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Why We Can’t Have Nice Things


That’s the Cliff Notes version for those of you who don’t like reading more than just a headline. For everyone else, let me explain what has me bitchy today.

"Stand your ground" in Florida. I know what you’re thinking; Bitchy has been bitchy about "stand your ground" for a long time now. That’s true, but there’s a new development that has significantly elevated my level of bitchiness. About a month and a half ago, the Tampa Bay Times published an article of their analysis of 200 "stand your ground" cases. Here’s a summary of what they found;

  • People who killed a black person walked free 73 percent of the time
  • People who killed a white person went free 59 percent of the time
  • Whites who invoked the law were charged at the same rate as blacks
  • Whites who went to trial were convicted at the same rate as blacks
  • Of the 88 fatal "stand your ground” cases that have been decided, about 1/4 involved defendants and victims of different races including; six cases in which a white killed a black, five cases in which a black killed a white and six in which a Hispanic killed a non-Hispanic
  • No charges were filed in most of those mixed-race cases

Whether you like this data or you don’t like this data, you should like the fact that someone is looking at the data. I do. I like data because unlike anecdotal evidence, it’s empirical. Data objectively lets us know if something is producing positive or negative results. Data helps us to form objective opinions about things, and I believe that more information = better informed opinions. But I don’t want to get into this data, or present to you the other pieces of data I have about "stand your ground"and what a destructive law it is. That’s not what has me bitchy.

The thing that has me at DefCon 5 of bitchiness is a republican Florida house member named Matt Gaetz. Matt Gaetz doesn’t like the data. He doesn’t like some of the alarming things that the data shows. So what do you do when you don’t like the data? Do you address the problem that the data suggests may exist by perhaps asking for more data? Do you maybe take a closer look at the law that created the alarming results that the data shows? Do you rethink your position on something because the data you don’t like is telling you that there’s a problem?

No, silly goose! Matt Gaetz is a republican, and there’s a reason why fewer republicans than ever "believe" in evolution or climate change, than democrats or independents. They just disregard data they don’t like. But Matt Gaetz is going further than simply disregarding the data he doesn’t like. He’s trying to make it impossible to collect this type of data in the future.

Gaetz has proposed an amendment to a bill that would expand the scope of "stand your ground" to expunge the court records if the "stand your ground" defense was successful. In other words, we won’t be able to look at the data that might show us if there’s anything nefarious about how the law is being applied. Now, Matt Gaetz is no Rhodes scholar so he didn’t come up with this tactic on his own.

No, this is a tactic that the NRA has found to be tried and true. Back in 1996, the NRA and the legislators they bought successfully blocked funding for the CDC’s research into gun violence. If you clicked on that last link, I’d like to point out that Jay Dickey, who co-wrote that article was one of the cosponsors of the bill to strip the CDC of that research funding. So for 18 years now, we haven’t been able to learn things like, how many kids are accidentally shot by their gun loving parent’s firearm in the house? The data in that last link was compiled by doctors who did the painstaking work of combing through hospital records because there is no other way to find it, since the NRA has also (successfully, in many states) lobbied to make sure that the accidental shooting of a child is not criminal. So there’s no data on criminal charges to be looked at. See what the NRA did there? Data = bad, so we need to block anyone’s ability to ever collect any data that might suggest that having a gun in your home may not be a brilliant idea.

This is a tactic that is also (largely) working for Monsanto, who won’t let us look at the genetic modifications they’re making to our food (proprietary information and other bullshit like that) and they’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars to make sure these modifications get a blessing from the FDA. They’ve produced mountains of "GMOs are safe" studies by buying scientists to make sure they get the results they want. Have you ever noticed how the "science" in the US regarding GMOs has come to vastly different conclusions than the science in the rest of the world?

We can’t have nice things because our government is bought and paid for. We can’t have nice things because a battalion of lobbyists have been deployed to hide information, fabricate information, and do whatever they can to confuse us into not knowing what "nice things" are. Do you think that fewer parents would have guns in their homes if they knew that 10,000 kids a year were being injured because of unsecured firearms in the house? I don’t know, but I know that the NRA is worried about that information getting out. Do you think that fewer people would eat corn that is genetically modified to be resistant to toxic weed killers if we could get some peer reviewed studies in those modifications? I don’t know, but Monsanto seem to be worried about that data getting out.

Part of why we’re dumb, is because there’s a concerted effort to make us dumb. Because dumb people don’t notice that they’re not getting nice things.

We need to reform our political system before we can have a functional government that serves the people, let alone nice things. We need to get money and corporate personhood out of our political equation. We will never be able to solve our big issues until we get the money out.

So let me continue my broken record impersonation;




Hobby Lobby is WAY Out Of Bounds

If you’re not familiar with this story, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. Here’s the short version of the case; Hobby Lobby, a privately held retail chain, isn’t happy with part of the ACA. Specifically, they’re not happy with the part of the ACA that mandates that insurance companies provide free contraception as part of all basic coverage. There’s also a mandate to provide free preventive care, but that’s not the part Hobby Lobby has an issue with. They feel that, based on their religious beliefs,contraception is wrong, and they shouldn’t have to provide insurance that includes it to their employees.

Okay, let’s think about this for a moment. We all complain about how little we seemingly get from the government for our tax dollars, right? Well this is one of those increasingly rare occasions when the government is actually promoting for the general welfare of the the people. The government is providing something that 98% of women have used at one time in their lives, and that 62% of women of child bearing age are using right now.* So 62% of women benefit from access to contraception. Also, their male partners ostensibly benefit from, or want contraception. So the government has done something that benefits 2/3 of Americans. But Hobby Lobby’s religion is opposed to this benefit.

So what? Since when do we govern based on someone’s religious beliefs? I’m not going to go too deeply into debunking the "Christian nation" fantasy because it’s ludicrous. The Treaty Of Tripoli (see Article 11) is pretty clear on that subject. Thomas Jefferson had so little reverence for the bible, that he rewrote it. Actually, that’s not entirely true. He didn’t rewrite it, so much as tore it apart. He literally tore out the parts he thought were stupid. We now refer to this book as "The Jefferson Bible".

Let’s skip from what the founders clearly intended to how we run our society today. As a society, we have declared that asking someone about their religious affiliation during a job interview is a no-go. You can’t hire or not hire someone based on their religion. This is the same standard that the constitution lays out for the picking of our politicians; "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." The Supreme Court upheld this in 1961 when they handed down the Torcaso v. Watkins decision. Most of us agree that a person’s religious beliefs should be kept to themselves in the work place.

All across the country, public opinion has moved in favor of marriage equality. Americans aren’t interested in anyone’s religious beliefs on the subject anymore. We just saw a "religious freedom" bill that allows discrimination on the basis of "sincere religious beliefs" get shot down because corporate America agreed with the majority of Americans. This is not who we are. The tide has turned remarkably quickly, and the majority of us agree that your religious beliefs have no place in anyone else’s home. The jurisdiction for your beliefs doesn’t expand beyond your home.

Actually, we’re not entirely down with the religious freedom in the home either. Every time we hear a story about a set of parents whose child has died because they opted for faith healing in lieu of first world medical treatment, we’re collectively outraged. In fact, we’re prosecuting those parents for manslaughter. So we’re okay with the practice of religious freedom in the home, unless that religious freedom kills your kids. We draw the line at harming anyone with your religious beliefs, even if they’re your children.

So where the hell does Hobby Lobby get off with this assertion that their religious beliefs should deny women anything? We’re not good with your religious freedom harming your own kids. What makes Hobby Lobby think that they have should have dominion over their employees? This assertion of theirs is just plain unAmerican. Really. They are literally moving in the opposite direction of the rest of the country. Over and over again, throughout our history, we’ve moved away from the notion that your religion should be anyone else’s problem. These fundamentalist freaks want to take us back to a place that Americans are running away from, and I’m concerned that the Supreme Court may help them.

I promise you that if they rule the wrong way on this case, the next suit filed will be from a religious group that opposes medical treatment of any kind. If Hobby Lobby can deny their employees access to free contraception, why should a Christian Scientist employer be forced to provide health insurance to their employees at all, when their religion rejects medical treatment in favor of prayer? And why should a Jehovah’s witness be forced to provide insurance that includes coverage for a blood transfusion? No, we simply can’t have this lunacy in America.




*This is complicated, but I want to make sure that the information I post is 100% accurate. The figures I cite refer to the use of all contraceptives methods. The use of the pill specifically is the #1 most used form of contraception, making up 27.5% of all contraception use. 



If You Like Your Health Insurance Plan, You Can Keep It

I’ve called this a lie with an asterisk in the past, and I still refer to it as a lie with an asterisk. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t a lie. It was a rosy statement designed to reassure and sell a plan, while leaving out a bunch of information that would have sounded like the last 20 seconds of a 30 second pharmaceutical ad. You know, the part that warns that increased suicidal thoughts and anal leakage are some of the fabulous side-effects that you can look forward to if you ask your doctor about this drug. Here’s what the absolute truth would have sounded like;

If you like your plan, you can keep it*

*except for the 17% of you in the single subscriber market that get a cancellation letter every year, because your insurance company chooses not to offer your plan anymore since they’ve found a new way to screw you

*and the additional 1% of you in the single subscriber market that will receive a cancellation letter this year, because your crap plan doesn’t meet the new federal minimum requirements for health insurance

*and those of you in the employer provided market whose plans change every year because your employer needs to find a new way to tamp down the rising costs

That wouldn’t have sounded as good, and would have been much wordier than "If you like your health insurance plan, you can keep it", but it would have been more accurate.

Every time someone would crow about the huge number of cancellation letters that people were getting because of Obamacare, I would ask, "how many more cancellation letters went out this year, versus prior years?" I wasn’t asking the question to be cute, or clever. I asked the question because without that information, there’s no point there. So if 10 million cancellation letters went out last December, the logical question that any critical thinker would ask themselves, is how many cancellation letters went out in previous years? Without that information, 10 million is a meaningless piece of data. Since I never ask a question I don’t know the answer to, I had already done the legwork of hunting this information down. The answer was that we didn’t know. Those numbers lie with each individual insurance company, and they never release those numbers. They historically don’t release those numbers, and they certainly didn’t release those numbers for last December. So even though I didn’t know the answer to my question, I knew two things; the answer was unknowable and the numbers that were being thrown out for last December were completely fabricated. I didn’t know the answer to my question, but I did know that the "information" being thrown around was meaningless, and that the point that was supposed to be made with that information wasn’t made. 

But now I have a pretty good idea of what the answer is. Health Affairs just released a very well sourced report wherein they took a very close look at the individual insurance marketplace and came up with historical data on insurance cancellations. Here’s what they found out; historically, only 17% of those in the individual health insurance marketplace stay on the individual marketplace for more than two years. Why? Because most people get single subscriber plans only when they don’t have access to a public or employer based plan. In other words, people turn to the single subscriber insurance marketplace temporarily while they’re in the gap between full time employment. What percentage of single subscribers actually got cancellation letters in December? 18.6%, or 2.6 million people. Nowhere near that 10 million number that the noncritical thinkers loved to throw around.

So what happens for those 2.6 million people? From the report:

While our sample size of those with non-group health insurance who report that their plan was cancelled due to ACA compliance is small (N=123), we estimate that over half of this population is likely to be eligible for coverage assistance, mostly through Marketplace subsidies. Consistent with these findings, other work by Urban Institute researchers estimated that slightly more than half of adults with pre-reform, nongroup coverage would be eligible for Marketplace subsidies or Medicaid.

So over half of those people will either qualify for free coverage through medicaid, or get subsidies under the medicaid expansion. In other words, over 1.3 million of those people will be better off this year, than they were last year. That leaves us with about a million people who are maybe getting screwed by Obamacare. Why do I say maybe? Because we don’t know what their premiums were, versus what their premiums look like on the exchange. But a bigger problem than we not knowing the premium differences, is that most of them don’t know. From the Urban Institute Study:

Yet making the best enrollment choice may be difficult for consumers. HRMS findings show that many people are not aware of the new state Marketplaces, few know whether their state is expanding Medicaid, and many lack the confidence to enroll, make choices, and pay their premiums.

In other words, the disinformation campaign is working. People don’t know their options, and are very likely paying more than they need to. I personally have found this to be true while helping some of my Facebook and G+ followers with their quest to find health insurance. Granted, I have two advantages in that I’ve been following the ACA and changes to the ACA very closely, and I’m an HR professional with nearly fifteen years of experience in designing corporate insurance plans.

Health insurance is complicated and annoying on a good day when you’re not being fed a bunch of crap about how you’re fucked, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s exponentially worse when you’re being used as a pawn in a political chess board to take down a president. The health insurance doomsday crowd is going well beyond not giving a flying fuck about you; they’re actively encouraging you to screw yourself so that they can be right about something they’re completely wrong about. It’s needless and sad, and you should spend as much time as you have to spend to root out the information you need to protect your own self interest.