Friday, December 09, 2016

December 07, 2016
It’s not something that you’re likely to see in Congress any time soon, but it is the process Republicans lawmakers are planning on using to repeal major parts of the Affordable Care Act. Despite the clear success of the ACA (20 million people newly insured, an uninsured rate below 9 percent for the first time ever, and lower-than-expected costs) Trump and Republican congressional leadership remain committed to repealing the law and, reportedly, replacing it with a backpack.
Congressional Republicans' best bet at repealing key pieces of Obamacare is through the budget reconciliation process, which doesn’t require 60 votes in the Senate. But repealing major parts of the law through the reconciliation process would mean no replacement plan, backpack or otherwise, would be included. And repealing the ACA without a replacement plan, as a new Urban Institute study shows, would be disastrous. Here are some key numbers to prove it:
  • 30 million: The number of people who would lose insurance if the ACA is repealed without a replacement plan. That would more than double the number of uninsured Americans and result in a higher uninsured rate than before the ACA was passed.
  • 22.5 million: The number of people who would be uninsured as a result of eliminating key pillars of the ACA including premium tax credits, Medicaid expansion, and the individual mandate.
  • 7.3 million: The number of people who would become uninsured because of the ripple effect that will lead to the near collapse of the individual market.
  • 4 million: The number of uninsured children—more than double the current number of uninsured kids in the U.S.
  • $88 billion: The expected amount of uncompensated or charity care health care providers, including hospitals and doctors, will be forced to give in 2019 alone.

Michigan Election Officials Refuse to Recount Thousands of Ballots in State's Communities of Color

Fifty-nine percent of Detroit's precincts disqualified.

By Steven Rosenfeld / AlterNet December 6, 2016

The Green Party’s best chance to overturn a statewide victory by Donald Trump has run into a swamp of dubious election protocols in Michigan, where Detroit officials said nearly two-thirds of the precincts cannot be recounted because of poor record-keeping on or after election night—presumably the rationale for a recount.

That unexpected hurdle, which was also present in other southeastern Michigan counties with communities of color such as Flint and Lansing and where Hillary Clinton won by the largest margins, emerged as the Trump campaign and Republicans pursued appeals in federal and state courts to block the recount. (Late Tuesday, the two courts ruled it should continue.)

Meanwhile, in the state's legislature, a House committee passed a bill retroactively requiring the Greens to pay more for the recount.

“Donald Trump and GOP allies in Michigan are launching an attack against the recount, and attempting to strip the constitutional and civil rights of Michigan voters who are demanding that their voices be heard,” Jill Stein said earlier Tuesday. Her campaign is focused on verifying whether over 75,000 people did not cast votes for president in a state Trump leads by under 11,000 votes.

“In addition to verifying the reliability of our voting machines, this recount has begun to expose a modern-day electoral Jim Crow," Stein said. "Hand-counting the ballots has revealed many irregularities and red flags about the quality and maintenance of voting technology, the handling of ballots, and other aspects of election administration in communities of color. This raises serious questions about whether historically marginalized communities have been massively disenfranchised during this election.”  

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, where it does not appear Clinton will emerge as the winner in the recount, election integrity activists not working for Stein have discovered a serious security vulnerability to voting systems in many counties including Milwaukee, where ballot scanners have cellphone network SIM cards to transmit precinct vote totals to the county office. The state has said no Wisconsin voting systems are connected to the internet to guard against hackers, but one computer scientist who filed an affidavit supporting the Greens' lawsuit for hand-counting ballots said such connectivity was standard—and accessible to hackers.

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Supreme Court Throws Out $399M Judgment Against Samsung In Apple Patent Dispute

By SAM HANANEL Published DECEMBER 6, 2016, 10:23 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — A unanimous Supreme Court on Tuesday sided with smartphone maker Samsung in its high-profile patent dispute with Apple over design of the iPhone.

The justices said Samsung may not be required to pay all the profits it earned from 11 phone models because the features at issue are only a tiny part of the devices.

Apple had won a $399 million judgment against Samsung for copying parts of the iPhone's patented design, but the case now returns to a lower court to decide what Samsung must pay.

The case is part of a series of disputes between the technology rivals that began in 2011. Apple accused Samsung of duplicating a handful of distinctive iPhone features for which Apple holds patents: the flat screen, the rounded rectangle shape of the phone, and the layout of icons on the screen.

At issue was how much Samsung is required to compensate Apple under an 1887 law that requires patent infringers to pay "total profit." Apple said that meant all the profits from the phone sales, while Samsung argued it was limited to profits related to the specific components that were copied.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court that the law does not require damages to be based on the entire product, but can be limited to only a component of the product. The decision overturned a ruling from a federal appeals court in Washington, which said that Apple was entitled to all the profits.

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News and opinions in brief

GOP suddenly mulls health insurance market collapse post-Obamacare repeal (kerry Eleveld) · Monday, December 05, 2016, 10:26 pm

The GOP can't wait to make good on their six-year-old promise to repeal Obamacare. They've formed a seamless plan to repeal immediately without a replacement in sight, with the actual ACA end date effective in several years. It's gonna be so great, writes Peter Sullivan:

But industry officials and healthcare experts are warning that insurers might bail out of the system altogether once a repeal bill passes, particularly since many of them have been losing millions of dollars on ObamaCare plans.

An exodus of insurers could dramatically limit the coverage options for the roughly 10 million people enrolled in the system, potentially creating a backlash.

Oops! GOP congressional staffers are now holding discussions with insurers about ways to "prevent a breakdown in the market."

The sources say that the talks are in the early stages and that no specific policies have been decided on. [...]

One Republican lobbyist said that in discussions about a plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement, insurers are “painting a picture of the market that isn't very pretty and Republican staffers are getting the picture.” 

“They want to pump money back in to the insurers without appearing like they’re giving them a handout or bailing them out,” the lobbyist added. 

LOL. They're trying to repeal Obamacare and save it at the same time, like magic!

Elections have consequences. So does governing. That's news to Republicans after passing every half-baked wackadoodle idea they could come up with for the past six years with the safety that Obama would veto it.

GOP meet reality. Reality meet GOP.  

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State of the recount: Missing ballots in MI, lawsuit launched in PA, WI counts on, and now FL? (mark Sumner) · Tuesday, December 06, 2016, 11:59 am

In Michigan, a mismatch between the number of ballots reported and the number of ballots found in the box would seem like a good reason for a recount … except apparently not.

The computerized poll book listed the names of 848 voters who cast ballots there, but the ballot box contained just 847 ballots. So where is the other ballot? The poll workers' notes offered no explanation.

"It didn't match on the canvass and it doesn't match now," said Joe Rozell, Oakland County's director of elections. "This precinct is not recountable.

One missing ballot is enough to declare a precinct “not recountable?” This is happening a lot, and knocking out counts in hundreds of districts.

In Wayne County, about one-third of precincts showed discrepancies during the November canvass, said Krista Haroutunian, chair of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers. Those discrepancies could make those precincts — 610, including 392 in Detroit — ineligible for recount, though a final decision has yet to be made.

Plus: the Michigan legislature works to make recounts too expensive to contemplate, Maine takes a second look at its marijuana vote, and the Green Party goes before the judge in Pennsylvania. 

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Sec. John Kerry says Donald Trump did not contact State Dept. before making calls to world leaders (jen Hayden) · Monday, December 05, 2016, 6:25 pm

Donald Trump has been on a dangerous, bumbling tour of calls and visits with world leaders—and he hasn’t even taken office yet. From praising Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s vicious anti-drug campaign, which the Los Angeles Times has described as a "bloodbath that has killed 5,000 people” to going on an unprovoked, unnecessary and downright dangerous Twitter rant against trade deals with China and their controversial military bases in the South China Sea.

As if that weren’t a rocky enough start to the Trump era, Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed Trump and his team did not seek consult with the State Department:

Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday he's trying to stay "a thousand miles away from the (Donald) Trump transition process" while acknowledging neither the President-elect nor his transition team have consulted with the State Department prior to Trump's calls with foreign leaders.

President Obama and other presidents read State Department reports and take advice from career State Department employees, people who are experts in these matters, before taking any calls or meetings, many of which determine global safety and economic security. But not Donald Trump:

"We have not been contacted before any of these conversations. We have not been requested to provide talking points," Kerry said at the Saban Forum in Washington.
"I do think there's a value, obviously, on having at least the recommendations, whether you choose to follow them or not is a different issue, but I think it's valuable to ask people who've worked the desk and have worked it for a long period of time their input on what's the current state, is there some particular issue at the moment. I think that's valuable and I would certainly recommend it, but obviously that hasn't happened in a few cases.”

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Re-post of a favorite: We can explain their religion to them. but can they comprehend it?

Re-post of a favorite: When you elect a Republican, you get more war...

Five OBG political cartoons from April, 2007

Religion and the G-D War on Christmas

The price of unfettered gun access

You want the guns? You can't handle the guns. GunFail

Court Grants House GOP Request To Delay Its Anti-Obamacare Lawsuit

Lauren Fox · Monday, December 05, 2016, 3:07 pm

A federal appeals court will delay action on a House GOP lawsuit that aimed to take away subsidies the federal government grants to insurance companies to provide coverage to low-income Americans.

House Republicans asked for the delay after they won the House, the Senate and the White House in the November election and repealing the Affordable Care Act legislatively appeared to be within reach.

As TPM has previously reported, how the Trump administration and House Republicans work out the cost-sharing payments that are the focus of the lawsuit could be an early tell of how aggressive the administration will be in dismantling Obamacare.

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The Taiwan call was no 'courtesy'—Donald Trump means to wreck US–China relations (mark Sumner) · Monday, December 05, 2016, 10:53 am

Donald Trump can pretend that what happened in his chat with Taiwan’s president was “a courtesy call,”

“To be honest with you, the waters here seem like a little bit of a tempest in a teapot,” Pence said, arguing the media had stirred up any controversy. 

But his actions represent both an astounding, willful ignorance and an intentional effort to wreck U.S.—China relations.

Donald Trump’s protocol-breaking telephone call with Taiwan’s leader was an intentionally provocative move that establishes the incoming president as a break with the past, according to interviews with people involved in the planning.

The historic communication — the first between leaders of the United States and Taiwan since 1979 — was the product of months of quiet preparations and deliberations among Trump’s advisers about a new strategy for engagement with Taiwan that began even before he became the Republican presidential nominee, according to people involved in or briefed on the talks.

Trump has made the assumption that he can just wheedle, bully, threaten, and lie his way through conversations with foreign leaders. After all, it’s how he’s functioned in every other aspect of his life. And he means to push China into a corner and force a confrontation.

China’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday it had lodged “stern representations” with what it called the “relevant U.S. side,” urging caution on the issue.

And while Trump surrogates were out trying to make this sound like much ado about nothing, Donald Trump was doing what he does when challenged on any subject: making things worse.

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Tar Heel Heist: How the Charter School Industry is Hijacking Public Education

North Carolina offers a harrowing preview of what American classrooms might look like under President Trump

By Jeff Bryant / AlterNet December 2, 2016

If the American Dream is still alive – the one that includes a good job and a house with a yard, kids, and a two-car garage – you can see it taking shape in Wake County in the heart of the state of North Carolina. Signs of surging prosperity are everywhere this morning as I make my way to West Lake Middle School in Apex, NC, on the outskirts of Raleigh.

What were once sleepy two-lane country roads are now teaming with impatient commuters, school busses, and mini-vans. New housing developments, shopping centers, and office buildings are transforming the rolling Piedmont landscape.

Wake County is home to five of the fastest growing cities in the Tar Heel State, which is the state with the nation's fastest growth in economic output in 2015 at 13.4 percent.

At West Lake Middle this morning, cars and busses in the drop-off lane back up out to the main road, where commuter traffic pushes impatiently to get by. I angle my car to a visitor spot because I'm not here to drop off a child. I'm here for a protest rally.

The protest is happening because the rising tide of North Carolina's economic resurgence has yet to raise all boats. Outside the school's entrance, a gathering of students, parents, and teachers, many carrying signs declaring they are "All In for Public Schools," listen to a speaker from the state teachers' association call for better funding for local schools.

Another speaker, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia exhorts the crowd to "stand up for the needs of our students, our educators, communities, and public schools.”

In a conversation with me after the event, she explains, “When you come to a school and see how hard the teachers and staff work to address the challenges they face – the increasing class sizes, the students struggling with poverty, the lack of textbooks and basic supplies – you have to wonder why our political leaders are not working as hard to make sure schools and teachers have what they need.”

North Carolina is one of the many states providing public schools less funding per student than in 2008, according to the most recent analysis conducted by the Center on Policy and Budget Priorities. Schools remain below 2008 funding levels despite having to educate nearly 76,000 more students, according to a recent analysis by left-leaning advocacy group NC Policy Watch. The author of that analysis, Lindsay Wagner, finds that many schools have responded to budget hits by cutting textbooks, school supplies, and instruction in non-core subjects such as art and music.

A nationwide study on "school funding fairness" conducted by the Education Law Center finds North Carolina is one of the least fair states in the nation, earning a grade of "F" for its education spending in relation to the state’s economic productivity.

While the schools struggle with under-funding, they also face increased competition for funds. As Wagner reports, Republicans, who took control of the state legislature in 2010 and the governorship in 2012, are intent on expanding education options in the state by providing some parents with school vouchers to transfer their children to private schools and by increasing the number of charter schools in the state.

Charter schools – publically funded but privately operated schools generally free of most state regulations – are a favorite cause of Republican state lawmakers, and some Democrats. Former State Assembly House Majority Leader Paul Stam, who represented Apex until 2016, has said his "'dream' is that every public school will someday be a charter school," according to Bob Geary of The Indy, an independent news outlet that covers the central region of the state.

What's unclear is how a state hell-bent on financial austerity can afford to create what is essentially a new parallel school system of taxpayer supported charter schools.

Charter schools take a sizeable cut from the funding pie for education in the Tar Heel state. According to the NC Law Project, local spending on charters exceeds traditional public schools by $215 per student. The study calculates, "If local funds were truly shared equally, charter schools would have sent $3 million to local school districts in FY 14-15."

In my travels around North Carolina – to the state's three largest school districts – I ask school board members, legal and education experts, and charter advocates to explain how a state that doesn't seem to adequately fund its existing public school system can afford to add a competitive new one.

Complicating the matter is the presence of a rising new sector of for-profit charter schools, many coming to North Carolina from out of state. Few North Carolinians I talk to can explain how these schools make a profit. And if the schools do, it begs the question of whether it is ethical or legal for private interests to profit from education while many schools in the existing system can't afford adequate learning materials and instructional staff.

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Political posters (these have been coming up very slowly of late)