Election 2020 Open Thread: Kamala Harris Is Running Like A Winner


Complete interview here:








Couldn’t Happen to a Nicer Guy

Trump just fired John Bolton by tweet, apparently for the sin of opposing peace talks with the Taliban.








Election 2020 Open Thread: The Force of Positivity

Suddenly, the Very Serious People have… CONCERNS!


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Respite Open Thread: Maysie and Tux Update

My tolerance for stupidity has reached empty, so once again I’m tuning out. Except probably to hang out here for the debates.  For those of you who need a break, Sister Rail Gun provides us with the perfect antidote:

They weren’t able to get handoff photos, because as you can imagine, it was hectic.  But here they are settling in. More from Sister Rail Gun:

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We got them both into their room. They checked it out and said, “Yep, that’s a litter box, now where’s the food?”

We have Maysie in her favorite spot, by the window overlooking the bird feeders.

Tux behind the ironing board.

Tux and Maysie in the scraps pile behind the ironing board.

Maysie after Tux gave up on the game of tug. They were each pulling on the dangler when Tux said, “Oooh, right, there’s food here!”, let go, and turned away.

Maysie in her new favorite sleeping spot.

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Sister Rail Gun has promised more videos when available – you can click on the video and actually subscribe to be notified.

This is a true respite thread. I don’t care if it only has 2 comments two hours in, if anyone is feeling like I am, they need a break. So as best as I can do, here is your cuteness break for the morning.








Arizona, MLR and pay-fors?

Charles Gaba is pulling estimates for Medical Loss Ratio rebates in all states. He posted some eye-popping numbers from Arizona.

Individual market MLR rebates skyrocketed from 101,000 enrollees receiving $16.2 million last year to 96,000 receiving a whoping $92.3 million…averaging $959 apiece!
Nearly all of this comes from Health Net of Arizona…operating under the “Ambetter from Arizona Complete Health” (Ambetter, aka Centene, bought out Health Net last year…confused yet?).

It is a single insurer, Centene/Ambetter/HealthNet, that is driving almost all of the Medical Loss Ratio rebates for 2016-2018 that are currently being paid out now. Some folks will be getting checks back that are much larger than the net of subsidy premiums that they paid in.

  • Medical Loss Ratio can be seen as the difference between how an insurer priced and how it should have priced with perfect information
  • MLR rebates to subsidized buyers can be seen as a double dip on top of premium tax credits
  • Switching the landing spot of MLR rebates for subsidized folks to the US Treasury could be a significant pay-for

MLR rebates are paid to policy holders who had a plan during the last year of the three year cycle.  The rebate is a gap filler between the actual claims expense ratio to the floor ratio of 80% in the individual and small group markets.  The rebates are sent to each policy holder in proportion to the total gross premium that they generated for the insurer.  Older buyers with large families who bought more expensive plans get a larger rebate check than a single twenty two year old buying the cheapest plan possible.

This does weird things that we need to think about.

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On The Road

Folks,
I found a few lost submissions, so they will run later this week and early next.  We shall see where things go from there.

Today, a picture from about 1940, taken by my grandmother in Baranquilla, Colombia. It is titled “My baggage transfer at Baranquilla”. This was, I assume, the transfer from water-based transportation (seaplane, ship, etc.) to the airport for a white-knuckle flight to Bogota.

Have a great day, we’ll re-convene tomorrow for some 9-11 memories.








Tuesday Morning Open Thread: Choose Your Path

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Good people:


 
Very, very bad person:

Mr. Pierce, at Esquire:

This shouldn’t be about paperwork. But it’s about paperwork because the government of the United States is now dedicated to pulling up the drawbridge by whatever means necessary. You don’t even have to anticipate the kind of refugee crises that are coming as the climate crisis intensifies. You just have to look back through history and imagine, say, the coffin ships getting turned around because the starving Irish didn’t have the proper documents. Or you don’t have to use your imagination at all. Just google S.S. St. Louis. This country was born to take the fire out of desperation and devastation. Our government is toddlers playing with matches.








The Peace Talks With the Taliban and Secretary Pompeo’s Statement That US Forces Have Killed 1,000 Taliban In the Past Ten Days

Shortly after BettyC put up her post yesterday about the President announcing by tweet that he had first invited the Taliban to a final round peace agreement negotiation and signing ceremony at Camp David and subsequently cancelled the invitation because the Taliban killed several US military personnel last week, I texted* the following to her:

I give it 50/50 odds that there was no actual, formal Camp David invite. The Afghan president was supposed to visit the US this week to meet with the President at the White House, but cancelled that trip on Friday. The Taliban’s spokesperson tweeted out yesterday that there are lots of potential next steps, but never mentioned this at all.

Pompeo’s statement that we’ve killed 1,000 Taliban in the past week makes no sense either. There would have been wall to wall coverage and Brian Williams would’ve been airdropped into Nangahar if we’d mounted an offensive large enough to net 1,000 enemy KIA. We’d also have taken our own share of casualties. None of which has been reported.

My guess is that by Wednesday will have several articles, from WaPo, the Times, Politico, Daily Beast, and Axios, that basically shred both of these assertions. The President’s invite and Pompeo’s assertion about killing 1,000 Taliban.

We now know, thanks to reporting by The New York Times, that there was a formal invite to the Taliban, but that the entire plan for the Camp David trip had been hastily created because the President decided on an impulse or whim on Labor Day weekend that if he could get the Taliban to Camp David he could seal the deal. And while the reporting doesn’t really delve into whether this would be a good thing for Afghanistan or Afghans, it does make clear that the President thought this would be good for his campaign for reelection. Given that the negotiations are not complete, the Taliban are clearly not completely on board (more on this in a paragraph), the Afghan president and government isn’t actually involved, this wasn’t a fully baked idea.

Secretary Pompeo then went on Chris Wallace’s Fox News Sunday show and in an attempt to demonstrate how tough the administration is being on the Taliban and announced, without any corroborating evidence, that the US has killed 1,000 Taliban (fighters?) in the past 10 days. To be very blunt, if we had, as Secretary Pompeo announced on Chris Wallace’s Fox News Sunday show, killed 1,000 Taliban in the past ten days it would have made news. Even if the Commanding General of Operation Resolute Support or the Commanding General of CENTCOM wanted to keep this as locked down as possible, there would have been, as I texted BettyC, wall to wall coverage and Brian Williams would’ve been airdropped into Nangahar if we’d mounted an offensive large enough to net 1,000 enemy KIA. We’d also have taken our own share of casualties. None of which has been reported in addition to the KIAs we took in the attacks on Kabul last week.

All of this sturm and drang and equine and canine extravaganza is obscuring something even more important. That as bad as it is that the US is still conducting combat operations in Afghanistan after almost 18 years, ending this part of America’s forever war preemptively will make things worse, not better. Unless the US can reach a negotiated settlement that is able to secure the Afghan government and the Afghan citizenry, reaching a deal with the Taliban just so someone can tout “promise made, promise kept” during the 2020 campaign the US will have failed to secure the peace. The sole point of modern interstate conflict, as well as modern 3rd party participant low intensity warfare**, which is what the Afghan war against al Qaeda and the Taliban have been, is to use conventional and unconventional military power to establish the conditions to secure the peace post cessation of battlefield hostilities. Reaching an agreement with the Taliban that is solely about reaching an agreement with the Taliban, even if it returns several thousand American troops home in short order does not do meet this requirement.

The Taliban have made it very clear that they believe the Afghan government is a “stooge government”. This Taliban position has made completing the negotiations with them very difficult for Ambassador Khalilzad. The Taliban, as well as others in Afghanistan, have often remarked to US military personnel that “you have the watches, we have the time”. They know that eventually we, as well as our NATO coalition partners in NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTMA-A) have to come home. And they are simply waiting for that to happen. This is part of the reason that they’ve escalated their offensive activities over the past several weeks. Both because they perceive that the President wants out – despite assertions made about them, they’re not stupid, they read our newspapers and watch our news programs – and because it allows them to increase the pressure on Khalilzad and his negotiators. The Taliban’s recent offensive escalation is part of their negotiation strategy, not something being done in spite of it.

Any agreement we reach must include the Afghan government, not be the precursor to the Taliban negotiating with that government. A government they consider to be illegitimate. A government that they will escalate their war with as soon as we have too few troops in theater to do anything but hunker down in our fortified bases. This will not make Afghanistan safer, it will not make the region safer, and it will not make the US and our allies and partners safer. I am not arguing for the forever war. I am arguing for a strategy that uses our and our coalition allies’ combat, training, and advise and assist missions in Afghanistan to set the conditions to secure the peace. We have, several times, made progress towards doing this. Unfortunately that progress never stuck for a variety of reasons. The whole point of invading Afghanistan to depose the Taliban and root out al Qaeda was to change the dynamic. Signing a peace agreement with the Taliban simply to be able to check a box for a reelection campaign that ignores that the dynamic hasn’t been shifted, that we have not established the conditions to secure the peace, is a peace agreement that isn’t worth the paper it is printed on.

Open thread.

* We do not have a slack channel.

** I am using low intensity warfare to refer to two related types of war. The first is all forms of war short of interstate war. The first usage, all forms of war short of interstate war, refers to revolution, rebellion, civil war, insurgency, and terrorism. The second refers to types of war: irregular, asymmetric, unconventional, and guerrilla warfare (a type of irregular warfare). Insurgency and terrorism are both forms and types of ear and belong in both categories.








Late Night Open Thread: Dispatch from China

When the header is a photo of Henry Kissinger, you know it’s not good news. But sometimes a name just jumps out at you…

The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts sojourned to Beijing for a long weekend to attend a special fall session of the China Development Forum (the big CDF annual event, which involves dozens of chief executives and Chinese Politburo members, is held in the spring). I had not been to mainland China in a couple of years, so I was curious what could be gleaned from this trip about China and the state of the bilateral relationship…

China is both richer and more closed off. What I saw was consistent with the data about China getting richer: The cars in Beijing were nicer, and the traffic was worse.

What was more striking was the stronger reach of the Chinese state. Since last year, foreigners entering the country are required to have all 10 fingers scanned into a database. It is an Orwellian way to enter a country.

The degree to which China has closed itself off from the Western media is also extraordinary. Without a VPN, I could not access The Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, the Associated Press, Reuters, pretty much every major American news outlet (oddly, Politico remained accessible). Even the CDF itself was essentially closed off to foreign reporters, as none of them were given any accreditation. Besides the Spoiler Alerts staff, the only attendees who write for news outlets were lunchtime speaker Thomas Friedman and the New York Times Beijing correspondent who advanced for him…

I think I may have an idea about why Politico should be exempt…








Open Thread: “Doing Nothing Is No Longer Acceptable”

Damn fine ad, IMO…


Good for Mr. O’Rourke. He may have decided that going full “gun-grabber” is the best position for him at this time — if it isn’t what the horse-race touts like to call a ‘deal changer’ for his own campaign, at least it keeps the topic front & center in the media.


(Let the frothing proponents of the LAWNORDER!!! party defend ‘… but only if it’s laws I happen to agree with’ in public, during a high-profile election season.)








Election 2020 Open Thread: New Hampshire’s ‘Cattle Call’ Weekend

Or, as I think of it, that proud folkloric tradition, the Running of the Journos…

With 19 presidential candidates speaking during the proceedings — which did not include the usual rule setting by delegates, which was suspended until another quorum — a few contenders’ names came up more frequently than others.

The top three candidates for Keene Democratic organizer JoAnn Fenton, for example, overlapped with the preferences of other local attendees who have yet to endorse: U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.

Booker and Warren, in particular, were favorites among the Monadnock Region die-hards in attendance, with organizers like Fenton citing their strong ground game and close attention paid to local Democrats.

Fenton, who said she is not ready to endorse anyone yet, quipped that she faces a new conundrum, given the size of the field.

“I have never had this problem before,” Fenton chuckled. “I have always known who I was voting for, and it’s such a dilemma because they’re all so good.”…

Jennifer Rubin, in the Washington Post: “In New Hampshire, Trump drives turnout — for Democrats”

MANCHESTER, N.H. — If, as billed, New Hampshire’s Democratic state convention had its largest turnout ever this year, then the party surely has President Trump to thank. Kicking off the proceeding on Saturday morning, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez quoted Trump’s galling assertion that “you have no choice but to vote for me.” He brought the crowd to its feet when he retorted, “We’ve got no choice but to get his ass out of the White House!” It was that kind of day.

A close second in the villain department was Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose name evoked boos whenever mentioned, as if he were the crowd’s Haman, the villain who is ritually denounced at Jewish Purim celebrations. “Moscow Mitch” chanting broke out in the midst of Rep. Chris Pappas’s (D-N.H.) speech, to Pappas’s delight. “You know he hates that,” he said with a grin.

Outside, throngs of supporters filled the sidewalk and the plaza in front of the Southern New Hampshire University Arena, waving signs, chanting for their candidate and donning their campaign’s T-shirt. Supporters of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) outnumbered other camps — by a lot.

As enthusiastic as some Democrats are for their particular candidate, the message inside was “unity.” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who faces a tough reelection campaign, drew a sustained ovation when she exhorted the crowd to support whoever the nominee might be. That theme was repeated throughout the day. Whether that spirit survives next week’s debate is an open question…

(Worth reading the whole thing; she writes approvingly about Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, and Klobuchar.. )


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Well Hell, I’d Vote For Her If I Could

This ad wins for me. Whoever is in charge of her media campaign, we need more of this.

Dayum. A woman’s place is in the house.

Open thread








How To Ruin A Turkey Sandwich/More Respite Open Thread

So, this image showed up in my messages:

I’m just hoping this isn’t a Betty Cracker creation already featured here that in my semester-starting-addled brain I somehow forgot.

Anyway: here’s a chance to talk about anything to do w. abuse of or abusive foodstuffs — or anything else that whets your appetite.








Choo Choo (Open Thread)

There are so many outrageous and stupid things to write about today, but honestly, I don’t have the heart. Courtesy of Senator Murphy of Connecticut, here’s a cute little girl going gaga over a choo-choo instead:

Open thread.








Breaking News: The US Pulled One of Its Top Clandestine Officers from Russia in 2017 Amid Concerns He or She Would Be Burned

Infrastructure Week is off to a hell of a start!

Jim Sciutto has the exclusive at CNN (emphasis mine):

Washington (CNN)In a previously undisclosed secret mission in 2017, the United States successfully extracted from Russia one of its highest-level covert sources inside the Russian government, multiple Trump administration officials with direct knowledge told CNN.

A person directly involved in the discussions said that the removal of the Russian was driven, in part, by concerns that President Donald Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence and could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy.

The decision to carry out the extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. The intelligence, concerning ISIS in Syria, had been provided by Israel.

The disclosure to the Russians by the President, though not about the Russian spy specifically, prompted intelligence officials to renew earlier discussions about the potential risk of exposure, according to the source directly involved in the matter.

The removal happened at a time of wide concern in the intelligence community about mishandling of intelligence by Trump and his administration. Those concerns were described to CNN by five sources who served in the Trump administration, intelligence agencies and Congress.

Those concerns continued to grow in the period after Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Kislyak and Lavrov. Weeks after the decision to extract the spy, in July 2017, Trump met privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg and took the unusual step of confiscating the interpreter’s notes. Afterward, intelligence officials again expressed concern that the President may have improperly discussed classified intelligence with Russia, according to an intelligence source with knowledge of the intelligence community’s response to the Trump-Putin meeting.

The secret removal of the high-level Russian asset has left the US without one of its key sources on the inner workings of the Kremlin and the plans and thinking of the Russian president at a time when tensions between the two nations have been growing. The US intelligence community considers Russia one of the two greatest threats to US national security, along with China.

“The impact would be huge because it is so hard to develop sources like that in any denied area, particularly Russia, because the surveillance and security there is so stringent,” a former senior intelligence official told CNN. “You can’t reacquire a capability like that overnight.”

The decision to pull the asset out of Russia was the culmination of months of mounting fear within the intelligence community.

At the end of the Obama administration, US intelligence officials had already expressed concerns about the safety of this spy and other Russian assets, given the length of their cooperation with the US, according to a former senior intelligence official.

In the first months of his administration, Trump’s handling of classified intelligence further concerned intelligence officials. Ultimately, they decided to launch the difficult operation to remove an asset who had been working for the US for years.

The President was informed in advance of the extraction, along with a small number of senior officials. Details of the extraction itself remain secret and the whereabouts of the asset today are unknown to CNN.

Much, much more at the link, including Sciutto reporting that this happened when Secretary Pompeo was the Director of Central Intelligence. It would not surprise me in the least to find out that Sciutto was originally tipped to this story by Ambassador Bolton, given that he and Secretary Pompeo are increasingly at odds these days. Ambassador Bolton has been largely sidelined on Afghanistan policy* and it has been reported that it is Secretary Pompeo, who is clearly eclipsing all others right now regarding US foreign and national security policy, who has sidelined Bolton. This type of selective leak as a form of bureaucratic knife fighting is a Bolton specialty.

Sciutto’s story is not surprising. I wrote here several times in the first several months of this administration that the Intelligence Community would be tightening up their compartmentalization of information to protect sources and methods from the President and some of his key political appointees like his son in law Jared Kushner. This reporting will, however, only reinforce the President’s paranoia about, fear of, and anger at the Intelligence Community. Sciutto has reported that the President and several key senior officials were read on to the operation, but I’d be willing to wager real money that neither the President, nor his senior officials who were read on to this operation were given the meat of his reporting that the extraction was done over concern that the President might burn the asset. Retired CIA officer Robert Baer’s interview about Sciutto’s reporting on CNN about a 1/2 an hour ago isn’t going to help either. Baer, who is also a CNN contributor and analyst, stated in no uncertain terms that “the CIA has never trusted the President since he visited the Soviet Union in 1987”. There aren’t any clips of that up yet, but I guarantee it is waiting for the President to watch it on his super TIVO.

This is going to be the best Infrastructure Week ever!

Open thread.

* I’ll have more about both the Camp David insanity, which was already starting to be broken down by reporting as of last night, and Secretary Pompeo’s bizarre assertion that we killed 10,000 Taliban in the past ten days later today.