Archive for the ‘New York’ Category

Obamacare Walks Among Us

March 27, 2014

Annex - Karloff, Boris (Frankenstein)_01

Last November, I applied for Obamacare using the Covered California website. I was told that I qualified for Medicaid under the new rules of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Medicaid is a federal program. However, in keeping with our nation’s passion for inefficiency, it is administered through the states. In California, it’s called Medi-Cal. Every time I call the Los Angeles County Department of Social Services about my application, they tell me that my Medi-Cal is “pending”. They say this is because they are still waiting for instructions from the federal government. The new Medicaid rules became effective on January 1st of this year. It’s nearly the end of March, and the federal government still hasn’t told the states how to proceed with this.

Part of me is hoping that the federal government never does tell them what to do. What many people don’t know is that the state governments have the right to demand that people reimburse them for medical treatment that was paid for by Medicaid. The state can actually seize a person’s assets to do this. Cute, huh? And you thought that Medicaid was a social safety net.

I’ve been told that in California, where I currently live, the state waits until after somebody dies before seizing any of his assets. (Sort of like having your pockets picked by an undertaker.) Apparently, in some states they don’t necessarily wait until you’re dead before they seize your assets. The sign-up site for Medicaid in New York contains this clause:

    I understand that once I get Medicaid coverage, if I am over 55 or if I am in a medical institution and not expected to return home, the Medicaid program may do the following in order to pay for my medical care:
    Take money I already have or that is owned [sic] to me.
    Take money that was made from selling certain things I own
    Take money from people who were legally responsible for me when
    I got benefits.

Nice, huh? Things may be different here in the Golden State, but who knows, our notoriously cash-strapped state government may decide to change the rules at some point.

Because I qualify for Medicaid, I am automatically blocked from applying for subsidized insurance on the exchange. I have been told, however, that I can purchase private insurance at full price. (If I could afford to do that, I wouldn’t have qualified for Medicaid, would I?) Now, here’s a really fun fact for you. Almost half the states have refused to accept the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid. If you qualify for Medicaid and you happen to live in one of these states, you are doubly screwed: not only do you not get Medicaid, but you can’t purchase subsidized insurance precisely because you qualify for the Medicaid that you can’t get. What a brilliant piece of legislation the ACA is! At this point, one has to wonder whether the ACA will significantly reduce the number of uninsured people in this country.

Single Payer is the only rational and humane solution to our country’s health care problems. It is time for us all to admit this.

Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014)

February 6, 2014


Like so many people, I was shocked and saddened when I learned of the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Of all the actors who have emerged in Hollywood over the past two decades, he was the one I liked the most. His performances were always powerful. In Capote, he mimicked the famous writer’s voice and mannerisms, without becoming a caricature. My favorite performance of his, however, was in The Master, in which he played a cult leader. Hoffman exuded an air of authority and all-knowingness that you understand why people would follow such a man despite the demands that he made on them. (I was not that impressed by his performance in Hunger Games: Catching Fire, but I think that is because the character was not well written.)

Hoffman reportedly died from a heroin overdose in his New York apartment. When I lived in New York, I knew several people who became heroin addicts. One of them died from an overdose. There is a very strong drug scene in New York, one in which many people get caught up. I don’t know whether this was a factor in why Hoffman became an addict, but I can’t help but note the possibility. One of my first memories of New York is of people whispering “steelworks” to me as they passed me on the street. They were offering to sell me heroin. New York can be a very stressful place to live, which may be why some people turn to drugs.

James Urbaniak tells an interesting story about Hoffman here.

Big Brother

June 7, 2013


The recent revelations about massive government spying on the American people should come as no surprise. Indeed, they merely confirm what many of us have suspected for quite some time now. It’s worth noting here that all this obsessive information gathering did not prevent the Boston Marathon bombings from happening. The reason for this should be obvious: no terrorist with half a brain is going to discuss his plans over a cell phone or over the Internet. Even the Tsarnaev brothers, who weren’t exactly the brightest bulbs, knew better than that.

So, how concerned should we be about this? As long as you aren’t doing anything illegal, you shouldn’t be too concerned. The government, however, keeps expanding the boundaries of what is illegal. (In New York state, for example, it is now a felony to annoy a police officer. During the time I lived in New York, I got the impression that the cops there were a bit touchy. I imagine it can’t be that hard to annoy them.)

The Internet is a useful organizing tool, but it clearly has its limits and it should be used with caution. Those who have argued that the Internet is the solution to all the Left’s problems should reconsider their position. It’s clear that the Left can’t rely solely upon the Internet.

Robert Fitch

March 9, 2011

I just learned that Robert Fitch recently died. When I was young, I read his book, The Assassination of New York. It had a profound effect on my thinking. It was one of the books that pointed me in the direction of socialist politics.

When I moved to New York City in the early 1990’s, the place seemed unreal to me. Squalor existed alongside the most outrageous conspicuous consumption. Everyone I knew was poor, yet everything was ridiculously expensive. In college I had been taught classical economic theory: supply and demand reach an equilibrium. Yet this clearly wasn’t happening in New York. l became determined to try to understand what was actually going on in this city. While I was working in a second-hand bookstore, I came across a copy of The Assassination of New York. It explained how the FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) sector of the city’s economy controlled the local government and manipulated the infrastructure to serve its own needs. Reading this book helped make me realize that private corporations control our world, and they do so to our detriment. And this was true not just in New York but in most places.

Fitch will be greatly missed.


October 27, 2010

Cropsey, which is dubiously advertised as a “horror-documentary”, is a film by Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio. It examines a series of disappearances of children on Staten Island in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The film begins with a discussion of urban legends, common throughout the Hudson River Valley, about a character named Cropsey, who murders children. Zeman recounts being told stories about Cropsey by counselors at a Boy Scout camp on Staten Island. In these stories, Cropsey lived in the abandoned buildings of the Willowbrook State School. This was an institution for the mentally retarded that was closed down in the 1980’s, after Geraldo Rivera did an exposé on the inhuman conditions there. (Yes, Rivera was once a serious journalist, believe it or not.)

From urban legends the film proceeds to reality. In 1987, a little girl with Down’s Syndrome disappeared on Staten Island. After an intensive search, her body was found in a shallow grave. The police eventually arrested Andre Rand, a homeless man who camped near the grounds of Willowbrook, where he once worked. Rand was eventually found guilty of kidnapping, but the jury could not agree on a verdict for murder. Since then, some people have questioned whether Rand was guilty. No physical evidence was found to connect him to the murder. The case against him relied entirely on eyewitness testimony. (The filmmakers correctly point out that eyewitness testimony can be unreliable, a point that is often ignored in our criminal justice system.) The filmmakers interview police officers and others who were involved with the case, as well as Rand’s defense attorneys.

From there the film proceeds to a discussion of the community’s reaction to Rand’s arrest and conviction. Shortly after Rand’s arrest, stories began to go around that Rand was the leader of a Satanic cult that would have meetings in the abandoned Willowbrook buildings. To this day, rumors abound that Satanists meet at night in the buildings. In a questionable act of bravado, Zeman and Brancaccio go to Willowbrook at night to see if there is any truth to these stories. There, not surprisingly, they fumble around and manage to spook themselves. They begin to seem like an inept version of Scully and Mulder from The X-Files. They don’t find any Satanists, but they do come across a group of teenagers, doing the silly things that teenagers do in a place like that. These kids solemnly tell the filmmakers that the stories about Satanists are true, even though they’ve never seen any themselves.

During the filming of this documentary, Zeman and Brancaccio corresponded with Rand and spoke with people who knew him. From these letters and interviews, a portrait of Rand gradually emerges, and it turns out to be more disturbing than any urban legend. It prompts the filmmakers to suggest the disappearances of the children were in a way connected with the inhumanity of what went on at Willowbrook.

Cropsey is a rich, multi-layered documentary that touches upon issues such as what urban legends say about us, the reliability of our criminal justice system, the sensationalism of the media, the way our society treats the mentally handicapped, and the question of whether we can really know the truth about past events.

Highly recommended.

A Defeat for Bigotry

August 6, 2010

A proposal to build a Muslim Community Center in Lower Manhattan appears to be going forward. (See here.) At a time when the right is seeking to whip up hate and fear in any way it can, it’s refreshing to see it suffer a defeat. The right’s attempt to build up hysteria over this failed to get much support, even after the loathsome Sarah Palin jumped on the bandwagon. (So much for Palin’s supposed ability to reach out to people.) The misnamed Anti-Defamation League (which is actually devoted to defaming people) also hopped on board with little effect. New York’s Republican mayor, Michael Bloomberg refused to oppose the building. (I guess he’s too busy whipping up hatred of Mexicans.)

I could be wrong about this, but It seems to me that anti-Muslim sentiment is stronger in Europe than it is in the U.S. We don’t have the government passing laws against minarets and veils here. A recent attempt to whip up opposition to a mosque in Temecula, California fell flat. Perhaps U.S. society is too heterogeneous and too secular for this sort of thing. If that’s so, it’s one thing we have going for us.