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People really like “free” stuff, especially when it’s healthcare

Great Britain’s National Health Service, held up as an example to be admired by many on the left in the United States, is in a bit of a pickle.  The “free” healthcare services program that they provide for their residents is now running a deficit.  In an effort to get the program back into the black, the government is entertaining the idea of actually charging people to see their general practitioners.  The idea is not a popular one:

Britons are overwhelmingly against paying to see a GP to help the NHS balance its books, even if that means their local surgery closing, an opinion poll reveals. (emphasis mine)

There is growing interest in charging as a way to help the NHS meet rising demand for healthcare at a time when it is likely to receive only tiny budget increases. Even the chairman of the NHS in England has said the next government will have to consider charging in order to help the health service survive. But while one in four (27%) said they would be willing to pay £10 for a GP visit rather than see their practice shutting down, more than double that – 56% – were against.

Those polled were also against charging even more than the ten pounds rate to see their general practitioner (not surprising), charging for a guaranteed next-day appointment, and for paying for a higher quality of care.  In fact, those receiving “free” healthcare are so against paying anything out-of-pocket, they’re willing to risk losing their provider.

As an aside, what aren’t they against? By a three percent margin (47%-44%), those polled favored making the “rich” (those earning over 150,000 pounds annually) pay for their appointments with a general practitioner.  So much for “free” healthcare being a right for everyone” claim.   Apparently it’s only a right for those under a certain income.

 

Smile! You’re on Candid Government Camera!

Just when you thought government only collected your cell phone records and text messages, it turns out that in the UK that’s not all they’ve gathered up. ….Surprise!

Britain’s surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the US National Security Agency, intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions of internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, secret documents reveal. (emphasis mine)

GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.

Yahoo is apparently fuming over the hackery:

In a furious reaction to the report, a Yahoo spokeswoman said: “We were not aware of, nor would we condone, this reported activity.

“This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy that is completely unacceptable and we strongly call on the world’s governments to reform surveillance law consistent with the principles we outlined in December.

“We are committed to preserving our users’ trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services.”

Given all the Snowden revelations, should we really be surprised that governments seem to be taking whatever steps they can to peer into our private lives without our permission?  And yes, I said governments plural, because it would be downright silly to believe that the U.S. isn’t, or at least hasn’t, done this as well to its citizens given the fact that our government is the one that helped the UK perpetrate these intrusions to begin with.

So the next time you’re using a webcam, smile and say something nice about the government, because there may be more people than you know watching.

The private sector isn’t alone in cutting workers’ hours to avoid Obamacare requirements. The public sector is doing it too.

While there have been a lot of reports of private sector businesses limiting employee hours in order to avoid having to provide healthcare insurance under Obamacare’s regulations, there has been little reported about the same happening in the public sector.  Until now.

Hot off the New York Times presses:

WASHINGTON — Cities, counties, public schools and community colleges around the country have limited or reduced the work hours of part-time employees to avoid having to provide them with health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, state and local officials say.

Even after the administration said this month that it would ease coverage requirements for larger employers, public employers generally said they were keeping the restrictions on work hours because their obligation to provide health insurance, starting in 2015, would be based on hours worked by employees this year. Among those whose hours have been restricted in recent months are police dispatchers, prison guards, substitute teachers, bus drivers, athletic coaches, school custodians, cafeteria workers and part-time professors.

Mark D. Benigni, the superintendent of schools in Meriden, Conn., and a board member of the American Association of School Administrators, said in an interview that the new health care law was having “unintended consequences for school systems across the nation.”

In Connecticut, as in many states, significant numbers of part-time school employees work more than 30 hours a week and do not receive health benefits. “Are we supposed to lay off full-time teachers so that we can provide insurance coverage to part-time employees?” Mr. Benigni asked. “If I had to cut five reading teachers to pay for benefits for substitute teachers, I’m not sure that would be best for our students.”

In Medina, Ohio, about 30 miles south of Cleveland, Mayor Dennis Hanwell said the city had lowered the limit for part-time employees to 29 hours a week, from 35. Workers’ wages were reduced accordingly, he said.
Welcome the new normal, America.

The twenty-three cent myth

Just a note in passing on the claim that women make “seventy-seven cents for every dollar men make” that the President cited last night in his State of the Union address.  As with all data, it can be manipulated and analyzed in a number of ways.  And if a person analyzes it in a specific way, the results can be used to support a political policy.  The problem is, unless you’re comparing “apples to apples,” the analysis you end up with isn’t valid.

If you believe women suffer systemic wage discrimination, read the new American Association of University Women (AAUW) study Graduating to a Pay Gap. Bypass the verbal sleights of hand and take a hard look at the numbers. Women are close to achieving the goal of equal pay for equal work. They may be there already.

The AAUW has now joined ranks with serious economists who find that when you control for relevant differences between men and women (occupations, college majors, length of time in workplace) the wage gap narrows to the point of vanishing. The 23-cent gap is simply the average difference between the earnings of men and women employed “full time.” What is important is the “adjusted” wage gap-the figure that controls for all the relevant variables. That is what the new AAUW study explores.

That new study referred to above finds that the difference in wages betweens the sexes amounts to about 6.6 cents while still including some dubious comparisons between occupational categories:

Furthermore, the AAUW’s 6.6 cents includes some large legitimate wage differences masked by over-broad occupational categories. For example, its researchers count “social science” as one college major and report that, among such majors, women earned only 83 percent of what men earned. That may sound unfair… until you consider that “social science” includes both economics and sociology majors.

Economics majors (66 percent male) have a median income of $70,000; for sociology majors (68 percent female) it is $40,000. Economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute has pointed to similar incongruities. The AAUW study classifies jobs as diverse as librarian, lawyer, professional athlete, and “media occupations” under a single rubric–”other white collar.” Says Furchtgott-Roth: “So, the AAUW report compares the pay of male lawyers with that of female librarians; of male athletes with that of female communications assistants. That’s not a comparison between people who do the same work.” With more realistic categories and definitions, the remaining 6.6 gap would certainly narrow to just a few cents at most.

While there might be a few cents difference in pay in a direct work comparison between the sexes, it doesn’t come anywhere near a twenty-three cent difference.  But as is so typical in the political arena, the latest findings won’t stop politicians from repeating the larger disparity as a means of both playing to a select audience and pushing an agenda.

#GeekSexy: Female Robot for Space

Alright. Normally I give something the #GeekSexy tag to identify it as something geeks, nerds, and science types would probably think is cool.

In this case however, maybe the “sexy” part rings a little truer to its common definition.  As I said on twitter, something about this distinctly female features designed robot says “geek-in-the-basement.”

For the article on why she was built, you can find out here.

Think they’ve programmed her to make sandwiches yet?

Too fat to jail? The GITMO edition.

Contrary to a number of GITMO detainees who’d chosen to protest their internment by a hunger strike, another detainee’s lawyer now says his client, Tarek El-Sawah, is too fat to keep at the facility.

From the time of his arrival at GITMO 11 years ago, this man has gone from 215 pounds to 420 pounds, and doctors say he can no longer walk even minimal distances.  I guess that new soccer field to which the detainees have almost full-time access hasn’t been a high priority.   While other inmates may have legitimate illnesses such as cancer or mental disease, should we really even consider releasing this admitted “explosives trainer” just because he’s too unhealthy ?

MIAMI — Tarek El-Sawah is in terrible shape after 11 years as a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, a fact even the U.S. military does not dispute.

During his time in captivity, the weight of the 55-year-old Egyptian has nearly doubled, reaching more than 420 pounds at one point, and his health has deteriorated as a result, both his lawyers and government officials concede.

Lawyers for El-Sawah, and the doctors they have brought down to the U.S. base in Cuba to examine him, paint a dire picture — a morbidly obese man with diabetes and a range of other serious ailments. He is short of breath, barely able to walk 10 feet, unable to stay awake in meetings and faces the possibility of not making it out of prison alive.

In August, lawyers for El-Sawah filed an emergency motion with a federal court in Washington asking a judge to order the military to provide what it calls “adequate” medical care, including additional tests for possible heart disease and a device to help him breathe because of a condition they say is preventing his brain from receiving enough oxygen.

The government insists he is getting good care at Guantanamo and just needs to exercise more and eat less. “While (El-Sawah) is currently in poor health, his life is not in imminent danger,” lawyers for the Justice Department wrote in response.

The judge hasn’t ruled, but the request is secondary anyway. What El-Sawah and his lawyers want is the U.S. to release him, preferably back home to Egypt, in part because his health is too poor for him to pose any threat. “It boggles the mind that they are putting up a fight on releasing him,” Gleason said.

One parting thought.  Recidivism for GITMO detainees is now nearly 29%.

Hey, we got a great deal on that hand-blown stemware

The State Department is doubling down on the embarrassing revelation that just before the end of the fiscal year, it awarded a five million dollar contract for “hand-blown glassware” for our embassies around the world.

Not even bothering to contemplate the question, “Why in the hell are we paying that much money on hand-crafted stemware?” the State Department says to consider ourselves lucky because it really was a good deal.

A contract worth as much as $5 million was awarded to high-end Vermont glass and pottery designer Simon Pearce to design and manufacture glass stemware for U.S. foreign embassies just days before the October 1st government shutdown.

State Department spokesperson Marie Harf sought Wednesday to downplay the story.

“[T]here was no sort of $5 million midnight purchase trying to get it just in under the wire,” she said. “This contract was not connected in any way to the shutdown.”

But Harf did acknowledge the contract, which was awarded September 25, coincided with the end of the government’s fiscal year, at which time many agencies incorporate a “use it or lose it” mentality with their funding.

A spokesperson for Simon Pearce told CNN the contract is for 12,500 pieces of custom hand-blown glassware to be produced over five years and to be used at foreign embassies.

Simon Pearce stemware isn’t cheap — starting at $65 per piece. But the spokeswoman said the government has negotiated a “significant reduction” in price due to the volume order.

The company spokesperson said Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy was instrumental in securing the contract. Simon Pearce expects the contract to allow it to hire many additional workers at its Quechee facility, which was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Irene two years ago.

While it’s a good thing that this company can provide jobs for people out of work, the issue remains that our government should be spending our tax money wisely.  What’s wise about buying glassware that starts at $65 a piece?

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