Archive for June 25th, 2009
Yesterday, the Center for American Progress released a report detailing a clear, realistic, and comprehensive road map for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the discriminatory ban on gay men and women serving openly in the military. The steps include:
1. Signing an Executive Order banning further military separations based on DADT and sending a legislative proposal on DADT repeal to Congress
2. Forming a presidential panel on how to implement the repeal
3. Repealing DADT in Congress and changing the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, or UCMS
4. Changing other necessary military guidelines to conform to the new policy
5. Following-up to ensure that the armed forces implement the policy changes
In today’s press briefing, David Corn of Mother Jones asked White House spokesman Robert Gibbs about the report and whether the Obama administration thinks this is “the way to go.” Gibbs largely dismissed CAP’s recommendations, saying that the White House is not interested in signing an executive order to temporarily halt DADT:
GIBBS: Well, the President has had meetings about this, has talked with members of Congress. His staff has talked with members of Congress. All of them have talked to Pentagon officials and the administration believes that this requires a durable, legislative solution, and is pursing that in Congress.
Q: I understand that for the long-term solution, but what do you take issue with about signing an executive order that will suspend the separations before an endurable solution is reached through the slow legislative process?
GIBBS: I mean, I think there could be differences on strategy. I think our belief is that the only and best way to do this is through a durable, comprehensive legislative process.
ThinkProgress spoke with CAP Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb, one of the authors of the report, who reiterated that it’s essential for Obama to suspend the dismissals of gay men and women while working on a long-term solution with Congress:
We agree on the need for a durable legislative solution. But a presidential suspension on further dismissals on the basis of DADT is not only within the authority of the president but is necessary to begin the process of repealing this counterproductive, costly, and unnecessary law.
Read the full report here.
As I commented, being able to readily highlight, copy, and annotate passages with notes of indefinite length is a big boon. And even better is that you can upload that highlighted passages and the annotations to your computer. And best of all, you can email the file to someone else, who can download it to their Kindle and (assuming they have the same book) see all your highlights and annotations.
It occurs to me that there’s a product idea here. If a scholar has great knowledge about a book or its subject, the scholar could annotate the book to a fare-thee-well and highlight all significant passages, attaching notes as needed, and then sell that file on Amazon. You buy the book, and you can also buy the annotations file. Cute, eh?
I must say that the highlight and annotate function of the Kindle, not even counting the fact that you can upload to your computer the highlighted sections and all annotations, blows away what you can do with a printed book. The highlight is easily entered and as easily erased if need be. The annotation appears as a footnote at the place in the text that you select, and the footnote can be as long as you have patience for given the awkward keyboard. Surely there’s a market niche for full-size keyboards that can plug into a Kindle!
UPDATE: I just emailed the above to Kindleemail@example.com, with this addition:
And, while we’re at it, a rack to hold the Kindle above the keyboard at the appropriate distance. That becomes a research scholar’s workstation, though it would be nice to have a little more powerful editing of one’s notes. The Kindle RSW.
Can I please have the first one free?
In the afternoon and evening, I normally read or watch DVDs. While I am thus comfortably ensconced in The Chair, I sip drink swill large (21 oz) glasses of My Drink:
- A dollop of pomegranate juice (about 1/4 c)
- Juice of half a lemon or lime
- Water to fill
So a total of, say, 20 oz liquid (mostly water) per glass, and I have two of those glasses so that I don’t have to get up so often. Over the course of the afternoon and evening I might drink 8 such glasses: 160 oz = 5 qt. The reason for this is that my doctor inevitably tells me at my checkup that I’m not drinking enough fluids, and that I should avoid coffee.
So it has gone. The Wife got a bee in her bonnet about electrolytes, so I got interested too and found this site and bought a large bottle of the stuff: using it 1/2 tsp per liter of water, enough for 96 gallons.
So yesterday afternoon the recipe for My Drink became:
- A dollop of pomegranate juice (about 1/4 c)
- Juice of half a lemon or lime
- Scant 1/2 tsp Elete
- Water to fill
At dinner, I had a bowl of my (5.5 qt batch) chili avec fromage. I continued watching the (great) movie (Cadillac Records, recommended by Constant Reader) and only after the movie ended did I realize that I had eaten only the one bowl. Normally I would have had two bowls, and maybe three. Perhaps piggish, but eating one bowl left me feeling dissatisfied—until last night.
Same thing today at lunch. I had had a glass of My Drink, and I downed another while I ate the (recurring) bowl of chili avec fromage and finished watching Cadillac Records. Again, I suddenly realized at the end of the movie I had no craving at all for something more to eat. I was fully satisfied. Again.
So I got thinking: maybe it’s the electrolytes. Maybe I’m drinking so much water daily that I’m washing them out of my body, and when I eat I try to get enough electrolytes through the food, and perhaps it takes quite a bit of food to deliver what I need. But when I get the full complement of electrolytes through My Drink, my need for food goes way down.
Obviously, it’s early, but I’ll keep an eye on it for a week and see what develops.
White wins in 38 moves as Black resigns after big corner loss. Extremely interesting. You can play through the game here and see comments on the moves. At the link is a discussion of extremely short games of Go. For example:
Kang Hun 8-dan resigned after just two moves against Kim Seung-chun 4-dan in the quarter-finals of the 18th Kukgi on 24 July 1995 in Korea. Kang was ill but thought he could play. Once at the board he decided otherwise, though by turning up at all he ensured his game fee.
SHORTEST WITH PROPER PLAY
Ono Nobuyuki 6-dan resigned because of a misread after 20 moves against Kudo Norio 9-dan in the preliminary stages of the 53rd Honinbo in Japan on 21 November 1996.
Previous shortest was 26 moves when Honma Akio 7-dan resigned against Mizokami Tomochika 4-dan in the preliminaries of the 42nd Oza on 19 May 1994 in Japan. It is believed Honma resigned this game to make it the shortest in history in place of the previous shortest loss, by his teacher Takahashi Shigeyuki 7-dan in 31 moves against Kano Yoshinori 8-dan in the preliminaries of the 21st Honinbo on 26 May 1965.
Earlier this year, as the violence on the Mexican border had crescendoed into national headlines, the state of California contacted federal firearms officials with a seemingly innocuous request: Would the federal government lend state law enforcers details on the thousands of crime guns seized in Mexico and traced to California — information that might identify patterns of trafficking worth investigation?
Citing a five-year-old federal law that limits the sharing of crime gun trace data, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives refused.
“As a result of this restriction,” California’s Department of Justice wrote in a subsequent letter to the head of ATF in Washington, “California law enforcement agencies … have been unable to identify the California firearm dealers whose firearms are finding their way into Mexico’s drug war.”
The Tiahrt Amendment had struck again.
The U.N.’s top human rights advocate, Navanethem Pillay, on Wednesday appealed to the Obama administration to release Guantanamo Bay inmates or try them in a court of law, and said that officials who authorized the use of torture must be held accountable for their crimes.
In her most detailed statement on U.S. detention policy, the South African lawyer criticized President Obama’s decision to hold some suspected terrorists in detention indefinitely without a trial. She also called for a probe into officials who participated in torture sessions or provided the legal justification for it.
"People who order or inflict torture cannot be exonerated, and the roles of certain lawyers, as well as doctors who have attended torture sessions, should also be scrutinized," Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement dedicated to victims of torture.
Pillay praised the Obama administration for committing to ban many of the harshest interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, authorized by the Bush administration, and "which amount to torture." But she said it needed to go further, providing victims of U.S. abuses with an opportunity to rebuild their lives.
Health insurers have forced consumers to pay billions of dollars in medical bills that the insurers themselves should have paid, according to a report released yesterday by the staff of the Senate Commerce Committee.
The report was part of a multi-pronged assault on the credibility of private insurers by Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.). It came at a time when Rockefeller, President Obama and others are seeking to offer a public alternative to private health plans as part of broad health-care reform legislation. Health insurers are doing everything they can to block the public option.
At a committee hearing yesterday, three health-care specialists testified that insurers go to great lengths to avoid responsibility for sick people, use deliberately incomprehensible documents to mislead consumers about their benefits, and sell "junk" policies that do not cover needed care. Rockefeller said he was exploring "why consumers get such a raw deal from their insurance companies."
The star witness at the hearing was a former public relations executive for major health insurers whose testimony boiled down to this: Don’t trust the insurers.
"The industry and its backers are using fear tactics, as they did in 1994, to tar a transparent and accountable — publicly accountable — health-care option," said Wendell Potter, who until early last year was vice president for corporate communications at the big insurer Cigna.
Potter said he worries "that the industry’s charm offensive, which is the most visible part of duplicitous and well-financed PR and lobbying campaigns, may well shape reform in a way that benefits Wall Street far more than average Americans."
Insurers make paperwork confusing because "they realize that people will just simply give up and not pursue it" if they think they have been shortchanged, Potter said.
Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) questioned the government’s ability to make matters clearer, saying federal regulation of mortgage disclosures has made the documents that borrowers encounter in real estate transactions "hopelessly complicated."
Potter’s successor as spokesman for Cigna said the company strongly disagrees "with the suggestion that, motivated by profits, the insurance industry has deliberately attempted to confuse or unfairly treat covered individuals."
"At CIGNA we are committed to improving the current system," spokesman Chris Curran said by e-mail.
The report released yesterday alleges that insurers have systematically underpaid for out-of-network care. The issue had been brought to light previously in litigation, committee hearings and other investigations, including a probe by New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo. But as politicians and interests groups clash over the current effort to overhaul the nation’s health-care system, it took on new relevance.
Cuomo described it last year as "a scheme by health insurers to defraud consumers by manipulating reimbursement rates." …
Food Safety Still Getting A "D" In Obama Era, Despite Early Moves To Enter 21st Century
Consumer Confidence Has Crumbled Regarding Food Safety, Thanks to Massive Product Recalls…And That "D" Grade Is For Dangerous…
A new study from IBM finds that sixty percent of eaters surveyed are worried that the food they consume may well be poisoned. That’s not a surprise, given the terrible foodsafetyscape that President Obama inherited. But it’s not just an inheritance problem anymore: The Obama administration is being rocked with the same kinds of recalls that have plagued every other presidential administration. In the last two months, there’s been more than 300,000 pounds of ground beef recalled, the Nestle Toll House cookie dough recall is scaring the heck out of cookie lovers everywhere, and now comes even worse news that points to how ineffective FDA still is at managing recalls of contaminated food. The salmonella-tainted pistachio nuts that were recalled for contamination two months ago were not destroyed–they were simply repackaged, and are now back in the food chain. That’s harrowing, and yet to be expected…because FDA has no firm recall powers, cannot enact criminal sanctions, and is still overburdened and underfunded.
The President’s new Food Safety Working Group is a swell idea, but the gang needs to be meeting on a weekly basis. To date, there have been two meetings, one glossy website, and no visible action. Membership in the group has also been kept a tightly guarded secret; Ag Secretary Vilsack is on board, as is HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Drs. Hamburg and Sharfstein of FDA…but who else is giving advice? And what does that advice entail? Worried eaters everywhere want to know: 83 percent of the respondents to the IBM survey could identify, by name, a food product that was recalled in the past two years due to contamination. 63 percent confirmed they would not buy the food until the source of contamination had been found and addressed (adios, Nestle profits, because no one has any idea how E Coli got into the cookie dough; E coli is usually a pathogen associated with cow dung). 49 percent of the respondents also said that they’d be unlikely to purchase a food product again if it was recalled due to contamination. Food safety is not only a public health issue, it’s also a huge economic issue, at a time when the country can ill afford any more debilitating economic crises.
As food safety issues continue to plague the American food chain, the USDA remains devoid of an under secretary to head its own division, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which monitors all of the nation’s meat, poultry and eggs. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has cited conflict of interest issues with vetted candidates as the key reason FSIS remains unguided, but now there’s a new campaign brewing, from Food Democracy Now! and other food activist groups, to encourage the Secretary to finally name pre-eminent food poisoning attorney Bill Marler as his meat man…
Simple, but sounds delicious. From Frugal Cuisine:
Warm two to four cloves of crushed garlic in three tablespoons of olive oil (can use less if you want) until garlic is browned. Discard garlic and add two cups of cooked white beans, tossing until beans are warmed and coated in oil. Add four to five large tomatoes, diced, to the pot with 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and one tablespoon of dried oregano. Bring everything to a boil, then simmer for about twenty minutes. Taste for salt again, and if you prefer to use fresh herbs add them now. Serves 4.
I would skip the salt if you’re using either canned beans or canned tomatoes, since those typically have quite a bit of salt.
This is new to me, but it looks very good. I particularly like how you can use the matchlight charcoal (easy starting), since the charcoal fumes stay outside the cooking chamber. I read about in a post at the Kitchn [sic]. Here’s the Orion site. I may get one of these. $127 plus shipping from here. But on looking at Amazon, the total price (including shipping) is less, plus they offer some priced even lower and new, not used.
Very interesting post at Obama Foodorama. It begins:
Obama Foodorama was in New York over the weekend to appear on a segment of the Today show, which aired yesterday morning. Host Lester Holt Q’d your intrepid blogger and Deutsch CEO Linda Sawyer, the head of one of the biggest ad agencies in the world, on the Obama Effect (above: A screenshot of Ob Fo, when the segment aired). We chatted about the halo aspects of the President and First Lady, who together and separately have all kinds of economic and social impact, in addition to the obvious political impact. Ms. Sawyer covered the Obama universe from shoes to cameras, and your intrepid blogger dealt with food and Ag, of course. It’s not really breaking news anymore that the Obamas are swinging national taste, but Ms. Sawyer pointed out that from her perspective, companies who want to benefit from Brand Obama love need to be incredibly discreet. That’s true in food, too. Blue Hill restaurateur Dan Barber still hasn’t gone on the record about what he cooked for the Obamas during their New York Date Night dinner, which ensures that he’s now a trusted entity. For sure he’ll be guest cheffing at the White House soon, thanks to his Secret-Ops level of secrecy, make no mistake. Your intrepid blogger managed to include some comments about the White House Kitchen Garden being not only about health and nutrition, but about land stewardship, too, and noted that food policy is something that transcends all boundaries, and has global impact.
Not included in the conversation on the Today show, but the most interesting thing about the Obamas and food: How the First Lady is making a brilliant end run to change food policy, and being exceptionally successful at getting all kinds of fantastic food, nutrition and health programs going on the national level, without waiting years for initiatives to be formally enacted by Congress. That’s a huge public policy story, and the analysis of that, at the moment, is occurring in real time on this blog. Today, Mrs. Obama is in San Francisco kicking off the United We Serve summer program, which aims to mobilize hundreds of thousands of community-minded individuals and groups to work in food banks and plant community gardens, among other initiatives. This will rapidly do far more to redress long-standing issues of food insecurity, food justice, and health problems than anything our legislators are doing, since they’re constrained by the snail’s pace of Capitol Hill. It’s a path-breaking moment in the history of food in America…
Good column by Kristof in the NY Times:
Growing up on a farm near Yamhill, Ore., I quickly learned to appreciate the difference between fresh, home-grown foods and the commercial versions in the supermarket.
Store-bought lettuce was always lush, green and pristine, and thus vastly preferable to lettuce from my Mom’s vegetable garden (organic before we called it that). Her lettuce kept me on my toes, because a caterpillar might come crawling out of my salad.
We endured endless elk and venison — my Dad is still hunting at age 90 — or ate beef from steers raised on our own pasture, but “grass-fed” had no allure for me. I longed for delicious, wholesome food that my friends in town ate. Like hot dogs.
Over the years, though, I’ve become nostalgic for an occasional bug in my salad, for an apple that feels as if it were designed by God rather than by a committee. More broadly, it has become clear that the same factors that impelled me toward factory-produced meat and vegetables — cheap, predictable food — also resulted in a profoundly unhealthy American diet.
I’ve often criticized America’s health care system, and I fervently hope that we’re going to see a public insurance option this year. But one reason for our health problems is our industrialized agriculture system, and that should be under scrutiny as well.
A terrific new documentary, “Food, Inc.,” playing in cinemas nationwide, offers a powerful and largely persuasive diagnosis of American agriculture. Go see it, but be warned that you may not want to eat for a week afterward.
(It was particularly unnerving to see leftover animal bits washed over with ammonia and ground into “hamburger filler.” If you happen to be eating a hamburger as you read this, I apologize.)
“The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000,” Michael Pollan, the food writer, declares in the film.
What’s even more eerie is the way animals are being re-engineered. For example, most Americans prefer light meat to dark, so chickens have been redesigned to produce more white meat by growing massive breasts that make them lopsided. Who knew that breast augmentation was so widespread in chicken barns?
“When they grow from a chick and in seven weeks you’ve got a five-and-a-half pound chicken, their bones and their internal organs can’t keep up with the rapid growth,” explained Carole Morison, a Maryland chicken farmer who allowed the film crew into her barns. “A lot of these chickens here, they can take a few steps and then they plop down. It’s because they can’t keep up with all the weight that they’re carrying.”
Huge confinement operations for livestock and poultry produce very cheap meat and eggs. But at what cost?
The documentary introduces us to Barbara Kowalcyk, whose two-and-a-half-year-old child, Kevin, went from healthy to dead in 12 days, after he ate a hamburger tainted with E. coli bacteria. Even after his death, it took weeks for the tainted meat to be recalled.
“Sometimes it seems that industry was more protected than my son,” Ms. Kowalcyk complains.
She has a point…
Continue reading. It’s an important column
I bought a nice piece of fresh Coho salmon this morning, and I think I’ll use it in this salad from Simply Recipes:
Salmon Macaroni Salad Recipe
Tip: add the macaroni to the salmon mayo mixture when it is still warm. That way it will absorb the flavors better.
- 1/2 pound (about 2 cups) macaroni pasta
- 2 (7-ounce) cans salmon
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise (plus more to taste or for added smoothness)
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1/3 cup chopped shallots, red onions, or green onions (with onion greens)
- 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- 1 Tbsp chopped fresh dill (or 1/2 teaspoon dried dill)
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- Tabasco to taste (we used about 10 drops)
- Freshly ground black pepper
1 Bring a pot of water (2 quarts) to a boil. Add 2 teaspoons salt. Add the dry macaroni pasta and cook, uncovered, in a rolling boil for about 10 minutes, or until the macaroni is al dente (slightly firm). Remove from heat, drain, rinse briefly in cold water (macaroni should be still warm after rinsing) and drain again.
2 In a large bowl mix the salmon, mayonnaise, mustard, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Mix in the shallots, parsley, dill, and celery.
3 Mix in the cooked macaroni while it is still warm. Add Tabasco and freshly ground pepper to taste. Adjust seasonings.
Chill before serving. Serves 4.
It looks quite good. From The Ethicurean:
1 in 10 Americans trying to live on $1 per meal: A new documentary called “Food Stamped” follows a couple (a nutrition educator in low-income neighborhoods and her filmmaker husband) as they attempt to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet on a food stamp budget of just a buck a meal. Food justice activists, nutrition experts, politicians, and ordinary people living on food stamps weigh in on the struggles low-income Americans face every day. this looks fantastic. Trailer below, screening this Sunday in Berkeley (see screenings).
This delicious-sounding recipe comes from Eat Like A Girl. Read the whole entry (and there’s a photo at the link). Here’s just the recipe:
500g (1.1 lb) minced pork
Half a small bulb of fresh garlic, including the stalk
75g (2.6 oz) cooking chorizo
2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Chopped tomatoes (I used juicy small tomatoes)
Rocket (aka arugula) or similar salad leaf
Small pita breads (or a wrap, ciabatta bun, or similar)
Chop the fresh garlic as finely as you can. Include the stalk, it’s delicious.
Take the skin off the chorizo and chop as finely as you can.
Add the garlic, parsley and chorizo to the minced pork and mix thoroughly.
Season with salt and pepper. I had a particularly nice oak-smoked sea salt which went really well. [Or use a dash of liquid smoke – LG]
Cook a small amount and check the seasoning, adjust if necessary.
Shape the mixture into 6 patties.
If you have a griddle, heat it until it’s extremely hot. Otherwise use a frying pan.
There’s lots of fat in the pork so you won’t need any oil. Fry on one side for 4-5 minutes and turn. Reduce the heat slightly and allow the burger to cook through. It should take up to 10 minutes. Check by cutting into one, if it’s pink, it’s not ready.
Serve in toasted pita breads (or your bread of choice), with some mayo, rocket, and tomatoes.
I use liquid smoke frequently—indeed, anytime I want a dish to have a smoky flavor. I started using it in chili, but I’ve branched out and use it in beans and other dishes now as well. So I was quite interested to see the following in Slashfood:
Like many inquisitive scientists, Kent Kirshenbaum regularly scans the ingredient list of prepared foods to uncover the chemical composites lurking within. The substance that most recently piqued the New York University chemistry professor’s curiosity is liquid smoke. "My immediate thought was that it was a horrible mix of chemicals," he told us.
After distilling the concentrated smoke and liquid mix (often sold at the grocery store by the bottle to enhance barbecue) down to its roots of water and more than 400 chemical compounds, the scientist (who in person comes across as one part Einstein, one part Malcolm Gladwell) learned that liquid smoke is actually "safer [for human ingestion] than untreated wood smoke."
Kirshenbaum discussed his discovery last week during a monthly gathering of the Experimental Cuisine Collective — food nerds who love to make things like edible foam. We caught up with him to chat smoke, bongs and homemade liquid smoke.
What is liquid smoke?
Liquid smoke is very simply smoke in water. Smoke usually comes as a vapor, but there are ways to condense it and turn it into liquid and that liquid can then be carried in water.
How is it different from regular smoke?
Regular smoke is a vapor, and it is difficult to store.
In one healthier than the other?
It seems that the liquid smoke can be substantially healthier because there are carcinogenic compounds that can be removed. A lot of the carcinogenic compounds [found in direct smoke from charcoal or wood] do not dissolve. But by dissolving the compounds into water, they can be removed.
So, it’s like a water bong?
Who is using liquid smoke?
Liquid smoke is used by the majority of meat producers [to add] smoke flavor.
Can you give a couple of examples? …
Continue reading. Lots more Q&A.
I don’t. Take a look at What’s On My Food? for information about the pesticides you’re eating and perhaps feeding your family. From the site introduction:
…on our food, even after washing;
…in our bodies, for years;
…& in our environment, traveling many miles on wind, water and dust.
What’s On My Food? is a searchable database designed to make the public problem of pesticide exposure visible and more understandable.
How does this tool work? We link pesticide food residue data with the toxicology for each chemical, making this information easily searchable for the first time.pesticides are a public health problem requiring public engagement to solve.
Use the tool, share it with others: we built it to help move the public conversation about pesticides into an arena where you don’t have to be an expert to participate.
At Pesticide Action Network (PAN), we believe that pesticides are a public health problem requiring public engagement to solve. We want you to have the information you need to take action on pesticides. What’s On My Food? builds on PAN’s 27-year tradition of making pesticide science accessible.
The site has a list of common foods. Click one and see what yummy pesticides come with the food.
From an email MPP sent to me:
In Arizona, MPP’s campaign committee, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project (AMMPP), is working to pass a statewide medical marijuana initiative in November 2010.
The initiative would allow seriously ill patients who find relief from marijuana to use it with their doctors’ approval, much like the laws in the other 13 medical marijuana states do. The law would also permit qualifying patients or their caregivers to legally purchase marijuana from dispensaries, as they would any other medicine — so they need not obtain it from the criminal market. This cutting edge provision means that the state government is going to license a series of more than 120 dispensaries — ensuring safe access for Arizona patients.
In Nevada, MPP recently launched MPP of NV, a state chapter to educate the public on the effects of marijuana prohibition. We expect that this public education campaign will increase our chances of winning a statewide initiative campaign to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol in November 2012.
And when that initiative passes, Nevada will have best marijuana law in the world — better even than the Netherlands, where marijuana is still technically illegal. But the Nevada law that MPP of NV will propose would formalize the legal status of marijuana by creating a system for the cultivation, distribution, and sale of marijuana to adults aged 21 and older.
Yesterday I had a couple of posts about Wendell Potter, and this morning Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent has a story about Potter’s testimony:
This will shock only those who’ve never had to haggle with an insurance company, but a former employee of an insurance giant gave damning testimony yesterday against his former industry, telling lawmakers that companies like his go out of their way to avoid paying health claims even when they’re legitimate.
“I know from personal experience that members of Congress and the public have good reason to question the honesty and trustworthiness of the insurance industry,” Wendell Potter, Cigna’s former vice president for corporate communications, told members of the Senate Commerce Committee. He c0ntinued:
Insurers make promises they have no intention of keeping, they flout regulations designed to protect consumers, and they make it nearly impossible to understand — or even to obtain — information we need.
The deception, of course, is by design. Publicly traded companies don’t exist simply to make profits, they exist to make more profits today than they did yesterday. Why else would anyone invest in them? And in the case of private insurers, what easier way to pad the bottom line than to deny expensive claims by stonewalling confused patients?
Potter expands, somewhat technically, in his written testimony:
The top priority of for-profit companies is to drive up the value of their stock. Stocks fluctuate based on companies’ quarterly reports, which are discussed every three months in conference calls with investors and analysts. On these calls, Wall Street looks investors and analysts look for two key figures: earnings per share and the medical-loss ratio, or medical “benefit” ratio, as the industry now terms it. That is the ratio between what the company actually pays out in claims and what it has left over to cover sales, marketing, underwriting and other administrative expenses and, of course, profits.
To win the favor of powerful analysts, for-profit insurers must prove that they made more money during the previous quarter than a year earlier and that the portion of the premium going to medical costs is falling. Even very profitable companies can see sharp declines in stock prices moments after admitting they’ve failed to trim medical costs.
There are other schemes the companies use to bolster profits, Potter said. They often dump sick customers by locating some minor disqualifying technicality in their coverage application — the omission of a minor illness, for example.
Companies also have techniques for dropping entire policies for small businesses when coverage costs grow higher than expected. “All it takes is one illness or accident among employees at a small business to prompt an insurance company to hike the next year’s premiums so high that the employer has to cut benefits, shop for another carrier, or stop offering coverage altogether,” Potter said.
Continue reading. More at the link. Why on earth do Americans cling to health insurance companies instead of opting for a single-payer system? The “waiting time” argument doesn’t make much sense. Not only does the US have waiting times (a friend wants to see a dermatologist and the earliest appointment she can get is a month from now), but the waiting time if your policy has been dropped and you can’t afford the treatment is infinite (or until you die, at least).