Sunday, September 28, 2014

Occupy Wall St is 3 years old this month, and it's not going anywhere

We Are the 99%: The Focus of Our Rage (part two)
by Rev. Paul J. Bern

At the conclusion of the first half of this essay last week, the topic was free health care. Not that I wish to demand a handout from anyone or anything, it's just that good health through preventative medicine is a basic human right for everyone, not just for those who can afford the insurance premiums and the medical debt that is sure to come after one's wellness is restored. The question remains then: How does the US catch up with the rest of the developed world when it comes to universal health care? Every developed country in the world has free health care for its citizens – the US is the only exception. Also, how do we do this within the framework of the existing US health care system(s) in order to conserve on start-up costs and minimize overhead? The plan I proposed back in 2012, in a book I self-published (“The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”), is simple: Take all currently available medical care in all its forms and put it under one umbrella, so to speak. Merge Medicare, Medicaid, government health insurance for civilian employees at the state and federal levels, the military and Congress' (including the President's) health care plans, plus the entire Veterans Administration hospital system into an enhanced Medicare program (private insurance excepted) so that no one is left out. Next, streamline the new Medicare health care system by eliminating any and all duplicate departments, and make it an on-line, Internet-based and paperless system utilizing leading edge information technology in order to lower operating costs and cut way down on paperwork. And third, once this new on-line system gets rolled out and becomes available to everyone, we'll simply eliminate Medicaid so that all persons will have unconditional access to the same level of care, from the President down to the dishwasher at your favorite restaurant. And now, before I move on, let me point out another equally big advantage to having a universal health care system such as this.

Having the government take over the administration of health care for the entire country is a solution that is long overdue. Don't worry about what might happen to the existing insurance industry, it isn't going anywhere and I will explain why in the next paragraph. Allowing a proposed universal health care system to work in this manner (and so-called 'Obamacare' comes up way short of what's needed) would take the burden of providing health insurance for its employees off the backs of businesses, substantially enhancing the profit margins of all US companies both great and small. This will give the American economy – together with US businesses – a far greater financial shot in the arm than any government tax cut could ever hope to. In the process, making US medical care into a series of nonprofit entities will bring American health and wellness up to 21st century speed with comparatively nominal operating costs.

So what happens to the existing insurance industry? These very companies will be the ones who will administer this new digitized health care system. They will do so by way of a competitive bidding process to ensure that costs are kept under control, effectively farming out the day-to-day operations of the health care program. The companies with the lowest bids will get the contracts, which will be brought up for renewal periodically – say, every 3 years. Running the new universal health care system this way will ensure that only the best insurance companies will be administering the program, and that the remaining marginal or substandard insurance companies be ultimately either forced to improve or go out of business.

The fourth and final main thing I want to write a couple of paragraphs about is that of economic inequality, or what I called in my first book “enforced inequality”. Class warfare has been declared by the top 1% against the rest of us, meaning the 99% who are losing our jobs, our homes, our cars, our savings and eventually our health as the enforced liquidation of the US middle and working classes continues. What is needed is a peaceful and orderly redistribution of wealth that is done in a non-violent manner. So how do we accomplish this without starting a brawl? I have a couple of ideas, but the first step for America would be to enact an all-new tax system, abolishing the federal income tax and replacing it with a national sales tax. This proposed new tax system will be a 2-tiered system, with the national sales tax – or consumption tax – set at 9% (excluding groceries, fuel, utilities, wholesale goods, raw materials, and all government entities). Why 9%, you ask? Well, according to some data that I obtained from the IRS, as well as from the alternative news media, the average personal income tax rate in 2013 was roughly 18%, so I am proposing cutting that rate in half.

The second part of this proposed new tax system will be what I call an “excess wealth tax” for the mega-rich on Wall St. and elsewhere, and for any financial transactions that are over a certain limit. For individuals, there would be no income tax on their first $1 million in earnings, but anything above that gets taxed at a rate of 50%. So, a wealthy household or individual who made $25 million last year would pay no tax on the first $1 million, but they would pay $12 million on the remaining $24 million. For businesses, the proposed consumption tax rate is even more generous, with the first $700 million in earnings tax free, and a tax rate of one-third on anything over and above that. So, a company that made $1 billion dollars in profits the previous tax year would pay no tax on the first $700 million, but they would pay $100 million on the remaining $300 million, and so on. On the other hand, a multinational corporation that had $300 billion in gross proceeds in a given year would also pay a rate of one third, so their tax rate would be $100 billion. As a result, all itemized deductions would come to an end, greatly simplifying the process. Ditto for the estate tax and capital gains tax, both of which would be replaced by this proposed Excess Wealth tax. The alternative minimum tax and self-employment tax would also be eliminated, replaced by the national sales tax. And the motivation under the current unfair system to stash trillions in profits in overseas bank accounts would become a moot point, generating still more revenue while cutting the tax rate as it stands today. (update: there is a bill circulating in Congress as I write this that would make such shady financial shenanigans illegal – outcome TBD.)

Under this plan, there is ample incentive for the rich and big business to get enthused about these ideas. First, the necessity of providing group health care would go away for US businesses (due to my proposed Medicare-for-all system), followed by the repeal of the federal income tax. All the money being spent on income taxes and group insurance could be put back into these businesses, making them more competitive and better funded than ever before. In fact, I would estimate that such a move by the federal government would go a long way toward making America very competitive in the global economy because the costs associated with operating a business will drop so drastically due to the elimination of these two primary expenses. And second, the “excess wealth tax” that I just proposed would still provide sufficient funding for costly government institutions like the military and the space program, not to mention the cost of public reeducation and the public works projects I mentioned previously. Finally, this proposed excess wealth tax would go a long way toward making room for a higher minimum wage a reality as a legal and orderly means of wealth redistribution in the US. Even if raising the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour (not $10.10 an hour, Mr. President, that is woefully inadequate) does not get passed into law (at least for now), the repeal of the income tax will still give every American worker an average 18% pay raise immediately (not counting the benefits of repealing corporate income taxes). Now that's what I call genuine economic stimulus!!

Another way to peacefully redistribute wealth is by converting unwanted or surplus housing and commercial or office structures into residences, live-work-play developments, green or urban garden space, or new worker-owned businesses such as cooperatives. One of the things that can and should be done with my proposed national public works program is to get rid of all the empty, boarded-up houses that have been abandoned to foreclosure and neglect. Put all the homeless and jobless to work remodeling this otherwise worthless real estate. There are millions of unemployed construction workers who would love to get a chance to do something like this, so why not let them (especially if they have families)? And when they are finished rebuilding them, let them live in them and so revitalize America. Reward them by turning them into homeowners. This is how we can end unemployment and homelessness while turning around the US foreclosure crisis. We can do the same with health care and with higher education. Make them both available to everyone unconditionally as a way to enforce economic equality and social parity. This is how we can redistribute American wealth in a peaceful and nonviolent manner, and in so doing set a good example for our kids and grand-kids. The days of making good health care and higher education available for only those who can afford it must come to an end. That is unfair, discriminatory, it is a social injustice and therefore a civil rights violation of the worst magnitude. To tell anyone that they are ineligible to receive either good health care or quality education because they can't pay the tab should be a crime.

In closing, everybody deserves to have an income and a livelihood. It is cruel and mean-spirited to tell anyone that they are no longer needed nor wanted, or that they are overqualified, or that they can't be hired because there is allegedly no money to pay them while corporate America sits on trillions of dollars in excess cash, much of it overseas. If unemployment is brought to an end using the methods and ideas that I have written about, poverty, hunger and crime will be very nearly brought to an end as well – not in a matter of decades, but rather just a few short years, or the time that it takes them to finish their (free) education. We already have the means to do this, so it would be irresponsible and immoral for us not to act. However, some will say, “I've been looking for a job for years and I haven't found anything.” I have found this to be particularly true among older workers, minorities and people of color. Having experienced this myself in the recent past as a worker in his late 50's, I know exactly what these people are going through. To call these situations stressful would be a gross understatement.

Brothers and sisters, friends and followers, if you are experiencing this now, this is not your fault. Your government, together with some of this country's most well-known institutions such as the US public school system, the 1%-'ers and the Wall Street multinational corporations and their bankers, have let you down. All the jobs that could be outsourced overseas have already been sent away, never to return. The ones that couldn't be outsourced were mostly downsized out of existence, ending millions of careers prematurely. It is for these reasons that we are now protesting in the streets and occupying America in New York, Boston, Washington, DC and Atlanta, and Ferguson, Mo., among others. Because the truth of the matter is that since these jobs aren't coming back, we as a country should be making new ones, and this should have started decades ago. America has a lot of catching up to do in the area of job creation. The good news is that there are new industries currently being born that can replace all those lost jobs that I wrote about with room to spare. Green industries like solar power, windmill power generators, the construction of a low-voltage national electrical grid and of fusion reactors, not to mention biotechnology, stem cell research, nanotechnology, robotics, seashore desalination plants for an endless supply of clean water, and a greatly expanded and revitalized space industry, all are the new growth industries of the 21st century.

Seriously, people! We first landed on the moon in 1969, took our last trip there in 1972, after which our country's “leadership” mysteriously gave up and quit. This was alleged at the time to be due to insufficient funding, but if the US hadn't been involved with the war in Vietnam, America could easily have afforded to continue NASA's Apollo program. The immoral and strategically questionable occupations or wars in Iraq and Afghanistan today are preventing our country from returning to space in much the same way as Vietnam did. It's all a matter of the proper allocation of resources. So when do we start a grassroots campaign to stop the wars overseas so we can fund our needs at home? How much longer are we going to delay? How about starting today?

Once that serious matter is taken care of, the next step will be for us to decide how to allocate all the money the country will save by ending the wars overseas and bringing our troops home. All right, check this out. We are supposed to be in the space business already! Hello! Instead, we debate among ourselves whether or not women should have abortions, or whether gay marriage is acceptable or not. Speaking as an independent Internet preacher of the more radical kind, if we are serious about wanting to lead good lives and to be productive contributors towards the common good, then we need to be creating jobs and helping to rebuild people's lives. We need to be helping people regain their sustenance and self-sufficiency. I also am appalled that the mainstream church is so against abortion while being in favor of the death penalty and of waging war, a contradiction if ever there was one. I am equally appalled at the mainstream denominations for their condemnation of gay marriage while the divorce rates for evangelicals are about the same as for the secular world. Again, these are glaring contradictions to their faith, to say the least.

OK, so let's do something constructive in Jesus' name. Here's one way we can fix our public schools and accelerate the start-up of all these new 21st century businesses, all at the same time. First, government and business should get together and find a way to give large grants to these fledgling companies that are already started up in one form or another. They need start-up capital, and they're not going to find it at the bank branch down the street. Government can and must step in. Our only alternative is to become a second-rate country, a has-been of military and economic power. The other thing that needs to be done is to start training future astronauts now. Update public school curriculum, and put it on-line. Turn the public schools into an Internet-based system that is paperless and that doesn't need to buy expensive textbooks every year (save the trees!). Then, start teaching the kids skills that they will need for a technology-based world and a digital workplace, with an emphasis on science and math. Start teaching them to be astronauts when they're 12 years old, because by the time they graduate from college there will be thousands of astronauts needed, not just a select lucky few like today. Allow me to tell you why in just one paragraph.

At the peak of the US space shuttle program, NASA was launching about three missions per year. Having witnessed – over the last couple of years – the ongoing privatization of space by unmanned cargo shipments to the International Space Station, I can tell you that by the end of this decade there will be about three launches per week instead of per year. Ten years after that in 2030 there could easily be more than 3 launches per day, and so on. The time to begin getting ready for our space-faring future is now. Train our children by making the space sciences a part of their curriculum, and then do the same with the adults. Retrain everybody who can't find work, or who needs a career change, and pick up the tab just like the GI Bill that was passed by Congress after the end of World War 2. Performing this service for America's workforce will literally lift them all up to the next level and make it much more competitive. I have heard people complain over and over again that “we can't compete” with some dude in China who does the same job we do for $2.00 a day. What America needs is new careers to replace those that have been eliminated. We not only have the capacity to do this already, we are way behind and America has a lot of catching up to do. But we are Americans. Our skills and work habits are second to none, and the same goes for US institutions of higher learning. We can and will succeed if only we will unite together in this effort. Let's all get started today!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

It's the third anniversary of the Occupy and 99% Movements. Happy anniversary!

We Are the 99%: The Focus of Our Rage (part one)
by Rev. Paul J. Bern

On this third anniversary of the Occupy and 99% Movements, I have given a lot of thought and engaged in plenty of research regarding the plight of middle America, and what should and should not be done to bring the top 1% in line with the rest of us. Having written two books about this topic, I will now attempt to spell out the basics of what we want, and why working Americans of all kinds have continued the “Occupy” protests that are springing up all over the world (such as in Ferguson Mo. recently). We all want basically the same things. We want all the legalized bribery out of politics. This can be accomplished by strict regulation of the lobbyist profession at the very least, but most likely we should consider outlawing the lobbyist profession as it currently operates. If Washington won't do it then “we the people” will have to do it for them. We can accomplish this by, among other things, “occupying” K Street in downtown Washington where most of the lobbyist's offices are located, or by laying siege to their offices through human barricades (nobody comes and nobody goes), or other forms of nonviolent protest. Either take the rampant corruption out of our nation's politics and fully prosecute those responsible for the 2008 financial meltdown on Wall Street and for creating the housing bubble just before they intentionally popped it, or else we may well be destroyed by Wall Street and their armies of lobbyists, shady co-conspirators and other henchmen, starting with the Federal Reserve on down.

From my vantage point, and based on my own experiences, the least common denominator to everything that we are protesting, marching and occupying for can be boiled down to 2 things: the rights of workers and the right to economic equality, including the peaceful restoration of the American middle class to its former economic and social position in American society. Allow me to use the next few pages to explain exactly how we can go about accomplishing these goals in a manner that is legal, peaceful and orderly so we can set a good example for our nation's kids and grand-kids. For example, one very good way that we could go about accomplishing this is to emulate the peaceful and nonviolent tactics of Rev. Dr. King, Jr. that were utilized during the civil rights marches and protests of the 1950's and 1960's. In so doing, history will be on our side and victory against the top 1% will ultimately be ours.

Let me add one more thing before I get into this. You will notice as you read the rest of this essay/op-ed that there are a lot of ideas in here about how to restore America and its middle class, and how to re-balance the distribution of wealth in a peaceful and orderly manner for the mutual betterment of everyone. These ideas I am about to share are simple and practical solutions to some huge problems that America faces. You will also notice that these ideas can be easily implemented using our existing governmental framework and technology. It won't be necessary to reinvent the wheel in order for America's people to accomplish their goals for the perfection of our society, starting with a rescue of the poor and middle class.

The first and foremost issue of what we the people want should be the rights of all workers and independent contractors. We want a $15.00 per hour minimum wage combined with the abolition of the federal income tax and an end to the withholding of US income tax from our paychecks. This would give everyone who makes less than $108.000.00 per year a pay raise amounting to an average of 20% immediately, pumping billions of fresh dollars into the US economy that generates many millions in new tax revenue without raising any existing taxes. Full employment should become the new standard of the world, and that standard should be set by the USA.

The second issue I wish to mention is the right to higher education and/or vocational retraining at will and at nominal cost. This is what we should do for all the long-term unemployed, all the homeless who are healthy enough to work, all unemployed veterans, and for all newly released prisoners who are re-entering society. This is how we can end homelessness for good and cut back on crime; simply give these people a trade. It is an established fact that the root cause of the majority of crime is economic desperation (excluding crimes of passion). Every human being on the face of the earth has the unconditional right to a livelihood and to a living wage. Those unable to find work, and those needing to learn new job skills in order to be self-sufficient have the basic human right to professional retraining without cost. Let the private colleges and universities remain as they are, but let our public institutions of higher education become nonprofits so that higher education is unconditionally accessible to everyone. The days of exclusively for-profit educational institutions must come to an end, because I am convinced that it is immoral and mean-spirited to prevent another human being from being able to sustain themselves because some CEO or policy wonk somewhere thinks that retraining America's workers would be “too expensive”, as if they are not worth the trouble. The best part about this as far as I am concerned is that America can easily afford this, and I will use the 2 wars in Iraq and the occupation of Afghanistan as an illustration.

If the US government took all the money spent in one single day on the illegal occupation of Afghanistan or Iraq and put it into an interest-bearing account, there would be enough money to put every school kid in America through 4 years of college fully paid for, including tuition, books, dorms, food, transportation and Internet access, plus a new desktop or laptop computer. Let me give you another example. If the US government took all the money spent in one single day on the war in Afghanistan and put it into an interest-bearing account, there would be enough money to put every homeless person or family in America – all 2.2 million of them as of 2013 – into a new 3,000 square foot home fully paid for, fully furnished, with the utilities turned on including Internet access (which the UN declared to be a basic human right as of 2011), and stocked with a years worth of groceries. This is what converting to a peacetime economy can do for America. And all on one day's military expenditures. Then, send them all back to school to teach them new trades so they can keep those houses and leave them to their children upon their departure from this earth.

There is one more important thing that I have yet to mention. The world is changing and developing so rapidly as scientific and technological advances are made that the job market has become very dynamic. As you know, the pace of this advancement is accelerating, resulting in different types of jobs coming and going rapidly in order to meet an ever-changing demand. Higher education, the US public school system and for-profit vocational schools will most definitely have to adjust their curriculum accordingly. You have probably noticed that some very traditional jobs are disappearing. Just ask anybody who used to be in the travel industry, or direct sales, or a factory worker, or a former computer and network technician like I was for 22 years. When I went back and tried to get retraining I was told that my credit rating was not good enough to qualify for a student loan. Many of the courses taught in various vocational schools cost tens of thousands of dollars, and I was broke at the time (come to think about it, I still am, but I digress). So, I found myself shut out from any chance at changing careers. As I began to research this I found that this is actually quite commonplace in today's dreary job market. Instead of going back to work like I wanted, I was forced into early retirement, and forced to depend on a federal government that I despise for my monthly sustenance. I would much rather be self-sufficient, but never mind that. My government has already decided to throw me away because I'm allegedly too old (I'm in my 50's as I write this), and therefore too expensive to keep around. Therefore I insist that this practice must come to an end, that higher education should be free for everybody, and that higher education is a basic human right. The days of a college education or vocational retraining being only for those who can afford the tuition (or who “qualify” for predatory and highly unethical student loans) must come to an end. Do you want to have a better educated country? Fine, so do I! Let everybody who wants to get educated – or reeducated – go back to school, and let the government, the Wall St mega-rich and corporate America foot the bill. The funds are definitely available, as I wrote above.

Of course, I can hear my critics laughing already. Where, they will say, do we get the money to fund re-educating the whole country? We're running a $16 trillion deficit as it is! You know what? You're absolutely right, we do have a seemingly insurmountable federal deficit. How do we tackle both problems together? By creating new taxpayers who have found new careers and gotten their incomes restarted thanks to low cost retraining, and there is ample precedent for this very thing. At the end of World War 2, there were about 600,000 former GI's who had just returned from the European and Pacific theaters in the wars against Germany and Japan. Many of them didn't have any marketable job skills, so Congress passed the GI Bill and put all those soldiers through 4 years of college. It paid off handsomely, paving the way for the record economic expansion of the 1950's and 1960's. Well, if they could do that in the 1940's, why can't they do it in 2014? The answer is that the system most certainly can, and we of the Occupy and 99% Movements must count reeducation as one of the things that we occupy and protest for. Either employ us or retrain us, and we're not leaving until we get what we want.

One final thing about the basic right to higher education. According to data I obtained from the US Department of Labor, and some additional information I obtained from, the average student graduate from college today will have to change careers from 5 to 8 times during the course of their lifetime of employment. So, by today's standards, and assuming career changes involve getting 2-year degrees, somebody going back to school a total of 8 times multiplied by the average cost of obtaining each of those degrees – roughly $30,000.00 times as much as eight – could be as much as a quarter of a million dollars, plus interest. Do our colleges and universities seriously believe that people will be willing to go into that much debt from student loans in their lifetimes, just so they can remain employable? How ridiculous! The cost of tuition for higher education in the early 21st century has reached a level that is so unreasonable that getting a degree has become financially out of reach for all but the top few percent. Excluding the overwhelming majority of all others for purely financial reasons is a social injustice and a human rights violation if there ever was one. We must start demanding our right to free or low-cost higher education as part of our goals. And so we will continue to “occupy” and protest peacefully until we get what we want. We are the 99%!

The third fundamental human right that I want to write about is to be free from poverty and hunger, with an equal chance at prosperity, in a clean and peaceful environment. How do we do all that? We clean up the environment that we already have, and for that we will need lots of people. That brings me to the topic of a huge public works program that this country urgently needs, and this is part of the solution that I see. Therefore, this is indeed another basic human right. This is something that should already have been done at the Presidential level, but unfortunately it has not since president Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal of the 1930's. We need massive protests and demonstrations, and a major effort through the social media to get this passed into law. My proposed solution is that all the long-term unemployed people plus all the others I mentioned above be put to work in this new series of public works projects. Some will be doing environmental cleanup, others will assist with bridge and highway repairs, and still others will be repairing sewers and sidewalks. The homeless will be put to work revitalizing abandoned homes left over from the “great foreclosure robbery” (as I called it in my first book). When they are finished with the first home, they can go live in it as they begin repairs on others. We do have the capacity to have full employment at a living wage, and to end homelessness while ending the foreclosure crisis. This is one way to accomplish just that. I encourage anyone having additional ideas to publish them as I have, and the more input the better. And what about all the households where both parents work, or single-parent households? Who is going to watch all those kids? I think we should have on-site daycare available for everybody free of charge. It would be yet another way to create jobs with a starting wage of $15.00 an hour.

The fourth fundamental human right, and another way to articulate what we want, is to address the problem of health insurance and its ridiculous cost, pricing 54 million Americans out of the health insurance market and forcing many of us to rely on the local emergency room for medical treatment. It is an indisputable fact that every developed country in the world has national health insurance for its citizens except for the United States. From Europe to Canada to Japan, getting sick is never a problem unless the illness is terminal. Not so in the USA, where health care is on a for-profit basis, and we are the only country in the developed world where this is so. We have the highest cost for health care and the most expensive prescription drugs of any country in the world by far. In other words, good health care in this country is only for those who can afford it. The rest of us are left stranded on the side of the road to health and wellness and without remedy, eventually to die, and well before our time. Speaking as an Internet pastor, I find the idea of denying health care to nearly a fourth of the US population (about half of whom are children) just because they can't pay for it to be immoral, unjustifiable, and utterly barbaric.

So what is the solution to this pressing problem? One thing is for sure, every human being on the face of the earth has the unconditional right to good health care. It's as basic as access to clean water (another area where mankind has some work to do). I strongly maintain that it should be a crime for any patient to die because they lacked access to treatment due to having no money or health insurance. There is simply no excuse for that to be happening in the richest country in the world, and I for one am ashamed that it is occurring, and I doubt that I am the only one who has this opinion. Also, people with preexisting conditions or who are beset with a catastrophic illness should always have unconditional access to health care. One possible way to do this would be to change the health care industry in the US from for-profit entities to nonprofits. Anyone seeking treatment for substance abuse or mental illness, or who are in need of any organ transplants, or kidney dialysis, cancer treatment, or any other serious illness requiring constant monitoring or ongoing therapy, must be able to get treatment without financial qualification. This is not a privilege of the well off, it is a basic human right. For example, it is pointless and prohibitively expensive to prosecute and incarcerate nonviolent drug users. They don't need jail, they need treatment.

See you next week for part two! Until then, shalom.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Our capitalist economic and tax systems are breaking down. Maybe that's not so bad.

America's Tax and Monetary Systems Are Broken
Excerpts from the book, "Occupying America: We Shall Overcome"
by Rev. Paul J. Bern

Wall Street has gotten completely out of control when it comes to the salaries, and especially the outrageous bonuses, being paid to top management, sales and other executives. This problem has been ongoing for a long time, and it continues to get worse. The scenario usually works out something like this: A global financial catastrophe occurs a la 2008. An outraged public shakes pitchforks at the corporate culprits. Lawmakers respond by proposing some new BS laws that appear to require corporations to more fully disclose what they’re doing. Corporate America, sensing encroachment on their hunting territory, goes ballistic. Sound familiar? We’ve seen this story play out before. In fact, we’ve seen this story play out after almost every grand corporate catastrophe over the last 80 years.

For example, back in 1933, with the nation still reeling from the 1929 stock market crash, newly-elected President Franklin Roosevelt pushed for legislation that required firms to register securities trades and provide basic financial information. That act eventually passed despite fanatical Wall Street opposition. A more modern example? In 1984, a Union Carbide chemical leak killed thousands in Bhopal, India. U.S. lawmakers had to battle relentless industry opposition before they could pass a right-to-know law on toxic emissions.

Runaway executive pay played a key driving role in the run-up to the Great Recession. Executive pay excesses, as President Obama once put it, “have contributed to a reckless culture.” By attempting to avoid the issue, it seems clear that corporations simply want to avoid embarrassment and public outrage, not to mention the attention of investigators outside the scope of Wall St. such as the Office of Management and Budget and the US Attorney General's office, among others. If we are going to be successful in reversing this trend for the purpose of redirecting America's cash flow from the top 1% back in favor of the rest of us, the remaining 99% of Americans – that's us – will have to forcibly take back what has been shamelessly stolen from us. Political and economic power is never surrendered voluntarily, so forcibly retaking it is the 99%'s only option as of now. Is this too much to ask of ourselves? I think not! In fact, I made up my mind a long time ago that this would be a cause that I would always believe in, the cause of social and economic justice for all.

Outrageous pay packages, research indicates, encourage outrageous executive behaviors that range from high-risk investing gambles to outsourcing jobs while firing long-time workers without cause, to cooking the corporate books for the aggrandizement of upper management. The wider the pay gap between the guy in the top floor corner suite and everybody else, the lower the workforce morale and the higher the employee turnover. In other words, the more cash we let corporations stuff in executive pockets at their employee's expense, the less competitive our corporations become. Is this any way to run the richest country in the world? Whose lame-brain idea was this to begin with?

Is it any wonder that the US economy has been run into the ground when we find such egregious examples of inexcusable mismanagement, criminal malfeasance and offensive buffoonery? It is abundantly clear to me that the system has been abused so badly that it is no longer functional. Allow me to present a couple of examples taken straight from the Web on what happens when abusive people who also happen to be exceptionally greedy take control of our country's entire governmental system. Vast sums of money are being quietly diverted from the wallets, pensions, banking and investment accounts of the American public just by changing the tax laws to favor the ultra-rich.

In my example #1, tax cuts for the wealthiest five percent of Americans cost the U.S. Treasury $11.6 million every hour, according to the National Priorities Project. America’s top earners got an average tax cut of $66,384 in 2011, while the bottom 20 percent will get an average cut of $107. These enormous tax cuts are weighing on the national debt. The non-partisan Center for Budget and Priorities found that the Bush tax cuts costs about the same as the shortfall from Social Security in the ten years after they were signed into law. If the U.S. reverted to Clinton-era marginal tax rates, the U.S. Treasury would net an additional $72 billion annually, according to Citizens for Tax Justice. In addition, increasing taxes on the wealthy could also help to narrow the widening wealth gap. In 2012 when this book was first written, the net worth of the bottom 60 percent of U.S. Households – about 100 million households – was lower than that of Forbes 400 richest Americans. Tax cuts for the wealthy provided Americans making more than $1 million with a $128,832 benefit, while Americans earning from $40,000 to $50,000 got an $860 benefit on average. This disparity has since gotten still worse. As of this summer 2014 update, the entire Walton family of Bentonville, Arkansas, the six sons and daughters of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, now have roughly the same wealth as America's “bottom” 100 million people, as if one's net worth correlated somehow with the measure of a man, or of a woman. This is how twisted and distorted capitalism has become, and economic inequality doesn't happen by accident.

Besides the broken tax system, as if this set of problems were not enough, I offer our broken monetary system as my second example. The US Federal Reserve was created on December 21st, 1913 and given a 99 year lease to print America's money. This lease was given to an organized group of nameless, faceless investors who formed a private holding company that is the de facto sole proprietorship of the Federal Reserve. (The Federal Reserve Bank is not a public entity, and never was). That 99-year lease expired on December 21st, 2012, but the Fed is still there occupying that real estate and those reserve banks. Legally, that makes the Federal Reserve and all its employees nothing more than mere squatters on US Government property, and I think they should be treated as such.

What many people don't realize is that the US Constitution gives the right to mint money to the Department of the Treasury, which makes the Federal Reserve Bank in its current form completely unconstitutional, as it has been right from the start. To make matters worse, in all the time the Federal Reserve has been in existence it has never – ever – been audited until fairly recently. Nobody in Washington, not even the president, knows the exact true state of the Federal Reserve as I write this, although I have no doubt that many in DC will claim they do and a few will even believe it. For that reason senator Bernie Sanders, an independent US senator from Vermont with (thankfully) no party affiliation, sponsored a bill calling for an audit of the Federal Reserve system that was made public in the summer of 2011. He published a blog post regarding this first-ever Fed audit that was widely cross-posted on the Web, and I offer a short excerpt of what the senator wrote.

The first top-to-bottom audit of the Federal Reserve uncovered eye-popping new details about how the U.S. provided a whopping $16 trillion in secret loans to bail out American and foreign banks and businesses during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. 'As a result of this audit, we now know that the Federal Reserve provided more than $16 trillion in total financial assistance to some of the largest financial institutions and corporations in the United States and throughout the world,' said Sanders. 'This is a clear case of socialism for the rich and rugged, you're-on-your-own individualism for everyone else. Among the investigation's key findings is that the Fed unilaterally provided trillions of dollars in financial assistance to foreign banks and corporations from South Korea to Scotland, according to the GAO report. No agency of the United States government should be allowed to bailout a foreign bank or corporation without the direct approval of Congress and the President. One thing already is abundantly clear. The Federal Reserve must be reformed to serve the needs of working families, not just C.E.O.'s on Wall Street'...”

The so-called “national debt” is nothing more than the indebtedness of the US Government to the Federal Reserve for the money it prints for our government. For example, when former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke initiated what he called “QE3” (for quantitative easing), what actually occurred was the need for Washington to borrow more money. This necessity was met by having the Fed print what we now know was $16 trillion dollars in order to flood American markets with liquidity. Unfortunately for the American people, there was a price tag to be paid in the form of interest on the money that the Fed printed. And so it turns out that the United States has to borrow to print its own money, an arrangement whose legality is highly questionable and whose very existence is contrary to the best interests of the United States.

I'm not a politician and have no plans to become one, but if I were President I could solve America's national debt problem in one afternoon. On my first day in office, I would send certain platoons of US Army soldiers to seize control of the Federal Reserve Banks in Washington DC and all other locations throughout the country, along with federal agents and local SWAT teams, to arrest all the directors and managers along with anyone else who opposes us. They will all be charged with treason for ruining the financial health and general welfare of the US, or with being accessories to the same, and they will be prosecuted. The Federal Reserve will be immediately nationalized, with the authority to manage and oversee returned to the Department of the Treasury where it belongs, pursuant to Article 1, section 8 of the US Constitution, which says this: “Congress shall have the power... to coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and to fix the standards of weights and measures”.... One thing would happen for sure: it would be 'bye bye national debt'! In fact, maybe the Federal Reserve banks across the US should be “occupied” until they are returned to the rightful owners, the American people. Now THAT would be something to see! Who is with me today?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Those who try to marry politics and religion are setting themselves up for failure

Christian Hypocrisy In Washington DC
by Rev. Paul J. Bern

Remember when we were kids in school? We used to recite the pledge of allegiance to the flag every day. Among other things, the pledge calls us “one nation under God”. Judging from how things are going in Washington these days we have become anything but that. We are faced with endless wars overseas with no end in sight, and these wars on multiple fronts threaten to bankrupt the country. Meanwhile here at home, it is the American people who are already faced with bankruptcy and even homelessness due to long-term unemployment, while citizens everywhere continue to lose their houses to foreclosure under circumstances that are questionable at best. The rapidly growing population of homeless people is already in the process of turning into a human tidal wave of misery and hopelessness. Here in Atlanta where I live, the homeless population on any given day averages around 7,000 or so, of which half are children. This is a gross social injustice considering that it is happening in the richest country in the world. Even the cave men lived in caves tens of thousands of years ago. So it is accurate to say that they had it better than the homeless folks do today. It is a basic human right to have a roof over your head. Shelter is not a privilege, and throwing children out into the elements is nothing short of barbaric. And yet some have the nerve to call America a Christian nation!

In the meantime, we have our nation's leaders in Washington invoking the name of God as a justification for waging immoral and illegal wars all over the globe, with many being of the clandestine variety. Here at home, our nation's lawmakers debate whether gay persons should serve openly in the military or not, and various individuals in our country's leadership take a stand on whether they are pro-life or pro-choice. These side-issues are being debated while our country grapples with record deficits that threaten to swallow up what is left of the US economy, just as Nero fiddled while Rome burned. They pontificate about “family values” while the value of American real estate continues to stagnate, depriving millions of formerly middle class people of their chief source of wealth – their homes. They threaten to do away with the American social safety net at a time of record unemployment and rampant homelessness, just when it is needed the most. If these neo-conservatives succeed in taking away, or even reducing, the social safety net that millions are currently depending upon because they can't find work (and often because they can't even feed their kids), you can be sure there will be rioting in the streets similar to Ferguson, Mo., and let's not forget the civil wars in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere. These current events line up with much of what I have been saying on this web site since day one about what is wrong with the world in which we live, and what we should change to make it better. Anyone can be religious, but I choose to take it to the next level. I'm going to spend the rest of my life trying to make a real difference.

Being a blend of liberal Christian, Teddy-Roosevelt-style Populist and political progressive (hence the name Progressive Christian), I particularly enjoy going after big government and main-stream denominations at all levels, taking them all to task not just for the way in which they are running things, but challenging their thinking and their values. For example, many Republicans in Washington keep talking about God and politics as if they are interchangeable. They like to make it look like they are on the side of God, as if God were a political conservative. And they like to make it seem like the Democrats and “liberals” are a party of loose morality, favoring abortion, gay marriage, and hanging around with terrorists. They are experts at crafting and delivering their message – good enough to inspire many middle-class folks to vote against their own financial interests in the 2010 mid-term elections. Their message works because it appeals to people's base emotions, not their intellects. And reacting is so much easier than critical thinking, especially when we're so emotionally drained from these years of unemployment, or working multiple part time jobs, or home foreclosures. They are so effective with their message that they don't think twice before selling the idea that God wanted George W. Bush to attack Iraq, God favors the Tea Party, and God wants Sarah Palin to be President. Or maybe Mike Huckabee.

They completely ignore the First Amendment's separation of Church and State. The first amendment to the US Constitution begins by saying, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.......” To me, this means anyone who wishes to engineer a merger of government and organized religion either knows nothing about the Constitution or they openly wish to break it. Either way, that means they would be committing treason if the neo-cons were to actually pull off such a thing as that.

They publicly thump the bibles on which they were sworn into office. They brag about giving 10% of their incomes to the church, even though many don't. And they make sure they're seen praying, whether it be in church, in public, or on TV. Jesus had something to say about that, and those words of wisdom are just as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago when they were first spoken. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go to your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew chapter 6, verses 5-6, NIV)

But if you set aside the hysteria and look at the facts, Jesus was part liberal and part socialist by today's standards, and much of the New Testament condemns the attitude of the so-called religious right (which is neither as far as I am concerned). For example, Jesus condemned the greedy rich, saying, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." [Matthew 19:24] He denounced the moneychangers in the temple at Jerusalem as He threw them out, saying, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.” [Matthew 21:13] And Jesus stood up for the poor and underprivileged, saying, "Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me." [Matthew 25:40] So then, how can the nation's leadership, especially the conservative right-wingers, call themselves Christian – followers of Jesus Christ and He alone – as they hold the unemployed and retired pensioners hostage while fighting for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires? They don't care about us, and they don't care if we know that or not. We the people, America's middle and working classes, need not tolerate what amounts to being openly insulted. We can and should fight back! Who is with me today?

Jesus acknowledged the need for both government and tax-supported government services, saying, "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's." [Matthew 22:21] So then how can the conservatives call themselves Christian as they rail against taxes and their definition of "big government"? Never mind the fact that it is the same bunch of people railing against big government who are voting in favor of the continued funding of the largest and most formidable military in world history. Last year the US government spent more money on military expenditures than all the rest of the world combined. Then again, there is the fact that the United States has more people in prison than all the rest of the world's countries – again, combined. There is something very wrong with this picture, that's for sure. When faced with these facts, I am forced to come to the conclusion that America isn't the world's greatest country anymore. It's up to us, the American people, to turn this around.

Jesus healed the sick – even lepers – for free. He didn't ask them for an insurance card first, he just healed them because it was the right thing to do, but more importantly because that's what he was called to do. Jesus was the original "socialized medicine" machine. So then, how can the Republicans call themselves Christian (that is, followers of Jesus Christ in Spirit and in truth) as they condemn the much less socialistic (and woefully insufficient) "Obamacare"? The truth of the matter is that much of the effectiveness of any government is directly proportional to how well it cares for its people. (By the way, it was Thomas Jefferson who first said that.) The United States is the last developed country in the world that does not have national health insurance for its citizens. Every other developed country – and many developing ones – has national health insurance except for us. As I said above about shelter being a basic human right, so it is with health care. Proper medical care is not a privilege available only to those who can afford to pay. Good quality health care is a basic human right that must be available to everyone without qualification, including preexisting conditions. The money to implement such a plan as this is already available with plenty to spare. All the government has to do is call off all the wars and occupations overseas and bring the troops home. Whatever money is left over can be used for a giant public works project to put all the long-term unemployed back to work, or to send them back to school to learn a trade. Is there sufficient money to accomplish and finance this worthy goal? Absolutely, and all without adding to the federal deficit. Here's an example: If the US military set aside one day's expenses for the twin occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq (Again! Wasn't twice enough?) and put those funds in an interest-bearing account, there would be enough money to send every single American school kid to four years of college education – fully paid for. We'd get all that from just one days military expenditures! So don't tell me we can't afford quality education without qualification! Oh yes we can!!

As he stood there on the Mount, Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of the living God." [Matthew 5:9] Still, the conservatives call themselves Christian as they continue to call for endless war, be it legally and morally justified or not. At the same time, they expound on how pro-life or anti-abortion they are. So, let me get this straight. In order to be a good Christian, one must be pro-war and pro-life simultaneously? Sorry, Reverend, but you're going have to explain that one to me. And then they try to justify torture. So I ask them, in the words of the popular button and bumper sticker: Who would Jesus torture?

In the end, I see many conservatives paying much homage to the Bible while ignoring what is inside it. As for myself, I could not stand to live like that, being a Washington hypocrite. Let's vote these right wing-nuts out of office this November and start all over again on a clean sheet of paper. It's the only way we can peacefully force things in Washington to change. But if things don't start changing, and soon, the unrest of Egypt, Syria and Greece will be arriving on American shores with a vengeance. If governing power cannot be returned to the American people peacefully, then things will deteriorate to the point where we will simply have to retake it by force.