Dec 27, 2010
Dec 26, 2010
There will be no more California strawberries in this house. Their Department of Pesticide Regulation recently (at the tail end of Republican Schwarzenegger’s last term as governor) approved the use of methyl iodide as a pesticide for their state’s strawberry fields. California’s own Scientific Review Panel stated that “methyl iodide is a highly toxic chemical” whose use “would have a significant adverse impact on public health.”1
But this is how it happens in a corporate-dominated society. If Arysta LifeScience Corporation, the largest private pesticide company in the world according to the Pesticide Action Network (PAN),1 wants to spray a carcinogen all over your strawberries, infecting the workers who plant and pick them and, potentially, the groundwater which millions of Californians depend on, then by god Arysta will do it. They will get the Bush administration’s EPA to sign off on its use, they will hire PR and lobbying firms to buy off our elected representatives, and they will convince you, with lower prices and massive advertising campaigns, to ignore your and your children’s best interests and buy their poison by the truckload.
The Scientific Review Panel’s findings and other documents related to this scandal, may be found at the PAN link below. Read them and weep. Then write the new governor and the EPA, both of whom have indicated they may reverse the decisions allowing this travesty in public health.
1 Pesticide Action Network North America
Dec 18, 2010
People have to work. They have to work for their bread. They have to work for their self-esteem. They have to work in order to take their place in a society which requires their portion of labor and which is only able to underwrite their idleness to a limited extent before it begins to crack apart.
One in every four American workers is not working now—at all or enough or at a sufficient wage to qualify them as adequately employed. They are threatening to become a permanent underclass of un- and underemployed Americans. The middle class who are employed are losing ground, losing hours, losing wages, forced by globalization to drift ever nearer to the status of the third-world neo-slave labor force that is inundating our globe with cheap goods and environmental degradation.
If we are to avoid social cataclysm, work must become the top priority in America. And the only way to do that is to guarantee every American worker a job at a living wage.
The recent tax cut legislation passed by Congress is another poison pill dropped into the social brew. That brew has been poisoned for thirty years by the nonsense of trickle-down economics, as enormous fortunes have been made by brigands with whom the robber barons of the 19th century would have been ashamed to associate. The legislation will have little or no effect on employment, which can only be bettered by finding our way back to a vibrant, productive economy. If we have to jump start that economy by governmental intervention to put people—all people—back to work, then so be it.
The fact that we should never have allowed ourselves to reach the point where such action is required is beside the point. We are there. Americans in vast numbers are losing their homes, their jobs, and their savings, and with home, job, and savings go their self-esteem and their connectedness to community. As we enter the third year of economic bust in America, huge numbers of the unemployed will begin to exhaust their 99 weeks of unemployment compensation. Cold and hunger will then visit America to an extent not felt since the first half of the 19th century. Few who feel this cold and hunger will be unjustified in believing their social contract has been broken, and we may look for a rapid decline in social order, a ramping up of police state repression, and a swift decline into third world status ourselves.
This need not be, howsoever present policies seem to be condemning us to this fate. We, the people, remain the masters of our fate. And while that is still so, we must act, with speed, decisiveness, and a spirit of cooperation not seen since the founding fathers came together from disparate political spheres to establish this grand experiment in the first place.
Dec 11, 2010
We’re all ostriches, our heads in the sand, hoping the threat goes away, hoping it’s not the threat we know it is, hoping someone else will do something about it before we have to because, frankly, we don’t have a clue about what to do.
Robert Reich’s piece in the Huffington Post the other day1 laid it out: The Republican worldview, that government needs to get out of the way and let the free market reign, has captured critical brainshare and momentum in American politics. This has happened despite the fact that this same too-free market has manipulated millions of households into foreclosure and thrown one of ten Americans out of work. Before this worldview is revealed as the disaster it is, Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid could become historical curiosities; the economic powerhouse of the American middle class wither away; and society revert to that horrible Hobbesian vision where the life of man is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Now is the time to realize this and now is the time to act. There are two directions those actions can take: violent or nonviolent.
Violent acts consist of a spectrum from mild gestures of civil disobedience (marching, public interferences, tax strikes) to armed insurrection. Today, except for ill-disguised celebrity love-ins at the Lincoln Memorial, large (or small) public demonstrations seem beyond our capacity, and individual acts of rebellion are too isolated, infrequent, and obscure to matter. Armed insurrection would plunge us into a future where the only certainty I can imagine is that our glorious experiment in democracy would suffer a sea change into something as bad as the worst excesses of history have visited upon our species.
Nonviolent action is still possible and always preferable to the cost, pain, and uncertainty of violence. Our political structure, though tattered and almost wholly co-opted by the corporatocracy, nonetheless remains accessible to us. We can still elect a Kucinich or a Feingold (I am becoming increasingly disenchanted with my own Bernie Sanders whose recent “filibuster” seems to have been a mere publicity stunt).
In order to work within the political structure, however, I see no alternative to the daunting task of fashioning a second party. And I am not being cute when I say that. It is clear that the Republican and Democratic parties have converged into a single handmaid of the corporatocracy, and that we are as much under the thumb of a one-party system here as are the hapless Russians.2 Our new party must have a new American vision, one that understands how to strike the proper balance between self-reliance and government involvement in the lives of its citizens. I believe I began to outline that vision in my Nov 13, 2010, piece, “A New American Vision.” It is time to begin the hard task of building our new party by discussing this vision, adapting it, honing it, advertising it, slowly winning adherents, and then finding, supporting, and electing representatives at all levels of government who adhere to these new American principles. I believe they are, in essence, the old American principles we have long valued and little practiced.
I also believe that this year, this month, this week, with this pivotal piece of legislation pending before a lame-duck congress, that this is the hour we will look back on one day as the point where “two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” We are almost certainly going to take the wrong road. The crucial question will be, how far down that road will we go before we realize our mistake, and how much will it cost us to turn around and find our way back?
1 Why the Obama Tax Deal Confirms the Republic Worldview, by Robert Reich, from The Huffington Post, Dec 8, 2010. Accessed Dec 9, 2010.
2 Elections in Siberia Show Russiaís Drift to Single Party, by Clifford J. Levy, from the New York Times, Dec 10, 2010. Accessed Dec 11, 2010.
Dec 09, 2010
Many are the voices,1,2 all urging the same thing: “Give him a break, he’s doing the best he can.” Meanwhile, for the progressive base, currently led by Bernie Sanders and his filibuster threat, this is the last straw.
The “package,” which would add nearly a trillion dollars more to the deficit before the next election3, represents a huge giveaway to the super-rich and peanuts to the poor. It will further solidify a permanent underclass of unemployed Americans, extending their puny benefits for another 13 months, while retaining for the plutocracy their ability to continue scrambling for an ever larger portion of the pie.
The long death march of Social Security takes another giant step forward, as a third of the payroll deduction is slashed for one year, a cut which the corporatocracy will almost surely try to make permanent, as the Bush tax cuts are shaping up to be.
The capital gains and dividends giveaway—they are taxed at 15%, only about half the 25-28% the middle class pay on their income—will be extended another two years.
Blood in the streets is postponed by extending unemployment benefits to a chunk of the 15.1 million idle Americans. That largess accounts for only $56 billion of the $900 billion price tag on the package, as 7 million unemployed were facing no income and virtually no prospects of work in 2011.
This “center” cannot hold, and should a filibuster fail to materialize or fail to be effective against this boondoggle, then look for things to begin falling apart in 2011. Whether it take the form of China calling in our markers, a third conflict initiated against Iran, a descent into anarchy via the reinvigorated Republican assault on government, or something unexpected and out of the blue, yet it will come.
Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has provided one of the clearest and most comprehensive explanations of what is happening, and why the current tax “compromise” has to be where we draw the line in the sand.4
1 No Deficit of Courage,by Jon Meacham, from the NY Times, Dec 8, 2010, accessed Dec 9, 2010.
2 Falling Off the Bandwagon, by Gail Collins, from the NY Times, Dec 8, 2010, accessed Dec 9, 2010.
3 Tax Deal Suggests New Path for Obama, by David M. Herszenhorn and Jackie Calmes, from the NY Times, Dec 6, 2010, accessed Dec 9, 2010.
4 Why the Obama Tax Deal Confirms the Republic Worldview, by Robert Reich, in the Huffington Post, Dec 8, 2010, accessed Dec 9, 2010.
Dec 05, 2010
Vermont’s legislature is considering a plan to implement health care for all its citizens. If successful, it will be a single-payer, government-administered, cradle-to-grave plan that will eliminate the profit and overhead costs of private insurance plans. It will not be easy to implement, even without the millions of dollars the health care industry will pour into defeating it. However, it is important that we succeed here and show the way to the rest of the nation.
To that end, I want to make a few suggestions regarding the direction we should go in crafting this plan.
The point of insurance is to share risk among the insured population, and to protect each of us from ruinous expenses. A car accident, a home destroyed by fire, or the onset of a serious disease can spell financial disaster for a family. Car insurance has long been issued on a no-fault basis, largely to spare society from protracted and expensive legal procedures. However, premiums are still calibrated in accordance with the perceived risk level of the drivers. Sixteen-year-old boys pay more, as do older drivers with poor records. If you set fire to your own house for the insurance, you have committed arson and you will have a hard time collecting.
In the realm of health care, the issue of fault also needs to be addressed. Some people will burden the system more than others for reasons relating to their lifestyle choices. The system should encourage a healthy lifestyle, and when it is burdened with procedures that are the result of unhealthy lifestyles, the patients involved must bear a greater share of the cost. How this is to be adjudicated or implemented is subject to debate. But it is clear to me that an acknowledgement, assignment, and assessment of fault should be part of a universal health care plan.
We all know that health care costs have been skyrocketing throughout most of our lifetimes, and now expend over 17 percent of our GDP—twice that of most other industrialized countries—and they are estimated to nearly double by 2019.1 This is not entirely the fault of greedy private insurance companies. Many diagnostic procedures require expensive new devices. The population is increasing and aging. The American diet is disastrous—childhood obesity, for instance, has tripled in the last thirty years and is now considered of epidemic proportions.2
If we are to craft a do-able universal health care plan, we must make prevention our first priority and we must calibrate coverage in a way that takes that priority into practical consideration.
In my next posting, I will discuss the issues of so-called health care rationing and the incendiary issue of end-of-life care.
1 National Health Expenditures Top 17% GDP
2 Overweight Trends Among Children and Adolescents
Nov 30, 2010
Nov 27, 2010
We live in an Ayn Rand/Milton Friedman world now. Dog eat dog. Every man for himself. Greed is good. A world where selfishness has become a moral imperative. And we see where it has gotten us. Income inequity of medieval proportions. One out of four or five Americans out of work or working part time or for peanuts or well below their level of education and expertise. A financial sector as out of control as any rogue nation or organized criminal enterprise. Obesity and diabetes epidemics, particularly among our children, threatening to blow health care costs into the stratosphere. Social, economic, and political systems in the hands of an international corporate plutocracy hellbent on destroying those systems, humanity, and the earth itself in pursuit of ever higher profits.
This is where the Chicago School has brought us, and there is no arguing with the numbers or the damage already done.
So why not jettison this twisted perversion of Darwinism, and instead promote a system with a moral imperative exactly counter to the failed policies of the last thirty years. This system says, in essence, “We will all be better off if we all are better off.”.
I am sick when I think of the scores of children who have died while I write this short piece1. I know that had these children been spared, educated, and allowed to engage with the family of man into adulthood, this world would be so much richer, in its art, its science, its humanity.
Instead, we live in a world where the few squeeze the many, gutting our hard-won middle class standard of living in order to fill pockets already overflowing with ill-gotten gains. There is a better way, working together for the benefit of all. Most of us are ready to make do with a little less, and a few must make do with a lot less (they will still enjoy levels of wealth way beyond their needs), in order that all of us have enough. FDR said it best: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”.
If this is true—and Jesus, Moses, and Mohammed are with me in believing it is—then in pursuing policies exactly in contradiction to this path, our world is heading for trouble. Progressives recognize this; Tea Partiers recognize this, though they ascribe it to the wrong reasons. Greg Mortenson, Paul Farmer, Sarah Chayes, and hundreds of lesser known toilers in the most bereft corners of the world recognize this. If there is a people anywhere on our globe more capable of recognizing this, and acting on it, than those of us here in the U.S., I don’t know who they are.
If not us, who? If not now, when?
1 Today, over 22,000 children died around the world, from GlobalIssues.org, accessed November 27, 2010.
Nov 13, 2010
A government of, by, and for the people puts the people first, and molds its social, political, and economic institutions to serve the people, and not the other way around.
I propose a New American Vision where everyone works who can, and where all earn a living wage doing so. The ragged, heartless, and inefficient vestiges of the social “safety net”—food stamps, WIC, TANF, UI, CHIP, Medicaid, etc., etc.— can then be dismantled, with custodial care retained only for the very tiny minority who are not able to work.
I propose a New American Vision where a balanced federal budget, if necessary by Constitutional amendment, and a strong defense—the strongest in the world—are top priorities. In that context, I propose a six-month withdrawal from the hopeless military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan. The efforts we are making in these countries cannot succeed through military force and must be handed over to a re-energized and adequately funded international police force.
I propose a New American Vision that harnesses our considerable resources in a concerted effort to develop clean, renewable energy. None but the most craven corporate lackeys will deny we will run out of nonrenewable resources this century. We must tax those remaining barrels of oil, gallons of natural gas, and tons of coal to finance the American innovative powerhouse that alone can show the world the way to safe, clean energy.
I propose a New American Vision that reinvents capitalism to serve the people, and not vice versa. This should begin with a sharply reduced corporate income tax and a more progressive personal income tax to counteract the unprecedented income inequality which has been allowed to metastasize over the last 30 years. Certain capitalist enterprises which tend to work against the interests they purport to serve, such as the medical and pharmaceutical industries, should be nationalized. In the context of a capitalism that serves the people, America will do business with any nation that strives to preserve the human rights and labor and environmental protections we have fought for so long and which are so vital to our society. It is unconscionable that we should do an “end run” around those rights and protections by exporting our manufacturing and other industries to nations which, far from sharing those values, are publicly and violently opposed to them.
I propose a New American Vision where federal elective offices immediately are assessed a five percent pay reduction and term limits are established for House and Senate seats—four terms for the former and two for the latter. A professional American political class is inimical to a people’s liberty, and a much higher number of our citizenry should and must become involved in our representative form of democracy.
Finally, I propose a New American Vision where, to quote the Constitution (10th Amendment), “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Those powers reserved to the people should be those powers over one’s individual behavior which do not adversely impact on the rights of others, including the power to ingest whatever substances one desires, the power to determine one’s own end of life, the power to marry whomever one chooses, etc. Regarding the latter, discrimination against any individual on the basis of their variation from some imagined “norm” is, to my mind, about as heinous an offense against another human being as can be conceived—it is a kind of murder, and it should be dealt with, wherever it appears, in as harsh and condemnatory a manner as possible.
And once our own house is in order, we can see ahead to a New World Vision, where a child doesn’t die every few seconds of starvation and polluted water; where war becomes a miserable memory; where the boundless potential of human capital is given a global opportunity to flourish; where, gradually, we re-learn to live in harmony on our one tiny world.
This is a New American Vision for we, the people, who have been given dominion over this fragile world and who must decide, and soon, whether that dominion will serve all the people and the generations to come, or be sacrificed to our dark side and to the blind greed of a few.
Nov 07, 2010
Here is how it works, and it is really quite simple. A true-life example: The federal government reaches into your pocket and extracts three billion dollars. They give it to some other country, on the condition that that country purchase three billion dollars worth of weaponry from American corporations. The lion’s share of the profits from this sale goes into the pockets of a few high-level corporate executives who, in exchange, fund the campaigns of the individuals in the federal government who are empowered to enable this scam.1
Of course, a puny three billion dollar sale is just a drop in the bucket. The real bucks come with endless war. It has been estimated, by a Nobel Prize winning economist, that the war in Iraq will ultimately cause the extraction of three trillion dollars from our pockets—that’s three thousand billion dollars.2 And who can begin to guess what the one in AfPak will cost, now in its tenth year and no end in sight.
And when the Republicans return to power in 2011 and 2013, and begin chipping away at Social Security and Medicare, the last vestiges of the middle class will disappear into a maelstrom of foreclosures, bankruptcies, and suicides.
Both the Tea Party and the Progressive movements in the U.S. are made up of people who believe government has failed them, that the essential responsibility of their elected officials, to provide services and protections necessary to maintain an efficient, safe, and well-functioning society, have been abandoned in favor of the promotion of special interests which are inimical to the interests of society at large.
We live in a corporatocracy and a plutocracy, where fewer and fewer are becoming richer and richer, and we—miserable damn fools that we are—with our iPods and our televisions, fritter away the last days of democracy on Facebook and at the mall.
We need a new American vision, one that puts the people first. And we all need to get behind that vision. Tomorrow, I will flesh out a few details of that vision, as I see it, and I will challenge you to identify the ideology my vision comes from. It is an American vision, composed of the best ideas from left, right, center, the Tea Party, and Progressives. It is a vision that puts the people first, a vision to restore America’s promise to itself and to the world.
Let us hope it is not too late.
1 Israel Commits to F-35 Purchase, by John Reed, from DefenseNews, October 7, 2010, accessed October 11, 2010.
1 The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict, by Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz, on Amazon.com, accessed Oct 11, 2010.
Oct 21, 2010
Sep 29, 2010
Sep 06, 2010
It is immoral to take an adult’s full-time labor and pay that adult less than a living wage. It is immoral, and it should be illegal.
Given that premise, what should we do? In our previous post on this issue, we noted that the Living Wage Calculator at Pennsylvania State University1 provides a living wage (LW) for a variety of households throughout the 50 states and D.C. What a single-person household requires for an LW is obviously going to be less than a household containing two adults and two children. Furthermore, a four-person family living in rural Vermont is going to require a lower LW ($25.38 in my county) than one living in midtown Manhattan ($30.30).
Geographic variation may be taken into account in establishing an LW without fearing everyone will move to regions where a higher one is available. There are simply too many other factors involved. However, to set an LW on the basis of household size is to risk both employers and employees attemping to “game the system” to their advantage. Just as the current federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) is a one-size-fits-all figure, so should the estabishment of an LW. The question is, what level do we set it at? My recommendation is to set it at the level provided by the Living Wage Calculator for a household with one adult and one child.
This is something of a compromise. I grew up in the classic American family, where one breadwinner supported himself, a spouse, and two children. The average family size still hovers around that figure. From a social policy perspective, we can argue that the LW should encourage this size of a family unit. Practically speaking, however, we can never hope to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to over $25 per hour, at least until we can demonstrate the feasibility—and desirability—of a significant, if lesser, increase.
In the real world today, most intact households contain two working adults. If we set the minimum wage at a level sufficent to support one adult and one child, we may have a reachable goal which is still a desirable one from a social policy perspective. In my rural Vermont setting, this means raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15.47. As the people at Pennsylvania State University say, this figure supports “a minimum estimate of the cost of living for low wage families.” No frills here. No European vacations, and little left over for college or retirement nest eggs. This is still bare bones living and still it is over twice what we require employers to pay their full-time workers today. And if that is not a national disgrace on par with waging endless war for the sole purpose of enriching a handful of multibillionaires, I don’t know what is.
The very idea, of course, will set up a great wailing and gnashing of teeth. It will be attacked as the last socialist nail in the coffin of American freedom and capitalism. It will be hooted down as pie in the sky. However, others, more thoughtful and aware of the extent of the peril we face if we maintain the status quo, will begin to take up this cause (and you will hear about them in this column).
Now it is time to turn our attention to the other great change we must bring about—guaranteed employment for all. And with that new civil right will come new civil responsibilities. More about that in our next posting.
1 Living Wage Calculator, from Pennsylvania State University, accessed September 6, 2010.
Sep 04, 2010
Another respected voice has been raised in opposition to the growing income inequality in our country.1 On the eve of another disappointing jobs report, when the official unemployment rate rose another tenth of a percent (to 9.6), former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich warns that “None of the standard [economic] booster rockets are working,” not low interest rates, cheap money, the stimulus, or tax credits for new hires.
The real problem, says Reich, is “the structure of the economy.” Consumers have run out of buying power, having seen flat wage increases since the exalted Reagan Revolution: “The median male worker earns less today, adjusted for inflation, than he did 30 years ago.” They can only make a car, a handbag, a basket of apples, so cheap, and you will still not be in a position to buy them if you are earning at a 1980 level, you have maxed out your charge cards, and your house, which you borrowed on during the years they convinced you its value would never decrease, is now underwater.
Meanwhile, no power on earth seems capable of slowing the transfer of wealth in the U.S. from the poor and middle class to the super-rich top one percent, who have gone from earning 9 percent of the nation’s total income in the late 1970s to 23.5 percent in 2007. Yes, that is one percent of the population earning nearly a quarter of all national income.
Reich takes his lesson from the Great Depression and its aftermath: “[T]here is only one way back to full recovery: through more widely shared prosperity.” In other words, through a redistribution of wealth, the sort of thing made possible in the 30s and 40s by the New Deal programs, a healthy labor movement, the G.I. Bill, and social legislation that attacked inequities in civil and voting rights. However, most of these and other such programs are still in place, and yet our wealth continues to flow up to the very few, abetted by a bought-and-paid-for political establishment.
The problem with Reich is that his recipes for relief seem paltry and all-too-easily belittled, besieged, and dismissed in the present political climate: Increasing the income tax credit, raising the ceiling on Social Security contributions, extending educational opportunities at both ends of the school career, compensating the underemployed with something he calls “earnings insurance.”
Like the stimulus and other measures floated to little or no effect so far, these ideas seem doomed to failure. In my view, we need a recall to democracy, where all for one and one for all is recognized as the only way for all to thrive.
A two-plank platform can get us there: 1) Guaranteed employment at 2) a living wage. Next time, I will get back to what I think that living wage should be.
See also two enlightened columns2,3 from yesterday’s Huffington Post.
1 How to End the Great Recession, by Robert Reich, from the NY Times, September 2, 2010, accessed September 3, 2010.
2 Neo-Progressives, by Lawrence Lessig, from the Huffington Post, September 3, 2010, accessed September 4, 2010.
3 Why the Big Lie about the Job Crisis?, by Les Leopold, from the Huffington Post, September 3, 2010, accessed September 4, 2010.
Aug 28, 2010
So what is a living wage (LW)? I am happy to let anyone establish that figure, if they are willing to live on it for the next two years. Hands? Well, all right, we will have to arrive at an LW by a different path.
Pennsylvania State University has developed a Living Wage Calculator1 which is probably as good a place to start as any. They provide living wages for a single adult, an adult with one dependent, two adults, two adults with one dependent, and two adults with two dependents. In a drastically overpopulated world, I would argue that we need not go beyond these numbers in our guaranteed LW. If you want to burden the world with six children, you had better be prepared to pay the price.
In my neck of the woods (Windsor County, Vermont), the LW for a single adult is $8.38, $1.13 more than the federal minimum wage and $.32 more than Vermont’s more generous minimum wage. An LW for an adult supporting a spouse and two children is $25.38 per hour, $18.13 more than the federal minimum wage and $17.70 more than Vermont’s minimum. At that level, the difference in the shortfall between the two is negligible.
Which brings us to our first practical problem. What is to keep employers from favoring hiring single adults without children if we establish these living wages based on marital and dependent status? What employer would not rather spend $8.38 than $25.38 per hour on an employee? And from the other point of view, would not the prospect of a significantly higher wage motivate many to have children who would otherwise not want them and who, consequently, probably shouldn’t have them?
I will propose one solution to this conundrum in my next posting. Follow me on Twitter to find out when that will be.
1 Living Wage Calculator, from Pennsylvania State University, accessed Aug 28, 2010.
Aug 22, 2010
Among thoughtful observers, a consensus seems to be forming regarding the only way out of the nasty mess(es) we are in, and that consensus is jobs. We need to put people back to work, and fast. Read the essays by Bob Herbert and Bob Burnett linked on this month’s Noted with Interest for starters, then search "jobs" in Google News for the past 24 hours and read many more.
Employment, in my view, should be a right, embodied in a constitutional amendment, along with the other rights we hold so dear.
The right of all adults to have a job and to be free from the vicissitudes of unemployment can and should be realized in this country, though to do so will require a sea change in our attitudes and a huge shift in priorities, away from a government of, by, and for corporations and back to a government of, by, and for the people—that is, back to a democracy instead of the corporatocracy which now controls our nation, our state and federal governments, and you and me.
We are a rich nation only at the very top of income levels. Otherwise, we are a poor country that is getting poorer under the thumb of the corporatocracy. Over thirteen percent of Americans—39.8 million of us—lived in poverty in 2008 and that number has gone up since then.1 This includes nearly one in five children, the highest rate of childhood poverty—by far—in the industrialized world.2
An essential step before guaranteeing employment for every American adult is to ensure that those jobs will pay a living wage.3 The federal minimum wage, forty years ago, was not even close to a living wage and today it is significantly further from one. It is past time to acknowledge that it is immoral to accept an adult worker’s full-time labor and pay that worker less than a living wage. It is immoral, and it ought to be illegal. So this is step one on the road to full employment—every job in America must pay a living wage.
In my next post, I consider what should be included in computing a living wage. Meanwhile, click on footnote #3 to find out what a living wage is in your state (according to one university’s calculations), and footnote #4 to find out your state’s current minimum wage.4 The federal minimum wage, below which states are not allowed to fall, is $7.25 per hour.
1 U.S. Census Bureau, accessed Aug 22, 2010.
2 Safety nets for children are weakest in US, from UNICEF, accessed Aug 22, 2010.
3 Living Wage Calculator, from Pennsylvania State University, accessed Aug 22, 2010.
4 List of U.S. minimum wages, from Wikipedia, accessed Aug 22, 2010.
Aug 21, 2010
Jul 24, 2010
Jun 19, 2010
May 27, 2010
May 12, 2010
A recent daily quotation from the upper right-hand corner of this page was from FDR, and it read:
The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
This is, in a way, the only message of All Together Now. We are an advanced society, with wealth to spare and all the comforts of modern life, yet we are confronted with challenges that cannot be overcome without wide agreement and cooperation on many issues. Our first imperative, indeed, our only imperative, is to arrange our society in such a way that everyone who today has too little has enough. Instead, we are hellbent in the opposite direction, with fewer and fewer hoarding more and more, and with more Americans falling into poverty every year.
Make no mistake, the plutocrats have their hands in your pockets bigtime. What started with the Reagan Revolution thirty years ago has accelerated into a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to a tiny plutocracy at the top, where in 2007 one percent of the American population owned 35% of the nation’s wealth, and the top 20 percent owned 85 percent of it, leaving 15% for the bottom 80 percent. And in terms of strictly financial wealth, which leaves out home equity values, the bottom 80 percent have only a seven percent share in the pie. And those numbers have gotten consistently worse since 1980, except for a brief respite during the Clinton administration.1
How has it happened? Primarily through the exploitation of disaster capitalism, so brilliantly explicated by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. The Asian tsunami, Katrina, 9/11, the world economic collapse of 2008 now wending its crippling way through Europe, all have been grist for the mill of the disaster capitalists. They have used every tragedy to press forward with the neo-liberal agenda of privatization, warmaking, and an all-out assault on social equity programs.
It would be one thing if the 2008 global collapse lowered all boats in anything like equal measure. It did not. It is estimated that there has been an astounding 36.1 percent drop in the wealth of the median household since the peak of the housing bubble in 2007, while the wealth of the top 1 percent of households dropped by just 11.1 percent.1 In other words, the economic collapse was just another disaster in aid of a huge transfer of wealth to the top.
Two more sobering statistics: 94 percent of the wealth created between 1983 and 2004 went to the top 20 percent of the population, the bottom 80 percent receiving only six percent. And in Europe, the ratio of executive/CEO pay to factory worker pay is about 25:1. In 1960 in the U.S., that ratio was 42:1; in 2000 it reached its high of 531:1. That is $531 paid to a CEO for every dollar earned by the one doing the actual work. This is not social injustice; this is brigandage.
Read the front page tomorrow, and see if more than half the stories there don’t, in the end, come down to some scheme that will end up diminishing the wealth of the poor and middle class while enriching the multi-billionaires who are destroying our world and our society. The Wall Street “crash,” that brought windfall profits and obscene bonuses to the executives who caused it; the oil spill in the Gulf that has destroyed thousands of small businesses, wreaked havoc on a large chunk of the American environment, and brought the company that built the rig $270 million in insurance profits2; the euro crisis in Greece that is being used to justify an assault on poor and middle class wages, pensions, and social services3,4; endless wars that empty the public coffers, bankrupting our children and grandchildren while filling the pockets of private enterprise profiteers with our hard-earned treasure. The list goes on and on.
It will end. It will end at the ballot box or it will end in the streets. But it will end. Let us hope it ends at the ballot box where, indeed, it still can end, our current crop of despicable politicians notwithstanding. We still have the power. We must wake up, organize, and take back our country. There are worthy organizations working toward that end, many of which have been mentioned on this site. However, our work starts with the neighbor next door, down our street, in our communities. Find your kindred spirits. Meet, discuss, plan, and act. You have nothing to lose but your chains.____________________
Apr 28, 2010
Mar 28, 2010
Mar 27, 2010
As awful as things seem to be, nationally and globally, it is heartening to see that life (for the time being at least) does go on, and humanity continues to regale us with its unquenchable variety. Happy Daze will report only good news on a monthly basis, rather like Noted with Interest provides monthly short takes of interest, usually of a less entertaining nature.
Send us happy news we missed and we will add it to our monthly listings. Here comes this month’s so far:
Mar 14, 2010
Update (March 14, 2010): Enfield voters, at their annual town meeting, voted overwhelmingly to support seven local nonprofits.
Originally published January 30, 2010
The headline in my local paper this morning: “Enfield: No Money for Nonprofits.”
The New Hampshire community of 4850 people has decided, “for philosophical reasons,” to drop nine social service agencies from its annual budget, saving approximately $50,000 from town expenditures of around $5,780,0001 (less than one percent). Services provided by the agencies include, in part, mass transit, mental and physical health assistance, senior citizen programs, support for victims of domestic abuse, and poverty alleviation. By anyone’s estimation, the nine agencies provide the town of Enfield with far more than $50,000 worth of important social services.
Stories such as these, as well as too many we are reading in the national press, show the extent to which the social contract is fraying. In hard times, panic trumps intelligence, and the middle class in America has been undergoing harder and harder times since the beginning of the Reagan Revolution. Somehow, in our panic, the myth that government is evil and needs to be curtailed has taken hold of the popular imagination. But government is as old as the day the first two families moved into the same cave and found they needed to forge a social contract in order to preserve internal peace and fend off external aggression.
To be sure, that government is best which governs least. However, government is the glue that binds us together and delivers, as effectively, efficiently, and economically as possible, those services which are necessary to preserve internal peace and fend off external aggression. Among those efficent services are public insurance programs which, upon superficial examination, seem to take from all to benefit the few—public education, for instance. Upon closer examination and better understanding, however, we find these programs benefit all of us some of the time, some of us all of the time, and, indeed, some benefit all of us all of the time in that they relieve us of burdens which, were they to fall upon us individually, would be disastrous.
Those social service agencies in Enfield are examples of these public insurance programs. For a relative pittance, we can, for instance, assure the services of a visiting nurse, for ourselves or a loved one, should such visits become necessary. Should they become necessary without investing that pittance, provision of such services could easily be insupportable. To argue that the public as a whole should not support these services because everyone does not use them is to miss the point entirely—of insurance, of government, of the social contract we adhere to for purposes of living together in society.
It is with profound sorrow that we here at All Together Now witness our nation’s social contract disintegrating, when we know that the time has never been more ripe for listening to our better instincts and, together, forging a new nation dedicated to the health, happiness, and well being of all its people.
1 Enfield, NH, from NH.gov, accessed Jan 30, 2010.
Mar 04, 2010
Update: March 3, 2010: Let the Rehabilitation Begin!
The first piece on saving Vermont Yankee to appear in the Times2 did so barely a week after the Vermont Senate vote to deny Entergy their bid for a 20-year extension to operate the plant. The focus this time: What will become of poor, doughty Vernon, VT, when the plant shuts down in 2012?
Originally published February 26, 2010
The corporatocracy which, today, controls the nation’s social, political, and economic life, for the apparent sole purpose of filling top management’s pockets (customers, stockholders, and workers be damned), took a small hit a couple of days ago when the Vermont Senate voted 26-4 to deny Entergy a 20-year extension to run the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. It is the first time in 20 years that the public or its representatives has decided to close such a facility.1
By all accounts, including Entergy’s, Vermont Yankee (VY) is a mess. The 38-year-old plant is leaking radioactive tritium, one of its cooling towers collapsed in 2007, plant owners lied—excuse me, misspoke—in testimony before two state panels regarding the condition of the facility, and Entergy has been attempting to elude their decommissioning responsibilities by selling off VY and a few other aging facilities to a new corporate entity of their own devising.
One VT senator, otherwise relatively sympathetic to the nuclear industry, opined to the effect that Entergy could not have done a better job of shooting themselves in the foot had their upper management been infiltrated by anti-nuclear activists.
Entergy vows to fight on, and I am sure they will have powerful backers. Check with us in March 2012 to see if VY will really have to close its doors. Knowing the state of the nation, my heart is with the people of Vermont, but my money is on Entergy.
No one wants to see the lights go out, and nuclear energy is undeniably essential to avoiding that event today. However, it is a suicidal means of generating electricity, and our leaders must not only set a priority on promoting the necessary development of green technologies, but they must be seen to be doing so. In that context, Obama’s recent boosterizing of the nuclear industry was yet another disappointment to his quickly vanishing base.
1 Vermont Senate Votes to Close Nuclear Plant, by Matthew L. Wald, from the New York Times, Feb 24, 2010, accessed Feb 25, 2010.
2 Town Finds Good Neighbor in Nuclear Plant, by Katie Zezima, from the New York Times, Mar 3, 2010, accessed Mar 4, 2010.
Feb 28, 2010
Feb 27, 2010
Update (Feb 27, 2010): As reported in the Pakistan Daily Times,2 a number of lawyers have allegedly threatened to “burn alive” any lawyer who would dare to defend the family of Shazia Masih. Leaving for the moment why the family should need defending more than the man in whose custody Shazia died, the article points up the hypocrisy emanating from a body which only recently gained worldwide admiration for their brave stand for justice.
Originally published Feb 6, 2010.
She is about 6 in the picture here. She was 12 when she died, probably of a combination of a skin disease, torture, and poverty. She was earning $8 a month—minus the employment agency’s commission—working 12 hours a day cleaning floors, cars, and toilets for a fatcat lawyer, to help her family pay off its debts. Her employer claimed that her 17 injuries “caused by blunt means” were the result of a fall down stairs. The case is pending.
This is how we live today, and if the world can’t manage a massive attitude adjustment, things are going to get worse and worse. Pakistan may “seethe”1 all it wants at the death of Shazia Masih, but Pakistan killed that little girl as surely as if her execution had been inscribed in its nation’s statutes.
All over the world, nations are abusing and exploiting and terrorizing their own. The U.S. not only does it at home, but exports their terror to the entire globe. A small global contingent of fabulously wealthy individuals have co-opted their body politic, and are destroying the golden goose in a headlong dash for more and ever more lucre.
That this world was made for all; that each life is precious and must be nurtured and given every opportunity to make its unique contribution to the future; that poverty, want, and ignorance are eradicable; that vast inequities in income breed violence on a scale the world can no longer afford to contemplate; these are attitudes which the world must adopt or we are doomed.
How far we are from adopting these attitudes is starkly clear in the Times story, the horror of which is repeated millions of times over across the world every day.
1 Bruised Maid Dies at 12, and Pakistan Seethes, by Sabrina Tavernise, from the New York Times, Feb 5, 2010, accessed Feb 6, 2010.
2 View: Reassessing the lawyers’s movement, by Ayesha Ijaz Khan, Feb 26, 2010, accessed Feb 26, 2010.
Feb 17, 2010
As awful as things seem to be, nationally and globally, it is heartening to see that life (for the time being at least) does go on, and humanity continues to regale us with its unquenchable variety. Happy Daze will report only good news on a monthly basis, rather like Noted with Interest provides monthly short takes of interest, usually of a less entertaining nature.
Send us happy news we missed and we will add it to our monthly listings. Here comes this month’s so far:
Feb 08, 2010
...to our 535 esteemed legislators:
Today, the Association for Computing Machinery (the world’s largest group of computer professionals) announced the winners of the 2010 ACM International Collegiate Programming Competition.1,2 And guess what? The only non-Russian, non-Chinese school in the top ten was the University of Warsaw (Poland, not Indiana). That’s right. Not only did we not finish in the money, we didn’t even finish with honor.
If you cannot see that these results are the canary in the coal mine, auguring disaster for the future of American innovation and competitiveness, then you are even more clueless than you have led us to believe over the past year. While states are busily disordering their legislative framework in a headlong rush for $4.35 billion in federal support, the pittance for which they are competing3,4; while a lone representative (enabled by the Speaker) threatens to destroy the most successful program of technological innovation in history in order to keep her re-election campaign chest stocked with corporate lucre5,6; our nation has gone from an overwhelmingly dominant position in computer science only a few years ago to tying for 14th place with the likes of the Belarusian State University and the Universidade Federale de Pernambuco.
While you Lilliputian Neros fiddle, Rome burns. If we can’t compete with Russia or China in computers, we can’t compete in biomedicine, weaponry, space applications, finance, manufacturing, entertainment, or any of the other industries which, today, are absolutely dependent on computing know-how. And if our programming and computing skills are not up to those of our two giant totalitarian antagonists, then our national security and our hope for spreading democracy across the globe are in dire peril as well.
This is the pass to which you have brought us, and we have no one to thank but ourselves for not taking you all by the collar and heaving you out that magnificent panelled doorway into a snowdrift.
Update: We are responding! See Want a job? Get a computer science degree. Enrollment in computer science is back on the way up!
1 Chinese and Russian Universities Claim Nine of Top Ten Spots..., accessed, as were all items footnoted in this entry, Feb 8, 2010.
2 Results World Finals 2010.
3 Race to the Top funding faces obstacles, by James Rufus Koren and Canan Tasci, from the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Feb 7, 2010.
4 Pressing for changes to charter school laws, by Nicole Fuller, from the Baltimore Sun, Feb 7, 2010.
5 SBIR Insider Newsletter, by Rick Shindell, Jan 11, 2010.
6 Full Disclosure: I work for a company that contributes its expertise to the SBIR program.
Jan 28, 2010
Jan 02, 2010
Vermont is at it again.
Hard on the heels of becoming the first state to enact a statute allowing homosexual unions, we are now mounting a credible campaign to bring single-payer, government-administered health care to all our citizens. Bills have been introduced in both houses of the legislature (H.100 in the House1 and S.88 in the Senate2). With coordination from the Vermont Workers’ Center (VWC)3, the grassroots are gathering to demand passage of the bill (the House and Senate versions are essentially the same, unlike the games-playing variations between versions in D.C.).
Should Vermont pull off this cheeky maneuver, and the feds pass a health care proposal requiring every citizen to purchase, either directly or through their employer, health care coverage from private insurers in perpetuity, we can anticipate a Constitutional crisis of dramatic proportions. The graybeards of the Supreme Court will find their strict constructionist, states-rights positions sorely tried as they are called upon to prop up the corporate hegemony which Vermont’s action will have threatened.
The feds, of course, will believe themselves to have any number of prerogatives available to them for purposes of slapping down the upstarts; however, I would not sell Vermonters short in their readiness to dig in their heels. We have not sacrified disproportionately high numbers of our men and women to our nation’s conflicts because we’re pussies4,5. And the last time the nation fumbled the Vermont ball, in 1777, we declared our independence for 14 years6. Those who forget history may be condemned to see it repeated.
On January 6, VWC and supporters of the legislation will meet at noon at the Statehouse in Montpelier to present thousands of postcards in support of single-payer health care to legislators on the opening day of the new session. There is still time to sign these postcards online7. Then, on January 12, from 6-8pm, hearings on H.100 and S.88 will begin.
Should the legislation pass, the two houses have veto-proof majorities which have already overridden two vetoes (unprecedented!) by our lame-duck Republican governor. Can you say “hat trick“?
What fun! Happy New Year.
1 H.100: An Act Relating to Health Care Financing and Unviersal Access to Health Care in Vermont
2 S.88: An Act Relating to Health Care Financing and Universal Access to Health Care in Vermont
3 Vermont Workers’ Center
4 Effects of the World Wars on Vermont
5 CARSEY STUDY: War Death Rate Higher Among Soldiers from Rural Areas
6 Vermont (Wikipedia)
7 Healthcare Is A Human Right Postcard
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