Friday, April 27, 2012

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) So the House of Representatives, in a firmly bipartisan vote, have decided that your ISP should be a cop.
I'm thinking the lessons of Trayvon Martin are lost on politicians: placing the liberties of American citizens in private hands is a sure-fire, slam-dunk, can't-miss recipe for disaster. Ladies, shut your webcams off, in other words.
2) Speaking of the Trayvon Martin murder, it turns out that any douchebag with a website can raise $200,000 for a felony. Yet, I want to fund the lifestyle to which I will become accustomed and get nothing...
3) If Mitt Romney is smart, he'll stay far away from Saturday Night Live. My suspicion is, Ann said this because her private pleas have fallen on deaf ears. You're going to lose the election anyway, Mitt. No sense embarrassing yourself further.
4) There are precious few things a bona fide New Yorker will stop and stare at. This will be one of them.
5) One of the greats, Pete Fornatale, died yesterday. He had DJ'd on New York radio in six decades, and was one of the pioneers of the free-form radio format (you kids, you'd never understand. Imagine your friend making a mix tape of random songs from his collection, including his parents' albums and stuff he found at garage sales.) Fornatale hearkened back to an era when radio was about the music, and not about selling the music. And then the suits came, and washed all the great away.
6) Welp! So much for making a "coffee run" to Amsterdam!
7) Absolutely. This shouldn't even be in question.
8) Wait. You mean he HAD a soul?
9) Six ways you, too, can find fame in America. Repeat after me: "Governor Romney, is it true your wife blows goats? Not insinuating. Just asking. Still waiting for an answer."
10) Here's the problem with a political video like this: The rebuttal is simple. "Yes, I would have."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

It Looks More Like...

Will He? Won't He?

Newt's embarrassment on Tuesday-- he lost Delaware by thirty points-- has led to some Baghdad Bob-like patter from his campaign but it seems pretty obvious that cooler heads are prevailing.

The Most Important Case Of The Year

You'd think the ACA, with its individual mandate, would qualify as THE case of the year, and I suppose politically it does, but for long term Constitutional impact, this case is far more important. ACA is pretty much settled by precedent. Immigration law and enforcement, however...

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the president’s top courtroom lawyer, met resistance across ideological lines yesterday as he called on the court to strike down Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigrants. Even Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s only Hispanic and an Obama appointee, told Verrilli his argument is “not selling very well.”

[...] The justices yesterday voiced skepticism about parts of the Arizona law, including penalties on illegal immigrants who seek jobs and a provision that would make it a state criminal offense for a foreigner to be in Arizona without correct documentation.

“They were very concerned about picking and choosing among the sections of the statute,” said Garrett Epps, a law professor at the University of Baltimore who attended the argument.

Still, the justices made clear they see states as having a role to play in addressing the presence of what the government has estimated are 11.5 million unauthorized aliens in the U.S.

At the core of this issue is a simple fact: who gets to determine who is a United States citizen and who is not, and who has jurisdiction over enforcement.

This really gets to the core of the Constitution. After all, states have sovereignty within their own borders with the exclusion of those things specifically delineated by the Constitution (e.g. interstate trade.)

But one of the things that is delineated in the Constitution is the definition of citizen and that the Federal government (through its ability to amend the Constitution) retains the determine the legal status of anyone within its borders.

Hmmmmmmmm...dilemna, right? Well, no, not really.

In the past, the process has gone: arrest, identify (or vice versa), and report to INS or ICE the presence of an undocumented immigrant. The Feds then deport. Problem solved. The whole construct creates a sieve: if you've committed a crime, you've proven yourself dangerous (let's assume they're guilty,) and the cherry on top, you get deported for being here.

Implied in this is that you have to suspect someone of a crime before you can arrest them. The Arizona law makes it a crime merely to walk down the street, if you are here outside the bounds of the law. It makes the very act of breathing American air illegal. It burdens enforcement by the Federal government of immigration statutes.

Now, you'd think that's a pretty reasonable position. After all, to be here illegally, you broke the law.

But you broke a Federal law, not a state law, because, after all, the determination of whether or not you're here illegally is based on your citizenship and states don't get to determine that which is why states don't pass citizenship tests to be an American but...well, you get the idea.

Even Antonin Scalia, unwittingly, stepped into this mess yesterday, as Wonkette pointed out:

“What’s wrong about the states enforcing federal law?” Scalia said during his aggressive questioning of U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli. “There is a federal law against robbing federal banks. Can it be made a state crime to rob those banks? I think it is.”

The Reagan-appointed justice mocked the Obama administration’s argument that S.B. 1070 unconstitutionally forces the federal government to re-prioritize its enforcement resources and go after undocumented people who are not dangerous.

“But does the attorney general come in and say, you know, we might really only want to go after the professional bank robbers?” Scalia said. “If it’s just an amateur bank robber, you know, we’re going to let it go. And the state’s interfering with our whole scheme here because it’s prosecuting all these bank robbers.”

Side note to the Obama administration: I offer my services as Solictor General, because if Donald Verrilli couldn't knock this one out of the ballpark, he deserves to be fired. The simplest comeback to Scalia would have been "So you're equating Citibank to an illegal citizen?"

Thus throwing Citizens United back to the Court.

Let's deconstruct Scalia's asinine argument for a moment: Yes, national banks have branches in states, but the governing law (McFadden Act by way of 1994's Riegle-Neal) is written such that states have jurisdiction over those branches, not the Feds. Meaning that the Federal courts would never even get involved in the prosecution of a simple bank robbery whereas they are regularly involved in immigration cases.

Where the Federal courts would get involved would be, say, widespread corruption & fraud that threatened the entire US economy. *Ahem*

But I digress, you sleazy greaseball of a Justice...

It seems likely that Obama's best hope for overturning the law stands in the area that Justice Sotomayor inquired about:

The Supreme Court was deep into arguments over Arizona's new immigration law on Wednesday when the high court's first Hispanic justice focused on how difficult it could be for police officers to determine whether someone they stop is in the United States legally.

"What information does your (federal) system have?" Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli as she methodically extracted a core element of the Obama administration's case against the state of Arizona.

"How does that database tell you that someone is illegal as opposed to a citizen?" asked Sotomayor, 57, born in the Bronx to parents who had migrated from Puerto Rico. "Today, if you use the names Sonia Sotomayor, they would probably figure out I was a citizen. But let's assume it's John Doe, who lives in Grand Rapids. ... Is there a citizen database?"

If we presume the burden of proof is on the know, assumption of innocence?...then Sotomayor's question gets to the heart of the problem.

See, a cop arrests a random person on the suspicion of being an undocumented worker. This is no different than believing someone is guilty of some other crime.

A cursory check of, say, a driver's license or passport database indicates that the suspect is a citizen, and is therefore free to go. A slight detention, aggravating and inconvenient, but probably no more illegal than being asked by mall security to open your bags at the front door.

What if someone doesn't drive and doesn't travel? There are precious few other resources available to law enforcement to check citizenship status.

Remember, the presumption is, and must be, innocence until guilt is proven. Unless someone proposes a nationwide citizenship database that everyone must register for-- and boy, wouldn't THAT fly well in Teabagger, Arizona!-- you have to presume a person walking down the street is a citizen. Arresting them on the suspicion of NOT being a citizen places the burden of proof on law enforcement and guess what?

Ever try to prove a negative?


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Speaking of Sports

I don't normally cover sporting events per se, but I have to report on the UEFA semi-final match last evening between Chelsea of the Barclay's Premier League and FC Barcelona of La Liga Espana.
It was perhaps the grittiest, gutsiest performance I've ever seen in any sport, any time, anywhere (except when I was forced into basketball games against the local tough guys, taking on a couple of eight year olds as teammates.)
Chelsea entered the match needing only to lose by one goal or less, so long as they scored one goal.
The rules are complex here, but let me set the scene: Chelsea won at home, 1-0. They would play a second game at Barcelona's home field. If Barcelona won 1-0 as well, it would mean the aggregate score was tied and there'd be extra time and if needed, a penalty shoot-out.
If Chelsea scored a goal, however, that would give them an advantage: the first tie breaker is not extra time, but if a visiting team scored. If both visitors score, then it's extra time.
Barcelona were leading 1-0 late in the first half when Chelsea captain John Terry maliciously kneed Alexis Sanchez in the back, receiving a red card and automatic dismissal and suspension for the final game. There really was no good reason, and Terry has a history of rather erratic behavior anyway.
When a player receives a red card, it not only penalizes him, but forces his team to play without substituting for him (e.g. with a full eleven and a red card, the team must now make do with only ten players.) Chelsea looked doomed when immediately after Terry's ejection, Barcelona scored a ridiculously easy goal, courtesy of Andres Iniesta off a pass from the greatest player in the world (who sure didn't show it last night,) Lionel Messi.
That put Barcelona up 2-0, and 2-1 on aggregate. No second chances for Chelsea. And yet...
Somehow, a man down against one of the four greatest teams in Europe, Chelsea managed not only to hold off any further scoring, but off a beautiful lead pass from Frank Lampard, Ramires chipped a gorgeous soft volley over the head of Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes and into the back of the net. 2-1, Barcelona. 2-2, aggregate, plus Chelsea now have the advantage of a visitor's goal. Call it 2-2+, Chelsea.
That was the end of the first half.
The second half is where Chelsea bared its teeth and with a lot of luck and some fine tending by Chelsea netminder Petr Cech, Chelsea held off an onslaught from arguably the greatest offensive team ever fielded on a pitch. The luck came in the form of a penalty kick by Messi that clanged off the crossbar like a hammer off a sheet of metal.
Chelsea spent nearly the entire half defending their end of the pitch (possession statistics showed something like 78% to Barcelona in the second half), occasionally driving a long ball downfield. After 90 minutes, the score remained 2-1 when Fernando Torres, the maligned striker that sits on Chelsea's bench most games, despite an $80 million contract, managed to get under a desperate clearance from defender Ashely Cole-- the ball may have travelled 50 metres in the air-- flick it forward and juke the Barcelona keeper out of his net and out of his jock.
End of story. Go watch a tape of the game. It's worth every moment.

You Won't Have Newt Gingrich To Kick Around Anymore

Oh, who am I kidding? He couldn't stay out of the spotlight if it was a cop checking his sobriety...

I Mean This Sincerely, M. le President


Eliot Spitzer

I may have to give his show on Current a chance. If he's half as sarcastic and cutting on air as he is in this interview, it might be worth watching.

Probably Not The Way To Earn Respect

North Korea must have hired Baghdad Bob  as a speechwriter:
North Korea is boasting of “powerful, modern weapons” that can defeat in a single blow the United States, which it accuses of plotting a war against it.

Chief of general staff, Ri Yong Ho, gave no further details about the weaponry in his speech to mark the North Korean army's 80th anniversary.
People of a certain age (e.g. my age or older and don't you dare ask!) will recognize immediately the patois of the overblown.
See, we heard this sort of nonsense, from both sides, a lot during the Cold War. Basically, it boils down to "My dad can beat up your dad," or a threat that no one takes seriously except to note that it deflects attention from the real problem: the bully standing in front of you.
Or in North Korea's case, the idiot in the Central Luxury House. but I digress...
Bluffs like this only serve to point out the lunacy of aggression: much like teasing a Yorkie only creates a noisy yap that annoys the family and neighbors, aggressively asserting American exceptionalism and hegemony over nations that can barely field a soccer team, much less an army, ought to be beneath the greatest military power in history.
That said...
It is not inconceivable for North Korea to eventually develop weaponry that the United States could be caught unaware of. You'd like to think that any "powerful, modern weapon" would either be developed by us or our allies first, or we'd at least be aware of it and comprehend the science well enough to develop defenses against it.
And therein lies the rub: American culture has ceded technology and science to other nations, nations that do not necessarily have American interests at heart. It's one thing to say South Korea (just as a hypothetical) has our back and develops technology they share with us, it's quite another to assume that's always going to be the case with a burgeoning behemoth like China sitting on their doorstep.
I mention Korea because they've been accused of warping scientific ethics in the past, like bans on human cloning.
It's one thing to say India will never develop a weapon without sharing their technology, quite another to assume it when their realpolitik includes closer relations with Russia than with the US.
North Korea may be the only nation on the planet whose defense budget eats up a bigger portion of their GDP than ours. North Korea is an extremely secretive place which is the perfect breeding ground for a weapon of mass destruction.
They may not have the ability to develop this kind of weaponry-- that usually involves education and a populace that isn't starving-- but you never know.
People get lucky. All it might have taken to prevent the September 11 attacks was a bad thunderstorm over the northeast.

Alert Secret Service Agents...

...wrestled the yogurt to the ground, then offered it cabfare home.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Puts Stamp Collecting To Shame

Right Wing Douchebag calls homosexuality a "hobby"

Wait A Minute!


Someone Needs....

John Edwards, Con Man

Quoting the Daily Mail of London on anything is treacherous. While it's not as right wing as a Murdoch publication, it tends towards conservatism biases.
Which makes its coverage of an American Democrat pretty interesting, from a nuts-and-bolts perspective. After all, while they source their story through the New York Post (note to any Mail-ites reading this: please stop. Just stop doing that. You might as well make shite up. Use the New York Daily News: almost as conservative but not half as dumb) the unique cherry picking of testimony turned a fairly routine story of graft into a lurid pot-boiler of illicit sex all over the place and a panic when the check came.

A Couple Of Points To Think About

First, the usual caveats about any government report issued by an agency who oversees any program that can be a political football.
Second, Michael Astrue is a Bush appointee, and therefore a Republican. This automatically makes any report he issues in a Democratic administration suspect but particularly so in an election year, and especially given his heavy personal financial support to Mitt Romney
Third, the answer, not mentioned in the WSJ article, is actually pretty simple: raise the ceiling on Social Security taxes and expand both Social Security and Medicare to income generated from all sources  above a certain level.
Permanent solvency. End of discussion. Any questions?

A Master Bait And Switch

To no one's surprise, health insurance companies will rape us for every last cent:

The agreement required the companies to finance an objective database of doctors’ fees that patients and insurers nationally could rely on. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, then the attorney general, said it would increase reimbursements by as much as 28 percent.

It has not turned out that way. Though the settlement required the companies to underwrite the new database with $95 million, it did not obligate them to use it. So by the time the database was finally up and running last year, the same companies, across the country, were rapidly shifting to another calculation method, based on Medicare rates, that usually reduces reimbursement substantially. 

“It’s deplorable,” said Chad Glaser, a sales manager for a seafood company near Buffalo, who learned that he was facing hundreds of dollars more in out-of-pocket costs for his son’s checkups with a specialist who had performed a lifesaving liver transplant. “I could get balance-billed hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I have no protection.”

So what started out with good intentions on the part of Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-bag, NY) ends up actually injuring or worse those it was intended to help.

As the opening graf of that clipped quote implies, prior to this settlement insurers were using several arbitrary means of determining who got paid and what. It is certainly fair to say that the primary concern those HMOs and other companies had was their bottom line under the guise of controlling costs, whatever that means.

The idea behind an objective database was that doctors and hospitals nationwide could refer to the database to determine what they might expect as a reimbursement. No surprises. Under the old database, called "Ingenix" and owned by insurance giant United Healthcare, rates were tallied and supposedly adjusted by the term of art "usual and customary rates," (UCR) to reflect regional differences in costs of living and doing business.

In other words, rents in rural Kansas being lower than in midtown Manhattan, Manhattan doctors would receive a higher reimbursement to help keep their practices going.

You can sort of see where this morphs: indeed, even 25 years ago, I was battling my HMO to increase the settlement paid to an orthopedic surgeon based in New York who was paid a ridiculously low fee for surgery he performed on me. I can't imagine it has gotten any better. The insurer would undercut the UCR, and hope no one would notice. Indeed, cottage industries sprung up to appeal insurance decisions on UCRs alone.

Eventually, the insurer would pay out and everyone went about their business. The establishment in 2009 of the FAIR Health database was supposed to cut out the nonsense: One fee, adjusted by a percentage to recognize the UCR (60% to 80% of the UCR fee-- previously, it was 80% of the UCR but the UCR could fluctuate.) The patient is then responsible for payments above and beyond that reimbursement.

$95 million to estalbish this database, and then the insurance companies pull a fast one: they switch to Medicare rate-based reimbursements, using the base Medicare reimbursement and upgrading it by 140% to 250%, which would be fine if the Medicare reimbursement wasn't so damned low in the first place:

[A]t 150 percent of Medicare rates, it fell far short. In the case of a $275 liver checkup, for example, the balance due was $175, almost three times the patient share under FAIR Health’s customary rate, and three and a half times what it was five years ago under Ingenix.

I've known loan sharks who were more generous.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Imma Bet Two Things

(photo courtesy)
1) This photo gets more hits this week than anything I write and
2) This scandal goes way back, possibly as far back as the 1960s.

It Was Pretty Douchey

If, as Trayvon Martin's parents allege, Zimmerman apologized just in order to get his bail cut, then his attorney mishandled the negotiations.
If Zimmerman really did want to apologize, you do it after the fact, and again, his attorney really mishandled the situation.

It's Not Yourgraine

It's MIgraine.

I Think It's Safe To Say....

Which of course means Occupy Wall Street has some resonance, even today.

The Pendulum Swings

You may recall that, during the Bush administration, when Nicolas Sarkozy won election as French president, conservatives were all righteous about the demise of liberal-- they called it "socialist"-- Europe and how even France had seen the light.
It was used to bolster everything from the war on terror to the dismantling of Social Security.
So I wonder what they'll make of this?
Francois Hollande charged back into campaign mode Monday with momentum on his side to capture France's presidency, after the Socialist won the most votes in the first round of voting that put him into a runoff with conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.

[...] If Hollande wins the second round, he would become the first Socialist president since 1995. His election could also alter Europe's political and economic landscape at a time when the continent is seeking a clear direction to overcome its calamitous debt crisis.

Polls taken Sunday night continued to show Hollande is likely to best Sarkozy in their head-to-head matchup two weeks from now by around 10 percentage points — in line with the trend of most polls for months.

Actually, their rationalisation is built-in where that ellipse is, to be fair:

However, in the ballot's biggest surprise, nearly one in five voters chose far right candidate Marine Le Pen — and they may hold the key to victory in the decisive vote on May 6.

Sarkozy has likened himself to the captain of a boat in a storm, but his austerity policies and attempts to rein in workers' rights has him floundering like the chair-arranger on the deck of the Titanic.

For example, he has raised the retirement age in France from 60 to 62, and relaxed the very strict rules about a 35 hour work week.

In the face of massive unemployment, particularly of young people, these are idiotic ideas (although, I confess to have defended the retirement age as trifling, but before the unemployment issue came into focus in the wake of the global financial system collapse.)

In other words, the very qualities that would make him the darling of Tea Partiers and other teat-suckers of rightwing whore money here in the States are what created the massive disaster his administration has become, and puts him on the brink of being the first French President since Valerie Giscard d'Estaing (1981) to serve just one term.

Sarkozy, like Romney here in the US, suffers from an huge unlikeability issue: his approval ratings hover near 35%, lower even than Giscard d'Estaing's when he lost to Francois Mitterand.

A fitting bookend to the Bush years, if you ask me.