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Health care

Why it costs so much here.

We’re No. 14!

Philadelphia, one of the top beer cities in the world!

Workers fight back in China

Some good news from China:

We’ll never know the names of all the people who paid with their limbs, their lungs, or their lives for the goodies in my home and yours. Here’s just one: think of him as the Unknown Worker, standing for them all. Liu Pan was a 17-year-old operating a machine that made cards and cardboard that were sold on to big-name Western corporations. When he tried to clear its jammed machinery, he got pulled into it. His sister said: “When we got his body, his whole head was crushed. We couldn’t even see his eyes.”

So you might be thinking – was it a cruel joke to bill this as a good news story? Not at all. An epic rebellion has now begun in China against this abuse – and it is beginning to succeed. Across 126,000 Chinese factories, workers have refused to live like this any more. Wildcat unions have sprung up, organised by text message, demanding higher wages, a humane work environment, and the right to organise freely. Millions of young workers across the country are blockading their factories and chanting, “There are no human rights here!” and, “We want freedom!” The suicides were a rebellion of despair; this is a rebellion of hope.

Last year, the Chinese dictatorship was so panicked by the widespread uprisings that it prepared an extraordinary step forward. It drafted a new labour law that would allow workers to form and elect their own trade unions. It would plant seeds of democracy across China’s workplaces. Western corporations lobbied very hard against it, saying it would create a “negative investment environment” – by which they mean smaller profits. Western governments obediently backed the corporations and opposed freedom and democracy for Chinese workers. So the law was whittled down and democracy stripped out.

It wasn’t enough. This year Chinese workers have risen even harder to demand a fair share of the prosperity they create. Now company after company is making massive concessions: pay rises of over 60 per cent are being conceded. Even more crucially, officials in Guandong province, the manufacturing heartland of the country, have announced that they are seriously considering allowing workers to elect their own representatives to carry out collective bargaining after all.

Just like last time, Western corporations and governments are lobbying frantically against this – and to keep the millions of Yan Lis stuck at their assembly lines into the 35th hour.

This isn’t a distant struggle: you are at its heart, whether you like it or not. There is an electrical extension cord running from your laptop and mobile and games console to the people like Yan Li and Liu Pan dying to make them. So you have to make a choice. You can passively let the corporations and governments speak for you in trying to beat these people back into semi-servitude – or you can side with the organisations here that support their cry for freedom, like No Sweat, or the TUC’s international wing, by donating to them, or volunteering for their campaigns.

Yes, if this struggle succeeds, it will mean that we will have to pay a little more for some products, in exchange for the freedom and the lives of people like Yan Li and Liu Pan. But previous generations have made that choice. After slavery was abolished in 1833, Britain’s GDP fell by 10 percent – but they knew that cheap goods and fat profits made from flogging people until they broke were not worth having. Do we?

The U.S. can’t lecture China about human rights while helping corporations suppress workers rights. Capice?

Commodities

You may remember that I wrote a few months ago about food prices being driven up by hedge funds? Now the chairman of Starbucks is blaming them for the rising cost of coffee.

For this very reason, it used to be that this kind of speculation wasn’t allowed. Not only are they driving up the cost of food during a major recession, they’re also affecting foreign politics as we see people rioting for food.

Free markets! Progress!

Rental squeeze

I haven’t noticed it in Philadelphia. How about where you are?

The housing bust horror flick is now giving way to a very unwelcome sequel: a big squeeze on the cost of renting.

The number of renters paying more than half of their income towards rent has hit record levels, according to a new study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) of Harvard University.

Rental affordability is a critical issue for seniors, who live on fixed incomes and already are coping with low yields on their savings, fast-rising healthcare expenses and stagnant Social Security benefits. Yet the struggle with affordability is found most often among low-income Americans; JCHS found that 75 percent of renters in the lowest quartile of income are spending more than half of their income on housing. JCHS also found that lower-middle class renters also are having trouble finding affordable rental housing.

For example, 33 percent of renters with annual income of $14,500 to $30,000 are facing “severe burdens” in finding affordable rent. And the problem is growing most rapidly among demographic groups traditionally less likely to have affordability problems, including younger households, married couples with children and renters with some college education.

“These are astounding numbers,” says Eric Belsky, managing director of JCHS. “If you are spending half of your income on housing, you have very little to spend on everything else.”

Royal wedding

Honestly, do you care? I like weddings in general, but not big public carnival versions. Plus, you know, bread and circuses…

Groupons for healthcare

The Republicans are reassuring the voters who are worried about Paul Ryan’s Medicare “reform” that they’re not getting stiffed — “just” their kids.

It’s a scam, of course. You do understand what Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan is, right? Groupons for healthcare! We’re supposed to be thrilled at getting healthcare for 50% off (or whatever their Deal of The Day is). Who doesn’t love a deal, right?

They think this is a brilliant plan. They’re wrong. They’re forgetting about women. We’re the ones who always know when a deal isn’t a good deal.

The women 45 and older who, statistically speaking, are the ones dealing with the brunt of their elderly parents: overseeing medical care, trying to figure out what’s best for their parents and wrestling with the Medicare paperwork.

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that Medicare made my parents’ final years far more comfortable than it would have been without it. Yes, my dad had a union pension and some investments, but that just covered the basics. Without Medicare, my parents — a father with pancreatic cancer and a mother with congestive heart failure and an eroding spinal column that required several surgeries — would have been impoverished.

And if the women who are dealing with their parents are anything like me, we’re not only thankful our parents had Medicare, we’re counting on it for ourselves, because we don’t want to be a burden to our children.

We also want that security for them.

Now, amoral politicians have one serious handicap: They assume everyone else is as selfish and uncaring as they are. They really don’t understand mothers.

They think we don’t care about our kids? Morons.

Every chance I get, I fight like hell for Medicare and Social Security, even though my own kids don’t even believe it’ll be there. One of them even believes the conservative propaganda that Baby Boomers selfishly bankrupted the country.

I fight anyway. I’m a mother. I know that even if I’m not here to see it, they’ll thank me later.

And so will my grandchildren.

She was asking for it

Is it just me, or does this staffer from Rep. Allen West’s office sound like a brownshirt?

You really, truly need to go read the whole freakin’ thing.

Interesting

A physics paper: Astronomical alignments as the cause of ~M6+ seismicity.

The ballad of El Goodo

Big Star:

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