Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Someone’s Going To Emergency

I wrote earlier about people who willingly vote against their own self-interest because of their fear of “something out there” such as affordable health care is going to ruin their lives.  Here’s a perfect example via Vox:

CORBIN, Kentucky — Kathy Oller is so committed to her job signing up fellow Kentuckians for Obamacare that last Halloween, she dressed up as a cat, set up a booth at a trick-or-treat event, and urged people to get on the rolls. She’s enrolled so many people in the past three years that she long ago lost count.

“Must be somewhere in the thousands,” she said to me one morning at a local buffet restaurant where she’d just finished an enrollment event with the staff.

The health care law has helped lots of people in Whitley County, where Oller works. The uninsured rate has fallen from 25 percent in 2013 to 10 percent today, according to data from the nonprofit Enroll America. Overall, Kentucky is now tied with West Virginia for the biggest increase in health coverage.

But Obamacare’s success in Whitley County and across Kentucky hasn’t translated into political support for the law. In fact, 82 percent of Whitley voters supported Donald Trump in the presidential election, even though he promised to repeal it.

Oller voted for Trump too.

“I found with Trump, he says a lot of stuff,” she said. “I just think all politicians promise you everything and then we’ll see. It’s like when you get married — ‘Oh, honey, I won’t do this, oh, honey, I won’t do that.’”

I spent last week in southeastern Kentucky talking to Obamacare enrollees, all of whom supported Trump in the election, trying to understand how the health care law factored into their decisions.

Many expressed frustration that Obamacare plans cost way too much, that premiums and deductibles had spiraled out of control. And part of their anger was wrapped up in the idea that other people were getting even better, even cheaper benefits — and those other people did not deserve the help.

There was a persistent belief that Trump would fix these problems and make Obamacare work better. I kept hearing informed voters, who had watched the election closely, say they did hear the promise of repeal but simply felt Trump couldn’t repeal a law that had done so much good for them. In fact, some of the people I talked to hope that one of the more divisive pieces of the law — Medicaid expansion — might become even more robust, offering more of the working poor a chance at the same coverage the very poor receive.

So these people who have been presented with irrefutable evidence that Trump lies about everything from the size of his hands to the size of his fortunes; who can’t keep a story straight sometimes within one sentence and who has promised them the moon and everything else are sure that he won’t follow through on his promise to repeal Obamacare and might even make it better while at the same time kicking the “welfare queens” to the curb.

It’s really hard to muster up any sympathy for these people.  Yes, of course it will be very tough on them when the Republicans knock them off their insurance and privatize Medicare so that they’re left holding the bag on everything from routine tests like mammograms to emergency care.  But they had a good thing going and they willingly voted for the guy who said he’ll take it away because he’s white and he’s not really gonna do it, right?

Here’s a lesson they teach you at the poker table: If you can’t spot the mark at the table, you’re the mark.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Paying The Price

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who will replace Harry Reid as Senate Minority Leader in January, is planning to stand athwart the nomination of Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) as the Secretary of HHS and make him answerable for his plans to privatize Medicare and repeal Obamacare.

“Between this nomination, an avowed Medicare opponent, and Republicans here in Washington threatening to privatize Medicare, it’s clear that Washington Republicans are plotting a war on seniors next year,” Schumer said at a press conference Tuesday on Capitol Hill. “Every senior in America should hear this loudly and clearly: Democrats will not let them win that fight.”

The ironic thing is, as Steve M notes, is that if Mr. Price is successful, the people who will suffer the most — those who will either be without insurance or can no longer afford it — will not blame their situation on Trump or the Republicans.  Just as the housing and foreclosure crisis of 2008 was not the fault of the banks who conned the unqualified buyers into junk mortgages but the buyers themselves, the Republicans who get the frantic calls from their constituents will blame it on either the Democrats or, more likely, on President Obama for making them think that healthcare was somehow a right and that everyone should have it regardless of their medical situation.  And they will believe it.

Good luck with that fight, Sen. Schumer.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Short Takes

South Korean president offers to resign.

Charter plane crashes in Colombia with 81 aboard; there are survivors.

Suspect at Ohio State posted rant before attack.

Trump said to pick Obamacare opponent to run HHS.

North Dakota governor orders pipeline protestors to leave in advance of winter.

Monday, November 21, 2016

“Keep Your Government Hands Off My Medicare”

We all laughed when the Tea Partiers claimed that Obamacare would take away their Medicare, hence the hand-painted signs referenced in the title that were mounted on numerous scooters paid for by Medicare.  Little did they know that it was their imagined GOP saviors who would threaten it.

keep-government-out-of-medicare-11-21-16

The balloons had barely been popped at the Trump victory party when the Republicans announced through Speaker Paul Ryan that the first thing they’d do after repealing Obamacare was to radically alter Medicare from its current state to a privatized system of credits and vouchers.  They claim they will improve it and save the taxpayers billions of dollars.

Actually, their plan is to undo as much of the last eighty years of social welfare as they can in as short a time as possible because nothing works better than the free market, and if you really believe that, I can get you a scholarship to Trump University.

In reality, Medicare is working pretty damn well for a program that covers millions of people, and it is solvent for the foreseeable future.  But those niggling little facts are not enough to stop the GOP from trying to take it away.

Josh Marshall at TPM has been following this story closely and he says that if the Democrats can stop the destruction of Medicare, they will have accomplished two things.  First, preserving a program that works, and second, stopping the Trump/Ryan juggernaut of turning the country over to right-wing nostrums and bamboozlement.

There are numerous fronts where Democrats will need to resist Trump and the Republican Congress. But to be really effective anywhere they will need to chalk up wins somewhere because all political power is unitary. A president can’t suffer a deflating defeat in one area without it eroding his power in others. Victories operate in the same way. Power gained or lost in one sphere translates into every other.

Stopping Republicans on Medicare Phaseout will reduce their ability to push their damaging agenda on other fronts.

The final point should be the most obvious. Donald Trump won the presidency promising to defend the economic interests of ordinary people from the ‘crooked’ elite on Wall Street and in Washington. Whether or not he believes or believed that he has rapidly allied himself with the Paul Ryan privatizers who want to eviscerate the federal programs which are the bedrock of the American middle class. Social Security and Medicare are at the top of that list. If you look at the faces in the crowds at Trump’s most poisonous speeches I guarantee that you that very few of those people thought they were voting to lose their Medicare.

Getting rid of or gutting Medicare is incredibly unpopular. It can only be accomplished by a mixture of bamboozlement, scare tactics and unified party government which will allow the GOP to push the change through regardless of public opinion. Saving Medicare or giving everything in the effort to do so is a tailor-made way for Democrats to cut across the Trump-Clinton divide and undermine the idea that Trump or the GOP have the interests of the middle class or really anyone but libertarians and the extremely wealthy at heart.

Speaking as someone who will be signing up for Medicare within the next six to eight months, I have a vested interest in seeing that it doesn’t happen.  If we can stop their looting there, we can stop them in other places as well.  This is a fight worth having.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Not So Fast

Obamacare may outlast the Trump administration.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) warned Thursday that it could take years to fully repeal and replace Obamacare.

[…]

“Eventually, we’ll need 60 votes to complete the process of replacing Obamacare and repealing it because Obamacare was not passed by reconciliation it was passed by 60 votes. And it was cleaned up by reconciliation because Scott Brown won his election,” Alexander said. “Before the process is over, we’ll need a consensus to complete it, and I imagine this will take several years to completely make that sort of transition to make sure we do no harm, create a good health care system that everyone has access to and that we repeal the parts of Obamacare that need to be repealed.”

By that time they’ll have found other shiny objects to chase.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Short Takes

Senate Zika bill blocked by Planned Parenthood fight.

Trump denies any wrongdoing in donation to Bondi campaign.

ITT Tech shuts down after USDOE cuts off student loan support.

Gretchen Carlson gets $20 million and apology in Fox sexual harassment suit.

Giant pandas no longer on the endangered species list.

Tropical Update: Invest 92L isn’t moving yet.

The Tigers lost to the White Sox 2-0.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Short Takes

Death toll from Louisiana flooding reaches 10.

Convicted Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane resigns.

Aetna Insurance drops out of Obamacare.

July was the hottest month on record.

North Carolina wants the Supreme Court to put a hold on voter I.D. ruling.

R.I.P. John McLaughlin, 89, right-wing ex-priest Nixon apologist turned TV pundit.  Bye-bye.

Tropical Update: There’s a wave coming off Africa that could develop into something.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Short Takes

Report: ISIS loses control of Libyan stronghold.

Putin accuses Ukraine of plotting terror in Crimea.

Extent of bias in Baltimore police department stuns activists.

Zika cases rise in Miami as officials try to keep citizens calm.

What turned Rio’s diving pool green?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Sunday Reading

The Trouble with Corey — Margaret Talbot at The New Yorker on hiring campaign insiders as network pundits.

This week, Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN, offered an upbeat assessment of one of the network’s newest additions, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, whom Zucker hired as an on-air political commentator in June. “I actually think he’s done a really nice job,” Zucker said in an interview with Variety. “He’s come under a much greater spotlight because of who he is, and the relationship he’s had with the media. As a result, people are going to be more critical.” It’s hard to know quite what to make of this. Bosses like to stand by their hiring decisions when they can—fair enough. But Lewandowski has manifestly not been doing a “really nice job” in his new role, unless his role is not so much to comment on the Trump campaign as to embody the pathologies of it.

The trouble with Lewandowski is not that he came out of a campaign or that he is clearly partisan. Both cable and broadcast networks have been hiring people answering to that description for years—Democrats like Paul Begala and David Axelrod, Republicans like Nicolle Wallace and Karl Rove—with the idea that, taken en masse, their perspectives add up to a kind of nonpartisan X-ray of American politics. Those old hands may be prone to repeating their parties’ talking points, but at least they have experience in the White House or in multiple campaigns, and they know they’re supposed to be offering some kind of insider’s insight into the process that may not always pay robotic obeisance to the candidate they worked for most recently. Most of the time, that campaign was long enough ago that they aren’t still being paid severance by it, as Lewandowski is. (To be fair, his CNN interlocutors say so every time he is introduced on air.)

Lewandowski, though, is a special case. CNN hired him just a few days after the Trump campaign fired him. As Trump’s adjutant, he had upheld an authoritarian attitude toward the press, banning the Washington Post, among other media outlets Trump doesn’t care for, from covering the candidate’s events. On his first CNN appearance, on June 25th, Lewandowski would neither confirm nor deny having signed a “non-disparagement” agreement of the kind other former Trump employees have. (In that interview, the CNN anchor Erin Burnett produced an example that read: “During the term of your service and at all times thereafter, you hereby promise and agree not to demean or disparage publicly the company, Mr. Trump, any Trump company, any family member, or any family member company.”) But, if he did, and if he were worried about being sued or just frozen out by Trump—not unreasonable worries, in his position—that would certainly make it unlikely he would say anything critical or even specific or surprising about his former boss.

Yet that was something his new CNN bosses could reasonably have expected: a few crisp anecdotes, a little texture, a sprinkling of behind-the-scenes flavor. Zucker said in the Variety interview that the network simply needed someone representing the G.O.P. nominee’s point of view: “It’s hard to find a lot of those. Our competitors tried to hire [Lewandowski], too.” But Lewandowski’s signal quality is a kind of unsmiling, nonironic loyalty that admits of no countermanding or even complicating detail; he’s like the ultimate faithful retainer, still fixedly serving his master as the mansion crumbles around him—Erich von Stroheim in “Sunset Boulevard.” He refers to Trump as “Mr. Trump” and speaks reverently about “the family,” meaning Trump’s family. When that interview with Burnett turned to how he felt about having been fired, Lewandowski said, “I’d go back and do it exactly the same way, only better. And if I did something to disappoint the family and I didn’t accomplish what they needed, then they do what they need to do, because the campaign is bigger than Corey Lewandowski.” He said he was “fully committed”—meaning fully committed to Trump. “In my private time with my family and my friends, I’m telling everybody that I know that Donald Trump is the only person who’s going to save the country for my children and, hopefully, their children someday.”

At one point, Burnett asked for a little glimpse into the process by which Trump was then picking a Vice-President. Campaign staff members are always coy about this, but there are ways of saying something moderately substantive about what the candidate’s priorities are, and, anyway, Lewandowski wasn’t working for the campaign anymore. This is what he said: “There’s been some speculation out there that people don’t want to be part of this. It’s absolutely the opposite. Every person that he has talked to, every person that he has had an interest in talking to, has reaffirmed with one-hundred-per-cent certainty that they would be absolutely welcome on the ticket.” Absolutely, one hundred per cent: you get the picture.

Lewandowski has not grown into his job since. It could still happen, I suppose. Once in a while, as Callum Borchers pointed out, in the Washington Post, Lewandowski will emit a brief display of empathy. Lewandowski’s CNN colleagues have been doing their best, and when the dogged Alisyn Camerota asked if he could understand why some people might look askance at Trump’s comments about Brexit and the falling value of the pound—namely, that they would be good for business at his golf resort in Scotland—Lewandowski said he could. “This qualifies as progress,” Borchers wrote. “He is at least capable of seeing a non-Trump point of view and granting an unfriendly premise.” Borchars continued,

For the most part, however, Lewandowski is bad television. He remains prone to spouting fiction and doesn’t stay on-topic, grinding segments to a halt as CNN hosts have to correct his misinformation or interject to steer the conversation back to the point.

Since then, some of Lewandowski’s more memorable moments have included a weird outburst with Christine Quinn, the former speaker of the New York City Council and a designated liberal commentator who he’s often been paired with on air. When Quinn, gesturing, brushed his hand with hers in the midst of a heated exchange about Trump’s reaction to the Khan family, he snapped, “Don’t touch me!” And then he said it again.

This week, Lewandowski distinguished himself by reviving the birther canard—the thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. One of the other panelists that night, Angela Rye, remarked, “Donald Trump has been attacking the President long before he began campaigning for this important office. He is the one who was the spokesperson of the birther movement” and “saying the President was an affirmative-action admittee of Harvard.”

Though she was bringing this up only to establish that Trump had long had it in for Obama, Lewandowski hijacked the conversation: “Did he ever release his transcripts or his admission to Harvard University? You raised the issue, so just yes or no. The answer is no.” After they had wrangled for a few more minutes, Lewandowski went full birther. “And the question was: Did he get in as a U.S. citizen, or was he brought into Harvard University as a citizen who wasn’t from this country?” he said.

Birtherism was the crucible and the template for Trump’s Presidential campaign. It foreshadowed so many of its hallmarks: dog-whistle racism, the brazen spreading of thoroughly disproven allegations, the just sayin’ tone in which Trump smears people. Advancing birtherism in the guise of political analysis is a firing offense. But then there have been so many already. Earlier this summer, Politico reported that the publisher HarperCollins was backing away from a $1.2 million offer to Lewandowski to write a book about his time on the campaign, “Let Trump Be Trump.” According to Politico, the publisher had decided that Lewandowski’s non-disclosure agreement would prevent him from producing anything valuable enough. Too bad CNN didn’t reach a similar conclusion.

Florida vs. Women and Zika — Nina Liss-Schultz in Mother Jones.

Last week, Florida authorities reported the first cases of local Zika transmission, which means that Zika-infected mosquitos are now in the continental United States. The cases prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to warn pregnant women against traveling to the part of Miami where the cases were found, the first advisory of its kind in the United States.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who’s been preparing for this situation for months, issued a similar message: “For women who live or work in the impacted area and are either pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, I urge you to contact your OB-GYN for guidance and to receive a Zika prevention kit.”

In June, after congressional squabbles blocked federal funding for Zika prevention and response, the Republican governor announced that he’d allocated more than $26 million in state funds, part of which would pay for CDC Zika prevention kits that consist of two kinds of mosquito repellent, tablets that kill mosquitos in water, and condoms. In late July, Scott said his office and the state Department of Health were coordinating door-to-door educational outreach in the areas of concern and working “with OB-GYNs and organizations that serve pregnant women in the impacted area to distribute Zika prevention kits to pregnant women.”

But it’s unclear whether those plans have become reality. A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health wrote in an email to Mother Jones that prevention kits are available for pregnant women at OB-GYN offices, but did not specify how they were being distributed or where.

“We haven’t heard about any kits,” says Laura Goodhue, a vice president at Planned Parenthood of South, East, and North Florida. Planned Parenthood hasn’t received any Zika kits from the Florida Department of Health, nor has it received any guidance from the department about how to serve pregnant women during a possible outbreak.

How ready is the state—where almost two-thirds of pregnancies are unintended and the state government has attempted to block state funding for reproductive health clinics—to take on Zika? 

Here’s the backstory: The virus, which has spread through many parts of Latin America as well as Puerto Rico, is mostly benign for adults and causes mild flu-like symptoms. But it can cause microcephaly in fetuses, a severe and debilitating birth defect, the presence of which has ignited concerns over a global public health crisis. In March, the CDC told pregnant women to avoid traveling to Zika-infected areas in Latin America. And authorities in the region, where abortion is severely restricted and contraception is often hard to come by, took the unprecedented step of asking women to hold off on having children for as long as two years.

Florida’s recent cases of Zika weren’t the state’s first. By late July, nearly 400 cases had been reported over a period of several months, including 55 involving pregnant women. But they were all travel related, meaning someone brought the virus back from a Zika-infected region outside the United States.

The confirmation that four cases of locally transmitted Zika had been reported in a neighborhood in Miami means that mosquitos carrying the virus are now in the area. The number of confirmed cases grew to 15 in a matter of days, prompting the CDC to issue its warning. Those cases are a big deal because scientists warn that infected mosquitos are necessary for the virus to really spread. (Scientists still say, however, that we should not expect a widespread Zika epidemic in the United States.)

A big part of the defense against infection for women in Florida appears to be the Zika prevention kits and OB-GYN outreach, but the Scott administration’s strategy is unclear. The Planned Parenthood affiliate operates three clinics in Miami-Dade County, which has the fourth-highest uninsured rate in the country, and another just over the border in Broward County. The women’s health care organization serves tens of thousands of people per year, many of whom are low-income and without insurance—and more likely to get pregnant by accident. As Laura Goodhue notes, they have not received a single kit.

A spokesperson for Today’s Women Medical Centers, which offers family planning, prenatal, and abortion services, also said her clinic has not heard from Gov. Scott’s office or the state Department of Health about what help to offer women facing Zika. They also do not have CDC Zika prevention kits.

Goodhue says Scott’s efforts to curtail reproductive health clinics in Florida has damaged his efforts for Zika prevention. Most recently, Scott signed a bill that would block state funding for many reproductive health clinics, including Planned Parenthood and Today’s Women Medical Centers. Planned Parenthood sued the state, and the law is not currently being enforced, but, Goodhue says, Scott “has placed barriers on affordable health care, birth control, and contraception.”

So far, the Florida Department of Health has confirmed one case of microcephaly in an infant whose mother contracted Zika while in Haiti. There are no cases of currently pregnant women with microcephaly diagnoses. But if there were, her options would be limited: the state restricts public insurance coverage for abortion, and prevents health insurance providers on the Obamacare exchange from covering abortion, with no exception for fetal anomaly. There is also a ban on abortion after 24 weeks.

Jeri Bustamante, a spokeswoman for Scott, wouldn’t comment on whether Scott’s efforts to block funding for reproductive health clinics might be undermining his fight against Zika, but she did point out that the Department of Health is now testing pregnant women for Zika at no cost, and that, for now, the virus is contained to a small neighborhood in Miami. “We want to emphasize it is just within one square mile,” she said.

How to Watch the Rio Olympics — David Sims at The Atlantic has a viewers guide.

Watching the Olympics is a multimedia experience that should be perfectly suited to the age of TV streaming. Want to catch a volleyball game without missing that day’s individual dressage? For the most part you can: Viewers are no longer shackled to time-delayed primetime broadcasts for the events they want to watch. Indeed, watching the 2016 Rio Games, which begin with the Opening Ceremony at 7:30 p.m. on Friday August 5, will be easier than ever thanks to NBC’s blanket approach to airing thousands of hours of events both on cable and online. Unfortunately, the best viewing experience will mostly entail a cable subscription, but there are a few other ways to watch in the U.S. without shelling out too many extra dollars.

NBC will broadcast the Olympics …

The network paid the dear price of $1.2 billion to secure broadcasting rights for the Rio Games. After the opening ceremony on Friday, the network will air prime-time Olympic coverage for the entire two weeks of the Games. Viewers can catch up on the day’s biggest highlights from 8 p.m. to midnight every day, presented by hosts including Bob Costas, Ryan Seacrest, Al Michaels, Rebecca Lowe, and Dan Patrick. The channel will also air live coverage for most of the day, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., until the Games end on August 21.

The main NBC broadcast will feature the biggest events: Swimming, gymnastics, diving, beach volleyball, and anything else the United States excels at, but it should dip into all of the most newsworthy events as they play out. Unlike the Summer Games of the recent past (which took place in Sydney, Athens, Beijing, and London), the games in Rio will be easier for American viewers to keep track of during the day, because the city’s time zone is only one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

… But other cable channels are airing events too

If NBC isn’t airing anything of interest, there are many other cable channels that are part of the NBCUniversal umbrella. NBC Sports will be the primary backup network, focusing on basketball and soccer. The Golf Channel will, unsurprisingly, be the home of golf, which is returning to the Olympics for the first time since 1904. Bravo will feature tennis; CNBC has a number of events including volleyball, cycling, and wrestling; MSNBC counts rugby and water polo among its sports; Telemundo will broadcast hundreds of hours in Spanish; and USA will carry more basketball, along with beach volleyball, rowing, synchronized swimming, and more.

Cord-cutters might have a tricky time of it

Beyond that, the NBC Sports app and NBCOlympics.com will stream some 4,500 hours of events that don’t make it to TV, but you’ll need a cable login to view anything for more than 30 minutes. NBC has also been smart enough to respond to criticisms of its past Olympic coverage by further expanding the viewing options online. Still, in an era of binge-watchers and cord-cutters, the Olympics are the kind of live event that the network will try to milk for every possible dollar, younger viewers be damned.

NBC’s approach is emblematic of the new path major networks have to chart in an era where ratings are more diluted than ever. No longer can it rely on its regular prime-time hits to generate ad revenue—most of the younger generation is happy to wait for it to appear on Hulu or Netflix months later, ready for binge-watching. The Olympics have been viewed for years as a prestige event, a gaudy laurel for NBC that couldn’t possibly justify the immense cost needed to secure the broadcast rights, though that has begun to change.

But there are work-aroundsInternet-only viewers can subscribe to NBC’s cable channels through PlayStation Vue, which is available on PlayStations, Roku boxes, and Amazon Fire TV, for between $30 and $40 a month. Apple TV users can also get access to some of the channels—NBC, NBC Sports, MSNBC, CNBC, USA, and Bravo—through Sling TV, a $25-a-month TV streaming service available as an app.

What about 2020?

This year, NBC agreed to pay a staggering $7.75 billion for the rights to future Olympics through 2032. Back in 2010, the network was judged to have vastly overpaid for the Sochi Winter Games, losing hundreds of millions because of the steep price paid to broadcast them. But live events like the Olympics are increasingly the kind of coveted property that advertising executives know viewers will actually tune into, rather than relying on their DVRs so they can skip through the commercials.

The network had assumed it would lose $200 million on the 2012 London Games; it ended up breaking even, because of higher-than-expected ratings. The seemingly vast overpay for the Olympics through 2032 is a bet on the future of TV, where live events will be the main purpose of broadcasting. That’s why Comcast, the cable company that now owns NBCUniversal, is rolling out a new set-top box that will offer access to real-time high-definition Olympic streams as well as regular cable programming. The 2016 Games might be a risky proposition for the government of Brazil and the athletes attending, but they may well prove a safer bet than expected for NBC.

 Doonesbury — Shilling for Roger.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Short Takes

President Obama says Donald Trump is “unfit for duty.”

Hillary Clinton gains in national polling.

Miami Zika virus patient count up to fifteen.

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton set to retire.

Tropical Update:  TS Earl forms in the Caribbean and heads west.

The Tigers extended their winning streak to seven by beating the White Sox 11-5.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sunday Reading

Mike Pence vs. Women — Joan Walsh in The Nation on Trump’s VP pick.

It looks like Donald Trump blinked.

After a 13-month battle with the Republican establishment in which he won most every skirmish, Trump appears to be acting responsibly, as his campaign confirmed the news that he’d chosen mild-mannered Indiana Governor Mike Pence to be his vice-presidential nominee. It was hard to believe that was Trump’s first choice. There had been lots of reporting that he wanted Newt Gingrich (why not, God, why not?) and, despite New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s legal baggage (plus Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s mortal grudge against Christie for sending his father to jail), it seemed like Trump found in Christie a kindred soul/bully as well. But he was by most accounts scheduled to introduce the white-haired establishment favorite, Mike Pence, at an event in Trump Tower on Friday.

Then came the horrific attack in Nice, France, and late Thursday Trump announced he would postpone his VP announcement, presumably out of respect for the victims. (By the way, the Tour de France went on.) Then he said he’d take the weekend to continue mulling his choice, before tweeting official confirmation of his selection on Friday morning. If this is how Donald Trump makes decisions in real time, he is not looking terribly presidential.

Putting aside the drama of the past 24 hours, it’s worth looking closely at Pence, because he tells us a few things, too—about what counts as “establishment” in today’s GOP.

If Trump thinks he’s getting a running mate who can appeal to the center and swing voters, he’s wrong about that. Pence is so far right when it comes to women’s and LGBT issues, he makes Trump look like a Democrat. Frankly, he’s a smooth-talking Todd Akin.

In Congress, Pence co-sponsored a bill that would have redefined rape and limited federal funding for abortion to women who suffered “forcible rape”—what Akin famously described as “legitimate rape” when he doomed his 2012 Senate bill. Pence is also the guy who began the GOP’s ugly and so far unsuccessful crusade to defund Planned Parenthood, back in 2007. “He’s the only one I know of who has been so completely obsessed with Planned Parenthood,” Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said back then. “This just seems to be an enormous focus of his.” Of course, Pence got more company in the Tea Party Congress of 2011, and that year he threatened to shut down the government over continued Planned Parenthood funding.

Since becoming governor in 2013, Pence has signed various anti-abortion bills and succeeded in defunding Planned Parenthood in his state. That helped lead to a devastating resurgence of HIV/AIDS, since Planned Parenthood was one of a few providers of HIV testing in the state.

Unfortunately, there’s not much daylight between Trump and Pence on the issue of Planned Parenthood. Although daughter Ivanka reportedly got Trump to say nice things about the group’s women’s-health work earlier this year, both he and Pence have said that if Planned Parenthood wants to continue providing primary care for women, and crucial screenings for breast and cervical cancers, it should stop providing abortions.

“If Planned Parenthood wants to be involved in providing counseling services and HIV testing, they ought not be in the business of providing abortions,” Pence told a Vox reporter. “As long as they aspire to do that, I’ll be after them.” Sounds like Trump: “Millions of women have been helped by Planned Parenthood. But we’re not going to allow, and we’re not going to fund, as long as you have the abortion going on at Planned Parenthood, and we understand that and I’ve said it loud and clear.”

Also, Trump has promised to punish women for getting abortions (and then flip-flopped); Pence has actually done so. In Indianapolis, 30-year-old Purvi Patel was prosecuted for using the pills doctors prescribe for early pregnancy termination allegedly later in her term. Her conviction is being appealed.

Of course, Pence is probably best known nationally for supporting one of the nation’s toughest so-called “Religious Freedom” laws, and then backing down when big businesses from Apple to SalesForce to Angie’s List said they’d curtail commerce in his state. Pence says he “fixed” the law, but LGBT advocates don’t entirely buy it. Conservatives do, however, and they consider Pence a traitor for bowing to business.

Pence is an odd choice, for many reasons: He’s got low approval ratings in his home state and faces a tough reelection battle. He supports free trade and opposes Trump’s Muslim ban. The Indiana governor endorsed Texas Senator Ted Cruz just before the state’s crucial primary in May, but said wishy-washy nice things about Trump, too. When Trump crushed Cruz in Indiana, Pence got on the Trump train. He was ready to move up front and sit alongside the leader. But now he’s sitting in a New York hotel waiting for an announcement that may never come.

Reportedly, Trump was angered by the leaks about Pence on Thursday and believed they came from the Indiana camp. For a while on Thursday, Newt Gingrich apparently still thought he was in the race; he came out last night with a proposal to “deport” all Muslims from the United States if they won’t denounce Sharia law—perhaps to remind Trump that Pence opposes such restrictions on Muslims.

Of course, journalists hoped Trump would pick either the voluble Gingrich or the combative Christie, to make the race more fun. I don’t think Hillary Clinton much cares which of the men Trump chooses; they will all send women voters into the Democratic camp even faster than they’ve been running from Trump.

Turkey’s Purge — Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker.

The coup in Turkey is over, and now the purge begins.

On Saturday, Turkish soldiers and police—those who had remained loyal to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during the uncertain hours of the previous day—were rounding up their enemies across the security services, reportedly arresting thousands. There will be thousands more. In the high-stakes world of Turkish politics—nominally democratic but played with authoritarian ferocity—justice for the losers will be swift and brutal.

The remarkable thing about Friday’s coup attempt is not that it failed, but that, after years of Erdoğan’s relentless purging of his opposition, there was a faction inside the Turkish military strong enough to mount one at all.

The confrontation was a long time coming. When Erdoğan first became Prime Minister, in 2003, he was the Islamic world’s great democratic hope, a leader of enormous vitality who would show the world that an avowedly Islamist politician could lead a stable democracy and carry on as a member of NATO, too.

Those hopes evaporated quickly. Erdoğan, who was elected Turkey’s president in 2014, has taken a page from Vladimir Putin’s playbook, using democratic institutions to legitimize his rule while crushing his opponents, with an eye to ultimately smothering democracy itself. Over the past decade, Erdoğan has silenced, marginalized, or crushed nearly anyone in the country who might oppose him, including newspaper editors, university professors, aid workers, and dissident politicians. (What an irony that Erdoğan, who has imprisoned so many journalists, and gone to great lengths to censor Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, may have saved his Presidency by using FaceTime to make an early Saturday appearance on a Turkish television news channel.) President Obama and other Western leaders, seeing Erdoğan as a bulwark against chaos, largely gave him a pass. In his most recent grab for authoritarian powers, Erdoğan pushed through a law that stripped members of parliament of immunity from prosecution, a measure that his critics fear, with good reason, that he will use to remove the few remaining lawmakers who still oppose him.

Then there’s the military. Since the Turkish republic was founded, in 1923, the county’s generals have imagined themselves the ultimate arbiters of the its politics, stepping into power—sometimes savagely—whenever they felt the government had become either too leftist or too Islamic. (After the military overthrew a democratically elected government in 1960, the generals executed the Prime Minister.) The military has had a special contempt for Erdoğan, whom they regarded as a dangerous Islamist—but they have proven no match for him.

In 2007, Erdoğan’s henchmen initiated a series of show trials, known collectively as Sledgehammer, in which fabricated evidence was used to remove the top tier of the Turkish officer corps. Hundreds were sent to prison, and the military itself seemed banished from politics forever. Indeed, Erdoğan must have been surprised that there was still a dissident faction of the armed forces large enough to try to bring him down. On Friday, the coup’s organizers didn’t even have the sense to detain the man they were trying to overthrow, and they apparently never seriously contemplated shooting their way into the palace. (After a coup in 1980, the military killed and imprisoned tens of thousands.) In the wake of their failure, the military will be soon be under Erdoğan’s total control, like virtually every other institution in the country.

In his dramatic appearance at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport on Friday night, Erdoğan blamed the insurrection on the exiled cleric Fatullah Gulen, a reclusive figure who lives in the Poconos. “I have a message for Pennsylvania,’’ Erdoğan said, a reference that must have baffled many non-Turks. “You have engaged in enough treason against this nation. If you dare, come back to your country.”

Gulen, an aging cleric who heads one of the world’s largest Islamic orders, fled Turkey in 1999, when it appeared that the military was going to arrest him. For years, he was one of Erdoğan’s closest allies, helping him in his rise to power. While Gulen preaches a message of love and tolerance, there has often been something mysterious about him and his followers, who do not readily advertise either their affiliation or their intentions. Over the years, Gulen’s followers quietly found positions within many Turkish institutions, particularly the courts and police. (It was the Gulenists who led the show trials against the generals and the press.) In 2008, James Jeffrey, the American ambassador, wrote a memo about the Gulenist infiltration of the Turkish National Police. “The assertion that the T.N.P is controlled by the Gulenists is impossible to confirm, but we have found no one who disputes it,” Jeffrey said.

Then, in 2013, Gulen and Erdoğan split, in what appears to be part of a naked struggle for power. In the years since, Erdoğan has purged the courts and police of thousands of men and women presumed to be Gulen loyalists. It’s hard to know whether Gulen was behind Friday’s attempted putsch, but at this point it seems unlikely. While Gulen’s followers predominated in the security services, they were not generally believed to be a large force inside the military. It seems more likely that the officers who led the revolt represented the remnant of the military’s old secular order. Now they’re finished.

During his speech last night at the Istanbul airport, Erdoğan referred to the attempted coup as a “gift from God.” Erdoğan is usually a precise speaker, but in this case, perhaps in his excitement, he showed his cards. With the coup attempt thwarted, he will no doubt seize the moment. In recent months, Erdogan has made little secret of his desire to rewrite the constitution to give himself near total power. There will be no stopping him now.

Listen Up — Paula Span on new technology to help those of you with hearing issues.

An estimated one zillion older people have a problem like mine.

First: We notice age-related hearing loss. A much-anticipated report on hearing health from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine last month put the prevalence at more than 45 percent of those aged 70 to 74, and more than 80 percent among those over 85.

Then: We do little or nothing about it. Fewer than 20 percent of those with hearing loss use hearing aids.

I’ve written before about the reasons. High prices ($2,500 and up for a decent hearing aid, and most people need two). Lack of Medicare reimbursement, because the original 1965 law creating Medicare prohibits coverage. Time and hassle. Stigma.

Both the National Academies and the influential President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technologyhave proposed pragmatic steps to make hearing technology more accessible and affordable.

But until there’s progress on those, many of us with mild to moderate hearing loss may consider a relatively inexpensive alternative: personal sound amplification products, or P.S.A.P.s. They offer some promise — and some perils, too.

Unlike for a hearing aid, you don’t need an audiologist to obtain a P.S.A.P. You see these gizmos advertised on the back pages of magazines or on sale at drugstore chains. You can buy them online.

But they go virtually unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration. That leaves them “without the design control requirements, performance standards, technical standards or labeling requirements that apply to devices,” the National Academies report said. By law, manufacturers can’t even label or advertise P.S.A.P.s as intended to help with hearing loss.

The lack of regulation may foster faster innovation — F.D.A. approvals take time — but also creates consumer chaos.

New digital features — some P.S.A.P.s use Bluetooth technology to customize devices, and some will actually test your hearing — are sprouting like dandelions. Yet you can spend $70 or $700 on a pair with no simple way to tell helpful products from the worse-than-useless.

“The current market is pretty much a free-for-all,” said Dr. Frank Lin, an otolaryngologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a member of the National Academies committee.

“Some P.S.A.P. companies are very good, founded by former hearing aid executives and engineers,” Dr. Lin said. “The devices you see in Walmart for 40 bucks are terrible.”

Which P.S.A.P.s are the good ones? A Johns Hopkins audiologist, Nicholas Reed, has run electroacoustical tests on several devices marketed online, measuring their output or gain (translation: volume), frequency ranges and clarity, the three factors most important in helping people hear.

He has also tested them with users with mild to moderate hearing loss. (These devices won’t help people with severe hearing loss.)

Placing people in hearing booths with some background noise, he compared their hearing with various P.S.A.P.s to how well they could hear with no hearing device and with a midpriced $2,500 hearing aid.

Dr. Reed has tested just 29 participants so far, he cautioned, and real-world results will vary. Still, he and his colleagues were impressed with three P.S.A.P.s.

The Soundhawk, which operates with a smartphone, performed almost as well as the hearing aid, with a list price of $399. The CS50+, made by Soundworld Solutions, and the Bean T-Coil, from Etymotic, worked nearly as well and list for about $350.

The researchers also tested the MSA 30X, available at drugstores for $30, and found it actually increased distortion. “A pure waste of your money,” Dr. Reed said.

Dr. Lin’s research group is conducting two pilot studies that fit patients with P.S.A.P.s, and “we’re seeing very positive results,” he said.

Dr. Reed will present his findings at the International Hearing Aid Research Conference next month.

Ultimately, both the President’s Council and the National Academies committee recommend that regulators establish a new product category for these over-the-counter devices, sometimes called “hearables.” They’ve urged the F.D.A. to set specifications that ensure safety and effectiveness, and to require that devices meet certain manufacturing standards.

Then consumers can buy them with greater confidence, avoiding the “bundling” system, buttressed by state and federal laws, that makes hearing aids available only through audiologists.

(The exception: You can already buy some hearing aids online, but sometimes the only difference between them and the same devices marketed as P.S.A.P.s is their labeling.)

Industry groups have objected to changing the current setup. But the proposal resembles the way many consumers now buy eyeglasses: Get a prescription from an optician or ophthalmologist, then comparison-shop in stores or online for prices and styles.

Hearing devices require more customization and instruction than glasses. And while glasses can correct vision, no device fully restores normal hearing.

But while F.D.A.-approved hearing aids fitted by audiologists may remain the gold standard for treating hearing loss, P.S.A.P.s may have a place. “Let the consumer find the device online, and then let the audiologist charge an hourly rate to fit it,” Dr. Reed said.

Already, he added, “a lot of savvy people are doing this for themselves,” patching together systems that use over-the-counter electronics and audio equipment.

Richard Einhorn, a Manhattan composer, suddenly lost most of his hearing because of a virus in 2010. He owns high-end hearing aids, but like many users, still struggles in noisy environments like restaurants.

His solution: He removes his hearing aids and turns to his iPhone. “The iPhone has fantastic audio specifications, on par with some professional gear,” said Mr. Einhorn, 63, a board member of the Hearing Loss Association of America.

He relies on an F.D.A.-certified hearing app, the Jacoti ListenApp; a plug-in directional microphone (he uses the Shure Motiv MV88); and quality earphones. (Disclosure: He serves as a consultant for Jacoti.)

Thus equipped, “you can hear really well in situations where even a hearing aid doesn’t work so well,” Mr. Einhorn said.

You’d hope that Medicare would eventually reconsider its policy on covering hearing devices, a step the National Academies report also urged.

The aging of the population means many more Americans will confront age-related hearing loss, and researchers have shown that it contributes not only to social isolation, but to increased risks of falls, poor health and hospitalization, cognitive decline and dementia.

Yet treating hearing loss has been largely an all-or-nothing proposition. You pay an audiologist lots of money, or you blast your TV and ask friends to repeat themselves. A third option, F.D.A.-regulated P.S.A.P.s, might represent a simpler, cheaper solution.

“Do you have to put in a hearing device that’s 100 percent perfect?” Dr. Reed said. “Maybe 85 percent is enough to improve your life.”

Doonesbury — Wear this to remind yourself and others.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Friday, June 10, 2016

Proudly powered by WordPress
Theme based on Toolbox by Automattic.
Designed and Implemented for BBWW by CLWill