Friday, October 13, 2017

Last Call For The Pentagon And Puerto Rico

We've reached the point of the Trump regime where we don't honestly know if leaks proving their complete incompetence are done as a cry of help by captive executive branch employees or if they are just completely incompetent.  Considering the DoD is involved, it's a coin flip as Bloomberg's Chris Flavelle was emailed the Pentagon's spin cycle talking points strategy on cleaning up Trump's mess in Puerto Rico.

Sept. 28: Eight days after Maria hit, coverage of the federal government’s response is getting more negative
The Government Message: Pentagon officials tell staff to emphasize “coverage of life-saving/life-sustaining operations” and for spokespeople to avoid language about awaiting instructions from FEMA, “as that goes against the teamwork top-line message.”

Sept. 29: San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz criticizes Washington’s spin, calling Puerto Rico a “people-are-dying story.” 
The Government Message: FEMA talking points ignore Cruz, instructing its officials to say that “the federal government’s full attention is on Hurricane Maria response.” 
Sept. 30: Trump attacks the mayor’s “poor leadership ability.” The Pentagon worries that Trump’s “dialogue” with Cruz is becoming the story, with “many criticizing his lack of empathy.” 
The Government Message: FEMA stresses its success in reaching “all municipalities in Puerto Rico.” 
Oct. 1: Trump calls critics of the response “politically motivated ingrates.” 
The Government Message: Defense staff admit that “the perception of USG response continues to be negative.” Spokespeople are told to say, “I am very proud of our DOD forces,” before conceding “there are some challenges to work through.” 
Oct. 2: The massacre in Las Vegas dominates the headlines. 
The Government Message: The shooting “has drawn mainstream TV attention away from Puerto Rico response,” FEMA says. Still, the roundup seems to have lost some of its previous optimism. It concludes, simply: “Negative tonality.”

The Trump regime was goddamn relived that 58 people were killed in Las Vegas because it took the spotlight off the millions suffering in Puerto Rico.   Ghoulish doesn't begin to describe it.  Meanwhile 3 weeks after the second hurricane to hit the island this fall, millions still lack power and drinking water.

Meanwhile, Trump regime state media is trying to portray Puerto Rico government officials as corrupt crooks keeping relief supplies for themselves rather than it being, you know, Trump's fault.

This is where we are in 2017.

The Retail That Wags The Dog

Everything old is new again as big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target moved into rural America in the 90's and wiped out general store chains like Woolworth's.  Now internet giants like Amazon are putting the squeeze on the big box stores, and that's leaving room for the new, old future of retail: the rise of Dollar General and Dollar Tree as the new American Corner Store.

On a Friday in April, Bob Tharp, the mayor of Decatur, Ark., takes me to see what used to be the commercial heart of his town. There isn’t much to look at beyond the husk of a Walmart Express: 12,000 square feet of cinder block painted in different shades of brown. The glass doors are locked, as they’ve been for 14 months. “For so many people in this town, to have to see this empty building every day, they couldn’t drive by without getting tears in their eyes,” Tharp recalls. The store had opened on a frigid morning in January 2015, just days into his mayorship. “Pinch yourself and it is true,” he’d posted on Facebook the night before. For the first time in a decade, the 1,788 residents could buy groceries in town. But the reprieve was short. The following January, word came from Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s corporate headquarters, 18 miles to the east in Bentonville, that within the month the store would be closed. 
“You rascals!” Tharp remembers telling the executive who called to deliver the news. “You come to these small towns, and you build these stores, and you cause all the mom and pops to close down, and now you’re the only ones left standing, and you want to go home? Why would you do that to our community?” 
The Walmart Express had been a pilot store, the smallest ever for the world’s largest retailer, designed to test whether a national brand with major supply-chain advantages could wrest a profit from towns long considered too sparsely populated. The answer, it seemed, was no: The company closed more than 100 stores across Arkansas and other southeastern states that day.

Tharp did what he could to turn things around, putting out calls to urge a grocer, or any retailer, to move into the vacant building. He found no takers for a year, until at last, Dollar General Corp., which had operated a smaller store on the outskirts of Decatur’s downtown since 2001, agreed to relocate to Main Street—and start offering fresh meat, fruit, and vegetables.

The Decatur store is one of 1,000 Dollar Generals opening this year as part of the $22 billion chain’s plan to expand rapidly in poor, rural communities where it has come to represent not decline but economic resurgence, or at least survival. The company’s aggressively plain yellow-and-black logo is becoming the small-town corollary to Starbucks Corp.’s two-tailed green mermaid. (Although you can spot her on canned iced coffee at Dollar General, too.) Already, there are 14,000 one-story cinder block Dollar Generals in the U.S.—outnumbering by a few hundred the coffee chain’s domestic footprint. Fold in the second-biggest dollar chain, Dollar Tree, and the number of stores, 27,465, exceeds the 22,375 outlets of CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens combined. And the little-box player is fully expecting to turn profits where even narrow-margin colossus Walmart failed.

There are a lot of players in this market: Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, and they're getting competition from German efficiency in Aldi Foods and newcomer Lidl.  The Saturday half-day trip to the giant Wallyworld, Costco, or Target to get everything all in one place doesn't work for flyover country where Amazon won't deliver,  and "small box" chains are aggressively moving in.  After all, the Mom and Pop stores are already long gone.

And I've talked about Dollar General before: the other main issue is price.  Wal-Mart and Costco may be the champions of selling you that 55 gallon drum of mayo, but for convenience store location without the huge price hikes, you can't beat the model.  And yes, there's still a Dollar General within walking distance of the new apartment building I moved to a couple years back, just like there was when I wrote that post seven years ago at the old apartment.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  The Dollar General Recession never really left rural America, and neither has DG. The Wal-Mart model isn't the only game in town anymore.

America Is Getting Trumpcare Anyway

With Republicans unable to destroy Obamacare in Congress, Trump is simply going to do it for them through applied executive branch neglect, and he really no longer cares what the American people have to say about it.

Trump is asking federal agencies to look for ways to expand the use of association health plans, groups of small businesses that pool together to buy health insurance, and to broaden the definition of short-term insurance, which is exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s rules, administration officials said. 
The ultimate impact will depend on any new regulations written as a result of the order, but overall, the Trump administration could make cheaper plans with skimpier benefits more available — and experts worry that will damage the ACA’s marketplaces. 
“The president still firmly believes that Congress must act to repeal and replace Obamacare, but before that can be done, this administration must act to provide relief,” Andrew Bremberg, who oversees domestic policy at the White House, told reporters Thursday morning. “We expect these policy changes to potentially benefit tens of millions of Americans over time.” 
Policy experts warn that together, these changes could represent a serious threat to Obamacare: Trump wants to open more loopholes for more people to buy insurance outside the health care law’s markets, which experts anticipate would destabilize the market for customers who are left behind with higher premiums and fewer insurers
The fear is that Trump’s action could lead to many association health plans being exempted from core Obamacare requirements like the coverage of certain essential health benefits. It could also potentially allow some individuals to join these plans too, which could hurt the individual insurance marketplaces by drawing younger and healthier people away from them. In much the same way, short-term insurance could also take healthier people out of the law’s markets. 
The effect won’t be immediate: Administration officials said they didn’t expect any new regulations to be implemented before the end of the year. But Trump’s order does present a long-term risk to the ACA. 
The clear intent of the executive order is to create a parallel insurance market exempt from many of the consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act,” Larry Levitt at the Kaiser Family Foundation told me. “This has the potential to siphon off healthy people with skinnier benefits and cheaper premiums, leaving behind a sicker pool of people under ACA plans.”

The long-term goal is to collapse the individual market and then Congress will have no choice but to put a health care "reform" Trump will sign on his desk.  Sure it'll wreck the lives of tens of millions, but who cares, right?

But then this morning Trump completely blew up the Obamacare exchanges by cutting off subsidy payments to insurers to lower premiums.

The subsidies, which are worth an estimated $7 billion this year and are paid out in monthly installments, may stop almost immediately since Congress hasn’t appropriated funding for the program.

The decision, which leaked out only hours after Trump signed an executive order calling for new regulations to encourage cheap, loosely regulated health plans – delivered a double whammy to Obamacare after months of failed GOP efforts to repeal the law. With open enrollment for the 2018 plan year set to launch in two weeks, the moves seem aimed at dismantling the law through executive actions.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the decision in a statement emailed to reporters at 10:47 p.m. Thursday.

“Based on guidance from the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services has concluded that there is no appropriation for cost-sharing reduction payments to insurance companies under Obamacare,” she said. “In light of this analysis, the Government cannot lawfully make the cost-sharing reduction payments. …The bailout of insurance companies through these unlawful payments is yet another example of how the previous administration abused taxpayer dollars and skirted the law to prop up a broken system.”

Who will be hurt by this? Sure, this is going to harm red state Trump voters, but the biggest problems will be in states that expanded Medicaid. After all, the majority of those who will suffer aren't Trump voters, but blue states who already raised premiums for 2018 because they saw what was coming.

Threats by President Donald Trump to ax crucial payments to health insurers will double, on average, the price of most Obamacare plans in California next year. 
Obamacare officials in the Golden State on Wednesday said they are slapping a 12.4 percent surcharge on the prices of so-called silver individual health plans in 2018 because of uncertainty over whether Trump will continue making those payments.
And it will be taxpayers, not the insurance customers themselves, who will end up footing much of the bill.

Without the surcharge, silver plans sold on Covered California, the state's Obamacare marketplace, would have risen an average of just 12.5 percent next year, officials said as they revealed overall prices statewide.
With the surcharge, the average price hike is just shy of 25 percent. 
For individual insurers, the actual added surcharge per plan will be anywhere from 8 percent to 27 percent. 
About 6 out of 10 customers of Covered California are enrolled in silver plans, which cover 70 percent of enrollees' health costs. 
Covered California said that even with the surcharge, 78 percent of customers who qualify for federal subsidies to reduce their monthly premiums will "either see no change in what they would pay for insurance in 2018, or would pay less than what they would have paid if there had been no ... surcharge." 
That is because the value of those premium subsidies, which are in the form of federal tax credits, rises with the retail price of the health plan. In "many" cases, Covered California said, subsidized silver plan customers will see their subsidies rise more than the amount of the surcharge.

And those payments will go away completely should the GOP have their way, along with Medicaid expansion.  California would then be on the hook for tens of billions yearly to keep these plans up. Even if the GOP can't pass a plan, by wrecking the individual market, Trump can make sure there are no plans to offer other than the garbage plans the GOP has favored all along.

Trump can just blame Obamacare for being broken, even though he's the one swinging the sledgehammer.

And so it goes.


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