Scott Cain's website

Bioinformatics, Perl, Cool Stuff
Powered by Drupal, an open source content management system

Email: sco...@scottcain.net

Kevin Drum
Syndicate content Kevin Drum – Mother Jones
Smart, fearless journalism
Updated: 14 min 56 sec ago

Progressives Should Be Fighting Back on Obamacare

7 hours 46 min ago

Donald Trump a few minutes ago:

Obamacare is finished. It’s dead. It’s gone. You shouldn’t even mention it. It’s gone. There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore.

Needless to say, this is just the latest part of Trump’s campaign to prevent people from signing up for Obamacare. Cut the signup period in half. Eliminate outreach. Eliminate advertising. Shut down the website periodically on weekends. Cut CSR subsidies in a way that makes people think benefits have been cut. Tell everyone Obamacare is dead.

When Republicans started passing photo ID laws, progressives fought back with campaigns to get people registered to vote. Because of this, ID laws probably had only a very small effect on the election. Are progressives doing the same thing for Obamacare? It sure seems like there ought to be a huge campaign to publicize the Obamacare signup period and help people get through it. This might help fight some of Trump’s doomsaying and keep signups high. This in turn will keep Obamacare healthy despite Trump’s best efforts.

Is this happening anywhere?

Categories: Politics

Lunchtime Photo

10 hours 36 min ago

ATTENTION! Our previously scheduled lunchtime photo has been postponed to bring you breaking news. EXCLUSIVE MUST CREDIT MOTHER JONES. Armageddon hit London today as the skies turned brown and the sun blazed a sullen orange at midday!

The Gherkin was so brown it looked like a cigar!

The Monument looked as if the city were on fire again!

The view from Earl’s Court tube station was Satanic!

These photos are unretouched, and no, I did not forget to reset the white balance on my camera. So what was going on? Apparently it was due to Britain catching the edge of Hurricane Ophelia:

According to the Met Office, the red sun is caused by winds pulling up Saharan dust….BBC weather presenter Simon King said: “Ophelia originated in the Azores where it was a hurricane and as it tracked its way northwards it dragged in tropical air from the Sahara….Because the dust is so high, light from the sun is scattered in the longer wavelengths, which is more the red part of the spectrum, so it appears red to our eyes.”

Ophelia has pulled in unseasonably warm air up from Spain and North Africa, bringing temperatures in the early 20s over the weekend….The air is safe to breathe, according to the Met Office, as the particles are high up in the atmosphere.

So there you have it. From London, I’m Kevin Drum reporting.

Categories: Politics

London Meetup on Thursday

14 hours 40 min ago

My birthday is on Thursday, and I’m meeting up for drinks with a reader who was also born on the 19th. But everyone is invited! If you’re in London and want to get together, we’ll be at the Coal Hole at about 5 pm. The Coal Hole is at 91-92 The Strand, a few hundred yards east of Trafalgar Square. Feel free to drop by whenever you can. We’ll probably be there for a couple of hours or so.

Categories: Politics

Modern Etiquette: Two Questions

17 hours 48 min ago

I had two odd encounters yesterday, and they’ve both made me curious. What would be your reaction in situations like these?

#1: Someone’s in the way of my picture.

Exiting the tube in Little Venice, I came across a restored cabman’s shelter. I stepped around to take a picture, but there was a bikeshare stand nearby and a guy came up to get a bike. So I lowered my phone. He got his bike and started walking off, so I raised my phone. Then he decided the seat wasn’t quite right, so he worked on that. I lowered my phone. He finished up, and I raised my phone. Then he stopped to make sure his water bottle was secure. I lowered my phone. Finally he began walking off, so I raised my phone again. Then he stopped to chat with a friend, so I put my phone down. He turned around:

“Do you want to take a picture?”

I nodded.

“You just have to ask. Say you want to take a picture and I’ll get out of the way.”

I didn’t react at all because I was sort of gobsmacked at the whole idea. I take thousands of pictures, and I can’t remember ever asking someone to move. As a photographer, you don’t get to order the world around. You just have to make do, either by moving or waiting patiently for the right moment. I would consider it extremely rude to ask someone to move (or hurry up and adjust your damn seat!) just because I wanted to take a picture. Is this still the case? Or are smartphone photos now so ubiquitous that no one takes offense at being asked to move?

(That said, I will note that most people are polite enough to notice when someone is taking a picture and will voluntarily stay out of the way if they can.)

#2: A dog barks at me.

I was eating a piece of cake in Regent’s Park. A dog wandered up to me and I put out my hand. The dog sniffed my fingers and then barked. I pulled my fingers away and then put them back out. The dog appeared (to me) to settle down, so I stroked it a bit.

Then its owner looked up and yelled at me, “No, no, don’t touch her.” Then he came running over. “She sees so many different people, she gets scared. But she won’t bite you.”

This was an area of the park where dogs were allowed to be kept off-lead (I think), so no rules were broken. And the owner wasn’t mad, just worried. Still, if he’s worried about people touching his dog and alarming her, he should keep her on a lead, shouldn’t he?

By the way, here’s the cabman’s shelter:

Categories: Politics

A Quick Look at the Economy Over the Past Four Years

18 hours 17 min ago

I don’t quite remember what got me going on this, but I thought I’d start off the week with a quick look at how the economy has been doing over the past few years.

First, here are two measures of core inflation (i.e., excluding food and energy), the Fed’s favored instrument for gauging price movements. Inflation hasn’t reached the Fed’s goal of 2 percent the entire time, and shows no signs of acceleration:

Here’s labor force participation. Its long-term decline has stopped for both men and women and has been basically flat for the past four years:

And here are weekly wages for production and nonsupervisory workers, adjusted for inflation. There’s been slow but steady growth for four years:

So inflation is subdued and shows signs of staying subdued. Labor force participation is flat. And wages of ordinary workers have been growing at about 1 percent per year.

There’s nothing really new here: these charts just show that the economy is in good shape. Not great, not bad, but pretty decent. You can tell a lot of different stories with data like this, so be just as wary of folks peddling doomsday scenarios as you are of presidents pretending that the economy is booming.

Categories: Politics

A Walk Along Regent’s Canal and Regent’s Park

Sun, 10/15/2017 - 16:56

Marian spent the day at a knitting and quilting show with some friends, so I headed off by myself. There aren’t a lot of obvious tourist attractions in London that I haven’t been to, but I’ve never been to Little Venice and I’ve never walked along Regent’s Canal. For that matter, I’ve never really been to Regent’s Park either. So that’s where I went. Here’s what I saw.

The start of all things for us is either the #9 bus or the Earl’s Court tube station. For this trip, it was the tube:

The District Line gets a lot of grief, but it has nice new cars with bright yellow poles that are open along the length of the whole train. I like watching the poles slide back and forth into a straight line as the train enters and exits curves:

Here’s a view of Regent’s Canal from Edgeware Road:

The houseboats apparently have a tradition of being decorated with knickknacks and doodads. Here are a few of them:

This is near the Regent’s Park exit from the towpath. It’s a little hard to believe that stained glass manages to last long in a secluded public place like this. Maybe it’s actually stained cast acrylic?

The London central mosque, right on the border of Regent’s Park:

The boating lake at Regent’s Park. It was a warm, sunny day, and lots of people were out in the blue pedalos (pedal boats to us):

Baby geese:

This little girl’s family had been taking pictures of her in the park for hours. “When will it end?” she wonders. I had no answer for her, but my day was over. I hopped on the tube, picked up some Chinese takeout, and headed home.

Categories: Politics

Trump Drug Czar Helped Weaken Law That Reined in Black Market Opioid Sales

Sun, 10/15/2017 - 16:05

I almost forgot. The Washington Post has a killer story today about a law passed in 2016 that helps drug distributors avoid penalties for selling opioids to doctors who are pretty clearly reselling them on the black market:

The chief advocate of the law that hobbled the DEA was Rep. Tom Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican who is now President Trump’s nominee to become the nation’s next drug czar. Marino spent years trying to move the law through Congress.

….The new law makes it virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from the companies, according to internal agency and Justice Department documents and an independent assessment by the DEA’s chief administrative law judge in a soon-to-be-published law review article. That powerful tool had allowed the agency to immediately prevent drugs from reaching the street.

….Besides the sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill, few lawmakers knew the true impact the law would have. It sailed through Congress and was passed by unanimous consent, a parliamentary procedure reserved for bills considered to be noncontroversial. The White House was equally unaware of the bill’s import when President Barack Obama signed it into law, according to interviews with former senior administration officials.

Apparently the law was essentially written by a former DEA attorney who went to work for the drug industry in 2011. Read the whole thing for more, including the 18 months of stonewalling from DEA and the Justice Department when the Post requested records related to the law.

Categories: Politics

A Day at Kew Gardens

Sun, 10/15/2017 - 04:56

Marian is spending the day at the Knitting and Stitching Show at the Alexandra Palace—aka Ally Pally, the People’s Palace. So what should I do all by myself today? While I was asleep, the Dodgers won. USC won. And Donald Trump didn’t start a war. Surely that calls for something celebratory?

Perhaps the Churchill war rooms, to prepare myself for when Trump does start a war? Hmmm. While I ponder this, here’s a selection of photos from our trip to Kew Gardens yesterday.

Crocuses on a field of fallen seed pods:

Mushrooms:

A green parrot, photographed from the treetop walkway:

Some kind of gray/black bird, ditto. UPDATE: It’s a western jackdaw.

A Gertrude Jekyll rose in its end-of-season final bloom in the rose garden:

A field of daisies and other flowers planted English-garden style:

An “October Surprise” maple tree:

Another mushroom:

Finally, a toddler beginning a lifelong fascination with flowers:

Categories: Politics

It’s Fall in London

Sat, 10/14/2017 - 05:14

We’re off to Kew Gardens today. In the meantime, here’s a picture of the trees in Hyde Park for your seasonal pleasure.

Categories: Politics

Friday Cat Blogging – 13 October 2017

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 15:00

It turns out that our backyard is awash in cats. Last Friday a lovely tiger-striped cat suddenly appeared, staring curiously into our living room. I went outside, and he was semi-friendly, but he hopped over the fence before I could get a good picture.

On Tuesday I was in the backyard and noticed a white splotch. It was a white cat looking at me from the hedge that separates our yard from the neighbors. She sniffed my fingers, but then turned around and went home.

Yesterday, a third cat showed up, a gray/black fluffball. He was sort of friendly and let me scratch his head, but again, by the time I got my camera he had wandered out through a hole to parts unknown. Marian managed to get a distant iPhone shot, but that was it.

Finally, at the very last moment before the catblogging deadline, no more than a couple of hours ago, we came across a fourth cat on our way home. He was prowling around Edwardes Square park, where we had previously seen a cat door at the groundskeeper’s house. This was the cat it belonged to! But the light was dim, and people kept passing by, and the cat retreated into the foliage. The park is only open to residents, so I couldn’t go in to track him down.

So that’s that. Four cats, but no suitable catblogging. Luckily my sister came through with some quality homegrown cats. “What are you bringing home for us?” Hilbert and Hopper ask. And they look like they mean it. Perhaps we need to stop by Harrod’s and pick up some British cat toys?

Categories: Politics

Donald Trump and the Rage of Rural Voters

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 14:16

David French is a conservative lawyer who writes for National Review. Last year he wrote scathingly about both Donald Trump and the alt-right and was rewarded with a barrage of abuse, much of the worst of it aimed at his wife and children. Yesterday he wrote not about the alt-right, but about ordinary rural conservatives who support Trump:

Trump is stoking a particularly destructive form of rage — and his followers don’t just allow themselves to be stoked, they attack Trump’s targets with glee. Contrary to the stereotype of journalists who live in the Beltway and spend their nights at those allegedly omnipresent “cocktail parties,” I live in rural Tennessee, deep in the heart of Trump country. My travels mainly take me to other parts of Trump country, where I engage with Trump voters all the time. If I live in a bubble, it’s the Trump bubble. I know it intimately.

And I have never in my adult life seen such anger. There is a near-universal hatred of the media. There is a near-universal hatred of the so-called “elite.” If a person finds out that I didn’t support Trump, I’ll often watch their face transform into a mask of rage. Partisans are so primed to fight — and they so clearly define whom they’re fighting against — that they often don’t care whom or what they’re fighting for….Don’t like the media? Shut it down. Don’t like kneeling football players? Make them stand. Tired of American weakness overseas? Cheer incoherent and reckless tweets as evidence of “strength.”

Where does this end? Does this rural rage become a permanent part of American life? Or does something happen to finally let the air out of it?

The two big explanations for the rise of this rural anger (and the rise of Trump) revolve around economics and race. The modern economy has screwed these folks over and they’re tired of it. Or: they’re badly threatened by the growth of the nonwhite population. Which is it? Almost certainly both, and in any case it doesn’t matter much: both of these things are likely to get worse from their point of view. The nonwhite population share is obviously going to keep growing, and the economy of the future is only going to become ever more tilted toward the highly educated. If working-class whites really are enraged by either or both of these things, they’re only going to get more enraged as time goes by.

That’s especially true if they keep voting for Republicans, who will actively make these things worse while skillfully laying off the blame on “elites” and “Hollywood liberals.” Keeping the rage machine going is their ticket to political power.

How do we prick this bubble? Obama tried to give them cheap health care, and it enraged them. He passed stricter regulation on the Wall Street financiers who brought us the Great Recession, and they didn’t care. He fought to reduce their payroll taxes and fund infrastructure to help the economy get back on track, and they sneered that it was just a lot of wasted money that ballooned the national debt.

At the same time, Obama didn’t try to take their guns away. He didn’t outlaw Christianity or conduct a war on Christmas. He didn’t do much of anything related to abortion. He did promote a number of gay-friendly policies, and praised the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage.

None of it really seemed to matter, though. The culture war stuff remained enraging regardless of what Obama did or didn’t do.

Is there an answer? We haven’t found one yet, have we? Sometimes I wonder if there is one.

Categories: Politics

Trump: Millions Will Suffer Unless Dems Play Ball

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 06:05

The latest from our president:

Translation: I will continue to rip insurance coverage from the poor and sick until you cave in to my demands.

As it happens, stopping CSR payments to insurance companies might not do the damage Trump thinks it will. And his action yesterday, which encourages the creation of association plans that suck all the young and healthy customers out of Obamacare, might also be less damaging than he’d like. On a technical level, it turns out that Trump’s executive order doesn’t allow association plans to market to individuals, which reduces its scope. On a political level, it will take months for agencies to create rules and hold hearings to implement the EO, and possibly many more months in court.

That’s semi-heartening, but there’s a whole different problem looming: the more Trump screws around with Obamacare rules, the more likely it is that insurance companies quit the exchanges. Making a profit is hard enough already, and participating in Obamacare has always been a long-term play for insurers. If it becomes clear that Congress and the president are hellbent on making things worse, they’ll just give up. That could wreck Obamacare even if the legislation and the executive orders don’t technically cause a lot of short-term damage.

Categories: Politics

Fire Dispatch #3: I’m Escaping the Fires for the Coast—Along With the Hawks and Ravens

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 20:16

While Kevin’s on vacation, we’ve invited other Mother Jones writers to contribute posts.

I packed more bags yesterday, worried about the red flag warnings, which forecast wind gusts to 50mph in the fire zones overnight. Aside from Yahweh, the cat, who packed himself in a Whole Foods bag, it was oddly difficult to choose what to take. My thinking didn’t feel one hundred percent rational and I wasn’t sure I’d appreciate my choices later—arrowhead collection or photos?—if it came to that.

Yahweh the black cat.

Julia Whitty

I also felt sort of guilty that I had so much time to ponder choices when so many others couldn’t. And people weren’t the only ones running for their lives. Reports of wild animals escaping the fires and wandering through neighborhoods, traumatized and thirsty, led the Forest Service to suggest that people leave out buckets of water. I did. A friend also told me she heard coyotes singing outside her house for the first time ever the other night, and she’s lived in the same house for twenty-one years. It was eerie, she said, and sad.

One of the many burnt eucalyptus leaves in flight on the wind.

Julia Whitty Maybe the vacationers could donate their camping spots to the people in need for a weekend or three?

A lot of people fled for the coast and I went out this morning to see what it would be like as an evacuation place. All the Sonoma Coast State Park campgrounds were full. Some of the people lucky enough to find a camping spot told me they came out to escape the smoke; they had asthma or COPD. Others were escaping the fires. Some couldn’t find camping spaces and slept in their cars. Sadly most of these evacuees will have to vacate the campgrounds tomorrow when the people who booked them for a weekend holiday will arrive. That seems weird to me. Maybe the vacationers could donate their camping spots to the people in need for a weekend or three?

Doran Beach campground.

Julia Whitty

Also out at the coast was a seemingly abnormally high numbers of birds. Lots of hawks and falcons, ravens. The air was much clearer. It would be a great place to fly to, albeit potentially strange hunting grounds. This great blue heron—normally an extremely skittish bird—was apparently hungry enough that I could walk right up to him or her and leisurely take photos.

A great blue heron.

Julia Whitty

Thankfully the high winds didn’t materialize last night, at least not enough for the fires to blow up into another firestorm. The longer term forecast suggests rain a week from today. Let’s hope. Rain, a lot of it, is the only thing that’s going to extinguish these infernos.

Julia Whitty

 

Categories: Politics

Obama Cut the National Debt By $9 Trillion

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 18:05

On Wednesday, President Trump freestyled some stuff about the federal debt:

Just in the stock market alone, we have increased our economic worth by $5.2 trillion dollars….But listen to this because we’ve doubled — in the last eight years of the previous administration, the debt doubled, so that in eight years our debt — literally hundreds of years of debt — doubled in eight years to $20 trillion. But since the election on November 8th, I’ve increased the value of your U.S. assets by more than the $20 trillion that we currently owe. You haven’t heard those numbers.

Well, no, I had never heard those numbers in quite that way. Nor does this really make sense, even by Trumpian standards. Has Trump increased the value of our assets by $5.2 trillion or by “more than” $20 trillion?

Who knows? But let’s stick with the $5.2 trillion in stock market value. While all the rest of you have been moaning and groaning about how this comparison of the stock market to federal debt is “wrong” or “ridiculous” or “total nonsense,” I’ve been making concrete use of this new standard. Check it out:

This is great. It’s a whole new way of looking at the Obama era. Sure, federal debt went up by about $9 trillion, but the stock market went up by $18 trillion. That means Obama reduced our federal deficit by $9 trillion. Not bad!

Thanks to Trump, I guess Republicans are going to have to change their tune about Obama. Not only did he guide us out of a huge recession, but he slashed our national debt by trillions of dollars. It’s an amazing job, really. Thanks, Obama.

Categories: Politics

Lunchtime Photo

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 15:30

This is for all you Pink Floyd fans. It’s a view from the other side, taken through an opening in the Kensington Rooftop Gardens. Never forget: You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to.

Categories: Politics

Trump Signs Order to Destroy the Individual Insurance Market

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 14:08

Today, President Trump took his biggest step yet to sabotage Obamacare. My congratulations to three news outlets that had the courage to write proper headlines for their stories:

From top to bottom, these are from the New York Times, CNN, and the Washington Post.

Trump’s executive order is the one I wrote about last week. It basically reclassifies “association” health plans for small businesses as health plans for big businesses, which aren’t required to obey Obamacare rules that protect pre-existing conditions. This allows association plans to legally sell policies only to healthy customers, which will make them much cheaper. Naturally, healthy customers will flock to these policies, leaving the Obamacare exchanges with only the old and sick.

The logical next step is to say that Obamacare premiums will skyrocket, but I’m not sure that will happen. The exodus of healthy customers will be so dramatic and so unpredictable that I can’t imagine any insurer continuing to sell on the Obamacare exchanges. They’ll just stop, and that will be the end of Obamacare.

The same thing will happen outside the exchanges too. Individual health policies will still be required to insure anyone who applies, including those with pre-existing conditions. But with all the healthy customers scampering off to cheaper association plans, it will be all but impossible to figure out the likely composition of the remaining risk pool. So insurers will just exit the individual market completely. It’s only 7 percent of the whole market anyway.

Trump’s plan, obviously, is that this chaos will force Congress to respond. Anything will be better than a collapse of the entire individual market. Even Democrats will be forced to support a Republican plan that will at least prevent the market from imploding.

We’ve never before had a president who used millions of the poor and sick as pawns like this. It’s just plain evil. Our only real hope at this point is that Trump can somehow be stopped before the rulemaking process finishes and this goes into effect. That’s probably about a year or so. Time to get cracking.

Categories: Politics

Republicans Eager to Ditch Blue-Slip Tradition, But Chuck Grassley Isn’t So Sure

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 05:05

In a rare occurrence, it looks like I might have been too cynical about Republican devotion to procedural abuses. A few months ago, when there was some chatter about eliminating the blue-slip requirement for judicial nominees, I wrote:

Republicans have a two-decade history of flipping the blue-slip rule whenever it conveniences them. Is there really much doubt that Grassley is going to nuke it just as soon as a single Democrat fails to return a blue slip on a Trump nominee and Fox News starts screaming about obstruction? I don’t think so.

As it turns out, Republicans do want to flip the blue-slip tradition now that a Republican is president, but it turns out that Chuck Grassley himself isn’t so sure:

Mitch McConnell wants to further erode Democrats’ influence over lifetime judge appointments, floating plans to jam through judicial nominees opposed by their home-state Democratic senators. But the Republican Senate leader’s own Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, is warning McConnell: Not so fast.

…. “The chairman of the Judiciary Committee will determine how to apply the blue-slip courtesy for federal judicial nominees, as has always been the practice,” Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy said Wednesday. “Over the years, chairmen have applied the courtesy differently, but the spirit of consultation has always remained.”

….Grassley’s immediate predecessor as chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), abided by the blue-slip tradition during his six years leading the panel under former President Barack Obama. That allowed Republicans to block more than a dozen nominees to the bench.

Leahy said in a statement Wednesday that Grassley has promised to “respect the blue slip tradition, just as I did.”

“I trust him to keep his word,” Leahy added.

We’ll see about that. Sen. Al Franken is currently refusing to return a blue slip on a Trump nominee, so there’s a test case already at hand. If Grassley abides by the blue-slip tradition and blocks the nominee, Trump will start tweeting and Fox News will go on a rampage. Can Grassley stand up to that?

Categories: Politics

Fire Dispatch #2: The Agony of Watching My Favorite Sonoma Hills and Neighborhoods Burn

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 19:03

While Kevin’s on vacation, we’ve invited other Mother Jones writers to contribute posts.

Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa is probably Sonoma County’s most beloved and well-used park. I’ve hiked and mountain biked countless miles on its many trails. So it’s deeply distressing to see it on fire from the Nuns Fire, to imagine the wildlife trying to flee up there. It’s even more alarming to see the hundreds of homes in its shadow, which have now been evacuated.

Julia Whitty

Most of the park, including its highest point, Bennett Mountain, is actively on fire and neighborhoods all around it have been evacuated. Some have already burned.

Julia Whitty

Spring Lake Regional Park, adjacent to Annadel, is ordinarily full of dog-walkers, skate-boarders, cyclists, runners, and walkers. But it’s closed—and empty—now too.

Julia Whitty

This street is one of the most popular trailheads into Annadel State Park. On an otherwise beautiful day like today it would be packed with cars as people jog, mountain bike, hike, and ride their horses up the trails. Now it’s deserted, the entire neighborhood under a mandatory evacuation order.

Julia Whitty

Some of the people who fled the fires in Santa Rosa Sunday night and Monday morning are now living in the evacuation center at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. It’s a large and soulless space where there’s little do do but sort through donated clothes for something to wear and wait in line for a meal from the food trucks outside.

Julia Whitty

The elderly and those in need of medical attention are living in an area partially screened off from the rest of the building. It’s safe and there’s a modicum of privacy, but it’s pretty depressing. I can feel the free-floating anxiety in the air.

Julia Whitty

Everyone else is jammed into cots equipped with a thin pillow and one small blanket. I came here with pillows and blankets to donate—and I left them in mounds of stuff outside—but I realize they’re not going to make it into the sterile confines of the Red Cross world. Maybe they’ll go to people when they begin to repopulate the burned out areas.

Julia Whitty

The Sonoma County Fairgrounds are close to Annadel Park—and the Nuns Fire. Now the winds are kicking up sharply, rising towards predicted gusts of 50 mph in the mountains this afternoon, tonight, and tomorrow. Skies are getting much smokier. Ash is falling. I can’t help but worry that the evacuees at the fairground are going to need to evacuate again.

Julia Whitty
Categories: Politics

Surprise! The Federal Government Spends More On Housing Assistance For The Rich Than Housing Assistance For The Poor.

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 18:57

In 2015, the federal government spent about $71 billion on the Mortgage Interest Deduction (MID) tax credit, more than twice the $29.9 billion it spent on the Section 8 subsidized rental voucher program, according to a report released Wednesday by Apartment List, a rental listing and policy organization.

Section 8 and the Mortgage Interest Deduction are aimed at opposite ends of the income ladder, and it’s startling to see a study that illustrates how federal housing priorities are actually reflected in the budget. 

In 2015, almost 90 percent of the deduction’s benefits went to households earning more than $100,000. Section 8 recipients, by contrast, usually have to earn less than half of their local area’s median income to qualify for a voucher. The national annual median income is about $31,000.

The GOP’s current tax proposal would make the MID available to fewer, and richer, homebuyers. Real estate analysts at Zillow determined that, if passed as-is, the deduction would apply on purchases of $801,000 or more, up from $305,000 under the current tax code. The change in eligibility would reduce the cost of providing the deduction, and limit its benefits to the wealthiest taxpayers.

The Apartment List study also determined that while 53 percent of high-income American households receive some sort of federal housing benefit like Mortgage Interest Deduction, only 11 percent of low-income households receive any kind of federal housing assistance. Earlier this month, Los Angeles announced plans to notify 96 percent of the city’s Section 8 applicants that they would not get one of city’s limited vouchers.

Categories: Politics

Trump’s Obamacare Sabotage: A View From Two States

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 17:41

From the LA Times:

California’s health insurance exchange said Wednesday it has ordered insurers to add a surcharge to certain policies next year because the Trump administration has yet to commit to paying a key set of consumer subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. The decision to impose a 12.4% surcharge on silver-level health plans in 2018 means the total premium increase for those policies will average nearly 25%, according to Covered California.

Thanks to Trump, Californians will see a big premium increase. But that’s probably not all. Here’s a view of Obamacare from New Hampshire:

I expect to hear from a bunch of folks saying that this is what happens when you pass a highly partisan bill that depends on a good-faith effort by the president to execute it. And sure: in a technical sense that’s true. But have we ever seen anything like this? Could anyone have reasonably foreseen it? We’ve had presidents in the past who let programs languish. We’ve had attempts by Congress to change or cut back on programs. But have we ever had a president who deliberately set out to immiserate millions of people as a means of getting his way?

And by the way: even if Trump succeeds in destroying Obamacare, it’s still the law of the land. Insurers will still be required to insure anyone who asks for coverage, regardless of pre-existing conditions. That’s untenable, and the only response from the insurance industry will be to eliminate individual insurance coverage completely. Somebody on Capitol Hill better cotton to this pretty quick and—somehow—get Trump to lay off. If the Republican Party literally ends up eliminating the entire individual health insurance market, there aren’t words in the dictionary for how big a loss they’ll suffer in 2020.

Categories: Politics