There will be lawyers: Aetna Pennsylvania edition

Do you remember back to last August where we were not in this insanity? Aetna was trying to strong arm the Obama Justice Department and FTC to approve their merger by threatening the exchanges by pulling out. One of the states that they pulled out of was Pennsylvania.

Back in August, I noticed something odd about Aetna’s rhetoric and reality in Pennsylvania:

Below is Aetna’s rate application memo for the individual market in Pennsylvania. You should look closely at the highlighted segment….

Aetna was profitable in 2015 in the individual market in Pennsylvania. It is projecting to be profitable in 2017….in all years Aetna’s individual market operations in Pennsylvania were either profitable or projected to be profitable.

That smelled fishy to me. Aetna did not get its merger approved.

And now there are lawyers involved. Modern Healthcare reports that the Allegheny County government pension fund is suing Aetna for a breach of their fiduciary duty:

The Allegheny County Employees’ Retirement Fund—an Aetna stockholder—alleges that Aetna’s retreat from the exchanges was not a “business decision,” as the insurer claimed, but a move to better its chances of closing a $37 million merger with Humana that ultimately failed.

The complaint, filed in Pennsylvania state court, says that Aetna’s alleged conduct, which came to light during its legal battle to acquire Humana, has caused the company financial harm and damaged its reputation. Moreover, the lawsuit claims that Aetna chose to forgo profits “simply to make good on their wrongful threats to the government.”

I am not a lawyer, but this looks to be on its face fairly juicy and straightforward for the plaintiffs. A blogger in a t-shirt and bunny slippers was able to pull the rate filings and call bullshit on the state rationale within hours of it being announced. I imagine that the very good lawyers that I am most likely no more than two degrees of connections away from will be able to use current public record from the anti-trust case and more sophisticated analysis than looking at screen shots to nail Aetna to the wall.



Schadenfreude Open Thread: XXXSCARAMOOCH!

My old man always told me, never trust a man who makes up his own nickname. The new WH Communications Director is proud to announce that he calls himself “The Mooch”.

Of a certain Sicilian-import social club, during my Bronx youth, the saying went: Those who know don’t talk; those who talk don’t know.

New Yorker journalist Ryan Lizza is a happy man today, because Tony ‘the Mooch’ Scaramucci talks a lot:

On Wednesday night, I received a phone call from Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director. He wasn’t happy. Earlier in the night, I’d tweeted, citing a “senior White House official,” that Scaramucci was having dinner at the White House with President Trump, the First Lady, Sean Hannity, and the former Fox News executive Bill Shine. It was an interesting group, and raised some questions. Was Trump getting strategic advice from Hannity? Was he considering hiring Shine? But Scaramucci had his own question—for me.

“Who leaked that to you?” he asked. I said I couldn’t give him that information. He responded by threatening to fire the entire White House communications staff. “What I’m going to do is, I will eliminate everyone in the comms team and we’ll start over,” he said. I laughed, not sure if he really believed that such a threat would convince a journalist to reveal a source. He continued to press me and complain about the staff he’s inherited in his new job. “I ask these guys not to leak anything and they can’t help themselves,” he said. “You’re an American citizen, this is a major catastrophe for the American country. So I’m asking you as an American patriot to give me a sense of who leaked it.”…

I asked him why it was so important for the dinner to be kept a secret. Surely, I said, it would become public at some point. “I’ve asked people not to leak things for a period of time and give me a honeymoon period,” he said. “They won’t do it.” He was getting more and more worked up, and he eventually convinced himself that Priebus was my source.
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We Were So Young and Innocent Then

Seems like only yesterday when the GOP was all upset because the Kenyan usurper had relaxed the dress code to feel more comfortable in his tribal attire:

CARD: I found that Ronald Reagan and both President Bushes treated the Oval Office with tremendous respect. They treated the Office of the Presidency with tremendous respect. And some of that respect was reflected in how they expected people to behave, how they expected them to dress when they walked into the symbol of freedom for the world, the Oval Office. And yes, I’m disappointed to see the casual, laissez faire, short sleeves, no shirt and tie, no jacket, kind of locker room experience that seems to be taking place in this White House and the Oval Office.

Life comes at you fast:

Why, I remember when salty language like that was left to the vulgar bloggers and could even get you banned from cable television (google Marci Wheeler and “blowjob.”).

Enough reminiscing, I have a long drive to the beach tomorrow.



Breaking News: US State Department Orders Non Essential US Personnel Out of Venezuela

The Department of State has issued a Non Essential US Personnel evacuation order and travel warning for Venezuela in advance of this weekend’s elections.

Here’s the actual order:

LAST UPDATED: JULY 27, 2017

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to Venezuela due to social unrest, violent crime, and pervasive food and medicine shortages.  This travel warning also informs U.S. citizens that on July 27, the Department ordered the departure of family members and authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. government employees from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.

All U.S. direct-hire personnel and their families assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Caracas are subject to an embassy movement policy that limits their travel within Caracas and many parts of the country.  Inter-city travel by car during hours of darkness (6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.) is strongly discouraged and in some cases may be prohibited.  U.S. government personnel must also request approval for travel outside of Caracas.  These security measures may limit the U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide services.  This replaces the Travel Warning issued December 15, 2016.

The political and security situation in Venezuela is unpredictable and can change quickly.  Since April 2017, political rallies and demonstrations occur daily throughout the country, often with little notice.  Disruptions to traffic and public transportation are common.  Demonstrations typically elicit a strong police and security force response that includes the use of tear gas, pepper spray, water cannons and rubber bullets against participants, and occasionally devolve into looting and vandalism. Armed motorcycle gangs associated with the government frequently use violence to intimidate demonstrators.  Clashes between these groups have resulted in serious injuries and over 70 deaths.  U.S. citizens have reported being arrested, detained, and robbed while in close proximity to protests.

Security forces have arrested individuals, including U.S. citizens, and detained them for long periods with little or no evidence of a crime.  The U.S. Embassy may not be notified of the detention of a U.S. citizen and consular access to detainees may be denied or severely delayed.  The detained citizen may be denied access to proper medical care, clean water, and food.

Violence and criminal activity – including homicide, armed robbery, kidnapping, and carjacking – pose significant and continuing security concerns.  Indiscriminate violent crime is endemic throughout the country and can occur anywhere at any time.  There are reports of authorities (e.g., police, airport, immigration) and criminals posing as authorities participating in robbery and extortion.  Drug traffickers and illegal armed groups are active in the Colombian border states of Zulia, Tachira, and Apure.

The Simón Bolívar International Airport, in Maiquetía, is located in an extremely high-risk area for armed robbery and kidnappings.  Do not take unregulated taxis from this airport and avoid ATMs in this area.  Travel between the Simón Bolívar International Airport and Caracas only during daylight hours, as armed bandits frequently target night-time motorists along this route.

Due to shortages of medicine and medical supplies, U.S. citizens should be prepared to cover their own needs for over-the-counter and prescription medicines while in country.  You should have medical evacuation plans in place that do not rely solely on U.S. government assistance.  Comprehensive medical evacuation insurance is strongly advised for all travelers.

U.S. citizens may also be detained and/or deported by Venezuelan immigration officials for not complying with visa or immigration regulations.  U.S. citizens traveling to Venezuela must have a valid visa that is appropriate for their specific type of travel (journalism, employment, study, etc.) or risk being detained or deported.  Journalists must possess the appropriate accreditation and work visa from the Venezuelan authorities before arriving. International journalists are closely scrutinized and have been expelled and/or detained for lacking appropriate permissions to work in Venezuela or for participation in what could be seen as anti-government activity, including observing and reporting on public health facilities.

For further information:

  • See the State Department’s travel website for the Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and Venezuela Specific Information.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
  • Contact the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela, located at Calle F con Calle Suapure, Lomas de Valle Arriba, Caracas at +[58] 212-975-6411, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. The after-hours emergency number for U.S. citizens is +[58] 0212-907-8400 or, or 0212-907-8400 from within Venezuela.
  • To reach the Department of State’s Overseas Citizen Services, call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

At this time this is not a Noncombatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) as the US military is not involved in evacuating personnel. Let’s hope we don’t get to that point.

For more information on what Noncombatant Evacuation Operation is and what it entails, here’s a link to Joint Publication (JP) 3-68: Noncombatant Evacuation Operations.



Non-Political Open Thread

I need a break. I’ve been listening to this a lot lately. No politics!








It’s an invitation across the nation

Good news:

As of the end of June, 209 Democratic challengers had registered with the FEC and raised at least $5,000. That more than doubled the previous high mark since 2003. In 2009, the Republicans had 78 challengers with at least $5,000. The early GOP challengers in 2009 foreshadowed the party’s regaining majority control. The question is whether the same will hold true for the Democrats in 2018.

The number of challengers at six months is truly remarkable. And the candidates are not simply bunching up in a few primaries. Yes, there is some doubling up: six Democrats have filed so far against John Faso in New York’s 19th congressional district. But there is also a good spread. So far, 105 different Republican incumbents have Democratic challengers with $5,000. At this same time in 2009, only 50 of the Democratic incumbents were up against challengers with $5,000.

Let’s keep it up! Donate below to a fund that is spread equally among all districts currently held by Republicans.

Goal Thermometer

Tell us about anyone in your district who is running against a Republican incumbent in the comments.








Thursday Evening Open Thread: Blasts from the Past

Trumpet call, via the Washington Post:

The moderator lauded Michelle Obama for her achievements over the past eight years and touched on the former first lady’s plans, but Tuesday’s conversation also veered into uncomfortable territory.

It was Obama’s largest public appearance since the 2016 election — speaking in front of more than 8,000 people at the Women’s Foundation of Colorado’s 30th anniversary celebration — and she touched on personal attacks that she faced again and again. Many had the same theme.

“The shards that cut me the deepest were the ones that intended to cut,” Obama said, according to the Denver Post. “Knowing that after eight years of working really hard for this country, there are still people who won’t see me for what I am because of my skin color.”

She added that she wouldn’t pretend the attacks didn’t hurt, because that would give those inflicting the pain a pass, according to the Post.

“We are living with small tiny cuts, and we are bleeding every single day. And we’re still getting up,” she said….

Despite Tuesday’s detour into dark territory, many of Obama’s comments went high.

She told the audience that she is “a strong woman because of other strong woman,” according to statement on WFCO’s website. “You don’t mother alone, you don’t grandparent alone, you don’t struggle alone. You find your community.”…

Butt trumpet [fart noise] — news of our old Hoekstroika punching bag :

Hoekstra’s parents, IIRC, left the Netherlands because it was turning into a “Sodom and Gomorrah”, where the righteous were brutally required to respect other peoples’ opinions — kinda like the Puritans, back in the day.

(Speaking of history… somewhere on the Internet, there’s gotta be a link to the Gore Vidal essay about Ronald Reagan appointing the founder/owner of TV Guide as Ambassador to Great Britain, in case anyone thinks Trump’s people are capable of anything more original than copying 40-year-old insults from brighter administrations.)



More Byrd droppings

Following on on Betty’s post this morning, keep on calling.

Senator Sanders in his role as the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee has had his staff arguing hard to the parliamentarian over the past few weeks. They are arguing over every point in the Senate bill(s) that are still be scrawled on napkins in the Senate dining room on whether or not provisions are directly budget related and therefore only need a 50 vote threshold or are primarily policy and need a 60 vote threshold. They’ve won some big fights. It looks like they won an even bigger one this morning.

What that means is the waiver provisions need 60 votes. This is important from a policy perspective as the current waiver system in the ACA allows states to experiment if they can insure as many people, at the same or better actuarial value while protecting the most vulnerable and costing the federal government no more money. The provision that is now subject to a 60 vote threshold would allow the state to do whatever it wanted just as long as it cost the federal government no more money.

Politically this is important because the Senate leadership, Secretary of Health and Human Services Price and CMS Administrator Verma have been promising Republican senators that they’ll issue magical waivers that will give enough flexibility to states to keep everyone or at least enough people whole despite pulling out $750 billion dollars in Medicaid funding and several hundred billion net dollars from the individual market. That is a fantasy of the least interesting tripe but it waivers of unimaginable power are being pushed behind the scene. Those waivers can’t be part of the bill.

And if they are part of the bill, that means the legislative filibuster is dead which should help when we have to clean up this mess.



Keep calling!

The so-called “skinny repeal” bill (I like valued commenter Oldgold’s “Trojan Hearse” nickname better) is being written on cocktail napkins in the Senate commissary today:

So much has happened already this morning: the West Wing has gone full-metal “Heathers,” Trump is threatening to veto the Russia sanctions bill, etc. But here’s one thing we can actually do: call about that bill.

The smart money is on the craven GOP worms passing some piece of shit legislation that harms millions of Americans, even if it doesn’t contain all the plutocratic goodies that have been dancing like sugar plums in their corrupt heads since November. But imagine the meltdown if they hit a wall again. That’s worth a call right there. We’ve already made a difference.

Open thread!



On The Road and In Your Backyard

Good Morning All,

So far, this feature has been about travel, with the occasional “local” picture or two. I think limiting this to just travel is just that – limiting. So I’m changing this up a bit to include neat, colorful, funny, interesting, poignant, etc. pictures that don’t require travel.

As always, if you’re on a trip or have a story to share, you can just pitch in below.

I’m pleased to announce the release of the new picture submission tool for this feature. Using this tool will ensure I don’t mess things up, will make it much less time-consuming for me, and will make for a much easier process all the way around.  This would not be possible without the efforts of valued commenter Major Major Major Major. His help has been invaluable in this feature, not to mention in the pie filter and rotating quote.

The form is here and has a few simple rules:

  1. You have to have made at least one comment that’s been approved/published.
  2. It’s a picture and not too big (you can include up to 7 pictures in a single submission)
  3. You must include your commenter screenname and email (kept private) to verify you, just like making a comment. Only your nym is published.
  4. No more than 10 form entries per hour.
  5. You can include an overall description, per-picture descriptions, dates, locations, etc.

If you are a lurker and thus not a commenter, or should you wish to submit a video, archive of multiple pictures, links to pictures hosted online, or want to include more text or pictures than the form allows, send an email.

Travel safely everyone, even if it’s just down the hall for that second cup of coffee!

Quick pre-picture note: there are tons of submissions via the form and I’ll take a look at them Thursday or over the weekend. At least one person reported some issues with submitting a set of pics, so if you had any issues, please let me know.

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Thursday Morning Open Thread: Rooting for Injuries (But Not Describing Them)

(Tom Toles via GoComics.com)
.

Since I am not by nature a nice person, I’ll admit that stories like this make me quietly gleeful. From the Washington Post, “Senate Republicans have tolerated Trump’s controversies. His treatment of Sessions is different”:

Cornyn is not alone in rallying to the defense of Sessions, who, despite sometimes having waged lonely battles as one of the chamber’s most staunch conservatives, still has many friends among Senate Republicans. Most have issued statements of support, and several are making private calls to reassure Sessions that they are behind him.

But the tension over Trump’s treatment of Sessions goes beyond the senators defending a friend.

Unlike any other controversial move that Trump has pondered in his six months as president, Senate Republicans are sending preemptive signals that firing the attorney general or pressuring him to resign would be a terrible move.

Some have warned high-level White House officials that it would look as though Trump were making the move solely to shut down an investigation of his campaign and the White House, now overseen by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, while also making clear that they agree with Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from an investigation of the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia.

Replacing Sessions would be difficult, and the idea of Trump making a recess appointment during the planned four-week break in August is foolhardy. Democrats can indefinitely stall a resolution to fully adjourn the Senate, having already forced minute-long periods during even shorter breaks to prevent Trump from having the authority to make temporary appointments while the Senate is away.

Democrats may have vehemently opposed Sessions’s nomination, but they have no intention of allowing Trump to fire him and name a new attorney general with a recess appointment, and frankly, Republicans do not seem to want to give Trump that power either…

What’s on the agenda, as we start another bound-to-be-beleagured day?

***********
Speaking of public schadenfreude: Having grown up in the sort of family where interactions tended to start with a challenge and escalate explosively, I’ve spent the past forty years learning that not every dark thought needs to be described exhaustively. Not only does such gleeful venting disturb those who come from less toughened environments, but it’s really quite stressful to keep up the paranoia level that’s essential when you know at a bone-deep level that talking the talk is liable to lead to walking a very unpleasant walk.

This is John Cole’s blog, and it will never be mistaken for an Oberlin drum circle. But rest assured, no matter how inventive your torture scenarios for those public officials who most absolutely deserve them, there is no membership requirement that those scenarios be shared in the comments.

Venting is important, especially in this Trump era, but not everybody here has the same tolerance for violence porn. Wish all the bad cess on Republicans and other miscreants that they deserve, but try to keep in mind that it’s not a competition to see which of us can produce the most disturbing rant.



This Was Not How I Expected To End My Day

After a very long week away and an even longer 8 hour drive home, this happened. A neighbor spotted these two at the local playground (with pond) and they tried to follow him home. This was yesterday and he was worried. So, since my niece and I had been driving all day, we decided we could use a walk and went to see what we could see.

These two came right up to us. They were hungry, friendly and completely ill-equipped to survive on their own. I had brought cat food along (mine ate cat and dog food along with chicken feed for that well rounded diet, LOL – or just to annoy the four-footers in the family) and they took it right out of my hand.

The only thing I had to capture them with was a cooler a friend had lent me for the trip. Deciding I’d just buy her a new one, I corralled them (one in the grass, the other I had to snag from the water) and brought them home.

Their photo is now on the neighborhood lost and found website page and they are tucked away in the garage, with food, water, cilantro – a duck favorite. Bixby is beside himself with curiosity, but I don’t want to stress them, so he’s banned from the garage.

The good news, the excitement has tempered any disapproval from the dogs about my long absence. The bad news? I’m attached (I love ducks) but am in no position at the moment to add more critters to my menagerie. There may need to be an intervention.

I. am. exhausted.

Open thread!








Clown Shoes Open Thread: THE GLASSES, THEY DO NOTHING!!!

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry optimistically discussed expanding American coal exports to Ukraine and other energy matters during a lengthy phone call this month with a Russian prankster who Perry thought was Ukraine’s prime minister.

Perry actually was talking with comedians known in Russia for targeting celebrities and politicians with audacious stunts, Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said in a written statement.

Pranksters Vladimir Krasnov and Alexei Stolyarov are sometimes called the “Jerky Boys of Russia,” after an American duo who put out recordings of their prank phone calls in the 1990s. They have made faux calls to British singer Elton John, who thought he was speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and others…

During the 22-minute call on July 19, Perry, whose department oversees the U.S. nuclear weapons program, discussed a range of topics in a business-like tone, including sanctions against Russia and helping Ukraine develop oil and gas.

Perry said the Trump administration opposes Nord Stream 2, a Russian project to bring natural gas to Europe across the Baltic and that U.S. technology could help Ukraine develop gas.

“Giving Ukraine more options with some of our technology is, I think, in everyone’s best interest with the exception of the Russians, but that’s OK,” he said.

Perry also discussed the Paris climate accord and coal exports on the call…

But Moniz looked like some schlubby geek — not the sorta guy Lord Smallgloves wanted to see on his morning Fox News. Bad attitude, too, what with thinkin’ that as a nookalar scientist he might know more about energy and stuff than a real ‘Murican bidniz guy like our Rick!

THANKS SO MUCH, REPUBS!



When I Was Cultivated By The Chinese

It’s hard for me to believe that Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. couldn’t figure out that the Russians they were meeting with might have had ulterior motives. I had an experience some years back that demonstrates how espionage recruitment works.

I was working on a project that was partly classified. My work was mostly unclassified. It was long enough ago that scientists exchanged reprints of their articles printed (nicely, by the journal publisher) on paper.

I loved getting reprint requests. International stamps on postcards, sometimes letters. One of them was from a Chinese institute, a complimentary letter with a lovely stamp on the envelope. A bit nicer than usual, but not extraordinary. So I sent the reprints.

They sent back another letter and some of their reprints. We should talk about our mutual interests. Perhaps I could even visit their laboratory. At that time, not many Americans were visiting China. It was intriguing and potentially a status point at work.

The project had a fair bit of visibility, and other governments were sending letters of interest in collaboration. One government offered to send two post-docs, all expenses paid. We had a good laugh about that. There wasn’t an institutional training program about recognizing recruitment, though.

An international meeting was coming up that they and I planned to go to. We could meet there. The Chinese interest began to seem more than normal collegiality.

I went to the meeting in Hawaii. They didn’t show up. I was relieved. I’ll never know for sure if they were trying to recruit me. That’s the point – the interest seems to be genuine, and they push a little bit and then a little more until you are giving them more information than you should.

Later it turned out that two people working on that project did give too much information to the Chinese.








This is Not Normal

The fact that the GOP’s Cheeto Jeebus issued a series of tweets about an apparently new transgender policy (but not really, since there is no policy) has been discussed, but a couple quick things:

A.) They are not your fucking generals, you orange shitstain. None of this is yours, you anal drip, it’s OURS.

B.) While you are talking to your fucking generals, how ’bout that plan to defeat ISIS you kept talking about having ready in thirty days, cuz we’re still waiting for that shitshow.

C.) You did no consultation at all, and everyone knows that bible thumping fetus fetishist, rampant homophobe, mother of a modern HIV crisis, all around know-nothing bigot, and Grand Mullah of the American Taliban Mike Pence was doing it behind the scenes, and I guaran-fucking-tee that the first you heard of this was when it was mentioned to you in passing this morning and three minutes later your tiny little dickbeaters were pounding out this nonsense on what I am fucking also sure is an unsecured phone.

D.) They had no intention for you to go live with it so that is why there was a nine minute delay between your first tweet and the subsequent two, at which point they debated for a few minutes and decided “fuck it, it’s too late now, AND WHO THE FUCK TOLD HIM?” and parts two and three came out:

E.) And since you are a fucking clueless douchecanoe who has no idea how to govern and didn’t ACTUALLY consult with OUR generals about this, this fucking happened:

The Department of Defense referred all questions to President Trump’s administration. “We will continue to work closely with the White House to address the new guidance provided by the Commander-in-Chief on transgender individuals serving the military. We will provide revised guidance to the Department in the near future,” said Naval Capt. Jeff Davis, the director of defense press operations.

At the Pentagon, the first of the three tweets raised fears that the president was getting ready to announce strikes on North Korea or some other military action. Many said they were left in suspense for nine minutes, the time between the first and second tweet. Only after the second tweet did military officials receive the news the president was announcing a personnel change on Twitter.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is on vacation this week, and defense officials said Mattis knew that Trump was considering the policy change. It is unclear if he approved it.

Fuck every single person who voted for Trump.