Nel's New Day

November 30, 2012

Filibuster, Fiscal Whatever

Less than three weeks before the end of the year, the Republicans are swarming like a disturbed colony of yellow jackets since the Democrats threatened to revise the filibuster process. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) accused Democrats of throwing a bomb in the Senate and Majority Leader Harry Reid of breaking the rules. He forgot that it was the Republicans who decided seven years ago that Senate procedure could be changed through a simple majority on the first day of Congress every two years.

McConnell said, “It’s important to remember that the Senate hasn’t always functioned like it has the last two years, and the rules were exactly the same. We don’t have a rules problem, we have a behavior problem.” First, the Senate has behaved like this before the last two years. They’ve been like that for the last six years as the graph below shows. Second, McConnell doesn’t recognize that the “behavior problem” is on the side of the GOP.

With his back against the wall, McConnell wants to have a talk with Reid. They talked two years ago, and McConnell kept threatening and acting on the current filibuster rule. The GOP agreed to cooperate at the beginning of the 112th Congress and then immediately abandoned their promise.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has entered the fray, despite the fact that the filibuster concerns only the Senate. Yesterday he issued a statement in reference to the proposed changes to the filibuster rules:  “Any bill that reaches a Republican-led House based on Senate Democrats’ heavy-handed power play would be dead on arrival.” The threat is hollow: the House rejects anything that the Senate sends it anyway.

The statement also belies Boehner’s claim that he is “the most reasonable, responsible person” in Washington, as he recently identified himself. Last week, the Speaker said he will go after health care reform and hold the global economy hostage (again) until he gets what he wants but refuses to give any details on a debt-reduction proposal.

Boehner’s ravings are matched by these declarations that Scott Keyes found:

  • Worse than surrender in the Civil War: Conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer:   “Robert E. Lee was offered easier terms at Appomattox and he lost the Civil War.”
  • Out of a fairytale: Writing in her Wall Street Journal column, Kimberley Strassel described the plan as “something out of Wonderland and Oz combined.”
  • “Nothing good can come of negotiating further”: RedState editor Erick Erickson told the GOP to pack up, go home, and take the country over the cliff.
  • “I’d walk out”: MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a former GOP congressman, claimed that President Obama’s proposal was made just to “provoke” House Republicans and that the GOP should just walk out.
  • “Congress should dive headlong off fiscal cliff”: Daily Caller editor Tucker Carlson advised the GOP to “dive headlong off fiscal cliff. Republicans don’t have a lot of good choices right now. They might as well try it.” [They can do that and then let the 113th Congress try to deny lowering taxes on the bottom 98 percent!]

As for the fate of filibuster reform in the Senate, nine Democrats out of the 55 progressives haven’t said they will vote for the proposed changes. Fifty votes will create a majority if Vice President Joe Biden votes in favor of the changes.

I don’t know whether Senate Democrats will change the rules, but I do know that the Founding Fathers didn’t intend for one person in the Senate to declare a filibuster while he stretches out on his couch far away from the chamber. The Constitution has nothing to do with a filibuster to “protect the minority,” as McConnell claims.

In the Continental Congress, Rule 10, derived from British parliamentary practice, provides only for “calling the question” so that a simple majority can end debate. Authors of the Constitution felt that they had already protected the minority by providing each state with the same number of senators. Because Rule 10 was used so infrequently, Aaron Burr proposed dropping it in 1806, and the Senate did just that with a simple majority vote.

Thirty-some years later, either in 1837 or 1841, a few senators, similar in perversity to today’s Republicans, decided to just talk forever, holding the Senate hostage to an ultimatum of the minority. Yet there were only 33 filibusters in the 57 years between 1840 and 1917.

World War I led to a 23-day filibuster against a bill to arm American merchant ships so that they could protect themselves after a German U-Boat sank the Lusitania. Those 23 days led to the first cloture rule, a partial restoration of the 1806 vote to drop Rule 10. No Senate rule has ever “authorized” the filibuster. Instead rules have attempted to reign in the minority’s abuse of Senate procedure.


This graph shows the number of “cloture” motions in every congressional session since 1919. Cloture is the procedure used to break a filibuster. Between 1919 and 1975, a successful cloture motion required two-thirds of the Senate. Today, it requires three-fifths, or, in cases where all 100 senators are present and voting, 60 votes.

The number of filibusters is not equivalent to the number of cloture because a large number of filibusters never receive a cloture vote either because it takes about 30 hours of floor time or because the party with fewer than 60 members won’t win. The important piece of the large number of cloture votes isn’t exactly how many but the indication that the filibuster is now a constant instead of a rarity.  Because of the filibuster, almost every action in the Senate needs 60 votes, ten votes over a simple majority.

Peter Carlson provides more information, albeit entertaining, in an article about the history of the filibuster. It may be funnier when the GOP stops trying to obstruct everything and starts working for the good of the United States.

Asides: Rachel Maddow has declared President Obama the Worst Socialist Ever.  As proof, she showed a chart from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, that post-tax corporate profits have almost tripled since George W. Bush’s crash of 2008.

corporate profits

After Boehner was ridiculed for the 19 white men he appointed to committee chairs for the 113th Congress, he found a woman to take care of the House—literally. As chair of the House Administration Committee, Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI), who hasn’t served on that committee for several years, will be in charge of the House’s administrative business from whether the cafeterias should use paper or Styrofoam plates to benefits for congressional workers and the operation of the Library of Congress. Miller wished to chair the Homeland Security Committee, but that job went to a man—Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX).

It only took 23 days, but the last race for the 113th Congress has been called. Incumbent Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC) won after Republican David Rouzer conceded.  Democrats have net gain of eight House seats for the 113th Congress, totaling 201 Democrats out of the 435 representatives in the House. The Senate has 55 progressive members compared to the 45 GOP senators.

November 29, 2012

Stop the GOP in Rolling Back Our ‘Entitlements’

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:20 PM
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Let’s solve the whole deficit by rolling back Social Security and Medicare–that’s what the GOP insists. Just do away with the safety net, and the country will have no problems. As always, they’re wrong. Social Security and Medicare are not the cause of the deficit.

Raising the age for Medicare and voucherizing Medicare would shift costs onto needy people, lead to worse health outcomes, and drive people into poverty. Without enough money to pay for their health care, people will postpone treatment, resulting in higher costs because the health situation will require greater expenditures.  People cut from Medicare rolls would just end up on Medicaid or other government safety nets. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundations estimates that the net federal savings in 2014 of $5.7 billion would cost individuals, employers, and states $11.4 billion—twice as much. Also raising the age of Medicare would save very little because younger seniors, those between 65 and 67, require the least health care.

Raising the “full retirement age” for Social Security would be equally useless. About half of the beneficiaries start drawing benefits at age 62; a total of two-thirds begin their benefits before age 65. Full retirement age is already 66 and scheduled to increase to age 67. Deficit hawks use the excuse of increased life expectancy to increase the age for Social Security and Medicare to 67.  Half the people in the United States, however, particularly the poor and working-class people whose earnings are at or below the median, have a life expectancy at 65 that is unchanged since the 1970s.  In the poorer regions of the U.S., specifically the South, black males have a life expectancy of less than 65, sometimes as low as age 59.  

Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) wants to raise the age for Social Security because it was “never intended as a retirement program” because life expectancy when it was founded was only 63. Yet in 1940, people who got to age 65 still lived for many years. It’s just that more people are living to the age of 65 now, inflating the statistical life expectancy ages. In fact, life expectancy is dropping in the United States.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is now negotiating to decrease the deficit. Consider his past plans. He proposed raising the retirement age to 70 and implemented progressive price indexing as well as privatizing the program. Ryan’s plan would effectively cut benefits for all except 30 percent of the beneficiaries.

Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit because it is fully funded. It’s not an “entitlement program” because people pay into that specific program. With the $2.6 trillion surplus, Social Security can pay at 100 percent for the next 25 years and 75 percent after that. There is no deficit in Social Security; Republicans just want to use it for a cash cow to give money to the wealthiest people in the country.

Changes now can make Social Security self-supporting in perpetuity. Payroll taxes are collected only up to $110,100 in 2012, putting the burden on low- and middle-income workers. Eliminating that cap would allow Social Security to pay full benefits for the next 75 years, according to a Congressional Research Service report. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) tried to raise the cap last year, but both the GOP and the media ignored his attempts preferring to continue the myth of the “bankrupt” Social Security.

Medicare is also in good shape according to the Medicare Trustee’s annual report from April 2012. “The Hospital Insurance (Part A) Trust Fund has sufficient reserves to pay out the full amount of Medicare Part A benefits until 2024—the same projection made in last year’s report.  Should nothing else change, and the Trust Fund reserves be depleted in 2024, the Trust Fund would still receive sufficient income from the payroll taxes and other revenue through which it is funded to pay 87% of anticipated Part A expenses.” The report is based on a poor economy; projections will improve with the economy.

The future of Medicare would be even rosier if the GOP were willing to curb health care costs. Bargaining for drug prices would save billions. The Independent Payment Advisory Board, created as part of Obamacare to help Medicare control costs, could provide a theory of necessary medical treatments. These are not “death panels,” and the GOP wouldn’t care anyway because they are willing to take people off Medicare and let them die.

The problems with Social Security funding began when Bush borrowed heavily from its surplus to hide the fact that federal taxes didn’t accrue enough revenue to pay for his wars and tax cuts. Wall Street’s failures increased Social Security costs while reducing its revenues. The government owes the Social Security Trust Fund the interest for the money that the government borrowed from the $2.6 trillion surplus, but opponents (think GOP) believe that the government is not obligated to pay this interest. The budget deficit was caused by the wars, the lower taxes, and the Wall Street failures, but conservatives want to blame Social Security.

In fact, the government has borrowed more from the Social Security surplus than it has from any other source in the world, including China. As a result, Social Security now “owns” nearly 18 percent of the federal debt, making it the largest single holder of US debt. The government owes almost twice as much to Social Security as it does to China and Hong Kong.

House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) provided some insight to the GOP Social Security views in a recent NPR interview: “We are going to have to come to grips with the fact that these programs cannot exist if we want America to be what we want it to be.” In other words, the GOP doesn’t want to help people.

Another program that expires if Congress does nothing about it is the unemployment insurance extension. Conservatives don’t want to give one cent to all the people that they call “slackers,” but there’s an important reason for continuing this extension. Extending the current level of jobless benefits from states and federal government throughout the next year will add 300,000 jobs, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.  Cutting off this extension will leave 2 million people without any benefits on January 1 and another 900,000 within the next three months.

The demise of Hostess Brands is a prime example of why we need to keep Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the unemployment insurance extension. The company is doing just fine, thank you. They have 110 potential buyers salivating to take over the company, complete with Ho Hos and Ding Dongs—not to mention the infamous Twinkies. The court has given permission to give bonuses up to $1.8 million to the company’s top executives while all 19 corporate officers and “high level managers” must be employed for the next year. If all goes well, two of the officers will get even more bonuses in addition to their high salaries. CEO Gregory Rayburn, the “restructuring expert,” receives $125,000 a month.

While these corporate leaders, who drove the business into the ground, are making millions, 15,000 workers have lost their jobs, and none of the workers will get retiree benefits that they were promised. These people paid into the safety net; they deserve to receive them now. All of us deserve these benefits instead of giving the money to the wealthy.

November 28, 2012

Congress Gets More Dysfunctional

Yesterday’s blog included the bravery of Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) in crossing the conservative activist Grover Norquist when Chambliss said about the anti-tax pledge that he signed 20 years ago, “If we do it [Norquist’s]  way then we’ll continue in debt, and I just have a disagreement with him about that.” Since then, Norquist seems to have gotten to Chambliss as shown by this tweet: “ I’m not in favor of tax increases. I’m in favor of significant tax reform 2 lower tax rates & generate additional revenue through job growth.” He must have gotten protests from his campaign funders.  

Each day—in fact each hour—the bipartisan budget agreement from August 2011 takes another twist. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who walked off the Simpson-Bowles debt commission before it could come up with a way to solve the deficit, has been named as negotiator for the fiscal cliff. Is House Speaker John Boehner trying to scuttle all Ryan’s chances of being a 2016 presidential candidate with this appointment?

My personal theory, and hope, is that with the intransigent Ryan—and the other Republicans pushed by Norquist—all negotiations will fail before the end of the year. The higher taxes will then go into effect on the first of January when Democrats will propose a bill to reduce taxes for everyone under $250,000. The question then is whether Republicans will vote against lowering taxes for the American people.

Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY), appointed by President Obama to lead the commission with Erskine Bowles, has promised to protect Congressmen who separate themselves from Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge through donations from his Campaign to Fix the Debt. Simpson predicted that Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) would come under attack for backing entitlement. He didn’t promise, however, to protect the Democrat. Durbin is up for re-election in 2014.

Not that the GOP ever listens to the populace, but their political leaders should check out this chart showing what people in the United States want from the solution to the “fiscal cliff.” In short, voters want higher tax rates for the wealthy and no increase in the age to receive Social Security. Although more evenly split on limiting tax deductions, they still don’t want to do this. Even fewer self-identified Republicans and conservatives want the age for Social security to be raised (29 percent) than self-identified liberals (30 percent).

At the same time the Susan Rice debacle has worsened now that supposedly moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-MA) entered the fray against her to force the appointment of John Kerry for Secretary of State. Quelle surprise! She, too, has always been supportive of Scott Brown, going so far as to campaign for him this fall. Like other Republicans, she likely believes that taking Kerry out of the Senate will leave the space wide open for Scott Brown whose term for Massachusetts senator ends in 33 days.

The problem with all the GOP kerfuffle is that the Democrats are getting irritated. In the last election, people may have voted because they were told they couldn’t; the same thing may happen with the selection for Secretary of State if Rice gets votes because the GOP is providing all this unwarranted opposition toward her.

The only way that the Republicans can keep a Democratic choice from becoming Secretary of State is by filibustering. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) stated that he has enough Democratic votes to change the filibuster guidelines on the first day of the 113th Congressional session. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is threatening to delay fiscal cliff decisions if the Democrats suggest the filibuster changes, but the minority leader has a very bad record for keeping his promises. After McConnell persuaded Reid to not support filibuster changes two years ago, Republicans filibustered 70 times. McConnell has promised to “shut down” the Senate if the Democrats carry through with their filibuster reform, but it appears that the GOP has consistently done with during the last six years with 386 filibusters.

There would have been more filibusters, but Democrats didn’t even try to take action because of the GOP threats. The lack of bills passed during the past two years in the U.S. Senate demonstrates the high level of dysfunction there: in the 112th Congress, the Senate passed a record low of 2.8 percent of bills introduced, 66 percent fewer than in 2005-2006 and a 90-percent decrease from the high during 1955-1956.

One Republican, Johnny Isakson (R-GA) disagrees with McCain when he called Rice “not very bright” and with other Republicans when they called her “incompetent.” During a CNN interview with Soledad O’Brien this morning, Isakson said, “What you don’t want to do is shoot the messenger. [Rice] is a very smart, very intelligent woman. I know this Ms. Rice, I think she’s done a good job as Ambassador to the U.N.”  While Collins is out simply lobbying against Rice, John McCain has gone over the edge in yesterday’s interview with Neil Cavuto on Fox News.

“[W]ho changed the talking points that was used by Ambassador Rice? And why? And on what circumstances? Why was reference to Al Qaeda left out? There are so many things that have happened. And the interesting thing is, finally, Neil, we knew within hours of all the details when we got bin Laden in the raid there, every bitty one of them. They are making a movie out of it.”

As Times’ Joe Klein wrote,

“[McCain is] now a political caricature, severely debilitated by anger and envy. His trigger-happy foreign policy beliefs have always been questionable, but this Benghazi crusade has put in the weird circle inhabited by nutcases and conspiracy theorists like Michele Bachmann and Allen West. He should honor the memory of those who lost their lives that terrible night by putting a cork in his disgraceful behavior immediately.”

The linchpin during the next three weeks is President Obama. The question is whether he will nominate Rice, Kerry, or someone else. And what will happen between the president and Paul Ryan? Will Ryan just walk out on the negotiations the way that he did on the Simpson-Bowles debt commission? Will Ryan pull a Sarah Palin?

November 27, 2012

Congress Ignores Job, Economy Issues

Since Election Day, many of the nation’s populace have focused on what will happen to the bipartisan fiscal agreement from August 2011 that kept the United States from defaulting on the national debt which would have crashed the entire country. The conditions of this agreement were supposed to be changed a year ago, but the bitter partisan fighting stopped this from happening. With no compromise before the end of 2012, taxes revert to the time of Bill Clinton (when, by the way, we had a great economy), a situation that the media likes to call the “fiscal cliff.”

During a meeting with the president ten days after Election Day,  House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) informed President Obama that the fiscal cliff is “my leverage.” During this discussion Boehner threatened to not agree to the president’s proposal if the speaker’s demands weren’t meant.

Since the election, Republicans have admitted that they are willing to create new revenue, despite the anti-tax pledge that most of them signed with conservative activist Grover Norquist. In return, however, they want to hack at Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Once again, conservatives are using their typical tactic of fear and ploy of extortion.

In fact, there might not be a real crisis. CBO has adjusted its forecast with the result that the debt/GDP ratio now stabilizes after a few years. Social Security etc. are not part of businesses required to make a profit; reasonable management of health care costs will keep Medicare and Medicaid expenditures within control. Military spending should decrease as the country leaves its warmongering.

President Obama’s proposal regarding taxes is to keep the Bush cuts for everyone who makes under $250,000. Republicans like to refer to the people above this amount—only two percent of the population—as job creators. They aren’t. To see that there is no relationship between private-sector employment and tax cuts, just look at this employment since 2001. The only reason that employment gained during George W. Bush’s first term was the 800,000 increase in public sector.

Because Republicans like to control by fear, they don’t tell people that everyone in the country keeps the Bush tax cuts on the first $250,000 that they make, even the top two percent.

Republicans are truly caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, and both of these are in their own political party. If they try to look at all reasonable and break their pledge for no new taxes, the Tea Party backs a candidate that might defeat long-time incumbents. This was the case with Dick Lugar in Illinois during the last primary. The situation is even more dire with the Democratic wins in the most recent election. The big question right now: do Republicans agree with providing revenue to the country, the way that 70 percent of the population wants, or do they please Tea Party members with the Norquist approach of no tax increases–ever.

Last week Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), up for reelection in two years, broke with Norquist, by saying that addressing the nation’s looming “fiscal cliff” takes precedence over honoring the anti-tax pledge. “I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge.”

Chambliss is also a supporter of the Bowles-Simpson plan to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. In return for these drastic measures against the middle class, the plan raises some revenue by closing a few token tax loopholes and reducing the popular mortgage interest deduction. Like other Republicans, Chambliss could vote to close small loopholes in the tax code while raising the retirement age for Social Security, cap overall spending for Medicare, and dramatically lowering corporate tax rates.

Up for re-election in two years, Chambliss could attract moderates in a primary against a Tea Party candidate by supporting more revenue. It would also get him funding from lobbyists for his election campaign because they want to destroy the safety net and keep corporate taxes low.

On Sunday’s talk shows Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he could reject the pledge if Democrats would reform entitlements (aka roll back Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid), and Rep. Peter T. King (R-NY) said the pledge may be out of step in the present economy. Monday morning, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told CBS’s Charlie Rose that he, too, was “not obligated on the pledge.”

While millions of words are being devoted these days to the fiscal cliff or hill or curb, McCain and others are leading the media into an obsessive reporting about Susan Rice’s lack of information about the Benghazi disaster. Rational people know that Rice reported what she was told on the Sunday after four men were killed at the embassy. Since then the Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and his sycophant Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), have pilloried Rice. Graham said she shouldn’t have said anything, knowing that this would have made the situation worse.

Sunday said that he wouldn’t not have necessarily block Rice for the position of Secretary of State and asked for a meeting with her. After today’s meeting with the three loudest critics—McCain, Ayotte, and Graham—all of them said that “they were more disturbed than before the meeting.”

What is the reason behind the opposition? Senators indicate that they prefer John Kerry to Rice as Secretary of State. The choice may have two primary reasons. First, Kerry is a white man, much preferred by Congressional Republicans. To see the Republicans’ lack of diversity, check out the new committee leaders in the House–19 white men.

Second, if Kerry were to be appointed to this position, Massachusetts would need a new senator. After his loss to Elizabeth Warren, the current Massachusetts senator, Scott Brown, is in a prime position to win the election, adding one more Republican to the 45 already in the U.S. Senate for the next two years.

Meanwhile Congress ignores the need to improve jobs and economy while Republicans continue to oppose any benefits for the 99 percent of the country’s population.

November 26, 2012

We Could Be like Bangladesh

Over 101 years ago 129 women and 17 men died when the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory caught fire in New York City. The youngest to be killed in this disaster was 11-year-old Mary Goldstein. Managers had locked the doors to stairwells and exits to stop stealing and keep the workers from taking unauthorized breaks. As a result, many of the deaths came from people jumping from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors to the concrete streets below.

Because of the outcry from this tragic event, legislation created improved factory safety standards. Nothing like this happened again in the United States. The fire also spurred the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union that fought for better working conditions. After 146 people died in this fire, government could not avoid creating laws to protect workers. The New York legislature passed the first laws, and other states in the country followed. Unions became more success in protecting workers.

The laws were not always successful. Ninety years after this fire, 25 workers at a poultry factory in Hamlet (NC) died in a fire. Again, exits were locked or blocked to stop stealing. North Carolina is one of 23 “right to work” states in the nation which means that the workers in the states have no protection from unions.

Two days ago a fire in a garment factor in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killed at least 124 people. The eight-story building had locked emergency exits and fire extinguishers that didn’t work because they were there to impress inspectors. When the fire alarm went off, workers were told to stay at their sewing machines. Again some of these people died after they jumped from the building.

Workers knew about the dangers of the 4,000 garment factories throughout Bangladesh: just two months ago, tens of thousands of garment factory workers fought police in their protests against low wages and dangerous working conditions. Minimum wage is $38 per month. In addition to sub-standard safety issues, gangs and thugs, hired by employers, wander throughout the factories, harassing and assaulting workers.

Dozens of workplace fires in Bangladesh have killed more than 600 employees in the country’s garment industry since 2006. No owner has faced prosecution for poor safety conditions.  Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest clothes.

Retailers in the United States, including Walmart, purchase clothing from Bangladesh to sell in this country. One day after people in the United States spent long hours on Black Friday joyfully searching for the cheapest clothes, 124 people who worked for $38 per month died in a factory making these clothes. The 124 people who died in the Bangladesh fire lived halfway around the world, but they died making clothing cheap enough that Walmart was willing to buy the merchandise.

Walmart has tried to disconnect themselves from this tragedy. First the company said that after one of their auditors gave a “high risk” safety rating last May to the factory that killed 124 people. The company said they would conduct another inspection within a year. Then they said that the factory was not authorized to provide clothing for Walmart but a supplier contracted work to it “in direct violation of our policies.” (This is the same company that has a policy to pay women and men equally. Their “policies” don’t mean much.)

The fire should make everyone in the United States think about our country’s future if conservatives succeed in doing away with unions and regulations. If Republicans achieve what they call “small government,” workers can return to the days of  huge factory fires, locked exits, and wages like those in Bangladesh.

The next time you shop for the cheapest clothing at Walmart, think where it was made and how the people who made it had to suffer. And think about how “small government” with no regulations may result in the 99 percent of people in the United States living like the people in Bangladesh.


November 25, 2012

Religion Struggling with Its Government Takeover

I find religion to be a peculiar belief because it rules most of the world, including parts of the United States, and yet people have such vast diversity in beliefs. People don’t even know how often they attend a religious institution. According to a new study from the Pew Research Center, 79 percent of Americans identify with an organized faith group, making the people in this nation more deeply religious than in many other countries including those in Europe. But are people in the U.S. as religious as they say? NPR’s science correspondent Shankar Vedantam looked into this theory.

Although 45 percent of the people say that they regularly attend a church or other religious service, Philip Brenner’s study of their activities through a self-reported diary indicates that only 24 percent of the people actually do this. Perhaps they want to represent themselves as religious. This almost double over-reporting of regular attendance is in sharp contrast to very little over-reporting among people in Western Europe.

Perhaps because they want to look religious, many people in the United States tolerate the intrusion of religion into government matters, similar to the stocks in Puritan New England. States that diligently pass laws preventing the Sharia, the Islam moral code, in their law, are comfortable using Christianity in laws preventing abortion and marriage equality and in sentencing convicted felons.

Judge Mike Norman (Muskogee County, OK) sentenced 17-year-old Tyler Alred to church attendance for ten years—nothing more. Alred was convicted of manslaughter after he killed the passenger in his car when it collided with a tree. Although Alred’s blood alcohol level was under the legal limit, by law he was driving under the influence because he was a minor.

Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles (Rock Hill, SC) did send Cassandra Tolley to prison after her conviction, but he added a provision to the eight-year sentence: mandatory bible study and a summary of the Book of Job. Tolley drove down the wrong side of a road and hit a car head on, seriously injuring two men. Her blood alcohol content was over four times the legal limit.

Fortunately, Gordon Klingenschmitt is no longer a Navy chaplain, especially after “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed. His claim is that that people who vote to support same-sex marriage are like those who wanted to crucify Jesus Christ. When asked if the election shows a movement toward “enlightenment” and that Jesus might approve of marriage equality, the chaplain responded that the interviewer confused “the Holy Spirit with a demonic spirit.”

In quoting Romans 1:32, Klingenschmitt said, “‘Knowing the judgment of God that those who commit such things, homosexual acts, for example, are not only worthy of death, not only for those who do them, but for those who have pleasure in those who do them.’” None of the 18 most common versions of this verse mentions homosexuality. In fact, that word does not appear in the bible.

The former chaplain also practices exorcism and has a new book—self-published—called The Demons of Barack H. Obama. When reminded that people in the military are supposed to support elections and democracy, Klingenschmitt said, “The only election in the New Testament was the election to crucify Jesus and let Barnabas go.”

With the winter holidays bearing down on us, the fundamentalist Christians are again lamenting the loss of Christmas. Pat Robertson got a head start when he said, “Christmas all over again. The Grinch is trying to steal our holiday. It’s been so beautiful. The nation comes together. We sing Christmas carols, we give gifts to each other. We have lighted trees and it’s just a beautiful thing. Atheists don’t like our happiness, they don’t want you to be happy, they want you to be miserable. They’re miserable so they want you to be miserable.”

Like Karl Rove, Robertson was stunned when President Obama won re-election. Last January he said that God had told him who the winner would be, but there seemed to be static in that communication. In talking about his confusion, Robertson said, “So many of us miss God, I won’t get into great detail about elections but I sure did miss it, I thought I heard from God, I thought I had heard clearly from God, what happened? You ask God, how did I miss it? Well, we all do and I have a lot of practice.”

The fundamentalist Christians have had a hard year. First they couldn’t get the candidate they wanted. Texas Gov. Rick Perry looked good back in the summer when he participated in a big rally in his state, but his odd behavior led them to conservative Catholic Rick Santorum who equally alienated most people. Mitt Romney survived only because he said very little and shifted with the wind.

The fundamentalists also failed to get any of the Catholics except the bishops riled after the free contraception kerfuffle. The “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign against President Obama was overshadowed by the “Nuns on the Bus” that showed the hypocrisy of Paul Ryan and the bishop leadership. In the end, 50 percent of Catholics voted for President Obama over the 48 percent that chose Romney.

During the crucial last month, fundamentalist candidates openly and frequently showed their ignorance. Senate Republican candidates Richard Mourdock (IN) and Rep. Todd  Akin (R-MO) helped people understand how extreme the conservative radical theology is. The candidates not only lost but most likely took others down with them.

In addition, fundamentalist Christians failed to turn out for this election, possibly because of the confident rhetoric from conservative pundits on Fox and other stations proclaiming Mitt Romney as a shoe-in for the presidency. Despite Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition that sent illegal voter guides to Ohio churches, the president improved his standing by three points with white evangelicals in that state over the 71 percent to 27 percent margin John McCain won four years ago.

The final blows for fundamentalist Christians were the loss of the presidency and the Senate and the wins for marriage equality in three states. Minnesota was a fourth state that refused to further legitimize bigotry. Even the massive “Vote Biblical Values” ad campaign from famed evangelist Billy Graham failed to stop the groundswells of support among other religious groups for marriage equality.

Far-right religious figures had earlier understood that they were losing the war against marriage equality. Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, reiterated this position when he said that the Religious Right should focus less on abortion and gay marriage and more on issues such as immigration reform, poverty, and increasing adoptions and foster care opportunities. We’ll wait to see if they go so far as to allow same-sex couples to participate in their grand schemes.

Meanwhile, the Church of England is having trouble with its own war on women after its laity rejected women bishops. Although the action was approved by the synod’s houses of bishops and clergy, only 324 synod members in the House of Laity voted to approve the ordination of women bishops, six short of the required two-thirds majority. As Williams said, “We have, to put it bluntly, a lot of explaining to do.” The next vote will probably not come until 2015.


November 24, 2012

Conservatives Don’t Get It, Don’t Quit!

One of my wonderful friends lives in Wisconsin, the anti-union state of the nation. She’s even a school librarian who has lost almost 10 percent of her salary since Scott Walker became governor through wage cuts and increases in her payments for health insurance and pension. Her following story clearly points out the class warfare between workers and the elite, sometimes called business owners.

“While I was waiting for my friend for dinner, I met a woman at the bar. Something about Obama came on the television, and she revealed to me that she was very sad that Mittens lost. I told her that I was on the other side of the aisle, and we had a moderately civil conversation. She said she was for Mittens because she owned a business and couldn’t afford Obama.

“As she was leaving, we got to talking about her boots that made her look much taller. She said, ‘Look at this,’ and she lifted her foot to show me the red bottoms of her boots, expecting me to be impressed. She did comment that the cost of the boots was equal to a mortgage payment. She asked about my footwear, and I held up my foot clad in my ancient but very sturdy Ecco sandals. She laughed.

“Later I Googled “red soles” and discovered the boots were Louboutin boots. I realized that our conversation was the race in a nutshell: Louboutin boots being afraid that the Ecco sandals were going to cost her too much money. It was an enlightening conversation.”

To save you the time of price comparison, Louboutin boots run about $2000; Ecco sandals can be purchased for under $50. The discussion shows the values of the wealthy in the United States who consider themselves to be far superior to the people who are educating their children.

Another story about insensitive superiority comes from Linda McMahon who poured $100 million into her two failed political campaigns for Connecticut senator. According to New Haven (CT) News 8, election campaign workers were not paid during the two days following Election Day. After they complained, they received checks that bounced. Twaine Don Gomes, who reported the problem, said his bounced check was accompanied by a little extra in the envelope. “Basically he handed me a check with a condom in it, told me I was screwed,” Gomes said. Maybe this means McMahon won’t be running a third time.

Stupidity meets superiority when Fox News pundit Andrea Tantaros dismissed the plight of hungry Americans, claiming that she would “look fabulous” if she were forced to live on a food stamp diet. Tantaros ignores the fact that the average Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) household has a monthly income of $731, and 76 percent include a child, elderly or disabled person. Without SNAP, even more Americans would go hungry.

Twinkies will be gone—at least temporarily—after U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain gave Hostess permission to wind down and sell off its assets. The decision means the closure of 33 bakeries, 565 distribution centers, approximately 5,500 delivery routes, and 570 bakery outlet stores along with the loss of 18,500 jobs. Hostess said about 3,200 workers are needed for a year to help with the liquidation. The sale of $2.4 billion would equal about one year in sales.

As might be expected, the company blamed union members for its failure. Yet earlier this year, the CEO received a 300-percent raise (from $750,000 to $2,550,000), and other executives almost doubled their exorbitant wages. Unions had already cut thousands of jobs and transferred or totally cut benefits while the company raided the retirement fund for easy funds. Flowers Foods (Georgia) and Sun Capital (Florida) appear to be interested in buying Hostess, putting the Twinkies back on the market. (Sun Capital CEO Marc Leder threw the party where Romney talked about the 47-percent moochers last May.)

So all the people who worked for Hostess lose their jobs and probably most of their pensions, the CEOs make out like bandits, and the company is reincarnated in a “right-to-work” state where the new workers will be paid minimum wage and get no pension. It’s another failure of the American Dream and another blow against the middle-class workers.

According to Josh Eidelson at The Nation, “For about twenty-four hours, Walmart workers, union members and a slew of other activists pulled off the largest-ever US strike against the largest employer in the world. According to organizers, strikes hit a hundred US cities, with hundreds of retail workers walking off the job (last month‘s strikes drew 160). Organizers say they also hit their goal of a thousand total protests, with all but four states holding at least one.” Walmart’s communicator, Dave Tovar, disagreed. “We are aware of a few dozen protests at our stores today.” Addicting Information has a sampling of photos and videos showing the protests.

Several other company CEOs are supporting poverty for the majority of people in the United States so that the highly-paid executives can pay less in taxes. Toward this end, they are lobbying Congress to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits.

Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren is part of a coalition with the campaign called “Fix the Debt” that spreads the myth that the country’s biggest problems are long-term debt and deficits rather than long-term high unemployment. The latter problem is actually appealing to company CEOs because it keeps the employees in line. Other members of the coalition are from Goldman, Sachs & Co.; Morgan Stanley; JPMorgan Chase & Co.; General Electric; Bank of America Corporation; Bain Capital; Delta Air Lines; JetBlue Airways; United Parcel Service; Marriott; and Starwood Hotels & Resorts. Fix the Debt’s website had more information.

The election honeymoon is over: it’s time to get back to work because the conservatives haven’t stopped.

November 22, 2012

My Thanks for 2012

Thanksgiving is a time that I express gratitude for the people around me, family and friends, who enrich my life. One special joy is the couple who comes from the city to celebrate their anniversary with us. Because the country and our state don’t have marriage equality, they, like us, are not legally married, but we still have our traditions. This year, as several times in the past, another friend came with her pies, and a local friend dropped by after her dinner with other friends.

This year, however, my gratitude goes far beyond my immediate family. The recent election, in which the majority of people voted for the president, Senate members, and House members, has given hope for the betterment of the United States. Because of gerrymandering in the “red states,” the House still has a majority of Republicans, but I take comfort in knowing that more people in the country voted for progressives than regressives.

Thanks to this recent vote, the country will not rush off to start wars the way it might have if  Mitt Romney’s hawkish advisers got their way. The military will not be forced to take an extra $2 trillion that they believe they don’t need. Dick Cheney won’t be back.

For another four years the Supreme Court is safely split between conservatives and liberals with one moderate (in the past a conservative) making most of the decisions. The Affordable Care Act is now the law of the land, and abortion will stay legal although conservatives will do everything they can to prevent it. Women will be able to get free contraception for their personal family planning.

Money won’t be taken from the poor and middle class to go to the wealthy, and the safety net will remain for people who don’t have the advantages that the rest of us do. The Dream Act stays in place; young people who were brought here illegally as children will not be forced into deportation.

LGBT rights will move forward instead of backward, possibly even evolving into marriage equality. The Departments of Energy and Education and Housing and all the others that conservatives wanted to eliminate will remain.

Unions can keep struggling on, and religion won’t overtake the country in the next four years. During that time, the demonization of teachers and other government workers may be reversed.

The Tea Party is weaker than ever. Their determination to dig themselves deeper into their holes may result in a cave-in of hate. This year’s election proved that money does not buy everything. Eighty percent of super PAC money went to conservative candidates, but most of those supported by the conservative PACs lost. People like Joe Walsh and Allen West will not be on Capitol Hill in January.

I’m grateful that there is one house in the United States that Romney cannot buy.

Grover Norquist, who blackmailed almost all Republican Congresspeople into signing a pledge of no new taxes under any circumstances, is losing his clout. A dozen newly elected House Republicans refused to sign the anti-tax pledge during their campaigns, and another handful of returning Republicans have disavowed their allegiance to the written commitment. In addition Democrats picked up eight seats. Fewer than the 218 members needed for a majority vote are now Grover followers. The Senate has the same non-Grover majority with only 39 pledge signers. In the 112th Congress, the House had 238 Grover followers and the Senate had 41.

I am grateful for all the people willing to stand in line, sometimes up to eight hours and sometimes in freezing temperatures, who refuse to be told that they can’t vote. And I appreciate the people who found open polls despite the conservatives’ misinformation about where and when voters could cast their ballots.

Equal marriage rights made huge gains in the country during the past year with the first popular vote in favor of same-sex marriage in not just one but three states. The one-year study on the effects of gays and lesbians openly serving in the military was very positive, showing no difficulties. I give thanks to people willing to vote for LGBT people and issue, to recognize these as part of the community at large.

Voters alsorejected anti-woman candidates such as Todd Akins (“legitimate rape”) and Richard Mourdock (“gift of rape”) and racist candidates such as Scott Brown who tried to destroy his opponent, Elizabeth Warren, by painting her as a liar about her Native American heritage, meanwhile ridiculing it.

I am grateful to the man who was elected president and his courage in the face of racist lies and threats. In the end, he won—and decisively–over the man who sneered at 47 percent of the people in the United States–the poor and disadvantaged–not only before the election but also after it. Because of the 53 percent of the people in the country who voted for Barack Obama, we will not spend four years with a president who started as a bully in his prep school and continued the practice during much of his life.

This year, perhaps more than any other, the choice was truly one of vision. The country is at a turning point: it can go forward or self-destruct. Thanks to all the people who understood this and voted, we can now move forward.

Today is Thanksgiving Day 2012. Tomorrow, November 23, is Native American Heritage Day, designated by President Obama in 2009 “to honor the contributions, achievements, sacrifices, and cultural and historical legacy of the original inhabitants of what is now the United States and their descendants: the American Indian and Alaska Native people.” I am grateful to the indigenous peoples of the United States who helped the immigrants four centuries ago to survive. The Presidential Proclamation identifies the entire month of November as a time to celebrate and honor Native Americans while never forgetting that there are “parts of our shared history that have been marred by violence and tragic mistreatment” and that “for centuries, Native Americans faced cruelty, injustice, and broken promises.”

“Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.” – Winston Churchill

November 21, 2012

Peace, Economic Security a Little Closer

Today’s Best News:

Israel and Hamas have agreed to a 72-hour cease-fire in Gaza after eight days of rocket fire and retaliatory Israeli air strikes left at least 100 Palestinians and three Israelis dead. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed to pursue a “comprehensive peace,” suggesting the Obama administration will rekindle two-state peace talks that have been frozen for the past three years over disagreements about Israeli settlements and future borders.

Occupy Wall Street (by now it seems to be Occupy the World) has come up with a great idea: the Rolling Jubilee project. When people can no longer pay their debts, individuals or companies can buy these debts at pennies on the dollar and then try to collect something from the people who owe money. Occupy has decided to buy these debts—and then forgive them. Even Forbes likes the idea. To test the idea, Occupy purchased $14,000 worth of outstanding loans for $500 and then pardoned the debtors. Now they are looking for donations to expand the project. Thus far they have managed to wipe out almost $10 million of debt for less than $50,000.

Occupy used Iceland for their model. After that country’s banks forgave loans equivalent to 13 percent of the GDP, Iceland’s consumer debt, its economy grew at 2.5 percent in this year’s first quarter. The result is expanded consumption, increased wages, improved standard of living, and no economic collapse. The banks’ action eased the debt burdens of over one-fourth of the country’s population.

Contrary to the beliefs of most conservatives, the U.S. “federal deficit has fallen faster over the past three years than it has in any such stretch since demobilization from World War II,” according to Matt Yglesias. This year the $1.089 trillion deficit is $200 billion smaller than last year and almost $300 billion smaller than when Barack Obama became president. This is not necessarily good news for economists because such a fast reduction in the deficit could lead to a recession, but learning about it might shut up all those candidates who use the deficit to whip the president. This chart, showing the rise and fall of the deficit over the past 60 years also indicates that Democrats seem to do better than Republicans. It appears that the liberals always have to clean up after conservatives. At least the Republicans shouldn’t be able to destroy the decrease in the deficit during the next four years.









The last piece of good news for today is that people in the United States may become more educated. There was a time when progressives felt that Fox News had a permanent stranglehold on the country’s population. Study after study showed that people watching Fox were more ignorant of political facts than those who didn’t follow any news, but the number of watchers kept growing. There’s a chance that Fox’s popularity is winding down. During the eight days after President Obama’s re-election, MSNBC’s average audience for the key 25-54 year old demographic drew about 8% more viewers than Fox, according the Nielsen ratings.

Two programs were at the top of the MSNBC lineup. Rachel Maddow won seven of the eight days against her Fox competition, Sean Hannity, beating him by an average 18 percent, and her 544k average was second to only Bill O’Reilly in all of cable news. Lawrence O’Donnell won all eight days against Fox’s Greta Van Susteren with a margin of victory of 17% for the eight days. Hannity, perhaps the most strident partisan host on Fox, frequently invites on his show Dick Morris, the man who loudly claimed the errors of polls indicating the president’s defeating Romney. Van Susteren has a close association with friend and client of her husband, Sarah Palin. The question is whether Fox will become more reasonable to keep an audience or ramp up the rhetoric of hatred and fear.

I’m guessing that the majority of conservatives had no idea how many lies the Republican candidates, led by the master of mendacity Mitt Romney, told them in expensive advertising. If the trend of watching MSNBC continues, the voters in the next election will be more aware of facts rather than Fox pundits’ impassioned attempts to sway the voters’ opinions through the largest collection of lies in any general election campaign since the invention of television.

In the election that seems so long ago but was decided only 15 days in the past, the majority of people voted for Democrats both in Congress and in the presidency. This happened despite the Republicans’ attempt to weed out Democratic voters across the country. Republicans need candidates who can win on their own merits, not through lying to voters and suppressing the votes. Maybe they will learn this.


November 20, 2012

Boycott Walmart This Weekend

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:02 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Thanksgiving Day is just a few days away, complete with the variety of emotional responses that it brings every year. Some people are depressed because they have lost loved ones; others try to figure out how they can eat non-stop. I have a wonderful vegan friend who mourns the turkey holocaust at Thanksgiving.

To many people, however, Thanksgiving means a shopping glut. Black Friday, named for the day that takes businesses out of the red, has now moved into Thursday, as early as 8:00 am that day for some retailers. This year, however, it might mean a continuing strike for thousands of Walmart employees who are fed up with low wages, erratic hours, lack of health benefits, and disrespect in the workplace while the multi-billionaire Walton Family enjoys tax breaks and praise for “job creation.”

Walmart workers in factories and warehouses and retail stores plan a massive walkout on Friday, November 23, hoping to affect at least 1000 retail stores.   Beginning with just 70 people walking out, protests earlier this fall from Florida to California showcased the mistreatment of the majority of the over 2 million Walmart workers in more than 5000 stores across the nation. Demonstrators are asking for better wages, stable and improved working conditions, and less retaliation from management when speaking out. Not only are wages stagnant, but Walmart often refuses to honor overtime pay. With its massive presence in the country’s retail world, Walmart comprises 2 percent of the U.S. GDP.

Shoppers looking for the cheap prices at these stores are unaware of how much the Walton family costs them personally: employees in each store receive an annual average of $420,000 for food stamps and other taxpayer help just to survive. That’s $2.66 billion a year that Walmart costs the taxpayers, not counting the hundreds of millions of dollars in payroll tax deductions for federal, state, and local taxes because of the low wages. Walmart’s low wages cost taxpayers $1.02 billion a year in healthcare costs because of the low wages; they cost taxpayers at least $225 million in free and reduced-price school lunches for children.

Walmart CEO Michael Duke’s $18.1 million compensation makes him the second highest paid executive in the Fortune 500.  The protesters are asking for a minimum hourly wage of $13, more full time positions, and affordable health care. Currently the average employee gets $22,100 a year, just below the federal poverty level for a family of four ($23,050). The increase would take them up to $27,000, less than 18 percent above poverty level. The raise that they want would still keep them at a level allowing them to get Medicaid in many states.

In the coming year, Walmart employees’ portion of health care premiums is expected to go up to 36 percent, yet they will have  no increase in wages. Although Walmart indicated that the increase would be only 4.4 percent, the company plans to increase the cost of high-premium plans. Deductible for the health plans is $1,750 before employees receive the 80 percent for doctor visits, test, and some other services. Making $10 per hour, employees work 175 hours for that deductible, an entire month’s salary each year if they are lucky enough to work full time.

Prevented from unionizing, Walmart employees have formed grassroots coalitions such as Making Change at Walmart and Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart).  But even joining these has caused some employees to be fired or had their hours drastically reduced.

Walmart Stores has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, asking the National Labor Relations Board to halt what the retailer says are unlawful efforts to disrupt its business. “Walmart is grasping at straws,” said the union’s communications director, Jill Cashen. “There’s nothing in the law that gives an employer the right to silence workers and citizens.”

In the meantime, Walmart is working hard to minimize the protests. David Tovar called the protests just “a few people” speaking out. “It’s smoke and mirrors,” said Tovar. “The vast majority of our associates like working at Walmart.” [Below are some of Tovar’s “few people.”]

CNN anchor Carol Costella not only questioned why Walmart refused to negotiate with worker but also asked Tovar, “Is it Walmart’s responsibility to make sure that its employees can support a strong middle-class lifestyle?” Tovar answered, “We’re working hard every day to provide more opportunities for associates.” His answer didn’t explain how full-time Walmart workers can have a comfortable life on $15,000 a year, but Tovar said that their employees get a 10 percent discount card.

Although Walmart has not had a strike in its 50-year history, threats at 700 stores a few years ago led to better conditions. High-level leadership say that they are not concerned, but they have released a seven-page memo telling how to handle the situation in very benign but covertly-threatening language. Allegations include harassment, cut hours, and other discipline when workers joined a protest group.

A new study, Retail’s Hidden Potential: How Raising Wages Would Benefit Workers, finds that increasing wages to $25,000 a year for a full-time worker would raise prices by no more than 1 percent and perhaps not at all. Such an action would lift 1.5 million retail workers out of poverty or near-poverty, create 100,000 or more jobs, and generate over $4 billion in additional retail sales. It could be its own stimulus. The study also notes that major retailers spend billions more on repurchasing their own stock than it would cost them to implement the proposed wage floor. A wage increase would pay Walmart dividends in terms of greater consumer demand, increased productivity, and better worker retention.

Owners of Walmart, the Waltons, are the wealthiest family in the United States. They have amassed a fortune equivalent to that of the bottom 41.5 percent of the country in 2010, nearly 49.5 million families. That percentage is up 10 percent from 30.5 percentage just three years earlier. Six members of the Walton family appear on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans with a collective value of $102.7 billion.

No. 6:   Christy Walton (widow of John Walton), $25.3 billion

No. 9:   Jim Walton, $23.7 billion

No. 10: Alice Walton, $23.3 billion

No. 11:  S. Robson Walton, oldest son of Sam Walton, $23.1 billion

No. 103: Ann Walton Kroenke, $3.9 billion

No. 139: Nancy Walton Laurie, $3.4 billion

A common contrast to Walmart is Costco, a business that pays its workers at least 50 percent more than Walmart does. Higher wages for workers benefit everyone in the country. A 2011 study by the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank found that consumer spending increases $2,800 a year for for every dollar increase to that worker’s wages. Another study in 2009 that examined minimum wage showed  that raising the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour would increase $30 billion in spending during just one year.

Higher wages also decrease employee turnover and improve productivity. Costco has less than half the employee turnover rate of Walmart, the lowest employee theft figures in the industry, and greater productivity among its employees. One of the most successful businessmen in the 20th century understood this principal. In 1914, a time of deep recession, Henry Ford doubled his employees’ hourly wages. He said, “If you cut wages, you just cut the number of your own customers. If an employer does not share prosperity with those who make him prosperous, then pretty soon there will be no prosperity to share. That is why we think it is good business always to raise wages and never to lower them. We like to have plenty of customers.”

The growth of Walmart has played a large part in shrinking the middle class in the United States and destroyed large numbers of small businesses, particularly in small towns. I can identify at least 32 businesses that disappeared after Walmart invaded my small town almost 20 years go. Politicians have inundated the airwaves with the term “small business” for the past election cycle while refusing to admit that the middle class, the foundation for a solid economy, comes from wages. Walmart workers, and others like them, can’t afford to purchase what their employees sell.

I wish the Walmart workers good fortune in their courageous endeavors and hope you will join me in not shopping at Walmart this Thanksgiving weekend.

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