Sunday, February 16, 2014
President Obama's call for a $10.10 per hour minimum wage falls pitifully short. I would even call it a human rights violation.
The Demand For a Realistic Minimum Wage
I am writing this message today to all my readers about a pertinent topic that is right in the middle of current events. I am referring to President Obama's call for a minimum wage of $10.10 per hour and to the fact that it is grossly inadequate. The first two things of the highest priority concerning worker's rights is a fair and realistic minimum wage, and more fundamentally, the basic human right to a livelihood. Everyone knows all too well that the era of disposable workers has been upon us for at least the last7 to 8 years, if not longer. But I contend that unemployment as we have known it must now come to an end forever. Companies today will try to be nice about it, saying, “Sorry, but you are not needed around here anymore. Your skills, experience, and your work ethic no longer matter here.” This is tantamount to saying the people don't matter, and that profit – which for all purposes amounts to the worship of currency – is the only thing that really does. Who do they think they are? Corporate America has outsourced many of our jobs overseas so that they could enrich themselves at the expense of their former employees, leaving middle and working class Americans with no way to earn a respectable living and be self-sufficient. The jobs that could not be outsourced were downsized out of existence. Then this same bunch of corporate “leaders” turned around and, with the cooperation of American academia, raised costs for higher education so high that many of us who wish to go back to school and train for a new career are unable to afford to do so. Numerous persons who urgently wish to improve their standard of living through education or vocational retraining are held back from doing so, and that is a social injustice and a civil rights violation worthy of the loudest protests in every place throughout our country.
There are also a growing number of employed people who, despite having a job, are still living in poverty. There are at least 15 million workers who now fall into this rapidly growing category. The median US income of $32,390 a year [in 2012 dollars] is not going to get you far in today's economy, and half of the country is making less than that. The reason we struggle with these things is because the top 1% have robbed us all through the systematic confiscation of middle class wealth and prosperity. This tremendous suffering in the United States of America is literally a crime against humanity, and it is the result of the largest single transfer of wealth in all of human history from the middle class to the rich.
The lack of employment and economic opportunities, the lack of access to health care and higher education, plus extreme economic inequality due to a high concentration of American wealth being in the hands of far too few people has turned the USA into a powder-keg. Like the Middle East and parts of Europe, America too has become a ticking time bomb of inequality and lack of opportunity. The rights of US workers have been trampled underfoot by the rich multinational corporations and the top 1% elite who are outsourcing all our jobs overseas as they leave us high and dry. The least common denominator of middle class loss of income due to mass layoffs, the loss of housing due to foreclosure and eviction and the excess of economic inequality due to a disproportional concentration of wealth, is that all three of these comprise the human rights of workers throughout the world, beginning here in America since our country is supposed to be the standard-bearer of the world for freedom and opportunity.
There is entirely too much imbalance and inequity in the distribution of wealth in the US today. Over 90% of all available liquid cash and assets are in the hands of a maximum of 10% of the US population, if that. And so every day it's steak for them and beans for the rest of us. How much longer are we going to allow this to go on? And so it looks to me like our country is in dire need of some peaceful and orderly wealth redistribution, and I don't mean collectivized economies such as Socialism or Communism either. One very good way to accomplish this would be to send everybody back to school who wants to go free of charge. Who would pick up the tab for the tuition for all those millions of people? Would it be the government? Absolutely not! The bill should instead be presented to corporate America, since it is corporate America who outsourced or downsized all of our jobs out of existence in the first place. Congress did just that at the end of World War 2 when they passed the G.I. Bill. If it could be done in the 1940's, then it can be done today. Besides, if we can't work for these companies anymore then they owe it to us to train us to work somewhere else instead of discarding us like so much trash. Any solution amounting to anything less is a social injustice and a civil rights issue worthy of a national chorus of protests, demonstrations and “occupations”.
This brings me to the point that I wish to make. In today's world, if the net take-home pay of any given individual does not meet, or just barely meets, that same individuals daily cost of living, then that is tantamount to economic slavery. Let me say that again because this point simply cannot be overemphasized. If your take – home pay won't even take you home, you are a slave. Oh, you are free to move around and to come and go as you choose and take care of business, that is true. But if after you go to the grocery store, pay the light bill (assuming you are fortunate enough to be able to do that), put gas in your tank (assuming you are lucky enough to still own a car) and set some money aside for next month's rent or mortgage (if you're not already on the street or living with relatives) – and then after all that you peek into your wallet and realize that you have $7.00 left to live on for the whole stinkin' week, that's when you know you are a slave. What happens to the people whose incomes are at or below minimum wage? They go hungry and are often homeless. Many of these newly homeless, formerly middle class people also have kids who have fallen into poverty along with their parents. And this is happening in the United States of America, supposedly the richest country in the world. This is a moral outrage, a social injustice, and it is economic discrimination of the worst kind. Since it is an issue of discrimination, by extension it also becomes a 21st century civil rights issue generating a demand for fundamental change in the way our economy works and the way our government works.
This too, then, is cause for protests, demonstrations, boycotts, occupations, general strikes and other forms of peaceful civil disobedience. On this point alone, there are enough issues on the collective dinner plate of the American people to foster open revolt throughout the land. Never mind everything else that I have written about. Think about it for a minute. How does it feel to be a slave? Makes you feel kind of angry, doesn't it? It make us all feel violated because we have all been slaves, often without realizing it. The time to rise up and say, “No more!” has arrived. It's time for all of us to get out from in front of out TV's and our computers and to get our backsides out in the street and start protesting and occupying.
But what about those who are long-term unemployed, of which I was one? After all, as of February 2014 there are still three applicants for every available job. What we need is a massive public works project to repair America's crumbling infrastructure and to rebuild America's blighted inner cities (and small towns too). I would conservatively estimate that anywhere from 1-3 million people could be employed this way as day laborers, direct employees or subcontractors depending on the need. The fact of the matter is that we need jobs, we need lots of them, and we need them right now! Since our government has failed to act in this regard in spite of an obvious critical need, we will have to do this ourselves. Let's get this on the ballot for the next general election in every state, and let's also strike and protest for action on this matter until then. We might as well, because things are going to continue to get worse until we do.
Another human right that goes hand in hand with job creation programs is the right to free vocational retraining for life. Anybody can and should be able to go back to school and get retrained at will, up to and including a 2 year degree free of charge. Large, wealthy corporations with robust cash flows, as well as millionaires and the super-rich, will supply the necessary funding through what I call in my 2011 book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”, the 'excess wealth tax' (to find out the details, which include repealing the federal income tax, you can buy a copy by clicking on this link). Since corporate America made the decision to send their factories and all the jobs those factories provided overseas to lower their labor costs, and since this action has caused the reaction of the obliteration of millions of American careers, it will be corporate America who will shoulder the responsibility of retraining these people whose careers evaporated through no fault of their own. If they take your job away, or if they export or downsize your career out of existence like I experienced myself, then it is those same corporate henchmen who must pay for your reeducation. Higher education and the right to a livelihood are basic, fundamental, and inalienable human rights. The day has come when higher education is no longer only for those who can “afford” the tuition.
Let me add one more tasty ingredient into this mix. Students enrolled in these reeducation programs, or public works project workers who have children, will be given taxpayer-funded day care free of charge so they can get their education without having to worry about their kids. Now I know what some of you are thinking right now – “who's gonna pay for that?” The same corporate bigwigs who torpedoed the US economy in 2008. They should be required to foot the bill just like they should be forced to pay for the reeducations of all displaced and formerly middle class people I wrote about further above. There's no way that Wall Street and corporate America can legitimately complain that they can't afford it. Let me put this into perspective for you.
If your US government took all the money that was spent in a single day on the twin wars (or more accurately occupations) in Iraq and Afghanistan during 2001 – present, plus the clandestine and illegal wars and “black ops” in Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere and set it aside in an enormous savings account, there would be enough money to send every American school age kid from the first grade through high school to any college, public or private, or any state university or vocational school to earn their degree of choice with the tuition fully paid for, plus the cost of all their books and supplies, their meals, Internet access, new computers, and access to public transportation covered as well. So anyone who says we can't afford to send everyone to college with their expenses fully paid, or that the money to accomplish this just isn't there, either doesn't know what they are talking about, or they are elitists and bigots who can't stand to see middle and working class, and especially minority students, getting ahead. Access to higher education, and looking after the children of those who are retraining, is an American civil right that should be equally available to all without qualification, not just to those who can afford it. Would you like to see test scores improve in our nation's schools? Tell all those kids that they are all going to college, and watch their grades improve noticeably. Give them an incentive to do better and our kids will rise to the challenge every time. And they can do away with those stupid standardized tests while they're at it.
Do you want to become a doctor, a lawyer, a scientist or an astronaut (yes, many astronauts and other space workers will be needed within a decade or two)? Never again must any aspiring student be turned away from obtaining a college or vocational degree for purely financial reasons. Every able-bodied homeless person, newly released prisoners, and the long-term unemployed will be able to be placed in the public works program or the reeducation programs that I have just explained, and all without qualification. It should be a crime for somebody to be hungry, homeless or jobless just because he or she wants to work but can't find employment or pay for training. And that goes double for their children!
American citizens have a patriotic duty to dissent and to speak out when it is apparent their government is creating policies and taking actions that are in conflict with the best interests of the people and the laws of the land. The right of patriotic dissent has been a part of America since those days that brought us our independence. Yes, anyone can and should exercise the right to dissent when the situation requires it, and I certainly have no hesitation about doing so. The solutions being offered by your government, your political and economic system, and your media outlets are for more security by way of less individual freedom and personal liberty. I think it is high time that “we the people” rose up to challenge this erroneous notion that security is preferable to freedom. And I think it's high damn time to correct the perception of the top 1%, making them understand that people are not expendable, nor are we a commodity to be exploited. We need to take matters into our own hands if we hope to get anything done, and we need to directly confront our terrible economic situation if we hope to get things moving back in our favor. The system is broken, and it's up to us to either fix it, bypass it, or replace it altogether.