- Please send as far and wide as possible.
Editor, The Konformist
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
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
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
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
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.
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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@....