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Trump is Destroying Reagan’s Legacy

Someone actually asked me how I could believe Trump is a Russian spy. I think I nearly blew coffee out my nose. No, I don’t think Trump is a Russian spy. I don’t even think he has any great loyalty to Russia. I think he is exactly what he has always portrayed himself to be… a business man with extensive international holdings and connections.

And therein lies the problem.

After Trump’s multiple bankruptcies, banks in the US would no longer loan to him, so he had to go overseas for credit. That includes some rather large deals with prominent Russian oligarchs and Kremlin connected banks. As far as Trump was concerned this was just good business, which was fine when he wasn’t President. But now that he is President, failing to divest himself of his business connections leaves him vulnerable to foreign influence. The fact that he still refuses to release his tax returns (something every modern President before him has done) raises a huge red flag. The Kremlin might be holding hundreds of millions of dollars of Trump’s debt, and they could use that as leverage against him. It need not even be conscious leverage. When Trump praises Putin and soft peddles the threat of Russian authoritarianism… it could just be a subconscious bias born from years of favorable business dealings. Either way, it’s a threat to our national security.

And Putin understands this. He has already responded by deploying nuclear cruise missiles in violation of earlier agreements and stepping up violence in the Ukraine… and Trump has done nothing. Putin is advancing his plan to undermine NATO and rebuild a Soviet style empire, and Trump doesn’t even see the threat. Worse, Trump seems poised to lift the sanctions that weaken Putin and may even hand control of the Crimean peninsula over to Russia.

In short, trump is destroying the legacy of Ronald Reagan, the President that ended the Cold War.

So no, I don’t think Trump is a Russian spy. I think he is something far worse… a dupe. A foreign policy neophyte who mistakes a favorable business deal as a show of character. Putin is rolling him and getting everything he wants.

God help us all.

Paul Ryan Doesn’t Understand What Insurance Is

Good God… Paul Ryan doesn’t understand what insurance is. I just watched his Powerpoint presentation explaining his healthcare bill, and at one point he describes the ‘fatal conceit’ of Obamacare as being this:

“Young and healthy people are going into the market and pay for the older sicker people. So, the young healthy person is going to be made to buy healthcare, and there going to pay for the person who gets breast cancer in her forties, or gets heart disease in his fifties.”

Yes, Paul, that’s called INSURANCE. That is exactly what it does. It is what it has ALWAYS done. It works that way with auto insurance and homeowners insurance, and yes, health insurance. The premiums from people not making claims collectively pay for the people who do make claims. Yes, my premiums will pay for the person who gets breast cancer or heart disease or cancer or whatever, and I’m fine with that… because someday that person MIGHT BE ME. People in the same group pay the same rate regardless of health condition. It’s called group rating, and its how health insurance has worked in the employer provided market for decades. It is the singular most important reform that Obamacare brought to the individual insurance market, and you want to get rid of it?

Saints preserve us… the Republican healthcare law was drafted by someone who has no clue how any of this stuff actually works.

Ryancare…. a one and a half leg stool

So Paul Ryan has finally made his Obamacare replacement public. It is not too far off from what I expected. It leaves a bit more of the ACA insurance regulations in place, but still carves out much of the existing law in ways that enables ‘adverse selection’, setting the stage for massive rate increases and lost insurance for millions of people. The big winners will be people making more than $250,000 per year… they get a tax cut. Losers will be anyone currently getting any sort of premium subsidy on the ACA exchange as well as those of us who lose insurance as companies exit the market. It also takes an ax to Medicaid, though it delays the pain a couple of years. It is not as bad a full repeal, but it will definitely make things worse than just leaving the ACA in place.

As with Obamacare, this mostly effects people who buy there insurance on the individual market instead of getting through their employer. If you are in the 50 to 64 age demographic, expect your premiums to go up sharply. The bill raises the cap on what insurers can charge that group, increasing it from a 3:1 to a 5:1 ratio. Also, if you currently receive a premium subsidy, that is going away. The Subsidy has been replaced with a flat tax credit that does not scale with income, so most people will receive much less, and they will receive it as a tax refund rather than direct premium support. In related news, the yearly penalty for failing to buy insurance has been replaced with a 30% surcharge on the first year of premiums when you buy insurance after going without. That makes things easier on people who decide to go without insurance, but like the lack of subsidies, it will skew the risk pool toward unhealthy people and cause rates to shoot up.

You can think of Obamacare as three leg stool: 1) Regulations forcing insurance companies to cover everyone who asks. 2) Subsidies to help people afford insurance… what I call ‘the carrot’. 3) Penalties to discourage people from going without insurance… ‘the stick’. Without all three, the insurance market collapses. The Ryan plan basically kicks out one of those legs and saws off part of another. If you are young, healthy, and have a high income, you MIGHT be no worse off under this plan… but even then your rates could go up because of the whole ‘adverse selection’ problem of healthy people failing to buy insurance and insurance companies exiting the market.

Needless to say, I’ll be calling my representatives (both in the House and Senate) to voice my opposition. I recommend everyone else do the same. President Trump has already voiced his support for this mess, so we need to stop it before it makes it out of Congress.
Find your representatives via whoismyrepresentative.com.

Rule the World!

Given the popularity of my Mad Scientist Wisdom aphorisms both at open mic at Nerdcon Stories and with the Superliminal Suggestion Backpack at Teslacon 7, I’ve decided to create a MadScientistWisdom.com website as a permanent home for the Wisdom.  I’ll also use it as a place to document geeky science related projects and the like.  Head on over and check it out.  It doesn’t have a comment section, so if you see anything that needs fixing or just want to make general comments, this post will be the home for that.  I hope you enjoy it.

Together, we will rule the world!  😉

The Truth About Net Neutrality

OK, it has come to my attention that a lot of people have no freaking clue what Net Neutrality really is. As someone who used to own an Internet Service Provider, let me dump some knowledge on you. Net Neutrality, in short, is the idea that ISPs (i.e Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner, etc) must treat every packet of data they route across their network in a neutral fashion… that means not blocking or degrading traffic based on where it is going, were it comes from, or what the content is. In the telecom industry this is called being a ‘common carrier’. They just provide a pipe and don’t concern themselves with what you send through it.

Why is this important? It is the entire concept on which the Internet was built and the reason it is hugely successful. When you pay your monthly Internet subscription fee, you expect to have access to the ENTIRE Internet, not just the parts that sit directly on Time Warner’s cables. You are paying Time Warner to plug into the global system, not just provide you access to the content they deem worthy. Net Neutrality assures that YOU get to choose what parts of the Internet you see.

Without Net Neutrality, large ISPs can use their near monopoly status to extort additional fees out of companies (and this is the important part) EVEN WHEN THAT COMPANY IS NOT THEIR CUSTOMER. Comcast could go to AT&T business customers and say “If you want our Internet subscribers to see your website, you need to pay us additional fees.”

Think they won’t? They are already doing this to Netflix. Their supposed justification is that Netflix is chewing up a lot of their network capacity… but that is a distortion if not outright lie… it is Comcast’s own customers that are using up that bandwidth when they CHOOSE to connect to Netflix. Basically, Netflix is being punished and extorted for being popular and successful.

If the big ISPs get their way, Netflix will be only the beginning; they will extort similar fees from other popular services and websites. They will degrade services that compete with their own. It will be the death of the Internet as a level playing field of entrepreneurial opportunity. Gone will be the days that your tiny start-up can have the same professional looking web presence that a billion dollar company has… only the companies with deep pockets that can afford the extortion (i.e. the Internet ‘fast lane’) will be able to compete.

So when you hear some politician or telecom executive railing against Net Neutrality, understand that they are not trying to protect the Internet or look out for your interests. It is all about lining their own pockets.  This is important to keep in mind in the months ahead, since a new FCC under Donald Trump is likely to scrap Net Neutrality, making the Internet less useful and more expensive for everyone.  But only if we let them.  If we all work together and make our voices heard, we can save Net Neutrality.

I welcome your opinions in the comments.

 

Devious Origins – CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 2

 

She seemed to consider my question as we made our way outside to the sidewalk.

“What sort of superhero would I be if I immediately let you in on my secret identity?” she playfully answered.

“OK, so what is your hero name then?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” I responded, “How can you be a superhero and not know your own hero name?”

“Haven’t you ever read any comic books?” she asked in mock incredulity, “The hero never comes up with their own name. It is always someone else. Someone they rescued. A reporter. Someone like that. The hero has to earn a name. Society bestows it on them.”

“So you haven’t earned yours yet?”

“Not yet I guess. But that’s OK. It isn’t about making a name for yourself. It’s not about getting recognition. It has to be all about the mission, or you are not a true hero.” She seemed to be totally sincere. “So here we are.”

We had arrived at a classic yellow Vespa scooter parked only a block from the court house. My companion plucked a shiny black helmet from the seat. It was small, form fitting, and lacked any sort of eye protection.

“Here, wear this,” she said as she handed it to me.

“Shouldn’t you wear it?” I answered.

“What sort of hero would I be if I let my passenger go unprotected,” she insisted, “Don’t worry, I’ll keep the stunt driving to a minimum.” She then proceeded to take a pair of tennis shoes and a set of aviator goggles out the storage compartment of the Vespa. She changed shoes, put on the goggles, and climbed on the scooter. “Well don’t just stand there, get on.” (more…)

And now a few words about Obamacare…

So, I’ve sort of been avoiding political topics here on my blog and on Facebook, not because I don’t like politics (some of you know I’m a big time political junky and polling wonk), but I’d rather spend my social media energy on fun stuff like my writing projects and video games and things that wont cause shouting matches among my very diverse friends. I’m going to break from that policy for bit, however, to talk about a topic that is often considered political (though it shouldn’t be)… health insurance… specifically, Obamacare. My timing is not accidental but has nothing to do with the election. November marks the beginning of a new open enrollment period for health insurance on The Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplace. Hopefully this essay will cut through some of the current political noise and provide some useful information for those actually wondering what Obamacare is and if they should buy insurance through it. I will be speaking from a position of personal experience… my family has had insurance via Obamacare for the last 3 years.

First, a quick primer on what Obamacare is and is not. Obamacare (actually called The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) is NOT government run socialized medicine. Medicare is an example of socialized medicine, and some people actually advocate expanding it to all ages, and that would be true European style socialized medicine… but that’s not what Obamacare does, it’s basically just insurance reform, and not terribly radical reform at that.

Before Obamacare, the health insurance market was split into two very different pieces, the employer/group insurance market (where most people get their insurance), and the individual market (basically everyone NOT getting their insurance from their employer). Your Employer provided insurance was undeniably a better deal. It was group rated, meaning everybody pays the same rate for their plan, and the insurance company had to take all comers and not raise rates or kick people off because of their health. The individual market, in comparison, was not group rated. Thus, if you had health problems, you might find yourself priced out of the market or just denied insurance outright (that whole ‘pre-existing condition’ thing).

It’s no accident that employer provided insurance has long been better than the individual market… you can thank government regulation for that, specifically The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (and various amendments to it over the years). ERISA regulated various aspects of employer provided benefits, health insurance policies being a primary component. So what Obamacare did was to essentially take a system that was already being applied to the employer provided insurance market and adapt it to the individual market. Now, when you buy insurance as an individual, you pay the same rate as everyone else buying that same policy, and you can’t be turned down for health reasons.

Of course there is a bit more to it than that, and the devil is in the details. To avoid a problem called ‘adverse selection’ in which only sick people buy insurance (driving up prices), the ACA/Obamacare came with a carrot and stick mix of subsidies and penalties… subsidies to help people afford insurance and penalties for those people who failed to purchase it. I’m not here to defend or criticize that… it is what it is… instead let’s focus on what it means to those of us affected by it.

OK, so first off, if you get your insurance (like most Americans) from your employer, you are not directly effected. Your benefits may have changed a bit from previous years (with more stuff now covered), but generally employer plans were already required to do most of the stuff Obamacare mandated. Your costs might have increased over the last few years, but healthcare costs were increasing long before Obamacare, and the rate of growth has actually been lower (on average) since Obamacare went into effect. The people most effected are the people in the individual insurance market. People like my family.

The individual impact of Obamacare on people buying their own insurance varied widely. People who were young and healthy and buying policies with reduced benefits often saw their costs go up. The new ACA regulated policies came with more benefits, but that came with higher cost, and many people were understandably unhappy about it. Other people who previous had very high costs because of health conditions saw their costs drop, and still others who were previously denied could finally buy insurance (this last category includes my family). When you add the insurance premium subsidies into the mix, most individual insurance purchasers saw their costs drop, and millions more people were able to purchase insurance. On balance, a good situation for the self employed and other uninsured / underinsured people like me.

But wait… what about all these claims of run-away costs and death spirals and so on? Isn’t Obamacare crashing and burning? Again, the devil is in the details, and as is often the case during election season, headlines are often more hype than fact. Yes, costs on the Obamacare insurance exchanges are going up next year, and in some cases by a lot, but we are still dealing with early estimates (which are always on the high side as insurance companies open negotiations with state regulators) and the extremes are always worse than the average. As is the case with any large data set, you find some values on either end of the curve (yes, some people will actually see their rates go down), and those markets seeing the largest increases will of course generate the most news. Cost fluctuations in the insurance market are very regional, so a news story about a big cost increase in another state doesn’t really mean anything in relation to YOUR insurance… for that you need to actually check with your insurance provider and comparison shop on your local insurance marketplace.

I could go on here and talk about lack of competition in the insurance market and the role that politics has played in that… about ‘risk corridors’ and why big increases in 2017 are unlikely to repeat in 2018… but the point I really wanted to make is that there is no Obamacare death spiral, at least not on a national scale. Insurance is very localized, and price hikes (as much as they suck for those effected) are also localized, so as long as your personal insurance market has plenty of choices and decent prices, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. Furthermore, the sliding scale of premium subsidies will tend to mitigate the increases for many people, so don’t assume that high increases in your market will automatically price you out of the market. Make your insurance choices based on your personal health and budget situation and don’t worry about the political hype.

OK, so about that personal insurance choice… how does one cut through the noise and get the facts to make that decision? The short answer to that is HealthCare.gov. At that site you can browse the insurance options available, see what they cost, and find out if you qualify for a premium tax credit to reduce the cost. You might be pleasantly surprised and learn that, with the premium subsidy, insurance is much more affordable than you assumed… or you might find that it is still rather expensive and you would rather just pay the tax penalty (though personally I don’t recommend that). Only you can ultimately make that decision (and really, political hype aside, it really is still your choice if and what insurance you buy).

As for the penalty, in 2017 it will be the higher of 2.5% of your income or about $700… unless you are exempt for some reason such as falling below the income threshold or various other reasons. Again Healthcare.gov can tell you for certain. Don’t let the .gov domain scare you off… yes it’s a government website, but the insurance companies are all private insurance providers… in most cases the same companies providing employer based policies, and you can buy this same insurance directly from those companies if you are not worried about getting a tax credit / premium subsidy.

OK, so that’s my Public Service Announcement blog post regarding Obamacare. I’ll close by saying that I still feel the same about The Affordable Care Act now as I did when it was being debated in Congress… it’s a cumbersome, flawed legislative patchwork that ultimately does more good than harm. My biggest criticism at the time was that it didn’t do enough around cost containment, and we are seeing that play out now. But for all its faults, I think it is worth fixing rather than scrapping. Hopefully our next President and Congress will work together to do that.

UPDATE: So Trump won the election, and consequently it is looking likely that The Affordable Care Act will be repealed.  Details on what, if anything, will replace it are still murky.  Obviously this is creating a lot of anxiety in my family (and millions of others around the country).  I might follow up with another blog post on the topic after I’ve had time absorb the news and think on it.  In the mean time, expect another installment of Devious Origins (it’s overdue).

The Daring Raid of the Dimitrios Kyriakos

I recently discovered that I’ve married into a family of seafaring pirates.

The Dimitrios Kyriakos started its career as a humble Greek cargo ship in 1938.  A few years later it was transformed into a military auxiliary cruiser and then transferred to the German navy in 1942.  A year after that it was torpedoed by the The Thunderbolt (a British submarine) and subsequently scuttled in Trapani.  After the conclusion of World War II, it was repaired and resurrected as a cargo ship.  It served in that role for more than two decades before breaking down off the coast of West Africa.  The wreck was then towed to Freetown by the Panamanian freighter Glyfada.  It sat there for some time, ignored by its owners as it piled up dock fees, until it was eventually towed into the channel and abandoned.

How long it floated there, anchored in the channel near Freetown, I don’t know… but eventually it was boarded by a daring gang of curious, adventure seeking scoundrels.  The ship had obviously suffered earlier raids and was stripped of most valuables, but one of our intrepid adventurers was undeterred. Though the sun was setting and the ship taking on water, he searched and came away with a great prize, several nautical charts of great historic and artistic interest.  Loaded with this booty, he and his companions made their escape.

The Dimitrios Kyriakos sank completely that very night.

Years later, I married the pirate’s daughter.

 

Devious Origins – CHAPTER 1

As promised, here is the first installment of the newly revised and edited Devious Origins.  Give it a read, and don’t be afraid to provide feedback as comments to this post.

CHAPTER 1

 

“I’m a superhero,” she declared in between bites of her chicken salad sandwich. The words were delivered as casually as one might comment on the weather.

“A superhero…” I repeated, an unspoken question hanging in the silence that followed.

“Yeah. You asked what classes I’m in, but I’m not actually a student here. I tried the college thing for a while, but it just wasn’t me. Did retail for a bit but couldn’t stick with it… pimping overpriced plastic crap to the consumer masses… it was damaging my soul. I quit and just drifted for a while. Then I really took a hard look at myself, what I wanted out of life, the mark I wanted to make. One day it all just snapped into focus. Superhero.”

“There are openings for that kind of work?” I asked, my amusement clearly showing. I was more than willing to play along with the gag.

“Oh it’s definitely an under-served market, but you won’t find any posting for it on craigslist. This is totally a freelance sort of gig.” She finished the last of her sandwich and turned her attention to her papaya and wheat grass smoothie. She took a long slurp and continued. “I actually made a list. All the things my dream job would have. Excitement. Adventure. The chance to do something big. Important. The chance to help people. I thought about all sorts of possibilities, but only one really seemed to fit. Superhero.”

I chased the last of my three bean salad around my plate, finally getting it onto the plastic fork. I gazed across the table at her while I finished eating. She showed no sign she was joking. She either believed what she was saying or was one hell of an actress.

My eyes wandered around the Student Union, taking in the varied patrons. Some were obviously studying. Others were having lunch. Some appeared to be socializing, just chatting and laughing. A typical collection of university students engaged in the usual activities. No one really standing out. Everything normal.

My eyes found their way back to my companion.

She seemed normal enough as well, at least at first glance. The right age to be in college. Dressed with an individualistic flare that made me assume she was an art student, maybe a theater major. Her short dark hair had a few purple streaks dyed into it and some small feathers woven into it near her left ear. She wore tennis shoes, a motorcycle jacket, and cut-off jeans over black tights. On her hands she wore leather gloves with the fingers cut off. She carried a small backpack with a much larger skateboard strapped to it. She was the most interesting person in the room, though not so unusual that she didn’t fit in to the wide spectrum of college persona.

I admit I was surprised when she asked to sit at my table, me being rather the opposite of the flamboyant art student I imagined her to be, but then the Union was close to full at the moment, so it was probably just the three empty seats at my table that drew her here. Making smalltalk with strangers has never been a great skill of mine, but she seemed surprisingly easy to talk to. Nevertheless, I now found myself at a loss for words. What do you say to someone who has just claimed to be a superhero?

My companion noisily slurped the last of her smoothie and finally broke the verbal deadlock.

“Well, I have to get going,” she said, “thanks for letting me sit here.”

“No problem,” I replied, then realized the one and only female who had shown any interest in talking to me since I started college was about to walk out of my life as quickly as she had entered it. “Um… I would love hear more about this whole superhero thing… do you… like… have a phone number?”

She smiled. It was not one of those ‘Oh I am so glad he asked for my number’ sort of smiles, more like an ‘Oh god he is so clumsy at this sort of thing I think I might burst into laughter’ sort of smile.

“Must we really fall into such tired gender roles?” she answered. “What if I want to ask for your number instead?”

My brain seemed to freeze up. No words came. Instead I simply opened up one of my notebooks, tore off a section of paper, and wrote my name and number on it. She smiled as I handed it to her. It was a less amused smile, more genuinely warm.

“Thanks… and welcome to the team,” she exclaimed, then slung her backpack on her back, turned, and headed for the door. I sat looking at the door for several minutes after she left.

It finally occurred to me that I had never learned her name.

* * *

(more…)

Mad Scientist Wisdom

Things went well with Open Mic at NerdCon, and a gratifying number of people took promotional bookmarks with the blog address… so this is for those people who came here looking for more Mad Scientist Wisdom.  Enjoy!

  • Fools rush in where I damn well order them to. There’s definite advantages to employing foolish minions. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Great minds think alike… especially after a few ‘treatments’ in the neural reconfiguration chair. #MadScientistWisdom
  • No man is an island. Really… I’ve transformed my victims into a lot of weird things, but not one of them became an island. #MadScientistWisdom
  • If you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone… you have obvious flaws in your inventory tracking system. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Keep your friends close but your enemies in a secure detention facility, and don’t use an unattended contraption when destroying them. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Time heals all wounds, but that’s still no reason to forgo the personal defense force shield. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Sleep is a poor substitute for caffeine like respect is a poor substitute for obedience. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, will survive within my despotic empire. #MadScientistWisdom
  • First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you obliterate them with space based particle beam weapons. #MadScientistWisdom
  • A bird in the hand is worthless and will not advance my plans for world domination… why do my minions keep giving me these damn birds? #MadScientistWisdom
  • Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The good are wimps. Your imperfect robot army is sufficient to destroy them. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Work like you don’t need the money, love like you’ve never been hurt, and make sure your air ducts are too small to crawl through. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Victory has a thousand fathers. That might explain the cost overruns in the genetics laboratory. #MadScientistWisdom
  • You can fool all of the people some of the time. Fooling them consistently requires orbital mind control satellites. #MadScientistWisdom
  • The road to Hell is paved via a no-bid time and materials contract… What? You expected an open and competitive process? #MadScientistWisdom
  • Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, even though world governments repeatedly refuse to capitulate to your demands. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Be careful what you wish for. Genies don’t speak English as a first language and can easily misunderstand you. #MadScientistWisdom
  • You only live once… at least until the cloning lab is up and running. #MadScientistWisdom
  • The person saying it cannot be done should not interrupt the person currently holding the moon for ransom. #MadScientistWisdom
  • A rising tide lifts all boats and is proof that your gravity manipulation ray is operational. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Seize the day. Lock it in a repeating causality loop until it yields the result you want. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Eighty percent of success is showing up. The other twenty percent involves compromising photographs of select politicians. #MadScientistWisdom
  • You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take… unless you’ve turned control over to the automated targeting system. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Success is the best revenge, after just about anything involving lasers. #MadScientistWisdom
  • If at first you don’t succeed… eliminate the minions that failed to implement your flawless plan. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration and 85 percent exploiting the people with bad math skills. #MadScientistWisdom
  • Every journey begins with a single step… is something only a loser without a working teleportation device would say. #MadScientistWisdom
  • There is no problem so big that it can’t be fixed by creating a space-time anomaly that alters the timeline. #MadScientistWisdom
  • If you love something set it free. If it rampages and destroys the city, don’t admit it was yours. #MadScientistWisdom

I’ll be posting more about Nerdcon tomorrow, including links to all the creative stuff we discovered, so be sure to check back!