Monday, July 03, 2017

Cruising the Web

I'm traveling with my daughters in New England. On the way driving up, we visited Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ. This was the coolest place - hundreds and hundreds of sculptures, mostly modern, in beautifully landscaped gardens. Our favorites were the lifesize sculptures by Seward Johnson of famous impressionist paintings such as this based on Manet's "Luncheon on the Grass."

Seward Johnson was the founder of these sculpture gardens and it turned out to be a marvelous place to spend the afternoon. If you're anywhere nearby, I heartily recommend it. Then, for us, it was on to tackling the drive around NYC and into Connecticut. As always when I'm traveling to D.C. or NYC, I can't imagine how people live with such traffic and the horrendous commutes and I'm grateful for living in a medium-sized city where I rarely have to worry about parking and my commute to work, when traffic is bad, is 20 minutes instead of 18 minutes.

We went to Hartford to see Mark Twain's house where he lived for 17 years and wrote some of his greatest works. His family had such a marvelous house in the style of Gingerbread Gothic with the interiors done by the Tiffany firm with handpainted walls and all sorts of neat touches throughout. They have it recreated to really give you a feel of what it looked like when he lived there with his three daughters. I hadn't realized that two of the daughters had died tragically so young and then he'd lost his wife.

After Hartford, we have come to Newport, RI to visit the Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the U.S. Then we went to the National Museum of Illustration, which is located in one of the Gilded Age mansions. It was like delving into all these great picture books seeing all these illustrations. It was a lot of fun and we've enjoyed walking around and peeking in at the mansions and walking along the Cliff Walk and in the touristy sections. Now, we're onto Boston to visit the historical sites there. I don't know how much time I'll get to blog there since the internet in the hotels can be iffy and you know, it's rather a relief to not pay much attention to national news for a bit. I'd rather tour neat places and, when I have time to go online, read about NBA free agency and all the changes throughout the league. It's almost as if the league is more fun when we're anticipating what these changes will mean rather than watching the actual games.

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One of the stories that has transfixed the political world over the past week is Trump tweeting stupid and nasty things about the media. While it might be amusing that "Morning Joe," which gave Trump a platform all during the primaries, to suddenly decide that Trump is a tasteless and vicious boor who it is dangerous to have in politics or to read liberals, who denied that the guy who shot up the GOP Congressional baseball team was influenced by what he watched in the liberal media, claim that a tweet of Trump bodyslamming CNN might incite violence, Trump's tweets are still classless and stupid. They are not some master plan to neutralize media criticism; they are just puerile and tasteless. Kevin Williamson captures the true motivation for Trump's tweets and ongoing feud with the media.
Some people simply cannot handle the fact that Donald Trump was elected president.

One of those people is Donald Trump.

Trump has shown himself intellectually and emotionally incapable of making the transition from minor entertainment figure to major political figure. He is in the strange position of being a B-list celebrity who is also the most famous man in the world. His recent Twitter attack on Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s Morning Joe exemplifies that as much as it does the president’s other by-now-familiar pathologies, notably his strange psychological need to verbally abuse women in physical terms.

Trump may have his problems with women, but it is his unrequited love of the media that is undoing him....

He needs them the way a junkie needs his junk.

Donald Trump cares more about how he is perceived in the media than he cares about anything else in the world, including money. Trump is a true disciple of Bishop Berkeley, professing the creed of the social-media age: Esse est percipi— “To be is to be seen.” Trump is incapable of enjoying anything — money, success, sex — without being perceived enjoying it.

Consider: Even though he has in fact been on the cover of Time magazine, it was discovered this week that he had had his people produce some fake Time magazine covers lauding the success of his television show, The Apprentice. He had these fake Time covers displayed at Trump properties around the world. Why? Because Trump, for all his professed contempt for the media, believes that success is not success until it is certified by Time magazine or (avert thine eyes, Hannity!) the New York Times.

Donald Trump is a man who invented an imaginary friend, John Barron, to call up members of the New York press and lie to them about his business success and his sex life. (He claimed, among other things, to be dating Carla Bruni.) A man who “does not need” the media does not do that....

As president and president-elect, Trump spent a great deal of time tweeting about his ratings as host of The Apprentice and those of his successor, about the ratings of various news programs covering him, about the viewerships and readerships of various media outlets, generally theorizing that those critical of him must by moral necessity be in decline. On the other hand, he plainly does not know that there are tax provisions in the health-care bill Republicans are trying to drag out of Congress: He was perplexed when they came up at a White House meeting with Republican senators, saying that he was planning on taking on tax reform at a later date, oblivious to the content of the bill he purports to be negotiating. He doesn’t understand what’s going on between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but has taken to Twitter to argue — surprise — that, whatever it is, it’s all about him.

What do you think he reads first in the morning: His national-security briefing or Page Six?

I’d wager that Trump could list at least three times as many cable-news commentators as world leaders. He is much better versed in CNN’s lineup than in NATO’s.

Doesn’t need the media? He is the media, a former contract employee at NBC with a sideline in casinos. He was born to conduct Twitter feuds with second-tier cable-television hosts. Figuring out health-care policy?

Nobody watches that.

Seth Lipsky looks at how the Roberts Court has racked up an admirable record of preserving religious liberty. There was last week's decision in the Trinity Lutheran case that struck a blow at state constitutions barring government aid to schools with religious affiliations.
The trend began to emerge in 2012, when the court blocked federal authorities from trying to apply equal-employment law to the hiring of church ministers. That case, known as Hosanna-Tabor v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was unanimous.

Several key cases followed. In one, the court ruled that the upstate town of Greece was within its rights to permit volunteer chaplains to open town meetings with a prayer. The New York Times editorial board nearly fainted.

Then came the Hobby Lobby case. That’s where the court exempted the religious owners of a closely held retail chain of craft stores from the contraceptive mandate that was put into effect by the Department of Health and Human Services after ObamaCare’s passage.

That puzzler divided the court five to four — and infuriated the godless left. That’s because it seemed to suggest that a capitalistic corporation could have religious views, as if the family owners didn’t matter.

The court’s secularist wing buckled, though, before the Little Sisters of the Poor. The doughty nuns who care for the elderly poor finally won their right not to be entangled in the birth-control mandate in a unanimous ruling by the nine.

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The Wsj argues why Republicans shouldn't be so hesitant to reform Medicaid. As they explain that most of the increase of coverage under Obamacare from extending Medicaid coverage to able-bodied adults instead of the poor and disabled the program was originally meant to cover.
The federal-state program has become the world’s single largest insurer by enrollment, covering more people than Medicare or the British National Health Service. Total spending grew 18% in 2015 and 17% in 2016 in the 29 states that expanded.
This is what needs to be reformed and the Senate bill is trying to do that.
The Senate bill attempts to arrest this unsustainable surge by moving to per capita spending caps from an open-ended entitlement. When states spend more now, they generate an automatic payment from the feds. The goal is to contain costs and give Governors the incentive and flexibility to manage their programs.

Meanwhile, four long years from now, the bill would start to phase-down the state payment formula for old and new Medicaid beneficiaries to equal rates. Governors ought to prioritize the most urgent needs.

This would be the largest entitlement reform ever while still protecting the most vulnerable. The bill is carefully designed to avoid overreach and would save taxpayers $772 billion compared with what Medicaid would otherwise spend under current law, according to the Congressional Budget Office. This does not “cut” spending; it merely slows the rate of increase.
But some of the Republican senators are balking at such reform. They should think instead about why it is so necessary to reform this new expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare or the results down the road are going to be dire.
Some 65% of the federal budget is mandatory spending, meaning Social Security and the health-care entitlements. Interest on the debt is 6% and more than half of the discretionary budget flows to defense. The GOP can’t meaningfully reform government or increase defense spending without fixing Medicaid and replacing ObamaCare.

The alternative will be much higher levels of taxation across society, reaching deep into the middle class, or a debt crisis. “To avoid fiscal and economic calamity,” as one GOP Senator wrote in a 2014 op-ed on these pages, Washington must “reform Social Security and health entitlements. The CBO estimates that a deal saving $4 trillion over the decade would put the budget on a path to sustainability. . . . The longer we wait to enact reforms, the more abrupt and painful they will be. It is time for everyone to come together and start to erase the red ink.”

That Senator was Mr. Portman, a former White House budget director and member of the “super committee” of 2011 that tried to negotiate entitlement reform with Barack Obama. The Senate bill doesn’t save close to $4 trillion but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Someone should also ask the Governors like John Kasich who are predicting doom a substantive policy question or two. Some 43% of the Ohio all-funds budget goes to Medicaid compared to a mere 14% for K-12 education. The average state all-funds Medicaid share is 28%. Does Mr. Kasich think this is the correct fiscal priority for America’s future—skimp on educating the next generation to finance free health care for able-bodied adults?

If Republicans fail to pass a bill or weaken the Senate bill so much that it won’t make a difference, the result will be a calamity of a different kind. GOP Governors who declined to join ObamaCare’s new Medicaid will conclude that the expansion is permanent and the political pressure will rise to take the federal bribe. Medicaid costs will soar, and national Republicans will show that they’re incapable of doing what voters sent them to Washington to do.

Democrats will conclude that Medicaid is politically untouchable and thus a wedge for single payer. They’ll enlarge eligibility to ever-higher income levels and gradually crowd out private insurance. Republicans won’t have a plausible argument against the idea if they can’t reform Medicaid now.
James Capretta also makes the argument that reform of Medicaid is absolutely necessary.
There’s nothing in the Senate bill that would force states to drop coverage of low-income elderly and disabled persons, or poor women and children, as so many of the misleading attacks on the plan have implied.

Even with the changes to Medicaid contained in the Senate bill, which would be phased in very slowly, the program would remain a large and growing part of the federal budget. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that, under current law, the federal government will spend nearly $5.2 trillion over the next ten years on Medicaid. If the emerging GOP plan cuts federal funding by $0.9 trillion over a decade, which is possible, that will still mean the federal government will spend $4.3 trillion on the program over ten years. CBO estimates enrollment in Medicaid in 2026 would be about 71 million people under the House-passed Medicaid provisions (which are similar to those in the Senate bill), or 4 million more than were enrolled in the program in 2011.

Moreover, the Senate bill provides a new, refundable tax credit to anyone who has a low income or is poor and is not eligible for Medicaid. Under this provision, households with incomes below the federal poverty line (FPL) are guaranteed that they can enroll in an insurance plan with a premium that does not exceed 2 percent of their annual income. For a person with an income at the poverty level, this means his maximum premium for health coverage would be about $20 per month.
Unfortunately, no one is out there making these arguments in public. Sometimes I wish for a Ross Perot-like figure who could get up there with some simple charts contrasting what will happen if we continue on the path that Obamacare set us on with what the Republicans are proposing. The proposed bill isn't ideal and can be tweaked. But the real argument shouldn't be the contrast between their bill and some Platonic ideal of health care reform. It's between Obamacare and whatever reform they can come up with.

Chris Christie seems determined
to rack up the lowest poll ratings of any modern politician.
People hoping to visit Island Beach State Park this holiday weekend were not allowed in because of the state government shutdown Gov. Chris Christie ordered amid the state budget standoff in Trenton.

But there was one family there: Christie's. They are using the summer beach house provided by the state for a weekend down the Shore....

Christie was asked if he got any sun Sunday.

"I didn't," he said. "I didn't get any sun today."

When later told of the photo, Brian Murray, the governor's spokesman, said: "Yes, the governor was on the beach briefly today talking to his wife and family before heading into the office."

"He did not get any sun," Murray added. "He had a baseball hat on."
Sign that guy up for the Trump communications office.

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Enjoy the Fourth of July! We're going to be in Boston for the Fourth - a highly appropriate place to celebrate our nation's founding. May you have fun celebrating the holiday with your friends and family and may you stop a minute to appreciate the people who launched this country with no real assurance that they would win independence.