Monday, August 18, 2014

Security Problems in Paris

In Paris recently, an armed crew hit a Saudi prince's convoy to heist his suitcase of cash.

This isn't the only evidence of security problems in Paris.  Earlier this year, French officials confirmed they'd deploy Chinese police to patrol parts of Paris in which Chinese tourists were likely to desire additional security.

Imagine that in your neighborhood.  Crazy, no?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Healthcare Shopping Lunacy

After my disastrous bait-and-switch experience at healthcare.gov, I finally (after more than four months and several hours of on-the-phone troubleshooting) get confirmation the plan that didn't include my kids' pediatrician (despite the pre-enrollment search that listed all the docs I cared about) was cancelled.  Then L's coverage terminates, and we are in the market again.  My existing insurer can't add L to my plan because its employees can't figure out who to transfer me to in order to get a quote, until they finally transfer me to someone whose incompetence (I shudder to think his abuse is intentional, but it certainly could be) prevents him from obtaining from me the information needed to provide me a quote.  He interrupts me over and over; I hang up and try back for someone else in his department, but he answers again and is no more helpful the next time, either.  So, bye-bye Aetna.  This is how you lose healthy insureds.  That's why I'm on a private exchange looking for health coverage.  The private exchange is pleasant in that I could get a human to walk me though it and answer questions and email me documents about the various coverages available.  It looks pretty good.

I enter detailed information about everyone I want covered in order to get plan cost information, and when I click to "apply" for the plan … I'm required to enter it all over again. 

I do. 

Then, I get a page that informs me I haven't applied until I've made a medical application. 

Guess what?  I get to re-enter all the information, yet again.

I click to add a spouse, and the webform demands I answer whether this spouse is married.  I mean, really.

Then I get this:

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires us to be reasonably assured that you and each member on this policy have coverage for pediatric dental services that are essential health benefits. The Affordable Care Act requires these benefits even if there is no one on the policy who is eligible for these services.
The government's own web site makes crystal clear that this is a lie: there's no obligation to purchase dental coverage, only an obligation to make it available – and no tax imposed on persons without dental coverage.  After doing some math based on expected dental costs, I conclude I'm better off putting premium dollars in a health savings account.  But the "medical application" requires one to claim to have dental coverage, or purchase it for over $40/month/person.  Just crazy.  The law doesn't require the coverage, but the idiots who coded the site do.

This just goes on and on.

Beam me up, Scotty.  There's little sign of intelligent life in the insurance industry.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Government Killings: What Defines An Epidemic?

Supposedly one is an accident, two a coincidence, and three a pattern. Stories about uniformed government peace officers killing Americans without trial raise concerns not only about the safety of life under its rule but the endurance of the rights with which the government has been entrusted – the rights that are, in fact, the government's purpose for existence.  How iffy must those rights become before something must be done?  When is it an epidemic?

In Oklahoma City, two police officers murdered the man dating their daughter. (The man was black.)

In Cincinnati, a man was shot dead by police in the store where he sought to purchase a BB-gun. (The BB-gun buyer was also black.)

An unarmed teen walking with a friend in the street was killed after a police car approached, and its uniformed officer told the boy to get on the sidewalk.  Despite that the boy had no weapon and raised his hands in surrender, the just-graduated teen was shot dead in Georgia.  (Other versions of this story point out the killed man was black.)

Before then, New York City police killed a man they found standing unarmed at the scene of a reported disturbance (which the shooting victim had broken up before officers arrived).  This incident got more profile because it was filmed by bystanders, and because police reports purporting to describe the scene – made before police knew film existed – shows the police acted deliberately to conceal from the public the truth about the killing.  Although the incident has been described as illustrating a plague of brutality against black men, one wonders how anyone could feel "protected" by armed men who go unprosecuted despite doing this to other humans.  The police response?  Eric Garner wasn't killed by armed men employing a choke hold after their victim begged for air and warned them he couldn't breathe, he was killed for failure to respect the officers of the NYPD.  To make sure the news on the NYPD is appropriately respectful, the NYPD has begun writing its news itself.  Like Cesar trying to sound like a historian by writing about himself in the third person, the NYPD offers feels-like-news stories purporting to celebrate successes like recovering a single .22 handgun. On the bright side, the officer who arrested the .22's owner managed to do it without killing anyone. Yay?

In Houston, police killed a mentally ill double-amputee who was confined to a wheelchair.  According to police, the man attempted to stab an officer with a pen.  Lemme give you a hint, for the next time a schizophrenic bipolar patient who's confined to a wheelchair gives you palpitations over the risk he's unwilling to surrender his felt-tipped pen, consider fleeing for the high ground of the nearby bed, which the wheelchair will not surmount.  Just a thought.  In a metropolitan area exceeding five million souls, there's bound to be someone who's very ill and poorly medicated  – someplace – pretty much incessantly.  From the incident's description, two officers were in the room and neither bothered to attempt any kind of restraint – they just brandished weapons and issued commands to a man whose psychiatric disorder could very well have been causing him to hear things they never spoke.  It wasn't the first time the officer who pulled the trigger decided that the answer to his daily problem was to shoot a civilian.  The prior incident involved a man who'd attacked others with a knife.  The photo doesn't suggest the killed double-amputee belonged to a minority race, but he was mentally ill and had been a ward of Harris County since 2003.  Way to take care of your sick, Harris County.  Bullets are, what? About a buck apiece?

In Dallas, police who were dispatched to the home of a paranoid schizophrenic man based on a report that he had threatened suicide decided to yell at him, predictably escalating his fragile mental state, until after tazing him they chose to shoot him eleven times (including after he was already on the ground).  A home surveillance camera provides video.  Neighbors reported that they never felt threatened by Michael Blair, despite his odd behavior.  The 26-year-old was black.

The Dallas video contains something that appears in an account by a Washington Post reporter [*] regarding his own arrest: loud self-serving statements by police for the benefit of cameras and witnesses, intended to create some basis on which to find the officers' conduct justified.  There's nothing to the statements; they're just there to prejudice onlookers.  The golden example is this:
“My hands are behind my back,” I said. “I’m not resisting. I’m not resisting.” At which point one officer said: “You’re resisting. Stop resisting.”
Turn off the audio on the Dallas shooting and look for indications the officers attempted to subdue the mentally ill man using any means besides appealing to the rational fear we expect people to have when confronted with force (including fore like electric shocks or the threats of gunfire).  Once you know the civilian is mentally ill, and contemplating suicide, why on Earth would you expect a threat to kill him to represent a plausible strategy to de-escalate him so he could get treatment?

I don't know if there's a formal field of study for this kind of government/citizen interaction, but I wonder if some threshold exists for determining that an issue has progressed from a shocking aberration to an epidemic that demands prompt action.

Anyone know?

Anyone care?

[*] The Washingon Post reporter arrested covering a protest over a police shooting of a civilian wasn't the only one.  Another reporter (white) covering the same protest was not only arrested, but suffered having his face bashed into a fixed object by an armed police officer in riot armor, who sarcastically apologized afterward – another incident of abusive police employing language to create cover for inappropriate conduct.  If called on his assault, the response will surely be to claim the whole thing was an accident, as evidenced by his prompt 'apology'.  The result?
Ryan Grim, The Huffington Post's Washington bureau chief, noted in a statement that Reilly "has reported multiple times from Guantanamo Bay." According to Grim, Reilly "said that the police resembled soldiers more than officers, and treated those inside the McDonald's as 'enemy combatants.'"
So at home, we're treated as 'enemy combatants.'  So, it's true: freedom isn't free.  And bogus oversight isn't oversight at all. Public attention must be directed to the problem of reviving the dying rule of law if we are, in fact, to have "rights" as our predecessors understood the term.


==========
UPDATES:
In the interest of plotting the data points, I've also noticed ...

... Miami SWAT executing a narcotics warrant, and their behavior toward the 13-year-old boy in the raises house and their treatment of the glass picture frames through out the house; should it matter that conduct like this was committed in a house two blocks from the one specified in the warrant – or is there really anyone who seriously believes such conduct is appropriate even there?

... A multi-jurisdictional SWAT team in Georgia threw a stun grenade into a crib, putting a 19-month-old without health insurance in the hospital in a coma with burns that exposed his ribs. Does it matter the adult sought in their warrant didn't live there and wasn't present?


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Queen Takes Gold in Photobomb Competition

A picture is worth a thousand words.  Click and enjoy.

Proof John Cleese isn't a fluke: Brits are hilarious.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Southwest Airlines: Tweet About Us And We Ban You

When a man with kids was turned away from a plan on which he was an "A-list" passenger entitled to early boarding, he tweeted his displeasure at Southwest and its gate agent.  Southwest's gate agent said "You can’t board the plane unless you delete that tweet."

Southwest made good on its threat, too – denying him his paid-for seat until he deleted his social media complaint about how poorly he felt his family was treated.  And why shouldn't he? Southwest's personnel had reduced his kids to tears from fear their father would be arrested after the gate agent threaten to "call the cops" and claim the man represented a threat.

Obviously, the belief the man represented a threat was utterly false: they found no reason not to seat him once they twisted his arm into "deleting" his Twitter post.

So, it's true: ‘Wow, rudest agent in Denver. Kimberly S, gate C39, not happy @SWA.'

There aren't words rude enough for so despicable a person, willing to threaten harassment by law enforcement personnel for their personal benefit.  Just … ugh.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Noriega to 'Black Ops II' Game Develpers: "Show Me The Money"

Deposed Panamanian strongman "General" Manuel Noriega, who ran death squads and torture operations for years in support of his dictatorship and the drug operations from which he profited, became an international headline when he holed up in the Vatican embassy while it stood besieged by American forces bent on his capture.  His villainy has been so well documented that he's been immortalized as an adversary in Activision Blizzard's Call of Duty: Black Ops II.  Naturally Noriega, who has languished in a Panamanian prison since his 2011 extradition, has filed suit to share the proceeds.

On the one hand, what a system: everyone gets a crack at justice, even proven murderers.

On the other hand, what a farce: he's internationally reknowned as a corrupt dictator who clung to power through a program of murder and intimidation, and whose downfall followed not his murder spree at home but his soured relations with back-room kingmakers at the CIA. The craziest part of the story is that Noriega says Activision Blizzard somehow had the power to damage his reputation.  Really? Can a reputation possibly be worse?

On the bright side, the defamation case is a sure loser.  As a public figure being lampooned for entertainment in the subject area in which he's famous – in a game – it's doubtful that it's possible to maintain a defamation case under U.S. law.  Even straight-up news sources could plausibly defend such a suit.  The more interesting question is whether using the likeness of a living person for profit might entitle him to damages under the kinds of legal principles that allow the heirs of Elvis Presley both to make fortune in photo licensing and restrict republication of Elvis' image during the fat years.  The Jaded Consumer will report back.

After all, who doesn't like a good train wreck?