Saturday, December 31, 2005

Health insurance and Detroit's Big 3

From the New York Times:
The reason comes down to simple self-interest. The United Auto Workers is one of the few private-sector unions that doesn't run its own health plan. Rather, most have created huge companies to administer their workers' plans, giving them a large and often corrupt stake in the current system...

Despite shrinking membership, organized labor still has enough money and muscle to get behind a campaign for national health insurance. Last month, public-sector unions in California came up with tens of millions of dollars in a successful campaign to defeat a ballot measure that challenged their right to use union dues for political purposes.

The problem is getting American unions to fight for common concerns as opposed to narrow institutional interests. It may just be that a broad-scale union overhaul will have to precede one in American health care.
Now you see why American cars cost so much.

Faris Hassan's Day Off

From the AP:
Faris Hassan, a 16-year old American, traveled by plane and taxi to Iraq to check out the local scene:
A strong history student, Hassan had recently studied immersion journalism - a writer who lives the life of his subject - and wanted to understand better what Iraqis are living through.

"I thought I'd go the extra mile for that, or rather, a few thousand miles," he told AP in an interview earlier this week.

The teenager was able to secure an entry visa because both of his parents were born in Iraq, though they've been in the United States for more than three decades.

He took his U.S. passport along with $1,800 in cash. He said the money came from a sum of $10,000 his mother had given him after he gave her some stock tips that earned a 25 percent return.
Maybe he should stick to picking stocks. His mother said he'll be grounded. I assumed he went to Iraq because he was grounded and this was some sort of cry for help. Or a temper tantrum. Or a sign of some sort of mental illness.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Payday part II

Earlier, I posted about the issue of payday loans, those loans at big interest rates that serve/take advantage of (take your pick) people with no credit or bad credit. Of course, since the banks that supply these credit lines take larger risks of not being paid back (very big risks), they charge higher interest rates. The issue is what is the threshold between high interest and predatory interest.

North Carolina recently struck a blow against how a payday lender is defined. From the Associated Press:
The nation's largest payday lender will appeal an order by the state banking commissioner to stop doing business in North Carolina, a company lawyer said Friday.

Commissioner Joseph Smith Jr. wrote Thursday that Advance America was in the lending business, rather than simply an agent for out-of-state banks as it had argued. The company violated consumer lending laws by taking in fees at its 117 outlets on loans with effective annual interest rates of more than 400 percent, Smith determined. State law caps interest rates on small loans at 36 percent.
Ouch. It remains to be seen whether this decision will be upheld as the case makes it way through the appeal courts. But it should. - P

Monday, December 19, 2005

This call may be monitored for sufficient patriotism

Call me a cynic, but I can't say I was surprised at revelations that this administration has been monitoring phone calls of US citizens without search warrants. I assumed that was a natural extension of the Patriot Act.

Reaction in the media? Predictable.
Rush, today: "The Clinton Administration did this....Clinton authorized a similar program...Clinton...Clinton...Clinton." We're in W's SECOND term, yet a certain radio host continues to talk about a man who hasn't been president since January 2001.

Oh, and since President Bush again strongly stated that leaking confidential information is criminal, I expect both Libby and Cheney will be serving time...right?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Good fences make.... unhappy Vicente Fox. In a recent speech, Mexico's president had this to say about US proposals for additional walls along the US-Mexico border:
Fox, speaking in Tamaulipas state across the border from Texas, said such extreme security measures would violate immigrants' rights.

"The disgraceful and shameful construction of walls, the increasing enforcement of security systems and increasing violation of human rights and labor rights will not protect the economy of the United States," he said.
Let's review:
> Fox is president of a country that supplies the highest percentage of illegal immigrants to the US. If the US has security systems designed to protect its border from trespassing, that's up to the US to maintain and enforce. If a burglar kept breaking into your house, and the burglar complained that you erected a security fence and alarm systems to deal with the situation, would you really listen to the burglar?

> Fox is president of a country that, in a recent opinion poll, revealed that 40 percent of respondents would move to the US if they could. Most of this rationale is because they would be paid far more in the US than at home. Gee, speaking of a violation of labor rights.

> Fox is president of a country that, instead of creating more opportunities for its citizens, prints pamphlets advising its citizens on how to safely cross illegally into its neighbor to the north. Now that's disgraceful and shameful.

When Fox becomes Director of Homeland Security for the US, I'll heed his advice on border security with Mexico. - X

Monday, December 12, 2005

Why I don't work in fast food

I stumbled across this tortured chain of complaints and responses on a consumer site. Sigh.

About those Iraqi battalions

who according to noted Iraqi expert Senator Rick Santorum on WPHT-1210 AM in Philadelphia, "there are more and more of every day"....but according to the Baltimore Sun...we need more time to train them. Why? A few of the problems:
"It's a cash-and-carry society," said Mike Zacchea, a major in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve who fought with Iraqi forces in Fallujah in the fall of last year. "There are no banks. They have to physically bring their pay home. There's a lot of absenteeism."

Zacchea said Iraqi commanders often pad the number of soldiers in a unit because the "ghost soldiers" help boost the amount of money a commander can receive for troops' pay and equipment.
Oh, joy.

On Judge Alito - the view from a former clerk

A thoughtful column here from a former clerk, who thinks there's more to Alito than has been spread around so far...

Looking back at Katrina and New Orleans

A black reverend looks at who was left behind in New Orleans and finds blame aplenty...including among the victims.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Flagging support - a new ad targets Dean

Republicans plan to unveil a new ad showing Howard Dean and other Democrats as a white flag of surrender sails back and forth over their faces. The ad is designed to show the impact the Dems' comments have on our troops. And of course, to smear them as being anti-American. By sheer coincidence, radio fascists right-wingers Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity interviewed soldiers from Iraq and around the world today and talked about Dean, Kerry, and Murtha. Naturally, the soldiers all agreed with the hosts. (remember your talking points and stay ON MESSAGE!)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Ah, the power of cheese.

Woman hires hit man to seize drugs and kill men. Woman was mistaken - drug was cheese, hit man was undercover vice officer. Oops.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Iraq: nearing election time

From Victor Davis Hanson of National Review Online:
The moral onus should have always been on the critics of the war. They should have been forced to explain why it was wrong to remove a fascist mass murderer...What is the real morality — trying a mass murderer and having him pay for his crimes, or engaging in legal niceties for years while the ghosts of his victims cry for justice?
Using that logic, President Bush would have to explain why he hasn't forcibly removed leaders of North Korea and a half-dozen African nations, since their actions have resulted in starvation and death by other means as well.
Kurds and Shiites support us for obvious reasons — no other government on the planet would risk its sons and daughters to give them the right of one man/one vote. They may talk the necessary talk about infidels, but they know we will leave anytime they so vote. After the December election, expect them — and perhaps the Sunnis as well — quietly to ask us to stay to see things through.
Hmmm. But will they ask us to stay? Earlier in the article, Hanson gives the standard spin about how [we] "will leave Iraq anytime its consensual government so decrees. " And given Judge Alito's track record on reapportionment (saying Baker v. Carr - the 1962 Supreme Court decision that essentially upheld "one man/one vote" - was incorrectly decided), it's possible Iraqis may enjoy something we may no longer have for too long.
George Bush may well go down in history as a less-effective leader than his father or Bill Clinton; but unlike either, he may also have a real chance to be remembered in that select class of rare presidents whom history records as having saved this country at a time of national peril and in the face of unprecedented criticism.
That sound is me puking.