Long Read: “A Post-presidency Like No Other”

Krissah Thompson and Juliet Eilperin, in the Washington Post:

So far, Obama is trying to approach his post-presidency in the same way as his cocktail-hosting duties — keeping things low-key, despite clamoring from Democrats for him to do more. “He is enjoying a lower profile where he can relax, reflect and enjoy his family and friends,” said his former senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

But the unprecedented nature of this particular post-presidency means his respite could be brief. Even while taking downtime at a luxurious resort in the South Pacific last week, Obama put out a statement urging Republicans not to unilaterally dismantle his signature health-care law.

Not only are the Obamas still young and unusually popular for a post-White House couple, but their decision to stay in Washington while their younger daughter finishes high school has also combined with the compulsion of the new Trump administration to keep pulling them back into the spotlight…

He has attempted to stay above the fray, watching from the sidelines as Republicans have pressed to unravel a slew of his initiatives — and emphasizing the need for a new generation of political leaders to step up in his place.

And yet, while other recent ex-presidents have devoted their retirement years to apolitical, do-gooder causes, Obama is gearing up to throw himself into the wonky and highly partisan issue of redistricting, with the goal of reversing the electoral declines Democrats experienced under his watch…

For now, Obama is delegating political work to associates — notably former attorney general Eric Holder, whom he has tapped to lead the redistricting project that aims to help Democrats redraw legislative maps that many see as tilted toward the GOP. He also endorsed Tom Perez, his former secretary of labor, in a successful bid to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee. His first major speech as a private citizen will come in May, when he will be awarded a John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award as part of a celebration of Kennedy’s centennial.

Michelle Obama, who has a team of four staffers in the office, is spending more time than her husband in Washington, working on her own post-White House book while remaining focused on the home front.

“She’s got one daughter to get off to college, another is a [sophomore] in high school. All of that comes first,” said Tina Tchen, her White House chief of staff. “Now she will also be working on the book and still keeping up her engagement with the community as she always has.”…



Why the ACA Matters

Remember faithful reader cope, who occasionally shares lovely nature photos? Here’s a photo he took of some distressed flowers:

And also a story to go along with them, shared with cope’s permission (and with just a few alterations to protect his privacy):

Four weeks ago tonight, at about 9:15 (past bedtime here in copeville), we received a phone call from the Mayo Clinic that a donor liver had been found for my wife. She had been on Mayo’s liver donor list since December. Needless to say, within 30 minutes we were on our way. At about 7:45 the next morning, she was wheeled away for prep and transplant surgery and by 3:00 in the afternoon, she was back in her room.

After about 10 days at Mayo, she was transferred to [another hospital] for physical and occupational therapy and for treatment of fluid on her lungs. Throughout this time, my sister-in-law and I made a tag-team effort of being with her at all time, sleeping in her hospital room during the rare times when sleep was to be had. I am still working as a high school science teacher (but only 45 days away from retirement!) so I had weekend duty while SIL had the week days. Happily, spring break intervened… You can appreciate our utter and total joy at being told just 3 weeks and one day after surgery that we could come back to our house and our dogs. My wife is doing extremely well (we hit the local Michael’s for some retail therapy this afternoon) and this is the closest to “normal” our lives have been for months.

The fact that my wife even has health insurance, much less a sufficiently robust policy to absorb almost all of the costs of such a major procedure is entirely due to the Affordable Care Act. To be sure, since November’s election, we had not been particularly confident that she would still have coverage at the time a donor might be found (we expected to wait for months and months). Happily for us, we need not sweat the big stuff any more.

My wife worked for almost 35 years as an RN doing geriatrics, AIDS, cancer, burns, labor and delivery and finally, in her last chapter as a nurse, home health care. She has been universally loved by her patients and co-workers as she is one of those giving and loving and compassionate and empathetic people who fortunately walk this earth. She is even now loved by the nurses and techs who have been tending her for the last few weeks, many of whom she brings small gifts to when we make our frequent returns to Mayo. To have had to watch her waste away as her deteriorating liver tried (and failed) to kill her was a miserable, debilitating, depressing experience for all of us who love her. Our relief at having broken on through to the other side of these emotions cannot be expressed in words.

I chose this picture of a disheveled, sunlit flower against a background of dark, looming clouds as a pretty good visual metaphor for what our family experienced these past few months: the struggle to maintain a positive, sunny disposition in a dire and ominous situation.

See, sometimes, good things do happen.

Best jackal wishes to cope’s wife as she recovers. Her story is a great reminder about the stakes in Trump’s war on the ACA. The shitgibbon was dealt a defeat last week, but he and the other ghouls in the GOP will be back. For all its faults, the ACA does represent a huge top-down transfer of wealth, and Republicans will fight an insult like that to the last breath. We need to remain vigilant.

Open thread!



Tremendous cream

Years ago, James Carville said of the Paula Jones suit against Clinton, “If you drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.” At the time I thought it was funny, now I think it’s offensive and the antithesis of what liberals should say and think about lower-income Americans who live in mobile homes. The central point, however, that many of the people involved in this suit were being paid off by wealth wingers, is probably correct.

Here’s one thing that’s certainly true though: you put billions of rubles in front of grifters, you never know what you’ll get them to do. It looks like Manafort got upwards of $20 million from Putin cronies in total. Kushner’s family might have made half a billion in some shady deal with Russian banks. That’s real money. You know lots of people around Trump had their hands out. Russia would be willing to pay tens of billions of dollars to get sanctions lifted. You think there aren’t half a dozen people around Trump, including probably Trump himself, who are scheming for a way to get their cut?

That’s why even if there’s no collusion with the Wikileaks hacks (which is possible) and if Louise Mensch’s fever dreams are all wrong (which is likely), there’s plenty of nefarious doings here that the Republicans in Congress will want to cover up. So the cover ups will go on and on.








Swamps, All the Way Down

Good lord, this Trump-Russia thing is not necessarily developing to the shitgibbon’s advantage, is it? Here are three current WaPo headlines:

Trump administration sought to block Sally Yates from testifying to Congress on Russia

Nunes admits meeting with source of Trump surveillance documents on White House grounds

23 people ask the Justice Department to launch a criminal inquiry into its chief, Jeff Sessions

I’ve been out slogging through literal swamps for the past few days, so I’m catching up on the news, which tells of yet more swamps of the figurative variety. The craving for popcorn is damn near irresistible!

via GIPHY

Has there ever been anything like this cascading clusterfuck in the history of the republic? Sometimes it’s necessary to avert one’s eyes, hence the swamp trek. We’re gonna need a bigger boat…

Open thread!



Keep an eye on Cassidy

I’ve been banging the drum that Cassidy-Collins is a plausible framework of a deal since January.  It still is in play.

Let’s start with a statement from Senator Cassidy (R-LA) from last week:

“There’s a widespread recognition that the federal government, Congress, has created the right for every American to have health care,” he said, warning that to throw people off their insurance or make coverage unaffordable would only shift costs back to taxpayers by burdening emergency rooms. “If you want to be fiscally responsible, then coverage is better than no coverage.”

And then he was on CNN pitching Cassidy-Collins last night:

Cassidy-Collins as currently written needs a lot of work. People much smarter and more informed than me have told me that there are significant ERISA issues in Cassidy-Collins as currently written. But as a start of a discussion that could conceivably aim for 65 or more Senators getting on board, this is a vehicle which could entrench the expectation that everyone gets some decent if not great coverage.
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Collective action problems and races to the bottom

Insurers in a free, unregulated market with imperfect information and very expensive right hand tails of risk distribution will quickly converge to offering really bad coverage.  This is a sub-optimal for everyone involved.  It hurts people who need good coverage.  It hurts society in general as risk is not distributed efficiently.  It hurts hospitals as it guarantees more bad debt.  And it hurts insurers as they are giving up potentially profitable sales in order to protect themselves from a risk dump.

There will be some mathematical intuition required for this post.

Let’s imagine a world that does not involve insurance.  Let’s imagine Abe and Bob both sell furnaces to the same small town.  They both make a good living. Their products are fundamentally similar.  Bob’s furnaces start faster and warm the house quicker, Abe’s machines run quieter. Their current advertising budget is limited to a quarter page Yellow page ad and brightly painted work vans with their phone numbers on it.  The market for new furnaces in their region is effectively saturated and it is a steady business.

In the first year, both Abe and Bob make $100,000 in net profits.  In the second year Mark the Marketeer offers to sell $10,000 of advertising to Abe and Bob.  If one chooses to advertise and the other does not, the advertising furnace guy gets an additional $20,000 in profits but spends $10,000 in advertising.  If they both advertise, Mark gets $10,000 from each and there is a decrease in profits of $10,000 from each of Abe and Bob.  The pay-off matrix is below:

Let’s work through the decision tree. They start in green. Mark makes the pitch. If Abe advertises, his worst situation is $90,000 and his best is $110,000. If he does not advertise, his worst situation is $80,000 and his best is $100,000. If Bob advertises, his worst situation is $80,000 and his best is $90,000. The same applies in reverse to Bob.

If there is neither regulation nor collusion, both of them will advertise. They will see a decline in profits as Mark acts as middleman. Once advertising starts, the logic has both of them advertising frequently in order to protect their own marketshare. They are in a collective action problem.

Insurers are in a collective action problem. Bad benefits drive out good benefits. We talked about this with AIDS formulary design in the summer of 2014:

Once one plan in a market decides to make themselves as unattractive as possible, every other plan has to either follow suit in making themselves unattractive or be willing to take on massive health costs as they become the preferred plan for HIV positive individuals. At that point, there is a local death spiral as the attractive plan has to raise premiums to cover costs which drives them away from the Second Silver subsidy determination point, which then drives away cost sensitive but fairly healthy individuals from the plan. So a region will see either the “nice” plan become a “nasty” plan as a self-defense measure or that “nice” plan will leave the market so the new baseline is “nasty”. It is Gresham’s law for health insurance.

This problem is solvable. The unregulated equilibrium is for plans to be ugly and for plans to spend a lot of time and money on finding ways not to cover people. Regulation is the key. It sets a different set of parameters or at least it governs the depth of ugliness a plan is allowed to descend to. Essential Health Benefits and actuarial value floors limits how much socially counter-productive but firm specific rational behavior can occur.

And once those counter-productive cherry picking tendencies are curbed, a much larger market emerges. That market, once insurers figure out how to price it properly, can be profitable as hell even as it covers millions of more people.








Open Thread: Gimme Sanctuary

Cue the Malevolent Leprechaun, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III :


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On The Road

Good Morning All,

This weekday feature is for Balloon Juicers who are on the road, travelling, etc. and wish to share notes, links, pictures, stories, etc. from their escapades. As the US mainland begins the end of the Earth day as we measure it, many of us rise to read about our friends and their transient locales.

So, please, speak up and share some of your adventures, observations, and sights as you explore, no matter where you are. By concentrating travel updates here, it’s easier for all to keep up-to-date on the adventures of our fellow Commentariat. And it makes finding some travel tips or ideas from 6 months ago so much easier to find…

Have at ’em, and have a safe day of travels!

Should you have any pictures (tasteful, relevant, etc….) you can email them to picstopost@balloon-juice.com or just use this nifty link to start an email: Start an Email to send a Picture to Post on Balloon Juice

Let’s go, after the fold!

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Open Thread: Trump & Russia – Fair Summary, So Far?



Late Night Open Thread: Pauli Boy (Weak & Nasty, But So Cleverly Marketed)

What I wanna know — when did “wonk” become a synonym for “soulless ideologue”? Or is that just one of those IOKIYAR exemptions?
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The Dearth of Expertise: My Concerns with the Recent Actions by the North Korean Government

The Kim government’s recent activities – increasing missile testing, increasing the developmental process for assembling, fielding, and potentially deploying a nuclear weapon has most people concerned. As has the recent, official US statements in regard to these actions. At Foxtrot Alpha, Terrell Jermaine Starr makes an excellent argument for why there is no good military option for dealing with the Kim government’s recent actions. Starr specifically references an excellent post at Lawfare by Jacob Stokes and Alexander Sullivan. Stokes and Sullivan make very well thought out points- about how the US should engage with China in regard to this problem set.

And here’s where we get to the real problem and my real concern: we have precious few actual subject matter experts regarding North Korea. There is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this: the Kim family has kept North Korea essentially closed to everyone and everything outside of North Korea while at the same time heavily indoctrinating their own population. A population that is, by the measures we’re aware of, is incredibly impoverished. There are a few Americans that have gotten permission to spend extended periods in North Korea. Two of them have written books/parts of books about this, which are, of course, partially opposed to the other’s theses (h/t: The XX Committee). And there are also defectors to South Korea and other East Asian states. And, of course, the South Koreans have a significant portion of their Intelligence Community focused on their northern neighbor.

But, the real problem here is that we don’t have the ability to know about North Korea the way we do other places. Even when Iran and Cuba were under full US sanctions, we still had some Americans, as well as citizens of other countries traveling to them. Despite the sanctions both countries tried to be engaged with the rest of the world, albeit on their own terms As a result people did advanced academic/scholarly study of both countries, their politics, culture, religion, economics, etc. And because the leadership of each country had not tried to establish complete isolation from the outside world, subject matter expertise, from many different disciplines and approaches, and from many different people in different places developed.

This dearth of expertise – the lack of a significant number of professionals with deep subject matter expertise into the politics, culture, religion/spirituality, economics, kinship dynamics, etc – in regard to North Korea is a significant shortfall that the US, its allies, and partners will have to overcome in regard to adapting existing and developing new policies and strategies, and the contingency planning in regard to the Kim government’s actions. Moreover, this dearth of expertise is, right now, compounded by the new Administration’s falling behind in staffing the critical political appointments at our National Security departments, agencies, and offices. And the folks that are in place holding stopgap positions, and some who are in more permanent ones, do not exactly inspire confidence that they actually have the credentials, knowledge, skills, abilities, and expertise to help overcome this low information gap.

Trying to work through the North Korean problem set of the Kim family government is, itself, a wicked problem. This dearth of expertise comes at a particularly bad time for the US as we’ve moved into what Tom Nichols*, Professor of National Security Affairs at US Naval War College, calls the death of expertise. The Death of Expertise, is, in fact, the title of Nichol’s recent book. And we can see, in the North Korean problem set, the combination of both dearth and depth. For instance, should the US, its allies, and its partners, most likely working in conjunction with the People’s Republic of China, have to respond with military power to either a military provocation ordered by the Kim government or using all elements of National power (diplomatic, information, military, and economic/DIME) to a humanitarian crisis the lack of significant subject matter expertise in regard to North Korea combined with what seems to be key, senior officials’ within the new Administration antagonism towards expertise will make an effective response very difficult to almost impossible.

Lets just take one, technical military concern. And it would be a concern for both a military intervention and a whole of government approach, utilizing all elements of National power response, to a humanitarian crisis: setting the theater. Setting the theater is an Army doctrinal term defined in ADRP 4-0 as:

… all activities directed at establishing favorable conditions for conducting military operations in the theater, generally driven by the support requirements of specific operation plans and other requirements established in the geographic combatant commander’s (GCC) theater campaign plan. Setting the theater includes whole-of-government initiatives such as bilateral or multilateral diplomatic agreements to allow U.S. forces to have access to ports, terminals, airfields, and bases within the area of responsibility (AOR) to support future military contingency operations. Setting the joint operations area (JOA) includes activities such as theater opening, establishing port and terminal operations, conducting reception, staging, onward movement, and integration, force modernization and theater-specific training, and providing Army support to other Services and common-user logistics to Army, joint, and multinational forces operating in the JOA (FM 3-93).

After over a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan we now know, though current doctrine does not reflect it, that there are some other important things to consider when setting the theater. Specifically the broadly defined socio-cultural* context of the host country population among whom we will be operating – regardless of type of operation. Given the dearth of expertise about North Korean society, culture, religion, politics – other than what little we know of the Kim family, their retainers, and their understanding of government and governance, economics, etc we have significant gaps in the contextual knowledge we need to properly set the theater. For instance, if Myers is correct that the Kim family and their retainers have heavily propagandized the North Korean population for going on four or five generations, then simply being concerned with where to put phase lines and base troops and establish MSRs and logistics routes and/or emplace artillery is going to be insufficient as we will be operating among a population that has been acculturated and socialized to despise and distrust everyone but their own government and people. No matter how good our planners and logisticians are, without subject matter experts with deep expertise into North Korea’s different socio-cultural components, any operation – military or humanitarian – to provide inputs on how North Koreans are going to respond as people, is going to be fraught with more danger than normally accompanies such operations. To use Clausewitzian terms: responding to provocation by the Kim government or to the humanitarian needs of the North Koreans themselves, will be a response plagued by significantly more fog and friction than we have ever encountered before. And that means developing effective strategies to respond to the Kim government’s actions is going to be very, very, very difficult.

* I have never met Professor Nichols. I did correspond with him once by email, to send him a report I had done in 2011 on a topic he’d just written a column on and managed to send him a corrupted file – as in the file name was right, the title on the first page was right, but something not germane (and largely not coherent) had been saved as the document. And I didn’t bother to open the file and check it before emailing it across as an attachment to an email introducing myself. 10/10, big win, would do it again!

**  The only official doctrine/concept definition that we have of culture comes to us from CJCSI 1800.01E, the Officers Professional Military Education Policy (OPMEP). The definition is also mirrored in the Enlisted Professional Military Education Policy (EPMEP). No two doctrinal publications within the Army have the same definition for culture, hence the need to defer to this default joint definition. This definition is:

An interconnected set of ideas; all the information passed on between generations through language, writing, mathematics, and behavior. The distinctive and deeply rooted beliefs, values, ideology, historic traditions, social forms, perceptual predispositions, and behavioral patterns of a group, organization, or society that is learned, evolves and adapts over time, and is transmitted to succeeding generations.



He sells sanctuary

I don’t link to TPM much because I figure everyone reads it, but I this is an important point:

Perhaps the White House had planned all along for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to make an appearance at today’s press briefing to rail against sanctuary cities. But the timing is consistent with what I’ve long feared will be the impulse for the Trump administration: When the going gets rough (failed Obamacare repeal, low poll numbers, etc), it will fall back on appeals to racism and xenophobia to regain political footing.

I assume that at some point, as Trump’s approval ratings sink lower, there will be some kind of international conflict he and Bannon provoke to get people (especially the media) to rally around Dear Leader.








We Have Puppies!

In case your day needs some cuteness, foster puppies!

Friend of mine, LFern, is fostering…again. She and the rest of the Fern family have been very successfully fostering this past year (since losing their beloved Kodiak).

Doing the foster dog thing again. This time I have a mama and 8 puppies. There were 9, but only 8 by the time they got to me. I’ve never had puppies this young. They are so adorable. they should be weaned in about 2 weeks, neutered about two weeks after that (at 8 weeks old) and then ready for adoption. Let me know if you need a puppy or check with Weld County Humane Society. Lolly the mom is an amazing dog too.

Previous fosters have all been successfully placed..now we’ll need homes for these guys. We’re going to go see them this week, I can’t wait. Bixby won’t be able to do his foster magic (he’s been so good with all her fosters) until they are much older, so he and Bailey will have to stay home for now.

Lolly, the mom, has already stolen my heart.

To see individual photos of the whole gang, click here (I could not get them to embed properly and didn’t have time to upload them again).

Open thread!

Also, Writing Group update – anyone who wants to write up something about their experience of self-publishing or traditional publishing, please email me. (whats4dinnersolutions at live dot com)








I can see for miles and miles

I like to try to keep an eye on what’s going on in the world of right-wing media and blogs, but I find reading Fox, let alone, Breitbart, just too soul-crushing to do on a regular basis. I read alicublog and I’ve started following Will Sommer on twitter (he’s the guy who had all the great pictures of the Pizzagate rally). Sommer also has an excellent newsletter.

What do you guys read to keep up with the wingnutosphere?