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Monday, November 30, 2009

TRUE CHRISTIANITY IN ACTION



Hi everybody. I got this touching story below in an email from a good friend. I thought I would pass it on to you.

I know many progressives are sour on the Catholic Church due to its often very conservative stand on social issues (especially concerning a woman's reproductive rights), the fact that a number of its clergy have openly advocated voting Republican at times, and last week a bishop even went so far as to publicly single out Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D, RI) and ask him to refrain from taking communion due to his support for women's right to choose (even though they made no such request of the Republicans who voted as a bloc against the current health reform bill containing the Stupak amendment). Those are indeed very controversial acts the Catholic Church has taken. But that Church has also many times manifested a more liberal bent in other areas (which I encourage), and has played an activist role in helping the poor, both domestically and internationally. Yes, they may be sitting on a fortune in medieval art treasures, but they also have a large number of nuns, priests, and ordinary people working out in the field among and providing aid to the underprivileged in poor areas throughout the world. In that endeavor, I support them unhesitatingly and wholeheartedly.

Bear in mind that in presenting this email bwlow to you today, I am not acting as a sales agent of, or advocate for, the Catholic Church. I simply DO like to give credit where credit is due, and I support rather than discourage THIS type of church activism. It is true Christianity in action!

So DO keep this in mind, and, rather than merely castigating that Church this Christmas season, let's give this aspect of it our moral, if not financial, support. For this time of year is when we are supposed to be giving to the less fortunate and building up good efforts rather than tearing them down. I will not tear anyone down as they are reaching out to the poor. We need far more of this sentiment and action in our world today, even as many of us ourselves are suffering and struggling with unemployment, underemployment, ever-rising costs, and flat wages. Oh, and those of you who may have been recipients of gigantic Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in recent years: remember this. Thank you for your understanding.


To learn more about relief efforts of the Catholic Church, or to help their charitable cause by purchasing gifts for your friends or family from their gift catalog, go to http://gifts.crs.org/. (MY APOLOGIES FOR NOT PROPERLY HYPERLINKING THE WEBSITE ADDRESSES IN THIS POST. THEY ARE ACCURATE, THOUGH).
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November 30, 2009 Forward to a Friend
Dear Friend,


The season of Advent is upon us, and as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior, I ask you to read two incredible stories relayed by Catholic Relief Services staff that I must share with you.
First is from Father David Garcia, who often travels around the United States talking to Catholic grade-school children about our responsibility to those in need overseas. He told us of one fifth-grader who asked his parents not to give him any gifts last Christmas and donate that money to combat malaria instead. This boy had learned how malaria, which can easily be prevented, kills thousands of children each year in developing countries. His simple sacrifice helped save lives.
Father Garcia says, "That fifth-grader is smarter than most of us. He certainly is more compassionate and puts his faith into action more than most people. He is one bright sign of hope in an often darkened world. He lives out a spirit of thanks."
Read about one of CRS' malaria programs in Angola, where the disease is the country's number one killer, and how the distribution of nets and medicines is making a difference. The account can be found at http://gifts.crs.org/health/angola/index.cfm.
The second story comes from John Rivera of our communications department, who just returned from Haiti—one of the poorest nations on earth. There he met a little girl who proudly carried a High School Musical backpack, and John mentioned that his own daughter was a huge fan. The next thing John knew, the girl had emptied out her books and came rushing back to give the backpack to him to take home to his daughter.
Imagine, this little girl was willing to part with what was surely one of her few worldly possessions to give it to someone she would never meet. I am reminded of our generous donors, who reach out to help families overseas whom they will never know.
And the backpack? John, thinking quickly, gently declined the gift, explaining that his daughter already had a bookbag. Could he photograph the girl holding it to show his daughter instead? The girl agreed.
Children's hearts and instincts are so pure, and they often remind us that the act of giving can help us feel God's love working through us. As you embark on your holiday shopping, I hope you will be inspired by these children to give meaningful gifts from our Gift Catalog for those you love, and help bring joy to the world.
Wishing you a peaceful Advent,
Ken Hackett

President
Catholic Relief Services


CRS is the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community. You have received this e-mail because you've indicated to us that you are interested in receiving messages of this type.
If you no longer wish to receive e-mail messages of this type, click here.
If you wish to change your subscription e-mail address, please click here. Call us at 1-888-277-7575 for more information today.

Catholic Relief Services
P.O. Box 17090
Baltimore, Maryland 21203-7090
E-mail: community@crs.org
CRS meets all 20 Charity Standards of the Better Business Bureau
Help us spread the word of CRS.
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And, I might add, even if you do not purchase from their catalogue or donate in support of their relief, please do encourage their efforts and those of similar agencies this season. Joyeaux Noel!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

SOBERING THOUGHTS ON THANKSGIVING WEEKEND


Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. As you feast with family and friends this holiday weekend, count your blessings. If you have a roof over your head, have a job, have health insurance, are in relatively good health, and can enjoy a generous helping of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, squash, beans, jello, cranberries, and pumpkin pie, you are indeed very lucky and should feel very, very grateful. For you are far better off than those who are homeless or are lining up for a charitable hot meal in a food line somewhere.

I read with disappointment and a sick feeling in my gut that many charities and nonprofit organizations will be severely cutting back on or even eliminating free meals for the poor this Thanksgiving due to severely depleted budgets. This is nothing for us to be proud of as a nation. In fact, we should be thoroughly ashamed, especially those who have received the massive tax cuts President George W. Bush and his conservative Republican Congresses enacted for ultra-high incomes so many years ago and which remain in force to this day. All that extra money which we were told would go for domestic business creation to make millions of new high-paying jobs here has instead gone overseas, was wasted on wild market speculation, or has been held on to. Our standard of living was supposed to rise from those tax cuts and the free trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA which were set up at the strong urging of these same conservative Republicans and me-too "New" Democrats.

Instead, our standard of living is dropping. So much for the wisdom and value of free market, conservative Republican economics.

Quite by accident, I discovered a unique "Salary Crunch" feature courtesy of ESPN, a leading national sports TV and radio network. It featured an interactive table whereby you could plug in your current annual salary and see how much time it would take New York Yankees' pitcher C.C. Sabathia (current annual salary: $23 MILLION) to "earn" the same amount you do in a year's time. For those of you making $100,000 a year (a well-higher-than-median salary), it would take Mr. Sabathia only 1.1 innings of pitching. But it would take YOU 230 YEARS to earn what he makes in ONE year! For those earning, say, $30,000 per year, Sabathia would only have to pitch merely 0.33 of an inning (1 out), but it would take YOU 766.67 YEARS to earn his current annual salary. To those poor folks currently being paid only minimum wage (a puny $7.25 per hour, or just $15,080 per year), Mr. Sabathia is paid this amount in only 0.17 of an inning (LESS THAN ONE OUT), and it would take those folks 1,525.2 YEARS to earn his annual salary. Interestingly enough, C.C. Sabathia is not even Major League Baseball's highest paid player!

We have seen the compensation rates of the wealthy shoot skyward in recent years, even as those of the middle class and poor have remained the same or even declined. Ever-rising fuel and health care costs have further eroded buying power and compounded the stress the average American worker is under as he or she tries to maintain.

Keeping in mind the minimum wage figure of $15,080 annually I have already provided you with, compare it to the compensation rates of 5 other prominent wealthy individuals I have picked at random below:

Angela Braly, CEO of health insurance giant WellPoint: $9,844,212.
Miles D. White, CEO of pharmaceutical giant Abbott: $33,400,00.
Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees' third baseman: $28,000,000.
Stephen Hemsley, CEO of health insurance behemoth United Health Group: $3,241,042 (and previously much higher).
John Lechleiter, CEO of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly: $13,000,000.

Remember, folks, these exorbitantly high compensation levels are being paid at a time where the nation is suffering a 10.2% (17+% actual) unemployment rate, nearly 50 million (almost 1 in every 6.5 of us) have no health insurance coverage, and roughly 10% of the population is now on food stamps, There is no moral justification for the disparities in income we are seeing, with these disparities growing out-of-control every year. This phenomenon is wrong, and, furthermore, endangers our well-being as a people.

This practice is the abuse of capitalism.

And yet, there are still many people who scream at raising taxes on the very wealthy, or at government stipulating how much is too much when it comes to fair executive compensation levels for Wall Street bankers and business executives our tax dollars bailed out earlier this year. They want no control of or regulation over these outrageous salaries, even though we taxpayers and we stockholders have had no voice in the setting of those salaries yet continue to pay them. These people, just like the practices they wish to preserve, are dead wrong. The sky is not the limit when it comes to celebrity or executive compensation, especially when that compensation harms the economic well-being of ordinary working people and the poor, and as we are the ones partially funding it.

So this holiday weekend, give thanks that you are not deprived or living hand-to-mouth under a bridge. Think of those poor people who are, but also remember the ultra-wealthy others who have put them there, are keeping them there, and/or are keeping you trapped at the level of income you are at. We have nothing to be thankful to these people for except our own personal struggles and the misery of others. And let us not be complacent about this status quo: It is in our best interest, and is our moral obligation, to change this scenario. The wealthy elites are doing next to nothing to look out for the rest of the country or to sensibly regulate themselves, and they never will. Call it income redistribution; call it socialism; I don't care what you call it. THAT is why GOVERNMENT, as an agent of we the people, must have and must utilize the power to more fairly level the playing field for all!

Monday, November 23, 2009

FAR-RIGHT INSANITY: THEN AND NOW


It is easy to think that lying, irresponsible, egomanaical far-right extremist formentors of fiction like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are a relatively new phenomenon in American culture and politics. But that supposition is not at all true.

Our penchant for free speech and the free exchange of ideas has made the United States unique in the history of the world. We have produced profound, noble, hopeful, unifying, and forward-looking thinkers like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, to name but a few, whose ideas and principles have inspired millions and are quoted and held in high esteem all across the globe to this day. Theirs has been a language of universality, optimism, equal opportunity, and inclusiveness. It has provided great and lasting food for thought for the whole world.

But we have also produced shallow preachers of hatred, fear, mistrust, division, and backward-looking thinking. Modern far-right conservatives and Republicans like Beck, Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Mivchelle Malkin, Dick and Ann Cheney, John Boehner, Sarah Palin, Pete Hoekstra, and Michele Bachmann fit into this category. They wallow in humankind's baser instincts of narcissim, nervousness, and self-promotion. Such shallowness does little to inspire others and, as such, these people will have little wide or lasting impact on humanity. Theirs has been the language of individuality, pessimism, skepticism, dishonesty, and exclusivity. Having little to offer others, it will be deservedly forgotten in the long run.

We are currently being bombarded by non-stop barrages of anti-Obama and anti-progressive thought from far-right extremists, many of whom have already been mentioned above. There is a common thread of underlying racism, hatred, fear, mistrust, and outright falsehood in their pronouncements. From the Cheney duo's accusations of the President's "dithering" on Afghanistan (thereby allegedly placing the country in dire jeopardy), to Sarah Palin's ridiculous claims that he "pals around with domestic terrorists" and his health care reform agenda will establish "death panels", to Glenn Beck's patently absurd charge that he is a "racist" and "hates white culture", to teabaggers' fears that our taxes will skyrocket, to Birthers' assertions that he wasn't born here and is not a citizen (or he is actually an America-hating Muslim), to Charles Grassley's statement that health care reform will "throw grandma under the bus", to Rush Limbaugh's (and many others')litanies that Obama's stimulus plan and health care initiatives are "socialistic" - all of these claims and insinuations are preposterous.

It has long been a trait of the far-right to exaggerate, distort, lie, and attack. Fr. Coughlin warned that FDR's New Deal would destroy capitalism. Didn't happen; in fact, his measures SAVED capitalism. Joie McCarthy had people believing that communists were everywhere and that Democrats were aiding and abetting them. Communists WEREN'T everywhere, and we ended up defeating them. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush told us regulation of business was bad and that "government isn't the solution, it's the problem." Yet when government regulation was lifted on energy speculators and mortgage bankers, gasoline shot up to $4 per gallon and the economy nearly went into another Great Depression.

The far-right has nothing to offer this country or the world by preaching fear, laissez-faire economics, ultra-conservative religion, and outright lies.

If you look at the illustration below, which I obtained from a recent post on the superb blog Down With Tyranny, you'll see it is a hate sheet circulated about President Kennedy just before his assassination in 1963. He, just like President Obama, was also the target of unfounded, lying, hateful rumors. There was no internet in those days, and no cable or satellite TV, so there was a far more miniscule venue for the far-right to preach its lies and hatred. Substitute the words "terrorists" or "Muslims" for the word "communist", and you'll see this is a perfect proof of the existence of far-right insanity: then AND now. The language used is eerily similar to what we see today, as is the method of presenting unsubstantiated accusations designed to alarm people. A look at some of the many far-fetched and inaccurate claims against Kennedy which have been thoroughly disproven by history show how far removed from reality those attacks were, as are the attacks against Obama now. The writers of this pamphlet were the teabaggers of their day, and were equally as unbalanced and insane as our current far-right extremists. (CLICK ON THE PICTURE TO ENLARGE FOR EASIER READING).



The far-right has nothing to offer this country or the world by preaching fear, laissez-faire economics, ultra-conservative religion, and outright lies.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

SEND THIS VIRUS TO WASHINGTON!

"Let's take the profit motive OUT OF MEDICINE!"
- Manifesto Joe, Manifesto Joe's Texas Blues -


Enough is enough. We forgotten souls here in the hinterland - ordinary, average citizens all, are far removed from Washington, D.C., and it shows. The overwhelming majority of us don't have six or seven (or eight or nine) figure incomes, and we get taken pretty much for granted by wealthy business executives and our elected officials in Congress all the time. Our struggles apparently aren't understood, or mean very little to those people. They just don't get it.

But it's now time for that to change.

A number of our Senators and Representatives think there is nothing wrong with our health care system, but we know better. The Joe Liebermans, Blanche Lincolns, Tom Coburns, Mitch McConnells, Mary Landrieus, John McCains, Ben Nelsons, Evan Bayhs, Jon Kyls, Michele Bachmanns, Virginia Foxes, John Boehners, Pete Hoekstras, Mike Pences, and Eric Cantors in Washington all seem to think that the current system of for-profit health care delivery is the only way to go, even as it is unattainable for millions and other millions have been excluded from participating in it. These elected officials are evidently unconcerned that millions of others of us can no longer afford health insurance, or that its ever-rising costs are bankrupting individuals and businesses alike. These proponents of the free market apparently believe it is perfectly acceptable for health insurance and pharmaceutical executives to make millions of dollars in annual salaries while denying coverage to many, or pricing medical care and even prescriptions beyond a rate we average, everyday folks can afford to pay. They just don't get it. But WE do.

We understand very well that no one should have to choose between paying for needed drugs and eating, or between paying for medical bills and paying the rent. We understand that, while our wages are frozen or dropping, those of business executives and elected officials keep rising every year, and so do the costs of drugs and medical care we need, shooting up in price well above the rate of inflation. So I got an idea.

Let's give every Representative and Senator in Washington a direct look at the struggles we are now facing due to the rising, out of control costs of health care and prescriptions. ESPECIALLY THE CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICANS AND BLUE DOG DEMOCRATS WHO OPPOSE A PUBLIC OPTION TO HELP CONTROL COSTS. If you are unemployed and without insurance, can't afford health insurance, are elderly on a fixed income and can't afford your donut-hole in Medicare part D, have a pre-existing condition and are excluded from health insurance, or have had health insurance but were booted off it because your chemotherapy or other costs have become too high for your insurance company's liking, SEND YOUR REPRESENTATIVE A COPY OF THE LETTER BELOW (AS SHOWN BETWEEN THE DOTTED LINES), ALONG WITH AN ITEMIZED COPY OF YOUR HOSPITAL BILL, DOCTOR BILL, OR THIS YEAR'S PRESCRIPTION COSTS. In fact, copy and paste the letter between the dotted lines below and send it to everyone in your email address book and ask them to do the same. Just tailor the letter to fit your own circumstances, and send it off to Washington. Here it is:
=============================================
Dear Senator ____________ (or Representative __________):

I am one of your constituents and I desperately need your help. I only make $ ______ per week, and, as you can see from the medical bill I have included with this letter, I now owe $ _________ in medical fees. I want to be able to eat and pay for my rent, heating, and electricity, too, so I am asking a very big favor of you: WILL YOU PLEASE PAY THIS BILL FOR ME? BECAUSE I CERTAINLY CAN'T!

I understand the important need for hospitals, health insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies to make a good profit, but as you can see, I just can't afford to help them do that anymore. So will YOU help me do this by paying my bill?

Thank you, Senator _________ (or Representative __________). I really appreciate it!

Sincerely,
Your Devoted Constituent,

_________________________________

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We average, everyday, BROKE folks here in the hinterland have been struggling with the deadly virus of beyond-our-means drug and health care costs for far too long now. Perhaps if each of our elected officials gets literally bombarded and smothered with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of letters and medical bills from each of us across the country, it will finally dawn on them that the flawed for-profit health care system we have is being badly abused, and that the only real cure is a single-payer system like all other civilized countries across the globe have had for years! Let's make this letter go viral all across the internet, and LET'S SEND THIS VIRUS TO WASHINGTON!

Monday, November 16, 2009

A DEADLY PRESCRIPTION PROFIT OVERDOSE

"Let's take the profit motive OUT OF MEDICINE!"
- Manifesto Joe, Manifesto Joe's Texas Blues -


"Tax the very wealthy to make everyone healthy!"
- Vigilante, Sozadee, CA -



A disturbing piece by Duff Wilson has just appeared in the NY Times explaining how the nation's greedy, profit-obsessed pharmaceutical companies have sneakily raised prices on their brand name drugs a whopping 9% at the wholesale level over the past year, even as the Consumer Price Index has FALLEN 1.3% in the same period. This is significant because roughly 78% of all prescriptions sold are brand-name drugs.

Stephen Schondelmeyer, a professor of pharmaceutical economics at the University of Minnesota, has done cost analyses of the drug industry for AARP, the nation's premier advocacy lobbying group for the aged. He has compiled this data, which has been backed up by other Wall Street analysts. He is critical of this increase, as well he should be. Harvard economist Joseph Newhouse found similar increases happened as drug benefits were added to Medicare in 2006. He has said that such increases usually do occur in the face of new health industry legislation. But are they justiofied? Hardly.

Ken Johnson, the senior Vice President of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America trade organization, dismisses Schondelmeyer's criticisms and report as being politically motivated. Yet the numbers speak for themselves, Mr. Johnson, and they say you lie. Industry claims that these price increases are necessary to keep profits at a level needed to sustain proper research and development for new drugs, which is indeed a costly process, lose credibility when you consider that nearly 30% of new drug research and development costs are offset by us consumers and taxpayers in the form of federal tax breaks and subsidies. What these increased prices REALLY pay for are the ever-rising and exorbitant salaries paid pharmaceutical board members and the lavish marketing campaigns now employed constantly on TV to sell new and even established prescription drugs to consumers. That's why we are constantly bombarded with totally aggravating TV ads for Viagra, Levitra, Cialis, Zytec, Boniva, Lamisil, Crestor, and so many others. 30 years ago, far less costly and much less pervasive advertising was done not to consumers, but to physicians, as it should be. This push-pull marketing technique to get us to ask our physicians for specific brand name drugs is something WE are paying for - dearly - in the form of ever-higher prices. This is absolute nonsense!

Speaking of exorbitant industry annual salaries, I focused on the top 10 pharmaceutical CEO members' salaries in my August 17, 2009 post, "Top 10 Reasons Your Prescriptions Cost So Much", and, just as a brief reminder:
No. 1 was Bill Weldon of Johnson & Johnson at $29,500,000
No. 2 was Miles White of Abbott, at $28,300,000
No. 3 was Bernard Poussot of Wyeth at $25,000,000, and
No. 10 was John Lechleiter of Eli Lilly at $13,000,000.
Remember, everybody, these are just CEO salaries. Other board members were also paid salaries nearly as enormous. Such salaries are wholly unjustifiable and indefensible in a country where millions of people are now out of work, without health insurance, or are seniors on fixed incomes.

This industry increase occurs as pharmaceutical companies make a lot of ballyhoo about their voluntary pledge to cut 8% per year over the next ten years off the prices of prescription drugs as their way of complying with the spirit of proposed new health care reform legislation. It is as deceiving as a retailer who marks up his $500 suits to $600 overnight, and then the next day trumpets a "huge $100 off SALE!" As all of us know, this is just a dog and pony show these greedy manufacturers are putting on, as their price rises amply prove.


I CURRENTLY BUY AS MANY OF MY PRESCRIPTIONS AS I CAN ONLINE FROM CANADA, WHERE MY NET COST, EVEN WITH POSTAGE, IS SLIGHTLY MORE THAN HALF OF WHAT IS CHARGED HERE. I URGE YOU TO DO SO AS WELL. They are the exact same drugs manufactured by the exact same American manufacturers as you find here, but at roughly half the price. That, in itself, is a strong argument for a Canadian-style, single-payer health care system!

We Americans are getting a deadly prescription profit overdose from our piggish pharmaceutical industry which is killing our businesses, bankrupting our elderly and chronically ill, and benefitting ONLY very greedy and very overpaid business executives. Conservatives, Republicans, and a number of blue dog Democrats oppose a public option for health care which would exert strong downward pressure on drug prices. They obviously believe corporate profits are far more important than affordability of needed drugs for us taxpayers. Does this make sense to you? It certainly doesn't to me, and that's why these fools must be driven out of office and replaced by progressives in 2010!




Take a good loook at this...it's a picture of your personal and your company's hard-earned money being stolen by greedy wealthy pharmaceutical industry board members for their obscenely high salaries, bonuses, and profits.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A PROGRESSIVE MANIFESTO (Part 3 in a series)





















This is the third installment in a series detailing the progressive position on a variety of current issues and showing how it contrasts with relation to the views of modern conservatism. It is presented here to dispel any misconceptions conservatives, moderates, or independents may have about the beliefs we progressives hold or where we are coming from.



FOREIGN POLICY AND NATIONAL DEFENSE



We progressives believe that when our nation comes under attack, a strong united effort is not only practical, but absolutely essential. That is why we all stood united the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, the day Hitler declared war on us, and when terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center and slammed into the Pentagon on 9/11. progressive, moderate, and conservative alike stood firmly behind President George W. Bush when he vowed to go after, capture, and punish Osama Bin Laden and all others involved in the 9/11 acts of terrorism, exactly as we should have. We similarly and correctly stood behind FDR to defeat the Imperial Japanese and Nazi Germany in World War II, and when it became clear that the Soviet Union was embarking on a drive to destroy our system and engulf the entire world in its brand of repressive communism, and that it was not really our ally, progressives and all other factions united in the fight against Josef Stalin and his Soviet successors. Different factions may have disagreed as to the exact measures our country should take in that endeavor, but we remained united in purpose.

Just like conservatives, we progressives want this country to succeed and do NOT want it harmed or destroyed. We want the United States to be loved and admired as well as respected. We believe nations get along best when there is mutual communication and cooperation between them. Because we hold so valuable the principle of everybody being able to responsibly exercise their own individual rights and freedoms, we firmly support the rights of individual nations to pursue their own individual paths to progress too.

In matters of trade between countries, we believe in equally fair, mutually-beneficial trade agreements, NOT the one-sided, pro-corporate and anti-labor types conservatives have initiated and supported over the past two decades, such as NAFTA or CAFTA.
Proponents of this so-called "free trade" activity have long argued that the absence of any government regulation on it would lead to more and better paying jobs in all countries, but such has definitely not been the case. These agreements have instead led directly to the exportation of millions of good-paying American jobs to cheap labor markets overseas and have resultantly lowered our standard of living by freezing or pushing down wages and benefits here. They have provided jobs for many in poorer countries, but at slave labor wage rates. They have also brought about the exportation of entire American plants to countries with little or no pollution standards, enabling these companies to pollute without restriction and thereby adding to unhealthy worldwide pollution. For these reasons, progressives are opponents of free trade, and instead support FAIR trade.

We progressives believe in developmental, no-strings-attached foreign aid, not aid which props up corrupt dictators, or military regimes which favor us geopolitically, for this type of aid never finds its way to the people in these poorer countries who need it most. We oppose exploitative efforts of entities like the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, which often force poorer countries to take part in projects which profit US but do little for those needy people of those needy countries and usually leave them deeper in debt. We also strongly support non-profit, humanitarian medical and disaster relief efforts.


We progressives believe that direct military action against another country should be taken as a LAST, rather than first, resort in matters of dispute. We believe in meaningful and constructive dialogue and diplomacy as the first option in cases of disagreement. We do not think it is wise or desirable to act as the policeman of the world before all nations, but we DO endorse military action to prevent widespread famine or genocide. We oppose the political assassination of foreign leaders, the use of rendition, or torture in any circumstance, and we support adherance to major treaties and agreements such as the Geneva Conventions. WE CATEGORICALLY REJECT THE NEOCONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN COROLLARY THAT PRE-EMPTIVE MILITARY STRIKES ARE DESIRABLE AND JUSTIFIABLE. More than six decades of bloody violence and unending reprisals in the Middle East have debunked this foolhardy neocon notion, and numerous examples have proven that it only leads to further conflict, not to mention that it is a violation of international law. Not only do we oppose pre-emptive strikes, but we also oppose long military occupations, which only breed resentment toward us and cause further unnecessary bloodshed. We have seen the disastrously costly effect our 2003 pre-emptive military invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq has been in terms of lives unnecessarily lost, as well as the damage it has done to our credibility, world standing, and our economy as well. WE MUST NEVER AGAIN UNDERTAKE SUCH AN ACTION!

We progressives oppose wars of imperialism and believe that those who wage war for profit, or order and engage in torture or genocide, must be tried, convicted, and punished for war crimes and/or crimes against humanity. Regarding the issue of war profiteering, we progressives also see absolutely no need to privatize the military or award billions of taxpayer dollars to private contractors for jobs that have historically been handled suitably well on a non-profit basis by our military itself. We view this "privatization" as simply a cleverly-disguised form of corporate welfare which should be done away with. It is ludicrous to give out non-bid contracts to private companies and then say these companies and their employees are immune from prosecution for any crimes or excesses they may commit while "on the job." The importance of a valid military campaign should never be diminished by those engaged in a money-grabbing free for all. We therefore take great stock in Republican President Dwight Eisenhower's farewell warning to avoid the creation and maintenance of a profit-driven military/industrial complex. While we definitely support the proper amount of investment, research, and development to ensure we always have the most advanced weaponry for our defense, we do NOT believe this should be an ongoing venture for large profit, or that we should continually be involved in military conflicts to ensure the profitability of a weapons industry.

We progressives also strongly support the right of others to voice dissent or protest against war. We strongly oppose attempts by those who initiate or support a war to question the patriotism or impugn those who do not agree with that war.

Regarding national security questions, we progressives take a very dim view of suspending the writ of habeas corpus, forced detention, government wiretapping, or other forms of surveillence against private citizens. We strongly believe our country can be successfully defended without jeopardizing or limiting individual liberties or by ceding these liberties to the state. We believe our very best defense is to ensure our borders and ports are fully and properly secured; that every vessel or container which lands within our borders is inspected and cleared. It makes little sense to deploy troops halfway around the world and spend trillions on military campaigns overseas if our borders and ports are left leaking like sieves here back home. We believe in equipping our military with the highest quality and most technologically advanced equipment in the world, and in making sure they are thoroughly trained. We do NOT support our country being the chief arms merchant for the rest of the world. We would much prefer to see our government and industry involved in the development of products which enhance and improve people's lives as opposed to manufacturing and selling those which take people's lives.

In essence, the progressive viewpoint on foreign relations lies in practicing the Golden Rule and concentrating on the relations aspect rather than the adversarial or dominant position, while simultaneously keeping an alert eye on possible adverse developments. It involves acting toward and appealing to humankind's shared and higher aspirations rather than simply pursuing our own desired agenda. We believe it to be far better to diplomatically engage other nations than to withhold dialogue with them or isolate ourselves from them, or, even worse, engage in unilateral actions against them. We believe the best and most lasting peace results from our outstretched hand, not merely from the big loaded and cocked gun at our side...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A PROGRESSIVE MANIFESTO (Part 2 in a series)





















This is the second installment in a series designed to present a broad overview of the progressive position on a wide array of current issues, designed to dispel any misconceptions conservatives, moderates, or independents may have about what we believe and where we are coming from.



THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT

Teddy Roosevelt was a very influential and immensely popular Republican President.
Republican Teddy Roosevelt was a progressive who firmly believed government had the right and the obligation to look out for and protect the best interests of all the people. In an Osawatomie, KS speech given on August 31, 1910, he declared, "The object of government is the welfare of the people. The material progress and prosperity of a nation are desirable chiefly so far as they lead to the moral and material welfare of all good citizens." With this statement, he defined the progressive belief that government is an entity whose major responsibility is making certain that ALL citizens' needs are met, not just those of a particular class or income level. This was further reinforced by another 1910 speech he gave to an audience at the Sorbonne in Paris, when he stated, "Every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it." That statement, of course, also refers to government's role in regulating business, as he made clear in another speech, this one at the Progressive Party Convention in Chicago on June 17, 1912. "We wish to control big business so as to secure among other things good wages for the wage-workers and reasonable prices for the consumer", he said. By this time, his Republican Party had disagreed with him on the role of government, particularly as to how it related to business, so he had broken away from it to form a more progressive party, known back then as the Bull Moose Party.

Roosevelt's declarations stand in stark contrast to the beliefs of today's free-marketers and far-right conservative Republicans, who believe that government has no right at all to interfere with business and that the free market will fix whatever problems it encounters all, and best, by itself. We progressives believe this to be an errant, naive philosophy. Historical events prove OUR belief to be true, and theirs to be folly.

Wild, unregulated market speculation fueled by greed caused the crash of October, 1929, and led to the Great Depression. Similar wild unregulated speculation fueled by greed caused our summer of 2008 $4 per gallon gasoline problem, our mortgage banking problem, the failure of numerous banks, and contributed to our current Great Recession. In all these cases, had government been able to exercise a moderating influence on free market business initiatives, general prosperity would have been maintained rather than lost, and millions of people now unemployed would still have jobs. If rhe government had more power to regulate the health care industry, we would not have 1 of every 6.5 people in this country without health care insurance coverage, and the ever-rising costs of health care WOULDN'T be rising at a rate much higher than inflation or wages, and millions of citizens wouldn't be heading into bankruptcy due to medical costs. In all of these cases the lack of government regulation and the totally free exercise taken by unrestrained concentrated capital hurt, rather than helped, the public welfare. Each of these cases perfectly exposes the fallacy of private enterprise being able to take care of problems all on its own, without regulation.

We progressives believe that government has the inherent power to protect its citizenry from powerful enemies from without as well as from powerful entities within. You have every right to march and prance around as often and in any way you like, but should your marching and prancing be all over my toes and hurt my feet, we progressives say that your marching must be restricted, and that restriction should occur as a result of government regulation and supervision. That is only basic common sense, and so should it be with the marketplace. We do not believe that individuals or their businesses have the absolute right to do as they please without question; to force workers to work in unsafe conditions; to pay these workers, who actually produce the goods and services from which profit is made, very low wages while the company owner or CEO makes many hundreds of times that amount; or for an individual or business to be able to pollute the environment or endanger others in their pursuit of profit. In each case, we see the complete necessity of government to act as a regulator for the common good.

We progressives do not at all agree with Ronald Reagan's assertiion that government is the problem and not the solution. For government is the creator and enforcer of LAW, which is the underpinning of a stable and civilized nation. In the absence of law there is anarchy and constasnt civil disorder. Government is therefore an absolute necessity.

It is interesting to note the difference between the progressive and conservative perceptions on government. The conservative believes government is necessary to enforce absolute property rights and to protect the wealthy's holdings from being taken away by the lower classes. The progressive sees government as a necessary buffer to protect those in the middle and bottom from excesses and exploitation foisted on them by the wealthy. Conservatives therefore only see government's value in terms of its material protection, and see all other attributes as encumbrances. Yet, as Manifesto Joe of Manifesto Joe's Texas Blues (http:manifestojoestexasblues.blogspot.com/) so wisely pointed out in the comments section of the first installment of this series, "property rights exist BECAUSE OF GOVERNMENT, not in spite of it." He further explains, "Government and law define what property is, how much of it one rightfully owns...a typical difference between progressive/modern liberal view and that of conservatives and libertarians is that the former consider property rights CONDITIONAL . The piblic interest comes first, and ownership of assets carries with it the condition of being accountable to that public interest." With these statements, Manifesto Joe has brilliantly reinforced that which Republican Teddy Roosevelt first laid out and practiced during his presidency from 1901-1909, and which subsequent progressive Presidents, among them FDR, Truman, JFK, and LBJ followed suit with.


Progressives believe government can and should be a good force working on behalf of the people and not just a vehicle for special interests to use and abuse for their own ends.


NEXT: FOREIGN POLICY AND NATIONAL DEFENSE

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

THE MORNING AFTER




The great "bellwether" election of 2009 is over, and, regardless of how the Democratic or Republican Parties spin it, the end result was really a headache for both.


Yes, the Republicans recaptured the Virginia and New Jersey governorships, but they also lost a U.S. House seat they had held since before the Civil War. They will undoubtedly celebrate loudly and feed us a lot of ballyhoo about the election being a nationwide referendum against the Obama administration, but that is a load of hogwash, as voter exit poll surveys clearly showed. This was NOT a vote against Obama so much as a vote against an unpopular Democratic politician running a negative campaign in a state rife with corruption and unemployment (NJ), and a vote for a more personable candidate the public was warmer to than his detached, standoffish opponent (VA). Not only that, but BOTH states have had a long tendency of voting against the party holding the White House in gubernatorial elections.

And, no matter how they may try to spin it, the Palin-Bachmann-Limbaugh-Beck-Pawlenty far-right conservative anschluss of New York's 23rd Congressional District was an absolute failure. Yes, the far-right wingnut "base" attempt to oust a moderate Republican from the race succeeded, but they failed to win a majority of the voters in that heavily Republican and conservative district. Typically, off-year elections are dominated by out-of-power party enthusiasts rather than independents or average voters, so, actually, Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman (a Glenn Beck protege) should have won that House seat. But no, wingnuts: you LOST. And the reason you lost is because you fielded an ideological carpetbagger in a blatant attempt to purge and upstage the moderate Republican candidate. Naturally, wild-eyed fools like Beck and Limbaugh will spin this as an example of what they'll call "RINO treachery" by moderate Republican candidate Dede Scozafava, who, upon being dumped by the far-right Hoffman, publicly endorsed the Democratic challenger Bill Owens, who ended up winning the election. In reality, the only treachery here was by these far, far-right wingnuts, whose views are NOT shared by the majority of the country, having grabbed nearly total control of the Republican Party and pushing moderate candidates out. This should serve as a giant warning to the Republican Party to purge these ultra-conservative fanatics, rather than moderates, from the party if they ever hope to win another national election. For with wingnuts at the helm, the GOP ship will certainly be smashed against the cliff going forward, and that should be a source of huge concern to every Republican!


The Democrats will revel in their New York win, but they should soberly take stock and realize that the victory would never have occurred without a Republican split. This win was NOT a resounding endorsement of their national performance or of President Obama's policies! For one thing, far too many progressive and Democratic voters stayed home. For another, just as Nancy Hanks predicted in her recent post over at The Hankster, the Republicans DID manage to peel off a few independent votes and this does not bode well for the President's or the progressive agenda in 2010. President Obama is not being perceived as a strong, effective, and decisive leader. His efforts at bipartisanship have hurt rather than helped him, for they have borne no fruit. Joblessness is still rising, and hurting people want ACTION---NOW! Many are starting to wonder why huge banks and auto companies got bailouts but the average citizen got very, very little in return. Conservative Republicans, aided by timid "Blue Dog" Democrats' (DINOs) inaction, are gaining some ground by spinning this disastrous Bush-bequeathed economy into "the Obama recession", and they won't let up. People have GOT to start seeing some big results from the Obama agenda, and that means he and his Democrats must begin to push and lead boldly rather than proceeding along with the "Republican Lite" methodology they have been using. That means JOBS programs - NOW - and passing meaningful health care reform WITH A STRONG PUBLIC OPTION - NOW! Democrats must UNITE and boldly enact legislation benefitting average people, as they did from 1933-1968, rather than playing the Republican game of cozying up to big business. And that also means getting a more people-oriented and fiery Senate Majority Leader than that wimpy Harry Reid, too!

This country elected Barack Obama one year ago for bold, decisive CHANGE on behalf of the people. He has managed to save the economy, but it is still very sick and ordinary peoples' lives are still negatively affected. If he wants to get anything major accomplished in this term, and to hold onto good Congressional majorities, he must rekindle his base and implement a progressive, for-the-people agenda and stop pussyfooting around with conservative Republicans!

Monday, November 2, 2009

A PROGRESSIVE MANIFESTO (Part 1 in a series)



















As I surf the net and read articles and blogs of all shades of political and economic persuasion, I have become convinced of one thing: conservatives (and perhaps even some moderates and independents) simply do not understand in the least what the progressive viewpoint is all about. They evidently greatly fear that which they don't understand, for they constantly make wild, unfounded claims and accusations against us and distort our positions on issues and the bills our legislators propose. They cynically accuse us of deviousness and lying (perhaps because THEY are so inherently devious THEY find it necessary to lie so often?) and distrust everything we say. This is not civil discourse or behavior, and not what our democratic form of government is supposed to be all about.

Regardless of whether these errant conservative suppositions are borne of fear, frustration, anger, hatred, or mere misunderstanding is immaterial. They are wrong - false - mistaken - untrue - pure fiction. So, to help clarify what we progressives are all about and exactly where we are coming from, I thought I would now begin a series clarifying our positions on matters of the economy, the role of government, religion, foreign policy, national defense, social mores, civil liberties, cultural issues, taxation, and perhaps a few other topics which affect all of our lives as well. I will not pretend to speak on behalf of all progressives in this, my progressive manifesto. I will be speaking for myself, but I do believe what I will present in this series will find resonance with a good many other progressives. Likewise, I will not pretend to have all the answers to all of the problems we currently face. I will only offer analyses of, and broad blueprints for possible progressive solutions of, the issues we all face today. Hopefully, this will make the progressive viewpoint seem more understandable and logical, and even more palatable and less fearsome, to those who profess to be conservatives. At the very least, my hope is to see them become less shrill and over the top in their disagreements with and objections to our positions. Maybe they'll even come to realize that we, just like they, are people who deeply love and care about this country, and are not wild-eyed, disheveled thieves hell-bent on taking all their money or destroying America.






THE ECONOMY

We progressives believe in equal economic opportunity for everyone, and that no one individual or small group of elites should hold a gigantic amount of the country's wealth all unto himself or themselves. We believe our country has the ability to provide for a comfortable, quality existence for all of its citizens. We oppose the concentration of too much wealth in too few places, and we also oppose the effort of some to grab nearly all the wealth for themselves by unfairly denying portions of it to others through market manipulation, price-fixing, wage freezes and cuts, or regressive taxation favoring the wealthy. We view those actions as redistributing the wealth upward to the wealthy, who don't need it.

We do not oppose wealth, nor do we wish to take the vast majority of the wealthy group's riches to forcibly redistribute to everyone else. We simply believe that the gap between the ultra-wealthiest and everyone below them is unjustifiably high, and has been made artificially and undeservedly so. We believe human needs should come before, or at least right alongside of, profits. We therefore oppose acts like shipping good paying jobs to cheap foreign labor markets solely for the purpose of creating much greater profit for business. We oppose the paying of unjustifiably large salaries and bonuses to poorly performing business executives, and we oppose government bailouts to large banks and businesses without a strict accountability and an active repayment process by said banks and businesses.

We favor heavier taxation on the very wealthy and on giant corporations. Those with huge stores of concentrated capital should pay a higher percentage of their incomes in taxes than do very small businesses and those on the bottom rungs of the income scale, simply because those at the top would still enjoy a far greater amount of wealth for further investment or merely as disposable income. We do not view higher taxes on the rich as a form of punishment to them for having riches, but rather as a way of bearing responsibility for maintaining high living standards for our society as a whole. We do not favor stifling taxation rates of greater than 65% as are found in some foreign countries, nor do we favor the current 35% rate on the highest incomes, as we believe it is far too low. We favor a more progressive form of taxation than exists today, perhaps something akin to a 45% tax rate on the highest incomes. That, coupled with tax cuts of 15-20% for the poor and middle class, would spur more consumer spending, thereby creating more jobs for workers and more wealth for business owners, a situation where everybody would win instead of a mere few. Business owners would still be free to save, invest, or spend as they wish, but rather than stagnant capital concentrations occurring, capital would flow more freely and fairly, creating even greater economic opportunity for all.

We believe that people suffering and dying due to starvation, lack of proper sanitation and health care, and from unnecessary exploitation and deprivation while there exists huge pools of relatively unproductive concentrated capital, is an immoral situation that must be acted upon and changed. So long as things stay just as they are today, with the upper 5% of the population holding more than 50% of the wealth, needless stress, suffering, and early death will continue for the other 95%, particularly among the lowest 5%. This is indefensible and unsustainable.

We are a nation built on law. The law provides us with a sense of required order and stabilization which permits all to thrive. Our legal system is not structured so that only 5% of the population can enjoy great feedoms and liberties. It is structured so that ALL may enjoy said liberty. So, too, must it now be with our economic system!


NEXT: THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT