Exempt from Obamacare

If you’re passing around something saying that Congress and federal judges are exempt from the Affordable Care Act, you’re passing around bullshit. There is no health care program called “Obamacare” to be exempt from or to participate in. The federal government’s health insurance already complies with the mandates for coverage contained in the PPACA, so they don’t need to change. Is that “exempt” or is that “already compliant with” in your mind?

Congress is a special case. The GOP inserted language in the PPACA to require congresscritters and their staff members to participate in the health insurance exchanges, rather than stay on their (already PPACA-compliant) federal health insurance. This was a weird thing to do, as the exchanges were intended to be available to people who did not otherwise qualify for employer-provided or other health insurance. It was a deliberate political ploy to portray “Obamacare” as so repellent that the Dems would reject the provision. That ploy failed. They neglected to include language in the law regarding whether the government (as the employer) would continue to pay for the health insurance or not. The OPM issued a ruling this summer saying that, unless another law is passed changing it, the government will still be authorized to pay the same portion of the insurance premium they do for other federal employees. Is that an “exemption” or is that a “unique situation contrived to be as insane as possible” to you?

Many of these memes passing around also state that unions are exempt from “Obamacare.” Since that is still not a specific thing from which to be exempt, what could they possibly mean? Many unions got waivers from a particular provision of the law, which would have required coverage caps to rise to $750,000 by last year and be gone entirely by next year. Some companies and unions didn’t want to pass that expense on to their employees, so they asked for and received waivers until 2014. At that time, the waivers for coverage caps will go away. It’s kind of an exemption, but not from the full force of the law. And, it’s going to go away in a few months. So…not really “exempt from Obamacare” after all. Oh, and only 25% of the waivers have gone to unions, but you know how much the Right hates unions. Now, personally, I would have denied the waivers for caps. That particular provision was intended to prevent people from running out of insurance if they had a long period of illness or an expensive procedure. It’s somewhat inhumane to allow some people to be subject to caps, but not others.

There are some groups which are completely exempt from any health insurance mandate. The two biggest groups are Native Americans and some religious groups. The religious groups which are exempt are the ones which are also exempt from paying into (and drawing from) Social Security, such as the Old Order Amish, and groups which have a mutual self-aid system in place that essentially has everyone pay for anyone’s health care in the group. Also, if you make so little money that you don’t even have to file a federal tax return, you are exempt from the mandate. You’re also in a really crappy life.

Anyway, anything to do with the Affordable Care Act is complex and hard to nail down to just a quick meme, but don’t believe everything that you read just because it feels truthy to you.

Free-ish Speech

Harry Reid and Lindsey Graham agree that the United States government must Do Something to address Terry Jones’ burning of a Quran. Several days after Jones burned a book in Florida, the duly elected (stop laughing) president of Afghanistan fomented some dissent about it, and some clerics in Afghanistan called on the USA to arrest Jones and prosecute him to the full extent of the law. And then they rioted and killed some completely unconnected civilians, just to prove how reasonable their demands were.

Terry Jones is an asshole. Fred Phelps is also an asshole. I don’t ever want to hear what those people, or others like them, have to say about anything. Their voices are irrelevant to my life and counterproductive to the causes of acceptance and tolerance and peace. However, they have the right to be assholes and say shitty horrible things and even burn a book (assuming the book is not stolen and they abide by fire regulations for the local municipality, of course). Popular speech, by definition, does not need to be protected; only unpopular speech needs such security.

How in the world do two United States Senators of no little seniority decide to promulgate a view that the rioters are not to blame for a riot, the murderers are not to blame for murders? Instead, in twisted “we’re at war” land, the person burning a book in Florida is responsible for the deaths of UN members in Afghanistan. Considering that the Undeclared War On A Specific Tactic is impossible to define in time or space, claiming that free speech must be curtailed because the USA has soldiers in harm’s way means that free speech is curtailed for all time. The UWOAST is a war (never declared so therefore not really but “police action” or “military excursion” doesn’t have the right ring to it) without end, and these two men, who have sworn to uphold the Constitution, think that same Constitution doesn’t apply unless they want it to? Fuck them too.

Catholic Priorities

You just have to wonder about the priorities of the Catholic Church.

  1. Male priest has romantic relationship with a woman.  Reaction from the Catholic church:
  2. Father Cutie’s actions have caused grave scandal within the Catholic Church, harmed the Archdiocese of Miami — especially our priests — and led to division within the ecumenical community and the community at large.

  3. Over 800 priests abuse thousands of children for decades, with the aid and collusion of the Irish government. Church reaction: silence.
  4. Priests sexually abuse thousands of children in the United States. Church reaction: move priests around and threaten anyone who speaks out with expulsion.

Circus is in town

You may have heard a story or two on the news recently about the peculiar group of polygamists down the road from me. After attending a school function for The Boy next door to Fort Concho, I had an encounter with a Texas State Trooper.

School function, so I took photos. The sight of me with a camera was of some interest to the DPS officer, apparently. He asked if I’d been taking photos of the Fort, which of course I hadn’t been and told him that. Then he turned friendly and wished me a good day. About 50 meters down the street, I passed a man with a massive camera taking photos of the Fort, while standing in the street. Guess he was too obvious.

Anyway, I know that there are many issues (privacy, witness tampering, yada yada) involved in this mess, and I’m not about to raise a fuss about a rather minor thing, but I’m allowed to take photos of just about anything I want to. I can’t help but wonder how the conversation would have gone if I’d actually been so bold as to have taken a photo of Officer Friendly or (gasp!) even of the State Park, while standing on a public street. I’m sure the sky would have fallen.

Sure hope this circus is over soon. Housing all those people on the Fort has already caused at least one event cancellation.  This town uses the area for many community days.

In an Ideal World

It’s amazing to me how many people will deny reality in order to defend their prejudices and pre-existing notions. And there isn’t just one area of life that is vulnerable to this sort of reality denial; it can be everything from computers to cosmogony to theology.

Linux users have, for years, said it’s not the OS that is causing usability and productivity problems – it’s the lack of drivers. Of course, the average user doesn’t care why their printer doesn’t work, and is not going to blame HP for not supporting Linux, because their printer works just fine in Windows so it must be Linux’s fault that it doesn’t print.

Although the vast majority of the technology industry has come to the conclusion that Windows Vista is more trouble than it’s worth, some people defend it to the most ridiculous lengths. The driver defense comes up, just as with the Linux geeks from years past. “Vista is great, it just needs some drivers and people need to understand how to manage it. And the User Access Control dialog boxes aren’t very intrusive after you get used to clicking them every single session once per program or operation; people just need to get used to it. Of course, you can’t expect to run Vista on a machine with only one gigabyte of memory, no matter that the big box retailers sell 1GB machines with Vista Premium installed on them.”  And so on.

No, people won’t learn the OS in order to work their applications; they just want to click a file and make it work. To assert otherwise is to deny the reality of how the vast majority of people approach computing, in favor of some ideal world where everyone takes a three-week course in Vista before they operate it, and never go to skeezy websites and always keep their virus software updated… Well, you know.

Oh, you thought I was going to talk about theology? Nah. PZ Myers can do that for me.

People Believe Falsehoods

This is quite frightening.  55% of those polled think the Constitution of the United States established a Christian nation.  There is not one mention of any deity in the Constitution; not one.
Half say teachers should use the Bible as a factual textbook in history classes.  Seriously?  Did you know there’s no archaeological evidence for the Jews wandering in the desert for forty years?  Did you think that three million people might have left a slight impression?

56% think that freedom of religion applies to everyone.  The others say that there are some groups that don’t deserve the same freedom they want for themselves.
On the plus side, “only” 25% say the First Amendment goes too far, which is better than five years ago, when it was half.

No chocolate Jesus for you!

If you haven’t heard of the controversial art show featuring a giant chocolate Jesus figure, posed as if being crucified but minus the cross, too late. It’s been canceled. The hotel where it was being shown says they cannot guarantee the safety of the show, as they’ve received threats of violence and even death threats against the artist and the show backers. That’s how you convince people you’re reasonable and have the power of right and goodness on your side – threaten them with death. So, are we going to hear anyone say that Christianity isn’t really a religion of peace, as we’ve been hearing about Islam?

Of course, the entire art exhibit would have languished in total obscurity if not for the protests against it. Apparently the protestors’ parents never told them, “ignore him, he’s just trying to get attention.”

Rev. Haggard is a Prince

I find it interesting that in the NY Times story about Ted Haggard admitting to buying drugs, the gay escort who outed him is referred to by his full name. As anyone knows, whoever is written up in the news with his middle name is a serial killer or child molester.

Of course, the Reverend says he was tempted, bought the drugs, but did not use it. Why, then, are there multiple voice mail messages, which ask for “more product” in increments of 100 or 200 dollars?  If you don’t do drugs, why would you get more of it?

Pope Offends Muslims; Muslims Call for his Head.

Ok, seriously, what the hell is wrong with these people? The Pope quoted an earlier pontiff, saying that Muhammed was a violent and inhumane person. Even more shockingly for a religious leader, he appealed to reason to build a dialog. So, obviously, the next step would be to call for his immediate death. There’s no better way to convince people your religion is not evil or inhuman than by butchering anyone who claims otherwise. Yep. Good plan there.

Update:Just to prove how wrong anyone is who calls them violent and unreasonable, Muslims have now firebombed two churches (neither of which was Roman Catholic) in the West Bank.

War on Christmas Resolution in the House of Representatives

After a completely pointless resolution was introduced to protect the symbols of Christmas, the longest-serving member of the House had something to say.

Rep. John Dingell (D-MI): “Madam Speaker, I have a little poem.

‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the House,
no bills were passed `bout which Fox News could grouse.
Tax cuts for the wealthy were passed with great cheer,
so vacations in St. Barts soon should be near.

Katrina kids were all nestled snug in motel beds,
while visions of school and home danced in their heads.
In Iraq, our soldiers need supplies and a plan,
and nuclear weapons are being built in Iran.

Gas prices shot up, consumer confidence fell.
Americans feared we were in a fast track to ….. well.
Wait, we need a distraction, something divisive and wily,
a fabrication straight from the mouth of O’Reilly.

We will pretend Christmas is under attack,
hold a vote to save it, then pat ourselves on the back.
Silent Night, First Noel, Away in the Manger,
Wake up Congress, they’re in no danger.

This time of year, we see Christmas everywhere we go,
From churches to homes to schools and, yes, even Costco.
What we have is an attempt to divide and destroy
when this is the season to unite us with joy.

At Christmastime, we’re taught to unite.
We don’t need a made-up reason to fight.
So on O’Reilly, on Hannity, on Coulter and those right-wing blogs.
You should sit back and relax, have a few egg nogs.

‘Tis the holiday season; enjoy it a pinch.
With all our real problems, do we really need another Grinch?
So to my friends and my colleagues, I say with delight,
a Merry Christmas to all, and to Bill O’Reilly, happy holidays.
Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas.”

The non-binding, totally ceremonial resolution passed, of course – 401 to 22.

Blue Laws

I went grocery shopping this morning, as I usually do on Sundays. I thought I’d go ahead and pick up a six-pack of 1554, but then I realized that when I moved to San Angelo I’d moved to the 18th Century as well. Can’t buy alcohol until noon on Sundays. I have this good-looking cake recipe I want to try this week, which requires raspberry liquer in the mix. Not only can’t I buy that until afternoon, I can’t buy it in the grocery store. Although they’ve recently made it legal to sell hard liquor within the city limits, nobody is doing so as yet (licenses not issued I’m guessing). OK, fine. I know I’m stuck in Bibleland (thank you, Poppy Brite, for that term), but at least the liquor stores outside the city limits are available, right?

Not on Sundays. I don’t know whether it’s a law that they be closed or just that nobody goes to the sinful liquor vendors on church days, but they’re all closed until tomorrow. Guess I’ll make that cake another day.

Local Professors and Intelligent Design

Our own local fishwrap, the SubStandard Times, has a brief article about the Intelligent Design debacle debate. One person quoted is a biology professor at Abilene Christian University:

”I see good evidence for evolution, but on the other hand, I see my body works almost perfectly. It seems to be a tremendous leap of faith to say this body is the result of total randomness.”

It’s not total randomness! To conflate evolution with purely random chance mutations is to deliberately mislead people. How is this guy a college professor? It’s not like you have just as good a chance to evolve something bad as something good – that’s the point; the bad mutations tend to die and the good mutations tend to out-compete the nonmutated organisms. Evolution is the only theory on speciation (not the origin of life – another common confusion thrown in) that has withstood the test of time and research. There has not been any serious debunking of evolution since Darwin’s time; it looks increasingly unlikely that there will ever be a legitimate failure found in the basic tenets of the theory.

Two other professors, from a non-religious university, say the same thing that every actual working scientist has said: ID isn’t science, it’s faith. If you want to believe in a deity or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, good for you. Just don’t try to use that belief to bring down science.

They also quote a Catholic Bishop, as the “other side of the debate” – there is no debate. If you want to have a theologian discuss his views on a subject that is not in his area of study, why stop there? How about if we use expert opinions on automobile maintenance from a grocery clerk? Why not take a biologist’s opinion about quantum physics as a legitimate counterpoint to an actual physicist’s research? Some things are not opinion – they are observed reality.

One Nation

Since everyone else has weighed in on this…

What I find amusing is that the majority of people who are decrying the recent court ruling assume that Godless heathen atheists, probably baby-killing drugusers as well, are behind it all.

Sorry, but the majority of atheists who came to their beliefs through logic instead of a kneejerk reaction to some bad church experience really couldn’t care less about such matters. Would it offend you that your neighbor, the Buddhist, had a darma bracelet on? Probably not, because it does not affect you in any way. Same thing with words in the Pledge of Allegiance – if you are a true atheist, you wouldn’t care if the words “under God” were there or not, because it wouldn’t offend you to say something that you think is silly and mythical. No more than you would be offended by the names of the days of the week being Norse gods. Oh, no, I can’t say “Thursday” because it means I’m offering fealty to Thor. Whatever.