Thursday, April 30, 2009
Hat tip to Think South http://www.thinksouth.org/
ALABAMA: Time: Can Alabama bring about a Democratic revival in the South?
Rep. Artur Davis, the four-term congressman from Alabama, is starting his campaign for the 200 gubernatorial race -- and is considered the candidate who could bring about a Democratic revival in the South.
Nearly 40 of the nation's governor's seats will be open between now and November 2010; in the South, the governor's races in Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and in Alabama will be key tests of whether the Democrats can extend their recent gains.
If elected, Davis' win would land another blow to what remains of the G.O.P.'s racially divisive Southern Strategy. He would also be only the third black elected governor in American history, the second from the South.
Peggy Wallace Kennedy, George Wallace's daughter, drew headlines recently for endorsing Davis, and says, "I believe he'll be one of the best governors we've ever had." Asked what her father would say about the prospect of a black governor, she adds, "He'd just say, 'It's the future,' and I think he'd be okay with it."
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
If the Cato Institute and a New Deal Democrat like me can agree on the matter of school vouchers then it must be a good idea. Adam Schaeffer of Cato points to a positive trend toward bipartisan support of school choice.
Schaeffer writes at Cato's @ Liberty blog:
When the Florida Legislature passed its education tax credit program in 2001, only one Democrat supported the measure.
Last year, the legislature expanded the program with votes from one third of statehouse Democrats, half the black caucus and the entire Hispanic caucus.
Last week, nearly half of House Democrats —47 percent—voted to significantly expand the revenue base for the state’s business donation tax credit program. House Republicans voted 100 percent in favor.
And yesterday, nearly a third of Senate Democrats—31 percent—voted to expand the tax credit program. And 92 percent of their Republican colleagues voted for the bill.
In all, 43 percent of state Democratic legislators voted in favor of education tax credits. Governor Crist is expected to sign the bill shortly.
They are not alone.
In 2006, Democratic governors in Arizona, Iowa and Pennsylvania signed new or expanded tax-credit initiatives. That same year, a Democrat-controlled legislature in Rhode Island passed a donation tax credit. A Democratic governor and legislature in Iowa raised their tax credit dollar cap by 50 percent in 2007.
Partisanship on choice is fading away because many politicians have come to realize that school choice saves money and children. The truth is beginning to spread; school choice is the most proven and effective systemic reform available.
The future of education reform is looking bright in the Sunshine State and across the nation.
More proof of the growing progessive support for educational choice at Mainstream Populist Democrats.
From CBN News:
Christians from across the nation are descending on Capitol Hill this week in an effort to annihilate poverty.
It is a tall task, but participants say it is possible through prayer and obedience.
Charlotte Keys traveled to Capitol Hill from Columbia, Mississippi and she is working to battle poverty in Columbia and the nation.
"People are hungry, they are homeless, they are under-educated," she said.
She was one of dozens of Christians who gathered to pray outside the capitol Tuesday as part of the "Mobilization to End Poverty" movement organized by Sojourners.
As many as ten million Americans expected to fall into poverty as a result of the recession.
Christians are praying Congress approves this resolution which sets the goal of cutting poverty in half over the next decade.
The goal of the mobilization is to not just address poverty through food banks and shelters, but to pull Americans out of it by assuring better access to healthcare, promoting fair tax policies and strengthening the institutions of marriage and family.
Organizers say it can't be done without a strong partnership between the federal government and faith organizations.
"When we pray about global poverty we are joining God in his global enterprise for justice," Joel Edwards Micah Challenge international director said.
Keys says if Christians loved their neighbors as the Bible commands, poverty would be quickly eliminated.
"If you love someone you don't hurt them," she said. "If you love someone you would help them and if you love someone you will bless them for Jesus blesses a cheerful giver."
And on this week these Christians are praying members of Congress hear the needs of the poor as loudly as those of wealthy special interests.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
New England Cable News reports:
Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey says "the state has changed substantially over the past couple of years."
"It's a change in the right direction in the sense that we now have more people that are going to be supportive of the kind of change that President Obama has not only promised, but begun to deliver on," said Casey.
Longtime Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter says he's switching parties. The Republican National Committee chairman says the decision is motivated by "personal political interests," because Specter would likely lose in the next GOP primary. He's up for re-election in 2010.
President Barack Obama says the Democratic Party is "thrilled" to have Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter.
"We're happy about this news for the Democratic Senate and for the American people and for the president's agenda. I'm not going to get into 2010 discussions. I think it's premature today," said Casey.
"It appears now we have 60 votes for a lot of important issues," said Casey.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Did Wall Street or Washington learn anything from the financial crisis ? Paul Krugman points out in a New York Times column that the Wall Street CEO's are likely to soon resume business as usual without any substantial regulation to restrain their greedy and short-sighted behavior.
Money for Nothing
Published: April 26, 2009
On July 15, 2007, The New York Times published an article with the headline “The Richest of the Rich, Proud of a New Gilded Age.” The most prominently featured of the “new titans” was Sanford Weill, the former chairman of Citigroup, who insisted that he and his peers in the financial sector had earned their immense wealth through their contributions to society.
Soon after that article was printed, the financial edifice Mr. Weill took credit for helping to build collapsed, inflicting immense collateral damage in the process. Even if we manage to avoid a repeat of the Great Depression, the world economy will take years to recover from this crisis.
All of which explains why we should be disturbed by an article in Sunday’s Times reporting that pay at investment banks, after dipping last year, is soaring again — right back up to 2007 levels.
Why is this disturbing? Let me count the ways.
First, there’s no longer any reason to believe that the wizards of Wall Street actually contribute anything positive to society, let alone enough to justify those humongous paychecks.
Remember that the gilded Wall Street of 2007 was a fairly new phenomenon. From the 1930s until around 1980 banking was a staid, rather boring business that paid no better, on average, than other industries, yet kept the economy’s wheels turning.
So why did some bankers suddenly begin making vast fortunes? It was, we were told, a reward for their creativity — for financial innovation. At this point, however, it’s hard to think of any major recent financial innovations that actually aided society, as opposed to being new, improved ways to blow bubbles, evade regulations and implement de facto Ponzi schemes.
Consider a recent speech by Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, in which he tried to defend financial innovation. His examples of “good” financial innovations were (1) credit cards — not exactly a new idea; (2) overdraft protection; and (3) subprime mortgages. (I am not making this up.) These were the things for which bankers got paid the big bucks?
Still, you might argue that we have a free-market economy, and it’s up to the private sector to decide how much its employees are worth. But this brings me to my second point: Wall Street is no longer, in any real sense, part of the private sector. It’s a ward of the state, every bit as dependent on government aid as recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a k a “welfare.”
I’m not just talking about the $600 billion or so already committed under the TARP. There are also the huge credit lines extended by the Federal Reserve; large-scale lending by Federal Home Loan Banks; the taxpayer-financed payoffs of A.I.G. contracts; the vast expansion of F.D.I.C. guarantees; and, more broadly, the implicit backing provided to every financial firm considered too big, or too strategic, to fail.
One can argue that it’s necessary to rescue Wall Street to protect the economy as a whole — and in fact I agree. But given all that taxpayer money on the line, financial firms should be acting like public utilities, not returning to the practices and paychecks of 2007.
Furthermore, paying vast sums to wheeler-dealers isn’t just outrageous; it’s dangerous. Why, after all, did bankers take such huge risks? Because success — or even the temporary appearance of success — offered such gigantic rewards: even executives who blew up their companies could and did walk away with hundreds of millions. Now we’re seeing similar rewards offered to people who can play their risky games with federal backing.
So what’s going on here? Why are paychecks heading for the stratosphere again? Claims that firms have to pay these salaries to retain their best people aren’t plausible: with employment in the financial sector plunging, where are those people going to go?
No, the real reason financial firms are paying big again is simply because they can. They’re making money again (although not as much as they claim), and why not? After all, they can borrow cheaply, thanks to all those federal guarantees, and lend at much higher rates. So it’s eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may be regulated.
Or maybe not. There’s a palpable sense in the financial press that the storm has passed: stocks are up, the economy’s nose-dive may be leveling off, and the Obama administration will probably let the bankers off with nothing more than a few stern speeches. Rightly or wrongly, the bankers seem to believe that a return to business as usual is just around the corner.
We can only hope that our leaders prove them wrong, and carry through with real reform. In 2008, overpaid bankers taking big risks with other people’s money brought the world economy to its knees. The last thing we need is to give them a chance to do it all over again.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Metro Catholic reports today that a leading Catholic Bishop has endorsed a Democratic-sponsored abortion reduction bill known as the Pregnant Women Support Act. The legislation is sponsored by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Congressman Lincoln Davis (D-TN). This excellent piece of legislation deserves the support of all Americans, pro-choice or pro-life, since it would eliminate unfair insurance industry practices denying maternity coverage to pregnant women. See documentation later in this post.
WASHINGTON DC (MetroCatholic) - Cardinal Rigali, chair of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), wrote to all U.S. Representatives urging them to co-sponsor the Pregnant Women Support Act (PWSA, H.R. 2035) re-introduced in the House by Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-TN) on April 22. The PWSA provides resources and support for pregnant and parenting women and their families.
“The Pregnant Women Support Act reaches out to women with a helping hand when they are most vulnerable, and most engaged in making a decision about life or death for their unborn children,” Cardinal Rigali said.
The Cardinal said that the PWSA offers “an authentic common ground, an approach that people can embrace regardless of their position on other issues.”
“There are some statements that almost everyone can endorse. First, the fact that over a million abortions take place every year in this country is a tragedy, and we should at least take steps to reduce abortions,” said Cardinal Rigali.
“Second, no woman should ever have to undergo an abortion because she feels she has no other choice, or because alternatives were unavailable or not made known to her. An abortion performed under such social and economic duress meets no one’s standard for ‘freedom of choice’,” the Cardinal continued.
Among other provisions, the PWSA will ensure that pregnant women are not denied coverage by insurance companies; establish a toll-free number for resources during pregnancy and after birth; provide life-affirming pregnancy services and parenting education in maternity group homes and other centers; provide new mothers with free home visits by registered nurses; and codify the current regulation allowing states to provide State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) coverage to unborn children and their mothers. It will also encourage adoption by expanding adoption tax credit and adoption assistance programs.
Cardinal Rigali distinguished the Pregnant Women Support Act from controversial proposals involving pregnancy prevention, which raise serious policy questions and in many studies have been shown not to reduce abortions. “Discussion of pregnancy prevention and related issues will surely continue inside and outside Congress. In the meantime, pregnant women need our assistance now so that abortion is not promoted to them as their only choice….I hope you will join Representative Davis in ensuring that the Pregnant Women Support Act will be considered and enacted by this Congress,” he said.
The full text of Cardinal Rigali’s letter is available at: www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/women/PWSAHouse09.pdf
The Miami Herald has uncovered the secret rules of HMO's when it comes to pregnancy. According to a handbook by VISTA, an HMO, it says:
"There is no coverage for maternity and routine newborn charges until the initial 15-month waiting period is satisfied. During the first 15 months from the effective date, no coverage is available for pre-natal, post-natal or delivery charges. For all plans, complications of pregnancy are covered the same as any other illness. If it is determined that conception was prior to the effective date, coverage will be voided, and the premium will be refunded less benefits provided. This also excludes elective abortion."
With the passage of the Pregnant Women Support Act, pregnancy will no longer be a pre-existing condition in American health insurance. It will also eliminate the "abortion incentive" that too many women and families face everyday. This is one of the many reasons why Democrats for Life is working so hard to pass PWSA. We want to bring both sides together to agree that there is much we agree on, and making sure that women who want to carry their child to term shouldn't be coerced to end their pregnancy so they can obtain their health insurance.
Unemployed and Need Help? Go to UnemploymentLifeLine.com
The nation’s largest labor organizations, the AFL-CIO and Working America, have launched an online Unemployment LifeLine campaign to give America’s unemployed workers more resources.
“To stay afloat, people who are out of work need a lifeline to keep them connected to their communities and economic services,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “UnemploymentLifeLine.com corrals resources for people when they and their families need them the most.”
UnemploymentLifeLine.com is an online lifeline—a Yellow Pages meets Wikipedia—for unemployed workers. On the site, people can enter their ZIP code and see a listing of available resources for workers in their area, such as where to go for unemployment insurance, nutritional assistance, heating subsidies, credit counseling, job training programs and much more.
The AFL-CIO and Working America, the 2.5 million-member community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, have created and presented the largest set of data on resources for unemployed workers currently available. The groups say it is about helping families find the information and support they need to ride out the worst recession in decades. In addition, at unemployment offices across the country, Working America canvassers are talking to unemployed workers about the issues that matter to them and getting information into their hands.
“Greedy corporate executives rewrote the rules, stole billions of dollars and left our economy in ruins,” said Karen Nussbaum, executive director of Working America. Every month, more than 600,000 U.S. workers lose their jobs; about 12.5 million U.S. workers are unemployed.
“Working America and the AFL-CIO are fighting for good jobs and an economy that works for all,” Nussbaum said.
The program was developed to assist workers like Susan Flashman, 54, of Mount Rainer, Md. Flashman lost her position as an electrician last year and has been using her savings and unemployment insurance checks to cover basic needs and health care.
“The construction industry was built on the American dream of home ownership,” Flashman said. “That dream has been undermined by Wall Street’s bad loans.”
Pop culture is usually best left to the tabloid press but free speech is in serious trouble when a Miss USA contestant faces harsh criticism for her views on same sex marriage. This blogger has long supported fair treatment for gays and lesbians in employment, housing, vigorous prosecution of hate crimes and some form of domestic partnership registration. I am inclined to stand up for the underdog yet the outcry over Miss Prejean's honest and tactful answer to a question about same sex marriage suggests that the new bullies on the block are the in-your-face gay activists. I don't care what Perez Hilton and other single issue wackos say, Carrie Prejean will always be the real Miss USA 2009.
Friday, April 24, 2009
General Wesley Clark recognizes that energy independence is a national security issue. Clark has strongly endorsed biofuels as one way to reduce America's reliance on foreign oil. The State of California Air Resources Board must not be allowed to stand in reaching this important objective.
SACRAMENTO,CA– General Wesley Clark, Co-Chairman of Growth Energy, a group committed to the promise of agriculture and growing America’s economy through cleaner, greener energy, released the following statement Thursday on the California Air Resources Board (ARB) hearing on the proposed Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS):
“Today’s ARB hearing has the potential to accelerate or freeze America’s drive towards energy independence,” said General Clark. “Governor Schwarzenegger and the ARB’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions can move to the next level if the Board adopts an LCFS that treats all fuels equally. However, adopting an LCFS that selectively applies one standard for biofuels and another for all other fuels, including gasoline, is not equitable, would cripple the ethanol industry and all but guarantee America’s continued dependence on fossil fuels.
“This is an issue of fairness,” added Clark. “We support an LCFS that treats all fuels fairly. This one, however, does not. The section of the LCFS dealing with indirect effects under consideration by ARB staff would impose unfair standards in calculating the carbon intensity of fuels as part of the LCFS and must be rejected. The ARB staff call for the adoption of a new and highly uncertain carbon penalty against biofuels only is derived from an empirically flawed process that is not based on real world data. This Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) penalty would penalize only biofuels while ignoring the significant indirect effects of all other fuel types, including gasoline. For example, in a study released on Monday which was also submitted to the ARB, researchers at the University of Nebraska found that military action in the Middle East raises the greenhouse gas intensity of gasoline by two-fold.”
Clark continued, “There is no doubt that understanding all fuel types’ direct and indirect costs is important, as is developing sounder science regarding the ILUC theory. But this is a fundamental fairness issue at stake here, and this is too important of a policy change not to get right.
“We are asking the ARB to adopt the direct effects of the LCFS now, while taking the time they need to study indirect effects, evaluate its impacts across the entire energy spectrum, and apply the science fairly across all fuel pathways. This is the path to energy independence and the key to California’s renewable fuels future,” Clark summarized.
The National Farmers Union had this response to the ARB hearing:
WASHINGTON (April 24, 2009) – National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson released the following statement today in response to the California Air Resources Board decision to implement a low carbon fuel standard.
“While I appreciate California’s efforts to encourage renewable fuel use through a low carbon fuel standard, yesterday’s ruling is disappointing and unfortunate – especially as we look to decrease our nation’s dependence on foreign energy sources and produce more renewable fuels in the United States.
“A fairly and appropriately crafted low carbon fuel standard could spur opportunities for renewable fuels, but California’s scientifically dubious interpretation of international indirect land use change is an unnecessary setback to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
“There is currently no clear scientific understanding of international indirect land use impacts. Until there is better scientific certainty, and analysis accounts for all fuels including petroleum and natural gas, the inclusion of indirect effects should be delayed.
“Ethanol production has a proven track record of providing real ‘green jobs’ in our rural communities, jump-starting the local economy. Furthermore, improved technology is increasing ethanol plant efficiency and paving the way for the next generation of renewable fuels.”
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Writing at The Moderate Voice, David Adesnik discusses the national security impact of releasing Justice Department memos which detailed interrogation tactics used against suspected terrorists. The impact of this disclosure on the effectiveness of U.S. intelligence agencies has yet to be determined. While President Obama is understandably attempting to distance himself from the Bush Administration's management style, we must be careful not to undermine our intelligence gathering agencies.
Torture: Did releasing the memos hurt our national security?
April 23rd, 2009
The Moderate Voice www.themoderatevoice.com
By David Adesnik
Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, says ‘yes’. I think his argument is on very weak ground. Here’s Hayden on Fox this past Sunday:
[CHRIS] WALLACE: And you [told the White House] this would be a grave threat to national security to…
HAYDEN: I probably didn’t use those words, but I marshaled the arguments as to why I thought it would make America less safe.
WALLACE: Now, we should point out that you were CIA director starting in 2006, which means that you came in after these memos, and you came in after almost all of these interrogations took place.
But I do want to ask you — explain the practical effect that you believe of how the release of these memos will help Al Qaeda train its recruits, train its operatives, to stand up to future interrogations.
HAYDEN: Sure. At the tactical level, what we have described for our enemies in the midst of a war are the outer limits that any American would ever go to in terms of interrogating an Al Qaeda terrorist. That’s very valuable information.
Now, it doesn’t mean we would always go to those outer limits, but it describes the box within which Americans will not go beyond.
To me, that’s very useful for our enemies, even if, as a policy matter, this president at this time had decided not to use one, any, or all of those techniques. It still reveals those outer limits, and that’s very important.
The rough shape of the outer limits is publicly known — even George Bush insisted the United States will never approve of torture. What we’re arguing about now is whether several borderline interrogation methods constitute torture. If the CIA were still using those borderline methods, it might be useful for Al Qaeda to know their specifics.
In theory, Al Qaeda can train its operatives more efficiently if they don’t have spend time learning to resist certain methods. But will vicious, America-hating terrorists really trust the US not to use harsh interrogation methods, no matter how many memos are released and repudiated? Besides, Al Qaeda operatives never know who will capture them. If it’s the Saudis, or the Egyptians, or any number of Middle Eastern governments, they can fully expect to be tortured and will have to train accordingly.
If there’s a case to be made against releasing the memos, I think David Ignatius does it better:
Obama seems to think he can have it both ways — authorizing an unprecedented disclosure of CIA operational methods and at the same time galvanizing a clandestine service whose best days, he told them Monday, are “yet to come.” Life doesn’t work that way — even for charismatic politicians. Disclosure of the torture memos may have been necessary, as part of an overdue campaign to change America’s image in the world. But nobody should pretend that the disclosures weren’t costly to CIA morale and effectiveness. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/21/AR2009042102969.html
That may explain why Obama’s own CIA director, not to mention his predecessors, all opposed releasing the memos.
Legislation Removes Penalty for Beneficiaries of Dependents' Educational Assistance Who Earn Their Own Benefits for Service
Washington, DC - Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) this week introduced a bill (S. 847) that would eliminate penalties for beneficiaries of Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) who also qualify for and accrue benefits under other VA and DoD educational benefit programs as a result of their own military service.
Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA, or Chapter 35) is granted to the dependents and survivors of veterans who have permanent and total service-connected disabilities or who have died of these disabilities. Because the Department of Veterans Affairs limits educational benefits under multiple programs to 48 total months of credit, DEA counts against additional GI Bill benefits that may be earned by these beneficiaries.
Webb’s legislation removes the DEA program from the 48-month restriction.
“If a member of our U.S. armed services is killed or seriously disabled in the line of duty, the compensation the VA provides for spouses and dependents should not be counted against any educational benefits that a survivor has earned through his or her own service to our country,” said Senator Webb. “We have a commitment to fulfill our promises to our men and women in uniform and their families. By eliminating this benefits penalty, we ensure the proper reward for service that these military men and women deserve.”
Senator Webb’s bill will receive a hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee next Wednesday when benefits legislation is to be considered.
Writing in the Shreveport Times, guest columnist Terry Reynolds explains the important role of organized labor in maintaining a healthy democracy:
An article in the April 11 New York Times, "Graft in China Covers Up Toll of Coal Mines," reports how mine owners and corrupt local officials literally covered up an underground fire that killed 35 miners, cremating the bodies and dumping tons of dirt over the mine entrance. This relatively common occurrence in China, where an average of nine coal miners die every day, is possible according to the story because, "China's lack of a free press, independent trade unions, citizen watchdog groups and other checks on official power make cover ups possible, even though the Internet now makes it harder to suppress information completely."
In the same NY Times article economics professor Hu Xingdou at the Beijing Institute of Technology states: "We don't have the grassroots democracy; we don't have independent labor unions; we don't have checks and balances; we don't have any system of official accountability." The fact is labor unions are essential advocates for working people in a free society. Unions work to force improvements in job safety and to help working families have a real voice on their jobs. That's why the right to form and join free trade unions is a key indicator used by political scientists and human rights advocates to gauge the real level of freedom in any given society.
But by this measure, freedom in the U.S. has been starkly diminished over the last three decades by corporate abuse of workers rights to organize unions free of threats, intimidation and termination. A serviceman or woman returning from defending freedom in the Middle East wars will find that freedom doesn't extend to the fundamental human right (United Nations International Declaration of Human Rights 1949) to form a union at work. Widespread threatening and firing of workers seeking union representation has virtually eliminated the ability of working people to organize and bargain collectively.
The Employee Free Choice Act now before Congress helps reign in corporate lawbreaking and restores to working Americans the promise of the nation's labor laws. The Act establishes a fair and democratic process for workers to choose a union, strengthens the weak penalties for corporate lawbreaking and ensures that newly organized workers can gain a first contract.
Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu courageously co-sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act in the last Congress, when it passed 214-185 in the House, it was blocked by a filibuster in the Senate. Her vote to support EFCA this year will be standing up again for Louisiana's working families and for rebuilding the American middle class that will not be forgotten.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
WASHINGTON, DC- U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) today reintroduced his Prepare All Kids Act (S.839) which would help all children prepare for school by providing high-quality pre-kindergarten education. A summary of the bill is attached.
“The Prepare All Kids Act will invest in the future of our children as well as in the future of our country and our economy,” said Senator Casey. “Research clearly shows that investing in children at an early age will pay dividends in terms of better performance in school and beyond as well as future cost savings to government. President Obama has made clear his commitment to early childhood education. I look forward to working with his Administration on this critical issue.”
“It is so important that we have a strong partner in the federal government in supporting early development and education from the earliest ages and we are grateful for the support of Senator Casey over many years on this issue,” said Harriet Dichter, Deputy Secretary, Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning. “The Prepare All Kids Act goes a long way in striking a balance between the demands for quality, flexibility and accountability that our preschool and early childhood learning programs need for children to get the best start in life.”
“Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children applauds Sen. Casey for re-introducing his Prepare All Kids legislation. When enacted, this legislation will ensure even greater access to high-quality pre-kindergarten programs for three- and four-year-old children in Pennsylvania,” said Joan L. Benso, president and CEO, PA Partnerships for Children. “This legislation underscores the importance of a strong state-federal partnership in providing high-quality early learning opportunities for children. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved. Research shows that children who attend high-quality pre-K perform better on standardized tests, are less likely to repeat a grade, are more likely to graduate and earn higher wages as adults. It’s a solid investment that reaps rewards for students, schools and communities.”
The Prepare All Kids Act will assist states in providing at least one year of high quality pre-kindergarten to children. The plan calls for a new federal investment to be accompanied by matching funds from the states.
Pre-kindergarten programs will be available to all children but will be free for low income children who need it the most. The bill has a target population of children from families at or below 200% of the federal poverty level (roughly $40,000 for a family of four).
Senator Casey first introduced the Prepare All Kids Act in 2007. In March 2006, then a candidate for the U.S. Senate, Senator Casey introduced an early childhood education plan -- which his bill is based on -- in Philadelphia at a conference of the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children.
While in Pennsylvania state government, Senator Casey helped make child care more affordable. As State Auditor General, he uncovered a $400 million stockpile of child care and other funds for low-income working families.
The Prepare All Kids Act is cosponsored by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Ted Kaufman (D-DE) and Mark Begich (D-AK).
The Prepare All Kids Act would:
• Provide at least one year of voluntary high quality prekindergarten, with a focus on children from low income families and children with special needs.
• Ensure high quality learning by requiring pre-kindergarten programs to utilize a research-based curriculum that supports children’s cognitive, social, emotional and physical development and individual learning styles.
• Ensure a high quality learning environment by limiting classroom size to a maximum of 20 children and children-to-teacher ratios to no more than 10 to 1.
• Ensure high quality teaching by requiring that pre-kindergarten teachers have bachelors’ degrees (within 6 years), with support for teacher educational development.
• Provide designated funding for much-needed programs serving infants and toddlers, ages birth through three.
• Meet the needs of children and working parents by providing specific funding that states can use to expend programs to full-day and year-round.
• Support and reinforce the importance of other early childhood programs such as Head Start and child care programs by maintaining existing funding levels for those programs.
• Ensure continued pre-kindergarten program quality by requiring states to develop and enforce a monitoring plan.
• Support the critical role of parents in the education of their young children by encouraging parental involvement in programs and assisting families in getting the supportive services they may need.
“As families tighten their belts and stretch every dollar during these tough economic times, the last thing they need to deal with is more tricks and deceptive practices from their credit card company. Stronger consumer protections, such as prohibiting unilateral rate increases, ending universal default, and requiring that penalty rates and fees be reasonably tied to cost, should be prerequisites for any issuers who wish to benefit from government assistance. These commonsense reforms will not only relieve some of the pressure on consumers, they will also end some of the most egregious practices that have forced so many people to the brink of bankruptcy.”
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Reuters reports that despite a recent shift in Cuba policy, President Obama currently has a 67 percent approval rating among traditionally Republican-leaning Cuban-Americans with only 20 percent giving unfavorable opinions of the President.
MIAMI (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is enjoying dramatically high approval ratings among Cuban Americans, the majority of whom favor his efforts to ease the U.S. trade embargo against their communist-ruled homeland, a new poll showed this week.
Sixty-seven percent of participants in the poll, which underscores a dramatic shift in a community with close ties to the Republican Party, gave Democrat Obama a favorable rating while only 20 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion of the young president.
The poll released on Monday was conducted by Bendixen & Associates, a Miami-based public opinion research and consulting firm that has been studying the Cuban American community for more than 25 years.
The nationwide poll of Cuban Americans -- there are about 1.5 million in the United States -- was conducted last week after Obama slightly eased the embargo against Havana by granting Cuban Americans the right to travel freely to the island and send money to relatives there.
He also eased restrictions on dealings by U.S. telecommunications companies with Cuba, but linked any further thaw in relations to Cuban advances in sensitive areas such as human rights and releasing political prisoners.
Fernand Amandi, an executive vice president of Bendixen, said Obama's approval rating was the highest Cuban Americans had bestowed on any president since the Republican Ronald Reagan in the mid-1980s and the highest ever for a Democrat.
As China's Navy celebrates their 60th Anniversary with the unveiling of nuclear submarines, there is speculation that a Chinese "government controlled entity" may be on the verge of purchasing the U.S. Navy's only supplier of nuclear fuel and assemblies. A post on the U.S. Naval Insitute blog speculates:
If the rumors are true, PetroChina, a Chinese “Government Controlled Entity”, is on the verge of buying McDermott International, a company that, as I understand things, is the U.S. Navy’s sole provider of nuclear fuel and nuclear fuel assemblies.
McDermott, a Panama “based” corporate tax-avoider, also manages the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve along with a lot of other critical national defense infrastructure.
China National News reports a show of China's rapidly growing but "purely defense" Naval presence.
China to display its nuke submarines for first time
China National News
Tuesday 21st April, 2009
New Delhi, Apr 21 : China will display its nuclear-powered submarines for the first time in history during a fleet parade to mark the 60th anniversary of the People's Liberation Army Navy.
The Chinese navy's missile destroyer 115 Shenyang is docked at Qingdao Port for an international fleet review.
Deputy Commander of the PLA Navy Ding Yiping did not disclose any further details about the submarines.
In addition to the fleet parade, there will also be seminars and a sampan race that will be held off the coast of the eastern city of Qingdao during the four-day celebration.
"It is not a secret that China has nuclear submarines, which are key to safeguarding our country's national security," Xinhua quoted Ding, as saying.
Ding stressed that China's national defense policy and nuclear strategy is purely defensive in nature, and that the country's naval forces would not pose any threat to other countries.
"The PLA Navy will continue to make contributions to maintain world, regional and maritime peace," he said.
The fleet parade will strive to be grand, practical, safe and frugal, the officer added. The parade would be grand as it was unprecedented in terms of the celebration scale.
Dozens of Chinese naval ships and planes and 21 naval vessels from 14 countries will participate in the fleet review, Ding said.
He said it is the first time for the country to have a fleet parade participated by high-level naval delegations from 29 countries.
The whole celebration will feature the concept of practicality. All activities must have an actual effect rather than just being aesthetic and pompous.
From Blue Steel Democrats:
Even now that the myth that "90%" of illicit guns used in Mexico are coming from the U.S. has been thoroughly debunked (barely 17% of illegal weapons in Mexico come from the U.S.), the talking point has stuck, as today's Washington Post Op-ed by E. J. Dionne on "standing up to the gun lobby" shows. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/19/AR2009041901995.html?hpid=opinionsbox1However, the public isn't buying.
A new poll released this morning from Rasmussen Reports shows 70% of Americans oppose new gun restrictions as a strategy to fight drug cartel crime. Americans seem to understand better than U.S. politicians that the Mexican government's exaggerations and blame-the-gringos game are mostly developed for domestic political consumption, not from a true belief additional restrictions on U.S. buyers will actually staunch the flow of illicit arms to the Mexican cartels. http://bluesteeldemocrats.blogspot.com/2009/04/mexican-gun-control-is-true-source-of.html
Watch the Rasmussen Report video here http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/most_recent_videos2/politics/most_voters_say_no_to_gun_restrictions_legal_pot_to_help_mexico
P.S. I generally have a lot of respect for E. J. Dionne. But as usual, when it comes to discussion of firearms, gun control seems to remain the one policy topic on which members of the press don't feel obligated to educate themselves about before regurgitating one-sided, intentionally misleading press releases. http://www.bradycampaign.org/issues/assaultweapons/Come on E. J. -- you're better than that, aren't you?
How about an expose on the intentional lack of border controls going into and out of Mexico by land, air or sea?
You might also want to learn a few basics about the types of weapons you are lumping together under the politically useful but technically meaningless label of "assault weapon" before you continue to vilify public ownership of semi-automatic rifles as the cause of Mexico's destabilization.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL) refutes the misinformation about the Pay for Performance Act in a Orlando Sentinel column.
There are 53 new members of Congress this year. This month, I became the first one of us to pass a bill through the U.S. House of Representatives. It wasn't a bill to rename a post office, or establish a commission. It was a bill to crack down on the extravagant bonuses that American International Group and other government-owned financial institutions have been paying out, wasting taxpayer money.
This bill sailed through our Financial Services Committee in four days, and reached the floor of the House in only 10. It received bipartisan support from our Florida delegation, which voted 15 to 10 in favor of it. It drew support not only from every Democratic member of the House from Florida, but also from Gus Bilirakis, Ginny Brown-Waite, the Diaz-Balart brothers, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, all Republicans.
And why not? What this bill does is prohibit excessive and unreasonable compensation at banks that are now government-owned. And it requires that bonuses be based on performance. This is not some hypothetical concern; AIG's payout of $160 million in bonuses with taxpayer funds has been all over the news, for weeks.
But Neil Cavuto on Fox Business saw it differently. In an interview, he began by mischaracterizing the bill as restricting pay "at companies that receive any aid from the government." Not true — the bill just applies to government-owned banks. Then he railed at me for eight minutes, constantly interrupting me, and lowering the volume on my microphone so I couldn't respond. His big gripe was that the bill didn't set specific dollar limits for secretaries, tellers, branch managers, etc. Somehow, according to him, the bill's failure to do so was socialism, and I was "Sweden in a suit." The next day Neal Boortz on 580 AM (WDBO) jumped in, calling the people of Central Florida "stupid" for electing me to Congress. And Grayson, said Boortz, is a "jerk."
But remember, the bill applies only to banks that the government now owns, for the protection of depositors and investors. Why should employees at failed banks be able to reward themselves at taxpayer expense? The government sets pay limits for privates and generals in the military; shouldn't it set limits at government-owned banks? This is what every business owner does.
To his credit, local radio host Bud Hedinger got this right. The essence of capitalism — not socialism — is rewarding success and punishing failure. That means not letting the pigs at failed banks gorge themselves, at taxpayer expense.
I did not support the bailout plan. Before I was elected, I spent years fighting government waste, fraud and abuse, and protecting the taxpayer. I promised that I would continue to do that if I were elected to Congress. And the Pay for Performance Act does that. To irrational, insulting ideologues like Cavuto and Boortz, I say that you can try to crucify me, but I'll still fight for what's right for the taxpayer.
U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson represents Florida's 8th Congressional District.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Some advantages to Single Payer Health Coverage
a/k/a Medicare for All from Health Care for All Colorado:
* Comprehensive medical benefits.
* Choice of primary care provider and medical providers.
* Health decisions made by patient and provider instead of HMOs.
* Improved Health Planning.
* Health coverage would be portable, not tied to employment.
* Eliminates the high (up to 33 percent) overhead cost of multiple private, for-profit insurances by including coverage for everyone in a single-risk pool (reducing administrative costs to 1-5%).
* Instead of hundreds of insurances with differing requirements (requiring increased office staff), providers would deal with only one form.
* The plan would be financed with a progressive tax, at less per-capita cost.
* Companies would avoid hassles of managing health care, and become more competitive without annual inflationary health costs.
* Consumers would pay less for goods and services that are inflated by businesses? high health costs - e.g., currently $1,500 is added to the cost of each U.S.-made automobile due to health costs.
* U.S. Consumers , who now spend twice as much per capita as consumers in other developed countries (with poorer outcomes), would save as administrative health costs are reduced.
* Single-risk-pool coverage would permit negotiation of lower, bulk rates for medications.
* Increased U.S. life expectancy: Similar socioeconomic single-payer European countries enjoy average two-year longer life expectancies.
* The over-45 million uninsured Americans and 50 million more underinsured would have access to preventative care, without having to resort to delayed, crisis Emergency Room care. at 4 to 5 times higher cost.
* Lessening demands on the nation?s emergency rooms for primary care would stem the tide of closures of overburdened emergency rooms.
* Retirees would not face loss of health coverage by employers.
Eliminates the profit motive that places priority on stockholders? profits, and creates a perverse incentive to deny health coverage to the ill or high-risk.
Marcel Williams, writing at his outstanding science blog New Papyrus Magazine [http://newpapyrusmagazine.blogspot.com], explains how nuclear power and biofuels can make America energy independent.
Friday, April 17, 2009
The Nuclear Synfuel Economy
by Marcel F. Williams
Currently, commercial nuclear energy in the US and in the rest of the world is solely utilized for the production of electricity. The 104 commercial nuclear reactors in the US provides nearly 20% of the electricity produced in the United States. But electricity only constitutes about 40% of America's total energy consumption. So even if nuclear power totally supplanted all other electric power generating systems in the US today, nuclear power would still only provide 40% of America's total energy needs. However, the rise of electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) over the next few decades could greatly expand the use of electricity in ground transportation vehicles that normally use gasoline.
Petroleum consumption in the US also constitutes approximately 40% of the energy use in the US. America uses nearly 21 million barrels a day of petroleum with nearly 15 million barrels a day utilized for transportation fuel (gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel). But the US currently produces less than 9 million barrels a day of petroleum (the US is still the third largest producers of oil on Earth) and imports more than 12 million barrels a day of petroleum. So the US only produces 43% of its own oil while currently importing more than 57% of the petroleum required for domestic transportation and industrial chemical use.
Gasoline constitutes approximately 61% of the transportation fuel utilized in America. Studies of shown that the use of electricity for PHEVs could potentially displace up to 6.5 million barrels of oil per day, more than half of the imported oil coming to America (31% of total petroleum consumption in the US). Nuclear electricity, therefore, could potentially supplant nearly 31% of US petroleum requirements.
But what about the other 69% of US petroleum needs?
Up to 388 million dry tons a year of urban biowaste, 325 million tons of forest refuse, and 597 million tons of agricultural waste could be exploited from our cities, forest, and current agricultural acreage to produce carbon-neutral biofuels (gasoline, methanol, diesel fuel, and jet fuel), an equivalent of approximately 4 million barrels of oil per day (19% of total US daily petroleum consumption). So the addition of carbon neutral biowaste from urban and rural areas could further reduce US petroleum needs to only 50% of current levels.
Methanol fuel cells utilized to power automobiles could be twice as efficient as current automobile engines and could potentially reduce petroleum demand by an additional 3.2 million barrels a day equivalent of oil. That would further reduce daily petroleum needs to just 35% of current levels. Since the US produces 38% of its own petroleum, this would-- in theory-- make the US energy independent from foreign oil. But as the third largest producer of oil on Earth, the US would remain a major greenhouse polluter. Electricity from batteries from plug-in hybrids would provide equivalent cost of only 75 cents per gallon. Fuel cells could also cut the energy cost of methanol in half. So even the highest priced synthetics fuels in the future would probably cost consumers less than they are paying now-- if they drove PHEV-fuel cell automobiles.
The synthesis of biomass into biofuels waste 80% of its carbon content in the form of carbon dioxide. But if hydrogen were added to the mix, biowaste could potentially supply up to 20 million barrels of oil equivalent of biofuels annually. And nuclear power plants could be used to produce hydrogen through the electrolysis of water. However, the extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere may be a more efficient mechanism for supply CO2 for nuclear electrolysis facilities in the long run. So nuclear power in combination with biowaste fuels would not only make the US totally independent of petroleum fuels but would also make the US a major exporter of carbon neutral synfuels.
In a pure nuclear synfuel economy, approximately 1170 nuclear reactors (1100 MWe of capacity each) dedicated for synfuel production, would be required to supply all of the carbon neutral liquid fuel needs in the US today. However, in a hydrogen-biofuel economy that utilizes urban and rural biowaste in combination with highly efficient automobiles that utilize PHEV and fuel cell technologies, only 410 nuclear reactors dedicated to synfuel production would be required for America to become totally independent from foreign and domestic petroleum fuels, ending greenhouse gas pollution from the petroleum economy in the US-- forever.
References and Links
1. Michael Kintner-Meyer, Kevin Schneider, Robert Pratt IMPACTS ASSESSMENT OF PLUG-IN HYBRID VEHICLES ON ELECTRIC UTILITIES AND REGIONAL U.S. POWER GRIDS PART 1: TECHNICAL ANALYSIS
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory November, 2007
2. G. Olah, A. Goeppert, and G. Prakash, (2006) Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy, Wiley-VCH Verlang, Weinheim, Germany
3. Robert D. Perlack, Lynn L. Wright, Anthony F. Turhollow, Bryce J. Stokes,Donald C. Erbach, Robin L. Graham, (2005)BIOMASS AS FEEDSTOCK FOR A BIOENERGY AND BIOPRODUCTS INDUSTRY: THE TECHNICAL FEASIBILITY OF A BILLION-TON ANNUAL SUPPLY Oak Ridge National Laboratory A Joint Study Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture
4. Agrawal, R, Singh, N R, Ribeiro, F H , Delgass, W N , (Mar 2007) Sustainable fuel for the transportation sector. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104 (12), p.4828-4833,
5. Green Freedom: A concept for producing carbon-neutral synthetic fuels and chemicals, Los Alamos Labs, November 2007 F.J. Martin and WL Kubic,
6. Gasoline from Air and Water
7. The Plug-in Hybrid Revolution
From Associated Baptist Press:
More than 1,000 faith leaders and activists are expected to descend on Washington this month in what planners say is one of largest and most diverse coalitions ever to fight against domestic and global poverty.
Jim Wallis, president and founders of Sojourners, a lead sponsor the Mobilization to End Poverty initiative scheduled April 26-29, said Christians of all stripes have been coming together for some time around the issue of reducing poverty.
"This is now a unifying call for many of us," Wallis told reporters in a conference call April 1. "This is a concern that brings us all together." Aidsand Wright-Riggins heads National Ministries for American Baptist Churches, USA, a lead sponsor.
Wallis said the coalition will ask Congress to preserve priorities in President Obama's budget that assist low-income communities in the United States, with emphasis on health care, energy and education. It will also call on Obama, who has been invited to speak, to renew his commitment to implement the Millennium Development Goals aimed at cutting extreme global poverty in half by 2015.
Wallis said the coalition is deeply concerned about debate over the budget -- the first in a long time that puts reducing poverty at center stage. He said it is time for the "faith community to be heard" in the national debate over budget priorities.
"We're all unified that what happens to poor people is for us a matter of faith," Wallis said. "The moral authority of the faith community is on the line here, and we're getting behind the effort to put poor people back on the agenda."
Just The Facts About Poverty In America
*Faulty poverty measure. The current outdated poverty measure is based on patterns of consumption from the 1950s and does not account for the rising costs of energy, housing, and health care.
*Work doesn't work. 9.6 million working families, and a total of 21 million children are considered low-income (earning less than 200 percent of the poverty income threshold).
*Rising numbers. The number of low-income working families increased by 350,000 between 2002 and 2006.
*The growing income gap. In 2005, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans saw their incomes increase by 14 percent, but the average income of the bottom 90 percent dropped 0.6 percent.
*A lack of opportunity. Only 1 in 10 children from low-income communities will graduate from college.
*What safety net? 36 percent of workers 55 and older have less than $25,000 saved for retirement.
Hat tip to New Papryrus Magazine http://newpapyrusmagazine.blogspot.com/ for the great video. The lyrics don't seem as far fetched as they sounded back in 1969 when this song was a number one hit on both the U.S. and U.K. top 40 charts. Maybe "2525" will arrive ahead of schedule.
From The Seattle Times
April 17, 2009
The economic necessity of a 21st century rail system
by Jon Talton
Top of the News: President Obama's plans to spend $13 billion as an initial step toward building high-speed rail in America is a welcome change after years of anti-rail politics and myths. America is far behind most developed nations in using rail as an essential component of its transportation system. In Europe, high-speed rail between certain city pairs has essentially put the airlines out of those routes -- allowing them to focus on travel that plays more to their strengths. China is building high-speed rail, and Spain's system is so popular it can't expand fast enough. That's a 21st century transportation system. America has been stuck with a 1965 system, only with more congestion and fewer trains.
Improving this has economic ramifications, from increasing productivity to helping deal with higher energy costs and easing the effects -- including high economic costs -- of climate change. The funding is too small, and the process risks spreading it too thinly. A better process would be to pick one or two city pairs -- San Francisco to LA, or Seattle to Portland -- and build the thing. Show Americans who don't get out much how it works -- and works better than air travel in certain situations.
Also, we don't need futuristic stuff (although high-speed rail is hardly even that, given its proven record worldwide). The economy would benefit from upgrading capacity on freight railroads. This would not only allow for enhanced Amtrak service that is convenient, frequent and reliable -- the Cascades and California's Amtrak service show how this can work -- but it would improve freight service. A better freight rail infrastructure will also be an essential if the U.S. is to say competitive and deal with higher oil prices in the future. All of this is sustainable, creates American jobs and has the potential to create American companies doing some of the work.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Popular Website Includes Latest CEO Pay Data; Bailout Bonuses www.paywatch.org
(WASHINGTON) - Retention bonuses. Golden coffins. Turbo-charged pension plans. Hefty severance packages. Lavish “executive physicals.” These are some of the outrageous CEO pay practices highlighted in the AFL-CIO’s 2009 Executive PayWatch website launched today at www.paywatch.org ( http://www.paywatch.org/ ). Despite the worst economic slump in decades, companies continue to heap millions of dollars in pay, bonuses and perquisites on CEO for poor performance, according to the latest data for 2008. The 2009 PayWatch site highlights 10 of these worst CEO pay practices through case studies and includes a comprehensive database of new CEO pay figures.
“Americans are rightly angered by CEOs who haven’t learned their lesson,” said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka. “After driving the economy into the ground and gambling with the nation’s retirement savings, these same corporations are giving out huge bonuses for bad behavior.”
The 2009 PayWatch includes a new section on pay practices at companies which received taxpayer assistance under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The new PayWatch also includes companies which are actively lobbying against workers’ ability to form unions and bargain collectively for fair pay and benefits.
Corporations and pay practices featured in the 2009 Executive PayWatch are:
‘Super-Sized’ Stock Options: SunTrust (STI) received $4.9 billion from the TARP bailout fund and wants shareholders to approve a mega-grant of $7.7 million in stock options for James Wells, its chairman and chief executive officer, even as investors have lost billions of dollars.
Pay for Failure: Bank of America Corp’s (BAC) board of directors subscribes to a philosophy that rewards executives regardless of performance. Experts say this practice encouraged CEO Ken Lewis to make risky acquisitions of troubled financial companies such as Merrill Lynch and Countrywide Financial.
Retention Bonuses: American International Group A.I.G. (AIG) has been kept afloat by more than $170 billion in federal assistance since September 2008 - about $1,500 for every household in the nation. But the New York-based giant insurer that nearly brought down the global financial system paid out more than $500 million in salaries and bonuses to hundreds of senior employees even as it was being bailed out by the government.
Executive Physicals: Employees of Wal-Mart (WMT), the world’s largest retailer, have a strong incentive to stay healthy. Only 48% are enrolled in Wal-Mart’s health care plan for its employees, according to an internal company memo, and 46% of Wal-Mart employees’ children are either on Medicaid or uninsured. To put that in perspective, 11% of children in America were uninsured in the U.S in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Meanwhile, the CEO and top executives receive an annual “senior executive physical” examination paid for by the company. While Wal-Mart doesn’t list the exact cost of the executive physical it is listed as part of the $431,446 received by former CEO H. Lee Scott Jr. under the category of “all other compensation.”
Moving the Performance Goalposts: Toll Brothers (TOL), the nation’s largest luxury home-builder, benefited from the housing bubble. As the housing market cratered in 2007 and it became clear that Robert Toll, the founding chairman and chief executive officer, would not qualify for a bonus under the existing plan, the company decided to move the performance goalposts. Instead of linking Toll’s bonus to the company’s net income, the new plan is tied to a percentage of the company’s income before taxes and bonus, revenues of at least $1.5 billion, and several squishy factors such as “management enhancement and efficiencies, and financial market visibility and access.”
Job Security for the CEO, insecurity for workers: FedEx Corp.’s (FDX) Frederick Smith, the chairman, president and chief executive officer, receives a generous salary, assurance of a severance if the company gets bought, perks and a traditional pension. Yet FedEx has a double standard for its workers. FedEx Ground classifies drivers as independent contractors so it doesn’t have to provide them with basic benefits, such as overtime pay or expense reimbursements. FedEx Ground drivers also are required to pay for their own delivery trucks, as well as for the insurance, repairs, gas and tires they need to do their jobs. By arguing that the drivers are independent contractors, not employees, FedEx maintains they can’t unionize. FedEx even opposes the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that would ensure all workers can have the freedom to form unions to bargain for fair pay and better benefits.
Lavish Perquisites: While most working Americans struggle to file their federal tax returns by April 15, that’s one thing Ray Irani, chief of Occidental Petroleum (OXY), doesn’t need to worry about. In 2008, the company provided Irani with more than $400,000 in tax preparation and financial planning services. That’s nearly eight times the $50,233 median U.S. household income in 2007, and more than the $400,000 salary of the President of the United States.
‘Golden Coffin’ Death Benefits: Americans have lost nearly one-fifth of their household wealth in the past year, leaving many wondering about the legacy they will leave their children. But James Bernhard’s heirs are well taken care of. When the founding chairman, president and chief executive officer of the Shaw Group (SGR) dies, the Baton Rouge, La. construction giant will pay more than $40 millionto his heirs through “golden coffin” benefits, including pay, stock awards, life insurance and health benefits.
‘Golden Parachute’ Severance Benefits: Workers laid off by companies in these tough economic times are lucky if they receive more than their last paycheck and their legal right to extend healthcare benefits, but chief executive officers at many of America’s largest companies often receive a “golden parachute,” or a generous severance package, when they depart. Richard L. Bond, president and top executive of Tyson Foods Inc. (TSN) until January 5, stood to collect more than $14 million in severance.
Turbo-charged Pension Plan: Deere & Co. (DE) workers and pensioners have good reason to fret over their retirement. Deere expects to earn 8.3% on its pension plan investments in fiscal 2009, but the stock market decline makes that highly unlikely, jeopardizing the company’s $683 million pension surplus. Overall, the nation’s pension funds lost roughly $1 trillion in assets by last summer alone. But CEO Robert Lane’s retirement income is secure: the value of his total pension benefits increased $5.5 million in fiscal 2008 to $22.5 million - or about $1.6 million annually. Lane and other senior executives participate in not one, but three different pension plans.
The AFL-CIO launched Executive PayWatch in 1997 to draw attention to runaway CEO pay packages and the widening gap between the compensation of corporate chieftains and workers. In 1980, CEOs of large U.S. companies made 42 times the wages of the average worker; by 2006 the gap had widened to more than 364 times.
The AFL-CIO represents 11 million workers in 56 unions nationwide and works to advance the interests of America’s working families.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Give vouchers a fair chance
The Post and Courier
Monday, April 13, 2009
The debate over whether to spend public funds on vouchers for private-school tuition produces a dizzying array of competing statistics. But the 1,714 students in Washington, D.C., who stand to lose the enhanced educational opportunities they have been receiving from a pilot voucher program enacted by Congress in 2004 aren't numbers. They're low-income children who deserve better.
It's a shame that Democratic lawmakers, in predictable lockstep with the educational establishment, recently voted to effectively end that program at the close of the 2009-10 school year.
As a prominent U.S. elected official put it earlier this year: "If there was any argument for vouchers it was, all right, let's see if this experiment works, and then if it does, whatever my preconceptions, my attitude is you do what works for the kids."
That wasn't a conservative ideologue trying, in the overwrought mantra of many voucher opponents, "to destroy public schools." That was President Barack Obama.
Since the president made those remarks, the U.S. Education Department has released a study showing positive results from the voucher "experiment."
The research reported that the students who attended private schools thanks to those vouchers made "significantly" more progress in reading than their counterparts who remained in public schools.
Yet opposition to vouchers remains entrenched and powerful, not just in Washington but across the nation, including South Carolina. State Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, a longtime opponent of including private schools in public-education choice programs, has lately been criticized — and in some cases vilified — for daring to change his mind on this issue.
Sen. Ford is backing a bill to provide tax credits for private-school tuition. He makes a compelling case for giving children stuck in substandard public schools a better option.
That doesn't mean vouchers are an educational panacea. And the success of the D.C. program doesn't necessarily mean it can be replicated on a vast scale there or anywhere else. There are practical limits to how much money we should spend on vouchers or tax credits, and how many new students whom private schools can take.
Ultimately, public schools must improve if American education is to improve. But making private schools a more accessible choice could strengthen educational competition and the public system. Certainly many students in the D.C. system, which is both among the nation's most expensive and most academically dismal, could benefit from that additional choice.
If vouchers — or tax credits — can produce positive results at private schools for some students now attending struggling public schools, why not give that innovation a fair chance?
Why not, in President Obama's words, "do what works for the kids"?
Monday, April 13, 2009
Many Republicans continue to advocate a national sales tax a/k/a "The Fair Tax" which would place a greater tax burden on the middle class while having a minimal impact on the wealthy and big corporations getting a free ride. There is no question that our tax code has grown absurdly complex but the "Fair Tax" simply isn't a viable solution for a number of reasons. [http://fairtaxfraud.com]
A much better idea is a middle class flat tax with progressive taxation retained for upper income groups. This pro-middle class tax reform proposal was suggested a couple of years ago by Former Congressman and Democratic Leadership Council Chairman Harold Ford.
Harold Ford made the case for a middle class flat tax in a Washington Times column http://www.washingtontimes.com/ published on November 29,2007.
"This is simple and fair: no middle-class family with an income of under $150,000 should ever pay an effective tax rate of more than 10 percent. If what they owe after calculating their taxes is more than 10 percent of their income, they won't have to pay a dime above 10 percent. If they owe less than 10 percent, they pay the lesser amount.
We ended the last century with America's economic might at its zenith, with Americans at their most optimistic, and with nearly all who endeavored to make the most of their opportunities and talents getting ahead in life. John F. Kennedy's declaration that a rising tide will lift all boats was alive and well.
Middle-class Americans generate little or no national savings. We've had four straight years of rising productivity and falling incomes. Many Americans are earning less, while the costs of a middle-class life have soared: In the last five years, college costs are up 50 percent, health care up 73 percent, and gasoline more than 100 percent. Rising housing costs have driven people farther and farther from their work.
These trends undermine our way of life because middle-class strength and growth represent the backbone of American life.
Our national political discussion about how to grow the middle class often becomes just that, a political discussion punctuated by harsh talk of "class warfare." In fact, class warfare is under way — as billionaire Warren Buffet is fond of saying — and the middle is not winning.
To address the challenges of the middle class, Democrats should advance an agenda that aims to do something loftier than just repeal the Bush tax cuts on millionaires. It should boost incentives for average Americans to increase savings and investments, and help them participate more fully in the upside of economic growth.
We need tax policies that will help working families instead of more tax cuts for the rich. Harold Ford has given Democrats a winning issue with the middle class flat tax. Some Democratic members of Congress need to take this idea and run with it.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Captain Richard Phillips
The Associated Press reports that President Barack Obama twice authorized the use of military force to rescue Captain Richard Phillips while being held by Somali pirates.
From Fox News:
After staying mum for days regarding the hostage situation off the coast of Somalia, President Obama used Captain Richard Phillips’ release today as an opportunity to make his first public comments about the situation, calling the Captain’s courage “a model for all Americans.”
Captain Richard Phillips had been held hostage since Wednesday when his cargo vessel carrying humanitarian aid to Africa, the Maersk Alabama, was attacked by Somali pirates. Captain Phillips and his crew were able to prevent the ship’s takeover but in order to ensure the safety and escape of his crew; Phillips surrendered himself to the pirates. In his statement, Mr. Obama said “I share the country’s admiration for the bravery of Captain Phillips and his selfless concern for his crew.”
BBC News reports:
US officials have been giving details about how Captain Richard Phillips was freed, in an operation which left three of the pirates who seized him dead.
US Navy spokesman Vice-Adm William Gortney said the pirates were shot because Capt Phillips' life appeared in "imminent danger".
Snipers on a nearby US warship observed a pirate was pointing a gun at the captain's back, and decided to fire.
Capt Phillips was not hurt in the gunfire which killed the pirates.
At the time of the operations, a fourth pirate was on board the warship, the USS Bainbridge, which was tracking the lifeboat in which the captain was being held. He was taken into military custody.
Capt Phillips had been held hostage in the lifeboat since Wednesday, when pirates attacked his ship, the Maersk Alabama.
He had agreed to become a hostage so that his crew could go free, the crew said.
US officials said he had been kept tied up in the lifeboat.
Negotiations involving Somali elders had been going on throughout Sunday to secure the captain's release, and one of the pirates was taking part in the talks on board the USS Bainbridge.
Vice-Adm Gortney said the pirates were armed with AK-47 assault rifles and small-calibre pistols.
US President Barack Obama had given clear orders to shoot if Capt Phillips' life was in danger, he said.
Snipers determined that one of the pirates had trained an AK-47 on the captain and seemed about to fire, Vice-Adm Gortney added.
But he was unable to confirm media reports that the pirates were threatening Capt Phillips because he was trying to escape and had jumped out of the boat.
The snipers fired on the pirates for several minutes. Capt Phillips was unhurt despite being just a few metres away from his captors during the shooting.
He was then taken on board the Bainbridge, and later moved to the USS Boxer where he underwent a medical examination.
The actions of the U.S. Navy today should put to rest any doubts about President Obama's willingness to use military force as Commander-in-chief.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Northwest Florida's Panama City Rescue Mission is just one of thousands of ministries around the nation working to help the homeless and needy. Especially during an economic crisis, these organizations play a very important role in communities. As Leeland sings in the song featured in the video "Tears of the Saints", this is an emergency. I would urge everyone to send a contribution to their local rescue mission or volunteer some time helping the less fortunate.
Thursday, April 09, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C. - With enough imports of tainted Chinese drywall since 2004 to build 70,000 American homes, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson wants the country’s top consumer advocate fired for not moving more quickly to protect homeowners from a defective product.
“I believe we have a serious problem with the Consumer Product Safety Commission ( CPSC ),” Nelson, a member of a Senate panel that oversees consumer affairs, said in a letter to President Barack Obama. “The agency is doing too little, too late to help residents of Florida and other states who are reporting serious health and safety problems associated with living in homes built with tainted drywall.”
In his letter, Nelson called on the president to fire the head of the CPSC, Nancy Nord, an appointee of President Bush who frequently has been criticized for being too cozy with manufacturers. Nelson said she should be removed for “neglect of duty.”
Nelson has spent this week touring homes and meeting homeowners across Florida from Lee, Manatee, Martin, Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties. They are up in arms because they have found their homes contain tainted Chinese drywall.
And the tainted drywall isn’t limited to homes in Florida. Press reports indicate the drywall has been found in a number of other states including Louisiana, Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi and California.
The tainted material acts as a corrosive agent on metal, particularly air conditioning components and household wiring. Some also believe it poses a health risk.
Nelson has proposed legislation with Senate colleague Mary Landrieu of Louisiana to remedy the drywall problem. His bill, if made law, would initiate a drywall recall and would impose an immediate ban on imported Chinese drywall. The bill would also ask the CPSC to join with federal testing labs and the Environmental Protection Agency to determine the danger level of chemicals and compounds in the drywall.
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
President Theodore Roosevelt understood the need to regulate big business and protect the public welfare from the greed of the marketplace. My question is where are the Teddy Roosevelt Republicans of today ? Our country could definitely use a few of them right now.
Thanks to the Rev. Bill McGinnis for calling my attention to this great quote from Teddy Roosevelt:
"I hold that a corporation does ill if it seeks profit in restricting production and then by extorting high prices from the community by reason of the scarcity of the product; through adulterating, lyingly advertising, or over-driving the help; or replacing men workers with children; or by rebates; or in any illegal or improper manner driving competitors out of its way; or seeking to achieve monopoly by illegal or unethical treatment of its competitors, or in any shape or way offending against the moral law either in connection with the public or with its employees or with its rivals. Any corporation which seeks its profit in such fashion is acting badly. It is, in fact, a conspiracy against the public welfare which the Government should use all its powers to suppress.
"If, on the other hand, a corporation seeks profit solely by increasing its products through eliminating waste, improving its processes, utilizing its by-products, installing better machines, raising wages in the effort to secure more efficient help, introducing the principle of cooperation and mutual benefit, dealing fairly with labor unions, setting its face against the underpayment of women and the employment of children; in a word, treating the public fairly and its rivals fairly: then such a corporation is behaving well. It is an instrumentality of civilization operating to promote abundance by cheapening the cost of living so as to improve conditions everywhere throughout the whole community."
Source: Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt
Dustin Ensinger warns of the vulnerability of our nation's food supply at Economy in Crisis.Org:
In the wake of a rash of food-borne illnesses caused by contaminated peppers, spinach, peanuts and most recently pistachios, one lawmaker is proposing splitting the inept Food and Drug Administration into two separate entities and drastically overhauling the nation's neglected food safety system.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has introduced H.R. 875, the Food and Safety Modernization Act of 2009. The bill would create a new agency, the Food Safety Administration, under the umbrella of the Department of Health and Human Services, to take over the responsibilities of the FDA.
"There is an urgency that we move on strong food-safety reform. It is a high priority in Congress," Rosa DeLauro, chairwoman of a House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the FDA, said at the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit in Washington. "I'm optimistic that this could finally be the Congress in which we deal with this."
Not only would the bill create an entire new agency to oversee the nation’s food safety, but it would also provide the FDA with mandatory recall authority, make it easier to trace the source of contamination and increase the penalties for companies that sell tainted products.
According to some, reform is severely needed. The nation is left vulnerable through a largely unprotected food supply, they say.
"The U.S. food safety system is seriously out of date and fragmented, leaving Americans vulnerable," said Michelle Larkin, public health team director and senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "We shouldn't have to worry that our kids are going to get sick from their school lunch or that our family is at risk if they eat out at a restaurant or at home."
Indeed, currently, the FDA is tasked with overseeing 80 percent of the nation’s food supply and, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, they are doing an extremely poor job. The CDCP estimates that every year 76 million Americans are afflicted by food poisoning. Of those, an estimated 5,000 will die each year.
"Unfortunately, we wait until people die before we respond when we've known all along there are problems here," DeLauro said, according to Reuters.
The economic cost of having a dangerously vulnerable food supply is in the billions, according to some estimates. That is yet another reason why food safety reform is such a salient issue. A well protected food supply could save the country billions every year in health care costs and lost worker productivity, according to one study on the issue.
"We are way overdue for a makeover," Michelle Larkin of Trust for America's Health, a food safety advocacy group, told The Los Angeles Times. "It costs us around $44 billion annually in medical care and lost productivity, so the stakes are really high."
Rosa DeLauro has introduced a food safety bill. It targets imports as one of its provisions. House Ag Committee chairman Collin Peterson has apparently said that imported food safety is a priority for him this year.
Rosa Delauro's bill is H.R. 875. It would create a Food Safety Administration (FSA) within the Department of Health and Human Services that would take over Food and Drug Administration duties relating to food safety but not those of the USDA.
The bill would require domestic and foreign food establishments to register with the FSA, and the registration could be suspended for violations of food safety laws.