Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Disloyal questions

Political upheaval is playing out around the country.

Alabama will probably remain staid in the midst of it.

Nothing new, different, or suprising will likely occur in the special Alabama Senate election this year or in the mid-terms elections in 2018.

The dictionary meaning of "true-blue" is "extremely orthodox or loyal." Alabama should remain that in spades during the next two years.

Notwithstanding, I will throw into the Senate election disloyal and unorthodox questions as the opportunity arises. The past couple of weeks, Luther Strange has tweeted some things that I tweeted back to him questions about.

I have repeated my questions today generally directed to all the candidates. I post below Luther Strange's tweets, and the questions I tweeted back to him and tweeted in general form today.

First, on abortion


Next on guns, etc.


Third, why do the Republican and Democratic establishments divide the people when the people have common interests, and why do the establishments promote a broken Congress?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Calhoun County

Tonight there is a United States Senate Republican Candidate Debate sponsored by The Calhoun County Republican Party.

Presumably health care will be in the debate.

Starting with a blog entry Health care posted in March, I have been endeavoring to get honest and intelligent discussion of health care by Alabama's representatives in Congress.  I have tried to keep up with positions and discussion of health care by the candidates on their websites and in news media reporting. This entry is to build on the blog entries I have written thus far.

New reporting on the views of candidates can be found in the article Alabama's Senate candidates on Obamacare: Repeal, replace or build on (which currently has 38 comments on it), posted by Al.com Mobile posted this past Sunday:

The blog entry Health care has links to my other blog entries about health care. This blog entry will be a restatement and expansion of the "My statement" section set forth in Alabama expertise re health care.

The goal of  my discussion here is indicate where I think candidate discussion has been reasonable and where I think the candidate discussion is wanting. 

A. Medicaid
On Medicaid, it appears from The Montgomery Advertiser June 14th article Alabama Senate race: GOP candidates differ on proposed Medicaid changes that the candidates reasonably acknowledge that there is a significant correlation between the amount of funding for Medicaid and the quantum of health care services that are received by persons served by Medicaid. There can be  room for making Medicaid a more efficient program so that the same quantum of benefits of health care services may be delivered for a lesser amount. It  is very problematic, however, to quantify in advance how much can be saved by greater efficiency, and, even after changes are put into effect, there can be great difficulty in measuring cost savings that have been achieved. 

This reasonableness of the Senate candidates is to be compared to the dishonesty about Medicaid that has been manifested by Tom Price and Donald Trump regarding $850 billion of cuts in Medicaid not reducing services.

The Senate candidates can advocate for differing levels of Medicaid and can advocate for increasing State control or not.

It goes without saying that the country as a whole has huge requirements for health care services, the costs of providing the services are correspondingly huge, and that is applicable to the health care needs of those who are served by Medicaid.

This is captured where the Montgomery Advertiser article says:
Medicaid provides health insurance to 1 million Alabamians, almost all of whom are children, the elderly or the disabled. More than half the children in the state qualified for Medicaid in 2015, according to the Alabama Medicaid Agency. The state’s hospitals also count on Medicaid to ensure a flow of patients to keep their doors open, and primary care providers – particularly pediatricians – see many patients through the program.
Politicians don't want to dwell on costs, which voters ultimately have to pay for, but they are central in the health care debate.

B. U.S. health care spending
One lack in the health care discussion thus far is that the candidates have not brought up how health care spending is more than twice the health care spending in other developed countries and have not offered explanations about why this is so and what should be done in the United States about the situation.  The below table is from Wikipedia.
Total health expenditure per capita in US dollars (PPP).[2]

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
Country2012201320142015
Australia3808417742074420
Austria4646480648965016
Belgium4286448545224611
Canada4320450344924608
Chile1485155816891728
Czech Republic2028233023862464
Denmark4545470848574943
Estonia1503162317251824
Finland3759389138703984
France4063429243674407
Germany4695492251195267
Greece2324234022202245
Hungary1704175617971845
Iceland3506373938974012
Ireland4658498050015131
Israel2273247325472533
Italy3174314232073272
Japan4017415241524150
Korea2132222523612488
Latvia1149121912951370
Luxembourg6423662966827765
Mexico1006102110351052
Netherlands5044525052775343
New Zealand3199348635373590
Norway5738596760816567
Poland1464158016251677
Portugal2536253925842631
Slovak Republic2000207319712064
Slovenia2487254925992644
Spain2929295230533153
Sweden4860500350655228
Switzerland6289663567876935
Turkey9119699901064
United Kingdom3192388139714003
United States8423861790249451
Possibly some of the candidates believe the United States gets more and better health care services for its much greater spending, it is right for it to be that way in United States, and Congress and the country need not be greatly bothered with seeking to reduce the higher spending in the United States.

The mantra of the Republicans is that freeing up the market for health insurance and having more competition and choice in insurance plans is the elixir for what ails the country's health care  and particularly for reducing insurance premiums and deductibles.. This elixir will be discussed at length below, but first some things that most will agree can reduce costs and spending will be discussed .

C. Things that can reduce cost and spending
Although the below items have not figured prominently in candidate discussion thus far,, there is probably agreement among the candidates that the following are ways that can reduce health care costs and health care spending.

1. If medical malpractice and other medical liability is reformed, and defensive medicine is reduced, that will help reduce the country's health care costs. If the candidates decide to talk more about this, for now I will leave it to them  to provide estimates of how much health care cost can be reduced by reforming medical malpractice and other medical liability is reduced.

2. The government can play a role in reducing health care costs by exerting control over prices. The biggest impact could be regarding drug prices, which might start with Medicare negotiating drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies. This is a controversial step, which may be part of the plan of Trump and the Republicans. It needs to be kept in mind that any such control have ramifications, including reducing availability of some drugs and lessening the development of new drugs.

3. If there is a reduction in total demand for health care, prices should fall and premiums and deductibles should fall. The American Health Care Act passed by the House of Representative will reduce government funds for health care by means Medicaid cutbacks and by replacing higher subsidies with lower tax credits, and this will translate to a reduction of demand. Under principles of supply and demand, the reduced demand should result in a reduction of prices but the amount of such reduction is very problematic and may be negligible. It needs to be stated that the reduction in prices, premiums and deductible here is not due to increased plan choice, but is due to a forced reduction in spending and reduced health services, drugs and medical equipment being obtained.


D. Free markets and competition
The Republican mantra is that free markets and competition in insurance plan choices will reduce insurance premiums and deductibles. This needs dissecting.

1. Increased plan choice as shifting who pays

One consequence of increased plan choice is merely a shifting around of who has to pay what.

Greater plan choice allows for people to plan that they won't need or want certain services, drugs and equipment, for those not to be covered under their plan. and that can allow the insurance company to charge them less in premiums and deductibles.

It is getting generally recognized, if some people are allowed to do that, the people who need the services, drugs and equipment that the first set of people forego will have to pay higher premiums and deductibles to have the services, drugs and equipment covered by their plan. In other words, plan choice can reduce premiums and deductibles for some people but increase them for other people.

Similar analysis applies to the Obamacare mandate and what happens if it is eliminated.The elimination of the mandate will reduce premiums for those who choose not to have insurance coverage. If healthier people do not buy insurance, that will result in higher premiums and deductibles for the unhealthier people who buy insurance.

In other words, increasing plan choice does not reduce provider prices and does not reduce health care spending

2. Further discussion of free markets and competition in health care

Free markets and competition for determining prices of goods and services in the economy are generally viewed favorably, including how competition on the supply side results in a lowering of prices (compared to there not being competition on the supply side).

Two important elements for free markets and competition to work are that prices on the supply side be visible to consumers in making their choices, and that consumers are "spending their own money" in choosing to make a purchase.

If consumers directly purchased their health care services, and if the prices charged by providers were publicly posted, that could result in significant "comparison shopping" by health care consumers, and the result of such competition could result in a significant reduction of provider prices and reduced health care spending.

It should also be pointed out, if the health care system entailed all consumers paying directly from their own resources for health care services, some consumers would not be able to afford the prices, they would not obtain the services, and there would be an overall reduction of demand for health care services, and this would also contribute to a reduction of prices.

That, however, is not the way the United States health care system is currently. Perhaps some Republicans would like the health care system to be that way. There is probably zero chance of that happening. In the debate, attention should be paid whether any of the candidates are arguing for.

In the real world of health care insurance, the above two elements are not adequately present.

With health insurance, both consumers and insurers need to be looked at to show this.

Consumers may make choices about insurance policies and corresponding premiums, but, once they have selected their policy, in choosing to obtain particular services, consumers can't "comparison shop" among different providers and different prices.. The insurer has already selected who the providers will be and the prices to be paid for the services.

Also, in health insurance, consumers making choices to obtain services are not then confronted with having to pay the full price, but, having paid their insurance premiums, consumers may obtain the services for no or little additional payment. At the juncture of choosing to obtain health care services, the phenomenon of "spending someone else's money" kicks in, and there is no weighing the value of the service against the full price of the service.

Regarding the insurance policies themselves, purchasers of the policies have no meaningful way of comparing the value of the policy against the amount of the premiums . They know the premiums they have to pay and what deductibles they may have to pay, but they otherwise cannot make a comparison of policies, including not being able to take into account the respective networks under the policies, not knowing in advance what services will in fact be needed and obtained, and many other things having bearing on the value of the policy and making a decision about which policy is a better deal for them.

Health insurers are in business to make profits, and components of doing that include offering policies that consumers are willing to purchase, setting up provider networks to provide serves under the insurance contract, and setting premiums at sufficient levels that will pay the agreed charges with the provider network, taking into account projections of how much consumers will obtain the benefits under the policy, plus earning a profit for the insurance company. While consumers are largely ignorant in the market place, the insurance companies are very informed about the health care market place,differing provider charges being available, the breadth or narrowness of the provider network, all of which the insurance companies negotiate out. Insurance companies are practiced in navigating the provider marketplace, out of sight of consumers, with a view to higher insurer profitability, and with probably little concern about consumer plan choice translating into reduced charges.

Maybe the best way to see this is to think about insurance companies and providers negotiating prices with one another, with insurers seeking lower prices and suppliers seeking higher prices. The same would go on under both Obamacare under whatever new regime is put in place that allows the insurance companies to offer a greater choice of plans. Unless there is a reduction of total health care services provided to all insureds, there is not a basis for thinking insurance companies could negotiate their supplier prices to be less than under Obamacare.

That analysis then forces focus on the quantum of health services under Obamacare and the quantum of health services afforded under the new regime. This in turn turn means the discussion needs to grapple with the total quantum of health care services that are sought to be provided. The experience of Obamacare may demonstrate only that the total quantum of health services that Obamacare has sought to provide is more services than society is willing to pay for. The discussion then needs to to turn to deciding a reduced quantum of health services to be provided.

E. Summary
The country has spent six wrenching and expensive years endeavoring to implement Obamacare, and the result has been very inadequate in addressing the country's immense difficulties in providing health care to its citizens.

It is submitted that, unless there is delving into why the United States has much greater health care spending than other developed countries, whatever plan the Republicans propose will be wanting for the country in the long run.

The American Health Care Act passed by the House of Representatives will make a great reduction of health care spending by cutting Medicaid and reducing subsidies for health insurance (meaning some people will become uninsured). This is largely at the expense of those least able to afford health care, and it is submitted that this will not be a viable long term solution for tackling the reasons for the high health care spending in the United States.

The history of "managed care" is instructive, and it is worth your time to read in the Wikipedia article about Managed care to get some understanding. What I think should be taken away from that discussion is that for 30 years, enormous efforts have been made to figure out ways to get control over health care costs and spending. Notwithstanding those efforts, the United States is still confronted with having much higher health care spending (as shown in the table reproduced above).

Why, why, why, should be on the minds of Republican Senators as they work on turning out their new bill. Health care is incredibly hard, Obamacare has not worked, and new thinking is needed. It is predicted that the Senate bill will not embody new thinking.

For the Senate candidates in Alabama, it is recommended that they read and determine whether any helpful insights are provided by the 2009 book The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care. The linked review says:

Whether journalist T.R. Reid's new book, "The Healing of America," will influence the high-stakes health care debate this fall [over Obamacare] remains to be seen, but he makes a compelling case that an efficient, effective universal health care system is not pie in the sky.
He reports that every industrialized democracy, except the United States, has figured out how to provide insurance and basic health care to virtually all of its citizens, and argues that the United States should borrow and adapt successful ideas from other countries. In practice, none of these health care systems is problem-free, Reid makes clear, and nearly everywhere escalating costs are a major challenge. But every industrialized democracy spends a far smaller percentage of its wealth on health care than does the United States and gets better results according to standard measures such as life expectancy after birth (the United States ranks 47th) and infant mortality (22nd).
I think the book will help answer the why question of why the United States spends so much more on health care than other developed countries, including after decades of trying get control of such spending. Whether the book will peruade that the United States can and will ultimately take steps not to be the exception to what other industrialized democracies have done regarding health care.

If the Republicans continue on their track, and are successful in enacting a new law, my prediction is that the Republican law will fail as much as Obamacare, and the country will go through a repeat of more years of wrenching, unsuccessful change (from the wrenching, unsuccessful change of the past seven years).

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Bob Bauer

Bob Bauer is a partner at the law firm of Perkins Coie and Professor of Practice and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at New York University School of Law. During 2010 and 2011, he was White House Counsel to President Obama. Earlier this month, Bob Bauer published, in the online forum Just Security, the below two part article:
Campaign Finance Law: When “Collusion” with a Foreign Government Becomes a Crime 
Campaign Finance Law: When “Collusion” Becomes a Crime: Part II
Federal election law prohibits foreign nationals (which includes foreign governments) from making contributions or expenditures to influence U.S. elections, and the Federal election law further prohibits domestic persons from providing "substantial assistance" to foreign nationals (including foreign governments) who make contributions or expenditures to influence U.S. elections.

The article discusses whether, under these prohibitions, there is a case that Trump and the Trump campaign criminally violated the  law. The article, right at its outset, frames the matter this way:
Commentary on Russian intervention in the 2016 elections has included one confidently expressed and perhaps growing view: that there may be a scandal there, but no conceivable crime. It is claimed that the Trump campaign could wink and nod at Russian hacking, and derive the full benefit, but that without considerably more evidence of direct involvement, there is no role for criminal law enforcement. The matter is then left to Congress to consider whether new laws are needed, and the public, of course, will render its judgment in opinion polls and in elections still to come.
This view is flawed. It fails to consider the potential campaign finance violations, as suggested by the facts so far known, under existing law. These violations are criminally enforceable.
All the news reporting and commentary seems to assume there needs to have been meetings or communications between Russians and members of the Trump campaign, happening during the campaign, in which Russia's interference in the election was discussed (i.e., collusion).

Further, for many weeks, the American public has been hearing that no evidence has been found of any such meetings or communications having taken place during the campaign.

Bob Bauer's article raises the question of whether there could be a criminal violation that the Trump campaign provided "substantial assistance" to Russia in Russia's interference in the election without there having been any private meetings or conversations between Russians and the Trump campaign.

For example, assume there were no such private meetings or communications, but say the Trump campaign at some point became aware of the Russian interference in the election to help Trump, and the Trump campaign undertook campaign activities to take advantage of the Russian interference, including Trump publicly asking Russia to carry on its interference in the 2016 election.

During the past several days, I have tried to find out whether it is the view of the Department of Justice that there is no criminal case against the Trump campaign unless there were private meetings and communications during the campaign between Russians and members of the Trump campaign in which the Russian interference with discussed.

I have tried to get information about this from Rick Hasen, who writes the Election Law Blog from which I learned about Bob Bauer's article; Joyce White Vance, who is former U.S. Attorney in Alabama and who appeared on Morning Joe this past Friday to discuss the Mueller investigation; and Andrew C. McCarthy, contributing editor of National Review; Alabama's representatives in Congress; and others. My efforts have been largely by means of numerous tweets, such as
I did not tweet to Bob Bauer because I did find a Twitter address for him.

I have not been able to get any information as a result of my tweets.

I will email Bob Bauer and post the email here after I send it

[email sent]
From: Rob Shattuck <rdshattuck@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, Jun 19, 2017 at 2:13 AM
Subject: DOJ and your JustSecurity articles.
To: RBauer@perkinscoie.com
Cc: jturley@law.gwu.edu
Dear Mr. Bauer,
I have been posting and tweeting your JustSecurity articles. See my blog entry Plea.
I am trying to get a current read on what the Department of Justice thinks about a criminal case against Trump and the Trump campaign if there were not any private meetings or communications between Russians and Trump campaign personnel in which the Russia interference was discussed ("private collusion").
I have been making inquires about this by tweeting, including to Rick Hasen, Andrew C. McCarthy, Joyce White Vance, Jeffrey Toobin, Jonathan Turley and Morning Joe. I did not find a Twitter address for you.
My tweet inquiries have not produced any responses.
If you are in a position to shed any light on where the DOJ or the Mueller investigation stand on a criminal case if there was no "private collusion," I very much would like to post that information on my blog entry Bob Bauer.
Thank you for your attention to this email.

EDIT 6/21
I just can't get a response.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Twitter campaigning

Currently, active supporters of Roy Moore are dominating almost exclusively the tweeting that is being done using the #alsen hashtag.

I urge that #alsen candidates develop tweeting banks to push out their messaging to the public via Twitter.

To understand the idea of tweeting banks, see How tweeting banks should be used.

If you have any questions about the idea, please feel free to ask me.

Financial crimes

The news overnight is that Mueller's investigation is looking into possible financial crimes of Trump associates. (I am not able to embed the below video directly and am embedding it by way of my tweet.)

This is going to make the Russia investigation a worse problem for the country. Expanding into possible financial crimes will make it worse because the war between Trump and anti-Trump will escalate, and our country's governance will be further impaired.

To get a a sense, consider the situation of Trump getting investigation of the Clintons going again.
That kind of tit for tat bodes for things to get worse for the country's governance.

It is unclear how the deteriorating situation is going to get turned around. I think a main hope needs to be Congress.

I initiated a plea to Congress a few days ago, which is set out at the link Plea .

With the expanding Mueller investigation, the onus on Congress is increased as the country moves closer to a constitutional convulsion because of Trump.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Plea

[Revised 6/13 and 6/19 with added discussions]
The country has been in a morass for a year because of the Russian interference in the 2016 election. 

The country is approaching a constitutional convulsion growing out of Russia.

Understanding can take months to develop.

Understanding can be gained early by a few.

Wider public understanding can be slow.

The below two part article published this month in the online forum Just Security helps immensely with understanding:
Campaign Finance Law: When “Collusion” with a Foreign Government Becomes a Crime 
 Campaign Finance Law: When “Collusion” Becomes a Crime: Part II
The article brings into focus that Federal election laws prohibit foreign nationals (which includes foreign governments) from making contributions or expenditures to influence U.S. elections.

The article also brings into focus that the law prohibits domestic persons from providing "substantial assistance" to foreign nationals (including foreign governments) who make contributions or expenditures to influence U.S. elections.

The article discusses whether, under these prohibitions, there is a case that Trump and the Trump campaign criminally violated the  law. The article, right at its outset, frames the matter this way:
Commentary on Russian intervention in the 2016 elections has included one confidently expressed and perhaps growing view: that there may be a scandal there, but no conceivable crime. It is claimed that the Trump campaign could wink and nod at Russian hacking, and derive the full benefit, but that without considerably more evidence of direct involvement, there is no role for criminal law enforcement. The matter is then left to Congress to consider whether new laws are needed, and the public, of course, will render its judgment in opinion polls and in elections still to come.
This view is flawed. It fails to consider the potential campaign finance violations, as suggested by the facts so far known, under existing law. These violations are criminally enforceable.
James Comey has now told the country that, as of the time of his firing, Trump was not under investigation by the FBI. [Edit 6/11: In a video clip on the TV this morning from the Comey testimony, I heard Comey refer to the FBI investigation as a counter-intelligence investigation. This muddies the water for me a little about "Trump not being under investigation."]

This needs to be explained.

It seems inconceivable that an FBI investigation could be going on relative to whether the Trump campaign violated the foregoing prohibitions of the Federal election law without Trump himself, and his role, being a subject of investigation.

If there is an investigation, maybe there is a technical explanation that allows the FBI to say Trump is not being investigated (such as it would be planned not to indict him and consider him only an "unindicted co-conspirator" if others are indicted).

If Trump is not a subject of investigation because there is no criminal investigation of possible violation of Federal election law, it would seem that it should be expressly explained to the country that the Department of Justice has concluded "there may be a scandal [under Federal election law], but no conceivable crime" and there is no investigation of a possible criminal violation of the Federal election law.

If that is the case then the Department of Justice should tell country so and that "[t]he matter is . . . left to Congress to consider whether new laws are needed, and the public, of course, will render its judgment in opinion polls and in elections still to come."

With the country verging on a constitutional convulsion about Russia, the foregoing needs to be explained to the public, and there needs to be complete clarity either that the Trump campaign is under criminal investigation for possible violation of the Federal election law, or not; and, if not, the public needs to look "to Congress to consider whether new laws are needed, and the public, of course, will render its judgment in opinion polls and in elections still to come."

It would further seem that this matter should be considered by every member of Congress, every member of Congress should try to find out what he or she can, and every member of Congress should inform his or her constituents to the best of his or her ability about the foregoing.


Update 6/13 Additional discussion

A. Is country in a bad political condition that should be improved?

The view of many is that the country's political situation and governance are in bad shape five months into the Trump administration. A main factor is that the country is mired in the Russia matter, the investigation seems it will go on for many months, and in the meantime it is impairing the country's governance.

Others may think there is nothing to worry about concerning the country's political condition.

Some members of Congress may go along with the latter view. These representatives who believe the country is not impaired politically, and no special attention is needed to improve the country's political condition, would do a good service by announcing these beliefs to their voters, and enable the voters to judge those beliefs for themselves and take the same into account in the next election.

On the other hand,  representatives in Congress who think the country is in a bad shape politically ought to say that to the voters, and those representatives should tell who or what they think is at fault for the country's poor political condition.

Some representatives may think that the reason for the country's bad political condition is all the fault of the other political party. Those representatives thinking this should announce that is what they think, all for the voters to judge for themselves and take it into account in the next election.

Representatives in Congress who think the country is in bad political shape but don't think it is all the other political party's fault should ask themselves what they can do to help the political condition of the country.

My original posting above indicates what I think representatives in Congress should do to improve things for the country in the Russia morass, and the purpose of this additional discussion is to say more.

B. Observations regarding Russia investigation

Here are some observations about the Russia mire from the American people's point of view that may be helpful.

National security is important to the American people, but the people don't have sophisticated understanding of dangers and risks to national security, and the people need and want to rely on their government and its security apparatus to assess risks and do the right things for the country.

If there is disagreement at the leadership level about what is right for the country on national security, the American people would want that disagreement to be bona fide and not be infected by partisan political motives. The people are not well qualified to figure out what is bona fide and what is politicized exaggeration or distortion.

Given the foregoing, it is highly objectionable for the American people if political agendas get played out in disagreements about what is right for national security.

Accordingly, it would be helpful if representatives in Congress would be attuned to whether they are acting out partisan agendas in how they participate in high profile discussion  about national security matters, and if they would try hard to keep that from happening on their part.

This leads to consideration of Russia, which has some strands that should be sorted out.

I don't think the American people are  bothered if an incoming administration seeks to initiate communications related to the foreign policies the new administration wants to pursue, subject to a couple of things.

With such communications, there can be considerations of national security.  As discussed above, if there are national security concerns, the people don't have the capability to appreciate the same, and the people need and want to rely on the government, the national security apparatus, and the incoming administration to work through the same in good faith for the benefit of the people. The people don't need and don't want investigations and hearings that get dragged on to serve political agendas and that keep partisan supporters in the grassroots agitated.

If there are genuine national security concerns in what has happened in transitioning to the Trump administration, mud has been piled on from both sides, which will draw out the investigations and hearings beyond what the people need or want and be detrimental to the country's governance.

The mud on the Democrats side is they are obsessed with finding collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign regarding Russia's interference in the election. Every meeting, telephone call, email or other communication between a Russian and anyone connected with the Trump campaign must be discovered and put under the microscope to find any indication of planning and coordination about how Russia was interfering in the election. This narrow focus is relentless and impairs willingness to accept that there could be other subjects of meetings, telephone calls, emails, and other communication that are not the Russian interference in the election. Many think Benghazi was a wasteful with hunt, and the Democrats search for collusion now is starting to look the same way.

Trump has piled on his own mud in at least two ways, and these help the Democrats to continue with their collusion obsession.

In the campaign Trump created mystery and suspicion because of his unwillingness to accept assessments of United States national security agencies about Russian interference in the election. This was greatly exacerbated by Trump's publicly asking Russia to interfere in the election. Following the election, President Trump is carrying this on in having no interest in Russian interference in U.S. elections. This mud piled on by Trump helps the Democrats in following their obsession to find collusion, although they are turning up nothing.

The second mud Trump has thrown on the investigation is Trump's having refused to deal adequately with his myriad conflicts of interest growing out of his worldwide business, and Trump's secrecy about the same. This is of legitimate concern for the American people. While the people may have deficient understanding about national security, they can understand that a President is supposed to have policies, make decisions and take actions that serve the country's interests and that are not influenced by how the President's business interests are affected. This applies particularly to Trump business dealings with Russia, and this "conflicts of interest" mud piled on by Trump provides the Democrats further ways to draw out the hearings and investigations as they pursue their obsession to find collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign regarding Russia's interference in the election.

The American people are being badly served by the combination of (i) the Democratic obsession to find collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign relating to Russia's interference in the election, (ii) the mystery and suspicion about Trump in the campaign refusing to accept the assessment of the national security agencies and further asking Russia to interfere, and President Trump's lack of interest in the Russia interference, and (iii) Trump's conflicts of interest and his secrecy about the same.

That combination now has the country mired in the Russia investigations and hearings that appear headed to go on for months if not years, and be detrimental to the country's governance.

A way to help get out of this mire is for both sides to make corrections. The Democrats should reel in their obsession to turn over every last rock to find collusion, in the face of no evidence having been found after six months of investigating. On the other side, the Republicans need to call out Trump for what he did in his campaign, his current lack of interest in Russia's interference, and the problems created by Trump's conflicts of interest.

A further thing for Democrats and Republicans to do is to divide the Russia matter into the two parts of (i) determining and combating the Russia interference and (ii) addressing what the Trump campaign did, and dealing with the two parts separately.

C. Combating Russian interference

Except for Trump's lack of interest, Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree that Russian interference in U.S. elections is a very bad thing and that the interference needs to be understood and steps need to be taken to try to prevent interference in the future. This is going to be a long term effort by the country, and how successful the country is going to be in preventing the interference in the future is uncertain. This aspect of the Russia problem can be separated out as not being a contributory factor to the country's political condition being bad. If Trump, will not take an interest in combating Russian interference, the Republicans need to tell Trump he is wrong in not taking an interest and he needs to take an interest.

D. Collusion; "substantial assistance" to Russia

Regarding the Russia interference in the 2016 election, the core of what is impairing the country politically is the question of whether Russia and the Trump campaign colluded.

The way collusion is being discussed in the news is whether there were meetings or communications between Russians and Trump campaign officials in which there was express coordinated planning and implementing of the Russian interference to help the Trump campaign (the term "private collusion" shall be used to refer to this kind of coordinating).

An alternative to "private collusion" is that Russia initiated its interference in the election on its own with the purpose of trying to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump, and the Trump campaign became aware of that interference and acted unilaterally to take advantage of the same, including by Trump publicly encouraging Russia to interfere. This scenario possibly makes for criminal violation of the Federal election laws by reason of Trump giving "substantial assistance" to Russia as discussed in the original posting above and the articles that are cited.

At this juncture there is no publicly reported evidence of "private collusion" (i.e., meetings and communications between Russians and Trump campaign officials in which there was express coordinated planning and implementing of the Russian interference to help the Trump campaign). The investigation of whether there was "private collusion" could go on for a long time, thee is a good chance nothing will turn up, and in the meantime the investigation is a debilitating distraction which impairs the country's governance.

Regarding the "substantial assistance" criminal law scenario, a couple of things are immediate for both Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

Both Republicans and Democrats should consider whether the existing Federal election law prohibition against "substantial assistance" to a foreign government making contributions or expenditures to influence a U.S. election covers the situation of Trump asking Russia to interfere and the Trump campaign doing other things to try to take advantage of the Russia interference but in which there are not communications and meetings with the Russians to plan and coordinate the Russian interference.

Both Republicans and Democrats should try to learn whether the Department of Justice has expressly considered whether there is a possible criminal case to be pursued where there is no "private collusion" and, if the DOJ has not considered the same, to proceed to consider the possibility and inform Congress about what it concludes.

If the DOJ concludes that there is no criminal case without "private collusion," Democrats and Republicans need to decide whether a new law is needed to prevent candidates in future elections from soliciting foreign governments to interfere in U.S. elections the way Trump and the Trump campaign did in the 2016 election.

Edit 6/19
The way it is going, our country cannot afford waiting on the DOJ and the investigations.
On the  one hand, the President is tweeting:
On the other hand, The New York Times is putting out the below.


Russia took direct aim at American democracy in 2016. President Trump couldn’t care less.
NYTIMES.COM


Every indication is that the only response the President will make about the Russia interference and its risk to the country is to send more "witch hunt" tweets. This situation is becoming intolerable for the American people. With the President refusing to address the matter,  our whole Congress, Republicans and Democrats included, need to address the matter and speak to the country about it in some way. A good way would be for McConnell, Schumer, Ryan and Pelosi to agree on a joint statement to be issued by them to the American people setting out what they believe Congress should do.

See also Financial crimes and Bob Bauer.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

My God

My God, the guy publicly asked Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.


Is it any wonder that the guy (per today's testimony below) never asked Comey about  "what you should be doing or our government should be doing or the intelligence community to protect America against Russian interference in our election system"?

Or why "the president seemed unconcerned by Russia's actions in our election"?

Or more to the point, is it any wonder Trump would want to shut down the Russia investigation? Possible legal vulnerabilities for him include providing "substantial assistance" to a foreign national making election expenditures in violation of FEC Reg.110.20, and aiding and abetting, or being an after the fact accessory in the criminal theft of information (see Smartest colluders). [Edit 6/9:  For some expert commentary, see Campaign Finance Law: When “Collusion” with a Foreign Government Becomes a Crime and Campaign Finance Law: When “Collusion” Becomes a Crime: Part II]


[From todays' testimony]
HEINRICH: The president has repeatedly talked about the Russian investigation into the U.S. — or Russia's involvement in the U.S. Election cycle as a hoax and fake news. Can you talk a little bit about what you saw as FBI director and, obviously, only the parts that you can share in this setting that demonstrate how serious this action actually was and why there was an investigation in the first place?

COMEY: Yes, sir. There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever. The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle. They did with purpose. They did it with sophistication. They did it with overwhelming technical efforts. It was an active measures campaign driven from the top of that government. There is no fuzz on that. It is a high confidence judgment of the entire intelligence community and the members of this committee have seen the intelligence. It's not a close call. That happened. That's about as unfake as you can possibly get. It is very, very serious, which is why it's so refreshing to see a bipartisan focus on that. This is about America, not about a particular party.

HEINRICH: That is a hostile act by the Russian government against this country?

COMEY: Yes, sir.

HEINRICH: Did the president in any of those interactions that you've shared with us today ask you what you should be doing or what our government should be doing or the intelligence community to protect America against Russian interference in our election system?

COMEY: I don't recall a conversation like that.

HEINRICH: Never?

COMEY: No.

HEINRICH: Do you find it —

COMEY: Not with President Trump.

HEINRICH: Right.

COMEY: I attended a fair number of meetings on that with President Obama.

HEINRICH: Do you find it odd that the president seemed unconcerned by Russia's actions in our election?

COMEY: I can't answer that because I don't know what other conversations he had with other advisers or other intelligence community leaders. I just don't know sitting here.

HEINRICH: Did you have any interactions with the president that suggested he was taking that hostile action seriously.

COMEY: I don't remember any interactions with the president other than the initial briefing on January the 6th. I don't remember — could be wrong, but I don't remember any conversations with him at all about that.

Vision

Dear Senator Strange,
Do you have any vision? Are you capable of any vision?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Shelby County GOP

[Edit 6/9: I doubt Shelby County GOP, or any of the Alabama GOP delegation in Washington, or any of the Republican candidates in the Alabama Senate election, has interest in anything I have to say about health care, let alone engage in discussion with me. I will nonetheless use this blog entry as a platform for a multi-part discussion driving off my previous discussion of health care that is linked below.]

Dear Shelby County AL GOP,

You tweeted the below tweet, which gives a link to 'Free' Government-Funded Health Care, by Robert Weissburg, dated June 6, 2017, published in American Thinker on line magazine.

I think intelligent and honest discussion of health care would be in the interest of Alabamians.

I have been endeavoring to initiate such discussion in this blog, which discussion can be accessed by starting at Health care and following links to other blog entries.

I think Rep. Palmer, other members of the Alabama delegation in Washington, and the candidates in the Alabama Senate race have not been responsive to engaging in intelligent and honest discussion about health care.

Would the Shelby County GOP be willing to engage in a health care discussion with me?

Such discussion could be done by Shelby County GOP in the person of an interested, willing and knowledgeable officer or other member, or an outsider whom Shelby County GOP is in a position to call on to participate in discussion.

I understand if Shelby County GOP is unwilling to engage in discussion; however, since Shelby County GOP took upon itself to tweet a link to the aforesaid article on Twitter using the #alpolitics hashtag, it is fair to ask Shelby County GOP to engage in discussion growing out of the same.

Thank you for your attention to this.

Part I (6/11) Honest and intelligent discussion
The Montgomery Advertiser published today, Alabama Senate race: GOP candidates differ on proposed Medicaid changes, by Brian Lyman.
The article evidences honest and intelligent recognition by the candidates that there is a significant correlation between the amount of funding for Medicaid and the quantum and benefits of health care services that are received by persons served by Medicaid, subject to there being room for making Medicaid a more efficient program so that the same quantum and benefits of health care services may be delivered for a lesser amount. It would seem very problematic, however, to quantify in advance how much can be saved by greater efficiency, and even difficult to measure the same after the fact. Hopefully the candidates will be honest about this to the voters, and eschew the dishonesty of Tom Price and Donald Trump in this regard.
This extends to CBO scoring. Such scoring generally makes projections about future events and projections about the future are generally problematic. It is fine to point out instances when CBO scoring in the past turned out imperfectly and maybe very imperfectly. By the same token, all projections about future events are problematic, and those attacking CBO scoring need to subject their own projections to scrutiny. I will return to this particularly regarding assertions and projections about health insurance premiums and deductions being reduced in the future.






Saturday, June 3, 2017

Money

The below article reports that more than $80,000,000 has been spent on the Georgia 6th Congressional district special election (and there are still 18 days to go).

How much is going to be spent on this year's Alabama special election to fill Jeff Sessions' United States Senate seat? What do Alabamians think about how the huge amounts of money in elections affects the country's governance?



Georgia’s special election is breaking records

Georgia's special election is costing Americans millions

SKIP TO COMMENTS 

Georgia's special election is breaking recordsVoters line up to cast ballots in a special election in Atlanta, Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Republicans are bidding to prevent a major upset in a conservative Georgia congressional district Tuesday where Democrats stoked by opposition to President Donald Trump have rallied behind a candidate who has raised a shocking amount of money for a special election. (AP Photo/David Goldman)(Credit: AP)
This article originally appeared on FairVote.
The special election in Georgia’s 6th congressional district just set a troubling new political record: It’s the most costly U.S. House election in American history. More than $80 million has been spent already by Democrat Jon Ossoff, Republican Karen Handel, and an explosion of special interest groups and Super PACs from all sides.
Politicians can buy a lot of negative ads for $80 million. One Atlanta station had so much demand that they cancelled syndicated programming and expanded local newscasts so they could sell more time to the candidates and other operatives. Atlanta is the city that birthed CNN; now the political news is toxic, around the clock — and there’s still almost four weeks to go before the runoff election.
 It’s been a similar story in Kansas and Montana, where Republicans won two expensive special elections earlier this spring, as well as South Carolina, where voters in the 5th congressional district will soon head to the polls for the third time since May 2nd to replace Mick Mulvaney.
 There’s no reason why our elections should cost so much — and be fueled by so many deep-pocketed special interests. Yet while candidates continue to put forth platitudes about limiting the influence of Big Money each election cycle, voters are still looking for concrete ways to decrease the amount of money in our political process and strengthen the power of their vote.

Pie-in-the-sky solutions like a constitutional amendment or a landmark Supreme Court decision might be admirable long-term goals for those concerned about the amount that wealthy individuals can give to politicians. However, it’s time for reformers to start thinking more creatively about ways to limit the demand for money in the first place. Ranked choice voting is a good place to start.
 Ranked choice voting (RCV) is a simple change to our elections that can make a powerful difference for voters. RCV gives voters the freedom to rank their choices on Election Day, rather than picking just one. All first choices are counted, and if one candidate has a majority of the vote (50% +1), then they win. However, if no candidate receives a majority, the candidate in last place is eliminated, and those voters have their vote count for the next choice on their ballot. This process continues until a candidate wins with a majority of the vote.
 While the idea might be new to some, ranked choice voting is actually already used in almost a dozen cities across the U.S., including Minneapolis, San Francisco, Oakland, and Portland, Maine. In fact this past November, Maine voters passed a ballot question to adopt ranked choice voting for all statewide elections by a margin of 52%-48%.
 Historically, RCV has been championed by voters because it gives them a stronger voice in elections where more than two candidates are running. By allowing voters to rank their choices, the system ensures that election outcomes are grounded in the principle of majority rule, and voters can vote for their favorite candidate without fear of wasting their vote. However recent research indicates that there may be another reason to adopt RCV: it has the potential to limit the insatiable demand for money in politics.
recent report published by FairVote demonstrates that ranked choice voting can change incentives for candidates in a way that decreases the effectiveness of campaign cash. The report suggests that adopting RCV can impact campaign spending by encouraging different campaign strategies. When candidates need to reach out and be a voter’s second or third choice, they are much less likely to go all-negative. Rather than spend copious amounts of money to depress turnout among a rival’s base, candidates are incentivized to get out and knock on doors to find common ground with voters. In other words, RCV rewards hustle over spending.
While further research is needed, this dynamic seems to have played out in cities that use ranked choice voting. In Oakland, for example, voters in 2010 elected the first woman and first Asian-American mayor in the city’s history, who beat a heavily favored opponent that outspent her $850,000 to $280,000. In 2012, an African-American woman ran and won an open Oakland Council seat despite being heavily outspent. She didn’t start her campaign until August — that is, two months after the date of Oakland’s old primary system. Both candidates did the groundwork of connecting with voters and earning their second choices, rather than berating their opponents with negative advertisements.
Another obvious opportunity to decrease the demand for campaign money is to eliminate runoff elections by using ranked choice voting. Look no further than the runoff in Georgia’s 6th. Before the first-round election that took place on April 18th, independent expenditures had totalled a stunning $9 million. Even more concerning is the fact that almost all of that money came from out of state. In fact the election attracted about one penny from Georgia for every $10 in out-of-state money. However since no candidate garnered a majority last month, the two Democratic and Republican candidates left in the race have embarked on a nine-week mudslinging contest to decide the winner in a runoff election that is attracting millions more in outside money. If Georgia had decided this election with RCV, there would have been no need for this — and the people of Georgia’s sixth would already have a voice in Congress.
In many of the cities in which RCV has been adopted, voters have done so primarily to elect a majority winner in a single election and avoid the high costs and low turnout associated with a runoff election. In those cities, RCV has assuredly reduced the amount of campaign dollars spent and the weeks of campaigning (often negative in nature) that come with holding a second election. In FairVote’s research, “a contest that was decided over two rounds was associated with $3.05 more per capita total candidate spending than a contest decided in one round.” In a city like San Francisco, that adds up to about $1.8 million less in spending by candidates.
Ranked choice voting isn’t a panacea, and more research and experience with RCV is needed to come to more concrete conclusions regarding its impact on the demand for money in our electoral process. That said, we know where the current road leads: More negativity and even more money. Campaign finance reformers that want to see immediate progress should embrace this innovative approach to elections. Otherwise, we’re headed for a 2018 election season that could shatter even these infamous new spending records.