Nel's New Day

December 23, 2015

New Gov. Bevin Gives Kentucky Lumps of Coal

 

 

MinWageIncrease2016

US_minimum_wage_map.svgEighteen states are raising the minimum wage in 2016, 14 on January 1 and four others later in the year. At $10 an hour, California and Massachusetts the highest rates; Arkansas has the lowest increase, going up $7.50, $.25 over the federal rate in 21 states, last changed in 2009. Eight states are indexed to the cost of living which did not increase this year.

Of the 21 states that must follow the federal rate because they have no minimum wage or law puts it below federal rate, most are in the South.  [Map for 2015: Green – higher than federal rate; blue – same as federal rate; red – lower than federal rate; yellow – no minimum wage; Arkansas created minimum wage since map was published.]

Kentucky Governor-elect Matt Bevin responds to a question during a press conference in the Kentucky State Capitol Rotunda, Friday, Nov. 6, 2015, in Frankfort, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

 (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Kentucky and its newly elected Tea Party governor belong to the bottom 21 states. Some of the approximately 16 percent of eligible voters who elected Matt Bevin as governor, only the third Republican since World War II, will soon going to suffer from buyer’s remorse if they aren’t already doing so. Bevin’s actions show what can happen if the United States elects a Republican president.

One of five orders Bevin issued on December 22, two weeks after his inauguration, was to lower the minimum wage for state workers and contractors to $7.25. Rent on an average one-bedroom apartment in the state would require a person to work a 60-hour week. He also stated that he doesn’t believe in minimum wage, that “wage rates ideally would be established by the demands of the labor market instead of being set by the government.” The top one percent could make even more by dropping their wages to the dollar-a-day that “free market” sets in the Third World. The danger there is that people couldn’t buy their products—even food.

Tipped state workers are even worse off. Last summer, the former governor raised the hourly wage for waiters and waitresses at state parks from $2.19 to $4.90. Bevin put them back at $2.19 an hour.

In addition to declaring a moratorium on hiring state employees, Bevin reversed Beshear’s practice of requiring merit employee actions be approved by the secretary of the governor’s Executive Cabinet. Bevin’s order also requires a review of all vacant positions in any agency to determine their necessity. In addition, he eliminated the Governor’s Employee Advisory Council, which advised the governor’s office on merit employee wages and terms of employment. The council was established by Democratic Gov. Paul Patton, disbanded by his successor Republican Ernie Fletcher and re-established by Beshear.

When former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear restored voting rights to at least 140,000 with felony convictions, Kentucky was one of just three states that permanently disenfranchised all people with felony convictions. An early action by Bevin was to again disenfranchise all these people after they have paid their debt to society. Bevin had campaigned last year on restoring these people’s rights, but he reversed his earlier opinion. In Kentucky, one in five blacks lost their voting rights after conviction, compared with one in 13 nationally.

In another order, Bevin saved Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis from future jail terms by ordering the state to remove names of county clerks from marriage licenses. Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins, whose office serves the state’s second largest city, Lexington, said Bevin may have exceeded his authority because these licenses, a civil transaction, require clerks’ names for historical record. Another legal issues comes from the altered marriage licenses issued to couples in Rowan County since September that don’t include Davis’ name or the name of the county. Because of a question about their legality, the ACLU has asked U.S. District Judge David Bunning to order Davis to reissue the licenses, but Bunning has not yet made a ruling.

Nationally, the most controversial of Bevin’s actions comes from his declaration that he would eradicate health care for Kentucky residents. The state has been touted as an icon of improvement in health care, but Bevin pulled all ads for the state health exchange, Kynect. The earliest that he could shut down Kynect would be in 2017 because the law requires a 12-month notice to the government. Changing to the federal health care exchange, as Bevin has suggested as a possibility, would be more expensive than Kynect. Its annual budget of $28 million is funded by a one-percent assessment on health premiums. A federal exchange requires 3.5 percent in assessment, and dismantling Kynect would cost the state an estimated $23 million.

Some of the people who voted for Bevin are worried about the loss of their health care, but others think that people don’t deserve Medicaid. One of the latter is Angel Strong, an unemployed nurse, who went on Medicaid after she lost her job. “I had never had Medicaid, because I had insurance at my job,” said Strong. “Now I am out of a job and I am looking for another job, but in the meantime I had no income.” Medicaid recipient Strong doesn’t want other people to get Medicaid. She says that they need “tough love” because “[people] want everything they can get for free.” Most of Strong’s neighbors in Jackson County also need financial help for health insurance coverage, but most of these people didn’t consider their loss when they voted.

Rick Prario, 54, found he was eligible for Medicaid after losing his longtime job at a hardware store, but he’s angry because he had to pay the law’s tax penalty for going uninsured in 2014 when he was still working. During that time he skipped treatment for diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis, treatment that he now receives on Medicaid. His plan now is to quality for disability that he sees as a surer thing than Medicaid.

During two terms with former Gov. Beshear, the unemployment fell to a 14-year low, and the state’s uninsured rate dropped by over 40 percent. The new GOP governor was exposed as a “con man” and a “pathological liar” during his failed senatorial primary run against Mitch McConnell earlier this year. Among other actions, he failed to pay taxes, got a $200,000 federal grant for a fire in his Connecticut business, told people that he was unaware that he was actually attending a cockfight, claimed graduation from MIT—the list goes on and on. The GOP was so disenchanted with Bevin that they failed to support him for the governor’s race.

Bevin’s lies don’t end there. He’s accused Beshear of leaving Kentucky “burdened with a projected biennial budget shortfall of more than $500 million” despite the million in surplus.

The new governor won’t have an easy term. He has to deal with the only state House of Representatives in a Southern state controlled by Democrats. His first strategy was to appoint Democratic legislators to other positions that paid more, but Speaker Greg Stumbo is fighting Bevin’s takeover in all the issues that drive Kentucky backward. For example, Bevin has promised to repeal state taxes on inventory and inheritances with no plans to replace the revenue.  Bevin’s secretary of state and attorney general are both elected Democrats. AG Andy Beshear is the former governor’s son.

coalBevin may have won because he isn’t a “career politician” (although rigging the voting computers may have had some influence). Kentucky will now have a “laboratory experiment” for people who think that people with no experience and education in a profession will do a better job. By now, however, people may be learning that their Christmas stockings contain lumps of coal instead of something to make their lives better. As the website for Kentucky for Kentucky state, “Nothing says ‘I do not approve of you,’ like a real live chunk of Kentucky’s filthiest export.” It’s too late for this year, however, because they’re sold out, but there’s probably enough lying around in the state that the new governor can find.

Today, December 23, is Festivus Day, made famous by scriptwriter Dan O’Keefe, who wrote for Seinfeld. Celebrated with an aluminum Festivus pole, the holiday includes “Airing of Grievances.” People living in Kentucky will have lots to air for this year’s Festivus Day and most likely much more by Festivus Day 2016, especially those 400,000 people who may lose health care because of Matt Bevin. And the 140,000 who lose the right to vote. And the people who lose salaries and pensions. And ….

November 3, 2015

Election Day: Odd Year, Odd

 

Today is Election Day for some of the people. I say “some” because many citizens aren’t eligible to vote on this election day. Some of them are too young whereas others are in prison. Only Vermont and Maine allow prisoners to vote. Yet millions more are ruled out for other reasons. After release from prison, people may not vote until the end of probation and parole in 24 states; another 11 states may permanently prevent convicted felons from ever voting.

The most egregious laws against voting, however, affect married women, the elderly, the poor, students, non-drivers, and others who have difficulty obtaining the photo IDs mandated in many states from the GOP desire to keep Democrats away from the polls. Fifteen years ago, only 14 states required IDs, most of them non-photo and all non-strict. As of April 2015, 32 states enforced voter identification requirements with 17 of these mandating photo ID. Thus the constitutional and legal right to vote varies from state to state.

voterid_history

Last summer, Fulton County (GA), which includes Atlanta, was fined $180,000 after admitting that it illegally disenfranchised and misled voters in the 2008 and 2012 elections by improperly rejecting eligible ballots and deliberately sending voters to the wrong precincts. The county has a large black voting population and leans progressive. When neighboring DeKalb county, also largely black, opened an early voting location in a popular mall, Georgia State Senator Fran Millar (R) publicly lamented that “this location is dominated by African American shoppers and it is near several large African American mega churches.” He added, “I would prefer more educated voters than a greater increase in the number of voters.”

Last year during a tight race for an open Senate seat, over 40,000 newly registered Georgia voters—mostly young, low-income, and black—disappeared from the rolls. Georgia’s Secretary of State accused voting rights groups suing to process registrations of committing voter fraud.

After the Supreme Court overturned part of the 1964 Voting Rights Act, Alabama closed 30 driver’s-license offices in the state, all in counties where blacks compose over 75 percent of registered voters. GOP presidential candidates such as Jeb Bush oppose restoration of the voting rights because the “dramatic improvement in access to voting” makes it unnecessary to impose protections “as though we’re living in 1960.” In contrast to the restrictions on voting, Arizona and California lead the way to automatic registration of voting for their residents. Perhaps the embarrassment of national outrage concerning the close of Alabama’s helped partially reverse the decision to completely close the offices: Alabama has announced that a license examiner be one day a month in 28 counties and two days a month in the remaining two counties.

The White House should take action to promote voter registration through a combination of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). The NVRA requires that eligible people may register when applying through a variety of programs, including Medicaid. People apply for most health care benefits, including Medicaid, on a state or federal health care exchange. Therefore, the NVRA requires that voter registration be offered on these exchanges. State exchanges are in compliance with the NVRA, but the federal government is not, losing as many as 1.7 million voter registrations through the Federally Facilitated Exchanges (FFE). King v. Burwell requires that state and federally-facilitated exchanges must be treated exactly the same, and the federal government needs to follow ACA and NVRA.

Virginia, one of three states electing state legislators today and one of the most gerrymandered states in the country, has admitted that the GOP deliberately rigged the congressional districts to obtain a Republican delegation. They justified it to keep the “partisan division established in the 2010 election.” The Supreme Court is not likely to be of any help. In 2004, A 5-4 vote in the Supreme Court case Vieth v. Jubelirer, held that a specific gerrymandering suit could not proceed because courts couldn’t determine if it existed or how to fix it. It appears that Virginia is keeping the GOP dominate in the legislature despite the majority of Democrat voters for legislators. jen hendersonbizloop 70My favorite vote manipulation story this year occurred in Columbia (MO) when Jen Henderson, 23, became the only voter in a district. Property owners petitioned the city council to establish the Business Loop 70 Community Improvement District to eliminate any voters so, with no registered voters living in the district, the property owners could then impose a half-cent sales tax increase to cover the “significant debt” that the district had incurred. They overlooked Henderson. The district’s executive director went so far as to ask Henderson to consider “unregistering her vote,” thus allowing the property owners to make the decision. The city council postponed the vote until December 1 (or maybe December 8), and an investigation by the local NPR station found 13 more voters.

Despite the lack of federal candidates, today’s elections include races and initiatives that affect people’s lives. Two states, Kentucky and Mississippi, will elect governors, and another two will determine the party majority in state legislators—Pennsylvania and Virginia. The GOP win for governor in Kentucky means that 400,000 people in the state will most likely lose health insurance. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will be replaced in a November 21, 2015 vote because of term limits. Campaign donations for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court election hit almost $16 million, much of it from people who fight judges who are “soft on crime.” Nine states have 28 measures that impact the state budgets. Other legislation shapes LGBT rights, minimum wages, marijuana laws and more.

LGBT Discrimination: Houston (TX), a city with a higher population than 15 states, again voted on an Equal Rights Ordinance. Opponents claim that the existing ordinance allows men to go into bathrooms and molest little girls because it permits transgender people to use the restroom of their gender identity. The text just prohibits “discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing” based on sexual preference or gender identity. Last summer, Jordan Klepper presented a hilarious view of the Christian opposition to an LGBT rights ordinance in Eureka Springs (AK) on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. Houston is also electing a mayor; openly lesbian incumbent Annise Parker is term-limited. [Houston voters came out in favor of LGBT discrimination.]

Marijuana Legalization: Ohio is voting to decide whether it will be the fifth state to legalize recreational marijuana, but the constitutional amendment would allow only one group of seven investors to grow it. The “marijuana monopoly” has drawn opposition for people who want legalized marijuana in the state. [Ohio voted against legalizing marijuana.]

Marijuana Tax Distribution: Colorado is required to reallocate the taxes from the sale of cannabis, thanks a 1992 law promoted by no-new-taxes Grover Norquist. Passing the initiative would send the millions of dollars to school and law enforcement; opposing it gives the money back to the growers and taxpayers. If the initiative fails, each resident would get about $8.

Minimum Wage: Tacoma (WA) has two measures, one requiring all city employers with at least $300,000 in annual gross revenue to provide a $15 minimum wage and the other to mandate all employees to gradually phase in a $12 minimum wage by 2018. Seattle gradually started its $15 minimum wage last April, resulting in surprising successes despite conservative naysayers.

Donations to Candidates: Seattle has an initiative to give all citizens four “democracy vouchers,” $25 coupons, each election year that they can donate to the qualified candidates of their choice. The initiative also has regulations, but the $100 per citizen makes it more interesting.

Limiting Influence of Special Interest Money: Maine already uses public money in elections, but this measure would strengthen it by increasing the public fund that incentivizes politicians to refuse private money for campaigning. [Maine voted to further limit special interest money.]

Increase of Affordable Housing: Airbnb has spent $8 million to defeat a ballot measure in San Francisco to limit short-term housing rentals. Affordable housing advocates support the initiative because much of the city’s housing is used for the short-term rentals, pushing lower-income people out through higher rents.

School Funding: Mississippi residents are voting on a constitutional amendment which would allow people to sue the state to increase public school funding. Other states including Kansas and Washington have sued the state regarding the lack of funding for schools. [The measure was passed.]

The “Right to Hunt”: One Texas’ seven constitutional amendments is designed to prevent “possible legislative action that could limit the right,” which could include “pressure from animal rights or environmental groups” who might want to limit hunting of certain vulnerable species in the future.

Coos County (OR) has a gun law on the ballot just one month after ten people died in a mass shooting in neighboring Roseburg. Earlier this year, Oregon passed a law requiring universal background checks for gun purchases except within immediate family members. Residents of Coos County vote today on prohibiting local authorities from enforcing that law or any other future gun safety laws passed by the state. If it passes, the Coos County sheriff would determine what state and federal gun laws are unconstitutional although he must swear to uphold the state and federal constitution.

County commissions in the state’s Wheeler and Wallowa counties have approved almost identical measures. Many other rural counties have dodged the issue by saying that they uphold all laws but some of them get very low priority. In my home county, Lincoln, Sheriff Dennis Dotson announced to the press that enforcing background checks is at the bottom of his priorities.

As Fox is fond of saying, everyone should own as many guns as they want, but not everyone deserves the right to vote.

July 26, 2014

The American Dream Is Almost Dead

Back in the 1950s, people believed in the American Dream. Tax rates for the wealthy were at 90 percent, veterans had good benefits, and strong unions had created a healthy middle class. By the 1960s, even the Republicans voted for civil rights, and the country moved forward. Fifty years later, the American Dream is most likely dead. Two-thirds of the people in the United States think that the next generation will not be better off that their own.

An article in USA Today has directed attention toward the disappearance of the dream in the wealthiest nation in the world. According to an analysis of living expenses in the nation, the price tag for the American Dream is $130,357 a year for a family of four. Only 16 million U.S. households earned that much in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That means that only one out of 8 people in the U.S.—12 percent—achieve this goal.

The American Dream has always included owning a home. For a home that costs $275,000 (the median price) with 10 percent down and a 4-percent, 30-year mortgage, the family pays $17,062 a year. Groceries would run $12,659, and one car would cost $11,039. Those with other essentials take $58,491. The extras did include restaurant expenses, but only $70 per week—for four people. Taxes—federal, state, local, sales, and property—would run about 30 percent of the $130,000. The article also factored in $22,500 savings each year, $5,000 of that for the children’s college expenses.

Obviously, people could not save, spend less on entertainment and restaurants, and live in a cheaper house. But that’s not the American Dream, and that’s not the way that people lived in the 1950s. Also people live cheaper in places like Oklahoma City and Cleveland than in San Francisco and New York. To make an annual salary of $130,000, a person would require a $65 hourly wage, considered ridiculous. Yet the prices have gone up far faster than workers’ salaries.

With the median household income is $51,000, people are far below a living wage. Almost 50 million people in the country are below the poverty level, an almost 50 percent increase since George W. Bush became president.

Conservatives still promote the belief that people can achieve the American Dream if they just work hard enough. Studies show that they are wrong. A Johns Hopkins University study, documented in The Longest Shadow, followed almost 800 Baltimore schoolchildren for 25 years starting in the early 1980s. The poor stayed poor, and only four percent of urban disadvantaged youth graduated from a four-year college.

Karl Alexander, research professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, said that upward mobility is much more limited in the U.S. than in other industrialized countries. In the United States, where people live is as much an indicator of success as how much they work. For example, people are better off in California than in South Carolina. Kids born into the bottom 20 percent of households, for example, have a 12.9 percent chance of reaching the top 20 percent if they live in San Jose (CA) but only a 4.4 percent chance if they live in Charlotte (NC).

SocialMobility

Factors influencing the differences in upward mobility:

  • Race: The larger the black population, the lower the upward mobility. That holds true for all races living in areas that are predominantly black.
  • Segregation: The greater the isolation, the less chance people have to get to good jobs and good schools. The more sprawl, the less willingness on the part of higher-income people to invest in solutions such as public transit.
  • Social Capital: Living near the middle class also brings better institutions with a better safety net and services. For example, Utah’s vast Mormon culture creates better upward mobility.
  • Inequality: The bigger the gap between the poor and rich (as compared to the super rich) the less of a chance that upward mobility can occur.  It’s easier to jump up from the bottom if the top isn’t as far away.
  • Family Structure: Top on the reasons for upward mobility is families. Children have the best chance in stable, two-parent homes.  Notice the word “stable.” That contradicts the conservative theory that women should marry just anyone in order to improve their personal finances.

 

For the past half century, far-right conservatives have worked to destroy unions so that the top 1 percent can get richer. Membership has gone from 25 percent in the private workforce of the 1940s to the current 6.7 percent—and the rate is still moving down.

In two months, United Airlines, the continent’s third largest airline, will outsource 630 of its gate agent jobs at 12 airports to private companies. The union workers who are making up to $50,000, the median wage, will be replaced by non-union workers who will make between $9 and $12.50 per hour. These people will become part of the working poor, needing government aid such as food stamps and Medicaid to survive. The airline makes the money, and the taxpayers fill in the gaps.

 

The fast-food industry already takes in $243 billion every year from taxpayers because the companies refuse to pay living wages. Wal-Mart costs taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.75 million per store so that it can make $35,000 profit every minute.

 

Even without unions, there are ways to stop companies from ripping off taxpayers, increase the economy, and move people upward toward the American Dream.

 

Raise the minimum wage: Of the 13 states (Arizona, Connecticut, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) that raised their minimum wage in January, only one, New Jersey, saw a decrease in employment during the first half of this year. The other 12 saw speedier job growth in the first half of 2014 compared to 2013 than states that didn’t raise their wages.

 

Take away corporate tax benefits and breaks from all corporations that have even one full-time employee qualifying for food stamps or Medicaid: Instead of punishing people who get paid a poverty wage, shame the companies that keep their workers in poverty.

 

As for unions, repealing the Taft-Hartley Act would allow workers to unionize and keep taxpayers from having to pay part of workers’ wages through food stamps and Medicaid.

 

 

A new type of union, micro-unions, is growing in popularity, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is recognizing their formations. The first one was created in 2011 at the rehabilitation center Specialty Healthcare where nursing assistants wanted to organize. This week, the NLRB recognized a small group of Macy’s employees, much to the dismay of industry groups. They claim that chaos will result if companies are forced to bargain with multiple unions at the same work site, but the reason is that employees are finding a way to unionize. Their objection is to what they call “gerrymandering,” a practice satisfactory to conservatives in private education and political voting units.

 

We’ll hear more about micro-unions. In April and June, bills have been introduced in Congress to block micro-unions. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) plans to introduce an amendment to the appropriations bill to stop them on the premise that they hurt the American worker. Graham represents the state with extremely low economic mobility. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has already upheld NLRB’s earlier ruling for micro-unions. It’s the next fight against re-creating the middle class in the United States.

March 18, 2014

Corporations, the Biggest Welfare Queens

My small town newspaper has a few regular writers, most of them conservatives. Because the newspaper publishes no more than one letter from each contributors, their diatribes pop up about every 30 days. A few weeks ago, one of the Obama-haters wrote about the Affordable Care Act combined with opposition to the proposed minimum wage. In her mind, both of these will hurt the economy because they take away jobs. Thrown into her inflammatory speech were references to entitlements, “illegal alien amnesty,” the deficit, and the U.S. printing money.

Fortunately, the newspaper also permits “viewpoints” of up to 700 words, giving respondents more space to refute such a collection of misperceptions and falsehoods. Here is my answer, also printed in the local newspaper.

To the Editor:

The arguments against the Affordable Care Act and raising the minimum wage in the March 5, 2014 News Times suffer from cherry-picking of facts and emotional language in an effort to persuade people that having health care for all is a bad idea. Here are other facts—and a few opinions–to follow up “Affordable Care Act: Who will pay for it all?”

The viewpoint’s primary concern is that taxpayers in the country will be forced to provide additional funds for the jobs “lost” through the new healthcare plan by 2024 and the proposed enactment of a federal minimum wage of $10.10.

The ACA, originally developed by the conservative Heritage Foundation, will boost the economy, according to CBO’s director Doug Elmendorf. With affordable health care, people now have more money to spend on other goods and services which then creates more jobs. The purported $70-billion wage loss came from a personal guesstimate of conservative columnist Mark A. Thiessen and not from the CBO report.

People who choose to stay home have been unfairly depicted as lazy. They may need to care for their children or sick relatives, be too sick to adequately perform job duties, want to retire a year of two early, or are looking for a few extra non-work hours. Some of these people may become entrepreneurs and pay more taxes through their businesses. Such conservatives such as Sens. Ted Cruz and John McCain have criticized the “job-lock” caused by high healthcare premiums.

The CBO reported that ACA will reduce the deficit by more than $1 trillion over 20 years and that people are paying less for ACA’s premiums than projected. Repealing the ACA would add $8 billion to the deficit, according to the CBO. This year’s deficit is on track to be only one-third of George W. Bush’s last budget. The stories about Joe Taxpayer paying more for insurance have all been debunked unless Joe wants junk insurance without hospitalization and other basic medical care or refuses to find lower premiums at a marketplace.

Low-income people are learning to use regular health care instead of getting expensive treatment at emergency rooms, another change that reduces taxpayer costs for health care. Premiums without taxpayer subsidies are also much less because insurance companies can no longer make huge profits by overcharging.

The second objection of the viewpoint was raising the minimum wage to $10.10. Even if this “loses” 500,000 jobs (which increasing the minimum wage doesn’t, according to several studies), this raise will decrease the taxpayer cost of food stamps by almost $4.6 billion per year. Oregon alone would save $26 million in just one year. As wages go up, taxpayer cost of ACA subsidies will go down. Increased wages also mean that people pay more taxes. If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation, it would be $10.74 today instead of $7.25. The wage can’t reach $10.10 for three years, even if it were approved now, meaning that it will always stay behind past minimum wages.

Without increasing the minimum wage, taxpayers continue to subsidize corporations. Just one company, Walmart, netted $17.2 billion last year as the 300 employees at just one Walmart store cost taxpayers almost $1 million in public benefit costs. Overall, low minimum wages cost taxpayers at least $243 billion a year–$770 per taxpayer.

Like roads, law enforcement, firefighters, education, and other services that I may not use, good health care is a good investment. As good citizens, we all pay for things that we oppose—in my case, trillions of dollars for wars and a bloated Pentagon budget as compared to only billions for health care.

At the same time that people demand rights granted by the U.S. Constitution, some of them try to avoid their responsibilities as citizens of the richest nation in the world. One of these is affordable health care that can stop deaths for thousands of people, sickness for another hundreds of thousands, and bankruptcy for millions more. Other countries write healthcare into their constitutions. We, too, should recognize our duty to each other as citizens of the United States.

[Seven hundred words didn’t allow for the following:]

The majority of people in the United States, including Republicans, and the majority of small business owners want the minimum wage raised to $10.10. The increase of the minimum wage in Washington state, the highest in the nation, proves that increasing the minimum doesn’t lose any jobs. And the increase in minimum wage barely causes prices to go up. A Big Mac would cost just one dime extra if the minimum wage were to be $10.50, and Wal-Mart shoppers would pay an average of $12 more a year if the minimum wage were $12. At this time, people who work at McDonalds and Walmart can’t even afford to eat and shop there.

One of the biggest welfare queens in the country is Walmart. Its minimum wage costs taxpayers one-third of the annual $243 billion necessary for public benefits. Together the six Waltons on the Forbes 400 list have a combined net worth of $148.8 billion, the same amount as a combined 42 percent of U.S. families. Most workers make less than $25,000 a year with an average wage of $8.81 an hour. That’s 12.4 percent less than retail workers as a whole and 14.5 percent less than workers in large retail.

Taxpayers provide public funds not only for Walmart’s employees’ benefits but also for its tax breaks, free land, infrastructure assistance, low-cost financing, and outright grants from state and local governments. In 2007 the cost to taxpayers was $1.2 billion; the amount has increased each year since then. Special tax loopholes such as those that permit avoidance of estate and inheritance taxes for Walmart family members cost taxpayers billions more in lost taxes, probably as much as $20 billon.

Walmart is a job killer, not a “job-creator.” For every two employees in their stores, almost three people lose their jobs as small businesses close and the corporation imports the merchandise from China.

Walmart is not the only nation’s welfare queen. A new report entitled “Subsidizing the Corporate One Percent” from Good Jobs First shows the billions of dollars in welfare payments from state and local governments to huge corporations. “Three-quarters of all the economic development dollars awarded and disclosed by state and local governments have gone to just 965 large corporations.” That’s $110 billion going to big companies with $63 billion alone to over 16,000 subsidies of firms on the Fortune 500.

At over $13 billion, the biggest welfare queen in the report is Boeing. Others are Alcoa ($5.6 billion), Intel ($3.9 billion), General Motors ($3.5 billion) and Ford Motor ($2.5 billion). Dow Chemical got 416 federal funding awards, followed by Berkshire Hathaway (310), General Motors (307), Wal-Mart Stores (261), General Electric (255), Walgreen (225), and FedEx (222). “Economic development” programs go to corporations that don’t need the money. They may bring some jobs to town, but they create more difficulty when they leave town with empty buildings.

Many people don’t know how they are getting screwed by the big corporations. It’s not the safety net that’s killing the economy: it’s the low wages and lack of universal health care that’s wiping out people. If the wealthy and big corporations were forced to pay their own way in taxes and a living wage for employees, unemployment would go down and the economy would go up.

It’s not the safety net that’s destroying the creativity and independence of the workers in the United States. It’s the takeover in all communities of the small businesses where the owners could take pride as these jobs are exchanged for rote positions at a pittance. The same huge corporations destroy the families because the members no longer work together for a better life in a family-owned business.

January 29, 2014

GOP Hurts Economy in Restricting Women, Wages

My email contained the following from my Oregon senator Jeff Merkley. He’s one of the reasons that I’m proud to live in Oregon:

“Lilly Ledbetter worked for Goodyear Tires for almost 20 years. Just before her retirement, an anonymous coworker left her a tip that she was being paid less than all her male coworkers in the same position. Even though Lilly proved in court that she had been paid less because of her gender, the Supreme Court ruled that her employer didn’t have to make her whole because she hadn’t brought her case when the pay discrimination began – decades before she ever knew about it.

“Fortunately, Lilly didn’t give up. She fought to change the law, and she won.

“This week is the fifth anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act being signed into law. I was proud that I got to vote for Lilly’s bill as one of my first acts as a U.S. Senator. This law is proof that even one person fighting for fairness and equality can make a huge difference. But it’s also a reminder of how far we have to go to make sure that women have equal opportunity and equal pay in the workplace.

“Women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. That is just plain wrong. It’s unfair, unequal, and it cuts into millions of families’ bottom lines. Too often, our legal system still doesn’t work for women who try to find justice in the courts. Thanks to Lilly, they no longer face unfair statutes of limitations that require them to seek justice before they might even know they face pay discrimination. But there is more work to be done. That is why I am fighting to give women stronger tools to fight wage discrimination by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.

“In 2014, it is long past time for pay discrimination to be a thing of the past. Please know that I will keep fighting for workplace fairness for all Americans.”

Last night in his fifth State of the Union speech, President Obama addressed the same issue.

“Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running hardship—and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), as usual fact-challenged, stated during an interview on NPR today that the difference in pay between men and women is a myth. First he said that young women were making an equal salary to men, and then he followed with his belief that women make the same in the same types of jobs. Both beliefs are wrong. A 2012 study considering factors affecting earnings such as education, parenthood, and hours worked, shows that college-educated women still earn 7 percent less than their male peers just one year out of school even when they have the same major and occupation. That difference increases over time because benefits and raises based on wages are better for men. Paul’s only reason for his beliefs is that the women in his family are doing fine.

Conservatives refuse to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, although it has 207 co-sponsors in the House and 50 in the Senate. According to a recent study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, however, the U.S. economy would produce an additional $447.6 billion in income if women received equal pay—a definite boon to both men and women.

According to the new report from Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress, closing the gap in earnings between men and women would cut the poverty rate in half for working women. Paying women who work full time, year round the same as men would boost their incomes by $6,250 a year on average. The change would raise 3 million working women above the poverty line and boost GDP by $450 billion.

A clear difference between male and female salaries is demonstrated by the Oakland Raiders. Both football players (male) and cheerleaders (female) attend practices and 300 games and events each year. The men make between $405,000 and $5.8 million; the women each make $1,250 for the season, less than $5.00 per hour. The $5.00 per hours goes down if they bring the wrong pompoms, wear the wrong workout gear to practice, or forget their yoga mats. There is also no reimbursement for travel expenses or photo shoots. The cheerleaders have just filed a lawsuit against the team for wage theft and unfair labor practices.

Increasing the minimum wage could start to decrease the wage gap between wages for men and for women. Women disproportionately work in low-wage sectors, live on minimum-wage salaries and, thanks to working a lifetime at unequal pay, are significantly more likely than men to outlive their savings. Women represent nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers. A woman working full time, year round at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour earns just $15,080. Women are the sole or primary breadwinners in roughly 40 percent of U.S. households nowadays.

Last night the president called for a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour and stated that he was signing an executive order mandating this minimum wage for all companies that receive federal contracts. This requirement does not cover existing contracts, but the mandate will affect about 560,000 employees in new contracts. Although $10.10 an hour is not a living wage almost everywhere in the United States, it’s a start.

Numbers in the story of the minimum wage:

73:  the percentage of Americans who support it.

53:  the percentage of Republicans who support it.

273:  the ratio of the average CEO salary to that of the average worker. In 1965, CEOs made only 20 times the salary of the average worker.

$10.46:  what the minimum wage would have been in 2012 if it had simply kept up with inflation since 1968.

$18.72:  what the minimum wage would have been in 2012 if it had kept pace with gains in worker productivity since 1968.

$28.34:  what the minimum wage would have been in 2012 if it had grown at the same rate as the wages of the top 1 percent since 1968.

$15,080:  the annual earnings of a full-time minimum-wage worker at today’s $7.25 per hour minimum wage, which is $4,000 below the poverty line for a family of three.

17,000,000:  the number of women, who make up approximately two-thirds of low-wage workers whose wages would rise.

28,000,000:  the number of workers whose wages would rise.

$32,600,000,000: the increase in economic activity during the period it is being phased in.

$51,000,000,000:  the increased wages that workers would earn while it is being phased in.

While conservatives ignore the needs of women and the poor, they spend their time trying to control women’s lives. Tuesday the House passed The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 7) that prevents insurance plans sold in the new health care exchanges from covering abortion and eliminates tax benefits for small businesses that purchase insurance plans covering abortion. At this time, more than 80 percent of private health insurance plans include abortion coverage.

The bill would also prevent the District of Columbia from using its own locally raised funds to subsidize abortion care for low-income women. It even bans abortions for women in state exchanges to pay for their insurance with their personal, private funds. Extremists such as Rep. Steve King (R-IA) think that they need the bill to keep taxpayer dollars from funding abortion when in fact the Hyde Amendment did that over 30 years ago.

H.R 7 will not see the light of day as long as Barack Obama is president. In Texas, however, a brain-dead woman was kept alive for over two months because a Texas law seems to allow the state to keep a pregnant woman on life support even if she had not wished for this to happen. Texas is not alone: 31 other states have laws restricting doctors’ actions regarding terminally ill women who are pregnant. The state took the woman off life support only after a court order to do so. Although the fetus had been oxygen deprived for the same length of time as the women, it took a court order to follow the wishes of the woman and her family.

In the official Republican response to the president’s State of the Union speech, Rep. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) said, “Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government’s.” Rodgers voted in support of H.R. 7 which puts government in between a woman and her doctor.

Fox network women are getting fed up with their abusive colleague Erick Erickson in his attacks against Wendy Davis, famous for her 11-hour filibuster in an attempt to keep the Texas legislature from passing more extremely restrictive anti-choice laws. For the past six months, Erickson has used a number of perjoratives, including “Abortion Barbie,” against the Texas legislator. Greta van Susteren called him a “jerk” who is “really lousy at being a spokesperson for his views.” Megyn Kelley called Erickson out for his statement that women are “complementary” to men and children are hurt in families if women are the primary breadwinners.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) summed up a response to House Republicans: “My question to you is this: What century are you living in?” 

January 22, 2014

On Anniversary of ‘Roe v. Wade,’ Women Need Help

Today is the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that continued to give reproductive rights to the women of the United States. The Court deemed abortion a fundamental right under the United States Constitution and ruled that during the first trimester of pregnancy, the decision to abort must be left to the mother and her physician. Since 1973, both the Supreme Court and individual states have chipped away at women’s reproductive rights as extremists attempt to criminalize the procedure for any reason. This year SCOTUS is hearing a case to decide whether anti-choice people can walk up to people going into a women’s clinic to verbally abuse and threaten them.

Anti-choice arguments in the Supreme Court include the U.S. Constitution not including abortion in any of its terminology. (I’ll repeat my earlier argument that the Constitution also doesn’t address marriage etc.) At the time that the Constitution was written, there were no laws against abortion. Nowhere in the country was abortion addressed in any law until Connecticut passed a law in 1821 protecting women from being poisoned by untrained abortionists after the fourth month of pregnancy.

Not until 1873 was information about abortion and birth control banned by the Comstock Act. Within less than 100 years, however, abortion was considered a felony in 49 states and Washington, D.C., but states started repealing these laws in 1970. By 1989, however, SCOTUS stopped reaffirming Roe v. Wade as its decisions started to allow states’ punitive laws.

Reproductive rights are not the only loss for women during the past few decades. As an extremist far-right Congress refuses to act on serious economic and environmental issues in the U.S., women suffer the majority of the fallout. Following is Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) list of economic and environmental issues facing the people, including women, in the United States:

  • The middle class continues to decline; median family income is $5,000 less than it was 15 years ago. More people, 46.5 million, are now living in poverty than at any time in our nation’s history.
  • Child poverty, at 21.8 percent, is the highest of any major country.
  • Real unemployment is actually 13.2 percent instead of 7 percent, and youth unemployment is higher. Real unemployment would measure all those who have given up looking for work and those who want full-time work but are employed part-time.
  • Most of the new jobs that are being created are part-time work at low wages, but the minimum wage remains at the starvation level of $7.25 per hour.
  • Millions of college students are leaving school deeply in debt, while many others have given up on their dream of a higher education because of the cost.

As tens of millions of Americans struggle to survive economically, the wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well and corporate profits are at an all-time high. In fact, wealth and income inequality today is greater than at any time since just before the Great Depression. One family, the Walton family with its Wal-Mart fortune, now owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans. In recent years, 95 percent of all new income has gone to the top 1 percent.

Global warming is real, it is already causing massive problems and, if we don’t significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet we leave to our kids and grandchildren will be less and less habitable. That’s the news from the science community.

Sanders’s agenda for the coming year includes five issues: the economy, health care, global warming, education and election reform.

Wealth and Income Inequality: A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much while so many have so little. It is simply not acceptable that the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of the financial wealth of the nation, while the bottom 60 percent owns all of 2.3 percent. We need to establish a progressive tax system which asks the wealthy to start paying their fair share of taxes, and which ends the outrageous loopholes that enable one out of four corporations to pay nothing in federal income taxes.

Jobs: We need to make significant investments in our crumbling infrastructure, in energy efficiency and sustainable energy, in early childhood education and in affordable housing. When we do that, we not only improve the quality of life in our country and combat global warming, we also create millions of decent paying new jobs.

*Wages: We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We should pass the legislation which will soon be on the Senate floor which increases the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, but we must raise that minimum wage even higher in the coming years. We also need to expand our efforts at worker-ownership. Employees will not be sending their jobs to China or Vietnam when they own the places in which they work.

Retirement Security: At this time only one in five workers in the private sector has a defined benefit pension plan; half of Americans have less than $10,000 in savings; and two-thirds of seniors rely on Social Security for more than half of their income. We must expand Social Security and make sure that every American can retire with dignity.

Wall Street: During the financial crisis, huge Wall Street banks received more than $700 billion in financial aid from the Treasury Department and more than $16 trillion from the Federal Reserve because they were “too big to fail.” Yet today, the largest banks in this country are much bigger than they were before taxpayers bailed them out. It is time to break up these behemoths before they cause another global economic collapse.

Campaign Finance Reform: We are not living in a real democracy when large corporations and a handful of billionaire families can spend unlimited sums of money to elect or defeat candidates. We must expand our efforts to overturn the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision and move this country to public funding of elections.

Social Justice: While we have made progress in recent years in expanding the rights of minorities, women and gays, these advances are under constant attack from the right wing. If the United States is to become the non-discriminatory society we want it to be, we must fight to protect the rights of all Americans.

Civil Liberties: The National Security Agency (NSA) and some of the other intelligence agencies are out of control. We cannot talk about America as a “free country” when the government is collecting information on virtually every phone call we make, when they are intercepting our emails and monitoring the websites we visit. Clearly, we need to protect this country from terrorism, but we must do it in a way that does not undermine our constitutional rights.

War and Peace: With a large deficit and an enormous amount of unmet needs, it is absurd that the United States continues to spend almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. The U.S. must be a leader in the world in nuclear disarmament and efforts toward peace, not in the sale of weapons of destruction.

Health Care: The Affordable Care Act doesn’t do enough to fix the system; we need a single-payer plan as Vermont does.

Climate Change: With Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sanders introduced the Climate Protection Act and the Sustainable Energy Act.

Education: Last July, Sanders protested the passing of the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act that would potentially raise costs for students on the Senate floor. He plans to amend the Higher Education Act in 2014 to make college more affordable for students.

Election Reform: Overturning the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC through a constitutional amendment is an important priority. The only legal remedy to corporate person-hood is through a 28th amendment.

Another of Sanders’ positions is to make higher education more affordable. If “conservatives” wanted to “conserve,” they could greatly lower the cost of higher education or even make it free. These are some of the statistics:

  • Undergraduates paid public universities $62.5 billion in 2012; the U.S. government spends $69 billion on educational financial programs so that students could afford some of this $62.5 billion.
  • Student loans are currently $107.4 billion; the government will make $184 billion on student loans over the next decade. The loans are thus making college far less affordable.
  • For-profit universities, with diplomas of dubious market value, take 25 percent of all educational financial programs while they educate 10 percent of the students who are then responsible for about half of all loan defaults.

 In an Atlantic article, Jordan Weissmann suggests that the federal government send money to the states with the mandate that legislatures maintain tuition at a reasonable rate. In the past 35 years, states have cut per-student funding for their schools by 44 percent, requiring the schools to increase tuition. A public option for higher education would take the federal government out of the business of subsidizing for-profit universities. Higher education costs rise because state schools raise tuition, allowing for-profit universities to do the same thing. More and more countries around the world are providing free or inexpensive higher education; the richest country should be able to provide the same opportunities for young people.

*Sanders’ answer to question about increase in minimum wage causing fewer jobs: “In my state of Vermont, our minimum wage is $8.60 compared to the national minimum wage of $7.25. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in America. You have states where there is virtually no minimum wage at all, and their unemployment rate is much higher. The facts just don’t bear it out. The reality is that if we raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour about 30 million Americans would get a pay raise, and 88% of them are adults. These are not kids. These are working families struggling to keep their heads above water. They need a pay raise. We’ve gotta pass it.” He also pointed out that paying people minimum wage requires taxpayers to subsidize workers through the safety net while the companies reap the benefits.

The people in the United States have the opportunity to reverse the downward spiral of the country in its 2014 election. The direction of the nation is in the people’s hands when they vote.

December 26, 2013

Stop Poverty

It’s been a half century since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “war on poverty.” Fifty years later, the income inequality in the United States is much worse. Poverty in other countries is obvious: we see films of people with no food living in cardboard boxes. But in the United States, many people think that the only reason for poverty is laziness. There’s a resentment that people in poverty still have cell phones and television sets. There’s the feeling, especially among conservatives, that truly poor people would be those in the cardboard boxes without food or possessions.

As the recession kept wages down and the middle-class shrinking during the past half decade, the people of the nation are going downward, making less and less while the wealthy have a rapidly increasing upward trajectory. Poverty in our country is malnutrition that leads to poor health with the effects passed on from one generation to the next. Poverty is losing a job and then a home so that they had to declare bankruptcy and move in with friends or relatives.

Greg Haufmann has found solutions from activists around the country:

Sister Simone Campbell, leader of “nuns on the bus” and anathema to Catholic Church directors who want her to concentrate on fighting abortion and marriage equality instead of helping the poor:  “Support an increase in the minimum wage to more than $11 per hour.” Of people below the poverty line, 57 percent of individuals and family members either worked or lived with a working family member in 2011. Walmart could pay its workers $12 an hour by raising its prices just 1 percent. That would cost each shopper an average of $12.50 for an entire year. year.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers: “Help end sexual harassment, wage theft, and forced labor in the fields—join the Fair Food Program today.” In the past, countless workers in Florida’s fields growing and harvesting oranges and tomatoes suffered daily humiliation and abuse ranging from wage theft to sexual harassment and even forced labor. A new program has set the highest human rights standards in fields today, working to stop its slavery in the 21st century. Publix Super Markets, a large supermarket chain across six Southern states, refuses to support the program.  Almost 100,000 people have asked CEO William Crenshaw to join the program to end slavery in Florida.

Ralph da Costa Nunez, president and CEO, Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness: “Make a Personal Commitment to Helping Homeless Families.” Over one-third–over 500,000—of people living in the U.S. in shelters are parents and their children. Family homelessness has increased by more than 13 percent in the past five years.

Dr. Deborah Frank, founder and principal investigator, Children’s Healthwatch: “Fund the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) at the maximum authorized level.” Insufficient heating and cooling is responsible for poor health, increased hospitalizations, and developmental delays in young children. Although current funding at $4.7 billion in 2014 won’t meet all the needs of people in poverty, it can help.

Sarita Gupta, executive director, Jobs with Justice/American Rights at Work and Co-Director, Caring Across Generations: “Support of a living wage and basic labor protections for home care workers.” Homecare workers compose one of the largest occupations in the nation, but many of them make below minimum wage. The “companionship exemption” excluded most homecare workers from basic labor protections for almost all other workers in the U.S. Two years after President Obama promised federal minimum wage and overtime protections for most homecare workers—and a year after the public comment period closed—there is still no new rule.

Judith Lichtman, senior adviser, National Partnership for Women & Families: “Urge Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act (H.R. 1286/S.631) and a national paid leave program.” More than 40 million workers in this country—and more than 80 percent of the lowest-wage workers—cannot earn a single paid sick day to use when they get the flu or other common illnesses. Millions more cannot earn paid sick days to use when a child is sick. For the average worker, taking off 3.5 unpaid days is equivalent to a month’s worth of groceries for the family. Because they do not have sick leave, they may be communicating contagious germs to everyone who comes in contact with the same items as the sick person—creating a chain of illness.

Tiffany Loftin, president, United States Student Association (USSA): “Increase regulation of private student loans and hold Sallie Mae accountable for its role in the student debt crisis.” Student debt was the only type of household debt that grew during the last five years. Each student owes an average of $27,000 by graduation. Sallie Mae, the largest private student lender, has high interest rates. The company fails to give borrowers their repayment options, promoting defaults on loans, and lends money at between 3.5 percent and 5 percent higher than it borrows.

Elizabeth Lower-Basch, policy coordinator, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP): “Support Pathways Back to Work.” Subsidized and transitional jobs are the best way to give unemployed workers the opportunity to earn wages, build skills, and connect to the labor market, while also giving businesses an incentive to hire new employees when they might not be able to do so otherwise.

Marci Phillips, director of public policy and advocacy, National Council on Aging: “Invest in the Older Americans Act.” This proposed bill includes a number of programs that keep seniors healthy and independent in their own homes instead of in expensive institutions. Services include healthy meals, in-home care, transportation, benefits access, caregiver support, chronic disease self-management, job training and placement and elder abuse prevention, but funding has not kept up with the need, especially after the sequester.

Rebecca Vallas, staff attorney/policy advocate, Community Legal Services: “Tell Congress no cuts to Social Security and SSI through the Chained CPI.” The two-year budget didn’t touch these programs, but fight is not over. The debt ceiling crisis comes in January, very likely complete with extortion. Although Social Security now matches inflation, the method of determining cost of living is highly inaccurate for seniors. Those on low-income won’t be buying new houses and cars, measures that keep inflation down. Their money goes for food, utilities, and drugs—items that are more rapidly increasing in cost than the other items that lower inflation. In just one example, my water bill has gone up an average of 5 percent every year for the past 20 years, and the city plans on an increase of 50 percent in the next five years.

Jim Weill, President, Food Research and Action Center: “Tell Congress: Increase, Don’t Cut SNAP (Food Stamp) Benefits.” House GOP members who tried to pass a farm bill without any food stamps ignored the fact that most people in the country understand the importance of this program: 73 percent of voters believe the program is important to the country; 70 percent say cutting it is the wrong way to reduce government spending; and 77 percent say the government should be spending more (43 percent) or the same (34 percent) on SNAP. This support crosses parties, demographic groups, and rural, urban and suburban lines.

Debbie Weinstein, executive director, Coalition on Human Needs: “Tell Congress to stop harmful cuts to anti-poverty programs now.” Sequestration cut education, food programs, jobs, housing, and clothing programs. They keep people poor, cost jobs and stall economic growth for everyone.

Johnson’s attempts to alleviate poverty worked for almost two decades until Ronald Reagan became president. During this two terms, the country quickly began to lose the painful gains of the century: increased productivity benefited only the wealthy, poverty concentrated in inner cities with chronic joblessness and racial segregation, and trade union membership plummeted along with pensions. The U.S. led the industrialized world in child poverty and incarceration. The value of the minimum wage eroded. Conservatives blamed the resulting problems on Johnson’s Great Society and began its three-decade war on social spending.

The above solutions may sound complicated, but a letter to today’s Oregonian from Rex Burkholder simplified several solutions. He makes a lot of sense to me.

“Here are a few ideas I’d like to see Oregon’s business community get behind in their effort to end poverty:

  1. Decriminalize drugs. Addicts are ill and need help, not incarceration.
  2. Shut down lottery and video poker, poor returns on investment.
  3. Treat the mentally ill instead of putting them on the streets.
  4. Raise the minimum wage to its 1970s equivalent, about $15 an hour in today’s dollars.
  5. Spend our public infrastructure funds through a Civilian Conservation Corps-type program instead of using out-of-state contractors.
  6. Put shop class back into every high school. We still need carpenters, plumbers and other tradespeople.

“How to fund it? Legalize and tax marijuana. Less damage than tobacco or alcohol and lots of demand.”

November 27, 2013

A Wish List for Thanksgiving

In browsing the Internet I found Bernie Sander’s wish list from nine years ago to make the country better. Thanksgiving is a time to dream about a better nation. Let’s see how we have done in nine years:

Campaign Finance and Election Reform: The wealthy and large corporations cannot be allowed to continue to buy political parties and candidates. We must move to full public funding of elections. Same-day registration will encourage low-income people to vote, and stop the United States from having the lowest voter turnout of any industrialized nation on earth. Since that time: The U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of Citizens United to turn the corporations and wealthy loose and allowed voter suppression by overturning part of the Voters’ Rights Act.

Protect and Expand the Safety Net: We must beat back the efforts to destroy Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and public education, and the attacks on children and the poor. This country is wealthy enough so that every man, woman and child should be able to live in dignity and security. Since that time: The extremist GOP has worked to cut back food and housing for the poor increasing the number of homeless and hungry after the recession.

Revise Our National Priorities: We should eliminate funding for wasteful and duplicative weapons systems and the $125 billion we currently spend on corporate welfare. We should increase funding for job-creating improvements in our physical and human infrastructure, as well as the needs of our elderly and children. Since that time: The last two Congresses have completely ignored any help for the growing unemployment problem, and the military gets more and more money.

Reform the Tax System to Make It Fair: Over the last 20 years, the federal tax system has lowered taxes for the wealthy and large corporations, and raised taxes for the middle class and working families. In a nation which currently has the most unfair distribution of wealth and income in the industrialized world, we must fight for a tax system which is progressive and fair. Since that time: The inequality of income in the United States has become the worst in almost a century.

Raise the Minimum Wage: In 1996, against tremendous opposition, Congress raised the minimum wage from $4.25 an hour to $5.15. We must do better. The purchasing power of the minimum wage today is much lower than it was 20 years ago. Every American worker who works 40 hours a week must earn enough to live above the poverty line. That’s why I have introduced legislation which would raise the minimum wage to a living wage. Since that time: The federal minimum wage has been increased to $7.25 but still fails to match what people were paid 50 years ago.

A Fair Trade Policy: We are losing millions of well-paying manufacturing and information technology jobs as corporations “outsource” to China, Mexico, and India where workers are paid substantially lower wages. We need a new trade policy which protects the middle class of this country, and not the CEOs of large companies. Legislation that I have offered would radically alter our role in the global economy – protecting the workers of this country and the developing world. Since that time: The president is working to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership which would give most of the control to corporations and stopping Congress from protecting workers. Individual states controlled by GOP governors and legislatures have consistently destroyed unions to give money to corporations and the wealthy.

Protect Civil Rights for All: Against enormous and well-funded opposition, we must redouble our efforts to protect a woman’s right to choose, support affirmative action, and end discrimination against minorities and gay people. Since that time: The GOP has barraged women with restrictions on reproductive rights, and the U.S. Supreme Court is reducing affirmative action. Good News! Sixteen states and the federal government have legalized same-sex marriage, and ENDA, the bill to stop job discrimination for LGBT people, was passed in the Senate with ten Republicans voting in favor of it.

National Health Care: The health care crisis is getting worse, not better. More and more American lack health insurance; Medicare and Medicaid are under savage assault and millions of people are being forced into “managed care.” Despite all this, the United States continues to have the most costly and wasteful health care system in the world. We must continue our fight for a single-payer national health care system which guarantees health care for all Americans. We must also take on the pharmaceutical industry which is ripping off American consumers and charging us the highest drug prices in the world. Since that time: The Affordable Care Act has passed, although it’s under tremendous attack by the GOP. It lacks the single-payer provision that would help, and 25 states refuse to provide Medicaid at an acceptable level, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. But it’s a start. Sanders’ state has passed the single-payer health care system which will be fully operational by 2017.

People who live in the United States want to think that the country is exceptional. Below are ways to make this come true:

Raising the Minimum Wage: Seventy-one percent of people in the United States support raising the minimum wage to $9.00.  Doing this would still not make it equal to the minimum wage in the 1960s, but it would be a start.

Universal Background Checks for Gun Purchases: Most people in the country support laws to start keeping  guns out of the hands of terrorists, felons, and mentally disabled.

Balanced Deficit Reduction: The country needs a balanced approach to reduce the debt, according to 76 percent of the nation’s voters.  Balanced means, to explain it to the GOP, both spending cuts and additional tax revenues. 

Job-Creating Infrastructure Investments: An investment in repairing and replacing the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure—roads, bridges, airports, etc.—would create hundreds of thousands of jobs. A majority of people support this, despite the continued opposition from federal GOP legislators who want to give more money to wealthy and corporate special interests such as the oil industry.

Pathway to Earned Citizenship: The 11 million immigrants without legal papers in the country contribute to the economy and work at jobs that others refuse to do. A majority of Republicans and 70 percent of all people in nation support the Senate bill that House GOP members refuse to vote on.

Expanding the Medicaid Program: Two-thirds of Americans favor the part of ObamaCare that calls for expanding the Medicaid program. All that stops health care across the United States are GOP governors and state legislators.

Marriage Equality: Marriage equality is now legal on a federal basis, but many states still refuse to legalize same-sex marriage, continuing the second-class situation for many of LGBT people across the nation. A study now shows that opposition to this equality is concentrated “among a few narrow demographic groups.”

Ending Job Discrimination for LGBT People: Transgender people can be discriminated against in 33 states and lesbians/gays in 29 states. Federal law needs to stop that.

Universal Access to Birth Control: ObamaCare requires health insurers to offer birth control at no additional cost, a policy supported by 70 percent of Americans. This policy is also supported by a majority of Catholics despite continuing opposition by Catholic bishops. Studies show that free contraception drastically reduces the number of abortions in the country, a goal for all

Expanded Early Childhood Education: Two-thirds of people in the country support universal pre-kindergarten for all four-year-olds and an expansion of other early childhood education programs. Without these and other education reforms, we have fallen far behind many other developed countries. And add higher education to reform by drastically reducing costs for public higher education.

Single-payer Health Care: Traditional Medicare administrative costs are 1 percent, costs for a combination of traditional and private insurer Medicare is 6 percent, and administrative costs for private insurers for the rest of the people is 20 percent—sometimes more. The solution to saving money is “Medicare for all.”

Environmental Protections: Industrial expansion and growth of cities are causing land resources to dwindle, factory waste is polluting water sources, poisonous gas is polluting the air, and deserts are spreading. Resources on this planet are finite, and humans need to make the Earth sustainable for future generations.

Equal Rights for Men and Women: Alice Paul wrote the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1923; it passed both chambers of Congress in 1972 but failed to get the necessary 28 number of ratifications by the deadline a decade later. The amendment very simply stated, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Twenty-one states have a version of the ERA in their constitutions.

Also think about the rest of Bernie Sanders’ agenda: Voting Rights, Cuts in Defense Spending, Public Funding of Campaigns for Elected Officials, Increased Social Security Benefits, Tax Reform to Reverse Income Inequity, Reproductive Rights (which helps both men and women), and Unemployment Reform. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

November 22, 2013

We Need to Return to JFK’s Dream

Today is the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s death from a gunman in Dallas (TX). For weeks, the media has discussed the controversy surrounding his murder and the tortured activities of the Warren Commission that investigated the killing. Fox network, however, took a slightly different approach.

Fox News host Chris Wallace, son of 60 Minutes journalist Mike Wallace, tried to convince Kennedy’s niece, Kathleen Townsend Kennedy, that the president was “quite conservative.” When Wallace insisted that the president lowered taxes because he thought this would spur the economy, Townsend Kennedy pointed out he lowered the top marginal rates from 90 percent to 70 percent, over double today’s 33 percent.

Wallace claimed that Kennedy was a “Cold Warrior”; Townsend Kennedy responded that he resisted generals who wanted to declare war during the Bay of Pigs incident.

Conservative columnist George Will asserted, “Well, he was a conventional liberal before liberalism changed in the late 1960s. He … did indeed believe in supply side tax cuts, increased revenues from lower rates.” According to Will, that was the reason Kennedy was killed, because he was too conservative. “We happen to know he was killed by a silly, squalid, little communist,” Will finished.

Fox contributor Brit Hume followed up by saying, “I think he was the coolest president we ever had. I think, however, despite the thinness of the record that [Wallace] just mentioned and that George mentioned, he has been the subject of the most successful public relations campaign in political history. It is a legend bordering, I think, on myth.”

Missing from Wallace’s narrative is that conservatives hated Kenndy because he supported equality for blacks, suggested that the U.S. should agree to a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and planned to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam after the 1964 election.

For his book JFK and the Unspeakable, endorsed by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Jim Douglass’  information from declassified government documents showed the actions of a man who was definitely not conservative:  

  • A major conflict with military contractor United States Steel because the corporation double-crossed the president by raising steel prices despite a deal between the two parties.
  • Refusal to start an all-out nuclear war despite regular pressure from the military-industrial complex.
  • A secret arrangement with Russia’s Nikita Krushchev for a nuclear disarmament treaty.
  • Open support for Castro in the Cuban Revolution.
  • Efforts to end the U.S. occupation of Vietnam.
  • Refusal to stage terrorist attacks on U.S. soil that would be blamed on Cuba.

Fifty years after Kennedy’s assassination, the government shows the destruction of conservative politicians. Minimum wage is 20 percent lower than 45 years ago, and Social Security benefits are 25 percent lower than 30 years. At the same time, 60 percent of the pensions disappeared, and the recent recession wiped out much of the retirement that some people had saved in 401(k)s.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is a leader in moving the United States back to Kennedy’s dream. In response to a study by Dr. Arindrajit Dube, a University of Massachusetts Amherst professor who has studied the economic impacts of the current minimum wage, she said, “If we started in 1960 and we said that as productivity goes up, that is as workers are producing more, then the minimum wage is going to go up the same. And if that were the case then the minimum wage today would be about $22 an hour.” Dube pointed out that growing the minimum wage at the same pace as the increase for the top 1 percent of income earners would make the minimum wage closer to $33.

Warren also spoke about other changes in the past 50 years:

“During the Great Depression and the years after World War II, our country made two remarkable decisions. First, in a boom-and-bust world, we created a basic set of fair rules that ended the financial panics and provided almost a half-century of economic stability and growth. Second, we invested in ourselves and our children, creating the basic building blocks for a strong middle class and a strong economy: education, roads and bridges, mass transit and rail, water and sewage, research, and energy. It worked. America’s middle class prospered. We celebrated success, but we always paid ahead, making sure that the basic ingredients would be in place so the next generation could do even better.

“But about a generation ago, Washington turned in a different direction and changed the rules.

“Financial cops were taken off the beat, and government regulators began to work for those they were supposed to regulate. We fought wars we didn’t pay for, recklessly piling on debt. Powerful companies got subsidies, and ordinary families and small businesses had to pick up the burden. We didn’t repair our roads and bridges, and we cut back on research.  We stopped investing in our future.”

An important piece of investment in the dream and the future is Social Security. Those wailing about how the program is going broke are forgetting about the free ride that the wealthy is getting. The current cap on deductions is under $114,000, much less than the $200,000 in 2013 several years ago. The wealthy also make most of their money now from capital gains which Social Security does not tax.

The growing wealth of the top percent of people in the United States might bring up the question of how people manage to spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. People can have only so many mansions, jets, yachts, cars, and other expensive items yet still have left-over money. If that’s your problem, here’s help:

  • A $95,000 truffle: Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin recently ordered this at Nello, a Wall Street restaurant. To him, $95,000 wouldn’t seem like much money: the relationship of $95,000 to $1 billion is the same as $.95 to $10,000. Before going to Nello, however, you might want to read Yelp reviews—two stars and complaints about inedible food and rude service.
  • A $5,000 hamburger: In Las Vagas at Mandalay Bay, the Fleur de Lys restaurant offers the “Fleurburger 5000, a Kobe beef patty “topped with a rich truffle sauce and served on a brioche truffle bun.” For that price it comes with a bottle of 1990 Chateau Petrus served in Ichendorf Brunello stemware that you get to keep.
  • A $500 milkshake: The Powder Room restaurant in Los Angeles includes “special stuff: edible gold, Belgian chocolate, and a crystal ring.”
  • A $117,000 bottle of 1811 Chateau d’Yquem: If that’s not enough, the Le Clos wine shop in Dubai International Airport offers three 12-liter bottles of 2009 Château Margaux for $195,000–each.
  • A $142 million piece of art by Francis Bacon: At the same auction, three other pieces sold for more than $50 million; 11 for more than $20 million; and 16 sold for more than $10 million. An Andy Warhol piece sold for almost $60 million.

As Thomas Galbraith, of online auction house Paddle8, said, “Since the recession, the wealthy appear to be becoming even wealthier, while middle-class wages are more stagnant.”  Katherine Markley, artnet’s lead market analyst, added, “The 400 richest Americans [are] now worth a cumulative $2 trillion, up $300 billion from a year ago and with an average net worth of a record $5 billion, an $800 million increase from a year ago.”

As the first Catholic president of the United States, Kennedy swore he would not let his religion rule. His inspiring call to people of this nation led to the establishment of the Peace Corp, an organization that still sends thousands of U.S. volunteers around the world to help the needy. He was committed to land a human being on the moon; his support of space exploration helped that happen six years later. His Area Redevelopment Act helped states suffering from high unemployment rates, his laws ended segregation in interstate travel facilities, and his executive order stopped discrimination in housing sales and leases financed by the government. Kennedy also promoted the arts through concerts, plays, and musicals at the White House.

Fifty years later, the GOP wants its religion to rule the United States, works to deprive the poor of food and housing, fights the accomplishments of science through denial, increases unemployment rates by austerity, and demonstrates extreme racism. To the GOP, the arts are a waste of money.

Average hourly earnings have been flat for 50 years (after adjusting for inflation), as companies steer their wealth primarily to senior management and owners at the expense of average employees. Tax policies increasingly favor investors and high wage earners over middle-class and upper-middle-class wage-earners. An obsession with “shareholder value” at the expense of other stakeholders (namely, customers and employees) has led companies to cut employee costs to the bone.

These and other factors have contributed to the most radical redistribution of wealth that the United States has ever seen. Since the late 1970s, the country’s assets and income have moved steadily from “average” Americans to the richest Americans. The wealth inequality is the greatest since the 1920s. Consumers have little money to spend, businesses suffer and look for way to cut costs, and consumers are hurt even more.

Big companies and their owners and senior managers, however, are not suffering. They’re doing better than any other time in history. The free-market system, which worked well 50 years ago, is costing everyone except the top 1 percent. The result is a nation of over 300+ serfs who serve a few million overlords.

As Warren said, “The Republican vision is clear: ‘I’ve got mine, the rest of you are on your own.’ ” That wasn’t John F. Kennedy’s dream, and it shouldn’t be ours either.

September 2, 2013

Labor Day, A Rollercoaster

Today signifies the end of summer, return of kids to school, and the demise of the U.S. worker. Known as a federal day called Labor Day, it used to commemorate the contributions of workers to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country.

A year ago, GOP leaders co-opted this day to celebrate management and CEOs when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) tweeted, “Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and then-Vice Presidential candidate echoed the sentiment when he said that only small business owners are working hard to make “this country grow.”

The arrogance of the wealthy and the GOP created this myth. According to a new study, the ultra-wealthy have a greater sense of entitlement than the others, and the GOP pays attention only to this narcissistic population. Participants from a high social class are more likely to say “I honestly feel I’m just more deserving than others” whereas other are more likely to respond, “I do not necessarily deserve special treatment.” An earlier study shows that “upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals,” including being more likely to “display unethical decision-making,” steal, lie during a negotiation and cheat in order to win a contest. “

Upper-class individuals also “showed reduced sensitivity to others’ suffering” as compared to working- and middle-class people. Lower-class individuals are more likely to spend time taking care of others and are more embedded in social networks that depend on mutual aid. Another study shows that U.S. senators respond almost exclusively to the interests of their wealthiest constituents, those more likely to be unethical and less sensitive to the suffering of others. MIT economist Daron Acemoglu said that this pattern historically comes from widening economic disparities. As economic inequality increases, the more powerful use that power to become even more powerful, working to change rules in their favor.

In a backlash to this inequality last week, fast food workers protested their unreasonably low wages, demanding $15 per hour, equal to the request at the first March on Washington 50 years ago. With no healthcare insurance and costs rising, people cannot live on minimum wage without government assistance. Companies who pay below-subsistence wages are dragging the economy down and taking their wealth from the taxpayers. The company doesn’t pay for food stamps and the Medicaid that their workers need; the taxpayers do.

Corporations know that a faltering economy helps them hire cheap workers. High unemployment rates gives them a large pool of disposable workers. The companies’ profits soar, and they keep a bit of their profits to stop politicians from raising the minimum wage or lowering unemployment.

The thousands of fast-food workers who protested in 60 cities from coast to coast want not only the $15 per hour but also paid sick leave and the right to unionize the restaurant industry, the nation’s second-biggest employer which is predicting its 2013 profits will “reach a record high of $660.5 billion.” The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour was last raised in July 2009. A sub-category for tipped workers, which includes waiters, waitresses, bartenders, and busboys, was last raised by Congress in 1991 and is $2.13 an hour. Raising the price of a Big Mac at McDonalds would pay for half the money needed to raise the minimum wage for workers to $10.10. Even increasing the federal minimum to $9.80 over three years would give increase workers wages by 33 percent and more than double the wages of tipped workers.

Last June the wealthy NRA (National Restaurant Association) blocked 27 out of 29 states from increasing minimum wages and prevented a dozen states from passing laws to require paid sick leave. Even in two states raising minimum wage, New York and Connecticut, the NRA blocked or delayed raising the tip wage. They also kept local governments in six states from requiring paid sick leave. The NRA spent almost $1 million) to defeat a mandatory sick leave measure in Denver in 2011.

Workers in Washington, D.C. are waiting to see if its mayor Vincent Gray will sign a bill to require big box stores, in this case Wal-Mart, to pay at least $12 an hour, including benefits. He may veto the bill after Wal-Mart threatened to close stores and not expand in poorer neighborhoods. Washington passed local sick leave legislation in 2008, but the NRA made sure that it didn’t apply to tipped workers.

Both New York City and Portland (OR) passed a sick leave law last spring. New Jersey will vote on a $1 mimimum wage increase this fall, and organizers in Massachusetts plan a petition drive for the 2014 ballot to raise their state minimum wage and to require paid sick leave.

Most of the workers who would benefit from $15 per hour have families to support; the media age for fast food workers is 28. Women account for two-thirds of the industry; their average age is 32. At Wal-Mart, the median age is 30, and workers bring in half the family’s income.

Most low-wage workers are employed by companies with profits higher than before the recession, particularly in the fast food industry that can handsomely reward CEOs. McDonalds’ Don Thompson got $13.8 million last year. Brands (Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut) gave $11.3 million to CEO David Novak. After Wal-Mart had sluggish growth and only 5 percent increase in sales, CEO Michael Duke got a raise–$20.7 million up from $18.1 million in 2011. The average daily salary of a fast food CEO is about $25,000, about 40 percent higher than the annual salary of each worker.

Businesses have said that they should have the option of whether to pay a minimum wage, and the Boston-based burrito chain Bolaco actually pays its employees more than the minimum wage. Entry-level workers receive between $9 and $11 an hour, most of them $10, and many of them advance into higher roles paying $17 or more. Regarding low wages at companies like McDonalds and Burger King, Boloco CEO John Pepper said, “It’s a lot easier to keep wages down than it is to find better practices, bolder practices, more efficient practices, which come through training.”

The In-N-Out burger chain starts employees at $10.50 an hour, and workers at Dicks Drive-In in Seattle start at $10. Moo Cluck Moo, a burger chain in Detroit, pays its workers $12 an hour.

The people protesting the minimum wage have jobs, but the unemployment rate is still 7.4 percent as of July. Rep. Steve King (R-IA), probably on his way to being presidential candidate through Charleston (SC) a week ago, accused the unemployed of not trying to get work and compared them to children who won’t do their chores at home.

The truth is that there are three people looking for each job opening in the United States. The recession made long-term unemployment more common than any other downturn in many decades, and being unemployed for nine months has the same impact on the odds of getting hired as losing four full years of experience from a résumé.

This Labor Day does have good news.

  • A majority of people in the U.S. has favorable views of unions. A June poll showed that 51 percent are positive about unions, up ten percent from two years ago and the first time since January 2007 that a majority has felt this way.
  • Union membership in California increased by 110,000 members in 2012 although it fell 368,000 nationwide. Several other states with growing Latino populations also have growing union membership.
  • Some workers are standing up for decent wages and working conditions. Wal-Mart workers and warehouse workers went out on strike, port truckers in L.A. and Long Beach voted to unionize along with carwash workers in L.A. and New York and taxi drivers in New York, and Hawaii enacted a domestic worker “Bill of Rights” possibly followed by California. And fast food workers are striking.
  • For the first time since President Obama was elected, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has a full complement of five members. Despite court restraints, the board remains an important source for workers whose rights have been violated by their employers.
  • The AFL-CIO and its affiliates are holding an “open convention” next week, showing its inclusion of domestic workers, carwash workers, Wal-Mart workers, fast food workers and others. They have also formed alliances with the NAACP, National Council of La Raza, Sierra Club, religious organizations, and other groups that support basic justice for American workers. And they have played a key role in lobbying for federal legislation that benefits all workers–healthcare reform, equal pay legislation, immigration reform, an increase in the minimum wage and paid sick leave.

Despite the decades of stagnating wages and disappearing health and pension benefits, the return of the unions might give hope for future Labor Days—and the economy.

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