Friday, April 26, 2013

It Was A Pink Line

So. Now even our own intelligence is telling us that Syria has used chemical weapons and has therefor crossed Obama's "red line." They have, supposedly, earned the unspecified "serious consequences" that would be the result of such an action, except that the administration now conveniently disbelieves its own intelligence agencies. Pundits are claiming that Assad only used chemical weapons "a little bit to see what he could get away with," which allows Obama to delay imposing those "serious consequences," whatever they were.

It's sort of embarrasing to have a President thundering about "red lines" and how we "will not tolerate" something, and then when they do it changing his tune to "well, if they do a lot of it or start moving things around."

I'm not suggesting he should go all "Bush ballistic" on us, I'm saying he should not have been making threats and throwing our weight around in the first place. Don't make threats you aren't willing to carry out.

Or, don't let your mouth write checks that your ass can't cash.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


Meat labeling: When shopping for pork in the future you will no longer be looking for “pork chops,” you will be choosing between “porterhouse chops, rib-eye chops” and “New York chops.” This is our federal government at work, designing a new labeling system to make things “simpler and less confusing” for consumers.

A cut of meat going by three names instead of one is obviously simpler than using one name, and the “less confusing” part is renaming the “shoulder roast,” which will now be called the “Boston Roast.” Your may think your arm hangs from your shoulder, friends, but according to the government it hangs from your “Boston.”

Or maybe it’s only pigs that have a Boston instead of a shoulder.

More slowly please: CBS Evening News reported last night that it was discovered that the Boston bombs were detonated by remote control. “Investigators say,” they reported, “that using remote detonators would have given the brothers time to plant their bombs and then safely walk away before the device went off.”

Do these guys listen to what they are reading from the teleprompter? That statement is an excellent description of a delayed detonator, but does not even approach that of the use of a remote detonator. With remote control which they claim was used, the perpetrator would place the device, walk away and, once he was in a place of safety, activate the detonator.

Rules, we need rules: California’s medical marijuana law requires that localities set up their own standards for distribution, which most communities have done without much controversy. Supporters of medical pot in San Diego, however, thought our regulations were too strict, so they sued and the judge agreed. He threw out the regulations as “unfair,” which left us with no regulations. That forced the shutdown of all sellers and growers of marijuana in the county and now, more than a year later, we are still arguing over new regulations.

That lawsuit may not be the most constructive thing that San Diego medical marijuana supporters have ever done.

Someone mentioned to Colin Cowherd on ESPN that he lives in California, “…in San Diego,” they added. “That’s not really in California,” he replied. Hmmm. He may have a point. Maybe, Norte Baja California?

It’s not a trend: Unemployment claims are down this week, “signaling that the economy might be improving.” Last week the numbers were up, “indicating that the economic growth might be weakening.” When are these people going to learn?

One cool day does not mean the planet is cooling, nor a warm day that it is heating up, and one week of unemployment claims means nothing. A month might mean something, but a week does not. The numbers by which the claims rate is changing are too small to be meaningful in any case; a few thousand out of a work force of 155 million.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Swing And A Miss

I read Glenn Greenwald regularly, admire his writing enormously, and seldom have much if any disagreement with the points which he makes in his columns. In his column yesterday, however, I think he is shooting blanks with his claim that the Boston bombing is being called a “terrorist attack” merely because the perpetrators are Muslim. I do agree with him that use of the term is premature, but I think his claim of Islamic prejudice, while it may be true, is unproven by his argument.

He compares the Boston event, which killed three people, to three other events in this country in the past two years: the Tucson shooting in which six people died, the Aurora movie theater shooting in which twelve people died, and the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in which 26 people were shot and killed. He then adds the Columbine School shooting in 1999, in which 12 people were killed by gunfire. He points out that despite the greater number of people killed, the term “terrorism” was “virtually never” applied to any of these acts.

He says that there is “no basis at all for claiming that this was an act of ‘terrorism’ in a way that would meaningfully distinguish it from Aurora, Sandy Hook, Tucson and Columbine,” and goes on to claim that it is the ethnic and religious nature of the perpetrators which is the sole difference and is the basis upon which the “terrorism” label is being applied.

I’m not sure how he can possibly overlook a much more immediate and really glaring difference between the Boston event and the other four which he names. Anyone?

Boston was a bomb attack, which would most certainly “meaningfully distinguish it” from four events consisting of violence with guns. I’m not sure that I would agree that the difference in and of itself justifies application of the term “terrorism” to the Boston event, but I think it is enough of a difference to invalidate Greenwald’s claim that Islamic prejudice is the only possible explanation.

Now, if he wanted a comparison which would bolster his argument, he could have cited the Fort Hood shooting, in which 13 people died by gunfire. That attack did not differ in any significant way from Aurora, Sandy Hook, Tucson and Columbine other than it was perpetrated by an Islamist, and it was widely referred to as a “terrorist attack.”

I’m not smarter than Glenn Greenwald, so I can’t believe he missed that.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Downton Abbey

My wife and I have just finished watching seasons one and two of Downton Abbey on dvd, and have been totally charmed by the series. If nothing else it is a nice change from the “threat from Islamic terrorists” which seems to be the plot line for everything on television, be it news or entertainment. America is becoming distressingly single minded. The show is, in all respects, delightful, and if you have not watched it I recommend it to you.

One character in the story touches a particular chord for me; the Dowager Duchess, played by Maggie Smith. She is the mother of Lord Grantham, his daughters call her “Granny,” and she has a dry and sparkling wit.

She reminds me enormously of my Dad’s mother, who we kids called “Granny.” The facial features are strikingly similar, and my Granny was born with the family name of Featherston, which may account for some of the similarity in mannerisms and the nature of her sense of humor.

Once a month or so, when the parents had an evening out, we kids would spend the evening at Granny’s house. Dinner was always the same thing: hamburger steaks so overcooked that they were crunchy, frozen peas barely thawed, and sticky white rice with margarine on top. It was awful food, but we didn’t care, because an evening with Granny was an event to be looked forward to with eager anticipation. She was an absolute blast.

She was a Christian lady in the best sense of the word. She lived it without talking about it, and it was her influence that gave me the blessing of growing up in a Southern culture and having a father who taught me that it was unconscionable to judge a person by the color of his skin. I will always be grateful to her for that.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Economics Is Not Business

Again on Saturday columnist Dean Baker illustrates the difference between economics and business by claiming that whenever “employers cannot get the workers they need then they raise the wages they offer to pull workers away from other employers.” Many economists espouse this little piece of sophistry, completely ignoring that even from an economics standpoint it does not make much sense. The shortage is merely shifted from the hiring employer to the employer from whom the employees are “pulled away.”

The concept makes even less sense from a businessman’s standpoint.

For one thing, it apparently never occurs to Dean Baker and his fellow economists that stealing employees from other companies is not really the most ethical way to go about hiring. When I was in the steel business we called that “poaching,” and it was widely frowned upon. It tended to evoke retaliation in a multitude of nefarious ways, up to and including sabotage.

There’s also a little thing called “labor unions,” which dictate in many cases that all companies in a area will pay the same wages for like jobs. The UAW, for instance, negotiates contracts that mandates that all car producers in Michigan pay the same wages. The union contract does not allow paying lower wages, and it does not allow paying higher wages either. Kind of shoots Bakers employee shortage solution down in flames.

Baker also seems to think that producers can raise the prices of their products at will, and to an infinite degree. There was a day when that was the case, the public was in such a spendthrift mood that they would pay any price for anything, but those days are gone, and they are not going to return any time soon. That means that many employers cannot simply raise the prices of their products to cover the increased costs of higher wages plus increases in payroll taxes, worker’s compensation insurance and unemployment insurance, all of which are a percentage of payroll.

Economists need to stick to things like forecasting recessions, not telling employers how much they should pay their workers.

The real issue discussed in the column which Dean Baker is sneering at is the issue of availability of trained workers for today’s technical jobs. There’s plenty to sneer at in that column, but it isn’t in the form of a nonsensical claim to the effect that there is no labor shortage because employers could steal employees if they were just smart enough to do so.

In the past employers would hire untrained workers, called “apprentices,” and train them, at which point they became “journeymen,” but in today's economy they are apparently unwilling to do that. They seem to think someone else, presumably the government, should do the training for them, which I think is rather idiotic. I’m not sure why no one comes up with a suggestion that if employers need trained employees that they should do their own damned training.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Explosive Fertilizer

Our local news station did a piece on the dangers of “explosive fertilizer” last night, revolving around the story on the explosion on the fertilizer plant in Texas. The anchor kept patting a bag of 21-0-0 Ammonium Sulfate, which is neither flammable or explosive under any circumstances.

He probably was not readily able to buy a bag of 34-0-0 Ammonium Nitrate on short notice, because farm supply stores keep it in the back room and want identification before they will sell it to you. They do that not because it is dangerous per se, but because if someone buys enough of it they could use it to build a bomb. If someone was storing several dozen tons of it and set the building on fire, there could be an explosion.

That being said, one thirty pound bag of it in your garage is about as dangerous as your average house cat. The main danger is that it will absorb water from the air and turn into a liquid, useless and modestly toxic mess. Despite our guy’s warnings about “handling it carefully,” you can jump on it, hammer it, drop things on it… One thirty pound bag is not going to explode under any circumstances. Just keep it sealed up tight, not because, as he warns, it is going to kill you with toxic fumes, but to keep it dry.

Better yet, use the Ammonium Sulfate which he had on his desk, and just use more of it. They both contain nothing but nitrogen, but the supposedly deadly Ammonium Nitrate has more of it in one bag because the nitrogen is more concentrated. Using the lower concentration in larger amounts is just as effective, and you don’t have to worry about it getting damp and self destructing into a useless mess.

And you don’t have to worry about FBI agents asking questions.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Calling For Direct Democracy

President Obama, Democratic leaders, Gabby Giffords, Newton parents, and thousands dozens of bloggers are calling for an end run around the design of our governance and engaging in an exercise in direct democracy. It may or may not happen, and if it does it will probably backfire. Pandering to public emotion usually does, which is why the founders gave us a representative form of government.

When I lived in Tucson we had a water shortage, so Arizona built a canal to bring water from the Colorado River to our fair city. Having traveled across 400 miles of desert and concentrating minerals by evaporation, not to mention the addition of God knows how many drowned animals, it was pretty bad quality water. Not that it started out all that great, since a whole bunch of cities dump their sewage into the Colorado.

We weren’t sure we wanted that stuff, and the original idea was to give it to the cotton farmers and for us to take what farmers had been using. That didn’t work out because the canal water was too salty and the farmers could not use it, so we were stuck with it. Evidently it never occurred to anyone that if it killed plants maybe we should not be drinking it.

So the question arose as to whether we should add it directly to our water system or if we should “recharge” it. The latter would mean that we would dump it into the ground and let it make its way down into the existing ground water pool, where we could pump it out as needed. Experts said that making its way down through the ground would purify it enormously, so treating it would be less expensive when we pumped it out and used it.

Then some nutcase suggested that we could not be sure that our water would stay where we put it, and that once it was in the ground it might drift away. Experts said that, no, that would not happen; that groundwater is not some sort of river and that it would stay until we needed it, but fewer and fewer people believed these experts, especially once the specter was raised that it might go south to where Mexico could get it. Of course, if it had stayed in the Colorado River, Mexico would have gotten it, but…

The city government decided to recharge to water and the result was much the same as the Senate refusing to pass gun background checks yesterday; outrage and calls for a popular vote, which in this case was forthcoming. So many people were freaked out by the prospect of Mexico getting our water that recharge lost by a landslide.

So the canal water was added to our water system and the result was very similar to throwing a handful of fresh horse poop into a high speed fan. It was awesome. No one would drink the water and some would not even bathe in it. Bottled water sales skyrocketed and shortages developed. I never actually documented anyone bathing in bottled water, but I will all but guarantee that some people were doing so. Between the water itself and people not bathing, Tucson smelled like a gymnasium full of dead fish.

Further, the water rapidly degraded our water distribution system. It eroded pipes very quickly, causing them to leak badly and eventually burst, and it chewed up pumps as if they were pumping abrasive sand. After six months the city government said, vote or no vote, this water is going into the ground because we cannot afford the destruction it is wreaking on our water system. Residents were thrilled.

The moral is that sometimes, having elected legislators to represent us, we need to just, well, let them represent us.

Decrying Direct Democracy

Everyone is thrilled pink that Obama called out those who lied about what was in the gun control bill. He said that the liars claimed that it created a “permanent registry,” when in actuality it contained a clause which prevented such a thing. But this whole discussion, in reality, makes very little sense. Not that that’s all that unusual in politics.

So, what was the real issue here? Who were the liars aiming their lies at?

Obama was saying that the Senators voted against the bill “because people lied about the bill.” So, did the Senators not read the bill they were voting on? Did they get the information upon which they based their votes from people outside the Senate who were talking about the bill? Seems to me it would be easier to read the bill.

Did the Senators call the NRA and ask the NRA to read the contents of the bill to them? They might have called the NRA and asked how they should vote, but that would not be consistent with Obama’s statement that they voted because someone lied about the content of the bill.

The only way Obama’s claim makes any sense is if the Senators are not reading the bills upon which they are voting and, additionally, are getting their information about those bills from gossip. In that case the criticism should not be the votes themselves, but the utterly idiotic manner of their decision making.

The unstated way in which it makes sense is if the liars lied to voters, who called their Senators and told them to vote against the bill. That’s called “direct democracy” or, perhaps “undue influence,” depending on which side you’re on. It’s also what Obama is trying to get his side to do in favor of the bill, and we can only presume that he is not also lying about it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Good Move

It was mentioned on the news last night that just about every federal agency has agents at Boston Airoprt interviewing departing passengers. They are asking if they took pictures or videos anywhere or at any time during the marathon. If so they ask to download those images before the passenger boards his/her plane. Now that is good thinking.

Update: No, Bruce, I'm not being sarcastic. The Federal Bureau of Ineptitude sometimes gets things right. Just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, they can't help it.


The President said yeaterday that the bombing in Boston was a "heinous and cowardly attack." Sigh. Every event that injures or kills Americans is a "cowardly attack." Why do we insist on calling everyone else cowards? What makes it cowardly to kill our people?

What is it when we kill people in the Middle East, and elsewhere, by remote control using drones and Hellfire missiles? Not cowardly, of course, right?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston Coverage

Watching the media cover the events in Boston yesterday was painful; at first because of the events themselves, and later due to the coverage. For the reports to be repeating themselves was understandable, since it was still during the workday and new viewers would be tuning in and seeking information. Much of the reporting was execrable, however, as most of the “reporters” are not trained journalists and were simply babbling nonsense.

NBC’s Brian Williams was particularly disgusting as he and some sidekick discussed the issue of there being two bombs, with the purpose of the second being to kill people who had come to the rescue of victims of the first one. “Those of us,” he said, “who have been exposed to this type of war zone are familiar with this tactic.” I wanted to bash his smug face in, and I am not a violent person.

First, Boston was not a “war zone,” it was the scene of a tragedy. Further, if the purpose of the second bomb was as he described, it would not have been set to go off in a matter of a few seconds after the first one, long before any rescuers could possibly have arrived, and it would not have been placed almost two blocks away, far from where any rescuers would be. The man is an egotistical idiot.

There were, we were told at first, seven or more “suspicious packages” found at the scene which were suspected to be undetonated bombs. Then there were five such objects. Then it was down to one, and there was doubt about that one. When in doubt, speculate. This morning there is no mention of any “suspicious packages” at all.

I turned the television off until the regular time for CBS Evening News and was treated to a thoroughly professional, cogent and intelligent summation of the day’s events in Boston. Impressive. They did apply the term “terrorist attack” a couple of times, which bothered me a little. That’s probably not terribly unreasonable, but I think it’s a bit premature. I think we need to know more before we start screaming “terrorist.”

The glaring lesson of yesterday, which is being entirely missed by everyone, is that taking off our shoes at airports, and all of the indignity and inconvenience that goes along with that, is an exercise in futility. Safety is an illusion.

The old saying about nations which give up liberty to achieve safety should read, “A nation which surrenders any liberty in order to achieve a little safety is peopled by idiots, for it surrenders something precious in pursuit of that which does not exist.”

Friday, April 12, 2013

Principles, Forsooth

The Obama loyalists, “Obamabots,” have found reasons to support or ignore everything Obama has done so far, but he seems to have overstepped with this proposal on the “chained cpi” for Social Security. Reminds me of the poem of years back.

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

Obama loyalists are okay with him killing people in foreign lands without even knowing who they are, and killing women and children in the process. They find excuses about “keeping us safe” for that.

They are okay with him maintaining Guantanamo Bay prison for the uncharged prisoners whom he has chosen not to kill. They find ways to blame Congress for that.

They are okay with him starting wars not only without Congressional approval, but against its expressed wishes. They find ways to pretend that Libya was not really a “war,” or that he was ordered to do it by the UN.

They are okay with “health care reform” that preserves drug company profits by design and has no “public option.” They make excuses about what “had to be done” to pass the “most important legislation” since FDR freed the slaves or something.

But let him propose to cut their Social Security and they rise up, howling in righteous indignation because he is “betraying their principles.”

When someone says “How dare you cut my Social Security?” he is not talking about principles. While Obama has been violating all sorts of principles that are core values of this nation these loyalists kept silent and/or made excuses and they are outraged and arguing principles only now that Obama is coming for their money. They get no sympathy from me.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

New Gun Law Comment #1

The "bipartisan" gun control law regarding background checks allows mental health professionals to violate privacy requirements and put petients' names on the gun control list without their consent, and even without their knowledge. If this becomes law expect mental health professionals to join the ranks of the unemployed in droves.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Back Of The Line, Part 2

My commentary yesterday was prompted more by the mindlessness of the slogan, “go to the back of the line,” than by the actual issue of the disposition of persons who came to this country in violation of the law. Politicians make up these statements which mean nothing in reality, but people seem to buy them at face value. As with “We are denying them space in which to plan their attacks,” no one seems willing to point out that the emperor has no clothes.

As to “amnesty,” when we apply the Statute of Limitations, which we observe for all but the most heinous crimes, we effectively give the law breaker what he broke the law to get. Perhaps we should deal with illegal entry in the same manner; until the Statute of Limitations has run its course if we catch you we will deport you, after that time limit has expired you are cleared of that violation.

In which case there should be none of this “back of the line” nonsense. Persons who have been cleared in that manner have had their status normalized, and are not subject to further penalty. That is the whole purpose of the statute.

I don’t know what would be a reasonable time limit for that when applied to illegal entry. The waiting time for legal entry is typically on the order of magnitude of eight years, so that might seem to be a reasonable limitation.

This approach might well be to simple for Congress to wrap its collective head around, though.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Back of The Line

There was an article in the local paper yesterday about immigration, which started by stating that consensus seems to have been reached that any reform must include a stipulation that, “If unauthorized immigrants in the United States are allowed to stay, they must go to the back of the line.”

I recall hearing Obama say that repeatedly, that those who came here illegally must pay a fine and “go to the back of the line” and thinking at the time, as I did when reading this article, “What does that really mean?”

The article goes into great detail about what it takes to enter the line and the length of time that persons from various countries must spend there, but what neither the article or Obama mentions or seems to comprehend is that the line forms outside of this country. To put it another way, people in the line are outside waiting to get in so how do people already here, illegally, go to the back of that line without leaving the country?

That’s sort of like telling a line of people outside a movie theater waiting to buy tickets see a movie that a group of people walking past them are going to be allowed to wait in line to buy tickets while in the theater watching the movie because they were caught stealing money. “Commit a crime and you, too, can watch the movie while waiting to buy movie tickets.” There may be some planet where that is logical, but…

I would name the local paper, by the way, but it doesn’t seem to know what its own name is. It used to be the Union-Tribune, but the only thing it goes by now is U-T, which is a logo, not a name. I’m not calling an entity by its stupid logo.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Various Matters

John Kerry is condemning another terrorist attack as being “cowardly” because… Well, I’m not sure what makes such an attack an act of cowardice when the attacker is willing to die in the attempt to inflict harm on his enemy. Contrast that with drone pilots who kill people while sitting in a chair several thousand miles distant from harm’s way. Something about pots and kettles comes to mind.

I’m certainly not applauding, or even condoning, terrorist attacks and I can think of many uncomplimentary adjectives that can be applied to describe them. I just don’t think that “cowardly” is one of them.

Interesting the way reporters, or editors, select facts from two different reports for their headlines as they say that the economy “added 88,000 jobs” while unemployment “fell to 7.6%” last period. The former is from the Establishment Report, which doesn’t state unemployment rates, and the latter is from the Household Survey, which provides employment numbers in addition to unemployment rates.

The employment numbers from the Household Survey did not get reported, however, because they conflicted with the Establishment Survey, as they usually do for a number of reasons. Instead of an increase of 88,000 jobs, the Household Survey reported that 206,000 fewer people were employed.

I don’t think it matters much which one you believe, as they are probably both inaccurate. Both numbers are taken from rather limited samples, extrapolated using abstruse mathematical formulas to represent the entire population, and then are “seasonally adjusted.” Defenders of the numbers dispute my “limited sample” claim, saying that 50,000 respondents is not “limited,” but I submit out of 313 million people 50,000 is but tiny sample.

We could use actual numbers, of course, since employers file tax withholding statements every two weeks, but the government won't do that because of "privacy concerns." Right. And I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I can make you such a deal on.

The big picture is, our population increased by 2,252,500 in the past year, while it added only 1,256,000 new jobs. That is not a pretty picture.

Once again we have organizers planning a nationwide rally to draw attention to the plight of people who have come to this country illegally and who have not been granted an opportunity to become citizens despite violating our law by their very presence. The organizers say that they intend “to show that there are many people who are our neighbors, our co-workers who are suffering because of the nation’s broken immigration system.”

No, they are suffering because they are in violation of the law and are hiding from law enforcement officials. Perhaps we should hold a similar rally in sympathy with drug dealers, who are suffering from having to hide in the shadows and live lives of desperation because the law is trying to throw them in jail. Or legalize drugs to "bring them out of the shadows?"

Europe is declining into disaster, and we are hooting about our recovery. Do we really think that we are not going to be affected by the world economy? Carl Sagan once made a comment about "when our critical facilities are in decline, and we are unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true." I think we have arrived at that point.

The only thing that is "recovering" is the stock market, and the reason for that is simple and has nothing to do with the "working class." The Fed is buying $85 billion of bonds per month, using money that it is creating out of thin air. It is not buying those bonds from working people who will spend it on goods and services, it is buying them from investors who will simply reinvest the money. Where are they going to invest it? Well, there is no place other than the stock market.

So the Fed is printing money which is being pumped into the stock market, and the rest of the economy is continuing to drown.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Medical Insurance Adventure

In addition to the massive hospital bill after my bout with pneumonia I got, of course, a host of smaller bills from doctors, imaging centers, and laboratories which were peripheral to the process. UnitedHealthCare paid them as expected except that they denied payment on all of the bills from one particular lab which was billing for blood tests, citing a code which explained that “This code, when accompanied by a facility place of service, is not eligible for reimbursement to the physician."

Now, I know that various medical professions each have their own language, but that is not “doctor speak,” or “hospital speak,” or even “insurance speak.” That is just plain gibberish. No one bill was all that large, they ranged from $12.50 up to $135.00, but they totaled close to a thousand bucks, and I’m not coughing up that kind of money without a better explanation than that.

There was one bill, though, for $835.00 which the insurance paid, and that seemed very weird. It will make perfect sense when we finish this little adventure, but it seemed strange at the time.

I called the hospital and verified that they do, in fact, subcontract lab work to that company, and then I contacted the insurance company via a messaging system to ask why they were denying these claims and for a better explanation of the “service in a facility setting” denial.

They replied, “when you are in a hospital, the professional component for reading your lab tests is already incorporated in the hospital fees. In essence, if we pay this charge we would be paying the services twice.”

Okay, the explanation is no longer gibberish, but is now entirely bogus. My doctor might need the services of a radiologist to read an x-ray or a CT scan, but he certainly doesn’t need any help reading a damned blood test. Hell, even I can read a blood test. I might not know what the values mean, but my doctor certainly does.

So, I make an assumption and send another message to the effect that I don’t believe that they are billing for reading tests, but are billing for performing tests which are subcontracted to them by the hospital.

I receive a reply that the lab “is not billing for performing these tests they are billing for the professional component which is the reading of the tests,” and that the bill for performing the tests was submitted by the lab directly to the hospital.

So I call the laboratory and ask what they are billing for, and am told that they don’t read lab reports, all they do is generate them by performing the tests. The very nice person there informed me that they are an “out of network” provider to the insurance company and are therefor not bound by the stipulation prohibiting billing the patient for the difference between full price and the amount paid by insurance. The amount which they were billing direct to insurance is the discount which the hospital extends to the insurance company and which, not being paid by insurance, the hospital does not pay to the lab.

She went on to say that if I would appeal the denial based on the fact that I was a patient at an “in network” facility and had no choice on the performance of the lab work, that the insurance company would pay the claim. She added that she was marking my account to the effect that I was appealing and that they would wait for payment from insurance, thanked me for calling and wished me a nice day.

I then sent another message to the insurance company saying that I wanted to appeal the denials of payment based as the person at the lab had coached me, and received a prompt reply that an appeal was not necessary and that the responder would see to it that the claims were submitted for an “exception” and that payment would be made to the provider. She thanked me for using their messaging system and apologized for the inconvenience that I had incurred on the matter in question. Indeed.

I then went back and looked at the earlier messages and realized that the insurance company was never really taking a very firm stance in denying the claim. In the very first message, after saying that their policy was “not to pay this charge in a facility setting,” there was a statement toward the end that added, “If you are to be billed for this service we will be able to go back and take a second look at the claim for processing at the in network rate” which I had overlooked.

In the second message, after telling me that the lab was billing for reading the lab results and that “In essence, if we pay this charge we would be paying the services twice,” there was a similar admonition that, “Please send me a follow up message if you have received a bill from this provider. I will then be able to have your claims sent back to our transactions team for an exception to be made and benefits allowed for these charges,” which I had also missed because my attention was so focused on the novelty of the claim about the need for a specialist to read a blood test and the insanity about paying for services twice.

It was also a bit weird for her to be wanting to be told if I had received a bill from the provider, since they themselves had received the bill from the provider and sent an “explanation of benefit” to me and to the provider saying that I was expected to pay the bill. So what did they expect the provider to do if not send me a bill?

Now, I will admit that I am engaging in some mind reading here, which is not normally my strong suit. Ask my wife about that. But the evidence strongly supports my conclusion that UnitedHealthCare is filled to the brim with a substance which comes out of the South end of a Northbound horse.

They know that they have to pay the charges which I incur while using an “in network” facility, and the fact that the facility subcontracted some of the work is irrelevant to the agreement that exists between the insurance company and me. The little tale about payment for “reading the tests” is invented out of whole cloth, a polite way of calling it a blatant lie, as a ploy to avoid paying the charge. They know very well that the charge is for the discount which an “out of network” provider does not allow, and they deny the charges in hopes that I will not challenge the denials.

The hint in their very first response to my challenge that they are willing to give in and pay it is one tip-off of my conclusion, and payment of the $835 charge is another. Many patients will not think to challenge bills under $150 when they are looking at a long list of bills which have been paid, but everyone is going to challenge a denial on a bill that large, and they know it. That signals to me very clearly a “We’ll deny these bills and see if we can get away with it” approach on the smaller bills.

Object lesson: don't hesitate to challenge insurance claim denials. Sometimes you win.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Well, This Is Just Ducky

The Washington Post headline speaks for itself, "Obama administration pushes banks to make home loans to people with weaker credit."

We cannot foretell how this is going to turn out can we? Oh, wait...

Burgers Florentine

Over the objections of my wife, we had hamburgers with Swiss cheese, spinach and a dab of Mayo last night. The spinach was sauteed lightly with a trace of olive oil and a little garlic. She did not, of course, refuse to eat it and admitted it was quite tasty, and that I could make it again if I wanted to. Naturally, that was what I expected to happen.

As usual when I use packaged baby spinach, I spent what seemed like half the dratted afternoon picking the stems off of it. Someone should invent a machine to do that, unless my wife is the only person in the country who insists on it. She's worth it, of course, and in any case what cook would prepare a dish that was not pleasing to the palate of the person for whom he was preparing it?

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Non Sequitur Abounds

Paul Krugman is not alone in his ability to abandon logic, and even common sense, in pursuit of validation of economic theories. Dean Baker is no slouch either. Consider a “point/counterpoint” thread I had with him the other day regarding his statement that, “The BLS actually measures the rate at which jobs are becoming obsolete, it's called ‘productivity growth.’"

My mind immediately went to the manufacture of gas-powered refrigerators. I don’t think that it was “productivity growth” that led to jobs manufacturing those things becoming obsolete. Same with those telephone modems where you put the handset into the cradle. There are no jobs left making those things, but I doubt that “productivity growth” caused that to happen. So I wrote a comment on his post.

Productivity does not equate to jobs becoming obsolete as whole industries disappear or jobs are shipped overseas. If making 1 million units by 100,000 workers drops to 100,000 units made by 5,000 workers, you certainly have seen a major productivity growth, but that only explain 5000 job lost. The loss of 900,000 units of production explains the other jobs lost, and those jobs can fairly be said to have become obsolete in a manner that had nothing to do with productivity gains.

His response was truly weird.

Sorry Bill -- you just gave an example of productivity growth -- what is happening to the money that people used to spend on the products that no one wants or are produced overseas? Presumably they spend it on something and that something has the same or higher value than the items the laid off workers were producing.

I love arguments which begin with the word "presumably." We have no facts, so we will base our argument on presumptions. Excellent.

Well, if that’s true than other jobs were “presumably” created, but those 90,000 jobs still became obsolete, so his argument about people spending money is a complete non sequitur. Jobs which became obsolete and are replaced by other jobs are still obsolete, and the suggestion that the replacement goods have “the same or higher value” as the lost production does not assure that the workers will be paid the same to produce them.

Nor does it assure that the production workers will even be in this country and the BLS does not, I believe, track jobs in China. It doesn't occur to him that people might actually not be spending that money, accounting for something like 14 million jobs that disappeared during the recession, or that they might be spending it on items manufactured overseas. He continued,

And if they are not spending it, then the problem is bad macroeconomic policy that is not making up the shortfall in demand. This is a case of policymakers who lack the skills for the jobs they hold.

And here he admits that jobs would be becoming obsolete not due to “productivity growth,” but rather to “bad macroeconomic policy,” and in so doing shoots himself in the foot as economists tend to do it they babble on long enough.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Speaking Out of Turn

When I joined the Navy, I did not do so for any abstruse reasons such as “serving my country” or “defending freedom,” I did it so that I could get awarded some nifty medals and receive a fancy funeral.

Some people just don’t get what military service is all about.

Relatives of a San Diego Marine killed in Iraq have been fighting for four years to get his Navy Cross upgraded to a Medal of Honor. I doubt very much that the fallen Marine really cares. He was not there for the purpose of pinning medals on his chest. He did not fall on that grenade because he wanted a specific medal. They dishonor him by making his action about a medal instead of about saving the lives of his brothers in arms.

I read a post by a conservative blogger today, expressing outrage over a suggestion that the military cease providing ceremonial funerals for service persons not killed in combat. Her outrage is for the veterans themselves, who she claims are owed the burial service regardless of where or how long they served. The fact that they volunteered for their country is enough, she says, that we owe them that final dignity.

When my wife asked a few years back I told her that my preference would be to be buried with my shipmates in a national cemetery, but that her comfort and convenience should prevail in determining what is done with my remains after I die. I won’t care, because I will be in a better place.

When my father was buried at Arlington the ceremony was, indeed, a comfort to my family. It was valuable to know that his 43 years of service to his country was honored and valued, and that his dedication to his nation was returned. Funerals are not for the dead, they are for those who are left behind, a point which that blogger missed.

The column in question was disrespectfully worded, his point was not well made and missed the mark, but there is perhaps a point to be made. For a person who served for a short time and far from combat the trappings of a military funeral may not have as much meaning to the family, and perhaps some thought might be given to reducing the degree of ceremony devoted to burial services for veterans based on length and type of service.

What I do know is that civilians need to quit declaiming that they know what veterans want and need. Let veterans speak for themselves, people, because you don’t know shit. And, yes, the first paragraph was sarcasm.