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Updated: 19 min 57 sec ago

Open Thread: You Come At the Queen…

46 min 53 sec ago

Cue the Somewhat Soiled Lady, a day late and a hot-take short — “Nancy Pelosi Tells Democratic Critics, ‘I Think I’m Worth the Trouble’”:

The House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, strolled before the cameras on Thursday with defeat at her back once more, projecting a well-worn swagger — brash, defiant, more than a little off key — as she insisted that her moment had not passed…

With six words, Ms. Pelosi, 77, demonstrated the self-assurance that has powered her as one of the most successful congressional leaders in the modern era. Yet even as Democrats enjoy a surge of grass-roots energy that could resurrect their House majority, some members of Ms. Pelosi’s own party are impatient for her to give up her 15-year grip on power.

She is the Democrat most crucial to determining whether her party can take back the House and torpedo President Trump’s agenda — an avatar of the kind of coastal excess that Republicans abhor and that some progressives have come to view suspiciously in an age of ascendant populism.

“Everybody wants leaders,” she said in an interview in her office at the Capitol, during which she was often as dismissive of critics in her own party as she was of the Republican opposition. “Not a lot of people want to be led.”

To many Democrats, Ms. Pelosi is their own indispensable woman, a legislative genius, tactical wizard and prolific fund-raiser whose ability to hold together a fractious caucus is written in her own success in passing many laws, and blocking even more.

But some in her caucus have reached a different conclusion: She is not, well, worth it.

Representative Kathleen Rice, Democrat of New York, said flatly that Democrats had lost their way and could not win the majority back with Ms. Pelosi leading the party. Ms. Rice hosted a Thursday afternoon meeting of just over a dozen anti-Pelosi House Democrats, according to Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, who attended. The would-be coup plotters did not emerge with “any action items,” Mr. Ryan said…

Youngbloods gonna youngblood, but their ongoing problem remains: The only people who really want Pelosi to retire are Republicans and the More-Progressive-Than-Thou men who wouldn’t vote for a mere Democrat if the alternative were undergoing vasectomy with a melon baller.

Mr. Charles P. Pierce, on the button, as usual:

If you’re proposing to replace Pelosi, prepare for the inevitable result. The pressure on the replacement—from Republicans, certainly, but also from the elite political media—to work “on a bipartisan basis” with the zombie-eyed granny starver and his band of cutthroats, or to find “common ground” with the folks down at Camp Runamuck, is going to be well-nigh overwhelming. And that’s not even to mention the both-siderist frenzy that will erupt during the fight to elect a new leader. Dems In Disarray is a Beltway classic. This would be its loudest revival performance in years. And, in any case, if you’re demanding that Pelosi be dumped because of her usefulness as a Republican cartoon, aren’t you already pretty much admitting defeat?

One of these days, Pelosi will step down (or die in harness, like Teddy Kennedy). But before she can be replaced, somebody needs to demonstrate that they could actually do the job she does. If it were as easy as she makes it look, the Media Village Idiots’ long-hoped-for “coup” would have happened years ago. And if she were as “obsolete” as the Repubs like to pretend, she wouldn’t be their go-to Lie-bral Boogymonster.

Categories: Politics

Why were insurers so hot and bothered for HIT

55 min 25 sec ago

Dylan Scott in Vox yesterday looked at what the health insurance lobby got from not actively fighting against the BCRA/AHCA in the Senate:

The major health insurance companies made a tactical decision to work with Republicans on their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare rather than lobby to stop it….

For insurers, at least for now, there is a lot to like in the Senate plan. It repeals Obamacare’s tax on health plans, a $144 billion tax cut over 10 years, per an analysis of the House bill. It provides $50 billion in federal funding in the short term to shore up the private insurance market and $62 billion over the longer term for state programs that help stabilize their insurance markets.

I don’t grok this.

I’m looking at things through the lens of profitability not total revenue.

The individual market so far has been a break even at best business for most insurers. 2017 is looking better with very low MLR in quite a few states for a wide variety of providers. But it is not boringly profitable. Medicaid managed care is boringly profitable. A barely competent MCO should scrape out a consistent 1% or 2% per year. When I worked at UPMC Health Plan, we budgeted for 2% profits and as I was leaving we were looking at 5%+ profitability for FY17. Medicaid is getting whacked. One of the first things states will do to compensate for less federal funding is squeeze MCO profit margins by reducing rates while mandating a year to hold providers harmless. Medicaid anyways is a much bigger market than the individual market.

The thing that I really don’t get is the push to eliminate the health premium tax. It is a tax that all fully insured plans pay. This basically means small and medium group employer sponsored plans, individual policies, and Medicare Advantage plans pay. Large, self insured, employer groups don’t pay, traditional Medicare fee for Service does not pay. If we assume a perfectly elastic market, I could see the self-interested push to eliminate the tax as it would make going fully insured marginally less expensive than going to self-insured ASO contract arrangements for medium size employers or make Medicare Advantage bids slightly more attractive. But in the individual market all of the carriers in the 2018 rate filings indicate that the insurers assume it is a market with low elasticity of demand. The tax incidence is overwhelmingly borne by the buyer and does not eat into the operating margins of the insurer.

Most of the tax savings will accrue to the policy buyers not the insurers in competitive markets. In non-competitive markets like Alabama with a dominant Blue, more the tax savings can be captured by the insurer. But I am trying to figure out exactly how much more profitable this tax cut makes insurers. It will be billions but it will not be a hundred billion dollars of additional profitability.

I’m having a hard time grokking the actual incremental profitability that insurers got out of the BCRA compared to the assured losses they will be taking on Medicaid managed care cuts.

Categories: Politics

On The Road

2 hours 52 min ago

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


Two Blue Damselflies

Two Blue Damselflies, Colorado

This was my pond, and these damselflies were born and raised in it. It was scary the first time I ran into the aquatic stage of this glorious creature – they look like mean-ass water bugs you shouldn’t mess with. I learned to carefully preserve them when I did major pond cleanings to ensure their lives weren’t snuffed out too soon.


And now, back to Italy….

The grand finale (for now!) of JRinWV’s diary and picture album:


I’m reprinting the entire diary because I hurt my eye today and I would prefer to rest it, so figuring out what I’ve published before isn’t as easy as normal.

Trip log of our travel to Italy in May, 2017.

We departed Monday morning, May 8th,and met friends we were traveling with in Atlanta, where we boarded Air France flights to Paris connecting to Florence, Italy. I was interested to learn that in Italy, Florence is actually Firenze. All the signage refers to Firenze, they don’t admit that Florence is a name of their city at all.

We flew overnight, after a good meal in Preferred Economy class. Air France does a good job with everyone who flies with them. We arrived in Firenze Tuesday morning, and took the shuttle to the rental car mall nearby, where a BMW station wagon was reserved for us. It was OK, had just enough room for 4 adults and the luggage.

I had an International Drivers License, $23 from AAA. Mike had rented cars in England, where they allow one to use their national driver’s license for up to 6 months, unlike the rest of the EU. So I was the designated driver, as the only person with the right papers. We had a hell of a hard time getting onto the southbound freeway, A1 Sud towards Sienna. We had a tablet with directions, and the car came with a GPS map too.

We found A1 repeatedly, but never at an interchange. We did get to see many out-of-the-way spots in Firenze, that most tourists never see. Finally, we were nearing what appeared to be an interchange, I looked over the maps while Mike went to talk to a service station guy. Success!

We drove south to the Poggibonsi Sud exit, and followed both the directions from Riserva di Fizzano as well as the map on the BMW’s dashboard, with no further trouble. The resort was ancient looking, but modern under neath. A big rose garden of yellow roses, very efficient and pleasant staff at the registration desk, apartments rather than little rooms, and a wonderful view from a high ridge top location.

We ate at the Fizzano dining room that first night, and crashed early. The next day, Wednesday, we visited the winery Rocca della Macie of which Reserve di Fizzano is one of the vineyards. We went to Castellino in Chianti before the winery tour, had a good lunch, saw that it was an interesting medieval town with shops, banks, a hospital, a rebuilt ridgetop fortress with a museum in it, etc.

Castellino in Chianti was a walled city on a steep ridge top, and today there’s a street that was beside the city wall that’s now roofed over with dwellings and small commercial shops. It’s dark, but lit with lamps in the floor and such. There are arrow slits, narrow vertical openings on the outside of the wall, but wide inside to allow archers and later marksmen to shoot at a wide field of fire, while making it difficult for attackers to hit someone inside the wall. This is common in European cities of this age.

Many of the shops aim at the tourist trade, but at least as many are local shops with food and sundries for daily life.

At the winery, which receives grapes from several local vineyards, the buildings are large stoneworks, with a giant steel statue of a rooster in the courtyard, roosters played a part in settling a dispute without outright warfare hundreds of years ago, so many genuine branded Chianti wines receive the right to use a rooster on their wine bottles.

A very pleasant woman took the four of us (Martha and I, Mike and Ruth) and a friendly Swiss couple around their 7 million bottles a year operation. Vats beside a drive-through that surrounds the main buildings receive grapes, and gently crush them as they move them into the machinery. The juice is pumped into large outdoor vertical steel tanks for the first fermentation, and then horizontal steel tanks in the cellars, then finally large oak barrels from Croatian oak for the aging of the majority of the wine.

All these large vats and barrels can be entered by a slender agile person for scrubbing and washing. The oak barrels are also abraded between uses to allow the oak to be penetrated by the wine to flavor the wine more quickly.

The best wine, though, got a longer spell in smaller French oak barrels, smaller so there is a larger ratio of oak surface to a volume of wine. Lots of discussion of the flavors the different oak barrels pass to the wine as it ages. After the tour of the winery, we sat down to taste the wines produced, from least expensive to most. They were all good, and got better as we went along.

It’s a well planned marketing effort, including the tours, discussion of the different wines and flavors, drinking lots of tiny glasses of different wines, then a sales pitch to have cases shipped home. Mike and Ruth took advantage of the sales offer at Rocca della Macie, Martha and I did not.

That night the Reserva di Fizzano restaurant, not having a reservation for us, wasn’t able to serve us, so we drove back to Castellino di Chianti and ate in one of the small restaurants on the pedestrian street there.

All the food we ate in Italy was good, some was of course better than others.

Despite a huge search, we were unable to find any bad wine either!

The next day was our scheduled Tuscan cooking lesson, at a farm called Tenuta Casanova, where the wine was organic, without sulfides. They also produced balsamic vinegar aged from 8 years to 30 years, as well as virgin olive oil, and essential oils from lavender, rosemary, and other herbs.

The farm was founded by Stephan who was a retired Veterinarian and his wife Rita? who taught the cooking class. There were peacocks, chickens, and pigs, mostly corralled away from the guests. Stephan hunts for truffles, an underground mushroom that comes in two varieties, black and white, with the necessary aid of a “truffle hunting” dog, who was very affectionate with everyone.

We started out in the cellars below the house, where dozens of oak barrels were full of organic wine aging slowly in the cool underground. Then he showed us the cellar where wine was aged into balsamic vinegar. Those barrels each had an opening in the top of the horizontal barrel, covered with a cloth. This allowed the wine to both work with native yeasts and to evaporate slowly, so that a barrel that started with 90 gallons of wine would after 8 years have half as much vinegar, and after 30 years would have a tenth as much vinegar as wine they started with.

Rita had a young assistant who helped teach the class, Francesca, who washed dishes and translated into English. Really, both of them knew the curriculum cold and led us through the many recipes so that no one could make a real mistake.

We worked to make pasta and bread dough, which was used for Ciaccino, with a variety of flavorings. The pasta was cut into fettuccine and used to make ravioli with cheese and spinach filling. We also made Tiramisu for dessert, which was among the best Tiramisu we had in Tuscany.

Along with all the dishes we made, we were served all the various wines made at the farm, and desert was both the Tiramisu we made that morning as well as vanilla ice cream with 30 year old balsamic vinegar – as odd as that sounds, it was a great contrasting set of flavors. All in all a great experience. And at the end, we were provided with a handy order sheet to have our choice of their wines, vinegars, olive oil, truffle oil and essential herbal oils shipped to our home address.

This time we went with the inevitable and picked out most of the flavors to have at home with friends and neighbors.

That evening we had most excellent left overs for supper as darkness came over the Riserva di Fizzoni. And a bottle of excellent Italian Tuscan wine, of course.

The next day, after an excellent breakfast of pastries, cheeses, meats, fresh squeezed orange juice, and fruits, we went to spend the day at Castellino di Chianti – to take advantage of the entire town, its historic opportunities, shopping, the ancient tombs, the views from the high ridgetop, and a great lunch, perhaps the best meal we had in Italy.

We paid the parking fee, which you do at an automated machine that produces a parking permit when you feed it the proper amount of Euros… then you put the permit on your windshield, inside the car, so the municipal polizia know not to write you a ticket. Then we walked slowly up the street towards the museum, inside the original fortress on a high spot along the ridge.

The first part of the walk was on a now roofed over street right beside the fortress wall around the city of Castellino di Chianti – almost like a tunnel, with lights both overhead and in the floor. And the arrow slits in the city wall let in some daylight. And the tunnel like walkway was really clean! Sweet.

Then we found the Museum. Museo Archeologico del Chianti Senese to be specific. We had been looking for it the past couple of days we had visited the little town, and finally strolled up a hilly street from the through pedestrian walkway, and there it was. Towering over the town.

The Museo was primarily the site for remnants found around an Etruscan tomb on a nearby hilltop. The tomb – aka Tumulo di Montecalvario – is four burial chambers on the cardinal directions, on a hill top just north of town, the highest point for miles. The tombs were robbed long ago, but as usual, many important scientific bits were left, and used by archaeologists to add to the little bit we know about the Etruscan culture.

Of course, for any ancient culture there is little we can know about them. These folks cared a good bit about their leaders, and worked their tails off to build them a vault where they could rest in safety. The current occupants have created a nice park at the Tumulo, a circular railing around the hill top, with the four tombs excavated and left open, anyone can walk into the ancient tombs and see the stone work done by folks thousands of years ago.

We have no idea whose tombs these were, but given the difficulty of making a living back in 800BCE, we know that a huge amount of work was invested in making their afterlife a comfortable thing for their descendants to remember.

They had some nice things left in the tombs, even the tiny bit of things left today was interesting. The pottery and adornments, the pitcher and chariot pieces showed a rich and productive life was led by the Etruscans, as far as we can tell. They are one of the more mysterious cultures left for us to puzzle about. Along with the Cathars of SW France.

We toured the museum, which had first a well-done exhibit of the remnants of Etruscan culture found on the hill tops, and then you could climb and climb up stairs ’til you come out on the rooftop, with views for Kilometers in every direction. There was also a display paying homage to the town orchestra, with some old instruments still in good shape. The old fortress was converted into a good museum covering the town’s history for the past 2900 years or so. And then we left to find the Tumulo de Montecalvario on the hill just North North West of the Museum.

It wasn’t really hot that day, but once you walked uphill for 45 minutes, being an old fart, you could work up a sweat. Luckily the tombs were in the shade of pine trees planted a generation or two ago. Most of us looked into most of the tombs, some of us not at all, some of us only for the bigger and more interesting buildings, which were very interesting. After an hour or so on site, we headed back to town for lunch and a beer.

Interestingly, the small nearby restaurant was really popular with both local folks and the visitors from far away. It was the best presentation of good food we saw in Tuscany.

The next day we headed for Firenza, with our Hotel keyed into the Google Maps application. Once we turned off the A1 highway, it got really confusing really fast.c There is nothing like trying to drive in a city “designed” for carts, horses, and men on foot! Two hours later we knew we were close, and Mike and Ruth got out to search door to door for the hotel. As designated driver, I was sort of parked in a bus stop, which lead to much horn blowing, so I drove away, after promising to meet there asap.

The tablet navigator told me to turn right and right and right, and we still weren’t where we were trying to get to. Eventually we reached the final destination. Hotel Spadia~!! Between a tiny shop and a corner beer joint/snack bar there was a pair of sleek glass sliding doors, no more than 10 feet wide, with a discreet sign. State of the art moderne hidden in a medieval stone building.

A bell man showed up a cart for the luggage, and all that was left was to find the rental car return garage nearby, some where. The tablet with talking Google Maps directions was no more help than before, with little idea of one way streets we couldn’t enter. We wound up going around the block if I missed a turn on a round-about, and the block we went around was composed of two bridged across the River Arno! Mike was helpful as in retrospect he could figure out wnat we had done wrong the last time we came to the same place, so we could figure out what to do differently the second or third time.

After finally finding the return location, they told us to drive “just around the corner, a right and a right!!!” to the actual garage, which we did actually drive right to, although the “just a right and a right” was a typical exageration! But they accepted the black station wagon, and called us a cab… 3 minutes they said, it would be here in three minutes.

And it was. Every time, the Taxi showed up in 3 or 4 minutes. The best organized bit of Italian culture we saw while we were there.

And the women, Martha and Ruth, were waiting with Prosecco in their hands when we got back. They had also wrangled an upgrade of our rooms, no charge, to rooms with free mini-bars and giant Jacuzzi tubs along with a glass waterfall shower. It was pretty swanky, with a lounge where they covered the bar with tapas style munchies during happy hour, and actually had real Bourbon, Makers Mark and Buffalo Trace.

Upstairs they served a very complete European breakfast from 8 until 10, IIRC, with cappachino, expresso, tea, juices, yogurt and fresh fruit, bacon and eggs, rattatouille, various great breads and rolls with and without fillings. No charge. Actually, I never got charged for the drinks at the lounge, either. Mike may have picked that up. Two days later when we checked out, I owed 18 Euros for some kind of room tax, that was it. When they said the trip was all inclusive when we bought it, they were not kidding!

That first night in Firenze we walked around the square across the street from the Hotel Spadio, and looked at the street market at the far end of the square, Martha stepped into a couple of leather goods shops, one of which had a salesman who was VERY persistant, would not let go. Mike and I found a bench in the first shop next door, and were offered yet more Prosecco while we waited for the shopping to conclude, which was pretty quickly, really.

We didn’t come to shop, we came to fine out about wine and food and history, and mission accomplished!

Back in Castellino in Chianti, there was a war memorial… we were curious, and Mike and Ruth discovered that it was mostly dedicated to World War I, the war to end all war! There was a small side plaque that informed the world that Italy was valorous in overthrowing the fasciests and fighting for freedom at the end of World War Two, which was true as far as it went. There’s some history for you.

But back in Firenzia there was a butt-ton of history on every building’s corner. And Mike and Ruth had just read Dan Brown’s successful novel Inferno which appears to be about Firenzi, the Medici rulers of the city for three hundred years, a pretty good run in old time Italy, which was fought over by various European powers like two big dogs over a very juicy bone. Evidently, in to the novel, the Medici rulers had a “secret” passage from their home fortress on one side of the River Arno, to the city’s ruling palacio fortress, which ran through buildings and across streets, AND across the Ponte Vecchio bridge, on top of the many shops built on the sides of the big bridge.

And in truth, there is a connection between the top of the Ponte Veccio to ther buildings on both ends of the bridge, and there are many short bridges between buildings above the streets all over the old town. Obviously, not terribly secret, but also quite secure compared to walking on the thronged streets.

Every two blocks there appears another basillica or cathedral or giant Abbey, with different styles.

1000290 Etruscan jars in Castellina in Chiati museum

1000290 Etruscan jars in Castellina in Chiati museum


1000296 Etruscan potsherds in Castellina in Chianti museum

1000296 Etruscan potsherds in Castellina in Chianti museum


1000299 Etruscan bronze figurine, about 15 cm tall

1000299 Etruscan bronze figurine, about 15 cm tall


1000307 Etruscan bronze pitcher about 30 cm tall

1000307 Etruscan bronze pitcher about 30 cm tall


1000308 Etruscan bracelet, silver_ or bronze 3-4 cm tall

1000308 Etruscan bracelet, silver_ or bronze 3-4 cm tall


1000309 Arrow slit in Castellina Fortress

1000309 Arrow slit in Castellina Fortress


1000320 Fortress courtyard - well into cistern

1000320 Fortress courtyard – well into cistern


1000323 Etruscan war chariot reconstructed from brass at dig

1000323 Etruscan war chariot reconstructed from brass at dig


1000325 Etruscan war chariot reconstructed from brass fittings

1000325 Etruscan war chariot reconstructed from brass fittings


1000335 Arrow slit in upper level of Fortress in Castellina in Chianti

1000335 Arrow slit in upper level of Fortress in Castellina in Chianti


1000351 Etruscan War Chariot closeup

1000351 Etruscan War Chariot closeup


1000222 Balsamic vinegar aging 8-30 years in Tenuta Casa Nova

1000222 Balsamic vinegar aging 8-30 years in Tenuta Casa Nova


1000274 Peacock at Tenuta Casa Nova

1000274 Peacock at Tenuta Casa Nova


1000286 Municipal fortress museum of Castellina in Chianti

1000286 Municipal fortress museum of Castellina in Chianti


1000287 Etruscan carving in Castellina in Chianti museum

1000287 Etruscan carving in Castellina in Chianti museum


1000611 Ponte Vecchio Bridge

1000611 Ponte Vecchio Bridge


1000622 Ponte Vecchio collonade

1000622 Ponte Vecchio collonade


1000693 DaVinci Art film projected on all surfaces of a performance space

1000693 DaVinci Art film projected on all surfaces of a performance space


1000698 Da Vinci painting _Lady Holding an Ermine_ projected onto a crucifix

1000698 Da Vinci painting _Lady Holding an Ermine_ projected onto a crucifix


1000699 Crossing the Ponte Vecchio Bridge

1000699 Crossing the Ponte Vecchio Bridge


1000703 Across the Ponte Vecchio bridge to the south Old City

1000703 Across the Ponte Vecchio bridge to the south Old City


1000710 residential neighborhood near the Plazzo Piti

1000710 residential neighborhood near the Plazzo Piti


1000716 Back of the Pitti Palazzo - seat of the rulers of Florence

1000716 Back of the Pitti Palazzo – seat of the rulers of Florence


1000717 defaced ancient art, in the back yard of the Pitti Palazzo

1000717 defaced ancient art, in the back yard of the Pitti Palazzo


1000717 defaced ancient art, in the back yard of the Pitti Palazzo

1000717 defaced ancient art, in the back yard of the Pitti Palazzo


San Gimignano, 15 Km from Riserva di Fizzano

San Gimignano, 15 Km from Riserva di Fizzano


1000580 Church across the river

1000580 Church across the river


1000581 The River Arno in Florence

1000581 The River Arno in Florence


1000598 Bridge over the River Arno in Florence

1000598 Bridge over the River Arno in Florence


1000601 Famous Ponte Vecchio Bridge with buildings and upper story in Dan Brown fiction

1000601 Famous Ponte Vecchio Bridge with buildings and upper story in Dan Brown fiction


Thank you for that amazing submission JR – I hope we have more to look forward to! Now I need to go rest my eye.


Have a great day and weekend everyone. I plan a bunch of catch-up photos from a number of folks Monday and Wednesday, with Tuesday and Thursday devoted to catching up on so many of Le Comte de Monte Cristo’s fantastic submissions.

Categories: Politics

Quick Thoughts after Reading the GOP “Health Care” Bill

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 02:25

I can’t believe more people aren’t talking about the last page of the Senate bill:


Categories: Politics

Late Night Open Thread

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 00:04

Here’s a picture of Steve sitting in the dark at the top of the stairs bitching for food. He perches there so if I make any movement towards the stairs, he can race downstairs and be prepared for to inhale whatever I give him.

He’s not getting anything until tomorrow morning.

Categories: Politics

Only a fool would think someone could save you

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 22:35

I think that repealing Obamacare would be a disaster for Republicans. You could argue that the takeaway from GA-6 and the other specials is that, while things aren’t great for Republicans in 2018, they have a good chance to hold the House unless some crazy shit happens. Repealing Obamacare qualifies as crazy shit and then some.

So I can see reasons why McConnell, who’s a shifty one, might be happy if repeal fails. That said, all the Senators expressing “concerns” about the bill looks and smells like kabuki to me. Jim Newell is probably right:

If he’s sticking to the script, McConnell has a list of giveaways that he saved to offer members later so that they can argue they only voted for the bill after extracting concessions:

This bill could fail, but that would be an abrupt last-minute rewrite of a script from which none of the players, so far, have deviated. Conservatives are organized, coordinated, and eager to share with the press their early objections. They will move the bill further to the right. Moderates are disorganized and press-shy, keeping their objections within the family. They will get offered a few more bucks or state-specific carve-outs and then draw straws to determine who has to vote for it. The Senate sequel to the House bill process is playing out like the most disciplined scene-by-scene retread since Home Alone 2. Don’t expect a surprise ending.

The so-called moderates always cave. I’m not a fan of calling people cucks but if anyone deserves it, it’s so-called moderate Republicans in Congress.

Categories: Politics

The GOP Is Becoming A Domestic Terrorist Organization

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 21:36

They’re tryng to be responsible for the suffering and death of thousands of Americans, and they’re proud of their efforts. Not so proud they aren’t lying as fast as they can talk, of course…

Categories: Politics

Healthcare, Birthday, and other Bullshit

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 19:29

It’s truly impressive that the Republicans managed to make the House health bill care worse. But they got rid of the individual mandate and rich and healthy people benefit and will get tax cuts, so WINNING! I have nothing going on the next few days so may actually try to find protests and go march in front of Capito’s local offices. I am not a protest person, but this shit requires drastic measures. Of course, the bill is not evil enough for the Zodiac killer and his cadre.

Speaking of healthcare, I turned 47 today. I’m not a person prone to celebration- I think this irritates ABC a touch because I’m not one to get really excited about things. I’m really not a hot or cold person (despite my irate ramblings), I just cruise along comfortably at the speed of grumpy. I mean, I am not miserable. I’m generally a happy person (ask people who know me IRL). I feel like I am defending myself too vigorously.

At any rate, mom and dad wanted to go out to dinner tonight, and I was not feeling it. I initially agreed, but then thought about it and cancelled. I decided I would rather stay and home and putz around the house, cook a nice dinner with a ribeye, and so I pushed back the plans until tomorrow night. I bought a steak and planned a nice dinner, and then had leftover fajitas that Christion and I made yesterday. Because who says I am not spontaneous?

Back to health and healthcare. Every summer as I head toward a new birthday I schedule a lot of health related events. I’ve had sleep apnea since 2005 (if you snore, get yourself checked- it will change and maybe save your life), and have not had a test since, so I scheduled a new sleep study. I had a friend die of pancreatic and colon cancer this past year, so I scheduled my first colonoscopy. I had another friend die of a heart attack, so I am headed to get a stress chest and a cardiac check up just because I don’t want to die before my parents so they don’t accidentally see the contents of my hard drives. I had my b-annual physical and labs. I went for my six month checkup at the dentist, had a crown replaced, a cleaning, and bought a night guard because I grind my teeth. I had my eyes checked and got new glasses two months ago. All in all, it cost about $2500 out of pocket (eyes and dental were the worst), which is a lot, but I’ll have it all paid off by the time I have to go in next year.

None of that would be possible without health insurance. None of it. And again, I am one of the upper tiers as far as lucky goes when it comes to health insurance. I’m having this shit done. A shit ton of Americans can’t, and that’s before the Republicans have their way and dismantle the ACA. What they want to do is cruel, inhuman, and flat out evil. The slashing of funds to deal with the opiod epidemic and things like that will stand out, but all of it is uniformly vile and awful. They are just horrible people beyond redemption. They sicken me emotionally, and they intend to sicken the nation physically, all just to throw a couple more bucks to the already rich. I don’t know how these reptilian motherfuckers sleep at night.

In house related news, my water filter needed to be replaced on my fridge. So I went and bought a new one. I installed it. The warning light was still on. I read the manual from cover to cover. I googled. Couldn’t find help anywhere. So I called GE and I spent an hour on the phone to have a person tell me to turn my unplug/plug my fridge back in to get rid of the warning light. He called it a “factory reset” to justify his existence and for me to not feel like a stupid asshole who is confused by household appliances.

I also found another board on the back deck (right next to the one I fell through) that needs to be replaced, so now I am wondering if I should have another expert come in and check the entire damned thing. I think it is too big to begin with, but I am not financially prepared to rip it out and replace it, so mending will have to be all I do.

The garden is weeded and up looking good. I did not put in raised beds yet because $$$, and I had a large portion of the yard where the ground was really uneven and nothing but shitty weeds were growing, a remnant of the yard being in disrepair so long. Remember, the weeds were chest high when I bought the place. So what I did this year was just plow up a big section of it and plant a garden right in the damned middle where I know I will have to level next year, and I am using that. It is unsightly, but it works. Next year I will get a dumptruck of topsoil and fill that in and seed it.

Also next summer I have decided I am going to ring the outside of the fence with native flowers and the like. The front yard has shrubbery and all that, and i will plant some bulbs and some other stuff there, but around the sides the length of the house I am going to plant day lilies, snap dragons, sage, milkweed, black eyed susan’s, milkweed, and use that and have a more free look than the paean to Prussian order that is my front yard. I figure I will have those around the whole yard and then I can plant a solid butterfly/bee garden in the back yard with a little butterfly pond. Under the pines I am going to put in blueberry and blackberry bushes.

The front yard is looking ok, but I apparently have swarms of ground bees (they are yellowjackets), so I bought some thing I have to pour into the nests to kill them. I don’t like pouring chemicals into the ground for obvious reasons, but I also don’t want swarms of bees attacking ABC’s kids when they come down.

Today while getting the water filter at Lowe’s, I picked up a flag mount for the front porch and a nice nylon flag. Is there a specific etiquette to where you hang it- if you are facing the house, to the right or to the left? I know neither adheres to official flag regulations, but I was wondering if there was an informal rule.

Finally, I got a fern. For some reason, I love ferns, but everyone says “don’t get a fern they are a pain in the ass.” They are probably right, but I have Thurston, so my definition of pain in the ass might be a little bit different than other people. At any rate, I am hanging it from the ceiling on the landing of the stair case in between the first and second floor by the window. I just think it will look good there, especially with pictures lining the staircase walls. Now I am looking for a neat pot hanger to go with it. I like this, but it seems kind of expensive:

Any thoughts? I thought it would go well with the colors of the house.

That’s about it for me. Guess I will sit down and start searching netflix and amazon prime for something to binge.

Categories: Politics

“Fundamental Meanness”

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 18:00

President Obama posted a heartfelt plea on Facebook asking legislators to rethink their support of the heinous Trumpcare bill and encouraging citizens to speak out. An excerpt:

I recognize that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has become a core tenet of the Republican Party. Still, I hope that our Senators, many of whom I know well, step back and measure what’s really at stake, and consider that the rationale for action, on health care or any other issue, must be something more than simply undoing something that Democrats did…

I was careful to say again and again that while the Affordable Care Act represented a significant step forward for America, it was not perfect, nor could it be the end of our efforts – and that if Republicans could put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we made to our health care system, that covers as many people at less cost, I would gladly and publicly support it.

That remains true. So I still hope that there are enough Republicans in Congress who remember that public service is not about sport or notching a political win, that there’s a reason we all chose to serve in the first place, and that hopefully, it’s to make people’s lives better, not worse.

But right now, after eight years, the legislation rushed through the House and the Senate without public hearings or debate would do the opposite. It would raise costs, reduce coverage, roll back protections, and ruin Medicaid as we know it. That’s not my opinion, but rather the conclusion of all objective analyses, from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which found that 23 million Americans would lose insurance, to America’s doctors, nurses, and hospitals on the front lines of our health care system.

The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill. It’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America. It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting health care for everybody else. Those with private insurance will experience higher premiums and higher deductibles, with lower tax credits to help working families cover the costs, even as their plans might no longer cover pregnancy, mental health care, or expensive prescriptions.

Discrimination based on pre-existing conditions could become the norm again. Millions of families will lose coverage entirely.
Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family – this bill will do you harm. And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.

He’s right. Toward the end of the essay, President Obama says, “this debate has always been about something bigger than politics. It’s about the character of our country – who we are, and who we aspire to be.”

That’s what worries me — that the “fundamental meanness” at the core of the GOP bill reflects the selfishness of Americans all too well.

I’ll make my daily calls, show up at meetings and continue to support candidates and programs that make people’s lives better — even stupid people who think the way to give “elites” the finger is to vote for a buffoon in a golden tower who craps in a golden toilet.

But at some point, the people who keep enabling this shit have to suffer the consequences. I’m not talking about morons like Trump, ghouls like Ryan or money-grubbing pricks like McConnell; I’m talking about the voters who put them office.

Maybe when they hit the lifetime cap on their crappy insurance plan, sell everything they own, alienate family members and friends with constant begging and their cancer-stricken child still dies because they can’t afford treatment, they’ll get it. Maybe when their dementia-riddled, incontinent grandmother is ejected from the assisted living facility for non-payment and dumped on their doorstep, they’ll understand.

Or maybe they’ll never get it. Maybe this really is who we are, and who we aspire to be — or enough of us to make those of us who hope for something better irrelevant. If we let these bastards get away with robbing millions of people of healthcare access, if they don’t pay with their jobs, I really don’t know how we can argue otherwise.

Categories: Politics

Mitch McConnell Will Not Hesitate to Abuse People with Disabilities

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 17:43

Literally. As long as he doesn’t have to show his face on camera, of course.

Categories: Politics

Take me to the airport

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 17:25

A lot of Senators are flying home tonight out of Washington National Airport. This is a pretty sweet way to let them know what we think of their shitty health care bill.

Categories: Politics

See Ya In Court, Jackass

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 16:31

Or probably not, as this will quickly get thrown out:

A Republican coal baron is suing John Oliver, HBO, Time Warner, and the writers for Oliver’s show over the most recent episode of Last Week Tonight.

The suit, filed on June 21 in the circuit court of Marshall County, West Virginia, holds that Oliver and his team “executed a meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character of and reputation of Mr. Robert E. Murray and his companies” by airing an episode that ripped into him. Murray runs the country’s largest privately owned coal company, Murray Energy Corporation.

“They did this to a man who needs a lung transplant, a man who does not expect to live to see the end of this case,” reads the complaint, which also lists Murray’s companies as plaintiffs.

The lawsuit isn’t a surprise to Oliver. In fact, the British comic said on the episode of his show that aired on June 18 that he expected it, noting that Murray has sued several other media outlets in the past (including, in May, the New York Times). In the episode, Oliver criticized Murray’s business practices, saying he doesn’t do enough to protect his miners’ safety. Oliver also noted that his team contacted Murray’s company before the episode aired, and that the company sent a cease-and-desist letter––the first time that had ever happened to his show.

In the interest of full disclosure so Mr. Murray will not sue me and because I am a big fan of the Streisand effect, here is the entire Last Week Tonight piece:

Screw Murray.

Categories: Politics

Good manners and bad breath will get you nowhere

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 13:11

You all know by now that SC-5 ended up being closer than GA-6. You probably also know that SC-5 is full of hopeless rural idiots whereas GA-6 is full of well-educated suburbanites who just need a little non-ideological persuasion to start voting Democrat. David Atkins nails it:

The lesson of the special elections around the country is clear: Democratic House candidates can dramatically outperform Clinton in deep red rural areas by running ideological, populist campaigns rooted in progressive areas. Poorer working class voters who pulled the lever for Trump can be swayed back to the left in surprisingly large numbers—perhaps not enough to win in places like Kansas, Montana and South Carolina, but certainly in other more welcoming climes. Nor is there a need to subvert Democratic principles of social justice in order to accomplish this: none of the Democrats who overperformed Clinton’s numbers in these districts curried favor with bigots in order to accomplish it.

But candidates like Clinton and Ossoff who try to run inoffensive and anti-ideological campaigns in an attempt to win over supposedly sensible, wealthier, bourgeois suburban David-Brooks-reading Republican Romney voters will find that they lose by surprisingly wide margins. There is no Democrat so seemingly non-partisan that Romney Republicans will be tempted to cross the aisle in enough numbers to make a difference.

The way forward for Democrats lies to the left, and with the working classes. It lies with a firm ideological commitment to progressive values, and in winning back the Obama voters Democrats lost to Trump in 2016 without giving ground on commitments to social justice. It does not lie in the wealthy suburbs that voted for Romney over Obama in 2012, or in ideological self-effacement on core economic concerns.

I think it’s quite possible to run different kinds of campaigns in different areas, and I’m not faulting Ossoff for running the campaign he did. But I do think there’s something fucked up about the Democratic party’s idea that it should run civil, non-ideological campaigns. We’re not running to be the president of Fred Hiatt.

No amount of civilitude and centrist common sense is going to get suburban upper-middle class white voters who have spent their entire lives voting Republican to reconsider their obsession with tax cuts and become Democrats en masse (yes, you can pick off a few I’m sure).

The whole non-ideological civilitude thing smacks of class bullshit. We don’t need to fight, we’re all reasonable here, not like the poors! That’s what it sounds like to me, at least. Republicans have gotten lower-income white Americans to vote Republican by feeding them xenophobia and resentment. Xenophobia doesn’t pay your medical bills. Obamacare does. We just can’t cede rural America to Republicans, not when Republicans are offering so little to rural America policy-wise.

Categories: Politics

The summary of the Senate AHCA

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 12:37

Here is the TLDR of the Senate AHCA draft.

There are a lot of details that matter (I even like Sec. 102-b-1-B-II) but that is the fundamental difference.

CPI-U comes into play for Medicaid funding in FY 2025.
Per Capita Caps are in play for Medicaid
Enrollment caps for block grants for Medicaid are in play.

Old people in Alaska will be paying 16% of their income in premiums before receiving subsidy assistance.

Taxes are being cut massively with no incentive effect intentions.

There are massive work disincentives embedded in multiple spots throughout the bill

Deductibles are going up

Silver and Gold plans will be hideously priced and hyper narrow networks to dodge sick people

Section 1332 waiver protections are gutted

Any federal dollar can not be in the same zip code as a dollar that is used for abortion

New York is getting hit hard on both the Buffalo Kickback and the Basic Health Plan as immigration status is tightly defined.

Categories: Politics

The Tree of Liberty…

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 11:08

…is a f**king vampire:

Nearly 1300 children die and 5790 are treated for gunshot wounds each year. Boys, older children, and minorities are disproportionately affected. Although unintentional firearm deaths among children declined from 2002 to 2014 and firearm homicides declined from 2007 to 2014, firearm suicides decreased between 2002 and 2007 and then showed a significant upward trend from 2007 to 2014. Rates of firearm homicide among children are higher in many Southern states and parts of the Midwest relative to other parts of the country. Firearm suicides are more dispersed across the United States with some of the highest rates occurring in Western states. Firearm homicides of younger children often occurred in multivictim events and involved intimate partner or family conflict; older children more often died in the context of crime and violence. Firearm suicides were often precipitated by situational and relationship problems. The shooter playing with a gun was the most common circumstance surrounding unintentional firearm deaths of both younger and older children.

Guns kill kids. That baseline number, almost 1300 kids every twelve months, is more than a 9/11 every three years.


Guns don’t just kill kids; they are a leading cause of death for children and teenagers.  The data in the chart below don’t perfectly line up, as it doesn’t break out gun homicides and suicides from the overall rates by all methods, but still here are ball park figures.

(To weight those numbers, the FBI reports that as of 2014, roughly two thirds of all murders were committed with a gun, and the CDC reports that guns are involved in about half of all suicides.  Childhood figures may weight more towards firearms for a couple of reasons, but I haven’t dived into the data and I’m not a domain expert, so value that opinion as you will.)

In any event, it doesn’t take much to see this as a peculiarly American evil.  In the discussion section of the paper quoted above:

International studies indicate that 91% of firearm deaths of children aged 0 to 14 years among all high-income countries worldwide occur in the United States, making firearm injuries a serious pediatric and public health problem in the United States.14

The net:

Approximately 19 children a day die or are medically treated in an ED for a gunshot wound in the United States. The majority of these children are boys 13 to 17 years old, African American in the case of firearm homicide, and white and American Indian in the case of firearm suicide.

Nineteen kids a day, killed and wounded, and the Republican Party is completely on board with that.

We all knew that of course; now we’ve got numbers.  What will this nation do with this newly quantified knowledge?

Nothing: the slaughter of American children will continue until the tree of liberty swallows us whole.

ETA: On a moment’s reflection, that’s too damn depressing even for me.  Eventually this country will get sick of self-murder. I hope that day comes sooner than I’m thinking now.

Image: Nicholas Poussin, The Massacre of the Innocents, (drawing for this painting) c. 1628-9

Categories: Politics

Paul Ryan Has A Challenger: Randy “Ironstache” Bryce

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 10:49

DougJ shared Bryce’s now-famous campaign ad earlier this week, though not in a prime time slot. There’s been a rash of news reports since then, but the best I’ve seen is from Mike Elk’s Payday Report:

RACINE, WISCONSIN – Despite his 6’2 frame, the half-Mexican, half-Polish Army veteran known as the “@IronStache” on Twitter is the epitome of a gentle giant. Holding a beef brisket sandwich in his hand, he hugs, back slaps, and laughs his way through the crowd at the Juneteenth parade on the lakefront of Racine.

“I’m running for Congress against Paul Ryan,” ironworker Randy Bryce struggles to tell an African American woman over the noise of a gospel choir singing on the stage behind them.

Ryan, the Speaker of the House and a former vice presidential candidate, has more than $8 million in the bank for his re-election bid. By contrast, Bryce is a rank and file ironworker activist who has built some of Southeast Wisconsin’s best-known landmarks, including Milwaukee’s Miller Park and the landmark Northwestern Mutual Building.

However, it’s not an entirely uphill battle. Ryan’s district includes the pro-union bastions of Racine and Kenosha, as well as the suburban Milwaukee Republican stronghold of Waukesha. According to the Cook Political Report, the district is only 5 points more Republican than Democratic. If 2018 turns out to be a wave election year, some think Ryan could be defeated by a candidate like Bryce in such a marginal swing district…

“People know that the system is rigged and something has to be done, and Donald Trump took advantage of that,” says SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin’s Bruce Coburn, who serves as the union’s Vice President for Politics and Growth. “Randy, though, is someone who really believes in people and has shown it in all the years he has been in the labor movement.”

I first got to know Randy through the #wiunion hashtag during the Occupation of Wisconsin Capitol in 2011, and since then we have become personal friends. Bryce was part of the tens of thousands who occupied the Capitol in order to stop Scott Walker’s anti-union agenda.

Bryce sips Limeaid in the living room of his small two bedroom apartment outside of Racine as he recalls that battle.

“Walker’s strategy was to divide and conquer,” Bryce says. “His strategy was pointing out people and saying they are being the reason that the others didn’t have it as good as they possibly could. Now that’s being taken to the national level with Donald Trump.”…

If elected to Congress, he sees his role there as being more of a shop steward than a politician, and that he aims to run a campaign that amplifies the voices of others. “For an African American woman, there is no possible way that I can put myself into that woman’s frame of mind, the struggles she faces on a daily basis,” Bryce says. “I could do something to pretend, but I can’t experience it myself, so I need to rely on other people.”…

Categories: Politics

Process Matters

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 10:28

No, this is not about health care.

This is about the recent dudebro outbreak of PELOSI GOTTA GO that has been driving me crazy since Ossoff didn’t pull off a miracle in Georgia. I don’t think there is ANYONE out there who disagrees with the fact that our leadership needs new blood. Our bench is weak and it needs to be reinvigorated. I’d like to see younger leadership.

But what also matter is how we gain that new leadership. We don’t do it by shitting all over people like Pelosi, who has been an extraordinary leader in troubling times and I shudder to think how bad things would have been were she not in charge keeping the House Dems together. She’s spent her lifetime doing what is best for the country and the party, and when the time is right she will do the right thing.

I can not say the same thing about certain independents and their crank followers who become Democrats only when it is convenient and then jump ship the moment they don’t get their fucking way. BTW- that health care bill we are rushing to save? It wouldn’t be there if it were not for Pelosi, and the assholes slagging her didn’t like the damned bill in the first place because it didn’t make us Sweden overnight.

Categories: Politics

How to read the Senate Bill

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 08:40

The Senate healthcare and tax cut bill is expected to drop in a few cups of coffee. There are a ton of rumors floating around. Here is a cheat sheet on how to read it.

1) Reconciliation places severe constraints on the bill

a) The Parliamentarian is most likely going to be stripping out significant non-germane to the budget items
b) $1 billion in savings must come from each of two committees (HELP and Finance)
c) Anything the Senate passes must meet or beat the $119 billion in budget window deficit reduction that the House AHCA was scored at.

2) Three major pots of money

a) Tax cuts
b) Individual market changes
c) Medicaid cuts to pay for tax cuts

3) Follow the money
Any extra dollar used to pay for a slower Medicaid termination has to come from either Medicaid on the back-end, fewer tax cuts or lower individual market changes. Anything used to up subsidies on the individual market has to come from itself, faster/steeper Medicaid cuts or fewer tax cuts. Anything that ups the tax cuts must come from the individual market or Medicaid…etc.

4) Index rates matter
Slower terminations but lower index rates on per capita caps is a budget gimmick. It gives a little bit of money in the 10 year budget window but leads to massive cuts in the out years against the current counterfactual.

5) Market design and incentives matter

a) Look at where the work disincentives apply

a1) Medicaid expansion where the FMAP disappears once a person churns out once
a2) Medicaid expansion to individual market transition without CSR as people move from high AV low premium insurance to low AV high premium insurance if they earn a dollar too much
a3) 350% FPL instead of 400% FPL

b) How does the individual market function without a mandate and without the patient and state stability funds?

6) More coffee is better

Categories: Politics

The value of insurance

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 08:19

Three researchers, Benjamin D. Sommers, M.D., Ph.D., Atul A. Gawande, M.D., M.P.H., and Katherine Baicker, Ph.D. have reviewed the past ten years of research on the effect of insurance on mortality and financial stability in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Here are the highlights:

Overall, the study identified a “number needed to treat” of 830 adults gaining coverage to prevent one death a year. The comparable estimate in a more recent analysis of Medicaid’s mortality effects was one life saved for every 239 to 316 adults gaining coverage.29

Cost effectiveness

Are the benefits of publicly subsidized coverage worth the cost? An analysis of mortality changes after Medicaid expansion suggests that expanding Medicaid saves lives at a societal cost of $327,000 to $867,000 per life saved.29 By comparison, other public policies that reduce mortality have been found to average $7.6 million per life saved, suggesting that expanding health insurance is a more cost-effective investment than many others we currently make in areas such as workplace safety and environmental protections.29,54

It seems that Medicaid is extremely cost efficient in buying longer lives. I speculate that part of the resistance is that the cost of Medicaid is extremely explicit while regulations can be more easily hidden off budget. I also speculate that there is a sympathetic beneficiary differential.

Medicaid versus private payer

there is no large quasi-experimental or randomized trial demonstrating unique health benefits of private insurance. One head-to-head quasi-experimental study of Medicaid versus private insurance, based on Arkansas’s decision to use ACA dollars to buy private coverage for low-income adults, found minimal differences.11,19 Overall, the evidence indicates that having health insurance is quite beneficial, but from patients’ perspectives it does not seem to matter much whether it is public or private.47

This is telling me that if we are to expand cost efficiently, we should expand Medicaid as much as possible.

Go read this article. It is only eight, double columned, pages that is easily accessible and clearly written.

And then go call the Senate.

Categories: Politics

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

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 06:08


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

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

Categories: Politics