Posts Tagged capitalism

Organization Pushing For $20 An Hour Minimum Wage Offers Job for $13 an Hour

Earlier this month The Freedom Socialist Party posted listings on Craigslist and Indeed to advertise an opening for a part-time web designer offering to pay $13 an hour.  That’s well below the $20 minimum wage the party pushes for in its platform, and lower than the $15 wage it helped pass this year in Seattle.

But Doug Barnes, the party’s national secretary, told The Huffington Post on Saturday that the group relies heavily on donations from low-wage workers and could not afford to pay much to an inexperienced designer.

We’re practicing what we’re preaching in terms of continuing to fight for the minimum wage,” Barnes said, making his first public comment on the controversy. “But we can’t pay a lot more than $13.” He went on to accuse Right wing critics as hypocritical, citing that “these are the same people who fought against the minimum wage and support companies like Walmart.”

I mean look,  I am a liberal socialist in the sense that I do believe in strong unions, labor rights and regulation, but I have to admit this is pretty hypocritical. “But we can’t pay a lot more than $13” is exactly what everyone else who opposes minimum wage increases, including the $ 20 an hour proposal this party supports, argues:  “we cannot afford it.” Why is it then that the socialist party’s reasons are legitimate and everyone else’s aren’t?

This is the same thing as non-profits who fight for social and economic justice and fair wages etc. turning around offering non paid full time internships. That is just not right and goes against the very things you are arguing and allegedly fighting for.

And the thing is, if you want to change things, you have to be the change you want to see, trite as it may sound. Not to mention that I am going to take a wild guess here and say that the president or CEO of this non-profit probably gets paid quite a lot. Maybe he cares to cut his salary so they can afford the 20 bucks they are pushing for because $13 an hour is not a livable wage for anyone, especially a highly educated and skilled person who probably had to rack up student loan debt and such to be able to pay for this education which, in turn, was going to qualify him for this job.

Either way you look at it, this just does not look good and doesn’t strengthen your position to not be living what you preach.

Yeah Republicans and Conservatives are a bunch of indecent hypocrites and scumbags, opposing the minimum wage and unions, but then again they never pretended otherwise. You, on the other hand,  claim to stand for more so be more.

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Quote of the Day

When I was secretary, we had basically a two-war strategy. We had to maintain sufficient forces to be able to fight two wars at once. He switched that. Now we’re going to have a one-war strategy. And that’s all being done as a rationale to justify further deep cuts in the defense budget so he can allocate that money to food stamps or whatever else he wants to spend it on.

Dick-Cheney-1-300x214Dick Cheney criticizing President Obama for prioritizing feeding people over waging wars.

If there ever was any doubt that Republicans do not believe people are entitled to food, what Dick Cheney, former Vice President and eternal war mongering war criminal at large, had to say at an energy industry trade show in Billings, Montana should put all those doubts – and denials – to rest.

If I had not read it, I would not believe that someone is and can be so openly callous so as to state, as a matter-of-factly and with a straight face, that spending money to feed human beings is a waste as that money could be better used engaging in wars.

The thing that is truly disturbing is that he is so cavalier and smug about this. There is not even any pretense to caring about peoples’ lives and the human cost of war. I can almost picture him saying this with the demeanor of a bad cop with a wicked grin who just wants anyone to give him a reason.

Another thing to note, of course, is that President Obama does not and has not prioritized the poor and hungry over anything. He was the architect behind the Draconian sequester (thinking that if he makes it cut-throat enough, it would turn away even Republicans. Little did he know), he failed to close down Gitmo, he continues to support and sign off on the use of drones and, if I recall, he personally signed an $8.7 billion food stamp cut into law!!

So, on the one hand you got this sorry excuse for a human being named Dick Cheney declare, without shame and compunction, that spending money on feeding people as opposed to going to war was a waste and on the other hand you got him accusing the President for having done precisely that when the President has clearly not ever put the poor and hungry before any other cause, including war, the defense budget, Wall Street and private industry in general.

Thirty years ago Obama would have been a proud candidate for the Republican party, palling around side-by-side Ronald Reagan. He is not a liberal, no matter how many times people repeat that. It is just that the Republican party of yesteryear is gone and what has remained has moved substantially more to the Right, getting greedier and more Orwellian than ever, in turn making someone like Obama look like a Liberal.

Conservative hypocrisy and callousness truly have no bounds.

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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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Isn’t Greed…I Mean Capitalism Great?

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?

o-COMCAST-BEFORE-570

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.

o-COMCAST-AFTER-570

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.

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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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The Problem With Obamacare and the Real Reason Insurance Companies Cancel Polices

Now that President Obama has said it’s OK with him if insurance companies keep their policyholders in health plans that don’t meet the standards established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), at least for another year, the big question is whether insurers will take him up on the offer.

The answer: it depends.

Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s big PR and lobbying group issued the following statement when trying to justify why insurance companies have every right to cancel policies:

The only reason consumers are getting notices about their current coverage changing is because the ACA (Affordable Care Act) requires all policies to cover a broad range of benefits that go beyond what many people choose to purchase today.”

In other words, they require us to do our jobs and actually have health maintenance in mind when in reality all we want to do is make profit and pretend to offer services to people we have no intention of ever paying because doing so cuts into our profit margin – which is what we are after and nothing else: profits.

And that, in a nutshell, is the whole problem with the health care system in this country and Obamacare (ACA) by extension.

The reason for the cancelling of such policies is that insurance companies make money by denying people health care. That is why they have such things as high deductibles (or deductibles at all), as well as premiums or higher premiums when the benefits package get bigger. That is also why insurance companies constrain their customers in a limited network of doctors and hospitals and call the shots about whether a knee replacement or liver transplant your doctor recommended is really necessary. In other words, they make health care decisions for you.

I wish people would, once and for all, understand this about insurance companies: they are not in it for your health, or to protect your health, they are profit rackets out to make money off of you. And the way they do that is by charging you a lot but paying off very little when it comes down to it and when you need to actually utilize the benefit you paid for.

Ever since Obama announced the ACA, insurance companies have been working on finding other ways to keep profits high and your benefits minimal: they migrated their customers from traditional managed care plans to so-called “consumer-directed” plans, the industry euphemism for high-deductible policies, requiring people to pay more out of their own pockets for care – which really is just a strategy to reduce benefits. Investors and Wall Street financial analysts refer to these common industry practices as “benefit buydowns.”

Under the ACA, a lot of, most notably poor or even struggling middle class folks (remember, the middle class is no longer what is used to be)  are stuck with the Silver and Bronze plans under the ACA that have something like $5000 and $10,000 deductibles. How is an individual making 25k a year, or 35k or even 50k to come up with a $10,000 deductible? That is a lot of money and they may as well not have insurance.

Under this supposedly amazing “reform”, you end up paying a lot of money in premiums each month and still get nothing from them until you meet your 5k or 10k deductible. Remember that a lot of preventive care and just normal medical procedures cost less than $10,000, so by placing the premiums this high, insurance companies effectively end up with just collecting your money and still have you pay for everything else – unless something catastrophic happens – but even then you still have to meet your 10k deductible before the benefits kick in.

And that is why they are cancelling insurance premiums now: under the ACA they have to make certain basic, minimum services available which they don’t want to do because that undermines their profit. So they kick you out because it is cheaper that way or they change your plan and increase the deductible. 

ACA: Insurance Reform, Not Healthcare Reform

The Affordable CARE Act is actually only an insurance reform, not a health care reform and either way you look at it, insurance companies still get the upper hand and are the ones winning and really nothing has changed in terms of who gets to make health care decisions for you. It’s just that now the matrix has been altered and as long as insurance companies do not blatantly violate the laws set forth in the ACA –  and instead find a way around them, which they have, they can go on with business as usual.

In order to have true, meaningful, effective health care reform, insurance companies need to be removed out of the health care business.  The fact that the ACA did just the opposite, namely make insurance companies an integral part of this so called reform by promising them every single person in this country , under penalty of law, as prey customer,  makes it a weak policy and pseudo reform.

Entities that have solely a profit motive in mind and that make money by denying claims, should not be in charge of making health care decisions for us.

ACA is a Conservative Idea

Remember that the core principles of the ACA were all originally conservative in nature. In fact, the idea of an individual mandate was popularized by the Heritage Foundation and other conservative think tanks as early as 1989.

In 1992, Heritage proposed a sweeping reform it called the Heritage Consumer Choice Health Plan. Among the plan’s features:

Require all households to purchase at least a basic package of insurance, unless they are covered by Medicaid, Medicare, or other government health programs. The private insurance market would be reformed to make a standard basic package available to all at an acceptable price.”

As President Bill Clinton began to push for a government-run system in 1993, Republicans introduced bills that included an individual mandate. At the time, Newt Gingrich hailed them:

I am for people, individuals — exactly like automobile insurance — individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance,” he told “Meet the Press” in 1993. “And I’m prepared to vote for a voucher system which will give individuals, on a sliding scale, a government subsidy, to ensure that everyone as individuals has health insurance.”

It is, of course, quite ironic that the same people who supported and championed something similar to the ACA, ended up shutting down the government and causing financial harm to this country last month because of their opposition to the ACA under Obama (although their opposition was directed toward Obama really. Yes, Republicans hate Obama more than they love their country).

The ACA, which is basically just a scrambled version, or in fact exact replica of the Heritage Consumer Choice Health Plan, is therefore, a very conservative, Right wing piece of legislation aimed primarily at securing the business interests and profit margins of insurance companies. It has nothing, whatsoever, to do with offering people affordable, quality health care and its implementation is not health care reform.

There is nothing liberal about Obamcare and the idea of turning to the private market – which, by its very nature, does not care about common welfare but profit – as providers of health care to citizens is  in direct contradiction to the very principles of health care reform and why we need health reform in the first place.  It would be like depending on Bain Capital or Koch Industries for Medicare, social security, disaster relief and even governance. Entities that are in it for the money and the money only, however do not have any business being tasked with providing as well as securing basic necessities and rights, which access to health care, is.

As a progressive who is a strong supporter of a single payer system and/or universal health care, I view the ACA is nothing but a lousy, unholy bargain people are being forced to strike and like even.

The argument by its proponents is that it is better than nothing – and that may very well be true – after all, every little something is better than nothing and if you go by that mentality then you don’t ever have to complain about or try to change anything in life. But can we call that reform? Change? Even the beginnings of it? Is it reform when we, on a very fundamental, philosophical level, believe that peoples’ health should be in the hands of profit rackets in the form of insurance companies and that such entities should be at the core of any health care “reform ” and tasked with making healthcare decisions for us?

The only ones I see winning in this are insurance companies that have already found a myriad of ways to circumvent the provisions of the ACA. The consumer, the sick person in need and without the assets, will just be taking it up the ass and end up with nothing. Remember, those stuck on the Bronze and Silver plans (note that certain income levels don’t even qualify for the Gold and Platinum Plans- i.e. the poor), still won’t get the care they need  because of high deductibles -so for them really nothing changes because that 10,000 may as well be a million because they dont’s have that either.

Yet, what worries me is that if this health insurance reform or whatever it is somehow fails, it is going to set back meaningful healthcare reform—single-payer, universal healthcare, i.e. Medicare for all—for who knows how much longer. It would be a very long time before a healthcare reformer can make a proposal without the specter of failed Obamacare haunting the national discourse.

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