Monday, August 31, 2009

Why I won't shop at Whole Foods when they open in Oklahoma City

Some natural foods lovers in OKC are celebrating the news that Whole Foods plans to open a store in Oklahoma City some time in the next year. While the future location of this store was not announced, supporters of downtown revitalization have long hoped Whole Foods, or a similar chain, would place a store downtown.

I'm not joining the celebration. Despite their progressive image, Whole Foods has a history of of union busting, detailed in this post over at Mother Jones.

According to The Rag Blog down in Austin, Texas, Whole Foods' customers are "attracted not only to its brightly lit array of pristine fruits and vegetables, organically farmed meats, and delectable (yet healthy) recipes, but also to the notion that the mere act of shopping at Whole Foods is helping to change the world." In support of this image, Whole Foods has taken such steps as supporting the Fair Trade movement to encourage better pay and environmentally safe working conditions for farmers in poor countries, and working to improve the living conditions of farm animals.

The company, and its CEO, John Mackey, would like us that it has the same kind of benevolent concern for its workers. The reality seems to be different. The Rag reports that
Preventing Whole Foods workers from unionizing has always been at the top of Mackey’s agenda, and the company has been successful thus far at crushing every attempt. Perhaps the company’s most notorious attack on workers’ right to unionize occurred in Madison, Wisconsin in 2002. Even after a majority of workers voted for the union, Whole Foods spent the next year canceling and stalling negotiation sessions -- knowing that after a year, they could legally engineer a vote to decertify the union. Mission accomplished.

At the mere mention of the word “union," Whole Foods still turns ferocious. Even when United Farm Workers activists turned up outside a Whole Foods store in Austin, Texas, where Mackey is based, the company called the police and had them arrested for the “crime” of passing out informational literature on their current grape boycott. And as Mother Jones recently reported, “An internal Whole Foods document listing ‘six strategic goals for Whole Foods Market to achieve by 201... includes a goal to remain ‘100% union-free.’”

Another one of Mackey's goals has been to hold down the cost of employee healthcare. The Rag Blog says that
Using a carrot and very large stick, Mackey managed to “convince” Whole Foods workers across the country to vote in 2004 to dramatically downgrade their own healthcare benefits by switching to a so-called “consumer-driven” health plan –- corporate double-speak for the high deductible/low coverage savings account plans preferred by profit-driven enterprises. As Mackey advised other executives in [a] 2004 speech, “[I]f you want to set up a consumer-driven health plan, I strongly urge you not to put it as one option in a cafeteria plan, but to make it the only option.”

Maybe this explains Mackey's hostility to President Obama's health care reform proposals. Not long ago, Mackey authored a controversial opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal attacking health care reform. In reaction to that column, a Facebook group and a web site have sprung up urging supporters of health care reform and workers' rights to boycott Whole Foods. Activists point out that Mackey certainly has a right to express his opinions in writing, but the rest of us have the right not to support his reactionary ideas with our hard-earned dollars.

Downtown Oklahoma City would certainly benefit from having a grocery store -- but not this one. As for myself, if I want to shop with a union-busting mega-chain, Wal-Mart has much better prices.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Eighty nine years ago today...

...women in the United States won the right to vote. The Equal Rights Amendment still remains to be passed.

Happy Women's Equality Day.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Does Medicare pay hospitals too little?

Opponents of allowing a public plan to be part of health care reform often claim that this is a bad idea because the public plan, like Medicare, would under-pay hospitals? This post on Health Beat asks, Does Medicare Under-Pay Hospitals?

The losses many hospitals report may be real, but there is tremendous variation depending on management choices, location, and the ways in which costs are incurred.

Some hospitals are indeed losing large amounts on Medicare services, while others actually are making a profit. Most individual Medicare patients are profitable. Many others could make a profit if hospitals improved their operations.

Medicare is an excellent program, has high levels of approval from its enrollees, and has provided good care for many patients who would otherwise be excluded from the health care system. Hospitals need to be protected from true underpayment, but Medicare itself and the American public also need to be protected from poor management that leads to increased costs and poor health care.

The entire post is well worth reading.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A poem I wrote while I wasn't in church

Actually, I don't ever go to church, and I don't exactly believe in god, but here's a poem I wrote this morning:

Not Quite a Prayer

I talked with God this morning,
and I don't think I understood
a single word she said.
I wasn't even sure she was really there,
or if it was just me hoping
that there was someone listening.
I didn't understand what she was saying,
because I'm almost sure she said
she's not an unpleasant bossy man
with a long beard,
and she doesn't send people to roast slowly
over hellish fires once they're dead.
I was trying to talk to God
but I couldn't understand her because she
wasn't what I expected.
She said that when she writes,
she writes with music in the clouds,
she whispers in the roar of the waves,
and under extraordinary circumstances,
she might shout along with the thunderclap,
but she never writes anything in stone.
Stone is for pictures.
Stone is for vast sculptures carved slowly
over many, many centuries.
I talked with God the other day,
and I swear I didn't understand a word she said,
because she told me she doesn't have a plan
for my life,
that she won't save me in this life,
and won't condemn me in the next.
But if I lift my eyes to the hills,
I might see a diagram I could use,
and if I reach out my hands I might
find friends to help me.
If I reach out my hands I might grab
hold of friends that I could
help along their way.

Friday, August 21, 2009

More on the difficulties faced by Afghan women voters

Indian journalist Aunohita Mojumdar has an article at Women's eNews that includes more information about the obstacles that keep Afghani women from voting.

As just one example:
Despite a tendency to blame violence against women on the Taliban, the July report says women in public life have also been targeted by "local traditional and religious power holders, their own families and communities and, in some instances, by government officials."

In Thursday's provincial council elections, not enough female candidates were found to fill the 25 percent quota for women.

In Kandahar, for example, three women are running for the four reserved seats. None of these candidates was able to either live or campaign in the province because of the threats to them, according to the chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.

A joint verification exercise of political rights carried out by this commission and the U.N. mission in Afghanistan found "women's right to vote appears to be at risk in insecure areas."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Afghani Shia women need permission of husband to vote

Feministing reports that today's election in Afghanistan has more challenges to its legitimacy than are being reported in US mainstream media:

...Afghanistan goes to the polls -- and many people are questioning whether it's even possible to hold a "legitimate" election given the potential for low turnout due to recent threats of violence by the Taliban.

But, as Jeanne Brooks reminds us at Women's eNews, it's not just violence that threatens democracy in Afghanistan -- it's the disenfranchisement of women. President Hamid Karzai recently signed a law that severely restricts women's rights. Among many other appalling provisions, it prevents Shia women from casting a vote without their husband's permission.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Peak Oil Hausfrau argues--persuasively, I think--that large improvements in US life expectancy over the past hundred years or so is mostly due to electricity and the improved sanitation that it made possible. She adds that there is at least some possibility that disruptions to the oil supply could disrupt electrical production, and that we need to make plans to keep this from happening.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Worth reading...

is A Modest Medicare Proposal on

Rachel Maddow takes on Oklahoma's own Tom Coburn

I'd suppose by now that y'all have heard about Rachel Maddow taking on Oklahoma's junior Senator Tom Coburn on Meet the Press on Sunday.

Guests on the show were discussing threats of violence against government officials made by right wing protesters who are trying to stop health care reform legislation from moving through Congress. Coburn said that these protesters have lost faith in government because of out-of-control deficit spending, and that this justified their violent rhetoric. He wasn't just defending their constitutional right to say hateful and inflammatory things. He seemed to be arguing their point of view was justified.

Coburn's line of argument was particularly odd because he made his comments in reference to a protester who was waving a banner that included the same slogan as a t-shirt worn by Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh when he was arrested. Coburn argued that these protesters are understandably angry. Coburn said that these protesters have lost faith in government because of out-of-control deficit spending, and that this justified their violent rhetoric.

In case you haven't seen it, you can watch Rachel Maddow's response here.

I found a particularly useful analysis of this interchange at
I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that a right wing Republican Senator would please for “understanding” in quasi-defense of extreme right wing rhetoric and threats of violence. After all – what else can he expect?

I suppose my point is: if any people out there take Sarah Palin’s statement that children will be put to death by “death panels” if Obama’s health care plan succeeds; if any people out there seriously believe a Holocaust is about to take place if this health care reform is passed; if they believe that their children are going to be indoctrinated into an atheistic faith in Obama if health care passes; if they believe that their grandparents of their children are in danger – if someone believes any or all of these things, then violence is justified.

We make heroes out of the men who tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler. If we now say that Obama is another Hitler, aren’t we advocating assasination? If we say our child will be killed by Obama, aren’t we implicitly endorsing violence to protect our children?

How can we – as a society – have an adult conversation about the pros and cons of the specific health reforms being considered with this unhinged debate? We can’t. Instead, we just have to let the unsustainable status quo stay in place.

A simple guide to health reform

A hat tip to Ezra Klein for pointing out A Guide to the Health Care Fight by Alec MacGillis. It looks like a good, brief, easy-to-understand guide to the health insurance reform bills making their way through the US House and Senate.

Monday, August 17, 2009

What I did on my summer vacation

On the first day of my summer vacation, I spent a lot of time researching health care reform. On the second day of my summer vacation, August 13th, I went to Congresswoman Mary Fallin's town hall meeting in north Oklahoma City. This was a strange and intense experience. I took notes carefully. They were probably coherent. I have been meaning to turn these notes into at a blog post, and sometime soon I probably will. In the meantime, seems to have a video of the entire town hall meeting, if you'd like to watch it for yourself.

I thought that one of the things I would do with the rest of my summer vacation was to write the blog post I just refering to, and many other blog posts on the subject of health care reform. But I just couldn't. Every time I thought about blogging, my stomach started to churn. It's not just that health care reform is a complicated issue, it's also that the public debate has turned so truly ugly. It reminds me of , oh, say, the political climate when I lived in Oregon in the nineties and Ballot Measure 9 was before the citizenry. It feels like the same sort of right-wing nastiness, backed up by the same hints of threatened violence if the right-wingers don't get their way. It was dispiriting, if not surprising, to watch Fallin (and later Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn) pander to the extreme right. I'm committed to blogging about this issue, to help myself (and anyone who might be reading) to make sense out of the complicated mess that is the debate over health care reform.

But first I needed to take a vacation. So. I spent time hanging out on the front porch by myself and with friends, listened to live poetry, listened to live music, got my car back from the repair shop, finished painting my bedroom and moving in the bedroom furniture, had coffee with friends, did some reading, played a little bit of online chess--and now I'm almost ready to get back to trying to figure out health care.

Right wing fear-mongering not confined to health care reform

Apparently the far right is also devoting time and resources to distorting President Obama's position on Middle East issues. To deal with this situation, the progressive Jewish organization J Street has launched

Monday, August 10, 2009

Blogging through the health care debate

If you are struggling to make sense out of the health care reform debate, some blogs that I find useful include Health Beat (by finance writer Maggie Mahar), Ezra Klein (writing on economic policy at the Washington Post), RH Reality Check and Our Bodies, Our Blog (covering the process from a women's health stand point). Physicians for a National Health Program advocates for a single-payer system. The Institute for America's Future has this explanation of the benefits of a strong public plan option.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Nixon's resignation 35 years ago today

I was not yet 18 years old, finishing up my first summer as a Girl Scout camp counselor in Red Lodge, Montana, when Richard Nixon left the presidency. Someone found a television, and we gathered in the dining hall and turned it on to watch the occasion. I was reminded of this anniversary Saturday morning on National Public Radio. Here is the text of today's NPR commentary on the occasion by Daniel Schorr, who watched Nixon resign and who was once on that president's enemies list.

Schorr observes:
In his first speech as president, Ford said that the national nightmare had ended. A resilient nation had survived, but the episode had left its scars on the body politic. Since Nixon, no president has been fully trusted.

Because I was around during the Nixon era, I am constantly asked how his abuse of power compares to the misdeeds of the recent Bush administration. Both employed illegal wiretaps. Bush compiled no list of enemies meriting special persecution — at least, as far as is known.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

According to Rachel Maddow it's not grass roots, it's astroturf

Thanks to for posting this video of Rachel Maddow discussing orchestrated Republican efforts to derail congressional town hall meetings on health care reform (and thanks to my friend Pat R. for suggesting that I try to find it).

Sonia Sotomayor sworn in as Supreme Court justice

For all of the hopes and fears brought about by her nomination, no one really can know what kind of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor might be. But like author Sandra Cisneros, I think it's a grand day for the United States that Sotomayor was sworn in today as the first Latina on the Court.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Down on the pharma

The other day I linked to a post by Norman Solomon that claimed that the White House made a deal with the pharmaceutical companies not to allow Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. Ezra Klein says that the White House is now denying there was ever such a deal.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A mainstream take on health care reform

The web site of the public radio program The Takeaway offers a "Health Care 101" section with information about health care reform bills currently making their way through the House and Senate.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Read it and weep

Over on, Norman Solomon discusses the The Incredible Shrinking Healthcare Reform.
It's enough to make you weep, or gnash your teeth with anger, or worry about the consequences for your loved ones -- or the loved ones of people you'll never meet.

During his campaign last year, Obama criticized big pharmaceutical firms for blocking efforts to allow Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. But since the election, the LA Times reports, "the industry's chief lobbyist" -- former Congressman Billy Tauzin -- "has morphed into the president's partner. He has been invited to the White House half a dozen times in recent months. There, he says, he eventually secured an agreement that the administration wouldn't try to overturn the very Medicare drug policy that Obama had criticized on the campaign trail."

The story gets worse. For instance, "Tauzin said he had not only received the White House pledge to forswear Medicare drug price bargaining, but also a separate promise not to pursue another proposal Obama supported during the campaign: importing cheaper drugs from Canada or Europe."

Meanwhile, with a "mandate" herd of cash cows on the national horizon, the health insurance industry is licking its chops. The corporate glee is ill-disguised as the Obama administration pushes for legal mandates to require that Americans buy health insurance -- no matter how dismal the quality of the coverage or how unaffordable the "affordable" premiums turn out to be for real people in the real world.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Health care reform battle continues

Christine C. over at Our Bodies Our Blog has a fascinating summary of all the latest health care reform news.