Posts Tagged one percent

The Death of A Wretched Human Being: Antonin Scalia

downloadLast week, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died at the age of 79 in some luxury resort in West Texass. He did not pay to stay at that luxury resort owned by John B. Poindexter,  a Texas native and decorated Vietnam veteran who owns Houston-based J.B. Poindexter & Co., a manufacturing firm with  seven subsidiaries and a  combined annual revenue of nearly $1 billion. Poindexter told The Washington Post that Scalia was not charged for his stay, something he described as a policy for all guests at the ranch.

I did not pay for the Justice’s trip to Cibolo Creek Ranch,” Poindexter wrote in a brief email Tuesday. “He was an invited guest, along with a friend, just like 35 others.”

A friend, indeed.

One of Poindexter’s companies was involved in a case that made it to the high court. Last year, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case involving an age discrimination lawsuit filed against one of these companies, court records show.

Is it just mere coincidence that a year later we see a Justice of that very same court invited to the luxurious home/ranch of the owner of the company involved in a case which the Supreme Court refused to hear?

Nothing about who Scalia was suggests that it could be a mere coincidence. What is for certain, however, is that it constitutes a conflict of interest.

Interesting to note is that this was not the first time Scalia acted unethically (that we know of).  In 2004, he joined then-Vice President Richard B. Cheney on a hunting trip while Cheney was the subject of a lawsuit over his energy task force, and in response to calls that he sit out the case, Scalia issued a highly unusual 21-page argument explaining why he refused to do so.

While judges have to file financial disclosure statements, including reporting of gifts they receive and disclosing when someone who is not a relative gives them “transportation, lodging, food, or entertainment” worth a certain amount (see 1978 Ethics in Government Act passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal), there is really no one who enforces that. And while every other federal judge below the Supreme Court and the decision about whether or not they should be recused from cases where there could be a potential conflict of interest is potentially subject to the review of a higher judge or other judges on his court, no one reviews the decision of a Justice and thus Supreme Court justices essentially become the final arbiters of whether or not to recuse themselves from cases that may constitute a conflict of interest.

Why am I bringing this up on the day of Antonin Sacalia’s funeral? Because while much of the mainstream press was quickly lining up to offer glowing commemorations of his career as a public servant and brilliant man, I want to be sure that Scalia’s destructive judicial legacy is  not completely whitewashed.

He was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues”…  Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr  said in a statement confirming Justice Scalia’s death. “His passing is a great loss to the Court and the country he so loyally served.”

No it is not. Antonin Scalia’s death is great news and this nation’s salvation. He did not serve this country loyally.  On the contrary,  he used and abused his position in the highest court of the land to align himself with power, against the powerless.

Scalia was a contemptible human being who once during oral arguments in a pivotal affirmative action case suggested that African American students might belong at less rigorous schools than their white peers, and that perhaps the University of Texas should have fewer black students in its ranks.

He decided his cases based on what the Catholic church preaches about women and reproduction.

He repeatedly and casually equated LGBT and its advocates to apologists for incest, rape, bestiality, child pornography and murder.

He has been nothing but an antagonist to social justice ever since he took seat on that bench/ivory tower of his. Heck, his last official act was denying a stay of execution.

Scalia’s death is not a loss to this nation or the Supreme Court. Scalia was the disease that’s been gnawing and eating away at our Democracy like a malignancy.  His death is our salvation as a nation.

And that is what I have to say about him on this day of his funeral.

May he rest in the hell he believed in so much and which he created for others during his short time in this world.

 

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Wage Increases Alone Are Not Enough

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

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

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

But I do want to make a few observations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heck not even $15 an hour is.

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

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

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

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

So we do not even have a social safety net.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How Gullible Are You?

After a three month hiatus I am back and what better way to start off the quest for knowledge, wisdom and non bullshittery than to ask yourself this very simple question: How gullible are you?

10942607_1429185550706710_5682680835405031896_nAre you gullible enough to believe that the billion galaxy universe was just created for us?

Are you gullible enough to believe that a god would impregnate a poor peasant girl to give birth to himself so he can then grow up and die for a bunch of sins that he created in the first place so that one day he may come down and die for them to prove a point? (Are you officially lost amid this convoluted clusterfuck way of thinking here? Um, yeah, so am I)

Are you gullible enough to believe that Islam is a wonderfully peaceful religion that is merely misunderstood?

Are you gullible enough to believe that ideas, even bad ideas  – and religion is full of bad ideas – do not influence the people we become? The decisions we make and the priorities we set?

Are you gullible enough to believe that corporations are people? That money does not influence political outcomes?

Are you gullible enough to believe that giving rich people tax exemptions so they can hide their wealth in offshore accounts creates jobs and helps some worker stuck in a minimum wage paying slow death improve their standard of living?

Are you gullible enough to believe that wealthy people are wealthy because they work for it instead of being the laziest, greediest, most opportunistic moochers that they are, who exploit the system, with proficiency and profligacy about which poor would-be swindlers can only dream?

Are you gullible enough to seriously think that beliefs and the ideas that inform them are beyond criticism and above reproach?

Are you gullible enough to believe that there is an actual marked difference between Democrats and Republicans?

Are you swayed by fluffy and hopeful State of the Union Addresses by our one percent fellating leaders? Are you so enamored by the belief in them that you forget that despite lofty speeches promising to help the middle class, they wanted to (and have in the past) appoint Wall Street executives in key goverment positions, such as President Obama’s nomination of Wall Street executive and banker Antonio Weiss for a top job at the Treasury Department?

Are you gullible enough to believe that one middle-class boosting policy enacted for every twenty pieces of legislation enacted furthering the “causes” of millionaires, bankers, corporations and oil companies, will bring us a step closer to the direly needed changes we need? That such half-assed steps will strengthen the middle class?

Are yo gullible enough to believe that giving more tax breaks to millionaires is good for all us?

Are yo gullible enough to think that most millionaires are even paying any taxes?

Are you gullible enough to believe that placing health care in the hands of private corporate entities that do not give two shits about your health but instead care a whole lot of about the bottom line, was better for people? Or constitutes health care reform?

Are you gullible enough to believe that the Republican party stands for anything else beside hate, greed and bigotry?

Are you gullible enough to seriously believe that the solution to the crisis we face today with respect to a diminishing middle class is corporatist Hilary Clinton?

Are you gullible enough to believe that a Senate that actually votes on whether climate change is real or not can be trusted with accomplishing anything meaningful for this country and its people?

So exactly how gullible are you?

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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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Another 1%er Event

It is becoming increasingly more evident that regular folks in this country, you know, your average taxpaying, working middle-class stiff, the ones that are keeping this economy and country, really, going – from their occupations as teachers, in the service industry to non-profit work etc., do not matter very much.

I said it before and I say it again, but for the one percent that run this country, middle class folks seemingly are nothing more than readily sources of warm bodies when you need to engage in another war for profit under the guise of security.

They are a a source of tax revenue to support and underwrite the 1%.

If, as a one percenter, they have done a good job choosing the two lousy candidates for them and then giving them the illusion that they have a “choice” on the day they go out and cast a vote (see Citizens United)  then they are a “vote” to help “elect” your candidate and if you have done a really good job, as Republicans have with their voter base, you not only give them the delusion that they have a choice between candidates but you actually get them to vote for the very candidate, and thus against their own self-interest, you put on the ballot.

Everytime there is a cut in government spending, the middle class and the poor, of course, have to make sacrifices and see the programs and policies that benefit and protect them slashed and reduced,  not the wealthy and thus the architects of our economic system that keeps the wealthy tax exempt under the guise that they are “job creators” while repeatedly requiring that cuts to government spending (because of lost revenue due to those tax exemptions) come from those very middle class protecting programs.

While the white collar criminals of Wall Street and the banking system got bailed out instead of imprisoned for the crimes they committed, poor people, and thus Wall Street’s direct and indirect victims, are sent to jail for essentially being poor.

And when our so-called leaders and politicians open the doors to let America “in” for a night of celebration, laughter good times and appreciation, the only ones invited to the table, literally, are members of the 1%.

It is, after all, no coincidence that the yearly White House Correspondent’s Dinner (WHCD)  resembles a Hollywood red carpet event and that everyone in that event, except those serving food and beverages, are members of the one percent. 

It is sad to know that the average American is not on the President’s radar even when he  decides to decide to hang out with the public. 

Instead of inviting over some of those hard working average American citizens, the ones that did the grunt work and got him elected, to shake hands with and thank them for their truly thankless jobs and positions and pressure in society, he instead surrounds himself with top members of the elite cracking jokes.

It is ironic that on the one hand we’ve got the Occupy Wall Street movement, with demands for equity and relief for the middle class, the 99%, – an event and movement the President and his wife endorse, while on the other hand any event of any significance in this country, including this Dinner, is hosted and populated by the wealthy and privileged, the 1% only.

The 99% only seem to matter in as much as they make for great talking point or otherwise help score political points and not because anyone really actually cares about changing the current paradigm, the current dysfunction with respect to structural exploitation and institutionalized greed in this country that have allowed the 1% to accumulate more wealth than the rest of us combined.

There are thousands of people who dedicate every day of their lives to not only public service but to their townships, counties, states and communities in general – one way or another. They are the backbone of America, they are the people the President allegedly works for and leads. They are the ones who, through their hard work, such as teachers, champion the very causes this Dinner is to honor and uphold – yet the only ones who once again get to benefit from all this, even if just in a celebratory manner, are rich people; the 1% – literally – as everyone at that dinner is a millionaire – without exception, because otherwise who could afford something like $50,000 a plate just to get in?

Not that I don’t love the outrage about economic injustice for us poor, hard working middle class folks when it’s politically expedient and all but it’d be nice if the actual American people – you know, the 99%  – such as the journalists meant to be holding the US government to account, the non-profit workers, the public servants, the researchers, activists and just the people on the ground who work everyday on these issues for Americans without anyone paying much attention to them –  were, once in a while,  invited to the table and celebrated by our leaders, instead of actors, reality TV stars and models – who neither represent the American people, nor have contributed in any meaningful way to the political and social world they are in,

Speak of being out of touch. Romney is not the only one.

Money begets money and at the end of the day, when all the political talking points and phony strategizing to supposedly empower the 99% have been made, rich people still only take care of and intermingle with their own.

All this talk about empowering the 99% and leveling the playing field are just that: rhetoric. No one really means it and The White House Correspondent’s Dinner is the best example to the point.

The United States would be a very different place if everyone cared about inequity when there wasn’t a presidential election in which appearing to care about inequity could score political points.

 

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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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Duh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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