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Good Friday Morning! We have a lively Congressional week this time around! The House finally passed a revamped version of the AHCA. I’ll dig into the particulars and politics around that legislation. Next up, I go into a 100-year-old document that is so contentious that the Palestinian Authority is suing the United Kingdom over it. Finally, I wrap things up with a controversy that has embroiled the New York Times Opinion pages and why that dispute reveals more about modern society than it does the columnist. Links follow. I hope you enjoy!
AHCA 2.0 (Obamacare Replacement) Vote Passes the House
The Republican-led House passed its version of the revamped American Health Care Act (AHCA) by the skin of its teeth: 217 for – 213 opposing (All 193 Democrats and 20 Republicans in opposition). The bill now heads to the Senate where all expectations are that it change dramatically or die. The Senate never showed any signs it liked any House health care proposals. What will eventually become law is anyone’s guess; which is the key caveat of this entire story. What we don’t know about the AHCA dwarfs what we do know.
The GOP didn’t release a “final text” version of the bill. Representatives had no time to digest or debate the bill. The final House enactment has no CBO score. Any report you see on coverage under the AHCA rests on one of three things: 1) Made up numbers, 2) An old CBO scoring of the failed AHCA bill, or 3) Estimates by a third party group that is likely being paid by political donors. In other words, we don’t know what the House bill will do nor do know how it will impact the healthcare industry or the economy. No one knows anything about the bill the House just passed. Everyone is playing catch-up. And all that catch-up is superfluous because the Senate will pass its version of the AHCA. The House will have to decide on whether it will accept the final Senate product.
All of the above said, here is what we do know. There are a few provisions of the AHCA that are different from both previous AHCA bills and Obamacare. Politico provided a solid run-down of new provisions:
- The AHCA Removes the Individual Mandate. Replaces it with new Insurance Powers: The old individual mandate is gone. However, Insurance companies have the legal right to charge 30% surcharges on premiums if a person is without insurance for more than two months. This provision is supposed to encourage people to maintain coverage. Instead of an individual public mandate, the AHCA has a private individual mandate.
- Cuts all the Obamacare taxes: The AHCA cuts all the major taxes of Obamacare. Politico and other news outlets are calling these “tax cuts for the wealthy.” This narrative is partially correct. But what is also true is that Obamacare specifically set out to tax the rich to fund itself. So when you scrap all the taxes under Obamacare, those taxes targeting the rich will necessarily go too. There is no way to cut all Obamacare taxes and make them apply to anyone but the wealthy. Saying “tax cuts for the rich” implies otherwise.
- Defunds Planned Parenthood for a year: Other abortion providers lose funding as well. Presumably, the House would revisit this section in a year. If not, funding will kick back in.
The Politico story describes several other provisions. But they fail to mention that their analysis of those rules is largely guesswork. The law changes how insurers can charge the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. But we don’t have any scoring or data suggesting how those provisions would work in the wild. Everything else in the story is guesswork based on the rights states are given to decide how they handle Medicare and Medicaid. Politico assumes worst case scenario, which won’t happen. There are 50 states, and they’ll all treat Medicare and Medicaid differently.
So where does the House AHCA leave us? I don’t know. The bill passed because Trump cut a deal with the House Freedom Caucus, the group responsible for torpedoing the last vote. The same group that has signaled it may vote against a Senate bill. The law was forced on GOP moderates, who were the deciding vote. When 2018 rolls around, moderates are most likely to bear the brunt of voter wrath. The Freedom Caucus carries no such burden.
I’ve maintained for months that it was incumbent upon the GOP to govern well. If they failed to govern well, they would lose their office. It’s impossible to tell at this stage whether the AHCA is good legislation or bad. But it is easy to understand AHCA passage was atrocious governance. If Obamacare’s legislative journey can be considered a train-wreck of bad decisions, the GOP AHCA was a speeding train that flew off the tracks, exploded a petroleum depot, and caused an avalanche from the resulting explosion. The Senate is left to pick up the pieces.
The final proposal was never read, scored, or debated. The House Freedom Caucus cut deals in secret that favored their positions and harmed moderates. In the end, Representatives can claim they passed something. But America lives on a hope and prayer that this “something” ends up being good governance. Because right now, it doesn’t look good at all.
The Palestinian Authority Threatens to Sue the UK over a 100-year-old document
100 years ago, in 1917, the world map looked very different. Europe was three years into WWI, “the Great War.” Much of what we consider the Middle East today was completely different. Modern states like Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria did not exist. The Ottoman Empire ruled most of this land. That empire that stretched from the area we now call the Balkans, through Turkey, parts of Persia, and all of the coastal Mediterranean areas we now know as Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon.
What most people in this era didn’t know was how vastly different their continent would look in 30 years. The two world wars wiped out multiple countries and empires while creating others. In 1917, the UK planted the first seeds of what would become the nation of Israel. The British Jewish community wanted to return to their historic homeland encompassing Jerusalem. To quell those concerns, the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour sent a letter to Walter Rothschild, head of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. That letter gave the first recognized justification for Jews that the West was committed to creating an Israeli state:
His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
The press printed Balfour Declaration in newspapers soon after delivery to Rothschild. Future peace agreements relied on the declaration at the end of WWI. It also provided support for the creation of Israel at the end of WWII by the US and UK governments when they partitioned the lands previously in the Ottoman Empire. Israel considers the declaration as a foundational text proving they have a right to exist.
The Balfour Declaration is highly contentious and remains a thorn. As the UK and Israel prepare to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the declaration this year, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has demanded the UK apologize for and repudiate the Balfour Declaration. The UK has refused, saying:
The Balfour Declaration is an historic statement for which Her Majesty’s Government does not intend to apologize. We are proud of our role in creating the State of Israel. The task now is to encourage moves toward peace
The Palestinian Authority plans to sue the UK over the declaration. And the issue is this: Israel correctly sees this attack from the Palestinian Authority as a threat to their right to exist. The PA has a long history of seeking to eliminate Israel as a state. Striking the Balfour Declaration goes directly towards the very foundation of Israel’s existence. So as the UK and Israel celebrate the historical anniversary of the Balfour Declaration this year, don’t be surprised by increased terrorist attacks and antagonism from the Palestinians. History has a long memory in Europe and the Middle East.
The odd and revealing meltdown from NYT readers over a conservative columnist
Over the past week, there’s been a meltdown among liberal New York Times readers. I don’t use the word “primary” lightly. The controversy has centered around a new columnist for the NYT named Brett Stephens. Stephens formerly worked at the Wall Street Journal where he wrote mostly on foreign affairs and domestic policy and won a Pulitzer for his columns. He also co-hosted one of WSJ’s better podcasts on international affairs. Stephens typically writes from a conservative or right-leaning vantage point.
While there was an outcry against the NYT for hiring Stephens, it paled in comparison to the backlash the Times received over Stephens’s first column. The NYT had a torrent of people canceling their paper subscription and starting a #ShowYourCancellation campaign. Their anger focused on Stephens holding “climate denialism” beliefs. Stephens first column was entitled “Climate of Complete Certainty.” The offending paragraphs were:
As Andrew Revkin wrote last year about his storied career as an environmental reporter at The Times, “I saw a widening gap between what scientists had been learning about global warming and what advocates were claiming as they pushed ever harder to pass climate legislation.” The science was generally scrupulous. The boosters who claimed its authority weren’t.
Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius, or about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warming of the Northern Hemisphere since 1880 is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That’s especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn’t to deny science. It’s to acknowledge it honestly.
By now I can almost hear the heads exploding. They shouldn’t, because there’s another lesson here — this one for anyone who wants to advance the cause of good climate policy. As Revkin wisely noted, hyperbole about climate “not only didn’t fit the science at the time but could even be counterproductive if the hope was to engage a distracted public.”
In other words, the outcry regarding “science denialism” relates to Stephens denoting that algorithms and models are inaccurate. He acknowledges the central point that temperatures have gone up over time, but correctly conveys an ignored caveat: models are flawed. An entirely accurate point. Models are wrong all the time. In every conceivable field of study, you can imagine models miss their goal. Hence the title of his column: The Climate of Complete Certainty. Climate advocates put complete trust, and faith in models we know have flaws. Climate models base themselves on probabilities; which can give us an effective means to forecast. Models can only provide a short-term range of possibilities. Nate Silver, a liberal, and expert on probabilities, made the same point in his 2012 book: The Signal and the Noise.
But science and models aren’t the reason the NYT has experienced backlash over Bret Stephens. The backlash concerns a prevailing belief in scientism. The scientific method welcomes opposing viewpoints and different data. Differing opinions and evidence help form a sound hypothesis. Scientism, however, is a religious-like belief in the infallibility of science to answer all life’s questions. “Science” and nature replace God. Which is why you see figures like Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and other public scientists deified as modern Popes. This movement is highly dangerous, as one scientist put in the The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society:
Advocates of scientism today claim the sole mantle of rationality, frequently equating science with reason itself. Yet it seems the very antithesis of reason to insist that science can do what it cannot, or even that it has done what it demonstrably has not. As a scientist, I would never deny that scientific discoveries can have important implications for metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, and that everyone interested in these topics needs to be scientifically literate. But the claim that science and science alone can answer longstanding questions in these fields gives rise to countless problems.
In contrast to reason, a defining characteristic of superstition is the stubborn insistence that something — a fetish, an amulet, a pack of Tarot cards — has powers which no evidence supports. From this perspective, scientism appears to have as much in common with superstition as it does with properly conducted scientific research. Scientism claims that science has already resolved questions that are inherently beyond its ability to answer.
Of all the fads and foibles in the long history of human credulity, scientism in all its varied guises — from fanciful cosmology to evolutionary epistemology and ethics — seems among the more dangerous, both because it pretends to be something very different from what it really is and because it has been accorded widespread and uncritical adherence. Continued insistence on the universal competence of science will serve only to undermine the credibility of science as a whole. The ultimate outcome will be an increase of radical skepticism that questions the ability of science to address even the questions legitimately within its sphere of competence. One longs for a new Enlightenment to puncture the pretensions of this latest superstition.
Hence why Stephens’s column caused a backlash. The outcry had nothing to do with science, evidence, or reason. Liberal NYT readers saw Stephens’s column as an attack on their secular faith. In this way, the “War on Science” mentality is no different than the “War on Christmas.” Stephens’s column wasn’t an attack on science; it was an assault on the sacred. Ignore the fact that it wasn’t even an attack on climate science as a whole, just on the certainty presumed in models by true-believing advocates. No negativity is accepted, either you accept the faith or deny it. Because Stephens critiques the faith, that makes him a denier and sinner. And for his sin, Stephens and the NYT must be punished. In the end, scientism advocates are more closed minded than the people they denounce.
Links for your radar
Justice is Bigger than Narrative – David French, National Review Online
In a polarized nation, our political lives are dominated by narratives. We hold on to the stories that advance our narrative, discard as aberrations the stories that contradict the narrative, and press forward — armed to the teeth with tales of outrage. While only the most crazed radicals believe that their side is always right, the contradictory stories tend to disappear. Conservatives are quick to know that “hands up, don’t shoot” was one of the lies of the year. They tend to be quick to forget men such as Walter Scott or don’t know anything at all about Demetrius Hollins.
The leftist commitment to narrative is legendary. The Black Lives Matter movement is still deemed “peaceful” even as its rallies keep turning violent, and its supporters have gunned down cops in the streets. The “hands up, don’t shoot” mantra is still on activists’ lips in spite of all available evidence. And, as the disruption of Heather Mac Donald’s speech at Claremont McKenna College showed, even questioning BLM’s statistical claims and allegations is considered somehow anti-black.
There is only one way through the tribalism of competing narratives, and that’s through a commitment to justice. No, not “social justice.” True justice — the quest for evidence, the search for facts, and the dispensation of punishment without regard to race, creed, class, or religion.
Look around you. Donald Trump is now president of the United States, having won on a campaign that trashed liberal democracy itself, and is now presiding over an administration staffed, in part, with adherents of a political philosophy largely alien to mainstream American politics. In Russia, Vladimir Putin has driven his country from postcommunist capitalism to a new and popular czardom, empowered by nationalism and blessed by a resurgent Orthodox Church. Britain, where the idea of free trade was born, is withdrawing from the largest free market on the planet because of fears that national identity and sovereignty are under threat. In France, a reconstructed neofascist, Marine Le Pen, has just won a place in the final round of the presidential election. In the Netherlands, the anti-immigrant right became the second-most-popular vote-getter — a new high-water mark for illiberalism in that once famously liberal country. Austria narrowly avoided installing a neo-reactionary president in last year’s two elections. Japan is led by a government attempting to rehabilitate its imperial, nationalist past. Poland is now run by an illiberal Catholic government that is dismembering key liberal institutions. Turkey has morphed from a resolutely secular state to one run by an Islamic strongman, whose powers were just ominously increased by a referendum. Israel has shifted from secular socialism to a raw ethno-nationalism.
We are living in an era of populism and demagoguery. And yes, there’s racism and xenophobia mixed into it. But what we are also seeing, it seems to me, is the manifest return of a distinctive political and intellectual tendency with deep roots: reactionism.
I Am Cancer: The view from eviction court – Kevin D. Williamson, National Review Online
“My check didn’t come.” Eviction court is not the saddest place in the world, but if you were taking a Dantean descent through the underworld of underclass despair and dysfunction, it would be somewhere around the fourth or fifth circle. Because my Virgil on this journey is an actual attorney, with a suit and tie and everything, the judge has moved us to the end of the docket on the theory that there might be arguments in our case, that this litigation might turn into something resembling litigation. There are not going to be any arguments, but we get to sit through a few hours’ worth of very sad stories. I think the lawyer enjoys this even less than I do, even though he gets paid by the hour.
The woman whose check did not come is on disability. (There’s a lot of that here.) That is the check she was expecting, which did not come, for . . . some reason. But whatever her disability is, it does not appear to be the worst of her problems. She has a daughter and a man in her life (it is not clear whether he is her husband or the girl’s father or both or neither), and they are obliged to maintain two separate households, “because of the domestic . . . event . . . that happened,” she explains.
The teacher in me cannot help but notice that when it comes time to explain the facts of the case, the people in this courtroom rarely appear as the subjects in their own sentences. A “domestic event” just “happened,” and now the man in her life cannot reside under the same roof as her daughter — or Child Protective Services will take that daughter away. Which means that after her eviction (which is never seriously in doubt) she cannot rely on the person upon whom most people in her situation instinctively would rely.
The Right Needs Better Storytellers: Tell better stories or lose the argument – Noah Rothman, Commentary Magazine
With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the already distorted health-care marketplace became even more uncoupled from market forces. The public has predictably sought out cues to help them navigate a confusing minefield of convoluted policy and high-stakes politics. One of the most useful navigation tools is the personal story—and here the GOP finds itself outgunned.
The Republican predicament is illustrated in the cultural response to a monologue by late-night host Jimmy Kimmel who, through tears, made an impassioned plea to President Donald Trump and the GOP not to decrease public funding for or access to health insurance. It was a touching moment, and a personal one: Kimmel’s infant son struggles with a congenital cardiac condition and required open-heart surgery.
The response from America’s political actors has been predictably opportunistic. Democrats who believe they can use Kimmel’s anguish to salvage ObamaCare latched onto it and the discussion it sparked. In that craven act, at least Democrats got the tone right. Their Republican counterparts clearly do not know how to respond. The right’s most unapologetically caustic communicators were devoid of compassion for Kimmel’s circumstances. More empathetic conservatives shared the ABC host’s pain but criticized his judgment. Point, Democrats.
President Donald Trump will soon have to decide what to do about Afghanistan. After weeks of wrangling inside his national security cabinet, top officials on Friday agreed on the broad outlines of a strategy to prosecute America’s longest war. The interventionists prevailed.
According to administration officials familiar with the deliberations of the cabinet’s principals committee, the proposed Afghanistan strategy would tie the U.S. to the success of President Ashraf Ghani’s ambitious plan to build up an inclusive government and regain territory from the Taliban. While the strategy envisions eventually forging a peace deal with the Taliban, in the meantime it would increase the pace of strikes — to encourage the Taliban to negotiate.
The new strategy, according to these officials, is not cheap. There would be a baseline of at least $23 billion a year to support a variety of initiatives in Afghanistan, not only subsidizing Afghan police and military forces but also funding anti-corruption programs and other priorities. If that sounds expensive, bear in mind the untold costs if the U.S. instead failed to support Afghanistan’s recovery and the country became a safe haven for terrorists like it was before 9/11. While no troop numbers have been set, U.S. officials told me they would envision an increase in both U.S. and NATO forces inside the country.
Liberals for Capital, Conservatives for Labor? – Jay Cost, The Weekly Standard
In the heart of Wall Street, a new statue is causing quite a kerfuffle. Sponsored by State Street Global Advisors, one of the world’s largest asset-management firms, the “Fearless Girl” was installed earlier this year to stand in front of the famous “Charging Bull” in Bowling Green Park, just a short walk from the New York Stock Exchange.
Arturo Di Modica, the sculptor of the Charging Bull, has asked for Fearless Girl to be taken down. This prompted public defenses on Twitter from Mayor Bill de Blasio and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, two of the nation’s most prominent progressives, who celebrated the new statue as a statement of feminist resolve.
What a strange “issue” for progressives to fuss over! Conservatives do not have a dog in this hunt, but it is still a fascinating illustration of how the political left has evolved over the last century: What was once a farmer-labor coalition is increasingly Wall Street-friendly and centered around upper-middle-class cultural anxieties.
Late last week, we broke the story that there could soon be another game in town for conservative news viewers looking for a competitor to Fox News.
As we reported Friday: “A well-placed source close to the proposal tells Mediaite that serious discussions are underway to create an alternative conservative cable network on the belief that the Fox News Network is moving too far to the left. The source, who is engaged in the talks, says a meeting is planned for today with two prominent high-powered television executives, some underperforming conservative networks and people who have an interest and the ability to fund a new network.”
Since we first published that story, a senior TV executive involved in those discussions not only confirmed our story, but told us that it could come to fruition within a year:
“I’m working on it (the new conservative channel) hot and heavy. . . It’s live, it’s real.” We are told by two sources involved, that the meeting Friday led to even more confidence that the network will soon become a reality.
Now, with the announcement that Fox news co-President Bill Shine is “resigning” from Fox News, there is a newfound focus on Fox talent and in particular, Sean Hannity, the last remaining original star from the Fox News lineup.
Satire piece of the week
SEATTLE, WA—Progressive Christian blogger Briana Smith, who recently dared to part ways with conservative evangelical doctrine, suffered brutal persecution in the form of a six-figure book deal from Evermergent Books, sources confirmed Thursday.
The popular “mom blogger” recently came out in favor of committed same-sex relationships on her blog, and according to Smith, the mistreatment and character assassinations began almost immediately.
“The first attack came in the form of an exclusive interview with Oprah,” she said tearfully. “But the persecution didn’t stop there: next, I got a healthy cash advance for a book covering my journey out of orthodoxy.”
“It’s not easy being brutalized with interviews, book deals, speaking engagements, and encouraging tweets from people like Rachel Held Evans and Jonathan Merritt telling me how awesome and brave I am, but I must make a stand for what is right,” she added.
At publishing time, Smith had broken down weeping after suffering vicious persecution by being asked to appear on “The View.”
Thanks for reading!