Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Holiday Shopping Tips for Progressives

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I wanted to pass along a few shopping tips before heading out to spend the holiday with family and friends.

If you're picking up a bottle of wine for your host or guests, consider buying Wine Spectator’s 2009 Wine of the Year: Columbia Crest’s Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley Reserve 2005. According to FDL, members of the United Farm Workers helped pick the grapes. If you don't like red wine, check out these other labels that use UFW members (as well as other products like strawberries, dates, and almonds).

Moving beyond Thanksgiving to Black Friday, you can show your support for union workers by clicking here and checking out the box in the left upper corner to find union made products and services.

Or maybe you want to avoid naughty companies that force their employees to labor long hours under dangerous working conditions for poverty wages? Then Working in These Times advises you to read the "Shop With a Conscience Consumer Guide" from Sweat Free Communities, as well as this Sweatshop Hall of Shame 2010 report that highlights some of the big apparel and textile companies that use sweatshops in their global production. (Ikea, Abercrombie and Fitch, Wal-Mart, Hanes, L.L. Bean, and Kohl's among others.)

And from Michael Whitney at FDL comes this reminder about shipping your packages:
UPS is almost entirely union employees (Teamsters), with impressive wages, benefits and treatment for workers. FedEx, on the other hand, doesn’t even consider their employees to be employees, with meager pay, no benefits, no vacation days, and no respect. Check out this handy chart to see the stark difference between how UPS and FedEx treat their employees.
Finally, before heading out the door, you might want to check out Gizmodo, because no matter where it's made and who makes it, some "deals" really aren't deals at all!

(I'm so thankful my family likes gift certificates and cash. It makes life much simpler.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sen. Carl Levin is The Real Deal

The Republican Party is staking its future on people like Sarah Palin for commonsense solutions to our nation's problems. Meanwhile, Democrats don't have to look any further than Sen. Carl Levin. This is his commonsense approach to paying for the war in Afghanistan.
Higher-income Americans should be taxed to pay for more troops sent to Afghanistan and NATO should provide half of the new soldiers, said Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

An “additional income tax to the upper brackets, folks earning more than $200,000 or $250,000” a year, could fund more troops...

White House Budget Director Peter Orszag has estimated that each additional soldier in Afghanistan could cost $1 million, for a total that could reach $40 billion if 40,000 more troops are added.

That cost, Levin said, should be paid by wealthier taxpayers. “They have done incredibly well, and I think that it’s important that we pay for it if we possibly can” instead of increasing the federal debt load, the senator said.
"Incredibly well" is an understatement. The Bush tax cuts cost almost $2.5 trillion over the decade after they were first enacted and 52.5 percent of the benefits are going to the richest 5 percent of taxpayers. And, of course, we can't forget the war profiteers cronies who made a killing off Iraq, i.e., Blackwater, Halliburton, KBR, etc.

Had the Bush administration showed some commonsense and opposed tax cuts to pay for increased defense spending, he wouldn't have squandered Clinton's surplus and left office with a record budget deficit of more than $1 trillion.

Traditionally during wartime, taxes have been raised to pay the costs of war, but Bush and the GOP had some grandiose idea that Iraq's oil would pay for the war. So, they drummed up a lie to get things started and proceeded to cut taxes for their rich cronies, leaving our country in economic shambles.

So kudos to Sen. Levin and his commonsense approach to paying for the Afghanistan War. Besides, if rich Republicans have to dig into their trust funds to pay for war, it's a pretty sure bet they won't be so quick to support it.

(Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Stock Market is Up, I'd Rather Have a Job

Robert Reich has an article on the disconnect between stocks and jobs that asks a great question: How can the stock market hit new highs at the same time unemployment is hitting new highs?
Simple. The market is up because corporate earnings are up. Corporate earnings are up because companies are cutting costs. And the biggest single cost they’re cutting is their payrolls. So they let people go and, presto, their balance sheets look better and their stock prices rise.
Reich points to Caterpillar as an example. They earned $404 million in the third quarter, or 64 cents a share, yet analysts had only expected 5 cents. So how did Caterpillar manage to drive their stock up 165 percent since March? They cut 37,000 jobs.

Or consider this example from Too Much:
The latest case in point: the just-announced $4.5 billion merger deal that will fold the 99-year-old Black & Decker tool-making powerhouse — the folks who brought us the world’s first pistol-grip power drill — into its chief tool-making rival, Connecticut's Stanley Works.

“It’s a match made in heaven,” Stanley flack Tim Perra told reporters last week.

Heaven for who? Not consumers. The new “Stanley Black & Decker” may soon have enough marketplace dominance, says Morningstar business analyst Anthony Dayrit, “to raise prices” on do-it-yourself gizmos that range from power tools to window locks.

And workers won’t find much heaven in the merger either. Black & Decker and Stanley together currently employ a workforce just over 40,000. The merger the two companies announced last week will eventually cost an estimated 10 percent of those workers their jobs, starting with staff at the Black & Decker headquarters just outside Baltimore.
And here's yet another example from economically depressed Las Vegas:
Last February, Las Vegas kingpin Steve Wynn announced an across-the-board wage and hour cutback for all employees at his resort empire. The total savings for Wynn Resorts: between $75 and $100 million. Last week Wynn Resorts announced a special $4-per-share dividend. Total cost of the dividend payout to Wynn Resorts: $492 million. Total dividend check that will go to Steve Wynn: $88.6 million.
The Great Recession has been a boon for corporations and CEO's. As Reich points out, "They’re using this sharp downturn to cut payrolls even below where they were when times were good. Outsourcing abroad, setting up shop in China and elsewhere, contracting out, replacing people with software and automated machines – they're doing whatever it takes to get payrolls down so earnings bounce up."

Higher earnings may be good for Wall Street, but not so much for Main Street. More from Reich: "Yes, the economy is growing again, but the surge in productivity is a mirage. Worker output per hour is skyrocketing because companies are generating almost as much output with fewer workers and fewer hours." The bottom line: Higher productivity doesn't put money in the average worker's pocket. Since 1980, productivity has grown 70 percent, but wages only increased 5 percent.

But, but, but... I can hear the Jim Kramer's of the world already. Higher stock prices=higher fund balances for all Americans. That's true. But what good does a 5 or 10 percent increase do me if I'm out of work and have to live off of that money? It buys me short-term security today but leaves me financially insecure when I retire. Instead of worrying about stock market profits, we need policies that put people back to work at decent wages and keeps them working.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Health Care Reform: Keep It Separate From Religion

Thank you for respecting a woman's right to choose, Congressman Schauer, and for also having the courage to say what many women think - "The government doesn't belong in the room when these very personal, private decisions are being made." And neither does the religious right, Council of Catholic Bishops and Bart Stupak. They certainly don't speak for all people of faith.

From the United Church of Christ:
UCC Minister and Co-Team Leader for the Cleveland-based Team, the Rev. Loey Powell, reiterated the UCC's 40-year history of support for reproductive health care and said of the amendment, "We join [partner faith] groups in expressing our disappointment that the House bowed to pressure exerted at the last minute from anti-abortion lobbyists ... Once again women's health and well-being have been compromised in the halls of Congress."
United Methodist Church:
The United Methodist Church’s official positions on abortion and immigration stand in opposition, however, to restrictions placed in the bill that limit coverage for all of God’s children living in the United States. H.R. 3962 excludes immigrants and women whose circumstances indicate need for an abortion. These restrictions even include persons who now have such insurance.

The bill establishes a two-tiered system of health delivery. It essentially penalizes women and immigrants with fewer economic resources.
National Council of Jewish Women:
"This Stupak-Pitts amendment is an egregious assault on the rights of women and an enormous step backward for those who believe in the separation of religion and state. It enshrines one religious view of abortion into law and enlists the federal government to enforce it.
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice:
We call on the Senate to ensure that health care reform is freed of religious ideology and restrictions that will prevent women from making their own reproductive health care choices.
Ideally, I think our leaders should heed JFK's words:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote. . . . That is the kind of America in which I believe. . . . Whatever issue may come before me as president - on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject - I will make my decision in accordance with . . . what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.
Along with 40 other Democrats, Stupak is threatening there will be hell to pay if his amendment is removed, and the Council of Catholic Bishops is threatening to withdraw their support for reform too. Their religion may condone turning their backs on the uninsured, but mine believes health care is a matter of social justice.

There are hundreds of religions in this world and we'll never find common ground acceptable to everyone. However, as this blogger so eloquently put it...
Freedom of religion in our nation means, first and foremost, the right of individuals to live their lives in accord with their most cherished religious beliefs, and free of government interference. [...]

At the same time, though, the reciprocal of that freedom is an equally fundamental responsibility. This is the responsibility not to use the authority of the government to compel individuals to live their lives in accord with our "religious dictates" that they do not share. Muslims have the right not to consume pork, but they should not use the power of the government to forbid others to eat pork. Jews have the right not to work on Saturday, but they should not use the power of the government to prohibit others from working on Saturday. And Catholics have the right not to marry people of the same sex, but they should not use the power of the government to forbid others from marrying the person they love.
And religion should not use the power of government to block health care reform.

(Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Health Care and Gay Rights Helped by Yesterday's Election

Regardless of Republican gloating, I'm not reading too much into yesterday's election. They picked up a couple of governorships in Virginia and New Jersey, but Democrats picked up two seats in Congress, and those two seats might just make the difference in getting health care reform passed.

Via Brian Beutler at TPM:
The NY-23 seat abdicated by Republican John McHugh (who resigned to become Secretary of the Army) went to Democrat Bill Owens--the first Democrat to hold the seat in over a century. And the CA-10 seat abdicated by Democrat Ellen Tauscher (who resigned to become Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs) went to Democrat John Garamendi.

That creates some simple arithmetic. Yesterday, Democrats had 256 voting members in the House. By week's end, they'll have 258. Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could afford to lose no more than 38 Democratic votes on a landmark health care reform bill. Next week, after Owens and Garamendi are sworn in, she can lose up to 40. For legislation this historic and far-reaching, she'll need every vote she can get--and both seem likely to support reform.
I'll give up two governorships in return for getting health care reform passed.

And this news will be music to the ears of gay rights activists: "As gay marriage was being voted down in Maine, several openly gay candidates in the South scored victories."

In the south!! So go ahead and gloat, Republicans. It doesn't matter, because mainstream America is not red. (Are you paying attention, Dems?)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Health Care Bill is a Pro-Life Issue Too

In this FDL Action Health Care Update, I read that Bart Stupak is threatening to block the House health care bill from passing over the issue of tax dollars for abortion. He wants to vote his conscience and strip abortion-related provisions out of the House bill, in spite of the fact the bill already contains restrictions to prevent federal funding of abortions.

Okay, I can respect that, but isn't health care for the uninsured a moral issue too? And how does Stupak square his concern for fetuses with the lack of respect he shows this group of people?
In his letter to Secretary of the Army John McHugh, Stupak expressed concern over reports that terrorist suspects would have priority over United States citizens waiting for the vaccine.
Apparently "suspected" terrorists are less worthy.
It might only be 229 more vaccines but I would rather see 229 vaccines go to pregnant women of young children to be protected from H1N1 not to a group of people who are beheld as suspected terrorist against our country.
I'm not trying to beat up on Stupak. I think his heart is in the right place, and he votes with Democrats more than 90% of the time, but I'm tired of the way this argument always gets framed. We should respect all life, including the lives of terrorists and the uninsured, not just the lives of fetuses.

The good news is that Stupak does support health care reform and still plans to support it.
If everything I want [is] in the final bill, I like everything in the bill except you have public funding for abortion, and we had a chance to run our amendment and we lost. OK, I voted my conscience, stayed true to my principles, stayed true to the beliefs of this district, could I vote for healthcare? Yes I still could.
I hope the other 39 House Democrats aligned with Stupak vote Yes. Health care for the uninsured deserves their respect and support too.