Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Treatment Is Worse Than the Disease

Earlier this year Governor Schwarzenegger put forth a bold new health care proposal for California, requiring that all Californians purchase health insurance. While laudable, there is concern that the subsidized coverage which is promised to those who cannot afford insurance could put a serious strain on an already over-burdened budget, even with companies pitching in 4% of their payroll to a state account, should they decide not to provide insurance to their employees.

In response, Democratic legislators have put together their own proposals, which would require companies to foot a larger piece of the pie:
Escalating the already tense fight about what financial burden businesses should bear, the Democrats who control the Legislature proposed Tuesday that most California employers be required to spend the equivalent of at least 7.5% of their payrolls on health care — nearly twice the amount Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed.

The mandate on employers would raise more than $5 billion and — along with federal taxpayer money and worker contributions — allow California to extend insurance to about 69% of the 4.9 million people who lack it at any given moment. Among states, only Hawaii has a significant employer mandate. But the Democratic proposals in California would go further by including dependent coverage and more part-time workers.
Those of us to the left-of-center tend to celebrate proposed legislation that helps those who, for whatever reason, cannot do for themselves. Especially if large corporations are the ones who contribute a healthy percentage of the costs.

The problem with this, however, is that large corporations, as a rule, already offer health care benefits to their employees and would not be required to give to the state fund unless the employee benefits equaled less than 7.5% of payroll. So guess who the burden to fund the desperately needed health care state fund would fall upon?

The small business owner.

Another thing that we liberals tend to like to encourage is independent business. We usually like our local mom-and-pop record stores and book stores over the soulless mondo-stores. We think Geek Patrol is kinda neat, but prefer to give our computers to the repair guy in the neighborhood who is a wiz at retrieving our info from fried drives. And isn't it better for the little guy to make money at coming up with new toys than for Mattel to rake in even more from ever-expanding toy opportunities?

Problem is, the average small business owner simply cannot afford to contribute 7.5% of payroll. That's assuming employees can even be afforded. Says Larry Spinak, founder of CompuNerds, "I have two employees, but they're really subcontractors and I use them part time. A big reason I don't have regular employees is because I can't afford all the benefits, etc. Another 7.5% would make it even more difficult."

And for those who do have employees? The proposed requirement could potentially put them out of business. According to a local business owner working in the toy industry (who prefers to remain anonymous), "Any additional tax on small business is potentially crippling. 7.5 percent of payroll is a huge number once you know that payroll is the largest expense in any business, 40 to 70% of all company income in many cases. Add that to the myriad of existing taxes - state, federal and local - insurances required by law, unemployment contributions and the ever famous 7.5% matching funds for Social Security. [...] This expense can make the difference between hiring and not hiring and not having a business to employ anyone including oneself."

Many large companies, should they decide the requirements of a certain state are too onerous to their bottom line, can opt to move to a friendlier state. It's not cheap, but they have the resources.

Not so the small business. Even if the business isn't tied to the community - as many of them seem to be - uprooting to another street would be prohibitive, let alone another state. We'd lose more of what we lefties love and there are precious few of those independent minded business folks as it is.

This is another reason why single-payer health care is so important to Californians. The system needs to be completely revamped and the playing field needs to be leveled, but not on the backs of the poor.

And not on the backs of small business owners.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Politics, Film -- United They Stand

I'm always shocked when someone says "I hate political films". Isn't almost every film political? Crime, punishment, war, peace, racism, oppression, liberty, the right to work, the fight to feed a family . . . those are all political topics and those topics form the foundation for many of the very, very best films.

I think politics and film are a match made in heaven . . .

Why are people so afraid to discuss and debate the critical issues of our time? Is it because they fear one another? Is it because they fear the future? Is it because they fear our nation and our world will never find consensus again? I think so . . .

Which is why we need to keep politics in film.

"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", "Lilies of the Valley", "To Kill a Mockingbird", "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", "1984", "V for Vendetta", "Schindler's List". . . Films can and do change the world. They create a forum in which we can discuss the most difficult aspects of the problems that confront us. They create a common experience we can explore.

When people find a way to talk about issues and events that effect folks on the silver screen, they find it that much easier to dicuss the issues and events that effect them in the real world. We need politics in film to start the conversations that shape our collective destiny.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Brother, Can You Spare a Twenty?

On May 10, Robert Greenwald testified before congress about profiteering.

He took on a misguided conservative congressman, and gained a committment to from that congressman to go with Greenwald to talk to soldiers in his district. Those of us who have talked to soldiers regarding profiteering know what this congressman will hear. Soldiers will wonder why their water is contaminated with parasites. Soldiers will ask why military contractors get paid $100,000+ a year tax free when soldiers get paid less than $24,000 as a rule. Soldiers will want to know why tens of billions that should have been spent on rebuilding Iraq have disappeared and why no one has been held accountable for the theft.

Greenwald spoke for me that day. He asked if our nation really wants to have corporations make billions off war. Greenwald and I agree. If you wage war with well-paid mercenaries, you'll end up in a lot more wars.

The US needs a National Defense Department, not a Murder for Hire Department.

Greenwald is going to be producing a host of short films in the weeks and months to come. He's going to do the kind of explosive investigative reporting that exposed Iraq profiteering, the strange and frightening relationship between Fox News and the White House, and Walmart's war on the middle class.

Pledge $10-$20 a month to support Greenwald's work. Let him speak for you as he has spoken for millions. You're buying your country back.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Online Entertainment for Soldiers? Not In This Man's Army... least not easily.

Over two weeks ago it was revealed that the US Army was clamping down on soldiers' blogs, even after the soldiers returned home. Now the Pentagon has has blocked access to sites such as YouTube and MySpace on military networks:
No more using the military's computer system to socialize and trade videos on MySpace, YouTube and nine other Web sites, the Pentagon says.

Citing security concerns and technological limits, the Pentagon has cut off access to those sites for personnel using the Defense Department's computer network.

The change limits use of the popular outlets for service members on the front lines, who regularly post videos and journals.
The Pentagon still allows soldiers to use their own computers, nor does it affect internet cafes in the area, which are run by a private vendor. However, for those soldiers who don't have the money to go to internet cafes or purchase laptops (or for those whose families are too poor to afford computers to ship to them), their access possible morale boosting entertainment has been severely curtailed.

As usual, those without money are getting the short, pointy, infected end of the stick.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Divide and Conquer

The most effective lie the Fascists running the national Republican Party have tried to foist on the nation is the idea that "the Democrats are Disorganized".

What they really mean is, the Democratic Party isn't an army.

That's for the best. Being in the "Republican Army" sucks. To be a "good Republican" these days you have to tell the world you believe invading Iraq to the tune of 500+ Billion dollars was a grand idea. You have to swear you don't think the President lied to Congress and the rest of the world about the necessity for war. You have to promise not to do anything significant about Global Warming . . . You really have to sell yourself and your family down the river to stay in that marching band.

Remember this . . . the Best Defense against an army is millions of well armed, well funded revolutionaries.

Revolutionaries don't have a "plan", they have objectives. They work in small cells to acheive those objectives. Armies hate revolutionaries because you never know where they will strike next.

Some Democrats are the "angry mob" that gather outside the the White House gates demanding Impeachment. Others fight for freedom in the courts, working hard to hold this junta accountable. Still others fight in the media to free the minds of fellow Americans . . .

The folks running the Republican Party wish they were facing an army. It would make things so much easier. Instead they just face more than a hundred million angry citizens determined to get their country back.

The next time someone says "Those Democrats are sure disorganized," smile. That's what the Red Coats always say . . .

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

"It's Midnight in America, Jon"

I found my political salvation, as many have, in Jon Stewart. He is a secular messiah to hundreds of millions because he demonstrates the only successful and peaceful strategy for restoring sanity to our nation in these troubled times.

He is not afraid.

He's not afraid of his government, the terrorists, his fellow Americans. And his lack of fear keeps his anger in check and lets him address the issues the rest of us run from. He looks into the heart of darkness . . . and laughs.

Thank God for Jon Stewart and for the fine men and women who work with him. Here's a link to his take on the Republican Presidential Debate. Enjoy.

What's "Political" Anyway?

The term political seems to have no meaning any more. Like terrorist, it has turned into a word that means what the speaker wants it to mean.

In practice, it is now "political" to simply describe something that people don't want to know more about.

Think Iraq under US Occupation shouldn't have the highest infant death rate in the world? Think it should not be the case that the US has prisons for whole families of immigrants who aren't allowed to see lawyers or have timely trials?

That's political. Because sooner or later a discussion of how things are has to become "What are we going to do about it?"

I don't feel too bad about "being a little political" these days. As the kids in Iraq and the Prison Camps will tell you, its an uncomfortable time.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Those Irritating Environmentalists And Those Damned Bees

I'm not an environmentalist. Well, at least, not the way some are. My trash has too much paper and plastic in it. And I leave my computers on all the time. And I'll be going to hell for the water I and my family use every day. So I'm one of the billions planet-wide who finds environmentalists somewhat irritating. I'm tired of those folks being right.

They are always trying to tell us that the little stuff matters. Pour your paint in the gutter and it will poison your oceans. Food grown and harvested abroad using techniques that are illegal here can kill you. (Did you know American's ate 2.5 million chickens fed the same poison that's been killing our cats and dogs? Lets all talk about the concept of fake protein made from the same inorganic compound used to manufacture hot tubs and counter tops.)

Now its the damned bees.

Something is killing the bees. Lots and lots and lots of bees. Its making them fly away from their hives leaving queens and baby bees behind. The problem is so shocking, so unnatural, so horrible in its implications that its starting to make nationwide news.

Cause it turns out we need bees. They hop from plant to plant fertilizing things. They are responsible for the fertilization of about 1/3 of the plants we eat. And they've been doing all that hard work for free.

Some folks think the widepread use of genetically engineered crops is causing BCC (Bee Colony Collapse). Some folks think its related to new pesticides, or ever larger cell phone towers. We do know something is causing a fungus to grow that kills whole hives in a matter of 48 hours or so and that bee predators seem far less inclined to consume the dead and dying bees from infected hives.

Once again those pesky environmentalists are right. The little stuff matters. Bees, as it turns out, matter a whole lot. Unless this problem is resolved quickly, you'll be eating far less, and paying far more for what you do eat, in the years to come.

If this infection continues its exposive growth, we are looking at something even the environmentally-stupid people like me can understand . . . Starvation.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

ACTION ALERT: Help Keep Internet Radio Alive!

The giant corporate music labels have decided that going after college kids downloading music from peer-to-peer networks and Digital Rights Management (DRM) aren't enough to keep the average music listener from cutting into their huge profits. Now they've strong-armed the Copyright Review Board into hiking fees for each song streamed by webcasters:
The new fee structure would change the basis of the payments to a flat fee for each song streamed on a per-user basis. Thus, in 2007, every song sent to every listener would net SoundExchange $0.0011, regardless of whether the broadcaster made any money by doing so. But that's probably not the worst of it. The fees are scheduled to more than double over the next five years, and apply retroactively to the start of 2006. Under this plan, it's hard to imagine that Internet broadcasting will make much financial sense without a dramatic increase in commercial time.
Luckily, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA), along with Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.), has introduced H.R. 2060 - the Internet Radio Equality Act, which would overturn that recent ruling.

If your representative is not one of the co-sponsors, I urge you to sign FreePress' petition and let your Congressmember know how important it is to keep internet radio alive.

Why on Earth Would We Stand for This?

Don't you hate it when you go out to a group dinner and someone runs up a huge percentage of the bill and then decides to walk out on the check? Or they decide "we should just split things evenly" when you had soup and they had steak?

As I think back to the Democratic Convention, and the conversations I've had after, I find myself wondering how many folks who won't demand impeachment put up with these "lesser crimes" for years on end.

The truth is, Bush has run up one hell of a bill. 500,000 dead Iraqi's, 3000+ dead US troops, 500 Billion dollars. All for a war based on lies. And that's just the war thing. Illegal wiretapping, stripping away Habeas Corpus, illegal prison camps, torture, no-bid contracts to campaign contributors, the list goes on and on . . .

And I'm not sure why anyone wants to let him get away with it. And I'm not sure why those folks are so afraid of taking a stand and demanding that the Democrats hold Bush and his hive of evil geniuses accountable.

Some folks say impeachment will split the party and the nation. I find that hard to believe. If you don't hate George for the war, you hate him for something else.

Who doesn't think the guy is an out and out criminal?

Some say its more important to win in 2008 than to hold the Junta accountable. I think if we don't hold people accountable, now that we have the Congress we need to do it, we'll never get to pick another President.

We have given literally tens of billions of dollars to the people who put Bush in the White House. All the loopholes and backdoors are still wide open so they can rob us blind whenever they like. Imagine the media they can buy, the candidates and campaigns they can fund, the profits they can make.

Still want to let them all off?

This is just a question of morality and courage.

I am not afraid of this President and his friends and I'm not putting up with their crap any more. I and millions of others across the US are going to make sure this is a bill Bush & Company don't walk out on. We'll make it clear for generations to come this country is not for sale.