Archive for March, 2009

17
Mar
09

Righteous Indignation: The AIG Edition

Senator Chris Dodd is miffed at AIG and thinks that the bonuses that were recently doled out by the ailing giant should be taxed. Governor Cuomo has his panties in a bunch and so does President Obama. All this posturing for political gain (I know, they’re politicians) is nauseating. But let’s get a few issues out from behind a fog that the politicians kind of glaze over…

  • Many of the bonuses that are being paid out are done so through contractual obligation. If AIG broke those contracts, they would likely have to wind up paying them out anyway after legal proceedings. Then you would have the cost of the bonuses plus legal fees. Those legal fees would come out of the bailout money, too.
  • Bonuses already are taxed. Ask anyone who has received one and they will tell you how much of a chunk the gubbermint takes out of the bonus. Does Dodd and company want to add on a special tax, an “evil capitalist tax”, above and beyond the normal tax rate for bonuses? Who would pay it?
  • Forgoing bonuses. All the AIG folks who were not contractually bound to receive bonuses have already had them whacked or eliminated. Many high level officials have given up a significant chunk of their base pay, too.
  • Retention bonuses. The linked article mentions those. It may not be exactly clear what those are, so let me explain it. AIG went into the crapper, employees heads were on a swivel as the situation worsened, news of the bailout spread amongst the rank and file, morale plummeted and a LOT of folks started looking for a new job. AIG knew that things would go from really, really bad to OMFG terrible if employees started filing out in droves. Sure, head count was going to get whacked, but AIG needed skilled employees to keep the machinery running. So they paid folks retention bonuses to keep them from leaving. It’s kind of hard to right a ship with no hands on deck.

I understand that much of what is going on just plain looks bad. And politicians are much more concerned with looks than they are with substance. My indignation has nothing to do with AIG paying out any bonuses or having a meeting at a swankienda that was already contractually obligated (if you’re gonna have to pay for it, you might as well use it). I’m pissed that the gubbermint is using my tax dollars to bail out ANY organization.

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15
Mar
09

The Cost of Butt Vision

It has taken a bit for my medical insurance provider to assimilate and process the claims for my recent colonoscopy. I thought I would share the results with you. At least, the results as they exist right now. I have no doubt that there will be even more fiddling and massaging of the expenses by involved parties.

  • Doctor’s fees for “surgery” and consultation: $1,320
  • Facility fees for the procedure: $3,300
  • Pathology fees for tissue exam: $1,107
  • Pharmacy fees for “cleansing” product: $59.99
  • Total for the whole she-bang: $5,786.98

But how did those costs get broken out? What did insurance cover? What did it bounce, what did it discount and what got “written off”?

  • The doctor was not a “preferred” provider. The translation of that is that the doctor has not agreed to “accept” the plan allowance offered by my insurance company. In this case, the plan allowance was a total of $402.21. Since he was out of network, my deductible of $300 kicked in, so the insurance company paid him a grand total of $71.56, leaving me owing my doctor $1,248.44.
  • The facility is a preferred provider. My plan allowed for $645.38. As a preferred provider, they eat $2,654.62. My co-pay was $96.80, and the facility got a check from my insurance for $548.80.
  • The pathology was also in the preferred provider group. My plan allowed for $226.08, resulting in a $880.92 write off. My co-pay was $33.91 and the pathology folks got a check for from my insurance for $192.17.
  • I’m not sure what Walgreens ate on my prescription, but I had to pay $13.21 on the $59.99 bill.

So, out of the original, $5,786.98… There are at least $3,535.54 in write offs that just vanish. I’m out of pocket $1,392.36 and my insurance paid out approximately $893.22. If you are not completely confused yet, there’s more to the story. I have a limited flexible spending account that can be used to pay for out of pocket expenses not covered by insurance. Money is pulled out of each of my wife’s paychecks and deposited into the flexible spending account as pre-tax dollars. We get to use our own money to pay for these expenses, but it is pre-tax money as opposed to net money, which results in about a 25-30% savings. So my true out of pocket is really like a bit over $1,000 when all is said and done.

Is there a bright side to this? Well, yes. There was some light in there when the doctor was doing his thing. And he found out that there’s really nothing wrong with my plumbing and peace of mind does have value. Of course, a $1,000 would have made for a helluva night on the town with wifey and then some fun at a swanky hotel… Don’t just assume that your insurance is going to cover it all. Be an educated consumer!

15
Mar
09

Stem Cell Bullshit

President Obama is shown (above) signing legislation regarding stem cell research in a ceremony at the White House. He looks like he is pursing his lips (something that a lot of folks do when writing their signature). In reality, he’s biting his tongue and holding back the vomit. President Obama may have abolished contentious Bush-era restraints on federal funding of stem cell research, but a legislative obstacle still remains for scientists seeking more money.

Folks may think (and hope) that Obama erased one of the silliest cornerstones of the Bush administration: the obstacles to stem cell research. Not so fast. There’s a wide gap between the order and the legislative funding. A spending bill that Obama signed on Wednesday explicitly bans federal funding of any “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death,” language that pertains to creation of new stem cell lines. This provision, known as the Dickey-Wicker amendment, was included in the 465-page omnibus spending bill that will fund government agencies through September and it has been in every spending package that Congress has submitted since 1996. Doesn’t matter if we are talking Republicans or Democrats… they’ve all put the brakes on this research.

While the number of stem cell lines available to research has now increased (maybe) from a paltry 21 to a few hundred, scientists are still hamstrung by political posturing. I call bullshit. I consider myself a hybrid if a political label must be worn. I believe in a woman’s right to chose, a scientist’s right to research, a government’s duty to butt out, less taxes, free market, and encouraging a social consciousness instead of federal entitlements. I also have a personal stake in stem cell research. Both my mother and I have neurological conditions that very well may be treated or cured through the efforts of stem cell research. It seems as though we will be waiting at least a good while longer.

12
Mar
09

The Gas We Pass

Watched Blazing Saddles for the umpteen millionth time the other night. Truly one of the funniest movies ever made. It was also the first movie to feature flatulence. One of the characters played by Mel Brooks, Gov. William J. Le Petomane, is named after Joseph Pujol, Le P├ętomane, who was a turn of the century artiste in France. Pujol’s stage performance consisted of controlled displays of flatulence. Extraordinary control of his abdominal muscles and rectal sphincter allowed him to draw air and water into his rectum and so create a wide range of sounds at will. This is the very tenuous connection to the campfire bean feast scene. Everyone laughs at fart jokes. Mel Brooks was just the first to put it on the big screen.

11
Mar
09

The Truth About Pork

Yesterday, the US Senate passed an omnibus spending bill to keep the government afloat for the rest of the budget year. That was $410 billion of spending and included in that bill is a “measly” $8 billion in earmarks, otherwise known as pork. President Obama has stated that he will sign the bill, even though his campaign promise was to eliminate pork. Democrats, Republicans, and even Ron Paul, have this bill filled up with pet projects and are bring home the bacon to their respective districts. The President claims that he should be given a pass on this particular spending bill because it was “inherited” from the previous regime. While I’m inclined to swallow that load of horse poop, and give him the pass he says he needs… I’m curious. We have a Democrat controlled legislature and presidency. If the campaign promise was truly important, couldn’t the President just dump it back in the Senate’s lap and say “do it right”?

Apparently, he doesn’t want to do that just yet. Here’s the deal… White House officials said Obama will sign the bill to keep key government agencies funded, but the president will lay out the new guidelines on earmarks as a not-so-subtle threat that he could veto future spending bills that do not comply with his objectives. “Could”? Why not “will”? I already know the answer to that. Top Democrats, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, have suggested lawmakers do not appreciate being dictated to on an issue that is a congressional prerogative. Asked last week about the administration’s plan to put forth guidelines to overhaul earmarks, Hoyer said flatly, “I don’t think the White House has the ability to tell us what to do.”

In other words, nothing is really going to change. Just like any other politician, Obama is not going to be able to keep his promise to the voting public and he will blame others for this inability.

There’s nothing in the street
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Is now the parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
Don’t get fooled again
No, no!

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

10
Mar
09

Common Sense (Lack Of)

I know that I have blitched right here about various transgressions that I see on the road. Yes, I get steamed about slow pokes in the left (passing) lane. I also loath never_turn_off_the_blinker guy, the person who never quite mastered merging, doesn’t understand 4-way stop person, and the insolent sot who blocks the turning lane when there are 8 cars behind that want to to turn and the adjavent lane is clear. There are a host of irritations. All of these involve common courtesy that should have been learned during Drivers Ed and retained. I was driving to and from a somewhat rural location last week and folks would actually move over to let you pass. Friendly waves and everything. Not so much in the urban areas.

40-something soccer mom was attempting to pilot her spiffy Benz SUV out of a posh West Houston neighborhood. She pulled out from suburbia onto the more major thoroughfare that I was on. Yes, she pulled out in front of me and no there wasn’t anyone behind me. I switched lanes to avoid her. Good thing, too. She WAY oversteered and she ran up onto the right curb and then came back down into the road with a thud. Then she kind of weaved back and forth. I carefully passed her and noticed that she not only was on a cell phone (which was a given), but she was also attempting to read while piloting her vehicle. Did I mention that she also had two kids in the back? Not the seats but the cargo area in the back. Tell me again why we cannot have forced sterilization?

03
Mar
09

Chroma Key Fashion

Stolen directly from the Wikipedia page:

Chroma key is a technique for mixing two images or frames together, in which a color (or a small color range) from one image is removed (or made transparent), revealing another image behind it. This technique is also referred to as color keying, colour-separation overlay (CSO; primarily by the BBC[1]), greenscreen, and bluescreen. It is commonly used for weather forecast broadcasts, wherein the presenter appears to be standing in front of a large map, but in the studio it is actually a large blue or green background. The meteorologist stands in front of a bluescreen, and then different weather maps are added on those parts in the image where the color is blue. If the meteorologist himself wears blue clothes, his clothes will become replaced with the background video. This also works for greenscreens, since blue and green are considered the colors least like skin tone. This technique is also used in the entertainment industry, the iconic theatre shots in Mystery Science Theater 3000, for example.

What is not pointed out in the Wiki page is that young and inexperienced weather guessers should not choose sartorial accoutrements with any color similarity to the chroma key used in the studio. Bad things, man.