Friday, December 28, 2007

Canada post-NAFTA: An era of economic insecurity

Americans aren't the only ones unhappy with NAFTA. A new study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reaches a similar conclusion: Free trade has failed to live up to its promises.
Twenty years after Canada signed the Free Trade Agreement its biggest boosters have grown wealthier but promises of better jobs and rising living standards fell short, says a study released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The Canada-US Free Trade Agreement was signed on January 2, 1988. The study examines what’s happened since: It takes a sample of 41 Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) member companies – the leading supporter of free trade – and finds they shrank their workforce by 19.6% while their revenues grew by 127%.

“Its promoters said free trade would create more and better jobs but that promise was clearly hollow,” says the study’s author, CCPA Executive Director Bruce Campbell. “There are fewer jobs today in the traded goods sector than there was before free trade.”

“And contrary to the CCCE promise of better public services and social programs under free trade, governments slashed programs by 26% -- more than six times deeper than the OECD average – largely at the urging of lobby groups like the CCCE.”

Among the study’s key findings, between 1987 and 2006:

  • The 41 companies’ combined revenue grew from $142 billion to $310 billion while they shrank their combined workforce by over 118,000.

  • The Big Three automakers shrank their Canadian workforce by over 50%--from 87,626 to 43,000. Their revenue grew by 70%, from $38.9 billion to $67.3 billion.

  • Despite the massive Alberta oil boom, the three major oil companies in the sample cut their combined workforce by almost one-third, from 22,500 to 15,428. Their revenues soared from $13.7 billion to $53.4 billion--a 290% rise.

  • Corporate profits are at a 40-year high, but Canadian workers’ wage share of the economy has fallen steadily.

  • Only the richest 5% of income earners saw rapid growth in their inflation-adjusted incomes from 1992-2004.
  • [all emphasis added]
    Shrinking workforces, corporate profits at record highs, falling wages and rising inequality. Canada's experience under NAFTA pretty much mirrors our own. Free trade did create some new jobs over the past 20 years, but about one third of them were in the services sector at lower average wages than those lost. Sound familiar?

    Wednesday, December 26, 2007

    Poverty threatens our domestic tranquillity

    The LA Times is running a series of editorials on the values and issues they feel will shape the 2008 election, i.e. the environment, liberty and justice, etc. Today, they focused on our country's domestic tranquillity, which they believe is being tested by new challenges, chief among them persistent poverty and the fraying of our connective infrastructure. It's pretty good stuff, especially the part about poverty. Here's an excerpt:
    If tranquillity is best assured by "a more equal distribution" of the nation's wealth, we have much to fear. Our schools are faltering; our healthcare system leaves millions without access to doctors. Many are homeless or face the loss of homes. Some seethe at illegal immigrants who compete with Americans for jobs. In our America, 60 million people survive on $7 a day.

    As we contemplate the coming election, we seek a president who understands that the unchecked spread of poverty is not a natural condition but rather a failure of government, and that action is required. Democrat John Edwards has been the most ardent anti-poverty crusader in the campaign; his ideas include strengthening labor laws, stimulating job creation and distributing housing vouchers for poor families that could be used anywhere, not just in government housing. The latter proposal alone would vastly expand shelter for those in need. The rest of the Democratic field offers little in the way of ingenuity, opting instead for the obvious observation that money spent in Iraq could better help America's poor.

    On the Republican side, lack of specificity is matched by conspicuous indifference. When the GOP candidates were invited to debate poverty at Morgan State University in September, not one of the then-front-runners attended; present were Mike Huckabee, Duncan Hunter, Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul and Alan Keyes. Now a leading contender, Huckabee frames fighting poverty as a "pro-life" position; more constructively, he also addresses issues such as prison reform. Other Republicans have done meaningful anti-poverty work -- John McCain in housing and Mitt Romney in healthcare.

    Although these candidates present ideas that might contribute at the margins, none goes far enough. Here are some ideas we'd like to hear them discuss:

  • President Bush came to office on a promise of "compassionate conservatism," but in housing, as in so many other areas, he's proved far more conservative than compassionate. His administration has sought, for instance, to cut Section 8 housing vouchers by 850,000; his successor should not only replenish the voucher program but add to it. There is no poverty worse than homelessness.

  • The next president should support and pay for early childhood programs such as Head Start; he or she also should endorse tax breaks for college students and their parents. Low-income students would benefit if community college tuition, in particular, were tax-deductible. And here's a proposal we would welcome: federal assistance for states educating the majority of the nation's illegal immigrants. Education can lift a poor person into prosperity; the government owes its people this chance to raise themselves.

  • Free trade is an engine of growth and jobs and thus opportunity. Yet open markets bring dislocation, and for the worker whose plant moves to Mexico, it is cold comfort that jobs are being created abroad. For Democrats especially, this last issue is a trying one. President Clinton was a champion of free trade and a supporter of NAFTA -- this page supported it then and still does. Today's candidates, however, are less enthusiastic. Edwards blames the pact for sending 1 million jobs abroad. Sen. Barack Obama calls for it to be "renegotiated." Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton says it should be "fixed." Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich veers into absurdity by proposing to scrap NAFTA and withdraw from the World Trade Organization.

  • Our goal should not be to abandon free trade but rather to make it work -- for the economy and also for the poor.
    These are good ideas that I'd like to hear discussed too, but will it change anything? The candidates will say whatever they think will get them votes. Bush is a prime example of that. People really believed he would be "compassionate." I guess the best we can do is vote our conscience and hope the next president really does care about poverty and inequality. That pretty much rules out all Republicans.

    Sunday, December 23, 2007

    Merry Christmas

    You may believe Jesus is "the reason for the season" or you may believe in Santa Claus. Whatever you believe is fine with me. I don't want to fight. I don't want a "war on Christmas." In fact, what I do want is peace on earth, but that looks impossible for the immediate future, so I'll simply wish everyone a Christmas day filled with love, peace of mind and goodwill.

    I also wanted to share a couple pictures of my granddaughter Gracie with you because I think children exemplify the unconditional love of Jesus - and in my opinion, that love is the true spirit of Christmas.

    I hope she brings a smile to your face and lightens your spirits like she does mine.

    Merry Christmas and God bless.

    Friday, December 21, 2007

    The Party of Nyet

    That title was inspired by Kevin Drum to describe the Republicans. I like it, and it certainly fits considering the obstructionists have set a record. These are the details from Campaign for America's Future [emphasis added]:
    The Republican Senate minority today filibustered an omnibus budget bill, setting a modern-day record for blocking the most legislation during a congressional session. A new report released today by the Campaign for America's Future details the 62 times conservatives have used the filibuster to block legislation (or force modification of bills) in the first session of the 110th Congress. In just the first year of this two-year Congress, their use of the filibuster in the Senate topped the previous record, reached during the entire 107th Congress.

    The new report outlines every bill filibustered, vetoed or threatened to be vetoed by President Bush. Conservatives filibustered bills to end the occupation of Iraq, provide soldiers in Iraq rest time equal to their deployments, support renewable energy and grant residents of the District of Columbia representation in Congress. Today's record-breaker involved a $516 billion budget package passed by the House to fund the federal government in 2008. The conservative minority demanded $20 billion additional funding for the war and opposed House language to bring troops home, and threatened a filibuster to prevent the bill from getting an up or down vote.

    "In just one session, a minority in Congress has prevented a mind-blowing 62 pieces of legislation from going to the floor for an up or down vote," said Campaign for America's Future co-director Roger Hickey. "Our report shows how over and over again, the uncompromising minority has thwarted the will of majorities in Congress and of the American people, holding the Senate floor hostage to a radical right-wing agenda."
    And to think this is the same party that's been running around for decades crowing about their values. They're nothing but a bunch of immature bullies:
    Eric Lotke, Campaign for America's Future research director and lead author of the new report, calls the obstruction a "deliberate strategy." He observes that the congressional Republicans block legislation, then blame the Democrats for getting nothing done. "It's like mugging the postman and then complaining that the mail isn't delivered on time."
    Deliberate obstruction. They must be so proud. Yet, for all their efforts, they've actually failed. It turns out that 2007 Democrats have been more successful than Newt Gingrich's 1995 Republicans, although I'd really call it a Pyrrhic victory since our biggest problems are still hanging over our heads.

    Wednesday, December 19, 2007

    Edwards' rhetoric appeals to working people

    There are reports that John Edwards is closing the gap in Iowa despite the fact the Des Moines Register went with Clinton. In case you haven't heard, this is what they said:
    "Edwards was our pick for the 2004 nomination," the editors wrote. "But this is a different race, with different candidates. We too seldom saw the positive, optimistic campaign we found appealing in 2004. His harsh anti-corporate rhetoric would make it difficult to work with the business community to forge change."
    Harsh anti-corporate rhetoric? Spoken like a true corporate-owned (Gannett) newspaper.

    Edwards is finally starting to draw larger crowds as the primary nears because he's talking about the concerns of working people. That rattles corporate America because, as Jonathan Tasini puts it, these folks don't understand what many Americans understand:
    We don't need a candidate--or, for that matter, a president--who believes that their job is to get along with business, or that the way to turn things around in America is to have a pleasant conversation with business. This has been the chain around our collective necks for lo these many decades. We need a president who, first and foremost, understands the interests of working people and, then, asks the question: how can business serve those interests?

    We need a president who understands what it means to have trade that benefits people, not corporations.

    We need a president who understands that the greed of the health care industry is literally killing people.

    We need a president who understands what it means to support unions.
    Whatever the outcome in Iowa, as long as working people feel like they're under siege, the anti-corporate rhetoric won't be going away anytime soon.

    Tuesday, December 18, 2007

    Cause and effect, Republican style

    This is the problem: Republicans agree debt is U.S. security threat

    This is one of the main causes (h/t Zfacts):
    "The US budget for Iraq in FY 2006 comes to $3,749/Iraqi. This is more than double their per person GDP. It's like spending $91,000 per person in the US."
    This is their solution: GOP contenders say cut federal spending

    Among their suggestions:
    'Let the programs go that don't work. Don't lobby for them forever," said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

    Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani called for across-the-board cuts of up to 15 percent, including reduced federal spending on health care. "Rather than relying on a nanny government, let's rely on people to decide their own health care."

    Former Sen. Fred Thompson..."We've got to spend more for the military as a matter of fact, but we've got to look at Social Security and Medicare and do some things that won't hurt anybody badly.
    So let's see...after burning through the surplus Bush inherited from Clinton, slashing taxes for the rich multiple times, and spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq to search for non-existent WMDs, the Republican candidates are telling us we have to reign in spending and cut domestic programs.

    I have a better idea and it won't hurt too badly - vote for anyone but a Republican.

    Thursday, December 13, 2007

    U.S. awakens to "soft power"

    Led by the military, war-weary US awakens to 'soft power'
    After six hard years of war, the United States is awakening to the idea that "soft power" is a better way to regain influence and clout in a world bubbling with instability.

    And nowhere is the change in thinking more advanced than in the US military, which is pushing for greater diplomacy, economic aid, civic action and civilian capabilities to prevent new wars and win the peace in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Hmm...I seem to recall diplomacy being recommend before we went into Iraq, before we lost all these lives, before we squandered all this money, and before Bush ruined our reputation and standing in the world.

    At least the military isn't waiting on the Bush administration to change their thinking, which the article describes as a "a mixed bag."
    The military wants civilian agencies to do more to prevent wars, but is not waiting for them to get their act together, analysts say.

    Instead, it has stepped up thinking and planning for what it calls "phase zero," military jargon for conflict prevention.

    "I think they've come to the conclusion that insurgencies are really hard to fight. And so it would be better if they could not have the conflict in the first place," said Robert Perito, an expert at the US Institute of Peace.

    "In conflict prevention, of course, there is very little military component to that. It's mostly all political and economic.
    Americans will be dealing with the ramifications of the Iraq war for decades to come. Maybe conflict prevention will be the one good thing that comes out of all of this.

    Wednesday, December 12, 2007

    Blackwater's plans for New Year's Eve

    Blackwater sure is intent on putting themselves out there as equals to our military. Yesterday, we learned about their paratroopers parachuting onto the field during halftime at the SDSU "Fleet Week" game and today there's more news. Go read my post over at BFM: Blackwater at New Year's Eve Armed Forces Bowl

    But before you go, check out this YouTube video of a Blackwater parachutist landing on the field at the Fleet Week SDSU game (around the 2:45 mark). He's holding the American flag and his parachute is emblazoned with the Blackwater logo. Eisenhower must be rolling over in his grave.

    Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    Blackwater Mercenaries Honored as Veterans

    San Diego recently honored mercenaries from Blackwater USA during their Fleet Week activities. Outrageous. They don't deserve this type of recognition.

    Read my post, Our Soldiers and Blackwater Mercenaries are Not Peers, over at Blogging for Michigan and then give me your opinion.

    Monday, December 10, 2007

    A dream the president should have

    My online friend Larry left me a copy of a poem by Colleen Redman that I thought was worth sharing. (Thanks, Larry!) I tracked down the author's blog, Loose Leaf Notes, and found the poem. It's called a Dream for President Bush. Redman wrote the poem prior to the invasion of Iraq and its been passed around at peace marches in Washington.
    I want President Bush to have a dream
    like the one that Ebenezer Scrooge had
    I want him to be visited by the ghosts of Iraqi children
    who cry out, "But mankind was your business"

    I want all the Tiny Tims of the world
    to get their 401k money back
    from the white collar criminals who stole it

    I want them to not go to war for oil,
    good ratings, or weapon sale quotas
    because this white collar mafia is in power

    I wish President Bush would have an affair
    I wish he'd take off his black pointed cowboy boots
    and look at the moon more often

    And then I wish he'd wake up
    and be inflicted with what Jim Carey had
    in the movie "Liar Liar"

    I wish all the billboards across the country read:
    "Give back the votes your brother stole"
    and the poets would shout from every street corner,
    "The emperor wears no clothes"

    I want his mouth washed out with soap
    every time he says "weapons of mass destruction"
    and for him to wear a Darth Vader helmet
    if he ever says "the axis of evil" again

    I hope President Bush looks out his White House window
    when we descend on Washington marching for peace
    like hordes of starlings who know their way home
    because it is in their nature

    I want President Bush to have a dream
    like the one that Martin Luther King had
    I want him to be visited by the ghosts of King,
    John Lennon, Paul Wellstone, and the Kennedys

    I want the New York Times to cover the story
    when his mother scolds him for being a bully
    I hope he gets some Gi Joes for Christmas
    and starts to play with real toys
    and not with real people

    Click over to read the rest of it and leave her a comment.

    Thursday, December 06, 2007

    Can we afford to keep waiting for health care reform?

    Clinton failed to pass health care reform in 1993 in part because the Canadian national health care system was held up as "the" model by progressives, and naturally conservatives trashed it and nothing got done. Well, here we are 14 years later and our health care coverage has eroded and the costs have skyrocketed. How has Canada fared? Better than us according to the EPI:
    As the chart below reveals, the cost gap between the United States and Canada has only widened since 1993, and per capita health care expenditures in the United States are now almost double those in Canada ($6,401 vs. $3,359). Canada's per capita health expenditures rose about 65% from 1993 to 2005, while costs in the United States rose by over 90%.
    Yet infant mortality in the United States is higher and life expectancy at birth is less than in Canada. It is also noteworthy that despite Canada's much lower expenditures on health care, Canadians consult with physicians far more often than do Americans. The average number of physician consultations per capita was 6.0 in Canada, versus 3.8 in the United States.
    I read somewhere that Americans want some kind of national health insurance system, but those of us who have insurance now are afraid to give up what we have. In other words, we're more comfortable dancing with the devil we know versus the one we don't.

    What will it take to get real change? Our inaction is costing us money, jeopardizing people's health, and costing people their lives. We can't afford to let our fear immobilize us any longer.

    Tuesday, December 04, 2007

    America, Inc.

    You can't pick up a paper anymore without reading bad news about our economy, but this headline really got my attention.

    Weak Dollar: Airbus, VW Plants in U.S.?
    A rising euro and high labor costs are leading at least two European manufacturers to consider building new plants in the U.S. [...]

    A recent study by the Center for Automotive Research, completed prior to the recent fall of the dollar, found that autoworkers in Western Europe make almost $10 more per hour than their colleagues in the United States make.
    Wonderful. Jobs are being created in this country because we have cheap labor and our dollar isn't worth much. Neither are our homes:

    Home prices see biggest drop in 25 years.

    Add into that mix the financial crisis and the costs associated with the Iraq war and the picture looks pretty gloomy. It doesn't look like conditions will improve anytime soon. So, who's to blame? Danny Schechter @ AlterNet nails it:
    Its probably truthful but not helpful to say that the mismanagement of our economy is an outgrowth of the very corporatist policies that will haunt this country for decades to come, including costly wars, and obscenely high levels of corruption and the list goes on.

    This crisis, however is a bit different because it has built in intensity for years without much visibility or attention. It speaks to structural problems in an economy built on the quick sand of debt and delusion.

    In order for the economy to function, in order for consumption to continue and profits to keep flowing, people have to believe that everything's all right. They want remedies modeled after Alka Seltzer. Put one tablet in water. It fizzes. You drink and feel better in minutes.

    The truth is that confidence is eroding not because "the masses" hate capitalism but because our brand of unregulated capitalism is increasingly not working for them. They know that because prices keep rising and good paying jobs are harder to find. They know that because crime is going up in many cities, and it's harder to make ends meet.

    And some even know that the very concept of the masses has been replaced by highly stratifies classes built on growing income inequality.
    Greed, Republican corporatism, free market ideology...there's plenty of blame to go around. The American consumer shares part of that blame too. We drank the Kool-Aid. We kept spending. We closed our eyes and ears when good paying jobs were sent out of the country. We voted for politicians who tricked us into believing abortion was the most important issue we faced. Then we voted for them again when they told us terrorism was the most important threat. We were enablers and now we're feeling the pain.

    So, what's the prognosis? We shouldn't expect a full recovery:
    The pessimism, moreover, isn't momentary but reflects voters' worries beyond the current business cycle. Early last month, a sobering consensus emerged from a focus group of a dozen Republican-leaning voters in the Richmond, Va., area, sponsored by the nonpartisan Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The participants unanimously agreed that they didn't think their children's generation would be better off than their own -- breaking with traditional American optimism -- largely due to the debt future taxpayers will inherit.

    "Who's buying our loans?" said former secretary June Beninghove, 67. "Who's going to own us? We are going to give ourselves to another country because of debt."
    And we have reason to believe things will get worse before they get better:
    There is a conflict coming, as this problem turns into an issue. It could lead to an economic civil war. Its won't be just a working class led class war either. Says credit expert Robert Manning:

    "What we've seen with this kind of financialization of the American economy, where the democratic system and so many democratic institutions have been co-opted and literally bought by the financial service industry, is that we're seeing a big backlash from the American people.
    This is what happens when politicians run our country like America, Inc. instead of a Republic. I hope our country can survive the mess they've made.

    Sunday, December 02, 2007

    British government seeks to close Amway

    When DeVos was running for governor last year, supporters threw their weight behind him because they believed he could bring good paying jobs to Michigan like those at Amway, the company his father helped found and DeVos ran for a period of time. I wonder what his supporters think of this news from the London Times:
    John Hutton, the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, seeks to close the company in the “public interest”. [...]

    The Government has claimed that the sales people were persuaded to join Amway on the basis that it provides “easy money” or requires “minimal effort”. It also alleged that the business’s primary aim was to recruit staff rather than sell products.
    Those terms "easy money" and "minimal effort" are actually pretty flattering compared to what was recently said in court by Mark Cunningham, Queen's Counsel. I highlighted the pertinent descriptive terms.
    The British subsidiary of one of the world’s biggest marketing groups was accused yesterday of breaking company law by “selling a dream” of unachievable wealth.

    Amway, which had 39,000 selling agents in Britain during 2005-06, is “inherently objectionable”, operates as a lottery and is trading unlawfully, the Companies Court was told. [...]

    The Government investigation claims to have revealed that just 10 per cent of Amway’s agents in Britain make any profit, with less than one in ten selling a single item of the group’s products. It claims that Amway’s main activity is encouraging other people to join its salesforce so that they pay the registration fee and buy marketing materials.

    Mr Cunningham said that Amway attracted new agents, known as Independent Business Owners (IBOs), by offering “substantial financial rewards or easy money”. He said that promise of wealth was “illusionary” and amounted to “dream selling”.

    The group, which has been operating in Britain since 1973, claims that agents can earn a substantial income from selling its range of dietary supplements, cosmetics, jewellery and water purifiers. They are also offered bonuses for recruiting other agents. However, an investigation by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform showed that only 6 per cent of agents bought Amway products to sell on, the court was told.

    Mr Cunningham said that the vast majority of products offered by Amway to its agents were overpriced even before they were expected to add a further 20 to 25 per cent for retail. “The unattractive pricing explains some the graver vices that are at the centre of the winding-up application,” Mr Cunningham said.

    Agents were encouraged to buy instructions on how to grow their businesses by attracting new agents. The material contained images of success such as luxury cars, boats and foreign holidays.

    Mr Cunningham told the court: “The prospect of substantial rewards and easy money has been at all times, and remains, illusionary.”

    The investigation discovered that 71 per cent of agents made no income from Amway in the year 2005-06 and that 90 per cent had made a loss after paying the £18 fee to renew their registration. In fact, just 101 of the agents shared 75 per cent of the bonuses.

    “The reality of being an IBO is that a substantial majority make minimal financial returns,” Mr Cunningham said. “Our case is founded on the selling of the dream on one hand and the loss or minimal financial return on the other.”

    Mr Cunningham told the court that Amway operates a “pernicious” scheme, which encourages agents to recruit family, friends and colleagues to the group so that they themselves could move up to “that very narrow group that makes any money”.

    He said that the Amway scheme involved targeting the “gullible”, “deluded” and “vulnerable” to join the scheme and accused the group of “dream selling.”
    Those are pretty serious claims, but the Times provided numbers to support the reality behind those "good paying" Amway jobs:
  • 39,000 - agents working for Amway [in Britain]

  • 27,000 - (71%) had no income

  • 11,410 - (30%) earned something

  • 7,492 - (of the 11,410) received average of £13.53 [about $27] per year

  • 101 - agents received 75 per cent of bonuses

  • £116K - paid to top earner Trevor Lowe

  • 26 - number of years Mr Lowe was an agent

  • Of course, the DeVos family made out pretty well - they're worth billions of dollars.

    The case is still ongoing, but if the court rules against Amway, the company will be no longer be allowed to operate in Great Britain. Either way, this case just collaborates what citizens have been saying for sometime now - Amway jobs don't help people achieve the American Dream.

    (Cross posted at BFM.)

    Thursday, November 29, 2007

    Health care: American style

    Drug maker Genentech bumps $40 drug with $2000 version. Here's the scoop:

    Avastin ($40) is one of Genentech’s blockbuster cancer drugs. It treats patients with colon and lung cancer and is being studied worldwide in about 300 clinical trials for more than 20 tumor types. It's also being used by eye doctors across the country to treat neovascular age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is considered an off-label use.

    Avastin is going head-to-head with a drug called Lucentis ($2000) that was approved last year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for AMD. Lucentis is also owned by Genentech.

    Although it’s not stopping the off-label use of Avastin, Genentech recently announced a move that will make it harder for physicians to prescribe the medication. Starting in January, specialized pharmacies will no longer be able to purchase the product from wholesale distributors. This hurts doctors - and patients - since they need the help of specialized compounding pharmacies to break down initial allotments of Avastin into amounts needed for eye injections. This limits doctors to prescribing the more expensive medication, Lucentis.

    Genentech cited safety issues as the reason for halting the sales to compounding pharmacies and they deny their motive is financially driven. Color me skeptical. The company was asked to conduct a study comparing the effectiveness of Lucentis and Avastin in treating AMD, but the company declined since Lucentis has FDA approval and they see no need for spending money on research to certify the other drug for use.

    However, all is not lost for the patients forced to use the more expensive drug. Taxpayers are coming to the rescue. U.S. government funds will be used to compare the effectiveness and safety of the two treatments.

    As this doctor at PNHP said, "Isn’t the marketplace beautiful?"

    And he goes on to astutely note: "If Avastin passes muster, Genentech will surely release it as a product specifically reformulated for retinal use, at a bargain price of $1900 per dose."

    Well of course they will. Putting profits ahead of patients is the American way.

    Wednesday, November 28, 2007

    Bush Mentors Maliki

    It appears Maliki's model of government is a clone of the Bush administration. From TPM Muckraker [all emphasis mine]:
    President Bush might not require Congressional approval for the upcoming U.S.-Iraq security agreement. But [Iraq gov't spokesman] al-Dabbagh said the Maliki government will need to secure a blessing for the deal from the Iraqi parliament. And even though the deal will cover a U.S. military presence for years to come, Dabbagh doesn't expect any parliamentary turbulence -- let alone refusal.

    "[The] U.S. people should have confidence that the Iraqi people are accepting this without any pressure," he said. "It is their choice to have a lasting agreement."
    Huh? It's their choice? Not according to recent polls (also from TPM):
    A September poll conducted by ABC News and the BBC found that 47 percent of Iraqis want the U.S. to leave Iraq immediately, up from 26 percent in November 2005 and 35 percent last winter. Polls in Iraq should be taken with a grain of salt, given the inherent problems of polling under violent conditions. But only seven percent said U.S. troops should "remain until the Iraqi security forces can operate independently, and zero said the U.S. should never leave."
    What the people want apparently doesn't matter (that sounds familiar). Dabbagh doesn't expect the parliament to scotch the agreement. He even hinted that the Maliki government will make sure it doesn't.

    Meanwhile, here at home, a majority of Americans still remain committed to bringing our troops home. Maybe Bush or Maliki could explain to us how "bring the troops home" translates into "never leave Iraq."

    Monday, November 26, 2007

    Jesus: The illegal immigrant

    I read something Libby posted at the Impolitic yesterday that I can't get out of my head: What if Jesus is an illegal immigrant?

    Mainstream Christianity pretty much teaches that Jesus will return in "glory" from a cloud or the sky with trumpets and singing, but Libby asks, "What if He shows up announced?" Or what if He comes back as a hated minority, as Jesus Manuel Cordova?
    PHOENIX - A 9-year-old boy looking for help after his mother crashed their van in the southern Arizona desert was rescued by a man entering the U.S. illegally, who stayed with him until help arrived the next day, an official said. [...]

    The van vaulted into a canyon and landed 300 feet from the road, he said. The woman, from Rimrock, north of Phoenix, survived the impact but was pinned inside, [Sheriff] Estrada said.

    Her son, unhurt but disoriented, crawled out to get help and was found about two hours later by Jesus Manuel Cordova, 26, of Magdalena de Kino in the northern Mexican state of Sonora. Unable to pull the mother out, he comforted the boy while they waited for help.

    The woman died a short time later.

    "He stayed with him, told him that everything was going to be all right," Estrada said.

    As temperatures dropped, he gave him a jacket, built a bonfire and stayed with him until about 8 a.m. Friday, when hunters passed by and called authorities, Estrada said. The boy was flown to University Medical Center in Tucson as a precaution but appeared unhurt. [...]

    "For a 9-year-old it has to be completely traumatic, being out there alone with his mother dead," Estrada said. "Fortunately for the kid, (Cordova) was there. That was his angel."
    Angel indeed. The boy's father died just two months ago and now he loses his mother. I can't begin to imagine the pain and fear he felt alone in the desert, and then along came Cordova to comfort him and stay with him until help arrived. I call that divine intervention.

    I'll let Libby speak for me from this point on:
    Think about that. Jesus was entering the US illegally and had to know he would be arrested. He could have just kept walking. Or he could have built a fire and walked away. He could have fled at any time to avoid facing the authorities but he stayed to comfort and protect a child until help came. Which is more than we can say for the hunters who were presumably legal residents.

    For his humanitarian efforts, he's now in jail awaiting deportation. What a sad commentary on the politics of hate that has so poisoned America, that we would penalize another human being for such a selfless act of kindness. Surely in this case, an exception to the rules could and should be made.
    Amen. We could use more role models like Cordova in this country. He put the needs of that small boy ahead of his own. Imagine that.

    Sunday, November 25, 2007

    Send some Christmas cheer to our troops

    You've probably figured out by now that I'm helping Blogging for Michigan raise money to send care packages to our troops. Our goal is $5000 and we've raised $3400 so far thanks to donations from GM Truck & Bus in Flint, UAW Local 598, Walt Sorg-AM Lansing, Tri-City Local and many, many donations from people around the world. I'm serious. A person from Ireland sent us a donation and said, "In this instance I'm happy that our Euro goes further!"

    We're so close to our goal of spending $350 per unit, but we're not there yet. There are currently 12 units from Michigan stationed in the Middle East with wish lists ranging from ramen noodles to lip gloss. Each unit has multiple troops.

    If you have a couple of extra dollars from your holiday budget that you can spare for the troops, it would be much appreciated. Donations need to be submitted by tomorrow morning. We need to shop this week (Costco - not Sam's or Wal-Mart!), assemble the boxes, and ship them out by the end of the week in order to get them there for the holidays.

    Follow the link below to send some Christmas cheer to our troops - and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    This is a Blogging For Michigan Troop Care post. From November 11 through November 25, 2007, Blogging For Michigan will use 100% of every dollar received in the Troop Care fund to purchase and ship items to Michigan troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Learn more about BFM Troop Care here. Click here to contribute to Troop Care. Contributions are not tax deductible.

    Thursday, November 22, 2007

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Today is about counting our blessings, sitting down to dinner with family and friends, and watching the Lions play the Packers. The experts are giving the game to the Packers, which is fine by me...I love Brett Farve! (Shhh...don't tell my husband!)

    I don't have anything poignant to say today, so I thought I'd share a timely joke a friend sent me.
    A young man named John received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird's mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity.

    John tried and tried to change the bird's attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and anything else he could think of to "clean up" the bird's vocabulary.

    Finally, John was fed up and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. John shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even ruder. In desperation, John threw up his hands, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer.

    For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute.

    Fearing that he'd hurt the parrot, John quickly opened the door to the freezer. The parrot calmly stepped out onto John's outstretched arms and said, "I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I'm sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behavior.

    John was stunned at the change in the bird's attitude.

    He was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behavior, when the bird continued, "May I ask what the turkey did?"

    Tuesday, November 20, 2007

    Wounded Soldiers Asked to Return Signing Bonuses

    Would you believe me if I told you the U.S. military is demanding that thousands of wounded service personnel give back their signing bonuses because they're not able to serve out their commitments? That sounds ludicrous, right? Ludicrous or not, it's happening, as this young soldier from the Pittsburgh area found out:

    Click here to read the rest of the story.

    UPDATE: KDKA News is reporting that the military backed down and Fox won't have to pay back his bonus. Fox had this to say: "Hopefully this will turn into change for not only me but many other soldiers that have lost limbs, you know, become permanently deaf," he said. "I hope to see a change for everybody."

    An Army spokesperson said: "We have seen where the problems have been made, the system, and we're just making - you know, give us the opportunity to make a wrong a right."

    I hope that includes returning any money other soldiers already handed over.

    UPDATE #2: Okay, it always pays to read the fine print with these guys. This is what Brigadier General Michael Tucker said:
    “We’re not sure what happened, but we’re gonna fix it.”
    Troops will not be asked for a refund, and those who’ve already given bonus money back will be reimbursed. But - there's always a "but" with the Bush administration - as TPMuckraker points out:
    Tucker said that army policy "is that soldiers who are wounded in combat or have line of duty investigation injuries... we will not go after a recoupment of any bonuses they receive." Recouping bonuses, he said, "doesn't pass the common sense test."

    But notice that phrasing. While that policy, if implemented, would prevent injured soldiers from having to pay back bonuses they'd already received, they might still not receive their full enlistment bonus. That's because the Army could still withhold parts of the bonus on the basis that the soldiers didn't complete their full tour due to the injury.

    Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA), who introduced a bill last month that would require the Pentagon to pay bonuses to wounded vets in full within 30 days after discharge for combat-related wounds, said he was "heartened" by Tucker's announcement this morning that the Army won't seek repayment of bonuses. He added:
    “However, I am disappointed that the policy does not go further by stating that wounded soldiers will also receive the remaining balance of future bonus payments. It is preposterous for our government to have a policy that says that a soldier who has sustained serious injuries in the field of battle has not fulfilled his or her service obligation."
    Pentagon rules, Altmire says, prevent enlistees from receiving their full enlistment bonus unless they fulfill their entire military obligation.
    Incredible, simply incredible. They don't value human life in the least.

    An Online Home for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans

    Vote Vets launched a new blog today - VetVoice - that they describe as an online home for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. It's also for Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard members, as well as veterans, their families, and their supporters.
    VetVoice is where we can come together to sound off on the issues that concern all of us.

    VetVoice aims to be a nexus for information and opinion on war news, war politics, deployments, optempo, veterans' issues, troops' families' issues, and more.
    The blog already has a number of diaries that are worth checking out, along with links to information and resources relevant to soldiers and their families. To kick off their maiden voyage, VetVoice extended invites to some high profile people - the presidential candidates.
    Last week, we invited each Democratic and Republican presidential candidate to blog on VetVoice for our launch. Using this forum, we wanted to give them a chance to tell the troops, veterans, their families, and their supporters just what exactly they plan to do on the issues about which we care.

    After contacting the campaigns, seven candidates responded--six Democrats and one Republican.
    They're posting the candidates statements periodically throughout the day. The following are already online: Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, Ron Paul, and John Edwards.

    Click VetVoice to read the other three when they become available.

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for Michigan.)

    This is a Blogging For Michigan Troop Care post. From November 11 through November 25, 2007, Blogging For Michigan will use 100% of every dollar received in the Troop Care fund to purchase and ship items to Michigan troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Learn more about BFM Troop Care here. Click here to contribute to Troop Care. Contributions are not tax deductible.

    Monday, November 19, 2007

    It's a bad time to be a Republican

    Democrat candidates across the country have a smorgasbord of issues to pick from on the campaign trail. Iraq and health care are two of the biggest, but "it's the economy stupid" is quickly closing the gap. Here's the bad economic news for Republicans:
    The Rasmussen Consumer Index measures the nation’s economic confidence on a daily basis and has now been below the 100.0 baseline level for two full weeks. That baseline was established in October 2001 meaning that economic confidence today is lower than it was in the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. [emphasis mine]

    Just 13% of Americans now say the economy is getting better while 68% say it is getting worse. Forty-two percent (42%) say the country is in a recession already and another 13% say a recession is coming within six months.
    The Gallop Organization got a similar sentiment:
    Just 13% of Americans say economic conditions are positive, lowest reading since the Gallup Organization started polling on the question in 1991 — a time when overall consumer confidence was at one of its lowest points in the past 40 years. [emphasis mine]
    Even the Republicans' base is feeling the pain according to Bloomberg:
    Affluent consumers, pinched by shrinking stock portfolios, falling property values and smaller bonuses, are behaving like their less-well-off peers: They're reining in spending.

    That portends a steeper slowdown than originally forecast for the U.S. economy, or even a recession, because the richest fifth of American households accounts for almost 40 percent of consumer spending, the main engine of economic growth.
    Yep, it's definitely a bad time to be a Republican. This is the state of our economy today as described by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
    But there should be no misunderstanding, whatever the vagaries of presidential politics, that the economy has taken a hammering during Mr. Bush's seven years in power. On the plus side, to the degree that the unemployment rate is a valid measure, it stands at a not-bad 4.6 percent. On the other hand, job creation, although it has had a few good months, has in general been abysmal, not even meeting the 150,000-per-month minimum needed to absorb new entries into the job market.

    Mr. Bush's two major tax cuts benefited his base, the rich. The national debt has soared on his watch, resulting in the United States having to spend $200 billion a year on debt service. China holds $1 trillion in U.S. public and private debt, another uncomfortable thought. Mortgage foreclosures are expected to reach 2 million, cutting into both Americans' sense of well-being and their willingness to spend money as consumers -- a development that could be catastrophic for retailers.

    Gasoline at more than $3 a gallon, while oil company profits soar, is simply enraging, and no American can be unaware that both Mr. Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, came to government from the oil industry. The price didn't go from $20 a barrel in 2002 to nearly $100 today simply because of growing Chinese and Indian demand. The riling of the Middle East that Mr. Bush's Iraq war created has played an important role in that phenomenon.

    On a more basic level, the United States -- in no small part because of spending its money on wars and profits to oil companies and defense contractors -- continues to neglect its human and physical infrastructure. America is not educating nearly enough scientists and engineers. Its bridges, roads and technology development continue to get short shrift.
    And don't forget about our devalued dollar. OPEC is threatening to dump the dollar and rapsters are rapping about the Euro being the newest "bling".

    There's no doubt the president is responsible for the state of our economy, but that doesn't absolve the Republicans who went along with him each step of the way. They are equally responsible. They need to be held accountable too. The voting booth is the perfect place to accomplish that.

    Sunday, November 18, 2007

    Giving Thanks for our Troops

    The Department of Defense has a website that makes it easy for us to send our message of support to the troops - America Supports You. You can e-mail service members by clicking here or you can text your thanks to them between now and midnight on Thanksgiving.
    By Samantha L. Quigley / American Forces Press Service

    WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2007 - For those seeking a quick way to show appreciation to troops serving far from home this holiday season, look no further than “Giving Thanks,” a new initiative from the Defense Department’s America Supports You program.

    America Supports You connects citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.

    “This is a simple way to connect our citizens to our soldiers using modern technology,” Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for internal communications and public liaison, said of the text messaging program.

    The program, which already has received nearly 4,000 messages, officially kicks off at 6 a.m. EST Nov. 17 and concludes at midnight PST Nov. 22. Between those times, people wishing to express gratitude to the troops for their service can text a brief message to 89279. Each text message sent will receive a response from an active-duty servicemember in return.

    Major mobile wireless providers, including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint Nextel, and T-Mobile, will provide access to the Giving Thanks text messaging program.

    “We know that thousands of families will be sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner and thinking about loved ones who are far away from home serving their country,” Barber said. “We are counting on other American families to take a moment during their holiday celebration to think of those families and their family members who are serving and say, ‘Thanks.’

    “The reassurance that others are thinking about them will mean a lot to our troops,” Barber added.

    Those who send a message during the six days of the Giving Thanks program also will be directed to the America Supports You Web site. There, they’ll find a sampling of messages from the public and a running tally of how many messages have been received. They’ll also be able to read messages from the troops.
    Get busy texting and add your message to the more than 27,000 that have been received already! What easier way is there for us to tell the troops we're thankful for them.

    This is a Blogging For Michigan Troop Care post. From November 11 through November 25, 2007, Blogging For Michigan will use 100% of every dollar received in the Troop Care fund to purchase and ship items to Michigan troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Learn more about BFM Troop Care here. Click here to contribute to Troop Care. Contributions are not tax deductible.

    Friday, November 16, 2007

    Liberal is not a dirty word

    h/t to Abi, who reminds us to "Say It Loud, Say It Proud."

    The Center for American Progress has more videos here.

    Thursday, November 15, 2007

    Universal health care at the expense of innovation?

    Jonathan Cohn has an article at TNR that considers the question, "Can we really be sure that universal health care won't come at the expense of innovative medicine?" Here's the argument against it:
    In a universal coverage system, the government would seek to limit spending by forcing down payments to doctors and pharmaceutical companies, while scrutinizing treatments for cost-effectiveness. This, in turn, would lead to both less innovation and less access to the innovation that already exists. And the public would end up losing out, because, as Tyler Cowen wrote last year in The New York Times, "the American health care system, high expenditures and all, is driving innovation for the entire world."
    That assumption requires several leaps of logic in Cohn's opinion, leaps born out of the assumption that the private health care system drives innovation. Consider the story of one treatment for Parkinson's disease and how it came to be developed:
    The story of Deep Brain Stimulation actually holds some important lessons about how innovation frequently takes place--and why it's not all that dependent on a non-universal, private health care system like the one we have in the United States. For one thing, it turns out that DBS isn't exactly an American innovation. If anybody deserves credit for developing it, it's the French--and one French doctor in particular. [...]

    The development of DBS was one part basic knowledge--an understanding of how Parkinson's works and how the brain responds to electrical stimulation--and one part sheer luck. Profits, on the other hand, had relatively little to do with it. According to Robert Gross, an Emory University neurosurgeon and expert in the field, Benabid had actually approached the companies that already made electrodes for use in treating chronic pain, suggesting they develop a device specifically for Parkinson's. But they declined initially, so Benabid had to use the existing devices and adapt them on his own. "The companies did not lead those advances," Gross says. "They followed them."

    In this sense, DBS offers an important window into the way medical innovation actually happens. The great breakthroughs in the history of medicine, from the development of the polio vaccine to the identification of cancer-killing agents, did not take place because a for-profit company saw an opportunity and invested heavily in research. They happened because of scientists toiling in academic settings. "The nice thing about people like me in universities is that the great majority are not motivated by profit," says Cynthia Kenyon, a renowned cancer researcher at the University of California at San Francisco. "If we were, we wouldn't be here." And, while the United States may be the world leader in this sort of research, that's probably not--as critics of universal coverage frequently claim--because of our private insurance system. If anything, it's because of the federal government. [emphasis mine]
    Yep, that's right. The federal government. It turns out the National Institutes of Health (comprised of 27 separate institutes) is the single biggest source of medical research funding in the entire world. Last year it spent more than $28 billion on research, accounting for one-third of the total money spent on medical research and development in this country and half the money spent at universities.

    Cohn made one other more point worth noting: Since 2003, Bush and his congressional allies have let NIH funding stagnant because they needed room in the budget for other priorities, like tax cuts for the rich. Well, of course. Alzheimer's, aids and cancer can wait.

    I'm not worried about universal health care hurting innovation, I'm worried we'll never recover from the damage the Republicans have done to our government.

    Wednesday, November 14, 2007

    GI Joe No Longer "Government Issued"

    An American icon is getting a makeover:
    Concerned about the current negative image of the American military in many countries, Paramount Pictures and Hasbro, the toy manufacturer, have decided that in their forthcoming film featuring comic-book patriot G.I. Joe, the character will become part of a multinational force, the London Daily Telegraph reported today (Tuesday). Even the character's name has become an acronym for Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity, the newspaper said.
    Our negative image across the globe is because of the Bush administration, not our military, so why the makeover? One word - money. From Fox News:
    But in order to be a true success these days, a film has to play well to foreign markets as well as stateside in everything from box-office to DVD sales.

    For some citizens of other countries — where sentiments against the Iraq war and the American government are strong — a U.S. soldier might not be the easiest character to get viewers to identify with.
    Sigh...its always about the money with these companies. What a way to support the troops.

    This is a Blogging For Michigan Troop Care post. From November 11 through November 25, 2007, Blogging For Michigan will use 100% of every dollar received in the Troop Care fund to purchase and ship items to Michigan troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Learn more about BFM Troop Care here. Click here to contribute to Troop Care. Contributions are not tax deductible.

    Monday, November 12, 2007

    An Emblem of the War

    I've spent some time today reading various tributes to our soldiers and veterans and I just had to share something Libby mentioned on her blog at the Detroit News. These are Libby's words:
    [...] many of our newest veterans, like James Blake Miller will be battling their demons in the dark confides of a troubled mind here at home. They fight and suffer for us. Take a moment to let them know they didn't pay the price in life, limb and peace of mind for nothing.
    James Blake Miller is the Marlboro Man. You might remember the picture of this young Marine taken in Falluja in November 2004. He became an instant emblem of the war and Americans connected with his photo. Nobody wanted to see him wounded or dead, so Maj. Gen. Richard F. Natonski made a special trip to visit him and offered him the chance to return home. Miller turned him down. He didn't want to leave his buddies.

    Click here to read the rest of his story. Miller is home now and fighting a whole lot of demons.

    This is a Blogging For Michigan Troop Care post. From November 11 through November 25, 2007, Blogging For Michigan will use 100% of every dollar received in the Troop Care fund to purchase and ship items to Michigan troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Learn more about BFM Troop Care here. Click here to contribute to Troop Care. Contributions are not tax deductible.

    Sunday, November 11, 2007

    Honoring My WWII Veteran

    Veterans Day. We set this day aside each year to honor all who have served America. My father is one of those people. Although he died more than 30 years ago, I often think of his military service and the stories he told us while we were growing up. He served in the Navy on a troop transport ship during WWII in the Pacific Theatre. I remember the names of places he talked about - the Philippines, Guadalcanal, Leyte, Luzon, Midway, Pearl Harbor - and the stories he told. I also remember groaning inwardly at some of them. They couldn't possibly be true! He must be embellishing a little for his friends' benefit. This is one of his more unusual stories:

    Dad said three ships left New Guinea making their way through the Philippines, they were headed for Lingayen Gulf. His ship was in the middle, and they were zig-zagging all over the place because the crew had been drinking homemade moonshine made in the boiler room. As his story goes, the Japanese sank the ship in front of them and also the one behind, but they made it through safe and sound because of that zig-zag pattern (and the homemade hooch).

    I doubted the part about the homemade moonshine and I also doubted the part about the ships in front and behind being sunk. I owe my dad an apology. Years after he died, I got a copy of his service papers and the name of the ship he served on. I also found several links online that described the "very heavy kamikaze attacks" these transport ships suffered in the same region my father described. It had to be terrifying.

    I've also had men my father's age tell me that the crews often made their own alcohol and the captain turned a blind eye. As my uncle said, "When your men are on a mission they may never get out of alive, do you think the captain is really going to worry about breaking a few rules?" Good point.

    Anyway, my dad was one of the lucky ones to come home alive, and although he could joke about some of the action he saw, it changed him. He drank more than he should have, and he also had anger issues. They both contributed to his early demise and complicated his life.

    Today is not just about my dad though. Today is about all the men and women who have served and continue to serve our country with honor and incredible personal sacrifice. Today is not about partisanship, color, creed or sexual orientation. Today is about giving thanks to all of our veterans and support to our troops. Thank you from the bottom of my heart - and thank you too, dad. I miss you.

    This is a Blogging For Michigan Troop Care post. From November 11 through November 25, 2007, Blogging For Michigan will use 100% of every dollar received in the Troop Care fund to purchase and ship items to Michigan troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Learn more about BFM Troop Care here. Click here to contribute to Troop Care. Contributions are not tax deductible.

    Saturday, November 10, 2007

    RIP (Again): George Gipp

    The DNA test results from the exhumed body of George Gipp are back and guess what - he didn't father an illegitimate daughter. I wrote a post about this when it happened and questioned why the family might have disturbed his grave. My online friend Abi did some Googling and discovered posts on a genealogy bulletin board that indicated Gipp may have fathered an illegitimate daughter.

    The whole story is bizarre and sounds like it was motivated by greed. From the NYT:
    “It was crazy what went on at the cemetery,” said Karl Gipp, a distant relative of Gipp’s and the court-appointed representative of the estates of George Gipp and his sister Bertha Gipp Martin. “It was like a circus, what went on out there. I was furious then and I’m still furious. There was no reason for it, and these people really did a disservice to our entire community.”

    One of the people to whom Karl Gipp is referring is Mike Bynum, a Birmingham, Ala., author of six sports books and editor of many more, who started this latest chapter in the Legend of George Gipp in August of this year while doing research online. He happened on a posting from August 2005 on a genealogy Web site by a woman looking for information about the George Gipp family. Bynum said he located the woman, Ellen Easton, and began talking to her about finding out whether her mother, known as Bette Easton, born four days after Gipp’s death, was the daughter of George Gipp.

    Bynum was hopeful that the manuscript he was working on would become more interesting to publishers because of the paternity question. Less than two months later, Bynum invited a production crew from the new ESPN show “E:60” to be on hand for the exhuming of Gipp’s remains in Laurium, Mich.

    Easton declined to comment directly about her dealings with Bynum, but she said in an e-mail message that she and her sister, Paula Krebes, were “appalled” when they learned Gipp’s body had been exhumed to obtain DNA that would establish whether he was their grandfather. “We had been convinced there was a lock of hair to compare DNA to,” Easton wrote. Krebes wrote in an e-mail message that she did not learn about the exhumation until Bynum called her four days after it occurred. “I vaguely remember hanging up on him as he began to describe the process the lab would be using to extract DNA from bones,” she wrote.
    I think appalled is an appropriate response. It certainly sounds like Bynum was hoping to uncover something juicy about the Gipper and make a fortune in the process. What's Bynum's response to all of this? From the DetNews:
    Bynum, who helped set up the exhumation and DNA tests, said he was just trying to bring two families together, not promote his book.

    "That's the least of anyone's interest," he said about the tome, which will be published in the fall.
    So what was the rush? According to Torger Omdahl, a lawyer in Iron River, Mich., representing the Gipp family, "Proper procedures were totally ignored. For someone interred 87 years, a disinterment should be done almost like an archaeological dig. They went in there with a backhoe and at first had the wrong gravesite and dug up Bertha Gipp’s skeleton.”

    And questions have even been raised about the way Rick Frueh, a great-nephew of George Gipp who worked with Bynum on the exhumation, went about obtaining the required legal approvals. It turns out he'll receive royalties from the book, although he claims that has nothing to do with why he helped Bynum.
    Frueh, in a written statement that Bynum helped prepare, said he was trying to help a family that may have been related to him as it tried to solve a mystery.

    "Helping family is the strongest act of love that we can offer each other," Frueh wrote.
    Yeah, right. I think he meant to say "helping myself to some family money." The whole situation is sad and gruesome, and Bynum, Frueh and ESPN will come out winners and make money on the publicity they've generated, but at least the Gipper still has his reputation intact. Now, please, let the man rest in peace.

    Wednesday, November 07, 2007

    DeVos Loses Election

    Another year, another election loss for Dick DeVos. Only this time it wasn't in Michigan, it was in Utah, where DeVos' All Children Matter PAC put up $255,000 in seed money in 2004 to help the GOP legislature enact the most comprehensive voucher law in the country. A majority of Utahns saw things differently, and the voucher referendum went down in crushing defeat yesterday. More than 60 percent of the voters rejected vouchers.

    It wasn't from lack of trying that vouchers lost. DeVos was joined by other big-business donors from outside of Utah, including Wal-Mart's Waltons and CEO Patrick Bryne, who orchestrated much of the late funding himself. The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board called them "Friedmanites," whose stated goal is the privatization of American education. The pro-voucher group didn't hold back:
    The voucher crowd mounted a mean-spirited campaign that relied on distortions, dirty tricks, and personal smears. Their campaign of nastiness did not reflect Utahns' COMMON VALUES, our sense of common decency.
    In the end, having a common goal made the difference. Parents, teachers, unions and many excellent blogs examined all sides of the argument and presented their cases, and with the exception of one or two, all the major newspapers spoke out against vouchers.

    The victory is theirs today, but will scars remain? This blogger is concerned:
    And I hope that the real Utah can still be salvaged when this campaign by Parents for Choice in Education is over, when their money from All Children Matter in Michigan is all spent, when their money from the secret donors from Missouri and elsewhere in the county is run out, and when their political operatives and opportunitists have gone back to wherever they came from. They have dragged good people through a nasty political mess unnecessarily and I'll be glad to see them close up shop on November 7.
    We've been through the same voucher fight here in Michigan with the same results (voters resoundingly voted NO), so we can identify with that sentiment - we were happy to see them close up shop too. A word of warning though. The pro-voucher, educational profiteers may have been wounded, but they weren't stopped. Just ask Patrick Bryne, who had this to say to the Salt Lake Tribune today:
    Byrne said the referendum defeat may have killed vouchers in Utah, but "There are other freedom oriented groups in other states - African-Americans in South Carolina are interested in it."
    Be wary, South Carolina. Be very wary.

    UPDATE: Maybe DeVos should snap his wallet shut and call it a day. From One Utah:
    Vouchers didn’t win in a single county in the state. Not one. Think about that - in the most conservative, Republican state in the nation, after spending millions of dollars of Patrick Byrne’s money and piles of out of state money from the Amway and WalMart families, vouchers didn’t carry a single county.
    (Cross-posted at Blogging for Michigan)

    Monday, November 05, 2007

    Sweatshop Abuses in China

    We're all concerned about the safety of toys coming from China, but there's a flip side to this story we don't hear much about...the conditions for workers making the toys. Charles Kernaghan, Director of the National Labor Committee, recently testified before the U.S. Senate about the sweatshop abuses in China.
    Many parents in America would be shocked and disturbed if they knew of the abusive sweatshop conditions under which their children’s toys are being made in China. Parents, however, have no way of knowing, as Mattel—the largest in the world—hides its 40 or so contract plants in China just as the other toy companies do, refusing to provide the American people with even the names and addresses of their plants.

    Mattel’s Barbie toys, along with Thomas & Friends toys for the RC2 Corporation and Wal-Mart are made at the large Xin Yi factory in Shenzhen. The 5,000 workers there are stripped of their rights, forced to sign mostly-blank temporary contracts lasting anywhere from just 10 days to a maximum of three months. At management’s discretion, “new” temporary contracts can be renewed every two to three months. Workers can be employed full time for a year or more, but always remain temporary workers with no legal rights. Temporary workers can easily be fired for being “inattentive” at work, or for “speaking during working hours.” Temporary workers have no right to participate in the mandatory national Social Security program which provides health care, no right to paid holidays, vacation, sick days, maternity leave, or severance pay.

    The routine shift is 14 ½ hours a day, from 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., six days a week. Workers are typically at the factory 87 hours a week, while toiling 70 hours, including 30 hours of forced overtime, which exceeds China’s legal limit by 260 percent! [...]

    The factory is excessively hot and everyone is drenched in their own sweat. Workers are prohibited from standing up during working hours, and cannot leave their hard wooden benches, which do not have back rests. The workers say that after several hours, their legs become numb. [...]

    The base wage in Shenzhen is just 53 cents an hour, $4.27 a day, and $21.34 a week. Despite being forced to work a 70-hour week, workers report being routinely cheated of nearly 20 percent ($8.31) in overtime wages legally due them each week. This is the equivalent of being cheated out of two day’s wages each week. For working 70 hours, the workers earn just $39.79 while they should have been paid $48.60. [...]

    Workers are housed in primitive dorms, 12 people crowded into each room, sleeping on double-level metal bunk beds and fed company food the workers describe as “awful.” Every morning workers have to cue up to wait their turn to brush their teeth and use the toilet. After deductions for room and board, the workers’ take-home pay drops to just 46 cents an hour. [...]
    What's so infuriating to me is the fact that Mattel marks up the toys they sell by more than 230 percent. Where does that profit go? Part of it goes to the CEO of Mattel, who paid himself $7.3 million last year - 6,533 times more than he paid his workers in China. And what about the lead in all those toys? According to Kernaghan, one industry estimate puts the price of thoroughly screening toys at just 10 cents per piece.

    Think about those facts as you shop for your children and grandchildren this holiday season. The safety and well-being of our children may be in danger, along with that of the workers who make these toys, but Mattel, the RC2 Corporation and Wal-Mart don't care about human rights and safety. They only care about maximizing profits.

    Here's an interesting fact from the National Labor Committee website: "If the American retailers paid only 25 cents more per garment, the total in Bangladesh would be $898 million- more than eight times current US aid."

    You might also be interested in my post over at BFM: How Good is American Health Care?

    Thursday, November 01, 2007

    Decline in employer health coverage is pervasive

    Remember during last year's gubernatorial debate when Dick DeVos said, "The best way to get health care is to get a job?" Voters across the state laughed about that one all the way to the election booth (where they soundly voted against him), so this article from Reuters won't be a surprise to them.
    The number of Americans lacking health insurance rose by nearly 8.6 million to 47 million from 2000 to 2006, with children and workers from every income level losing coverage, a new report said on Thursday.

    The increase was "driven primarily by the continued erosion in employer-provided health insurance," said the report by the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute.

    In 2006, 2.3 million fewer Americans received health benefits from their employers than in 2000, the report said, noting the decline does not take the population increase into account.

    Nearly 60 percent of the nation's children are covered by the insurance provided by their parents' employers, but 3.4 million fewer children had benefits in 2006 compared with 2000.

    "Public health insurance is no longer offsetting these losses," said the report by the nonpartisan think-tank.

    For jobholders, this was the sixth straight year of declines in health insurance coverage. The rate fell to just below 71 percent from nearly 75 percent in 2000.

    "No category of workers was insulated from loss of coverage," as even workers whose earnings placed them in the top quintile saw coverage rates fall, the report said.

    "The decline in employer coverage was pervasive and felt throughout the country," the report said.

    Thirty-eight states saw "significant" drops in benefits provided by employers for people under 65, the report said. Utah, South Carolina, Maryland and Georgia all saw rates drop by at least 7 percentage points. [all emphasis mine]
    No wonder a majority of Americans favor a Medicare-For-All type plan. Employment is no longer a guarantee of health insurance.

    (Cross-posted at BFM.)

    Wednesday, October 31, 2007

    Safety Assurance for Every Consumer (SAFE)

    Check out my granddaughter dressed in her Halloween costume. Doesn't she make an adorable banana?! Grace is obviously too young to go trick or treating tonight, but her safety - and the safety of all our children - always concerns me. Last week, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalled imported Halloween pails children might use for trick or treating because they contained high amounts of lead, and I'm sure you've heard about the more than 13 million toys that have been recalled over the last 2 months after tests indicated lead levels that sometimes reached almost 200 times the safety limit.

    Unfortunately, the Bush administration is standing behind Nancy A. Nord, the acting chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, who has asked Congress in recent days to reject legislation intended to strengthen the agency, which polices thousands of consumer goods, from toys to tools. From the NY Times:
    On the eve of an important Senate committee meeting to consider the legislation, Nancy A. Nord, the acting chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, has asked lawmakers in two letters not to approve the bulk of legislation that would increase the agency’s authority, double its budget and sharply increase its dwindling staff.
    Only 15 inspectors are assigned to police all imports of consumer products under the CPSC's supervision, a marketplace that last year was valued at $614 billion, and there's only one full-time employee available to test toys. In fact, the CPSC only has half the staff it did in the 1980's. They definitely need more funding and personnel.

    The Bush administration may be failing our children, but other people and organizations are stepping in to help. From the AFL-CIO blog:
    Last month, the United Steelworkers (USW) launched a major campaign, “Protect Our Kids—Stop Toxic Imports,” in which the union will distribute thousands of Get the Lead Out Screening kits and spearhead a series of “Safe Home Sessions,” so families can learn more about protecting themselves and their loved ones.

    Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) have introduced the Safety Assurance for Every (SAFE) Consumer Product Act, which would require children’s products to undergo independent testing and strengthen the CPSC’s enforcement authority. The bill has quickly attracted more than 100 co-sponsors. Click here to urge your lawmaker to become a co-sponsor.
    To learn more about lead and product safety, check out the new report from the Institute for America's Future, Toxic Trade: Globalization and the Safety of the American Consumer. The report shows how free trade combined with little or no regulation here at home have combined to make the products we buy toxic and unsafe.

    UPDATE: Another late-breaking recall: Halloween costume teeth pulled from US shops due to lead fears

    "Ugly Teeth" were found to have 100 times the US standard on lead in paint. "Lead paint is a problem when it's ingested by a child, so to have lead on an item that is designed to go into the mouth -- that's what's particularly horrifying about these teeth," said Dr Jeffrey Weidenhamer of Ashland University in Ohio. Millions of kids have already had costume parties in schools, recreation centers, etc., and how many parents will never hear about this recall before sending their kids out tonight? Unbelievable.

    Tuesday, October 30, 2007

    1.8 million veterans lack health care

    Add veterans to the list of uninsured Americans, middle-class veterans with jobs:

    Study: More veterans are uninsured
    About one of every eight veterans under the age of 65 is uninsured, a finding that contradicts the assumption many have that all vets qualify for free health care through the Veterans Affairs Department, says a new study.

    Researchers at Harvard Medical School projected that about 1.8 million veterans overall lack health coverage. That's an increase of 290,000 since 2000. The researchers said most uninsured veterans are in the middle class and are ineligible for VA care because of their incomes. Still others cannot afford their copayments, or lack VA facilities in their community.

    "Like other uninsured Americans, most uninsured vets are working people — too poor to afford private coverage but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid or means-tested VA care," said Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, an associate professor and a physician at the Cambridge Health Alliance.
    Republicans like to say they support our troops, yet according to American Legion spokesman Peter Gaytan, veterans now making as little as $24,000 a year in some regions still don't qualify for health coverage from the V.A.

    Sadly, as Gaytan points out, "The number of uninsured vets could rise in coming years if soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq have trouble getting back their old jobs. It will be an increasing issue that needs to be dealt with."

    The Harvard researchers said the best solution would be universal health coverage in the United States. It sounds like a plan to me, one that would not only help the veterans left behind by the Bush administration, but all Americans.

    Monday, October 29, 2007

    Who is your significant other?

    According to this Zogby poll, twenty-five percent of us need to get a life.
    It won’t make you dinner or rub your feet, but nearly one in four Americans say that the Internet can serve as a substitute for a significant other for some period of time, according to a new poll released today by 463 Communications and Zogby International.

    The Zogby/463 Internet Attitudes poll found that 24% of Americans said the Internet could serve as a replacement for a significant other. Not surprisingly, the percentage was highest among singles, of which 31% said it could be a substitute. There was no difference among males and females but there was a split based on political ideology. Thirty-one percent of those who called themselves “progressives” were open-minded to the Internet serving as a surrogate significant other while only 18% of those who consider themselves “very conservative” would consider it a substitute.
    Sadly, I'm probably one of those people who needs to get a life, and the fact that you're reading this suggests that you do too!

    Click the link above to read all the questions and answers, but here are a few others I found interesting:
    More than half of Americans believe that Internet content such as video should be controlled in some way by the government. Twenty-nine percent said it should be regulated just like television content while 24% said government should institute an online rating system similar to the one used by the movie industry. In contrast, only 36% said the blocking of Internet video would be unconstitutional.

    The older you get, the more likely you are to support government restrictions. Only 33% of 18 to 24 year-olds supported government stepping in on content, while 72% of those over 70 years of age support government regulation and ratings.
    I personally advocate parents stepping up to the plate and monitoring what their children do online over government regulations. When my children were growing up, I never had pay cable stations like HBO and Cinemax, and I enforced their bedtime so I didn't have to worry about them overhearing an inappropriate remark on late night television. I know, I know...I'm speaking like a grandmother. Moving along...
    More than one in four Americans has a social networking profile such as MySpace or Facebook. Among 18-24 year-olds, it’s almost mandatory – 78% of them report having a social networking profile. More Democrats have a social networking presence than Republicans (32% to 22% ).
    Sigh...when I was 18-years-old, I socially networked by calling my friends from my parent's wall phone, which was in our kitchen. Talk about a lack of privacy! We didn't have call waiting in those days either, so my parents limited our calls to 15 minutes. I used to pray my parents would someday let me have my own Princess phone in my bedroom, a pink one. Speaking of praying...
    Most Americans don’t think the Internet has had an effect on their spirituality. Ten percent said it made them closer to God, while 6% percent said it made them more distant. Those who call themselves “Born Again” were the most likely to feel it affected them spiritually. Twenty percent of Born Agains said it made them closer while 11% said it made them more distant from God.
    IMHO, I don't think God needs the internet to communicate to us. He just needs us to sit quietly and listen for a change.

    Finally, it appears that parents need to put more thought into what they name their children:
    And while there are well-documented fears about identity theft, many Americans would gladly give up their name for a cash windfall. If they were offered $100,000 by someone who wanted to adopt their name, more than one in five Americans said they would change their name to something completely different. Thirty-four percent of 18 to 24 year olds were prepared to take the offer.
    I guess there's nothing money can't buy anymore.