or, “A Christmas Tale”

Deadlines are looming, so I am trying to churn out a few more pieces of creative nonfiction what I think are not total crap.

Today, I started on one about how we will not be terraforming Mars anytime soon, which segued nicely into a story about the guy I once dated who seriously believed human beings had migrated to Earth from Venus after turning Venus into a pollutionary hellhole. According to him, all our Venusian spacefaring equipment sunk somewhere as the Lost Island of Atlantis. Also, Venus is the astrological planet of love because we all have a cuddly vestigial memory of when Venus was our Mother Planet, which thus affects our birth charts for some reason.

I am not making this up.

Oh, and we forgot to tell our kids about our origins because we were too busy surviving. Not for nothing, but if I had EMIGRATED FROM ANOTHER PLANET, I think I might tell my kids. Maybe.

This is the same guy who first told me global warming was no biggie, we’d just move to Mars and terraform that (he was sure we could do this because we had already emigrated from Venus, natch). Never mind that Mars has insufficient gravity to hold in greenhouse gases even if we COULD send living people there with enough machinery to start manufacturing said gases in large quantities, or that Mars’s atmosphere is something like 95% CO2 anyway so it’s not like Mars needs MORE of it.

Also, never mind that this guy wanted to be an astronaut and still lists “astronomy” as a hobby. He also thought Piltdown Man was real, which tells you something. (I regret now that I never asked him how Piltdown Man figured into his “we’re from Venus” theory. Does he perhaps think the “humans” who built sulfuric-acid-proof spaceships and emigrated from twenty-five MILLION miles away were Australopithecines? LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS! FOR SRS GUISE!)

Otherwise, this guy was totally able to function in the real world and even graduate a decent school with some kind of engineering degree. I am not making this up either.

Suddenly, three wise men and a virgin birth seem totally plausible. Merry Christmas.


Bob Dylan claims to have made a Christmas album. I submit that it is not possible for Bob Dylan to make a Christmas album, because the lyrics of Christmas songs are so familiar as to be decipherable by just about everyone, and any song with decipherable lyrics is by definition not a Bob Dylan song.

Any moment now someone is going to “discover” the Christmas album Kurt Cobain never released. Probably in the same box with L. Ron Hubbard’s “latest book.”

In case you’re into evolution, or just want to smack fundies who say things like “but the eye! The eye can’t have evolved from anything! The eye is perfect just as it is! Even Darwin could not explain the eye!”, read Andrew Parker’s In the Blink of an Eye, in which he explains not only the evolution of the eye from a spot of light-sensitive cells, but also explains the entire Cambrian explosion therefrom.

It’s not particularly well-written – he’s one of those who leaves his thesis until *after* he’s explained it and also thinks “orientate” is a word – but his solution is elegant and so wonderfully self-evident one wonders why Darwin *didn’t* think of it. (Answer: Darwin was into earthworms and finches, not things what live in the dark underwater. Also, Darwin predated the discovery of the Burgess Shale.)

NBC Nightly News-Flavored Pablum last night had a piece on how rising sea levels due to global warming are drowning Bangladeshis out of their homes and farms and driving half a million of them a year to the capital, where they’re mostly dying in the slums. This was followed immediately by a story on how the CEO of Virgin is building private-use spacefaring vehicles so rich weirdos can be blasted into the upper atmosphere and “experience how fragile the Earth is.”

You want to experience how fragile the Earth is? GO TO BANGLADESH WHY DON’T YOU.

I had really hoped NBC Nightly Blech couldn’t get any weirder than that, but then I watched the following night, in which I learned that President Obama had proposed helping out small business with some of the leftover, un-spent TARP FUNDS, and the Republicans – the small-business-promoting, Joe-the-Plumber-loving Republicans….

…said no.

No, said the Republicans. No, we will not take this money we were going to spend on this other thing but we ended up not having to spend it on that and use it to fund small businesses instead. Even though we say we love small business and totally want them to keep voting for us. We do totally still love them, just not enough to give them any money.

Why do Republicans hate Joe the Plumber?

Kalamazoo’s non-discrimination-ordinance amendment passed yesterday by a 2 to 1 vote. (I could not vote for it on account of not living in the city proper.) The ordinance bans discrimination in housing and public accommodations based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

I actually first learned of this proposed ordinance AND became a supporter of it when I saw an appallingly transphobic and fearmongering poster put out by the “Vote No” side. It featured “mug shots” of men-dressed-as-women (whether they were actually transgendered, transvestites, or just dressed up for the fearmongering poster, I have no idea) and tales of how these men had been, or were going to be, peeping at women in a restroom near you.

I said, “I have no idea what this ordinance says or what it’s even about, but I would vote “Yes” on it just because this poster is such an appalling piece of bullshit that I can’t bear to be even tenuously affiliated with whatever hateful asshats produced it. Thanks, poster!”

…Then I learned I’m not in the city and so could only vote on the much less interesting (but, sadly, equally controversial) public transportation millage. Egh.

I still have no idea what the “Vote No” position was, exactly. A few weeks before voting day, signs started going up in local front yards reading “NO Discrimination – Vote NO on Ordinance 1856.” Which, of course, confused me. And which, of course, the opponents insisted was NOT going to confuse people (yeah, right), and that they thought the ordinance actually caused discrimination. (I found out this morning their group is called “Voters Against Special Rights” or something like that.)

Now, someone help me out here, because I just don’t get the following:

1.) How does an ordinance that prevents Person A from discriminating against Person B based on (a) how they dress and/or (b) what Person A thinks Person B’s sexual orientation is, and/or what Person B’s sexual orientation actually is grant “special rights” to anyone?

Granted, I understand that as a straight cis woman that no one’s ever likely not to rent to me because I am (or generally appear to be) straight or cis. But that’s a function of my straight cis privilege – that I get because “straight” and “cis” are the perceived “normal” categories. It has nothing to do with those categories actually having some inherent virtue more worthy of being respected. And, if someone did want to refuse to rent to me or serve me beer because I look straight or cis, this ordinance stops them from doing that too.

2.) This ordinance does not prevent people from having all the private animus they want against, say, transgendered folks, nor does it prevent them from privately expressing that animus. Non-het, non-cis people don’t suddenly get a life that’s all sunshine and roses just because you’re not allowed to say “get the fuck out of my restaurant, you queer.” Plenty of people are still going to treat them like complete shit. This is unfortunate crap and I wish it were not so, but it is. Furthermore, if you are one of the people who still wishes to treat non-het, non-cis people like complete crap, you are still free to do so on your own time (though I really wish you’d quit).

3.) Why exactly are men who never came up with the idea before suddenly going to say, “oh, hey, I can totally dress up as a woman and go into women’s bathrooms and peep at them or assault them or, hey, whatever!” Keeping in mind the amount of still-totally-legal private animus they will be drawing towards themselves from #2 above.

4.) We still live in a male-dominated society, where very little, if anything, seems to stop those men (I am overlooking that women also commit sexual assault because the “opposeds” did, and because the overwhelming majority of assaults period are still committed by men) who really really want to assault a woman in a public place. Can somebody show me a concrete example of a case in which knowing that a gay or trans self-expression could get him beaten up was the direct cause of a man deciding, “oh, hey, better not try to sneak into the women’s bathroom and assault them!”?

5.) This ordinance also prevents people from discriminating based on perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Not only does it prevent, say, a restaurant owner from kicking out actual trans or gay people, it also prevents them from kicking out people whom they have randomly decided must be trans or gay.

I bring this up for three reasons: (1) every now and then (frequently), I get mistaken for a lesbian, (2) obviously by people whose gaydar is broken, which I can sympathize with even when I’m laughing my straight ass off because I have the brokingest gaydar that ever broke, and (3) I have an acquaintance who was permanently crippled after three teenagers beat him up one summer night on the grounds that he must be gay. He was not gay. They just arbitrarily decided he was, presumably to “justify” their assault.

My point being, tangentially, that even if you live in the magical land of Stupid Hatred, where it is non-het and non-cis people’s “fault” for having been born the way they are and if they want anything good out of this life they’ll straighten up (pun intended) and fly right goddammit, this ordinance protects the “good” “normal” het-and-cis people from moron landlords and bartenders who just can’t see I’m really straight and also really a man dammit. You’re protected even if you’re doing everything “right” – so WTF is the problem???

Maybe I am just a hippie pinko liberal socialist tree-hugger, but I don’t get it. ??

(Oh, and: the losing opposition blamed their loss on not having as many funds as the supporters. Because when your entire position is based on hate and fear-mongering, the only thing that could ever stop you is lack of funds. Totally.)

A few days after my last post (in which I recapped the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act, Part I, for your health and enjoyment), I was admitted to the hospital with primary insomnia of unknown cause. I had not slept for eight days and was seeing things. And by “things,” I mean “mostly centipedes.” I’d have preferred some statuesque British men, but I had no choice in the matter.

I spent a total of ten non-consecutive days in the hospital and now have $11,000 of medical bills I cannot pay because the condition for which I was admitted to the hospital, and my extended absence from work caused by being in the hospital, cost me my job.

That’s $11,000 AFTER INSURANCE, by the way.

I should point out that I worked as an attorney and had insurance through the mid-sized law firm at which I was an associate. By which I mean to point out that even the so-called “well-off” can be hosed in a hot second under our current “system.”

Less on healthcare, more on local politics, imminently.

Because I have been uneducated, uninformed, and unimpressed by the media’s overall coverage of the health care reform battle, I’ve decided to read the bill myself. Like all bills introduced into Congress, the full text of the bill is available at http://thomas.loc.gov/. The health care reform bill is HR 3200, the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 (“AACHA”), introduced by Rep. John Dingell (D-MI).

Here are some notes on the bill’s key points:

Title I: Reforms for Private Health Insurance

Title I of the AAHCA enacts various reforms to the current private insurance market. First, Title I allows insurers who provide health insurers through employers to keep doing so, provided the plans meet certain provisions.

First, the plan is not allowed to raise its rates arbitrarily after the public option goes into effect – if it does raise rates, it has to do so on all its insureds and according to stringent rules set out by the newly-created Health Choices Commissioner.

Private insurers will also have five years to rearrange the plans they offer so that they provide, at the very least, the “essential benefits package” described in the bill.

The above portions of Title I do not apply to plans that are limited to certain specific coverages, such as “hospital-only” or “prescription-only” supplemental plans.

Section 111 of Title I prohibits excluding insureds from coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Private insurers will no longer be able to refuse to pay medical bills based on the argument that the condition was “pre-existing.” Nor will they be able to refuse coverage altogether to persons who have “pre-existing conditions.”

(A “pre-existing condition” is basically anything you had before the day your health insurance went into effect, whether you knew you had it or not. For instance, cancer that is discovered six months after your policy begins is a “pre-existing condition” if it was probably there before you got your insurance. If a private insurer even suspects your condition was “pre-existing,” they will likely deny coverage – this is, in fact, the rule in many companies. This is true even if routine testing showed nothing. Even if you had no symptoms.

I wish I were exaggerating, but I have had too many cases with exactly this fact pattern. I am, in fact, understating the problem.)

Section 113 caps insurance premium costs and prevents insurers from charging different rates arbitrarily. Insurers may use factors such as age, average cost of health insurance in the immediate geographical area, and enrollment by families, but the extent to which they can change rates based on this information is limited.

Section 114 requires coverage for mental health on an equal level with coverage for “physical” health problems.

Section 115 requires insurers to establish comprehensive provider networks. This should reduce the costs to insureds who need specialists that are not in their insurance network, as insurers will be required to include necessary specialists when possible.

Section 121 requires all insurance plans, public, private or otherwise, to provide a minimum level of guaranteed benefits. These include payment for hospitalization, outpatient hospital and clinic services, including emergency room services, professional services by physicians and other health professionals, services, equipment and supplies related to the care prescribed by a physician or health professional, prescription medications, rehabilitative services, mental health and substance use disorder care, preventive care, maternity care, and well baby/well child care for children under 21 years of age.

This section also mandates that insurers provide a minimum of $5,000 care per person and $10,000 per family. The bill also prohibits cost-sharing for preventive and well baby/well child care Insurers are required to use copayments rather than coinsurance whenever possible.

Section 123 establishes a Health Benefits Advisory Committee, to include the Surgeon General. The committee will “recommend covered benefits and essential, enhanced, and premium plans.”

Sections 131 and 132 require private insurers to observe fair marketing practices and to provide fair grievance and appeals procedures. These procedures will include the basic requirements of due process, which are also guaranteed to all U.S. citizens under a public health option.

Sections 133 through 136 provide rules and regulations for transparency, timely payment of claims, and rules for coordination and subrogation of benefits. These rules are designed to prevent insurance companies from “baffling ’em with bullshit,” so to speak. They prevent insurance companies from avoiding payment of benefits by tying up insureds in declaratory actions and other forms of litigation indefinitely.

(Full disclosure: a large part of my caseload involves declaratory actions and other forms of litigation designed to tie up insurance claims in the courts. Among other things, these claims postpone and often abrogate entirely the insurer’s obligation to pay. I have perhaps three of these cases for every one case subject to “tort reform” in recent years. You want to reform torts, tell your Congresscritter to pass this bill and stop insurance companies from baffling their insureds with lawsuits.)

Section 141 establishes the Health Choices Administration and its head, the Health Choices Commissioner, which will be responsible for overseeing both the new rules applicable to private insurers and the administration of the public health options. The HCA will include a Health Insurance Ombudsman (Section 144) to whom we can all complain.

Section 152 provides that “all health care and related services (including insurance coverage and public health activities) covered by this Act shall be provided without regard to personal characteristics extraneous to the provision of high quality health care or related services.” In other words, it prohibits discrimination in health care. The bill also provides whistleblower protection (Section 153) and collective bargaining protections (Section 154).

Section 161 requires insurers whose collections-to-expenditures ratio does not meet a certain limit (i.e., they do not spend as much as expected) to provide rebates to their insureds. It also prohibits recission of insurance except upon clear and convincing evidence of fraud, and requires independent third-party review of rescissions.

Currently, private insurers in most states have limited reasons they can use to rescind (take away) your health insurance. Fraud is included in all the states of which I know. In the states in which I practice, “material misrepresentation” is also included. A “material misrepresentation” is anything that, had the insurer known it when you applied, would have caused the insurer to make a different decision about your coverage. Needless to say, the only thing required to prove this is for the insurer to say under oath, “yeah, if we had known that, we’d have done it differently.”

This Section will eliminate a significant portion of my caseload and may put me out of a job. I do not care. Pass it. Because what insurers do now is unfair, unethical, and wrong.

Section 164 provides reinsurance for retirees whose Medicare benefits are not quite covering all their needs, under the same rules and regs as the rest of us are to get our insurance from now on.

Title II: The Public Health Insurance Option

Section 201 establishes the Health Insurance Exchange (“the Exchange”). The Exchange is basically a health-plan marketplace for individuals/families and employers: both private insurers and the federal government will offer various plans through the Exchange, and individuals, families, and employers can “shop” the various options and pick one that suits their needs and budget.

In order to be eligible to “shop” the Exchange, an individual or employer cannot already have (or provide) health insurance. By “health insurance,” the bill means a plan that meets the requirements laid out in Title I; Medicare; Medicaid; members of the armed forces and their dependents (including Tricare); or coverage under the VA. Individuals and their dependents who do not have any of the above are automatically qualified to “shop” the Exchange. No one is REQUIRED to pick the public option plan; if you find a private plan in the Exchange that you like better, you are free to pick it instead.

Employers are also included in the Exchange on a graded scale: the smallest employers (ten or fewer employees) can “shop” starting in the first year of the Exchange (2013), with larger employers having to wait until the second or third year to begin, depending upon their size. No such “size requirement” applies to individuals or families.

Section 203 outlines the various levels of “benefits packages” available in the Exchange. These are known, basically, as the “basic,” “enhanced,” “premium,” and “premium-plus” plans. The bills goes into some detail as to what goes in which plan, but all of them, including the “basic” plan, must cover the minimum required items set out in Section 121 (above). It also provides for little necessities like linguistically-appropriate and disability-appropriate care.

(Section 121, for the record, requires coverage of several things that are not in most private insurer’s “basic” plans currently, including maternity coverage and mental-health coverage. It is, therefore, already an improvement over the “free market” options.)

(Oh, and don’t bother making a snarky comment about “linguistically-appropriate care.” Instead, think good and hard about just why it is you think people who don’t speak English deserve to die.)

Section 208 provides for operation of State-based Exchanges at the option of a state or group of states. If the state or group of states gets approval to run an Exchange, it must do so under the same rules by which the federal government will run the Exchange.

Whew! This is a larger task than expected! Stay tuned for Part II, where we’ll begin with Section 221: The Public Option.

Dani is an attorney specializing in insurance defense. She is also disabled.

Fascist America: Are We There Yet?

This does answer one question I’ve had for some time: if the loons on the Right really are as loony, ridiculous, nonsensical, illogical, and just plain silly as they appear to be, why are they still around??

I mean, birthers? “Teabagging”? “Obama’s death panel”? Are they SERIOUS?

I fear they are.

Professor Gates’ interview with The Root on his bogus arrest

Professor Gates’ arrest for having the temerity to enter his own home provides, among other things, a great illustration of what, exactly, white privilege is. So many white people tend to confuse white privilege with socioeconomic privilege, then insist they have no “white privilege” because they were born in crapmagical socioeconomic circumstances. That’s not it at all.

My white privilege works like this: if I had actually broken into Professor Gates’ house, chances are very good that the neighbor, even having spied me doing it, would not have called the police. White women do not break into people’s front doors in broad daylight, but we assume – often unconsciously, being steeped in institutionalized racism, but we assume nonetheless – that black people do.

Assuming the neighbor had called the cops anyway, and I had then answered the door for the police in Professor Gates’ bathrobe and fuzzy slippers*, acted politely and said “what seems to be the problem, officers?” – chances are excellent the officer would have said nothing more than “sorry about the disturbance, ma’am, have a nice day.” Because white women who answer the front door in a bathrobe and fuzzy slippers are not criminals. They are, rather, a paragon of domesticity. Never mind that at this point I have stolen Professor Gates’ bathrobe and fuzzy slippers in addition to breaking and entering.

(For what would have happened if I were a white man, see Kate Harding’s post on the subject.)

This is white privilege. It’s not being born with a silver spoon up your ass or having the brown masses of the world wait on you hand and foot. It’s little, usually unconscious things, like people not immediately assuming you are a criminal even when you are seen breaking into someone else’s house. Here we have a Harvard professor, who has accomplished more at the middling age of 53 than most of us will in our lifetimes, who has friends in places most of us can only dream, who has media and PTB access that can turn any police officer into an unemployed schmuck, and who was nevertheless accused from the get-go of being a felon rather than assumed to be a local. Because he is black.

I would not have been so accused. Not even if I had actually committed a felony. Because I am white.

Before you set your head on fire: I’m not saying all white people can get away with crimes. Very funny. I’m saying that no one, anywhere, ever, in America will ever suspect me of wrongdoing merely because of my skin colouring. That’s white privilege: my skin colour is never an issue. If I were arrested for breaking-and-entering Professor Gates’ house, there would be ZERO DOUBT over whether my skin colour had anything to do with it. THAT is white privilege: the privilege to be arrested because you maybe ACTUALLY DID something, NOT merely because you are being black in the wrong neighborhood.


(*No, I don’t know if he actually owns a bathrobe and fuzzy slippers.)