• Lunchtime Photo

    This is a picture of Linville Falls, a popular attraction on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was taken from Chimney View, and it’s the best picture postcard rendering of the  falls:

    May 9, 2019 — Linville Falls, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

    However, I didn’t stop there, and I have the pics to prove it. I hiked all the way up to Erwin’s View in order to get the grandest possible vista. I’m not sure I could do this today, but I took my Blue Ridge Parkway trip during the brief period when I was boycotting the Evil Dex. I was a whole lot more energetic without that stuff.

    May 9, 2019 — Linville Falls, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
  • Trump’s Junk Insurance Is a Windfall for Scammy Insurance Companies

    Back in 2017 Republicans did their level best to destroy Obamacare. They failed, and in a final act of pique Donald Trump issued an executive order related to junk insurance plans. These were bare-bones plans limited to three months and meant as a short bridge for emergencies. Trump’s order allowed them to last as long as 12 months and be renewed up to a total of 36 months. In other words, these effectively became viable insurance plans for many people.

    The idea, of course, is that they would be marketed at young people who were healthy and didn’t expect to have much in the way of medical bills. But guess what? The shysters and scammers didn’t care what the wonks thought. Instead, they started marketing junk policies to precisely the people least suited for it: the elderly. “There is much low-hanging fruit in the over-65 space,” the CEO of Health Insurance Innovations told Wall Street analysts.

    This all comes from a Bloomberg story which I would quote at more length, but I am paywalled out. Sorry. However, I can pass this along:

    That’s right. Bullshit artists, who know that gramma and grampa are the “low-hanging fruit” of robocalling for scammy products, have eagerly taken to the phones to sell them Trump’s junk insurance. How eagerly? 387 million calls in a single month. Nice work, Donald. And all so you can say you owned Barack Obama.

  • Bill Gates: R&D Is the Key to Ending Climate Change

    Lenin Nolly/EFE via ZUMA

    David Wallace-Wells talks with Bill Gates about climate change today.

    If we are imagining a world in which we take some dramatic action and engineer some kind of meaningful solution to this challenge, what does that look like to you? How big a part of it is nuclear power? How big a part of it is carbon capture? How big a part of it is new cement? How do you see that big picture?

    There’s a long answer to that. I would like to help educate people on what a plan really means. A plan involves looking at all the sources, electricity, transport, industry, buildings, and land use/agriculture and really saying, “Okay, what are the possible paths that get you to these dramatic reductions, and therefore what are the missing inventions?”

    Fortunately, there’s not any one path. If you don’t have nuclear and if you don’t have a storage miracle, it’s very, very hard, because basically what you have to do is have electricity be used for many, many, many things like all building heating and cooling that today, you use natural gas or coal for it directly….I have not seen anything that’s worthy of the word plan because a plan has to involve not just the U.S. doing something.

    Of course, yeah.

    You have to convince middle-income countries. I think of India as paradigmatic, because it’s big enough to count and it’s poor enough. They deserve to have air conditioning. I mean, they’re getting very high wet-bulb temperatures. Jesus Christ, by 2070, there could be just a massive number of people dropping dead in the streets.

    So a plan that really addresses the global issue has to bring what I call the green premium for all of these various goods and services down dramatically, like over 90 percent.

    What’s the green premium?

    What would green cement cost today? What would green steel cost today? What would green beef cost today? It’s great that people care about the issue, but it’s a very complex issue. And, unfortunately once they hear about how hard it is to solve and how expensive it is to solve, I hope their resolve isn’t … When diesel prices got increased 15 percent in France, more near-term considerations came into play.

    The international picture there is so important because each individual nation, with the possible exception of the U.S. and China, is contributing only so little….How do you define success in the climate story?

    It’d be great if we could stop at two degrees. Unless there are huge surprises on scientific advances, I just don’t see it happening, but who would have said that [about] radio waves or wireless or chips with a billion transistors? We know Václav [Smil] is not optimistic. Yet to really get people engaged, you have to say, “Hey, we can really achieve this thing.” The fact that the R&D budgets weren’t even being discussed …

    R&D does seem very important.

    I mean, not to be egocentric, but that was put on to the Paris climate agenda because I went to France and said, “Hey, here’s something you get to do that’s going to be different.” Then it turned out that was the way of getting Modi to actually come to the thing, which was fantastic.

    Assuming that Gates is telling this story straight, R&D wasn’t even mentioned in the Paris agreement until he pointed it out. That was only three years ago. How is it possible that thousands of climate experts from hundreds of countries could meet in 2016 and not even spend a few minutes talking about R&D? It’s as if the Manhattan Project engineers spent all their time constructing a bomb but forgot that they needed to enrich some uranium too.

    This has changed over the past few years, and R&D routinely gets at least lip service these days. That’s a start—but only a start considering that massive R&D commitments are the key to any non-laughable plan to keep global temps below 2°C. More on this later.¹

    ¹Way, way more. And way later.

  • New Kavanaugh Book Is a Gift for Conservatives

    Brett Kavanaugh at the 2019 State of the Union Address a few months after having been confirmed.Doug Mills/Pool/CNP via ZUMA

    In case you haven’t been following closely, here’s what we’ve learned from the new book about Brett Kavanaugh and the sexual assault charges against him:

    1. Back during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, Chistine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of pinning her on a bed and covering her mouth—before eventually letting her go—at a small house party when he was 17. In the book, we learn that Leland Keyser, a friend of Ford’s who was at the party, now says that she doesn’t remember the event and that “it just didn’t make sense.” And: “It would be impossible for me to be the only girl at a get-together with three guys, have her leave, and then not figure out how she’s getting home. I just really didn’t have confidence in the story.” Keyser says that her original equivocal testimony had been delivered under duress.
    2. Deborah Ramirez repeated her story of a freshman-year drunken dorm party at Yale during which both she and Kavanaugh were seriously blitzed. Ramiriez says that Kavanaugh pulled down his pants and she swatted his penis away, thinking it was a fake penis the boys had been passing around earlier. Then she learned it had been real, and it’s caused her nightmares ever since. The book lists seven sources who heard about the event, but none of them are actual eyewitnesses.
    3. In a new story, Max Stier says he saw Kavanaugh “with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student.” However, the female student declined to be interviewed and friends say she does not recall the episode.
    4. The FBI did a pretty cursory investigation of all this. This, of course, is something we’ve known and complained loudly about from the very start.

    It’s not possible to look at all this and conclude that the Kavanaugh sexual assault story has gotten stronger. The main accusation took a hit. The secondary accusation turns out to be fairly slight and there are no actual eyewitnesses to it even after the kind of deep investigation everyone wanted originally. The third accusation may or may not have happened at all. The female student at the center of it has told friends she has no recollection of it.

    Fair or not, it is difficult to think that this makes it more likely that Kavanaugh can be impeached. For the most part, this new book is a gift to Trump, not to progressives.

    POSTSCRIPT: Just for the record, I maintain my original position that all of these stories are most likely true. Kavanaugh could have simply acknowledged them, apologized, and said he led a wild life for a few years as a teenager. That probably would have made it a two-day story. But he panicked the first time he was asked and instinctively denied everything. From then on, there was no choice but to keep on denying.

  • Who Is “My Kevin”?

    Oh man. What fresh hell is this?

    The recent media popularity of the name Kevin is gratifying, but I could do without this. On the bright side, it turns out that it refers to Kevin McCarthy, Trump’s dutiful lackey in the House. Nothing to do with me at all.

  • Private Equity Is Working Hard to Keep Surprise Medical Bills High

    A mailer sent to New Hampshire voters telling them how horrible it will be if surprise out-of-network billing is banned.New York Times

    One of the most outrageous aspects of American health care is surprise out-of-network billing. Most people, if they go to a hospital that’s “in-network,” quite reasonably assume that this means “the hospital’s doctors are in-network.” But that’s not the case. Sometimes hospitals contract with doctors who aren’t part of your insurance network, and these doctors can charge whatever they feel like. Your insurer won’t cover this—that’s what out-of-network means—which means that when you get home you’re likely to be greeted by a $40,000 anesthesiology bill.

    This is obviously bad, and both Democrats and President Trump favor legislation to end it. However, there’s one group that thinks out-of-network billing is just fine: the private equity firms that own the medical groups that specialize in out-of-network care.

    But this presents a problem: how do you make it sound bad to prohibit surprise out-of-network billing? Hmmm.

    Here’s the answer: Attack the ban as “rate setting” by “big insurance companies.” Then add some scary stuff about not being able to see your doctor anymore and “profiting from patients’ pain” and you’re all set. Who wants to involved with anything like that?

    But the best part of this particular attack ad comes at the very end: “Put Patients Before Profits.” How Trumpian! The whole point of out-of-network billing is to allow doctors to make lots of money at the expense of their patients. But who cares? You just say the opposite and then get huffy if anyone suggests you’re being a wee bit untruthful.

    Out-of-network billing is hardly limited to medical groups owned by private equity firms. Still, they’re the only ones with the organized greed that’s required to mount an advertising campaign telling us that up is down and black is white. I wonder if it will work?

  • Lunchtime Photo

    This is a neighbor of ours watching the sun go down over our local lake. I’m a little mystified about why the camera rendered her top in fluorescent blue, though (it was white). It’s not a pure white-balance issue since the background color is pretty accurate. Hmmm.

    July 24, 2019 — Irvine, California
  • Saudi Arabia Is the Worst Country in the World

    A typical scene in modern Yemen.Wang Wei/Xinhua via ZUMA

    As you all know, one of Saudi Arabia’s oil complexes got hit by drones and cruise missiles over the weekend. The Houthi rebels in Yemen have taken responsibility, but maybe the attack actually originated from Iran instead? Over at National Review, Jim Geraghty says that if this turns out to be the case, we have four options:

    • Do nothing.
    • Try to bribe Iran into better behavior by signing on to France’s $15 billion loan plan.
    • Let the Saudis respond however they want.
    • Have the Pentagon respond.

    Needless to say, all four of these options presume that Saudi Arabia is our ally and Iran is a mortal foe. But why?

    I’m hardly a fan of Iran. They chant Death to America! and hold Americans hostage in their prisons. They support terrorist groups around the world that have killed scores of Americans. They bankroll Hezbollah and other extremist groups. There’s not much to like there.

    But nothing Iran has done holds even a tiny candle to Saudi Arabia’s behavior. The theological terrorists who control religion in the Kingdom have been exporting their murderous anti-Americanism for decades. Their citizens were behind 9/11 and they bear a fair amount of responsibility for the rise of ISIS as well. They’ve been fighting Yemen forever and their current war has included endless atrocities—which Geraghty generously suggests were merely “botched” operations.¹ Internally they’re as repressive a regime as you can imagine, even more so than Iran. Just recently they murdered a critic and then carved him up with a bone saw to get rid of the evidence. They are forever trying to get America to lay down American lives in their endless proxy wars against Shiite Iran.

    I could continue, but why bother? I would say that over the past few decades, Saudi Arabia has been America’s worst nightmare. Not Russia, not China, not Iran, not North Korea. All of them are frankly pipsqueaks compared to the damage Saudi Arabia has done to American interests.

    And yet we continue to treat them as a friend and ally.² It is truly beyond belief.

    ¹They weren’t.

    ²Here is a foreign policy question for the next debate: “Would you continue to treat Saudi Arabia as a friend and ally? Why?”

  • The Catholic Church Holds a Lesson for Progressives

    Grzegorz Galazka/Mondadori Portfolio via ZUMA

    Ross Douthat wrote a column over the weekend about the possibility of a schism in the Catholic church. As you can imagine, I don’t really care if the Catholic church splits in two again, but I read the column anyway because of what it says about conservative thought in general. Here’s the relevant piece:

    In the seventh year of the Francis pontificate, those “Protestant” anxieties are now everywhere in Catholic discussions, and both liberals and conservatives are deploying the “s” word promiscuously to describe developments that they dislike….The partway-liberalization of the Francis era has encouraged the church’s progressives to push further, while many conservatives have been flung into intellectual crisis or a paranoia-flavored traditionalism. And the overlap of theological and national divisions means that national churches could evolve away from one another at a rapid pace.

    The seventh year! Think about that. Pope John XXIII died in 1963. For the next 50 years the papacy was held by conservatives. Now, after a mere seven years of a modestly liberal pope, conservatives are so hysterical that they’re openly talking about schism.

    This is why progressive change is so hard: conservatives are more afraid of us than we are of them. If you want to know why politicians on the left often seem kind of gutless compared to folks on the right, this is it. A significant number of folks on the right are really, truly frightened of progressive change in a way that I think most progressives don’t properly understand.

    The upshot of this is that progressives should either (a) try to moderate their message a bit to deal with this fear, or (b) conclude that nothing can make a dent in it, so we should just forget about it and try to win via main force. Take your pick.

  • Walking Around Has Gotten a Lot More Dangerous Over the Past Decade

    I missed this when it made the rounds a few months ago, but today the LA Times tells us that pedestrian fatalities have been rising steeply for the past decade. Here’s a chart from the Governors Highway Safety Association:

    This is something of a mystery, but the most interesting part of the Times story is this:

    Elsewhere, pedestrian deaths are dropping. In the early 2000s, the European Union began requiring automakers to pass pedestrian safety tests before they could sell vehicles in Europe. The regulations spurred design changes, and pedestrian fatalities declined by 36% in the EU from 2007 to 2016. Japan adopted similar regulations. It too has seen pedestrian deaths drop.

    The same approach in the U.S. could save countless lives, experts say.

    Design changes? What design changes? Here’s an explanation written 14 years ago:

    The focus of the new EU standards has been on safer front-end design to minimize injuries to the legs and head in 25 mph crashes. They will require passenger cars and light vans to pass tests involving the A-pillar, bumper, the hood’s leading edge and windshield to determine if they protect adults and children from leg and head injuries in frontal impact accidents. Automakers will also be required to install flexible bumpers and hoods that crumple and to add 8 inches of space between the exterior structure and the under-hood structure from the front bumper to the windshield to better disperse the impact energy of a person hitting the front end. More stringent rules are expected to be phased in beginning in 2010, when the number of tests doubles to four — two for leg injuries and two for head injuries. The changes are expected to save 2,000 lives annually.

    Apparently the NHTSA has never bothered itself to get serious about this stuff, but it’s probably coming to America sooner or later.

    Of course, this still doesn’t explain why pedestrian deaths have skyrocketed since 2009. The popularity of SUVs gets some of the blame, but can’t account for all of it. Cell phones and so forth are a global phenomenon, so there’s no special reason they should have an outsize effect in the US. For now it remains a mystery.