Archive for October 2011
Let’s talk turkey – specifically about those turkeys who want to cut Social Security benefits. What’s up with that?
Well, it sure as heck isn’t because of the deficit. Social Security’s trust fund has a $2.6 trillion surplus right now, which is enough to pay everyone’s benefits in full for another 25 years.
If anyone tells you Social Security is going broke, they’re blowing more smoke than a chimney.
Here’s the reality: Social Security would pay full benefits forever – not just to us, but to you, and even your kids (hint, hint) — if millionaires simply paid the same Social Security tax rate as most people.
Heck, we could even afford to improve Social Security benefits a bit.
Right now, everyone pays Social Security taxes on the first $106,800 they earn, which means most people pay Social Security taxes on their whole paycheck. But since $106,800 is the cap (unless Congress acts to change it), a whole lot of wealthy people don’t pay a dime in Social Security taxes on most of what they make.
Not to get all parental – it’s your life – but this is important stuff. Because unless you tell Congress to “Just Scrap the Cap,” they could cut Social Security benefits — and we might be movin’ in.
Mom and Dad
The Seventh Amendment. Do you know the Seventh Amendment is one of our most important?
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Yes folks. You may bring any complaint more than $20 to a jury of your peers. Guaranteed.
Then why is there a steady increase in mandatory arbitration?
“Corporate America does not trust the jury.” —Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center
Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick asks, Will corporations continue to immunize themselves against ordinary people? Can consumers sue credit repair companies for excessive fees? Can investors bring securities fraud suits for insider trading? Can oil and gas workers injured on the job sue to receive workers’ compensation?
Example of an argument:
“We need to begin to compensate teachers at the same level we do hedge fund managers.”
Example of an answer:
“No. We need to begin to compensate hedge fund managers at the same level we do teachers.”
“Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices.” -Voltaire
Consider this thought experiment. If you were really, really, really rich — say, not just part of the routinely opulent 1%, but a card-carrying member of the eye-poppingly decadent .01% — what part of your life would be American?
If you had the money, I’d bet you’d drive a German car, wear British shoes and an Italian suit, keep your savings in a Swiss bank, vacation in Koh Samui with shopping expeditions to Cannes, fly Emirates, develop a palate for South African wine, hire a French-trained chef, buy a few dozen Indian and Chinese companies, and pay Dubai-style taxes.
Were to you have the untrammeled economic freedom to, I’d bet you’d run screaming from big, fat, wheezing American business as usual, and its coterie of lackluster, slightly bizarre, and occasionally grody “innovations”: spray cheese, ATM fees, designer diapers, disposable lowest-common-denominator junk made by prison labor, Muzak-filled big-box stores, five thousand channels and nothing on but endless reruns of Toddlers in Tiaras — not to mention toxic mega-debt, oxymoronic “healthcare,” decrepit roads, and once-proud cities now crumbling into ruins. Sure, you’d probably still choose to use Google on your iPhone to surf the web — but that’s about far as it’d go.
When you think you are the highest point, you don’t look up !
“…the energy, the optimism, the altruism and the humanity that won the admiration and devotion of so many of my generation who found in America in the postwar decades the idealism and excitement of a society that looked to the future with high hopes and moral purpose.
“This perspective has alas threatened to turn sour over the last 30 years as cynicism, greed and fundamentalist clap-trap have been mobilised to occupy the temple of enlightenment.”
Rising income inequality, like climate change, is an ideologically inconvenient issue for conservatives. They would prefer not to discuss it altogether. If forced to discuss it, they will generally either deny its existence or simply carry on as if it doesn’t exist.
The underlying facts, like the facts of climate change, are stark.
Over the last few decades, income growth for most Americans has slowed to a crawl, while income for the very rich has exploded. That’s a reversal of the three decades following World War II, when all income groups got richer, with the poor and middle class rising at a faster rate than the rich.
Crucially, the Congressional Budget Office’s new analysis shows that changes in government policy over this period have made inequality worse. (In CBO-speak: “The equalizing effect of transfers and taxes on household income was smaller in 2007 than it had been in 1979.”)
We’re not having a debate about how to reverse or even stop the growth of inequality. Nobody has a real plan to do that.
The Democratic plan is to slightly arrest the growth of inequality by hiking taxes on the rich a few percentage points, so as to minimize the need to cut the social safety net. The Republican plan is to slash taxes for the rich and programs for the poor, thereby massively increasing inequality.
That is a hard position to defend in the context of exploding inequality, and conservatives would rather not defend it. Instead the right’s response has been to persistently deny or ignore the facts.
Umair Haque’s snippets & tweets:
It wasn’t just what America did that made it great. It wasn’t just what it believed. It was why we believed it.
This isn’t just money, jobs or income that we’re talking about. It’s human life.
So basically, the American national discussion alternates between mocking and blaming the powerless….
It’s funny how we’re at the mercy of dolts, buffoons, and sociopaths. Actually, it’s not.
History will remember what happened to the American middle class as an illustration of the fatality of nihilism.
The sense of despair–no jobs, no opportunities, no security, total fear–pulses out from the American ruins like a tsunami.
Shattered cities, boarded up neighborhoods, crumbling ruins, squandered lives. So inexpressibly sad.
A society that wishes to remain civilized cannot allow such extreme misery and squalor to grow at it’s very heart.
Inside the glass and steel, another world. Suits and ties, in furious pursuit of extracting the last morsels of prosperity.
I don’t know how to express it. But it’s so, so disturbing to see the juxtaposition of great wealth right next to implacable misery.
It’s not just the level of injustice in America that’s seriously disturbing–but the garishly exaggerated glorification of it.
It’s not just that a tiny few are getting rich. It’s that they’re getting super-rich by doing super-destructive stuff to prosperity.
Harvard’s Umair Haque offers an interesting ‘thought experiment’ to help us understand how our economy is structured; that it sucks prosperity from most of the population.
Try this. Imagine aliens are listening to our politics and protests. Imagine a miracle. They give each & every American $500,000. Will this help?
What happens next? Have we fixed the problem? Well, it depends.
If Americans then proceed to hit the mall, fill their coffers with lowest-common-denominator faux-designer junk, buy several SUVs, a membership to the VIP room at an ultra-trendy nightclub or five, and a McMansion–well, then, in a few short years, they’re likely to be right back to square one: broke and jobless. For the simple reason that the above don’t create much more than McJobs and capital flowing upwards, from the collapsing middle to the super-rich.
Worse, because they haven’t invested in public goods, they’re likely still to be absent the basic safety nets of health, life, and unemployment insurance, not to mention working infrastructure. If, in short, people choose the post-modern American dream of opulence, this crisis will recreate itself —forever.
“We bailed out Wall Street to avoid Depression, but three years later, millions of Americans are in a living hell.”
“In no uncertain terms, our leaders told us anything short of saving these insolvent banks would result in a depression to the American public. We had to do it!
“At our darkest hour we gave these banks every single thing they asked for. We allowed investment banks to borrow money at zero percent interest rate, directly from the Fed. We gave them taxpayer cash right onto their balance sheets. We allowed them to suspend account rules and pretend that the toxic sludge they were carrying was worth 100 cents on the dollar. Anything to stave off insolvency. We left thousands of executives in place at these firms. Nobody went to jail, not a single perp walk. I can’t even think of a single example of someone being fired. People resigned with full benefits and pensions, as though it were a job well done.
“The American taxpayer kicked in over a trillion dollars to help make all of this happen.
“But the banks didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.”
A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which.
He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself he always seems to be doing both. Enough for him that he does it well.
“I happen to think that the singular evil of our time is prejudice. It is from this evil that all other evils grow and multiply.
“In almost everything I’ve written there is a thread of this: a man’s seemingly palpable need to dislike someone other than himself.”
“When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.”