Spicey Out

I'm in a little diner in the middle of PA ony way to visit ABC, and ACTION NEWS on the tv set tells me that Spicer has resigned and an internet troll is now running the WH comms shop.

*** UPDATE ***

SWEET MOTHER OF GOD LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THIS FISH SANDWICH!

The butter knife is for reference. Apparently I am eating Moby Dick for lunch.








Gimme some money

I’ve been traveling the past few weeks, but I’m back and I want to keep raising money for the midterm elections.

You can donate here to every Democratic nominee for the House who runs against a Republican incumbent.

Goal Thermometer

You can donate here to the guy running against Paul Ryan (Randy Bryce).

Goal Thermometer








Open Thread

Sorry, moving in slow gear today.

ETA:

Quirky “art” in Guffey, Colorado

Guffey is a tiny hamlet off Rt 9, on the way to Eleven Mile Reservoir. Which is where I wish I was for the weekend, camping, fishing for trout, and catching crawdads in my traps (and, at night, wading and using my hands and a headlamp). Great fun, alas I’m no longer close.

On the way home, I’d always stop at Rita’s in Guffey for some chow, usually a very peppery green chile. On the way out, I’d often drive to Fairplay and hit Dorothy’s Tamales (a converted bowling alley that still opens for bowling after dinner!), then back South to the reservoir. Should you ever be near Breckenridge, Buena Vista, or are driving West from Colorado Springs, check them out. Their bison tamales with red chile are beyond description – they’ve perfected that dish, literally, as in you cannot believe that someone has made something so good, so perfect, so complex. Food like that is sublime, even transcendent, and you’re lucky if you encounter it.








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 – for you!

As always, if you’re on a trip or have a story to share, you can just pitch in below. Please hold off sending new pictures as the new form will launch Monday.

Travel safely everyone, even if it’s just down the hall for that second cup of coffee. Most importantly, have a great weekend!

Read more



Friday Morning Open Thread: Got Plans for Next Weekend?

Trollin’, trollin’, trollin’…


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As we brace for the predictable Friday News Dump, what’s on the agenda for the day?


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And if we ever get a break from the cascade of healthcare / Russiagate newsbursts, let’s not forgot Kansan Kris Kobach’s openly fraudulent Voter Fraud Commission…



Timelines for plumbing

A friend of the blog asked me to look at Senator Cardin’s (D-MD) ACA improvement bill, SB 1511. It’s a perfectly fine bill. It wants a public option tied to Medicare opt-out. It wants to increase the value of CSR. It wants to increase the subsidy range to 600% of the Federal Poverty Line. It wants to do something with prescription drugs. It wants to do a lot. And it wants all of these changes to go live on January 1, 2018. That is five months from now.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently scored HR 1628, the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act which would sunset all funding and spending of the ACA on 12/31/19. The political theory behind a two year phase out is that at some point the artificial crisis will force action on a replace bill that will be conservative leaning but have large bi-partisan majorities so everyone is responsible and no one is to blame. The crisis point is twenty nine months from now.

The Cardin bill is too late to implement even if we lived in a counterfactual universe where it was signed into law on Friday afternoon.

The hypothetical replacement bill, even if it was to be signed into law on Friday evening, might be too late to implement for January 1, 2020.

Plumbing is a challenge. Anything more complex than explicitly appropriating Cost Sharing Reduction subsidies and perhaps adding money to outreach efforts won’t have a positive effect for a 1/1/18 start date. The Cardin bill builds on current structures and current regulations in the counterfactual universe of Hillary Clinton being president but it wants to start up a new insurer and it wants to dramatically alter the composition of the on-Exchange market while changing the actuarial value of the plans sold. The insurers have spent a year or more building the 2018 product profile and have submitted their tentative offerings for approval. At this point, their plumbers can’t build brand new plans from scratch and have them reviewed and approved to go on sale on November 1st.

Any hypothetical replace bill would take down significant elements of the current regulatory structure. New rule-making from at least the Departments of Health and Human Services and the Treasury would be needed. That means the federal regulators would need to figure out what Congress intended, then they would need to create drafts, solicit comment, revise the regulations. That is not a fast process. Once final regulations are issued, insurers have to figure out what they need to do and then build.

Insurers and the federal government should have all of the changes in final testing by July 2019 for a November 1, 2019 launch date. Rule making would eat up a year and insurers would be scrambling for a year to build. They don’t need to be able to have their operational process be 100% effective on Day 1. As a lowly plumber on the launch date of the ACA Exchanges in 2013 I had jury-rigged a bastardized manual process for the piece that I was responsible for with the intent of getting the system fully automated by early January. Minimal initial operational capability needs time.

Anything that is a tweak and an adjust to the basic regulatory framework of the ACA has enough time to be implemented for the 2019 plan year. Major changes for January 1, 2020 would be a plausible challenge with significant probabilities of failures and painful issues if Congress had a bill signed this weekend.

This entire piece is premised on the absurd assumption that a law is signed on July 21, 2017. This is an extraordinarily generous assumption regarding plumbing. Anything that happens will be working with an even more compressed time frame than the one I sketched out here.



Late Night Oldies with Poor Sleep Hygiene Open Thread: ‘President’ Trump’s Big Vroom-Vroom TeeVee Show!!!

And he wouldn’t be in the White House if not for all those busy little GOP elves (and their Russian ‘assistants’). THANKS EVER SO FECKIN’ MUCH, REPUBS!

The producers of children’s television know the key to holding a distractible audience’s attention: interactivity…

It turns out you can apply the same formula to morning news. “Fox & Friends,” the three-hour wake-up program on Fox News, is an interactive magic mirror for Donald J. Trump.

President Trump is the show’s subject, its programmer, its publicist and its virtual fourth host. The stars offer him flattery, encouragement and advice. When he tweets, his words and image appear on a giant video wall. It’s the illusion of children’s TV — that your favorite show is as aware of you as you are of it — except that for Mr. Trump, it’s real.

In January the hosts, “Romper Room”–style, even pretended to be watching Potus, showing a video feed of the White House and asking him to flash the lights on and off if he was watching. (Producers added an effect of the lights flickering, a “TV trick” the hosts later acknowledged.)…

Suddenly, for no other reason than its No. 1 fan, it is the most powerful TV show in America. (It’s also easily the most-watched cable news morning show, averaging 1.6 million viewers in the year’s second quarter, following a post-Trump ratings boost.) Mr. Doocy and Mr. Kilmeade now offer strategic advice on health care legislation. Politicians use the show as a kind of virtual Oval Office pitch meeting. In turn, Mr. Trump’s live tweets set and reshape the show’s focus…

TV news has covered and worried presidents for decades, but it has never been as central to the mind-set of a president as it is to Mr. Trump: reality star, producer and cable-news junkie. But since his amour fou with CNN and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” has gone bad — he claims not to watch them anymore, yet somehow stays deeply familiar with them — he has favored “Fox & Friends,” which requites his love…

Diagraming the feedback loop between “Fox & Friends” and the president requires a very small bulletin board and maybe six inches of yarn. On July 11, the show aired a segment blaming Democrats for “obstructing” Mr. Trump’s nominees. At 6:42 a.m., it posted the segment on Twitter, and Mr. Trump retweeted it quickly. At 6:59, he tweeted… Ten minutes later, that tweet was on the “Fox & Friends” video wall, prompting the hosts to criticize the Democrats again.

“This is anti-American,” Mr. Kilmeade said.

“Well, it’s anti-Trump, ultimately,” Mr. Doocy said.

“Which is anti-American,” Mr. Kilmeade said…

When George Orwell predicted a 24/7 Big Brother video autocracy, he didn’t know it would be aimed at a four-year-old’s comprehension level. But this is America, land of FreeDUMB!



Lest We Forget Open Thread: The Apollo 11 Moon Landing

Today….

Progress?

A bag containing traces of moon dust sold for $1.8 million at an auction on Thursday following a galactic court battle.

The collection bag, used by astronaut Neil Armstrong during the first manned mission to the moon in 1969, was sold at a Sotheby’s auction of items related to space voyages. The buyer declined to be identified. The pre-sale estimate was $2 million to $4 million.

The artifact from the Apollo 11 mission had been misidentified and sold at an online government auction, and NASA had fought to get it back. But in December a federal judge ruled that it legally belonged to a Chicago-area woman who bought it in 2015 for $995…

Also getting out-of-this-world interest at the auction was the Flown Apollo 13 Flight Plan, with handwritten notations by all three crew members. It sold to an online bidder for $275,000, well above its pre-sale estimate high of $40,000.

ETA:

The story of Planetes follows the crew of the DS-12 “Toy Box” of the Space Debris Section, a unit of Technora Corporation. Debris Section’s purpose is to prevent the damage or destruction of satellites, space stations and spacecraft from collision with debris in Earth’s and the Moon’s orbits. They use a number of methods to dispose of the debris (mainly by burning it via atmospheric reentry or through salvage), accomplished through the use of EVA suits…

IMO, a pretty good series, until it collapsed completely in the last couple of episodes.



Tonight’s News Dump

Trump’s legal team is looking for ways to discredit Mueller’s investigation. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post released stories with that theme. The WaPo story has more juicy detail:

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.

Trump’s legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.

“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,” a close adviser said.

Just checking to make sure of all the legal ramifications in the same way Trump has been so careful throughout his career.

The lawyers are also looking for conflicts of interest. From Trump’s interview with the New York Times yesterday, I think he doesn’t understand what conflict of interest is. He seems to think that it means conflicts with HIS interests. Perhaps his lawyers understand the term.



Thursday Evening Open Thread: Bad Idea TV

Yeah, as the CBC phrases it: “‘Sounds stupid as hell'”.

I am not and probably never will be an HBO subscriber (I explicitly subscribed to Netflix, back when it was just a disc-rental service, to watch cable shows without having to deal with cable companies), so the HBO suits won’t care what I think, but still. Yeah, the pseudo-historical intersection between “But what if the monster… isn’t actually dead?” and “Our chivalric dream shall never die!” can always start an argument, but how many people want to pay money to watch a cosplay version of the one we’re living all too vividly right now?

My prediction is that a Confederate “win,” 150 years after the original arguments, would’ve resulted in a continuing breakdown of the United States — bad ideas have consequences, too, and if one region “escapes” than a lot more states get fractious. Most of New England would’ve departed by the 1870s, possibly ending up as a Canadian province. The breadbasket area from Minnesota to the Rockies would be a bunch of possibly-allied semi-Calvinist networks (immigrant Scandinavian Protestant & Russian Orthodox farmers, Mormons, and versions of all the other fringe cults of the Second Great Awakening). Mexico would’ve successfully reclaimed parts of Aztlan, including most of Texas. Big chunks of the Rockies-adjacent areas would be just as underpopulated as they are today, but there would be more Native American tribal units, not to mention feral refugees from all the adjacent regions. Goddess only knows what northern California/Oregon/Washington would’ve come to, but I suspect the lingua franca would be either Russian or Mandarin. New Orleans would be the center of an ever-fluid “Black Free State”, probably doing better financially than its ‘Confederate’ neighbors. There would be dozens of tiny “free” baronies dotting the Appalachians, with more scattered in the adjacent fringes, wherever a handful of ‘Scots-Irish’ hillbillies or other malcontents felt called to resist the big gubmint encroachment of war-depleted, tax-starved state authorities. And the Mason-Dixon DMZ between the remaining United States (Connecticut through Indiana, approximately) and the Confederation would make the one now separating the Koreas look like a holiday resort.

***********
Stupid popcult ideas or otherwise, what’s on the agenda for the evening?



The Republican Conundrum

Amusing piece in the Hill about how the infrastructure bill is stuck:

The timing and fate of President Trump’s infrastructure plan may depend on whether the GOP enacts major tax reform — a task that could prove challenging amid the struggle to pass a healthcare bill.

Republicans are signaling that a massive rebuilding package, which has long been one of Trump’s top priorities, will most likely have to wait on the sidelines until lawmakers overhaul the tax code.

But with that process likely to be just as time-consuming and daunting as healthcare, infrastructure could be pushed to the back burner.

“I’d like to see infrastructure get done,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the Senate’s No. 3 Republican and chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told reporters Wednesday. “But I’ve always said, that in terms of how things are sequenced, it’s more likely that they would do tax reform first. And that might push infrastructure into sometime next year.”

First, let’s point out that infrastructure week was June 6th, six weeks ago, replete with all the pomp and circumstance including an official signing ceremony:

Two problems- he had no plan or bill, congress had passed nothing, and he was actually just signing a potemkin bill. Adding to that minor detail was the fact that Comey was testifying and it sucked all the oxygen out of the week.

Second, let’s note that the Republicans don’t really care about infrastructure. They just don’t. All they care about is cutting taxes for their rich buddies. That and winning elections. That’s ALL THEY CARE ABOUT. So the infrastructure bill simply is not a priority and won’t be. Ever.

The only reason they are still going on about health care is because Trump wants to replace Obama’s signature legislation and health care is where the money is at for tax cuts. That is it. They want to “reform” health care so they can get down to what they really like, which is cutting taxes for rich people. And if they can gut ACA and get a couple trillion for tax cuts, they can pretend to fiscally conservative because they are not “adding” to the deficit and debt.

But even if they don’t gut the ACA, they are going to try to cut taxes for their rich buddies. Because that is WHAT THEY DO and the ONLY THING THEY CARE ABOUT. Even if it raises the deficit and debt. They’ll just lie that growth will lead more tax revenues mumble babble Reagan laffer blah blah blah. It’s a fucking lie, of course, but lies don’t matter anymore because their base is a bunch of clueless numpties who just repeat what they are told.

So iffin’ they even actually get around to writing an honest to god infrastructure bill, it won’t amount to jack and shit because all of a sudden they will become fiscal conservatives and deficit hawks and we can’t add to the deficit even if it keeps bridges from crashing down. Because an infrastructure bill benefits everyone, and not just their rich buddies in the form a tax cut.

If Republicans wanted to really do something about infrastructure, there was a really good time to do that. When we were in the middle of an unemployment crisis and interest rates were almost negative. We could have borrowed trillions on the cheap, rebuilt our roads and airports and power grid and maybe even had enough left over to make sure the people of Flint, MI don’t have to drink bottled fucking water for the rest of their god damned lives. That actually might have led to a robust recovery, because you would be putting money into the hands of people who would spend it instead of addled old billionaires stashing it in whatever fucking derivatives the Wall Street boys are creating a bubble with right now.

The end.








Russiagate Open Thread: The Minions Are Restless

And who could blame them? Not every member of the Trump administration looks forward to spending the rest of their days in some country with no extradition agreement:

The uneasy dynamic between the president and top aides has been exacerbated by the revelation this week of an extended dinner conversation between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the recent summit in Germany. The previously undisclosed conversation, which occurred a few hours after their official bilateral meeting, raised red flags with advisers already concerned by the president’s tendency to shun protocol and press ahead with outreach toward Russia, according to two U.S. officials and three top foreign officials…

The three foreign officials who have spoken with top Trump advisers described a disconnect, or “mixed signals,” between Trump and his team over Russia, highlighting a lack of a clear policy. U.S. officials echoed that sentiment, with one saying diplomats and intelligence officials were “dumbfounded” by the president’s approach, particularly given the evidence of Russia’s election meddling…

In a highly unusual move, McMaster did not attend the bilateral meeting with Putin. Only Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and a translator made up the U.S. side.

Meetings with such critical national security implications typically include a broader team, including the national security adviser and a regional specialist from the National Security Council — in this case, the head of the Russia directorate, a position recently filled by Russia expert Fiona Hill.

Foreign and U.S. officials said the Russians recommended that a note taker be present in the bare-bones official bilateral meeting. But Trump, who has repeatedly expressed concern over leaks, refused, instead relying on Tillerson to document the meeting. The session was scheduled for 30 minutes but stretched to more than two hours.

The White House did not respond to questions about Trump’s refusal to have a note taker for his meeting with Putin, or about whether McMaster communicated his concerns to the president…

White House officials said the public may never know what was discussed between Putin and Trump over dinner. But advisers past and present said that characterizing any conversation with Putin as casual would be a mistake.

“There are no meaningless conversations between presidents,” said Jeffrey Edmonds, the NSC’s former Russia director.

“That’s what is so divergent here,” he said. “Relations have been at an all-time low because of Russian meddling in our elections and so it’s hard to see how a meeting with President Putin for an hour during dinner isn’t important.”

Hard to imagine a non-hinky explanation for Trump’s behavior, even for those of us with excellent imaginations.



It’s Baaaaacccckkkk (Sort Of, Maybe)

It is impossible to overstate the Republican commitment to ripping health care from millions, while taking a chainsaw to our medical system.

Rand Paul has just announced that he will vote “Yes” on the Trumpcare motion to proceed as long as he is given a clean vote on his amendment, which would simply repeal the ACA (which, given the CBO evaluation of a similar proposal, would lead to something on the order of 17 million without health care next year, and 32 million Americans left in the cold by 2026).

That’s still not enough to get Trumpcare to the floor if the other declared “Noes” hold out, but each senator McConnell can peel away significantly increases the pressure on those who remain opposed.  And certainly, Paul’s cave reminds us that counting on any Republican to maintain a party-base-unpopular position as a matter of principle is a mug’s game.

This won’t be over until the GOP loses its majority in one house or the other.

Image: Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder, Massacre of the Innocents, c. 1515



NATO’s Video on the Forest Brothers

We and the news media are so entrapped by the doings in Washington that we miss stuff going on in the rest of the world. That’s not without reason; having an unqualified boor as president of the most powerful nation on earth provides a great deal of scary copy. But the other side is an opportunity cost. There is stuff going on besides the Trump-manufactured crises. Other nations have their own ideas as to what is important, although they are affected by the crazy too.

The Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – are members of the EU and NATO. They were absorbed into the Soviet Union after World War II, but most nations of the world continued to recognize them as independent states. They were instrumental in breaking up the Soviet Union in 1991.

After World War II, resistance fighters continued in all three states. They were called the Forest Brothers and were widely supported by the population. Their activity continued through the 1980s. The last Forest Brother in Estonia drowned himself in 1978 rather than be taken by the Soviets.

I figured when Russia seized Crimea that Baltic young people were consulting their grandparents and that stocks of guns, ammunition, and food were being hidden away. Earlier in July, NATO released a video about the Forest Brothers, with interviews from two people who were involved. Here’s a longer history of the Forest Brothers, and a bit more. And here’s the video.

And open thread!



Notes from the CBO score of the BCRA

The Congressional Budget Office released their score of the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). It does not include the Cruz amendment. There is not a whole lot of difference since the last score as there are not many large changes on the coverage side.

I just want to pull out a few things. The most important thing to pull out is Table 3 regarding Medicaid:

The largest savings would come from a reduction in total federal spending for Medicaid resulting both from provisions affecting health insurance coverage and from other provisions. By 2026, spending for that program would be reduced by 26 percent (see Table 3, at the end of this document).3

It is a $575 billion dollar cut to Medicaid. Throwing inadequate opioid specific money or allowing for a $200 billion dollar back door CSR funding stream won’t do anything remotely sufficient to address the people who lose coverage because of these cuts.

THe next nugget is a repetition of the basic point that the value proposition of super high deductibles is absolutely atrocious for lower income individuals:

Because this legislation would change the benchmark plan (in part, by repealing the current-law federal subsidies to reduce cost-sharing payments), the average share of the cost of medical services paid by the plan would fall—for the 40-year-old with income at 175 percent of the FPL in 2026, from 87 percent to 58 percent—and his or her
payments in the form of cost sharing would rise. And the person’s net premiums would be higher under the legislation than under current law for plans of comparable actuarial value. Those changes, CBO and JCT estimate, would contribute significantly to a decrease in the number of lower-income people with coverage through the nongroup market under this legislation, compared with the number under current law.

The baseline deductible in 2026 is a mind busting $13,000. This matters a lot for the people who are losing Medicaid. The deductibles are an absurdist joke.

a single policyholder purchasing an illustrative benchmark plan (with an actuarial value of 58 percent) in 2026, the deductible for medical and drug expenses combined would be roughly $13,000, the agencies estimate… Under this legislation, in 2026, that deductible would exceed the annual income of $11,400 for someone with income at 75 percent of the FPL. For people whose income was at 175 percent of the FPL ($26,500) and 375 percent of the FPL ($56,800), the deductible would constitute about a half and a quarter of their income, respectively.

Finally, the CBO notes a clear mechanical problem that can not be fixed without 60 votes:

The limit on out-of-pocket spending in 2026 is projected to be $10,900. (Under current regulations, the limit on out-of-pocket spending is defined by a formula based on projections of national health expenditures.) Therefore, plans with an actuarial value of 58 percent and a deductible of $13,000 would exceed that limit and would not comply with the law unless the formula used to calculate the limit was adjusted. CBO and JCT estimate that a plan with a deductible equal to the limit on out-of-pocket spending in 2026 would have an actuarial value of 62 percent. A person enrolled in such a plan would pay for all health care costs (except for preventive care) until the deductible was met and none thereafter until the end of the year.

The benchmark plan can’t be built.

Oops