Blogs

Yet Another Reason for Universal Health Insurance

| Fri Mar. 23, 2007 5:49 PM EDT

California's Department of Managed Health Care randomly selected 90 (of more than 1,000) cancelled individual Blue Cross plans and investigated whether the company had cause to cancel them. Score: 0 for 90. Blue Cross broke the rules in every single case.

The policies were individually purchased plans in which policy holders had become pregnant or sick, apparently triggering Blue Cross to rescind the policy. Retroactively—leaving individuals, hospitals and doctors holding the bag for care already provided. Policies can only be legally rescinded if the applicant lies on the application to conceal pre-existing conditions.

Individuals pay exorbitant premiums for coverage purchased outside of employer group plans, and are also more vulnerable to such cancellations in California law. But this is bad news for everyone, not just those who have to buy individual plans. Who pays when hospitals and doctors aren't reimbursed? The taxpayers do, one way or the other. The taxpayers also paid for the state's investigation, whose end result is a measly $1-million suit against Blue Cross, whose annual profit is more than three times that. Blue Cross policy holders funded an entire department of the company devoted to finding reasons to cancel the policies of sick or pregnant people.

About 6.5 million California residents, or about 18 percent of the population, lack health insurance.

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Tip to Thieves: Rolexes Engraved "Paris Hilton" Are Not a Good Idea

| Fri Mar. 23, 2007 5:19 PM EDT

It's Friday afternoon and this blogger is going to indulge in a brief moment of "I'm smarter than you." (It's a blogger thing.) Not that I'm such a genius, but I think if I were an LAX airport employee and were going to steal some stuff from passenger luggage, I would avoid luggage belonging to celebrities. Chances are, they'll have one of their people report the theft, and chances are city officials will investigate since Los Angeles' very existence depends on its being celebrity-friendly. So, you see, I am smarter than the 8 luggage screeners and 3 others being charged with stealing jewelry, expensive watches, and cigarettes from Paris Hilton and the singer Keyshia Cole.

What an amazing Friday! I'm veritably high on myself right now.

Global Warming Could Reverse Trend Toward Bigger Human Brains

| Fri Mar. 23, 2007 5:02 PM EDT

Early humans developed larger brains as they adapted to colder climates. A warming climate might reverse that trend. Imagine that, while you still can.

This is the result of an analysis by University at Albany researchers to be published in the spring edition of Human Nature, according to a press release from the University of Albany. The research suggests that human cranial capacity as an indicator of brain size grew dramatically during our evolution. The authors suggest a key environmental trigger to the evolution of larger brains was the need to devise ways to keep warm and find food in cold climates.

In other species, problems of cold are solved by hibernating or migrating, and/or by growing fur and fat. During human evolution, however, the authors surmise that solutions to the problems of cold produced progressively "smarter" strategies, such as the development of cooperative hunting techniques and more sophisticated tools and weapons. Increased brain capacity also brought with it the use of fire as a means to keep warm and cook, adaptations in clothing and shelter, and the development of more refined social skills.

So, if our smarts have caused all the trouble with global warming in the first place, will getting dumber help?

Optimistic Report on the Surge All Talk

| Fri Mar. 23, 2007 4:00 PM EDT

Time has a report card on the effectiveness of the surge, which makes it sound like things are looking up. I'm a skeptic. Not because I hate America, but because this administration and its uniform-wearing parrots have cried wolf once (or thrice) too many times.

The Time report doesn't do much to change my mind.

First, like other reports, it touts the fact that some Iraqi families are returning to their Baghdad homes. But look closer. The numbers given are miniscule, and all they indicate is that those people hope the surge will work—not that it is working.

Second, they caught a few terrorists. Cool. Moving on…

Time repeatedly quotes Petraeus saying things like, "They're really quaking in their boots." These assessments are more meaningless than a coach's halftime interview.

I'll give them this point: "Violence in the city has dropped by about a third since the surge began in mid-February," but (a) one month is not long enough to predict a trend, and (b) it seems some of the new tactical ideas should have been implemented long, long ago:

The tactic of sprinkling U.S. and Iraqi troops like salt across the city — instead of keeping them concentrated in a handful of bases — seems to be paying off so far…Operation Safe Markets — where the U.S. military encircles bazaars with concrete barriers — have kept car bombs away from crowds.

They only just thought of this now?

And for those of you meticulous readers who need me to respond to every bit in the article—or those right-wing bloggers among you waiting for an easy way to prove me wrong (obviously the thing I didn't mention destroys my whole point, right?): The report also mentions helicopters. It's true, I mentioned rise in helicopter shoot-downs as a bad sign, and they have subsided. But:

U.S. military helicopters are flying increasingly under cover of darkness and at 2,000 feet, four times higher than normal, beyond the reach of the crude weapons used by the insurgents to take potshots at airborne targets… Army chopper pilots have long been taught to hug the terrain…to limit their exposure to any individual on the ground seeking to shoot them down. But increasingly, U.S. pilots are trading the protection offered by lack of height for the masking offered by lack of light.

Overall response: C-.

"Hillary 1984" is like Bob Corker's Ad against Harold Ford, Jr.

| Fri Mar. 23, 2007 2:57 PM EDT

Have you seen Hillary 1984? You've got to. It's brilliant. About 1.3 million people have already seen it. It's the advent of a new political era. The minute-and-a-half-long clip, spliced from an Apple commercial from Super Bowl, shows hundreds of men as just ashen drones marching in line and then sitting down before a screen under Hillary's head talking, detached from her body. Everything is gray and lifeless. The only dash of color at all is when a busty blonde wearing only a white tank and orange shorts—a Hooters girls outfit but with only one "O" in the logo over her chest—runs through the crowd of men and hurls a javelin at Hillary's head, shattering the screen, spreading light everywhere.

Yep, it's brilliant. And lefty bloggers are cheering it as the advent of "open-source politics" because it's on YouTube. What none of them have mentioned is the reason why it's so effective: It exploits subconscious bigotry, just like the ad for now-U.S. Senator Bob Corker in October. Since blacks weren't recognized as fully human, this country used to have special laws for them. Black men could not sleep with white women, but it was fine the other way around (even the president did). Black men with white women is still taboo—that's why broadcasting a blonde actress crooning, "I met Harold at the Playboy party…. Harry [wink], call me!!" was enough to derail Harold Ford, Jr.'s, campaign. The racism operated subtly and subconsciously enough to change the minds of people who would never admit to being racist. Lefties pointed that out, but not as loudly as they should have. Ford lost.

Likewise, women weren't recognized as fully human in this country until recently, and modern society still has a taboo against women holding power. Lefty bloggers who don't think Hillary has the charisma to win the general election may be happy that this ad will derail her in the primary. But they look like hypocrites unless they stop cheering for a moment to mention that the ad exploits subconscious fears. That goes for you too, Arianna Huffington—author of On Becoming Fearless. "Hillary 1984" is as un-Democratic as the ad against Harold Ford was.

Iraqi Refugees Now Top Asylum Seekers In The World

| Fri Mar. 23, 2007 1:44 PM EDT

How much longer can the U.S. deny the refugee crisis in Iraq? According to a new U.N. report, Iraqi refugees are now the top asylum seekers anywhere.

Asylum applications by Iraqis in industrialized countries rose 77 percent last year, from 12,500 in 2005 to 22,200 in 2006. UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler said "There has been an abject denial of the impact, the humanitarian impact, of the war, the huge displacement within Iraq of up to 1.9 million people who are homeless because of the war."

As Leigh wrote earlier this week, Syria has taken a huge portion of Iraqi refugees (some 1.2 million in a country of 19 million) while the United States has so far taken in less than 500 with promises of allowing 7,000 this year. Many of these refugees are Iraqi's who worked for the United States and are now under death threat, as David Case writes in our current issue.

Over at Foreign Policy in Focus, Kristele Younes of Refugees International outlines a number of proposals to help Iraqi refugees, including more funding for the UNHCR (whose budget for dealing with Iraqi refugees is 22 million, less than $7 per refugee) and more international cooperation to address the crisis.

Yet the crux of her argument is this:

The United States must begin by acknowledging that violence in Iraq has made civilian life untenable, creating a refugee crisis that is essentially exporting the nation's instability to neighboring countries.

"Exporting the nation's instability." So in four years the US has managed a war that has not only led to more terrorist attacks worldwide, but has also made for a more volatile region overall.

No one, and I mean no one, is shouting 'four more years' now.

—Amaya Rivera

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Iraq's Deputy PM Injured in Attack

| Fri Mar. 23, 2007 12:15 PM EDT

I think it's fair to say that one of the main barometers for the effectiveness of the surge and Baghdad security crackdown Bush has imposed on the nation is the safety of government officials in Baghdad. For the second day in a row, an attack in Baghdad has targeted a government official. Today, the target was the highest ranking Sunni Muslim in the government, the Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubai. Mr. Zubai was among 15 wounded in the attack, in which 9 people died. Not only does the attack cast doubt on the American troops' ability to control Baghdad, it also deals a major blow to the Iraqi government's legitimacy to lose one of its precious few Sunnis.

Learn more on Mother Jones' Sunni/Shiite cheat sheet and primer on Iraqi political parties (including Zubai's Accord Front).

Passing the Urine-or-Tea Test

| Thu Mar. 22, 2007 11:00 PM EDT

urine%20sample.jpg

Chinese hospitals thought they were testing urine samples, but they were really being tested. Reporters passed the lab warm tea in place of their urine samples. Out of ten hospitals, six diagnosed an infection, and five prescribed expensive medicine.

It's not the first health care scandal to piss everyone off. Ha. The health minister has come out calling hospitals greedy. The problem is, "In China, most village doctors make their income solely by selling drugs," reports Nicholas Zamiska in the Wall Street Journal.

The numbers: In rural areas, almost two thirds of prescriptions for the flu were unnecessary, according to the journal Health Policy and Planning. Prescription drugs markups are as high as 80%, according to the World Health Organization.

Unfortunately, such problems are not all so foreign. In the United States, fully a third of our medical spending goes to insurance overheads, which is why our health care costs exactly 50 percent more than any other industrialized country. And pharmaceutical lobbies keep drug prices how much higher than in Canada?

For more, read "Is it Prozac? Or Placebo?: New research suggests that the miracles promised by antidepressants may be largely due to the placebo effect. Too bad there's no money to be made in sugar pills."

More Neato Viddys on the Intertubes

| Thu Mar. 22, 2007 9:25 PM EDT

That's right, stop working, it's okay. Just put down the phone/spreadsheet/spatula, put off that meeting/budget/drive-through order for five minutes, and watch some teeny-tiny new music videos. Your boss/client/hungry children in SUV can wait.

Banner year for reunion tours

| Thu Mar. 22, 2007 6:45 PM EDT

Reunion tours by popular rock bands are equal parts excitement and gloom. And 2007 is stacking up to be a riveting year rife with disappointment.

The gravitational pull of the chance to see one of your favorite bands -- or one of an era's most popular bands -- one last time is powerful. You want to be a part of something big, privy to an historical moment that you can talk about for years. "I was there," you'll say. Or if you're lucky, "And they rocked."

But the mere premise of reuniting for one last hoorah is inherently nostalgic, and that makes the whole thing feel potentially sad and outdated, with a hint of camp. It brings into question the true meaning of rock music: is it here to inspire, destroy and give the middle finger to all things bland, or is it here simply to entertain and encapsulate past moments in our lives?

2007 could provide answers. This year's list of bands reported to be reuniting for strings of live performances is substantial, and diverse. It includes The Police, Van Halen (recently canceled), Genesis, Sebadoh, Rage Against the Machine, Iggy and the Stooges, Smashing Pumpkins, Crowded House, and the UK band Squeeze.

Bloggers are keeping a running tally of who's performing and who's not, and trying to determine whether certain bands have sold out or not. Mojo's Party Ben is all over Sonic Youth's recently announced reunion tour, and another blogger is buzzing about the Meat Puppets plans to reunite.

Sell-outs or not, big-show ticket prices upwards of $200 will surely guarantee fat paychecks for many of the artists, who will soon leave their respective tours and go back to what they were doing before: Disney Tarzan soundtracks, 16th Century lute songs and primetime television for some; punk and indy music side projects, film soundtrack scores and political activism for others.

While band reunion season is in full swing, the opportunity is there to pick a favorite piece of music history and go rock out for a night. And chances are, you will get exactly what you're looking for.

--Gary Moskowitz