Thursday, June 14, 2018

Cruising the Web

Democrats have suddenly decided that they care about increased health insurance premiums.
Since 2014, Democrats have greeted double-digit hikes in ObamaCare premiums with a yawn. Now it's a crisis that must be fixed immediately. What's changed?

Huge increases in ObamaCare premiums are the norm. In its first year, ObamaCare forced costs in the individual insurance market up by double digits. Subsequent eye-popping jumps followed. The average premium climbed about 7% in 2015, 11% in 2016, 22% in 2017, and by more than 30% in 2018.

The Health and Human Services Department calculated that, overall, premiums more than doubled between 2013 — the year before ObamaCare went into effect — and 2017.

Note that this doubling occurred while President Obama was in the White House (insurers announced their 2017 premiums in the summer of 2016).
But Democrats just waved away concerns about those increases when their guy was in the White House.
The response from Democrats back then to these massive annual hikes in insurance costs?

They said they were temporary, because insurers initially underpriced their plans to attract customers and they had to make up for lost ground. Once ObamaCare markets stabilized, rates would too.

Mostly they argued that double-digit premium increases were no big deal because 87% of the people buying coverage in an ObamaCare exchange are getting subsidies, which effectively shield them from the rate hikes.

In 2016, an Obama administration spokesman said "we think they will ultimately be surprised by the affordability of the premiums, because the tax credits track with the increases in premiums."

Obama even argued that rate hikes were a good thing, because they made more people eligible for ObamaCare subsidies, which are based on the cost of a "benchmark" silver plan.

"When benchmark premiums rise faster than expected," one official report said, "more individuals are protected by (the premium subsidies)."

These comforting reassurances overlooked the fact that millions of people in the individual market aren't eligible for those subsidies. They face the full brunt of those cost hikes.
Well, now that the GOP have repealed the individual mandate and Trump is in the White House, suddenly Democrats think that premium increases are absolutely dreadful.
So now the Congressional Budget Office is forecasting that average ObamaCare premiums will climb by 15% this year. If that's true, it would be a break from the trend. In the context of ObamaCare, that's actually good news.

Yet Democrats are suddenly taking notice of ObamaCare's costs and demanding action.

Not, mind you, because they care about those families priced out of the insurance market. In fact, Democrats adamantly oppose even a modest proposal by Trump that would make low-cost non-ObamaCare insurance plans more widely available.

The reason Democrats care about premium hikes this year is because they hope to score political points before the November midterm elections.

As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer put it, "Republicans and the Trump administration own any and all increases in health care premiums for American consumers."

The truth is that ObamaCare's premiums continue to skyrocket for the same reason they did in prior years. The law is unworkable.
We'll have to see if voters buy all this sudden concern about high premiums.
Democrats know as well as anyone that ObamaCare was collapsing long before Trump took office, and they have no credible plans to fix it. All they're looking for is a convenient scapegoat.

We should also be skeptical about the Democrats suddenly worrying about the cost of gas this summer. They're trying to blame Trump and Republicans for those rising prices. Jordan McGillis of the Institute for Energy Research reminds us how Hawaii's Senator Schatz, now blaming Trump for high gas prices, has been advocating for policies that would increase the price of gas.
It’s peculiar to see Schatz bemoan rising gas prices, because one of his pet proposals would cause gas prices to rise by design. Schatz has long supported a carbon tax. His latest effort is the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act of 2018, which he sponsored alongside Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

A carbon tax is a fee levied on the emission of greenhouse gases, with the purpose of raising gas prices and nudging our economy away from the reliable and plentiful energy provided by hydrocarbons. According to carbon tax theory, by elevating the cost to consumers of burning hydrocarbons in the form of coal for electricity and oil for transportation fuel, policymakers can spur the development of competing energy sources, like wind and solar, that have hitherto been unable to match the affordability and performance of hydrocarbons.

So Sen. Schatz’s proposal would assess a tax of $49, set to increase by a real 2 percent annually, per ton of carbon dioxide. For concerned drivers, that means a price hike at the pump of more than 20 percent, according to analysis done by Resources for the Future. So while Sen. Schatz complains that gas is again creeping above $3 per gallon in many parts of the country, he is simultaneously calling for an additional 60-cent price hike.

And because energy expenditures naturally make up a larger portion of low-income families’ spending profiles than high-income families’, carbon taxes are regressive — i.e., hitting the poor hardest. And, indeed, a carbon tax like the one proposed by Sen. Schatz would make Schumer’s concern about average families a certainty. A carbon tax really would cut the legs out from under them as they strive to climb the economic ladder.

In an effort to offset the carbon tax’s regressive effects, Schatz’s plan would include an $800 refundable tax credit and grant billions of dollars to Social Security recipients, veterans’ program beneficiaries, and others. Though the intention of these benefits would be to mitigate the harm caused by the tax, this program would merely create a new entitlement class that would be incentivized to support the tax as a funding stream — not an emissions reduction plan — in perpetuity. A carbon tax would not only entail higher prices at the pump, it would also almost surely be accompanied by more government spending.

When we see the price at the pump tick upward, we viscerally experience the adverse effect it has on our quality of life. On some level, politicians like Schatz recognize the value that inexpensive fuel provides to Americans and share in our discomfort. Yet Schatz and his fellow travelers also advocate policies that would make the situation worse.

Jim Geraghty comments on Trump and the "deal" signed with Kim Jong Un in Singapore with just about exactly what I've been thinking.
Some folks think I was too hard on President Trump, his comments, and the overall gist of the potential agreements at the Singapore summit. I wonder if those folks saw the comments from the president such as, “You have things that weren’t included that we got after the deal was signed. I’ve done that before in my life. And we didn’t put it in the agreement because we didn’t have time.”

Didn’t have time?

What, was there some other place these guys needed to be? Was either leader worried about missing a flight or something? Trust me, Air Force One isn’t going to take off without the president. This isn’t the SAT, and there is no proctor declaring “pencils down” when the hour is complete.
Remember that Trump and Kim left Singapore earlier than was first planned.

As Geraghty reminds us, North Korea has a very long history of signing deals and then going back on them.
I suppose you could argue that it didn’t matter if the North Korean pledges were written down or not . . .

. . . because this regime has violated its own written pledges again and again.

North Korea signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1985 and promised not to develop nuclear weapons and to allow full access to any international inspectors. They broke that pledge.

In 1992, they signed a joint declaration with South Korea committing to “denuclearization.” They broke that pledge. Later that year, they signed an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency agreeing to full inspections. They broke that pledge.

In 1993, the North Koreans signed an agreement with the United States that included, “assurances against the threat and use of force, including nuclear weapons.” They broke that pledge.

Then in the 1994, North Korea signed the “Agreed Framework” freezing their nuclear program . . . that they continued in secret.

In 2000, North Korea signed an agreement to “not launch long-range missiles of any kind” and “greater transparency.” They didn’t honor that one, either.

On September 19, 2005, North Korea signed the agreement at the six-party talks “committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards.” On October 9, 2006, North Korea tested its first nuclear device.

In 2007, North Korea agreed to disable its key plutonium production facilities at Yongbyon and to provide a “complete and correct” declaration of its nuclear program by the end of the year. North Korea slowed down the destruction of the Yongbyon facility, provided an incomplete accounting of its nuclear program, and refused on-site inspections, making it impossible to verify its claims.

Since then, North Korea has tested five more nuclear devices.
So that is why we should be very skeptical. What reason do we have to think that this deal is different and they won't cheat this time just as they've cheated before. Trump seems to think that this past history doesn't matter. I hope that his advisers are wiser.

This is a warning I'd pay attention to.
he top U.S. counterintelligence agent has warned Americans traveling to Russia for the 2018 World Cup against taking any electronics with them, saying soccer fans could be targeted by hackers.

William Evanina, an FBI agent and the director of the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said in a Tuesday statement that even those who see themselves as insignificant could become victims of Russian spying.

“If you’re planning on taking a mobile phone, laptop, PDA, or another electronic device with you—make no mistake—any data on those devices (especially your personally identifiable information) may be accessed by the Russian government or cyber criminals,” Evanina said, according to Reuters.
When I was in graduate school, I spent a semester in the Soviet Union in a program for foreign students and all of us in the program just assumed that we were being eavesdropped on at all times. Nowadays, I'd assume that they were trying to hack into any device I might bring with while I was there.

Sweden is enduring its own #MeToo moment with some pretty awful allegations against a member of the committee that chooses the Nobel Prize winner in Literature.
The man at the center of a sex-abuse and financial crimes scandal that is tarnishing the academy that awards the Nobel Prize in Literature was charged on Tuesday with two counts of rape of a woman in 2011.

Swedish prosecutor Christina Voigt said the evidence “is robust and sufficient for prosecution.”

Jean-Claude Arnault, a well-known figure in Sweden who ran a cultural center, is married to Katarina Frostenson, a poet and member of the Swedish Academy. He has denied this and other sex abuse allegations.

In April, the Swedish Academy said an internal investigation into sexual misconduct allegations found that “unacceptable behavior in the form of unwanted intimacy” has taken place within the ranks of the prestigious institution.

Violence was used in one case and in the second incident, the victim was asleep, Voight told the Associated Press, adding that seven people back the victim’s claim.

“We are talking about the same woman and the rapes took place in October and December 2011,” said Voight, who didn’t name the victim, as is customary in Sweden.

The secretive 18-member board in recent months has been embroiled in a sex-abuse scandal that investigators concluded was “not generally known.” It has led to the departure of seven members of the academy, including Frostenson, who stepped down in April at the same time as another woman — the academy’s permanent secretary, Sara Danius.

Many in the Scandinavian nation, known for promoting gender equality, have expressed concerns over the case that has exposed bitter divisions within the academy, whose members are appointed for life, and given rise to accusations of patriarchal leanings among some members.

Last month, the academy announced that no prize will be awarded this year.

The protest has grown out of what began as Sweden’s own #MeToo moment in November, when the country saw thousands of sexual misconduct allegations surfacing from all walks of life. It hit the academy when 18 women came forward in a Swedish newspaper with accusations against Arnault.

Roger Clegg looks at the defense that Harvard is putting forward for its admissions policy that is being challenged by a group of Asian Americans who claim that the policy discriminates against them. Harvard's president claims that the university is seeking diversity.
The suggestion is that the lawsuit would require Harvard to ignore everything about a student applicant except his or her grades and test scores. That’s false, of course: Harvard can consider whatever it likes, so long as it doesn’t subject people to illegal discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity. What’s more, the implication that considering the “whole person” will inevitably result in fewer Asian Americans being admitted is racially offensive stereotyping. And it echoes — as the plaintiffs have noted — Harvard’s past policy of having an anti-Semitic cap on the number of Jews admitted.

The Center for Equal Opportunity published a study
, "Too Many Asian Americans," last month looking at three selective schools - Caltech, MIT, and Harvard and concluded that Asian Americans are being discriminated against. Here are the key findings of the study.
“Caltech does not have race-based affirmative action in admissions. Over the years there have been more and more Asian Americans admitted and enrolled at the school. Asian-American students routinely constitute more than 40 percent of the Caltech student body.

“MIT has long used race as a factor in admissions. The number of Asian Americans at MIT was increasing but came to a halt in the 1990s, peaking at 29 percent of the student body. That number has stalled since then at about 26 percent.

“At Harvard University, which also uses race in admissions, Asian Americans as a percentage of all undergraduates sharply increased to 21 percent and then significantly dropped. It has stayed at roughly 17 percent since then.

At both MIT and Harvard there seems to be a limit or “ceiling” on how many Asian American applicants are to be admitted. If there were no such ceiling, both MIT and Harvard would probably enroll a significantly larger number of Asian American applicants. As it is, some of those applicants may conclude they were rejected on account of their race. “That would be discrimination, certainly as a matter of fact,” says the study, “and most likely in a way that is not consistent with the constraints on such discrimination that the Supreme Court has established.”

The study draws “a complicated picture” that extends nationwide. “The number of Asian Americans at elite schools has risen dramatically, and they are ‘overrepresented’ relative to their numbers in the U.S. population. Yet . . . certain elite schools will only admit some Asian American applicants, but not too many. And indeed, not as many as their academic achievements would suggest.”

Similarly to Harvard, Mayor de Blasio seeks to decrease the number of Asian Americans getting into New York City's selective high schools. presently, admissions is based on one test. De Blasio wants to make the schools take the top 7% from each middle school in an effort to bring in more students of the preferred minorities. One graduate of Stuyvesant High School writes in the New York Times writes to criticize the thinking behind de Blasio's plan.
But the mayor’s solution is no solution at all.

For one thing, his plan seems purposely oblivious to his administration’s utter failure to prepare students across the city for the admissions test — and for a school as challenging as Stuyvesant. In nearly one quarter of the city’s public middle schools, zero seventh graders scored at the advanced level on the annual New York State Mathematics Exam in 2017. Mr. de Blasio would send the top 7 percent of students at every middle school to the specialized high schools, but at 80 middle schools — or one out of every six — not even 7 percent of seventh graders passed the state math exam.

These students have been in the mayor’s charge since they were 9 years old. Instead of complaining, as he has, that the admissions test invites so-called gaming in the form of preparing for it after school and during summers, we should be demanding answers from him as to why middle schools themselves are not teaching the basic math and reading skills that are its subject.
Good question. And while we're questioning the Mayor's education policies, how about drilling him about his opposition to charter schools which have done such a better job of educating minority children than the regular public schools.