Saturday, August 15, 2009

Catch 22

Look around you. Almost one in every 10 Americans is on the unemployment line in 2009, victimized by the depressed economy and by corporate downsizing.

Families from coast to coast are being impacted. Savings accounts are being depleted. Credit cards are being maxed out as families try to stay afloat. Some are losing their homes and their cars. Others are having to drain their 401(k)s and the children's college funds to survive. Even bankruptcy is a harsh possibility for some.

Congress has temporarily extended unemployment benefits and discounted COBRA insurance, but it is not nearly enough to spare the unemployed further humiliation.

Now comes word that more and more companies are using credit checks to screen job applicants. This seems so patently unfair. Millions of unemployed people are unwilling victims of downsizing, most did not receive golden parachutes when they were laid off and many did not get significant severance packages to tide them over until they found another job.

Naturally, unemployed people are going to rack up debt to survive. But should the unemployed be punished for having debt? Should an employer be able to deny a job to an otherwise qualified job applicant who has debt? Is it a double standard? Do they run credit checks on their existing workers and fire them for having debt?

Advocates of the practice say the credit checks can protect the employer from workers who may be tempted to steal to pay off their debts or from those who don't know how to manage their money. Perhaps this would be fair if the company were a financial institution or a money lender.

Critics say the practice is unfair, possibly even discriminatory, and traps the unemployed in a terrible Catch 22. If you cannot find work, you cannot pay off your bills. If you cannot pay off your bills, you cannot find work.

Few states have laws protecting the unemployed from this practice. Hawaii and Washington are among the few states that do.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission should step to the plate and protect the unemployed.

And the practice should be banned with few exceptions.

Where is the public outcry over this?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

All atwitter

Who doesn't tweet these days?

Twitter is one of the top social networking sites, an instant way to communicate with family and friends using short 140-character messages.

It scares the bejeebers out of repressive nations such as Iran and China. Even the U.S. military is worried that state secrets could be inadvertently spilled by members of the armed forces.

And now the National Football League is all atwitter about Twitter.

The NFL appears terrified of social media, and of the players and the sports reporters who are embracing it. God forbid if players or reporters or fans spill the beans on a gimmick play, an injury being kept under wraps or a tryout candidate.

Two of my favorite teams, the Miami Dolphins and the San Diego Chargers, are among other franchises that have severely restricted tweeting and texting in an attempt to control the flow of news.

Ethan Skolnick of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel wrote a blog on the issue:

And Kevin Acee of The San Diego Union-Tribune wrote about how one player got into hot water for tweeting about the quality of team meals:

It seems ridiculous and paranoid to restrict information that is eagerly sought out by fans and readers. Twitter and other forms of social media are here to stay (or until the next great invention), and the NFL would be wise to use social media to its advantage instead of trying to censor the news.

An update since this first posted. More NFL teams have restricted Twitter, and more sports writers are complaining. Here's another viewpoint:

Since my original post, The Washington Post has had a dialogue with its readers on this issue. Here's that link:

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Damned If I Do ...

I'm scared.

Today my health insurance ceased _ after getting laid off in yet another large downsizing by a major U.S. metropolitan newspaper.

My choices are extremely limited. Sign up for COBRA, which even with a government subsidy is cost-prohibitive when you only have an unemployment check and must pay rent and a car loan, feed your family and pay bills. Try to find cheaper insurance. Or join the 47 million other Americans who have no insurance.

The United States is supposed to be the greatest country in the world, and yet we cannot guarantee health care for our people. Our health care system is bloated, hijacked by the "for profit" insurance companies and Big Pharma and their legions of lobbyists handing out campaign cash and freebies like it's Halloween to the very people entrusted by us to reform the system.

We have a system of competing interests with obscene advertising and marketing budgets designed to persuade you to choose their health care system over their rivals. Big Pharma spends zillions of dollars on advertising their products and on greasing the hands of the doctors who prescribe their medicines. When you get really, really sick, your insurer will probably deny you the best treatment as well as the expensive medicine that will keep you alive. God forbid you get diagnosed with a catastrophic illness, because your first call should be to a bankruptcy specialist, not a health care provider.

We can spend trillions of dollars on feeding the war machine and for policing the world, when a small portion of that could guarantee universal health care in the U.S. But no, we cannot dial back our bloodlust and empire-building to take care of our very own people. There's too much money to be made by the Halliburtons of the world.

We can bail out the crooks on Wall Street with billions of dollars, on the premise that to do nothing would lead to another Great Depression. We watch them dole out millions of dollars in bonuses to executives whose incompetence and greed led to this economic crisis in the first place. But we can't spend a dime on universal health care.

The Republicans and the Blue Dog Democrats are threatening to water down any possible health care reform. They don't offer an alternative, but are spreading blatant lies and misinformation. For example, conservatives are spreading the "Kill Granny" myth to scare seniors into thinking that health care reform will lead to euthanasia for our elderly. Poppycock!

Why shouldn't everyone in this great country have the same health care coverage as members of Congress? Why do we deserve less?