Article 43

 

Friday, March 30, 2007

Income Inequality Worsens

By Isaiah J. Poole
Tom Paine
March 29, 2007

There is more evidence today that the Bush administrations economic policies are widening the gap between the rich and the poor.

University of California at Berkeley professor Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Picketty of the Paris School of Economics released two studies this week, one looking at income and another looking at tax policy. The bottom line: Under Bush, the rich aren’t just getting RICHER. Theyre making a KILLING.

HOW MUCH so? As The NY TIMES REPORTED Thursday, the nation’s richest 300,000 Americans make as much money as the bottom 150 million. Calculations based on 2005 tax data, the latest available, average incomes for people among the bottom 90 percent of Americans that year declined 0.6 percent, while the incomes of those in the top 10 percent increased about 14 percent.

And that is NOT JUST a one-year blip. Since 1970, based on data posted on Saez WEBSITE, while the annual average wage, adjusted for inflation, increased 15.2 percent between 1970 and 2005, the average wage for the nation’s top 100 CEOs in that period increased a whopping 2,193 percent.

Meanwhile, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities RELEASED A STUDY based on the research of Saez and Picketty that shows the extent to which the wealthiest Americans benefited greatly from conservative tax policy while the pocketbooks of average Americans remain significantly unchanged. “Large reductions in tax progressivity since the 1960s took place primarily during two periods:  the Reagan presidency in the 1980s and the Bush administration in the early 2000s Piketty and Saez say in the Centers study.

In fact, the wealthier the individual, the greater the magnitude of the tax benefit: The average tax rate declined by a larger amount for households in the top one hundredth of 1 percent of the income scale (where incomes in 2004 averaged about $15 million) than for households in the top tenth of 1 percent (where incomes averaged above $3.7 million) or for households in the top 1 percent (where incomes averaged about $850,000).

“During a period in which economic forces have been generating increased pre-tax inequality, changes in the tax system have exacerbated rather than mitigated the widening of the income gap,” the Center concludes.

The Bush administration and congressional Republicans, not surprisingly, are trying to change the subject. As DEMOCRATS UNVEILED their admittedly imperfect and incomplete plans to balance the budget by 2012-a vote on the budget resolution will come Thursday afternoonthe Republicans have settled on a mantra: that Democrats will enact “the largest tax increase in American history. They will try to persuade working-class Americans that the Democrats will dip into their pockets.”

Democrats and progressives do not have to fall into that rhetorical trap. The evidence is on their side. It is the Republicans who have been playing reverse Robin Hood, robbing lower- and middle-income Americans by rigging tax and economic policies to benefit the rich. In an honest moment, a few Republicans will acknowledge the truth. But as we see over and over again, honesty and economic fairness are not high on the agenda of the conservative ideologues still trying to call the shots.

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Posted by Elvis on 03/30/07 •
Section Dying America
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Thursday, March 29, 2007

StatCounter

With the two posts of what may be good software vendors gone BAD this week - TAMOSOFT and RED HAT - I’m happy to print a good story.

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StatCounter Says NO!

A few months back, STATCOUNTER was approached by an advertiser, offered lots of $$$, and asked to include a SPYWARE COOKIE on all of our member sites. We refused on the spot.

You install StatCounter to track visitors to your site NOT to open yourself and your visitors up to being spied upon by phantom advertising corporations.

It appears, however, that other players in the world of webstats were happy to take up this offer…

We were shocked to discover just today that another well known stats provider is allowing up to 9 cookies to be installed in the browser of every visitor that hits one of their member websites. This means that the provider is making money by transmitting data on you and your visitors to a third party advertiser. Not only that, but to add insult to injury, the cookies are causing the member websites to load very slowly too.

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Posted by Elvis on 03/29/07 •
Section Privacy And Rights
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Threatened Blogger

Blogging and the internet are two of the greatest expressions of free speech. Ever.  Usually it’s our GOVERNMENT and BIG BUSINESS trying to shut us up. But for this blogger who made the news recently, it may have been personal, or an expression of our COLLECTIVE. Let’s hope she isn’t scarred for life, and that the incident isn’t used to MAKE ANOTHER CASE to take away OUR RIGHTS.

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Sierra says her optimism causes hostile rants from MEANKIDS.ORG contributors
By Heather Havenstein
Computerworld
March 27, 2007

Q&A: Death Threats Force Blogger to Sidelines

Prominent blogger Kathy Sierra created a FIRESTORM in the blogging world this week after detailing threats of death and violence against her in her TECHNOLOGY BLOG and on MEANKIDS.ORG and its successor site Unclebobism.  Both sites have since been taken down. In an interview with Computerworld on Tuesday, Sierra said the threats against her began escalating about a month ago and did not coincide with any controversial posts at her Creating Passionate Users blog. After a photo of her alongside a noose with a threat was posted on meankids.org, she opted to cancel her plans to speak Monday and Tuesday at O’Reilly’s Emerging Technology Conference in San Diego. Sierra is also co-creator of the Head First series of computer books and founder of the popular JAVA RANCH programmer site.

What started the wave of threats? Is it a reaction to a specific post or topic on your blog or were the threats made out of the blue? That is the million-dollar question.  I have had critics for a long time. Obviously the more visibility you have, the more critics you have, but it did turn much nastier the last few weeks than ever before.

For some reason [contributors to meankids.org site] really hate me. I asked one of them why. He said it is because I am just so optimistic. They are about rage, and if you are optimistic and positive you are part of the problem. It spun out of control kind of like a mob or crowd. Meankids was supposed to be a place where they could be as nasty as possible. It was like a feeding frenzy. Once they started down that path of anything goes, they weren’t going to stop. Who crosses that line and makes comments like that as an adult? These aren’t kids on MySpace. Anyone who is unstable enough to actually say these things, then I don’t want to take a chance.

Do you think that female bloggers are more susceptible to such lewd comments and threats, or is anyone expressing opinions publicly vulnerable? [Meankids.org] was heavily sexual and almost all about women. Their intention was social commentary and satire, but that is not what happened. I had never been exposed to that. I wouldn’t have believed this would ever happen. I have never experienced that in my entire life—when you start feeling you are part of someone’s sexual fantasies that might involve death. That is very scary. It is a very easy way to intimidate a woman. Just trot out the gender.

Do you have any ideas of how this can be stopped, or do you think it is an unfortunate component of blogging? Before this, everyone has been saying it is just an ugly side effect and that we have to preserve anonymity. I think it is about culture. I started [the JavaRanch] online community 10 years ago, and it is huge right now. It has one single policy—be nice. You can’t be mean or rude or make personal attacks. Once that culture is set up, other members will catch it. In the technology-writing world, we all know each other, so it would be pretty easy to have a no-tolerance policy.

Prominent people were linking to the people who were doing this to me. That is tacit approval. This can’t go on. It has crossed the line. I expected to wake up this morning and it would all have blown over, that no one would be talking about this. Now I am getting more threats. I haven’t gotten a single new death threat, just more nastiness than I have ever gotten in a single day.

What are your next steps? Where do you plan on going from here? I am going to not do anything for a little while. There are still some scary things behind the scenes I am somewhat fearful about. I am not going to go anywhere publicly. Every time I speak at a conference I get a lot more nastiness. I don’t want to inflame them more. Until I find out exactly who was involved, to what degree and how stable they really are ... I am not going to do anything. People are rallying around and saying, ‘We are going to look after our own.’ That has not been the culture of the technology blog world. Now a lot of people are questioning their policies.  I am going to lay low no matter what just so I become less of a target.

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Posted by Elvis on 03/29/07 •
Section General Reading
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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Is Red Hat Acting Like Microsoft?

This is getting to a bad week for the little guy software user or software company.  First, a former good company - TAMOSOFT - turns on it’s customers, now another good company - RED HAT - is showing signs of corruption. I give business to both. And may likely have to dump both.  It’s the only way to TAME corporate CONTROL of the planet, our lives, and everything IN BETWEEN.

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By Darryl K. Taft
eWeek
March 23, 2007

Red Hat is catching flak from the open-source community over a series of cease-and-desist letters the company’s lawyers have sent to independent consultants that provide training and consulting for the company’s Hibernate platform.

The issue of Red Hat casting its large shadow over the community caused a bit of a ripple among attendees at TheServerSide Java Symposium here, an audience made up of stalwart Java developers and also open-source aficionados.

In a BLOG POST entitled ”Red Hat Inc.: The Next MICROSOFT?," Ted Neward, founder of Neward & Associates, in Redmond, Wash., said, “Think that Red Hat is still the open source capital of the Internet, all happy-happy-joy-joy with its supporters and liberal-minded in its goals?” He then asked readers to look at a copy of the cease-and-desist letter he obtained from a company who received it from Red Hat, and added: “Tell me if your mind isn’t changed a little.”

The letter, as posted on Neward’s blog, said: “Red Hat, Inc. has become aware that your company is offering Hibernate training courses. Red Hat does not allow the use of its trademarks without a written agreement.”

In addition, the letter spelled out that “Red Hat is the owner of numerous trademarks, including but not limited to, its Hibernate mark, U.S. Federal Registration Number 3135582.”

Moreover, the letter said: “Red Hat requests that you immediately cease offering Hibernate branded training, as well as any other training that may contain Red Hat marks or marks that are confusingly similar. Although you may offer object oriented relational database mapping training, you may not use the Hibernate name to promote and advertise your products and services.”

Hibernate is an object/relational persistence and query service for Java developed by JBoss. Ironically, JBoss was called out over similar charges in 2005, when some open-source enthusiasts complained that JBoss had taken issue with some companies, particularly in Europe, that had been using the JBoss name to advertise their JBoss training and consulting practices.

During a panel at the conference here, Bob McWhirter, technical leader of the JBoss.org community site, said the issue is to “try to clarify what the use of the trademark is. The big issue that’s come up recently is around the trademark. It boils down to trademark law. And, yes, we’re still an open-source company.”

In a brief interview with eWEEK following the session, McWhirter said, “It’s all trademark law. We’re not an evil company.”

However, some attendees said they wondered how far the issue might go.

“Why not just grow the pie,” asked one attendee who asked not to be identified. “Maybe they feel like they’ve reached ubiquity and can now lean on the little guys.”

Another attendee, who also asked not to be identified, agreed, adding: “It seems like they’re only going after the smaller fish, the mom-and-pops that can’t afford to fight them in court.”

Meanwhile, a source in the JBoss division of Red Hat, said, “We plead complete ignorance on this.”

Yet, still another attendee waxed on about the potential of this issue.

“This is another obvious nail in the coffin for the idealized world of open source being about community and being about the code,” said the attendee, who asked not to be identified. “Open-source businesses are now as nasty as their closed-source counterparts using the same techniques to stifle competition/protect their brands (depending on your point of view). The question is will the community react with their feet and walk away or is the monopoly factor driven by open source’s powerful distribution channels too powerful and the community is now locked in?”

Meanwhile, Neward completed his post with: “Folks, Red Hat has officially moved into the ‘Big Corporate Entity Seeking Profit At Any Expense’ category. So much for the Open-Source-Can-Really-Make-Money-Too-We-Swear poster child, if you ask me ...”

And in a separate but somewhat related squabble, Maher Masri, CEO of Genuitec, maker of the MyEclipse Java development tool set, took on JBoss in his blog. Masri complained about behavior he witnessed on a forum on TheServerSide.com, where he said JBoss developers were piling on to take shots at Genuitec. The behavior came following the news at the EclipseCon conference that Red Hat was assuming the stewardship of Exadel’s Java tools and placing them under the JBoss umbrella. In the forum, JBoss developers identified Genuitec as the company to beat, among other things.

At the end of his post, Masri wrote: “My final conclusion in this long blog is simply this: If your business is based on open source, don’t bite the hands that feed your success. And, if you don’t want others to use your code then don’t put it out as open source to begin with.”

Bill Dudney, formerly chief technology officer at Virtuas Open Source Solutions, a Denver-based open-source consultancy that recently closed its doors, wrote in a blog post: “Hibernate is trademarked by JBoss/Red Hat Which means that me and the thousands of other consultants that put in a bunch of time learning the framework cannot profit by publicly claiming Hibernate services. I can claim ‘OR Mapping’ [object-relational mapping] services but who (with money) knows what OR Mapping is and why would they pay me for my knowledge about it.”

Added Dudney: “By trying to drive MyEclipse out of the Hibernate business they are damaging the Hibernate community. By preventing my (former) company from offering services specifically called ‘Hibernate Services’ they are damaging the community. Why don’t we all pack up and go elsewhere.”

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Posted by Elvis on 03/28/07 •
Section Dying America
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Health Insurance Options Dwindle For Self-Employed

Group plans are being dropped or becoming unaffordable to many.

By Lisa Girion
LA Times
March 27, 2007

A major source of health insurance for people who work for themselves is DISAPPEARING, casting thousands of contractors, freelancers and solo practitioners into the ranks of the uninsured with little hope of obtaining new coverage.

Health plans offered by professional associations were once havens for millions of people who couldn’t get coverage anywhere else. But as medical costs have soared, groups representing professions as varied as law and golf have been forced to stop offering the benefit or been dropped by insurers.

More than 8,000 people with coverage through the California Assn. of Realtors could be next if Blue Shield of California succeeds with its plan to cancel the group’s health coverage.

“It’s a real stab in the heart,” said Marcy Garber, 62, an Encino real estate agent whose history of breast cancer makes her an almost-certain reject if she seeks similar coverage on her own.

Although no one tracks association coverage to know how many plans have disappeared, the experience of Marsh Affinity Services is telling. A decade ago, Marsh, which brokers and administers the health plans, had 142 such clients. Today, all but three have shut down.

Over the same period, the nation’s uninsured population, now estimated at 45 million, rose dramatically, fueled in part by the dearth of affordable options for the self-employed, experts say. Among uninsured workers, nearly 63% are self-employed or work in small firms, Todd Stottlemyer, president of the National Federation of Independent Business, told Congress recently.

Fewer than a quarter of 1,020 professional and small-business associations surveyed in February offer medical coverage, even though a majority of the groups said they would like to. The American Society of Association Executives, which commissioned the survey, views the issue as a crisis.

In its heyday, association health coverage was so popular that brokers touted it as a membership recruiting tool for professional organizations. The demise of the coverage is particularly problematic in states like California, experts say, where a raft of jobs including many in the service and entertainment sectors ח don’t come with health benefits.

“The association business used to be a huge part of the group health insurance business,” said Robert Laszewski, a Washington-based health policy consultant and former insurance executive. “Now, it’s like the buggy whip business almost entirely gone.”

Insurance carriers began pulling out of association markets about 10 years ago amid mandates requiring the groups - like employers to offer coverage to all members who wanted to buy it, regardless of preexisting conditions. Unlike employers, however, who typically pick up the much of the premiums for employees, most associations do not share in the costs. Instead, they arrange for their members to purchase coverage at group, rather than individual, rates.

In today’s marketplace, that’s almost always a better deal for older members and often the only option for people with preexisting conditions. But insurers are eager to sell individual policies to the young and healthy for as little as $100 a month, scooping the cream off the risk pool. That leaves higher-risk older and less-healthy people to the group market, resulting in what is known as adverse selection.

As healthy members leave an association health plan, the concentration of members with higher-than-average medical costs increases. That forces the underwriter to raise premiums. A “death spiral” sets in, when medical costs exceed the plan’s ability to raise premiums to cover them.

“The problem with associations is they go into a death spiral because they get the worst risk,” said Alan Fox, vice president of plan design for the American Psychological Assn. Insurance Trust, which covered thousands of psychologists and their families for 35 years before discontinuing its health plan in 1999.

The list of casualties also includes health plans once sponsored by the American Bar Assn., which still hopes to resurrect the benefit it dropped last year, and the California Bar Assn., which lost its coverage when its insurer pulled out in the early 1990s.

Before the Professional Golfers’ Assn.’s health plan ran into the rough, the group had extended coverage to about 1,000 members. But the plan was discontinued in 1996 as medical costs rose and younger, healthier members bought coverage on their own at lower rates.

“If you can get cheaper coverage through the individual market, that’s what you do,” said Mila Kofman, an associate research professor at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute.

But not everybody can BUY AN INDIVIDUAL PLAN. In many states, including California, insurance companies are allowed to reject applicants for individual policies for any medical reason, including common conditions such as asthma and varicose veins. As a result, many people who lose association coverage in effect become uninsurable.

Insurance options of last resort ח COBRA conversion coverage, whose name is an acronym for the federal legislation that created it, and publicly subsidized high-risk pools are not for everybody because the coverage is insufficient or unaffordable or both.

“If they don’t have an opportunity to go to another group and have to go into the individual market, it’s a real problem,” said Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, president-elect of the National Assn. of Insurance Commissioners.

That’s what worries Garber, the Encino real estate agent. Garber doesn’t know what she will do if she loses her coverage, which costs her $596 a month.

“I’m not what I would call every insurer’s delight,” she said. “I have to be in a group plan or I’m not going to have insurance. It never dawned on me I’d have any problem with this insurance.”

Another real estate agent, Hector Aguirre, 39, of Rancho Cucamonga, also thought the group’s coverage was safe. He pays nearly $1,000 a month for coverage for himself and his family. His wife has lupus and a daughter needs daily shots of an expensive growth hormone.

“I always thought it had more control and more pull because it’s such a huge umbrella under the whole California Assn. of Realtors,” Aguirre said.

Realtor Terry Lucoff, 60, of Malibu, who pays a monthly premium of more than $600, fears that if he loses his coverage he will be unable to obtain new coverage that will allow him to continue seeing his regular doctors because he has been diagnosed with a kidney condition.

“If they can do this to the California Realtors association, they can do it to anybody,” he said.

The California Assn. of Realtors and its broker, RealCare Insurance Marketing Inc., contend that Blue Shield can’t cancel the plan.

“It is against the law for Blue Shield to cherry-pick, i.e., to try to keep only the healthy employees, while cutting off those who need their health insurance most,” RealCare alleges in a lawsuit.

Blue Shield says the law allows it to pull the plug if an organization violates the terms of its contract. It says that happened when the real estate group failed to enroll 75% of certain members in the health plan as its contract requires.

But the association and its broker accuse Blue Shield of inventing a way to calculate the enrollment to create a pretext for dumping them and their medical bills. They say that enrollment has been close to 99% for years and that Blue Shield never made an issue of it before.

“What’s different about today?” asked Debra Ferrier, the real estate group’s assistant general counsel. “I believe they probably looked at the plan, probably saw it wasn’t very profitable, and they think they found a reason to cancel it. We disagree that they found a reason.”

A court hearing on the dispute is set for April 6 in Los Angeles, and state regulators say they are looking into the matter.

Blue Shield spokesman David Seldin said the company noticed the purported enrollment problem only recently. He declined to discuss the finances of the Realtors’ health plan, saying “it was not relevant to our decision, which was simply and completely about the fact that they were not in compliance with their contractual obligations.”

Industry experts say the dispute may be symptomatic of the difficult economics and market pressures that have crippled and killed association health plans over the last decade. It also “reveals how fragile access to health coverage is and how easily that security blanket can be ripped away,” said Cindy Ehnes, director of the California Department of Managed Health Care.

As havens for people with medical conditions, association health plans are especially vulnerable to rising medical costs, said Janet Trautwein, chief executive of the National Assn. of Health Underwriters.

“Costs are going up everywhere in every type of plan,” Trautwein said. Associations “not only have the normal costs going up, but they have this adverse selection at the same time. It’s a double whammy.”

A few association health plans remain open. But they don’t have to go belly up for members to be affected. When the International Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ health plan ran into financial difficulties, for example, Ann McCormick of Glendora lost coverage.

The plan dropped McCormick in February when her husband, Bill, a member of the organization, turned 65 and became eligible for Medicare. Until recently, the plan had allowed such members and their dependents to remain enrolled and use the coverage to supplement the federal government’s medical insurance program.

But when expenses outpaced revenue, resulting in a deficit of nearly $6 million, the engineers association decided last year that the option was no longer in its members’ best interest.

The problem for Ann McCormick, 64, is she won’t qualify for Medicare for several months. But recently diagnosed with diabetes, she discovered she was uninsurable in the private market.

“You plan to be financially independent after retirement, and then all of a sudden you have no insurance,” said McCormick, a retired loan auditor. “You didn’t plan on that. It’s really scary.”

Cigna, which carries the engineers organization’s plan, also underwrites the group plan of an association of performers, writers and photographers known as TEIGIT. Saying that group’s medical expenses were exceeding premium revenue, Cigna raised rates in January as much as 254% for members in California, prompting more than 150 of them ח about a quarter of its cadre in the state to drop the coverage.

“I couldn’t afford it, so I quit,” said Randy Dotinga, 38, a San Diego freelance writer whose premium was set to rise to $875 from $262.

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Posted by Elvis on 03/28/07 •
Section Dying America
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