Saturday, March 28, 2009

Lauging off the Weed Questions

The following is a comment I left on John Cole's post today about weed:

First of all, there is no reliable evidence showing that marijuana is as bad as tobacco or alcohol in terms of health costs. In fact, it's way down on the list of drugs that do harm in those terms.

But there is one angle where legalizing, or at least decriminalizing, would make a big difference: the drug war now raging on our border with Mexico. As the administration has been saying for the last week, the US's appetite for these drugs (a large chunk of which is Mexican weed) is fueling the war (as are our guns).

Before Sarah Palin changed the Alaska law, a citizen there was allowed to grow as much weed as they wanted as long as it never left the property on which it was grown. This kind of decriminalization would increase domestic production of pot, and decrease the demand for the weed coming in from Mexican narco gangs.

So, the dismissive way which Obama laughed off the question was, indeed, a big missed chance for him to say something substantive about the good things that could happen if we would refocus our resources on things that actually cause more harm, like alcohol, tobacco, meth, and blow.

Plus, decriminalization would mean less people in prison for pot. The fact that we jail people for possessing even small amounts of weed is astounding to me. These are non-violent people enjoying a substance which has been proven to be less detrimental to the public health than tobacco or alcohol, and yet we put people in prison for it. I have severe arthritis and live in a state where I can't even legally use it for pain, even if my Doctor thinks it would be better than the pharmaceuticals that have severely screwed me up in the past.

This is a serious subject, and deserves to be treated that way. Laughing it off just shows me that our president is capable of ignoring important issues because he thinks the people who ask the questions are stoners.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Foul Weather Gear

I landed a new internet marketing client who sells sailing gear. Specifically, foul weather gear for sailors. He also sells some sailing accessories, like hats, sunglasses, and hand-held GPS units, that aren't specific to foul weather, per se. So, when I started researching keywords to use to drive more traffic to his site, I kept coming back to outdoor gear.

Today, I get word that they don't want to associate themselves with the term "outdoor gear" as it is so general that they're afraid the sailors who come to their site will think it's just regular old outdoor gear, and not the specifically for sailors kind. I can see where they're coming from. Makes my job much harder. But, hey, that's what I get paid for. I'll be talking more about this specificity problem at my internet marketing blog.

I just wanted to post a notice here for all those Wall Street types who are about to find themselves with a lot of extra time.

Go sailing. Please. Take that nice sailboat that you paid for out of your taxpayer funded bonuses, and sail away. Sail to the Bahamas. If there's a storm in your way, strap on some professional sailing foul weather gear, the kind used by actual competitive off-shore and ocean racing sailors, and sail right through it. If you're prepared, you can sail right through the worst weather. Salt water won't eat away at your shoes if you get the right sea boots. Your hands won't get cold if you use the right sailing gloves. You will be protected by the clothing made especially for sailors.

Some of you might want to sail to the Cayman Islands. Don't be afraid to take the Mrs., or maybe your mistress, as you can get women's foul weather gear too! Maybe get a little condo--something more than the little PO Box you had to get out of paying taxes in the US, taxes that pay for things like the Iraq war, Halliburton shock-showers, and your hero President GW Bush's pension. In fact, I hear the sailing is good year around down there, so buy a bunch of great sailing gear and sail away to your John Galt paradise where all you productive people can live happily away from all us socialist scum up here in the US, who will have to wade through the muck, without decent muck boots, that you have left us with.

Cheer up! Your warm salopettes and fleece lined hats will keep you cozy and warm no matter how much spray is hitting you, or how much guilt you feel. Feel a little cold around your neck? No, that's not the breath of federal regulators coming to put you in prison for fraud. It's just the cold sea air... put on a neck gaiter and you'll be all snug and warm as you tack off toward warmer waters in more deregulated lands.

Please understand that this is just snark. I understand that many people like to sail, and by no means are all of them fraudulent wall street crooks or Bush voting John Galt types. Plenty of Democrats (I'm looking at you Teddy) love to sail. In fact, a recent nominee for President was photographed in a wet suit while windsurfing. I'm just suggesting that you sailing people take a look at my new client's site and see if you need anything that's for sale there. My research suggests that they have some of the best prices on this gear, so consider it a money saving tip.

But for those of you who have been stealing billions of dollars from the treasure, our pensions and 401ks, in the form of Bush tax cuts, or Bush no-bid contracts, or deregulation of financial instruments you used to get rich while you looted the companies that were paying you so well... Well, for you jerks, I do hope you keep sailing into the sunset, toward a low-tax Randian paradise of deregulation and no minimum wage for your "help." I just want to make sure you're wearing the proper gear for your trek into your conservative utopia. Wouldn't want you to catch cold.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Conservative Catharsis: Blame Deregulation and Privatization

[Cross posted everywhere it makes sense.]

George W Bush broke the world. It was pretty fucked up to begin with, after years of laissez-faire economics practiced by all American presidents since FDR, but much more so since Reagan. The conservative philosophy was corrupted by deregulators who's belief in the free market completely left out the fact that most people are greedy bastards who will steal everything that's not tied down.

Now this upper class of well-to-do Reaganites, many of them in the Democratic party, have drained the wealth of this country into their walled communities and private security forces, while they whine about their portfolios being worthless. What did they think when they were doing everything Phil Graham suggested? Did they think we could just trust the robber baron class not to be robber barons?

The profit motive works just fine in a regulated market, where everyone has their cards above the table, and we all play by the same rules, which we can all understand. Old timey conservatives were for stringent regulations, especially capital requirements on banks and the like. To be a fiscal conservative meant, literally, to not take crazy risks. A little risk for a decent return, but nothing crazy.

Well, you guys had your chance and you blew it. But what's funny about it is that Karl Marx basically predicted it. It's not hedge fund science, you know. If you have a bunch of money in one place, and you loosen the rules that protect it, someone will steal it. Human nature--GREED--is not good in a market because the greedy will take down the rest of us in that inter-dependent system.

So, now we're going to try something else. It's kind of like what FDR tried, at least in the sense of the largess, the investment in infrastructure and people, and the like. But it's also like FDR in the sense that he realized that everyone deserves some basic floor to stand on: a starting place so that we are all, indeed, created equal when we become a member of The Class of US Taxpayers. Now some of us might get more out of that system than we paid in, but the ones at the top will still get something out of it. They'll have clean dishes to eat cooked food on in restaurants. They'll have firemen and cops and teachers and those people will have the basic dignity of health coverage, affordable housing and utilities, and the like. If the private enterprise system refuses to charge enough for the products and services so that those people can be paid enough to buy their own coverage, then it is we the people, the government, who must force them to, through taxation.

And if you don't believe that, then your option is to have a whole class of people who are broke, unhealthy, and damn angry about it. In this country, those people vote for someone who will make the playing field fair again. In the current view of the dominant conservative voices, those people can just crawl off and die somewhere. Or wind up in prison where we subsidize their everything.

There will be people at the top who pay for it. That is populism. That is the price you pay for living in a country where we pay people who stock shelves at Wal Mart so little that they qualify for government subsidized health care. I'm sure most free market conservatives would prefer to have Wal Mart take care of their employees. But then how could they be the low price leader?

It's still a free country, and there's going to be a free market for practically anything (including things that are illegal). There will be a free market for health care and those of you who can afford it are more than welcome to sink your dollars into a system that profits from your sickness on one end (the HMOs) and profits from your minimal care on the other (the insurance companies who don't want to pay, they just want to collect). I ask you, which force will drive doctor salaries lower? A government that tries to enforce fairness, no matter how cumbersome a bureaucracy that develops in order to implement that fairness (and, again, medicare does it with amazingly low administrative costs compared to private companies), or a private insurance company that is trying desperately to keep outlays down because raising premiums is just making them lose customers?

I'm all for personal responsibility. I grow a lot of my own food. I own my own small business and work for a lot less than minimum wage. I would require more stringent food requirements on Food Stamp recipients, like me, to eat healthy foods and support local, small, and organic farmers. But when it comes to something as complex as health care, I just don't trust the greedy bastards to run it anywhere but into the ground.

I lived in LA for 20 years. I remember the Enron fiasco during the electricity crisis. We had been sold a bill of goods about privatizing and deregulating the electricity markets that turned out to be worse than a load of horse shit (which is at least good fertilizer). It is a perfect example of how unfettered markets only serve as suet to a bunch of hungry birds like Ken Lay who fly away with the whole chunk if they can.

At that point, I started looking into co-ops, public ownership of utilities, community supported agriculture, and credit unions. I like employee owned companies and try to support them when I can. Guess what all those examples are? Communist! They take the assets, the factories, the power lines, the loan portfolios, and they collectively own them among all the members. Where I live now, we have an electric co-op (a remnant of FDR's Rural Electrification Association). It's great. All the people who get the cheap power own the assets of the power company collectively. There is no profit, but the guys who cut the tree branches out of the way get paid well, get health insurance and other benefits. So does the nice lady who answers the phone. Because we, the owners, have decided that's a good thing to do. There's no profit for any corporation, but there is enough to make sure everyone gets paid what they're worth. If those employees had a government health plan they could choose, and pay for with a tax on their paychecks, then as a co-owner of the co-op, I would be more than happy to give them a raise with the money the co-op saved by not having to pay for their health care.

I'm pretty sure GM would like that too.

Why should health care be any different than the co-op itself? Why can we not use the medicare paycheck tax to pay into a fund that is then used to pay our dues for a medical co-op that fairly and equitably distributes care on a triage basis, and puts a premium on prevention, even to the point of rewarding people who do the right thing for their health (thereby being less of a burden to the rest of the co-op)?

Now a lot of people will say it's a red commie flag there, but if you really think about it, and look back over American history at the collective good that has developed as a ethic in this country, it's conservative. It says YOU have a stake, YOU have a responsibility, and if you do well, you will be rewarded. The fact that we are all owners makes it the ownership society for real. And the fact that it is controlled by a bureaucracy that is built to make it as fair as possible takes it out of the realm of Stalin or other totalitarian philosophies, and puts it squarely in the hands of voters who get tho choose the head of the federal government every four years.

I worked my ass off for big entertainment companies for 20 years. They made plenty of money off my labor: more than I did, in fact. And when that work caused the degenerative disease I have in my big load bearing joints, those company's insurance companies denied that they had caused it, and tossed me out like any old broken cog. In your world, it's toughsky shitsky for Scotty because they have to profit. In my world, the money I put into the co-op would come back to me from the co-op when I needed it. Some guy who profited more from my work might have to pay a little more tax now to fund it, but I'll never get back all the profit I helped him make. That's fine. But when he tries to say he has no responsibility for my care, now that I'm broken down and can't do the physical labor that I spent 20 years turning into a career, I say he's full of it.

But when he says, well, I don't really want to pay into a system where a bunch of jet-setting insurance company executives and HMO executives milk every last dime out of everything in order to feed their Myopic vision of next quarter's stock price, then he has a point. I don't want him to pay them either. I want him to pay my doctor, with as little administrative or other overhead as possible. In fact, less overhead means more for my doctor.

So that's my long and winding explanation of why I want medical care to be non-profit and universal. And I'd like to thank the Ron Paul Republican who's been rattling a few cages around here for setting me off on what was a comment, but turned into a diary. So much for banging out a quick answer and getting back to work!

And thanks to Hunter today for firing up my populist, anti-Randian roots. Sometimes I forget why I hang out here, and then Hunter posts something that makes me feel like writing again.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Health Care's the Cure that Ails Us

I'm a big fan of the Freakonomics blog. They recently announced the winner of their new 6 word slogan for the US contest. The winner was: Consumption's the Cure that Ails Us.

Today, I learned from two of my stagehand buddies that health care is the cure that's going to break the back of the unions. One of those buddies you probably heard of. He's the stagehand who "surfed" the collapsing scaffolding at the Academy Awards a few years ago, breaking his back in the process. He was a rigger, made good money, and is now disabled, but he stays in touch with old friends from backstage. Here's what he told me:

[...] health care has a annual low limit....weekly, a person has to make $830/week to qualify for health insurance....[a friend] worked for Port Charles props nighttime turnaround...averaged 40 hour weeks. in 2000, she made $600/week for a 40 hr week. with the raises per year to now.....nighttime turnaround at GH probably makes over $700/week...not enough to make health insurance.....there are many uninsured members in the 2 and 3 groups [this union has 5 senority "groups"].

Health care is killing unions. Every inch of negotiating room is eaten alive by the health insurance monster. My other friend from the IATSE sent me a story from today's LA Times, Conflict erupts inside theatrical stage employees union:

Leaders of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, whose members include 35,000 who work behind the scenes on film and television sets, are facing a high level of dissent from the rank and file over a contract that includes modest pay increases but also deep cuts in the union's coveted health and pension benefits.

There's more than one way to battle the health care monster. Cutting coverage for those covered is one way. Another is to put heafty qualifications on qualifying, like requiring substantial over time hours or even a second call (daily hire job) on your days off. Here we have yet another American Union, the battlers for the 40 hour week, and worker protection, essentially bowing to corporate demands that workers only deserve health care and pensions if they work more than 40 hours per week. From the LA Times again:

Under the proposed three-year contract, members would be required to work 400 hours every six months, up from the current 300 hours, to keep their benefits.

That's the movie locals requirement, and at least it's less than 40 hours per week average. My old local, 33, is in even worse shape, and has been forced to institute coverage that only covers those who make the most money. Younger members, who often work in lower paying television jobs, don't even make enough to qualify when they work full time.

Eugene Debs would be appalled.

Unions are going to be forced to cut back on pensions, 401ks, increased hourly wages, and better working conditions (meal penalties, continuous tour, golden time, etc) in order to feed the health care monster, and the Wall Street Monster that Ate the Pensions. These Unions (not all IATSE) already hamper themselves by sending stagehands in $200 suits in to negotiate with lawyers in $5000 suites. Now they have the other arm tied behind their back with capitalist, robber baron, Republican tactics to drain power away from what they see as communist union thugs robbing them of their next BMW.

As much as I hate to say it, I don't see any light on the cyc, so to speak. Things are going to get much worse, and who knows if we'll ever recover. And now our new progressive government is going to tinker around the edges while the solution, single payer universal non-profit health care, stands screaming from the sidelines, while we all talk about Rush Fucking Limbaugh.

The only slight glow coming from the dimmer racks on this one is that, in the kollapsnik world, guys with calluses and working knowledge of mechanical systems will be the new kings, wearing $200 overalls.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


Frank Supak, head audio technician at the Hollywood Bowl sound booth console, from the LA Times.
My Dad, Frank Supak, died nine years ago today. I'll be listening to Miles, Kinda Blue, here in a little while, while I drink a beer. I'm just sorry I can only afford the cheap regional lager, and not an Anchor Steam. And I prefer Bushmills to single malt Scotch. But I'll be listening to his Miles CD, on his speakers, at his volume (not too loud). Maybe I'll listen to Holtz, The Planets. Maybe some Brubeck, live at Oberlin (a CD the significance of which he couldn't stress enough). I know I'll listen to Art Pepper, because I listen to him a lot.

But I don't think of Dad that often anymore. He was the contradiction: a Republican union member (IATSE), so, by dying 9 years ago, he saved us both a lot of grief. He had a very good life, if too short (he was 62). He was the sound man at the Hollywood Bowl for 20 years, and he enjoyed every second of performance pay.

But any time I feel sad, I remember that he liked to say that things only seemed one in a million because we don't live a billion years.