Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Health Care Law

What I find amusing are all these people criticizing Obamacare who (1) have clearly not been on the exchanges and (2) most likely already have health care insurance.

 First let's acknowledge that the role out was screwed up and the technical issues were a total fiasco even given the complexity of the web sites.

Second, I'll talk about my personal experience.

I have health care but one of my daughters doesn't. We've been covering her via COBRA from my wife's health care plan. The cost was $524 a month. The plan was administered by Blue Cross-Blue Shield and was a PPO.

Getting on the New Jersey exchange was a challenge but once we managed that we found that the health plans were organized in several tiers. The lowest tier was a "catastrophic policy" which basically covered nothing but extended hospitalization and the basics that all plans must cover. Then there were Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum plans with ascending costs, varying deductable and ascending coverage.

Ultimately we chose a Silver Plan from Blue Cross-Blue Shield with reasonable co-pay, deductable and prescription support. The plan was an EPO but, since we're talking Blue Cross-Blue Shield, just about every doctor we knew was a part of the network anyway.

It took a while to compare the various benefits because there were significant differences and it wasn't always obvious why one plan had higher premiums than another. The plan we ultimately chose was $335 a month. By far the longest part of the process was comparing the plans. After hitting the "yes I want that one" button they gave you a phone number at Blue Cross-Blue Shield to call but everything pretty much moved forward from there auto-magically.

After going through the exercise I also understood why they probably had such problems getting the exchanges off the ground. The site links directly not only to health care provider sites but also to the IRS for checking tax returns. The complexity is no excuse but it is more complicated a system than I originally thought.

Could the plans be better? Absolutely. Will their costs go up? Very probably. Is 35 million people without health insurance a financial catastrophe? You bet it is. By law a hospital cannot refuse someone care regardless of whether they have insurance or can pay. When you have 35 million without health insurance (1) they don't get medical attention until it's a crisis and (2) they go via the emergency room which is the most inefficient and expensive option.

Universal health insurance is a financially sound approach. Personally I think we should have Medicare for everyone with varying levels of coverage and premiums because a single payer system would be far and away the most efficient. The current health care law is far from perfect but it's a step in the right direction.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Johnny Manziel and the NFL Draft

Johnny Manziel, also known as Johnny Football, from Texas A&M will be in this years NFL draft and the Houston Texans have the #1 overall pick.

I could be wrong but I have to believe that Houston will take Manziel #1. Here is my reasoning (*cough, cough*):

1. They desperately need a QB especially now that they traded Matt Schaub to Oakland.
2. If they take Manziel and he's a star, hello Texans as the new Texas pro darlings and good-bye that other team up near Dallas (what are they called again?).
3. The fans in Texas will forgive them if they take Manziel and he's a bust.
4. The fans in Texas will forgive them if they don't take Manziel and he's a bust (unless he ends up with Cleveland. No forgiveness if Johnny gets exiled to Cleveland because no one can succeed in Cleveland).
5. The fans in Texas will NEVER forgive them if they don't take Manziel and he becomes an NFL star. 

OK, in all seriousness. Johnny Manziel from Texas A&M playing for the Houston Texans is a media blitz made in heaven. The only thing that could be better is if he ended up playing for that other Texas team up near Dallas (what are they called again?).

That would mean that Jadeveon Clowney would fall into the lap of St. Louis who I would assume would be quite happy. The Rams are set at QB.

If the Texans take Clowney instead and, like I said, the Rams are set at QB with Sam Bradford, the next three teams to draft will be Jacksonville, Cleveland and Oakland. All of them need a QB. Even Oakland who just acquired Matt Schaub.

The three top QB prospects are Manziel, Blake Bortles from Central Florida and Teddy Bridgewater from Louisville. I'm betting at least two of these three will be gone by the time the Atlanta Falcons are on the clock and if Houston picks Manziel, then all three could be gone.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Flight 370 Again

The Prime Minister of Malaysian announced this morning that they are now confident that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went down in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Australia.

The conclusion is apparently driven by additional analysis of the satellite data received from Inmarsat.

No offense guys but analysis is still analysis and, without a lot more information on the analysis that was performed, described as something that hadn't been done before by the PM, I'll remain a tad skeptical.

This isn't good enough. It leaves way too many questions such as, if the plane did go down there, what the hell was it doing there?

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Crimea

Well, the Russians have annexed the Crimea after the region voted to secede from the Ukraine and join Russia.

The Ukraine claims the vote is illegal.

The Ukraine can claim anything it wants but the Russians now own the Crimea.

I suppose the people have spoken (*cough, cough*). Besides no one is going to do much about this so the Russians, at least for the moment, win this round.

Malaysian Airlines Flight 370

The search is entering its third week.

Debris spotted by satellites some 1500 miles off the coast of Australia in the Indian Ocean raised some hope that an end might be in sight.

Unfortunately the remoteness of the location and uncooperative weather have prevented searchers from actually locating the debris.

In the latest development NASA has joined the search and will train its satellites on the area of the Indian Ocean where the debris was sighted five days ago.

People are now beginning to face the very real prospect that this airplane may never be found and we'll never know what really happened.

Michigan Ban on Gay Marriage Declared Unconstitutional

A federal judge, appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1988, has declared Michigan's ban on Gay Marriage unconstitutional.

The case wasn't even directly about Gay Marriage but rather about a gay couples right to adopt each others children.

Some quotes from the judge's decision.

"Many Michigan residents have religious convictions whose principles govern the conduct of their daily lives and inform their own viewpoints about marriage. Nonetheless, these views cannot strip other citizens of the guarantees of equal protection under the law."

In other words your rights do not include the privilege of enforcing them on others to their detriment. Christians please take note.

"No court record of this proceeding could ever fully convey the personal sacrifice of these two plaintiffs who seek to ensure that the state may no longer impair the rights of their children and the thousands of others now being raised by same-sex couples."

Experts testified that there were no differences between children raised by same sex couples and a couple consisting of a man and a women.

Mark Regnerus testified for the state of Michigan that, based upon his research, there was a difference and that children raised by same sex couples did relatively poorly.

The University of Texas took the extraordinary step of disavowing the Regnerus testimony.

The state of Michigan says that it is obligated to appeal the decision and will ask an appeals court to stay the court order until after appeal.

A statement from Michigan's Catholic bishops demonstrated how out of touch the church is with reality.

"This decision ... mistakenly proposes that marriage is an emotional arrangement that can simply be redefined to accommodate the dictates of culture and the wants of adults."

Yes, in a secular country, under secular laws, that PRECISELY defines a legal marriage. The church is free to sanctify, or not sanctify, such a marriage.

My marriage is not, and never would have been, sanctified by the Catholic Church which is one reason why I'm no longer a Catholic. Yet I'm still legally married. The last time I looked my marriage license still hasn't expired.

So the Catholic Church and the bishops of Michigan can go perform a biological function on themselves.

County Clerk's offices in Michigan say that if no stay is issued, they'll be ready to start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples on Monday morning.

Bullied Child and the My Little Pony Backpack

Allegedly, a nine year old boy in North Carolina, after complaining about being bullied because of his "My Little Pony" backpack, was told by the school, are you ready for this one, to leave the backpack home.

Obviously the school administration has its head shoved somewhere without light. Supposedly the principal, when questioned about this, revealed that she thought it had been a REAL pony. When corrected she simply said "Never mind."

Obviously an educator that's right on top of things. What a complete ditz.

Anyway, ignoring the ditz running the school, telling the kid to leave the backpack home places the blame for the bullying incident on the victim. That's like blaming a woman for being raped and the Jews for being murdered by the Nazis.

On the other side however, what the hell were his parents thinking?

It's far from unknown in our culture that boys will get teased for showing up at school with items deemed either too girly or too babyish by their peers. There are scenes in both "Home Alone" and "A Christmas Story" that talk about getting beat up for wearing the wrong thing.

This doesn't excuse the actions of the bullies or the school, but, seriously, a "My Little Pony" backpack?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sure, Straight is Great

NYC Pride has told Catholic League Bill Donahue to "COME ON DOWN." Of course he's welcome to march in the NYC Pride Parade.

NYC Pride even provided instructions for the online registration process.

A spokesman for NYC Pride said "Straight allies are great. We have thousands of straight people participating in the Pride March."

OK Bill, the ball is in your court.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Straight is Great?

Bill Donahue of the ultra-Conservative Catholic League says he wants to lead a "Straight is Great" contingent in the NYC Pride Parade.

I think that's a great idea. Let Bill get out there and march.

Donahue says he's had his last glass of Guinness after the beer company dropped its sponsorship of the St. Patrick's Day parade over its anti-gay policy.

I'm sure Guinness will be burning the midnight oil worrying about that (*cough, cough*).

Donahue says if his application is approved he'll bring a big wedding cake to the Pride Parade.

Hey, that's sounds like fun. Why Donahue thinks this is something that would bother gays is unclear. I say LET THE MAN MARCH (and remember to take LOTS of pictures of Bill and his new friends).

Flight 370 Again

It is now 12 days since Malaysia Airlines fight 370 went missing.

This is crazy. A 200 foot long Boeing 777 shouldn't be able to just disappear. In the meantime, what comes out as official statements makes one wonder if anyone is in charge of this show. There have been a number of contradictions and changes but the latest timeline, with commentary, is as follows:

All times are local on March 8, 2014.

12:41 a.m.: Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 departs Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing.

We know THIS with absolute certainty. Something which can be said for very little else.

1:07 a.m.: The onboard Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, sends out what turns out to be its last communication.

There has been a lot of misinformation about ACARS. Originally Malaysian officials indicated that it had been turned off before the final voice communications from the aircraft. But now concede that it's impossible to tell.

There was also a report that in order to turn off ACARS you had to go down into the body of the plane. This isn't true. There is a switch in the cockpit.

1:19 a.m.: Someone inside the cockpit, believed to be the co-pilot, sent the last verbal communications to Air Traffic Control. All he said was "All right. Good night."

At this point there was no hint of a problem but these were the last words supposedly heard from Flight 370 (yes, at this point my skepticism is running wild).

1:21 a.m.: The transponder, which automatically broadcasts the aircraft altitude, coordinates and call sign stopped working.

This is a scant TWO MINUTES after the final sign-off. It's hard to believe that everything went to hell in two minutes but it's certainly possible.

1:22 a.m.: According to a Royal Thai Air Force spokesman, the plane disappeared off of Thai Military radar.

This makes no sense unless (1) the plane exploded, (2) the plane went down, (3) the plane left radar range or (4) the Thai spokesman is wrong.

When you combine this with the transponder stopping about the same time, this strongly suggests to me a catastrophic event. But wait, let's continue shall we.

1:28 a.m.: A Thai Royal Air Force spokesman says that Thai military radar picked up a plane headed in the opposite direction that MIGHT have been Flight 370.

Personally I think the Thai military needs to train its radar techs better. I'm inclined to completely ignore anything the Thai military has to say especially given that it took like 10 days for them to tell the Malaysians about this.

1:30 a.m.: Vietnamese Air Traffic Control cannot make contact with the plane.

I'm piecing this one together from several sources. I'm pretty sure this is close enough. The bottom line is that Flight 370 was no longer under Air Traffic Control direction. This is apparently the official time when the plane was lost by Air Traffic Control.

1:37 a.m.: An expected ACARS transmission does not occur.

Which means the ACARS system ceased functioning sometime between 1:07 a.m. and 1:37 a.m.

 2:15 a.m.: Malaysian military radar last detects what is believed to be Flight 370 over the small island of Pulau Perak in the Strait of Malacca.

This is hundreds of miles from its intended flight path. I don't know why they believe it was the plane nor why someone didn't attempt to make contact because they must have been tracking it for a while.

Why weren't fighters launched to intercept a commercial aircraft hundreds of miles off course?

6:30 a.m.: Expected time of arrival in Beijing.

I cannot imagine the sick feeling it must be to be waiting for a plane that never arrives.

7:24 a.m.: Malaysia Airlines announces via Facebook that Flight 370 lost contact with Air Traffic Control at 2:40 a.m. The discrepancy in time has never been explained.

Right THERE we should have all realized that we were dealing with the keystone kops of the airline industry.

8:11 a.m.: An Inmarsat satellite makes the last electronic handshake with the aircraft.

Personally I don't think this means the plane was still flying. I suspect it could have been down and its SATCOM pings still operating for a short time.

So, where the hell is the damn plane?

Analysis of the Inmarsat pings puts it along one of two arcs. One heading northwest over China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and into Kazakhstan. It is almost inconceivable that a Boeing 777 could have proceeded along this arc without being detected.

But, if it could, this is the worrisome one. The idea of a Boeing 777 in the hands of an Islamic terrorist group is a thing of nightmares especially given that I'm not all that sure the Russians have accounted for all of the atomic weapons from the now independent countries in that area.

The other arc extends south toward Australia and the Indian Ocean. A route perhaps more easily traveled than the northern arc but a route for which it is very difficult to see a motive. If the plane went this way, then it's on the ocean floor.

The bottom line is the only hard evidence is the plane took off and the plane disappeared about 49 minutes later. That puts in between Malaysia and Vietnam in the South China Sea.

Yes they claim to have searched the area. I say search it again because, based upon Occam's Razor, that's where it is.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Even More on Flight 370

Oh boy. This morning Malaysian authorities have confirmed that they have information that indicates that Flight 370 appears to have been purposely diverted.

Things are still a little confused because every news agency in the world is jumping on every scrap of information and not always reporting things accurately. But what I've been able to get from the various reports is as follows:

(1) About 20 minutes before the last transponder report the Aircraft Communications and Reporting System (ACARS) was shut down.

(2) The transponders were shut down (there are apparently two on a Boeing 777).

Note that "shut down" could also mean "stopped working" but the 20 minute gap is highly suspicious.

(3) Malaysian military radar detected a plane, that could have Flight 370, proceeding westward across the Malay peninsula.

(4) Inmarsat has reported that its satellites, which ping for subscribers in the area, received automated return pings from the Malaysian jet for six to seven hours after it went missing. The statement from Inmarsat is very terse. It said simply that automated signals were received and the information was provided to SITA (Societe Internationale de Telecommunications Aeronautics) which has provided it to Malaysian airlines.

(5) ACARS apparently kept sending signals. This one confuses me because if it was shut off, how was it sending signals? It's unclear if these are the same ping responses alluded to by Inmarsat. There are also some reports that the Rolls-Royce engines kept sending automated data.

Like I said this is still a little confusing. One article says ACARS was shut off but another says it kept sending automated signals for hours after contact was lost with the plane. ACARS isn't a monolithic thing but has various levels of service so perhaps the higher layers of service were shut down but the lowest layers continued to operate?

I suppose the details only really matter to detail oriented guys like me. The key point is they now seem to think that the plane was probably "purposely diverted." But by whom, and why, is still very much up in the air.

Note the "probably" above. Given the total chaos surrounding this disaster it wouldn't surprise me if tomorrow they said "forget all that," we now think it's in the South China Sea.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

More on Flight 370

Malaysia Flight 370 is still missing but new information is creeping out.

First, the Malaysian military has now confirmed a military radar tracking of an aircraft, that could have been Flight 370, heading west over the strait of Malacca. I suppose it took four days for this information to become public because it came from military radar which most countries, under normal circumstances, are hesitant to talk about.

But that means the plane made what amounts to a left turn after civilian radar contact was lost and the transponder, which automatically transmits identification, heading, altitude and velocity, had either been turned off or was inoperable.

Experienced Boeing 777 pilots indicate that it would be very difficult to lose the transponder in an otherwise apparently airworthy aircraft. That sort of implies that it is more likely that it was purposely turned off.

One suspicious point is that contact with the aircraft was lost at a civilian radar edge so air traffic controllers further along the flight path would not expect to detect the plane for some period of time.

So IF these things, (1) the aircraft made a left turn and headed west rather than continuing northeast, (2) the transponder was turned off and (3) this occurs just as the aircraft left civilian radar space, are indeed true, then the suspicion of a hijacking, by either passengers or crew, has to move up in the list.

Given that there was no distress signal and the cockpit door would normally be locked, one has to consider that this may have been an inside job of some sort. Just to further confuse things the plane had about five hours of fuel left after the military radar lost it. That could easily have taken it well out into the Indian ocean.

Second, US intelligence agencies say the analysis of data from "national technical means" shows no evidence of an explosion. Translated that means the spy satellites didn't see the plane blow up which makes the bomb scenario less likely.

The Malaysians have now asked for technical assistance from the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in analyzing the data, including the military data, that they have.

Lastly, it was revealed by the FAA that the type of Boeing 777 being flown in Flight 370 had a new Airworthiness Directive (AD) being issued warning of cracks in the fuselage below the Satellite Communications antenna that could cause the plane to lose structural integrity.

The AD was drafted in September 2013, approved in February 2014 and scheduled to go into effect on April 9, 2014 however drafts had been circulated to all the airlines for comments so preliminary precautions could already have been taken.

The AD was in reaction to a report of a 16 inch crack on a 14 year-old plane with 14,000 flight cycles. The Malaysian Airlines plane was 12 years old with 7,525 flight cycles.

Two other items in what is rapidly shaping up to be a media circus.

A worker on an oil gig in the South China Sea, which is on the far side of Vietnam, claims he saw the plane go down in flames and an Australian news report has accused the 27 year-old copilot of entertaining women in the cockpit on a 2011 flight which, if true, makes one wonder about the integrity of the hopefully locked cockpit door.

The South China Sea report seems unlikely because the Vietnamese didn't pick up the plane on radar and I have no idea what the source for the Australian story is so I'd have to discount that as well.

So, where the hell is the plane?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Malaysia Flight 370

Where the hell is the plane?

A Boeing 777 doesn't just disappear with no warning and no trace. What the hell?

The experts are working the scenarios but nothing at the moment seems to make sense. The plane was last heard from three days ago at its cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. That's the safest part of any flight.

Midair Mechanical Malfunction
A catastrophic event that made the plane come apart, other than being REALLY unlikely, would have left a huge debris field which no one, at least so far, has been able to locate.

A mechanical failure which brought the plane down intact would have allowed time for a distress signal which apparently was never sent. But again, given the duplicate and triplicate systems of a 777, it's hard to imagine what sort of failure this could have been.

A Bomb or other Explosion
The same problems exist with this scenario as with a mechanical failure. Besides, no one has claimed responsibility and a plane carrying mostly Malaysian and Chinese passengers doesn't seem to be nearly as likely a target as a European or American aircraft.

Of course it might be an easier target and I suppose the motive could have been one where credit isn't an issue but there's still the problem of no debris and no distress call.

One possibility that has been suggested is a relatively small bomb that blew a hole in the aircraft that caused decompression but didn't destroy the flight integrity of the plane. The decompression could have knocked out passengers and crew but left the plane traveling on auto pilot only to eventually crash on land somewhere.

The problems with this are (1) why didn't even unreliable radar detect the aircraft and (2) why where there no automatic messages signaling distress and course?

That's not so easy any more these days. The cockpit door would have been locked and pilots have transponder codes they can enter to indicate a hijacking is occurring.

Besides, where the hell was the plane hijacked to? It didn't land anywhere that anyone is aware of.

Granted there are the two stolen passports that were used and some people claim that radar detection in that area isn't as reliable as in other airspace (but others disagree), but still, where's the plane?

Remember the Egyptian flight a few years ago that the co-pilot supposedly crashed into the Atlantic? Something like this could have occurred here but it's pure speculation. This is no evidence that anything of the sort occurred.

There is evidence that the plane started to turn as if to head back to Malaysia. This could mean there was a problem and the pilots had decided to turn back but things went to hell before they had a chance.

Still, see all the problems cited above with mechanical failures.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

The Ukraine

Less than a week ago the protests in the Ukraine were a mild background story. Now the Russians, with their occupation of the Crimea, have catapulted the story onto the front pages.

Let's understand a couple of things. First the country is divided in its loyalties. The Western part would like closer ties to the European Union and perhaps even membership in NATO. The Eastern part is pro-Russian and sounds like it yearns for the good old days of the Soviet Union.

Second, the nation, bordering Russia, is clearly within the Russian sphere of influence and with Poland, a member of NATO, both Georgia and Belarus joining the NATO "partnership for peace" and the Ukraine also making nice with the western alliance, the Russians must be feeling awfully left out and more than a little nervous.

This is probably a gamble that Putin felt he needed to take in the hopes that the Sochi Olympics built up, if not good will, than at least tolerance.

I think he expected crying, moaning and complaints but not much more than that.

The question becomes is there anything, other than yell, jump up and down and wring hands, that anyone is willing to do about this.

I suppose we shall see. Personally I'm not willing to do a whole hell of a lot other than yell, jump up and down and wring hands. It didn't inconvenience me when the Ukraine was a part of the USSR, so who really cares?

I could be wrong but I don't think the Russians want the Ukraine. They want a Russian friendly government and some peace and quiet in the country, something there hasn't been much of lately.