Voting for the American Health Care Act: Politics vs. Policy

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As the American Health Care Act moves towards a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives on Thursday it remains a hugely unpopular bill. Despite tweaks to the initial draft of the bill to appease Republican opponents of the legislation and the appeals of President Trump the fate of this Obamacare replacement remains in doubt.

In fact, as the vote draws closer the bill actually be losing appeal.

The vast majority of analysis on this legislation concludes that the bill is deeply flawed. With the changes imposed some have noted this effort to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act amounts to little more than a tax cut and Medicaid reform. It neither repeals nor replaces.

The vote on Thursday has essentially become a vote of politics versus policy.

Thereby, the question becomes, exactly what is the benefit of change for the sake of change? What is the cost of not immediately upholding a promise to repeal Obamacare when keeping that promise tangibly harms your voters? What happens when party unity is forced in the name of legislation which most agree is not worth the effort?

Absent immediate and satisfactory answers to such questions, I will instead leave with you a breviloquent, yet informative, synopsis of the decision at hand courtesy of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

Obamacare:

versus the American Health Care Act:

Healthcare or party loyalty? Partisanship or voters? Politics or policy?

Of course, the answers to all of these questions as well as any potential support for the American Health Care Act currently and moving forward, among Congress and the American people, may depend at least partially on something else:

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Donald Trump Wiretaps America: A Philosophical Question

Donald Trump

Is something news just because it is mentioned (or tweeted) by the President? As a general rule, the answer is “yes”. What the President does, what the President says is news because he is the President.

The White House takes great pains to set the news cycle by controlling the president’s message and by managing what is said and when it is said. That task has proven more difficult during the Trump administration due to the President’s penchant for tweeting, but the same principles apply. In fact, perhaps due in part to said tweets this administration has demonstrated particular expertise in controlling the media.

President Trump has even taken to declaring what is and what is not “news”.

This brings us back to the original question: Is something news just because it is mentioned (or Tweeted) by the President?

While seemingly straightforward, the question is philosophical rather than objective.

The national media dedicates resources and column inches (or Internet space) to articles about President Trump’s tweets. President Trump slams Democrats. President Trump attacks Germany. President Trump fights with Snoop Dogg. President Trump says President Obama had him wiretapped.

What the President says matters. What the President says (or tweets) deserves and requires media coverage.

But exactly how much coverage is determined by the media. The time and resources dedicated to what the President says is the locus of each individual media outlet. It is within these parameters that the theoretical framework of what is and what is not news must be concretely defined.

When President Trump made his claims of wiretapping the news media and the Internet exploded. How could he say that? Where is he getting this information? Is there evidence of wiretapping? Did he mean President Obama actually attempted to sabotage the Trump campaign? Was Donald Trump the target of the wiretap or was he simply caught up in it? What is on the wiretap?

The answers to these questions, in reverse order, are nothing, neither, yes, no, his mind, and because he feels like it.

The FBI found no evidence of wiretapping. There is no evidence of surveillance at Trump Tower. The Department of Justice has no evidence of surveillance or a wiretap being requested. Former national security officials have denied the existence of a wiretap. Democrats have called the President’s claims unsubstantiated and ridiculous. Republicans have called for the President to drop this claim.

The White House denied there was a wiretap. Every single claim President Trump made regarding a wiretap have been debunked.

Yet, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, following FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before Congress, told the White House press corps,

We started a hearing. It’s still ongoing. I think there’s a lot of areas that still need to be covered. There’s a lot of information that still needs to be discussed…We are still at the beginning phase of a look as to what kind of surveillance took place and why.

As noted by Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, the motivation of the administration appears to be to discover the source(s) of leaks within the administration, not to uncover “the truth” about a wiretap.

But there is also a larger point to be made. It was fairly apparent from the beginning that there was no evidence and would be no evidence unearthed which would support the President’s Twitter arguments. This, however, did not prevent the seemingly endless reporting and righteous indignation.

If there was no evidence, would be no evidence, bipartisan opposition, and White House opposition to President Trump’s claims, yet he is not deterred, what is the logical conclusion(s)?

One, it was never about a wiretap. And two, no matter the amount of evidence against a wiretap and dearth of evidence in support of a wiretap, it didn’t matter.

This means it was never about facts. Which means the reporting and anger didn’t matter.

Thereby, was an unsubstantiated claim about a wiretap “news” just because the President tweeted about it?

No. It was a distraction, and it’s the media’s job to understand the difference. It’s the responsibility of a democratic citizen to understand the difference.

//www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/f74c44f6-0db7-11e7-aa57-2ca1b05c41b8

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Spy vs. Lie: Wiretaps, Espionage, and Skullduggery…or not

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Was Trump Tower wiretapped by President Obama in order to undermine Donald Trump’s presidential campaign?

In order to effectively answer this question, really any question, the best policy is to consume as much information as possible from myriad sources. This allows the consumer to educate themselves as best possible. To gain knowledge from a variety of sources on the query at hand. The White House encourages this course of action.

When sourcing from multiple places there is bound to be information which contradicts. Usually these contradictions originate from context, point of view, or level of detail.

In this case, however, the contradictions are integral to the question. Depending on the source, potential answers to the question change. In fact, the question itself is fundamentally altered depending on the source of information.

First of all, when President Trump said President Obama ordered a wiretap installed in Trump Tower during his presidential campaign in order to sabotage his candidacy did President Trump mean a physical wiretap was literally put on the phones in Trump Tower for the purposes of spying on Donald Trump?

No. When the President said “wiretap” he actually meant “surveillance”. Unless he did mean a literal wiretap. When he said President Obama ordered the wiretap he didn’t actually blame President Obama for the wiretap/surveillance. Until he did.

Is there evidence of a wiretap on Donald Trump, specifically, or more generally, Trump Tower?

There is not. Or maybe there is.

When White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggested during a briefing that there is no record of the wiretap because it was done by British intelligence, was this a serious indictment?

No, it was not. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Is there actual evidence, or at least credible sources, to support this claim of British spying?

No. Actually, it depends on who you ask.

Following Spicer’s initial statement at the White House briefing, were he and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster forced to apologize to the British government for making such a public accusation?

Neither McMaster nor Spicer apologized to the British. Unless they did.

Even if there is no evidence of a wiretap, American or British, is there any indication surveillance took place at Trump Tower?

There is no sign of surveillance taking place at Trump Tower. Doesn’t mean there wasn’t surveillance, though.

What about surveillance on individuals other than Donald Trump?

No. Or, yes.

In summary, President Obama is a criminal who used government resources against his political opponents.

Or not.

President Trump, despite bipartisan arguments from essentially every politician/political agency in two countries, knows the truth about the conspiracy which has dogged him from the early days of his candidacy and is determined to reveal the truth to the American people.

Or not.

This is an important political issue on which many government resources should be expended.

Or not.

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New travel ban, same result: Immigrants (legally) welcome!

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President Trump’s first attempt at a refugee and visa ban was halted by a Maryland federal judge. So the President tried again. This ban was more narrowly focused and more thoughtfully-considered. But it was also halted, this time by a federal judge in Hawaii.

The reasoning behind this halt is fairly simple. U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson stated in his opinion that,

a reasonable, objective observer — enlightened by the specific historical context, contemporaneous public statements, and specific sequence of events leading to its issuance — would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion.

Despite repeated claims by President Trump and officials from his administration that these attempted bans were “not about religion”, the courts have vociferously disagreed.

The President, in response to this latest halt, told supporters at a rally in Nashville that his administration would fight the case as far as it needs to go, further declaring that the second attempt at a ban was regrettable. They should go back to the first one, the President said.

He also argued that “the danger is clear, the law is clear, the need for my executive order is clear”.

The danger to United States national security posed by immigrants, specifically undocumented immigrants, is the crux of the argument in favor of these bans. The President and members of his administration believe the President to be within his rights, protecting national security, to issue executive orders instituting such bans.

President Trump’s quote is the distillation of this logic.

It is flawed logic, however. First, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans and in general lead healthier lives. Via The Economist:

immigration_graphs

The bans may even harm U.S. national security, according to numerous ex-national security officials.

Second, these bans have been halted twice. The law is clear. These bans are unconstitutional.

There is very little, if any, danger posed to U.S. national security by illegal immigrants. The bans are illegal.

Thereby, there is no need for such an executive order. Quote (and logic) needs work.

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The Curious Case of Donald Trump’s Tax Returns

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It was reported on Tuesday that in 2005 President Trump paid $38 million in federal income taxes on reported income of over $150 million. This is an effective tax rate of 25 percent. It was also noted that in order to limit the amount he paid in federal taxes and to reduce his tax rate Donald Trump wrote off more than $100 million in business losses.

I don’t care.

Let me be clear. I’m not saying it’s a non-story as others have claimed. Donald Trump’s consistent refusal to release his tax records make it a story. What information could they reveal?

Unless they show criminal behavior, I don’t care.

I wrote prior to Election Day that there was very little to be learned from Donald Trump’s tax records which would be applicable to a voting decision. We now know that Donald Trump made a lot of money in 2005. We know that he took advantage of loopholes in the tax code to pay as little in taxes as he could. We know a little bit more about his financial affairs and business dealings than we did on Monday. But that’s it.

We know a little bit more and nothing which is politically relevant. Especially now that he is President Trump.

If it truly bothered American voters that Donald Trump is rich, that he uses tax loopholes, or that he has a complicated network of businesses he wouldn’t be the President. This information was available prior to November 9th. Many Americans voted for Donald Trump because of this information. He was a very successful businessman who could negotiate a new deal for the United States.

Donald Trump’s success in business said nothing of his ability to run the country prior to November 9th and it means nothing now. That his now-public 2005 tax records show his income and tax rate and how he used the tax code to his benefit means nothing about his ability to be President. Nothing nefarious.

So I don’t care.

If you want to rail against President Trump for not releasing his tax records, or for using Twitter, or for taking frequent occasions to golf, or for his odd handshakes, or for filling his Cabinet with billionaires, just stop. Think about those criticisms for a moment. Perhaps they are valid, but what do these things have to do with his ability to be president?

What is politically relevant? That is the question. Maybe you can read something into the White House’s response to the release of the President’s 2005 tax records. Or argue that the fact the White House did release information on the President’s tax records means he lied about not being able to release such information because of an audit. Or maybe you say interest in the release of these records demonstrate that the American public cares about this information.

Donald Trump lied. The White House decided to get out in front of this release. People were interested in his tax records. And? How is any of this shocking? How does any of this matter?

Criticize President Trump for his political views. Criticize President Trump for his seeming inability to unite the Republican Party. Criticize President Trump for the minuscule movement on his legislative agenda. Criticize President Trump for his budget. Criticize President Trump for his policies. These things matter. They are politically relevant.

Don’t waste time criticizing based on speculation.

If you don’t like Donald Trump, just say so. Don’t pretend these tax records matter.

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Repeal and Replace: The American Health Care Act isn’t about Healthcare

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It seems very easy to ridicule the American Health Care Act and Republican efforts to promote their plan which would replace the Affordable Care Act.

Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget told Mark Halperin on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that insurance coverage isn’t “the end goal” of healthcare reformIt needs be. Vice President Mike Pence told an audience in Louisville, Kentucky that healthcare in their state was made worse by ObamacareIt wasn’t.

In perhaps the epitome of Obamacare criticism, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan declared that Obamacare was in a “death spiral” because it forced healthy people to pay for sick people. A statement for which there are almost too many things wrong to properly elucidate.

Critiques of these statements, as well as others, have been swift, and harsh. And many would say such disapproving judgments are deserved. Except here’s the thing…the Republican effort to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act has nothing to do with healthcare.

From the very beginning the American public liked Obamacare. They just didn’t know it due to the massive, years-long public relations campaign the GOP waged against the healthcare plan. Once talks of a Republican repeal of the Affordable Care Act became concrete, it became more popular than ever. People began to understand what the Act was and did for them. They didn’t want their healthcare taken away.

And it wouldn’t be according to Donald Trump.  The President declared “healthcare for everybody”. Furthermore, he said the government was going to pay for it.

It was quickly apparent the second statement wasn’t true. The American Health Care Act will provide tax credits, only those credits most benefit those who can already afford healthcare.

As to the President’s first statement, there was initial skepticism. Skepticism which was justified and seemingly solidified when the Congressional Budget Office’s official report on the American Health Care Act said it would increase the number of uninsured people by 24 million by 2026. In other words, according to the CBO the Republican healthcare plan will increase the number of uninsured Americans by 86 percent. It would also increase premiums in the short-term.

But remember, it isn’t about coverage. Additionally, we were already told that the CBO analysis would be wrong and meaningless.

Under Obamacare insurance premiums were skyrocketing. Quality of healthcare was plummeting. It caused the national debt to go through the roof. It destroyed jobs. It was immoral. And the CBO projections were completely wrong.

At least so argued conservatives and the Republican Party. Never mind that none of those things are true.

It isn’t about healthcare.

In fact, the Affordable Care Act took the form it did because of numerous comprises during the legislative process, compromises which incorporated many Republican ideas. The Affordable Care Act was designed a lot like a Republican comprehensive healthcare plan.

The Democrats’ original vision of comprehensive health insurance was tied to Social Security and Medicare, largely funded via payroll taxes. It would most likely have been cheaper, simpler, and more popular.

This is to say that many of the problems of Obamacare against which Republicans rail were created, or at least exacerbated, by political comprises made to incorporate Republican ideas.

There were issues with the Affordable Care Act. Even President Obama admits problems with the legislation. But the idea of revising or replacing is improvement.

To recap, many of the criticisms leveled against the Affordable Care Act by conservatives and the Republican Party are either largely the result of Republican ideas about comprehensive healthcare, fabricated by the Republican Party, or the result of creative truth-telling.

The Affordable Care Act was healthcare. “Obamacare” was politics.

Following the release of the Congressional Budget Office’s report Paul Ryan issued a statement in response:

This report confirms that the American Health Care Act will lower premiums and improve access to quality, affordable care. CBO also finds that this legislation will provide massive tax relief, dramatically reduce the deficit and make the most fundamental entitlement reform in more than a generation.

Under Obamacare, we have seen how government-mandated coverage does not equal access to care, and now the law is collapsing. Our plan is not about forcing people to buy expensive, one-size-fits-all coverage. It is about giving people more choices and better access to a plan they want and can afford. When people have more choices, costs go down. That’s what this report shows.

This is all true, except for the “all” part. And the “true” part.

The CBO does project the Republican bill would reduce the federal debt by $337 billion over the next decade. Part of the bill is eliminating tax increases made under Obamacare. And insurance premiums are projected to decrease after 2020.

Here’s the problem: the American Health Care Act is projected to cost the federal government as much as $600 billion in revenue over the same period. Those tax breaks mainly benefit the wealthy. For the poor and the elderly the cost of healthcare will increase. Especially as the initial increase in premiums and Medicaid cuts will cause many Americans to lose their insurance so when/if they attempt to pick up insurance in the future the continuous coverage premium will kick in, making it even more costly.

Even if the American Health Care Act does theoretically improve healthcare access and choices, if people can’t pay for those choices and that access, there is no healthcare.

But the American Health Care Act isn’t healthcare. The American Health Care Act is politics.

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NFL Free Agency: The QB Security Dilemma

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This is not a political article. This is not a political science article. But in order to provide a roadmap for this post, let me start with a a political science concept, the security dilemma.

This term was coined in 1951 by John Herz in his book Political Realism and Political Idealism. Herz describes the security dilemma as

a structural notion in which the self-help attempts of states to look after their security needs tend, regardless of intention, to lead to rising insecurity for others as each interprets its own measures as defensive and measures of others as potentially threatening.

In short, the security dilemma characterizes a spiral of insecurity. Keep this in mind as we advance now to NFL free agency.

The first day of NFL free agency saw the Chicago Bears sign Mike Glennon to a contract worth $43.5 million over three years. Mike Glennon, who has started a total of 18 games in his NFL career, not one since 2014. Mike Glennon, who has attempted 11 regular season passes since 2014. Mike Glennon, who when given a chance to start in 2014 was average at best.

On its face, this contract would appear to be a classic case of a team overpaying in free agency out of sheer desperation, bidding against themselves. Never mind that the contract only provides $19 million in guaranteed money, $16.5 million of which is in 2017. Or that the deal provides Glennon is only the 23rd highest-paid quarterback for 2017 and is less than 10 percent of the salary cap.

Bears General Manager Ryan Pace also made it clear that Glennon was signed to be the team’s starting quarterback.

To be fair, amidst the overriding criticism, some have pointed out that given the short-term obligation, the abysmal QB class in the 2017 NFL Draft, and the simple fact that the Bears need a quarterback, the signing really isn’t that bad.

But even if the Glennon signing isn’t bad, it’s symptomatic of a larger problem.

QB play in the NFL is bad. The numbers actually say QB is as good as it has ever been, but just watch the games. Name more than a dozen quarterbacks you would feel confident having as the starter for your favorite team. Mike Glennon certainly does not rank among them.

While there are historically-good QBs currently playing the the NFL (Brady, Brees, Rodgers), the heights achieved by these few are seemingly dragged down by the mediocrity of others. While some point to an overall lack of QB talent, others argue talent is not the culprit but rather a failure to develop talent.

This failure to develop QB talent is rooted in a vicious cycle of expectations.

Returning to political science for a moment, think way back to the beginning of this post. The security dilemma results when the attempts of one state to increase its security leads another state to feel threatened. As a result, this state takes measures to increase its own security. This causes the first state to once again feel threatened, leading to further efforts to increase security. And so on and so on.

Insecurity rooted in an expectation of security.

The NFL is a QB-driven league. It is the most important position on the field. If a team wants to win the Super Bowl, they need an elite quarterback. This point has been argued, and there are exceptions, but what is most important is that NFL teams believe it to be so.

Teams routinely reach for QBs in the draft. They overpay for QBs in free agency. This hurts teams and the quarterbacks.

Teams which draft a quarterback with an early pick feel pressure to play that quarterback right away, whether or not he is actually ready to play. And those teams are usually bad. There is little talent surrounding the inexperienced quarterback, providing little assistance to a player which needs it. Assistance which may have been had if the team hadn’t overdrafted the quarterback.

This has ruined many young quarterbacks.

The team remains bad. They overpay to sign a quarterback in free agency. This comes with expectations. And an inability to spend that money on other players. Even if Mike Glennon is a slightly above-average QB next year, despite playing with inferior talent surrounding him, making $16.5 million creates anticipation for better among fans, perhaps even the team. If Glennon does not meet those expectations, do the Bears cut bait and try again with a different quarterback in 2018? What would this do for team continuity and development?

The Bears need a quarterback. Many NFL teams need a quarterback, and that’s the problem. If the Bears didn’t sign Mike Glennon some other team would have given him a chance to start. If the Browns or 49ers don’t reach for a quarterback in the Draft, someone else will. It’s the nature of the NFL. There is a dearth of quality quarterbacks in the NFL. NFL front offices are chasing after the bad decisions of other teams. A vicious cycle.

Will the Bears still need a quarterback in 2018? Maybe. But Glennon is worth a shot at $19 million. Just hope Ryan Pace holds himself to his own standards.

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