Wednesday, November 30, 2005

All Things Are Connected

I believe God expects us to be good stewards of the earth, and I do my part in small but limited ways: recycling, turning down the thermostat, using fluorescent bulbs, etc. Although I can hardly speak with authority, I do try to educate myself and read other peoples ideas and solutions. That's how I came across this article that I thought was worth passing along. Acoustic Dad's Place has a powerful post concerning global environmental issues from the perspective of a progressive economic environmentalist.

What is desperately needed is a new method of accounting that incorporates not just costs and benefits, but social costs and social benefits. It is insufficient to rely solely on an increase in GDP - or other traditional measures of economic growth - to provide an indication of an increase in overall well-being when little or no consideration is given to where this growth is occurring; nor to
its impact upon society and the natural world...

This brings us to a situation in which the ball has been placed squarely in the First World's court. Do we continue to operate under obsolete economic models that omit crucial holistic elements, each day digging ourselves deeper and deeper into ecological debt; or do we acknowledge that we have reached a place in time where our expenses are exceeding our gains, and adopt the measures necessary to ensure a more sustainable future.

I would do injustice to the article by trying to summarize it for you. Read it for yourself and give me your reaction. I found it unsettling to face the reality that the U.S. and other First World countries are increasingly reliant on the resources of developing nations as a way to make money. Once we ruin the earth's natural resources, what good will money do? For the sake of this planet and all people, we should be building bridges - not burning them.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


A new website launched today. Truthdig is "a Web magazine that provides expert in-depth coverage of current affairs as well as a variety of thoughtful, provocative content assembled from a progressive point of view."

Check it out for yourself. Robert Scheer, co-author of The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq and former managing editor of is the website's editor - and is also the same Robert Scheer recently fired from the LA Times. That was a bad move on their part in my opinion!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Designer Sauerkraut

My husband announced over the weekend that the huge crock of sauerkraut I helped him make at the end of October was finally ready to eat. It’s been fermenting away in our basement all that time with my husband dutifully checking on it every couple of days. (Sauerkraut develops foam as it ferments and it has to be skimmed off and discarded.) Anyway, I was psyched to hear this pronouncement and quickly volunteered to help my hubby spoon the kraut into Ziploc bags so we could freeze it – keeping some on the side for our dinner of course.

I thought my plan sounded like a winner, and it was definitely the easy way to go, but my husband had something else in mind. He decided he wanted to kick it up a notch and cold pack the kraut in Mason jars. (The man thinks he’s Emeril Lagasse!) I patiently explained to him that we lacked some essential ingredients – canning jars and lids – and pointed out that it wouldn’t be cost efficient to buy those things since we already owned a year’s supply of Ziploc bags and our freezer is half empty. His sly smile told me I was in trouble. He casually mentioned that our son-in-law had given him the necessary jars and lids the last time we visited him. Darn! I was committed and couldn’t back out now.

Anyway, the whole procedure went better than I expected and I hardly broke a sweat - my husband was going stir crazy and filled with excess energy after the long holiday weekend and he declined my offer! (Santa will have to bring him an especially nice gift this year.) The homemade sauerkraut is delicious and we have enough quarts to cook together with pork on New Years, give to friends and family, and enjoy till next fall when it’s time to make more.

Oh, one other thing. Did I tell you I convinced my husband to add one purple cabbage to the crock the day we made it? I told him I thought it would add a nice contrast to the green cabbage. It did, and the results are below. The sauerkraut is pink – my favorite color!

The Ever Shrinking American Dream

Education has always been important to Americans, particularly college educations, but paying for that degree is burying many parents and college grads according to AlterNet:
The average student borrower now graduates with $27,600 of debt, almost three and a half times what it was a decade ago. 84 percent of black students and 66 percent of Latino students graduate with debt. And 39 percent of all student borrowers graduate with unmanageable levels of debt, according to the Department of Education.

To make matters worse, these stifling debt levels are being exacerbated by a weak job market.
Between 2000 and 2003, wages for college educated men and women between 23 and 29 years of age were down 3.5 percent and 1.2 percent respectively. In this flat, stagnant job market, most new opportunities are in jobs like burger flipping and jeans folding. Manpower, a temp agency, is the biggest private employer in the country. Many jobs in more desirable and competitive industries have salaries starting in the low $20,000s that offer little by way of benefits or healthcare.

What about student loans you say? They help a little bit, but not nearly enough.
Today, the average Pell Grant covers only 40 percent of college tuition, compared to 77 percent 25 years ago. And under President Bush, the Department of Education revised Pell Grant eligibility guidelines, effectively excluding almost 100,000 young people from the program and reducing grant money for another 1.2 million.

And the cuts are going to get even worse:
The Senate recommended slashing $14 billion in student aid programs as part of the budget reconciliation process. The House of Representatives proposed nearly $9 billion in similar cuts, forcing the average student borrower to pay an additional $5,800 in already unaffordable debt. Despite some unusual Republican dissent in the ranks, late last night, the budget bill passed by a razor thin margin. The final bill included $50 billion in cuts, including $14.3 billion in cuts to federal higher education funding, the largest cuts to federal student loans in American history.

Our country chooses to give huge tax breaks to the rich - those people who can pay for 100% of their children's ivy league educations - but they do it at the expense of those who need help the most. These children are the future of our country; without adequate financial support, middle and low income students have less opportunity and less chance to achieve the American dream. Apparently, Washington doesn't give a damn about our children, only those of their rich friends.

What Is Going On In This Country?

That's the question being posed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in response to the appalling way Jose Padilla is being treated by his country - the United States.
Mr. Padilla, a 35-year old civilian, was first detained by federal authorities in Chicago in 2002. His arrest came in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He was said to have been planning to set off a "dirty bomb" and was labeled an "enemy combatant" in spite of his American citizenship. But no indictment was returned and he was imprisoned under military custody with no lawyer. The U.S. Navy tossed Mr. Padilla in jail and threw away the key for the next 30 months.

Various legal appeals were made on his behalf to attempt to insert him and any charges that were to be made against him in court into the American civilian judicial system. Days before the U.S. Supreme Court was to become involved, the Bush administration pulled him out of U.S. military imprisonment and turned him over to the civilian justice system for disposition.

From the point of view of Mr. Padilla himself and his right to be dealt with under due process of U.S. law, which includes habeas corpus -- charge or release -- not much has changed. He is still locked up; he has still not been tried, although he has now been charged with conspiracy.

Guilty or not, Jose Padilla is an American citizen, and he is entitled to the same rights we all expect from our government. To treat him any differently put us in the same light as those countries we're quick to criticize for their abuse of human rights.
The injustice done Mr. Padilla is a case of executive authority out of control and a total betrayal of American standards.

What is going on in this country?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

It Could Happen to You Too

KaneCitizen calls this story "something less than comforting." I say that's an understatement.
Meet Deborah Davis. She's a 50 year-old mother of four who lives and works in Denver, Colorado. Her kids are all grown-up: her middle son is a soldier fighting in Iraq. She leads an ordinary, middle class life. You probably never would have heard of Deb Davis if it weren't for her belief in the U.S. Constitution. One morning in late September 2005, Deb was riding the public bus to work. She was minding her own business, reading a book and planning for work, when a security guard got on this public bus and demanded that every passenger show their ID. Deb, having done nothing wrong, declined. The guard called in federal cops, and she was arrested and charged with federal criminal misdemeanors after refusing to show ID on demand.

Deb Davis will be arraigned on December 9, 2005 in U.S. District Court, and will be represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, who immediately arranged free legal representation.

Read the pertinent facts here for yourself, but keep this in mind, Deborah Davis was within her rights:
'This is not a police state or communist Russia', she thought. From her 8th grade Civics class she knew there is no law requiring her, as an American citizen, to carry ID or any papers, much less show them to anyone on a public bus.

This is not the America I know and love.

Raise the Minimum Wage Already

The minimum wage has not been raised since 1997. I don't know about you, but I (need) look forward to getting a raise every year - no matter how small - yet Washington thinks raising the minimum wage would actually reduce the number of jobs being created. (Never mind the fact that Congress just voted themselves $3100 COLA raises. The poor babies couldn't make it on average salaries of $165,000+ a year.)

So, does raising the minimum wage actually hurt workers? Not according to Floridians who voted to raise the minimum wage to $6.15 from $5.15 in 2004. [Hat tip to The Carpetbagger Report]

What happened was…nothing. Here's what the Tampa Tribune reported recently:

Thousands of jobs would be lost if voters increased the state's rock-bottom wage to $6.15 from $5.15, said one e-mail sent out by the Coalition to Save Florida Jobs.

Jobs would be outsourced overseas, the e-mail said. Even companies that paid above the minimum wage would be forced to raise pay for everyone, said retailers and restaurants that opposed the amendment.

Today, though, it's hard to find much wreckage in the Florida retailing and restaurant industries, the two groups that bankrolled the Coalition to Save Florida Jobs.

Seventy-one percent of Florida voters passed the increase, and since the new minimum wage was implemented in May, retail stores and restaurants have added tens of thousands of employees.

Some of the biggest contributors to the Coalition to Save Florida Jobs have had stellar financial performances since May, including Publix Super Markets of Lakeland and Darden Restaurants of Orlando (owner of Red Lobster and Olive Garden).

Raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do. Social security recipients receive a cost of living raise every year, so it only makes sense to raise the minimum wage at least as much as inflation increases. Besides, if it's good enough for Congress, it should be good enough for ALL Americans.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

No Seconds on Pie

Did that slice of pie you had with Thanksgiving dinner seem smaller to you? The size of the pie itself may not have shrunk, but according to Holly Sklar, for many of us the economic pie has been shrinking for years.
Take two pies -- one for 1979, the other for 2003 (using the latest IRS data).

Divide the 1979 pie into 10 equal slices. If the slices were eaten according to the distribution of income in 1979:

-- The richest 1 percent of taxpayers would get one slice.

-- The rest of the top 20 percent would get four slices.

-- The other 80 percent of taxpayers would split five slices.

Now, divide the 2003 pie into 10 slices.

-- The richest 1 percent would get nearly two slices.

-- The rest of the top 20 percent would get a little over four slices.

-- The other 80 percent would split four slices.

So, it's not your imagination that your slice of the American Dream pie seemed to be shrinking, it's a reality.

That's okay you say, I can fatten my bottom line with a little chocolate. That may be true if you're a CEO, but if you're a worker bee, your checkbook will never have to worry about getting chubby.

Income gaps in the workplace have become increasingly outrageous, as seen in the growing gap between worker pay and CEO pay. We can demonstrate it with a pile of chocolate.

Give 1 piece of chocolate to your worker stand-in and 44 pieces to your CEO stand-in. That was the 1980 ratio of average full-time worker pay to average pay among CEOs in Business Week's survey of major corporations.

For the equivalent 2004 ratio, give 1 piece of chocolate to the worker and 362 to the CEO.

Marie Antoinette would be proud of our corporations and politicians. As for me, I just wonder when the revolution will start?

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Things I'm Thankful For

Ten things the shallow, lazy side of me is thankful for:

  1. Television remote control.
  2. Dishwasher (and all labor saving appliances).
  3. Air conditioning in the summer.
  4. Pizza delivered to the house.
  5. Chocolate.
  6. Cordless phones.
  7. Money for frivolous things I don’t need.
  8. Answering machines.
  9. Make-up – particularly mascara.
  10. Ice cream.

Ten things the better side of me is thankful for:

  1. God.
  2. Husband, children and family.
  3. Good friends.
  4. Health.
  5. Sound mind.
  6. Heat in the winter.
  7. Money for the things I need, i.e., food, shelter, clothing, medicine.
  8. Money to give away to the needy.
  9. Laughter, forgiveness, love, peace and all the best traits of mankind.
  10. Freedom.

Happy Thanksgiving. May you also have much to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thankful for Venezuela

Hat tip to The Impolitic for bringing this to my attention:
The White House and its allies love to trash Hugo Chavez but back in the Commonwealth of Mass, one Congressman is willing to give the President of Venezuela the respect he deserves. Rep. William D. Delahunt met with Chavez in August, to take him up on his offer and now will be delivering discounted oil to the poor shivering masses in New England.

Rep. Delahunt helped broker a contract between two nonprofit Massachusetts groups and Citgo (an American subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company) to provide discounted home heating oil to thousands of low-income residents. Citgo will supply more than 12 million gallons of heating oil at 40 percent below market price for the next four months. That deal gives poor people in Massachusetts something to be thankful for this winter.

By the way, Rep. Delahunt - who happens to be a Democrat - drew lots of criticism for his efforts.
Asked if he was subverting State Department policy toward Chávez, Delahunt said, ''I don't work for Condoleezza Rice. I don't report to the State Department. I report to the people who elected me in the state of Massachusetts. I belong to an independent branch of government."

Amen. That's something to be thankful for too.

National Health Care Now

There has been lots of talk recently about the problems ailing General Motors, Delphi and other companies who have sought bankruptcy protection or announced massive layoffs. The reasons behind the problems vary, but they all struggle with the common issue of escalating health care costs. These costs are killing American companies forced to compete globally on an uneven playing field. In the case of GM, Robert Kuttner highlights the problems:

GM spends also $5.6 billion a year on healthcare -- more than it spends on steel. Its foreign competitors spend nothing on healthcare. So GM and the UAW are common victims of America's failure to have national health insurance.

The UAW, to its credit, has advocated national health insurance since the days of its first president, Walter Reuther. General Motors, like the rest of American big business, has fiercely resisted it -- preferring to bear billions in expenses to having a national policy it considers socialistic. But it would be another mistake to conclude that autoworkers have had too good a deal on health insurance. The reality is that most Americans have had too bad a deal.

Somehow, the rest of the industrial world can provide health coverage for everyone and only spend an average of about 10 percent of its national income, while we spend 14 percent and leave over 44 million people without health insurance.

It’s time for our country to step up to the plate and do something for the millions of uninsured Americans and the companies that struggle to provide workers with health insurance. Polls show that 67 percent of Americans think we should guarantee health care to all citizens; just 27 percent disagree.

The issue is finally making it to the halls of Congress. Senator Barack Obama recently advocated relief from soaring health care costs for auto makers in exchange for more fuel-efficient cars, and CEO Bill Ford recently spoke out about the need for Congress to help.
"U.S. automakers also provide health-care benefits to more than two million employees, retirees and their families. And we pay more than $11 billion in pensions each year to 800,000-plus retirees and surviving spouses. To put it simply, we invest in America -- and in Americans -- every single day."

The question is: What is Congress willing to invest in the health of Americans? What is Congress willing to invest in the economic competitiveness of American companies?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Torture Is Not US - Part II

I posted on this before, but it bears repeating. Torture is inconsistent with the values of the United States. Please click on the link below and tell your members of Congress that Torture Is Not US, and demand that they support the McCain Anti-Torture Amendment - with no exceptions.

We have got to clarify that that is not what the United States is all about. That's what makes us different from the enemy we are fighting, and Mr. President, the most important thing about it is not our image abroad, but our respect for ourselves at home. - John McCain

Monday, November 21, 2005

Balancing the Budget Republican Style

This editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette puts it better than I ever could. Here's an excerpt:
President Bush's brand of compassionate conservatism, as implemented by the Republican Congress, was put on display last week when lawmakers voted to cut programs for the nation's most vulnerable citizens while reducing taxes for the wealthiest Americans.

Memo to Iraq and other developing democracies: That's how we cut the deficit around here.

In two votes Friday, one in the House and one in the Senate, the presidents' congressional foot soldiers showed that their view of responsible budgeting begins with the needy and stops short of the rich. On a 217-215 vote, the House of Representatives cut $50 billion from the federal deficit by 2010 by reducing spending on Medicaid, food stamps and student loan subsidies. The Senate, by a margin of 64-33, passed $60 billion in tax breaks over the next five years, which will outstrip the savings achieved by the program cuts.

That math, of course, doesn't compute. Yet the White House warned the Senate that it might veto the tax-cut package -- not because it had come to its senses and realized it can't balance a budget by spending without limit in Iraq while also cutting federal taxes. The Bush administration was upset that the bill contained a provision that would mean a $4.3 billion tax increase to a key constituent, oil companies.

Although the president has said the war on terror will require Americans to sacrifice, collecting more revenue from the oil industry, which recently reported stupendous profits, is evidently not what he had in mind.

Better to wring those dollars out of Pell grants that help the working poor send their children to college; the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program that helps people with little money keep the furnace running; Medicaid, which is becoming the health insurer of last resort, while Mr. Bush and Congress do nothing about the growing problem of un-insurance; and food stamps, which help bridge the cash gap for people trying to move from dependence to work.

Someone should tell the Republicans to get a new slogan. Compassionate conservatism is an oxymoron (downright lie) and just doesn't work for them anymore.

Holding Worker's Interests Accountable

Working Life discusses the importance of holding Democrats accountable for their votes or actions on labor related issues, and makes the point that we can’t assume just because they’re Democrats they’ll act in the best interest of workers. Is Donna Shalala Anti-Union? is the perfect example of a Democrat who acts anti-union once they get into a position of power. To refresh your memory, Shalala was Bill Clinton's Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) for eight years. She went on to become president of the University of Miami where she finds herself involved with the university janitor’s efforts to unionize. They currently work for a contractor (UNICCO), which pays them as little as $51 a day and provides no health benefits.

That's where we come to Shalala's behavior. Publicly, she has said that the university has no role in the negotiations and she displays all sorts of nice quotes about how the university needs to be a good corporate citizen. But, privately, she has allowed UNICCO to run an antiunion campaign; union organizers from SEIU were kicked off the campus when they were handing out food and water to the workers after Hurricane Wilma, the organizers aren't allowed on campus and students are prohibited from posting information about the union (so much for free speech).

Here are some facts to show how truly disgusting Shalala's behavior is. The union estimates that the Shalala would have to agree to shell out $9.4 million over 3 years to pay the janitors a living wage with healthcare. That would add up to just 0.6 percent of total revenue for one year which is ...ready for this number?...$1,416,863,964 (that would be more than $1.4 billion). Or just 4.3 percent of the funds the government pays out to the university. Or just 0.7 percent of its net assets ($1.2 billion).

Or think of the rich versus poor comparison. The university pays its president and officers a total of $4,347,977.80 (clearly, I went into the wrong line of work). Over three years, they earn $13,043,933.40. A UNICCO worker would have to work for 2 months or 326 hours to earn what Shalala earns in one day; her annual salary is a cool half a million (actually, $516,904.19). Pay the president and officers just 28 percent less (they can probably make due) and you can pay a living wage AND healthcare for the 400 UNICCO workers.

Our country used to value work – all work – as worthwhile, but times have changed. The message being sent by our politicians now is that only "certain" work is valuable (CFOs, CEOs, corporate executives) and worthy of huge salaries and perks. Education is being treated the same way too. If you don’t have an MBA or beyond, then the implication is that you didn’t do enough to reinvent yourself. This is snobbery, pure and simple, and we should all be posing the same question as Working Life:
What kind of values does a public university instill in its students when it pays its rulers huge salaries while consigning to poverty and poor health the people who keep the rulers' empire running?

In fact, take out the words "public university" and replace them with "society." What kind of society consigns workers to poverty level wages and poor health while those at the top earn huge salaries? My answer: A society that has lost all sense of morality and fairness.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Family Ties

I may not have time to blog anymore until Monday. My aunt is visiting us this weekend from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We affectionately call people from the U.P. "Yoopers" and tease them about their Canadian accent. Yoopers end every sentence with "eh," which is pronounced like the letter A.

Anyway, my aunt wants to visit my mother, who has Alzheimers and lives with my sister about an hour from me. It will be a bittersweet visit. My aunt is not getting any younger and has health issues, and my mom is much older and dealing with the Alzheimer's. My aunt feels this may be the last time they get to see each other in person and give each other a hug.

It's sad to contemplate a tomorrow without our loved ones, that's why we need to appreciate them and tell them we love them now while they're here, eh.

A Reason To Hope

Most days I read the news tentatively, bracing myself for the endless litany of bad news that seems to permeate our country after ten years of Republican control and five years of the Bush presidency. I'm beginning to sense a change though, and for the first time I am filled with hope. People are starting to speak out against the war, against tax policies that favor the rich over the poor, and against a government that refuses to admit mistakes or take responsibility.

Libby, over at The Impolitic, sees the Bush administration as a blessing in disguise. She points to Shakespeare's Sister who voices this opinion:

Yes, it's better, in retrospect, that Kerry lost. But not solely, or even primarily, because of some benefit to the Democrats. It's better because it will, I suspect, hasten the demise of the current thread of conservatism wreaking havoc on America (and elsewhere).

This demise is also being voiced in an editorial at The Seattle Times where they see the change in attitude too.

Americans are quietly, resolutely having none of it. Red and blue states have turned purple.

Voters took 40 years to decide the Democrats had run out of ideas and integrity before they booted them from Congress. Republicans barely made it a dozen years. The end is near, and it's not only the war that has taken its toll.

Greed, incompetence and indifference drew the GOP away from any agenda remotely connected to the lives of ordinary people.

Ordinary people have the wind behind their backs now, and there's no telling how much damage they'll leave behind at the voting polls next time around. Washington should be afraid, be very afraid. As for me, I think I'm going to enjoy reading the daily news again.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Human Rights Abuse at Home

If Washington followed the advice they're quick to give the rest of the world, they could wipe out much of the poverty we have right here in our own country. That's the findings of The U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which just concluded a fact finding mission to learn from the U.S. experience in addressing income poverty, human development poverty and social exclusion.

Poverty is not only a problem of poor developing countries but a phenomenon that is found in most countries in the world, including the United States.

With higher per capita income levels than any other country, the United States also has one of the highest incidences of poverty among the rich industrialized nations. Some 37 million Americans, 12.7 percent of the U.S. population, lived in poverty in 2004. Some 45 million people were without health insurance coverage and 38 million households experienced food insecurity. There is a significant disparity in poverty between African-Americans, Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites, said UNHCR.

"If the United States Government designed and implemented the policies according to the human rights standards much of the problem of poverty could be resolved," said Sengupta in a statement.

The Commission determined that the limited reach of assistance programs and social discrimination aggravated the problem of poverty, clearly seen as a violation of human rights. The Bush administration won't care what the U.N. thinks of course - and human rights are not high on their priorty list - so for now, the poor in our country will continue to suffer from hunger, no health care, and inadequate housing. The sad reality is that for many people this form of torture amounts to a life sentence.

Torture Is Not Us

The issue of whether our country should condone torture or not is a no-brainer in my opinion. Torture should never be an option.

The question of whether torture yields reliable information is anwered by News From Davison, who quotes John McCain on his experience as a POW in Vietnam:
I gave them the names of the Green Bay Packers' offensive line, knowing that providing them false information was sufficient to suspend the abuse. It seems probable to me that the terrorists we interrogate under less than humane standards of treatment are also likely to resort to deceptive answers that are perhaps less provably false than that which I once offered.

The question, "So What if these secret prisons exist? So What if we’re having allies or CIA operatives “handle” these terrorists for us?" is answered by Middle America Progressive, who points to history:
We did not need to officially sanction torture in World War II, nor in WWI. We used to be an honorable nation.

Our country is heading down a slippery slope simply by entertaining the notion that torture is sometimes necessary - and there will be ramifications. Kumbaya Dammit posted an excellent op-ed piece recently (The Word from China) that addressed those consequences:

First, as a self-acclaimed model of democracy, we are setting a dangerously low standard of procedural due process for other nations. If an emerging democracy wants to join our side, we basically send the message that if the domestic opposition is on the wrong end of the political spectrum, deny procedural due process. Incarcerate, interrogate, torture, deny counsel and then press charges - three or four years later.

Second, we lose all credibility and standing to challenge the human rights actions of other countries.

Have you noticed how we haven't been as outspoken in recent years regarding Rwanda, China, Mexico, Russia and Saudi Arabia? We have, in essence, censored ourselves. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice comes to China and speaks timidly about human rights. Rumsfeld comes to China to lecture on democracy and transparency. Nobody listens. Why should they?

Third, image counts. We, the United States, cannot talk about something as serious as democracy and human rights if we are not willing to walk the walk. Although we are the military and economic superpower, we are being called out as hypocrites when it comes to respecting fundamental human rights, particularly given our perception as exceptionalists to codified human rights norms.

Human rights comprise the lowest common denominator of accepted standards of decency and values. Values shape policy, trust and alliances - the kind of alliances that propelled the United States to its exalted international stature. We are damaging these alliances and thereby our international position by blatantly violating basic human rights.

We've lost our moral authority and we've lost our credibility. It's important for people to speak out against this until something gets done. People's lives and human rights are on the line - not to mention our reputation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Great Moral Cause of Our Time

In the latest issue of The Nation, "Cornbread and Roses" discusses former vice-presidential candidate John Edwards recently announced campaign to eradicate poverty in America and his position as the first director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at UNC, Chapel Hill’s law school. The Center is primarily a think tank designed to bring antipoverty scholars, activists, journalists and politicians together to find innovative ways to solve the economic and racial inequities in our country.

Edwards is traveling across the country challenging people to view poverty as "the great moral cause of our time." He’ll be joined by local AFL-CIO, ACORN and NAACP chapters in campaigns to raise the minimum wage in several states – including Michigan – and his message is being carried to college campuses too, where he is drawing surprisingly large crowds with his plea:

"These folks need a champion--and not just me. They need you. You can make ending poverty in America the cause of your generation. It's the right thing to do. This is not about charity--it's about justice!"

Edwards has some lessons for Democrats after the loss in 2004:

Lesson One: Stop thinking small..."We've got to give the American people something big and important to be unified by. Republicans use big things to divide America. I think we can use big things to unite America."

Chief among those "big things," clearly, is an all-out effort to conquer poverty. "Both sides bear responsibility for what's happened," he says. "During the Great Depression with Franklin Roosevelt, during the 1960s with Lyndon Johnson's great War on Poverty and Bobby Kennedy going through Appalachia--we were the party that led the fight against poverty in this country. We've got to show some backbone and stand up for the folks who are struggling. We've done it in the past, but it's been a while."

Which brings us to Lesson Two: Democrats can't afford to keep ceding the "values vote." Here again, Edwards sees his antipoverty crusade as a step in the right direction. "In a country of our wealth, to have 37 million people living in poverty? It's a huge moral issue," he says. "There's a hunger in this country for a sense of national community, that we're not in this thing by ourselves. There's been a long period of selfish thinking. I think there's a great opportunity for us to be about a big, moral cause that's bigger than people's own self-interest."

Lesson Three is also about changing the turf: Democrats, who've now lost every state in the nation's largest region in two straight elections, have to take their message south. "Look," Edwards says, "the fact is, if you lose the whole South, you've got almost no margin of error in the rest of the country. But it's more than that. We have to make it clear we've got a vision for the whole country, not just blue states."

Edwards claims his latest campaign "ought to be nonpartisan," and critics are labeling him a populist, but I think his message will resonant well with most Americans because the issue of poverty touches us personally. We can identify with John Edwards' words:

"Look, to be honest, it's all very personal for me. I've seen everything, been everything, from poor to lower middle class, then regular middle class and then just skyrocketing, you know, when I was a lawyer. What happened to me is that I started thinking as I got older about this. I saw some of the people I'd grown up with going the other way, getting in trouble, having a really terrible time getting by. These were my friends when I was growing up and here I was, doing great. It was no great policy revelation, just a sense that something was wrong, that, Why am I the one who's gotten the good luck and they didn't?"

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Ouch! That Hurt.

How nerdy are you? According to this website, I'm not too nerdy - but I'm not very cool either.

Take the test and see how you score while I go tend my bruised ego.

I am nerdier than 11% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Homeless Awareness Week

November 13-19 is Homeless Awareness Week in Michigan. This year’s theme, “We End it Here. We End it Now.” is a call to action to all Michigan residents. Homeless Awareness Week is a statewide campaign to educate the public about the many reasons people are homeless and to highlight the fact that there is a shortage of affordable housing for low income people.

The Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness website has a wealth of information concerning the homeless, along with a directory of resources people who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless can turn to for help. Here are some statictics on poverty and homelessness from their website:

Forty percent of persons living in poverty are children; in fact, the 2003 poverty rate of 17.6% for children is significantly higher than the poverty rate for any other age group.

A survey of 27 U.S. cities found that over one in four people in homeless situations are employed, a significant increase from 1998 (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2000 & 2003).

In a number of cities not surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors - as well as in many states - the percentage is even higher (National Coalition for the Homeless, 1997).

The future of job growth does not appear promising for many workers: a 1998 study estimated that 46% of the jobs with the most growth between 1994 and 2005 pay less than $16,000 a year; these jobs will not lift families out of poverty (National Priorities Project, 1998).

Moreover, 74% of these jobs pay below a livable wage ($32,185 for a family of four). Thus, for many Americans, work provides no escape from poverty.

In every state, more than the minimum wage is required to afford a one or two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent. In fact, in the median state a minimum-wage worker would have to work 89 hours each week to afford a two-bedroom apartment at 30% of his or her income, which is the federal definition of affordable housing (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2001)

Currently, 5 million rental households have “worst case housing needs,” which means that they pay more than half their incomes for rent, living in severely substandard housing, or both. The primary source of income for 80% of these households is earnings from jobs. In 1998, this was the case for only 40% of households with worst case housing needs. This represents a 40% increase in working households with worst case housing needs from 1995 to 1999 (U.S. Housing and Urban Development, 2001).

People with disabilities, too, must struggle to obtain and maintain stable housing. In 1998, on a national average, a person receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits had to spend 69% of his or her SSI monthly income to rent a one-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent.

In more than 125 housing market areas, the cost of a one-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent was more than a person's total monthly SSI income (Technical Assistance Collaborative & the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Housing Task Force, 1999).

Presently, most states, including Michigan, have not replaced the old welfare system with an alternative that enables families and individuals to obtain above-poverty employment and to sustain themselves when work is not available or possible.

Check out the statistics yourself, but the bottom line is this:

The benefits of economic growth have not been equally distributed; instead, they have been concentrated at the top of income and wealth distributions. A rising tide does not lift all boats, and in the United States today, many boats are struggling to stay afloat.

Some Late Night Advice

I came across this irreverent but funny post on Weird Wally's World View and just had to share, particularly since some blogger friends here and here have been blogging the holiday theme lately.
Ghosts of Presidents and Christmas's Past:

One night, George W. Bush is tossing restlessly in his White House bed. He awakens to see George Washington standing by him and Bush asks, "George, what's the best thing I can do for the country?"

"Set an honest and honorable example, just as I did," Washington advises, and then fades away.

The next night, Bush is astir again and sees the ghost of Thomas Jefferson moving through the darkened bedroom.

Bush calls out, "Tom, please!

What is the best thing I can do to help the country?"

"Respect the Constitution, as I did," Jefferson advises, and dims from sight.

The third night sleep still does not come for Bush.

He awakens to see the ghost of FDR hovering over his bed.

Bush whispers, "Franklin, What is the best thing I can do to help the country?"

"Help the less fortunate, just as I did," FDR replies and fades into the mist.

Bush isn't sleeping well the fourth night when he sees another figure moving in the shadows. It is the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. Bush pleads, "Abe, what is the best thing I can do right now to help the country?"

Lincoln replies, "Go see a play!"

Monday, November 14, 2005

McGovern for President 1972

In 1972, I was so disillusioned and disgusted with the Vietnam War that I decided to do something to make a difference. I volunteered for the George McGovern for President campaign. It was fun. I spent afternoons stuffing envelopes, making calls and visiting nursing homes to explain why McGovern would be a better president than Nixon. (I TOLD them Nixon was dishonest and wasn't worthy of their votes!) I even had the thrill of picking up a sound man at the airport and driving him to a campaign stop in Detroit ahead of the candidate's arrival. The police blocked the entire route along the freeway and advised me to put the pedal to the metal (the plane landed late and time was of the essence). I remember feeling pretty cool as I sped along about 15 mph over the legal limit!

McGovern lost of course - by a huge margin - but I've always respected the man for his pacificist beliefs. It seems I'm not the only one to appreciate McGovern, the Madison Capital Times ran an editorial welcoming him back to their city to deliver a lecture, a city that had the wisdom to want him as its president in 1972.

It has been a long time since we were privileged to endorse his candidacy for the presidency. But we are not inclined to withdraw it quite yet.

Indeed, were it left to this newspaper, we would gladly replace George Bush, a man who avoided serving his country in a time of war but has few qualms about sending others to die for it, with George McGovern, a man who proudly served when his country called but who has always recognized that the call must be made only when it is absolutely necessary.

So we issue our endorsement once more: McGovern for president.

I second that endorsement. If you decide to give it another try Mr. McGovern, tell your campaign staff to give me a call - I can still lick envelopes with the best of them.

Delphi - Greed Gone Wild

Middle-class employment has been taking a beating for some time now. First it was the steel companies going bankrupt, then it moved to the airlines, and now the automotive sector is experiencing the angst. Delphi is the latest corporate casualty. The company recently filed bankruptcy and asked workers to cut their pay from $25 an hour to $9 an hour, but it appears that management will not be sharing in the sacrifice.

Jonathan Tasini at Working Life had a great post recently about the Delphi situation which paints management in a very unflattering, greedy, obscene light – deservedly so in my opinion.

This morning there is a terrific column by Gretchen Morgenson in the Sunday Business section of The New York Times... Turns out, surprise, that the executives have made sure that they are protected while workers bear the entire brunt of the company's financial crisis. And they do so without making any recognition that THEY may have been responsible for the company's demise. As Morgenson points out, the company has lost $6.3 billion in the last seven quarters and is being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for its accounting practices. No matter, as Morgenson points out: the money stacks up. The salaries first: even accounting for the pay cuts, the top four executives at Delphi, not counting Mr. Miller, would receive a total of $3.1 million a year.

Then come incentive bonuses, to be awarded by using a new and unimproved performance hurdle at the company: earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization and restructuring costs...

The incentive bonus program, to be divided among an unspecified number of Delphi executives, has an estimated cost of $21.5 million for the first six months, Watson Wyatt said. That amount equals the entire compensation paid for all of last year to Toyota's 33 top executives, a group that oversees a highly profitable company in the automotive business...

But wait, there's more. An additional $88 million in cash would go to Delphi's top 500 employees when it emerged from bankruptcy proceedings or if the company's assets were sold. The top four executives - again, excluding Mr. Miller - would receive a total of $8.9 million of this, or 10.1 percent...

There’s quite a bit more, read it for yourself, but the bottom line is this:

Add to this a severance program under which 21 officers would receive 18 months of salary and target bonuses, 89 senior managers would get a year of pay and target bonuses and 373 executives would receive a year's salary. If all of the executives were terminated and took their severance, the cost to Delphi would be $145.5 million, the filing estimated. If 30 percent left, the cost would be $30.5 million.

What do the hourly employees get? Either a pay cut of nearly 60% or the unemployment line. There’s also the very real possibility the company may dump their pension program on the government, which means thousands of workers will lose a large portion of their pensions.

Tasini calls management vile, but I think he is being too kind. If all people prosper when a company does well – and top executives get the largest share of the pie – then shouldn’t all people sacrifice proportionately when a company fails? Corporate America has it turned upside down: Management should be sacrificing the most since they reap the largest rewards - not the little guy - but also because ultimately their decisions make or break the company.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

What Happened?

Jimmy Carter is out promoting his 20th book, "Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis," and getting an earful from the American public in the process.

Everywhere you go, you hear, "What has happened to the United States of America? We thought you used to be the champion of human rights. We thought you used to protect the environment. We thought you used to believe in the separation of church and state," the Nobel Peace Prize winner said Friday at Unity Temple. "That's not the case anymore."

Let me add the following: What happened to compassionate conservatism? What happened to uniting the country? What happened to restoring integrity and honesty to the White House?

Referring to his latest book's title, Carter said the Bush administration is responsible for the country's moral crisis. He railed Bush's pre-emptive war policy; the erosion of the church-state separation; a ballooning budget deficit; inadequate attention to the environment; and the use of torture against some prisoners.

This appears to be a fairly astute observation. How will Bush rank among presidents? Only time will tell, but I don't think history will be kind to him. If anyone out there cares to comment, I'd be interested in hearing one positive contribution you think Bush has made to this country and to his legacy.

Wal-Mart Gets Religion

Wal-Mart must be getting desperate to restore its image with the public. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, they’re turning to religious leaders for help in getting their message out.

Wal-Mart has quietly reached out to church officials with invitations to visit its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., to serve on leadership committees and to open a dialogue with the company…

Wal-Mart declined to comment on its outreach to clergy. But church leaders from around the country said the retailer had contacted them to encourage their support — or to respond to their criticism — of the company.

Adversaries aren’t sitting quietly on the sidelines though. Wal-Mart Watch is launching a week of anti-Wal-Mart consciousness-raising at churches, synagogues and mosques across the country, where leaders have agreed to incorporate what they see as moral problems with the company into their sermons.

I don’t see how Wal-Mart can win the hearts and minds of consumers by taking their fight into churches. The company is encouraging churchgoers to compare their corporate actions with biblical teachings and they’re going to come out looking bad. Their low wages and huge profits are inequitable and in juxtaposition to church teachings. A recent article in Sojourners (a magazine about faith, politics and culture) points out that Wal-Mart (and all companies) should be guided by righteous dealings as their first consideration in the marketplace.
The biblical exhortation, "From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required" (Luke 12:48), is about an understanding of stewardship that is always bound to fair use. Stewardship underscores our humble understanding of our temporary ownership of common goods and the obligations for equity and sustainability tied to that privilege. Unfortunately, Wal-Mart's current dominance of the market is draining rather than sustaining local communities. Every Wal-Mart store employing 200 or more people costs taxpayers more than $420,000 in government social services used by employees whose low wages and unaffordable health insurance mean they largely subsist among the ranks of the working poor… Wal-Mart's anti-union policies also prevent workers from organizing for wages and benefits to support their families.

In contrast, unionized workers in the retail food industry earn 30% more than their nonunion counterparts. Every time Wal-Mart increases its market share by 1% in the grocery business, cashier's wages in the local market drop an average of 5.5 cents per hour. And Wal-Mart's market share has grown by 20% in the last five years, according to United Food and Commercial Workers. Yet if Wal-Mart paid each employee $1 more an hour, it could maintain its current profitability level by increasing prices a mere half-penny a dollar. (Emphasis added.)

Wal-Mart’s practices encourage corporate greed, but extend a culture of poverty. If the company truly wants to win the support of American consumers, management should attend some of those churches they’re reaching out to, listen to the message on stewardship from the pulpit, and then go and sin no more.

Update: It appears that Wal-Mart is just plain desperate to win over the American consumer without really knowing how to define their corporate image. After posting this blog about their attempts to reach out to churches, I came across an interesting post at Last One Speaks. It seems Wal-Mart fired an employee for honestly answering a customer's complaint about the store using Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. Bah, humbug.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

They Should Ask Themselves, WWJD?

This morning, while reading Midwestern Progressive's blog, I left a comment about a news story I saw last night. That story stuck in my mind because it so clearly exemplifies how much religious bias we still have in this nation.

The short version of the story from the Sun-Sentinel goes something like this:

A Muslim family, represented by a spokesperson, asked their child's school district to add the Islamic holiday Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, to the school calendar so their child would not have to miss school. The school board acted too politically correct in my opinion and decided not to link any religious holidays (except Christmas) with a day off for all students and teachers. However, the district does allow students to take off holidays their religion observes without penalty. What was the result of this decision?

The local school board reinstated Good Friday, Easter Monday and Yom Kippur as school holidays after getting more than 3,500 e-mails from around the country criticizing its earlier decision to eliminate them rather than add a Muslim holiday.

The board's earlier vote had resulted in denunciations on conservative and Christian talk radio shows nationwide, leading to the e-mail barrage and impassioned speeches at Tuesday's meeting asking that the holidays be restored.

The superintendent was interviewed on the news last night and said she couldn't believe the hateful mail people sent to her - and actually had the nerve to sign. They weren't angry simply because their holidays were removed from the calendar, they were angry because the Muslim family wanted one added.

The family who initially requested the change was gracious and backed off the fight. As one of their spokesmen for the Council on American-Islamic Relations said, "We've been adamant the last two weeks that we would give up on our request for a holiday so the other religions won't lose theirs."

How ironic. The Christians in this situation could learn a thing or too from the Muslims about loving thy neighbor.

Hell Hath No Fury

Tuesday’s elections sent shudders up quite a few Republican’s spines, but no one suffered more than California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Terminator was terminated – or at least the initiatives he pushed were. What a reversal of fortune. Arnold was riding high in the polls a year ago. He could do no wrong. What happened?

Schwarzenegger committed a cardinal sin. He insulted a group of women, nurses to be exact, and unleashed a fury that just couldn’t be calmed. His problems started last November after he suspended key portions of the state's nurse-to-patient ratio. This angered Rose Ann DeMoro, chief executive of the California Nurses Association, so she and some of the 65,000 members of the union started protesting. Their efforts were timid at first, until one day when the Terminator put his mouth in gear before engaging his brain, and this, according to an article on AlterNet, is when the Terminator met his match:

While the governor addressed a state convention of 10,000 women, a few nurses unfurled a protest banner that read "Hands Off Patient Ratios." Schwarzenegger grinned for the TV cameras, then said: "Pay no the special interests. I am always kicking their butts." DeMoro was outraged. "For the Governor to denigrate nurses -- a historically female profession -- while speaking to an audience of women is an affront to women everywhere," she told CNN. Because Schwarzenegger had shut them out of the health-care debate, the nurses decided to take their case to the streets.

The nurses were told not to make waves, but they continued to dog Schwarzenegger, protesting at fundraisers and even renting a plane to buzz over his gated mansion during a Super Bowl party. Their protest continued solo, while other unions watched from the sidelines, until the Terminator made another serious error and angered more women:
When the governor reneged on his oft-repeated promise to restore $2 billion to education cuts in February, students and teachers joined the nurses. They gathered with pickets one rainy day at a Sacramento theater where the governor was about to watch the premiere of Get Shorty 2. But when nurse Kelly Di Giacomo was whisked out of the movie line and into a back room, protestors grew worried. The governor's security team grilled the petite nurse for over an hour until she finally asked why they considered her a threat. One of Schwarzenegger's bodyguards pointed to her scrubs and explained. "You're wearing a nurse's uniform."

"Oh, sure," she said, drolly. "The international terrorist uniform." That intimidating experience emboldened the nurses, whose protests began attracting media attention. By spring, TV news cameras were moving their soft-lens focus from Schwarzenegger to the growing crowds of angry workers, most of them women.

The genie was out of the bottle by now and there was no turning back. Arnold’s popularity was plummeting, and by March “a California court ruled that the governor had indeed broken the law by suspending the state's nurse-ratio regulation. By then, however, the governor was trying to gut California firefighters' and police officers' pensions, mimicking a Bush administration proposal.” It wasn’t long before law enforcement and firefighter unions joined in to protest the governor's rash of cuts to middle-and lower-class programs, and then they added star power: Sean Penn, Annette Bening and Warren Beatty started speaking out in support of the unions.
"Instead of attacking the real problems of our schools, Schwarzenegger attacked school teachers," Beatty said. "Instead of attacking the cost of healthcare, he attacked nurses. Instead of increasing our safety, he attacked police and firefighters."

The Terminator was on the mat and out for the count, and the nurses had become grass root heroes:
Nurses in Illinois, Massachusetts, Arizona and Mississippi have asked DeMoro for help in challenging the growing clout of corporate hospital chains and other states' anti-worker initiatives. To be effective, the CNA has created a subsidiary called the National Nurses Organizing Committee, which allows it to organize nurses outside of the Golden State. This fall, the NNOC welcomed 2,000 Chicago nurses into their fold, and it anticipates more members by year's end.

Arnold made a serious tactical error when he misjudged the nurses’ union. He assumed the "little women" would go meekly home and cry their hearts out after his insults. Wrong. The women saw their livelihoods coming under attack and they weren’t going to let the government – and by extension big business – take food away from their children. No way, mama bear decided to fight back against that big bad wolf from Sacramento - and they cleaned house all at the same time.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Lessons Learned from Riots in France

Yesterday I posed the question: Paris - Could It Happen Here? I think there is the very real possibility that it can, and I posted my reasons why. Apparently other people are beginning to voice the same concern. While reading the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today, I came across an editorial that paralleled my opinion exactly. Here are the highlights:

It is easy to blame inept French political leadership in this crisis. For President Chirac, the riots can be seen as the equivalent of Hurricane Katrina in the United States, a brewing storm of a different sort that those in power should have acted upon more expeditiously. As it was, Mr. Chirac made his first public address on the violence Nov. 6.

The government, preoccupied with the essential business of restoring public order, also appears to have been slow to reach out to the immigrant community. Justice isn't only about locking people up; it is also about extending social acceptance and opportunities. Once the fires stop, better efforts at integration may be the only way to keep the peace.

In the meantime, the rest of Europe, which has many cities with large immigrant populations, looks on nervously. Britain this year paid its own price for having disaffected immigrants. In that case, a few young men turned to calculated terrorist bombings. The French rioting appears to be spontaneous anger, but the future potential for al-Qaida recruitment should make everyone tremble.

No nation -- and that includes the United States, which has its own ghettos -- can afford to ignore a frustrated underclass, whatever its racial or religious background. Civilization is only a thin veneer, as France, renowned as the most civilized of countries, is now being reminded.

This incident should serve as a wakeup call for us all. If we hesitate to change our ways and change our attitudes, the problems will just continue to simmer until another country, another city or another neighborhood erupts in violence.

UPDATE: Articles are starting to pop up like mushrooms now. The American Progress Action Fund posted dozens of links for anyone interested in reading further. Check out a couple highlights here, then follow the link for more great reading:

As political observers weigh in, the gulf between conservatism and progressivism could not be more clear. The divide is not over the violence itself, of which there can be no condoning, but rather over the causes of the strife, and the best way to address them. The right's response has demonstrated several prominent strains of conservative thought: their tendency to see in virtually any conflict involving Muslims the sparks of a "clash of civilizations"; the growing resistance to immigration and embrace of isolationism (evidenced by, among other signs, the vigilante Minuteman Project and the call by House conservatives this week to end birthright citizenship); and the firm unwillingness to consider the lack of social and economic opportunity as a factor in the unrest.

A core progressive value is a belief in the importance of opportunity, and the basic idea that every hard-working person should be able to realize their goals through education, decent work, and fair pay. Those rioting in France have unquestionably been denied that opportunity. Average unemployment in the suburbs suffering from violence is 21 percent, "more than twice the national average—and going up." Among men younger than 25 -- i.e., the "vast majority of rioters" -- the rate jumps to 36 percent. "Health care and schooling are far below national levels," and residents are "largely confined to grim suburban housing estates." In other words, as the Economist put it, "the ingredients for social explosion have long been brewing."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Paris - Could It Happen Here?

France just experienced night twelve of rioting perpetrated by Muslims and Africans tired of governmental neglect and apathy towards the problems of poverty, rampant unemployment and racism. Additional charges of police violence and racism directed at non-white people of the suburbs have also been voiced. (Last April, Amnesty International singled out the violence for particular criticism.)

We've had riots in this country before - once right here in Detroit - but I don't believe we've ever had riots that continued so long or riots that spread over such a wide area. So, why is the unrest continuing and spreading across France? Jon Simpson, World Affairs Editor for the BBC, believes the violence is exposing France's weaknesses:

At some level of consciousness, the demonstrators know that the governmental system they are facing is deeply, perhaps incurably, sclerotic.

Mr Chirac, standing back until his ministers showed their inability to agree a clear line on the rioting, seems not to have the answers when he speaks now. His presidency is overshadowed by an inescapable sense of past corruption and weakness, and he has governed France at a time when its economy and its position in the world have both declined sharply and markedly.

The demonstrators reached their zenith of frustration with the government and the end result was rioting.

Could Paris and the disorder pouring out across France happen here? I believe it could. Americans are disillusioned on a number of levels with the government and their intractable unwillingness to listen to our concerns. Poverty levels continue to grow, as do the number of uninsured; the middle-class is dealing with wage stagnation, out sourcing, and pension insecurity; and religious factions are jockeying for control of our culture and government. It all adds up to a lot of discontent on many different levels by many different groups of people. We’re a teapot just waiting to boil over. The question is, can we solve the problems before the lid blows?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Forget the Ethics Training, Go With Morals

Since posting "Rich Man Poor Man" below, I came across another scathing criticism of the budget reductions recently passed that I just had to pass along. Cathleen Falsani, religion writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, soundly rebukes Congress and Bush for losing their moral compass:

The massive budget reductions would include billions of dollars from pension protection and student loan programs, Medicaid and child support enforcement, as well as millions from the food stamp program, Supplemental Security Income (read: senior citizens and the disabled) and foster care. Also attached to the "reconciliation" proposal is a plan that would allow oil drilling in Alaska's pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


Maybe Republican leaders should consider proposing an open season on the homeless or the resurrection of debtors' prisons while they're at it?

Is this the kind of leadership the majority of voters who, according to pollsters at the time, cast their ballots in 2004 based on "moral values," had in mind?

Is this what faith-based "compassionate conservatism" looks like? Is our nation more moral, more secure or spiritually healthier than it was a year ago?

And, to address my fellow Christian voters specifically, has the Good News been advanced in any way?

No. Absolutely not.

Ms. Falsani goes on to point out that it's not just a few left-leaning wretches (like me) who feel this way:

For example, all 65 synod bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have signed a letter to members of Congress vehemently opposing the proposed budget cuts, saying in part, "The Biblical record is clear. The scriptural witness on which our faith tradition stands speaks dramatically to God's concern for and solidarity with the poor and oppressed communities while speaking firmly in opposition to governments whose policies place narrow economic interests driven by greed above the common good."

It's about time people of other faith - or no faith - starting speaking out. I'm a member of the ELCA church and I've been speaking out about the Bush administration's neglect and hypocrisy for nearly five years now, and in the process I alienated some friends at church - friends who put their allegiance to the Republican party above the moral teachings of scripture. Maybe now that mainstream church leadership is finally speaking out, others will find their voices too. As Falsani states, ..."there comes a time when silence is immoral. Now, I believe, is that time."

Rich Man Poor Man

The rich continue to benefit from Bush's largesse at the expense of the poor. Just last Thursday, the Senate cut spending by $36 billion and taxes by $70 billion. The problem is the cuts included removing medical benefits for 6 million poor children, food stamps to 225,000 working families, and child-care for 330,000 poor children whose parents work. The $70 billion in tax cuts are primarily aimed at capital gains and dividends, which help the richest segments of our population, while the cuts exacerbate the financial insecurity of low income families.

An editorial in yesterday's St. Petersburg Times printed a scathing rebuke of the cuts, and pointed out that although it's necessary "to bring the deficit under control, it's hard to make a case for asking poor people to pay more when rich people are paying less." Just how much less are the rich paying?

An Urban Institute/Brookings Center report on the 2001 tax cuts shows that people with annual incomes of more than $1-million have received an annual average break of $103,000. Further, two new tax breaks scheduled to take effect in January will allow them to pocket $19,200 more each year.

Gee, I doubt families making $1 million will have to worry about heating their homes or feeding their children without those tax cuts, but apparently Bush and Congress see it differently. Forget about a refresher course in ethics, how about a course in doing what is morally right? Or, as the editorial puts it:

As to the values implied by such priorities, the president might want to listen to some voices in his faith-based community. A collection of church leaders, including the Rev. Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church USA, recently wrote:

"Some contend that these (tax) cuts will stimulate the economy and improve life for all Americans, but we believe that stocking the rich man's larder is a peculiar strategy for getting Lazarus more food. Not only does this policy rest on dubious economic assumptions, but it asks the poor to pay the cost for a prosperity in which they may never share."

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Just In Case You're Waffling on Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart has been making a concerted effort to redeem themselves with the public lately. Just in case you're still waffling about the Beast from Bentonville, here's another bit of news to consider.

Hat tip to Josh Craft, Political Dissonance:

The Washington Post reports this morning that the inspector general is criticizing the Sweet heart deal between Wal-Mart and the Department of Labor. It's good that the inspector general did its job, but depressing the the DOL has become a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate America under this Administration.

Rep. George Miller, who continues to be a strong voice for working families, had this to say:

"The Bush Labor Department chose to do an unprecedented favor for Wal-Mart, despite the fact it is well known for violating labor laws, including child labor laws," Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the lawmaker who requested an investigation, said in a statement. He also said such an arrangement could allow the nation's largest employer to cover up evidence of a violation and would discourage employees who might fear retribution from filing a complaint.

This is how the Washington Post article describes the specifics of the deal between Wal-Mart and the Department of Labor:

..."the company will receive 15 days' notice "of any audit or investigation at the stores covered by this agreement."

The report released yesterday said that the 15-day advance notice is "inconsistent" with the department's guidelines and that Wal-Mart could avoid penalties or a formal citation if it brings a facility into compliance within 10 days of a notice of violation. Labor officials in February said that Wal-Mart's advance notice would involve only child labor investigations and that it is standard practice in such cases. But the inspector general's office said the 10-day provision "was designed to allow Wal-Mart to avoid penalties if compliance is achieved."

The report also raised specific concerns about the agreement because "it contained significant provisions that were principally authored by Wal-Mart attorneys and never challenged by" the Department of Labor."

No wonder the media is dubbing this a sweetheart deal. Average Americans don't get 15 days notice before authorities bust into their homes to check for evidence of a crime, so why should Wal-Mart get a break, especially considering the advance notice only pertains to child labor investigations?

Wal-Mart - Redemption or Public Relations?

Yesterday I posted on Wal-Mart's attempts to redeem themselves with the public by hiring Global Insight, an independent research company. Wal-Mart feels it has been unfairly characterized by activist groups and the media and decided to get to the real truth themselves. For the most part, the independent research verified most of the claims of Wal-Mart's critics. The retailer is responsible for driving down wages and putting local merchants out of business. In addition, they benefit from taxpayer funded subsidies that helped them build their distribution system, and taxpayers also pay nearly $900 per employee for Medicaid benefits the company encourages their associates to sign up for.

Wal-Mart is against the ropes and they know it, but don't feel too sorry for them. In fact, we should all question their motives and sincerity. They recently contributed $15 million in relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, mostly in water, diapers, and other tangible items. Compared to the $285 billion in sales they recorded last year, that amount was less than one half of one percent. Hardly a noble gesture. In fact, the Sunday Business section in today's New York Times reports:
Bill Gates is no slouch in the charitable-giving department. Just last week, the foundation he founded with his wife, Melinda Gates, said it would donate $258 million to eradicate malaria, which kills 2,000 African children a day. All told, Mr. Gates has given away 37 percent of his vast fortune, Forbes magazine estimated last year.

The article goes on to state that Ted Turner, at last weeks United Nations Foundation conference, donated $20 million over the next four years to reduce measles deaths. It may not be fair to criticize Wal-Mart for the amount they give compared to others, but one does have to wonder if their corporate hearts were in the right place - or were they simply spending $15 million to buy a little public relations? Wal-Mart certainly isn't adverse to buying some political goodwill, so why would charitable PR be any different? Consider the following from the same New York Times article:

Once indifferent to politics, Wal-Mart's founding family has learned the value of having - and supporting - friends in high places.

One such friend is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California. Last year he vetoed a bill that would have forbidden employers to lock workers inside businesses, a practice Wal-Mart has used. Last month he vetoed a bill that would have required California to identify the employers of people who are paid so little that they qualify for government health services. Again, Wal-Mart is the No. 1 example.

While the governor was vetoing, heirs to Sam Walton were busy writing six-figure checks to his political causes. It began after Mr. Schwarzenegger vetoed the lock-in bill. John T. Walton, a Wal-Mart director who died four months ago, gave $200,000 to his political committee, the California Recovery Team, according to The Los Angeles Times and USA Today.

On the day Mr. Schwarzenegger vetoed the latest bill, Christy Walton, John's widow, wrote a $250,000 check to the governor's committee. Three weeks later, Wal-Mart's chairman, Rob Walton, gave $250,000 to the governor's campaign to limit the political activities of labor unions. (Wal-Mart itself, which is famously allergic to unions, chipped in $100,000 of its own.)

Political donations to Schwarzenegger begin the day he vetoes the lock-in bill? If the company was sincere about doing what is best for their employees and corporate America, they would have blasted the governor for his veto. America is not best represented by companies that think locking their employees in is acceptable. Wal-Mart is not a prison or high security government facility. It may portray itself as family friendly and community oriented, but it continues to act like the Beast of Bentonville - a title it justly deserves.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Wal-Mart Seeks Redemption

Wal-Mart has been taking lots of heat in the media for years now, most of it well-deserved. To fight back against the criticism, Wal-Mart decided to sponsor an independent conference to explore what effects they really have on local communities and the national economy. They hired independent consultant Global Insight to conduct the studies, who in turn vowed to select academic papers only for their academic rigor, not because they were pro Wal-Mart.

The results are in and they’re not what Wal-Mart expected.

Some of their findings, which a few of the researchers released before the conference, tend to confirm what Wal-Mart critics have been saying for years.

At least two concluded that Wal-Mart stores' pay practices depressed wages beyond the retail sector. Another found that states on average spent $898 for each Wal-Mart worker in Medicaid expenses.

One study concluded that Wal-Mart's giant grocery and general merchandise Supercenters brought little net gain for local communities in property taxes, sales taxes and employment; instead, the stores merely siphoned sales from existing businesses in the area.

The results also showed taxpayers came out losers when it comes to the retailer’s “Always Low Prices,” and the south suffered greatly from the presence of Wal-Mart too, where it has its greatest concentration of stores.

Michael Hicks of the Air Force Institute of Technology and Marshall University found that each employee of Wal-Mart caused "the average state to expend just under $900 a year in Medicaid benefits."

In a look at the Supercenters' effects on local businesses in Mississippi, Albert Myles and his coauthors found that a Supercenter's own community benefited from sharp retail sales increases — as much as 59% — though nearby towns suffered annual decreases. Any gains, the researchers found, came at the expense of local merchants.

"Many times the net increases are minimal as the new big-box stores merely capture sales from existing businesses in the area," they wrote.

Wal-Mart also benefits from more than taxpayer subsided Medicaid. In a study, How Wal-Mart Uses Taxpayer Money to Finance Its Never-Ending Growth - May 2004, findings revealed:

Walmart has received more than $1 billion in economic development subsidies from state and local governments across the country. Taxpayers have helped finance not only Wal-Mart stores, but also the company’s huge network of distribution centers, more than 90% of which have gotten subsidies.

Wal-Mart pays inadequate wages and health insurance for their employees, yet benefits from subsidies paid for by taxpayers. This is a company that made $285 billion last year and is owned by five members of the Walton family – who happen to be on the Forbes annual list of the richest people in the world. The best way to describe this company was succinctly put by Libby Spencer over at the DetNews:

It's a sham and a scam and it's a perfect illustration of the corporate mentality that has poisoned the concept of the free market. And it's immoral when the owners of the company collectively possess more wealth than the GNP of over half of the world's nations.

It is a sham and a scam. American workers are facing increasing pressure to hold on to the American Dream, but face downwardly mobile prospects daily from companies that continue to outsource, dump pensions, and reduce wages. We have Wal-Mart to thank for that to a large degree. Their “Always Low Prices” has translated to “Always Lower Wages” in the free marketplace.

Reading is Fundamental for All People

The holidays will soon be here, which means it’s time to think about gift giving. It’s also time to think of those less fortunate than us, not just financially, but also physically, mentally, etc. That’s why I want to make an unsolicited endorsement of a charity that personally means a lot to me.

Seedlings Braille Books is a non-profit organization here in Michigan that produces braille books for blind children from toddlers to 14 years of age. For a small donation of $10, Seedlings will send you an elegant gift card and envelope indicating that a braille book was inscribed in the name of your loved one and will soon be on it’s way to an eager braille reader. (Donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.)

Reading has always been my passion, so this is a cause near and dear to my heart. As a disabled person, I often lived vicariously through books as a child, doing all the things in my mind’s eye that my feet wouldn't let me. Reading was a refuge and my best friend. Seedlings helps make it possible for blind children to discover the wonders of reading too. Here’s a little background information from the Seedlings web site:

At this time, less than 20% of the 50,000 blind children in the United States are proficient in braille. All too often, the written word has been inaccessible to them, and this is what we are hoping to change.

Braille books are provided at each level of development, from toddler board books to classic literature for older children. Just as sighted children learn to "read" as they are exposed to the printed word, so do visually impaired children who are exposed to the tactile page at an early age.

As a non-profit organization, Seedlings sells its books for considerably less than it costs to make them. Support is very broad based and comes from individuals, philanthropic groups, corporations and private foundations. Seedlings receives no government or United Way funds. Thanks to hundreds of generous donors and dedicated, hard working volunteers, the price of Seedlings' books remains far below actual production costs, averaging only $10 per book.

Seedlings has nearly 700 titles available and has mailed books to all 50 states, Canadian provinces and several foreign countries. Check out Seedlings to learn more and make a donation. Your $10 gift will be priceless to a blind child.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Congrats Citizens of Pennsylvania

Do you think picking up a phone or writing a letter to your Senator or Congressman is a waste of time and effort? Do you stay home on election day because you think your vote won't make a difference? Well, stop it. This country belongs to all of us and we really do have a voice, sometimes it just means yelling louder and longer to get some attention.

Last July in Pennsylvania, legislators voted themselves very hefty raises (16 to 24 percent) at 2:00 in the morning without any public discussion or hearings and then convened for the summer. The raise wasn't scheduled to take effect until December 1, 2006, but the cunning legislators decided to use a provision called unvouchered expenses to take the higher compensation starting August 1, 2005. The citizens were outraged and indignant. They quickly mobilized petitions to overturn the raises and scheduled protests on the Capital steps in Harrisburg.

The public outcry worked. Last night the legislators voted to repeal the raises. The Senate voted first, 50-0, to strike down the increase, and the House, near midnight, voted 196-2 to do the same thing. Democrats cast the two dissenting votes: House Minority Leader Bill Deweese, Waynesburg, and Minority Whip Rep. Mike Veon, Beaver Falls. They may live to regret their "no" votes next election day since their districts are in western Pennsylvania, which has struggled for years to stay abreast economically compared to the eastern side of the state. Speaking their minds paid off though.

Gene Stilp, a Harrisburg lawyer who had filed his own lawsuit against the raise in July, expressed surprise, but pleasure, that the Senate went along with the wishes of pay-raise protesters around the state.

"This proves that voters, taxpayers and the people of Pennsylvania can have an impact if they try," he said. "But don't let anyone tell you these politicians did this for good government reasons. They did this because they are fearing for their political lives."

Whatever their reasons for voting to repeal, the citizens came out the winners. That's a lesson for all of us. We can make a difference, but we need to speak out.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Mother Said There'd Be Days Like This

There are days when I still feel young, but today is definitely not one of them. I have my husband to thank for that. He got it in his mind that he wanted to make homemade sauerkraut just to see if he could do it. Someone he knows sold him a LARGE crock for twenty dollars (a good deal) and, after a trip to the store to buy kosher salt and cabbage, he was all set to start slicing and dicing.

I need to back up and tell you a little bit about my husband. He’s a great cook, but he’s the type that always does everything in a grand way. He once decided he wanted to learn to make bread from scratch. Okay, fine. I like bread, so I was willing to teach him about yeast, kneading the dough, and all the other tricks. Well, I must be a good teacher, because in no time at all my husband was preparing French bread, focaccia, Irish soda bread, and every other kind of bread you can think of – all over the course of a weekend. The man went through 40 pounds of flour! So, do you get what I mean when I say he likes to do everything in a grand way?

Anyway, back to the sauerkraut. My husband is from the Pittsburgh area and sauerkraut and pork play important roles when celebrating New Years. Tradition dictates that a person MUST eat some pork (roast, chop, kielbasa – it doesn’t matter) and sauerkraut on the first day of the New Year or you will be cursed with bad luck for the rest of the year. (A shiny new dime is also cooked along with the pork and sauerkraut to ensure financial fortune in the months ahead.) This tradition is my husband’s reason for wanting to make sauerkraut. He figures we’re going to need it soon, so why buy it.

Where do I fit into this whole scenario and why has this made me feel so old? Because, I took pity on the man and decided to help him slice the cabbage – all 31 heads! I think my husband sensed my shoulders were going to wear out after I sliced the first head because he asked me if I wanted a glass of wine – and then he informed me I was slicing the sections too thick. They should be no thicker than a dime.

I have to back up and tell you something else about my husband. The man uses our kitchen utensils to fix anything and everything around our house, so you can imagine how sharp our 20-year-old knives are. That’s why my husband offered me the wine. He could just sense that I was about to question his sanity and ask him how the heck I was supposed to cut cabbage into dime width slices with knives that can’t even cut butter!

Anyway, after half a bottle of wine and lots of slicing, the cabbage is happily fermenting away in the crock – all 20 gallons worth! It should be ready to eat by the holidays. If I can lift my fork to my mouth by then, I’ll probably enjoy it. In the meantime, my shoulders are painfully reminding me that I’m too old to play Martha Stewart anymore.

UPDATE: The sauerkraut is done and we labeled it "designer" quality. Check it out for yourself to see the finished product.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Are You a Brainiac?

Question: What relationship to you is your father's mother-in-law's only daughter's only child?

If you figured out the answer to this question with little hesitation, then you may be a candidate for Mensa - an organization for people with high intelligence. Five people from the Flint area
recently faced a battery of questions over precisely one hour and 12 minutes to see if they have what it takes to call themselves brainiacs, er, Mensa members.

Surprisingly, membership may not help you land that lucrative job you've been coveting. "I mentioned Mensa at a job application and someone said, 'What's Mensa?" said Flint attorney Lynn E. Taft in the Flint Journal.

Membership is exclusive though. There are only about 100,000 people worldwide who belong, so that may be motivation enough to take the test. Just think, if you pass, you could say you're one of the brightest with some authority, and it might help you win an argument or two with your spouse or significant other!

Oh, did you want the answer to the question at the beginning? Yourself.

Who Will Speak for Them?

The Book of Amos in the Bible could be speaking about our current situation in this country. Amos was very critical about four major sins: Mistreatment of the poor, false pride, inhumane treatment of other people, and insincere worship. If we were to look at these four areas separately and examine them in relation to the Bush administration’s policies, the picture would not be too flattering. From budget cuts for food stamps and housing subsidies, to the war in Iraq, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, this administration has repeatedly acted in ways that are anything but Christian. Simply professing to be religious and participating in religious activities is not enough; their actions do not demonstrate what they profess to believe.

The Religious Right is guilty to a degree too. They focus on single issues like abortion, but remain silent about poverty, capital punishment and unnecessary war. Even worse, many of them pit their evangelical beliefs against those of other Christians in an effort to make others look bad and themselves better. Isn’t this the false pride Amos speaks about?

Thankfully, more mainstream Christians on the left, middle and right are beginning to speak up about the problems that effect people living in this country today, especially the problems of poverty and the minimum wage. The Charleston Gazette recently ran an editorial highlighting the efforts of churches in West Virginia to do something about this problem.

”The West Virginia Council of Churches - an affiliation of mainstream Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant congregations - has made adequate pay a priority. The council supports raising the minimum wage to $7.25 by June 2007. (It would have to be $8.90 an hour to have the same buying power the minimum wage had in 1969.)

“Justice for low-wage workers isn’t just an economic or political issue. It’s a religious and moral issue as well,” Bishop Ralph Dunkin of the West Virginia-West Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church said in Saturday’s paper.

These churches already work to help individuals struggling with poverty. Together, they plan to work for changes to policies that make Americans poor.

Their timing is perfect. The lives and work of millions of American families have been disrupted by hurricanes. Others are sacrificed for the war in Iraq. Still others are affected by swings in the economy. The president and Congress have cut taxes for the richest Americans and given away billions of public money in no-bid contracts to friendly corporations. Meanwhile, they pander to Religious Right taboos involving topics such as abortion or homosexuality, while they fine-tune plans to cut health care, child care, child support collections, food stamps and income assistance for old and disabled people living in poverty.”

Amen! The least among us have finally found voices willing to speak out for them. It was a long time in coming, but welcome nonetheless.