Is Donald Trump committed to NATO? Here's what the press says about that today:
New York Times: "President Trump on Thursday once again refused to explicitly endorse NATO’s mutual defense pledge, instead lecturing European leaders on what he called their 'chronic underpayments' to the military alliance."
Wall Street Journal: "Mr. Trump’s refusal to say he supports NATO’s common defense provision, known as Article 5, left European diplomats dismayed."
The Washington Post: "Trump refuses to back NATO Article 5." (This is from memory. It was something like that.)
The Washington Post quickly realized it was practicing pack journalism and rewrote their story. It doesn't even mention Article 5 anymore.
As well it shouldn't. At today's unveiling of an Article 5 memorial at NATO headquarters, Trump said this about the aftermath of 9/11: "Our NATO allies responded swiftly and decisively, invoking for the first time in its history the Article 5 collective defense commitments." Later he added: "This twisted mass of metal reminds us not only of what we have lost but also what forever endures: the courage of our people, the strength of our resolve, and the commitments that bind us together as one. We will never forget the lives that were lost, we will never forsake the friends who stood by our side."
It's true that Trump didn't explictly say "We stand behind Article 5," but it's hard to read his comments any other way. Within a few minutes Sean Spicer confirmed this:
Spicer says Trump wasn't trying to be cute at NATO, the U.S. is 100% committed to Article 5 - per @JenniferJJacobs
Everyone needs to calm down. Sure, Trump probably was trying to be cute. Alternatively, the failure to repeat our commitment to Article 5 might have been yet another example of Trump's ham-handed approach to negotiation, trying to create leverage for more defense spending by making everyone in Europe nervous. Or it could be nothing more than Trump's familiar resolve never to back down: If they want him to say he's committed to Article 5, then that's the one thing he won't say. (He also insisted on doubling down on his much-mocked description of terrorists as "losers," for example.) Or maybe Trump is just being a dick. He wants attention, and this is a way to get it.
Still, he was clear enough, and his press secretary was as explicit as he could be afterward. What's more, before the speech his Secretary of State said without qualification, "Of course we support Article 5." Campaign bluster aside, there's really no indication that the Trump administration is any less committed to NATO than previous administrations. Here's the whole speech:
The US intelligence community has screwed up. Someone (or multiple someones) passed along British intel about the Manchester bombing to US reporters before it had been publicly released. This is bad for at least three reasons:
It quite possibly impedes an active investigation.
It pisses off British intelligence.
It gives Donald Trump a very reasonable excuse to demand an investigation into leaking from our intelligence agencies.
This is a bit like the reporters who fail to verify their stories properly and end up making mistakes. It might not happen very often, but it gives Trump ammunition for his claims that the media is out to get him with endless fake news. For that reason, reporters in the age of Trump need to be doubly careful about what they write.
If the intel community is smart, it will figure out where these leaks came from and fire someone fast. But are they smart?
UPDATE: I'm using "intel community" in a very broad sense here since we don't know where the leak came from. It includes the FBI, which recent reporting has suggested is the most likely culprit.
Earlier this month I passed along a note from Matthew Fiedler of the Brookings Institution. Long story short, he suggested that the Republican health care bill would do more than eliminate community rating only for folks who failed to maintain continuous coverage.1 He theorized that once a separate set of rates was set up, insurers could open it up to anyone. Since this second rate schedule would be medically underwritten—i.e., based on health status—it would be very cheap for young, healthy folks. In the end, healthy consumers would all gravitate to the medically-underwritten rates while unhealthy consumers would be stuck with the higher community-rated prices. Over time, the difference between these rates would grow, which means that anyone with a pre-existing condition would end up paying much higher rates than similar healthy people.
This was an interesting suggestion, but since then I haven't heard anyone else support Fiedler's argument. Until today, that is. AHCA allows states to apply for waivers from two provisions of Obamacare. The first is the requirement to provide essential health benefits. The Congressional Budget Office describes the other waiver:
A second type of waiver would allow insurers to set premiums on the basis of an individual’s health status if the person had not demonstrated continuous coverage; that is, the waiver would eliminate the requirement for what is termed community rating for premiums charged to such people. CBO and JCT anticipate that most healthy people...would be able to choose between premiums based on their own expected health care costs (medically underwritten premiums) and premiums based on the average health care costs...(community-rated premiums).
....CBO and JCT expect that, as a consequence, the waivers in those states would have another effect: Community-rated premiums would rise over time, and people who are less healthy (including those with preexisting or newly acquired medical conditions) would ultimately be unable to purchase comprehensive nongroup health insurance at premiums comparable to those under current law, if they could purchase it at all....As a result, the nongroup markets in those states would become unstable for people with higher-than-average expected health care costs.
So the CBO expects precisely the result that Fiedler predicted. This is genuinely big news and deserves wider reporting. For all practical purposes, AHCA eliminates the requirement that insurers charge the same rates to everyone, even those with pre-existing conditions. They still can't flatly turn you down, but they can do the next best thing: make insurance so expensive for those with pre-existing conditions that most people can't afford it. That's especially harmful since the subsidies under AHCA are so skimpy.
This provision of AHCA has no direct budgetary impact, so it ought to get tossed out by the Senate parliamentarian.2 We'll have to wait and see how that turns out.
1"Community rating" is the requirement that everyone pays the same price for insurance, even if they have a pre-existing condition.
2AHCA is being passed as a reconciliation bill. These bills are only allowed to address issues that directly affect the federal budget.
Here in California, our insurance commissioner has asked all health insurers for two sets of rate hike requests: one that assumes the CSR subsidies continue and one that assumes they don't. We won't get the rate requests for several weeks, but I expect that we'll see the same kind of difference. At a guess, average rate increase requests will be around 6 percent with CSR and 15 percent without.
Just to be crystal clear about this: What this means is that if Republicans stop screwing around with CSR, rate hikes nationwide would probably be in the 5-10 percent range, which is fairly normal. It also shows that the market has started to stabilize after last year's big increases. The only reason we're likely to see another year of big increases is because of a deliberate campaign to undermine the Obamacare market by Republicans.
Greg Gianforte is running for the House seat in Montana left open when Ryan Zinke was named Secretary of the Interior. It turns out he really, really doesn't like being asked what he thinks of the CBO's score of the Republican health care bill:
As you can see, under old AHCA the number of poor with no insurance rose from 15-20 percent under Obamacare to 30-40 percent under AHCA. But under new AHCA, it's more like 29-39 percent. Hot diggity! Here are a few other numbers:
Old AHCA reduced the deficit by $150 billion (over ten years). New AHCA reduces the deficit by $119 billion.
Old AHCA took away insurance from 24 million people (by 2026). New AHCA takes it away from 23 million.
Old AHCA cut Medicaid by $839 billion (over ten years). New AHCA cuts Medicaid by $834 billion.
Under old AHCA, a low-income 64-year-old paid an annual premium of $14,600. Under new AHCA, the premium is $16,100. On the bright side, states that take advantage of new AHCA's permission to gut essential benefits can get that all the way down to $13,600. This compares to $1,700 under Obamacare.
Those are some mighty big changes, aren't they? You can certainly understand why the (former) head of the Republican "moderate" caucus worked so hard to revive AHCA and make these adjustments. It's like a whole new bill.
This is my neighborhood a little after sunrise. Marian loves this picture and insisted that I put it up. I took it several weeks ago, and I can't remember quite why I was up and about at such an ungodly hour.
You can't see our house, however. As I recall, the houses on the water cost about a third more than the houses that backed up to the main street, so we bought a house that backed up to the main street. This used to be something of a pain, because the dog people walked their dogs early in the morning right outside our bedroom window, and their dogs would all bark at each other when they passed by. For some reason that stopped a few years ago. Perhaps there was some big community meeting where the dog people and the late risers had it out once and for all. If so, I was blissfully unaware of the whole thing. Whatever the reason, it's pretty quiet these days except when the crows start squawking. I don't know what has them so upset lately, but they've sure been making a racket for the past couple of weeks.
The median home price in Los Angeles County has reached the all-time high set in 2007, a milestone that follows five years of steady recovery but comes amid renewed concerns over housing affordability. Home prices rose nearly 6% in April from a year earlier, hitting the $550,000 level where the median plateaued in summer 2007 before a sharp decline that bottomed out in 2012.
....Orange County surpassed its pre-bust high last year, and in April set a new record of $675,000. San Diego County also exceeded its pre-bust peak for the first time last month, as the median price — the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less — climbed 7.4% to $525,000.
Inflation has risen 20 percent since 2007, so this means home prices in Southern California haven't really set a record. They're still 20 percent away from that. Here's how CoreLogic scores the current housing market compared to its bubble peak:
So things look OK. Loan delinquencies are low, credit scores have remained high, and national housing prices are high but not stratospheric.
And yet...Southern California, Arizona, and Florida are all overvalued. That's three out of the four states that led the bubble in 2006. Even Texas, which avoided the last bubble, is looking high. And anecdotally, homes are selling pretty fast around here.
This is the kind of thing that makes me think we might be back into a recession by 2018. The expansion is nine years old, unemployment is about as low as it can get, housing prices are increasing at a good clip, auto sales are anemic, and corporate profits are rising steeply. On the other side of the ledger, economic growth and wage growth are pretty modest, and there are no signs of an oil price spike around the corner.
I dunno. Things just feel a little fragile right now. But maybe I'm off base.
Pentagon officials are in shock after the release of a transcript between President Donald Trump and his Philippines counterpart reveals that the US military had moved two nuclear submarines towards North Korea. “We never talk about subs!” three officials told BuzzFeed News, referring to the military's belief that keeping submarines' movement stealth is key to their mission.
....By announcing the presence of nuclear submarines, the president, some Pentagon officials privately explained, gives away the element of surprise — an irony given his repeated declarations during the campaign that the US announces far too many of its military plans when it comes to combatting ISIS.
Moreover, some countries in the region, particularly China, seek to develop their anti-sub capability. Knowing that two US submarines are in the region could allow them to test their own military capabilities.
Needless to say, Trump wasn't expecting that his conversation would be leaked. But these things happen—along with other ways that private conversations can end up in the wrong hands—which is why presidents don't just casually drop military secrets into meetings with foreigners for no better reason than to make themselves look tough. This is now (at least) the second time Trump has done this, and there's a price to pay:
1/2 Why Trump’s “we’ve sent the subs!” gaffe can be so damaging:
Now that CN/RUS *know* US subs were there, can go back & calibrate sensors. pic.twitter.com/iSRk3pD8RK
We're quickly reaching the point where intelligence agencies, both foreign and domestic, are going to start withholding information from Trump because they don't trust him to keep his yap shut. We might already be there, for all I know.