Shaping the Operational Environment: McClatchy Reports that the US Intelligence Community is Investigating Ties Between the Trump Campaign and Russia

Among all the other news, big, medium, and small was this important report:

McClatchy has reported that:

The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election, including whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided President-elect Donald Trump, two people familiar with the matter said.

The agencies involved in the inquiry are the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence, the sources said.

Investigators are examining how money may have moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump win, the two sources said. One of the allegations involves whether a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said.

And:

The working group is scrutinizing the activities of a few Americans who were affiliated with Trump’s campaign or his business empire and of multiple individuals from Russia and other former Soviet nations who had similar connections, the sources said.

ETA: I want to emphasize something important I failed to above or below in the original post: this probe started months before anyone in the US Intel Community new anything about the oppo research documents that were leaked last week:

The informal, inter-agency working group began to explore possible Russian interference last spring, long before the FBI received information from a former British spy hired to develop politically damaging and unverified research about Trump, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the inquiry.

(we now return you to the original post)

While I cannot prove it, it is logical to reason that this information was provided to the McClatchy reporters so that it would be reported before the inauguration on Friday. By getting the information out now, the purpose of the reporting is to make it much more difficult for the incoming Administration to shut this investigation down or to interfere in how it is conducted.

For good, bad, or otherwise this is not going away. And the President-elect and his team seem unwilling to even try to provide reasonable explanations to knock the suspicions back. The longer this drags out the worse it will be. For all of us.

As I wrote last week before the President-elect’s press conference:

As a national security professional, what I would like to see is the President-elect address the now long standing and ongoing allegations regarding his connection to Russia. If the allegations are spurious, as he and his team have claimed every time they’ve come up, or if there is a straightforward and simple explanation that can be made, he needs to make it. I think a lot of the foreign, defense, and national security policy concerns that many across the political spectrum have with the President-elect’s longstanding policy preferences dating back to 1987 arise from all of the smoke around the claims of Russian connections and interference for Russia’s, not the US’s, not the President-elect’s, interests.

The sooner the President-elect and his team can either provide evidence for why the allegations and rumors are spurious or provide a simple and straightforward explanation for the seeming preference for Russia and the abandonment of the post WW II and post Cold War international order the better.



Wednesday Evening Open Thread: “I Don’t Try to Predict the Future, I Try to Prevent It” (R. Bradbury)


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So many falling anvils, so few anvil-rated shelters — and that’s just in my small personal circle.

I’m stockpiling non-inauguration-related stories for Friday, in the cynical expectation that they’ll be preempted by breaking news.

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Apart from the slow-rolling tshit tsunami, what’s on the agenda for the evening?



Don’t Know Much About History

Hoo boy, Betsy DeVos is a real winner. If you are a c-list blogger with a potty mouth or a writer for a comedian/comedy show, her hearing yesterday was fucking amazing. If you care about education policy or have children, well, you know, sorry about that.

There were so much fail it’s hard to just limit it to one blog post, but here goes. First, she has no idea the difference between proficiency and growth or the existence of the debate, which is to education what evolution/creationism is to hard sciences:

I’m pretty sure any undergraduate at ANY college in America with at least ONE education course could answer that better.

Next up, she seems completely unaware that IDEA exists:

Again, she is so ignorant of everything around here, I sort of hoped that Franken and Hassan would start making up federal laws that don’t exist and asking her position on them, just to see what she would say.

And then finally, there was this:

Just so we are clear, there is no no grizzly infestation menacing Wyoming public schools:

Audra Morrow, a teacher at Wyoming’s Valley Elementary School in Cody from 2004 to 2006, explained to Mic that no guns were necessary to ward off ursids, and that the fence and bear spray were “absolutely” sufficient measures on their own.

“No firearms in our schools!” Morrow wrote. “We do have bear spray but have never had a problem that would require using it.”

And I’m not joking that I am just scratching the surface here- she also stated she did not support standards for every school that receives federal money and on and on and on.

Welcome to the United States of Dumbfuckistan.



Open Thread: Little Man in the High Castle

Everybody relies on their routines, to some degree. But when a 74 70-year-old isolates himself in his home, refuses to deal with anyone outside of a small circle of intimates, uses gimmicks to screen himself from contact with input he can’t control… From the Washington Post, “Donald Trump waits in his tower — accessible yet isolated“:

Exactly one week after becoming president-elect, Donald Trump stepped outside his namesake fortress here for the first time. He ventured just five blocks, to dinner at the 21 Club — a dark-mahogany-and-red-leather-banquette throwback, where model airplanes and sports memorabilia hang from the ceiling and jackets are de rigueur for men.

The vintage haunt, where Trump dined with family members, feels like home. The waiters know his preferred table (No. 14, which Frank Sinatra and Richard M. Nixon also used) and his regular order (the $36 burger, well done, with fries).

So it has been for the president-elect, who has retreated to one comfortable, familiar refuge after another — his soaring Manhattan tower, his white leather-upholstered Boeing jet, his lush golf courses, his opulent beachside castle.

Trump is a man isolated, increasingly cocooned away from the voters who lifted him to his seemingly improbable victory. He favors his own people and his own places, creating the veneer of accessibility — his tweets reach millions and he still answers his cellphone — while placing himself in almost entirely habitual settings.

He spends most of his days in Trump Tower, with few close friends and few meaningful one-on-one interactions beyond the family members, advisers and loyalists who are whisked by gold-colored elevator to his 26th-floor office for private audiences. Trump rarely leaves, not even for a breath of fresh air; nor does he encounter many people he does not already know or who do not work for him…

In many ways, Trump seems most comfortable communicating at a slight remove, with a stage or a screen — television, Twitter, phone — serving as the intermediary between him and the public. Such tools are both his megaphone and his shield, allowing him to blast out a message undiluted with little risk…

At least when Reagan was first inaugurated, he was a skilled enough performer that he didn’t overtly present as an Alzheimer’s victim. Or maybe we just didn’t recognize the symptoms as quickly, back in those innocent days.



007, 007, and Oceans 11

Al Gore was very fat last year:

Average surface temperatures in 2016, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, were 0.07 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than 2015

If you look at charts, the surface temperatures have gone up about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 25 years.

This is even scarier, while oceans have risen an average of about 0.11 inches a year since 1983, that could accelerate rapidly:

If high levels of greenhouse gas emissions continue, they concluded, oceans could rise by close to two meters in total (more than six feet) by the end of the century. The melting of ice on Antarctica alone could cause seas to rise more than 15 meters (49 feet) by 2500.








President Obama’s Final Press Conference: Live Feed



Open Thread: Kiss Me As If It Were The Last Time

Looks like we could use an open thread…



1332 juiced up

Margot Sanger-Katz from the NY Times flags an interesting pre King vs. Burwell Republican plan that is actually interesting in a non-sarcastic manner.

Let’s look at it with the 53 page PDF here:

Section 101 is the three options a state has if the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the fabulist argument advanced in King. Option 1 would be to stay under PPACA and establish a state based exchange. Option 2 would be a complete withdrawal from PPACA with no subsidies. Option 3 would be to establish a HSA like equivilent of coverage with most of the regulator requirements, taxes and mandates of PPACA thrown out. This is actually interesting if the funding makes sense. The default assumption is a complete opt-out. States would have to to opt into either Option 1 or Option 3.

Section 102 talks about the state alternative with HSA. It wipes out mandates and federal regulation. Essential health benefits, minimal actuarial value coverage and other regulatory requirements of PPACA that define a qualified health plan also are junked in this section. 102-4-A authorizes an initial HSA grant and the rest of 102-4 describes the mechanics of that grant. 102-C establishes a public health block grant that is 2% of the eligible funds for the HSA.

Section 103 determines the size of the HSA subsidy. This is where the money matters. The HSA amount is age and geography adjusted which is very similar in function as the ACA benchmark Silver is determined by zip code and age of the recipient. Bingo — 103-1-B is good news.
Read more








Fee Schedule

The Society of Actuaries commissioned Milliman to do a great review of the different payment methodologies and their risk profiles for a wide variety of stakeholders in 2015.  It is a great read (for the right definition of a great read).  One of the things that I want to pull out is the chart below.  It is a fairly standard commercial, employer sponsored insurance contract.  The number is the multiplier applied to the Medicare fee for service fee schedule.

Let’s follow the money to see what we actually value.

There are a couple of very useful things to pull out of this table. First, the topline number is that the same services for a commercial plan will cost 170% or more than what Medicare pays.  This is why one of the major goals of liberal health policy is to drive more services to pay providers rates closer to Medicare than Commercial.

The second most interesting thing to me is the payment for evaluation and management services.  E&M codes are the primary care physician codes.  These are codes that involve a good deal of time and talking and far less cutting and doing.  We pay people lots of money to either cut something or do something.  We don’t pay for talking as much.  So we get a lot of cutting and doing and not as much talking.








Wednesday Morning Open Thread: Smart Takes


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Apart from planning for the Women’s March / Sister Marches, what’s on the agenda for the day?

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I applaud Josh Marshall, on “The Case for Not Being Crybabies“:

Presidents don’t validate what is and isn’t news. If you’re expecting them to, you’re doing it wrong. Almost nothing that is truly important about the work of a free press is damaged by moving the press office across the street.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that these things are not important or that all these threats aren’t a very bad sign. It is vastly preferable to have a President who believes in or at least respects American and democratic values. But let’s get real: we don’t or won’t as of Friday. Trump is a would-be authoritarian and a bully. He’s surrounded by mediocrities who owe all to him and feel validated by enabling his endless transgressions. Of course, he’s doing these things. We know Trump’s MO. He will bully people until they’re cowed and humiliated and obedient. He’ll threaten to kick the reporters out of the White House and then either cut a ‘deal’ or make some big to-do about ‘allowing’ the reporters to stay. These are all threats and mind games meant not so much to cow the press as make them think Trump is continually taking things away from them and that they need to make him stop.

They don’t need to. That access isn’t necessary to do their jobs. And bargaining over baubles of access which are of little consequence is not compatible with doing their job. Access can provide insight and understanding. But it’s almost never where the good stuff comes from. Journalists unearth factual information and report it. If Trump wants to turn America into strong man state, journalists should cover that story rather than begging Trump not to be who he is. America isn’t Russia. And I don’t think he can change us into Russia. So unless and until we see publications shut down and journalists arrested or disappeared, let’s have a little more confidence in our values and our history and our country…

Trump wants to bully the press and profit off the presidency. He’s told us this clearly in his own words. We need to accept the reality of both. The press should cover him on that basis, as a coward and a crook. The big corporate media organizations may not be able to use those words, I understand, but they should employ that prism. The truth is that his threats against the press to date are ones it is best to laugh at. If Trump should take some un- or extra-constitutional actions, we will deal with that when it happens. I doubt he will or can. But I won’t obsess about it in advance. Journalists should be unbowed and aggressive and with a sense of humor until something happens to prevent them from doing so. Trump is a punk and a bully. People who don’t surrender up their dignity to him unhinge him…



Late Night Endless Smoke & Mirrors Open Thread: Anonymous Discusses Wikileaks


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Speaking of subverting the deep state — Commentor Magurakurin flagged this series of tweets a few days ago. Excerpts:

It’s never as simple as Four legs good, two legs bad. Or even Four legs good, two legs BETTER…



I Don’t Have to Outrun the Bull Alligator, I Just Have to Outrun You

This wee fellow was caught on video near Lakeland, FL yesterday.

That’s a big boy!



Open Thread: The Peasants Are Revolting!


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“Well, we don’t actually test it… See that little camera up there? The boss just likes to watch.”

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Apart from the obvious jokes (and the President-Asterisk is an endless source for those!), what’s on the agenda for the evening?



Time to not hate on Manchin

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) is in a horrendous political position of dead incumbent walking. He is a Democrat in West Virginia with an election coming up in 2018. West Virgnia has steadily been going Republican for a generation and it went heavily for Trump in 2016. It is also heavily dependent on Medicaid and the Exchanges because it is a state with a lot of very poor people in it with high health needs.

Earlier this month, Senator Manchin made his comments on the ACA:

Instead of repealing the Affordable Care Act, Congress should work together to fix the parts of the law that don’t work, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told reporters Wednesday.

Manchin said Congress should work on the law “piece by piece,” instead of repealing the entire thing….

He followed up earlier this week reiterating the “Repair” language with Jake Tapper.

This is straight out of the Mend don’t End messaging playbook and I think this also works with a general Democratic defense of the law. LGM has a good preview:

As with all other issues, the default position of the Democratic caucus should be “no.” Make it clear that there will be no initial negotiations on a replacement plan. Hope that the tensions within the Republican caucus either cause the effort to collapse on itself, or results in repeal-and-replace. The longer this drags out, the better the chances of preserving the ACA. Obstruct. Delay. Vote no.
If the Republicans were to offer cosmetic changes to the ACA — slightly less generous subsidies and more rentier skimming for Medicaid, say, but preserving the basic structure of the ACA and making it worse in ways that could be fairly easily fixed by the next Democratic Congress — this would be one of the few instances in which the bad politics of collaborating with Republicans would be substantively beneficial enough to be worth it. But I think this will be a moot point. This would be the smart political play for Republicans, and I suspect McConnell would go along — but I don’t think Ryan will.

The ACA needs a technical correction bill. If Manchin is on board with cosmetic changes that make the bill slightly worse (Copper plan for instance) while getting a host of technical corrections in place (family glitch is the big one) at the trade-off of more Health Savings Account tax breaks, that would be great. I don’t know if that is where Manchin wants to go. But if the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent is on the Repair rather than Repeal kicker, this is good news for caucus unity.



President Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning’s Sentence

I’m sure this will piss some of y’all off, but maybe it was the right thing to do. Manning seems like a lost soul, vulnerable to the manipulation of unscrupulous people (i.e., the scumbag Assange). She’ll get out next May instead of 2045. Via the NYT:

In recent days, the White House had signaled that Mr. Obama was seriously considering granting Ms. Manning’s commutation application, in contrast to a pardon application submitted on behalf of the other large ­scale leaker of the era, Edward J. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who disclosed archives of top secret surveillance files and is living as a fugitive in Russia.

Asked about the two clemency applications on Friday, the White House spokesman, Joshua Earnest, discussed the “pretty stark difference” between Ms. Manning’s case for mercy with Mr. Snowden’s. While their offenses were similar, he said, there were “some important differences.”

“Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing,” he said. “Mr. Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary, and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy.”

In other words, don’t hold yer breath, Eddie. What do y’all think?