Babylon throne gone down gone down

Via the comments, there was a big upset in the New York State assembly race in Long Island tonight:

Democrat Christine Pellegrino has defeated Republican Thomas Gargiulo in the District 9 State Assembly special election.

With all election districts reporting, unofficial results have Pellegrino ahead of Gargiulo by margins of 3,338-2,282 in Suffolk County and 2,252-1,767.

Trump won 60 percent of the vote in this district in 2016, and it’s a longtime Republican stronghold:

Typically, Democrats would hardly compete in the 9th, a horseshoe-shaped district on the Nassau-Suffolk county line that includes Massapequa, West Babylon, Babylon Village, West Islip and West Bay Shore.

More evidence that Dems need to compete EVERYWHERE over the next few years.

Late Night Open Thread: Vindication…

… and Lord Smallgloves is too “exhausted” even to tweet angrily about it.

Can’t wait to hear how his audience with the Pope goes. Personal bet: ‘Rumor’ that Francis has to tell him, no, he can’t demand God grant his wishes — and if he could, “smite all Trump’s enemies, bigly” would not be on the list.

Side bet: The Swiss Guard will have to contact Trump’s entourage, post-audience, to get some number of shiny pocketable trinkets returned. No questions asked, Mr. Bannon.

When their eloquence escapes you

For some reason, friends of mine have been talking about Sting online recently, and when I talk about his album The Tepid Heart, they can’t tell that I’m kidding! I guess that’s because if someone told you there was a Sting album called The Tepid Heart and you didn’t google it, you’d just assume it was real. Anyway, that’s caused Sting to be on my mind, and now whenever I read a column by Sting’s fellow baby boomer soft-rocker David Brooks, I can hear Fields of Gold playing in the background.

But I’m not sure “tepid” even does this one justice:

As the impeachment investigation proceeds, it’ll be important for us Trump critics to not set our hair on fire every day, to evaluate the evidence as if it were against a president we ourselves voted for. Would we really throw our own candidate out of office for this?

Jesus, this one is easy: “YES”. Let’s suppose that Lanny Davis continued to take money from the Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea without telling anyone while working on Hillary’s campaign. Let’s suppose the Ivory Coast hacked Republicans’ email during the campaign. And then let’s say that Hillary made Lanny Davis her National Security advisor, and that Lanny Davis then had inappropriate phone calls with the Ivory Coast and made a strange foreign policy decision favored by the dictator of Equatorial Guinea. And then let’s suppose that when the FBI investigation of Davis was heating up, Hillary asked Comey to end the investigation, then fired him when he wouldn’t.

Would anyone (other than possibly Peter Daou) be saying Hillary shouldn’t be impeached and removed? I don’t think so.

In fact, I can’t possibly think of a worst example of trying to see things from the “other side’s” point of view. In fact, I think the main difference here is that many liberals, myself included, are ambivalent about impeaching Trump right now (for political reasons), whereas we would not be ambivalent at all about impeaching Hillary under the hypothetical scenario I described above.

Pet Bleg III: The Buddy Update

Look at that face! You know you want to help that face!!!!

BL has sent along an update about Buddy. First the good stuff:

Buddy now likes to play ball. At first he was horrible at catching balls, but is getting better. His walking is also improving daily. At first he could hardly walk; now he is trotting short distances. He loves scratches and sleeps next to me as I work. He’s a really happy dog and should make someone very happy.
And now we tug your heart strings and ask you to reach deep, deep, deep!
Thanks for your help so far.  I have sent emails and phone calls to about 10 rescue groups so far, and heard back from one. That one (a lab rescue) is processing the information to see if they will accept Buddy. I think we will have better luck if I get him all his tests and vaccinations.
Buddy will spend the next few days at my daughter.
I am scheduling Buddy for vaccinations, tests and to be fixed later this week.
I estimate the initial costs for Buddy, not counting the $300-$500 that Rescue Groups ask for in donation to be $1710.
Doctor visit $52
Anasthesia Check/Fix (checked w/vet) $520
Fecal check $51
Bordatella $37
Influenza $43
Lepto $37
Lyme $43
Heartworm screen $57
Cardiologist $700
Heartworm Prev – 6 mon $60
Lyme screen $50
Tick-Flea Prev – 3 mon $60
I already paid for a rabies shot so it is not in the above costs. The estimate for the cardiologist to check his potential arrhythmia came from my daughter that has a dog with arrhythmia and recently saw a cardiologist.
I started a youcaring fundraiser, since they seem to charge the least in fees.
Here is the link.
Any assistance for BL efforts to get Buddy situated would be greatly appreciated! All lines are open. Operators are standing by.

What Could a Mysterious U.S. Spy Know About the JFK Assassination?

Records about June Cobb, an American spy in Cuba during the early 1960s, are to be released soon  (Politico) and apparently have some bearing on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. She worked in Cuba and Mexico, apparently fairly close to Castro.

I am taking this with a grain of salt, but more information is always good. It was easy then for a female employee to be ignored. As you can see in the article, her attractiveness was part of the discussion. Looking forward to seeing what the documents have to say.

What we know about Cobb so far comes largely from millions of pages of other documents from the CIA, FBI and other federal agencies that were declassified years ago under the 1992 law. Within those documents are dozens of files that identified Cobb as a paid CIA operative when she worked on Castro’s staff in Havana and later when she moved to Mexico. Some of the documents tie her to a lingering questions about Oswald’s trip to Mexico City in late September 1963, not long before Kennedy’s November assassination. In Mexico, Oswald came under CIA surveillance when he met there with both Soviet and Cuban spies. Previously released documents also show Cobb’s involvement in CIA surveillance of a U.S.-based pro-Castro group, the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, which Oswald championed in the months before Kennedy’s murder.

There is one document about Cobb that has remained completely off-limits to the public all these years: the 221-page file identified as “FOLDER ON COBB, VIOLA JUNE (VOL VII)” on a skeletal index released by the Archives last year. It is one of the 3,600 documents that were withheld from public view entirely in the 1990s at the request of the agencies that originally produced them—in Cobb’s case, the CIA. The index prepared by the Archives shows that, as of 1998, when her file was last officially reviewed, the spy agency said the document was “not believed relevant” to the Kennedy assassination but could do unspecified harm if made public before the October 2017 deadline.

And open thread!

Could He Spell “CAT” If You Spotted Him The “C” And The “A”?

As a follow up to Betty’s post below, I’d like to look at the other thing that bothered me about our Donald’s grotesque Yad Vashem/Mean Girls yearbook note.

Here’s Trump’s deathless prose:

It is a great honor to be here with all of my friends — so amazing and will never forget!

Now remember what else we’ve heard about Fearless Leeder’s work reading habits:

President Trump is getting ready to embark on his first international trip later this week and officials have encouraged him to stay on script, despite him having trouble doing so in the past, briefing him with single-page memos as well as maps, charts, graphs, photos and have purposely included his name in “as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he’s mentioned,”

And add to that the fact that there is virtually no hint anywhere that the Cheeto-faced, ferret-heedit shitgibbon has ever read a book for pleasure, or ever will:

His meetings now begin at 9 a.m., earlier than they used to, which significantly curtails his television time. Still, Mr. Trump, who does not read books, is able to end his evenings with plenty of television.

No go back and read that note, a written work he had to produce himself, on the spot, inscribed by hand.*

Diagnosing at a distance is always a mug’s game, and I’m not going to do it here.  I’m not going to say that Donald Trump is functionally illiterate.

But I am going to say that nothing on the record rules that conclusion out, and his Yad Vashem embarrassment is the latest straw in the wind to suggest that Houston, we have a problem.

To get a sense of what it means to say an adult is functionally illiterate, I took a fast look at a report from 2002 from the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Please note, again, I’m not a literacy expert; I haven’t studied up on this issue; I’m just reacting to the sense that something was more than egregious in Trump’s note — it was off.  So take this next quote as representative of some sort of recent informed thinking about literacy, and not as the distilled essence of a body of knowledge to which your humble blogger makes no claim.

The NCES report bills itself as a “first look” at the National Adult Literacy Survey of about 25,000 Americans conducted several years before this write up.  To contextualize its findings, the report’s authors described the definitions of the five levels of literacy across three domains — prose, documents [as in, parsing forms], and quantitative operations.

So how did this survey categorize the two lowest tiers of literacy in the prose category:

Level 1: Most of the tasks in this level require the reader to read relatively short text to locate a single piece of information which is identical to or synonymous with the information given in the question or directive. If plausible but incorrect information is present in the text, it tends not to be located near the correct information.

Level 2: Tasks in this level require readers to perform single, relatively simple arithmetic operations, such as addition. The numbers to be used are provided and the arithmetic operation to be performed is specified. Some tasks in this level require readers to locate a single piece of information in the text; however, several distractors or plausible but incorrect pieces of information may be present, or low level inferences may be required. Other tasks require the reader to integrate two or more pieces of information or to compare and contrast easily identifiable information based on a criterion provided in the question or directive.

Again, I’m not going to say that Trump’s demonstrated reading skills match these brief, rather formal descriptions.  But that Yad Vashem note leaves me little confidence in Trump’s ability to handle the written word, whether he’s consuming or producing prose.  There’s no reference to the place he’s in.  There’s no response to the content of any exhibit or display he may have encountered.  There’s not a single detail.  It’s a rote response to a prompt: write something about your visit in our visitor book (or some such).

Those surveyed with weak or almost non-functional literacy skills found themselves confined to a narrowed life, or worse — the NCES analysis notes that “Nearly half (41 to 44 percent) of all adults in the lowest level on each literacy scale were living in poverty, compared with only 4 to 8 percent of those in the two highest proficiency levels.”  If Donald Trump had fallen victim to that kind of constraint, it would be appropriate to feel pity, and even anger on his behalf; surely as a society we should do anything we can to ensure that as near as possible to everyone masters the basic skills needed to make it through the day in 21st century America.

But, of course, Trump has never suffered as a result of his inadequacies.  He is instead, as much as it pains me to type it, President of the United States.  That’s a job in which much better than functional literacy is, basically, a requirement.  POTUS, after all, has a kind of broad brief, a lot of issues to cover.  Most of the background information most presidents have used to guide their thinking across the range of their duties comes in written form.  Obama, a well-documented avid reader, still used hours of reading at night to keep up.

Trump isn’t doing that. It doesn’t appear he could do that if he wanted to.  His mind appears to be a reflection of that fact — or rather, reading is a habit that trains the mind. If you can’t or won’t tackle a text more complicated than a one pager of bullet points with your name in most of them…then you can’t think at the level events in the world demand.

In other words…Trump can’t do the job he’s got.  Because he’ll still act with the powers of that position, that’s not good.

TL:DR — WASF…and we need to get this malicious reboot of Chauncey Gardner out of power as soon as possible.

Oh.  One last thought.  If I’m right, and Trump is as he appears to be, not cognitively up to his responsibilities, there are lots of people in his own party who’ve known this for a long time.  And yet, come last summer, all but a very few lined up behind him.  If he’s not fit for power, they aren’t either, not because they’re not smart, but because they fail as patriots.

/rant over

*To add: I found Trump’s performance reading his Islam speech to be a similar signal of problems with the written word.  It seemed halting, almost frightened, as if at any turn the ‘prompter would put up one of those SAT words to gnarly for his brain to process in time for his mouth to catch up. YMMV

Image: Boris Grigoriev, Woman Reading, c. 1922.

Site Will Be Slow For A Few Hours

I’m actually cloning the site today, as opposed to getting distracted yesterday. This means the site may be a bit sluggish as I’m creating some big archives and transferring them to the test setup. I chose now in hopes of getting it all done before the 5 pm magic hour.

So my apologies if the site isn’t as responsive as normal, but take heart – your long personal nightmare will be over soon! :)

Also, another plug for a guest post on Oceanography coming at 12:30 Eastern on Friday. It will be neat, you’ll learn stuff, and can even ask questions!

Open Thread!

ETA: Slowdown over, ahead of schedule. Be well.

AHCA and Autoenrollment

There has been talk that the Senate is talking about auto-enrollment as the Senate Republican caucus is chewing over the AHCA bill that the House passed. I think there are two major show stoppers to auto-enrollment in a Senate Republican reconciliation bill.

Let us assume that any auto-enrollment process looks something like that in Cassidy-Collins. That bill contained significant language that most likely would be ruled as not germane to the revenues or expenditures. It sets up significant number of rules and requirements for what an auto-enrolled plan had to cover.

More prosaically, I am having a hard time seeing this work if we use the auto-enrollment proposal in Cassidy-Collins and the subsidy levels in the current AHCA ($2,000 for 29 and under, $2,500 for 30-39, $3,000 for 40-49, $3,500 for 50-59, $4,000 for 60+) as any reasonable estimate of uptake would cost a tremendous amount of money.

The challenge of grafting Collins-Cassidy auto-enrollment into the AHCA is one of funding. The CBO projected that the AHCA would leave 24 million more people uninsured compared to current law. That would leave 52 million people uninsured according to the March 2017 CBO analysis. There are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants of which some have health coverage through some means. Let’s work with 42 million people under the AHCA would be eligible for a credit.

Right now the AHCA has a net deficit savings of $150 billion dollars over ten years. That will decrease when CBO releases a revised score. But let’s keep things simple. If we assume an average $3,000 subsidy and an opt-out rate similar to Medicare Part A (<1%) an opt-out program costs $125 billion dollars per year or $1.25 trillion dollars over ten years. An opt-out program forces the AHCA to either reduce the value of the monthly subsidy to a trifling average amount ($30 per person per month) or actually make the AHCA a healthcare bill and get rid of all the tax cuts. And even then, the actuarial value of the coverage that can be funded with the AHCA credits is much lower than the the actuarial value of the ACA plans.

Universal coverage at any level that is greater than giving people three aspirins and telling them to rub some dirt on it is expensive. It is a legitimate debate as to whether or not we want low actuarial value catastrophic plans with near universal coverage in all states through an opt-out plan or scattered results ranging from higher actuarial plans in Massachusetts to one in five people in Texas still being uninsured due to opt-in plan and state policy choices. Those are legitimate questions but unless the Senate completely junks everything in the AHCA, opt-out plans don’t fit in any context that is defined by the AHCA.

DCI Brennan Testimony Before House Select Committee on Intelligence

Here’s the live feed:

Every GOP committee member has yielded their time back to Congressman Gowdy after asking a question or two that are tangential at best to the issue before the committee. Congressman Gowdy then treats DCI Brennan as if he is a hostile witness in a case that Gowdy is prosecuting. DCI Brennan is not having any of it and is not amused. Here is a great example from earlier in the hearing:

Trump signs Yad Veshem’s yearbook… (Open Thread)

Trump visited Israel’s Holocaust memorial today. National embarrassment ensued:

Here are larger versions of the photos in case you can’t make out the notes in the tweet:

The Trump administration is up to its raccoon-like eyeballs in scandal, corruption and legislative vandalism, and that’s where the focus rightly belongs. But the daily national pantsings are unbearable in their own right. It may become necessary to ration face-palms.

Auto-enrollment trade-offs

Sarah Kliff at Vox highlights one area of plausible discussion among liberals and some conservative Senators on health care. She looks at the idea of automatic enrollment with opt-outs from a catastrophic plan. This idea is part of Cassidy-Collins state option.

Republican legislators and policy experts are kicking around a novel way to increase health coverage: automatically enrolling millions of uninsured Americans into low-cost insurance plans….

And unlike Republicans’ other ideas, automatic enrollment is the rare health proposal that doesn’t reflexively alienate liberals. They are generally enthusiastic about policies that would lead to greater coverage.

“It’s a viable idea,” says Andy Slavitt, who ran Medicare under President Obama and is an ardent Affordable Care Act advocate. “What’s appealing about it to Republicans and to Democrats is you want people to have free choice but not be free riders.”

There is a major operational challenge of assignment. I don’t think it is as big of a deal as others make it out to be as I conceptualize it as effectively similar to Medicaid presumptive eligibility with retroactive payments. A region could be set up and insurers could bid on providing coverage to effectively the uninsured for an estimated pot of money. We don’t need an ugly database tracking enrollment.

But that is a detail.

The key thing is to look at the trade-offs between an opt-in and out-out auto-enrollment program.

The ACA is an opt-in program. People have to sign up for an Exchange plan, they have to sign up for Medicaid. Not everyone signs up. Auto-enrollment basically has everyone sign up.

We need to hold money constant for a minute to see the implications. The first pass will not be an ACA vs AHCA analysis. It will be an illustration. We’ll get a little more complicated in the second iteration of analysis. Read more

Market power strikes again

An interesting paper in Health Services Research by Dr. Seidu Dauda* looks at market power between payers and providers to tease out the effects of increasing concentration on prices. The effect that is actually being measured is how does the changing relationship of market power between payers and providers change prices.

The results aren’t surprising. Concentrated providers lead to price increases. Increasingly concentrated payers lead to price decreases. This is expected.

A hypothetical merger between two of five equally sized hospitals is estimated to increase hospital prices by about 9 percent (p < .001). A similar merger of insurers would depress prices by about 15.3 percent (p < .001). Over the 2003–2008 periods, the estimates imply that hospital consolidation likely raised prices by about 2.6 percent, while insurer consolidation depressed prices by about 10.8 percent....

What does this mean for policy? Read more

Tuesday Morning Open Thread: The Kleptocracy

It used to be third-world shiteholes and banana republics where the ruling autocrat was brought low by the thieving ways of his inept relatives. Thanks, GOP, for making this comic trope AMERICAN!

Within the warped internal logic of the Trump presidency — where it is taken as a given by essentially everybody around him that the president is impulsive and grotesquely ignorant — his shocking actions and statements have a more understandable basis.

A week ago, it appeared that the probe would center around the activities of a handful of figures who are now marginal within Trumpworld: former campaign manager Paul Manafort, foreign policy adviser Carter Page, and deposed National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. That has changed. The Washington Post reported Friday that investigators have identified a current White House official as a person of interest in its financial probe. (The story hinted, and New York Magazine contributor Yashar Ali confirmed, that the person is Jared Kushner.)…

All this implies that the probe is scrutinizing the financial aspects of Trump’s business, which is a family operation. While some Trump advisers opposed the firing of Comey, Kushner reportedly advocated for it. That fact may seem strange if one thinks of Kushner as a voice of pragmatism. But it is easier to understand if you think of him as a figure sitting near the heart of a financial scandal, who harbors a strong interest in suppressing the investigation…
The official White House line maintains — or has tried to maintain — that the administration welcomes special prosecutor Robert Mueller and sees his work as a chance to dispel the cloud of suspicion needlessly hanging over the presidency. Their actions suggest a very different calculation. From Trump’s campaign to ensure the loyalty of his FBI director, to his subsequent firing of him, to his tweet-rages against the special prosecutor as an unfair witch hunt — all of this indicates high levels of panic in the Oval Office. Trump has almost certainly engaged in obstruction of justice for the simple reason that there is a lot of justice to obstruct.

Of course, like every other aging crime family capo, the old man can’t resist going back to his known accomplices…

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 or just use this nifty link to start an email: Start an Email to send a Picture to Post on Balloon Juice

We’re working on a better system for submitting photos and accompanying text. It will allow you to attach text to pictures and submit them so that I don’t scramble the description or leave out an important detail. Plus less time needed for the mechanics on my end, so all-around better, I’d say.

Read more

New Orleans Mayor Landrieu Speaks Out On Confederate Monuments

Amplifying Jim, Foolish Literalist’s, posts. This is an important speech. Read the whole thing, but here is a sample.

You see: New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a bubbling cauldron of many cultures.

There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently exemplifies the uniquely American motto: e pluribus unum — out of many we are one.

But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture.

America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp.

So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.

And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans.

There are good people in this country, politicians who understand they represent all the people. Remember that.