Voting, taxes and what it means to be an American

vote

Image: Gazettes.com

When your ballot arrives later this week, take a pause and before you vote, consider, what does it mean to be an American? As Americans, we are all in this election together. We are in this country, this economy, this culture, and this government together.

What is government? It is the comprehensive delivery of services upon which we all depend, including emergency responders to the wind storms last week, schools for our kids, health care for retired people and low-income citizens, protection from violence and terrorism, road maintenance, public utilities, food safety, the court system to protect private property and enforce contracts, and the regulation of the financial underpinnings of our economy. Literally every part of our daily lives, and of the private capitalist economy, is dependent on government services.

We don’t get these services for nothing. We pay for them, with our taxes. So let’s talk about taxes. According to the New York Times, pollsters have been asking Americans whether “it is every American’s civic duty to pay their fair share of taxes.” Every year, about nine in 10 Americans agree they should.

It is not just people’s opinions. It is their actions. Paying federal income taxes is done through a system of voluntary compliance. Sure, you might be caught by the IRS if you don’t submit your 1040. But the actual likelihood of this is so slim that some economists, weighing costs and benefits, claim that it makes sense for a “rational” person to evade taxes altogether. But we are rational people and 140 million of American households, that is, us, file our federal income taxes every year. Over four-fifths of total tax liabilities are paid on time. We do this because we all understand, intuitively, that if we want public services, we have to pay for them.

What people don’t like is tax avoidance. You pay no federal taxes, and you reap all the benefits of living in America. That’s what appears to be Donald Trump’s situation, which he terms as “smart” and we all know is just selfish.

It is also the habit of some of Washington’s largest companies. Microsoft has stashed away $124 billion in Ireland, Luxembourg, and Singapore. This maneuver enables Microsoft to avoid $39 billion in what the corporation should have contributed in federal taxes. Microsoft is joined by Pfizer, GE, and Apple as those corporations that have hidden over $100 billion each in tax havens, avoiding taxes in our country.

Compare that legal maneuvering to avoid taxes to the voting habits of Americans. Even in the face of the anti-tax rhetoric which politicians like to preach, Americans have increasingly supported taxation for government services. Thirty-five years ago, only about one in five state ballot measures to raise taxes passed. In the past decade, voters have approved half of tax-increasing measures on state ballots.

This public support for taxation increases at the local level. Last April, voters in the Everett School District approved both a levy and a bond for capital projects and technology. Last February, voters in Arlington, Edmonds, Lake Stevens, Lakewood, Mukilteo and Stanwood all approved school levies. Less than a year ago, voters in Gold Bar, Stanwood, Arlington and Warm Beach voted for property taxes to finance fire and police services, renovate fire stations, purchase equipment and fund EMS. Across the county, voters approved an increase in the sales tax to enhance Community Transit services.

These are our neighbors, our families and ourselves voting to tax ourselves so that our local governments, school districts, and fire districts can provide the fundamental services needed as foundations for our quality of life. We as citizens make the immediate connections to our shared local well-being – hence, we support schools, EMS, and fire protection.

We make the same connection with the federal government. We understand that taxes provide safety, security, education financing, regulation of food and drugs, environmental protection, disaster relief, national parks, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, occupational safety, negotiations with other countries, and the list goes on and on.

We get that. We as taxpayers pay for that. We are the patriotic ones. Not so for the people who avoid their taxes, or who applaud those who avoid their taxes, or the corporations which hide their money in tax-free havens in other countries. They are not patriotic. They are free riders.

Originallly published: a the Everett Herald

Quickie link: Tax evasion as a matter of principle

The Tax Evasion Double Standard: How US CEOs Are Withholding Revenue by Thom Hartmann

If I refused to pay any taxes until the US government lowered my taxes to a so-called “fair rate,” I’d almost certainly be arrested for tax evasion. But when The Washington Post asked Apple CEO Tim Cook about the billions that his company has stashed in tax havens around the world, Cook declared: “We’re not going to bring it back until there’s a fair rate. There’s no debate about it.”

Every Job a Path to Opportunity

Washington state has gained jobs at a faster rate than most other states since the Great Recession, but the majority of working families are not benefitting from the economic boom. While high tech companies are attracting thousands of newcomers with promises of high compensation, pay for the typical worker is not keeping up with rising costs. Many of the job openings across the state over the next five years will be in occupations that now pay less than $14.00 an hour – too little for even a single adult working full time to cover the basics in much of the state. Meanwhile, costs for childcare, college tuition, healthcare, and housing continue to escalate.

Growing economic inequality compounds racial and gender inequities, constricts pathways of opportunity, and deepens divisions in our society and democracy. We all lose, with less innovation, economic vibrancy, and cultural richness because so many are denied the chance to reach their full potential and pursue their dreams.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Our elected leaders make the rules for our economy. At the state level, we can also change laws directly through initiatives. That means our votes – for President, Congress, Governor, state Legislature, and on initiatives – ultimately decide who wins and who loses economically. Together, we can change economic policies so that every job provides a pathway to opportunity and supports a thriving economy.

Growing Inequality and the Squeeze on Working Families

From the 1930s until 1980, income inequality shrank in the United States, thanks to the New Deal and later policies that instituted a minimum wage, supported labor unions, reduced many forms of overt discrimination, opened college access, invested in infrastructure and scientific research, and created programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Through this period, standards of living and access to opportunity improved for nearly everyone up and down the economic ladder. Shifts in policy since the 1980s, in contrast, have allowed the rich to grow fabulously wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

These trends have played out in Washington state, too. Since 1981, the bottom 90% have lost a significant share of income, while the top 1% have more than doubled their share and the rest of the top 10% has gained a little. Since the official recovery from the Great Recession began in 2009, average incomes of the top 1% in Washington have increased by 21.6%, but average incomes for everyone else continued to fall through 2011 and remain a little below the 2009 level.[i]

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Prior to 1973, wages for the typical U.S. worker increased at the same pace as gains in productivity. Between 1973 and 2014, in contrast, wages rose only 9% despite a 72% increase in worker productivity.[ii] CEOs and other top executives took the lion’s share of that increase. By 2015, CEOs at S&P 500 companies were paid 335 times more than the typical production or nonsupervisory employee. That ratio was just 34 to 1 in 1980.[iii] CEOs of public companies in the Northwest enjoyed a 34% pay boost in 2015 alone, to a median annual compensation of $2.1 million.[iv]

Wealth – that is assets such as home equity, other property, and savings, minus debts – is even more highly skewed than annual income. The top 10% of households own three quarters of all wealth in the U.S., while the bottom half own just 1%.[v] White households have far more wealth than households of color.[vi]

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Between 2010 and 2014, median income for Washington households rose only about $1,000, from $60,306 to $61,366, once adjusted for inflation. During that same period, real earnings for the typical worker actually declined, by $1,700 annually for men working full-time and more than $1,200 for women.[vii]

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The gender and racial gap in earnings also remains large, undermining family economic security and community prosperity.[viii] While many factors are involved in these wage gaps, multiple studies have documented persistent biases among managers that result in women of all races and men of color being less likely to be hired or promoted, and offered lower starting wages when they do get a job than their white male counterparts.[ix]

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Along with cash salary and wages, workplace benefits make a big difference in financial security and the ability of working people to keep themselves healthy and care for their families. For the most part, access to benefits, including retirement plans, high quality health insurance, and paid leave, remains highly correlated with wages. In the U.S., the highest paid workers usually also get both paid sick leave and vacation, while only 22% of the lowest paid workers are provided paid sick leave by employers.[x] That means the workers who can least afford time off without pay are forced to choose between loosing income needed to cover the basics or going to work when they are sick or have an ill child.

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A separate family leave benefit is rare – except for the most privileged workers – outside of the four states with statewide disability and family leave insurance programs.[xi] While about half of first-time mothers who work during pregnancy get some paid leave, most are forced to cobble together too-short maternity leaves from saved up sick leave and vacation and as much unpaid time off as the family can afford.[xii] A recent study found that one in four U.S. women go back to work within two weeks of childbirth.[xiii]

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The combination of women’s lower pay and lack of paid leave seriously undermines family economic security. Women who have had a baby in the past twelve months are considerably more likely to be poor or low income than those who have not had a baby. In Washington, more than one in three married women and two-thirds of unmarried women who gave birth in the past year have incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level. Altogether 19.3% of Washington children under the age of 5 live in poverty, with profound lasting negative effects on young children’s social, emotional, and physical health, including interfering with brain growth and development.[xiv]

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While wages for most workers stagnate, basic family costs continue to rise. The cost of purchasing a home has increased faster in Washington in the past year than in any other state.[xv] Rents are also rising – the average listing price for a two bedroom apartment in June 2016 was $1,574 in Washington and $2,442 in Seattle.[xvi] Washington now ranks 6th in the nation for least-affordable infant care costs.[xvii] Average cost for infant care in Washington consumed 29% to 38% of median state earnings in 2014. In King County, with both higher median earnings and higher costs, the percentages are similar.[xviii] Center-based infant care in Washington now costs more than annual tuition and fees at the University of Washington, despite that fact that childcare teachers are paid extremely low wages.[xix]

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Washington’s current minimum wage of $9.47 is not enough for a single adult working full-time to meet basic expenses of housing, food, transportation, health care, and other necessities in any part of the state. Median earnings for women who work full-time year-round in the state are not enough for a single mother to support one child – and 21% of Washington children live with a single mother.[xx]

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Making Every Job a Pathway to Opportunity

Our modern economy is enormously complex and requires the skills and contributions of millions of people to function. The occupations projected to have the most job openings in Washington over the next five years include computer-related and business jobs that usually come with high pay and full benefit packages, and family-wage jobs in construction and healthcare. However, the top 25 list also includes tens of thousands of positions in fast food, restaurants, retail sales, personal care, and office administration, where current wages are barely enough to support a single person, let alone a family.[xxi]

Public policy choices over the past four decades have allowed a wealthy few to acquire most of the fruits of economic growth. We can change policy choices to ensure that every job provides a living wage and every worker receives a fair share of the wealth they help create. Fortunately, we have proven models that we know succeed not only in boosting wages and family economic security, but also in diminishing the gender and racial inequities that now constrain opportunity.

1. Raise the floor with a higher minimum wage and paid sick leave as a basic workplace standard.

In 1998, Washington voters approved an initiative making Washington the first state to institute an automatic cost of living increase on the minimum wage. Sixteen other states have followed suit. Currently 30 states have minimum wages above the federal level and seven have a minimum wage higher than Washington’s. Seattle, Tacoma, and Sea-Tac are among the 25 local jurisdiction across the country that have higher minimum wages than their states.[xxii]

More recently, close to 30 cities (including Seattle, Tacoma, Sea-Tac, and Spokane) and 5 states (California, Oregon, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont) have enacted paid sick leave standards, ensuring workers have the opportunity to earn paid leave so they can stay home when sick, rather than spread their germs, deal with the health needs of their families, or seek safety from domestic violence or sexual assault.[xxiii]

Because so many states and localities have raised their minimum wages at different times, we have a significant body of data on the impacts. The bulk of research shows that raising the minimum wage increases income for low wage workers – who are disproportionately women and people of color of all ages – and their families. It also reduces turnover, which increases productivity and reduces costs for employers, a significant factor in explaining how employers are able to pay higher wages with no discernible change in employment numbers and minimal impact on prices and profits.[xxiv] The results from enacting paid sick leave laws have been similar.[xxv]

Initiate 1433, if approved by voters in November 2016, will  ensure that all workers everywhere in the state are able to earn at least one hour of paid sick and safe leave for every 40 hours they work and raise Washington’s minimum wage in four steps to $13.50 in 2020.[xxvi]

2. Establish a statewide paid family and medical leave program.

A few times in their careers, people need to take longer leaves from work – when they have a new child, are diagnosed with cancer, or a parent has a stroke. Five U.S. states (California, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Hawaii) have long-established temporary disability insurance systems that provide all workers with wage replacement when illness, injury, or recent childbirth prevent them from working. All but Hawaii have added a family leave component that allows all new parents time to bond with a new child and workers to care for critically ill family members. The programs are funded through payroll contributions from employees and employers, varying by state.

Public health researchers have concluded that establishing paid parental leave for all new parents is key to reducing infant mortality – currently higher in the U.S. than in any other economically developed country – and to overcoming health disparities by income and race in the U.S. A significant portion of the determinants of a child’s lifelong health is established by the age of two.[xxvii]

In the states that have paid family and disability leave programs for all workers, new mothers and babies are healthier, women are more likely to be back at work and making higher pay a year following childbirth, and new parents are less likely to go onto public assistance than in the states without programs. Fathers also take longer leaves, which boosts both the child’s long term social and intellectual development and the mother’s long-term earning potential.[xxviii] With both the workforce and general population aging, providing temporary disability leave and leave for family care is also vital to maintain the health and improve the quality of life for older adults.

Washington’s came close to establishing a paid family and medical leave program in 2007, but the legislature balked at approving a payroll premium, and the Great Recession and attendant state budget crisis diverted attention. In 2015, Washington was one of several states to win a research grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, which includes a public opinion poll, cost modeling of policy options, and analysis of the likely impact of a Washington paid family leave program on public assistance usage by new parents. The Work and Family Coalition and policy makers are using the results to develop a new proposal for a state family and medical leave insurance program. Passage should be a top legislative priority in 2017.

3. Update tools for achieving equal pay and job opportunities

Discrimination in pay and employment on the basis of gender or race has been illegal for decades, yet the gender and racial wage gaps are shrinking only slowly. Workers must now prove that their employer intended to discriminate, and wage secrecy practices that prevail in the private sector prevent people from knowing what others doing similar work are paid.

Many states have already passed laws that protect workers’ rights to discuss compensation with their coworkers and changing the burden of proof to require employers to show legitimate job-related reasons for differentials in pay.  Massachusetts’ new equal pay law also prohibits the practice of employers asking for previous salary history.[xxix] Washington can adopt similar laws and go farther to protect all workers by requiring that employers justify access to more highly paid job categories and promotions, along with differences in pay, with job-related reasons.

Providing for strong enforcement of existing anti-discrimination and wage theft laws, removing barriers to employment following incarceration, fair scheduling, and adopting immigration reform that regularizes the status of undocumented workers would also reduce the wage gap and help raise wages for all workers.[xxx]

Conclusion

Growing income inequality is not natural or inevitable. It is the result of past public policy choices. The voters in Washington state have the ability to begin reshaping the rules of our economy so that every job provides a pathway to opportunity and helps build prosperous and thriving communities for us all.

Notes

[i]     Estelle SommeillerMark Price, and Ellis Wazeter, “Income inequality in the U.S. by state, metropolitan area, and county,” Economic Policy Institute, June 16, 2016, http://www.epi.org/publication/income-inequality-in-the-us/.

[ii]     Economic Policy Institute, The Productivity-Pay Gap, Sept 2015, http://www.epi.org/productivity-pay-gap/.

[iii]    AFL-CIO, Executive paywatch, viewed Jun 20, 2016, http://www.aflcio.org/Corporate-Watch/Paywatch-2016.

[iv]    Seattle Times, “NW CEOs enjoyed hefty increase in 2015 pay, outpacing national peers,” updated June 20, 2016, http://www.seattletimes.com/business/nw-ceos-enjoyed-hefty-increase-in-2015-pay-outpacing-national-peers/.

[v]     Linda Levine, “An Analysis of the Distribution of Wealth Across Households, 1989-2010”, 2012, Congressional Research Service, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL33433.pdf.

[vi]    U.S. Census Bureau, Detailed tables on wealth and asset ownership, 2011.

[vii]   U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2014, Comparative Economic Characteristics.

[viii]   For discussion of the gender wage gap, see Marilyn Watkins and Sam Hatzenbeler, “Equal Pay and Opportunity: A step toward fair wages for women and better workplaces for all,” Economic Opportunity Institute, April 2016, http://www.eoionline.org/state-economy/women-in-the-workforce/equal-pay-and-opportunity/.

[ix]    S. Correll, S. Benard, I. Paik, “Getting a Job: Is there a Motherhood Penalty?” American Journal of Sociology, 2007, 112(5):1297–339, http://gender.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/motherhoodpenalty.pdf; Hoobler, et al, “Bosses’ Perceptions of Family-Work Conflict and Women’s Promotability: Glass Ceiling Effects,” The Academy of Management Journal, vol. 52, no. 5, October 2009, cited in Strategy-Business, “Gender Inequality: How False Perceptions Affect Promotions,” http://www.strategy-business.com/article/re00069?gko=b8a0d; Pager, D. and Western, B. (2012), Identifying Discrimination at Work: The Use of Field Experiments. Journal of Social Issues, 68: 221–237, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-4560.2012.01746.x/abstract.

[x]     U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employee Benefits Survey 2015, Table 32, http://www.bls.gov/ncs/ebs/benefits/2015/ownership/private/table32a.pdf.

[xi]    See Watkins, “Paid Family and Medical Leave: A Cornerstone of Equity and Opportunity for Workers and Families,” May 2016, Economic Opportunity Institute, http://www.eoionline.org/work-family/paid-family-and-medical-leave/.

[xii]   U.S. Census Bureau, “Detailed Leave Arrangements Used by Women Who Worked During Pregnancy Preceding First Birth: 2006–2008,” 2011, https://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/p70-128.pdf.

[xiii]   In These Times, “The Real War on Families, Aug 18, 2015, http://inthesetimes.com/article/18151/the-real-war-on-families.

[xiv]   EOI analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey data, 2014; Elizabeth Sowell, et al, “Family income, parental education and brain structure in children and adolescents,” Nature Neuroscience 18, 773–778 (2015) published online Mrch 30, 2015, http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v18/n5/full/nn.3983.html.

[xv]   Seattle Times, “Home prices rising faster in Washington than in any other state,” June 22, 2016, http://www.seattletimes.com/business/home-prices-rising-faster-in-washington-than-in-any-other-state/.

[xvi]   Myapartmentmap.com, website viewed Jun 20, 2016, http://www.myapartmentmap.com/apartments/wa/#data.

[xvii] Child Care Aware of Washington, “WASHINGTON’S CHILD CARE COSTS ARE AMONG THE HIGHEST IN THE NATION, ACCORDING TO CHILD CARE AWARE OF AMERICA’S ANNUAL HIGH COST OF CHILD CARE REPORT,” press release December 2015, http://wa.childcareaware.org/news/2015-high-cost-of-child-care-press-release.

[xviii] Economic Opportunity Institute analysis of Child Care Aware of Washington and U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey 2014 data.

[xix]   University of Washington, Total Cost of Attendance, webpage visited June 20, 2016, https://admit.washington.edu/Paying/Cost#freshmen-transfer.

[xx]   Basic expenses from Economic Policy Institute, Family Budget Calculator 2015; median earnings and percentage of children living with single mother from U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey 2014.

[xxi]   Washington Employment Security Department, Employment Projections, https://fortress.wa.gov/esd/employmentdata/reports-publications/industry-reports/employment-projections; and “Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates,” https://fortress.wa.gov/esd/employmentdata/reports-publications/occupational-reports/occupational-employment-and-wage-estimates.

[xxii] Economic Policy Institute, Minimum Wage Tracker, viewed Jun 20, 2016, http://www.epi.org/minimum-wage-tracker/#/min_wage/.

[xxiii] Family Values @ Work, Timeline of Wins, http://familyvaluesatwork.org/media-center/paid-sick-days-wins.

[xxiv] Michael Reich, Ken Jacobs, and Annette Bernhardt, “Local Minimum Wage Laws: Impacts on Workers, Families and Businesses,” Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, March 2014, http://irle.berkeley.edu/workingpapers/104-14.pdfMichael Reich, Sylvia A. Allegretto, Ken Jacobs and Claire Montialoux, “The Effects of a $15 Minimum Wage in New York State,” March 10, 2016, Center for Labor Research and Education, University of California, Berkeley, http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu/the-effects-of-a-15-minimum-wage-in-new-york-state/; John Schmitt, “Why does the minimum wage have no discernible effect on employment?” Feb 2013, Center for Economic and Policy Research, http://cepr.net/documents/publications/min-wage-2013-02.pdf.

[xxv] Marilyn Watkins, “Local Results of Paid Sick Days Laws,” Jan. 2016, Economic Opportunity Institute, http://www.eoionline.org/work-family/paid-sick-days/local-results-of-paid-sick-days-laws/.

[xxvi] Raise Up Washington, http://www.raiseupwa.com/.

[xxvii]           Adam Burle and Stephen Bezruchka, “Population Health and Paid Parental Leave: What the United States Can Learn from Two Decades of Research,” Healthcare 2016, 4(2), http://www.mdpi.com/2227-9032/4/2/30.

[xxviii]          Linda Houser and Thomas P. Vartanian, “Pay Matters: The Positive Economic Impacts of Paid Family Leave for Families, Businesses and the Public,” Center for Women and Work at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, 2012, http://cww.rutgers.edu/sites/cww.rutgers.edu/files/documents/working_families/CWW_Paid_Leave_Brief_Jan_2012_0.pdf.; Maya Rossin-Slater, Christopher J. Ruhm, Jane Waldfogel, “The Effects of California’s Paid Family Leave Program on Mothers’ Leave-Taking and Subsequent Labor Market Outcomes,” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 17715, December 2011, http://www.nber.org/papers/w17715.

[xxix]    The Atlantic, “A Step Toward Equal Pay for Men and Women,” August 2, 2016, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/08/gender-wage-gap-massachusetts/494045/.

[xxx] Lawrence Mishel, “Raise America’s Pay,” testimony before the Democratic National Convention Platform Drafting Hearing on June 9, 2016, http://www.epi.org/publication/testimony-raise-americas-pay/.
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Originally published at EOI Online

It's our action now

It’s up to us, we the people, if we want to save life on earth and build a better world for all. The 1% cannot and will not save us. They are afflicted with the deadly greed disease. The two major parties will not save us, the police and military will not save us; they are all owned and their power usurped by the 1%. We cannot unite under the banner of resistance groups with a great leader anymore. They will out our leaders just like they took out such people as John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and others who take a stand for people.

We cannot have a violent revolution to set things right. When we resist violently to bring justice the 1% will use police and military power against us with deadly force. The 1% can’t help it, they are drugged with greed for power and wealth. They have indoctrinated our kids in schools to become good sycophants to their cause. Get smart, get a good job with their corporations and get ahead of everybody else. Students are trained to become good employees for the corporations owned by the 1%. Liberal arts have been denigrated. The game is to win. That is all that matters, compete and beat, that is what our world has become.

Let’s meditate on this a bit. Look where it has gotten us. We are in constant wars, our planet has been brought to the point of total destruction and disaster. Our air is polluted, our lakes, rivers and now the oceans are polluted and dying, all for their profit. We have created all kinds of technological developments. Every time something good is invented that can benefit people, they turn it around and use it against us and their other so-called enemies.

From the 1%’s viewpoint everything is positive and wonderful. They own over 50% of the wealth and can live in luxury. They can buy anything they want including our police, our military, our judiciary, our Congress and the executive branch. The rest of us do not matter. If we are not a consumer of their products or serve in their employment we are useless humanity. What happens to us doesn’t matter.

Okay, I’ve spelled it out; our world is in the deadly grip of the 1%. So what can we do about it? We must recognize and utilize our own power. Without us to do their work and consume their products the 1% is helpless and their power is broken. That’s it, we must break their power and build alternative sources to fill our needs. That’s what the capitalists did to conquer the feudal age. They built alternatives and made nobles superfluous. Now it is their turn to be replaced since they exploit rather than serve us.

Like I said, at this point we can’t organize groups to take corrective action. They will take out our leaders and come down with deadly force. Look at what happens in the rest of the world. When people in other countries try to organize and throw off the outside yoke of imperialism, drones take out their leaders, their citizens are bombed to hell and we buy their BS that they have taken out “the enemy.”

What can we do to change all of this? As organized groups, not much at this time, because of their deadly force. We must first break their power. We each must take personal responsibility. Start dealing with local folks to fill our needs. Get out of debt and quit borrowing money from their banks and credit cards. Buy from local farmers and merchants, who are there mainly to fill needs and make a living rather than huge profits. Get yourself a small piece of ground or use your backyard to start growing more food. Quit wasting your backyard on grass for appearances. Learn how to preserve food for the off seasons. If you have no need to grow food, do it anyway to learn how and to help others trapped in landlord-owned apartments. What you don’t need, give it away to help others become independent of the big corporations. Food and shelter are the first two basics. If we have these without having to depend on the big corporations, that is the path to freedom. If we work for a corporation that is exploiting others, making killing machines, or polluting our world, try to get away from them as quickly as you can. If we work at making their products to kill others, or destroy our environment we are part of the problem. It doesn’t make any difference how much money we make as a sycophant to them; it is not worth it if we are helping to bring death to life on earth. We really don’t need all this stuff they sucker us into buying with their advertising. If we can get an acre of this good Earth, feed ourselves and start rebuilding the soil, we become independent. If nothing else, use our backyards or sack-bags of dirt to grow vegetables. Treat land as sacred, it is here for all life.

We must demand that the UN has the power to hold war makers and those who abuse others to account. If we can’t make the UN do its duty, we must organize an international People’s Tribunal that will take action to hold war makers and polluters accountable. In the future we must settle our conflicts by law and courts rather than war.

We are better off when we cooperate and share rather than compete and beat. The state does not give life, therefore; the state does not have the right to take life. Let’s discipline ourselves and cut down on the world’s population explosion. Once we have broken the power of the 1%, we must change the system to register all people of legal age to vote regardless of circumstances. We must set up term limits and public financing for elections. Those people and corporations who utilize our public airways shall be required to dedicate 20% of each broadcast timeslot for 30 days prior to elections, as a royalty due the people, to be used by qualified registered candidates.

We shall create a world based on laws that bring justice for all. We shall develop an international power to hold war makers and exploiters to account. We start by taking individual responsibility, withdrawing our support and cease cooperating in their deadly game of destruction for profit. Resources of this earth are here for all life and not just for a few rich grabbers who take more than their share. Why should one person accumulate enough for 1000 lifetimes and 1000 families go hungry? Let’s start thinking about what personal action we can take. It is with our combined personal action that we shall end their power. We must stop allowing them to use people against each other. With life on earth we are all in the same boat, so let’s start bailing, even if we have but a thimble to use.

Microsoft & Boeing receive billions in tax breaks, fund astro-turf groups

There were big endorsements for Steve Litzow, Jay Inslee and others who support charter schools. The endorsements came from the charter-schools-loving League of Education Voters, which is funded by Microsoft, Boeing, the Seattle Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and others. Follow the money. Boeing and Microsoft enjoy massive tax breaks and use their money to fund astro-turf groups that buy campaign ads.

League of Education Voters backs Inslee, top Republicans.

The LEV also endorsed Democratic legislators who support charter schools, including Tana Senn and Judy Clibborn.

Follow the money.  The scam basically works like this. In exchange for the billions in tax breaks they receive, Gates, Microsoft and Boeing fund campaign ads via innocent-sounding astro-turf groups such as League of Education Voters and Stand for Children.  The ads will show attractive, smiling, obedient children sitting in classrooms and listening to the teacher.

Contrary to the statement in the article, Gates, Boeing, and Microsoft are not independent at all. They’re self-interested tools of the 1%, intent on dismantling public education, attacking unions, and blaming teachers for outcomes that are the result of poverty and willful under-funding of education. Republicans and their neo-liberal Democratic allies under-fund government so it doesn’t work well and so that they can justify tax cuts for rich people and privatization of government services.

This is all at the expense of the middle class  and the poor, who pay the vast majority of state taxes here in Washington State, due to our regressive tax system.

Despite the $8.7 billion in tax breaks, Boeing still shipped jobs out-of-state.  See Tax-subsidized Boeing Co. snubs state again. Boeing profits enormously from government subsidies via its military business.  But it still avoids paying taxes.

Heck, Inlee’s major “accomplishments” as Governor are: handing $8.7 billion to Boeing and letting the charter school bill become law.

The charter schools bill, SB 6194, is in violation of the State Constitution; last year the state Supreme Court ruled that charter schools are unconstitutional. The bill steals money from public education at a time when the legislature is in contempt of court for not adequately funding public schools (McCleary decision).

The charter schools bill is also contrary to the state Democratic Party platform which states “We oppose charter schools.”

The following article about Bill Gates and his meddling in education policy helps explain why so many legislators continue to push for charter schools: Charitable Plutocracy: Bill Gates, Washington State and the Nuisance of Democracy.

Want to understand politics? Follow the money.

Follow the money.

For a related article see These Dems voted to undermine public schools, contravene the Constitution, and aid Republicans.

How conservatives promote prostitution of young women

As reported in Students seeking sugar daddies for tuition, rent, many college students turn to prostitution to pay their education debts.

Conservative opposition to taxation causes young women to turn to prostitution to pay for their education.  Why can’t American join the rest of the industrialized world and subsidize education and health care for everyone so that people don’t have to sell their bodies to survive?

A friend, Chris Tombrello, told me:

I did some consulting at the Jr. High school level in Yokohama– this was 20 years ago, some of the 9th grade girls would show off their cell phone collections– one girl had four of them, all different colors. Each phone was provided by a sugar daddy, men at least the age of their fathers. The only difference here is that the women are mostly of legal age, but really is it a good idea for 18 year olds to be selling themselves to predators? And really: what are the odds the FBI is investigating the phenomena? 100%?

Is the 2016 Washington State Legislature the Most Corrupt Legislature in History?

When one uses the term “corruption” one is likely to think of big states like Texas or Florida or Illinois with all of their bribery and kickback schemes. In this article, we will provide a few examples of why the Washington state legislature may be not only one of the most corrupt legislatures in the nation – but one of the most corrupt legislatures in the history of our nation.

Exhibit #1: The only state legislature in history to repeatedly ignore a Contempt Citation from their State Supreme Court
Both New Jersey and Arizona Supreme Courts found their legislatures had failed to comply with their state constitutions to fund public schools. In both cases, the legislatures acted by actually increasing funding for schools. However, the Washington state legislature has basically told our Washington Supreme Court to “shove it.”

Here are the facts. In September, 2014, for the first time in the history of Washington state, the Washington State Supreme Court held the Washington State legislature in “contempt of court” for failing to comply with our State Constitutional Paramount Duty” to fully fund our public schools. The 2015 legislature responded by adding back nearly one billion dollars in funding they had cut a couple of years earlier. The legislature had the audacity to call restoring these funds an “increase” in school funding. In August, 2015, our Supreme Court was not amused by this false claim and began “fining” the State legislature for failing to fund our public schools. However, the 2016 Washington State legislature has not even been willing to discuss funding public schools. Instead, they have once again decided to kick the can down the road by forming a committee to study the issue – making this the seventh Education Funding committee in the past 20 years! This alone ought to be enough to call the Washington State legislature the most corrupt legislature in history. But there is more. Sadly, there is much more.

Exhibit #2: Despite having one of the strongest economies in the nation, Washington State has among the lowest school funding and highest class sizes in the nation.
In January 2016, Business Insider rated Washington state as having the strongest economy in the nation.
http://www.businessinsider.com/state-economy-ranking-q4-2015-2016-1

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This was mainly because Washington state has a very high per capita income. What the article failed to mention is that most of the income in Washington state goes to a few billionaires. The article also failed to mention that Washington state has among the lowest school funding and highest class sizes in the nation. We will get to the reasons behind this lack of school funding in the next three Exhibits confirming the corruption in Olympia.

Exhibit #3: Washington state has the most unfair state tax system in the nation
A 2015 national study found that while the poor and middle class in Washington state pay on average 12% of more in state taxes, billionaires in Washington state pay only 2% in state taxes. The richer you are in Washington State, the less you pay in taxes:

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http://www.itep.org/whopays/states/washington.php

Exhibit #4: Some claim that the Boeing $9 billion tax break is the largest tax give away in the history of the planet.

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Ironically, despite being given $9 billion in no strings attached payoffs, Boeing has continued to ship thousands of jobs out of Washington state.

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Exhibit #5: The hidden Microsoft Tax Break is actually bigger than the Boeing Tax break
Time for a quiz question: Where is Microsoft located? Raise your hand if you think they are located in Redmond Washington. Despite making more than $20 billion per year in profits, Microsoft has avoided paying Washington state taxes by claiming that they are located in Reno Nevada.

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Washington state has a one percent Business and Occupation tax on gross receipts that Microsoft is dodging. One percent of $100 billion in gross sales is $1 billion per year. Multiple this times the past 10 years and Microsoft owes the children of Washington state at least $10 billion in back taxes. Like Boeing, Microsoft has been laying off people instead of hiring them. So this is a one two punch against both our schools and our economy.

Exhibit #6: Despite giving away billions of dollars every year to billionaires and wealthy multinational corporations, the Washington State legislature cannot seem to find any money to fund our public schools.
It would take more than $3 billion per year in additional funding just to restore school funding and class sizes in Washington state to the national average. This is why the Supreme Court is fining the state legislature. But despite this huge shortfall, and the court order, the 2016 Washington state legislature is not even holding hearings on funding our public schools. Instead, only one bill has been submitted in the Washington state legislature in the past two years that would actually provide the billions of dollars needed to fully fund our public schools. That bill was Senate Bill 6093 by Senators Chase and McAuliffe which would raise about $4 billion per year by repealing a tax break for billionaires. Olympia is so corrupt that this bill has not even gotten a hearing.

Exhibit #7: Washington State legislature ignores a $22 billion school construction backlog
Washington state has one of the highest percentages of “unhoused students” in the nation with more than 10% of all Washington students (more than 100,000 students) forced to spend their school days in unhealthy particle board boxes. Also, over half of all schools in Washington state are more than 50 years old and do not meet health standards or earthquake standards. In the event of a major earthquake, as many as 500,000 students could be killed or injured. Yet, unlike Oregon and British Columbia – which have started to address this problem, the Washington state legislature has refused to do anything to address the school construction backlog. Instead, the legislature has shifted nearly the entire burden for building schools onto the backs of local homeowners through sky high local property taxes.

Exhibit #8: The Washington State legislature has actually passed bills to increase child homelessness and child poverty.
On February 2 2016, Washington State OSPI announced that the number of homeless students in Washington state continues to rise at a rate of 20% per year. For the 2014-2015 school year, more than 35,000 Washington state students did not have a permanent place to sleep at night.

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Continuing this 20% rise for the current school year means that the number of homeless students has doubled from about 20,000 to about 40,000 in just 8 short years. Only half of these homeless students manage to graduate from high school. Equally appalling is the dramatic rise in the percentage of students living at or near the poverty level in Washington State. Just 16 years ago, only 30% of Washington students lived near poverty. Today, nearly half of all Washington students live near poverty. This is an increase of 200,000 students living near poverty in our state in just the past 16 years.

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Part of the problem of child poverty and homelessness is that their parents do not have jobs (and the legislature has done nothing to create jobs). But the other part of the problem is that the Washington legislature has actually gutted programs designed to train parents so that they can go out and get a good paying job.

Exhibit #9 Washington state legislature guts Working Connections Program
In 2011, while the Washington legislature was approving massive tax breaks for billionaires, Microsoft and Boeing, they were also gutting the Working Connections program. This program provided low income children with child care and a place to live while their parents learned job training skills. The legislature gutted $100 million from this program resulting in about 30,000 families being tossed out onto the streets. Tens of thousands of children lost their only source of income – all so that billionaires could buy bigger boats.

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Exhibit #10: Washington State Legislature Refuses to Allow Struggling Low Income Students to have access to a Fair High School Equivalency Test
In January 2014, a for profit corporation called Pearson took over the GED High School Equivalency test and made it so hard that not even college professors or members of our state legislature could pass it. This resulted in the number of students receiving a GED in Washington state falling from a previous average of more than 13,000 graduates per year to less than 3,000 graduates per year.

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Because a High School Equivalency Certificate is needed to get a good paying job or go to college, the lack of a fair GED test has destroyed the lives of more than 10,000 students per year or about 200 students per week ever since January 2014. But despite this devastating harm to low income young adults, our State legislature has refused to allow students in our state to have access to either of two fairer options – the HiSET and TASC. Meanwhile 27 other less corrupt states have acted or are in the process of acting to allow their struggling low income students access to a fairer test (see map).

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Ironically, failing to offer struggling low income students a fair high school equivalency test will ultimately cost our state hundreds of millions of additional dollars in prison costs and the lack of a high school equivalency certificate increases the chances of a person committing a major crime by about 10 percent. So depriving 10,000 students per year of a High School Equivalency certificate will eventually increase our prison population by about 1,000 inmates per year.

Conclusion… Is the 2016 Washington State Legislature the most corrupt legislature ever?
If forcing one million students to attend over-crowded, unsafe and unhealthy classrooms just so a few billionaires can get bigger tax breaks is not a sign of extreme corruption, then I do not know what is.

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The only good news in this report is that 2016 is an election year. I am hoping some parents and teachers will finally say “enough is enough” to the corrupt clowns in Olympia and run for office to replace all of them. As always, I look forward to your questions and comments.

Bernie Sanders is a social democrat, not a socialist

There’s some confusion about whether Bernie Sanders supports capitalism.

During the first Democratic debate, correspondent Anderson Cooper asked Sanders, “You don’t consider yourself a capitalist, though?”  Sanders replied, “Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little by which Wall Street’s greed and recklessness wrecked this economy? No, I don’t.”

That didn’t bother me, because my reading was that Sanders wasn’t saying he opposes all capitalism. It’s just casino capitalism that he opposes.

But there is evidence that Sanders doesn’t consider himself to be a capitalist at all.  According to Bernie Sanders Isn’t Socialist Enough for Many Socialists, which appeared on bloomberg.com:

On Meet the Press on Sunday, the Democratic presidential candidate was asked by host Chuck Todd whether he was a capitalist.

“No,” Sanders responded. “I’m a democratic socialist.”

But then the article goes on to record the laments of socialists such as Stephen Durham, of the Freedom Socialist Party, who said, “He isn’t an anti-capitalist! He is for reforming capitalism, not changing capitalism.”  That’s what I thought Sanders wanted, and I’d approve of that: reforming capitalism.

Kathleen Parker of  the Washington Post also refers to Sanders’ declaration on Meet the Press that he is not a capitalist.  She says in The Sanders-Trump magical mystery tour,

That Sanders is a socialist [sic — he’s a democratic socialist] is no secret. He has said so often enough, and his proposed policies aimed at worker- and consumer-owned economic institutions confirm as much.

His answer was shocking, nevertheless, because surely no one hoping to become president would dare admit wanting to fundamentally change the nation’s economic system. A few regulations here and there, sure. But wholesale socialism, albeit alongside a political democracy, however that works?

This isn’t quite right either. Sanders isn’t a “wholesale socialist.” He’s a democratic socialist. But Parker’s point about “a few regulations here and there” — or a lot of regulations — is what I was expecting.

In short, I wish Sanders had said during the debate and on Meet the Press, “I believe in capitalism, provided it’s well regulated and fairly taxed. Unconstrained capitalism is brutal.”

After all, democratic socialist countries like those in Scandinavia have corporations, private wealth, and a market economy.  Nokia is Finnish.  Volvo is Swedish. But in Scandinavia the corporations are well regulated, and corporations are highly taxed. That’s precisely what we need for a humane, fair, and innovative society.

Bernie

For I am a progressive Democrat, not a Socialist. I believe corporations should be regulated and taxed, not destroyed. Corporations are often efficient at innovating and at producing quality products.

What is democratic socialism? According to the wikipedia article, “Democratic socialism is a political ideology advocating a democratic political system alongside a socialist economic system, involving a combination of political democracy (usually multi-party democracy) with social ownership of the means of production.”

The Democratic Socialists of America website says,

Democratic socialists do not want to create an all-powerful government bureaucracy. But we do not want big corporate bureaucracies to control our society either. Rather, we believe that social and economic decisions should be made by those whom they most affect.

Social ownership could take many forms, such as worker-owned cooperatives or publicly owned enterprises managed by workers and consumer representatives. Democratic socialists favor as much decentralization as possible. While the large concentrations of capital in industries such as energy and steel may necessitate some form of state ownership, many consumer-goods industries might be best run as cooperatives.

Sigh. I’m starting to wonder if Elizabeth Warren would have been a better candidate to challenge Hillary.  Either that or Sanders should clarify what his economic ideology amounts to.

So I’m confused.  What exactly does Sanders believe?

The Washington Post reports, in What is a democratic socialist? Bernie Sanders tries to redefine the name, that Sanders said during a recent speech in New Hampshire, “What democratic socialism means to me, is having a government which represents all people, rather than just the wealthiest people, which is most often the case right now in this country.”

That meaning of democratic socialism is pretty general and inclusive. It would be compatible with regulated capitalism.

The article continues:

In this campaign, in fact, some observers believe that Sanders is even wrong to call himself a “democratic socialist.”

That’s because there are official Democratic Socialists — both in other countries and in the United States — and they generally want something more aggressive than he does. The Democratic Socialists in the United States want a system where workers or the government own factories and other means of production. (This is different from a communist system, in which the government owns everything in the people’s name.)

Sanders doesn’t want that. Instead, what he wants is to take existing federal programs — many established by Democrats like Franklin D. Roosevelt or Lyndon B. Johnson — and super-size them.

For example. Sanders wants Medicare for all.

“He’s not a democratic socialist,” said William Galston, an expert on domestic politics at the Brookings Institution. “He’s a social democrat. Seriously.”

Social Democrats, a separate entity in the field guide to leftists, are generally more moderate. By those definitions, then, Sanders is actually making his own life harder, by mislabeling himself.

This seems right to me. I wish Sanders would be clearer — and more strategic — about his choice of words.