Monday, August 21, 2006

The Occupation of Iraq

The United States should begin withdrawing troops from Iraq now.

The Bush administration led this country into this war based on a series of lies and slanted intelligence. It has violated treaties, American law and the international law in approving torture, kidnapping and other tactics that have cost this nation its moral standing in the world and, in so doing, diminished our capacity to lead. It has brought the Army to near ruin and hampered our ability to respond to other emerging challenges, including those within our own country.

The administration’s refusal to plan for the aftermath of the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime and its emphasis on awarding lucrative no-bid contracts to companies of its cronies have resulted an occupation that has allowed conditions in Iraq to deteriorate to the point of civil war.

This war of choice has cost the lives of more than 2,600 American service men and women and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians; it has wounded nearly 20,000 of our soldiers and made hundreds of thousands of Iraqis homeless.

It has inflamed passions in the Middle East.

It has made Iraq the leading terrorist training ground in the world.

It has made Iran the leading power in the region.

It has driven up the price of oil.

It has undermined the security and stability of Israel.

It has sucked our treasury dry.

There is nothing in the record of the Bush administration or the rubber stamp Republican majorities in the House and Senate that provide any reason to believe that they are capable of rescuing our interests from Iraq by prolonging our involvement there.

Republicans say “stay the course.” I ask, “What course?” Where is there any sign of a coherent strategy in Iraq? Our soldiers are on extended duty in Iraq. There have been too few of them there from the start for us to have a chance to stabilize the country. And they are now caught in the middle of a civil war. The Army is at the point of breaking.

The Bush administration and the Congress have been in denial for too long. There are no good choices left to us in Iraq now.

We must extricate our army from Iraq while there is still time to do so and while there is still the possibility that a full-fledged civil war can be averted.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Bush's FEMA Stiffs Boustany, Seventh District

It was only two years ago that then-candidate Charles Boustany was telling the people of the Seventh District that one of the chief reasons they should elect him was his close ties to the Bush Administration. There was the now mysteriously absent picture of Boustany with the President in the White House in what amounted to a drive-by photo-op.

As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. And, today there was yet another piece of evidence that Charles Boustany is little more than a warm seat and a reliable vote for the administration (and the House GOP leaders who help fund his campaign).

Boustany told reporters that FEMA has ignored his appeal of their decision not to include the storm-damaged parishes in his district in the extension of federal support for cleanup work.

Charles Boustany says he wants another term in Congress. And, why not? The pay is good. He's not doing much of any work and his PAC masters are keeping his campaign coffers flush.

The fact that FEMA and the Bush administration have repeatedly failed his constituents in the wake of Hurricane Rita is, apparently, just one of those unfortunate things. But, Boustany is anxiously looking forward to his next opportunity to cuts taxes for the wealthy and impose further burdens on the middle class.

Yep, Charlie's done a heck of a job!

LeftBlog: Republicans hold minimum wage hostage for the ‘Paris Hilton estate tax cut’

Greetings, all.

Senator David Vitter and Congressman Charles Boustany are completely out of touch with Louisiana and nothing illustrates this more than their recent votes with regard to the push for repeal of the Paris Hilton “estate tax” via the Estate Tax and Extension of Tax Relief Act of 2006 (H.R.5970).

They would rather help less than 100 multi-millionaires a year than to help the hundred thousand plus of working poor of this state.

In my opinion, this last round of votes on this issue takes their distain for the working poor of this country to new heights. Since Boustany is proudly on the record at a town hall meeting here in Lafayette where he stated “I won’t support an increase in minimum wage…” , it is obvious that he didn’t vote YES for this bill for the minimum wage increase – instead he voted to repeal the tax cuts to the Paris Hiltons of the country.

Let’s make this clear. The Estate Tax has been modified in the past few years which addresses inflation and also exempts in most cases family businesses and farms. Make no mistake this administration and these Republicans would rather protect the assets of Paris Hilton than those of the working poor. The facts are clear; in 2004 only 91 deaths in Louisiana resulted in estates being taxed.

Louisiana is now ranked 50th in the country for PER CAPITA INCOME; that is we are the lowest paid workers of the country. And our republican representation KILLS the minimum wage increase to protect the ultra rich by attaching the poison pill of repeal/reducing the estate tax.

More Hypocrisy – You can look at this one of two ways, in my view... Read the Full Column

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Lake Charles Union on Front Line of War Against the Middle Class

Last Saturday, I attended a rally at the Lake Charles Civic Center for members of International Machinists Union Local 470 who had been on strike against PPG for 64 days and made a small personal contribution to their strike fund. The rally represented an opportunity for me to tell those workers how their fight is bigger than they are.

Workers across the country in all sectors of the economy are losing ground to inflation despite the fact that we have an allegedly booming economy. The facts are that job growth during the Bush/Cheney years has been slower than during the Clinton years and wages have failed to keep up with even the so-called core inflation which, by the way, doesn't include food or fuel. I don't know about you, but everyone I know eats and uses fuel either to drive, cook or cool.

The constantly rising cost of healthcare is putting pressure on employers and employees, with those companies that do provide health coverage requiring employees to pay increasingly larger shares of their healthcare coverage costs. Then there is the matter of pensions. Employers have been cutting back on benefits to pensioners as the cost pressure of healthcare and the demands of investors to constantly increase profits combine to force employers to squeeze employees.

Those who argued for globalization and free trade claimed that the benefits resulting from that trade offset the losses in, say, manufacturing jobs that occurred here as a result. But, the loss of manufacturing jobs was only the beginning. Today, increasing numbers of so-called white collar jobs are being shipped overseas.

One of the primary proponents of free trade during the Clinton Administration, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin has even come around to admitting that the cost of globalization to middle class Americans has been higher than he anticipated. Rubin wrote recently:
"Prosperity has neither trickled down nor rippled outward. Between 1973 and 2003, real GDP per capita in the United States increased 73 percent, while real median hourly compensation rose only 13 percent."
Income inequality in Louisiana ranks 16th in the nation, according to one study.

This widening inequality gap comes during a time of record corporate profits, in the wake of a series of massive tax cuts for the very wealthy (which will only widen the gap), and unrelenting pressure at the gas pump and in the bills arriving in the mail.

So, I went to Lake Charles to support those union members and to let them know that they are fighting for a lot more people than just their 900 or so fellow union members at their plant. If you want to see whose side Charles Boustany is standing on, check out the list of PAC contributors to his past and current campaigns. Who interests do you think he's looking out for?

No doubt the operators of other plants in the Lake Charles are watching the outcome of this strike at PPG to see if the company can break this union and take away the pay and benefits that workers there have used to build good lives for themselves and their families.

Investor Warren Buffett has been quoted as saying that there is class warfare in the United States "and our side is winning!"

A forthcoming book argues that the "demand side" programs of the New Deal which promoted equality, opportunity, economic security, and upward mobility helped strengthen the nation's bonds to democracy which had been tested during the Great Depression. This widening gap of inequality, then, threatens not just our economic well-being, but ultimately our political order. Look no further than Latin America for lessons about what happens to political stability when the middle class is not growing or stable.

Under the current Republican administration and the current Republican Congress, the economic policy emphasis has been to comfort the comfortable and (at best) ignore the afflicted. We continue to follow that path at great peril to our republic.

So, there is a bigger fight underway in Lake Charles than just that strike, the significance of which extends far beyond that community. I went to the Machinists' rally to stand with them and with the other members of the middle and working class who are running faster every day just trying to keep from falling behind.

The bargaining teams were supposed to return to the negotiating table on Wednesday. PPG has tweaked their offer. The Lake Charles American Press reports that union members they talked with are "cool to the offer."

Again, it's a company with record sales and profits trying to squeeze more concessions out of their employees. Meanwhile, Republicans are still trying to find ways to shovel more tax breaks to the Paris Hiltons of the world.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Angry at AllState? You're not alone

(Reposted from the Blogging For Mike in the 7th congressional district blog.)

If you've been following Allstate's threats to leave Louisiana if they're not allowed to drop hurricane coverage for most of south Louisiana you're probably puzzled. You might have thought, since the entire purpose of insurance companies is to, well, insure risk, that the spectacle of an insurance company that refuses to insure risks means that something is seriously wrong with the industry.

If you suspect that the insurance industry and Allstate took huges losses last year you'd be right. If you think that justifies the gigantic rate increases and outright cancellations we've seen in the wake of Katrina and Rita you'd be wrong. What neither the insurance corporations or the local media are saying is that, in fact, last year was a hugely profitable year for the insurance companies and Allstate in particular. It's not that they're not profitable it's that they don't consider our piddling little homeowner's policies profitable enough. The Los Angeles Times has the story: Industry profits rose 18.7% and their surplus rose 7% to nearly $427 billion. They are pleading a hardship to justify their exploitive behavior that simply does not exist. How'd it happen that our year of disaster brought record profits to insurers?
...the industry's remarkable performance also reflects a dozen-year effort by insurers to insulate themselves from the most extreme financial consequences of catastrophe by, among other things, shifting risks previously borne by companies to policyholders and the public...

While premiums for homeowners insurance have increased by more than half since the early 1990s, coverage, especially in disasters, has shrunk. Historically, insurers covered a little more than 60% of total losses in disasters, according to Hartwig, the industry economist. During the 2004 hurricanes in Florida, they covered less than 50%, according to Hartwig's numbers. During Katrina, he said, they covered about 30%, due in part to the high flood damage...

The ratio of claims and expenses to premiums was among the lowest in three decades...

"If last year's hurricane season had occurred 10 years ago, it would have been devastating for the company," said Allstate Vice President Fred F. Cripe in an interview. "Last year, it was merely disappointing."

Hey, if Allstate thinks it is disappointed it ought to talk to folks down here in Louisiana's coastal 7th district who are sorely disappointed in a company they've invested their money in for years trying to abandon them a year of hardship for us and a year of record profit for Allstate! That's disappointment!

If all that makes you angry then you'll be happy to discover that you are not alone in thinking that the most appropriate response to that corporation's arrogance is exasperated satire.

Greg Peters, inking Snake Oil for the Independent, has a searing take this week on the ugly greed that is revealed by the "good hands people."

(click for a larger image.)

But that's not all--Jon Stewart's Daily Show recently covered Allstate's decision to stop providing hurricane coverage on the coast.

That satirical take on the issue is real gem. It opens with hurricane footage representing the storms which are "endangering what we hold most dear....Insurance profits." One great segment is an interview where an apologist for the insurance companies who encourages us to regard the insurance companies as victims is treated with the respect it deserves. That is to say: None. But the riff hilarious.

They also interview a man who has been denied coverage because his home is in the path of hurricanes. I defy you to guess where he lives. (Hint: it's neither Erath nor Cameron.)

Deregulation of the financial industry by the Republican Congress brought down barriers between retail banks, commercial lending and insurance companies turned businesses like Allstate from staid but safe companies serving to pool risk for its customers into corporations with dreams of sky-high profits. It encouraged insurers to regard the insurance side of their business as the steady cash cow from which to siphon resources for investment in the more "productive" segments of the economy. That, inevitably, leads to the kind of behavior that we saw in Louisiana where Allstate decided not to "reinsure"--buy insurance for itself--in Louisiana before the storms hit. That cost the company about $2 billion dollars in largely uncovered losses.

The irony of an insurance company failing to adequately insure itself would be delicious for consumers struggling to responsibly keep up their own payments if it weren't for the fact that the Louisiana ratepayer will be the one to pay the extra costs associated with Allstate's irresponsible decision to go without insurance. (If a consumer did the same there'd be no one to make good his or her loss.) In other parts of the Gulf Coast Allstate did purchase reinsurance and the citizens of those states won't have as much money to make up. The injustice of this wasn't lost on at least one regional legislator--Don Cravins. He noted:
"You didn't take care of your business, so the citizens of Louisiana have to pay for your mistake?" said Sen. Don Cravins Sr., D-Opelousas, who questioned whether the company followed sound guidelines and purchased reinsurance. "Now that you've had a loss, you put the burden on the backs of Louisiana citizens to pay for your shortcomings."

Allstate gambled that a hurricane would not hit Louisiana last year and did not not buy reinsurance, which cost the company $2 billion in claims, said Allstate attorney Edward Collins in testimony before a joint legislative insurance committee Tuesday.

Cravins is absolutely right about this as far as it goes. What he doesn't mention is that the way the Republican Congress' deregulation of the insurance industry encouraged corporations like Allstate to skimp on protecting its ratepayers' pooled resources in order to invest "more profitably" elsewhere. Is it legal? Yes. Is it right? No. And deregulation makes it easy.

The saying goes: "Follow the money." The insurance industry has spent $
252,966,627 to lobby Congress since 1990. Much of it is PAC money and 2/3 of it has gone to Republican party.

Boustany, according to Open Secrets, has accepted nearly $100,000 dollars and counting in contributions from the financial sector effected by deregulation. About 2/3 of that figure was PAC money. It's easy to do the math.

We need to elect representatives that are not in thrall to huge, greedy corporations that do not have our interests at heart. We need a change in the 7th district.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

LeftBlog: Stem Cells-Hypocrisy reaches a new heights

Greetings all:
So this week I have had a real problem getting over hypocrisy. I am sure many of you will say that in order to define modern day politics, hypocrisy has to be at least mentioned, well this time hypocrisy means at the very least the abandonment of hope… at worst, death.

Embryonic Stem Cell research is a very difficult topic, especially here in southwest Louisiana. However, no matter WHERE you stand on this very important issue, I am sure you will be outraged at the POLITICing that is going on with this topic.Charles Boustany on July 17th issued a press release ( congratulating President Bush for his VETO of the “Stem Cell Bill.” That in and of itself is troubling at best, Senator Bill Frist, also a heart surgeon, came out in support of this research due to the possibilities that it could hold for so many suffering from some very terrible diseases. Congressman Boustany is on the record as stating in effect that embryonic stem cell research has not yielded any substantive therapies, thus it should not be employed in the future. I am sure the thousands of scientists and doctors working on this program would disagree with the good doctor.