Is Trump Bored With Being President?

Crooks and Liars - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 22:00
Is Trump Bored With Being President?

The president seems more unstable than usual these days -- but maybe he's just restless and bored. It's hard to imagine how a president of the United States can experience sustained boredom, but consider what Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman wrote in June in The New York Times:

Unlike nearly every recent modern president who sought re-election, Mr. Trump rarely if ever speaks to aides about what he hopes to accomplish with what would be a hard-won second term; his interest is entirely in the present, and mostly on the crisis of the moment.

... with a limited policy agenda and little interest in governing, Mr. Trump has been running for re-election virtually since the day he won.

Karni and Haberman were trying to explain attitude toward campaigning -- but the point about a "limited policy agenda and little interest in governing" is important. Trump has no long-range plans, and he'll never develop any. He pursues momentary enthusiasms (buying Greenland) and lashes out against irritants (women who challenge him, non-whites who offend him by existing), but he has no big ideas. (All our allies are trying to gyp us doesn't count.)

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Categories: Politics

Friday Recipe Exchange: Garden Fresh

Balloon Juice - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 20:51

Oh, boy, recipes two weeks in a row, we might be starting something here.

I spent the afternoon taking care of some fresh veggies that had been sitting on my counter all week. I love this time of year, when the garden provides harvest every morning. But it is difficult to keep up. Today I fire-roasted tomatoes, pureed and froze for soups and sauces this winter. I also did refrigerator jalapeno pickles to use up a few of the many jalapenos.

JeffreyW does some amazing recipes with his peppers, here are two: Candied Jalapenos (here) and Hot ‘n Sweet (here)

Tonight’s menu takes advantage of all the garden-fresh ingredients available now.  I really like this one because it’s a quick skillet taste treat that elevates a weeknight meal.

On the board tonight:

Skillet Lasagna (recipe below)
Patty Squash Sauté (recipe here)
Italian Bread

Skillet Lasagna

  • 6 oz Mafalda (mini-lasagna noodles) or bowtie pasta
  • 1 lb lean ground beef****
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • ½ green pepper chopped
  • 1 tsp basil, crushed
  • 1 tsp oregano, crushed
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce (or 1 lb fresh tomatoes, chopped or pureed)
  • 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 4 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves, chopped
  • 4 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 2 oz grated parmesan


In saucepan, cook pasta according to package directions, cooking to al dente (slightly chewy), drain well.  Meanwhile, in skillet brown beef, onion & pepper. Add spices, garlic, carrot and sauté for 1 minute.  Add sauce, paste, stirring well into meat mixture.  Add pasta, stirring gently to mix.

Mix together ricotta and spinach, spoon evenly into the mixture (do not stir in, you want to create little cheese balls), top with mozzarella, cover and let simmer on low until mozzarella is completely melted.

Serve with parmesan.

Just a note, this menu and recipes are from my Summer into Fall Cookbook.

That’s if for this week. If I get a chance to upload the roasted tomato photos this weekend, I’ll post them here. What’s on your plate this weekend?

Hit to comments to share your recipes.

Otherwise, open thread.

****ETA: Thanks to Ohio Mom for reminding me I was going to say, you can easily omit the beef. I have substituted zucchini and or mushrooms and left the meat out entirely. It’s a great vegetarian dish.

Categories: Politics

The Trump presidency may have just entered its 'endgame'

Daily Kos - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 20:03

Capping off a week of truly shocking incoherence and lunacy, the Trump administration Friday provided us all with a telling glimpse of how this fetid presidency will finally, in all likelihood, meet its end. It won’t be through impeachment or some chimeric application of the obscure and, practically speaking, useless 25th Amendment, but through the simple and relentless onslaught of economic cause and effect.

In a brutally straightforward article for the Philadelphia Inquirer, economist Mark Zandi explains where we are now, and why.

The risk of recession is uncomfortably high and rising. President Donald Trump’s trade war is the proximate cause of what ails the economy. Indeed, if the president follows through on his most recent threat to raise tariffs on Chinese imports, the odds of a downturn between now and this time next year are better than even.

The economy’s growth has already slowed sharply. Real GDP and job growth have throttled way back from this time last year, and unemployment is no longer declining.

The slowdown is due, in part, to the winding down of the deficit-financed tax cuts. The president had argued that the tax cuts, which went mostly to corporations and wealthy households, would significantly lift long-term growth. Not so. The stimulus from the tax cuts has already faded.

Had Trump been intelligent enough to leave well enough alone, he just might have eked out re-election solely by running on the resilient economy he inherited from President Obama. The tax cuts he passed for the nation’s wealthiest also provided a temporary shot of adrenaline that might just have lasted long enough to avoid the cyclical (and historically normal) downturn that always loomed on the horizon.

But because he couldn’t contain his own mental instability, an instability that this week’s atrocious behavior all but confirmed, he couldn’t leave well enough alone. Instead, he started a pointless trade war with China, and the economic condition of the U.S. suddenly became a hostage to an irrational policy in the hands of a single unstable, autocratic, and above all incompetent person.

We’re long past the point where the trade imbalance between the U.S. and China provides any real pretext to Trump’s actions, and the media has conveniently dropped the pretense that there was any critical economic necessity for them; the only focus now is on their likely outcome. As Zandi points out, having an inherently unstable person at the helm of the economy has a chilling effect on the willingness of businesses to invest. Two-thirds of CFOs of U.S. companies (according to this Duke University survey) now believe that the country will enter a recession before the end of Trump’s term. Trump’s trade war, his personal volatility, and his unpredictability have resulted in corporations all over the world putting their plans to expand and innovate on hold.

They won’t make big investments. And manufacturers, ag-related industries, and transportation and distribution companies that depend on global trade have pulled back on hiring.

Back over at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Zandi notes that global investor confidence has also plummeted, even as interest rates have dropped, with short-term interest rates now exceeding long-term rates. This is a classic indicator of impending economic recession. If the trade war escalates, consumer confidence also drops: Consumers spend less, creating a downward spiral of decreasing investment, the previously-mentioned increasing nervousness of companies to invest, and an increase in unemployment. As Zandi states, that is the “vicious cycle” of all recessions.

And the Fed can’t ride to the rescue because Trump’s unpredictable behavior makes that impossible. How can the Fed safely predict whether a rate cut will be beneficial in a volatile trade war whose parameters change on a daily basis? It can’t, which is why you see them exercising such caution now, a caution that, as seen Friday, only adds to Trump’s wild irrationality.

Josh Barro, writing for New York Magazine, sees Friday’s events, between Trump’s attacking Fed Chair Jerome Powell as an “enemy” and his declaration that he will escalate even further his tariffs against China, as a watershed moment.

[T]oday feels different. For the last couple of years, there had been a pattern: The president escalates, the markets hate it, then the president finds a way to back off, and stocks go back up. For a long time it looked like the president’s China policy was a negative factor for economy, but its effects were manageable, in significant part because Trump faced political incentives to limit the damage.

Now, as the economy shows signs of weakening (in part for reasons unrelated to the president’s actions) he seems panicked. He wants the Fed to clean up his mess but — despite public perception — his public jawboning of the Fed appears to be having little effect on monetary policy. The main way the president has been affecting monetary policy has been by taking concrete policy actions that hurt the economic outlook, which changes the parameters the Fed considers as it decides how to set interest rates. The bigger a mess Trump makes, the more rate cuts he can get, but not enough rate cuts to actually offset the mess. And this is making him angry.

The last time things appeared to be spinning out of control, Trump announced a delay in his proposed tariffs, postponing them until December (and presumably consigning them to be forever forgotten). But, as Barro points out, the Chinese (who are infinitely more patient, as well as infinitely more intelligent than Donald Trump) took that as a sign of weakness, and announced new tariffs of their own.

As Trump’s “strategy” of taking this country to the brink, then backing off, didn’t work. Instead he decided, on Friday, to escalate. The Dow Jones promptly dropped nearly 700 points. After the market had closed, Trump threatened further increases in tariffs, increasing the likelihood of a sustained stock market collapse next week.

And this is exactly how Barro sees this all playing out, with Trump’s tariffs becoming an unavoidable, self-reinforcing wrecking ball to the U.S. (and global economy), tanking Trump’s presidency—while taking all of us down with it. HBarro echoes several of the same points made by Zandi.

[Trump’s] trade policy no longer appears to be self-limiting. In fact, it could be self-reinforcing, where tariffs cause damage and the president tries to “fix” the damage with more tariffs.

It’s also worth considering the possibility that we have gotten too far down the trade-war road for the president to unwind the problems he’s caused. To the extent there are signs of weakness in the domestic economy, they are largely on the producer side. The consumer sector still looks decent. But tariffs and uncertainty over future tariffs have already discouraged businesses from producing and investing. And China has less reason to participate in a de-escalation than they did a year ago, since they can just ride out the next year and hope to be facing a new, less-hostile president. As Jonathan Chait notes, Xi Jinping doesn’t have to worry about reelection like Trump does.

As China has clearly showed the U.S. that it has no intention of “backing down,” what does our experience with Trump thus far tell us about how he will react? Has he ever, ever, acknowledged his policies for the grotesque mistakes they are? No. He habitually, reflexively doubles down on them. Because, just like any sociopathic personality, Barro notes that he is utterly incapable of admitting that he is wrong.

What the president showed us today is he’s prepared to hit the gas as he approaches the cliff. That should make us all worried about the economic outlook — and it should make Republicans very worried about the political outlook.

It’s arguable whether the human and social costs of a severe, global recession are worth getting rid of a cancer like Donald Trump.  But events are occurring now at a pace that that may render that argument purely academic.

Categories: Politics

Caution, Virtuoso at Work: Cellist Kian Soltani, NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

Little Green Footballs - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 19:52

This week felt like that scene in "2000 Maniacs" where they roll people down a big hill in barrels lined with spikes, except it went on for years. But here, now, in this moment, we have some truly beautiful playing by cello maestro Kian Soltani, accompanied by Christopher Schmitt on piano.

Watch Kian Soltani play "Popper: Hungarian Rhapsody", "Schubert (arr. Soltani): 'Nacht und Träume'" and "Soltani: Persian Fire Dance" at the Tiny Desk.

More from NPR Music:
Tiny Desk Concerts: https://www.npr.org/tinydesk
Twitter: @nprmusic
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nprmusic

Aug. 16, 2019 | Tom Huizenga -- It's not every day someone walks into our NPR Music offices and unpacks an instrument made in 1680. And yet Kian Soltani, the 27-year-old cellist who plays with the authority and poetry of someone twice his age, isn't exactly fazed by his rare Giovanni Grancino cello, which produces large, luminous tones. (He also plays a Stradivarius.)

And if you think the notion of a cello recital isn't exactly sexy or thrilling, just take a look at Soltani; he radiates joy and ingenuity as he performs three pieces that offer virtuosity, sweet lyricism and fire.

The Hungarian Rhapsody, by the late 19th century cellist and composer David Popper, traces its inspiration to similarly titled pieces by Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms, but showcases a number of hot-dogging tricks for the cello, including stratospheric high notes, flamboyant slides and a specific high-velocity bouncing of the bow called sautillé. Soltani nails all of them with nonchalant elegance, backed with companionable accompaniment by pianist Christopher Schmitt.

To prove he can make his instrument truly sing, Soltani worked up his own arrangement of "Nacht und Träume" (Night and Dreams) by Franz Schubert, replacing the human voice with his cello's warm, intimate vocalizing. And in the Persian Fire Dance, Soltani's own composition, flavors from his Iranian roots – drones and spiky dance rhythms – commingle with percussive ornaments.

It all adds up to well-rounded, technically astute playing from a young cellist whose career is ascending in full flight.

Popper: Hungarian Rhapsody
Schubert (arr. Soltani): "Nacht und Träume"
Soltani: Persian Fire Dance

Kian Soltani: cello; Christopher Schmitt: piano

Producers: Tom Huizenga, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineers: Josh Rogosin, James Willetts; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Kimani Oletu; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Production Assistant: Adelaide Sandstrom; Photo: Amr Alfiky/NPR

Categories: Politics

Cheers and Jeers: Rum and Resistance FRIDAY!

Daily Kos - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 19:30


Helping A Child In Need

I was devastated to hear that the clothing line Ivanka Trump’s Spontaneous Combustion just took a hit. It appears her duds—and no one could have seen this coming, given the Trump family’s fierce dedication to safety and quality—can suddenly burst into flames, which, I'm told, is an undesirable quality to have in a fashion line. Naturally, this setback is going to burn a hole through her meager finances. Since the Consumer Product Safety Commission's tyranny has obviously taken an emotional-like toll on her (not to mention Jared’s tissue-thin fee-fees), C&J encourages you to help out in her hour of need by diverting the money you were planning to spend on her blazing scarves to the purchase of a few barrels of this…

x x YouTube Video


CAUTION: This product is flammable, poisonous, and only attracts soulless morons.

Your west coast-friendly edition of Cheers and Jeers starts below the fold... [Swoosh!!] RIGHTNOW! [Gong!!]

Categories: Politics

Justice Department goes out of its way to argue discrimination based on sexual orientation is legal

Daily Kos - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 19:25

The Justice Department filed an amicus brief Friday aimed at reversing the trend of lower courts interpreting existing federal law to prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. The brief argued that the ban on "sex" discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers from bias because it was not the original intent of lawmakers when they passed the legislation.

The administration filed the briefs in two cases to which it was not a party. In other words, the Justice Department went out of its way to argue for the right of businesses to discriminate against LGB workers. The department also filed a motion seeking time to make oral arguments before the High Court next month when the case is heard, reports Buzzfeed's Dominic Holden. The motion argued that the "United States has a substantial interest" in resolving whether Title VII covers sexual orientation, or more to the point, it has a substantial interest in clearing the way for religious conservatives to target people based on their sexual orientation.

The move follows on a brief from the department last week in which government lawyers argued transgender workers were also not protected by the civil rights statute, claiming that the prohibition on sex discrimination only pertains to "biological sex."

Federal statute does not currently provide explicit workplace protections for gay and transgender workers. However, over the last decade federal courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have increasingly concluded that discrimination against transgender and gay workers violates Title VII.

Categories: Politics

Chris Cillizza Remembers The Past, Builds A Lifeboat For GOP

Crooks and Liars - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 19:20
Chris Cillizza Remembers The Past, Builds A Lifeboat For GOP

Kudos where they're due: CNN remembers the past, reminding their viewers that current Trump toadies Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and Rick Perry called out Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign.

And yes, the hypocrisy of those particular Republicans is based on political expediency.

Chris Cillizza even goes so far as to note that Trump is very popular among Republicans in Texas, and that Ted Cruz's flip toward Trump saved him a primary challenge.

But THEN Chris said this:

CHRIS CILLIZZA: I've told people this all the time that Donald Trump is not really a Republican. I know there's an "R" after his name, I know he ran as a Republican, but look at people who have been in the Republican party for a long time, Jeb Bush, George W. Bush, people who are pillars of -- John Kasich. People who are pillars of the party. They're not all actively speaking out against Donald Trump, but what he represents is not the conservatism of Paul Ryan, of John Boehner, of people who were longtime stalwarts of the party. It's just not close.

Oh no you don't Chris. I appreciate that you point out how 2016 exit polls prove many Trump voters didn't think he was either trustworthy or qualified. That proves my theory that with a reported 92% chance that Clinton would win, many (white) Americans threw away their vote due to misogyny or anti-establishment sentiment. Herd immunity didn't work in 2016.

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Categories: Politics

Sanders And Warren Return Donations From Employees At Hedge Funds Linked To Puerto Rico

Crooks and Liars - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 19:19
Sanders And Warren Return Donations From Employees At Hedge Funds Linked To Puerto Rico

Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both returned donations to their 2020 presidential primary campaigns from employees at hedge funds profiting off of Puerto Rico's debt, making the pair thus far the only two to do so among the crowded Democratic field.

Activists from a number of organizations sent an open letter to all Democrats in the 2020 primary asking them to return the donations on August 13, after a damning report from research organization Hedge Clippers exposed the way that hedge funds are making money off of the island territory's misery.

According to Hedge Clippers, there's a chance for change in Puerto Rico after a people-power-based movement turned former Governor Ricardo Rosello out of office in early August:

After the dust settles and Puerto Rico finally ends with a new governor, the oversight board, with their debt adjustment plans, will still be in place. Now more than ever there is an opportunity to bring accountability to the corporations and vulture funds that have worked with the former governor and the oversight board to advance a regime of austerity and privatization for Puerto Rico to ensure they profit.

In order to effect that change, said Julio López Varona, the co-director of community dignity campaigns at the Center For Popular Democracy, the consequences for profiting from the debt must be clear.

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Categories: Politics

Elect a Businessman Who Knows About Business

Balloon Juice - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 16:28

The Dow is down 600 points (2.4%) after Trump hereby declares that we need to get out of China.

I realize it’s stupid to look at the Dow as anything but a rectal temp of people betting at the track, but goddam Trump is a genius at sticking his dick in every light socket in the building.

Open thread.

Categories: Politics

The Bob Cesca Podcast: The Chosen One

Little Green Footballs - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 15:28


Today's program from our podcasting affiliate, The Bob Cesca Show, powered by Christmas Injury Lawyers:

The Chosen One -- NSFW! The Goth Ninjas, Jody Hamilton and TRex David Ferguson are here; Trump's brain worms are on the march; Moscow Mitch is accidentally funny with his filibuster oped in the New York Times; Tom Cotton says Greenland was his idea; More drunken Larry Kudlow; Trump's attack on the 14th Amendment; Jay Inslee is out; Joe Walsh is in; Ben Shapiro is an idiot; How the Civil War and Reconstruction inform today's politics; With music by After The Fight and Pacific Standard; and more!

Categories: Politics

Stop, collaborate, and listen

Balloon Juice - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 13:53

I’ve been slacking on fundraising so I’m going to do a bunch at once now. Early money is important.

Here’s the Balloon Juice Senate Fund, split between nominee funds in several competitive states where we have a chance to flip a seat. (You can allocate as you like when you click on the contributed button.)

Goal Thermometer

The Balloon Juice for Virginia Fund, which gives to the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus and Virginia House Democratic Caucus. Flipping the legislature in Virginia (where Rs have a one-seat majority in each house) is probably the most important state Democratic goal in 2019.

Goal Thermometer

For those in a more defensive mood, here’s the Balloon Juice House fund, split between the most vulnerable members of the federal Democratic House caucus. A lot of the people in here are first-terms whom we helped win in November 2018 (we raised 375K for the 2018 cycle here, btw).

Goal Thermometer

Categories: Politics

Emergency And Medical Personnel Speak Out On The Nyonoksa Explosion

Balloon Juice - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 13:04

Two accounts of caring for the victims of the accident at Nyonoksa on August 8 were published Wednesday, August 21, in Meduza (English version) and Novaya Gazeta. The sources are an emergency responder and two doctors. The emergency responder was not on duty that day and relies on the reports of co-workers. The sources want to remain anonymous for obvious reasons.

I have questions about these accounts and a Washington Post account that seems to refer to another Novaya Gazeta article without linking. But first, let’s see what can reasonably be gleaned from the accounts.

The military, who apparently were responsible for the test, were utterly unprepared for an accident. The emergency responder describes the precautions that should reasonably have been taken for an test with significant quantities of radioactive material, as seems to have been the case. The military should have had decontamination equipment on hand, and they should have notified local emergency responders and hospitals that an experiment was planned. After the accident, the military should have notified responders and hospitals of what to expect. None of this was done.

As a result, there was a scramble to bring victims of the accident to appropriate facilities. In doing so, they contaminated a hospital, probably ambulances and other emergency vehicles, and endangered personnel. The military has done some decontamination.

The patients are reported to have had broken bones, but nothing else is said about their condition.

Hospital personnel were required to sign non-disclosure agreements, and the records of the event were seized by the military. Hospital personnel are not clear on what is national security information and what is just to keep the event quiet. They are concerned and angry about their health and possible radiation exposure. Some, but not all, of the personnel who were exposed were taken to Moscow for further examination.

The questions

I am wary of news reports concerning radiation. Radiation is too often treated as a mysterious process impossible for lay people to understand, so reporters find it acceptable to write words into sentences that have a proper grammatical structure but are meaningless. Radiation is easier to understand than Checkov’s plays or T. S. Eliot’s poetry, which the reporters may well be acquainted with. I see some of the usual problems in these articles.

Quotes from the articles are in italics.

The victims in the explosion were taken to a hospital in Arkhangelsk, where the radioactive nuclide cesium-137 was later detected in the body of one of the doctors.

Several outlets have reported that cesium-137 was found “in muscle tissue” of one of the doctors. The only way this makes sense is if the doctor had a cut that some of the radioactive material got into and then was washed out or biopsied. Radioisotopes (the general word for radioactive elements) are physical things and require physical pathways of movement.

…none of the responding rescue workers or physicians were warned that they were treating irradiated patients.

Irradiation, even at high levels, produces very little activation in the human body. Irradiation and contamination are often confused. Irradiation is being exposed to high levels of radiation from a source, as in the case of Louis Slotin. Contamination is having radioactive materials attached to one’s body. An explosion of radioactive materials would scatter materials both as chunks and dust. It’s possible that the victims’ bodies contained radioactive shrapnel and probably had radioactive dust on them. That is the reason for decontamination, which largely consists of washing.

Because they weren’t told whom they were transporting, the air-medical responders didn’t even take basic safety measures. They flew into a hotbed of isotope radiation without respirators or protective gear, and took away the victims.

Did a helicopter fly out to the barge where the experiment was conducted? How much radiation was there? Was it a runaway reactor or a smashed and dispersed source of radioactive materials? Different precautions would be appropriate for the two situations. Isotope radiation isn’t the way a knowledgeable person would phrase it, raising questions of how accurate the account and reporter’s transcription of it is.

In the Meduza doctor’s account, radiation levels are not given. Detecting beta radiation can be tricky, so it may not be surprising that it was missed. But we need more information – the kinds of detectors used, whether the victims had shrapnel in their bodies – to be able to understand what the problems were.

It’s not clear whether the same doctor talked to both Meduza and Novaya Gazeta. The accounts are close enough that it could be.

its dose was 22 thousand microparticles per square cm

“Microparticles” is not a standard unit. It probably should be becquerel, which is 1 disintegration/sec. Units of radiation are indeed confusing. Becquerel is a measurement of the amount of radiation, and 22,000 Bq per square centimeter over an entire room would be a lot. But we don’t know how it was measured. If it was only a small smudge, no big deal.

Will Englund and Natalia Abbakumova, in the Washington Post, report that an article in Novaya Gazeta says that two of the Russian specialists died from radiation sickness within 24 hours. The Post article does not link to Novaya Gazeta, and the article I have been quoting does not mention radiation sickness. Search by Russian-speaking followers on Twitter has not turned up another article. Two Manhattan Project scientists were killed by high neutron fluxes in criticality accidents. It took them days and weeks to die. A Twitter thread with links to reading is here. However, another follower pointed out to me Cecil Kelley died 35 hours after a criticality accident.

What was it? – The continuing question

These accounts add little to our understanding of the accident itself. Novaya Gazeta says it was a “test of a rocket with a radioisotope power source.” This description has appeared before, but it’s hard to know what it means. Radioisotope power sources don’t have enough power to propel a rocket.

The reports of cesium-137 and no other isotope point to a radioisotope power source, but cesium-137 is a poor choice for high power. Cesium-137 is a fission product, but if the test object was a reactor that went critical, there should be numerous other isotopes as well – strontium-90, several iodine isotopes, and others.

If the Washington Post report is correct, and if cesium-137 is the only radioactive isotope involved, then the radiation poisoning deaths must be from ingestion of the cesium-137, perhaps by being covered with it and having it forced into the victims’ bodies as shrapnel. Cesium-137 cannot cause high-level neutron irradiation like the Manhattan Project accidents; only a reactor or other critical assembly can do that.

If cesium-137 was the power source, then it is hard to see how it could cause an explosion. Liquid rocket fuel has been mentioned in other accounts, and that could cause an explosion.

It seems to me that the most significant thing we learn from this is that the military prepared poorly for this test. That implies a desire for speed and secrecy. For inferring what was tested, we have learned little and perhaps become more confused. We have to keep in mind that some of the information from the Russian government may be misleading.

Top photo: Severodvinsk, from Meduza.


Categories: Politics

You guys, Trump broke up with China!

Balloon Juice - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 12:07

A short while ago, Trump lost his shit on Twitter in a way that is tanking the DJA:

Our Country has lost, stupidly, Trillions of Dollars with China over many years. They have stolen our Intellectual Property at a rate of Hundreds of Billions of Dollars a year, & they want to continue. I won’t let that happen! We don’t need China and, frankly, would be far….

….better off without them. The vast amounts of money made and stolen by China from the United States, year after year, for decades, will and must STOP. Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing..

…your companies HOME and making your products in the USA. I will be responding to China’s Tariffs this afternoon. This is a GREAT opportunity for the United States. Also, I am ordering all carriers, including Fed Ex, Amazon, UPS and the Post Office, to SEARCH FOR & REFUSE,….

….all deliveries of Fentanyl from China (or anywhere else!). Fentanyl kills 100,000 Americans a year. President Xi said this would stop – it didn’t. Our Economy, because of our gains in the last 2 1/2 years, is MUCH larger than that of China. We will keep it that way!

I’m sure everything will be fine.

Categories: Politics

David Koch is Dead

Balloon Juice - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 09:45

One down, one to go. If there was any justice in the world, once he and his brother are dead the kids who inherit the wealth would then spend their fortunes on greenpeace and black lives matter and voting rights organizations and the like. I remember one of their kids is some trustafarian who made the worlds ugliest shirts:

David’s son is apparently a glibertarian.

Categories: Politics

Insurers, monopolies and multiple plans

Balloon Juice - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 09:12

Another Scott asked an interesting question yesterday on Silvergapping in monopolies:

Why would a company want to go through the hassle of having 3 similar plans when 2 would be more compelling for customers? Especially if few or no other companies are competing for the same customers? (I can see the benefits of market segmentation in selling, say, cell phones or blue jeans, but not in selling closely similar insurance policies. Changing the stitching or colors is cheap, changing the plans and having more people evaluate claims, appeals, etc., is expensive.)

This is a damn good question.  I think there are a couple of different stories going on. One of the key assumptions that I will make is that the insurer is not in a surprise monopoly situation.  A surprise monopoly occurs when there are more than one insurer filing for a county or a region at the start of the process and then all but one insurer leaves the county during the rate filing process.  I am assuming for this post that an insurer is fairly confident that it will be a monopoly in a given county/region by February of the filing year.

If the local monopoly is in an isolated and small population region, the plumbing and compliance costs may overwhelm any potential increase in revenue and profitability if the insurer chooses to offer a sub-menu of plans from its broader portfolio.  Turning a plan on or off is not particularly expensive, but a custom quilt does make the marketing material messier and more expensive to produce and distribute.  If a county is a monopoly with only 300 potential covered lives in a region where an insurer thinks there are 100,000 covered lives to compete against in nearby regions, the administrative complexity to customize a portfolio for 300 covered lives may not be worth it.  Differentiation of product offerings can also lead to chaotic risk adjustment flows that are difficult to model as well.

In competitive regions, we need to make a distinction between an insurer with a pricing advantage against all competitors and insurers that have similar pricing profiles to all competitors.  An insurer that has a dominant pricing advantage over all its competitors in a region has a choice: does it want a smaller share of a larger market or a larger share of a smaller market. The low price insurer choosing a smaller chunk of a larger market will offer one very low cost silver plan.  A high cost insurer will set the benchmark and the market.

If it chooses to have a large market share of a small market, the price superior insurer, given the ACA cost linked subsidy structure, will chose to Silver Spam the benchmark point.  It will offer the cheapest silver, and the benchmark silver at a price point that is significantly below local competitors.  It may also offer several additional silver benefit designs with slight tweaks to attract different segments of the population.  These tweaks can include additional dental and vision services, a no-deductible but high inpatient co-payment design that is attractive to young invincibles or an HSA design.  This basic strategy maximizes net of premium subsidies for anyone choosing the non-price dominant insurer and potentially increases net of subsidy premiums for subsidized enrollees as well.

Insurers in markets where there is similar pricing profiles among multiple insurers that can all credibly offer a benchmark plan have to assume that the subsidized market will be fairly small.  At that point, they are looking for every advantage that they can in order to sell as there will not be amazing subsidized deals available.  The combination of network and benefit design may be a key differentiation.  That is a realm of the dark arts that I don’t dabble in.

These are rational reasons for an insurer to offer multiple, similar plan designs which may lead to consumers being slightly to significantly worse off compared to a pure silver gap maximization strategy in any and all monopoly counties.  Another reason is that, for most insurers, the ACA individual market is not a dominant part of their business so they don’t have a monomaniacal focus on it with multiple people looking for every edge and thinking through the rules and interactions every moment of the day.  I do this because I have found it fascinating but the ACA market is 3% to 4% of the US population and its quirks are not broadly generalizable to the far larger employer sponsored third party administration contracts, Medicare Advantage or Medicaid managed care contracts that most insurers build their business models around.

Categories: Politics

On the Road and In Your Backyard

Balloon Juice - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 05:00

Good Morning All,

Have a great day and weekend, enjoy the pictures, and we’ll see you next week.


Today, pictures from valued commenter Sloane Ranger.

I spend 3 very hot and sunny days in the birthplace of William Shakespeare, including a visit to the theatre to have a behind the scenes tour and later see the RSC production of “As You Like It”.

Here’s a view of the theatre from the park.

Taken on 23 July 2019

Stratford on Avon

This is the older end of the RSC Theatre that was saved from the fire that took place between the wars.

Taken on 23 July 2019

Stratford on Avon

This shows the terrace of the modern part of the theatre taken from the river.

Taken on 23 July 2019

Stratford on Avon

I took a walking tour with a guide who told us that the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust was founded to preserve this building after P.T. Barnum tried to buy it. He wanted to put it on wheels and transport it across the USA apparently. The entrance fee is extortionate. You get in through a modern building that is just out of shot.

Taken on 23 July 2019

Stratford on Avon

You have to pay to see the grave. The church itself is the usual mishmash of periods.

Taken on 23 July 2019

Stratford on Avon

This is a barge moving from the canal into the River Avon. There were loads of them when I was there. Mainly holidaymakers. The Avon itself is very busy with leisure craft of all kinds and lots of lovely riverside walks available.


Thank you so much Sloane Ranger, do send us more when you can.


Travel safely everybody, and do share some stories in the comments, even if you’re joining the conversation late. Many folks confide that they go back and read old threads, one reason these are available on the Quick Links menu.

Categories: Politics

Friday Morning Open Thread: There’s Still Time!…

Balloon Juice - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 04:53

Nobody tell Cole about this, he’s got enough on his plate ottoman already. But if you’re curious, ActionNews suggests checking the shelter’s Facebook page.

Elsewhere… The Repubs have already decided that Trump is gonna lose in 2020, because we all know deficits only matter when there’s a Democrat in the Oval Office:

Further proof:

So — while we must still do our best to Dump Trump — here’s to the success of Amy McGrath!

Categories: Politics

Late Night Horrorshow Open Thread: Snippets for Insomniacs

Balloon Juice - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 01:28

“Becaue universal background checks would be… intrusive… “

Somebody watched one too many Cold War thrillers…

Finally… minor, but still irksome:


Categories: Politics