Friday, August 31, 2007

Government can be a force for good

As we consider the fruits of our labor this weekend, most of us will be discussing the growing number of working people without health care. By and large, Americans feel insurance companies are the problem, and a majority of us think the government should provide health insurance for all of us - even if it means raising our taxes.

Canada's health system is often used as an example of the kind of plan we should emulate. Is this a good idea? One Canadian businessman thinks so.
Canadian care costs less, insures all citizens and could help cut U.S. poverty, crime rates

By David Karwacki
The Salt Lake Tribune

(Editor, Salt Lake Tribune: The writer is addressing the question, “Should the U.S. use Canada as its model for health-care reform?”)

SASKATOON, Saskatchewan - Americans set their sights admirably high by seeking a Jeffersonian guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Advances in medical science and technology, especially diagnostics and pharmaceuticals, can certainly help them achieve those goals - if they can afford them. Many millions, unfortunately, find their life, liberty and happiness threatened because of illness and a lack of access to even basic, let alone advanced, medical care.

Access to universal medical coverage was introduced in my province of Saskatchewan in 1962 and was adopted by the federal government to apply to all Canadians in 1964.

Instead of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Canada’s constitution stresses “peace, order and good government.” We believe that government can be a force for good and in some areas - public health care being one - and can actually do a better job than private corporate interests.

For more than 40 years Canada’s Medicare has improved the quality of life for tens of millions of people, liberated them from the threat of unaffordable medical bills and made it easier for them to pursue their own definition of happiness.

Our Medicare system isn’t perfect, but then neither is democracy. We don’t think that’s reason enough to get rid of them. Besides, there’s more than just a political “feel-good” reason for embracing universal health care. It’s good for business.

I’m the owner of a company in Canada and another in the United States that distribute fresh produce around the globe. My Canadian company has three corporate advantages over my U.S. company and our U.S. competitors: healthy workers, lower operating costs and better worker safety through social cohesion.

In my experience, healthy workers are more productive because they take less sick time than those who don’t, or can’t afford, to take care of their health. Lack of health-care access is a barrier to preventive care. Those who ignore early symptoms of an illness because their credit cards are maxed-out end up being less productive and may have to leave the work force. Then the employer faces the expense of training replacement workers.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that total health expenditures in Canada amounted to 9.9 percent of GDP in 2004. In the United States it was 15.3 percent. And even though Americans spend more on health care, their life expectancy is, on average, two years less than Canadians.

Many U.S. companies enjoy a competitive edge in technology because of the R&D of the military industrial complex. In Canada it’s our single-insurer health-care system that provides us with a competitive advantage.

My U.S. company pays, on average, a premium of $9,300 per year for each employee to provide just basic medical insurance. My Canadian firm pays no premium. The costs are paid out of taxes and from resource royalties.

High health-care costs in the United States have been cited as one very big reason for what some people are calling “the outsourcing of America.” Witness the steady decline of the domestic auto-manufacturing sector.

Finally, I would argue that universal health care provides a social cohesion and increases our general security by helping to lift people out of poverty. A healthy population with access to health care is more likely to be productive and beneficial to the community. The rates of violent crime in Canada have yet to reach even a shadow of what is happening in America.

The economic reasons for universal medical coverage are clear. Just as important, however, is what Medicare says about our country and its people. We believe in the principle that everyone should have access to reasonable health care. That way life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is for all of us - not just those who can afford it [all emphasis added].
Most Americans believe that everyone should have access to health care too, but it won't happen unless we vote for the candidates that see eye-to-eye with us instead of the insurance companies and lobbyists.

unions are on our side. So are Physicians for a National Health Plan, Rep. John Conyers and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich. They all sponsor HR 676, which would expand Medicare to everyone. Medicare is a government success. It's provides accessible health care to millions of senior and disabled Americans, and about 98% of the money that goes into the Medicare program comes back out as medical services. I call that a good government program, and we all deserve to have that same level of care.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

AFL-CIO: Quality health care for ALL in 2009

Earlier this week, the Census Bureau released figures showing the number of Americans without health insurance increased for the sixth straight year to 47 million people. The problem isn't limited just to the poor either. The fastest growing group of people without health insurance includes those in households making $75,000 or more.

Having a job used to pretty much guarantee you'd have health insurance. That's no longer the case, and it's gotten the attention of labor unions. Michigan Liberal
reports the following from Mark Gaffney, President of the Michigan AFL-CIO:
Union members are very concerned about the cost of health care and if they become unemployed, its availability. Polls show union members generally are favorable towards their own coverage, but understand the crisis of the un-insured. Unionized workers generally have better coverage and unionized employers generally cover more of the cost of health insurance. Yet unions and their members understand America needs a national solution to our nationwide problem.
John Sweeney, President of the AFL-CIO, is speaking out too: In America, No One Should Go Without Health Care

[...]One of the greatest economic burdens working families face today is the insane, out-of-control cost of health care. One in four Americans say their family has had a problem paying for medical care during the past year. The cost of health care -- rising far faster than workers' wages or inflation -- is a major factor in housing problems and bankruptcies. In fact, every 30 seconds in the United States someone files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious health problem.

Meanwhile, insurance and drug companies are making stunning profits, health insurance CEOs averaged $8.7 million in 2006 compensation and pharmaceutical company CEOs pulled down an average of $4.4 million.

The rest of us aren't faring so well. The annual premium cost for a family health plan has close to doubled since 2000, from $6,351 to an astonishing $11,480. Soaring health coverage costs are crippling U.S. companies' ability to compete internationally -- health benefits accounted for an estimated $1,300 of the cost of a new car made by the Big Three in 2005, for example. As costs grow higher, fewer employers are providing health coverage for employees--and fewer workers are able to afford their share of the costs or to buy policies on their own. The outrageous price tags on insurance policies are driving increases in the number of people without coverage. The federal government just let us know that another 2.2 million people -- including 600,000 more children -- lost health insurance last year, meaning 47 million of us now cannot afford to get sick.

In the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth, that is just not acceptable. In America, no one should go without health care.
The union is doing more than simply talking, they're putting their words into action:
The AFL-CIO is turning Labor Day 2007 into the start of a drive to win quality health care for all in 2009. With 10 million members and nearly 3 million union retirees, we intend to make the 2008 elections a mandate on health care. The union families who made up a quarter of voters last year are going to mobilize as never before to elect a Congress and a president who will enact the kind of real health care reform America needs.

You don't have to look far to see that winning health care for all is going to be tough. President Bush has vowed to veto legislation that would extend health care to millions more children -- now, that's cold! He's protecting insurance interests rather than children's health, saying this could be a dangerous first step toward health care for all. He's right -- getting this legislation passed and overriding a Bush veto is the first step.

This fall and throughout 2008, union members will be mobilizing in their workplaces, in their neighborhoods and in their communities to demand that candidates and elected officials at every level commit to work for working families.
You can sign their petition asking for quality, affordable health care too. That's the first step. The next step is to vote only for those politicians willing to bring serious solutions to the table - solutions that leave no one uninsured.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

No more tax dollars for war

President Bush plans to ask Congress for up to $50 billion in additional funding for the war in Iraq. The cost of the war now exceeds $3 billion a week.

Enough is enough already. The Big Easy is still in trouble, the number of uninsured continues to grow, our infrastructure needs repairs and 36.5 million people are living in poverty. The war has wasted money that could have been used to help people here at home and abroad.

No wonder the rest of the world views us with such disgust. Our priorities are screwed up. We spend billions to destroy foreign countries and kill people, but we become miserly when it comes to using money for the common good.

What happened? When did we become a nation of

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Economic growth still bypassing most Americans

Here's the headline and spin from today's Census Bureau announcement:

U.S. poverty rate declines significantly
The nation's poverty rate dropped last year, the first significant decline since President Bush took office.
Here's the reality-based breakdown from the CBPP:
Today’s figures also show that while the overall poverty rate declined slightly (from 12.6 percent to 12.3 percent) between 2005 and 2006, the decline was largely concentrated among the elderly. The poverty rates for children and for working age adults remained statistically unchanged as compared to 2005, and well above their levels in 2001, when the last recession hit bottom.
Even more disturbing was this data:
The percentage of Americans who lack health insurance stood at 15.8 percent in 2006, up from 15.3 percent in 2005. The number of people who are uninsured rose by 2.2 million in 2006, to 47 million, the highest level on record (with comparable data going back to 1999).
I don't call those significant achievements by any stretch of the imagination and, as the EPI points out, once again it's the households at the top who gained the most:
Between 2000 and 2006, the average income of the lowest fifth is down 4.5%, the middle fifth is down 2.5%, and only the top fifth is up, by 1%. Similarly, today’s report revealed that the share of income going to the top fifth of households was 50.5%, the highest share on record going back to 1967. The middle-income share was 14.5%, the lowest on record. The bottom income share has been 3.4% since 2003, also an historic low.
Although the decline in poverty rates for the elderly was welcome news, living standards have not recovered to their levels in 2000 when poverty was 11.3% compared to 12.3% in 2006. That's an increase in the poverty rolls of 4.9 million persons, including 1.2 million children. Same for median household income. In 2006 it was $48,201, about $1,000 dollars (minus 2%) below its 2000 level.

No wonder consumer sentiment continues to fall. As Robert Greenstein, executive director of the CBPP notes:
“Five years into an economic recovery, the country has yet to make progress in reducing poverty, raising the typical working-age family’s income, or stemming the rise in the ranks of the uninsured, compared even to where we were in the last recession. The new figures on median income and poverty are the latest evidence that the economic growth of the past few years has been very uneven, with the gains being concentrated among those who already are the most well off. Too many middle- and low-income families are not sharing in the gains.”
All I can say is, the Bush administration should be ashamed.

Friday, August 24, 2007

How are those tax cuts working out for you?

From the EPI:
One of the most frequently heard phrases in certain Washington policy circles is "the tax cuts are working." [...]

The logic behind this claim falls under the rubric of "supply-side economics." The basic idea is that taxes constrain investment and employment growth. So if taxes are cut, by this logic one expects investment and employment would grow more quickly. This mobilization of investment and labor in turn would generate faster overall growth. Extreme forms of supply-side arguments assert that the extra growth results in a surge of government revenue large enough to allow the tax cuts to "pay for themselves."
What does the evidence show from tax cuts in the 2000's (in red) and tax increases in the 1990's (in blue) over the first six years of those recoveries? Check out the figure below.

Contrary to supply-side arguments, both investment and employment grew considerably faster in the 1990s, when tax increases raised revenue, compared to the 2000s, when the tax cuts lowered revenue. Investment grew 35% more quickly in the 1990s, and employment grew 6% faster.
What was it President Bush said at the beginning of the month?
And hardworking Americans have used this tax relief to produce strong and lasting economic growth.
The problem is that nearly all of the growth in incomes was among those in the upper reaches of the income ladder and the majority of investment tax breaks went to those making more than $1 million.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Poll: Voters Say Reauthorize, Expand SCHIP

A new poll by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that Americans overwhelmingly support the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which provides states with federal funds to design health insurance programs for vulnerable children.

Nearly nine in 10 voters (86%) say they support reauthorizing SCHIP, and a clear majority (63%) say they support expanding SCHIP's budget by an additional $35 billion over five years.

Poll results show:
An overwhelming majority of voters support reauthorizing SCHIP for another five years (86% support).

Voters support reauthorization regardless of political party, with 77 percent of Republicans, 86 percent of Independents and 93 percent of Democrats supporting reauthorization.

More than three out of four voters support reauthorization, even when told that the Congressional Budget Office says it will cost $39 billion over five years to maintain the program in its current state (77% support).

Even when these costs are explained, support for reauthorization remains strong across voters from different political parties (Republicans -- 64% support; Independents -- 78% support; Democrats -- 86% support).

Nearly two out of three voters say they support expanding SCHIP to cover an additional 4 million uninsured children at an additional cost of $35 billion over five years (63% support).

This expansion of SCHIP is even supported by a majority of self-identified 'conservatives.' (Conservatives -- 53% support; Moderates -- 67% support; Liberals -- 73% support)

Nearly two out of three voters say they disagree with President Bush's decision to veto legislation passed by Congress to expand SCHIP (64% disagree).
Unlike Bush and most Republicans, a majority of Americans have their priorities straight. The health of our children is priceless.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Detroit's newspapers continue downward trend

Jack Lessenberry has the statistics to prove what Detroit-area readers think of the Detroit News and Free Press:
In July 2006, the Detroit Free Press circulation was 315,519. Over the last year, as the paper became more and more Gannettized, that dropped to 305,137. That's a loss of more than 10,000 customers.

The Detroit News, which was pretty much destroyed by two decades of Gannett ownership before being partially liberated in 2005, lost subscribers too, but only a third as many. It now sells 192,722 copies a day. (Twenty years ago, before being combined in a competition-killing monopoly business agreement, each paper had more than 600,000 subscribers.)

For an even clearer indication of the marketing genius of Gannett, the all-dominant partner in the Detroit newspaper partnership, consider the circulation of the Sunday paper, which is purely a Gannett product, except for a News editorial page stuck in. It fell fastest of all, from 652,000 last year to 625,000 this year.
That's a pretty steep decline by most people's standards. I realize our economy is struggling and people's wages have fallen, but a paper is still a cheap form of entertainment compared to a movie, sporting event or dinner out. The fact that people aren't choosing to spend whatever discretionary money they have on a Gannett newspaper subscription says one thing - it isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

It's all in the message, Gannett, and the message your writers send (especially at the Detroit News) is that Michigan sucks, Michigan's workers suck, Michigan's governor and Democratic leaders suck, and all union households suck. And so do all African Americans, women, homosexuals, Arabs and children.

Do you see the problem, Gannett?
Apparently not. Lessenberry has the details:
How did the Gannett-controlled Detroit newspaper partnership respond to this staggering vote of no confidence? By getting rid of all their circulation customer service staff! In a memo they sent to the soon-to-be-axed employees, the corporate monster announced, "Our customer service operation will be consolidated into a Gannett regional call center in Tulsa, Oklahoma." That change, which becomes effective Oct. 14, "will mean the elimination of most customer service positions." However, wage slaves take heart. There will be "retention of a few part-time jobs."

Naturally, I am sure the flacks would tell you that service like this is has no relation to the fact that Gannett's stock price has fallen 42 percent over the last three years, or that rumors of a takeover of the company are sweeping Wall Street. I do have an idea to save Detroit's newspapers, however:

Heavily promote keeping pet guinea pigs. They constantly pee, and require massive amounts of newspapers to line the bottom of their cages. The newspapers are unwilling to do much about quality, but a few cheap summer interns could puff up the delights of pig ownership.
GUINEA PIG TRASHES NOLAN FINLEY EDITORIAL. Now that's a headline that just might tempt me to buy one of their papers!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Can I get my social security converted into pesos?

I'm a grandmother now, so I need to start thinking about my - gulp - old age. Will my money last as long as I do? What happens if I get sick and need to go to a nursing home? If you're like me, then you've probably worried about these things too, but don't despair, we might make it to the end before our nest egg does after all. USA Today has the scoop:

Seniors head south to Mexican nursing homes
After Jean Douglas turned 70, she realized she couldn't take care of herself anymore. Her knees were giving out, and winters in Bandon, Ore., were getting harder to bear alone.

[...] After searching the Internet for other options, she joined a small but steadily growing number of Americans who are moving across the border to nursing homes in Mexico, where the sun is bright and the living is cheap.

For $1,300 a month — a quarter of what an average nursing home costs in Oregon — Douglas gets a studio apartment, three meals a day, laundry and cleaning service, and 24-hour care from an attentive staff, many of whom speak English. She wakes up every morning next to a glimmering mountain lake, and the average annual high temperature is a toasty 79 degrees.
According to USA Today, retirement homes are relatively new in Mexico and there's little government regulation, but the U.S. Embassy doesn't report any complaints against Mexican nursing homes. That doesn't mean residents haven't complained though. One woman reported her home was staffed by "gossips and thieves" and another claimed "It was filthy, and the food was very bad. It was all made in the microwave."

Those are legitimate complaints, but they're also similar to ones lodged against nursing homes here in the U.S. My mother is in a nursing home and she often complains about people stealing from her, but 90% of the time the missing item ends up being found in her wastebasket or pocket. Gossip is one of her complaints too, yet she's guilty of the same behavior. I think some old people just like to complain. That's not the case for this gentleman:
Residents such as Richard Slater say they are happy in Mexico. Slater came to Lake Chapala four years ago and now lives in his own cottage at the Casa de Ancianos, surrounded by purple bougainvillea and pomegranate trees.

He has plenty of room for his two dogs and has a little patio that he shares with three other American residents. He gets 24-hour nursing care and three meals a day, cooked in a homey kitchen and served in a sun-washed dining room. His cottage has a living room, bedroom, kitchenette, bathroom and a walk-in closet.

For this Slater pays $550 a month, less than one-tenth of the going rate back home in Las Vegas. For another $140 a year, he gets full medical coverage from the Mexican government, including all his medicine and insulin for diabetes.
Hmmm...the health care issue could be a problem. I haven't really heard much about the quality of health care in Mexico. Slater relies on the Mexican SSI, which runs clinics and hospitals nationwide and allows foreigners to enroll in its program even if they never worked in Mexico or paid taxes to support the system, because Medicare, Medicaid, the Department of Veterans Affairs and most U.S. insurance companies will not cover care or medicine as long as patients are outside the United States. Slater has firsthand experience with their medical care though. He recently had gallbladder surgery and reports he paid nothing.

Any doubts Americans may have about retiring to Mexico haven't gone unnoticed by developers and officials, who see an opportunity to fill a need and make a lot of money.
Developers of "independent living" facilities for seniors are also beginning to look to Mexico. A Spanish-U.S. venture is building Sensara Vallarta, a 250-unit condominium complex aimed at Americans 50 and older in the Pacific Coast resort of Puerto Vallarta. And in the northern city of Monterrey, El Legado is marketing itself as a "home resort" for seniors.

Academics and government officials are beginning to take notice. In March, the University of Texas at Austin held a forum for developers, hospital officials, insurance companies and policymakers to discuss health care for retirees in Mexico.

"With the right facilities in place, Mexico could give (American retirees) a better quality of life at a better price than they could find in the United States," says Flavio Olivieri, a member of Tijuana's Economic Development Council, which is seeking funding from Mexico's federal government to build more retirement homes. "We think this could be a very good business as these baby boomers reach retirement age," he says.
Mexico could give American retirees a better quality of life at a better price than they could find in the United States? That's disturbing to even read those words. I think we should be taking care of one another here at home. If a person makes the choice to move to Mexico because they like the climate, culture or country, that's their choice. However, if a person moves to Mexico because they can't afford to maintain their same quality of life here, that's just wrong and we should be ashamed.

It's great to know Mexico is an option for retirees, and we all like to have options, but our golden years should not be at the whim of dollars and cents - or pesos.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Michigan connections in the news

As Rodney Dangerfield might say, I got nothing. I'm not inspired to write, but I've been doing a lot of reading, so let me share some links that all have ties to Michigan.

First, from Schools Matter, comes this little tidbit about All Children Matter, founded by Michigan's losing gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos:
What happens when someone like charter school kingin, David Brennan, wants to buy more influence in Ohio elections than state law will allow? You do what Tom Delay did--you simply launder the money through an out-of-state outfit like All Children Matter that turns your cash into campaign contributions for your preferred stable of candidates.
Wisconsin also filed a complaint, contending the group laundered money and failed to register, but the state elections board there refused to authorize an investigation.

Also related to the DeVos family name is this news regarding Alticor (formerly known as Amway):
Alticor Inc. has fired 15 long-term and highly influential Quixtar distributors who filed a class-action lawsuit against the direct sales giant last week.

The ramifications of the dust-up for the Ada-based parent company of Amway could be huge -- especially as the company faces increased regulatory pressure in India and the United Kingdom.

Seventeen distributors are named as plaintiffs in a scathing suit that says Quixtar operates as a pyramid scheme selling merchandise at prices so inflated it cannot be sold to anyone other than distributors.
Did the company really fire them or did some of them resign? Webraw reports that eight distributors posted their letter of resignation online the day before the Quixtar announcement.

The big news this week was Karl Rove's resignation, but did you know there might be a Michigan connection?

What Really Brought Rove Down?
When the Bush administration angered one of its most hard-right officials, he launched an investigation into Karl Rove's politicization of the federal government -- which may be what led to Rove's resignation.
Scott Bloch, director of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), may have been Rove's ultimate undoing. As you might recall, Bloch embarrassed the Bush administration in 2004 when he removed from his agency's website a notice of long-standing protections for gays and lesbians. Bush officials were forced to contradict Bloch's stance and Rove reportedly referred to Bush's religious-right supporters as "out of control." Shortly after this, Bloch demanded that most career attorneys in his office accept involuntary transfers or lose their jobs. Nearly all of these attorneys had challenged Bloch's decision to remove the nondiscrimination policy statement about gays and lesbians from the Web site and two were openly gay.

So, where's the Michigan connection, and how does this relate to Karl Rove? Read on:
One of the agency locations to which transfers were being made was a new office Bloch was opening in Michigan, even though the agency was dealing with very few cases in that region. However, the region was home to Ave Maria Law School, an institution founded by Thomas S. Monaghan, the Daddy Warbucks of new-right Catholics... Bloch ended the standard competition for law internships in his office and began hiring straight out of Ave Maria. [...]

Bloch may have thought that his brand of anti-union, homophobic loyalty to the Bush-Rove cause of misappropriating the taxpayer-funded apparatus of the federal government for partisan political purposes would win him some major kudos. But it was not to be. Apparently Bloch's Ave Maria-boostering and overtly anti-gay (hating both the sin and the sinner) antics were a bit over the top, as it were, so in 2005, Clay Johnson, the No. 2 at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) called on Bloch to resign, according to columnist Robert Novak. Then, wrote Novak, some mysterious, unnamed, Bush-loving Catholic was dispatched to Bloch to gently suggest the same.

When Bloch refused to tender his resignation, Johnson, according to Novak, set off an investigation of Bloch via a referral to the inspector general of the Office of Personnel Management. Bloch responded in kind, launching an OSC investigation into the administration's politicization of government agencies -- an investigation that landed at Rove's door.
Bloch's investigation led to the discovery of Rove's infamous PowerPoint presentation that "listed Democrats the White House has targeted for defeat in 2008" and to the discovery that Rove deployed officials from various government departments to appear with Republican members of Congress engaged in tough 2006 re-election fights (paid for by taxpayers). How ironic that a Bush appointee, one who was stereotypically loyal, hard-right and religious, might be responsible for Rove's resignation. It's too bad it took so long.

Finally, Romney says he could win Michigan if nominated. I don't think so. Romney is the wealthiest candidate in the race and isn't afraid to spend his own cash to get elected, but that didn't influence Michigan's voters when DeVos spent $35 million of his own kitty. He lost to Jennifer Granholm by a 14 point margin.

I don't think voters will be influenced by the fact his father, George Romney, was once our governor either. The voters bought that line of logic when they elected George Bush the son and look where that got us. Sorry, Mitt, but the Mitten says NO!

Monday, August 13, 2007

America's growing wealth gap

What kind of society do Americans want to create in this century? That question was posed by Amber Arellano in the Detroit News where she discussed the growing inequality between the haves and the have nots. If you know anything about the Detroit News, then you know they're usually a mouthpiece for Republicans, so I was prepared to read that those Americans falling behind are simply lazy, unmotivated people. I was pleasantly surprised. Arellano defends workers and argues that "Globalization is creating extreme winners and losers, much as industrialization did at the turn of the last century," and that we need to figure out how to make globalization work for everyone.

She also points out it's not just globalization that we should blame for the growing inequality.
In the U.S., education is also driving this dynamic. Americans with some college education have realized the strongest growth in wealth with an average net worth increase of 31 percent.

High school graduates' wealth modestly increased; dropouts' wealth actually declined.

That supports a recent survey that found the most likely person to leave Michigan today is a 40-something man with no college education -- the group most displaced by globalization.
So, what's the answer? How do we make globalization work for everyone?
Many Republicans and Democrats avoid talking about growing inequality. If they do, they argue the solution is for more folks to go to college. This crowd likes to blame Americans themselves.

On the other end of the spectrum, leaders such as John Edwards argue that creating more college-goers cannot be the only solution. If all or most Americans get a college education, they say, then the value of a college degree will decrease -- making all college grads' salaries fall.

Passionate Michiganians often echo Edwards' feelings.

The truth is, both crowds are right. The U.S. needs more college graduates to compete globally.

At the same time, we need policies that will reward the hard work of America's non-rich and boost their wealth, regardless of college degree.

We don't want to live in a country where only people with master's degrees can live a decent, middle-class life with strong K-12 schools, college and access to good health care.

Our policies need to consider the additional causes of our widening wealth gap, including tax breaks for the mega-wealthy; the lack of strong U.S. employment strategies; and the decline of unions, which were essential to building 20th-century America's middle class.

The question, really, comes down to this: What kind of society do Americans want to create in this century?

The avoiders will continue to try to weakly dispute whether inequality is growing.

But intelligent leaders and citizens will take on the issue. And the best will figure out how to make globalization work for more people.
Amen. We're not all college material, and quite frankly, we need janitors, plumbers, waiters, home health care aides, etc. Somewhere along the line, we've become snobs in this country. I was raised to respect a person regardless of what they did for a living and I passed that lesson along to my children. Some of them are college graduates and some of them aren't, but they all work hard for a living and deserve a decent middle-class lifestyle, as do all Americans.

Rewarding people for their hard work. That's the kind of society I want America to create in this century, and if leaders step forward with solutions to make that possible, they'll get my vote, and more than likely the votes of millions of other hardworking Americans too.

Friday, August 10, 2007

It's time to redefine compassion

I have to give credit where credit's due. The person responsible for "compassionate conservatism" was a marketing genius. He/she managed to paint Republicans as people who really care about the needs and concerns of average Americans. The public knows otherwise now and sees the hypocrisy behind the words, but I wonder if the person responsible for that term ever felt any remorse?

Moving along, Mother Jones has a rather
lengthy list of the ways all that compassion dings the poor and middle class. You can read the whole thing for yourself, but here's a sample.
1 in 4 U.S. jobs pay less than a poverty-level income.

During the 1980s, 13% of Americans age 40 to 50 spent at least one year below the poverty line; by the 1990s, 36% did.

Bush’s tax cuts (extended until 2010) save those earning between $20,000 and $30,000 an average of $10 a year, while those earning $1 million are saved $42,700.

Bush has proposed cutting housing programs for low-income people with disabilities by 50%.

83% of those earning $75,000 or more work for companies that offer insurance, versus 24% of those who earn less than $25,000.

2 in 5 elderly live on less than $18,000 a year, including Social Security benefits.

Since 1983, college tuition has risen 115%. The maximum Pell Grant for low- and moderate-income college students has risen only 19%.

Credit card late fees are 194% higher than in 1994.
And the item I found absolutely horrifying was this one:
Last fall, Minnesota firefighters let an elderly man’s mobile home burn down because he hadn’t paid a $25 “fire fee.”
Why is that allowed to happen in a country as rich as ours? Is that how a "compassionate" country treats their elderly?

Reading through that list again, I find myself shaking my head and asking is that how a "compassionate" country treats their poor, their uninsured, their students, and the people who work hard to provide for their families?

It's time for the Democrats to step up and redefine "compassion." The Republicans have corrupted and twisted the term to exclude the majority of us. They don't even respect our troops serving our country, as witnessed by their unwillingness to give them more time at home with their families between tours of duty. In fact, they don't even respect our troops after they serve. The Bush administration said it will resist restoring full educational benefits for returning veterans.

Some compassion, eh? You have to be a corporate crony if you expect to get any compassion from the Bush bunch.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Results from Consumer Reports health care survey

Consumer Reports recently conducted a survey of the health care experiences of 2,905 U.S. residents between the ages of 18 to 64, focusing on their experiences over the past 12 months. The respondents were not covered by Medicare or Medicaid. Here's a summary of their findings [emphasis added]:
Our findings indicate that there are three tiers of health care consumers in the United States: the adequately-insured, who account for 59% of all Americans in the population sampled; the underinsured, who represent 24% of all Americans sampled; and the uninsured, who comprise 16% of our sample. [...]

Our principal finding is that the underinsured represent a large segment of the American population between the ages of 18 to 64: 29% of all persons with health plans, and 24% of the population as a whole. Although the travails of the uninsured have been widely-documented, our observation is that the uninsured represent only one segment of those lacking adequate health insurance. When we add together the uninsured (16%) with the underinsured (24%), we find two-fifths of a nation burdened by health care jitters.

Here is a sample of the experiences of the underinsured in the past 12 months:

56% postponed needed medical care because of costs

33% had to dig deep into their savings to pay medical expenses

34% of those 50+ said decisions about retirement were adversely affected by health care expenses

21% made job-related decisions based _mainly _on health care needs.

27% had outstanding medical debts still owed doctors or hospitals, and 17% were carrying medical debts of $5,000 +

38% postponed home or car maintenance or repairs due to medical expenses

71% indicated they were dissatisfied with their household’s share of out-of-pocket medical expenses

37% said they were at all prepared to financially handle unexpected major medical expenses they might face in the next 12 months.
No wonder polls indicate health care is the number one domestic issue among voters. Two-fifths (40%) of the country is "burdened by health care jitters!" It's also pretty obvious that tax deductions and/or credits won't do much to help solve the problem. Whether underinsured or uninsured, people just don't have the money to pay for good medical care. This is just one more reason to push for national health insurance.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A reason to be thankful for Mike Bishop (snark)

I thought Sen. Mike Bishop (R-MI) was over-the-top when he censored BFM from senate computers for saying bad things about him, but Rep. Randy Kuhl (R-NY) makes him look almost rational. Kuhl has been under pressure from protesters lately for his continued support of Bush's war policy, but his thoughts on how to deal with them sends shivers down my spine.

From the
Huffington Post:
In an interview yesterday with the editorial board of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Kuhl said he has "thought about packing" firearms to fend off protesters:

"Kuhl said that he wasn't at his offices when the protesters in Bath and Fairport were there. When I asked him if he had ever protested, he said "Yes, when I walked off the floor in Congress recently." I asked if that means he thinks the protesters have a right to do so and he again said "yes, just not over the line." He said that the types of protests have caused him to rethink security at his offices and that means securing doors. He said they are "more protective now" and that he "thought about packing."" [emphasis mine]
Just how "over the line" were those protesters that Kuhl is considering carrying a gun? You be the judge.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Bishop yields to the First Amendment

In an about face, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop capitulated today and agreed to restore full access to Blogging for Michigan. (See previous post.) He released the following statement:
"I stand by the position that Senate employees should be not be using taxpayer equipment to view political blogs pursuant to Senate Rule 1.401(c). These blogs are of questionable content and employees who are paid to conduct the business of the people of Michigan should not be interacting with them during business hours.

"Senate Democrats seem intent on making this a debate on censorship and their right to view questionable political content during business hours. Senate Republicans believe this a discussion of the proper use of taxpayer resources and appropriate conduct during business hours and establishing strict guidelines on employee use of the Internet and websites.

"Access to the site in question has been restored. Given the evolving nature of the Internet in politics and the emergence of blogging in political commentary, I am directing the Secretary of the Senate to perform a full review of the Senate's current policies concerning employees' use of the Internet."
Senate Democrats were right to make this a debate on censorship. Bishop didn't block access to blogs on all sides of the aisle. He only blocked access to one, Blogging for Michigan, a liberal site that holds his feet to the fire and keeps him accountable. It also bears noting that Democrats weren't the only ones crying foul, Nick De Leeuw who runs the blog Right Michigan also said blocking the liberal website was censorship.

Our constitutional rights are too sacred to be taken lightly, Sen. Bishop. Next time you have an issue with a partisan site, stop, step back, and ask yourself how you'd feel if the shoe was on the other foot and Democrats were blocking a conservative blog.

Censorship doesn't belong in Michigan

Censorship doesn't belong anywhere in this country either, but it's alive and well in Michigan thanks to a certain state Republican. Here are the pertinent facts from Conservative Media:
Senate Majority Leader and chief obstructionist Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, took the unusual step and for the first time in Senate history illegally censored a liberal blog for daring to call him out on his foot-dragging and attempt to hold the state budget hostage for his political gain.

Subscription only Gognwer News Service reported Bishop ordered "Blogging for Michigan" blocked from being accessed from Senate computers, using the false claim that the blog was “created by a Senate employee using Senate equipment.” The blog was created and operated by Shiawassee County resident Christine Barry, a systems engineer, from her home. All the material posted comes from public sources, such as newspapers, newsletters, the Senate websites, the Senate Journal and the Senate session and most of the committees are broadcast live on the Senate web site. Not only that, the info is properly sourced with links, something you don’t see in the mainstream media. [...]

Ironically, this is the only blog that was blocked; leaving all three of the conservative blogs in the state, as well as that thing ran by the chair of the state GOP, even Michiganliberal was not blocked. [emphasis added]
I don't see the irony. I think this was a blatant attempt to censor BFM because they said things about our state Republicans that made them look bad (excuses like work productivity were also given). In fact, Matt Miner, Bishop's chief of staff, said other sites like Michigan Liberal weren't banned because they didn't say bad things about them. Boo-hoo, gentlemen. Get a grip on your manhood. We're talking about constitutional rights, not bruised egos.

Sadly, Michigan doesn't need anymore Republican-generated bad publicity, but that's just what's happening. The story has already been picked up by the
AP, Detroit Free Press, Lansing State Journal, and DailyKos.

More important than the black eye this gives our state, is the fact that Bishop is violating the free speech of one blog and, as
BFM points out, he's following in the footsteps of scandal-ridden Gov. Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky and (closer to home) Flint's Mayor Don Williamson. In Fletcher's case, he's being sued and the case is still in court, and in Williamson's case, the City of Flint ended up paying $150,000 for violating a person's civil rights. Detroit News blogger, Libby Spencer, sums up Bishop's actions best:
Bishop who is dancing faster than the hapless drunk in an old western trying to justify his boneheaded move, is surprised by the reaction. Maybe he should bone up on his constitutional knowledge. If he wants to ban blogs in the hallowed chambers of Lansing on account of work productivity, fine. But then he has to block all of them -- or none. In America, freedom of speech means everyone gets to talk. Not just the people who agree with him.
That's right, Mr. Bishop. Everyone gets to talk, not just Republicans.

Thankfully, knowledgeable, rational people like Senate Minority Leader Mark
Schauer have stepped up and spoken out against censorship, and Michigan Liberal (the "not banned because they don't say bad things" blog) stepped up too:
We at Michigan Liberal, committed to free speech and expression, have just posted a petition calling for an end to blocked access to Blogging for Michigan to show our solidarity. All of you are encouraged to pop in and sign it as a sign of solidarity, and to recommend it to everyone you know who lives in, or cares about Michigan, to do likewise.

We commit to bumping this to the bottom on a regular basis and leaving it in a prominently displayed place until such time as Mike Bishop's staff has reconsidered its actions. We also encourage all of you who run your own blog to post a link to this pledge and encourage your readers to come and sign our petition, because we know that Michigan Liberal continues to be monitored and read by Senate Republicans.
I've signed it. If you believe in the concept of free expression laid down in the U.S. Bill of Rights, then I encourage you to sign it too by clicking here.

"If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all."
~ Noam Chomsky

Update: Mike Bishop yielded to the First Amendment and restored access to Blogging for Michigan. Chalk one up for democracy!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Sen. Levin: Bush was wrong...

When President Bush commuted the sentence of Fibby Libby, I was incensed and dashed a letter off to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) and Sen. Carl Levin (D) expressing my anger. I haven't heard from Stabenow, but I received the following email response from Sen. Levin today [emphasis mine]:
Dear Mrs. xxxxx:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the prison sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former Chief of Staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. I am disappointed that President Bush undermined the application of justice by commuting Mr. Libby’s sentence.

As you know, Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in charge of investigating the leak of the identity of an undercover Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee, filed court papers on April 5, 2006, that indicate that President Bush directed Scooter Libby to leak classified intelligence to a newspaper reporter to defend statements made by President Bush prior to the war in Iraq. Mr. Libby was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with the investigation into the leak of the CIA employee’s identity. These charges focused on Mr. Libby’s intentionally misleading statements to federal investigators and a grand jury. On March 6, 2007, a federal jury convicted him on two counts of perjury, one count of obstruction of justice, as well as one count of making false statements to federal investigators. He was subsequently fined $250,000 and sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. After a brief appeals process reaffirming the jail sentence, on July 2, 2007, President Bush announced his decision to commute Mr. Libby’s sentence.

The power of the pardon is derived from Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, which states that the President “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States.” The Supreme Court has widely interpreted this language to give the President power to pardon or commute the sentence of any convicted felon for any reason. Critics of this power argue that pardons are sometimes used for political purposes, rather than to correct judicial error as originally intended by the framers of the Constitution. Although President Bush’s pardon was within his Constitutional authority, I believe it was wrong to block the punishment ordered by a federal judge and jury by commuting Scooter Libby’s sentence.

Thank you again for writing.

Carl Levin
Thank you for responding in such a timely manner, Senator. Your disapproval of Bush's pardon mirrors that of 66% of Americans who also said Bush should not have intervened on Libby's behalf.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Indulge me, I'm a grandma!

I seem to remember reading somewhere that grandmothers are allowed to brag about their grandchildren. In fact, I think it's mandatory!

Grace is two weeks old in these pictures. Just think, she could grow up to be president someday.

Grace is smiling because she likes the idea of being called Madame President!

Sorry fellas, but I think it's time to turn our country over to women so we can clean up the messes you've made!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Giuliani's (Non) Health Care Plan

Presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani released details of his health care plan this week, which really fails to help the uninsured and more or less parrots the ideas of the Bush administration. Ezra Klein discusses it over at American Prospect - A Man With a (Non-)Plan - and says, "Rudy Giuliani's health care "plan" is less a good-faith reform proposal than a cudgel with which to bash liberals."

Klein bases that opinion on the following:
In the speech introducing and detailing his new health care proposal, Giuliani refers to the "Democrats" six times. "Single-payer" is said eight times. "Socialized medicine," or some variant thereof, makes nine appearances. "Uninsured" is never uttered -- not once.
So, what does Giuliani's plan actually offer?
A tax exclusion of up to $15,000 for families, and $7,500 for individuals, to help pay for health care. What Giuliani is relying on is people reading those numbers -- $15,000 and $7,500 -- without noticing that they don't denote the amount of money he's offering them, but the amount of money he's not taxing them on. And when we plug it into my magical Rudy Translation Machine (constructed with the help of friendly neighborhood economist, Dean Baker), we can watch how $15,000 can easily become … zero.

Let's stipulate a family of four -- a mom, a dad, and two children. The type of family Republicans like. And let's say your household income is $30,000 a year. Giuliani's tax exclusion will save you … nothing. Your income isn't taxable anyway. Bring it up to $40,000 … and it's still nothing. Your child tax credits are crossing out your taxable income. Indeed, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 55 percent of the uninsured don't earn enough money to have any taxable income. This proposal -- unless changed from a straight exclusion to a refundable tax credit -- will do literally nothing for them.

Don't get me wrong, some families will save a few bucks. If you make $50,000, Giuliani's exclusion will save you $1,220. And if you make $70,000, you'll get a whopping $2,250. And the higher up the income ladder you go, the more our hypothetical family unit will save. Meanwhile, here's the kicker: According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2006, premiums for family coverage amounted to, on average, $11,480. Giuliani's giveaway barely makes a dent.

So it's no surprise that Alan Cohen, head of Boston University's Health Policy Institute, looked at Giuliani's "vision" and said, "I don't think it's likely to increase coverage of people to any great extent, and I don't think it's going to get a handle on health care cost inflation in this country."
Schemes based around tax subsidies just don't work according to Klein, and he backs that opinion up with research from the RAND Corporation who recently examined whether government subsidies could solve the problem of the uninsured.
They researched the health care decisions of nearly 25,000 new health care subscribers in California. Their conclusion? "Government subsidies that cut health insurance premium prices in half for people without insurance would reduce the number of uninsured Americans by just 3 percent."
Three percent? That's no solution, Rudy.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also examined whether tax incentives would be an effective way to expand health coverage and came up with a similar conclusion:
[...] proposed tax subsidies for the purchase of health insurance would likely be of little help to most low-income families, given the high premiums and out-of-pocket costs associated with individual-group coverage.
So, Giuliani's plan isn't much of a plan, but maybe that wasn't his point according to Dr. McCanne at Physicians for a National Health Program. He looked at Rudy's health care proposal and offered this comment:
Rudy Giuliani’s choice of health care advisors is all you need to know to understand his positions on reform. His decision to trump rational health policy with extremist libertarian ideology does tend to make you question his political skills. He obviously isn’t poll driven.
Rudy, polls show that a majority of the voters want a national health care plan and they're willing to pay more in taxes to get it. If you won't react to the will of the majority now, then you're not worthy enough to be president. The people deserve to have the ear of the next person in office.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Who's the real piggy, Mr. Drolet?

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer issued a press release today that was brilliant and long overdue.

Brewer Calls on Drolet to Sign Petition to Surrender Free Lifetime Health Care

For those of you in the dark, Leon Drolet is a former representative whose latest crusade includes parading around Michigan with his pig, while trying to recruit people willing to recall legislators who vote for any tax increases. (Picture courtesy of ICDP: Dispatch)

As the ICDP reminds us, "This whole mentality is brought to you by one of George Bush's favorite neocons, Grover Norquist. Norquist once described his goal as the drowning of government in a bathtub by cutting off its funding. Norquist is one of the board members of Drolet's anti-tax group."

Getting back to Brewer, why do I find his press release brilliant? Because he's asking Drolet to put his money where his mouth is, or in this case, put his taxpayer funded benefits where his mouth is. It's all about accountability. Here are the details:
"Leon Drolet is leading his big pig all around the state, bellowing about the alleged misuse of taxpayer dollars, when he's living high off the hog on the taxpayer dime himself," Brewer said. "His behavior is the height of hypocrisy. If Drolet wants to ensure taxpayer dollars are used responsibly, he will sign a pledge to forfeit the free lifetime health care he obtained during his six years as a Lansing politician."

Brewer presented a petition for Drolet to sign, stating that he would forgo his free lifetime health care and other perks.

During his six years as a State Representative, Drolet cost Michigan taxpayers $1.1 million, including more than $91,000 for mileage reimbursements and $72,000 for his "expense allowance" – in addition to the $477,900 spent on his salary.

Drolet currently serves on the Macomb County Commission, earning $34,069 a year. He also pays himself $39,000 as executive director of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, a so-called taxpayer advocacy group. In recent months, Drolet has traveled across Michigan pushing his extremist agenda with a giant papier mache pig he calls "Mr. Perks."

"Mr. Perks certainly seems to have a sweet spot in his belly for Leon Drolet," Brewer said. "This is a man whose has made a living off our taxpayers for years. I challenge Drolet to change is ways and give back to the taxpayers who have been supporting him for years."

Text of the petition:

I, Leon Drolet, do so solemnly swear to stop living high off the hog on Michigan taxpayers' dollars and begin atoning for the more than $1.1 million I have cost our taxpayers over the past six years.

I pledge to put the taxpayers' money where my mouth is by surrendering the free lifetime health care – paid for by Michigan taxpayers – that I "earned" during my six years as a Lansing politician, because I firmly believe that "every dollar the government takes, that is doesn't absolutely need, is theft."
Free lifetime health care after a measly six years in Lansing? It appears Mr. Drolet is the real piggy when it comes to abusing tax dollars.

Lead by example and do the right thing, Mr. Drolet. Surrender your free lifetime health care and save the taxpayers of Michigan some money.