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.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Health Care and Personal Responsibility

Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson asked a provocative question in his column today: Do we all have the same right to health care?

What about these men he saw last weekend at the Woodward Dream Cruise?
...a trio of well-fed spectators wedged into identical lawn chairs on the public right-of-way. [...] Each held a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, and all three sported pendulous bellies that spilled over their beltlines and glistened in the midday sun."
Why shouldn't those men be entitled to health care? Obesity and obesity related-conditions like hypertension have been blamed for our rising health care costs, but other major factors include spending on prescription drugs and new medical technologies, longer life spans, a greater prevalence of chronic illnesses, an aging population, and high administrative costs. Poverty, stress, air pollution and environmental hazards affect our health too.

And healthy habits do not necessarily translate into lower costs (via Economix blog/NYT).
Vermonters have the healthiest behaviors, including less smoking and more exercise, according to the latest Gallup-Healthways Healthy Behavior Sub-Index numbers. [...]

The states with the unhealthiest behaviors were primarily located in the Midwest and the South; the worst were Kentucky, Arkansas, West Virginia and Indiana.

How do these healthy behaviors factor into health spending in each state? Not a whole lot, or so it appears on its face. ...

The Western states showed both healthy behavior and lower health costs, but the Northeastern states spent a lot per capita on health care despite their relatively healthy habits. Vermont, for example, spent $6,069 per person on health care in 2004, the ninth-highest level out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Dickerson believes everyone should enjoy access to some minimum level of preventative and acute care, but he wants to add stipulations, i.e. "reimbursement for the cost of treating many chronic health problems should depend, at least to some extent, on what steps the patient has taken to avoid them."

I'm in favor of personal responsibility too, although I'm not sure how possible it is to accurately measure a person's efforts. And in the case of drinking, smoking and overeating, there are often underlying emotional and psychological problems that make quitting extremely difficult. Is it fair to penalize them for falling off the wagon?

Fortunately, helping people live healthier lives is being addressed by President Obama whose principles for health reform include prevention and wellness initiatives. They're also included in the Senate HELP Committee and House Tri-Committee plans. (See a side-by-side comparison of all plans here.)

We need to get health care reform passed and make available to Americans the tools and information they need to live healthier lives today. Nitpicking about personal responsibility and unhealthy habits only serves to slow down or sink reform.

(Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Just Say No to DNC Donations

The Democratic National Committee called me this morning and asked if I could contribute $100 dollars to help move the Democratic agenda forward. This was my not too lady-like response:
I will not contribute another dime to Democrats until they get their shit together on passing health care reform that includes a public option.
What is the matter with Democrats? Voters handed them a mandate for change and they're wimping out on us. Quit listening to the teabaggers, deathers, Blue Dogs, and people like Grassley, Betsy McCaughey and Dick Armey and his Freedom Works. They don't represent the majority of Americans who say we should have the option of government-run health insurance.

They don't represent the majority of Americans who took this CNN poll. (Results as of 9:30 a.m. this morning.)

public ins option

And they don't represent the one in four Americans who now call health care the nation's most important problem - up from 16% a month ago and 6% a year ago.

Consider this tough love, Dems. I can't show my displeasure at the ballot box until next year, but I can - and I will - stop enabling your bad behavior. When you're ready to start talking about public health insurance again, I'll consider making a donation, but until then you're on your own.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Health Care Debate Takes Compassionate Turn

What two words have been missing from the health care debate on the right? Compassion and religion. The party of compassionate conservatism has always been quick to use religion when it served their purpose in the past, but curiously, neither word has been mentioned often in relation to health care reform. There have been a few exceptions though. While conducting a town hall in Lebanon, PA, Sen. Arlen Specter was threatened with God's wrath by one protester.
"One day, God's gonna stand before you," he said. "And he's gonna judge you and the rest of your damn cronies up on the Hill, and then you can get your just desserts."
I wonder if that person was referring to the lies being told by some critics? As Jim Wallis of Sojourners recently said, "one important moral principle for the health-care debate is truth-telling."

The religious right may be keeping quiet about this issue, but a coalition of interfaith religious groups is backing health care reform. They've launched a 40 day campaign targeting 100 member of Congress and they'll participate in a telephone call-in event with President Obama on Aug 19.
Members of the group said Monday that they intend to fight back against what they say are lies being told about health reform.

“All of God’s children [have] got to be covered now,” said Rev. Jim Wallis, the CEO of Sojourners. “This is not a partisan political move. You are going to hear the moral drumbeat throughout this debate.”

The campaign is sponsored and organized by PICO National Network, Faith in Public Life, Faithful America, Sojourners and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.
Catholics in Alliance believe "health care is a basic human right, not a privilege," and Faithful America is letting Congress know people of faith support health care reform in a national TV ad.

Christians aren't alone in this effort. The coalition also includes Jewish and Muslim leaders. In fact, the National Democratic Jewish Council launched a "Rabbis for Health Insurance Reform" webpage urging Congress to get legislation passed for "Democrats, Republicans, Christians, Muslims, and Jews."
"Our tradition teaches us to pursue justice," the site reads. "Yet it is not a just society when families are forced to choose between paying their mortgages or paying for prescription drugs. It is not a just society when small businesses must choose between being profitable or providing coverage to their employees. It is not a just society when people are denied health insurance because they have a pre-existing condition for which they need medical care. Equal access to safe and affordable health care is an essential social justice issue of our time.
If ever there was a time to bring religion and compassion into the discussion, this is it. As one Indianapolis pastor who is part of the coalition said, this "effort addresses the suffering parishioners they [clergy] see each week who can’t afford treatments until their ailments reach emergency room levels. ... This is as much a crisis of faith as it is a crisis of health care.”

(Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Reverse the Bush-era Tax Cuts

A group of rich people, who call themselves Wealth for the Common Good, have started a campaign calling for an immediate rollback of President Bush's tax cuts. I can already hear the cries of protest from people like Mitch Albom, Mike Bishop and other defenders of the rich.

The group believes that "Obama’s election demonstrates broad public support, even among the wealthy, for the idea that the wealthiest Americans should pay more. As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama pledged to raise taxes on households with incomes over $250,000 by reversing the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts. A majority of these high-income individuals, 52 percent, still voted for him."

Here's their statement:
Our country is facing the worst economic challenge since the Great Depression and an urgent need to make a long overdue investment in bringing jobs and stability back to our communities. This investment should be paid for, in part, by repealing the Bush-era tax cuts our country cannot afford.

Those of us with taxable incomes over $235,000 benefited from the upside of the economy during the last decade and profited for eight years from a 2001 tax cut. Now is the time to give back.

We would see a minimal tax increase—from 35% to 39.6%, a rate still far lower than the one under President Reagan—but the increased revenue would raise an estimated $43 billion per year. This would affect a very small fraction of U.S. taxpayers—about 2.5 percent.
Let the weeping and gnashing of teeth from defenders of the rich begin.

(Cross-posted at Blogging for Michigan.)

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Michigan Highest Ranked State in Cash for Clunker Voucher Requests

Jalopnik reports that domestic car-producing states who have a large stake in the industry are where most Cash for Clunker vouchers are being requested, and Michigan leads the pack.
According to data from the NHTSA, Michigan is the highest-ranked state in terms of spending with $34,420,500 in voucher requests through Monday afternoon. This far outpaces Ohio, which is in second with $29,274,000 in requested vouchers. California is the most populous state in the nation, but is in third with $26,433,000, followed closely by Minnesota with $26,168,000 in requests.
The area with the least number of trades was Washington, DC, where not a single person took advantage of the program.

Jalopnik concluded that Cash for Clunkers appears to be popular across the map, but the highest concentration is in areas where people are concerned with the performance of the Not-So-Big Three (their words, not mine). That makes sense. The trickle down effect from these car sales won't just help our automakers, but Michigan stands to gain in terms of tax revenue and our local communities benefit when salespeople start spending their commissions at stores, restaurants, etc.


These were the ten most purchased cars according to Jalopnik (approximately 47% of the sales are vehicles from the Big-3).

1. Ford Focus
2. Toyota Corolla
3. Honda Civic
4. Toyota Prius
5. Toyota Camry
6. Ford Escape FWD
7. Hyundai Elantra
8. Dodge Caliber
9. Honda Fit
10. Chevrolet Cobalt

Jalopnik theorizes that foreign cars took 6 of the 10 slots because domestic automakers don't have the most fuel efficient vehicle choices on the road. I have to agree. The Big-3 were warned, but they ignored fuel efficiency because they were making tons of money on SUVs and trucks. Better late than never I guess. And, as Jalopnik points out, "the news is still slightly better for them that they're able to keep pace with their foreign competition."

(Cross-posted at Blogging for Michigan.)

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Time for a National Manufacturing Policy was Yesterday

Employees of the Lordstown General Motors plant in Ohio are banking on the Chevy Cruze to keep them working. We should be cheering them on too. Why? Because Lordstown's story is being told in auto communities across the nation.
"The last eight months have been so chaotic," said Lordstown Mayor Michael Chaffee. "We went from the top of the world in August (2008), to treading water and praying in April."

But the Cruze gives Lordstown residents hope their plant will stay open. GM also hopes the smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicle will carry the smaller, more efficient car company through the next century.

Keeping the plant is one thing, but in an area that American industry has been leaving for 30 years, the loss of jobs from the last major manufacturing employer is huge.

Twenty miles from Lordstown is Youngstown, Ohio, a once-booming manufacturing and industrial community that relied on steel mills to sustain its middle class. When the mills downsized or closed beginning in the late 1970s, residents left to seek work elsewhere, and the standard of living declined for those who remained.

Unlike previous decades, when industry left the area for other parts of the nation, companies are now moving out of the country entirely, permanently erasing thousands of jobs. And it's not just the jobs that are fading, but also health care, pensions and other benefits that built the working middle class.

John Russo, co-director for working class studies at Youngstown State University, has been studying this erosion for years and said he finds the push for cheaper U.S. labor depressing.

"We seem to be willing to create jobs for a working people where the wages and benefits cannot support paying their basic bills," Russo said. "So, it seems to me, Youngstown's story, now Lordstown's story, is a part of America's story as we begin this next century."
President Obama believes “The fight for American manufacturing is the fight for America’s future,” yet he hasn't come up with a formal plan to address the decline. Granted, he has a lot on his plate, but maybe he could find a few minutes to share a beer with Ohio Rep. Sherrod Brown who is proposing a a national manufacturing policy that aligns federal actions with the goal of strengthening our manufacturing sector.

These are the five areas Brown believes our country should focus on (click the link to read the details): Innovation, Supply Chains, Skills, Coordination, and Fair Trade.

Fact: The United States now ranks behind every industrial nation except France in the percentage of overall economic activity devoted to manufacturing. Since 2007, we've lost two million manufacturing jobs and more than five million since 2000, but even in its weakened state, manufacturing is still an essential pillar of our economy.
Manufacturing accounts for $1.6 trillion -- nearly 12 percent -- of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It accounts for nearly three-fourths of the nation’s industrial research and development (R&D) -- with four manufacturing industries alone (computers and electronics, chemicals, aerospace, and autos) accounting for 56 percent of private sector R&D. The industry also accounts for 35 percent of value added in world high technology product production.

Jobs in the manufacturing industry pay 20 percent more on average than service jobs. Each manufacturing job supports 4-5 other jobs throughout the U.S. economy. While employment in manufacturing has steadily declined, one in six private sector jobs is still directly or indirectly tied to manufacturing.
Stabilizing and boosting manufacturing would help our economy, put people back to work, and rebuild the middle class. Obama has been saying all the right things, but he's been sending mixed messages about manufacturing's future.
While Obama felt it necessary to distance himself from the “buy America” provisions put in the stimulus bill, China has no such compunctions. As the Times reports, “when China authorized its first solar power plant this spring, it required that at least 80 percent of the equipment be made in China. When the Chinese government took bids this spring for 25 large contracts to supply wind turbines, every contract was won by one of seven domestic companies. All six multinationals that submitted bids were disqualified on various technical grounds, like not providing sufficiently detailed data.”...

China is intent on dominating the new energy markets of the future. If its past practices are any indication, it will subsidize exports, manipulate its currency, buy China at home, force multinationals to transfer technology and partner with Chinese companies, and engage in industrial piracy to make its way.
And China is not alone: Other countries continue to erect barriers to block American goods and mercantilism and subsidies still reign supreme.

Other countries protect their manufacturing. We shouldn't expect any less from the U.S.