In Clover

New HCAN study:

The five largest U.S. health insurance companies sailed through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression to set new industry profit records in 2009, a feat accomplished by leaving behind 2.7 million americans who had been in private health plans. For customers who kept their benefits, the insurers raised rates and cost-sharing,and cut the share of premiums spent on medical care. Executives and shareholders of the five biggest for-profit health insurers, UnitedHealthGroup inc., WellPoint inc., Aetna Inc., Humana Inc., and Cigna Corp., enjoyed combined profit of $12.2 billion in 2009, up 56 percent from the previous year. It was the best year ever for Big Insurance.

The 2009 financial reports from the nation’s five largest insurance companies reveal that:

* The firms made $12.2 billion, an increase of $4.4 billion, or 56 percent, from 2008.
o Four out of the five companies saw earnings increases, with CIGNA’s profits jumping 346 percent.
* The companies provided private insurance coverage to 2.7 million fewer people than the year before.
o Four out of the five companies insured fewer people through private coverage. UnitedHealth alone insured 1.7 million fewer people through employer-based or individual coverage.
o All but one of the five companies increased the number of people they covered through public insurance programs (Medicaid, CHIP and Medicare). UnitedHealth added 680,000 people in public plans.
* The proportion of premium dollars spent on health care expenses went down for three of the five firms, with higher proportions going to administrative expenses and profits.

Digging Out

Although my landlady has people who do the shoveling, they haven’t shown up yet and I had to get to my car to clean it off. So I paid a couple of kids $10 to hack a path to my car.

They were happy to get it; they said they put in a full day of shoveling yesterday (I used to do it myself when I was a kid, so I know just how exhausting it is) and then they got to the bus stop to go home, the buses had stopped running and they had to walk all the way home.

It’s that really heavy, wet snow with an icy crust. I had to break cracks in it with a broom handle before I could get it off. Then I drove through the snow drifts with my Subaru to flatten my driveway.

It worked fine … until I got stuck. And I mean, really stuck. It took three of my neighbors ten minutes or so to push me back into my driveway.

I might be trapped here for a few days.

Until Monday, when it snows again. Arghh.

UPDATE: Shoveler Guy just showed up, told me he’d clean out the driveway – “But I’m working alone today, it’ll take a while.” I assured him I’m not going anywhere.

Endorsement Deal

Simon Johnson at Baseline Scenario:

Being nice to the biggest banks will not save the midterm elections for the Democrats.  The banks’ campaign contributions will flow increasingly to the Republicans and against any Democrats (and there are precious few) who have fought for real reform.

The president’s only political chance is to take on the too big to fail banks directly and clearly.  He needs to explain where they came from (answer: the Reagan Revolution, gone wrong), how the problem became much worse during the last administration, and how – in credible detail – he will end their reign.

What we have now is not a free market.  It is rather one of the most complete (and awful) instances ever of savvy businessmen capturing a state and the minds of the people who run it.  Is this really what the president seeks to endorse?

Trafficking

Americans like to think we don’t have these problems – but we do. Prostitution isn’t always a “victimless crime”:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — About 1,000 American-born children are forced into the sex trade in Ohio every year and about 800 immigrants are sexually exploited and pushed into sweatshop-type jobs, a new report on human trafficking in the state said Wednesday.

Ohio’s weak laws on human trafficking, its growing demand for cheap labor and its proximity to the Canadian border are key contributors to the illegal activity, according to a report by the Trafficking in Persons Study Commission.

”Ohio is not only a destination place for foreign-born trafficking victims, but it’s also a recruitment place,” said Celia Williamson, an associate professor at the University of Toledo who led the research.

From 1990 to 2000, Ohio’s foreign-born population increased 30 percent, and the state has a growing pool of legal and illegal immigrants who draw victims or hide victims, Williamson said. These networks are highly organized, with brothels fronting as legitimate businesses.

Shiva The Destroyer

Google is going to roll out an ultra-high-speed broadband network. From Wired:

The announcement is not good news for the nation’s ISPs, which have long had a sour relationship with Google. Although Google interconnects with networks just as any other participant in the internet does, ISPs — including AT&T — have complained that Google properties such as Youtube should pay more to ride on their networks.

For its part, Google sees high ISP subscription fees and the U.S.’s slow connection speeds as hindrances to more profits. In the simplest equation, the more people who are online and the faster their connection, the more money Google makes from little text ads on the net. Any company who wants to make money anywhere between a user and an online ad has to fear that Google will try to drive the profits out of its business, whether that be a hardware vendor, a software company like Microsoft or an internet service provider.

Google is doing at least three things here:

1) It’s demonstrating to the public and to regulators that really fast broadband isn’t nearly as hard as companies like AT&T and Verizon pretend it is.

2) It’s sending a warning to large telecoms that they better start working to reduce prices and increase service or they might face a competitor tney don’t want to go up against, and

3) By partnering with municipalities, it’s learning/showing the nation how to bypass the current dominant telecom players by creating municipally-owned fiber infrastructure that can be rented to multiple service providers, who can then duke it out on price and service. If successful, that could create a model where Google uses its huge cash surplus to finance municipally-owned fiber optic networks, undermining its telecom rivals and speeding up the nation’s internet without ever having to run a consumer-grade network or learn how to do customer support.

If I were an executive at a large ISP, I’d be very unhappy with Google’s announcement. When Google enters a market, it usually destroys traditional ways of making money. ISPs want to find ways to measure internet traffic, and charge users by levels — even as their own upstream bandwidth costs continue to plummet. The rhetoric used to justify those decisions to consumer and lawmakers just won’t hold up if there’s an fairly priced, all-Fiber 1 Gbps connection just down the road.

Which is just the long way of saying that in a land where it costs “$35 a month to get an assymetric, slow DSL line that tops out at 1.5 Mbps, perhaps those traditional profits need to be destroyed.

Or even shorter — All hail Shiva the Destroyer.

Actual consumer choice! Can’t wait.

The Big Lie of the Life of the Mind

Very interesting take on the class structure of graduate school, via AZSpot:

One reason that graduate school is for the already privileged is that it is structurally dependent on people who are neither privileged nor connected. Wealthy students are not trapped by the system; they can take what they want from it, not feel pressured, and walk away at any point with minimal consequences. They do not have to obsess about whether some professor really likes them. If they are determined to become academics, they can select universities on the basis of reputation rather than money. They can focus on research rather than scrambling for time-consuming teaching and research assistantships to help pay the bills. And, when they go on the market, they can hold out for the perfect position rather than accepting whatever is available.

But the system over which the privileged preside does not ultimately depend on them for the daily functioning of higher education (which is now, as we all know, drifting toward a part-time, no-benefit business). The ranks of new Ph.D.’s and adjuncts these days are mainly composed of people from below the upper-middle class: people who believe from infancy that more education equals more opportunity. They see the professions as a path to security and status.

Again and again, the people who wrote to me said things like “Nobody told me” and “Now what do I do?” “Everybody keeps saying my doctorate gives me all kinds of transferable skills, but I can’t get a second interview, even outside of academe.” “What’s wrong with me?”

The myth of the academic meritocracy powerfully affects students from families that believe in education, that may or may not have attained a few undergraduate degrees, but do not have a lot of experience with how access to the professions is controlled. Their daughter goes to graduate school, earns a doctorate in comparative literature from an Ivy League university, everyone is proud of her, and then they are shocked when she struggles for years to earn more than the minimum wage. (Meanwhile, her brother—who was never very good at school—makes a decent living fixing HVAC systems with a six-month certificate from a for-profit school near the Interstate.)

Unable even to consider that something might be wrong with higher education, mom and dad begin to think there is something wrong with their daughter, and she begins to internalize that feeling.

Everyone has told her that “there are always places for good people in academe.” She begins to obsess about the possibility of some kind of fatal personal shortcoming. She goes through multiple mock interviews, and takes business classes, learning to present herself for nonacademic positions. But again and again, she is passed over in favor of undergraduates who are no different from people she has taught for years. Maybe, she wonders, there’s something about me that makes me unfit for any kind of job.

This goes on for years: sleepless nights, anxiety, escalating and increasingly paralyzing self-doubt, and a host of stress-induced ailments. She has even removed the Ph.D. from her résumé, with some pain, but she lives in dread that interviewers will ask what she has been doing for the last 12 years. (All her old friends are well established by now, some with families, some with what seem to be high-powered careers. She lives in a tiny apartment and struggles to pay off her student loans.) What’s left now but entry-level clerical work with her immediate supervisor just three years out of high school?

She was the best student her adviser had ever seen (or so he said); it seemed like a dream when she was admitted to a distinguished doctoral program; she worked so hard for so long; she won almost every prize; she published several essays; she became fully identified with the academic life; even distancing herself from her less educated family. For all of those reasons, she continues as an adjunct who qualifies for food stamps, increasingly isolating herself to avoid feelings of being judged. Her students have no idea that she is a prisoner of the graduate-school poverty trap. The consolations of teaching are fewer than she ever imagined.

Such people sometimes write to me about their thoughts of suicide, and I think nothing separates me from them but luck.

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