28 April 2014

Found Time

One of the realities of life in a law office is that your day rarely precedes as expected.

One day, your gear up for a project that you expect to take up half of your day; the next, the deal is busted or the case is settled.  Sometimes a client hits traffic on I-70 coming to Denver and has to reschedule for the following day.  A deposition is cancelled because a witness is sick.  A court date is continued late in the afternoon before the hearing that was to take up the following day.

Typically, at any given time, two-thirds to three-quarters of the items on my "to do" list have a caveat, because the ball in that matter is in someone else's court and we can't act until we receive more information or action.  Maybe the next action item for us is a reply brief and the response brief hasn't yet been filed.  Maybe, the next step is to establish a business entity, but we are waiting for a client to decide on its name, or the ownership percentages.  A plan to establish an independent distributorship morphs into drafting an executive compensation agreement for a manager of a branch office and we must wait while the deal is renegotiated.

The bottom line is that several times a day, an e-mail or call (often it used to be a fax, but nobody uses faxes anymore), will interrupt the plan for the day and send us scampering off in a new direction, or with a big hole in our schedule.  Even more often there are moments of found time.  It is five o'clock and you have a meeting at five thirty, but no item on the "to do" list requires a block of time less than one hour if you want to be efficient about it.

So, you pause, gossip. grab a snack, blog, or whatever until it is showtime again.

Quote of the Day

"There is a traffic jam of thoughts going on in her head, but I'm not in the car with her."

- Andrea Cremer, "Invisibility" (2013).

24 April 2014

Connect For Health Colorado Finally Delivers (Sort Of)

To recap the saga:

In late October of 2013, my wife set up an account at Connect For Health Colorado including a lengthy and intrusive application for Medicaid, even though we knew that we didn't qualify for it.  Sometime after Thanksgiving, after many catastrophic system failures at Connect For Health, we finally get our Medicaid application rejection and are allowed to access the part of the website that allows you to compare and contrast health insurance plans.

There are lots of plans and lots of details involved, but eventually, we pick a no deductible "gold plan" with CIGNA that will be hundreds of dollars cheaper than the health insurance that I have from Anthem (Blue Cross-Blue Shield) through the Colorado Bar Association (after Obamacare subsidies) has a $5,000 deductible for in network services, per person, and will no longer be available starting May 1, 2014 since it doesn't comply with Obamacare requirements.  We submit our plan on the December 23, 2013 deadline to choose plans effective January 1, 2014.

A day or two before January 29, 2014, we finally get an invoice from CIGNA for the health insurance we were unable to utilize from January 1, 2014 through January 31, 2014, because we had no health insurance cards and no one at CIGNA could confirm that we had health insurance from them.  Some of the delay was due to Connect for Health not being able to get our information to CIGNA in a timely fashion, and some of the delay was due to CIGNA's failure to process the information in a timely fashion once it was received from Connect for Health.

In order to try to avoid this kind of overlap of coverage, on January 29, 2014, we make a simple request that is supposed to take two weeks to fulfill.  We change our start date from January 1, 2014 to March 1, 2014, allowing an ample thirty days for the change to be processed, so that we can pay our premium and have health insurance cards in hand when our new CIGNA coverage begins.  Silly us.

Earlier this week (i.e. April 23), about twelve weeks after our requested change in start date and four months after we chose our health insurance plan, we finally are given the opportunity to pay our March premium for CIGNA and get into their system, and have been promised that we will received temporary health insurance cards tomorrow.

In the intervening twelve weeks, we had dozens of phone conversations with almost as many Connect For Health and CIGNA representatives (several times on conference calls involving representatives of both), about half of them managers and devoted probably thirty hours to the problem - hold times of half an hour to an hour were common.  Sometimes they would talk to me about the health insurance application submitted by my wife for our family without question, other times, they refused to talk to me citing confidentiality requirements.  We were told that there are hundreds of similarly situated people in the Connect For Health system and that there is no process for escalation of problem cases like ours to higher levels.  Connect For Health representatives swore that they'd sent information to CIGNA that was actually never sent several times.  We were promised calls back from Connect For Health representatives about ten or twelve times, and only received return calls two or three times.  One of the two times we were given a direct line for a particular person, Connect for Health refused to connect us to that person when we called back.  Threats of lawsuits and legislative intervention were to no avail.  I was promised a response from someone outside the call center, but got no response, although I did get a name and address.

Connect for Health mostly refuses to do business by mail, by e-mail, or in person, despite being supposedly a Colorado specific operation and their call centers are all across the United States.

Eventually, my wife's dire and disgruntled posts all over the Connect for Health website got us a call from someone in the Connect for Health organization with a direct line, e-mail and apparently, the ability to finally get the job done in just a few days.

One can get health insurance directly from a health insurance company, but doing so means that you forfeit the Obamacare premium subsidy, which Connect for Health has a monopoly upon.  But, in the end, we will have ended up paying for my old health insurance from January through April, coming within a week of having no health insurance at all, and also paying for the new health insurance for March and April despite the fact that we won't have any opportunity to use until the last week of April.

We were given an opportunity to move back the start date to May, and just like the first time we did it, we were told that it would just take two weeks.  But, that would leave us uninsured for the first week of May and the last time we were told it would just take two weeks it actually took twelve, so we declined that opportunity.

Connect for Health tells you that you can take a screen shot of your Connect for Health application and get health care from medical providers, but this is just a plain and simple lie, and one that health insurers are ill advised to participate in because, a screen shot is too early in the process to guarantee that a health insurance policy will actually be generated.  A process that routinely encourages people to pay for health insurance that they didn't receive is fundamentally fraudulent.

Connect for Health's insanely incompetent bumbling has cost my family about $2,500-$3,000 that we wouldn't have paid if they'd been doing their job, which eats up almost all of the economic benefits we would have received from Obamacare in the first year.  All told, the process has taken about 70 hours of our time, more than half of which was due to various screw ups by Connect for Health, and I fully anticipate that we will have about 15 hours or more dealing with the health care billing screwups caused by having two health insurance policies in place for the same time for March and April.

Assuming that our experience is typical of the hundreds of majorly screwed up cases in the system, Connect for Health has caused several hundreds of thousands of dollars to a million dollars of direct economic harm to people trying to sign up for health insurance, and thousands of hours of time for people trying to deal with their screw ups.  Worse still, some of those people were probably denied necessary health care as a result of their bumbling and suffered much more serious harm as a result.

I am currently exploring filing a class action lawsuit against Connect for Health seeking money damages for the class of people harmed by their failure to live up to their promises upon which people have relied and their contacts with health insurers and governments, as well as seeking injunctive relief to address the problems causing the damages.

The irony of it is that I am a big supporter of Obamacare as public policy.  Expanded Medicaid coverage, subsidized mandatory individual coverage for the more affluent uninsured in a well regulated market, and a largely unchanged situation for Medicare and group health care, may be an ugly kludge, but it dramatically reduces the ranks of the uninsured, substantively hurts almost no one, and meaningfully dents health care costs for those who pay most dearly for it under the old system, like self-employed people.  But, the implementation of health insurance exchanges like Connect for Health has been so abysmally incompetent, that this little detail has tarnished the entire program.  It is a problem that can and should be fixed.  Nothing that Connect for Health is charged with doing is very difficult.  But, because they have utterly fucked up this task, the promise of Obamacare has not been fully realized yet and immense problems have been created.

21 April 2014

How many attorneys are there in Colorado?

As of December 31, 2013, there were 25,496 active attorneys in Colorado and 12,196 inactive attorneys in the state.  I always knew that there were a significant number of inactive attorneys' in the state, but had never imagined that it was 32.4% of the total (almost a third).

Over the course of the year, the state added 1,877 new attorneys and lost 983 attorneys (mostly to death).  Of the new attorneys', however, 560 were admitted on a limited basis for a single client only, as pro hac vice attorneys in a single case, or in one case, as a temporary law processor for the duration of his or her tenure.

After removing those attorneys from the rolls, the number of new attorneys net of lost attorneys was only 334, an increase of 1.3% which is slightly less than the 1.5% growth in population that Colorado experienced in that year.

Larimer County Judge Is Suspended, Publicly Censured And Resigns

Larimer County, Colorado Judge Robert A. Rand was suspended on July 3, 2013 and then accepted a resolution of his case in which he received a public censure (in case 13SA172) from the Colorado Supreme Court, and resigned on February 10, 2014.  Somehow, I managed to miss the news when it happened.

The censure identifies seven instances when he made inappropriate joking comments about people who encountered in the court, six of which were sexist.  It identifies two instances of inappropriate ex parte communications, one as a result of technological ignorance about how to do a conference call and a more serious case where he talked to a former paralegal related to a married couple coming before him as criminal defendants and failed to recuse himself.  It also identifies numerous inappropriate, off the record discussions with criminal defendants after proceedings ended.

The disciplinary counsel has identified problems created by the excessive confidentiality requirements involved in the formal judicial disciplinary process that is rarely invoked.

On the whole, it is reassuring that Colorado's judicial disciplinary process manage to bring about the resignation of a judge who engaged in repeated, albeit minor, judicial ethics violations, without the intense political tussle of a legislative impeachment proceeding or cumbersome and not always well informed process of a retention election.

Pot Liberalization Not Linked To More Crime

[A] new report contends that fourteen years later, even after Colorado legalized the sale of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use on Jan. 1 of this year, violent and property crime rates in the city are actually falling.

According to data from the Denver Police Department, violent crime (including homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) fell by 6.9% in the first quarter of 2014, compared with the same period in 2013. Property crime (including burglary, larceny, auto theft, theft from motor vehicle and arson) dropped by 11.1%.

A study looking at the legalization of medical marijuana nationwide, published late last month in the journal PLOS ONE, found that the trend holds: Not only does medical marijuana legalization not correlate with an uptick in crime, researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas argue it may actually reduce it. Using statistics from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report and controlling for variables like the unemployment and poverty rates; per capita income; age of residents; proportion of residents with college degree; number of police officers and prisoners; and even beer consumption, researchers analyzed data from all 50 states between 1990 and 2006....

“The central finding gleaned from the present study was that MML (medical marijuana legalization) is not predictive of higher crime rates and may be related to reductions in rates of homicide and assault. Interestingly, robbery and burglary rates were unaffected by medicinal marijuana legislation, which runs counter to the claim that dispensaries and grow houses lead to an increase in victimization due to the opportunity structures linked to the amount of drugs and cash that are present.”
From here.


* Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre in Colorado in which:
[A] gunfight broke out between members of the Colorado National Guard and striking coal miners employed by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company near Trinidad, Colorado. During the fighting in and around a tent encampment of striking miners, eleven children and two women were killed when the tent above a pit they were taking shelter from the fighting in was set on fire. This event became known as the Ludlow Massacre, and shocked the nation into a greater awareness of the poor working conditions and exploitative "company town" economic predation faced by coal miners.
Today, all mine workers in the U.S. have a right to unionize and a very large percentage do (unlike the bulk of the private sector work force in which unionization is at pre-labor law lows), and safety standards in mining are much higher, mostly as a result of the Mine Safety and Health Administration which rivals the National Transportation Safety Board which regulated air and rail traffic safety, for its effectiveness (in stark contrast to the largely ineffectual (outside of manufacturing) Occupational Health and Safety Administration, OSHA, which has never had sufficient funding relative to its regulatory jurisdiction to make much of a difference).

The creation of a "company union" in the wake of the Ludlow massacre by Rockefeller's Colorado Fuel and Iron Company to prevent a real union with a more aggressive stance from filling the vacuum is one of the reasons that current U.S. law prohibits such unions which are common in places like Japan.

But, coal mining remains a very dangerous profession relative to most other professions even today. There are far more coal mining and transportation and power plant deaths than there are deaths from nuclear power to workers and non-workers alike, for example. In recent years, many of the reduced deaths are due to automation rather than improved safety standards. Abroad, for example in China, safety standards for miners are much lower and there are many deaths.

Worker's compensation, another aftermath of that era has been a mixed blessing, making some compensation for injured or killed workers almost automatic, but providing stingy amounts of compensation that are overrun with red tape.

I can't recall the last time that the National Guard was called upon in any state to put down union activity, and the Kent State shooting of war protesters in Ohio, on May 4, 1970, before I was born, is one of the last notable times the National Guard killed U.S. civilians, although the National Guard was called upon to provide civil security in the wake 9-11 at airports and has been called upon to deal with civil unrest now and then on many occasions, generally under the direction of state governors rather than when called up to federal duty when the Posse Comitatus Act (arguably one of the most important parts of the "unwritten constitution" in the United States) applies.

* It was also the day critical in the marijuana subculture, that evolved from a group of kids who smoked pot in California after school at that time in 1971, after which the number began to be associated with marijuana generally, and then morphed into a month and day instead of an hour and minute. One of the biggest events honoring this date in the Denver area was the Cannabis Cup at the Denver Merchandise Mart organized by High Times magazine, which had thousands of visitors paying $40 or so a head to get into to see the vendors and events. It was the 40th time the event was held and the first in a state with legalized recreational marijuana. The crowd was well behaved and there were few incidents of note.

* It was also Hitler's birthday,

* And, this year, it was Easter.  Incidentally, one of the main historical investments of the Roman Catholic Church in astronomy (which continues to this day) originally involved the effort to correctly determine the date of Easter. The Vatican observatory is one of the reasons that this Christian denomination embraces the Big Bang and an allegorical, rather than literal, reading of the creation story in the Bible.

11 April 2014

Break In Blogging

I will be consumed with a trial in a civil case where I represent a party as an attorney that is being held in Pueblo, Colorado for the next week or so.  Therefore, blog posting will be light or non-existent.

07 April 2014

Impulsivity And Procrastination Are Aspects Of The Same Thing

Twin studies show that inherited component of impulsivity and procrastination arise from a single genotype.  In other words, they are both manifestations of the same underlying trait:
181 identical-twin pairs and 166 fraternal-twin pairs complete several surveys intended to probe their tendencies toward impulsivity and procrastination, as well as their ability to set and maintain goals. They found that procrastination is indeed heritable, just like impulsivity. Not only that, there seems to be a complete genetic overlap between procrastination and impulsivity -- that is, there are no genetic influences that are unique to either trait alone.
The investigators at the University of Colorado at Boulder, "Gustavson and colleagues are now investigating how procrastination and impulsivity are related to higher-level cognitive abilities, such as executive functions, and whether these same genetic influences are related to other aspects of self-regulation in our day-to-day lives."

 The strong emerging inference is that at least some aspects or subtypes of ADHD, impulsivity, procrastination, grit and "W" (the key work ethic factor in academic and economic success that is orthogonal to IQ) may all be fundamentally part of the same dimensional personality trait.

The underlying journal article is: D. E. Gustavson, A. Miyake, J. K. Hewitt, N. P. Friedman. "Genetic Relations Among Procrastination, Impulsivity, and Goal-Management Ability: Implications for the Evolutionary Origin of Procrastination." Psychological Science (2014); DOI: 10.1177/0956797614526260

06 April 2014

Reflections On Syria

The apparent good guys don't always win in geopolitics.

The dictatorial regime in Syria controlled by a minority Alawite ethnicity minority in that state, appears to have used a variety of tactics widely to be considered war crimes, such as the use of chemical weapons, the use of its Air Force to bomb its own people, shutting off rebels from humanitarian aid, and more, to defeat an armed Arab Spring uprising of its people against decades of dictatorial, one party regime rule there.  

There are pockets of dissent, but the Western powers that have the ability to intervene in favor of the rebels (or at least did at decisive moments that have since passed), were unwilling to commit to doing so in the way that they had in Libya just months before the Syrian uprising was in full swing, even after obtaining clear evidence that the regime used chemical weapons against its own citizens, and even has the death toll has approached or exceeded 100,000 in a country with a population smaller than California.  The West has supplied arms in a manner that is barely covert, but did not create a no fly zone that could have interrupted Syrian air strikes against its own people, has not instituted a naval blockade, and has not deployed troops or carried out strikes on regime targets with cruise missiles or smart bombs as it did, for example, at the turning point of the Afghan civil war.

In many ways the Alawites, were well suited to be successors to the French colonial rulers of the region.  Their worldview was more tolerant and more comfortable with the notion of a secular, multi-ethnic state than the urban majority of more conventional Sunni Muslims, yet as self-described Muslims in a state where the vast majority of the people were Muslims of some description, they were more tolerable rulers than Orthodox or Maronite Christians, and were not committed to isolation from the large world in the way that the Druze minority.  Their tribal and clan organization and solidification of a tight ethnic minority community gave them the organizational capability and levels of interpersonal trust needed to seize and hold onto power. 

Their mystical and syncretistic brand of Islam, following impulses within the faith not unlike those of Alevis in Turkey (many of whom are also Kurdish), and the Sufi mystical movement within Islam that has thrived in Pakistan, is hardly the secular, Enlightenment outlook that fueled the French Revolution.  But, it is also a movement within Islam that provides relief from the intensely patriarchy, harsh and violent discipline, and emotionally restrained Islam of the Wahabbi Sunni Islam promoted by Saudi Arabia. 

The Ba'athist party in Syria, like the one in Iraq, allowed a multi-ethnic state with a meaningful and thriving commercial middle class developed a power base separate from the nation's oil wealth that endured for decades, but only at the cost of denying the public genuine democratic elections, political liberties, and freedom of authoritarian abuses of individuals (particular political dissenters).

When the U.S. led invasion of Iraq (based to a great extent on an absurd claimed relationship between Iraq and the 9-11 terrorist) removed Saddam Hussein in Iraq, many Ba'athist went into exile in Syria whose sister Ba'athist regime had not yet fallen.  Iraq's long bloody counterinsurgency against Western occupiers and parallel ethnic civil war (that is still far from over and produces major military engagements and terrorist incidents years after the U.S. withdrawal) has turned a multi-ethnic nation with a substantial commercial middle class into a set of ethnically segregated microstates sharing a single stream of oil revenues dispersed by a deadlocked parliamentary system that requires ethnic consensus for many actions.  Many influential Ba'athists in Iraq have been disposessed of their wealth and political power.  Ba'athist Alawites in Syria and their allies of once influential Iraqis in exile understandably had an intense personal stake in not seeing that scenario repeat itself in Syria.

The U.S. and its Western allies have been reluctant to fully commit to support insurgents, because while they are Arab Spring revolutionaries who are victims of war crimes and want democratic reforms that a socialist dictatorship has denied them for decades, they are also mostly Sunni Muslims looking for an Islamist state who have welcomed assistance of Al-Qaeda and other organizations the U.S. saw as their terrorist opponents in Iraq (a nation which has a Shi'ite majority and many dissenting ethnic minority Kurds, but had a minority Sunni Arab dominated leadership under the Ba'athist regime).  The French, who as a former colonial power there would have been a natural to lead a European intervention, instead decided that their intervention against Islamic insurgents in Mali was all of the colonial might that they could manage to exert in the world at that historical moment.

Meanwhile, Russia chose to use its Security Council seat, resurgent naval power, and diplomatic resources to back the old Syrian regime against the Islamist Arab Spring insurgents who seem very similar to the Islamist insurgents in Chechnya that the Russian regime has devoted so many resources to putting down in the interest of showing political control over its territory even if the locals don't want them there.  Also, as much as anything, Russia was loathe, as it has long been since the Soviet era, to thwart international efforts to impose global standard in the conduct of sovereign nation's internal affairs, so its natural instinct was to block foreign intervention in Syria as well.  Their support for the Syrian regime effectively extended the Russian sphere of influence that had collapsed briefly with the fall of the Soviet Union, without committing much in the way of blood or treasure.

Also, assuming that Syria's old regime does eventually manage to consolidate power, it will have no choice but seek Russian support in international political and economic affairs.  Syria has no other patrons.  Even the Arab states have turned their backs on the Syrians (since the Sunni insurgents in Syria have more ethnically and religiously in common with them).  Russia's small favor will be an expensive one for Syria to repay, perhaps, for example, in favorable oil and gas deals, trade preferences, military procurement decisions, and international support for its controversial actions like its annexation of Crimea.  So long as Syria has oil, it can repay those debts, even if its once cosmopolitan, commercial middle class economy apart from its oil wealth collapses for decades as a result of its civil war.

02 April 2014

Why I Practice Law

Obviously, I practice law because it is the easiest way for someone with a law degree to make a living.  But, sometimes I doubt whether I should really be in this business.

At heart, I am really more of a professor who practices law because he must (and I was even a full time professor of estate planning in a master's degree program for a while, until the for profit university I worked for laid of teaching staff since profit targets had not been met for our unit, and I was a professional journalist for a while at another point in time in a temporary position).  While I do a very competent job of it with pain, sweat and tears, it doesn't always come naturally to me.

There are people who don't dislike nearly as much as I do painstakingly keeping records of how they use every tenth of an hour of every day and accounting for every photocopy and postage expense, keeping their offices and case files in tidy good order, finding contact information of people they need to call, trying to get emotionally unsettled clients to focus on the tasks at hand, having nine little details that must all be attended to in one day in addition to one or two major projects, having a backlog of voice mails to return, and in general, being a super-bureaucrat who is superbly organized and perfectly prepared for every phone call and hearing according to a well honed system.

Lots of the time, to be perfectly frank, practicing law is boring, tedious, exhausting, and scatter brained.  And, honestly, the vast majority of lawyers have much more boring practices than I do.  There are people who do nothing all day but simple divorces, or real estate closings, or federal corporate tax law, or drafting wills, with no variety whatsoever, for years on end.  In contrast, I have done almost every aspect of law that my license authorizes me to practice, except criminal work. If I didn't have one of the most diverse practices in Denver, I would be bored to death.

Even then, I work about three-quarters time, rather than full time, so that I can leave time for blogging and pursuit of my other academic hobbies and side projects (like "the book"), to keep myself from turning into a law zombie.  There are absolutely lawyers who love their jobs more, and who are more naturally suited to their jobs, than I am.

But, every time I get down in the dumps over not being a real "natural" to the practice of law, I encounter a grossly incompetent fellow lawyer in my practice.  Perhaps, a divorce lawyer with thirty years experience who doesn't know how to properly introduce an exhibit in a permanent orders hearing, a civil litigation lawyer who doesn't understand how to amend a pleading, an opposing counsel who files a motion or brings a lawsuit with no hope of being granted or prevailing because the lawyer has no clue that it has no real probability of success, a lawyer who writes motion that don't contain any citations to controlling law or to any backup to the facts asserted, a lawyer who responds to discovery requests that contain false answers that he and his client are sure to be caught red handed manufacturing, and so on.

After seeing how many lawyers who have been practicing law for many years and made a living at it are so profoundly incompetent, I remind myself, that even though I don't always enjoy the work that is left for lawyers to do, or feel like I have to struggle to get it done, or realize after the fact that I have missed tricks in a case that the top 0.1% of lawyers would have utilized, that the quality of the work that I do is profoundly more competent than the quality of work I see from some of my peers in the bar every day.  So, yes, I realize, I do belong here practicing law, at least until something more entertaining that pays well comes along.

01 April 2014

Lilith and Vampires, Who Knew?

One rather imaginative theory claims that vampires originated from two verses in the book of Genesis:
The legend of Lilith derives from a theory that Genesis has two creation accounts (Genesis 1:27 and 2:7, 20–22). The two stories allow for two different women. Lilith does not appear in the Bible (apart from a debatable reference comparing her to a screech owl in the Hebrew text of Isaiah 34:14). Some rabbinic commentators, however, refer to Lilith as the first created woman, who refused to submit to Adam and fled from the garden. Eve was then created to be Adam's helper. After their expulsion from the garden, Adam reunited for a time with Lilith before finally returning to Eve. Lilith bore Adam a number of children, who became the demons of the Bible. According to kabbalistic legend, after Adam's reconciliation with Eve, Lilith took the title Queen of the Demons and became a murderer of infants and young boys, whom she turned into vampires.
Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (5). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
From here.