To say that privilege doesn’t exist is ignorant, and in a society where ignorance is prevalent, we need to accept our reality and fight to change it.
by David T. Bruce
House Speaker Boehner tells us that it is “time to focus on the real problem here in Washington and that is spending.” We couldn’t agree more, Mr. Boehner. How we disagree, however, as do a great many Americans, is how spending should be reduced.
This sequester will force federal job cuts in the hundreds of thousands, affecting civilians and military alike. Education in America will further erode, as children will be cut from Head Start programs and teachers and aides will lose their jobs. The mentally ill, the disabled and the elderly will also be impacted, as funds for health and food services will be eliminated or reduced. Are these truly the people and services that are a priority in terms of cutting the federal deficit?
Those most affected are those that are already reeling from an economy that has never quite recovered from the Great Recession, except in the eyes (and the coffers) of those who work on Wall Street. Those most affected are those who already have little or nothing, who have been literally dealt a poor hand.
Doug Bandow, a contributor to Forbes.com, illustrated a variety of ways that our government is wasting money:
“The Department of State used $306,000 to bring European college students to America to learn civic activism” (we need an exchange program for this one).
“Columbia University collected $606,000 for a study of online dating” (perverts).
“The federal government cut a check for $550,000 to underwrite a documentary on the impact of rock and roll on the collapse of communism” (hell, if that worked, I can think of another government at whom we could sling our guitars).
“A federal grant for $765,828 went to [. . .] bring an International House of Pancakes franchise to Washington, D.C.” (this requires no punch line).
Instead of wasting millions of dollars (which quickly adds up to billions) on discretionary and frivolous spending, why don’t you try balancing the budget (we call it penny pinching in the real world) without passing the buck(s) to the rest of us, asking us to pay for your ill-considered spending?
Instead of pointing fingers at one another, ask yourself what good you have done recently for your constituents and for your country that didn’t somehow benefit you. Instead of chiding or punishing the poorest of Americans (by eliminating support programs) who you believe have made poor decisions that have lead them to fiscal ruin, clean up your own act and demand the same from government employees who are sending billions of dollars in improper payments and overpayments out the door.
We cannot be the only ones sick and tired of the endless bickering that occurs on Capitol Hill. The only time our representatives take a break from throwing stones at one another is when they need time to rebuild their forts, preparing for yet another election year. While our elected representatives engage in yet another pissing contest, the working men and women whom they are elected to serve (those fortunate enough to still have jobs, that is), further struggle to make ends meet in the land of the American nightmare that is politics as usual.
by David T. Bruce
Many analysts and columnists are insisting that the economy is getting better. The state of the economy is a relative condition, however, as over 12 million Americans remain unemployed, with long-term unemployed men and women accounting for 38 percent of that number. At any rate, this perceived economic recovery has prompted President Obama to offer up an increase in the federal minimum wage over the next two years.
The arguments against raising the minimum wage are predictable, as they are consistent. Business owners contend that an increase in the minimum wage would force them to pass that cost on to the consumer. As well, the costs associated with paying employees more would limit the number of employees that they could hire, thereby further impacting the unemployment rate. This may be the case, certainly for small business owners who are trying to earn a living, but for those larger corporations that are doing well, these arguments amount to pure greed.
The current minimum wage of $7.25 amounts to $15,080 a year; this places a family of two below the poverty level. This is recovery? To pay rent in 1960, a person would have to work 71 hours at minimum wage ($1); a person would have to work 109 hours at the current minimum wage, to afford rent. This is recovery?
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (unaffectionatly referred to as Obamacare by dissenters) compels business owners employing over 50 people to provide those employees with healthcare benefits. Companies such as Wendy’s (in Omaha, Nebraska), Papa John’s and Walmart are systematically structuring their workforce to avoid providing benefits. This is greed. And the bottom line of the argument against increasing the federal minimum wage is greed.
Business owners regularly raise prices to keep pace with inflation. Local utilities and governments do likewise. When will big businesses and governments realize that at some point, prices will be raised so much that they will lose money? The federal government does understand this, as government employees have historically received a cost-of-living allowance to help offset inflation.
The unemployed and underemployed Americans cannot give what they do not have. At some point, everyone will suffer. There is plenty of evidence to support that an increase in minimum wage would be a good thing, and the numbers demonstrate that big businesses continues to prosper while the middle class deteriorates. Every time you read or hear that the economy is improving, you can bet that Wall Street is doing very well, while the rest of us are worse off than we were yesterday.
by David T. Bruce
More people than ever are going back to college, irrespective of age. While younger students are still the norm, students in their 20s and 30s as well as older students are headed back to campuses in record numbers.
The aspiration of many parents is that their children go to college, and these numbers suggest that students leaving high school, the military, and the like believe the message that a better education will equate to a better job with better pay. Older adults are doing likewise, seeking to improve their quality of life through education.
This is what our academic and government institutions have been selling us.
The cost of obtaining this education, however, has created an economic burden for students and our society that will likely increase over time. Furthermore, the hope and the promise that a better future awaits for those who obtain a higher education is becoming nothing more than another disappointment for a working- and lower-middle-class society that wants to have a shot at economic success.
A report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests that the student loan debt in the United States currently exceeds $1 trillion, a number that eclipses America’s credit card balance.
The data further shows that middle-age students are “the fastest growing group of borrowers.” This seems to parallel the increase in middle-age adults returning to school to either improve their level of education or to retrain due to job loss.
Whereas determination and a good work ethic were once enough for a person to succeed, a piece of paper purchased from an accredited academic institution is now the only way for a person to have a chance of realizing the American dream that many of our ancestors achieved through hard work and fortitude.
Once an education would almost guarantee success in the upper-middle or upper class of society; now an education is almost mandated to enter into the middle class of society. The alternative path is the retail industry.
Academic institutions have joined hands with corporate America and the federal government to ensure that this alternative path is the choice of many, whether or not students complete their education.
An Associated Press report cites that 53.6 percent of graduates under the age of 25 with Bachelor’s degrees are without a job or are underemployed.
The majority of American citizens play by the rules in terms of meeting the requirements for employment in their career, but colleges and universities court prospective students, seeking those that fit their preferred demographic, satisfy federal student-body quotas, and most importantly, generate revenue.
Like any big business in America, colleges and universities are now most concerned with making money and staying in business.
Education, at least as far as academic and corporate executives are concerned, is of minimal consequence. As far as our federal government is concerned . . . well, it is an election year, after all. Better to have a student body indebted to you than a student body in debt.
Both President Obama and the expected Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney agree that doubling of student loan interest rates would only increase student debt, without addressing the issue of un- and under-employment. Romney is quoted as saying that “what young Americans want and need is a new president who will champion lasting and permanent policy changes that both address the rising cost of a college education and get our economy really growing again.”
Neither the President nor Romney have no idea what we want or need.
We don’t need another “champion.” We don’t need a cheerleader who proposes to know what life is like as a lower- or middle-class citizen in America. We need to assemble a group of elected officials who truly care about the education of their citizens, recognizing that it is the working class that ultimately drives the economy and not the practice of massaging numbers on Wall Street.
Our government seems to care only about the corporations (which colleges and universities are quickly becoming a fundamental part of) who fund their campaigns and ensure their ongoing political victories. These corporations want to make money, and they want a working class that will help them make their money.
An education is not necessarily required to stock shelves, wait tables, or sell inventory. Colleges and universities will take your money, though, building your hopes of a better future, while corporations simultaneously eliminate job possibilities.
The left hand does indeed know what the right hand is doing, and they are choking the life out of America.
by David T. Bruce
As the presidential election year looms over the political horizon, President Obama finally has something to say during the most recent State of the Union Address about income disparity in our country, as if the debate about the income gap and tax liability were new. Most of us have devastatingly realized that the thirty-year economic experiment in this country has proven that Reaganomics works only for those citizens and companies that enjoy wealth and the power to augment that wealth. No one in this country who has lost a job, lost a home, and struggled to get by during this perpetual recession is oblivious to the fact that it takes money to make money, and for those who do not have money, striving to break even is a way of life. This is the reality of the American Dream, and this reality is unlikely to change any time soon. During the battle to remain in power or obtain power, our elected officials choose now to acknowledge a problem that has been inherent in our capitalist society for many decades.
Republicans and Democrats posture and politic as they draw lines in the sand and point fingers across the aisle, each blaming the other for dividing the country and building a national debt in excess of $15 trillion. These are the same leaders who enjoy a lifestyle at the expense of their constituents, a truth made painfully clear to American citizens now aware of Mr. Romney’s wealth and associated tax burden. This not only highlights the disparity in income and tax liability between “the haves” and “the have-nots” in this country, but it also highlights how brutally out of touch our elected leaders are with the majority of the American public. How can leaders argue on the behalf of a demographic of which they have no understanding? How can we believe that our leaders will lobby to balance the country’s tax burden in favor of the lower- and middle-class when doing so would obviously raise their tax burden?
Burden: “something that is carried, something oppressive or worrisome.”
We are told by President Obama that the country is on the mend; we are told that the economy is bouncing back. Please do not insult our intelligence. According to GasBuddy, the median price for gas in 2012 is forecast to reach $3.95. The USDA has projected that food prices will increase overall 2.5% to 3.5%. An “alternative economic forecast” released by researchers in the White House suggest “an unemployment rate of 9% in 2012. These are not realities that suggest the country is mending or is bouncing back. Those that live and thrive on Capitol Hill, those that are voted into office by their constituents do not want for food, healthcare, education, or a future. Those that live and thrive on Capitol Hill have no idea what “burden” is. They have created an economic disparity by their ignorance, their indifference, and their arrogance.
This is indeed class warfare, a battle that has been waged for centuries between “the haves” and “the have-nots.” The malicious intent of the 1% – the “Mitt Romney’s” and the corporate “Goliath’s” of America – , however, is to convince those who have a bit more than “the have-nots” that those who have the least in the United States are trying to take away what they have earned. In truth, the argument is that the tax system is structured as such that the “Mitt Romney’s” can conceivably pay less tax by percentage than those that earn minimum wage. Major industries can relocate to foreign lands to avoid paying United States taxes. The wealthiest citizens and companies of the United States need to pay their fair share. This has nothing to do with Republican, Democrat, or American values. This has everything to do with human values, and the majority of our elected officials value the citizens of the United States as humans only once every two or four years. Beyond that, we are as insignificant as the pointless posturing and “policy prescriptions” presented as a way to placate a populace that is sick to death of the endless pandering by leaders who could not care less about our burden.
Especially if you are 50 or older, make less than $506,600 per year, or female.
by Shadra Bruce
The Republican Party and Tea Party have declared an all-out war on Americans. In fact, it’s a bit ironic but most of their intended policies, legislation, and tax proposals would harm their own constituents as much as it would harm those who don’t swallow what they’re trying to peddle.
The three main attacks of their war are: Medicare, Taxes, and Healthcare, otherwise known as the war against the elderly, the poor, and women. Great way to protect their patriarchal, rich-man, corporations-are-people society, but bad for America.
The War Against Senior Citizens
As if it weren’t enough that Wisconsin is attempting to disenfranchise older voters and Missouri is trying to force the aged population to pay more taxes to provide additional cuts to corporations, but the Republican/Tea Party in general has targeted senior citizens – the same group who overwhelmingly voted them into power in 2010. First, Republicans voted down the $250 to adjust for no cost of living increase. Then, they started after Medicare – you know, that “entitlement” program that Republicans detest but that working Americans paid into for 20-30 years, making false claims about the cost of the program and the savings provided under Obama’s healthcare plan. Their newest goal is to increase the age of eligibility from 65 to 67 and, in bed with for-profit insurance companies who would benefit from the plan, privatize the program.
The War Against the Poor
Cain, Perry, and other Republican hopefuls are all touting their flat tax plan. But according the Tax Policy Center, the biggest losers of a flat tax plan are the poor. Once again, the burden would be squarely placed on the backs of the poorest, hardest working Americans, while the rich would – you guessed it – get richer.
“Under the flat tax, low-income households would lose because they now pay no income tax and are eligible for a refundable EITC of up to $3,370. Although the flat tax is more progressive than a VAT, it is more regressive than the current system. A flat tax would provide huge gains for high-income households, both because their marginal tax rate would fall and because they consume relatively less of their income than do low-income households. As a result, if a flat tax were to raise as much revenue as the current one, the tax burden for the middle class would have to rise.”
The War Against Women
I’m not quite sure where to begin with this one. From attempting to defund Planned Parenthood to passing “personhood” laws that take away a woman’s choice by imposing a view that women are simply storage tanks for men’s babies to simply targeting women’s healthcare with outdated ideas and laws, the Republican Party and Tea Party have created a war against women that makes me wonder how any woman could choose to remain involved in the party.
While I’ve always been liberal, believing that all people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – not just the elite and corporations – I’ve never leaned so far left as I do today. I’m not a Democrat; I’m an uber liberal progressive (often referred to by those scared by their absorption of Fox News as the word of their God as a pinko commie insert expletives here). I lean further and further left by the desire to balance the pendulum that is trying so hard to swing so far to the right that the America I love will soon resemble countries we more closely associate with being targets of our special brand of democratic intervention.
If you are older than 50, make less than $506,600 per year, or female you should be thinking long and hard about who you want to represent you in Congress in 2012. Because the only “people” being represented by the Republican Party have the last name Inc.
Only in America Can 1% Be The Majority
by David T. Bruce
A small group of students are responsible for launching a campaign against the practices of Wall Street and the United States government, the fiscally brutal corporate tag-team that has launched their own campaign against the poorest Americans. In an Associated Press article, the events of the past two weeks surrounding the Wall Street Protests have been summarized, giving voice to the hundreds of citizens who are taking the time to exercise their power of speech during a time when millions of Americans feel powerless to do anything else. While the Republicans and Democrats continue pointing fingers at each other and the President (regardless of who holds the office), our federal government as a whole is demonstrating to an increasing number of American citizens that their health and welfare, their life and liberty, and their happiness mean nothing.
While 14 percent of Americans are relying on the food stamp program to feed themselves, the Republican Party is proposing for the 2012 budget plan that this program should be curtailed and restructured much in the same was as they are proposing to restructure the Medicaid program. Subsidies would be eliminated, replaced by federal grants. Capitol Hill has been relentless in their less-than-bipartisan efforts to shave billions of dollars from the deficit by cutting back on “entitlement” programs from the Americans who need assistance the most.
I am not writing of the small group of Americans who indeed enjoy taking something for nothing. I am writing of the Americans who have worked hard to build a life and raise a family and now find themselves without a job, without a home, and without money for food and healthcare – primarily because of a system that favored corporate greed and Wall Street corruption that led to a broken economy. It is appalling that the government is cutting back on programs that these people paid taxes to help support while continuing to support tax breaks and loopholes for corporations and big oil. I am writing of the Americans that are trying to get ahead and improve their lives but are trapped in a system that almost forces people to make less or go hungry, as food prices continue to rise.
While the Associated Press suggests that a clear objective is not apparent, the rallying cry is clear enough: “Occupy Wall Street is [a] leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that we are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.”
This objective seems clear enough.
It is blatantly clear that the 1% does not get it – or does not want to. The objective does not need to be detailed or obtuse. The plan does not need to have a laundry list of stake holders and varied implementation strategies. The United States Constitution is the governing plan for this country, and our current government officials have spent at least the past few decades manipulating and twisting the words of the Constitution to satisfy their (im)moral, corporate, and personal agendas.
We have a right to speak out against such corruption, and the protestors on Wall Street are doing just that. We must speak out with words, with votes, and with dollars that work in support of Americans, not for a political party.
We may not be at Liberty Square with the protestors right now, but we stand firmly with them in every way, as members of the 99% who will no longer tolerate the disintegration of America over the greed, hypocrisy, and the corruption of Wall Street, Congress, and corporations.
Every year, our government asks that we donate $3 to the Presidential election campaign. The instructions for the 1040 form specifically state that “the fund reduces candidates’ dependence on large contributions from individuals and groups.”
Candidates do not just depend on these contributions. They thrive on them, and the companies and groups that make these large contributions thrive on the support that their candidate gives to their cause.
Our federal government, led by either party, has done little or nothing for us over the past few decades – and little or nothing to change what is broken within the system. What little they have done has been to further their own interests and that of the major companies that have been filling and continue to fill the coffers of our elected representatives.
If any taxpayer is at all compelled to check the box that allows candidates to have any more money, please give the money to Occupy Wall Street or similar movements. Give $3 to a homeless person. Help feed a neighbor. Those people are the Americans that are fighting for the rights of all Americans, and they do so without massive contributions or media attention.
Take heed, Wall Street. Someday – perhaps soon – American citizens will have nothing left to lose and will gleefully sit by and watch while your economic empire crumbles.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.“ – Declaration of Independence
by David T. Bruce
A recent article from the Associated Press asks the question: Is it the responsibility of the government to fix the economy? Presidential candidate hopefuls maintain that if the federal government steps back, “[t]he economy will thrive.” If the government would learn how to balance a budget and manage its own spending, we could argue that we would not be suffering the crisis that we are today. As much as the majority of the Republican Party would like to deny association with the constituents they so proudly embrace every two to four years, our government and the people are intertwined.
If people are employed and prospering financially, then the government does well. This can be measured by an increase in spending and a subsequent increase in tax revenue. We recently had a brief reminder of what might happen were the government to shut down: military veterans and social security recipients may not receive benefits, and many federal employees may find themselves temporarily unemployed. We rely on the government, and the government relies on the populace. As is asked in the AP analysis, “[w]hat is the right balance?”
When debating about balancing the budget, the question is not whether or not our nation has money. The question is what to do with the money we have. We obviously have money enough to engage in at least two (arguably three) land conflicts. An analysis by Chris Hellman illustrates that the funds requested for nuclear weapons in 2007 surpassed “the average amount spent by the Pentagon during the Cold War, for a military that is one-third smaller than it was just over a decade ago.” Bill Boyarsky points out in his study that “the total bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, according to CostofWar.com, is now $1.24 trillion.” Adding the cost of movements in Pakistan, the cost to Americans for these conflicts will total between $3.2 trillion and $4 trillion. We have enough money to wage war perpetually.
We also have money enough to bail out businesses that fail in their professional and fiduciary responsibilities. Bailout figures show that $2.7 billion was spent in 2009, while $445 billion was spent in 2007 and $1.7 trillion was spent in 2008 under Republicans. These numbers and the numbers illustrating expenditures on military endeavors over the past several years demonstrate that the government does not want to give money to help the voting constituents they feign to adore. They do, however, want to provide money in abundance to the big companies, thereby securing the votes for which they truly care.
When our elected officials gather together to balance the budget, a gesture on their part to balance how these billions and trillions of dollars are allocated would be a step towards truly appreciating those people who are the foundation of America. Certainly, there are those people (of the smallest minority) that make bad decisions and choose to live solely under the umbrella of services that local and federal governments provide. The majority, however, are suffering as the result of bad decisions made by our elected officials.
Is it the responsibility of these officials to fix the economy? Yes! They screwed it up!
I am tired of the government reneging on what they think citizens are not entitled to, while they give companies trillions of dollars in entitlements, rewards for making bad choices. I think many Americans feel the same way. As citizens of this country, we are expected to manage our affairs in such a way that we do not become a burden on society. This election year, and every election year from now on, our mandate to Capitol Hill must be that our elected officials keep their houses in order.
Judging from what we are witnessing, they are the burden on our society.
Enough is enough. Stop bickering. Start doing your jobs. Fix your mess. Fix the economy. Step down from your pedestals and podiums and get your hands dirty. This is not about you and the next election. This is about today, and this is about the future of our country.
by David T. Bruce
With the economic uncertainty of the past two years, we should not be surprised that our highest elected officials find the need to broach the topic of pay raises. A recent blog highlighted the misgivings that at least two representatives have with their lot in life, citing the struggles that they are have making ends meet with their relatively miniscule salary. As Steve Southerland points out, health insurance is not free for representatives either.
This may be true; however, according to the premiums of Aetna’s HealthFund HMO, federal employees only pay $186.91 a month for HDHP (High Deductable Health Plan) family coverage. The remaining cost of the premium – $560.72 – is covered by the government. The average American who does not work for a company that offers health insurance, or a citizen who is unemployed, must shop around for their own insurance, paying premiums that are equally as expensive yet are not subsidized by the government.
In regards to salary, Mr. Southerland suggests that his annual salary is not enough, considering his personal sacrifices and risks associated with his job. Yet $80 an hour for 50 hours a week would probably have many of us willing to trade places, assuming such risk and sacrifice as necessary to secure such pay and benefits..
In regards to the risks of getting shot at, I suspect that those American who work in any mining industry at the wage of $18-$28 per hour realize a greater risk in their profession that that of an elected official. In fact, many jobs exist that are far riskier than that of a representative or a senator.
Arguing back and forth, though, about who works harder, who gets paid less, and who has the riskiest job, leads us away from the point regarding raises for our elected federal representatives.
Everything is relative to the reality we choose to live in. The typical American lives within his or her means. In other words, if we do not have the money to afford an expensive house, we do not buy an expensive house. If for some reason, a twist of fate forces us to sell an expensive house for a house that is not quite so expensive, then that is what we do.
For many Americans over the past several years, foreclosure has been an undesirable yet often unavoidable consequence of the fiscal turn of events in our country. The fact that some of our elected representatives in the House and the Senate find that voting themselves a pay raise is a viable option grossly demonstrates their pompous demeanor and a total detachment from their constituents who do not have the same luxury. I think I speak for everyone when I write that not one person exists who would not vote themselves a pay raise to avoid losing their home or living beneath the poverty line. We simply do not have that option available to us.
This is why, when a person opts to run for political office, a certain amount of altruism should exist. The idea behind holding a political office is to serve your country. On the contrary, the majority of those currently holding political office behave as if they are owed a debt for their sacrifice.
We all have families, we all take risks, and we all must assume the consequences of said risks. Should $174,000 annually not be enough to cover your cost of living as an elected official, then you face the same option as the rest of working-class America: you cut back. You do without.
If you do not like your job or feel that the sacrifices outweigh the benefits, then you find a different job. You can quit. If you cannot find another job, then you can join the other 9 percent of Americans who do not have work or insurance.
Giving yourself a raise is not an option. Your boss gives you a raise based on your performance. Can you venture a guess as to who your bosses are and how we might measure your performance?