Archive for the ‘Government’ Category
First, the police start becoming militarized. Now, the military is acting as a domestic police force.
This is really disturbing. I guess the idea is that people who are given authorization to use deadly force can do whatever they damn well please, including ignoring the courts. (See earlier post today about how SWAT teams are used in defiance of court rulings.) Jason Koebler writes in Motherboard:
It’s not just the NSA: A Federal Appeals Court has just noted a disturbing and “extraordinary” trend of the Navy conducting mass surveillance on American civilians, and then using what they find to help local law enforcement prosecute criminals.
In this specific case, a Navy Criminal Investigative Service agent in George scanned the computers of every civilian in Washington state who happened to be using the decentralized Gnutella peer-to-peer network, looking for child pornography. The agent, Steve Logan, found child porn on a computer owned by a man named Michael Dreyer.
Logan then passed his evidence on to local law enforcement, who arrested and eventually convicted Dreyer, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison. The US Ninth Circuit of Appeals ruled that this was a massive overstep of military authority, a disturbing trend, and a blatant violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, a law that prohibits the military from conducting investigations on civilians.
The government argued that it conducted the surveillance on the off chance that it caught a military member violating the law and suggested that it has this authority in any state with a military base.
This case, Judge Marsha Berzon argued, demonstrates that that’s clearly not the case.
“The government’s position that the military may monitor and search all computers in a state even though it has no reason to believe that the computer’s owner has a military affiliation would render the PCA’s restrictions entirely meaningless,” she wrote. “The record here demonstrates that Agent Logan and other NCIS agents routinely carry out broad surveillance activities that violate the restrictions on military enforcement of civilian law.”
The violation was so egregious that Berzon and her fellow judges argued that “the extraordinary nature of the surveillance demonstrates a need to deter future violations.”
“It has become routine practice for the Navy to conduct surveillance of all the civilian computers in an entire state to see whether any child pornography can be found on them, and then to turn over the information to civilian law enforcement when no military connection exists,” she added. . .
Doesn’t that strongly remind you of the Soviet Union back in the old days?
Paul Krugman has a hopeful column, although the hope part depends on rational responses from governments… so perhaps not so hopeful. Still, it’s something:
This just in: Saving the planet would be cheap; it might even be free. But will anyone believe the good news?
I’ve just been reading two new reports on the economics of fighting climate change: a big study by a blue-ribbon international group, the New Climate Economy Project, and a working paper from the International Monetary Fund. Both claim that strong measures to limit carbon emissions would have hardly any negative effect on economic growth, and might actually lead to faster growth. This may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t. These are serious, careful analyses.
But you know that such assessments will be met with claims that it’s impossible to break the link between economic growth and ever-rising emissions of greenhouse gases, a position I think of as “climate despair.” The most dangerous proponents of climate despair are on the anti-environmentalist right. But they receive aid and comfort from other groups, including some on the left, who have their own reasons for getting it wrong.
Where is the new optimism about climate change and growth coming from? It has long been clear that a well-thought-out strategy of emissions control, in particular one that puts a price on carbon via either an emissions tax or a cap-and-trade scheme, would cost much less than the usual suspects want you to think. But the economics of climate protection look even better now than they did a few years ago.
On one side, there has been dramatic progress in renewable energy technology, with the costs of solar power, in particular, plunging, down by half just since 2010. Renewables have their limitations — basically, the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow — but if you think that an economy getting a lot of its power from wind farms and solar panels is a hippie fantasy, you’re the one out of touch with reality.
On the other side, it turns out that putting a price on carbon would have large “co-benefits” — positive effects over and above the reduction in climate risks — and that these benefits would come fairly quickly. The most important of these co-benefits, according to the I.M.F. paper, would involve public health: burning coal causes many respiratory ailments, which drive up medical costs and reduce productivity. . .
Citizens United has given corporations the right to free speech in that corporations can now give as much money (“speech,” in the eyes of SCOTUS) as they want to political candidates and parties. And Hobby Lobby endowed corporations with the ability to hold religious beliefs (and, presumably, be “saved” and the like).
So corporations are starting to be viewed as a kind of “citizen,” and yet it must be kept in mind that the corporation, as person, is a very narrow and unbalanced person. Whereas a natural person, such as you or I, will have a variety of goals along the lines of seeking a fulfilling life with good relationships with family, friends, and neighbors, perhaps with the hope of a good marriage and raising happy and productive children, corporations have only one goal: to increase profits. All their strategy, all their planning and work are aimed at increasing profits.
That is simply too narrow a range of goals. Corporations like the moral and social balance required to build a good community or a good government. Every corporate lobbyist is working toward one goal: increase profits. That generally means removing consumer protections, removing safety regulations, avoiding fixing problems (cf. GM), and so on.
Corporations are not good citizens. They are feral beasts who can be useful in some arenas but must be watched carefully. Many safeguards are required—and we have a long history that shows what corporations will do if those safeguards are removed. They do not care about their customer’s lives (cf. GM), they care only about increasing profits.
Once they’ve collected your insurance premiums, health insurance companies are loathe to spend that money
Basically, insurance companies love having the money come in as premiums, but they hate paying out settlements and in general do everything in their power to stall and reduce payments. Now they have adopted a new tactic, reported by Charles Ornstein at ProPublica:
Health insurance companies are no longer allowed to turn away patients because of their pre-existing conditions or charge them more because of those conditions. But some health policy experts say insurers may be doing so in a more subtle way: by forcing people with a variety of illnesses — including Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and epilepsy — to pay more for their drugs.
Insurers have long tried to steer their members away from more expensive brand name drugs, labeling them as “non-preferred” and charging higher co-payments. But according to an editorial to be published Thursday in the American Journal of Managed Care, several prominent health plans have taken it a step further, applying that same concept even to generic drugs.
The Affordable Care Act bans insurance companies from discriminating against patients with health problems, but that hasn’t stopped them from seeking new and creative ways to shift costs to consumers. In the process, the plans effectively may be rendering a variety of ailments “non-preferred,” according to the editorial.
“It is sometimes argued that patients should have ‘skin in the game’ to motivate them to become more prudent consumers,” the editorial says. “One must ask, however, what sort of consumer behavior is encouraged when all generic medicines for particular diseases are ‘non-preferred’ and subject to higher co-pays.”
I recently wrote about the confusion I faced with my infant son’s generic asthma and allergy medication, which switched cost tiers from one month to the next. Until then, I hadn’t known that my plan charged two different prices for generic drugs. If your health insurer does not use such a structure, odds are that it will before long.
The editorial comes several months after two advocacy groups filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights of the United States Department of Health and Human Servicesclaiming that several Florida health plans sold in the Affordable Care Act marketplace discriminated against H.I.V. patients by charging them more for drugs.
Specifically, the complaint contended that the plans placed all of their H.I.V. medications, including generics, in their highest of five cost tiers, meaning that patients had to pay 40 percent of the cost after paying a deductible. The complaint is pending.
“It seems that the plans are trying to find this wiggle room to design their benefits to prevent people who have high health needs from enrolling,” said Wayne Turner, a staff lawyer at the National Health Law Program, which filed the complaint alongside the AIDS Institute of Tampa, Fla.
Turner said he feared a “race to the bottom,” in which plans don’t want to be seen as the most attractive for sick patients. “Plans do not want that reputation.”
In July, more than 300 patient groups, covering a range of diseases, wrote to Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of health and human services, saying they were worried that health plans were trying to skirt the spirit of the law, including how they handled co-pays for drugs.
Generics, which come to the market after a name-brand drug loses its patent protection, used to have one low price in many insurance plans, typically $5 or $10. But as their prices have increased, sometimes sharply, many insurers have split the drugs into two cost groupings, as they have long done with name-brand drugs. “Non-preferred” generic drugs have higher co-pays, though they are still cheaper than brand-name drugs.
With brand names, there’s usually at least one preferred option in each disease category. Not so for generics, the authors of the editorial found.
One of the authors, Gerry Oster, a vice president at the consulting firm Policy Analysis, said he stumbled upon the issue much as I did. He went to his pharmacy to pick up a medication he had been taking for a couple of years. The prior month it cost him $5, but this time it was $20.
As he looked into it, he came to the conclusion that this phenomenon was unknown even to health policy experts. “It’s completely stealth,” he said. . .
Obviously some laws and regulations will be needed to prevent this sort of discriminatory price.
You’d think it would be obvious. It’s not, but Jeff Madrick has a good summary.