Monthly Archives: August 2009

Public option will NOT automatically cause most companies to drop insurance.

There are exceedingly few companies in the United States today that are required by law to provide insurance for their employees.  So why do they do it when it is such a huge expense?

Companies provide insurance benefits to compete in the labor market.

No matter what the unemployment rate, sooner or later companies have to hire new employees.  When they do, it doesn’t matter whether there are three employees available or three hundred… no company wants the 3rd best.  They compete for the best.  They don’t always win the competition, but they try to.

When was the last time you met an electrical engineer with ten years of experience who would even consider working for some fly-by-night company that doesn’t offer medical benefits?  Or a Director of Advertising.  Or a Senior Database Security Analyst.  Or a Vice President of Finance and Accounting?  Or a District Manager of Food Service Operations?  Or a damn good Administrative Assistant?

To compete for the best talent, companies have to offer the most competitive compensation packages, and in today’s world that means health insurance as a benefit is mandatory.

Now, if a company is paying 15% of its payroll to provide insurance and it finds that it can stop doing that and pay just an 8% penalty… of course it is going to want to do that.  But it is only going to be able to do that if workers find that option to be competitive.  If the best quality employees, the ones with the most choices and options of where to work, feel that the public insurance and private insurance are equally as good, but their out of pocket cost is $300 a month for the company that provides private insurance (because of the employer contribution) but $900 a month for the company that makes them use the public option, they will work for the company that offers them the private insurance.  Until, or unless, the company not offering insurance pays them the $600 a month in cash to make them whole.  Likewise, if the out of pocket costs are the same, but the public insurance turns out not to be as good as the private insurance, the best employees are going to either demand to be compensated financially… or flat out refuse to work there.

If it turns out that the public option insurance is as good as the private insurance, and that after paying the 8% penalty and whatever amount they have to pay employees in cash to continue to be competitive it is still economically beneficial for them to do that… well, that will be the proof of the pudding that government can do it better!  We should all applaud.  The employees will be happy, the company will be happy, the taxpayers will be happy… everyone will be happy except the insurance company CEO that can no longer command a $10 million a year annual salary.

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Fascism Anyone?


So often when we think of Fascism we think of genocide and anti-semitism.  For that reason when people see real fascism and it doesn’t look like genocide and anti-semitism, they assume that it must not be fascism.  But it is.

Fascism Anyone?. by Laurance W. Britt

The article above is very readable and discusses, briefly, these 14 characteristics that the fascist regimes of Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Papadopolous’ Greece, Franco’s Spain, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia shared in common, and that are found to a much lesser degree, or not all together, in non-fascist regimes.

1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism.

2. Disdain for the importance of human rights.

3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause.

4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism.

5. Rampant sexism.

6. A controlled mass media.

7. Obsession with national security.

8. Religion and ruling elite tied together.

9. Power of corporations protected.

10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated.

11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts.

12. Obsession with crime and punishment.

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption.

14. Fraudulent elections.


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What if the House of Representatives had 9,000 members instead of 435?

Remember from civics that the House of Representatives was intended to be the volatile, nearly direct voice of the people and the Senate was to be the staid, deliberative voice of the states? Aside from the rules of the two houses and the terms of office, the far greater number of Representatives was intended to ensure that Representatives were very closely connected to the people they represented. Hence… the name of their body. The limit on this was set that there should never be more than one representative for every 30,000 citizens. At this level, Representatives had very little individual power compared to Senators, but their numbers and their close connection to their constituencies were to ensure that the will of the people had a strong voice.

In 1911, public law 62-5 was passed, which limited the number of members of the House of Representatives to 435, maintaining Congress’ authority to change that number if it wants to. The effect of this has been the steady increasing in size of Congressional Districts and the diminishing of the connection between a Representative and his or her constituents. Indeed, each member of the House of Representatives has a constituency of nearly 650,000 people today. That’s a far cry from 30,000.

At 650,000 constituents, the typical Representative is little more connected to his constituents than the Senators. They are somewhat more connected, to be sure. The focus of a representative whose district includes a mid-size city is going to be different from a representative whose district covers thousands of square miles of rural farmland. But the intimacy of the representation is clearly lost.

  • Williamsport, PA
  • Rochester, NH
  • Ithaca, NY
  • Prattville, AL
  • Newark, DE
  • Cooper City, FL
  • Poughkeepsie, NY
  • Marysville, OH
  • Saratoga, CA
  • Texarkana, AR
  • Walla Walla, WA
  • Juneau, AK
  • Roseville, MN

These are some US cities that have populations of more or less 30,000 people. I can pretty much guarantee you that any citizen of these cities can get an appointment with the mayor. Probably, they can walk into the mayor’s office and get a quick audience in between meetings. The mayors of these cities know their citizens and the issues that concern them like the back of their hand. They know the families. The know the kids. They know not just the big businesses, but the small ones.

I can also pretty much guarantee you that many, many of the citizens of that city are intimately aware of the quality of the mayor’s representation. They know whether decisions are being made because they are good for them or for their neighbors and they certainly know when something has gone amiss and suddenly decisions are being made for some company 1,200 miles away that doesn’t even have any employees in the city.

At one representative per 30,000 people, the House of Representatives would have over 9,000 members. We would have to do some work to make sure that a governing body of 9,000 could get anything done. But we live in an extremely connected world. The Internet and telecommunications, the highway system, and air travel, have vastly changed the way most of us do business. It really would not be necessary that all 9,000 members of the House assembled at the same time and place. If we wanted to, we could find ways for them to telecommute like so many of us do now. And what a change that would be to have our Representatives living with us again, in our communities, every day. Wouldn’t it be something if they always showed up at little league games, and you ran into them a couple of times a month at Burger King it seemed, and your kids went to school with his kids, and he jogged past your house in the morning…

Think of how difficult it would be for lobbyists to gain sway with them and steer them toward representing interests other than those that truly are important to their close friends and family and to their neighbors.

Now, perhaps 9,000 is too many representatives, although, for the life of me I don’t know why it would be. But it seems that 435 is ludicrously too few. At this ridiculously low level, each member of the House has way more power than was intended for them to have. They are nowhere near as closely connected to their constituents as was intended. No matter where they come from, they end up living and working in a major metropolitan area in the mid-Altantic. Whether they represent farmers, lumberjacks, a college community, or a bedroom community, they all end up dealing with the Metro in Washington DC. They live in a culture, often for years and years and years, that is not remotely like the one they represent.

We need to have some national think time about this. We need to increase the number of Representatives in the House of Representatives probably well into the thousands so, once again, they can be people you know and work with, people you grew up with. The need to become again people of modest, normal, everyday backgrounds instead of being limited only to millionaires and people with completely atypical American experiences.

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The single most successful tool of the conservative movement has been the deployment of dozens and dozens of  straw man arguments against liberal positions. According to FallacyFiles a straw man argument is an attack of a position that is not held by the opponent.

Imagine a fight in which one of the combatants sets up a man of straw, attacks it, then proclaims victory. All the while, the real opponent stands by untouched.

The Roundtable will be a forum to set the record straight.

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Okay, I’ll tolerate the Blue Dogs.

I have been extremely upset with the Blue Dog Democrats over healthcare reform and the energy and environment bill, and a half dozen other things.  I’m not the only one.  Progressives are absolutely furious, and rightly so, that in our hour, in our moment, in the one chance we’ve had in a generation to reverse some of the damage that has been done here over the last 30 years and to actually make some improvements… these bastards are snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

I’m going to continue to complain and I’m going to continue to fight them.  But I’ve decided that I’m also going to tolerate them and be, a little, glad that they are there.

What makes us so mad is that these Blue Dog Democrats aren’t Democrats at all!  They used our brand name to get into office when the Republican brand was sure to lose, but they are Republicans anyway.  They are wolves in sheep’s clothing.  They trick us into thinking we have a super majority when, in fact, we still have the barest, slightest, smallest, thinnest majority we could possibly have, and we may not even have that.

The reason I will tolerate them is that when we climb above the healthcare debate, or the energy debate, or the global warming debate, or the abortion debate, or the economic debates, all of which we disagree on, they are sane.  Today’s Republican party is not, and it is looking like it never will be again.  The Republican Party has been captured by the old Dixiecrats and the Religious nuts and we now see very clearly that Republicans can only be elected if they are racists, bigots, fascists, or any of a dozen other intolerable -ists.  This creates a problem for “moderate” Republicans… even those moderate Republicans who, in their day, were once considered conservative.

There is no way they can sign on with true Democrats.  They just are not the tree-hugging, granola eating, community centric, fairness oriented, relatively compassionate people that we are.  They want their guns.  They want the death penalty.  The really do want to always be the voice of caution when it comes to expanding government.  Given the choice between us and the rabid fascists, there are a lot of Republicans holding their noses and, perhaps against their better judgement, signing on with the nuts because they just can’t come over and join us.  Frankly, they need a new home, and they need a home that allows them to leave their unwashed, uneducated, fire-breathing, tea-bagging, brown-shirt breathren without admitting defeat and joining us.

America is in a cultural stalemate and has been for many generations now.  We often think of the 60’s and then the Nixon era as the beginning of the culture wars, but remember that prohibition and repeal happened back at the beginning of the last century… and the civil war over slavery was 150 years ago.  The culture wars, in fact, date back even to the Constitution and before as forces for religious oppression and religious freedom struggled to exert their will.  No stalemate like this has ever ended in an unconditional surrender.  This one won’t either.  There needs to be a way for the sane, if ill-informed in our opinion, Republicans to save face while escaping the insanity that has become the Republican Party.

And frankly, the Blue Dogs are their future home.

The Blue Dogs are no more welcome in our midst as the three, now two, remaining moderate Republicans are welcome in their midst.  The Blue Dogs are not Democrats and, frankly, the traditional Republicans are no longer Republicans.  The meaning of being a Republican has changed too much.

The Blue Dogs will soon splinter away from us.  They only used our name in the first place out of pragmatism.  They never believed what we believe.  They ran their campaigns by telling people that they were Democrats that weren’t Democrats.  Anti-choice Democrats?  What the hell kind of animal IS that anyway?  If they splinter right now they lose everything.  And… we may also.  But if they can draw the historical Republicans into a “big tent” idea of a Democratic Party with the intent of forcing it to the right, they will gain the heft to be able to split away from us to become the new second party as the smouldering remains of the GOP become more and more marginalized.

Having the Blue Dog contingent available to pick up these castaways will be far, far, better than not having them there.  Because the alternative is the increasingly radicalised conservative base ever more effectively calling the shots in the GOP party, with this uncomfortable middle giving them the votes and the heft to succeed, all the while wishing they had a better place to be.  The alternative to the Blue Dogs, I’m afraid, is somewhere between The Inquisition and Nazi Germany.  All things considered… I would rather not have this country go there.

So, grudgingly, I hereby support the Blue Dogs’ right to exist, even as I will fight them tooth and nail on policy, as I have done for a long time against Republicans, and as I will continue to do in the future against real Republicans after they have a brand new sparkly name and a lot of shell shocked, somewhat embarrassed, refugees from the scary right wing.

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Fox and G.E. Reach Deal to End O’Reilly-Olbermann Feud – NYTimes.com

Fox and G.E. Reach Deal to End O’Reilly-Olbermann Feud – NYTimes.com.

This is terrifying.  I have nothing against civility, and there is a lot more to be said for the Charlie Rose or Robert McNeil style of reporting than either the Olbermann or CERTAINLY the O’Reilly style.  There’s tons to be said for broadcast standards and policies like any of the network news shows USED to have and certainly that respectable news organizations like NPR still have.

But that isn’t the point.  The point is that when the issue became an embarrassment to corporate titans so far removed from day to day operations that they probably had to ask who Charlie Rose was even talking about, those barons of industry apparently tapped out a text message or two and over night censored their broadcasters.

So tell me.  If GE is willing to censor Olbermann because he is creating a problem for the GE brand… are they also willing to censor Brian Williams when he wants to talk about GE’s 40 year refusal to acceptably clean up the dioxin they poured into the upper Hudson River?  Are they willing to let their displeasure be known when The Today Show airs an anti-war segment that could ultimately reduce the military demand for jet engines?  Are they willing to slant their coverage of renewable energy negatively while they only make fossil fuel and hydroelectric power plants… and then to slant it in favor when suddenly they go into the business of making wind turbines?

This is why so many of us didn’t want Wall Street owning the media and why so many of us wanted the DoJ and the FCC to limit media consolidation.  It isn’t good at all when the President of GE Defence can, in all likelihood, exert any degree of control whatsoever, no matter how small, by making a case to Jeff Immelt about NBC’s impact on GE Defense’s profits.

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