Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for June 17th, 2009

And we want to trust the insurance companies with healthcare??

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Christian Miller in ProPublica:

Tomorrow, lawmakers on the Domestic Policy panel of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing [1] on civilian contract workers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. The hearing follows a joint investigation by ProPublica, ABC News, and the Los Angeles Times, which found that AIG and other insurance carriers were routinely denying claims by injured civilians for medical care and disability benefits [2] under a federally financed workers’ compensation program. Rep. Dennis Kucinich [3], D-Ohio, and Sen. Bernie Sanders [4], I-Vt., who is making a special appearance in the House, will lead the questioning. The players include injured contractors, insurance company executives and one lonely official from the Labor Department, which oversees the program.

When we researched the story, we found all sorts of things wrong with the program, which was created by a law written in the 1940s called the Defense Base Act [5]. Back then, civilian contractors were a small part of the war effort. Nowadays, there are more contractors in Iraq than soldiers. Congress could fix many of the program’s shortcomings by updating the law to reflect the reality of modern-day war, which relies on layer after layer of civilian contract workers hired from across the globe to support troops. Among the topics that could be addressed:

Lack of Oversight from the Labor Department

The Labor Department oversees the program, even though the Defense Department writes most overseas contracts. The result is that nobody is responsible for the overall system. For instance, every company with a federal contract is supposed to have insurance for its overseas employees. But we found several that didn’t—a potential violation of the law. The problem? The Labor Department and the Defense Department don’t appear to talk. Nor has the Labor Department shown much interest in sending scofflaws over to the Justice Department for prosecution.

Question: What is the Labor Department doing to enforce the provisions of the Defense Base Act? Why haven’t any cases been referred to the Justice Department? What kind of communication exists between the Pentagon and the Labor Department?

Protracted Wrangling by Carriers and Civilian Contractors

[6] Current law requires that an insurance carrier deliver payment on a claim within 14 days. But in a war zone, carriers have found it tough to answer even simple questions needed to process a claim, such as the nature of the injury or where it occurred. The result is that carriers routinely file denial notices, which stop the clock and give them time to investigate. But after that denial is filed, there’s no timeline to finish the investigation. Nor does the Labor Department have the power to move things along. So guys with no legs or psychological trauma spend months, sometimes years waiting for treatment. And taxpayers have already paid the premiums.

Question: What will get things moving faster with less acrimony? Why not create a pay-without-prejudice system, as some states have, where carriers pay first, and then pursue damages from people who make false claims? Why not allow contractors suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder access to Veterans Affairs clinics and hospitals? Do we really want psychiatrically fragile people from war zones fighting for basic medical treatment?

What Are We Paying For? …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 3:11 pm

Fatcats want their excesses kept secret

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Do you get a sense that this is from a sense of shame? No, me neither. It’s probably just so shareholders won’t know. Michael Grabell in ProPublica:

Remember last fall when the CEOs of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler flew on corporate jets [1] to Washington, D.C., to plead for a taxpayer bailout? The resulting bad publicity prompted GM to try to prevent the public [2] from tracking its planes in databases compiled by the Federal Aviation Administration.

That got ProPublica interested in how many other companies had asked the FAA to excise their planes’ tail numbers from records tracking private flights. So in December, ProPublica filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for a complete listing.

Earlier this month, the FAA concluded that the information was public and planned to release the list on Tuesday. But on Monday, an organization representing corporate jet users went to court to block the release of the records.

The National Business Aviation Association filed a motion [3] (PDF) for a temporary restraining order on Monday in federal district court in Washington, D.C. The group, which learned of the request from the FAA, argues that the records should be exempt from disclosure because they contain confidential commercial information that was submitted voluntarily.

Releasing the list would also generate a higher level of interest in the companies that had tried to block public knowledge of their aircrafts’ movements, it said.

"Upon learning that a specific aircraft tail number is included in the [blocked] list, a member of the public could readily track down the identity of the owner (through the FAA’s public aircraft registry database) and attempt to investigate the reason the owner seeks blocking of the aircraft data," Steven Brown, the association’s senior vice president wrote in a March letter objecting to the FOIA request.

The information ProPublica is seeking would include the company’s name and address and the tail numbers of all the planes it wants blocked. The public already can research airplane ownership using the aircraft registry [4] posted on the FAA’s Web site.

To manage the nation’s air traffic, the FAA collects information from all planes that use the public airspace, including which airports the planes fly into and out of. The flight plans are public and some groups have posted them on their Web sites.

But under a little-known program called the Blocked Aircraft Registration Request Program [5], companies can request that their information be kept hidden to protect the security of their executives or to prevent disclosure of business trips that might affect stock prices.

Companies make the request through the business aviation association, which sends them to FAA each month. The FAA then reviews the requests and removes the planes from the public database.

The FAA reviewed the association’s objections to ProPublica’s FOIA request and determined on June 1 that the information did not qualify for an exemption.

"The NBAA list is not a trade secret, nor is it commercial or financial information within the meaning of the FOIA," wrote Carol A. Might, director of system operations litigation.

The FAA stands by its position, spokeswoman Laura Brown said Tuesday. In court, a Justice Department lawyer representing the FAA agreed to withhold the list until the judge can hear arguments from both sides…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

I thought the GOP was AGAINST wasteful government spending

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Strange how the GOP says one thing and does quite another. Ben Armbruster in ThinkProgress:

Last April, Defense Secretary Robert Gates recommended capping production of the F-22 Raptor at 187 planes. Gates said the move was part of a series of changes in defense spending that he called “no-brainers.” (The F-22 has never seen action in either Iraq or Afghanistan.) Yesterday, the House Armed Services Committee “threw a wrench in the Obama administration’s plans to end” the F-22 program, voting 31-30 on a measure marking up the Defense Department spending bill that would “add $369 million in extra funding to keep production of the Air Force’s most advanced jet alive.” Six Democrats — Reps. Jim Marshall (GA), Joe Courtney (CT), Gabrielle Giffords (AZ), Eric Massa (NY), Bobby Bright (AL), and Mike McIntyre (NC) — joined 25 Republicans in voting for the amendment. The Wall Street Journal reports that “the extra money would be a boost for Lockheed [Martin’s] Marietta, Ga., production facility” which is in Marshall’s home state.

Also, Democrats: Way to support your president—not.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 3:01 pm

Posted in Business, Congress, Military

Robert Reich on the 3 essentials of finance reform

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Interesting article by Reich in Salon.com:

As the White House unveils its long-awaited proposals to prevent another Wall Street meltdown in the future, keep a lookout for three essentials. Without them the Street will revert to its old ways as soon as the coast clears. In fact, now that the government has bailed out the Street, the biggest banks will take even larger and more irresponsible risks because they’re officially too big to fail. So these three reforms are critical.

1. Stop bankers from making huge, risky bets with other people’s money. At the least, require they back their bets with a large percentage of their own capital, and bar them from raising money off their balance sheets through derivative trades. Also require they take their pay in stock options or warrants that can’t be cashed in for at least three years, so they’ll take a longer-term view. Best of all would be a requirement that investment banks return to being partnerships and the capital on their books be their own, not yours or your pension fund’s. When investment banks were partnerships, every partner took an active interest in what every other partner and trader was doing. The real mischief started once they started selling shares to the public.

2. Prevent any bank from becoming too big to fail. Separate commercial from investment banking, as they were before the late 1990s. Commercial banks should return to their basic function of linking savers with borrowers. Investment bankers should return to their casino function of placing bets in the stock market and advising you and others about where to place your own bets. Combining the basic utility with the casino only made bankers far richer and subjected you and me to risks we didn’t bargain for. If separating commercial from investment banking isn’t enough to bring all banks down to reasonable size, use antitrust laws to break them up.

3…

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 2:58 pm

Interesting healthcare chart

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From ThinkProgress:

Today, House Republicans offered a substance-less alternative to the Democrats’ health care plan. The GOP “plan” comes on the same day that Gallup releases new numbers showing the GOP ranks last when it comes to who the public thinks would get health care reform right. Only 34% of Americans are confident that Republicans in Congress will make the correct decisions, which is less than the insurance companies (35%) and the pharmaceutical companies (40%). The public’s faith in President Obama comes in at 58%, while confidence in Democratic leaders in Congress is at 42%:

galluphealthcarepoll

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 1:31 pm

Posted in Daily life

Interesting tool for people who compute in various places

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 1:23 pm

Gonzales’s advice to Bush on how to avoid war crimes

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It would be simple for most: don’t do war crimes. But Bush wanted to do the crimes but not the time, and Alberto was there to help. Thanks to Jack in Amsterdam for the pointer to this story by Jason Leopold:

On January 25, 2002, then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales advised George W. Bush in a memo to deny al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners protections under the Geneva Conventions because doing so would "substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act" and "provide a solid defense to any future prosecution."

    Two weeks later, Bush signed an action memorandum dated February 7, 2002, addressed to Vice President Dick Cheney, which denied baseline protections to al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners under the Third Geneva Convention. That memo, according to a recently released bipartisan report issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee, opened the door to "considering aggressive techniques," which were then developed with the complicity of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and other senior Bush officials.

    "The President’s order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al-Qaeda or Taliban detainees," says the committee’s December 11 report.

    "While the President’s order stated that, as ‘a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva Conventions,’ the decision to replace well established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees in US custody."

    The Supreme Court held in 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, that the prisoners were entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions.

    Many of the classified policy directives, such as Gonzales’s memo to Bush, are now part of the public record thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Bush administration, which has so far resulted in the release of more than 100,000 pages of documents that shows how Bush officials twisted the law in order to build a legal framework for torture.

    These documents have been posted on …

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 12:59 pm

Sriracha Chili Sauce

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Ed Schneider suggests adding some Worcestershire sauce to your bottle of Sriracha to make it even better. And John Edge has a story about Sriracha in the NY Times:

After-hours calls to Huy Fong Foods, here in the suburbs of the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles, are intercepted by an answering machine. One recent day, 14 messages were blinking when Donna Lam, the operations manager, hit “play.”

A woman told of smearing Huy Fong’s flagship product, Tuong Ot Sriracha (Sriracha Chili Sauce), on multigrain snack chips. A man proclaimed the purée of fresh red jalapeños, garlic powder, sugar, salt and vinegar to be “the bomb,” and thanked Ms. Lam’s employers for “much joy and pleasure.”

Another caller, hampered by a slight slur, botched the pronunciation of the product name before asking whether discount pricing might be available. Finally, he blurted, “I love rooster sauce!” (A strutting rooster, gleaming white against a backdrop of the bright red sauce, dominates Huy Fong’s trademark green-capped clear plastic squeeze bottles.)

“I guess it goes with alcohol,” deadpanned Ms. Lam, who, like David Tran, the 64-year-old founder of Huy Fong and creator of its sauce, is both proud of the product’s popularity and flummoxed by fans’ devotion.

The lure of Asian authenticity is part of the appeal. Some American consumers believe sriracha (properly pronounced SIR-rotch-ah) to be a Thai sauce. Others think it is Vietnamese. The truth is that sriracha, as manufactured by Huy Fong Foods, may be best understood as an American sauce, a polyglot purée with roots in different places and peoples.

It’s become a sleeve trick for chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 12:43 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food

Eric Holder evasive on domestic surveillance

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Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:

Pressed by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) on his view of whether the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program was illegal, Attorney General Eric Holder said the program was “inconsistent” with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, but repeatedly refused to say it was “illegal,” or that President Bush broke the law — despite previous statements he’s made suggesting just that.

Here’s an excerpt:

Feingold: Is there any doubt in your mind that the warrantless wiretapping program was illegal?

Holder: As it was put together at the t time it was certainly unwise … It now exists with congressional approval, so the concerns I addressed in that speech [referring to a speech at the American Constitution Society before he became Attorney General] no longer exist.

Feingold: I asked if it was illegal, not unwise.

Holder: I thought actions the administration had taken were inconsistent with the dictates of FISA.  And as a result I thought the policy was an unwise one.  The concerns I addressed then have been remedied by Congress.

Feingold: Was it illegal?

Holder: I said it was inconsistent with the dictates of FISA.

Feingold: That sounds awfully mild compared to a very clear statement and very clear principle here … Many people like me believe that if the statute is that explicit then it is unconstitutional for the president and illegal for the president to override the express will of the Congress.

Holder: I think what I’m saying now is consistent with what I’m saying in the speech.

While it seems clear that Holder still thinks the previous administration violated the law (I assume that’s what “inconsistent with the dictates of FISA” means), Holder is obviously reluctant to use the word “illegal,” likely because it suggests that he, as attorney general, might have to prosecute someone for it.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 12:31 pm

New states-secret policy coming

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Daphne Eviatar:

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Eric Holder said today that the Justice Department will soon issue its opinion and recommendations regarding the controversial use of the “state secrets” privilege, which the government has been using to conceal information in about 20 pending federal cases.

In three particular cases — Jewel v. NSA, Al Haramain v. Obama, and Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan — the administration has asked courts to dismiss the cases on the grounds that allowing them to go forward would reveal “state secrets.”

Responding to the outcry that the administration is abusing the privilege, the Senate is set to take up legislation, the State Secrets Protection Act of 2009, that would limit the executive’s ability to dismiss cases based on the privilege. Holder suggested that the Obama administration’s view of the matter will be different than the Senate’s, and will eliminate the need for the legislation altogether.

He promised to produce that new policy publicly “in a matter of days.”

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 12:28 pm

The Democrats’ health plans

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Mike Lillis reports that they’re not very good:

Just hours after President Obama reiterated his plans for overhauling the nation’s health care system to trim costs and cover the 46 million people estimated to lack insurance, the Congressional Budget Office came out with a grim analysis of one major Democratic proposal designed with the same goals in mind.

Draft health reform legislation introduced by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) — leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — would cost $1 trillion over the next decade while reducing the number of uninsured by only 16 million, CBO found. It’s hardly the dramatic improvement to the health care system that Kennedy — a long-time health reform advocate — had in mind as a legacy.

In a letter to Kennedy and Dodd, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf was quick to emphasize that those numbers will likely change as the bill language becomes more specific. Democrats on the HELP panel, for example, had excluded in their draft earlier plans to expand Medicaid and offer a government-backed insurance option — provisions that might surface later in the debate and increase the numbers of the newly-insured.

Yet, depending on how the legislation evolves, the numbers could also get worse for the Democrats. CBO, for example, scored the HELP proposal under the assumption that it will eventually include an individual mandate for health coverage — something it doesn’t currently do.

On the basis of our discussions with the committee staff, we understand that it was the committee’s intent to impose a clear requirement for individuals to have health insurance, and this analysis reflects that intent. However, the current draft is not clear on this point, and if the language remains ambiguous, that would affect our estimate of its impact on federal costs and insurance coverage.

Meanwhile, reports are emerging that the White House is already distancing itself from the HELP proposal.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 12:20 pm

History of the white nationalist movement

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Interesting-sounding book:

Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream
by Leonard Zeskind

A review by Art Winslow

This April, when the Department of Homeland Security issued a report titled "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," the media world was briefly ablaze debating whether it was true.

"Rightwing extremists," the report maintained, "have capitalized on the election of the first African American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters, and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda."

Citing the economic downturn, it drew parallels to the 1990s, a fertile time in the development of militia-style factions. In a footnote, "rightwing extremism" is defined broadly as applying to groups, movements and adherents that are "primarily hate-oriented" toward particular religious, racial or ethnic groups, or "are mainly anti-government, rejecting federal authority," or may be dedicated to single issues such as opposition to abortion.

What favorable timing, then, for Leonard Zeskind’s Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement From the Margins to the Mainstream, which addresses all of these issues, provides a context in which to assess them and offers an extended look inside a little-understood cultural zone that is really a panoply of small groups.

Unless you too resent ZOG (the Zionist Occupation Government), Zeskind’s decades-long perspective will help explain why, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there were 926 hate groups active in the United States last year — a 4% increase from the previous year but representing a 50% increase since 2000. Demographically speaking, this involves a tiny slice of the populace: Zeskind estimates that 30,000 men and women constitute the white nationalist hard core, with an additional 250,000-plus forming a periphery of supporters. In a country of more than 300 million people, that is one-tenth of 1%.

Zeskind tracks the white supremacist impulse, as embodied in various groups since the mid-1970s, in chronological fashion. He analyzes every twist, turn and rivalry — historically, the groups hardly yielded a harmonious or even coherent "movement," although there is more of one today than in the past. (In a prequel section of the book, Zeskind also traces roots stretching back into the mid-1950s.) Much of his narrative is cast around the schism between "mainstreamers" who seek to temper their message in return for broadened public support and potential electoral success, and more militant "vanguardists" who have not and often take a separatist approach.

"Mainstreamers believe that …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

Wall Street’s Toxic Message

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An article by Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel-prize-winning economist. The blurb for the article:

When the current crisis is over, the reputation of American-style capitalism will have taken a beating—not least because of the gap between what Washington practices and what it preaches. Disillusioned developing nations may well turn their backs on the free market, warns Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz, posing new threats to global stability and U.S. security.

The article itself begins:

Every crisis comes to an end—and, bleak as things seem now, the current economic crisis too shall pass. But no crisis, especially one of this severity, recedes without leaving a legacy. And among this one’s legacies will be a worldwide battle over ideas—over what kind of economic system is likely to deliver the greatest benefit to the most people. Nowhere is that battle raging more hotly than in the Third World, among the 80 percent of the world’s population that lives in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, 1.4 billion of whom subsist on less than $1.25 a day. In America, calling someone a socialist may be nothing more than a cheap shot. In much of the world, however, the battle between capitalism and socialism—or at least something that many Americans would label as socialism—still rages. While there may be no winners in the current economic crisis, there are losers, and among the big losers is support for American-style capitalism. This has consequences we’ll be living with for a long time to come.

The fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, marked the end of Communism as a viable idea. Yes, the problems with Communism had been manifest for decades. But after 1989 it was hard for anyone to say a word in its defense. For a while, it seemed that the defeat of Communism meant the sure victory of capitalism, particularly in its American form. Francis Fukuyama went as far as to proclaim “the end of history,” defining democratic market capitalism as the final stage of social development, and declaring that all humanity was now heading in this direction. In truth, historians will mark the 20 years since 1989 as the short period of American triumphalism. With the collapse of great banks and financial houses, and the ensuing economic turmoil and chaotic attempts at rescue, that period is over. So, too, is the debate over “market fundamentalism,” the notion that unfettered markets, all by themselves, can ensure economic prosperity and growth. Today only the deluded would argue that markets are self-correcting or that we can rely on the self-interested behavior of market participants to guarantee that everything works honestly and properly.

The economic debate takes on particular potency in the developing world. Although we in the West tend to forget, 190 years ago one-third of the world’s gross domestic product was in China. But then, rather suddenly, colonial exploitation and unfair trade agreements, combined with a technological revolution in Europe and America, left the developing countries far behind, to the point where, by 1950, China’s economy constituted less than 5 percent of the world’s G.D.P. In the mid–19th century the United Kingdom and France actually waged a war to open China to global trade. This was the Second Opium War, so named because the West had little of value to sell to China other than drugs, which it had been dumping into Chinese markets, with the collateral effect of causing widespread addiction. It was an early attempt by the West to correct a balance-of-payments problem.

Colonialism left a mixed legacy in the developing world—but one clear result was the view among people there that …

Continue reading. More Stiglitz articles on the economic crisis:

Capitalist Fools, January 2009

Reversal of Fortune, November 2008

The $3 Trillion War, April 2008 (with Linda J. Bilmes)

The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush, December 2007

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 12:11 pm

Interesting words from invented languages

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The Son points out this interesting note. Be sure to read the comments.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 12:02 pm

Posted in Daily life

Mary Kane looks at Obama’s direction on consumer protection in finance

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 11:57 am

Joe Klein reports on Iran

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Interesting column:

For two years now, John McCain has been entirely consistent on Iran: every last statement he’s made–at least, those that I’ve seen–has been (a) fabulously uninformed and (b) dangerously bellicose. He’s still at it, apparently. There is no question that President Obama’s more prudent path is the correct one right now. There is also no question that the neoconservatives are trying to gin up this situation into an excuse for not engaging with the Iranian government in the near future–and also as a rationale for their dearest, looniest dream, war with Iran. I’ve come home more pessimistic that much can be accomplished in negotiations with the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad government, but we certainly should continue to make the effort to lure the Iranians into the civilized world. It may even be the case that Khamenei decided that Ahmadinejad’s reelection was a pre-requisite for negotiations.

Meanwhile, Pete Wehner has a post at the Commentary blog comparing Iran in 2009 to the Soviet Union of the 1980’s which, of course, is completely ridiculous. I visited Russia back in the day and I’ve now visited Iran twice. There is no comparison. The Soviet Union was the most repressive place I’ve ever been; its residents lived in constant terror. I’ll never forget my first translator in Moscow telling me that his parents had trained him never to smile in public–it could easily be misinterpreted and then he’d be off to the Gulag. There was no internet in those days, no cellphones, no facebook or twitter.

Iran, by contrast, is breezy with freedom. It is certainly freer now, despite Ahmadinejad, than it was when I first visited in 2001. There are satellites dishes all over the place, which bring accurate news via BBC Persia and the Voice of America. The place is awash in western music, movies and books. The Supreme Leader has a website; ayatollahs are blogging. You can get the New York Times and CNN online. (I was interested to find, however, that most blogs except those, like this one, that are associated with a mainstream media outlet, are filtered by the government.) There is, in fact, marginally more freedom of expression in Iran than in some notable U.S. allies, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia–although the danger of imprisonment always exists if a journalist or politician takes it a step too far for the Supreme Leader’s watchdogs. It is not even clear that Ahmadinejad–who has significant backing from the sort of people who support Republicans here (the elderly, the religious extremists) plus a real following among working-class Iranians–would have lost this election, if the votes had been counted fairly. (I tend to believe that they weren’t counted at all, but that’s just my opinion.)

The point is, neoconservatives like McCain and Wehner just can’t seem to quit their dangerous habit of making broad, extreme statements based on ideology rather than detailed knowledge of the situation in Iran and elsewhere. This was always the main problem with McCain’s candidacy–he would have been a trigger-happy President, just as Wehner’s old boss, George W. Bush, was. We are well out of that.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 11:39 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Iran

Healthcare comparisons

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It seems strange that everyone is so convinced that the US is incapable of running a government healthcare option when other countries do quite well managing their national healthcare system through a single-payer method (i.e., the government). And they have, on the whole, better outcomes than the US. David Leonhardt in the NY Times:

Healthcare comparison

Rationing.

More to the point: Rationing!

As in: Wait, are you talking about rationing medical care? Access to medical care is a fundamental right. And rationing sounds like something out of the Soviet Union. Or at least Canada.

The r-word has become a rejoinder to anyone who says that this country must reduce its runaway health spending, especially anyone who favors cutting back on treatments that don’t have scientific evidence behind them. You can expect to hear a lot more about rationing as health care becomes the dominant issue in Washington this summer.

Today, I want to try to explain why the case against rationing isn’t really a substantive argument. It’s a clever set of buzzwords that tries to hide the fact that societies must make choices.

In truth, rationing is an inescapable part of economic life. It is the process of allocating scarce resources. Even in the United States, the richest society in human history, we are constantly rationing. We ration spots in good public high schools. We ration lakefront homes. We ration the best cuts of steak and wild-caught salmon.

Health care, I realize, seems as if it should be different. But it isn’t. Already, we cannot afford every form of medical care that we might like. So we ration.

We spend billions of dollars on operations, tests and drugs that haven’t been proved to make people healthier. Yet we have not spent the money to install computerized medical records — and we suffer more medical errors than many other countries.

We underpay primary care doctors, relative to specialists, and they keep us stewing in waiting rooms while they try to see as many patients as possible. We don’t reimburse different specialists for time spent collaborating with one another, and many hard-to-diagnose conditions go untreated. We don’t pay nurses to counsel people on how to improve their diets or remember to take their pills, and manageable cases of diabetes and heart disease become fatal.

“Just because there isn’t some government agency specifically telling you which treatments you can have based on cost-effectiveness,” as Dr. Mark McClellan, head of Medicare in the Bush administration, says, “that doesn’t mean you aren’t getting some treatments.”

Milton Friedman’s beloved line is a good way to frame the issue: There is no such thing as a free lunch. The choice isn’t between rationing and not rationing. It’s between rationing well and rationing badly. Given that the United States devotes far more of its economy to health care than other rich countries, and gets worse results by many measures, it’s hard to argue that we are now rationing very rationally.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 10:30 am

Health insurers insist on right to revoke coverage

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After all, if they didn’t drop people with serious illnesses, their profits would be impacted. We MUST have a government option. The story by Lisa Girion in the LA Times:

Executives of three of the nation’s largest health insurers told federal lawmakers in Washington on Tuesday that they would continue canceling medical coverage for some sick policyholders, despite withering criticism from Republican and Democratic members of Congress who decried the practice as unfair and abusive.

The hearing on the controversial action known as rescission, which has left thousands of Americans burdened with costly medical bills despite paying insurance premiums, began a day after President Obama outlined his proposals for revamping the nation’s healthcare system.

An investigation by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations showed that health insurers WellPoint Inc., UnitedHealth Group and Assurant Inc. canceled the coverage of more than 20,000 people, allowing the companies to avoid paying more than $300 million in medical claims over a five-year period.

It also found that policyholders with breast cancer, lymphoma and more than 1,000 other conditions were targeted for rescission and that employees were praised in performance reviews for terminating the policies of customers with expensive illnesses.

No one can defend, and I certainly cannot defend, the practice of canceling coverage after the fact,” said Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.), a member of the committee. “There is no acceptable minimum to denying coverage after the fact.”

The executives — Richard A. Collins, chief executive of UnitedHealth’s Golden Rule Insurance Co.; Don Hamm, chief executive of Assurant Health and Brian Sassi, president of consumer business for WellPoint Inc., parent of Blue Cross of California — were courteous and matter-of-fact in their testimony.

But they would not commit to limiting rescissions to only policyholders who intentionally lie or commit fraud to obtain coverage, a refusal that met with dismay from legislators on both sides of the political aisle.

Experts said it could undermine the industry’s efforts to influence healthcare-overhaul plans working their way toward the White House.

“Talk about tone deaf,” said Robert Laszewski, a former health insurance executive who now counsels companies as a consultant.

Democratic strategist Paul Begala said the hearing could hurt the industry’s efforts to position itself in the debate.

“The industry has tried very hard in this current effort not to be the bad guy, not to wear the black hat,” Begala said. “The trouble is all that hard work and goodwill is at risk if in fact they are pursuing” such practices.

Rescission was largely hidden until three years ago, when The Times launched a series of stories disclosing that insurers routinely canceled the medical coverage of individual policyholders who required expensive medical care…

Continue reading. Read the whole things—there’s much more. From later in the article:

The committee’s investigation found that WellPoint’s Blue Cross targeted individuals with more than 1,400 conditions, including breast cancer, lymphoma, pregnancy and high blood pressure. And the committee obtained documents that showed Blue Cross supervisors praised employees in performance reviews for rescinding policies.

One employee, for instance, received a perfect 5 for “exceptional performance” on an evaluation that noted the employee’s role in dropping thousands of policyholders and avoiding nearly $10 million worth of medical care.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 9:59 am

When health insurance companies don’t want to pay

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Health insurance works only when the insurance company decides to allow it. Karen Tumulty of TIME magazine:

In May, 2008, Robin Beaton, a retired registered nurse from Waxahachie, Texas, went to her dermatologist to be treated for acne. He mistakenly wrote down something on her chart that made it appear that she might have a pre-cancerous skin condition.

Not a big deal, right? It shouldn’t have been, except that soon after that, she was diagnosed with something far more serious—invasive and aggressive breast cancer. Three days before she was scheduled for a double mastectomy, her insurance company, Blue Cross, called her and told her they were launching an investigation into the last five years of her health records. It turned out that dermatologist’s note had been a red flag, and the company was looking for a way to cancel her policy on the grounds that she had been hiding a serious medical condition.

What Robin went through after that was a nightmare, one she tearfully described Tuesday morning in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight and investigations subcommittee. “The sad thing is, Blue Cross gladly took my high premiums, and the first time I filed a claim and was suspected of having cancer, they searched high and low for a reason to cancel me,” said Robin, whose hair is just beginning to grow back in from chemotherapy.

The subcommittee took a look today at an immoral—and illegal—practice in which some health insurance companies engage. It’s called post-claims underwriting, and you should know about it. Because you or someone you love could be a victim if they buy insurance on the individual insurance market. Robin got her mastectomy, but only after her congressman, Joe Barton, leaned on the head of the company. (This is constituent service, in the very best sense of why we elect these guys. But the best thing they could do is to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone’s constituent.)

There were other witnesses, too. Like Peggy Raddatz, whose brother Otto Raddatz lost his insurance coverage right before he was scheduled to receive an expensive stem-cell transplant to treat his lymphoma. Why? Because Fortis Insurance Company discovered that his doctor had found gall stones and an aneurysm on a CT scan—conditions that had nothing to do with his cancer, and that never bothered him, and that he wasn’t even aware of. And Jennifer Wittney Horton of Los Angeles, whose coverage was canceled because she had been taking a drug for irregular menstruation. Now, she can’t get coverage anywhere else. “Since my rescission, I have had to take jobs that I do not want, and put my career goals on hold to ensure that I can find health insurance,” she told the subcommittee. “Fortunately, after my husband and I got married, I was able to gain coverage through his company’s group health care plan. However, if he ever loses his job, or I don’t have employment with a company that offers group health insurance, I might have to go without insurance.”

The insurance companies will argue that cases like these are rare, and that they have to be vigilant against fraud so that they can hold down costs for everyone else. But an investigation by the subcommittee found widespread instances where the insurance companies rescind coverage even over discrepancies that are unintentional, unknown to the policyholder or immaterial to the more serious health conditions for which the policyholders are filing for benefits…

Continue reading. No wonder the insurance companies are fighting a government healthcare option.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 9:53 am

Obama looks to more financial industry regulation

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From the Center for American Progress:

Today, the Obama administration is rolling out its plan for reforming the financial regulation system. In an effort "likely to result in the most sweeping overhaul since the 1930s," the administration intends to address some of the regulatory gaps and oversights that contributed to the current economic crisis. "The goal is to integrate the system, make sure that there are not any gaps, and to make sure that we have a[n] updating of the regulatory system that worked back in the 1930s, but doesn’t work with the kinds of financial instruments and the kinds of global capital markets that exist today," President Obama told Bloomberg News. The plan will, among other things, set up a structure to monitor systemic risk, develop a new resolution authority for winding down complex non-bank financial institutions, and establish a new consumer protection agency to police financial products. It will also mandate the regulation of derivatives and require financial institutions to retain part of any asset that they securitize and sell. Of course, the banking lobby is gearing up to oppose some of the reforms. "Wall Street seems to maybe have a shorter memory about how close we were to the abyss than I would have expected," Obama said yesterday. "All we’re doing is cleaning up after the mess that was made." And even with all of these reforms, the administration will need to ensure that regulators follow through on their responsibilities, which is something that did not occur under the Bush administration.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2009 at 9:46 am

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