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Hullabaloo


Monday, March 27, 2017

 
A lotta egg on a lotta faces ...

by digby


























.
 
No, Obamacare is not in a death spiral

by digby
















If you've heard it once you've heard it a thousand times: Obamacare is falling apart and on the verge of catastrophic failure.

No it isn't:
Republican leaders say they will table health care talks following the defeat of the House GOP to replace Obamacare. As House Speaker Paul Ryan put it, "Obamacare is the law of the land."

But some conservatives say that President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation can’t last much longer, regardless of whether Congress finds a legislative compromise.

"It is in a death spiral," conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt said March 26 on Meet the Press. "The New York Times yesterday pointed out that — the president of Aetna — that you will lose coverage in many places in America for everyone, and that to me is a death spiral for those people."

The idea that Obamacare is in a "death spiral" — a specific term used in the health insurance industry — is a claim that we’ve heard before. Experts say Hewitt is incorrect.

We reached out to Hewitt through his radio program but did not hear back.

Still no ‘death spiral’

"Death spiral" is a health industry term built around three components:

Shrinking enrollment;

Healthy people leaving the system;

Rising premiums.

Specifically, a death spiral occurs when shrinking enrollment leads to a deteriorating risk pool (or when healthy people leave the plan due to the cost). That leads to higher premiums for the people remaining in the insurance pools, which causes enrollment to shrink even further, continuing the cycle until the entire system fails.

The latest government figures show enrollment in the Affordable Care Act is slightly down from last year. Through Jan. 31, 2017, some 12.2 million people were signed up for coverage through a federal or state marketplace, which is a decrease of 500,000, or 4 percent, from the same point last year.

Experts noted that marketplace sign-ups were running in line with their 2016 pace as of the middle of January, which experts said might suggest the decline in sign-ups was somehow related to the Trump administration, not an impending death spiral.

For example, the Trump administration decided to at least partially halt marketing and outreach encouraging people to sign up for health coverage.

But experts say the enrollment decline isn’t an indication the health care law is in a death spiral. There is no direct connection, they said, showing that the declining enrollment is causing premiums to increase.

Why not? Because federal government subsidies in the form of tax credits are largely shielding customers from feeling the premium increase.

As we have reported, premiums are increasing. But that isn’t affecting the cost for most consumers, due to built-in subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. The subsidies cap premium prices at a certain percentage of income for anyone below 400 percent of the federal poverty level (in 2016 that would be $47,520 for a single person).

Among the people who have signed up so far for 2017, 81 percent will receive a subsidy.

Data also shows no uptick in healthy people leaving the health insurance market.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reports the share of people signing up for health care in the low-risk demographic — ages 18-34 — remains about the same in 2017 as it was in 2016, at 26 percent of enrollees.

"There is no data to indicate a drop in the number of younger enrolled, although the announced policy not to enforce the IRS penalty, if not reversed, could result in a decline over time," said John Rother, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care.

Hewitt referred to a New York Times article that quotes the president of Aetna saying that in many places people will lose health care insurance.

We couldn’t find that article, but a simple remark on how premiums are rising and insurers are leaving the marketplace is not enough evidence to meet the actuarial definition of a death spiral.

CBO, independent analysis: No death spiral

Others have also concluded that the Affordable Care Act is not in a death spiral. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, as part of its recent analysis of the GOP legislation, described the Affordable Care Act as stable.

Matthew Fiedler, a fellow with the Center for Health Policy at the Brookings Institution, similarly concluded in a recent analysis that the Affordable Care Act is not in a death spiral.

Fiedler found that marketplace premium increases had little if any impact on health insurance sign-ups and that the impact on the individual market risk pool will more than likely be minor, despite the small decline in enrollment numbers.

"It therefore remains likely that insurers’ individual market business will return to a roughly break-even or slightly profitable position in 2017, absent other policy changes," Fiedler wrote.

Our ruling

Hewitt said Obamacare is "in a death spiral."

That’s a specific phrase that describes a process where health people leaving the insurance market causes insurance premiums to rise to the point that more healthy people leave the market. At some point, the system becomes unsustainable.

Experts say there is no evidence that cycle has started with Obamacare, because federal subsidies are keeping people from feeling the brunt of premium increases. The CBO and other independent analyses have found the health care system to be stable.

We rate this claim False.

There you go ...
 
Why his lies work so well

by digby




I found this piece by Jeremy Adam Smith at Salon about why Trump's overwhelming dishonesty doesn't seem to bother his supporters to be quite interesting.

How does he get away with it?
Journalists and researchers have suggested many answers, from hyper-biased, segmented media to simple ignorance on the part of GOP voters. But there is another explanation that no one seems to have entertained.

It is that Trump is telling “blue” lies — a psychologist’s term for falsehoods, told on behalf of a group, that can actually strengthen the bonds among the members of that group.

Children start to tell selfish lies at about age three, as they discover adults cannot read their minds: I didn’t steal that toy, Daddy said I could, He hit me first. At around age seven, they begin to tell white lies motivated by feelings of empathy and compassion: That’s a good drawing, I love socks for Christmas, You’re funny.

Blue lies are a different category altogether, simultaneously selfish and beneficial to others — but only to those who belong to your group. As University of Toronto psychologist Kang Lee explained, blue lies fall in between generous white lies and selfish “black” ones. “You can tell a blue lie against another group,” he said, which makes it simultaneously selfless and self-serving. “For example, you can lie about your team’s cheating in a game, which is antisocial, but helps your team.”

In a 2008 study of seven, nine and 11-year-old children — the first of its kind — Lee and colleagues found that children become more likely to endorse and tell blue lies as they grow older. For example, given an opportunity to lie to an interviewer about rule-breaking in the selection process of a school chess team, many were quite willing to do so, older kids more than younger ones. The children telling this lie didn’t stand to selfishly benefit; they were doing it on behalf of their school. This line of research finds that black lies drive people apart, white lies draw them together, and blue lies pull some people together while driving others away.

Around the world, children grow up hearing stories of heroes who engage in deception and violence on behalf of their in-groups. In “Star Wars,” for example, Princess Leia lies about the location of the “secret rebel base.” In the Harry Potter novels (spoiler alert!), the entire life of double-agent Severus Snape is a lie, albeit a “blue” one, in the service of something bigger than himself.

That explains why most Americans seem to accept that our intelligence agencies lie in the interests of national security, and we laud our spies as heroes. From this perspective, blue lies are weapons in intergroup conflict. As Swedish philosopher Sissela Bok once said, “Deceit and violence — these are the two forms of deliberate assault on human beings.” Lying and bloodshed are often framed as crimes when committed inside a group — but as virtues in a state of war.

This research — and those stories — highlight a difficult truth about our species: We are intensely social creatures, but we’re prone to divide ourselves into competitive groups, largely for the purpose of allocating resources. People can be prosocial — compassionate, empathic, generous, honest — in their groups, and aggressively antisocial toward out-groups. When we divide people into groups, we open the door to competition, dehumanization, violence — and socially sanctioned deceit.

“People condone lying against enemy nations, and since many people now see those on the other side of American politics as enemies, they may feel that lies, when they recognize them, are appropriate means of warfare,” said George Edwards, a Texas A&M political scientist and one of the country’s leading scholars of the presidency.

If we see Trump’s lies not as failures of character but rather as weapons of war, then we can come to see why his supporters might see him as an effective leader. From this perspective, lying is a feature, not a bug, of Trump’s campaign and presidency.

Research by Alexander George Theodoridis, Arlie Hochschild, Katherine J. Cramer, Maurice Schweitzer and others have found that this kind of lying seems to thrive in an atmosphere of anger, resentment and hyper-polarization. Party identification is so strong that criticism of the party feels like a threat to the self, which triggers a host of defensive psychological mechanisms.

For millions and millions of Americans, climate change is a hoax, Hillary Clinton ran a sex ring out of a pizza parlor, and immigrants cause crime. Whether they truly believe those falsehoods or not is debatable — and possibly irrelevant. The research to date suggests that they see those lies as useful weapons in a tribal us-against-them competition that pits the “real America” against those who would destroy it.

It’s in blue lies that the best and worst in humanity can come together. They reveal our loyalty, our ability to cooperate, our capacity to care about the people around us and to trust them. At the same time, blue lies display our predisposition to hate and dehumanize outsiders, and our tendency to delude ourselves.

This is where we usually come to the part where liberals are supposed to reach out to Trump voters and tell them how much they feel their pain. But that won't work either. That doesn't mean, however, that the answer doesn't come from trying to seek out people's better angels:

This hints at the solution, which starts with the idea that we must appeal to the best in each other. While that may sound awfully idealistic, the applications of that insight are very concrete. In a new paper in the journal Advances in Political Psychology, D.J. Flynn and Brendan Nyhan, both of Dartmouth College, along with Jason Reifler, summarize everything science knows about “false and unsupported beliefs about politics.”

They recommend a cluster of prosaic techniques, such as presenting information as imagery or graphics, instead of text. The best combination appears to be graphics with stories. But this runs up against another scientific insight, one that will be frustrating to those who would oppose Trump’s lies: Who tells the story matters. Study after study shows that people are much more likely to be convinced of a fact when it “originates from ideologically sympathetic sources,” as the paper says — and it helps a lot if those sources look and sound like them.

In short, it is white conservatives who must call out Trump’s lies, if they are to be stopped.

So what do the rest of us do until some white conservatives from the heartland take it upon themselves to tell the truth to their brethren. (Some are, by the way. Like this guy.In fact, there are more of them than I've seen in years right now.)

What can the rest of us do in the meantime? We must make accuracy a goal, even when the facts don’t fit our emotional reality. We start by verifying information, seeking out different and competing sources, cultivating a diverse social network, sharing information with integrity — and admitting when we fail. That’s easy. But the most important and difficult thing we can do right now, suggests this line of research, is to put some critical distance between us and our groups — and so lessen the pressure to go along with the herd.

Donald Trump lies, yes, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us, his supporters included, need to follow his example.

I think this is vital. There's a lot of herding right now, on all sides of the political spectrum. I think the most important thing we can do is true to be a clear-headed as we can and not get sucked into the vortex of lies and spin and obfuscation that exists everywhere in our culture. It's very, very difficult. But if you inform yourself and maintain a healthy skepticism and rely to some extent on your instincts, I think you can keep your head most of the time.

What else can we do?

.
 
Leu-seur

by digby

It looks like last week's legislative train wreck took its toll on Trump's approval rating:


He said he was a winner. He's not.



.
 
Trump tipped his hand about Nunes a couple of weeks ago

by digby

















It's almost impossible to believe that Nunes hasn't recused himself from the investigation at this point. But it has to only be a matter of time right? (Right???)

It has been something of a mystery, the whereabouts of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes on the day before his announcement that he saw information suggesting that communications of then-President-elect Donald Trump and his advisers may have been swept up in surveillance of other foreign nationals.

One source told CNN that Nunes, a California Republican, was seen on the White House grounds the day before his announcement. In a phone interview, Nunes confirmed to CNN that he was on the White House grounds that day -- but he said he was not in the White House itself. (Other buildings, including the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, are on the same grounds.)

No one in the White House was aware that he was there, Nunes said.

The California Republican said he was there for additional meetings "to confirm what I already knew" but said he wouldn't comment further so as to not "compromise sources and methods." He went to the building because he needed a secure area to view the information, he told CNN.

Nunes also pushed back strongly against an account in The Daily Beast that suggested efforts of subterfuge in his path to his sources that day.

"I was in a cab with staff and we dropped them off before I went to my meeting," he said. "Anything other than that is just false."

Nunes also told CNN he had been working on nailing down the surveillance information before Trump's unsubstantiated claim earlier this month that he was wiretapped by President Barack Obama.
Look, it's been pretty obvious that he got this information from the White House since Trump himself telegraphed over a week ago that "something" was coming:
Trump told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that despite all the denials from every institution and person in a position to know, “You’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”

He always tips his hand. He can't help himself.

.


 
So much for so much winning

by digby


























I wrote about "the debacle" for Salon this morning:

In early December I wrote a piece recounting all of President Barack Obama’s attempts to woo Republicans and wondered whether members of the Tea Party — represented by the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus — would save Obamacare by once again refusing to go along with the GOP’s leadership. And by gosh, they went and did it again. By all accounts, the Freedom Caucus wouldn’t accept Paul Ryan’s draconian “replacement” for Obamacare because its members didn’t merely wish to return to the time before the Affordable Care Act was enacted; they wanted to take the health care system back to the time of Dickensian England.

Mainstream conservatives, on the other hand, were willing to deny millions of people health care but figured that their seats might be in jeopardy if they went as far as the Freedom Caucus demanded. This bill died the way that everything dies in the Republican Congress — at the hands of fanatics who will not take yes for an answer.

The best meme circulating on Twitter during the negotiations was this one:


Speaker Paul Ryan deserves the lion’s share of the blame for this debacle. He’s the allegedly serious wonk who was supposed to be able to whip up a quick replacement in a matter of days that House Republicans could get through on reconciliation in the Senate with 50 votes, Trump would sign it and victory would be at hand in no time. That didn’t work out. Ryan’s alleged grasp of policy was always a Beltway delusion, largely based on his love of “Atlas Shrugged” and those blue, blue eyes. The health care bill he slapped together was a monstrosity that failed on every level, from cost savings to coverage, and it pleased absolutely no one. The train wreck of a negotiation process shows that Ryan is just as bad at political leadership as he is at policy.

In an insightful piece in The Atlantic about the GOP’s inability to pass such an important piece of legislation, McCay Coppins observed that the party has been avoiding governance for nearly a decade and simply no longer knows how to do it. He wrote:
Indeed, without any real expectation of their bills actually being enacted, the legislative process mutated into a platform for point-scoring, attention-getting, and brand-building. At its most benign, this dynamic manifested itself in performative filibusters and symbolic votes that had no meaningful effect beyond raising a senator’s profile or appeasing the cable news-watching constituents back home.
That certainly explains why GOP voters were so ready to cast their ballots for Donald Trump as president. He is obviously the leader the party was waiting for.

I mentioned the other day that when Obama ran on “fixing Washington” and “bringing people together,” the Republicans came up with a clever plan to obstruct him at every turn and then crow that he failed to fulfill his promise. It worked pretty well. Obama spent his entire first term trying to reach out to Republicans to no avail, but even today it’s an article of faith on the right that Obama was “divisive.”

After the “repeal and replace” debacle, we can see there is a corollary with Trump. He didn’t promise to bring people together but rather ran on a simple platform of “winning.” He was supposed to be the guy who could just walk into any room and hammer out a deal so fast it would make our heads spin. He claimed he had a method of defeating ISIS “quickly and effectively and having total victory.” He would build that wall and make Mexico pay for it. He would immediately tear up all the existing trade deals and negotiate new ones on America’s terms. In fact, he was going to win so much in every way that we’d get sick of all the winning and beg him to stop.

And against all odds through an anachronistic constitutional fluke, Trump won the Electoral College vote despite coming up millions of votes short in the popular count — the real measure of his popularity. It was a win that wasn’t really a win, and he clearly knows it. As president, Trump has suffered one defeat after another. From the disaster of his travel ban to the fiasco of the health care strategy and the Michael Flynn debacle (as well as the ongoing Russia scandal), his new administration is a catastrophic fail so far. The question now is when his voters are going to realize that Trump is not the winner he said he was.

Many people knew this before he was elected, including some Republicans:




After the House leadership pulled the halth care bill from being voted on Friday, this quote from Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal” made the rounds on social media:

You can’t con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press and you can throw in a little hyperbole, But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.
But that book wasn’t written by Trump. It was written by his ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz. Trump’s real belief is that when you don’t deliver the goods, let them sue and get them agree to take pennies on the dollar. When you fail, always blame someone else.

Trump had signaled throughout the health care debate that he didn’t really want to deliver anything at all. He said he believed the best thing to do was let health care deteriorate so that people would blame the Democrats. On his terms then, he won.

And Trump actually loses a lot in life. He goes bankrupt and is sued and exposed as a fake and fraud with alarming frequency. He constantly lives on the edge of self-destruction, and when he is caught, he dances away by blaming others. Indeed, except for having been born wealthy, Trump isn’t a winner at all. He’s a survivor, which is not what he’s been selling. And he might survive as president.

The question is whether the country will survive as well. It’s already obvious we won’t be winning.

.


 

“Flexibility is the first principle of politics.”

by Tom Sullivan


Photo by EPA.

Isn't this about the time Fox News would condemn a Democratic president for not getting tough with Russia? They're all about principles, right? Then again, as Nixon said, “Flexibility is the first principle of politics.” Fox News is certainly flexible.

Buzzfeed:
Russian police in riot gear arrested a leading opposition leader and hundreds of protestors on Sunday in Moscow, as the biggest protests Russia has seen in years bloomed in cities across the country.

Hours after this crackdown on what appeared to be largely peaceful gatherings, the Trump administration did not issue any statements about the arrests.

Alexei Navalny, one of Russia’s most prominent critics of President Vladimir Putin, organized the gatherings to raise pressure on Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. In March, Navalny accused Medvedev of accepting bribes that he used to purchase mansions and yachts.

And the BBC:

In Moscow, protesters filled Pushkin square and some climbed the monument to poet Alexander Pushkin shouting "impeachment". Turnout was estimated to be between 7,000 and 8,000, according to police.

The police said 500 protesters had been arrested in the capital alone, but a rights group, OVD Info, put that number at at least 700.
Paid protesters, probably. George Soros is everywhere.

Ah, here we go (8:11 p.m. EDT Sunday night). Only took a day:

Weak. Cue Sean Hannity for a special segment on Obama golfing through an international crisis.

Oh. Right.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

 
Get ready for another week of hell...

by digby


You know it will be. They all are now. So here's a little meme to give you a chuckle as you gather your strength:








.
 
Bad bets

by digby

A lot of people bet that a Republican congress would be able to pass a bill to fulfill the number on promise they have made for the last seven years once they got a Republican president in the White House. But these people actually put money on it:





They should have known better. The Freedom Caucus runs this country. Nothing gets done unless they want it done. And they wanted full repeal with nothing to replace it. That's the deal.

The is the Freedom Caucus ad, by the way:




.



.
 
Separated at birth

by digby


It's been driving me nuts that Neil Gorsuch looks like someone else and I couldn't figure it out. I figured it out:


Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch

America's Funniest Home Videos host Tom Bergeron






















Gorsuch even has that same game show smarminess about him. Except, you know, he's a wingnut horror show.

.


 
Why would any foreigner want to come here now?

by digby




This doesn't surprise me in the least:


Application and acceptance season is underway at America's colleges and universities. But this year, some institutions of higher learning may see a noticeable dip in attendance from one group purposely choosing to stay home: foreign students.

Applications from international students from countries such as China, India and in particular, the Middle East, are down this year at nearly 40 percent of schools that answered a recent survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Educators, recruiters and school officials report that the perception of America has changed for international students, and it just doesn't seem to be as welcoming a place anymore. Officials point to the Trump administration's rhetoric surrounding immigration and the issuing of a travel ban as having an effect.

"Yes, we definitely are sounding the warning," said Melanie Gottlieb, deputy director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, adding, "We would hope that the [Trump] administration would say [to] cool the rhetoric a bit around immigration."

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is a feature not a bug as far as Trump and his supporters are concerned. They don't want foreigners in the country. They see this as a success.

The tourist industry is complaining of lost profits too. But again, this is considered a good thing as far as the Trump faction is concerned.

It will be interesting to see how people feel about rising prices when Trump tries to do to trade agreements what he tried to do with health care. He and his supporters seem not to realize that foreign countries don't have to do exactly what Trump tells them to do. And remember, the great negotiator actually knows next to nothing about trade deals and has never successfully done a bigger deal than a single building project or a license to slap his name on some ugly ties. When he tried to go bigger in Atlantic City he lost his shirt. Four times.


.
 
Sunday Funnies

by digby

Lots of good stuff this week:







Tom Tomorrow






















Brian McFadden:



































 
They have egos too Donald

by digby















This is an excellent report from CNN on the way Trumpcare went down to defeat and well worth reading all the way through. But this excerpt, I thought, pretty much nailed the problem, at least as far as the President was concerned:
Staff was for details, Trump was for closing," said one senior congressional aide. When it came to details, Trump "didn't know, didn't care, or both."

He didn't answer their specific questions about the bill, according to three members of Congress who attended the meetings. He didn't offer any arguments for why they should support the legislation other than to give him his first legislative victory.

Trump repeatedly focused instead on the politics of the broader situation, the people said. In the Oval Office, he quizzed the Republicans about the margin of victory in their districts last fall. His victory, not theirs.

"He did very little to say why we should vote 'yes,' " one Republican member of Congress said, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid alienating the White House. "He kept talking about his damn election."

In the end, the man dubbed "the ultimate closer" could not close the deal.

He doesn't know anything except himself which is all he can sell. They weren't buying. And, in fact,they aren't ever going to be in the market for that. These politician aren't like his adoring worshippers. The might care about ideology or power or money. But if it comes down choosing between themselves and Donald Trump it's no contest. He, of all people, should understand that.

.
 

The company store

by Tom Sullivan

When Norma Rae first hit theaters in 1979, I watched it in a packed movie house in West Hollywood with a friend from Greenville South Carolina. The textile mill Norma Rae worked in looked like one of the dying mills on the west (poor) side of Greenville. Partway through the tale of troubled union organizing in the South, I leaned over and whispered we were probably the only people in the theater to realize the film was not a period piece.

Looking ahead at what the economy has in store for a lot of Americans, that "period" is coming back.

Jia Tolentino writes in the New Yorker about the "gig economy" that celebrates working yourself to death. She begins with a cheery marketing tale of a Lyft driver going into labor who stops to take another fare on her way to the hospital. That's the spirit!

It does require a fairly dystopian strain of doublethink for a company to celebrate how hard and how constantly its employees must work to make a living, given that these companies are themselves setting the terms. And yet this type of faux-inspirational tale has been appearing more lately, both in corporate advertising and in the news. Fiverr, an online freelance marketplace that promotes itself as being for “the lean entrepreneur”—as its name suggests, services advertised on Fiverr can be purchased for as low as five dollars—recently attracted ire for an ad campaign called “In Doers We Trust.” One ad, prominently displayed on some New York City subway cars, features a woman staring at the camera with a look of blank determination. “You eat a coffee for lunch,” the ad proclaims. “You follow through on your follow through. Sleep deprivation is your drug of choice. You might be a doer.”
A Fiverr press release on the campaign states,
“The campaign positions Fiverr to seize today’s emerging zeitgeist of entrepreneurial flexibility, rapid experimentation, and doing more with less. It pushes against bureaucratic overthinking, analysis-paralysis, and excessive whiteboarding.” This is the jargon through which the essentially cannibalistic nature of the gig economy is dressed up as an aesthetic.
No, really. You're not being exploited. You're experiencing greater freedom as an independent contractor living lean and on the edge as part of the emerging zeitgeist. You're "connecting, having fun, and killing it!" Lyricism like that got Arthur Dent thrown out of a Vogon airlock. On the 106th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, Matthew Dessem examines how the company's proprietors might have used such marketing upspeak to rebrand their sweatshop as a "hip, open-plan workplace" where partners won't have to "wander the confusing maze of government bureaucracies looking for an exit."

Perhaps Donald Trump's new Housing and Urban Development secretary, Ben Carson, wrote that copy for Fiverr to make extra cash in his spare time. After all, in his first address, Carson presented his staff with an inspiring tale of immigrants who came to these shores for the opportunity to be a part of America's exciting experiment in "can-do" capitalism: "That's what America is about. A land of dreams and opportunity. There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less." They weren't slaves. They weren't human chattel. They were doers.

The Midas cult peddles this kind of delusional twaddle with a straight face. Believers celebrate (other) people working longer hours and into early graves as "uniquely American." Normal. A recovering Oxycontin addict tells PBS News Hour [timestamp 6:12], "it's the only thing that makes you feel normal. And it's the farthest thing from normal." But you can't see that from the inside of either an addiction or an economic cult.

Truth may be dead, but it occasionally intrudes nonetheless on cult catechism. A study by Anne Case and Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton of Princeton University finds that in America the problem is not just people working themselves to death, but people not working themselves to death. The reprobation the Midas cult heaps on the long-term unemployed is such that excommunicates are treating their guilt and hopelessness with opioids or a bullet to the head. The Princeton researchers call them "deaths of despair."

Angus Deaton: Mortality rates have been going down forever. There's been a huge increase in life expectancy and reduction in mortality over 100 years or more, and then for all of this to suddenly go into reverse [for whites ages 45 to 54], we thought it must be wrong. We spent weeks checking out numbers because we just couldn't believe that this could have happened, or that if it had, someone else must have already noticed. It seems like we were right and that no one else had picked it up.

We knew the proximate causes — we know what they were dying from. We knew suicides were going up rapidly, and that overdoses mostly from prescription drugs were going up, and that alcoholic liver disease was going up. The deeper questions were why those were happening — there's obviously some underlying malaise, reasons for which we [didn't] know.

Anne Case: These deaths of despair have been accompanied by reduced labor force participation, reduced marriage rates, increases in reports of poor health and poor mental health. So we are beginning to thread a story in that it's possible that [the trend is] consistent with the labor market collapsing for people with less than a college degree. In turn, those people are being less able to form stable marriages, and in turn that has effects on the kind of economic and social supports that people need in order to thrive.

In general, the longer you're in the labor force, the more you earn — in part because you understand your job better and you're more efficient at your job, you've had on-the-job training, you belong to a union, and so your wages go up with age. That's happened less and less the later and later you've been born and the later you enter this labor market.

Deaton: We're thinking of this in terms of something that's been going on for a long time, something that's emerged as the iceberg has risen out of the water. We think of this as part of the decline of the white working class. If you go back to the early '70s when you had the so-called blue-collar aristocrats, those jobs have slowly crumbled away and many more men are finding themselves in a much more hostile labor market with lower wages, lower quality and less permanent jobs. That's made it harder for them to get married. They don't get to know their own kids. There's a lot of social dysfunction building up over time. There's a sense that these people have lost this sense of status and belonging. And these are classic preconditions for suicide.

The Los Angeles Times account reports on several factors behind the spike, including "the widespread erosion of institutions that provided stability in American life for much of the 20th century: the manufacturing industry, the church, unions and stable marriage." The second item in that list is none of the government's business. But we might strengthen the first and the third through public policy, and thereby reinforce the last. Problem is, the Midas cult's systematic policy for decades has been to encourage offshoring of manufacturing and to discourage formation of unions in pursuit of wealth maximization for the priest class. Meanwhile, it's just fine with the company if those working longer hours for less and those who aren't working at all owe their souls to the company store. As I said, that period is making a comeback.

Case and Deaton believe the damage done is the result of "cumulative disadvantage over life" that will take years to reverse. But so far, there are only promises of better times from policymakers whose focus is on reelection and the the economy rather than on the people in or victimized by it.

When Trump's replacement candidate for labor secretary, R. Alexander Acosta, faced confirmation hearings last week, the New York Times reports,

.. his testimony suggests that as labor secretary his primary goal would not be to look out for workers by promoting fair pay and workplace safety. Instead, he seems more interested in shielding employers from having to address those concerns.

[...]

Mr. Acosta’s answers to questions about other worker protections were also troubling. He would not commit to upholding a Labor Department rule, set to take effect in April, that would require financial advisers to put clients’ interests first when giving advice or selling investments for 401(k) rollovers or other retirement-related transactions. Nor would he commit to enforcing a rule to protect construction workers from carcinogenic dust.
But they'll defend a worker's right to work for less, and to grow another day older and deeper in debt.

With this week's collapse of the Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, Democrats have an opportunity to step into the power vacuum and offer Americans something better. Bernie Sanders announced he would:
“We have got to have the guts to take on the insurance companies and the drug companies and move forward toward a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said on MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes” on Friday night. “And I’ll be introducing legislation shortly to do that.”
That's laudable, timely and symbolic, but not enough. Sanders is still an outlier. Both Republicans and Democrats are still too closely allied with the financialized economy and in the thrall of the cult. If not of Midas, then Rand. People need work, decent-paying work, not just for keeping a roof over their heads, but to maintain their dignity and mental health.

Sitting in that theater watching Norma Rae, I wondered how many sitting around me might think it a reflection of a time gone by. Now I worry it was predictive of a time coming back.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

 
Saturday Night at the Movies



Just watch it through your fingers: Donald Cried ***


By Dennis Hartley



In my 2014 tribute to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, I wrote:
You know how I know Philip Seymour Hoffman was a great actor? Because he always made me cringe. You know what I mean? It’s that autonomic flush of empathetic embarrassment that makes you cringe when a couple has a loud spat at the table next to you in a restaurant, or a drunken relative tells an off-color joke at Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a good sign when an actor makes me cringe, because that means he or she has left their social filter on the dressing room table, and shown up for work naked and unafraid.
There are many things about Donald Cried that will likely make you cringe. In fact, the film’s titular character (played by its writer-director Kris Avedisian) is the type of role Hoffman would have felt quite comfortable tackling…expressly for the purpose of making us feel uncomfortable.

A sort of twisty cross between Vincent Gallo’s cringe-inducing black comedy Buffalo '66 and Miguel Arteta’s equally discomfiting character study Chuck & Buck , Avedisian’s story centers on a thirty-something Wall Street banker named Peter (Jesse Wakeman) who returns to the blue-collar Rhode Island burg where he grew up to bury his grandmother and tidy up all of her affairs. 

During his taxi ride from the train station to his late grandmother’s house, Peter realizes (much to his chagrin) that he has lost his wallet while in transit. Quickly exhausting all other options for assistance, the panicked Peter has little choice but to walk across the street, where his childhood pal Donald lives. We quickly glean why he just didn’t go there first-Donald is beyond the beyond.

Donald is overjoyed to see Peter again after all these years. Disturbingly overjoyed, like a deliriously happy puppy who dances around your legs like a dervish because he was sure you were abandoning him forever when you left the house for 2 minutes to check the mail. In other words. Donald seems oblivious to the time-space continuum. While Peter has chosen to put away childish things and engage the world of adult responsibility, Donald was frozen in carbonite at 15.

Still, if Peter is to stick to his timetable of wrapping up the grandmother business in 24 hours, Donald (who has a car) looks to be his only hope. From their first stop at the funeral home, it’s clear that Donald’s complete lack of a social filter is going to make this a painfully long 24 hours.

The tortuous path of the “man-child” is rather well-trod, particularly in modern indie filmdom. That said, there is a freshness to Avedisian’s take, as well as an intimate authenticity to the performances that invites empathy from the viewer. Once you get past the cringe-factor, you actually do care about the characters, especially when you realize we’ve all known a Donald (or a Peter) sometime or another. Perchance we’ve even seen one looking back at us from a mirror, no?


Previous posts with related themes:


Big Fan
Mon Meilleur Ami
I Love You, Man

More reviews at Den of Cinema


--Dennis Hartley

 
Strength and Stamina

by digby
















So much for his "working week-end". Think Progress:
During his news conference on Friday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to argue that President Trump couldn’t possibly have worked harder in his unsuccessful effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Spicer also said Trump planned to spend a “working weekend” in Washington, D.C.

But on Saturday, Trump headed to a golf course for the 12th time during the nine weeks he’s been president. And by visiting the Trump National Golf Club in suburban Virginia, Trump — who repeatedly ripped President Obama for his much less-frequent golf outings and promised he “would rarely leave the White House because there’s so much work to be done” during the campaign — has now visited a Trump-branded property for eight straight weekends. That covers all but the very first weekend of his presidency. 
Trump to spend 7th consecutive weekend at Trump-branded property, at enormous cost to taxpayers
Austerity for us, regular Florida vacations for the president.thinkprogress.org

White House pool reporter Adrian Carrasquillo reports that it’s unclear what Trump is doing at his golf course.

Carrasquillo reports that Trump staffers said the president was there for meetings. But Trump has previously misled the press about what he’s up to at his golf courses.

I'm guessing he's golfing. The pool report says he's disappeared for three hours and they're stuck at the tennis courts waiting around for some word. Trump does this.

I wouldn't begrudge him his golf week-ends if he hadn't been such as jerk about Obama's much rarer golf outings and relentlessly ragged on Clinton for her alleged lack of stamina while promising that he was going to be working around the clock when he got to the White House. He's a spoiled rich princeling who likes to insult and degrade others for being lazy and weak when he's the lazy and weak one.

And his offspring aren't too bright either:
Trump’s latest trip to one of his properties comes a day after Forbes broke news that Eric Trump plans to give his father quarterly updates about how Trump’s sprawling business empire is doing financially. Trump has refused to divest from his business, putting him in a unique position to profit off the presidency. 
Trump’s effort to profit off the presidency gets underway in earnest 
“Yeah, on the bottom line, profitability reports and stuff like that, but you know, that’s about it,” Eric Trump said, in reference to what he’ll brief his father on. “My father and I are very close… I talk to him a lot. We’re pretty inseparable.”

There's lots more at the link about the latest examples of Trump's ongoing corruption in the White House.

Oh, and then there's this:


President Donald Trump’s daughter, her husband Jared Kushner, their children and the President’s other son Eric reportedly required 100 Secret Service agents to travel with the group for the trip.

The US Secret Service, funded by the US taxpayer, is reported to have spent $12,208 on rental ski equipment and clothing at the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club.

Dozens of residents staged an impromptu protest to voice their opposition to the president’s cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency.

According to various news reports, Trump is unhappy that Jared and Ivanka were absent during the health care battle. Not enough to tell them they had to come back, though.

.






 
Thus spoke Nostradamus

by Dennis Hartley



























Michael Moore called it (again). From my 2016 Trumpland review:
It was clearly Moore’s intention that Trumpland (filmed October 7 and released a scant 2 weeks afterwards) would ideally be seen by as many people as possible before November 8. However, he was careful to cover all his bases. If there is one consistency about Michael Moore’s films, it is that they are prescient…and already, I can identify at least one nail he hit squarely on the head.

This comes in the form of another speculative scenario Moore lays out, this one for Trump supporters to envision, should the election go their way. Moore assures them that he feels their pain; as a fellow Midwesterner from a manufacturing town in neighboring Michigan, he “gets” the frustrations that have been building up within the ranks of a certain white, working-class demographic, why they are feeling squeezed out, and why Trump might appear to be their savior.

Suddenly, in a wonderfully theatrical flourish, Moore seems to shape-shift into a Trump voter. He talks about how they are going to feel on Election Day, how incredibly empowering it will be to put that “x” in the Trump box on their ballot card. It’s going to be the “…biggest ‘fuck you’ ever recorded in human history” when their boy takes the White House. “It’s going to feel REAL good,” Moore assures them, “for about…a week.” Uh-oh. “A week?” What’s he mean by that?

It will kind of be like Brexit, Moore explains after a suitable dramatic pause to let things soak in. Remember how eager the Brexit supporters were to shake things up in their country, and give a big “fuck you” to Europe? Sure, they “won”. But then, buyer’s regret set in. There was even a desperate stab to petition for a re-vote, spearheaded by many of the very people who supported it!

OK, so maybe Trump voters haven’t quite reached that stage yet, but they will. Their soon-to-be Fearless Leader is sending up oodles of red flags with kleptocratic cabinet appointment after kleptocratic cabinet appointment. Now, that seems to be in direct contradiction to his campaign stance as champion of the working class…d’ya think? So…just give them time (and pitchforks).

Well, at least one Trump voter has had an epiphany about the man who wrote The Art of the Con Deal. One down, 59,999,999 to go.


--- Dennis Hartley
 
Blast from the past: Manafort was part of the transition

by digby



... and he was talking to Pence.

Seriously. That's what this report from the Daily Beast said last November:

Paul Manafort stood in the foyer of the third-floor ballroom of the Charles Hotel, across the street from the Taubman Building of the Harvard Kennedy School, on Wednesday. Having left his mafioso uniform of gleaming pinstripe suit and tie at home in favor of a half-zip sweater and casual slacks, he went mostly unnoticed, even at an event for political operatives and junkies, where a man of his status should be a star. And Harvard, it turns out, is not the only place the ex-chairman of the Donald Trump presidential campaign and former lobbyist for some of the worst dictators and killers of the 20th century is operating in the shadows these days.

According to two sources with knowledge of the Trump presidential transition process, Manafort—whose formal association with the president-elect ended in August—is heavily involved with the staffing of the nascent administration.

Manafort was hired by the Trump campaign in April. A veteran political operative and lobbyist who’d worked on the Republican conventions nominating everyone from Gerald Ford to Bob Dole, he was cut from a different cloth than the novices who’d worked for Trump since his 2015 announcement. His presence was viewed as an effort to professionalize the operation and to herd delegates for the upcoming convention in July, which at that time looked as though it might be contested.

But immediately, there was a clash of egos between Manafort, whose official title was campaign chairman, and then-campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, a notoriously short-fused man who’d never run a presidential campaign before. When Lewandowski was eventually let go in late June, it seemed a victory for Manafort—but it wouldn’t last for long.

Amid a stream of investigative journalism scrutinizing his political work in Ukraine, of particular interest given Trump’s praise of autocratic Russian President Vladimir Putin, Manafort was axed and replaced by a combination of Steve Bannon, the president of Breitbart News, and Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster, who served as the campaign CEO and manager, respectively.

How far he faded into the margins of Trump’s orbit is unclear.

Even in his role as the campaign’s chairman, Manafort was not exactly visible, save for the odd Sunday show appearance. And Lewandowski, after being fired and taking a job as a cable TV pundit, continued to receive payment from the campaign and advise the candidate. Manafort, who keeps an apartment in Trump Tower, was never compensated for his work, making it more difficult to keep an account of his entanglement with the campaign.

But now, a few months and an election night victory later, it seems Manafort is back, and in a position he surely finds more comfortable: one shrouded in almost total mystery.

“When they’re picking a cabinet, unless he contacts me, I don’t bother him,” one former campaign official who worked closely with Manafort told The Daily Beast. “It’s a heady time for everyone.”

“I think he’s weighing in on everything,” the former official said, “I think he still talks to Trump every day. I mean, Pence? That was all Manafort. Pence is on the phone with Manafort regularly.”

As a lobbyist, Manafort is particularly concerned with decisions the president-elect might make that will affect his industry, the former official explained. “A guy like Manafort tries to make sure that the government is as comfortable for business as possible. He wants names he knows on every door.”


“He’s not worried as much about who’s the secretary of HHS,” the former official added, “as he is about who’s the secretary of HUD.”

Another Trump campaign source who worked alongside Manafort confirmed to The Daily Beast that he is heavily involved in selecting the incoming administration’s “personnel picks.”

When The Daily Beast caught up with Manafort sometime later, he would neither confirm nor deny his presence on the Trump transition team.

“I don’t want to get into that,” he said. “I’m here to talk about the campaign, I don’t want to talk about transition.”

When pressed on the issue, he reemphasized, “no comment,” before continuing a conversation with several other people.

Meanwhile in Cambridge, Conway, who now acts as a senior adviser to the president-elect, was making her way through the hotel lobby for check-in.

She told The Daily Beast she had “no comment” on the Manafort matter. “But I can research that and get back to you,” she added.

She winked and continued walking with her roller bag.

Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Trump, later told The Daily Beast, “Paul Manafort has no association with the transition team or communication with the President-elect.”

That seems ... relevant.

Remember this?

Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, reportedly bamboozled his boss into switching his vice presidential pick from embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) by staging an airplane malfunction.

In July, The New York Times reported that Trump and Pence “impromptu dinner” after the GOP candidate’s plane was grounded by “mechanical problems.”

“And at some point during the evening, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Pence if he would say yes, were Mr. Trump to offer him the No. 2 slot,” according to the Times.

But a Sunday report in the New York Post revealed that Manafort took the dramatic step of lying to Trump about mechanical problems with the plane after his boss tentatively selected Christie for the V.P. slot.

“Trump had wanted Christie but Bridgegate would have been the biggest national story,” Trump source told the Post. “He’d lose the advantage of not being corrupt.”

Manafort left the campaign in August after question arose about his business ties with Russia.

Seems odd. That's all I'm saying ...

.
 
A big fat failure

by digby


On his own terms:


















I'm going to guess that failing miserably and hoping a program blows up isn't really "delivering the goods."

.
 
Tweet o' the week


by digby








.


 
Trump's Rasputin made a boo boo

by digby

This is as illustrative of Bannon's mindset as you can get:

When the balky hardliners of the House Freedom Caucus visited the White House earlier this week, this was Steve Bannon's opening line, according to people in the conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building: 
"Guys look, this is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.
  • Bannon's point was: This is the Republican platform. You're the conservative wing of the Republican Party. But people in the room were put off by the dictatorial mindset.
  • One of the members replied: "You know, the last time someone ordered me to do something, I was 18 years old, and it was my daddy. I didn't listen to him either."

Granted, the Freedom Caucus is cray-cray. But thinking they were going to respond to this Hollywood producer pretending like he's in a cheap TV movie was daft. They are bullies themselves and they know how it works. It's not like this.

.



 

AHCA: "We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!"

by Tom Sullivan

Take a victory lap.

The Washington Post's Dave Weigel documents activists' role in yesterday's defeat of the American Healthcare Act in the U.S. House of Representatives:

On Friday afternoon, as congressional Democrats learned that the GOP had essentially given up on repealing the Affordable Care Act, none of them took the credit. They had never really cohered around an anti-AHCA message. (As recently as Wednesday, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was still using the phrase “make America sick again,” which most Democrats had abandoned.) They’d been sidelined legislatively, as Republicans tried to pass a bill on party lines. They’d never called supporters to the Capitol for a show of force, as Republicans had done, several times, during the 2009-2010 fight to pass the Affordable Care Act.

Instead, Democrats watched as a roiling, well-organized “resistance” bombarded Republicans with calls and filled their town hall meetings with skeptics. The Indivisible coalition, founded after the 2016 election by former congressional aides who knew how to lobby their old bosses, was the newest and flashiest. But it was joined by MoveOn, which reported 40,000 calls to congressional offices from its members; by Planned Parenthood, directly under the AHCA’s gun; by the Democratic National Committee, fresh off a divisive leadership race; and by the AARP, which branded the bill as an “age tax” before Democrats had come up with a counterattack.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus told reporters, “Those big rallies get a lot of media coverage, but they’re not effective.” But across from the Capitol yesterday, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi joined a small one organized by MoveOn, kicked off her shoes, and led the group in a jump for joy.

So what was effective?

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) tells the Post his office "received 1,959 phone calls in opposition to the American Health Care Act. We had 30 for it."

“For the first time in a long time, a pretty sizable number of Republicans were more scared of grass-roots energy of the left than of primaries on the right,” said Joe Dinkin, a spokesman for the Working Families Party.

It's not as if Democrats have never tried to get their base to call their congresscritters. Before House Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) was mine, it was Democrat Heath Shuler from the Blue Dogs. I'd call a friend on the staff and ask how calls were running on an upcoming vote. Ten to one conservative-to-liberal, she'd say with an exasperated sigh, asking, "Where are the Democrats?!" Post-November 8, 2016, progressive activists are coming out of nowhere and wanting something, anything to do. It's an opportunity for them to make something happen on key votes. It appears they just did. They finally picked up their phones.

But over the course of this fight, there were a lot of Facebook comments from people who called their representatives (particularly Republicans) and got no answer, a busy signal, or a voicemail box that was full. It's frustrating. Email forms are tedious and get ignored if messages are from out of state or district. So try an old-fashioned work-around. If you are under 35, you may never have sent a fax.

On March 21, 2010, the House was preparing to vote on the Affordable Care Act passed by the Senate. The vote would be close. A 2008 Obama campaign veteran I know was planning to blast his large email list and encourage people to phone Heath Shuler's office in support of passage. But it was Sunday. No one would answer and his voicemail in Washington was already full. It would be pointless to ask people to waste their time on a call without even a chance to leave a message.

We thought of inviting people to Democratic headquarters to send a fax to the congressman. But that would be time-consuming and tedious. So we came up with a better idea.

We drafted a sample letter in support of the ACA and emailed it to my friend's list. We suggested if people replied giving their assent, plus adding their name, address, phone number, and perhaps a customized message of their own, we would gladly fax it to the congressman on their behalf.

Minutes later, Paul shouted, "Oh my God, I just got 15 emails!" And they kept coming, some with notes, others without, for hours. Paul bundled them into sets of five, one letter per page, and created a PDF I sent electronically through my fax machine to Shuler's Washington, D.C. office. If that line was busy, we sent to his district office. A veteran union organizer friend calls this tactic fax jamming.

We sent 600 individual faxes.

The Affordable Care Act passed that day with a 219–212 vote. Shuler voted against the bill anyway, but the coordinated effort left an indelible impression. At an event sometime later, one of Shuler's staffers reported we had broken their machine and said something lame about Democrats killing trees. But six hundred voters had their voices heard. On a weekend. Outside of regular business hours.

With the advent of free, online e-fax services, organizers don't need an actual fax machine to mount a similar effort. People on their lists who cannot reach representatives by phone can send faxes from their computers or smart phones any time of the day or night, seven days a week. There is something satisfying in knowing at the other end a physical document spits out that a staffer has to handle and catalog. Since I find it difficult to break away for phone calls in the middle of the workday, I use e-faxing to send letters after hours. (Faxzero dot com is one I often use; the site even has links to House and Senate fax numbers.)

Light 'em up.




Friday, March 24, 2017

 
Friday night soother: flying tigers

by digby































Ok, here's some cute:



After they were ignored by their mother following their birth on February 3, three Malayan Tiger cubs have been cared for by Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s nursery staff. Now, the cubs’ care team includes the zoo’s four-legged, resident nursery companion and former nanny to several zoo babies: Blakely the Australian Shepherd Dog. The six-year-old super-dog has been called into action to provide snuggling, comfort, and a body for the cubs to climb on.

“He’s more than just a large, warm pillow for the cubs. Blakely is the adult in the room. He teaches them proper Tiger etiquette by checking them when they’re getting too rough or aggressive,” said Dawn Strasser, head of Cincinnati Zoo’s nursery staff. “This is something that their human surrogates can’t do.”



The cubs, named Chira (because she was treated by a chiropractor), Batari (which means goddess) and Izzy (which means promised by God,) would have received similar cues from their mom. Because being with her is not an option, Blakely is the next best thing.  His baby-rearing resume includes experience with Cheetahs, an Ocelot, a Takin, a Warthog, Wallabies, Skunks, and Bat-eared Foxes.  Last year, to recognize Blakely’s nurturing nature, the City of Cincinnati proclaimed October 19 to be Blakely Day!

“My team can feed and care for the Tiger cubs, but we can’t teach them the difference between a play bite and one that means ‘watch out’. So, that’s Blakely’s job,” said Strasser. “Just a little time with him at this early age will help them learn behaviors that will come in handy when they meet Tigers at other zoos in the future.” The cubs will move to the Zoo’s Cat Canyon this summer after they have received their last round of immunizations.

Malayan Tigers are Critically Endangered, with fewer than 250 breeding-age adults living in the wild.  Less than 100 of these Cats live in zoos, making these three cubs – and Blakely’s job as caregiver – incredibly important to the effort to save Malayan Tigers.

He is a very, very good boy.

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