Category Archives: Paul Buchheit

New Layers of Dirt on Charter Schools

Paul Buchheit | October 24 2016 | Common Dreams

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Charter schools have turned our children into the products of businesspeople. Enough. (Photo: AgainstAusterity.org)

An earlier review identified the “Three Big Sins of Charter Schools”: Fraud, a Lack of Transparency, and the Exclusion of Unwanted Students. The evidence against charters continues to grow. Yet except for its reporting on a few egregious examples of charter malfeasance and failure, the mainstream media continues to echo the sentiments of privatization-loving billionaires who believe their wealth somehow equates to educational wisdom.

The Wall Street Journal, in its misinformed way, says that the turnaround of public schools requires “increasing options for parents, from magnet to charter schools.” Wrong. As theNAACP affirms, our nation needs “free, high-quality, fully and equitably-funded public education for all children.” For ALL children, not just a select few.

The NAACP has called for a moratorium on charter schools. And Diane Ravitch makes a crucial point: “Would [corporate reformers] still be able to call themselves leaders of the civil rights issue of our time if the NAACP disagreed with their aggressive efforts to privatize public schools?”

Here are the 4 Big Sins of Charter Schools, updated by a surge of new evidence:

1. Starve the Beast

Corporate-controlled spokesgroups ALEC, US Chamber of Commerce, and Americans for Prosperity are drooling over school privatization and automated classrooms, with a formula described by The Nation: “Use standardized tests to declare dozens of poor schools ‘persistently failing’; put these under the control of a special unelected authority; and then have that authority replace the public schools with charters.” But as aptly expressed by Jeff Bryant, “As a public school loses a percentage of its students to charters, the school can’t simply cut fixed costs for things like transportation and physical plant proportionally…So instead, the school cuts a program or support service.”

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What the Narcissists Have Done to Our Jobs and Health

Paul Buchheit | October 17 2016 | Common Dreams 

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‘Like other great narcissists, [Donald Trump] is a very important man in his own head.’ (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)
When Donald Trump blurted out “that makes me smart” as a reason for non-payment of taxes, he was revealing a truth about the American narcissist. Senator Lindsey Graham was equally arrogant when he stated, “It’s really American to avoid paying taxes, legally… It’s a game we play.” The game has become very popular, with an incomprehensible three-quarters of Fortune 500 companies stashing profits in offshore tax havens, avoiding over $700 billion in U.S. taxes.

Who Are the Narcissists?

They’re people who don’t feel any responsibility to the society that made them rich, largely because they believe in the “self-made” myth. Their numbers are growing. For every 100 households with $100 million in assets in 2010, there are now 160.

Some of the super-rich care about average Americans, and some are well-intentioned philanthropists, but in general, as numerous studies have shown, wealthier individuals tend to be imbued with a distinct sense of entitlement. They believe their talents and attributesgenius, even – have earned them a rightful position of status over everyone else.

The narcissists care less about the feelings and needs of others, they become anti-social, they are less generous with their money, they move further to the right, and they become less willing to support the economic needs of all members of society. People in rich countries have been found to express less concern about their environmental impact.

And as the wealth gap widens, people at the two extremes become more and more distrustful of each other.

Most disturbing is that ‘upper-class’ individuals tend to behave more unethically than average citizens. Especially at the highest levels, where career success has been associated with Machiavellianism — doing anything necessary to get ahead. A recent study of 261 U.S. senior professionals found that 21 per cent had clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits, compared to about one percent in the general population. That’s roughly the same rate as for prisoners.

Jobs: Narcissists Blame “the U.S.” for the Collapse of the Job Market

Stunning hypocrisy: Apple claims to be responsible for “creating and supporting 1.9 million jobs” while actually employing 115,000; but the company complains that “the U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need”; yet Apple undermines job creation in its role as the biggest overseas profit hoarder and a leading tax avoider; but its CEO Tim Cook said, “We pay all the taxes we owe – every single dollar.”

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Three Reasons a New President Won’t Help America. One Way She or He Could.

Paul Buchheit | October 03 2016 | Common Dreams

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‘Inequality has ripped us apart, not only economically, but also emotionally, as people further removed from the lives of others tend to distrust each other.’ (Photo: Elvert Barnes / Flickr)

There are at least three major American failures that are too entrenched in our society to undergo change with anything less than an FDR-type effort.

Corporations Continue to Ignore Their Responsibility to Education

The Wall Street Journal says, “Many workers who were laid off in recent decades…don’t have the skills to do today’s jobs. An Apple executive recently lamented, “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.”

But opportunities for young people have diminished as corporations have rejected their obligation to society. Public colleges and universities have suffered major cuts in funding over the last ten years, while the largest American corporations have avoided hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes by stashing their profits overseas.

Corporate leaders blame government, they blame society, they blame the poor for their own misfortunes. But they don’t acknowledge their responsibility to pay for the people and research provided by higher education, especially during the technological boom of the 1990s. Instead they seem to agree with Donald Trump about skipping out on taxes: “That makes me smart.” Higher education is one of the main victims of this narcissistic way of thinking.

The Rich Lack Incentive to Help Others: They Believe an “Invisible Hand” Will Do It

For every 100 American millionaires six years ago, there are now 140. As this richest 5% of America gets richer, many of them lose the sense of empathy that creates a strong society, and they become more convinced that the magic of the market will solve all the country’s problems.

Continue reading Three Reasons a New President Won’t Help America. One Way She or He Could.

How to “Stop the Violence”: March Up the Steps of the Traders Who Pay No Sales Tax

Paul Buchheit | September 19 2016 | Common Dreams

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A demonstration in favor of a financial transaction tax, also known as a Robin Hood Tax. (Photo: RobinHoodTax/cc/flickr)

The rallies in Chicago and around the country evoke passion and sympathy from most of us, but just a shrug of the shoulders from those ultimately responsible for the carnage on our streets. These are the leaders of finance who use our infrastructure, technology, security, law, location, and especially our people to make billions in profits while paying almost nothing in return.

Especially the securities traders. An impoverished mother pays up to 10% in sales tax when she buys shoes for her kids, but the customers of companies with a quadrillion dollars in sales pay ZERO SALES TAX. Quadrillion sounds like gazillion, but it’s a real number — a thousand trillion, about four times the value of all the world’s wealth.

The protesting mothers are angry at the people who are killing their children. Much of that anger should be directed at the financial districts of New York and Chicago.

The Shame of Chicago

With a quadrillion dollars in sales and the collection of transfer fees, contract fees, brokerage fees, Globex fees, clearing fees, and surcharges, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange achieved a profit margin (54%) higher than any of the top 100 companies in the nation from 2008 to 2010, and in recent years it’s risen to nearly 60%.

Despite being the most profitable big firm, CME complained that its taxes were too high, and they demanded and received an $85 million tax break from the State of Illinois.

Meanwhile, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has cut funding for funerals, AIDS programs, “Meals on Wheels” for seniors, and programs for at-risk youth.

The Farce in New York

The good news is that New York has a financial transaction tax. The bad news is that as soon as the tax is paid, it’s given back. That can only happen in the “strange world of taxes,” according to the New York Times, which also admits that the financial transaction tax “is an idea whose time has finally come.”

Continue reading How to “Stop the Violence”: March Up the Steps of the Traders Who Pay No Sales Tax

Five Deadly Sins of Big Pharma

Paul Buchheit | September 12 2016 | Common Dreams

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A pharmacist holds a package of EpiPens epinephrine auto-injector, a Mylan product, in Sacramento, Calif., last month. Mylan said it will make available a generic version of its EpiPen, as criticism mounts over the price of its injectable medicine. (Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

For Mylan, it was a perfect plan—diabolical, unstoppable. The company made changes in its anti-allergy EpiPen dispenser in 2009, enough to give it patent protection. Then, in 2012, it began to give away free pens to schools, gradually making school nurses at least partly dependent on them. Meanwhile the company was successfully lobbying for the “Emergency Epinephrine Act,” commonly referred to as the “EpiPen Law,” which encouraged the presence of epinephrine dispensers in schools. Most recently, after raising the price from $100 to $600, Mylan announced a half-price coupon, making itself appear generous even though the price had effectively jumped from $100 to $300.

This is capitalism at its worst, a greedy and disdainful profit-over-people system that leaves millions of Americans sick… or dead. These are the sins of the pharmaceutical industry.

1. Gouging Customers

The Mylan story is just one of many. An American with cancer will face bills up to $183,000 per year, even though it hasn’t been established that the expensive treatments actually extend lives. A 12-week course of Sovaldi, for hepatitis, costs Gilead Sciences about $84 and is priced at $84,000.

This is an industry that can suddenly impose a 60,000% increase on desperately ill people. Yet the pharmaceutical industry’s profit margin is matched only by the unscrupulous financial industry for the highest corporate profit margin.

2. Disposing of People Who Can’t Afford Medication

A Forbes writer summarizes: “Somewhere, right now, a cash-strapped parent or budget-limited patient with a severe allergy will skip acquiring an EpiPen. And someday, they will need it in a life-threatening situation…and they won’t have it. And they will die.”

A recent Health Affairs study concluded that since 2004 our medical dollars have been “increasingly concentrated on the wealthy.” As a result the richest 1% of American males live nearly 15 years longer than the poorest 1% (10 years for women). The high cost of medication is one of the factors leading to early death.

3. Gouging Us a Second Time

We’re paying twice for outrageously overpriced medications, both directly and with our tax dollars. The average medical insurance deductible has increased 67 percent since 2010, and most Medicare patients still face out-of-pocket costs of $7,000 or more a year.

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Escalating the War on Low-Income Families

Paul Buchheit | August 22 2016 | Common Dreams

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For the nation’s poor, things are not getting better. They are getting worse. (Photo: Pixabay/CC0)

Illinois Governor Rauner recently cut “Meals on Wheels” for seniors and at-risk youth services. Chicago residents were hit with a nearly 13% property tax increase. Some Chicago public schools could face 2017 cutbacks of an incredible 20 percent.

But six of Illinois’ largest corporations together paid ALMOST ZERO state income taxes this year. Full payment of their taxes would have exceeded the $1.1 billion Chicago Public School deficit.

It’s much the same around the nation, as 25 of the largest U.S. corporations, with over $150 billion in U.S. profits last year, paid less than 20% in federal taxes, and barely 1% in the state taxes that are vitally important for K-12 education.

Sticking It To Low-Income Mothers

Because of the missing corporate tax revenue, House Republicans have tried to break even by proposing cuts to programs that are essential to mothers and children, such as Centers for Disease Control health programs, family planning, contraception, and—unbelievably, again!—food stamps. It is estimated that almost two-thirds of the proposed cuts would largely impact low- and moderate-income families.

At the state level, the suffering residents of Louisiana are facing some of the steepest regressive tax increases, along with cuts to vital programs that investigate child abuse and provide pediatric day care. The maternal death rate rose dramatically in Texas after women’s health programs were cut. In Kansas, where a Republican state senator has called Governor Brownback’s lowering of taxes on the rich a “train wreck,” 2017 cuts are targeting universities, Medicaid recipients, and the Children’s Initiatives Fund.

Sending Mental Health Patients to Prison

A 2014 government report found that nearly one in five adult Americans experienced mental illness the year before. Yet in the four years before that report, states cut $5 billion in mental health services and eliminated nearly 10 percent of the nation’s order lasix drug psychiatric hospital beds. Over half of U.S. counties don’t have a single psychiatrist or social worker.

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Overwhelming Evidence that a Guaranteed Income Will Work

Paul Buchheit | August 29 2016 | Common Dreams

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A giant poster in Geneva reading “What would you do if your income was taken care of?” ahead of Switzerland’s vote on a proposed “basic income” set the Guinness World Record for the largest poster ever printed. (Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

We’ll have to do something drastically different to employ people in the future. Our jobs are disappearing. The driverless vehicle is here, destined to eliminate millions of transport and taxi-driving positions. Car manufacturing is being done by 3-D printing. An entire building was erected in Dubai with a 3-D printer. Restaurants are being designed with no waitstaff or busboys, hotels with no desk clerks, bellhops, and porters. Robot teachers are interacting with students in Japan and the UK.

There are plenty of naysayers and skeptics, of course. The Atlantic proclaimed, “The job market defied doomsayers in those earlier times, and according to the most frequently reported jobs numbers, it has so far done the same in our own time.” But this is a different time, with no guarantees of job revolutions, and in fact a time of unprecedented machine intelligence that threatens the livelihoods even of doctors, teachers, accountants, architects, the clergy, consultants, and lawyers.

Most of our new jobs are in service industries, including retail and personal health care and food service. The only one of the eight fastest-growing occupations that pays over $33,000 per year is nursing — and even nursing may give way to Robotic Nurse Assistants. The evidence for downsized jobs keeps accumulating. A US Mayors study found that ‘recovery’ jobs pay 23 percent less than the positions they replaced. The National Employment Law Project estimates that low-wage jobs accounted for 22 percent of job losses but 44 percent of subsequent job gains. Business Insider, Huffington Post, and the Wall Street Journal all concur: the unemployment rate is remaining low because of low-paying jobs.

We’re fooling ourselves by believing in a future with satisfying middle-class jobs for millions of Americans. It’s becoming clear that income should be guaranteed, so that recipients have the wherewithal and incentive and confidence to find productive ways to serve society.

Evidence from Research

Credible research overwhelmingly supports the concept. A World Bank analysis of 19 studies found that cash transfers have been demonstrated to improve education and health outcomes and alleviate poverty…concerns about the use of cash transfers for alcohol and tobacco consumption are unfounded. An MIT/Harvard analysis of seven cash transfer trials found “no systematic evidence that cash transfer programs discourage work.” The Brooks World Poverty Institute found that money transfers to the poor are used primarily for basic needs. Basic Incomes have been shown to lead to reductions in crime and inequality and malnutrition and infant mortality.

Successes in North America

One of the earliest experiments with guaranteed incomes was the “Mincome” (minimum income) program conducted in the town of Dauphin, Manitoba during the 1970s. The results were never made clear, partly because of a change to a more conservative government, which put the program’s records in storage, unevaluated. One study, however, found improved health outcomes for the recipients of the basic income payments.

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2020 Vision: Four Steps to Get There

Paul Buchheit | August 08 2016 | Common Dreams

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(Photo credit: layoutsparks.com)

Bernie Sanders started losing the election over 200 years ago, when Alexander Hamilton proclaimed “The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right.”  And when James Madison argued for a republic that would make it “more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other.”

Little has changed over two centuries later, as the Democratic National Committee demonstrated when they “criticized and mocked” Senator Bernie Sanders during the primary campaign. People with money and power are still appalled by the notion of a popular democracy. But something is different now. The American majority, driven by frustrated workers and well-connected young people, are better able to communicate, and to unify in pursuit of a progressive nation.

The coining of the phrase “2020 Vision” can be attributed to the Democracy Alliance, which focuses on three “key issue areas that form the core of our 2020 Vision – an inclusive economy, a fair democracy, and strong action on climate change.”

The vision expounded here, in the four steps to follow, is focused on the cooperative efforts of the great majority of Americans, many of them young and few of them rich, who are beginning to understand the strength of the growing progressive movement.

1. Occupy the Next Four Years

The Youth & Participatory Politics (YPP) survey project reminds us of the power of people working together: In 2011 tens of thousands of disgruntled customers forced Bank of America to withdraw plans for a $5 debit card fee; and two months later activists worked together to defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would promote Internet censorship. YPP defines participatory politics as “interactive, peer-based acts through which individuals and groups seek to exert both voice and influence on issues of public concern.”

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Fast-Growing Corporate Evils That Should Be Media Issues…and Campaign Issues

Paul Buchheit | August 01 2016 | Common Dreams

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(Photo: teigan/cc/flickr)

Corporations are viewed as untouchable by big business media giants like the Wall Street Journal, which blurts out inanities likeIncome inequality is simply not a significant problem.” andMiddle-class Americans have more buying power than ever before.”

In the real world, inequality is destroying the middle class. The following four issues, all part of the cancer of corporatocracy, have grown in intensity and destructiveness in just the last few years. They should be campaign issues, given more than just lip service from corporation-funded candidates like Hillary Clinton, and given more than just passing reference in the news reports of an unresponsive, irresponsible mainstream media.

1. Monopolies: Increasing Prices, Cutting Jobs

The Busch/Miller merger is the latest attack on competition, joining the recent surge toward oligopolies in the banking industry, pharmaceuticals and hospitals, wireless companies, and airlines. Contrary to any condescending claims that mergers contribute to price-lowering efficiencies, they have actually led to price increases in 75 percent of examined cases, according to a Northeastern University study. The resulting corporate profits are often used for investor-enriching stock buybacks.

And jobs are cut. When Merck took over Cubist Pharmaceuticals, the latter’s research and development staff was eliminated, ending their studies of other promising medicines.

2. Finance: Now Costing Us More Than the Military

A Roosevelt Institute study estimates that “the financial system will impose an excess cost of as much as $22.7 trillion between 1990 and 2023. That comes to about $660 billion per year, more than the discretionary military budget. That’s over $5,000 per U.S. household in excess financial costs.

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Deterrents to Terror that Very Rich People Can’t Comprehend

Paul Buchheit | July 26 2016 | Common Dreams

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When you look out at the world from the deck of a luxury yacht, there is simply too much that you cannot possibly see. (Photo: Chris Nelson/flickr/cc)

As people gain in wealth, they depend less on others, and thus they have less reason to understand the feelings and needs of the less fortunate.

That makes it difficult to relate to people without jobs, and without proper housing, and without prospects for the future. It makes it difficult to understand that their states of deprivation and desperation can make them lash out against those they consider responsible for the injustices of extreme inequality.

The following are some of the reasons for violent ‘blowback’ reactions that are often called ‘terrorism.’ These reactions occur both globally and locally. By addressing them, we may be able to reduce some of the worst effects of our perverse wealth distribution.

Young Foreign Radicals Feel Cheated and Terrorized

Barack Obama said, “When millions of people — especially youth — are impoverished and have no hope for the future…resentments fester.”

But ISIS members are generally middle- or upper-class males in their 20s. Security expert Ömer Taspinar explains: “It is certainly true that breeding grounds for radicalism and terrorist recruitment emerge not necessarily under conditions of abject poverty and deprivation…It is precisely when people develop high expectations, aspirations and hopes for upward mobility that we have to pay more attention to the potential for frustration, humiliation and ideological radicalization.”

As a recent report by Mercy Corps put it, “Young people take up the gun not because they are poor, but because they are angry.”

Continue reading Deterrents to Terror that Very Rich People Can’t Comprehend