Posts Tagged capitalism
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.
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).
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.
Remember when we had such things as antitrust and monopoly laws to promote fair competition for the benefit of the consumer? Because isn’t that the core of what capitalism is, namely each business acting as an independent unit on the market to earn its profits by providing better priced and quality products than its competitors?
Apparently in a country that claims to have one of the most effective and prosperous economic systems in the world where opportunity is galore and you just need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps by virtue of your efforts, such antitrust laws that grossly exploit consumers while enriching a small elite do not really apply, because how else could one explain Comcast’s legal $45 billion buyout of rival provider Time Warner Cable?
As you can see from the two charts, a merger would mean Comcast would control more than half of all American cable subscribers.
Originally posted on Reddit, the data comes from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the trade association for the cable industry.According to some experts, this majority could mean slower speeds and fewer good choices on streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. Because Comcast considers Netflix a competitor, the company doesn’t have any reason to put effort into remedying congestion and the slow speeds it produces on these streaming services. A company as big as the one in the graph above might also pressure content providers not to offer their shows to its competitors, leaving us with fewer good choices when we fire up our streaming services.
And of course, a company that doesn’t have to work for millions of new subscribers may not be that interested in lowering prices. Some predict prices will inevitably rise for consumers if the merger goes through.
For the record, these are the kind of systemic issues that individuals cannot overcome by sheer will-power or “by virtue of their efforts” as the President put it in his State of the Union Address, unless with hard work and effort he meant working hard to find ever more creative and brilliant ways to exploit the American people, such as blatantly violating monopoly laws.
And you can bet your 35% -tax -paying-tutu that this monstrous Comcast cartel will be paying pretty much nothing in taxes, as they, like most corporations in this country, are the beneficiaries of massive loopholes inherent in our skewed tax code as well as government subsidies paid for by tax dollars.
But I guess it is easier to focus on bumper-sticker length, feel-good slogans about bootstraps while romanticizing the dishwasher-to-millionaire metaphor, as opposed to actually examining what is truly behind the mess we’re in.