One of the surprising things about the CBO score of AHCA, the Republican health care bill, is their conclusion that premiums will fall starting in 2020. By 2026, average premiums will be 10 percent lower than they would be under Obamacare. But why? Here's CBO:

First, the mix of people enrolled in coverage obtained in the nongroup market is anticipated to be younger, on average, than the mix under current law. Second, premiums, on average, are estimated to fall because of the elimination of actuarial value requirements, which would result in plans that cover a lower share of health care costs, on average.

....By 2026, CBO and JCT project, premiums in the nongroup market would be 20 percent to 25 percent lower for a 21-year-old and 8 percent to 10 percent lower for a 40-year-old—but 20 percent to 25 percent higher for a 64-year-old.

Hmmm. Let's translate this into English. First, CBO assumes that premiums will go up for old people, forcing many of them to drop out of the market. Since old people have expensive premiums, fewer old people means the average for the remaining pool will be lower.1 Second, AHCA policies will cover far less of your medical expenses, so naturally they'll be cheaper.

The chart below shows how this "reduces" average premiums. If you use CBO's projections and do a little arithmetic assuming a modestly younger pool, you get the average premium estimate for the overall pool shown on the left. AHCA is cheaper than Obamacare.

But the current age breakdown in the Obamacare insurance pool is 28 percent young, 38 percent middle-aged, and 26 percent old. What if you assume that stays the same? You get the premium estimates in the middle.

Finally, what if you assume that AHCA paid for 87 percent of your medical bills, just like Obamacare? Then you get the premium estimate on the right.

In other words, if you compare apples to apples, AHCA produces far higher overall premiums than Obamacare.2

Note that CBO didn't do anything wrong here. They simply did their projections based on a (correct) assumption that AHCA would be too expensive for many old people and would produce crappier policies that had higher deductibles and paid far less of your medical bills. The "average" premium is lower, but obviously not in a way that helps anybody in real life.3

1Think about it this way. If a high school sends all its A students to a magnet school across town, the school's average GPA will go down. This is despite the fact that nobody's grades have actually changed.

2This is a fairly extreme example because the actuarial value changes a lot (87 percent vs. 65 percent) for the cheaper policies preferred by low-income folks. CBO has a second example that uses a middle-class worker, and it produces similar but less dramatic results.

3Hardly anybody, that is. If you're young and don't get any medical care, then the lower premiums really do help you.

Before everyone goes too far down the rabbit hole on President Trump's "Obama had my wires tapped" tweet, I just want to remind everyone that this is what he said:

We've known almost from the start—because White House sources have confirmed it—that Trump based his tweet on a summary of a Mark Levin radio rant published in Breitbart News on March 3. The article is a timeline of "the known steps taken by President Barack Obama’s administration in its last months to undermine Donald Trump’s presidential campaign." Here's the bit that Trump was almost certainly talking about:

4. October: FISA request. The Obama administration submits a new, narrow request to the FISA court, now focused on a computer server in Trump Tower suspected of links to Russian banks. No evidence is found — but the wiretaps continue, ostensibly for national security reasons, Andrew McCarthy at National Review later notes. The Obama administration is now monitoring an opposing presidential campaign using the high-tech surveillance powers of the federal intelligence services.

Trump had "just found out" about this because he doesn't read Slate, where the story of the suspicious server was first published, and the rest of the media didn't give it much coverage. The "Obama" part is Trump's typical attack dog mode. The FBI investigated the server but found no evidence of wrongdoing, and Obama himself was never involved. "Trump Tower" is because that's where the suspicious server was. And the Slate piece ran on October 31, "just before the victory."

Since Trump's tweet first burst on the world, the White House communications team has feverishly looked for news sources other than Breitbart that they can credibly name as the source of Trump's tweet. But none of them fit. The DNC hacks had nothing to do with Trump Tower. The Trump "dossier" had nothing to do with surveillance. The general investigation of Trump's aides and their ties to Russia has been ongoing since summer, and Trump had known about it for months. He didn't "just" find out about it. Finally, British news outlets ran stories claiming that the FBI had asked for a FISA warrant to examine Trump aides, but this wouldn't involve Obama personally even if it did happen—and Trump made it clear in multiple tweets that he was accusing Obama personally of ordering the surveillance.

Bottom line: Trump is talking about the FBI's brief investigation of a server in Trump Tower that communicated with a Russian bank. He read about it in Breitbart News the day before his tweet. That's it. He has no evidence that Obama had anything to do with it; that it involved any surveillance of him personally; or, for that matter, that it involved any actual surveillance at all. Just a Breitbart piece based on a Mark Levin harangue based on a British story based on "two separate sources with links to the counter-intelligence community" that has never been confirmed by any of the legions of extremely sharp national security reporters based in the United States.

There is nothing more to this.

I've been so busy taking pictures of other stuff that I haven't had time this week to take very many cat pictures. But here's Hilbert sitting by the door pondering whether to go out into the backyard. He always does, but he often has to think about it long and hard before making his move.

Asia:

Germany:

Great Britain:

Ireland

I'll bet the Rt Hon Chris Patten is required by his employment contract to use the Oxford comma.

Yesterday a reader sent me an email asking, "Is there a more 'you' story in the news right now than this"? The story in question was a court decision that hinged on a Maine law that lacked an Oxford comma, but I got busy with other stuff and never read it. So here it is:

What ensued in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and in a 29-page court decision handed down on Monday, was an exercise in high-stakes grammar pedantry that could cost a dairy company in Portland, Me., an estimated $10 million.

....The debate over commas is often a pretty inconsequential one, but it was anything but for the truck drivers. Note the lack of Oxford comma — also known as the serial comma — in the following state law, which says overtime rules do not apply to:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

Does the law intend to exempt the distribution of the three categories that follow, or does it mean to exempt packing for the shipping or distribution of them?

Shockingly, this lack of an Oxford comma wasn't just sloppiness. Apparently the Maine Legislative Drafting Manual is very clear that Oxford commas shouldn't be used except in rare cases. What idiots! If there's anyplace in the world that ought to embrace the Oxford comma, it's the legislative process. Legislation is mostly impenetrable anyway, so even if you think the Oxford comma is ugly, who cares?

In any case, I'd like to point out that a surprising number of court cases hinge on "grammar pedantry." Or syntax pedantry or dictionary pedantry or various other kinds of linguistic pedantry. Is a "penalty" enforced through the tax code a fine, which would be illegal, or a tax, which would be legal? One Supreme Court justice changed his mind on this crucial question in 2012, and saved Obamacare. Millions of people now have health insurance because of linguistic pedantry.

And before you ask, I am pleased to report that Mother Jones officially endorses the Oxford comma in its style guide. Everyone else should too.

The Trumpies just don't know when to quit:

The White House has tried to soothe an angry Britain after suggesting that President Barack Obama used London’s spy agency to conduct secret surveillance on President Trump while he was a candidate last year.

....Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, spoke with Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to Washington, on Thursday night to try to smooth over the unusual rupture between the United States and its closest international ally. The White House said it would issue a statement later on Friday morning.

The flap started when Mr. Spicer, in the course of defending Mr. Trump’s unsubstantiated accusation that Mr. Obama had ordered the future president’s phones tapped last year, read from the White House lectern comments by a Fox News commentator asserting that the British spy agency was involved. Andrew Napolitano, the commentator, said on air that Mr. Obama had used Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, the signals agency known as the GCHQ, to spy on Mr. Trump.

It's like I said yesterday: Trump needs to get it through his head that he's now the president of the United States. It's not Rosie O'Donnell he's feuding with anymore. When he tosses off random crap because he's bored and wants attention—and then refuses to back down because Donald Trump never backs down—he wastes everyone's time and risks far more than just his own tattered reputation.

The result so far of Trump's obvious lie is that the Senate is wasting time pretending to investigate; the House is wasting time pretending to investigate; the Justice Department is wasting time responding to the House and Senate; the conservative media is wasting time inventing ever more crap to defend Trump's original crap; the White House communications shop is wasting time desperately trying to research spin to back up their boss; and the prime minister of Great Britain is pissed off. All because Trump got bored one morning. What a cock-up.

Today was the great Meals on Wheels debacle. Politico's framing was typical:

Mulvaney: Proposed cuts to Meals on Wheels are compassionate to taxpayers

White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney on Thursday defended the Trump administration’s proposed deep cuts to social welfare programs....“Meals on Wheels sounds great,” Mulvaney said during the White House news briefing, adding that “we're not going to spend [money] on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.”

This take quickly went viral. But Meals on Wheels is a program that delivers hot and cold meals to elderly people who can't get out of the house. Did Mulvaney really say that he was showing compassion by cutting a tiny part of the federal budget for a program that helps feed the elderly? If you were writing a satire designed to show that Republicans were all heartless bastards, you still wouldn't invent something like that. It would be too ridiculous to work even as black humor.

I would hardly put anything beyond the Trump administration at this point, but hell, this is bad PR. They have too much animal shrewdness to do this even if they wanted to. And it turns out, they didn't. Here's what really happened:

  1. The Department of Housing and Urban Development runs a program called Community Development Block Grants. It's exactly what it sounds like. It provides funds to states that they can use for a variety of approved purposes.
     
  2. Last year, the Obama administration recommended cutting its budget from $3 billion to $2.8 billion.
     
  3. This year, Mulvaney proposed that the program be eliminated entirely. Here's what the Trump budget has to say about it:

Eliminates funding for the Community Development Block Grant program, a savings of $3 billion from the 2017 annualized CR level. The Federal Government has spent over $150 billion on this block grant since its inception in 1974, but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results. The Budget devolves community and economic development activities to the State and local level, and redirects Federal resources to other activities.

  1. Some bright bulb noticed that a few states use a small portion of their HUD CDBG money to fund Meals on Wheels. Actually, small isn't the right word. Microscopic is the the right word. Elderly nutrition programs like Meals on Wheels receive about $700 million from other government sources—most of which aren't targeted one way or the other in the Trump budget—but hardly anything from CDBG grants.

  2. Here is Mulvaney's full quote after getting a question that, for some reason, focused on Meals on Wheels:

Housing and Urban Development, and the Community Development Block Grants, aren't exclusively about housing. They support a variety of different programs, including, in part, Meals on Wheels. In Austin Texas today, one organization there that delivers those meals to thousands of elderly, says that those citizens will no longer be able to be provided those meals. So what do you say to those American who are ultimately losing out?

As you know, Meals on Wheels is not a federal program. It's part of the CDBGs, the block grants, that we give to the states. And there have been many states that have made the decision to use that money for Meals on Wheels.

Here's what I can tell you about CDBGs, because that's what we fund, is that we've spent $150 billion on those programs since the 1970s. The CDBGs have been identified as programs by the second Bush administration as ones that were just not showing any results. We can't do that anymore. We can't spend money on programs just because they sound good. And great, Meals on Wheels sounds great. Again, that's a state decision to fund that particular program.

But to take federal money and give it to the states and say we want to give you money for programs that don't work, I can't defend that anymore. We cannot defend that anymore. We're $20 trillion in debt, we're going to spend money, we're going to spend a lot of money, but we're not going to spend it on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we've made to people.

Note how far apart those two snippets are. A second reporter then followed up several minutes later, using Meals on Wheels as an example yet again, and asked if this was a "hard-hearted budget." Mulvaney said no, he thought it was compassionate to stop taxing people to pay for programs that don't work.

Mulvaney, obviously, wasn't saying that Meals on Wheels doesn't work. He was saying that CDBGs don't work. Meals on Wheels might be great, but community grants aren't, and he wants to eliminate them. But by smushing together three quotes delivered at three different points, it sounds like Mulvaney was gleefully killing off food for the elderly.

I'm no expert on community block grants. I don't know if they're a good idea or not. And God knows the Trump "skinny budget" is a disgraceful piece of work for the richest country on the planet. But spinning this as "Mulvaney guts Meals on Wheels" is pretty ridiculous. The vast majority of federal funding for Meals on Wheels—which comes via HHS's Administration on Aging, not HUD's CDBGs—remains intact. Someone managed to plant this idea with reporters, and more power to them. Good job! But reporters ought to be smart enough not to fall for it.

Nancy LeTourneau suggests that Donald Trump is surprised that we're all still talking about his accusation that President Obama had him wiretapped during the campaign:

In the two weeks since he sent those tweets, both the media and members of Congress have gone on a fishing expedition to investigate his claims. It’s clear he was lying. But during an interview last night with Tucker Carlson, Trump indicated that he wants to move on....Instead of acknowledging the obvious, he promises to produce (non-existent) evidence that he was right. It will all come to light sometime in the future.

....Trump’s pattern is to pretend that evidence to support his lies is forthcoming and assume that our collective attention span is as short as his when it fails to materialize.

This is a lesson Trump learned during his decades as a B-list celebrity. If you say something outrageous, it will get you attention from the Page Six crowd but it won't last long. It doesn't especially matter if it's true or not true. It's entertainment, and as long as it drives traffic it's all good. In a few days it will get eclipsed by something else and everyone will lose interest.

Without giving it much thought, Trump probably figured the same was true of politics. And it is—but only up to a point. Even as a presidential candidate Trump could count on outrages dying out fairly quickly. But not as president. That's the point where it's not entertainment anymore.

Backbenchers in Congress can count on reporters getting bored with their dumb lies in a day or two. For senators and committee chairs it's a few days. For Paul Ryan it's a week. For cabinet members a couple of weeks tops. But for the president? Who knows? Weeks can stretch into months, and you never know when something will pop up years later to remind the press to badger you about it yet again. It's a whole different world than Page Six.

Over at The Corner, Ericka Andersen writes: "More and more liberal Americans are embracing socialism. Unfortunately, it seems many of them aren’t aware of the realities that citizens in countries like Venezuela face."

That got me curious. Is it true that more and more liberal Americans are embracing socialism? I couldn't find a whole lot on the subject, but Gallup has asked a few times recently whether people have a positive image of socialism. And in 2015 they asked whether people would vote for a socialist. Here are the results:

This isn't much. Maybe ANES has some longer-term trends on this? Still, the Gallup polls don't suggest any overall recent warming toward socialism. If liberals really are getting seduced by the red menace, some other group must be making up for it.

So what's going on? A few recent polls have gotten a lot of attention for reporting that millennials prefer socialism to capitalism, but I doubt they really mean much. For one thing, we have no idea if this is anything new. For another, millennials polled in 2016 probably figured that socialist meant "Bernie Sanders." But Bernie's no socialist, no matter what he calls himself.1 He's a European-style social democrat, just like me.

If I hear millennials starting to talk about nationalizing the banks and having the feds take over the steel mills, then it might be time to wonder what's going on. Until then, I think the answer is: nothing.

1I don't know what he believes in his heart of hearts, of course. In practice, however, he's a pretty standard issue social democrat. So are lots of American liberals. Bernie is just more vocal about getting there right now than most of them. That's one of the benefits of having a safe seat in Vermont.

I'm just having fun with the new camera and some Photoshopping today. Here is Ansel Adams, updated for suburban Southern California:

The next one is the result of some filter or other that I can't remember, in combination with some random color swapping. It almost seems like Vermont in October instead of Southern California in winter, doesn't it?