Just a Quick Note On the Patrick Byrne Stuff

Late last night/early this morning, Ann Laurie briefly referenced former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne’s bizarre appearances on cable news last night. Here’s the two clips from his Fox News appearance:

And here’s his appearance on CNN. Chris Cuomo does about 2 and 1/2 minutes of set up, then does an interview with Anthony Scaramucci, and then interviews Byrne beginning at the 10:28 second mark of the video – this way you can skip the Mooch.

I’ve watched the clips of the appearances, I’ve read the write ups on various outlets and seen the Twitter reactions. My professional opinion is that there is no way, shape, and/or form that Byrne was being used in any formal manner in a counterintelligence investigation. His long history of conspiracism, bizarre pronouncements, and erratic behavior make him completely unsuitable because he’s completely unpredictable. To be perfectly honest, unless he can actually produce evidence he had an affair, whether one night stand or longer duration, with Maria Butina, I’m not really sure we should accept his stating he had an affair with Maria Butina as a factual truth claim. A number of people who have made names for themselves on social media or other platforms trying to explain the Mueller investigation and the connections between the Russians and the 2016 elections, the President’s campaign, his businesses, those in his orbit, etc immediately went into overdrive because of the statements Byrne made on Fox and CNN last night. By this morning, there were assertions of major breaking developments pertaining to what the President did, what Don Jr. did, what the NRA did, what Butina and Torshin did, what the NRA did, and what others did in 2016 that are all going to radically change both our understanding of what happened in 2016 and what is going to be done to hold people to account.

I think all of those assertions, as well as Byrne’s own statements last night, need to be taken with an Adam sized grain of salt. I don’t work for or with the FBI or the DOJ, though I did provide some support to the DOJ officer assigned to US European Command back in 2014 on an Interagency project we were both involved in. I have worked with Army counterintelligence professionals over the years, it was largely in regard to conducting network analysis in order to disaggregate targets for kinetic action from people, groups, and organization we wanted to engage with non-kinetically (basically we wanted to meet with them, talk with them, see if we could work with them rather than capture or kill them). And I’ve taught how to do network analysis to uniformed personnel, civilians, and contractors for both lethal and non-lethal operations. But these collaborations weren’t to map, assess, analyze, and understand the intelligence organizations and operations of other nation-states, which is the real focus of counterintelligence work. Rather it was to assist with work done by uniformed counterintelligence professionals assigned to apply their expertise to the groups we were dealing with in Iraq, Afghanistan, and similar places. That said, I am not a counterintelligence officerNor do I claim to be one. But I do have some insight into what they do and I find it very, very, very hard to believe that Byrne was being used in any official capacity. I think it is likely he contacted someone at the FBI or DOJ. Being a CEO of a major company would make it easy for him to get to supervisory special agents in charge or even senior leadership, but I think it is more than likely that he was used, at best, as an informal dangle (bait). He told them contact had been made and asked what to do and they replied with something along the lines of “keep doing what you’re doing, and let us know if anything changes”. Until some actual supporting, confirmable evidence of Byrne’s claims are made, his statements have to be viewed very skeptically. His affect and behavior on both Fox and CNN last night were even more manic and unhinged than when a clearly emotional distressed and possibly intoxicated Sam Nunberg appeared on both Ari Melber’s MSNBC and Erin Burnett’s CNN shows, where Maya Wylie patiently and empathetically tried to calm him down and convince him not to do anything stupid and Erin Burnett asked if he was drunk. Based on what I saw last night and read about today, the only thing I know of for sure is that Patrick Byrne is in dire need of professional help.

For those interested in a nice primer on counterintelligence, I highly recommend John Ehrman’s “Towards a Theory of CI” in Studies in Intelligence Studies, which those friendly folks at the CIA have posted in their online library. They’re so user friendly and customer oriented at Langley!

Open thread!

Friday Recipe Exchange: Garden Fresh

Oh, boy, recipes two weeks in a row, we might be starting something here.

I spent the afternoon taking care of some fresh veggies that had been sitting on my counter all week. I love this time of year, when the garden provides harvest every morning. But it is difficult to keep up. Today I fire-roasted tomatoes, pureed and froze for soups and sauces this winter. I also did refrigerator jalapeno pickles to use up a few of the many jalapenos.

JeffreyW does some amazing recipes with his peppers, here are two: Candied Jalapenos (here) and Hot ‘n Sweet (here)

Tonight’s menu takes advantage of all the garden-fresh ingredients available now.  I really like this one because it’s a quick skillet taste treat that elevates a weeknight meal.

On the board tonight:

Skillet Lasagna (recipe below)
Patty Squash Sauté (recipe here)
Italian Bread

Skillet Lasagna

  • 6 oz Mafalda (mini-lasagna noodles) or bowtie pasta
  • 1 lb lean ground beef****
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • ½ green pepper chopped
  • 1 tsp basil, crushed
  • 1 tsp oregano, crushed
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce (or 1 lb fresh tomatoes, chopped or pureed)
  • 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 4 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves, chopped
  • 4 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 2 oz grated parmesan


In saucepan, cook pasta according to package directions, cooking to al dente (slightly chewy), drain well.  Meanwhile, in skillet brown beef, onion & pepper. Add spices, garlic, carrot and sauté for 1 minute.  Add sauce, paste, stirring well into meat mixture.  Add pasta, stirring gently to mix.

Mix together ricotta and spinach, spoon evenly into the mixture (do not stir in, you want to create little cheese balls), top with mozzarella, cover and let simmer on low until mozzarella is completely melted.

Serve with parmesan.

Just a note, this menu and recipes are from my Summer into Fall Cookbook.

That’s if for this week. If I get a chance to upload the roasted tomato photos this weekend, I’ll post them here. What’s on your plate this weekend?

Hit to comments to share your recipes.

Otherwise, open thread.

****ETA: Thanks to Ohio Mom for reminding me I was going to say, you can easily omit the beef. I have substituted zucchini and or mushrooms and left the meat out entirely. It’s a great vegetarian dish.

Election 2020 Open Thread: Seth Moulton Drops Out

Rep. Moulton is now free to take my advice (worth every penny I was paid for it!), join forces with Bill Weld, and run against Trump on the venerable, if nearly extinct, New England Republican ticket. But actually, he’s going home to protect his current seat from at least three challengers… and just possibly to position himself for a run at Elizabeth Warren’s Senate seat, should it happen to open up, along with manymanymany others…

Or then again — who knows? — maybe that nice Joe Biden will be looking for a young well-spoken military vet as a VP!

Representative Seth Moulton of Massachusetts has dropped out of the presidential race, ending a candidacy that emphasized Mr. Moulton’s centrist politics and military service but gained no traction with Democratic primary voters.

Mr. Moulton, 40, said in an interview that he had no immediate plans to endorse another candidate, but he warmly praised former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Mr. Moulton announced the end of his campaign in a formal speech before the Democratic National Committee on Friday…

“I think it’s evident that this is now a three-way race between Biden, Warren and Sanders, and really it’s a debate about how far left the party should go,” Mr. Moulton said…

Mr. Moulton said he would also relaunch his political action committee, Serve America, to promote issues related to veterans and the military. Those issues, he said, were not “getting the attention they deserve” in the presidential race…

A combat veteran who served in the Iraq War, Mr. Moulton campaigned on themes of strengthening national defense and promoting public service, and criticizing Mr. Trump for damaging the country’s most vital alliances. In May, he revealed that he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from war, and called for new policies to attend to the mental health issues of soldiers and veterans. Stanley McChrystal, the retired general who led American forces in Afghanistan, endorsed Mr. Moulton’s campaign.

But Mr. Moulton entered the race late, in a strategic choice he now concedes was a mistake. He announced his candidacy in late April, days before Mr. Biden became a candidate and overshadowed much of the rest of the Democratic field.
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Elect a Businessman Who Knows About Business

The Dow is down 600 points (2.4%) after Trump hereby declares that we need to get out of China.

I realize it’s stupid to look at the Dow as anything but a rectal temp of people betting at the track, but goddam Trump is a genius at sticking his dick in every light socket in the building.

Open thread.

Stop, collaborate, and listen

I’ve been slacking on fundraising so I’m going to do a bunch at once now. Early money is important.

Here’s the Balloon Juice Senate Fund, split between nominee funds in several competitive states where we have a chance to flip a seat. (You can allocate as you like when you click on the contributed button.)

Goal Thermometer

The Balloon Juice for Virginia Fund, which gives to the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus and Virginia House Democratic Caucus. Flipping the legislature in Virginia (where Rs have a one-seat majority in each house) is probably the most important state Democratic goal in 2019.

Goal Thermometer

For those in a more defensive mood, here’s the Balloon Juice House fund, split between the most vulnerable members of the federal Democratic House caucus. A lot of the people in here are first-terms whom we helped win in November 2018 (we raised 375K for the 2018 cycle here, btw).

Goal Thermometer

Emergency And Medical Personnel Speak Out On The Nyonoksa Explosion

Two accounts of caring for the victims of the accident at Nyonoksa on August 8 were published Wednesday, August 21, in Meduza (English version) and Novaya Gazeta. The sources are an emergency responder and two doctors. The emergency responder was not on duty that day and relies on the reports of co-workers. The sources want to remain anonymous for obvious reasons.

I have questions about these accounts and a Washington Post account that seems to refer to another Novaya Gazeta article without linking. But first, let’s see what can reasonably be gleaned from the accounts. Read more

You guys, Trump broke up with China!

A short while ago, Trump lost his shit on Twitter in a way that is tanking the DJA:

Our Country has lost, stupidly, Trillions of Dollars with China over many years. They have stolen our Intellectual Property at a rate of Hundreds of Billions of Dollars a year, & they want to continue. I won’t let that happen! We don’t need China and, frankly, would be far….

….better off without them. The vast amounts of money made and stolen by China from the United States, year after year, for decades, will and must STOP. Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing..

…your companies HOME and making your products in the USA. I will be responding to China’s Tariffs this afternoon. This is a GREAT opportunity for the United States. Also, I am ordering all carriers, including Fed Ex, Amazon, UPS and the Post Office, to SEARCH FOR & REFUSE,….

….all deliveries of Fentanyl from China (or anywhere else!). Fentanyl kills 100,000 Americans a year. President Xi said this would stop – it didn’t. Our Economy, because of our gains in the last 2 1/2 years, is MUCH larger than that of China. We will keep it that way!

I’m sure everything will be fine.

David Koch is Dead

One down, one to go. If there was any justice in the world, once he and his brother are dead the kids who inherit the wealth would then spend their fortunes on greenpeace and black lives matter and voting rights organizations and the like. I remember one of their kids is some trustafarian who made the worlds ugliest shirts:

David’s son is apparently a glibertarian.

Insurers, monopolies and multiple plans

Another Scott asked an interesting question yesterday on Silvergapping in monopolies:

Why would a company want to go through the hassle of having 3 similar plans when 2 would be more compelling for customers? Especially if few or no other companies are competing for the same customers? (I can see the benefits of market segmentation in selling, say, cell phones or blue jeans, but not in selling closely similar insurance policies. Changing the stitching or colors is cheap, changing the plans and having more people evaluate claims, appeals, etc., is expensive.)

This is a damn good question.  I think there are a couple of different stories going on. One of the key assumptions that I will make is that the insurer is not in a surprise monopoly situation.  A surprise monopoly occurs when there are more than one insurer filing for a county or a region at the start of the process and then all but one insurer leaves the county during the rate filing process.  I am assuming for this post that an insurer is fairly confident that it will be a monopoly in a given county/region by February of the filing year.

If the local monopoly is in an isolated and small population region, the plumbing and compliance costs may overwhelm any potential increase in revenue and profitability if the insurer chooses to offer a sub-menu of plans from its broader portfolio.  Turning a plan on or off is not particularly expensive, but a custom quilt does make the marketing material messier and more expensive to produce and distribute.  If a county is a monopoly with only 300 potential covered lives in a region where an insurer thinks there are 100,000 covered lives to compete against in nearby regions, the administrative complexity to customize a portfolio for 300 covered lives may not be worth it.  Differentiation of product offerings can also lead to chaotic risk adjustment flows that are difficult to model as well.

In competitive regions, we need to make a distinction between an insurer with a pricing advantage against all competitors and insurers that have similar pricing profiles to all competitors.  An insurer that has a dominant pricing advantage over all its competitors in a region has a choice: does it want a smaller share of a larger market or a larger share of a smaller market. The low price insurer choosing a smaller chunk of a larger market will offer one very low cost silver plan.  A high cost insurer will set the benchmark and the market.

If it chooses to have a large market share of a small market, the price superior insurer, given the ACA cost linked subsidy structure, will chose to Silver Spam the benchmark point.  It will offer the cheapest silver, and the benchmark silver at a price point that is significantly below local competitors.  It may also offer several additional silver benefit designs with slight tweaks to attract different segments of the population.  These tweaks can include additional dental and vision services, a no-deductible but high inpatient co-payment design that is attractive to young invincibles or an HSA design.  This basic strategy maximizes net of premium subsidies for anyone choosing the non-price dominant insurer and potentially increases net of subsidy premiums for subsidized enrollees as well.

Insurers in markets where there is similar pricing profiles among multiple insurers that can all credibly offer a benchmark plan have to assume that the subsidized market will be fairly small.  At that point, they are looking for every advantage that they can in order to sell as there will not be amazing subsidized deals available.  The combination of network and benefit design may be a key differentiation.  That is a realm of the dark arts that I don’t dabble in.

These are rational reasons for an insurer to offer multiple, similar plan designs which may lead to consumers being slightly to significantly worse off compared to a pure silver gap maximization strategy in any and all monopoly counties.  Another reason is that, for most insurers, the ACA individual market is not a dominant part of their business so they don’t have a monomaniacal focus on it with multiple people looking for every edge and thinking through the rules and interactions every moment of the day.  I do this because I have found it fascinating but the ACA market is 3% to 4% of the US population and its quirks are not broadly generalizable to the far larger employer sponsored third party administration contracts, Medicare Advantage or Medicaid managed care contracts that most insurers build their business models around.

On the Road and In Your Backyard

Good Morning All,

Have a great day and weekend, enjoy the pictures, and we’ll see you next week.

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Friday Morning Open Thread: There’s Still Time!…

Nobody tell Cole about this, he’s got enough on his plate ottoman already. But if you’re curious, ActionNews suggests checking the shelter’s Facebook page.

Elsewhere… The Repubs have already decided that Trump is gonna lose in 2020, because we all know deficits only matter when there’s a Democrat in the Oval Office:

Further proof:

So — while we must still do our best to Dump Trump — here’s to the success of Amy McGrath!

Late Night Horrorshow Open Thread: Snippets for Insomniacs

“Becaue universal background checks would be… intrusive… “

Somebody watched one too many Cold War thrillers…

Finally… minor, but still irksome:


Respite Open Thread: As Long As We’re Talking Chonks

Gabe and Scout - puppy and kitty

Last time I updated you on Gabe, I think I was still wondering if he was happy here. He’s erased all doubts about that. One day it was like a switch flipped, and he just relaxed into living here. He snuggles when he needs attention, sleeps on my feet at night, spends time outside and comes back when I call him, accepts the ducks as just part of the general craziness here and seems genuinely happy. Oh, and he very often sleeps on top of one of the dogs. Just ’cause.

He has put on a few pounds. But we don’t talk about that here. I’m sure it had a lot to do with being put on such a restrictive diet at the shelter to heal up his UTI. And the stress of the whole upheaval in his life.  As recommended by our very own WereBear, I’ve moved the cats to a mostly wet food diet. He may un-chonk. He may not. He’s still a handsome devil.

Scout is adorable as always.

Respite open thread…

Repub Stupidity Open Thread: Greenland Shall Be OURS!

Cotton is a man who played many games of Risk in his younger days. If only he’d been able to find other people to play it with him, he might have more of a clue today…

(He remains a strong contender for ‘the Newt Gingrich of his generation’, however.)

Respite Open Thread – Find This Big Boi A Home

I wouldn’t be surprised if he were already spoken for, but this is definitely of interest to this blog.