Archive for category Inequality
Read this: As usual, Norm Chomsky makes us rethink what we often lazily take for granted. He poses the question, “Who Rules the World” and immediately refutes what is probably our most common answer. That quick, assumptive response is often “the states” or “the great powers”, but he says this may be misleading. Regardless of the level of supposed democracy, decisions and politics “are heavily influenced by internal concentrations of power, while the general population is often marginalized”. Chomsky emphasizes that, to understand who rules the world, we cannot ignore the “’masters of mankind,’ as Adam Smith called them: in his day, the merchants and manufacturers of England; in ours, multinational conglomerates, huge financial institutions, retail empires, and the like.” Basically what we know as multinational corporations. He describes “the ‘vile maxim’ to which the “masters of mankind” are dedicated: ‘All for ourselves and nothing for other people’. This doctrine or policy is intricately entwined with ‘class war, often one-sided, much to the detriment of the people of the … the world’.”
In the two articles below found in The Nation magazine, Chomsky makes many points clarifying policies and tools used by “the masters (to) hold enormous power”. Read the rest of this entry »
Read this: Inequality is all around us and as it spreads it’s ugly head pops up in seemingly unintended places, but one has to wonder about that. At the very least it is a product of simply not caring. It is pretty commonly accepted that starving government programs (excepting the military) is a tactic utilized constantly by the right in order to feed public contempt for government. As profitable corporations pay no taxes or receive giant refunds and the flight of potential tax revenue as corporations and the wealthy hide money in off shore tax havens has resulted in most of our government programs becoming grossly and intentionally underfunded. The result is: conservative or liberal, we are all frustrated with our government whenever and wherever we interact with it. This is not really news but a closer look at certain specifics illustrate that loss of basic constitutional rights (for the poor of course) can proliferate as a result.
The article below from The Nation Magazine, by Sara Mayeux focuses on our starved legal system where typical austerity focuses cuts on programs that can least afford them. Read the rest of this entry »
Read this: As a Bernie Sanders advocate, I confess, I am biased. I feel he is so often right on whatever message he is delivering, of course I usually agree with him. Beyond that, I am also impressed that he delivers his messages in a pretty concise packages, which works better considering our steadily diminishing attention spans. I came across his latest speech, which sadly few Americans will probably hear, in an article in The Nation Magazine, by John Nichols. I must say it is one of his best if not the best.
Taking a couple days off of a rather important New York primary, he flew to Italy and after meeting privately with Pope Francis for a “brief encounter at the papal residence, which both the pope and the senator said should not be seen as any kind of political intervention or endorsement”, Sanders took advantage of an opportunity to speak at a Vatican conference that fit perfectly with his message of inequality that is the foundation of his presidential campaign. Read the rest of this entry »
Watch / Read: In the following Democracy Now interview, Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman interview journalist Greg Palast, exploring an example of what many would call a classic example of “Vulture Capitalism”. In this case longtime Republican fundraiser Paul Singer is the big winner, or maybe “vulture”, when “Argentina … reached an agreement to pay U.S. hedge funds that have sought for 14 years to profit off the country’s economic crisis.” As with many similar cases the obvious questions involve fairness, excessive profit and the victims (people of Argentina). “The deal would see the hedge funds take about 75 percent of what they demanded from Argentina—several times more than what they actually paid for the debt. Singer’s fund itself netted $2.4 billion—10 to 15 times its original investment.” Making things even more interesting is the fact that Singer is one of Republican Presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s biggest endorsers, calling into question what Republicans think about such “vulture like” activities. Similar actions are being attempted state by state in the USA, for example Michigan’s water catastrophe in Flint.
Watch this: Every once in a while it is worthwhile to review some things that are, well, worth reviewing. The basic concepts suggested in Naomi Klein‘s book The Shock Doctrine / The Rise of Disaster Capitalism definitely meets this criteria, in my opinion.
While I would definitely encourage anyone, who has not, to read the book, I know that time is often a scarce commodity and for many reading will simply not happen. I recently found a quick alternative that gives a brief overview, with a little extra content related to issues such as inequality. This is a short YouTube video where Klein reviews the thesis of the book. Here she says that “we have entered a new phase of Disaster Capitalism, that uses the shock and awe of various national events to impose what economists call economic shock therapies” on the country or people least able to defend themselves. Often, if not usually, these economic actions end up not in the best interests of the people concerned. They, however, are usually wonderful for the wealthy people, corporations and banks that force them into being.
Watch this: This is a short video in the series The Zero Hour with RJ Esko, where he is discussing retirement benefits with Monique Morrissey from the Economic Policy Institute. Morrissey’s areas of interest include Social Security, pensions and other employee benefits, household savings, tax expenditures, older workers, public employees, unions and collective bargaining, Medicare, institutional investors, corporate governance, executive compensation, financial markets, and the Federal Reserve. Together they discuss “The State of American Retirement” and conclude “It Is Pretty Bad”.
Some of the key points are:
- “We have moved to a 401K system which magnifies inequality”,
- “The inequality has not been random – some groups have fared far better than others”,
- “25 years after we began moving from pensions to 401Ks, pensions are still providing 6 times the benefits of 401Ks”,
- “For most Americans the post WWII benefits peaked with the infamous 3-legged stool (savings, pensions & Social Security) but has now been whittled down to a single leg (Social Security)”,
- “Annual expansion of Social Security ended in 1983 (Reagan years again) and have not resumed that practice, while at the same time we were supplanting secure pensions with risky 401Ks”
Here are some things Morrissey says we need to do:
- “Make Social Security stronger and annually adjusted”,
- “Make our 401K system more like pensions were: stronger, better, safer”,
- “The pensions that exist (particularly public) are under attack and they need to be protected and strengthened”,
- “We need to develope plans for workers who typically get nothing through their employer (California’s new ‘Clear Choice Plan’ is an early attempt)”.
Esko recalls a CEO in an old interview saying: “I want to give emloyees less but make them think it is more”. And with the magical powers of writing the laws enacted by our government, this has basically happened. This is a key part in the “story of growing inequality” and particularly the covert redistribution of wealth. Of course “we have tended to blame the victims instead of focusing on a system that just isn’t working”.
There are a slew of other facts, many of which are very disturbing. Watch the video and recall it when making your political choices.
Read this: Socialistic ideas abound, but today, here in the USA, they are avoided like the plague. At the same time we have so many “social” problems (poverty, homelessness, etc.) maybe we should be a bit more open to ideas and methods we haven’t looked at for a long time. Increases in inequality and homelessness seem to be very closely related and in order to make any significant changes we may need to look seriously at the system of “wealth, rights, and property” that is taken for granted in America and throughout much of the world. The article linked below by Jesse A. Myerson, writing for The Nation magazine does just that. His premise says: ” The true culprit is so deeply embedded in American notions of wealth, rights, and property that we cannot see it for the terrible economy policy it is: private housing. Real estate as a store of private wealth is the rotten tree that sprouts these diseased branches, and the solution is to quit pruning twigs and chop the sucker down.” He goes on to “propose some models and policies that can (make a difference). As a matter of fact several of these are already working. While many are taking place outside the USA, there are successes here as well. To understand how this can work you have to grasp the concept of separating private housing into its’ two primary parts: real estate (or land) and the structure (or home). “Land, save the bits beneath one’s feet, can’t be ‘possessed,’ as a phone or a shirt can. What a “land owner” possesses is a deed … that if challenged, the federal government … (will) back up (or protect).” Myerson suggests this is artificial and “the entire apparatus by which housing is privately ‘owned’ is created by the government’s decisions to subsidize or protect certain interests.” As inequality has gotten out of control this process has invariably leveraged the wills of the wealthy, at the expense of the poor and powerless. “Treating real estate as privately owned wealth, as a financial asset, has devastating public effects”.
Myerson’s solution (which is already in progress in various places and countries) is for government (We The People) to “turn land and housing stock toward the public good”. Here are some concepts and examples:
- “Pennsylvania ha(s) … a two-tiered property tax, wherein the assessed value of the location is taxed at a higher rate than the assessed value of the building. For best results, 100 percent of the location price should be confiscated and invested in a sovereign wealth fund, the way Alaska’s oil royalties are”
- “An exclusion fee effectively makes the land public, leaving the ‘owners’ of the buildings without a way to collect more in rental income than the building, distinct from the land, is worth”
- “There is no reason to suspect that a given property-development capitalist should be more capable of determining for a community what optimally desirable new buildings to produce than the community itself … (with) boards typically composed at least one-third of residents”
- “Bostons’ … Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) established a community land trust that has democratically directed a renovation project resulting in hundreds of affordable-housing units and other public spaces, among them community centers, new schools, a community greenhouse, parks, and playgrounds.”
- There are other models such as one in Vienna, Austria where, because of “its erstwhile socialist government (‘Red Vienna,’ 1918–34), the City of Vienna is the largest landowner in all of Austria. On its land, the city government provides comfortable housing (whose units might be high-end condos in the United States) not just to poor and working-class people but to virtually half the city.”
When the pilgrims tried to purchase land from the Wampanoag people one of the native leaders said “What is this you call property? … It cannot be the earth, for the land is our Mother…. everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How then can one man say it belongs to him only?” This all suggests, if not shouts “socialism”, which is still THE WORD THAT SHALL NOT BE SPOKEN in American politics. We all know this is hogwash so why do we accept it? Most of our successful national programs have a socialistic basis. It is time we acknowledge this socialistic fact and implement changes that are needed and that will benefit all of society, not continue to add to the leverage of the wealthy and powerful.
Read the entire article and you may start to think THIS COULD WORK.
Read this: Sometimes you just can’t seem to make a point sink in. One of the best examples of this is the importance of inequality as one of the major obstacles to a functioning democracy. No matter how often inequality is cited people just say wow and go about their business. Where is the outrage, the calls for action, the refusal to continue? To make a point, on inequality, we often talk about the wealth of the Forbes 400, the top 1 % or the or the top .01 %. Forget all that. The article in link below from The Nation Magazine, by Joshua Holland gives us some of the newest data on wealth and inequality and it is obscene. A “report released on Wednesday by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) reveals. According to ‘Billionaire Bonanza: The Forbes 400 and the Rest of Us,’ just the twenty individuals at the top of the pile—a group that could fit into a Gulfstream G650 luxury jet, according to the study’s authors—now control more wealth than the bottom half of the population. That’s 152 million people living in 57 million households.”
Remarkably, “Chuck Collins … (a) co-author of the report, tells The Nation that their study likely underestimates the scope of the problem.” You have to be kidding. NOPE! “So much wealth among the über-rich is hidden, either in offshore tax havens or in these loophole trusts where money is shuffled around into private corporate accounts or between different family members, and it disappears from taxation or any sort of oversight or accountability.” Collins says “it is only getting worse” siting several related factors:
- “893,914 avoidable deaths per year – compared with those other economies. That’s more unnecessary deaths than are associated with tobacco use, car accidents, and gun deaths combined”
- Demise of our social fabric – as “people create mythologies about each other—like the ‘makers versus takers’ rhetoric that reared its ugly head during the 2012 presidential election”
- Detrimental national policy changes – ” Those at the very top didn’t become three times as smart or lucky or good-looking in the intervening years. They’ve benefited from changes in things like trade policy, the tax code, and collective-bargaining rules—all policy changes they’ve used their wealth to champion.”
- political connections: “our elected officials are highly sensitive to the interests of the wealthiest Americans (and overwhelmingly belong to that group themselves), pay some attention to those of the middle class—and the views of the poor don’t factor into legislators’ voting tendencies at all.”
Where does this all end? ” Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, argues that sky-high inequality in the Middle East is a major reason terrorist groups like ISIS find fertile ground for recruitment.” If we are to keep this from eventually happening here, in the US, change needs to come from We The People and maybe it will. The absurdity of this wealth disparity may eventually sink in. Finally, the article concludes with hope saying “People are realizing that a certain amount of inequality is part of how our society works, but these are absurdly extreme levels of inequality, … And while we can talk all day about policy fixes, those things won’t matter unless we actually build a movement to tax wealth and invest it in things that create opportunity for everyone else.”
Read this: Sometimes a bill being proposed in congress makes so much sense you wonder “why hasn’t that already been done?” Usually that is why. It makes too much sense. Maybe I am a little too cynical here and maybe not. Luckily we now have a very active watchdog in the US Senate, looking for ways to make corrections and call out what is “just not right”.
As she so often does, MA Senator Elizabeth Warren saw an obvious need to correct things. ” For only the third time since 1972, elderly Americans won’t be receiving a cost-of-living increase in their Social Security benefits.” Different from popular Republican myths, Warren knows that the “majority of Social Security recipients don’t have income from other sources, and rely on benefits that are already fairly meager.” That means a cost of living adjustment will hurt, and like the Republican plan so often does, it will hurt those who can least afford it. Warren “and 16 Democratic colleagues have stepped into the breach proposed a bill on Thursday that would provide seniors with a one-time emergency payment of 3.9 percent of annual benefits, which would average out to a $581 payment.” How would we pay for that you ask. It just so happens there is a “hidden benefit for corporate CEO’s that that would virtually fund this benefit for Social Security. This amount “is the exact amount that CEO compensation at the top 350 US firms increased last year. The top 100 CEOs have a combined $4.9 billion saved for retirement, which equals the cumulative retirement savings of 116 million Americans.” What is really amazing is that “those CEO retirement accounts are explicitly subsidized by US taxpayers; the government provides CEOs with special tax-deferred retirement options and unlimited corporate deductions for executive ‘performance pay.’ Almost half of the retirement assets held by Fortune 500 executives are in these tax-deferred plans, which are not available to most of the executive’s employees.” Most of us don’t know about these little perks we are paying for the 1%. Instead our attention is diverted by negative media stories about efforts to help those who are “actually in need”.
Read the article in the link below found in The Nation Magazine, by George Zornick and find ways to support this bill and others like it. Remember, in a democracy it is up to all of us (not just Senator Warren) to constantly watch, participate and battle inequalities.
Sign the petition: As you may know from my history, I believe corporations are the biggest threat to democracy worldwide and particularly here in the USA. Compounding this is the problem of steadily increasing inequality and the methodical disappearance of the middle class. As corporations continue to gain power and wealth they use various legalese to further enhance their grab for more power and money. And, of course, there is always the fictitious premise that they are persons, entitled to corresponding rights. This all makes it so absurd that most of us don’t know where to begin when looking for any solutions. One place to focus is to try to “end corporate tax havens” where corporations technically move portions of their money offshore, in order to avoid paying U.S. taxes on it. Essentially legally stealing money from the rest of us.
The petition below attempts to do just that by “clos(ing) tax loopholes for corporations that ship jobs and hide profits offshore”. It would “raise hundreds of billions of dollars to reinvest in America” and make a little dent in the spread of inequality. It was sponsored by American Family Voices, Americans for Tax Fairness Action Fund, Campaign for America’s Future, Courage Campaign, Crooks and Liars, Daily Kos, Deluge, Democracy for America, Economic Policy Institute Policy Center, Left Action, People For the American Way, Rep. Mark Pocan (WI), Progressive Congress, RootsAction.org, Silver Linings Action, The Agenda Project, and The Nation. Please sign and if you are a progressive, pay attention to some of these organizations as you try to wade through the political confusion.