Late Night Horrorshow Open Thread: The Latest Version of Trump’s Travel Ban

Being as we live in his fiefdom now, the first thing I noticed was that Granpa Comment Section sounds like he’s sundowning again. But seriously — why is Sudan in, and Chad out? Apart from “gotta have some bunch of black Africans to kick around”, which is I assume Steven Miller’s advice?

The BBC — which, globally trusted source — suggests a different angle:

Observers wonder whether Chad’s troubles started when it attempted to slap a record $74bn fine on US oil giant Exxon Mobil.

At the time, the current US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson headed the company.

Exxon Mobil was accused of not making royalty payments but eventually avoided the fine, more than seven times Chad’s gross domestic product, as both parties reached a settlement.

There is however little to suggest it was the cause of this ban…

“We’re just saying, is all.” Because Rex Tillerson’s reputation. Also, too:

… Chad might feel hard done-by to suffer this punishment despite its counter-terrorism track record, while its eastern neighbour Sudan – labelled as a state sponsor of terrorism – is being removed from the US’ bad books.

Sudan will see its omission from the travel ban list as a sign that the Trump administration will also remove wider economic sanctions on the country on 12 October.

The sanctions were first put in place in 1997 when Sudan was named a state sponsor of terrorism, while further penalties were imposed for alleged abuses carried out in the troubled Darfur region.

The State Department concluded that Sudan was cooperating better on counter-terrorism, and in improving humanitarian access to conflict areas, like Darfur…

And when this doesn’t happen, because c’mon, Trump administration/GOP, then what?



Russiagate Open Thread: The Facebook Conundrum(s)


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Until Adam or Cheryl can post more expert information, I’m just gonna toss out some links that seem like they might be important. Per CNN:

Facebook did not give copies of the ads to members of the Senate and House intelligence committees when it met with them last week on the grounds that doing so would violate their privacy policy, sources with knowledge of the briefings said. Facebook’s policy states that, in accordance with the federal Stored Communications Act, it can only turn over the stored contents of an account in response to a search warrant.

“We continue to work with the appropriate investigative authorities,” Facebook said in a statement to CNN.

Facebook informed Congress last week that it had identified 3,000 ads that ran between June 2015 and May 2017 that were linked to fake accounts. Those accounts, in turn, were linked to the pro-Kremlin troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency.

In those briefings, Facebook spoke only in generalities about the ad buys, leaving some committee members feeling frustrated with Facebook’s level of cooperation.

Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN last week that Facebook had not turned over the ads to Congress. Warner has also called Facebook’s review “the tip of the iceberg,” and suggested that more work needs to be done in order to ascertain the full scope of Russia’s use of social media…

Are those “contents” significant? This guy — “Former federal prosecutor. Legal expert for TV and print”thinks so:


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Tuesday Morning Schadenfreude Open Thread: Never Give the Son-in-Law A Real Job

Trump can’t even screw up like a normal grifter. Be interesting if the key to breaking the Trump Crime Cartel’s grip turns out to be that 1950s comedy figure, the Otherwise Unemployable Idiot Son-in-Law. Per the Washington Post:

A small group of White House lawyers this summer urged that President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner step down from his White House role amid a broadening probe into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russians in the 2016 election, according to multiple people familiar with the discussion.

Some of the lawyers worried that the presence of Kushner, a senior adviser with a broad domestic and foreign policy portfolio, created potential legal complications for Trump, while the probe threatened to limit Kushner’s ability to perform his job, these people said.

Kushner had several interactions with Russian officials in the campaign and transition that have drawn interest from investigators, and some White House lawyers warned that even casual discussions between him and Trump could spark additional scrutiny.

The debate, first reported Monday night by the Wall Street Journal, took place before a July shake-up of the legal team. The idea to press Kushner to leave was ultimately rejected.

In a statement Monday night, White House lawyer Ty Cobb blamed the disclosure of the internal debate on former White House staffers seeking to tarnish Kushner, who Cobb described as “among the President’s most trusted, competent, selfless and intelligent advisers.”…

Of course, in the Trump White House, “most trusted, competent, selfless and intelligent” is not exactly a high bar, is it?

… Cobb declined to say which former staffers he believed were trying to undermine Kushner. Former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon, who was dismissed last month, had been a rival to Kushner in the West Wing. Bannon did not respond to requests for comment…

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Apart from stifling our snarky guffaws — or not! — what’s on the agenda for the day?



Late Night Rant Open Thread: Speaking of Cranky Old Grifters…

Politico, of course, is rooting for Democratic injuries — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a real problem. I give Bernie Sanders due credit: With a mere fraction of the economic advantages Donald Trump or even Jill Stein were born to, he (eventually) achieved a rewarding career that did not require more than three days’ work per week, and that doing what he loved best. Tragically, a confluence of larger forces during the 2016 election gave him a much larger platform for his talents, attracting a motley crew of fellow cranks and perennial malcontents along with the media-friendly innocents who actually believed that he offered a working alternative to our current two-party political system. If he’d only had the smarts to shut up and go back to his Senate sinecure no later than December 2016, I would not dismiss him as the least effective Presidential Change Agent since Leon Czolgosz

But it’s not just the outside agitators that Democratic lawmakers, operatives and activists are annoyed with: They’re tired of what they see as the Vermont senator’s hesitance to confront his own backers, either in public or through back channels.

Tensions boiled over recently when a handful of Sanders loyalists bashed freshman Sen. Kamala Harris — a rising star in the party and potential 2020 hopeful — as an establishment tool. Democrats were also rankled that other prominent Sanders allies said support for single-payer health care should be a litmus test for candidates.

In response, Democratic senators and outside groups have begun telling Sanders and friendly intermediaries that if he wants to be a leading figure for Democrats ahead of 2020’s presidential election, he needs to get his supporters in line — or at least publicly disavow their more incendiary statements…
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Kelly vs. Gorka: “Kill A Chicken to Frighten the Monkeys”

… which is an old Chinese proverb meaning ‘Eliminate a minor figure to keep the outside agitators in line”. Consensus seems to be that John Kelly, in his new role as Gatekeeper, pushed Gorka out to show the Breitbrats he’s gonna do his utmost to protect Lord Smallgloves from himself. Best summary I’ve seen, from the Washington Post:

Sebastian Gorka, a controversial White House staffer who served as a fiery spokesman for President Trump on national security matters, abruptly left the administration on Friday as his nationalist faction was being silenced, four people briefed on Gorka’s exit confirmed.

Gorka, a deputy assistant to the president, is a close ally of former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who departed the White House last week. Together they saw their roles as enabling and promoting the president’s combative populism and revolutionary impulses.

Although Trump enjoyed watching his cable television appearances, in which he performed like a pit bull and taunted many news anchors for peddling what he and the president deemed “fake news,” Gorka had run afoul of many of his colleagues, including some on the National Security Council who considered him a fringe figure.

Officials said it was widely known that White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, who has been restructuring the West Wing to stem infighting and chaos within the staff, was eager for Gorka to depart the administration.

While Gorka publicly released a resignation letter expressing his displeasure with the changes that he felt left his faction silenced, two White House officials insisted Gorka did not resign but rather was forced out. A third White House official said the “writing was on the wall” that Kelly wanted Gorka to leave…

Now, way back on Thursday (doesn’t that seem like a long time ago?) Politico, Axios, and the NYTimes each published upbeat stories about how Gen. Kelly was gonna bring Marine-style discipline to this sloppy, disorganized, overweight White House, hoo rah!


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Cartman in the Oval Office

Update Thank you to Adam for finding live footage of Trump’s current Cabinet meeting:



CSR and the policy of inertia

Andrew Sprung at Xpostfactoid asks a common question about Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) subsidies.  

the primary agenda for Democrats is obvious: appropriate funding for Cost Sharing Reduction payments and for some kind of reinsurance program to replace the program that expired in 2017….
To have any real hope of getting these measures passed in a Republican Congress, however, Democrats are going to have to face up to the question: What pound of flesh will they let Republicans extract as payment for these essential, common-sense fixes?

He envisions a negotiating environment where Democrats must concede significant waiver flexibility in return for Cost Sharing Reduction subsidies.  This model of leverage is wrong.  

Democrats have no reason to trade CSR funding for policies that they don’t prefer.  Inaction gives them an incredible policy victory.  Conservatives are the ones who need to make concessions to fully fund CSR.  

The Congressional Budget Office projects that most states will allow insurers over the long run to load the cost of their obligated but not reimbursed CSR obligations to only their Silver plans.  This will have an incredible change in the dynamics of the market.  

Total federal subsidies for health insurance in the nongroup market—in particular, the sum of the premium tax credits and the CSR payments—would increase for two reasons: The average amount of subsidy per person would be greater, and more people would receive subsidies in most years….

 

By CBO and JCT’s estimates, the number of people receiving subsidies for nongroup health insurance would increase under the policy in most years. In particular, because tax credits would increase and gross premiums for plans other than silver plans in the marketplaces would not change substantially, many people with income between 200 percent and 400 percent of the FPL would, compared with outcomes under the baseline, be able to pay lower net premiums for insurance that pays for the same share (or an even greater share) of covered benefits….reducing the number of uninsured people, on net, in most years.

Insurers are increasingly explicit that they are loading the full cost of the uncertainty onto only the Silver plans.  This is in states as ranging in size from  Idaho to California.  Bronze, Gold and Platinum plans will be priced on the basis of changes in medical costs, changes in enrollment and other normal insurance industry factors.  Silver plans will be priced on those basis and then there will be a significant second price increase on top of the baseline increase.  

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a guidance letter on August 10th to states contemplating loading CSR costs onto Silver plans only.  This letter states that for risk adjustment purposes, Silver load only plans will be treated as if they are Platinum plans.

For the risk adjustment transfer formula, we intend to propose considering the 87 percent and 94 percent silver plan variants (as well as the limited cost-sharing and zero cost-sharing variants) to have plan metal level actuarial values of 0.9 in order to account for the higher relative actuarial risk associated with these plans

From a mechanical point of view, this is good guidance and a reasonable solution to the problem of running risk adjustment where Silver plans cost more than Gold plans.  It is an incredible admission of a massive policy change regarding the sufficiency of the subsidy.  

Subsidies in the ACA are calculated by taking the difference from the second lowest premium Silver plan and an individual’s expected contribution.  The individual expected contribution is a function of their income.  Any premium that is not covered by the expected individual contribution for the benchmark Silver is covered by the federal premium subsidy.  

The ACA designated Silver plans as having 70% actuarial value (AV) with allowed minimal variation.  In 2018, this means Silver plans will range from 66% AV to 72% AV. In most competitive markets, the benchmark Silver plan will be close to 66% AV.  However in states that load the cost of CSR onto only Silver plans , the Silver plans will have an AV of 90% and this is what the subsidies will be calculated from.  

The ACA exchanges have had difficulty in signing people up who make more than 200% FPL because the cost of the post-subsidy premiums rise too quickly in comparison to perceived value.  Silver, if it is priced at 90% AV, will lead to incredibly lower prices for individuals making between 200% and 400% FPL.   Most people making just under 400% FPL will be able to buy Bronze plans for no out of pocket premius.  Gold plans with $1,500 deductibles will be significantly more affordable in this scenario than Silver plans with $3,000 deductibles are today to individuals and families earning more than 200% FPL.

Liberals will have achieved an incredible policy victory in the states that force insurers to load the cost of CSR onto only Silver plans.  In these states, the benchmark plans will be sufficient to buy 90% actuarial value coverage.  That is better than Medicare. That is an incredible improvement over the ACA as plans will become more affordable to many more people as premiums and deductibles will decrease and the risk pool will get healthier as the value proposition gets better.  

Since it is an incredible policy victory that will be cemented into place by inaction, giving it up for short term funding of a secondary set of subsidies would be counterproductive.