Wednesday, May 31, 2006

America Fails in Health Care

Amending the Constitution to prohibit flag burning is "important to the heart and soul of the American people," according to Bill Frist and the Republican controlled Senate. Really? That contradicts recent polls that show health care is the number one domestic issue, and the public "thinks that Bush and the GOP are doing an outstandingly bad job in addressing the issue."

The public also believes by two to one (62 percent to 31 percent) that it’s the responsibility of the federal government to “guarantee health care for all.”

One of the solutions often mentioned is national health insurance similar to that in Canada, but our government and their enablers (the MSM) try to scare us into believing that their system is inadequate and inferior. I've lived in SE Michigan most of my life and know many people across the border in Canada who love the health care they receive. People may wait for elective surgery for something non-life threatening like a knee replacement, but they all laugh about the horror stories of people dying while waiting for bypass surgery or other such operations. In fact, they point out that infant mortality rates are lower in Canada compared to the U.S. and life expectancy is longer too. They must be doing something right in Canada. In fact, that's exactly what this latest study shows:

A study by Harvard Medical School researchers in the July, 2006 issue of the American Journal of Public Health finds that U.S. residents are less healthy than Canadians. Moreover, despite spending nearly twice as much per capita for health care, U.S. residents experience more problems getting care and more unmet health needs.

The study analyzes the Joint Canada-U.S. Survey of Health, the first-ever cross national health survey carried out by the two nations’ official statistics agencies. The authors found that U.S. residents were less healthy than Canadians, with higher rates of nearly every serious chronic disease examined in the survey, including diabetes, arthritis, and chronic lung disease. U.S. residents also had more high blood pressure (18% of U.S. residents versus only 14% of Canadians). U.S. rates of obesity and sedentary lifestyle were higher; with 21% of U.S. respondents reporting obesity versus 15% of Canadians. However, U.S. residents were slightly less likely to smoke.

Canadians had better access to most types of medical care (with the single exception of pap smears). Canadians were 7% more likely to have a regular doctor and 19% less likely to have an unmet health need. U.S. respondents were almost twice as likely to go without a needed medicine due to cost (9.9% of U.S. respondents couldn’t afford medicine vs. 5.1% in Canada). After taking into account income, age, sex, race and immigrant status, Canadians were 33% more likely to have a regular doctor and 27% less likely to have an unmet health need. For each of these measures, the average Canadian did about as well as insured U.S. residents.

Race and income disparities, although present in both countries, were larger in the U.S. Non-whites were more likely than whites to have an unmet health need in the U.S. (18.6% vs. 11.1%); while in Canada they were not (10.8% vs. 10.2%). Notably, both white and non-white Canadians had fewer unmet health needs than white U.S. residents. After taking into account income, age, sex, race and immigrant status, poor U.S. residents (making less than $20,000 per year) were 2.6 times less likely to have a regular doctor than the affluent (those making $70,000 or more). In Canada, the poor were only 1.7 times less likely.

In the U.S., cost was the largest barrier to care. More than seven times as many U.S. residents reported going without needed care due to cost as Canadians (7.0% of U.S. respondents vs. 0.8% of Canadians). Uninsured U.S. residents were particularly vulnerable; 30.4% reported having an unmet health need due to cost.

Lead author Dr. Karen Lasser, primary care doctor at Cambridge Health Alliance and Instructor of Medicine at Harvard commented, “Most of what we hear about the Canadian health care system is negative; in particular, the long waiting times for medical procedures. But we found that waiting times affect few patients, only 3.5% of Canadians vs. 0.7% of people in the U.S. No one ever talks about the fact that low-income and minority patients fare better in Canada. Based on our findings, if I had to choose between the two systems for my patients, I would choose the Canadian system hands down.”
Canadian health care may not be perfect, but as one doctor from the University of British Columbia stated: "There are more than 44 million Americans without any health care at all. (Canadians) might complain about wait times but for those 44 million, the wait time is literally forever."

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Patriots and Chicken Hawks

From yesterday's Memorial Day postings, here are two that I thought were worth passing along. Midwestern Progressive thanked our armed forces for their service and sacrifice, but he didn't stop there.
At the same time, I apologize to you on behalf of our citizens, for being asked to serve in some less-than-optimal situations. None of you should have been asked to fight in Iraq without the full support of the Bush administration. Because the administration sent you to fight but failed to provide adequate troops and equipment, I apologize to you. Because the administration asked you to deploy without adequate preparation on their part, for the aftermath of your inevitable victory, I apologize to you. Because the administration continues to ask you to fight, in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, while simultaneously cutting veterans’ benefits here at home, to fund tax cuts for already-wealthy Americans, I apologize to you. Because the administration asks you to continue to fight while chanting the mantra "stay the course" and offering no further help to you, I apologize to you.

The brave men and women of the Armed Forces that came before you managed to win two world wars and protect freedom and democracy in Europe and elsewhere, always without resorting to torture, secret prisons and domestic spying. Because the current administration had abandoned these core American principles and instead has embraced their opposites with such gusto, I apologize to you.

You, our Armed Forces personnel, deserve better than what the current administration has ever delivered to you.
One has to wonder if the lack of support is because so many in the current administration never served.

[From Working Life]

Richard Gephardt: Air National Guard, 1965-71.
Tom Daschle: 1st Lt., Air Force SAC 1969-72.
Al Gore: enlisted Aug. 1969; sent to Vietnam Jan. 1971 as an army journalist in 20th Engineer Brigade.
Daniel Inouye: Army 1943-'47; Medal of Honor, WWII.
John Kerry: Lt., Navy 1966-70; Silver Star, Bronze Star with Combat V Purple Hearts.
Charles Rangel: Staff Sgt., Army 1948-52; Bronze Star, Korea.
Max Cleland: Captain, Army 1965-68; Silver Star & Bronze Star, Vietnam.
Ted Kennedy: Army, 1951-1953.
Tom Harkin: Lt., Navy, 1962-67; Naval Reserve, 1968-74.
Jack Reed: Army Ranger, 1971-1979; Captain, Army Reserve 1979-91.
George McGovern: Silver Star & DFC during WWII.
Bill Clinton: Did not serve. Student deferments. Entered draft but received 311.
Jimmy Carter: Seven years in the Navy.
Walter Mondale: Army 1951-1953
John Glenn: WWII and Korea; six DFCs and Air Medal with 18 Clusters.
Wesley Clark: U.S. Army, 1966-2000, West Point, Vietnam, Purple Heart, Silver Star. Retired 4-star general.
John Conyers: Army 1950-57, Korea

Dennis Hastert: did not serve.
Tom Delay: did not serve.
House Whip Roy Blunt: did not serve.
Bill Frist: did not serve.
Rudy Giuliani: did not serve.
George Pataki: did not serve.
Mitch McConnell: did not serve.
Rick Santorum: did not serve.
Trent Lott: did not serve.
Dick Cheney: did not serve. Several deferments, the last by marriage.
John Ashcroft: did not serve. Seven deferments to teach business.
Jeb Bush: did not serve.
Karl Rove: did not serve.
Saxby Chambliss: did not serve. "Bad knee." The man who attacked Max Cleland's patriotism.
Paul Wolfowitz: did not serve.
Richard Perle: did not serve.
Douglas Feith: did not serve.
Eliot Abrams: did not serve.
Richard Shelby: did not serve.
Jon Kyl: did not serve.
Newt Gingrich: did not serve.
Don Rumsfeld: served in Navy (1954-57) as aviator and flight instructor.
George W. Bush: six-year Nat'l Guard commitment (in four).
Ronald Reagan: due to poor eyesight, served in a non-combat role making movies.
Gerald Ford: Navy, WWII
John McCain: Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross.
Chuck Hagel: two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, Vietnam.

Pundits & Preachers
Sean Hannity: did not serve.
Rush Limbaugh: did not serve (4-F with a 'pilonidal cyst.')
Bill O'Reilly: did not serve.
Michael Savage: did not serve.
George Will: did not serve.
Chris Matthews: did not serve.
Bill Bennett: did not serve.
Pat Buchanan: did not serve.
Bill Kristol: did not serve.

Friday, May 26, 2006

A Way to Protest Government Snoops

Protesting comes in many forms; marching, picketing, striking, sit-ins, etc. Protests can be nonviolent in the manner of Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Jr., and some protests have escalated into rioting, as in the case of the New York Draft Riots.

In the last couple of weeks, John McCain and Condoleezza Rice experienced protest when they were heckled while delivering commencement speeches, and one man, Steve Almond, wrote a letter and quit his job at Boston College in protest of Rice's appearance. Our desire to be heard in order to influence policy is what motivates us.

That leads me to tell you about a new form of protest I heard about from Rory Shock. He calls it the "Million Moon mASS Action," which is a passive, nonviolent way of expressing our displeasure with the NSA, CIA and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. The NGA provides military intelligence and watches Americans from space. They deny spying on individuals, but I have to go along with Rory's opinion on that one: "don't frickin' believe them."

Anyway, to protest global surveillance, Rory came up with this protest:
mooning has a long and fine tradition as a way of showing defiance, disrespect, and a sense of humor in the face, literally sometimes, of frickin' adversity, absurdity, and assininnity. So let us light up the earth with mirth and buttocks. the next full moon is June 11, @ 1803 Universal Time, according to the u.s. naval gaze-uh-tory. rory calls on naked apes everywhere to moon the sky on june 11. concerted local action is encouraged.
"Light up the earth with mirth and buttocks." What a wonderful form of protest. The voyeurs in the sky should love it.

You can count me in Rory. In fact, since this is a holiday weekend, I think I'll pop my new Dixie Chicks and Neil Young CDs into my old boombox and listen to some protest music while I work on my tan! (Gotta look good for the government snoops.)

Now, if only I could get DirecTV to capture the moment and beam it back to me, life would be perfect.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What's Up With Those Anti-Union Ads?

Is corporate America worried that workers might start fighting back against the outsourcing and downsizing that's reduced the middle-class to a former shadow of itself? Or could it be they're worried that millions of illegal immigrants might turn to unionization once they earn their amnesty? How else to explain the anti-union ad campaign airing across Michigan and the country as part of a $5 million campaign by the Center for Union Facts, a Washington, D.C. based group that conveniently refuses to disclose its financial backers. According to the WSJ:
Union Facts is headed by Richard Berman, a former lobbyist for the food, alcohol and tobacco industries who runs several other advocacy groups, including the Center for Consumer Freedom and the Employment Policies Institute. He also is general counsel of the American Beverage Institute. Through those groups, Mr. Berman has helped design several similar advocacy-ad campaigns, including efforts critical of animal-rights activists and Greenpeace.

To fund the antiunion campaign, including the newspaper ads and one radio spot, Union Facts raised $3 million from companies, foundations and individuals that Mr. Berman won't identify.
You might remember lobbyist Berman from some of his pearls of wisdom [h/t Jalopnik]:
“Tuna is safe for pregnant women, claims of mercury in fish are ludicrous.”

…”insuring low-wage workers against catastrophic disability will cause the loss of nine million jobs across the country.”

“Big Macs are a part of a balanced and healthy diet.”

“Congress … is seriously considering passage of a new law that would require employers to ignore AIDS infections among cooks and servers.” [Source: Sourcewatch]
As Jalopnik points out, "With this anti-union TV-spot, the coming Labor-Management War of 2007-2011 may have just found its Archduke Ferdinand," although Berman and Union Facts claim the point of the campaign is to inform the public about abuses by some unions.
At the root of the campaign is the 30-second TV ad that the group spent $150,000 to run earlier this month. The ad shows actors playing union workers and saying sarcastically what they love about being in unions. For instance, a grocery-store clerk says, "You know what I love? Paying union dues just so I can keep my job."

The campaign's print ads are less subtle. One shows a chained gate with a "Closed" sign and reads "The New Union Label. Brought to you by union 'leaders' who helped bankrupt steel, auto and airline companies."
Hmm... Berman is worried about union abuses? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! He should focus his efforts on his friends in big business first and help them get their own house in order. Surely he hasn't forgotten some of their sins?
Take Dennis Kozlowski, former CEO of Tyco... Or Andrew Fastow, former Enron CFO... Take former Global Crossing chairman Gary Winnick... Or John Rigas, founder of Adelphia Communications...

Five companies — Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, Qwest and Global Crossing — ... destroyed a combined $460 billion in shareholder value while moving inexorably toward bankruptcy...
Unions may not be perfect, but because of them millions of Americans have decent paying jobs with healthcare and retirement benefits. In a perfect world, corporations would do the right thing and provide adequately for their employees, but this is 21st Century America where the average CEO now takes home a paycheck 431 times that of their average worker.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Is It Time for an Intervention?

What would you do in this situation described by Jack Lessenberry at Metro Times?
Let's say you have a brother who just can't manage money or pay his bills. He's in debt up to his eyeballs. His kids aren't getting adequate medical care or education because of his spending.

Five years ago, he did have money, but blew it all, and more, on a wasteful and destructive foreign adventure that made your family a lot of enemies. Last week, however, he topped that.

He arranged to borrow a whole lot, most of it, presumably, from the Chinese. But he didn't use it to pay his bills; he gave most of it to a bunch of millionaires who didn't need it, to curry favor with them.

So you tell me: Is it time that we stepped in and did an intervention, or whatever it's called, before our family is ruined forever?
In case you didn't guess, Lessenberry is talking about George Bush and his fiscal mismanagement of our country. Intervention is definitely needed and long overdue, but the problem is it may be too late.
Here are some more horrid facts. The damage to the budget and our economy caused by Bush's latest tax cuts won't kick in till after he leaves office. But they will hit at a particularly vulnerable time.

That's because the baby boomers will be starting to retire, in an enormous avalanche that will increase for years and put immense financial strains on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and on other money needed because of the collapse of many private pension systems.

There won't be nearly enough money coming in, partly because of the many tax cuts for the wealthy, partly because there just won't be enough new workers. For clues as to what that might mean for your family, you might want to rent the movie Cinderella Man.

The folks in that movie, which is really more about the Great Depression than boxing, got in the shape they were in because of a government that pursued economic policies of the sort George Bush and his gang have been vigorously pushing.
It might be too late for an intervention, but it's not too late to divorce ourselves from Bush's dysfunctional family in Washington.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Distribution of Wealth in the U.S.

From the EPI, here are some statistics to ponder from recently published Federal Reserve data on the distribution of wealth. [All emphasis added.]
America's 112 million families had combined wealth of $50.3 trillion in 2004. When those families are ranked by the size of their wealth, however, the top 1% alone held $16.8 trillion in wealth, more than a third of the United States' total wealth and more than the $16.8 trillion held by 90% of U.S. families. The top 1% had average wealth of $15 million per family in contrast to the $22,800 average wealth of the least wealthy 50% of families or the $313,500 in wealth for families ranked between 50% and 90%. [...]

An examination of other types of assets reveals why cutting taxes on capital gains, dividends, and inheritances favor such a small share of the population. Those three forms of income and wealth are largely associated with three kinds of assets: stock in publicly traded companies, ownership of closely held businesses, and nonresidential real estate. The top 1% of families owned 37% of all stocks, 62% of all closely held businesses, and 47% of nonresidential real estate. Percentages for the bottom 90% were 21%, 10%, and 24%, respectively.

When it comes to the three types of assets most affected by taxes on capital gains, dividends, and estates—the very cuts being debated in Congress—the top 1% had 2.8 times as much wealth as the bottom 90%—$10.9 versus $3.9 trillion. The average combined value of those three kinds of assets was about $10 million for each family in the top 1%, but less than $40,000 for the bottom 90% of families. The average family in the top 1% has about 250 times as much to gain from tax cuts on those assets as a family in the bottom 90%. Enactment of such skewed tax cuts will further exacerbate the already sizable wealth gap.
"We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics." - FDR.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Voters Are The Real Deciders

Voters are the real deciders - not Bush and not our lawmakers. Last year I told you about Pennsylvania's legislators who voted themselves hefty pay raises at 2:00 in the morning - without any public discussion or hearings - and then convened for the summer. The citizens were outraged and indignant, and their public outcry led to a repeal of the raises, but the voters didn't stop there. Tuesday they went to polls and voted a large number of the incumbents out - including the Senate's top two Republicans.
Pennsylvania lawmakers didn't get exactly what they deserved Tuesday -- that would have required too much tar and too many feathers -- but voters did the next best thing. They threw the rascals out, at least most of the ones responsible for last summer's 11 to 54 percent pay raise for themselves, judges and other state officials.

The most prominent heads that rolled in Tuesday's primary election belonged to two of the Senate's top Republican leaders. President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, of Altoona, and Majority Leader David Brightbill, of Lebanon County, became the first state legislators in 42 years to lose a primary election while holding major leadership positions.
A total of 14 incumbents were defeated and six other races were still too close to call, but the voters let themselves be heard. One local paper explained the results this way:
They finally fought back against a corrupt system that has long been playing them for fools. They've watched for years as lawmakers lined their pockets and padded their pensions without contributing much to the public good. This year, the electorate finally had enough.
Politicians across the country must be a little nervous today, especially the GOP. Pennsylvania voters could be just the tip of the iceberg come November.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Starbucks: Success Is Best When Shared

"Success is best when it's shared." That's a personal quote from Howard Schultz, Chairman of Starbucks Coffee Company. Schultz is a graduate of Northern Michigan University and he spoke this week to the Detroit Economics Club on how to build a company that makes profits without sacrificing corporate responsibility.

I'm not very familiar with the company, but according to the Detroit Free Press, "Starbucks employees who work at least 20 hours a week receive full health care benefits and stock options of 14% of base pay." Health care is one of America's most critical issues according to Schultz. Here is some of what he had to say in Detroit this week:
[Schultz] criticized major American corporations that are not paying their part of the nation's health care costs and Congress for doing nothing about the problem. He noted that nearly 50 million Americans are uninsured.

"We have companies that are very profitable and have high stock prices but who either do not make health insurance available for their employees or, if they do, the premiums are too high for most people to afford them. Or companies keep the hours down so the employees can't qualify," Schultz said. [...]

Schultz, who grew up in a Brooklyn, N.Y. housing projects, said his father was injured at work and was left without a job or health care insurance and unable to support his family. The experience when Schultz was 7 years old shaped his sense of corporate responsibility.

"I wanted to build a company my father never got a chance to work for."
I'm impressed with Schultz who believes "Success has to be based on building an emotional connection with the consumer." I don't frequent coffeeshops that often, but issues like affordable health insurance for employees and corporate responsibility sway my decisions on where I shop. Schultz connected with me emotionally. The next time I'm faced with the decision about where to stop for coffee, I'm spending my $4 dollars on a cup of Café Estima Blend® - a versatile blend of Fair Trade Certified coffees - and I'll raise my cup in a toast to Starbucks.

[h/t Absolute Michigan for pointing me to the story.]

Monday, May 15, 2006

Add This to Your E-Mail

This is a great post from The Impolitic:
Quote of the day thanks to a forum mate at the Danbury News Times on-line forum. Rev. Jim Bridges will be adding this as his sig line on future emails.
NOTICE: Due to Presidential Executive Orders, the National Security Agency may have read this email without warning, warrant, or notice. They may do this without any judicial or legislative oversight. You have no recourse nor protection save to call for the impeachment of the current President.
He graciously offers free use of the meme for anyone who would like to adopt it as their own.
Spread it around with your friends and enemies. I already added it to my signature line. Right, NSA snoops?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Republicans Fail American Families Again

It's official, the House and Senate have now passed the $70 billion tax bill that gives thousands to the wealthy. The majority of us will only realize a $20-110 dollar savings.

I hope the Bush administration didn't expect us to say thank you. That measly amount won't begin to make a dent in most household budgets according to an article in today's Washington Post (all emphasis added):
The debt of the typical American family earning about $45,000 a year rose 33.1 percent from 2001 to 2004, after adjusting for inflation, according to a study based on data compiled from the Federal Reserve Board's most recent Survey of Consumer Finances. [...]

Real wages, after adjusting for inflation, have been flat since 2001, according to the study, while the cost of big-ticket items for which families pay the most rose. In the past five years, the costs of medical care, housing, food, cars and household operations rose 11.2 percent, the study said. [...]

Housing debt has climbed notably because home prices have risen and people have borrowed against the equity in their homes. From 1989 to 2004, for example, the median mortgage debt more than doubled, from $46,900 to $96,000.

Education debt, meanwhile, rose 127 percent between 1992 and 2004, from $3,427 to $7,800. Health-care costs rose, too, because insurance has become more costly and employers are shifting more of the expense to workers.
What do the experts suggest people do to help their situation?
[...]families that can no longer realistically afford their single-family houses should move to condominiums, consider limiting their families to a single automobile, get second jobs to pay off debt, or move to less expensive school districts that may not have the highest test scores but where children perform acceptably well.
Those are all sound suggestions to help people handle their debt, but why should the lower and middle-classes get second jobs and trade down their homes while the rich get thousands of dollars in tax breaks?

As the article pointed out, "The average American family is walking a high wire and hoping there won't be a high wind." Apparently our legislators don't care. Our Republican Congress is to the American Dream what Katrina was to New Orleans, and we know how that turned out.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Wealthy Get More Help From the GOP

The Impolitic weighs in on the impending tax cuts:
That new tax breaks for the wealthy will be passed on Capitol Hill is a given. They have already cleared Congress and the Senate is poised to quickly follow. It's not surprising given that most of our legislators are in the top ten percent of income earners. These breaks will undeniably benefit them.
These breaks are also pay back to all the wealthy people who donated huge sums of money to the Republican Party and expect a return on their investment. How much more of a return do they need? They've been getting breaks right along. Take GOP gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos for example, the Michigan Democratic Party presented evidence showing that he has a long history of influencing government tax policy in order to save him, his company Amway (Quixtar) and his family hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Throughout his career, Dick DeVos has used his and his family’s political influence to enrich Amway and himself at expense of average working families,” said [Democratic Party Chair] Brewer. “In 1997 DeVos got a $300 million dollar federal tax break on Amway’s China investments. In 1998 he lobbied for the elimination of the federal estate tax, which would save the Amway heirs $1.3 billion. And now he is trying to again save Amway and himself millions of dollars by eliminating the SBT. Add it up – nearly $2 billion in tax cuts for Dick DeVos and Amway.” [Emphasis added.]

Single Business Tax Repeal:
DeVos is campaigning for the repeal of the Single Business Tax (SBT) which would result in the loss of nearly $2 billion in state revenue. The SBT’s elimination would cost Michigan families an additional $800 a year or force cuts in public education, health care and public safety. DeVos has also said he said he doesn’t have a plan for replacing the revenue. DeVos is advocating for the SBT’s elimination because it will benefit Amway and him financially. [Emphasis added.]

Estate Tax Repeal
A new Public Citizen report details how Amway, Dick DeVos, his family and the Van Andel family are part of a group that have financed and coordinated a 10-year effort to repeal the federal estate tax, a move that would save DeVos and Van Andel heirs $1.3 billion. The report reveals that Amway first lobbied on the estate tax under Dick DeVos’ [Amway] Presidency in 1998 and has lobbied every year since.

Tax Break on China Investments:
Common Cause reported that a tax loophole was inserted into the 1997 federal tax and budget bill which primarily benefited Amway and its Asian investments, to the tune of nearly $300 million. Amway’s tax giveaway occurred while Dick DeVos was President of the company and after Amway and the DeVos family had given millions of dollars in soft money to various Republican groups during the 1990’s. The $300 million tax loophole for Amway came just before DeVos cut 1,400 Michigan jobs, invested hundreds of millions of dollars in China and created tens of thousands of jobs in China. [Emphasis added.]
Nearly $2 billion in tax cuts just for Dick DeVos and Amway. What about the millions of middle-class families facing stagnant wages, inflation, and the lack of health insurance? What about the 37 million people living in poverty in our country? What about our horrifying infant mortality rate?

Americans are tired of all the tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy. As an editorial in the NYT points out:
After five years of duplicitous fiscal policy, Americans are catching on. And Republicans who see tax cuts as an automatic vote-getter may be in for a rude shock. Some two-thirds of Americans now say that the president's priorities, which clearly include ever more tax cuts, do not reflect their own.
History, like God, is watching what we do. - Bono [Sermon to the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast]

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Top Ten Things to Know About DeVos

I was googling the internet and came across an article about Dick DeVos on the Political Affairs website, which is a publication of the Communist Party. I hesitated to post this because of the emotional response "Communist" elicits in people; however, the magazine states they write stories from a working man's point of view and, more importantly, the article is well-researched and backed up with sources from major newspapers and organizations. So, I decided the information was worth sharing with Michigan voters who are capable of forming their own opinions and doing their own research about things they read.
DeVos' real record shows that he has absolutely nothing in common with Michigan's working families and poor people. ... Here are ten things you need to know about Rich "Dick" DeVos.

1. DeVos has financial and personal ties to Tom DeLay and the Republican culture of corruption. DeVos and his political action committee (PAC), Restoring the American Dream, exchanged thousands of dollars with DeLay and his PACs in 1999 and 2000. ... DeLay held his first Republican Majority Issues Committee fundraiser on DeVos' private yacht in 1999, an event also attended by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. DeVos also donated $5,000 to DeLay's legal defense fund last year. (sources: Federal Election Commission, Washington Post)

2. DeVos believes in cutting jobs. As head of Amway, Dick DeVos laid off nearly 1,400 people in Michigan between 1998 and 2000. Three years later, DeVos' company announced plans to increase investments by more than $200 million in its manufacturing and distribution facilities overseas. (Detroit Free Press, Grand Rapids Business Journal).

3. DeVos gets richer while Michigan workers suffer. DeVos supports "free trade" agreements like NAFTA. He has used his personal wealth to support publicity campaigns and lobbying efforts to convince the public and members of Congress that "free trade" agreements are good for workers. As of July 2005, NAFTA had cost Michigan over 63,000 jobs (Economic Policy Institute). DeVos' efforts played a big role in making that happen.

4. DeVos dishonestly fought Michigan's minimum wage increase. At a campaign event last October, DeVos parroted a slew of tired anti-minimum wage myths. "Most minimum wage jobs are part time," he proclaimed. He also said, "[If] you raise it, you end up losing jobs," and added that "a lot [minimum wage workers] are kids coming out of schools." DeVos' misleading comments show that he doesn't understand or care about the people who work at minimum wage jobs. In reality, most minimum-wage workers are people with families who are hurting economically because people like DeVos use their wealth and power to block their chances at a better life. According to the non-partisan Economic Policy Institute (EPI), 54% of the country's minimum wage workers earn more than half of their household's income. About 75% are adults over 20. Almost 800,000 are single mothers, and 1.8 million households in the US would receive a raise if the minimum wage were raised to $7.25 nationally. ...

5. DeVos despises Michigan's public schools. This is no exaggeration. DeVos was the main financial backer and chair of a failed 2000 anti-public school voucher ballot initiative in Michigan that was basically a scheme to cut funding for public education. He is a staunch advocate for privatization and in a 2002 speech to the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation declared, "When the time comes, we will bring the fight back to Michigan again." Furthermore, DeVos, while serving on the State Board of Education (before abruptly quitting after two years of an 8-year term), advocated handing over public education resources to private corporations, thereby undermining Michigan's public schools. He personally financed the Education Freedom Fund, an organization of anti-public school advocates, by lavishing hundreds of thousands of dollars on it in the 1990s. Undoubtedly DeVos' investments in K12 Inc., an educational corporation that provides materials for private schools, would see solid returns if he could successfully undermine Michigan's public schools. [Emphasis added.] (Booth Newspapers, Center for Media and Democracy, AP)

6. DeVos supports the failed Republican ideology of tax cuts for the rich and deregulation. DeVos has personally benefited from deregulation of the energy and education sectors and the weakening of federal trade standards and state and federal environmental laws. Since 1990, successive Republican administrations and Republican-controlled state legislatures have aggressively passed tax cuts and deregulation in Michigan. DeVos and the Republicans insist these policies create jobs and strengthen the economy. Unfortunately, in reality, the result has been disastrous. As a result of such Republican policies, Michigan unemployment remains more than 2 points higher than the national average. Rather than creating jobs, tax cuts for the rich have made rich folk like DeVos wealthier, while forcing Michigan and its cities to make hard choices about the public services people care deeply about and need: schools, health care, roads, environmental conservation and clean-up, public transportation, water service, sanitation services, and on and on. (Detroit News, Center for Media and Democracy, San Francisco Chronicle, Michigan Department of Labor)

7. DeVos thinks large corporations shouldn't have to pay their fair share of Michigan's tax burden. DeVos wants to eliminate Michigan's Single Business Tax to benefit large companies like his own and shift an additional tax burden of $800 per year onto working families.

8. DeVos paid over $4 million for a $300 million corporate tax break. A tax loophole inserted into the 1997 federal budget bill benefited Amway to the tune of nearly $300 million. This tax giveaway was passed after Amway and the DeVos family had given $4.1 million to the Republican Party between 1991 and 1997. [Emphasis added.] (Common Cause)

9. DeVos secretly backs a dishonest campaign to repeal the estate tax. Since 1998, the DeVos family has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to help finance a campaign to repeal the estate tax, an effort led clandestinely by some of the countryÂ’s wealthiest families. They misleadingly claim that this tax affects millions of people, including family farms and small businesses. The truth is that only 1/4 of 1 percent of all estates will be subject to any estate tax this year, and these are owned by the richest families. ... (Public Citizen).

10. DeVos hides the truth about his wealth. So far DeVos is refusing to release his income tax returns. In a patronizing statement earlier this year on Michigan radio station WILX, DeVos said, "I will be disclosing to the people of Michigan that which I think is appropriate to understand."

[...] People have called Michigan's gubernatorial race a bellwether for the 2008 presidential race. Indeed, this is our chance to stop a candidate that poses a grave danger to working people in Michigan. If this race is a sign of things to come on the national political scene, it is also our chance to make a bold statement to the country that the anti-people politics of Republicans like DeVos, DeLay, Bush, and their cronies are now done for.
Michigan has suffered because of Republican policies that favor corporations and the rich at the expense of the poor and middle-class. DeVos is not the answer. He's part of the problem.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Republican Big Deficit Strategy

"An Irresponsible President" is how the WaPo describes Bush and his fiscal recklessness, but Heartland Democrats of America take it a step further and call Republicans "An Irresponsible Party" - by design.
But when you think about it, the fact that it's [deficit] unsustainable seems to be exactly the point, right? No realistic person honestly looks at the current budget situation and says it is sustainable. It has become increasingly clear that America's current economic mess is the consequence of an intentional strategy by right-wing economic conservatives who hate domestic social spending. These folks have hedged their bets that on America's day of fiscal reckoning, not all of their tax cuts for multimillionaires will be rescinded. [...]

The Republican Big Deficit Strategy is thus about forcing massive spending cuts down the throats of the American people, but also realizing they'll never be able to do it at the ballot box. So they sneak it through the back door, putting our nation on a path to fiscal ruin they hope will only ultimately be able to be avoided with massive cuts in government investments in our people and the safety net for our weakest citizens. [...]

The ultimate point is that the Washington Post had it wrong; it's not just Bush. This isn't just an irresponsible President; it's an irresponsible party, and the only way to give our nation a fighting chance in its battle with fiscal recklessness is to throw the whole lot of the current gang out.
I agree that we need to vote them out, but there also needs to be more accountability for such criminal financial management. A good starting point would be to strip them of their pensions and health insurance, and then sentence them to several years of community service working in soup kitchens, homeless shelters, etc.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Republicans Insult Middle Class Again

First they insulted us with their $100 gas rebate scheme, now Republican Congressional leaders have come up with a tax bill that will save most of us $20-110 dollars a year according to David Cay Johnston:
The tax cut bill that Senate and House leaders have generally agreed upon is expected to save Americans at the center of the income distribution an average of $20 each, according to estimates by the Tax Policy Center, a nonprofit research organization in Washington.

The top tenth of 1 percent, whose average income is $5.3 million, would save an average of $82,415. Those in the top group would see their tax bill cut 4.8 percent, while Americans at the center of the income distribution — the middle fifth of taxpayers, who will earn an average of $36,000 this year — could expect a 0.4 percent reduction in their tax bill, or about $20.

Those who make less than $75,000 — which includes about 75 percent of all taxpayers — would save, at most, $110 each. Those making more than $1 million would save, on average, almost $42,000.
Once again the Republicans throw us a few crumbs while icing a cake for their millionaire friends.

Cheap Medical Advice

I've finally found a diagnosis for what's been ailing me lately. I've suffering from outrage fatigue.
...Outrage fatigue has yet to be recognized, or even noted, by the American Psychological Association. That could change as it begins to turn up in therapists’ caseloads. Jon Carroll reports in the San Francisco Chronicle, “A therapist I know says that more and more people are showing up at her door with a nonspecific anxiety disorder, which turns out to be shame and confusion about the state of the nation.” [Emphasis mine.]
So, what's the cure? Therapists say if we don't express ourselves then our outrage turns in on ourselves.
That can have bad effects according to Ease@Work, a company that advises businesses on how to treat employees. “Repressed anger is unexpressed anger. Some people can internalize anger so that they fool others, and sometimes themselves, into believing they are not angry. The problem with repressed anger is that it is turned back inside the person, leading to health problems such as hypertension, stroke, and heart disease. …”
I'm not about to let Bush and friends ruin my health (mental or physical), so I guess I'll take the advice of therapists: Nurture it. Express it.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

How Did Gas Prices Get So High?

Bella Ciao has a plausible explanation:
The biggest reason pump prices have risen is the surging global price of crude oil, which was caused by the war in Iraq.

One thing that’s never talked about is how much oil the war machine uses. Think about all those tanks, planes, aircraft carriers etc... shipping troops and equipment around the world...
[h/t to Rhodian Attic for the picture and link.]

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Gas Saving Tips

Filling up the family minivan nearly sent me into shock last weekend (and that was before my heating bill arrived). Energy is definitely consuming a huge chunk of the family budget for families across the country, eh? We can't do much about the prices, and alternative fuels are still in the future for most of us, but there are some simple tips we can all follow to help shave pennies off the price.

(All cost savings are based on an assumed fuel price of $2.91/gallon.)
Drive sensibly: Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gas. It can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent around town.

Fuel Economy Benefit: 5-33%
Equivalent Gasoline Savings: $0.15-$0.96/gallon

Observe the speed limit: While each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed (or range of speeds), gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph. As a rule of thumb, you can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.20 per gallon for gas.

Fuel Economy Benefit: 7-23%
Equivalent Gasoline Savings: $0.20-$0.67/gallon

Remove excess weight: Avoid keeping unnecessary items in your vehicle, especially heavy ones. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your MPG by up to 2%. The reduction is based on the percentage of extra weight relative to the vehicle's weight and affects smaller vehicles more than larger ones.

Fuel Economy Benefit: 1-2%/100 lbs
Equivalent Gasoline Savings: $0.03-$0.06/gallon
The articles I've read stressed that driving slower is the best way to conserve gas.
Most modern vehicles deliver their best fuel economy in the 50-to 60-mph range. We're talking 3 to 5 miles per gallon better mileage than the same vehicle delivers at 75-plus mph.
If your vehicle has a 20 gallon tank, you could drive 60-100 miles further if you reduced your speed. That's a significant savings. Just be careful with any money you save though. If you spend it on fast food and gain weight, your savings will go right out the door.

Update: Kvatch @ Blognonymous left some other good tips to help you conserve gas in the comment section. Check them out and feel free to leave a few of your own.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

How Do Alternative Fuels Stack Up?

High gas prices are here for at least 2-3 more years according to the Bush administration, and all of a sudden people are starting to look seriously at alternative fuels. Is one better than the other? Which ones are earth friendly? Popular Mechanics crunched the numbers on actual costs and performance of each major alternative fuel and rated their outlook. As they point out, "Before we can debate national energy policy--or even decide which petroleum substitutes might make sense for our personal vehicles--we need to know how these things stack up in the real world."

The article is rather long (8 pages), so I won't go into each alternative fuel at length. You can check it out yourself, but here are some of the highlights:
Ethanol/E85: Outlook: Hopeful--to a point. According to the Renewable Fuels Association, 95 ethanol refineries produced more than 4.3 billion gal. of ethanol in 2005. An additional 40 new or expanded refineries slated to come on line in the next 18 months will increase that to 6.3 billion gal. That sounds like a lot--and it is--but it represents just over 3 percent of our annual consumption of more than 200 billion gal. of gasoline and diesel.

One acre of corn can produce 300 gal. of ethanol per growing season. So, in order to replace that 200 billion gal. of petroleum products, American farmers would need to dedicate 675 million acres, or 71 percent of the nation's 938 million acres of farmland, to growing feedstock. Clearly, ethanol alone won't kick our fossil fuel dependence--unless we want to replace our oil imports with food imports.

Methanol/M85: Outlook: Cloudy. The EPA's Landfill Methane Outreach Program is tasked with reducing methane emissions from landfills, and much of this methane is used to produce energy. As of December 2004, there were more than 325 operational landfill-gas energy projects in the States and more than 600 landfills deemed to be good candidates for projects. But the quantities involved are small. Methane also can be produced by processing biomass such as grass clippings, sawdust and other cellulosic sources.

Based on these important differences between ethanol and methanol--not to mention the power of the farm lobby--methanol has receded into ethanol's shadow as a gasoline replacement. The last M85 FFV in the States was sold in 1999. However, methanol may still have a future as a fuel. Nearly every major electronics manufacturer plans to release portable electronics powered by methanol fuel cells within the next two years.

Compressed Natural Gas: Outlook: Limited. Even though 85 percent of our natural gas is produced domestically, and there's already a distribution network in place, CNG faces a limited future as a gasoline or diesel replacement. For one thing, like petroleum, it is nonrenewable. More critically, perhaps, there's already a great demand for natural gas--and CNG requires major retooling of both cars and fuel-station infrastructure.

Biodiesel (Vegetable oils, rendered chicken fat and used fry oil.) Outlook: Good. Biodiesel has a viable future as a major fuel for transportation. According to the National Biodiesel Board, production of biodiesel in 2004 was about 25 million gal., tripling to more than 75 million gal. in 2005. The trend is solidly upward, thanks to government incentives, the growing number of new diesel vehicles for sale and a grass-roots groundswell of support.

Electricity: Outlook: Mixed. While interest in plug-in hybrids grows, the long-term future of pure electrics depends on breakthroughs in longer-lasting, cheaper batteries and drastically lower production costs for the vehicles themselves. And then there's the environmental cost. Only 2.3 percent of the nation's electricity comes from renewable resources; about half is generated in coal-burning plants.

Hydrogen: Outlook: Good--someday. The world's carmakers are deeply engaged in hydrogen fuel cell research. Some carmakers continue to work on hydrogen-fueled, internal-combustion engines. But, the stumbling block is finding a cost- and energy-effective way to produce hydrogen.
Popular Mechanics came to the conclusion that one size fits all is not the answer when it comes to replacing our dependency on oil.
[...]we believe that many households might have an electric or plug-in hybrid for short trips, an E85/electric hybrid sedan, SUV or minivan to squire the whole team, and a diesel pickup fueled by B30 or B50 to haul most anything else. All will reduce greenhouse gases and use renewable resources that come from inside our borders. By pursuing these multiple pathways, we can reduce our dependence on any single energy source--something we haven't achieved with petroleum.
Families without the resources to own multiple vehicles won't find this solution comforting. Our energy future may hold promise in the long-run, but for the short-term it will be anything but simple or painless.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Time Management Issues

Life has been pretty hectic the last few days and I have no one to blame but myself. I played around all weekend and enjoyed the spring weather a little too long. Now I'm playing catch up. I guess that makes me an idiot, at least according to this test. The good news is that I'm not annoying, but you are!

[h/t The Nasty Page]

I am 12% Idiot.
Friggin Genius
I am not annoying at all. In fact most people come to me for advice. Of course they annoy the hell out of me. But what can I do? I am smarter than most people.