Thursday, October 19, 2017

Check State Law Before You Record

In the midst of the current up-welling of women reporting their experiences with sexual harassment and assaults, often in the workplace, I happened to hear a conversation today on MPR with Gretchen Carlson. Most people know that she used to work for Fox News and was harassed by Roger Ailes, that she left, got a settlement out of the company, and was instrumental in his departure from Fox.

People not from Minnesota may not know that she's from one of our Twin Cities suburbs, and was Miss Minnesota before she was Miss America. (And she was valedictorian and played the violin before going to Stanford. How she ever decided to spend her brains at Fox, I do not know.)

Anyway, that explains why she was talking to a local station in Minnesota.

The thing I wanted to report from Carlson's conversation with Tom Webber was that it's legal in 17 states, including Minnesota and New York, to record a conversation that you are part of. So in other words, if someone is harassing you, you can record it on your phone and turn it over as evidence.

In 33 other states, though, it's not legal to do that. In those states, all parties to a conversation have to agree to be recorded. I don't know about 32 of those, but Carlson said that in California — where Harvey Weinstein and other film producers and directors do most of their work — it is a felony to record a conversation like that.

How is that even possible? In one-third of states it's completely legal, while in at least one other (maybe more!), it's not just a misdemeanor or something like that and worth the risk, it's a felony! To record someone else who is breaking the law.

California, you need to change that.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Even Worse than Cold Comfort

The liar in chief sure inspires some great art, as I've said before. Here's one from his current conflagration:


The guy is such a narcissist that he can't even comfort someone like a human being. As Dave Roberts said on Twitter today, the presidency has two components, Ruling and Serving. Trump thought it would all be Ruling, and he has no capacity for Serving. (Of course, he doesn't have capacity to Rule in any effective way, either — thank goodness — but he really really sucks at Serving.)

On the subject of his uncomforting and insulting words to Myeshia Johnson, widow of a Green Beret killed in Niger, I at first had more of a reaction to the second part ("but I guess it still hurts") than the first part ("He knew what he signed up for").  But I guess it still hurts? That is so vacuous and denigrating.

But that was before I read a tweet storm by a veteran named Brandon Friedman, who points out that assuming service members "know what they signed up for" and should have expected death shows how little Trump (and I) know about people who serve in the military:

I did two tours in combat as an infantry officer and I never met a soldier who thought dying was a reasonable result of their service.

Take the numbers: Since 9/11, roughly 1 out of every 5,000 troops to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan died there. I'll say that again: 1. Out of every 5,000. Dying in combat is neither common nor expected.

But when things *do* get dicey, troops expect leaders (at every level) to do everything in their power to keep death from happening. Take roadside bombs. When they began killing U.S. troops, President Bush never said, "they knew what they signed up for." Instead, DoD designed MRAPs. It was a concerted effort to keep more people from getting killed unnecessarily.

And that's what keeps troops going. The knowledge that your life is valuable. That it's not to be wasted…. After a KIA, no one in the military ever, EVER, says "he knew what he signed up for." Instead they reflect. "What could we have done differently? How could we have prevented this from happening?" No one shrugs death off as an inevitability.

So when we have a Commander in Chief respond to a combat death with, "he knew what he signed up for," it tells us a few things. First, it tells us the President has no idea how the military works or what his role and responsibilities are. More importantly, it sends this message to troops: If you're looking for support from the White House, you know what you signed up for.
And then he lied about having said it, of course. Because that's what he does. As if anyone else would be able to make up those stupid, stupid words but him.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tabs, Quieting Down

The tabs, they are a-building once again. Though not so much compared to my most recent listings... maybe I am making progress on staying ahead of it all.

How to fund a Universal Basic Income without increasing taxes or inflation. From Truthout.

The McKibben effect: a case study in how radical environmentalism can work. Dave Roberts writing for Vox.

On American identity, the election, and family members who support Trump. Nicole Chung reflects on the burden of engaging with racism and educating white people, including some of her own family. On Longreads.

The end of walking. In Orwellian fashion, Americans have been stripped of their right to walk, challenging their humanity, freedom, and health. From Aeon.

To understand rising inequality, consider the janitors at two top companies, then and now. Kodak 35 years ago, Apple today. From the New York Times.

The socialist experiment in Jackson, Mississippi. From Oxford American.

Suburban sprawl stole your kids' sleep. Why does school start so early? Blame 1970s planning. From CityLab.

What if everything you knew about disciplining kids was wrong? Negative consequences, timeouts, and punishments just make bad behavior worse. But a new approach really works. From Mother Jones back in 2015.

The language of white supremacy. Narrow definitions of the term actually help continue the work of the architects of the post-Jim Crow racial hierarchy. By Vann Newkirk for the Atlantic. Realizing that the phrase means just what it says — that whiteness is supreme — has helped me a lot. I don't see how anyone can argue with the fact that our culture is built upon that false assumption. It is not identical to "white supremacist," which is a person who overtly subscribes to the belief in white supremacy. But you don't have to march around supporting it to benefit from it or to feel the effects of how it structures our society.

The puzzle of reparations in an extremely unequal society. By Matt Bruenig, writing for his new, Patreon-funded think tank, the People's Policy Project. Definitely give this one a look — it's something I had never thought of within the whole reparations-for-enslavement conversation. Looking forward to discussion of the problems Matt raises.

That's all for now. See, not so many!


Monday, October 16, 2017

The Handmaid's Tale, 1986, 2012, 2017

I spent part of today looking through old posts on my blog, especially the It Came from the Basement tag. (I recommend it, even if I do say so myself.) I started from the oldest one, and came across this within an entry from 2014 about a 1986 issue of Time magazine:

The books section provides a review of A Handmaid's Tale that tells us, "As a cautionary tale, Atwood's novel lacks the direct, chilling plausibility of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World. It warns against too much: heedless sex, excessive morality, chemical and nuclear pollution. All of these may be worthwhile targets, but such a future seems more complicated than dramatic." Wow, did that reviewer miss the point.
 And today it's even clearer that he missed the point.

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Here are my thoughts on reading The Handmaid's Tale in the Age of Rick Santorum (2012). Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Fill in the Gaps

White people know nothing about black history in this country. My sample may be odd, because it’s based on years of watching Jeopardy, but I think it would hold up to more scientific scrutiny.

Jeopardy players should know more about just about everything than the average person, right? Yet when there’s a category or question about black people, their history or literature, the white players get it wrong or don’t even try to answer. (Music and sporting achievements by black people are a different story.)

The latest example was last week, during the $411,000, 12-game run of Austin Rogers. He knows a lot of stuff, but a fairly easy question about black Americana went right over his head. I don’t remember the wording exactly, but it was, in effect, “This song is considered the black national anthem.”

And as any black person would know, the answer is Lift Every Voice and Sing. One player, who was Asian, had obviously heard of it, but bobbled the wording of the title and was ruled incorrect. The other two players, Austin and a white woman, let the time elapse without ringing in.

I don’t remember the other instances I’ve seen over the years, but there are many. Whole categories left unanswered or answered wrong. One that I do recall is when Melissa Harris Perry was on Celebrity Jeopardy last year, and she was obviously irritated that Matthew Weiner (creator of Mad Men) couldn’t come up with the name "NAACP" when his Daily Double gave this clue: “The late Julian Bond was its chairman from 1998 to 2010.”

Anyway. That’s background for two places white people can go to get some education, or at least pieces of media we can read or listen to about those places.

One is the Whitney Plantation, just outside New Orleans. It’s the only plantation museum that focuses on the enslaved people who lived, worked, and died there. It was written up in today’s Star Tribune Travel section, which I normally never read, but this piece by Kerri Westenberg of the Strib staff is an exception.

The other is the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, located in Baltimore, which was the subject of a recent segment on This American Life. The commentator is a black woman from Baltimore, and her words are framed around what she thought of the museum as a child on school trips, what she thought later as a teenager, and how it seems to her now as an adult, and to her adult friend who has never seen it before. This museum is not the usual wax museum. That’s all I’ll say.

There are lots of other ways white Americans can learn about the history and culture of black Americans. All it takes is a bit of awareness that there’s something to learn and some basic curiosity about people who are not you. There's always more to know about everything, of course, but our gaps on this subject are revealing.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Death Panels by Default

I am not a big fan of Newsweek writer and reporter Kurt Eichenwald‏, but he turns up in my Twitter feed now and then. Today he posted this about Trump’s attempted destruction of the Affordable Care Act, which I think is worth sharing at its full length:

Next in my "How Trump Just Destroyed You" series. My wife is a doctor. let's talk pre-ACA. Two stories.

A trucker is working in his yard and falls out of tree. Badly hurts his back. Goes to my wife. In the course of their appointment, he brags about his cheap insurance. Will require a lot of work. Has four appointments.

At the fifth, he is told his insurance ran out. His policy covered four appointments, which is why it is cheap. He needs surgery: not covered. Hospitalization: Not covered. Rehab: not covered. Can't even see my wife or any internist anymore because they can’t take insurance AND provide free care. Must now go to free clinic. They can’t help.

He ends up in emergency room. YOU pay for it. They patch him up, send him on his way. Problem not gone. Can't drive truck anymore with back problem. Sells home for surgery. Can't get rehab. Still can't drive. Goes on unemployment. YOU pay for it.

ACA kicks in, with minimum coverage standards. He signs up for policy. Can’t get rejected for preexisting condition. Gets full hospitalization etc. coverage. So gets treatment. Is now a trucker again. Was a rock-ribbed Republican. Now understands the lies they tell.

Second story: ACA didn't kick in soon enough. Had cheap policy. Got cancer. In the middle of his chemo treatment, hit the coverage cap. Ranted and raved. "Why am I paying for coverage if it doesn't cover me when I'm sick?" Welcome to GOP health care, pal. Chemo cut off. He dies while ACA is being debated because the cancer has spread throughout his body.

THIS is the real world. THESE are the death panels.
Unfortunately people in this country have a horrible combination of treating politics like it's about "my team," MASS ignorance and MASS arrogance. They think they are experts on insurance when Sean Hannity says something. And now they will die. Or lose everything. But hey! At least now they can go back to buying cheap insurance that lets them shell out $ for premiums year after year for fake coverage, thanks to Donald “I don’t understand anything” Trump.

Oh, and don’t think you can now rush onto a good policy when you need it. Sorry folks, because policies without minimum standards will divert stupid people in good health, the risk pool for preexisting condition folks will shift to high-risk, and premiums will explode. And the more people who try to rush back from cheap policies to real policies when they get sick, the higher the premiums will go. WAY past unaffordable. Because the insurers will be making their money collecting from stupid healthy people.

The private market is dead. Make America Die Again. And again, if these cheap policies are SO GREAT, then every member of Congress and the Trump admin should save taxpayers $ and be forced onto them. Yah, right. They want to live. They don't give a damn whether or not you do.
Whether Trump will be able to implement his “plan” or not (given lawsuits and possibly… Congress?), Eichenwald is clearly right about the types of things that used to happen before the ACA, and as much as I don’t like some of the ACA’s realities (the trend toward high deductibles, especially, and the idea of “skin in the game”) it’s clearly better than where we used to be, as shown in Eichenwald's two anecdotes.

Eichenwald's examples were echoed by a letter writer in today's Star Tribune, Michael Emerson of Eden Prairie:
Like many Americans, I lost my job in the fall of 2008. Our first option for family health care was a COBRA plan that cost $2,000 a month for a family of five. Or, we could find much cheaper health insurance on the open private market. That seemed quite promising. While these plans were cheap, they offered very minimal coverage. But one big problem. One of our children had taken a medication that precluded our eligibility for these plans. They were cherry-pickers. They only took individuals and families who had perfect risk profiles. That made the COBRA plan the only option that we had.

So that is what Trump is creating. A market for those who have no risk factors and a second and wildly unaffordable market for everyone else. Anyone between 50 and 65 will be slammed by this order.
The cruel fact is that Emerson could easily be paying $2,000 a month (or more) for an individual/family ACA silver plan in 2017 (that's almost what my family of three is paying now, as I've said before). But at least it covers what it should cover, has yearly and lifetime caps, and averts the scenarios described by Eichenwald, unlike Trump’s “plan.”

This stuff, as Trump finally realized after he became president, is complicated. Listen to people who understand it, like Andy Slavitt and Atul Gawande. Make it better, not worse. Figure it out.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Road Kill World

I used to subscribe to Adbusters magazine. I even kept the back issues... still may have them in a pile somewhere. But I realized at some point that I couldn't take it any more. Reading it left me feeling overwhelmed instead of energized to take on the world's many problems.

So I let it lapse, I'm not sure when.

This reminder of my subscriber days recently floated to the top when I was looking through a pile of stuff stashed in a closet, and it reminded me why I liked Adbusters:


It's a postcard they sent out in a thank you packet, or something like that. Maybe I sent for them, even. I remember there were several different cards, and I must have particularly liked this one, since it got kept while the others went.... somewhere.

I still think Adbusters is best taken in small quantities, but seeing this card again reminds me of their best efforts.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Plastic Facts

We make so much plastic, and most of it is pretty unnecessary, especially the packaging:


Note that this is just one year of the plastic produced in our world. What percent of that packaging plastic is needed in any sense, such as for food safety? I'd be willing to bet it's less than a quarter of it.

And then there's what happens to the plastic after its first use, using data on all the plastic produced from 1950 to today:


So 91 percent of the time, its first use is its only use. And almost 80 percent of it ends up in the ground or the environment... which includes the stuff floating in the ocean.

I wish we had a visualization of what a metric ton is. I imagine plastic is generally fairly light, so it would take a fair amount of it to equal a metric ton (2,200 pounds). Luckily, I did find this graphic on the internet:


I don't know about you, but I'd rather have the billion elephants or 80 million whales.

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Source of the graphics with green backgrounds: Discover magazine, with data from "Production, Use, and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made," from Science Advances, 2017. The metric ton graphic is by Janet A. Beckley, University of Georgia, shown on this University of California site.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Slothful Day

It's a busy day today, so instead of thoughts, I have a photo of a sloth:


It's part of a large mural on the back of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater, corner of Lake Street and 15th Avenue in South Minneapolis.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Guns, Immigrants, Path Dependency

It's been a while since I've mentioned economist Ed Lotterman's column in the Pioneer Press. Yes, he's still at it, and last Sunday he wrote something that affirmed one of my suspicions about meaningful change on guns in this country.

I want there to be just about no guns in private hands. That's my vision of the society I want to live in. But I have no idea how we can get there, given our current situation: no thoughts at all on how we could start, given there are over 300 million guns, most of them stockpiled by fewer than 3 percent of the population. Even if we could somehow get rid of the Second Amendment and stop future sales of guns and ammo, how would you deal with all the stuff that's out there?

Ed told me that I'm basically right to despair of a solution, and it's because of a phenomenon called path dependency, which "argues that while there may be many ways to solve some challenge, once you choose one alternative, you constrain future choices."

The example he gives is railroad track design. There's no reason that tracks are 56.5" wide, but once tracks were laid at that gauge, building to that standard became the best (easiest) choice. Our privately run health care system (so-called) is another example of path dependency. Privately owned broadcasters (vs. a government-dominated system like the BBC) are another.

He lists the many "choices" our country made along the way in terms of gun availability, which led us to our current predicament. And while he agrees we are, indeed, in an appalling predicament, he doesn't see a way out of it:

First of all, guns are a "consumer durable." They don't really wear out. You can require tire pressure sensors or rear-facing TV camera on all new cars and after a decade or so, most vehicles in use will have these features — because old cars wear out. Ban the manufacture and sale of gun magazines that hold more than 10 rounds or of any firearm using them or with provisions for a bayonet, folding stock, or semiautomatic fire, and decades later there still will be tens of millions of such arms, all fully functional, held by the public.

Yes, you could emulate Australia and pass a law prohibiting ownership of such devices. But after decades of increasingly extreme rhetoric about U.S. government agents coming to take your guns, voluntary compliance would be very poor. Do you then start going door to door in Alabama or Idaho or even Pipestone County, Minn., searching the premises for taboo items? There are constitutional questions with that. And guns and ammunition are easy things to hide.

Radical right warnings that civil war would break out if there was any nation-wide attempt to confiscate certain firearms are overblown. However, the chances that there would be armed resistance and attempts at insurrection are very realistic.

Yes, ban the sale of ammunition or its components and eventually there will be nothing to fire from the banned guns. But the ban would have to apply to virtually all cartridges, because it is possible to salvage powder, primers and bullets from popular hunting calibers and reload the military wannabe ones. Moreover, the most rabid owners already have stocks of thousands of rounds. And 100-year-old cartridges generally fire just fine.
(I still think a major ammunition restriction would have the most effect over the least amount of time, if it could ever be done politically. It would cut down on access the most quickly, because workarounds like the ones Ed lists would be a lot harder to do than just buying more whenever you want.)

The good news, if there is any about path dependency, is that it applies to many other things, not just guns — such as immigration. There are 12 million undocumented people in this country, and the Right can't just wish them away, any more than I can wish away the guns. They also can't eject them without extremely disruptive, rule-of-law-undermining efforts (like the ones Trump implies he'll do), from racial profiling, a la Joe Arpaio, to "Operation Wetback"-type raids and the denial of due process:
...we have in place laws and we have signed treaties providing that illegal immigrants [sic] detained have at least minimal rights to a hearing or other status review before we expel them. That system is already overwhelmed. There is little voter support for appropriating vastly more money to fund its expansion. A recent federal immigration raid picking up 500 people made headlines. We would need 20,000 such raids to catch 10 million people...
He ends with this admonition:
Both gun violence and illegal immigration have taken on enormous symbolism involving great emotional weight for both ends of the political spectrum. This is a detriment to good decision-making.
We can agree on that, for sure.

Monday, October 9, 2017

An Acorn Cap

I’ve lived with a more-than-200-year-old red oak tree in my back yard for two decades. Every other year it drops a lot of acorns, so it’s not as though I never noticed them before.

But today I came across one of the caps, without its nut, and couldn’t stop looking at it.


What a transcendently beautiful object: the radial symmetry of the outside, with its tightly layered, shingle-like texture; the wooden bowl-like inside; the strong impression that it is made of wood, when just a few months ago it was green and soft.


Obviously, I don’t have the words for what I felt when I finally saw this acorn cap. They slipped away before I could get indoors to write anything down.

But it was nice to spend time thinking about this bit of our exquisite world, instead of the many instances of human-made destruction in our current era.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Purpose of Copays

I've railed in the past against health insurance deductibles (at least here and here). I'm not sure I've mentioned copays as much, because compared to thousands of dollars in deductibles, they haven't affected me as much, and when I first encountered them in the 1980s, they were (to me) truly minor amounts of money.

But Natalie Shure writes a perfect takedown of the premise behind copays, which I originally saw shared on Boing Boing. Copays are all about decreasing health care cost in one area, only to move it to another — usually publicly funded — area, such as emergency rooms. With, of course, overall worse outcomes for the patients, since they didn't get the timely care they needed that would have headed off the emergency room visit. Not mention the way copays and deductibles create new market opportunities for private insurance with "gap" coverage and financiers with Health Savings Accounts.

Shure explains how much of an outlier our country is, and the effect copays have:

While several countries with universal health care systems do charge copayments at the point of use, they don’t tolerate the amount of poverty that we do in the United States. No other wealthy country does. In a grotesquely unequal society, a copayment doesn’t create “better consumers” of care — it helps us scrimp by shoving the most powerless out of the system.

Once state Medicaid programs began charging copays in the 1970s, the new fees were associated with patients dropping out of health care plans. In some cases, there was a demonstrable impact on health: in 1975, California’s MediCal program reduced doctors’ visits with copays, only to have those savings offset by higher hospitalization rates.
I especially liked the introductory paragraph from the Boing Boing post:
The basis for the health-insurance copay is that the 99% need to be disincentivized from "abusing" their health-care and going to the doctor for frivolous ailments (if this was really a thing, we'd have sliding-scale copays that charged rich people astounding sums to see the doctor, to ensure that everyone's incentives were properly aligned).
I never thought of this point myself, but it's clearly correct: if copays are meant to deter frivolous use of coverage, then why don't the rich have to pay a lot more? They aren't deterred by $20 here or there.

The answer is obvious: Because copays are not about deterring rich people, they're about depriving the poor and middle class of so-called "Cadillac" coverage, which is reserved for the wealthy.

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By the way, am I the only one who took forever to catch onto the definition of the jargon word "coinsurance" we are all now expected to understand when we purchase health insurance? 

I assumed it applied to people who had coverage from two sources, such as Medicare and a gap plan, or the VA and an employer. You know, where "co" means something shared between two similar types of payers (two health insurance plans). 

But noooo. It's just a made-up word that means “you personally pay the difference.” You, the patient, pay that “coinsurance” portion. It’s not insurance at all.