Nel's New Day

July 27, 2016

Hillary Wins, Bill’s Photo on Front Pages

Last night Hillary Clinton broke through a glass ceiling when she was nominated the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate–the first woman named by a major political party for a presidential candidate. The first crack in that ceiling, however, came 136 years ago when Victoria Woodhull ran for the presidency in 1872, almost 50 years before women could legally vote for the president. That didn’t happen until 1920 after the 19th Amendment was ratified. With a platform of women’s suffrage and equal rights for women, Woodhull ran for the Equal Rights Party. She was paired with Frederick Douglass, former escaped slave and abolitionist author and speaker, against GOP Ulysses S. Grant and Democrat Horace Greeley. Obviously she lost, and her party picked Belva Ann Lockwood for its candidate 12 years later. No woman appeared on the presidential ticket until Geraldine Ferro was the vice-presidential candidate in 1984 and Sarah Palin in 2008.

Since Woodhull, other women have tried for the presidency. The first one on the ballot was Sen. Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME) who got 22 delegate votes from four states in 1964. Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-NY), the first black person to run for the Democratic nomination, got 151.95 delegate votes from 26 states in 1972. The only other woman to receive delegate votes in a Democratic campaign, Ellen McCormack, got 27 delegate votes from five states in 1976. Women who did not run in the primaries for President have also got delegate votes at the Democratic Conventions: Barbara Jordan, 1 (1976); Koryne Horbal, 5 (1980); Martha Kirkland, 1 (1984); and Patricia Schroeder, 8 (1992).

The first women who appeared on the presidential ticket for a major political party were vice-presidential candidates—Geraldine Ferro in 1984 and Sarah Palin in 2008. Yesterday, however, Hillary Clinton garnered 2,842 delegate votes—2,205 of them pledged—compared to the 1,846 pledged delegates and 48 super delegates for Bernie Sanders. Fifty-five votes were abstentions. Clinton also Clinton won 16.8 million votes to 13.2 million for Sanders, about 55 percent of the vote to his 43 percent for a 12 percentage point gap.

Much was said from the Sanders’ side about the “rigged” election, but Sanders gained many of his delegate votes from caucuses, which do not represent the vote of these states. In fact, the two states that had both primaries and caucuses, Nebraska and Washington, showed that the majority of people voting in primaries supported Clinton although the Sanders picked up more votes from the caucuses in those states.

Clinton

Those who think that the mainstream media has lost its sexism, however, should look at the photos on the front pages of major newspapers from the Wall Street Journal in New York to San Diego—moving through Washington, Detroit, Wisconsin, Chicago, Houston, and San Francisco—on up to Alaska. These newspapers put photos of Bill Clinton instead of the new Democratic presidential nominee, evidently believing that a male visual is more important than one of a female. The Oregonian, the largest newspaper in my state, went safe with a photograph of a man taking a back flip off a tree trunk into the water.

Trump photos make the front pages of newspapers when he’s done nothing; Hillary Clinton is overlooked despite her phenomenal background of public service. This reporting is sexism at its greatest. The Wall Street Journal did finally figure out its mistake and changed later editions. The Dallas Morning News was one of the few newspapers that understood the significance of yesterday’s Democratic nomination for the presidential candidate.

Dallas Morning News

An interesting Wal-Mart story: In 1995, one of its Miramar (FL) stores pulled a popular T-shirt proclaiming “Someday a woman will be president” off its shelves. The store had sold about two-thirds of its 204 shirts before they were pulled , and a Wal-Mart spokeswoman explained that a customer had complained. Jane Bockholt said:

“It was determined the T-shirt was offensive to some people and so the decision was made to pull it from the sales floor.”

rubenAnn Moliver Ruben, a 70-year-old psychologist when she created the shirt, designed the shirt with the child character Margaret from the cartoon strip Dennis the Menace. The figure making the proclamation had a big smile and her arms spread wide. Ruben had purchased the rights to use the drawing of Margaret and sold the shirts to women’s groups for between $10 and $15 before approaching Wal-Mart.

Protests forced the shirt back on the shelves, but Wal-Mart didn’t carry it long, saying that it didn’t sell. Recently, Ruben wrote a letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describing the similarities between Dennis the Menace to Donald Trump. Today, the day after Hillary Clinton has become the Democratic presidential candidate, her shirt and her letter are even more appropriate. Right now there are none of these shirts for sale, but they may reappear soon!

Here’s part of that letter with the accompanying visual.

trump“Take a look at Dennis. He says he doesn’t know what a crepe suzette is but he knows that 8-year-old Margaret is a creep. He tells Margaret that he was her valentine last year and “haven’t I suffered enough?” When Margaret tells him she wants to be a nurse, he tells her, “You’d have plenty of work … you make people sick.” Finally, as Margaret is shown playing the accordion, he tells his 3-year-old friend, Joey, “She is no good at makin’ cookies, either.” Can’t you hear Donald Trump telling — what’s her name — that her face would stop a clock?

“Only Donald Trump, acting like 5-year-old Dennis, would mimick a disabled journalist and propose banning Muslims from entering this country and building a wall that Mexico would pay for. Unfortunately, he is incapable of owning up to the problems his words and his behavior cause.”

Thanks, Ms. Ruben! Now make more of those shirts!

May 17, 2015

Religious Persecution from the Christian Side

Christian leaders in the United States are still reeling from the latest survey from Pew Research Center regarding religious affiliation in the United States. Completed every seven years, the poll discovered that the number of people not affiliated with any religion is up over 40 percent during the last seven years from 16.1 percent in 2007 to 22.8 percent. At the same time, evangelical Protestants have shrunk about one percent, and Catholics have gone down about three percent. Mainline Protestants have decreased over three percent. Almost six percent of people in the United States identify with a non-Christian faith, an increase of 1.2 percent.

religious landscapeThe greatest increases of nonaffiliated people were those born in the 1980s—about one-third of the population—and those born in the 1990s—rising to 36 percent. A surprising change was also found by the Christian polling company Barna Group. In the last 22 years, the percentage of women atheists and agnostics rose from 16 percent to 43 percent. One assumption for this change is that these skeptics regard Christian churches as “places that have ugly views, such as wars, preventing gay marriage and a woman’s freedom to control her body, sexual and physical violence perpetrated on people by religious authority figures, mixing religious beliefs with political policy and action.” Good guess!

When two gay men recently met with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), they may have honestly thought that they could have a reasonable dialog with the presidential candidate. Cruz said about his visit, “I know it’s been a long time since we’ve seen it, but this is what it means to truly be a ‘big tent Republican’ instead of a panderer.” The “tent” was short-lived. Last week Cruz said that the Democratic Party has “gotten so extreme and so radical in its devotion to mandatory gay marriage that they’ve decided there’s no room for the religious liberty protected under the First Amendment.” Time for LGBT people to leave the GOP tent.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (T-TN) complained about this non-existent victimization at the recent “Freedom Summit” in South Carolina. When asked about Christian persecution, she said, “You know, there have been several lately. There’ve. Um. I can’t give you a specific [pause] right off the cuff.” She shrugged, said “I’m sorry,” smiled, turned away, and then looked back at the camera to finish, “Yeah. Thanks.” Tennessee, Blackburn’s home state, has a law prohibiting atheists from holding any public office.

After his disastrous performance in trying to answer questions about the Iraq War last week, Jeb Bush came up with the example of a florist discriminating against a gay couple as “the best example” of Christians facing persecution in the United States. He said that the country needs to be more “tolerant” of her viewpoint that the LGBT community doesn’t deserve equal access to business services. This statement follows an earlier expression of his support for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker delivered a typical misinformed perspective on Christian persecution this past week. Her reference to how Roger Ailes’ Fox network protects Christians shows the source. She wrote:

“Why can’t the Little Sisters of the Poor suck it up and sign off on the Affordable Care Act’s demand that their insurance policy include contraception funding? Ditto Hobby Lobby, the family-owned craft business that prevailed in its Supreme Court fight to not fund insurance covering contraception that destroys embryos.”

No one ever demanded that the Little Sisters include contraception in its insurance, just that the group sign an application for a waiver. It refused. The for-profit Hobby Lobby was comfortable with birth control as long as Hobby Lobby made enough money from their stock in drug companies that sold these to women. The Satanist religion is now trying to protect women from the government’s interference in their health care. If Parker believes in lack of persecution for religion, she will also be supporting that, especially because she wrote that “the state should always go to extra lengths to protect religious liberty whenever possible.”

Parker claims that Hillary Clinton would “crush the individual’s [interests] in necessary to advance women’s rights” because she advocates women’s unfettered access to “reproductive health care and safe childbirth.” Parker added, “By contrast, Jeb Bush, who will become the GOP nominee if Republicans are smart, [said] it’s a depressing fact that when some people think of Christianity and of Judeo-Christian values, they think of something static, narrow and outdated….” (Depressing yes. Also true.)

The 40,000 students in the Clovis (CA) United School District will not be oppressed by religion after Fresno County Superior Court Judge Donald Black ruled that the religion-based abstinence-only sex education isn’t really sex-ed. Because of this religiously mandated curriculum, the United States faces high rates of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies.

Black concluded that programs dedicated to pushing abstinence rather than “medically and socially appropriate sexual education” are depriving students of “an important public right. The ruling is long overdue. California law prohibited schools  from medically inaccurate or biased information in sex-ed courses since 2003. An example of teaching in the Clovis district is that a non-virgin woman is like a dirty shoe. While failing to provide information about birth control and condoms, abstinence-only programs also compare people who have had sex to chewed up gum, used tape, dirty chocolate, and glasses of spit. “This is the first time that abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula have been found to be medically inaccurate,” Phyllida Burlingame, director of Reproductive Justice Policy for the American Civil Liberties Union, said of the decision.

The ruling against using abstinence-only curriculum as sex ed may be heading for the Supreme Court along with Wal-Mart’s argument that the religious beliefs of their shareholders cannot guide the products that it sells. The Supreme Court in Hobby Lobby decided that corporations can avoid following laws because of its “religious beliefs,” overriding an argument from 44 lawyers that “allowing a corporation … to take on and assert the religious beliefs of its shareholders in order to avoid having to comply with a generally-applicable law with a secular purpose is fundamentally at odds with the entire concept of incorporation.”

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month against the Trinity Church, concluding that shareholders can’t impart their religious beliefs onto a corporation. Wal-Mart, one of 2012 CNN’s top nine “religious companies” in the U.S., refused to let its shareholders vote on whether the company should sell products that “might endanger public safety, hurt Wal-Mart’s reputation, or offend ‘family and community values’ which they believe are ‘integral to Wal-Mart’s brand.’” Wal-Mart and the federal court decided that the shareholders have no religious rights like Hobby Lobby does. The church had sued Wal-Mart because it sells products such as weapons used in mass shootings, including the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Maybe SCOTUS, Jeb Bush, and Kathleen Parker would agree with the shareholders because of their religious beliefs. Or maybe not.

Fundamentalist Christians may be shifting their belief that religion should control the U.S. government. Just five months ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) wanted leaders from the faith community to “rise up and engage America in the public square with Biblical values.” He calls for “pastors to lead the way and reset the course of American governance.” The GOP wants religious leaders to guide public debate.

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead the weekly audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini - RTR4URKU

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead the weekly audience in Saint Peter’s square at the Vatican March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini – RTR4URKU

That was before Pope Francis decided to sign a treaty recognizing a Palestinian country. At that point, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) said, “It’s interesting how the Vatican has gotten so political when ultimately the Vatican ought to be working to lead people to Jesus Christ and salvation, and that’s what the Church is supposed to do.” The conservatives have been upset about the pope’s progressive positions on climate change, Iran nuclear talks, Cuban diplomacy, economic inequality, and pay equity for women, but advocating a Palestinian state drove them over the edge.

Conservatives support religion in government as long as it’s their own religion. Any other time, religious leaders should stay quiet.

May 4, 2015

GOP Candidates Pander to Crazies, Bigots

Three GOP presidential candidates—one of them not yet declared—are pandering to conservative right-wingers with the typical nutty, ignorant statements. One of them is Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) who kept making awkward outreach motions toward minorities after he opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One of his strategies to set himself apart was opposing mass incarceration and the drug war while the GOP supports these. Last week, he may have lost any minority support, however, after he blamed what he described as “thuggery and thievery” in Baltimore last week on a “lack of fathers.” He laughed when he told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, “I came through the train on Baltimore (sic) last night, I’m glad the train didn’t stop.” According to Paul, root causes of these riots are “the breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of a moral code in our society.”

william hilton paulPaul’s oldest son, William Hilton Paul, crashed his car into an unoccupied car while driving drunk, the third time that he had a problem with the law involving alcohol, the first two while he was underage. His first offence included an assault of a flight attendant on a US Airways flight. At the time of the recent car wreck, Paul’s 22-year-old son didn’t have automobile insurance.

Another GOP presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), is struggling with his attempts to woo the Hispanics.  He tried to make up for an absence last March at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce with a recent speech before the organization to talk about the group’s important issues. First he told them that the president’s immigration policies to benefit families in the Hispanic community are scare tactics for the Hispanic community. Then he told them that Hispanics are conservative because Hispanics don’t panhandle and because they believe in family, country, and hard work.

Paul and Cruz have both decided to investigate Texas Gov. Greg Abbott claim that President Obama might be attacking his state. After the U.S. Special Operations troops launched a training program, Jade Helm 15, in seven southwestern states, Abbott called out the National Guard to protect the residents of Texas. The right-wing thinks that the U.S. is declaring martial law on these states, especially Texas, because the training exercises labeled the state as “hostile.” Adding to the conspiracy theories is that the rioting in Baltimore is a cover for the military to take over parts of the U.S.

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Conspiracy theories aren’t new to Cruz: he has long maintained that Islamic  Sharia law threatens the United States, ISIL operatives are coming into the country across the southern border, and a UN resolution was intended to abolish golf courses in the country. At the South Carolina GOP’s annual convention, Cruz said that “the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration.” Both Paul and Cruz have given credence to the crazy theories by demanding answers from the Pentagon about the covert actions.

Wal-Mart is in the midst of the conspiracy theories that include confiscating guns and building “secret underground tunnels.” Texans maintain that the government’s political prisoners will be put into abandoned Wal-Mart buildings. President Obama is planning to use Special Forces to impose martial law in Texas and will hold political prisoners in abandoned Wal-Mart buildings, according to a group of Texans. The president plans to transport them in train cars that already have been prepared with shackles, according to an anonymous letter supposedly from a Texas Ranger. Another theory is that the plumbing problems closing some Wal-Mart stories are actually a cover for building the secret tunnels to move supplies and people during a crisis. A website pondered whether these massive stores soon be used as “food distribution centers” to house invading Chinese forces who will be disarming Americans.

Meanwhile, Jeb Bush revealed last week that Charles Murray, known for his book The Bell Curve, shapes Bush’s ideas. The book states that inequalities in the United States are explained by intelligence differences among racial groups. At Harvard, George told his classmates that “poor people are poor because they’re lazy.” Jeb told conservative National Review editor Rich Lowery that he “was waiting for the last chapter [of The Bell Curve] with the really cool solutions—didn’t quite get there.” Bush most likely agrees with his brother, George W., who told Harvard classmates that “people are poor because they’re lazy.”

Jeb Bush has a long history of creative money-making ventures. In a savings and loan fiasco 30 years ago, he and a partner, Armondo Condina, borrowed $4,565,000 to buy a Miami building. Repaying the loan was on the condition that the building’s revenues were sufficient to cover the repayment, and they made no payments for the next two years. The bank sued them, the S&L company went bankrupt, and the partners were allowed to keep the building for a payment of $500,000. The failure of the S&L company cost taxpayers $285 million.

Some of Jeb Bush’s hard-earned money came from his position on the board of InnoVida where he was paid $15,000 a month. Claudio Osorio, the CEO of the company that promised to use sturdy and lightweight building panels to revolutionize affordable housing, went to federal prison for fraud after Bush started collecting his stocks and cash for lending his name to the enterprise. Bush had to repay only half the $470,000 he collected as a consultant from late 2007 through the fall of 2010, and his settlement was unlike the others in the case because of a “nondisparagement” clause that limits what the bankruptcy trustee can say about the former governor.

Although Bush claimed that he had thoroughly vetted the company, the Miami attorney who represented NBA player Carlos Boozer and others after they lost $2.5 million invested in InnoVida, said thorough vetting would have revealed Osorio’s “questionable history” at his prior high-flying company, CHS Electronics. That company had to pay $11.75 million in a 2000 settlement.

Bush served five years as a director Swisher Hygiene when the Charlotte-based seller of sanitary supplies issued faulty earnings reports and as a consultant at Lehman Brothers while the investment bank headed toward a drastic 2008 bankruptcy contributing to the global financial crisis. He received $2.4 million of stock holdings from his board seat at Tenet Healthcare, assisted by profits from the Affordable Care Act. Other ventures included private equity and offshore investments in natural gas exploration and shipping. One fund was set up in the United Kingdom to shelter his investments from taxes.

These are the candidates that sneer at the working poor because they don’t have the advantages of the wealthy and entitled. Bush hasn’t yet officially declared himself a candidate because he’s still raising money for his super PAC, but he will definitely be a one; Paul and Cruz are already stumping the country for votes.

November 25, 2013

Wal-Mart, Not a Place to Give Thanks

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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.

September 2, 2013

Labor Day, A Rollercoaster

Today signifies the end of summer, return of kids to school, and the demise of the U.S. worker. Known as a federal day called Labor Day, it used to commemorate the contributions of workers to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country.

A year ago, GOP leaders co-opted this day to celebrate management and CEOs when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) tweeted, “Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and then-Vice Presidential candidate echoed the sentiment when he said that only small business owners are working hard to make “this country grow.”

The arrogance of the wealthy and the GOP created this myth. According to a new study, the ultra-wealthy have a greater sense of entitlement than the others, and the GOP pays attention only to this narcissistic population. Participants from a high social class are more likely to say “I honestly feel I’m just more deserving than others” whereas other are more likely to respond, “I do not necessarily deserve special treatment.” An earlier study shows that “upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals,” including being more likely to “display unethical decision-making,” steal, lie during a negotiation and cheat in order to win a contest. “

Upper-class individuals also “showed reduced sensitivity to others’ suffering” as compared to working- and middle-class people. Lower-class individuals are more likely to spend time taking care of others and are more embedded in social networks that depend on mutual aid. Another study shows that U.S. senators respond almost exclusively to the interests of their wealthiest constituents, those more likely to be unethical and less sensitive to the suffering of others. MIT economist Daron Acemoglu said that this pattern historically comes from widening economic disparities. As economic inequality increases, the more powerful use that power to become even more powerful, working to change rules in their favor.

In a backlash to this inequality last week, fast food workers protested their unreasonably low wages, demanding $15 per hour, equal to the request at the first March on Washington 50 years ago. With no healthcare insurance and costs rising, people cannot live on minimum wage without government assistance. Companies who pay below-subsistence wages are dragging the economy down and taking their wealth from the taxpayers. The company doesn’t pay for food stamps and the Medicaid that their workers need; the taxpayers do.

Corporations know that a faltering economy helps them hire cheap workers. High unemployment rates gives them a large pool of disposable workers. The companies’ profits soar, and they keep a bit of their profits to stop politicians from raising the minimum wage or lowering unemployment.

The thousands of fast-food workers who protested in 60 cities from coast to coast want not only the $15 per hour but also paid sick leave and the right to unionize the restaurant industry, the nation’s second-biggest employer which is predicting its 2013 profits will “reach a record high of $660.5 billion.” The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour was last raised in July 2009. A sub-category for tipped workers, which includes waiters, waitresses, bartenders, and busboys, was last raised by Congress in 1991 and is $2.13 an hour. Raising the price of a Big Mac at McDonalds would pay for half the money needed to raise the minimum wage for workers to $10.10. Even increasing the federal minimum to $9.80 over three years would give increase workers wages by 33 percent and more than double the wages of tipped workers.

Last June the wealthy NRA (National Restaurant Association) blocked 27 out of 29 states from increasing minimum wages and prevented a dozen states from passing laws to require paid sick leave. Even in two states raising minimum wage, New York and Connecticut, the NRA blocked or delayed raising the tip wage. They also kept local governments in six states from requiring paid sick leave. The NRA spent almost $1 million) to defeat a mandatory sick leave measure in Denver in 2011.

Workers in Washington, D.C. are waiting to see if its mayor Vincent Gray will sign a bill to require big box stores, in this case Wal-Mart, to pay at least $12 an hour, including benefits. He may veto the bill after Wal-Mart threatened to close stores and not expand in poorer neighborhoods. Washington passed local sick leave legislation in 2008, but the NRA made sure that it didn’t apply to tipped workers.

Both New York City and Portland (OR) passed a sick leave law last spring. New Jersey will vote on a $1 mimimum wage increase this fall, and organizers in Massachusetts plan a petition drive for the 2014 ballot to raise their state minimum wage and to require paid sick leave.

Most of the workers who would benefit from $15 per hour have families to support; the media age for fast food workers is 28. Women account for two-thirds of the industry; their average age is 32. At Wal-Mart, the median age is 30, and workers bring in half the family’s income.

Most low-wage workers are employed by companies with profits higher than before the recession, particularly in the fast food industry that can handsomely reward CEOs. McDonalds’ Don Thompson got $13.8 million last year. Brands (Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut) gave $11.3 million to CEO David Novak. After Wal-Mart had sluggish growth and only 5 percent increase in sales, CEO Michael Duke got a raise–$20.7 million up from $18.1 million in 2011. The average daily salary of a fast food CEO is about $25,000, about 40 percent higher than the annual salary of each worker.

Businesses have said that they should have the option of whether to pay a minimum wage, and the Boston-based burrito chain Bolaco actually pays its employees more than the minimum wage. Entry-level workers receive between $9 and $11 an hour, most of them $10, and many of them advance into higher roles paying $17 or more. Regarding low wages at companies like McDonalds and Burger King, Boloco CEO John Pepper said, “It’s a lot easier to keep wages down than it is to find better practices, bolder practices, more efficient practices, which come through training.”

The In-N-Out burger chain starts employees at $10.50 an hour, and workers at Dicks Drive-In in Seattle start at $10. Moo Cluck Moo, a burger chain in Detroit, pays its workers $12 an hour.

The people protesting the minimum wage have jobs, but the unemployment rate is still 7.4 percent as of July. Rep. Steve King (R-IA), probably on his way to being presidential candidate through Charleston (SC) a week ago, accused the unemployed of not trying to get work and compared them to children who won’t do their chores at home.

The truth is that there are three people looking for each job opening in the United States. The recession made long-term unemployment more common than any other downturn in many decades, and being unemployed for nine months has the same impact on the odds of getting hired as losing four full years of experience from a résumé.

This Labor Day does have good news.

  • A majority of people in the U.S. has favorable views of unions. A June poll showed that 51 percent are positive about unions, up ten percent from two years ago and the first time since January 2007 that a majority has felt this way.
  • Union membership in California increased by 110,000 members in 2012 although it fell 368,000 nationwide. Several other states with growing Latino populations also have growing union membership.
  • Some workers are standing up for decent wages and working conditions. Wal-Mart workers and warehouse workers went out on strike, port truckers in L.A. and Long Beach voted to unionize along with carwash workers in L.A. and New York and taxi drivers in New York, and Hawaii enacted a domestic worker “Bill of Rights” possibly followed by California. And fast food workers are striking.
  • For the first time since President Obama was elected, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has a full complement of five members. Despite court restraints, the board remains an important source for workers whose rights have been violated by their employers.
  • The AFL-CIO and its affiliates are holding an “open convention” next week, showing its inclusion of domestic workers, carwash workers, Wal-Mart workers, fast food workers and others. They have also formed alliances with the NAACP, National Council of La Raza, Sierra Club, religious organizations, and other groups that support basic justice for American workers. And they have played a key role in lobbying for federal legislation that benefits all workers–healthcare reform, equal pay legislation, immigration reform, an increase in the minimum wage and paid sick leave.

Despite the decades of stagnating wages and disappearing health and pension benefits, the return of the unions might give hope for future Labor Days—and the economy.

August 30, 2013

Bullying Has Long-lasting Effects

safe spaceYou’d think that school officials would want to protect all of their students, wouldn’t you? You’re wrong, at least in Rutherford County (TN). When the national and state ACLU asked that students and teachers be permitted to hand “Safe Space” posters, the school board turned them down. Vice Chairman Wayne Blair said that there is no need for the posters.

GLSEN’s 2011 survey showed that at least 90 percent of students in Tennessee heard the word “gay” used in a negative way or other homophobic remarks. They also heard negative remarks about a person’s gender presentation. Students weren’t the only ones talking like this; 30 percent of students heard the school staff commented negatively on an individual’s gender expression, and 23 percent heard the staff use homophobic remarks.

Many Tennessee students are also verbally and physically bullied: 88 percent of LGBT youth were verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation, and 64 percent were harassed because of their gender presentation. Worst of all, almost no LGBT youth had access to necessary support at school. Only 3 percent attended a school with a comprehensive anti-bullying program that specifically includes LGBT youth. While 87 percent could identify one supportive staff member, only about a third could identify many.

Posters won’t solve all these problems, but the school board refused even this small attempt at helping LGBT youth because of the terms “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender,” stating that they were of an inappropriate sexual nature. The school board’s attorney also accused the terminology of being inappropriately political.

Without any school support, LGBT youth may have nowhere to go for help. A 2011-2012 survey shows that approximately 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT: of those, 68 percent said they had experienced family rejection, and 54 percent said they had experienced abuse in the family.

The bullying that the school board denies has far-reaching effects for both the bully and the victim. According to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, bullies who were also victims have the biggest problems as adults—14.5 times more likely to develop panic disorder and 4.8 times more likely to experience depression. are 18.5 times more likely to have had suicidal thoughts, and females are 26.7 times more likely to have agoraphobia.

Previous research from Finland found the same adverse long-term outcomes, particularly anxiety for victims and antisocial personality disorders for bullies.

A newer report in Psychological Science shows the same affects as well as difficulty in keeping a job and poor social relationships. Because they had greater difficulty saving money, they were more likely to be poor. Those who were both bullies and victims are six times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious illness or psychiatric disorder and to regularly smoke. Bullies also have a greater chance of riskier behavior and criminal records.

The hatred for LGBT rights from the religious right and schools was evidenced in a hate crime last Sunday in Orlando (FL). Three men taunted a women walking along a sidewalk, calling her “lesbian” and “dyke” before they got out of the car and raped her. One of the men supposedly said, “I’ll show you how a real man feels.”

A gay Iraq war hero was booed and shouted in San Antonio for supporting anti-discrimination laws for sexual orientation and gender identity. A Tennessee church expelled an entire family because they wouldn’t reject a lesbian daughter. Bryan Fischer, American Family Association spokesman, wants the United States to follow Russia in its anti-LGBT laws which arrest and imprison people even for appearing to be or supporting of LGBT people.

Ex-gay therapist Jerry Mungadze continues the cruel stereotypes with his system of determining who is gay or possessed by demons by asking people to use crayons to color in a picture of the human brain. Black, gray, or brown—that’s possessed. And—of course!—pink proves a person is gay.

In Virginia, gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, currently the state’s AG, wants to bring back the anti-sodomy law. Tom Tomorrow’s black humor shows how doing so would impact people:

comic

After a Pennsylvania county clerk issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Gov. Tom Corbett filed a legal brief against the action—because the state AG refused to stop the licenses. The legal team compared these licenses for LGBT couples to allowing 12-year-old children to be married. As usual with gaffes like this, Corbett has called the analogy “inappropriate,” according to Corbett’s spokesman.

Even after the Supreme Court struck down DOMA as unconstitutional, the Veterans Administration refused to provide federal benefits to veterans’ legally married spouses. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said that the law explaining these benefits define spouse and surviving spouse as someone of the opposite sex. Fortunately, a federal judge in California, Consuelo B. Marshall, declared the VA’s decision is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court didn’t even begin to overturn the 1,038+ unconstitutional federal laws that discriminate against same-sex couples. At this time, Social Security will give benefits only to married same-sex couples who live in states and other jurisdictions that recognize marriage equality. State and federal government will continue to model bullying for everyone in the United States, costing taxpayers a millions of dollars.

Even Wal-Mart has decided to allow health benefits to same-sex partners of its 1.3 million workers, in keeping with 62 percent of Fortune 500 companies. The VA might take note.

Note: The IRS is following the spirit of the Supreme Court anti-DOMA ruling. Legally married same-sex couples in the United States have achieved marriage equality for federal tax purposes no matter where they live even if they reside in a state that does not recognize the union. U.S. Treasury secretary Jacob J. Lew issued the following in a press release:

“This ruling also assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change. Under the ruling, same sex couples will be treated as married for all federal tax purposes, including income and gift and estate taxes. The ruling applies to all federal tax provisions where marriage is a factor, including filing status, claiming personal and dependency exemptions, taking the standard deduction, employee benefits, contributing to an IRA, and claiming the earned income tax credit or child tax credit.”

Refund claims can still be filed for 2010, 2011, and 2012, and some people may have special circumstances that allow them to file such claims for earlier years. Earlier today, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that legally married same-sex couples will receive the same treatment under Medicare as opposite-sex couples.

February 25, 2013

Reasons to Raise the Minimum Wage

In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama dropped a bomb shell when he recommended increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00 with subsequent increases for inflation. The far-right had screaming fits about this action losing jobs, destroying the economy, and decimating the wealthy.

What would be the effect of this increase? An additional $18 billion in local economies, added tax revenue, and stabilized families who could either keep their homes or find one. Thirty million people across the country make less than $9 per hour. Nearly five million people earn just $7.25, grossing $15,000 a year. The loss of manufacturing and public sector jobs has put more and more people at or close to minimum wage. With a wage of $9 per hour, a person could gross $18,000 per year.

Anecdotal evidence from the 20 states where the minimum wage is higher than the federal rate indicates no issues with job loss linked to salaries. In fact an increase in minimum wage may actually help through reduced labor turnover, significantly saving costs.

Every decade for the last half century, the minimum wage has fallen below inflation, making $7.25 much lower than its equivalent in the 1960s. Yet worker productivity has increased five-fold within the past 20 years. The profits go only to corporations and the wealthy so that they can stash is overseas.

Wal-mart employs 1.4 million U.S. employees, which comprises 1 percent of the U.S. working population. The company’s net profit of $15.7 billion is $11,200 net profit per employee, about 12% higher than the average profit-per-employee for privately-held companies in 2009. A 20-percent increase in wages will allow their employees to buy far more things from Wal-Mart while dropping the net profit to almost $13 billion without any extra sales.

An examination of four successful companies by Zeynep Ton shows the benefits of higher wages. High-performing employees, for example those at Costco who are paid much more than those at Wal-Mart, lead to good operational execution and thus high sales and healthy profits. By contrast at Wal-Mart, low labor budgets lead to poorly trained, poorly motivated, understaffed work forces, which then lead to poor operational execution, resulting in poor sales and razor-thin profit margins. This problem is evident with a recent drop in sales for Wal-Mart:  “February (month to date) sales are a total disaster… the worst start to a month I have seen in my… 7 years with the company.”—Jerry Murray, Wal-Mart’s vice president of finance and logistics.  

Even The American Conservative thinks that the U.S. government should raise the minimum wage, perhaps to $10 or “more likely $12 per hour.” The first rationale is that most minimum-wage jobs in this country  are retail or support services and thus cannot be outsourced. “Perhaps consumers would pay 3 percent more for Wal-Mart goods or an extra dime for a McDonald’s hamburger, but most of the jobs would still exist and the price changes would be small compared to typical fluctuations due to commodity and energy prices, international exchange rates, or Chinese production costs.”

The article points out that minimum wage in Canada is “well over $10 per hour,” France has more than $12, and Australia has nearly $16.50 with 5 percent unemployment.

As most economists agree, “raising the annual income …  by eight or ten thousand dollars would immediately send those same dollars flowing into the regular consumer economy, boosting sales and general economic activity. In effect, the proposal represents an enormous government stimulus package, but one targeting the working-poor and funded entirely by the private sector.”

To show that even big business wants a higher minimum wage, the article explains why Wal-Mart lobbied Congress in 2005 for an increase. The management of this company knows that their employees can’t even afford to shop at their own stores. But if they raise wages without a mandate, they’ll have to raise prices, losing business to competitors. If everyone has to increase wages, prices will go up everywhere. . If Wal-Mart can raise salaries, it can bring in about $1.3 billion in revenue while paying out just half that to its employees.

Increasing the minimum wage for people in the lower income strata would greatly help Social Security, Medicare, and other government programs funded by the larger paychecks. The government would have to pay less for Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). “Private companies should fund their own payrolls rather than rely upon substantial government subsidies.” I agree with these conservatives!

The same companies that complain about increased worker wages have no problem increasing executive salaries, dramatically shifting the distribution of income. During the 35 years before Ronald Reagan’s two presidential terms, the top one percent of U.S. households took an average of 10 percent of the nation’s income. By the time that Bush I took over, the top was given 15.5 percent of the income, and 12 years later when Bush II was appointed to president, this percentage changed to over 20 percent. When the recent recession let up, the three largest employers of minimum wage workers, Wal‐Mart, Yum! Brands (Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC), and McDonald’s, all more profitable, awarded their top executives multi-million dollar compensation packages.

The GOP should be happy that the president recommended only $9 per hour. Some people suggest a greater increase, as much as $12.25 that would raise the annual salary to $25,000. According to one study, the cost to major retailers would be $20.8 billion, about 1 percent of the sector’s $2.17 trillion in annual sales. The raise would add $4 billion to $5 billion in annual retail sales because workers have more money.

“If retailers pass half the costs of a wage raise onto their customers, the average household would pay just 15 cents more per shopping trip — or $17.73 per year,” the study found. “If firms pass 25 percent of the wage costs onto their customers, shoppers would spend just seven cents more per shopping trip, or $8.87 per year.”

Nearly three-fourths of likely voters want a $10 minimum wage attached to inflation.  A 56% majority of voters believes that increasing the minimum wage would help the economy, compared to just 21% who say it would hurt the economy. Another 16% say it would have no impact.  Attacks against the minimum wage on fail to resonate with voters.

In rejecting the idea of raising the minimum wage, Republicans show that they have a low regard for workers who make so little money. The GOP calls them “takers” because they might not survive without Medicaid and food stamps. These people who make so little money are then derided because they won’t take responsibility for earning a living. Labor Day has always celebrated the work of laborers, but last fall House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) praised the business owners, ignoring the real workers.

Much more must be written about the minimum wage. But for today, I’ll end  with a map showing how many hours a month each person making minimum wage must work to pay for an apartment:

hours needed apartment

February 16, 2013

Arizona Female Prisoners Need Help

Arizona has gotten such a bad rap—deservedly—that I was delighted to see something positive about the state. Having lived in Arizona for three decades, I read with interest the letter to the editor in the most recent issue of Ms. (Winter 2013) from Sue Ellen Allen, convicted of securities fraud at the age of 57, who was allowed to teach at the Perryville women’s prison while she was incarcerated and battling breast cancer. Named for Gina Panetta, who died of myeloid leukemia soon after her release from prison, Allen’s program, Gina’s Team, uses the motto “Education, not incarceration, is the cheapest form of crime prevention.”

My positive feelings about Arizona soon dissipated after a bit of research on women in Arizona’s jails and prisons. The high number of prisoners in this country is well-known: a 2010 report stated that the U.S. has a greater share of its population behind bars than any other country in the world. In 2008, the number was 753 per 100,000 people, 240 percent higher than in 1980. Over 60 percent of these people are non-violent offenders, and non-violent drug offenders account for one-fourth of all prisoners, up from less than 10 percent in 1980.

For women in Arizona the story is much worse. The number of women admitted to Arizona state prisons increased 60 percent in the six years between 2004 and 2010, twice the rate of increase for male admissions. Arizona is also home to the only female chain gang in the entire country, thanks to the infamous Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was just re-elected after the Hispanic vote was suppressed. According to a 2012 law, only pregnant women cannot be restrained in shackles—but just during transportation, labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery.

Women in chains work in 104-degree heat.

Women in chains work in 104-degree heat.

Health care is almost non-existent for women in Arizona prisons. Allen chronicles the indifference toward her breast cancer, already diagnosed when she was convicted and sentenced. She was fortunate: other women died because they had no health care for lumps in their breast or their care came too late.

A year ago, the state agreed to investigate complaints from inmates to postpone a lawsuit. Proper medical care could have prevented inmates’ suffering as well as their loss of sight, amputations, and severe disfigurement. The prison suicide rate in Arizona is also more than twice the national average, perhaps resulting from the lack of health care. Corrections officials don’t admit the poor health care, but they said that it was harder to fill medical staff vacancies because of pending plants to privatize prison health care and rule changes that cut payment to these outside contractors.

Corrections spent $5.3 million less on full-time health-care staff salaries during the 2011 fiscal year than two years earlier, a 13.5 percent drop. Many contract providers such as Carondelet Health Network stopped doing business with Corrections, saying the reimbursement rates were too low. The expenditure per inmate was 27 percent less in the fiscal year ending in June 2011 than two years earlier.

One form of prisoner discipline killed at least one woman. The Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) has over 600 outdoor cages where prisoners are confined or held while they wait for medical appointments, work, education, or treatment programs. On May 20, 2009, when the temperature was 107, Marcia Powell, a mentally ill 48-year-old woman imprisoned for prostitution, was put into one of these unshaded cages at Perryville.

Despite prison policy that “water shall be continuously available” to caged prisoners and that they should be in the cage for “no more than two consecutive hours,” guards continually denied her water and kept her in the cage for four hours. After Powell collapsed of heat stroke, she was sent to West Valley Hospital until she was taken off life support a few hours later. An autopsy report showed she had first- and second-degree burns on her face and body and a core body temperature of 108 degrees Fahrenheit.

No one was charged with her death, and some of the fired employees were reinstated. The temporary suspension on caging prisoners was lifted after media attention faded.

At the end of January, the Arizona Department of Corrections changed its healthcare provider from Wexford Heath Sources to Corizon of Brentwood (TN) after ADC threatened Wexford with a $10,000 fine for not fixing staffing problems, properly distributing medication, and communicating problems to the state. One example was a “nurse” who exposed 103 inmates to Hepatitis C because she continued to use the same needle for insulin.

Arizona officials knew that Wexford had a bad record in other places when they hired the company. Some people believe that Corizon will do no better. Now the largest prison health provider in the United States, responsible for over 400 correctional facilities with 400,000 prisoners in 31 states, Corizon has a long record of malfeasance, including the charge that its care “amounts to cruel and unusual punishment,” according to a federal, court-ordered report.

Noted privatization expert Alex Friedmann, Associate Editor of Prison Legal News, wrote, “If you take all the bad parts of the HMO [Health Maintenance Organization] and put it in a monopoly situation, then you have the private prison medical care industry…But prisoners can’t go to another clinic, can’t pick a plan.”

If you purchase produce at Wal-Mart, because it’s cheap, think of the women incarcerated at Perryville Prison. Arizona fines employees who knowingly hire undocumented workers so farmers get their laborers from ADC instead.  For almost 20 years, in compliance with state law, companies such as Martori Farms, Wal-Mart’s vendor, pay Perryville women two dollars per hour, not including travel time. They have no choice: state law mandates that all able-bodied inmates work.

A woman prisoner who worked at Martori Farms described the conditions:

 “We work eight hours regardless of conditions …. We work in the fields hoeing weeds and thinning plants … Currently we are forced to work in the blazing sun for eight hours. We run out of water several times a day. We ran out of sunscreen several times a week. They don’t check medical backgrounds or ages before they pull women for these jobs. Many of us cannot do it! If we stop working and sit on the bus or even just take an unauthorized break we get a MAJOR ticket which takes away our ‘good time’!!! We are told we get ‘two’ 15 minute breaks and a half hour lunch like a normal job but it’s more like 10 minutes and 20 minutes. They constantly yell at us we are too slow and to speed up because we are costing $150 an acre in labor and that’s not acceptable… In addition, the prison has sent women to work on the farms regardless of their medical conditions.”

One woman suffered such severe chest pains while working that she was sent to West Valley Hospital where an emergency room doctor ordered that she be exempt from the farm work crew and any other physical exertion for three to four days. Back at the prison, the nurse told the woman that they would not honor the doctor’s order and then ordered her back to work. Another woman on oxygen in a wheelchair was issued a disciplinary ticket for not working.

The number of prisoners in Arizona will continue to grow because state legislators guaranteed that all the prison beds in the for-profit prisons, which cost more than the state-operated ones, will be full. One way to do that is to provide immigrant detainees, a rich source of prisoners in Arizona. Nearly half of the 400,000 detainees are in for-profit prisoners, and Arizona isn’t always careful to make sure that these people are not U.S. citizens.

Briseira Torres of Glendale (AZ) was arrested on three counts of forgery for using her real name and real identification. She was kept in jail for over four months without bail, losing her house and car. Her 14-year-old daughter had to live with friends and could see her mother only in jail. Torres was finally released after two attorneys provided a statement from Arizona’s Office of Vital Records, proving her birth certificate was legitimate. In court, the detective continued to claim that her birth certificate had been canceled, and Torres was left without an official ID. Three months later the state still tried to cancel her legal birth certificate, despite the fact that she was born at home in Avondale (AZ) with witnesses.

This is life for women prisoners in Arizona.

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