Nel's New Day

September 7, 2015

Good News, Bad News from Labor Day, 2015

Republicans love to blame the Democrats for destroying the coal industry, but conservatives are the people who decimated the economy in the South through their eradication of the unions. For a century, union organizers were shot, beaten, and stabbed in their fight to get reasonable pay and safe conditions underground, but now the last union mine in Kentucky has been closed. Younger workers took their wages for granted, and now not one working miner belongs to a union, the only protection that mine workers have had.

Conservatives curse the unions but fail to realize that they are responsible for the rise of the middle class.

union_density_middleclass 2

union_density_inequality 1

High income inequality has correlated with low union membership for over 100 years in the U.S. As union membership shrinks, money and power shift upwards. Data from 2010 show that all workers make more money in a pro-union state.

workers do better

Today is Labor Day, established as a federal holiday 121 years ago to celebrate labor. Oregon declared it a holiday 17 years earlier. If you have today off, thank unions. If you are working today, thank unions for other benefits such as shorter work weeks, weekends off, expanded health care through employer-provided health insurance, and the end of child labor except within religious groups. Unions also brought paid vacation, breaks, sick leave, Social Security, overtime pay, worker’s compensation, and more. If you don’t have these benefits, thank the Republicans.

In some states, union attacks brought “right-to-work” laws, which block collective bargaining for higher wages, better benefits, and protections. The “freedom” created by these laws gives corporations and the wealthy the “right-to-underpay” and “right-to-cheat” employees. In Wisconsin, the latest state to adopt this law, “right-to-work” will cause workers and families to annually lose between $3.89 billion and $4.82 billion. Workers in “right-to-work” states make $1,560 less per year than in states without the law. Women in union jobs earn $212 per week—30.9 percent—more than women in non-union jobs. The gender wage gap is also smaller for women in unions, 88.7 cents for every dollar a man makes compared to 78 cents for all workers. Men in union jobs make $173 more per week than non-union workers.

President Obama celebrated this year’s Labor Day by mandating all 300,000 government contractor employees be granted seven paid sick days per year starting in 2017. That leaves another 44 million workers without paid sick leave because the United States is the only developed nation without a paid sick leave policy. The president’s executive order adds to other orders that move toward higher minimum wage and equal pay for men and women.

Other good news comes from the job market. Republicans swore to bring jobs back when they were elected in masses, but they’ve done nothing to help workers. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he would reduce the unemployment rate to 6 percent by 2016 if he were elected in 2012. Right now, it’s 5.1 percent after 66 consecutive months of private sector job growth—13 million jobs—during President Obama’s six and a half years in office. Many of these jobs came from the health care job growth after Republicans called the ACA the “job killing health care law.”

The bad news comes from the loss of wages for everyone except the top echelon. Oregon is an example of this: in the past 35 years, the bottom income bracket has lost 30 percent of income in the state while the top 1 percent gained 88 percent of the income. Republicans refuse to increase the federal minimum wage, one-third lower when adjusted for inflation than in the 1960s. They also consider the Keystone Pipeline bill a “jobs bill” although it employs only 4,200 people for one year while wiping out other permanent jobs by taking over and destroying land. The GOP’s “Hire More Heroes Act” to employ veterans doesn’t count veterans as employees so that companies with more than 50 employees can avoid the ACA mandate to provide health care. Up to one million workers would lose health insurance with the redefinition of “full-time employment” as 40 hours a week in the GOP’s “Save American Workers Act.”

Another piece of bad news is the growing divergence between salary and productivity. During the 25 years prior to 1973, wages and productivity grew together, but between 1973 and 2014, hourly wages went up 8.7, adjusted for inflation, and productivity increased by 72.2 percent. The change is a major reason for the rapidly growing income inequality during the past 40 years as payment for employees went to owners of capital. Workers generate the income but don’t get an increase in hourly pay. The last four years has been worse as worker productivity increased by 21 percent while wages rose only 2 percent.

wages by bracket

Republicans claim to support a “trickle-down” economy but instead push an economy that is “gush-up.” Unregulated free-market capitalism is a “winner-take-all” wealth over the common good, and billionaires buy politicians and design education and health systems to control the bottom 99 percent of people in the United States. The average CEO earns 204 times what average workers earn, and two-thirds of the poor in the United States—68 percent—have jobs.

Hedge fund billionaires are not required to pay their fair share of taxes receive awards yet are praised. For example, John Paulson, noted for “Outstanding Contributions to Society,” got $3.7 billion by conspiring with Goldman Sachs to create risky subprime mortgages. He used other people’s money to bet against his sure-to-fail financial instruments. As U.S. wealth grew from $52 trillion to over $83 trillion between 2007 and 2014, six million more children were forced onto food stamps. Forty percent of households are food-insecure while 40 percent of the food in the United States is wasted.

Despite the decreasing unemployment rate, taxpayers fund the movement of many jobs overseas while technology eliminates others. Kodak once employed 145,000 people to do the same photo processing that Instagram does with 15 workers. Three-fourths of faculty at colleges and universities are now “adjunct” instructors, paid a pittance for part-time work. One-fourth of these teachers, almost 20 percent of college and university faculty, are forced into food stamp or other public assistance programs to survive.

Republicans claim that they want to return to the 1950s, and economically this would benefit almost everyone. In 1956, the GOP platform supported an increase in the minimum wage, an expansion of Social security, adequate coverage for the unemployed, better housing, and health care for all. “Government must have a heart as well as a head” and “America does not prosper unless all Americans prosper” were included in the GOP belief system. According to the GOP platform, “President Eisenhower’s administration brought the highest employment, highest wages, and the highest standard of living ever experience in any country.”

Today’s GOP portrays people on unemployment as leeches, but the GOP of 1956 called for “providing assistance to improve the economic conditions of areas faced with persistent and substantial unemployment.” Republicans in the 1950s also wanted to strengthen “the rights of labor unions” and protect “the right of workers to organize into unions and to bargain collectively.”

In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower looked forward to today’s GOP when he wrote:

“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are…a few…Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

He may have been right.

February 7, 2015

Social Democracy Saves U.S.

Socialism is a horrible concept for most conservatives. Instead of articulating specific problems, they use the word to denigrate any governmental action they don’t like. Giving money to the poor so that they don’t starve is “socialism”; on the other hand, giving subsidies to huge oil companies that make hundreds of billions is a Good Thing. While screaming that health care for all is socialism, people forget how they rely on social democracy, government-funded institutions established to benefit everyone through taxes and government regulation.

Following are respected ways that taxpayer funds collectively benefit people in the United States, despite income, contribution, or ability:

The Military/Defense/War: As the largest and most expensive socialist program in the world, the U.S. military protects everyone—not just the wealthy.

Customs and Border Protection: Conservatives love the biggest law enforcement agency in the nation.

Law Enforcement/Firefighters: Services from these people are available to almost all the communities in the country (except Tennessee).

Highways/Roads/Bridges: Almost all roads and highways in country have no charges for people who use them. The interstate highway system came from a Republican president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. During his time, the top 1 percent also had a 91-percent tax rate as compared to today’s 35 percent—and they dodge out of that to pay a lower percentage than the middle class does.

Transportation/Street Lighting/Road Signs/Power: City buses, snow removal, Amtrak—these are a few of the ways that the government helps move people from one place to another. The government built the Hoover Dam, a vital source of power for the West Coast.

Public Libraries: Ever use their books, computers, information services, etc.? This is the place that stocks all the books that talk about how bad socialism is. Don’t use it? It’s still available to you—for free.

Postal Service: People who bitterly complain about this service still get their mail delivered. Those who think that the USPS is operating in the red don’t know that Congress forces them to pay forward into the retirement fund for 75 years.

Student Loans and Grants/ G.I. Bill: People who borrow money to get a higher education still have to repay the money, but they don’t have to face a big bank refusing a loan. Educational grants are a form of socialism. Veterans can get an education or help with loans, savings, and unemployment benefits.

Farm Subsidies: Congress keeps voting for this form of socialism because they either benefit personally by getting subsidies or receive money from wealthy farmers for political campaigns.

Corporate/Business Subsidies/Bailouts/Welfare: Big corporations receive hundreds of billions for performing ethical actions such as hiring people and not sending businesses offshore. Congressional members who vote for these subsidies know that the same money will end up in the politicians’ pocket, a form of campaign welfare. Whether good or bad, subsidies are socialism.

Congressional Health Care/ Veteran’s (VA) Health Care: While Republicans have voted against the evils of government-run health care at least 56 times, they benefit from the same government-provided health care. Recently, people have criticized health care for veterans, but that’s because, unlike Social Security and Medicare, Congress controls how much–or little–money is allotted to this program.

Polio/Bird Flu/Swine Flu Vaccines: After Dr. Jonas Salk invented a vaccine to rid the country of this disease’s ravages, he gave it to the federal government instead of selling it on the open market. He took the position that he made enough money as a scientist. To him, it was more important that the government eradicate the country of polio. The government also sends vaccines to prevent bird flu  and swine flu across the country.

EPA/FDA/Departments of Agriculture and Energy: As all the conservatives whine about this government agency, they are largely protected from breathing deadly chemicals, drinking dirty water, and eating poisoned food. Part of the Energy Department’s responsibility is to keep everyone from radioactivity poisoning and a nuclear holocaust.

Social Security/Medicare: Everyone who works pays taxes to help seniors, disabled, and survivors while providing health care for seniors and disabled.

Public Schools:  Despite all the hype about private charter schools, the public school system is still the best in the country.

Jail/Prison System: This institution is slowly changing to privatization resulting in far more prisoners than in the past because contracts force states to guarantee a minimum number of prisoners. It’s just one of the systems that worked better and cheaper as a public institution.

Public Parks/Museums/Zoos/Beaches/Monuments: Pleasurable places where people can go for free or a small fee are part of the benefits that all people in the United States enjoy.

Elected Government Officials: Every person elected in the country is paid by taxes, supposedly to benefit all the citizens.

Court System: People too wealthy for public defenders have to pay for their own lawyers, but the rest of the system is government-funded.

FEMA: Most conservatives in Congress complain about the agency that provides help after disasters—until the disasters affect their own constituents.

Many conservatives buy into the myth of the “self-made man,” but the above examples show that no one is successful without assistance from government help. When she was a candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) explained the process:

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.”

People are successful because of the social democracy in the United States, and health care is an important part of our U.S. success. Before the Affordable Care Act went into effect at the beginning of 2014, medical bills were the biggest cause of the two million bankruptcies in 2013, outstripping credit-card bills or mortgages.  About 56 million adults—more than 20 percent of the population between the ages of 19 and 64—struggled with health-care-related bills in 2013. During 2013, 15 million people depleted their savings to cover medical bills, and another 10 million couldn’t pay for necessities such as rent, food and utilities because of those bills. More than 25 million people skipped dosages by taking less medication or delaying refilling prescriptions.

People who call the United States the greatest nation in the world need to care for everyone, not just big businesses. With the ACA threatened by the Supreme Court case of King v. Burwell and half the states in nation refusing to accept the federal government Medicaid plan, the country needs single-payer plan instead of the privatization of health insurance. The result would be similar to the way the nation deals with military, law enforcement, education, courts, disasters, transportation, highways, etc.

At least one GOP legislator understands this concept, and he’s changing from the GOP to the Democratic party. Mississippi State Senator Tim Johnson also plans to run for Lt. Governor in the next election. His reason is the state’s refusal to take $5 million to expand Medicaid. He said:

“Elected officials should be in the business of helping all Mississippians. Not picking out who to hurt. In the current way of doing business in our State Capitol and especially in the State Senate, has hurt a lot of my fellow Mississippians. We watch these current leaders make excuses for underfunding our schools. We see them refuse to repair and maintain our crumbling roads and bridges. And we stood by while they ignored the twelve thousand dollars pay gap between working women and men. We have also witnessed shocking corruption on their watch.

“But the failure of the Republican leadership in the Senate to help sick people was the final straw. My home town hospital in Kosciusko Mississippi was up here the other day asking for a five million dollar stopgap bond loan to try to stay open due to the drastic hit they are taking because of Republican leadership refusing to take and accept the return of federal tax dollars through Medicaid Expansion. Instead of doing the right thing, the Republican leadership would rather see five million dollar tax burden on the backs of the eighteen thousand citizens of Attala County. That’s not right. That’s my hometown. And that’s my home county.

“If Montfort Jones Hospital had been closed three weeks ago, we wouldn’t have had a place to take my mother when she suffered a stroke. Thank goodness they were still open when we rushed her there for help. Because all indicators are that they won’t be open much longer all because of Republican political grandstanding.”

Mississippi is the poorest state in the Union. It gets about $3 back for every $1 that it send to the federal government. Fourteen states, including California and New York, get less than $1 back. That’s the way that this country benefits all–and that should include  health care.

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