Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hoekstra Is A Danger To Your Health And Well-Being

While Hoekstra runs around trying to profit from the attempted bombing over Detroit and score points with teabagger Republicans, it's important to put this incident into perspective. Via Blue Texan at FDL (see his chart below):

Terrorism Still Less Deadly in US Than Lack of Health Insurance, Salmonella
If you count the Ft. Hoot shooting as a terrorist attack, which even the likes of Pantload doesn’t, 16 people have died in the United States as a result of terrorism in 2009. The other three deaths include the Little Rock military recruiting office shooting (1), the Holocaust Museum shooting (1), and Dr. George Tiller’s assassination (1), the last two coming at the hands of right-wing extremists.

On the other hand, 45,000 Americans died because they didn’t have health insurance and 600 died from salmonella poisoning.
Clearly, lack of health insurance is more of a threat to Americans than a terrorist attack, yet Hoekstra voted NO on health care. He's clearly in no position to be shooting off his mouth and calling on the president to "lead in the fight to keep Americans safe" after that vote.

From FireDogLake, causing of death in US

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Here's a Christmas card for all my blogging friends from man's best friend (no, not Joe Lieberman) - and me!

May all your Christmas wishes come true.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Senate Health Bill Provides Enormous Help To Poor

Everyone seems to be trashing the Senate's health reform bill. That's fine, dissent is good, but I don't think we should let it blind us to the positives, such as the enormous good the bill will do for the poor and middle class. (Via Jonathan Cohn at TNR.)
This bill would mean Medicaid coverage for an additional 15 million people a year, all of them living below or just above the poverty line. For a sense of scale, that's more than double the entire population now covered by the state Children's Health Insurance Program.

This bill would also subsidize coverage in the exchanges for (roughly) another 15 million people a year, the majority of whom would also qualify as low-income by any reasonable standard.
"Do the math," he says, and we'll see that this bill is "arguably, the single most progressive initiative in a generation."

And if you don't believe Cohn, he asks you to consider what his colleague Harold Pollack at the Huffington Post had to say [emphasis mine]:
Fully implemented, the bill would provide about $200 billion per year down the income scale in subsidies to poor, near-poor, and working Americans.

$200 billion is a big number. It exceeds the combined total of federal spending on Food Stamps and all nutrition assistance programs, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Head Start, TANF cash payments to single mothers and their children, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the National Institutes of Health.
That money won't be allocated to wars or tax cuts for the rich, it's going to help the poor and middle class.

Trash the bill if you want, but don't let yourself lose sight of the good it will do.

(Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bottled Water Tax: "The People Deserve To Get Something In Return"

LG John Cherry has an op-ed in the Detroit News today that talks about his plan to restore the Michigan Promise Scholarship with a water bottle tax. Go read it, but here's the best part (emphasis mine):
Right now, bottlers across the state remove water from our wells essentially for free, and we lack the necessary funding to safeguard this precious resource. In other words, we're losing one resource -- our talented work force -- while giving away another resource, our water, for free.

You don't need a Ph.D. in mathematics to solve this terrible equation. It's time for the bottlers to pay their water bill, just like you and I do. We can use the proceeds from that water bill to fund the education that our young people need to compete, as well as protecting the water resources that Michigan desperately needs.

By conservative estimates, a charge of 10 cents per bottle, paid by bottling companies that operate in Michigan, would raise $118 million per year. The cost of the Michigan Promise Scholarship, on the other hand, is about $100 million per year. Not only would this modest charge on each bottle of water that leaves Michigan raise enough funds to pay for the entire Michigan Promise program, we'd still have $18 million a year to spend on wetlands regulation and other conservation initiatives. [...]

This is the people's water, and the people deserve to get something in return.
Ironically, employers like to point out they need an educated workforce to be successful and profitable, and Nestle, the parent company of Ice Mountain, is no exception.
Like every Michigan employer, we rely on an educated workforce.
Yet Nestle is complaining that Cherry's proposal penalizes Michigan employers, risks jobs, and that bottlers may resort to supplying products from outside the state in order to remain competitive on the price consumers pay for bottled water products.

A Nestle Water Company spokesman also claimed that the tax would nearly double the price consumers paid for a case of water.
"Let's look at the math," said Flaherty. "Most bottled water is purchased in cases of 24 bottles of .5 liter size, for about or less than $4.00 per case -- putting the price per bottle at about 16 cents. A 10-cent per bottle tax on Michigan manufactured products nearly doubles the price for consumers, and would be unsustainable in the highly competitive beverage marketplace.

"Consumers are very savvy, and rarely could be convinced to pay nearly double for Michigan-produced bottle water when lesser-priced options exist," said Flaherty. "I challenge you to ask consumers if they'd pay $6.50 for a case when they can pay less than $4 for the same product made elsewhere."
True, consumers are savvy, but we also care about educating our children. I have a suggestion for Nestle. You pay the 10 cent tax per bottle on the water you currently get for free without passing it on to consumers and in return you'll get an educated workforce, an improved "corporate neighbor" image and the gratitude of citizens who just might go out of their way to buy your product. I'd say that's a win-win for everyone involved. After all, your company admitted that bottled water profits were down in part because of public criticism. Why would you want to anger us even more?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Don't Give Up On Health Care Now

I am extremely disillusioned with the shape the healthcare bill has taken, but I'm not willing to say it shouldn't pass and/or we should start over. I'll let Kevin Drum speak for me. He makes a compelling argument for seeing this bill through.
With the public option now out of the healthcare bill, is it still worth passing? Regular readers will be unsurprised that I think the answer is pretty firmly yes—and that liberals who now want to pick up their toys and hand reform its sixth defeat in the past century need to wake up and smell the decaf. Politics sucks. It always has. But the bill in front of us—messy, incomplete, and replete with bribes to every interest group imaginable—is still well worth passing.
Six defeats. Think about that. More from Kevin:
When big legislative efforts go down in flames, they almost never spring back onto the calendar anytime soon — and that's especially true when big healthcare bills fail. It didn't happen in 1936, it didn't happen in 1949, it didn't happen in 1974, and it didn't happen in 1995. What makes anyone think it will happen in 2010?
Drum also makes the point that if healthcare reform dies this year, it dies for a good long time, and Republicans know it. And even though it's not the bill we wanted, it's a good start. Via Ezra Klein:
"This is a good bill," Sen. Sherrod Brown said on Countdown last night. "Not a great bill, but a good bill." That's about right. But the other piece to remember is that more than it's a good bill, it's a good start. With $900 billion in subsidies already in place, it's easier to add another hundred billion later, if we need it, than it would be to pass $1 trillion in subsidies in 2011. With the exchanges built and private insurers unable to hold down costs, it's easier to argue for adding a strong public option to the market than it was before we'd tried regulation and a new competitive structure. With 95 percent of the country covered, it's easier to go the final 5 percent. And with a health-care reform bill actually passed, it's easier to convince legislators that passing such bills is possible.
Here's some other things we'll be getting:
  • Insurers have to take all comers. They can't turn you down for a preexisting condition or cut you off after you get sick.

  • Community rating. Within a few broad classes, everyone gets charged the same amount for insurance.

  • Individual mandate. I know a lot of liberals hate this, but how is it different from a tax? And its purpose is sound: it keeps the insurance pool broad and insurance rates down.

  • A significant expansion of Medicaid.

  • Subsidies for low and middle income workers that keeps premium costs under 10% of income.

  • Limits on ER charges to low-income uninsured emergency patients.

  • Caps on out-of-pocket expenses.

  • A broad range of cost-containment measures.

  • A dedicated revenue stream to support all this.
  • Drum is right. This is still a huge achievement, one that will benefit tens of millions of people in very concrete ways and will do it without expanding our long-term deficit. And he also points out "this is more than Bill Clinton ever did, more than Teddy Kennedy did, more than LBJ did, more than Truman did, and more than FDR did."

    Don't throw in the towel now.

    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    Poll: Let The Wealthy Pay Higher Taxes

    A new Bloomberg poll shows Americans want the government to do something about the economy.
    Americans want their government to create jobs through spending on public works, investments in alternative energy or skills training for the jobless.

    They also want the deficit to come down. And most are ready to hand the bill to the wealthy.

    A Bloomberg National Poll conducted Dec. 3-7 shows two- thirds of Americans favor taxing the rich to reduce the deficit.
    Raising taxes on the rich was popular across party lines too: About half of Republicans back the idea and it is more popular among Democrats and Independents.

    Steve Benen summarized the polls results best:
    In other words, here's a poll showing widespread support for the Democratic economic agenda.
    That's because mainstream America is rational, unlike those teabagger Republicans whose only answer for every problem is cut taxes, cut taxes...

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Tuesday, December 08, 2009

    Who's More Popular Than Traditional Republicans?

    Teabagger Republicans. According to the latest Rasmussen poll, Republicans have fallen to third place in terms of popularity.
    In a three-way Generic Ballot test, the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds Democrats attracting 36% of the vote. The Tea Party candidate picks up 23%, and Republicans finish third at 18%. Another 22% are undecided.
    So are Republicans worried? Nope. Greg Sargent asked for the GOP's leadership view of the poll and this was one senior GOP aide's reply:
    This proves one of the major points that Democrats have tried hard to deny: the Tea Party movement is not some fringe group of ultra-conservatives, it is most popular among independents, many of whom believed President Obama’s campaign promises about doing things differently in Washington, and feel burned by the fact that he has governed in a relentlessly partisan fashion.
    Partisan? Did he really say partisan? Three words: Health care reform. Obama reached out to Republicans and they said NO.

    I think GOP leadership has to spin this in a favorable light. After all, several Glenn Beck inspired Tea Party candidates are causing problems for a number of GOP lawmakers, including John McCain. They're caught between a rock and a hard place. They can't afford to ignore the teabaggers, and they can't afford to embrace them at the risk of losing their moderate members.

    And I don't take too seriously the GOP spokesperson's comment that "the Tea Party movement is not some fringe group." Again, really? What else would you call a group that invited Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman to speak at their national convention next year. And don't forget about Joe the Plumber.

    I'm sorry, but I have a hard time believing that any independents with a smidgen of commonsense will embrace the teabaggers, the same group that shows up at rallies with guns and posters comparing health care reform to pictures of dead bodies at the Dachau concentration camp. These people are not mainstream Americans, they're extremists.

    And when a fake party "that doesn't have organized candidates or organized fundraising is more highly thought of than one of the two traditionally dominant political parties," that's a sign that Republicans are in big trouble, no matter how much they spin this poll.

    Thursday, December 03, 2009

    All I Want For Xmas Is...

    (Via Fox News Detroit)

    A man in Riverview has an unusual Christmas display on his lawn and the neighbors aren't too happy about it. His signs support national health insurance, but the mom next door is upset because her kids are asking questions. "I just don't think Christmas is the time to make a political statement," she said.

    Fox asks what you think. I say that young man probably speaks for millions of people who would love to wake up to health insurance under their tree on December 25th.

    Wednesday, November 25, 2009

    Holiday Shopping Tips for Progressives

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Monday, November 23, 2009

    Sen. Carl Levin is The Real Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    Health Care Reform: Keep It Separate From Religion

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

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

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

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

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

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Wednesday, November 04, 2009

    Health Care and Gay Rights Helped by Yesterday's Election

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

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

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

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

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

    Tuesday, November 03, 2009

    Health Care Bill is a Pro-Life Issue Too

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

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

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

    Thursday, October 29, 2009

    Good Corp, Bad Corp

    Kudos to the Country Fresh Dairy in Grand Rapids for respecting the hard work of their employees.
    On October 3, Local 386 members employed at Country Fresh Dairy in Grand Rapids, Michigan, ratified a new contract. The new agreement increases wages and pension benefits, while protecting health care coverage and increases sickness and accident and life insurance coverage. [...]

    The five-year contract contains wage increases totaling 11 percent over the course of the agreement, and the company’s contributions to the employees’ RWDSU pension will increase by $2 per week each year. By the last year of the contract, the company will be contributing $80 per week to the plan.
    I've always liked and bought Country Fresh products, and now I have another reason to remain a loyal customer. Not only do I help the company's profits, but I help the 156 employees who overwhelmingly voted to ratify the contract.

    The polar opposite of Country Fresh is Boeing. The company decided to put a new assembly line for the 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina. Boeing claims they chose right-to-work South Carolina in part "because of frustration with labor strife in Seattle, where four strikes in the past 20 years by the machinists union delayed deliveries." However, according to the Seattle PI, the union offered a 10-year, no-strike contract and was willing to discuss a longer agreement to get Boeing to commit to locating the second 787 line in Everett, Washington.

    And this little tidbit from the same article is infuriating:
    Boeing already took billions in tax credits and handouts... Now, the company is taking the jobs promised by the 787 program and leaving Washington workers and taxpayers high and dry.
    What's the company getting from South Carolina? A package that eliminates income and other taxes for a decade and the state will provide low-interest construction bonds.

    The problem with all these incentives according to this journalist is that they're a downward spiral on our race to the bottom.
    Of course the problem isn't a lack of "commitment" to the aerospace industry in a region where generations of workers have devoted their lives to making Boeing planes. The problem is that people in Washington just don't come as cheap. We have this bad habit of paying people a decent wage, and providing good unemployment pay and benefits for people who are injured on the job--all things that apparently must change if we're to be competitive.

    But then, if you consult the advocacy groups trying to insure the "competitiveness" of South Carolina, they say the same thing. "South Carolina's workers' compensation costs are the highest in the Southeast for small business" frets the South Carolina Civil Justice Coalition, a group that works to improve the business climate in Boeing's new home. They won't be satisfied until South Carolina's "climate" has been made as cheap as Georgia's, Tennessee's, and Virginia's.

    And on down it spirals. It's not a winnable game, not if we want to keep any allegiance to our own values. In a few years, Boeing will be playing S.C. off Mississippi.
    Boeing could learn a few things about values from Country Fresh.

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Opting In, Opting Out, Why The Next Election Is Vitally Important

    As Cordelia Lear pointed out at Blogging for MI yesterday, the opt-out choice that allows states to withdraw from the public option is no panacea. Read what she says about Mike Bishop and Andy Dillon to understand why opt-out is a bad idea, but it's basically because the public option choice will literally be in the hands of lawmakers who don't care about us.

    I originally figured I could live with the opt-out plan because it's loosely modeled on Medicaid, "which originally allowed states to “opt-out” of the program and today enjoys the participation of all 50 states." And, as TPM pointed out, there was good reason to believe that the public option would have been a lot scarier as a GOP straw man than it would as a real world option for people who can't get private coverage.
    And if the public option is available in North Carolina, just to pick a hypothetical, and not South Carolina, after a while, people in the South Carolina might start to wonder what the logic was of denying them a lower cost health insurance option. And if that's true, presumably, pressure will build in the opt-out states to opt-in. So even if a substantial number of people aren't covered at the start, there's good reason to believe that will change over time.
    There's just one tiny problem with the "presumably, pressure will build to opt-in" scenario. We're dealing with politicians who often put party ideology ahead of people. If pressuring our leaders worked, we would have had health care a long time ago.

    And, as Cordelia mentioned, it's not exactly clear who gets to do the opting-out. Will governors be able to unilaterally make that decision or will it take action by both houses of the state legislature? As Jon Walker at FDL pointed out, depending on how the opt-out is written, millions of people in states controlled by Republicans could find themselves disenfranchised.

    If a Republican becomes Michigan's next governor, or they manage to pick up any seats, we can kiss opting-in goodbye. Seriously. That makes the next election extremely important because there's just one thing standing between national health care and the 1.13 million uninsured adults in our state - Republicans (and DINO's like Dillon).

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    Mainstream America Is Not Red

    The Democracy Corps released a survey last week about conservative Republicans that highlights how they're a world apart from most of us. I know, shocking!
  • These voters identify themselves as part of a ‘mocked’ minority with a set of shared beliefs and knowledge, and commitment to oppose Obama that sets them apart from the majority in the country. They believe Obama is ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt the United States and dramatically expand government control to an extent nothing short of socialism.

  • They also believe they possess a level of knowledge and understanding when it comes to politics and current events, one gained from a rejection of the mainstream media and an embrace of conservative media and pundits such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.
  • There was one area where we shared common ground though: "These voters had virtually nothing positive to say about the Republican Party. They see their own party as weak, old, and out of touch."

    It's what the survey showed about independents that I found most interesting though:
    The independent voters ... share the conservative Republicans’ disdain for the current Republican Party, but their critique is not that the party has abandoned its conservative principles but instead that it advances the interests of the rich and big businesses at the expense of the middle class. They worry about the Democratic Party’s proclivity to spend tax dollars and provide ‘freebies’ to those who do not do their fair share, but they appreciate the Democrats’ focus on ‘the little people’ (among which they included themselves) and the fact that ‘it’s not all about the money.’
    It appears the GOP's single-minded focus on corporate America and tax breaks for the rich is a failure in terms of increasing market share - a.k.a. voters.
    In late January, a USA Today/Gallup poll recorded 27 percent of respondents saying they identified with the Republican Party, 36 percent with Democrats and 25 percent as unaffiliated or independent. Now in mid-October, the average data compiled from dozens of surveys over more than a year shows Republican ID at 22.5 percent, Democratic ID at 33.7 percent and Independent ID at 35 percent.
    Mainstream America is represented by nearly 70% of the electorate consisting of Democrats and Independents, a group that cares about the common good, the "little people." It is not represented by the 22% of Republicans that to a large degree are defined by voters who embrace Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

    If only we could get our lawmakers in Lansing and Washington to remember that.

    Monday, October 12, 2009

    Mike Rogers Defends Wasting $700 Billion Annually

    Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) receives a lot of money from the pharmaceutical, health and insurance industries, which probably explains why he's pushing false information about health care reform. While speaking at the Michigan Business and Legislative Forum last week, where he repeatedly bragged that he had read all 1000+ pages of the House health care bill, he argued that the House reform legislation would allow the federal government to use the results of comparative effectiveness research to ration costly treatments.

    Rogers is wrong (he would have known that if he had read page 524 of the legislation). Pulitzer Prize winning says this claim is false:
    But in this case, there actually are provisions in the bill about comparative research to make sure it is not used for rationing. Language in the House version of the health bill specifically states: "Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit the Commission or the Center to mandate coverage, reimbursement, or other policies for any public or private payer."

    And let's be clear, comparative effectiveness research has been done by the government for years and years. The Obama administration wants to greatly expand the amount of research. The economic stimulus package also included more funding for comparative effectiveness research. And the bill included a similar disclaimer that it would not mandate insurers to cover or reimburse one treatment or medication over another. also says this claim is false, and so does the AARP:
    "It boggles the mind" said AARP spokesman Jim Dau, how comparative effectiveness research has been portrayed by opponents of the health care plan as government rationing of care.

    "It's just good common sense," Dau said of the research. "It's giving individuals and doctors better evidence-based research so that they can make better decisions."
    What exactly is comparative effectiveness research? The Center for American Progress explains that "it evaluates different drugs, medical devices, and clinical procedures for the same illness against each other. In contrast, the bulk of research done today examines whether a specific treatment works compared to doing nothing, but comparative effectiveness research evaluates which therapy works best among a range of possibilities for the same illness or condition." This research is important because it can save money.
    It’s estimated that one-third of procedures and treatments administered in the United States have no proven benefit and account for up to $700 billion annually in current spending. Moreover, some of these treatments can have harmful side effects, produce worse health outcomes, and then, as a result, add to the soaring costs of medical care.
    I don't know about Mike Rogers, but I don't like paying $50 dollars for a pill that's not anymore effective than one costing a buck, and the media is full of articles questioning whether cholesterol drugs do any good or if angioplasty is advisable in all patients. My favorite story is from last fall when the NY Times published an article about one of the biggest medical trials ever organized by the federal government. It showed that generic diuretics (water pills) costing only pennies a day, and in use for high blood pressure since the 1950s, worked better than newer drugs that were 20 times as expensive. Not only that, the research revealed that the pricier drugs increased the risk of heart failure and stroke.

    As CAP points out, "There is no incentive for the companies to fund research that compares their treatment to another since it is not in their best interest to determine if another treatment works as well or better than theirs. Because of this the federal government must invest in this research."

    It just doesn't make sense for Rogers to criticize comparative effectiveness research unless he's hoping to protect his big donor's profits. Republicans want us to take charge of our health and spending on health care dollars, yet they seek to limit information about over-priced or hazardous medications or treatments. Not only can that be harmful to our health or downright deadly, it's a waste of money - as much as $700 billion annually.

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Tuesday, October 06, 2009

    The Bible Has a Liberal Bias

    Just when I thought conservatives couldn't get any crazier, I read about some men who think the Bible needs editing, not just for accuracy, but because it's too liberal. They're the inspiration behind the Conservative Bible Project:
    Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations. [...] Large reductions in this error can be attained simply by retranslating the KJV into modern English.
    Here's an example of the liberal bias they find problematic:
    Socialistic terminology permeates English translations of the Bible, without justification. This improperly encourages the "social justice" movement among Christians.

    For example, the conservative word "volunteer" is mentioned only once in the ESV, yet the socialistic word "comrade" is used three times, "laborer(s)" is used 13 times, "labored" 15 times, and "fellow" (as in "fellow worker") is used 55 times.
    Social justice=socialism? No wonder this Catholic writer said about their project: "Right wing dementia marches on apace." And conservative BeliefNet writer Rod Dreher had this opinion:
    More seriously, the insane hubris of this really staggers the mind. These right-wing ideologues know better than the early church councils that canonized Scripture? They really think it's wise to force the word of God to conform to a 21st-century American idea of what constitutes conservatism? These jokers don't worship God. They worship ideology.
    Sorry, Conservapedia guys, but Jesus was the ultimate liberal progressive revolutionary of all history. You can't change that - no matter how hard you try to rewrite the Bible into your own image.

    Thursday, October 01, 2009

    The White House Fact Checks Glenn Beck

    The Michigan Chamber of Commerce's keynote speaker lied in an attempt to discredit President Obama's efforts to bring the 2016 Olympics to our country and the White House called him and Fox News on it. As they point out, "hosting the Olympics has been a source of pride and unity for the country, but once again Fox News' Glenn Beck program has shown that nothing is worthy of respect if it can be used as part of a partisan attack to boost ratings."

    Lie #1:
    RHETORIC: BECK SAID VANCOUVER LOST $1 BILLION WHEN IT "HAD THE OLYMPICS." Glenn Beck said, "Vancouver lost, how much was it? they lost a billion dollars when they had the Olympics." [Transcript, Glenn Beck Show, 9/29/09]

    REALITY: VANCOUVER'S OLYMPICS WILL NOT TAKE PLACE UNTIL 2010. Vancouver will host the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games from February 12 – 28, 2010 and March 12-21, 2010, respectively. [, accessed 9/29/09]
    Lie #2:
    RHETORIC: CHICAGO IS CLOSING THE GOVERNMENT SEVERAL DAYS A WEEK BECAUSE THEY CANNOT AFFORD TO BE OPEN. Beck's guest Caddell said, "Chicago is closing the government several days a week because they cannot afford to be open. They are going to go and reward -- this is the biggest scandal." [Transcript, Glenn Beck Show, 9/29/09]

    Lie #3:
    RHETORIC: VALERIE JARRETT [who is accompanying Obama to Copenhagen] WILL BENEFIT FINANCIALLY. Beck asked, "Is it possible that she is going to benefit if the Olympics come to Chicago?" Caddell responded, "Well, that’s the word. She has certainly had a lot of dealings going on in real estate." [Transcript, Glenn Beck Show, 9/29/09]

    REALITY: UPON ENTERING GOVERNMENT, VALERIE JARRETT DIVESTED ALL HER REAL ESTATE INVESTMENT HOLDINGS EXCEPT FOR A SINGLE INVESTMENT THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE OLYMPIC BID. Valerie Jarrett divested all her investment real estate holdings upon entering government except for a single real estate holding that she was unable to sell. This single real estate investment has been determined by White House Counsel and the independent Office of Government Ethics to present no conflict of interest in performing her duties as a White House advisor. It has nothing to do with the Olympic bid.
    Our country is the throes of the Great Recession and the Olympics could generate $22.5 billion in economic activity and create 315,000 new full-time jobs. It makes me wonder why Glenn Beck hates America, and why business chambers embrace a liar like him.

    (There's more on the White House blog.)

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Thursday, September 24, 2009

    We Should All Stand Up For Insurance Companies

    After all, Michigan Rep. Dave Camp is standing up for insurance companies and, along with fellow Republicans, has "mounted a ferocious defense of the market's right to continue burning through taxpayer dollars."

    Camp is also standing up for the pharmaceutical/health products/health professionals industries that donated money to his campaign committee for 2009-2010 and 2007-2008.

    If Camp is standing up for insurance companies, we should too. As this PSA relates, insurance company CEOs have the right to their American dream just like the rest of us. They've looked out for our best interests for so long and now we should look out for theirs.

    Besides, what's so American about competition?

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Thursday, September 17, 2009

    Right-Wing Extremist Shapes Glenn Beck's Worldview

    I wonder if the MI Chamber of Commerce knows this. According to TPM, a right-wing extremist heavily influences Glenn Beck. They point to a fascinating article in Salon which "reveals that a book by a Mormon "historian" deemed too extreme even by the modern conservative movement -- which argues that the U.S. constitution is based primarily on natural law -- has played a major role in Beck's "thinking.""
    For several years, Beck has actively promoted "The 5000 Year Leap," by the late Cleon Skousen, on his radio and TV shows, and he recently wrote the foreword for a newly-released edition of the book, which was first published in 1981.
    The Salon article describes Skousen as the man who changed Glenn Beck's life. They also described him as too extreme even for the conservative activists of the Goldwater era.

    Who is Skousen? From the Salon article:
    W. Cleon Skousen was not a historian so much as a player in the history of the American far right; less a scholar of the republic than a threat to it. At least, that was the judgment of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, which maintained a file on Skousen for years that eventually totaled some 2,000 pages. Before he died in 2006 at the age of 92, Skousen's own Mormon church publicly distanced itself from the foundation that Skousen founded and that has published previous editions of "The 5,000 Year Leap."
    Skousen was admired by leaders of the John Birch Society and spoke at their events. He also authored "more than a dozen books and pamphlets on the Red Menace, New World Order conspiracy, Christian child rearing, and Mormon end-times prophecy."
    It is a body of work that does much to explain Glenn Beck's bizarre conspiratorial mash-up of recent months, which decries a new darkness at noon and finds strange symbols carefully coded in the retired lobby art of Rockefeller Center. It also suggests that the modern base of the Republican Party is headed to a very strange place.
    TPM added one other interesting note about Cleon Skousen: "As reader J.S. notes, Beck isn't the only conservative leader with a taste for Skousen. In 2007, then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney expressed his affinity for his fellow Mormon."

    Republicans and organizations like the MICOC may want to reconsider their courting of these extremists and the people who promote them. They just may come to the same decision conservatives did in 1963, when they decided Skousen's extremism was too much. "No conservative organization with any mainstream credibility wanted anything to do with him."

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Our Nation's Lost Decade

    If you feel like a hamster on a wheel getting nowhere fast, there's an explanation for it according to this NYT's op-ed columnist.
    For average Americans, the last 10 years were a lost decade. At the end of President George W. Bush’s eight years in office, American households had less money and less economic security, and fewer of them were covered by health care than 10 years earlier, the Census Bureau reported in its annual survey.

    The poverty rate in 2008 rose to 13.2 percent, the highest in 11 years, while median household income fell to $50,303. Ten years earlier, adjusted for inflation, it was $51,295.
    In fact, income for the median American household fell for the first time in four decades. The Great Recession gets some of the blame, but the decline started well before the housing and financial sectors collapsed.

    Harvard economist Lawrence Katz explains what happened: "We had a plutocratic boom. Then we have egalitarian recessions. Taken together, only the top ends up growing, on average." And the top did very well indeed: "During the same period, the average income of the richest tenth of a percent increased by about $2 million, or about 35%." They can thank President Bush for his $1.3 trillion tax cuts.

    How did average Americans fare? People in their prime earning years (age 45 to 54) took "the biggest hit in the last years of the Bush Administration, their median income fell by $5,000. And the region that suffered most — the South."

    Income went down for all races, but "Hispanics experienced some of the biggest losses. Income declined 5.6 percent for Hispanic households, 4.4 percent for Asians, 2.8 percent for African American families and 2.6 percent for non-Hispanic whites. Hispanics and Asians also showed the biggest increases in poverty rates."

    Poverty really hit children according to the EPI:
    A Sept. 10 report from the Census Bureau shows that the child poverty rate rose to 19.0% in 2008, from 18% in 2007. That translates to 14.1 million children living in poverty in the richest nation on earth.

    In 2008, more than one in three - 35.3% - of all people living in poverty were children. EPI projects that with the continuing deterioration in the labor market, by 2009 a quarter of all children in this country will be living in poverty and by 2010 the child poverty rate will be 26.6%.

    This would represent an increase of 10.4 percentage points from 2000 to 2010 – truly a lost decade.
    Speaking of the labor market, the Bush administration failed miserably on job creation according to Market Watch:
    ...the private sector didn't just lose jobs over the last month or the last year -- it's lost jobs over the last decade.

    Yes, the very segment of the economy that was supposed to thrive under the Bush administration ended up with a net loss of 223,000 jobs since August 1999, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, the nation's population has grown by 33.5 million people.

    That's the worst job-creating performance by the private sector since, you guessed it, the Great Depression.

    On top of that, the government created 2.1 million jobs. Wait, you say -- isn't that a positive? Well, no, because it's the worst performance by the government over a 10-year period since the last major recession of the early 1990s.
    And something bad happened to young workers over the past decade too:
    Since 1999, more of them now have lower-paying jobs, if they can get a job at all; health care is a rare luxury and retirement security is something for their parents, not them. In fact, many—younger than 35—still live at home with their parents because they can’t afford to be on their own.
    Heckuva job, President Bush. Heckuva job, Republicans. You get credit for our "lost decade" and we get to live with the results. Some deal.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    Max Baucus Delivers - For the Insurance Industry

    Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus finally released his health care plan after months of haggling. I'm not too impressed, especially on the matter of affordability.
    It would extend benefits to millions of people who are uninsured by broadly expanding Medicaid, the state-federal insurance program for the poor, and by offering subsidies to individuals and families with modest incomes to help them buy insurance.

    The proposal would also set limits on out-of-pocket health care expenses. It would cap at 13 percent of household income — not including cost-sharing such as co-payments and deductibles — the cost of insurance premiums for middle-class Americans who just miss qualifying for the new government subsidies.

    Starting in 2013, it would require nearly all Americans to obtain coverage or face a penalty of up to $3,800 a year for families.
    Did the committee see this item in yesterday's USA Today?
    An average family health insurance policy now costs more than some compact cars, and four in 10 companies will likely pass more of that expense on to workers, according to a closely watched survey of businesses released Tuesday.

    The average cost of a family policy offered by employers was $13,375 this year, up 5% from 2008, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust survey found. By comparison, wages rose 3% over that period, the study said.
    Or this information from Kaiser?
    Let's do some very simple arithmetic. Start with a fairly conservative assumption: If we assume that premium increases over the next ten years will average what they did over the last five (about 6.1% per year), the average premium for a family policy in 2019 will be $24,180. That's a big number. On the other hand, if we assume increases revert to the average of the last ten years—an average annual increase of about 8.7% and a very plausible scenario—premiums in 2019 will average a whopping $30,803, a very scary number.
    If my employer doesn't provide health insurance, I'd be better off paying the $3,800 penalty. No wonder Democrats and Republicans have raised all kinds of objections. In fact, Democrat Jay Rockefeller expressed very strong opposition to various features of the bill, including affordability, and he was supported by Yale Professor Jacob Hacker.
    Have To Ensure That Coverage Is Affordable: Hacker pointed out a public option would save approximately $150 billion over 10 years and allow the government to invest those savings into better and stronger subsidies.
    Hacker is the person widely credited with coming up with the idea for a public option. Did I mention Baucus's plan doesn't include one?
    The Baucus plan calls for the creation of private, nonprofit health insurance cooperatives to compete with private insurers, a compromise aimed at bridging the gap between Democrats who want a government-run insurance plan and Republicans who adamantly oppose that idea.

    As insurers, the cooperatives could offer their coverage plans on the exchanges.

    And in a nod to the stiff Republican opposition, the proposal does not include a trigger calling for the creation of a public plan if the legislation fails to make affordable health insurance widely available, a compromise step that Mr. Obama has indicated he could accept.
    No trigger. No public option. Unrealistic subsidies. This isn't reform. It's a handout to the insurance industry. That's not to say the public option is dead in the water.
    Instead, Mr. Baucus seems to have left the public option to the alternate health care legislation developing in the House, where more liberal Democrats strongly support the idea and the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has called it crucial to getting a bill adopted in her chamber.
    We really need Pelosi to deliver on the public option. The bottom line on affordability according to Ezra Klein is that the premium subsidies aren't where they need to be, but are pretty good, particularly for folks making up to 300 percent of the poverty line. However, ...
    The question is what happens when you get sick. And the answer is pretty much that people making more than 200 percent of the poverty line will be less ruined than they'd be under current law, but still facing tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses a year.

    Medical bankruptcy, in other words, isn't going away. One fairly dramatic way to think about this is that health-care costs are so high in this country that we can talk about spending almost $900 billion helping low-income Americans afford coverage and still be left with a situation where coverage is unaffordable and illness rips through a family's savings.
    So after months of wrangling and innumerable compromises meant to attract Republican never existed support, this is what we get from the Finance Committee. Baucus isn't crying though. In fact, he's laughing all the way to the bank where he's depositing the $3 million he got from the insurance industry.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    Protest Racism, Glenn Beck and the MI Chamber of Commerce

    Today, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce is hosting keynote speaker Glenn Beck at their 2009 "Future Forum" even though 62 companies have withdrawn their ads from his show, and he's now lost over 50 percent of his ad dollars. Major corporations dropped Beck because his extremist views don't align with their values or corporate culture. Beck called our president a racist with a "deep-seated hatred of white people." (The president is working hard to provide health care to all Americans, regardless of color. What's so racist about that?)

    I've been writing about Beck and the Chamber for several weeks now and it wasn't until today that the media reported on it. Kathy Barks Hoffman reported that the MSU College Democrats and other groups would be protesting at the East Lansing event tonight, and she quoted Progress Michigan as saying the visit "brings shame" to the state. Chamber President Rich Studley sees it differently.
    Chamber President Rich Studley says his group has a tradition of inviting speakers from across the political and ideological spectrum.

    State Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer spoke last year, and Democratic strategist James Carville has spoken in the past.

    Studley says the dinner is all about "ideas and healthy debate."
    I'm pretty sure Brewer and Carville have never called a president or Supreme Court Justice a racist, or prayed for a politician to burst into flames. Beck said all of those "healthy" things and then some.

    The Chamber chose a keynote speaker known for his inflammatory, over-the-top, racist rhetoric to speak at a forum sponsored by businesses. Racism is unhealthy and businesses should be sending that message loud and clear, not promoting it by choosing a keynote speaker known for those sentiments.

    Healthy is standing up to racism. Healthy is being strongly committed to diversity. This is what AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka said earlier this week at the AFL-CIO National Summit on Diversity in Pittsburgh:
    The union movement is becoming more diverse and the new leadership of the AFL-CIO is committed to working harder to reach out to young workers, people of color, women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers...
    And this is what voices across the union movement said:
    ...we as a union movement need to look out for justice and fairness for every worker—on the job, in the community and in the union structure itself.

    That includes not just race and gender, but also national origin, ability, sexual orientation, age and gender identity. And it doesn’t just mean talking with workers from various backgrounds—it means making sure that the leadership and the decision makers in unions reflect the members they represent.
    By inviting Glenn Beck to speak to Michigan's business community, the Chamber leadership sends the message that they don't have a problem with racism. That's wrong, and it's not healthy for our state.

    The MSU Dems are asking people to join them in protesting Beck's appearance night. You can RSVP on their Facebook page or contact Mitchell Rivard, President of the MSU College Democrats, at (989) 450-2534 or Please consider joining them.

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for Michigan.)

    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    More Advertisers Drop Glenn Beck; The MI Chamber of Commerce Stands by Their Man

    Six new advertisers have pledged not to run ads on Glenn Beck's show, bringing the total to 62. today confirmed that six new companies whose ads aired recently during Fox News Channel's Glenn Beck program have pledged to not to run ads on the show going forward. The additions -- Aegon, Ashley Furniture, Humana, Luxottica Retail (retail parent of LensCrafters and Pearle Vision), United States Postal Service and Wyeth Consumer Healthcare -- bring the number of companies boycotting Glenn Beck to 62. launched its campaign against Beck last month after the Fox News Channel host called President Obama a "racist" who "has a deep-seated hatred for white people" during an appearance on Fox & Friends.
    Advertisers may be withdrawing their support, but Glenn Beck's racist rants and fear-mongering haven't dissuaded the Michigan Chamber of Commerce from hosting him as their keynote speaker at the Chamber's annual "Future Forum," scheduled for Tuesday, September 15 at Michigan State University's Kellogg Center.

    We've heard quite a bit from the MCoC in recent days - they've argued against Michigan tax increases and given their ideas on budget reform - but not a single word about Glenn's racist comments. Kraft Foods spoke out, and so did General Mills and Mercedes-Benz. His extremist views don't align with their values or corporate culture.

    Beck's racist views shouldn't align with the MCoC's either. African-Americans comprise 14.2 percent of our state's population, and minorities represent nearly 20 percent overall. They deserve a business community that has their best interests in mind too, not just those of white people.

    Michigan deserves a Chamber that doesn't alienate minorities either. We're trying to attract new businesses and jobs to the state, not chase them away, but that's essentially the message being sent across the country. Thinking of relocating to Michigan? Minorities not welcome.

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for Michigan.)

    Wednesday, September 02, 2009

    What About Tort Reform?

    Tort reform is getting lots of attention. It was brought up at Gary Peters' and Pete Hoekstra's town hall meetings yesterday. I don't know what either gentleman said in response, but I hope they pointed out that in 2004 the Congressional Budget Office pegged the costs of malpractice lawsuits at less than 2 percent. They also noted that “even a reduction of 25 percent to 30 percent in malpractice costs would lower health care costs by only about 0.4 percent to 0.5 percent, and the likely effect on health insurance premiums would be comparably small.”

    Small savings add up and shouldn't be discounted, but if a doctor mistakenly amputates your wrong leg that's life changing. How do you put a price tag on something so horrific? And don't believe the hype about frivolous lawsuits. Health Beat reports the following facts from a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
    “The great majority of patients who sustain a medical injury as a result of negligence do not sue.” Indeed, the New York Times reports, although “recent studies have found that one of every 100 hospital patients suffers negligent treatment, and that as many as 98,000 die each year as a result . . . only a small fraction of injured patients — perhaps 2 percent—press legal claims.
    And it appears that doctors are paying high malpractice insurance rates in part because of a few bad apples:
    “Just 1.1 percent of all doctors accounted for 30 percent of all malpractice payments made between 1990 and 2002, while only 5.2 percent of doctors were responsible for 55 percent of all payouts.” A very small group of doctors are losing or settling malpractice lawsuits, but they are losing big.

    “Eighty percent of claims involved injuries that caused significant or major disability (39 percent and 15 percent, respectively) or death (26 percent).”
    According to the Washington Independent, tort reform is unlikely to cut health care costs since studies show malpractice awards are not the big driver of skyrocketing costs, and Bloomberg reported that malpractice lawsuits are a red herring.
    ...annual jury awards and legal settlements involving doctors amounts to “a drop in the bucket” in a country that spends $2.3 trillion annually on health care, said Amitabh Chandra, a Harvard University economist. Chandra estimated the cost at $12 per person in the U.S.
    Besides, as Barbara O'Brien of Mahablog blog points out, most tort laws are state laws, and tort reform is primarily a state-level issue; a great many of the "tort reforms" conservatives insist are necessary to bring down health care costs already have been enacted in most states, and in many states, malpractice suits have been significantly reduced; and the fact is, in recent years malpractice claims have dropped significantly, but health care costs continue to rise.

    So why all the talk about tort reform? I suspect O'Brien hit on the real reason:
    In the 1980s Karl Rove identified tort reform as a strategic wedge issue for Republicans, for two reasons. First, trial lawyers tend to be Democratic voters, and demonizing trial lawyers could help smear the Dems by association. Second, the industries pushing tort reform had a whole lot of money to give to campaigns.
    Just once I wish Republicans would do what's best for people, not themselves or special interests. Tort reform may need to be tweaked at some point in the future, but our immediate need is to get people high-quality, affordable care while reforming the insurance industry. Enough with the misleading talk; it's time to take action.

    Monday, August 31, 2009

    No Word Of Thanks From Foreign Automakers For Cash For Clunkers Program

    Cash for Clunkers was a real bonanza for foreign automakers. Toyota's market share was 19.4 percent, Honda's was 13 percent, Nissan's was nearly 9 percent and Hyundai's was 7 percent. (Ford sales topped 14 percent, GM reported 17 percent and Chrysler's share was 6.6 percent.)

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the intent of Cash for Clunkers to stimulate domestic auto manufacturing by increasing sales (along with taking old gas-guzzlers off the road)? Oh, that's right, I forgot that when Democrat Betty Sutton proposed restricting the cash coupons to cars made in the U.S., foreign manufacturers threw a fit.

    "The (Sutton) bill as written is unfairly protectionist," said a spokesman for Mazda North America.

    "Any program must treat all manufacturers equally, regardless of where their corporate headquarters is located," said a spokesman for Volkswagen in the United States.

    Foreign automakers got their way and it paid off handsomely, particularly for Toyota, which sold nearly 1 out of every 5 cars that were purchased. A "Thank You" would have been nice, along with a vow to treat workers "equally" with their domestic counterparts. Instead, this is how Toyota returned the favor for its uptick in U.S. market share.
    Toyota said it would close its New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant in Fremont, Calif., in 2010, after General Motors decided to pull out of the 25-year-old joint venture as part of its broad reorganization plan. The NUMMI plant employs 4,500 UAW-represented autoworkers and an estimated 35,000 supplier and other spin-off jobs are expected to be indirectly impacted.
    The NUMMI plant is also their only UAW facility in the country, which probably played a roll in their decision, especially considering the now-infamous memo from several years ago where Toyota's brass expressed their concern that "workers’ wages are growing faster than the company's profits." To rectify this situation, Toyota announced their newest plants would pay workers based on "local manufacturing wages" – not UAW scale. That's doublespeak for low wages in right-to-work states.

    It doesn't appear Toyota bargained in good faith with the UAW either. As far back as 2007, the UAW started making nice with management, offering proposals for the increased use of temporary employees and other cost-cutting measures. And, according to this NUMMI employee, "'there’s plenty of blame to go around' and the union knows that they aren’t wanted. However, "the union has generally been willing to do their part to support the company. Toyota just hasn’t negotiated anything with the union. Our contract ended last month."

    I've resigned myself to the fact that globalization is here to stay and people are free to spend their money where they want, but as Peter De Lorenzo wrote in The United States of Toyota...
    Toyota earned a $13.2 billion profit in 2006. And where, exactly, did those profits go? It seems there's one very big thing that isn't American about Toyota, and that is where those profits go at the end of the day. To me, that makes Toyota a Japanese company, plain and simple. A company that is now inexorably woven into the fabric of this country, but a Japanese company nonetheless.
    The profits earned by Honda, Mazda, Hyundai and other foreign manufacturers go back to their respective countries too. It infuriates me that these companies are given free access to the U.S. auto market, yet their home countries aren't as open, imposing higher tariffs and restrictions on the number of imported vehicles allowed. And, adding insult to injury, they intentionally strive to drive down the wages of American workers by locating in low wage, right-to-work states where they usually receive large tax subsidies to build their plants. I don't know about you, but I don't allow guests to dictate how I run my household, and I don't find myself inclined to buy these companies cars because I know that it comes with a price to my fellow Americans.

    In Toyota's case, their lack of respect for American workers and families may be coming back to haunt them. According to Freep columnist Sarah Webster, the automaker is facing a lawsuit that could be a public relations nightmare, and "a former Toyota attorney is accusing the automaker of illegally withholding evidence in hundreds of rollover death and injury cases, in a "ruthless conspiracy" to hide evidence of "its vehicles' structural shortcomings."

    Americans have opened their wallets to Toyota and other foreign automakers for decades, but maybe it's time for people to ask just what we've gained in return. I just don't see the benefits.

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Thursday, August 27, 2009

    The "Real Death Panels"

    Americans United for Change takes on the "death panel" myth conservatives continue to push by pointing to the real culprits. Hint: It's not the government.
    Americans United for Change unveiled a new television ad today called “Real Death Panels” that turns the table on the thoroughly debunked myth advanced by conservative politicians and pundits -- that ‘death panels’ are part of President Obama’s proposal for health insurance reform – by spotlighting the real death panels that exist in America today: private insurance companies that routinely deny claims made by policy holders or refuse to issue policies altogether, citing “pre-existing conditions,” with sometimes deadly consequences.

    In a press release from Jeremy Funk, Press Secretary of Americans United for Change, he points out that “Conservative politicians and pundits will do anything to keep the “death panels” fantasy alive as part of an unscrupulous and concerted effort to kill health insurance reform. But where’s the hysteria from these same conservatives over the real death panels that exist right now in America with the big insurance companies denying millions of claims made by policy holders or refusing to issue policies altogether, citing “pre-existing’’ conditions?"

    Some related info:

    From Coverage Denied: How the Current Health Insurance System Leaves Millions Behind. “Pre-Existing Conditions” Affect Millions of Americans

    In an op-ed from NYT's columnist Nicholas Kristof: Health Care Fit for Animals

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Monday, August 24, 2009

    Republicans Using Seniors for Partisan Purposes

    Sen. Grassley is making up excuses as he goes along. He's the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee and his group recently decided to exclude end-of-life counseling from the House bill because, in Grassley's words, "We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma."

    However, yesterday, on Face the Nation, Grassley admitted that the House bill would not "pull the plug on grandma." He lied and got called on it, so now Grassley is using the cost to justify dumping the counseling provision.
    SCHIEFFER: Well, that’s what I was trying to get from you this morning. You’re not saying that this legislation would pull the plug on grandma, you’re just saying there are a lot of people out there who think that it would. Or do you want to say this morning that that is not true, that it won’t do that?

    GRASSLEY: It won’t do that, but I wanted to explain why my constituents are concerned about it, and I also want to say that there is an $8 billion cost with that issue, and if you’re trying to save money and you put an $8 billion of doctors giving you some advice at the end of life, doctors are going to take advantage of earning that $8 billion and constituents see that as an opportunity to save some money. [emphasis added]
    Grassley is being penny wise and pound foolish. Counseling may cost $8 billion, but according to the Urban Institute, the government could save $90.8 billion over 10 years by better managing end-of-life care.

    Also, according to Harvard Science, "in the Archives of Internal Medicine, investigators... found that patients who reported having an EOL conversation had an estimated average of $1,876 in health care expenses during their final week of life, compared with $2,917 for those who didn't, a difference of $1,041, or 36 percent."

    Savings aside, a new study offering end-of-life counseling to dying cancer patients found that it improved their mood and quality of life, and the patients who got counseling also lived an average of 5 months longer. Death is scary for most of us, but if counseling improves our mood and helps us enjoy what time we have remaining on earth, that's a good thing.

    Besides, Republicans like Grassley (and McCotter) are simply grasping at straws in their opposition because end-of-life counseling is already included in Medicare, and has been since 2005 when Republicans championed the plan.
    People aged 65 are entitled to a "Welcome to Medicare" exam that includes a physical and mental assessment, counseling on how Medicare works and what it covers, tips on how to prevent falls at home and the now-controversial counseling. The government would pay for this up to one year after Medicare enrollment. [emphasis added]
    The proposed health care legislation that Grassley's Senate Finance Committee dumped would have paid for end-of-life discussions every five years instead of the one time, and it was "milder than legislation sponsored by Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., that would have required Medicare patients to have a living will."

    Republicans are shameful. They've thrown our senior citizens under the bus for partisan purposes, along with our democracy. Or, as Joe Klein said, "How can you sustain a democracy if one of the two major political parties has been overrun by nihilists?

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for Michigan.)