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Why the Media Are Ignoring the Afghanistan Papers

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Alex Shephard writes in the New Republic:

This week, The Washington Post published the Afghanistan Papers, an extensive review of thousands of pages of internal government documents relating to the war in Afghanistan. Like the Pentagon Papers, which showcased the lies underpinning the Vietnam War, the Post’s investigation shows that U.S. officials, across three presidential administrations, intentionally and systematically misled the American public for 18 years and counting. As Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1974, told CNN earlier this week, the Pentagon and Afghanistan Papers revealed the same dynamic: “The presidents and the generals had a pretty realistic view of what they were up against, which they did not want to admit to the American people.”

The documents are an indictment not only of one aspect of American foreign policy, but also of the U.S.’s entire policymaking apparatus. They reveal a bipartisan consensus to lie about what was actually happening in Afghanistan: chronic waste and chronic corruption, one ill-conceived development scheme after another, resulting in a near-unmitigated failure to bring peace and prosperity to the country. Both parties had reason to engage in the cover-up. For the Bush administration, Afghanistan was a key component in the war on terror. For the Obama administration, Afghanistan was the “good war” that stood in contrast to the nightmare in Iraq.

The Afghanistan Papers are, in other words, a bombshell. Yet the report has received scant attention from the broader press. Neither NBC nor ABC covered the investigation in their nightly broadcasts this week. In other outlets, it has been buried beneath breathless reporting on the latest developments in the impeachment saga, Joe Biden’s purported pledge to serve only one term, and world leaders’ pathological envy of a 16-year-old girl.

The relentless news cycle that characterizes Donald Trump’s America surely deserves some blame: This isn’t the first time that a consequential news story has been buried under an avalanche of other news stories. But one major reason that the Afghanistan Papers have received so comparatively little coverage is that everyone is to blame, which means no one has much of an interest in keeping the story alive. There are no hearings, few press gaggles.

George W. Bush started the Afghanistan War and botched it in plenty of ways, not least by starting another war in Iraq. But Barack Obama, despite his obvious skepticism of the war effort, exacerbated Bush’s mistakes by bowing to the Washington foreign policy blob and authorizing a pointless troop surge. Now, although both Democrats and Donald Trump seem to be on the same page about getting the U.S. out of Afghanistan, there has been little progress with peace talks. The pattern across administrations is that any movement toward resolution is usually met with a slow slide back into the status quo, a.k.a. quagmire.

The political press loves the idea of bipartisan cooperation, which plays into a notion of American greatness and its loss. It also thrives on partisan conflict, because conflict drives narrative. It doesn’t really know what to do with bipartisan failure.

During the impeachment hearings, news outlets gleefully covered the conflict between Trump and members of the foreign policy establishment, holding up the latter as selfless bureaucrats working tirelessly and anonymously on behalf of the American interest, in contrast with the feckless and narcissistic head of the executive branch. The Afghanistan Papers don’t provide that kind of easy contrast; they demand a kind of holistic condemnation, in which Trump and those bureaucrats are part of the same problem.

The media also has a long-standing bias toward “new” news. The Afghanistan War has been a catastrophic failure for nearly two decades. Because little changes, there is little to report that will excite audiences. (Though the Afghanistan Papers are startling, they are hardly surprising.) Given that the president is the greatest supplier of “new” news in recent history—his Twitter feed alone powers MSNBC most days—more complex stories, like the situation in Afghanistan, are often buried in favor of the political equivalent of sports sideline reporting.

The result is that this massive controversy receives disproportionately little coverage. Despite wasting thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, everyone in the U.S. government gets off scot-free. . .

Continue reading.

It is increasingly difficult to see how the US can get back on track. Too many different forces have motivation to stay the current course, which leads directly over a cliff.

The massive triumph of the rich, illustrated by stunning new data

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Class warfare is already being waged, and the wealthy are (a) aware of it and (b) participating actively and (c) winning. Greg Sargent writes in the Washington Post:

The triumph of the rich, which is one of the defining stories of our time, is generally described as largely the reflection of two factors. The first, of course, is the explosion of income among top earners, in which a tiny minority has vacuumed up a ballooning share of the gains from the past few decades of economic growth.

The second factor — which will be key to the 2020 presidential race — has been the hidden decline in the progressivity of the tax code at the top, in which the wealthiest earners have over those same decades seen their effective tax rates steadily fall.

Put those two factors together, and they tell a story about soaring U.S. inequality that is in some ways even more dramatic than each is on its own.

A new analysis prepared at my request by Gabriel Zucman — the French economist and “wealth detective” who has become famous for tracing the hidden wealth of the super-rich — illustrates that dual story in a freshly compelling way.

The top-line finding: Among the bottom 50 percent of earners, average real annual income even after taxes and transfers has edged up a meager $8,000 since 1970, rising from just over $19,000 to just over $27,000 in 2018.

By contrast, among the top 1 percent of earners, average income even after taxes and transfers has tripled since 1970, rising by more than $800,000, from just over $300,000 to over $1 million in 2018.

Among the top 0.1 percent, average after-tax-and-transfer income has increased fivefold, from just over $1 million in 1970 to over $5 million in 2018. And among the top .01 percent, it has increased nearly sevenfold, from just over $3.5 million to over $24 million.

I’m emphasizing the phrase “after taxes and transfers” because this is at the core of Zucman’s new analysis. The idea is to show the combined impact of both the explosion of pretax income at the top and the decline in the effective tax rate paid by those same earners — in one result.

The declining progressivity of the tax code is the subject of “The Triumph of Injustice,” a great new book by Zucman and fellow Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez. It charts the slow strangulation of that progressivity at the top.

As they demonstrate, the effective tax rate (federal, state, local and other taxes) paid by top earners has steadily declined since the 1950s and 1960s, when the tax code really was quite progressive, to a point where the highest income groups pay barely more, percentage wise, than the bottom.

Indeed, in 2018, the top 400 earners for the first time paid a lower effective overall tax rate than working-class Americans. There are many reasons for this radical decline in progressivity, including domestic and international tax avoidance, the whittling away of the estate and corporate taxes, and the repeated downsizing of top marginal rates.

I asked Zucman to calculate the average totals in raw dollar amounts that each income group has taken home over the decades — after taxes and transfers. This includes federal, state and payroll taxes of numerous kinds, and government spending on transfer programs, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and disability and veteran benefits, among other things.

Zucman is able to do this because he and Saez created a database to do the new book’s calculations, and this database includes as much income, tax and transfer information at all levels of government as they were able to assemble.

Here are Zucman’s results:

As noted, real after-tax-and-transfer income edged up just a bit among the bottom 50 percent while rocketing upward to an extraordinary degree among the top-earning groups.

Meanwhile, among middle-class Americans in the 50 percent to 90 percent section of the income scale (sometimes called the “middle 40”), average income went from just over $44,000 in 1970 to just over $75,000 in 2018.

“After government transfers, the income of the working and middle class has grown a bit faster than before, but still their income growth rate has been very low,” Zucman told me. “For the working class, their after-taxes-and-transfers income has barely increased.”

And among those in the group from the top 10 percent to 1 percent, average income went from just over $90,000 in 1970 to over $185,000 in 2018. For this group, income doubled — they showed real gains. But the bottom very decidedly did not, and the middle 40’s gains were comparatively modest.

Here’s another way to look at what happened at the turn of each decade:

All this offers another way of looking at a phenomenon that political philosopher Samuel Moyn has labeled the “victory of the rich.”

These data help debunk frequent arguments against making the tax code far more progressive. Hedge-funder Leon Cooperman recently penned a whiny letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — demonstrating what Paul Krugman described as an odd billionaire “self-pitying” streak — arguing that the superwealthy already pay a lot and that the current tax code is more progressive than you think, once you factor in transfers.

It’s true that the wealthy often pay a lot. But the fact that after-tax income has pulled into the stratosphere at the very top, even as effective tax rates have fallen dramatically, shows that the current tax bill of the rich does not, in and of itself, constitute any kind of meaningful argument about the fairness of today’s after-tax distribution.

What’s more, the above also shows how limited the impact of transfer programs has been on soaring inequality over the decades.

“People have this idea that government redistribution has upset some of the rise in inequality, but essentially that’s not the case,” Zucman told me.

Finally, Zucman’s analysis could give weight to progressive arguments for a deep structural economic overhaul. Even Joe Biden’s plan, which would raise corporate tax rates and return top marginal income tax rates to where they were before President Trump’s tax cuts, is surprisingly progressive, a sign of how much this debate has shifted.

Meanwhile, Warren has proposed a tax on extreme wealth. And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has offered an even more ambitious wealth tax, plus a proposal to boost top income tax rates far more than any other rival.

The larger context for this debate is that real-world take-home income has positively exploded at the very top, even as it has barely budged for the bottom half — the sum total of two separate but intertwined stories that have unfolded over the decades.

“You have two trends reinforcing each other,” Zucman told me. “There has been the rise in . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2019 at 10:43 am

Three conclusions from Pelosi’s impeachment address

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Jennifer Rubin has a good column in the Washington Post:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) began and ended her brief address Thursday morning by citing the Declaration of Independence and the Founding Fathers. She solemnly reminded Americans that the nation was born out of protest against an “oppressive monarch.” The framers of the Constitution, she correctly stated, were worried about a president who would abuse his powers, specifically the risk of corruption by foreign powers and misuse of his office to get himself reelected. The remedy is impeachment.

Pelosi declared that President Trump had abused his power, undermined our national security and used his office to compel a foreign power to investigate a political rival. “Our democracy is what is at stake,” she warned. “The president leaves us no choice but to act, because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit.” She admonished Trump: “The president’s actions have seriously violated the Constitution — especially when he says and acts upon the belief Article 2 says I can do whatever I want. No.”

With that, she asked House committee chairs to proceed with articles of impeachment. A great many questions still remain, such as the breadth of the articles (e.g. whether they reference the Mueller report) and whether the House will draft all articles now or wait on some issues for the resolution of court cases concerning witnesses and documents Trump is blocking. Pelosi’s remarks did not mention the Mueller report nor other constitutional issues such as violations of the emoluments clause, but that does not mean such matters won’t be included in proposed articles and put up for a vote.

First, Trump will join a select group of only three other presidents who faced articles of impeachment. In Trump’s case, the facts, as Pelosi noted, are largely undisputed, and the gravity of the offenses is undeniable. Whatever bluster Trump provides, this stain will remain on his presidency, and history will judge him accordingly.

Second, Trump on Thursday yet again demanded a quick vote on impeachment. Without merely being oppositional, the House should consider adopting a deliberate pace, both to give Americans time to absorb the facts and to allow a short amount of time to see whether additional witnesses can be pried loose. The facts are there, and the danger of continued abuse is present. (Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani is in Ukraine right now, continuing his search for dirt, presumably with Trump’s assent or at least knowledge.)

Third, one cannot help but notice the difference in tone between the two sides. Pelosi was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2019 at 9:29 am

The Case for Impeachment, According to Adam Schiff

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Abigail Weinberg writes at Mother Jones:

Throughout the last week, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff has used his position to lay out a powerful argument for impeaching President Trump for withholding military aid from Ukraine in exchange for investigations into the Bidens. His closing statements for each of the public hearings clearly outline evidence against Trump and carefully dismantle the Republican talking points that seek to absolve the president of guilt. Let’s review Schiff’s impassioned statements from the past week.

Tuesday

Schiff was emphatic in his closing statements Tuesday that there is no evidence to support the notion that Trump was only seeking to root out corruption in Ukraine, following testimony from Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, the Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, and Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence. Republicans have tried to argue that Trump’s interest in investigating Burisma, the natural gas company for which Hunter Biden served as a board member, was borne from a genuine interest in fighting corruption.

“The evidence all points in the other direction,” Schiff said. “The evidence points in the direction of the president inviting Ukraine to engage in the corrupt acts of investigating a US political opponent.”

After former envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and former Trump adviser Tim Morrison testified later that day, Schiff homed in on a meeting Volker witnessed between Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. “Sondland told you that he had informed the Ukrainians that if they wanted that $400 million in military aid, they were going to have to do those investigations that the president wanted,” Schiff said, addressing Volker.

Then, he defined bribery as, “the conditioning of official acts in exchange for something of personal value.” “The official acts we’re talking about here,” he said, “are a White House meeting that President Zelensky desperately sought and, as you have acknowledged, Ambassador Volker, was deeply important to this country at war with Russia.”

According to Volker’s testimony, Trump withheld military aid and conditioned both the aid and a meeting with Zelensky upon an investigation of Burisma. Republicans were upset only that Trump got caught, Schiff said.

Wednesday

Wednesday’s hearings began with testimony in which Ambassador Sondland affirmed that there was a quid pro quo. During his closing statement, Schiff read Sondland’s testimony back to him:

Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky. Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election, DNC server, and Burisma. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president.

Moreover, Sondland testified that the hold on aid was directly related to Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate both Burisma and the 2016 elections. Schiff refuted the idea that anyone other than the president was behind the scheme. “I do not believe that the president would allow himself to be led by the nose by Rudy Giuliani or Ambassador Sondland or anybody else,” he said. “I think the president was the one who decided whether a meeting would happen, whether the aid would be lifted, not anyone who worked for him.”

Following the testimony of Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, and David Hale, undersecretary of state for political affairs, Schiff made clear that the United States’ actions in Ukraine were not, as Republicans have argued, anti-corruption. Those actions were corrupt in and of themselves.

Schiff identified several of Trump’s actions as corrupt: when Trump recalled Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, “an anti-corrupt champion,” from her post in Ukraine; when Trump praised Ukraine’s corrupt former prosecutors and said that “they were treated very unfairly”; when Trump conditioned a meeting with Zelensky on investigations into his political rival, Joe Biden; and when Trump told Zelensky, “I want you to do us a favor” and requested investigations into a conspiracy theory about the 2016 election hackings and into the Bidens.

“The great men and women in your department under Secretary Hale and in your department, Ms. Cooper, they carry that message around the world, that that the United States is devoted to the rule of law,” Schiff said in conclusion. “But when they see a president who is not devoted to the rule of law who is not devoted to anti-corruption but instead demonstrates in word and deed corruption, they are forced to ask themselves, what does America stand for anymore?” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s clearly laid out.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2019 at 1:56 pm

What Joe Biden Can’t Bring Himself to Say

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Interesting report in the Atlantic by John Henderson:

is eyes fall to the floor when I ask him to describe it. We’ve been tiptoeing toward it for 45 minutes, and so far, every time he seems close, he backs away, or leads us in a new direction. There are competing theories in the press, but Joe Biden has kept mum on the subject. I want to hear him explain it. I ask him to walk me through the night he appeared to lose control of his words onstage.

“I—um—I don’t remember,” Biden says. His voice has that familiar shake, the creak and the croak. “I’d have to see it. I-I-I don’t remember.”

We’re in Biden’s mostly vacant Washington, D.C., campaign office on an overcast Tuesday at the end of the summer. Since entering the Democratic presidential-primary race in April, Biden has largely avoided in-depth interviews. When I first reached out, in late June, his press person was polite but noncommittal: Was an interview really necessary for the story?

Then came the second debate, at the end of July, in Detroit. The first one, a month earlier, had been a disaster for BidenHe was unprepared when Senator Kamala Harris criticized both his past resistance to federally mandated busing and a recent speech in which he’d waxed fondly about collaborating with segregationist senators. Some of his answers that night had been meander­ing and difficult to parse, feeding into the narrative that he wasn’t just prone to verbal slipups—he’s called himself a “gaffe machine”—but that his age was a problem, that he was confused and out of touch.

Detroit was Biden’s chance to regain control of the narrative. And then something else happened. The candidates were talking about health care. At first, Biden sounded strong, confident, presidential: “My plan makes a limit of co-pay to be One. Thousand. Dollars. Because we—”

He stopped. He pinched his eyes closed. He lifted his hands and thrust them forward, as if trying to pull the missing sound from his mouth. “We f-f-f-f-further
support—” He opened his eyes. “The uh-uh-uh-uh—” His chin dipped toward his chest. “The-uh, the ability to buy into the Obamacare plan.” Biden also stumbled when trying to say immune system.

Fox News edited these moments into a mini montage. Stifling laughter, the host Steve Hilton narrated: “As the right words struggled to make that perilous journey from Joe Biden’s brain to Joe Biden’s mouth, half the time he just seemed to give up with this somewhat tragic and limp admission of defeat.”

Several days later, Biden’s team got back in touch with me. One of his aides gingerly asked whether I’d noticed the former vice president stutter during the debate. Of course I had—I stutter, far worse than Biden. The aide said he was ready to talk about it. Last night, after Biden stumbled multiple times during the Atlanta debate, the topic became even more relevant.

“So how are you, man?”

Biden is in his usual white button-down and navy suit, a flag pin on the left lapel. Up close, he looks like he’s lost weight since leaving office in 2017. His height is commanding, but, as he approaches his 77th birthday, he doesn’t fill out his suit jacket like he used to.

I stutter as I begin to ask my first question. “I’ve only … told a few people I’m … d-doing this piece. Every time I … describe it, I get … caught on the w-word-uh stuh-tuh-tuh-tutter.”

“So did I,” Biden replies. “It doesn’t”—he interrupts himself—“can’t define who you are.”

Maybe you’ve heard Biden talk about his boyhood stutter. A non-stutterer might not notice when he appears to get caught on words as an adult, because he usually maneuvers out of those moments quickly and expertly. But on other occasions, like that night in Detroit, Biden’s lingering stutter is hard to miss. He stutters—­if slightly—on several sounds as we sit across from each other in his office. Before addressing the debate specifically, I mention what I’ve just heard. “I want to ask you, as, you know, a … stutterer to, uh, to a … stutterer. When you were … talking a couple minutes ago, it, it seemed to … my ear, my eye … did you have … trouble on s? Or on … m?”

Biden looks down. He pivots to the distant past, telling me that the letter s was hard when he was a kid. “But, you know, I haven’t stuttered in so long that it’s
hhhhard for me to remember the specific—” He pauses. “What I do remember is the feeling.”

I started stuttering at age 4.

I still struggle to say my own name. When I called the gas company recently, the automated voice apologized for not being able to understand me. This happens a lot, so I try to say “representative,” but r’s are tough too. When I reach a human, I’m inevitably asked whether we have a poor connection. Busy bartenders will walk away and serve someone else when I take too long to say the name of a beer. Almost every deli guy chuckles as I fail to enunciate my order, despite the fact that I’ve cut it down to just six words: “Turkey club, white toast, easy mayo.” I used to just point at items on the menu.

My head will shake on a really bad stutter. People have casually asked whether I have Parkinson’s. I curl my toes inside my shoes or tap my foot as a distraction to help me get out of it, a behavior that I’ve repeated so often, it’s become a tic. Sometimes I shuffle a pen between my hands. When I was little, I used to press my palm against my forehead in an effort to force the missing word out of my brain. Back then, my older brother would imitate this motion and the accompanying sound, a dull whine—something between a cow and a sheep. A kid at baseball camp, Michael, referred to me as “Stutter Boy.” He’d snap his fingers and repeat it as if calling a dog. “Stutter Boy! Stutter Boy!” In college, I applied for a job at a coffee shop. I stuttered horribly through the interview, and the owner told me he couldn’t hire me, because he wanted his café to be “a place where customers feel comfortable.”

Stuttering is a neurological disorder that affects roughly 70 million people, about 3 million of whom live in the United States. It has a strong genetic component: Two-thirds of stutterers have a family member who actively stutters or used to. Biden’s uncle on his mother’s side—“Uncle Boo-Boo,” as he was called—stuttered his whole life.

In the most basic sense, a stutter is a repetition, prolongation, or block in producing a sound. It typically presents between the ages of 2 and 4, in up to twice as many boys as girls, who also have a higher recovery rate. During the develop­mental years, some children’s stutter will disappear completely without intervention or with speech therapy. The longer someone stutters, however, the lower the chances of a full recovery—­perhaps due to the decreasing plasticity of the brain. Research suggests that no more than a quarter of people who still stutter at 10 will completely rid themselves of the affliction as adults.

The cultural perception of stutterers is that they’re fearful, anxious people, or simply dumb, and that stuttering is the result. But it doesn’t work like that. Let’s say you’re in fourth grade and you have to stand up and recite state capitals. You know that Juneau is the capital of Alaska, but you also know that you almost always block on the j sound. You become intensely anxious not because you don’t know the answer, but because you do know the answer, and you know you’re going to stutter on it.

Stuttering can feel like a series of betrayals. Your body betrays you when it refuses to work in concert with your brain to produce smooth speech. Your brain betrays you when it fails to recall the solutions you practiced after school with a speech therapist, allegedly in private, later learning that your mom was on the other side of a mirror, watching in the dark like a detective. If you’re a lucky stutterer, you have friends and family who build you back up, but sometimes your protectors betray you too.

A Catholic nun betrayed Biden when he was in seventh grade. “I think I was No. 5 in alphabetical order,” Biden says. He points over my right shoulder and stares into the middle distance as the movie rolls in his mind. “We’d sit along the radiators by the window.”

The office we’re in is awash in framed memories: Biden and his family, Biden and Barack Obama, Biden in a denim shirt posing for InStyle. The shelf behind the desk features, among other books, Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America. It’s a phrase Biden has adopted for his campaign this time around, his third attempt at the presidency. In almost every speech, Biden warns potential voters that 2020 is not merely an election, but a battle “for the soul of America.” Sometimes he swaps in nation.

But now we’re back in middle school. The students are taking turns reading a book, one by one, up and down the rows. “I could count down how many paragraphs, and I’d memorize it, because I found it easier to memorize than look at the page and read the word. I’d pretend to be reading,” Biden says. “You learned early on who the hell the bullies were,” he tells me later. “You could tell by the look, couldn’t you?”

For most stutterers, reading out loud summons peak dread. A chunk of text that may take a fluent person roughly a minute to read could take a stutterer five or 10 times as long. Four kids away, three kids away. Your shoulders tighten. Two away. The back of your neck catches fire. One away. Then it happens, and the room fills with secondhand embarrassment. Someone breathes a heavy sigh. Someone else laughs. At least one kid mimics your stutter while you’re actively stuttering. You never talk about it. At night, you stare at the ceiling above your bed, reliving it.

“The paragraph I had to read was: ‘Sir Walter Raleigh was a gentleman. He laid his cloak upon the muddy road suh-suh-so the lady wouldn’t soil her shoes when she entered the carriage,’ ” Biden tells me, slightly and unintentionally tripping up on the word so. “And I said, ‘Sir Walter Raleigh was a gentle man who—’ and then the nun said, ‘Mr. Biden, what is that word?’ And it was gentleman that she wanted me to say, not gentle man. And she said, ‘Mr. Buh-Buh-Buh-Biden, what’s that word?’ ”

Biden says he rose from his desk and left the classroom in protest, then walked home. The family story is that his mother, Jean, drove him back to school and confronted the nun with the made-for-TV phrase “You do that again, I’ll knock your bonnet off your head!” I ask Biden what went through his mind as the nun mocked him.

“Anger, rage, humiliation,” he says. His speech becomes staccato. “A feeling of, uh—like I’m sure you’ve experienced—it just drops out of your chest, just, like, you feel … a void.” He lifts his hands up to his face like he did on the debate stage in July, to guide the v sound out of his mouth: void.

By all accounts, Biden was both popular and a strong athlete in high school. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s quite interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2019 at 9:51 am

Best Healthcare System in the World™ brings you: Surprise medical bills!

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I recently had pains in my chest, and since I’m a type 2 diabetic (controlled now, with no need for medication, but still: I have type 2 diabetes) and am almost 80, I thought I should pay attention. The Wife was away, so I called her, and she insisted that I immediately call 911 and request an ambulance. I did, and everything turned out to be fine, and I learned some interesting things I had not known.

  1. Do call an ambulance. If you are potentially having a heart attack, a special cardio ambulance (with med techs having specialized training) is dispatched. This will cost a fee: it’s a flat-rate $80, I’m told, though there’s no sign of a bill so far. (This was a few weeks ago.)

  2. The dispatcher told me to chew an aspirin. I learned that aspirin is absorbed much faster if you simply chew up the tablet, particularly if the tablet is coated. It is absorbed through the lining of your mouth and gets into system pronto. This has proved useful — a couple of days ago I had a headache, so I chewed the aspirin. Prompt relief. From now on, when I take aspirin, I’ll chew it.

  3. The ambulance takes you to a special ambulance entrance and you go immediately into the ER and start getting treatment: no finding parking, no waiting in lobby or speaking to reception. You’re there, hooked to a ECG machine, and getting blood drawn. (A heart attack results in certain enzymes entering the bloodstream.)

And, of course, now that I live in Canada, no suprise hospital bills and in fact no hospital bills at all. $0.00. That’s Canadian dollars, but in this case the US$ equivalent is also $0.00. That is not unique to Canada, of course. That’s the way it works in all advanced countries.

Carol Sottili writes in the Washington Post about how, in contrast, it works in the US:

My descent into health insurance hell started innocuously enough.

Visiting my 94-year-old mother in October last year, I casually leafed through her checkbook. Still living independently in her Long Island condo, traveling with friends and active in the community, Mom was also very much in charge of her finances, but she welcomed my second glance. All was in order, except for a $603.12 check paid to an emergency room doctor. What was that all about?

I knew she had been treated for vertigo in a hospital ER in August. But why hadn’t her health insurance covered this?

My mother, Pauline Gulotta, an Austrian war bride, was old-school. When she received a demand for payment from a doctor, she paid it without question. So when the bill arrived for services provided by a physician who, we eventually surmised, was not a participant in her Medicare Advantage plan, she wrote out the check and put it in the mail. That simple act would send me on a nine-month journey involving countless hours on the phone, endless letters and emails, and a formal complaint to the New York State Attorney General’s Office in an effort to get my mother’s money returned.

The bill my mother paid, and subsequent bills she received for additional hospital visits, are termed “surprise medical bills.” They are often sent by ER physicians and medical test providers who don’t have negotiated agreements with the patient’s insurance, even though the hospitals where they practice are typically “in network.” In a normal world, patients check to make sure a doctor they want to see accepts their insurance. But taken by ambulance with the world spinning out of control, my mother didn’t question the ER doctor who treated her, especially since she knew the hospital was in network.

She is not alone. Several recent studies have concluded that millions of hospital patients are faced with surprise bills, often for similar reasons to my mother’s. And those numbers and the bill amounts grow larger each year.

A recently published study by Stanford University researchers of 13.6 million ER visits concluded that, in 2010, 32.3 percent resulted in a surprise medical bill averaging $220. By 2016, that percentage had grown to 42.8 percent, with the average bill at $628. Inpatient jumps were even more substantial, according to the study. Of 5.5 million inpatient visits, surprise bill percentages increased from 26.3 to 42 percent, with the average out-of-network bill rising from $804 to $2,040.

“It’s obvious from our study that if you go to the hospital, there is a pretty good chance you’re going to be hit with a surprise bill,” said study co-author Michelle Mello, a professor of law and of health research and policy at Stanford. These bills hit the low-income the hardest, she added, pointing to a recent Federal Reserve survey that concluded 4 in 10 people would not be able to readily cover an unexpected $400 bill.

Public opinion is clear on the topic: According to multiple surveys, a clear majority want surprise bills to end. But efforts to pass federal legislation so far have gone nowhere.

Twenty-eight states have taken matters into their own hands, passing laws that offer at least some restrictions on surprise billing, but federal regulations limit their reach. For example, those covered under self-insured group health plans, which apply to employees of most large corporations, are not protected by state laws. In the D.C. region, only Maryland is among the 28.

As a New York resident, my mother was covered by one of the country’s strongest surprise-bill laws, so I naively believed that her honest mistake would be quickly remedied. Within a few weeks, I realized she might have a better chance of winning the Powerball jackpot.

Her health insurance company pointed me to the provider, while the provider sent me back to the health insurance company. They both threw up privacy roadblocks, claiming they couldn’t talk with me as my mother’s health declined; copies of my power of attorney were lost and “appointment of representative” forms routinely disappeared.

The waters got even muddier when the insurance company tried to slough me off on an affiliated company that processed claims. Voice-mail menus became my diabolical purgatory. Meanwhile, more and more surprise bills arrived, emanating from three visits my mother made to the same emergency hospital, and phone calls threatening collection started.

My increasingly frail mother was becoming distraught and often told me she wanted to just pay them so she could rest. From hundreds of miles away, I urged her to dig in her heels and stay strong. And I continued to do battle on her behalf.

In my mother’s situation, the out-of-network ER doctor had already received a $179.88 reimbursement on the $783 bill. That should have been the end of the story. Instead, the doctor’s billing service sent a “balance bill” stating, “The remaining balance due is your responsibility.”

In February, I filed a complaint with the N.Y. State Attorney General’s Office. By early March, I received a letter stating that they had intervened on my behalf and that the billing service had agreed to send a full refund, which my mother would receive within 60 to 90 days.

On June 2, my mother died. She had never received that refund.

My grief turned into anger at a health system that, even after death, kept sending her surprise bills. Instead of letting it go, I became obsessed. I sent letters to each of the hospital’s board members and to the religious organization that runs the hospital, mailed dozens of official forms disputing the charges and emailed elected officials. Crickets. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2019 at 3:51 pm

Hillary Clinton’s Zombie Impeachment Memo That Could Help Fell Trump

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Darren Samuelsohn reports in Politico:

document Hillary Clinton helped write nearly a half century ago has returned from the dead to threaten the man she couldn’t vanquish in 2016.

The bizarre, only-in-D.C. twist centers on a congressional report penned by a bipartisan team of young attorneys that included Hillary before she was a Clinton and written in the throes of Watergate. Then, unlike now, not a single lawmaker had been alive the last time Congress impeached a president. They had little understanding of how to try and remove Richard Nixon from the White House. So they tapped Clinton and a team of ambitious staffers to dive into the history of impeachment, stretching back to the 14th century in England: How has impeachment been used? What were the justifications? Can we apply it to Nixon?

The resulting document became a centerpiece of the congressional push to drive the Republican president from office. But then Nixon resigned. The memo was buried.

That was just the report’s first life.

In an ironic twist, the document was resurrected in the late 1990s. Republicans gleefully used it to bolster their unsuccessful bid to oust Clinton’s now-husband, President Bill Clinton. Then it faded from public conscience — again.

Until now, that is. The 45-year-old report has become a handbook House Democratic lawmakers and aides say they are using to help determine whether they have the goods to mount a full-scale impeachment effort against President Donald Trump, the same man who three years ago upended Hillary Clinton’s bid for a return trip to the White House.

Essentially, Clinton, albeit indirectly, might get one last shot at accomplishing what she couldn’t in 2016 — defeating Trump.

“I can only say that the impeachment Gods have a great sense of humor,” Alan Baron, an expert on the topic who has staffed four congressional impeachments against federal judges, said of the recurring role Hillary Clinton keeps playing in this story.

It started in early 1974.

The walls were closing in on a beleaguered President Nixon. His aides were going down one by one. He had tried — and failed — to halt the investigations into his behavior by cleaning house during the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre.”

On Capitol Hill, Hillary Rodham, a 26-year-old law school graduate, was hired by the House Judiciary Committee to work on a bipartisan staff effort to help determine whether to impeach Nixon. She joined a team of aspiring lawyers that also included Bill Weld, who would go on to his own illustrious career as a top Justice Department prosecutor, Massachusetts governor and most recently as a long-shot 2020 GOP primary challenger against Trump.

Over a couple of months just before the climactic end of the Watergate scandal, the team dug deep into constitutional and legal arcana scouring documents that dated to the country’s founding, as well as century-old newspaper clippings in the Library of Congress.

The resulting title of the report, “Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment,” may elicit yawns. But what they produced became a seminal 64-page road map with appendices that looks into what counts as an impeachable offense.

At the time, lawmakers needed the guidance. They had not had to think seriously about these issues for more than 100 years, when Congress rebelled against President Andrew Johnson over his handling of reconstruction after the Civil War.

The staffers’ research broke ground by making an accessible argument that a president doesn’t have to commit a straight-up crime for Congress to consider the historic step of impeachment.

“The framers did not write a fixed standard. Instead they adopted from English history a standard sufficiently general and flexible to meet future circumstances and events, the nature and character of which they could not foresee,” the House staffers, including the future first lady, wrote about the ill-defined constitutional working of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Their exhaustive report also included a whirlwind history lesson about how America’s founders had been well-versed in impeachment when they included the language in several clauses of the Constitution — the British Parliament had used the impeachment process as a check on royalty for more than 400 years, dating to the 14th century.

And the process hadn’t just been used to remove alleged criminals from office. In the United States, 83 articles of impeachment had been voted out of the House up to that point against a dozen federal judges, one senator and Andrew Johnson, and fewer than a third actually involved specific criminal acts. Far more common, they wrote, was that the House was dealing with allegations that someone had violated their duties, oath of office or seriously undermined public confidence in their ability to perform their official functions.

“Because impeachment of a President is a grave step for the nation, it is to be predicated only upon conduct seriously incompatible with either the constitutional form and principles of our government or the proper performance of constitutional duties of the presidential office,” the House staffers concluded.

While the document Hillary Rodham and her colleagues produced got marked as a staff report, the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee still used it to justify their historic votes against Nixon. In fact, two of the three articles of impeachment adopted by the powerful panel — dealing with the Republican president’s abuse of power and contempt of Congress — didn’t cover areas that fall neatly into the category of federal crimes. A final staff report submitted to the House just days after Nixon made history as the first president to resign from office quoted from the staff’s earlier analysis.

More than two decades later, though, Clinton may have wished she had never helped write the document.

It was 1997, eight months before the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. President Bill Clinton was facing Republican outrage over everything from allegations of campaign finance irregularities to Whitewater, the probe into the Clinton’s Arkansas real estate investments. To legitimize their anger, some Republicans turned to a document that likely hadn’t been discussed for a generation — the 1974 impeachment report Hillary Clinton had worked on.

Georgia GOP Rep. Bob Barr resurfaced the report in a sarcasm-laced op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that opened with the line “Dear Mrs. Clinton.”

The conservative congressman went on to thank the first lady for giving lawmakers a “road map” to consider her husband’s impeachment with a report that “appears objective, fair, well researched and consistent with other materials reflecting and commenting on impeachment.”

“And it is every bit as relevant today as it was 23 years ago,” he added.

In time, both parties would cite from the Judiciary Committee’s 1974 staff report as they fought over whether the conduct associated with President Clinton’s sexual relationship with Lewinsky merited impeachment.

Calling the Watergate document “historic,” then-Virginia GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte argued in the fall of 1998 that Clinton’s offenses, like those of Nixon, had extended beyond questions of obstruction of justice to whether the president betrayed the public trust. Then-Rep. Charles Canady, a Florida Republican chairing a House subcommittee on the Constitution, referred repeatedly to the Watergate panel’s work during the House debate and later in Bill Clinton’s Senate trial, which ultimately concluded with his acquittal.

Democrats, meanwhile, had a different read on the group’s findings.

California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who had worked for a member of the Judiciary Committee during Watergate, shared copies of the more than 20-year-old report with colleagues from both parties and posted a link to it online — she had an offer from law school students to type it out so it could be searchable by word but internal ethics rules prevented that move. Her primary argument was that Clinton’s lies about his relationship with Lewinsky, while immoral, didn’t match the historical precedents outlined as qualifying for impeachment in the 1974 staff analysis.

“The interesting thing is they cited it for purposes it didn’t support. I wonder whether they read it or whether they had index cards prepared by their staff,” Lofgren said in a recent interview when asked about the Republicans who were using the report to justify removing Clinton from office.

Ted Kalo, a former top Democratic aide on the Judiciary panel, said there was widespread bipartisan agreement that the Watergate staff report mattered — even amid the differing interpretations.

“Great books have been written and eloquent testimony was given in the 1998 hearing on the topic, but even in 1998, the 1974 staff report was considered to be state of the art,” he said.

“It’s the most concise, easily understood document on the history of the impeachment clause and the intent of the framers, including the issue of what constitutes an impeachable offense that I’ve come across. And it faithfully and logically describes what was intended to be the appropriate scope of the House’s impeachment power,” he added.

Now it’s 2019. President Donald Trump is an unindicted criminal co-conspirator who has fended off myriad congressional probes and watched his aides go to prison over an investigation into the Trump campaign. Most Democrats — not to mention their fervent progressive base — are clamoring for impeachment. And yet again, the 1974 impeachment report is getting a rereading on Capitol Hill.

Just as the Watergate staff suggested, the . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2019 at 1:54 pm

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