Monthly Archives: November 2014

7 Candidates for Corporate Rip-Off of the Year

by Paul Buchheit, mirrored from Common Dreams

corporate-crime-article
When corporations write their own rules, it’s no wonder the common good is kicked to the curb. (Image: occupy.com)

There are so many to choose from. Every one of these selections is an act of corporate treachery that takes billions of dollars from the American people.

1. Selling Medication For Up To 100 Times More Than It’s Worth

Pharmaceutical companies reap billions of dollars in subsidies for research and development, but they’ve successfully lobbied Congress to keep Medicare from bargaining for lower drug prices. An extreme example is Gilead Sciences, the manufacturer of the drug Sovaldi, which charges about $10 a pill to its customers in Egypt, then comes home to charge $1,000 a pill to its American customers. Other outrageous examples are noted by Ralph Nader.

As a further insult, Americans are cheated when corporations pay off generic drug manufacturers to delay entry of their products into the market, thereby forcing consumers to pay the highest prices for medicine.

2. Paying Their Employees With Our Tax Money

Walmart made $19 billion in U.S. profits last year, and the four Walton siblings together made about $29 billion from their personal investments. That’s about $33,000 per U.S. employee in profits and family stock gains. Yet they pay their 1.4 million American employees so little that the average Walmart worker depends on about $4,000 per year in taxpayer assistance, for food stamps and other safety net programs.

3. Giving Money to Executives Rather Than Investing in the Future

Corporations are spending trillions of dollars on stock buybacks, which use potential research and development money to pump up the prices of executive stock options. Apple alone is spending $90 billion to repurchase its own stock through 2015. Walmart doesn’t provide a living wage for its workers, but its company management spent $7.6 billion, or about $5,000 per U.S. employee, on stock buybacks, in order to further boost the value of their stock holdings.

Continue reading 7 Candidates for Corporate Rip-Off of the Year

The Super-Rich and Sordid Tales of Selfishness

by Paul Buchheit, mirrored from Common Dreams

wealth_0
Philanthropy, no matter how well intentioned, cannot compensate for the flaws of capitalism. (Image: Public domain)

If the mainstream media made the effort to analyze and report the facts, the whole country would know about a level of selfishness that has spiraled out of control since the economists of the Reagan era convinced the wealthiest Americans that greed is good for everyone. Here are four extreme examples of that selfishness.

1. Ebola’s Not Worth the Money If Only Africans Get Infected 

World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Dr. Margaret Chan recently stated: “Ebola emerged nearly four decades ago. Why are clinicians still empty-handed, with no vaccines and no cure? Because Ebola has historically been confined to poor African nations. The R&D incentive is virtually non-existent. A profit-driven industry does not invest in products for markets that cannot pay.”

So we turn to philanthropy. But rich donors don’t compensate for the flaws of capitalism. The Gates Foundation, among others, may appear noble and praiseworthy for all its charitable giving, but Dr. Chan noted that “My budget [is] highly earmarked, so it is driven by what I call donor interests.” Little of that ‘earmarking’ is toward diseases of the poor. A study in The Lancet of medical products registered in 2000-11 revealed that “Only four new chemical entities were approved for neglected diseases (three for malaria, one for diarrhoeal disease), accounting for 1% of the 336 new chemical entities approved during the study period.”

A related problem with philanthropy is summarized by Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy: “Wealthy people tend to give to colleges, art museums, opera and hospitals very generously…Food banks depend more on lower income Americans.”

The Chronicle of Philanthropy confirmed that Americans with annual earnings under $100,000 increased their post-recession giving by 4.5 percent. Americans who earned over $200,000 reduced their giving by 4.6 percent over the same time period.

2. Going To Their Graves Without Paying What They Owe 

Charles Koch, who is very much alive, said “I want my fair share – and that’s all of it.”

Continue reading The Super-Rich and Sordid Tales of Selfishness

The Billion Dollar a Month Club: A Runaway Transfer of Wealth to the Super-Rich

by Paul Buchheit. mirrored from Common Dreams

cash_billionaire
As wealth inequality soars and the class war rages… the rich are winning like never before. (Photo: Getty Images)

Our national wealth has grown by an astonishing $30 trillion since the recession, but most of it has gone to people who were already wealthy.

We are living through a massive redistribution of America’s net worth to the beneficiaries of a financial industry that has used cunning and money and power to impose their version of economic “freedom” while deregulating any policies that might have stopped the incessant transfer of wealth.

It’s getting worse, by the year and by the month. President Obama’s claim that “We’ve recovered faster and come farther than almost any other advanced country on Earth” applies largely to the people whose wealth accumulation has dramatically pulled up the averages. The evidence is staring us in the face, but the super-rich are only watching their portfolios.

1. Kochs and Waltons Took $6.6 Billion of National Wealth — In Less Than Two Months 

We live in a society that allows great portions of its national wealth to go to people who pollute our air and water while blocking any attempts to change their dirty business; or to people who pay their workers so little that average citizens have to use their tax money to provide food.

The 2014 Forbes 400 list came out in mid-September. Since then, in less than two months, the four Waltons made $4.8 billion dollars, and the Koch brothers made $1.8 billion dollars.

$6.6 billion is enough to pay the total food stamp benefits for all 48 million recipients for an entire month.

Continue reading The Billion Dollar a Month Club: A Runaway Transfer of Wealth to the Super-Rich

OUR RIDICULOUS APPROACH TO RETIREMENT

By TERESA GHILARDUCCI
Published: July 21, 2012 in the New York Times

22RETIRERMENT-popup

I work on retirement policy, so friends often want to talk about their own retirement plans and prospects. While I am happy to have these conversations, my friends usually walk away feeling worse — for good reason.

Seventy-five percent of Americans nearing retirement age in 2010 had less than $30,000 in their retirement accounts. The specter of downward mobility in retirement is a looming reality for both middle- and higher-income workers. Almost half of middle-class workers, 49 percent, will be poor or near poor in retirement, living on a food budget of about $5 a day.

In my ad hoc retirement talks, I repeatedly hear about the “guy.” This is a for-profit investment adviser, often described as, “I have this guy who is pretty good, he always calls, doesn’t push me into investments.” When I ask how much the “guy” costs, or if the guy has fiduciary loyalty — to the client, not the firm — or if their investments do better than a standard low-fee benchmark, they inevitably don’t know. After hearing about their magical guy, I ask about their “number.”

Continue reading OUR RIDICULOUS APPROACH TO RETIREMENT

THE GREATEST RETIREMENT CRISIS IN AMERICAN HISTORY

by Edward “Ted” Siedle, Published in Forbes on March 20, 2013

hometopfeature_panel12_0_mainstory-136381951921

We are on the precipice of the greatest retirement crisis in the history of the world. In the decades to come, we will witness millions of elderly Americans, the Baby Boomers and others, slipping into poverty. Too frail to work, too poor to retire will become the “new normal” for many elderly Americans.

That dire prediction, which I wrote two years ago, is already coming true. Our national demographics, coupled with indisputable glaringly insufficient retirement savings and human physiology, suggest that a catastrophic outcome for at least a significant percentage of our elderly population is inevitable. With the average 401(k) balance for 65 year olds estimated at $25,000 by independent experts – $100,000 if you believe the retirement planning industry – the decades many elders will spend in forced or elected “retirement” will be grim.  (Update: In response to readers’ questions about the lower number, Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor of economics at the New School for Social Research, estimates that 75% of Americans nearing retirement in 2010 had less than $30,000 in their retirement accounts.)

Corporate America and the financial wizards behind the past three decades of so-called retirement innovations, most notably titans of the pension benefits consulting and mutual fund 401(k) industries, are down-playing just how bad things are already and how much worse they are going to get.

Continue reading THE GREATEST RETIREMENT CRISIS IN AMERICAN HISTORY

INFURIATING FACTS ABOUT OUR DISAPPEARING MIDDLE-CLASS WEALTH

by Paul Buchheit, mirrored from Common Dreams

tax_rates
People in the U.S. and around the world are being rapidly divided into two classes, the well-to-do and the lower-income majority. (Photo: mSeattle/flickr/cc)

A recent posting detailed how upper middle class Americans are rapidly losing ground to the one-percenters who averaged $5 million in wealth gains over just three years. It also noted that the global 1% has increased their wealth from $100 trillion to $127 trillion in just three years.

The information came from the Credit Suisse 2014 Global Wealth Databook (GWD), which goes on to reveal much more about the disappearing middle class.

1. Each Year Since the Recession, America’s Richest 1% Have Made More Than the Cost of All U.S. Social Programs

In effect, a reverse transfer from the poor to the rich. Even as conservatives blame Social Security for being too costly.

Much of the 1% wealth just sits there, accumulating more wealth. The numbers are nearly unfathomable. Depending on the estimate, the 1% took in anywhere from $2.3 trillion to $5.7 trillion per year. (All numeric analysis is detailed here.)

Even the smaller estimate of $2.3 trillion per year is more than the budget for Social Security ($860 billion), Medicare ($524 billion), Medicaid ($304 billion), and the entire safety net ($286 billion for SNAP, WIC [Women, Infants, Children], Child Nutrition, Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Housing).

2. Almost None of the New 1% Wealth Led To Innovation and Jobs

In 2005, for every $1 of financial wealth there was 66 cents of non-financial (home) wealth. Ten years later, for every $1 of financial wealth there was just 43 cents of non-financial (home) wealth.

Continue reading INFURIATING FACTS ABOUT OUR DISAPPEARING MIDDLE-CLASS WEALTH

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: THE COMING RACE WAR WON’T BE ABOUT RACE

by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 
Published in Time Magazine, August 17, 2014

Ferguson is not just about systemic racism — it’s about class warfare and how America’s poor are held back, says Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
lowenstein-ferguson1
A protestor during demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo. on August 17, 2014. Jon Lowenstein—Noor for TIME

Will the recent rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, be a tipping point in the struggle against racial injustice, or will it be a minor footnote in some future grad student’s thesis on Civil Unrest in the Early Twenty-First Century?

The answer can be found in May of 1970.

You probably have heard of the Kent State shootings: on May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on student protesters at Kent State University. During those 13 seconds of gunfire, four students were killed and nine were wounded, one of whom was permanently paralyzed. The shock and outcry resulted in a nationwide strike of 4 million students that closed more than 450 campuses. Five days after the shooting, 100,000 protestors gathered in Washington, D.C. And the nation’s youth was energetically mobilized to end the Vietnam War, racism, sexism, and mindless faith in the political establishment.

You probably haven’t heard of the Jackson State shootings.

On May 14th, 10 days after Kent State ignited the nation, at the predominantly black Jackson State University in Mississippi, police killed two black students (one a high school senior, the other the father of an 18-month-old baby) with shotguns and wounded twelve others.

There was no national outcry. The nation was not mobilized to do anything. That heartless leviathan we call History swallowed that event whole, erasing it from the national memory.

And, unless we want the Ferguson atrocity to also be swallowed and become nothing more than an intestinal irritant to history, we have to address the situation not just as another act of systemic racism, but as what else it is: class warfare.

By focusing on just the racial aspect, the discussion becomes about whether Michael Brown’s death—or that of the other three unarmed black men who were killed by police in the U.S. within that month—is about discrimination or about police justification. Then we’ll argue about whether there isn’t just as much black-against-white racism in the U.S. as there is white-against-black. (Yes, there is. But, in general, white-against-black economically impacts the future of the black community. Black-against-white has almost no measurable social impact.)

Continue reading KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: THE COMING RACE WAR WON’T BE ABOUT RACE