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Alternet 07-03

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  • Robert Sterling
    Please send as far and wide as possible. Thanks, Robert Sterling Editor, The Konformist http://www.konformist.com HIGHTOWER: Leave No Hummer Owner Behind By
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 3, 2003
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      Please send as far and wide as possible.

      Thanks,
      Robert Sterling
      Editor, The Konformist
      http://www.konformist.com


      HIGHTOWER: Leave No Hummer Owner Behind
      By Jim Hightower, AlterNet
      June 23, 2003
      The Bushites have hoisted themselves by their own political petard,
      and - ouch - that can hurt!

      The petard in question is George's famous campaign slogan promising
      that he would "leave no child behind." That's a sweet thought, but it
      recently smashed up against the rock hard, right-wing ideology of
      plutocracy that is the governing ethic of this bunch - an ethic that
      basically preaches, "leave no millionaire behind, and everyone else
      take the hindmost."

      At issue was George W's $350 billion tax giveaway to the wealthiest
      of the wealthy - the least needy families in America. The millionaire
      class will enjoy an average of about $93,000 a year from Uncle Sugar
      in this giveaway. There's even a special "Hummer deduction" tucked
      into the bill - sort of like the prize in a box of Cracker Jacks. It
      gives a tax deduction of up to $100,000 to business owners who buy a
      vehicle weighing at least 6,000 pounds.

      To provide a political sham for this rip-off by the rich, the
      Bushites tossed in a $400-per-child increase in the child tax credit,
      allowing George to proclaim with a straight face that his plutocratic
      boondoggle will "reduce tax rates for everyone who pays income
      taxes."

      But - oops! - he lied. Nearly 12 million children live in low-income
      working families that do pay income tax, but were simply excluded
      from George's $400 tax credit. That's one in every six children that
      he left behind - including, ironically, the children of some 200,000
      men and women of the military. Yet, when confronted with this, Tom
      DeLay, the Bushites chief operative in the house, waved his hand
      dismissively and barked, "There are a lot of things more important
      than that."

      Yeah, Tom, things like integrity and fairness, and honesty. There you
      have their "compassionate conservatism" - $100,000 for Hummer owners,
      and not even $400 for the children of poor working families.

      *****

      IVINS: Medicare Prescription for Disaster
      By Molly Ivins, AlterNet
      June 24, 2003

      AUSTIN, Texas - Food fight! Here's a beauty: to vote or not to vote,
      to favor or not to favor the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill?

      Theoretically, everybody's in favor of a plan to help senior citizens
      with prescription drug costs, which are truly appalling. Many seniors
      literally have to choose between their meds or food. Everyone agrees
      it's awful - the question is whether the bills currently in the House
      and Senate are actually an improvement.

      Those of you who make up your minds based on the if-he's-for-it, I'm-
      against-it method (quite a few people seem to be doing that these
      days) are in deep doo-doo on this one. True, Ted Kennedy is for it,
      and The Wall Street Journal is against it. On the other hand, the
      White House is for it, and pretty much everyone on the left except
      Kennedy is against it. The press is helpfully wringing its hands and
      announcing, "This is soooo complicated."

      So let's try the unusual maneuver of actually looking at the merits
      of the thing. If you put, as Consumer Reports has helpfully done, the
      hybrid House Republican/Bush bill up against the Democrats' version
      by the respected Medicare expert John Dingell, it's no contest. The
      Democratic bill is better in every respect - except, of course, it
      costs more. It has the additional flaw of being unlikely to pass in
      the Republican House.

      In fact, the Republicans are not entirely sure they can get their own
      awful version passed. For starters, the Republican version covers, at
      best, 22 percent of projected prescription drug expenditures. It
      includes a $250 deductible, 20 percent coinsurance up to $1,000 and
      50 percent coinsurance on $1,001 to $2,000, and costs an extra $35 a
      month. There's an even weirder hitch called "the doughnut," a hole in
      the middle, that leaves seniors spending between $4,500 and $5,800
      uncovered.

      Don't even ask how that got in there - you don't want to know about
      that bit of sausage-making.

      According to CR's calculations, the average Medicare beneficiary now
      spending $2,318 for meds would find the out-of-pocket cost under the
      Republican version higher in 2007, a total of $2,954 in constant
      dollars. Under the Senate bill, CRE estimates the same $2,318 would
      come to $2,524 in 2007, including premium, deductible, co-payments
      and the "doughnut."

      "If the growth of prescription drug expenditures moderates below
      historical levels to 12 percent a year (and this is unlikely because
      neither bill includes sufficient safeguards to hold down drug
      prices), the average Medicare beneficiary would still face, under the
      House bill, out-of-pocket costs in 2007 that are approximately the
      same as they are now. Under the Senate bill, out-of-pocket costs
      would be only marginally lower than those of 2003," concludes CR.

      So here's the politics on the deal. Kennedy is supporting the Senate
      version because (A) it's marginally better than what we have now and
      (B) in one of the hoariest cliches of political debate, this gets the
      head of the camel into the tent. In other words, it's a start, and a
      better program can be built later - in fact, it pretty much will have
      to be. The White House's logic is (A) Republicans promised a
      prescription drug benefit and (B) they can pass this in time for the
      2004 election and take credit for it, but it doesn't go into effect
      until 2006 (a clever ploy), so no one will have time to figure out
      it's a fraud.

      Of course, the Republicans originally wanted to use this as a tool to
      break down Medicare completely, insisting on more "private sector"
      involvement. Bush initially planned to use the bill to herd seniors
      into HMOs. Since private insurance companies refuse to serve seniors
      in rural areas and have already dropped 2.4 million seniors
      in "unprofitable" areas, and since seniors in private plans are
      getting hit with soaring premiums and shrinking benefits, that's a
      non-starter.

      The biggest missed opportunity in both House and Senate versions was
      not using any tool to rein in drug company profits. (Please note
      generous contributions by drug companies to politicians of both
      parties.) The loopholes that delay the introduction of generic drugs
      should be plugged up, and the government should use its purchasing
      power to negotiate lower prices.

      Bottom line, Kennedy's right: The Senate version is incrementally
      better, and in politics, you should always take half a loaf, or even
      22 percent of a loaf, if you can get it. But if the Senate version is
      even slightly weakened by the repulsive House version, fuhgeddaboutit.

      *****

      Ostrich Nation?
      By Mickey Z., AlterNet
      June 25, 2003

      The June 20 New York Times offered readers a prime illustration of
      how those in power manipulate "science" to their needs. In an
      editorial entitled, "Censorship on Global Warming," the Times
      chastised the Bush administration for displaying "ostrichlike
      behavior," vis-à-vis the dangers of global warming and possible human
      contributions to climate changes. Lamenting the "heavy-handed
      censorship" of an Environmental Protection Agency draft report on
      global warming. The Bush administration, says the Times, "seems
      determined to bury its head in the sand and hope the problem will go
      away."

      "A long section on the risks posed by rising global temperatures was
      reduced to a noncommittal paragraph," says the editorial. While such
      outrage is warranted, it's hardly credible when it comes from a
      corporate media outlet partially funded by petroleum and auto
      industry ad dollars...an outlet never shy about promoting a predatory
      corporate agenda.

      That same edition of the Times contained an article ("Talks Collapse
      on U.S. Efforts to Open Europe to Biotech Food") in which reporter
      David Leonhardt detailed talks between the U.S. and EU over "opening
      up Europe to genetically modified (GM) foods."

      The Bush administration, fresh off ignoring the existing science on
      global warming, declared that Europe's GM food policy ignores the
      fact that scientific research had shown "genetically altered crops to
      be safe." Hardly the radical sort, European officials do allow the
      use of some genetically modified foods, like soybeans, and merely
      view the long-term effects of altered food to be "uncertain."

      Here's where the newspaper of record weighs in...big time.

      "Genetically modified food - which can grow more quickly than
      traditional crops and can be resistant to insects - has caused scant
      controversy in the United States, where people eat it every day,"
      writes Leonhardt. So what's different in Europe? Leonhardt explains
      that the environmental movement is "more powerful" there (ah, it's
      the Luddite tree-huggers again).

      Leonhardt's ostrichlike behavior does not stop there. "Scientific
      research has generally shown that genetically modified foods do not
      cause health problems," he writes before quoting Don Lipton, a
      spokesman for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

      "Countries shouldn't be able to erect barriers for nonscientific
      reasons," says Lipton. "That's a very important principle in
      international trade."

      Pushing his head ever further into the sand, Leonhardt also evokes
      the ever-useful "America as hero" tactic: "In a speech last month,
      President Bush escalated the dispute by saying that Europe's policy
      was undermining efforts to fight hunger in Africa." Bush's
      scriptwriters explain: "European governments should join, not hinder,
      the great cause of ending hunger in Africa."

      Africa swoons from the irony, Europe cringes at yet another public
      dispute with The World's Only Superpower, and here in the U.S., we
      chow down on GM food, secure in the knowledge that our un-elected
      leaders have that whole global warming thing under control.

      If there were an ostrich in the room, I'd apologize...

      Mickey Z. is the author of "The Murdering of My Years: Artists and
      Activists Making Ends Meet" and an editor at Wide Angle. He can be
      reached at: mzx2@....

      *****

      Poverty Wages Are Toxic
      Holly Sklar, AlterNet
      June 25, 2003

      When President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act
      on June 25, 1938, during the Great Depression, he wanted to assure
      workers "a fair day's pay for a fair day's work." On the 65th
      anniversary of the federal minimum wage, Roosevelt's new deal has
      become a raw deal.

      Roosevelt knew that to stimulate the economy, you boost workers and
      their families, you don't pile on tax cuts for millionaires and
      billionaires.

      For decades, the minimum wage and worker productivity rose together.
      Between 1947 and 1973, worker productivity rose 108 percent while the
      minimum wage rose 101 percent, adjusting for inflation.

      Since then, workers have put in their fair day's work without getting
      their fair day's pay. Between 1973 and 2000, worker productivity rose
      52 percent, but the minimum wage fell 17 percent and hourly average
      wages fell 10 percent, adjusting for inflation. Between 2000 and
      2002, productivity rose 6 percent; the real minimum wage fell 4
      percent.

      The current minimum wage of $5.15 an hour is lower than the real
      minimum wage of 1950 ($5.71). Today's 53-year-old workers were born
      in 1950; Truman was president, the Korean War began on June 25, there
      were no transistor radios, and pocket calculators were two decades
      away.

      Since Congress last raised the minimum wage in 1997 to $5.15, it has
      raised congressional pay from $133,600 to $154,700, an increase of
      $21,100 -- nearly the pay of two minimum wage workers.

      If your image of the typical minimum wage worker is a teenager, think
      again. Think of adult women working at checkout counters and in
      childcare, of healthcare aides taking care of your parents or
      grandparents -- without employer health benefits, paid sick days or
      paid vacation.

      A $5.15 minimum wage -- $10,712 a year -- just doesn't add up. A
      single parent with one child needs to work more than two full-time
      minimum wage jobs to make ends meet. It takes more than three jobs at
      minimum wage to support a family of four. Maybe the Bush
      administration's marriage promotion programs will push polygamy.

      See if you can make ends meet on minimum wage with a new interactive
      wage and household budget calculator on the web at
      www.raisethefloor.org. Or will you be choosing between food and rent,
      healthcare and childcare?

      It would take $8.45 to match the minimum wage peak of 1968 in 2003.
      Since 1968, worker productivity has risen more than 80 percent while
      the minimum wage has dropped nearly 40 percent, adjusting for
      inflation.

      When the minimum wage is stuck in quicksand, it drags down wages for
      average workers as well. About one out of four workers makes $8.70 an
      hour or less. That's not much more than 1968's real minimum wage.

      When workers don't get a fair day's pay they are not just underpaid --
      they are subsidizing employers, stockholders and consumers.

      Plenty of employers know how to make a profit without ripping off
      their employees. In-N-Out Burger ranks first among fast food chains
      in quality, value and service. Chef Julia Child ate In-N-Out burgers
      while recuperating from knee surgery, the Associated Press reported.
      When the company opened a new restaurant in Oxnard, CA, in 2002 there
      were 900 applicants for 70 jobs. The starting wage is $8.25 an hour,
      with paid vacations, food at work, and the option of participating in
      a 401(k) with a company match.

      Conservatives like to quote Adam Smith about the market. Smith wrote
      in "The Wealth of Nations" in 1776, "It is but equity...that those
      who feed, clothe and lodge the whole body of the people, should have
      such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves
      tolerably well fed, clothed and lodged."

      In advocating minimum wage, Roosevelt said that goods produced "under
      conditions that do not meet a rudimentary standard of decency should
      be regarded as contraband."

      We don't let businesses claim they can't afford to make hamburger
      without E-coli as a justification to keep serving up disease.

      We don't tell businesses to keep dumping toxic waste in the river if
      they claim they can't afford proper disposal.

      Poverty wages are toxic to our families, communities, economy and
      democracy. It's time to end them.

      Holly Sklar is co-author of "Raise the Floor: Wages and Policies That
      Work for All Of Us". She can be reached at hsklar@....
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