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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Department of followups

Posted by Thomas Nephew on January 25th, 2007

An occasional review of further developments in stuff I’ve written about.

Babel, 12/4/06 — I really liked the movie, so I’m pleased the Academy Awards people nominated it for Best Picture, Best Director, and two Best Supporting Actresses including Rinko Kikuchi, who I misidentified as Yuko Marata though crediting her with a “really memorable performance.” It also got well deserved Oscar nominations for best original screenplay, film editing, and music score.

Appeal for Redress from the War in Iraq, 12/18/06 — The appeal reads: “As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home.” Last week that petition, signed by over a thousand military personnel, was delivered to Capitol Hill. From the LA Times account by Noam Levey:

When the campaign began three months ago, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow dismissed the first signatories as “65 people who are going to be able to get more press than the hundreds of thousands who have come back and said they’re proud of their service.” The 1,000 signatories still represent a tiny fraction of the military personnel who have served in and around Iraq since the 2003 invasion. But according to the group, those who have signed the appeal include about 100 officers. Approximately 70% of the signatories are active-duty military, while the rest are reservists or members of the National Guard, said Madden, who added that the group would not reveal the names of the signatories to protect them.

Employee Free Choice Act, 6/13/05 — This perennial progressive wish list item may have the best prospects in years. The measure allows for union locals to be formed once enough signatures are gathered — rather than via up or down votes notoriously susceptible to management pressure and bullying tactics. You can learn more about “card check” systems via American Rights at Work, and you can send your congressman a message you support this sensible measure via a AFL-CIO Working Families petition: “Some 58 million workers would join a union if they could. But, as Human Rights Watch has documented, employers routinely harass, coerce, intimidate and stall to block workers’ freedom to choose union representation. In fact, every 23 minutes a worker is fired or penalized for supporting a union.” The Senate bill is S. 842, and the House version is H.R. 1696; I’m happy to learn my congressman, Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8), is a co-sponsor.

Security Council votes 12-0-3 for UN troops in Darfur, 8/31/06 — One of the three abstentions was China. Now that nation is signaling a slightly different stance — but still no real pressure. The New York Times is running the headline China’s Leader to Visit Sudan and Seek End to Darfur Conflict, with Howard French reporting that Chinese officials announced President Hu Jintao will visit Sudan in early February and “press for a diplomatic solution to the conflict in that country’s western Darfur region.” However, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said that, “while China intended to use its diplomatic influence to encourage a settlement of the Darfur crisis, it would not press Sudan publicly or threaten it with sanctions.”

Fair Share Health Care: canary in the ERISA coal mine, 12/15/06 — Last Thursday The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld last year’s ruling overturning Maryland’s “Fair Share Health Care” law on the grounds that it conflicted with federal law, specifically the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The Baltimore Sun’s Matthew Dolan et al report:

…A divided three-judge panel ruled that the state’s Fair Share Health Care Act was incompatible with federal rules that promote uniform treatment of employees.

“In short, the Fair Share Act leaves employers no reasonable choices except to change how they structure their employee benefit plans,” Judge Paul V. Niemeyer wrote for the majority, adding that such a constricted choice also violates the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA.

One of the three judges disagreed; Judge M. Blane Michael held that the law was “‘a permissible response to the problem’ of escalating Medicaid costs.” While the article reports that most Maryland legislators don’t want to revisit the legislation, Senate Leader Mike Miller is an important exception:

“We’re going to try to work around what the [court’s] majority said and comply with the law,” Miller said. “But at the same time, we can’t allow 60 percent of Wal-Mart employees’ kids to go without health insurance and use the emergency rooms for care. There has got to be some relief for Maryland and the other states.

Emphasis added. And even though he counsels against appealing the verdict, I also agree with Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee: “First of all, Congress needs to loosen up the ERISA laws.” More on the 4th Circuit’s ruling another time, I hope. For now, I’ll just reprint dissenting Judge Michael’s final words:

Because a covered employer has the option to comply with the Act by paying an assessment — a means that is not connected to an ERISA plan — I would hold that the Act is not preempted.

Yes! Jiminy Christmas, that ought to be the ballgame — at least one judge gets it.

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NOTES: Fair Share court ruling via Steve Fine (“fineline”)
EDIT, 1/25: Judge Michael’s final words and my comment added.

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