My health insurance company Anthem fell afoul of the Affordable Care Act by paying themselves $1.3 million more than the allowed 20% overhead. So they are required to issue a rebate to individual ratepayers like me, a whopping 0.1% of my yearly premium.
The accompanying letter is a masterpiece of passive-aggressive corporate communication. Check out my scan of the letter that shows up as page 2 of an invoice. All caps, monospace font, awkward formatting, it’s almost like they didn’t want us to read it! So I helped them out with this nicely formatted version. I typeset the letter for them but I didn’t correct the awkward grammar; such as inappropriate uses of commas, and the general awkward writing, such as extensive conjunctions.
Typography aside the real offense is Anthem chose to cut a bunch of tiny checks to their customers rather than just applying the money as a premium rebate. Maybe they’re hoping a significant fraction of people won’t bother to deposit the $2 checks. Or maybe the inconvenience is just in keeping with their general contempt for their customers.
San Francisco's biggest health insurer, Anthem Blue Cross (and its partner Express Scripts), no longer allows its customers to buy prescription medicine at Walgreen's California's largest pharmacy. Why? Anthem claims it's about price. Walgreen's says it's anti-competitive behavior. People like you and I could care less about this squabble between two giant companies: we just want to take the medicine our doctor says we need to stay healthy.
I now have exactly one pharmacy within a mile of my house I'm allowed to use. It's a spooky place, so I'm going mail order. Of course Anthem and Express Scripts are right there to make it easy to order my medicine directly from them. Which I did, because what alternative do I have? Apparently anti-trust law doesn't apply to healthcare.
Capitalism does not work to provide health care efficiently. There can be no free market in healthcare: consumers are intensely limited by geography, insurance underwriting, and medical need. Regulatory requirements make competition from upstarts nearly impossible. The US spends 50%–100% more than every other industrialized nation on health care in total and spends just as much per-capita of public funds on health care as every European nation. But we have lower life expectancy. What we're doing now doesn't work.
For many years now my blog has had a little number on the left, cryptically unexplained other than the link to Iraq Body Count. It currently stands at 109,295. That's the number of civilians killed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion by the US. Well, an average, the best guess is somewhere between 104,000 and 115,000. Not a guess really, a meticulously researched list.
100,000 dead in Iraq because of the US decision to start a pointless war on false pretenses. Never forget the Big Lie of the Bush Administration. Invading Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. It had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction. There was no nuclear weapons program in Iraq, no yellowcake uranium, no meaningful chemical weapons stockpiles, no biological weapons. We knew that before we went in. What we did get there was becoming a nation of torturers.
I'm blogging this to mark the count as I remove the number from my blog. Partly because the US occupation is over, partly because I'm simplifying servers, and partly because it's just too depressing.
One of the challenges in understanding Islamic terrorism is how foreign it seems to us Americans. Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik's manifesto is interesting in that it gives Westerners religious and culturally inspired terrorism "on our side," in plain English with familiar Christian and Western imagery. Breivik's actions and rhetoric seem extremist to sensible Westerners; jihadist literature must seem equally extremist to sensible people in the Islamic world.
Breivik's document is rational, well researched, coherent. At 1500 pages it rambles a bit, you can get a sense of the ground he's covering via the table of contents (Scribd, Pastebin). He writes a history of the conflict between Islam and Christianity, a detailed rejection of various European modern philosophy, a curated collection of essays about the "threat" of Islam spreading in Europe. And then a detailed, apparently accurate manual about how to become a one man killing machine complete with armor, weapons, bombs, pharmaceutical enhancements. Tragically, all this research actually worked for Breivik and he was able to murder 70+ defenseless people on summer holiday.
See the emblem on Breivik's germ warfare suit? That's the Knights Templar, a 13th century Crusader military group that Breivik latched on to for his 21st century holy war. It's a pretty florid bit of mythology. His manifesto is quite explicit about creating a modern crusade to defeat Islam: "Crusading is not just a right, but a duty according to Canon Law", Breivik says, and after quoting the Bible for several pages concludes
Each Christian must now make their own personal decision on all of this. You can either choose to learn how to rise up in the power of your Lord and Saviour and learn how to become a true warrior in the Lord, or you can continue to keep your head in the sand and oppressor after oppressor keep beating you down.
Breivik here sounds exactly like a violent jihadi. Later in his manifesto he addresses this criticism:
By propagating and defending Christendom we simply mean that we want to halt the cultural Marxist/multiculturalist attacks and systematic deconstruction on our Christian cultures and the Church itself and to reverse the de-Christianisation of Europe. ... Western Europe has grown weak and decadent and will be completely annihilated culturally unless we succeed to implement a second European renaissance and reverse the damage done.
Reading this screed helped me better understand the violent Muslim equivalent, the rhetoric around a new caliphate and the establishment of pure Islamic states governed by Sharia. Those Middle Eastern concepts sounded foreign to me but Breivik's similar ideas are comfortably English and Christian and European. And just as hideous.
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The SF Chronicle has a heartbreaking story about how a married gay couple of 19 years may be split up by US immigration.
Starting June 13, Makk, 48, faces possible deportation if he remains in the country illegally when his current visa expires. If he leaves, he would not be readmitted, the couple would be all but permanently separated and Wells, who has severe health complications from AIDS, would be left without his spouse and sole caregiver.They are legally married (in Massachusetts) but thanks to a federal law passed and signed by the Democrats their marriage has no status for immigration. The Australian in the story isn't even a second class citizen: he's no kind of citizen at all.
I've been following the WikiLeaks story with some interest. The hysteria surrounding the cable leaks is downright un-American.
The most disturbing thing is what looks to be a coordinated campaign to deny WikiLeaks access to American Internet companies. Amazon dropped them. PayPal dropped them. EveryDNS dropped them. Tableau dropped them. All of these companies have the right to choose whom they do business with. But freedom of the press requires a press. It's particularly troubling to think that government pressure is behind the shutdowns.
Also disturbing is Interpol chasing Assange over a minor Swedish criminal charge. I don't want to dismiss the rights of the accusers in Sweden, but the timing and publicity make it obvious the international warrant has more to do with revenge than sexual impropriety. Now the story is "WikiLeaks = Rapist", a smear which discredits the cable releases without addressing their content.
And then you get the crazy shit. A sustained DDoS attack against the WikiLeaks site which does nothing to stop the cable release but does make it harder for the organization to explain what they're doing. And a herd of nutjobs saying Assange should be assassinated. The air is poisoned.
What makes the response seem like hysteria is the actual cable leak doesn't seem that big a deal. WikiLeaks is being responsible about redaction. The source material, while private, was hardly ever kept that secure. The cables were stored globally on SIPRNet where thousands to millions of people had access. Anything shared with thousands of people is not, practically speaking, secret. And the information coming out so far has proven to hardly be blockbuster. It has been interesting, though, and embarassing.
Clearly the cable leak is against the US government's interests and of course the government is going to respond. But the response is looking a little crazy and disproportionate, not to mention ineffective. In the meantime news organizations every day are turning the material into fascinating stories about the inner workings of US relations with North Korea, China, Italy, Russia, Afghanistan. In the end the disclosure may well create more value than harm caused.
05:00 — Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere. laughter. Nope, no weapons over there. laughter. Maybe over here? laughter.
Afghanistan recently had their national election. And like India, they use symbols on their ballots to help non-literate people recognize their candidate (as well as portraits). There's a great photograph of the ballot in the Big Picture.
The symbols are qualitatively different than the Indian ballot. There's an odd use of multiples: two or three objects to fill the square. And they seem more abstract, no hammer and sickle or the like. According to PRI candidates were given a choice of three random symbols, although some candidates were able to pick things that seem representative. As an American it's hard not to see the airplanes as provocative.