The dangers of short-term health insurance

Several years ago, before Obamacare went into effect, I heard an interview with a woman whose brother had a serious medical condition and whose medical insurance had been canceled, though he had faithfully paid every premium and done nothing wrong.

She looked into it and discovered that he had been persuaded to purchase a short-term health insurance policy and kept renewing it when the bills came, not realizing that he was, in fact, getting a brand new policy every time. When he got sick the company waited until the policy ran out and simply didn't let him buy a new one. Suddenly he had huge medical bills, no insurance, and no way to buy a different policy because of his now pre-existing condition.

Obamacare protected people from this. Insurance companies could no longer deny or cancel policies or sell cheap junk insurance like the kind this guy had bought. But now the Trump administration has issued rules again allowing the sale of the same crap short-term insurance.

In the four-minute video below pediatrician and medical school professor Dr Aaron Carroll explains why this is a problem:


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Paul Manfort's 2015-16 personal financial crisis

I haven't really been clear on why Special Counsel Robert Mueller is prosecuting former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, but a February 28 article from Talking Points Memo (referencing a piece from Bloomberg dated the same day) puts things into sharper focus.

The short version is this: In the early years of this decade Paul Manafort's main client was Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician who become president of Ukraine in 2010. Manafort advised Yanukovych on politics and campaigning, but he also used his influence in the U.S. on behalf of what was then Ukraine's pro-Putin government and hence at least indirectly acting on behalf of Russia. Manafort is now facing charges of having failed to register as a foreign agent in the U.S.

Yanukovich was ousted in 2014, sending him fleeing into exile in Russia. The new government charged him with treason and accused him of corruption as well. Russia staged military incursions into eastern Ukraine and seized the Crimean peninsula by force, and in response Russia was hit with international sanctions. I won't even try to summarize the details here, but with respect to Manafort, the relevant point is that with his client out of power, he was suddenly without his main source of income.

Complicating matters further, in late 2014 Manafort's family discovered that he had been carrying on an affair, and in 2015 he apparently suffered a kind of emotional crisis, reportedly telling his daughter that he was contemplating suicide, and eventually he checked into an inpatient facility for treatment.

Only a few weeks later, Manafort sought a job in the Trump campaign. In late March of 2016 he was hired, and two months later he was named campaign manager, though according to the campaign he was an unpaid volunteer.

As the TPM article points out, it made sense for Manafort to try to reestablish himself in American politics, but it's also true that he had long ties to pro-Russian interests, that Russia was very interested in having sanctions lifted, and that Manafort was facing personal and financial problems at the time he took the unpaid job.

The aforementioned Bloomberg article quotes former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg as saying, "Manafort looks like he's in dire straits. Then he drops everything to work for free for Trump. It's very strange." This is only suggestive, but it might explain why Mueller is concentrating on Manafort and his associates.

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Comet hunter Caroline Herschel

Caroline Herschel, sister of William Herschel, was the first female astronomer to be paid for her work and in 1828 was the first woman to win the gold award of the Royal Astronomical Society, where the following video was shot and in which we get to see several items related to her, including a letter she wrote to the Royal Society in 1786 describing a comet she'd found. (She later discovered seven more in her lifetime.)

There's also a notebook in which she recorded her observations, including the time her brother showed her the planet that he'd discovered and was then termed "George's Star" (after King George), and which we now call Uranus.

And there's also her personal copy of Flamsteed's atlast of the heavens, for which she prepared her own index, there not being one in the published version, and in which she made various notes. There's even a sort of 19th century Post-It note added by her great-granddaughter referencing a family story that William's son John Herschel (later a major astronomer in his own right) would as a child beg his Auntie Caroline to "Show me the whale!" -- the pages for the constellation Cetus, depicting it as a terrifying sea monster.

This might not be interesting to everyone, but I quite liked watching this. (It runs under seven minutes.)


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John Green on 2017

The following short video from best-selling novelist and popular vlogger John Green was posted last December 12 and points out that while 2017 had been marred by a continuing opioid crisis in the United States a famine in South Sudan and near-famines elsewhere, murderous ethnic cleansing in Burma/Myanmar, etc, there was also a lot of remarkably good news: a record amount of charitable giving in the United States (even after adjusting for inflation, an approaching total elimination of polio infections (just 16 known cases worldwide at that point in 2017), the lowest percentage of humans living in deep poverty, the highest rate of adult literacy, the biggest percentage of children in school, and record percentages of babies surviving childhood.

Incidentally, as Green takes pains to emphasize, reduced childhood mortality does not lead to population growth. If anything, in practice it seems to have the opposite effect. While he doesn't mention it explicitly, greater availability of contraception is an important factor here as well (despite the opposition of well-intentioned but ignorant religious cranks), as is increased education for women and girls.


Here as a bonus is Green talking about his wife's series about cooking and history and his own forthcoming one reviewing various aspects of the anthropocene (the ambiguously timed geological period in which we live), including his favorite soft drink, Diet Dr Pepper.


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Federal funding expires (again) in 3 weeks; who's to blame?

Current funding for the federal government runs out at midnight, March 23, three weeks away, setting up another potential shutdown.

Who's to blame for this? According to Donald Trump, shutdowns and the lack of a budget are always the fault of incompetent presidential leadership. The whole world is looking at us and laughing at us, he says. You can see clips of him saying that at this link, and you only need to watch for a couple of minutes or so.

Of course, these clips are from a few years back, but Trump certainly seemed to be making a general point. Below is the whole segment from the January 22 episode of Late Night with Seth Meyers, right after Congress came up with a temporary continuing resolution to end a two-day shutdown that started on the first anniversary of Trump's inauguration. The Trump quotes can be found from time codes 3:33 to 5:40 (with a few more after that).


I doubt most of us are keeping close track of shutdowns, shutdown threats, and short-term continuing resolutions. (If you really want to refresh your memory, there's a Wikipedia article about them at this link.) The key point is that even now, there's still no deal to keep the government running beyond March 23. Remember, the current fiscal year began last October 1, and the budget was supposed to have been finalized by then. The process of creating it began right after the inauguration. Instead we've had a series of short-term bills keeping things going more or less in keeping with the previous year's budget.

A lot of members of Congress in both houses and from both parties are fed up with these continuing resolutions want to finally pass an actual budget this time, one covering the rest of the fiscal year (which ends September 30).

We'll see.

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School shooting response, Trump versus Obama

Presidents Trump and Obama both had occasion to respond to major school shootings. The Washington Post's opinion section assembled a video contrasting their actions day by day.


I personally find the music annoying and heavy-handed. The two presidents' responses speak for themselves, and we don't need musical hints to cue what what feelings we should have about them.

Our reactions are also inevitably going to be influenced by what we think of the presidents in question. If you're a fan of Barack Obama, you're likely to find his response to the Newtown shooting far more appropriate and what we tend to think of as "presidential" in comparison with Trump's words and actions following the one in Parkland.

If you're a fan of Donald Trump, my guess is that you won't so much think that he handled it better than Obama as believe that the Post must be treating him unfairly.

To me, the music on the soundtrack helps justify that interpretation, but in the end it's clear enough that Trump's response wasn't what most decent people would think appropriate. I've honestly tried to look at this objectively, and Trump's behavior is just strange. The most charitable thing I can say is that he might simply not feel things the way most of us do. But given Trump's success as a salesman and as a TV star, it's hard not to wonder why Trump isn't better at this. I wasn't a big supporter of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush either (though I admit I liked them more than I do Trump), but both did a vastly better job of fulfilling the president's role in the wake of tragedy, that of a head of state. It's apparent the people around him are trying to help, and when he delivers formal remarks in a controlled setting he's OK. But almost always he soon spouts something offensive or just odd, as when he came to the defense of openly racist nuts in Charlottesville or did a lot of the things referenced in video above.

I suspect many of his supporters would say that he shows a refreshing willingness to speak and tweet in an unfiltered fashion, without regard for political correctness or public opinion. I can see this to an extent, and surely it's why a lot of people in opinion polling have rated Trump more "honest" than, say, Hillary Clinton: because he doesn't come across as scripted the way many other politicians do. Fair enough. The problem is that unfiltered Trump is pretty disturbing. And there's more to honesty than openness. I can't see applying the word "honest" to someone who lies so casually and often.

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