Saturday, 26 September 2009, 21:21 | Category : Birds
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These little guys are all over my yard right now. I’ve seen at least five or six – there could be more, it’s hard to count them. And this one, at least, isn’t a “guy”, it’s a female Ruby-throated. Click on the pictures to see them larger.


Journalism Then, Now, Later

Wednesday, 23 September 2009, 21:24 | Category : Life
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I read an article today in the Chronicle of Higher Education that talked about how the nation’s journalism schools are filled to overflowing this year, even as journalism jobs are disappearing in droves. As I read the article, I thought about a report I heard recently – maybe on BBC World Service (to which I listen more frequently than I would like, since I catch it while lying awake in the middle of the night) – about the reductions in staff at many press bureaus around the world. Where once there might have been a dozen journalists and photographers in a bureau, now there might be three “photojournalists”. Freelance journalists are filling the gap, and while there have always been freelancers, it seems that they are providing more and more of the stories now. And where once freelance journalists were a definite professional class, “citizen journalists” are beginning to move up to the ranks of the professionals. I suspect this is not so much because they are producing quality work as it is inexpensive work. It’s true that the world of journalism is changing, due mainly to the dramatic rise of internet and other electronic technologies, but if the big media companies can’t find a way to make money again, we’ll all lose. There was great value for us, the reading, watching, and listening public, in the ability of newspapers, magazines, and television and radio networks to throw large amounts of talented resources at stories and investigations. Now journalism has to reinvent itself in an age of blogs, Facebook, and twitter – along with whatever comes after these. With everyone expecting content for free, where will the revenue come from to support the quality content we’ve had for so many years? And what will that content look like in five years, or ten? How will it be delivered? Will journalism be delivered in hundred-word paragraphs, like the thirty-second candidate spots that seem to define our political campaigns now? Thomas Jefferson said “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty”. If that is true, we should be incredibly nervous about the state of journalism today.

So What Were They Waving, Anyway?

Friday, 18 September 2009, 11:17 | Category : Healthcare, Politics
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During the President’s speech on health care, we were treated to the sight of several Republican congresspersons and senators standing and waving what was purportedly their health care “plan”, in response to Obama’s claim that the Republicans were offering no alternative. It turns out, they do have an alternative. It’s H.R 2520/S. 1099, the Patient’s Choice Act of 2009. And what do they offer us, the health-care-abused citizens and lawful resident aliens (yes, the Republicans include non-citizens in their plan) of these United States? Well, it’s not radical change, for sure…

  • They would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to immediately form a commission to conduct a study! To develop a national strategy for prevention! (all those medical schools and health policy groups have been wasting their time and resources doing their own studies the past 20 years, I guess)
  • the Centers for Disease Control will implement a science-based media campaign on health promotion and disease prevention! It may even “include the use of humor”! (I kid you not, the language is right there in Section 101(b)(1)(B)(v)). It will even have a website! In all fairness, the plan submitted by Senator Baucus might also call for a media plan and website – I didn’t see it reading through his proposal, but I could have missed it. But the Ryan-Coburn bill puts it right at the beginning.
  • the bill would change the Food Stamp Program so that the government would come up with lists of approved, healthy foods that would be the only things you could spend your food stamps on. This sounds good, but wait until the snack-food lobby gets done with your senators and representatives before getting too excited.
  • It would create health care insurance exchanges. So do the Democratic proposals that aren’t willing to just trash the entire thing and go single-payer.
  • The bill forbids states from determining (or limiting) the costs of premiums.
  • “With respect to health insurance issuers offering health insurance coverage through the State Exchange, the State shall not impose any requirement that such issuers provide coverage that includes benefits different than requirements on plans offered to Members of Congress under chapter 89 of title 5, United States Code.”
  • It does not do away with the pre-existing condition exclusion. Under their plan, you can still be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition for up to 12 months.
  • The plan will allow citizens “or an alien lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence or otherwise residing in the United States under color of law” to be covered. That doesn’t bother me, but I’ve heard some Tea-Party folk screaming about the Democrats allowing coverage for people who aren’t citizens.
  • You can get a tax credit for up to $2290 for an individual, or $5710 for a family, to help pay for your privately-obtained insurance. Which sounds nice, until you realize that private insurance costs, on average, about $4500 yearly for an individual, and over $12,000 for family coverage. So families would still have to come up with nearly $7000 to pay for insurance. And to claim the credit, married couples would be required to file a joint return
  • For those who would continue to receive health insurance through their employer, this bill would remove the income-tax exclusion, so you’ll pay taxes on the amount of that coverage, so you would be paying income taxes on an additional $5,000-12,000. And you wouldn’t get the tax credit, obviously.
  • For those unable to obtain private health insurance, and not covered by an employee-provided plan, the government would provide a debit card to offset some of the cost. The total amount of this debit card would not exceed $5000, and would be less for some. To be eligible to receive the card, your family (and only families are eligible, not individuals) must meet these criteria:
    • consist of 2 or more individuals living together who are related by marriage, birth, adoption, or guardianship (cohabitators need not apply, apparently, nor gay couples, obviously)
    • have a gross income that does not exceed 200 percent of the poverty line. This is calculated by adding up the incomes of everyone between the ages of 21 and 65.
    • include at least 1 individual who is a dependent under the age of 19
    • the amount of the card would be $5000 for those under the 100% poverty line, and would decrease in stages to $2000 for those between 180% and 200% of the poverty line. You can get an extra $1000 for being pregnant, but only once every 12 months. And you can get an extra $500 for each child under the age of 1. States can use their own funds to increase the amounts, but cannot use any Federal funds to do so.

There is more in the bill, including language about tort reform (surprise!), but these seem to be the “high points” (“low points”?). You can read the bill for yourself here.

So, the Republicans do have a plan, of sorts. It seems to me that it’s much friendlier to the insurance companies and others with their hands in the health-care dollar trough than it is to actual real human people needing health care, but after all, it’s not like we have some vested interest in having a healthier America.

We Needed A Study To Tell Us This?

Friday, 18 September 2009, 8:00 | Category : Healthcare
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People without health care coverage have a higher risk of death than those with coverage, according to a Harvard Medical School study, which found that more people die each day in the United States from lack of health care than from homicide and drunk-driving combined. But, covering those people would be socialism, which as we all know doesn’t care about people. I guess they were just lucky to have lived so long in such a state of freedom.

Largely lost in the sounds of resounding gongs and clanging cymbals is the absurdity of our health care “system”, which ties the coverage of most people under the age of 65 to their jobs (I wonder if anyone has checked to see how many Tea Party-goers receive Medicare?). For many businesses, this means that they have to worry about the state of their employer-provided health insurance policy as much as they worry about their core business. This isn’t a burden, it’s rapidly becoming a millstone. And combined with the pre-existing conditions exclusions of many policies, it chains many people to their current job. How, exactly, does that reflect the free-market economy that so many on the right claim to love so much? Alone among developed nations, we have decided that access to quality health care is not an integral part of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Farewell, Mary

Thursday, 17 September 2009, 8:17 | Category : Music
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Mary Travers died yesterday. She was the incredible female voice of Peter, Paul, and Mary. I grew up hearing their songs because my older sisters played them, so even though I was a little young during their early-mid-60s heyday, I loved their music, and have continued to listen to it through all these years. People have sometimes asked me where my political beliefs came from, and if you follow the trail back through all the nooks and crannies of my life, you’ll eventually get back to Peter, Paul, and Mary, and their message of equality for all. They turned on a generation, and I tagged along like a bratty little brother. Mary Travers, rest in peace.