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.

In July 2015 the New York Times reported that the Justice Department had opened a "criminal inquiry" into whether "Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive government information." This was apparently a mistake, and the article was quickly rewritten to say only that DOJ had opened an "investigation" into whether sensitive information had been mishandled "in connection with the personal email account Hillary Rodham Clinton used as secretary of state." A few days later the Times' public editor wrote a scathing summary of the paper's scoop:

Aspects of it began to unravel soon after it first went online....From Thursday night to Sunday morning — when a final correction appeared in print — the inaccuracies and changes in the story were handled as they came along, with little explanation to readers, other than routine corrections....Eventually, a number of corrections were appended to the online story, before appearing in print in the usual way — in small notices on Page A2. But you can’t put stories like this back in the bottle — they ripple through the entire news system.

So it was, to put it mildly, a mess....“We got it wrong because our very good sources had it wrong,” [editor Matt] Purdy told me. “That’s an explanation, not an excuse. We have an obligation to get facts right and we work very hard to do that.”

A few days later I wrote about this too, suggesting that the Times owed us a better explanation of what happened. This weekend they went some of the way there in an aside buried in their big story about James Comey, co-authored by two of the same reporters who wrote the original piece. Here's what they say:

On July 10, 2015, the F.B.I. opened a criminal investigation, code-named “Midyear,” into Mrs. Clinton’s handling of classified information....There was controversy almost immediately. Responding to questions from The Times, the Justice Department confirmed that it had received a criminal referral — the first step toward a criminal investigation — over Mrs. Clinton’s handling of classified information.

But the next morning, the department revised its statement. “The department has received a referral related to the potential compromise of classified information,” the new statement read. “It is not a criminal referral.”

At the F.B.I., this was a distinction without a difference: Despite what officials said in public, agents had been alerted to mishandled classified information and in response, records show, had opened a full criminal investigation.

If this is correct, it was a criminal investigation, and the Times didn't get it wrong. Rather, the Justice Department put up a smoke screen after news of the investigation had been leaked.

The second part of this remains fuzzy. Was the investigation specifically aimed at Hillary Clinton or was it only "in connection with" Hillary Clinton? It's pretty obvious that Clinton was, in fact, the primary target of the investigation, but the FBI also investigated many others in her orbit. So I'm not sure how to score this.

Overall, though, despite what I wrote and what the Times itself wrote, it appears that this wasn't an enormous screwup at all. There might have been a minor detail or two that was slightly wrong, but nothing central to the story itself.

The Congressional Budget Office says that Obamacare is in good shape:

Under current law, most subsidized enrollees purchasing health insurance coverage in the nongroup market are largely insulated from increases in premiums because their out-of-pocket payments for premiums are based on a percentage of their income; the government pays the difference. The subsidies to purchase coverage combined with the penalties paid by uninsured people stemming from the individual mandate are anticipated to cause sufficient demand for insurance by people with low health care expenditures for the market to be stable.

Insurance companies are starting to make money on Obamacare. Nearly 20 million people have health insurance because of Obamacare. Premiums will probably go up next year, but not by a huge amount. And even if they do go up, federal subsidies will shield most people from having to pay any more than this year. Because of all this, CBO believes that Obamacare will stay stable and strong:

President Trump tweeted the opposite today, saying once again that Obamacare was on the verge of failing. This is a lie, one that he's repeated over and over. Obamacare will fail only if he cuts off its funding.

The reason for this post isn't so much to mention that Trump lied again today. The sun also rose in the east, and I didn't write about that. It's to remind everyone—including me—to stop writing tweets and blog posts that say something like this:

Trump says Obamacare is in a death spiral. He's wrong.

When we repeat the lie, we just give it more exposure. The end result is that people vaguely know something about Obamacare and death spiral and controversial, and that's it. They don't really know who's right, they just know that they keep seeing stuff about Obamacare being in trouble.

So don't do it. Instead, just write the truth and then mention that Trump has lied about it.

Here's all you need to know about President Trump's tax plan:

Mr. Trump’s aides have been working on a detailed tax proposal, but that isn’t ready yet. The announcement on Wednesday is expected to focus instead on broader principles....Mr. Trump’s statement last week that he would announce details of his plan later this week caught his team off guard, said people familiar with the matter.

In other words, it's all theater. On Wednesday we'll get a vague description of "broader principles" that will include gigantic cuts in the top rates for both individuals and corporations, along with just enough eye candy for the middle class that Trump can pretend it's a tax cut for everyone. It will basically be a campaign document with a few extra tidbits so that Trump can claim to have released his "tax plan" during his first hundred days.

The benefit of staying vague, by the way, is that it's impossible to score his plan until every detail is filled in. Still, I expect the usual suspects at the Tax Foundation and the Tax Policy Center will try. So where do you think they'll end up? My guess is that it will cost $4 trillion, of which 95 percent will go to the top 10 percent. Enter your guess in comments. The winner gets the most precious thing I have to offer: a tweet that announces their victorious prediction.

Over at Vox, Sean Illing writes about how we think of rural America:

The media often conflates rurality and whiteness in this country. But this is a false — and misleading — narrative.

Roughly one-fifth of rural residents in this country are people of color, and their interests and political views are as diverse as they are. When coverage of rural areas dismisses or otherwise ignores this fact, actual political consequences follow: The specific concerns of certain communities simply fall out of view.

Illing talks about this with Mara Casey Tieken, a professor at Bates College, who says this:

I think policymakers that represent white communities have disproportionately more power than policymakers representing rural communities of color....I think the problem also becomes self-perpetuating because what gets covered is rural white America, so that shapes how people think about rural America, and those are the stories that get told over and over again.

I want to offer up a guess about one reason why "rural" is so associated with whiteness. Here it is:

When the media reports on rural America, the stories are usually about Ohio or Missouri or Indiana or Pennsylvania or Nebraska. "Rural" means the Midwest and the Rust Belt. And as you can see on the map, those places really are mostly white.

As Tieken says, this becomes self-perpetuating. The Midwest and the Rust Belt are politically interesting, so rural areas there get lots of coverage. That means we largely see rural America as white, and that in turn means that news items about non-white areas usually end up getting coded as something else: In the Deep South they become "race and the lingering effects of slavery" stories, and in the Southwest they become "Hispanic immigration and the changing demographics of America" stories.

Does this happen because of implicit bias among reporters and the rest of us? Or because the Midwest and the Rust Belt really are the interesting areas when it comes to politics (big populations, loud voices, plenty of swing voters)? Maybe both.

Lunchtime Photo

This is a composite beanbag photo. It's a beanbag photo because I set the camera on my beanbag (see here for explanation), which sat on the concrete ledge of an overpass. This allowed me to aim the camera precisely where I wanted and to keep it nice and stable even with an exposure time of one second. There was no way a tripod could have fit where I needed it to.

It's a composite photo because I took a lot of shots from precisely the same spot (thanks to the beanbag). Then I chose the best freeway shot and used Photoshop to lay it on top of the best sunset shot. If you look very closely, you might be able to tell where the two shots merge, but you have to be pretty eagle-eyed.