Saturday, January 26, 2008

Always the Lowest Wal-Mart

In a 2007 Wal-Mart report it was noted that nearly 5 percent of employees are on Medicare, about 2 percent were covered by Medicaid, and another 1 percent used an alternate state program. "I don't believe that our goal was ever to convince someone to move off of Medicare or their retirement plan . . . to Wal-Mart health-care coverage," said Linda M. Dillman, who oversees risk management and benefits for the retailer. Wal-Mart has tried to fight back against its negative public image by offering $4 generic prescription drugs. [Washington Post, 1/11/07]

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Post War

The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
All of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.

- Isaiah 50:7-9

Whistle While You Work

It's A Open Secret

Voting in South Carolina and Nevada last weekend narrowed the Republican field to six. After the two InfoCision Management Corporation clients, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California and former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson both dropped out -- Hunter after receiving little support at the Nevada caucus and Thompson after coming in a distant third in the South Carolina primary. Hunter trailed all but one other Republican candidate at the end of the 3rd Quarter in fundraising, having raised a total of $1.9 million in the first nine months of the year. Thompson, who entered the race later than his competitors, raised a total $12.8 million. Thompson's most generous contributors included retirees, lawyers and the real estate industry. Hunter's included retirees, lawyers and lobbyists. He is retiring from Congress after this year.

*Presidential profile for Duncan Hunter:

*Presidential profile for Fred Thompson:


More than 4,200 political action committees are now registered with the Federal Election Commission, representing a 1.5 percent increase during the last six months of 2007, the FEC announced last week. The commission's semi-annual count of committees controlled by corporations, trade associations, labor unions and ideological groups has remained relatively constant for more than 20 years, hovering between 3,800 and 4,200 organizations. As new committees register, a roughly equal number close up shop. Corporate PACs remain the largest category, with 1,601 committees registered.

*FEC news release:

*'s PAC database:

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

New Year- Always the Same Wal-Mart

In January 2007, Wal-Mart released their health insurance coverage numbers for 2006 enrollment period. Wal-Mart reported it had 636,391 workers signed up for one of the company’s health-insurance plans during the fall enrollment period. However, Wal-Mart was quoted in newspapers the previous year citing employee coverage at 638,000. If the previous year’s count was accurate, employee enrollment declined 1.6 percent in the latest period. "That figure should never have been used," Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman said. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 1/12/07]

The Lords Prayer In Arabic

Free Palestine Now

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bank of China Shares Suspended

The Shanghai Stock Exchange has suspended trading in shares of Bank of China, China's second biggest bank, saying the bank had failed to comment on an "important event".

The move comes after Bank of China stock tumbled on Monday after reports that the bank might post a 2007 loss because of a big write-down on billions of dollars of US sub-prime mortgage related investments.

"Bank of China failed to make a statement on an important event so trading in its shares will be suspended for all day on January 22," the Shanghai exchange said on its website on Tuesday without elaborating.

A subsequent statement from Bank of China released later on Tuesday said its board was "not aware of any reasons" for the recent sharp declines in its share price.

The Bank of China's Shanghai-listed local-currency A shares were suspended but its Hong Kong-listed H shares continued trading on Tuesday, falling 8.6 per cent by midday.

Meanwhile unease over Chinese exposure to the US sub-prime crisis hit shares in other mainland banks, with financial stocks leading falls on the Shanghai market on Tuesday.

By midday, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China had slipped 4.8 per cent, Communications Bank fell 2.9 per cent and China Construction Bank Corp. lost 4.6 per cent.

Analysts said the market had expected Bank of China to comment on the reports of heavy losses due to its exposure to US sub-prime lending.

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post said on Monday that Chinese banking regulators had warned the country's government that Bank of China and two other state banks would make provisions for all their assets hit by US mortgage defaults.

The report heightened concerns about China's exposure to the sub-prime crisis, which has hammered earnings of major European and Wall Street banks, prompting steep drops in share prices around the world.

Bank of China says its sub-prime related assets were worth $7.95bn at the end of September last year.

Chinese officials are increasingly voicing concern about the fallout of the US sub-prime crisis, backing away from earlier confident declarations that the country was largely insulated.

On Monday the semi-official China Business News reported that a government task force recently made an assessment of the potential impact of the sub-prime crisis on Chinese banks, with "not very positive" conclusions.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Picture Tells The Story

Always American Wal-Mart

According to Wal-Mart’s SEC filing, CEO Lee Scott’s total compensation was $29.7 million. Scott’s salary is 900 times the pay of the average Wal-Mart worker despite pressure from regulators and shareholders to rein in excessive executive pay in the industry. [Arkansas Business Weekly, 4/20/07; Asia Times, 10/13/07]

Facing The Giants

A church-produced evangelical Christian movie is aimed at evangelism and is inappropriate for public schools, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told Alabama educators.

After receiving complaints, Americans United has urged officials at Tuscaloosa City Schools to stop showing the film "Facing the Giants."

"This movie is not educational; it's evangelistic," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Parents and taxpayers expect our public schools to teach, not preach."

In a Jan. 15 letter, Americans United attorneys note that the film was shown repeatedly in classrooms last semester at Paul W. Bryant High School and that the school's principal plans to continue airing it in the future. The movie depicts the story of a losing high school football coach who turns his struggling team around by convincing them that "With God, all things are possible…."

"Facing the Giants was produced by a Baptist church to bring about a single result: Christian conversion.... [F]ederal courts have consistently held that public-school teachers cannot present religious messages to students or use teaching materials that do so," wrote Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, Senior Litigation Counsel Alex Luchenitser and Litigation Counsel Heather Weaver.

The AU attorneys said public schools must be neutral when it comes to religion and may not provide religious instruction to children.

The letter cites an array of quotes from the film that are obviously aimed at proselytizing.

For example, the film's coach tells his players that "football is just one of the tools we use to honor God," and that "[God] sent his son Jesus to die for us so we can live for Him." In a locker-room pep talk, he urges his team "to remember what God has brought us…. As long as we honor God, nothing is impossible…. Give your best to God…. Give God the glory."

The film was produced by Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. The Rev. Michael Catt, senior pastor of the church, told a gathering at the 2007 Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., that 3,000 people have been converted to Christianity by the movie.

"We never got into it [film-making] to make money," Catt told the Summit pastors' breakfast. "We got into it to spread the gospel."

TV preacher Pat Robertson's "700 Club" reported last summer that Catt spoke at a Southern Baptist Pastors Conference in San Antonio and declared that all aspects of the movie were "bathed in prayer." (Robertson called the movie "magnificent.")

Americans United's letter urges the school officials to uphold the separation of church and state and to take prompt steps to ensure that the film is no longer shown to students in the Tuscaloosa City Schools District.

"Millionnaires' Amendment" On Trial

After twice battling Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.) and losing, Democrat Jack Davis is now challenging federal campaign finance law. The millionaire industrialist, who spent more than $2 million of his own money to unseat Reynolds in 2006, has persuaded the Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of the "millionaires' amendment." This measure in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 allows congressional candidates who face wealthy opponents to collect more money from individuals than the law would normally allow, ostensibly to even the odds. Davis says this provision protects entrenched incumbents from the only people who beat them: wealthy challengers. He says the additional disclosure requirements he faced limited his free-speech rights. The Supreme Court will consider a lower court's ruling that upheld the law, stating that it was Davis's choice to spend his own money and, in doing so, allow his opponent to collect more money from donors. The Supreme Court may also consider a case involving an anti-Hillary Clinton movie that the conservative group and InfoCision client Citizens United wants to advertise in key primary states. A three-judge panel said that advertising the movie should be considered direct advocacy against a candidate and, therefore, should be subject to campaign finance laws, including the disclosure of donors.
*Campaign contribution limits:
*FEC primer on the millionaires' amendment:
*2006 Reynolds-Davis race:
*2004 Reynolds-Davis race:
*Citizens United Political Action Committee:

The Black Box

Throughout the '80s, Denise Matthews, who gained infamy as Vanity - the remarkably gorgeous girlfriend and pin-up protégé of music icon Prince - was the proverbial wet dream. He created the group Vanity 6 for her and produced the hit album of the same name. After leaving the Prince camp, she had two successful solo albums Wild Animal and Skin On Skin. One song from Wild Animal, called "Strap On 'Robbie Baby'" made the PMRC's infamous filthy 15 list, clocking in at number 4. By the mid-'90s, the sex-drenched rock star and actress cheated death, put away the lingerie and became a Christian Evangelist. She is preparing to release a self-published, tell-all memoir called The Black Box, to demonstrate how her life was transformed through faith in God. The following is a interview from the magazine Vibe.

When you began going around the country to preach, was it hard for folks to get past the fact that you were the same chick that was moaning "Nasty Girl" in her underwear?
Getting past my past? Well, that was a process, a very serious process indeed. My God. As a person, [I'm] constantly changing, trying to be better. Back when I was Vanity, it was all about being sexy, getting slimmer, and getting cuter. Things have changed. Now it's not the outward appearance, it's the inward man that I'm trying to change. And that's the message I bring to the people.

How often do you get the 'Aren't you Vanity?' line?
[Laughs] You know, it depends on where I'm at. If I'm going into a different city, like in the
Midwest or back East, I get it quite a bit. Where I live today [Fremont, California], I believe that God chose this place for me because I don't get a whole lot of people that recognize me. And that doesn't bother me. The ones that do recognize me, I always switch [the question] that they give me to salvation.

Your book is very open about your wild partying lifestyle and past cocaine abuse. At one point you were nearly on your deathbed in 1994, blind and deaf, after suffering a stroke, kidney failure and a heart attack. What do you say to the cynical bastard that thinks that most celebrities find religion when it's convenient?
Well, we all make the mistake of thinking, and I did too so many times, that God did this to us. But we kill ourselves and choose who we want to be. I put the drugs in my mouth, I did the fornication, I had all the lust, and I chose the way of "sex sells." I wanted to be famous and rich. I chose to be Vanity.

Your turbulent romantic relationship with Prince, who gave you the name Vanity and created and produced Vanity 6, is the stuff of rock 'n' roll legend. Is it true that when you first met Prince at the American Music Awards in January of '82, that you arrived with Rick James and left with Mr. Nelson?
People have so many renditions of what I did [laughing]. I remember one time somebody said that the reason I left Prince was because I was having his baby [laughing]. Do they make this stuff up? You have to read my book to find out what really happened.

Are you shocked at Prince becoming a Jehovah's Witness? This from the same cat who basically inspired explicit lyrics stickers and was a walking sex act in high heels.
I believe that God is calling him (Prince) like he is calling many others. I cannot judge Prince's heart. Everything takes time, so my heart is just to pray for him and that he finds what he's looking for just as I pray for myself as I continue to find my own way because you can be on the path one day and then go off the wrong path the next.

Obviously, some fans are going to buy your book to read about your wild days as a sex symbol. But what do you really want readers to get out of The Black Box?
I think it's important to understand the title of my book. The black box is the only thing that survives a plane crash, and I want people to know that I'm a survivor. I go to wherever God calls me, wherever the church calls me to come to minister and preach the word of God. God told me, "Speak the
kingdom of God with all your heart, mind, body, soul, and strength . . . seek the kingdom of God first." In the beginning I was planning on naming it Blame It On Vanity. . . Denise, but I wanted to separate myself from the sinful name that made me famous. Vanity means worthlessness, and that's the last thing I want to be known for. And I'm not worthless anymore. My name is Denise.

Concerned Women For America

Marla Redfern of InfoCision Management Corporation, a telemarketing company based in Akron, Ohio, says that last Thursday, January 17th, Robert Stuber, Director of Development for Concerned Women For America came to town. And we just thought it was really bad cold front.

Mr. Stuber was in town to review InfoCision’s current programs and listen to suggestions for CWAs first quarter fundraising efforts.

Concerned Women For America describes itself this way: “We are the nation's largest public policy women's organization with a rich 29-year history of helping our members across the country bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy.”

They also claim: “The mission of CWA is to protect and promote Biblical values among all citizens - first through prayer, then education, and finally by influencing our society - thereby reversing the decline in moral values in our nation.”

The group was founded in 1979 by Beverly LaHaye, wife of Christian Coalition co-founder Timothy LaHaye, as a response to activities by the National Organization for Women and a 1978 Barbara Walters interview with noted feminist Betty Friedan.

Mrs. LaHaye was quoted in a 2004 speech at the CWA conference as saying, "Yes, religion and politics do mix. America is a nation based on biblical principles. Christian values dominate our government. The test of those values is the Bible. Politicians who do not use the Bible to guide their public and private lives do not belong in office."

Beverly LaHaye was best known for The Act of Marriage, a Christian sex self-help bestseller she co-authored with her husband, Tim, when she founded Concerned Women for America in 1979. In 2001, LaHaye hired Robert H. Knight and Peter LaBarbera, to launch CWA’s Culture & Family Institute.

She is married to Tim LaHaye. They have four children and nine grandchildren and live in the Los Angeles area. One of their sons, Lee LaHaye, is the chief financial officer of Concerned Women for America and has been alleged to be openly gay. The CWA have never rebutted the charge.

In 1992, Jerry Falwell's Liberty University gave Beverly LaHaye, Tim's wife, an honorary Doctorate of Humanities.

According to Marla Redfern, Concerned Women For America has been a client of InfoCision Management Corporation for over 10 years and is their Christian divisions second largest client. This year, InfoCision is hoping to surpass the $3.7 million they made last year from telemarketing for the group.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

He Works Hard For The Money

Pledge Of Allegiance

The Pledge of Allegiance was written for the popular kid's magazine Youth's Companion by Christian Socialist author and Baptist minister Francis Bellamy on September 7, 1892. The owners of Youth's Companion were selling flags to schools, and approached Bellamy to write the Pledge for their advertising campaign. It was marketed as a way to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus arriving in the Americas and was first published on the following day. The original wording appears as follows:

I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the republic for which it stands: one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

After a proclamation by President Benjamin Harrison, the Pledge was first used in public schools on October 12, 1892 during Columbus Day observances. This date was also significant as it was the dedication day of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. Bellamy thought that the pledge itself and the involvement of children across the country would be a fine show of national solidarity.

In 1923 the National Flag Conference called for the words my Flag to be changed to the Flag of the United States. The reason given was to ensure that immigrants knew to which flag reference was being made. The words "of America" were added a year later. The newly worded pledge got adopted officially on Flag Day, June 14, 1924.

In 1954, Republican U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy was leading the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations during the height of the Cold War anti-communist movement in the United States. Anti-communist ideology in the U.S. frequently identified the Soviet states with atheism; the Senate as well as the House, were still seeking to expose "godless Communist" infiltrators. So, several Christian anti-communists urged a bill to change the pledge further by including "God." Another amended pledge came by a joint resolution of Congress in 1954 with the addition of the words, "under God." The pledge now reads:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands: one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Unfortunately this pledge does not accurately reflect many Americans who do not believe in gods, and thus it can only stand as a biased an intolerant statement.

Although the first and second pledge offers a far better alternative than the last, has anyone noticed that the pledge first aims its allegiance to a flag and only secondly to the republic? This gives some reason why the flag presents so many problems with the prosecution of flag burners and with questions of law and the freedom of expression. Such problems would not exist with by simply removing the politically convenient wording:

I pledge allegiance to the United States of America: one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

This pledge can conform to any American whether he or she worships a god or has opted for agnosticism, atheism or unbelief.

Of course we would still perform the pledge in front of the flag, which represents the United States, but the pledge should honor only the United States, not a design on a piece of cloth.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Power Of The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee

As US presidential candidates battle it out to become the leader of the world's only superpower there is one subject on which they all, in public at least, agree - the US relationship with Israel.

To leading politicians on both sides of the partisan divide the special relationship is sacrosanct, largely due, critics say, to the power of pro-Israel lobby groups.

Those critics also say that pro-Israeli groups are set to play a major role in the forthcoming election battle, both in terms of funding candidates and by publicly criticizing any candidate critical of Israel or the US's relationship with it.

John Mearsheimer, who alongside Stephen Walt is the author of a controversial series of articles and a recent book on the Israel lobby, have said: "Almost all of the major candidates are falling over themselves to demonstrate how deeply committed they are to America's special relationship with Israel.

"Hardly a word of criticism is directed at anything Israel does and that is due to the activities of the lobby."

What is the pro-Israel lobby?

The lobby is made up of dozens of pro-Israel political action committees that draw a large part of their support from the US Jewish community and provide funding to presidential candidates.

But Christian Zionists, who are among the most vociferous supporters of Israel in the US, also play a major role.

They believe that by strengthening and supporting the state of Israel, they are more likely to bring about the "second coming" of Jesus as prophesied in the Bible.

At the lobby's vanguard is the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), which works mainly in US congress.

It boasts its recent "victories" include the US decision to brand Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, securing US aid to Israel and freezing US aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority in 2006.

Money and power

Defenders of the Israel lobby say that the views of presidential candidates are really a natural reflection of the views of most Americans and that it has little influence over elections.

But money talks in politics and the figures tell a different story.

The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), which monitors the role of money in US politics, says pro-Israeli groups and individuals have already donated more than $845,000 to presidential candidates in the 2008 campaign - 70 per cent of it to Democrats.

In the entire 2004 presidential campaign pro-Israel interests contributed at least $6.1 million to federal candidates and parties.

"Money translates into influence in Washington, so generally the interests that spend the most money are going to get the best access and results," says Massie Ritch, communications director at the CRP.

And it is outside of the presidential race and in congress, which holds the purse strings on the key area of aid to Israel, that the lobby makes its financial mark.

Aipac and other groups spent more than $1.5 million on federal lobbying in 2006 and more than $1.25 million in the first half of 2007, meaning that this year could be a record one for the lobby.

The pro-Israel lobby accounts for about one-quarter of all foreign policy lobbying on Capitol Hill, the CRP says.

Information flow

Arab efforts to put their case across are, in contrast, minimal.

The National Association of Arab-Americans and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee reported spending just $80,000 on federal lobbying in 2006 and $40,000 in the first six months of 2007.

The financial power of the Israel lobby also allows it to provide one-sided information to US politicians not always familiar with the complexities of conflict in the Middle East.

Aipac provides educational trips to congressman and their staff - more trips than any other sponsor, according to the CRP.

"Members of congress and their staffs have been to Tel Aviv more often in recent years than they've been to Chicago," says Ritch.

Anti-Semitism charges

Aipac's defenders say that this is where the organization plays an important role, as an information source for politicians - including US presidential candidates.

But critics say that pro-Israel lobby groups go much further - as John Mearsheimer says: "The lobby monitors what the candidates say very closely."

In March, Democratic candidate Barack Obama gave a speech in the key primary state of Iowa where he said: "Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people."

A local Aipac member immediately contacted the media to denounce the comment, describing it as "deeply troubling".

In July Jim Moran, a Democratic congressman who has criticized Aipac in the past, accused the organization of pushing for war on Iraq.

Seventeen members of congress immediately wrote a letter to Moran condemning him and saying that his remarks "unfortunately fit the anti-Semitic stereotypes some have used historically used against Jews".

Eric Cantor, the House of Representatives Republican Deputy Chief Whip, reportedly went further and was quoted as saying: "Unfortunately, Jim Moran has made it a habit now to lash out to the American-Jewish community.

"I think his remarks are reprehensible, I think his remarks are anachronistic, and hearken back to the day of Adolph Hitler."

In such a political climate it is easy to see why those seeking a job in the Oval Office are wary of speaking out for any change in the US relationship with Israel or against Aipac.

The charge of anti-Semitism is regularly used by the Israel and lobby and was one of the charges faced by John Mearsheimer.

"We are not anti-Semites and the book is not anti-Semitic," he says.

"Calling critics of Israeli policy or the US-Israel relationship is standard operating procedure for the lobby. It's the standard strategy they use to stifle criticism of Israel and to marginalize those critics."

Military action

Beyond the politics of elections, the lobby's critics say that pro-Israeli groups, after pushing for war on Iraq, are now advocating military action against Iran.

"If you look at who is pushing the US to use military force against Iran, the two driving forces are Israel and the Israel lobby," says Mearsheimer.

Jim Moran, in an interview with the Tikkun, a Jewish peace magazine, said US action against Iran is proposed only because it is a threat to Israel.

"No one's suggested that Iran is a potential threat to the United States," he told the magazine, "any more than Iraq could ever have been a threat to the United States."

"In effect, all the same groups and individuals who were pushing for war against Iraq are pushing for war against Iran."

Aipac, however, vehemently denies it is asking for anything other than sanctions.

"Aipac solely advocates sanctions as the best way to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons or the capability to make them." said Josh Block, an Aipac spokesman.

Real friendship

Mearsheimer argues that the US needs to normalize its relationship with Israel, treating it more like the UK, Germany or India.

He and other critics, from both inside and outside the Jewish community in the US, argue that Israel also suffers from its privileged position in terms of US aid.

They believe that the Israel lobby's support in the US encourages Israel to act without fear of international sanction.

This has emboldened Israeli leaders to sanction the illegal occupation of Palestinian land, the building of settlements and for the Israeli military to carry out numerous human rights abuses.

"If these presidential candidates were real friends of Israel as they claim to be, they would not only be criticizing Israel for its policies in the occupied territories ... they would be arguing that the US put significant pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to reach an agreement on a two-state solution," said Mearsheimer.

"That's what a real friend would do."