December 28th, 2010

Your sarcasm AMUSES me!

Medical Markup: California Hospitals Open Books, Showing Huge Price Differences

December 27, 2004

How much does a Tylenol cost? In California, that depends on what hospital you're in.

At some California hospitals, a tablet of Tylenol, or its generic version, acetaminophen, is billed at $5 or $5.50. Others charge $7, or even $9, for a single pill. One Los Angeles hospital charges just 12 cents a tablet, while at a few facilities it's free. The retail price of brand-name Tylenol is about eight or nine cents each. The generic goes for a nickel or less.

A new law in California mandates that hospitals there do what few hospitals in America will: open up their "chargemasters," books that show thousands of list prices for medical goods and services. An examination of chargemasters at several hospitals shows that pricing strategies fluctuate wildly -- on everything from brain scans to painkillers to leeches. Depending on a hospital's pricing method, the charge for the same commodity or service, such as a blood test, can vary by as much as 17-fold from one institution to another.

Virtually every business marks up the wholesale cost of supplies and services. But in the hospital business, pricing is an increasingly sensitive and controversial issue. List prices are usually charged only to uninsured patients. Health plans negotiate big discounts and the government essentially dictates what it will pay.

Meanwhile health-care costs are surging and are likely to go up by 8% or 9% per year over the next five years, according to Glenn Melnick, a professor of healthcare finance at the University of Southern California. Economic growth is expected to be about 3% per year, he says, prompting a national debate over how to pay for all this.

Dozens of lawsuits have been filed in recent months by lawyers alleging that nonprofit hospitals are price-gouging the poor and uninsured. Hospitals long seen as charitable organizations are being forced to defend themselves against allegations they have preyed on patients for debts that were inflated.

For years, details on hospital charges were kept secret. Hospitals deemed their prices proprietary, to be kept off limits from institutional rivals, insurers and even consumers. Patients often had no idea what costs they were racking up until they got their bill.

California's law, which went into effect earlier this year, requires hospitals to make their chargemasters available to the public. These lists show how much each hospital charges for everything from drugs and patient rooms to bandages, X-rays and CT scans.

Source: Dow Jones - full article here

North Carolina Courts Hate Gays, Lesbians, Adoptive Parents, Possibly Everyone

If you’re part of a same-sex family in a state where gay marriage isn’t legal, your life is hard. If, for whatever reason, the parents in that family decide to separate, your life gets even harder – not just because of the separation, but because your total lack of any kind of legal legitimacy makes the logistical process of separating a total freefall, where everything you thought you could count on forever is gone and suddenly you don’t know what you’ll still have in your life the next day, if even your children will be taken away from you.

The one beacon of hope in these situations is second-parent adoption, which most states provide for same-sex and heterosexual families. A child with one biological parent can be legally bound to a second parent, creating a patchwork little family that is recognized by the courts, if not by society at large.

If you live in North Carolina, you just lost that one fragile assurance of stability. North Carolina justices have just de-authorized second-parent adoption, which affects not only same-sex parents but many adoptive families across the state.

…in a heartless decision, the North Carolina justices have ruled that this procedure is not authorized in their state. And, making matters worse, they are applying their ruling retroactively, canceling the adoptions that were previously seen as having been properly granted by local courts. Most state courts facing the same question have approved second-parent adoptions, and in the few states where courts have ruled otherwise (Connecticut and Colorado, for example), the state legislatures quickly fixed the problem. However, that is not likely to happen in the conservative legislature of North Carolina.

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hong cha young
  • doverz

Wall Street is whining and playing the victim yet again

NEW YORK - On the mental list of slights and outrages that just about every major figure on Wall Street is believed to keep on President Barack Obama, add this one: When he met recently with a group of CEOs at Blair House, there was no representative from any of the six biggest banks in America.

Not one!

"If they don't hate us anymore, why weren't any of us there?" a senior executive at one of the Big Six banks said recently in trying to explain his hostility toward the president.

"It's not so much just this one thing,” he said. “Who cares about one event? It's just the pattern where they tell you things are going to change, that they appreciate what we do, that capital markets are important, but then the actions are different and they continue to want to score political points on us."


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Wow. So, basically, Wall Street recognizes why they are hated, and they still are crying about it. This is really, really sad and funny at the same time.


Lawyer Says Dallas Woman Sued Halliburton After She Violated "Policy Against Procreation"

A Dallas woman filed suit against Halliburton last week claiming she was fired after her supervisors learned she was pregnant. In court documents filed on December, 21, Lynda Darden alleges she was fired in the summer of 2009 when "she was sexually discriminated against and terminated as a result of her pregnancy." Per the court docs, which indicate Darden was hired in Colorado and then transferred to Texas:

"In 2008, she was transferred to Texas and worked as an administrative associate in the dispatch office at the Alvarado Camp. Although a good, dedicated and productive employee, she was terminated on June 3, 2009, when she apparently violated the company's policy against procreation."

If you detect a hint of snark in that wording, you're picking up what Darden's attorney, Todd Kelly, is putting down: He's become high-profile in recent years for suing the energy contractor.

The Houston-based attorney presently represents Jamie Leigh Jones, the woman who sued former Halliburton subsidiary KBR alleging that she was gang-raped in 2005 by one known and several unknown co-workers and locked in a shipping container to prevent her from reporting the crime. Her case caused Al Franken to sponsor a defense bill amendment stipulating that defense contractors can't force people not to sue them if they get raped on the job. Kelly also represents several other women with sexual assault and/or harassment cases against KBR and Halliburton.

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Austin men attacked after leaving gay bar

Two men say they were attacked after leaving a gay night club in downtown Austin on Christmas night, by five men who jumped from a vehicle yelling anti-gay slurs.

Bobby Beltran and Christopher Ortega say the men got out of the car and for the next 5 to 10 minutes, the men took turns kicking and punching the both of them.

Via the Dallas Voice:

Beltran said he and his friend had just left Rain, a gay bar, at about 1:30 a.m. When they hugged each other goodbye on the sidewalk, some men in a passing vehicle yelled, “Fucking faggots, stop that queer shit!”

After Beltran yelled at the men to “get out of here,” all five of them jumped out of the vehicle and attacked him and his friend. Beltran said he fought back but suffered cuts and bruises and a black eye.

Beltran said he and Ortega tried to fight the attackers off, and that none of the 20 to 30 witnesses stopped to help.

The attack stopped after a friend yelled the cops were coming. When they did show up, they didn’t have much to say, according to the two men. [KXAN-TV report here.]

“The response was, ‘Sorry guys. We’ll give you a report number. We’ll never catch these guys,’ ” Ortega said.

This is at least the second time this year two gay men have been beat up after leaving a gay bar on Austin’s 4th Street. The previous attack occured last February just down the street near City Hall. So far, no arrests have been made.


Tax the Comfortable

I've been hearing a lot about how fair it would be to increase taxes on the rich in the U.S. That's justice, I'm told. Those robber CEOs, greedy bankers, and shady hedge fund managers need to "give back" a portion of their pirate booty.

Some of the super-rich are supporting this flavor of fairness. Warren Buffett wants the rich to pay a higher tax rate. Even Larry David (co-creator of Seinfeld) had a funny piece in the New York Times mocking the notion that the tax increase would be noticed by people in the hundred-million-dollar club, such as himself.

The tax-the-rich argument feels fair if you allow yourself to see the world as only two categories: the rich and the non-rich. And it helps if you let the media install Bernie Madoff as the poster boy for the rich, while perhaps you imagine Tiny Tim as your symbol for the non-rich. But what about, let's say, a hard-working doctor? His taxes would increase when you tax the so-called rich. And unlike Warren Buffett and Larry David, a tax increase likely has real implications for the doctor's family.

Before you break out the tiny violins for my hypothetical doctor, allow yourself to imagine that he's got a mountain of college loans, his mortgage is underwater, and he's supporting three grandparents (one on his wife's side) who all need some form of senior care, and the doctor's parents, and his wife's parents, have no spare cash. The doctor's parents might also need help in a few years. Oh, and the doctor has two kids of his own, one of whom needs some sort of special care. That's what the real world looks like for the so-called Sandwich Generation. For this imaginary doctor, any extra tax burden takes money from four generations of his family who needs it and distributes the cash to strangers.

When the English language was hardening, I suppose the only wealth descriptors needed were rich (nobility) and poor (everyone else). Now we don't have a word to describe a doctor's income range. The nearest you can get is "upper-middle class" which is vaguely defined, according to Wikipedia, as a "comfortable income." The limits of language can be a problem for a debate such as this.

Just for fun, suppose we introduce to the discussion of taxation a new word for our hypothetical doctor's income range. To demonstrate the power of language, let's call that income group suckers. It's a loaded word, and that's the point. Watch how the fairness argument can turn when the labels change.

Now we have three income groups:

1. Rich (such as Larry David)

2. Suckers (such as doctors and small business people)

3. Majority

Now let's look at the fairness argument using our new categories. In a democratic system, the majority is in charge. Therefore it is fair to say that the Majority left the bank door unlocked so the Rich could loot it. Nice work, Majority. Now the Majority's proposed solution is to take money from the Suckers income group to compensate for their own gross mismanagement of the country.

You might argue that the rich are the ones who are really in charge, even in a democratic system. That makes the story even worse. In that case, the rich plundered both the Majority and the Suckers, and now Warren Buffett and Larry David are pointing fingers at the Suckers in the hope that the Majority doesn't decide to boil the rich for food. That's what I would do if I were a billionaire. Just sayin'.

My own view, as a member of the Suckers group, is that if economists determine that the best way to make the country solvent is to increase my taxes, I'm willing to look at those numbers. I'm a practical guy. But I do resent being gang raped by the Rich and the Majority while they high-five each other and call it fairness. And I'd feel a little better about it if the Majority would do a better job managing things going forward.

Dilbert Blog

Joe Klein: Beck A 'Tele-Charlatan' Promoting 'Ridiculous Conspiracy Theories'

TIME's Joe Klein lashed out at Glenn Beck on Sunday's "Chris Matthews Show."

Matthews was in the process of giving a mock award for who had shown the most chutzpah in 2010. Klein said Beck should have an award all to himself, and called Beck a "tele-charlatan."

Beck, he continued, "retires the cup, not just for [the Restoring Honor Rally] but for this phony professorial air that he has when hes broadcasting, in which he's promoting these ridiculous conspiracy theories by these John Birch Society nutcakes."

Matthews seemed to agree, saying, "I know" in the middle of Klein's rant.


absinthe, wormwood

Social Engineering by the Tories

Councils facing 9.9% core funding cut

Councils in England are to face cuts of almost 10% next year in their core central government funding. 
The coalition said the "formula grant" from Whitehall would be reduced by 9.9% in 2011/2012 and by 7.3% in 2012/2013.
The cuts are part of a policy to cut central funding to local authorities by 28% over four years.
Ministers promised a "new democratic settlement", with more money being found to help deprived areas. But Labour called the cuts "devastating".
In the House of Commons, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said councils would see their "spending power" reduced by on average 4.4% next year, with no authority facing a decline of more than 8.9% for any of the next three years.
These figures - published for every council - are smaller than the overall 9.9% because they include all other grants and income that councils get, such as council tax and NHS funding.
The government is also publishing a Localism Bill, whose measures include:
  • Giving local people and organisations the right to buy community assets like shops, pubs and libraries; if a council decides to sell a property, community organisations will get extra time to develop their bid
  • Allowing communities to question how services - such as children's centres, care homes and transport - are being run, and potentially take them over
  • More power for local people to overrule planning decisions, decide where new homes should go and protect green spaces
  • Powers to create directly elected mayors in 12 cities
  • Powers for people to approve or veto "excessive" council tax rises
The bill also includes plans for a change in the role that councils play in finding accommodation for homeless families.

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I looked up the councils highlighted as being the worst hit in the original article.  Of the twelve listed, ten are Labour seats, one Lib Dem, one Tory.  My own local authority, unfortunately completely Tory and very affluent, is receiving cuts of only 1%. 

Left Foot Forward examined the relationship between the depth of the cuts and the level of deprivation (2007 data). It's pretty damning:


Missouri lawmakers who aim to repeal the Puppy Mill law face opposition

The group responsible for tough new restrictions on dog breeders in Missouri has a message for lawmakers who want to repeal or amend those rules: Don’t.

Missourians for the Protection of Dogs has spent $20,000 to erect several billboards along routes leading to Jefferson City.

Lawmakers will convene next week and may begin debate over changing or repealing Proposition B, the so-called Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, which voters approved in November.

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Source: Kansas City Star
pic source

Without giving any reasons over the decision Iraq’s education ministry bans theatre & music classes

The Iraqi Ministry of Education has banned theatre and music classes in Baghdad's Fine Arts Institute, and ordered the removal of statues showcased at the entrance of the institute without explaining the move, but some of the students mull religious reasons as the real motive.

“Prohibiting theatre and music in the institute for its so called “violation” of religion is only an individual opinion touted by some people hailing from religious parties, but it is contradictory to the opinion of most religious clerics and scholars,” said Dhaya al-Shakarchi, a writer and a politicians, told

Students have also fears that the ban will extend to include other arts such as photography, directing, sculpting, and drawing.
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That's just so sad

On Kentucky's ark, unicorns and dragons

That creationist ark in Kentucky will not only have every mammal ever and insects like termites and dinosaurs and very tiny giraffes so they can fit.

No, the ark will also apparently have dragons and unicorns. Joe Sonka, whose Barefoot and Progressive should get a special award for something, reports getting this answer from the ark builders:

Since the Bible mentions unicorns in a few passages (Deuteronomy 33:17; Numbers 23:22, 24:8; Psalm 22:21, 29:6, 92:10; Isaiah 34:7), some may wonder if such uni-horned deer were the "unicorns" of old. That would certainly be possible and may explain the images of unicorns in historic artwork. Like the fire-breathing dragons clearly based on--but also a stretch from--real dinosaurs, perhaps the horse-and-narwhal-like unicorns were based on rare sightings of deer, goats, oryx, or other four-legged animals with similar single, central horn mutations.

The other hypothesis, which seems equally plausible, is that the unicorn refers to the rhinoceros. After all, "unicorn" (as mentioned above) simply means "one horn," and the rhinoceros is the only known animal to normally have one horn. The rhinoceros would also fit in the Bible passages that mention unicorns without any inconsistencies.

As for the dragons, Sonka reports that the Answers in Genesis folks say they're basically dinosaurs. Which totally lived at the same time as mammals, including people, and will totally fit on the ark. Totally.