Posts Tagged bootstraps

When Racism Matters Insofar As It Affects The Rich

That wealthy entities in our society do not pay fairly and squarely for the transgressions and crimes they commit vis a vis their poor, often minority, counterparts is no revelation. Just look at the tropes of Wall Street executives that were escorted out of government offices with fat bail-out and bonus checks for the economic meltdown, due to their criminal activities, they had caused, no less.

Such trends are to be found quite abundantly, across all lines.

For example, last month, billionaire heir Robert H. Richards IV who was found guilty for having raped his three year old daughter, was sentenced to house arrest instead of jail because the Judge in the case deemed that Richards would not fare well “if he is sentenced to prison.”

A court in Florida sentenced an African American woman to jail for 20 years because she fired a few warning shots in the air in self defense against her abusive husband.

Discrimination against the poor (and in our society, racial minorities are disproportionately poor) is well established. In legal matters, it is a prominent factor in the availability of legal counsel.

The death penalty, for example, is fraught with racial and economic disparities, whereby the poor, the friendless, the uneducated, racial minorities, and the despised are unable to get quality legal representation, thus resulting in them more likely to end up on death row versus a wealthy, privileged defendant who can afford top legal representation.

Fairness in capital cases requires, above all, competent counsel for the defendant. Yet approximately 90 percent of those on death row could not afford to hire a lawyer when they were tried.  Common characteristics of death-row defendants are poverty, the lack of firm social roots in the community, and inadequate legal representation at trial or on appeal. As Justice William O. Douglas noted in Furman, “One searches our chronicles in vain for the execution of any member of the affluent strata in this society“(408 US 238).

Case in point: OJ Simpson. If he did not have a stellar, and expensive, legal team defending him, he would, most likely have been convicted and ended up on death row. He got out of it – or, his legal team was able to wiggle him out of it, because, unlike underpaid and incompetent public defenders, Simpson’s legal team had the resources and expertise to defend their affluent client.

I will address the terrible injustices and immorality inherent in the death penalty at a later time. What I do want to address with this post is the fact that, overall, in our society, the wealthy are shielded from taking responsibility for various crimes they commit, while crimes, injustices and bigotry committed against and directed at the  poor, the friendless, the uneducated, racial minorities, and the despised often go unnoticed and unpunished and bigotry and racism only seem to matter insofar as they affect wealthy entities.

Case in point, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling who has been outed as a rank racist whose racially incendiary remarks leaked to TMZ last weekend.

His remarks, which were recorded by his gold-digging piece  – who clearly set him up –  lead to a lifetime ban from the NBA and a fine of $2.5 million.  Several major Clippers sponsors had previously dropped or were re-evaluated their association with the team, including State Farm, CarMax, Kia Motors America, Virgin America and Red Bull (speak of the pot calling the kettle black), not to mention the athletes for the team and prominent members of the African American community, all of whom are wealthy.

People have been applauding the decision to ban Sterling and fine him, as a victory for the team and a lesson to be learned by racists, but what most people have been missing is that this is not the first time Sterling has been facing accusations of racial discrimination.

In 2006,  sports writer and pundit Bomani Jones wrote a column titled “Sterling’s racism should be news” following the Department of Justice suing Sterling for housing discrimination. Sterling allegedly refused to rent apartments he owned to African Americans, Latinos and people with children in the suit.

The charges made against Sterling were stomach-turning. In response to the 2003 suit, one of his property supervisors testified that Sterling said all blacks “smell” and are “not clean,” that he wanted to “get them out” of his properties to preserve his image, and that he harassed tenants and refused to make repairs until they were forced to leave, according to depositions obtained by ESPN The Magazine.

It is interesting that while gross and blatant housing discrimination is Sterling’s biggest offense, it took insulting and alienating a few wealthy athletes in and sponsors during a private conversation to finally do something about this scum.

As alarming as the claims against Sterling are, housing discrimination as a practice is alive and well in America, yet goes largely unnoticed.

For individuals and families, it limits their housing choices, it dictates where you can and cannot live, and that means limited access to other opportunities: educational opportunities, employment opportunities, health care services, other amenities,” Fred Freiberg, director of the nonprofit Fair Housing Justice Center, told the HuffPost. “It sustains and enforces patterns of racial segregation and poverty concentration, and it creates a whole host of inequalities that we could, frankly, do without.”

All that stuff that’s happening in housing discrimination, which is the biggest reason that we can point to historically for why we’ve got all these dead kids in metros like Chicago and New York fighting for turf, fighting for real estate with poor accommodations and facilities and everything that you’re supposed to have in a city  – all these are an economic byproduct of the people like Donald Sterling. Yet, no one paid attention to that.  No swift action was taken against Sterling by the Clippers who are outraged now.

On the contrary, the lawsuits took years to go through, because those he hurt are poor and the poor have become invisible in this country and only seem to matter and be brought up when it comes to either slashing funding for them or to vilify and scapegoat them as lazy, unmotivated mooches who allegedly want to take away from the hard-working American blah blah fart.

It is a testament to our sad state of affairs that a bigot’s actions (such as housing discrimination)  – which are illegal and directly harm people, and which he has been engaging in for decades – have not ultimately been what got him in trouble, but the fact that he said racially offensive things to his piece of ass du jour in a private conversation, insulting wealthy athletes – who also happen to be racial minorities.

Moral integrity had little to do with  why the NBA did what it did as the NBA has known about Sterling’s racism for years and yet they only took action action because it hurt business – because a few wealthy athletes were outraged and because sponsors pulled out.

Having an opinion about blacks is one thing (and I personally think it was wrong to fine and ban him for that opinion), discrimination is another, and Sterling was penalized by the NBA for the former while he got away with the latter for years.

So, if you are sitting there celebrating the fact that the NBA has taken the moral high ground and has zero tolerance for racism, think again. Publicly chastising and punishing Sterling was a good business decision by the NBA to protect business interests and assets. And while Sterling’s racism has been rejected by everyone from Snoop Dogg to the President, when it comes to everyday acts of insidious, life-ruining racism these very, ostensibly men of honor have stayed silent with regard to the Sterlings of the world.

Screaming racism and bigotry when only the wealthy are affected but staying silent when the same happens to poor people everyday leads to the systematic marginalization and exclusion of those very people and their causes. This is how marginalization works, leading to the systemic inequalities that make it impossible for people to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

Karl Marx believed that racism was just another form of class struggle. That it ultimately was not about race that some people were enslaved and subjugated but that race was used as an excuse to morally justify slavery and subjugation to ultimately create an underclass to be exploited; free labor. This is the reason why, ultimately, wealthy racial minorities begin to be have in very much the same way as their white counterparts once they reach the high social class of affluence. In fact, they then become just as “bad” and exploitative as the very “white” people they have been accusing of having done the same for centuries. The NBA’s ignorance towards the black communities that have been harmed by Sterling for decades while the NBA stated silent is the perfect example to the point.

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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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Giants Unite To Shove Dangerous Pollutant Down Poor People’s Throats

In a massive whitewashing campaign of the most callous kind, Peabody Energy Corp., the world’s largest private-sector coal company, launched a public relations and advertising campaign last month extolling the virtues of coal energy for poor people.

A Peabody press release announcing the campaign, called Advanced Energy for Life, argues that lack of access to energy is “the world’s number one human and environmental crisis.”

Peabody’s proposal to solve this crisis? Asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop setting pollution limits on coal-fired power plants. Those pollution rules are meant to address climate change caused by greenhouse-gas emissions, a global problem that has the . Burning coal generates carbon emissions as well as hazardous pollutants such as mercury, lead, and benzene, .greatest effect on poor countries according to the American Lung Association

Burson-Marsteller, the world’s largest PR firm, and its subsidiary, Proof Integrated Communications, are working behind the scenes on Peabody’s PR effort. Burson-Marsteller spokesman Paul Cordasco confirmed to The Huffington Post that the company is working on behalf of Peabody. Peabody spokeswoman Beth Sutton said “Burson-Marsteller and several other firms are providing support for the campaign.”

Burson-Marsteller has a long history of working on PR campaigns that downplay or contradict established health concerns. The Guardian has described Burson-Marsteller as “the company that governments with poor human rights records and corporations in trouble with environmentalists have turned to when in crisis.”

The firm worked for Union Carbide after its poison gas disaster in Bhopal, India, killed 3,800 people in 1984. It has also worked on behalf of governments accused of human rights abuses, including Nigeria and Indonesia.

Environmental groups said Burson-Marsteller’s role in Peabody’s campaign isn’t surprising:

Burson-Marstellar has spent decades working for some of the world’s worst perpetrators of human rights and environmental abuses,” said Kert Davies, director of the Climate Investigations Center. “So Burson-Marsteller are well suited to help Peabody push dirty coal to the world’s poorest people, at a time when everyone from the World Bank to the U.N. are warning us climate change will hit the poor first, and hardest.”

But, let us keep voting against government regulation of such things because they are so bad and socialist and take away our god-given freedoms as Americans (to be exploited…) blah blah blah yawn.

Yes, the government giving money to people so they can eat is a hand-outs and a giant waste of taxpayer money. And the government enacting policies and regulations that protect the air you breathe, the water you ingest, and the food you eat is, at best, nothing of value—and, at worst, a job-killing regulation that impedes the success of people who want to get rich dumping toxic waste into the ground, in the air and soil, food and water where people getting hand-outs live. Let them eat toxic-waste laced bootstraps.

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Things To Regulate

Nothing gets a Conservative’s juices flowing harder than government regulation and a social safety net. The anti-Christ himself could not have been a worse nemesis than regulation. Not being able to subjugate, abuse, pollute, steal or else abuse people and the environment at will cuts into profits, so naturally greedy, church-going, amoral Conservatives cannot have that.

But a woman’s uterus? Yes, that needs to be regulated. Regulate it long, regulate it hard, regulate it deep. In fact, for Conservatives, the words “regulate” and “women” go together like a wink and a smile. Or maybe like an ultrasound and a vagina?

Do you have binders full of women that need regulating? Then you will be hard pressed to not find a Conservative who is more than willing to step in and regulate them for you. Conservatives will not vote for such things as, oh I don’t know,  free daycare offered by the government so that mothers can work and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, but they will vote for the government forcing women to have as many children as possible.

They will not vote for stricter regulation of air and water pollutants but they will make sure that a lot of children are born to parents who live in areas with some of the nation;’s worst air and water pollution.

See how being pro-life works?

Yeah, duplicity is a highly traded Conservative value with institutions couched in colorful myths and ardent sentiment to conceal bigotry, intolerance, greed and misogyny.

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Just Get A Job At McDonald’s and Let the American Dream Begin

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When people are struggling financially, such as being unemployed, on welfare, on disability or in any other circumstance that has rendered them poor and without income, the stereotypical, go-to phrase of bootstraps bullshittery is always “go get a job at McDonald’s, buddy“. Usually this phrase is uttered by people who themselves never have worked at a place like McDonald’s (or Burger King or any other similar fast food joint) and who view not working at a shit-hole like that as a contemptible refusal by alleged “lazy freeloaders” to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to finally stop mooching off of hard-working, honest, supposedly bootstraps-pulling individuals.

Oh you know, if it were me I would totally lower myself and go work for McDonald’s”  says some dipshit one percenter who was escorted out of government offices with seven figure bonuses made entirely possible by a tax-payer funded bail out for an economic meltdown he and his colleagues caused across the financial world, in collaboration with the majority of the US Congress.

The rhetoric here is “you work hard, you create your own luck, and you gotta believe anything is possible“blah blah blah.

The irony of this type of callous, rancid rhetoric, of course, is that people who do work at places like McDonald’s or Burger King etc,  do not even get paid a livable-wage which they then could supposedly use to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to realize their American Dream.

Striking McDonald's worker Bartolome Perez, 42, protests outside McDonald's on Hollywood Boulevard as part of a nationwide strike by fast-food workers to call for wages of $15 an hour, in Los Angeles

Earlier this month, McDonald’s employees in California, Michigan and New York have filed class-action law suits against McDonald’s alleging that McDonald’s has engaged in systematic wage theft.

“The suits allege that McDonald’s has forced employees to work off the clock, not paid them overtime and struck hours off their time cards.

We’ve uncovered several unlawful schemes, but they all share a common purpose — to drive labor costs down by stealing wages from McDonald’s workers,” said Michael Rubin of Altshuler Berzon LLP, an attorney who represents California workers.

The employees in Michigan allege that they would start getting paid only when customers walked into the restaurants, even if they showed up to work hours earlier.
New York McDonald’s workers, who filed their case in federal court ,claim the fast food chain did not reimburse them for the cost of cleaning uniforms. They say it drives some workers’ real wages below the minimum wage, which is a violation of federal labor law.

Since 1985, the Labor Department has found that McDonald’s and its franchises have had to pay back wages more than 300 times for Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) violations.

These types of exploits are not just confined to McDonald’s, however.  Burger King, most notable among a myriad of companies out there, is another avid exploiter.

As the truly sad and somewhat harrowing accounts of fifty-year-old Glenn Johnson who gets paid $14,000 a year (that is $1,166 a month) working at a Miami-area Burger King, just minutes away from the fast food company’s corporate headquarters, show, even if your company does not actively steal from you, as a regular employee in the fast-food industry, which many, including the Burger King spokesperson believe to “provide an entry point into the workforce for millions of Americans,” you still cannot make ends meet despite working full-time and working hard.

Note how the bootstraps rhetoric is not just about working but working hard. “You work hard, you create your own luck, and you gotta believe anything is possible” it goes. Thing is, that is just not how it always goes.

Glenn Johnson is a man who, much like many other men and women out there, does work hard, to the point of exhaustion, yet is still struggling.

Come work for us for scap wages and the American Dream can happen to you, too!!

Come work for us for scrap wages and the American Dream can happen to you, too!!

He gets paid $7.93 an hour, no benefits, no health-care. When he gets sick or feels sick, he gets some Tylenol or VapoRub or some other over-the-counter medication as even going to the hospital will cost him $1,000 off the bat. This means that Mr. Johnson is also not having access to preventive care and thus is not getting routine physical check-ups, which are especially important for someone his age.

His rent is $765 a month, which takes up more than three weeks of his paycheck, and he also has to pay for utilities and food as well as gas to put in his car so he can get to work. This does not leave much for anything else, including paying for his health-care.

An individual like Mr. Johnson, with his level of income, may, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, be eligible for government subsidies of his premiums but he is not eligible for government subsidies of his deductibles and actual health-care costs (because that would have actually been a policy helping people, so, naturally, it was voted away).

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Note that someone who only makes $14,000 a year does not even qualify for the low/zero deductible Gold and Platinum plans under Obamacare, he only qualifies for the Silver and Bronze ones, both of which have, relatively speaking,  astronomically high deductibles, from $5,000 to $10,000.

How can someone whose yearly income is $14,000 ever come up with a $10k or even $5k deductible?  That $10k may as well be a million because he doesn’t have that either. Affordable, I think not, Mr. President.

In addition to the fiscal strain, Mr. Johnson also has to content with the emotional strain of working such a minimum-wage job without having the means to do anything else beside work. He just does not bring home much to do anything else with, such as go on vacation. He seems just like another indentured servant. He often comes home tired and exhausted, unable to do anything but eat dinner, take a shower, watch some TV and go to bed, just so he can start the same thing tomorrow.

He does not get any benefits, therefore, he is also not eligible to go on vacation or take a week off or even afford to get sick – not that he could afford going on vacation if he wanted to. Additionally, he has to content with abusive bosses and managers.

It is just a demoralizing existence. And he is not the only one.

All the while, Burger King has been posting a 37 percent in its quarterly gains.

The comment section of the Huffington Post, where Mr. Johnson’s story was first published, reeks of the same old garbage, out-of-touch bootstraps narratives and other associated Gordon Gecko prosperity dribble blaming Mr. Johnson for the fact that he is getting paid scrap wages without benefits or anything else and that he clearly seems unwilling to pull himself up by his bootstraps.

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Some people state that it is Johnson’s fault for being 50 years old, working in the same place for the past thirty years and still making about the same amount of money. “Why was he not promoted?” they ask or “does he have bad work ethics? A bad attitude?”

People blame him for being a “loser” who is merely choosing to work at Burger King. As if Mr. Johnson was offered a host of opportunities for a better job and income yet inexplicably chose to work a minimum-wage paying slow death.

As if the ability to make the best choices in life was not often dependent on one’s socio-economic situation in society as well as race, gender, bodily ability, abuse and a host of other factors that systemically place certain people on trajectory-fucking paths and disadvantaged positions vis a vis people who enjoy a host of privileges – such as being born white, straight, able bodied and wealthy or any combination thereof.

Privilege gives people freedom of choice, it gives them options, which, in turn, allow making good and prudent decisions possible. And isn’t that what poverty is ultimately about? That one’s choices shrink in proportion to one’s wealth whereby the less you own, the fewer choices available to you?

Poor people are often blamed for their situation, as if they were born into privilege and wealth and always functional, loving, non-abusive families with a myriad of choices available to them while inexplicably making the bad ones to their own detriment.

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As I have mentioned before, this delusion – or lie may I dare say – that sheer will power can make individuals transcend barriers, the glass ceiling, and overcame systemic inequalities, is precisely the kind of misleading bullshit that the likes of Romney (and even the President) and other one percenters regurgitate when speaking to the masses of people who are navigating a tedious existence of one paycheck/crisis away from destitution without any real prospects for improvement in sight, thanks to a host of middle-class busting policies by both of our parties and a practically non-existent social-safety net.

These are the things that, contrary to popular (and it appears even professional belief)  cannot be ameliorated with mere sheer individual will-power, as individuals cannot be tasked to solve and overcome systemic issues.

That Burger King is paying its employees scrap wages without any benefits whatsoever, and is not required to do so by law, is a systemic issue.

fast foodPeople who admonish Glenn Johnson and millions of others like him for not having made “better choices”, for having “chosen” “loser vocations” thus not working a great job with great pay, are missing the point, which is that a) not everyone is born into the right set of circumstances and that regardless of that b) not everyone in society can be rich.

Professions in hospitality and janitorial services are, traditionally, not the kind of jobs that make people rich.  Especially the fast food industry is notorious for abysmally low wages and as generally being in the lowest paid job category. People are often not expected to remain in them for long and only be taking on such a job if all else fails (unless, of course, you are in a huge recession where even skilled workers cannot find jobs in their trained professions so they have to work for such places). This high turn-over in employees has played to the advantage of the fast-food industry that is bringing in record profits, because labor leaders often have not made an effort to organize these workers into unions to increase their collective bargaining power. Given the immense advantage owners can take of this situation, it is unlikely that they will support for changes to occur.

Yet, they are professions that are both needed and do require hard work.

However, without a meaningful social safety net in place as well as meaningful labor laws and protections, people just eek by an existence, slide down the ladder until they hit bottom, or in this case Burger King and McDonald’s – the go-to employers people evoke when admonishing and vilifying  welfare recipients and the poor in general.

Mr. Johnson deserves to be working in a job, whatever that job may be, that pays a livable wage, that offers him benefits in the form of vacation and sick leave, that accommodates disabilities, that requires mandatory minimum wage increases in regular intervals. He deserves to not find himself a paycheck away from destitution, he deserves to have something to show for after a life-time of working hard in a vocation of his choice (or not of his choice, but out of necessity) instead of destitution, poverty and exhaustion while the company he works for posts record profits with a few on top reaping all the benefits.

There was a time in this country, not too long ago, where if you worked full-time, no matter what you did, you could afford to live like a human being. Now, it’s almost impossible for an unskilled worker to get a full forty hours, lest their employer have to fork over their paltry ‘benefits’ package. Even if they did, minimum wage is not enough to pay the bills or live the kind of dignified life resembling that of a human being. This is why the middle class is dwindling and why our economy can’t get back on its feet.

Poverty is destabilizing on many levels and the health of any society is generally measured by the existence and health of its middle-class. A healthy middle-class is indispensable for the smooth functioning of a democracy.

But sure, let’s blame the poor and dismiss them by suggesting they shut up complaining and just go work at McDonald’s to make their (American) Dream come true, even though the wages places like McDonald’s and Burger King pay are not fit for a dog,  while playing the violin for the “poor” billionaires who feel threatened and whine about having to endure bad press.

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Quote of the Day

[The minimum wage is] not the government’s business.” – Rick Perry 

I could spend the next week detailing everything that is wrong and garbage about this classist, privileged, contemptible and rancid piece of mind vomit that left Rick Perry’s mouth and whose stench keeps lingering in the air as its contents are being ravenously gobbled up by the Republican leadership and voter-base, and there is nothing I can say here that I have not already said a hundred dozen times, but what I do want to point out is that entities who believe bullshit bootstrap narratives, who admonish people for not working “hard enough” or trying “hard enough” or put in the “effort” (as ostensibly wealthy people have done, hence the reward of blissful wealth) do so without a trace of irony because they not only subscribe to the false notion that we are all born with the same set of opportunities and access, but because it is those very notions of “it is not the government’s business to deal with minimum wages” that deny people the upward mobility the likes of Perry preach about, no matter how hard they work and no matter what kind of an entrepreneur spirit they have.

How much people earn does matter because every $1 raise to the minimum wage creates $2,800 in purchasing power according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Denying them that while in the same breath exclaiming that they should “work hard(er) already” so they can make it is colossally hypocritical.

Hard work means nothing, and it leads to nothing but a tedious existence to just meet one’s basic needs, if it is not accompanied by things like a steady paycheck, livable wages, healthcare benefits and paid time off  – just to name a few of the things that, at a minimum, make a job an acceptable job.

These, in turn, are things that the government needs to legislate because entities, such as corporations, that have a profit motive and only care about the bottom line cannot, and should not, be tasked with governance. That would be like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

The government exists not only as the entity calling in for and maintaining order but most importantly as an equalizer to level the playing field and protect consumers and to provide for the general welfare of the populace. It is a form of accountability because regulation creates accountability and transparency, which are indispensable for the functioning of a democratic, equitable and prosperous society.

If it was not for the government that had legislated things like the 40-hour work week, minimum wage laws and a host of other such provisions aimed at protecting wage-earners and consumers in general, things would still be the way they were during the gilded robber baron age and thus during the early start of the Industrial Revolution, whose exploits and excesses inspired Marxism and subsequently communism.

If it had not been for the government stepping in, people would still be living under abysmally bad social and  living conditions with lives full of poverty, hunger and illness, as it is the case in many developing countries today.

In other words, we have already seen what happens in the absence of government regulations and when corporations are left to their own devises and tasked with governance and it doesn’t work, unless exploiting people for all they are worth to enrich yourself is what you want – which is, incidentally, the context within which Perry’s assertion needs to be seen.

Republicans don’t value work or hard work and they are only interested in the government with respect to the extent to which it can be used to transfer wealth from the masses, the 99%, to the top while disseminating prosperity gospels about bootstraps, trickle down, job creator and hard work.

The thing is, you cannot tell people they need to work hard and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, but then keep them systematically subjugated and exploited – and thus without the ability to buy those boots on whose straps they can pull themselves up, effectively barring them from moving upward the social class ladder you just gave them shit for not having climbed because they allegedly failed to work hard enough.

Republicans  expect people to pull themselves up by ex-nihilo apparently; take these magic beans and hope they turn into a kingdom.

They refuse to understand, or do not want to understand, that poverty is a trap that creates and begets even more poverty and that if it had not been for the government stepping in (see particularly, but not only, FDR’s “New Deal”) things would still be like they were at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution where wages, labor laws and working conditions were not regulated and entire families, including children,  had to work under harrowing working conditions for abysmally low wages that did not allow them to properly sustain themselves, much less move upward; where the only entities that reaped the wealth from production and sales were the wealthy owners who kept getting wealthier and wealthier without passing any of that newly acquired wealth down to the workers whose hard work led to the prosperity of the company. You know, the same thing that is happening in China today and India.

The middle class was the creation of governments as before it we mostly had very few wealthy people who owned lands, assets and later the means of production and very many poor people who were barely eeking by an existence.

Republicans do not value hard work or any work for that matter. They are not interested in helping you “become rich” or to be anything but just a source of tax revenue and unlimited supply of quasi-free labor.

Such is the gist of Rick Perry and his party’s agenda, which is astoundingly the most honest thing I have heard a Republican politician/leader say in a long time about the Republican party’s true credo. Note that while most Republican leaders at least try to wrap the bootstraps rhetoric in euphemisms, Rick Perry is just openly saying what those phonies are not. That is the only difference between Perry and some other “reasonable” Republican, such as Chris Christie.

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By Virtue of Their Efforts

Americans understand that some people will earn more than others, and we don’t resent those who, by virtue of their efforts [emphasis mine] achieve incredible success.  But Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.”  – President Barack Obama 

The Middle Class, literally, carrying the economic burden of society, including the rich man.

The Middle Class, literally, carrying the economic burden of society, including the rich man.

That, in a nutshell, is the problem with not only Obama’s speech in particular but this country’s attitude toward economic stability and upward mobility, in general; this idea that those who have a lot – obscenely a lot, owning 80% of the country’s assets a lot – have it because of “virtue of their efforts.”

The reason I keep referencing President Obama is not because I am especially interested in beating up on him  – as he is certainly not the only leader who entertains these incredibly misplaced notions about bootstraps – but to point out that such assertions, coming from the President who sets the tone, do not help people but lend credibility to false bootstraps narratives that tell us that the only thing standing between the haves and have-nots is supposedly just hard work and effort.  As if systemic inequalities, formulated into policy by our very leaders and the corporations whose bidding they do, were not the enemies of the very security that Obama is advocating for.

Was it possible to get through a speech addressed at the American people without giving credence to, and therefore validating, the very bullshit bootstraps narratives that are the reason we are here? Or could we maybe indulge the radical idea that the American people, the wage-earners and non asset-holders, the poor, disabled and disadvantaged, are worth uplifting, regardless of their efforts?

Or maybe at least acknowledge that effort has nothing to do with why so many people are struggling while so few are benefiting.

The problem with narratives, while certainly heart-warming, is that they automatically and implicitly view people who do not enjoy incredible monetary success as those who simply are not making the effort and sacrifices, as people who don’t work hard enough, try hard enough and make better decisions, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps blah blah yawn.

Never mind that the ability to make the best choice often depends on one’s socio-economic situation in society as well as race, gender and a host of other factors that systemically place certain people on trajectory-fucking paths and disadvantaged positions vis a vis people who enjoy a host of privileges – such as being born white, straight, able bodied and wealthy or any combination thereof.

Privilege gives people freedom of choice, it gives them options, which, in turn, allow making good and prudent decisions possible. And isn’t that what poverty is ultimately about? That one’s choices shrink in proportion to one’s wealth whereby the less you own, the fewer choices available to you?

Poor people are often blamed for their situation, as if they were born into privilege and wealth with a myriad of choices available to them while inexplicably making the bad ones to their own detriment.

Romney 2012

This delusion – or lie may I dare say – that sheer will power can make individuals transcend barriers, the glass ceiling, and overcame systemic inequalities, is precisely the kind of misleading bullshit that the likes of Romney (and even the President) and other one percenters regurgitate when speaking to the masses of people who are navigating a tedious existence of one paycheck/crisis away from destitution without any real prospects for improvement in sight, thanks to a host of middle-class busting policies by both of our parties and a practically non-existent social-safety net.

These are the things that, contrary to popular (and it appears even professional belief)  cannot be ameliorated with mere sheer individual will-power, as individuals cannot be tasked to solve and overcome systemic issues.

Systemic Inequity

Not getting paid fair, livable wages is a systemic issue; not being able to collectively organize in a union to protect yourself from exploitative employers, is a systemic issue; not being able to access affordable and quality health care because our government has decided to let the free market of profit and greed be in charge of making health-care decisions for us, is a systemic issue;

Working a life-time in your vocation of choice and diligently paying into your 401(k) just to see it decimated by the great captains of hard work is a systemic issue;

Paying nearly 40% of your middle class income (and thus from your subsistence) in taxes (that mostly go towards things that do not benefit you) while those making fifty or hundred times more than you don’t pay a dime thanks to a tax structure that favors the wealthy at the expense of everyone else, is a systemic issue;

Blaming the Poor

Religious People Blaming the Poor Because That’s Exactly What Jesus Would Do

Working for an employer that does not grant you equal pay for equal work because you are of a certain color, ethnicity, creed, gender, sexual orientation and a host of other aspects that are a part of one’s identity, is a systemic issue;

Finding yourself unemployed because some asshole like Mitt Romney bought the company you worked at, drove it into bankruptcy and then stole your retirement while he was at it, is a systemic issue;

Not being able to find work after such a layoff and unemployment benefits not only paying you sustenance pay but also running out despite a shitty job market, is a systemic issue;

Being at the mercy of banks and corporations that get to do whatever they want with you without any oversight and accountability in place, is a systemic issue.

This list is certainly not comprehensive and goes on and on.

The point is to illustrate that these are not things that individuals can overcome with sheer will power and just a little bit “more effort.” These are the things that fundamentally prevent a lot of people from upward mobility. Because when you are  at the mercy of the corporate robber barons that view DC as their customer service department,  and all cards are stacked against you, you are at a systematic disadvantage and thus trapped.  Work as hard you want and good luck trying to beat the system that is categorically holding you back.

The government must step forward and through regulations shift the burden away from the hard working middle class and the poor to level the playing field. It was about time that the 1% paid their fair share of taxes instead of getting exemptions in the form of legal loopholes while the 99% pick up their slack.

It was about time corporations not only paid their fair share in taxes (or any at all, most don’t pay taxes) but they also started paying their employees fair and livable wages because someone working his or her whole life in their vocation of choice, or not choice but out of necessity, is entitled to not find themselves with nothing at the end of the day.

That is why Romney’s infamous “I want everyone to be rich” comment is so enraging,  – as if everyone in this society could be a millionaire, and as if we didn’t need teachers, fire fighters, sales associates, professors, manicurists, cooks, janitors, truck drivers, hair stylists, nurses, engineers, architects and a host of other such professions; professions that do require hard work and are needed for the functioning of society but which just don’t happen to pay six figure salaries.

Obama Out of Touch

Obama held a lofty speech peppered with lots of ideas about how corporations can make workers’ lives better, urging companies to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 on their own (yeah right), with a lot of rhetoric about hard work and opportunity, while in fact coming across as someone who is out of touch with the reality millions of US workers whose companies are actively and openly trying to deny them benefits, overtime, safety on the job or any other kind of benefits, are facing.

While it is hopefully optimistic of him to plead with companies to do the decent thing and pay their employees fair, livable wages, he, of all people, should know that you cannot achieve equity and  (social) justice by merely recommending that those who engage in unjust behavior please refrain from doing so in the future.

robber_barons_2Case in point AOL, which has announced that it was going to cut their employee’s 401(k) matching contributions to save $7.1 million despite a $679 million income in the last three months of 2013, up 13 percent from the year before.

AOL is probably one of those companies that Obama was addressing and their response to his plea apparently was a huge middle finger to his request as they are trimming back benefits from workers who made the company profitable, because clearly making over a billion dollars a year is not enough. Quick the CEO needs more money, after all, for his ski house in Aspen.

Does that sound like an entity that would change its practices to pay decent wages and benefits because the President politely asked them to by appealing to their (seemingly non-existent) conscience?

It certainly would not hurt AOL to step  up to the plate and show the rest of the world that it cares about it’s employees by not gutting their 401(k) but AOL will not do that because as a corporation it only cares about the bottom line and because calls for fair wages, union representation, overtime and a host of benefits for employees are a mere suggestion by our leaders, as opposed to required by law.

Memo to the President: people are working hard, just that good jobs with a livable wage are vanishing, while people are working harder and harder to make ends meet with their employers often being the enemies of their security. Voluntary compliance by corporations, employers, especially if it undermines profits, is not going to get us out of the recession.

I cringed when I heard Obama say what he did during his State of the Union Address because not only was it was filled with a lot of hot air and little substance, much like the majority of his track record as the President, but because it is such a harmful notion to spread as it feeds into the very deceitful and misleading narrative about hard work, the (ever elusive it appears) American Dream and bootstraps narratives that the Conservative base is gobbling up so enthusiastically.

It is also precisely because of such simple, lofty narratives of “hard work” and “ambition” and “The American Dream”  that we do not have a decent social safety net in place, for example,  and why most Americans have been manipulated into believing that such a system would give rise to legions of lazy people, takers and moochers and strawmen really  – which is why people in this country have been consistently voting to eliminate whatever meager social safety net is in place (even though, quite frankly, the welfare, food-stamps and financial assistance poor people receive in this country, if they receive them, is hardly worth even calling a social-safety net). The crude reality is that people in this country do not have any security. Period.

We don’t have many of the structures in place that would directly address the economic issues and challenges Obama pointed out plaguing millions of Americans today, such as lack of jobs  – good jobs  – and we do not have them because the government has failed, over and over again, to provide and secure them.

What’s In a Good Job

Jobs where people are treated with dignity and valued, and never exploited.   Jobs that come with the protected right to organize. Jobs that offer healthcare benefits. Jobs that offer benefit packages such as paid leave for  vacations, emergencies,  births and deaths without such leave being held against an employee. Jobs that provide for a good work-life balance.

Jobs where employees are valued as individuals contributing to the success of the company as opposed to just being seen as cogs in a wheel to be used to get the guy on top and the wealthy shareholders fat and wealthy.

A job that not only offers its employees meaningful access to health care but one that also offers decent retirement packages and matching contributions by employers, so that after a life time of hard work people do not find themselves with nothing to show for but the thrill of being one step away from the poor house.

Jobs where federal overtime rules are not treated as a suggestion. Jobs that provide a safe and healthy work environment that doesn’t render people sick.

This is the bare minimum for what makes a job a good job, for the most privileged workers.

For those who are not privileged, a good job is one that does not discriminate against employees on the basis of their identity; one that grants equal pay for equal work to employees regardless of their race, gender, age, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation and/or identity; one that accommodates disabilities of any kind and one where the expectation to “get along” is placed always and only on bullies and harassers, and never on the people being bullied or harassed. A job where it is safe to report bullies and harassing behavior.

These things that make a job a good job, in turn, need to be legislated by the government, not merely treated as loose guidelines that employers should put into practice if they are so inclined, because when profit drives your agenda you will not be so inclined.

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american dSee, people in this country are not struggling because they are not working hard or putting effort into things – as the President states –  but because the protections and provisions mentioned above, you know, the things that make a job a good job and a secure job leading to a stable, solid, prosperous middle class, are not there and because our lawmakers, most of whom are millionaires (and corrupt) are not enacting legislation that would force employers to put into practice such protections and provisions.

The result of such inaction, such apathy, is ultimately exemplified by  companies like AOL that, despite record, billion dollar profits, stiff their employees and cheat them out of their retirements and do so openly and unapologetically.

AOL is not the only company, however.  This practice of slowly and systematically exploiting employees to maximize profits is something a lot of companies have been engaging in, and continue to engage in , openly and without compunction while Washington has been standing by idly holding lofty speeches about hard work, effort and bootstraps, indirectly admonishing those who cannot afford gold plated car elevators as those not working hard enough, being ambitious enough and putting in the extra effort that those who own all and everything allegedly have put into things.

Thing is, Mr. President, if your goal is to help people out of the trap of working hard while still being tethered to poverty, then it would be a good idea to maybe first acknowledge that they are entitled to food, not hold lofty grand speeches about hard work and effort and then sign food stamp cuts into law, leaving millions of people hungry.

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