Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Blogger Mystery

One evening this week my blog received 80,000 hits from Romania.  In one hour.  I'm not a celebrity in Romania (yet), and those hits have nothing to do with who might read this measly blog.  I also often receive similar "attacks" from China and Russia, though Romania really is the most insistent, the most stubborn and the most faithful.

Of course I want to know what all this means.  My working theory is that the Blogger itself is facing giant DoS attacks, and somehow allocates all that useless traffic across lots of blogs so as to defeat the attacks.  A bookkeeping maneuver, in other words.

But I could be wrong. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

What Trump-Voters Are Getting From Our Dear Leader And Other Political News

1.  I had a post written on what gifts Trump and the Republican Congress are giving to some in their base when it comes to the repeal and replacement of Obamacare (aka the ACA), but then I found that post already written, and better:

Take it altogether, and a sort of ironic picture unfolds. “The typical person who is going to lose the most in this scenario is a lower-income person in their 60s who lives in a rural area, where the person who gains is the affluent millennial urbanite,” Cynthia Cox, an analyst at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told me. In other words, the Republican plan doesn't just screw the poor. It screws Trump voters in particular, while giving a hand to a lot of young people who probably voted for Hillary. Go figure.
Paul Ryan is also a gift that keeps on giving wonderful presents to the middle-income-class Trump voters:

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Wednesday said he’s “not that concerned” about criticism of the wealthy getting a tax cut under the GOP’s new health care bill.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson told Ryan it’s “kind of a hard sell” to argue the wealthy should get a tax cut under the American Health Care Act. Ryan brushed it off.
“I’m not that concerned about it, because we said we were going to repeal all the Obamacare taxes,” Ryan said. “This is one of the Obamacare taxes.”
He's not that concerned, because canceling those taxes was the whole point of the Republican campaign against the ACA.  And neither is he concerned that the way to fund those tax breaks is by taking it off the skins of the poor.

2.  I haven't written much on all those intricate Russian connections to the Trump campaign, because that is specialist work.  But it all sounds like one of the John le Carre spy novels, except with idiots.

And Here We Go Again! Why Should Guys Pay For Prenatal Care in Insurance?

I love this idiocy, I love it.  My earlier explanation for the many reasons why insurance makes us pay for all sorts of stuff we ourselves don't consume can be found in this earlier post.

But Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) didn't read that post, sadly, and so he put his big, hairy foot in his mouth:

The law also required plans to cover pregnancy and childbirth. That’s where the fireworks started in the Energy and Commerce Committee.
“What mandate in the Obamacare bill does he take issue with?” Doyle asked Shimkus, using the formal parlance of congressional committees.
“What about men having to purchase prenatal care?” Shimkus said.
At that point, one could hear the room start to stir.
“I’m just . . . is that not correct?” Shimkus said. “And should they?”
As I wrote before, I will from now on refuse to pay for any treatment that I would never need:  Prostate cancer, testicular cancer, male impotence treatments, vasectomies,  male hair loss treatments, the treatment of genetic diseases that can't be found in my genetic inheritance, treatment for any accidents caused by hazardous sports I don't participate in (skydiving, water-skiing, mountaineering, racing), the treatment of any tropical disease (to be changed if I myself choose to travel in the tropics) etc..

And as I wrote before, prenatal treatment should probably be paid by the child who is going to be born, because most of it is to benefit that child.  Why would the women be lumbered with all of it?  Since the child cannot pay yet, why shouldn't the man whose child it will be also pay for that treatment?  Parents, in general, are supposed to support their children financially.

Rep. Shimkus was never born, of course.  He was formed from the primordial slime by some chance event, I assume.

But mostly I love Shimkus's statement because it is such a clear example of how the right thinks about reproduction:  It's the wimminz job, and no, we are not going to make any part of it easier.  No, we are not going to have paid maternity leaves, no, we are not going to stop pregnancy discrimination, no, we are not going to let women have reproductive choice.  And no, we are not going to pay for any of it.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Ah Women! What Would We Do Without Them? Putin and Trump on International Women's Day.

It's the International Women's Day which some are rapidly turning into an alternative Mothers' Day (you get flowers!  you get chocolates!)  and away from its actual roots which are to do with demanding improvements in the lives of the millions and millions of women who are second and third class citizens in their own countries, cultures and religions.

It's to demand that laws take rape and domestic violence seriously, to give you just one example of the underlying demand for gender equality.

The purpose of the day is also to highlight women's economic, social political and intellectual achievements*, partly to talk back to the misogynists and those who listen to them.

But the day turns into something quite different in the paws of Vlad "the Impaler" Putin and Donald "the Pussygrabber" Trump.  Here is our Dear Leader, on the International Women's Day:

And here is Vlad:

Dear women: mothers, grandmothers, daughters, wives, friends, our nearest and dearest ones, please accept my heartfelt congratulations on International Women’s Day!
You fill this world with beauty and vitality, giving warmth and comfort, cordiality and harmony with your tenderness and generosity of spirit.
You care day and night for your children, grandchildren and your family. Even today, on International Women’s Day, you are still caught up in your routine, working tirelessly, always on time. We often ask ourselves, how do they manage it all?

The messages are almost the same, my sweetings, though Vlad places women firmly in their unpaid care roles inside the family,  while Donny gives a nod to the idea that women might be useful in other jobs, too.   They are both full of awe and respect!  Vlad can't even understand how those overworked women manage to do it all!  But he is grateful for it, especially for not having to do it himself, I guess, and for not having to pay them much in the labor market.

Neither autocrat acknowledges the real purpose of the International Women's Day which in my view  is about the change that is needed.  That's because neither autocrat wants that change, so the plan is to flatter women in general and turn this day into something that Hallmark cards can profit from.  From its original purpose of making women's lives less oppressed on the global level and of raising the respect of women as human beings.

A celebration of status quo is the way I read Putin's and Trump's messages.  If that's the way we are going, then there really should be a widely-celebrated and equally vacuous International Men's Day.


* Examples of the last one can be found here, here, here, here and here.  I have only picked STEM field examples, given that it is the field where the battles rage the hottest.  But there are many other examples that little girls and boys should learn about.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Four Points on the Proposed (T)Rumpcare (It's the Greatest!)

1.  We are now allowed a few sneaky peeks into what might (1)  become (T)Rumpcare:  the proposed substitute for the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  I agree with Andy Slavitt's tweet thread (25 tweets long) on its main points (2), in particular this:

The Republican opposition to ACA  was always about the way it was funded from extra taxes on the wealthy.  Those taxes would disappear in the proposed (T)Rumpcare plan:

“Households at the top of the U.S. income ladder would see taxes on their wages and investments drop under the House Republicans’ new health-care proposal,” the Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin notes. “As expected, the bill repeals a 3.8% tax on investment income and a 0.9% tax on wages. Both levies affect only the highest-earning households, those individuals making at least $200,000 and married couples making more than $250,000.”
“The Republican plan (also) includes a tax break for insurance company executives making over $500,000 per year,”  BuzzFeed’s Paul McLeod observes. “Companies can generally deduct employee salaries as a business expense but in 2013 the ACA capped the deductions on health insurance executive salaries at $500,000. The average compensation for top health insurance executives is in the millions. In 2014 the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies found that this cap generated $72 million in additional tax revenue.” The draft explicitly eliminates the cap, so the more insurance companies pay their executives the less they will pay in taxes.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Women's Free Stuff in the ACA. Is It Unfair?

So I was reading this article about how the repeal of the ACA would particularly harm women, and came across this little pearl at the end of the article.  It's a statement by an organization which opposes giving women "free stuff:"

The Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market think tank in Harrisburg, said the ACA is forcing benefits, and extra costs, on people who may not want them.
Elizabeth Stelle, the foundation's policy analysis director, said the organization wants people to have more choices so they don't have to pay for services they're not going to use.
For example, she thinks women should be allowed to choose if they want preventive services and birth control covered under their plans.
She noted the cost for services haven't declined, but have been spread to other areas. She said the reason women were paying more for health care before the ACA is because they require more health care.
"The alternative, under the ACA, which I think is extremely unfair, is we then asked single men, for example, to essentially pay for maternity coverage that they had no intention of ever using. I don't think it's fair to ask somebody to pay for coverage they're never going to use," Stelle said.
Very interesting.  Let's take a few sentences out of that quote for closer perusal: 

She said the reason women were paying more for health care before the ACA is because they require more health care.
Stelle's statement is about the individual health insurance market, not about employer-based group health insurance.  In the former women indeed were usually quoted higher prices for the coverage packet, and that higher quote was justified in the way Stelle does here.

But there's a flaw in the basic assumption.  Well, two flaws:

First, much of the greater health care use by women is not for themselves but for the infants they give birth to*.  Pregnancy and birth-related expenses shouldn't be assigned to just the mother.  Perhaps they shouldn't be assigned to her at all, with the exception of the costs of caring for any complications to her health.  An alternative view would be that those health care costs are the first expense of the new person who is born.

Second, women tend to see the health care sector more for routine visits, checkups and preventive care, all of which drive up their usage figures.  But to the extent such care prevents more expensive treatments later, their overall lifetime costs might be lowered, right?

And there is evidence that the average annual cost of men's care begins to exceed the costs of women's care later in life.  Why that doesn't raise men's premia in the individual markets is because the age at which this becomes visible is also the age at which individuals begin to qualify for Medicare, the federal health insurance system for old age.  Thus, from one angle men's higher health care use in older age is subsidized by the society.

The other paragraph in the above quote that is worth closer scrutiny is this one:

"The alternative, under the ACA, which I think is extremely unfair, is we then asked single men, for example, to essentially pay for maternity coverage that they had no intention of ever using. I don't think it's fair to ask somebody to pay for coverage they're never going to use,"

Great!  I will from now on refuse to pay for anyone's vasectomies, testicular cancer care, impotency treatments, prostate cancer or the treatment after accidents which were caused by skydiving, downhill skiing, boating or race driving.  I will also refuse to pay for the care of any congenital disease that doesn't affect my genetic group.

Note, also, that the  "single man" in Stelle's example was once born and most likely used medical care in that context, and that the only reason he could now view maternity benefits as not having anything to do with him is because his birth is in the past.  Things are different for future "single men."

The wider problems in those opinions are  a)  that the more we slice-and-dice the insurable pool of people into smaller sub-groups, the lower will the benefits of insurance ultimately be, and b) that the opinion fails to understand the public benefits of, say, subsidized contraception for the poor.

It helps to reduce unintended pregnancies, helps to reduce abortions and helps to reduce the costs associated with the avoided pregnancies and deliveries.  Many of those costs would have to be paid from public sector subsidies.  It's quite possible that the net savings to some imaginary (and celibate) single man would be greater if the ACA contraceptive benefits were retained.  In other words, he would pay less for the IUDs in his insurance premium than he would later have to pay in taxes under the alternative repeal-the-benefits scenario.

*  And these infants have fathers.  Those fathers should bear some responsibility for the costs, I would think.
The same blindness is common when free contraception is discussed.  That the male partner of a woman receives 100% of the benefit, assuming he doesn't want to become a father, and 0% of the possible medical side-effects of, say, the contraceptive pill, sounds to me like a deal not to be sneezed at.  But the Rush Limbaughs of this world think the situation is the unfairest one can imagine:  Sluts being subsidized for sluttery.

In the Trump Reality the Sky Has Flying Unicorns. Their Poop is Polka-Dotted.

And they poop on us.  That's why our Dear Leader tweeted yesterday about the previous president, calling him "sick" or "bad," two adjectives in his sock drawer of twenty or so adjectives.  Don't be misdirected by all those expert opinions on how unlikely it is that Obama would have wiretapped the Trump Tower last October.  It's true, if our Dear Leader says that it is true, and all the rest is unicorn poop in this alternative reality.*

What a genius move from our Dear Leader!  When the truly ominous evidence is finally revealed about his Russian Connection, not a single Trump-voter will believe it!  Obama's fault, you know, all those fake facts.  Had we had Breitbart News during the Nixon era, nobody would ever have believed in Watergate.

More unicorn poop:  The US State Department has a tradition of publishing its annual human rights report with lots of fanfare.  Previous secretaries of state have been present at the occasion, but the current secretary of state-cum-Exxon, Rex Tillerson, didn't turn up for the 2017 presentation.  He didn't even send anyone at all.

Human rights organizations are worried that Tillerson's behavior is a signal:  The new US will pee on that horrible politically correct concept of human rights.

Alternatively, Tillerson might not even know about the occasion, given that Bannon has his hairy hands around the neck of the State Department, which is very close to death altogether.  The rumor is that Trump's son-in-law will take care of any future diplomacy that might be necessary.  Bannon prefers the concept of an apocalyptic war (which he will watch from a distance) as a form of muscular foreign diplomacy (remember that Miller crowed about the alpha males being back in power?).**

Finally, the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is chock full of unicorn poop:  Everyone will get perfect insurance coverage for pretty much no money!  Quality of health care will be higher!

But the possible replacements the Republicans let us peek at have several serious problems:*** 

- Health Savings Accounts are promoted.  For them to make sense, the individual must be able to save for the costs of treatment beforehand, and the tax subsidies they include are regressive.  That means the wealthier earners get bigger savings!

- The contents of the insurance packages are not specified properly.  Imagine a random family being offered two insurance packages with different price tags.  How can the family decide between them if they don't cover the same services?
We can't even tell which actually IS cheaper under those conditions.

- And any return to pre-ACA times will also return us to the situation where millions of individuals will have no health insurance.

I wonder what will rain down on us in the future.  Maybe we will be told that the unicorn poop isn't unicorn poop at all, but a very nutritious snack.  Like manna from heaven. 

*  Can you tell me what point there might be in trying to write a fact-based blog, my sweet and erudite readers?  This is the post-factual reality, where the emotions of anger, lust and rage rule. But then I can do emotional posts, too. (Weeps bitter tears, kicks in the garage door, once again, and tears off half the scales.)

**  This paragraph is an example of my new style of not linking to any evidence.  Actually, you can find the evidence in my previous posts, because my conscience still fights the idea of just letting fly with whatever opinions I happen to have, even though that's how it now goes.

Also, don't look into Miller's empty eyes.  You could fall in and never find your way back to humanity.

***  These three are just a sampling.  There are other problems, many described here. 

And Republicans insist on using the inherently wrong assumption that price competition in health care would work.  It cannot work, because quality of care is not directly comparable or measurable, with the exception of fairly routine services provided as preventive care or dental checkups etc.  Also, the supply side is not atomic, there are barriers to entry and monopoly power among the suppliers.