Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Misplaced Priorities

I was listening to a story on NPR this morning about the financial crisis in California. Their state budget gap is $24 billion and as usual, kids and the truly needy among us will be the hardest hit. In these situations, the government ends up making decisions that are pennywise and pound foolish.

For example, California is considering closing its poison control center for a savings of $6 million. The center gets over 2,000 calls per day, mostly from parents, concerned about something their child just ingested. Most calls end with simple wait and see or do it-yourself advice. Without this service, ALL of these parents will likely end up in an emergency room somewhere at a HUGE cost to parents and society. The government saves $1 on one side of the equation and the citizens will spend $20 on the other.

In the midst of this fiscal crisis, what really irks me is the 10,000Lb gorilla that no one ever discusses: Our insane military budget. We spend over $1 trillion per year on “defense”. Global military spending hit a record high in 2008, led by the US. Our annual military spending is roughly equal to the rest of the world combined, while the US and its close allies account for 2/3 of global military spending. No wonder we don’t have money for anything else.

One of my saddest days as an adult was at a tax update class for CPAs back in the 80s. It was sad because at the time, I didn’t have the guts to speak up. I was young and there were 40-50 other CPAs in the class. The instructor was giving an update about the fiscal situation in Washington DC and said something to the effect that there was no funding available for any domestic needs because the government was broke. I remember thinking how dishonest all of us were accepting this pathetic nonsense. All of were financial experts. The government had plenty of money but was spending half of all our funds on weapons and war. The same is true today.

It is time for us to speak up about this awful waste. No one disputes the need for a strong defense but we could do that with ½ the budget freeing up $500 billion annually for domestic services. Maybe a little of that can keep California’s poison control center open.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pedalpalooza, biking and more

I love Portland. We are in the midst of Pedalpalooza, a 2-week long bike festival with over 200 events. Every day there are classes, events, parades and lots of special rides (pub rides, pizza rides, chocolate rides, naked rides, endurance rides, and many, many more). Last night I went on the Epic Pizza Ride.

I've been riding my bike more often. Today I rode my bike to a lunch appointment a little over 1 mile away, then hit the bank and the post office on the way back. I don't think it is a coincidence that I started riding more, especially for work, at the exact same time we started our carbon footprint analysis at TriLibrium. We are preparing our initial GHG report and I am certain travel will comprise over 80 percent of our emissions footprint. Riding a bike adds nothing to our footprint.

What gets measured gets managed.

This is yet another reason to do a GHG inventory report.

Preparing our greenhouse gas inventory report made me more conscious.

Biking is an easy and effective way to decrease carbon emissions, increase exercise, have more fun and unplug from the car culture.

Bike culture is so refreshing.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Best Congress Money can Buy

I've long supported the Green Party because they refuse to take corporate money as a matter of principle. I also appreciate the unwaivering commitment to peace, sustainability and democracy.

The Green Party has also been a long-time proponent of universal, single-payer health care system. Unfortunately, Americans aren't getting a fair and unbiased hearing on this proven approach. I believe that is due to the corporate domination of our political system.

Amy Goodman from Democracy Now did a story today on Senator Max Baucus (D) and some of the key people drafting health care reform. The original reporting was done by Max Dennison of the Montana Lee Newspapers Montana State Bureau. Here is what she reported in her story:

  • Senator Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Committee. In the last six years he's raised nearly $15 million of which 23 percent came from insurance and health interests.
  • Senator Charles Grassley (R), ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee received 23.5 percent of his financial support over the past six years from insurance and health sectors.
  • Senator Charles Dodd (D), who is essentially running the Health Committee in the absence of Senator Ted Kennedy got 23 percent of his funds from the insurance and health sectors.

The Washington Post recently reported that almost thirty key lawmakers have personal investments totaling nearly $11 million.

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has at least $50,000 invested in a healthcare index.
  • Senator Judd Gregg (R), a senior member of the Health Committe has up to $560,000 of equities in major healthcare companies including Bristo-Myers Squibb and Merck.
  • The family of Congresswoman Jane Harman (D) held at least $3.2 million in more than twenty health care companies at the end of 2008.
  • Senator John Kerry (D), and his wife Teresa Heinz kerry hold at least $5.2 million in companies such as Merck and Eli Lilly.
  • Senator Johnny Isakson (R) holds at least $165,000 in pharmaceutical and medical stocks.
  • Senator Kay Hagan (D) holds at least $180,000 in more than twenty healthcare companies.
  • Senator Chris Dodd's (D) wife serves on the board of four healthcare companies and received more than $200,000 last year in salary and stock for her service.
  • Eight of the twenty-two member Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee have financial interests in the healthcare industry. This committee was to hold a hearing today on healthcare reform.

Doesn't that look like a conflict of interest? Do you doubt their corporate ties and personal investments influence their decisions? This is absurd.


I’d like to be writing about business but feel the health care situation is dire and that we have a unique opportunity to really solve this problem. I also know firsthand how the healthcare mess impacts TriLibrium, my colleagues, my family and our clients. This problem must be solved to bring America in to the 21st century.

I used to be fairly oblivious to class power. I’ve always felt kinship with the underdog and have always been in solidarity with labor and the people who do the work. I think saving and investing has value, but the Wall Street mentality of large and fast returns to investors who in reality do nothing, is absurd. That mentality has lead to the current crisis which is creating so much turmoil in our communities.

The reason I was oblivious to class power was the myth I’d been taught that portrayed a level playing field for all people where one’s efforts, skills and luck determined one’s fate. What I failed to appreciate was how the rules of the game influence the outcome of the game. And in America, the game, the rules and the outcome are largely controlled and determined by the investing class through their political contributions.

When I talk about the owning/investing class, I’m referring to the top 1-10% of Americans who own and control a majority of the private assets and financial wealth in our country.

When you examine our system through the lens of class, you can see where the rules of the game define class power.

A social safety net helps the working class while diminishing the power of the owning class. Without a social safety net, workers are particularly fearful of job loss and accordingly, will do anything to keep their job since they know that job loss would mean economic ruin. Job loss without a social safety net means no food, no shelter, no health care and no education.

The owning class is vehemently opposed to a social safety net because (a) they don’t need it and (b) it gives power to workers to walk away from being exploited. This is one of the reasons corporate America and the owning class is opposed to universal health care. Job based health care gives those who control the jobs (owners and corporations) power over workers. Universal health care takes that economic weapon away from the owners.

I believe universal health care is vital to our future and that the only system that will work is a not-for profit, universal, single-payer system. I believe it is being blocked by rich and powerful forces who more than anything, want to keep this powerful control lever over American workers.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the money that might be influencing the people charged with deciding our future health care system.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Single Payer, not public option

What health care reform proposal is supported by a majority of doctors, an overwhelming number of nurses, has over 70 co-sponsors in the house but is off the table due to the corporate control of our economy and political system?

Single Payer Health Care.

The cost of health care is destroying businesses. In 2008 it cost a small business $12,700 to ensure a family of four. That is expected to rise by nearly $900 in 2009. Who can afford that? This is what the for-profit, private insurance system has delivered.

Add to that the administrative burdens to the employer, the out of pocket cost to employees plus the constant fear of being dropped, denied, or let go and other psychological cost as well and you have a system that is harming this country.

This must change and single payer is the solution. The so called "public option" being discussed by corporate supported Democrats doesn't go far enough to address the root problems in our health care system.

I believe the "public option" will fail to solve our problem and will actually be a major set back for those of us who simply want this problem solved.

Nick Skala, an expert and advocate for single payer recently was in Washington to speak to Democratic Progressive Caucus about single payer. Here is a story about his experience and a link to his video report.

The unfortunate problem is a federal government controlled by corporate interests and lobbyists. The industry spends far in excess of a $1 million per month and all the people making decisions about health care reform have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the industry.

We need campaign finance reform as much as health care reform but that is another discussion for another day.

Corporate control of our system is one of the root causes of our collective predictments. Corporate media, corporate lobbysists, corporate agendas, corporate control. If you want to learn more about corporate domination, I recommend the movie "The Corporation" and/or When Corporations Rule the World by David Korten.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Water for Humans

Water for Humans is a non-profit social venture created and launched by fellow Bainbridge Graduate Institute colleagues Stan Brown and Rick McKenney. Their mission is to provide low-cost, clean water solutions to underserved populations while ensuring that water remains a local, public resource. They have two communities in Mexico where they will begin their fieldwork in early July.

Water for Humans has been working for over a year to get everything lined up. They are seeking $25,000 over the next four weeks to help fund and support their work as they ramp up their operations.

Water is expected to be the next scarce resource as we pollute and overexploit the very limited fresh water we have. It is predicted that 21st century wars could be about water. I'm proud of Stan and Rick for their efforts, commitment and vision. Check out their website and help Water for Humans with a contribution if you are inclined.

If you want to know more about the water issue, check out the following movie trailer.