Thursday, November 30, 2006

Security clearances and debt

In the past couple of months, the media has reported a steady increase in denial of security clearances to active duty military personnel (especially the Army) because of heavy debt problems. Still, the rate of denial is less than a tenth of one percent.

Media has often reported poverty and financial problems for lower ranked military families with children, which sounds surprising given the housing allowances and dependent benefits.

I worked for a collection agency during the summer of 2003 and did not run into this. But I've dealt with security clearance issues in my life, early on, because of my sexual orientation. I never was able to achieve a top secret clearance, although the last attempt was in 1971. It is supposed to be a lot better now for civilians, but for military personnel the "don't ask don't tell" policy obviously presents an issue. (Pentagon regulations as written supposedly try to get around this.)

The underlying concern is, of course, blackmail, and the military is concerned about underming security for deployed troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, or other areas like drug areas. I thought we were past that, and it was a red herring. Maybe not. Yet, in 1971, when I had a BI for a TS, an investigator (when I was a civilian employee at the Washington Navy Yard) asked me point blank (after I told him about the William and Mary Explusion), "has anyone ever tried to blackmail you?" No. Delicious circles.

There is more on my other blog, here.

There was another interesting workplace story today, about efforts by hotels to select and train employees in "body language" and "small talk" skills, to improve customer service and return business. As a customer, I find gratuitous small talk from employees of any place to be distracting, and it seems misplaced to me, but they say I am an aspie. There is more about "sales culture" at this entry on the same blog.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

US News & World Report has Boomers Guide on eldercare

The Nov. 27 2006 issue of U.S. News & World Report has "A Boomer's Guide" "Taking Care of Mom & Dad" with articles by Christine Larson on living arrangements (and the wide variety made available now by private industry for people with enough money), long-term-care insurance (Mitchell Andrews), Part D Medicare drug plans, and the rules and "lookback periods" for Medicaid for long-term nursing home care (Sarah Balduf), which has increased the look-back to 5 years with the penalty period starting with the admission. Finally, there is an article by Deborah Kotz on employer benefits, and the fact that, in addition to the FMLA of 1993, California actually mandates a small amount of paid leave for eldercare (or childcare or legally married spousal care).

Also on Nov. 21, 2006 PBS Frontline had a one-hour special "Living Old".

Neither report mentioned filial responsibility laws as such, as I have discussed them in a few posts in this blog, or at this link.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Charles Rangel again urges return to the draft

Rep. (D-NY) Charles Rangel told news outlets Sunday Nov 19, 2006 that he planned to introduce another bill reinstating military conscription in 2007. He had proposed a similar Universal Service Act in 2003, about which a typical story is here.

Rangel claims to have two major motives. One is to raise awareness of the disproportionate percentage of poor people and racial minorities who volunteer for the military and bear the risks. The other is that, if there was a draft, the American people would become more skeptical of presidential pushes for war, as in Iraq. Of course, the experience of the past (Vietnam) does not necessarily bear that out.

Kathryn Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer have a new book from Collins that picks up on Rangel's first point. The book is "AWOL: The Unexecused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service and How It Hurts Our Country." I have a discussion here.

NBC4 in Washington did a straw poll by inviting emails, and it found that 75% of viewers were against resumption of conscription. Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi promised that, just as in 2003, the bill would go nowhere. The Pentagon is still against it. But, of course, with the involuntary extensions the Iraq war has effectively created a backdoor draft anyway, which fits into Rangel's theory.

I have often raised the question, what happens to "don't ask don't tell" for gays in the military if there is a draft again. Back in Vietnam days, the services had separate regulations that pretended to ban homosexuals (I remember reading the official Army Regulations while goofing off at Fort Eustis--we did a lot of that in 1969), but of course turned their heads at draft physicals when draftees tried to claim homosexuality. I actually took the physical three times after my William and Mary expulsion in 1961 for homosexuality and went from 4-F to 1-Y to 1-A and served without incident (thought I did not go to Vietnam).

Right after the 9-11 attacks, pundits encouraged resuming the draft, and that included Senator Carl Levin, D-Mi, of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sociologist Charles Moskos from Northwestern University in Chicago, whom we remember helped construct "don't ask don't tell" for the Clinton Administration in 1993, supported the draft, and actually emailed me "gays should get behind conscription, then the ban would be lifted." Yet, this all smacks of involuntary servitude, whatever we think of shared sacrifice.

So, we have a merry-go-round on this, kind of like the carousel in "Strangers on a Train." It's in black-and-white, all right. But the debate on mandatory national service seems to be inevitably heating up. There is a lot more to moral issues that the lexical simplicity of the abortion and gay marriage debates.

Links: National Service Debate; "Pay Your Dues," which is not quite the same concept as "Pay It Forward."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Health insurance companies urge Dems to push reforms

A story by Robert Pear in The New York Times, Nov. 14, 2006, p. A14, "Health Insurance Industry Urges Expansion of Coverage" summarizes the proposals for Universal health care well.

. Create tax incentives for indviduals to have "universal health accounts"
. Create tax incentives for people to buy universal health insurance for children
. Match the pr-tax deductions enjoyed by employers for individuals
. Expand Medicaid to all adults with incomes below poverty, including singles who may not qualify
. The Children's Health Insurance Program should cover all kids in families with incomes up to twice the poverty level

The cost over ten years would be $300 billion, about $1000 per person, to approximate universal coverage for adults.

Doctors have told me that in Britain and Canada, the very elderly cannot get coronary bypass surgery that they would get in the U.S., based on medical considerations alone. Likewise, I might not have gotten a new operation for my acetabular fracture in 1998, which healed quickly with rapid return to work after a new surgery and device at the University of Minnesota; the alternative could have been three months of traction for what is usually a severe injury.

It is well known that the uninsured are often charged several times the group rate for the same procedure by most hospitals, which then go after them with aggressive debt collection procedures.

Medical savings accounts might, in my opinion, be augmented by filial responsibility and long term care accounts, an idea that I discuss here.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Will DC smoking ban Jan 2 2007 help or hurt business?

The clock is ticking, and on Jan 2 2007 the District of Columbia smoking ban will go into effect in all bars (except outdoor areas).

The anecdotal evidence from other cities and from some establishments in the District that have voluntary smoking bans suggests that so far the bans do not drive business away. I, for one, look forward to not having clothes reek when I get home and have to go into the washer immediately from second-hand smoke.

What about gay bars in the District? Because of cultural and political reasons, customers won't be driven to Virginia. But the Cobalt Lounge on 17th Street is already smoke free (the disco upstairs is not yet) and it doesn't seem to have affected business from all appearances.

Here is a story from the Washington Post, Jan 9, 2006, by Eric M. Weisz.

In New York City, however, the evidence initially was the business was off. Story is here, by Charisse Jones, USA Today, 7/1/2003/.

In any case, guys, remember, heavy smoking damages circulation and makes you go bald on the legs. Cigarette smoking is gross.

(Picture: Julius's in New York City)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

British report on severely disabled newborns

The Washington Times, on Nov. 6 2006, carried a UPI story which reports that Britain's Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology advocated a public debate on euthansia for severely disabled newborns. The URL is here.

The report claims that a severely disabled child can mean a "disabled family."

The report would comport with the current case in front of the US Supreme Court on partial birth abortions. Many people would say that all of this involves infanticide. I can remember Oliver North saying that on his talk show in the mid 1990s.

The Washington Post
has an editorial Monday Nov 13 "Partial-Birth Replay: The Supreme Court has to decide whether it meant what it said about 'partial-birth abortions'" in saying that they must be allowed to protect the health of the mother, in striking down a Nebraska law, which Congress went ahead and replaced anyway.

Of course, the flip side of the question is how people deal with the extreme degree of need that such children will provide. We have heard this debate with respect to autism, which has rarely occurred more than once in a given family. It is a debate within the school systems under "No Child Left Behind" as special education teachers are hard to recruit.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Reprise on stripmining

Leonardo Di Caprio has added a link to his site about mountaintop removal,
I Lovc Mountains. The site is using search software to develop an online National Memorial for the Mountains, and offers two free videos to watch on the site. I discovered all of this when following up on the re-release into theaters of the film "The Great Warming." Reviews are here.

My earlier posting on this was from September, about another website about mountaintop removal in Appalachia.

I also have a movie blog entry on this here.

The picture is along WVa 93 between Mt Storm (the power plant owned by Vepco) and Davis, where I was almost arrested in 1971 for taking pictures of the stripming by Douglas Coal Company. I got a private tour in a smoke-filled pickup truck cabin. The land does look considerably restored now.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Church and State, and the Va. Marshall-Newman amendment: when does one's life belong to others?

On Tuesday, Oct. 31 2006, The Washington Post ran, on the Metro page, an op-ed by Marc Fisher, “Va. Marriage Debate a Hotbed of Irony.” He pointed out that social conservatives, who usually want less government (at least in economic matters) want increased regulation of marriage. The libertarian position would be to let each religious faith define marriage for itself. Marriage is the one area where church and state come together, as a result of a history of some legal paradoxes.

Bob Marhsall, a Virginia General Assembly delegate from Prince William County was an original sponsor of the amendment, and he quoted anthropologist Margaret Mead’s work, to the effect that all civilized societies regulate sexuality in order to induce most adults to participate in a committed way in raising the next generation (and to some extent caring for the previous one). This is a matter of public morality with him, not a matter of uninhibited personal choice or equality. This is a collective concern. It gets mixed in with the supposed birthright of every child to a mother and a father (and parents who can express the complementarity of gender and character specialization), but this affects people who don't have their own children. The deeper meaning of the amendment goes way beyond "gay marriage."

What I notice is another paradox. Modern mental health talk stresses the importance of having one’s own adult life and expressive identity before trying to have committed relationships with others, capable of raising children or of some kind of official public and religious or legal recognition. This is part of the modern "liberarian" concept of personal autonomy or individual sovereignty, which is very important in the formal Law but less clear in actual society and in moral calculus. Yes, there is also an opposite tug. One, at some point, is expected to respond to the needs of others and incorporate them into one’s own priorities. One is not always left alone (like the teenage character in “Little Miss Sunshine”); one is supposed to respond to being called to. The name for this is “socialization.”