Monday, July 31, 2017

Cruising the Web

Well, this past week was certainly a good week to not be following the nation's politics all that closely even though I was in the nation's capital. Trump's attacks on Sessions, the failure of the GOP to pass even the weakest measure of Obamacare repeal, the bizarre choice of the scabrous Scaramucci, the tweets about policy without apparent consultation with his cabinet, the firing of was enough to know that it all had happened without having to assiduously read a
every detail. It also felt a whole lot healthier. While there, I took a walk by the White House and noticed that the Secret Service had erected a secondary fence around it and the Secret Service was much more a presence guarding the black gates so that tourists can't press right up against it to look at the president's house as we always used to be able to do. But it is still there as it has been for two centuries. Tourists still cluster as close as they can get to take pictures and selfies. It's survived, and we will too no matter the most apocalyptic predictions from some.

Matthew Continetti's column, "Bonfire of the Insanities," sums up about where we are now.
There are too many options, too many ways to go at the problem. That problem is a White House in turmoil, a Republican Party that does not know what it wants on health care, taxes, and foreign policy, and a nation that remains as confused, divided, and incomprehensible to itself as it was on the day Donald Trump was elected president.

Satire, commentary, analysis—throw it all out the window. What's happening in Washington is beyond parody, beyond fiction. What will happen tomorrow, what will happen in the next hour? No one knows....

The great story of the last six months has been Donald Trump's collision with Washington. The president threw himself into the job, has dominated the capital, and the national conversation, unlike any president in recent memory. The activity has been frenetic, all-consuming, and at times self-destructive. There have been accomplishments at the border, in deregulation, in the courts. But the overarching conflict has been between the president and the established order, best represented by the national media. And this is a conflict whose outcome remains uncertain.

Last week's hiring of Scaramucci, however, was evidence of another raging battle: Between the president and his administration. The president doesn't trust many of his underlings, lacks confidence in them, and the feeling, it would seem, is mutual. They leak, they mock, they complain, they wander around town shell-shocked, paranoid, defeated, subdued, broken. Trump is disappointed. So the man whom the voters brought in to disrupt Washington brought in Scaramucci to disrupt his own White House. Well, mission accomplished.

The two wars, between Trump and the world and between Trump and his staff, feed on each other. I didn't think it possible, but political coverage intensified this week, became more heated, more alarmist, more electric, more passionate.

Is there a limit, a point past which the dial cannot turn? A few days ago a friend said of the White House, "The wheels are coming off." But how can wheels come off a plane that did not have them to begin with? For more than two years now Donald Trump has piloted his jet barely above ground level, with half a wing, and a fire in the mess. Yet every time you think the plane will crash, will decompose, he gives it lift, he holds it together. He defies gravity. What goes up, though … .

25% Off in Office and School Supplies

Deals in Office Products

Deals in Home and Kitchen

Peggy Noonan has a column
that would devastate Trump if he actually read it because she puts her finger on how weak and whiney he is. Surely, the worst insult from his point of view would be to portrayed as weak.
The president’s primary problem as a leader is not that he is impetuous, brash or naive. It’s not that he is inexperienced, crude, an outsider. It is that he is weak and sniveling. It is that he undermines himself almost daily by ignoring traditional norms and forms of American masculinity.

He’s not strong and self-controlled, not cool and tough, not low-key and determined; he’s whiny, weepy and self-pitying. He throws himself, sobbing, on the body politic. He’s a drama queen. It was once said, sarcastically, of George H.W. Bush that he reminded everyone of her first husband. Trump must remind people of their first wife. Actually his wife, Melania, is tougher than he is with her stoicism and grace, her self-discipline and desire to show the world respect by presenting herself with dignity.

Half the president’s tweets show utter weakness. They are plaintive, shrill little cries, usually just after dawn. “It’s very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their president.” The brutes. Actually they’ve been laboring to be loyal to him since Inauguration Day. “The Republicans never discuss how good their health care bill is.” True, but neither does Mr. Trump, who seems unsure of its content. In just the past two weeks, of the press, he complained: “Every story/opinion, even if should be positive, is bad!” Journalists produce “highly slanted & even fraudulent reporting.” They are “DISTORTING DEMOCRACY.” They “fabricate the facts.”

It’s all whimpering accusation and finger-pointing: Nobody’s nice to me. Why don’t they appreciate me?
She's not wrong...and that might be the most devastating criticism for Trump. To be called weak and whiney might be almost as bad as having Rubio joking about his small hands and what those might indicate.

Avik Roy explains how the Republicans' failure to approach the CBO as the Democrats have has hurt their efforts to reform Obamacare.
Democrats recognized the central importance of the Congressional Budget Office in bringing their two wings together. When Democrats retook Congress in 2006, they appointed Peter Orszag to head the CBO, as part of a deliberate strategy to stack the CBO in favor of their health-care agenda. Orszag proceeded to build out the entire health policy wing of the CBO — representing dozens of staffers — with like-minded individuals. After Obama won the 2008 election, Orszag captained the health-reform effort at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.

It would be more fair to call Obamacare “CBOcare” given how much the Affordable Care Act reflects the CBO’s worldview. While Senator Obama opposed the individual mandate, the CBO believed it would add 16 million covered lives to the ACA’s ledger. While the Romneycare model involved covering the uninsured solely with private coverage, the CBO believed that expanding coverage through Medicaid would be cheaper.

Republicans failed to reform the CBO

Compare and contrast that to the GOP’s effort. When Republicans had the opportunity to appoint a CBO director in 2015, they chose not to hire someone with deep health-care expertise, such as the University of Minnesota’s Stephen Parente, and instead hired Keith Hall, a labor economist. There was no comparable strategy, either by Hall or by Congress, to rebalance the CBO’s center-left tilt with individuals more knowledgeable about how health insurance markets actually work.

Hence, because any GOP bill would need to repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate, the CBO was poised to make any GOP bill look bad. The CBO compounded this, at critical points, by refusing to disclose key aspects of its estimates.

The CBO refused to break out the proportion of GOP Medicaid savings that were driven by long-term entitlement reform (per capita caps) vs. the repeal of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. The CBO’s deliberate opacity allowed journalists at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and every Democrat to dishonestly claim that per capita caps would “cut $800 billion from Medicaid,” even though nearly all of the Medicaid savings were from repealing and replacing the Obamacare expansion.

Similarly, the CBO refused to break out — until the very end, after it had leaked — the fact that nearly three-fourths of the “coverage losses” under the GOP bill would come from people voluntarily choosing to forgo coverage due to the repeal of the individual mandate.

Uniting moderate and conservative Republicans

The failure to reform the CBO put Republicans at a huge disadvantage when it came to uniting moderate and conservative senators. Moderates wanted a bill that preserved coverage for the uninsured. On the flip side, many conservatives wanted a bill that repealed Obamacare, full stop, with relatively less interest in the replacement part.
As Roy argues, the Republicans still have to do something on health care. It's not enough to just throw up their hands and hope the Democrats will take the blame. People are still facing huge increases in premiums and insurance companies still are uncertain as to what government is going to require them to do or whether it will help them deal with their shortages.
That kind of uncertainty rattles insurers, many of whom have already stopped selling policies through public insurance markets established by the health law because they were losing money.

Their main concern now is that the administration will stop paying crucial subsides called for in the law that help reduce costs like deductibles for people with low incomes. The subsidies, estimated at $7 billion a year, have been challenged by Republicans in court, and Trump has only guaranteed them through this month.

If they stop, insurers will have to raise prices for coverage, known as premiums, because by law they must still offer the same reduced deductibles for their low-income customers....

Leerink analyst Ana Gupte surveyed several states and has said that insurers are asking for price hikes of around 36 percent when they assume the subsidies go away, compared with about 18 percent if they stay.

People with low incomes might be shielded from these hikes in part because the law provides tax credits that cover much of the premium.

But those who make too much to qualify for that help — and tend to vote Republican — could get hit hard, noted health care consultant Robert Laszewski, a former insurance executive.

“(Trump’s) hurting his own people,” Laszewski said.

Of course, all shoppers will be hurt if insurers leave markets, noted Urban Institute health economist Linda Blumberg.

“Then there’s nowhere to use your subsidy,” she said.

The Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurer Anthem has already withdrawn from markets in Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana. CEO Joseph Swedish said Wednesday the company may cut back further if it doesn’t get certainty on the subsidies “quickly.”hop

Insurers have until the middle of next month to finalize their 2018 prices, industry officials say. They must leave enough time for the rates to be submitted to the marketplaces, and then for the online exchanges that sell the coverage to be tested before enrollment for next year’s plans begins on Nov. 1.

If insurers want to back out of a market, they have until about late September to do so.

Options already have grown thin. About a third of the U.S.’s approximately 3,000 counties have only one insurer selling coverage on their exchange, which is the only place where shoppers can get tax credits based on their income to help buy coverage. Those credits are separate from the subsidies for low-income customers.
And of course the Democrats haven't submitted any plans on how to save their own plan.

So it seems that there is no time now for a legislative fix. MEanwhile, Congress has to do with the debt ceiling and the budget plus their hopes of a tax reform bill. We have many months of ugly wrangling and stagnant Congressional action ahead of us.

Mary Katharine Ham, who has had her own problems with Obamacare, discusses the victims of Obamacare, who are struggling to buy insurance in the individual market, whom the media ignore.
Far from a privileged group of fat cats, they are small business owners, middle-class families, and contract workers trying to make things work without the tremendous tax advantage given to health insurance provided by employers. With the system (actually!) rigged against them, they nonetheless did the responsible thing: buying insurance so they wouldn’t turn into burdensome free-riders. In return, these people were lied to repeatedly, told they would not face any of the consequences they have faced, made to bear the brunt of both Obamacare’s costs and broken promises, and now they’re denigrated for daring to point out they have been hurt.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services studied premiums in the individual market, finding they doubled over four years on the federal exchange. One third of American counties have one or zero insurers “competing” on the individual market for their business.

Let’s recap the promises of Obamacare. President Obama said families would see a $2,500 decrease in premiums. Obama said if you liked your plan and doctor, you could keep your plan and doctor, and anyone who suggested otherwise was lying. Obama said the exchanges would bring increased competition and lower prices. Obama said mandates would bring better coverage, but not higher costs. He even said the exchanges would make it easier to be in the individual market. Obama, and everyone who repeated him, was wrong.

These things quite obviously couldn’t be true for everyone at the same time. Those who pointed this out were at best called stupid, at worst, liars and racists. What they really were was right.

The individual market puts the lie to Obamacare. It is the starkest illustration of its broken promises and costs. For those more comfortably ensconced in the employer-based health insurance market, premiums and deductibles have gone up and options have disappeared. This is still a violation of Obama’s promises, though not as dramatic. Many who have never been in the individual market— I have, pre- and post-Obamacare— actually have no idea what it looks like....

Many already have five-figure deductibles, and they don’t affect only the very sick. They are making the very expensive Obamacare plans of middle-class families nearly unusable.

In fact the Affordable Healthcare Act accelerated a trend toward higher deductibles. Deductibles are up 67 percent in the group market since 2010, and 90 percent of exchange purchasers have high-deductible plans. But there are fewer than 10 million of them. Who cares?
She then explains how the CBO's approach to scoring the Republicans' Obamacare repeal plans and how many people might lose insurance under those plans is based on fictional people.
You’ve heard the talking point that 22-24 million Americans will “lose” insurance coverage under the Republicans’ Obamacare repeal plan. Wow, that does sound like a big, bad, deal, and the Congressional Budget Office said it, so it must be true.

But between 5 and 7 million of those people aren’t real. How is that possible? Because when determining how many people might lose coverage under an Obamacare replacement plan, the CBO must first establish how many people have coverage right now under Obamacare. That’s easy, just look at the enrollment numbers, right?

Wrong. Despite the fact that objective reality offers a very clear number of people covered by Obamacare on the exchanges, the CBO uses its own, incorrect, outdated estimate of how many people it thought might be covered by Obamacare on exchanges by now.

CBO’s estimates have always drastically overstated how well the individual mandate would increase coverage. The number CBO is using for “how many people are covered under Obamacare” therefore includes 5-7 million people who were never covered under Obamacare, aren’t covered by Obamacare now, and cannot therefore lose insurance as a result of Obamacare replacement. This number is yet another indication of ACA’s failures, not the failures of a hypothetical replacement.

This is like the fantasy football league commissioner plugging in 46 TDs for his QB stats because that’s the number he thought his draft pick would chart, even if the actual number is 25.
So the media care more about these nonexistent people losing health care than the very real victims of Obamacare that Mary Katharine Ham is talking about. And then there are all those people in the CBO analysis who would not buy healthcare if they weren't required to do so by law.

Best Deals in Vitamins and Supplements

Interesting Finds at Amazon

Home and Kitchen Markdowns

It's amazing how the left doesn't mind people saying bad things about Christians, but they will automatically pull the politically correct card when it comes to Muslims. And this is a perfect example. Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins has said some pretty critical things about Christianity, but that didn't stop him from being invited to give a speech by Berkeley's radio station, KPFA. But the station pulled the speech once they realized that he'd been critical of of Islam.
The British biologist, a renowned atheist, had been due to speak at an event hosted by Berkeley-based station KPFA about his latest book.

But the speech was pulled, with organizers citing 'hurtful' statements made by Dawkins about Islam.

It is not known what specific remarks prompted the cancellation, but online commentators have drawn attention to a 2013 tweet in which the writer described Islam as 'the greatest force for evil in the world today'.

Dawkins himself has hit back, saying his issue is with Islamism, and pointing out that he has never been barred from events because of his criticism of Christianity.

A statement from KPFA said: 'We had booked this event based entirely on his excellent new book on science, when we didn’t know he had offended and hurt – in his tweets and other comments on Islam – so many people....

In an open letter, Dawkins responded to the radio station: 'If you had consulted me, or if you had done even rudimentary fact-checking, you would have concluded that I have never used abusive speech against Islam.

'I have called IslamISM “vile” but surely you, of all people, understand that Islamism is not the same as Islam.

'I have criticised the ridiculous pseudoscientific claims made by Islamic apologists (“the sun sets in a marsh” etc), and the opposition of Islamic “ scholars” to evolution and other scientific truths.'

His letter continued: 'I have criticised the appalling misogyny and homophobia of Islam, I have criticised the murdering of apostates for no crime other than their disbelief.

'Far from attacking Muslims, I understand – as perhaps you do not – that Muslims themselves are the prime victims of the oppressive cruelties of Islamism, especially Muslim women.'

And the 76-year-old fumed: 'I am known as a frequent critic of Christianity and have never been de-platformed for that.

'Why do you give Islam a free pass? Why is it fine to criticise Christianity but not Islam?'
Good question

Whatever you might think of Trump, it doesn't help anyone for the American Psychoanalytic Association to change a 40-year rule forbidding psychiatrists and psychologists to publicly diagnose public figures they haven't examined.
leading psychiatry group has told its members they should not feel bound by a longstanding rule against commenting publicly on the mental state of public figures — even the president.

The statement, an email this month from the executive committee of the American Psychoanalytic Association to its 3,500 members, represents the first significant crack in the profession’s decades-old united front aimed at preventing experts from discussing the psychiatric aspects of politicians’ behavior. It will likely make many of its members feel more comfortable speaking openly about President Trump’s mental health.

The impetus for the email was “belief in the value of psychoanalytic knowledge in explaining human behavior,” said psychoanalytic association past president Dr. Prudence Gourguechon, a psychiatrist in Chicago. “We don’t want to prohibit our members from using their knowledge responsibly.”

That responsibility is especially great today, she told STAT, “since Trump’s behavior is so different from anything we’ve seen before” in a commander in chief.

An increasing number of psychologists and psychiatrists have denounced the restriction as a “gag rule” and flouted it, with some arguing they have a “duty to warn” the public about what they see as Trump’s narcissism, impulsivity, poor attention span, paranoia, and other traits that, they believe, impair his ability to lead.

Reporters, pundits, and government officials “have been stumbling around trying to explain Trump’s unusual behavior,” from his seemingly compulsive tweeting to his grandiosity, said Dr. Leonard Glass, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School. The rule against psychiatrists offering their analysis of the emotions, thought patterns, and beliefs underlying such behaviors, Glass said, robs the public “of our professional judgment and prevents us from communicating our understanding” of the president’s mental state.
The rule was adopted after some psychiatrists commented on Barry Goldwater and whether he was mentally fit for office.
The rule states that it is unethical to offer a professional opinion about a public figure’s mental health, including the presence or absence of a disorder, without that person’s consent and without doing a standard examination. In March, the psychiatric association reaffirmed the rule.
The group acted despite growing criticism that the Goldwater rule is outdated and even unethical for preventing psychiatrists from pointing out behaviors that raise questions about a government official’s mental state. No other medical specialty has such a rule; cardiologists are not prohibited from offering their views of an official’s fainting spell, for instance, as long as they make clear that they have not examined the person.
There is something really distasteful about medical professionals, particularly one dealing with mental health, to offer a diagnosis of someone they have never talked to. It's not a question of freedom of speech, but of medical ethics. If there were First Amendment considerations involved in what doctors could say, we wouldn't have standards of doctor-patient confidentiality that are recognized in the law.

K. C Johnson and Stuart Taylor, authors of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities, explain in USA Today why it is so crucial, despite the protests of liberals such as Senator Gillibrand, that Betsy DeVos's Education Department reinstates policies to protect the due process rights of college students accused of sexual assault.
Ironically, as Gillibrand was protesting outside the Education Department, a New York appellate court upheld a lawsuit by an accused student against Skidmore College, located in the upstate New York congressional district that the senator had once represented. In October 2015, the Skidmore accuser told college officials (not the police) that a male student had forced her to perform oral sex 21 months previously As at most colleges since implementation of the Obama-era policies, Skidmore’s adjudication process was geared toward a guilty finding. The accused student had no right to cross-examine his accuser, and he wasn't told the specifics of the allegations against him. The five-judge New York appellate panel also faulted the college for giving weight to “little more than gossip” about the accused student. The judges ordered Skidmore to re-admit him and expunge his disciplinary record.

Skidmore was the 53rd college or university to find itself on the losing end of a court decision in a lawsuit filed by an accused student in the past four years. This remarkable body of law — virtually ignored by the news media — is especially striking given the traditional reluctance of courts to second-guess college disciplinary actions.

A system in which a wrongly accused student’s best chance of vindication comes after his college improperly brands him a rapist, and only if he can afford an expensive and protracted lawsuit, is a travesty of justice. Moreover, despite some suggestions by defenders of Obama policies that colleges have responded to these court decisions by creating fairer procedures for accused students, the reverse has been far more typical. Amidst legal challenges, schools including Brown and Swarthmore adjusted their policies to make it harder for innocent students to win vindication, by scaling back the rights promised to accused students. Reflecting this mindset, the National Association of College and University Attorneys published a May 2016 research note urging colleges and universities to “promptly destroy” documents such as “e-mails … staff notes, … notes of hearing participants during a disciplinary hearing, drafts of hearing outcome reports, and other such working papers,” all of which “might actually prove very useful to a plaintiff’s lawyer” in a subsequent lawsuit.

In a March 2016 ruling against Brandeis University, U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor wrote, “If a college student is to be marked for life as a sexual predator, it is reasonable to require that he be provided a fair opportunity to defend himself and an impartial arbiter to make that decision. Put simply, a fair determination of the facts requires a fair process, not tilted to favor a particular outcome, and a fair and neutral fact-finder, not predisposed to reach a particular conclusion.”

Tools and Home Improvement

Today’s Deals

Fashion Sales and Deals

I attended such an interesting workshop for teachers last week on the history of religious liberty in America. I'm very grateful to the Ashbrook Center for sponsoring this opportunity. We discussed many primary documents from John Locke's Letter on Toleration through to the decision and dissent to the Hobby Lobby case. One document that I particularly enjoyed delving into was a 1785 petition that James Madison had written, Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, in which he laid out in a very logical manner the reasons why the Virginia legislature should not be offering a subsidy to churches. It really is a beautiful exposition on why religious liberty is so important and why the state should not be involved in promoting churches and not only defeated that measure but helped set the groundwork for the First Amendment. While I'd closely followed the Hobby Lobby case, I hadn't actually read the opinion and dissent and had relied on the media's summaries. Reading through those helped clarify the reasoning both Alito and Ginsburg used in making their arguments and how simplified the media's coverage had been.

On the first night, we had a speaker who is a lawyer for the Becket Fund, a public interest organization which is devoted to defending religious liberty, and has been counsel in such Supreme Court cases as Hobby Lobby and, most recently, defending the right of a Muslim prisoner in Arkansas to wear a beard despite prison regulations against facial hair.

By coincidence, the WSJ has an interview with the director of the Becket Fund, Montse Alvarado that puts the battles for religious liberty in the context of other civil liberties fights in our recent history.
Advocates for religious liberty in America are part of what might be seen as the second wave of rights activism in the courts, the first being the wave that began in the 1950s and ’60s with litigation over the rights of minorities, women and criminal suspects, among others. In the past 25 years, conservative and libertarian groups have applied lessons that the liberal vanguard learned about how to select test cases for litigation as a way to steer the law. The focus today is still on the individual, but on his right to own guns, send his children to the school of his choice, or—Ms. Alvarado’s field of concern—worship freely and live a full religious life uncramped by the state.
Ironically, it seems today that the opposition to religious liberty today comes from the left. Alvarado makes an important point on the differences in how such questions are viewed today and the close relationship between freedom of speech and the freedom to free exercise of one's religious faith. This will be an integral argument in the case before the Supreme Court this Fall about whether the government can punish a baker who refuses to bake a cake for a gay wedding.
Ms. Alvarado’s point goes to the heart of the different ways in which religious liberty is perceived in America. The progressive or liberal approach is to equate free exercise of religion with the freedom to worship and to deny that it has anything to do with how a person organizes his life. The Becket Fund and others assert that most religions have complete codes governing not only worship but other aspects of conduct. This comprehensive Way of Life—which leads a devoutly Christian baker to decline to decorate a cake for a same-sex wedding, for instance—commands much more from believers than progressives will allow.

This thrust of Matal v. Tam would seem relevant to a case on the Supreme Court’s menu for the coming term, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The justices will decide whether Colorado’s attempts to compel a patissier to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, in contravention of his religious beliefs, violates his free-speech or free-exercise rights under the First Amendment. Ms. Alvarado believes the state’s position is logically untenable. Colorado is “arguing that baking a cake is not expressive,” and therefore not protected speech. “But at the same time, not baking a case is obviously an expression. Is it one or the other?”

Ms. Alvarado is optimistic about the case, in which Becket plans to file a brief. “Speech right now has been very, very protected by the court in the past four terms,” she says. “They seem to have an understanding of the importance of speech for individuals, for institutions. That’s an opening where you want to follow through as much as you can to expand rights.”

Yet in Masterpiece Cakeshop the American Civil Liberties Union is doggedly on the side of the state. Why is the left hostile to religious liberty? “It’s fundamentally a misunderstanding of the role of religion,” Ms. Alvarado says. “Besides, the only way to expand government is to edge yourself into all aspects of an individual’s life, starting with how they can and cannot participate in the market.” She also cites Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the 2014 case in which the high court held that the craft store’s owners, who object on religious grounds to certain types of contraceptives, could not be forced to provide them to employees.

“The ACLU has a sadly checkered record on religious liberty,” Ms. Alvarado says. “It’s sometimes with us, and sometimes against, but the moment that a lot of the sexual-morality issues came into play, it seems they lost the live-and-let-live philosophy that was so fundamental to them.” The ACLU, she says, supports religious liberty only for the groups it likes. “It’s an all-too-common error that undermines the First Amendment standard of equal protection for all religions.” This broader view is why legal scholar Viet Dinh has described the Becket Fund as “God’s ACLU.”