The Mechanisms of Exploitation

One of the reasons the wealthy in this country are wealthy, is because they are the beneficiaries of massive loopholes inherent in our skewed tax code as well as government subsidies paid for by tax dollars. In other words, the dramatic gains in wealth by the super rich are underwritten by everyone else as a result of skewed values embedded in the U.S. tax code. This means that the top 1 percent of America’s wealthiest households—97 percent of whom are white—are subsidized by the rest of the tax base.

A major contributor to the dwindling of the middle class is that the majority of the taxes they pay rarely benefit them, especially with regard to social safety net programs. Those taxes benefit the wealthy, who then get to sit back and save their money while the middle class covers them by picking up their slack. Remember that wage earners pay taxes on their sustenance, while the wealthy would be paying taxes on their wealth.

 It is also no revelation that most of our taxes go towards the war machine, also euphemistically referred to as “defense department”, subsidies for oil companies and farms and a host of tax breaks for corporations that post record profits while siphoning their wealth overseas to avoid paying taxes, employing cheap labor overseas and paying domestic laborers lousy wages that do not keep up with increased cost of living and general growth.

This lack of equity has lead to the systematic erosion of the middle class by transferring wealth from the bottom to top, thus widening the income gap.

As much as corporations like to whine about hard times that are allegedly prompting them to keep cutting pay, benefits or lay people off altogether, research has revealed that, in fact, foreign profits held overseas by U.S. corporations to avoid taxes at home nearly doubled from 2008 to 2013 to top $2.1 trillion. GE tops the list, followed by Microsoft, Pfizer, Merck and Apple – all companies that are supposed to be the shining example of the American Dream and hard work. Turns out, their un-American, self-serving greed is of the same old garden-variety robber baron kind, only this time the velvet tones are neatly wrapped in wit and charm by these master manipulators who call themselves the purveyors of the American Dream.

The American Dream for whom, one wonders.

The middle class has not experienced much of an income growth for the past three to four decades while the 1% have seen their wealth multiply quite rapidly. General Electric, for example, has neatly stashed away over $100 billion overseas while paying an effective tax rate of merely 5% in the US.

All this has crated a situation whereby the middle class is basically digging its own grave, caught in a vicious cycle of little income growth, coupled with higher cost of living, paying the highest amount of taxes while at the same time not seeing most of that money they paid come back to them in the form of social safety net programs, ultimately resulting in them to slide down the social class ladder even further and with every slide slip deeper into the poverty trap. 

Tax Breaks Are A spending

The hundreds of tax breaks lawmakers have written into the federal tax code –  for instance, special low tax rates on capital gains, and a deduction for home mortgage interest – in order to promote certain activities they deem beneficial to society (which are not), function as a type of government spending. 

In fact, tax breaks are officially called tax expenditures within the federal government because, from the perspective of the government, they are no different from spending on any other government program. That’s because, when the government issues a tax break, it chooses to give up tax revenue – so both spending and tax breaks result in the same outcome, which is less money in the U.S. Treasury.  

The need for the money the government just decided to not collect from certain entities (that also happen to line the pockets of those very government officials – most of whom are millionaires)  does not go away because the tax break was issued. That need is still there. And if the government cannot collect, or will not collect,  it from the wealthy, then it will have to collect it from us.

According to the White House, in fiscal year 2014 tax breaks are expected to cost the federal government  - and by extension all of us who do pay taxes – $1.18 trillion – slightly more than all discretionary spending in the same year.

For the government it means that it does not get to collect the revenue it needs to remain solvent, which in turn results in the government going after the easiest of entities to cut from – the poor who don’t have lobbyists residing in the Capital buying politicians.

This is evidenced by the fact that cuts, usually, almost always begin with and come in the form of slashing food stamps, public assistance programs and a host of other social safety net policies.

The class divide we are facing is facilitated by these very middle class-destroying economic policies that are promoted by politicians in both parties.

Democrats are not any better. They too agree on beginning every cut by going after middle class causes and the poor. They merely disagree with Conservatives over the extent to which those cuts are to take place. While I do want to give credit to some truly dedicated Democratic officials, I want to point out that voting for policies that ultimately go after the most vulnerable and marginalized entities in society to subsidize the privileged does not make you a progressive, nor is it a vastly different position from the Conservative one. That is hardly deserving of accolades. In fact, it makes you part of the problem, just to a slightly lesser degree.

In the end, for the working middle class it means that they have to pick up the slack of those who get tax exemptions.

Coupled with deregulation, lousy labor laws and standards that favor the corporations and their money-making schemes over employee/worker rights and human dignity,  Citizens United, Too Big To Fail, and a host of other middle class busting policies, the middle class has essentially been reduced to nothing but a source of cheap labor and tax revenue, effectively shifting the economic burden of society away from the wealthy – who, among other things, by virtue of paying no taxes, can accumulate wealth easily and rapidly –  and onto the working poor and middle class wage earners.

Given that a good number of our elected officials (including judges) are wholly owned subsidiaries of corporations, this situation is not likely going to change anytime soon. After all, what incentive would a lawmaker have to put a stop to the very corporate greed and exploitation that is subsidizing his or her campaign (and summer house, car elevator, shiny, gold plated bootstraps for his kids etc). 

General Motors, Money and Free Speech

In 2001, General Motors considered, and rejected an ignition switch design that two prominent safety advocates say could have avoided the problem that led the automaker to recall millions of vehicles this year.

The company’s decision to reject the safety switch was motivated by cost. Without much oversight and accountability, GM just decided to forgo this important safety feature, resulting in not only recalls of vehicles but according to GM, the faulty ignition switch has been linked to 32 crashes and 13 deaths.

All so that GM executives may pocket a few million dollars more in bonuses and compensation.

Via the Citizens United ruling and the subsequent ruling earlier this month lifting the ban on aggregate campaign donations,  the crooks in the Supreme Court took a huge step toward giving wealthy donors, including corporations, unlimited freedom to influence elections, considering corporations and the money they can give to influence political outcomes “people” entitled to “free speech” under the First Amendment.

The move to exclude millions of people who do not have the money to influence political outcomes does not only deeply compromise the political integrity of our governmental institutions, but, as Justice Beer wrote in the dissenting opinion, this “decision eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”  

Again, the entities that will be paying the price are middle class wage earners who cannot, on the political sphere, match the wealth of a powerful corporation or a billionaire – not without allies, effectively resulting in only people of extreme means and wealth being able to influence elections.

Equating free speech with spending money in elections is, furthermore, not only deeply undemocratic, but it is no different than making voting contingent upon an individual’s wealth. No one can tell me that the vote of a poor citizen carries as much weight as the “vote” of a millionaire.

Of course, corporations are only people insofar as they can donate unlimited funds to buy  surrogate politicians to do their bidding. When it comes to corporate accountability –  another feature of being a person – however, corporations remain immune and cannot be held accountable.

Case in point, again, General Motors that is currently seeking lawsuit protection in federal courts for knowingly equipping their vehicles with faulty parts, resulting in millions of recalls as well as dozens of crashes and deaths.

This is a company that paid no federal income tax for 2011 despite earnings of $13 billion since 2009. Why? Because the Treasury Department (hint: our corrupt lawmakers that run the Treasury Department) gave GM permission to use the $18 billion in losses from the pre-bankruptcy company, the so-called old GM, to cancel out any profits it has made since it emerged from bankruptcy.

In essence, GM would have to make $1 billion for 18 consecutive quarters before the federal government, which bailed out the company, sees a nickel in income tax from GM.

In other words, GM got bailed out with tax payer monies and it not only not paid them back but is also not getting to put a dime into the very government coffers whose funds bailed them out in the first place!!

Guess who, amid this grand gesture of corporate welfare, will be tasked to pick up GM’s tax exemption? The middle class working stiff. (Not that other corporations in this country pay more, or any, taxes either.  See this).

Bootstraps

Hard work has very little to do with why the wealthy are wealthy. Why corporations and their executives keep getting richer by the minute and have become “too wealthy to fail” while those who work for them cannot afford buying a house or sending their kids to college or have any kind of social safety avenues available to them if some catastrophe were to happen.

The problem with poverty and a vanishing middle class in this country is systemic in nature with corrupt, greedy and self serving entities as the gatekeepers at every level, insuring that those wallowing in wealth remain where they are while those who subsidize them think they are on their way there while at the same time giving up their standard of living, their quality of education, their jobs, their worker protections, their civil liberties, their social safety net, their environment, their economy and their very democracy itself.

We are a at point now where those in the 25-to-34 age group are the best educated cohort in American history, with more than a third having a bachelor’s degree or higher. Yet nearly 50% of those are either jobless or underemployed, indicating that clearly, and while important, education alone does not create jobs and opportunities that lead to prosperity. For that, a fair and functional economy is needed — one in which the government, a government filled with people who have integrity, not the corrupt opportunists that are in its employ now – plays a robust role, alongside consumers and businesses, to promote full employment and to ensure a just distribution of gains.

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Throwback Thursday: The 80s

AFI Life Achievement Awards Dinner Honoring Frank Capra Kirstie Alley and Richard Gere;Susan Sarandon Heather Locklear;Scott Baio Julia Roberts and mother, Betty Motes 6049905

Amnesty International Event - 1988

Christian Applegate and Brad Pitt, 1988

Actress Meryl Streep riding in a NYC subway train.

Actress Meryl Streep riding in a NYC subway train

1988 Presidential Campaign: Democratic Candidate Michael Dukakis' Benefit Cocktail Party

SJC and Robert Downey, Jr. 1988 Presidential Campaign: Democratic Candidate Michael Dukakis’ Benefit Cocktail Party

Charlie Sheen and Kelly Preston

Charlie Sheen and Kelly Preston, 1988

Alyssa Milano

Corey Haim and Alyssa Milano in 1988

corey20n-20-web

Licence to Drive

Winona Ryder

Winona Ryder, Great Balls of Fire Premiere, 1989

nyc 1987

Corey Haim 1987

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Corey Haim 1989

Paul Natkin Archive

Bon Jovi in 1984

LA 1988

Corey Haim and Alyssa Milano, Los Angeles, 1988

Ally Sheedy

Molly Ringwald, Anthny Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson. January 1, 1990.

Mr. T;Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore and Mr.-T in 1984

Andrew Mccarthy;Mary Stuart Masterson;Patrick Dempsey

Andrew Mccarthy, Mary Stuart Masterson and Patrick Dempsey

FULL HOUSE

John Stamos with Mary Kaye Ashkey Olson in 1989, Full House Promo Shot

Photo of NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK and Donnie WAHLBERG and Joey McINTYRE and Danny WOOD and Jonathan KNIGHT and Jordan KNIGHT

NKOTB 1989

American Film Institute Honors Gregory Peck

Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan

Brooke Shields;Matt Dillon

Brooke Shields and Matt Dillon in 1980

Cyndi Lauper Performs In Minnesota

Cyndi Lauper in 1984

Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, & Emilio Estevez in 1982

Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, & Emilio Estevez in 1982

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Corey Haim

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Alyssa Milano and Corey Haim in 1989

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Alyssa Milano and Corey Haim in 1989

David Hasselhoff Portrait Session On The Beach

In 1984

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The Death of Roe v. Wade

As mentioned before, restricting access to safe abortions has become a matter of slowly chipping away at abortion rights and access through various ludicrous state level restrictions but without having to actually and necessarily overturn Roe v. Wade.

Abortion opponents have realized long ago that bombing abortion clinics, murdering abortion doctors, civil disobedience, blockades and legal action are not getting them very far with respect to taking away a woman’s right to choose, so they have turned to state level legislators to put an end to their anti-choice and pro-birth agenda. These new state-level restrictions, in turn, have made it too expensive or logistically impossible for many abortion facilities, that also offer a host of other medical services to women, to remain in business. 

As Bloomberg reports, abortion clinics are closing at record rates after anti-abortion activists have managed to have states enact ever tighter restrictions. Since 2011, one in ten abortion clinics have shut or stopped providing the procedure altogether.

As the pious Reverend Pat Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition (of course) remarked “We don’t have to see a Roe v. Wade overturned in the Supreme Court to end it. … We want to. But if we chip away and chip away, we’ll find out that Roe really has no impact. And that’s what we are doing.”

This, pretty much, sums up the entire Right wing, Republican, Christian approach to abortion in this country.

That is why it is especially disheartening to see that despite this unrelenting, unprecedented assault on choice, bodily autonomy and agency, progressive leaders, especially the President, an ostensibly pro-choice man, do not believe it necessary to have a national conversation on the issue, calling out on the various and many and callous ways in which women and their bodily autonomy and agency over their medical care have been systematically undermined and violated. A lack of interest and priorities that have resulted in those very leaders to fail to enact legislation that constitutionally guarantees a woman’s right to choose as opposed to making it a matter on which everyone else should have a say.

It is disappointing to see a president who was elected on the votes of women who were promised that he would “protect Roe,” silently oversee its slow subversion by a myriad of legislative cuts. And I remain flabbergasted and deeply disappointed at not only the President’s silence on the issue, but especially at the lack of outrage across the progressive blogosphere and advocacy groups at this silence.

The only time abortion rights seem to come up for our elected leaders on the national level is when they are politically expedient, such as around election time where the President or other leaders pretend to care about such issues to secure the votes they need, just so they can abandon them right after the election has ended while anti-choice Conservatives take advantage of that apathy to continue gnawing away at those rights – slowly yet steadily.

Ten percent of the nation’s abortion clinics have been legislated out of existence with the systemic assault on choice and agency growing everyday and we do not have a national conversation about it.

It is important to understand that this stuff doesn’t happen in a void and that continued and deliberate silence in the face of injustice carries with itself a price. In this case, that price being the number of women who do not get to have safe access to abortions and legislation aimed at making sure it stays that way.

Staying silent on such an important issue also sets the tone, signaling that you, as the pro-choice President actually don’t care as much, thereby giving credence to the hostile activities of the anti-choice movement.

When those who call themselves the purveyors of pro-choice and bodily autonomy stay silent when that bodily autonomy and choice get trampled on and subverted everyday, that says a lot about their priorities or lack thereof. No wonder the anti-choice movement has gained such a momentum and has been able to slowly but steadily gnaw away at a woman’s right to choose: our leader has turned a blind eye to the issue; it is not even on his radar. He cannot even issue a critical statement about it, let alone enact legislation to address it.  This makes me wonder, with allies like this, who can blame the anti-choice movement?

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It’s Cute When Religious People Try To Be Smart

…it’s like watching a child or pet play pretend.

download (4)

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Stabbing vs. Shooting

On Tuesday, a 16 year old student at Franklin Regional High School in the Pittsburgh suburb of Murrysville went on a stabbing spree, leaving at least 19 students and a school security guard injured.

I did not know what the exact circumstances of the incident were, but I do recall that I was relieved beyond description when I noted the words “knife” and “stabbing” in the headline. I knew, even without having to read the article in detail, that a knife attack most probably meant no massacre and that no one was actually brutally killed, which would have been definitely the case had the perpetrator owned a gun of some sort, which he then could have easily pointed at a crowd to pull the trigger to cause a carnage.

I’m sure that in the next few days and weeks we’ll be hearing all sorts of familiar refrains by gun advocates who, undoubtedly, will take this incident to “prove” to us that the issue is really not guns but a violent culture in general and how gins can save us and that the gun is being unduly vilified blah blah blah.

The thing that people who advocate for guns galore seem to absolutely not get (or refuse to get) is that no one is arguing that limiting and severely regulating guns is going to make us a less violent society.

The issue is, however – and I cannot repeat that often enough - that guns make the violence that occurs in society bloodier and deadlier. Case in point, the incident above:  if that kid had a semi-automatic on him, the NRA can bet its gun-holding King James Bible that we would be counting bodies now, not injuries.

And that, in a a nutshell, is the difference between guns, on the one hand, and knifes, a fist, an ax, a chainsaw, a car and whatever other tools out there than can be used to hurt someone, on the other hand.

Guns are dangerous because it is so easy to point one at a crowd –  from a distance no less – pull the trigger and cause devastating damage.

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Duh

Headlines all over are praising the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare  - and the record health insurance enrollments that it has experienced. In fact, a Gallup poll suggests that the uninsured rate has fallen to the lowest since 2008.

This mega enrollment is supposed to somehow be a sign that Obamacare is great and successful and amazing and what have you.

What everyone seems to conveniently forget, however,  is that, yes of course enrollment under the Affordable Care Act has risen. That is what happens when you force people, under penalty of law, to become the customers to cut throat insurance companies. Not like anyone had a choice but to enroll. If anything, this is more of a hallelujah moment for insurance companies.

What I wish this poll would do is to maybe also dig in deeper and tell us about the affordability of those plans for those people who were forced to purchase them, such as the Silver and Bronze plans with their $5,000 and $10,000 deductibles (remember that low income levels do not qualify for the better, low deductible Gold and Platinum plans under the ACA).

So now great, yaay, person X who before did not have health insurance because he works for a selfish, greedy employer not wanting to give someone making 30k a year access to health-care, will now have to purchase that insurance. Sure, the government may help him out if he is poor enough – and I don’t think that as far as the government is concerned making 30k is poor enough to qualify for such aide – but how is he going to come up with a $5,000 deductible, because even if the government helps, it helps with the premium, not with the deductibles.

Moreover, most medical care people access is for routine check ups, x rays, blood work etc – all of which fall well below the $5,000 deductible. So, really, for people under those plans, insurance companies are just collecting their money but not paying for services until they meet their deductible. How can someone making 30k do that? If people are going to pay out of pocket for those routine things anyway, then why have health-insurance at all?

Even those that may have more expensive illnesses to struggle with still need to come up with the $5,000 first before the insurance plan kicks in and pays for services.

So no matter how you look at it, poor people are still in the same boat as before. Sure, now it looks good as far as enrollments on a sheet are concerned, but I doubt that if one were to really dig in, things would look as rosy as everyone is trying to make it look like.

The success of the ACA remains to be seen years down the road, when people – notably poor, struggling people – are tasked with meeting those ridiculous deductibles. Enrollment numbers do not indicate anything but people having done what they were supposed to do under the new law. Again, not like they had much of a choice.

As someone who supports universal healthcare and believes that access to health-care is a human rights issue, I am deeply disappointed at the false accolades the ACA is receiving. Some say it is a good step in the right direction and so on, but is it? Is forcing people to pour billions of dollars into the bottomless, greedy purses of insurance companies a good thing? Is the free market really the best place for health-insurance? Should entities that have only profit in mind be put in charge of making health-care decisions for us? Can you call it successful when someone is forced to enroll in a plan that has a $10,000 deductible?

Ten grand is a lot of money, for a lot of people, even for middle-class wage earners, not just the utterly poor. A lot of people, even those with relatively well-paying jobs are struggling. Having to come up with hundreds of dollars everytime you go see a doctor, until you meet your ridiculous 5k or 10k deductible is hardly affordable.

The effectiveness of the ACA needs to be measured by a host of other factors indicative of success of such a plan, not by enrollment numbers alone. The only thing the Gallup poll did is confirm that yes, people are abiding the law, as they were required to do. That’s all.

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Politically Correct Intolerance

That is what some Christian nut job, this time from England, is calling atheism. According to British Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, atheists should not be able to push an agenda of “politically correct intolerance “, because England is  “a Christian nation [with an] Established Church.”

Politically correct intolerance.

Oye.

If with intolerance he means atheists demanding separation of church and state, then I guess he is right.

But really, though, who gives a fuck about tradition and the long established Church of England? That “established church”, together with the British Crown – that drew its legitimacy from the church – fucked people up for centuries.

So, really, Mr. Pickles, my recommendation is that you and your motherland take England’s church with its long-established tradition of usurpation and shove it up the Queen’s ass. Pip, pip.

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