The topic we all love to hate but can’t stop talking about. This is the category where I’ll wonk out about polls, mostly.

What the #%&@* is Net Neutrality?

If you find yourself asking the above question, this post is for you.

As someone who used to own an Internet Service Provider and worked with the Internet for years before that, let me drop some knowledge on you about Net Neutrality. Contrary to what some would have you believe, Net Neutrality is not some new government intrusion on the previously free Internet, it is in fact the system under which the government created and nurtured the Internet in the first place. Back when the National Science Foundation funded the Internet backbone, Net Neutrality was a mandated rule… you couldn’t participate on the Internet unless you agreed to treat all traffic the same… no filtering or throttling based on who was sending the data packets or what they contain. Everyone got access to the ENTIRE Internet… not just the parts your provider chose to let you see. And those rules are what made the Internet massively successful. There were plenty of other competing network technologies, but none of them came with the Net Neutrality mandate, so they never really took off.

And even after the NSF funding was removed and we began to transition to a fully commercial Internet in the mid nineties, we mostly stuck with Net Neutrality largely because the FCC understood Internet Service Providers to be ‘common carriers’ and regulated to keep those rules in place. It wasn’t until the Bush administration and a reclassification away from common carrier status that the FCC began to treat ISPs as ‘content creators’ instead, allowing an erosion of Net Neutrality rules, with lots of nasty consequences like blocking of Netflix and other services, the creation of bandwidth caps, and other general badness for Internet customers. That trend was thankfully stopped by the Obama FCC when they reclassified the ISPs back to common carrier status to enforce Net Neutrality rules again.

But now under the new Trump FCC we have of course lurched back the other way. With the death of Net Neutrality, the way is cleared for ISPs to begin blocking and degrading traffic from competing service providers… so you will no longer have access to the entire Internet… only the parts that Comcast or AT&T or Verizon are willing to let you see. An Internet that was once an incubator for technology entrepreneurs will instead erect barriers to protect the markets of the entrenched monopolies. Free speech on the Internet will become a thing of the past.

That is what is at stake here. That is what Net Neutrality means.

Want to help preserve Net Neutrality? Visit this website: https://www.battleforthenet.com/

Dreams of A Compromise Obamacare Fix

So after the GOP’s Obamacare repeal effort failed with three Republican Senators joining the Democrats to vote it down, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a statement mostly bemoaning the failure. He largely blamed the Democrats for not joining in the effort to dismantle Obama’s signature law but did at one point say, “So now I think it’s appropriate to ask, ‘what are their ideas?’ It will be interesting to see what they suggest as the way forward.” He even repeated the sentiment by later saying, “It’s time for our friends on the other side to tell us what they have in mind, and we will see how the American people feel about their ideas.” While his sincerity is undercut by the tone of his statement, I’m willing to be irrationally optimistic and take him at his word. With their partisan, one-sided repeal effort dead, let’s assume the road is open to bipartisan compromise and a real Obamacare fix. (more…)

My Analysis of the GOP Senate Health Care Bill

Well, I promised a deeper dive into the Republican Senate health care bill (the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, or just BCRA), and here it is. I was frustrated by other analysis I found on the web because they generally don’t say WHEN various changes kick in, and that is of course pretty important to some of us. Consequently, I took special care to look at the dates that different parts of the law would go into effect, and I’ve organized my discussion appropriately. I’m mostly focusing on the big changes that will directly impact most people, so details like the repeal of the tanning salon tax didn’t get much attention. I’ve also glossed over details of Medicaid cuts because there is a LOT of detail there… the largest part of the bill is dedicated to it… and this is meant to be more of a summary. Suffice it to say that the bill takes an ax to Medicaid, which will mean a lot of people losing health coverage. That said, here is all the other stuff the BCRA would do and the timeline of when it does it: (more…)

I’d Rather Be Posting Cat Pictures

So now that Trump has confirmed he shared the Intel with his ‘I did it for humanitarian reasons’ tweet, and it’s been revealed that Israel was the source of the Intel, and they did not want it shared, and DEFINITELY not with Russia that is likely to pass it along to Iran… this whole thing has evolved into a rolling cluster-frack with huge potential blow-back. Israel will now almost certainly stop sharing Intelligence with us, which makes us far more vulnerable to terrorist plots arising from the middle east. This confirms every worst case fear I’ve voiced about the foreign policy risk of a Trump Presidency.

To my conservative friends… please please PLEASE set aside your skepticism for a moment and consider what is at stake here. No matter how much you might like the message Trump campaigned on or the domestic policies he’s championed since being elected, he is showing himself to be in WAY over his head diplomatically. At some point you have to consider that, maybe the press isn’t all lying… maybe our allies are actually mad and frightened for a reason… maybe Trump really is a rolling foreign policy disaster. And while it might be fun to see liberals all pissed off about something, maybe this is one of those ‘stopped clock pointing at the right time’ sort of things? Maybe? Can we at least consider it?

Because, let’s be honest… what’s the worst that could happen from a proper investigation of Trump? He is either cleared, and then the Dems have egg on their face, or he is impeached, and then we have President Pence. I can guarantee you liberals like me will not like the policy that is shepherded by a President Pence, but at least the guy will not be an ongoing global security risk. We can get back to arguing about school lunches and tax reform and all that fun stuff. Everyone wins!

Set let’s all ban together and agree on a few things… like a real, bipartisan Senate select committee and/or independent investigator to look into this whole Trump/Russia thing. Make him release his taxes and any financial ties he might have to foreign influences. Let’s clear the air once and for all so we can move on and get back to what the Internet was really meant for… posting pictures of cats.

Trump is Destroying Reagan’s Legacy

Someone actually asked me how I could believe Trump is a Russian spy. I think I nearly blew coffee out my nose. No, I don’t think Trump is a Russian spy. I don’t even think he has any great loyalty to Russia. I think he is exactly what he has always portrayed himself to be… a business man with extensive international holdings and connections.

And therein lies the problem.

After Trump’s multiple bankruptcies, banks in the US would no longer loan to him, so he had to go overseas for credit. That includes some rather large deals with prominent Russian oligarchs and Kremlin connected banks. As far as Trump was concerned this was just good business, which was fine when he wasn’t President. But now that he is President, failing to divest himself of his business connections leaves him vulnerable to foreign influence. The fact that he still refuses to release his tax returns (something every modern President before him has done) raises a huge red flag. The Kremlin might be holding hundreds of millions of dollars of Trump’s debt, and they could use that as leverage against him. It need not even be conscious leverage. When Trump praises Putin and soft peddles the threat of Russian authoritarianism… it could just be a subconscious bias born from years of favorable business dealings. Either way, it’s a threat to our national security.

And Putin understands this. He has already responded by deploying nuclear cruise missiles in violation of earlier agreements and stepping up violence in the Ukraine… and Trump has done nothing. Putin is advancing his plan to undermine NATO and rebuild a Soviet style empire, and Trump doesn’t even see the threat. Worse, Trump seems poised to lift the sanctions that weaken Putin and may even hand control of the Crimean peninsula over to Russia.

In short, trump is destroying the legacy of Ronald Reagan, the President that ended the Cold War.

So no, I don’t think Trump is a Russian spy. I think he is something far worse… a dupe. A foreign policy neophyte who mistakes a favorable business deal as a show of character. Putin is rolling him and getting everything he wants.

God help us all.

Paul Ryan Doesn’t Understand What Insurance Is

Good God… Paul Ryan doesn’t understand what insurance is. I just watched his Powerpoint presentation explaining his healthcare bill, and at one point he describes the ‘fatal conceit’ of Obamacare as being this:

“Young and healthy people are going into the market and pay for the older sicker people. So, the young healthy person is going to be made to buy healthcare, and there going to pay for the person who gets breast cancer in her forties, or gets heart disease in his fifties.”

Yes, Paul, that’s called INSURANCE. That is exactly what it does. It is what it has ALWAYS done. It works that way with auto insurance and homeowners insurance, and yes, health insurance. The premiums from people not making claims collectively pay for the people who do make claims. Yes, my premiums will pay for the person who gets breast cancer or heart disease or cancer or whatever, and I’m fine with that… because someday that person MIGHT BE ME. People in the same group pay the same rate regardless of health condition. It’s called group rating, and its how health insurance has worked in the employer provided market for decades. It is the singular most important reform that Obamacare brought to the individual insurance market, and you want to get rid of it?

Saints preserve us… the Republican healthcare law was drafted by someone who has no clue how any of this stuff actually works.

Ryancare…. a one and a half leg stool

So Paul Ryan has finally made his Obamacare replacement public. It is not too far off from what I expected. It leaves a bit more of the ACA insurance regulations in place, but still carves out much of the existing law in ways that enables ‘adverse selection’, setting the stage for massive rate increases and lost insurance for millions of people. The big winners will be people making more than $250,000 per year… they get a tax cut. Losers will be anyone currently getting any sort of premium subsidy on the ACA exchange as well as those of us who lose insurance as companies exit the market. It also takes an ax to Medicaid, though it delays the pain a couple of years. It is not as bad a full repeal, but it will definitely make things worse than just leaving the ACA in place.

As with Obamacare, this mostly effects people who buy there insurance on the individual market instead of getting through their employer. If you are in the 50 to 64 age demographic, expect your premiums to go up sharply. The bill raises the cap on what insurers can charge that group, increasing it from a 3:1 to a 5:1 ratio. Also, if you currently receive a premium subsidy, that is going away. The Subsidy has been replaced with a flat tax credit that does not scale with income, so most people will receive much less, and they will receive it as a tax refund rather than direct premium support. In related news, the yearly penalty for failing to buy insurance has been replaced with a 30% surcharge on the first year of premiums when you buy insurance after going without. That makes things easier on people who decide to go without insurance, but like the lack of subsidies, it will skew the risk pool toward unhealthy people and cause rates to shoot up.

You can think of Obamacare as three leg stool: 1) Regulations forcing insurance companies to cover everyone who asks. 2) Subsidies to help people afford insurance… what I call ‘the carrot’. 3) Penalties to discourage people from going without insurance… ‘the stick’. Without all three, the insurance market collapses. The Ryan plan basically kicks out one of those legs and saws off part of another. If you are young, healthy, and have a high income, you MIGHT be no worse off under this plan… but even then your rates could go up because of the whole ‘adverse selection’ problem of healthy people failing to buy insurance and insurance companies exiting the market.

Needless to say, I’ll be calling my representatives (both in the House and Senate) to voice my opposition. I recommend everyone else do the same. President Trump has already voiced his support for this mess, so we need to stop it before it makes it out of Congress.
Find your representatives via whoismyrepresentative.com.