Friday, September 22, 2017

Health-care fraud

I have not seen it stated explicitly, although the fact is implicit in analyses of the Graham-Cassidy Obamacare Repeal Bill, but it's a short-change scam.

If the bill were an actual repeal-and-replace effort, then it would have to provide more money than Obamacare does, not just a redistribution of the current amounts. That is because Obamacare resulted in a very uneven distribution of benefits.

About three-quarters of the states chose to expand  benefits through Medicare, thus drawing more money out of the national fisc. If Graham-Cassidy were evenhanded, then it would either provide less for the nonexpansion states, or more in order to bring benefit levels up to an even level throughout the country.

The Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds an overall reduction in funding, but even if funding were at the same levels, it would be  a reduction for most Americans.

If it were labeled the Graham-Cassidy Health Care Erosion Bill, that would be accurate, but then it's a rightwing plot.

Additionally, some critics of Obamacare made much of the claim that it amounted to rationing. I have not heard  even one of them complain about the greater rationing in the Graham-Cassidy bill.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Screech of the chicken hawk

Trump is the first antiAmerican president. Let's allow the waspish eunuch of Roanoke to explain:

The military parade which meets the eye in almost every direction  excites the gall of our citizens; they feel a just indignation at the sight of loungers, who live upon the public, who consume the fruits of their honest industry, under the pretext of protecting them from a foreign yoke. They put no confidence, sir, in the protection of a handful of ragamuffins.

From an address by Representative John Randolph to the first session of Congress

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Echoing history

There are several problems with using history to illuminate the present.

First, there's too much of it. Second, no two of us learned the same history. Third, most of us never learned any of it. Fourth, the more we need to know history, the less time we have to do so.

Nevertheless, I keep trying.

In the Sept. 7 issue of the London Review of Books, Michael Wood reviews a volume of letters between Alfred Dreyfus and Marie Arconati Visconti, the most recent of which was written in 1923, and in French. Wood never mentions Trump. Yet so much of it sounds instructive.
  ‘The moment they can’t persecute anyone, they consider themselves martyrs’
That's Madame Arconati Visconti, daughter of a famous anticlericalist, writing about Catholics. Here in America, we don't even have any anticlericalists, we have to import them from Europe, like Christopher Hitchens.  But it sounds like it was written about our evangelicals.
The Dreyfus Affair teaches us, among many other things, that evidence is easily faked, and that when the fakes don’t work or you don’t want to use them, you can plead national security: you can claim to have documents you can’t show.
That's Wood, summing up. L'affaire Dreyfus was all about fake news, and even after the reality was clearly exposed, there were many who preferred to believe the fake version. As Wood says,
Who do you have to be to believe X? And what else are you likely to believe if you do?
I don't know that recognizing that the Trumpeters' embrace of  falsehoods galore -- an embrace deftly summed in today's Washington Post by Greg Sargent -- had a nearly exact analogue among French rightwingers 120 years ago tells us anything useful about how to deflect political discourse into honest streams, but in fact Dreyfus was exonerated.

He always thought he would be. Wood writes:
 ‘As for those who have made themselves my executioners,’ Dreyfus wrote in his diary while still on Devil’s Island, ‘ah, I leave their consciences to them as judges when the light is shed, when the truth is revealed, for sooner or later, everything in life is revealed.’ 
But, Wood adds,  "Not quite everything, perhaps." We do, after all, have a birther who whips up his followers by whining about fake  news.

(Wood's review is behind a paywall. It will be worth your while to go to the public library and read the review on paper, and, while you're at it, also look at Malise Ruthven's article "The Saudi Trillions" and Amia Srinivasan's review of books about octopuses.)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Book Review 397: The Battle of the Casbah

THE BATTLE OF THE CASBAH: Terrorism and Counter-terrorism in Algeria 1955-1957, by Paul Aussaresses. 185 pages, illustrated. Enigma paperback

Paul Aussaresses claimed to have taught the U.S. Army his methods of countering terrorism by means of indiscriminate arrests, torture and murder. He certainly taught the Army, and later the Brazilian army and other rightwing Latin American despotisms.

And the U.S. Army certainly used methods much like his in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

But whether the Americans had to learn such skills from Aussaresses is less certain.

“The Battle of the Casbah” was dictated when Aussaresses was old, and it was not welcomed in France. He claimed that the highest government officials had known and, indeed, instructed him to do what he did. They denied it and stripped Aussaresses of his right to wear the uniform of the French army and of his Legion of Honor.

The truth of that is obscure but no one at the time was unaware of the atrocious nature of the Algerian fighting.

The interest of the book in 2017 resides in the fact that Aussaressses sounds just like Trump and his loudmouthed terrorism advisers. One difference is that Aussaresses was actually a soldier, with, apparently, a good record against the Germans.

Aussaresses was unrepentant when his book was condemned. It reveals a naive, stupid racist who was easily manipulated and deceived by the Algerians. He could not possibly have known what was going on, given the limited time he himself says he had to devote to assembling information.

He justified his murders on the grounds, which will be instantly familiar to anyone observing the fascist government in Washington, of defending western values. Perhaps he was.

The question is, were his values worth defending?

One instance will answer the question. Following a series of murders by Algerian nationalists, a group of powerful pieds-noirs (French colonists) came to Aussaresses and his commander, Massu, to threaten that they were ready, if the army would not act brutally, to park a convoy of gasoline tankers on the heights of the Casbah and flood the crowded old town with gasoline, which they would ignite.

Aussaresses says he believed them and thought it would have killed 70,000 people. 

Did he and Massu arrest these westerners? Of course, not. They raided the Casbah and arrested and murdered thousands of Muslims.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Book Review 396: The Last Full Measure

THE LAST FULL MEASURE: The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers, by Richard Moe. 396 pages, illustrated. Henry Holt

Richard Moe wrote “The Last Full Measure” 25 years ago, but it has some surprising resonance in today's pro-nazi political environment.

Moe has been admired for telling the history of the regiment through the words of the soldiers. That, in turn, was possible because for the first and last time, the soldiers were literate (though not much at spelling, despite the adulation of Noah Webster’s blue-backed speller), had a cheap and efficient postal service and were not censored.

Some of the men seem to have written almost every day and they were uninhibited, although, at least in Moe’s selection, not about sex. (Other soldiers did write about that, and Thomas Lowry tracked down some of their letters in “The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell.”) Sex —even in the most genteel forms of longings — is notable for its absence since the men were so young. One enlisted at age 15.

They freely criticized their officers, and some (usually lawyers or newspaper publishers in civilian life) served as correspondents to hometown papers, which freely printed their complaints. Some officers’ lives were made much harder by this. As we learned during recent wars, army officers do not listen to criticism and will use force to prevent it.

What they wrote about were chow, the weather, marching (endless), interactions with the locals and sightseeing.

Minnesota was the far frontier in 1860, and few of the men had ever encountered a black person, slave or free. Surprisingly, although the endemic racism of Americans of the time is on display, the Minnesotans were, often, respectful of the black people they met — usually referred to as “contrabands” (if liberated slaves) or “servants” (if still enslaved). The cruder names ware mostly absent.

They liked to visit the capital and one, gawking at the White House, was shooed away by a guard. The Minnesotan said he had just stopped by to see President Lincoln. Lincoln opened the front door, came out, shook the man’s hand and chatted a moment. It was a simpler time.

Our main interest is in the descriptions of the fighting, so hard to convey to those who have not done it.

As to current relevance: Over 40% of the volunteers were foreign-born. They didn’t seem to have any difficulty in assimilating to American values, and the man acclaimed to be the best soldier of the regiment was a former Prussian army officer.

Terrorism was also relevant. In 1862, Sioux Indians raided Minnesota’s southern counties, killing  hundreds of white settlers. The men of the 1st Minnesota did not panic. In fact, although they were well informed (via letters from home and newspapers, of which they were avid readers), they seem not to have had anything to say. (Possibly Moe left that out.)

The 1st Minnesota was one of the most famous regiments of the war. They fought nearly every battle from Bull Run to Gettysburg, where the 262 effectives (the regiment had been badly shot up at Fredericksburg) were ordered to charge a Confederate brigade to gain a crucial five minutes for Union reinforcements to come up. Outnumbered probably five to one, and facing artillery besides, they did their duty. Somewhere between 60% and 80% were killed or wounded, the highest rate of the war for a Union regiment.

The  bayonet charge of the 1st Minnesota on the second day pf the battle and the bayonet charge of the 20th Maine Volunteers on the first day are reckoned to have saved the battle for tho Union.

Donate your eyesight to capitalism

The Fireproof Hotel phenomenon has been a frequent theme at RtO. Some readers deny it exists. Hah! Take this, skeptical readers.

It is unclear how many people will go blind from using phony eclipse glasses, but it is clear that capitalists care as little about blinding you as they do about burning you alive.

The Times report also turns up an additional reason -- as if saving your eyesight were not sufficient -- for regulation: by a kind of Gresham's Law of retailing in a litigious society, vendors of legit eclipse glasses got dinged as well as the criminals. In fact, perhaps more than the criminals.

In a statement to The New York Times, an Amazon spokesman said:
“Out of an abundance of caution and in the interests of our customers, we asked third-party sellers that were offering solar eclipse glasses to provide documentation to verify their products were compliant with relevant safety standards. After reviewing the documentation, the offers from sellers with compliant eclipse glasses remained available to customers. The listings from sellers who were not approved were removed and customers who purchased from them were notified.”

Mr. Panjwani said he submitted proper documentation three times. He said that Amazon did reinstate the page, only to pull it again, and then reinstate it again, leaving him with an inbox full of confused and angry emails.

As for the usual alternatives to government advanced by the libertarians:

1. Testing the glasses yourself was not so easy, and, in any case, you would have to buy them first.

2. Suing for compensation. Lots of luck with that.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Neonazis in the woodpile

It has been several days (and several crises) since Trump's pro-nazi remarks about Charlottesville. Various people have weighed in, pro and con.

If anyone was uncertain just what was going on, there has been plenty of what used to be called "values clarification."

So you really have to be a very dense kind of a nazi to wait until now to attack the antinazis.You'd have to be like Wilbur Ross.