Monday, March 31, 2008

Edwards still holding off on endorsement

In his first public speech since dropping out of the race two months ago, Edwards told the Young Democrats of North Carolina convention he has a "very high opinion" of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. He said the country "would be blessed" to have either one of them as president.

The former North Carolina senator and vice-presidential nominee said both are better suited to advance his anti-poverty platform than Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain.
John McCain is a campaign finance criminal. Click here to read more about McCain's finance finagling and then remember this in November. A vote for McCain will give us another president who puts himself above the law and does whatever he wants. Is that really how you want to cast your vote?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Is Inequality Making Us Sick?

This is a followup to my post - Life Expectancy Inequality Growing - and the PBS show I mentioned: Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? The short answer is yes. I watched the show last night and found it interesting and surprising. It discussed how class, race, genes, housing and other factors affect our health, but I found the segment discussing the biology of stress and our ability to control our own destiny the most interesting.

Here's an excerpt from the show's transcript:
S. LEONARD SYME (Epidemiologist, UC Berkeley): We know that social class is the most important determinant of health above any other risk factor. But what does social class mean? Is it housing, or medical care? Education?

NARRATOR: Or is it power? Confidence? A sense of security?

SYME: Which one of those is most important? Hopeless, they’re all inextricably intertwined, can’t take them apart. So it’s really a challenge.

NARRATOR: But how do we carry social class in our bodies? How does it get under our skin?

SYME: As you go through the alternative explanations, the one that seemed most impressive to me was this idea of control of destiny. I don’t like that word. What I mean by it is the ability to influence the events that impinge on your life, even if it means not doing anything, but one way or the other, managing those pressures.

MICHAEL MARMOT: There’re all sorts of ways we’ve devised for depriving people of a sense of control over their lives. Living in a community where it’s not safe to go out.

ITON: Middle class families having to work two jobs. Middle class families not being able to spend time with their kids.

MARMOT: Being relatively poor, having job insecurity. All of those things will decrease control over people’s lives, and all of those things are likely to increase risk of illness. And there are good biological reasons why that might be the case.

NARRATOR: When we feel threatened or don’t have control in our lives, one critical biological reaction kicks in: the stress response. When the brain perceives and threat, it signals the adrenal glands to release potent stress hormones. Among them, cortisol. They flood your bloodstream with glucose, increase your heart rate, raise blood pressure… They put your body on alert.
Researchers studied the cortisol levels of blue collar workers all the way up to CEOs and discovered the CEOs had virtually no cortisol in their bloodstreams compared to lower income workers. The study showed "the more education you have, the less cortisol you release during the day. The more income you have, the less cortisol you release during the day."

Bottom line: Higher status, less stress. Less stress, better immune function. That translates into better health and a longer life. In fact, one startling fact they mentioned concerned cigarette smokers: High income, professional workers that smoke have less likelihood of dying from cancer than low income, blue collar workers that smoke.

The show discussed much more than I've mentioned here so read the transcript or watch the show online. (This is segment one of four.) What they concluded we need to do to improve the health inequalities in our country may surprise you because they're non-medical things like a more equal distribution of wealth in our society, better education for people, and better housing - areas where other industrialized nations are head and shoulders above us.
Those countries have found ways to break the tight linkage between income and wealth and health. And they invest in better education systems, housing support, childcare, access to recreation. They subsidize through tax policy, mechanisms that break that strong relationship. Those countries where wealth is more equitably distributed are healthier.
There's no good reason we can't be that kind of country. We just need to find the will.

(Also posted at Blogging for Michigan.)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

McCain is One Scary Neo-Con

We need to start focusing on John McCain. This article by Harold Meyerson is a good place to start.
It is 3 a.m., and the stillness of the White House night is shattered by the ringing of the red phone. President John McCain, rousing himself from a deep sleep, turns on the light and picks up the receiver. A U.S. embassy in a Middle Eastern country, he is told, has been blown up, and al-Qaeda is taking credit.

McCain takes a deep breath. "Character counts, my friend," he says. "Bomb Iran. Bomb, bomb Iran."

There is a rustling of blankets, and, brushing aside Cindy McCain, a concerned Joe Lieberman rises from the bed. "Not Iran, Mr. President," he says. "They hate al-Qaeda."

"That's right," the president says. "I remember now." He sighs with relief. "Good thing you're here every night, Joe."

But suppose, dear reader, that John McCain becomes president and Joe Lieberman doesn't bunk with the McCains on a nightly basis. How easily should the rest of us sleep? It's anything but an academic question after McCain's bizarre performance in Jordan last week.

There, he told reporters that he was "concerned about Iranian [operatives] taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back" to Iraq. "That's well known," he continued -- at which point Lieberman whispered a correction in his ear. "I'm sorry," McCain then said. "The Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda."
McCain made that claim on several occasions. Slip of the tongue? Once, maybe, but not several times. I think McCain is using a Bush/Cheny trick. He's trying to create an al-Qaeda-Iran association where one doesn't exist. Should he win the election, it's not much of a stretch to imagine him justifying a pre-emptive attack against Iran.

So, for those of you thinking about voting for McCain in protest, Meyerson has this to say:

If you liked Bush's foreign and military policy, you'll love McCain's.

(Cross-posted at BFM.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Life Expectancy Inequality Growing

We don't often think about life expectancy when we talk about inequality; however, we should, because (according to the NYT) new government research has found “large and growing” disparities in life expectancy for richer and poorer Americans, paralleling the growth of income inequality in the last two decades.

According to researcher Dr. Singh, federal officials have found “widening socioeconomic inequalities in life expectancy” at birth and at every age level in counties across the United States.
In 1980-82, Dr. Singh said, people in the most affluent group could expect to live 2.8 years longer than people in the most deprived group (75.8 versus 73 years). By 1998-2000, the difference in life expectancy had increased to 4.5 years (79.2 versus 74.7 years), and it continues to grow, he said.

After 20 years, the lowest socioeconomic group lagged further behind the most affluent, Dr. Singh said, noting that “life expectancy was higher for the most affluent in 1980 than for the most deprived group in 2000.” [emphasis mine]

“If you look at the extremes in 2000,” Dr. Singh said, “men in the most deprived counties had 10 years’ shorter life expectancy than women in the most affluent counties (71.5 years versus 81.3 years).” The difference between poor black men and affluent white women was more than 14 years (66.9 years vs. 81.1 years).
Can wealth affect health? According to USA Today, researchers have studied the influence of socioeconomic status on health and that research will get TV time on PBS over the next month in the form of a four-part documentary, Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? Here's a brief synopsis about the show and their findings:
The point of the series and the research it draws on is not that we are powerless to improve our health: Whether you are rich or poor, it's a bad idea to smoke and a good idea to eat fruits and vegetables. It's also good to have health insurance.

But all those things are harder to sustain and may do you less good if you live in a dangerous, unwalkable neighborhood with lots of fast food and no supermarkets; if you have little control in your work life; if you are constantly worried about money, housing and safety; and if, on top of it all, you live with the lifelong stress of racial discrimination.

"Personal behavior and personal choices are important," Troutman says. "But we also need to recognize that educational policy is health policy, economic policy is health policy, housing policy is health policy."

And, at a time of widespread economic pain, when the "poor are getting poorer and the middle class is being squeezed," in the words of one sociologist quoted in the film, there's plenty of reason to worry about the literal health of the nation.
The show airs in the Flint area for the first time tonight. Click here to check your local area.

Besides discussing the connections between healthy bodies and healthy bank accounts, the documentary will also show why residents of poorer nations live longer and healthier lives. For instance, according to Native American Times, the series shows that Hispanic immigrants to the U.S. are healthier than average American citizens, but within a generation their health declines and they become more like the rest of us. That's just plain sad.

(Cross-posted at BFM.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Corporate Hall of Shame

Looking beyond the ongoing Democratic primary and the Kwame Kilpatrick drama, this is your chance to vote for the worst corporate abuser. Corporate Accountability International (CAI) has started a nationwide voting campaign to name and shame companies accused of abusive practices, including influencing elected officials, undermining democratic decision-making, endangering the environment and public health, war profiteering, and predatory lending. Some of the nominees were a surprise to me (Wendy's) and some weren't (Blackwater and Nestle). Last year more than 20,000 people took part in their poll, which named ExxonMobil, Haliburton, and Wal-Mart as the worst abusers in the corporate world.

Here are this year's nominees:
  • ADM (Archer Daniels Midland), for helping make Indonesia the world’s third worst contributor to global warming through its clearing of endangered forests and wildlife habitat for palm oil plantations.

  • Blackwater Worldwide, for killing unarmed Iraqi civilians, hiring paramilitaries trained under military dictatorships, and using its close political and financial ties with the Bush Administration to secure lucrative contracts.

  • Countrywide, for predatory mortgage lending to elderly and non-English-speaking borrowers, and for gouging minority borrowers with discriminatory rates and fees.

  • Mattel, for producing tens of millions of lead-contaminated children’s toys, and aggressively lobbying against bans on other highly toxic chemicals.

  • NestlĂ©, for numerous labor violations — including child exploitation — contributing to the obesity epidemic, and threatening community water supplies with its bottled water brands.

  • Toyota, for aggressively lobbying against increased fuel economy standards and state measures to reduce global warming gas emissions while hypocritically spending millions to advertise its environmental “leadership” and popular Prius hybrids.

  • Wal-Mart, for displacing local businesses, failing to cover employees under the corporation’s health plan, and opposing legislation that would increase homeland security.

  • Wendy’s, for its contribution to the growing childhood obesity and diabetes epidemics, and for refusing to meet nutritional labeling regulations.
  • Click here to vote. Each voter has three votes to cast on nominated corporations or for write-in candidates. Voters are also encouraged to post comments about specific corporations on the ballot. The top three vote-getters will be inducted into the Corporate Hall of Shame when the polls close on July 4th.

    And just in case you wonder whether this kind of campaign does any good, here's a success story regarding Waste Management and another about Columbia/HCA. Public opinion matters, especially negative public opinion.

    (Cross-posted at BFM.)

    Friday, March 21, 2008

    Norquist Approves of McCain

    Grover Norquist loves John McCain because he wants to make Bush's tax cuts permanent and reduce the corporate rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. (Have to boost those bottom lines so CEOs can pocket more money.)

    From Think Progress: McCain Adopts ‘Entire’ Norquist Agenda, Will Double The Bush Tax Cuts

    So what will McCain's plan do for the middle-class families left behind by the Bush administration all these years?
    According to a new analysis released today by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, McCain’s new proposals would do the following:

  • Double the size of the Bush tax cuts, costing more than $2 trillion in their first decade.

  • Do virtually nothing for the middle class: only 12 percent of the tax cuts will go to the bottom 80 percent of households, while 58 percent will go to the top 1 percent of households. [emphasis mine]

  • Follow Norquist’s blueprint that’s been called a “stealth approach to tax reform” – and that aims to abandon progressive taxation in favor of a wage tax imposed mainly on low- and middle-income households.
  • In other words, McCain won't do a thing for the middle-class. McCain=Bush=McSame.

    Wednesday, March 19, 2008

    The GOP Loves Reverend Wright

    According to this post at Politico, the GOP thinks they've finally found an antidote to Obamamania.
    In their view, the inflammatory sermons by Obama’s pastor offer the party a pathway to victory if Obama emerges as the Democratic nominee. Not only will the video clips enable some elements of the party to define him as unpatriotic, they will also serve as a powerful motivating force for the conservative base.
    Michigan Republican chairman Saul Anuzis was quoted too:
    “I usually get three or four emails a week on Obama,” said Michigan Republican chairman Saul Anuzis Monday. “Today I received more than 10, all of them on his minister.”
    You can almost hearing them licking their chops. The GOP believes they now have the ammunition to bring Obama down.
    Just as with John F. Kerry and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004, Republican strategists view the Wright flap as deeply damaging to Obama because it strikes at the message, or set of principles, at the heart of his candidacy.

    In Obama’s case, the core of his appeal has been that he transcends race and is more inclined toward conciliation than combat.

    “He wants the authentic black image but he also wants to keep all his safe, suburban Obamacans in line,” said Rick Wilson. “Well, you can’t have both. They’re mutually exclusive.”

    “This is a guy who associates with some real haters,” he added.
    What a double standard the Republicans have, or maybe I should call it what it is - a white preacher double standard. Did they forget about these preacher/politician associations?
    Rudy Giuliani's priest has been accused in grand jury proceedings of molesting several children and covering up the molestation of others. Giuliani would not disavow him on the campaign trail and still works with him.

    Mitt Romney was part of a church that did not view black Americans as equals and actively discriminated against them. He stayed with that church all the way into his early thirties, until they were finally forced to change their policies to come into compliance with civil rights legislation. Romney never disavowed his church back then or now. He said he was proud of the faith of his fathers.

    Jerry Falwell said America had 9/11 coming because we tolerated gays, feminists and liberals. It was our fault. Our chickens had come home to roost, if you will. John McCain proudly received his support and even spoke at his university's commencement.
    And don't forget Rev. John Hagee who called the Catholic Church the "Great Whore" or the Rev. Rod Parsley who believes America was founded to destroy Islam (he's also John McCain's spiritual guide). Why aren't people outraged over their outlandish statements? Is it because they're white? Or maybe it's because they approve of their discriminating messages against gay Americans and Muslims.

    If the way the Republicans and the media handled this isn't racist, then what is it? Maybe it's simply that those rich, white men who run the Republican Party and the media can't handle the truth.

    Monday, March 17, 2008

    Liberators or Liars?

    Wednesday marks the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war. This is what President Bush said about Iraq five years ago today:
    Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised. This regime has already used weapons of mass destruction against Iraq's neighbors and against Iraq's people.

    The regime has a history of reckless aggression in the Middle East. It has a deep hatred of America and our friends. And it has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda.

    The danger is clear: using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons, obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country, or any other.
    This is what the media reported last week:
    A detailed Pentagon study confirms there was no direct link between late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the Al-Qaeda network, debunking a claim President George W. Bush's administration used to justify invading Iraq.

    Coming five years after the start of the war in Iraq, the study of 600,000 official Iraqi documents and thousands of hours of interrogations of former Saddam Hussein colleagues "found no smoking gun (i.e. direct connection) between Saddam's Iraq and Al-Qaeda," said the study, quoted in US media Thursday.
    And this is what McCain and Cheney told Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki today:
    ...both Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Vice President Cheney vowed “that the U.S. would maintain a long-term military presence in Iraq until al-Qaida is defeated there.”
    So much for "Mission Accomplished," and Bush said that on May 1, 2003.

    (Cross-posted at BFM. Also check out the great pictures WK posted from the anti-war march held over the weekend by the local chapter of SDS.)

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008

    Wall Street Cheers Spitzer's Fall

    This was my immediate thought when I heard about Eliot Spitzer: Spitzer’s Shame Is Wall Street’s Gain. I thought about writing a few comments after his arrest and subsequent resignation, but Robert Scheer does a better job.
    Tell me again: Why should we get all worked up over the revelation that the New York governor paid for sex? Will it bring back to life the eight U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq that same day in a war that makes no sense and has cost this nation trillions in future debt? Will it save those millions of homes that hardworking folks all over the country are losing because of financial industry shenanigans that Eliot Spitzer, as much as anyone, attempted to halt? Perhaps it provides some insight into why oil has risen to $108 a barrel, benefiting most of all the oil sheiks whom our taxpayer-supported military has kept in power?

    Sure, the guy, by his own admission, is quite pathetic in all those small, squirrelly ways that have messed up the lives of other grand public figures before him, but why is an all-too-human sin, amply predicted in early Scripture, getting all this incredible media play as some sort of shocking event? The answer is that, while having precious little to do with serious corruption in public life, it does have a great deal to do with stoking flagging newspaper sales and television ratings.
    I'm sure people like U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue spent a lot of time calling major media sources to push the story too. He's made no secret of his contempt for anti-business politicians. Of course, the media didn't need much encouragement. They were already jumping on the yellow journalism bandwagon. Back to Scheer:
    I wouldn't have written this column had I not read The Wall Street Journal's Page 1 news story headlined "Wall Street Cheers as Its Nemesis Plunges Into Crisis." The article begins with the crowing statement "It's Schadenfreude time on Wall Street" and goes on to quote those whom Spitzer went after over what should be considered the criminal greed that has predominated on Wall Street. It was Spitzer, as much as anyone, who sounded the alarm on the subprime mortgage crisis, the obscene payouts to CEOs who defrauded their shareholders and the other financial scandals that have brought the U.S. economy to its knees.

    The best rule of thumb these days is that ordinary Americans should be mightily depressed over any news that Wall Street hustlers cheer, for they have been exposed as a dangerous pack of scoundrels quite willing to rob decent, hardworking people of their homes. And of course no one on Wall Street ever paid for sex.
    Yeah, right. And they never lie or cheat people out of their pensions either. As a wise friend of mine said recently, "drug dealers, cops, politicians, [and Wall Street types] all playing by very different rules, but otherwise they're all pretty much the same."

    Monday, March 10, 2008

    Hush Puppies and Superstars

    I'm in the mood to reminisce today after reading that Hush Puppies is celebrating their golden anniversary this year. That reminded me about a pair of their shoes that I once owned. They were rust colored, suede, penny-loafers that I just couldn't wear out. I had those shoes for at least 20 years, which was a good thing since they were among my more expensive ones.

    Have you owned a pair of Hush Puppies? I've always considered them more utilitarian than fashionable, and I bought them for that purpose. (Or maybe because I couldn't resist that soulful-eyed basset hound!) They were comfortable to wear. I didn't stop to consider if they were trendy, and I didn't care if other people were buying them or not, so I was surprised to read the following trivia about people who have worn them over the years.
    Like Forrest Gump -- who wore a pair -- Hush Puppies have been part of many historic moments.

    Future President Gerald R. Ford proudly presented a pair to then President Dwight Eisenhower. Decades later, Kevin Spacey and Nicholas Cage were wearing Hush Puppies when they collected their Academy Awards in 1996.

    Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev invited the brand to be the first American company to do business in the Soviet Union.

    They also have been just as popular with royalty and rock stars. England's Prince Phillip wore a pair when he visited the U.S. in 1959 -- and Princess Diana ordered a custom-made set.

    The rubber soles of his Hush Puppies are credited with saving the life of Rolling Stone Keith Richards from electrocution during a 1965 concert in Sacramento.
    The Beatles and Rolling Stones also wore Hush Puppies on their U.S. tours in the mid-1960s. I guess I'm not such a fashion nerd after all!

    There's one other fact about Hush Puppies that you might not know. They're headquartered in Rockford, Michigan, where they originated. The shoes are now sold in 139 countries outside of the U.S. and production has moved overseas, but most of the design and marketing is still done in Rockford.

    It's nice to know that a cultural icon like Hush Puppies has its roots in Michigan.

    (Picture courtesy of Flickr)

    Thursday, March 06, 2008

    Another victim of the Bush recession

    Gift cards.
    You know that Sharper Image gift card you got for Christmas? Right now, it's worthless. And other gift cards in your wallet could lose their value, too. [...]

    The Sharper Image announced late last month that it was suspending the acceptance of gift cards, at least temporarily. It urged shoppers to check the company Web site later this month for an update. That is typical of businesses that reorganize under Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which treats gift cards as a loan to the company, not as cash.
    Gift card holders are at the bottom of the pecking order when a company files for bankruptcy (except for CEOs), so if you have any cards stashed away you might want to spend them. The retail environment isn't expected to improve.
    The number of retail bankruptcies or liquidations this year is expected to reach the highest levels since the 1991 recession. [emphasis mine]

    Brian Riley, senior analyst at The Tower Group, estimates that shoppers could lose more than $75 million just from stores and restaurant closings in 2008.

    Tower Group's figure doesn't include mom-and-pop services like the local nail salon. Riley said such small operations, which are most vulnerable to economic downturns, pose the biggest risks to gift card holders.
    In Sharper Image's case, Brookstone is accepting their gift cards, but consumers can also sell or trade cards online at places like

    If you own a gift card, the bottom line is this - get rid of it before you lose out completely. And if you plan on giving someone a gift, consider cash or a check.

    (Cross-posted at BFM)

    Tuesday, March 04, 2008

    And the prize insurance!

    Polls continue to show that Americans are worried about their standard of living. This economic pessimism is even starting to climb the income scale. In fact, in order to provide basic necessities for their families, people have cut back on discretionary spending; however, there's still one necessity that eludes more and more Americans no matter how they pinch pennies - health insurance. It's become such a problem that one state has turned to a one-of-a-kind lottery, and health insurance is the prize.
    [Oregon] will start drawing names this week for the chance to enroll in a health care program designed for people not poor enough for Medicaid but too cash-strapped to buy their own insurance.

    More than 80,000 people have signed up since registration for the lottery opened in January. Only a few thousand will be chosen for the program.

    "It's better than nothing, it's at least a hope," said Shirley Krueger, 61, who signed up the first day.

    It's been more than six months since she could afford to take insulin regularly for her diabetes. That puts her at higher risk for a number of complications, such as kidney failure, heart disease and blindness.

    Her part-time job leaves her ineligible for her employer's insurance plan and with too little income to buy her own.
    "It's better than nothing" pretty well sums it up. Meanwhile, we're spending 16 billion dollars a month in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's about time our political leaders stood up and demanded non-profit, single payer national health insurance. Americans with health care needs deserve better than hoping they win the lottery.

    (Cross-posted at BFM)