Kevin Drum

Wyoming Is Thinking About Accepting Medicaid Expansion After All

| Tue Aug. 26, 2014 11:54 AM EDT

Michael Hiltzik passes along the news that Wyoming's governor is the latest traitor to the cause of denying health care to poor people no matter what the cost:

The reason for Wyoming's wavering is clear: It's money.

The Health Department says Medicaid expansion could save the state $50 million or more if it expands the program, for which the federal government will pay at least 90%. Meanwhile, Wyoming hospitals say they're losing more than $200 million a year in uncompensated care for people without insurance.

The state Legislature has rejected the expansion, but Republican Gov. Matt Mead has been saying it's time to pack up. He's entering negotiations with the feds for a way to expand Medicaid next year, covering as many as 17,600 low-income residents.

I imagine that before very much longer, most of the other Midwest holdouts will go ahead and accept Medicaid expansion too. That will leave only the hard-core holdouts of the Old South, where the poor are apparently especially undeserving. I guess there must be some kind of difference between poor people in the Midwest and poor people in the South. I wonder what it could be?

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Ukraine Claims it Has Captured Russian Soldiers

| Tue Aug. 26, 2014 10:18 AM EDT

Ukraine claims that it now has proof that Russian soldiers have been involved in fighting on Ukrainian soil:

Ukraine released video footage on Tuesday of what it said were 10 captured Russian soldiers, raising tensions as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia arrived in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, for talks later in the day with his Ukrainian counterpart, President Petro O. Poroshenko.

....The release of the videos and the high-level talks came a day after Ukraine accused Russia of sending an armored column across the border, prompting Geoffrey R. Pyatt, the United States ambassador to Ukraine, to express alarm on Twitter. “The new columns of Russian tanks and armor crossing into Ukraine indicates a Russian-directed counteroffensive may be underway. #escalation,” he wrote.

....“Everything was a lie. There were no drills here,” one of the captured Russians, who identified himself as Sergey A. Smirnov, told a Ukrainian interrogator. He said he and other Russians from an airborne unit in Kostroma, in central Russia, had been sent on what was described initially as a military training exercise but later turned into a mission into Ukraine. After having their cellphones and identity documents taken away, they were sent into Ukraine on vehicles stripped of all markings, Mr. Smirnov said.

This kind of thing represents a cusp of some kind. If it's true, Putin has to decide pretty quickly whether to gamble everything on an outright invasion, or whether to back off. If it turns out to be a Ukrainian invention, Putin has to decide whether to use it as a casus belli. These are dangerous times.

UPDATE: Apparently Russia has admitted the soldiers are theirs:

Sources in Moscow have admitted that a number of men captured inside Ukraine were indeed serving Russian soldiers, but said they crossed the border by mistake...."The soldiers really did participate in a patrol of a section of the Russian-Ukrainian border, crossed it by accident on an unmarked section, and as far as we understand showed no resistance to the armed forces of Ukraine when they were detained," a source in Russia's defence ministry told the RIA Novosti agency.

Uh huh. I suppose Putin will now claim that detaining the soldiers is an act of war unless they're immediately released.

Here's the Latest Right-Wing IRS Fantasy

| Tue Aug. 26, 2014 1:16 AM EDT

Here's a great example of the conservative media bubble at work. I was browsing The Corner a few minutes ago and came across a post telling me that the government has, rather astonishingly, acknowledged that it has another backup of Lois Lerner's missing emails. Judicial Watch, which has been trying to get hold of these emails, sent out a press release trumpeting its discovery:

Department of Justice attorneys for the Internal Revenue Service told Judicial Watch on Friday that Lois Lerner’s emails, indeed all government computer records, are backed up by the federal government in case of a government-wide catastrophe....This is a jaw-dropping revelation. The Obama administration had been lying to the American people about Lois Lerner’s missing emails....The Obama administration has known all along where the email records could be — but dishonestly withheld this information.

Well. That's fascinating. But I wondered what was really up. I went to Google News but all I found were links to conservative news sites. The Judicial Watch story was plastered over all of them: Forbes, The Blaze, NRO, Breitbart, Fox, Townhall, the Washington Examiner, the Free Beacon, and the New York Observer. But none of the usual mainstream news sources seemed to have anything about this.

Except for The Hill. Hooray! So I clicked:

[An] administration official said Justice Department lawyers had dropped no bombshells last week, and that Judicial Watch was mischaracterizing what the government had said.

The official said that Justice lawyers were only referring to tapes backing up IRS emails that were routinely recycled twice a year before 2013, when the investigation into the Tea Party controversy began....The administration official said that the inspector general is examining whether any data can be recovered from the previously recycled back-up tapes and suggested that could be the cause of the confusion between the government and Judicial Watch.

Roger that. What he's saying is that backup tapes are routinely recycled and written over, but it's possible that some of the tapes weren't entirely written over. There's a chance that old emails might still be at the tail end of some of the tapes and could be recovered. And who knows: maybe some of them were Lerner's. This is, as you can imagine, (a) the longest of long shots, and (b) a pretty difficult forensic recovery job even if some parts of the backup tapes contain old messages. It's certainly not a jaw-dropping revelation.

But in right-wing fantasyland, it's no doubt already become conventional wisdom that the feds have some kind of massive government-wide backup system that contains every email ever written by any federal employee. The Obama administration has just been hiding it.

Which is exactly what you'd expect from them, isn't it?

Quote of the Day: Congressmen and Crackpots

| Mon Aug. 25, 2014 7:07 PM EDT

From Jon Chait, responding to Paul Ryan's list of favorite books about economics and democracy—which notably fails to include his former favorite book, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged:

It seems the lesson Ryan has drawn from the harmful publicity surrounding his Rand fixation is not that he shouldn’t associate himself publicly with crackpot authors but merely that he should find different crackpot authors.

Here is Chait's description of Jude Wanniski's most famous book, which earns a place on Ryan's list.

The Way the World Works is a novel argument that the entire history of the world can be explained by changes of tax rates. The fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of the Nazis — Wanniski attempts to explain it all as a result of taxes. It is a work of genuine derangement on the same intellectual level as the sorts of unpublishable hand-scrawled diatribes that I used to scan through when I sorted the mail as a magazine intern.

But...but...but—look! Michael Moore!

Yes, Republicans Really Are Unprecedented in Their Obstructionism

| Mon Aug. 25, 2014 1:48 PM EDT

When we talk about Republican obstruction of judicial nominees in the Senate, the usual way is to look at filibusters and cloture votes. But that can sometimes be misleading, since cloture votes can happen for a variety of reasons. Or we can look at the raw number of seats filled. But that can be misleading too, since this can depend on how aggressive the president is about nominating new judges in the first place. A better way may be to simply look at how long nominees are delayed. That's easier to measure, and long delays mostly happen for only one reason: because the minority party is blocking floor votes.

Via Jonathan Bernstein, the chart on the right comes from @Mansfield2016. It shows pretty clearly what's happened to judicial nominees over the past couple of decades. Under George HW Bush, nominees that made it to the Senate floor were voted on almost immediately. The majority Democrats waited only a few days to schedule a vote.

That jumped suddenly when Bill Clinton became president and Republicans started delaying his nominees. Things settled down and delays plateaued during George W Bush's administration.

And then came Barack Obama. Once more delays spiked. Even after the rules were changed, delays have stayed high, averaging about 80 days. This is far higher than it was under Bush or Clinton. Bernstein comments:

I believe that Senate rules requiring super-majority cloture for judicial nominations are an excellent idea, provided the minority observes the Senate norm of using filibusters rarely. Unfortunately, Republicans simply haven’t abided by longstanding Senate norms. After Obama's election, they suddenly insisted that every nomination required 60 votes — an unprecedented hurdle. They blockaded multiple nominations to the DC Circuit Court. They have, before and after filibuster reform, used Senate rules to delay even nominations that they have intended ultimately to support. Since reform, they have imposed the maximum delay on every single judicial nominee.

Ideally, I'd like to see a compromise that restores the minority's ability to block selected judicial nominees. But right now, the more pressing concern is that if Republicans win a Senate majority in November, they may simply shut down all nominations for two full years. That would be absolutely outrageous. Yet it seems entirely plausible.

That final comment is what makes these numbers even more outrageous. It's fairly normal for a minority party to start delaying nominees in the final year or two of an administration. Obviously they're hoping to win the presidency soon and they want to leave as many seats open as possible for their guy to fill. This tends to inflate the average numbers for an administration.

But that hasn't happened yet for Obama. His numbers for his first five years are far, far higher than Bush's even though Bush's are inflated by delays during his final year in office. It's just another example of the fact that, no, both parties aren't equally at fault for the current level of government dysfunction. Republicans greeted Obama's inauguration with an active plan of maximal obstruction of everything he did, regardless of what it was or how necessary it might be in the face of an epic economic collapse. No other party in recent history has done that. It's a new thing under the sun.

This Time Is Different

| Mon Aug. 25, 2014 10:42 AM EDT

I was chatting with a friend about the relentless, one-sided hawkishness on display yesterday on the morning chat shows, and he responded:

The recurring "stay tuned for" loop are clips of McCain ("We never should have left"), Graham ("ISIS no longer JV"), Ryan ("What's the president's plan for eradicating ISIS?"). Over and over again. Nowhere are clips of people urging caution or restraint. War is great news, is action, is drama. Whether consciously or not, the media simply drives inevitably to pushing for a clash.

It's really beyond belief. Israel invades Lebanon and gets Hezbollah out of the deal. We arm the mujahideen and get the Taliban and Al Qaeda out of the deal. We depose Saddam Hussein and play kingmaker with Nouri al-Maliki, and we get ISIS out of the deal. But hey—this time is different. Really. This time we'll be done once and for all if we just go in and spend a decade wiping the theocratic butchers of ISIS off the map. This time there won't be any blowback. This time we'll fix the Middle East once and for all. This time things can't possibly get any worse. Right?

Of course, the hawks always have Munich, don't they? Always Munich. And so we need to fight. We need troops. We need leadership. And no one with political aspirations really wants to argue the point. There's no future in siding with the thugs, is there?

Besides, maybe this time really is different.

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Hating On Obamacare Not Really a Great Strategy for GOP Governors

| Mon Aug. 25, 2014 9:40 AM EDT

Does opposing Obamacare hurt you or help you if you're a Republican governor? To find out, Sam Wang took a look at nine Republican governors who were first elected in 2010 and are now running for reelection. The chart on the right tells the story. Governors who have resisted Medicaid expansion—a key part of Obamacare, and the one that most directly affects individual states—are generally doing poorly. Those who accepted Medicaid expansion are polling pretty well. However, Wang notes that Obamacare probably isn't entirely responsible for this divide:

Think of the Medicaid expansion as a “proxy variable,” one that is predictive of stands on many other issues. For example, even as Pennsylvania voters have trended toward the Democrats, Corbett got behind several radical redistricting schemes, cut education funding deeply, and compared gay marriage to incest. In Maine, LePage has called legislators idiots and state workers corrupt, told the N.A.A.C.P. to “kiss [his] butt,” and held multiple meetings with “sovereign citizens” who advocate secession. In short, if you’re too hard-core or offensive, some of your constituents can get turned off.

The Republicans Susana Martinez, of New Mexico, John Kasich, of Ohio, and Rick Snyder, of Michigan, look as strong as they did when they were first elected. All three accepted the Affordable Care Act and its Medicaid expansion....This stance by Martinez, Kasich, and Snyder has been predictive of their support of other issues with that have drawn support from both parties. Martinez and Kasich, for example, have pursued education-reform policies that have gained a lot of traction among both Democrats and Republicans. To the extent that governors hold on to their offices in close races, it may be because they have focussed on issues that are important to the voters in their states rather than the core views of their party.

In other words, refusing the Medicaid expansion is the mark of a true-believing wingnut, and that's not such a great place to be right now. Conversely, accepting the Medicaid expansion is the mark of a pragmatic conservative, and those folks have remained relatively popular.

Bonus Sunday Cat Blogging - 24 August 2014

| Sun Aug. 24, 2014 11:53 AM EDT

I've gotten several queries about how Mozart is doing, and as you might expect, the answer is that Mozart is delighted with his new home. Last night at dusk he was leaping around in my mother's native habitat garden and chasing all the little things that only cats can see at dusk. Everyone else is doing fine too. So as a bit of bonus catblogging, here's my mother's entire brood. From top to bottom, we have Mozart, Ditto, and Tillamook. Enjoy.

Friday Cat Blogging - 22 August 2014

| Fri Aug. 22, 2014 2:55 PM EDT

Here's Domino helping Marian with a bit of gardening in the front yard. The days may not be sunny and warm forever, so she's taking advantage of whatever ones are left to her.

Did Obamacare Wreck a Baseball Game?

| Fri Aug. 22, 2014 2:20 PM EDT

A few days ago, a Chicago Cubs game was called in the fifth inning after the grounds crew had so much trouble spreading a tarp that the field got soaked during a rain delay and play couldn't be continued. The Corner reveals what really happened:

Insiders at the ball club report that the real culprit is Obamacare. Because the Affordable Care Act requires offering health benefits to employees who work more than 130 hours per month or 30 hours a week (“full time”), the Cubs organization reorganized much of its staff during the off-season. Sources that spoke to the Chicago Sun-Times claimed that, on Tuesday night, the crew was drastically “undermanned.”

Huh. What do you think of that, Dean Baker?

The problem with this story is that employer sanctions are not in effect for 2014. In other words, the Cubs will not be penalized for not providing their ground crew with insurance this year even if they work more than 30 hours per week. Apparently the Cubs management has not been paying attention to the ACA rules. This is yet another example of the skills gap that is preventing managers from operating their businesses effectively.

Quite so. My guess is that this is just another installment in the long-running effort of American corporations to use Obamacare as a scapegoat for everything under the sun. Usually this has to do with raising copays for their employees or something like that, but the ingenuity of American capitalism knows no bounds. Why not blame a rain delay on Obamacare too?

For a more likely cause of penny pinching on the grounds crew, the Wall Street Journal has you covered.