Did Mack Sennett ever make "The Keystone Cops Go to Washington"? No? No matter. That's what it feels like right now.

Let's see if I can do justice to our current legislative follies. For starters, it appears that we're going to get health care, tax reform, and infrastructure all in one week. Why? I guess so that President Trump can say he got going on all of them in his first hundred days. Which totally doesn't matter and Trump couldn't care less about it. But he released a truly comical list of all his accomplishments anyway. Not that he cares. But anyway. Let's move on.

Health care: The House Freedom Caucus has allegedly agreed to an amendment to the previous House bill—the one that crashed and burned last month thanks to the HFC's opposition—that now makes it acceptable. They haven't actually said so in public yet, but maybe tomorrow they will. Maybe. Basically, it allows states to opt out of the essential coverage requirements of Obamacare. Except for Capitol Hill, that is. Members of Congress will continue to get every last thing on the list. And there's no change to pre-existing conditions except for one teensy little thing: insurance companies can charge you more if you have a pre-existing condition. How much more? The sky's the limit, apparently. Does $10 million sound good? In practice, of course, this means that they don't have to offer coverage to anyone with a pre-existing condition.

Tax reform: It turns out the Treasury Department really was taken by surprise on this, so Wednesday's announcement will be little more than the same stuff Trump released on the campaign trail. Corporate taxes get cut by nearly two-thirds, to 15 percent. Ditto for "pass through" corporations like, oh, just to pull an example out of the air, The Trump Organization. There will be no offsetting spending cuts. There will be no border tax. There will be nothing much for the non-rich except a modest change to the standard deduction. There will, of course, be no details about which deductions and loopholes, if any, Trump plans to plug. It will be a gigantic deficit buster. And just for good measure, it's probably literally unpassable under the Senate's rules.

Infrastructure: In a laughable attempt to get Democratic support for his tax bill, Trump plans to add infrastructure spending and a child tax credit to it. The problem is that Trump's infrastructure plan is little more than a giveaway to big construction companies, and his child tax credit—designed by Ivanka!—is little more than a giveaway to the well off. In other words, instead of one thing Democrats hate, the bill now has three things Democrats hate. I'm just spitballing here, but I'm not sure this is how you make deals.

This is lunacy. The barely revised health care bill probably won't pass the House, let alone the Senate. Tax reform is just a PowerPoint presentation, not an actual plan. Plus it's such an unbelievable giveaway to the rich that even Republicans will have a hard time swallowing it. And the infrastructure stuff is DOA. It will almost certainly be opposed by both Republicans and Democrats.

This is like watching kids make mud pies. I guess that's OK, since this is all terrible stuff that I hope never sees the light of day. Still, I guess I prefer even my political opponents to show a little bit of respect for the legislative process.

I suppose this is hopeless, but I want to try one more time on the Comey thing. The most common response to the suggestion that James Comey's letter was the turning point in the 2016 campaign is this:

In a race this close, lots of things could have tipped the result. The Comey letter is just one of many.

But this isn't true. Take a look at 538's polling numbers in the final two weeks of the campaign:

On the day before Comey sent his letter, Hillary Clinton had a 6-point lead. There is no ordinary campaign event that plausibly could have turned that into a loss. Not dumb ad buys. Not bad internal polling. Not bad speeches by the candidate. Nothing. It's just too big a lead.

The Comey letter was a bolt from the blue and it cost Clinton three percentage points. This is the only thing that made the race close to begin with. Once Clinton's lead had been cut by three points, then an extra point of support for Trump in the last couple of days—which 538 and others missed—was just enough for Trump to eke out a 2-point popular vote loss and a miracle Electoral College victory.

That wouldn't have mattered without the Comey letter. None of those little things that everyone keeps pointing to would have produced a Trump win. It's true that in a tight race lots of things can make the difference between winning and losing, but it wasn't a tight race. Not until James Comey sent out that letter, anyway.

From the Associated Press:

A man accustomed to wealth and its trappings, Trump has embraced life in the Executive Mansion, often regaling guests with trivia about the historic decor. With the push of a red button placed on the Resolute Desk that presidents have used for decades, a White House butler soon arrived with a Coke for the president.

I just thought you'd all like to know.

Lunchtime Photo

We had our annual local tennis tournament over the weekend, and this poor kid was one of the losers. He was actually doing OK against a better player, and even managed to pull out the first set. But then his opponent figured out that he had a weak backhand and it was all downhill from there. In the final set, I literally don't think more than four or five balls went to his forehand. His opponent hit every ball as far wide as possible, and even though he knew where every shot was headed, it didn't matter. His backhand broke down under the assault and he lost the final set 6-1.

Have you heard of Unroll.me? I hadn't until they suddenly popped up in my Twitter feed because everyone was telling me to uninstall their app and never do business with them again. It turns out that Unroll.me is a company that scans your email and unsubscribes you from all your spam. Useful! And free! So how do they make money? By selling data to folks who will pay them for it.

In particular, it turns out that one of their clients is Uber, which was interested in keeping tabs on its biggest competitor, Lyft. Unroll.me helps by scanning email for Lyft receipts and telling Uber whether Lyft's business is up or down. This is what caused the commotion.

My initial reaction was: Duh. What did you think Unroll.me was doing to make money? I didn't bother writing anything about it because I didn't really care that much, but today co-founder Perri Chase (who's no longer with the company) comes to the defense of her friend and Unroll.me CEO Jojo Hedaya:

Anonymized and at scale why do people care? Do you really care? Are you really surprised? How exactly is this shocking?

Or maybe you just hate yourselves because you think Uber is gross but you use them anyway and “why are these tech founders such assholes” that they have to ruin your experience where you need to delete your apps? And you love Unroll.me and you feel righteous and you have to delete that now too because you need to take a stand against these plain-as-day-in-the-terms-of-service practices.

....Let’s look at why we are really in this situation. [Uber CEO] Travis Kalanick is out of control and no one can stop him. No one except a board who refuses to hold him accountable for his disgusting behavior. Yeah. As a woman I think he is disgusting. As a founder, the truth is I’m like DAMN. That guy is willing to do whatever it takes and I have a mild amount of envy that I’m not a shittier human willing to go to those lengths to be successful. See, Silicon Valley rewards it. He is setting the example for the future founders who want to “crush it” and be unstoppable. It’s gross. You don’t hate that Unroll.me sells your data. You hate that Unroll.me sells your data to Uber.

I still don't know how I feel about this. On the one hand, I'm distinctly unthrilled with the fact that that we all give companies access to so much personal information about ourselves—and we do it for a pittance. On the other hand, it's pretty clear that I'm in a tiny minority. Even when people know precisely what's going on, they mostly shrug and sign up anyway. That's the world we live in.

Chase's "plain-as-day-in-the-terms-of-service" defense is pretty disingenuous since she knows perfectly well that nobody reads the terms of service for the apps they use. But even if they did I doubt that Unroll.me would lose more than a few percent of their customers. Most of them probably wouldn't care if Unroll.me sold their names and email addresses to Uber, let alone a harmless bit of aggregate data.

For what it's worth, what I'd like to see from companies like Unroll.me is a really clear explanation on their websites of what they do. Maybe just a short, punchy bullet list: Examples of what we will do and examples of what we won't do. That's what I'd like. And a pony.

Matt Yglesias is pissed:

Former President Barack Obama's decision to accept a $400,000 fee to speak at a health care conference organized by the bond firm Cantor Fitzgerald is easily understood....

Wait. Obama is raking in $400 grand for a Wall Street keynote address? Really?

There's something funny here. The report comes from Fox Business Network, and I guess it's true. But it hasn't been confirmed or reported by any mainstream outlet. Just lots of conservative sites, who are naturally hooting and hollering about it.

Yglesias makes lots of good points about why Obama shouldn't do this, and normally I'd sign on. But I want to wait a bit. I wonder if there's more going on here that we don't know yet?

Wall Street is a brutal place:

Wells Fargo & Co.’s shareholders are expected to re-elect all of the bank’s directors—but at uncomfortably low vote totals—in a pitched contest over the board that resulted from last fall’s sales-practices scandal, according to people familiar with the matter.

....While the re-election of directors, if confirmed, will be a relief for the bank, the likelihood that at least a few board members will receive below 60% of votes cast is concerning....The collective low votes for long-serving directors sends a clear message to the bank of “dissatisfaction,” one of the people familiar with the matter said.

Tough but fair. After this trip to the woodshed you can be sure that sleazy practices are a thing of the past at Wells Fargo.

Ron Brownstein is surprised:

This is pretty much what I'd expect. After all, it's people aged 50-64 who mostly have pre-existing conditions.

This remains the Achilles' heel of the repeal movement. Once you've agreed to keep Obamacare's pre-existing conditions policy, the rest of Obamacare—or something pretty similar—is inevitable. This is why the repeal-and-replace movement is having such a tough time.

White House aides "signaled" yesterday that instead of money for a wall, they might accept money for tighter border security in the upcoming budget bill:

With a Friday deadline looming to pass a new spending bill, the Trump administration projected confidence that a shutdown would be avoided. In the face of fierce Democratic opposition to funding the wall’s construction, White House officials signaled Monday that the president may be open to an agreement that includes money for border security if not specifically for a wall, with an emphasis on technology and border agents rather than a structure.

But apparently that wasn't good enough for Trump. He just went ahead and surrendered completely:

Trump showed even more flexibility Monday afternoon, telling conservative journalists in a private meeting that he was open to delaying funding for wall construction until September, a White House official confirmed.

Quite a negotiator, our president.

Someone asked me on Twitter if health care premiums had spiked after Obamacare went into effect. That turns out to be a surprisingly hard question to answer. There's loads of data on premiums in the employer market, where premium growth has slowed down slightly post-Obamacare, but not much in the individual market, which is where Obamacare has its biggest impact. However, a pair of researchers at the Brookings Institution rounded up the best evidence for pre-Obamacare premiums and compared it to premiums in 2014-17, when Obamacare was in effect. Here it is:

Premiums dropped in 2014, and are still lower than the trendline from 2009-13. So no, premiums didn't spike under Obamacare.

Now, there are lots of caveats here. The pre-Obamacare estimates are tricky to get a firm handle on. What's more, the Obamacare premiums are for the baseline coverage (second-lowest silver plan), while average pre-Obamacare policies might have been more generous in some ways (for example, deductibles and copays).

However, most of the pre/post differences suggest that Obamacare policies are better than the old ones. The old plans had an actuarial value of only 60 percent, while Obamacare silver plans have an actuarial value of 70 percent. The old plans were also limited to very healthy individuals. Obamacare plans are open to everyone. Finally, Obamacare plans mandate a set of essential benefits and place limits on out-of-pocket costs. These and other things suggest that premiums should have gone up under Obamacare.

But even with all these improvements, premiums still went down, and they haven't caught up yet. Bottom line: Average premiums in the individual market went down after Obamacare took effect, and they're still lower than they would have been without Obamacare.