Archive for the ‘Government’ Category
In the first part of the column, Krugman notes that things currently are not at all bad but could easily worsen:
What this means is that unemployment probably can’t fall much from here, so that even with good policies and good luck, job creation will be much slower than it was in the Obama years. And since bad stuff does happen, there’s a strong likelihood that unemployment will be higher four years from now than it is today. . .
And healthcare is very likely to get worse, especially with Trump throwing out executive orders that rattle the health insurance market.
. . . A second front on which things will almost surely get worse is health care. Obamacare caused the percentage of Americans without insurance to fall sharply, to the lowest level ever. Repeal would send the numbers right back up — 18 million newly uninsured in just the first year, eventually rising to more than 30 million, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. And no, Republicans who have spent seven years failing to come up with a real replacement won’t develop one in the next few weeks, or ever. . .
And crime has been on a decline and is now at low levels:
. . . On a third front, crime, the future direction is unclear. The Trump vision of an urban America ravaged by “the crime and the gangs and the drugs” is a dystopian fantasy: Violent crime is, in fact, way down despite highly publicized recent murder increases in a few cities. Crime could, I suppose, fall further, but it could also rise. What we do know is that the Trump administration can’t pacify America’s urban war zones, because those zones don’t exist. . .
The Krugman asks the big question:
. . . So how will Mr. Trump handle the bad news of rising unemployment, plunging health coverage, and little if any crime reduction? That’s obvious: He’ll deny reality, the way he always does when it threatens his narcissism. But will his supporters go along with his fantasy?
They might. After all, they blocked out the good news from the Obama era. Two-thirds of Trump voters believe, falsely, that the unemployment rate rose under Obama. (Three-quarters believe George Soros is paying people to protest Mr. Trump.) Only 17 percent of self-identified Republicans are aware that the number of uninsured is at a historic low. Most people thought crime was rising even when it was falling. So maybe they will block out bad news in the Trump years.
But it probably won’t be that easy. For one thing, people tend to attribute improvements in their personal situation to their own efforts; surely many voters who gained jobs over the past eight years believe that they did it despite, not thanks to, Obama policies. Will they correspondingly blame themselves, not Donald Trump, for lost jobs and health insurance? Unlikely.
On top of that, Mr. Trump made big promises during the campaign, so the risk of disillusionment is especially high.
Will he respond to bad news by accepting responsibility and trying to do better? Will he renounce his fortune and enter a monastery? That seems equally likely.
No, the insecure egomaniac-in-chief will almost surely deny awkward truths, and berate the media for reporting them. And — this is what worries me — it’s very likely that he’ll try to use his power to shoot the messengers.
Seriously, how do you think the man who compared the C.I.A. to Nazis will react when the Bureau of Labor Statistics first reports a significant uptick in unemployment or decline in manufacturing jobs? What’s he going to do when the Centers for Disease Control and the Census Bureau report spiking numbers of uninsured Americans?
You may have thought that last weekend’s temper tantrum was bad. But there’s much, much worse to come.
We shouldn’t be at all surprised at the “bull in a china shop” approach Trump is using, Indeed, Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee as Secretary of State, indicated in his hearing that he would not hesitate to go to war with China. A measured and thoughtful approach doesn’t cut it in a reality show, which requires constant excitement.
Juliet Eilperin and Sean Sullivan report in the Washington Post:
President Trump’s executive order instructing federal agencies to grant relief to constituencies affected by the Affordable Care Act has begun to reverberate throughout the nation’s health-care system, injecting further uncertainty into an already unsettled insurance landscape.
The political signal of the order, which Trump signed just hours after being sworn into office, was clear: Even before the Republican-led Congress acts to repeal the 2010 law, the new administration will move swiftly to unwind as many elements as it can on its own — elements that have changed how 20 million Americans get health coverage and what benefits insurers must offer some of their customers.
But the practical implications of Trump’s action on Friday are harder to decipher. Its language instructs all federal agencies to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from or delay” any part of the law that imposes a financial or regulatory burden on those affected by it. That would cover consumers, doctors, hospitals and other providers, as well as insurers and drug companies.
The prospect of what could flow from pulling back or eliminating administrative rules — including no longer enforcing the individual mandate, which requires Americans to get coverage or pay an annual penalty, and ending health plans’ “essential benefits” — could affect how many people sign up on the Affordable Care Act marketplaces before open enrollment ends Jan. 31 for 2017 coverage, as well as how many companies decide to participate next year.
Robert Laszewski, president of the consulting firm Health Policy and Strategy Associates, called the executive order a “bomb” lobbed into the law’s “already shaky” insurance market. Given the time it will take Republicans to fashion a replacement, he expects that federal and state insurance exchanges will continue to operate at least through 2018.
“Instead of sending a signal that there’s going to be an orderly transition, they’ve sent a signal that it’s going to be a disorderly transition,” said Laszewski, a longtime critic of the law, which is also known as Obamacare. “How does the Trump administration think this is not going to make the situation worse?” [They probably know it will make things worse: Trump like chaos because he can then say that “only he can save us.” That’s why he paints a picture of a grim and dystopian U.S. (“American carnage”). He thinks that the worse things seem, the more the public will turn to him as their savior. So it’s in his interest to make things bad, so he can be the hero to save us. I’ve in fact worked with people who thrive on a crisis—they work hard, they save the day, they are rewarded—who begin unconsciously to create crises because they have become addicted to the accolades. They find the reward of the accolades more than repays the (often substantial) effort to solve the crisis (of their own making). Plus there’s the reality-show imperative: never be boring—a crisis is exciting. – LG]
Teresa Miller, Pennsylvania’s insurance commissioner, said Saturday that several insurers on her state’s exchange “seriously considered leaving the market last year” and that Trump’s action could propel them to indeed abandon it in 2018. In fact, she added, some have raised the possibility of withdrawing from the ACA’s exchanges during 2017, which would mean consumers could keep their plans but no longer receive federal subsidies to help them afford the coverage.
“That would create a nightmare scenario,” Miller said.
As of this year, nearly a third of all counties nationwide have just one insurer in the federal marketplace, and almost two-thirds have two or fewer insurers.
The White House did not return requests for comment over the weekend. . .
Continue reading. There’s a lot more. Trump may have wrecked healthcare. Just two days in, and he’s wrecking things.
Peter Sullivan reports in The Hill:
President Trump told Fox News last week that when it comes to ObamaCare, “we’re going to have a plan that’s going to be great for people.”
What that plan will actually be, though, remains unclear.
Trump has said that he will put forward an ObamaCare replacement plan shortly after Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) is confirmed, an announcement that caught lawmakers off guard.
If Trump actually follows through on putting forward his own plan, rather than letting Congress take the lead, it could provide some guidance to Republican efforts to come up with an ObamaCare replacement, though lawmakers are sure to want their own say on any plan as well.
Trump has dropped a few hints on his ideas for a replacement plan.
Here’s a guide to what we know and don’t know.
He wants to cover everyone
What we know: Trump made waves last week when he told The Washington Post he wants everyone to have insurance.
“We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” Trump said. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”
This remark sounded more like Democrats’ goal of universal coverage than Republican’ usual focus on reducing costs and regulation in healthcare.
Republicans on Capitol Hill have been pivoting back to the idea of everyone having “access” to coverage. It is not entirely clear what the difference between universal “access” to coverage and universal coverage is. For one, Republicans don’t want to have a mandate for people to get coverage, so some people could choose not to buy it.
But Democrats fear that the emphasis on “access” over actually having coverage is code for not really providing enough financial help for people to have affordable insurance.
“I have access to buying a $10 million home,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said at Price’s confirmation hearing. “I don’t have the money to do that.”
What we don’t know: Trump has provided almost no details of how we would actually go about providing insurance for everyone, a lofty promise that would be extremely hard to fulfill, especially after repealing ObamaCare and rolling back its coverage gains for 20 million new people.
Trump did put forward a healthcare plan on his website during the campaign, but it consisted of standard Republican ideas like allowing insurance to be sold across state lines and creating a tax deduction for health insurance. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated the plan would result in 21 million people losing coverage, largely due to the repeal of ObamaCare.
He wants block grants for Medicaid
What we know: One detail of health policy that Trump has repeatedly stressed is block grants for Medicaid. That means that the federal government would give states a set amount of money for the low-income health insurance program, rather than the current federal commitment that is more open-ended.
The expansion of Medicaid was a key part of ObamaCare’s coverage expansion, but that growth could now be repealed.
Republicans say block grants would limit federal spending and give more power to the states. But Democrats warn that limiting the spending would simply mean damaging cuts to the program, keeping people out of coverage or slashing benefits.
Block grants were one of the few healthcare specifics in Trump’s recent interview with Axios. “Whether it’s Medicaid block grants or whatever it may be, we have to make sure that people are taken care of and it’s going to be a very important part to me,” Trump said.
What we don’t know: It’s unclear how a replacement plan would treat ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid. Several Republican governors in states that have accepted the expansion are pushing to keep it.
Another key point that is unclear is . . .
Tom Englehardt writes at TomDispatch.com:
They call themselves the U.S. “Intelligence Community,” or the IC. If you include the office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which in 2005 began as a crew of 12 people, including its director, and by 2008 had already grown to a staff of 1,750, there are 17 members (adding up to an alphabet soup of acronyms including the CIA, the NSA, and the DIA). The IC spends something like $70 billion of your taxpayer dollars annually, mostly in secret, hires staggering numbers of private contractors from various warrior corporations to lend a hand, sucks up communications of every sort across the planet, runs a drone air force, monitors satellites galore, builds its agencies multi-billion-dollar headquarters and storage facilities, and does all of this, ostensibly, to provide the president and the rest of the government with the best information imaginable on what’s happening in the world and what dangers the United States faces.
Since 9/11, expansion has been the name of its game, as the leading intelligence agencies gained ever more power, prestige, and the big bucks, while wrapping themselves in an unprecedented blanket of secrecy. Typically, in the final days of the Obama administration, the National Security Agency was given yet more leeway to share the warrantless data it scoops up worldwide (including from American citizens) with ever more members of the IC.
And oh yes, in the weeks leading up to the inauguration of Donald Trump, several of those intelligence outfits found themselves in a knock-down, drag-out barroom brawl with our new tweeter-in-chief (who has begun threatening to downsize parts of the IC) over the possible Russian hacking of an American election and his relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the process, they have received regular media plaudits for their crucial importance to all of us, our security and safety, along with tweeted curses from the then-president-elect.
Let me lay my own cards on the table here. Based on the relatively little we can know about the information the Intelligence Community has been delivering to the president and his people in these years, I’ve never been particularly impressed with its work. Again, given what’s available to judge from, it seems as if, despite its size, reach, money, and power, the IC has been caught “off-guard” by developments in our world with startling regularity and might be thought of as something closer to an “un-intelligence machine.” It’s always been my suspicion that, if a group of smart, out-of-the-box thinkers were let loose on purely open-source material, the U.S. government might actually end up with a far more accurate view of our world and how it works, not to speak of what dangers lie in store for us.
There’s just one problem in saying such things. In an era when the secrecy around the Intelligence Community has only grown and those leaking information from it have been prosecuted with a fierceness unprecedented in our history, we out here in what passes for the world don’t have much of a way to judge the value of the “product” it produces.
There is, however, one modest exception to this rule. Every four years, before a newly elected president enters the Oval Office, the National Intelligence Council, or NIC, which bills itself as “the IC’s center for long-term strategic analysis,” produces just such a document. The NIC is largely staffed from the IC (evidently in significant measure from the CIA), presents “senior policymakers with coordinated views of the entire Intelligence Community, including National Intelligence Estimates,” and does other classified work of various sorts.
Still, proudly and with some fanfare, it makes public one lengthy document quadrennially for any of us to read. Until now, that report has gone by the name of Global Trends with a futuristic year attached. The previous one, its fifth, made public just before Barack Obama’s second term in office, was Global Trends 2030. This one would have been the 2035 edition, had the NIC not decided to drop that futuristic year for what it calls fear of “false precision” (though projections of developments to 2035 are still part of the text). Instead, the sixth edition arrives as Global Trends: The Paradox of Progress, an anodyne phrase whose meaning is summarized this way: “The achievements of the industrial and information ages are shaping a world to come that is both more dangerous and richer with opportunity than ever before. Whether promise or peril prevails will turn on the choices of humankind.” According to the NIC, in producing such documents its role is to identify “key drivers and developments likely to shape world events a couple of decades into the future” for the incoming president and his people.
Think of Global Trends as another example of how the American world of intelligence has expanded in these years. Starting relatively modestly in 1997, the IC decided to go where no intelligence outfit had previously gone and plant its flag in the future. Chalk that up as a bold decision, since the future might be thought of as the most democratic as well as least penetrable of time frames. After all, any one of us is free to venture there any time we choose without either financing or staff. It’s also a place where you can’t embed spies, you can’t gather communications from across the planet, you can’t bug the phones or hack into the emails of world leaders, no drones can fly, and there are no satellite images to study or interpret. Historically, until the NIC decided to make the future its property, it had largely been left to visionaries and kooks, dreamers and sci-fi writers — people, in short, with a penchant for thinking outside the box.
In these years, however, in the heartland of the world’s “sole superpower,” the urge to control and surveil everything grew to monumental proportions leading the IC directly into the future in the only way it knew how to do anything: monumentally. As a result, the new Global Trends boasts about the size and reach of the operation that produced it. Its team “visited more than 35 countries and one territory, soliciting ideas and feedback from over 2,500 people around the world from all walks of life.”
. . .
If you’re now thinking about tossing your Ray Bradbury, Ursula Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, and Octavia Butler novels into the trash bin of history and diving into the newest Global Trends, then I’ve done you an enormous favor. I’ve already read it for you. And let me assure you that, unlike William Gibson’s “discovery” of cyberspace in his futuristic novel Neuromancer, the NIC’s document uncovers nothing in the future that hasn’t already been clearly identified in the present and isn’t obvious to you and just about everyone else on the planet. Perhaps Global Trends’ greatest achievement is to transform that future into a reading experience so mind-numbing that it was my own vale of tears. A completely typical sentence: “The most powerful actors of the future will be states, groups, and individuals who can leverage material capabilities, relationships, and information in a more rapid, integrated, and adaptive mode than in generations past.”
Admittedly, every now and then you stumble across a genuinely interesting stat or fact that catches your attention (“one in every 112 persons in the world is a refugee, an internally displaced person, or an asylum seeker”) and, on rare occasions, the odd thought stops you momentarily. Generally, though, the future as imagined by the wordsmiths of the IC is a slog, a kind of living nightmare of groupthink.
Whatever quirky and original brains may be hidden in the depths of the IC, on the basis of Global Trends you would have to conclude that its collective brain, the one it assumedly offers to presidents and other officials, couldn’t be more mundane. Start with this: published on the eve of the Trumpian accession, it can’t seem to imagine anything truly new under the sun, including Donald J. Trump (who goes unmentioned in this glimpse of our future). Even as we watch our present world being upended daily, the authors of Global Trends can’t conceive of the genuine upending of much on this planet.
Perhaps that helps explain why its leadership felt so caught off-guard and discombobulated by our new president. In him, after all, the American future is already becoming the unimaginable American present, tweet by tweet. (And let me here express a bit of sympathy for President Trump. If Global Trends is typical of the kind of thinking and presentation that goes into the President’s Daily Brief from the Intelligence Community, then I’m not surprised that he chose to start skipping those sessions for almost anything else, including Fox and Friends and spitball fights with Meryl Streep and John Lewis.)
. . .In truth, even the grimmest version of the IC’s future seems eerily mild, given the onrushing present — from a Trumpian presidency to the recently reported reality that eight billionaires now control the same amount of wealth as the bottom 50% of the planet’s population. (Only a year ago, it took 62 billionaires to hit that mark.) According to the Engelhardt Intelligence Council, the likelihood is that we’re already entering a future far more extreme than anything the NIC and its 2,500-plus outside experts can imagine.
The Global Trends crew seems incapable of imagining futures in which some version of the present doesn’t rule all. Despite the global wars of the last century that leveled significant parts of the planet, the arrival of climate change as history’s possible deal-breaker, and the 9/11 attacks, disjunctures are simply not in their playbook. As a result, their idea of futuristic extremes couldn’t be milder. . .
William Davies writes in the Guardian:
In theory, statistics should help settle arguments. They ought to provide stable reference points that everyone – no matter what their politics – can agree on. Yet in recent years, divergent levels of trust in statistics has become one of the key schisms that have opened up in western liberal democracies. Shortly before the November presidential election, a study in the US discovered that 68% of Trump supporters distrusted the economic datapublished by the federal government. In the UK, a research project by Cambridge University and YouGov looking at conspiracy theories discovered that 55% of the population believes that the government “is hiding the truth about the number of immigrants living here”.
Rather than diffusing controversy and polarisation, it seems as if statistics are actually stoking them. Antipathy to statistics has become one of the hallmarks of the populist right, with statisticians and economists chief among the various “experts” that were ostensibly rejected by voters in 2016. Not only are statistics viewed by many as untrustworthy, there appears to be something almost insulting or arrogant about them. Reducing social and economic issues to numerical aggregates and averages seems to violate some people’s sense of political decency.
Nowhere is this more vividly manifest than with immigration. The thinktank British Future has studied how best to win arguments in favour of immigration and multiculturalism. One of its main findings is that people often respond warmly to qualitative evidence, such as the stories of individual migrants and photographs of diverse communities. But statistics – especially regarding alleged benefits of migration to Britain’s economy – elicit quite the opposite reaction. People assume that the numbers are manipulated and dislike the elitism of resorting to quantitative evidence. Presented with official estimates of how many immigrants are in the country illegally, a common response is to scoff. Far from increasing support for immigration, British Future found, pointing to its positive effect on GDP can actually make people more hostile to it. GDP itself has come to seem like a Trojan horse for an elitist liberal agenda. Sensing this, politicians have now largely abandoned discussing immigration in economic terms.
All of this presents a serious challenge for liberal democracy. Put bluntly, the British government – its officials, experts, advisers and many of its politicians – does believe that immigration is on balance good for the economy. The British government did believe that Brexit was the wrong choice. The problem is that the government is now engaged in self-censorship, for fear of provoking people further.
This is an unwelcome dilemma. Either the state continues to make claims that it believes to be valid and is accused by sceptics of propaganda, or else, politicians and officials are confined to saying what feels plausible and intuitively true, but may ultimately be inaccurate. Either way, politics becomes mired in accusations of lies and cover-ups.
The declining authority of statistics – and the experts who analyse them – is at the heart of the crisis that has become known as “post-truth” politics. And in this uncertain new world, attitudes towards quantitative expertise have become increasingly divided. From one perspective, grounding politics in statistics is elitist, undemocratic and oblivious to people’s emotional investments in their community and nation. It is just one more way that privileged people in London, Washington DC or Brussels seek to impose their worldview on everybody else. From the opposite perspective, statistics are quite the opposite of elitist. They enable journalists, citizens and politicians to discuss society as a whole, not on the basis of anecdote, sentiment or prejudice, but in ways that can be validated. The alternative to quantitative expertise is less likely to be democracy than an unleashing of tabloid editors and demagogues to provide their own “truth” of what is going on across society.
Is there a way out of this polarisation? Must we simply choose between a politics of facts and one of emotions, or is there another way of looking at this situation?One way is to view statistics through the lens of their history. We need to try and see them for what they are: neither unquestionable truths nor elite conspiracies, but rather as tools designed to simplify the job of government, for better or worse. Viewed historically, we can see what a crucial role statistics have played in our understanding of nation states and their progress. This raises the alarming question of how – if at all – we will continue to have common ideas of society and collective progress, should statistics fall by the wayside.
In the second half of the 17th century, in the aftermath of prolonged and bloody conflicts, European rulers adopted an entirely new perspective on the task of government, focused upon demographic trends – an approach made possible by the birth of modern statistics. Since ancient times, censuses had been used to track population size, but these were costly and laborious to carry out and focused on citizens who were considered politically important (property-owning men), rather than society as a whole. Statistics offered something quite different, transforming the nature of politics in the process.
Statistics were designed to give an understanding of a population in its entirety,rather than simply to pinpoint strategically valuable sources of power and wealth. In the early days, this didn’t always involve producing numbers. In Germany, for example (from where we get the term Statistik) the challenge was to map disparate customs, institutions and laws across an empire of hundreds of micro-states. What characterised this knowledge as statistical was its holistic nature: it aimed to produce a picture of the nation as a whole. Statistics would do for populations what cartography did for territory. . .
In the New Yorker Jennifer Gonnerman has a profile of Vanita Gupta, the head of the Civil Rights Division of the Deartment of Justice.
From the article at the link:
. . . Gupta joined the Justice Department in the fall of 2014—nine weeks after Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. She spent the next two years travelling all over the country—to Ferguson, Cleveland, New Orleans, Baltimore, and elsewhere—to meet with mayors, police chiefs, and citizens, in an attempt to repair the deeply damaged relationships between police departments and their communities. Under Obama, the Civil Rights Division took a more aggressive approach than ever before to stamping out systemic police abuse: the Division negotiated twenty-four agreements with law-enforcement agencies to reform their practices; fifteen of those agreements were consent decrees, which are enforced by a court.
On January 12th, Gupta had been in Baltimore announcing a consent decree with the Baltimore Police Department to address the egregious injustices identified by the Division in an earlier report. The next day, she had been in Chicago to release a devastating hundred-and-sixty-one-page report on that city’s police department. Now she had no idea what might come of all this work. Early in his tenure as Attorney General, Eric Holder had called the Civil Rights Division the “crown jewel” of the Justice Department. Now Senator Jeff Sessions—who had attacked the Civil Rights Division, in 2015, at a Senate hearing called “The War on Police,” saying that it had “an agenda that’s been a troubling issue for a number of years”—was poised to become the next Attorney General.
During the Obama Presidency, the Civil Rights Division was at the center of many of the nation’s most contentious political battles: over policing as well as voting rights, fair housing, hate crimes, and transgender rights. . .
Richard Pérez-Peña reports in the NY Times:
The legal record shows that Jerry Hartfield’s first murder conviction was thrown out on appeal, and for the next 32 years, he was not officially guilty of anything, not sentenced to anything. Yet he spent that time in Texas prisons, in what an appellate court now calls “a criminal justice nightmare.”
He was finally tried and convicted again in 2015, but on Thursday, Mr. Hartfield moved closer to freedom than he has been in decades. A state Court of Appeals ruled that he was not only denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial, but to a degree the court had neither seen nor imagined before; it noted that the important precedents dealt with delays of three years, six years, eight years — not 32.
The three-judge panel dismissed the indictment against Mr. Hartfield, who is developmentally disabled, in effect erasing the recent conviction. But it is still not clear whether, or when, he will get out of prison.
“We are deeply mindful that our conclusion today means that a defendant who may be guilty of murder may go free,” Judge Gina M. Benavides wrote for the Court of Appeals. “However, based on the United States Constitution, it is the only possible remedy.”
All told, Mr. Hartfield, now 60, has spent more than 40 years behind bars for the murder of a bus station ticket clerk.
His case can seem like something out of absurdist fiction: a court ruling ignored or forgotten, an appeal dismissed by a court that agreed with the substance but said it had been filed under the wrong statute, a retrial after most of the evidence had been lost and witnesses had died, and an argument by prosecutors that Mr. Hartfield, himself, was to blame for the delays, and caused them intentionally.
“Once you call this Kafkaesque, you can’t really call anything else Kafkaesque, because there’s nothing else remotely like this,” said David R. Dow of the University of Houston Law Center, one of the lawyers who represented Mr. Hartfield on appeal. “This was the perfect storm of everything that could go wrong with the criminal justice system.”