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5.July.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

No free lunches Permalink to this item

Robert Reich, on Facebook today (with the NYT link provided by me):

"Health insurance companies are seeking rate increases of 20 to 40 percent or more for next year, according to the NY Times. The reason, they say, is their new customers under the Affordable Care Act turned out to be sicker than expected.

"Baloney. Health insurers have more dough than they know what to do with, which is why Aetna is spending $37 billion to buy rival Humana, Anthem has offered $47 billion for giant insurer Cigna, and health-insurance CEOs are raking in millions. Humana CEO Bruce Broussard took home $10.1 million last year, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini got $15 million, and the CEOs of Anthem, Cigna and UnitedHealth each pulled in more than $10 million. The rate increases they're seeking will give them and their shareholders even more, and cost you and me a bundle. They're using Obamacare as a convenient excuse."

Rate increases of "20 to 40 percent" and have been my experience on an annual basis since leaving my insurance-included corporate job in 2003. The only year that was an exception was when the run-up got so extreme I re-shopped and found that I'd been grandfathered (figuratively; a young couple had already accomplished the literal feat in 1996) and there was a pretty-much-the-same plan for a bit more than half of what I'd been paying. If the Affordable Care Act made a difference in my premium, there's no way to differentiate it from the trend it inherited.

(The NYT story mentions a Kaiser Family Foundation study of 11 cities showing "that consumers would see relatively modest increases in premiums if they were willing to switch plans," possibly with restrictions on doctors and hospitals. My switch didn't involve any of that.)

No surprise that insurance companies wanting to raise rates—and their profitability, and most importantly, their CEOs' salaries—and likewise no surprise that the P.R. department would work at prestidigitation to dodge blame.

It probably is the case that the health care "system" is dealing with "sicker than expected people," using more services. As the chief executive of an insurer in Texas noted, “People are getting services they needed for a very long time. There was a pent-up demand.” Insurance changes things (which was the whole point). One of the anti-Obamacare arguments was that we'd run short of doctors and nurses and such because of the people who would have access to care. The implied (at least) inhuman alternative, of rationing healthcare to just those who can afford it did get as much debate as it deserved? Also not-so-debated was whatever it was that would constitute the "replace" for the oft-touted "repeal and replace" flag at the head of the "repeal" parade.

The ACA also established a rate review process, "requiring insurance companies to disclose and justify large proposed increases," where the "large" threshold making them subject to review a mere 10%. We'll get to see a little, at least, of how and whether some of the increases are justified.

4.July.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Things that go boom Permalink to this item

3.July.2015

Quasquicentennial Permalink to this item

Tom von Alten photo, 2015

Didn't know that was a word before today, and after our Lieutenant Governor had made a go at it and been spell-checked into getting it right. That'd be a 125-year anniversary, such as Idaho celebrates today, for its statehood in 1890. (Can't hardly wait fifty more years when we'll have our pick of wrong ways to say dequasbicentennial.) Some wag at the University of Idaho made a top five list out of it, including "You are finally out of those awkward centennial years" and "You have 25 years to practice saying sesquicentennial."

The History Channel's site (where history meets .com, and the answer to all FAQs is "This support portal is disabled") says Idaho was #43, and provides a quirky grabbag of facts with which to throw yourself back into olden times. White people were late arriving, and the territory was

"divided between a Mormon-dominated south and an anti-Mormon north. In the mid-1880s, anti-Mormon Republicans used widespread public antipathy toward the Mormon practice of polygamy to pass legislation denying the predominantly Democratic Mormons the vote.

"With the Democratic Mormon vote disarmed, Idaho became a Republican-dominated territory. National Republicans eager to increase their influence in the U.S. Congress began to push for Idaho statehood in 1888. The following year, the Idaho territorial legislature approved a strongly anti-Mormon constitution."

And the rest is more history. (In case you're not the sort to hover over an image to see if there's a title/caption, the image is of the diversion dam and powerhouse on the Boise River at the head of the New York Canal, construction of which also began in 1890.)

2.July.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Takei v. Thomas on "dignity" Permalink to this item

In his dissent in the landmark Oberfefell v. Hodges decision issued last Friday, Clarence Thomas argued that "liberty" just means freedom from government action (and really, to the authors of the Constitution, just “the power of loco-motion, of changing situation, or removing one’s person to whatsoever place one’s own inclination may direct; without imprisonment or restraint”). And he argued that human dignity is innate, and not something Government can dispense. It's a "dangerous fiction" to treat the Due Process Clause as "a font of substantive rights," and instead Government should have just butted out of the controversy and let... well, it would've been other, state, Governments that would have decided the matter in disparate ways, but he does not concern himself with practical matters as he mounts his rhetorical horse.

The idea of the inherent worth and dignity of every person is not foreign to me; indeed it is one of the stated principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, that I join in espousing.

It does not occur to me to consider that "enough said," or to accept that Government has nothing more to do or say than to acknowledge the principle. It's slightly incomprehensible to me that Thomas imagines his dissent was worth committing to the record, especially given that his forebears were not even considered fully human by the framers he imagines it is his job to channel to today's opinions. (He is bold enough to declare that slaves didn't lose their humanity, just because the framers of our Constitution denied it.) In his opinion, sanctioned marriage is just an "entitlement" that Government should be free to offer, or not, and not offering it to one class of citizens is therefore not "depriving" them of anything. And we have nothing to do about "dignity."

George Takei disagrees, and his response to Clarence Thomas is a powerful, dignified rebuttal to Thomas' irrelevant semantic nitpicking.

"To say that the government does not bestow or grant dignity does not mean it cannot succeed in stripping it away through the imposition of unequal laws and deprivation of due process. At the very least, the government must treat all its subjects with equal human dignity. To deny a group the rights and privileges of others, based solely on an immutable characteristic such as race – or as in Obergefell, sexual orientation – is to strip them of human dignity and of the liberty to live as others live."

Quotes of the Day Permalink to this item

It's a bit strange to go by an acronym, isn't it? That's why Tom Tomorrow says we like to call him John Ellis Bush-Bush, and this, below "an even more inspiring candidate":

"TRULY, THE REPUBLICAN FIELD IS AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES."

I'm not sure why it is, but all-caps lettering in a comic never seems shout-y. Anyway. The field has also outnumbered the cast members of Saturday Night Live which goes to show there's safety in numbers.

The gift that keeps giving was also fêted by Jessica Mackler, president of American Bridge, reported in the NYT First Draft feature:

“Donald Trump is suddenly a force to be reckoned with in the G.O.P. primary, proving their rebrand is going splendidly. He’s a great example of everything Republicans stand for.”

If you might like a voyeuristic romp through Full Text Searchable Jeb Bush Tax Returns 1981-2013, American Bridge is making that available as a 166 MB PDF download. Also, a lighter outline of what else he's probably hiding with a news dump going into a holiday weekend. Zero federal income tax paid in at least three years, tax records for his businesses and LLCs, the Chinese and other foreign investors in his wheeling and dealing, what all (or what any) he did for Lehman Brothers before its bubble burst, and so on.

(The tax returns will keep some researchers busy, from the handwritten 1981 return with $41,508.43 in wages and a bit over $5k taxes, to the 62-page 2013 return reporting $7.3M income and $2.9M total tax.)

It's not the heat, it's the not cool Permalink to this item

7 day temperature/humidity graph at NWS BOI

Hot, hot, hot around these parts, including both ends of Idaho we've been in over the last week. Topped out at 110°F in Boise on Sunday, followed by not below 80 overnight. The "low 100s" over the next few days were not quite so extreme, but driving across town to play tennis Tuesday evening, the car thermometer read 106. (It didn't kill any of me or my teammates, or our opponents, so I guess we're all stronger.) Night before last was cooler, I opened up the house 3am-ish, and last night, finally, it was cool enough at bedtime to open all the windows, deliciously down to 70 by this morning.

The National Weather Service's observation history page has upgraded their temperature/RH/wind/precip charting to make them interactive in a clever way, hover for a timeline and spot data linked across the trio of charts.

1.July.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

We know some terrorists Permalink to this item

Tom von Alten photo, copyright 2015

Yet another instance of Idaho politics in the New York Times, just about never good news. Unless you're "conservative"? It seems a "newly formed group" of a hundred or so are planning a door-to-door "information drive" to get the College of Southern Idaho's Refugee Center closed, because "bringing in Syrians, who are predominantly of Muslim background, may be opening the door to terrorists pretending to be refugees."

This from the heirs of white refugees who made their way out to Indian Country once upon a time. Never mind that

"[T]here has been no indication of any substantial links between Islamic State militants and the resettled Syrian refugee community, and U.S. State Department spokesman Daniel Langenkamp said refugees are the most carefully vetted of travelers to the United States."

Oh and Rick Martin, the head of this "Committee to End the CSI Refugee Center" also says

"We're not against legitimate refugees. They need to be treated with dignity and respect. But it would be easy for someone to lie about their background."

They just want them to be treated with dignity and respect somewhere else. But would it be OK if they were bona fide Christians, as many of the Syrian refugees are? Let's not let facts get in the way when we're talking about jihad, Sharia law and the Koran, eh?

"People need to wake up and realize what’s happening, said Carter Killinger. The United States is a Christian nation, he said, but Muslims have stated a goal of ruling the world and killing those who don’t subscribe to Islam."

Local coverage from a month ago did say the center had announced "it will likely receive 300 refugees – possibly from Syria — starting in October," but the Times says the director "said his group had no immediate plans to serve Syrian refugees, adding that he did not know the origins of the refugees it will serve for the upcoming fiscal year."

Over more than three decades, the center has helped thousands of refugees from at least 20 countries. (They don't list Syrians among the groups arriving in Twin Falls, but plenty of countries that, like ours, have bred some terrorists.)

Update: Deborah Silver, who has started a new group to support the Refugee Center comments:

"Earlier this year, the Refugee Center made its annual report to the Board of Trustees. They noted in the report that the Center will receive approximately 300 refugees in the coming year-the same number we have received over the past few years. That was somehow distorted in the news article and has been repeated again and again. The comment about the Syrians was also distorted again and again. The Refugee Center doesn't know if we will get ANY Syrians next year. But what if we did? In May, it was reported that there are 4 million Syrian refugees. Half of them are children. Since the Syrian war began five years ago, the United States has accepted only approximately 700 as refugees. So, it certainly appears we are doing our due diligence before accepting Syrian refugees for settlement in the United States. The guess is that we will continue to receive refugees from various countries and perhaps some might be Syrians. Many, many folks in Twin Falls are signing up to welcome the stranger, provide a voice of compassion for displaced families, and celebrate our valley's place in the global community."

Amen.

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007