• ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, October 13

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Very good economic news, twice over

    Overall, a very strong report across multiple economic sectors, despite the hurricanes.

    The retail sales report is closely watched because it provides an early read on consumer activity each month. Consumer spending accounts for about 70% of the economy.

    U.S. economic growth likely slowed in the July-September quarter as the hurricanes shut down thousands of businesses, people were forced to miss work, and power was cut to millions of homes. Analysts forecast that the economy expanded at a 2% annual pace in the third quarter, down from a 3% gain in the April-June quarter.

    Yet the economy is expected to rebound in the final three months of the year as rebuilding and repair work accelerates. –USA Today

    Comment: Very good news, indeed. To keep it going, especially as interest rates rise and the job market gets tighter, the administration needs to keep reducing regulations and get a tax cut through Congress.

    Trump refuses to certify the Iran Nuclear Deal, saying it is not in America’s best interests

    He made a strong speech, which included an itemized list of Iran’s lethal attacks on Americans and its sponsorship of terror throughout the Middle East.

    The hardest immediate blow to Iran was Trump’s decision to label Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist entity. That’s important because the Revolutionary Guard is the regime’s enforcer and controls a huge chuck of the country’s economy.

    Next up: Congress has to determine whether to impose sanctions on Iran.

    If it does, then the US effectively withdraws from the multilateral “Joint Agreement.” But who knows what Congress will do, especially with Trump’s latest personal foe, Bob Corker, as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee?

    As expected, the other signatories to the agreement didn’t like Trump’s decision.

    No improvement in the horrific California wildfires. Death toll above 30 and expected to rise (Los Angeles Times)

    15 fires have burned over 200k acres so far.

    Trump hits Obamacare with a double whammy, ending subsidies to private insurers and urging competition across state lines

    Without subsidies, the insurers will likely stop providing policies to lower-middle-class consumers. The poorest are not affected because they are on Medicaid. The better off are not affected if they have employer healthcare plans.

    Whether insurers can operate across state lines will depend on whether state regulators allow it. Right now, they don’t.

    Conservatives are furious at Mitch McConnell and establishment Republicans for the very slow pace at which Trump appointees are approved (Daily Signal)

    Comment: The pace is extremely slow. Trump has been slow to put forward nominees in some areas. The Democrats have opposed everything, tooth and nail. And the Republicans have refused to change any rules to speed things along, giving free rein to the Democrats’ delaying tactics. Since many establishment Republicans oppose Trump, the delays may be just fine with them.

    But rank-and-file Republicans and many donors are not happy. They especially want to see judicial nominees moved along expeditiously.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, September 30

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Why Trump fired Tom Price and what it means, going forward

    Comment: He was only appointed because he was the most knowledgeable Republican Congressman on healthcare.

    So, he was a good choice as point man to repeal and replace Obamacare with a new bill. When that didn’t succeed, he was expendable.

    We’ll never know if he would have survived another year or two if he had simply behaved himself. But he didn’t.

    Flying private jets on the public dime is justifiable if and only if the trips are vital to the senior official’s time and the private plane saves a lot of otherwise wasted time.

    Flying them in other cases and asking the public to pay is simply an unjustified perk and a perfect example of the Washington Swamp. Trump was right to fire Price for that reason alone. 

    Comment #2: Trump’s cabinet is not the first to misuse these privileges. I’m impressed that Chief of Staff John Kelly learned from this mess and immediately set up new procedures, requiring Cabinet officials to go through his office whenever they want to fly private jets at government expense.

    Mike Pence protégé, Seema Verma, seen as frontrunner to replace Price: She has deep experience running government health care programs (New York Post)

    Verma currently heads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which administers the Affordable Care Act.

    Verma led Indiana’s expansion of Medicaid when Pence was governor.

    Comment: Experience is essential. HHS has 80,000 employees and a $1 trillion budget.

    Indiana has been one of the three or four best-run state governments for two decades or more. Running programs there is high praise. Running them in Illinois normally leads to indictment.

    Victor Davis Hanson on “A Lying Quartet”: The Obama Officials who Surveilled their Political Opponents (American Greatness)

    The names are familiar:

    Susan Rice
    James Clapper
    John Brennan
    James Comey

    With a lot of details about their publicly-stated falsehoods, plus plenty on Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes, and others.

    Rarely has an intelligence apparatus engaged in systematic lying—and chronic deceit about its lying—both during and even after its tenure. Yet the Obama Administration’s four top security and intelligence officials time and again engaged in untruth, as if peddling lies was part of their job descriptions.

    So far none have been held accountable. –Victor Davis Hanson

    Colin Kaepernick: Imperfect Messenger. Donated $25,000 to group named after convicted cop killer who broke out of jail and fled to Cuba (Daily Mail)

    Comment: Kaepernick started something big politically when he knelt. That brings scrutiny–and he has not fared well under that microscope.

    Comment #2Cuba really needed American recognition when Obama handed it to them. As usual, he got nothing in return, not even the return of convicted US criminals who were given asylum by Castro’s government.

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    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Tom Elia for the Kaepernick story 

    ◆ Clarice Feldman for the Victor Davis Hanson op-ed

  • ZipDialog Roundup: Breaking News for Tuesday, August 8

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ BREAKING: North Korea now making miniaturized, missile-ready nuclear weapons, U.S. analysts say (Washington Post)

    North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, crossing a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power, U.S. intelligence officials have concluded in a confidential assessment.

    The new analysis completed last month by the Defense Intelligence Agency comes on the heels of another intelligence assessment that sharply raises the official estimate for the total number of bombs in the communist country’s atomic arsenal. The U.S. calculated last month that up to 60 nuclear weapons are now controlled by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Some independent experts believe the number of bombs is much smaller. –Washington Post, reporting on Defense Intelligence Agency

     

    North Korea’s dangerous game: Trump is not Obama (BESA, Israeli think tank)

    Pyongyang uses the buzz that accompanies its ballistic missile and nuclear tests, as well as the obscurity that conceals the extent of its infrastructure for weapons grade fissile materials production and nuclear weaponization, as tools with which to challenge Washington. Trump is not Obama, however. Kim Jong-un will need to tread carefully to avoid provoking an American preemptive strike. — Raphael Ofek for the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies

     Robust US economy: Record number of job openings (Bloomberg)

    The gain in job openings underscores the need for workers in an economy that’s continuing to expand. At the same time, the pool of qualified Americans is shrinking and making some positions tougher to fill, one reason economists expect the monthly pace of hiring will eventually cool. –Bloomberg

    Comment: Great news. Now, to get wages moving up and people trained to fill those openings.

     Google fires author of viral memo on the downside of diversity hiring (Bloomberg)

    Google was already being sued for discrimination, and some executives said that, after the memo, they could not “in good conscience” assign some people to work the memo’s author, James Damore. They claimed his memo “perpetuated gender stereotypes.”

    Mr. Damore’s own response, which virtually nobody prints begins this way:

    I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem.
    Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber. –James Damore

    James Damore’s complete, original memo and response are here (Medium.com)

    Comment:

    • Expect him to sue.
    • Expect him to find it hard to gain employment in Silicon Valley.
    • Expect an honest discussion of these issues to become impossible.

    More troubles for Obamacare: Major insurers keep leaving the marketplace (Fox News)

    Exchanges are now down to 3 states. Insurers lost over $1 billion in last two years.

     

     

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  • Valerie Jarrett and Michelle Obama’s old hospital drops major Obamacare insurance program

    Valerie Jarrett chaired the board of the University of Chicago Hospitals until she moved to Washington.

    While there, she naturally employed her friend, Michelle Obama; this is Chicago and such favors are expected.

    Kudos to Valerie, though, for going above and beyond: she tripled Michelle’s salary after Barack was elected to the US Senate.

    Ah, coincidences.

    Now, the Chicago Tribune reports (link here)

    Thousands of low-income patients may have to scramble to find new doctors this month after University of Chicago Medicine became the latest major health system to break up with IlliniCare Health, an insurer that administers benefits for the state’s Medicaid program.

    U. of C. Medicine follows Northwestern Medicine and Advocate Health Care in walking away from IlliniCare Health, one of 12 Medicaid managed care organizations in the state. Medicaid managed care organizations are insurers that handle benefits for Medicaid, a state- and federally funded health insurance program for the poor. –Chicago Tribune

    Meanwhile, the deadbeat state of Illinois “still owes Medicaid managed care organizations about $3.5 billion,” according to the Tribune.

    Comment: Thank goodness the Republicans are busy repealing and replacing this clunker after 7 years of promising. Sarcasm off.

  • Dead: Two More Republican Senators says “No” to the Revised Healthcare bill

    This evening’s declarations by Utah’s Mike Lee and Kansas’ Jerry Moran, plus earlier statements by Maine’s Susan Collins and Kentucky’s Rand Paul, means there are four declared “no” votes. (Brief story here in the Washington Post.)

    With only 52 Republicans in the Senate and all Democrats and independents voting “no,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cannot get to the minimum 50 he needs.

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    What happens now?

    The big questions now:

    • What happens to the American health insurance system, which is now melting down under the weight of Obamacare’s malfunctions and heavy subsidies?
    • What kind of patchwork reforms will be put in place this year?
      • Democrats will want a huge say, but rank-and-file Republicans won’t like that and may try to block the Democrats’ proposals.
    • Who pays the political price for this fiasco?
      • Who is hurt more politically? The Democrats by the Obamacare mess they inflicted on the nation? Or the Republicans by their failure to fulfill their repeated promise to repeal and replace it?
      • What happens to the split between moderate Democrats and progressive single-payer advocates?
      • What happens to the split between modern Republicans and more conservative legislators who want to roll back entitlements?
  • Democrats Latest Strategy on Repeal-and-Replace: Shut Down the Entire Senate

    To show they are grumpy about the Republicans’ negotiations to repeal-and-replace ObamaCare, the Democrats have a new idea.

    They plan to halt all business in the Senate, even the most routine measures.

    Those normally pass unanimously without objection.

    That is what CNN is reporting.

    Senate Democrats will move to bring the chamber to a halt Monday night to protest the Republicans’ closed-door process to gut Obamacare in the coming days, according to a senior Democratic aide.

    Democrats plan to object to routine requests to let the chamber operate — whether it’s scheduling votes or allowing committees to meet for extended hearings — in a move aimed at escalating the fight over health care. –CNN

    CNN reports the Democratic base is enthusiastic about the strategy.

    It is not clear if the Democrats plan to continue the strategy after Monday’s protest.

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    Comment: Rachel Maddow, Elizabeth Warren, and Tom Steyer might like it, but ordinary people won’t.

    This is a temper tantrum wearing the thin guise of political strategy.

    The correct allegation is that the Republican Senators are doing this behind closed doors.

    The Republicans rightly respond that the Democrats have said they won’t agree to anything if it repeals and replaces Obamacare.

    So, Republicans figure, if we can’t get their votes, why tell them in advance what we are doing?

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, May 27

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     Trump’s back home and the Russian mess is still dogging him.

    He’s considering major changes at the White House to cope. Washington Post says the allegations “threaten to consume his Presidency”

    The White House plans to far more aggressively combat the cascading revelations about contacts between Trump associates — including Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser — and Russia.

    White House officials also are trying to find ways to revive Trump’s stalled policy agenda in Congress and to more broadly overhaul the way the White House communicates with the public.

    That includes proposals for more travel and campaign-style rallies nationwide so that Trump can speak directly to his supporters, as well as changes in the pace and nature of news briefings, probably including a diminished role for embattled White House press secretary Sean Spicer. –Washington Post

    Comment: These allegations are why the investigation by Special Council Robert Mueller are so important–and why it needs to move quickly. If there really was collusion with the Russians, the public and Congress need to know. Same if there was no collusion since the allegations themselves are making it hard to govern.

     The most important comment in US politics this week:

    Mitch McConnell’s “I don’t know how we get to 50,” votes to pass a health-care reform bill

    He did express some optimism on tax reform. (Reuters via Business Insider)

    Politico reports: “McConnell Steps Into ObamaCare Firing Line”

    Comment: This process is going to be very painful as the insurance markets narrow and premiums go up. Those who pay them are going to be mad as hell. Those who might be harmed by reforms are going to be just as mad.

    Politically, the question is whether voters will hold Democrats responsible for making the mess or Republicans for failing to fix it.

    My hunch: it is much easier to be the party out of power, casting the blame for failure. Since the Republicans hold both Houses and the Presidency, they won’t have much luck pointing the finger at Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi.

     American Airlines passenger tried to bite flight attendant, then ran off the plane. Now in custody.  (Washington Post)

    Likely Sentence: To be dragged repeatedly up and down the aisle of a United flight while listening to an endless loop of instructions on how to buckle your seat belt.

    (Btw, is there anybody left who doesn’t grasp the vexing concept of buckling a seat belt? Still, I am delighted to hear the detailed explanation on every single flight. I’m sure the flight attendants love doing it, too. Also, except for Sully Sullenberger, is there any such thing as a “water landing”? Isn’t there another term for that?)

     Uber and Lyft beat the city of Austin, will return on their terms  (The Verge)

    Austin didn’t give in on the requirements that led the ride-sharing companies to pull out for a year. But the Texas legislature just passed a bill that says the state, not the city, is in charge of setting the requirements. The key state requirement is annual background checks on the drivers.

     Little Caesar’s delivered a pizza (allegedly) labeled “halal.” The recipient says it was pepperoni. So, naturally, he is suing . . . for $100 million  (USA Today)

    Comment: I can see the plaintiff’s point. Pepperoni is virtually impossible to detect on pizza.

    But is $100 million really enough?

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, May 25

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     Now, the Brits are hunting in Libya for some members of the Manchester terror cell.

    They’ve already made a half-dozen arrests, including the bomber’s brother, in the UK  (New York Times)

    Officials were looking into reports that people who knew Mr. Abedi — including an imam at his mosque — had contacted the authorities as early as 2015 with concerns that he may have been recruited by extremists. –New York Times

    Comment: The police, overwhelmed with tips, sometimes drop the ball. That’s always disturbing, but it would be more disturbing if they shied away for PC reasons. That’s been a problem for UK police. Here, for example, is the Manchester police apologizing for a 2016 training exercise that resembled an Islamist attack.

     Meanwhile, UK officials are furious that the NYT published secret information about the crime (BBC) The UK had shared it with the US. The Brits believes the leakers were US police, not the White House.

     Circa’s John Solomon and Sara Carter running circles around the MSM, this time on Obama Administration illegal spying on Americans

    How bad was it? Bad enough that the lap dog FISA court judges were infuriated by the deceit and illegal action.

     Congressional Budget Office says Trump-Ryan health plan will be budget neutral but leave 23 million more uninsured over a decade (Associated Press)

    The report said older people with lower income would disproportionately lose coverage. Over half of those becoming uninsured, 14 million people, would come from the bill’s $834 billion in cuts to Medicaid, which provides health coverage to poor and disabled people, over 10 years. –AP

    Comment: These numbers are disturbing but it compares this bill to Obamacare on the assumption that the ACA will survive. It won’t. It’s melting down and to save it would cost trillions.

     Mike Flynn has clammed up, but Paul Manafort has given Congressional investigators his documents related to Russian contacts (Washington Post)

    ◆ Richard Friedman on NATO’s purpose today (ZipDialog post)

     Who controls the South China Sea? China claims it, but it is an international waterway, and the US ensures it. The US navy sends occasional ships through to make sure it is open. Now, the US navy is conducting its first such operation of the Trump presidency. (CNN)

     Today in PC lunacy: White women’s burrito shop is forced to close after being hounded with accusations it was ‘culturally appropriating Mexican food and jobs’ (Daily Mail) In Portland, naturally.

    Comment: The city will give up Hindu-Arabic numerals when they discover they were invented in South Asia in the 6th or 7th century  and stolen from those poor folks. (Britannica)

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Fred Lawson
     for the Manchester police apology
    ◆ Tim Favero and Tom Elia for the burrito story; they clearly know me!

  • Aetna waves goodbye to Obamacare

    This is today’s story that affects the most people. It represents the continuing instability of Obamacare and the exchanges that were its centerpiece.


    Aetna drops last 2 state markets under Affordable Care Act (Houston Chronicle)

    While Republicans rewrite the Affordable Care Act in Washington, the future of the current law has grown hazier with the nation’s third-largest health insurer completely divorcing itself from state-based insurance markets.

    Aetna said this week that it won’t sell individual coverage next year in its two remaining states – Nebraska and Delaware – after projecting a $200 million loss this year. It had already dropped Iowa and Virginia for next year. The insurer once sold the coverage in 15 states, but slashed that to four after losing about $450 million in 2016. –Associated Press via the Houston Chronicle


    Comment: With Aetna gone, I imagine Acme will step in to fill the gap.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, May 7

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     Biggest event of the day: French election  Why? First, it’s already been important because the country’s main parties are out. Voters are not happy.

    Second, if Marine Le Pen is elected France could well exit the European Union, which it helped form.

    The latest ripple is massive computer hack of Emmanuel Macron’s computer files. (BBC)

    The main suspect is Russia, which is backing Le Pen.

    Macron is heavily favored. (Reuters)

    Comment: Even the prospect will rock European politics. It should have already done; there is clearly widespread dissatisfaction with the excessive bureaucracy, lack of democratic controls, erosion of national control over borders, and other key elements of the European project.

    There is also fury over the massive migration of Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa who are not integrating into European society, reject many elements of Enlightenment liberalism and toleration, and, in some cases, pose terror threats.

    Le Pen is expected to lose to center-left candidate, Emmanuel Macron. Whether he can lift France from the economic and social doldrums is another matter.

     Next up on Health Care: Trump and Mitch McConnell try to craft a deal (Washington Post)

    For months, McConnell, the consummate political insider, has been dispensing his counsel to Trump, the ultimate outsider, who has been absorbing the Kentuckian’s words. The dynamic has provided a degree of stability in the still-forming relationship between the low-key Senate leader and the loquacious president, who are starkly different types of people.

    But cracks have also emerged in their partnership, most notably when Trump has casually suggested that McConnell change the long-standing rules of the Senate and McConnell has bluntly brushed him off.

    Their fragile alliance is about to face its biggest challenge yet in the next phase of the Republican effort to overhaul the nation’s health-care laws. –Washington Post

    Comment: Trump will surely rely on McConnell to work on the deal in the Senate itself, with Vice President (and former Rep.) Mike Pence as the main intermediary for the White House. Trump will be involved enough to show he cares a lot about it and then push harder when the Senate deal is close to done. 

    Of course, the Senate bill and the House bill will be different, requiring a conference committee–the kind of thing that used to be standard before the Obama years essentially jettisoned normal Congressional procedures.

     The New York Times wastes no time attacking: “Health Act Repeal Could Threaten U.S. Job Engine”

    How? Because fewer people might be employed in health care. They report devastating numbers in manufacturing in Ohio and then say, well, treating people for illnesses has softened the blow to employment.

    Comment: Oddly, this editorial was printed as a news story.

     Warren Buffett: I’m a ‘broken record’ on the US economy, we’re stuck at 2% growth  (CNBC)

    Don’t pay much attention to the quarterly numbers, which oscillate, he says. It’s been slow and steady since the autumn of 2009.

     Colombian civil war: Should the US fund the peace deal, as Obama wanted? Monica Crowley says no.  (NY Post)

    In mid-April, President Trump had a brief, cordial exchange with two former presidents of Colombia — Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana — at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. After the Miami Herald reported the encounter, critics suggested it might “undermine” the Colombian “peace deal” struck by the current president, Juan Manuel Santos, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

    In fact, it’s less a peace agreement than a pathway to dictatorship for a key US ally and to an expansion of drug trafficking here — developments that would pose grave challenges to Trump’s national security agenda and fight against opioid addiction.

    Remarkably, this disastrous course will likely be partially financed with nearly half a billion US taxpayer dollars — promised by then-President Barack Obama — unless Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan deny the appropriation to implement the deal. –Monica Crowley in the New York Post

    Comment: This deadly civil war has lasted for decades. Colombian voters rejected a previous peace deal.

    I simply don’t know enough about the current situation to comment on it, or on Crowley’s views, intelligently.

     Richard Dawkins reports on very disturbing views in North Africa

    The underlying article is here (National Secular Society, UK) It reports on a large survey in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and Palestine.

    Just 45% of Egyptian men believed there should be laws “criminalizing domestic violence, including marital rape.” And only 70% of Egyptian women agreed with this statement. –National Secular Society

    Comment: This matters for women in the region and it matters for Europe, where refugees from North Africa are retaining the views for generations, not adapting to liberal western values.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Marcia Sukenik Weiss
    for the Colombia peace deal
    ◆ Seth Charnes
    for correcting me on Pence serving in the House, not the Senate