Massachusetts may also require companies to pay for health insurance

The bill requiring Wal-Mart to pay for health care benefits has barely gotten through the Maryland state legislature, when word has come that Massachusetts is considering something broader. The Massachusetts legislation would apply to companies with 50 or more employees.

“We really look at it as a responsibility on the part of employers who don’t provide insurance for these employees that get sick and rely on the free care pool,” said Sen. Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge. “It’s to end the free ride that some employers and some employees have been able to get in the last few years.”

Wal-Mart may have to pay for health care in Maryland

[Updated] Being cheap on health insurance benefits, Wal-Mart has effectively passed the cost of its employee health care onto state governments. A bill which was making its way through the Maryland legislature, and has now passed, would change that, but not by much, requiring “organizations with more than 10,000 employees to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on health benefits — or put the money directly into the state’s health program for the poor.”

“We’re looking for responsible businesses to ante up . . . and provide adequate health care,” said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles), the Finance Committee chairman, as the Senate approved the measure with a majority wide enough to survive an anticipated veto. A similar bill has cleared the House of Delegates, and legislators expect to reconcile their differences easily.

Wal-Mart has responded to a “spate of bad publicity” over the way it treats its workers with a public relations campaign. “Along with tarnishing the folksy image fostered by founder Sam Walton, that sort of publicity could hurt the company’s ability to open new stores and could lead other states to pursue legislation similar to that advancing in Maryland, company officials said.” Wal-Mart was quick to denounce the legislation in Maryland:

Wal-Mart “will have to rethink its future growth in a state that is willing to pass such a bad business bill,” said Nate Hurst, a government relations manager for the company. “This type of legislation, where lawmakers single out one employer, does not create a favorable environment.”

Though it was clear the bill was aimed at Wal-Mart, it does not specifically mention the chain. The bill was strongly backed by a major competitor, Giant Food LLC, and “the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, which represents Giant’s Washington area workers.” Giant has been losing business to Wal-Mart:

Giant Vice President Barry F. Scher said that health care costs now account for 20 percent of Giant’s payroll expenses. By comparison, Wal-Mart spends between 7 and 8 percent, Hurst said.

CIA detentions too secret to be ‘top secret’

The Bush Administration has limited congressional oversight of CIA detentions to briefings for the ranking Republican and Democrat members on each of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. “Some Democratic members of Congress say the restrictions are impeding effective oversight of the secret program, which is run by the Central Intelligence Agency and is believed to involve the detention of about three dozen senior Qaeda leaders at secret sites around the world.”

The CIA apparently fears that if locations of its secret facilities–where torture is likely used–are disclosed, the host governments would force the CIA to shut them down. “Since the detention program was established in 2002, the officials said, the C.I.A. detention effort has been classified as a ‘special access program,’ a category that puts it off limits even to most of those with top secret security clearances. In general, such restrictions have been applied only to covert operations and ongoing espionage investigations, Congressional officials say.”

Iraq policy defeats Bush ally?

In the wake of the shooting of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena by American soldiers, Prime Minister Berlusconi’s party suffered a “stinging defeat” in regional elections. Berlusconi had strongly supported US President George Bush’s policy in Iraq despite substantial domestic opposition. After Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari was killed protecting Sgrena, and was promptly elevated to the status of a national hero, Berlusconi announced he would begin withdrawing Italian forces from Iraq. “The centre-left coalition won 11 of the 13 regions at stake, and Mr Berlusconi’s House of Liberties alliance kept two, its northern strongholds Lombardy and Veneto.”

Cold War back in Nicaragua

This comes from FAIR:

Reviving Cold War Reporting on Nicaragua

April 5, 2005

As the Bush administration carries out what the New York Times (4/5/05) describes as a “concerted effort” to block the return of the left-wing Sandinista party to power in Nicaragua, U.S. media are returning to the kind of distorted reporting on Nicaragua that characterized coverage during Washington’s war against that country in the 1980s. The New York Times’ April 5 article on the administration’s anti-Sandinista campaign provides a prime example of this one-sided and inaccurate media treatment.

The article, by Ginger Thompson, characterized the U.S. attempt to overthrow the Sandinista government as part of “the global struggle against Communism”– though Nicaragua under the Sandinistas had a mixed economy, multiple opposition parties and a very active opposition press, features that were not found in actual Communist countries. She refers to Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista president of Nicaragua, as a “revolutionary strongman,” even though he was elected to the presidency in 1984 with 67 percent of the vote, in balloting that international observers found to be “free, fair and hotly contested” (Extra!, 10-11/87).

Referring to the Sandinista-led government of the 1980s and the U.S.-sponsored Contra rebels as opposing “armies,” Thompson wrote, “The armies fought each other to a standstill, until both sides agreed to elections in 1990, which Mr. Ortega lost.” This summary leaves out the election that Ortega won in 1984, and wrongly suggests that the 1990 elections were held because of Contra pressure, when the Nicaraguan constitution at that time required elections to be held every six years. (That sentence also implies that the Contras directed their fight against the Nicaraguan army, although in fact they chiefly targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure– see Nicaragua: The Price of Intervention, Peter Kornbluh, pp. 39-50.)

Though the article’s focus is on the United States’ opposition to Ortega, Ortega is never quoted; the article says that he “did not accept several requests for an interview.” Despite a reference to “extensive talks with Mr. Ortega’s supporters,” no members of this group are quoted either. (A supporter of a Sandinista rival to Ortega is quoted at the end of the piece, explaining why in his view Ortega is not likely to ever be re-elected.)

The piece does, however, repeatedly quote an anonymous “senior State Department official” who makes unsubstantiated charges about Ortega and the Sandinistas (e.g., “The Sandinista Party that Daniel Ortega represents is not a democratic party,” the Sandinistas are using their influence to “extort the country.”).

New York Times policy supposedly discourages the use of anonymous sources. “We do not grant anonymity to people who use it as cover for a personal or partisan attack,” a February 25, 2004 statement released by the paper declared. “If pejorative opinions are worth reporting and cannot be specifically attributed, they may be paraphrased or described after thorough discussion between writer and editor.” When an anonymous source is attacking an official enemy, it appears, the rules do not apply.

ACTION: Please contact the New York Times and urge them to correct the inaccurate history of Nicaragua contained in this article. Encourage the paper to quote more than one side of a story, even when reporting on people or parties that are seen as enemies by the U.S. State Department.

New York Times
Daniel Okrent, Public Editor
Phone: (212) 556-7652

As always, please remember that your comments have more impact if you maintain a polite tone. Please cc with your correspondence.

Yes, Virginia, there is advertiser influence in news media

Most newsgathering operations have codes of ethics which prohibit advertiser influence. But historically, this has proven, at best, oversimplistic. For example, I would suggest FAIR’s story on a PBS decision, in 1997, not to air a program highlighting discrimination against gays, because it appeared to favor the unions who sponsored the series.

Then, consider a letter from David Bloom, VP of corporate communications for MGM, published in Good Morning Silicon Valley, which reads, in part:

Some of those people/companies are advertisers in the San Jose Mercury News. They need to make a profit, so they can buy ads in the Mercury News, so that you can be paid to write your always funny but distressingly misguided column.

That John Paczkowski was able to publish this letter shows either that the media can resist, or that every once in a while, advertisers toss something along so that the media can appear to resist. If advertiser influence was non-existent, or counterproductive, Bloom surely would have not bothered to toss in this line, but could have made his point in a less bullying fashion. (Paczkowsi called this letter, “the nicest letter calling [him] an idiot that [he’d] ever received.”) But Bloom evidently believed the line would be effective, and wasn’t shy about using it.

Left-wing Academic Bias

So why are there so few conservatives in academia, not just in humanities and social sciences, but in science and engineering? Is it, as some have claimed, that conservatives just don’t make the grade? Well, maybe so.

But Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times, poses another question: Why are there so few liberals in the military? Could it be we’re all a bunch of cowards unwilling to stand up for freedom? Well, maybe so.

But one of Krugman’s answers is self-selection. Another is values.

In its April Fools’ Day issue, Scientific American published a spoof editorial in which it apologized for endorsing the theory of evolution just because it’s “the unifying concept for all of biology and one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time,” saying that “as editors, we had no business being persuaded by mountains of evidence.” And it conceded that it had succumbed “to the easy mistake of thinking that scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists do.”

Krugman points out that Republicans have come to favor revelation over research; they don’t “respect science, or scholarship in general. It shouldn’t be surprising that scholars have returned the favor by losing respect for the Republican Party.”