Credit Where It’s Due

Did everyone see that our colleague Steven Teles received one of David Brooks’s Sidney Awards for his “mind-altering” (I am quoting) National Affairs essay on kludges? So far as I know, the award means only that the recipient gets attention in Brooks’s column; but anything which helps the wider world to read the wisdom of the Reality-Based Community must be worth having.

Congratulations, comrade!

You want health insurance with terrible customer service? Forget Obamacare–try Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois

There’s not much more to my post than the headline: I’ve just concluded my sixth phone call with BCBS of Illinois (having been hung up on the first five times by an automated phone tree which sends you directly to an automated service-satisfaction survey without first giving you any service to be satisfied about). This means I spent the better–or worse–part of two hours trying to find out why BCBS sent me a bill for my January premium I’d already paid on-line.

I went straight to Blue Cross to buy health insurance because I don’t qualify for a subsidy and didn’t see any reason to grapple with–or burden–healthcare.gov. But every time you hear that payments made on the government Website might not be transferring properly to the insurers, please remember that payments made on the Blue Cross Website suffer from the same disability. And while there’s a live chat on Healthcare.gov which at least connects you to a person who can explain the problem, Blue Cross has made sure to keep its product completely untouched by human hands. I finally got through by calling corporate headquarters and explaining first to the corporate operator and then to local customer service and then finally to national customer service (after local stayed on the line with me for ten minutes to assure that national actually picked up) that a bill dated 12/12 should have included an electronic payment made on 12/2, and that no, the bill and my payment hadn’t “crossed in the mail.” In the words of the great Eric Clapton, “How many times must I explain myself ‘fore I can talk to the boss?” though by “Forever Man” I doubt he meant “man with whom you have to stay on hold forever.”

In short (I know, other people’s customer service nightmares are a bore while one’s own is fascinating), everyone who complains about the f***-ups of Obamacare ought to take a second a remember the last time s/he had to deal with a private insurer. In fact, the worst thing about the Affordable Care Act is that it leaves the insurance companies in the picture, and us to their continued tender mercies.

In which I examine the unity of mind and body

Over on the Nonprofiteer I consider the expression “pain in the ass” and its application to actual asses everywhere. The money graf:

So when you go home for the holidays and abruptly find yourself troubled by an injury you’d
thought long healed, look around the room: maybe it’s Mama and maybe it’s Uncle Jim, but I’ll
bet somebody familial is the cause. And if you notice a brother who seems to manifest a limp
every time he sees you, consider this: you might be the pain in the ass of which you’ve always
heard.

Charitable giving, radical utilitarianism and democracy

Over on The Nonprofiteer, I grapple with the justification for philanthropy which fails (as mine does) to increase Disability-Adjusted Life Years in the developing world. Not entirely satisfied with my arguments and would welcome any and all assistance.

Stupid Billionaire Tricks: Give Charity to MBAs

The Nonprofiteer is at it again, gently suggesting that a Sun Microsystems billionaire isn’t necessarily the world’s authority about how to combat poverty.  But maybe fighting poverty isn’t what he had in mind after all.

Who taught people to say “charity” with a sneer?

Public school funding: perhaps the public could help out?

I hold forth on/as the Nonprofiteer on the idiocy of our debating who should pay for public schools, and the extreme idiocy of our thinking it swell that the cradle of a democratic society should be controlled by individuals whom nobody elected.

Poverty, Meet Cash Transfers

In my guise as The Nonprofiteer, I suggest that the solution to poverty might be money.

dorothea lange depression era photographs 13

Alert the media.  No, really.

On Blaming Black Leadership

This fine piece in In These Times  reminds us how instrumental Federal policies on homeownership and road construction were in killing Detroit, and gives the lie to those who want to blame the city’s bankruptcy on corrupt leadership–specifically, corrupt Black leadership.

Certainly there were, and are, Black leaders whose personal weaknesses interfere with the progress of the entities they seek to lead; but the pattern of blaming Black leaders comes from the same bag of racist tricks as the suggestion that the President isn’t really an American because he has black skin.

Detroit is not struggling because its leaders, or its people, are Black.  Its troubles lie at the door of white legislators who made abandoning cities a winning proposition for white families, and white regulators who contributed to the same flight, and white car company executives who decided they owed nothing back to the city of their birth.

To claim otherwise is simply to blame the victim.

 

 

News Flash: Philanthropy Is Wealth Solving Problems of Its Own Creation

Warren Buffett’s son has figured out that the proud towers of philanthropy are built on the rotten foundations of inequality and excessive wealth accumulation. I give him credit for being willing to say this aloud–it’s usually left unsaid, one of those things everyone in the club understands but which might be resented by the polloi so we just won’t mention it.

I don’t grok the end of the piece, though, where Buffett calls for a “new paradigm.” Like “thinking outside of the box” or “disruptive technology,” that’s always a safe bet in the rarefied world of TED talks and innovation gatherings. But I dare to argue that what we actually need is the original paradigm–namely, that in a democratic society we come to consensus on the problems to be solved and then tax ourselves to solve them, rather than permitting accumulations of extreme wealth and letting wealthy people create their own social policies.

And I also dare to argue that for the moment, while living under the reign of Big Capital and Big Philanthropy, maybe we should be a little less grateful.