy Boxing Day!

We humans got all sorts of books, electronic devices, food items, and other doodads for Christmas. As usual, though, the cats made out much better than us, having a grand time with all the packing ephemera. Later they climbed a few trees and looked longingly at some hummingbirds who were perfectly safe, but seriously annoyed at all the feline prowling near their feeder. Life in the wild is pretty tough these days.

Damnit.

The star, who launched his career with Wham! in the 1980s and later continued his success as a solo performer, is said to have "passed away peacefully at home".

Thames Valley Police said South Central Ambulance Service attended a property in Goring in Oxfordshire at 13:42 GMT.

Police say there were no suspicious circumstances.

Rest in peace.

Here's the latest version of the Arctic meltdown, this time in cheerful Christmas colors:

For a while there, it looked like maybe things were heading back down to normal, but then a few weeks ago temps started spiking again. It's now more than 30 degrees warmer than normal at the North Pole.

Data since 1958 is here. If you click through the years, you'll see that the previous record was somewhere around 15 degrees above normal for maybe a week or two. Current Arctic temps are not only higher than they've ever been, but they've lasted for about four months so far. I am pretty sure this means Santa's workshop has long since fallen through the thin ice and disappeared forever into the inky depths of the Arctic waters. Sorry about that, kids.