Infrastructure’s a clunky word, but it’s important. It means fixing things, and that means jobs. The WPA blazed the trail back in the 1930s when unemployment was sky-high. FDR had to fight conservatives who didn’t want to spend the money. But WPA workers rebuilt the country and their paychecks stimulated the economy. Obama’s got a new plan to do some infrastructure work, but the conservatives are against him, too. I’m a fan. Let’s get behind him on this. Here are some highlights of what he proposed today:
The President’s infrastructure plan calls for a Rebuild America Partnership that will attract private capital to build the infrastructure our businesses need most. By acting on the President’s plan, together we can prove that there is no better place to do business and create jobs than right here in the United States of America.
Investing in a “fix-it-first” policy: The President’s plan will immediately invest $50 billion in our nation’s transportation infrastructure, with $40 billion targeted to the most urgent upgrades and focused on fixing our highways, bridges, transit systems, and airports most in need of repair.
Meet Chris. He has worked at Caterpillar for almost 40 years as a white collar employee in IT. He is approaching retirement; his traditional pension benefit will be about $1000 per month ($12,000 per year). When he retires, Chris will pay about $560 per month for health insurance benefits for he and his wife, even with Medicare. In 1974, the Caterpillar CEO made $325,000 per year and employees retired with a good pension which included health insurance at no cost. In 2013, the Caterpillar CEO made $12 million per year and he can expect a generous retirement package with almost all benefits paid thanks to Caterpillar; in contrast, employees’ retirement benefits have been cut and health insurance premiums have been increased including paying more for drugs. Chris has other investments that will help him during his retirement, but as he said, “without them I would have to keep working until I die.”
Meet Ruth. She worked at IBM for 17 years. In 2001, IBM eliminated its traditional pension plan and went completely to 401K plans. Employees with a significant amount of time in the traditional pension plan ended up losing a significant part of their retirement savings even after winning a lawsuit against IBM. Employees with less time in the traditional retirement plan received a check for a couple of hundred dollars as a settlement. In 2002, IBM CEO Lou Gerstner retired with a $190 million package, and in 2012, IBM CEO Sam Palmisano retired with $271 million package. Ruth was laid off in 2004 and has no retirement from IBM; work has been hard to come by since then due to the economy. If and when she retires, she will have a meager Social Security check monthly and her savings and insurance from her husband’s death to live on.
Meet Dennis. He retired from Delta Airlines as a pilot. When Delta declared bankruptcy and divested itself from its pension plan in 2005, it turned its pension responsibilities over to Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). Dennis’ pension went from $1939 per month to $95 per month. In 2012, the Delta Airlines CEO pay package was $8.9 million.
In all but a handful of elections, there is no left-wing alternative to the candidates of the two parties of the status quo. Why not? Lance Selfa, author of The Democrats: A Critical History, looks back at the history of efforts to build third parties for some answers
EACH ELECTION Day seems to confront Americans with a choice that’s really not much of a choice: one pro-business party that pretends to represent the interests of working people (the Democrats) and another pro-business party that doesn’t even bother to pretend (the Republicans). Is it any wonder that the U.S. regularly leads among advanced Western countries in rates of voter abstention?
There are a handful of left-wing independent candidates running in the elections coming up on November 4–SocialistWorker.org readers may be most familiar with the New York Green Party campaign for governor and lieutenant governor, featuring two contributors and collaborators with this website: Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones. Still they are very much the exception.
Though much is made of the differences between them, the Democrats and Republicans actually share more in common. Because they’ve worked so hard to protect their duopoly, America’s elites can thus rest assured that whichever party wins a given election, their interests will dictate government policy.
Because Democrats and Republicans collude to design the most arcane regulations for gaining ballot access, third parties face all manner of obstacles just to qualify.
For example, to qualify in New York for an election for a statewide office, candidates must collect 15,000 valid signatures, including 100 signatures from each of half of the state’s congressional districts. An individual voter’s signature cannot count for more than one statewide candidate per election, and signatures can be invalidated if the voter reports his or her city or town incorrectly. Finally, all this must be done in a period of 38 days.
Global inequality, like global warming, is a disease that may be too far along to ever be cured.
We seem helpless, both in the U.S. and around the world, to stop the incessant flow of wealth to an elitist group of people who are simply building on their existing riches. The increasing rate of their takeaway is the message derived from the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook (GWD).
It’s already been madeclear that the richest Americans have taken almost all the gains in U.S. wealth since the recession. But the unrelenting money grab is a global phenomenon. The GWD confirms just how bad it’s getting for the great majority of us.
1. U.S.: Even the Upper Middle Class Is Losing
In just three years, from 2011 to 2014, the bottom half of Americans lost almost half of their share of the nation’s wealth, dropping from a 2.5% share to a 1.3% share (detail is here).
Most of the top half lost ground, too. The 36 million upper middle class households just above the median (6th, 7th, and 8th deciles) dropped from a 13.4% share to an 11.9% share. Much of their portion went to the richest one percent.
This is big money. With total U.S. wealth of $84 trillion, the three-year change represents a transfer of wealth of over a trillion dollars from the bottom half of America to the richest 1%, and another trillion dollars from the upper middle class to the 1%.
2. U.S.: In 3 Years, an Average of $5 Million Went To Every Household in the 1%
A closer look at the numbers shows the frightening extremes. The bottom half of America, according to GWD, owned $1.5 trillion in 2011. Now their wealth is down to $1.1 trillion. Much of their wealth is in housing equity, which was depleted by the recession.
“To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.” – W.E.B. Du Bois
No discussion of poverty, and of the need to renew opportunity in America, can be complete without a frank consideration of the situation faced by Native Americans. With a worsening economy, the inevitable churn of holiday stories about the least fortunate, and a new Administration, now is the right time for meaningful action to address poverty in Native American communities.
The modern history of Native Americans has been marred by tragedy and injustice, and too often deprivation and suffering within Native American communities has been met with sentiment that shocks the conscience.
In 1862, the American government refused to honor treaty obligations to the Dakota Sioux Indians during a time of widespread starvation. When tribal leaders, desperate for relief, asked for food on credit because the U.S. government had failed to provide moneys owed, an associate of the local Indian agent replied, “If they are hungry, let them eat grass or their own dung.” His comment, and the crass disregard it represented, helped to spark the infamous and bloody confrontation between the tribe and the federal government now known as the Dakota War.
Although we have moved beyond wanton neglect and violence, our national response to the problem of poverty in Native American communities remains woefully inadequate.
“Violence never brings permanent peace….Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding: it seeks to annihilate rather than convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible….Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1989 a politically naïve college graduate with a love for the Bible took her first trip to Israel. Like so many US Americans wed to the story of the “promised land,” I was drawn toward this tiny slip of earth an ocean and a continent away. I spent two weeks there doing what Christian tourists do. I walked Jerusalem, taking in its Muslim and Jewish and Christian quarters, smelling the mix of fresh cardamom and urine and just-worked leather bags in the dappled dark of Old City passageways. I felt intoned prayer at the Western wall reverberate from the scrubbed streets of the Jewish quarter; ambled through the archeological ruins, underground and above; surveyed the Temple Mount; and entered the stunning mosque of Al-Aqsa (smelling feet, I wondered simultaneously about its placement atop the Second Temple ruins…At the time, I was not thinking about things Islam—or things Roman). I remember using a ridiculous mix of classical and modern Hebrew to order cheese pizza, proud of myself in self-parody. Hopping a bus to see a model of the old ‘City of David,’ I was shocked back to reality by the Shoah survivor sitting next to me (Her tattoo was as unfaded as it was unhidden by her white cotton shift.). The next day, I visited Yad v’Shem and the Chagall windows—the juxtaposition difficult—and paid to have an “eternity peace tree” planted on a nearby hill. Two other days were filled by long bus drives, first north through the West Bank desert to Jericho, the Jordan, the Galilee and Capernaum, and then south to Qumran, Masada, and the Dead Sea (for while there was discord then, travel through the West Bank was not blocked by walls and check points; perhaps even now I would not be prevented from passing freely, since I am not Palestinian, and so for me, both the roads and the parable of the Good Samaritan make material and geographic sense).
By Nick Taylor, the author of “American-Made” (2008), a history of the Works Progress Administration. Originally published in the New York Times.
The Great Depression was a worldwide economic crisis that in the United States was marked by widespread unemployment, near halts in industrial production and construction, and an 89 percent decline in stock prices. It was preceded by the so-called New Era, a time of low unemployment when general prosperity masked vast disparities in income.
The start of the Depression is usually pegged to the stock market crash of “Black Tuesday,” Oct. 29, 1929, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell almost 23 percent and the market lost between $8 billion and $9 billion in value. But it was just one in a series of losses during a time of extreme market volatility that exposed those who had bought stocks “on margin” — with borrowed money.
The stock market continued to decline despite brief rallies. Unemployment rose and wages fell for those who continued to work. The use of credit for the purchase of homes, cars, furniture and household appliances resulted in foreclosures and repossessions. As consumers lost buying power industrial production fell, businesses failed, and more workers lost their jobs. Farmers were caught in a depression of their own that had extended through much of the 1920s. This was caused by the collapse of food prices with the loss of export markets after World War I and years of drought that were marked by huge dust storms that blackened skies at noon and scoured the land of topsoil. As city dwellers lost their homes, farmers also lost their land and equipment to foreclosure.
In Just A Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, T. Carlos Anderson explores these questions. Defining “religion” as “ultimate concern,” Anderson argues that the true religion of the United States is the confluence of commerce, materialism, and consumption, and that the country’s true devotion is the pursuit of material wealth at the expense of the common good. Anderson carefully examines three eras of excess in U.S. American history–the Gilded Age, the 1920s, and the current age that began in the late 1970s and helped bring about the economic swoon of 2007-08–to argue that democracy and egalitarianism, as America’s two greatest achievements, are the substance of the common good, exist only when advocated for, and all three are suffering near death under the weight of economic inequity. What follows is chapter five, “America’s True Religion: Commerce, Materialism, and Consumerism,” in a book of eight very smart chapters. Chapter five narrates both the secularization of distinctively Christian religious impulses to support “America’s True Religion” and details the rise of the economic neoliberalism that is so thoroughly impacting capitalism today. The last, “Economic Democracy,” argues for a new egalitarian economic approach to the common good that avoids both the regression and idolatry of inequality in favor of sustainability, coexistence, compassion and cooperation.
T. Carlos “Tim” Anderson is a bilingual Protestant minister in Austin, Texas who has previously lived and worked in Chicago, Houston, and Lima, Peru. For copies of Just A Little Bit More, interview requests, and other inquiries, contact T. Carlos “Tim” Anderson at the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website, www.blueocotillo.com.
America’s True Religion: Commerce, Materialism, and Consumption
Dawn Hughey routinely put in seventy-hour workweeks as a retail store manager, making about $35,000 a year as a salaried employee. Abel Lopez had the same type of job, worked the same long hours, and brought home an equivalent amount of pay. Hughey managed a Dollar General store in Detroit and Lopez a Family Dollar store in El Paso; they both performed the same tasks as did the sales associates under their supervision: unloading trucks, stocking shelves, cleaning toilets, running cash registers, doing inventory, moving boxes. Since Hughey and Lopez were categorized as managers, they were exempted from receiving overtime pay. When one does the math, both made a little less than ten dollars an hour. Until they were fired, that is.
The 1938 Fair Labor and Standards Act put in place the forty-hour workweek, mandated a minimum wage, established overtime pay at a rate of time and a half, and further regimented child labor law. This federal statute—still enforced today by the Department of Labor—also exempts “executive” and “administrative” salaried employees from receiving overtime pay, as long as they make more than $455 a week. The statute specifies that executive and administrative employees are to manage the work environment, to direct other workers under their supervision, and not to engage in manual labor. This last provision serves a double purpose: to distinguish managerial work from manual labor and to ensure that manual laborers are not taken advantage of. In the growing economy of era the mid-twentieth century, the line of demarcation between managers and laborers was clear. In today’s stagnant service economy, workers like Hughey and Lopez perform the tasks of traditional management while also doing anything else needed, because they don’t have the budget to staff more workers. Putting in more hours—many more—is sometimes the only difference between supervisors and their subordinates.
In her book Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, Susan Crawford describes how the American public has been imprisoned by monopoly arrangements in the delivery of broadband and wireless Internet services. Using pricing and discount strategies, communications corporations have colluded to circumvent competition and make private fiefdoms out of what should have been public infrastructure.
It’s not a new strategy. Back in the 1870’s, J.P. Morgan and the railroad barons worked with John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil to use preferential pricing schemes and discounts to corner markets and consolidate their monopoly powers.
In its quest to act more like one of these giant corporations, the Postal Service has been using similar strategies, like fighting off regulation, making secret deals, manipulating prices, and offering discounts to become more competitive.
Worksharing is probably the most notorious example of a discount of dubious merit. Since the practice began in 1976, worksharing has grown dramatically. Now about 80 percent of the mail arrives at the Postal Service pre-sorted to qualify for discount rates (as discussed in this OIG report). Worksharing has spawned a huge private-sector consolidation industry that profits off the $15 billion (or more) in discounts that the Postal Service gives out each year. As repeatedly documented in compliance determination reports by the Postal Regulatory Commission, many of the discounts are so large that they don’t even cover their avoided costs. Worksharing has led to the loss of tens of thousands of postal jobs.
Worksharing is not the only type of discount to be concerned about, however. For large mailers, there are discounts for bar coding and an ever-increasing number of Negotiated Service Agreements. For average customers, discounts are available for going online instead of going to the post office. Now we’ve learned that the Postal Service is apparently giving discounts to Staples as part of the plan to put postal counters in big box stores.