Friday, April 28, 2006

Michigan's Technology Workforce 10th Largest In Nation

Governor Granholm has been very candid about the need to transform our economy here in Michigan to compensate for the decline in manufacturing that once guaranteed high-paying jobs. Her administration developed the 21st Century Jobs Fund to spark new investment, create high-tech corridors and provide jobs which will diversify our economy. Looking to the future is the right step to take, and it appears Michigan is making inroads in this area according to Michigan Technology News:
Michigan's technology employment ranked as the 10th largest in the United States in 2004, adding some $13 billion in payroll to the state's economy, according to a report just released by Cyberstate.

The majority of those tech jobs fell into two sectors: research and development and testing labs; and engineering services. [...]

High-tech firms employed 49 of every 1,000 private sector workers in 2004, ranked 21st nationwide

High-tech workers earned an average wage of $70,800 (15th ranked), or 75 percent more than Michigan's average private sector wage.
This is encouraging news, but Michigan's turnaround will take time. We've lost 256,000 manufacturing jobs over the last decade and the Bush administration has done virtually nothing to help, except to appoint a manufacturing czar the Detroit News calls invisible.

Michigan's lawmakers are unhappy with {Czar} Albert Frink who earns $143,000 a year and has been at only one meeting with Bush. Rep. John Dingell (D) called his office "about as useful as side pockets on a cow," and Rep. Mike Rogers (R) said, "That job came in like a lion and has lingered around like a mouse in the landscape of Washington...(The Bush administration) talks a great game, but they are moving in inches and we are losing in miles."

To show how apathetic Frink is about Michigan's plight, he's only met a few of the state's House members, and has never met Michigan's top political figures: Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Sens. Carl Levin (D) and Debbie Stabenow (D).
Asked what he has to say to Michigan companies and workers still facing rocky times in the next few years, he said, "I think you have a government and an administration that cares. I do believe Michigan folks will find a way to overcome the competitive difficulties they are dealing with. As some jobs are lost, new ones are created."
On that point, Frink is almost right. Michigan's governor and legislator's care, and we will find a way to overcome the difficulties - no thanks to the Bush administration.

Prewar Intelligence

This is the best assessment I've seen yet of the Bush administration's prewar intelligence.

[Sometimes you just have to laugh to keep from crying.]

Thursday, April 27, 2006

You Gotta Pity George Bush

At the end of my post, The Worst President in History, some of you scoffed because I said I almost feel sorry for Bush. Well, guess what? Trey Ellis at The Huffington Post has the same sentiment, It's Official: I Now Pity George Bush, and he gives a compelling argument on why you should pity Bush too.
Before you start firing off rude, biting comments hoping to make me cry, just put yourself in his shoes for a minute. He's broken the United States of America. He was given the most powerful nation the world has ever known and driven it right into the ground. I mean, how would you feel?

Especially if you came from a high-achieving family. Like most guys he tried to follow in the footsteps of his dad. But what if your dad was a decorated WW II fighter pilot, college baseball star, Ambassador to the U.N., C.I.A. Director and President of the United-States? You might not even try to amount to anything for, say, the first forty-seven-years of your life.

But you watch your little brother Jeb get the good grades and the praise from the 'rents. You can't just sit back and watch him rise and rise without making one last stab at success. Like two kids playing Risk, you divide up the nation. You run for governor in Texas, little Jeb takes Florida.

This time you're the one who wins. Jeb has to try again.

Now everything's changed. You're on your way to showing that hardass dad of yours that he was wrong about you all these years. And by the way, he might have been a great war hero but he was only a mediocre President. You'll get to the White House and laugh last and so loud they'll hear you all the way back in Midland.

No mediocre Presidency for this son. No. You're swinging for the fence.

And it sort of works for a while. Big ideas and big opportunities. Your advisors assure you that you can play war and cakewalk to a win. Then it goes bad. And worse. The damn war never ends. Poll numbers crater. Nobody's comparing you to Lincoln or Roosevelt. Now they're comparing you to Joseph Hazelwood, captain of the Exxon Valdez.

First veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas calls you the "Worst President in American History." You laugh it off. She's an old crank anyway. Then professor Sean Wilentz writes a cover story for Rolling Stone calling you, again, the worst President ever. Not only that, but 81% of his fellow history professors have already declared your reign a failure. It's finally starting to sink in that Iraq is officially a defeat, the strongest military in the world dispirited and on its way to breaking, you've run up more debt than a drunken sailor before payday, your seemingly bulletproof political party looks headed back out of favor, Latin America is slipping out of your nation's sphere of influence for the first time in over a century, North Korea has acquired The Bomb. All on your watch.

What does he say to his mom and dad when they come over for dinner? Oops?

I can't help feeling sorry for him. I'm a Democrat. I always root for the underdog.
So do I, but I never imagined in my wildest dreams that George Bush would become an underdog. Some lucky shrink is going to make a fortune off of him someday.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Good News About Michigan

Finally, some good news about the economy in Michigan despite the gloom and doom picture DeVos and the Republican's spin.
"Michigan is not in a tailspin. Its economy is flat, but it is not in a tailspin," Comerica Bank chief economist Dana Johnson said at a recent economic conference sponsored by the United Way of Southeast Michigan.

The state's current unemployment rate, at 6.8 percent, is one of the highest in the country. But the jobless rate is down from 7 percent a year ago. And Michigan gained 9,000 payroll jobs in March, the first such increase since December.

"Our unemployment rate has been fairly constant at a time when GM and Ford have lost 20 percent of their market share," said former state economic development chief Doug Rothwell at a recent economic conference at the University of Michigan.

"We've created jobs in new industries such as biotech and alternative energy, things that weren't even on our radar screen five or 10 years ago," said Rothwell, who now heads Detroit Renaissance, an economic revitalization organization.

And personal income in the state is rising, albeit slowly, even while some 300,000 workers have lost their jobs over the past five years.

Personal income in the state rose 3.28 percent between the fourth quarter of 2004 and the fourth quarter of 2005. Incomes nationally rose 4.72 percent, according to a report by the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures. Who would have thought that personal income in Michigan would have risen at all during this turmoil?
This doesn't mean people aren't feeling pain. Income may be rising, but it's not keeping up with inflation; however, that's true across the nation. The article also points out that "Michigan's economy was in far worse shape in the early 1980s when a severe national recession and plunging auto sales sent the state into a near economic depression."

The DeVos campaign has also been running a series of ads showing "For Sale" signs in front of homes with the implication that Michigan is losing population because of Gov. Granholm's policies, yet USA Today reported this week that Michigan is pulling itself out of a slump.
But fresh county population estimates from the Census Bureau show modest turnarounds in several other parts of the state. Sixty of Michigan's 83 counties have grown this decade, and 19 had population gains of at least 5%. [Emphasis mine.]

"It's an industrial state in significant transition," says Keith Schneider, deputy director of the Michigan Land Use Institute.

Michigan is moving away from manufacturing and tapping its intellectual base around universities and medical centers.
The largest gains have been concentrated in three regions (west, southeast and northwest) while Detroit continues to lose population, but this is not an anomaly.
In recent years, the big city populations in the Rust Belt are decreasing. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Detroit, Flint, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Akron, Toledo, Syracuse, Youngstown, Milwaukee and many more are some of the fastest-shrinking big cities in the US, despite attempts to revitalize their downtown areas.
In fact, these are the six top-ranked states suffering migration losses: New York, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Ohio.

One interesting side note about Michigan's growing economy in the Grand Rapids area. DeVos is running TV ads with this bold claim: Dick DeVos turned Grand Rapids around.

Talk about revisionist history. This caused quite a stir in that area since people recalled it was Richard DeVos, Sr. and Amway cofounder Van Andel who bankrolled several projects - not Dick DeVos. In fact, this is how DeVos Sr. responded to the ad:
DeVos said his son used his relationship with himself and Van Andel to persuade them to make significant contributions to the arena and convention center.

"If Dick wouldn't have been there, we wouldn't have given that kind of money."

As for the claim on the campaign site that "Dick turned Grand Rapids around," DeVos [Sr.] chuckled and called that "a little political license." [Emphasis mine.]
Where I come from, "a little political license" is the same thing as a lie, so don't believe everything you see or hear from the GOP or DeVos campaign. Although it's true Michigan has been struggling for sometime now and people are feeling pain, so are other rust belt states, and they've all struggled because of worldwide free trade agreements, outsourcing, high energy prices and national policies that go back decades.

Michigan's citizens persevered to form unions and bring decent wages to millions of families in the past and we will persevere again.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A Third Term for Clinton?

[Hat tip: Acerbic Politics]

Bush's Unpopularity Deepens

First, the good news:
In just the 18 months since his reelection, the map has gone from 31 red states to just four: Utah (55%), Wyoming (54%), Idaho (53%), and Nebraska (51%), which collectively comprise "barely two percent of the 296.5 million people in the United States based on a July 2005 Census Bureau estimate."
Now, the bad news:
[John Dean predicts...]

If anyone doubts that Bush, Cheney, Rove and their confidants are planning an "October Surprise" to prevent the Republicans from losing control of Congress, then he or she has not been observing this presidency very closely.

What will that surprise be? It's the most closely held secret of the Administration.

How risky will it be? Bush is a whatever-it-takes risk-taker, the consequences be damned.
[Hat tip: AlterNet]

Monday, April 24, 2006

A Barrage of Lies

Inveracity, falsehood, mendacity, perjury, truthlessness, untruthfulness, cock-and-bull story, fib, prevarication, fish story, tall tale or whopper. Call it whatever you want, but a lie is a lie, which leads me to share this question via Howard Zinn at AlterNet: "Now that most Americans no longer believe in the war, now that they no longer trust Bush and his Administration, now that the evidence of deception has become overwhelming (so overwhelming that even the major media, always late, have begun to register indignation), we might ask: How come so many people were so easily fooled?"

Zinn gives us two reasons:
One is in the dimension of time, that is, an absence of historical perspective. The other is in the dimension of space, that is, an inability to think outside the boundaries of nationalism. We are penned in by the arrogant idea that this country is the center of the universe, exceptionally virtuous, admirable, superior.
Zinn isn't talking about the history we learn in school - a history subservient to our political leaders - he's talking about history which is honest about the reasons we've gone to war in the past, honest about the ethnic cleansing of American Indians driven from their land, honest about what he calls the biggest lie:
"In the history of secrets, withheld from the American people, this is the biggest secret: that there are classes with different interests in this country. To ignore that -- not to know that the history of our country is a history of slaveowner against slave, landlord against tenant, corporation against worker, rich against poor -- is to render us helpless before all the lesser lies told to us by people in power.
Our leaders have also convinced many of us that we are morally superior to the world. Those of us who do ask questions or challenge them are labeled unpatriotic or un-American, but what is the idea of our moral superiority based on?
Surely not on our behavior toward people in other parts of the world. Is it based on how well people in the United States live? The World Health Organization in 2000 ranked countries in terms of overall health performance, and the United States was thirty-seventh on the list, though it spends more per capita for health care than any other nation. One of five children in this, the richest country in the world, is born in poverty. There are more than 40 countries that have better records on infant mortality. Cuba does better. And there is a sure sign of sickness in society when we lead the world in the number of people in prison -- more than two million.
Why is it important to be honest with ourselves, ask questions, and challenge leadership? Because...
A more honest estimate of ourselves as a nation would prepare us all for the next barrage of lies that will accompany the next proposal to inflict our power on some other part of the world. It might also inspire us to create a different history for ourselves, by taking our country away from the liars and killers who govern it, and by rejecting nationalist arrogance, so that we can join the rest of the human race in the common cause of peace and justice.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Ahmadinejad and Bush = Armageddon?

The religious similarities between George Bush and President Ahmadinejad of Iran alarm me, and lead me to believe nuclear war is impossible to avoid as long as they remain in power. Their goal? Armageddon.

Bush speaks of his "higher father", and he and the religious right are outspoken in their contempt of Islam and their desire to hurry the "Second Coming" along. Now, compare Bush and the religious right to President Ahmadinejad, and the similarities are striking.
[Via Telegraph Group] But listen carefully to the utterances of Mr Ahmadinejad - recently described by President George W Bush as an "odd man" - and there is another dimension, a religious messianism that, some suspect, is giving the Iranian leader a dangerous sense of divine mission.

In November, the country was startled by a video showing Mr Ahmadinejad telling a cleric that he had felt the hand of God entrancing world leaders as he delivered a speech to the UN General Assembly last September. [...]

The most remarkable aspect of Mr Ahmadinejad's piety is his devotion to the Hidden Imam, the Messiah-like figure of Shia Islam, and the president's belief that his government must prepare the country for his return. [...]

All streams of Islam believe in a divine saviour, known as the Mahdi, who will appear at the End of Days. A common rumour - denied by the government but widely believed - is that Mr Ahmadinejad and his cabinet have signed a "contract" pledging themselves to work for the return of the Mahdi and sent it to Jamkaran.

Iran's dominant "Twelver" sect believes this will be Mohammed ibn Hasan, regarded as the 12th Imam, or righteous descendant of the Prophet Mohammad.

He is said to have gone into "occlusion" in the ninth century, at the age of five. His return will be preceded by cosmic chaos, war and bloodshed. After a cataclysmic confrontation with evil and darkness, the Mahdi will lead the world to an era of universal peace.

This is similar to the Christian vision of the Apocalypse. Indeed, the Hidden Imam is expected to return in the company of Jesus.

Mr Ahmadinejad appears to believe that these events are close at hand and that ordinary mortals can influence the divine timetable. [...]

The main rift is no longer between "reformists" and "hardliners", but between the clerical establishment and Mr Ahmadinejad's brand of revolutionary populism and superstition.

Its most remarkable manifestation came with Mr Ahmadinejad's international debut, his speech to the United Nations.

World leaders had expected a conciliatory proposal to defuse the nuclear crisis after Teheran had restarted another part of its nuclear programme in August.

Instead, they heard the president speak in apocalyptic terms of Iran struggling against an evil West that sought to promote "state terrorism", impose "the logic of the dark ages" and divide the world into "light and dark countries". [Emphasis mine.]

The speech ended with the messianic appeal to God to "hasten the emergence of your last repository, the Promised One, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace". [...]
God, help us all. I'm not a theologian, but from what I've learned over the years I've spent in church, Jesus will come like a thief in the night, unannounced and unexpected. (Matthew 24:42-44) That's what makes these men so dangerous - they're trying to manipulate God for their own purposes.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Worst President in History

Midwestern Progressive thinks George Bush is detached from reality to think that he and Scott McClellan would one day be sitting in their rocking chairs in Texas talking about "the good old days."

I'd say Midwestern called that one right based on this article in Rolling Stone:
George W. Bush's presidency appears headed for colossal historical disgrace. Barring a cataclysmic event on the order of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, after which the public might rally around the White House once again, there seems to be little the administration can do to avoid being ranked on the lowest tier of U.S. presidents. And that may be the best-case scenario. Many historians are now wondering whether Bush, in fact, will be remembered as the very worst president in all of American history. [...]

In early 2004, an informal survey of 415 historians conducted by the nonpartisan History News Network found that eighty-one percent considered the Bush administration a "failure." Among those who called Bush a success, many gave the president high marks only for his ability to mobilize public support and get Congress to go along with what one historian called the administration's "pursuit of disastrous policies." In fact, roughly one in ten of those who called Bush a success was being facetious, rating him only as the best president since Bill Clinton -- a category in which Bush is the only contestant.
The rest of the article is well worth the read. It discusses Bush's failings in key areas: disastrous domestic policies, foreign-policy blunders and military setbacks, executive misconduct, crises of credibility and public trust.

I almost feel sorry for him. The reality for George Bush is that he'll be alone in that rocking chair someday wondering where he went wrong.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Students Draft "Green" School Bill

Via Blognonymous: "What would it take for Americans, on their own initiative to cut 1M barrels of oil from the rate of US consumption...?"

That's a good question, and we're seeing all kinds of solutions from wind turbines, nuclear energy, solar energy, and fuel cells, to reducing the speed limit to 55 MPH or advocating for E85, which some view as the automotive fuel of the future.

Some or all of these ideas will be commonplace someday, but in the meantime we can make a difference in small ways like the students at Hartland High School in Michigan have.
Last fall, [Sarah] Gow and her classmates at Hartland High School drafted the Michigan Green School Bill (HB 5554), to create a program whereby the county or intermediate school district designates schools that engage in certain environmentally friendly activities as "green schools."

The bill lists 20 possible activities, and schools would have to participate in at least half. Generally, these activities include recycling materials, improving energy efficiency and having educational programs on plant and animal habitat. By following the requirements, a school could save at least 5 percent on its energy costs. [Emphasis mine.]

The bill would have no fiscal impact on state or local governments. [...]

Among the recommendations are recycling paper, printer cartridges, cell phones and batteries. The Hartland students also are raising awareness about how turning off unneeded lights and computer monitors, and installing electric outlet covers and window films can reduce energy usage and net environmental and budget savings.

Media teacher Kris Moffett said awareness of the environmental and financial savings go hand in hand in today's economy.

"People are surprised when they realize that a computer monitor left on can burn through $16 of energy a year, or that unplugging the lights in a pop machine can save $100 a year," Moffett said.
It's nice to hear that our public school students care about the environment and oil dependency. Their ideas may not cut 1M barrels of oil a day from US consumption, but we have to start somewhere.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Ex-Alaska Sen. Gravel Runs for President

Ex-Senator Mike Gravel (D) is short on cash, which makes him a definite underdog, but he's thrown his hat in the ring for the presidency. I like the man already simply because he has a novel idea - let Americans vote on policy decisions.
Gravel, a 75-year-old self-described maverick, established himself during two terms in the Senate as a critic of the Vietnam War and government secrecy. His campaign will use those themes and a plan to give voters power to make laws.

"Our three branches of government have become like an unstable chair, a three-legged chair,'' said Gravel, who left the Senate in 1981 after losing the 1980 Democratic primary. "The founders could not have envisioned how much money and special interests would corrupt the political process. Giving us Americans legislative power will put forth the fourth leg of our stool and make it stable.''

He hitched his campaign to an effort that would give all policy decisions to the people through a direct vote, including health care reform, social security investments and declarations of war. [Emphasis mine.]
Imagine that...letting the people vote on the direction of our country and how our money gets spent. This is a concept whose time has come. Gravel is a long shot, but I think his idea deserves some press coverage - and definitely some blog coverage.

Investors Turn Against Bush and the GOP

The bad news continues on and on for the Bush administration. Joshua Holland at Alternet points to a Businessweek article reporting that investors are the latest group turning against the president and his party.
The investor class is souring on George W. Bush and the Republicans. People who call themselves investors (and they aren't all rich) are part of the reason Bush's approval ratings have dropped to an all-time low. [...]

Pollsters say 35% of voters belong to the investor class, a group that helped put Republicans in power but now seems restless. The investor class cuts across income levels and age ranges. It includes union members, soccer moms, and a growing share of Latinos, Asian Americans, and African Americans. [...]

The President, who received the votes of 61% of investors in 2004, now gets favorable job approval ratings from just 43%, according to Zogby International Inc., a nonpartisan polling firm. [...]

That's what Republicans worry about most in 2006. Defections among this group could hugely affect midterm elections.
This poll will excite vote chasing Democrats, but I have to agree with Holland who says this just pisses him off.
[...] I’m hoping for a realignment and want to welcome the investor class into the big tent and all that, but a majority of these people are educated, one presumes, and they countenanced all the crap of the first Bush term and gave him another one so their freakin’ tax cuts wouldn’t expire. They drank the Kool-aid for five years and now after Katrina and the spying and the torture and talk of launching an unprovoked nuclear attack they’re finally getting “nervous”? What was it that pushed you over the edge, the price of gas?

Monday, April 17, 2006

No RV Parking at Local Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart opened stores in Fenton and Grand Blanc, Michigan this year over the objections of residents. Township officials claimed the low prices would help family budgets and were more important than concerns about local merchants being put out of business, etc. It should be noted that both towns have solid middle-class median incomes, and Grand Blanc is home to the PGA Buick Open, so I don't really buy the argument that residents needed Wal-Mart's low prices. However, RV owners of all income levels have come to depend on the retailer, and they'll be shocked to find out Grand Blanc and Fenton have put aesthetics ahead of safety and convenience in their case.
Accustomed to turning Wal-Mart parking lots into asphalt campgrounds for your RV? Don't try it in Fenton or Grand Blanc Township.

While the world's biggest retailer is widely known in recreational vehicle circles for its free accommodations, camping is forbidden at a growing number of Wal-Mart stores - including the ones in Fenton and Grand Blanc Township - because of opposition from local governments.

Grand Blanc Township Clerk Linda Kingston said aesthetics was the reason the township required Wal-Mart to prohibit overnight camping or parking.
Why do RV owners camp overnight at Wal-Mart?
The answer is the same reason often given for shopping there: It's inexpensive and convenient. [...]

RV owners are less likely to damage their expensive rigs when they pull into a large, well-lit parking lot at night than if they try to navigate a narrow site at a dark campground...
The web site did a survey in 1999 that showed a third of respondents had stayed overnight at a Wal-Mart. They generally just pulled in and parked, grabbed some supplies from the store the next morning, and then got back on the road again.

Fenton and Grand Blanc are simply being snobs. Low prices are necessary, but aesthetics are more important than safety and convenience? For their sakes, I hope government officials never find themselves involved in an accident with a 38 foot fifth wheel driven by a tired camper who couldn't find a place to pull over.

NOTE: I have a couple exta bumper stickers like the one above if anybody is interested. (First come, first served.) E-mail me at and I'll drop one in the mail.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A Symbol of Healing and Hope

The Society of Mutual Autopsy has a timely essay on the meaning of the cross:
How is it that Jesus and his cross can be so effortlessly aligned with political and ecclesial imperialism, representing not love but hatred, not mercy but brutality, not life but death? There are regions of the world where many see the cross as an image of so-called “Christian” America, which is not a compliment. Launching wars in the name of God, proclaiming Christian values around the world with smug arrogance while squandering our own resources and neglecting our own citizens, we have become a mockery of all of the values Jesus espoused, tainting the authenticity and integrity of the Christian life. [...]

The cross is displaced when what it signifies is grossly at odds with its message. And considerable blame for this rests upon the Christian community. The church has twisted the symbol of Jesus’ love and compassion for humanity to such an extent that we find ourselves at cross purposes with its message, complicit in its distortion.

In the true cross we find a counter-cultural vision where all the prevailing values of the world are judged and overturned. Strength, power, and victory are now defined by this Jesus who in the eyes of the world was weak and powerless, a victim. Yet, this is the one raised by God, according to the Gospels, the one willing to suffer with humanity in all our pain, alienation, and sorrow.

It is Easter. He is risen. May we as Christians also rise and reclaim the cross, from a symbol of arrogance and oppression to one of healing and hope.

Friday, April 14, 2006

PSU Republicans Catch Heck

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, here's an example of Republican values that probably left a lot of parents unhappy.
College Republicans at Penn State University wanted to enter the debate about the nation's borders by playing a "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Game."

People would be invited to "catch" group members wearing orange shirts symbolizing illegal aliens.
As you might imagine, this caused quite an outcry.
Yesterday, about 150 students and some faculty opposed to the idea rallied in the student union building. And the university itself joined the fray, urging the College Republicans to "re-think their approach as a step toward fostering civility on campus."

Penn State President Graham Spanier labeled the original idea "unproductive and offensive."
The students relented and called the event illegal immigration awareness day, but several students were still puzzled by all the fuss.
Even as groups such as the Black Caucus and Latino Caucus registered passionate objections, others said they viewed the Republicans' plan -- the game included -- as a reasonable way to highlight concern about the nation's porous borders.

"You have to be creative to get students to listen to you," sophomore Chuck Knight wrote in a letter to the editor published recently in the student newspaper, The Daily Collegian. "For that matter, you have to be creative anytime you are trying to raise concern about something."
I think the students showed poor taste and a lack of concern for people's feelings - not exactly the values I would be proud of in my own children - but they do have the right to free speech as the Penn State officials pointed out. Considering there are similar events planned by conservative students on other campuses, including the University of North Texas, this might be the time for them to season their creativity with a dose of civility and consideration.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Blogging Potpourri

I'm linking to several blogs today that I've been remiss in mentioning lately:

ExPat Brian gives us a glimpse of how much easier it is to file income tax in Singapore.
I just did my 2005 taxes. That involved logging on to the government tax site, entering my ID, filling in the amount I made and hitting the Submit button. The entire process took about a minute. Took me longer than that to boot up my pc. Two weeks later... I received my tax bill for last year. As I had already calculated, it was a whopping 2.3%! (chuckle chuckle) Oops, sorry.
Yeah, I'm sorry too, sorry the tax code is so darn complicated (another Bush campaign promise unfulfilled).

If filing your income tax has reduced you to tears, turn to The Impolitic for a few laughs. Libby has a great post with lots of funny bumper stickers. These are my favorites:


Laughter certainly helps relieve our anxiety, but as pissed off Patricia at Morning Martini reminds us, "Thirty five soldiers have been killed this month alone" and she has had "Enough Already".

Along the blogging highway, we all make friends - and enemies. Some friendly commenters have left me remarks and I'd like to share their names with everyone:

Kathleen Callon describes herself as an Independent voter on her blog Rhodian Attic. Where does that name come from? In Kathleen's words, "Rhodian and attic are two forms of rhetoric. Rhodian is defined as "middle of the road," and attic is defined as "plain and simple."'

Steven is a new father and he blogs at Gracious Rants. I love the title of his blog. The world would be so much nicer if we all used a little more graciousness as we ranted on the state of our world.

Michael Bains is from Cleveland, Ohio, which makes him a neighbor to me here in Michigan. He describes himself as a personally evolving organism on his blog Silly Humans. How true that is for all of us. We're never too old to grow or learn.

Finally, I wanted to point to a question Midwestern Progressive asked today:
Does anyone really believe that Bush was unaware that two days before he made his statement ("We have found the weapons of mass destruction.") that a "secret fact-finding mission to Iraq had already concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons?"
Apparently so, as the poll Midwestern linked to indicates. What's the matter with these people? Do they all have "mad cowboy" disease? Sorry, I guess that wasn't very gracious of me.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Outsourcing Fast Food Jobs

All I can say is, this was inevitable:

[Hat tip: The Mayor of Simpleton]
The next time you run through the drive-through window at McDonald's the person taking your order might be a thousand miles away. The fast-food chain is experimenting with using call-centers to take the orders, which will then transmit the orders back to the kitchen.
Fast Company calls it out-of-state-sourcing and reports that for the last year-plus, the Big Mac of fast food has been working with a call center that handles drive-through orders at 40 restaurants around the country. The remote order-takers earn the minimum wage, do not get health benefits and do not wear uniforms.

Not to be left out of the loop, Hardee's and Carl's Jr., CKE Restaurants, plans to deploy a similar system later this year in restaurants in California.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

American Tax Code: Backwards Socialism

Backwards socialism is how Pulitzer Prize-winning tax reporter David Cay Johnston describes our tax code in his book, Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich--And Cheat Everybody Else. According to a recent interview with the author in Mother Jones, Johnston's book "clearly shows that if Americans want a genuinely progressive tax system, one in which people pay what they can afford for the benefit of society, the current setup simply cannot continue."
Mother Jones: You write in your book that we have what amounts to a flat tax in this country - that the rich pay the same percentage of their income in taxes as the poor do. People would be very surprised to hear that. How do you figure?

David Cay Johnston: Politicians like to talk about the income tax when they talk about overtaxing the rich, but the income tax is just one part of the total tax system. There are sales taxes, Medicare taxes, social security taxes, unemployment taxes, gasoline taxes, excise taxes, and when you add up all of those taxes [many of which are quite regressive], and then you look at how they affect the rich and the poor, you essentially end up with a system in which the best off 20 percent of Americans pay one percentage point more of their income than the worst off 20 percent of Americans.
Johnston goes on to describe the myriad ways in which the rich avoid paying taxes through loopholes, shelters and deferrals, and then explains why Congress seems to lack the courage to fight for fairer tax laws.
There are a lot of politicians who want to do this. But they run into this falsehood that has been inculcated into a lot of Americans that a progressive income tax is some kind of lefty scandal. Progressive tax of any kind is the most conservative principle in western civilization. Indeed, it is the very principle upon which democracy began in Athens 2500 years ago: Those that get the greatest economic benefit from living in a civilization should bear the greatest burden of maintaining that civilization. Now that's not to defend the current system we have. It is a complete and indefensible mess, and so there are people who want to fix it. But you can't fix it if everyone sees these things through a lens that's based on a lie.
Taxes are simply the price of civilization according to Johnston.
There is no America without taxes. The question isn't, "Do we want to have taxes?" The question is, "How heavy is the burden, and who bears that burden?"
And corporate America isn't bearing as much of the burden as one might think. "Sixty-one percent of large corporations paid no federal income taxes for the five-year period from 1996 to 2000," according to Johnston. He also maintains that our high taxes are just a result of our success as a nation, and that "wealthy countries have high taxes because wealth requires lots of common goods, from clean water to public education to a justice system."

Johnston believes we need to do more than simply change tax laws, we also need an attitude adjustment:
The important issues are the principles they figured out in [ancient] Athens - that the greater the economic gain that you derive from living in a society, the greater the burden of the taxes you should bear. Because if not for that society you could not become wealthy. We live in a society that is all I, I, I, I. That's the culture of the CEO. I did this, I did that. I should get one-third of all the stock options in this company I lead with 37,000 workers because I got them to work so hard.

But the fact is you didn't do it, 37,000 people did it and you steered the ship. We need to realize in our tax system is that we are a society. This libertarian idea that says, "I'm responsible for everything that happens to me" - no, you aren't. Taxpayers educated you, taxpayers paid for the clean water that kept you from dying when you were a child, society created the peace that allowed your business to thrive. The tax system is how we distribute the burdens of maintaining that society. [Emphasis mine.]

What has happened is very, very wealthy people have looked at the system and decided that they can co-opt it. They figured out that ordinary Americans are so busy working to support themselves or paying attention to Paris Hilton and Jennifer Lopez and baseball that nobody will dig in to see how they made the system work for them. And I don't fault them for that, there is nothing wrong with people advocating for what they want from their government. The problem is when nobody pushes back.
Well said!

Monday, April 10, 2006

CEO Pension Envy

If you haven't filed your income tax yet, get busy; you only have one more week. We owe money again this year, and have ever since our kids got off of what we like to call "the dole." Those extra deductions sure did help reduce our tax liability. We should have had 10 children. Nah...just kidding!

Income tax time usually motivates us to review our retirement investments and consider our future. Are we in decent shape? Yes, but there's always room for improvement, especially since pensions, health insurance, and social security remain vulnerable.

Too bad we weren't born with silver spoons in our mouths. We just have to hope for the best at this point in time and trust that we've made the right decisions. We’re in good company though since most working Americans will never see the kind of retirements many CEO's enjoy:

Henry A. McKinnell of Pfizer, Inc. will collect $6,518,459 annually and Brian L. Roberts of Comcast Corp. will receive $3,600,000, but PepsiCo, Inc. CEO, Steven S. Reinemund, will only look forward to $2,170,870 a year.

Poor man! That's still a decent chunk of change. My hubby and I could live out our years quite comfortably on just one year of his retirement income. Are you listening, Mr. Reinemund? If you feel inclined to share some of your pension, I'd be willing to switch from Coke to Pepsi!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Wal-Mart Determines Port Security

Why are U.S. ports so poorly protected nearly five years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001? Because Wal-Mart puts commercial interests ahead of security according to John Sweeney, President of the AFL-CIO.
The company, through its Washington, D.C., lobbyist, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, has time and again since 9/11 opposed new port and supply-chain security rules that might cut into Wal-Mart's record profits. Its mantra is: "Security requirements should not become a barrier to trade.

In the past few years, Wal-Mart has:

Opposed the introduction of anti-terrorist "smart containers" and electronic seals for cargo containers coming into U.S. ports. The retail industry called them "feel good (security) measures."

Opposed independent and regular inspections of supply-chain security practices around the world.

Opposed tougher rules requiring Wal-Mart to let Customs know what it's shipping in and where it comes from.

Opposed new container-handling fees to pay for improved port security.
It's worth noting that Wal-Mart can't argue the cost of implementing these security safeguards is prohibitive.
One of the United States' top port security experts, retired Coast Guard Cmdr. Stephen Flynn, puts the cost of helping protect our ports at 0.2 percent of the value of cargo in the containers. The cost to Wal-Mart would be about $36 million -- less than one-third of 1 percent of the $11.2 billion profit the company raked in last year, or several million dollars less than CEO Lee Scott's pay over the past two years.
Wal-Mart believes making cargo containers secure should be voluntary. As Sweeney puts it, "The essence of this policy is "trust, but don't verify" and that's just the way Wal-Mart and RILA want to keep it."

Yeah, right. Trust, but don't verify. Nearly two-thirds of all Wal-Mart products come from China, and "the rest comes from 70 other countries, including Pakistan, the Philippines and Indonesia, where there's a dangerous cocktail of workers' rights abuses and lax enforcement, official corruption and active terrorist organizations."
Wal-Mart and its corporate lobbyists have instead invested heavily in the members of Congress with the most sway over ports and supply-chain security issues, as well as the Bush administration and the Republican National Committee.
This leads me to ask a question: Who's running this country - Wal-Mart or Congress?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Who Are Louis Boven and Dick DeVos?

If you said both men are Michigan GOP gubernatorial candidates, then give yourself an A+. You are politically savvier than most Michiganders who recognize the DeVos name, but are completely in the dark when it comes to Louis Boven. That’s possibly because our media continues to act like there is only one person running on the Republican ticket. Today’s Oakland Press stated, “Neither DeVos nor Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm are expected to face opponents in the Aug. 8 primary,” and Wikipedia makes the same claim: "He is running unopposed for the Republican nomination for Governor, after three rivals quit the race within three months of his announcement."

If the media won’t do their job, then I consider it my duty to set the record straight on behalf of Louis Boven who doesn’t have the deep pockets of Dick DeVos.

In case you don’t recognize the name DeVos, let me give you some background. DeVos is the billionaire son of Richard DeVos, cofounder of Amway (renamed Alticor/Quixtar). He has been one of the biggest contributors to the Bush campaign and Republican Party, contributing around $602,000 according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington. [Wall Street Journal, December, 28, 2000] [Update: More recent information reports Dick DeVos and his wife and former state chairman of the Republican Party, Betsy, contributed just under $1.5 million.]

DeVos founded the Restoring American Dream PAC:
”RAD has played an essential role in maintaining Republican control of the House of Representatives in both 1998 and 2000. Dick's commitment to electing men and women of integrity and character is unmatched. I look forward to working closely with RAD in identifying and recruiting conservative candidates for the year 2002." - Congressman Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Majority Whip, U.S. House of Representatives
DeVos is also politically well connected. Business Week and the Associated Press reported in 1999 that Abramoff was “first to sign up” for a meeting with GOP House conservatives hosted by DeVos on the Amway yacht Enterprise. As a reward for his loyalty, Karl Rove called on behalf of President Bush to offer DeVos an ambassadorship:
“Michigan businessman Dick DeVos, a major Republican contributor and driving force behind last year's failed school voucher ballot campaign, has declined to become President Bush's ambassador to the Netherlands. "I am honored and flattered that the president would consider giving me the opportunity to represent our country abroad," said DeVos…"Unfortunately, however, my business commitments do not permit me to serve at this time." - George Weeks, Detroit News, March 4, 2001
One final point worth mentioning is that Dick DeVos has surpassed the $2 million mark for television advertisements in an election year ad blitz that started four months earlier than it did in 2002. Rich Robinson, spokesperson for the Michigan Campaign Finance Network in Lansing, stated: "This amount of campaign spending this early on in the campaign is unprecedented." The election is still seven months away, but pundits are already predicting the DeVos campaign will spend $50 million dollars to help get him elected.

That brings me to Louis Boven. As far as I can tell, only one newspaper reported on his campaign. I can’t say why the larger news sources failed to report this story, but I imagine it’s because they don’t give him much of a chance. Well, I’m tired of money buying elections, so I’m promoting his story:
Whatever else is propelling him, Boven, a 46-year old Holland chiropractor, certainly doesn't have the money, the name recognition or political background that would make him a natural choice to challenge presumed nominee and Amway heir Dick DeVos in the GOP gubernatorial primary.

But that's what he's planning to do. He says he's the grassroots alternative that some Republicans are seeking. He said he has traveled 25,000 miles with his wife, Mary Jo, over the past year talking to Michigan voters, coming away with the feeling that many in the GOP want another choice.

"There are a lot of Republicans that feel like the choice has been handed to them," he said.

"I don't want people to think I'm delusional," he said. "I know what the animal is out there and what the machine is. But I'm counting on the conscience of the people."
Boven is up against a campaign machine that could spend tens of millions of dollars and has the backing of the entire Republican Party structure.

But Boven is undaunted.

"We can't go toe to toe," he said. "But I've been in competition with many things I do. I measure my opposition, figure out their strengths and weaknesses."

DeVos' "most obvious" weakness, Boven said, is his rearing as heir to the Amway fortune.

"It's not his fault -- nothing against the life DeVos has lived -- but it's hard to have lived with that much money to really address the needs of the common laborer, the common businessman," he said.

"A lot of times, when you've been at the top, you tend to dictate what you think the people need instead of understanding the people's needs."

(Source Citation: "Long odds don't deter chiropractor's race against DeVos; Holland Republican 'counting on the conscience of the people' in gubernatorial bid.(State)." The Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, MI) (March 23, 2006): B4. InfoTrac Custom Newspapers. Thomson Gale.)
Boven sounds like the kind of levelheaded person politics has been lacking for some time now. He already has a web site - Boven For Governor - filled with information on his background (where he also gives his opinions on key issues) but the statement that caught my attention and spoke to me was this one:


Boven may be the underdog, and the media may be ignoring him, but he deserves to be heard. Money should not determine elections in Michigan – or our country.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

McCain Insults American Workers

What was John McCain thinking when he made these comments after someone questioned his commitment to unionized labor because he favors guest-worker provisions for immigrants?
McCain responded by saying immigrants were taking jobs nobody else wanted. He offered anybody in the crowd $50 an hour to pick lettuce in Arizona.

Shouts of protest rose from the crowd, with some accepting McCain's job offer.

"I'll take it!" one man shouted.

McCain insisted none of them would do such menial labor for a complete season. "You can't do it, my friends."

Some in the crowd said they didn't appreciate McCain questioning their work ethic.
Is McCain out of touch with reality? How many immigrant workers get paid $50 an hour to pick lettuce or any other crop?

And what an insult to all workers when he insisted that no American would do such menial labor for a complete season. What American workers WILL NOT DO - and SHOULD NOT DO - is work menial, back-breaking jobs for minimum wage or less so corporations can earn higher profits. People can't even put a roof over their head or food on the table with minimum wage.

It sounds to me like McCain has been hanging out with the Washington elite too long.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Executing Moussaoui Will Not Bring Closure

[A contractor working in my area cut the phones lines and left me incommunicado since early Monday morning. I work from home and depend on my DSL line, so not only am I behind in blogging and e-mail, I'll also be playing catch-up with my work for the next several days. Grrr...]

I read everyone's comments on my Moussaoui death penalty post and I'm not surprised by the various opinions, but I am disappointed that the jury found Moussaoui "eligible" for the death penalty. The proceedings now move on to the second stage where jurors will decide whether or not to sentence him to death. I hope they spare his life and give him life in prison. I'm against the death penalty under all circumstances, but particularly so in this case because I believe (like many of you) that Moussaoui is getting what he wants - a chance at martyrdom - and I also feel it reduces us down to his level. We have become a lynch mob looking for someone to kill in order to vent our anger. That anger is a strong emotion, and it probably helped fuel the jury’s decision too, but what will his death accomplish?

The Boston Globe printed some responses from the families of the 9/11 victims that ranged from joy to frustration, much like the rest of America.
Rosemary Dillard of Alexandria, whose husband, Eddie, sat next to a hijacker on the flight that crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, gripped the seat in front of her, smiled, and exhaled. Outside the courthouse, she pumped her fist in front of television cameras and declared that Moussaoui deserves to die.

''I'm shocked they came to this," said Stephanie Holland-Brodney of Wayland, whose mother, Cora Holland, was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11, adding that she thinks the jury found Moussaoui eligible for the death penalty because ''people so badly want to blame somebody for this. . . . [But] this was not the person to pin it on. I think if given the opportunity, he would have killed Americans. But I absolutely do not believe he was part of the plot that day."

Christie Coombs of Abington, whose husband, Jeff, was also killed on Flight 11, said she was frustrated by the verdict because she's convinced Moussaoui was ''an Al Qaeda wannabe" and that jurors are on a runaway train headed for the death penalty. ''Let him rot in jail," said Coombs...

''Killing him is not going to bring any of our loved ones back," said Cindy McGinty of Foxborough, a mother of two boys, whose husband, Michael, was attending a business meeting in one of the World Trade Center towers when he was killed.

But one woman was pleased with the verdict. ''I feel that he needs to have the death penalty," said Katherine Bailey of Lynnfield, whose husband, Garnet ''Ace" Bailey, a hockey scout and former Boston Bruin who was on United Airlines Flight 175 when it crashed into one of the towers. ''I feel he's totally evil and I don't want him in our lives. . . . We need an end to this."
We do need closure, but I seriously doubt executing Moussaoui will accomplish that. Besides, if we claim to be a country that values life, then executing him will only show the hypocrisy behind our words. This is an opportunity for our nation to rise to a higher standard or, as Elizabeth Hayden eloquently stated, "Let us instead distance ourselves from the evil wrapped in their warped behavior. Let us maintain a strand of humanity that will bond us to the value of life. Let us define ourselves as principled people not acting out of fear and hatred, but a people who under the most challenging of circumstances can transcend evil and prevail with reason and justice. Let us strive to have love for one another."

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Does Moussaoui Deserve the Death Penalty?

The jury in the Zacarious Moussaoui trial will resume deliberations on Monday to decide whether he deserves the death penalty or life in prison. Elizabeth Hayden weighs in with her opinion in the Boston Globe, which might surprise you considering that she lost her husband when United flight 175 slammed into the south tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

[Hat tip to Abi at Update America/604]

If anyone is entitled to revenge, it is Elizabeth Hayden. But here is her view of a Moussaoui death sentence:
Does Zacarious Moussaoui deserve the death penalty? Absolutely...Should Moussaoui receive the death penalty? Absolutely not. [...]

It is a human response to be enraged against those who plotted to take the lives of so many innocent victims. To strike back is an instinctual human reaction toward such an outrageous violation against mankind. Yet to impose the death penalty diminishes our own humanity. Do we want to characterize ourselves as a nation committed to pure vengeance with nothing more to be gained? For we surely cannot think that imposing the death penalty will act as a deterrent against other terrorists. Cloaked in the rationalization of carrying forth the will of God, the terrorists let their fear and hatred consume their last ounce of humanity. Let us not follow in their footsteps.

Let us instead distance ourselves from the evil wrapped in their warped behavior. Let us maintain a strand of humanity that will bond us to the value of life. Let us define ourselves as principled people not acting out of fear and hatred, but a people who under the most challenging of circumstances can transcend evil and prevail with reason and justice. Let us strive to have love for one another.
What an amazing person! Elizabeth Hayden endures a personal tragedy of immense proportions, yet she can find it within herself to extend an act of grace and seek a better direction for our country. We should all be moved to act upon her words: "Let us define ourselves as principled people..."