Nel's New Day

November 30, 2013

Black Friday Violence, Consumerism

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:28 PM
Tags: ,

Black Friday is over for another year, and Bill Simon, new CEO for Wal-Mart, declared that more than 22 million shoppers showed up on the day before Black Friday (in the past, called Thanksgiving). They may have come, but they didn’t buy that much more than last year. Wal-Mart’s increase was 0.10 percent. Macy’s and Target’s sales were both down from last year although they opened on Thanksgiving Day.

The frenzy over Thanksgiving Day shopping brought in an additional 2.3 percent income on Thursday and Friday, but sales dropped 13 percent on Black Friday. Even traffic that day was down 11 percent from last year. 

Here are a few examples of shopping intensity from this past week with more visuals available:

  • Shooting in Las Vegas. After a shopper bought a large television, he was shot as he carried it home. Warning shots caused the buyer to drop the television, and he was hit in the leg after the suspect fired two more shots.
  • Fight over parking at a Rialto (CA) Wal-Mart: At least three people got into a fight because shoppers were cutting in line, according to Sgt. Nicholas Borchard. Two people were taken into custody.
  • Shoplifting shooting in Romeoville (IL): After a car dragged a police officer answering a call of alleged shoplifting at Kohl’s, another officer shot the car’s driver.
  • Guns and knives at Claypool Hill (VA) Wal-Mart:  Christopher Jackson, 35, threatened Ronnie Sharp, 61, with a gun and then cut Jackson’s arm “down to the bone.” The argument was over a parking place. Both men were arrested.
  • Pepper-spraying at Garfield (NJ Wal-Mart: After a man got into an argument with the store manager, police pepper-sprayed him.
  • Fight over televisions at a North Carolina Wal-Mart: Almost thirty people crowded about television sets in the story and started pushing each other before one man threw another one to the ground.
  • Tasering at a Philadelphia mall: Two women throwing punches at each other led to one woman using a stun gun on the other.
  • Stabbing at a Carlsbad (NM) mall:  An 18-year-old old man was hospitalized after he was stabbed in the stomach at the entrance of the Westfield Plaza Camino Real mall.
  • More Wal-Mart brawls.

Luckily there were no reports of deaths because of shoppers. Five years ago, an employee at a Long Island Wal-Mart store was trampled to death by the crowd. Although sales were slightly up this year from last, more people are opting out with only 13 percent planning to participate in Black Friday as compared to 17 percent last year. Each year for the past four years, online shopping has increased, resulting in the marketer-created term “Cyber Monday.”

Shoppers like to think that Black Friday prices are far lower—making the brawls, shootings, and knifings understandable—but research indicates that Elmo dolls, Ugg boots, Samsung TVs, and KitchenAid stand mixers are less expensive at other times. According to Consumer Reports, many home appliances and small consumer electronics are cheapest in December.

Retailers want shoppers on Black Friday because companies can’t plan as well for later shopping. Last year, $11 million went into television advertising for Black Friday, almost five times the money spent for 2011 ads.  Even so, four of the ten biggest shopping days are expected to be during the week leading up to Christmas.

One notable arrest in the thousands of Wal-Mart strikes and protests was a man dressed in a red suit. Protesting unfair wages and working hours at the retailer in San Bernadino (CA), Karl Hilgert came dressed as Santa Claus. With nine other people sitting in a circle and refusing to leave, Hilgert said, “I’m going to get arrested for civil disobedience.” He was.

santa

Experts predict that the steeper deals that brought people in will hurt fourth-quarter earnings because consumers failed to make the impulse buys necessary for a profit. People came, they bought the cheap stuff, and they left. Once again, amazon.com showed that it’s winning, with its discounts every ten minutes throughout the week. And there’s less violence with Internet shopping.

This week may be a turning point in our culture. More people are opposing the consumerism of Black Friday—and now its predecessor Thanksgiving Day—while many others are turning to online shopping.

black-friday-meme

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November 28, 2013

Traditions for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day can be a time of traditions. Each year, for example, friends visit and celebrate their partnership anniversary with us. We talked about anniversaries last evening. I commented that even though my partner and I married at the beginning of October this year that I’ll always think of my anniversary as the day that my partner and I selected 44 years ago to celebrate.

Traditions also change. For many Thanksgiving days, the four of us listened to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” starting exactly at noon on our public radio station. If you haven’t heard it, I heartily recommend the experience. This year, however, the programming changed, eliminating the airing of the performance. We briefly mourned. Eating, parades, football, and shopping are other Thanksgiving traditions that have changed over the years.

Some of the history:

Much as people like to think that Pilgrims held the “first” Thanksgiving, its tradition began before that event. The Thanksgiving feast is a harvest festival; thus other cultures celebrated this season, sometimes with thankful offerings to gods. Some claim that the first feast in North America between foreigners—like the Pilgrims—and natives was in 1541 when Francisco de Coronado and his expedition broke bread with the natives at Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle. Other historians prefer the one in Florida with French Huguenots celebrating on June 30th of 1564 or the one celebrated by the Spanish on September 8, 1565. There were also ones at the Jamestown colony in 1609 and Roanoke in 1586, and Ponce de Leon had one near St. Petersburg (FL) in 1513.

The Plymouth feast took three days. Both Pilgrims and American Indians contributed, but turkey wasn’t served. Colonist Edward Winslow reported that “wild fowl” was on the menu, which could have been duck or geese. The celebrants did eat venison, shellfish, and lobster as well as nuts, wheat flour, pumpkins, squashes, carrots, and peas. Images of clothing provided to school children are also wrong. Because buckles were too expensive, Pilgrims’ clothing used buttons and laces for fastening. The misunderstanding came from nineteenth-century illustrators who used clothing popular among fashionable Englishmen in the 1600s.

Although conservatives like to think that the founding fathers made Thanksgiving a national holiday—and George Washington wanted it to be so—Thomas Jefferson thought the idea was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard. The official proclamation of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November didn’t occur until 1863, after 40 years of Sarah Josepha Hale’s letter-campaign to five presidents. Southern states, which had already seceded from the Union, opposed the holiday because they thought it was a “New England” holiday. Even 150 years ago, conservatives fought the government on the simplest concepts. No nationwide Thanksgiving date existed until the 1870s.

In 1939, President F.D. Roosevelt proclaimed that the day for Thanksgiving would be changed to the fourth Thursday in November to help the economy by lengthening the Christmas shopping season. Republicans opposed the change and called it Democrat Thanksgiving or “Franksgiving.” They celebrated their own Republican Thanksgiving the next Thursday. Two years later, Congress confirmed Roosevelt’s day by passing a law which Roosevelt signed.

“Black Friday” started over 50 years ago in Philadelphia. The term was named after the mass of shoppers that came to the malls causing heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic, and the name stuck. After retailers failed to change the nickname, they defined the term as the day of the year that puts retailers into the “black.” That might be true for smaller retailers, but large retail chains like Wal-Mart start with a positive net income on January 1. Black Friday shopping is known for attracting aggressive crowds and annual reports of assaults, shootings, and throngs of people trampling on other shoppers in an attempt to get the best deal before supplies run out.

The day after Thanksgiving is also the biggest day for bar and liquor sales. Some people guess that it’s caused by the long holiday weekend and being around family.

Conservatives might also be distressed by the origination of the word “turkey,” corrupted from the Hebrew tukki. Columbus’ Jewish interpreter, Luis de Torres, called the wild birds tukki because they looked like peacocks to him. Other linguists think that turkey originated from tuka, the Tamil word for peacock.

Every year, since Abraham Lincoln, the president has pardoned two turkeys for Thanksgiving. (This year’s winner is Popcorn, with Caramel the runner-up. Both turkeys will live.) The tradition began accidentally when Lincoln informally pardoned his son Tad’s pet, Jack the Turkey. Pardoning occurred sporadically until 1947 when Harry Truman made it official. For a while, the pardoned turkeys retired to Disneyland’s Big Thunder Ranch (CA); the location moved in 2010 to George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

Last year, about 254 million turkeys were raised the U.S. A myth surrounding them is that the tryptophan in the meat makes people sleepy. It’s not really enough to make any different. Scientists guess that it’s alcohol, or excessive food, or just relaxing with good company.

Yale and Princeton started the football tradition when they played their first game in 1876. The NFL joined in 1934 when the Detroit Lions played the Chicago Bears. Detroit has played every year since then except during World War II. The Dallas Cowboys added another game in 1966. This year, the Lions play the Green Bay Packers while the Cowboys play the Raiders. A third game is the Jacksonville Jaguars facing the Baltimore Ravens. High school games are called “Turkey Bowls.”

Macy’s first Thanksgiving Day parade in 1924, called “The Christmas Parade,” used live animals from the Central Park Zoo and was billed as “The Christmas Parade.” Three years later, Goodyear added a giant balloon of Felix the Cat. For the next six years, balloons just floated off into the sky at the end of the parade, and Macy’s gave everyone who found a deflated balloon $100. Snoopy, who joined the parade in 1968 and showed up another six times, has the record for the most appearances. In 1946, the parade route moved to its current starting point at 77th and Central Park West, and in 1947, it was first nationally televised. Macy’s thought about cancelling the parade 50 years after the Kennedy assassination, but then decided to continue the tradition. About 3.5 million watch the parade on New York streets with another 50 million seeing it on television.

Native Hawaiians celebrate Makahiki, their own “Thanksgiving” festival, dedicated to the agriculture and fertility god, Lono. Starting in late October, the Hawaiians suspended all war for four months as they feasted, played games, danced, and generally made merry with Lono was in charge. They carried a tiki of Lono, trimmed with ferns and feathers, around each island to mark the start of the makahiki season. When Ku took over again at the end of the lunar calendar of January, they set adrift a canoe with offerings to Lono.

Since 1975, following the 17-month occupation of Alcatraz Island by the American Indian Movement in 1969, the International Indian Treaty Council has an annual “Unthanksgiving Day.” A sunrise ceremony commemorates the struggles of the indigenous native people.

If you enjoy Thanksgiving, thank your progressive presidents and lawmakers who overcame conservative opposition to bring this holiday to the people in the United States. And if you like shopping, be careful that some desperate person doesn’t accidentally kill you tomorrow.

Thanks to T. Steelman for some of the above information and a list of sources:

  • A Taste of Thanksgiving: Curious Facts About America’s Holiday by Christopher Forest
  • Ancient Ways: Reclaiming Pagan Traditions by Pauline Campanelli and Dan Campanelli
  • Hawaiian Mythology by Martha Warren Beckwith

November 27, 2013

A Wish List for Thanksgiving

In browsing the Internet I found Bernie Sander’s wish list from nine years ago to make the country better. Thanksgiving is a time to dream about a better nation. Let’s see how we have done in nine years:

Campaign Finance and Election Reform: The wealthy and large corporations cannot be allowed to continue to buy political parties and candidates. We must move to full public funding of elections. Same-day registration will encourage low-income people to vote, and stop the United States from having the lowest voter turnout of any industrialized nation on earth. Since that time: The U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of Citizens United to turn the corporations and wealthy loose and allowed voter suppression by overturning part of the Voters’ Rights Act.

Protect and Expand the Safety Net: We must beat back the efforts to destroy Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and public education, and the attacks on children and the poor. This country is wealthy enough so that every man, woman and child should be able to live in dignity and security. Since that time: The extremist GOP has worked to cut back food and housing for the poor increasing the number of homeless and hungry after the recession.

Revise Our National Priorities: We should eliminate funding for wasteful and duplicative weapons systems and the $125 billion we currently spend on corporate welfare. We should increase funding for job-creating improvements in our physical and human infrastructure, as well as the needs of our elderly and children. Since that time: The last two Congresses have completely ignored any help for the growing unemployment problem, and the military gets more and more money.

Reform the Tax System to Make It Fair: Over the last 20 years, the federal tax system has lowered taxes for the wealthy and large corporations, and raised taxes for the middle class and working families. In a nation which currently has the most unfair distribution of wealth and income in the industrialized world, we must fight for a tax system which is progressive and fair. Since that time: The inequality of income in the United States has become the worst in almost a century.

Raise the Minimum Wage: In 1996, against tremendous opposition, Congress raised the minimum wage from $4.25 an hour to $5.15. We must do better. The purchasing power of the minimum wage today is much lower than it was 20 years ago. Every American worker who works 40 hours a week must earn enough to live above the poverty line. That’s why I have introduced legislation which would raise the minimum wage to a living wage. Since that time: The federal minimum wage has been increased to $7.25 but still fails to match what people were paid 50 years ago.

A Fair Trade Policy: We are losing millions of well-paying manufacturing and information technology jobs as corporations “outsource” to China, Mexico, and India where workers are paid substantially lower wages. We need a new trade policy which protects the middle class of this country, and not the CEOs of large companies. Legislation that I have offered would radically alter our role in the global economy – protecting the workers of this country and the developing world. Since that time: The president is working to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership which would give most of the control to corporations and stopping Congress from protecting workers. Individual states controlled by GOP governors and legislatures have consistently destroyed unions to give money to corporations and the wealthy.

Protect Civil Rights for All: Against enormous and well-funded opposition, we must redouble our efforts to protect a woman’s right to choose, support affirmative action, and end discrimination against minorities and gay people. Since that time: The GOP has barraged women with restrictions on reproductive rights, and the U.S. Supreme Court is reducing affirmative action. Good News! Sixteen states and the federal government have legalized same-sex marriage, and ENDA, the bill to stop job discrimination for LGBT people, was passed in the Senate with ten Republicans voting in favor of it.

National Health Care: The health care crisis is getting worse, not better. More and more American lack health insurance; Medicare and Medicaid are under savage assault and millions of people are being forced into “managed care.” Despite all this, the United States continues to have the most costly and wasteful health care system in the world. We must continue our fight for a single-payer national health care system which guarantees health care for all Americans. We must also take on the pharmaceutical industry which is ripping off American consumers and charging us the highest drug prices in the world. Since that time: The Affordable Care Act has passed, although it’s under tremendous attack by the GOP. It lacks the single-payer provision that would help, and 25 states refuse to provide Medicaid at an acceptable level, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. But it’s a start. Sanders’ state has passed the single-payer health care system which will be fully operational by 2017.

People who live in the United States want to think that the country is exceptional. Below are ways to make this come true:

Raising the Minimum Wage: Seventy-one percent of people in the United States support raising the minimum wage to $9.00.  Doing this would still not make it equal to the minimum wage in the 1960s, but it would be a start.

Universal Background Checks for Gun Purchases: Most people in the country support laws to start keeping  guns out of the hands of terrorists, felons, and mentally disabled.

Balanced Deficit Reduction: The country needs a balanced approach to reduce the debt, according to 76 percent of the nation’s voters.  Balanced means, to explain it to the GOP, both spending cuts and additional tax revenues. 

Job-Creating Infrastructure Investments: An investment in repairing and replacing the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure—roads, bridges, airports, etc.—would create hundreds of thousands of jobs. A majority of people support this, despite the continued opposition from federal GOP legislators who want to give more money to wealthy and corporate special interests such as the oil industry.

Pathway to Earned Citizenship: The 11 million immigrants without legal papers in the country contribute to the economy and work at jobs that others refuse to do. A majority of Republicans and 70 percent of all people in nation support the Senate bill that House GOP members refuse to vote on.

Expanding the Medicaid Program: Two-thirds of Americans favor the part of ObamaCare that calls for expanding the Medicaid program. All that stops health care across the United States are GOP governors and state legislators.

Marriage Equality: Marriage equality is now legal on a federal basis, but many states still refuse to legalize same-sex marriage, continuing the second-class situation for many of LGBT people across the nation. A study now shows that opposition to this equality is concentrated “among a few narrow demographic groups.”

Ending Job Discrimination for LGBT People: Transgender people can be discriminated against in 33 states and lesbians/gays in 29 states. Federal law needs to stop that.

Universal Access to Birth Control: ObamaCare requires health insurers to offer birth control at no additional cost, a policy supported by 70 percent of Americans. This policy is also supported by a majority of Catholics despite continuing opposition by Catholic bishops. Studies show that free contraception drastically reduces the number of abortions in the country, a goal for all

Expanded Early Childhood Education: Two-thirds of people in the country support universal pre-kindergarten for all four-year-olds and an expansion of other early childhood education programs. Without these and other education reforms, we have fallen far behind many other developed countries. And add higher education to reform by drastically reducing costs for public higher education.

Single-payer Health Care: Traditional Medicare administrative costs are 1 percent, costs for a combination of traditional and private insurer Medicare is 6 percent, and administrative costs for private insurers for the rest of the people is 20 percent—sometimes more. The solution to saving money is “Medicare for all.”

Environmental Protections: Industrial expansion and growth of cities are causing land resources to dwindle, factory waste is polluting water sources, poisonous gas is polluting the air, and deserts are spreading. Resources on this planet are finite, and humans need to make the Earth sustainable for future generations.

Equal Rights for Men and Women: Alice Paul wrote the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1923; it passed both chambers of Congress in 1972 but failed to get the necessary 28 number of ratifications by the deadline a decade later. The amendment very simply stated, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Twenty-one states have a version of the ERA in their constitutions.

Also think about the rest of Bernie Sanders’ agenda: Voting Rights, Cuts in Defense Spending, Public Funding of Campaigns for Elected Officials, Increased Social Security Benefits, Tax Reform to Reverse Income Inequity, Reproductive Rights (which helps both men and women), and Unemployment Reform. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

November 26, 2013

Tell Your Family about Obamacare on Thanksgiving

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:32 PM
Tags: , , ,

With Thanksgiving only two days away, many of us who are lucky enough to not have to go to work are getting ready to spend the day with family and friends. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by progressive people who don’t watch Fox and look at the world with a rationale mind. For those who have invited the crazy uncle, one of Rachel Maddow’s favorite characters, here are some ways to talk about the Obamacare controversy. He may not listen, but at least you’ll have your talking points ready. 

MYTH: “Obamacare will make my premiums go up.”

FACT: Most people will probably pay lower health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act—certainly House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) because he isn’t complaining about higher costs. Many others—nearly 75 percent of people in individual plans—will be eligible for financial assistance. Those who have to pay more or don’t get subsidies most likely live in states where politicians block the new law. For example, a person in Wisconsin spends an annual average of $1800 more than a person in Minnesota.

Before Obamacare, people paid money for many services not covered by the insurance plan—sometimes even hospitalization; the new law has rules about what plans have to cover. Thus premiums may be higher, but in the long run people pay less. With people using preventive care instead of expensive emergency care, costs will be less for everyone.

MYTH: “Obama lied about me being able to keep my health care plan under Obamacare.”

FACT: President Obama didn’t lie. The law grandfathered in all existing “junk” policies, but insurance companies kept adding them, knowing that they wouldn’t be allowed to keep foisting them on people after Obamacare went into effect so they could move them on to more expensive plans. Health insurance companies are responsible for the cancellation of their policies.

The new law requires health insurance plans must cover at least 60 percent of the total cost of medical services for a standard population. Plans must also cover at least ten essential services, including lab services and hospitalization. Just as the government has rules about selling lead toys, bad meat, and moldy produce, the new law established rules about the quality of health insurance plans. People who don’t check the Health Insurance Marketplace for a less expensive plan, they deserve to pay more.

MYTH: “Obamacare steals from Medicare.”

FACT: The Affordable Care Act actually helps Medicare by eliminating waste and inefficiency. Politifact and most other news organizations that have covered the issue have proved this myth false. Medicare benefits are not affected by the health reform law, but they would be affected if we turned it into a voucher system.

The Affordable Care Act can potentially save $716 billion over 10 years by reducing Medicare spending—reducing subsidies to private Medicare Advantage plans and taxing drug companies, device makers, and insurers. These taxes won’t cost companies more because the law gives them many new customers. Medicare benefits can only be affected by budgets from conservative people in Congress such as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) if they pass laws that replace Medicare with “vouchers” on the private market.

MYTH: “Obamacare is forcing me to buy health care.”

FACT: People can pay a small fee if they don’t purchase health insurance. But people need to know that no one can escape the need for health care. Young people may think that they are invincible until they contract meningitis or get hit by a speeding car. Until now, people who could not afford health insurance or chose not to buy it simply got medical care at the emergency rooms. If they couldn’t afford to pay for costs at the emergency room, other people did it—creating higher premiums for people who have health insurance. That means that everyone in the United States was paying for “universal health care” because no one can be denied health care at emergency rooms. It was just far more expensive.

MYTH: “Obamacare isn’t working because the federal government can’t do anything right.”

FACT: The Affordable Care Act is working, as evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of people who are already getting Medicaid and have signed up for health insurance through exchanges in some states. Healthcare.gov, the website, is not working well right now. But that’s a temporary problem. Also Obamacare has been working well for years as young people could be kept on parents’ plans until they turned 26, lifetime caps were done away with, people got rebates from insurance companies because the overhead costs were too high, and preexisting conditions could not keep people from getting insurance.

The part of Obamacare that doesn’t work is in states where GOP politicians refuse to accept federal money to ensure people through Medicaid. Without that benefit, poor people are still going to emergency rooms, driving up costs for people who do have insurance. Social Security and Medicare work just fine now although there were glitches in these popular programs when they were first developed.

MYTH: “Obamacare is a government takeover of health care. I don’t want socialized medicine!”

FACT: Every plan on the Health Insurance Marketplace comes from a private company. The program is based on free-market capitalism in which every insurance company can charge what it wants. The difference is that people can see what each one costs, and the competition brings down prices. In the past, buying insurance was like going into restaurants with no prices listed on their menus.

The original idea for the Affordable Care Act came from the conservative Heritage Foundation and first proposed by GOP members of Congress in the early 1990s. The law took great chunks out of GOP bills in Congress, a total of 38.5 percent, in fact.

MYTH: “We can’t afford Obamacare.”

FACT: The Affordable Care Act pays for itself and cuts the federal deficit at the same time. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates Obamacare will cut the federal budget deficit by $210 billion dollars within eight years. These savings come from a combination of putting fees on insurers and device-makers, ending subsidies to expensive Medicare Advantage plans, and reducing Medicare payments to hospitals and insurers by eliminating waste and fraud. And at the same time, individual people are paying less for their health insurance plans.

A few more basics of the Affordable Care Act:

  •  Very little is changing for the vast majority of Americans, despite the anecdotes that the media and conservative lawmakers have provided—many of them false. The big changes are mostly taking place in the “non-group” market—that is, for individuals who buy coverage on their own rather than through an employer, Medicare, or Medicaid.
  • One of the law’s goal is for everyone to have a decent health insurance policy with a comprehensive set of benefits and limits on what people pay out-of-pocket.
  • Another goal is to give coverage at uniform prices regardless of people’s pre-existing conditions—“guaranteed issue” and “community rating.”
  • Reforms already keeping down the price of insurance include limiting the amount of money that insurance companies can siphon off for premiums and overhead, saving $2.1 billion for people last year.
  • Subsidies offsetting premium increases, up to several thousands of dollars, will help almost 75 percent of people on individual plans.
  • Many people buying individual insurance will find that they pay much less now for health insurance because of tax credits or eligibility for Medicaid—at least in the states that allow people to benefit from these savings.

Just as each person is different, each plan is different based on income, place of residence, etc. The biggest concern is that the young, healthy, and wealthy subsidize the old, sick, and non-wealthy. It’s what we do with Social Security. When those young people get old, other young people will pay for them. People with no children still pay for schools, people with no need for police still pay for law enforcement—the list goes on. That’s called citizenship.

Answers for relatives other than your crazy uncle are at this website. At least you’re not sitting down at the same table as Liz and Mary Cheney.

Republican politicians are terrified that the Affordable Care Act will be a success. The new “House Republican Playbook” has sent its membership home over Thanksgiving to look for Obamacare horror stories and then publish them far and wide.

In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is having a rocky time running for re-election after declaring Obamacare as unsalvageable. He represents a state considered one of the unhealthiest and most uninsured in the country—640,000 people with no insurance. Now the state has signed up 48,000 people for insurance and are adding over 1,000 a day.

Kentuckian Ronald Hudson now has insurance for the first time in his life. With five kids, his salary is $14,000, and he owes $23,000 in hospital bills. When he is told that he qualifies for a medical card, he said, “Well, thank God! I believe I’m going to be a Democrat.”

That’s what the GOP fears.

November 25, 2013

Wal-Mart, Not a Place to Give Thanks

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:29 PM
Tags: , , , ,

In less than four days Wal-Mart opens its doors at 6:00 am on Thanksgiving day and stays open for 41 hours, trying to entice all the Black Friday shoppers into its stores. Almost 200,000 people have signed petitions protesting the new hours. If the company were not unfair to its 2.1 million workers, two-thirds of them in the United States, people might not be as upset. But the corporation has a reputation for paying its employees under the poverty level, an average of $8.81 per hour, and opposes any union structure.

Workers in 28 stores across 12 states went on strike, and a probe by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is siding with the company’s labor force. Wal-Mart may have to rehire its fired workers because the company “unlawfully threatened employees with reprisal if they engaged in strikes and protests on November 22, 2012” and at other times. NLRB can also force Wal-Mart to tell workers of their rights to unionize.

Things are so bad at Wal-Mart that CEO Mike Duke quit this morning before tomorrow’s shareholders meeting.

Some Wal-Mart facts

  • Wal-Mart employs more people than any other company in the United States outside of the federal government.
  • The majority of its employees with children live below the poverty line, and the children qualify for school free lunches.
  • One-third of the employees are part-time, limited to less than 28 hours per week and thus ineligible for benefits such as health care.
  • Employees make 25 percent less after two years at the job than their unionized counterparts working for other companies.
  • Employees take home on average under $250 per week.
  • Last year, only 18 percent of hourly workers received any pay raise at all.
  • When the United Food and Commercial Workers tried to organize workers across the country, labor experts were brought in for “coaching sessions” (aka intimidation sessions) with personnel who support unionization. Employees complained that these were intimidation sessions.
  • Full-time employees are eligible for benefits, but the employees are required to pay 35 percent of the health insurance package.
  • Not one in 50 workers has amassed as much as $50,000 through the stock-ownership pension plan although Wal-Mart matches 15 percent of the first $1,800 in stocks purchased. (Voting power for these stocks remains with Wal-Mart management.)
  • Over 85 percent of its goods are made outside the U.S. and often in sweatshops.
  • Musicians are frequently forced to create “sanitized” versions of their albums specifically for Wal-Mart.
  • Wal-Mart has forced many U.S. manufacturers out of business.
  • The company has been the primary distributor of many goods attracting controversy, including Kathie Lee Gifford’s clothing line, Disney’s Haitian-made pajamas, child-produced clothing from Bangladesh, and sweatshop-produced toys and sports gear from Asia.

In the U.S., Wal-Mart makes over $13,000 in pre-tax profits per employee (after paying them), which comes to more than 50 percent of the earnings of a 40-hour-per-week wage earner. At the same time, Wal-Mart costs taxpayers $5,815 per employee for food stamps, welfare, Medicaid, etc. That’s over $1.7 million per year for just one store. Wal-Mart has over 4,000 stores in the U.S.

The six Walton heirs together own as much wealth as 40 percent of the U.S. population. Last year, four members of the Wal-Mart family made a combined $20 billion from their investments. Less than half that would have increased the salary for each Wal-Mart worker by $3 an hour, enough to end the taxpayer contributions for these employees.

When Wal-Mart stores arrive, small businesses close, and employees in other stores have their wages lowered. An example is the experience of supermarket employees in Los Angeles: just the possibility of a Wal-Mart opening there dropped the pay scale markedly for new hires. After public opposition kept Wal-Mart stores from coming into most of L.A., the pay scale went back up.

Thirty years ago, Wal-Mart displayed “Buy America” and “Made in America” signs, but the marketing program was fraudulent. Even then, the corporation was shifting its purchasing to Asia. At the beginning of this year, the company declared that it would put $50 billion into buying domestic goods over the next decade. That’s really 1.5 percent of its expenditure on inventory.

Most of this $50 billion will go into its expansion in groceries. With Wal-Mart taking over the grocery business—25 percent of it at the beginning of the year—other grocers lose business and buy less. The result is no new jobs but lower wages for workers. In the past decade, Wal-Mart’s gross from groceries has increased from 24 percent in 2003 to its current 55 percent, and the company plans to take over more of the grocery share with its Neighborhood Market stores and new supercenters.

Georgia towel maker, 1888 Mills, will provide Wal-Mart with “American-made towels” but will maintain its overseas workforce of 14,000. The U.S. factory will add only 35 jobs at $12-$14 per hour.

Wal-Mart has often been compared to its competitor Costco which  offers its employees an average wage of $21.96 an hour, about 40 percent more than Wal-Mart employees make. Wal-Mart’s profits sank the second quarter of the year while Costco saw a 19-percent increase. There’s another company, however, that should be a model for Wal-Mart as it goes into the grocery business.

WinCo, a small privately-held chain of 100 supermarkets in western United States, manages to undercut Wal-Mart prices. And how?

  • It cuts out distributors and other middle “men” by buying many goods directly from farms and factories.
  • It doesn’t accept credit cards.
  • Customers bag their own groceries.
  • Stores are organized and minimalist without frills and a tremendous variety of merchandise.
  • Employees have decent health care benefits for those who work at least 24 hours a week.
  • Some of WinCo’s 400 nonexecutive workers, including cashiers and produce clerks, have pensions worth over $1 million because WinCo puts an amount equal to 20% of employees’ annual salary into a pension plan.

And WinCo is going to Texas, competing with Wal-Mart and offering lower prices.

During the recession, Wal-Mart cut employees hours so deeply that stores could not keep their shelves stocked causing customers to go elsewhere. In the past five years, the U.S. workforce dropped by 120,000 while the company opened 500 new stores. With longer check-outlines, backlogged inventory, and poor customer service, Wal-Mart will move 35,000 part-time workers to full-time and another 35,000 temps, who have to re-apply for their jobs every 180 days, to part-time.

The Affordable Care Act will require new full-time employees to get health insurance after 90 days instead of the usual six months. Workers still have to be employed an average of 30 hours a week for a year to get the benefits; most “associates” at Wal-Mart don’t have the opportunity to work this many hours.  

Food for thought as you schedule your shopping this week.

November 24, 2013

Judge Strikes Down Pastor’s Housing Tax Exemptions

The annual “War on Christmas” shrieks from the far-right will fade compared to the primal screams regarding to the federal judge decision. Judge Barbara Crabb, Western District of Wisconsin, struck down a 1954 law giving the “ministers of gospel” billions of dollars in tax exemptions for housing. In her decision she wrote that the law  “violates the establishment clause… because the exemption provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise.”

Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) wrote in a news release:

“Ministers may, for instance, use the untaxed income to purchase a home, and, in a practice known as ‘double dipping, may then deduct interest paid on the mortgage and property taxes. Clergy are permitted to use the housing allowance not just for rent or mortgage, but for home improvements including swimming pools, maintenance and repairs. They may exempt from taxable income up to the fair market rental value of their home, particularly benefiting well-heeled pastors. The benefit extends to churches, which can pay clergy less, as tax-free salaries go further.”

In the 1950s, Rep. Peter Mack (D-IL) convinced Congress that pastors should be compensated by the U.S. government for “carrying on such a courageous fight against this [godless and anti-religious world movement].” Churches get billions of dollars each year for their “courageous fight”–$82 billion a year. Religious groups also own property exceeding the value of $600 billion.

As founding father Benjamin Franklin wrote:

“When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obligated to call for help of the civil power, it’s a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”

Here are some of the places that receive these tax advantages.

Kenneth Copeland: 18-thousand square foot home valued at $6.3 million

Joel Osteen: $10.5 million home

Joel Osteen: $10.5 million hom

 

Benny Hinn: $10 million seaside mansion

Benny Hinn: $10 million seaside mansi 

 Pastor Steven Furtick:   $1.7 million dollar home

Pastor Steven Furtick: $1.7 million dollar home

A ruling from neighboring state Ohiodecided against public school science teacher John Freshwater, who distributed creationist materials to students. After he was told to remove religious items from his classroom, “Freshwater deliberately added to them, incorporating the Oxford Bible and Jesus of Nazareth into the classroom,” according to Justice Maureen O’Connor. He was then fired.

The Ohio Supreme Court decision was 4-3, ruling that the school district had a right to fire him because the First Amendment does not permit him to ignore orders from his employers or display whatever religious items he pleases in his classroom. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public schools cannot teach creationism as science, but three Ohio Supreme Court justices seem to think that it’s just fine. The judges on this court are elected; six of the seven are Republicans.

Another excuse for ire from religious groups was the “Fiction” sticker on Bibles sold at a California Costco. The store apologized and changed the sticker.

Another apology came from Harvard Ichthus Editor-in-Chief Aaron Gyde for publishing an essay claiming that all the suffering that Jewish people have faced since the destruction of Jerusalem’s Second Temple in approximately 70 A.D. came from God and was “just.” The blog comes from a campus “journal of Christian thought.” The essay also argued “the Jews were marked out for destruction when they killed Jesus.”

Marriage equality is wrong according to Russell Moore, president of the Baptist Church’s ethics and liberty commission, and he means equality between men and women.  Women who are not subservient violate biblical law, and men can keep them subservient by not getting “too close” to their wives.

A North Carolina Christian school wants families to cast out LGBT relatives and plans to mandate a pledge that would support this. At Myrtle Grove in Wilmington, the “Biblical Morality Policy” would refuse admission to LGBT children or children with any LGBT relatives at all and expel students if any of their relatives reveal those tendencies. To guarantee that everyone understands, heterosexual families must swear in writing that they will not participate, support, or in any way affirm “sexual immorality, homosexual activity, or bisexual activity; promoting such practices; or being unable to support the moral principles of the school.” Myrtle Grove will still receive taxpayer subsidies.

Hobby Lobby, a corporation that sells crafts and claims to be a religious person, wants to take its case to the U.S. Supreme Court to fight the Affordable Care Act’s requirements that provide contraceptives for employees. The company itself is not providing these; the insurance companies are doing that. But the owner sees Hobby Lobby as a religious entity.

The president of Hobby Lobby, Steve Green, is going farther than fighting the health mandate. He has written a Bible curriculum for Mustang School District (Oklahoma) that he wants adopted for classrooms. Students would sit through units that purportedly examine the Bible’s influence on society. Superintendent Sean McDaniel asked Green to write this curriculum because much of his personal wealth has gone into the promotion of Bible education. With Christian revisionist historian David Barton, Green runs full-page newspaper ads to tell people that the United States is a “Christian nation.” He also has strong ties to Bill Gothard, the leader of an extremist Christian fundamentalist sect, rife with allegations of child abuse.

Gothard thinks he can determine a person’s character by staring into the eyes, that disease has spiritual causes, and that men are the sovereign rulers of the household. His books include illustrations to detail how women should stand, what their hairstyles should be, and how long men’s pants should be. Video of Green describing Hobby Lobby’s “desire to share Christ and Disciple others” is on Gothard’s website.

My favorite evangelical story of the week comes from retired Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, vice-president of the Family Research Council. According to the Boykin, mainstream Christians are all wrong about Jesus. He’s not weak and effeminate as churches now teach: Jesus is a “man’s man” and a “tough guy.” Because he was a carpenter and stone mason, Jesus “smelled bad” and had “big, bulging biceps, big ole veins popping out of his arms, thin waist, [and] strong shoulders.” Boykin explained:

“We’ve feminized Jesus in the church and the men can’t identify with him anymore; not the kind of men that I want to hang out with, they can’t identify with this effeminate Jesus that we’ve tried to portray.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is working hard to fence-sit in the church v. state conflict. During his keynote address at a fundraising event for the Florida Family Policy Council, he claimed that the issue is not worth debating because “God is everywhere” and “doesn’t need our permission to be anywhere.” The conservative organization’s agenda promotes ex-gay conversion therapy, creationism in public schools, and the abolishment of reproductive rights.

On the Catholic side, Springfield (IL) Bishop Thomas Paprocki went through with his “Homily for Prayers of Supplication and Exorcism in Reparation for the Sin of Same-Sex Marriage” 30 minutes after Gov. Pat Quinn signed marriage equality for the state into law. Among other justifications is that marriage’s sole purpose is reproduction. I would think that this would eliminate over half the marriages in the country. Also, the Devil uses same-sex marriage to waste resources because “much of our time, energy and resources are being spent in addressing this issue.” My suggestion: don’t address it.

Paprocki had two armed guards for the crowd of 500. Over 2,000 people attended the ceremony where Quinn signed the bill into law.

The United Methodist Church owes an apology to Rev. Frank Schaefer in Lebanon (PA). After officiating at the marriage of his gay son to another man, he was found guilty of violating church law. Schaefer has 30 days to renounce his participation in the marriage or give up his credentials. His punishment for “disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church” ranged from a mild reprimand to being defrocked. Ten years ago, he presided over his oldest son’s 2007 same-sex wedding in Massachusetts. Three of his four children are gay.

November 23, 2013

Moving Forward without the Filibusters

People are still trying to get over the shock that Democrats would actually take action against the obstructionist GOP and vote for a simple majority vote to confirm the president’s nominees.  After promising earlier this year, not to filibuster all the nominees, the GOP backed down on their agreement, stopping judicial nominees and threatening others. The Democrats had enough and voted 52-48 to remove the possibility of filibuster for all nominees except for the U.S. Supreme Court. Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor (AK), Joe Manchin (WV), and Carl Levin (MI) voted with GOP senators against the rule change.

Out of 168 filibusters on nominations throughout history, 82 of them—49 percent—were during President Obama’s terms. Overall, 189 Obama executive nominees are awaiting confirmation in the Senate, including 85 for Cabinet-level agencies, and their nominations have been pending an average of 140 days, according to White House statistics.

filibuster There are 53 Obama judicial nominations currently moving through the Senate, 17 of which are awaiting votes on the floor. On average, Obama’s nominees waited almost 100 days longer to be confirmed than President George W. Bush’s judicial picks, according to Congressional Research Service data distributed by Senate Democrats.

executive nominees reid

The filibustered candidates were typically more conservative than progressive and therefore acceptable to the GOP. Republican Senators just tried to block all government activity from keeping a shortage of judges on federal courts to nullifying federal agencies by preventing them from having any leaders.

GOP senators have been very open about using the filibuster to block the president’s nominees. In an op-ed published by Fox, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) admitted that he supports the filibusters because he does not want Democrats to “switch the majority” on the D.C. Circuit. The conservatives went too far: they lost their power to stop any nominees from being confirmed.

The GOP had been increasingly using the filibuster rule to keep courts stacked with conservative judges who would then repeal laws. Two court decisions from the D.C. Circuit Court threatened to shut down the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that enforces much of federal labor law. Without the NLRB, employers can use intimidation to keep workers from joining unions, stop bargaining with unions, employ abusive work conditions, and, in fact, fire pro-union workers.

The GOP Senators had other reasons for retaining a majority of conservative judges on the D.C. Circuit Court. The judges struck down environmental regulations that could save tens of thousands of lives, restricted women’s access to birth control, and ruled that employers can legally keep workers ignorant of their rights.

Conservatives throughout the country are going to rant about the Democrats violated the wishes of the founding fathers. They’re wrong. Originally, both the House and the Senate used a simple majority to cut off debate, but the Senate dropped that rule in 1806 when Aaron Burr wanted it done. Yet there was still no filibuster rule in the Senate until until 1917 when President Wilson demanded the rule to overcome “a little group of willful men” opposing his proposal to arm merchant ships. The Senate voted 76-3 for a supermajority (two-thirds vote) for overcoming a filibuster. In 1975, the rule changed to allow just 60 votes to stop a nomination.

These are a few of the changes with a majority rule for confirming nominees:  

  • Regulating Wall Street: Conservative judges typically undermine financial regulation, and the GOP filibusters have been keeping any other judges from getting on the bench.
  • Labor market regulation: The conservative judges on the D.C. Circuit Board struck down President Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. Removing the filibuster will most likely put three of President Obama’s nominees on this court as an addition to the eight judges, half of them appointed by Republican presidents. Although this sounds balanced, six judges in partial retirement hear a fairly substantial load of cases. Only one of these judges was appointed by a Democrat president.
  • Climate change: The D.C. Circuit also controls decisions for pricing gas emissions externalities under the Clean Air Act regulated by the EPA.
  •  Filibustering Legislation: With this first step, the Senate may curb the consistent filibustering of legislation as well as nominees, opening up votes for legislative reform from privatizing Social Security to adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act.

There has been much hand-wringing  about how much worse the Senate is since the filibuster rule was changed. The comments would be funny if the gridlock had not been so tragic. Since the extremist Republicans took over the House through the election of 2010, Congress has had no major legislative accomplishments. The last three years will be known in history only for one government shutdown and two debt-ceiling crises. The Congressional record can’t drop below the zero number of bills legislated into law.

In a fit of petty pique, the GOP immediately refused to use unanimous consent to confirm a group of low-profile nominees before their next long recess. Observers can expect other GOP delaying tactics such as blocking committees from holding meetings and refusing to attend committee meetings to deny the necessary quorum for moving nominations to the floor. If the GOP chooses, they can demand the possible 30 hours of Senate debate on each appeals court and Cabinet-level nominee. Those below Cabinet level get eight hours, and district court nominees get two hours. That’s an entire day—with no other business—for just one nominee.

GOP senators can also hold up judicial nominations by refusing to submit a “blue slip” okaying the choice. Ten pending judicial nominees have not had a Senate hearing because their home-state Republican senators have not returned their blue slips. In the case of Florida, Marco Rubio urged a nominee who he is now rejecting.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)  threatened the ratification of a United Nations-backed disabilities treaty to put most of the world on a par with U.S. policy. Carrying out their revenge plans, the GOP, supposedly public employees, will waste more taxpayer money through their obstruction and inaction. Stalling, however, will show the people in the U.S. that they are deliberately not working, a greater act of sabotage than the filibuster which allowed Republicans to not work and then campaign on the idea that it is government that it not working. When politicians complain about government employees not work, they are looking in a mirror.

The most popular statement in the media is that Democrats will be sorry about their vote to eliminate the filibuster for nominees if (when?) the Republicans control both the Senate and the presidency. This complaint ignores the fact that the a GOP majority in the Senate could easily take the same action that the Democrats did last week. Going to a simple majority now gives the Democrats at least one year, perhaps another two, and hopefully more than that to put reasonable, constitutional judges on the federal bench and keep federal agencies functioning.

November 22, 2013

We Need to Return to JFK’s Dream

Today is the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s death from a gunman in Dallas (TX). For weeks, the media has discussed the controversy surrounding his murder and the tortured activities of the Warren Commission that investigated the killing. Fox network, however, took a slightly different approach.

Fox News host Chris Wallace, son of 60 Minutes journalist Mike Wallace, tried to convince Kennedy’s niece, Kathleen Townsend Kennedy, that the president was “quite conservative.” When Wallace insisted that the president lowered taxes because he thought this would spur the economy, Townsend Kennedy pointed out he lowered the top marginal rates from 90 percent to 70 percent, over double today’s 33 percent.

Wallace claimed that Kennedy was a “Cold Warrior”; Townsend Kennedy responded that he resisted generals who wanted to declare war during the Bay of Pigs incident.

Conservative columnist George Will asserted, “Well, he was a conventional liberal before liberalism changed in the late 1960s. He … did indeed believe in supply side tax cuts, increased revenues from lower rates.” According to Will, that was the reason Kennedy was killed, because he was too conservative. “We happen to know he was killed by a silly, squalid, little communist,” Will finished.

Fox contributor Brit Hume followed up by saying, “I think he was the coolest president we ever had. I think, however, despite the thinness of the record that [Wallace] just mentioned and that George mentioned, he has been the subject of the most successful public relations campaign in political history. It is a legend bordering, I think, on myth.”

Missing from Wallace’s narrative is that conservatives hated Kenndy because he supported equality for blacks, suggested that the U.S. should agree to a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and planned to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam after the 1964 election.

For his book JFK and the Unspeakable, endorsed by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Jim Douglass’  information from declassified government documents showed the actions of a man who was definitely not conservative:  

  • A major conflict with military contractor United States Steel because the corporation double-crossed the president by raising steel prices despite a deal between the two parties.
  • Refusal to start an all-out nuclear war despite regular pressure from the military-industrial complex.
  • A secret arrangement with Russia’s Nikita Krushchev for a nuclear disarmament treaty.
  • Open support for Castro in the Cuban Revolution.
  • Efforts to end the U.S. occupation of Vietnam.
  • Refusal to stage terrorist attacks on U.S. soil that would be blamed on Cuba.

Fifty years after Kennedy’s assassination, the government shows the destruction of conservative politicians. Minimum wage is 20 percent lower than 45 years ago, and Social Security benefits are 25 percent lower than 30 years. At the same time, 60 percent of the pensions disappeared, and the recent recession wiped out much of the retirement that some people had saved in 401(k)s.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is a leader in moving the United States back to Kennedy’s dream. In response to a study by Dr. Arindrajit Dube, a University of Massachusetts Amherst professor who has studied the economic impacts of the current minimum wage, she said, “If we started in 1960 and we said that as productivity goes up, that is as workers are producing more, then the minimum wage is going to go up the same. And if that were the case then the minimum wage today would be about $22 an hour.” Dube pointed out that growing the minimum wage at the same pace as the increase for the top 1 percent of income earners would make the minimum wage closer to $33.

Warren also spoke about other changes in the past 50 years:

“During the Great Depression and the years after World War II, our country made two remarkable decisions. First, in a boom-and-bust world, we created a basic set of fair rules that ended the financial panics and provided almost a half-century of economic stability and growth. Second, we invested in ourselves and our children, creating the basic building blocks for a strong middle class and a strong economy: education, roads and bridges, mass transit and rail, water and sewage, research, and energy. It worked. America’s middle class prospered. We celebrated success, but we always paid ahead, making sure that the basic ingredients would be in place so the next generation could do even better.

“But about a generation ago, Washington turned in a different direction and changed the rules.

“Financial cops were taken off the beat, and government regulators began to work for those they were supposed to regulate. We fought wars we didn’t pay for, recklessly piling on debt. Powerful companies got subsidies, and ordinary families and small businesses had to pick up the burden. We didn’t repair our roads and bridges, and we cut back on research.  We stopped investing in our future.”

An important piece of investment in the dream and the future is Social Security. Those wailing about how the program is going broke are forgetting about the free ride that the wealthy is getting. The current cap on deductions is under $114,000, much less than the $200,000 in 2013 several years ago. The wealthy also make most of their money now from capital gains which Social Security does not tax.

The growing wealth of the top percent of people in the United States might bring up the question of how people manage to spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. People can have only so many mansions, jets, yachts, cars, and other expensive items yet still have left-over money. If that’s your problem, here’s help:

  • A $95,000 truffle: Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin recently ordered this at Nello, a Wall Street restaurant. To him, $95,000 wouldn’t seem like much money: the relationship of $95,000 to $1 billion is the same as $.95 to $10,000. Before going to Nello, however, you might want to read Yelp reviews—two stars and complaints about inedible food and rude service.
  • A $5,000 hamburger: In Las Vagas at Mandalay Bay, the Fleur de Lys restaurant offers the “Fleurburger 5000, a Kobe beef patty “topped with a rich truffle sauce and served on a brioche truffle bun.” For that price it comes with a bottle of 1990 Chateau Petrus served in Ichendorf Brunello stemware that you get to keep.
  • A $500 milkshake: The Powder Room restaurant in Los Angeles includes “special stuff: edible gold, Belgian chocolate, and a crystal ring.”
  • A $117,000 bottle of 1811 Chateau d’Yquem: If that’s not enough, the Le Clos wine shop in Dubai International Airport offers three 12-liter bottles of 2009 Château Margaux for $195,000–each.
  • A $142 million piece of art by Francis Bacon: At the same auction, three other pieces sold for more than $50 million; 11 for more than $20 million; and 16 sold for more than $10 million. An Andy Warhol piece sold for almost $60 million.

As Thomas Galbraith, of online auction house Paddle8, said, “Since the recession, the wealthy appear to be becoming even wealthier, while middle-class wages are more stagnant.”  Katherine Markley, artnet’s lead market analyst, added, “The 400 richest Americans [are] now worth a cumulative $2 trillion, up $300 billion from a year ago and with an average net worth of a record $5 billion, an $800 million increase from a year ago.”

As the first Catholic president of the United States, Kennedy swore he would not let his religion rule. His inspiring call to people of this nation led to the establishment of the Peace Corp, an organization that still sends thousands of U.S. volunteers around the world to help the needy. He was committed to land a human being on the moon; his support of space exploration helped that happen six years later. His Area Redevelopment Act helped states suffering from high unemployment rates, his laws ended segregation in interstate travel facilities, and his executive order stopped discrimination in housing sales and leases financed by the government. Kennedy also promoted the arts through concerts, plays, and musicals at the White House.

Fifty years later, the GOP wants its religion to rule the United States, works to deprive the poor of food and housing, fights the accomplishments of science through denial, increases unemployment rates by austerity, and demonstrates extreme racism. To the GOP, the arts are a waste of money.

Average hourly earnings have been flat for 50 years (after adjusting for inflation), as companies steer their wealth primarily to senior management and owners at the expense of average employees. Tax policies increasingly favor investors and high wage earners over middle-class and upper-middle-class wage-earners. An obsession with “shareholder value” at the expense of other stakeholders (namely, customers and employees) has led companies to cut employee costs to the bone.

These and other factors have contributed to the most radical redistribution of wealth that the United States has ever seen. Since the late 1970s, the country’s assets and income have moved steadily from “average” Americans to the richest Americans. The wealth inequality is the greatest since the 1920s. Consumers have little money to spend, businesses suffer and look for way to cut costs, and consumers are hurt even more.

Big companies and their owners and senior managers, however, are not suffering. They’re doing better than any other time in history. The free-market system, which worked well 50 years ago, is costing everyone except the top 1 percent. The result is a nation of over 300+ serfs who serve a few million overlords.

As Warren said, “The Republican vision is clear: ‘I’ve got mine, the rest of you are on your own.’ ” That wasn’t John F. Kennedy’s dream, and it shouldn’t be ours either.

November 21, 2013

GOP Sabotages Affordable Care Act

During the first four years of President Obama’s two terms, the GOP spent all their energy on keeping him from being re-elected. After that fruitless effort, they moved to repealing the Affordable Care Act—at least 46 times thus far. They plan to continue. A memo distributed to House GOP members, laid out the conservative strategy from closed-door sessions in mid-October called “House Republican Playbook”:

  • “Because of Obamacare, I Lost My Insurance.” [Response: zero people will to being uncovered.]
  • “Obamacare Increases Health Care Costs.” [Response: it’s actually the opposite.]
  • “The Exchanges May Not Be Secure, Putting Personal Information at Risk.”
  • “Continue Collecting Constituent Stories.”

The media has bombarded the public with conservative complaints about the entire health care because the website was not working and people were lying about their inability to get covered. There’s been nothing in the mainstream media about the GOP sabotage surrounding the ACA as they do anything to stop people from enrolling:

  • Blocking necessary resources for implementation
  • Public misinformation campaigns
  • Discouraging public-private partnerships
  • Blocking Medicaid expansion
  • Blocking CMS nominees
  • Refusal to create marketplaces
  • Prohibition of “Navigators” from doing their jobs

Dana Milbank explained the “logic” of the “Republicans’ scary-movie strategy”:

“If they can frighten young and healthy people from joining the health-care exchanges, the exchanges will become expensive and unmanageable. This is sabotage, plain and simple – much like the refusal by red-state governors to participate in setting up the exchanges in the first place.”

The difference between a lie and a falsehood is intent: knowing the truth and saying the opposite because the goal is deceit is lying. These are lies from GOP leaders intent on destroying a Democrat-passed law:

  • Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA): health care reform may lead to identity theft.
  • Speaker John Boehner (R-OH): “premiums are going right through the roof.”
  • Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) consumers who visit healthcare.gov may become victims of fraud. Caucus Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA): vulnerable constituents may be put “on the casualty list.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) even claimed that she, personally, lost her health care coverage. It is true that she has to switch to the current program because of an amendment from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). But then she would lose it in another year anyway because she isn’t running for Congress.

Milbank added, “Let’s hope the new health-care plans have generous coverage for anti-anxiety medication.”

Kevin Drum wrote:

“No federal program that I can remember faced quite the implacable hostility during its implementation that Obamacare has faced. This excuses neither the Obama administration’s poor decisions nor its timidity in the face of Republican attacks, but it certainly puts them in the proper perspective.”

  • Because 27 states don’t have exchanges, uninsured residents are pushed into healthcare.gov. The GOP party leadership urged governors to not participate with the intent to burden the federal exchange.
  • The ACA had zero funding for the development and implementation of the site, and GOP Congressional members refused to authorize any money. The government paid $70 million for the website although the media lied about the cost, vastly increasing the guesstimate for its cost.
  • The Koch brothers through Americans for Prosperity funded advertising campaigns to make lawmakers block Medicaid expansion in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Ohio, Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In the 26 states that did block this expansion, five to eight million people make too much money for Medicaid but too little money to afford exchange policies.
  • This week, Alaska’s governor Sean Parnell denied health insurance to 40,000 people in the state through his Medicaid rejection. He complained about the cost although the federal government pays for all Medicaid for the first three years. People denied health insurance through GOP actions are going to provide some of the “anecdotal evidence” that ACA doesn’t work; they—and the media doesn’t tell them—that GOP actions are denying them affordable health care. Foundation for Government Accountability, with funding traced to the Koch brothers, launched a campaign to stop Alaskans from buying insurance policies through two websites, along with accompanying Facebook pages: dontenrollalaska.org and knowthefactsalaska.org.

Billionaires are telling middle-class people to go without health care so that they can prove they hate the president. Sen. Angus King (I-ME) said:

“That’s a scandal – those people are guilty of murder in my opinion. Some of those people they persuade are going to end up dying because they don’t have health insurance. For people who do that to other people in the name of some obscure political ideology is one of the grossest violations of our humanity I can think of.”

Insurance companies are also participating in the anti-Obama, anti-health care campaign. Walmart-owned Humana sent customers threatening letters stating they had to decide, before people had access to information about ACA, whether to take the huge increase in health insurance cost or lose health insurance. Other companies canceled old plans to offer new ones at much higher prices. These insurance companies didn’t explain that the health care exchanges would give much lower costs for health insurance policies or that customers might be eligible for subsidies from the government.

Letters like these have nothing to do with the ACA. For years, insurance companies have sent letters trying to move people from reasonable deductibles to excessively high ones by threatening much higher premiums to keep the existing policy. As for increases, only federal law kept Blue Cross from increasing its charges by 43 percent in one year. The company is now being sued for misleading their customers. That’s the problem with private insurance companies: their sole goal is to make money off people who cannot afford their payments.

 Beyond these issues, however, are serious hacking attacks on the ACA website, more than a dozen which are being investigated. In addition, there was a report of a tool designed to put heavy strain on HealthCare.gov through Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS). A program called “Destroy Obama Care,” first reported last week on a blog by Arbor Networks, was found on a “torrent” file sharing web page. If this tool were used, tens of thousands (or more) of computers will try to use the website over and over and over again automatically.

The GOP is determined to govern by anecdote, as they read aloud emails of unhappy constituents regarding access to health insurance. If this is an appropriate way to decide the legitimacy of a law, they need to listen to the other side.

During the first two weeks of November, almost 60,000 people signed up for private insurance policies or Medi-Cal (Medicaid) in California—more than twice as many people in October. Connecticut, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Washington are on track to exceed their enrollment targets. Washington enrolled over 50,000 people in Medicaid and another 6,000 in private plans. Glitches in the computer program have kept people in Oregon from signing up for private plans, but 70,000 people now have coverage from Medicaid. New York has almost 50,000 people signed up for health insurance through NY State of Health, about half of them in private plans. All these states are controlled by Democrats who are supporting the new reform. For example, only 3,000 have signed up for private plans in Texas, and the state isn’t expanding its Medicaid.

Before ACA, almost 50 million people in the United States had no health-care coverage; millions of others had “junk” policies that might not even provide hospitalization. And millions more paid more than they will under the ACA.

Many anecdotes on the media about the loss of health insurance have been debunked. If anyone complains about their being hurt by ACA, ask these four questions:

  • What does the old plan actually cover?
  • Did the person go to the exchanges?
  • What are the co-pays and deductibles?
  • Does the person qualify for subsidies?

And if the person complies with all these, then ask about the salary. People who make hundreds of thousands of dollars can afford higher rates. Think about Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) health insurance cost: it’s $40,000. Fortunately, his wife’s employer, Goldman Sachs, pays the tab.

November 20, 2013

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:52 PM

Fifteen years ago, Rita Hester, a young transgender woman was murdered in Allston (MA). This year alone, over 200 people were murdered from anti-transgender violence—that’s an average of four every week. In the United States, one person a week is murdered in an act of trans-gender violence. Not everyone murdered was not transgender: many of those people were seen by murderers as not “feminine” or “masculine” enough.

Today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance to commemorate those who have been murdered and a reminder of the need to fight and survive.

Mindy Townsend is carrying on the struggle for young people to survive by protesting anti-transgender policies in school:

“I’m almost 30, so I think I qualify as an adult. I need to ask you, from one adult to another, can we please stop laying our baggage on kids? Can we please agree to not do that anymore?

“I know that for decades, centuries even, we’ve been telling ourselves that boys act one way and girls act another and that boys and girls are the only two options. However, I really wish we could get over this misconception. At the very least, I wish we’d stop enforcing these misconceptions in schools.

skylar2_copy“The most recent instance of gender policing comes from Kansas, where a 13-year-old boy was suspended for carrying a purse. The student, Skylar Davis, had apparently been carrying this purse for months until a school official demanded that he put it away. According to Raw Story:

“After telling Assistant Principal Don Hillard that he wasn’t going to take the purse off, Davis’ mother, Leslie Willis, was called to pick him up.

“’I was a little furious, and I called the school [and spoke to Hillard] to reverify the story, and yeah, he refused to take off his Vera Bradley bag, nothing more to do it,’ Willis recalled to KCTV. ‘Skylar has been going to school since August with that same Vera Bradley bag on, hasn’t taken it off. What is the problem?’

“Willis added that there was no rule about purses in the school handbook.

“Davis pointed out that girls at the school never faced punishment for wearing their purses.

“For their part, the superintendent said that middle school students are forbidden from bringing bags to class and that this rule is enforced for both boys and girls.

“Color me skeptical that a girl would be suspended for carrying a purse. Maybe I’d believe it if this was the only time schools have been in the business of enforcing antiquated gender norms on unsuspecting kids. But it isn’t. Far from it.

“There is no indication of Davis’ sexuality or gender identity, and it doesn’t matter. However, the root of this potential discrimination is very similar if not identical to the discrimination LGBT students face from their schools every day. 

“Even though it’s 2013, gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans students are still systematically discriminated against at schools throughout the country. Private Christian schools in Georgia expel LGBT students and their allies as a matter of course, all while receiving millions of state dollars. A teen in North Carolina was only allowed to take his boyfriend to prom because an awesome mom intervened. A six-year-old girl was told by her Colorado school that she wouldn’t be allowed to use the appropriate bathroom. 

“But wait. There’s more. Remember how hard it was to get the Anoka-Hennepin school district to adopt an inclusive anti-bullying policy? And of course, we can’t forget that it’s OK in Texas to “out” gay students to their parents.

“I can’t go on. It’s bumming me out. But I think you get my drift. This is all about how people ‘should’ present themselves and behave. These are arbitrary standards that are changing all the time and, more importantly, they are absolutely meaningless. So a boy wants to carry a purse. So maybe a girl wants to date another girl. So maybe a kid’s gender doesn’t match his physical appearance. So what? Punishing kids for failing to fit into strict gender norms is only harmful.

“It tells kids that there is a narrow range of attributes that are acceptable. Not only does it sell children short, but it sells society short, as well. Who knows what kind of potential we’d discover these kids have if we could stop laying our gender baggage on their shoulders. We’re never going to find out if we keep forcing every individual into cookie cutter forms.”

To commemorate the Transgender Day of Remembrance, Jason Jackson and volunteers painted The Equality House in the colors of the transgender flag. Located across the street from the extremist anti-LGBT church, Westboro Baptist Church, the house is typically painted in rainbow colors.

transgender house

Designed by Monica Helms, the flag uses blue for baby boys, the pink for girls, and the white  “for those who are transitioning, those who feel they have a neutral gender or no gender, and those who are intersexed. The pattern is such that no matter which way you fly it, it will always be correct.”

Jackson is the founder of Planting Peace, working for equality for all. According to its website, “Our goal is to bring bully prevention programs into K-12 schools and to raise awareness about LGBTQ discrimination.”

Think Progress memorialized the day with a discussion of trans people in current pop culture. It’s well worth reading.

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