• Friday Cat Blogging – 18 January 2019

    This is Hopper in the backyard, probably keeping an eye on Marian while she does some gardening. Hopper doesn’t really approve of gardening, I think. Every leaf plucked and every branch pruned is a potential toy lost forever.

  • Donald Trump Accidentally Gave Obamacare More Money. Now He Wants to Take It Away.

    Ha ha ha. A couple of years ago, as part of his jihad against Obamacare, Donald Trump decided to end something called Cost Sharing Reductions. These were payments made to insurers to offset the cost of covering low-income customers.

    This is exactly the kind of dick move you’d expect Trump to make. But there’s a catch. Trump is also an idiot, so he hadn’t bothered to read a report from the CBO explaining that, on net, eliminating CSR would end up costing the government more and making insurance more affordable. Over a ten-year period, CBO projected that it would add $194 billion to Obamacare spending. I guess no one else in the White House had read the CBO report either. But I had, and on that basis I decided I was all in favor of killing off CSR.

    You’ll never believe what happened next: the CBO was right! Through an arcane practice called “silver loading,” premiums became cheaper for almost everyone and coverage became broader. Did Trump ever notice that his act of malice had backfired? There’s no telling. After all, it involves complicated stuff like numbers and dollar signs, which he’s never been good at.

    However, after two years, apparently someone has finally noticed that people are benefiting from this, and naturally that can’t be tolerated. On Thursday, CMS, run by the reptilian Seema Verma, who has never met a helpful program that she likes, released its annual Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters (NBPP). It recommended re-funding CSR, and Andrew Sprung has a question:

    Is this not the first time the Trump administration has explicitly (or at least formally) called for a Congressional appropriation to fund CSR the old way — by reimbursing insurers directly for providing it? That seems significant to me, and raises the question of whether last year’s Alexander-Murray legislation, purporting to strengthen the ACA marketplace, might be revived in a divided Congress.

    Given that we now know the benefits of repealing CSR, Sprung makes an obvious suggestion: if Trump wants to bring it back to life, Democrats need to demand that they get something of equal value in return. Maybe that would be more generous reinsurance funding. Maybe it would be more generous premium subsidies. Or maybe it would be a simple deal to cap premiums all the way up to 500-600 percent of the poverty level (the current cap ends at 400 percent of the poverty level).

    Would Trump actually be willing to negotiate this? Since it would end up helping people via Obamacare, I’d guess not. But you never know. It’s worth a try.

  • Walls Don’t Stop Caravans of Thousands

    President Trump has a warning:

    It’s a funny thing. Trump keeps going on about his hobbyhorse wall, but as we all know, last year’s caravan from the Honduras marched straight up through Mexico along the longest route possible in order to end up in the very area with the biggest, most secure wall we have: San Diego. What’s more, as the map below shows, that’s exactly where the Army figured they’d go. And the alternate routes were all big cities with walls too: El Paso, Piedras Negras, Laredo, McAllen, and Brownsville:

    These migrant caravans are positively enthralled by the wall we already have! And they’re really easy to stop: When they get to Tijuana—or whatever legal port of entry they’re heading for—you just refuse to let them in so they can apply for asylum. Piece of cake.

    So if there is another caravan on its way, there’s no point in building a wall to stop them. No caravan of thousands of men, women, and children is going to cross the US border in the middle of the Mojave Desert or the Arizona Plateau. Their destination is a legal port of entry where they can apply for asylym, and those places already have walls. So maybe we can stop burbling on about the wall and instead do something about our asylum process?

  • BuzzFeed: Trump Instructed Cohen to Lie to Congress

    Go Nakamura via ZUMA

    We already know that Michael Cohen lied to Congress when he testified that all negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow had ended by January 2016. In fact, negotiations continued at least through the summer of 2016, as President Trump himself has acknowledged. But did Cohen make up this lie all by himself in order to protect Trump? Today, BuzzFeed News says no. He lied because Trump told him to:

    President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

    Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen.

    ….The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.

    Is it against the law to tell someone to lie to Congress? If I were Congress, I’d certainly think poorly of such things. This was part of the charges against Nixon during Watergate, wasn’t it? Conspiracy, suborning perjury, something like that.

    I’ll let my betters weigh in before I say any more. But this report certainly kicks up the impeachment chatter a notch.

  • Trump: “Not One Dollar” For Puerto Rico

    Yuisa Rios/Planet Pix via ZUMA

    Back when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, there was a lot of talk about how President Trump was taking it a lot less seriously than two other hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, which hit areas that were, um, a little whiter than Puerto Rico. But according to the Washington Post, it was actually a whole lot worse than that:

    Trump told then-White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and then-Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney that he did not want a single dollar going to Puerto Rico, because he thought the island was misusing the money and taking advantage of the government, according to a person with direct knowledge of the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive internal deliberations. Instead, he wanted more of the money to go to Texas and Florida, the person said. “POTUS was not consolable about this,” the person said.

    Not one dollar! And apparently it was impossible to change his mind about this.¹ Finally, in December, HUD Deputy Secretary Pam Patenaude told Trump’s people that the president had no choice:

    Patenaude told White House budget officials during an early December meeting in the Situation Room that the money had been appropriated by Congress and must be sent, according to two people with direct knowledge of the meeting. She assured them that HUD had proper oversight of the funds.

    This is all part of a longish story about Patenaude, who effectively runs HUD because Ben Carson has no idea what he’s doing. But she’s leaving now, finally beaten down by having to deal with the idiocy and incompetence surrounding her on all sides:

    Patenaude’s departure reflects a broader pattern of political appointees with expertise who are leaving the administration. Her confidants say there was not one blowup that precipitated her resignation but rather a series of incidents that left her feeling frustrated. The former HUD employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to damage working relationships with the agency, characterized Patenaude’s job as “pushing this rock uphill over and over again only to have it fall back down.”

    In engineering terms, a destruction test is a process designed to apply more and more pressure until you finally find an object’s breaking point. It feels like that’s what we’re doing to the United States government right now. Luckily, it takes a lot more than four years of Donald Trump to break the nation. I’m not so sure about eight years, though.

    ¹I’m assuming that’s what “not consolable” means here. Trumpies sure do speak a weird language.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    Where’s the rain? My sister lives in Long Beach and she says she’s getting big rain. My mother lives in Garden Grove and she’s getting hail. But here in Irvine it’s just drizzle. I’ve been waiting for some serious rain because I had some picture ideas in mind for it, and this week was supposed to bring it. Instead, nothing. Phooey.

    In the meantime, here’s an alstroermeria in our backyard, taken during last month’s single day of good rain.

    December 6, 2018 — Irvine, California
  • The Trumpire Strikes Back

    Nancy Pelosi asked Donald Trump to postpone his State of the Union address until after the government shutdown is over. That’s hardball, folks! But don’t think that Trump can’t play a little hardball too:

    Hah! That’ll show her! I can see in my mind’s eye Trump spending a couple of hours writing this letter and then adding little fillips to it. “Hey how about excursion? That’ll piss her off. Hee hee. And can we put public relations event in there somewhere? Oh man, this is so great.”

  • Public Sector Contract Negotiations Should Be Transparent

    Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via ZUMA

    I am generally pro-union, but then again, I’m also pro-taxpayer, which puts me in a bit of a difficult position when it comes to public-employee unions. The fundamental problem is simple: most unions bargain with a management group that’s entirely independent. They duke it out, and eventually come to an agreement that probably gives workers a decent deal and probably doesn’t bankrupt the company.

    But it’s different in the public sector, where “management” consists of elected officials who often rely on the unions for campaign donations and doorbell ringing. There isn’t really a clean separation between workers and management.

    There are various ways to improve this state of affairs, and one of them is to make negotiations more transparent. Bob Wickers and Sam Coleman are a couple of conservatives who belong to an anti-public-sector-union organization, but they still make a good point in the LA Times today:

    Even though taxpayers will have to fund whatever agreement is ultimately reached, the public knows virtually nothing about the proceedings….Transparency in negotiations involving public employee unions is prohibited by law in California, which means voters never know how public officials are performing one of their most important jobs.

    It doesn’t have to be this way….There was a time in California when transparency wasn’t barred by statute, however, and a number of cities adopted so-called COIN laws, which stands for Civic Openness in Negotiations. In 2012, Costa Mesa was the first to adopt such a law, and Orange County, Beverly Hills, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Pacific Palisades and Rancho Palos Verdes soon followed. This newspaper editorialized in favor of Los Angeles adopting its own transparency law after witnessing politicians signing off on city employee pay raises and other benefits “with little public vetting of the contracts or debate over the costs and long-term budget impact.”

    But it wasn’t to be. Seeing COIN as a growing threat to their ability to negotiate favorable contracts, government unions pressured their friends in Sacramento to shut it down. In 2015, the California Legislature passed, and the governor signed into law, a bill by then-Sen. Tony Mendoza that barred municipalities from adopting COIN laws.

    In private-sector negotiations, perhaps the public has no right to know what the two sides are haggling over. But in public-sector negotiations, where taxpayers are ultimately paying for the final contract, it sure seems like they do. It would undoubtedly create a mess as the noise machines cranked up to misrepresent every paragraph, clause, and sentence in the proposals, but we live with that kind of mess all the time. On the bright side, both sides would also be a little embarrassed to be caught making ridiculous demands, so those would fade away and perhaps contracts could be negotiated a little faster.

    I’m not a transparency purist. Sometimes things get done better when everyone has a chance to privately suggest compromises that their own supporters would hate. But transparency in a case like this is a good idea. If I’m going to support one side or the other in, say, the LA Teachers strike, I’d sure like to know for sure what both sides are asking for and offering.

  • Quote of the Day: Hey, Maybe There Was a Bit of Light Collusion After All

    Mikhail Klimentyev/Zuma

    Rudy Giuliani, who seems like he’s been eating serious quantities of lead chips lately, got into a fight on CNN last night:

    Rudolph W. Giuliani claimed Wednesday night that he “never said there was no collusion” between President Trump’s campaign and Russia leading up to the 2016 presidential election….“I said the president of the United States,” he protested, arguing that he had only ever said Trump himself was not connected to any Russian meddling in the 2016 election. “There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you can commit here, conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC.”

    ….“I represent only President Trump not the Trump campaign,” he said in a statement. “There was no collusion by President Trump in any way, shape or form. Likewise, I have no knowledge of any collusion by any of the thousands of people who worked on the campaign.”

    By chance, Giuliani implicitly supported my longtime point of view: that pretty much everyone on the Trump campaign except Trump himself colluded with the Russians. I figure that Trump has a sort of animal cunning that warns him precisely how far he can go in these things, and he never quite steps over that line. In the end, he might throw everyone else under the bus, up to and including his own family, but he himself will stay in the clear.

    But I hope I’m wrong.