Thursday Morning Open Thread: “Don’t Agonize – Organize”


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Apart from that, what’s on the agenda as we start another day?

I may have to add yet another category to the ever-growing list…



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

Sometimes submissions leave me speechless. Apparently, Albatrossity has a thing for birds. So do I. Our thanks – do send more:

Where: Tandayapa Lodge in the western Andes of Ecuador, cloud forest
When 5/19/2017
Violet-tailed Sylph is found at elevations mostly above 900 meters in the cloud forest of Ecuador and Colombia. Only the male has this long iridescent tail.

Booted Racket-tail has a larger range, as it can be found in the Andes of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. Again, only the male has these spectacularly long tail streamers, although both sexes sport the white puffy “boots”.

Can you believe this beautiful creature exists? And this one:

So, so many thanks for sharing these pictures. I hope you’ll consider a guest post or two to share some knowledge and explain part of your expertise – I know many of us would have questions.

Read more



Late Night Russiagate Open Thread: In Like Flynn

As Miss Manners would’ve told Pompeo, sometimes the rules are there to protect you from your friends. It’s certainly possible to imagine (if you squint hard enough) that a guy from one’s personal circle, well-known for his range of interests, might choose to sit in on the briefings in all innocence. Surely a man with such a storied military career would know what could not be safely repeated outside the room, immune from minor peccadilloes of money or fame…

Senior officials across the government became convinced in January that the incoming national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, had become vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

At the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — agencies responsible for keeping American secrets safe from foreign spies — career officials agreed that Mr. Flynn represented an urgent problem.

Yet nearly every day for three weeks, the new C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, sat in the Oval Office and briefed President Trump on the nation’s most sensitive intelligence — with Mr. Flynn listening. Mr. Pompeo has not said whether C.I.A. officials left him in the dark about their views of Mr. Flynn, but one administration official said Mr. Pompeo did not share any concerns about Mr. Flynn with the president.

The episode highlights a remarkable aspect of Mr. Flynn’s tumultuous, 25-day tenure in the White House: He sat atop a national security apparatus that churned ahead despite its own conclusion that he was at risk of being compromised by a hostile foreign power…

The concerns about Mr. Flynn’s vulnerabilities, born from misleading statements he made to White House officials about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, are at the heart of a legal and political storm that has engulfed the Trump administration. Many of Mr. Trump’s political problems, including the appointment of a special counsel and the controversy over the firing of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, can ultimately be traced to Mr. Flynn’s stormy tenure.

Time and again, the Trump administration looked the other way in the face of warning signs about Mr. Flynn…

Concerns across the government about Mr. Flynn were so great after Mr. Trump took office that six days after the inauguration, on Jan. 26, the acting attorney general, Sally Q. Yates, warned the White House that Mr. Flynn had been “compromised.”…

White House officials have said they moved deliberately both out of respect for Mr. Flynn and because they were not sure how seriously they should take the concerns. They also said the president believed that Ms. Yates, an Obama administration holdover, had a political agenda. She was fired days later over her refusal to defend in court Mr. Trump’s ban on travel for people from several predominantly Muslim countries.

A warning from Mr. Pompeo might have persuaded the White House to take Ms. Yates’s concerns more seriously. Mr. Pompeo, a former congressman, is a Republican stalwart whom Mr. Trump has described as “brilliant and unrelenting.”…

Speaking of protection from one’s “friends”, is is fair to assume that one reason Pompeo chose not to speak up about Flynn’s presence was that he hoped to avoid a fate like that meddlesome talebearer Sally Yates?



Open Thread: “Do You Like Gladiator Movies, Donny?”


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Since their domestic agenda is proving as popular as a weeping chancre at a hot-tub party, the Trump BRAINZZZ trust goes back to spinning let’s-kill-us-some-dirty-furriners fanfic…

Beginning with the account of Greek historian Herodotus, the clash, which took place in 480 B.C., has become a kind of foundation myth of Western civilization. The heroic Spartan stand — whose numbers were closer to 7,000 than 300 — in the face of the mongrel, polyglot Persian hordes is cast as a primordial act of sacrifice for the liberty of a people. The historical consensus, both among ancient chroniclers and current scholars, was that Thermopylae was a clear Greek defeat; the Persian invasion would be pushed back in later ground and naval battles. But its legacy still reverberates millennia later…

This is a powerful claim that many in the West intuitively accept: Thermopylae is the Alamo of antiquity, a doomed contest between the brave few and a gargantuan foe that stirred their compatriots to action. Had Xerxes, a Persian emperor, snuffed out all Greek resistance, then the scattered city-states on the western side of the Aegean Sea would have just become one more province of what was a vast, multi-ethnic empire…

“Ancient Sparta is proto-fascist,” Paul Cartledge, a celebrated British classicist and author of “Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World,” among numerous other works on ancient Greece, said in an interview with WorldViews.

Although the clash between Greeks and Persians may be remembered now as the battle that crystallized Western liberty, the ancient Spartans were no model democrats — even in their time. Their society was communal and militarist. It practiced early forms of eugenics and infanticide. It kept a huge slave population in thrall to its warrior elite. Some contemporary scholars even liken conditions in the city-state to a kind of apartheid…

“It’s a clash of political civilizations, it’s not a clash of religions,” Cartledge said, arguing the difference between the two sides was less cultural than it has been made out to be. “Xerxes didn’t conduct his campaign on the basis of a crusade.”

And, ultimately, for all the heroism of the Persian wars, the Greeks would turn against one another. In the wake of the Persian retreat, the rival powers of Sparta and Athens built regional alliances and mini-empires of their own and soon locked horns in three decades of ruinous conflict that spanned the Mediterranean.

“The Greeks fought each other as much they fought others,” Cartledge said…

But they looked so butch while they did!



Addendum: How Much Plutonium Is In That Photo?

As a followup to my earlier post, I’ve been asked how much plutonium is in this photo, so I did a calculation. Read more








Open Thread: Apparently Writing for the WSJ Does Not Qualify One for 007 Status

To be honest, it sounds like this guy was writing fanfic after being contacted by an email scammer. But with really big weapons! Per the AP article:

The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday fired its highly regarded chief foreign affairs correspondent after evidence emerged of his involvement in prospective commercial deals — including one involving arms sales to foreign governments — with an international businessman who was one of his key sources.

The reporter, Jay Solomon, was offered a 10 percent stake in a fledgling company, Denx LLC, by Farhad Azima, an Iranian-born aviation magnate who has ferried weapons for the CIA. It was not clear whether Solomon ever received money or formally accepted a stake in the company.

“We are dismayed by the actions and poor judgment of Jay Solomon,” Wall Street Journal spokesman Steve Severinghaus wrote in a statement to The Associated Press. “While our own investigation continues, we have concluded that Mr. Solomon violated his ethical obligations as a reporter, as well as our standards.”…

“I clearly made mistakes in my reporting and entered into a world I didn’t understand.” Solomon told the AP on Wednesday. “I never entered into any business with Farhad Azima, nor did I ever intend to. But I understand why the emails and the conversations I had with Mr. Azima may look like I was involved in some seriously troubling activities. I apologize to my bosses and colleagues at the Journal, who were nothing but great to me.”

Two other Denx partners — ex-CIA employees Gary Bernsten and Scott Modell — told the AP that Solomon was involved in discussing proposed deals with Azima at the same time he continued to cultivate the businessman as a source for his stories for the Journal. Bernsten and Modell said Solomon withdrew from the venture shortly after business efforts began and that the venture never added up to much. They provided no evidence as to when Solomon withdrew.

The emails and texts reviewed by the AP — tens of thousands of pages covering more than eight years — included more than 18 months of communications involving the apparent business effort. Some messages described a need for Solomon’s Social Security number to file the company’s taxes, but there was no evidence Solomon provided it.

Denx was shuttered last year, according to Florida business registration records…



Kenbro (Open Thread)

Mattel released a diverse line of Ken dolls, including one with a man bun. This spawned a few memes:

I’m especially fond of the “Infinite Jest” one. If I had a dime for every time…

Anyhoo, kids today got it easy. When I was a child, we had to make do with stuffy old standard Kens or add G.I. Joes to the mix.

Open thread!



Small Site Updates, greennotGreen News

Folks,

I’ll be tweaking the sidebar a bit today and hope to add some nifty things to the comments either later today or tomorrow. Also, a rotating quote line is coming today!

On a more personal note, Terry, greennotGreen’s sister read the memorial thread and let me know how helpful it was:

Alain, I noticed the celebration thread up on BJ. Thanks so much. I’m actually going to use some of the quotations from Carol Ann for the memorial service. She would love the idea of writing part of it herself!

So there you go folks, well done!

Open thread!

ETA: OK, folks, exciting things just went live. Look below the comment form – there is now a comment help/tips section with lots of useful things (more to come, as things change).  And perhaps more importantly, a built-in pie filter. Use it to block annoying commenters and their comments. It’s harmless – enter a name or a comment number and all comments from that person will be turned into statements about pie. It works on a per-browser basis, storing your list in the browser’s site data.

All hail Major Major Major Major and cleek. Their help to convert the filter from something that you had to tack-on in a specific framework into a built-in function of the site was immense. Thanks guys, your help made this a better place for all.



Só Tinha de Ser Com Você

The Senate Intelligence Committee is holding hearings today about Russian meddling in the 2016 election. WaPo has an overview, but it’s nothing we didn’t know or suspect.

Summary: The interference was aggressive and unprecedented. At least 21 states were targeted — maybe more. There was also a massive propaganda element designed to sandbag Clinton and promote Trump, who naturally isn’t concerned about it.

When news like this makes me want to reverse engineer a shop-vac so I can shotgun several gallons of bourbon, what I do instead of that is either go traipsing around in the woods or listen to music like this:

Highly recommended!



Shallow Roots (Open Thread)

Check out this cypress tree on the bank of the Suwannee River. It’s an old tree. That particular stretch of the river has had two “hundred-year” floods in the past eight years:

But the tree endures — so far — because of its unique root structure. It has adapted to living in a flood-prone area, something non-tree Floridians are also going to have to do.

Late-ish to the party, but here are a couple of luke-warm takes on last night’s special election losses:

1) After President Obama was elected in 2008, Democrats won seven consecutive special House races, retaining six seats and flipping one GOP seat to a Democrat. In 2010, the Democrats lost the House in a wave election. Just saying.

2) Via Stephanie (@echo_fish) on Twitter, Anna Maltese posted a message from a friend who is a political organizer. It’s required reading for anyone who is feeling Eeyorish today, IMO:

Trump, his odious sons, his liars for hire, et al, utterly devoid of humility or grace, are taking the classless victory laps you’d expect this morning. Good! Let them think narrowly retaining four seats in solid red districts means they don’t have to worry about 2018.

But we know the truth: There are no saviors, there is only working hard to change things. We’ve made significant progress. Now is not the time to get discouraged.

I know it’s hard. Progress is being rolled back. Outrageous shit is being done in our names. Truly ghoulish, horrible people are reveling in their assumed ascendancy. People who imagine themselves Trump’s opposites are just as brazenly spinning these results for their own purposes.

But the one sure way they win is if we cede the field. I refuse.

Now, feel free to discuss any topic — open thread!



The incentive problem

As long as norm busting creates rewards, norms will be busted.

We can either engage in a race to the bottom of norm busting or change the incentive structure so that norm busting is not rewarded. Neither set of choices is easy or certain to succeed.

Open thread.



Tennessee’s Exchange is getting interesting

Two very interesting pieces of news as insurers file their rates in Tennessee.

The first is that Blue Cross and Blue Shield is continuing their Silver Gap strategy. More interestingly, they are expanding their Silver gap strategy. They have not filed all the details yet, but their summary is here.

They intend to offer four plans. A single Bronze and a single Gold plan will be sold. Then they will offer a pair of Silver plans. One Silver plan has a $250 deductible with a 50% coinsurance to a $5,000 out of pocket maximum. The other plan has a $2,500 deductible and a $5,000 out of pocket maximum. The first plan has an actuarial value between 66% and 67%. The second plan will have an actuarial value near 72%. Both Silver plans are using the same network so the pricing difference will mostly be driven by the difference in actuarial value. A 5.5% actuarial value difference will lead to Silver spreads greater than $100 for a 40 year old.

In 2017, BCBS of Tennessee Silver Gapped the central part of the state excluding Metro Nashville. They produced great deals. In 2017, Humana was the sole carrier around Knoxville. They offered only a single Silver plan in east-central Tennessee. They left the market as they attracted a very sick risk pool. In 2018, BCBS is moving into Humana’s previous turf. They are taking their Silver Gap strategy with them. It will produce a very different result than the dichotomous county level experience of the ACA in 2017.

In Perry County, a 40 year old earning $25,000 a year, which is slightly more than 200% Federal Poverty Level (FPL), saves $100 a month or roughly 5% of their income because of the Silver Gap compared to the same individual in Roane County. Going to a broader scenario, a married pair of 40 year olds plus a ten year old kid can earn up to $38,600 (~190% FPL) before they have to pay a dollar for Silver plan with Cost Sharing Assistance. In Roane County, that same family is paying $182 per month or 5.6% of their monthly income for their Silver plan.

If that family of three is a pair of 50 years olds and a 10 year old, the Perry County family can earn up to $45,000 a year before they have to pay a dollar for their Silver plan. Bronze plans are zero dollar premiums for this family when they earn just north of $75,000.

The same family in Roane County pays 7.2% of their monthly income for a Silver plan if they earn $45,000 a year. Their zero dollar Bronze plan ends once they earn more than $43,500.

Roane County will see deals similar to those seen in Perry County for 2018.

Now there is something else interesting in Tennessee. A carrier is entering the market for the first time. Oscar is jumping into greater Nashville.

Tennessee: Nashville is laying claim to its status as the country’s capital in health care technology and innovation, and always seemed like a natural fit for Oscar. While it’s a completely new market for us, we’ll be working closely with regulators to see if we can deliver a competitive product in Nashville’s individual market, and are filing for expansion there in 2018.

I have not seen the filing yet, but this is intriguing to say the least. If they can replicate their Texas experience, this makes sense. I am curious if they are planning to partner with Vanderbilt or HCA as the risk bearing entity in a branded narrow network or if they are doing something else. They think they can make money in Tennessee so they are putting their money on the line. That’s how markets are supposed to work. I don’t know if it will work but good luck.








Call the Senate

We can take Senator Cruz’s objective to the absurdist end. No coverage is effectively modeled as a $0 premium plan with an unlimited deductible, a horrendous network and even worse pricing.

So if that is not the vision and logical end point of what you want, call the Senate this morning.








Wednesday Morning Open Thread: Happy Solstice!

Summer solstice, for most Balloon-Juice readers. Today’s Google doodle will strike a chord for all of us who’ve ever resented the extrovert’s Such a lovely day — put down that book and come outside to enjoy it! (Those of you in the Southern Hemisphere get a different version of your own.)

Thoughts & prayers (seriously) to those of you in the Southwest bearing the triple-digit brunt of that “scientific hoax” known as climate change!

Apart from that, what’s on the agenda for the day?

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Couple quick notes on last night’s GA-6 race. Josh Marshall, at TPM:

This is a big disappointment. But remember, by any objective measure these races show a Democratic party resurgent and a GOP on the ropes. These seats came open because they were vacated by people Trump picked for cabinet appointments. They got those picks because they came from safe seats. They are by no means a cross section of House seats. The thing to do is learn what we can from coming up just short and move on to the next fight. No one should expect any of this to be easy. If you do, bow out of civic questions and just watch movies and TV. We need people with more endurance.

Ed Kilgore, in NYMag:

Democrats searching for a silver lining in the Georgia race don’t have to look too far. This is the third consecutive special election (the fourth if you count South Carolina) in a historically Republican district where the Democratic percentage of the vote jumped sharply. Democrats will surely retake the House if the swing in their direction is similarly strong in 2018. In retrospect, ironically, tonight’s results may inspire new respect for Hillary Clinton’s performance–when she came within a point of Donald Trump in this district last November — and provide some new data points for doing well in GOP-leaning districts that resemble GA-06 with its highly educated population.

As a long-time Georgian, I would add that in my experience Georgia Democrats don’t much show up to vote in special elections, or runoffs, much less special election runoffs. That so many did in this election was a minor miracle…



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

I miss my wild visitors in Colorado. Being from the East Coast and used to white-tailed deer, we always called these mule deer, “daffy-eared deer”.  They’re much bigger and sturdier than their photogenic cousins, fitting the Rocky Mountains.

We are now full into the season for wildlife – keep your eyes and ears open, and do send pictures of sightings!

Read more