Are All Those Insurance Company Cancellation Letters Too Good to Check?

Paul Waldman recounts yet another story of someone allegedly getting screwed by Obamacare. This time the victim is Deborah Cavallaro, profiled yesterday on the NBC Nightly News:

We learn in this story that her insurer is cancelling her current plan, which costs $293 a month, because it doesn’t comply with the new law. They’ve offered her a new plan at $484 a month. That sounds like it sucks!….But wait. Maybe she’s not a victim after all. How does the $484 plan her current insurer is offering compare to the other ones she could get? Did she or the reporter go to the California exchange and try to figure that out? Apparently, they didn’t. But I did.

It took less than 60 seconds. Let’s assume that Deborah has a high enough income that she isn’t eligible for subsidies. I put in that I was 45 years old and got nine different choices for a Bronze plan, which in all likelihood most closely resembles what Deborah has now. The average monthly cost was $258, or $35 a month less than what Deborah’s paying now for her bare-bones plan….She can get a Silver plan, with more generous coverage, for $316, only $23 more than she’s paying now. Congratulations, Deborah!

In a follow-up post, Waldman makes the right point about this:

I want to talk about the thing that spawns some of these phony Obamacare victim stories: the letters that insurers are sending to people in the individual market….There’s something fishy going on here, not just from the reporters, but from the insurance companies. It’s time somebody did a detailed investigation of these letters to find out just what they’re telling their customers.

Read more at Mother Jones

Wolf protection plan raises hackles in Southwest

The U.S. wants to ban most killing of wild Mexican wolves in New Mexico and Arizona, and expand the area where the animals can roam. But many see federal overreach.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to extend Endangered Species Act protections for an estimated 75 Mexican wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / January 25, 1998)

ALBUQUERQUE — In the small, rural community of Reserve, children waiting for the school bus gather inside wooden and mesh cages provided as protection from wolves. Parents consider the “kid cages” a reasonable precaution.

Defenders of the wolves note there have been no documented wolf attacks in New Mexico or Arizona. Fears of wolves attacking humans, they say, are overblown, and the cages nothing more than a stunt.

In 1995, the reintroduction of Canadian gray wolves into the northern Rockies ignited a furor.

In 1995, the reintroduction of Canadian gray wolves into the northern Rockies ignited a furor.

Such protections would make it illegal to kill wolves in most instances. The new federal plan would also significantly expand the area where the wolves could roam unmolested.

To many conservatives in the West, such protections are examples of government overreach — idealistic efforts by officials who don’t know what it’s like to live with wolves.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times

Lou Reed dead at 71: New York City rock pioneer, The Velvet Underground musician died Sunday

The Brooklyn-born guitarist passed away Sunday

Lou Reed passed away on Sunday, according to the Rolling Stone.

Lou Reed, the founder of the seminal avant-garde band The Velvet Underground who influenced a generation of rock stars, died Sunday at 71.

No official cause of death was announced, but the hard-living icon underwent a liver transplant in May.

Reed is best known for 1973 hit ‘Walk on the Wild Side,’ but his body of work over a nearly 50-year career often defied categorization.

The Brooklyn-born Reed grew up in Freeport, but New York was the canvass on which he painted much of his music. His 1989 album “New York” was one of the most admired of his career, looking back on the turbulent ’80s through a lens of wry humor and measured anger that called out the likes of Rudy Giuliani, the NRA, subway shooter Bernhard Goetz and the decades Republican presidents.

Reed was one of the few artists who meant it when he said he was unconcerned with the commercial appeal of his music.

Read more at the New York Daily News

Addicted to the Apocalypse

Once upon a time, walking around shouting “The end is nigh” got you labeled a kook, someone not to be taken seriously. These days, however, all the best people go around warning of looming disaster. In fact, you more or less have to subscribe to fantasies of fiscal apocalypse to be considered respectable.

Paul Krugman

And I do mean fantasies. Washington has spent the past three-plus years in terror of a debt crisis that keeps not happening, and, in fact, can’t happen to a country like the United States, which has its own currency and borrows in that currency. Yet the scaremongers can’t bring themselves to let go.

Consider, for example, Stanley Druckenmiller, the billionaire investor, who has lately made a splash with warnings about the burden of our entitlement programs. (Gee, why hasn’t anyone else thought of making that point?) He could talk about the problems we may face a decade or two down the road. But, no. He seems to feel that he must warn about the looming threat of a financial crisis worse than 2008.

Or consider the deficit-scold organization Fix the Debt, led by the omnipresent Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles. It was, I suppose, predictable that Fix the Debt would respond to the latest budget deal with a press release trying to shift the focus to its favorite subject. But the organization wasn’t content with declaring that America’s long-run budget issues remain unresolved, which is true. It had to warn that “continuing to delay confronting our debt is letting a fire burn that could get out of control at any moment.”

As I’ve already suggested, there are two remarkable things about this kind of doomsaying. One is that the doomsayers haven’t rethought their premises despite being wrong again and again — perhaps because the news media continue to treat them with immense respect. The other is that as far as I can tell nobody, and I mean nobody, in the looming-apocalypse camp has tried to explain exactly how the predicted disaster would actually work.

Why Saudi Arabia can’t ban women from driving forever

There’s something extraordinary happening in Saudi Arabia right now. I should know — you see, I was born there, lived there half my life, speak the language and understand the customs. Lately, I’m both amazed at and humbled by what I’m seeing: Extremely brave Saudi women, more driven than ever to change their society, despite the sad fact that they still aren’t allowed to drive.

And while it’s true there’s no formal law that bans females from getting behind the wheel in the ultra-conservative kingdom, it is also by no means a stretch to say they are, indeed, prohibited from doing so. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it’s always been in a society where religious edicts are often interpreted to mean it is illegal for women to drive.

I’ve reported on this subject for years and must admit, it’s a personal one for me. Some of my earliest memories entail trying to figure out why my American mother would always drive me around Oklahoma City, where we spent our summers, but could never take me around Jeddah, where we lived the rest of the year.

Read more at Ya Libnan

About Ya Libnan

Ya Libnan was originally created to capture the historic events that erupted as a result of the assassination of the former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. The tragic Valentines Day murder gave birth to the Cedar Revolution.

In what started out as a personal log of events in Lebanon, we were pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming support for Ya Libnan. With our staff and a network of volunteers, we are proud of what we’ve accomplished. Ya Libnan offers our worldwide audience the latest independent news coverage which focuses exclusively on Lebanon.

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Web Sites and Grave Sites

Charles M. Blow

Republicans are apoplectic about Healthcare.gov, the official Web site for the Affordable Care Act.

They are trying desperately to change the subject from their disastrous government shutdown by ranting about the failures of a government Web site that cost a tiny fraction of what was lost as a result of the shutdown.

Republicans are pretending that they care about the problems encountered in signing up for a system that many of them are bent on destroying.

They are demanding an immediate fix to something they want to break.

They are trying to deflect public outrage away from their record-low approval ratings.

The only problem for Republicans is that a technical issue isn’t likely to have legs. Yes, it’s embarrassing. Yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, it’s an unforced error.

But it’s also fixable, and in the grand scheme of things, a malfunctioning Web site is more understandable and less consequential than a malfunctioning political party.

The Web site will be fixed. Can the same be said of the party that has planted its flag on the outskirts of reason? Can the same be said of the party being hijacked by hyperpartisans?

Read more at The New York Times

Obamacare and part-time jobs: The myth exploded (again)

Over the last month the number of workers in part-time jobs for economic reasons–slack demand, cutbacks in hours–has remained stable. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

Tuesday’s tepid brew of jobs data, delayed more than two weeks by the government shutdown, wasn’t worth waiting for. It shows an increase in total nonfarm employment by 148,000 in September over August, which is consistent with economic growth crawling along in second gear.

The report’s most notable nugget is the change in part-time work. Over the last month the number of workers in part-time jobs for economic reasons–slack demand, cutbacks in hours–has remained stable. Over the last year, however, it has fallen by 681,000. Those part-timers also constitute a smaller share of all workers–5.5% in September compared to 6% a year earlier.

That puts the lie to the popular conservative meme that Obamacare has transformed America’s workforce into part-timers. The idea is that employers wishing to evade the law’s requirement that they offer health insurance to employees working more than 30 hours a week will cut their hours to 29 or less. The shorthand about this provided by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), that one-stop shop for Obamacare disinformation, was “single parents who have been forced into part-time work.”

Read more at the Los Angeles Times

Saudis Shock U.N., Quit Security Council Over Syria

Saudi Arabia took the extraordinary step Friday of refusing to take its seat on the U.N. Security Council — despite pursuing the position for years. It’s an unprecedented protest over the council’s failure to take firmer action in Syria and Palestine. And it comes at a time of growing Saudi frustration with American-led policies across the Middle East.

The decision, which came in an announcement from the Saudi Foreign Ministry, came one day after Saudi Arabia was elected for the first time in its history to the United Nations’ most powerful body. And it reflected deep resentment over China and Russia’s blockage of steps by the Security Council to restrain President Bashar al-Assad’s military and to force him from power. The announcement left many regional specialists shaking their heads, saying the move may run counter to Saudi interests and would deny the Saudis an opportunity to use the high-profile position on the council to promote a tougher line on Syria and other issues.

Read more at Foreign Policy

Learning Sympathy

Claude S. Fischer

Appeals to our sympathy are everywhere: late-night commercials on behalf of orphans overseas, envelopes bearing pleas from disaster-relief organizations, magazine ads asking help to ease the suffering of piteous (though cute) humans and animals, campus solicitors recruiting students to spend a summer in Central America or Kenya building latrines or conducting AIDS education, and so on. Giving is so popular that companies ride the sentiment. Bono’s “Product Red” campaign channeled a percentage of sales by firms such as Nike and Dell to fight AIDS. Recently, Dignity Health, a huge, nonprofit hospital system, cloaked itself in a “humankindness” campaign, hellohumankindness.org. Humankindness.org was already taken.

That humanitarian appeals tend to work is not a given of human nature. They work because we moderns have learned to sympathize with the suffering of others as far away as the Congo and as strange as leatherback turtles. Our feelings are the products of a humanitarian sensibility that has risen in the last couple of centuries. We, the Western bourgeois, became more sympathetic as we became more sensitive and sentimental.

Why this modern expansion in the range of objects fit for sympathy?

Bourgeois Americans sought to be refined, to attain an acute “sensibility.” The sensible viscerally felt a sunset, a painting, a musical passage—and also the sufferings of others. Those who were unmoved were mere brutes. Well-reared Americans nurtured such sensitivity and the emotions—positive emotions, only—that they aroused, making them sentimental. In the early 1800s, the teenage daughter of a Massachusetts businessman described in her diary how, as she sat by her window at twilight, “a sweet melancholy diffused itself over my heart. Memory recalled a thousand tender scenes; the silent tear fell, from an emotion, which it was impossible to control.”

Middle-class women immersed themselves in romantic novels and embraced the books’ message that passion was now a prerequisite for marriage. Indeed, having good character required that Victorians engaged in romantic, lasting love. Abraham Lincoln marked a passage in a best-selling self-help book that he gave to his wife: “The motive power in man is Affection. What he loves he wills, and what he wills he performs. Our Character is the complex of all that we love.” Marriages became drenched in sentimentality. Increasingly, marriages that stayed dry headed to divorce.

Children, too, became more sentimentalized, which made their deaths, so commonplace in early America, all the more crushing. Literate mothers in the colonial era wrote fatalistic, matter-of-fact diary entries about their children’s deaths, but mothers in the antebellum era more often wrote anguished, detailed cris-de-coeur. In the Victorian era, clerics who had once spoken of deceased infants as eternally doomed (for having missed the chance to repent) turned to a rhetoric of pristine innocents called back to Jesus. Sociologist Viviana Zelizer has shown how insurance policies for children, once sold to replace the income a working child would had provided parents, eventually sold as compensation for the heart-wrenching loss of the now “priceless” child.

Nineteenth-century sentimentality focused a great deal on death. Middle-class Americans amplified grief by, for example, adopting elaborate mourners’ clothing and burying the deceased in forested cemeteries rather than churchyards. These romantic settings evoked stronger feelings and provoked experiences of the sublime. Such melancholia provided fodder for Mark Twain, whose Emmeline Grangerford drew illustrations of tear-streaked mourners with titles such as “And Art Thou Gone Yes Thou Art Gone Alas.” Huck Finn criticizes her poetry, lines delivered “just so it was sadful.” Grangerford’s caricature captures the bourgeois sentimentality of the mid-19th century.

The great reform movements of that time built on and built up middle-class northerners’ sentimentality so as to generate sympathy for the pain and suffering of slaves, abused children, families of alcoholics, and even for heathens bereft of salvation, among other objects of pity. Horrific displays of physical torment—in drawings, in literature, and most famously in stage performances of Uncle Tom’s Cabin—moved audiences toward reform. Yet many reformers worried that such graphic depictions also coarsened the audiences, creating a callous and voyeuristic taste for cruelty—much like the worry these days about “disaster porn.” Historian Karen Halttunen writes that the “cult of sensibility had proclaimed pain unacceptable but simultaneously discovered it to be alluring, ‘delicious.’”

Read more at the Boston Review

How democratic is Turkey?

Ceylan Ozbudak

“The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletarian to the level of bourgeois stupidity” Gustave Flaubert complained in his letter to George Sand in 1871. In the 1800s, democracy could be described in such simple terms. But as time progressed, so did the demands and perceptions. Today, talking about democracy demands more than providing every citizen the power to vote.

This week Turkey welcomed the news to be invited to join the Development Assistance Committee (DAC ), known as the “club of rich countries.” Erik Solheim, the newly elected chair of the OECD, stated that the Turkish aid provided to Africa and to Somalia in particular drew their attention and demonstrates the significant progress Turkey has made. According to OECD DAC figures, the total amount of Turkey’s official development aid in 2012 was $2.5 billion, a 99 percent increase in 10 years. In 2002, Turkey’s aid totaled $86 million and $1.3 billion in 2011—the assistance provided by other OECD member countries decreased 4 percent in 2012.

No democratic tradition

Positive story so far. But (and there is a but) I have to say Turkey still doesn’t have its own identity in democracy, nor does it have a democratic tradition. As we progress in general terms, in terms of finesse in democratic culture we are being more aware of our gaps every day. Of course steps are being taken to fully amend the constitution and make a more pluralistic, more peaceful society. Turkey’s constitutional problem possess a major challenge to democratic consolidation, however, in the latest democratization package, there were regulations for many ethnic and religious groups, especially for Kurdish people such as the right to education in different languages at special schools, lifting of the legal barriers for the use of Kurdish town names and permission to advertise in different languages and dialects.

One thing our politicians fail to consider is: perception is the only reality in politics – as our former Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış so eloquently stated. If you look like an Islamist and talk like an Islamist, you will be known as one no matter how many freedoms you provide to your society. Passing an alcohol restriction fully in line with EU countries does not make AK Party an Islamist party but letting bigoted scholars talk about the indecency of pregnant women walking on the streets, does. Letting hijab wearing women go to universities and enter governmental institutions does not make AK Party an Islamist party, but criticizing a host on tv for her revealing clothes, certainly does. In terms of legislation, there is no gender segregation in Turkey, only positive one towards women. But if a society can still comment on women’s clothing and not men’s, how much equality of genders can we talk about in a society? If the dissents can find one leak in civil liberties, doesn’t it justify all other criticism? Still to this day neither the party nor the person who publicly criticized the ladies outfit apologized.

Read more at Al Arabiya