Thursday, November 28, 2013

My traditional Thanksgiving post: Eating an atheist turkey

I originally wrote this one for Thanksgiving 2007, when this blog was all of three weeks old, which meant that next to nobody read it at the time.

This year I'm not about to leave for Virginia to carve turkey (that I didn't cook), but for the vicinity of Magnolia to eat turkey that I didn't cook.  So that's changed.  But the many ways in which the next four to six weeks will be used to denigrate a significant portion of the American populace is still as applicable today as it was six years ago.

Hence:  Eating an atheist turkey.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why we actually need an opposition party in Delaware ...

Let me count the ways:

The Democrats have given us:

1.  A Secretary of Education with only minimal actual public education experience along with an bald-faced allegiance to a corporate reform agenda so confusing that he can't even keep his stories straight when talking to the chief school officers in a public meeting.

2.  An Attorney General who announces for re-election but won't come clean about his semi-public health issues.

3.  A State Treasurer who they are so upset with that they plan to primary themselves next time around.

4.  A State Insurance Commissioner who is so blatantly incompetent and/or corrupt that the Democratic Party already primaried her and lost last time around.

5.  A Lieutenant Governor who is a really good guy but who has abruptly disappeared over the last year when any serious issues come up so he won't be forced to be associated with them and can run (believe it or not) as some sort of "outsider."

6.  A Governor who has (a) wasted tens of millions of taxpayer dollars in chasing fly-by-night "investments" in jobs; (b) allowed his various departments (DNREC and DPH to cite two examples) to operate via "secret" Attorney General opinions; (c) convened what even his pet AG had to admit was an illegal charter school task force; (d) changed the rules without authority to authorize a new hospital in Middletown despite, you know, the law; (e) could give away tens of millions of dollars in corporate welfare and millions to save casinos but couldn't figure out how to give raises to State employees (including those on Food Stamps) or to fully fund education; and (f) spend tens of millions more in creating a totally useless (from any real law enforcement perspective) "homeland security" office whose primary function seems to be collecting information on people who don't break the law and buying power boats for the State Police while people keep getting murdered in Wilmington like it was the VH1 bizarro world edition of "Survivor."

The Republicans have given us:

Nothing.

(Which may mean, objectively speaking, that they should be winning, but their nothing is so vacuous that it looks even worse than what the Democrats have actually done.)

So we really could use an opposition party because the Democrats are not cleaning up their own act.  In fact, if anything, they are getting worse, and the Republicans just want to be sure that Transsexuals can't use what they consider the "wrong" public restroom.

But it's not going to be the IPOD (see below), and both the Greens and the Libertarians have been structurally marginalized in some of the few acts that the GOPers and Dems agree on (no fusion tickets, etc.).

So basically what this means is ... we're screwed.

And, oh yes, DSEA gave millions in campaign contributions over the past 6-8 years for nothing.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Let's just call him Lavrenti Beria and have done with it

The idea of curbing the power of the State by vesting unfettered and unbalanced power in the hands of a single State officer is not only ludicrous but dangerous.

Want better suggestions?

Simple:  let's do initiative, referendum, and recall.

But please give up on the idea of creating a character reminiscent of something out of Dostoevsky or Kafka before people realize how insane this all sounds.

Karen Weldin Stewart does exactly what you'd expect for 12,000 people who lost their insurance: less than nothing

Here's the misleading opening from today's WNJ story of our Insurance Commissioner:

Delaware Insurance Commissioner Karen Weldin Stewart said Monday her office has reached agreement with two more health insurers to grant limited renewal of policies that would have been discontinued Jan. 1 because of the new requirements of the Affordable Care Act. 
The agreement could affect up to 12,000 Delaware policies.
I guess it could affect 12,000 policy holders, but it won't.  Why?

Because here's what the KWS agreement does NOT do:

1.  It allows Highmark and Coventry to renew those policies, but does not require them to do so.

2.  It places the onus of inquiring about the possibility of renewal on the consumer, not the corporation.

3.  It only allows a window of renewal until 31 December 2013.

4.  It allows the insurance company to make such renewals contingent on paying premium increases.

5.  It provides no relief for anyone whose company has moved out of state.

6.  It provides no options for people whose policies come up for renewal even 60 seconds after midnight on 31 December 2013.

In other words, KWS and her corporate cronies have created this pseudo-renewal agreement to create the impression that they have offered something substantial to the 12,000 Delawareans who have lost their insurance during the past several months because of ACA guidelines.

It's obvious why they need to create this impression, but perhaps you'd like to know why the insurance companies don't really want to renew any of those policies.

The simple fact is, based on the available Federal subsidies, Highmark and Aetna (the only two corporations on the market since Aetna bought Coventry) will make FAR MORE profit on the new policies than they did on the old ones.  And YOU will be paying them those profits, under a subsidy scheme that allows a family of four bringing home $92,400 annually to collect a $3,200 subsidy for purchasing insurance.

It's actually comforting, don't you think, to find KWS protecting the interests of those who elected selected her?

Read the Iran deal for yourself

It's really time to stop listening to the spin, and to first view the actual document.  It's only four pages long, and will take you about that many minutes to understand.

The chief question is not the quality of the terms (they are actually pretty good), but the quality of the inspection regime to be carried out by the IAEA.  It is pretty robust for a six-month interim agreement, and the IAEA (whether we like to admit it or not) has a pretty good track record of either conducting inspections or announcing publicly that it was unable to do so.

It is also a potential road to peace rather than war, which I know bothers a lot of people.

For those who worry that tomorrow Iranian nukes will begin raining down on Israel, let's recall that it took Pakistan 26 years to develop nuclear weapons, and that our "friends" the Saudis have a simpler regime for acquiring them--they simply intend to buy them.

Given past history I'd argue that real Saudi purchased nukes are just as big a threat to Israel and world stability than imagined Iranian bombs.  But that's just me.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Poor Highmark. Mean old Aetna is picking on it.

Turns out that the division of corporate territories among insurance corporations by the ACA ain't working out quite congenially:

When Westinghouse Electric Co., the Cranberry-based nuclear engineering giant, announced this autumn that it was jilting Highmark Inc. and handing its health insurance business to Aetna in 2014, Highmark responded with radio and TV ads implying that Aetna is an out-of-state carpetbagger, stealing business and jobs from Pennsylvanians. 
While those Highmark ads are more indirectly targeted at local rival UPMC than at Aetna Inc., the Connecticut-based health insurer wants Pittsburgh to know that the carpetbagger suggestion is misplaced. 
"That is just so far from the truth, [we] feel obliged to correct it," said Walt Cherniak, a spokesman for Aetna.
So Highmark is whining because Aetna is cutting into its territory?

Implications for Delaware, by the way, include the fact that Aetna is present on the local health insurance exchange ... 'cause Aetna just recently bought Coventry.

Look for Highmark (a so-called "non-profit" corporation that buys up hospital chains and optometry labs, and invests in medical aid clinics in order to run off its competition) to whine here in the First State to its other wholly owned subsidiary:  Insurance Commissioner Karen Weldin Stewart.

Wealth inequality in America: perspectives

First, take the seven minutes or so necessary to watch this video that I picked up from Andy Groff's Facebook page:



Now, let's consider a few things:

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Highmark not only stiffs its customers ... it apparently also stiffs its own employees ...

From Law360:
A Pennsylvania federal judge on Friday shot down health insurer Highmark Inc.’s bid to derail a proposed class action accusing it of stiffing staffers on overtime pay, finding reason to believe the Fair Labor Standards Act applies and that numerous employees may have been shortchanged.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Health care exchanges will get fixed because insurance companies are losing money

Highmark is whining:

In Pennsylvania, Highmark has seen an enrollment of 1,665, while enrollment in West Virginia was 198 and enrollment in Delaware was 126. Enrollment data was of those who have been loaded into Highmark’s system as of Tuesday.
Highmark is the only insurer on the marketplace in West Virginia, and the company said “in almost all situations in all of our markets, we offer the lowest priced health plans on the marketplace.”
Highmark described the need as “urgent” to improve how the federal marketplace works.
See, if it was really all about providing health insurance to either the indigent or those whose policies President Obama canceled, we'd be in trouble.  But since it's about gigantic corporate profits from sending Highmark, Aetna, and Coventry your tax dollars ...

Expect a fix real soon.

Yes, we apparently HAVE already fought a nuclear war

A Japanese scientist put together this montage showing every verified nuclear explosion, by country, set off since 1948.  If you don't have the full 7 minutes available, fast forward to 1962 when things really get scary.  Over 2,000 nukes exploded since 1945--more than half by the US.  Just sorta makes me feel proud, yup.

Or, as a friend of mine said, "Now you know why any aliens lurking in orbit have never decided to land."

Watch it all.  Really.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The best lying headlines of the week: eating while driving more dangerous than driving drunk


Eating While Driving Significantly Increases Chances Of A Car Accident, Experts Say


Except that the article from CBS Los Angeles beneath this headline does not say anything of the sort.

Only one person is quoted in the article who says eating while driving is unsafe (so forget the plural), and--guess what?--he's not an expert.

He's a California Highway Patrolman who admits that eating while driving isn't illegal but that he's used a variety of dodges to get around the law to charge people anyway.

But don't let that stop you, pseudo-journalists.  Then WTOP picks up the story today, including this sentence: 
Experts tell CBS Los Angeles that eating while driving increases your chance of a car accident by 80 percent.
Except that if you click through the link (which I left in the sentence for your convenience) you go back to the original CBS story, and--guess what?--there is no such quote in the first story.  The California Highway Patrolman (who is apparently both expert and experts) NEVER says in the story that eating while driving will increase your chances of an accident by 80%.

This particular tempest seems to trace back to a University of Leeds study in 2012 that purportedly found that drinking a soda while driving was more dangerous than driving drunk.

And if you finally (it took me twenty minutes, and I'm good at this stuff) work your way back through all the hand-wringing articles about unsafe we all are because we drink a soda while we drive, you will discover the following useful pieces of information about the Leeds study:

1.  It was financed by an insurance company.

2.  No road tests were actually used in the survey, only driving simulators.

3.  Only ten drivers were actually tested, each in about 4-5 different travel conditions (urban, rural, etc.)

4.  Each test lasted four minutes.  This means that the entire study consumed all of about 200 minutes of observed driving time on simulators.

5.  The study was actually meant to determine the issues surrounding one-handed driving for any reason, not specifically eating.

In other words, the study is pretty much garbage.  It even condemned using a finger to punch in a new radio station.

But it has become oh-so-influential garbage.

That's why it pays to click through the links.

LOL News Journal discovers that ethanol subsidies are bad ...

... and they don't even touch either the impact on Delaware's poultry industry or John Carney's feckless pandering on the issue.

Let's note two things there:

1.  I've been talking about the idiocy and harm of ethanol subsidies here since 2008; our liberal friends started to pick up the story in 2009.  How come it takes the WNJ another four years to actually get around to thinking about this?

2.  The only candidate for Congress this year who had the right stand on ethanol subsidies last time around was Libertarian Scott Gesty, who called for their elimination long before the trend followers in the WNJ figured out they were a disaster.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Time to elect the head of Delaware public education?

Yes.

It's pretty simple.  We currently live in a one-party state, and even the honest Democrats will admit that the winners of the highest statewide offices are generally corporatists and not progressives (thought I have seen NO evidence that so-called progressives would actually be any better at governing).

Our Secretary of Education gets picked, routinely, by a corporate lackey, and is immediately the flack for Rodel, Race to the Top, Component V, Common Core, and whatever else is the Reform de Jure that Vision 2012 2015 2020 is pushing.

So let's try a thought experiment.  What would be the downside?

Now it is the principals' fault that it is all the teachers' fault ...

The destruction of Delaware public education continues on many levels.

The latest round come from Rodel flack Secretary of Education Mark Murphy in his claim that the system is failing because more principals have to be tough enough to list more teachers as ineffective.

Turns out that the buy-in of principals to the new Component V evaluation system was only about ... 1%.  That's how many teachers they listed as being ineffective.

This bothers both Murphy and the other Rodel flacks the News Journal editorial board (not to mention the ever-ignorant Publius ed Decere) because, after all, the only thing necessary to improve the educational system is keep firing the teachers we have until better ones miraculously show up.

Perhaps, just perhaps, they don't actually understand how this works.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Congratulations Obamacare! Highmark to cancel 5,300 Delaware insurance policies

Yesterday we had hit the number of 100 policies canceled for each person who signed up via the new insurance exchanges.

Today the number is 1,433 policies canceled for each person to sign up in the new exchanges.

And that's just Highmak's announcement.  Conventry (your only other realistic choice in the "private" insurance market in the First State) has yet to make its announcement.

Yes, eventually (some time before the years 2100) the technical glitches with the new exchanges will be fixed.  That won't be because of the overwhelming need to provide insurance, but because Highmark, Coventry, Aetna et al cannot access their profits via the massive Federal subsidies for over-priced plans.  Trust me, the entirety of Obamacare is being driven by the government engaging in the largest transfer of wealth from middle- and lower-class taxpayers to corporate interests that we have ever seen.

Supporters of Obamacare continue to talk about not being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, or being able to carry your children (who, it seems, won't move out of the house) until age 26, and they make the case that 15 million people losing their insurance (or having to pay new premiums that are nearly double), or tens of millions seeing their premiums rise is somehow a better curb on the greed of the insurance industry than the pseudo-regulated market we had before.

The reality is much simpler.  It was the failure of Hillarycare in the early 1990s that gave us the present mess of an insurance system; go back and take a look.  When all is said and done in another few years we will understand that Obamacare represents exactly the opposite of what it was advertised as:  It is the complete take-over of health care in this country by insurance companies.

Insurance companies are now buying into hospital chains, urgent care clinics, and the factories that produce medical devices.  How can they afford to do this?  Simple:  the Federal government is handing them hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies.  Simple (2):  Obamacare was designed to favor centralization in medical care, and is driving private practice doctors out of business at record rates.

And--listen up my libertarian friends and fellow travelers--it is too late to go back, and there is too much money in the system to go forward.

In other words:  Obamacare will not be repealed or seriously revised.  Repeal would require a political upsurge that's not going to happen, and serious revision would require those who crafted and supported this boondoggle to admit they screwed up.  Besides, the Republican opposition on this issue has got even less than nothing.

Nor, my liberal friends, are we going to now move toward single-payer.  Obamacare has killed single-payer as a realistic option in this country for at least two decades.  Why?  Because just as Highmark has invested in MedExpress, Highmark will invest in Tom Carper, Karen Weldin Stewart, Jack Markell, and their legion of lesser clones to insure that the gravy train does not end.

All the promises that Obamacare would reduce the overall cost of medical care in this country were ALWAYS lies.  You cannot extend new care to tens of millions of people, and extend the parameters of care for tens of millions more, and seriously expect the cost to go down because ... well, because of what?

Welcome to the new world where eventually the medical director of Highmark will be the effective Insurance Commissioner of Delaware.

Oh, oops.  I forgot.  He already is.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The paradoxes of Delaware politics and "journalism"--what we care about and what we don't

These are the things that strike me as darkly funny about Delaware politics and so-called journalism:

1.  That the News Journal prints a multi-day story  on the inept low-level antics of State Treasurer Chip Flowers and his entourage (which is, admittedly, entertaining), and while I don't expect any less of a newspaper that's in-the-tank for Markell, all my liberal friends go nuts about the story and feel like they are honing in on the First State version of Boss Hogg style corruption.  At the same time, Governor Jack Markell creates an illegal charter school committee (don't ask me, ask the Attorney General), consistently runs his administration through back room deals that subvert rules and regulations (new rehab hospital in Middletown), and runs major parts of his government--DPH and DNREC--via "secret" attorney general opinions nobody is allowed to see and which apparently cannot be FOIA'd.  Then there are the millions of dollars in our tax money that has been dispensed to private corporations to supposedly create jobs in DE like Fisker and Bloom and etc.  But Chip Flowers is a far more important story, right?

2.  The News Journal announced today that four people have signed up for insurance on the new ACA exchanges.  Oh, and 400 people have already lost their health insurance due to ACA requirements.  And the President apologized.  Let's do the math:  for every one person receiving new coverage, 100 people have lost their existing insurance.  Moreover, most of us in state or employer plans have already been formally notified that either our premiums, our deductibles, or our co-pays are going up.  But we are assured that this is all a necessary part of the process.  Meanwhile, the News Journal resolutely refuses to cover any of the issues surrounding the Highmark takeover of the private insurance market in Delaware, to include the ongoing plans to drive all competitors to MedExpress in the urgent care line out of business.  Neither the News Journal or my liberal friends, of course, has been willing to touch the fact that what ACA has done is create monopolies and near-monopolies for about six huge insurance companies nationwide.  Ultimately the ACA represents one of the largest wealth transfers from middle-class taxpayers to multi-national corporations in American history, brought to you by Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

3.  Not that the GOP is anything to write home about.  They are jumping on the Chip Flowers story like it actually matters, and it has been, oh, several years since the DE GOP has actually offered any serious policy ideas.

4.  Then there is Delaware Education Secretary Mark Murphy who is angry because the 320+ public school principals across the state of Delaware won't join him and Rodel in condemning Delaware's teachers for everything that is wrong with the education system.  He's kidding, right?  Former gym teacher has got lots and lots of chutzpah here, trying to pass off "principals should be firing more teachers" as the answer to Delaware education problems.

5.  Finally, there's this:  after only a little more than a decade of illegal US internal spying, Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, and Julian Assange, guess what?  One of our liberal friends has discovered that a surveillance state is a baaad idea, and has even discovered the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  Wow.  In a few more months they may discover that President Obama has a militarized foreign policy designed to benefit US corporate interests.  But don't hold your breath.

6.  Oh, and by the way, if you own a gun, that's now apparently proof that you are more racist than people who don't.  Or that owning a gun has caused you to become more racist (seriously, the study authors can't figure out between the two "possibilities").  Of course, according to the study being cited you are only a "symbolic racist," because their own survey found no correlation between gun ownership and "overt racism."  One of the fun parts--your racist "points" automatically rise in their survey if you don't identify yourself as more liberal than conservative, whether you own a gun or not.  It would have been simpler, I think, just to title the study "Only liberals are not racists."

Been away so long ...

Yeah, I know.  The difficulty with lone-wolf blogging is life and energy.

Real life spent the last six weeks intruding, and--to be brutally honest--creative energy went into working on two book contracts I'm behind on, not slapping down material at a keyboard for free to an indeterminately smallish audience.

But I do miss it, so we pick it up again.

This is, of course, NOT THE WAY TO DO IT if you are concerned about building an audience.  My friends of Delawareliberal and even my friendly enemy Eric Dondero at Libertarian Republican understand this quite well.  I understand it.  I just don't place the blog at that high a priority level in my life right now.

But it is there and will continue, if sometimes sporadically.  Your best bet is simply to follow the blog so you get notified when I do write something.