Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 26th, 2019

Trump, no more Mr. Nice Guy: Trump administration pushes to completely gut Obamacare in dramatic escalation

with 2 comments

Erin Durkin writes in the Guardian:

The Trump administration now believes that the entire Affordable Care Act should be struck down, a major shift in the federal government’s position and one that could endanger health coverage for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions.

In a letter on Monday night, the justice department said it is now backing a Texas judge’s controversial December ruling that the healthcare law known as Obamacare is unconstitutional.

Throwing out the law would end healthcare coverage for millions of people – getting rid of publicly subsidized health insurance plans sold on exchanges, the expansion of Medicaid, protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and rules letting children stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26.

“The Department of Justice has determined that the district court’s judgment should be affirmed,” wrote Joseph Hunt, the assistant attorney general, and other lawyers in the new court filing.

Until this week, the government’s position was that only part of the law – like its rules prohibiting insurance companies from denying health insurance or charging more to people with pre-existing conditions – should be struck down.

The supreme court ruled in 2012 that the landmark healthcare law is constitutional.

But Texas and other states sued, arguing that Congress’s decision to end a tax penalty for people who don’t have health insurance as part of the 2017 tax overhaul made all of Obamacare invalid. The judge agreed.

A group of 21 Democratic states are appealing, since Trump’s justice department would not defend the law.

“This lawsuit is as dangerous as it is reckless. It threatens the healthcare of tens of millions of Americans across the country,” said Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, on Monday.

Experts said the justice department’s new filing represented a dramatic shift in policy.

“The sheer reckless irresponsibility is hard to overstate. The notion that you could gut the entire ACA and not wreak havoc on the lives of millions of people is insane,” wrote the University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley.

Republicans tried to repeal Obamacare through legislation, but the bill failed in Congress.

Trump has repeatedly vowed to protect patients with pre-existing conditions, calling it a “major priority” in his State of the Union speech this year.

Meanwhile, House Democrats plan on Tuesday to unveil legislation to expand Obamacare.

The bill would make more middle-class people eligible for subsidies to buy  . . .

Continue reading.

Does Trump see this as some kind of revenge? On Obama? And the millions who lose healthcare are just “collateral damage”?

That’s some sick shit.

OTOH, he’s probably just trying to pay somehow for part of the tax cut. He’s got a long way to go. That tax cut did not, in fact, boost the ecnomony—no great surprise, they never do. (Ask Sam Brownback.)

Written by Leisureguy

26 March 2019 at 3:26 pm

Here Are All the Unsolved Questions the Mueller Report Can Answer

leave a comment »

Kevin Drum:

If you’re President Trump, what’s your best strategy for dealing with the Mueller report? It’s probably pretty simple:

  1. Insist loudly that the report completely exonerates you and you’re totally in favor of releasing the whole thing.
  2. Do not, however, actually order the report released.
  3. Instead, leave it up to the attorney general, who will stall for weeks or months. Let him take the heat for playing bad cop.
  4. Hope that by the time the report is finally released, Russiamania will be played out and it won’t get much play.

And guess what? So far, this is exactly what’s happening.

Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

House Democrats are demanding to see the full Mueller report, rather than William Barr’s summary of it. Republicans have previously signaled support for disclosing it, but yesterday Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a nonbinding resolution calling for the report to be made public, a move that may well signal the true Republican position. If House Democrats subpoena the report, the matter will likely wind up in court, taking months to resolve.

The likely Republican move from here on out will be to continue touting Barr’s summary of the report as the final word while quietly blocking a release of the full report. What questions would the report answer? There are four major categories.

1. How straight did Barr play it?

The attorney general is one of the more mysterious figures in this story. On the one hand, he has experience in traditional Republican politics and a long friendship with Robert Mueller. On the other, his experience in Republican politics involves covering up a major presidential scandal, and he got his current role by writing a private memo attacking Mueller’s obstruction investigation.

New evidence for the latter view might be the Justice Department’s decision, announced last night, to join a right-wing lawsuit to invalidate the Affordable Care Act. The case made in the lawsuit is so wild, even conservative lawyers who have devoted years to destroying Obamacare in court consider it crazy. “I was among those who cheered the selection of William Barr as Attorney General and hoped his confirmation would herald the elevation of law over politics within the Justice Department,” writes Jonathan Adler, a conservative law professor who has tried to overturn Obamacare. “I am still hopeful, but this latest filing is not a good sign.”

Seeing the full report would obviously go a long way toward resolving the question. In the meantime, the carefully parsed language in Barr’s summary leaves plenty of room to question the underlying text.

2. What other obstruction of justice evidence is there?

Barr’s letter states that “most” of the conduct by Trump that raised obstruction of justice concerns has “been the subject of public reporting.” There is a lot of it — from pressuring James Comey to go easy on Michael Flynn to dangling pardons for the key lieutenants who might have been able to testify against him. There is enough evidence in the public record, indeed, to make a strong case for impeaching Trump on that basis alone. (Obstruction of justice was, of course, the basis for impeaching President Nixon.)

But “most” does not mean “all.” It could mean “basically everything,” or it could mean “more than half.” Other steps Trump may have taken to obstruct justice would be of high interest to Congress. One mystery: Did Mueller find additional evidence that Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about Trump’s efforts to get a building deal in Moscow during the campaign? BuzzFeed reported that he did, though the special counsel disputed the report. Cohen testified to Congress that Trump directed him to lie by repeating a false story before his testimony (the equivalent to saying “I was never here,” or “We never had this conversation.”). Did Mueller reach any conclusions?

Neal Katyal has argued that Mueller seemed to intend to leave the obstruction question for Congress to decide, as a political judgment. Instead, Barr imposed his own judgment. Only reading Mueller’s own findings, and hearing his testimony, will answer this.

3. How much noncriminal collusion took place?

Barr states that Mueller “did not establish” that Trump engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia. There’s no reason whatsoever to question that finding. And while that is an extremely important finding, it only answers one of the questions that propelled the investigation in the first place.

The key concept here is one of the few principles agreed to beforehand: Collusion is not a crime. It follows from this that the lack of a crime does not mean a lack of collusion. But Mueller was appointed to find out not only what Russia did to interfere in the election, but also “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

Before the report, I summarized the broad evidence of illicit contacts and corruption linking the Trump campaign with Russia. Rosalind Heldermanand Natasha Bertrand have written excellent rundowns of many of the dangling threads that have been left from previous findings.

The most important two are the Trump advisers who had the most direct contact with Russia during the campaign: Roger Stone and Paul Manafort. A court filing last month by Mueller charged that a Russian hacker “interacted directly with Stone concerning other stolen materials posted separately online.” The indictment of Stone states that in July, “a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact STONE about any additional releases and what other damaging information.” It also states that, shortly after WikiLeaks released emails on October 7, 2016 — shortly after a tape of Trump boasting about sexual assault had grabbed headlines — “an associate of the high-ranking Trump Campaign official sent a text message to STONE that read ‘well done.’”

Who directed the senior official to contact Stone? (It could have been Trump himself.) To what extent was the Trump campaign coordinating with WikiLeaks to exploit the stolen emails?

Likewise, Manafort passed 75 pages of detailed polling information to a Russian agent. The matter went “very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating,” prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told the court at the time.

Both Stone and Manafort withheld cooperation from Mueller, almost certainly banking on Trump delivering pardons. And Mueller clearly did not have enough evidence to prosecute Trump for any of their behavior. But that leaves a lot of room to establish what forms of noncriminal cooperation they were engaged in.

4. How much corruption took place? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 March 2019 at 3:20 pm

Ecuador Phased Out Leaded Gasoline in 1997. Guess What Happened 17 Years Later?

leave a comment »

Kevin Drum points out yet another instance of the lead/crime hypothesis holding up.

Written by Leisureguy

26 March 2019 at 1:49 pm

The invasion of hucksters has reached the Federal Reserve.

leave a comment »

Paul Krugman writes in the NY Times:

It’s no secret that Donald Trump has appointed a lot of partisan, unqualified hacks to key policy positions. A few months ago my colleague Gail Collins asked readers to help her select Trump’s worst cabinet member. It was a hard choice, because there were so many qualified applicants.

The winner, by the way, was Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary. That looks like an even better call now: Ross’s department has reportedly prepared a report declaring that imports of European cars threaten U.S. national security. This is both ludicrous and dangerous. It gives Trump the right to start a new phase in his trade war that would inflict severe economic damage while alienating our allies — and, as a result, undermine national security.

Until recently, however, one agency had seemed immune to the continuing hack invasion: the Federal Reserve, the single institution most crucial to economic policymaking. Trump’s Fed nominees, have, by and large, been sensible, respected economists. But that all changed last week, when Trump said he planned to nominate Stephen Moore for the Fed’s Board of Governors.

Moore is manifestly, flamboyantly unqualified for the position. But there’s a story here that goes deeper than Moore, or even Trump; it’s about the whole G.O.P.’s preference for hucksters over experts, even partisan experts.

About Moore: It goes almost without saying that he has been wrong about everything. I don’t mean the occasional bad call, which all of us make. I mean a track record that includes predicting that George W. Bush’s policies would produce a magnificent boom, Barack Obama’s policies would lead to runaway inflation, tax cuts in Kansas would produce a “near immediate” boost to the state’s economy, and much more. And, of course, never an acknowledgment of error or reflection on why he got it wrong.

Beyond that, Moore has a problem with facts. After printing a Moore op-ed in which all the key numbers were wrong, one editor vowed never to publish the man’s work again. And a blizzard of factual errors is standard practice in his writing and speaking. It’s actually hard to find cases where Moore got a fact right.

Yet Moore isn’t some random guy who caught Trump’s eye. He has long been a prominent figure in the conservative movement: a writer for the Wall Street Journal editorial page, chief economist of the Heritage Foundation, a fixture on the right-wing lecture circuit. Why?

You might say that the G.O.P. values partisan loyalty above professional competence. But that’s only a partial explanation, because there are plenty of conservative economists with solid professional credentials — and some of them are pretty naked in their partisanship, too. Thus, a who’s who of well-known conservative economists rushed to endorse the Trump administration’s outlandish claims about the benefits from its tax cut, claims they knew full well were unreasonable.

Nor has their partisanship been restrained and polite. Many of us are still mourning the death of Alan Krueger, the Princeton economist best known for research — since vindicated by many other studies — showing that increases in the minimum wage don’t usually seem to reduce employment. Well, the Nobel-winning conservative economist James Buchanan denounced those pursuing that line of research as “a bevy of camp-following whores.”

So conservatives could, if they wanted, turn for advice to highly partisan economists with at least some idea of what they’re doing. Yet these economists, despite what often seem like pathetic attempts to curry favor with politicians, are routinely passed over for key positions, which go to almost surreally unqualified figures like Moore or Larry Kudlow, the Trump administration’s chief economist.

Many people have described the Trump administration as a kakistocracy — rule by the worst — which it is. But it’s also a hackistocracy — rule by the ignorant and incompetent. And in this Trump is just following standard G.O.P. practice.

Why do hacks rule on the right? It may simply be that a party of apparatchiks feels uncomfortable with people who have any real expertise or independent reputation, no matter how loyal they may seem. After all, you never know when they might take a stand on principle.

In any case, there will eventually be a price to pay. True, there is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 March 2019 at 11:15 am

Here’s what the government’s dietary guidelines should really say

leave a comment »

Interesting column in the Washington Post by Tamar Haspel. A few extracts:

The reason we know so little about what to eat despite decades of research is that our tools are woefully inadequate. Lately, as scientists try, and fail, to reproduce results, all of science is taking a hard look at funding biases, statistical shenanigans and groupthink. All that criticism, and then some, applies to nutrition.

Prominent in the charge to change the way we do science is John Ioannidis, professor of health research and policy at Stanford University. In 2005, he published “Why Most Research Findings Are False” in the journal PLOS Medicine, and he has been making science headlines (although not always friends) ever since. He came down hard on nutrition in a pull-no-punches 2013 British Medical Journal editorial titled, “Implausible results in human nutrition research,” in which he noted, “Almost every single nutrient imaginable has peer reviewed publications associating it with almost any outcome.”

Ioannidis told me that sussing out the connection between diet and health — nutritional epidemiology — is enormously challenging, and “the tools that we’re throwing at the problem are not commensurate with the complexity and difficulty of the problem.” The biggest of those tools is observational research, in which we collect data on what people eat, and track what happens to them.

The trouble begins with that “collect data” part. There are a few ways to do this, none of them particularly good. You can use a 24-hour recall, which gives respondents a fighting chance of remembering what they actually ate but doesn’t give you a representative sample of overall diet. Food diaries over a long period do that better but people tend to eat differently when they’re tracking their diet for researchers. Most large population studies use food frequency questionnaires (FFQs, in industry lingo), where they ask people to count up the servings they’ve eaten of a wide range of foods, often over the course of a year.

There’s no better way to understand the shortcomings of an FFQ than to fill one out. Maybe you know how often you ate pie last year, but do you know how often you ate “foods with oils added or with oils used in cooking (do not include baked goods or salads)”? A host of studies of self-reported data have found that up to two-thirds of respondents report eating a diet so inconsistent with their caloric needs as to be implausible.

Give tens of thousands of people that FFQ, and you end up with a ginormous repository of possible correlations. You can zero in on a vitamin, macronutrient or food, and go to town. But not only are you starting with flawed data, you’ve got a zillion possible confounding variables — dietary, demographic, socioeconomic. I’ve heard statisticians call it “noise mining,” and Ioannidis is equally skeptical. “With this type of data, you can get any result you want,” he said. “You can align it to your beliefs.”

Ah, beliefs. Just about every week there’s a new study of a food funded by the people who profit by it. (New York University’s Marion Nestle has been tracking this for years; her 2018 book “Unsavory Truth” details her findings.) But funding bias isn’t the only kind. “Fanatical opinions abound in nutrition,” Ioannidis wrote in 2013, and those have bias power too. . .

Ioannidis is in favor of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, but “the evidence behind them is pretty soft,” he wrote in an email. Older observational studies showed big reductions in cancer risk but newer studies show small benefits, if any. “When the benefit in published studies in the literature shrinks 10-fold or 100-fold over time,” he continued, “you have every reason to worry about whether this type of research effort can give you any reliable answers.” Heart disease risk reduction has remained sizable, Ioannidis noted, but it’s still observational data, and confounding and data reporting issues mean we can’t definitively link diet to health, a point Hu makes in his own research.

Big differences in what people eat track with other differences. Heavy plant-eaters are different from, say, heavy meat-eaters in all kinds of ways (income, education, physical activity, BMI). Red meat consumption correlates with increased risk of dying in an accident as much as dying from heart disease. The amount of faith we put in observational studies is a judgment call. . .

Our tools can’t find any but the most obvious links between food and health, and we’ve found those already. Instead, let’s acknowledge the uncertainty and eat to hedge against what we don’t know. We’ve got two excellent hedges: variety and foods with nutrients intact (which describes such diets as the Mediterranean, touted by researchers). If you severely limit your foods (vegan, keto), you might miss out on something. Ditto if you eat foods with little nutritional value (sugar, refined grains). Oh, and pay attention to the two things we can say with certainty: Keep your weight down, and exercise. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

26 March 2019 at 10:46 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Questions Barr’s summary failed to address

leave a comment »

David Leonhardt writes in the NY Times:

William Barr did a skillful job of managing the news media this weekend. He released a four-page letter summarizing Robert Mueller’s investigation, which rightly received blanket coverage, since it was the only official description of the investigation.

But I think much of the media was too credulous about Barr’s letter, producing banner headlines and chyrons that treated it as an objective summary of Mueller’s work rather than as a political document meant to make President Trump look good. And it was very much a political document.

Barr, the attorney general, works for Trump. Before he joined the administration, he made clear that he felt some disdain for the Mueller investigation — especially about whether Trump obstructed justice. That disdain surely increased his chances of being appointed attorney general. Trump fired the previous holder of the job, after all, for not doing more to control the Russia investigation.

It’s still possible that Barr’s summary of Mueller’s report is fair. But the longer that Barr waits to release a fuller version of the report, the more suspicious we should be. Barr has been around Washington a long time. He understands that an initial story line can matter more than the details that emerge later. Barr has to be very happy with the media coverage he has received over the past two days.

“The Barr summary did its job: control the narrative and turn ‘not enough to charge on this’ into ‘no issues with Russia ever,’” as Tom Nichols, a national security expert, wrote.

Susan Hennessey of Lawfare put it this way: “It is possible that the report really does say that there is no evidence. It’s also possible there’s a mountain of evidence just short of the criminal standard. Or something in between. Any of that would be consistent with Barr’s summary.”

Ten questions

As I wrote yesterday, I now assume that the Trump campaign did not coordinate with Russia in a significant way. But I also still have a lot of questions that Barr’s letter didn’t answer.

Here are 10 big questions, compiled with help from articles that appeared elsewhere in the last two days; you’ll find links to them at the bottom.

1. Did Robert Mueller find evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, but that the collusion was not criminal?

2. Related: Why did Barr’s four-page summary appear to define coordination with Russia so narrowly — as an “agreement” between the Trump campaign and the Russian government — and does this word choice suggest that the Mueller investigation found coordination that did not rise to the level of an agreement?

3. What did Mueller discover about Paul Manafort — Trump’s campaign chairman — having shared poll data with a political operative who had apparent ties to Russian military intelligence? (Manafort’s lawyers inadvertently revealed those interactions earlier this year.)

4. Why did Trump and his associates repeatedly lie about their contacts with Russians?

5. Why did Mueller not charge Jerome Corsi, a conservative conspiracy promulgator and an associate of Roger Stone, despite reportedly engaging in plea negotiations with Corsi last year?

6. Does the arrest of Maria Butina, a Russian spy with ties to the National Rifle Association, have anything to do with Mueller’s investigation?

7. Did Mueller find evidence that the activities of Trump or his aides have compromised national security?

8. Did Mueller find any evidence of efforts by the United Arab Emirates and other Middle Eastern countries to influence the 2016 election?

9. Did Mueller issue no decision about obstruction of justice because he believed a sitting president could not be charged with a crime — and thus the decision was ultimately a political matter, to be decided by Congress, rather than a legal one?

10. Did Mueller investigate the possibility that Trump’s businesses helped Russian criminals launder money before he became president, or did Mueller consider this beyond the scope of his investigation? (If he investigated and found no evidence, it would reduce the urgency for the House to pursue this matter.)

For more, see Asha Rangappa, a former F.B.I. agent, writing for CNN; Adam Davidson in The New Yorker; Shane Harris of The Washington Post; Garrett Graff, who wrote a book about Mueller’s F.B.I., in Wired; and Nick Akerman, a former Watergate prosecutor, in Washingtonian magazine.

Written by Leisureguy

26 March 2019 at 8:51 am

King of Bourbon and the Progress, with a Red Cedar finish

with 2 comments

Quite a nice shave today, and pleasant to return to my horsehair brush. Wholly Kaw’s King of Bourbon (thi is the tallow version) is excellent, and my Merkur Progress seemed exceptionally comfortable today, and it did get the job done in exemplary fashion. A good splash of Anthony Gold’s superb Red Cedar aftershave, and I’m ready for the day.

Written by Leisureguy

26 March 2019 at 8:44 am

Posted in Shaving

%d bloggers like this: