Posts Tagged wealthy

I Will Miss Bernie Sanders

bernie-sanders-having-birdiesandersI will miss Bernie Sanders and the air of hope and optimism he brought with him during this Primary season.

After all the capitulations of the Obama Administration to Republican demagoguery in general and to the GOP in particular; after all the nay-saying and “no we can’t do it after all” crap and over-compromising to the point of actually compromising one’s core principle and thereby essentially allowing Republicans to set the tone and direction of national policy and debate, it was great to see someone who inspired real change;  who wasn’t just another god-damn politician looking out for himself and his bottom line, perpetuating the same failed policies that further no one but the greed and avarice of the one percent.

Republicans have set the bar so low that it really does not take much to exceed it. This country has moved so far to the Right, that both Obama and Clinton would have fit well into the Reagan administration instead of FDR’s. The Republicans are so awful, that they make people like Clinton and Obama look good and liberal, rather than showing them as the moderate Republicans they really are. Republicans who have turned  not being a fascist into a standard which politicians like Clinton aspire to (“Hey vote for me, at least I was not THAT  horrible.”),

Seeing people come together, being fired up, having hope for a better future for all Americans, was inspiring. I think a lot of even cynical people felt that there was finally a political leader who wasn’t telling us what we wanted to hear becasue it was politically expedient,  but who, behind closed doors, just went on with business as usual. Someone who finally got it and who strived to make it happen, even if he knew it was hard. It was great to see someone who isn’t running a capitulation campaign,  where you aim really low so you can at least get that done (which is sort of the message I got from Hillary Clinton, in a nutshell). 

A lot of Clinton’s supporter believe that Sanders’ supporters live in a fantasy world where everything is free and they don’t have to work for it.  We were and continue to be dismissed as a bunch of pie-in-the-sky dreamers, detached from reality, who don’t know any better, versus Clinton who repeatedly prides herself in her pragmatism and no-nonsense attitude.

But we are not blind. We understand the political process perfectly well.  We understand that the President isn’t an elected king and that he has to work with Congress and lawmakers to make things happen. We understood the value of compromise. We know that this is going to be an upward battle requiring effort, a thick skin and hard work. And we knew that Bernie Sanders was not going to waltz into the White House, swing a magic wand and make it all happen.

But winning is only half the battle. The appeal of the Sanders movement is about achievability as much as it is about inspiration and believing that one must and can work toward a movement for greater equality, fair wages, universal  healthcare, and an end to corporate control of our political system. That in and of itself is half the battle.  And if you can’t even envision that, just like Clinton cannot and won’t envision it, then why do you even fucking want this job? Why do you bother?

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In fact, I have often wondered why given her defeatist pragmatic attitude Clinton even wants this job. She is rich enough so it is not like she has to work. And how much more money can one person need and want?

Is it for power? Prestige? To be the first woman President? Bragging rights?

I look at her track record and I look at her during this Primary season and I don’t see a public servant, I don’t see someone who wants to bring about change and reform. On the contrary, what I see is a neoliberal, Wall Street-funded, status quo-perpetuating, multimillionaire  militarist.

It is a shame. We had the chance to elect an utterly honest man who has not spent  the last 40 years enriching himself at the expense of the American people. Unlike Sanders’ positive and hope filled message, this so-called victory by Clinton brings with itself an air of hopelessness and despondency that weighs down my heart.

The masses of people being gullible sheep who vote against their own self interest is nothing new, but it never ceases to amaze and appall me when I do witness it.  Sanders is a man who, going by his tax returns alone, is  broke compared to his multi millionaire colleagues in Congress. He and his wife made less in one year ($204k) than  Clinton makes in one speech to Goldman Sachs. He didn’t vote for every war he could vote for,  he was not being sponsored by banks and corporations while also receiving endorsements by the likes of the Koch Brothers and war criminals like Henry Kissinger. Unlike Clinton he has not spent the bigger part of his career aligning himself with the powerful and wealthy against the powerless and poor.

Yet who do people vote for? Hillary Clinton. A woman who  wore a $12,000  Armani  suit while giving a speech on income inequality.

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As a woman and feminist I am supposed to feel really elated and happy here. It is a historic moment for the United States to finally have a woman Presidential nominee and probably also President. However, I feel nothing but disappointment and despair. I look at the next six months with a heavy heart and know that she will win the General Election, too, given that the person she is running against is not really a viable candidate, or even a opponent, but more like a troll. So in a way Clinton will be running unopposed come this November.

Of course, Hillary Clinton is qualified and experienced for the job. Nk doubt in my mind she is brilliant. However, it is not her qualifications that are in question here, it is her priorities. She is bad for America and this historic moment of finally having a woman on the command chair is overshadowed by the fact that Clinton is not the Progressive she claims to be.

Clinton is not running (at this time or any other) to help the American people, who have been nothing short of brutalized by corporations and the politicians that do their bidding – including Clinton – or to make America a better place. She’s running because the Presidency is the biggest prize in the world, and she wants that prize. Trump is running for the same reason–bragging rights.

If she wins, and she will win, her presidency will then be focused–again–not on the people, but on doing just enough to secure a personal legacy and a place in the history books as The First Woman President.

Someone who accepts nearly a million dollars in speaker fees from Goldman Sachs to congratulate them on a job well done and who goes to fundraisers were people spend nearly $400,000 on a plate, and someone who has a track record of voting for all the fraudulent wars this country has been engaged in for the past five decades and Wall Street bailouts and policies aimed at furthering the 1% at the expense of everyone else, someone who has already said that there will never, ever be universal health care and free – or at least affordable -education and meaningful student loan reforms for all, not just special interest groups – is not someone who should be running on the Progressive ticket.

For the record, Goldman Sachs does not pay HRC $250,000 per speaking engagement for nothing. Those rich people in the aforementioned dinner organized by George Clooney don’t spend nearly $400,000 a seat to help poor people. This is an investment and those people will  want a return on their investment; a return which doesn’t include you or I.

Clinton is a moderate Republican, paid and endorsed by big banks to convince the middle class to be happy with the old deal. And this past Tuesday, middle and working class America agreed by making her their nominee.

 

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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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France Initiates the “Millionaires Tax” – Puts An End to Trickle Down Myth

The wealthy enjoy all the advantages of living and doing business in a first world country. However, they believe that all that should come at no cost to them. They believe that their wealth exempts them from contributing to the very society and structures in that society that have enabled them to be where they are. In other words, wealthy people want a free ride (which is ironic because “wanting a free ride” is precisely what is often used to argue against social safety net and various other programs aimed at keeping people off the poverty wagon).

Well, France has finally put an end to the free ride wealthy people have been enjoying at the expense of everyone else when its Constitutional Council gave the green light on Sunday to the government’s controversial ‘millionaire tax’, to be levied on companies that pay salaries of more than 1 million euros ($1.38 million) a year.

The measure was introduced in line with a pledge by President Francois Hollande to make the rich do more to pull France out of crisis. To that end, a 50 percent tax is to be paid by high earners on the portion of annual income exceeding 1 million euros. This change has infuriated the wealthy because, of course it did; god forbid anyone ever asks a rich person to pitch in a dime for the common good. Let’s go after Medicare and food-stamp recipients and thus the poor as we do in this glorious, most awesomest country in the world blah blah fart.

Hollande’s 2012 supertax election pledge infuriated high earners in France and prompted actor Gerard Depardieu to flee the country. It has also alienated entrepreneurs and foreign investors, who have accused Hollande of being anti-business.

Hollande has said that the wealthy should contribute more to help to repair the country’s finances, arguing that the supertax should also encourage companies to curb excessive executive pay.

Not Being Greedy Is Difficult

I find it interesting that rich people, the 1% to be precise, get all riled up, feel exploited and, literally, run away as it’s been the case with Depardieu the moment they are asked to give a bit of their obscene wealth in the form of taxes, but that poor people – the elderly, food-stamp recipients, the disabled, student loan borrowers – heck even hard working middle class folks that hold two jobs and still are barely able to make ends meet and are fucked in case of a crisis – are repeatedly being asked to make more and more sacrifices to subsidize, essentially, the privilege of the wealthy. And they are asked to do so without complaining and in the name of compromise, good will and bi-partisan ship – as if agreeing to be underpaid, worked to death and rendered unable to make ends meet were compromises.

However, let me ask this: is it fair to ask someone who makes $20 million a year to spend half of that in taxes or is it fair to ask someone making $65 thousand a year to pay half of that in taxes?

Is it fair to ask someone living at the poverty threshold, eeking by on a miserable existence by collecting an abhorrently low, not-fit-to-feed-a-dog-in-a-pound welfare check and food stamps in this country, to please take some more cuts to their already meager, not-fit-to-feed-a-dog-in-a-pound welfare check and food stamps so that the wealthy can remain tax exempt and still pay very little?

Is it fair to ask a recent college graduate stuck in a shitty job making $45k a year and drowning in student loan debt (which he had to accrue to get that 45k job)  to pay nearly 40% of that in taxes while the CEO of Facebook pays less than 10% of his billion dollar income, if that, in taxes?

In the US the top one percent hold 40 percent of the nation’s wealth.  What the average CEO of a Fortune 500 company makes in an hour, the average worker (not the janitor, but the college graduate  in the cubicle) makes in a month. The on-the-book tax rate for Capital gains, primarily the payment vehicle of the rich, is 15 percent –  while most American workers pay upwards of 40 percent of their  sustenance in taxes.

The narrative here, according to the 1% and those who hold the torch for them in the name of The Grand American Dream,  is that average American workers are hundreds of  times less productive than the CEO who makes hundreds of times more money than they do. And that they are lazy. Lack motivation. Work Ethics. Depend on hand-outs and just don’t know how to be successful or properly manage their hand-to-mouth earnings.

Just earlier this year, our spineless President made permanent the Bush administration’s tax cuts. Permanent; barring and preventing top earners, the 1%, from ever having to pay more in taxes than the maid who cleans their house or the even the educated engineer even who builds their car elevator.

Trickle Down Economics A Scam

One of the biggest scams, one of the most outrageous, yet effective, lies of the 21st century has been trickle down economics and the absurd idea that the more you let a company or individual amass wealth without taxing them or regulating them, the more those rich people will invest back in the economy and in the long run benefit poorer members of society by improving the economy as a whole. In other words, the bullshit here is the notion that the wealth the wealthy amass by not paying much in taxes or fair wages etc., will come back to citizens as a whole.

The truth is, unregulated Free Market Trickle Down theory and ideology has been tried and has proven, beyond all reasonable doubt to be a failed idea. In practice, it simply does not work (for 99% of the people, that is).

The only people this ideology of greed and immoral self-service works for are the robber barons and thus the very people that spend hundreds of millions a year selling this lie to the masses – under the guise, and false promise may I add, of the American Dream and how hard work pays off and that those “who are successful” should not be “punished” yadda, yadda, yadda, blah.

I cannot imagine anyone still holding on to this perverse lie where people are basically asked to personally fill the pockets of robber barons  – willingly and unquestionably no less – with a straight face.

Trickle down economics and the promise of prosperity-for-all as long as the wealthy get to remain wealthy while the economic burden will be carried at the backs of the middle class, the poor, and disabled, is an outrageous lie and blatant deception.

It is also brilliant from a robber baron/Mitt Romney/one percenter perspective because it has convinced people for decades to hand over their hard-earned dollars to said robber barons, willingly and passionately, in the hopes that they too, one day, can be one of those barons. And you know what? It may work for a very few who manage to somehow get a foot in the door to the Kingdom  and profit immensely while the majority of their fellow men will not.  But for most people becoming the next Bill Gates or Mitt Romney is nothing but a pipe dream. Most people have to get an education or training, get a job and work for a living and save up for a retirement instead of playing golf until 11 every day and letting other peoples’ hard-earned monies work for them and when they fail to make that money work for them they are let go with a golden parachute and set for life.

At any rate, as the wealth gap between the rich and poor has been increasing to staggering heights over the past thirty to forty years, people are yet to see any of that trickle down wealth come to fruition. If anything, a dwindling middle class and a tremendous wealth gap in this country appear to be testament to the exact opposite, namely that the more you let rich people amass wealth, the more they will amass wealth but without putting much of it back into the economy in terms of fair wages, benefit, jobs and investments.

Just enter the world of labor export to places like China where slave laborers are paid abhorrent “wages”, if one can even call it that – I believe slave labor is a more appropriate term since a few dollars a month are hardly wages – so that a company like Apple Inc. – which is supposed to be the example of the American Dream – can post a $7.5 billion profit; Apple Inc.  – the great American company that employs more people in China than its beloved US of A.

I applaud France’s measure because it is attempting to close the immense wealth gap – which is the cause  and further catalyst of economic recessions  – by forcing those navigating an existence in extreme wealth and privilege to pay a bit more so that the poor don’t have to. A lesson this country could learn and will learn – the hard way if need be.

The truth of the matter is that cash flow must exist in the economy for all parts to work effectively. If the upper levels of earners are not keeping those monies flowing, then the only mechanism left to us is taxation. It’s sort of like a parent trusting a child with something but then realizing that it is not working, after all, because said child has taken gross advantage of said privilege given to him.  So the parent has to step back in again.

The wealthy, the 1%, have taken immense advantage of the freedoms their governments gave them for all these years – so much so that the world is in a recession thanks to deregulation and abolishing a host of other mechanisms in place to insure a level playing field where all members of society pay their fair share. This has resulted in stagnant wages, the complete non-existence of a social safety net in this country (when I say welfare monies in this country are not fit to house and feed a dog in a pound for a month, I am not exaggerating) and a host of other middle-class busting policies keeping the 99% poor and asset-less while the 1% keep getting wealthier by the minute.

If corporations and the rich paid in taxes what they used to pay back in the 40s and 50s, and 60s when America grew like wildfire to be the planet’s economic powerhouse truly resulting in making the American Dream a reality for millions, America would not be discussing, as recently as the budget debate and lousy compromise of just a couple of weeks ago, what poor, sick, or elderly group need to be gutted, cut, or kicked to the curb next.

(Have you noticed how so-called “entitlements” are always on the table when it comes to budget discussions in this country? By both parties.  It is never “let’s stop subsiding oil companies” or “maybe we do not need another aircraft carrier” because apparently oil companies and defense contractors that post record profits already getting our tax dollars is not entitlements, but someone getting money back they paid into for years, is).

Currently, the conversation in America is a conversation being set up by guys like Charles and David Koch, the Walton heirs, Exxon, Lockheed, Raytheon, Donald Trump, Mitt Romney and so forth. Entities that feel entitled to their greed and do not want us ever talking about re-taxing them. That is why they complain about the debt to muddy the waters and distract from the real cause of the recession, demanding that the poor, sick, and elderly give a pound of flesh, because the CorporateCon Right Wing Mega-Rich have no intention of helping anyone with anything and want to keep and secure their massive economic gains which they have made at the backs of said poor, sick, and elderly.

The paradigm in this country, regardless of party affiliation, is always cutting more food-stamps or gutting Medicare or keeping minimum wages stagnant for a bit more. No one, not even Democrats, ever truly considers taking those things off the table and instead solely putting oil companies, the Defense Department and tax exemption for the wealthy on the table when talking fiscal responsibility.

That conversation needs to change.

So let what France is doing be a lesson to those of us in the US. If you do not want taxes set upon you, get to work doing your part to keep the economy moving, such as paying your employees fair, livable wages and great benefits to balance a home/at work lifestyle so that people do not feel enslaved to their jobs. 

The Walton family (i.e. owners of Wal-Mart) is a prime example of entities that possess more wealth than can be used in several lifetimes, yet insist on continuing to pay wages to their workers that are essentially poverty level, even though they have more than ample room to improve those wages and still profit handsomely. As long as the government stays shies away from holding Wal-Mart accountable and hopes instead that they will somehow eventually come out and do the right thing, nothing will change.

At any rate, in the case of France, one million euros per year should be more than sufficient to live and thrive on, dear Wealthy People. Remember, that you are being taxed on your income and wealth while 99% of the people in the world are being taxed on their subsistence. I do, however, dare you to try to live on 30,000 Euro for one year without running away – or hey, I’ll be generous, let’s make it an even 100k – if you can, that is.

Remember, being poor is not for lazy people but making a little less than a million per year apparently is. So much so that those wealthy people are, literally, fleeing their motherland.

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The White House One Percenter Dinner

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Veteran TV newsman Tom Brokaw, who seems to be the only one currently able to tell his ass from from a hole in the ground and see what the celebrity excess at the White House One Percenter Dinner White House Correspondent’s Dinner  is all about told Politico that he quit going to the WHCD because he did not care to be part of the tasteless page six tabloid event that it had morphed into. “There was more dignity at my daughter’s junior prom than there is what I’m seeing on CSPAN here. […] For me, the breaking point was Lindsay Lohan. She became the big star at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Give me a break.[…] What we’re doing with that dinner is saying “we’re Versailles. Let the rest of you eat cake.” 

Indeed. This country is going through a crisis in confidence in public service and public policy while millions are working hard and struggling in this stagnant and downward economy that other 1% ers created and our leaders and the President and the rest of the 1% are having a swell time celebrating life and each other and their fortunes.

While they are all slurping champagne and nibbling on fancy hors’ d’oeuvres parading the red carpet in 1%er attire, with billionaires like Donald Trump and train wreck bimbos like Lindsay Blohan  as their guests of honor, the people that voted these clowns into office are losing their homes, declaring bankruptcy or going to bed hungry because they haven’t had a job in three years. Others who do have a job are living with the dire consequences of  furloughs and other cuts because of the draconian sequester spending cuts proposed and drafted by our very own One Percenter in Chief Barack Obama  – all while the rest of the nation is quietly suffocating in the recession that has not affected one single person at that party.

The sad thing is that everyone is clapping for them and cheering the event on without a trace of irony about the fact that the only thing missing is, indeed, a speech by Obama and the First Lady elegantly suggesting that the rest of the nation may eat cake now before moving on to the next laugh with [fill in the celebrity name].

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It’s breads and circuses all over again where instead of gaining public approval through exemplary and excellent public service or public policy, approval is gained  through diversion; distraction; the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace, as an offered “palliative.” It is nothing but a simplistic motivation of common people.

You know something is deeply off when even Sarah Palin gets it.

So when Obama “jokes” that he is not “the strapping young Muslim socialist [he] used to be,” all I have to say is that yes, because you are part of the 1% now.

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Review: Revenge

They say that revenge is a dish best served cold. It is, after all,  best to get back at those who wronged you when they least expect it and after the matter has settled – in their minds at least.

ABC’s primetime drama series Revenge toys with this basic premise and introduces us into the high society world that connects the wealth looted in Wallstreet to the kind of narcissistic lifestyles and decadence it creates in the outskirts of the city, in the idyllic and posh Hamptons. It tells the story of a young woman who does exactly that: take revenge on those who wronged her by making them do horrible things to each other.

Years after the injustice that landed her father in jail and then cost him his life, Amanda Clark (Emily Vankamp) moves back to the Hamptons and charms the pants off her “new” neighbors — while plotting their downfall for sins committed against her family.

This modern day drama is inspired by Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Cristo, in which the protagonist – after years of wrongful imprisonment  – finally returns to get revenge on those responsbile for his demise.

Revenge is an intriguing show if you can look past the gaping plot holes, if you can suspend disbelief to the 15th power and if you in general are the kind of person who enjoys watching stylized high society soap operas. Otherwise you will spend your time trying to make sense of how, for example, a little girl/woman can actually manage to take down an entire empire, why things just fall into place conveniently to achieve the desired plot outcome and why a thirty-something year old guy is a billionaire.

This is one of those shows that precipitated in light of the Occupy Wall-street movement but with the basic structure of shows like Dynasty and Dallas. It is primetime soap.

Emily Vankamp playingalm bad-ass

There is a lot of unconvincing stuff going on in this show – from not only the actions of the characters but also their feelings and emotions. People fall in and out of love with each other at a drop of a hat, true to soap opera form, someone believed to be dead ends up actually being alive and when they do come back everyone is as “shocked” about seeing this person again as they would be if that person had returned from a long vacation. Things also seem to be strangely falling into place when convenient and the plot “twists” are doctored and predictable.

They were trying to pull a Point of No Return here but it failed as this story is basically about a bunch of obscenely wealthy people who engage in the most heinous acts so they can continue living in the lap of wealth and luxury. Because of this, their “plight” and struggles do not evoke much sympathy. What do I care if the main lead brings down her scumbag husband? She is a scumbag herself. In fact, every character is a despicable human being you don’t care about.

To make matters worse, the miscasting of Emily Vankamp as the skilled, edgy and angry former delinquent with martial arts skills akin to The Bride in Kill Bill further leads to the unbelievability of the story. Emily Vankamp is just not very believable as the angry, former troublemaker from juvie out to avenge her dead father.  She seems too tame and proper. It’s like you took a girl from the OC and said “here, play the little assassin“. It just looked ridiculous and was very unconvincing

 That is because Vankamp is just not convincing as the real Amanda Clarke. She is supposed to be this complex character stuck between her conscience and her relentless desire for revenge, a woman who is deeply angry and manipulative becasue she needed to be that person in order to take down a mogul. But Emily Vankamp is just not that person. We do not see that complexity and the struggle. Her character portrayal is too calm and composed; too unconflicted. 

In fact, all the characters are mechanic and barely inhabit their roles.

Sporadically there is some excellent writing in there but that is rare becasue those excellent parts are interrupted by these annoying soap opera like plot twists and unbelievable character portrayals.

So if you don’t mind watching a bunch of poor rich people and their heart wrenching struggles to remain on top of the food chain, con each other out of millions they in turn conned out of some poor unknowing soul, then this is the show for you. If, on the other hand, soap operas with two dimensional characters and strange plot twists and unbelievable, implausible story lines aren’t your cup of tea, then I recommend not tuning in at all.

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The United States Congress is a Millionaire’s Club at the Expense of the American Tax Payer

According to a study by the Center for Responsive Politics, 238 of the 535 “public servants” (Congressmen), are millionaires. That is 44% of all members of Congress are rich beyond the wildest dreams, and possibilities, of most Americans they govern. In fact, your chances of running into a millionaire in the state’s capital are four times higher than in the rest of the nation.

And this is just the reported wealth. No one knows how many undisclosed assets members of Congress possess. The numbers would likely be even higher if personal residences, government salaries, and pensions were included. Yes, you read right.  They are millionaires without even counting their already bloated salaries and perks and that awesome health insurance that you and I pay for.

Half of Congress is basically part of the 1% and we are expecting that they enact legislation that would in any shape hurt their position in society? Increase their taxes? Is this a joke? 

One reason for why half the people running this country are millionaires  is that members of Congress are not subject to any of the ethics and conflict-of-interest laws that most public servants are. Congressmen can own stocks and investments unhindered and in any company while at the same time being often in charge of drafting legislation that might affect said company.

This leads to a fundamental conflict of interest because these Congressman are not likely to enact legislation that might hurt the cash value of any of the companies they and their spouses have personal investments in.

Joe Lieberman, for example, who has been opposing any and all health care reform has close ties to the insurance industry as his wife worked for a health care lobbying firm whose clients benefited from the senator’s legislation.

Oil companies, pharmaceutical companies, banks and the likes of Koch Brothers own Congress and they have spread the golden parachute so wide that these Congressmen and women don’t see anything else but dollar signs and thus rarely, if ever, enact legislation to benefit the majority of this society that isn’t part of the millionaires’ club.; the average citizen. All they care about is pandering to the causes of the wealthy to ultimately line their own pockets.

To make matters worse, not only are Congress members not subject to any kind of ethics standards while in office (except for those of the sexual kind because we all know how bad sex is. See Anthony Weiner), but most Congressmen go working for some of the companies they “failed” (read: refused) to properly regulate while in office.

In secret, pre-arranged deals they are promised millions of dollars or more in pay if they come to work for them after they leave office. Once a public official makes a deal to go to work for a lobbying firm or corporation after leaving office, he or she becomes loyal to the future employer. And since those deals are done in secret, legislators are largely free to pass laws, special tax cuts, or earmarks that benefit their future employer with little or no accountability to the public. While campaign contributions and super PACS are a big problem, the everyday bribery of the revolving door may be the most pernicious form of corruption today.

Unlike some other forms of money in politics, politicians never have to disclose job negotiations while in office, and never have to disclose how much they’re paid after leaving office. In many cases, these types of revolving door arrangements drastically shape the laws we all live under. For example, former Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) spent his last year in office fighting reforms to bring greater transparency to the derivatives marketplace. Almost as soon as he left office, he joined the board of a derivatives trading company and became an “advisor” to Goldman Sachs. Risky derivative trading exacerbated the financial crisis of 2008, yet we’re stuck under the laws written in part by Gregg. How much has he made from the deal? Were his actions in office influenced by relationships with his future employers? Does anyone care? Do most of the middle class, or poor chest thumping idiots who fight for the causes of the rich, even know this?

Former Congressman Billy Tauzin (R-LA) made $19,359,927 as a lobbyist for pharmaceutical companies between 2006 and 2010. Tauzin retired from Congress in 2005, shortly after leading the passage of President Bush’s prescription drug expansion. He was recruited to lead PhRMA, a lobbying association for Pfizer, Bayer, and other top drug companies. During the health reform debate, the former congressman helped his association block a proposal to allow Medicare to negotiate for drug prices, a major concession that extended the policies enacted in Tauzin’s original Medicare drug-purchasing scheme. Tauzin left PhRMA in late 2010. He was paid over $11 million in his last year at the trade group. Comparing Tauzin’s salary during his last year as congressman and his last year as head of PhRMA, his salary went up 7110 percent.

An important thing to note is that political affiliation doesn’t appear to matter when it comes to wealth as both Democrats and Republicans seem to be rolling in money. Even Nancy Pelosi owns vineyards in Napa Valley and Barack Obama’s wealth as of 2010 is estimated at $ 11.8 million. And these are the good guys. Although frankly I doubt that Obama or Pelosi amassed the wealth by selling out to big money.  Most of Obama’s money comes from book sales and he has spent most of his life being a community organizer. Pelosi seems to have married rich.

It is certainly no coincidence that Congress has been repeatedly favoring the wealthy and the corporations that keep them wealthy at the expense of the middle class and middle class causes and thus the overwhelming majority of the people who elect them into office and on whose behalf they are to act. The reason we are this money-loving, greed-is-good society that doesn’t give a damn about the greater good, is because of legislation that has been favoring the wealthy and corporations that, in turn, keep members of Congress wealthy and cushioned so they continue creating the kind of legislation and with it society conducive to their paradigm of greed and exploitation in the name of Jesus and capitalism and the Founding Fathers.

Rich politicians without accountability to anyone is a serious problem. And nothing gets done with respect to the occupy Wall street movement because the 1% are in charge. 

That is the theme in America and these corrupt congress members have convinced millions of minions, which make up the base of the Republican party, that it is in their very interest to vote for people like them, making referneces to Jesus, god and love for one’s motherland because those tactics always work.

I am not advocating for our leaders to be poor but based on the aforementioned and the non-existence of laws restricting Congress from behaving in such a manner and pretty much next to zero accountability on their part, I do have to question the extent to which those laws truly benefit the public that elected those officials.

When looking at a piece of legislation or law we take for granted and accept in this society as a given through the social contract, we often forget that those laws were drafted by a Congress member who, most likely than not,  is primarily looking out for his own interest. Yet we often don’t question those laws – from tax law to anything that is regulated by Congress really. W just obey them, no questions asked.

Remember laws aren’t written in a vacuum or by divine, infallible beings. Behind every law that you see, on the local, state or federal level,  sits a human being who has an interest and altruism and the greater good usually aren’t  part of those interests

A congress member’s primary irresponsibility  is to its constituents. Instead, it seems like Congress members are using their position as elected officials to line their own pockets.

I also have to wonder about the extent to which someone whose earnings and assets are orders of magnitude higher than those of the masses, can actually relate to the people governed. When you are that far removed from the people you make decisions for, like some sort of a royal in his ivory tower, how effective of a leader can you be? How much of their causes are you going to fight for ? How much of their struggles do you truly comprehend?

Rich people also tend to suffer from amnesia. Just because someone grew up poor, doesn’t mean that once they do make it they will relate or be charitable. Look at John Boehner. The man grew up poor, apparently twelve people in his house sharing one bathroom, and he is worse than Mitt Romney – repeatedly blocking legislation that would benefit the middle class in favor of legislation that only furthers rich people – and thus indirectly his pockets.

The Culture of Greed is the New American Dream

But isn’t that whole pandering to rich people and that wanna-be millionaire mentality exactly the problem in the US?  What everyone is encouraged to do? Not being rich has become a liability. And the get-rich-or-die-trying mentality has become the American Dream unbeknownst to most of those who dream it.

We don’t like non-rich people. Forget about the poor. They are a non-issue. We definitely can’t stand those. Just look at the streets in the US where the poor, who are often mentally ill, have been abandoned and discarded by society, roaming the streets like stray dogs, eating out of garbage and sleeping under bridges. We treat stray dogs better than these human beings.

But even middle class folks are not favored upon. Middle class seems to have become a mere transition stage for most people on their way to this elusive millionaire thing. John Steinbeck’s quote about why socialism never took root in American comes to mind, because “the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” 

Most people, even middle-class folks, don’t like middle-class. And being filthy rich, not just rich, is what has become the new American Dream.

In fact, the entire platform Romney is running on is that he is rich ipso facto he is entitled to the presidency.

Romney doesn’t actually like the United States and he certainly is not a patriot. Because a patriot pays his taxes, a patriot does not spend most of his life working against the United States by betting against the American dollar or siphoning his wealth off to offshore accounts to evade paying his fair share of taxes to the government that has provided him with the groundwork and infrastructure  necessary to be the man he is today.  In fact, he has worked so hard against America, that he doesn’t dare to release his tax records because they show a man who spent his entire life ruining the American dream for everyone – which was the creation of the middle class after WWII, not the creation of vacuous vulchers like him.

Yet Romney and that god awful callously ignorant wife of his feel entitled to this country as leaders  because he has money. He treats running for president like a hostile corporate takeover or a promotion – from CEO of a company to CEO of the United States. He doesn’t have any concrete policy proposals other than undo everything Obama did and that “being successful” ought not to be punished. As if capitalism was about stealing, which is how he got rich.

The Love of Money – A pillar Next to Jesus and Jingoism

There is a theme to be found here folks and that theme is called the unconditional love of money. This country is a lot about the love of money and every policy out there, or not out there, is because of this love for money and this wanna-be millionaire mentality.

As Marina Keegan – the late Yale student who tragically died in a car accident this past May wrote in her essay on the sad lives of Ivy League graduates that blindly chase corporate jobs even though they really have many other wonderful things in mind  when they first enter college as hopeful freshmen: “When I arrived at Yale as an eager 18-year-old, I had never even heard of consulting or I-banking. And to be honest, I still didn’t totally understand the function of a hedge fund. But what I do understand is that students here have passion. Passion for public service and education policy and painting and engineering and entrepreneurialism. Standing outside a freshman dorm, I couldn’t find a single student aspiring to be a banker – but at commencement this May, there’s a 50 percent chance I’ll be sitting next to one. This strikes me as incredibly sad .” 

It is indeed very sad. But the reason those kids feel the need to do exactly that is because we have created a culture of greed and money-above-all. Charity is not rewarded. Working for a non-profit to better society for everyone is not rewarded. Being an engineers to build bridges is not rewarded or lucrative. What is rewarded is greed and selling out: Kim Kuntrashian does it, and so does the US Congress. There is no difference. So of course those kids, after four year, end up with shattered dreams and then resign to it and follow the money.

When you live in a society in which every action is measured by the financial bottom line, from medical research to environmental protection, you create a culture of greed filled with narcissists thinking they have to get rich or die trying and that in fact doing so is a virtue. A  lot of people think that the American dream is about getting rich.

That is why in Mitt Romney’s universe people who aren’t millionaires are nothing but losers to spit on. That is also why his wife condescendingly referred to the voter base as “you people.” Ann Romney is too well-bred to call African-Americans “you people” in public, of course, especially after what happened to Ross Perot. But she obviously has no problem referring to other folks she holds in contempt that way. And she holds them in contempt because they aren’t rich – which is her criteria for success in and worthiness to life.

So with millionaires in charge of our country and the ongoing, all-encompassing corruption of elected officials – corruption that has become so widespread it is invisible at this point – is it any surprise that the United States is going down fast? Is it any surprise that the world looks at us in astonishment when they see our people show up to public hearings with assault rifles to oppose access to health care? Is it any surprise that unemployment is high? And the economy a mess? Or that some elitist, Mormon nut-job who nets a quarter of a billion dollars but who has never done a hard day’s work in his life, is running as the leader of this country?

Corporate raiding, mass-layoffs and tax evasion are not hallmarks of either a patriot, a person of integirty or a successful man who earned his riches. The operative word here being earned. And they most certainly are not the hallmarks of a man who wants to represent us.

We are no longer the subjects of our leaders as was the case hundreds of years ago – at least not in the way we used to be. We are slaves to money in a very high tech fashion – but we are still  enslaved. Nearly every politician is a multimillionaire while the overwhelming majority of those they represent lead very modest, wage earning, middle-class lives, about two paychecks away from destitution and definitely several lifetimes and dreams away from being millionaires.

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Totally Awesome 80s: Top Movies

I love the 80s. I love the music, movies, hair and fashions. It was just such a funky time. The 80’s were all about everything being new. Vinyl LP records were being replaced by CDs. VHS format video tapes won out over Beta format video tapes,  the home PC was on the rise, home video games were starting to replace board games and video killed the radio star. Microwaves, VCR’s, new cable channels, portable phones, walkmen….just to name a few of the exciting things back then really enriched the culture and interaction among people but also revolutionized a lot of things.

The 80’s witnessed the rise of punk rock, new wave music, nerds, stoners, preppies and the very beginning of MTV which at that point actually did play music videos 24/7 instead of running reality shows on knocked up high school white teenage trash. There also seemed to be more movies that were based on high school and pop-culture than ever.

Trickle down was a big word in the 80s justifying some of Reagan’s worst policy decisions that haunt us until this day, but the real vibe of the 80’s was the ambition that trickled-down, not the money. Everyone and their mom wanted to be rich or a hero – Superman, The Greatest American Hero, Rambo, Arnold movies, Ghostbusters –  to just name a few of the movies that were inspired by that generation. This ambition or desire to be more and the opportunity for a lot of people to be just that is evident all over the place in pop culture.

The movie The Secret of My Success comes to mind. A movie which is the epitome of the 80s mentality but in a more positive, go-getter, you-can-achieve-your-dreams-if-you-work-hard kind of way as opposed to the more cynical view seen in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street.

My most favorite part of the 80s is the movies, especially those high school movies that always seemed to be about a group of normal kids or nerds or an unpopular bunch, fighting against the injustices of the high school clique system and the popular kids and the snobs who thought they were better. Teenage angst was a big part of the stories, especially exemplified in many John Hughes productions such as The Breakfast ClubSixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink, but also Can’t Buy Me Love or Secret Admirer. There was a great sense of need for justice and these movies, which often times idolized the school years, were all over the place. Movies today seem too dark and too serious and as Roger Ebert said, “we live in an age of brutal manners, when people crudely say exactly what they mean, comedy is based on insult, tributes are roasts, and loud public obscenity passes without notice.” 

There is so much more to be said about the 80s and how it changed the American landscape but suffice it  to say that as a decade it was a very cool and exiting one, especially in terms of the pop culture it created and ideas that emerged. The end of the cold war at its tail end also eally made this decade a one of a kind. The 90s and 2000s were the information age and life, as we know it, changed drastically as a result, especially of the internet.

But here is one to good old times (and i feel sad to be calling the 80s good OLD times).

Here are some of my favorite 80s movies, and with that I don’t mean movies made in the 80s but movies that evoke that feeling of funk and punk and teenage angst and self assertion.

Back to the Future I and II (1985)

Blind  Date (1987)

The Breakfast Club (1985)

The ‘Burbs (1989)

Can’t Buy Me Love (1987)

Diner (1982)

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Ghostbusters (1984)

 

The Goonies (1985)

Heathers (1988)

Inner Space (1987)

Just One of the Guys (1985)

Licence to Drive (1988)

The Lost Boys (1987)

Lucas (1986)

Modern Girls (1986)

Overboard (1987)

Pretty in Pink (1986)

Roxanne (1987)

Scrooged (1988)

Secret Admirer (1985)

The Secret of my Success (1987)

Seems Like Old Times (1980)

Sixteen Candles (1984)

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)

Soul Man (1986)

St.  Elmo’s Fire (1985)

Summer School (1987)

The Sure Thing (1985)

Teen Wolf (1985)

Top Gun (1986)

Working Girl (1988)

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