Sunday, September 6, 2009

Labor Day and Free Trade

Labor Day, what a concept for a national holiday. Actually, it is an international holiday celebrating the achievements of labor in economic and social advancement as a result of acceptance of the eight-hour day movement: Eight hours of work, eight hours of leisure and eight hours of rest.

A bit ironic isn't it? Here we are coming out of the worst recession since the Great Depression and labor is not valued as it once was. Due to NAFTA and the concept of "free trade" our workers must now compete against workers willing or forced to work for a few cents a day. Ross Perot was right when he predicted that with NAFTA you would begin to hear a sucking sound as American jobs were sucked out of the country.

How did this happen? I saw it start during the 1980s when the right-wing propaganda machine geared up and started telling us that unions resulted in overpaid and underworked employees. They would point to the automobile workers and claim super-high salaries and inferior products. However accurate this view might have been at the time it neglected to also criticize the incredibly high CEO and management salaries.

NAFTA and "free trade" have indeed brought America lower priced goods. In return we have lost millions of jobs in the textile, automobile and other manufacturing fields. In fact, over 90% of the products sold at Wallmart are made in China. Former blue collar workers with decent salaries are now forced to compete for the minimum wage jobs offered within the "service industry". That means flipping burgers to support your family with no fringe benefits.

The Republican solution to the problem was to further erode working wage jobs by passing "right to work" laws that pretty much destroyed decent salaries for construction workers. With right to work laws you had a right to work at skilled jobs for minimum wages. That is why you see so many illegal aliens, primarily hispanic males, working on construction and developer sites. Has this benefitted the U.S. economy. Well, yes if you only consider the increased profit income of the developers and stockholders in the megasize companies. I know a local fairly young developer that now has 5 Porches, a gold rolex watch, a million dollar home, a showcase wife with diamonds the size of walnuts on her fat fingers, and two vacation homes. While he certainly has the right to his wealth I often wonder at what sacrifice his worker ants had to labor to ensure him of his income.

Union jobs have declined dramatically during the last 20 years. In fact, in is difficult to find a construction union worker now days. When I find one I often feel like telling them to hang in there and fight to keep their job and at a decent working wage.

I am proud to be an American and I am proud of our history of citizens fighting for the right cause. The 8 hour work day, Social Security and Medicare benefits for our retired elderly, a minimum wage, child labor reform, work safety laws, right of women to work, paid holidays, pension and health benefits, all hard won fights by and for our working people.

The right-wing propaganda machine will continue to scream socialism, communism at anything that looks like it might take profits and share them with the workers. Workers who by their daily labor produce the goods and services that enrich our society and the pocketbooks of working men and women.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

National Health Care NOW!

I am not certain what the exact problem is with ensuring that all Americans have access to basic health care. The British have been doing it for over 50 years and it has worked out pretty darn good for them. In fact Margaret Thatcher and other British Conservatives would not touch it when she was PM. The Canadians have a good program. The Japanese are doing pretty well with their system. So what is the problem? We can land a man on the moon and fight several wars at the same time but not offer national health care? Are we to continue to have a Darwinian Society (the strong survive - the weak perish)? At times, I feel we are all in a Dicken's novel with poor children holding out a bowl asking for more gruel . Let's do the right thing!

FDR came close to funding a national health care program and Harry Truman wanted to pass a plan......but in both cases the Republican Party opposed the effort. Just as they had opposed and would oppose Social Security, minimum wages, child labor laws, Medicare, Medicaid, veteran's benefits. FDR could not do it as he was facing a long expensive war and Truman couldn't as he had to fight a hostile Republican Congress.

Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid have worked out well regardless to the original opposition by the Republicans and some Democrats. The administrative costs are much lower than any private plan that would replace them. During the Reagan administration the Republicans even proposed funding the Social Security program with Wall Street investments. Where would that fund be now if that had happened? Yes, the Social Security program has been mishandled. If left alone it would be self-funding without a projected deficit.

I have read recently that a National Health Care plan would be a step toward Socialism and Communism. That it would cost too much. And beat this! A national single payer plan would be unfair competition with private insurance programs. Ah, so that is it. The excessive profits made by insurance companies and hospitals would be at risk for stockholders in these companies.

Federal grants often provide the money needed by the drug companies to do their research on drug therapy research. The companies then obtain a patent and guarantee of non-competition when selling their product....hence outragous costs for all new drugs. We pay for the research and they reap the profits.

700,000 Americans declare bankruptcy each year because of medical costs. I have a friend right now with over $500,000 in overdue medical bills. The answer is to take the profit out of health care. Yes, insurance and drugs should be available on a non-profit basis. Hospitals should be non-profit community hospitals answerable to their health care providers and patients and not a CEO and Board reporting to stockholders. Here in Salem, Oregon you have only to examine a detailed billing statement from Salem Hospital to see where the abuse and unethical profit lies. To top it off the Salem Hospital tore down a fairly new parking garage to builda billion dollar complex of doctor's offices. A grand piano sits in the main lobby.

Yes, poor people and illegal immigrants can walk into an Emergency Room and obtain subsidized medical care. We all bear these costs through increased charges to those who do pay. That is a terrible and inefficent way to run our medical services. A National Health Care Program would cover all Americans regardless of income or employment status. Illegal immigrant care could be funded using a different insurance program that monitors their status and insures that they receive appropriate care. We have a "green card" system why don't we use it and a "guest worker" program that protects us from criminals and illegals using and abusing the system. A person can always be returned to their country for non-emergency medical care.

The moneyed interests and lobbyists in this country are going to fight a National Health Care Program tooth and nail. They will continue to produce a mass of mis-information to undercut any attempt to limit the massive profits made by the drug companies and hospitals. I say yes to paying doctors, nurses and health care providers the salaries they deserve for all of the schooling and training they have undertaken. It is the CEOs and stockholders we need to eliminate from the expense cycle. They do not need to be involved in basic health care for all Americans.

We all deserve a national program on par with what the President, Congress and the military receive. Anyone wanting special medical care beyond what is offered can choose to use a private or alternative medical insurance program. You can always pay for a private doctor in Great Britain. All you need is money.

Guess what? I also believe that coverage should include dental and eye care. If that makes me a socialist .... so be it.

How to fund? Well....we can throw away Trillions of dollars in wars that do not advance our national interest (exception Afganistan). We need to spend our money more wisely. Having a country with a proper health care system is a great return on the investment. The results are increased productivity, healthier children ready to learn, proper care for our elderly and attention to the health needs of our citizens...poor and rich.

Can you imagine no longer having the need for a bake sale to save little Jimmy or Suzy from cancer medical costs? Perhaps even the MDA marathon could end with Jewis Lewis. And what about all of the various walkatons? Fewer tax deductions but a better society?

Now is the time to fight for a National Health Care Program. The system is broken and we need to fix it. Let's take the profit out of health care for our citizens!

The September 7, 2009 issue of Newsweek offers a good view of the lies about the Health Care Debate. Go to: