Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Kennedy-Dingell "Medicare for All Act"

In keeping with the "Cover the Uninsured" week, I've already mentioned that John Edwards is the only candidate with a truly universal health care plan and John Conyers' sponsored the U.S. National Health Insurance Act (HR 676), so I thought I'd throw another plan into the mix - the "Medicare For All Act" (HR 4683).

Recently introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich, the plan offers the uninsured a
choice to use Medicare or the federal employees health plan, the same plan members of Congress and the president currently enjoy. How sweet is that? Who wouldn't want the same level of health care Washington gets?

You can read about the legislation
here and here, but according to ABC News, "Everyone with a social security number would be covered for their entire lives under this plan. People could also choose to stick with their employer's health plan."

ABC News medical editor Dr. Tim Johnson called the plan brilliant:
"It's politically brilliant because one of the options offered in the plan is to choose health coverage from the federal employees' health program," Johnson said.

"Every member of Congress has it and loves it — even the president uses it. So, I think it's very tough politically for Congress to say, 'I have it and love it, but you can't have it, too.'" [emphasis mine]
Something tells me Washington has ad agencies working on the spin already. In fact, opposition from the powerful health care industry is the biggest obstacle according to Dr. Johnson:
The health care industry spent more than $412 million lobbying Congress last year, according to Congressional Quarterly. And a watchdog group, the Center for Public Integrity, found that the health care industry has employed 48 former members of Congress and a dozen former senators as lobbyists in recent years.

Johnson said public support for a new health care system could help push the plan through if the political winds shift.

"People are getting worried about their health coverage," Johnson said. "It does have a chance. Probably not this year, but if a Democratic president is elected, and Congress stays Democratic, then it has a real chance of getting passed."
There's no doubt the political winds are changing:
About 56% of Americans would prefer universal coverage to the current U.S. system, and 68% feel providing coverage for everyone is more important than keeping taxes down, according to an October 2006 poll of 1,201 Americans by USA Today, ABC News and the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Alternet calls "Medicare for All: The Only Sound Solution to Our Healthcare Crisis" and they ask us to consider the following dismal statistics:
Not only are 47 million Americans uninsured (approximately 18.5 percent of the insurable market), 41 percent of Americans with incomes of $20,000 to $40,000 did not have health insurance for at least part of 2005, up from 28 percent in 2001; 53 percent with incomes under $20,000 lack health insurance.

The number of people without health insurance rose 16.6 percent from 2001 to 2005; average health insurance premiums for a family of four are $10,880, which exceeds the annual gross income of $10,712 for a full-time, minimum-wage worker; lack of insurance causes 18,000 excess deaths a year; people without health insurance have 25 percent higher mortality rates; and, 59 percent of uninsured people with chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes skip medicine or go without care.

There are additional costs to the haphazard U.S. healthcare system: More than 50 percent of the U.S. population has medical debt problems; between 1981 and 2001, medical-related bankruptcies increased an astounding 2,200 percent and 55 percent of personal bankruptcies are now caused by illness or medical debts, despite the fact that over 75 percent of the bankrupts had health insurance at the onset of bankruptcy and illness.

Contrary to popular conceptions, the average medical bankrupt was a 41-year old woman with children, some college education; over half owned homes and over 80 percent were in the middle or working classes.
They also debunk the argument that the United States has the best quality health care in the world:
The World Health Organization ranks healthcare systems based on objective measures of medical outcomes: The United States' healthcare system currently ranks 37th in the world, behind Colombia and Portugal; the United States ranks 44th in the world in infant mortality, behind many impoverished Latin American countries. While infant mortality in the United States is skewed toward poor people, who have rates double the wealthy, the top quintile of the U.S. population has infant mortality rates higher than Canadians in the lowest quintile of wealth.

Out of 30 developed nations, life expectancy in the United States ranks 21st; life expectancy in the United States is 4.6 years less than Japan, 2.1 years less than France and 2.6 years less than Canada. The United States has fewer physicians, nurses and hospital beds than most developed nations. In the United States, 28 percent say it is "difficult to get care"; in most European countries, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, 15 percent say that. In terms of continuity of care (i.e., five-plus years with the same doctor), the United States is the worst of all developed nations. By every objective measure, the United States has a second-rate healthcare system.
We can't look to the Republicans to do something about this problem. They've been in power for years and the problem has only gotten worse. That leaves us one choice - vote Democratic. As Dr. Johnson said, "if a Democratic president is elected, and Congress stays Democratic, then it [universal health care] has a real chance of getting passed."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Conyers' plan to cover the uninsured

In keeping with Cover the Uninsured week, here's information about John Conyers' Congressional Forum - Universal Health Care with Single Payer Financing - held in Washington today to educate and enlighten his Congressional colleagues about HR 676.

And here's some background to explain details of the single-payer plan from The Nation:
More than 47 million Americans are now living without health coverage. Representative John Conyers's United States National Health Insurance Act (HR 676) would create a single-payer healthcare system by expanding Medicare to every resident. All necessary medical care would be covered--from prescription drugs to hospital services to long-term care. There would be no deductibles or co-payments. Funding would come from sources including savings from negotiated bulk procurement of medications; a tax on the top 5 percent of income earners; and a phased-in payroll tax that is lower than what employers currently pay for less comprehensive employee health coverage. [...] To get involved, check out
There are currently 62 co-sponsors of HR 676, including Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick of Michigan, and almost 260 union endorsements in 40 states. Some of Michigan's unions throwing their support behind the bill include:
Local 6000, United Auto Workers (UAW), Michigan State Employees, Lansing, MI
Branch 3126, National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), Royal Oak, MI.
Local Lodge 141, International Association of Machinists (IAM), representing airline workers at Northwest, United, Southwest, and Alaska. Detroit, MI
Local 547, International Union of Operating Engineers, Detroit, MI
Jackson/Hillsdale Counties Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, Jackson, MI
Five Michigan steelworker locals endorse HR 676 too. The growing union support isn't surprising. Unions have traditionally bargained for and delivered good health insurance for their workers and families, but downsizing and off-shoring in manufacturing industries has resulted in workers losing their insurance altogether or being forced to pay more for less.

It's not just union workers facing health insurance insecurity though. From TPM Cafe:
26% of Americans say there has been a time in the last 12 months when they have been unable to afford necessary health care for themselves or a family member. Support for extending health care to all Americans trumps any tax-phobia: 66% of Americans favor "the government guaranteeing health insurance for all citizens, even if it means raising taxes."
There's still a lot of doubt a single payer system could surmount the special interest group lobbyists, but Congressman Dennis Kucinich thinks it has a good chance:
It is true that large corporations, who are currently making millions every year off the backs of every American who pays for health care, will fight hard to protect the unsustainable status quo as long as they possibly can.

But with health care costs rising faster than inflation with no end in sight; and with the abject failure of managed care to contain those costs; and with the number of uninsured growing steadily; and with American companies losing their competitive edge because they are paying so much more for health care than other developed countries; the opposition will not be able to hold justice at bay for much longer. So when people tell me that national health insurance is the right answer but is not politically feasible, I tell them that the opposite is true. Passage is inevitable - it is only a matter of time.
Another argument against public programs like Medicare is that private insurers are just more efficient, but that's simply propaganda according to Jonathan Cohn at TPM Cafe:
It works as propaganda because it’s consistent with the public’s deeply held skepticism of government. But it’s just not true. And this week Wall Street gave us yet more proof of that.

It happened yesterday after Aetna, one of the nation’s largest insurers, released its first-quarter earnings report. Earnings were up more than 3 percent – the kind of news that, one might suppose, Wall Street would greet with glee. Not so. Shares actually more than 20 percent.

Reason: Aenta’s medical loss ratio was going up – i.e., that it was spending more money on its patients – provoked a sharp rebuke from Wall Street.
The amount Aetna paid for covered services divided by the amount of premiums collected was 79.4%, up from 74.6%, but as Cohn points out:
"About 98% of the money that goes into the Medicare program comes back out as medical services - in good part because the program doesn't siphon money for marketing and profits. But, then, Medicare doesn’t have to satisfy investors. It has to satisfy voters. Big difference."
Absolutely, but I have a feeling when it comes to people's health that voters want every dime possible directed toward providing care, not delivering for the investors, which probably explains why 66% of Americans favor the government guaranteeing health insurance for all citizens, even if it means raising taxes. People know that Medicare has been a government success.

If you like Conyers' plan and believe that establishing a universal health care system is essential to resolving our nation's health care crisis, click here to sign his petition and support the passage of H.R. 676.

UPDATE: Click here to get more information about the Executive Summary of The United States National Health Insurance Act (HR676).

Add your name to Sen. Levin's letter to the President

Earlier this month, the Senate voted 63-34 to pass the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 (click the link to read the details). President Bush has threatened to veto the bill. As you might recall, Bush used the only veto of his presidency to reject the stem cell bill last year, saying such research "crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect."

My response to that veto echoes Abi's at 604:
Yessiree — the Republican administration has profound respect for the sanctity of life at the cellular level. Too bad it has such criminal disregard for the well being of the finished package.
Sen. Carl Levin has a preemptive response to this latest bill. He's circulating a letter for voters to co-sign urging the president to end his administration's burdensome restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, and he'll be forwarding it to the White House next week. I already signed the letter and received a response from Sen. Levin that needs to be shared for the powerful, eloquent and heart wrenching message it contains:
I want to send my thanks to those who are co-signing my letter to the President urging him to end his administration's burdensome restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. [...]

Many people wrote powerful responses to my message, sharing your personal feelings on this issue. A woman from the Upper Peninsula, whose family recently experienced the heartbreaking effects of her father's Alzheimer's disease, made clear why the President's current policy is so misguided:

"Let me understand - it's okay to throw embryonic cells out in the trash, but it's not okay to use them to develop cures for the human race? And it's okay to allow human beings to live a tortured life of existence only to leave their family with less than nothing but pain that overshadows a lifetime of memories? But it's inhumane to use embryonic stem cells to ease this suffering. Is this not God's free will wasted?" [emphasis mine]

Her letter is a compelling reminder of the human cost of further delay. Every day that we unnecessarily restrict stem cell research is another day lost in discovering the potentially life-saving cures it may unlock.
If you agree and wish to sign Sen. Levin's letter to the President urging him to lift the restrictions on stem cell research and to make life-saving cures possible, please click here.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Cover the uninsured

This is "Cover the Uninsured Week" across the nation and here in Michigan. Americans may disagree about many issues, but according to a recent Kaiser Health Tracking Poll health care ranks second behind Iraq as one of the most important problems for the government to address for Republicans, Democrats and independents alike.

That doesn't surprise me. The plight of uninsured people continues to touch the lives of more and more Americans and their families. Here are some facts that show just how serious the problem has become [
pdf file]:
Eight out of 10 people who are uninsured are in working families

Non-Hispanic whites make up half of the uninsured.

In 2005, more than 32 million of the uninsured had household incomes of $25,000 or more, compared with 14.6 million in households earning less. (The federal poverty level for a family of four in 2005 was $19,350.)

About 18,000 Americans die each year because they don’t have health coverage, according to the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine.

In 2005, 23.1 percent of the nation’s uninsured workers age 18–64 were in firms employing more than 500 people.
Our country has done a better job of insuring children than adults thanks to SCHIP (which is up for renewal this year), but there are still 9 million more children--more than the total number of kids enrolled in the first and second grades in U.S. public schools--still living without health coverage.

That's a shocking statistic. The Bush administration had no problem asking for $500 billion for the war in Iraq (the war based on a lie) and the President also wants the tax cuts scheduled to expire in 2010 made permanent, which means the top 1 percent of households would receive more than $1 TRILLION in tax benefits over the next decade, so why didn't he ask for money to insure those 9 million children? So much for compassionate conservatism.

On a state level, statistics show that
Michigan's uninsured numbers are better than U.S. averages, but there's still lots of room for improvement. Gov. Granholm is working to help solve the problem, including her plan to help as many as 550,000 uninsured residents gain health coverage, however, the state is still negotiating with the Bush administration over this. Keeping people healthy should be a no-brainer. I don't know why the Bush administration is dragging their feet.

In the meantime, local communities are trying to fill the gap too. Genesee County
voters supported a 1-mill levy last year that provides health coverage for those who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, cannot afford insurance on their own and are not old enough for Medicare. The levy costs a taxpayer with a $150,000 home about $75 a year. This plan is making a difference for the more than 55,000 adults in Genesee County without health insurance, but some needs are still lacking - surgeries, hospital stays, substance abuse and dental care.

These programs are helpful in the short-term, but this is the bottom line according to Woodrow Stanley, county commissioner and member of the Genesee County Board of Health:
"This is more of a stop-gap for our community," Stanley said. "We can't afford the kinds of comprehensive coverage people need, but we're doing our best until national leaders take on the issue." [emphasis mine]
Republicans have demonstrated that they can't be trusted to do the right thing when it comes to people's health care, so I'd be very surprised if voters don't elect a Democrat like Edwards next time around - the only candidate that has a truly universal health care plan.

Voters sent a message about the war in Iraq last November and they're ready to send another one: No more donut holes, no more gaps in the level of care, and no more handouts to insurance companies and Big Pharma.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

End of an error

Thousands gather in peaceful Bush protest in East Grand Rapids

Check out Wizardkitten's coverage of the protest that took place yesterday during President Bush's visit to Grand Rapids. She has some great pictures of the event, but this one called "End of an Error" is my favorite.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Republicans vote to keep fleecing American seniors

Sen. Stabenow and Sen. Levin voted to save senior citizens money on prescriptions, but in the end it wasn't enough to overcome corporate aligned Republicans.

From the AFL-CIO blog:
Republican Senate leaders today blocked a bill that would have allowed Medicare to negotiate with the drug giants for lower prices. In doing so, they came down on the side of big pharmaceutical companies that make billions in profits on which America’s seniors rely—and against consumers who depend upon the Medicare program for affordable medication.

The 55-42 vote fell five votes short of the 60 needed to shut off Senate floor debate and move the bill to a vote on passage. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) voted to end debate, but switched his vote to maintain the right to bring the bill up again.
That's small comfort since President Bush said he'd veto the drug negotiation bill if it made it to his desk anyhow.

What hypocrites. Republicans worry about saving their corporate cronies and high-income friends billions of tax dollars, but they won't vote to save senior citizens a few lousy dollars on medication. I'm sure this explains part of it:
The pharmaceutical industry has joined the Bush White House in vigorously opposing lower Medicare prices through negotiations. After the House passed the bill, drug companies launched a massive lobbying and PR campaign aimed at the Senate. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV spots and newspaper ads to foment against the bill, and its lobbyists swarmed the Capitol as the Senate vote neared.
Big Pharma could pass along price reductions to seniors. The industry is in good health and major pharmaceutical companies are reporting first quarter earnings that beat expectations.

And they certainly have plenty of money to lavish on CEO's. According to the AFL-CIO Executive PayWatch:
The head of Wyeth took home $32.8 million in 2006. A few others: Abbott Laboratories, $26.9 million; Pfizer Inc., $19.4 million; and Baxter, $13.5 million.
Edward Coyle, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, said this prior to the vote yesterday:
This is the moment of truth for senators and for President Bush: Do they stand with retirees struggling to afford their drugs, or do they stand with the big drug companies who want to keep fleecing American seniors?
Well, we know where they stand now. And they call themselves the values party?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Taxation is a moral issue

Tax deadline day. Our dance with the devil is done for another year (unless you filed an extension). How do you feel about taxes? Do you think our tax system is fair?

America’s Tax Burden Shifts Downward
The tax burden in the U.S. is shifting away from the rich, to the point where in a few years it could change from being progressive to effectively flat.
It often strikes me as inequitable, especially when I read things like this:

New Research Shows Wal-Mart Rigs the System to Skip Out on $2.3 Billion in State Taxes
Wal-Mart appears to be skipping out on its fair share of taxes that most Americans have to pay to help support state governments. New research conducted in part by a leading non-partisan, non-profit tax organization reveals that Wal-Mart avoided $2.3 billion in state income taxes, cutting its payment to state governments almost in half between 1999 and 2005.
Our state sure could use every penny of that money Wal-Mart avoids paying. I don't shop there and this just gives me one more reason not to start.

Personally, I don't mind paying taxes because I get peace of mind knowing those dollars give me protection (police, firefighters, military, public health) and they provide the infrastructure I depend on daily (roads, clean water, public education, parks, bridges).

Polls here in Michigan show most of us want these same things, but few of us are willing to pay for them. We all want something for nothing these days, but that's just not realistic. We have to change our way of looking at taxes, and we also have to change the way we tax people, especially here in Michigan.

George Lakoff believes
progressive taxation is the moral way to deal with taxation and he makes a pretty good argument in favor of it:
Taxes are part of our common wealth, what we all share. Protection and empowerment serve the common good. Because of our common wealth, we are all protected and America's empowering infrastructure is available to all. That is a fundamental America value: the common wealth should serve the common good. It benefits everyone.

Citizens are financially responsible to maintain this common wealth. If we shirked this responsibility, we could not maintain our roads, fund our schools, protect ourselves from military threats, enforce our laws, and so on. Equally importantly, we could not create prosperity for ourselves, because we would have no protection of our intellectual property, no oversight of our markets, no means to enforce our contracts, no way to educate most of our children.

Ordinary people just drive on the highways; corporations send fleets of trucks. Ordinary people may get a bank loan for their mortgage; corporations borrow money to buy whole companies. Ordinary people rarely use the courts; most of the courts are used for corporate law and contract disputes. Corporations and their investors -- those who have accumulated enough money beyond basic needs so they can invest -- make much more use, compound use, of the empowering infrastructure provided by everybody's tax money.

The wealthy have made greater use of the common good -- they have been empowered by it in creating their wealth -- and thus they have a greater moral obligation to sustain it. They are merely paying their debt to society in arrears and investing in future empowerment. [emphasis mine]
When you stop to think about it, we all pay our debt to society in arrears. Citizens who came before us paid taxes so we could be educated, have police protection, drive on decent roads, etc., so I can see why Lakoff calls progressive taxation a moral issue. Instead of paying it ahead, we're all paying it backwards for the benefit of those generations growing up behind us just as our father did, and his father did, etc., etc.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

No help with your shut-off notice? Thank a Republican.

This is unwelcome news: Emergency aid for utility bills almost gone
The state's Low Income Energy Assistance Program stopped taking applications for emergency assistance this week because the fund will be depleted April 21 due to cuts from the federal government. As a result, people who have received shut-off notices from their utility companies may not get the help they need to keep their service.

Congress slashed $22.3 million in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funds to Michigan, Udow said. Other states suffered similar cutbacks. [...]

Gov. Jennifer Granholm and 34 other governors have appealed to President Bush to release discretionary funding that is available for the program so the state could offer energy assistance.
People down on their luck and faced with possible shut off notices can thank Bush and the Republican Party. Over the past 6 years, the administration has slashed grants and funding for Medicaid, student loans, housing, job training, community development, children’s services, and other programs that help moderate-to-low income people. These cuts substantially impact state finances and force states to decide between cutting critical programs or forking out scarce state dollars to maintain them. Here in Michigan, the Republican Party chooses to cut programs that benefit our neediest citizens.

These cutbacks seem a little surreal to me. The Bush administration asked for and received hundreds of billions of dollars for their war based on lies, yet Americans struggling to heat their homes face possible shut off notices. Yet, surprisingly, it's not the war in Iraq that has had the biggest effect on the Federal budget and subsequent cuts in funding. It's been Bush's tax cuts, as
this chart from the EPI shows:

According to their data, ending the Iraq war would cut the deficit by almost half based on Congressional Budget Office projections for 2007, but reversing the Bush tax cuts would eliminate the budget deficit altogether.

It would also help ease the minds of millions of Americans struggling to heat their homes, educate their children, etc.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Levin on Cheney: There he goes again

Yesterday, it was Lee Iaccoca blasting Bush, and today it's Sen. Carl Levin calling Cheney on his lies.

From the LA Times:
Tell us another one, Mr. Vice President
TO PARAPHRASE President Reagan, there he goes again.

On Rush Limbaugh's radio program last week, Vice President Dick Cheney spoke about Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi and stated: "He went to Baghdad. He took up residence there before we ever launched into Iraq, organized the Al Qaeda operations inside Iraq…. This is Al Qaeda operating in Iraq and, as I say, they were present before we invaded Iraq."

It is incredible that more than four years after the invasion, the vice president is still trying to convince the public that Saddam Hussein's regime was connected to Al Qaeda and that Zarqawi's presence in Iraq was evidence of a connection.

While the vice president doesn't say directly that there was a tie between the two, his clear purpose is to blur the line between Al Qaeda — the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks — and the Iraqi dictator in order to justify the war in Iraq.

The problem is, that's simply not supported by the facts or by our intelligence community — and everyone except the vice president acknowledges it. In September, for example, the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in a bipartisan report that Hussein was "distrustful of Al Qaeda and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from Al Qaeda to provide material or operational support." And the CIA reported a year earlier, in October 2005, that the Iraqi regime "did not have a relationship, harbor or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates." As the Intelligence Committee report noted, the Iraqi intelligence service was actually trying to capture Zarqawi, who was in Baghdad under an alias. Is the vice president willfully ignoring what the rest of the government has concluded? Or does he have access to information he hasn't shared with us? If so, he should produce it.

The vice president has a clear, documented pattern of overstating and misstating information with regard to Iraq. He also, for instance, continued to claim that 9/11 terrorist Mohamed Atta may have met with an Iraqi agent in Prague — long after the intelligence community believed otherwise. Again, his obvious purpose is to link Hussein's regime with Sept. 11, even though the rest of the world has concluded that no such link exists.

The vice president has made so many outlandish statements that the country barely raised an eyebrow at his false statement last week. The public has stopped believing the words of a man who promised, before we invaded Iraq, that we would be "greeted as liberators" and reassured us nearly two years ago that the insurgency was in its "last throes."

But his comments continue to erode our credibility with the international community, which has already been severely damaged by our rush to war with Iraq with little international support. If, in the months ahead, we face a crisis over Iran's weapons programs and need to rally the international community, we may find that the world has little interest in trusting an administration that misstates facts.

By all accounts, Dick Cheney is one of the most powerful vice presidents in our history, if you define power as influence over policy. We need to ask ourselves: What does it mean for our country when the vice president's words lack credibility, but he still wields great power?
It means too many voters are taking at face value the ideas they're being fed instead of reading, investigating and thinking for themselves. Thankfully, Levin doesn't fall in line that easily. He voted against the war from the start (against popular opinion) and played a key role in determining that the connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda was intentionally misleading.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lee Iaccoca asks a question

Iaccoca has a new book coming out that rips the Bush administration up one side and down the other and asks a question many of us have been echoing for years now: Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

What makes this so interesting is the fact that Iaccoca is a Republican who was friends with Reagan, endorsed Bush in 2000, and even endorsed Dick DeVos in his failed gubernatorial campaign last year. Here's an excerpt:
Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can’t even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, “Stay the course.”

Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I’ll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!

You might think I’m getting senile, that I’ve gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies. Congress responds to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy (thanks, but I don’t need it). The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we’re fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard questions. That’s not the promise of America my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I’ve had enough. How about you?

I’ll go a step further. You can’t call yourself a patriot if you’re not outraged…. Why are we in this mess? How did we end up with this crowd in Washington? Well, we voted for them — or at least some of us did. But I’ll tell you what we didn’t do. We didn’t agree to suspend the Constitution. We didn’t agree to stop asking questions or demanding answers. Some of us are sick and tired of people who call free speech treason. Where I come from that’s a dictatorship, not a democracy.
Iaccoca goes on to say he's never been Commander in Chief, but he's been a CEO and he understands a few things about leadership. In fact, he's calls the qualities necessary his "Nine Cs of Leadership." Check the list for yourself and see how he blasts Bush on every single criteria.

So why is Iaccoca speaking out now? In his own words:
I'm speaking out because I have hope. I believe in America. In my lifetime I've had the privilege of living through some of America's greatest moments. I've also experienced some of our worst crises—the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, the 1970s oil crisis, and the struggles of recent years culminating with 9/11. If I've learned one thing, it's this: You don't get anywhere by standing on the sidelines waiting for somebody else to take action. Whether it's building a better car or building a better future for our children, we all have a role to play. That's the challenge I'm raising in this book. It's a call to action for people who, like me, believe in America. It's not too late, but it's getting pretty close. So let's shake off the horseshit and go to work. Let's tell 'em all we've had enough.
Why did you wait till the Titanic almost sunk to speak up, Lee? Better late than never I guess, but your silence was akin to "standing on the sidelines waiting for somebody else to take action" in my opinion.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Cats and pigeon poop

We adopted a cat from a rescue mission over the weekend. Don't laugh, but I named her Kitty. I know it's not imaginative, but it really fits her. She's dainty and prissy and Kitty just seemed right. She's also a talker. She discovered the bird feeder we have hanging outside of our dining room window and you should hear her scold the finches and chickadees. It's hilarious.

Watching Kitty watch the birds reminded me of something I read last week. The Republicans are holding their National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota next year and there's a bit of a problem. The downtown is
plagued with pigeon poop that city officials feel will soil their image and offend Republicans. So what's their plan? Read on:
“What we learned is that you can’t control the number of pigeons by killing them. They’re like rats — they just reproduce,” said Bob Kessler, the city’s director of licensing, inspections and environmental protection.

This time, the city is offering the pigeons their own real estate — rooftop nesting grounds. And then, just when they relax and lay their eggs, maintenance workers plan to sneak up through trap doors and grab the next generation before it hatches.

“We’ll build them little condos. We’ll keep taking the eggs, and they won’t have little ones,” said Bill Stephenson, the city’s animal control supervisor. “Slowly they’ll die off.”
I've not heard a chirp from the Republican Party about this plan to abort the baby pigeons, which is rather puzzling since they promote themselves as defenders of life. I guess pigeons don't rate defending because they don't make big cash donations.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The payroll figures (without my rose-colored glasses)

Most financial pages are cheering the employment figures released today. From Bloomberg, U.S. March Payrolls Rise 180,000, Jobless Rate Drops:
"Jobs are plentiful and employers are giving fairly large wage increases," Robert Gay, managing director at Fenwick Advisers LLC in Rye, New York, and a former Fed economist, said before the report. "Outside housing and manufacturing, the rest of the economy is doing pretty well and continuing to create jobs."
That sounds pretty good on the surface, until I dig a little deeper. From Kiplinger:
Even so, take the robust gain of 180,000 jobs last month with a grain of salt. Most likely, a portion of March's increase was a bounceback from hiring that was postponed in February by bad weather, particularly in the construction and retail trades.

Another sign of potential concern: Hiring in professional and business services, such as engineering and accounting, fell for the first time in many months. This could signal that the services sector, which accounts for about 80% of total employment, is feeling some of the slowdown that seems to have been confined mainly to manufacturing until now.

The net increase for March, plus revisions to the preceding two months, leave the monthly average employment increase at 152,000 for the first quarter of this year, compared with 188,000 for all of last year. We expect the average to fall to around 110,000 for 2007, yielding about 1.3 million jobs, as companies facing slowing profit growth try to contain labor costs.

The unemployment rate will creep up to about 5% by year end from the 4.4% rate posted in March. [emphasis mine]
An opinion in USA Today points in the same direction:
A slowing in the economy will likely soon lead to a deterioration in the job market, says Richard Moody, chief economist at Mission Residential in Austin, Texas. He expects job growth to ease to between 100,000 and 115,000 a month later this year.

"This might be the high water mark" for job creation for the near future, Moody says.
Adding credence to Kiplinger's concern about the decline in professional and business services hiring is this other nugget from USA Today:
Alan Blinder, a former Federal Reserve vice chairman, fears that in the next 10 to 20 years, this country could see 40 million jobs in such areas as accounting, health care and computer programming move overseas. He says the Internet and other communications advances make the physical location of these workers all but irrelevant. Even Wall Street is pushing for regulatory relief to partially offset the exploding global competition for investment banking services. [emphasis mine]

All of this makes for an interesting business model. But it raises troubling questions about the direction of the American economy and society.
The direction appears to be downward for a majority of workers faced with unemployment:
Across America, more than 30 million people have been forced out of jobs since the early 1980s, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, and regaining lost incomes has not been easy. Nearly 50 million new jobs have been created over that same period, according to the bureau, so there are always new opportunities but more often than not at lower pay. Among those who have lost work, only a third held new jobs two years later that paid as well as those that were lost, according to the bureau’s surveys of displaced workers. Another third of those displaced were in jobs that paid, on average, 15 to 20 percent less than their previous employment — while the final third had dropped out of the labor force entirely.
Which helps to explain this:
Commerce Department data released today show that the share of national income going to wages and salaries in 2006 was at its lowest level on record, with data going back to 1929.[1] The share of national income captured by corporate profits, in contrast, was at its highest level on record. [2]
Which in turn helps to explain this: Ford pays new CEO $39.1M in 4 months

And Washington wonders why most Americans see their glass as being half empty.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Still waiting on the moral majority to do the right thing

Here's where we stand on raising the minimum wage in case you're keeping score:

In January, the House passed a clean, no-strings-attached bill to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25. Then, in late January, the Senate Republican minority killed the clean bill and filibustered for a week until Democrats agreed to include $8.3 billion in business tax breaks as part of the package.

In spite of getting what they wanted, the bill still hasn't passed. Republicans refused to let the bill go to conference because they were afraid the tax giveaways wouldn't survive. Meanwhile, 13 million workers continue to work at poverty level wages, left behind by the so-called "moral majority."

There's a glimmer of hope that all is not lost though. From the AFL-CIO Blog:
There may have been a small step forward last week. Before leaving town for a two-week spring vacation, the Senate passed a supplemental spending bill for the war in Iraq that includes the $2.10 raise in the minimum wage. But the trade off for that $2.10 is more than $12 billion in tax breaks for business. That’s right, they tacked on another $3.9 billion in tax giveaways.

Minimum wage supporters hope the action might jump-start House and Senate negotiations on the tax break part of the minimum wage bill. The House has offered $1.3 billion in targeted tax breaks but that leaves a $10 billion gap to overcome.
I guess Republicans conveniently forgot that companies already received $300 billion in tax breaks since the last minimum wage increase. They should just pass the bill without any tax breaks. This is just a greedy grab for more.

In the end though, none of this will probably matter. President Bush said he will veto the overall bill because it calls for the beginning of a troop withdrawal from Iraq, and I have no doubt he'll follow through with his threat. As Cheney reminded us over the weekend, "the U.S. military answers to the president, not Congress."

That's correct, but I'd like to remind Cheney and Bush that they answer to the voters, and the voters have overwhelmingly said they want our troops home within a year.

The same goes for members of both houses. You answer to the voters, and the voters overwhelmingly favor increasing the minimum wage. What are you waiting for?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

MIGOP: Turn Left

Attention Mike Bishop and fellow Republicans: Goldwater and Reagan were important leaders, but they’re not models for the future.

That advice actually applies to all Republicans across the country, not just here in Michigan, and it comes from a very unlikely source - GOP cheerleader David Brooks.

From the
DMI blog:
Yesterday David Brooks (password required) floated the certain-to-be-controversial idea that the Republican Party should not look back to Reagan and Goldwater for inspiration on the political road ahead. Rather than trying to drown government in a bathtub, Brooks implies, Republicans should focus on helping people feel more secure - including increasing economic security.

Much as it pains me to say it, Brooks is onto something. Here at the non-partisan Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, we welcome a more progressive turn from any political party, organization, or individual.

In support of this idea, Brooks cites a new poll from the Pew Center for People and the Press.

The poll doesn't just reveal that Americans trust the Democrats more on a wide range of issues, it shows increasing support for progressive policy. About seven in ten Americans agree that "government should care for those who can't care for themselves" a 12-point increase since the "Republican revolution" of 1994. Two-thirds of Americans are in favor of the government providing health insurance to all citizens -- even if it means raising taxes -- and this includes a majority of those who generally prefer smaller government. Seven in ten Republicans support raising the minimum wage. Three quarters of Americans think business is too powerful. [emphasis mine]
They only have themselves to blame. The Republican Party is slowly becoming irrelevant because they don't have the foggiest notion of what it means to have values. That's why they no longer speak for the 70% of Americans who agree that "government should care for those who can't care for themselves."