Web site of the week: Audiogalaxy

For KRTeens

When Napster finally bit the bullet and filed for bankruptcy last June, teen music lovers scrambled for alternatives to the once-popular music-swapping service. Many have turned to Audiogalaxy.com (http://www.audiogalaxy.com).

Unlike Napster, which ran afoul of the record industry and the law for allowing its users to trade copyright-protected music, Audiogalaxy.com makes an effort to block copyright-protected songs.

The site gives 25 megabytes of free server space to new artists who don’t mind giving away their music for free as they struggle to make a name for themselves. In addition to their tunes, you can read profiles and concert reviews of many of the acts, submitted by Audiogalaxy users.

The site is organized by category, so you can find out about site-recommended artists in genres ranging from rock to hip-hop to electronica.

However, the main reason people visit Audiogalaxy.com is to make use of its extensive search engine. Although many music files are blocked because they violate copyright law, many others sneak through.

If you’re a music fan, you’ll love the selection offered by Audiogalaxy. But hurry! You might want to log on before the record industry finds a way to shut this site down too.
© 2002, McClatchy/Tribune Information Services

Kennedy slams GOP Medicare prescription drug plans

WASHINGTON — Sen. Edward M. Kennedy attacked Republican Medicare prescription drug proposals Tuesday, charging they were not generous enough to meet seniors’ drug needs.

The president’s proposal "doesn’t even pass the laugh test," Kennedy said. As for the House Republican plan unveiled Monday, the Massachusetts Democrat said "it doesn’t work in terms of substance and in terms of the delivery mechanism, it fails."

The remarks were made after a speech in which Kennedy proposed 12 programs intended to further his longtime goal of universal health coverage.

"The only thing worse than not passing a Medicare prescription drug reform would be to pass a phony program that undermines the coverage that already exists," Kennedy said.

Kennedy supports a Senate bill that would cost $500 billion, while the House Republican bill before the Ways and Means Committee would tally $350 billion.

Apart from cost, a major difference between the GOP and Democrat plans is how the drugs would be delivered to Medicare beneficiaries. Republicans would have patients buy coverage from HMOs or private insurance companies, while Democrats would cover the drugs directly as part of the existing Medicare program.

"The benefit package is just going to be structured by the insurance company," Kennedy said of the Republican plan. "It’s not a serious effort."

Republicans and Democrats also differ on deductibles, monthly premiums and coverage limits.

Kennedy’s proposal was dismissed by Christin Tinsworth, a GOP staffer for the House Ways and Means Committee.

"We’ve constructed a generous, reasonable and responsible plan to provide help for seniors with their prescription drug costs," Tinsworth said. "Right now, seniors aren’t getting any help. We’re saying they should get help. We’ve constructed this bill within the $350 billion allocated to us in House budget resolution. (The Democrats) are just kind of doing whatever suits them."

House Democrats have proposed an $800 billion prescription drug plan, which Tinsworth called "a pie-in-the-sky press release proposal."

Kennedy was optimistic that Senate and House Democrats could easily work out the $300 billion that separate their plans.

"The differences between the Democrats in the House and Senate could be worked out in about half an hour or 45 minutes," he said.

During his speech at the National Press Club, Kennedy proposed measures aimed at reducing the number of uninsured Americans. He also proposed requiring any business employing more than 100 people to offer health insurance equal to the coverage that members of Congress and the president receive.

Kennedy also proposed or expressed support for the following measures:

— Expanding eligibility in the Children’s Health Insurance Program to the parents of low-income children.
— Working on mental-health parity legislation.
— Making Medicaid available to non-poor families.
— Requiring medical providers to adopt electronic bill processing.
— Adding funds for diabetes and stroke research.
— Authorizing the FDA to further regulate the sale and advertisement of tobacco products.
— Making it harder for pharmaceutical firms to keep generic competitors off the market.
— Toughening regulations on direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising.
— Creating a federal government index of leading "family health" indicators, including health coverage, child poverty and high school graduation rates.
© 2002, McClatchy/Tribune Information

Democrats assail Bush’s Social Security proposal

WASHINGTON — Warming up what will likely be an oft-heard campaign theme this fall, Senate Democrats on Thursday attacked President Bush’s Social Security reform proposal to allow individuals to invest a part of their payroll taxes in the stock market.

In a letter to President Bush signed by 49 Senate Democrats and independent Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Sen. Jon Corzine of New Jersey charged that Bush’s plan would "substantially reduce the level of guaranteed Social Security benefits."

John Breaux of Louisiana was the only Senate Democrat not signing the letter.

There will be a 9 percent cut in guaranteed benefits by 2012 under the Bush plan and as much as a 45 percent cut by 2075, according to actuarial estimates by the Social Security Administration.

"Privatization is wrong," Daschle said at a news conference on Capitol Hill. "Social Security should be a guarantee, not a gamble."

A call to the White House press office for a reaction was not returned.

The Daschle and Corzine letter also asked the president to demonstrate his opposition to benefit cuts by repudiating the privatization reforms proposed by the Social Security commission he appointed last year.

"We think this is an important issue to be discussed before the election as a part of the agenda that the American people consider when they go to the polls this fall," Corzine said.

"The word ‘security’ in Social Security was intended to guarantee a floor," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. "There were not going to be winners and losers when it comes to Social Security, but when it comes to privatization, there are going to be losers."

Congressional Republicans countered that ignoring the looming Social Security crisis could lead to benefit cuts of 33 percent and payroll taxes of more than 50 percent.

"Senate Democrats continue using Social Security as a political battering ram to hide the fact they have no plan to strengthen Social Security," responded Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr., a Florida Republican.

A Gallup poll released this month showed that 43 percent of Americans think Democrats would do a better job of dealing with Social Security, compared to only 33 percent for the GOP.

However, 55 percent of Americans told National Public Radio pollsters in March that they agreed with allowing individuals to invest a part of their Social Security contributions in the stock market, while 40 percent disagreed.

Senate Democrats are being shortsighted about the risks of the stock market, said Matt Moore, a policy analyst for the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis. While the rate of return from Social Security is only 2 percent, the stock market has averaged a 6.4 percent return over any 35-year period in the last 128 years, he said.

"The attacks they’re making are a distraction from the real issues," Moore said. "In 15 years they’re not going to have enough money to pay the funds. So we need to have an honest and open dialogue. You’ve got to have two sides talking. Only one side has proposed a solution."

When asked about alternatives to Bush’s plan, Levin advocated a bipartisan commission like the one formed in 1982 and headed by current Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan. By contrast, Bush’s commission "was clearly tilted toward those who favor privatization," Levin said.

That Bush selected people who agreed with him should come as no surprise, said Michael Tanner, a Social Security expert at the libertarian Cato Institute, from which three commission members and one staffer were drawn.

Tanner also said that in criticizing the Bush proposal’s cuts, Senate Democrats neglected to include the benefits individuals would be receiving from their individual retirement accounts.

"Under all the reform plans, benefits provided by the federal government are reduced, but you get money from your individual account," Tanner said.

"The Bush administration is trying to create the fiction that Social Security’s broken and needs to be fixed, when in fact the opposite is true," said Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., who was also at the briefing.

"Social Security is in good shape for the next three to four decades, depending on the economy, and it’s only their actions that threaten to break it sooner," he said.

Tanner disagreed, arguing that Social Security benefits are threatened by a $24 trillion unfunded liability over a 75-year actuarial period. He added that there is nothing to prevent Congress from decreasing benefits or increasing taxes to keep the system solvent.

Levin said Social Security is a "huge, significant, critical, fundamental issue," which should be debated, not "delayed until after the campaign, as the president desires."
© 2002, McClatchy/Tribune Information Services