Hospital blogging

The blog rate is really slow due to the fact that my oldest son is in the hospital with really bad pneumonia (post-surgery, his lungs are draining into the pleur evac 6000 right next to me as I type).  Thanks to morphine (David is dosing away content) and hospital wifi, here I am.  I have to say, it pains me not to have the time to blog about the most recent corruption uncovered in the Bush administration.  If the morphine keeps at it, I'll try and get out one post tonight.

Anyway, this whole experience here has made me especially grateful for our excellent health insurance.  It is enough stress without worrying about what will surely be a bill in the many 10's of thousands when all is said and done.  If this had happened to me as a kid, it would have surely bankrupted my self-employed, uninsured parents (as discussed in the previous post). My choice of occupation really should not determine the fact that this is a serious, but manageable financial hit to us whereas it would be absolutely catastrophic to so many others. 

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Health care for Realtors

The New York Times ran a story this week about how dicey and fragile and middle-class existence can be without decent health care benefits.  They profiled a self-employed real estate agent who could not find health insurance after recovering from cancer.  Well, she could have, if she could afford $27K for health insurance on a $60K income.  What this profile makes patently clear is the absurdity of tying health care benefits to the vagaries of employment.  A realtor who makes deals for Century 21 is likely out of luck whereas one who buys land for a government agency or a university will have good health care.  This issue really resonates for me as both my parents are self-employed, my dad as a realtor my mom as a piano teacher.  I was part of a middle-class family that never had health insurance while growing up because my parents could not afford a policy on their own.  Fortunately, we never faced any significant health hardships till I was taken care of by various university policies and my parents made it to Medicare age.  Still, there is just no sensible reason for basing your health care status upon for whom you work.  Here's the solutions offered to the woman in the article:

When Ms. Readling was shopping for insurance, she found two responses
particularly galling. One insurer, she said, suggested she return to
her prior job, at a furniture company, so she could participate in its
group health plan, though she loved her work as a real estate agent.
Another insurer suggested she remarry her former husband to get back on
his insurance plan.

Further emphasizing the senselessness of our current system, Tim Noah had a great satirical column up in Slate this week entitled, “Would you privatize Defense?: The case for socialized medicine.”  His opening paragraphs make the point quite strongly:

Suppose the national defense of the United States were relegated to
the private sector. Instead of the publicly funded Army, Navy, Air
Force, and Marines, the country would be defended by private militias
funded mainly by insurance companies. In the event of foreign attack on
U.S. soil, the militias would defend those citizens in the affected
areas who'd paid defense insurance premiums through their places of
work (or, if self-employed, as individuals).

The best-armed
troops would defend the wealthiest and most hawkish segments of the
population, who would have paid the highest premiums.

The
less-wealthy and more dovish customers who'd chosen a less-generous
policy would likewise be defended against attack, but they could expect
to pay heavily out of pocket because their insurance would only cover
costs for weapons and manpower above a fairly high deductible. The
doves' militias might or might not call in air support, knowing the
insurance company would pay for it only in the most dire
circumstances?difficult to calibrate as bombs are dropping all around
you.

You don't hear many of those raising fears of “socialized medicine” complaining about “socialized defense” do you.

Why the Democratic Congress matters

The recent purge of US Attorneys has been getting pretty good media coverage (like the front page of today's Post).  The simple reason is that the Senate is holding hearings on the matter.  And why is the Senate holding hearings?  Because Democrats are in control.  You can bet if Republicans were still the majority party, these antics of the Bush administration would have been ignored and swept under the rug, like so much wrongdoing during Bush's first 6 years.  The simple truth is that government actions drive the media's agenda.  This story would have been uncovered and led to endless outrage in the left-wing blogosphere even if Republicans were in power.  But, it would have died and withered away there without the general public ever catching wind of it.  Now that there are Congressional hearings to cover, the story is receiving the wider audience it deserves.  It is kind of unfortunate that a story like this cannot stand on its own merits without government action, but given that's the way the media world works, it is a damn good thing Democrats are in charge of Congress, thereby forcing the press to cover the malfeasance of the Bush administration. 

Join Society’s elite: get married

According to the latest demographic statistics, it turns out that marriage is not for everybody anymore:

Punctuating a fundamental change in American family life, married
couples with children now occupy fewer than one in every four
households — a share that has been slashed in half since 1960 and is
the lowest ever recorded by the census.

As marriage with children
becomes an exception rather than the norm, social scientists say it is
also becoming the self-selected province of the college-educated and
the affluent. The working class and the poor, meanwhile, increasingly
steer away from marriage, while living together and bearing children
out of wedlock.

I saw the headline to the article and thought about how virtually every couple I know is married.  A great example of why we should not generalize too much from our own experiences.  Being a college professor, most everybody I know socially is college-educated, affluent, or both– though you won't find this combination too often among professors :-).  Anyway, the article has a number of interesting observations, e.g.,

Marriage has declined across all income groups, but it has declined
far less among couples who make the most money and have the best
education. These couples are also less likely to divorce. Many
demographers peg the rise of a class-based marriage gap to the erosion
since 1970 of the broad-based economic prosperity that followed World
War II.

“We seem to be reverting to a much older pattern, when
elites marry and a great many others live together and have kids,” said
Peter Francese, demographic trends analyst for Ogilvy & Mather, an
advertising firm.

Due to “assortative mating” wealthy elites tend to marry other wealthy elites, etc., and society becomes more stratified.  I don't have any groundbreaking insights to add, just thought this was interesting.  The whole article is worth a quick read. 

Understanding the purge of the U.S. Attorneys

I recently wrote about the Bush administration's shameful and unprecedented firing of US Attorneys for purely partisan reasons.  One of my favorite columnists, Slate's Dahlia Lithwick, nicely explains exactly what's going on.  If the case interests you, just read the whole thing.  For those only mildly interested, here's the conclusion:

Perhaps the most important lesson to be drawn from the purge isn't that
the Bush administration puts ideology above the rule of law. That isn't
exactly news. The real point may be that between inexperienced fumblers
at Justice, energized Democrats in Congress, and a public that seems
finally to have awoken from its slumber, it's just become harder for
the administration to get away with it.

Why good journalism matters

Presumably you have heard the news stories about the appalling conditions uncovered for outpatient care at Walter Reed Hospital, where many seriously wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan are sent for long term care.  These problems were uncovered by some great, old-fashioned, hard-working journalism by Washington Post reporters, Dana Priest and Anne Hull.  They spent months at the facility interviewing dozens of patients, staff, and family members.  The result is an amazing and damning series of articles.  Turns out many in the Army hierarchy knew these problems existed, but did nothing about it.  Thanks to this intrepid reporting, something is being done and those to blame are being held accountable.  In an action utterly amazing for a Bush administration official, new Defense Secretary Robert Gates is demanding accountability and has forced the resignation of the Secretary of the Army (and the commander of Walter Reed is likely next).  Does make me wonder how things in Iraq might be better if Gates had been in charge of DoD instead of Rumsfeld (not that I'd be expecting a flourishing democracy).  Anyway, all this happened because some reporters took on an important issue that was, unfortunately, being ignored within the army.  This is a great example why an independent and aggressive press is so important.  Shame on conservatives who would try and write this off as the actions of “the liberal media.”  I suppose they would prefer that wounded veterans continue to suffer unnecessarily?

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