Archive for February, 2015

Misplaced Priorities

President Barack Obama formally vetoed legislation authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline on today, the latest development in what has become an ongoing standoff between him and congressional Republicans over approval of the controversial pipeline.

At the same time, there is all sorts of hell breaking loose over immigration and President Obama’s deportation relief which allows undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children temporary authorization to stay and work. The plans  are currently on hold, because twenty-six states, led by Texas, sued the federal government to block those actions, and a federal judge sided with them in issuing a preliminary injunction. But it was not a final ruling on the constitutionality of Obama’s action. Instead, the order will prevent the policies from moving forward as the lawsuit proceeds. The federal government is expected to appeal.

Congressional Republicans are committed to gutting the immigration policies as part of a funding package for the Department of Homeland Security, thus holding thousands of DHS employees hostage to extort a concession out of the President. Should Obama and Democrats keep their promises to block the Republicans’ package, DHS could shut down on Feb. 27. Republicans want Democrats to approve a bill that would fund DHS and stop Obama’s immigration executive actions from moving forward.

Republicans say the blame should be put on Democrats if a shutdown occurs. But a majority of Americans think the GOP would be to blame rather than the president, according to a CNN poll released Tuesday.

What a clusterfuck.

But I have to say: Keystone pipeline and immigrants. Who the fuck cares?

What about tax relief for the middle class instead of just for millionaires?

What about closing tax loopholes so rich people and corporations pay the taxes they should?  That would take care of our deficit problem in no time.

What about a national debate over minimum wages and increasing them to something resembling a livable wage (not that $10 or even $15 an hour are livable wages).

What about the fact that over the past few years abortion rights have been restricted in an unprecedented manner?

What about student loan relief and bail outs?

How about not appointing bankers and Wall-street execs into key government positions, Mr. President?

These should be our priorities –  not illegal immigrants and a freaking pipeline.

It is good to see that no matter what the occasion, the President’s priorities are always messed up. Choose your battles. I could not give two shits about whether immigrants get to stay or not. when there are far more pressing issues at stake here. What does he want all these immigrants here, if they are not going to get paid a decent, livable wage anyway? What about people who are here right now and struggling? Shouldn’t his limited time, resources and energies be spent on more pressing issues? I am so sick of the misplaced priorities by even so-called allies.

For months now it’s been about these issues. If he cares about the environment, then how about holding BP accountable and criminally charging them? How about giving more funding and authority to the EPA so that they can go after polluters? How about tightening environmental legislation by imposing stricter standards? Who the fuck cares about the Keystone Pipeline? Not that it is not an issue, but if environmental protection and human health is the priority here, then there are far more urgent issues we need to tackle than the Keystone pipeline. Obama knows that, as we speak, Republicans are gearing up to destroy the middle class even more so than they have done in order to enrich the wealthy some more. So shouldn’t he be spending his resources and priorities accordingly? Shouldn’t he be choosing his battles more wisely, instead of on immigration and the building of a pipeline?

Priorities. We don’t have them.

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Wage Increases Alone Are Not Enough

In a move that could alter the minimum wage debate and improve the image of the world’s largest retailer, Walmart announced it will raise the baseline wage of its current store employees to $10 per hour, bringing pay hikes to an estimated 500,000 workers.

The company said in an announcement on Thursday that it would raise its wage floor to $9 in April, followed by a second boost to $10 by next February.

Now I do not want to berate them for giving their employees a wage increase. That is a good thing and better than nothing, I guess.

But I do want to make a few observations:

1) A dollar or two more per hour spread out over two years is nothing but a drop in the bucket and is not likely going to change the situation of people in Wal-mart’s employ all that much, if at all.

2) Compared to the obscene wealth Walmart and the Walton family have (the six Waltons have a net worth of $144.7 billion. This fiscal year three Waltons—Rob, Jim, and Alice (and the various entities that they control)—will receive an estimated $3.1 billion in Walmart dividends from their majority stake in the company), giving their employees a mere dollar or two an hour more in wages is not only a drop in the bucket but, quite frankly, insulting. It reeks of the kind of greed communists have not only predicted but almost caricatured since the beginning of the industrial revolution and the emergence of capitalism. The greed here is unfathomable.

3) What Walmart is doing here is voluntary. They are not obliged, per federal minimum wage laws, to give their employees more than $7.25 an hour. People are all beside themselves over the “generosity” of Walmart  and celebrate this as some kind of a victory for workers.

There is a whole lot wrong with this, not the least of which is that 10 dollars an hour is not a livable wage. It amounts to not more than $18,720 a year before taxes. After the tax collector is done with you, that amount is most likely reduced by another 40%. No one can live on this.

But the bigger issue here is that  people waiting to be paid a livable wage for a days’ work shouldn’t be dependent on the largesse and generosity of their employers voluntarily giving them wage increases. In other words, it should not be up to an employer’s discretion to not only treat their employees well but to also give them wage increases. Because a lot of them will be waiting forever.

That is why we need regulation in the form of laws that guarantee a realistic livable wage, limiting executive income to a reasonable multiplier of that wage, so that if executives want to make more, they need to give their employees more, too.

4) All this brings me to my next point, which I cannot emphasize enough: $10 an hour is not a livable wage.

Heck not even $15 an hour is.

Making $28,880 per year (which is what someone getting paid $15 an hour would be making) is not a livable wage. After taxes, not much remains. People in such a situation, which is already considered the gold standard (the $15 an hour minimum wage)  won’t be given healthcare benefits or will not be able to afford quality health care with low deductibles and co-pays.

Many of them will not qualify for government subsidies as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as the poverty levels are set so low that most people do not qualify and  many of these people won’t earn enough money to feed themselves, much less a family, and many of them won’t be able to save as much as they’ll need for their retirement, if they can save anything at all.

People who honorably dedicate their time, energy, and talents to jobs that might not traditionally pay well because some capitalist pig decided it is worth less, are indeed entitled to something though. They are entitled to not work their whole lives only to find themselves poverty-stricken, or hungry, or homeless after one small (or not small) financial crisis. And if we’re not going to ensure that every job comes with a livable wage, access to affordable healthcare, and retirement benefits, then we’ve got to provide a robust and well-funded social safety net.

None of which we have these days. The money you get deducted each pay-check for social security may as well be torched and dumped into a landfill, because you most likely will not see much of it. It is just money the government collects from everyone each month that lands into a pool of money that Congress regularly steals from (i.e. borrows against) and then when it is time to pay-back, they talk about cutting social security altogether.

So we do not even have a social safety net.

Unemployment benefits run out after a year or two max and most people do not qualify for welfare and foodstamps because the bar for qualifying for such benefits has been set so low, that no one but people pushing shopping carts, qualify.

I know someone in their 60s making $800 dollars a month and they were denied food-stamp benefits because they allegedly make too much money. And that is in California. An ostensibly liberal state.

5) Finally, and most importantly: wage increases are meaningless if they are not accompanied by tax reform in the form of reducing the taxes on the poor and middle class while closing the loopholes and increasing the taxes on the wealthy.

Imagine if you could keep 85% of the money you make each month, instead of having relinquish nearly 40% of it to the Federal government. Imagine how much better off you would be. I know I would be able to pay off my student loan debt and increase my standard of living by manifold.

But the reality is that the majority of us do not get to keep that money. We have to give it to the government, while someone making 100 to 1000 or even 10,000 times or more than we do gets to keep all their money, accumulating wealth fast and easy while free-riding on the taxes we all pay for them. This is wealth redistribution bottom to top, make no mistake about it. The middle class has been and continues to underwrite the success of the wealthy.

That is why minimum wage increases alone are meaningless if they do not go hand in hand with tax reforms. Because even if we were to push for higher minimum wages, people end up just paying more of that in taxes, which then effectively nullifies the whole reason why wages needed to be increased in the first place. The only one benefiting from wage increases is the government.

Hard work and making more money won’t do you any good if you are crippled by high taxes. At least in Europe the higher taxes people pay go back to them in social programs and a robust social safety net. Here, the poor and middle class are taxed into oblivion and when push comes to shove, they don’t see any of it come back to them in form of healthy, meaningful and robust social programs.

Right now, thanks to our current tax system that has been designed to benefit the very wealthy, corporations and wealthy individuals have managed to exploit loopholes to such an extent that has allowed them to keep the trillions of tax dollars we ought to be collecting from them, as profit.  That is how they keep getting richer and why you and I, are not.  Trickle down my ass.

The idea behind trickle down was that by giving the wealthy and big earners and corporations tax breaks, thus lessening the burden on them,  you create the kind of environment that creates jobs and allows the wealth to trickle down to the lower ranks. The idea was that your employer will pass to tax savings it got on to you in the form of benefits and great wages.

That is one huge lie. And it never happened, given the decline of the middle class ever since trickle down was being sold to the American public.

In fact, trickle down is one of the biggest lies ever told and it does not work. It is a myth.

Corporations and the wealthy do not pass on the savings they get in taxes to their employees and workers. Instead they hide all those monies in off-shore accounts and pocket them. There is a reason Romney did not want to publish his tax returns and can afford gold plated car elevators in one of his mansions.

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