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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ask The White House: Question 6 (Long Term Unemployment)

Full story appears on The Huffington Post

In response to a call by Monster.com to submit questions to the White House, Janet Ritz, editor and published of The Environmentalist, posted this question:

The White House has avoided using the term 99ers. Why? There are millions who've lost their jobs and have exhausted benefits through no fault of their own. How can the economy ever come back if 99ers, many middle-aged middle-class, are kicked farther under the bus. Ads say: no unemployed need apply. Age discrimination is rampant and obvious. Mortgage companies will not modify for the unemployed. Even if you get the economy going, how many millions will be forced into poverty that would otherwise be the bulwark of democracy if they were helped now?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Something for the "Party of Lincoln" to keep in mind

"It is not needed nor fitting here that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions, but there is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.

Now there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them. A large majority belong to neither class--neither work for others nor have others working for them. In most of the Southern States a majority of the whole people of all colors are neither slaves nor masters, while in the Northern a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. Men, with their families--wives, sons, and daughters--work for themselves on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one hand nor of hired laborers or slaves on the other. It is not forgotten that a considerable number of persons mingle their own labor with capital; that is, they labor with their own hands and also buy or hire others to labor for them; but this is only a mixed and not a distinct class. No principle stated is disturbed by the existence of this mixed class."

President Abraham Lincoln, First Annual Message, December 3, 1861 (source)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dear Congressman

Dear Congressman,

Thank you for voting no on H. R. 6419, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Continuation Act.

As you know, the most pressing problem with our national economy is the crushing debt we're loading onto the backs of our children and grandchildren, $13.7 trillion and counting. Our nation cannot afford to spend the additional $12.5 billion the CBO estimates this bill would have cost us over the next ten years.

The nation's unemployment statistics clearly show that deficit reduction is the right problem to solve, and now is the right time to solve it: as of October, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are 13.9 million out-of-work Americans. Of that number, 6.2 million have been out of work for over 27 weeks. 1.5 million have been out of work for more than 99 weeks, and have exhausted both state and Federal benefits. As the Republican candidate for Senate, Sharron Angle, said during the recent campaign, "We've put in so much entitlement into our government that we really have spoiled our citizenry."

But thanks to your vote, these men and women won't have to worry about being spoiled. 800,000 men and women will lose unemployment benefits when the current program expires on November 30, and two million men, women and their families will lose emergency unemployment compensation in December.

Congress extended unemployment benefits during the economic crisis of the 70s. It did so again in the 80s, the early 90s and again after the recession that followed in the wake of September 11, 2001. Your unwavering commitment to fiscal discipline, when unemployment remains at 9.5%, sets the standard for all future Congresses to follow.

At the start of this holiday season, our nation's unemployed have much to give thanks for: bleak job prospects, depleted savings and the promise of increased poverty and homelessness.

For these, we thank you.

At a time when our economy remains mired in the aftereffects of the recession, and when economists tell us that one of the most effective ways we have of spurring growth is by extending unemployment benefits, we say thank you, for refusing to swerve from your principles.

And finally, when the nation debates extending tax cuts for the 2% of incomes over $250,000, at a cost of $700 billion added to our nation's debt, we thank you for saying no. No to letting these cuts expire. Because 99 weeks of unemployment benefits is too much, but 520 weeks of tax cuts for our nation's wealthiest is not enough.

Retweet of the Day

Thank you to everyone who retweeted that message. It seems to have struck a chord.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Unemployed Suffer Another Setback

Jeanne Reinman, who is about to lose her unemployment benefits, discusses the GOP's decision to kill the extension on unemployment benefits.

GOP Blocks Jobless Benefits Extension

As the GOP voted to cut off unemployment benefits, thousands of American families are wondering how they’re going to survive the holiday season. An Ed Show panel discusses.

GOP: 143, Unemployed: 0.

Today's vote on extending unemployment benefits should have surprised no one.

Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) introduced H. R. 6419, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Continuation Act, to provide a 90-day extension of emergency unemployment benefits. Without an extension, roughly two million people will lose this lifeline.

The bill was introduced under suspension of the rules, a process Congress uses "to dispose of non-controversial measures expeditiously."

We've seen, though, that there's very little the GOP will consider non-controversial. You might remember Rep. Anthony's Weiner's floor speech during a similar non-controversial vote to provide health care benefits for the first responders to arrive at Ground Zero on September 11th. That measure failed the first time around, 255-159, with 4 Democrats joining 155 Republicans voting no.

Today's vote? 258-154. 275 votes were needed to suspend the rules. Eleven Democrats joined 143 Republicans who voted no.

Let's see how many of those 143 Republicans will turn around and vote yes for tax cuts for the rich.

Quoteworthy

"We have journalism that is always ravenous for the next rumor, but insufficiently hungry for the facts that can nourish something called our democracy." - Senator Jay Rockefeller's remarks on Television Viewers, Retransmission Consent, and the Public Interest

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

America Is Hurting - The Ed Show

Helping the 99ers Helps Everyone

The CPBB has just published a new report, "Emergency Unemployment Insurance Benefits Remain Critical for the Economy" (link, PDF)


One section in particular is worth close attention:


UI Is a Highly Effective Tool for Reviving a Weak Economy

Among 11 measures analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for increasing economic growth and employment in the next year or two, aid to the unemployed stands at the top of the list. According to CBO, "Households receiving unemployment benefits tend to spend the additional benefits quickly, making this option both timely and cost-effective in spurring economic activity and employment." CBO estimates that providing additional unemployment insurance benefits would boost economic output by as much as $1.90 per dollar of budgetary cost and increase employment by as many as 19,000 jobs per billion dollars of budgetary cost.

CBO's estimate of the relative importance and bang-for-the-buck of UI is similar to that of most other forecasters. Mark Zandi of Moody's Economy.com estimates, for example, that UI generates $1.64 of GDP per dollar spent in the first year, a bang-for-the-buck that is exceeded in his calculations only by the $1.73 generated by an increase in food stamp benefits.

Federal emergency UI benefits provide a significant boost to the economy and job creation. To illustrate, in September roughly 5 million people were receiving additional weeks of federally funded emergency UI benefits with an average weekly benefit of roughly $300. That translates into about $6.5 billion a month pumped into the economy, or $75 to $80 billion over the course of a year. That’s likely to mean one million or more additional jobs, based on CBO's estimates.

Put the other way around, failure to provide federal emergency UI benefits for another year could drain as much as $75 to $80 billion of purchasing power from the economy and hold down job creation over the coming year, costing one million or more jobs. With forecasters becoming more pessimistic about economic growth and job creation over the coming year, that’s a loss we cannot afford. And, as the Federal Reserve concluded this week, the case for further policy to boost the economy is strong.


More soon.

Rally - Friday, November 12, Noon, 75 Varick St., NY

Kind of says it all...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tom Stone

Tom Stone... is a documentary photographer known for his portraits of people living along the edges of society. His photography shares perspective with the work of Dorothea Lange, Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus and Sebastiao Salgado.
A friend on Twitter showed me a link to Tom's photography, which is being shown at the DNJ Gallery in Los Angeles. He's also on Flickr and his own website.



Tom calls the people in his photos "American Outsiders" - but the truth is, they're us. Spend a few moments learning more about them. Please and thank you.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Are Muslims Exempt From Obamacare? (Reposted)

No.

Despite the meme travelling through the Interwebs, there is nothing in Obamacare that exempts members of the Muslim religion.

Here's the relevant text from HR 3590:

SEC. 1411.(b)(5)(A) In the case of an individual seeking exemption based on the individual's status as a member of an exempt religious sect or division, as a member of a health care sharing ministry, as an Indian, or as an individual eligible for a hardship exemption, such information as the Secretary shall prescribe.

What that means is that an individual seeking an exemption from the mandate must document that they are:

  • a member of an exempt religious sect;
  • a member of a health care sharing ministry;
  • an Indian;
  • eligible for a hardship exemption.

So, the next two relevant questions to ask are:

  • Who are the exempt religious sects?
  • What's a health care sharing ministry?

Emma Dumain at Congress.org answered those questions:

...most religious people do not fall under the exemption category.

The ones who do must be members of an "exempt religious sect or division." Those belonging to Old Order Amish and Mennonite communities qualify since their religious beliefs reject assistance from the government and other outsiders.

...

Organized groups called "health care sharing ministries" are also exempt from purchasing health insurance.

These groups are defined, by the language of the bill, as nonprofit organizations whose "members share a common set of ethical or religious beliefs and medical expenses among members in accordance with those beliefs."

...

Medi-Share, Christian Healthcare Ministries and Samaritan Ministries International are three such networks. The only requirement for joining, aside from paying your share, is that you practice a lifestyle in strict adherence to Christian philosophy.

That seems to be pretty clear: Old Order Amish. Memmonites. Insular religious communities who "reject assistance from the government and other outsiders." Members of Christian health care sharing ministries.

Are Muslim-Americans an exempt religious sect? Not according to the IRS. Muslim-Americans pay the same Federal, state and local taxes that you and I do. Muslim-Americans, unlike the example of the Amish above, participate in every aspect of American society, and are not an insular religious community.

But isn't insurance forbidden under Islam? No. Contrary to the assertions in a piece on American Thinker, Islam does not forbid insurance. Quoting from "What's Islam's stance on insurance?"

Dear sister, insurance is a controversial issue among Muslim jurists. I go along with the view that sees it permissible with conditions. As a contract, it is a relatively new contract that in itself does not violate any Shari'ah principle.

Hence, the conditions are: It must not be interest-based, and the object of insurance must be permissible. These two conditions are satisfied in house, health, car, and most life insurance contracts. The only problem comes in some kinds of life insurance contracts whereby interest is in the core of the contract (what is known as whole life insurance, which is the most common any way). It also comes in insuring certain prohibited things such as insuring a shipment of liquor.

One other noteworthy paragraph:

In the circles of contemporary Shari'ah scholars, there are three opinions about life insurance. They all recognize that it is a new contract not known in the history of Fiqh. A minority consider it haram and with all kinds of argument against it including Riba, gambling, gharar and speculation on the will of Allah. This view does not carry much weight.

And another example from a Muslim investor website:

Scholars differ in their view on insurance, with some saying that it is forbidden and others pronouncing it as permissible. Therefore, it is necessary to examine their views very carefully. The late Shaikh Mustafa Al-Zarqa, who was one of the top Islamic scholars of the 20th century, wrote a book on insurance, looking at all aspects of it. He concluded that all insurance is permissible, as it is a form of cooperation among a group of people to reduce the effects of an adversity that befalls any member of that group. He discusses the objections raised against insurance in a highly scholarly way, and rebuts all arguments. I find his verdict very convincing, particularly because he was very thorough in his work, able to analyze problems of modern life in the light of Islamic guidance.

So, Islam does not categorically forbid insurance, which means that Muslim-Americans could not seek an exemption from the Obamacare mandate on the basis of being in an exempt religious sect.

Update: FactCheck.org addresses the question in "'Dhimmitude' and the Muslim Exemption"

This article was originally posted on A Considered Argument, and is reposted here because the issue was mentioned on tonight's Rachel Maddow Show