Thursday, April 29, 2010

insurance rescissions ending next month

The health insurance industry has decided to end its practice of cancelling claims once a patient gets sick next month, well before the new health care law would have required it, the industry’s chief spokesman said Wednesday.

"While many health plans already abide by the standards outlined in the new law, our community is committed to implementing the new standards in May 2010 to ensure that individuals and families will have greater peace of mind when purchasing coverage on their own," AHIP president and chief executive Karen Ignagni said in a letter to top House Democrats.
Congressional Democrats and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had pressured companies to end the practice early. The overhaul plan will ban the practice in September, except in cases of fraud or intentional misrepresentation, and subject it to a third party review.

White House health reform czar Nancy-Ann DeParle said the administration will be watching to ensure the industry does indeed institute the ban.

There was a lot of BS in the healthcare bill, and too many compromises were made with people who negotiated in bad faith, but at the end of the day the single worst practice in the American healthcare system is coming to an end. This is going to save lives.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

what a difference a year makes

The top 2 stories at TPM right now are that McCain's ratings are at their lowest ever, and that Florida Governor Charlie Crist is planning to leave the GOP and run for Senate as an independent.

If Republicans had any sense, they'd be drafting Crist to run for president. As it stands, he's another casualty of the teabaggers' and Club for Growth's War on Moderates. McCain could be another.

Another casualty? The Hispanic vote, and in time, the state of Arizona if Kos is right. The governor's polling among Hispanics in AZ has dropped twenty six points since the infamous anti-immigration bill was signed.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"a dramatically effective administration"

Andrew Sullivan counts all the achievements of the Obama Administration since inauguration one and a half years ago:
An end to illegal torture of terror suspects. A beginning to a saner method of detaining, trying and convicting terror suspects.

Adept handling of the worst financial crisis and recession since the 1930s, leading to a profitable bank bailout (excluding Freddie and Fannie) and a return to growth. Check.

Salvaging of the automobile industry, which is now showing signs of life.

Passage of an ambitious stimulus package that has helped repair many crumbling parts of the US infrastructure and poured money into green industry.

The biggest social policy reform since LBJ - guaranteeing access to health insurance for all Americans.

Financial re-regulation of an out-of-control Wall Street, and the beginnings of real scrutiny (see Goldman) of the self-serving corruption at the heart of the financial industry.

Repaired relations with Russia, leading to a new START treaty, and better relations with China, leading to a revaluation of the yuan.

Joint Chiefs' endorsement of ending Don't Ask Don't Tell.

A tough re-balancing of the US position in the Middle East, away from the Likudnik-oriented jerking knees of the last eight years, and an assertion that US foreign policy should be conducted to advance the interests of the United States, not the interests of a belligerent faction in a foreign country.

The first point is very much debatable, and most of the others came with significant compromises, but this is still a pretty remarkable list of accomplishments.

bartering for healthcare

It is helpful to remember that people elect total f**king morons to high office all the time. All chicken jokes aside, the percentage of Americans who are farmers isn't exactly the highest it's ever been. What will, say, the regional manager of a mid-size paper company be using to barter for chemotherapy? What does a radiology technician barter with in this exciting new healthcare economy? To use an example befitting Lowden's home state, what does a waitress or a hotel clerk barter with? How many cardiologists would accept payment for a $100k procedure in pretty much anything other than dollars?

Nevermind her breezy suggestion that everyone just take that twenty thousand dollars you have just lying around and shove it in a health savings account.

We really are ruled by idiots.

Monday, April 19, 2010

why it has to be marriage, and nothing short of it

Sweet Jesus.

why 47% pay no federal income tax

In short, because of the Child Tax Credit, which is a Republican innovation. Kudos to them, I guess, because I'm all for it.

I'd also like to take this moment to post a reminder about marginal tax rates, since I'm starting to see more of this idiocy make its way into newspaper columns. About a year ago I wrote a post on the subject in light of rich idiots who were cleverly thinking up ways to make exactly $249,999 so as to dodge President Obama's tax hike on people making $250k/year.

This is a basic misunderstanding of how the income tax works. If you make $300,000, for instance, Obama's tax hike would only affect the last $50k of income that pushed you over the cap, not the entire $300k. Thus, someone who makes $250,001 will make more money than someone making $249,999. That's how progressive taxes work.

Hans Kung finds his moment

The long knives are coming out for Joseph Ratzinger, such as this public letter from liberal theologian Hans Kung published in the Irish Times. It's a good read.

A major theme in the life story of Joseph Ratzinger, one not well understood by the press (the American press in particular doesn't really have anyone who understands the crucial subtexts of Vatican actions, statements and positions) has been his personal crusade against liberalism in the Church since his tenure in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition).

Ratzinger and Hans Kung were the two youngest theologians at the Second Vatican Council, and both were liberal. Ratzinger had a conversion experience that correlates very closely with his ascent up the hierarchy, after which he pursued and harassed virtually every major liberal Catholic theology in the post-war era. He toppled Hans Kung from his post at Tubingen University (after Kung went out of his way to get Ratzinger a job there!). As Archbishop of Munich, he blocked Johann Baptist Metz from teaching at the University of Munich. As Inquisitor, he suspended Liberation theologian Leonardo Boff and investigated Gustavo Gutierrez multiple times. He took issue with Karl Rahner and investigated Edward Schillebeeckx. He had Uta-Ranke Heinemann, the first woman to hold the chair of Catholic Theology at the University of Munich, excommunicated.

Since he became Pope, conservative American bishops have become increasingly emboldened and overtly political, while American nuns are suddenly finding themselves and their lifestyles under widespread investigation, with the possible consequence of losing their homes and being rounded back up into convents.

It should be a cruel irony for the Church that it gets one of its most dogged and intelligent Inquisitors in years installed during the 80's and 90's, but he spends all his time chasing liberal theologians and pays no mind to the scourge of clerical pedophilia. Unfortunately, there's nothing ironic about it, as we're starting to see that pedophilia and its tacit acceptance likely has a long, quiet history in the Catholic hierarchy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

an uncanny coincidence

I present to you two completely unrelated facts:

1. the national deficit is at its highest level in history, over a trillion dollars at this point,

2. Americans' federal tax burden is the lowest it's been in 60 years.

I see no possible relationship here whatsoever. What about you?

Meanwhile, a new poll shows what every other poll ever taken on the subject has already shown: we all agree that spending needs to be cut to fix the deficit problem, but nobody actually wants to see any significant part of the budget get lower funding. Gosh, if only there were a way around this problem, some way to close the deficit without cutting hugely popular programs. Hmm, boy that's a toughy.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Andrea Gibson: "I do"

As someone who has the occasional sleepless night related to this subject, this movie reminds me that it could be worse. When that day comes, at least we'll both get to participate.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bobo marginalized, but still part of his party

I've had one or two friends lately claim that David Brooks is close to jumping ship on the GOP and joining the Democratic party. This is why that will never happen. At the end of the day, American politics are still about haves and have-nots (in both the economic and political senses). Either you believe:

  1. that the world and the free market are fundamentally just, that people are where they are because they chose to be there, and that, as Dr. Phil once said, "there are no victims, only volunteers," or

  2. that life isn't fair, that some people have an inside track to success and guard their privilege jealously, and that someone has to look after the weak because it sure as hell won't be profit-driven companies and bosses.

Brooks may believe in evolution and climate change, and he may have gay friends, but at the end of the day, he's just an old Tory who thinks people are rich because they're better people.

barbecuing without bigotry

LOLcat at a BBQ
(image from LOLCats, obviously)

Yesterday my better, meatless half and I went to a BBQ restaurant (I know, but I can't make it every time I want it). When we go, she has to get a potato and salad because there aren't any vegetarian entrees, and then she has to request that they leave the bacon off her salad because there also aren't any vegetarian salads. Admittedly, this is hardly just a BBQ restaurant issue, and she claims she loves the potato and cornbread muffins there, but one of the waitresses was also wearing a shirt that said "vegetarians are free... to change their ways."

I noticed this attitude on the various internet BBQ and grilling/smoking sites as well when I went looking for vegetarian modifications to ABTs, this defensiveness masquerading as apathy towards vegetarians, this total unwillingness to make even the tiniest concession to non-meat-eating guests. It's like the point of BBQing is to make some sort of puerile statement about your machismo, a middle finger to all those who would look down on your cheese-filled bacon-wrapped sausage fatty topped with mayonnaise, a bottle of Wild Turkey, and a George Thorogood CD, like vegetarians and environmentalists and your doctor.

Fuck all 'em! I do wut I want!

When did BBQ become an expression of conservative white male angst and fear? Why can't it be about making good food that everybody can enjoy?

Put another way, is it fair or polite to ask people to check their diets at the door when they come to your cookout? Do you really want the event to have this undercurrent of hostility that will make some of your guests feel unwelcome?

I approach grilling/smoking from the perspective of someone who loves all kinds of food. I've had not just mind-blowing steak, but wonderful tofu dishes. I love fajitas, pizza, and cheeseburgers as well as sushi and Szechuan vegetables and bhindi masala.

And yes, there have been cookouts where I nailed the meat dish, but the best thing that came off the grill was still the vegetable entree. Portabellas drizzled with balsamic vinagrette and studded with garlic cloves, people. They're not just for breakfast anymore!

Don't be a dick: when you make your menu, whether it's for a restaurant or a Saturday cookout, be considerate and remember that other people's diets aren't about you. People aren't refusing to eat steak or sausage because they secretly hate you and your vile capitalist ways. Yes, some people do so out of an environmentalist, ethical or anti-meat industry stance (which is fine, again, because it's not about you), but others do so because it's healthy and can help with weight issues. Some attendees may be eating kosher, halal, Hindu, or Catholic/Lutheran/Episcopalian during Lent (do you know the religious affiliations of all your guests? I often don't), while still others may have high cholesterol, lactose intolerance, digestive issues, or any number of other things. Don't make your friends choose between your food and their beliefs or health.

What you'll quickly discover is that vegetables do wonderful things when exposed to smoke and an open flame, too. There's a whole world of food out there outside the realm of meat just waiting to be explored. I recommend starting with the peppers.

Krugman's primer on the economics of climate change

A great read.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Stupak retiring

There's a lesson here. It will be misinterpreted by myopic editorials as "the Tea Party is unstoppable!," but I think most people would agree that Stupak came under so much fire because he chose to grandstand and obstruct the president's signature legislation, his own party's electoral hopes, and the dire needs of millions of Americans ... and then back off.

What's funny about his decisions during the healthcare debate is that the bill that passed the Senate never did provide any financial support for abortions. In fact, the pro-Roe crowd was generally angry because it placed extra burdens beyond the Hyde amendment on women seeking abortions. There was a joke circling the internet after Stupak's meeting with the president and his reversal that Stupak couldn't bring himself to believe that the bill didn't fund abortions because it was female senators, women's groups, and nuns telling him so. Finally they all went to the president and told him Stupak won't believe it unless it comes from a man.

In a way, I suspect an element of truth here. My guess is that this had nothing to do with abortion policy. Stupak put his finger to the wind and guessed that this was going to be a major anti-Democratic wave election year, and he needed to get out in front of it. Grandstanding against HCR on behalf of the anti-Roe crowd gets him in the good graces of tea partiers, McCain voters, the US Chamber of Commerce (who will be doing the lion's share of PAC spending this year) and the Christian Right all at once.

Only things didn't work out like he'd hoped. He was probably told by the Speaker that he wouldn't be allowed to join the handful of red state Dems allowed to vote the other way to protect their own asses, so he recruited a bunch of other "pro-life" Democrats to his cause, hoping he could just torpedo the bill and Obama's loss would be his gain. He took a lot of the blame when HCR looked dead, and Democratic groups (and, ahem, voters) were furious.

And then he learned a hard lesson about leading an army of cowards. When it looked like the president was going to lose, they flocked to Stupak. When the conventional wisdom shifted, however, and people started talking about how, during the 1994 elections, centrist Democrats were slaughtered en masse by the GOP whether or not they supported HCR, and that passage of HCR was absolutely essential to the Democrats keeping Congress, knees all around him started shaking.

Then votes in Congress started flipping the Speaker's way, and the Stupakers became the last group left holding up HCR. They caught the angry eye of the Speaker, the White House, and the Democratic electorate at large. Rahm came knocking on their door with the message that the White House "is going to remember who stood in the way of this legislation." Democratic groups and unions start evaluating their support. Support for Stupak et al. among their own Democratic constituents started sinking.

I imagine at some point Stupak and his buddies gathered with their campaign advisors, looked at polls they had commissioned hoping that their gains among tea partiers, Christian conservatives, and Republicans were offsetting Democratic losses, and learned the ugly truth about triangulating your own party in the post-Clinton age: after so many bridges burned and so many allies spurned, Republicans said they supported Stupak et al. in larger numbers ... but still plan to vote for their Republican opponents in November.

Everyone wanted off this sinking ship, they were finished with Stupak's folly (including Stupak himself), but they needed some way to save face, and that's how the president's Executive Order came to be. It won't save them, as Stupak eventually figured out. Stupak made several serious miscalculations:

  1. he badly misjudged how important his own party considered HCR

  2. he relied on a cadre of cowardly, centrist congressmen to defend against the White House, congressional leadership, every Democratic/liberal interest group in America, and the vast majority of Democratic voters

  3. he made a play for Republican and independent votes at the expense of Democratic ones (i.e., gave his own supporters a HUGE reason to stay home), and then tried to renege, effectively antagonizing all three groups

That last one is what gets the "centrists" every time. Research shows that most "independent" voters have amorphous, frequently changing political views, but nobody likes a waffler.

all we want: lower taxes and more services

What's so hard about that?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

political compass, 2010 edition

Grims brings back the political compass test taken here a couple of times. Everyone remember this test? 2 axes, an economic X axis ranging from communist (in the purely Marxist sense) to free marketeer, and a political Y axis ranging from authoritarian to anarchist.

Here is my history:
2005: -6.50, -4.92
2007: -6.0, -5.23
this year: -6.62, -5.03

Still deeply unserious, apparently.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Facebookers, you make me proud

Not sure if you've heard about this Constance McMillen story that's making the rounds, but her douchey classmates made a Facebook group called "Constance quit yer cryin." Sounds terrible, right? Well, here's something heartening: the reaction from the Facebook community has been, er, less than positive. Check out the comments.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Great point, Reverend

Criticism of the pope's handling of child molestation cases is just like anti-semitism!

One almost wonders if these people are actually Masonic saboteurs in deep cover. It's easier to believe than that someone really thought this homily was a good way to defend the Vatican. How can a group be so tin-eared, so utterly unable to grasp the gravity of these charges against them?

school cafeterias: just set them on fire and be done with it

A good article from the New York Times on new attempts to tackle the issue of grossly unhealthy school lunches at the federal level. Same song, different verse: the Obama Administration proposed an ambitious bill that doesn't really go far enough but will make a difference, which the Senate promptly reduced by more than half.

Jamie Oliver, God bless him, has thrown the issue in the faces of Americans via his new reality TV show. Whether he set up the employees at the West Virginia school he's shooting the show at, or whether he's just tremendously lucky, I don't know, but you should have seen the show that aired last week. It highlighted the problems almost perfectly.

In the episode, Oliver gets an opportunity to make an alternate lunch one day for the students that will be pushed alongside the traditional fare. He makes vegetable pasta and (I believe) garlic bread. It looks great, the kids seem to like it, and just as it looks like he's scored his first coup, a school health official pulls him aside.

"This meal is not reimbursable because there aren't enough vegetables in it," she tells him. "In order for it to be reimbursable, it has to have 1 1/4 cup of vegetables. I can see right here that it doesn't."

Oliver, incredulous, looks over at the approved lunch on the other side of the bar: a cheeseburger and fries. That meal is reimbursable, she explained, because it has 1/2 cup of vegetables (the french fries!) plus the kids get "the optional salad bar" with it.

How many students can you guess were getting a salad with their burger?

I could not have scripted a better illustration of exactly what's wrong with the system. You get to see the truly foolish decision to let kids decide whether or not to get the healthy option (news flash: they never will!), and the unhealthy, overly processed crap composed of nothing but meat, fat, salt, and simple carbs given as lunch to the kids and sold as "healthy" to the parents, in this case a sad, pallid burger on a white bun with fried, salted potatoes. Bonus points for getting the bureaucrat representing the system to state explicitly, repeatedly, and with a straight face that french fries are a vegetable.

This is what America's kids are eating at least once a day (don't forget, some kids also eat breakfast at school!), five days a week for thirteen years. Other kids, meanwhile, will instead do what I did in junior high: hit the vending machines for an even less healthy alternative to cafeteria food (in my case, two Rice Crispy Treats and a Dr. Pepper). Unhealthy food in school cafeterias contributes to everything from childhood obesity and type II diabetes to drowsiness in class, behavioral problems, and poor academic performance. Over time, of course, those school lunches are ingrained in them as examples of what a lunch should look like, in many cases a meat main course, a simple carb, and two small vegetable sides, at least one of which is actually another carb.

Yet as glad as I am to see the president trying to do something about this problem, I wonder if Washington might have a harder time fixing the problem than locals would have fixing their own school and school district. This issue cuts across everything from topsy-turvy FDA dietary recommendations to inadequate school funding to the overproduction and over-subsidization of corn to the power and influence of major food companies over regulatory bodies and their growing presence in the cafeteria itself.