Why isn’t someone in jail after charging $489,000 for a med flight?

Sometimes you come across a story that is truly astonishing and makes you wonder why somebody isn’t going to jail. One such story is of a man who was charged $489,000 for an air ambulance ride.

$489,000?

Somebody should be going to jail.

To summarize: a fellow named Sean Deines and his wife, Rebekah, were road-tripping after he lost his job as a bartender in North Carolina when the pandemic hit. But while visiting his grandfather in a remote part of Wyoming, Sean started to feel very ill. A trip to an “Urgent Care” revealed that Sean had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a fast-growing blood cancer.

After an initial admission in Casper, Sean was moved to the University of Colorado Hospital near Denver, for advanced treatment. However, Sean didn’t know anyone in Colorado, and the couple decided it was prudent to return to North Carolina, where they could get help from his family and be treated at Duke University Medical Center (which was in his insurance network).

His family called Angel MedFlight which told Rebekah that it would accept whatever the couple’s insurer would pay and that they would not be held responsible for any remaining balance. But when he was discharged a month later, he was charged $489,000 for the 1,468 flight ($70,000 of that was for the ground ambulance service to and from the Denver and Raleigh-Durham airports).

  • $419,000 for the flight.
  • $70,000 for ground transportation.

Are these people insane?

It turns out that the flight wasn’t covered because it wasn’t considered “medically necessary” — something the insurance company should have told the wife when she called — and it was resolved when it came under the microscope at NPR.

But what if it hadn’t come under the microscope at NPR?

I mean, WTF?

Why isn’t this fat shit in jail already?

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Ginni Thomas’ 29 text to Mark Meadows demanding that he pursue overturning the election is no surprise.

For those of us who have followed the career of Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the fact that she sent 29 text messages to Mark Meadows, Trump’s Chief-of-Staff at the time, urging him to overturn the election results, is not a surprise.

Nor is it a surprise that in January, the Supreme Court declined an emergency stay to keep the January 6th Committee from getting access to Trump’s White House records. The lone dissenter was Justice Thomas.

Did Justice Thomas know that his wife’s texts would be included in those records?

Curious minds want to know.

Justice Thomas has arguably been by far the worst Justice in the last century. Beginning with his confirmation hearing, where he shamelessly pulled out the race card even though his accuser — Anita Hill — was also African American, Thomas has been an Überhyporcite. By now, every reasonably impartial observer of those hearings believes that Anita Hill was telling the truth. (I’ve written about these hearings in the past.)

The truth is that Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her while he was the Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

That’s like engaging in Insider Trading while being the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

It’s the ultimate example of the fox guarding the henhouse.

Since his ascendancy to the Court, Thomas has been known for three things: first, not asking any questions during oral arguments; second, not recusing himself when he should; and finally taking the most conservative positions of any of the justices in his entire time on the bench, bar none.

There has been some commentary that the Justices should be held to the same ethical standards as all other federal judges — which currently they are not — but the Congress would have to pass legislation for that to happen.

Theoretically, the court could also impeach Justice Thomas and remove him from the bench, but that’s not going to happen for the same reason that Trump was not convicted in either of his impeachments.

Partisan process. That’s all.

Thomas has now been on the bench for 30 years and 5 months. A few days ago Thomas was hospitalized with an infection — not Covid — but he has since been released.  Honestly, I was hoping that maybe Thomas could go and meet his maker, so to speak. He’s done enough damage to our body politic to last a life-time.

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When the war in Ukraine started, I was dreading the news that Kyiv had fallen

When the war in Ukraine started about a month ago, I woke up every morning dreading the news that the Russians had taken Kiev and were in the process of installing a puppet regime.

Now, not so much.

It now looks, remarkably enough, as though the Russians may never take Kyiv. It certainly looks like they will never take the country as a whole, and probably not Lviv or the rest of western Ukraine. On the other hand, they may eventually take Black Sea cities like Odessa, and they’re clearly planning on bombing Mariupol into oblivion. Just yesterday they announced a change in objectives, claiming that they are now in the Donbas region.

In the meantime, several things have revealed themselves:

First, the Russian military is not nearly as fearsome as we all thought. There seems little likelihood that they will attack Poland or the Baltics, because they’re likely to get their asses handed to them by the well-trained and well-armed NATO troops.

Second, coordinated sanctions really can hit hard even against as big a country as Russia. If the sanctions hold for another six months, the Russian economy will be in a shambles. Which is not really a good thing. It may drive Putin out of power, but at the price of a lot of severe pain to ordinary Russians. Also, oligarchs of all shapes and sizes may now start working overtime to insulate themselves from sanctions.

Third, propaganda really still works. For now. With 11 million Russians having relatives in Ukraine, there have been a lot of stories of Ukrainians hearing from their Russian relatives that this really is a limited military operation designed to help the Ukrainians and protect them from a NAZIfied government. Of course, we’ll see how long that can hold. As those 11 million Ukrainians continue to report on what’s actually happening.

It’s estimated that the Russians may have lost as many as 7,000 to 14,000 soldiers, which is more than all the American soldiers killed in post-9/11 war operations. In the 11 years that the United States was fighting in Vietnam, the United States lost only 47,434 soldiers, according to official counts.

There is often a ratio of about 5:1 relative to the number of soldiers injured compared to the number of soldiers killed in modern warfare. So that could mean as many as 35,000 to 70,000 injured soldiers returning home to their families and able to report on what’s actually happening in Ukraine.

Eventually, the truth will out.

And finally, war in a country with nuclear power plants (never mind involving a country with nuclear weapons) really does change the risks. God willing we don’t have a meltdown 10 times the size of Chernobyl, making most of Ukraine uninhabitable and causing incalculable environmental damage around the world.

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The Republicans are now the party of grievance, no longer the party of governing.

By now it’s pretty clear that the Republican party has become a culture wars grievance machine. They are no longer interested in governing. At all. They are just interested in scoring political points (“owning the libs”) and firing up their base.

One could really see this in stark relief during the nomination hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson.

In terms of substance, the Republicans couldn’t lay a glove on her.  The party of Matt Gaetz tried to paint her as soft on child pornographers, which is transparently ridiculous. In her career as a judge, the woman has written nearly 600 opinions. And that’s all they could come up with.

And they are still airing their grievances about the confirmation hearing of Amy Coney Barrett and especially Brett Kavanaugh. Of course, the crime at the Kavanaugh hearing was not that the Democrats surprised Kavanaugh with Christine Blasey Ford, the crime was that Kavanaugh lied under oath and that the FBI never conducted a proper investigation.

I mean, I don’t know that Kavanaugh should have been disqualified for what he might have done when he was 17 years old. He was never convicted of it. But he should have been disqualified for lying under oath. Kavanaugh tried to maintain the absurd position that Ford was sexually assaulted — but by someone other than him — as if Ford couldn’t recognize someone that she had believed to be a good friend.

I’ve written about this previously, about why Kavanaugh’s defense was transparently ridiculous.

Nor was it unfair of Democrats to ask Amy Coney Barrett about her membership in a parachurch organization like the People of Praise, which is an explicitly anti-abortion group.

Hardly any Republican Senator asked questions related to Brown Jackson’s qualifications. They spent virtually their entire time trying to paint her as soft on crime, while scoring political points.

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Putin is engaging in bizarre and transparently false Big Lies to justify his invasion into Ukraine

It’s very interesting to watch Vladimir Putin dig up old grievances and engage in the kind of propaganda that can only be described as another “big lie.”

Grievances

It’s clear by now that Vladimir is full of grievances, just like a fat, white, racist MAGA supporter. Now, I don’t personally speak Russian, but for people who do, Putin’s latest stemwinder speech — which reminded some people of Trump’s extemporaneous speaking style — makes it clear that Putin wants to refight the Cold War, but this time with a different outcome. 

I guess Putin didn’t think the Russians got enough “respect” when the Soviet Union fell apart — and to be fair, I think Americans were a little bit unnecessarily gleeful at the time — but that ship has sailed. Clobbering the Ukrainians isn’t going to get the Russians the respect that they think they were denied.

Propaganda

Putin in his speeches has made some bizarre accusations and used really inappropriate language in reference to Ukraine and its President. He has (of course) accused (without evidence) the Ukrainians of “genocide” in the breakaway regions; he has called the Zelensky administration a “bunch of drug dealers”; and claimed that he was going to “de-NAZIfy” the Zelensky administration (among other things).

Zelensky is Jewish, just in case you were wondering.

Also, Zelensky isn’t the one invading other countries without provocation.

Apparently Zelensky did not genuflect enough to Putin, just like in the old Godfather movies.

Putin is engaging in exactly the kind of “big lie” propaganda that has been part and parcel of all big lies: telling lies so preposterous that no one would believe that someone would say them if they were not true.

But they are not true.

By now, in 2021, you would think that people are no longer as susceptible to the big lie as people were in 1939. If only.

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I was hoping that Vlad might give us a year or two to recover from the pandemic before he starts WWIII.

Well, everyone in the West predicted that Vladimir Putin would invade Ukraine (right after the Olympics), and now he’s invading Ukraine (right after the Oympics).

Here’s what I don’t understand. At 6,601,670 square miles, Russia is by far the largest country in the world. The second, largest, Canada, is barely half the size of Russia, and most of its land is frozen anyway. 

It’s not like the Russians need “Lebensraum.”

So this is just a naked power grab. The Ukrainians wanted to do their own thing and he just doesn’t want to let them.

But it’s been 30 years since the Soviet Union dissolved, and Vladimir might find that things are no longer as they used to be. He may see them as “cousins,” but they might seem themselves more like the Irish in relationship to the English.

I guess we’ll find out if we really can hurt him by barring him from the international banking system. Maybe he can sell all his oil and natural gas to China. I guess we’ll find out.

I was hoping that Vlad might give us a year or two to recover from the pandemic before he starts World War III.

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There’s a part of the Russia-Ukraine thing I understand, but most of it I don’t

There is a part of the Russia-Ukraine thing that I understand and a large part of it that I don’t understand at all.

First of all, by way of background, we should acknowledge that Ukraine has been in the Russian orbit for most of its existence. Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union, and didn’t declare its independence until 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Subsequently, Ukraine and others signed the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, in which Ukraine essentially traded its substantial nuclear stockpile (amassed during the Soviet days) for the security of its borders. The major nuclear powers of the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States were all signatories to that agreement. (Both China and France gave somewhat weaker individual assurances in separate documents.)

The Part I Understand

The part of the Putin’s unhappiness with Ukraine that I understand is the idea of Ukraine joining NATO. Imagine, if you will, that Ireland wanted to join a military alliance with Russia. How would the United Kingdom feel about it?

Probably not so good. 

Putin, and many of his fellow Russians feel that the Ukranians, as fellow Slavs, are practically “brothers.” Many Ukranians beg to differ. It’s how the Irish feel about the English. They may be close, ethnically speaking, but they also feel very much apart.

Now, Putin has said that the break-up of the Soviet Union was one of the greatest mistakes in history, and it’s clear that he’s trying to patch much of it back together. Not surprisingly, states that now have won their independence — especially the old Balkan states — aren’t at all enthused about rejoining the former monolith. Ukraine isn’t enthused either.

All that his threatening Ukraine has accomplished so far is to drive Ukraine further into the arms of the West. It’s probably increased the chances that Ukraine would join NATO, so that it can defend itself from the big bully.

The Part I Don’t Understand

Putin has already bitten off the Crimean Peninsula.  That happened, as people may remember, back in 2014. One would have thought that would have been enough. Crimea does have a larger Russian speaking population than their Ukrainian speaking population, and at least a substantial portion of the population actually wanted to reunite with Russia. (How many it really was is hard to know, since the plebiscites that they ran were totally unreliable and untrustworthy.)

So why is Putin wanting to invade Ukraine now?

You’d think he would have wanted to invade it back when Trump was still President. We all know that Trump wouldn’t have objected to Russia taking Ukraine. 

And we all know that both Russia and the West can hurt each other. The Russians can really hurt the West Europeans, and especially the Germans, by shutting off the supply of their oil and natural gas (although the Russians would really hurt their own finances by doing so). The West and the United States could really hurt the Russians by exclude the Russians from the international banking system. The Russians (as they’ve already proven) could hurt us with their cyberattacks. (I imagine we could hurt them in similar ways, although we don’t know to what extent we’ve penetrated their systems).

But again, why is Putin wanting to invade Ukraine now?

There is, I suppose, a small chance that Putin doesn’t invade. But it seems small. He’s already amassed all the troops that he needs, and everyone agrees that he could take Kiev in a couple of days. He could then install a puppet regime. However, holding on to Ukraine might prove to be more difficult than Putin has anticipated. (See The Troubles in Northern Ireland, if you don’t know what I mean.)

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Is the Civil Rights trial against the McMichaels and William Bryan really the best use of our resources?

Today was the beginning of the federal hate crimes trial against the McMichaels and William Bryan, but — given that they’ve already been convicted of murder in Georgia state courts — what is the point, really? Just to find out that they used the N-word and other slurs in their conversations about Ahmad Auberry and other people of color?

Is that really the best use of our resources?

As it happens, both McMichaels and Bryan had already offered to plead guilty in exchange for them being able to spend their incarceration in a federal prison instead of a state prison. They thought they might be a little safer in a federal facility. The family objected to that deal and the judge ultimately rejected it.

Again, why?

These racist idiots are already going to spend the rest of their life in jail, as they should. They probably are more likely to be murdered in a state prison instead of a federal facility. But having them be murdered in prison isn’t really a part of the deal.

This seems to me like a good example of good intentions gone awry. It would have been a huge injustice if these three had been exonerated. But they weren’t. That ship has already sailed. Not it feels like this additional trial is just for show.

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The extermination of 6 million Jews? Yeah, 8th graders can handle that. Eight curse words and a nude mouse? That’s too much for their little Christian souls.

If you’re like me, you had never previously heard of “Maus,” the graphic novel “comic book”  that tells the story of the Holocaust using a cast of mice, cats, and other animals to represent the participants in the Holocaust. That’s probably because I don’t read graphic novel comic books, or really, any kind of comic books at the age that I’m at.

However, this thing won a Pulitzer Prize back in 1992.

The book tells the story of author Art Spiegelman and his troubled relationship to his father, a Holocaust survivor. The father, Vladek, in turn, tells stories about his experiences, from the years leading up to World War II to his liberation from the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp. Spiegelman also writes and the absence of his mother, also a camp survivor, who died by suicide when the author was 20 years of age.

Presumably, the author assumed that to anthropomorphize mice and cats as the main characters would make it more palatable for teenagers to consume.

It would have remained ignorant of “Maus” but for the curious decision of the McMinn County Schools in East Tennessee to remove the book from their 8th grade curriculum. (I’d also never heard of McMinn County, but never mind that.) The Board of Trustees cited “rough language,” “unnecessary” profanity and a small drawing of a nude woman drawn as a mouse as reasons for its decision.

A nude woman drawn as a mouse?

Unnecessary profanity, consisting of eight words including the word “damn?”

Seriously, McMinn County School Board?

Of course, the ban immediately invoked the law of unintended consequences. The story became a national story, and then people who had never heard of “Maus” started checking it out of the local library or ordering it online.

McMinn is surely a fine upstanding county filled with a lot of fine upstanding Christain residents, but it really does make you wonder about their priorities. The good folks on the school board — whose vote was an overwhelming 10-0 vote, by the way — think it’s more traumatic for their 8th graders to encounter eight curse words and a nude woman drawn as a mouse than to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust?

The extermination of six million Jews. Yeah, they can handle that. Eight curse words and a nude mouse? That’s too much for their little Christian souls.

And people wonder why I’m an atheist.

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What does Kyrsten Sinema want? Really, nobody has a clue.

What is wrong with Kyrsten Sinema? Like a lot of the rest of you, I don’t really know.  Sinema is a head-scratching case, for sure.

Sinema had a complicated childhood, which included her parents divorce, her mother’s remarriage, and apparent periods of quasi-homelessness while growing up. She graduated high school as a valedictorian and went to BYU (even though she now claims to be an atheist). She became employed as a social worker and subsequently earned not only an MSW, but eventually also a J.D. She then began working as a criminal defense attorney, and while doing that, she also earned a Ph.D in Justice Studies, also from Arizona State University. Subsequently she became an adjunct professor teaching master’s-level policy and grant-writing classes at Arizona State University School of Social Work and an adjunct business law professor at Arizona Summit Law School. So this is a woman who (unlike Donald Trump, for example) pulled herself up by her own bootstraps and also became quite educated.

Politically, she’s also been something of a Sphinx. She began her political career in the Arizona Green Party and worked on Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign in 2000.  She initially ran for local elected offices as an independent, races which she lost. In 2002, Sinema first ran for the Arizona House of Representatives as an independent affiliated with the Arizona Green Party. She finished in last place in a five-candidate field. Undaunted, Sinema joined the Democratic Party in 2004 and tried again for the 15th House district (in Arizona’s state legislature, two Members can represent the same district). In 2004, both she and David Lujan won the two seats for Arizona’s 15th district, with 37% for Sinema and 34% percent for Lujan. Sinema then went on to win a seat in the Arizona State Senate (2010), the U.S. House of Representatives (2012) and finally the United States Senate (2018), where she defeated Martha McSally by 55,900 votes (or about the same number as the Green Party candidate that year). With her election, Sinema because the first openly bisexual member of the Senate.

And yet, she has migrated to becoming one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, and a strange obstacle to voting reform. With her Ph.D in Justice Studies, she must be well aware of how critical it is to be engaging in progressive voting reforms. Indeed, she claims to be in support of both the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act.

Yet, Sinema somehow thinks that changing the Filibuster rules — which weren’t adopted until 1917 and have been changed numerous times since then — will break the Senate.

The Senate is already broken. And it’s absolutely clear who broke it: one Addison Mitchell McConnell III. His manipulation of the rules and absolute hypocrisy around Supreme Court (and other) judicial nominations, his failure to support the second impeachment of Donald Trump right after McConnell (like other Senate leaders) had essentially been held hostage in the January 6th insurrection, and his overall Machiavellian politics broke the Senate a long time ago. Failing to create a carve-out for voting rights will simply allow the Republicans to shamelessly continue to use the “Big Lie” of Trump’s (allegedly) stolen election to enact voter suppression laws around the country.

Is this what Sinema wants?

What does Sinema want?

If she really believes that not voting for a carve-out from the filibuster will somehow make the current Senate a saner place, then she is as deluded as the people who think that the vaccines are “experimental” and unsafe to administer during a pandemic.

The Senate Democratic leadership plans to force a vote on these issues today. Both the filibuster questions and the voting bills themselves. People will have to go on the record.  And let’s not forget that any single Republican could break rank from Republican orthodoxy and support voting rights in the United States if they just had the courage to do so. So far, not a single one of them has shown that courage.

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