Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Afternoon Music Club

Can't bring me down.

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Clean coal

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Completely broken

There's a fundamental problem with a healthcare system that can and does refuse to offer healthcare to infants based on pre-existing conditions.

Nicholas Simon was just 34 days old when he received his first rejection letter.

"Dear Nicholas Simon," began the March 2008 letter. "We appreciate your interest in the Aetna Advantage Plans for Individuals and Families. After careful evaluation . . . we are unable to offer coverage and have declined your application."

Nicholas seemed unfazed by the news, slurping down his mother's milk, emitting a manly burp and drifting off into post-nursing bliss.

His great transgression was he had jaundice on his fifth day of life. The bilirubin count in his blood - a key measurement - was 13.9.

"At 5 days old," said his pediatrician, Herbert Cady, "anything under 15 is normal."

Aetna felt otherwise. "Over 12 can indicate an underlying liver condition," said Aetna's Cynthia Michener. "We couldn't price a policy in a range that anybody could actually pay for. If we can't price affordably, we don't accept."
Yes, because we all know that health insurers hate when people pay too much for health care. They exist to keep health care affordable, and are doing such a great job.

Note the lack of a medical degree in Michener's background. But in our health care system, that communications degree from Castleton State College makes her qualified to second guess the baby's doctor. And in our completely broken health care system, when people not remotely qualified to offer a medical opinion say a doctor is wrong, the unqualified opinion overrides the doctor's opinion, and the patient doesn't get coverage and loses access to care.

It's way past time to admit that the for-profit healthcare system isn't working. Health insurance companies are obsolete and any system that includes them is fundamentally flawed as a result.

Single-payer now!

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Douchebag of the Week

Colorado State Sen. Dave Schultheis (R-9th District).

Democrats were outraged Wednesday morning when Republican state Sen. Dave Schultheis said he planned to vote against a bill to require HIV tests for pregnant women because the disease “stems from sexual promiscuity” and he didn’t think the Legislature should “remove the negative consequences that take place from poor behavior and unacceptable behavior.” The Colorado Springs lawmaker then proceeded to cast the lone vote against SB 179, which passed 32-1 and moves on to the House.
Schultheis is the third state legislator from Colorado to receive this honor (see the other two douchebags, including the douchebag who was the inspiration behind this illustrious series and its first "winner" here and here), which makes me wonder: What the fuck is in the water in Colorado?


Monday, February 23, 2009

Inky, DN, JRC bankrupt

Not a good time to be in newspapers.

Philadelphia Newspapers L.L.C., which owns The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and, filed for bankruptcy protection yesterday in a bid to restructure its $390 million in debt load.

The company, bought by a group of Philadelphia-area investors for $562 million in 2006, said the voluntary Chapter 11 filing would not interrupt its daily operations.

"This restructuring is focused solely on our debt, not our operations," chief executive officer Brian P. Tierney, who led the group that provided about $150 million of the purchase price three years ago, said in a news release.

"Our operations are sound and profitable," said Tierney, referring to operating profits before interest and certain other costs.
Yes, things are great.
The Philadelphia Newspapers filing follows last month's bankruptcy filing by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The Journal Register Co., based in Yardley and the publisher of a number of local daily and weekly newspapers, filed for bankruptcy Saturday. Just last week, the publicly traded New York Times Co. suspended its dividend to cope with the economic downturn.
JRC's filing came as a surprise to exactly no one, given the company's strategy of overpaying wildly for its acquisitions, including in economically depressed areas like Michigan. I guess nobody in the executive suites in Trenton (at the time, now Yardley) bothered to watch "Roger and Me." Maybe they all thought Michael Moore was a full-of-shit radical liberal. But Moore didn't file for bankruptcy, and he's more of a journalist than any JRC executive.

JRC also adheres to the belief that a company can cut its way to profitability, and that any newsroom employee not doing the job of at least two workers is underutilized. I know this because I worked at a newspaper that JRC overpaid for and spent three years watching the company make decisions that hurt the quality of the paper, chased away readers (and, therefore, advertisers) and destroyed the morale of journalists who took pride in their work. (The fraction-of-one-percent raises didn't help morale either.) I watched as one incompetent buffoon after another from Accounting, none of whom knew jack shit about journalism, was named publisher, and experienced journalists who spent decades at the paper were passed over for the job.

But none of that mattered to JRC, because every stupid fucking thing it did saved a little bit of money in the short-term. So what if an entire Sunday edition of a community newspaper has exactly three stories about the readers' community, and two of those stories were written by a copy editor pulling double duty so the company can avoid hiring another reporter?

Penny wise, pound moronic.

"We intend to emerge from the Chapter 11 process stronger, leaner and more
financially viable in the current environment. ... Our business will continue
its normal operations and we will publish content as usual throughout this
process," Chairman and Chief Executive James W. Hall said in the statement.
Well, "stronger" doesn't mean anything in this context, so throw that word away. I don't think it's possible for the company to get much "leaner," considering that copy editors are out covering things as part of their job descriptions now and papers are sharing stories via the company's WebXchange. So what if readers in Lansdale, for example, don't buy the paper to read about what's going on out near Norristown? They'll read it and like it, right?

Um, no. They haven't, and advertisers have noticed. Circulation numbers are down and JRC's solution is to cut sales staff and raise ad rates. What advertiser with more than one brain cell is going to pay more to advertise in a paper that fewer people are reading?

So will JRC finally realize that advertisers follow the readers, like newsroom staffers have been saying for years (and publishers would have heard, if they spent any time at all in the newsroom) and invest some resources in producing a product that people might want to buy and read?

Nope. The same idiots who drove the company's stock value to below one cent per share are going to make the company "leaner." That means more layoffs, more double duty, more half measures and more comp time instead of overtime. (Hear that, Dept. of Labor?) In short, they are planning to continue the practices that led them to bankruptcy in the first place.

As part of the bankruptcy case, the company has asked for permission to pay as much as $1.7 million in bonuses to 30 top officers and key employees should the Journal Register meet certain reorganization goals, including closing more papers and eliminating more employees. The company employs about 3,500 people.
As for the "more financially viable" part of Hall's delusional statement, don't count on it. Because when you dig yourself into a hole, digging faster isn't the way out.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Afternoon Music Club

Randy Rhoads, featuring Ozzy Osbourne.

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Douchebag of the Week

Buttars. Republican state senator from Utah.

You'll never guess what the biggest threat to America is. Terrorism? Unsecured nuclear material? Global warming? An expensive, ineffective healthcare system? Nope. It's Teh Gay.

Perhaps the reason Republicans aren't more effective at fighting threats to America is that they can't figure out what the real threats are.

Also, just wondering, but why do conservatives smile so infrequently? Why do their faces look like frown is their default setting?


Monday, February 16, 2009

Tax 'code'

A good piece about the not-so-hidden agenda behind tax cuts. Highlights are below, but there's a lot more in there.

It’s time to tell the truth about tax cuts. This phrase dominates political discourse and is coughed out every time a conservative public figure opens his mouth. It is treated like the basis of sound reasoning, yet no one points out what should be obvious - that “tax relief” and “tax cuts” are just code words for destroying the capacity of government to serve the public.

The reason many people accept conservative claims about taxation and government is that they hold up for many common experiences, especially when conservatives are in control of the government. Conservative officials enact policies that make life worse for people while claiming that things will get better. Then they draw upon these negative experiences to advance their agenda. No Child Left Behind is an excellent example. The strategy works like this (a more detailed analysis can be found here):

1. Declare that the agenda is to “improve” public education
2. Pass legislation that cripples public schools
3. Cry out for “reform” when people see how bad our schools are doing
4. Get rid of public schools and replace them with private schools, especially schools that teach conservative ideology (e.g. elite charter schools, religious schools, etc.)


Treating taxation as nothing more than a burden is tantamount to declaring that citizenship is nothing more than getting all you can for yourself… everyone else be damned. Conservative elites have undermined the responsibilities we have to one another to advance their agenda.


Not a single home foreclosure throughout this crisis has been caused by excessive taxation. The misfortune of illness in a dysfunctional health system has burdened people with horrendous debt. Where did this problem come from? Profit-driven health care created under the Nixon Administration.

Banks haven’t failed catastrophically through over-sized personal W-2 forms. Radical deregulation is the culprit. Who deregulated the market? Conservative ideologues from both political parties. (This is what the word “centrist” really means - conservatives who’ve infiltrated the Democratic Party.)

Companies haven’t been driven to huge lay-offs because their tax burden is too high. They are victims of an unraveling market. What undermined the integrity of the global economy? An extremist philosophy of governance that is blind to the role of the regulatory frameworks that give stabilizing structure to our markets.
Click through and read the rest.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009


It's certainly nice to have been linked to on Paul Krugman online, as I have read his column for years for clarity regarding economic waters purposely muddied by those who put personal interests ahead of national interests. He's among the best political writers out there and tops when it comes to writing about the economy. It's cool to appear on such a high-profile radar.

As you may know, Krugman is a Very Good Friend of my Very Good Friend Susie. So there's only one degree of separation between a Nobel Prize winner and me, someone with a semi-regular series of posts titled "Douchebag of the Week." Behold the power of the Internets.

And it's nice to know that Krugman apparently is a fan of Nuclear Assault. Come to think of it, I think I remember him from the pit at a Megadeth show at City Gardens in Trenton in the late '80s. Of course, that could have been my friend Ray.


Friday, February 13, 2009


Financial bankruptcy, that is, to go with the moral bankruptcy the company declared when it knowingly shipped tainted food.

The peanut processing company at the heart of a national salmonella outbreak is going out of business. The Lynchburg, Va.-based Peanut Corp. of America filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Virginia Friday, the latest bad news for the company that has been accused of producing tainted peanut products that may have been sent to everyone from poor school children to disaster victims.


The government is working on a criminal investigation into the case, and more than a dozen civil lawsuits have been filed. This week, Peanut Corp. president Stewart Parnell repeatedly refused to answer questions before the House Energy and Commerce investigations subcommittee, which is seeking ways to prevent another outbreak. But e-mails surfaced indicating he ordered products the company knew were tainted to be shipped anyway.
The moral of this story: Cutting corners for short-term gain is bad both ethically and financially. But I suspect that the lesson many CEOs will take from this tragic, criminal story is to be careful what you write in e-mails.

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Friday Afternoon Music Club


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Thursday, February 12, 2009

'I was completely destroyed'

But what are the lives of children compared with sweet, sweet money?

For years, the juvenile court system in Wilkes-Barre operated like a conveyor belt: Youngsters were brought before judges without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then sent off to juvenile prison for months for minor offenses.

The explanation, prosecutors say, was corruption on the bench.

In one of the most shocking cases of courtroom graft on record, two Pennsylvania judges have been charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers.

“I’ve never encountered, and I don’t think that we will in our lifetimes, a case where literally thousands of kids’ lives were just tossed aside in order for a couple of judges to make some money,” said Marsha Levick, an attorney with the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, which is representing hundreds of youths sentenced in Wilkes-Barre.

Prosecutors say Luzerne County Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan took $2.6 million in payoffs to put juvenile offenders in lockups run by PA Child Care LLC and a sister company, Western PA Child Care LLC. The judges were charged on Jan. 26 and removed from the bench by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court shortly afterward.

No company officials have been charged, but the investigation is still going on.

The high court, meanwhile, is looking into whether hundreds or even thousands of sentences should be overturned and the juveniles’ records expunged.

Among the offenders were teenagers who were locked up for months for stealing loose change from cars, writing a prank note and possessing drug paraphernalia. Many had never been in trouble before. Some were imprisoned even after probation officers recommended against it.

Many appeared without lawyers, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1967 ruling that children have a constitutional right to counsel.


Many Pennsylvania counties contract with privately run juvenile detention centers, paying them either a fixed overall fee or a certain amount per youth, per day.

In Luzerne County, prosecutors say, Conahan shut down the county-run juvenile prison in 2002 and helped the two companies secure rich contracts worth tens of millions of dollars, at least some of that dependent on how many juveniles were locked up.

One of the contracts — a 20-year agreement with PA Child Care worth an estimated $58 million — was later canceled by the county as exorbitant.

The judges are accused of taking payoffs between 2003 and 2006.
But it's not like privatizing government functions leads to corruption of the system or anything.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Douchebag of the Week

Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.

I'm glad you think the collapsing economy is funny, douchebag.


Friday, February 06, 2009

Friday Afternoon Music Club

with apologies for the intro.

Nuclear Assault.

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Just plain stupid

ABC News attempts to point out the hypocrisy of Obama's plan to limit executive pay.

It might be a bit of a stretch to compare today's corporate titans with the commander in chief [so we realize how ridiculous this story and the blog post it's entirely based on are, but that's not going to stop us], but some Wall Street bloggers clearly upset with President Obama's attempts to rein in executive pay are doing just that. [And, of course, by amplifying this bullshit, so are we.]

"Some accountability needs to be put in place. We won't have them kicking sand in the face of taxpayers any longer," said one private equity worker on, a Wall Street gossip site and blog.
Given the unprecedented amounts of taxpayer money simply given to Wall Street, with no conditions whatsoever, that quote could very easily apply to the Wall Street CEOs that the blog post's author, "Equity Private," is trying to defend.

Imagine the nerve that it requires to take billions of dollars in taxpayer money and then play victim when a single, entirely reasonable, condition is attached to accepting the money.

The president's salary and perks have come under the spotlight since Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., introduced a bill that would cap annual executive pay at companies receiving government bailout money at $400,000.
Really? That blog post, and the national news story amplifying it, are the first I've heard of it. But that's the great thing about a phrase like "come under the spotlight": It can mean anything. Even if one barely competent blogger motivated by very obvious personal financial interest comments on something, that something is "under the spotlight."

Corporate America [read: "the blog post this story is based on"] quickly pointed out that while the president also only makes $400,000 a year, he gets all sorts of extra perks and doesn't have to pay taxes on them.
Conservatives just hate it when someone gets something for "free," and that someone isn't them. That's why they're so jealous of the opulent lifestyle enjoyed by welfare recipients.

If a CEO borrows the company jet to go on a private vacation, he or she might not be charged by the company for the perk, but they do have to pay income taxes on the value of such a flight.

For the president, it's a different story.
Oh noes! CEOs don't have to pay to borrow the corporate jet for their personal use, but DO have to pay taxes on what it would have cost them, if they had paid for it? Boo fucking hoo.

You know, busboys don't have that problem. Maybe you poor, put-upon bastards are in the wrong line of work.

Listen, you greedy fucking cocksuckers: People are losing their jobs, their healthcare, their homes. People that people like you laid off. If you can't figure out a way to scrape out a living on ONLY $500,000 a year, don't take the taxpayers' money. I know that not taking money is completely antithetical to your nature as quasi-human greed machines, but some accountability needs to be put in place. We won't have you kicking sand in the face of taxpayers any longer.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Across the Universe

Sean Lennon, Moby and Rufus Wainwright.

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