Friday, March 30, 2007

Microsoft workers feel the pain

Workers in the textile, steel, and manufacturing industries have been losing jobs, wages and benefits for years, but most of America turned a blind eye to the situation. That may be changing according to David Sirota, because the upper-middle professional class is starting to feel some pain - and they're starting to make some noise.

Windows Into Populism’s Rise, here's a snippet of Sirota's recent visit to Microsoft's headquarters:
Pundits today seem puzzled by the Lou Dobbs-ification of politics — the sudden political emergence of economic issues such as trade, jobs, wages and even immigration, and the meteoric ascendance of populist red-state politicians such as Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, also a Democrat, demanding immediate change. But on a recent trip to the iconic capital of the upper- middle class professional, it all made perfect sense.

With buzzing twentysomething worker bees and beige low-rise buildings dotting a bucolic setting, the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash., looks like a cross between a university and a suburban office park. The comfortably tranquil image is carefully massaged by company icon Bill Gates, who cheerily testified to Congress this month that “anyone here in the United States who has [computer engineering] skills is going to have a super-high-paying jobs.” Yet a darker reality emerges when talking to workers.

They pointed me to company documents published by the worker advocacy group WashTech, proving Microsoft salaries for mid-level full-time employees have been stagnating, even as company revenues rise. They fumed over how the company employs thousands of “permatemps” — full-time employees technically designated “temporary” so the company does not have to pay them as well or provide them benefits.

Showing how the immigration backlash extends beyond odious xenophobia and into legitimate economic worries, they lamented that wages are forced ever lower by Microsoft’s use of the H-1B visa program — a program that forces permatemps to compete with temporary, nonresident workers from other countries who are imported here by companies because they will accept low pay (government data shows tech companies pay H-1B workers $13,000 per year less than American workers in the same jobs). “They say they need H-1B’s because they can’t find a qualified American,” whispered one permatemp in the hall outside his office. “What they really mean is they can’t find a cheap American.”

Pay grades are only part of the ferment — it is also anxiety over job security at a time when 1.1 million American information-sector jobs have been eliminated in the past five years. While Gates told Congress that the demand for highly skilled computer workers “is going to guarantee them all jobs,” one 10-year Microsoft “permatemp” making $25-per-hour with no benefits told me everyone knows better.

“You can knock yourself out here and do your best and fix a thousand bugs,” he said. “But at the end of that, they can — and often do — just say goodbye. And everyone here knows that.”

Another permatemp said that while he helped build the new Vista operating system, he found not one Microsoft division that doesn’t fear showing up and having their keycards not work because all their jobs were sent to India. That concern is justified: A Microsoft slide presentation, also uncovered by WashTech, shows the company encourages foreign outsourcing in most major decisions.

WashTech has tried to convert workers’ anger into union drives. But those grinning, business-casual Microsoft executives have learned a thing or two about how to bust unions. One example: When a handful of Microsoft workers developing fledgling tax software took an initial step to unionize, the entire project was terminated by management. [emphasis mine]
As Sirota's article pointed out, when rich people's kids had to serve in Vietnam after the draft lottery was created, pressure to end the war changed policy; when companies like Enron started undermining the savings of rich people, Washington passed corporate accountability legislation; and when recent subprime mortgage defaults started hurting the stock market, Congress called it a crisis.

It's a shame that the pain has to trickle up to the rich before Washington takes notice and starts challenging wages, trade and outsourcing. We're all Americans. Getting Washington's attention shouldn't depend on the balance in our checkbook.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

It's better on top at Circuit City

The race to the bottom continues:
A new plan for layoffs at Circuit City is openly targeting better-paid workers, risking a public backlash by implying that its wages are as subject to discounts as its flat-screen TVs.

The electronics retailer, facing larger competitors and falling sales, said Wednesday that it would lay off about 3,400 store workers - immediately - and replace them with lower-paid new hires as soon as possible.

The laid-off workers, about 8 percent of the company's total work force, would get a severance package and a chance to reapply for their former jobs, at lower pay, after a 10-week delay, the company said.
The company is calling the layoffs their "wage management initiative," which is the polite way of saying they just gave 3,400 employees the shaft.
"I don't think it's fair," said Hamilton Smith, an 88-year-old retired federal worker who had just purchased some batteries at Circuit City. "You need to give people a living, working wage." He said he would think twice before shopping at the company's stores again.
Circuit City was hardly paying living wages. The retailer pays about $10 to $11 an hour on average, and entry level pay is closer to $8 for inexperienced workers.

Of course, Chief Executive Officer Philip
Schoonover does a little better. He made $8.52 million in fiscal 2006, including a salary of $975,000.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

You can fool some of the people some of the time...

State Republicans got called on the carpet by the Traverse City Record-Eagle for their double-standard on taxes:

For state Republicans, not all tax hikes are evil
Pretend for a minute that you're a state lawmaker, and take the following quiz.

• What is always better, more taxes or less taxes?

• What is better, approving a two-cent tax on services that would largely wipe out the state deficit (and cost the average taxpayer about $1.40 a month), or making more cuts in public school funding, likely causing layoffs and other cuts in some districts (including some in northern Michigan)?

• If raising taxes is always bad ("I refuse to balance the state budget on the backs of Michigan taxpayers!”) how can it be good to raise the gasoline tax three cents a gallon per year for three years (as Republicans have recommended).

If you favor a gas tax hike but rejected the services tax, explain the difference.

• Why is it OK to raise the tax on gasoline but not raise the diesel fuel tax to the same level or, as some have recommended, to the even higher national average? Explain.
Do you notice the double-standard? No? Then read on for more background:
Republican leaders last week rejected Gov. Granholm's proposed two-cent services tax, the linchpin in her proposal to balance the state budget. Instead, they proposed a $34-per-student cut in state aid. Oddly enough, no one proclaimed "I'm willing to balance the state budget on the backs of Michigan school children.”

Republicans have also proposed across-the-board cuts of 4 to 5 percent for every other state program; they have not, however, replaced the $1.9 billion Single Business Tax.

Instead, Republicans are now proposing (with support from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce) to raise the state gasoline tax nine cents. There is no talk, however, of raising the 15-cent tax on diesel fuel (used mostly by businesses) to the same level as the 19-cent gasoline tax, let alone the national average of about 22 cents. [...]

The GOP and the Chamber opposed the services tax because some businesses may find it difficult and messy (claims of widespread businesses failure were pure baloney) and it made great political hay. Who wants more taxes? On the other hand, public schools are the domain of the hated Michigan Educational Association teachers' union, and are fair game.

Awkwardly, the GOP's gas tax hike could actually cost more than the service tax, which was estimated at $16.80 per taxpayer per year; driving 10,000 miles a year at 20 miles per gallon would cost $45 per vehicle. How's your mileage? [emphasis mine]
So, what have we learned? Our state Republicans put business interests before those of average citizens. What else is new?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Republicans neglect our elderly population

My mother was hospitalized last week after a health emergency and she's being moved to a nursing home today. I wish to protect her identity so I won't go into details, but I will tell you she has Alzheimer's, and because of the added health issues she now requires round the clock care for all activities of daily living. As you might imagine,the past several days have been very difficult for us. There's a chance she'll recover enough to come home (she lives with my sister and brother-in-law), but that's a big "if" at this point in time.

Nursing homes can be scary places for patients, and also for families. We've all heard the horror stories of inadequate care or neglect and none of us want to see our loved ones end up in those kinds of places. We only want the best for them. That's what I woke up thinking about this morning. The facility they're transferring my mother to is nice, but my concern is what happens if this becomes a long-term proposition and her Medicare runs out. My mother is almost 90-years-old and outlived her money years ago. She was fortunate to have children she could live with, but none of us is in the position to help her with nursing home expenses. Mom will end up in a Medicaid facility once her Medicare runs out, and we'll just have to keep our fingers crossed that she ends up in a good place. The better nursing homes only take so many Medicaid patients and openings are hard to come by. It's shameful that the level of care an elderly person receives ends up depending on money.

It's also shameful that
some insurers have taken advantage of those people who had the means to buy LTC insurance:
Interviews by The New York Times and confidential depositions indicate that some long-term-care insurers have developed procedures that make it difficult — if not impossible — for policyholders to get paid. A review of more than 400 of the thousands of grievances and lawsuits filed in recent years shows elderly policyholders confronting unnecessary delays and overwhelming bureaucracies. In California alone, nearly one in every four long-term-care claims was denied in 2005, according to the state.

“The bottom line is that insurance companies make money when they don’t pay claims,” said Mary Beth Senkewicz, who resigned last year as a senior executive at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. “They’ll do anything to avoid paying, because if they wait long enough, they know the policyholders will die.” [...]

“These companies have essentially turned their bureaucracies into profit centers,” said Glenn R. Kantor, a California lawyer who has represented policyholders.

Yet these concerns have been ignored by state regulators, advocates say, and have gone unnoticed by federal lawmakers who recently passed incentives intended to promote purchases of long-term-care policies, in the hopes of forestalling a Medicare funding crisis. [emphasis mine]
This is just one more example of privatized services failing to deliver. Washington may be helping the insurance industry by pushing these programs, but they're not helping the people victimized by the system, and they're not helping people like my mother who can't afford the luxury of private long-term care insurance, yet she worked and paid taxes her entire life. In fact, my mother was a "Rosie the Riveter" and worked in a factory during the war. She deserves the same level of care as the next person.

Locally, our
state Republicans have shown the same disrespect and disregard for our elderly. Last week, they pushed through a late evening budget plan that would save the state more than $15 million by reducing the wages and hours for people who care for 40,000-plus low-income seniors and the disabled. Pay for home health care aides will be reduced to $7 an hour under their plan, and seniors must find the helpers on their own. They also cut funding to home-delivered meals by $97,000, which as one person said is a small cut, but it's somebody's grandmother who's going to get the phone call saying they can't get meals anymore.

I don't think there's any justification for cutting back services to our elderly or disabled, but that's not how state Republicans see it:
Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said the cuts are "painful" but argued that the GOP plan would adequately fund public safety, education and health care and help turn around Michigan.

"Once you get used to a certain level of government, it's hard to trim it back," Bishop said. "But we also know that we have an obligation to the state, to the citizens that we represent, to downsize government."
Excuse me, Sen. Bishop, but you also have an obligation to our elderly. They're citizens too. They paid taxes and contributed to society their entire lives, and now, when we should be doing for them, you want to kick them to the curb? That's disgraceful.

Put yourself in a poor person's shoes just once. How would you feel if your mother needed her adult diapers changed and you couldn't find someone willing to do it for $7 an hour? In fact, would you change diapers, give sponge baths, and strip dirty sheets for $7 an hour? Add into the equation that old people can be difficult and cantankerous to deal with, especially those with dementia, and the pool of caring people willing to work for poverty wages goes down considerably.

Sen. Bishop, you and your Republican cohorts in Michigan and Washington should be ashamed, most people treat they pets better than you treat our elderly.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Michigan's Democrats Vote to Set Deadline

The House of Representives voted 218-212 today to set a firm deadline for our troops to leave Iraq. This reflects the sentiments of 6 in 10 Americans.

Thank you to all of Michigan's Democratic Representives who voted yes on the bill:
John Conyers, John Dingell, Dale Kildee, Carolyn Kilpatrick, Sander Levin, and Bart Stupak
Thanks for nothing to all of Michigan's Republican Representatives who voted no:
Dave Camp, Vernon Ehlers, Peter Hoekstra, Joe Knollenberg, Thad McCotter, Candice Miller, Mike Rogers, Fred Upton, and Timothy Walberg.
Now the troops know who really supports them.

Over the weekend, I suggest our state Republicans read what The Economist has to say about their party (especially after the way they voted today):

Collateral damage, The Republican Party is among the war's victims

And to help them understand why:

Mugged by reality. How it all went wrong in Iraq.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Just say NO to bailing out subprime lenders

The US Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs is holding hearings on the subprime mortgage market to determine the causes and consequences of the turmoil lenders have created. The cause is pretty obvious. From Bloomberg:
"Abusive'' lending and fraud helped fuel a surge in subprime mortgage defaults, the regulator of the biggest U.S. banks told senators probing federal agencies' response to trouble in the markets.
The consequences are obvious too. Experts predict up to two million people will lose their homes, stocks in financial services have taken a hit, and nearly 20 subprime lenders have gone out of business.

Those consequences will also have consequences that could affect the rest of us: U.S. states oppose bailout to subprime lenders
"I strongly encourage Congress to avoid using taxpayer funds to bail out the subprime lenders, brokers and investors that generated our current problem," Joseph Smith, the North Carolina Commissioner of Banks, said in remarks prepared for a Senate hearing. [emphasis mine]
Absolutely. I can't believe this idea is even being considered. Why should companies who practiced abusive lending and fraud get a taxpayer bailout when consumers with serious medical bills can't get relief through bankruptcy?

Remember the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005? Republicans said that would strengthen our economy, among other things:
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Congress sent "a firm and resounding message" that the federal bankruptcy system "will no longer be a shelter for abuse." And Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., said the new law will change America's "when-in-doubt-bail-out" system of dealing with debts.
No double standards. If it's good for the consumer, then it's good for business too.

If anyone should get help, I think it should be the borrowers who were victims of these predatory lenders. Hillary Clinton is pushing for a federally mandated "foreclosure timeout" that would give homeowners more time to catch up on their payments, and she wants to curtail the prepayment penalties that make it hard for troubled borrowers to refinance. Those suggestions seem reasonable, as does the suggestion from the hearing that Congress require lenders to set a default loan for subprime borrowers at a 30-year fixed rate, and to modernize the FHA so that it can lend to some subprime borrowers.

There was one other suggestion from the hearing worth noting too:
Lawmakers should also take the step of requiring lenders to consider a borrower's ability to repay a loan before making one.
Well, of course, that's just common sense, and now the free market will have to live with the consequences of their failure to do the right thing - government intervention.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bush Administration Channels Rose Mary Woods

Talk about deja vu. From Firedoglake:
President "What, Me Lie?" just took a credibility hit this morning. Via Josh (with a huge H/T to Muck commenter Donp who spotted the gap at 2:19 am!):
I think a commenter in our document dump research thread may have been the first to notice that the emails released by the Justice Department seem to have a gap between November 15th and December 4th of last year….

The firing calls went out on December 7th. But the original plan was to start placing the calls on November 15th. So those eighteen days are pretty key ones. (emphasis mine)
What are you trying to hide, President Bush?
The House panel showed some smarts today and approved subpoenas for Rove and other top White House officials that Bush plans to fight. I say "bring him on." It's time for some public accountability.

Update: Editor & Publisher has a story about this too: Paging Rose Mary Woods: '18-Day Gap' in Release of Latest Emails in 'AttorneyGate'
Asked about the gap today, Tony Snow, White House spokesman said, "I've been led to believe that there's a good response for it, and I'm going to let you ask them (DOJ) because they're going to have an answer."
Yep, but first they have to invent something that sounds plausible.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

No Testimony Under Oath from the Values Party

White House Won’t Allow Rove, Miers To Testify
MSNBC’s Mike Viquiera: “Fred Fielding, he’s the White House counsel, he was just here meeting with the House Judiciary Committee. He made the following to the Congress, both House and Senate. He said Rove and Harriet Miers would be offered to the committees for their testimony in the Alberto Gonzales prosecutors scandal. However, it would be unsworn testimony, not under oath, behind closed doors, and no transcript would be permitted." [emphasis added]
Why not let them testify under oath? If they're telling the truth - which they should be since lying is not acceptable to people of values, right? - then they should have nothing to worry about.

Senate Limits Gonzales' Authority

Republicans must really be worried about their chances in 2008:

Senate votes to limit Bush’s power on U.S. attorneys.
In a 94-2 vote, the Senate today voted to “end the Bush administration’s ability to unilaterally fill U.S. attorney vacancies as a backlash to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ firing of eight federal prosecutors.” The bill will cancel “a Justice Department-authored provision in the Patriot Act that had allowed the attorney general to appoint U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation.”
Chris Bond (R-MO) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) voted no.

It's Better on Top at Pfizer

When Pfizer announced they were leaving the state and eliminating 2,400 jobs, the company said career and retirement counseling and possibly a severance and health care package based on years of service would be offered to those losing their employment. The 1,000 contract workers also faced with losing their jobs will get unemployment benefits for 26 weeks, but the real estate agents who had a rash of cancellations won't be so lucky, and neither will area schools and non-profit organizations who counted on the company for grants that supported their educational efforts.

The vast majority of these workers were just average Americans doing their best to help the company make their record profits. The unemployment benefits and severance packages will help, but until they find new jobs it will be a struggle for them to pay their bills and provide for their families.

Not so for those
at the top, who end up in much better shape:
When Pfizer vice chair Karen Katen got passed over in her bid to become chair of the giant drug maker, she prepared to bail out and will leave the company at the end of this month. The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog rummaged through an SEC proxy statement to add up her compensation package: "Katen’s eligible for a pension accrued over a 32-year career that, if taken as a lump sum, would be worth about $40.7 million. Her 401(k) retirement savings plan and some deferred stock are worth another $21.8 million. Add in bonuses, previously disclosed severance of $5.5 million, some stock awards and the like and you come up with the balance of the $76.8 million." She will get an additional $178,000 for unused vacations.
And the money gets better as you go up:
Ex-Pfizer Inc. chief Henry McKinnell got a $200 million retirement package in spite of presiding over a 49% slide in the value of the pharmaceutical giant's stock between 2000 and 2005.
What a stark contrast. Republicans love to brag about "wealth creation" policies, but they neglect to tell you they only benefit those at the top.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Two Views From Canada

Canada's equivalent of Donald Rumseld and Dick Cheney all rolled into one has the solution for our energy woes:
[Former deputy prime minister] Hellyer wants to use alien technology to eliminate burning fossil fuels. He pointed out to the Ottawa Citizen ... that alien spacecraft have to travel vast distances to reach Earth. So they must have extremely advanced propulsion systems that don't rely on sweaty little green guys shoveling coal into a flying saucer furnace. [...]

Hellyer, 83, told the Ottawa Citizen, "We need to persuade governments to come clean on what they know. Some of us suspect they know quite a lot, and it might be enough to save our planet if applied quickly enough."
How about that? The solution has been right under our noses in Roswell, N.M. all this time! Would someone please tell Washington?

Moving along to a more sane (and chilling) point of view from Canada,
The Old Bill recently wrote about evil and what it might look like. He concludes that it's likely to resemble Erik Prince (founder of Blackwater Security, a private mercenary army for hire that has the largest private military base in the world) or his father, Edgar, founder of the Family Research Council.

Old Bill is concerned about other member's of Prince's family too:
Erik's mom Elsa is a board member of Focus on the Family. His sister, Betsy, one time head of the Michigan Republicans, married Dick Devos, son of Amway - their foundation is a strong backer of Focus on the Family. His Freiheit Foundation funds numerous theocon/religious right groups.
What's Old Bill's conclusion?
Let's see, a major war-profiteer, mercenary army CEO. . . does that seem a bit at odds to the gospel? to the person/spirit/ethos of Jesus?

[...] having watched the rise of the religious/theocratic right in the US for almost 3 decades, I'd never considered the possibility of them creating their own army, I'd underestimated the wiliness of the devil. Yet here's a group that has created its own army, with the blessing of the Bush administration, and is amassing huge profits. Appears
Corrie ten Boom was right. Sounds over the top, I know, but I think as Canadians we need to start asking what we will do if/when the US drifts/lurches into a fascist state, a theocracy. . . And as Christians, we need to start asking the questions Bonhoeffer asked, at what point must we give up our silence, our comfortable acquiescence? [emphasis added]
If you think Old Bill is overreacting, then consider this statement from Aaron, a priest-in-training at Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida (built by Tom Monaghan, Domino Pizza billionaire):
Aaron argued that the United States can only be saved from moral perdition if it, like Ave Maria, embraces the magisterium as supreme. "We don't believe in the separation of church and state," he said, "and this country should orient itself toward Christ. The foundation of Western civilization rests on Christendom, which means that America owes its existence to the Catholic Church." [emphasis added]
Our country should orient itself toward Christ? A good starting point would be to end the war in Iraq, the one based on a lie.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on the Plain

What's your accent? I have an "Inland North" accent according to the test below. (Yes, everyone in Michigan calls carbonated drinks "pop," which by the way is the only correct term!)

I would have been surprised if the results were any different. I was born and raised in Michigan, although my parents were from the Upper Peninsula. We call people from that part of the state "Yoopers," and their accent is totally different. Thanks to my parent's influence though I can throw around terms like "da" and "eh" with the best of them. (I also remember a certain elementary teacher who broke my heart when she said my dad was wrong when he pronounced "three" as "tree." )

As an adult, I lived in southwestern Pennsylvania for about 20 years, and that area definitely has a distinct accent. It's completely different from the rest of Pennsylvania, and as you move closer to the West Virginia border it sounds more southern. My children were all born there and my husband is from the Pittsburgh area, so I've picked up some of their slang over the years. Periodically, I find myself saying "ja wanna" for "do you want to" or "nebby" for nosy.

In the end though, I guess those experiences didn't make much difference. I still sound like I'm from Michigan, eh?

Take the test and see if your life experiences have had an influence on your accent.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Inland North

You may think you speak "Standard English straight out of the dictionary" but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like "Are you from Wisconsin?" or "Are you from Chicago?" Chances are you call carbonated drinks "pop."

The Midland
The Northeast
The South
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Wealthy Suburbanites Speak, The GOP Listens

Wealthy suburbanites have managed to get the ear of more than 50 GOP members of the House and Senate regarding Bush's No Child Left Behind according to the WaPo, and they'll be introducing legislation today to allow states to opt out of testing mandates.
Some Republicans said yesterday that a backlash against the law was inevitable. Many voters in affluent suburban and exurban districts -- GOP strongholds -- think their schools have been adversely affected by the law. Once-innovative public schools have increasingly become captive to federal testing mandates, jettisoning education programs not covered by those tests, siphoning funds from programs for the talented and gifted, and discouraging creativity, critics say.
Michigan's Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R) is author of the new House bill and he claims to already have enough backing to get the measure passed.
Under Hoekstra's bill, any state could essentially opt out of No Child Left Behind after one of two actions. A state could hold a referendum, or two of three elected entities -- the governor, the legislature and the state's highest elected education official -- could decide that the state would no longer abide by the strict rules on testing and the curriculum.

The Senate bill is slightly less permissive, but it would allow a state to negotiate a "charter" with the federal government to get away from the law's mandates.

In both cases, the states that opt out would still be eligible for federal funding, but those states could exempt any education program but special education from No Child Left Behind strictures.
Republican lawmakers involved in the new legislation claim Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and other administration officials have moved to tamp down dissent within the GOP, but so far their efforts don't seem to be paying off.
"Republicans voted for No Child Left Behind holding their noses," said Michael J. Petrilli, an Education Department official during Bush's first term who is now a critic of the law. "But now with the president so politically weak, conservatives can vote their conscience."
Voting their conscious may be what they're telling the public, but concern for themselves appears to be part of the equation.
Parent unrest in places such as Scarsdale, N.Y., and parts of suburban Michigan could affect members of Congress. Connecticut has sued the government over the law, while legislatures in Virginia, Colorado and heavily Republican Utah have moved to supersede it.
I'd like to assume that parents in poor neighborhoods could move members of the GOP to "vote their conscience" too, but considering the fact we still have millions of Americans without health care I find it hard to believe they would.

Update: The Impolitic has a good post about NCLB that's worth reading. I agree with her bottom line assessment that "NCLB has nothing to do with kids and everything to do with money." (And it certainly has been good for private tutoring companies. )

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The General Takes a Cue from Rove

This story from Newsweek is funny:

GM Stuffs the Ballot Box! Slipping behind Toyota in sales, the giant automaker manipulates a Newsweek online survey, turning out the vote in a drive worthy of Karl Rove.

GM may have to hand over its crown to Toyota this year, but it's determined to beat its Japanese rival in at least one race: the's readers poll. In an online survey accompanying a story I wrote with Allan Sloan about why Toyota is overtaking GM as the world's largest automaker, asked readers this week which company they thought made a better car. On Monday, Toyota was several laps ahead of GM, by an 80-20 margin. But by Friday, GM was leading by an 83-17 margin, as the total respondents had mushroomed to 80,000 from 14,000.

Turns out GM was orchestrating a get-out-the-vote campaign that would make Karl Rove proud--something that became clear to me when a GM employee called me on Thursday, frustrated that our software wouldn't let him vote twice. (You can't). It seems that on Thursday morning, GM PR official Katie McBride had sent an e-mail blast to the company's worldwide workforce of 318,000 and 7,000 dealers, asking them to vote for GM in our poll--a highly unscientific survey, like all internet polls that invite audience participation. "It's time to stand up and tell the world we're proud of who we are, what we build and how important we are to the U.S. economy," she wrote, including a link to our website. [...]

Did GM do anything unethical? After all, internet polls are driven by reader passions, and are more a form of web entertainment than meaningful measures of public opinion. "No, I don't even find it distasteful," says Poynter Institute journalism ethics instructor Kelly McBride (no relation to Katie McBride). "It sounds like good old-fashioned politics. And it shows that GM has a lot more loyal employees, or maybe desperate employees, than we may have thought."

I don't see anything unethical about GM's actions either. Unethical would be denying what they did or trying to cover it up and that's not the case. GM's top PR spokesmen readily admitted their actions. I say kudos to GM for acting preemptively and sending their employees the link. I have no doubt Toyota would have done the same thing if they had thought of it first.

The Rich Get Richer, Taxpayers Foot the Bill

It was only a couple of months ago that Goldman Sachs announced it was setting aside $16.5 billion for salaries, bonuses and benefits for employees because investment bankers “work hard and want to live well.” Now we hear the company set a record and reported a 29 percent increase in first-quarter profit.
The firm reported profit of $3.2 billion, or $6.67 a share, for the three months ended Feb. 23, topping the $2.48 billion, or $5.08 a share, it reported in the period a year earlier. Goldman said that it had net revenue of $12.7 billion for the quarter.
My question is this: Why is there always taxpayer money available to help these big corporations raking in record profits?
In the summer of 2005, Goldman Sachs successfully extorted money from New York, threatening to leave the city unless it received tax breaks and low-interest bonds. It did so in a fairly ugly way. Using the specter of September 11th as a club, the company pocketed an unbelievable deal: $1.65 billion in low-interest, triple-tax-exempt Liberty Bonds, enabling the firm to save as much as $9 million a year in financing costs, which would save Goldman about $250 million over the life of the bonds. If that wasn't enough, the city also threw $115 million in sales and utility tax breaks at the company...
Too bad taxpayers can't get a refund and use the money on stuff that average Americans consider "living well" like health care and shoring up social security.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Click to Help William Beaumont Hospital

Here's an easy way to make a difference in a sick child's life. Simply click here to help William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak win a Fun Center and then pass this information along.

From the
Colgate-Palmolive and Starbright Children's Foundation:
Help a hospital get a Fun Center. Hundreds of hospitals are on a waiting list to receive a Fun Center. These mobile entertainment units provide endless fun for children in the hospital who need a distraction from their illnesses. Fun Centers help turn worry into laughter and weariness into delight!

Fun Centers feature a flat screen monitor, DVD player and the latest Nintendo® game system. The Centers are mobile and roll right up to a child’s bedside to provide hours of game play and movie watching.

You can help a hospital in your region get a new Fun Center to help pediatric patients in your community. All you have to do is cast your vote today!
The top five winning hospitals will receive Fun Centers. You can vote once everyday, but hurry, voting ends March 31, 2007.

here to learn more about the Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation.

Ehlers & Rogers Make "Top 18 Public Enemies" List

Americans United for Change Unveils List of Top 18 ‘Public Enemies of the Middle Class’ in Congress and two of Michigan's Representatives made the list - Vernon Ehlers (R-MI-3) and Mike Rogers (R-MI-8).
"More and more of America's working people are struggling to make ends meet, and our middle class is disappearing," said Jeremy Funk, spokesman for Americans United for Change. "At least two meaningful pieces of legislation to reverse this trend have already come before Congress this year - and, unfortunately, these eighteen Members were no where to be found when the middle class families they represent needed them most. Just last week, they each opposed the Employee Free Choice Act, which would give middle-class workers a fair shake by fixing a badly broken system for forming unions and bargaining with Corporate America for better pay, improved benefits and retirement security. Earlier this year, each of these Members opposed the first increase in the federal minimum wage in a decade. They couldn't even be counted on to stand up for the most vulnerable workers in their states who live in borderline poverty. [...] It's a question of priorities and a question of values - and it's clear that each of these Members have lost touch with the values of middle class Americans, whom overwhelmingly support these important initiatives.
Americans United for Change said they're prepared to make ‘poster children' out of these 18 members who continue to put the interests of corporate America ahead of the interests of families and workers. I look forward to seeing Ehlers and Rogers on a highway billboard soon.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Gov't Closes in on Private Sector Job Creation

State Sen. Nancy Cassis (R-Novi) recently said, "Government doesn't create jobs, the private sector does."

That's not true under the Bush administration. The
government is responsible for 40% of the new jobs created last month according to latest figures which show 39,000 of the total 97,000 jobs gains in February came from federal, state and local governments. Private companies added only 58,000 jobs last month, which is the fewest since November 2004.

What kinds of
private sector jobs grew the fastest?
Lower-paying professions were some of the fastest growing last month. Pay grew the most in February for workers in the leisure and hospitality industries, which have been adding workers rapidly in recent months. Restaurants and bars, in particular, have been growing, and last month they added 21,000 jobs.

Businesses also rushed to fill building services jobs, adding 11,300 positions for custodians, landscapers, exterminators and similar professions.
Some economists see the weak private sector job growth as troubling.
“In the short term, it doesn’t matter who’s writing the check, as long as checks are being written,” Mr. Matus said. “If we see government jobs making up the bulk of the employment growth in March and in April, then I would start to worry.”
In the short-term, these jobs are putting people to work, but taxpayers should worry too since tax dollars pay for these jobs. Meanwhile, although the private sector managed to add jobs in professions that couldn't be outsourced or off-shored, they also pay less than government jobs, which probably helps to explain this statistic from the BLS:
About 1.5 million persons (not seasonally adjusted) were marginally attached to the labor force in February--essentially unchanged from a year ago. These individuals wanted and were available for work and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey. Among the marginally attached, there were 375,000 discouraged workers in February, little different from a year earlier. Discouraged workers were not currently looking for work specifically because they believed no jobs were available for them.
The government should count these people in their figures. It's not their fault good paying jobs have been outsourced and private sector jobs are growing the fastest in lower-paying professions. I'd be discouraged too. The private sector has done a bang-up job of increasing living standards for CEO's and top executives. When are they going to do something for the rest of us?

Sometimes a Headline Gets it Right

Don't feel too bad for these guys. Jerry Falwell forgives them for their infidelity/ies - or at least Gingrich's:
Falwell, in his newsletter, said he has usually been able to tell when a man who has experienced "moral collapse" was genuinely seeking forgiveness. "My sense tells me that Mr. Gingrich is such a man," he wrote.

"I well remember the challenge we evangelicals faced in 1980 when our candidate, Ronald Reagan, was the first presidential candidate who had gone through a divorce. We wisely made allowance for God's forgiveness and America was the beneficiary of this historic champion," Falwell added.
What? I guess Falwell forgot all about Reagan's involvement in the Iran Contra Affair and
Oliver North's conviction on three felony counts for lying under oath.

Falwell's memory loss and double standard aside,
Howard Kurtz of the WaPo explains the right-wingers thinking this way:

"Right, it wasn't about the sex, it was about the perjury. Whereas Gingrich's affair was only about the sex."

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Another Casualty of Conservative Values

Here's another casualty of conservative values according to Harold Meyerson - the American family. He makes a good case that the rise in divorce rates and the number of children born out of wedlock can be blamed on the Reagan '80s and not the permissive '60s.

Keep this statistic in the back of your mind as you read:

The percentage of households that are married couples with children has hit an all-time low (at least, the lowest since the Census Bureau started measuring such things): 23.7 percent. That's about half the level that marrieds-with-children constituted at the end of the Ozzie-and-Harriet '50s.
It's also important to note that working-class families are affected more than college-educated ones. Taking into account all households, married couples with children are twice as likely to be in the top 20 percent of incomes, and their incomes have increased 59 percent over the past 30 years, while households overall have experienced just a 44 percent increase.

Financial instability is responsible for the decline of American families according to Meyerson.

To be sure, the '60s, with its assaults on traditional authority, played some role in weakening the traditional family.

But its message was sounded loudest and clearest on elite college campuses, whose graduates were nonetheless the group most likely to have stable marriages. Then again, they were also the group most likely to have stable careers.

They enjoyed financial stability; they could plan for the future.

Such was not the case for working-class Americans. Over the past 35 years, the massive changes in the U.S. economy have largely condemned American workers to lives of economic insecurity. No longer can the worker count on a steady job for a single employer who provides a paycheck and health and retirement benefits, too. Over the past three decades, workers' individual annual income fluctuations have consistently increased, while their aggregate income has stagnated. In the brave new economy of outsourced jobs and short-term gigs and on-again, off-again health coverage, American workers cannot rationally plan their economic futures. And with each passing year, as their level of economic security declines, so does their entry into marriage.

So, families across America can thank the conservative movement for this financial insecurity and the decline of marriage. Right-wingers put profits and business ahead of people.

The right-wing ideologues who have championed outsourcing, offshoring, and union-busting, who have celebrated the same changes that have condemned American workers to lives of financial instability, piously lament the decline of family stability that has followed these economic changes as the night the day.

American conservatism is a house divided against itself. It applauds the radicalism of the economic changes of the past four decades -- the dismantling, say, of the American steel industry (and the job and income security that it once provided) in the cause of greater efficiency. It decries the decline of social and familial stability over that time -- the traditional, married working-class families, say, that once filled all those churches in the hills and hollows in what is now the smaller, post-working-class Pittsburgh.

Problem is, disperse a vibrant working-class community in America and you disperse the vibrant working-class family.

Which is how American conservatism became the primary author of the very social disorder that it routinely rails against, and that Republicans have the gall to run against.

The party of family values? Please. If that's the banner that Republicans continue to wave, then they should certainly make Rudy Giuliani, who couldn't bestir himself to attend his son's high school graduation or his daughter's high school plays, their presidential nominee. No candidate could better personify the sham that is Republicans' and conservatives' concern for the American family [emphasis added].

Like I've said before, just because they say they're the "values party" doesn't make it so.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Guilty! Another Black Eye for Bush and the GOP

The Bush administration and the Republican party came to power promising to restore integrity, honesty and ethics to government.
Former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby has been found guilty on four of five counts in his perjury and obstruction of justice trial.

Simply saying your party is the "moral majority" doesn't make it so.
“Any lie under oath is serious,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “The truth is what drives the justice system.”
It's time for the Republican Party to fess up and be honest with the public. Moral majority was simply a slogan they used to dupe the public into believing them.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Thank the GOP for Our Health Care Crisis

More bad news about the dismal state of health care in our country [emphasis added]:
Today, more than one-third of the uninsured — 17 million of the nearly 47 million — have family incomes of $40,000 or more, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a nonpartisan organization. More than two-thirds of the uninsured are in households with at least one full-time worker.
How does the GOP explain how they allowed this to happen under their rule? From this YouTube video:
"Well, that's the omniscient, invisible hand of the free market doing what it does best!"

[Hat-tip to Tom Paine for the link.]

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Here's a Moral Issue the GOP Should Embrace

Republicans have proclaimed themselves the moral majority for decades now and what do they have to show for it? Not much. Poverty has increased, our president lied and led our country to war, stewardship of the environment has suffered, the gap between the haves and have nots has increased, and the number of people without health care has continued to rise. Why they consider themselves moral is beyond me. Morality isn't just about sexual behavior and abortion, it's also concern for the well being of people.

The example being set by the Republicans is outdated and out of step with the rest of America, especially when it comes to health care, as
this recent poll indicates:
A majority of Americans say the federal government should guarantee health insurance to every American, especially children, and are willing to pay higher taxes to do it, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
The "lets keep cutting taxes" crowd are losing their clout as people suffer, yet they keep spouting off their nonsense about nanny governments and voicing their opposition to universal health care instead of listening to the taxpayers.

It's not too late for them to change direction though, and there is a way to provide health care to some Americans [via Tom Paine], which is a start:
Health coverage can be provided to every child in America in 2007. The funding necessary to expand coverage to all children and pregnant women would be the equivalent to just nine days of Defense Department spending in 2007, and three months of the tax cuts to the richest one percent of Americans this year. [emphasis added]
The public wants to do what is morally right. The question is do Republicans?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Take the Money Out of Politics

One of the few Democratic presidential candidates to pique my interest was Tom Vilsack, but that was short-lived. He's now out of the race because he doesn't have enough money to compete. Vilsack only raised $1.1 million of the $20 million he needed to stay in the race until June.

There's a lesson here for parents across the country: Don't tell your children they could grow up to be president someday unless you're filthy rich and plan on buying the election for them.

I'm serious. Experts from
both parties estimate the White House race in 2008 could cost each nominee $500 million.

What's wrong with huge sums of money being spent? Here are a
few excellent reasons from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [emphasis added]:
Basically, the candidates operate on the assumption that the voters are for sale -- that the more money they spend courting the voters, the more likely it is that they will be elected.

It gets worse. Another fact is that to acquire that amount of money, the candidates have to spend most of their time courting big donors and, in the process, pandering to whatever points of view those donors hold to get them to write the checks and bundle their contributions. With so much of their time devoted to this, there is less time for candidates to spend on developing well-thought-out positions on issues.

What that also means is more power to the rich in a country where the system is already heavily tilted to the advantage of that tiny percentage of the population, and to the disadvantage of the poor, who are steadily increasing in number and percentage.

Thus, the underlying assumptions of American elections have become that the candidates are for sale, the voters are for sale as well and the big money to buy both is in the hands of the very rich. That's what Mr. Vilsack's withdrawal means, even though he didn't spell it out. The monetization of America's elections has to be one of the saddest phenomena of our country's pretensions to democracy.
It's time to mop things up and take money out of politics according to Abi @ 604, and he backs up his assertion with the following excellent suggestions:
Restrict the length of campaigns — weeks, not years.
Ban political advertising.
Ban paid lobbying.
Ban political contributions by any entity except individuals.
Restrict how much a candidate can spend on an election, including the candidate's own money.
Those are all worthy goals that I'd like to hear the next batch of presidential candidates promote with sincerity if they hope to get my attention, let alone my vote.