Wednesday, December 30, 2009
H1N1 now available at retail outlets in northern VA; website offers map and participating businesses
Virginia has been a little slow with H1N1 vaccine availability, but I got my shot today at a Safeway in Arlington. I called yesterday and made the appointment for today.
If you are on Medicare, you should take your Medicare card. Medicare pays the admin fee ($15). The nurse did not ask for the supplementary insurance card. And for most people the social security number alone is not the full Medicare number. I was offered only the injection, not the nasal spray; and it was a little more painful than usual.
A general practitioner in Arlington said that he had a supply for a while in mid December but ran out quickly.
The website with information on what businesses (largely pharmacies, grocery stores with pharmacies, and Targets) have both H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccine in the DC area can be navigated from this website (link). I believe that the site knows what states to show you from the IP address that you log on from, if you have broadband or wireless.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
ABC “Good Morning America” today reported the enormous increase in life expectancy in young men infected with HIV. Back in 1996, the report said, the life expectancy of someone in his 20s infected was still in the fifties. Now, at the end of 2009, it is to almost age 70, approaching normalcy, because of the effectiveness of combination antiviral drug therapy, where the use of several drugs in combination reduces side effects and reduces viral resistance.
A 2008 report in Health Daily News maintains that life expectancy still trails the general population by about 20 years. But HIV is very much becoming a manageable, treatable disease, perhaps with a longer expectancy than some other diseases like juvenile diabetes.
Steven Reinberg’s report had been run in the Washington Post on July 25, 2008, URL link here.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Rob Stein has an article on p A3 of the Washington Post Sunday Dec. 27, “Abstinence programs seen as at risk”, link here. There are vague provisions in both the Senate and House health care reform bills to let states continue some sex education in health and physical education classes.
I might as well give the link for the National abstinence Education Association as another example of a pressure group with a single issue, with a focus that may distort the bigger problems.
Abstinence education cuts both ways. Yes, you want to tell teenagers not to make babies before they are old enough and ready to earn a living and support a family. But saying that marriage should monopolize sexuality implies that having a family eventually is essentially a moral obligation of life.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
The Senate passed its health care bill early Christmas Eve morning (maybe with Rimsky-Korsakov's "Christmas Eve Suite" playing in the background), 60-39 (yes, it sounds like a high-scoring football game). But many of the provisions, such as protecting consumers from discrimination over pre-existing conditions and rescissions , don’t go into effect until 2014.
Congress can work hard during the Christmas holidays, it seems.
The differences with the House bill have to be worked out in committee. They are considerable.
I’ve wondered how the bill would affect people who hire people, such as caregivers, in their homes.
Update: Dec. 25
The Washington Post has a comparison chart of the Senate v. House bills, link here.
A few provisions would be available quickly, such as state high-risk pools to provide insurance for people with pre-existing conditions, and tax credits for small businesses to purchase coverage for workers. In six months, deductibles for many coverages would be dropped, and insurance companies could no longer cancel policies with rescissions. Some of the mandatory provisions with exchanges would not go into effect until 2014, however.
Update: Dec. 27
The New York Times has a major editorial "The Next Step on Health Reform" with big dot-point comparisons of House and Senate versions, here.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
A commanding general in Iraq, of the northern command, has stirred up controversy by issuing a general order banning pregnancy within his ranks, including impregnation by male soldiers, even among married servicemembers (married to one another). The commanding general is Anthony Cucolo. He has backed off, saying that no solider will be jailed, although it sounds like Article 15’s or non-judicial punishments would happen. (No, I never bought those threats during my own Army Basic in 1968 than an Article 15 would “ruin my life” but I never got one.)
I could laugh and say, well, the Army doesn’t want gays, but now it doesn’t want straights. That leaves only the priests. Back in 1993, the Marine Corps proposed not allowing married men to enlist.
Update: Dec. 28, 2009
The New York Times has a front page story "Another Peril in the War Zones: Sexual Abuse by Fellow G.I.'s", link here. Again, the abuse problems seem to occur with heterosexuals in the military!
Monday, December 21, 2009
In a cloture vote almost strictly along party lines, the Senate passed the motion to move forward on health care around 1 AM Monday morning. No, I did not stay up to watch it. Something like Kevin Jonas’s getting married in the middle of a blizzard sounds more entertaining.
Seriously, the Senate had dropped the public option (about which the President had become lukewarm) and Medicare expansion before age 65, but would give 30 million uninsured the opportunity to buy in through exchanges.
The Senate may take a final vote Christmas Eve. Then the House and Senate must reconcile, just as you learned in civics class, or in Clive Barker’s “Imajica”.
The Senate version does take care of the pre-existing conditions problem and benefits cap problem, but contains a lot of corrupt pork (for Nebraska and Vermont) and imposes some new taxes (like tanning salons and hugh earners) to increase coverage. It is a bit of a hodgepodge. Politics as usual.
Good Morning America, on Dec. 21, ran a story about an little discussed topic: dissolving adoptions. The specific story is about an Oklahoma couple that adopted a troubled child that they now are afraid to allow to return to their home after the boy is released from psychiatric care. The news story, “Oklahoma Couple Wants to Return Troubled Adopted Son to State”, is by Ryan Owens and Suzan Clarke, with link here.
There is an expensive process called “dissolution” which is rarely used in Oklahoma. The couple wants the law changed to make the process simpler when the child came from the state.
However, child advocates insist that the bond with an adoptive parent should be as legally and morally compelling as with a biological parent. On the other hand, a situation like this might make future adoptive parents less willing to take on the responsibility of adopting troubled children, sometimes born to alcohol or drug abusing mothers. It might also make adoption placement less effective as a “right to life” strategy.
Some time in 2008, Nebraska overturned a law that allowed any parents, even from out of state, to dump their kids, even biological, with amnesty.
On Dec. 22, GMA followed up and discussed "reactive attachment disorder", common in children abuse before adoption, at one time discussed on Dr. Phil.
Apparently 20/20 will cover this soon.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Newsweek offers its readers a “Decade in 7 Minutes” video here:
It may be an unintentional coincidence that one of Irving Wallace’s novels back in the 1970s was “The Seven Minutes” with a specific innuendo.
Newsweek also offers a discouraging article by Rana Faroohar, “Joblessness is Here to Stay: Short-term prospects may be brightening, but high unemployment will be a fixture for the foreseeable future”, link here.
The biggest reason for the poor job market is that banks are not lending money. The president is already trying to jawbone the banks on this one. The article notes also that in a more individualistic society, when unemployment increases, people just become disconnected from the community as a whole.
One curious feature of the employment market is that it is becoming more people-centered, and probably more female. It simply is too easy to export individual contributor jobs with little social manipulation overseas. All of this is happening after an era where self-sufficiency had been promoted as a virtue in so much of the culture.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Tonight, on Larry King Live, Donald Trump warned that the current minor resurgence in the stock market (the Dow closed at 10328 Friday) may turn out to be another phantom bubble, particularly if the banks don’t start lending again. Does Wall Street really like unemployment?
Trump said that “something is wrong with the system.” Rates are low but banks refuse to lend. Purchasers of Trump’s condos can’t get “end loans” to close. Trump says he would start several projects and could hire more people if banks would lend.
On Sunday Dec. 20, the NBC "Meet the Press" interview emphasized that stock in health insurance companies has risen recently in expectation that Obama will get a health reform bill through that requires mandatory insurance (in exchange for dropping pre-existing condition exlucsion), probaby without a Public Option to compete with the companies.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
The New York Times has an important editorial on climate change, “Two Days and Counting”, link here. The Times says that the scuttlebutt from the talks is grim, a kind of quiet Medium Cool, with a comprehensive treaty not in the cards. As we remember from ABC’s grim docudrama last June (“Earth 2100”), the planet may not be able to afford stalled negotiations now.
Nevertheless, the Times discusses the morality of richer countries buying their way out of immediate emissions control obligations (sort of like buying your way out of the draft in New York during the Civil War) and of paying poorer countries not to cut down their rain forests. Hint: Brazil is not a poor country.
The Washington Post has a similar editorial, “World leaders remain far from a deal in Copenhagen”, link here.
Hugo Chavez, socialist leader of Venezuela known to brandish the oil weapon, accused the rich countries of plundering the planet, as if preparing to move to Mars anyway. All of this on a day when astronomers found a “water world” just 40 light years from Earth. Good luck with the moving expenses.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Perhaps ExxonMobil is implementing its own form of the Pickens Plan in announcing the stock purchase of XTO, as on this announcement page yesterday. XTO is said to excel in “unconventional” sources of natural gas. XTO’s own home page features an interesting picture of the Australian outback.
"I've got a PL-AN!" -- remember?
Fox News provided an embeddable video.
The purchase seems to represent a belief that ordinary American fuel production and consumption, including personal automobile fuel, will soon have to result in much less carbon emissions. The United States is also much better poised in terms of natural gas than oil in reducing dependence on imports as peak oil production occurs.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Today, as Copenhagen winds down, Fareed Zakaria GPS hosted a debate between Bjorn Lomborg and Paul Krugman.
The overall idea was that we need a small “insurance premium” to invest in at least making sure that a catastrophic warming (10 degrees Fahrenheit in the next ten years) is not possible. Presumably that in some way invokes some kind of tax on every American for the carbon they emit. There is still the idea that green, not-outsourcable jobs will be created.
Al Gore has recently warned “nature does not give bailouts.”
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Special education programs do help boys with "mild" autisim; biological neurological timing issue thought to be involved
Emma Brown had an article a while back in the Washington Post, Dec. 3, “Teaching the ABC's of crucial social skills: As number of autistic kids rises, schools and programs are being created to aid those with mild form”, link here. The article seems to focus mainly on Asperger’s Syndrome, particularly in middle school settings where teasing and outright physical hostility from some students occurs in some environments.
Often, students with mild autism are mainstreamed as special education students, but instructional assistants accompany them. It takes a special kind of person to work as an assistant. But often substitutes work as assistants, and may simply accompany them to class and not want to or know how to interact with them.
I believe that I had Aspergers myself in “junior high school” in the 1950s. But then, it was seen as a “moral” problem. I showed signs of developmental issues suddenly in third grade, when I started interrupting in class and falling behind in physical activities on recess (“No bunts except for Boushka”). But, as I explained recently on the drama blog, I started piano in third grade and was good at it and gradually outgrew many of the problems. I got so I could hit a moderately pitched softball and play ping pong, but I could not swim, do tumbling, or endure contact sports (football).
Neurologists say that boys with autistic symptoms have biological neurological responses that are just too “slow”, much the way a computer can become too "slow". Therefore they can focus on individual activities and interests as long as they are not distracted and don’t have to “shift gears” at the demands of others. The slow neurological response accounts for falling behind in athletic abilities. The developmental "disability" relates to interpersonal connection speed and social spontaniety, not to congnition itself.
I can recall the experience of being disrupted just to be made to do “unnecessary” things just to please the social needs of others. It was their needs, not mine. So it seems that some of our genetically determined neurological response is related to fitting into a social structure (lions' pride) determined by others, not simply to performing tasks on our own terms. Mildly autistic people often become successful in computer-related occupations where they can work and think alone. Some have become millionaires.
Today (Saturday Dec. 12), the Post printed a letter on p A13 from parents who at one time had a son at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington. I substitute-taught at Kenmore in early 2005 and was banned with a “do not use” request after I had too many problems with classroom discipline (“poor classroom management”). The issue is discussed in more detail on my main blog July 25, 2007. On one occasion, in a special ed class, some bullies turned on a particular student suddenly, and I could not stop it. I had to call security immediately. But I was considered ineffective as a male “authority figure.” It seems from this letter that Kenmore Middle School, despite its wonderful new building, still has serious problems with discipline, which must stem from practices of the administration. The best middle school now in Arlington is Swanson. That’s where I went in the 1950s, and I had no problems subbing there.
Also, when I subbed, a couple of times supposedly "autistic" students were able to carry on perfectly appropriate classroom-subject-related discussions with me (with the Aspergers as I have said above) alone, to the point of not seeming "impaired" and said that I understood them better than most "real" teachers.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Suze Orman gave some good advice to consumers last night (Dec 10) on Larry King Live, the most important being that consumers should look to credit unions for credit cards. She recommended the following site "Card Analysis Solutions" (link) to track the behavior of various institutions with respect to their treatment of credit card customers. Suze said, the people who run this site know what they are doing!
There was an article about this site in Credit Union Times, here.
A Bank of America employee (first party collector) fired for not being tough enough with consumers gives a YouTube interview, in a Daily Finance story by Bruce Watson, here.
The picture presented is that banks are for profit, to make money any way they can, so it is easier to gouge people who are down already.
Suze Orman also suggested that interest rates need to go higher so that banks can find it profitable to make small business loans to entrepreneurs, and to strengthen the dollar and make more goods in the US.
She suggested that in a low interest environment seniors could look at fully insured general obligation bonds, or even carefully chosen conservative stocks paying dividends, like utilities.
She said that a person’s priorities should be “you as a person, your money, and only then our fame.”
She said that the recession has taught our culture a bitter lesson in living beyond its means, but that individually people were not at fault (does that make sense?)
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Here is the link to the president’s speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Stockholm (URL address here).
While this does not have the mystery of the hit movie “The Prize”, the president arguably is making the only stable move toward peace by facing a real enemy in Afghanistan (we could add many portions of Pakistan, and the concern over the security of Pakistan’s small nuclear weapons to the list of concerns). The president insisted that absolute evil, whether in Europe in the 1930s or in some areas of the Muslim world today, must be met with force, sometimes.
Of course, we can say that the former administration faced absolute evil with the Iraqi dictator.
The president moves on to Copenhagen, where he will have to look at the real science, and not the hit-and-run naysayers. It is true, however, as Ben Stein points out, there have been warmer periods in the past, and concerns about cooling as recently as 1978.
Wikipedia attribution link for Stockholm Concert Hall. My only visit to the city was in August 1972.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
The Environmental Protection Agency has acted on a 2007 Supreme Court ruling giving it authority to treat greenhouse gasses (GHG’s) as pollutants and issued a report Monday saying that it will act, even without Congress, to impose some standards.
Here is the main link to the report.
The link as a video with EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.
Sarah Palin's article ("Copenhagen's Political Science") this morning in the Post on those East Anglican emails is here.
Here's Gore's take on Palin, Beck, etc. It's a "moral issue."
Monday, December 07, 2009
Take a look at this op-ed by Robert J. Samuelson in the Washington Post, Monday Dec, 7, “Health care nation: Medical spending threatens everything else,” link here. He says that almost everything else in society is essentially “rationed” either by price or politics, but that health care spending is out of control.
It is the obligation to revere life that drives a lot of spending. It isn’t just the cost of care, it is the need for support from others, that grows when medicine is able to prolong life but not necessarily prolong independence. The whole concept of family responsibility and how that relates to voluntary choices (like having children) is up for change.
Sunday, December 06, 2009
The DC Examiner on Sunday, Dec. 6 has a stern article on the school systems, “Do more with less in lean times, education experts say,” in a story by Leah Fabel, based on interviews with DC area school systems. The web link URL is here.
There is an impression that schools really can do with fewer teachers and larger classes, and can let less energetic teachers go. Michelle Rhee has pretty much proven that with the DC school system. Ditto for adminisrative staff, which could afford cuts. It’s not clear how all this would affect Career Switcher programs. It also says that businesses should encourage employees to volunteer to mentor students.
Remember the call for much teachers for public schools did not really get going until about 2003. During the 1970s, 80s and 90s teaching was not seen by the larger public and the media as a particularly attractice calling; and many poorer school districts struggled with budgets and layoffs.
The Cato Institute still favors vouchers for private schools, and can point to the Kipp Program as an example of what entrepreneurs can do in education .
Nevertheless, local school systems say they have openings for subs. Here is the Fairfax County link.
Annie Gowen in the Dec. 6 Sunday Washington Post reports "Lack of computer access hampers some students: Even wealthy Fairfax is forced to contend with a digital divide", link here. While Internet safety consultants tell parents to put family computers in public areas, kids really need considerable private access for legitimate homework. Kids without Internet access at home are at a serious academic disadvantage. On the other hand, teachers sometimes fear that overuse of the Internet leads to plagiarism, or imporperly researched papers (like the issue over citing Wikipedia). When I subbed, many lesson plans were on printed handouts that could have been supplemented by Internet research.
Also, the New York Times on Sunday has an article by Bernie Becker, "Troops Finding New Service as Teachers," link here.
Picture: (math quiz question): how many complete closed railroad circuits are on this Brio layout?
Friday, December 04, 2009
Look at this Washington Times lead editorial Friday, “Global Warming Theology: The end is nigh; their god is dead”, link here (two days after the paper announced its downsizing).
Okay, they accuse Al Gore of the same circular reasoning that Gore’s book criticizes the detractors from the global warming debate for (in his second book, “Our Choice”).
But it’s funny how conservatives who push “family values” and bigger families with more children also say that the world is one of plenty. If life were easy, why do we have to think so hard about moral values? Oh, I know, they’re in the Bible or Koran; you don’t think, you obey.
Here is the NBC Nightly News Report on the "East Anglia Email Controversy".
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
On Monday November 30 The Washington Post offered a special insert “HIV (not)= AIDS” from Media Planet (link) and Poz Magazine. An important recent story in the latter concerns PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, link here. This points to an AMFAR report that shows significant decline in AIDS mortality (link).
And in observance of World AIDS Day, Google and Twitter both spiffed up their sites today, according to a story in CNET here.
WJLA says that Washington DC has a higher HIV infection rate than any state. And the infection rate is growing more rapidly in African American women than any other group. WJLA also reports that there a lot more signs and advertisements for anti-retroviral drugs than there are for safer sexual practices. Of course, that leads to the debate about "abstinence".
Sunday, November 29, 2009
The University of Arizona, James R. Rogers College of Law, has offered a paper by law professor Brent T. White, “Underwater and Not Walking Away: Shame, Fear and the Social Management of the Housing Crisis”, link here.
Kenneth R. Harney assessed this paper in the Saturday, Nov. 28 Washington Post, in an article, “the moral dimensions of ditching a mortgage,” link here. Before getting agitated, it's important to remember that White is focusing primarily on those who deliberately walk when they could continue paying, just because their loan is upside down. Most foreclosures happen to people who cannot make payments, especially now with high unemployment and underemployment.
It’s true that some states no longer allow lenders to pursue deficiency judgments, which have rarely been pursued (out of practicality reasons) during the latest housing crisis.
We had a somewhat similar crisis, associated with the savings and loans, in Texas and the southwest in the late 1980s, that caught my condo in Dallas. I would learn a lesson about the dangers on selling on assumption if the new purchaser doesn’t qualify (a practice no longer allowed by the FHA on its loans because of these problems). The original owner could then be responsible for a deficiency, and in the early 1990s it was common for “walk and mail them the keys” homeowners in Texas to be pursued.
If you can find it at a library, look for James A. Wiedemer: "A Homeowner's Guide to Foreclosure: How to Protect your Home and your Rights", Dearborn, Dearborn Financial Press, 1992, paperback, orange, large pages, about 200 pages. I bought it in 1995 (the 1992 version); there’s a 2008 edition here that might be worth checking out; I’ll look into it.
As late as June 2008 I got calls for "jobs" selling subprime loans. I am "retired", but I said, "no way."
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Is “distracted driving” a kind of moral turpitude comparable to driving while under the influence (maybe even less than when legally intoxicated)?
I’ve never texted when driving (I don’t text much anyway), and I’ve never carried on a long conversation. But I admit that I have picked up my 8300 Blackberry, which is a bit heavy, had to click on the “green phone” icon, and started a conversation, and pulled over, when on a residential street.
Check out an op-ed “Driven with distraction” in the Saturday Nov. 28 Washington Post, by Ray LaHood, link here.
According to a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over 6000 people died on highways in the US in 2008 due to distracted drivers (link). This may be over 10% of all fatalities.
I can recall calls for crackdown on traffic safety back in the 1960s, like nationwide speed limits of 50 mph (ten years before the Arab oil crisis) and eliminating teen driver’s licenses. I even imagined that would slow the careers of a lot of ambitious young people.
Is sipping coffee while driving an example of “distracted driving”?
Update: Nov 29
Here is the statement by Tiger Woods about his car crash on his own website, link. Distracted driving again?
Thursday, November 26, 2009
So they say we have to invest a lot more in infrastructure. The District of Columbia has repeated water main breaks, and last December there was a catastrophic break with cards destroyed and motorists trapped in Bethesda, MD. Now there is a smaller break in North Arlington VA (Monday Nov 23). The repair work goes on Thanksgiving day.
Washington area media sources report that one worker was fatally electrocuted and another injured in an electrical accident making the repairs.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Should health care reform include a provision that insurers pay for prayers sessions for adherents of certain faiths, such as Christian Science? The House removed the provision, but lobbyists for the Church are trying to get it put into the Senate version. The Washington Post has a story by William Wan on Monday November 23, “Praying for healing, lobbying for a provision” in print, “Christian Scientists seek reimbursement for prayers” online, here.
The idea that such a provision is the subject of heavy lobbying says a lot about the we air political issues. Blogging and democratization of speech doesn’t seem to have cut into K-Street as much as one would think.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Louise Story reports on a new trick on Wall Street to make money on economic misery, the so called “vulture funds.” The New York Times “Back to Business” story on Sunday Nov. 22 is “Wall St. finds profits by reducing mortgages”, link here.
A fund buys a block of mortgages from a bank in trouble, and then salesmen go out an persuade distressed homeowners to refinance, and then the refinanced mortgages are repackaged and sold to agencies like Ginnie Mae with backing by the F.H.A.
Sometimes the same investors that had created subprime or toxic loans are now engaging in this business. This sort of activity also has an effect on the job market, encouraging a superficial, partisan approach to work with emphasis on short-term profit and little concern over long term sustainability. So yes, there are moral concerns.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Conservatives and to some extent libertarians have long pushed the idea of tax-deferred health savings accounts for individuals and families.
The Wall Street Journal has a perceptive editorial Saturday Nov. 21, “The End of HSA’s: Harry Reid wants to kill consumer-driven health care,” link here.
The editorial offers the idea that most people could pay for their own health care from these – but then, what about those who can’t? This gets back to the Biblical “brother’s keeper” problem.
Then, the whole “common good” problem comes up again with a new story about H1N1, in the Washington Post, p A11, by Rob Stein, “Swine flu cases fall in the U.S., but may rise with holiday travel: Mutated form of the virus detected in three Norwegians”, web URL link here. The mutation appears to make the virus burrow more into the lungs, but the mutated virus does not seem more resistant to the vaccine or to antiviral drugs. And a Duke University, researchers found patients with infection resistant to tamiflu, but the mutated virus is not very transmissible; it seems to happen in individual patients. It might happen in patients infected with traditional seasonal flu.
Friday, November 20, 2009
I suppose that the timescale for things happening with health insurance, like mandatory coverage, will take some time, maybe until 2014, at least with the Senate bill. It's just as well as there will be plenty of people who get hit by it one way or another.
The Washington Times has a story this morning by Stephen Dinan and David M. Dickson, “Senate health care bill creates new marriage penalty”, link here. The bill would impose a new tax on individuals making over $200000 a year, but on married couples making “only” $250000 (rather than $400000).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said “Yes, this structure can create a 'marriage penalty' for some couples. It also creates a 'marriage bonus' for others…A married couple with one wage earner can earn up to $250,000 without facing this higher tax, whereas a single person in the same job with the same pay would be hit by it." A weak ploy for stay-at-home moms? (or dads?)
The media is also reporting that now 14% of all US mortgages are at least one month in arears, and now the problem is unemployment (or underemployment), not predatory loans.
And, finally, the government is going to have to pay a few homeowners in New Orleans for not protecting the levees (the responsibility of The Army Corps of Engineers). True, if I lived there I would have sued, too. Expect a trillion dollar bill for the taxpayers soon, and we should pay it.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
How will health insurance reform bills work for people whose employment is contractural and sporadic and dependent on gigs?
Here’s a revealing article in the Chicago Tribune Nov. 15 by Nan Warshaw and Alex Maiolo, “End the need for benefit concerts”, URL web link here. The article discusses artists and musicians as part of this nation’s entrepreneurial backbone, but without very focused reform most cannot afford individual health insurance.
Think about how information technology workers get jobs – often W2 gigs where they are paid hourly rates and must cover their own benefits. It is true that more companies offer corp-to-corp, where staffing companies pay salaries and offer benefits, which can sometimes complicate matters who contractors, who come to be viewed then as sales agents for the staffing companies.
There are all kinds of other industries where some people probably don’t get health insurance at work, like home caregiving.
How would all of these be affected by mandatory individual insurance? They probably could not operate at all unless the mandatory insurance is heavily subsidized, mainly by charging higher premiums for younger (usually healthier) people, and then discounting these premiums when necessary by income level. As I noted Tuesday on my main blog, this might not sound as “Robin Hood-like” or “socialistic” as it does in intellectual abstraction when we realize anyone can, even “Superman”, can need health care. Just remember what happened to Lance Armstrong at age 25. But someone making a lot of money and able to host SNL at age 20 or so will probably pay a lot more in premiums to help fund the system. (And by the way, Shia, don’t smoke!)
However, here is a disturbing piece, rather long, from a Georgia small business owner, link here. He’s right about one thing: health insurance is a social right, not a fundamental right, because sometimes others must help you pay for it. (FDR, in his Second Bill of Rights, didn’t note that distinction.) We don’t think of life insurance as a right, and we don’t require auto insurance until people actually drive (but most people have to).
Still, partly socialized systems do work in countries like Germany and Switzerland without a social ruckus. (Britain goes way too far.) No one goes bankrupt because of medical bills. Can it work here?
Here’s another interesting link, “Heal Online”, here. Note the mention of Selective Service here.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
A front page story in the New York Times, Wednesday Nov. 18, by Elisabeth Rosenthal, reports “Paying a bit extra each flight eases guilt but not emissions,” link here
An organization called Responsible Travel (link) had started selling carbon offsets (call it "karma") with flights back in 2002, but recently cancelled the program, saying it was not reducing emissions. It is technologically much harder to reduce emissions from air travel than many other activities. In fact, it may be impossible to offset the carbon emissions from air travel. After the 9/11 attacks, temperatures in the US dropped 2 degrees F more than usual during the air travel ban because of the absence of contrails.
Monday, November 16, 2009
The print version of Barrons on Nov. 16, 2009, on p 20, has an article “What a Gusher: 4 Reasons to Buy ExxonMobil.” The online version does not let visitors see just everything easily; the basic link to the article by Andrew Bary is here. So maybe it doesn’t hurt to pick up this financial rag at a local CVS.
The writer likes the professional operations and strong cash positions. The company has returned 15% a year to investors who bought in 1977 (which is when I did). It did dip a bit during the 2008 crash, but not anything like the financials (it was over $90 for some of the summer of 2008 and it is about $72.50 on Monday morning). XOM is a stock you buy and keep for years, and it for retirees who bought it a long time ago it has been a very dependable performer.
It is true that the company could face issues in replenishing reserves, not just because of the “peak oil” argument but because of competition. I don’t see it getting dragged into social controversies like mountaintop removal as do other energy companies. Of course, the Valdez accident in 1989 does leave some bad karma.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
A teenage boy came down with Guillain-Barre syndrome after an H1N1 influenza shot in Virginia, according to media reports, such as this story in “Natural News” Nov. 12, link here. Nevertheless, instances of this syndrome seem to be very rare.
But the Washington Post had a stinging outlook article on the potential of bird flu (H5N1) to mix with more common influenzas, something that H1N1 doesn’t seem inclined to do, in an article by Alan Sipress, “Playing Chicken with Nightmare Flu”, link here. In Southeast Asia, H5N1 has killed over 50% of people it has infected, unlike H1N1, which kills less than 1%.
Remember, though, that all influenza is ultimately “bird flu.”
Why is our vaccine effort for H5N1 so slow? NIH does have some trials going on it, as noted earlier on this blog (June 23, 2009). (See also International Issue blog, Aug. 15, 2007).
Friday, November 13, 2009
A businessman contacted me recently about the topic of malpractice lawsuits and their effect on the health care debate. The site is called “Medical Malpractice Suits” with the link here.
I was on a jury for a civil suit in Dallas in the fall of 1986, and the parties settled after the jury was seated. I had, during voir dire (link) mentioned that I had volunteered a with the Dallas Oak Lawn Counseling Center to help put on AIDS information forums and had also volunteered as a “buddy” during the early days of the epidemic. On Elm Street in downtown Dallas afterward, the lawyers told me that my presence on the jury had been a factor in their settling and the plaintiff’s lowering demands.
Of course, this begs the question as to whether tort reform would fit in to health care reform – I think it would, and that malpractice reform could lower health care costs by 10% easily. Doctors tell me that they order ekg’s and other tests before surgery just because of the indirect pressure from “trial lawyers” or perhaps the plaintiff’s bar, which they experience as a tourniquet.
There lots of ads on network television during daytime television (especially the soap operas, aimed at women) for plaintiff’s lawyers on accidents, malpractice, and social security.
Another area where we need tort reform is in the areas of SLAPP, “Strategic lawsuits against public participation”, which can quell free speech, especially now among bloggers, a topic I have covered on my main blog.
Tort reform might mean “loser pays”, which is often the case in Europe, and which would discourage frivolous suits. That would mean that the innocent don’t go bankrupt defending themselves. “Loser pays” might also help lower health insurance and Medicare costs.
Here is a “user friendly guide to tort reform”, link.
And here’s the link for the American Tort Reform Association.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
H1N1 deaths in US over 4000; disease randomly attacks the healthy about 1% of the time; CDC answers questions on vaccine delays
The Centers for Disease Control now tells us that there have been over 3900 deaths related to H1N1 this flu season. In a typical winter, there are about 36000 deaths from seasonal flu. Just a few days ago, CDC was quoting a total of about 1000 deaths.
And some deaths have occurred in young or middle aged adults without underlying health problems. In about 1% of cases, the virus attacks the lungs directly, either inviting secondary pneumonias or depriving the rest of the body of oxygen.
ABC Nightline on Nov. 11 showed a fifteen minute report, by Chris Bury and Talesha Reynolds, “H1N1 Cases: Healthy to Death's Door in One Week: In 1 Percent of Swine Flu Cases, Doctors Say Virus Attacks Lungs So Viciously That Other Organs Can Fail”, link here. The episode presented care in Case Western Reserve hospital in Cleveland. Sometimes patients are put into medically induced comas, and sometimes placed on a kind of heart-lung machine to force oxygen into their vital organs – even ventilators are not enough. A 44 year old man and 34 year old man, both previously healthy, were presented.
Media reports indicate that states have sometimes been slow to get H1N1 vaccine out to people. In northern Virginia, health departments have started vaccination clinics, but private pharmacies don’t have the vaccine yet. Yesterday, Preston Pharmacy in Arlington VA told me it had not been given a date as to when to expect supply from the manufacturer; previously it had hoped for Nov. 1. Arlington County expects to offer a long line clinic Nov. 14.
Here is CDC’s “Why the Delay” page on the H1N1 vaccine.
Monday, November 09, 2009
Pelosi's narrow win on health care leaves a lot of necessary reforms out; Lewin issues report on long-term costs of Senate's version of health care
Well, the debate on health care reform storms on. In the Washington Post today, Monday Nov. 9, on p. A17, Fred Hiatt summarizes the issues with a column “A high price for health reform”, link here.
Although the pre-existing conditions issue, as well as the “pay or play” debate (individual mandate) are addressed, there are a lot of holes. Not much attention was paid to malpractice insurance reform, to ending the regressive employer pre-tax benefit, or coordinating patient medical information among doctors (especially for the elderly). Not enough attention is paid to ending defensive or unwanted medicine.
An in an editorial, the liberal Washington Post acknowledges that Republicans have a point that much more could be done to allow purchasers to cross state lines and force insurers to compete.
A possible compromise in the Senate could be that states will be allowed to opt-out of the public option. Lieberman seems to be making this a moral crusade.
Visitors will also want to review a report released Oct. 30 by the Lewin Group, "Long-Term Cost of America's Healthy Future Act of 2009, as Passed by the Senate Finance Commmittee", prepared for the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, link here.
Sunday, November 08, 2009
Jennifer Garza has an interesting story in the Saturday Washington Post, “Hope for priests who would marry: Vatican gesture to Anglicans seen as pointing toward an easing of position on celibacy” link here.
The Vatican is allowing former Anglican priests, including married ones, to join the Catholic priesthood in some cases. Furthermore, Eastern rite priests (Eastern Orthodox) have long been permitted to be married.
Liberal media (as in a 20/20 broadcast a few years ago) have sometimes called the Catholic insistence of celibacy as a “ban on straights” in the priesthood, as if it to compare it to the military ban on gays; the Church steadfastly maintains that abstinence and celibacy are callings for otherwise heterosexual men. In practice, the priesthood has often tended to attract men who feel intimidated by the social demands of providing lineage.
But the merit of practical arguments that the Vatican should admit legally married priests is considerable.
Saturday, November 07, 2009
Breaking news Saturday night: The House has passed the Health Insurance Reform Act narrowly, 220-215. The news story on CNN has web URL here.
Actually, the official name seems to be H.RF. 3962 Affordable Health Care for Americans Act of 2009, introduced by John Dingell, D-MI., govtrack here. The C-span boradcast showed that as the bill.
Democrats claim that it will cover 96% of Americans. It appears that a tax penalty is imposed on those who do not purchase insurance (“pay or play”), that the pre-existing condition discrimination is prohibited, and that in some cases the young must pay more. The bill will cost the US about $1 trillion.
Conservative Democrats and Republicans insisted on a rider disallowing the public option to be used for elective abortion, although people could use their own money to purchase additional coverage for it. The abortion-related amendment passed 240-194.
Here’s another blogger’s story
SNL on NBC was running anti-health-care bill ads after the passage.
Here are the president's "3 Principles for Health Care Reform" May 2009
Friday, November 06, 2009
A man was burned to death in a terrible gasoline station fire in Frederick, MD this week, in an accident that underlies the inherent, if remote, risk, in the ordinary act of filling a gas tank. It was unclear, the man may have been filling an additional can (I bought cans myself in 1979 during the second gasoline shortage in the 1970s).
Self-service at gasoline stations became the norm after the 1970s gasoline supply problems related to "political" problems in the Middle East, but they could have added some risk to consumers.
In this accident, the customer was not smoking or even using a cell phone. The accident might have been caused by something as simple as static electricity from his shoes in dry weather. General safety precautions are to touch something metal (your car) to ground yourself before touching the gasoline hose.
I’ve used that filling station myself on the way to attractions in the Catoctin Mountains/South Mountain area, ranging from Harpers Ferry to Gettysburg.
Washington DC station and ABC affiliate WJLA reports the story here.
Thursday, November 05, 2009
Today, Thursday Nov. 5, on the Washington Post “Federal Page”, Christian Davenport and Emma Brown have a brutal article on the fitness of American youth for potential military service, “Girding for an uphill battle for recruits: Obesity, poor education make many younger people unfit for military”, with link here. According to an internal Pentagon report, “Ready, Willing and Unable to Serve,” 75% of the nations 17-24 year olds would be ineligible to serve for physical or educational reasons. The tone of this particular newspaper story was a bit harsh. The “Mission Readiness” report is already available as a PDF on the Web, here.
The newspaper story discusses physical fitness standards, as requiring (for men) 42 push- ups in 2 minutes, 53 sit-ups in that period, and a 2 minute run in just under 16 minutes. When I was in Basic Combat Training in Fort Jackson SC in 1968, we had a 5-event “physical combat proficiency test” (PCPT): low crawl, overhand bars, run-dodge-jump, and a mile run in under 8 minutes. I believe that the standards in the article refer to what is required to pass Army Basic, not just to join.
The US Army Info Site has a web page giving links to its physical and educational requirements, here.
I discussed the military “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for homosexuals on the GLBT blog today. That issue was not mentioned in the article. But in general, there is no evidence that gays are any less fit than average to serve, physically or educationally. It may sound flippant to say this, but a svelte, slender person aerobically fit enough for a whole night of vigorous disco dancing probably will have little trouble with the physical requirements of basic training; physical activity in youth is a good predictor of general fitness. Teenagers who become succesful as actors in film and TV have to be extraordinarily fit physically, and remain so as adults. It is true that the more intense PT in Army Basic increases fitness of most people (men and women both) to a degree that surprises and pleases them.
The military did increase its maximum enlistment age to 42 late in the Bush administration (see story here). When I was in Basic Training, we had one recruit who had joined the Army at 36, even in the Vietnam era.
The story could become telling if discussions of mandatory national service or of resuming the draft (as proposed by some in Congress, even Michigan Senator Carl Levin right after 9/11, and proposed as a way of “equalizing” exposure to “sacrifice” by some liberals, perhaps those who think that Congress would not go to war if their own kids had to serve) were really to go somewhere.
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Michael Gerson has a useful column in the Washington Post today (Nov. 4), “Making the Young Pay for Health Reform.” The link is here. The crux of the argument is this: health insurance will be mandatory, and it can be made affordable for the sickest people (especially those with pre-existing conditions and the elderly [already on Medicare, usually]) only if young people, in addition, pay more in premiums relative to the actuarially predicted claims than older people. Insurance companies say they will drop pre-existing condition discrimination if they can demand more premiums from the young and healthy, to use for other people’s care. The Senate and House do propose some ratio limits on how much young people can be charged. The AARP naturally favors a lower limit.
The whole piece is perhaps a little deceptive. If you get health insurance from a mainstream employer, your group premium is likely to continue to be the same regardless of age. One employer that I had in the 1970s, Sperry Univac, actually based premiums on salary, and charged executives more than regular workers; that seems progressive.
But if you are 21, not on your parents’ policy and healthy and buy an individual policy, you’ll pay more. True, you’re covered if you break your leg sliding into home plate in a softball game or if you go skydiving, snowboarding or BMX biking (one of my friends in Minneapolis made a documentary on kids and extreme sports, by the way). You can be Clark Kent and get covered for exposure to green kryptonite.
There are utilitarian arguments: we will all be old if we live long enough, so by paying more early, we are paying for our own eventual care. But some of us will not live that long, and some of us will live long in Oprah’s “blue zones” and still need little care. That is the nature of insurance, and of social stability.
Gerson makes a couple of cutting comments. Early he writes: “There are arguments for mandating the purchase of higher-priced insurance by the young. It would, on the bright side, leave less disposable income for nose rings and tattoos. And perhaps the ownership of health insurance, in an ideal world, should be a social expectation, like the ownership of auto insurance.” And he concludes with “And a society that consistently shifts burdens from old to young at some point becomes selfish. We are proud to sacrifice for the sake of our parents and grandparents. We are less proud of imposing burdens on our children and grandchildren that diminish their opportunity.” This is increasingly troubling if increased life spans occur with longer periods of disability at the end of life. A lot of this will delve into the complexities of Medicare, social security, and eventually "filial responsibility".
Fifteen or so years ago, it seemed as though an essential premise of libertarianism, that every adult would be totally answerable for the self, seemed to me politically promising. Then that got to include that you had to show you could take care of other people, too. The moral case for everyone’s assuming intergenerational responsibility goes both ways. And social critics like Phillip Longman may have a point that we may have to look at this problem "collectively" and encourage larger families.
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
Toyota acceleration problem causing wrecks, seems more than a floormat problem; ABC Nightline has story; check Consumer Reports ASAP
Important: On Tuesday, Nov. 3, ABC Nightline ran a sensational story about the safety of the Toyota Prius, Camry, and Lexus. There are numerous cases of sudden acceleration, not involving the floor mat as previously reported.
The latest theory is that the gas pedal operates a computer signal and does not directly control fuel. The problem could be a software problem, similar to a glitch in an operating system on a personal computer.
The ABC news story is by Brian Ross, Joseph Rhee, Angela M. Hill, and Megan Chcuhmach, with link here. The title of the story is “Owners of Toyota Cars in Rebellion Over Series of Accidents Caused by Sudden Acceleration : ABC News Investigation Uncovers Reports of 16 Deaths, Over 200 Accidents; Toyota Owners Demand Answers”.
ABC has a test driver for Consumer Reports demonstrate how to stop a runaway car. I’ll provide a direct link later. The best link that I could find right now is this, but I presume the driving-technique link will be posted soon.
Wikimedia attribution link for p.d. picture of Toyota Camry.
Today, Tuesday Nov. 3, the Washington Times has a brief but cutting editorial, “The Myth of Preventive Care: Congressional Democrats make costly health care assumptions”, link here.
The thrust of the argument is that preventive care will make people live longer, but eventually if they get old enough they’ll be sick enough (especially with Alzheimer’s) to need costly care. That is certainly a debatable point. Even in prior centuries, some people lived to be over 100 with no major health problems. The hope is the medical advances can prevent a lot of disability that comes with age. Oprah Winfrey (along with Dr. Mehmet Oz) has covered this possibility a few times with her shows on the “Blue Zones”.
But without major medical advances enhancing quality as well as length of life (much more than it has to date), the ability of direct physical care from family will inevitably become a pressing issue. Likewise, if people are going to live longer, they need to remain employed longer, and the economic system needs to support and reward their work.
The Washington Times editorial puts out only one side of this debate. That’s pretty common for this paper. But, yup, I look forward to this paper every day. It accidentally set off a real firestorm about blogging, free speech, and public schools back in the fall of 2005, an incident that I have written about elsewhere.
Monday, November 02, 2009
The Washington Post this morning (Nov. 2) ran a prescient editorial in the “our fundamental rights” area, “The Right Not to be Framed: Can prosecutors be sued?” The link is here. Believe it or not, Iowa prosecutors who know they went fishing say there is no such thing as a right not to be framed (sounds like Bowers v. Hardwick). There is a specific case here with overzealous , politically motivated prosecutors. Back in the 1980s, there was a prosecutor in Bakersfield CA who set up phony charges against parents by convincing their children that they had been abused (as in the indie films “Witch Hunt” and “Just Ask My Children”). I can think of was this could happen with the Internet.
The Washington Times has a clever editorial “Stop Suing Yourself: Time to nix investor lawsuits that hurt investors”, here. The case is Jones v. Harris Associates, which the Supreme Court hears arguments on today, and the editorial says that the whole thing is a mechanism for trial lawyers to pilfer ordinary investors.
But the New York Times says that indeed mutual funds are the pilferers, and that the ordinary investors really suffer from the lack of competition, and offers the math to back itself up, rather than just conservative ideology. The editorial is titled “The Court and Your Savings” and the link is here.
Sunday, November 01, 2009
The NBC Today show on Sunday November 1 mentioned a middle school that was making a serious effort to get girls as well as boys interested in its chess club.
There is an article on science blogs as to why there are few female grandmasters in chess (here) but the effort to interest girls is likely to improve their performance in the game over time considerably.
I played some lunch chess when substitute teaching, but saw no female players at any grade here in northern Va. Back in the 1960s, when I got into chess through the George Washington University chess club, there were only two female players in the club. Of course, encouraging more girls to play chess will help encourage girls to excell in math and science. When I was at the University of Kansas as a grad student int he 1960s, the leading graduate student heading for a Ph D in mathematics as female; many mathematicians working for the Navy department in my 1960s summer jobs were female, at when I entered the work force, Sperry Univac (now Unisys) was particularly progressive in promoting women even in the early 1970s.
However, over the years, USCF and Chess Life have presented many women’s games, with a lot of opening analysis by Susan Polgar.
MSNBC has an article to the effect that Renaissance man Leonardo Da Vinci was also the author of a chess puzzle, here.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Robert Bazell reports that 22 children died from H1N1 last week, and H1N1 is the only flu circulating (partly because vaccines for conventional flu were available very early). That’s half many as who die in a whole conventional flu season, and the most in a week since the CDC started keeping counts of weekly flu deaths by age.
The CDC’s advice for Halloween (given on Beggar’s Night) is to “stay safe, and have fun.” “Social distancing” rules never went into effect.
But the inability to deliver H1N1 vaccine as quickly as had been promised is certainly an issue.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
The Washington City Paper, a popular free weekly available at newsstands and movie theaters, has some transcript of the contentious hearings today, where the Washington DC City Council grilled DC School System Chancellor Michelle Rhee on her decision to fire over 200 teachers at the beginning of October to meet budget cuts, when the Council had asked her to cut summer school instead.
Rhee said that summer school cuts would affect kids’ test scores more, and that teachers let go were underperforming, in terms of test scores and classroom management.
The liveblog entry is here.
As a sub, I was criticized and banned from a couple of schools for "classroom management" because of difficulties with one or two students.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
In a story by Matthew Mosk and S.A. Miller in the Washington Times on Oct. 28, “Republicans seek probe of White House Perks” (link) the Obama White House is presented as having invited big Democratic contributors to parties, bowling, movies and other entertainment at the White House. (I wonder if the movie was “AntiChrist”). Seriously, we see the classic tension in the way a democracy should work. Amatuerism and the “democratization of the web” has its systemic risks, but without it we’re left with the “good old boy” system.
I love the rotating cube on the newspaper’s site.
The story reiterates that even when people "give", they do so for selfish reasons, as recently covered on an ABC 20/20 show recently.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Here’s a tip I overheard somewhere on a news station: Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL’s) will wear out more quickly than expected if you turn them on and off all the time. Instead of turning them off when leaving a room, turn them off only if you leave the room for more than thirty minutes. There life span is related to how often they are turned on, not how long they are used (as is the case with conventional bulbs).
CFL’s seem to have a power rating of 13W, compared to 40, 60 or 75 as with conventional bulbs.
Another factor that can affect CFL’s may be older light fixtures in old homes. There seems to be more problem with their longevity if the sockets don’t fit properly, or if the insulation is wearing, because past use of bulbs with more power than appropriate (usually 60w). One cause of electrical fires in old homes may be use of conventional bulbs with output rated higher than the fixture was designed for.
All of this from an electrician last week, after a power surge messed up a basement circuit.
I'm still not sure how we are supposed to dispose of "burned out" CFL's. They do contain mercury, a hazardous waste. I just keep them for blog pictures.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
While leaving the U-Street Cardozo station in Washington DC last night, I saw a poster for the “National Walk for Autism Speaks” next Saturday, Halloween, October 31, 2009, on the National Mall in Washington DC. The link is here. The poster reports the latest numbers” 1 in 94 boys is on the autism spectrum, and 1 in 150 children (although very mild Asperger’s may be a good thing, otherwise we would have no Silicon Valley).
The organization has raised about $527,000 as of early morning Sunday Oct. 25.
On June 8, 2008, on my books blog, I reviewed a book by a young man in Silicon Valley (involved in the founding of Facebook), who described growing up with an autistic younger brother and being very introverted himself. Up to a point, extreme inward-looking in our modern culture can be a good thing.