Early this morning, Donald Trump woke up and sent off a flurry of tweets including this one:

“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail”!

6:55 AM – 29 Nov 2016

What are we to make of this tweet that defies the U.S. Constitution? In 1989 the Supreme Court in Texas v. Johnson ruled that burning a flag in protest is political expression protected by the First Amendment. In 1967 the Supreme Court ruled in Afroyim v. Rusk that the 14th Amendment forbids the government from taking away the citizenship of natural born Americans. Is Donald Trump suggesting that congress enact laws to punish flag-burning protesters by incarcerating them for a year and/or stripping them of their citizenship? Based on Supreme Court decisions, if congress did pass such laws, they would immediately be ruled unconstitutional. Read More →

hillary-and-donald-6-sm

Choose wisely.

Here is a list of political songs you need to listen to during the final two weeks leading up to the presidential election on November 8th.

As you may have figured out by now, one of the biggest issues of this election is racism. The first few political songs take us back to the mid sixties through the mid seventies. Yes our nation has made some progress since then, but these songs remind you about what was going on then and makes you wonder why it’s still going on now. Read More →

It depends on your point of view.

Production vs Comp graph

If you are one of those owners of capital at the top, well it’s been GREAT! But if you are a regular working Joe, not good at all.

From the graph you can see that everyone’s income went up along with productivity until around 1973. A divergence started and stayed fairly close until around 1980. Then in 1984, we heard this in and ad for President Reagan:

It’s morning again in America. Today more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country’s history. With interest rates at about half the record highs of 1980, nearly 2,000 families today will buy new homes, more than at any time in the past four years. This afternoon 6,500 young men and women will be married, and with inflation at less than half of what it was just four years ago, they can look forward with confidence to the future. It’s morning again in America, and under the leadership of President Reagan, our country is prouder and stronger and better. Why would we ever want to return to where we were less than four short years ago?

Well, maybe because even though the economy was in the doldrums for a few years preceding 1980, at least the wealth was kinda sorta still being shared. But after that, not at all.

And after Reagan we had George H. W. Bush, then Clinton, then W, and now Obama. And not one of them have been able to change the rules in our country that allow the richest of the rich to get richer and richer as the bottom 99% fall behind.

The rules of the game are rigged in favor of those who already have great wealth. If you read the article in The Atlantic where I found the graph, you’ll learn more about how and why the divergence started and continues to expand, and you’ll find out what might happen if we don’t do anything about it (it’s not good), and what we could do to start to close the gap. (Hint: spend money to improve the education of our population and improve our failing infrastructure).

If the rich want to avoid a revolution, they better start looking out for the health and welfare of the communities that supply them with workers; first by sharing the wealth that comes from increased productivity with their workers, and second by encouraging local governments to increase spending to repair our decaying infrastructure systems.

Hey Baby, it’s the 4th of July!

Hope all you 99-percenters are having a great holiday drinking beer and eating BBQ in the hot sun on this fine summer day.

Just so you know, We The People celebrate our nation’s independence from monarchic rule – which is a very good thing, because you know… to form a more perfect union with rule of the people, by the people, for the people – very different than our “elected” congress. They celebrate their independence from the people. They serve only the elite.

You see, things have changed over the past 238 years. We The People aren’t very well represented in the halls of congress. Timothy Egan explains:

People are leaving the Republican Party, and to a lesser extent the Democrats, to jump in the nonpartisan lane. The independents are more likely to want something done about climate change, and immigration reform. They’re not afraid of gay marriage or contraception or sensible gun laws. They think government can be a force for good.

And none of those sentiments are represented by the current majority in the people’s House. The Senate, at least, has two independents, both of whom caucus with the Democrats. In the House? Zero. Remember that the next time Speaker John Boehner says that his members are doing the work of the American people. They’re doing Fox’s work, which is why they’ve had endless hearings on Benghazi, and voted more than 50 times to take away people’s health care, but won’t allow a vote on the minimum wage or immigration reform.

If you thought that the last election — in which 1.2 million more votes were cast for a Democratic member of the House, but the Republicans kept control by a healthy margin — was unrepresentative, the coming contest will set a new standard for mismatch between the voters’ will and the people who represent them.

Only 12 percent of the general public is defined as “steadfast conservative,” in the latest breakdown of seven political niches done by Pew. But that rises to 19 percent for the “politically engaged.” Thus the Tea Party, though disliked by most Americans, can win elections in red states, and send people to Washington who will govern only for the narrow, passionate base that elected them.

What to do? First, recognize the imbalance. Any democracy is broken when a plurality is not represented in the halls of power.

And who are our elected Republican members of congress representing? Not me. Not you. They represent the richest of the rich. They write laws to funnel more and more money to the top 1% of the 1%. It’s really the only reason the Republican party exists anymore. Derek Thompson writing for The Atlantic tells just how wide the gap is between the super rich and you and me and my neighbors:

In the past half century, income growth among the top 1 percent of Americans has greatly outpaced that of those on the lower rungs. But it’s the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent who have truly left everyone else in the dust.

In the past half century, income growth among the top 1 percent of Americans has greatly outpaced that of those on the lower rungs. But it’s the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent who have truly left everyone else in the dust.

Be sure to click on the link to see the graphs. They tell the story quite clearly.

So, when you are lighting off your bottle rockets and mortar rounds tonight, in your mind, you should be aiming them at congress and the plutocrats they serve.

A recent study by the Commonwealth Fund ranking healthcare systems in eleven advanced countries found the United States in last place. And while we languished at the bottom the study, which ranked healthcare delivery on such metrics as quality of care, access, efficiency and healthy outcomes, rated the United Kingdom at number one (take that, Fox News know-nothings). Just to add insult to injury, the UK spends $3,405 per capita on health (second lowest behind New Zealand) while we spend a whopping $8,508, the most of any in the study by a country mile.

Unsurprisingly, we fared poorest in categories associated with access and equity thanks to our lack of universal insurance coverage, and in efficiency where we are burdened with such deficiencies as excessive insurance company administrative overhead, medical duplication and overuse of emergency room treatment.

We also performed the worst in healthy outcomes as measured by infant mortality, healthy life expectancy, and mortality amenable to medical care (i.e. unnecessary or avoidable deaths).

As if this study wasn’t bad enough, we also have the International Federation of Health Plans 2013 Comparative Price Report which annually measures the cost of medical procedures and drugs among selected countries. Guess who regularly emerges as the most expensive? Even Switzerland (where a hamburger meal can cost $50) is way cheaper. As Ezra Klein noted about the iFHP 2012 price report in the Washington Post:

This is the fundamental fact of American health care: We pay much, much more than other countries do for the exact same things. For a detailed explanation of why, see this article. But this post isn’t about the why. It’s about the prices, and the graphs.

One note: Prices in the United States are expressed as a range. There’s a reason for that. In other countries, prices are set centrally and most everyone, no matter their region or insurance arrangement, pays pretty close to the same amount. In the United States, each insurer negotiates its own prices, and different insurers end up paying wildly different amounts.

So the US healthcare system is definitely ailing. But relief may be at hand. In noting the results of the Commonwealth Fund report, a New York Times  editorial states:

The poor results for the United States reflect the high cost of its medical care and the absence of  universal health insurance, a situation being addressed by the Affordable Care Act. The federal law is already increasing the number of Americans with health coverage and will substantially cut the number of uninsured in coming years. Other advanced nations are far ahead in the game because they have long had universal health coverage and promoted strong ties between patients and doctors.

Already the ACA’s beneficial effects on the rate of uninsured are being felt, particularly in states that embraced it wholeheartedly, as this piece about Minnesota from Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic shows.

So, despite the best efforts of Republicans to keep us mired in a rotten system that is inefficient, inequitable, prohibitively expensive, and too often lacking in overall effectiveness, there is hope that the future will be significantly brighter for American healthcare, thanks to Obamacare.

Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) responded to President Obama’s State of the Union speech last night with a vague outline of “hopeful” plans the Republicans have to “form a more perfect union”.

She said the plan “helps working families rise above the limits of poverty and protects our most vulnerable”. Obama has a plan for that too.

She said she “came to Congress to help empower people, not politicians; To grow the working middle class, not the government; And to ensure that everyone in this country can find a job”. Obama is trying hard to do that too.

She says that our mission as Americans is “to ensure that we are not bound by where we come from, but empowered by what we can become”. I’ve heard the same sentiment expressed by Obama in many speeches before and since he became president.

She said “We’re working on a step-by-step solution to immigration reform by first securing our borders and making sure America will always attract the best, brightest, and hardest working from around the world”. I’ve heard Obama say nearly the exact same thing.

She said that the real gap we face today is not one of income equality that the president spoke about but of “opportunity equality”, and that the gap keeps getting bigger. She did not define “opportunity inequality”. What did she mean? Was she talking about how kids born to the super wealthy one percent have way more opportunities than kids born into poverty? Maybe and, if so, that is a problem that Obama recognizes and addressed in his speech.

She said the Republican’s plan to close that gap is to “focus on jobs without more spending, government bailouts, and red tape…” and that they have “plans to improve our education and training systems so you have the choice to determine where your kids go to school…so college is affordable…and skills training is modernized.”

Obama has been focused on jobs, and yes he does want to spend government money to jump start the economy because there’s a whole lot of infrastructure that needs rebuilding, and now is a great time to do it. Money is cheap and the projects would create jobs. He also wants to improve our education system. Sometimes that takes more money too.

On healthcare reform, she said “we shouldn’t go back to the way things were, but this law is not working”. Obama certainly doesn’t want to go back to the way things were, and, contrary to her declaration, the law is working. It’s not perfect, but over ten million citizens that didn’t have coverage before now have coverage under Obamacare.

McMorris Rodgers tossed in some key words like “compassionate” and “exceptional” because if you refer to Americans with lesser terms, you can’t be a Republican, and you probably aren’t a real American, or human for that matter.

At this point I was expecting to hear some policy proposals for how Republicans will help people get out of poverty; create new jobs; empower people regardless of race or class; reform immigration laws; and improve our healthcare system by finding ways to cover everyone and lower costs; but she did not introduce even one policy proposal.

Instead of offering policy details, she became more patriotic and much more ambiguous:

But all of us will wake up and do what is uniquely American…

We will look forward to the boundless potential that lies ahead. We will give thanks to the brave men and women who have answered America’s call to freedom, like Sgt. Jacob Hess from Spokane, who recently gave his life to protect all of ours.

How is looking forward to “the boundless potential that lies ahead” uniquely American? Does she really think that the billions of people who don’t live in the USA don’t think about what lies ahead of them? And how will she and her party capitalize on the “boundless potential that lies ahead” to improve the lives of all Americans?

She didn’t say. All she could do was:

…simply offer a prayer…

A prayer for Sgt. Hess’s family, your family, and for our larger American family.

That, with the guidance of God, we may prove worthy of His blessings of life … liberty … and the pursuit of happiness.

For when we embrace these gifts, we are each doing our part to form a more perfect union.

So if I interpret this right, she’s praying to God for guidance on how to make our country better. Okay then, so what did God tell her? We’d like to know if they’re good ideas.

About inequality:

[Goldman Sachs chief executive officer Lloyd] Blankfein also said that the financial crisis led to a “bit of a wake-up call” about income inequality. He said that was a good thing. “This country does a great job of creating wealth, but not a great of distributing it,” said Blankfein. “ But I don’t want to do something that stops our ability to build wealth.”

Here’s how Harry Binswanger thinks we should go about redistributing our nation’s wealth:

For their enormous contributions to our standard of living, the high-earners should be thanked and publicly honored. We are in their debt.

Here’s a modest proposal. Anyone who earns a million dollars or more should be exempt from all income taxes. Yes, it’s too little. And the real issue is not financial, but moral. So to augment the tax-exemption, in an annual public ceremony, the year’s top earner should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

While I read the Binswanger column, “Give Back? Yes, It’s Time For The 99% To Give Back To The 1%“, I thought that for sure he must be joking, especially when I got to “a modest proposal“, but I never got to a part where tongue was inserted in cheek. I reviewed his other stuff and Googled for more information and, as far as I can tell, he really is a selfish, prickish follower of Ayn Rand who actually believes what he writes.

Pope Francis had something to say about capitalisms failures in an exclusive interview for the La Stampa in which he responds to attacks on his criticism of “economies of exclusion” in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium:

Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?

His response in the interview to critics like Rush Limbaugh who called him a Marxist:

Andrea Tornielli (Vatican Insider): The most striking part of the Exhortation was where it refers to an economy that “kills”…

Pope Francis: There is nothing in the Exhortation that cannot be found in the social Doctrine of the Church. I wasn’t speaking from a technical point of view, what I was trying to do was to give a picture of what is going on. The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the “trickle-down theories” which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world. The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor. This was the only reference to a specific theory. I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view but according to the Church’s social doctrine. This does not mean being a Marxist.

I came across that aphoristic quote while reading “This Fuckin’ Pope” at The Rude Pundit today. His post has much more to say about the importance of not only that papal quote but many others about politics and society. It’s a good read, so go there now.

So Blankfein seems to have some Catholic guilt in him, Binswanger has no guilt and no shame, and Pope Francis believes it’s best for people to direct an abundance of food and medicine to the people who don’t have it but need it very badly. You know, like Jesus did.

eat the rich

If the recent government shutdown and brinkmanship over raising the debt ceiling has shown us anything, it is to crystallize the willingness of the Republican Party to attack, with almost breathtaking fanaticism, programs that are designed primarily to help middle and lower income Americans by strengthening the nation’s tattered safety net.

The Affordable Care Act, whatever its flaws, will cover millions of low-income Americans by an expansion of Medicaid (Oregon has already lowered its uninsured rate by 10% through the Medicaid expansion contained in the ACA) and provide additional millions with the opportunity to buy affordable private health insurance, with government subsidies to help pay the premiums for those who qualify.

At most the ACA is a modest reform of the private health insurance system, with an expansion of Medicaid thrown in for good measure to help those folks whose income puts them beyond the reach of the private insurance system. Yet even this modest law to help our least fortunate citizens is fought with the sort of tenacity and fervor by the right and the GOP that any reasonable person would assume would be directed only at a Canadian-style single payer system. It’s even more perplexing and disgraceful when one considers that the GOP itself has provided no substantive plan of its own that would come anywhere close to the goal of the ACA to provide near universal coverage.

The reason, of course, is that the GOP does not see universal health care coverage as a worthy objective at all.

This blatant disregard for middle and low income Americans is displayed, too, in its budget aims. The GOP insists that any budget negotiations will take place in the context of no new taxes; even loophole closures, being off the table. Instead, the GOP will discuss only government spending cuts. And where do they want to cut? Well, we’ve already seen the GOP House voting to cut $70 billion over 10 years from food aid to the poor from the Farm Bill. And with Democrats desperate to get out from under sequestration cuts to vital domestic discretionary programs, the GOP’s sole offer is to shift the bite to entitlements such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security- more beating up on the poor and elderly (and poor elderly).

The GOP’s justification for slashing important programs that primarily assist the non-wealthy of our society is the magnitude of our national debt and the continuing deficits which we are passing on to our children and grandchildren. Setting aside the fact that deficits are already falling, it’s difficult to view this angst over the burden we are passing to future generations as anything but insincere and self-serving nonsense – merely crocodile tears.

First, if the deficit mattered that much to Republicans, they wouldn’t take revenues off the table. At a time when economic data shows that the wealthiest Americans have increased their share of income following the Great Recession whilst everyone else has seen their incomes stagnate and when Mitt Romney’s unearned income and that of hedge fund managers is no more than 15% while middle-income working Americans pay 15-33%, it is an absurdity bordering on obscene to argue that the rich are overtaxed. Yet for these few, these happy few, the GOP is willing to go to the mat.

Second, Republicans never talk about the other deficits that we will be passing on to our children and grandchildren if we don’t find more revenues; for example $3.6 trillion in infrastructure repairs by 2020. And if funding for scientific and other vital research continues to diminish in real terms, how will we maintain our economic primacy going forward?

Anti-government mindlessness bordering on fanaticism, combined with an almost total disregard for America’s least fortunate citizens and a singular concern only for the wellbeing of its richest – these are the hallmarks of today’s Republican Party. With its deeply misguided aims and despicable tactics, it is doing more damage to America than al-Qaida or any nation that wishes America ill could hope to accomplish. It is well past time America fought back.

Followers of this blog already know that income inequality is high on my list of injustices in this world. Why should a tiny privileged sliver of our economy take so much?

Their slice of the pie has been increasing for the past forty years, but in 2012 they broke a record. From NBC News:

The pay gap between the richest 1 percent and the rest of America widened last year, making a record.

The top 1 percent of U.S. earners collected 19.3 percent of household income in 2012, their largest share in Internal Revenue Service figures going back a century.

U.S. income inequality has been growing for almost three decades. But until last year, the top 1 percent’s share of pre-tax income had not yet surpassed the 18.7 percent it reached in 1927, according to an analysis of IRS figures dating to 1913 by economists at the University of California, Berkeley, the Paris School of Economics and Oxford University.

But since the recession officially ended in June 2009, the top 1 percent have enjoyed the benefits of rising corporate profits and stock prices: 95 percent of the income gains reported since 2009 have gone to the top 1 percent.

That compares with a 45 percent share for the top 1 percent in the economic expansion of the 1990s and a 65 percent share from the expansion that followed the 2001 recession.

If you are like me, that makes you angry. I could go off on this like I have several times in the past, or I could just say DUH! What did you think was going to happen? Did you think that things would change under the administration of a Democratic “Progressive” president? I did when I voted for Obama in 2004, but not so much anymore. No progress on this front. Inequality has gotten worse. Worse than it was prior to the Great Depression.

So what should we do? Good question. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that the next time some ignorant Republican refers to Obama as a Socialist, I will show a silly grin and wait for them to ask about what I think is so funny.

Until then, I will listen to The Clash who, as Gorby says, have a song for every occasion.

Lyrics:

I don’t want to hear about what the rich are doing
I don’t want to go to where the rich are going
They think they’re so clever, they think they’re so right
But the truth is only known by guttersnipes

Yesterday there were two stories in The Seattle Times that got my attention. The first one by Danny Westneat was about the cost of college tuition today compared to what is was 30 years ago.

When I went to Western Washington University from 1981 through 1985, tuition was $205 a quarter. As my daughter enters WWU, tuition is $2,935 per quarter – more than fourteen times the cost it was 30 years ago. If WWU’s tuition increased at the same rate as inflation for the past thirty years, it would cost $510 per quarter.

Danny Westneat’s begins his column by informing college-bound kids that back in the day we used to be able to pay for an entire year of college by working part-time jobs at fast-food joints for the three months of summer. He then explains why the cost has skyrocketed. It basically gets down to the state not funding colleges as much as it used to.

Of all our delusions, we old farts cling to this bootstrap one the most. We worked our way up on sweat and chicken grease, we say. Can’t this generation? What’s wrong with them?

What’s wrong is that after we got ours, we cut it off for them.

The reason a summer at KFC could pay for a year of UW med school in 1981 isn’t that we were so hardworking and industrious. It’s that taxpayers back then picked up 90 percent of the tab. We weren’t Horatio Algers. We were socialists.

Today, the public picks up only 30 percent of UW tuition, and dropping.

How we milked the public university system in this state and then starved it will go down as the great badge of shame of my generation and the one before mine, the baby boomers. Affordable college made us. Once made, we wouldn’t pay even a two-cent per can soda-pop tax to give that same gift to anybody else.

The next article that got my attention was about the incomes of the CEOs of the top publicly traded companies in the Northwest. In case you didn’t know already, they make many millions of dollars.

In 2012, the average CEO made 354 times more than the average worker. In 1982, this ratio was 42 to 1, according to the AFL-CIO.

Mark Parker of Nike topped the list with compensation of $35,212,678. He was followed by Howard Schultz of Starbucks at $28,909,773, and Dara Khosrowshahi of Expedia at $14,423,193.

So how much do these super rich CEOs pay into our state, county, and local governments? No doubt it’s a large sum, but it’s not a large percentage of their income. You may recall this post from February about how Washington State has the most regressive tax system in the entire country. The post includes a chart that shows the combined state and local tax rates paid by the lower four quintiles, the next 15%, the next 4%, and the top 1%. The lowest 20% earners pay in 16.9% of their income. The top 1% pay in 2.8% of their income.

We had an opportunity to correct this gross inequity in 2010 by voting for Initiative 1098. It would have taxed the income of the top 1% by assessing a 5% tax on incomes over $200,000 ($400,000 for couples). Way too many clueless people voted against their best interests and for the interest of the top 1% who spent millions of dollars campaigning against it, so the initiative was soundly defeated. Apparently there are a whole lot of people who think they’re going to be millionaires some day and, when they join the 1%, they don’t want to get stuck with a 5% tax bill. If they had the slightest bit of reasoning capabilities, they’d understand that 99% of us never strike it rich, and the odds are against them ever making it into the club.

So here we are in a state that is home to thousands of people who earn tens of millions of dollars, that doesn’t tax them at anything close to an equitable rate. If they were taxed 5%, we could afford to fund education at a much higher level than we currently do. And those high-income “job creators” ought to have an interest in our state educating their future workers. They probably do, but they’re  not so hot on paying for it.

Hooray for the 1%. They get what they want – more and more money all the time. The rest of us get don’t always get what we want, and when we try sometimes, we just might get… screwed.