Democracy Soup

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Archive for May 2010

In America, starting a business may be only way to get health insurance

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What if you started a business — in the tradition of Seinfeld — that was about nothing?

You don’t buy anything or sell anything, you don’t make money or lose money. These days, not losing money could be success.

You might ask what would be the point of starting a business that does nothing. If you struggle to get health care insurance, starting your own business is very tempting.

If you are an individual trying to get health insurance without a job, you better be extremely healthy. If even the slightest thing is wrong with you, getting private health insurance is virtually impossible.

Unless you get a job.

Tying health insurance to a job is debilitating to a country’s economy, even when things are going well. As things are not going well, as states post double digit official unemployment figures, this inequity becomes a travesty.

People are stuck in jobs that don’t fit because of health insurance. Those without jobs have few choices once COBRA runs out, especially when COBRA ends because the former employer goes out of business.

Some states have last-resort funds, but they give you very little and take a lot of your money. And that is if you’re lucky.

If you go without health insurance, you are one moment away — accident or otherwise — from total financial ruin.

If you could pick which country you would live in right now, based on the ability to financially succeed, would you really pick the United States?

Since getting health insurance is so difficult for individuals, but not for corporations — and the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people, shouldn’t people have an easier time getting health insurance.

Since corporations have more rights to health insurance than people, then maybe we should start businesses to get health insurance.

Of course, starting a business that does nothing comes across as, well, unethical or illegal. The business could be about consultants. Yeah, that’s it. Hire a bunch of “consultants.” Nobody really knows what consultants do, and they get treated as if they have regular jobs.

And it’s not like we have to make something in this business. After all, Wall Street bankers make lots of money not making pr producing anything but profits for themselves.

Why have a warehouse full of widgets when we aren’t making widgets, or anything at all. No shipping costs, no labor, and certainly no overtime.

Unfortunately, this means no bonuses, no vacations, too. But we do get one thing: benefits.

That’s right: benefits. We can buy health insurance at reasonable rates. We aren’t subjected to humiliating paperwork or fear of the emergency room (at least from a financial standpoint). We can take all of our prescription medication instead of debating whether to buy the needed pills or pay the rent.

The one drawback is that in a regular job, the employer pays a good chunk of the cost of the policy. Whereas in our company, we pay 100% of the cost. But since our business will never go out of business, we won’t have the tragedy of suddenly having no health insurance because our former employer went out of business.

Imagine — this is the United States of America and thousands, if not millions, lose their health insurance because their employer or former employer goes belly up. If this isn’t the reason to change how we get our health insurance, then maybe we have no hope of change.

As Americans, we have plenty of things that we can be afraid of: foreclosure, Wall Street, oil spills in the Gulf, immigration, mid-term elections, presidential elections, hurricanes. Especially since 9/11, we have become a nation of worriers.

We never used to be a nation of worriers, and we never used to have to worry about health insurance. And this country’s citizens thrived more when we didn’t have to worry about health insurance.

When we had people who worked 30 years in a job, tying health insurance to the job wasn’t great, but looked okay. We don’t have that kind of world anymore. Tying health insurance to employment is counterproductive, and makes America not as good as it could be.

If conservatives want to argue that the government shouldn’t have a role in health care, well, employers shouldn’t be part of the process. If conservatives really want a private system, individuals have to be able to buy individual and family health insurance policies, even if they can become sick.

Conservatives talk about the power of the individual. Well, right now, in health insurance, individuals have no power. Corporations and businesses do. To get power in health insurance, either the system changes, or we all become individual businesses.

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Written by democracysoup

May 28, 2010 at 8:27 am

The political pattern for 2010 is there is no pattern

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Arlen Specter, a Republican turned Democratic, loses the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania. Mark Souder, a Congressional Republican from Indiana, resigns his seat after admitting to having an affair with a staffer. Teabagger Rand Paul, son of a Libertarian branded as a Republican, gets the GOP Senate nod in Kentucky. And Blanche Lincoln, a Democratic senator from Arkansas, has to go to a runoff because she was challenged to the left of her stands.

And you want to find a pattern in all of this?

The experts tell you it’s 1994 or teabaggers are the next Republican Party (think 1854) or the Democratic Party is in huge trouble. Of course, what’s funny about 1994 is that virtually no one saw that coming.

Yes, presidents tend to lose seats in the House and Senate, especially midway through the first term. And our financial and job situations are alarmingly bleak.

The frustrating news for the pundits is that 2010 is its own unique situation. This doesn’t fit too many patterns.

Yes, people are upset about incumbents. But you could argue that whichever party Specter belonged to, he would have lost the primary regardless. Pat Toomey would have beaten Specter by a wider margin than Joe Sestak did. But either way, Specter will finish out his term and retire. And for the Democrats, Specter will be a sufficiently loyal soldier until January 2011.

Despite the scare for Lincoln, she has a good shot at winning the Democratic nomination for her party, but be severely wounded in the process. Like Specter, she got caught up in the in-between stage, Arkansas version.

The left attacks Lincoln for her fight against health care reform and her reducing the increase for school lunches to an abysmal 6ยข. The right attacks Lincoln for being, well, a Democratic in any form, even if she agrees with a lot of Republican stances.

Kentucky is an extremely conservative state, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the GOP voters picked someone conservative — and hopefully more balanced — then the retiring Sen. Jim Bunning. What was the surprise is that GOP voters rejected the handpicked candidate of Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell. And if people voted for Rand Paul based on his father, former presidential nominee Ron Paul (R-TX), voters have done this before.

The actual surprise from this week is not that a Republican politician who preached family values, yet had a mistress on the side, got caught. The shocking news is that he resigned his position as a result. Whatever you say about Mark Souder, he certainly has something missing from the personnas of Mark Sanford, David Vitter, and John Ensign — shame.

None of these, separate or together, are a pattern. Sorry to disappoint you. if you are an incumbent, you will have to work harder than normal. And incumbents aren’t used to doing that.

And some incumbents, whether they deserve it or not, will lose their seats. Some of them will deserve it and some of them won’t.

There are several open seats, especially in the Senate. Each of those races will feature people saying variations of “I’m the most non-incumbent.”

Even if Republicans are in the minority, some of them will lose their jobs, e.g., Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT).

What the MSM pundits have placed their sole focus on is how what has happened will help the Republican Party in 2010. The GOP should be the primary focus, since it is the party that doesn’t control Congress or the White House.

There has been little coverage over what this means for the American people, and why voters are reacting the way they are. That would be interesting to ask, but beyond their interest level.

Voters are upset and pissed off. And they are so angry that they aren’t quite sure how to react. Innocent, decent politicians will suffer as a result. And some bad ones will be forced into early retirement.

There are still more than 5 months left before the November elections. Since the MSM isn’t interested, we will look into why the American people are doing what they are doing at the polls.

But this will take time. The patterns reflect an unique situation here in 2010; no past patterns will help. But at least, we’ll give it a try.

Written by democracysoup

May 21, 2010 at 8:04 am

Barack Obama clearly isn’t interested in putting liberals on Supreme Court

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When we have presidential candidates run for office, we have serious debates about whether they drink beer or wear flag pins or were born in the United States, even after they produce a birth certificate.

The one thing we stick our fingers in our ears on, yet is more valuable than most questions we ask of them is “what kind of people will you appoint to the Supreme Court?”

Liberals who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 wanted one major thing from their candidate of choice: more liberals on the bench. Not just on the Supreme Court, but especially on the Supreme Court.

Assuming Elena Kagan gets approved, she will mark the second straight moderate on the court appointed by this president, and the second one not likely to leave a significant mark within the court structure.

By all objective standards, the Supreme Court — when Barack Obama took the oath of office — was the most conservative court in our nation’s history. 7 of the 9 justices picked by Republicans. All the most significant justices on the court but one were sharply conservative, and the one who wasn’t was still picked by a Republican.

If Kagan gets to the court, will Barack Obama have made the court more liberal?

Quite a few on the left say “no.” Quite a few on the right might outwardly say “yes,” but secretly are fist-pumping the air around them. Replacing the one judge on the “left” with the loudest voice with Kagan, who was approved by 31 Republicans for solicitor general.

The one thing Kagan has going for her for those on the left is that she is 50. Those on the right who scream about how young she is forget that John Roberts was 50 when he was appointed to the bench — and Chief Justice, too. Those on the right who scream about how little judicial background she has forget about Clarence Thomas’ lack of record. And Kagan will prove to be much smarter on the court than Thomas can ever dream of being.

If Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were replacing Antonin Scalia and Thomas, you could make an argument that Obama was shifting the court to the left. But Souter was a weak voice from the “left” and John Paul Stevens was the ringleader of those on the “left” on the court.

“Left” is in quote marks since no current justice is as far to the left as Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Sam Alito.

Even if Obama remains president until January 20, 2017, he only has a limited opportunity to try and restore some balance to the court. Those who feared that Obama would put radical leftists on the court can sleep soundly. Based on the first two nominations, Obama has no intention of putting someone on the court significantly to the left and no one with a loud voice on the court.

Republicans don’t worry about putting whoever they want on the court, they don’t worry about hearings or confrontations. If they did worry, you wouldn’t know the names of Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia (or RATS in some liberal circles).

Why President Obama is worried about backlash from his Supreme Court picks is something for professional psychologists to analyze. We saw the insanity surrounding Sonia Sotomayor; imagine if Obama had submitted a true liberal.

Obama would have to submit three true liberals to the court just to fight back against the conservative push currently dominating the court. And he’s afraid to nominate one.

Don’t think this gets easier. As presidential administrations increase in time, they lose the power to get someone through the court. And Democratic presidents apparently need more help than Republicans presidents do.

Liberals may be counting on several conservatives on the court resigning or dropping dead, but that isn’t a political strategy. And it doesn’t help that the president who they think is on their side doesn’t have the same worries and concerns about the Supreme Court as they do.

Perhaps Sotomayor and Kagan can eventually step up as stronger voices on the court. But Roberts is going to be Chief Justice for a long time, and the top anti-conservative voice on the court is leaving. Short-term, there is no replacement. Unfortunately, this will be part of the legacy of President Barack Obama.

Written by democracysoup

May 14, 2010 at 11:28 am

AP says Elena Kagan is Supreme Court pick

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The Associated Press is reporting that Solicitor General Elena Kagan has been selected by President Barack Obama to replace John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court.

Assuming this is true, I will have much more about Kagan in the coming time. Kagan is 50, a good age for a recruit in the effort to downplay the sharp turn taken by the highest court. For now, go off and speculate.

Written by democracysoup

May 9, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Teabaggers complain about taxes, but they don’t know about how they work

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If you are one of those fortunate people who get a check every two weeks or twice a month, do you ever really look at the check stub?

People can tell you how much they make, which is the gross amount of the check. And they might be able to tell you how much their take home pay is. But if you have direct deposit, you might not even remember that.

And for what your money goes to — taxes and stuff — chances are you don’t pay much attention. That would make you a typical American.

Ask any American and they will tell you that they pay too much in taxes. Every April 15 brings cries of being “robbed” by the tax man.

But do we really have a sense of what we pay, relative to others, and what we get for our money?

For such a “liberal” paper, The Washington Post allows just about any out-there right-winger onto its site an opportunity to speak (not always given to the equivalent on the left), and this online chat from Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, is a classic example.

Teabaggers are angry, and they really angry about “losing their country.” Imagine if every MSM outlet bent over backwards to get your side of the story, and you thought you were “losing your country.” Imagine if they were ignored by the MSM.

Phillips and the other teabaggers are concerned with government spending and getting the debt and deficit down. Yet, they love Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, the two biggest pilers to the deficit and debt. They don’t love Bill Clinton, who did more for the deficit than any other president in the modern era.

And they don’t like Barack Obama because he’s a socialist (Phillips’ word) and he is spending too much money.

What do the teabaggers want to cut? Several people asked Phillips during the chat. Waste. Wow! Let’s cut waste.

Yes, we should cut waste, but not Medicare, Social Security, defense. The Pentagon has more waste than any other department (based on the fact that the defense spending is so huge), but we can’t touch that because of Osama bin Laden (again, Phillips said this).

We could get out of Afghanistan, leave behind a small but strong fighting force to get Osama, and save a ton of dough. But that wouldn’t satisfy the teabaggers.

We could leave Iraq, and save lots of money. But the teabaggers would hate that. We could have single-payer insurance and save lots of money, but the teabaggers would hate that. “Socialist.” Never mind that thriving capitalist economies have single-payer — we have an example just to our north in Canada.

The teabaggers and the liberals have one honest theme in common: they want to spend government money on what it perceives to be best for the country and not on what the other side wants. And they both agree that we are too far in debt and our deficit is too high.

But liberals are offering solutions and teabaggers are offering anger. And our country is beyond the point of arguing over the problems: we need to start instituting solutions.

Paying off interest on the debt is one of the largest categories of the federal budget — where your tax dollars goes to. Like our check stubs, we don’t always know where our tax money is going.

And there is regressive state sales tax. Not in your paycheck or a source of frustration on April 15. In Illinois, Governor Pat Quinn talked about a sales tax holiday for later this summer. In Chicago, the largest city in Illinois, residents pay the highest sales tax in the nation.

In Chicago, they pay 10.25% sales tax. Statewide, it’s 5% though there is an additional 1% for the city and 0.25% for the county. So in Chicago, even if there was a state sales tax holiday, you would pay 5.25% sales tax.

Taxes are complicated, and come in many forms. The teabaggers don’t have to know as much as Jefferson, Madison, or any of the other Founding Fathers about taxation, but their woeful ignorance isn’t good for democracy or discourse.

Being mad is fine, being upset with your government is democratic, but trying being knowledgeable. Imagine how much further you could get if you knew what you were so angry about in your teabagging rallies.

Independent candidates, true or otherwise, strengthen democracy

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It has been fun watching people try to figure out the “radical” move by Florida Governor Charlie Crist to run for the U.S. Senate as an independent. They want to know if this is a trend.

What they don’t realize is we’re making this stuff up on the run.

There is no blueprint for what Crist and others are doing. And this isn’t much different than Arlen Specter switching parties. This is all about staying in power.

The two major parties have always enjoyed an advantage in that the system is set up to thwart independent or third party attempts. And if you have two major parties, you don’t have to work as hard since you’ll likely get 35%-40% of the vote, regardless of how well you do.

Having a well-established third candidate in a race makes all three people work harder to get people’s votes, even if they need fewer votes to win. Think back to Dean Barkley, the third party candidate in the Senate race from Minnesota, and his rock solid 15%.

What Republican and Democratic politicians fear from a third party candidate is that each of their candidates faces two people criticizing them instead of one.

The intriguing question is whether it matters if the third party person leans liberal or conservative. For whatever you may think about Crist, he is still more conservative than the Democratic candidate. And Barkley was to the left of Norm Coleman.

People from other countries look at our system in the United States and wonder why we settle for two candidates. And often the choice isn’t even that good. We love having choices whether it be three different kinds of meat with our pancakes or having 500 cable channels, even if we only watch fewer than 100 of them.

But when it comes to politics, we want two choices because it’s easier. Well, politics is more important than potato chips, no matter our obesity levels.

More choices require more research and more work, but democracy in the end is still worth the time we spend on it.

Written by democracysoup

May 4, 2010 at 8:45 am