Wealth Distribution Goes Awry

wealth inequality -99 get smart

We are living in a time and a nation where there is a disparity in wealth distribution, when the distribution of wealth has gone awry. We have all heard that the top 1% have wealth that is out of all proportion to what the other 99% of us share. We see what such a disproportionate access to economic resources does to every aspect of our society. When the rich fix the machinery of the economy so as to deliver the main share of wealth, that is supposed to circulated throughout the culture, into their own pockets, bank accounts, investment instruments, and perhaps their businesses, the entire economy is disrupted.

Rich folks seem to be emboldened by their wealth to believe that they have done something to deserve the riches they have amassed; that money equals entitlement and is proof that they have been somehow chosen. It could be that wealthy people have poured money into politics to get laws passed that ensure that wealth moves up the ladder; that they get all the cream off the top. But then they have some kind of selective amnesia and they forget that they made sure that the croupier would shovel the largest share of chips in their direction.

Once a few individuals come to feel that they are superior to all of the lowlier folks in their culture, once they are isolated into a class of their own they, of course, do not want to lose any of the wealth they have amassed. Since they see everyone else as less worthy they become disinclined to offer benefits to the unlucky and the lazy, which means everyone poorer than they are. They want to pay workers as little as possible because it comes out of their pockets as they see it. They lose sight of what will happen if there are no consumers in the marketplace. They seem to think that their funds will magically keep multiplying.

They don’t like things like unemployment insurance, health insurance, a minimum food and housing allowance. Since they do not live in the same neighborhoods as poor members of their culture the problems of poverty that affect middle class people do not impinge on the wealthy. They lose their empathy. And they forget that everything is interconnected; that eventually the filth and disease of the neglected will infiltrate their privileged domains. They buy land and build an isolated and self-sufficient kingdom. But will their kingdom rely on the labor of the less-well-off? If their paranoia makes such an arrangement suspect they might actually have to become laborers again at some point. Perhaps they don’t entertain profound thoughts at all while yachting and partying and paying lobbyists and super PACs to keep the right people in power.

Without consulting history it seems as if this problem is unique to 21st century America, but obviously this is not so. Wealth distribution can fail whenever wealth and power get concentrated in a relatively small group of citizens of a nation. When wealth gets stuck in the pockets of a group of powerful people eventually something happens to redistribute that wealth. It could be accomplished with sensible laws and raised taxes on the wealthiest class. It could be accomplished by order of a dictator like Mao who turned the Chinese economy upside down with his Cultural Revolution. It could be accomplished by a war which brings all classes together with a common purpose so that the classes mix, and empathy and community feeling are engendered. Or a revolution.

I keep hoping we will find a relatively benign and political solution to our own growing wealth inequality that is creating a greedy class and is pinching everyone else. Democrats are the party that would like to find ways to distribute wealth more fairly but Democrats are out-of-power. They have won a toehold in the House of Representatives but, without any support from the opposition in the Senate important initiatives will not be enacted. Our only hope is to prepare an agenda and find a path to win a majority in both houses of Congress and, the Presidency in 2020. We have had plenty of wars but they are not the threat-to-all-humanity kinds of wars that serve as class equalizers. And we might get ourselves a dictator but the current applicant for the job will have no interest in redistributing any wealth.

I have been reading Churchill: Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts and there is Winston Churchill dealing with this exact situation early in his political career (1909-1910). He was born to the aristocracy, but his family had no money. His father was a well-known political figure but he stayed with his class. Winston switched to become a Liberal and defied his class and was subjected to predictable criticism, fortunately minimized because he was such a great speaker and original thinker with more energy than anyone else in government at the time. (It is even more bizarre to be reading this as the Brexit deal fails and Theresa May loses, not her seat but her power.)

Churchill also lost his bid to redistribute wealth in 1910 and he called for the government to be disbanded and for a new election. He did win a seat in the new election and he was given a post in the Home Office. The ‘People’s Budget’ eventually passed but reform was slow. We know that the British did pass social reforms that offered a safety net to British citizens.

Churchill, pg. 129

“The paternalist in Churchill wanted, in Masterman’s critical but essentially accurate phrase, ‘a state of things where a benign upper class dispensed benefits to an industrious bien pensantand grateful working class’”

Pg.129-130

“In April 1909 Lloyd George unleashed the naked class war that Churchill had predicted five months earlier, with his Finance Bill, soon nicknamed by Liberals the ‘People’s Budget’. In order to raise the extra £16 million, income tax would rise from 1s to 1s 2d in the pound (that is from 5 to 5.83 per cent), a supertax would be introduced on high incomes, as well as taxes on tobacco alcohol, motor cars and petrol, and a halfpenny per pound on the value of undeveloped land, with death duties of 25 per cent on property valued over £1 million, and a 20 per cent capital gains tax on land. This represented wealth redistribution on a scale unprecedented in recent British history…” “If that opposition could not be mollified or overcome and the Lords refused to pass the budget there would be a profound constitutional crisis.

“Tomorrow is the day of wrath!” Churchill told Clementine on 28 April, before a key vote on the Finance Bill. “I feel this Budget will be kill or cure: either we shall secure ample pounds for great reform next year, or the Lords will force a Dissolution in September.”

Pg. 130

“If I had my way I would write the word ‘insure’ over the door of every cottage and upon the blotting book of every public man, because I am convinced that by sacrifices which are inconceivably small, which are all within the reach of the very poorest man in regular work, families can be secured against catastrophes which otherwise would split them up forever… when through the death, the illness, or the invalidity of the bread-winner, the frail boat in which the fortunes of the family are embarked founders and the women and children are left to struggle helplessly in the dark waters of a friendless world.”

Pg. 131

“’The wealthy”, he said, in the course of a nearly 7000-word speech, ‘so far from being self-reliant, are dependent on the constant attention and waiting of scores and sometimes even hundreds of persons who are employed in ministering to their wants.’

In a speech in Leicester

“The issue will be whether the British people in the year of grace 1909 are going to…allow themselves to be dictated to and domineered over by a miserable minority of titled persons, who represent nobody, who are responsible for nobody, and who only scurry up to London to vote in their party interests, in their class interests, and in their own interests.”

“He now wanted the House of Lords to be stripped of its equality with the Commons, and therefore no longer capable of vetoing legislation sent to it by the democratically elected lower Chamber.”

“Churchill’s speech shocked many Tories, and led to protests from both the King and Prime Minister.”

Pg. 132

“In October, Churchill stoked the fire further and told a Dundee audience that it was ‘an extraordinary thing’ that 10,000 should own practically the whole land of Great Britain and that the rest should be trespassers on the soil on which they were born.”

Pg. 133

“On 4 November 1909, the People’s Budget passed the House of Commons.” (Paraphrasing)-If the Lords turned down the Budget the consequences would be a general election.

Pg. 134

“The Budget was rejected by 350 to 75. Parliament was dissolved two days later and an election called, voting to get under way on 14 January 1910, which the Liberals would fight on the slogan ‘The Peers versus the People.’

Pg. 135 (some early 20thcentury trash talk)

“Curzon complained that Churchill had the ‘manners of a mudlark’. Lord Newton spoke of the ‘nauseous cant of Winston Churchill’ and the Duke of Beaufort said he would like to see Churchill and Lloyd George ‘in the middle of twenty couples of drag hounds’.” (Since Winston and his wife Clementine belonged to the aristocracy, although they were quite poor, they suffered social setbacks as a result of Churchill’s politics, but Clementine was supportive of her husband.)”

I will read on and see if Churchill deserves any credit for the benefits Great Britain offers today. It seems like history is a sort of time machine which reminds us that we fight the same fights over and over again; that class struggles have existed as long as there have been human societies. It was both stunning and discouraging to see the parallels between the beginning of the 20thcentury and the beginning of the 21st. A Churchill, however, seems to be exactly what we need right now and I hope the Democrats find one.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – 99 Get Smart

Goliath and David: Verizon Fios and Chewy.com

verizon-fios-router-logo-stock_1020.0

I had two business dealings in two days, one with a big corporation, a Goliath so to speak; the other with a much smaller internet company, a sort of David if you will allow an analogy that is both Biblical, and a recent pop culture TV title, used on the Survivor series. The Goliath in this scenario is the multimillion dollar business, Verizon Fios; the far smaller business, the David, is an internet company that supplies pet owners with food and supplies in the mail, Chewy.com.

I spoke to Verizon Fios a number of times because when my last two year contract ended my costs went up, a lot. Probably many of you agree with me when I say that there is very little to watch on television these days if you opt to stay with a cable provider. If you are a sport’s fan, cable TV may be indispensable. But I generally like figure skating, the Olympics and the Super Bowl and that is about it for sports.

Movies and news are my favorite choices. Movies are disappearing behind various paywalls. On cable the same movies repeat again and again, and they are movies I love, but I don’t want to watch them constantly. I have an Amazon Fire Stick but everything is not licensed to Amazon. When I counted I actually found that I was only watching 19 channels out of the huge number of channels that are advertised (but which no one can access without paying enormous fees). I wanted to negotiate my monthly fees downward. I was given a few options. I finally settled on a package that cost $160 a month (still too much). I agreed to sign a two year contract which took $5 a month off the price and or earned me a Nest doorbell, I can’t remember which.

I usually paid my bill on the ninth of the month so when they took their payment on the fourth I got a bit nervous. I called Fios and finally worked my way through the automated labyrinth to speak to an actual person by which time I was a bit snippy I’m sorry to say. I explained that it upsets my budget if they just take out a payment on any old day they want. I must know what day the money will disappear from my bank account and it needs to stay the same every month, unless someone lets me know ahead of time. This, however, turned out to be the rudest agent I have ever spoken with and he was no help at all. He was mean. I received an email in the next week that told me they would take my next payment on the 30thof the month. Since I had already made a payment in this month (on the fourth) I had to call back and quit autopay. I do not want to make two payments in one month. Apparently, when I was finally connected, this time with a young lady, I made mistakes in describing the details of my “plan”. She actually laughed at me.

After these two upsetting experiences with customer service, I decided to leave Verizon Fios and go to Spectrum, although that prospect did not excite me either. They are almost as expensive and I am sure they will work their way up. But at least they were polite and connections were made very efficiently.

Then I had to cancel my plan with Verizon and I knew they would give me a penalty for vacating a two year contract. I was hoping they would waive the penalty fee but I was informed that the charge will be $305. Yikes! Spectrum advertises that they will pay the penalty fee to Fios for me. We’ll see. There is probably some kind of trick to it that I don’t know about yet. I asked the agent at Fios, who this time was very nice, to see if Fios will waive the fee but I am guessing the answer will be no. So great big Goliath company, totally impersonal and bound by rules agents can’t break without permission, and permission is rarely given.

IMG_0428

This is my sweetie cat, named Gomez by the children she originally belonged to (who were probably watching The Adams Family). I recently had to put her to sleep for reasons I will not describe in detail as it would embarrass Mz Mezzie, as I called her, if she happened to be looking down on us and if she could read. Mz Mezzie had lived with a family in a rental where she was illegal and for a number of years she had spent most of her time outside. Even when she came to me she spent most of her day on the back porch, never wandering from the yard. She was not used to using a litter box but I would not make her stay outside if she wanted to come in. Her long hair made her unhappy with the usual kitty litter which is small and got stuck in her toes. I used a litter called Yesterday’s News (newspaper pellets) which she came to accept for a while.

This litter was so heavy that I had difficulty getting it in the house. That’s when the clerk at the pet store told me about Chewy.com. This was helpful because Chewy delivered to my house. We added another expensive litter that smelled like grass to help my little outdoor kitty. When I had to put her down last week I had just received a shipment of that expensive grassy-scented litter. I let Chewy.com know that my pet was no longer with me, because I did not want to keep receiving pet-related emails. They told me that they would credit the last bag of litter I purchased back to my account and they did it, that very day. Today I looked out the window and saw a van in my driveway. I watched the driver walk to my back door with a package. I was amazed to find that what he had for me was a floral arrangement from the people at Chewy.com with a sympathy note. Now that’s my kind of business.

IMG_0866

I want everyone to boycott Verizon Fios and buy their pet products from Chewy.com. Of course I am not the boss of anyone but this would offer each of these companies, the Goliath and the David,  what each deserves. Thank you Chewy.com.

chewy-opengraph.20170505

Pink Cadillacs – Tribute to Aretha Franklin

When Aretha Franklin’s funeral cortege leaves her funeral service today in Detroit it will travel through a tunnel of pink Cadillacs. How fitting for the Queen of Soul who sang about the joy of driving a car that suited her so well. We get to celebrate her life with a tribute to that iconic car and that iconic woman and singer as we say a tearful goodbye. Our tears are accompanied by big smiles. If you cry and smile at the same time does it make an invisible rainbow? Maybe.

www.facebook.com/msnbc/videos/832154746908158/

pink cadillac Getty images

Pink Cadillac album cover

pink cadillacs line up in Detroit

 

aretha-franklins-funeral-procession-will-include-130-pink-cadillacs-128242-7

This all seems like a fine tribute to a great lady and a talented singer. We’ll miss you but you left us your music.

 

Words for Aretha

Aretha 70's

Aretha Franklin died today. I know everyone and their sister will want to write something to say how much she meant to them, so I do not want to be left out. I don’t like to admit to my actual age, especially since I think people will pay my writing no mind once they know it, but I am only 3 years younger than Aretha Franklin. First all it reminds me that I am at the end of my life. But what really strikes me is that we lived through the same decades and she sang songs that spoke to me all through those decades. She had talent she was born with and that she honed through practice and hard work and that talent carried her through a spectacular 50 year career.

She said she was not an avowed feminist, but she was beloved by women everywhere who realized that women are sisters at heart, sisters whose lives involve love and break ups and feeling empowered, feeling joyful, and feeling low down. She was an activist in the civil rights movement and we, who lived through those same decades, felt connected with Aretha through the social and political movements that have punctuated our days. My admiration for Aretha has accompanied me and her music has lifted me up; it has been belted out by me in the privacy of my home while I did my housecleaning; it has made me smile as she sang from my car radio while I did my errands or on long trips. I don’t want to miss her, because she has left a legacy for all of us that will continue to move us. I think it is more in line to celebrate a life well-lived. But my sympathies are with her family and friends who knew her well enough to miss the person, as well as the musician. From what I hear she was even greater in person.

This was the first album I owned by Aretha Franklin and it had so many great songs. You can look up the discography of all her albums on Discogs or ASCAP or All Music or even on Wikipedia.

Aretha Franklin 60's Discogs

In fact Discogs gets attribution for this album picture, although they most likely do not own it.

  1. Songs on this album:
  2. Respect
  3. Baby, I Love You
  4. I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)
  5. Chain of Fools
  6. Do Right Woman – Do Right Man
  7. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman
  8. Sweet, sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone
  9. Ain’t No Way
  10. Think
  11. See Saw
  12. The House That Jack Built
  13.  I Say a Little Prayer
  14. The Weight
  15.  Eleanor Rigby
  16. Share Your Love with Me
  17. Call me

I also love many later songs like Pink Cadillac and Who’s Zoomin’ Who. My little eulogy to a much loved star of music and life must include a video.

 

https://youtu.be/d50aFTGZPIU

Can someone exist in this life and in the next life at the same time? If you love anyone who has died you know that it is possible. Thanks for the body of work you have left to comfort us in this life of joy and pain. And thanks for sharing your talents with us. We don’t always make that easy.

Losses, Memories, Joys, Tears and a Japanese Maple

IMG_20180610_162932

I introduced my mom, Velma Augusta Hatch Brisson to my readers in July because we were getting ready to help her celebrate her 100thbirthday. She was born in 1917. This kind of milestone is not considered as great a thing as it used to be since many people live beyond the age of 100 these days, but it is not really a contest or an accomplishment. It is just a fact.

We were a lucky family. Who gets to enjoy their mom’s company well into their own senior years? It has its down sides because mom needed more care and she was still bossy. She would still look over your outfit and say, “are you wearing that?” But we were not orphans like most of our friends. Now we are. In November of 2017 mom died and it has now been six months since she passed. We, her children, have spent the last six months getting the family home ready to sell. It is a poignant labor of love to sift through all the memories collected in each possession, each room, each corner of the yard that surrounds the house.

Yesterday I sat out on mom’s back deck for lunch with two of my sisters, perhaps the last time we will meet, as we did so many times, on that back deck. You can almost see the family coming and going as we sit around that patio table. Sometimes, in the pictures in my mind, the family members who live in Florida come by and the level of talk gets loud and tangled with lots of individual conversations ebbing and flowing throughout a sunny afternoon. Sometimes the great grandchildren are there, visiting, playing on the back lawn, hauling out all the toys and games stored in the shed. Sometimes it is just the few sisters who live near mom, and mom, hanging out on a rare warm, dry day.

For me the years passed before me as I sat looking at the lovely Japanese maple tree that we all bought for mom. It will now belong to some other family, or perhaps, because the house is old and in bad condition, it will all belong to some flipper, who might even rip out that tree. You can’t have something and not have it. Does that fit the Schrödinger conundrum? I don’t know. You can’t have the tree and not have the tree. But you can have the memories. You can have the firefly evenings, the homework around the dining table, the brother shimmying down his sheets from the upstairs bedroom window only to be faced with a table full of his family (and dad) sitting down to dinner. You can have the ice skating rink in the backyard, and the ball games and the games of Tag and Red Rover. You can have the memory of mom having to stuff a crying child on to a school bus, and mom putting together a countertop full of sandwiches for all our school lunches (8 of us).

You can have all the day old bread, and the trips to the dairy to buy milk, all the tar-heeled walks to church in our high heels to sing in the choir or meet with the Youth fellowship. All the shopping trips with dad to the Midstate, the movies for 50 cents at the Hollywood Theater. Elvis had us dancing in the aisles. All the school days and instruments rented and discarded and all the books read. (People gave us boxes and boxes of books.) All the second-hand boxes of clothes we sorted through to find outfits that were suitably stylish. It all seems so wonderful now. But our feelings at the time were all over the place.

You can keep all the Christmases and the Easters, even the one when everyone had measles (awful). You can have all the graduations, the birthday cakes, the smiles, the songs, the friends, the broken hearts, the tears, the grief (my sister was killed in car accident at 29),the joy, the weddings, the babies, the toddlers, the tweens and the teens. You can keep them all because they are imbedded in your mind.

So why is it so hard to let go of that well-used house. I don’t want to buy it. It needs too many repairs. But I think the grief over the house gets magnified by the loss of our mom and the end of it all, the end of our childhood, even though we are ridiculously old. Our lives have lost their center.

These memories barely scratch the surface of a life lived in a simpler era which is probably gone forever. So I’ll throw that loss on the pile and mourn it too, because while it was happening I did not realize that these things would not be the memories of everyone. Now that I know the ravages of human hate, now that I know how poor we were and why that poverty has been difficult to leave behind, even knowing all I know, I still treasure those memories from our days of innocence and ignorance. I still am grateful for  how earnest my parents were, and how everyone around us pitched in to lift us up. I am sad right now, but we have all been there, all felt the sadness of loss. My mom’s life was a life well lived. Mom, you are missed.

Dems Do So Too Have Substance

american-flag-antiqued big pixabaySo much has been written that is critical of Democrats. Some say they are no different from Republicans, mainly because they also seem fixated on money and war, at least those seem to be the key complaints.

Others complain that the Dems have no substance, that voters do not know what the party stands for. It is true that Dems do not have a web of think tanks and foundations that hold frequent meetings and produce approved lists of talking points. If the Democratic Party starts doing lockstep they will lose their constituents and they will certainly lose me. It would not suit the modus operandi of the party, which believes in inclusion and which wants to be the party of “we the people”. Detractors argue that its power structure is perhaps made up of too many wealthy people who do not favor more progressive goals and who are too moderate for the tastes of many would-be Democrats.

Someone (a friend who scours the internet for memes like the one below) sent this list out on Facebook. I could not find the attribution but it is not mine. However it is a pretty complete and well-designed outline of the policies that Dems find important and serves as an excellent counterpoint to the policies we see being played out on the right. These party goals remind me of why I will be a Democrat as long as the party supports these policies.

  • Raise Incomes and Restore Economic Security for the Middle Class
    o Raising Workers’ Wages
    o Protecting Workers’ Fundamental Rights
    o Supporting Working Families
    o Helping More Workers Share in Near-Record Corporate Profits
    o Expanding Access to Affordable Housing and Homeownership
    o Protecting and Expanding Social Security
    o Ensuring a Secure and Dignified Retirement
    o Revitalizing Our Nation’s Postal Service
  • Create Good-Paying Jobs
    o Building 21st Century Infrastructure
    o Fostering a Manufacturing Renaissance
    o Creating Good-Paying Clean Energy Jobs
    o Pursuing Our Innovation Agenda: Science, Research, Education, and Technology
    o Supporting America’s Small Businesses
    o Creating Jobs for America’s Young People
  • Fight for Economic Fairness and Against Inequality
    o Reining in Wall Street and Fixing our Financial System
    o Promoting Competition by Stopping Corporate Concentration
    o Making the Wealthy Pay Their Fair Share of Taxes
    o Promoting Trade That is Fair and Benefits American Workers
  • Bring Americans Together and Remove Barriers to Opportunities
    o Ending Systemic Racism
    o Closing the Racial Wealth Gap
    o Reforming our Criminal Justice System
    o Fixing our Broken Immigration System
    o Guaranteeing Civil Rights
    o Guaranteeing Women’s Rights
    o Guaranteeing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights
    o Guaranteeing Rights for People with Disabilities
    o Respecting Faith and Service
    o Investing in Rural America
    o Ending Poverty and Investing in Communities Left Behind
    o Building Strong Cities and Metro Areas
    o Promoting Arts and Culture
    o Honoring Indigenous Tribal Nations
    o Fighting for the People of Puerto Rico
    o Honoring the People of the Territories
  • Protect Voting Rights, Fix Our Campaign Finance System, and Restore Our Democracy
    o Protecting Voting Rights
    o Fixing Our Broken Campaign Finance System
    o Appointing Judges
    o Securing Statehood for Washington, DC
    o Strengthening Management of Federal Government
  • Combat Climate Change, Build a Clean Energy Economy, and Secure Environmental Justice
    o Building a Clean Energy Economy
    o Securing Environmental and Climate Justice
    o Protecting Our Public Lands and Waters
  • Provide Quality and Affordable Education
    o Making Debt-Free College a Reality
    o Providing Relief from Crushing Student Debt
    o Supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions
    o Cracking Down on Predatory For-Profit Schools
    o Guaranteeing Universal Preschool and Good Schools for Every Child
  • Ensure the Health and Safety of All Americans
    o Securing Universal Health Care
    o Supporting Community Health Centers
    o Reducing Prescription Drug Costs
    o Enabling Cutting-Edge Medical Research
    o Combating Drug and Alcohol Addiction
    o Treating Mental Health
    o Supporting Those Living with Autism and their Families
    o Securing Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice
    o Ensuring Long-Term Care, Services, and Supports
    o Protecting and Promoting Public Health
    o Ending Violence Against Women
    o Preventing Gun Violence
  • Principled Leadership
  • Support Our Troops and Keep Faith with Our Veterans
    o Defense Spending
    o Veterans and Service Members
    o Military Families
    o A Strong Military
  • Confront Global Threats
    o Terrorism
    o Syria
    o Afghanistan
    o Iran
    o North Korea
    o Russia
    o Cybersecurity and Online Privacy
    o Non-Proliferation of Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Weapons
    o Global Climate Leadership
  • Protect Our Values
    o Women and Girls
    o Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People
    o Trafficking and Modern Slavery
    o Young People
    o Religious Minorities
    o Refugees
    o Civil Society
    o Anti-Corruption
    o Torture
    o Closing Guantánamo Bay
    o Development Assistance
    o Global Health
    o HIV and AIDS
    o International Labor
    • A Leader in the World
    o Asia-Pacific
    o Middle East
    o Europe
    o Americas
    o Africa
    o Global Economy and Institutions

This list of goals is fairly inclusive and it shows that any Democratic administration would have a lot of offer to we the people. One problem I can see with this is that so many of these areas will be eroded by the Trump administration that it will be difficult to set priorities for what to tackle first. It is a lengthy menu and tough to address even some of the many priorities in a timely fashion. 

Another problem is that this list, while impressive, is too lengthy to serve Dems in an election campaign. It needs to be condensed and redesigned from a long list of bullet points which most voters won’t even bother to read, into a convincing and powerful set of promises that are specific and realistic. We should have a contest, with a great prize, to get some clever Democrat to produce just such a memorable meme.